Sunday, April 30, 2006


When I cleared immigration in the airport in 10 flat minutes I thought it was sheer luck. When the taxi took me through a modern highway, I thought it was probably the only good road in the country. When I checked into the plush hotel room, with a gorgeous view of the beach, I thought it was an anomaly. I kept waiting for my conformation biases to be validated. I was convinced I would see squalor and disorder and abject poverty and all the other sterotypes that you associate with Africa. I had probably even unconsciously prepared myself to be non-chalant about it and all. Libreville turned out to be a surprise. The city is far from crowded; it's population is probably a little over Jayanagar's. The roads are wide and well-maintained and the traffic discipline is way better than Bangalore's. Despite some very african traits, like a president who has been getting "elected" term after term for the last 40 years, several things about this city are very european, like the cost of living, and the custom of saying "bon jour" to everyone you make eye-contact with and sitting around in cafes in the evening. It was not even very unsafe, by the second evening I had stopped wearing the secret money pouch. Of course, having not left the borders of the capital, I can't claim insights into the country. Besides, I was there for just four days, and I spent most of that time inside a switch room (which for some reason was cold enough to be a cryogenics laboratory). But every evening I went on guided tours with this man, Van Damme (thanks to S for the nickname. I feel stupid about not coming up with it myself, though).

Not knowing French was a huge handicap. Even with Van Damme, who has a decent grasp of written english, it was a 4 day long dumb charades. Sign language is inadequate: On friday, we went to the gabonese equivalent of a dhaba with Van Damme's friends, and most jokes were lost in translation. I was the only one with a grim face while the others were flipping over something apparently funny. Sign language can be embarassing. You don't even want to know how one of the guys explained to me that a particular local fruit was good for the libido. But I most rued not knowing french during one of the guided tours in the evening, when Van Damme pointed at a building and said "moss kay". Realising I hadn't understood, he took his hands off the wheel, bent over and said "Allah akbar", while still driving at 60kmph on a not-so-straight road.

My Gabon travelogue would be incomplete without a mention of this fascinating chair in the switch room.

Photos here

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Adventure ahead

The quality of my life at any given point can be judged by the amount of time I spend in front of the TV. And in what most certainly qualifies as a healthy sign, I haven't switched on my TV in the last few days. The highlight of my weekend has to be the cricket match that some of us desis played in the city park here in antwerp, watched by a lot of bewildered eyes. I was playing after more than a year and I can get pretty emotional about these things. The other major activity was to prepare for my first trip to Africa. I know it's the 21st century and I won't get to ask “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” on the banks of lake Tanganyika, but there is still a certain allure to Africa. There's also a tingling sensation in my tummy that comes from not knowing anything about Gabon except that it is ranked higher than India in the Fifa rankings (which is not saying much, because that's true about every country in the world except maybe the Vatican). There's also the matter of language. My french is pretty much restricted to "je ne parles pe la francais" , that I learnt recently and of course, "Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir" (who said you can't learn anything from Christina Aguilera?). Till I'm back, au revoir.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

No boneless kababs this weekend

Random notes from my trip to Italy. Photos here.
Friday 14 Apr: Charleroi airport
Cheap Airlines are a boon to mankind. They help you save a lot of money, which you can then spend on more useful things; like on taxis that you are forced to hire to reach the godforsaken airports from which these cheap flights take off. I don't want to invite lawsuits from airline companies, so I won't name them here, but if you are booking on an airline that has the letters r,y,a,n,a,i,r in its name, then make sure you have the means to reach the airport too.

Do not travel with newly weds. If you must, then rehearse how to pretend to be oblivious to giggles and sweet nothings whispered in your vicinity.



Stood 2 hours in the queue to see Michelangelo's David. Every second was worth it. The statue's majesty, size and the attention to detail; everything about it is simply breath taking. Although when the breath returned I was wondering why these mega males have such modest and unflattering...ahem... It wasn't even all that cold in Israel.

The crowd at the easter mass confirmed that the pope is the leading superstar of the world.

Fontana di Trevi is a nice little fountain very famous with the tourists.The legend here is that if you throw a coin into the pond you are bound to return to rome. The coin I threw 3 years ago seemed to have worked! You can also wish for something while throwing coins. I emptied all the change I had.


Quote of the day came rather early in the morning while we had hardly stepped out of the station. "What's the big deal about this place? I'm not impressed"
I guess Venice has that effect. If you are not fascinated by it's history, not amazed by its quirkiness or are not curious about a way of life that's unlike any other, then all you notice is the dirty corroded underbelly exposed during the low-tide and the poorly maintained buildings lining the canals. But you must agree that you haven't seen anything like it anywhere else.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fighting the inertia

Ever since I got back from the coziest vacation of my life my mind has been a collection of a different thoughts all in brownian movement. It's the repeat performance of the oh-so-familiar standoff between a zillion voices. I waited long enough for order to be restored before I could get back to blogging, but it only got worse. What started off as a little reflection on where my life is headed ended up completely scrambling my sphagetti leaving me pissed off at the following things
- at myself, for taking such a SHORT vacation.
- at all the uncertainties that face me in my personal life, and mostly at myself for the whiner that they have turned me into.
- at NGO volunteers who volunteered just so they can say "I am a volunteer at an NGO". Worse still: volunteers who joined up to increase their chances of getting an admit to business schools.
- at myself, for not being able to figure out at 27, what I want to do with my life. And alternatively, I also feel pissed off about letting myself be pressured into finding a purpose in life.

Small hurrah
I had to come to europe to finally possess my first Satyajit Ray.