A Joyful Experience

...from Hooghly to Hyderabad and beyond.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sensory Indigestion

That's what I call a state of mind when your senses take in more than your brain can digest and as a result, you are unable to express your thoughts and feelings effectively. That's what has happened to me.

But one can hardly expect anything else when one sees the Times Square and gets wet under the Niagara within the span of a week. Niagara Falls and New York City are very different places, whatever aspect you consider, apart from the fact that both lie in the New York State. While Niagara is a vivid demonstration of Nature's raw power, New York City is like a redwood forest made out of concrete, steel and glass. The former is a beautiful example of how technology can enable us to go closer to nature and appreciate its beauty, the latter is an example of how man made structures can transform a place in such a way that the very existence of Nature is forgotten. However, both are very similar in one way: both make one feel diminutive.

I went to New York twice in the last week; once last Sunday and once on Thursday. As I said in my previous post, TV and movies have made us familiar with so many things. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler building, Rockefeller Center, NYSE, World Financial Centers, Madison Square Garden, Statue of Liberty and Times Square were all very familiar to me (I am a Spiderman fan). But even when one takes away the awe of seeing these things for the first time, the very thought that I am standing in flesh and blood in the midst of these world famous structures is mind numbing. I will definitely describe this city in detail in one or more posts, but maybe after a few more visits when I have got used to it.
Times Square - Click to enlarge
The Niagara Falls was also very familiar to me. I knew the history and geography of the place very well. I had seen innumerable photos of the falls. What I did not know was what it feels like when one stands under the Niagara and lets the water hit his body after just one rebound from a huge rock. And I also did not know what it feels like when one stands on a boat floating between the "prongs" of the Horseshoe Falls. Both these experiences were simply indescribable. Then there were the changing lights that transformed Niagara from red to green and green to blue. I will write about Niagara also, but in a later post.
Niagara at night - Click to enlarge
As of now, I am enjoying a stay with my cousin brother and sister in law at Ithaca and planning to visit some local wineries tomorrow. I'll be back in time for college on Monday after the Labor Day weekend here. I hope to get over my sensory indigestion by that time, so that I can write a more coherent blog post on the differences between India and the US.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

The Skyline

Hundreds and thousands of pages have been written about the drawbacks of TV and cinema. However, I have never read one particular point that should have been mentioned. That is, TV and movies take away the element of surprise from life by exposing us to everything. That is the main reason why America didn't look much surprising to me. However, there are some sights so breathtaking, so unique and so mesmerizing, that no amount of TV coverage can take away their charm.

This is one of those sights.

The Manhattan Skyline, as seen from across the Hudson at Newport. I can't describe what I saw, and what I felt this evening when I saw this for the first time. The only thing I can say is, I could not help imagining it the way it looked when two sparkling towers three times as tall as the green dome topped building on the right stood right behind it.

Now I'm dying to go to Times Square! And in the meantime, I'll be posting about my other experiences soon.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It felt good!

To see it fluttering atop the college cafeteria in New Jersey. The Indian Tricolour I mean... last evening at five. So what if it was the 18th of August? It felt really good to see the Tricolour fluttering amidst the Stars and Stripes on all sides. It felt so good that I am posting this small blog post even between my busy schedule!
Jai Hind!

