Day 142: 2017 Highlights – Amour Suisse

It’s 2018. 2017 has gone by, and the cyberspace is overflowing with messages of positivism in the upcoming year, reviews of the year that went by and promises for the new year. Here’s my year in review but focused on the major highs and the lows.

Amour Suisse

The 20-days long, cross-continent trip, 10,000 kms from home, has to definitely feature in the highs for the year that went by. I missed all of H’s trip to India, and I left the country with a clarified mind, freshly loaded with theories of detachment from the therapist. And boy, did the trip clear my head out further!

  • Indian services suck. I’ve ranted about it a lot and I accept it. The side-effect of poor services is the delay one typically experiences because of these services. Combine that to traffic, and no Indian is ever on time. Well technically, when the Swiss were in India, every single Indian student was on time, waiting along with them through the delays.

So, having the issue of time delays rubbed in our faces every minute of every day was very irritating. On the second day, half the Indians were 30 minutes early to class and were sitting out on the ground because the Swiss professor wasn’t around to let us in. A week down, there were mostly only Indians in class and the Swiss slowly ambled in, 30 minutes past the hour. I hope they’ve gotten the message loud and clear that the Indian Stretchable Time is just another cliche that we’d like to erase in this generation.

  • The country is beautiful beyond comparison. As I stood by Lac Leman, staring up at the snow capped Swiss Alps behind, rising above Evians-des-bains in France, I felt humbled. Any sense of supremacy or ego would automatically disappear in a country like this. It is also a huge contrast from what I was used to see as grandeur in the United States of America. If you saw the Pacific Ocean in Cali, that’s all you got – miles and miles of water. If you went to stare at the Grand Canyon in awe, you got rocks and layers and layers of rock. It seems to be just here where you see the gigantic artic mountains, the lush green expanse of fields and the power of the lakes and the rivers, all mashed up in the same scene.

Chateau de Chillon

  • It seemed like there was more to plan for our trips around town, than for the actual project work itself. My work partner was missing for a major part of week 1 and that meant very little work could be done. And most of the work was done within the first 2 days of week 2. If you ask me to objectively evaluate the project, I would say that it was a huge drain on resources, especially if the University management was looking to get something productive from the trip.

Goofing around with Einstein on the bench, Bern

  • We spent an evening at Sarah’s country home, smack in the middle of the mountains, in the town of Bex. Between the town lights on the Alps, and the stars up in the sky, the whole night was surreal. I couldn’t pick between staring at the jeweled mountain sides, the speeding cars on the highway, the pitch black on the moutains, and the stars in the sky. My mind calmed to a state of numbness, where the breeze didn’t matter any more, the cold didn’t bite any more and the company was miles away.
  • Old Town Bern, with its cobbled stone pathways, stained glass painted church windows and red tile roofed buildings is exactly the quaint European city that my mind had conjured up. Walking down the city roads, music from a street side band drifting in the air and the sweet smell of roasted nuts, I was overjoyed at the places this life has taken me. The walk up the spire of the tallest church in the town was amazing and the view of the entire city from up there was memorable indeed.

  • Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Tête de choco, Choco chaud, Chocolate croissant, Choco noir, Choco au lait. Chocolate shaped in every form from football to Easter bunnies and the Eiffel tower. And amazing ones them all.

It’s raining chocolates, at the Cailler Chocolate Factory

  • The people, Indians and Swiss, were definitely a highlight of the trip. From PGS and his antiques, to flimsy-gal Ignatius, to dopey gal, and goey fan-girl, all those in the Indian team eventually came together as a fun group. Daily debrief sessions in V’s room, with prompt data collection, and rants about PGS over booze were all gentle reminders of the fun hostel times in RECT. Cliques formed and dissolved, issued crept up and subsided, but two weeks down, we all walked back with newfound respect for each other and great memories behind us.

