Sunday, March 27, 2011

Global Haircut experience - Part 1

One of the monthly rigors that you need to carry out – to appear clean, well groomed and approachable is having a decent mop of hair on your head. It is a critical indicator of your appearance to the external world and also for your own internal self confidence that is also defined by your looks. A hair cut can be a monthly routine or twice in three months routine, but nevertheless is a part and parcel of every working professional’s life in the corporate world. The only exceptions to this regular hair cutting regime could be due to fashion - AR Rehman , MS Dhoni (who had huge mops of shoulder length hair in the beginning), Radio Jockeys, actors  or due to religion.

For that moment lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour the hairdresser has complete control on you like no one else. Like a lead mentoring the orchestra with the swift movement of his music stick, the hairdresser uses his comb, scissor or razor in his hand. This movement of the comb/scissor/razor are the tunes to which your head subconsciously sways for that hour. Its like being in a rock concert with no music playing, but still your head-banging in and out. As you bow down, or sway sidewards all you are doing is dancing to the tunes of the hairdresser while his scissors chirp away to glory cutting those locks of hair that you managed to grow since your last haircut. Skillful and crafty enough – he not only saves your ears from being cut, but also uses that tiny razor to remove those microns of hair defining the boundaries of your sideburns and outline of the head meeting the neck. The craftiness of delicate work does make you tickle, or sends shivers down your spine. This experience is more out of your own anticipation to get hurt and then experiencing not getting hurt the next second or because of the sensuousness that your nerves detect when a razor just shaves a micron of hair just a centimeter above them.  Over the years, as I have taken numerous haircuts with hairdressers all around the world, I have realized that a lot occurs during haircuts.  If hairdressers are chatty enough – I can chat incessantly throughout my haircut. If hairdressers are quiet, I can go the silent way with my mind free to think what it wants to. If I have known the hairdresser for a long time, at times I even go to sleep during the entire haircut! I had the same hairdresser for 23 years in Mumbai, India during my growing up years and all it required for him to ensure my head obeys his orchestra is to gently tap my head in the direction he needs it  to move to, while I was blissfully asleep listening to the background radio playing old hindi songs. My head was totally obedient of the hairdresser as if in auto pilot mode, while i dozed off  in a world of Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar songs. However if you are having haircut in a new country, its important to ensure you don’t end up sleeping away to glory but are alert. The reason being that only you know how you want to look! The hairdresser can give you that “Fresh Peeled Chicken” look if left unguided, the look that will haunt you for weeks and make you the butt of jokes till then! Listed below are some of the experiences of having a haircut in a globalized world across Americas, Europe and Asia.

Price – INR 100 (approximately $2!)  This includes a head and back massage with special aroma oil

Having been born and brought up in India, of course most of the haircuts in my lifetime will be attributed to India and more specifically Mumbai. Though I have had haircuts in other cities while working there – Bangalore, Pune, nothing like the Mumbai hair cut. 

From the time I was a kid, I used to accompany my father to the same hairdresser saloon in Mulund and almost had the same hairdresser for 23 years since I was born, until we moved out to a different suburb of Mumbai. All the hairdressers in this “Maharashtra Hair Cutting Saloon” right opposite Mulund (East) railway station, knew us quiet well, including the owner - a Marathi manoos always dressed in Safari and somewhat resembling Mr. Sharad Pawar, the Maratha politician. It would seem slightly uncommon, but when we were shifting suburbs and moving to a bigger house at CBD Belapur in 2004, I had specifically gone to bid them goodbye for that one last haircut and believe me – it was an emotional moment. For those 23 years – usually on Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Wednesday (the only auspicious days when I was allowed to have a hair cut) of a month, I had my hair cut by my favorite hairdresser  - who resembled  Indian hindi movie superstar Rajesh Khanna per my imagination. He used to call me “Baba” since the time I was small enough  to fit into his big chair  and needed two big cushions under my ass to lift me till I could see myself in the mirror !  With Rajesh, he knew exactly what I wanted and sometimes the experimentation I carried out also came out well – like a crew cut, spiky cut which were a fashion rage during my college days. The haircut costed anywhere from INR 10 – INR 50 till I was 23. That including a handsome tip made the day for Rajesh and ended my monthly visit to the hairdresser. Even 6 months back, when i was in India on a vacation in Oct 2010, when i was in Mulund, i specifically stepped inside the saloon to search for Rajesh and he was just sitting outside, having a tea. We exchanged pleasantries and i introduced him to my wife was just waiting outside the saloon. Rajesh was glad and shared that one of the other hairdressers (who had cut my hair atleast once) died of a heart attack a year back. It was sad to know. Rajesh planned to retire in a years time and settle back in his hometown in UP. Hope i get that last haircuit of Rajesh before he hangs up his boots or should i say scissors?

