Thursday, November 25, 2010

INTROSPECT, INSPECT, QUESTION, DON'T FOLLOW

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I had to come back, to sit with you and discuss an issue quite close to my heart. Consider this a heart to heart between us - my title might suggest that I'm being preachy. Trust me I am not. Once again, I'm trying to be the insider, introspecting with the perspective of an outsider and wondering where the Change can begin from. 
 
I began my career as a broadcast journalist in January 2001. It was the golden age for broadcast journalism. The power of television was what lured me to journalism - not the lure of journalism to television. While many of my peers and friends to date, consider it an inferior medium populated by rhetorical preachers or dumb bimbettes, I still believe Television as a medium is a strong vehicle for views and ideas. 

History apart, the reason why 2001 is important is because over the next 4 years, there was some competitive journalism that followed. Good stories, strong reportage and the coming of age of a number of regional faces - till then only Prannoy Roy and his first bunch of followers had any television recall. News breaks and notching up an exclusive - be it with a visiting cricket captain or even with a film star was counted as a feather in the reporters cap. Those little thrills of climbing up the reporting ladder seem almost like a farce in today's times when Sonia Gandhi's hospitalisation due to a mild fever is breaking news, Hrithik Roshan offering a rose to someone waiting outside his house as a publicity gimmick for his new film is broadcast live!I think primarily it is the lack of strong, gutsy editors with the vision and the courage to make the economics work according to their plans and not vice versa is the biggest bane of television. Individual benchmarks of reporters are like drops in the ocean, you either fit in or ship out. What is needed is a broader editorial culture that does not require a reporter to compromise theirs or their channel's stature by stooping to any lows for the sake of a sound bite, an exclusive story or even some kickbacks in cash or kind from acting as conduits between the deal makers and their signatories.


I strongly believe the Audience cannot sit in judgement of shoddy television and tsk tsk about the state of affairs. If there is a drop in intelligent programming, the viewers have to share blame for laziness creeping into working styles. Viewers of prime time news love rabble rousing, opinionated partisan debates. I have often pondered why when it is merely high on rhetoric and very very low on information and measured analysis. The aam aadmi gets a high out of being part of the crowd that punches down the weak link in the debate,of being one of those in a faceless mob that chanted 'Yes Yes Yes' when a big bully with the power of majority opinion on his side bloodied up a weaker opponent.

News shows and debates are now performances, with journalists exiting out of studios with smirks on their faces and asking a fawning set of fans " Sahi tha na?" Fans and their adoring opinions are cultivated and once a comfort zone is reached - journalists would rather not explore out of their comfort zone. If an Editor A has worked his way to earning the reputation of being a 'nationalistic' then you can be sure that 3 days out of 5 of the week there will be a topic that assures you a jingoistic crusade in the name of nationalism. The 'discerning' junta claim they are aware of the trap he lays by giving a nationalistic twist to every event that is remotely applicable, but come prime time, the remotes automatically tune in to that. My question is Why? 

Excellent programming on Indian television have had to wrap up because the TRPs ( Television Rating Points) weren't high enough. At most editorial meetings in most channels across the country today, stories that do not address 'the target audience' directly are not even touched with a barge pole, irrespective of whether it is a story that the nation needs to know. When the audience has so much power in its hands, is it right to put the blame on the nonsense flooding your tv screens merely on the manufacturers? Customisation has become the buzzword of every commercial venture - marketing decides the editorial thrust thanks to the lack of enough media ventures that don't rate its success or reputation on the basis of advertising money it pulls in. 

Journalists with the fattest paycheques in the industry today are not the best ones - they are the ones you - the audience made into brands by word of mouth and endorsement. They emerged as phenomenons because of you - the audience. So introspect, inspect and question if your choices didn't ultimately create the monsters that you are now so keen to disown. 

It is not enough to say I have never watched any of these shows or that I have total contempt for the people who I'm now glad have been proven to have clay feet. You cannot conveniently link and de-link yourself to the faceless mass called Indian audience. When it comes to sharing responsibility, there is no absolution. 

We are responsible for the rot in journalism, the rot in our entertainment where saas-bahus-and traditions that are not only obsolete but despicable are given a free rein at prime time and looking at the bigger picture - the rampant corruption in every sphere of our society!

The funny thing about India is everyone lives in a glasshouse, so now we have begun throwing pebbles at each others' homes so that the protest is recorded - but no one wants these bastions broken or have to take the pain of rebuilding it. 

Introspect, Inspect, Question..and Please don't just follow.



Wednesday, November 03, 2010

TIME FOR A BREAK

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I suddenly realised the refrain that 'People its been a while since I last posted' has been turned into a cliche..but honestly I think it is time I took a break, soul searched and ruminated over whether this blog needs to be revamped and the issues I talk about turned a little more general..less like a personal diary and more about things I am currently working with and dealing with. I am currently inundated with work, which leaves me with little time to do justice to my Word Sketches..

