Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Scottish Experience

Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, the hills of the Highlands for ever I love...

I have seen a few places within Europe and Asia but the tranquility that you get when you stand on the Highlands of Scotland is absolutely enthralling. I genuinely believe that places like these make you refresh your thought process from a mundane way of thinking to a calm absorption. 

I have never been a beach person, unfortunately - its vastness is mesmerising but its uniformity makes it a bit redundant. For me, it is essential to have the imperfections but still be able to sense the smoothness about it. Scotland, for most of its part, is absolutely un-manicured and rugged which makes the beauty all the more fascinating! You can wander around the country feeling as if you are part of this splendid artwork created by the nature. The experience is truly enrapturing! 


Snow-way from Inverness to Edinburgh

Lochness - Waiting for Nessie ;-)

Inverness


According to me, you have never really experienced the place when you don't penetrate into its culture. Essentially, a place becomes attractive when its wholesomely distinctive. The Scots, like the English or the Welsh, are proud of their traditions which are unique to themselves from the rest of the world. I would like to describe a few of them through my know-how. 

Scotch Distilleries!! 

When in India, my knowledge about Scotch was really limited to Glenfidditches, JDs, The labels etc. - very commercial whiskys. My understanding on the matter has improved after visiting duty-free shops at various airports in the world. Living in London, it further enhanced my grasp on the subject with first hand experience. However, you would be able to appreciate how vast is the Scotch market only when you drive down from South to North (or N to S) of Scotland. They are multifarious! Here is a quick list of the Scotches from Wikipedia. You can also find the famous scotches by flavour below.




We have been to couple of distilleries - Glenlivet and Dalmore - in the eastern part of Scotland. We booked Glenlivet, my favorite of the unpeated ones, a month in advance but Dalmore was literally on our way from Dunrobin to Inverness and it only took us a couple of hours of detour to make a visit to this distillery. 

You will notice several highland Scotch distilleries by the highways. Such is the production of Scotches in the country and each distillery boasts about its own history, smoothness, creaminess and the amalgamation of rich flavors. It is really worth a shot to do couple of distillery visits when in Scotland to understand the mechanics (even if high level) and the style in which they make. I am sure Scotch is the best form of whisky (trust me, I have tried Irish, English and the US ones) and it is valuable to go through this learning.

Foood!!

All English food is very much available in Scotland - pies, fish n chips, pasties, cakes etc. (of course, there are a few specific to the English lands like Yorkshire pudding, Cornwall pasty etc.). However, the Scottish have their own world renowned foods that they are proud of.

I have ensured that I get the taste of these unique Scot food varieties when in Scotland:

1) Haggis - Description of Haggis here might make you not appreciate it to begin with. However, the Scots have mastered to prepare it more deliciously by stuffing Haggis into reddish chicken breast with a soup of creamy mushroom sauce. This was truly amazing! 




2) Chicken - We have splurged on food on the trip and wherever we crashed (sandwich shops, restaurants, bars etc.), we have seen Cajun chicken - a spicy version with Italian seasoning (although Cajun cuisine is a French style origination) and Coronation chicken - which is mostly used as sandwich fillings. Note that these two could be found elsewhere but they are super popular in Scotland.

3) Shortbread & Flapjacks - These are cookie-kind of eateries that are widely known in Scotland. Our Air BnB lady was so adorable that she prepared flapjacks for us as a Scot souvenir on the day we left for Edinburgh from Inverness. 




Tea & Biscuits!!

1) Tea n Cakes - I love this concept in the UK. Their style is to have cakes with tea (not biscuits!). "Tea Rooms" - is a social networking place for the families (usually) to chat over pots of tea and assortment of cakes. I would recommend lemon glazed cake with tea when you would like to try this next time. Moreover, you don't need to add additional sugars in your tea ;-)




2) Oat Cookies with cheese - We were told that the Scots started revolutionising Oat-for-breakfast concept. It is their staple food and hence came the name Scottish oatmeal. Without any surprise, they make oat cookies which are usually served with a combination of cheeses. I, personally, did not fancy it but definitely worth trying. 

