Big is not necessarily Beautiful !!!

November 15, 2010

[There's LARGE, there's Extra-LARGE and then there's AMERICAN !!!

Lets face it, the Americans are obsessed with big things. Everything about them is just too big - their cars, their buildings, their roads, their dress sizes  ....not to mention their food portions !!! Given a choice, I'd prefer that they genetically modify their brains to be extra-large too, but I guess that's one of those things for which you regret that technology is not there yet ;) ]

So here I am in the fabulous city of Los Angeles, basking in the glory of sunny California and enjoying the hospitality of my wonderful hosts :) This place is simply stupendous and for the first time since I arrived in this country, I’m actually getting the feeling of being in the US of A ! Honestly, I haven’t yet seen anything to complain about in this sprawling city. Its unbelievably clean, well maintained and organized. Almost every other locality seems extremely posh and painstakingly landscaped. Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica,  the Pacific coast, the winding roads through the hills and the glitz & glamour were all too good to be true, and the panoramic sight of the massively spread-out and lit-up city from the top of the hills at night was totally out-of-this-world !!!

The one thing that stands out about America is that everything here is extra-large. The roads are massive ! Even the quieter residential localities seem to have 3-lanes going either way ! And not to mention the freeways, which are perhaps wider than 2 British motorways put side by side. But then, if you look at the American cars [.... and the people who drive them], you’d know why the Freeways here have to be so wide. Everyone seems to be driving unnecessarily large vehicles. Unlike Europe, there’s no concept of a hatchback at all. And sadly, must admit that what they always say in Top Gear about American cars are all but true. They’re big, definitely…..powerful, maybe…gas-guzzling, sadly yes……and beautiful ? God no ! Haven’t American car manufacturers ever heard of the term ‘aerodynamics’ ??? The muscle cars that they seem to so badly love and show-off are such eye-sores. Fat, rectangular and ugly !!! Los Angeles, being home to the rich and famous of America is a bit different, and it does have a fair share of classy European cars – cars that exude passion and turn heads as they glide by. But the scene back in New Jersey was deplorable to say the least. Everyone there, seems to be riding badly maintained 70′s and 80′s jalopies and lack any form of road discipline at all. They do have a few Mercs and Beamers down there…a couple of Porsches…and I did spot a single roaring Ferrari pass by…But then, their combined ages could very well be close enough to America’s history :P

Nevertheless, I did enjoy my first-ever experience of driving a left-handed drive car in New Jersey…on the wrong side of the road, as I’d like to call it ;) But one thing that instantly struck me, is that unlike in Europe, nobody cycles at all here. There are NO bike lanes on the streets and the traffic is not bike-friendly at all. But then, I reckon finding an American who cares about the environment is about as rare as finding an American who is health-conscious ;)

Boy, the food portions served at the restaurants here are so humongously large that even I find it hard to finish them :O [And I am someone who is proud of the fact that I generally don't waste food :)]. So much so that I’ve had to have the left-overs packed away so as to eat later, perhaps at a time when my tummy wouldn’t swear at me as badly. But hey, relax…I’m told that this is very normal thing to do here in this country – packing away left-over food ‘to go’, as they fondly call it ! Couldn’t think of doing that back in Europe, but then, back in Europe, when I order a half chicken, I get half a chicken. Here, when I order a half chicken, I get portions from about 3.5 chickens !!! Unless of course, by chicken they mean ostriches here ??? ;)


The trans-Atlantic crossover !!!

November 13, 2010

[Finally, 5 years after having obtained my US B1/B2 visa and incidentally, 5 years before it expires, I've managed to put it to good use and actually arrive in New York, on a 10-day whirlwind tour of the country ! Getting the visa had been a horrendous torture back then, and boy oh boy ....was the immigration a pain in the backside as well ??? 4 hours and sitting with 3 different officers later, they actually let me out :) But hey, I guess that's what you get from the US with a passport that says you're born in Arabia !]

Yes, I know they are descendants of early European immigrants, but Americans, surprisingly, look and seem a lot like Europeans !!! Definitely, much more than I had expected them to ! Where are all the dumb, fat ones that we’ve been promised about ??? ;) I know they’re all hiding somewhere, and they couldn’t possibly stay undercover for too long. But hey, I’ve just been here a night, so probably there’s a lot more left for me to see :) To be honest, America doesn’t quite feel like America to me, yet ! The feeling has not yet sunk in. Its just as if I’ve woken up in some new city somewhere in the world. But then.. I wonder what more had I been expecting after all ?

The 8 hour Virgin Atlantic flight from London Heathrow had been great. Boy, do they know how to take care of their passengers or wat ? I could clearly see that our beloved Mr.Mallya had taken a few leaves out of Mr.Branson’s books when he set up Kingfisher airlines ! But I couldn’t help wondering, why on earth do these airlines employ male stewards, or ‘air hosts’ if you like ? And more worryingly, why do I end up at a seat that is being served by them :)[....and more often than not, I'd have just missed the cut by a row or 2. Not more, not less :O] But jokes apart, the service was great. And that really helps when all you get to see outside the window is the endless expanse of the Atlantic ocean.

Driving back from JFK airport last night, the glittering New York skyline was a sight to behold. The Empire State Building gleamed in its glory and in the far distance, I could make out the outline of a lit up Statue of Liberty ! Can’t wait to actually go there in the next few days :) But then – so many places and so little time ! 10 days and have New York, Jersey City, Los Angeles, Princeton, Washington DC, Baltimore and Atlantic City to visit …and loads of good mates and relatives to meet. I have a feeling this is gonna be one epic trip !!! And meeting with one of my best-est friends after years has already made this trip worthwhile :)

I reckon the jetlag is getting the better of me. Its early dawn here and I am already up.  I’ve barely managed to shut eye for about 5 hours in the last 24 hours, and my body reminds me that I had slept just 5 hours in the previous 24 hours as well !!!

WELCOME TO AMERICA !!! :)

 


If BCCI were to organize the football World Cup :)

June 15, 2010

Scenes you’re likely to see if the football World Cup was being organized by the BCCI:

- DLF maximum GOAL

- Citi FREEKICK of success

- Karbonn Kamaal RED CARD

- Shah Rukh Khan

- Maxx Mobile TIMEOUTs

- Pepsi TEAM HUDDLEs

- Ad breaks every 10 minutes

- Live interviews with the goalkeeper whilst he is on the pitch, in the middle of the match

- Cheer leaders

Thank God for FIFA !!! :)


The CUP of LIFE !!!

June 14, 2010

It’s official …South Africa 2010 has kicked-off and the greatest show on earth has come to life ! With over 200 countries from across the globe having competed in the qualifiers and just 32 of the best making it into the exclusive finals, this once-in-four-years event is undoubtedly the mother of all World Cups [...and perhaps the only true one] !