The goofballs every night

For all their cultural unawareness and a sense of superiority, the Swiss team members were a bunch of genuinely ignorant folk. From being surprised at my listening to Classic Rock or speaking fluent English, to being a teeny bit impressed at my learning French, to being completely awestruck at the energy in the Indians to dance all night, they were definitely experiencing these for the first time and I respect them for that. Overall, they were quite the crazy lot.

Most of the gang, at Les Diablerets

A few unforgettables:

Pasta night at Bjerns

Made it to Bern

Nachde ne saare, nooooo :))

The view to die for. Peak walk at Les Diablerets

On Lac Leman, off to set foot in France

Even random Swiss mutts need a bum rub ❤

Loving photography.. All over again…

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Day 88: Bhasha Utsav Part 1

The radio broadcast recording all done, we herded the Swiss to the Kengeri campus to attend the Bhasha Utsav, Ethnic Day, at their campus. Since they would all be flying out tonight and missing all the fun in the main campus, we figured this would be a suitable peek into what an Indian college fest is.

Travel nightmares

Travel for these guys is jinxed for sure.. We were just past the major hour-long traffic snarl, when the bus refused to start any more. The fuel gauge showed empty. Some magic with the choke and PGS behind the wheels and we managed to drive up to the gas station up ahead.

Noise galore

We were in time to join the last bit of the procession. After sweating it out, taking pictures, we doubled back to the auditorium, to our front row seats. We knew our mistake as soon as the MCs came on. We had two speakers directed straight at us and between their screeching voices and the music, we had a headache in 10 minutes. The Swiss lost it at 5, I think.

Unity or diversity

The events for the day had performers from each state or region putting together a show. The Malayalis came on, then the Telugus who claimed bharatnatyam was their own, and the Tamils sang about Tamilan pride and the Congolese sang in French.

Through it all, as different sections of the audience roared to support their community or region, I wondered if such events brought us together or simply showed where our allegiance would truly lie. All the malayalis sat together as did the Tamils or the International students. There was no evident intermixing. The Tamil students did not go manic when the Punjabi did their Bhangra and the malayalis did not care much for the kannadiga percussionists.

So are we really that united, after all?

Travel nightmares continue

The return was a more nightmarish ride than onward. A few had to drive to MG road to drop off a USB drive, which meant that they had to be near college before 3. We were near college at about 430. The little bus driver took crazy short cuts and diversions and still got us stuck in traffic. My temper was sky high.

I think my mood was wrought all the more because of the attitude of the Swiss. I’m not going to glorify the traffic jam and the mish-mash of houses in the slums. But if you wanted an authentic Indian experience, then this is it. And I’d recommend you sit tight and watch, instead of riding your holy horse and making value judgements. Even Google hasn’t figured out an algorithm to predict the traffic times in India. So it’s highly unlikely any of us have. When we tell you 30minutes, do realize that we are not fortune tellers and have no control over the city or the people around.

Goodbyes

When we eventually reached the Uni, we got together for one final, farewell chai. I had gotten TallSwiss a bottle of Indian gin and the delight on his face was unimaginable. I didn’t realize in the last two weeks that the sober man could get this excited.

It surprised me that a few had tears in their eyes. Perspectives. They were all missing perspectives, I think. This was a professional relationship, and the network would be alike, no matter what. So, why waste tears?

I made sure that I said a personal goodbye to all, and apologized to a few for any hassles they would have faced in the last two weeks. Why was I apologizing? Some sense of accountability for the country, I guess. ‘Give India a chance’, I told some and laughed inside a little.

Does this mean that you will not bore us with anymore stories of the Swiss, S? I did like some stories.

So, this fancy dress of yours. Looks pretty on me too.” Scotch

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Day 87: Radio Namaste 

This is it! D day! The day that would be the culmination of the last 2 weeks of research and preparation. We were all ready and eager to broadcast live like TallSwiss and I had done from New Delhi. All scripts had been prepared, jingles recorded and shows practiced. We were ready.

And then the drama began.

