Sunday, February 21, 2010


Entrepreneur of the year Awards.
New Delhi.

Ajinkya Girme stepped up to collect the next award, He was a tall man in his early thirties and wearing a slightly overused blazer, dark trousers and well polished shoes.His walk to the stage was slow, as if he was absorbing every moment on the way - maybe like how a debutant would walk to get his first Oscar. For people who knew Ajinkya well- this was his Oscar! He moved to the stage and collected the award from Mr Anil Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Infocomm. Ajinkya looked very overawed by the situation and seemed out of place, but as he spoke to the media and the crowd present at the event,  his inhibitions slowly shook off.

                   " I am really happy to be here in front of all of you today. Before I even start talking any more, I have to thank one person who got me on this stage here. Its Arun Jayaram. He is a software engineer working with an IT company in Pune and he was the guru who made me think differently, made me spread my wings,  gave me the dreams which I worked hard for, and got here.
                      Seven years back, I used to work as a security guard in an IT company. My role was pretty simple. Stand at the Wing B entrance, monitor who goes out and who comes in. I had studied upto the 12th Grade after situations forced me to accept whatever odd job came my way. Working my way up, I finally made it to be a security guard with Walsons Security Systems. It was a decent pay and a secure job with not a lot of hard work. This is where I first saw Arun Jayaram.
                    He was a software engineer with the company and his cubicle was just next to the door. Since I had a lot of free time and did not know how to use it, I used to observe people around me and I used to observe Arun too. Arun was a very meticulous worker, who had a routine when he came in to office. He would reach office at 9:30 am sharp and then connect his laptop and stare into the white board in front of him.
After about 5 minutes, He would write something on the whiteboard and then go wash his face and come back. Since I was literate, I could read his message. Everyday he would write down, how he wanted to grow in his work that day. how we wanted to do something new, something which makes him happy and makes the company benefit from him. Like some days he would write, Finish ordinary work in 4 hours and make my weekly new tool. Or he would write, Focus on product usability for home customers. Or sometimes something which even I could directly understand. -Work 200% for today, no breaks allowed.
                   I slowly started relating to his every day sayings. I used to observe him working also. He used to be completely focussed on his goal every single minute. Whenever he was tired, he used to put his head down and sleep for 2-3 mins and then get back to his work. I would walk past him and see how he sits, he talks to people. His office desk had a lot of awards, many of those were for Innovation and exemplary achievements.
                I used to ask Balu Shevate some of the doubts I had about the sayings. Balu was a diploma in mechanical engineering and used to work in a huge automobile company. He had an understanding of the market and the company. He used to explain what Arun's whiteboard meant. I started thinking in my free time, what do I want to do in life. Am I just going to be a security guard all my life or will I do something more in life. I was moderately educated and I should not be cursing my family background for my situation.
Can I also ' do more, do something new, do something that makes me happy.' I decided that I can definitely do something about my life. I started getting old English textbooks that I procured from the local Raddi store.
I started reading while I was sitting, waiting for the door to open and while I noted down every employee's name passing by. My medium of education was vernacular and I was determined to know the language more.
Somedays I used to wish Arun Good morning, and some days I would ask him, How are you? . He was pleasantly surprised but would always reply with a wide smile.  I used to look at his neatly arranged desk and see the books he used to refer to. I wrote down the names of the books on a piece of paper, and asked Balu.
Balu told me that these books were about motivating oneself and becoming more successful. I started thinking   how can I become more successful.  One of the days, the message on his whiteboard was ' Focus on your strengths, and enhance them further'.  I wrote down the words in my notebook and referred a Marathi- English dictionary and understood completely what he meant. I tried to ask people around me, what I was good at. My mother said, I was a very bright child and I would always come up with simple ideas for complicated problems - like how once I used a huge knife to cut the palm tree branch and make a cricket bat for my brother. - how I made a greeting card from cut outs of wedding cards thrown outside the local marriage hall - my friends told me how I used to be the first person to approach the police mama with a creative lie to get off with a meagre fine for triple ride on a Luna. My brother told me that you have a knack of creating something new, of coming up with simple solutions for complex problems, you can sense the root of the problem and then apply your mind. I smiled. And I started dreaming. Probably those awards at Arun's desk can be mine too. For the next 2 weeks, I did not see Arun. I never talked to him more than the 2-3 lines of English, and did not know his phone number. I so wanted to call him and ask him where he was, and when would he come back.
