Monday, February 18, 2008

Silly Ways Minds Work: ramblings about Oliver, Gypsies etc

A few years ago, I had met an interesting guy called Oliver on the internet. We met up one evening and had fantastic conversation. We never met up again, despite my attempts. Last night he told me that it was because that meeting convinced him that this would lead to more than just a simple friendship or simple fun, and he wasn't ready for a relationship.
How utterly stupid!

Oliver is a very intersting guy. He is an anthropologist and his research deals with the societies and history of the Aboriginal people of Australia. It was funny to hear an Austrian guy speaking English with an Australian accent. Although based in Vienna, he was often shuttling between Austria and Australia because of his work.
He is interesting for another reason. Part of his family is Roma/Gypsy. There has been a lot of racial discrimination against the Roma people in Europe since centuries. Of course the Roma people also are notorious for wanting to stay away from the mainstream and for often being not respectful about the law. Hitler wanted to eliminate them as well with his concentration camps. They still have a bad reputation. Tourists to Italy and Spain are warned against Gypsies (Gitanos), because many of these people selling stuff to tourists, or begging, or offering to tell your future, also make you unknowingly part with your wallet or other belongings. Tourists are told to avoid them and some tourists even scream in protest if they are surrounded by a group of Gypsies... that seems to work. There are huge Roma populations in Central and Eastern Europe-- Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. There is still a lot of prejudice and discrimination against them including by educated members of the main society. Some members of the Roma communities have become very rich, and the member of the mainstream societies resent the fact that rich Roma like to display their wealth and apparently have houses of garish colours (at least in Hungary). One even hears educated young people making prejucial racist comments about the Roma. The Roma societies have contributed to the music of Central and Eastern European countries in an enormous way. That is one area where everyone gratefully acknowledges this contribution too. Even in Andalucia in Spain, Flamenco was heavily influenced by the Gitanos.
Since I have already started this side story about the Roma people, let me relate another incident. I thought I was a bit late for my flight to India in Dec, and I took a taxi. The taxi driver started making conversation and asked me where I'm from. When I said India, he said well actually he's also from there. I was increculous and asked him "Kahan se?" (Hindi: where from?), but he didn't seem to understand. Then he told me that his ancestors were from India, and naively I asked when they had moved to Europe... he said many many centuries ago-- now it finally clicked. I said I wanted to hear some Roma music and that pleased him very much. He put on a few pieces. Some of them were very good indeed, and some not so much. It is interesting that even after so many centuries, they are very aware of their roots.
Back to Oliver. Well, so it was quite interesting that his family married into the Romas, because the latter is especially very clannish and frowns upon (sometimes violently) about inter-marriages. I don't remember what the story was, and it is possible that I never got a chance to ask him. He has a huge family of uncles, aunts, cousins et al., and they meet in Graz where most of his family is based and his maternal grandmother also used to live. His grandmother died recently (I don't remember whether she was the Roma relative), and he had been very close to her. The extended family all knew that he is gay, and (if I remember correctly) mainly because of his powerful grandmom's support, they were all ok with it. He love to go to these family gatherings. I don't know whether it was his whole family or just the Roma part of the family that had Romanian/Hungarian connections.
Oliver and I were already having long conversations on the internet about all kinds of things before we met. It was a great evening. I think I was to travel to Spain soon after that. And he went to Australia for a few months. We didn't manage to meet for a while, and then whenever I suggested meeting up, it never happened. We still had long conversations on the internet, and he seemed to be enjoying them, but he was always vague when I suggested meeting up.
Yesterday I saw him online, and said hello. He had visited Kolkata recently for a conference and said that despite the smog etc, he had really liked the city. We were chatting about other things when I mentioned in passing that it was really sad that although I enjoyed meeting him, we never met up again. This is when he surprised me:

...i dont know what was wrong with me then. really. it had'nt anything to do with you. really. i was a bit confused, not ready for something serious. well, its complicated in a word. but you were nice. ... i know when something might result in something serious and when something/somebody is just 4 fun. do u know what i mean? and i was pretty sure i would have ended up in something more than fun or pure friendship. and that was the wrong time. or at least i then thought it was the wrong time. anybody makes mistakes, or makes the wrong decisions. i am the master in that, I suppose...

This is so stupid! I don't think too much when I meet someone-- I either like the person and would like to meet him again, or am not so keen about him... things then develop gradually whatever way they can. I'm flattered and at the same time sad to know that he avoided meeting me ever again was because he felt it would have too much of potential and wouldn't be a simple friendship or fun. Oliver is a nice guy, not gorgeous, but rather ok to look at, and as I have mentioned several times, really intersting to talk to. Meeting him only once, I had never though so far ahead to think of relationships. It would have been nice to know him at least as a friend. But too much thinking on his part spoiled the whole thing. What a shame.
And now I'm moving to India and he to Australia.
We decided to meet up this week or next week and I'm looking forward to another evening of intense and interesting conversation.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Viennese Waltz: Regenbogen Ball

The Viennese winter is very happening: it is the ball season. Last year I had been to the BOKU Ball organized at the Hofburg palace by the Agriculture University of Vienna; and this year Fabien and I checked out the Regenbogen Ball ("Rainbow Ball") a queer ball at a hotel near the Schönbrunn Palace. Last's year's trip was from the lab-- a kind of leaving party of my colleague, Dieter, who was moving to Paris. And since I'm leaving Vienna soon, I was determined not to miss probably the last chance of going to a gay traditional ball.
Starting with the New Year's Kaiserball (Imperial Ball), the official ball season runs until Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday), the first day of lent, sometime in Feb or early March. However, if Ash Wednesday falls early, like this year (6th Feb), there are so many annual balls in a season, that these always run well into March. [One of the famous off-season balls is the AIDS charity ball, the Life Ball, in early summer-- the largest such event that attracts a lot of famous personalities (Elton John is a regular for example) . But the Lifeball is costume ball, and they encourage you to come in garish creative costumes. There is an associated fashion show as well, and a famous designer (e.g. Donatella Versace) is associated with it each year. But I'm not blogging about these non-traditional balls.]

The traditional balls are very suave and elegant. One has to be in a suit and tie (or long dress/evening gown for women) at the minimum. For men, evening dress with a dinner jacket /tuxedo, without or with tails, with bowtie, cummerbund etc are preferred and occasionally essential. Many places (I guess, most places) allow traditional/national costume as well... and for the Austrians, it is the tracht (with lederhosen) for men and drindl for women.

These balls are held in grand settings, at the imperial Hofburg Palace, the Rathhaus etc. And of course, being a ball, one is supposed to dance. Nowadays floors or salsa/latin dance floors are also included in these events, but by far the most important and most popular is ballroom dancing, and the most popular dance being the Wiener Walzer or the Viennese Waltz.

Dancing and Me?
I have never been much of a dancer. When I was in college in Kolkata, a school friend of mine, Samarjit, was learning German at the Goethe Institut, but the main reason he had joined the course was to socialize... and the dance parties. I was of course a shy kid at that time and big-time inhibited in general. Plus I wasn't (and still am not) into Western popular music. And dance parties didn't appeal to me all that much. After I moved to Pune, our department had quite a few dance parties, and I used to go there, and watch my friends dancing and having a good time. I was tempted to join them, but I was still too inhibited and found it kinda embarassing because I didn't know what to do, how to dance. Occasionally I was dragged onto the floor (and given instructions as to what to do), but it didn't last for long and I managed to wriggle out. Same in IISc and Tübingen. In Heidelberg I went to my first gay parties, and after the initial hesitation, I tried it out. Now that was fun... there were so many gorgeous guys around and dancing with and around them was great. I still wasn't (and even now am not) too keen about the music, but then I could feel the rhythm and move my legs, body and hands, and that's after all, all that is required. I wouldn't say I am a party animal in Vienna, but I do occasionally go clubbing to gay places with friends and do dance-- and enjoy it.
When I got to know Fabien two and a half years ago, I was his only gay friend (in fact I still am among his few close gay friends) and often a mentor in the gay world. He suggested we go to the annual gay ball, the Regenbogen Ball. That was 2006. I said no way-- I don't know even the basics of ballroom dancing.

