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Posts tagged ‘Basel’

Basler Fasnacht 2011

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Basler Fasnacht 2011, a set on Flickr.

A colourful stream of images from the Basler Fasnacht Carnical 2011 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival_of_Basel). Three days of non stop music, colours, and craze that the people of Basel look forward to. A photograhper’s delight as well 🙂

Cheers!
Vasu

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Less words, and more images for a change…:)

I recently caught the DSLR fever and I bought a new camera: Canon EOS 60 D. I have to admit it is a toy capable of many wonderful things, but I barely know 1% of it. But it  is a wonderful pursuit to study, click, experiment, and share  these pictures.  It is certainly keeping me very creatively occupied, less stressed and more active outdoors even on bleak winter days.

Here are some random pictures of everything ranging from water fountains in Switzerland, to pink flamingos, to sunset. These pictures are taken from popular spots in Basel, Berne. Please view, share your opinion, and help this amateur photographer get better 🙂 

Cheers!

Vasu

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A good year spent in the land of cheese and chocolates!

Last week, I completed a year’s stay in the land of Alps, cheese and chocolates – Switzerland!          

It’s been the longest I have stayed away from India, even though I have done crazy relocations to different parts of the world earlier. I have no clue where life will take me next, if I do move again, but I do know that this last year has been a very significant one in my life.          

Not everything about my life in Basel, Switzerland is rosy, but the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.  I truly believe that our lives in any place are a function of our attitude to embracing the change, and the people around us. I have moved cities, countries and continents, and have always found wonderful people where I went.  With some of the friends I value, I could live in some godforsaken desert and still be happy 🙂    

I was also very lucky to be born in such a wonderful country like India. I think Indians are inherently capable of appreciating any new place, making a social circle there and adapt to their new environment.          

That said, it is a good time to look back at all the things I like, nay love about Switzerland and Basel (some may apply to most European countries as well).   

I would move from general observations to personal experiences. I would also draw a comparison to India from time to time, and this is not meant to suggest that life in India sucks. Switzerland is hardly the size of Goa, and it is not possible to replicate anything and everything that is good in a European country with far less complexities than India. I could write a book on what I love about India, but it would feel so much better to hear an outsider’s appreciation.          

This is just to have a light-hearted banter,  and to appreciate the good things a foreign county has offered me so far.          

A study in tourism       

The first thing that struck me upon arrival in Zurich, and once I got into a shuttle train that connects the airport to the station, is a sound. It is a sound that I found weird for a nano second, and then broke into a laugh; thankfully it was pretty much the same reaction for other first time Swiss visitors in the train.          

It is the loud moooooooooo sound of a cow, with the sounds of bells to boot! The Swiss let you know without wasting any time, that they are going to play up to the image of the land of cows, cheese, and chocolate 🙂 . It happens only in Switzerland!          

To state that the Swiss are among the most tourist friendly in the world, would be an understatement. This is a country that knows how to market its splendid natural beauty and culture well, but also knows how to expect, plan for, and meet every potential need of every kind of traveler. And do that in a friendly way.          

It is possible to take a train to some random town, land up at the tourist office without a clue on what to do and where to stay, and put your trust in the friendly and well-informed staff at the tourist office.          

It is possible to land up on some trekking trail somewhere, lose your map, and still find your way in  a short while without any fuss.          

If you have more time to plan, you could use a plethora of resource, my favorite being Myswitzerland.com, an excellent portal to plan your Swiss travels . We have these very good “Incredible India” ads, but how good is our tourist infrastructure? It is worth pondering.         

Convenient transportation          

It was’nt that long ago, when daily commutes to office meant a good 1.5 to 2 hours jostling for space in a bus, soaked in sweat and dirt and bearing the noise of honking vehicles. This could apply to most Indians, but to Bangaloreans I can only say Hosur Road, and you know what I mean!          

These days I have a 10 minutes’ walk to work, and a few tram stops covered in 10 minutes to get to the city center. It is a luxury beyond my wildest imagination! Most Swiss cities are fairly small by Indian standards and are incredibly well-connected by train, tram and bus. They almost always run on time, and you could plan your journey online using the SBB website, and be assured of a convenient and comfortable ride to your destination.The trams themselves are fairly old and rickety, but that only adds to the sense of the charm.        

The Number 11 tram at Marktplatz

 

The trains are excellently maintained, spacious, and the wide windows ensure a lovely view of the scenery.          