As with the previous two World Cups, my full-fledged support is for England …..though I know they won’t make it past the knock-out stages :P The likes of Germany, Netherlands, Argentina and Spain have far better chances ! But that didn’t stop me from donning my England T-shirt and joining the festivities on the streets of London on the evening of England’s opening match against the USA. And what an ambience it was - English flags flying high everywhere and almost everyone sporting the England red and whites :) Sadly though, my hopes of catching the action at Trafalgar Square didn’t materialise, as the large public screens I thought they’d put up there, were not to be seen [...apparently taken off due to security reasons :(]. And it was plain to see why – almost all pubs in the vicinity were bursting at the seams. Most of them had been pre-booked weeks in advance and the burly bouncers denied entry at most doors.

Die-hard England fans at Trafalgar Square :)

To my luck, I managed to sneak into a small pub near Piccadilly, but it was only after the match started that I came to realize that it contained mostly American supporters. Chants of ‘USA…USA’ drowned the voices of even the most  boisterous English supporters in the pub, and I for the first time started to feel a little out of place in my red Tee. Nevertheless, I didn’t stay until the end of the match as I had a train to catch.

...and another at Piccadilly :)

South Africa 2010 is my first World Cup experience in football-crazy England and it couldn’t get better than this. Looking back, its interesting to see how my life has changed over the course of the World Cups. I was after all, born in the year of Espana 82, and was a wide-eyed 4-year old in Kuwait during Mexico 86. But my earliest recollection of following the World Cup is during Italia 90, when we were still based in Kuwait and my brother had a nice World Cup sticker collection book that he religiously maintained. In the finals,  I had supported [...influenced by the people around me], Maradona’s Argentinian team, and I remember I was disappointed when they lost to the West Germans.

Italia 90 had happened just a month or so before we went on holiday to Italy and a few months before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that drove us out of the country, back to India.

When USA 94 happened, I was a school-kid in Thrissur and had just returned from our first visit to Kuwait since the invasion.

France 98 was the reason we finally got cable TV at home in Thrissur. Ricky Martin’s hit single ‘Cup of Life’ was the official song and this time, I had just returned back to India after spending two years going to school in Kuwait.

Korea-Japan 2002 saw me as an Engineering student at Coimbatore and that was when I first started supporting England, being a big fan of Beckham.

When Germany 2006 happened, I was comfortably settled in my job at Bangalore and thanks to my good friend and roomie Prashant, my cousins and friends from office & outside, this has been my most enjoyable World Cup so far ! Prashant and I had watched most matches over bottles of chilled Kingfishers in our studio apartment and the pubs of Bangalore also presented us with neat venues to catch the action :)

And finally, here we are in South Africa 2010 !

A lot has changed in my life and in the world around me, since Espana 82, but one thing that has perhaps remained constant is the fact that no team that I have supported has ever won the World Cup :( ….which begs the question, should I start supporting Brazil, perhaps ?

“Waka waka , eh eh ……This time for Africa !”


Election time !

May 10, 2010

On 6th of May, 2010, Britain went to the polls….and I voted too !

“So how did you vote when you don’t have a British passport ?”, is a question that a lot of people have been asking me. Well, being the citizen of a Commonwealth country and a resident of the UK, the law allows me to vote here. Perhaps, its just a small compensation for the British having ruled us for over three centuries, but on a more serious note, when I pay my taxes and my National Insurance here [..and quite a lot at that], it does make sense that I get to have a say in something that would directly impact my money and my life. And this fairness is one of the things that I like about this country.

“So why would you vote ? Have you ever voted in India ?” – a few of my Indian friends here have asked me when I expressed my intention to vote. To the first part of the question, I’ve already responded in the preceding paragraph. And as for the second part, I can’t see how that question is relevant at all. The answer is Yes, by the way….I have indeed voted in India, and the election process here in the UK seemed a lot more clearer and transparent to me, than what I had experienced back in India. The main problem I’ve had in India was deciding on a particular political party to vote for. I never really fancied any party and had issues against every single one of them. They’re all crooks, if you ask me. Not that the parties here are made up of immaculate fairies. But then, their manifestoes are easily accessible and I’ve had leaflets dropped at my doorstep by the local candidates, describing what they stand for. That made it a lot more simpler to compare and contrast their views on different policies and make an educated choice. Moreover, the Prime Ministerial candidates have been on television in a series of live debates, and that, to a certain extent helped in deciding who you wanted to be in charge of the nation.

Back in India, I’ve been inundated with campaign leaflets too. But then, they generally contain just images of a human palm or a lotus or something, and nothing about what their manifestoes are. The local candidates would occasionally drop in at home, and the local lads from the neighbourhood would be around too, asking us to vote for their parties. It somehow, never seemed important to any of them to have it put on paper on what they would do for the local economy, society, roads and education or how they intend to tackle unemployment, pollution,  crime-rate, power shortage or corruption. After casting the vote, the lads would be back again…asking if it was indeed their parties that I voted for. My mom would ask me to say ‘Yes’, and reluctantly I agree, just to get rid of them. But what the hell ? Hasn’t anybody heard of the ‘secret ballot’ system ?

My mom, by the way, never votes. She doesn’t believe in any of the parties, and is quite justified in that. But then, she refuses to go to the polls and invoke Rule 49-0 too [...which essentially means that a valid voter decided not to record his/her vote]. Doing this, I believe, would not only show her faith in the constitution [if not in the political parties], but more importantly, would also ensure that her vote is not rigged and cast by someone else….which is quite possible ! But must admit, thanks to an educated population, the situation in my state is still a lot better, than others where votes are often bought by offers of free colour televisions, or sarees or rice !

I’ve voted in the European Parliamentary elections here last year. But this was the first time I got to vote into the House of Commons [analogous to the Lok Sabha in India, but established some time as early as in the 14th century !]. So that Thursday evening after work, eager and excited, I grabbed my election card and walked in to the polling station, which was at the nearby school. [Voting here is open until 10pm, which means that the working day is not affected.] A couple of things surprised me though….the first being that they still use paper ballots, as against electronic voting machines in India. However, counting happens throughout the night and the results to all 650 seats are available the very next day.

Secondly, I was surprised to hear of the existence of the ‘Christian Party’. They didn’t come anywhere close to winning though, but it still was surprising to know that such religious parties do exist here, especially when religion is no more significant in Europe [as against America], and most people do not practice religion.

Thirdly, when I went in to vote, I was not asked to produce any photo ID to identify myself. The only authentication that was asked of me was to confirm my surname, which I did. But then, I could have asked anyone else to do that on my behalf. I did have to give them my election card. But that was just a post card that I had received by normal post on the basis of the fact that I had registered myself in the local council over the telephone. No one had come home to verify whether I actually lived there or whether I was actually old enough to vote. But then, I guess a lot of things in this country run on trust.

It has now been four days since Britain went to the polls. Yet, we are still without a new Prime Minister or a government. As the uncertainty of a hung parliament lingers on, negotiations between the leading parties are supposed to be proceeding in full swing, behind closed doors. So what’s taking them so long ? Back in India, where the legislature is based on the British model, hung parliaments are the norm and almost every general election ends up without any single party gaining an absolute majority. However, coalitions are quickly cooked up, often between the most unlikely of partners. Here in UK, such blatant marriages of convenience would not be easily accepted, I guess. Parties would have to stand by their manifestoes and would have to negotiate on how best their respective policies can be worked out in the interest of the nation.