So I guess in all fairness, I must take a break, recoup, reassess and re-strategise.
Hope some of you will stop by time and again to check up on me as I will on my favourite bloggers and blog posts...:)

and as always, feel free to write to me...I would want to be part of your blogger lives as I can...

for now, adios amigos

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Q-wiiii-k Update

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A quick hello to all those who have missed my blog or my updates:

It just made me feel warm to begin that way, though I wonder if there was more than a handful who actually noticed that I haven't posted in a while.

My life is currently a blur - I must admit a happy blur, but blur all the same!

Four days of the week are spent in the busy bustling London, gaining some experience at a couple of leading organisation, the rest three days of the week, in the city that's come to become my home away from home - Brighton. Each Thursday afternoon, when I take the train back to Brighton, leaving the noise and rush of London behind, I feel at peace. That lasts exactly for the remaining hours of the day for in Brighton too, my life is choc-a-bloc.

The leisure to 'stand and stare' like Wordsworth had , well, I no longer have it. The Masters is over and in the time before I set sail back for India, there are miles to go...and the Woods in England are lovely, dark and deep. Poetry being liberally cross quoted with Poetic License...

For anyone, reading this, there is no method to this madness...It is just one of those happy posts - to let all of you know, I'm happy and kicking, just pressed for time to come up with some brilliant, thought provoking post -(though I can't remember the last time I wrote one..;)

But but but..there is another little news I wanted to share with you...I'm back to journalism - after about a year's blissful slumber..My byline might be popping up in a number of magazines - for those who do keep a track of it, that is...I'd keep mentioning my favourite pieces here, time and again..Do have a look and let me know..the opinions and suggestions of all of you are very dear to me and I look forward to it..

For now, here's the latest piece that I wrote for OPEN...On the Nobel Prize for Medicine 2010 winner Prof.Robert Edwards...

http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/international/a-fertile-mindpoint

I look forward to hearing from you....

Lots of love and keep me in your prayers,



P.S Many wrote back saying the link hasn't worked..:)

So here goes, a copy paste job...

A Fertile Mind
Robert Edwards’ Nobel Prize speaks not only of his genius, but also of how well test tube babies have been received worldwide. It has taken time, and when faced with early opposition to his work, it helped that he never lost his sense of humour.

BY Deepthy Menon

Dr Mike Macnamee is a busy man, juggling day-to-day affairs of the Bourn Hall Clinic even as he travels across the world, spreading the message of their pioneering work in In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). Last Sunday held personal significance for him. After a busy trip across India, he was back in England and enroute to a meeting with his mentor- turned-colleague-turned-friend, Professor Robert Edwards, the man often referred to as the ‘Father of IVF’.

While travelling to the care facility where Professor Edwards now spends his retired life, Dr Macnamee can foresee what will happen. First, he says, will be a warm congratulatory hug, followed by a recap of how the news of the professor’s Nobel Prize has been received across the world. Then, he’s sure, Bob will want to take some time recounting the early days of the Bourn Hill Clinic with Dr Patrick Steptoe, back when IVF techniques were hardly heard of.

For Dr Macnamee, Professor Edwards is ‘Bob’, the man who recruited him over 27 years ago. Meeting Professor Edwards and Dr Patrick Steptoe, the two responsible for the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby, proved to be the biggest turning point of his career. “It was a fantastic opportunity for me,” he says, “I was a young research scientist at that time, working in the theoretical fields of reproduction—it was a real opportunity to do the work first-hand with humans. After four years, I began to understand that the research I was doing in terms of clinical research was probably more important for the future of many families than my scientific research.”

Macnamee grows talkative as he recalls his initial years with his mentor: “Bob was truly inspirational for everybody who worked with him. He has a brilliant mind. It is very difficult to describe him. He was a man of extreme intellect, and yet had the ability to communicate with everybody in their own language. He does enjoy people hugely. Everybody admired and respected him, if not loved him. For a fundamental research scientist to go all the way to collaborate [with a doctor] for a clinical treatment that was robust and delivered good results—that was phenomenal.”

It was actually a chance meeting in 1968 between the gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, who was then a research fellow at the Department of Physiology at Cambridge, that led to the collaboration. One that has changed the lives of millions across the world. Professor Edwards had created the first blastocyst in 1968, and had succeeded in human test-tube fertilisation by 1970. However, it wasn’t until eight years later that their research and trials resulted in a healthy pregnancy leading to the birth of the world’s first ever ‘test-tube baby’, Louise Brown, in July 1978.

In his press statement after the announcement of the Nobel Prize, Professor Edwards describes one of his final meetings with his by-then-seriously-ill partner, Dr Steptoe. He distinctly recalls the thrill of relaying the news that 1,000 babies had been born at their clinic since their first successful ‘baby’. ‘I’ll never forget the look of joy in his eyes. Steptoe and I were deeply affected by the desperation felt by couples who so wanted to have children. The most important thing in life is having a child,’ he said, ‘Nothing is more special than a child.’