               After two weeks, he returned, and I was overjoyed to see him. I greeted him with a ' Hope everything is fine with you' He smiled and said. 'Oh yes, I got married. And was away on a trip'. I said. 'Very Nice. Congratulations to you and Mrs.' He thanked me. That day he wrote on his whiteboard. - If you have started dreaming, - its good, its the first step to making it come true-.  I felt great that day. He was speaking my mind. He had sowed the seeds of a dream in me, and I was going to make it come true. Now, my English was getting better, I used to speak to Balu and Rajaram in English and also used to talk to Saxena saab, in English. My father used to drive Saxena Saab's car. While all this was happening, I did not lose track of my primary role as a security guard. I used to interact with all employees in English and speak random lines in English. Everyone started knowing me as Girme- The english speaking guard.
                In my off time, I started work as an apprentice at Shah Fabricators near my house. Since my shift in office was 7 am - 3pm. I could work from 4- 11pm. Ajaybhai Shah used to value my father very much and agreed to my request to take me in his firm. Of course, the money he paid me was pittance. Much lesser than what I got as a security guard. But I did not mind. I started understanding the nuances of Steel fabrication and also started involving myself in Glass and Mirror works. I learnt fast and I used to accompany his carpenter to some sites. Seeing the different ideas I had in the field, I started getting a little more money. I also enrolled in a part time diploma course in mechanical engineering. All this while, I used to keep observing Arun and his ways and the whiteboard. One of the days, he had a message - Am down but not out. I read it and asked him- Sir? Feeling low? He was shocked and said. Yes! How did you know?
I pointed to his whiteboard. He smiled and said - Yes that is right. But I am not going to lose it. Its tough, But I am tougher. This was very helpful for me in my struggle to work and study. I used to cycle at full speed and report for my 7 am duty and rush out at 3:05 pm for my work and study. In one year, I had now become a permanent Junior Fabricator at Shah Fabricators.
                  Soon the big day in my life came by. I was at a site where a new bungalow needed to be done. Since the contact was a big name, there were 2-3 architects also at the place. Shahbhai  was famous in his work which is why, he had been asked to come with his boys for assistance.There was a problem with the client's terrace. He wanted a swing, but he did not want to use up a lot of space. The architects suggested a frame and a cane swing and different other ideas, but the client was not so happy. I don't know what happened, but I just started speaking about an idea. I did not think whether I should have spoken or not. I said- why not a walking stick kind of a frame against the pillar and then hang the swing. It won't consume a lot of space and since I had a knowledge of fabrication - I knew it would look good. Everyone turned to look at me. I was scared for some time. The client started looking in the air and drawing lines in free space and closing his eyes. He kept thinking and drawing more lines. He opened his eyes and looked around the terrace.
After 2-3 minutes, he smiled and said. 'That is a very nice idea - I really like it. In all ways it works out good, I want to see sketches of this idea. '  The architect gulped a glassful of air. She looked at me - first as if I just stole her thunder, and then with an encouraging smile.
              The next day Ajaybhai called me aside and told me that he had got a call from the architect in the morning. She wanted me to assist her in her own firm. I did not know how to react. The next evening, she came and talked to me, she told me that she saw a spark in me and wanted me to assist her in her enterprise.
She said, but you'd have to leave your job as a security guard. I told her, I was ready only if she pays me as much as my salary as the security guard. She smiled. That indicated an affirmative.
           The next day, I met Arun sir for the last time in my life. I told him that I was leaving the job to join an architect firm and I thanked him. I told him that I had created an email address with the help of Balu - and I wanted him to email me his whiteboard lines every day. I requested him to please do this for me. He was very surprised and did not know what I had requested. Since he had seen me around for a long time and I had always smiled and talked well with him, he did not refuse. Thank god.
         Every day I used to accompany Sudhir to the nearby cybercafe and pay 15 rupees for half an hour to check my email. I used to reply to Arun email and thank him for the effort he would take. We would share 7.5 rupees and would ask Sudhir to use the internet also. He would watch pictures of Bollywood heroines and be happy. I worked with architect Gina Mendes for 5 years. Because she was famous, I got a lot of visibility. Her firm used to do the big offices, banks, houses and hotels. For almost 3 and a half years, almost regularly, I used to get an email from Arun. It kept me moving. After some time, I did not get any mails from him, but kept thinking about how, he would spend his day, achieve his goal and worked harder than before.
            After 5 years, I now felt I can start slowly on my own. I started my firm in a small unused garage. And slowly moved up. I worked 20 hours a day meeting people, studying their needs, researching on the problems , creating solutions. I had 2 workers with me. 1 year later, I stand here in front of you  - a proud owner of Ajinkya Associates with a workforce of 36 people and a brand name in Pimpri Pune. Every one needs to find their own Dronacharya. I found mine and I would be indebted to him the entire life."