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Destination Newark

One of the first rules of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that I learnt during my three year stay in the IT industry was that all customers are not equal and should not be treated equally. Nowhere have I seen this implemented as beautifully as in the British Airways in-flight entertainment quality in the two flights I boarded. While the Kolkata-London flight had only a few movies running in endless loops, the London Newark flight had on demand movie choices with a library of classic movies along with new movies, and touch screen displays with interactive playback control. The headphones were also much better. Call it racism or plain business logic, it is evident that the London passengers are much more valuable to British Airways than the ones from Kolkata.
I was seated next to an Asian-looking girl about the same age as me who seemed least interested in talking. I read a book for some time (the in-flight magazines are trash), then tried finding out an interesting movie that wouldn't require too much of intellectual power to comprehend. I settled on The Incredibles by Disney. By the time the movie was over it was bedtime back home and my body was keenly aware of that fact. I stretched out under the blanket, put some relaxing music on in the headphones and slept for a few hours. Ah yes, before that I had some misadventure with a fish pie and a tuna salad none of which I liked much. I craned my neck and tried to see that man in the back seat several times, but found his seat empty. One of the officers accompanying him was sitting nearby all the time.
Shortly before landing, the stewardesses distributed the immigration and customs declaration forms for us to fill up. I was pretty nervous, and also eager to look outside the window to catch a glimpse of New York City, so I filled up a form wrongly and had to ask for another. New York City, however, was a bit disappointing. I was expecting to see some familiar skyscrapers. What I saw was a sea of lights. It was beautiful no doubt, but not what I expected.
After the plane landed at Newark, there was a further delay since there was a queue on the runway. Finally our plane joined the aerobridge and passengers started exiting. I was surprised to find the coloured man laughing and joking with the stewards at the back of the plane. At customs, there were separate queues for citizens and international visitors. My sister in law joined the former with her kids while I joined the latter. My fingerprint and documents were scanned pretty quickly and I was out in the baggage collection area in no time. Only then did I realise how big the Newark airport was. You need $3.00 to take a baggage trolley here which my sister in law had paid for me. I was very sceptical about British Airways' baggage handling, but luckily all three of my suitcases arrived safely. Then I had to pass them through another x-ray as I had declared I was carrying some food (Bengali sweets) and seeds (Indian spices) into the country. However, they did not ask me to open them.
Outside my cousin brother and his neighbour were waiting with their two cars and our luggage and we ourselves were soon on our way home. What I thought of America (I am still seeing new things), and what differences I found with India in the first few days, I will write in my next blog post.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Heathrow


I read a rhyme in my childhood:

Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been?
"I've been to London to look at the queen."
Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, what did you do there?
"I frightened a little mouse under her chair."

I didn't go to to London to look at the queen, but I did frighten a little mouse under a chair in the airport. Yes, mice roam around on the floor of this "great" airport, and actually in the children's play area. My impression of Heathrow was not at all what I had expected. But let's start at the beginning.

The information in my flight's on-board television screen had informed that there were showers in London. However, when we landed, it was just overcast with a freezing wind. There was no aerobridge and we had to walk over to the bus. In those 30 seconds, I wished I had worn my half sweater which was in my cabin baggage. Anyway, after I climbed the bus, I found that the driver was an elderly Sikh gentleman. Another bus passed us going in the opposite direction on the way, and it also had an Indian driver. As we entered the airport building, a cleaning lady passed us driving a golf-cart like vehicle inside the building. She was an Indian too!

Before entering Heathrow, passengers are informed that they are allowed to carry only 100ml of liquid. The security officials, however, asked us to throw away all liquid stuff that we had. We drank all our water and threw away the bottles. When we reached the security check queue, I found that passengers were asked to take off their shoes, watches and bangles and pass them through the x-ray machine separately. A lady carrying an infant had a bottle of milk. She was told to drink it a little before she was allowed to pass. After this was over, we went into the waiting area adjacent to the boarding gates and started on our four-hour long wait before the next flight.

In Kolkata airport, this waiting area is a large hall. At Heathrow, however, it is such a vast building that literally one end in not visible from the other. To be more accurate, neither end was visible from the middle. There were over 25 boarding gates in that one building alone. The place was lined with shops and benches for the waiting passengers on both sides, and a conveyor pathway for people too tired to walk, and this still leaves a path wide enough in the middle for the airport staff to move around in mini car like things. The policemen were patrolling the area on bicycles wearing fluorescent yellow jackets.

We found a place where the benches were not separated into individual seats by armrests and settled down comfortably. The kids, however, seemed more interested in running around than sleeping. As I looked around, almost everyone that was visible (no kidding, I do mean over 90% of the people whom I could see) was Indian. It almost seemed I was sitting in some indian airport with a large number of foreign tourists.