ShortChef

Hotel management was hosting their crazy street food festival on the same day. So noise and chaos was expected around lunch hour. But even before that, their teacher, ShortChef, claimed that we had to move our stalls because we hadn’t booked any and we were using theirs. This is when I learnt a ton thanks to the beautiful damsels in my team.

  • If you weren’t involved in the original planning or organization, then stay out of any value judgements and opinionating in the end. We have enough uncles and couch-activists going around already.
  • No matter what may be, pick your side and stay with it.
  • Questioning the decisions made by your leader should be done when the time and place are right. And, in front of someone from the opposite camp is definitely not the right time.
  • Someone that plays the system by its own unsaid rules comes out the winner when compared to someone who blindly follows the rules.
  • At the end of the day, shit sorts itself out. Stay calm.

Mr. Cool

PGS was a sight to see, coolly working through the chaos and calmly dissing out anybody that questioned his authority. It was a good quality in a leader: to be calm and confident in the knowledge that you’ve sorted everything out beforehand. I appreciated a statement that he made – if anybody asks you, please tell them to go talk to Dr. PGS. And then I’ll handle their questions. Very powerful statement for a leader to make, very assuring that he’s got your back.

His impression on me grew when he sat down with the artists, read me, and prepared the set list, writing names in his own creative hand. It takes a modest man to get down from his managerial pedestal. It was a small thing that I couldn’t have imagined HOD do ever.

Live broadcast

Group 1 broadcast their 1 hour and we realized that we were sitting inside big brother’s den. It seemed that any live show will be blocked by the strong firewall set up by the Uni to block any malpractice.

YZ lost it for a bit, packed up and tried moving the set up to his office room, realized the same problem existed there too, and quickly shifted to plan B. We would record and broadcast a day later. All this resulted in me sitting at the stall for an hour, playing our only recording for the day, as I watched students of the campus walk by. That was some experience, holding fort, after all the drama from the morning.

Relationships

Our own recording was the last one for the day. Overall, a good job, I’d say. FaujiWife and her Swiss man were good, clearly nervous and mixed up the songs in their list. But we managed through all those little issues. FaujiWife’s Swiss was pretty impressed with our how natural TallSwiss and I sounded on the radio. New Delhi helped, I must say.

House parties

I’d like for some people to involve themselves in work as much as they do in play. But as soon as the recordings were done, a bunch of girls started planning the evening out. Even I was excited to meet them for one last time for a drink. But very soon the whole plan snowballed into them planning to book an AirBnB or a service apartment, hosting a party there and staying over for the night. Just the idea tickled me and I stayed out of it.

Turns out the plan flopped and by the time I reached home they had changed the plan and went to a pub to drink. Missed opportunity.

Day 84: School visits 

Christ State

We started the day by visiting Christ State school to conduct interviews for the radio project. The principal, a father of CMI, was one of the most arrogant leaders I’ve seen in a while, the kinds that is comfortable being in the position he is in. My disdain for the people of religion in education is growing by the day.

We visited students of grade 9, and they were unusually shy. We visited two classes, both in the process of copying notes from the blackboard. The smart boards and the fancy institutional title all seemed to be wasted on the students and the teachers.

Anyway, we did a quick interview of some students, their teacher and some counselors on campus. It was really annoying to see TallSwiss lax around, not contributing to any of the interviews at all. I’ll give him today, for coming back from a hectic weekend; but the slack ends there.

Government school

After lunch, we went to a government school, run by a haughty lady principal. It seems to be the day of meeting bad principals! She couldn’t speak a sentence in English and she told us about how she visited Germany, France and Switzerland a couple of years back for a fortnight long trip. When we told her about our intent to walk around the school and observe a few classes, her onky question was what we had to offer for the school. Bold request from a school that is funded by the government, and supported by various. NGOs including Teach For India.

The students did surprise me, though. We went to a class that had been split into English and Kannada medium, and it was the Kannada medium students that answered, and in pretty decent English. The general opinion that one has about poor soft-skills amongst Government school students is quickly corrected.