BOKU Ball and Dancing Lessons
My colleague, Dieter, was to move to Paris in spring last year and Karen was to leave in another half a year. Karen and Dieter suggested we go to a traditional Viennese Ball as a lab outing-- it could be a kind of leaving party for Dieter. I said why not, though it had to be at a grand place-- I prefer the Hofburg Palace. We decided on the BOKU Ball, as being organized by a university, it would be less formal, with more young people and cheaper for the students (i.e. Karen, Dieter and Martin). I wasn't too worried, as I had no intention of dancing... hanging around in the gorgeous Hofburg Palace rooms with elegantly dressed people would be sufficient for me. My Argentinian friend, Leo, was also going with his friends, so apart from the lab people, I'd have company too.
Yet, it would be nice to be able to dance too. So on an impulse, I checked out dance courses, zeroed in on one nearby offering classes soon-- the same week-- and at convenient times, and called Fabien to ask if he would be interested to join in the course as well. He'd have to be spontaneous enough to decide at such a short notice and spontaneity certainly isn't Fabien's strong point, althought he has improved a lot in my company. He surprisingly agreed and we signed up to a course for singles. Unfortunately there were only three classes before my scheduled ball, and we didn't get to learn much before that.
The ball was fun, but I only danced at the disco. Anton suggested I try to waltz with his wife, but I stupidly enough didn't go for it. The Hofburg was really marvellous, and the ball and particularly the waltzes seemed like great fun.

The beginner's course taught us the basics of some 12 dances including the Slow Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Cha-Cha-Cha, Rumba, Boogie and very elementary Tango and Samba. I have a problem with counting (or following) the rhythm sometimes, and certainly find it difficult to figure out what dance goes with what music. But I enjoyed the classes. We were made to change partners very often. Some were good fun, some bad, some boring, some indifferent, some unfriendly. I realized once again that dancing is very sexual for me-- I enjoy dancing with men, rather than dancing itself... and this was of course dancing with opposite-sex partners only. Fabien was also frustrated "dancing with fat women"-- it came to a height exactly a year ago, on Valentine's Day... we had the dance class and hated that fact that even on this day we had to dance with "fat women". So we went to the Villa to have a quick dinner before-- to add at least some gay touch to the day. Fabien didn't even complete the course.
I enjoyed some of the dances, but my favourite was the Viennese Waltz. Not only do I like the music very much, but unlike the slow waltz, it is much much faster.
We could have gone to the regular balls of the dance school, but we never did. I was going to Paris that summer, so I couldn't take the next level of course, and Fabien was NOT interested in "dancing with fat girls" any more... he even didn't turn up for the classes in last couple of weeks. And there was no practice until I decided to go to the Regenbogen Ball.

Planning and Preparation
It was a shame that I enjoyed the Wiener Walzer (Viennese waltz), but never had any formal occasion to dance it. After I move India in spring, I doubt I'll be attending balls, so I reckoned I had to do it before I left Europe. So not much time left. As I have said, dancing with women isn't as much fun for me, so a gay ball would be better. The best option, hence, was the Regenbogen Ball. It was on a Saturday too. And this was probably the last chance of going there. Even if I visit Europe/Vienna afterwards, I doubt, it'll be in the cold winter. I had to do it now! So after I got back from India, I started calling people to see whether they'd be interested-- if enough of my gay friends joined in, it could be a leaving party for me. Unfortunately, most of my friends were either away or not well or too busy that weekend, and it was only Fabien and I who decided to go for the ball. Leo had bought tickets too, but he got a cold. Another friend of mine, Gernot, was going to be there. He is in a semi-professional dance group as a serious hobby, and their group would be performing the opening dances at the ball. In fact it was while talking to him that I got the idea of going to the ball.
The problem was that both Fabien and I were rusty with our dancing skills that were shaky to begin with. We decided to have a few practice sessions before the ball. I had a cd of the waltzes composed by the Strausses. We practised a few times at Fabien's place. The first practice was a disaster. We called Leo, but learnt that he was ill and wouldn't even be able to make it for the ball. The second practice was better. We were supposed to meet before the ball for the last practice. That morning I was talking to Christof and trying to urge him to come along, when he suggested that although he wasn't in the mood for the ball, he'd love to give me a crash course. I went to his place, and we tried it and I was confident of the Wiener Walzer once again. And after that the practice with Fabien was much smoother too.

The Regenbogen Ball and Wiener Walzer
The ball was on the 26th of Jan, a Saturday, in the evening. People were mostly in suits or in evening dress. Many people were in tails. Some in drag, and a few in costume. Christof had warned us that we should reach sufficiently ahead of time to get good positions to see the Eröffnung (the Opening of the ball) that was to be at 9pm. We nevertheless got late, and had to negotiate the crowds and crane our neck to see the opening dances. There was a group from the organizers and also the Gernot's group that performed the opening dances. And then the floor was thrown open to the public. The stupid Fabien had bought new dress shoes the same day, and obviously his feet were killing him. We danced several the Wiener Walzers... although I had practised a the steps of a few more dances with Christof, we didn't venture into any of those dances. But the Wiener Walzer was good fun. We met Gernot later (it was difficult to recognize him because of his "Japanese" costume... a part of his performance), and he made a date with me-- we were to meet at the main ballroom at 2am and dance. He'd have to get out of his costume into tails first.
Fabien and I danced, checked out the other stuff (like the Jazz), the other floors, and of course the guys. I met a few people I knew. At midnight there was the Quadrille, where everybody gathers together on the floor in paired rows facing each other. A director directs what to do and a dance is created. The pairs dance with each other and also with the neighbours. It's supposed to be good fun. Unfortunately we and our neighbours messed up and created chaos at our end. But it was fun. We also spent some time at the disco downstairs. Fabien left at 2am. He said he was tired, and also his feet were extremely painful. I waited for Gernot.
Gernot and I started dancing at 2:30am. Gernot is of course an expert dancer. Although I was leading when dancing with Fabien-- it seems more natural for me (and Fabien prefers to be led), Gernot's an expert dancer and it would make much more sense for him to lead. It was a fabulous experience. Waltz, as you might know, is based on a rhythm of three beats. The Wiener Walzer is faster and the very Viennese supposedly make the last two beats slightly quicker than the first one. You make a half turn (180°) with each complete rhythm (in the slow waltz you make a 1/4th or 1/3rd turn). So one goes round and round and at the same time moving around the floor. On a crowded floor the one who leads has to take care to avoid bumping into others (very difficult as I realized when I was leading Fabien) as you navigate around the floor. One could turn right or left, but the right turn is easier, so most people do that... we were never taught the left turn, in fact. At the end of a dance, one's head is spinning because of the turns. Gernot being an excellent dancer made navigation seem like cake walk, we did left turns as well, and what I enjoyed most were the high-speed spins. I hadn't known about these, but instead of following the regular steps, the dancing pair can just spin extremely fast with the music. I would never be able to do that and keep track of the room, but it the Gernot is an expert. It was just fun to let go. We danced 4-5 dances and then went for a drink and a chat. Then Gernot went to his other friends. There were some music programs as well. The stuff was to end at 5am. I spent some time at the disco and came up again at 4pm. I didn't know people so I was just sitting watching other people dance. At 4.30am, I noticed Harald, Christof's ex-boyfriend, standing alone, so I went to him and asked whether he wanted to dance. We danced the last waltzes as well as other simpler stuff towards the end. The last dance was great fun too... called a marching dance, where people jump around the room in one direction and then suddenly someone changes direction and everybody follows too. This ends by couples going through a "tunnel" formed by other couples joining hands above... the couple in the tunnel joins the tunnel when he gets out of it. It was good fun.

Gernot saw me dancing and came to me after the marching dance ended. Since he lives quite close to my place, we took the underground together. I got back home at 5:45am or so after a most delightful night.

I wish this weren't my first and last Regenbogen Ball. I wish I had taken dancing classes earlier and had been to a few of these balls. But I am happy that I decided to do this before leaving Vienna. It would have been nicer if more of my friends had joined in, but it was fun nevertheless.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nomadism, Changes, the Future and Related Ramblings

No, my dear blog readers, I still haven't abandoned you. It's been ages since I've posted. My inseparable companion Mme Procrastination is to blame. There's a lot that's been happening and so I should have had a lot to blog about. But then that's where the overwhelming influence of Mme P. brings about postponements.
Anyways, I'll try to at least complete this post and hopefully this make me resume postings again.
If you've read my "About Me" section, you know that I'm a nomad and have moved all my life. The next move is around the corner-- I move to the City of Boiled Beans at the end of March.