Train entering Locarno station

 

They have a range of passes and offer cards (called Abonements, or simply abo), that make sure that you don’t spend a fortune. The day I landed in Switzerland, I took my friend Vineet’s advice and got a half fare card, which ensures that all public travel in Switzerland is half price for me. Almost everybody here has it, in addition to other Abos, depending on your frequency of travel.   This public transportation is the backbone of their tourism industry, and as somebody who has always relied on public transportation, Swiss life is a dream come true. (For the record I rate the Delhi Metro, and the BMTC Volvo services in Bangalore as close to international standards among cities I have visited, and the Tokyo metro as the best metropolitan transport system I have ever seen, but Switzerland is the most incredibly well-connected country I have been to!)       

Appreciation of the nature and environment          

I wake up every morning to watch a series of programs on HD Suisse, which I would never get bored of watching.   They have a program called “Swiss View”, which is a view from a camera on a plane or helicopter that just moves slowly across the Swiss mountains, lakes, rivers and villages.  There is another program called “Sunrise Earth” which takes you to a farm or a pasture, in the wee early morning hours. There is no music, but the chirping of birds, or mooing of the cows, as you watch the crimson sun rise.          

As I get ready for a big day at work, I listen to a mild and soothing music, or the chirping of birds, and watch breathtaking images of places that are hardly an hour away. It reminds me every day that I am incredibly lucky to live in one of the better looking corners of our incredible planet.  It also brings back very fond memories, of watching the short “Vande Mataram”, or the slightly longer “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” clips on Doordarshan, way back in the 80s.   

We seem to have very few such clippings on our T.V now that show case our natural beauty. There are few places on earth that can compare to the barren landscape of Ladakh, backwaters of Kerala, colorful desert life of Rajasthan, or the un spoilt beaches on the Konkan Coast.   

How many of us watch the visuals and images on a daily basis, let alone go there?      

This is just one of the many examples to show the appreciation the Swiss have for the land they are blessed with.  

There is very little pollution, garbage littering, cutting down on trees for the sake of industrial expansion.  The lakes and rivers are squeaky clean and the water so sweet to taste.   There is a lot of socializing and partying that happens on the river fronts, or the shores of the lakes. In Basel, we are lucky to have a large and winding Rhine that divides the city into two, interspersed with quaint old bridges. Sitting by the many parks and establishments on the Rhine is a big part of life here, at least in the spring / summer. People take a swim, or wade the waters, but nobody throws junk into the river, or abuses it in any other way.    

They live with a sense of pride for their land, and admiration for its natural resources.        

HD Suisse Swiss view, Wallis:          

Sporty and outdoorsy life         

The Swiss come in various sizes and shapes, but almost all of them get involved with some sort of sports / work out. Most expats here are also bound to do something outdoors / sports oriented, just to fit it, even if you are a lazy bum like me!    

Spring / Summer is usually  a time some for water sports such as swimming / diving, and mountain sports such as trekking / Nordic walking. I am not into water sports, but love the mountains. I did quite a few treks last year, and have started this trekking season last week.          

But the most enjoyable time of my life here was at my tennis club last year (Casino tennis club). Most courts here are clay courts and shut down during the winter, add   most clubs re  – open   around May. It is quite difficult to get into a club, find partners and get slots to play. But once I put in the time, effort and money, and showed some level of skill, I found that people were willing to play with me quite regularly.  

My doubles partner Alex and I , bonded well, and did pretty well at a fun tournament we had at the season end. We even had a poker tournament  and a party to close the season, and by then I knew most members of the club and it was fun. I learnt the rules of Poker that night, and by the time we finished playing the next morning, I won the entire lot of plastic coins. If only that was real money, I would be a millionaire now 🙂  

 I also plan to stay on one of the many mountain huts that are run by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC).          

Winter life is pretty harsh, and I ended up slouching and putting on a lot of weight. Winter is dominated by skiing and snowboarding. I learnt skiing for the first time, during the New Year holidays, by spending a week at Wengen, Interlaken. It was a bloody thrilling experience, and I did far better than I expected. But it is an expensive sport, and requires tremendous patience and perseverance. The rants of winter life, I would leave for another blog  🙂     

There is so much socializing and fun activities that are usually attached to these sports, such as the Apre skis, that ensure that you have to burn out some calories before you can have some fun. The drinks taste so much better after you have done a ski run, or a set of tennis.           

Trekking trails near Mount Tamara, Ticino

 

 The friendly and respectful Swiss people        

 Now, quite a few expats who might read this, would probably raise their eye brows. Most expats forums here have a section filled with cribs about how difficult it is to make local friends here.          

