Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Continuing from my post on airports…..its hotels now

There’s always an upside of any kind of business travel- the luxurious light at the end of the dusty, humid tunnel!! After a day of a 6 a.m flight followed by 10 hours of driving from the airport to Mulund to Vashi to Kalyan, and then finding out you have to stay the night so you can drive next morning (6 a.m. again, to Nasik, the final stop is the Leela.

So I’ve been a consultant 2 years, travelled on work to several cities across Asia, and a bit in the US and lived in luxury hotels (or as they call them business hotels; my bar is clearly lower than that of HNWIs) throughout. But even now, the idea of spending an evening by myself in a well equipped, reasonably lavish room, with a view better than that of NH-8, appeals immensely to me. And it helps being alone, with little socializing to do. People warned me when I started life as a consultant that I’d get fed up of this sooner than I’d believe. Still no!

And it’s not like I’m staying by myself in a bachelorette pad, where I have to clean, cook, do the laundry etc myself. I live in my parent’s house, in a lovely little room, which has been made to evolve over the years (by me….I’m not that spoilt) to be exactly to my taste. Dim lighting, a reading lamp, a bookshelf next to my bed with my favourite books neatly stacked up, a little section where I admire myself (twice daily on weekdays, several hundred times on weekends), a small but highly functional bathroom, and a big bed (big enough for my small frame). And I love going back to it, most days of the week. Long evening chats with parents are the best stress buster!

I guess the love for these luxurious rooms comes from a day of work madness. And the fact that I so deserve it after that!

The other kind of room I love is the youth hostel, or a shoddy hotel room, but ONLY WHILE I’M ON VACATION. And this almost axiomatically leads me to dislike luxurious hotels, when on vacation. I loved the little room I had to spend half the night in the time I got locked in a park in South of England. I slept on a rug. At the same time, I absolutely hated the semi-luxurious room my firm paid for on my soccer trip to Madrid.

This one’s cool. No fuss, no gold furniture with over-done Indian carvings (unlike like Le Meridien in Jaipur, which although most firangs absolutely lurrve, I find overly ethnicized). This is plain luxury!

Lehman Brothers wrote a 560 page research report on eating out in Mumbai- entertaining but hardly helpful in choosing a place. Any way, I have an addition to it: Chicken Kathi Roll, Room Service, The Leela. I usually have high standards in food, so totally recommend the greasy, fried, but yummy Kathi roll.

Another discovery: the difference between a good day and a great day is a long hot shower!

Airports and being in India

Its 5:45 a.m, Wednesday morning, and I’m off on a work trip to Bombay. Ordinarily I’d be working on such a trip, but my current case is kind of wonky. Although it spans 4 weeks, I start getting data only in the 3rd week. While it’s always difficult to balance workload in a job like mine, having 2 reasonably unproductive weeks (except for work trips) is a bit much. So any way, I use my ‘unproductive’ time to write.

The one thing I absolutely dislike about being back in India is work travel in India. No, it’s not the weather, or the flight delays, or the one-day travel (thanks to exorbitant hotel tariffs). Sometimes, it’s the fact that all these things happen together. But if I had to put a finger one thing, it would be airports. It’s not the inefficient processes, pushy staff, and crowded lounges. Having spent an overwhelmingly large part of my life in India, I have surprisingly high tolerance for these things. What I find lacking in Indian airports (IMPORTANTLY, Delhi airport), is the airport smell.

Typically, all I need to do to get excited about a trip is step into the airport. Even if I’m seeing someone off, I start to plan my next travel, just by getting the airport whiff. The perfect airport experience is………let’s see….a mix of the sanitary smell of the clean and not typically crowded check-in counter, clear flight announcements, following a mild musical reminder that goes bing bong bing bong, a melange of perfume scents flowing in from the duty free, foreigners (usually white) running to catch their flights, with their kids running behind them, flat elevators (ok, travelators as they call them), perennial presence but occasional dominance of the smell of coffee, the smell of sandwiches being toasted at a small deli, and close to it, a well-lit bookstore with a friendly middle-aged guy who responds to every most of your queries with “Apologies, but don’t have it in stock”, but still helps you find some good books there, and while you’re paying for them, helps you pick a few magazines out. And me striding towards the coffee shop, in Adidas tracks, an old vest (usually blue or white) and a not-so-large backpack, just about managing to balance its weight with my own, carrying a ~300 pages book, on some silly mildly consequential war, or a travelogue on some random place which no more than a 10,000 people would have visited, or just as likely, a chick magazine, to read about fashion, celebrities and new (correction: old and over-leveraged by the editor) tricks on ‘how to make him forget everything else’.