The Basics
My father had a transferable job, and so we moved ever 3-4 years, especially during my early childhood. I was born in Kolkata (as was my brother), and we moved to Bhubaneswar when I was 4-4.5years old. We lived there for 3.5 years and then moved back to Kolkata. The next move was to Delhi-- 5 years and 2 months-- to date that remains my longest continuous stay at one place. When we moved back to Kolkata in 1990, I was 16. I finished my school there, and my BSc as well. I was determined to leave the city, and I moved to Pune in 1994 when I got through a coveted combined entrance exam. Thence to Bangalore for my PhD in summer 1996. My supervisor moved to Delhi, and I quit and moved to Tübingen to restart my PhD in Nov 1998. Our lab moved to Heidelberg in Oct 2001, and this time I moved with the lab and completed my thesis there. I moved to Vienna in March 2003.

Changes-- Pune & Panch-Premikayen
As a kid, it was both distressing and exciting to move. Distressing to leave old friends and contacts, familiar surroundings, but exciting to embark on new adventures. I used to be a shy kid, and so making friends wasn't that easy... so I guess there was a large bit of apprehension. However, there certainly was the excitement and hope of starting out all over again, of doing better, being a better person, getting a clean slate. I did try to change myself every time I moved, and these changes became more pronounced from Pune onwards. Pune was the first time I was staying away from my parents-- in fact far away. I was independent, and had to take care of my affairs in toto.... except of course the living expenses that my father would send every month. But I was also 20. Pune changed me. Most of my classmates were a bunch of fun-loving people, and they dragged me into it. My roommate and classmate, BJ, probably had the biggest hand in bringing about this change. He was the complete opposite of me-- extroverted, friendly, popular, and very goodlooking. Then there were my female friends-- my so-called panch premikayen (five lovers)-- Fish, Chicken, Mutton, Prawn (HRJ) and Kalakand. It started with Fish. There was and exam and she was mugging up stuff (moving here lips soundlessly) and someone commented that she was like a fish in an aquarium... the name stuck. I used to get along quite well with her and was consequently was teased about her. Now the best way to get rid of teasing is to join them-- I gave them more fuel- "See it's simple: Bongs love fish". Latha was a loud girl-- hyper-extroverted. Her best friend was Uma and I got along very well with both of them. Latha protested that I only loved Fish. I said "Well, as Bong, I do love fish, but I like chicken and mutton better". She selected the former for herself and the latter for Uma. HRJ, had to be given a name too. She'd once brought prawn-achar for a few of us, and so that was a good name for her. Then Kanchan, a good friend of HRJ and mine, but from a different course, also wanted to be in my "harem" but she being a vegetarian and sweet-lover, called herself Kalakand. Anyways, for a guy who was shy and was uncomfortable talking to girls (despite being gay), this was progress. By the time we finished and left Pune, I was quite a popular guy within the group, and I am very much in touch with quite a few of these people.
IISc did change me as well, though not all that much. I developed good friendships, became more confident, and of course, as I have blogged before, accepted that I'm gay.

Massive Changes-- the European Influence
Life in India was quite protected, despite all those pretences of my independence. There were hostels where one lived, there were messes where one ate, medical facilities within the institute if one fell ill, dhobis and "press"-wallas in the campus, plus there were friends, professors, relatives, friends of parents, whom one could consult at the drop of a hat. Finances and tastes were meagre, and so most of the time was spent in the campus at work or with friends. There might have been an occasional trip to the restaurant, to a movie, or to a happening area.

Europe was this whole new thing. And it completely changed me. I had a close friend from my Pune days, Jagan, in Tübingen, at the same institute... in fact it was in consultation with him that I had moved there, and I stayed with him for the first few months. He had his own tensions, problems etc, and staying with someone in a small room in a shared accomodation is never easy. Our relations became kinda hot & cold. Even with all the help Jagan extended, I was still on my own. In the UK or in the US (or perhaps even in Australia), the Indian community is so huge, that a newly arrived desi has no trouble entering the ghetto and remaining there. This was certainly not so here. There was of course Sunanda, but we didn't get along with her initially (she is one of my closest friends now-- she's in Berkeley, but we have telephone conversations for hours several times a month). Later Rajeeb, Tressa, and others arrived in Tübingen, but then they themselves had to find their feet on the ground. And of course there was the gay thing, that I had to explore.

I had a lovely studio apartment with a huge balcony. Before leaving India, my mother had given me a very hurried crash course in cooking, but honestly, the only thing I could really cook was an egg (boiled, fried, scrambled, omelette). While I was at Jagan's, he showed me how to make fried rice, and I also tried cooking (quite successfully) a chicken dish. One doesn't really need to cook, as one can survive on bread, eggs, hams/salamis, fruits, frozen pizzas and various other frozen stuff, or the delicious Turkish Döner Kebaps. But I'm a scientist-- experimenting is my job-- and I love food and I'd been missing Indian food (there was a decent Indian resaturant in Tübingen), so the most logical thing was to try and experiment. Ralf was a new postdoc who joined soon after I moved to my apartment. His girlfriend was in France and since he didn't know people either, we hung out together. He had a car and he used to give me a ride to the supermarket on weekends, and I used to invite him for dinner to try out my experiments. He wasn't experienced in Indian food, so had no idea what things were supposed to taste like-- a perfect candidate! With and phone calls to my mother, and repeated experiments I did manage to become a decent cook over the years.

Travel was another thing that I got hooked to, and I've travelled quite a bit. Germany, Austria, the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Hungary... much more than most Indians I know here. Most of these trips have been on my own, and I prefer it that way.

Getting comfortable with being gay and enough to coming out to friends and parents is something I've already blogged about. Here in Vienna, I am a regular at the gay parade. Many of my friends are gay, and we often go out to gay cafes/bars.

I also think I have become more accepting, more open-minded, less conservative, and have broader horizons. That is of course, in part because of becoming more mature, but also because of my stay in Europe and interacting with completely different cultures, values, outlooks, and meeting really diverse kinds of people.

My personality has changed in other ways as well. I am more confident, more self-assured, independent, know more or less what I want, what I like. I am not afraid of people (well most of the times anyway).
I certainly have better dress-sense than when I first arrived in Europe.

The Itch to Move
Although I like Vienna, know the place quite well, have a lot of friends, lots of favourite places to go to, and enjoy life here, I feel a strong urge to move. In a few weeks, it'll be five years that I've lived here, and five years is a big psychological barrier. I need a change, a new adventure, a new slate. I am a bit bored with the routine. I want to move on.

My current contract is coming to an end as well, and it cannot be renewed in its current form. Leonie, in the neighbouring institute, likes me very much and was extremely keen to have me join her group. But that would've been my last option, though it might have made a bit of sense professionally. I really wanted to move on, I want change.

The City of Boiled Beans
I had applied for a position in Bangalore in November, they interviewed me telephonically three days later, and offered me the position after two weeks. They suggested I join from Jan 1, which was impossible. In any case I needed to visit them and check them out first-- I did that in Jan. I'll be leaving Vienna on the 28th of March and after a day in Dubai, visiting BJ (whom I've mentioned above) and his family there, I proceed to Bengaluru on the 30th.

I am apprehensive how I'll re-adjust, but it'll be an adventure. Bangalore has changed tremendously since I used to live there (1996-1998)-- and in any case, we used live a rather sheltered life in the IISc campus with occasional excursions to the city. I've hated the traffic when I visited recently and that will indeed be a nightmare. But I am looking forward to the city, with its extremely cosmopolitan environment, great weather, the ghats nearby, tons of historical and architectural marvels nearby. Plus lots of promising activities going on (provided one can find the time and means to get there in time)-- my internet searches have yielded a hiking group that sounds fantastic, a theatre with regular performances (albeit several in Kannada), an expats organization, an interesting annual music festivals other than Vasantahabba like this one and so on.
I also have a few friends there, and my cousin and her husband whom I get along very well with. I am also excited about work.