I would juxtapose that with experiences in other countries where people are more open to talk to you, but equally fast in being intrusive or abusive, or sometimes openly racial.   The Swiss, on the hand, do not come running to talk to you. If you do manage to strike up a conversation, they answer you politely. But it takes a lot of time, effort and perseverance to call a Swiss person a friend. And that is something I actually do not mind, because it’s my nature as well. I am quite open to conversations and interactions, but it takes me a long time to accept some one as a friend. And when I do, they are friends for life. I have made a few Swiss people like that who have been very friendly, helpful, and nice. These are people I would consider friends for life.    

By and large, they are very respectful to outsiders, whatever their private views on immigrations may be. I haven’t come across a single rude, or abusive Swiss person, and given my knack of getting into provocative conversations, that is an incredible record!         

Blending of urban and rural spaces         

Like I mentioned earlier, most Swiss cities are the size and population of small towns in India. So you can imagine how big the villages are! But there is a definitive sense of “Small is beautiful”. A person from a small Swiss village, would typically says he is from that village, and upon prodding mention it is near Zurich. Most Indians, would mention the name of the nearest big city as their place of origin.  Most of these villages have all the facilities you would expect in a big town anywhere: Kiosks or convenient stores, a bus / train / tram station, a few hotels and restaurants etc.          

The cities, towns, and villages blend rather seamlessly as you taken a train out of Basel or Zurich and cross a few stations. A big city is not necessarily an imposing entity, or a crowded and frenetic place. A village is not necessarily a poor place that is in accessible. In many ways, they are proud of their rural and agricultural connections, and it is quite fashionable to live in the country side.         

I would love to live in a Swiss country side, with  a farm, small brook, and some animals. But I can’t even afford that in my dreams now, and console myself with occasional weekend walks to such idyllic places!           

Lively street and public space culture       

There is a place in Basel called MessePlatz. It literally translates to a place for fairs / exhibitions.          

Across  every little town or city in the country, there is always something happening in such places. You have fairs, exhibitions, and shows for all kind of occasions such as celebrating Christmas, children’s day, day for some ethnic groups such as the Turks, or even a sports day. The Christmas and autumn markets and fairs are especially important. That is when the outdoor life drops, and these events that run for weeks together, keep the people on the streets. There is music, food, drinks (Gluhwein – a hot and spicy wine is a must try, if you want to survive the winter!), and people selling their produce.          

Each city / town has its show piece / landmark event. In Basel, it’s the Fasnacht in February. People plan for it for weeks, get up early in the morning with their outlandish costumes, and basically have a colorful street parade for days together. It’s also the time, when the Swiss shed all their reserved nature and go crazy! It has to be seen to believed!     

In addition to these big events, most city squares have some thing or the other going on  every other weekend. That keeps the people to the streets, and when you find yourself bored in spite of all that, it is possible to land up in some small pebble stoned quiet alley, and hear a young musician play his instrument. These are small pleasures in my Swiss life that I am so thankful for!        

Street music on some random carnical day in Neuchatel

 

  Basler Fasnacht:         

I hope I get to stay here a little longer, and I hope life also takes me to other wonderful places around the world. And I hope that till such time I am here, I always appreciate what a foreign country has to offer me, rather than get bogged down by a few minor rants.  

To me, one true test of globalization is when people can move freely from one country to another, and not just find a new house, but make a new home there. I think I have done that here, and Basel is my third home after Chennai & Bangalore.  

I would also encourage my Swiss friends to visit India and enjoy our sense of hospitality 🙂         

Cheers!        

Vasu        

Some further glimpses of my swiss life…         

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P.S: If you liked this post, you may also reading my other posts on life in Switzerland:       

1.  https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/friends-jazz-rain-bombay/      

2. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/light-up-your-cigars-but-not-on-my-face/      

3. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/the-singing-sensation-the-ultimate-bathroom-singing-list-the-band/

The singing sensation, The ultimate bathroom singing list & The band…

The singing sensation…

Sometime in the very hectic last two weeks, I did something I haven’t done for ages…sing out aloud!

Music is a big part of my life, like it is for any normal person and for a brief phase of my life, singing away to glory was a potential career option. I sang at every opportunity in school, trained myself in music and did all that jazz (pun intended!). That was before the damned disease that plagues teenage boys struck and my voice cracked and crashed my life. After that phase I could never cross a certain high-pitched note to my satisfaction. And yes, I am self-critical and obsessive, and like to do something in an excellent way or not do it at all.

For completely different reasons, that was when my dream of being a cricketer was also done and dusted with, so I had to figure out what to do in life 🙂

Thankfully, I did okay in my career so livelihood was taken care of. But I have never sung with others around after that. I mean, if I am with a few good friends who can tolerate me, I do break into a song, but it is otherwise restricted to the bathroom (looking at the mirror proudly after that!), or with my headphone on when am alone at home. And yeah there are times when I can’t hit a high note (like when I want to sing Hey Ajnabi from Dil Se, for example), and I curse myself for that.

