A “Royal Send-off” Indeed

Today, I sipped on a Manhattan, a Bordeaux, and champagne, 30,000 feet up in the air.

Today, I munched on smoked salmon and a lobster cocktail, 30,000 feet up in the air.

Today, I slept on a full size bed, 30,000 feet up in the air.

Today, I got a Bulgari toilet kit. For free. What is this magic?

Salmon, lobster cocktail and capers – appetizers during dinner
Stretching my legs to infinity. Full size bed! On a flight!
French toast for breakfast

Yup. Now this is a life I could get used to.

Flying from Houston to Dubai on Emirates business class was easily the most incredible flight experience I’ve ever had. It helps that I had no idea I was going to fly in such comfort.

Thank god for unexpected upgrades.

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Leaving America

August 1, 2012.

I arrived in the United States, wide-eyed and eager.

I entered a world of Fahrenheit’s, soft R’s, MM/DD formats, way too many choices in grocery stores, pounds, miles, gallons, miles per gallon (one of the first things the Indian in me did when I got my car was do a mileage conversion to km/l – 14, thank you very much), and toilet paper.

I hoped to learn new things and meet new people. I hoped to experience a new culture and make new friends. I hoped to get a good job and make money. I hoped to get a visa and settle down.

I’ve done most of those things.

It’s a known fact that the immigration system in the country is screwed up. To place the lives of thousands of potential immigrants who have not only studied here but have also worked and contributed as tax-paying members of society in the hands of a lottery with a grand prize of a work authorization visa, the chances of which are only marginally better than those of one actually winning a million dollar jackpot, is maddening.

I used to argue that the lottery system for picking H1B visas was probably the fairest, because a random number generator would be most unbiased in its selection of hopefuls to give them a chance in making a mark here.

What I said is probably true in terms of bias. The lottery system isn’t fair, however. It places the folks who’ve devoted years to study here in the same basket as those coming from other countries courtesy their companies that apply for visas in the tens of thousands, in effect gaming the system.

It doesn’t make sense. And it’s in need of a major overhaul.

Unfortunately though, that will have to be done without my lawful presence in the country.

July 4, 2017.

Independence Day in the United States.

It also happens to be exactly 3 years to the day that I came to Houston to work with my company. A happy coincidence.

It’s been a good five years in the country. But to quote Robert Plant in Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, “I’ve got to ramble.”

Tomorrow, I leave behind home, family, friends, and familiarity.

Tomorrow, I go back to home, family, friends, and familiarity.

It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be exciting.

It’s going to be worth it.

Goodbye for now, America.

Hello again, India.

La Desagradable Cantina

I book flights based on what’s cheapest and as a result, direct flights are rare events for me. I always figure I would be able to handle the long layovers which I typically go through during such flights on the day of the flight. Inevitably, the consequence is irritation on the day of the flight.

This past Sunday was no exception. I was flying back from East Lansing, after a great time with my mother’s side of the family celebrating the occasion of Jillala (my grandfather)’s 80th birthday. My flight was from Detroit to Houston via Dallas – a much more manageable connection and a far cry from the geographical nightmares I’m more accustomed to (“New York to Houston via Minneapolis?!”). It was a two-hour layover in Dallas with a flight delay extending it to close to three.

I figured I’d get some dinner while I was at it. I looked around for options and ended up going to Cantina Laredo, a Mexican chain – I’ve always been impressed by how the restaurant looks from the outside, there being one close to home, and have wanted to try it for a while.

What followed ended up being one of the most abhorrent meals, Mexican or otherwise, I’ve ever had the misfortune of consuming.

I usually don’t write Yelp reviews but given my experience, I was forced a hard hand. The meal and the delay left me irritated, as is tradition. Also, I wanted to kill time. I’m publishing the review here for posterity’s sake.

I’m not one for writing a Yelp review. I’m also not one for not finishing my meal. Tonight, both those things happened.