Now my experience this morning.
The sanitary smell of the check-in counter replaced by my inability to find the check-in counter. In all fairness, my airport is under construction. And per their request, I’ll bear with the inconvenience today for a better tomorrow
Flight announcements- Reasonably clear
Perfume scents- None. May be because it’s the domestic airport, but the only whiff I got was of Ralph Lauren’s Romance, which I OD-ed on this morning
Foreigners running to catch their flights- Oh yes! Especially these 2 women, both very bohemian charging towards the ladies security check line (Pth: How do women travel in long skirts- may be because they’re tall, so their long skirts reach only their shins and give them plenty of room to walk. Sigh, I wish I were tall). I think they’re used to running at airports, because they’re on the same flight as me, and we were well in time for it. Also, I overheard the prettier one crib “Oh for once I wanna be in a more efficient airport”. Bitch! So I’m not unbiased
Flat elevators- No. Domestic airport, so unlikely
Coffee- Finally, yes! The smell, the blend, all there!
Book store- There’s one but I couldn’t go (For the nth time, it’s a work trip).
No smell of sandwiches
Me- Possible the biggest disappointment. The tracks and vest replaces, but a boring, all-black, pant suit. (Pth: Black pant suits are so not for me! I usually pass off as a 6/10 on the presentability scale, and in skirt suits, even a 7. But in Black pant suits, I slide a massive 4 points, down to a 2. I just don’t have the body for trousers. More details on that later, but if you’ve seen me face down, you know what I’m talking about), no book, backpack replaced with a reasonably good looking but heavy laptop bag and other cabin baggage

So it’s not really about Indian airports. It’s a mix of all those things I spoke about initially. And the fact that I’m in an all-Black pant suit. And that I’m shoved around until a final push throws me into my assigned seat on the plane. And that it’s hot. And that I’ll probably be back this evening, all groggy, without seeing Bombay at all, once again.

While in Singapore, I spent 5 months on a project in KL. This meant travelling back and forth every week, for 5 months. But because these weren’t day trips, I could fly Sunday night instead of Monday morning, and avoid the business suit agony. And even if it was a business suit, I’d be wearing a skirt. And not trousers. I could reach the airport 2 hours before my flight, visit the book store, sniff all the new perfumes at the duty free, run my fingers on the lovely Burberry scarf I always wanted but never bought, get coffee, sit on the floor outside the boarding lounge and burn phone cards on calls home. If there is one single thing I miss about being outside India, it’s just that- the airports.

Like a seasoned consultant should do, 3 things I love about some other airports:

· Munich: How they pronounce the airport as flukaafen or something. Spicy pepperoni. Everything else German.
· KL: The aero-train, which is absolutely redundant, but most fun. The Mango store. And the lovely people I’ve met here.
· Boston: The staff that held the Newark-Singapore flight 15 minutes, so I didn’t miss it. The row of chairs facing the runway. All the delis.
· Bombay: The new structure. Coffee Day. Crossword.
· Bali: The immigration counter which resembles a pre-paid auto line. The ubiquitous bali massage flyers. Stores dedicated to Bali oils and teas
· Heathrow: Mango, Zara and the men’s store which sells cute boxers
· Hong Kong: The pride. How everyone is dressed impeccably. And my trip with the folks.
· New York, JFK: Starbucks. Hudson News. And the round seating area in the food court, where you get to see exactly why American kids are fat
· Dubai: The fact that I spent 14 hours there because I couldn’t afford a more expensive flight. The duty free that I bought my first perfume at. The roughly equal split between American expat women, and burqua-clad women at the lingerie store, which sells possibly the sexiest lingerie I had seen until then (and clearly could not afford)
· Cancun. Yes, there eees something I like about the damn town- the airport. Hard Rock Store. Heavily discounted duty free that is temporarily the best solution to a wounded heart. Cheap tequila!
· Delhi. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Not until GMR (Thanks, Nobster) pulls up. No, there’s one thing: being home.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Monday evening off- I

