Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lean part of the trip

Its been a good ten days since I visited this place and wrote something. But the thing is, nothing major has been happening. This is the lean part of my trip. Work has been crazy and I am chasing a deadline for June 30. Can't wait for it to arrive and then have a blast over the long July 4 weekend!

The highlight of the last ten days has been my confirmation at the workplace after my 3 month probation. And I got a rating like I have never ever seen in my life before.Boss was incredibly happy with my performance and has given me a top rating. I almost couldn't believe that it was a rating done of MY performance!But felt great to have been evaluated on merit and being given tremendous encouragement for my future. All those dirty years of slogging, people accusing me of being incapable, etc just thrown into the backburner. Its my time in the sun now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Texas Folk Festival - June 12!

Ah! What a colourful Sunday it was! Got up at 12 noon, went and spent the next 3 hours in Kishan’s room. We had all planned a trip to visit the Texas folk festival happening right here in San Antonio.

Ten of us left the hotel at 4.45 p.m. and reached the venue after changing 2 buses. We were hit by colour, fun and frolic for the next 3 hours. Amazing fun! What liveliness! What energy around the place!

Got hold of the entry tickets and prowled around for a while, digesting the animation and colour at the festival. Grabbed a coke as it was blazing hot and then all of us took turns taking snaps at different spots inside the festival ground. We attended a small classroom, where an anchor ran us through a session where he explained how schools and classrooms worked centuries ago in Texas. There was even paper and quil ink on the tables that we were seated in. We had to write out our names in calligraphic versions on that paper using that quil ink. I just managed to write out the first letter of my name; just couldn’t hold that quil pen!

After this class, we cut wood! There was a huge axe in the middle of that foyer and we took turns cutting the wooded pieces strewn around the place. We then realized how tough it must have been for those guys in that era, cutting axe for a livelihood. And here we are, complaining about faulty air-conditioning systems in office! Get real!

The highlight of the festival had to be the next stop we made. There was this small hut where a man was playing some scintillating music with a wooden instrument that had 6 strings on it. We went into that shack and had an amazing musical composition. He patiently taught us the basics of using that instrument and we played it all in unison. It was as if, all of us were attending a music class. Simply breathtaking instrument! And then he removed another instrument that resembled a santoor! Not to miss, we took turns to play that instrument as well and when my turn came, the trainer remarked,” I like the way this kid is playing it”. Well, I was just shaking my head as if I was a expert at playing that instrument with my head movements synchronized with my hand movements etc!

And then, the belly dancers!Oops! All of them were amazing! Simply too good and so was the music. Fast, furious and the way these girls were moving on stage, sure did get all of us going! Can’t blame us, the girls were awesome, both to look at and at their dance! There was one girl who was especially good, in a lovely green attire. I thought I was the only one eyeing here, only to discover later that everyone who had come with me there was eyeing her as well. Hell, competition everywhere! Inside office, outside office!

Scouted around the rest of the festival, saw the Tower of America, tons of flags, a small museum and finally returned to the hotel by 9 p.m. Went with Ashwin to buy some groceries, returned and spent time in room no.1111 till 1 a.m. Vaishnavi was leaving back to India, and it was her send off. Had some terrific Indian grub that she had made for everybody! Sang my heart out too!

Trip to Bob's Cove

It was a day out in the countryside of Texas. Good fun indeed. There was an office picnic organized at Bob’s Cove. After yet another late Saturday morning with dawn at 11 a.m., five of us huddled into Ashwin’s car and hit the picturesque road to Bob’s Cove. We had a gala time in the car, with Sachin, Pavithra, Anand, Ashwin and I humming song after song, getting enamoured by the beautiful, winding road along the interiors of Texas, till we momentarily lost our way only to regain it in a few minutes! And finally arriving at the venue of the picnic, bang in time for lunch! Got there at around 2 p.m. and there weren’t too many people around from office. Looked like most of them would still be in bed…!