2009 – the year that was !!!

January 6, 2010

[Another year has passed by, and now its time to look back and reflect on the highlights of the past 12 months ! 2009 was not one of my best years, but then, it definitely was not one of the worst either. There have been drastic changes all around me, in every possible sphere, and reality couldn't have struck me harder than this. I've finally had to start seriously thinking about my future, but rather than enlightening me with answers, the exercise has just left me more confused than ever :O 2009 also brought in the first major economic recession that I've encountered since the start of my career. Thankfully I've survived, and that's all that should matter. Anyways, here's a journey through the biggest moments that defined my life in 2009]

The year couldn’t have started any better! At the stroke of midnight, the London Eye burst into a magnificent array of colours, as the New Year fireworks lit up the winter sky…..and my mates and I were there amidst the tens of thousands of crazy revellers gathered along the freezing banks of the river Thames to witness the spectacle!

1st of Jan, London

January also saw me fly into the German capital of Berlin for a weekend, along with Shiva and my old bootcamp mates – Krishna and Adarsh. The city was frozen, but nevertheless, wonderfully exciting….and for a return fare of just £40 [thanks to an Easyjet offer], it was more than worth every penny :) From being the capital of the Prussians and Hitler’s Nazi regime, to being violently split into two by the notorious Berlin Wall during the cold war, Berlin has had an incredibly turbulent history, and I enjoyed every minute of my time trying to explore the legacies. The Brandenburg gate, Berlin Wall, Reichstag, Nazi Luftwaffe Headquarters, Charlottenburg Palace…..all felt absolutely surreal!

Trying to bridge the gap between the Capitalists and the Communists at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin ;)

February saw me head back home to Kerala after over a year, for a refreshing, yet ultra-hectic vacation. The highlight of the trip was of course, spending a whole day […and night] on a beautiful house-boat with my parents, sister and niece, in the middle of the spectacular backwaters of Alapuzha in Kerala. The place does indeed do justice to the title ‘God’s own country’, and is definitely up there amongst the greatest places that I’ve visited around the world!

Houseboat at Alapuzha, Kerala

Then there was the much awaited re-union of our school batch at Thrissur. DeBatchians had come down from all parts of India and even from as far as Singapore. Some of us were catching up for the first time after having left school 9 years ago, and I followed it up by making a trip to school as well, along with old classmate Ranjith.

The DeBatch reunion

Towards the end of the month, my parents and I paid a visit to good ol’ Bangalore to catch up with friends and family there. The city’s woes, sadly, seem to have deteriorated horribly, but nevertheless, it was good to be back and relive the old times.

The festivities continued well into March with my cousin Swetha getting married at Calicut and we also managed to sneak in a visit to Coimbatore and Cochin, before my 3 week vacation ended.

By April, spring had finally arrived in the UK and over the Easter holidays, Sreejith aka Maadan came down from London and we went around on cycling expeditions, most notably to the Severn Bridge, bordering England and Wales.

Severn bridge

And then in the month-end, my parents flew in to Britain and after staying with me for 3 days, departed to the Netherlands to spend some time with my brother and his wife, there.

May was definitely the highlight of the year …..Bharat returned back from India on a new assignment, and our gang was all back together again :) Moreover, there were two bank holiday weekends in the month, and the first one saw me flying off to the stunning coastline of Cote d’Azure, in the French Riviera. Abhinav gave me company and for 3 days, we found ourselves lost amidst the glitz and glamour of the adjacent cities of Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo/Monaco! The crystal clear waters, sun-kissed beaches and stylish promenades were amazingly gorgeous, and this being the playground of the rich, the streets were adorned with swanky Ferraris and Lamborghinis!

The French Riviera - Nice, Cannes & Monte Carlo

May also saw me head off to Switzerland for the second time in as many years, but this time to join my parents and my brother & sister-in-law, who were holidaying there.

Us at Switzerland

A week later, my folks returned back to Bristol and went on to spend 3 weeks with me, during which we went around Bristol, Cornwall, London and Oxford, among other places.

Parents in UK

In June, my folks returned to India and I suddenly found myself doing my cooking, cleaning and laundry all by myself again :P Also, June 14th marked a major milestone in my career, as I completed five long years in Torry Harris and in the IT industry ! This called for a celebration, and so, the three surviving Bootcamp-15 members based in Bristol – Manasa, Vishnu and I, did just that.

5th anniversary of Bootcamp 15 in Bristol

Later in the month, it was time to pay my pilgrimage to Wimbledon. Abhinav and I queued up overnight for the tickets, but frustratingly, we couldn’t get Centre Court [....last year, Bharat and I had slept under the open sky in the rain and got the tickets we wanted...This time though, we had invested in a real tent, but not a drop poured out from the sky, nor did we get Centre Court tickets...and that meant not being able to watch Federer in action :( ] Nevertheless, we managed to get Court 1 tickets and got to watch some interesting matches, including one of the toughest battles of the Championship, between Tommy Haas and Marin Cilic.

July was business as usual. There were movies [‘Hangover’ – ooh, what a movie!], birthday parties [Yathi’s much delayed treat at ‘Flavours’], and some catching up with old friends [when college-mate Karthik came over to Bristol].

August was celebration time :) There were three birthdays lined up in the month – Ramappa’s, Akansha’s and of course, mine……. and too many occasions to party! The festivities kicked off on the eve of my birthday, and was carried over to London in the weekend when I went to visit my cousin there, and finally culminated back in Bristol, with a combined day-long celebration for the whole gang!

Party time !

Also, in August, the much awaited U2 360-degree tour concert took place at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Anil, Javid, Adarsh and I were there to cheer Bono and the boys as they belted out hit after hit from their impressive collections. It was a dream come true to watch Bono live in action and unfortunately, Abhinav, who had originally booked our tickets could not make it as he was sent back to India at just the wrong time.

U2 rocking away to glory at Cardiff !

September was the month of adventures! From serving as race marshalls at the annual Bristol half-marathon, indulging in adventure sports in Wales, to taking part in long distance cycling expeditions, we’ve been there and done that :)

At Wales, Ommer, Anil, Ramappa, Bharat and I spent a day abseiling down abandoned arch bridges, trekking upstream across the freezing waters of a winding gorge [.... scaling cascades that came in the way] and crawling through narrow, murky, dark caves…..all for the thrill of some adrenalin rush !

September Adventures !

Later in the month, Sixto, Anil, Mahendra, Bharat, Ramappa and I cycled 40 miles from Bridgwater to Tiverton through the English countryside to raise money for Oxfam. We had never pushed ourselves this far before and it was a test not just to our battered bodies, but to our minds and our bikes, as well. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, we did make it, though the same can’t be said about some of our bikes ;)

The Oxfam bike ride

September also saw Rama heading back to India for good, to join the offshore team and also to get married. It was slowly starting to become evident that the gang wouldn’t be together for too long.