Getting home by 8 PM on Monday evening, in a week that promises to be a killer-- puzzled, but happy. I suppose this means I’ll be working longer hours the rest of the week, but since I have, in the recent past, reached theoretical maximum capacity, it isn’t something that will worry me significantly. I’m totally rooting for Monday evenings off!

And a few other things, now that I think of it.

  • Lonely places. There’s something about lonely places and lonely people. When loneliness gets addictive, it lends them a charm another person finds difficult to explain but even more difficult to disregard
  • Relaxation of visa requirement for Indians. I’m 5 feet tall, a little over 50 kilos, and my mind, although super sharp, is absolutely incapable of bombing your land
  • Freedom of expression. Speak out!!
    “Here, we miss people who speak out. Those who don’t, sort of fade away” – Megha’s favourite Manager
  • Men who have left their double standards in 1990s. Thank you, thank you, thank you J. Just yesterday this came up in a conversation with someone. He thinks the whole ‘no double standards’ thing is a hygiene factor, not a non-negotiable. I didn’t entirely get his point (and I think it showed), but it’s definitely a non-negotiable, in that there are so few of you out there, I’d pay for it.
  • Loving strong. I’m usually wrong in matters of the heart, but there’s nothing like a story nicely done!
  • Falling hard. The bump on my rear definitely gave me a stronger face for the rest of my life
  • Transparent tops. There’s usually a way of wearing them without looking slutty. And if there isn’t, ‘oh well’ always works
  • Bombay. All the madness- lunch homes, classic rock bars, Blue Frog, old friends (who always raise the Bombay vs. Delhi argument), movie stars, sweaty evenings, the sea, the cute college students who sang ‘aankhon me teri’ to me, and the books the city has inspired
  • Cleaning up my mess. There’s one person who left me to clean his (well, our) mess up, roughly 11,467 kms away, while he built an exciting new life for himself. Every time I see a picture of him, or him (the one time), he looks like an overgrown mouse.
  • At least 30 minutes of exercise every day- Say goodbye to aging skin
  • Non-malicious gossip. Its an excellent detoxifier
  • 3 pitchers of beer on Friday night. And lots of conversation
  • Higher salaries in India. High tax rates + Delhi/Bombay rentals + expensive international travel.
  • Atif Aslam. For the passion, not the melody
  • Water sports.
  • Staying in touch.
  • Delhi. For running in my veins, and for the rain this summer.
  • Water, lime and honey. It hasn’t done anything for my weight or my skin. But its awesome detox. Or is it? Maybe I’ve psyched myself into believe it is
  • Yellow blouses and polka dotted hair-bands. Make for pretty young things
  • Skirts. Seriously, why do some women never wear skirts?!?! Can’t think of how trousers can ever be a better option. Bonus for every inch taken off
  • Saigon Kick, for I love you

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What’s a girl without a pretty purple hat?

It’s Monday morning, I’m in office, and I have a crazy week ahead.

Messy weekend after-thoughts, a million intrusive questions from mum (there’s 10% of the time when I have no tolerance for gossip) and un-reasonable client demands (8 hospitals across 7 cities in 3 states, all in 3 days) made Sunday evening even more difficult to get by. I thought hitting the gym this morning would be a good idea, but I’m still as mentally exhausted as I was last evening.

Last evening ended well though, with a lot of positive conviction. In a queer way, what was right then, a year back, is right even now. And what I always considered wrong is fortunately still wrong. The bar hasn’t moved. I once wondered if it were ‘the right kind of wrong’. Still no.

By the way, here’s what I do when I look like shit run over twice: I buy a pretty purple hat.