But this time around, my friend Silja and her sister were keen on doing Karaoke with some funky system they have at home. She has this pretty cool contraption, which plays the lyrics as you sing along so you don’t make a fool of yourself with the words. And that is very important for me, because I have always had an ear for notes and tones, but not lyrics.

Filtering through the few English songs she had that I knew, I realized how out of sync I am with most artists, songs, and bands. And so I kept saying “Next song please”, for every song I could have done a karaoke for, till they got impatient.

I finally saw the words PINK FLOYD and I sprung to life. Bloody hell, I could sing most Floyd songs that have some vocals in them! (Or so I thought!)

And so for the next few hours I broke into a wonderful musical journey till it was so late, that the peace loving swiss neighbors would have called the police! I can tell you I haven’t had so much fun in ages, and at some stage it didn’t matter if I mixed the words, even with a neat display on the screen. We all had a huge laugh riot about it….

I’ll leave you with a bunch of songs in Hindi, Thamizh, and English, that have come out in the recent years, which I find most suitable for humming along. This is not my favorite songs per se, just songs on my mind from recent memory.There is something about them that is haunting and makes me sing along, and you would enjoy it even if you can’t understand the language…music is without any barriers!

My ultimate bathroom singing list:

1. Tum ho toh, Rock on:

2. Pehli baar mohabat ki hai, Kaminey:

3. Aaogi jab tum saajna, Jab we met:

4. Kangal Irandal, Subramaniapuram:

5.  Strawberry swing, Coldplay:  

6. Fix you, Coldplay:

7. City of blinding lights, U2:

The band…

A bunch of my expat friends have decided to start a band. I was hanging out with Mark, James and Daniela (James’s wife) at Cargo Bar (where else?) the other day. James said he wants to start a band, but he knows s**t about music. Mark nodded in agreement and then they decided they have enough in common to start a band. (Actually those gentlemen know a bloody lot; James has the most mind-blowing music collection I have ever seen in anybody’s house, and Mark can name more than half the tracks. I was the only one who was speaking the truth when I said, I know s**t about music).

Daniela was immediately appointed the manager of the band, and I felt so out-of-place as I had no role in the band. As the evening wore on, and the basic rules of the band were laid out, I decided I have to have a role in the band. No, it is not that of lead singer, and I am very thankful I avoided that temptation.

I am going to be the official recorder of the band’s story. After 20 years when they become famous I am going to make a hell of money publishing my diaries. And after 30 years when they split up, I am going to write about why they split up and make even more. As an excellent blogger/  writer (!), and an eye-witness to the historic night by the Rhine when the band was formed, I have earned my job.

I’ll keep you guys updated on how the band progresses, starting with when we decide to have a name 🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: If you liked this post, you may also reading: https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/friends-jazz-rain-bombay/

Light up your cigars, but not on my face!

I have been following the news of smoking bans across different parts of Switzerland, with a mix of curiosity and hope.

I am curious, because I do no know the specifics of the implementation, how the restaurant / bar owners and the public would respond, and if they decide to revoke the ban in the future. In a ways, the Swiss democracy is truly more for the people and by the people, than in most parts of the world. It’s quite possible they have a vote some time in the future on the same topic and more people vote against the ban, than for it.

But I am also hopeful the Swiss people give it a genuine try, and I think they will. After all, if India, with its massive complexities and diversity of people & interests, can pretty effectively implement a smoke ban, any country can. In fact, it hasn’t affected bossiness in India that much, and people across the cities still flock to their favorite restaurants / pubs and have their fun. The health minister who imposed the rule was vilified and was a punching bag for many, but people have gotten used to the new life now, and all seems well.

It’s important to articulate here, why I would advocate smoke bans across the world, and in what format, while also taking a look at the other view of the smokers.

I am a non smoker, and have always been one. For various reasons, including health, a smoker in my vicinity has always irritated my system.  But curiously, most of my friends and colleagues have always been smokers. I would gladly be in their company any time, any day, in spite of their smoking. It’s a choice I make. I have been consistent in my attitude to smoking and smokers, to borrow from Voltaire, “I may not smoke, and find it dirty, but will fight to the death to protect your right to smoke”

This is a debate that typically splits any demographic group across the world roughly 50:50. What I have observed, is that people take very strong positions without seeing the other side, and when it comes to this topic, there are not too many moderates. Either you hate smoking, detest smokers, and want it taken off planet earth, or you would attack any body that snatches your right to smoke, and consider them puritan pricks and eco / health fanatics. Or pure pricks!