In October, we had our massive Diwali celebrations. We all gathered at Akansha’s place for lunch, and the guys had cooked amazing dishes – right from starters, to various main courses, to sweets ! We also walked down to the Diwali fest happening at the local town centre, and arranged fire-crackers that we burst at Woodlands Court in the night!

Diwali at Bristol

On November 1st, Rama finally got married to Charanya, but unfortunately no one from our gang was there at the wedding. Two weeks later, we saw Akansha off at Heathrow, as she flew to India for her wedding. In quick succession, Bharat got sent back to India for good, and I had to start looking for a house-mate all over again. As someone else also pointed out, I suddenly started feeling like Joey in the final season of F.R.I.E.N.D.S with all his mates either getting married or moving away :) But on the brighter side, I managed to clear my driving practical test in the first attempt and became the proud owner of a British Driving Licence :)

Before I could even realize it, December was here and as always, it felt as if the year had just flown by. The big event of the month was of course, Akansha’s wedding to Varun at Lucknow on the 10th. However, I was stuck here battling the British winter and couldn’t make it. Anil, though, was in India at the time and along with Bharat, had a gala time at the wedding.

The Christmas season was fun at office, thanks to the chilled out work atmosphere and the many office parties/get-togethers that took place. Tony very kindly introduced us to a traditional 3-course British Christmas dinner, at a fantastic English pub in Bristol called Dovecotes […where I tried Turkey for the first time :)]…and of course, there was Vic’s farewell party…. and his grand night-out at the BSB club! Also, for the first time in the 4 winters that I’ve spent in Britain, we had a white Christmas !

White Christmas in Bradley Stoke !

My friends got back from India just in time for New Year, and we welcomed 2010 in a rather mellow manner at a Thai restaurant in Bristol !

New Year's eve at 'Thai Classic'

Looking back, 2009 has not been all that bad. It had its moments of glory, and I shall definitely remember it for Berlin, Nice, my parents’ visit, my British driving licence, loads of Nandos chicken :), the parties and the many wonderful movies that we’ve watched at the cinemas , including ‘Revolutionary Road’ [ …kinda disturbing, nevertheless, an absolute masterpiece ! Akansha, Anil and I just cannot stop talking about this movie to this day], ‘The curious case of Benjamin Button’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘The Inglorious Basterds’, ‘State of play’, ‘The taking of Pelham 123’ and of course, the outstandingly hilarious ‘Hangover’ :) ….not to mention, the many superb TV programmes on my favourite BBC channels!

[There have been disastrous movies as well, but lemme try and keep this post as positive as possible ;) ]

Bring on 2010 !


Vacationing in ‘God’s Own Country’, 2009

March 30, 2009

It had been over a year since I last went home, and having roamed the breadth of Europe in the interim – right from Belfast to Budapest, it only seemed logical to take a break and head back to India [...lest the folks there start believing that I am merely a Legend ! ] However, 3.5 weeks of leave was all that I could manage, and from the very beginning it was evident that it would flash by even before I get to utter ‘Home sweet home’ !

Kerala !

From India – Feb/March 2009

Having just about 25 days in India [... but tons of friends/relatives to meet across half a dozen cities ], called for some expert planning and schedule management. Each and every day had to be worked out [...on MS Excel] - right down to the minute details, and the logistics arranged weeks in advance. Thus, on the 18th of Feb, 2009 - the very day my Schengen visa was set to expire, I set off in a Kingfisher Airlines flight from Heathrow to Cochin via Bangalore. Must admit, Mallya really does ensure that his passengers [..or 'guests' - as he calls them] are well taken care of….and I couldn’t possibly have kicked off the festivities in greater style !

Vadakunnathan Temple, Thrissur

From India – Feb/March 2009

True to its tropical nature, Kerala was horrendously humid and hot; and my initial couple of days there were spent settling in to the environment at Thrissur. Soon after, my folks and I headed off to Bangalore on an overnight train, hoping to escape the heat and spend a few days in the company of friends and family there.

But Bangalore’s days of glory, I must sadly admit, has been lost forever ! Now known as Bengaluru, everything seems to have gone horribly wrong for this erstwhile British colonial city, which until recently had been hailed as the ‘air-conditioned city’ and the ‘Garden City’. :( Today Bangalore is one hell of a deplorable mess – chaotic, noisy, polluted, congested, hot and dusty place – a victim of its own success ! The trees and lakes are increasingly vanishing, and ugly concrete constructions are haphazardly infesting every inch of available space. Its roads and infrastructure are crumbling under extreme pressure and thanks to the Metro construction happening across the city [....which has mercilessly eaten up much of the already congested streets],  the dust and the pollution levels have made commutation absolutely hazardous ! :( Not to mention that though it was just the middle of Feb, and the heat was already unbearable !

With mom at Forum Mall, Bangalore

From India – Feb/March 2009

I remember, a few years ago, when I ranted to one of my best friends about his smoking habits, he had turned to me and asked “You think that’s air you’re breathing?”. Confused by his Morpheus impression [..a la 'Matrix'], I replied “Err, yea, I guess so”. And that’s when he elucidated me about a study published in the newspaper stating that Banglorean air was so damn polluted that breathing it was tantamount to smoking 40 cigarettes a day ! Today, I’m sure that figure would be much much higher !!!

Thanks to the traffic-situation [...which I had already touched upon], travelling around Bangalore with my folks was quite a challenge, and the fact that the places we had to visit were located across town in the far extremes, didn’t help either ! Nevertheless, it was great to be back in the city that I had so faithfully loved, and spend time with friends and family there ! Before returning to Thrissur, I managed to spend a day at my offshore office, catching up with old mates – very few of whom were still around in the company!

With friends from my offshore office, Bangalore

From India – Feb/March 2009

Back in Thrissur, the wheels were set in motion for the grand re-union of DeBatch2000 - the batch of 2000 from Chinmaya Vidyalaya. Swetha had first proposed the idea when she came visiting here in London back in December. But fixing an appropriate time-slot suitable to maximum number of stakeholders, and arranging the logistics had turned out to be even more complicated task than perhaps, scheduling the IPL ! But unlike the IPL, which got shifted from home to abroad, our Reunion had initially been planned to be staged offshore – at the Taj Fisherman’s cove in Chennai, however, a last minute development [...Swetha getting pregnant ;)], forced us to shift the entire event back home to Thrissur, at the Lulu Centre.

DeBatch Reunion at Lulu Centre, Thrissur

From India – Feb/March 2009

As expected, the reunion was a mega success ! We’ve had DeBatchians coming down from all over – within India and abroad ! Some arrived with their spouses, and some with their kids ! Some of us were meeting each other for the first time after leaving school 9 years ago, and that made the occasion even more special ! We revelled in some good ol’ DeBatch style fun and tried to catch up on the 9 year hiatus we’ve had between us !