The gay thing is a bit worrying. The problem with many (most?) Indian gay guys is their paranoia. Gay people are understandably complicated, but the juggling between terrified secrecy and being gay in India, doesn't result in a good combination. However, there are groups like Good As You (the website is outdated, because apparently the current people don't know what the password is!!!), and I think there are a higher proportion of well-adjusted (or at least better-adjusted) gay people in the city than most other Indian cities... or so I hope. I went to a Good As You meeting when I visited B'lore in Jan, and met some friendly people and enjoyed the discussions. I've heard that there is at least one gay bar and there are gay parties organized with a reasonable frequency. I'd hate to get back into the closet, but then I'm not completely out even in Vienna, and so I think I'll maintain a similar system of keeping my personal life private at work, being ambiguous to acquaintences and out to good friends... lets see.

I'm also hoping to revive my adoption dreams after I move to the city...

Everybody is suggesting that I live near to work-- that'd mean quite far away towards the eastern end of the city. Vienna has spoiled me. I live walking distance from the centre, and obstinately, I'd like to live not too far away from the happening places in Bangalore too. I'd have zeroed in on the trendy Indira Nagar, but flats there might be too expensive for my budget. The other option is Domlur-- which is apparently very ordinary and non-trendy-- very strange considering that it is between Indira Nagar and even trendier (but too southern for me) Koramangala.

I guess I'd have to go to work very early to avoid the traffic jams, I'm hoping for decent public transport, as I'd prefer to read while travelling two hours instead of being at the wheel. I've been told there are decent buses plying to where I'll be working from almost everywhere in the city, plus the city has introduced luxury buses that are airconditioned and expensive and hence are not so crowded. But I guess I'll have to get a car as well-- and a driver's license as well-- finally.

The City of Boiled Beans, I'm looking forward to spending a few years with you.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What's in a name? Crystal -I

What's in a name? That what we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
claimed Bernard Shaw.

Ha! I hear you clicking your tongue at my ignorance, muttering, "That was Shakespeare, you fool!" Don't worry, I know the quotation very well, and I always deliberately misattribute it because I want to make precisely this point: names are indeed (often) very important!

There are several examples that I can cite in different contexts-- in fact I had once contemplated writing a collection of short stories on this issue. But tonight I'll just tell you the story of my friend Crystal.

Crystal or Krystal or Chris (not to be confused with my Bavarian friend with the Swedish girlfriend) or Kris or Krish is one of the oldest friends I have whom am still in touch with. I met him when I was 11. We had moved to Delhi in 1985 and I joined the local Kendriya Vidyalaya (chain of schools all over India). Crystal was ill that week, but I heard about him from the others... a strange name. I asked the same question that everybody asked when they heard the name: is he christian? No, not at all. A few days later I met him too. I was a rather shy guy, and he approached me and made friends, I remember it was the games period.

We soon became good friends, close friends, and eventually "best friends" and our friendship became quite legendary in our class. We did have our fights, sulkings, quarrels but we both made up pretty soon. After two years, he moved to Madras where he stayed on until we both finished school in 1991 (I had moved to Calcutta by then), and then he moved to the US. After he moved to Madras, we met for a few hours in Delhi in the summer of 1989, in Bangalore for a couple of days in the summer of 1997, and a few months ago (end of May-beginning of June) we met again for a week here in Vienna (and Munich). I'll talk about that in a future post. But we have kept in touch... in the beginning it used to be an amazingly regular exchange of letters (Crystal attributes it to me), then an occasional letter, regular emails, occasional emails and finally an occasional email or a phone call. But we have kept in touch. He was one of the first six people I came out to (I forget the order, but he might have been the second or third).

Anyways, back to the name. Crystal comes from a Sindhi family and their extended family has this love for strange names. Apparently when he was born, an aunt of his was reading about crystallization, and so he was named Crystal. He has a cousin called Happy... they named him because he seemed very happy at the candles on the cake at a (his first?) birthday. I shudder to think of such relatives.

His name of course invariable caused a double-take . "Crystal?!" "That's an unusual name! Is he Christian?" "Why is your name Crystal?" Of course, fortunately for him, we were unaware at that time that in the West it is a girl's name, otherwise he'd have been teased a lot. He didn't really seem to mind his name though. I remember our Sanskrit teacher protesting about his name. He mentioned that his folks had been considering naming him "Kuldeep", and the teacher said she'd call him "Kuldeep". I don't think she ever remembered.
Even while in India, he sometimes used to write "Krystal" instead of sticking to "Crystal".

After he moved to the US, he started facing problems because of his name, because it is a girl's name. He began introducing himself as Chris. He mentioned he'd change his name to Kris or Krish. And he did change his name to Krish when he became a US citizen. Nevertheless he still continues to be confused about his name.

During their trip to this area in May, they were staying in a youth hostel (and I was staying with Chris and Stina) in Munich. When we went to look for him and his wife, Sheetal, at the youth hostel, we didn't know what his room number was. At the reception desk, I had no clue what he had given as his first name.
It was "Crystal".


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cars Fuelled by Air: Guy Nègre and MDI (updated Feb 08)

I had never heard of Guy Nègre and his company Moteur Developpment International until tonight when I read a Times of India article about the Tatas collaborating with them. It is fascinating-- Nègre has designed an engine that produces momentum by releasing compressed air instead of using combustion of fossil fuels as in other engines! And these air powered engines would be running cars. A huge drop in pollution! A huge reduction in dependance of fossil fuels. Reduction in costs. Wow!
Guy Nègre is based in Nice in southern France, their prototype factory is in southern France too (Nice?). The company is Luxembourg-based (tax reasons?) while the official representatives are based in Barcelona. Nègre has apparently had experience working with aeronautics and racing cars, and started the company in 1991 to develop his dual-energy engine which ran on petrol and compressed air, as a low-pollution engine. Some of the technical information about the engine can be found here (see remark on the links in the update at the bottom of the page) .
They are developing two kinds of vehicles, the first with limited use would only run on compressed air and would have a maximum speed of 50km/h-- thus probably used only within city limits. The second would run with a dual-energy system-- with compressed air for upto 50km/h and (fossil) fuel at speeds higher than that (or when the air cylinders are empty) and would have a maximum speed of 110km/h. There are several models under development.
The compressors can be recharged at envisaged gas stations-- 2 to 3 minutes for around 1.5 EUR. Alternatively, a built-in small compressor could be connected to a power supply and recharge the tanks completely in around 6 hours. A fully charged car can be driven for 200km.
Oil (1l vegetable oil) would need to be changed only every 50,000Km.
MDI asserts that the compressed air cylinders are completely safe because the same technology is used to carry liquid gas in buses, or used to transport methane, a flamable gas, and hence potentially explosive.
Another interesting feature would be its radio controlled (hence wireless) connections that would take care of headlights, dashboard lights, lights inside the car etc with a microcontroller.
Costs: The compressed energy only cars would be expected to cost upwards of around 6,860EUR while the dual energy cars around 9,460EUR upwards; plus taxes, minus subsidies.
They still have no idea when these cars would be available in the market. They also make a request:

We need, among other things, people to talk about the project. One way to help is by putting links to our web page on your site. If you are a journalist and can write an article about the car we would be grateful. Finally, if you know any businesspeople who you think might be interested in the project, speak to them about the possibility of participating.