Since we moved to a new suburb – CBD Belapur in 2004, I have literally stayed out of my suitcase – thanks to my work which took me to Bangalore, Pune, US, Norway and host of other places. Hence, when I am at home I have been going to the recommended hairdresser by my dad – Royal Hairdressers.  This hairdresser is now faintly familiar with me as he knows I give him repeat business a little less regularly – once every six months, when I am at home for vacation, but nevertheless with an unforgettable tip. To add to it he has been successful to upsell value added services like a head massage and back massage which I finally succumbed to. After all – if i can spend a minimum of 8-12 times the cost of a haircut in India while abroad, why not indulge in some self fulfillment when it costs a fraction of the amount it would otherwise cost abroad? A haircut in his AC room (non AC is less expensive), a massage for the back and head with aromatic Navratna oil including a handsome tip – all for INR 100! 

What more does one want in life??? 2 months before I come to India on vacation or just before I travel abroad, I ensure my haircuts are planned for this arbitrage and pleasure in India! 

To be continued...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 has sprung to life!

The 2011 Cricket World Cup has been very exciting in patches. Though it took time for the world to deliver the attention it needed, it has been worth the wait! The delay has been caused only because of the knock-offs against the “Associates” or second rung teams – which went on for close to a month from Feb 19th – March 20th. Too long a time. However, the Group B team has nevertheless brought the “World” back to the “Cup” as some of the sports analysts rightly mentioned in his article.

Group B sets the pace
The Group B team comprised of India, England, South Africa, West Indies, Netherlands, Ireland and Bangladesh. Though the last three countries are relatively minnows, they showed brilliance in patches. India stamped its authority against these countries to drive home an advantageous 6 points out of 3 games (each win gives you 2 points). Against the tougher opponents , we managed to tie a match with England, lost a winning match to South Africa and won a match against West Indies. So in effect this provides another 3 points (Tie / No Results – each give 1 point).  No wonder – India made it to the Quarter Final and maybe this layout of games for India was pre-conspired by the decision makers – ICC, Sponsorers and the BCCI – the Cricketing sport body of India which is pumping all the money into the sport. They have to. A cricket crazy nation can very well treat its guests (like Aussies, SA, NZ etc) well per the old Indian saying "Athithi devo bhava",  but if India are not in the later stages of the tournament the crowds and advertisers wont participate in the match and cut of the flow of funds thereby silently saying guests when would you leave? which in hindi means "Athithi tum kab jaaoge?"!

England - the rising and falling star of Group B
England have also kept the match interesting with that tie against India, losses against Ireland and Bangladesh and the matches they never looked to win – the one against West Indies and South Africa, which they finally won. They were on a cliff hanger till the last week and finally entered the Quarter Final after turning around a match against West Indies. If there is any side who can win it and have the hunger – it should be England. However , since their team members are deserting the main team right at the start of Quarter Finals due to injury, depression, hospitalization maybe lady luck is not on their side. South Africa have got the perfect balance in the side, with Pace, Spin, Fielding and some good batsmen in the team. Though their openers are not amongst runs, still they bat deep down the order and with the likes of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Ab de Villiers holding fort amongst the top order – they are an enviable side to beat.

Unexciting Group A
Amongst Group A, now that Aussies are out of the scene - the scarrier opponents look more to be New Zealand, Sri Lank and Pakistan. The Friday and Saturday of this week will determine, who amongst these will make it to the Semi Final, when they play England and South Africa. Hope this world cup "is NOT time for Africa"! The matches in Group A though have been torturously boring and not as topsy turvey and unpredictable like that of Group B (thanks England, India, Bangladesh, Ireland for that!).

Incredible India!
India has been devastatingly over rated at the beginning of the tournament to lift the cup. Quite rightly Indian team proved otherwise with the way they have unconvincingly won against the minnows – Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands. This helped to get the pressure of the Indian team as the knives were then more on their poor fielding, lack of wicket taking bowling and inability to use the Power Play to the best of their abilities. A match against England gone down to the wire and being tied and a match against South Africa, which they lost closely however gave them the much needed training ground for relaxing their nerves and fighting till the end. India have won matches where irrespective of the toss, they have set targets or chased targets under pressure scenarios. This coming from a team who has not exactly been known for its bowling or ability to chase under pressure (till a few years back) is a revelation formed only over the last decade post the match fixing scandal. The one thing that invisibly guides all our match wins and the self belief that we are better than others is the backing, brave acts and mental toughness injected into the team by the likes of Sourav Ganguly. You just need to see the way he took off his T-shirt and swung it around in the players arena at “Lords” , England - the Mecca of Cricket when India won the 2002 Natwest Trophy final chasing a target.Yuvraj Singh was a part of that upset in the crease along with the now forgotten Mohammad Kaif. Along with the swinging off the T-shirt he was generous in a string of expletives especially against the loosing team – England, giving it back to them. 