Check out a slideshow video that I had created and was played at the event –>
Next up, it was time to indulge in the only real ‘touristy’ activity of my trip. I had booked ourselves on a house-boat at the world reknowned backwaters of Alapuzha. Along with my parents, my sis and her daughter Diya, we took a train to Alapuzha and spent a day on the house-boat.

House-boat on the backwaters of Alapuzha

From India – Feb/March 2009

The experience was one of its kind…unlike anything I’d ever done before ! For about Rs.8K, we were pampered with a 2-BHK house boat, replete with TV, air-conditioners, ensuite baths et al…..Not to mention, the lip-smacking Kerala delicacies that were served on the boat, as we blissfully sailed across the exotic waters of the Vembanad lagoon.

Relaxing on the houseboat

From India – Feb/March 2009

The locales were simply heavenly, and in the morning when the backwaters were blanketed under a thick haze of mist, we were reminded that this was indeed ‘God’s own country’ !

Pirate of the Backwaters ;)

From India – Feb/March 2009

Once back in Thrissur, I set out to do justice to something that had been left pending for a very very long time  – visit my old school ! My old class-mate Ranjith Boban, was kind enough to accompany me, and we rode down to school on his scooter. Drowned in nostalgia the very moment we entered the gates, we strolled along the corridors and the grounds, soaking in the surreality of the moment.

Back at school

From India – Feb/March 2009

However, school wasn’t quite the same as we had known it – new buildings have sprung up on campus and the old ones have had facelifts, the teachers were generally new, the grounds were pruned and tiled and the school uniform had changed too ! Ranjith and I felt like fish outside water….Thankfully, we met a handful of our old teachers – some of whom who had taught us from the time we had joined school and had watched us grow ! We took our time surveying the length and breadth of the campus, reliving old memories !
We also visited Shyamala teacher – one of our first class teachers, at her home.

With Shyamala teacher and Parvathy

From India – Feb/March 2009

That done, it was time to head off to our native city of Calicut (Kozhikode) and meet relatives there. Cousin Chintu was getting married there over the weekend, and the preparations were going on in full swing. I took some time off though, and caught up with  ex-colleagues [and current IIM-K students] Arpit and Ankit, at a sea-side Hotel cum Bar named SeaQueen’. It was my first time in a bar in Calicut….or rather in Kerala ;) and this place offered a pretty decent ambience along with some splendid views of the beach [perhaps, one of the reasons why its so popular with the IIM students]. We sat in an open-air deck on the terrace, facing the Arabian Sea. The cool breeze flowing in from the sea made the otherwise horrendous humidity seem quite tolerable! Meeting each other after almost 2 years, we had a lot to catch up on, and did just that over a few chilled Kingfishers.

With Arpit at Sea Queen, Calicut

From India – Feb/March 2009

We spoke of the old times, the company and inevitably the current market conditions. The recession had hit everyone hard, but it was shocking to hear how badly the placement scene had been impacted, even in a premier institute like the IIM !

Later in the night, I dashed into the Paragon hotel – supposedly the No.1 Biriyani outlet in Kozhikode, only to realize that they don’t do biriyanis at night :( Nevertheless, I settled in for some Porottas and Chicken Curry.

The next 2 days were quite happenning, with Chintu getting married to her colleague Anoop at the Azhakodi temple in the city. It was the first time someone younger than me in the family was getting married, and that brought about the unique opportunity of having someone touch my glorious feet for blessings :)

Chintu gets married

From India – Feb/March 2009

The wedding was good fun, and enabled me to meet loads of relatives and family friends together at one shot. Following a reception at the groom’s place at Tirur, I drove off with family to Coimbatore to spend 2 days there !

Diya at Coimbatore

From India – Feb/March 2009

Once back in Thrissur, it was already the final leg of my vacation, and was time to cater to the religious obligations. Thus, we drove off to Guruvayoor and visited the reknowned Sree Krishna temple there.

Enroute to Guruvayur

From India – Feb/March 2009

Later the next day, I caught up with Ranjith and Swetha for one last time before heading back to Britain.

Friday evening, we drove up to Cochin and spent 2 nights relaxing at our apartment there.

Taking a break at Cochin

From India – Feb/March 2009

Early Sunday morning on the 15th of March, it was finally time to bid goodbye, and over a 22-hour ordeal, I flew in from Cochin to Bangalore and then on to London [on a 11-hour Kingfisher flight :O ] and subsequently from there to Bristol by coach ! The journey was tiring, no doubt …but thankfully, I didn’t feel too hungover or home-sick, unlike the last time !

Strangely though, whilst the flight from London to Bangalore had taken me only 9 hours, the return leg took an extra 2 hours ! Perhaps its got something to do with the fact that on flying east to west, we’re flying against the rotation of the earth ??? ;)


I better be NOT that much into it !

February 19, 2009

Picture this -> 2 guys, spending the evening sitting in a dimly lit room, completely surrounded by 100′s of vivacious girls !!!  Wooooooooo ….sounds like the ultimate male fantasy??? Well, not quite !!! For Anil and I, it was a torture beyond comprehension…. ‘cos right in front of us, was a large cinema screen playing of all things, a typical girlie-movie …insanely titled ‘He’s just not that much into you’ ! [Trust me, the name wasn't really the worst thing about the movie ;) ]

3 of our friends had dragged us into this mess, and while they sat beside us chuckling and giggling at all the supposed-jokes that the movie seemed to be so full of, we were left scratching our heads trying to figure out what-on-earth was so damn funny about them ! :) I really can’t imagine what would have been going through the heads of the producers when they decided to make this chunk of nonsense! Agreed, that they had managed to pull in an impressive star-cast [...including the sultry Scarlet Johanssen]…but to drag the movie for 6 long hours ??? That’s simply unpardonable ! [Ok, maybe it didn't quite last 6 hours ...but it definitely did seem that long ] …..Frankly, had they suspended us heads-down and dipped us into a tank of boiling water, whilst simultaneously passing bolts of electric current through our backs, there’s a chance that the ordeal may have been a shade more pleasurable !