So, here is my view on what would constitute an ideal city / town, balancing the needs of both:

1. Restricted smoke zones in closed places such as restaurants / bars / cafes / pubs / lounges / offices / hospitals etc. The moderation / implementation is left to the owners of the establishment

I would not advocate a complete ban, especially in places of nightlife and work, but a designated smoke zone / section. I know some of my colleagues who smoke pretty well to understand that it affects their concentration and productivity tremendously if they can’t have a fag once in a while. I think most companies across the world have adopted that pretty well on that front already.

I can also understand the high feeling you miss on when you are grooving to some tunes at a lounge, and a puff of smoke would make your ecstasy that much more. I think a middle ground is definitely achievable on this front and both sides need some getting used to. If a non smoker like me decides to be at a lounge with some friends, I should be ready to bear the smoke. If I am not ready, I always have the choice not to go. As an advanced step, it is possible for some enterprising owner to build an establishment and categorize it as for smokers only, or for non smokers only.

In a society such as Switzerland, I would leave the enforcement to the establishment, and not the authorities. India is not yet there, so I still see a need for cops (crooked as they are) to enforce the bans / restrictions. I am not sure of the specifics of the ban in Switzerland, but looks like they have a complete smoke ban now, and they could evolve into a moderated ban like the above in some time.

2. Restricted smoke zones in semi open public places, but with strict enforcement by the authorities.

This is primarily for major train / bus stations, airports etc. you have a lot of people allergic to smoke, or sick, or old, or infants, or pregnant women ion these places, and quite often they do not have a choice not to be there. This is where the attitude of smokers really riles the affected non smokers. On hundreds of occasions, I have had to fight my way through a cloud of smoke puffed arrogantly onto my face. The most irritating scenarios being crowded bus / train / tram stops, where you just can’t escape. I have also been pissed off by the attitude of some smokers when entering a place where they can’t smoke. The other day, I was steeping off a bank, and here is this guy entering the bank from the street. Smoke in hand, he enters, and we are both at the small glass door at the same time. He takes a big puff and blows it onto my face, then takes the cigar from his hand and drops it on the ground, inside the bank, which is obliviously a non smoking place. Before I can say WTF, he is away leaving me a violent cough and a huge stink. I don’t deserve that, and this is where one man’s freedom becomes another man’s pain.

I would also advocate a strong and complete ban in all places of public transport. This is more applicable to a country like India, where you get “smoked into” on most seats you would pick in a bus or a train.

I do not think achieving the above is utopian. It is possible to get there or thereabouts in small steps, and one fine day we all get used to the new way of life.

It’s important to restate here that moralities and Puritanism does not matter to a lot of common people like me, and lawmakers, when it comes to decisions on smoke bans. I have heard enough of the cries of taking away a man’s freedom, and claims of the state dictating your lives. All that is BS to me, because you seem to bother only about your freedom and not the other man’s. I guess a non smoker is as eligible for clean, smoke free air, as a smoker is entitled to his smoky air.  To all my smoking friends & strangers who smoke into my face, across the world I have to say “Please light up your cigars, and have your fun, but not on my face”

At the same time, I have also heard very touchy and “holier than thou” non smokers complaint about how it affects the health and environment and blah blah blah. I think every non smoker has a choice not to go to a place where he knows there is bound to be smoke. And I genuinely don’t believe a few million men & women  puffing into the atmosphere, is more dangerous to the world than all our industries, oil slicks, nuclear waste etc. in fact, when non smokers take a very strong view on this topic, they provide the moral justification for equally ridiculous justification for the smokers.

So, its about time we stopped looking at it in black and white, and understand & accept the eventualities of changes to our lifestyle across the world, irrespective of whether we smoke or not.

Switzerland would be an interesting place to observe these changes. It is an absolutely beautiful and clean country, but also a country full of heavy smokers everywhere. It’s a study in contrast, and I am actually surprised so many people voted for smoke bans, across so many cantons. I think Basel is having a ban from April 2010, and some smart cookies have organized “Non Smoking” bar / restaurant tours to show the owners their business would still be good. These are interesting times ahead!

Cheers!

Vasu

THAT face with THAT warm smile….

There is a lady (probably my mothers’s age) I see almost every working day at the restaurant on my campus. She has the biggest, most natural and widest smile ever, and she has the warmest “Halllooo” ever. 

There she is smiling, laughing, & talking cheerfully to her customers 24*7, and in the last six months I have never ever seen her remotely sad or upset. In fact, she would give a huge complex to most characters from a feel good movie. (Remember Rajesh Khanna in Anand, or Roberto Benigni in Life is beautiful?) 