Charismatic and inspiring are words that most of his friends, colleagues and students commonly use while describing Professor Edwards. “He is charismatic, strong-willed and tenacious,” says Dr Al Yuzpe, a renowned Vancouver-based IVF specialist who has known him for over four decades, “He says what he thinks. For example, I heard him chastise the American IVF medical community for allowing the multiple pregnancy rate to soar to astronomical levels by replacing multiple embryos in order to achieve high pregnancy rates. He said, ‘You are behaving like cowboys.’ As a result, there is now a great move to replace fewer embryos in an attempt to reduce the risk of multiple pregnancies.”

The reaction of his family to the news of his award has been rather muted, with their refusing to go public with their private celebration of a recognition that many feel has been ‘a long time coming’. His wife Ruth released a statement shortly after the announcement, expressing their delight in the prestigious award. Dr Macnamee fills me in on the little celebration that the family had when they visited Professor Edwards on the day of the citation. “I was told he was delighted,” he says, “After all, it is a singular honour which is received by very few people. However, Bob had received a slightly lesser honour two years ago when he had a UK postage stamp released of him—that is a very rare thing to have. This is the final recognition. It is long overdue.”

“As a person he always found time to talk to patients about what was happening in the laboratory, and rejoiced when each IVF baby was born. He took great personal pleasure in the news of each birth,” says Dr Thomas Mathews, Bourn Hall Clinic’s medical director. Perhaps that’s why his staff and colleagues fondly remember the special celebration they had organised two years ago, when Bourn Hall recorded the birth of the 10,000th baby at their clinic.

“We invited a baby from every year of Bourn Hall back to the clinic. So we had 30 different age children, starting with Louise Brown to the latest child. Bob was visibly overjoyed to plant a tree to commemorate the event, 30 years after setting up the IVF clinic,” adds Dr Macnamee. Trees hold a special place in Professor Edwards’ heart, and his green fingers are legendary too. “We had been working together for a very long time when he once took me to his house. He backed his car into his field and then revealed that he had planted some 5,000 trees, by himself, in the five acres of fields that he had. That was truly remarkable. He knew every single root and branch, every single part of that small forest he’d planted. He knew when he planted them, how big they would grow, and also how they will look in 20 years—-that, to me, summed up his vision.”

Professor Martin Johnson, who teaches at Cambridge and was one of Professor Edwards’ first research students, concurs with Dr Macnamee’s assessment. “He was a man much ahead of his time in IVF. His publications and lectures on ethics in science and the role of regulation also placed him way ahead of others. His achievements are not just over four million babies worldwide born through assisted reproductive technology, but also the way that he transformed the whole approach to research and care in reproductive medicine and gynaecology. It is very sad that his colleagues Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy aren’t alive to share this prize with him.”

For Professor Edwards, the Nobel recognition might be one that arrived a decade too late. But he remains popular among his friends for his humility, which they say comes from the confidence of great intellect. So, in any situation, he could find something that made him smile. His rather sharp sense of humour won him many fans as well.

“I once asked him what he thought of human cloning. His reply was, ‘Al, I’ve never met anyone worth cloning,’” reminisces Dr Al Yuzpe. It was perhaps this trademark humour and the belief in his work that kept Professor Edwards going despite fierce criticism and opposition from many quarters, including the Vatican. Today, honoured so highly late in life, Professor Edwards must surely savour his vindication.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Its a Year!!! Grins and Groans..

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It's autumn in England..that reminds me it is over a year since I uprooted myself - or must I say temporarily transplanted myself to the land of our colonisers...

Hmm..that somehow seems like a weird statement now, a year here has made me appreciate a lot many good things this country has taught me. Even the food that I have much maligned in a number of posts over the past year, I am suddenly feeling gracious towards that too..

Let me make a quick top-of-the mind count of all things old and new that I rediscovered in this year in Britain.

If any of you would like to look back at your year ( a couple of months ahead of the New Year to ensure that the damned tag of resolutions or reminiscence isn't an unnecessary burden)I'd love to turn this post into a tag. I don't know if anyone would be keen to do it or if enough people would read this blog to keep the tag on, but whoever reads this and feels predisposed to list out their top 12 grins or groans - consider yourself TAGGED!!!

1. GRIN AFTER GROAN - I have befriended the washing machine and learnt not to turn all my whites into pinks or a darker colour by conveniently forgetting to sort out the only thing that could have bled its colour.

2. GROAN AFTER GRIN - I have learnt that being independent is not exactly the great, euphoric feeling, it is often written to be - try lugging your weekly shopping up 50 stairs

3. GROAN AFTER GROAN - The lard that I was sure I will completely shed continues to latch on to me adamantly despite half-hearted attempts to shake it off

4. GRIN AFTER GROAN - Great gang of international friends with some mean culinary tricks up their sleeves that made the year a gastronomically profitable year ( however that GRIN was wiped out by GROANS from point3)

5. GRIN AFTER GRIN - England darshan - travelling on a student card, on what is considered as dirt cheap in England terms but prettttty expensive with a heavy sigh by Indian rupee rates..the last clause notwithstanding, there have been great trips and great times

6. GROAN AFTER GROAN - The cumbersome and sometimes irritating habit of automatically converting pounds into rupee and rupee into pounds, just compounds the feeling of Student Poverty...