 Perhaps, what left me so irked was the fact that earlier in the day, while travelling down from Leeds, I had put the 3 odd hours that I had in the train to good use by watching yet another girlie movie called ’27 dresses’! 2 girlie movies in one day was definitely more than what my permissible tolerance levels could take ! And the fact that we were seated in the 2nd row of the ‘Gandhi class’ at the theater didn’t help either :)

I hate to admit this….but off-late, thanks to all the wonderful friends that I have [who either drag me to the movies, or at times, merely force me to watch them myself... just 'cos they have watched it :( ]; I’ve been subjected to quite a heavy dosage of girlie movies – right from the outright mushy romances, to the sentimentally outrageous !!! Thinking about it, I guess I’m starting to become an authority on the subject ! I’ve actually been offering expert advice on girlie movies to some of my friends here, and believe me, they’ve been quite pleased with the suggestions :)

But fear not …I can proudly declare that my all time fave movies still remain ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Shawshank Redemption’….and the occassional girlie movie for the sake of my dear friends should do no harm ! Atleast, that’s what I thought ….until recently, when some of my closest mates started pointing out drastic changes that seem to have swept across my life :O ! They allege that I’ve started to think differently…. and that my entire outlook has changed ! As a matter of fact, a little bit of self-introspection does kinda reveal the gravity of the situation !  I have indeed changed in the recent past !!!….but what role has all the movies from ‘Before Sunrise’ to ‘Music and lyrics’ played in this, I am not entirely sure :O

Looking back, some of my deeds in the past couple of weeks have even taken ME by surprise ! For instance, all my life, I’d taken pride in the way I maintain [...or rather NOT maintain] my cupboards. Basically, I’m one of those persons who never believed in putting so much effort into building something that had to be broken up at some stage anyways …..Which in essence means, that I normally just throw all my clothes right into any bit of space available in my jam-packed wardrobe ! Over the years, every single attempt my mom had ever made to instill some discipline into me had disastrously ended in vain… And believe it or not, last weekend, I actually spent nearly half a day cleaning up my wardrobe ! It was hard labour, no doubt….Nevertheless, the end-result was fantastic….I actually got all my shirts neatly folded and arranged in one stack …..and the trousers in another !!! Oh, and did I mention that the formals were stacked separately from the casuals ? :O As a matter of fact, some of those shirts and trousers actually got in contact with an iron box, perhaps for the first time ever ! :)

Well, anyways, I guess these are all fairly innocuous habits to have developed….But the greater concern to me is that off-late,  I seem to have turned into an inveterate shopaholic ! Again, thanks to the influence of the ‘society’ around me, I just can’t resist picking up goodies when I see them on display at the malls ! In the last 2-3 months alone, I’ve probably spent more on shopping than what I’ve done, in the whole of last year ! Obviously, this is not one of the best traits one could develop during the mother-of-all credit crunches !!!

The list just doesn’t end there ! 2 days before leaving to India on vacation, I was faced with an eerie feeling that I had never experienced in my life before - I was already done with my packing….all 45 kgs of it ! :O In my 26 years of humble existence, I’ve made innumerable trips, across 100s of cities in over 20 countries….and never once had I started my packing more than a night in advance !

Which brings us back to the million-pound question – what the hell is happenning to me ? It’s never been this bad before, and its definitely not the right kind of direction I wanna be heading in ! But I guess it’s not too late yet….Perhaps,all I need to do is to grab a few beers, download some gripping action thrillers, sit down and chill-out !  But will that get my life back on track ??? Maybe ……‘Definitely, maybe’ !!! :)


2008 – The year that was !

January 9, 2009

[2008 has been a big year, no doubt ! There's been so much happenning in my life - personally and otherwise; and so many Ups and Downs (..thankfully more of Ups than the occassional Downs :)  ) ! The year saw me stretching my travel escapades to unprecedented levels...setting foot in almost 11 countries ! But however much I've been wanting to blog about it all, I 've just not been able to keep up with the pace of events  ! So here's an attempt to do justice to it all and look back at the major events that shaped my life in the past 12 months !]

The year kicked-off back at home in Kerala. It was the eve of my brother’s wedding, and it was the first time in ages, that I welcomed the new year with so many relatives around ! The wedding at Calicut on the 2nd of Jan, in itself was quite exciting, except for the fact that I had to leave back to the UK on the very night of the wedding reception – which was held 4 days after the wedding !

The Wedding

However, a few weeks back in the freezing environs of Bristol, got me past the bitter hang-over !
In March, my good old friend from school – Ganesh, left UK to go back to India for good. Parties in London were never the same again :(

Ireland:
The first major trip of the year happened over the Easter Weekend in March. Bharat, his bro Abhay, Akansha, Anil, Rama, Ajitha, Pradeep and I flew in to Belfast, and spent 3 days going around the amazingly beautiful countryside and coastline of Northern Ireland !

The gang at Northern Ireland with Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge behind us

We had hired 2 cars, one of which I drove, and must admit – with winding long roads stretched out in front of us, and the clear blue sea on one side and towering hills on the other, this was the most fantastic drive I’ve ever had in my life ! Over the 3 days, we visited the remarkable Giant’s Causeway, walked across the flimsy, yet breath-taking rope bridge at Carrick-a-rede, became kids again at the Barry’s amusement park, stayed at an awesome house on top of the cliffs overlooking the sea, ran across the beach in the morning, trekked through the forests of Glen Arif, stayed at the Holiday Inn in Belfast and went around the city in an open-topped guided bus tour !

April brought the shocking news that one of my best friends from school in Kuwait – Spandan had passed away ! What was even more shocking were the theories behind his unfortunate accident. I had met him last during my visit to Kuwait in 2005, after a gap of over 7 years, and it was indeed saddenning to realize that we wouldn’t meet again !

When I met up with Spanny at Kuwait in 2005, after a span of 7 years !

When I met up with Spanny at Kuwait in 2005, after a span of 7 years !

Adventure in Lake District :
Come May, and what was meant to be a quiet, peaceful break along the pristine lakes of Cumbria (Lake District) turned out to be the Mother-of-all-adventures !!!

The gang at Lake District

From Cumbria – Lake District, England – May 2008

Rama, Pradeep, Akansha, her just-landed-from-India friend Ruchi, Rakesh, Ranjani and I hired a 7-seater Vauxhall Zafira and drove up to ‘The Lake District’ in Northern England, and on the evening of the second day, quite unexpectedly our tyre got pierced by a protruding rock and burst with a loud bang ….almost in the middle of an isolated countryside. Thankfully for us, a traditional pub [which was about the only building in the vicinity] happenned to be right around the corner and we sought shelter there, for well over 4 hours, until the Emergency services were able to recover our vehicle and drive us back to our hostel. The next day saw Rama and I shuttling between the towns of Windermere and Kendal [..an hour apart from each other] trying to get the burst tyre replaced, and finally by noon, we got going again and jammed up at the popular Rookin Farm house for a session of fun-filled, adventure activities !
However, disaster struck again…. when later in the day, while driving to the town of Keswick, a bent suspension [hit from the previous day's incident] rendered the vehicle dangerously unfit to drive. A couple of hours of continuous negotiations with the courteous ladies at the AA Emergency Services, and a very helpful girl named ‘Louise’ from the Enterprise Car Hire company, resulted in them recovering the doomed vehicle once and for all, and agreeing to give us a replacement.

Rama and I travelled all the way to the Enterprise showroom at Kendal and met ‘Louise’ , to realize that the replacement vehicle on offer was a massive 4-wheel-drive, fully automatic, diesel-powered Land Rover :) !!! Had we hired the vehicle ourselves, it would have cost us a cool £150 a day, but we got to keep it for free for the rest of the journey :)

   

The mighty LAND ROVER

From Cumbria – Lake District, England – May 2008

And to top it all, ‘Enterprise’ refunded the full rental amount that we had paid for the original car, as compensation ! Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for more. As they say, ‘all’s well that ends well ‘!