If you have been reading all this, I would strongly urge you to check out their website (although I admit it isn't very easy to navigate).
This is technology of the future (near future actually) and needs to be supported. I am very glad that the Tatas are collaborating on this and are involving in financing this.
I am really excited about these cars.
Update 13 Feb 08: Late last year, I had seen rumours on the internet that the Tatas would release their air car in mid-2008, some even said that it would be announced along with their Nano. The Tata Motors was rather tightlipped, and instead commented that the technology needed further fine-tuning. Subsequently I read that the deal was that they could release it in India only after Nègre/MDI released it in the European markets. The BBC has an article today that says what this fine-tuning might be (I say this because I don't remember having read about this feature earlier):
For long journeys the compressed air driving the pistons can be boosted by a fuel burner which heats the air so it expands and increases the pressure on the pistons. The burner will use all kinds of liquid fuel.
Especially since I'm moving to India in a few weeks, I am really looking forward to this car. I had been hoping that they would start selling the hybrid later this year, and that'd be my first car. My cousin-in-law (who has a Tata car too) said that Tata cars are great, but aren't so great when they are first released. It might be more sensible to but a cheap car and by the hybrid a year or so after it is released. Let's see...
Further update: The MDI links don't work anymore. They have changed their website design, and the new site is absolute crap, totally devoid of any relevant information. I'll leave the links as they are, and change them later if I find better links.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Let's Talk About the Weather

No really, the weather... I do want to talk about the weather. In fact I was talking about it in another group-blog where one was supposed to talk about anything in an open thread and I blabbered about the weather, and then realized it wasn't quite the nonsense I'd intended to post, so I thought why not copy-paste it in my own blog. With some modifications.
I thought spring had followed after a mere two weeks of winter after Christmas (ok, there had been some snow in early Nov like every winter I have spent in Europe... nine of them). Even the allergic have started sneezing, so the flora must have started pollinating prematurely, and I was even told so by the Allergy Specialist I'd visited earlier this month (I was actually supposed to visit her after my allergy season got over, i.e., in June). But the weather forecasts said the temperature was supposed to go down today, and it was supposed to rain and then snow all night… and they've forecast snow all week. I’m sitting inside, so I don’t know whether it is colder now. No, I just checked-- doesn't really feel very cold outside. It hasn’t rained, at least not that I have noticed... no, I am quite sure it hasn't, and it has certainly not snowed yet. Probably tomorrow morning when I look out of the window, I’ll see snow all around.
I do like snow… good snow, not the slushy stuff that’s more rain than anything. But I do hate it when the snow melts under the traffic and refreezes in the morning to make crossing the slippery roads difficult. I also dislike bringing in a kilo of small stones with my shoes.. the stones that they scatter on the pavements to prevent people from slipping. But winter somehow doesn’t seem complete without snow and the cold any more. Am I actually looking forward to it?! Who would have thought?!
I met Othmar the other day in the underground station. He had threatened in 2005 that I would be persuaded to go skiing. When we met in summer 2006, he exclaimed that I had managed to lie low during winter just to avoid skiing (wasn't exactly true, but I wouldn't mind doing exactly what he accused me of). And there would be no escape for me this winter. So as I was saying, we bumped into each other on Thursday at the U-bahn station of the Westbahnhof and since I was early and was to wait for Fabien, and Othmar had time, we chatted for a bit. It was looking like there would be no winter and spring had started, I said gleefully, almost referring to the ski threat. He said no, he was convinced that it would get really cold in February and there would be snow. Lots of it. And then there would be no escape for me. We still have to see about that, but it certainly looks like it will snow sometime this week. If not tonight, perhaps tomorrow or later.
The weathermen here must be nervous. The forecasts haven't been that great of late. Large parts of Europe was reeling under storms (Kyrill) last week. We were supposed to get it on Thursday night. It was supposed to be terrible. I was up till 1 am on Thursday night (Friday "morning"), I could hear strong winds, but not much of the stuff that had happened in Germany. I didn't see much evidence in the morning either, although Martin at the lab said that he'd heard the storm all night, and that apparently it had been pretty bad in northern Austria. Well, one couldn't see much in Vienna. People were saying they were almost disappointed. I confess I was too. Kyrill had apparently moved on eastwards to the Czech Republic. Today's forecast was rain from the afternoon, turning into mild snow and proper snow at night. I can't be sure, but it doesn't look like there's been any rain, forget snow.
Austrians would of course be delighted. They can finally go skiing. They were all so glum because they couldn't go skiing nearby. The warm weather was also resulting in huge losses for the ski resorts, many of which had to transport snow from higher alpine regions. But apparently even that snow wouldn't stay because the ground was relatively warm.
This year they do expect weird weather. In fact according to the BBC, the UK Meterological Office says that this'll be the warmest year ever (in the UK? in Europe? in the World?), El Niño is to blame.
Ruben had offered to bring me Al Gore's film on Gobal Warming, but always forgets. The film apparently shook him. I should remind him again to bring it. Some really scary stuff has already started to happen. A 66 sq km chunk of ice was discovered in Dec 2006 to have broken off the Canadian Arctic in summer 2005. They fear it will float away during summer and cause havoc on oil and gas exploration, oil rigs, and shipping. Even otherwise this is scary. Apparently if the sea levels get higher as a result of melting ice, a large part Bangladesh would risk being submerged.
Europe is trying hard to do something about Global Warming. Hopefully they (particularly Angela Merkel's friendly relations with George W. Bush) and the newly muscled Democrats would be able to nudge a change in US policy.
It is almost 1:30am, and it has still not started snowing.
But we live in hope...
Update at 8:49 am:
1. It did snow last night, though probably not much... I can see some snow on the ground in the lawn in the University of Music and Performing Arts opposite my window.
2. BBC says today, Chief executives of some of the largest companies in the US have urged President George W Bush to introduce measures to tackle global warming.
Update on 5 Feb:
1. Minor editing and one major one-- I had attributed the film to John Kerry instead of Al Gore... I am of course talking about An Inconvenient Truth about Gore's campaign to get Global Warming recognized as an urgent problem.
2. It had indeed been snowing that whole week and on Friday Othmar called up at around 2pm to suggest that we go night skiing or snowboarding. I didn't have good enough arguments until he said that we'd have to start at around 4pm to get there... I got my chance... I had to be at work at least until 6pm! He sounded rather pissed off... poor chap :-)


Monday, January 22, 2007

Partners of Friends (updated)

We are friends with our friends not merely because we are fond of them, but also because we get along with them, find them interesting, can have great conversations with them, can gel with them, can trust them, can open up to them, and so on. Most importantly, in most cases our wavelenghts match, even though we may have serious disagreements.

Now what happens when these friends have partners or get married. Do we get along with these partners or spouses too? I have had mixed experiences. Meeting with the partners of two good friends in December and having diametrically opposite experiences made me realize how different this can be.

Hari was going to India, and was to go via Germany, meeting his old colleagues and also showing his wife the country he had lived in for more than four years. I hadn't met him for years, and had never met his wife. I was to visit a place near Karlsruhe for work around that time, and so I decided to go earlier and meet them in Berlin.
Hari's marriage had been an arranged one. He had seen photographs and had been talking to her on telephone for quite a few months. He finished his PhD, went back to India, met her in person, went out with her, and then got married. When he'd told me about these plans on telephone, I was skeptical about his optimism. I wasn't saying that it wouldn't work, but what if he was disappointed when he met her, or worse, disliked her? The wedding arrangements had been made, and knowing him, it'd be unlikely that he'd make them call it off. What then? We had a bit of an argument. Later I emailed him to apologise for being so cynical and he said I had been articulating things had been on his mind, and that was the reason he got irritated as well.
He got married, and they both went to the US. I kinda lost touch with him.
But he was going to be Germany, and we decided to meet.
Madhuri is lovely. I mean particularly as a person, although I do find her pretty too, with the Mallu eyes that I find so attractive in women. She is extremely friendly (I felt I'd known her all my life), has good sense of humour, is intelligent, makes good conversation, is fun, caring, and seems to be "one of our crowd". There was no hesitation on her part, and we got along very well immediately. They obviously enjoy each other very much. And I hope this is one of greatest successes of the arranged marriage system. I must say I am both relieved and very happy for Hari. We hung out for two days, had dinner, visited the Pergamon museum, loitered around Berlin, christmas markets etc and had a thoroughly good time. Although Hari and I are very good friends, we do have issues and have one or more fights every time we meet. This was the first time we didn't, I think thanks to Madhuri.
About to weeks later (after Christmas), Chris and his Swedish girlfriend came to visit me. Chris is 4-5 years younger than me, and I am very fond of him. We had met in Tübingen where he worked as a summer student, and we got along extremely well. We exchanged visits after that and travelled around Germany as well. He have very wide interests and is extremely well-informed and we can have those endless conversations about almost everything under the sun. His girlfriend, Stina, on the other had was one of the most boring creatures I have ever met. She was grumpy and had a thoroughly bored expression most of the time. Offered no opinions. Try as I might, I couldn't involve her in conversation... all questions and leads were dealt with using the minimum possible words. After several trials I just left her alone and almost ignored her. The only thing she really wanted to do/see is the Natural History Museum, but unfortunately it was closed most of the time they were there. We went around the city centre on the New Year Eve, through the crowds, stopping at the concerts on the way. Again she had no enthusiasm, opinion or interest in anything. We watched the fireworks with small bottles of champagne from the forecourt of the Austrian Parliament... it is elevated and hence offers a good view of the fireworks, but is not crowded as there are no concerts, shops or stalls around. And soon afterwards walked back because she was tired.
I thoroughly enjoyed Chris' company like before, I trust he enjoyed himself too. But I absolutely couldn't figure her. De gustibus non est diputandum, goes a saying in Latin: there should be no argument about taste, and I agree with it completely. But to be honest (and nasty to a dear friend), I absolutely can't fathom what he sees in her.
These were two of the most recent experiences and they struck me because they were within a few weeks of each other and so opposite to each other. But now that I think of it, spouses/partners of friends have been a mixed bag.
I got along with Ana, Rajeeb's girlfriend very well indeed. On the other hand I knew HRJ's hubby, Jeetu, much before she knew him and in fact he had even been my roommate for a considerable period. But I never really gelled with him. Even now, on rare occasions when I talk to him on the phone, we don't have much to say to each other. I have a similar problem with Trupti's hubby too, although we are able to talk a bit more . Clovis was one of my first gay friends in Vienna, and I get along very well with his boyfriend Michael, in fact I haven't met Michael in the absence of Clovis, but it is possible that we get along even better. Ralf, is an old friend too, and although his girlfriend Helia isn't as interesting to talk to, we still get along quite well. I met Will's ex-girlfriend, Sonia, when she moved to Heidelberg long before he did. We became good friends, much better friends than I was with Will. I am still in touch with Sonia, but have lost contact with Will.
But I guess this is not surprising. People are all different, look for different things in people. Some click, others don't. I am really glad that I clicked with Madhuri... it would have been a real shame if I had not got along with Hari's wife.
Update: I had visited Chris and Stina in Munich in summer 07. And surprisingly enough, I enjoyed Stina's company quite a lot. She was more talkative and more participating in our discussions. She mentioned in passing in a completely different context, that Swedes become unfriendly in winter and change their characters completely in summer. Since they had visited me in Vienna in the middle of winter that might have been a reason for her unfriendliness. That and she was a bit unwell, and she was meeting me for the first time. I'm still not a big fan of her's but I get along better with her.
Another spouse of a friend I recently met for the first time is Sheetal, Crystal's wife (the same summer-- I had gone to Munich to get them to Vienna). Although we differ in many ways, I got along quite well with her... probably more than with Crystal himself.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Summer in My Veins: Nishit Saran