India's thumping win against Australia setting the pace for "Mother of all Games" - India vs Pak in a Semi Final!
The ingredients of this experience of chasing successfully in One Day Internationals  + captains aggression + India’s wide experience and honest evaluation of its strengths and ability to weaken its weaknesses are instrumental in India’s win against Australia today, to enter the Semi Finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Today’s match by any reach was the display of a team which collectively fought the Aussies. The fact that India managed to use all its players in the initial Qualifying stages in Group B held us in good stead. We got the combination of team right today from a bowlers perspective. If the Spin  was the guile of R Ashwin, quick paced lollies of Yuvraj or the containers of Bhajji, the pace was done by the brilliance of Zaheer Khan who understands his limitations and exploits his strengths with loose Munaf Patel bearing the brunt of the Aussies frustrations. I strongly request Munaf Patel, Sreesanth S and Ashish Nehra to stop worshipping Ajit Agarkar for bowling skills! No wonder, we spew more than 6-7 runs per over from these guys! Looks like they cant sleep with a clear conscience if they don't leak runs at that rate! From a batsmens perspective, great to see the much hyped Indian batting order perform to its potential. Barring the crazy shot from Virat and Gambhir’s suicidal run out – there were no hiccups. Raina proved his selection over Yusuf and may well continue to cling onto his place for matches to come, which would hold India in good stead. As Indian cricket looks to loose Sachin, Rahul, Laxman in the next 1 year due to retirement – Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj, Sehwag, Pathan look well in place to shoulder the responsibility in various roles. Finally we avenged the 2003 World Cup Final defeat against Australia in style. In the end, though Aussies tried their last trick in the hat – sleding and abusing to unsettle Indians, we aced. As they say – you reap the results of your own efforts – maybe Aussies gave too much of lip service to our men on ground and we chose to deliver with the performance than abusing sledges! Either ways, the batting has been magnificient barring Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has been a shrewd captain with the right words in press conferences which never brings his own weakness – batting form under focus.

The Indian magic mantra to win the ICC World Cup 2011:
A) Win the Semi Final against Pakistan (The Mother of all games) @ Mohali, India
B) Win the Final @ Wankhede, Mumbai, India
C) Dhoni, Bhajji and Munaf to deliver and others to keep performing at their potentials.
D) Sehwag and Sachin to fire incessantly for A and B with Sachin not scoring a 100 (so that India wins! Sorry Sachin, just feel your centuries jinx our winning chances. Also, when you dont score and India wins, its good experience for the next generation of players to continue winning in Indian cricket re. Am sure you understand!)

Fingers crossed, hope we lift it this time! Chak de India!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

56th Filmfare Awards: Flattery at its best!

I am an avid movies fan. No doubt about it. 30 years on planet earth and there is not a good movie that I would have missed on earth. I have seen Hindi, Tamil, English and Marathi movies the most as these are the ones I relish and understand completely. Have also seen Bengali, Punjabi, Oriya, Malayalam and Telugu movies with subtitles during the “Door Darshan” days, when the only escape from a Sunday afternoon study session was to watch a regional language movie without understanding “head or tail” of it! Off late, with a lot of spare time and options for experimentation, I have also added Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Yugoslavian, Russian, Spanish, Brazilian, British, Scottish, Irish, Austrian, Vietnames, Iranian, Iraqi, Egyptian, German, Swedish movies to that list of exotic movies seen. When you watch a foreign language movie, it requires a lot of patience to study the body language, mannerisms, the surroundings of the scene and simultaneously reading the subtitles in English and finally enjoy the movie. I have never been disappointed.