7. GRIN AFTER GROAN - Discovering instant curries and gravy that can instantly transform dinner..increased culinary repertoire quite a bit - helping me expand my menu from European yumm-capitals to the little pocket boroughs of South East Asia

8. GROAN AFTER GRIN - Proximity to London from Brighton brought such a big grin on my face in the first couple of months..and then it struck me that Southern Railways that normally promises great tickets and discounts normally have some catch to their prices on days when I sorely need a cheap ticket.

9. GROAN AFTER GROAN - Having to fold and re-fold my retail ambitions to fit into my tiny purse. Pounds don't stretch enough to allow price tags to become irrelevant. I even tried shutting one eye, imagining that I saw the price tag wrong and peeking at it through the other eye - that by the way, doesnt fudge or smudge numbers!!

10. GRIN AFTER GRIN - Wine is dirt cheap if you were to compare the prices of those good bottles of red and white for which you uncomplainingly dish out a few five hundreds..

11. GRIN AFTER GRIN - Realising the true worth of self in a crisis - staying truly away from family and friends help you assess yourself objectively. It gives you a good measure of how you react to situations - individually without having the safety net of near and dear ones or the familiar locales of the cities of your country for an added boost.

12. GROAN OR GRIN?!!! - The year away from home, far far away from family and the comforts of being pampered and looked after - but the learning curve - do I want to trade that in? I guess not!!


I'd say my year has been more about GRINS than GROANS..if I do groan, it is to ensure that my grins don't lull me into a zone where the value of a grin is forgotten..:) 


I'm looking forward to who accepts this tag. If you do, don't forget to leave me a message. I want to read what you guys come up with...

In anticipation...

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Hunt for Graffiti

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Some of you know that I'm madly fascinated by art. Tried my hand at painting for a while, now I have brushes and an easel that stare at me and a mad urge to paint something, but the hands just don't do my bidding.
 
That is when I discovered Graffiti Art. Not the kind that deface all our public monuments and urinals and buses and benches, not the kind that reminds you that Raj (Hearts) Minal, twenty years after they broke up..this is fun, colourful, totally zany and something I'm itching to do. Just that I don't know if the wrists that don't shake while wielding a brush, feel wary about glorious freehand across huge spaces.

Someday when I build my own place, I think I will have my own graffitti wall.. I saw some amazing ones in Amsterdam and Paris. Some were posted in my Europe travelogue.

I just wonder how Graffiti artists let others wash away their creativity when they run out of walls to paint on...Perhaps its lack of permanence again shows the boldness of the artist, the free spiritedness to let their art get swallowed by time and whims of others, unlike those paintings that get preserved for generations for people to see.

Wonder if a Van Gogh and Matisse could do Graffiti...I'm sure Rafaeli and Michaelangelo could - painting glorious scenes on chapels and fresco art is a glorified form of graffiti, is it not? Or is saying that blasphemous to the Gods of Arts? 

I think freehand in art is a divine skill, some day graffiti too would be more lauded. For now, my tribute to the numerous unknown kids who gave pleasure to my eyes and fodder for my camera..




Monday, September 27, 2010

Mom Knows Best!!!

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Everytime I travel through England by train, there are always interesting people to observe and eavesdrop on...Remember the last time I wrote about people I met on the train to London?

My trip back to Brighton from Leicester gave me new characters for a new post. A mother and son - who got in from Leicester (like me) on route St.Pancras in London.

So when did I first notice her- On the Leicester railway platform. She had a voice few could ignore...grating,harsh and loud enough not to require a microphone. A faux animal print jacket in a sickening colour that would make a leopard blush out its spots and eye make-up loud enough to put her loud voice to shame.

The little one standing next to her had mischief written all over his face! The number of scratches and nicks on his little blonde face gave out his favourite past times. He stood next to his MooooM and the couple of suitcases strewn around them. There were some hiccups with the train I was scheduled to take, so I put my 'spy-eavesing' expedition on the mental backburner. Getting to St.Pancras to catch the underground to Victoria to make it to my Brighton connection was more important.

But once the train rolled on to the platform and I was safely inside and baggage stowed away, the moooom and son were forgotten as I switched on my music and dived back into the book I was reading. Not for long, though...

The grating voice made herself heard over the din made by my music. Mama had chosen the seats just after mine, so I couldn't see her, but that wasn't necessary was it..Her voice did the trick. So there she was, trying to tell her distracted 4-ish year old that they had to be thankful to generous Sue, who had packed them a snack and some napkins and some plastic cutlery and a drink for little Rhys ( atleast thats what the brat's name sounded like). The little one immediately parroted, "Thank you, Sue". I wondered if it was for the benefit of the rest of us in the coach, and as I craned my neck to check if I can glimpse the exchange, I spied a couple of other necks stretching out of their seats in similar states of curiosity.