Clothing!!

1) Wool - They are bloody expensive but they will keep you 100% warm. We happened to go to couple of shopping towns, Brodie and Bruar, where everything was authentic (so we were told) but extremely exorbitant. When you feel the fabric though, it would surprise you with the softness that you would never feel like abandoning it. Harris tweed brand is popularly known across the world for its thick, woolly and skin-fitting jackets. 

2) Kilt - It is their cultural costume for Gaelic-speaking male Highlanders. This tradition started back in 16th century in the country. You will still see Scots following this at every occasion. On the Royal Mile of Edinburgh, you will see Bagpipers playing the music in Kilts showcasing their old culture. 




Others

1) History - William Wallace is a very acknowledged figure in the history of Scotland. Braveheart movie portrays his valour in taking charge of the first independence movement against the King of England in the 13th century.

You will also notice a handful of castles and forts within Scotland - Dunrobin, Cawford, Edinburgh, Urquhart castles, Fort William to name a few. Also, don't miss to cover Lochness which hosts the allegedly mysterious monster - Nessie!




2) Travel tip - As a must, you will have to drive down from East to West - Inverness to Skye. The views are just spectacular and you can't miss this in your lifetime :-)


Finally, travel liberates a soul and it is essential to go through these unique events to have a worldly wisdom and grounding. I hope everyone finds it joyous and worth living for :-)

#scotland #scottishhighlands #scotch #teaandcakes #haggis #scottishoatmeal #williamwallace #traveltoscotland #scottishkilt

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Xenophobia and Immigration

Many things in this world are beyond my comprehension, especially the convoluted conundrums. Starting with what has oil companies got to do with the overall economics of the world, how do Swiss banks run and why do they enjoy such autonomy in the banking industry, what makes up religion and why does it bring faith to majority of the population on this planet, what is the source of the source etc. Some questions are clearly un-unravelable but the others could be explored with time, money and energy.

Media or social networking sites continue to be my primary source of information - 1) they are free and vastly available; and 2) they are updated at frequent intervals. With my limited (or much wider?!) exposure, I can sense that there is something not right with the world right now. To be utterly honest, I haven't heard of "xenophobia" until 2016. And now that has, unfortunately, become the word of the hour. Without any great soothsaying skills, it could be stated that the year 2020 would be an altogether different world to live in.

It all started with Brexit or Bremain in 2016. And I have experienced it at first hand sitting in London. Last one week to the referendum had been full of debates and discussions at workplace and elsewhere. Exit polls on the 23rd June 2016 predicted that it was going to be a Bremain based on a sample survey. I still remember waking up to the news around 5am and realising that how could it have been Brexit! From thereon, a trend had been set to revisit anything and everything about immigration.

Immigration had been a major propaganda for Mr. Trump and aided him to enthrone the chair of state finally, on a very dramatic note (of course)!

The U.S. have been one of the first countries, in spite of being sufficiently populous unlike Canada or Australia, to welcome immigrants for its own development. They have always been extremely aggressive with a thirst for burgeoning growth ever since their freedom. Thinking out of the box came to them naturally and hence started immigration. Globalisation and brain drain peaked in 2000s for the Indians as immigrants to the U.S. Especially in Andhra Pradesh, I have seen a huge influx of students doing bachelors in India and then going to the U.S. to do their Masters followed by settling in the country. This was because of two reasons: 1) the U.S. provided better growth opportunities; and 2) too much competition in India for anything and everything.