We hunted for other Americans we knew, but found nobody. Only Ashwin knew a few people. Pavithra found a couple of hunks and struck up conversation right after lunch, which was a sumptuous vegetarian burger with chips and coke! True blue, American food!

Once we were done with lunch, Ashwin and Pavithra hit the water, and Anand, Sachin & I went exploring the landscape around the Cove. We saw some beautiful ducks, a couple of private beach houses, which we were sure would be occupied by new honeymooners! After a long, animated conversation we explored the rough terrain in the interiors of the Cove, walking up muddy paths, taking snaps along the way, crossing a wooden bridge from which I almost fell off, and finally returning to the waterside. On getting there, Anand and Sachin wanted to jump in and called me in. I had unfortunately not taken my swim trunk along. So I told those guys to carry on and I would take care of all the paraphernalia that we had brought along! Not to mention, ogle at the babes in the bikinis there! Ooo, they were hot! It takes these American girls just a second to strip down to their swimsuits! Scores of girls came near the edge of the water, removed their robe and just jumped into the water in their tight bikinis. Amazing culture. For an Indian, I guess its something I have only seen on television.But I wasn’t complaining one bit to be seeing the action right in front of me!

Had a couple of cokes, took snaps of the beautiful landscape and all these guys were having fun in the water. I was humming songs and looking at the crowd around me. Looked around for a couple of the American girls from office, who had told me that they would come, but couldn’t find them.

Finally, these guys got out of the water after major fun and frolic and dried themselves off. It was 5.30 p.m. by the time we packed our stuff and headed back to our hotel in San Antonio.

On the way back, we stopped at an elevated position that had a snapshot of the entire horizon. Mind blowing sight and just took our breath away. Superb feeling of belonging with nature! Really got lost in the mountains, the trees, the blue water and the sights of the jet skis ripping on the water, as if somebody were riding a scooter in the middle of that huge lake! It was quite breathtaking, to say the least! We took tons of snaps there and on the way back too.

I was absolutely pooped on getting to the hotel and just wanted to crash. But we had a lovely music session going on in one of the rooms. Went there and we sang till 4 a.m. Quite an exhilarating experience to sing all those deep, old Hindi movie songs in the dead of the night with all the guys. It was Saturday night anyway!

Two days with my American boss!

Its been an incredibly happening week! I just booked tickets to the Big Apple! Got a good deal on the internet and decided to blow it up. After all, who knows if I will get another chance at all! So, just caught hold of my colleague, and booked the tickets online with his American credit card, as the airline needed US contact particulars etc. My temporary stay and contact details wouldn’t suffice. Really nice of that colleague, nice guy!

Of course, called Vali at New York and confirmed that he would pick me up and LaGuardia Airport. He said ok and would even take a day off and combine it with my weekend trip. That’s the hallmark of being friends with somebody for the best part of 16 years; some things just come, without having to ask for it. Can’t wait to meet Vali and gallavant all over one of the greatest metropolitan cities of the world! Wow, wow, wow! Not meaning to jump the gun here, but it’s like a childhood dream on the verge of coming true. Just hope no last minute deadline at work crops up. Will have a blast for sure!

The next day after I got my tickets to New York, my boss from the other end of the US landed up in office. It was truly a pleasure to meet him and the two days that he spent with us was an education for me in American, corporate professionalism. Amazing human being and incredibly down to earth. Nobody around could’ve believed that he was a Director in our firm! Sat down and had a long, marathon 2 hour session with him, where he ran me through different procedures of the firm. Our conversation began with one of the most positive feedback on my performance, which made me reinforce the self-belief that has been on the rise lately. Made me feel very good that I was assessed on my own merits and told where I was doing well and where I need to initiate efforts to improve. The meeting then drifted onto the current projects, the deadlines, the procedures involved etc.

After which, I threw some new ideas to him which he was very impressed with. I thanked all the hard work that I had put in over the last 4 years, to finally see a smile on a boss’s face, and a genuine one at that!