                    "Arun! Arun! where are you??   , oh there you are! reading in the terrace. I kept looking for you all over.Oh! what happened, why are you crying? You have tears in your eyes. What happened?
I  handed over a newspaper to my wife, and pointed to full page article in the Times of India., She read the article, kissed me on the forehead and picked up the empty cup of tea and walked away.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The UAE Tour (26th September 2009 - 4th October 2009)

This tour was a sole result of the imaginative minds of two indivduals who dream even they are awake!   One August night, Deepti and I were just talking about a vacation - a short one - somewhere around Maharashtra. Soon we both started climbing the flights of fantasy and moved on to Kerala. Every time, we would think of a destination,  Both of us were already there,  seeing the place, buying stuff, enjoying the beautiful landscapes. It would normally take a while for us to realize the effects of the spell - Then we would think of a new place and dream on. Kerala soon was out of the window and we started zeroing in on Thailand!  Yeah! Do dreams have boundaries (national or international) ? Then even before the research started, Both of us were already lounging in the sand on Pattaya, Phuket beaches. Soon the research followed and we realized that September is a rainy, wet month in Thailand. Aah! Now what?

Then a bolt of lightning struck us. I have a cousin in Sharjah. Why not make a trip to his place? Then we can see Dubai too!! That is it, another episode followed, we were on the beaches, the huge buildings and the desert. Now nothing could stop us. My cousin's agreement to our plans boosted our spirits further.
And our research followed. Days and Days of Googling (Thank you Larry and Sergey), and we were ready with a tour plan. The following is an account of how it materialized.

Day 1 : 26th September 2009.

We were scheduled for a 2:45 PM Air India flight from Mumbai to Dubai. I was very excited since it was my first trip abroad, Deepti was jumping with joy too - her list of destinations visited abroad would now have a new name - UAE!  We had hired a K.K Travels car to pick us up from home at 8:00 am. The time was 9:00 am and no one was to be seen. The thrill had begun early. Then after some more time, Raosaheb (what a royal name!)  came to pick us up. Raosaheb was our driver.I like observing people around me and their mannerisms - and the more they differ from the mean, the more you remember them. One such person was Jaykumar (Name changed to protect identities ☺ ). Jaykumar was  'healthy', intelligent, uber confident and a hard taskmaster. He got into Raosaheb's mind and reminded him every nano second how late he was, and how he should now rush. And when Raosaheb tried to rush, he missed turns, entered No-entries. This made JK's blood boil further. We just smiled at each other and enjoyed the JK show. After all - we shared JK's cause. The next guy in our share-a-car was a Captain from the Army , the exact oppposite of our dude JK. Calm , composed even though he had a flight at 1:20pm and it was already 9 45 when we picked him up. Raosaheb tried a lot, but could just not get into JK's good books. Wonder if he carried a good book? Finally - to cut the crap-  Sorry JK,  We reached the airport just in time to check-in our bags. It is here we learnt our first overseas travel lesson -

We converted 30 Grand of Indian Currency to UAE dirhams and felt satisfied of staying ahead of the game. We were prepared even before the race began. We realized later, at the Dubai airport that we could have got more Dirhams if we'd have converted currency there!  Sour grapes! - So what! lessons are expensive sometimes isn't it? We paid for it. Our flight journey was not eventful. Do middle-aged air hostesses make you turn your head at all?  After some movie and music and decent food- We landed at the Dubai airport. This was a special feeling for me. We had landed at a foreign land. I was going to set foot on my first piece of land outside India.

The airport was majestic and gave us the first taste of the grandeur of Dubai. There were palm trees and a sea of escalators and huge chandeliers. My cousin was waiting for me and then we started the taxi ride from Dubai to Sharjah. The distance between Dubai and Sharjah is about 17km and the roads are so awesomely wide and smooth, You could reach in 10 minutes in a free flow. We just sat and soaked in the view. Tall buildings, Buildings of all shapes, mosques, fantastic sports cars, flyovers and gardens gave us a super feel of a cosmopolitan city. We reached his house, changed clothes and set out on our first destination.- The Sharjah Aquarium.

Sharjah Aquarium:

Sharjah Aquarium with Suri Ettan & Gayathri
This was a beautiful aquarium, with hundreds of different species of colorful aquatic life. Some flat headed ray fishes, some round and ugly, some huge. It was a great place. The underwater tunnel concept was lovely. We could see huge fishes above us, just on the ceiling of the glass. Thank god for the high strength glass. After which we went to the Central Souq. Souq - means market. Central Souq is a famous market in Sharjah. And this adjoins the corniche - Corniche means a Sea / beach on one side and a garden on the other. The corniche is a great view. A kind of a place where friends can meet over a cup of coffee or a sandwich. The Central souq was like a Pune mall,  lot of shops big and small. Many entrances. But still this was called just a Souq (just a market?) and not a mall. We wondered why!  We were to find out some days later.
We hogged on home-cooked dinner and slept off right away. Tomorrow was to be a big day and we were tired from the journey. Sleep like always cuddled into my arms instantly.

Day 2: 27th September 2009

Abu Dhabi:

We hired a car to take us to places far off from Sharjah. The places that we had identified were - Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain, Fujairah. At 9 sharp, the driver called us and we went down and located him. Another best part about the stay was that, my cousin, bhabhi and their little 5 year old kid would leave the house before 8 am, for work, school etc and would give us a spare key. Due to this, we got a hotel kind of a feeling - exclusive and private. Our rented car was a Toyota Corolla and the driver owned that car. Wow! Our journey to Abu Dhabi began. The distance from Sharjah to Abu Dhabhi is about 240 km. And the journey took about 2 odd hours. The ride was amazingly smooth on the freeway. This is when we saw all the super big cars. We saw a Porshe Cayenne, Infinity FX 35, 50 , BMWs, Mercs, Range Rovers, Path Finders and Land Cruisers.
Most of the cars were huge SUVs, and a few sedans. There was just a single hatchback brand that we saw on our entire trip. A Toyota Yaris - equivalent of an Indian Hyundai Santro.