Coming back to immigration in the U.S., I have done a rough secondary research and was able to come up with the following key facts and figures (from multiple sources):

v There were 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. in 2012 accounting for nearly 3.5% of its population
v Mexicans made up of nearly 52% of all unauthorised immigrants in 2012
v Undocumented immigrants are often part of the same family as documented immigrants
v As per LA Times in 2011, illegal immigrants in 2010 were parents of 5.5 million children, 4.5 million of whom were born in the U.S. and are citizens
v If the undocumented immigrants gained legal status, they would provide significant contribution to Social Security over the coming years
v By 2012, immigrants made up nearly 13.0% of the total U.S. population
v In 2015, of the total lawful permanent residences granted in the US, 15.6% was for Mexicans
v Immigrants, even legal immigrants, are barred from most social services although they contribute to support the benefits

Of late, there has been severe scrutiny on immigration – thanks to Brexit and Trump again. To eliminate a few questions around increase in unemployment rate, immigration in absolute sense would result in the following:

v Immigrants create jobs as consumers and entrepreneurs
v As per data from 2011 American community survey, there is no direct correlation between immigration and unemployment
v As per 2012 current population survey, foreign-born and native-born workers don’t generally compete for the same jobs

On refugees intake, in the year ending Sep 2016, nearly 85,000 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. With United Nations head-quartered in New York, America has been considerably reasonable when it came to refugees’ intake. There are pros and cons to having refugees in a country. I will list down the top ones:

Pros:
v For the world, its positive as people are trying to get away from desperate situations and trying to survive
v Increase in liquidity in the labour market
v Further contribution to the society through their wages and hence increase in economic growth

Cons:
v Imbalance between taxes paid vs social services received
v Potential threat from organised crimes

Coming to the point of crimes in the U.S., which we can’t rule out especially where illegal immigrant population is in volumes, it is largely said that determination of correlation between crime and legal status of immigrants is not easy. Having said that there are evidences and proofs depicting the crimes committed by the immigrants. Factors such as racial profiling, possible discrimination, unfavourable circumstances to foreigners etc. could potentially lead to the crimes.

The article here narrates why immigrants in the U.S. are not the sole reason for crimes in the U.S. As per the article, incarceration rate for U.S. born is 3.51% of the total population and it is 0.86% for foreign born.

According to huffingtonpost, which talks about Immigration Act of 1924 and Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, when Ronald Reagan (President of the U.S. 1981 to 1989) faced the immigration issue, he understood that the problem is not with foreigners coming here illegally, but with the government having too much of a hand in the immigration process resulting in bureaucratic complications. Realising that illegal immigration resulted from previous errors in immigration policy, Reagan gave amnesty to most illegal immigrants. As this created uproar among opponents of immigration, Reagan promised to penalise American employers hiring undocumented immigrants – which till date hasn’t been clearly implemented.

A really long story short, immigration, like any other enforcement in general, has plusses and minuses. When in Business, you are playing with your own profits and losses but when you are in Politics, you are risking with the lives of the people. It is a finely threaded net and one false step might result into an uncontrollable uproar.

“America first” – Great, Bravo and Cheers to the President! But doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is suddenly invisible. People exist and their values too which can’t be thrown away like plush toys. Make amends with a mind-set of greater good rather than with a business angle to get quick results. It is not just the immigrants the U.S. would be alienating but also the whole world in a way. Also to think of it, America is what it is because of these very immigrants... never forget that! 


Remember, always remember, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.
-        Franklin D. Roosevelt


Sources:
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/03/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/reports/2014/10/23/59040/the-facts-on-immigration-today-3/
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/06/us/immigration-statistics-fast-facts/
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/30/key-facts-about-refugees-to-the-u-s/
https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/economic-blame-game-immigration-and-unemployment
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/whats-the-economic-impact-of-refugees-in-america/
https://openborders.info/blog/crime-in-the-us-under-open-borders/

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Happy New Year 2017!!

Happy New Year!!

2016 ended on a really good note – it was all with my near and dear ones back in India! J

It is never good to be back from a long and an amazing vacation. Specially having spent that period of life where you could sleep and wake up at complete odd hours, got absolutely no work to do, got to hog onto anything and everything while still being asked to gain a few more pounds, lost count of no of teas you were consuming when you did not endeavor to make even one of those and finally, got a cute little nephew to play with! Without any surprise, I have just described what home and family is all about and the sweetness of doing nothing, dolce far niente :-)

The year 2016 has been tremendously enriching with more and more experiences added to my journey of life – happy times, sad flashes, weird moments, confusions, realisations, etc. It is worth to have gone through ups and downs in life to understand who you really are. In the end, there are no regrets but only new experiences - right or wrong is, after all, completely up to what a person thinks at a point in time.