There was an array of computers on the side... it was a cybercafe. The surfing rate seemed abnormally high. It was £1 or 2€ per 10 minutes whereas I was used to a rate of £1 for 7-8 hours. My sister in law said it was still cheaper than telephone and so we sat down to surf. We saw "Surf select sites for FREE" written in large letters. It turned out that only the airport and hotel booking related sites were free. When we tried to access mail, the computer said "Insert a £1 coin into the slot". What slot? Then I noticed, the machines had no drives but just a coin slot. My sister in law purchased something to change a few dollars into GBP and we logged into Gtalk. The connection was slower than what we have in Kolkata. We somehow managed to inform my cousin in NJ that we had reached Heathrow timely before the time was up.

There was a children's play area next to this cybercafe. It was here that we saw the mouse roaming around on the ground. After we discovered it, it got scared and passed under the door of a small room which was probably used by the female airport staff for changing. Thankfully no one was inside at the time.

I decided to walk around the airport a bit. Armed with my cameras, I tried walking from one end of the building to the other, but saw that it would take too long and tire me out. Finally I settled for only a part. This Terminal 4 building is new, with the false ceiling still not installed. In place of the ceiling there is a grid and all the wiring and AC vents were visible above. After some time our flight was announced and we proceeded to board it. Once again there was no aerobridge and the wind seemed ten times worse this time and although I was wearing my half sweater, the bones seemed to be freezing with the cold. Inside the aeroplane, however, it was quite comfortable. I thought my short stay in London was over. However, there was more drama to come.

The passengers had just about settled down inside the plane when there was a shout from the last seat, "Get me off this @#$%^&* aircraft! This is a human rights violation!! You just can't do this!!! #$%#$^ $#^$ $#^$ $^$% $#^$%^%& $#%#$ @#$^&!!!!!!" Everyone turned in shock to see a tall coloured man sitting there shouting. Airport officials had him surrounded. Soon the captain and the airhostesses joined him. From his incoherent shoutings, we could understand that he had been interrogated for three days at Heathrow, and was being sent back to Newark due to lack of proper documents. The officers and the crew apologised profusely to the passengers and the stewardesses suggested that children put on their earphones. A policeman winked to us and said he will calm down once the plane was airborne. The man, however, kept shouting at the top of his voice and threatened to do nasty things if the plane took off with him on board. Everybody was disturbed.

The officers and a crew discussed something after this continued for about ten minutes and our flight was already delayed. Then suddenly, a stewardess jumped up on the seat next to the man and pinned him down. Two officers and stewards also pressed down on the shouting man. I don't know what happened then, but I think they handcuffed him and injected some tranquilizer. I don't understand why they had not done that before putting him on the aircraft. Maybe what Sherlock Holmes thought about the British Police was right after all. Anyway, the man's shouts turned to mumblings and died down a little later. By that time we were airborne and headed towards the United States of America.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The First Leg of the Journey

Our hired Tata Sumo rolled into the Kolkata airport at 5:00 am of the 13th of August. It was dark and raining. My cousin sister-in-law and her two kids arrived with their luggage in another car. They stay in the US. I was to travel with them. My parents', particularly my mother's hopes of seeing me board the plane were shattered when we learnt that the entry of visitors had been stopped due to stepped up security for the Independence Day. So the four of us rolled our two trolleys into the airport and waved goodbye to our families.
The British Airways flight to Heathrow left timely. I had never been inside such a large plane before. I had also never faced such turbulence before. We had just finished our breakfast and the airhostess had filled my cup with coffee when the plane hit an air pocket and a taxi ride on a Kolkata road seemed smooth. The whole coffee simply jumped out of the cup and flooded the breakfast tray. The airhostess completed the disaster by spilling it on me and my fellow passenger while collecting the tray. I think my jeans will eternally bear that souvenir stain from my first trip abroad. That shook me up so much that I didn't drink tea or coffee again in my entire trip. The second time turbulence hit was when I was standing in front of the restroom waiting for it to open. The same air hostess told me to go back to my seat and wear the seat belt. How would she know that I was accustomed to travelling standing in Kolkata's buses and trains? Besides, I didn't want to trouble my two fellow passengers by pushing past them to my much coveted window seat then only to come out a little later. So I stood my ground firmly hanging onto the wall. This time it wasn't so bad though.