Our first stop at Abu Dhabhi was the Grand Mosque. We got there close to 12, and the weather was pretty sultry. We were just thinking how hot it would have been in the months of June-July. Luckily we got in, since the mosque was to close for prayers at 12pm. And a Grand Mosque it was!!  The carpets in the mosque were supposedly imported from Iran. The ceiling was as good as any we have seen. It had huge chandeliers hanging from a majestic height. The interiors of the mosque aptly justified the name of the Mosque. It was Grand in the truest sense of the word. This is the first mosque Deepti had visited, and the second for me. She also got to wear the Abaya  - the traditional black Arab dress worn by the women. It was funny to see the foreigners, some Japanese folk who came in super tiny shorts but then had to change to the Abaya to get in. The mosque was also super cool, a stark contrast to the heat outside. The loos were really far off from the main area of the mosque, but were very artistic and beautiful too.

After a religious start to our day, we next started searching for Al-Hosn palace, our marked destination before we had set off. We went round and round in circles for a long time, but could not locate it. Even a missed turn and we had to go around the entire street to return. Finally we found it and it was very below par. 'Tai Tai Fish' . The palace was not only under renovation, but even what we saw was not even worth capturing with our cameras.And there was also a museum close to the palace, but this was in the list of 'Things we Hate' for both of us. By this time, our stomachs had started the growl marathon, and we had to find a place to eat. Then in one of the lanes, we found  The Airlines Hotel  . This was where Deepti started calling the land - Mallu Land. Oh ya!, I forgot to mention - our driver was a Mallu - yarab. The theme song for him was - Ya ali , Yarab Ali ☺☺. Back to where we were - The Airlines hotel also had Mallu food and Mallu waiters. She was amazed at how easily I could ' balbalballoo'  (her interpretation) away and get things done.
This was our first food stop outside. After some burps, we went to the Marina Mall.  The first mall we saw in the UAE and it was Huuuuuuuuuuge!  There was a North entrance, South Entrance etc. and we wondered why are there so many entrances. We got lost in the vast areas multiple times.The names of the brands in the mall, were a new lesson in Brandology . "Burberry, Dior, Fendi, Iceberg, Roberto Cavalli, Rodeo Drive, Ralph Lauren, Tatuum, Rage Bike shop, La Martina" were just some of the exorbitantly priced brands where would we just get in to get a feel of the place, see the price tag, sigh and come out. And how I used to think - Nike, Adidas and Reebok, Lee, Levi, Woodland is almost everything in brands. This was when we had no understanding of the map culture. We realized later that every mall has a Map of all possible kinds of shops grouped together into all possible categories and neat diagrams of their locations. This is some knowledge that we used to great effect in our future Mall Travels.

After this, we visited the Abu Dhabi Corniche. It was a wonderful sight to stand by the sea and watch the blue waters, luxurious yachts, water scooters all against a rich sky scrapered background. The look was straight out of a Hollywood movie. We spent some good time sitting and savoring the view. One of the views looked like Melbourne from my favorite movie - Dil Chahta Hai. I also sang the song ' Jaane Kyu log pyaar karte hai' against the backdrop. Felt real joy.

By this time, it was already 6 pm local time and the sun had set. We then visited the Abu Dhabi Mall. The oldest and the biggest mall in Abu Dhabi. We were soon getting used to the -est- culture. Everything was either the biggest or largest or oldest or prettiest or fastest. ☺. This truly was the land of the superlatives.After visiting some more shops in the mall, we took the long drive home.We were very tired after a real long day and were famished too. We hogged on some very tasty home made food - Thank you Seema chechi - and crashed immediately. Our mantra in the UAE was soon to be called - Eat like a dog, Sleep like a log. Deepti forgot her low carb diet and we dropped dead at 12 am.

Day 3: 28th September 2009

A Brand new day - And our next destination was Khor Fakkan, Khor Kalba and Fujairah.  Our Googling research told us that these places on the east coast of the UAE (Dubai and Sharjah being on the West Coast) is a wonderful site for clear blue waters and the site where almost all of the water sports and snorkelling takes place. But, our reactions were mixed. To  start with, the driver Yarab, got along a fellow passenger - without telling us- and had bought Heineken cans, a Handycam etc. Was he going for a picnic or were we? This was a drive to a very remote part of UAE, where human civilization is not so easy to find and now we have to contend with not one but two strangers. Deepti was a little worried and this time, we both took turns in sleeping. Not for one moment did we both sleep. We did have my cousin calling frequently and asking us to call 999 in case of any mischief. Thankfully we did not need to. We reached the Khor Fakkan beach at about 12 pm.The place was very picturesque but our timing was not good. It was Noon and hot. And since Deepti couldn't swim and would'nt snorkel, I gave up that idea too. The waters were blue like how a painter would paint the sea. The corniche was prettier than Abu Dhabi but less cosmopolitan. The horizon was made up of only water and no tall buildings. We then visited the Fujairah Fort and Museum. This was an ordinary sight, for we can find much better forts in India. The museum was decent.