On an internet forum, someone had posted links to the late Nishit Saran's film, Summer in My Veins (1999) on YouTube. I had been wanting to watch this since years, but never managed to locate a copy or be near film festivals that screened it. So understandably I was thrilled to find these links.
I had read about Nishit's film soon after moving to Germany-- during the period I was coming to terms with being gay. He was a film-making student in Harvard and had made a documentary about his own coming out as gay to his mother... on camera. His mother was visiting from India to attend his graduation ceremony and an added complexity was that Nishit had had unprotected sex with a HIV-positive guy and was awaiting his test results. The reviews of the film were extremely positive, and the film had won quite a few awards. I was very keen to see this film. I had been thinking about coming out to my friends, was debating whether to ever come out to my parents, and this seemed to be a story that I could relate to (albeit not the HIV risk). I even remember hunting for and getting hold of Nishit's email address and writing an unfinished email to him about this. I never sent it.

Later, I remember I saw a couple of his articles on in its previous incarnation.

It was a shock when I read about his accident and death in 2003. He and his friends were in a car that was hit by a truck at a poorly lit intersection in Delhi. All of them were killed. He was only 26.

(I have never embedded movies on here, so I hope this works...)

Summer in My Veins (partI)

Summer in My Veins (part II)

Summer in My Veins (part III)

(I hope the person who has uploaded these doesn't remove them too soon.)

As a review very nicely puts it,

Summer in My Veins follows Saran’s double struggle, but the real stars are his mother and aunts, a randy, sophisticated trio who must translate their open, life-loving attitude into an embrace for their gay son and nephew. The mother’s reaction scene, particularly, is a subtly riveting "performance" of a kind that can’t be coached.

Google tells me that Nishit's family has started a foundation in his memory that is involved in

supporting young film makers, curating and traveling with Nishit’s films, beginning an annual film festival, and extending counseling vis-à-vis sexuality for parents.

It is really sad that India, and particularly the Indian gay community lost a promising film-maker. One can only imagine how much Nishit could have contributed had be not been snatched away at so early an age.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Vienna photos: Prater

There was some mild snow yesterday, but it started snowing quite heavily around noon today and continued for a few hours. A mere week ago, we had warm weather... upto 16°C, then then last Sunday late afternoon while I was at Sharron's there was a hailstorm, and the next day the temperature dropped. The last couple of days have been really cold, and today has been particularly so. Temperatures are expected to drop slightly below 0°C over the next few days, but then again there is a forcast for warmer by rainy weather from the middle of next week.
Every year, I resolve to go out into the woods in October, and take photos of the autumnal leaves. And I never get around to doing it. I had been suggesting it to Fabien (he has a new Canon camera that he loves) too, to go together. He agreed in principle, but as usual, he never takes an initiative himself. Two weekends ago, I suggested we go on such a photo tour on the Sunday late afternoon. I wanted to do it during sunset, but that wasn't a good idea as the woods become too dark... Fabien had warned me.
So we decided to go to the amusement park in Prater instead. I guess I have missed the autumn leaves again...
Anyway, here are some of these photos:

I guess it is obvious that I like geometric forms...

Please do leave a comment if you like any of these photos.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Second Paris Trip, Sept 17-24

This is a really overdue post. So much has been happening in the past few weeks, and I have really been slack at posting. This one is particularly overdue-- I had visited Paris a month ago. We had this conference on our group's direct area of research in Paris and the whole lab (excluding the techincian) went. Anton was an invited speaker, and Karen gave a talk, and the rest of us presented posters-- except Hiro, since he has arrived since six months or so. Tatsuya presented his a poster about the work from his previous lab.

The conference was from the 17th of Sept through the 21st and we stayed on until the 24th. It was good fun. Since there was a big group from our lab, we tended to stick together, and didn't get to meet and make friends with as many other people at the conference as I would have liked to. Nevertheless I did manage to meet some other people.

The conference was organized by two leading scientists in the field from Paris, from Institut Pasteur and Institut Curie, respectively. Most of the who's who in the field were there, including the "founder". It was very stimulating. It was reassuring to see my results fitting well in the current line of thinking.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon, and checked into our hotel in Rue Mouffetard, a very lively street close to the Pantheon. Anton, as an invited speaker, had been put up into another hotel. I was sharing a room with Dieter. After freshening up, we strolled towards the Pantheon-- the registration and welcome party was being held at the City Hall of the Ve arrondissement, opposite the Pantheon. We were among the first people to arrive.
The party was fun, also because we were a group, and so didn't feel lost, but then again, we never talked outside our group. Later, we went for a drink near St. Michel and actually ended up in a Mexican bar.
The conference started from Monday. The pre-lunch sessions were held in the Ecole Normale Superieure which is close to the Institut Curie. Rather crappy lunch at this college was followed by a long poster session at the Institut Curie and further talks there. There were three poster sessions, I was scheduled for Thursday.
We had dinner at an African place in the evening sans Anton (he reluctantly went for dinner organized by one of the organizers), and then went for a stroll to the Louvre complex, but after a while we split up and I went to Le Marais to meet a guy I had been talk to on the internet.

For Tuesday evening the organizers had arranged a Barge trip along the Seine. It was beautiful to see the lighted Eiffel Tower from the Seine. It was good fun. In the beginning I was hanging out with people from the lab, later on went to the top and talked to other people, especially Sebastien. By the time the trip ended, most of my colleagues were quite drunk, particularly Ruben. People still wanted to go for a drink and we planned to buy drinks for a supermarket near our hotel and sit on the square/roundabout there. But just as we were about to enter the supermarket, Neil, one of the big names in the field ran to us and suggested we join them at the (expensive) bar close by. Ruben was completely drunk since the barge, and he kept us amused with his antics. Afterwards we went to yet another bar along the street until it closed at 2 am.

Wednesday afternoon was free. Karen went shopping with a couple of girls Martin and Dieter had made friends with; and Dieter, Martin, Hiro, Tatsuya and I strolled around; went to the Arc di Triomphe, and walked back to the Louvre where we met Karen and Anton. The others went to the Louvre. I had been invited to dinner by Renaud and Christophe, my Couchsurfing hosts from my last visit.