Apart from movies, have also been an avid watches of award functions – especially for Indian movies and more specifically – Filmfare Awards. I have almost grown up watching the “Black Lady” being doled out to an army of actors who have entertained us with gay abandon. I have also lived through all those “Thank you” speeches and hearing this dialogue at least umpteen times – “I was made for movies right from the time I was a kid and figured out walking by my two feet. In the bathroom, I have held the soap bar on my hands and practiced my thank you speech for the award for 20 years…and glad to receive this today after so many years. This is for you XYZ”, where the XYZ  can be mom, dad, wife, his pet crow, favorite pair of underwears or whatever! Emotions are a strange thing. They can make normal life look magical. Full respect to the capabilities of the actors and the pleothra of technical teams like Directors, Stunt Manager, Spot Boys, Make up artists, Lyricists and others. They make us forget our miseries through the movies and entertain us.  

In return to their entertainment we adorn the stars of these movies with adulation. Adulation can either be  taken on one’s stride..the difficult part or lead to a self inflated ego...the easy path to self adulation.  It is this force of self ego and "i am better than the best" attitude which is getting bigger amongst today’s actors from Bollywood. Everybody wants an award and if rumor mills are to be believed...almost everyone buys an award. There are islands of powers in these spaces of ego centers. Some of these prominent islands are the Bachhan camp, Khan Camp, Kapoor Camp, Chopra Camp or the recently added “Kumar” camp. 

Each of these camps is boisterous in its own rights and having a tower of ego, that needs to be regularly stroked. They also needed to be given “special mentions”, “special awards” if they can’t be nominated or be winning in a select category.  If you watch any of the awards - especially the most recent 56th Filmfare awards, you always see worship of three centers of powers for no rhyme or reason. In Hindu religion, its just like worshipping “Brahma Vishnu Maheshwara” or saying a “Sri Ganesh” before starting something new. The three power centers worshipped are “Mr Shah Rukh Khan” (SRK), “Mr. Amitabh Bachchan” and “Mr. Yash Chopra”. The worship is either through awards which they don’t deserve (SRK did'nt deserve the Best Actor award for My name is Khan. Mr. Bachhan got an award for completing 40 years in Bollywood. What the heck…40 years is a milestone? How many have already reached that before Mr. Bachhan?) or special mentions of Mr. Chopra that don’t have any merit  (of film industry intermittently being thankful to Mr. Chopra almost adorning him with the role of a living father of Indian film industry).

Mr. Bachchan in his own right – gets the accolades and appreciations and yet tries hard to appear modest. While I say this, I would like to clarify that I am one of the most ardent of Amitabh’s fans right from childhood …having watched even shoddy films like “MARD” 17 times! Not to forget apart from this Khuda Gawah, Jaadugar, Toofan, Shehenshah. Mr. SRK - is a great improviser when it comes to talking and being spontaneous and trying to be funny and intelligent - no doubt about that. The most irritating part is his attitude at times which is very oversmartish and the desperate attempt to be nice. 

I strongly believe that the pre-condition for big stars before accepting invite for any event is – “Award for any category for sure”, “Kiss my ass through adulations intermittently” , “Personal choice of seating in the audience..usually the first row” and of course “”. This unwanted flattery, sycophancy really looks too artificial to be true. 

It just shows that all the Filmfare awards and shows are actually scripted and directed by these actors. Through these functions, they can continue holding onto their “make believe world” and continue fooling the audience like us. No wonder some folks who already realized it – Amir Khan, Ajay Devgan, Nana Patekar and now Salman Khan are no longer attending these events. 

While I hate this flattery and sycophancy, I know I won’t be able to cross my heart and swear - never watch the awards function again. I will for sure watch another award function. That’s the true Indian fan on Bollywood…its in his blood to criticize, but still birthright to watch “Ego massaging award shows”, “flop movies”. This is because he loves “Bollywood”, its movies and actors and will never let it down!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Norway: Stavanger: Islandhopping Tau

Stavanger as a city lives up to its reputation of being a tourist hotspot during the summers. Me and my wife moved to this city just in the midst of summer and I could well feel I was in Miami, Goa or some other place. The roads were split into halfs by road dividers that had special red colored flowers. A drivers and a walkers delight!

Indian vikings in Tau!
In and around this magnificent city, It is very easy to steal glimpses of nature that may leave you perplexed. You may feel that it is too good to be true and what you saw was a really creative figment of your imagination.  You can steal these glimpses even during the winter / snow season, when it is about to end. After having quiet a few rainy weekends (rainy = normal in Stavanger) the sun was out on Saturday – March 5th and the two enthusiasts – Ragish and Raghu woke the remaining eight of us from our weekend slumber and lazing by organizing an on-the-fly island hopping trip. We all got equally excited and within an hours time, assembled at Fisketerminale (the pier from where the boats/ ferry leave). After spending an hour in chaos, confusion and some leg pulling, we finally settled upon the island “Tau”. Tau is a village in the municipality of Strand and has about 3000 inhabitants.  “Tau” is about 20 minutes by ferry from Stavanger. It takes about NOK 43 (£ 4.5) each way per person, but an enjoyable ride on the sea. You get to see some explicit views of the sea kissing the mountains, horizon. We were out on the deck of the ferry, braving the winds with gusto and photographs for posterity. We finally kissed the harbor of Tau. There were a sea of cars and people waiting to get out of our ferry and equal numbers outside, waiting to get in. It is easier for cars in Stavanger to take the ferry and come to “Tau” and vice versa.

