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 😛

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 ??? 😉

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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 !!! 🙂

 


Of Tubes and Metros

September 7, 2010

[What on earth is happening to Britain’s transport systems ? British Airways seems to be perpetually hit by strikes or strike threats, and recently the British Airports Authority has joined the bandwagon too. Some of the train companies threatened strike over the Bank Holiday weekend last month and just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, comes the current London Tube strike, bringing the mega city down to its knees.

Nevertheless, I must admit that this does not in any way make me less appreciative of the London Tube, which I think is an absolute Engineering marvel. So as Londoners struggle to get through the current disruption, resorting to whatever alternate means of transport that they can manage, I guess it is a good time to look at why the Tube is so special. And what better way to do this than to contrast it with its traditional rival – the Paris Metro !]

I’ve never really been a great fan of the Paris Metro and going by the bizarre experiences I’ve had on the network, I don’t think it has been very fond of me either. As far as I’m concerned,  the Tube or the London Underground scores higher any day. Not only is it the oldest Metro system in the world [first opened in 1863 !], it is clean, convenient, easy to use and well-supervised. The Paris Metro is also pretty old – the third oldest in the world [after London and Budapest], but in contrast, is dirty, shady, confusing, less user-friendly and shockingly, a bit lawless.

Though I’ve never […atleast until now] been very vocal about my feelings for the Paris Metro, the relationship has not been entirely mutual, as the latter has always had a way of showing me exactly how it felt…..on my face ! For instance, when I visited the city with a gang of mates a couple of years ago, for some reason, my metro pass would constantly malfunction ! Not Rama’s nor Bharat’s, just mine …. …not once or twice, but every now and then over the entire 3 days that we spent shuttling around the metropolis ! Each time, I had to go over the counter and get the magnetic card sorted out, but a while later, it would fail again. Swapping my damned ticket with working ones from my mates didn’t solve the problem either, as the latter would then start malfunctioning :O

Though this may have been perfectly down to chance, albeit an inconceivable sequence of it, what really irked me was that whilst I was standing there struggling with my ticket, trying to lawfully enter the Metro system, quite a few Parisiens didn’t even seem to bother about such a formality. They would just jump across the turnstiles or crawl under them, whichever seemed to look more ‘dignified’. There never were any officials at the gates to enforce order and that came across as something quite strange to me. But not as shocking as seeing people..sometimes even kids, begging inside the metro trains :O Surely, that was the last thing that I had expected to see in a major European capital !

But don’t get me wrong, the Paris Metro is still a very reliable and efficient means of transport in the massive city. Not every station or line is filthy and in fact, some of the stations are works of art in themselves. It is said that no building in Paris is more than 500 metres away from a Metro station and that proves how extensive the network is. But that’s not to say that the system is easy to use, especially for outsiders.

Though the Paris Metro map, as with the maps of many other transport networks in the world, is modelled on the award-winning format of the London Tube, there are a few key differences.

For one, in London, the Underground lines have proper names, such as the Victoria Line, Circle Line or Bakerloo Line. In my opinion, it gives a refreshing personal touch to it…something that users can relate to. And with most lines, the nomenclature kinda makes sense – Victoria Line being the main line passing through Victoria station, Bakerloo Line through Baker Street Station, the Circle Line going in a circular track around the city and so on. However, in Paris, the lines are just numbered or lettered – as Lines 1, 2 ,3 or A, B, C….sort of like the street names of New York. Not very creative, now is it ? Some argue that it is easier to remember them that way, but then, if you ask me, it clearly takes the life and soul out of it. I wonder if any New Yorker or Parisien would be prepared to name his or her kids as kid 1, kid 2 and kid 3 😉

Secondly, at the stations in Paris, the directions of the lines are specified by their final stations. For instance, ‘Line B towards Charles de Gaulle airport’ or ‘Line B towards Robinson’. So if you wanted to travel to a station in between, you wouldn’t know which line to take unless you know the name of the last station in that direction. If you ask me, I’d rather have preferred ‘Line B West-bound’ or ‘Line B East-bound’.

In addition, I came to learn the hard way that at some of the larger stations in Paris, the platform layouts are so complicated that the two directions of a particular line are not always adjacent to each other. So you’ve got Line A towards a particular direction on one platform and then you’ve got a few other unrelated Lines in between, and then your Line A heading towards the opposite direction. The sign-boards are a bit misleading too and it had taken me quite some time to work out the correct platform whilst transiting through Gare du Nord earlier this year.

You know you're in Paris when the Exit sign points downwards and the only way out is upwards 😉

From France2008

Nevertheless, every problem brings with it an opportunity, and hence, earlier in spring, when I found myself sat next to a young Chinese lass […who I later realized was Vietnamese, not that I can tell the difference ;)] on a 2-hour non-stop train from Caen to Paris, the Paris Metro turned out to be the perfect topic of conversation. I had to get to Charles De Gaulle airport from St.Lazare station, and thanks to her broken English and by even more shattered French, it took us nearly half the journey to work out the best route 🙂 Even better was the fact that as we disembarked at St.Lazare station and I had helped with her luggage, she was kind enough to accompany me all the way to the Metro station, stand in the queue to buy the ticket for me and direct me to the right platform ! 😀

Looking back, the one Paris Metro experience that  I’m sure none of my mates nor I, could ever forget was when a couple of years ago, we were travelling from Disneyland to the airport on the metro, and having grossly underestimated the time that the journey would take, ended up at Charles de Gaulle just 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time of our flight to Bristol !!! We still did manage to catch the flight, by the way….but it was a mad rush from one end of the massive airport to the other. Thanks to some inspirational cheering from Captain Anil at  the tail-end, the whole gang, including the exhausted pair of girls, made it just in the nick of time 🙂


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 😛 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 😛 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 !