Thursday was the last day of the conference, and it ended with a gala dinner at the Evolution Gallery of the Natural History Museum-- a grand setting. I hung out with Sebastien, for a large part of the evening, and then went to a bar near the hotel afterwards. I also met Damian, a colleague of Sebastien. Damian is Swiss-German and did his PhD on plant epigenetics. His current work is similar to mine, so we decided to meet the next day at Institut Pasteur to talk about our respective data. We left at 2 am.

We changed hotels on Friday, and Anton too moved into the second hotel close to the Jardin du Luxembourg. The weather wasn't great. Since I had some time in hand, I strolled to the Institut Pasteur and had lunch with Damian and Sebastien. The food at the Pasteur is great. After lunch and coffee (I required it!) Damian and I discussed work for around 3-4 hours and then at 6pm, we dragged Sebastien for a drink that turned into dinner. It was great fun chatting with them.
[Damian's work had not going great. After returning to Vienna, I sent him some of my data, he sent me some of their lab's... they didn't seem to match. And earlier this week, he told me that he was quitting the lab, and joining a company in Switzerland. That's a shame... it would have been so nice to continue this interaction.]

On Saturday Karen went shopping, Hiro's and Tatsuya's families were here since Friday, and so Anton, Dieter, Martin and I went to the Eiffel Tower. I had missed it during my last visit, but this time we climbed it. It's really a fantastic structure. I went quite crazy with my camera... and in this post I will inflict upon you some of the several shots I took. From there we walked to Arc di Triomphe because Anton wanted to see it. Then we split up as Anton wanted to go to Versailles and Dieter and Martin wanted to go shopping for presents for their respective girlfriends. I called up a guy I had talk to on the internet, and we strolled around Le Marais, went to a very interesting exhibition of arty stuff, browsed in a gay bookshop and had a drink at Open Cafe.
Later I strolled around in a huge supermarket near the Hotel de Ville.
We were supposed to go for an oyster dinner that evening. Although Ruben is supposedly allergic to sea food, he knew a seafood place and we went there. We had a huge tumbler full of oysters. They were ok, but I'm not crazy about oysters.

On Sunday morning, Martin and I went to Pere Lachaise. I had gone there during my last trip, but did buy a map and hence couldn't find Wilde's and a few other graves.
Later Martin joined the others at Pantheon, while I met up with this guy from yesterday and strolled around in the Jardin du Luxembourg and around the Pantheon.

The flight was in the afternoon, and rather eventless.

I really love Paris. It would be great to go back again, but I wouldn't go there for mere holidaying in the near future, considering that there are so many other places to go to. If Damian had stayed on in the Avner lab, there might have been scope for exchanging information, and reason for exchanging visits. Anton and Phil are in touch about our projects, but I don't see a reason for visiting Paris. Which is a pity.
But lets see...


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Writing Workshops

Vienna Lit is a new organization in Vienna that, in their own words, aims to provide a platform for live literature and the spoken word in English. They had organized a series of events a week ago, from Thursday through Saturday. These included four writing workshops (plus one for children) at the British Council. I attended all of them, and though I was disappointed that these workshops focussed much more on poetry than prose, I did have a great time, and gained some insight into poetry.
The first workshop was on Friday at 5 pm and so I rushed out early from the lab. I reached the British Council a bit late, but since only one other person was there, the workshop hadn't started yet.
The Sound of Poetic Sound was conducted by Anthony Joseph, and was probably the best one in the series. It is a pity that there were only two participants (well, Julia, the festival organizer participated for the first 20 min or so). As the title of his workshop suggests, Anthony emphasizes the importance of the sound words or phrases. He started off by asking us what were the stories behind our names. Both my first and last names do have interesting stories... and I tried getting away with that of my first name only, but he insisted that I relate the other story as well. He then asked us to pick up slips of paper with a word each and write down what taste, feel, sound, sight, memory do we associate the word with. Then we had to select a few of these associations and write four-five lines, and read them out. Unfortunately I don't have my write-up for this one (but I had written about the drone of a teacher teaching calculus and the wait for the bell to ring, and other stuff that I don't remember). The others immediately guessed that the word was "boredom".
The next task was to write an eight-sentence passage on anything without repeating a single word (not even articles). That was terribly difficult. I wrote:
A boy enters the room. His sister follows close behind. They stare around them, fascinated. He selects an interesting spot. She quickly does so too. What is in store for these two? Ah, wouldn't you like to know that? But I'm mean, won't say how this ends!
Then we were asked to randomize these words, so that mine became:
fascinated like ah the around is selects behind does I'm say sister spot too these she but follows for won't this his what an room close they mean he enters how so quickly wouldn't interesting a stare you store boy in them two know ends that to
We were asked to read it out, and the other participant (and he himself) was to write down groups of words that sounds interesting and/or beautiful. When Victoria, the other participant read out hers, I collected:
threadbare guardian
autumn leaf
only communicated
with they each beating
followed skeleton together
his became
only living hearts
We were to use these, add words wherever required, change tenses, cases-- whatever-- to write a poem. Mine was:
A Relationship
Threadbare guardian
His became.
Like an autumn leaf
Like life-followed skeletons;
Together, his became.
Only living hearts--
Each beating...
The others liked it-- the main purpose had been to create something that sounds nice and isn't entirely nonsensical, and I guess with a big or small stretch of imagination it could even make sense. In any case, the method was cool, and this was my first "poem" in something like 20 years. I do remember writing two or three childish ones when I was a kid.
The next workshop was on Saturday morning, at 10 am. I had gone dancing with Adam and Fabien at Why Not, and despite my resolutions had gotten back quite late, 2:30 am. Understandably, I was late for the workshop, nevertheless still before things had started properly.
The Voice Within was being conducted by John Siddique. Again, as the title suggests, the aim was to access one's "natural author's voice". The first exercise was to speak from the character's perspective. We were paired up and had to ask questions to our partners about themselves, take notes, and then introduce them as if we were them. That was interesting.
Among things he emphasized were
Never say what the author feels, don't make the reader emote. Rather show it.
Stay out of it, even if it has an "I" character.
As an example he gave us a poem:
My mother's old leather handbag,
crowded with letters she carried
all through the war. The smell
of my mother's handbag: mints
and lipstick and Coty powder.
The look of those letters, softened
and worn at the edges, opened
read, and refolded so often.
Letters from my father. Odour
of leather and powder, which ever
since then has meant womanliness,
and love, and anguish, and war.
-Ruth Fainlight
We were asked to write a few sentences about an object we associate with a person we love, and write a poem. I wrote about my brother's camera, but it didn't turn out to be satisfactory.
Dardis McNamee, professor of journalism and writing at Webster University, Vienna, conducted the next workshop on Literary Travel Writing. This was probably the most structured of all the workshops. She recommeded reading her favourite travel books, the ones that sound most interesting to me were William Dalrymple's In Xanadu and Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel. I don't remember reading much travel writing, but since I like to travel, and often try to maintain a travelogue I thought I'd do this workshop anyway.
Her tips were very interesting:
1. Learn about the place before and find out more while there. Have a knowledge of history. Keep in mind that history is the source of richness of the contemporary world. See things in light of their history. But do pay attention to the present.
Let loose the imaginative ability to see the manifestations of history in the present day.
2. Have a sense of wonder.
3. Quality of attention-- attention to details.
To go about the actual writing, she suggested,
1. Practise taking notes of a scene as if one is a set designer for a film. Key visual elements, colours, quality of light (recommended reading: books on painting and/or stage lighting), what is noticed first.
There are layers of perception. Pick out what is noticed first, what feels charming, what irritating.
2. Characters-- who do we think he is, why do we think this about him. Describe the people as with the setting.
3. Enter the scene and become involved. First person ("I walked into the room...") or first person invisible ("Entering the room...").
4. Little anecdotes of encounters. Conversations/dialogues, incidents etc.
5. The memories, experience etc that the scene stimulates one to think. Reflections, connections that one is reminded of from (a) history, or (b) personal experiences.
The last workshop was conducted by Peter Waugh on Place Writing Space. Peter is the co-founder of the poetry group Labyrinth, and it turned out that Ella from my theatre group used to go to this group. This workshop was about place, space and enviroment. He gave us a poem to illustrate two different places/spaces/environments in two parts of the same poem:
My Life in Two Parts
Outside my window is a row of poplars
growing from the turf of childhood.
Poplars grow in rows, never on their own.
It is Christmas. The sky is full of stars,
the branches are bare,
the wolves distant and menacing.
Now is the only time for oranges.
Their brisk fragrance fills the nails
as we lie in cold rooms high in the Balkans
dreaming of palm trees and the world.
Outside my window is a palm tree.
It is winter. The sky is enormous
and the ocean follows the moon.
Oranges are on the window-sill with other
tropical fruits no longer of interest.
Bright-plumed parakeets sway in the palm tree
and that's the only time I look up.
I lie in the low, stuffy rooms of adulthood
dreaming of poplars and the world.
Always, they come in rows.
-Kapka Kassabova (Someone Else's Life)
Next we were to write a similar poem describing two different times and space, yet somehow connected. My attempt was about the situation right there... a closed claustrophobic room where the workshops were being held versus the garden of the British Council where I went to write the poem:
A large well-lit room--
Scattered tables, white boards ahead.
Doors closed. "Stuffy" someone said.
Introductions-- there are seven of us.
Scribbling notes.
A task to be completed.
A lovely green lawn, a pleasant breeze--
Reddening autumn leaves on the wall ahead.
Flowers on the potted plants.
The sound of water from somewhere.
Judith at a distance writing her poem.
I guess my task is done.
Peter also told us about list poems and haikus. And our next task was to try them. I have a mental block against haikus, but nevertheless tried my hand at one. The concept of a list poem is interesting... taking a walk and making a list of things on a thing with short description, and then making a poem out of them. We were to go around in the British Council and do this.
I really did enjoy the workshops. Julia, the festival director had mentioned to me earlier that it had been extremely difficult to get the funding for this, and she isn't in a hurry to organize another such event, if at all. And that is a pity.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I have been tagged.
It has been quite a while, but I have been busy with this and that and as you see, I haven't been posting since three weeks. Which is a pity, as there is certainly a lot to blog about.