Tau as seen from ferry
The name “Tau” comes from the Norsk word Taufr meaning witchcraft, and one believes there was a sacrificial field here in the Iron age. In the viking age, and maybe even earlier, it was a cultic centre. It was so important that they even tried to change the name of the place. They tried to change the name of the area to Sevarbakke, but had to give up after some 3 centuries.
Legend has it that Erik Bloodaxe had a royal estate in Tau, on Liland. His wife, Gunnhild, was said to be a powerful sorceress. Erik was overthrown by his brother, Haakon the Good, after only 5 years reign. He then went over to England, and became the last independent viking king in Northumberland. He fell in a battle in Southern England some years later.

In the middle ages, Tau was a centre for flour mills and saw mills. There was also a lot of timber being shipped out from Tau, to the UK, the Netherlands and France. In 1855, they built an industrial flour mill and a brewery in Tau. This became a corner stone of the local community, and led to new growth. Today, most people in Tau work in Stavanger and commute by ferry.
Though we didn’t find witches swishing away on the harbor on their broom sticks, we did have a eerie feeling once we landed at Tau. There was absolutely no one in the pier in 10 minutes after
the ferry stopped, it was a deserted island as all cars and the people escaped onto thin air. 10 exotic Indians, one beautiful island and the curiosity got the better of us. We saw a hill around, which later we got to know was called “Taurafjellet” It is apparently the most scenic viewpoint over Tau and some part of rural Stavanger.  

After seeing the hill and no hint of a pizza shop -  “Pizzabakkeren” around, we decided – why not climb it? There was no one to guide us around and this is an unconventional tourist spot, so no tourist information centers. Collectively our group of 10 was innocently armed with some left over potato crispies, salted peanuts, half a dozen beer cans, over 2 litres of water. Why innocent? Only cos we never knew we gonna trek Taurafjellet – and that’s what we did! 

We took a calf path, which looked to be leading to someone’s home or to a dead end. Either ways…though some of us were circumspect…the others barged ahead and the rest followed. The surroundings gave absolutely no sound of human existence, though there were plenty of houses around. What broke the serenity was the barkings of an enthusiastic dog. The dog never saw so many people this entire winter – especially Indians, who are exotic dishes in Tau! After barking out a yelp or two in chorus, we surged ahead and continued climbing in totally under prepared trekking gears, boots, very little food and no clue of a path to the top but with loads of enthusiasm.

Making climbing sticks out of dry wood and by placing our feet on the marshy and slippery hills with the same calculations like that of a move in the game of chess, we overcame boulders, marshy and damp land and climbed further up. After a pit stop, we finally found the actual trekking path and then had a smooth climb up hill. Overall, with a combination of unconventional calf path + actual trekking path, it wouldn’t have taken us more than 30 -45 minutes (including breaks) to trek up.

View atop Taurafjellet
Once up, we stole magnificent views of island “Tau” and the surrounding areas. Out came our cameras and we gave this place more than its share of attention by clicking to the dozen. Some photographs in groups, some in solo – we ensured photographs in every permutation combination that we may ever need to present as proof of being to this place, if ever needed even by the court of law! Out came the snacks, the beer and water. After munching to the dozen and feeling oily to the core (because of the crispies + salted peanuts), we started the descent and finally reached down in the next 30 minutes. Downhill was nothing but swaying to the tunes of lady gravity and trying to not fall/ slip down. Finally we reached the bottom of the hill and saw the beginning of the actual trek path – the path we should have ideally taken in the beginning to trek up.

After walking on the street in no direction and nowhere in particular, we turned around and ran, fast walked to the pier to catch the next ferry back to Stavanger. All in all…an amazing trip and adventure. The ones you have grown reading about in “Secret Seven”, “Famous Five” but secretly wishing you were a part of. And this time…we were! Hats off to the 10 Indian Vikings from Stavanger with the never say die enthusiasm who did that!

Ferry that swallows cars and people

Enthusiasm never dies with age!
Paths of glory?

View during descent

Musafir hoon ghar hai na thikana