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.

Amster-damn

Disclaimer: This is a long account from the mind of a man with rambling thoughts who does not have an editor to clip things, so please bear with him.

Dag 1:

We enter Amsterdam grabbing frites (as is tradition) and having no cellular data, making us go old school and rely on maps and directions from people.

Amsterdam is one of the most interesting cities I have ever been to, if not the most interesting. It is the rock and roll capital of the world, without the rock and roll. There is ample sex to be had and ample drugs to partake in. The atmosphere is crisp, the canals are lovely, the buildings are old, the people are friendly. It is tailor made for tourism.

We arrive at our hotel a bit earlier than check-in time and drop off our bags without seeing the room. I happen to overhear the following exchange involving the desk clerk and a fellow guest:

Guest: “Do we get beer here?”

Desk clerk: “Of course you get beer here. This is Holland.”

The mood is set.

Upon checking in, we immediately head to the famed (notorious?) Red Light District, as is wont, where it is rumored that the prostitutes parading their wares in front of open windows throw urine at you if you happened to click a photograph of them parading their wares in front of open windows. I fortunately did not have the gumption to try this out so did not get to experience this.

We end the day with some good beer at a bar, more frites, jenever (a precursor to gin native to the Netherlands) tasting at the oldest liquor distillery in Amsterdam, and an amazing Sichuan meal close to the central public transport station aptly named Centraal. Shit was on fire, yo (words that will be repeated tomorrow morning I am sure).

Nacht 1:

An interesting development.

The bathroom in our hotel room does not have a door. Apparently this is common in Europe. This is hilarious.

Dag 2:

Survived the lack of a door to the bathroom! And as predicted, words that were said the previous night were repeated.

It’s December 31 already. Last day of the year. Damn how time has flown.

We decide to check out the Van Gogh Museum in the morning. The public transport of the city impresses us a great deal, as we realize that all we have to do is to take a tram which is literally a few hundred steps outside of our hotel to all the places which we want to visit during this trip.

The Van Gogh Museum is home to a fantastic collection of art by the painter, his inspirations and the people he inspired. It is located in the absolutely lovely Museum District of Amsterdam, along with a few other museums, the Rijksmuseum being the most popular among the lot. The line to enter the museum is a mile long and we wait it out to get tickets.

There is a specific neurological disorder known as Stendahl Syndrome, which says that if one were to be assaulted (I use this word lightly) by several beautiful works of art all at once, one experiences an intense physical reaction to what s/he has witnessed. This is absolutely true of the Van Gogh Museum. As I walk through the four floors I am accosted (this may be a better word) with so many intense pieces, which, coupled with the extremely sad story of Van Gogh’s life, leaves me speechless. Funnily enough there is an actual exhibit related specifically to the Stendahl Syndrome on one of the floors of the museum, where an artist has cleverly put up isolation booths which you can enter and take a moment to compose yourself before moving on to see the rest. The cherry on the ice cream that was this museum is their current special exhibit: a retrospective on both Edvard Munch and Van Gogh, both artists from the same period with vastly different artistic styles yet having a common thread of themes and subjects. Munch lived much longer than Van Gogh and so got to experience the recognition that Van Gogh so eagerly sought but which was awarded to him only posthumously. Better late than never, I guess.

Having spent a good part of four hours in the museum and also having bought a magnet at the gift shop, which is a tradition of sorts for me, we meet a friend and head back to our hotel to prepare for a night of unparalleled revelry.

Nacht 2:

7.30pm: Damn this public transport system. Who shuts off all transport from 8pm to 1.30am on New Years?!

8.15pm: No matter. We decide to work around this unexpected development and walk to a restaurant and bar close to the hotel.

8.30pm: They are closed. Who closes bars on New Years?!

9.15pm: Okay, the night is still young. We brave the surge pricing and take an Uber to Centraal, where we know all the revelry will be concentrated. The Uber guy, clearly afraid of going all the way in and getting caught on his way out, drops us off at a place where we think we are close to our destination. Turns out we are not and we walk for about a half hour to get there. 1 star rating.

10pm: We are ravenous at this point and are startled to see that all restaurants in the way, despite being open, are either charging inordinate amounts of money for food or have their kitchens closed. Who closes their kitchens… I could go on. In the midst of all this we lose my brother and sister-in-law to the crowd.

If you imagine our night to be a movie, this is probably the point where the heroes are at their lowest of the low, without any hope in sight. Unparalleled revelry, blah.