That was not all! This lovely boss of mine, escorted me personally to a training hall, introduced me to the training coordinator! Once that was done, we had a team dinner, again sponsored by this great boss! Well, since it was his treat, we had little choice in the venue. He wanted to eat seafood at Pappadeaux, which is one of the famous ones in San Antonio for that type of food. We just agreed. My team mate and I exchanged glances as we knew that we will not get anything remotely vegetarian at that restaurant!

Finally, headed for the restaurant and got in there pretty early. It was a Wednesday evening and to our surprise, the place was choc-a-bloc! The girl at the reception counter told us that it would take half an hour to get hold of a table for three. “Fine”, said my boss. He had his plans mapped out for the evening! He headed straight to the bar counter (learnt later that its called the Tavern) and ordered 3 mugs of beer. Am not too much of a beer-drinker, so left the choice of beer to my team mate! He told me to drink it slowly, lest, I get sloshed in front of the boss, on the dinner table! I just wanted to try what this thing called beer is all about, and didn’t want to miss the opportunity that had presented itself!

Once we were done with the drink, the call came that our table was free. We headed there immediately and had a long, animated conversation that revolved around careers, India vs the US, outsourcing, work related stuff, family backgrounds, how “tam brams” are the brightest talent from India etc! And for food, I had to make do with a salad, while my team mate dived into a plate of onion rings!

That was not all. Our boss sprung a surprise by ordering some dessert for us, after my team mate and I had stated that we were full! Well, in true boss style, the solution was, pack the dessert and save it for later! Wow!

We left the hotel, went to a pool parlour, but had to head back as I didn’t have my passport with me. Dropped our boss off at his hotel, returned to our hotel and crashed!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Music,dance and temple concert & swimming - June 4 & 5 weekend!

Saturday was more a case of catching up on lost sleep of Friday night, when all of us retired at around 3.30 a.m.The guys around me got drunk as hell and it got so bad that I had to physically drag Ashwin to his room and put him into bed. He was out, with some 3 rounds or rum, that too, on the rocks!Oof!But it was one helluva happening night, with all of us in the mood!Each one brought out one song better than the other and joined in the chorus.But the highlight was Pavithra who simply stole the show with her solo recital of that time-tested beauty,Killing Me Softly With His Song. Just stirred the deepest cords in me when she sang it with so much of flair and emotion! More numbers crept in with Ashwin,Anand,Vaishnavi & I hitting off on old Hindi songs - deeper ones emanating from our systems as the night advanced! Then on popular demand, Vaishnavi sang that MSS classic, Kurai Ondrum Illai in true carnatic style. She is am amazing singer and that is an understatement! What passion for singing!What energy!What involvement!What brilliance!And most of all, what a firm head on her shoulders!!More was to follow on Sunday!Got to my room with Hari at 2.a.m. and watched the movie, John Malkowitch for a while, before dozing off on the sofa itself.

We spent the rest of Saturday afternoon in the confines of Budget Suites(our hotel). Ashwin and Anand had still not recovered from their hangover of Friday night! Hunted the internet with Sucha for some good deals to NYC all afternoon,but the rates were incredibly exorbitant!Put the idea on hold, till we get a better deal to NYC, let's see. There are some painful roundabout routes, like getting to Philadelphia and then travelling to NYC etc, but have to look at the logistics.Wait and watch for now. Walked down with Sucha to the India store in the evening and bought some terrific Indian food!Slurp!Got back, checked email and watched Hum Tum for a while in Ashwin's room. We slept at 2 a.m. eventually.

Sunday was a very busy day.Woke up all of a sudden at 8.15 a.m and didn't have a clue as to what was going to come in the next few minutes, though pleasant! Got a call from Vaishnavi at 8.25 a.m. asking me what happened to my plans of coming with her to the temple,where she had a recital?I told her that all the cars headed there from our crowd, was full,so I can't make it. She then said that Alpesh is coming and I could hop in but would have to get ready in 5 minutes! That's it!I rushed,had a quick bath and was up in my new,red shirt and cream trouser in less than 5 minutes!Ashwin,Maalvika,Anand and Pavithra came in Ashwin's car while Alpesh,Hari,Vaishnavi,Harita and I went in Alpesh's car. It was a very fast-paced drive,but the countryside outside of San Antonio was very picturesque!Who said, Texas is a boring state?!!