By now, our stomachs spoke the language we knew very well. The hunger pangs language. We moved round and round the area for a decent vegetarian stop, and finally found Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut and McDonalds proved to be our best companions during the tour. This was the most economical place to find sure shot vegetarian food. We ate to our heart's content and moved to our next stop -Khor Kalba - known to be the home of the rare white breasted king fisher bird and the most northern area to spot mangrove forests in the world. This was a great view. We saw the mangrove forests in the inland sea, but could not find the birds. We could have, if we hired a local boat guided by local fishermen,  but the driver and his friend advised against it. Since the area was very remote and the inland sea extended quite a bit. We clicked pictures and videos of live snails and jumping fishes and left from there.

After this we headed towards Dubai. It was evening time and by the time we reached Dubai - It was about 7:30pm. Our plan was to take the cable car across the Dubai Creek, but the cable car was not functioning due to more winds that day, We then moved to the Hyper Panda Mall,  and by now we were very comfortable with the Mall shopping. We looked at the map - chose the areas to visit and did some channelized shopping - rather viewing. Oh yes! Deepti bought some gifts from here. She also bought herself a pretty, girly, colorful pen drive. Next we went to Dragon Mart. Situated in the International City in Dubai - this is a mart where you'd get all Chinese items under the sun - except the people. Different phones, gadgets and electronic items - which were weirdly colorful and cheap. The variety of things to be found here was staggering. We would have stayed more, but we had to head home, The next hour or so was not new. Hog and Drop! We had a long day coming up.

Day 4: 29th September 2009

The Dubai Mall

The previous night, we had called up the driver and categorically told him to not get any fellow passengers. In the morning, he did not pick up his phone and after a while it was switched off. Probably he did not like our comment the previous night! Bah!, But that put our Al-Ain plans out of place. This is where, Suri Ettan calmly told us -"So what if the driver did not come, I ll arrange one for tomorrow, Today you take a self tour of the Dubai City." He gave us the bus numbers, informations about the taxis, the landmarks and the fares. He told us to head to Dubai Mall first and gave us some more destinations to visit. Where did he know or even we know that this one place would fill the day completely. ☺

We took a taxi to get to the nearest Bus stand. The taxi like all other vehicles was a grand sedan. Very comfortable and cool. I wondered if the drivers have the best job in this hot sultry country. Then we took a Double decker bus to our next destination. We sat in the top tier and loved the ride. We saw golf courses, skyscrapers and a sea of interwining roads. The journey was long. but we did not mind it one bit. From our next stop, we took another taxi to alight at the Dubai Mall - The biggest mall in the world. This mall had an aquarium and an underwater zoo. WOW! Can you call this a mall?  We first saw the underwater aquarium and the zoo. This aquarium was better than the Sharjah aquarium.There were giant sharks and some other huge fishes. The underwater zoo was a great view too. We found the 'Finding Nemo'. fish tank which had Dory and Nemo and Bloat. Was fun to watch. Also watched some really ugly species of penguins and a lot of other animals. We also took a ride on the glass bottom boat. We could see the fishes and aquatic life right below our feet. Great new experience. Food was again with our friend - McDonalds. For a budget struck vegetarian - this was a boon.We also saw a pair of jeans from some brand called Lafayette which touched 4 figures in Dirhams!! That was astounding. 1200 Dirhams means 15600 in Indian Rupees. The pair of jeans did not look that inviting too. Sour Grapes maybe!

Our next few hours resulted in the moment of extreme happiness for Deepti. We bought the Panasonic DMC FZ 28 Digital camera from Jacky Electronics at the mall. But it was not easy. It meant conferencing Rajesh and Zuber and talking for about an hour discussing the good and the bad of buying the camera from there. Inspite of the cunning salesman who was trying to spoil the deal, we eventually got a good deal. The salesman had lured us with an extra memory card which was actually not a part of the deal. When the store manager demanded that back, Deepti 's face made an awesome inverted smile and he let us keep it. The power of Expressions! The next few minutes -  Deepti was walking on air, and her smile lit the Dubai Mall beyond the already super bright surroundings. After the camera conquest, we stepped out of the Dubai Mall at about 7:30 pm. After some 9-10 hours of the marathon mall experience, we had stepped out feeling absolutely exhausted but happy. We were delighted to know that there was a fountain show with lights and the best part was that it was free!. The show was ordinary, not out of the world. I have seen more creativity at the local Ganpati pandals.But the area where the fountain show was held was a dream place.
On one side was the Burj Dubai - The tallest manmade structure on Earth is 818 metres high and can sprain even a giraffe's neck and the other side was a beautiful building which we mistook for the Burj Al Arab - The most expensive hotel on earth! But it wasn't. Was some other building. Nevertheless, we were in total awe of the place and started our return journey back to Sharjah.