The behaviour of the airhostesses, particularly the Bangladeshi one, left a lot to be desired. She's the one who had spilt coffee on me and nobody saw her smile at any time. One thing that I liked was that the airhostesses looked natural; in the domestic carriers like Jet and Kingfisher they put so much make up on their faces that they look like clowns. I had been spoilt by the trips aboard the domestic airliners in India; I was expecting refreshing wet towels and toffees on boarding. Nothing of the sort came. However, the food was good and blankets and hard drinks (which I didn't drink) were provided. I tried watching The Chronicles of Narnia II: Prince Caspian (as I was passing over the Caspian Sea, incidentally). It wasn't understandable with the pathetic headphones and the tiny display. I must mention here that these headphones with auto-rickshaw standard audio quality were collected by the air hostesses before the flight landed. Then I settled for an abominable Hindi movie called One Two Three. When it became unbearable I simply switched to the Moving Map. Homesickness set in as I realised once more how far I was going from my home and for how long. I tried to fight it away. I tried to sleep... but couldn't. I took a few photos through the window whenever I saw something interesting. I saw the Caspian Sea and Kiev and Berlin and the North Sea and also some mountains in Afghanistan. I photographed farmlands in Russia and Germany. As we approached London it was announced that it was raining there (so, what's new?) and we entered a mass of clouds.

As the plane burst out through the clouds over London, the first thing that I recognised was the Millenium Dome. The other familiar things must have been nearby, but before I could locate them, clouds swallowed us again. Another time, I got a glimpse of the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel. I recorded a video of the whole landing view but couldn't spot anything familiar other than a Concord that was parked outside the airport. It was a bumpy landing and the child behind me (also called Joy by the way) threw up, but we were finally on solid ground again.

My next post (which I'll put up tomorrow) will be on my experience at The Heathrow. I think a bit of British bashing is in order on Independence Day! It's 11:50 pm of the 14th here now, and I must try and get some sleep although feel fresh and energetic as if it were nine in the morning.

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An Explanation

I have been away from my blog for the longest duration yet. I owe everybody an explanation. Before I explain, I would like everyone to read a mail that I sent to all my colleagues on the 1st of August 2008:

Hi All,

Today is my last day in Wxyz.

The journey that had started on 15th July 2005 has finally come to an end today. And there couldn’t have been a more apt line describing my feelings and reasons for leaving this company than the quotation in the picture given above.

Wxyz was my first company. I got selected from campus, and here I transformed into an IT professional from an IT student. Although it is not discernible at any given point of time, that change is substantial. I learnt a lot of things here in Wxyz, the primary among them being related to business communication. It will be a lie to pretend that every experience in these three years was sweet. I also had my share of bad experiences, which would probably outnumber the good ones. However, it will also be a lie to say that I am leaving Wxyz because of my bitter experiences. I’ll quote a line from one of my favourite poems, Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “I am a part of all that I have met; yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.” You guessed it right. I am not going away to join another company but I’m going to do Ph.D. in Computer Science from a US University. Computer programming has always been my first love, and although I was safe and secure in this 'harbour' called Wxyz, the open sea beckons me once more.
But the fact that I’m leaving Wxyz need not mean that we lose touch. I have a personal blog at http://sugatabanerji.blogspot.com/. It has fallen into disuse a bit over the last few months, but it will be more regular now and you'll get updates about my life. You can mail me at sugata.banerji@gmail.com and you can see the photographs taken by me at http://picasaweb.google.com/sugata.banerji, http://www.flickr.com/people/20950817@N06 and http://www.flickr.com/people/joyforever.
Thanks & Regards,

Sugata Banerji.


So, for the last couple of months I have been extremely busy in shopping, packing and paperwork. Not that I could not have blogged if I wanted. However, if I blogged, I would have wanted to write about things that I really did not want to make public till the last moment. I can't blog about things that I don't want to write about spontaneously. That would make me an author. I am just a blogger.

The human mind is a strange thing. When I got this job four years ago, my mind was in a strange state... I couldn't concentrate on anything for a few days. The same feeling returned the day when I got my US Visa and I resigned from my job. The preparation for this day had started almost year and a half ago; yet when that day really came, I couldn't believe it.

Anyway, the main news now is, I arrived in the US last night and my head is bursting with a headache and new blog posts. As soon as the former goes away, the latter will be typed out.

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