While it was a session in Indian schools for the Swiss, it was a great eye-opener for us Indians. If true change needs to be brought about in Indian schools, the haughty principals need to go. Young and dynamic teachers need to come in, who are invested in the education of each child.

While you’re busy visiting schools and complaining about principals, I’m still sleeping away the strain from the weekend, sis. You relax!” Goose 

Day 81: Swiss-Indo Bhai-bhai

The day was amm…aazing! That’s it!

Business Meet

The first event of the day was at Taj Mansingh, and is that a luxury hotel or what!? We had a desk set up right at the entrance to the business hall, where the President of the Swiss Federation was going to address a number of business partners, to further the Indo-Swiss friendship. It was truly an exhilarating experience, rolling around with the organizers from the Swiss embassy in India, and talking to some of the visiting delegates. It was more fun to listen to the proceedings of the event itself:

  • Ms. Nirmala Sitaraman, Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, was astute in her observations about the mutual dependence between the two countries.
  • Ms. Doris Leuthard, the President of the Swiss Confederation, was prim in her pink kurta, and summarized wonderfully the last 70 years.

So, TallSwiss played a great photographer, and I managed to listen to a majority of the session and summarize it on the radio, and Mr. YZ, well, he managed to stress out for all three of us. Since this was the first radio session for both TallSwiss and I, there were some hiccups starting off, but I think we got into the flow. I realized the key to being a successful radio host was spontaneity and content. You need to have sufficient material content in order to be spontaneous enough on the radio. If not, you are just blabbering on air and playing sloppy music.

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The Radio Namanste desk with YZ, and me looking super serious. 🙂

 

Delhi Darshan

We managed to report on most of the first event and TallSwiss and I took off to show him some New Delhi. A quick change and we were on an auto to the heart of Old Delhi; Chandni Chowk. I’d heard wonderful things about the parathewali gali and I was going to try some. We had a little stop-over at India gate, to show the TallSwiss off to the local public. He has been awfully calm in the middle of all the mayhem around; it is either a sign of utter disdain or a sign of his maturity. Only time will tell. Well, we sweated it out a little at India Gate, and took another auto to Chandni Chowk.

I am totally intrigued by the accent of Hindi that you find in Delhi. It’s rude almost to the point of being familial. Wonderful! I don’t know if the auto man is yelling at me, or asking me something like an extremely intrusive, paternal uncle would. What also moved me immensely was the scene around Old Delhi, Jama Masijd, in preparation for Bakr-Id. Hundreds of goats waited, chewing carelessly, unaware of the near-distant future that awaited them. Pity! I am convinced that my dietary choices are only temporary and my going vegan is just around the corner.

We got off a little ways to Parathewali gali, and walked the rest of the way, so that we could soak in a lot of the local sights and sounds. It was a new experience for me too, dari bazaar, and I definitely want to go back there, a camera in tow. Parathewali gali was a revelation, an entire little street dedicated to cholesterol mania. We had just enough time to eat an aloo paratha and a thick lassi.

aaf15c32-9d03-4962-bf09-38e0e00e6fb2 Hot and steaming aloo paratha, with a side of aloo and more aloo

Town Hall

The second big event was more high-security than the first, and we had to go through three rounds of security checks, metal and man, before we got into the main hall. The event was late by about an hour. But it was great honor to listen in on a town hall that was open to students of environmental sciences and climate studies of New Delhi. And through the radio broadcast, I’m hoping we opened this up to students from other parts of the world too.

Unlike the morning event, which was attended by business professionals, and she needed them to invest in climate and relationships, this event was for students in attendance and she spoke about the future. There was a lot about how India had to learn from Switzerland’s sustainable energy models and that India was going through the same transformation that Switzerland went through in the 1900s and that there was hope. Promising talk from a leader!

Since we were set up in the same hall as the main event, we couldn’t report live throughout, but we were able to get a majority recorded. And I was able to listen in to some very interesting talk. Most of the questions from the students were around what Switzerland could do for India, and how the students could help. This showed me two big things: One, the next generation wanted to do something, and Two, they wanted to know who could help and how. Powerful!