Its incredible how a person can come to work, make a conversation with EVERY customer, and have some nice things to say to everybody. Most days I don’t go to her ice cream and desserts counter (I cant think of any person more suitable to serve you sweet dishes!). We could be having a quiet lunch somewhere in the corner. She bellows a loud “Halllloo’ and in case we missed her, follows it up with a “Guten Tag!” 

Every single day I cross her, she pauses to have a few minutes of friendly banter. She cannot speak more than 5 words in English, and I cannot speak more than 5 words in German. Yet I talk to her daily in a ritualistic way; the same applies to my team mates who lunch with me. On some days when work is stressful, I go and get an ice cream from her and listen to her 200 questions in German about how I am doing. I just nod something silly back, and she pretends she can understand me! No problem in the world appears significant after that ice cream, and it’s got nothing to do with the ice cream  🙂 

Some gestures, people, and smiles permeate all artificial barriers of language / culture / race. 

I consider myself a pretty light hearted, warm,  and occasionally funny person. But I can NEVER have a smile around me all day. Not even if I try to fake it. 

Its incredible how we make a big fuss about celebrities from sports, entertainments, art fields, but hardly stop to applaud the heroes we see in our lives everyday.  To me she is one such hero. In an increasingly cynical world driven by ambition, greed, hatred, stress, and complexity, some people remind you that life is essentially simple and meant to be lived with a smile. 

May her tribe increase!

Cheers!

Vasu

Doing what you love doing for a life time and excelling at it – a case of 3 role models

Act  1: 15 grand slam titles, 4 different surfaces, one cool Swiss man. 

On a hot summer day, when cooling off at home was the best option, or basking by the glorious River Rhine was the fashionable thing to do in Basel, I made my way to a specific restaurant / café in town. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else if anybody  paid me a million Swiss francs. There is nothing special about this place, it’s just another restaurant around Barfusserplatz that serves coffee, drinks, sandwiches and crepes. But this place is close to my heart nevertheless.

Cut to India in early January, me and a bunch of my close friends in Bangalore were watching the Australian open finals.  Federer was beaten and broken in a heart breaking, gut wrenching epic against Rafael Nadal. As a hard-core Federer fan, I had a grudging admiration of Nadal’s powers. There were a few voices including me that said, Fedex will be back, and Rafa cannot go on forever with his style of play. Our voices were feeble, as we felt our hero going down. But that’s not how the man himself saw it and that is the stuff that separates the champions from us.

On my first weekend in Basel, I was at the club where he grew up playing tennis and I had goose bumps all over me. Later, on a hot Sunday afternoon in Mid may,  I made my way to the crepe shop where the pair were in another final showdown, this time at the Spaniard’s home turf of Madrid. Federer went on to beat him, and I scented something was brewing. From then, I have been to that shop every time Federer plays and he has won every time. He went on to win that elusive French open, and that incredible Wimbledon finals where he wrote another record of 15 grand slam titles. For the records, I did not watch his US open finals there, and you could say that’s why he lost!

What is it that makes an Indian man, who plays a little tennis at the amateur level, go crazy over a racket wielding Swiss man? Sports, arts, cinema, and music transcend all barriers of race, culture, sex, and age. I am every bit a huge Federer supporter as anybody from Basel, and its all down to that man’s aura, incredible longevity in a fact paced game, and the will to push beyond all records and keep going higher. 

15 grand slam titles, 4 different surfaces, a bunch of challenging opponents including that mountain of a man – Rafa, 237 consecutive weeks and may more as world number 1, playing top-notch tennis at the age of 28, when he should rightfully be changing nappies and giving commentary by most yardsticks. Phew, that’s my all time favorite player there even if he did not have any of those records, just for his style of play.

 Act 2: The man with many faces, who is one of India’s lest celebrated cinema jewels. 

A few months earlier there were a series of shows and events organized across the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu,  to celebrate one man’s achievements. It’s a state where heroes are made and brought down on a daily basis, and where benchmarks for excellence in arts / sports / politics are shockingly low. Its pretty easy to whip up a media frenzy and create a hype around anybody, but on this rare occasion the entire state and knowledgeable people from across the country, stood up and took notice, and gave this man every bit of attention he deserved.

Tamilnadu is where I am from, and though I have not lived there for a while, I am a proud Tamilian. Of the few living people who make me proud of being a Tamilian, Kamal Hassan is pretty much one of the biggest names.