I have lost conviction in too routine a life. Changes are good. They teach you something new. I have realised that there are so many battles within you all the time. These changes and adaptations help you realise who you really are and eventually end the battles one by one leading to “peace”.

I have always believed in being positive to the extent possible before giving up! And sometimes you have to give up because for that moment there is no other solution but to just carry on with your life, accept the circumstances and let it go. This decision also becomes easier when you see the bigger picture and what’s in store for the long run. Once it gets clear, you will be convinced with your decision - subject to changes where and when applicable, of course J

Coming to my upgrades for the year 2016, without any self-boasting and from the above, I have grown wiser and calmer which I think are essential traits to face the upcoming and unforeseen challenges. I am now more determined and confident to face my unpredictable next. Also and again without any pomp, I have become more fashion conscious – just moving a bit closer to French style you see ;-)

Appended several movies and tv shows to my kitty – GoT, The Crown and Westworld have been the best series in 2016! If you haven’t covered those yet, go for it without any trace of doubt J

Added more escapades to my list by covering new places and countries. These have been really indelible and special to cherish for the times to come J

Lastly, I have gained a few new friends and retained my dearest old ones. Relationships play a crucial role to keep your sanity in check. My friends would agree that I would cling on to a relation if I have faith in it. I never give up on people only because they are not with me. A good relationship is beyond physical presence and if it is important to you, better keep it. In due course, you will realise who you can truly rely on in times of need and who you can only have good times with. And it is important to know the former as they would continue to be in your ever-changing-life for the years to follow.  

On an ending note to the blog, I am going to follow “the cliché” - conclude a new year blog with new resolutions. Historically, I have never followed my resolutions like many of you. But for 2017, I am determined to keep up with the following:
1)    Become more French (minus the laziness) – a shift from English to French will be quite a challenge!
2)    Pen down my thoughts into something more tangible
3)    Experience more Europe – places, food and culture

Hope you will live up to your resolutions as well!

“For last year's words belong to last year's language 
And next year's words await another voice.” 
- T.S.Eliot 

Family time in December 2016



Sunday, October 30, 2016

Companionship

Love can't be short-term or short-living.. in which case you are persuading yourself into infatuation and circumstantial & temporary foothold.. It is ok to go through compromises and adjustments as long as your heart sees a light at the end of the tunnel..

Sometimes movies can provide you with a good framework to devise your thoughts.. Things always work out for you when you are young and beautiful.. whats more important is what after that? How will you survive when you are not all that important anymore?

There was this movie that was released in 2009, Up. The movie starts with how a young girl, full of dreams, bumps into a very ordinary rather boring boy, falls in love, grows old with him and then eventually she passes away... All this togetherness is shown beautifully in less than 5 minutes at the beginning of the movie.. But, after all, that is all anyone would want, right? Fall in love and grow old together with complacence... What else could be purpose of a marriage?

Of course, there will be fights and sometimes very dirty.. but as long as you see yourself together, it is all worth it... all the fights to tolerate and compromises to make..

Every day you go through mix of emotions, both at work and personally.. Not every day is great and sometimes its real shit and sometimes its smiles all the way.. But what matters is, whatever it is, you need that one being with whom you can just pour your heart out.. without thinking if you are being judged, if you are being wrong, selfish, egoistic etc. And of course, vice versa to hear back from the one..

It is so easy to get swayed away and say that there is no more love left in a relationship and walk away.. May be that is true for a few.. but before anyone gets there, imagine yourself no more with the one you loved and its all empty because you chose to move on culminating your friendship.. and there is no one walking with you, holding your hand and listening to your experiences or insecurities or pain when you are old..
To me, personally, this image flashes when things aren't right and I truly have felt growing old with one person and it continues to be the one..