The weird buffet

This is when things got weird. Satan’s waterfall struck, and I had to get excused from the gentlemen to get stocked. I reached the Swiss embassy alone for the final event, the buffet dinner hosted for the President, and the Swiss joined in few minutes later. We were given a room right inside the embassy, by the main living area, where the President was expected to greet her guests before proceeding out to the garden for the events of the evening. This speaks wonders about the publicity that Radio Namaste had at the embassy and the expectations that the show held. For all that, I thought the two Swiss let us down. We were done setting up, and before we even went live, YZ was running crazy to get himself a drink. “I need my l’alcohol”, he went around screaming, and you should have seen the smirk on his face when we were handed three bottles of water. That completely shattered the high horse that I had put them on so far.

At least on three or four different occasions, they were both missing, off to find themselves a fix, while I handed the radio pad, mixing my own little AC/DC and ABBA. But, if we were there to report on the proceedings of the evening, then why were we playing just the tunes? I would have been really disappointed had I been on the other side, with a lax radio team.

Anyway, the evening show went on for about an hour, and I was able to listen in to the proceedings, as 5 Friendship Ambassadors were honored by the President at the embassy. It was inspiring to hear about the Premchands, who have been in business from Switzerland from the 1950s, and on the other hand, Mr Matias Echanove and Mr Rahul Srivastava, Co-Founders of the urbz platform in Mumbai and Geneva, two young entrepreneurs bringing the two countries together.

The event ended in dinner and we brought the show to a troubled end, before setting out for dinner. The dessert was amazing and I started with it to get the evening going. The Swiss were, of course, drinking more than eating, and it got me thinking about how quick I was to judge alcoholics. I’ve had trouble in the past accepting people and their excessive drinking; ex-boyfriends, the father, and past clients; and was I simply being too harsh on them for their choices?

YZ was excessively sweet after his third drink, and thanked me profusely for the ease with which I handled the day. He mentioned how nobody would have done the job better, and even when TallSwiss was hesitant, I brought in the facts and made the show worth it all. Just drunk talk or was he being genuinely grateful? That’s my problem with the drunk, I think; their words can never be taken for what they are worth.

“One should never be too quick to judge, S. If you looked at Scotch and I, you’d think we are born trouble-makers. But you get to know us a little more, and you’ll know that all we want is to relax and smell the rain. Give people a chance, S.” Goose

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Day 80: Diversity, Planes and 2 AMs

A few days with the Swiss students and the differences in our lifestyles and work styles are very obvious. All the visiting students seem to be extremely distracted always, needing a constant prodding to bring them back to the discussion. On the other hand, they all seem to be creatively blessed, while the Indian students typically think about traditional, lecture-like discourses. Despite being from one country, they themselves seem to be happier being alone than with others. On the other hand, the Indians have a herding mindset, where we want herd them and ourselves into groups all the time.

It was hilarious at lunch, where we were planning to show a few different cafeterias on campus to the different Swiss students but before we turned around, they were all gone; off on their own in their own different directions. If anything, this project has brought a few Indians together and that’s a plus, I guess.

Off to New Delhi

Today is the day that TallSwiss, YZ and I fly to New Delhi. From what I’ve heard, there are a few events hosted to celebrate the 70 years of Swiss-Indian friendship, and Radio Namaste has been invited to broadcast these proceedings.

If the trip leading up to Delhi is any sign of all the fun that lies ahead, then I’m in for a fancy two days. ChristU arranged a taxi for the 3 of us and we were off by 1630 for a 2130 flight; no wonder I hate flying. But I’m glad we got a head start considering what was up next. We just got out of the major traffic blocks in the city and were about to hit the highway to the airport when we had a flat. The cabbie was courageous enough into thinking he could park in the right lane, in the center of the entire roadway, and change into a spare. Nopes! I had to almost armtwist him into pulling over to the side and he actually took only 10 minutes to get us up and going again. Very impressive. And the Swiss managed to hold their calm, which was a bonus.