Now Rhys is your average little 4 year old charming monkey, climbing over seats, trying to get an upside down view of the coach aisle and every time he'd manage to get himself into a weird pose, a leopard skin hand would come snaking out and go "WHACCCK"...the next ten minutes would inevitably be howling and screaming. Imagine that spread out in 10 minute intervals! A "bully sermon" from the Mom set to the cacophony of Rhys' lung powered wails had many others reaching for their headsets, while I tried raising the volume of the music already set to blaring.

Now there was one constant routine that caught my attention - One sharp slap across his arms, followed by a howl of pain from the little one, followed by what I figure is an angry punch from him. To this the Mom remarks " You hit me and I punch you back, I'm your mother!" Sounded strange and petty coming from an adult, especially so in a country where beating a child isn't really encouraged.

Now the brat seemed to have been habituated to the constant whacks from moooom. In no time, he was back to his monkey ways, the streaks of tears still on his face forgotten. When the ticket checker came by, he asked if he could have a ticket. The lady asked him where he wanted to go and he said where daddy is. Rhys insisted he wanted a ticket so that he could travel by himself and leave his mom back on the train. The ticket checker laughed again and left and the Mom began loudly berating Rhys - just how could he have told her that he wants to leave her back? Hear that in that tone of hers and you'd want to personally help the boy shove her off the train. I dug my nose right back into my book and tried to drown their voices..

It took only two minutes before the entire coach was standing up and trying to check if the child was being murdered. He was wailing at the top of his lungs, claiming he was being choked, while the mother continued to wrestle him into a bulky scarf, that he kept pulling off his neck. And then came the punch line, "Stay still, Rhys, or I might just end up choking you. Trust me, you need the scarf, I'm the Mom, I know best!". She couldn't be bothered that she was being watched by the whole coach! As we sat down, the bald guy sitting next to me muttered,"You can't fight that logic, can you?". The so-far expressionless face of the Chinese girl sitting opposite me showed some signs of irritation and discomfort at the overtly public show between the mom and son.

As I got down at St. Pancras, I saw the Mooooom roughly shoving him into his pram and buckle him up despite his wails, before jerkily walking away. 

Wonder what made me post this exchange. I guess the incident lingers because I have come to expect a different variety of parenting during this year in England. Children are usually treated as young adults here, asked their preferences, allowed to take their own decisions.But then again,I wonder if I judged the mom too harshly because she had a grating voice and a sense of dressing that revolted me? It can't be easy to handle a mischievous brat all by herself, can it? 

The ever polite British travelling crowd didn't make a noise about the intense discomfort to the other travellers from the loud conversations, accompanying wails and the abuse on display. That's British politeness, I guess!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Europe - Point and Shoot - Paris Je T'aime and I AMsterdaaaaam

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Given a choice between Paris and Amsterdam, I think I'd be happier to revisit Amsterdam. It is less pretentious, people are more fun and more importantly - they ALL speak English and don't turn up their snooty French noses at you because you can't say more than Merci Beaucoup! Also Amsterdam is cosier, tinier, less dirtier...I could go on and on.

These are however not reason enough to not enjoy Paris for what it is worth. There are definitely smaller, cosier and less expensive cities to holiday in than Paris, but never make the mistake of not including Paris atleast once in your European journey. The bistros, the monuments, the museums - history lives and rests here - much like London. Though between London and Paris, I'd still choose London and bear a bad sandwich than eat well amidst French snootiness.

So in the last of my three part series, I'm going to put together some of my favourite pictures which is meant to serve as memory cards of must-visit places if you are going with just a couple of days to spend in these places..


Call it touristy, call it "Ohhh, that's just soo predictable", but you can't go to Paris and not watch Eiffel Tower lit up. It beckons you from far, though it must also be said that by day, it looks like any other microwave tower across the world!
Don't forget to walk down the Champs-Elysees that takes you from the Arc de Triomphe down...I have a dumb touristy shot of the Arc, so instead I thought I'd guide you with this picture..:)










Don't forget the stroll down the Seine. Paris is prettiest by the banks of the Seine, go further in and the dirt and filth and the grime of cosmopolitan life will assault you like any other city, I guess!




The Louvre - must go atleast to assuage your curiosity about Mona Lisa. As many would have told you before there are far many more impressive paintings and displays to see at the Louvre. However, its a very impressive complex, if you have any interest in architecture or museums or even if you don't have interest in any of this, don't miss one darshan.




Did you know that Notre Dame was the official landmark for Paris till the Eiffel Tower came along and stole its thunder? But I think I prefer the Sacre Couer to Notre Dame, although must say, entry is FREE...:)







That's Sacre Coeur atop the Montmartre. The view of Paris, once you have climbed all those steps is glorious. As beautiful as seeing it from the top of Eiffel Tower and less expensive...And if you have actually made your way to the top, go around the side towards the Artists Corner in Montmartre.


I was so in awe of the work displayed there that I asked someone who did a lot of Degas-esque work to take me as an intern and pay me with a painting of his..I promised to clean his brushes and prime his canvasses - he laughed like a Frenchman and said '
I don't understand you' in English!!!