Kamal Hassan is a sworn atheist and communist and you can see that in most of his movies; I don’t have any issues with atheism as long as atheists don’t try to impose their views (which is akin to religious conversion and ideological extremism), and while Communism is a good utopian idea, when it goes wrong, as it often does, it goes terribly wrong. In spite of these difference of views, millions of people like me would watch every film of his, and we would watch many of his films over and over again.  I grew up watching his films, went on to watch many more films of the world in different languages, and spanning genres. Without sounding patronizing to a man from my part of the world, I can say he is one of the best movie makers the world has seen. 

Here are some select, lesser acknowledged facts that support my case: An acting, movie making, writing & singing career spanning 100s of films over 50 years; 7 entries to the best foreign film at the Oscars; 4 national awards; 19 film fare awards; an entry in Time magazine’s list of “Top 100 films ever made”; an incredible variety of characters, most notably a short midget, an autistic person, a woman, and 10 different roles in the same movie; all of the above are Indian records, and span movies across  5 distinct Indian languages;  a  Padmashri award to boot. 


Act  3: The boy genius who is still a cheeky little boy at heart, but a towering giant of a man in stature.  

A few days back, Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar passed a very rare milestone, in a career full of milestones. He has been playing for twenty years since the age of 16, and it’s a phenomenal achievement by any yard stick. The tributes have been pouring in from  every nook and corner of India, and cricket lovers across the world have taken notice. Sachin is NOT one of my favorite cricketers, for highly subjective perceptions (such as playing for records, not finishing too many games with a win as he should have),  and his style of play from an aesthetic point of view. None of these are hard facts and each one is free to have his perception. But a career of 20 years, 30K odd international runs, 87 centuries, countless man of the match and man of the series awards, wickets, catches and victories, are hard numbers that can never be ignored, or even matched.

He has too many well cherished records for me to list here, but there has always been a section of naysayers who doubt him. I have been in that list, and I can tell you that we all make the mistake of not acknowledging that he is judged with a very different prism from the rest.

I mean there is even a xenophobic zealot accusing him for saying that he is an Indian first and a Mumbaikar later. Give me a break guys. Let us for once, forget all the scrutiny of his words and actions, the  detailed statistical analysis of his career, and just celebrate Sachin for what he is!

In spite of the various opinions on his place among cricketing legends,  I put him right up there with the very best in the world in any field when it comes to passion for your job, career longevity, single minded focus to excel, and carrying your celebrity status in the most ideal manner possible.


The takeaways (I know this sounds like a consulting jargon, but let me use that for the lack of a better word…) 

The  most obvious common factor to these set of people was that they were destined to achieve greatness by virtue of being gifted with an abundance of abilities. Not everybody is as lucky, but if I choose to ignore the element of luck, I can think of a few unique traits that we all can try and adopt from them (results not guaranteed, but the effort is worth it!) 

  1. Choosing the field you love,  and doing it for as long as you are meeting the highest standards in it
  2. Allowing yourself to learn & grow, in an environment where you focus only on what you love doing,  and let everything else remain a lower priority
  3. A certain stubbornness / pig headedness that appears arrogant,  but is  actually based on tremendous self-awareness
  4. An oceanful of sheer sweat and blood
  5. Constantly re inventing yourself and keeping yourself contemporary, and up to any new challenge
  6. Carrying the attention, and scrutiny of your success with humility and ease.
  7. Staying young at heart
  8. Being tremendously competitive without ever being disrespectful to opponents / peers 

I must say the above is a bloody tough list to follow, but I find it useful  to have it noted somewhere nevertheless. Sometimes, we can learn so much by watching the lives of others unfold in front of us…

Friends, Jazz, Rain & Bombay

Well the title sums up the weekend that was.

It was one of the better weekends in the charming little town of Basel, Switzerland, where I have been living last six months. I have a lot of socializing opportunities with expat groups, travel groups, tennis club friends, and friends from work. I feel so much at ease with my circle of friends in Basel, that I can call it my third home after Chennai (where I was born and partly grew up), and Bangalore (where I spent most of my adult life).

 It started with my Brit friend (Cumbrian lass as she calls herself) H’s birthday party on Friday evening. Now H was a wonderful host and I have no words to describe how well organized and fun the event at her place was. To top it all, there were 3 men and some 10 women, and you can’t ask for more luck in life  I was amazed at how well maintained her place was (mine is a perennial mess in spite of being half the size of her place), how well planned she was with the music, drinks and snacks. Now if ever I have to throw a house party in Basle, this would pretty much be my benchmark.