10.30pm: Thankfully my brother spots us from afar and catches up with us. We stumble upon a restaurant which serves burgers, which are cheap and pretty damn good. Things are looking up! This is the point of the movie where the heroes begin the process of redeeming themselves. We enter a bar on a street on which revelers are lighting crackers and throwing them into the air for them to burst, reminding us of Diwali back home. We head to the Amstel River nearby, closer to 12.

11.45pm: Fireworks everywhere. Colors everywhere. Quite a stunning spectacle. The climax of this movie is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. A happy new year, indeed!

12.15am: We need a place to kill time until 1.30 (which is when the night buses start running) so we sneak into an Irish pub before the crowd starts dispersing and quickly grab some seats. You could do an analysis on Irish pub names as well, and you will find that ” Malone” is a name that would probably come up most often.

1.30am: Whoever decided to allow only a handful of buses at half hour intervals to take the party goers home is a massive troll. Finding it impossible to get a bus which isn’t packed like a can of sardines, we decide to yet again brave surge pricing and call for an Uber.

1.45am: A man drives up to us out of nowhere and says he will drop us at our hotel for 15 euros. Ecstatic and thanking our good fortune, but slightly wary of any serial killer tendencies, we jump in. He does not turn out to be a serial killer and we get to the hotel, 20 euros poorer but tired out of our minds and happy to get back in one piece.

End credits.

Dag 3:

Started the new year right. A fantastic brunch with easily the best omelette I’ve ever eaten, a walking tour of Amsterdam’s history with an extremely funny and personable guide (and it was free!), stumbling upon an excellent bar with great beer, discussions of national identity and language barriers, thulping ramen which is extremely soothing for a cold night, staying up to experience the famed (again, notorious?) coffee houses where the acquisition of the green is as easy as buying a Big Mac, walking through the Red Light District with a more appreciable bent of mind, consequently eating the most delicious fries, waffles and eclairs, and somehow managing to find our way back to the hotel and sleeping with the relaxing beats of good ol’ Thamizh gaanas.

Over the course of the tour, we learnt that prostitution has been around in Amsterdam for several hundreds of years as a means of income for the city courtesy tired sailors who have not seen their WAGs (or indeed, women) for months. It was legalized only in 2000 and today prostitutes get health benefits and pay taxes. Drugs on the other hand is more tricky. Apparently it is legal to sell marijuana over the counter but it is illegal to buy it from dealers, so coffee shops magically source their weed from the underground market and the cops turn a blind eye.

I tell you, if even a quarter of the major cities around the globe were half as tolerant as this one, the world would be a better place.

An amazing day.

Dag 4:

A disastrous day.

Leaving has never been a strong suit of mine. This was especially true today as we had to wait endlessly for transport, having missed trams and trains by a whisker. It feels like an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. We finally make it back to London and crash for the night, having watched a couple of episodes of House.

I wake up the next morning and take the train back from Kings Cross station, feeling like Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts. I didn’t quite manage to see Platform 9 and three-quarters though, which was a mild disappointment.

It’s been a great trip, filled with new experiences, new surroundings and old friends. I’ve made memories that will last. Until next time.

London Diaries

Day 1:

“Very wet,” says my Uber driver from Nigeria, lamenting about the state of the weather. Succinctly put.

I took an Uber Pool from the airport, not expecting too many others to call for an Uber for me to share this rainy Christmas Day. I was wrong, and I’m glad I was. A Norwegian (?) guy got in the car with his girlfriend, and asked to be dropped close to my destination. This worked out well for me as we ended up taking a route I would not have taken otherwise, allowing us to get a semi-tour of London city. It was fantastic to say the least, I couldn’t avert my eyes off most of the buildings. London is a mix of the ancient and the modern, a juxtaposition of centuries old churches and modern glass-facaded sleek apartment buildings. We passed by the museum district, although I use this term very lightly as apparently there are museums all over the place. I also caught sight of a Banksy art piece, based on Rodin’s The Thinker, very coolly called The Drinker, which I later found out was recently stolen and returned to its position no less than ten days ago, with a few modifications made. Banksy’s original piece was the sculpture with a traffic cone on its head, the modified one after it was returned was the sculpture sitting on a toilet seat, aptly called The Stinker.

My brother and sister-in-law live in a nice apartment close to a quaintly named Delhi Street. I ended up spending most of the afternoon catching up on lost sleep thanks to my flight, something which I was comfortable doing as most of the places were closed on account of the Big Man’s birthday. We spent a good part of the night walking to Trafalgar Square, seeing Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street, the London Eye and the Theater District (apparently the real one this time) at Covent Garden on our way there, and discussing (read: silently listening to his rant concerning) immigration and corruption within the U.K. Government with our Indo-South African Uber driver. I realized a couple of things along the way and back:

1) It’s unbelievably easy to get lost within the streets of this city.

