September 18, 2010

Minority rapport

123,Industrial Layout,Hosur Road,Koramangala: in one among the countless glass buildings created by underpaid architects for overpaid engineers, I am being prepared by my manager for what is generally the culmination of a formal education in India, and the primary reason for copious numbers of makeshift engineers drinking copious amounts of coffee from makeshift dispensers, while working makeshift hours at makeshift workstations to please makeshift bosses---a business trip to foreign. For the uninitiated, this offer is generally a turning point in the career of any Indian engineer(subject to a healthy exchange rate for the Euro), and not surprisingly, I agreed to take the first flight out of India.

What followed was around 2 weeks of shopping for things that I didn't really need--a family pack of my trusted Chandrika soap, 2 bottles of Gelusil(in case I accidentally ingested a sulphuric acid factory), 2 bottles each of Parachute oil and Garnier Fructis fall fight, that between them could do nothing to salvage my receding hairline, just enough Maggi to create a mild famine in South-East Asia and a few dozen packets of Tang. Armed with all of the above, and with enough paracetamol in my cabin-baggage to make every germ in my body shudder, I enthusiastically pasted inappropriately large sheets displaying excessive contact information on my check-in baggage. With the bags ready, my parents and I made the long trip to BIAL that normally serves as a proving ground for the feat of engineering that is our Maruti Omni. Most of the journey was spent in silence, as my parents pondered the prospect of a month or so without either of their sons and I pondered over which German beer to try first. I was greeted at the airport by irritable Air France employees, who, by now, had become accustomed to the idea of Indians testing their patience, if not the baggage allowance.

1 chardonnay and 2 Heinekens later(it was a long flight)

Somewhere in the suburbs of Stuttgart, in a cozy little place called Hotel Domino--identified several years ago as a hotel that would satisfy, though not overly impress the average Indian engineer  who made his way onsite from the mayhem of our offshore office, in room number 85, I am forced to watch CNN and the bloody BBC, because everything else on TV is in German. I immediately attempt to fill the gaping hole caused by the absence of televison with the only logical substitute-- 6% v.v. beer and needless to say, the pain is eased. Since the nice folks at my office have planned my deputation in a tiny window between the football world cup and oktoberfest, I do not have much time to acquaint myself with the public transport system or the local biergartens--so I quickly chart out a strict regimen for my stay in Germany.

for(day=1;day<=35;day++)        /*Since laziness has got the better of me and since nine out
                                                                     of ten readers would be more familiar with this                     
                                                                             syntax than the National Anthem*/

6am-8am Completely insulated from a world with TV, Laptops, social networking sites and VOIP, I practise Suryanamaskara and Shavasana to keep myself occupied, and no, my yoga instructor is not paying me to write this. Being the eco-friendly type, I also try my best to restrict my use of the shower to only-when-Nivea-for-men-can-no-longer-mask-my-natural-odour. By word of mouth, I am told about a radio station that plays English music and I am thrilled when 107,7FM(yes. the dot and comma are interchanged in the European decimal format) grinds out AC/DC and The Beatles,

Breakfast is free at our hotel, so I quickly find myself a table, which I am then forced to share with over-enthusiastic Indians, who, through millions of years of evolution, have mastered the art of forming large groups of similar ethnicities while in a foreign country. Hot topics over breakfast include questions regarding the duration of one's stay in Germany, cheap ways to travel, closest countries to visit, loopholes in our company's reimbursement system, and the occasional query regarding the size of one's room. Incidentally, I come from a family that, in keeping with the highest of Malayali traditions, has been encouraged to eat anything that moves, and therefore, an ample breakfast of salami, sausages, scrambled eggs, pudding, yogurt and fruit is the high point of my day, as I mentally scorn the vegetarians around me, who have to make do with corn flakes. Despite a large board that says "Fruit is meant for consumption only in the dining hall", some people feel the need to carry a dozen bananas to office and I, in turn, feel the need to drain the synovial fluid from their joints.

8am-12pm A highly efficient public transport system ensures that I reach office within around 20 minutes. Travel within Germany, and to an extent, within Europe is planned, secure and convenient, although nothing can quite replace the feeling of the rain falling through the jammed BMTC bus window or sitting at the door of a train looking out at paddy fields. The awe is immediately evident on the faces of most Indians in trains, buses and metros, followed by the million-dollar "Why can't  India be like this da?", to which my customary response is a forced smile. A few hours of work generally follow.

12pm-1pm Spoilt for choice, I had to pick between the company canteen, a Turkish kebaphaus and a Chinese restaurant everyday, but the kebaphaus was my regular haunt once I had discovered the dönerkebap. The pretty Turkish lady making them didn't hurt either, and she slowly became used to the sight of me drooling as she packed meat into the döner, like Malayalis into the Kanyakumari Express.

1pm-5pm Digest the döner. If time permits, also do some work.

5pm-11pm Thanks to a flawed attendance monitoring system and the long summer days, I am actually able to enjoy my evenings, generally punctuated by unnecessary visits to an Indian store, fruitless shopping at Metzingen(the Marathahalli of the West) and the mandatory weekly purchase of beer(that, at 3€ for a 4 pack, would test the resolve of even the Dalai Lama). Most of my time is spent in the room, and apart from the German-speaking receptionists and the 2-pin sockets, there are no other signs that I am in a foreign country, as the soothing sounds of pressure cookers and Tamil movies fill the air along with the aroma of overcooked Basmati rice being made by Indian men during an obligatory expedition into the kitchen, MTR ready-to-eat paneer butter masala, and Priya mango pickle. Not surprisingly, I have a plate of perfectly made Maggi on the table and a glass of Weissbier that would prepare me for the monotony of 3 hours of BBC world news.         

11pm Doze off on account of the beer or the BBC, whichever caused a temporary suspension in my consciousness first.

Weekends were spent visiting the Porsche and Mercedes museums that fortunately were within staggering distance of my room, and short Eurotrips that seemed more frequent than the urge to shower. Unfortunately, a detailed description is beyond the scope of this blog and the scope of my long-term memory, so here are a few thousand words to summarize a journey from Hosur Road to Hohensteinstrasse, Banaswadi to Budapest, Indiranagar to Interlaken, Brigade Road to Champs-Élysées and Sevanagar to Salzburg.


  1. To think that I was gonna call you when I was leaving Germany... I mean, what was i thinking ;)

    As alwaz, classic Dude!!! Love it :)

  2. Dude, really nice post. Simbly louwe da way you wride.

    LOL on this one -> "Most of the journey was spent in silence, as my parents pondered the prospect of a month or so without either of their sons and I pondered over which German beer to try first." :D

    And drool on dönerkebap!

  3. This is the first post of yours that I read. And I am really impressed! :-)


  4. Super Sajiv!
    Nice observation!!!


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