The Championships, Wimbledon:
In June, I fulfilled one of my childhood dreams – of watching the Wimbledon Championships live – thanks to Bharat, who offered me company in the venture ! We travelled across to London and queued up overnight at an open field at Wimbledon, braving the rains armed with nothing more than a sleeping bag each, and a pair of umbrellas, one of which was generously donated to us by a sympathetic passer-by :)

[Having slept on the platforms under freezing cold conditions at London's Paddington station not-once, but twice before, and 2 nights on the floor at Heathrow, and 1 night at Luton airport, this was just another great feather in my cap ! ] Ultimately, the struggle had paid-off, as early in the morning, we managed to get hold of Centre Court tickets, and to our luck, the first match of the day starred none other than the King himself – Roger Federer ! The ambience at Wimbledon was so fantastic, that I’m sure even non-tennis fans wouldn’t have felt bored amidst the colourful vibrancy of the place…and the chance to meet 1000′s of people from across the world …..relishing on some mouth-watering strawberry and cream :)

 

The king - Roger Federer at the Centre Court, Wimbledon

From Wimbledon Championships – June 08

My 26th birthday in August was the first time in years that I had cut a cake on the day – thanks to my wonderful friends who arranged it at midnight !  We later continued the celebrations at Pizza Hut in the mall on the evening of the 5th !

France:
Bharat, Anil, Rama, Akansha, Ruchi, Yathi, Ramappa, Pradeep and I applied for our Schengen visas in August and by the end of the month, flew over the Channel across to Paris – the universal City of Lights/Love/Fashion  …..etc etc etc ….

 

Us, on top of the Arc de Triumph, Paris

From France2008

Akansha and Ramappa were lucky enough to celebrate their birthdays in Paris, on the very day we landed ! For Bharat and I, it was our second time in the city, and was an oppurtunity to revive our French memories….On the second day, whilst the rest of the gang went around sight-seeing in Paris, Bharat and I took a TGV [First class :)] to the beautiful city of Strasbourg along the French-German border, to spend a day exploring the marvels of the ancient city!

Beautiful Strasbourg

From France2008

We also managed to cross the bridge over the Rhine, across to Germany and spent an hour in the German town of Kehl, before heading back !

  

Enjoying some Bordeaux wine in the first class compartment of the TGV !

From France2008

Also, the one thing we had missed out in our first visit to Paris was Disneyland, so off we went with the whole gang on the last day…ultimately setting a personal world record by arriving at the Charles de Gaulle airport just 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time of our flight to Bristol …. and still managing to catch it ! Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooo :)

 

At Disneyland, Paris

From France2008

In September, I bought a brand-new bicycle – to be honest, the very first vehicle that I had ever bought with my own money ! Getting to office and back had never been this easy and so much fun ! 

My bike !

My bike !

Belgium
September, also had us – Bharat, Akansha, Anil, Rama and I heading off to Belgium in the Eurostar for a weekend break ! It was the first time the 5 of us had gone on any trip all by ourselves, and we had one hell of a gala time in the Belgian cities of Bruges and Brussels !

The 5 of us at Bruges !

The 5 of us at Bruges !

Adventures and mindless twists of fate, as usual, were never too far away from us, and we ended up missing a train and getting stranded in the cities of Lokeren and Antwerp in the middle of the night ! Nevertheless, it resulted in some unforgettable moments, and as a matter of fact, this was the last trip we went on before Bharat left to India for good !

Central Europe
October – time for more trips and this time we pushed ourselves much farther and wider than we had ever done before ! In 3 days, Rama, Anil, Pradeep and I set foot on 4 capital cities across 4 countries in Central Europe – Bratislava in Slovak, Vienna in Austria, Prague in Czech and Budapest in Hungary ! Akansha had been to these places earlier along with her cousin, and had been ranting and raving about it to us ever since !

 

Heroes at 'Heroes Square' , Budapest

From Vienna/Prague/Budapest/Bratislava 2008

And, she had not been wrong at all ! Prague almost swept us off our feet ! The beauty of the place was beyond comprehension ! Vienna and Budapest weren’t any bad either ! With the help of local guides, we were able to explore and do justice to the sights and sounds of these wonderful places !

Finally came December, and it suddenly felt as if time had directly leapt across to this stage from January, with no other months in between ! It so happened that the British altertative-rock band ‘Coldplay’ was holding concerts at various cities across the UK during December …and I managed to get hold of a pair of tickets to one of those gigs from a person in Orange ! Thus, on a cold Tuesday evening on the 2nd of Dec, Abhinav and I drove up to Birmingham in a rented car and had a rocking time at the NIA, where Coldplay enthralled the 13000 strong audience with a brilliant mix of music, light effects and visuals ! It was my first concert here in UK and it couldn’t have been bigger than this :) !!!

In the middle of December, Swetha and family descended upon London, and we had a mini-reunion of sorts; with Sreejith aka Maadan joining us in going around sight-seeing at London !  

With Swetha and Sreejith at London !

With Swetha and Sreejith at London !

Though the weather wasn’t all that great, we all had such a wonderful time catching up on old school days, and honestly, never before had we laughed so much in the recent past ! Unforgettable indeed !!!

December was also the month of parties ….especially around the Xmas season…Dinners, team-outings, get-togethers, disco, movies ….we’ve had it all !

At an Orange Xmas party !

At an Orange Xmas party !

The Netherlands
But the icing on the cake was my much-awaited trip to the Netherlands to visit my brother and sister-in-law. I spent 4 days there over Xmas, and we went around visiting Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and a few other smaller places.

With bro and SIL, dressed up in Dutch attire

From The Netherlands – 2008

Ultimately, everything in life has to come to a close and the year finally ended with Anil Curpad, Akansha, Ruchi, Pradeep, Yathi and I braving the midnight chill in front of the ‘London Eye’ witnessing the spectacular fireworks-display that was held there to welcome 2009 ! 

The gang at London on New Year's day !

The gang at London on New Year's day !

I’ll definitely look back at 2008 as one of my most cherished years – the year where I spent some of the best moments with my closest friends, and made some wonderful new ones as well !


Coldplay – Live at Birmingham !!!

December 6, 2008

[It was 9:00pm at the 'National Indoor Arena' in Birmingham. The lights were out and tens of thousands of people eagerly waited in anticipation ! Out of the blue, the murmuring silence was broken by the distinctive loud beats of 'Life in Technicolour' !!! The crowds instantly jolted into life and jumped onto their heels.....their reserved seats only to be used as coat hangers for the next hour and three-quarters !

As the crowds went berseck, the curtains rose slowly....and behind it, appeared the silhouette of the 4 lads from London...with lasers and the blaring lights creating a sort of mystical halo around them !!! Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting ....'Coldplay - Live in concert !' ]

The electrifying ambience

The electrifying ambience

It all started about a month ago. It hadn’t been long since I had got introduced to Coldplay…and I had been feeding myself to a daily diet of their songs on my iPod ever since my manager Tony had written a CD for me with all their albums. Hence, when I came to realize that Coldplay were playing gigs all over Britain in December, I knew that I had to be there, by hook or by crook ! !