On the climb downhill, don't miss some of the most amazing grafitti art along Montmartre...This is when I met the Tramp...



At the base of Montmartre is Moulin Rouge - the windmill made so famous by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman starrer film of the same name..

If you have any interest in art whatsoever, even if you skip Louvre ( by the way, when the French say it, the 'r' is silent) DON'T MISS Musee D'Orsay...I spent about 5 hours with two audio guides ( coz the battery of the first one died on me!!) alone in there rediscovering Monet and Seurat and Courbet and Degas

Also remember, when you are crossing over across the Seine, don't miss this sight...These are locks which is supposed to 'LOCK IN YOUR LOVE'..You write your names and seal the lock and throw the keys into the Seine..Now no one in the City of Lovers cared to answer my question as to whether there was a professional industry of divers around to retrieve keys if anyone wanted to 'Unlock' the Love.

Oh...and I think by now, I have shown you all the best parts of Amsterdam that we explored. Couldn't make it to the Van Gogh or Rembrandt museum though Musee D'Orsay soothed a lot of my disappointment..However, we girls didn't miss the Sex Museum. What's the point of visiting Amsterdam if you didn't pay a visit to one of their biggest tourist draws?

Also, don't miss a Canal Cruise...This I think is the best way to discover Amsterdam. While we were in Amsterdam, it poured and how..this is a view of the St.Nicholas church from the glass-ceiling of our boat by dusk.

That's me...signing off...Well, not exactly me..but the image I'd like to leave you with..:)


Friday, September 17, 2010

Europe - Point and Shoot - Food Gyan

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While at the University of Sussex, I had the chance to meet a number of Europeans. Mostly, the discussions would veer towards food. Need I say, Brit bashing, then becomes the norm? Well Brit bashing, I must roughly define, is a game of one up-manship where you come up with the lousiest examples of British cuisines. Using vile adjectives don’t win you any points, but if you manage to elicit a shudder in remembrance from one or more members of the group, then your example was successful.
 So there, I have set the context...We started our two city Europe adventure with little expectations...When you race to Gatwick at 4.30 in the morning to catch a flight, food isn’t foremost on the mind. 



Food Funda(FF) 1: If you choose wisely, then each meal can make you feel like you died and went to heaven..Even before we caught the train to Amsterdam Centraal from Schipol Airport, we had our first taste of heaven – Stropwaffels..So what are they? Tiny, crispy discs of waffles with loads of sugar and butter in it – with or without chocolate and other fillings. Felt like a taste of heaven( a view that I kept amending every half a day as we had a new meal, till by the end, I wasn’t even inspired to get a packet of stropwaffels back home to UK with me!)

F F2: It is better if you aren’t a vegetarian in Europe, for it limits your food-orgasms drastically. But if you travel with friends who eat anything that does not talk back or bite them, then you will be able to at least report on how good the food is! In Amsterdam, the check-in times are usually around 2PM, which meant that we had to while quite some time away in other places.



FF3: I wouldn’t suggest you walk into a ‘coffeeshop’ the first thing in the morning. If you do, you might not walk out for the rest of the day. Plan your trips to the coffeeshop, would be my wise advice. So after chucking a couple of ‘wholesome breakfast’ options at coffeeshops, we finally walked into a cafe that served us some wholesome food indeed...I twisted my tongue over ordering a chicken schnitzel sandwich( try it, try it casually and see if it does not go schnizhhhul, snitszhul and stuff..or maybe I was in sleep-deprived semi-coma!) but the world righted itself, after the first cup of a great cappuccino and the sandwich. 

FF 4: Amsterdam is great for food. Especially when you arrive here from the UK, the food feels delicious and under-priced. Never thought I’d say that about any place in Europe. But then, Paris began punching massive holes into my Euro wallet. The only consolation was, I was paying good money for some great food!



FF 5: We followed our brunch with a hearty snooze and then began planning our food stops even as we tried to find our way across Amsterdam. We ended up at a Bagel chain ( I forgot the name – it was a clever one) that we girls thought was a Quaint Cafe discovered by us. We hadn’t gone two streets down after having some yummy bagels with exotic cream cheese and one sweet one ( apple and cinnamon bagel with butter and chocolate sprinkles) when we noticed just another similarly ‘quaint cafe’. The realisation hurt, but what the heck, the stomachs were singing with pleasure. The hot chocolate with cream (seen here along with a fruit explosion) also helped ease the hurt!

FF 6: Travelling to Spain didn’t materialise, but we had some gorgeous Spanish Tapas. Tapas is typical Spanish fare which is served in small portion. So you might need about 6 dishes to feel kind of close to satiating your hunger. If you ever get to do it right, don’t miss the chance. And boy, did we do our meal right or not...A jug of Sangria –that is red wine with orange and apple rinds and a dash of orange juice to make it cocktailly – set the mood. Some of this yummy bread dunked in olive oil, with the tapas – ahhh...another slice of heaven. And between the three of us, the meal was about 42 euros only!!! In the UK, you’d easily shell out that amount for a meal for two without the wine and I’d not take wagers on the food.
FF 7: If you are ever in Amsterdam, don’t say no to their breads or stuffed pastries. The Dutch bake like a dream and when you pay under 1 Euro for most of these concoctions, you feel like you are getting great value for money. However, a Europe trip straight out of India’s cheap food prices might bring on a mini heart attack at the cost of everything in this part of the world!