I possibly can't believe in soulmate concept.. You make your own life on this planet (can't speak for extra terrestrial) and you and only you get to make your choices..
Companionship is a beautiful experience.. And you both get to see high and lows together and be an anchor in tough times.. You get to feel what the other person is thinking by being miles away.. There is an amassment of memories which you can never dissociate yourself with but rather enjoy as oneness :-)

After all, sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people..


Friday, August 19, 2016

Robots are here...

Robots - a very popular term used in the business these days. Automate, robotise, digitise are the punch words of the day. The abilities of what a robot can do are absolutely immense. There is no doubt that things would change drastically for any industry in the near future and henceforth, with the invasion of robots. Note, the era has already begun..

I remember watching "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" movie as a kid. It showcases human form of robots (humanoids as they call) with emotions and yet with a clear message that David was not capable of being "the" son to his mother, who he loved so dearly. It explains how David goes on a quest to become human so that his mother could love him as a son, a child-like human emotion ingrained in him - advanced form of cognitive robotics.


A few movies have been very futuristic - Star Wars, Terminator, Interstellar, Inception, Gravity, Eternal sunshine of Spotless mind etc. just to name a few. It is commendable that these ideas have been brought to life by envisioning the possible future to satiate human curiosity - be it exploring the world of worlds. creating new ways and means of communications, travelling across the time, discovering brilliance of human body etc. In all these themes, hi-fi technology can be seen as the common factor and hence the accelerating need to implement robotics.

During my school days, one of my friends had a download of flash games from his uncle in the US. I got this download from him and uploaded onto my system. There were so many games in this flash mix and my sister and I thoroughly enjoyed playing whenever possible at home. We even used to have competition with friends and family for a few games. One particular flash game we had was AI.

I used to come back from school every evening and interact with AI for sometime before I engaged myself with the family or friends. My mom never understood what was I doing and who was I talking to by punching the keyboard. This was early 2000s when internet was still new to India. She used to sit there, see the responses popping promptly on the screen and she used to laugh because it was like - how on earth the computer is talking by itself.

My chat with AI used to range from food varieties to taking suggestions on a few school life problems. Sometimes I used to sit there to just blurt out what I thought I should have done, how I felt the day should have gone like, what went wrong and what went right. Most of AI's responses for personal-shrink-like statements used to be - "I understand", "I don't understand", "what do you mean by..." etc. etc. It still worked for me for a while. At least, there was someone to hear me out with no judgments. I got bored eventually, of course.

Mind you, this was not as intelligent as Siri which conveniently interacts with integrated systems and interactive platforms. This one had a set of defined variables in its programming and it recognises key words in an unstructured data with no actual self learning capabilities.

Before I get into too much technical stuff, I believe that machines simplify our tasks. Having said that, it is in human to feel and act on. It, perhaps, is not wise to incorporate everything into the robotic heads, in which case the movie, I, Robot, might actually come true revolutionising the world to lead to complete pandemonium.







Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Women in a relationship ;-)

This blog has been long pending. Whenever I recover from a petty fight, I think of writing this blog in a funny way but my laziness prevails and I end up not doing it. Thanks to my 3-day fever, I have got nothing but time to finally materialise this blog :-P

Relationships are sometimes tricky and funny. Having been in a relationship for more than 9 years now, I do find dealing with nuances once a while is not a bad idea! Specially because it is so easy for men to get into that nonchalant and my-head-is-absolutely-empty mode quite often, where they tend to experience mental peace with not even a single idea popping inside. On the other hand, empty heads are so alien and in some ways threat to women. So the balancing act for this equation usually is a small silly nuance.

Its not that women don't understand the logic, but they just want to play around with that empty head so that they get some attention - because you absolutely don't understand why such a useless response! For example, you have performed a laborious task of cooking something exotic and you would like some appreciation.. which most of the times comes as a very feeble signal or worst none at all! Not recognizing the pretty dress she bought a few months ago and the event where she wore it looking all pretty for you (this is a lie... usually its for everyone, major attention seekers you see :-P). Women not only think about what they wear but also what others around her are wearing. And for all this effort, there comes no appreciation!