Quite possibly the worst Mexican meal I’ve had in the country. I felt like Gordon Ramsay on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares in that all I wanted to do was look across toward a non-existent camera calling attention to all the things that were off in my dish, and then head over to the kitchen to yell at the chef. Couldn’t do that, so this will have to suffice.

I ordered the avocado enchiladas, which consists of two enchiladas in tomatillo sauce, Mexican rice and zucchini.

Let’s start with the positives.

1. There was classic rock playing on the radio.
2. There were some good games being telecast.

Now for the negatives.

1. The salsa that came with the chips was cold, clearly having just come out of the refrigerator.
2. The glass that my water came in was dirty. As was the plate that my dish came in.
3. The tortillas for my enchilada were cold and smelt old.
4. The dish was basically some avocados thrown in flour tortilla and smothered in tomatillo sauce. The waitress said the sauce would be spicy and tasty. Spoiler alert: it was neither of those things. The enchiladas were served over what seemed to be a bed of spinach and uncooked purple cabbage.
5. Everything was sour. So, so sour.
6. The less said about the zucchini, the better. Suffice to say it follows point number 5.
7. It costs an exorbitant $14.50 (including tax).

No idea what this dish is supposed to represent. I sincerely hope nobody looks to this to have a measure of what enchiladas (or avocados) are supposed to taste like.

Tip: Get a burger at McDonald’s. Eat some wings at Wingstop. Munch on a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s.

Just don’t make the same mistake I did and order avocado enchiladas at Cantina Laredo.

I rated the place one star.

It’s been two days. I still cringe thinking about that meal.

Master of Names

New age parents should just give their kids different spellings for their names so as to enable them to have personalized email addresses in the future…

An example would be Krsna instead of Krishna as a name so that this kid can get an email address of krsna@gmail.com instead of krishna12@gmail.com. Professionally useful, and makes the kid stand out.

Disgusting tv show ideas #1: “Master of Names”, an Aziz Ansari style dramedy where an Indian immigrant gets all the girls because he advertises his email address on his Tinder profile but becomes disillusioned because he can’t find the One.

Or it could just be a show that follows the rise of Elodin, Master Namer from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle which I’m reading (does listening to audiobooks count as reading?) right now.

Wait, I’d actually watch that show…

The convenience of New York City’s public transport system is such that you tend to take it for granted, always assuming that there’s a bus or a train available to take you to your destination. Most times, you’d be right in making such an assumption. Then there are the times when you wouldn’t.

And those are the times you’re left scrambling.

An Ode to Late Night

What a great time for late night television.

I’ve been a fan of late night for a long time now. I remember staying up to watch Jay Leno and Jon Stewart when I was in India. The shows were never broadcast around the same time that they were in the US – in fact the Leno episodes were all broadcast maybe a year or two after they actually aired live, leading to jokes which were not only lost in translation but were also lost as a result of time. I loved the entire concept of late night – the fact that there’s a host and the host satirizes the current state of the country he (and it was almost always a he) lived in and that there were (mostly) interesting guests who would plug whatever they used late night TV audiences to plug.

Now we have guys like John Oliver, Kimmel, Fallon, Meyers and the ever-present Conan to take care of things.

And then there’s Colbert.

A few months ago, I said this to a couple of friends about him: “Colbert has lost his voice completely. He used to be great on the Report but without the veil of satire, he’s just another political commentator now, which doesn’t work for the late night audience… the man also needs a good sidekick to liven things up (Jon Batiste, while making for a great band leader, makes for a terrible sidekick) and he needs to lay off Trump for a while.”

I couldn’t be more wrong.

Colbert has found his footing, and he’s been stunning on television. His repeated take-downs of Trump have been top class – primarily because his rants are actually those – rants. You can see the rage seething out of him (and Sam Bee, who’s been great with Full Frontal) against the nightmarish first month of the Trump administration. By contrast, The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah looks at the administration from a more of an “incredulous outsider” point of view, and hasn’t been doing much yet to take up the mantle left by Jon Stewart. Colbert has clearly filled the void left by the sharp political commentary of Stewart, and it’s good to see him back.