FF 8: On one of our padayatras through the myriad –straats along the canal, we had seen a tiny shop called the Pancake Factory. A little searching online revealed that it was the most popular destination for all kinds of pancakes, crepes and what not. So we kept aside a considerable amount of time on the last day in Amsterdam for sampling their fare. Travelling with good friends make your food journeys cheaper. Between the three of us, we ordered up all the house specialities – pommefritjes (remember I told you about that in the last post?) with chocolate and cream and honey and mandarins and a savoury pancake with chicken and cheese. We had to wait for our seats and for our orders to be taken. But it was worth the wait, I say!

FF 9 : The stereotype about Parisienne food was created because there were enough people who endorsed it. We joined that rapidly increasing group. The Indian girl who travelled with me – a hardcore carnivore said she’d died and gone to heaven after her first encounter with a French steak. So much so that she willingly offered herself for a high cholesterol death by ordering different versions of the steak at the various meals in Paris. Must I say much about the wine and cheese? Though I must admit here, that we had by then started going cheap with our selections as the wallet began getting lighter faster than we anticipated.

FF 10: Don’t eat by the eateries near the Eiffel Tower if you are the kind to feel the Euros pinch. Save your hunger for the smaller, lesser known bistros along Montmartre regions. The food is equally luscious – my personal favourites – a salad with grilled goat’s cheese on tiny squares of toasts and a divine dressing and a chicken leg with French fries dunked in a glorious mushroom sauce cooked with wine. It set us off by about 20 Euros every meal – the food and wine together, but you wouldn’t regret it!

FF 11: In France, also remember to try the chocolate ├ęclairs and the simple croissants for breakfast with a dash of butter and some jams. The French, I think say some secret chant, as they cook their food. It just refuses to turn out bad!! Ohhh..and did I mention the simple crepes at roadside eateries? They seem like our dosa stalls – they are available just about everywhere...While you are at it, order the one with the Nutella and banana..and tell me if you saw heaven too?!! J
I’m now back to English realities and sandwiches with no salt or pepper. The last baguette that I had packed from Paris before boarding my bus – I remembered how I tried to make it last longer by taking smaller nibbles. The bread alone would have been worth the 5 Euros I paid!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Europe - Point and Shoot - Travel Fundas

11 comments

Now I have already told you that this is a travellogue....Like any true heroine of their own drama, I too want a shot at 'something different' like Maggi tomato ketchup....The more I thought of a syntax..the more it appeared like a souffle gone wrong after the promise of a Michellin effort...


So then, I decided to just let be...and here's what has been decided...Till the day that I run out of anything more to say ( and that's saying something) or I'm really bored trying to eke out that last little nugget out of this fun holiday - I shall try to post a bit of something or the other about different things...

Today is Travel Fundas...


The Schengen guys at the VFS didn't like the way my teeth were set or the totally black ensemble that I had on when I went for my scheduled appointment to apply for a visa...I can't think of another reason why they privately laughed at my application for multiple entry with atleast a week's duration for each visit and sent me home a visa stamped for one entry for the duration of 4 days...Yes you heard me right, 4 MEASLY DAYS..


The truth is I have never been treated so shabbily before by any country where I applied for a visa. So since I hadn't anticipated that the EU really didn't care whether I shelled out more Euros to keep their economy afloat, I had gone the whole hog and booked my tickets and accommodation. The initial plan was a girlie trip Amsterdam-Paris and Madrid for 6.5 days. Easyjet made offers that lured, so we succumbed. Little were we to know that only the American in our gang of three ( henceforth she is Ms.GPS - had it not been for her GPS on the iPhone, we would have had some episodes of LOST to tape) made it to all three places on the itinerary. The other Indian was sent back to UK after the 3rd day, while I got 4 days!!!


In hindsight however, the holiday was a great success...How many of you can claim to have gone on a holiday where you travelled in a plane, a train, routine interactions with a cycle and a boat and then followed it up with a bus and a ship?? Well, I had all that and more in just 4 days...


We got to Amsterdam by Easyjet..and not KLM. Book in advance and you can get tickets for 20 pounds also..Ours was one of those cheap tickets that would not have been sufficient for the air hostess of our flight get home after it in a cab!  Do we care as long as we had a deal? Hell, no!! 


From the Schipol Airport to the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station is about a 20 minute train ride. That is if you can figure out whether you are on the right platform!! We nearly began our journey to Eindhoven before we had the sense to get the headphones of a young guy to confirm whether we were going to Amsterdam. He looked at us with a weird expression and went Duhhhhh, No!! 