8 pm is a peak traffic time in Dubai and we got into a taxi from the Dubai Mall to the Bur Dubai bus terminus from where we would take a bus to Sharjah. Our driver was a Pakistani - He was very good natured and gentle, Initially he mentioned that 'we' (Pakistan) managed to beat 'you' (India) in the Champions Trophy. I did not say anything much, We were in an unknown land and it was not a good time to pick up the patriotism and nationality conversations. But he was warm and shared a lot of information about the city. He also stopped and helped us cross the road to the Bur Dubai bus stand. Perhaps he was sending the message that, our perception of a Pakistani should not be universal. We felt touched. Then we got into the double decker bus and headed home. We were seated in the front seat of the top tier and enjoyed the journey even though it was in heavy traffic conditions. It was difficult to get an idea of the turning radius of the bus or the closeness to other vehicles, because of the huge size of the bus. We almost thought, our monster bus was giving birth to small cars. This was because every few minutes, we would feel a car is coming out from underneath our bus. ☺. We reached home at about 10:30 pm local time - somewhat our time to return every day. This made it difficult to talk to folks back home coz, it would be 12 am there. Deepti still managed to talk to her father and grandmother. From then on, we 'd call our folks in the morning before we left for our tour.

Day 5: 30th September 2009

Al Ain

The following day, our driver made his appearance and we took the scheduled trip to Al Ain. The sites at Al Ain were an Oasis, A zoo and the Jebel Hafeet mountains.The drive to Al Ain was completely cutting through the desert. We were zooming on the highway with the desert on both sides. This was our first look of a desert. We were to see more of the desert in the days to come. After some hours of smooth driving we reached the Hili Oasis.  This was a maze of roads with hundreds of palm trees and a rare sight in that area - shade. The area was cooler compared to the heat of the surroundings. There were also some water canals  in the oasis. This was a good sight, but for a Mallu like me, hundreds of coconut trees and a lot of shade in Kerala seemed a similar scene.Then we stumbled upon the Al Ain oasis, the one we wanted to see. This was similar to the Hili oasis, but for more signboards. After this we had food at (Guess!) ... ☺ Mcdonalds! and headed to the Al Ain zoo.

The Al Ain zoo is a huge area of land. Again there was a map of areas with different animals. We first headed to Deepti's second love - Birds. This is where she used the new camera to great effect.She got some great shots of the birds. It was very hot in the afternoon and to walk in the sun took its toll on Deepti. We did not see as many animals that we had set out to see, but did sit on a toy train to ride a bit around the zoo. It was really very ordinary. Much like a Matheran phoolrani. We got some awesome giraffe pics with the new camera. One pic had its long tongue jutting out.Our driver did not seem to have the same enthusiasm about the animals and kept calling us. This and the heat blew Deepti off. In the mean time, we did see some interesting reptiles and a turtle pair in a scintillating intercourse.I wanted to see the zebra but that area was closed that day.After some hours at the zoo, we traveled to our next destination.

The Jebel Hafeet mountain was atop a long winding road which though ascending steadily- was flawless in terms of road construction and markings. It is commendable on the part of the RTA - The Road and Transport Authority in UAE to have clean, smooth, divider roads all across the width and breadth of the UAE, whether it was a desert or the mountain.Cheers!. The mountain was a truly grand site. Easily in the top three sites in UAE for me. The golden mountains colored by the setting sun resembled the scene from Makenna' Gold - An old Hollywood movie.Got a great view of the sun ready to shut his shop for the day.The drive back home was like traveling in a dark, 100 km long tunnel. This was because there was just the desert of both sides and our car cutting through it. We were traveling at a speed of 120kmph, but it did not feel that much because of the big car and smooth roads. We also saw that only Dubai is big, rich and grandiose. The other parts are small, but culturally very beautiful.This was the last of the days with our driver and in spite of his absence the previous day, I gave him a tip, though he did not expect it. I don't know why, but - like the Pakistani driver - I wanted him to treat a Mallu tourist well, in the future.

Day 6: 1st October 2009.

Palm Jumeirah and the Desert Safari

We had seen all of the far-off places by now and we were all set to explore the extremely cosmopolitan area of the Jumeirah Beach and surroundings. We were also comfortable with the taxi and the bus rides and had started recognizing landmarks. In some areas, instead of a bus ticket, you have to buy a Red card, which can be shown at the entry of the bus and much like a PrePaid card, can be used again on future journeys.At the Bur Dubai bus stand, there was some problem with the machine that generates the Red cards, so the guy there told us to get into the bus without it. We were wondering what to do, when the driver said that the ride is free!! This was awesome. Just because it was their fault in not having the machine operational, they gave us a free ride. WOW! Cool!. In the bus, we met a fellow passenger who had to go to Atlantis hotel and we decided to share a taxi since that was one of our areas to see too.