And then came the problem – all Coldplay gigs in UK for December were sold-out :(  All of them – London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Glasgow …every single one of them had sold out, nearly 6 months ago !!!

There were, of course, tickets being re-sold on the internet, but at exorbitant rates ! I remember how badly my good friend Ganesh had wanted to be at a Coldplay gig, while he was here in UK earlier in the year…But back then, they weren’t any happenning at all. In fact, the other day I was discussing with another one of our batchmates in London named Sreejith aka ‘Maadan’ that, had Ganu been here, he’d have gate-crashed into that concert by any means – even if it meant having to sleep with the Gate-keeper ;)

Thankfully, I didn’t have to go through any such ordeals. My saviour came in the form of a guy from office, who had advertised a pair of tickets on the Orange intranet website, for the gig at Birmingham on Dec 2nd, 2008.

Wasting no time, I contacted him. Apparently, it had cost him £50 each for the tickets, and I started off by offering him £80 for the pair….only to be rejected outright :( ….which forced me to raise the stakes to 100 quid, but that wasn’t good enough either ! Finally, we settled for £115…which was not bad at all, considering that these were for very good seats and would easily cost much much higher on the internet !

Without giving it too much of a thought, I got hold of the tickets. I still had to find one more person to take along, and that turned out to be quite a problem as the concert was on a working day !

However, I knew there was only one man I could rely upon – Mr.Abhinav Gupta ! A quick phone-call to Cardiff and the deal was sealed :)

On the big day – Tuesday, 2nd of December, 2008 ….I went over to the Enterprise Car Hire office during lunch break, and picked up the car that I had booked. Though I had originally booked a 2-door Ford Ka, the guys generously gave me an upgrade to a 4-door Toyota Aygo :) Later in the day, I left office a little past 4pm and drove up to Parkway station and picked up Abhinav, who had taken a train down from Cardiff. The drive to Birmingham took longer than expected, as we were stuck in mindless rush-hour traffic through-out the journey. Certain sections near the Parkway station at Bristol, and along the Broad street in Birmingham, were absolute mayhem !!! At times, we found ourselves stranded in the middle of an endless sea of stationary vehicles…..and were forced to move no better than an inch at a time for over half an hour !!! Needless to say, it was extremely stressful and by the time we parked our car at the South Car Park at the NIA, we were totally hammered !

Thirsty, hungry and overcome by fatigue, we headed straight to the refreshments outlet at the NIA. Well, there was this other problem – Abhinav doesn’t drive, so that made me the sole driver of the car….and that in turn meant, I couldn’t drink !!! DISASTER !!!  Anywayz, what harm could 1 pint of beer do ?

So there we were …..armed with a beer, a cider, burgers, chips and cool drinks; we entered the huge arena and were ushered to our seats in Zone B…which surprisingly was just about 30 feet away from the stage ! Not bad at all !!! It couldn’t have got better than this for such a price ! :)

The sell-out crowd at the NIA, Birmingham

The sell-out crowd at the NIA, Birmingham

The opening band was some unheard-of one …and no one really paid much attention to them . We on our part were busy doing justice to our food…and the beers were washed down in no time at all !

And then we all waited ….The moment of reckoning finally came at 9pm …when Coldplay ignited the stage and the whole arena with ‘Life in Technicolour’ !!! The quality of sound was amazing….Nothing I had ever heard before could match up to it ! The brilliance of the sound was matched up with spectacular visuals and lighting effects, that uniquely reflected each song that was being played !

The Stage !

The Stage !

The energy-levels of the guys, especially the lead singer Chris Martin, was unbelievable ! From start till end, he flung himself all around the stage, belting out hit after hit …..charming the audience with his vocals, unstated good-looks, spontaneity and sense of humour ! He didn’t just play and sing, but saw to it that the audience involved themselves too !

Chris Martin setting the stage on fire !

Chris Martin setting the stage on fire !

All through the gig, there were lasers shooting out from the stage, dazzling lights blaring all around, huge glowing globes lowered from the  ceiling, confetti falling all over, large screens with captivating visuals …..and on top of it all, add on the synchronized roar of tens of thousands of fans – and you’ve got one hell of an unforgettable concert !!! Each song had its own theme – the lighting would change, the backgrounds would change and the visuals would vary ! ‘Clocks’ turned the entire arena into Red

Clocks

'Clocks'

 …….and ‘Yellow’ was, quite evidently Yellow ! ‘Speed of sound’ was played in near darkness, but with the whole crowd waving out their illuminated mobile phones, it was a different matter all together !

That’s when I realized ….that nothing can really beat the experience of being at a live concert – regardless of how powerful a music system/home theatre you may have at home ! Hearing a song on the sterio or watching a performance on the Tele is not quite the same as being there live, in the middle of the action !!! You could drive a Ferrari on NFS, but unless u actually take one on the road, its just NOT the real thing !!!

While most of the songs were taken off Coldplay’s new album - ‘Viva la Vida’, many of their older hits were played too …..‘Clocks’, ‘Fix you’, ‘Yellow’, ‘Speed of Sound’, ‘Scientist’,’Green Eyes’ …were all marvellous. When Chris Martin sang ‘The hardest part’, it was just him and his piano and the sheer power of his mesmerizing vocals ! Incredible ! The fans were swept off their feet !

'The Hardest Part'

'The Hardest Part'

For a moment in between, the guys disappeared from the stage, leaving us to believe that they were taking a much-needed break….only to reappear out-of-the-blue from the back of the arena, on a make-shift stage right in the middle of the crowd ! The audience loved it and everyone got their money’s worth !!!

Finally, at 10:45 pm, the boys called it a day, and bid goodbye ! But the roar of the crowds did not end there ….As we got out of the NIA and walked along the old canals of Birmingham to our parking lot, the chorus of ‘Viva la vida’ filled the air – being hummed by 1000′s of ecstatic fans heading home !

Coldplay2

Coldplay

A rough set-list of the songs that were played are as below:

LIFE IN TECHNICOLOR
VIOLET HILL
CLOCKS
IN MY PLACE
SPEED OF SOUND
YELLOW
42
FIX YOU
STRAWBERRY SWING
GOD PUT A SMILE UPON YOUR FACE
TALK
THE HAREST PART
POSTCARDS FROM FAR AWAY
VIVA LA VIDA
LOST
GREEN EYES
DEATH WILL NEVER CONQUER
POLITIK
LOVERS IN JAPAN
THE SCIENTIST
LIFE IN TECHNICOLOR II

Check out some of the videos from the concert at the links below :

CLOCKS:

[Youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=vumSgZZGu5c&eurl=http://www.mycoldplay.com/home/2008/12/03/coldplay-birmingham-nia-02122008-reviewssetlistpicturesvideo/]

YELLOW:

[Youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=jyT9zpgsnvY&eurl=http://www.mycoldplay.com/home/2008/12/03/coldplay-birmingham-nia-02122008-reviewssetlistpicturesvideo/]


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