2) There are three common tropes to the naming of pubs:

– “The <color> <animal>”

– “The <number> <Scotsmen, Irishmen, Englishmen>”

– “The <name> Arms”

3) There is as much a craze for Minions here as there is in the U.S., and my utter annoyance with them has not diminished irrespective of which side of the pond I’m at.

Day 2:

Was spent walking around town, going to several shopping areas, marveling at the purchasing power the city has on offer, consuming copious amounts of food, moving around in double decker buses (hey, when in London…), visiting Buckingham Palace and wondering what on earth the queen and other members of royalty really do on a regular basis, getting my first authentic British pub experience (no Richmond Arms in Houston, you don’t count) and gasping (in a bad way) about the prices which were also apparently authentically British, visiting a fantastic market area and wolfing down on crepes (hello, Cheeky Monkey), and returning home beat.

Day 3:

Food. Lots and lots of food.

Oh, and The Hateful Eight. Bless those souls who leaked a fine print of the film and saving me some money.

The walkability of this city impresses me (looking at you, Houston).

Day 4:

The lack of trash cans in this city impresses me too. In a negative way.

My fourth day in London was spent checking out what the British Museum has on offer. The museum was established well over two hundred and fifty years ago, a number which astounded me and made me appreciate the level of foresight of the former curators and donors of the several collections on display. I saw, among several other things, the Rosetta Stone, a key piece in the deciphering of hieroglyphs in Egypt, something which I have only ever heard of and had no idea was on display at a museum to be witnessed by all and sundry.

I spent the evening at a pub after which I had the good fortune of seeing an excellent music performance by the London Concertante, a chamber orchestra who performed works by Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Brahms among others, held at a church which was constructed several centuries ago (the exact number escapes me but seeing how several buildings in London are about three-four centuries years old, let’s consider this to be one among those as well). Classical music tends to put me to sleep, if I have to be honest. I don’t find it as appealing as most others, and ended up making comparisons to an episode of Dexter’s Laboratory when the ensemble played The Nutcracker Suite. Rather bourgeois I’m afraid. It was nonetheless an enchanting experience.

I also chanced upon a dormouse scurrying about on my path as I made my way to the theater, which coincidentally brings me to the next day…

Day 5:

The Mousetrap! We wrote ourselves into the history books as we watched performance number 26,310 of Agatha Christie’s acclaimed whodunit in the same theater it was first performed back in 1952. I shall not reveal any details in order to uphold my end of the bargain as a member of the audience.

This was in the evening though. My afternoon was occupied visiting the Tower of London (and the Tower Bridge, right next to it). I was led as part of a tour by a Yeoman Warder, who is a descendant of one of the original guarders of the tower, and who still performs the job carried out by his ancestors thus making him “NOT A UNIFORMED TOUR GUIDE” as he ironically shouted while clad in his uniform at the end of his tour. “My wife left me, she took the dog, the camera and the kids. I do miss that dog…”, he said morosely at one point along the way, making us simultaneously sympathize and laugh at his misfortune.

The Tower of London, contrary to what its singular name might suggest, is composed of a collection of buildings surrounded by a wall marked with several watchtowers along the way and a fortress at the centre, inappropriately named the White Tower. It is a fantastic location initially constructed over a thousand years ago which even by London standards is insane. The amount of history associated with this place is mind boggling. It is gory and magnificent, so much so that I feel like looking up whether Dan Carlin has done an episode of Hardcore History based on it. In its time, it has housed an armory, a barracks, a prison, a torture chamber, areas where public executions took place, quarters for the king, storehouse for the Crown Jewels (and that damn Kohinoor diamond, one of the top two contributors to the name of Indian restaurants abroad, the other being Taj Mahal), and all round badass defense stronghold for the city against attackers. It currently houses a museum, gift shop, restaurant and eight ravens. Despite this (or perhaps because of it?), it is without a doubt one of the coolest structures I have been to.

The Mousetrap was a fitting conclusion to my London sojourn. All that was missing was some tea, scones and a guy saying “Pip pip!”, but I’m not complaining.

It is with a heavy heart that I leave, but it is not too heavy as I travel to Amsterdam tomorrow. Pip pip and cheerio London! You have made a fan out of me. I shall return, if nothing else but to experience your fish and chips.

Or maybe not. That is one of the most fantastically boring dishes I’ve heard of.

Only during moments of turbulence, few and far between as they may thankfully be, do I become acutely aware that I am essentially in a gigantic metal tube hurtling through the air at breakneck speeds several thousands of feet above the ground. (Safe to say that faith in a higher power strikes me and I silently pray for my well being primarily during such moments, however fleeting they are.)