We reached the temple in about half an hour and it was set in the backdrop of some beautiful hills,trees and a sloping road.Really nice place!Got into the temple and did some initial prayers, before Vaishnavi took off. Man!She is an artiste of HIGH calibre!Incredible voice modulation, terrific range of songs(carnatic to hindustani to bhajans!),great versatality,and utmost passion!Loved every single song that she sang and the crowd gathered at the temple instantly became her fan!We joked with her saying that she has an alternative career in singing,and can just chuck her job!

Once the music was done, there was a long discourse on the Ramayana by an elderly gentleman.He was relating the old epic to the current era and it made eminent sense!Quite enthralling,actually.And after all the rituals, we hit the snack room next door. Good Indian food and we gulped it down like starved pigs!Pains of staying away from home country you see!

Got back to the hotel, relaxed and had a brilliant Sunday evening!Swam!Rather, attempted to swim!Had my second swimming class with Anand.And this time, Vijay and Sachin joined in too,with Ashwin chipping in later!It was good fun. I finally managed to learn how to hold my breath under water, practiced kicking the water with my legs for movement holding the bar at the edge of the pool and finally, towards the end of the session, floated a wee bit too!!That gave me a big kick!Learning these two things are the key to swimming and the absolute basics. While I'ven't mastered it,I felt great that I managed to do it in my second session itself! Of course,this time, we guys got lucky in the pool. A lovely blonde was swimming around in a red swimsuit...!

Hit the jacuzzi with flavours of some passive conversation with Ashwin,Sachin and Anand.Finally,walked back to the room slowly,had a shower,and heated up parathas for dinner.Had them with Hari with full flurry and taste!Really enjoyed the dinner!Tried to sleep after that,but ended up helping hurry pack his luggage for his return trip to India!Slept at 4 a.m. eventually!Sigh!

Weekend begins - first fling at learning swimming,June 3 evening!

It was an eve to a weekend that I will remember! After a really hot day in office, Anand, Kishan, Harita and I walked to the bus stop to get to the hotel, but the bus ditches us! So we finally walked to another bus stop while Kishan & Harita walked all the way to the hotel. Anand & I got into an animated conversation about how we guys need to work hard to get the good girls for ourselves! He refused to believe that I didn't have a girlfriend! Left me wondering what I have done to make such a reputation (not that I am complaining, one bit!) .

We reached the hotel finally at around 7 p.m. and it was typical Texas weather - blazing! On a sudden hunch, Anand & Kishan decided to go to the swimming pool. They called me, but I was a touch scared about the water. But then I said, nothing doing, I am not going to miss it, I am coming!

And so, Friday evening began with my first ever dip into a swimming pool with Anand and Kishan, all the way in America! Never ever got anywhere close to a pool in India!

I was initially a bit apprehensive about hitting the pool, as we were approaching pool gate. I don't have a clue about swimming, why am I trying to enter this pool at all, is what I was thinking! But as with everything else in the last one year with me, I decided that I am not going to miss it, while the opportunity presents itself! And so,I jumped with Anand and Kishan into the pool! I froze!!!!!

It was a bit scary initially, but I stayed put at the 4 -5 feet level of water, lest I drown(though they told me that I will NOT drown as long as they are around with me!)! Am just 5'5" anyway, so no way could I drown! But I gulped down so much of water in the first few minutes, couldn't stand, didn’t know any of the intricacies to wade in water, was scared!