Whether Trump has made America great again is up for debate. He’s certainly made Colbert (and late night) great again.

I’m still right about Jon Batiste though. Dude really needs to up his in-show vocabulary.

(Side note: Seth Meyers has been killing it on his Closer Look segments.)

(Side note #2: Conan should just do an entire show of remotes.)

(Side note #3: It’s interesting that so many late night show hosts have / had first names that start with the letter J.)

Canine Hunger Games

That’ll teach him not to steal from me!

I came across the above gif on Reddit today and it reminded me of Sydney and Tudor.

This was always a problem we faced at home. Sydney was a bit of a doormat. Tudor, being the more rambunctious of the two, would walk all over poor Syd and get his way.

We started off giving lunch to both Sydney and Tudor at the same time, at the same place, more for a convenience factor than anything else – it was easier to just put the food at the same place for both the dogs and maintain an eye over them than separate the two and expending more energy in the process. Soon, it became clear that a separation was needed, as Tudor would end up eating his own food as well as Sydney’s.

We quickly found out that this had absolutely no effect on Tudor’s habit. We would give Sydney his food in the backyard and Tudor his food in the front of the house. Tudor, the little devil, would wolf down his own food taking all of about twenty seconds to do so and rush to the backyard immediately after, pushing Sydney out of his way and eating Syd’s lunch as well.

The look of disappointment in Sydney’s eyes was palpable. I am a bad person, and I found this hilarious, especially considering that Sydney was Tudor’s father.

If only he had the brains to do what the dog in the gif did…

Recently I’ve come across a spate of articles online denouncing La La Land and nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking on it, because it’s cool to hate on something which a large majority adores. I’ve seen complaints like the characters are shallow, Emma Stone can’t dance, Ryan Gosling’s voice is too reedy, the Los Angeles depicted in the film isn’t representative of today’s LA because it doesn’t have a single gay person in it, “BUT WHAT IS THE ENDING SUPPOSED TO MEAN?”, and the like. These complaints which don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Maybe I’m biased. I wholeheartedly love the movie and have watched it thrice in a span of two months, unprecedented when it comes to my movie-watching habits. I think it has all the bearings of a modern day classic. And with the adulation that it’s been getting in the awards circle, clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Let’s face it though, despite it being an outstanding film, I’m not 100% convinced that it’s deserving of 14 Oscar nominations. For example, I don’t think Ryan Gosling deserves a Best Actor nod, because though he was great, I don’t believe it was a performance worth nominating. Maybe it was a weak year for actors. Hell, it wasn’t even HIS best performance of the year (here’s looking at you, The Nice Guys, you criminally underrated gem). I am also ambivalent about Emma Stone’s performance in the film – I like her in every film I’ve seen of hers, and she knocks it out of the park during the last half hour or so from the audition scene onward, but I feel like she’s basically playing her character the same way she’s played it in a lot of her other films for a better part of this one.

Then again, maybe I’m just peeved that Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival. Emma Stone aside, damn it Meryl Streep, enough with your nominations already.

The Academy – film societies in general, really – loves films which allows it to pat itself on the back. And La La Land, in all its technicolor glory, does just that. Which is why even though I’ll be happy if the film does end up winning Best Picture at the Oscars tomorrow, there would be a small part of me wondering whether Damien Chazelle did in fact play it to his target audience – in this case, not the general public or the critics, but the folks giving out the awards.

Of Fake News and Other Pressing Issues

I am part of a few Whatsapp groups filled with family members who spam forwards, which can more often than not be classified into three broad categories: politics, adult jokes, and as is common among most family groups, hoaxes. I’m not sure how many years the Indian national anthem can be declared the best in the world by UNESCO, and how many times the photo of an Indian map inscribed on the trees lining a highway to Bhopal can be voted the best photo in the world. Footnotes like “No Photoshop, this is real!” do nothing but add credibility to the claim, right? Now the forwards have progressed to the likes of “The Obamas have moved to a rented apartment post presidency. They don’t own a house till date. Incredible example of integrity! The less said about Indian politicians the better.” I’m all for calling out corruption but this is ridiculous – the house the Obamas are currently leasing is worth well over 5 million dollars, and they have owned multiple properties. During the recent tiff between Panneerselvam and Sasikala in Tamil Nadu, a few members of my family praised Modi as the mastermind behind OPS growing a spine. Political gain notwithstanding, I was taken aback by how ludicrous such assertions were and how easily everyone seems to fall prey to them, given that there isn’t a iota of proof backing them up. These messages may be harmless. But since very few people fact check them, they end up inculcating a belief in rumors, lies and propaganda.