So Travel Funda 1(TF 1): Asking for confirmations isn't bad in Dutch land, but asking for directions might land you in the hands of some over zealous samaritan who might just set you off on a merry trip to nowhere.( I say out of experience of finding my way from Harlemmerstraat to the Anne Frank museum - which happened to be just about 2 and a half streets away, but we took 3 hours to figure that) Btw, the Dutch wait for a hapless tourist to stand by a traffic light with a spread map to come forward and try to help them. A definite change from those London lads, I tell you!


Once in Amsterdam city, forget any form of transportation. That's my TF 2 - Walking is not just a way to discover this city, but great to burn off all those yummy Dutch treats like pommefritjes (tiny pancakes smothered in chocolate or cream or any other sin you can think of!!) or stropwaffels!!! If you'd rather rent a cycle, there are many. Walking only becomes a pain when you suddenly see a kamikaze biker heading straight for you as you try to cross the road...

However, my eye was set on this beauty!! There wasn't the owner around or I'd have charmed them into giving me a spin on this for sure!


TF 3 : Don't miss out on the canal cruises along the different canal routes of Amsterdam. And its just between 8-10 euros. The city seems like an architectural wonder precariously balanced along the waterside, there are also these houses to ogle at...And no, before you think its because they are too poor to afford homes on firm ground, here's the reality check - these houseboats can cost you anywhere from 300,000 Euros upwards..And I got my zeros right in that figure! 


TF 4: There are also trams for those lazy to walk, but I'd just say Shame on you..You miss so much!!!Ditto for Paris. Except for taking the Metro to traverse the larger distances, the thought of not walking up and down wherever reduces the charm of a holiday. Also refer to TF2 about burning the lard!


TF 5: Travelling from Amsterdam to Paris by train - Highly recommended - this way you cross through many places like Antwerp, Rotterdam and Brussels. All you see of these cities might be what you see from the train window, but then there's some fun in saying, 'Oh, I'd travelled to Paris from Amsterdam via blah blah blah cities.' Pompousness sometimes is deliciously enjoyable! If you book early by Eurostar, you can get some really cheap deals in the vicinity of 30 pounds.


TF 6: Never bother to cancel an Easyjet ticket when you find that you can't make it. For one, you will waste most of the balance on your phone trying to get through an elusive executive. And if you do, then there could be the chance that they charge you 25 pounds to cancel a ticket that cost you 20 pounds. Avoid insult on financial injury. Just zip it and bear the loss!


TF 7: Disappointment and Desperation are great travel companions if Luck is added into the mix..So when the Spain leg fell flat, I began cheaper 'Return Home' searches. One such one led me to a bus option. If you don't mind an 8 hour bus journey, then travelling by bus from Paris to London - highly recommended. For Indians, used to khataras and buses with asbestos sheets for seats, these are high luxury Volvo buses. Moreover, you get to travel by the ferry across from Calais to Dover. I don't know about you, but after reading about the Dover to Calais ferry ride in a short story back in school, this idea of travelling from one country to another by ferry was appealing. The Ferry is good fun, serves Food (English not French, so don't be too hopeful) and gets you from Calais to Dover in an hour and a bit. 


TF 8: However, ensure you have enough time to find the bus stop, because like in my case, the address was bang in the middle of Rue de Maubeuge that curved and dipped like it felt like. And even people at the Paris Gare Du Nord Railway station don't usually know that the Rue de Maubeuge is in reality the little side street that runs by the left side of the station premises!! Can you beat that? When I couldn't locate door No. 83, I remembered asking two policemen in a car in the street nearby. For one, they were stumped by my non-French question and more importantly, they had no clue where the address was..imagine seeking their help if a murder were to happen at 83??


 If travelling cheap and safe is what you are looking to do, remember to come back here for my cheap tricks to make your Euros stretch...There are many more fundas coming up - from accommodation to food to living it up! 


Merci Beaucoup!! :)


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Europe - Point and Shoot!!!

15 comments
It's been a pretty long while since I blogged..The last month has been traumatic...I wrote atleast about 17000 words that were whittled down to about 15000...And no, I didn't get a book contract...Nor did what I was writing give me as much satisfaction as blogging.. But then, the holy dissertation to ensure that you complete your MA ( that can conveniently also be redubbed D-shit-ations) had to be given priority..

So I was cut off from the blogosphere...hearing sad news in passing, hardly able to read much or even share the fun that I have had amidst d-shit-ation rants...

I have so much to share...so much to discuss..so here's the plan..beginning today, for the next one week or maybe less ( I'm yet to divide my stuff yet..) I shall have a travellogue series..Little snippets from here and there with of course photographs...

Amsterdam and Paris will be the two cities on the menu...and these will be short pieces, focussing on different aspects..food, fun and for sure the places of interest...I don't want to sound like a 'Welcome to Amsterdam, Glad to take you around' tour guide. So primarily in the next couple of days, I'll tell you what I saw and what I observed..What I did for fun and what I 'unfortunately' didn't do! 



It's been a long time since I heard from you all...So do drop a line, if you think its a good idea for a series...Your questions and comments can make this exercise interactive and fun for both of us..:) 

This series will be called Europe - Point and Shoot...:)