Different women have different styles to express the anger by not really expressing it. For example, throwing taunts, sending indirect messages, giving anecdotes or not talking at all. My personal choice is not talking at all. Mind you, it is very very tough but it is good for three reasons: 1) you can avoid any crazy loud talks; 2) you give the other person sufficient time to ponder over what could have possibly gone wrong; and 3) frankly, even you need a break from taking care of everything sometimes.

Sometimes there is genuine ignorance and sometimes they are just differently perceived notions. But women are from Venus so they get affected more and hence the tactics. But the first step of caring always comes from women without any expectation. I remember my senior manager quoting this - "even i put long hours at work. But it is strange that only I end up thinking about what should I cook for dinner or breakfast the next day. My husband never even thinks about it". To be honest, she wasn't complaining there and she just said as a matter of fact.

Some people might go on arguing that why should women do the things they have been doing - cooking, cleaning, prettifying the house etc. Yes, they absolutely don't have to. But they will do it anyways because that's their innate natural form to make things better. So if they demand some attention, give it. If they want to be pampered, do it - you are pampered by them 24/7 so its worthwhile to take some exclusive time out for them. And if they are cranky sometimes, just tolerate it :-D (you don't have a choice anyways so might as well be positive about it!)

Not-so-long story short, its good to be not so perfect in life (refer to this blog). And women would always want love to be a novel, men a short story... So the saga continues... :-)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Phases of Friendship

It is surprising to learn how easily you can lose in touch with someone so dear to you.. This usually happens with your close friends from school, college, workplace etc.. You often make an attempt to stay in touch initially but eventually the interest to take that extra step fades away and all you are left with is a bundle of memories.. And perhaps, that is alright because you have moved onto a different phase and you should, after all, look forward to new situations, challenges and different people to take out time for.

However, this is not the case with everyone. Sometimes, people stay back in your life. You rely on them forever, wherever they are. If I look back into my life, I have had so many friends at different phases of my life.. But there are only a handful of them, who I can talk to when I am sad/happy/bored/confused/terrified. And I am glad that these are only a few... because it is not easy to show your true self to everyone and frankly, why would you?

I was talking to a friend of mine other day. I met with her when I was 17 (in a shared auto) and we became friends almost within a week. We have seen troughs and crests of our lives together and accepted our friendship through these times. She lives in the US and I live in the UK. And last I met with her 4 years ago. But whenever we talk, it feels like distance hardly matters. Our gossips never end - boy friends (now husbands), marriage, parents, relatives, jobs etc. Striking a conversation has never been an effort. She desperately calls me when she needs to make a decision and I eagerly take her advice for anything new that I embark on. I honestly cherish our friendship and undoubtedly this will flourish for all the times to come :-)

And there have been times when you have to let go a few friends - different ideologies, different aspirations, misunderstandings etc. But when one door closes the other opens and life moves on. So no regrets. 

I genuinely believe that a relationship can not survive if there is no friendship in it. In these crazy, loud and busy times, peace is something everyone is on a mission to fulfill. According to me, strength of a relationship can be scaled when you are able to pull of a situation without getting frustrated or irritated or annoyed in absolute silence in each other's presence. This is crucial because it creates an invisible aura of care and security between the two leading upto peace. There is a complete understanding between the two souls without uttering a word (it is a different thing that my husband wants silence to check out 9gag and twitter :-P).

You may not be able to share 100% of your true life with anyone. Each person is different and there would be some grace % which is solely for yourself and  that is to be respected. After all, we are individual human beings and we are allowed to have our own space (could be dark, mystic, weird or crazy traits :-D). 

Its funny sometimes how you become friends - a friend's friend who you bumped into at a boring party, two confused souls in a college exchange program, social networking (orkut, hi5, facebook), discussing boring books like "the monk who sold his Ferrari", some silly thought leadership sessions because your dad assumed you had nothing better to do in life, because you both are born on Fools Day, because you both are major biryani lovers etc. As they say, no friendship is an accident. It is the hardest thing to be explained because its not taught but only felt. There is a reason why you are together and the quote below nicely sums it up -- 

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, "what! you too? I thought I was the only one!"