Gradually, as I got accustomed to the water, I started feeling a great sense of thrill in the water and started walking in water at the 4 feet water level. Then Anand taught me the first lessons in swimming - holding breath under water. I did that slowly counting seconds to hold my breath - first at 5-second intervals and then at 10 seconds intervals under the water. I was reminded of the days when I learnt cycling - I used to be just like this, scared and used to fall off from my bicycle every day! But now that I know cycling, it’s a life long skill that I have acquired. Same with swimming! Vowed to learn it by the time I return to India in August. And I have a fantastic guy like Anand to train me and er, save me if I enter deep waters!!!!! Skills can be acquired. Never let go the opportunity to do so!

We then stepped out of the main pool and went into a Jacuzzi. It was awesome! Warm water! Terrific experience! Finally, very reluctantly, exited from the pool, lay down on those benches (like I used to see in the movies), dried ourselves off and trudged back to the hotel room as we ogled at a couple of hot blondes entering the pool. Ah, what bad timing! I should've entered the pool then and screamed and gotten them to save me!!! Will remember to do that next time!!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Busy week - first week of June 05!

Its been an incredibly busy week.Just office,office and more of office!No time for anything else. Have been feeling miserable that I'ven't written for a few days!Here is a recap of the action this week so far:

It was a good mix of office and shopping.During lunch break, went with Ashwin, Anand and Roopa to Frost Bank and encashed the June allowance.We were in such a lovely singing mood on the way to the bank that we enjoyed the lovely old Hindi songs that were played in the car CD player!Got back to office,and all ofus could barely stay awake!In the evening,went to the hotel,refreshed and headed to Target store and Walmart with Ashwin & Roopa. Walked all around Walmart and bought groceries for the first time ever in the US in these mega stores. Mind-blowing range of products!Just felt like buying one of each stuff from each shelf!

Am told that Walmart makes the manufacturers dance!Must be the ONLY retailer in the world who does that!Bought a long list of items and just blew up $50 on that - was not converting into rupees, but had I bought that merchandise in India,it would've dipped a hole of nothing less than a thousand bucks in India!Amazing prices here!Oh yes,took snaps of Roopa, Ashwin and myself outside Walmart - hope the snaps come out well!On the way back to the hotel from Walmart, we stopped over at KFC and had an apple pie!Delicious,slurp!As we were leaving,we sighted that the India store was open and barged into it!I bought parathas and my favourite brand of pickle,mango thokku(sorry, I don't know the English equivalent to this word!).

This was an unforgettable evening!It was the eve of Roopa's return to India!All of us had a blast!Left office early(as Norma dropped Roopa and me home in her Chevy Impala car), refreshed and watched some fine NBA action - Miami vs Detroit.We are all waiting for the next San Antonio Spurs match!Huge following of the same in office too, with banners all over the place,especially on the 4th floor, where the marketing guys sit!And then,the evening began!Roopa and Norma came to our (Hari & I) room,fully decked up!And then Prajjwol and Hariharan came in.We fooled around a bit,took tons of snaps(my camera conked in between)and they all left to room no.1111.I watched the NBA game fully and then went to room no.1108 and had a great time there!Ashwin, Anand,Vaishnavi and I hit some amazing cords and went into "sing-mode".We sang for nearly 3 hours -old Hindi songs,mesmerising carnatic(Indian classical)music(Vaishnavi is an awesome singer,a trained one at that!).It was just great!Pavithra joined us later and she hit off on some English songs,Killing me Softly being the killer!Wow!She's a super singer!

We dispersed at around 11.30p.m. and I went into room no.1111 to say bye to Roopa as she was leaving back to India the next morning.And in that room, I found another mehefil (singing session)going on with another bunch of 10 people!Joined them and sang till 1 a.m.Just too good,an awesome experience,regaling in old Indian music....quite scintillating!What deep cords we struck!Pavithra came there and sang another classic piece for us,later in the night!

Took some more snaps with Roopa and the rest,went for a short walk with Roopa,wished her a safe journey back and returned to my room at 1.30 a.m. and hit the sack!Couldn't get up this morning!