We got down and hired a taxi as though we were together and shared the cost and saved 10 Dirhams. Atlantis is a majestic hotel and is rumoured to be one of the few sites which never hit a slowdown in spite of the recession. Money just flowed in for the construction and it showed. The lobby and the adjoining areas were very royal. We could not explore much coz, the other parts were open only to the guests who lived there. So we could not see the the rooms which were actually under water. But we did click photos of the Lost chambers - an aquarium even bigger than the one at the Dubai mall.

Our next stop was the Jumeirah Beach.This was the
cosmopolitan beach we were waiting to see. It looked like a beach in the US, with women sun bathing with their small nothings on. The white waves and the Burj Al Arab hotel to the side was the biggest out of India experience. The hotel looked stunning in the middle of the sea and though we chose not to take a tour inside, we clicked some photographs with the hotel in the background. This location is the signature shot of any Dubai calendar or postcard or tour guide.Deepti also collected some sea shells from the beach.

After this we were scheduled for a Desert Safari ride. We asked them to pick us up from the Mall of the Emirates. Another upmarket mall. This gave us a chance to see another big mall. We spent some time at the mall, eating and seeing some areas. This mall also has the Ski Dubai. An artifical snow land with snow rides and skating experiences. We did not enter this area, just saw how it looked from the outside.
By now, it was time for driver of One World tours to pick us up for the Desert Safari. The driver was an Arab- named Aziz. - our first close encounter with an Arab. He was a tall dude, good looking, in the traditional white dress and head gear and driving a Toyota Landcruiser. He took us to the desert from where our ride would begin. On the way he picked up a Bengali family of four who were on a tour too. Aziz then started this story of how the desert safari makes people puke and how people have to pay a lot of money if they do puke in the car. He also said, that he ll try his best to make everyone puke. His sarcastic humor really scared the Bong uncle who now wanted to go home. Aziz kept mentioning how the ride can mess up people's stomachs. By the time we reached the place, the family wanted to just go back. The desert safari began. There was a group of One World Tours  cars which followed each other through the sand dunes. We went up and down and skid sideways in the sand. Apart from one heart in the mouth moment, when the driver plunged his car down the sand, the ride was pretty smooth. We then stopped at a point to click sunset pictures with the desert filling the horizon in all directions.We were in the middle of the desert and looking at the sun setting. This sight is not an everyday sight and we just were too amazed to speak. I started singing the Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam song Jhonka hawa ka Aaj bhi  while viewing the spectacular sight. After the sunset, we drove to their camp. Here we were offered a welcome drink, tea and coffee and some snacks. There were seats to relax. After a while a belly dancer came into our midst and start wriggling her belly to the tune of some nice Arab music. The lady was a little old, probably why I was not leering at her, as much as some middle aged men were. In fact one of the men found a strong liking for the women's body and remained close to her till she finished her performance.We also had food during this performance and also clicked snaps in the traditional Arab costume. Good memories to savor.

After our desert safari,Aziz dropped us home.We spent some good time talking to my cousin, bhabhi and the kid and then slept off.

Day 7: 2nd October 2009

Dragon Mart, Ibn Batoota Mall and the Metro

This was a Friday, when everyone at home had a holiday. After days of roaming around on our own, we were now going out on a family picnic. Suri Ettan, Seema Chechi, Gayatri, Deepti and I ventured out to Dragon Mart first. This was a place which we had seen partly seen on our way back from Fujairah and we lured my cousin to come, see the place too. It took us a while to reach the place after switching taxis.
We reached the place at about 11am. That is when we saw the mall timings. On Fridays, it opens at 2pm. Arr!! Now what! Our next stop was really far from Dragon Mart. We then found that the super market is the only place open. The actual shops would open at 2. We decided to stay around. It was a huge supermarket (Wasn't it obvious?). We looked around and bought some chocolates and dates. Then sat and snacked a bit, talked a bit. Time flew away fast and it was soon 2 pm. We explored the China Market to its fullest. Bought some bright, cheap phones and music players for people back home. It was tough for Gayatri to remain steady. She would become very restless when we would enter a shop and be there for a long time. A kid would not understand the fun in shopping. These are not just Deepti's words, they are mine too. But we know that soon she ll grow up to be someone who'd enjoy shopping like any girl would do. ☺. After a delayed lunch, we headed to the Rashidiya Metro station, from where we would travel by a Metro train. The Metro services had started in Dubai, very recently on 9/9/9. 9th of September 2009. And since it was just 3 odd weeks since, it was still a relatively new experience for most people there too. And we realized this from the ticket counters, and the setup in place. We could sense the newness in the staff still coming to terms with the various areas in administration and management of a new transport system. We took a ticket to Nakheel Harbour,  the furthest station on the Metro line yet. The journey was a new experience in land travel. We went under the ground and also above the ground during our journey. While we were above, we could directly look down at the city roads and the cars and buildings.When underground, it was just like a tunnel.After 10-12 odd stations, we alighted at Nakheel Harbour.