I learnt a new aspect of the Swiss today. If the ticket was being paid for by another, they were ready to use it to the fullest. There was a USD22 upgrade to a better seat, and a better dinner, and we picked it after deliberating for a little under 4 minutes. While I was wondering how much difference it would bring to the flight experience and if the cost was worth it at all, they had already paid for it and were considering dinner location. So, thanks to their agency, we flew premium economy.

And since the dinner was paid for too, we had dinner. On the ground. Since the flight was delayed, the dinner on the plane could be an early breakfast. I always thought Indians were the squeeze-till-you-drop kinds. But apparently it’s a universal human thing.

Hypocrite much?

The great luck from the flat tyre continued and our flight was delayed by an hour and a half. That gave us enough time to get YZ drunk and have him talk about JC. Between us, he spoke about what a dead-weight the HOD was during the Indian visit to Switzerland last year. He told us about how he would pick two meals for himself every single time because they were already paid for. You all already know of my read on the HOD considering his poor leadership vision. So, none of this was surprising at all.

But what did surprise me was hearing about all of this from YZ. Between him and TallSwiss, they had already proved how petty they were. We had jumped to an upgrade, purely because someone else was paying for it. We had decided to eat two dinners, purely because someone else was paying for it. And we had talked about stealing everything from the hotel room if the hotel was not good enough. Anyway, we’ll wait and watch!

2 AM check-ins

The 3-seater all to myself was a bonus on the plane. So, premium economy it is. But we eventually got into the hotel at 2 in the morning, and the check-in process was a million years long. I think the 20 minutes seemed that long more because of YZ and his tantrums. They had to fill one extra paper in because they were from outside. So, yeah!

Settled in to my room and I thought of all the times in the past when it was me and my room. There was that one month in Richmond, VA, when I was settling in to my second stint in the US, and learning to be free all over again. And then there were those 2 weeks in Minneapolis that started off with a wonderful hair spa and massage. Nice. And the week in Milwaukee for the Scrum master certification, with all that female power-play amidst grown men, was one to be remembered.

And then this one adds to the list.

“Aaah! Traveling is pain, sis! I just got back from a camping trip and I can’t stop panting and puffing. I can only imagine how bad your panting and puffing must be.” Goose.

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Day 79: Stand-still

Traffic in bangalore has been progressively worsening and today was rock bottom. One of these giant trees near the university fell down, smack in the middle of the road. A temporary shanty was destroyed, as was the bus stop right by it. And that meant hour-long traffic snarls.

The previous day had been a mess too. But I thankfully had a premonition about it the minute I reached Agara, my half-way point. A quick detour and I saved myself some traffic blocks and reached on time. The Danseuse had been stuck at Agara till college time and had to eventually take one of the rape buses. Today, she drove with me, and the tree issue happened.

10 to 9 and we were still about a 20mins walk from the uni, almost an hour and a half into our journey. Some strange premonition again told me that things wouldn’t get any better in the next few minutes. I swerved into a lane nearby, and parked the car at someone’s door front. The gentleman was thankfully nice and allowed me to park at a more safer spot, despite it being on top of a garbage bin. Danseuse and I ran to college through A-town and were in class on time. Traffic issues do bring this entire city to a stand-still and is such a pity.

People and their chatty ideas

Anyway, we got an overview of the project needs and realized that we had to create a jingle for the radio show that we would be hosting. A half-assed effort ensued because TallSwiss and I were double-timing between this and the work for New Delhi. It seemed like the other two would work when we were around and the minute we went to the other project, there would be nothing happening at all. Very unfortunate. If only people took pride in the work they did!

The reality sunk in when we listened to the others’ jingles and they were all pretty cool and ours was only a little Meh! Sometimes, the most chatty ones have the most stupid ideas and the whole team’s ideas are derailed. Chatty and the lazy ones.

Chatty and lazy? What about the most hungry ones? We always get punished, but we get the most interesting ideas when we are hungry” Scotch