The rest of the time, I, like most others, remain blissfully nonchalant. How far we have come as a society.

It’s Christmas morning and here I am, waiting among the throng of other passengers at the immigration queue at Heathrow and happily mooching off their wifi, about to enter a new continent, one that I have never explored outside of its airports. 3 down, 4 to go! But let’s be realistic, I don’t expect I’ll ever get to Antarctica at any point in my life. One can still hope though.

The Art of Preparation

You can’t always be prepared enough. True statement for most. Although when you aren’t prepared at all, the statement probably doesn’t apply to you.

I was faced with such a situation a few days ago during the US Open women’s second semifinal. It was widely expected that Serena Williams would thulp Roberta Vinci, given the marauding that she had been doing in her matches prior to this one. Serena was all set to win this year’s US Open as well, completing a fantastic year with what would be a calendar slam. The odds were overwhelmingly in her favor, as it was more of a David vs Goliath match up. Vinci had had a dream run up to that point, and hardly anyone expected Vinci to be a David – hell, she had 1-300 odds going into the match. But she turned out to be exactly that – a David. She stunned Serena to reach the finals and face countrywoman Flavia Pennetta.

Consequently, ticket prices for the finals on Saturday plummeted. This was due to two reasons: Firstly, it was an all-Italian affair in the US Open. Secondly, it wasn’t meant to be Serena’s year. A ticket that was retailing for $350 (minimum price) was suddenly $40.

I was “working” from home on Friday, the day before the final, and watched the entire match. A friend of mine who lives in New York raised the question on a whatsapp group I’m part of as to whether anybody wanted to watch the final. A few people were up for it. Myself included. Hey, it’s not everyday you get to see the finals of a grand slam right?

The semis were over by 2.30pm. I asked my friend to book an extra ticket for me, which she did. I immediately booked a flight ticket for 5.15 that evening. I took a quick shower, packed some clothes and was out my door by 3. I got into my car, place my wallet in the front as I always do and realized I hadn’t worn a belt. I grabbed my wallet again, rushed back home, placed my wallet on my desk as I always do, grabbed my belt and rushed back to the car.

It was about a 40 minute drive to the airport. No traffic, woohoo! I was cruising. Autopilot mode.

It was only after I reached the airport parking and reached for my wallet to hand over my credit card to the attendant did I realize that I had conveniently forgotten my wallet at home.

Damage control. I rush back home, booking an uber on the way (no time for airport parking!). I don’t think I’ve ever driven that fast. 4.15 by the time I reach home, retrieve the Prodigal Accessory and rush into the uber. Airport’s an hour away. Traffic. Flight’s at 5.15. You do the math.

I was irrationally optimistic. Got into the uber anyway. Received an email from American Airlines that my flight has been delayed and my new flight timing is 6.30pm. There is a god after all! I still push my uber driver to fly like the wind, but I rest easier.

I reach the airport at 5.15. I push through the massive line for security, stupidly saying, “Excuse me but I have a plane to catch!”, like the others didn’t. I reach my gate at 5.40. No passengers around, and the gate doors are closed. “Hey, shouldn’t people be queueing up for boarding right about now?”, I question the gate attendant. “Flight’s taken off, sorry. Looks like you missed it” was the reply. I was furious. I received an email saying 6.30 was the new departure time! “That’s just an estimated time of departure. Never trust those emails!”

Balls.

I successfully negotiate to be put on the next flight out at 5am the next day. I crash at a friend’s place and get dropped at the airport. Wallet in hand, I catch the flight to Newark, take a train to Flushing, and make it to the venue just in time to see Flavia and Vinci warming up.

Glorious. Plus I got to witness a live retirement, so that was something.

To some people, preparation comes naturally. I am not one of those people.

Rude Awakening

I had a short, nice conversation with a stranger on a plane today. He mentioned that he had been on several tours to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq as a part of the Marines and now he’s “freelancing”, which I took to believe means that he’s some sort of badass mercenary. He certainly looked like the kind of guy who had taken a fellow man’s life, although you couldn’t tell if he was serious about the freelancing bit or if it was the alcohol, which I could clearly smell on his breath, talking. If he was fazed by the look of skepticism that had crept on my face, he didn’t show it.

During the course of our conversation, he gave me three bits of advice:

1. Travel as much as you can.

2. Be happy.

3. Never get a girl pregnant.

More pithy sayings have never been uttered.

Sometimes, the people you meet during your travels don’t sustain your interest. Some other times, they do. This was one of those times.

Here’s to you Rudy, may you write that book like you’ve been meaning to.