The problem is not just restricted to Whatsapp, though it does contribute in a large fashion to the spread of rumors. The President of the United States is fond of tweeting lies, which his team has coolly labeled “alternative facts” – something which they are also quite adept in propagating.

Sure, the Left is not above accusation when it comes to this. Trump never gave an interview to People magazine twenty years ago calling Republican voters the dumbest in the country who would eat up his lies. He isn’t stupid, that would be political suicide. But the implications of such rumors are far more significant when it comes directly from an institution such as the White House.

No, the crowds at Trump’s inauguration weren’t the largest in the history of presidential inaugurations. No, there weren’t millions of illegal voters who voted for the opposing candidate. No, the Bowling Green Massacre didn’t happen. And no, the murder rate isn’t the highest it’s been in close to 50 years. There is no evidence to back up such tall claims. But the damage is done – stuff like this has already been lapped up by scores of people, not just in America, but across the world.

There’s no denying that the President actively engages in wild conspiracy theories. When he gets called out, Trump ends up slamming the channels that disagree with him, calling them fake news. He still continues to claim the election was rigged against him, which is baffling considering that he won. He even picks out individuals and calls them out by name in tweet tirades. Ironic, considering that Melania’s core message as FLOTUS is attacking cyber bullying. To add fuel to the fire, one of Trump’s senior advisers recently went on the air to proclaim that the powers of the President “will not be questioned”, an Orwellian statement if there ever was one.

“Alternative facts” such as those perpetrated by the White House in the recent past, which apparently nobody is supposed to question, have led to strong support of the Muslim ban and people to shout at immigrants to “go back to your own country”. I had experienced this a few years back, when a drunk soccer fan at Penn State shouted the same at myself and a bunch of my friends, during the 2014 USA-Portugal FIFA World Cup game. This was a one-off incident, whereas Trump using phrases like “bad dudes” and “bad hombres” to describe Muslims and Mexicans has lent credence to a sense of bullying that seems to have become far more widespread at face value today. It seems to have fueled a sense of nationalistic pride bordering on jingoism in a good percentage of the American population. It seems to have become an epidemic.

Popular alt-right websites pick up rumors from uncorroborated sources and transmit them to all. Trump picks this up and tweets about it. Millions believe it and retweet it. This leads Trump to think that he’s right and the outlets from where he got said bit of news to think that they’re right. But just because two parties think they’re right doesn’t make it true. There was a good segment about this on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver this Sunday, aptly labeled “Trump vs Truth”.

No matter what Steve Bannon and his team have claimed, Breitbart is not news. No matter what Alex Jones and his team have claimed, Infowars is not news. No matter what the White House thinks, Sean Hannity and Piers Morgan are not political pundits. They are biased channels which only validate things that Trump believes, but do little to vindicate him. And the President placing blind belief in them could have severe repercussions for the country.

I’m speculating, but I do think that if the Democrats were in the White house right now and if something like the Russian hack had come to light, all hell would have broken loose. The current administration however seems to be facing one embarrassment after another, the culpability for which has been denied, deflected, dismissed, or actively lied about, leading to not much being done despite several calls for impeachment.

Trump clearly thrives on this chaotic 24-hour news cycle that he’s created for himself. Given all the media coverage that’s surrounding every little move made by the White House, rumor or otherwise, I’m afraid the world would have become desensitized if a major scandal does ever come to light. By then, it may just be a case of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Happy Valentine’s Day, I guess.