The reason we got down at the Nakheel Harbour was because of one of the taxi drivers mentioning the Ibn Batoota Mall, which is famous for its sky like ceilings. That is it. That is all we had to hear to embark on this destination. And though it was not in the list of places to see- when we left for the UAE, we were not disappointed at all.This mall was different from the other malls we had seen so far.It was grouped into various courts - The China Court, The Egypt Court, The Indian, Tunisian and the Andalusian courts. And each of the courts had a unique setting that brilliantly described the place. The China court had Chinese kind of architecture, it also had a huge dome - painted probably in a Chinese style. The colors of the walls and ceiling was more Red than any other color. Then we moved on to the India Court. This place also had a huge dome and a giant sized elephant with a king sitting atop it. Then we entered the Egypt court and this is where we saw the sky ceiling. The ceiling was colored white and sky blue and we almost felt it was open.
The walls were adorned with paintings of Pharaohs and palm trees. By this time, bhabhi was also getting a little tired and frustrated with the aimless walking and shopping. We can't blame them, even though we had gained a lot of experience in roaming gigantic malls, we were tired too. Probably our enthusiasm of seeing a new place and country was giving us the extra drive. Just when we were to spot an exit and get out, We saw a sign which read out SKY Dubai. It was a hot air balloon ride. Yahoo!. This was a very lucky find. We zipped to the ticket place with new found zeal. It was a huge air balloon and we started ascending slowly into the air. The view of the Dubai city from the top was magnificent. With the lights, the night life of Dubai looked glamorous. It was not scary or racy at all, Just a slow ascent and a slow descent. It was a new 15 minute experience. And we love soaking in new experiences. And this tour gave us many of those. After another Metro, bus, taxi journey we met another of my cousin - Biju ettan, who works in Cairo but was in the UAE for some days on official duty. We had dinner at an Indian vegetarian hotel called Woodland and reached home and crashed.

Day 8: 3rd October 2009

This was our first relax singh day on the trip.This was also the day, when we were to leave back to India. This day, we got up without a plan to wake us up. We got up without the sound of the alarm, had a nice slow breakfast,watched a bit of TV and chatted with my cousins. And after an equally lavish and delicious lunch, we set out to the local market, bought an MP4 player for my brother, some talcum powders, creams, shampoos for parents and some more chocolates.Deepti also bought some stoles for friends back home. By the time we were back, we did not have a lot of time. We just had a quick snack and packed our new purchases and left for the airport. The Air India flight to Mumbai was at 11:20 PM from Dubai and we reached Dubai by 7:30 PM. After we checked in our baggages, we had our dinner at the airport. Suri ettan had packed Rotis and Palak sabzee, which tasted very good. After this also, we had a lot of time on our hands. All that time flew when we got into the Duty Free shops at the airport. We had exhausted all our Dirhams and converted some Indian money into Dirhams and shopped a bit more. The place had a lot of exquisite chocolates, most of the flavors which Deepti recognized instantly and we bought some of those. Soon it was time to bid Dubai and the Tour of the UAE goodbye. It was time to board our flight back home. We were very satisfied with our trip. The trip was fulfilling and gave us all the elements that we had dreamt about, before we took off to Dubai and much more - The beach, the desert, the mountains, the grand malls and hotels, the metro, some adventure with the hot air balloon, the oasis, the zoo, the corniches and aquariums and the mosque. We loved the trip completely and vowed to capture these experiences in a Travelogue. We are glad that we kept our word.

The flight back was pretty ordinary, We caught up on some Hindi movie and decent food and landed at Mumbai at 3 :30 AM on the 4th of October 2009. Our KK travels guy was waiting for us, and took us home. By about 7:30 AM, we were at home in Magarpatta, back after a wonderful trip with memories to savor for a really long time. We hope you liked our account of the trip as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Nikhil and Deepti.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Andy - Its all in the mind!  Not just the body!

"I know I can cry like Federer but its a shame I can't play like him "
After his Australian Open debacle at Melbourne this January- The Scot sensation Andy Murray  quoted the above line. And that really shows why he cannot bridge the gap to greatness - read Feder-ness.  To beat a magician, a poet, a ballet dancer, a smiling assasin  (One word for all this - Roger Robert Federer) you have to have a mind of a suicide bomber , who will pull the detonator come what may,  you have to think you will climb the Pyrennes mountains in one single breath, you have to believe that IT IS POSSIBLE.
                  The problem with the current crop of players, is that they live in Roger's shadow who feel awed to stand on the same court as him and admire the elegance of his shots and his composure. Like Hewitt who has now lost more than 15 times consecutively to Roger. Like Andy Roddick who is the most underachieving player in tennis - compared to his awesome potential. Only Nadal believed he could beat federer and he did even on Federer's own backyard.

Sadly for Nadal, his 200% speed on court every single minute of play - did not go down well with his body, and now it will take a huge effort for him to get back to the supreme fit form he once was.

Andy! Even though the ball sails past you through unbelievable angles every single time - you have to believe that Roger is not God! he can be beaten, YOU can BEAT him. It is not easy to emulate Fred Perry - But Andy. you have it in you. Just a bit more of self-belief and you ll be there.