I am not a very social blogger, i.e., although I do browse other people's blogs and follow quite a few of these... I'm not big into leaving comments and developing friendships with bloggers. I do leave comments once in a while, and if fact I had been having a great discussion with Sebastien (the French guy I met in Paris)... but he doesn't know my blog and I comment anonymously (he knows it is me) because I wouldn't want him to see my blog because of my post on him! But anyways, since I don't comment a lot, and prefer to "lurk" on people's blogs, I have escaped being tagged... until recently.
The Visitor came across my blog via a comment I had left on Prash's, mentioned mine on his blog about blogs, has been visiting my blog with reasonable regularity, and has been commenting off and on too. And now has tagged me too. I am happy to oblige, albeit a couple of weeks late :-)
The direction is:
State nine things (weird or otherwise) about yourself. Then tag 6 others, and also let them know that you've tagged them by leaving a comment on their blog.
I will skip the second part, i.e., tagging others... simply because of the asocial reasons mentioned above, I don't know enough of others. So if there are visitors to my blog who'd like to pick up the tag, please write me a comment and feel free to accept it.
Ok, so here goes.
1. Despite all my endeavours, the Second Law of Thermodynamics plays a very important role in my life. Hey, don't run away, I'm not going to teach you Physics (after all I am a biologist, not a physicist!). Simply put, the said law posits that everything tends to chaos.
My desk. My flat. My lab bench. Doing the laundry. Cooking on weekends. Going to the gym. Correspondence/email. You name it, and if it is a part of my life, it tends to go towards chaos.
I do try to deal with it. I used to invite people over for lunch dinner quite regularly on weekends as that'd force me to clean up and cook. Couchsurfing was useful too, as having guests staying at my place means I have to clean up! I pay a whole year's membership for the gym so that I'd have more reason to go. And so on.
The silly thing is that when one thing starts to degenerate to chaos, everything else does so to. And I function terribly, at work at home, everywhere.
2. Procrastination is another thing that governs my life and is of course related to, and is in many ways the cause of, the above too. This is one thing I really wish I could change in my life. Things would be soooo much better without it.
3. My interests are just too diverse. In a way I am proud of this. My interests really range from almost everything to almost everything, and I'd look forward to newer ones. There are exceptions-- football, cricket et al. But these exceptions have exceptions too... I do enjoy watching important matches with friends or colleagues especially when there are supporters from both sides around. Anyways, but because of my interest in so many things, I don't get to stick to any of these properly. I shuttle from one to the other and leave the previous one unfinished. For example, I should really take some time out to go to the woods and photograph the autumn. Haven't been out on a proper photography tour (not tourist or social photography) for quite a long while. I should go hiking before it starts to get colder. I should write another article. I should read up on poetry. I participated in a few writing workshops last weekend (to be blogged), I am rehersing for a play that'll be performed next month. There are movies to be seen, a performance of The Glass Menagerie to be gone to. Music I have bought to be listened to. I have already bought (rather expensive) tickets for a performance of The Swan Lake for next weekend. The classical music appreciation cassettes to be listened to. Indian, French, Hungarian, German, Austrian, British, American, Iranian, Israeli, Turkish, EU expansion, immigration politics to be discussed. So many books to be read on so many things. And oh, I have to remind Fabien to explain the basics of String Theory to me.
4. I have blogged about this before: I don't like and consequently rarely drink tea, coffee or alcohol. Never smoke or take drugs. Nevertheless, I have an addictive personality. I am addicted to reading (previously it used to be books, now it is more what I get on the internet-- news, blogs etc. Books are quite under control). And I sometimes (though very occasionally) get addicted to some people.
5. I used to be very religious when I was a kid. First it was Hinduism, then it was religions and God in general. But gradually I became a full fledged atheist. The change took a couple of years but was imperceptible. I certainly was deeply religious when I was 13 as I remember discussing it (Hinduism) with a close friend. But I was a complete atheist by the time I was 17 and I remember writing to the same friend arguing against the existence of God and decrying religion.
I am a staunch believer in the importance of the concept of God for human psychology and society. And I think religion play a very important (constructive-- as well as the obvious destructive) role in the evolution of human society. Hence it is my firm policy never to try to convince a believer that God does not exist. Discussion/arguement for the sake of academic debate are fine.
I still retain an extreme interest in mythology, especially Hindu mythology.
I also love to tease very religious (Hindu) people with "inconsistencies" within the Gita. I also love Sanskrit, and can still quote quite a few shlokas.
6. I love to study people, their psychology and behaviour. It used to be so bad that I would mentally make predictions about how certain people would react under certain conditions, and would occasionally provoke those situations to test my predictions. I was really terrible. I rarely do that now. But I still like to study people. It has happened that friends have telephone me to ask for possible explanations of behaviours of friends/acquaintences/love interests of their friends.
I could not escape my own analyses as well, and that was actually good for me (see below).
7. Growing up as a gay kid, rather introverted, I used to get depressed quite often. However studying myself (this happened in Pune, Bangalore and to an extent in Tübingen), I could figure out exactly why I was depressed and why that was silly, why and how I should rectify it. It was as if I was looking at myself as a character in a novel or movie. Gradually my analyses/therapy on myself worked. And nowadays I rarely get depressed, rarely get angry. Disappointed yes, sad yes, scared yes, irritated yes, but not depressed nor angry [exceptions of the former include when I am in love, and of the latter when I am trying to buy a ticket from the Südbahnhof ticket counter... again both rare events].
A few years ago I was chatting with a gay psychiatrist on a gay website, and we happened to talk about this. He told me that they use a similar method in therapy called Cognitive Therapy. I had apparently used it on myself.
Whatever it was, I am quite happy about this.
8. I continue with the above theme. Every time I move, I change a bit of my personality. Initially it used to be subconscious, now I do it consciously. That is one of the reasons I actually look forward to moving.
9. At school we used to be taught social sciences in three sections-- Geography, History and Civics (Politics, government, society etc). I used to hate all of them, but soon after I didn't have to study them I started getting interested in them, and now I love them. I also used to dislike Biology. Now of course it is my career!
10. I'll add another bonus one to round off. I often describe myself as an incorrigible optimist with my feet firmly on the ground.
Interestingly, each of these points could form whole topics for future blogging!