There were a lot of common friends from previous events and I also bumped into a lot of new friends. There were a lot of interesting conversations before we all started dancing, and in particular I remember touching upon a rough comparison of how friendly or not the Swiss, French, German, and English are. Since I was with people mostly from UK or its former colonies, it was no surprise as to who were considered the coolest lot. But my take was simple, utopian and idealistic: every person is about as friendly as you are irrespective of race, religion, color, age, or sex! To me, everyone is as cool or uncool as every other one, and the only thing that matters is how friendly and open you are. As you guessed nobody took me seriously, but being disagreed with and / or saying something not popularly accepted, has never stopped me from calling it as I saw it!

Later that night we headed to Noohn, one of the chic lounge bars in town. Now this is another interesting thing about Basel – there are about 4-5 hot spots a few streets apart in town, where most people are headed to on the weekends. The chances of meeting a familiar face are phenomenally high, and I have taken to this small town culture like a fish takes to water. The ladies stayed on till fairly late in the night and I left early. I can’t stand smoke for too long and I am not too much a late night party person in any case. I had such great fun overall that I didn’t bother eating much…now that’s a rarity for a big foodie like me 🙂

Saturday was mostly a damp squib with the overcast weather and my laziness. The only good thing I did was to make up my mind to review, refine, and publish a lot of un published blogs lying as silent documents on my laptop. I had all the time and inclination in the world to do just that Me and my Indian friend V was yearning for a men’s night out in Basel, and my reputation as being clued onto every exciting event or place in Basel was at stake. We headed out first to the formal and relatively sophisticated “Birds eye jazz club”. Now the most interesting thing about this club to me is that on my very first day in Basel, after a long flight from India, I headed there and had my first conversation in Switzerland with a cute girl out there. And she was there yesterday as well. That’s how Déjà vu should be:)

We listened to a pretty good “Bakustic jazz” show from a band that looked and sounded pretty much Middle Eastern. We had a 12 CHF entry free and while we felt that there was a value for money, there was some spark, or excitement that was missing. That being the case we headed to a very ghettoish Cargo Bar, right by the bank of the Rhine River, and every bit as the name sounds! There we hear the most awesome jazz band in ages play and they all looked like university students. I wish I can get their name and get a CD of them, they were simply mind blowing. My mind was wavering to how the music scene in India is. I think we have a really strong classical, and film music tradition. But up until the last decade or so, I really did not find our youth bands come up with anything spectacular. I guess it’s fairly harsh to say, and my knowledge is limited, but I did feel that we were not creative and original enough. Whilst on this topics, I’ve got to say that a couple of my Indian friends in good old Bangalore are budding musicians who have their successful bands. Ananth Menon is part of Bangalore’s top notch band “Galeej Gurus”, and Aditya Vikram Mukherjee is the lead singer with “Today’s special” and Cheese. If any of you reading this happen to be in Bangalore, don’t miss my friends’ shows. That’s pretty much as good as it gets back home! You could hear a sampling of Aditya singing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IpXnJac7m4

Sunday morning was as lazy as Saturday, and in the evening my American friend S reminded me of our plan to watch a film. This is part of a series of Inter cultural films playing in a small theater in Basel, with an intro and discussion session. Today, it was the Indian film “Bombay”, in my native Tamil language with German sub titles. I made it a point to go and check out how people perceive a film that pretty much symbolizes where I am from. I realized pretty late than S is just learning German, and it was so sweet of her to agree to watch the film in any case, with my translation every time there was a song (that’s why Indian films are so uniquely useful!)

Bombay was a pretty good choice too, as most western audiences equate Indian films to the meaningless SRK – Karan Johar movies. Well they too are Indian films, but they are not the only Indian films. That’s a huge topic in itself, and may be you could start by reading my responses to an article in Hindustan Times.  Check “Reflecting countries and cultures and crossing cultures in movies” at: http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/expat-on-the-edge/2009/11/04/reflecting-countries-and-cultures-and-crossing-cultures-in-movies/

While, not one my favorite films, it’s a good film with a universal message, and it was interesting to hear S, who had little trouble understanding the movie say how the visuals were so brilliant, and helped her follow the key messages. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Mani Ratnam, a master craftsman, and one of India’s finest directors. A. R Rahman’s music was also thoroughly lapped up by the audience, and it’s a pity that Slumdog Millionaire, and that irritating Jai Ho song won him an Oscar, when you consider that a phase of his career which included Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, was one of his finest ever, and hardly got noticed outside India.

 We had a fascinating conversation over Italian Pizza and German beer (now that’s a combination made in heaven) about religious identities, secularism, our lack of understanding of different religions and yada yada.

In the course of an eventful weekend, I lost my umbrella and cap at different places, and should have been pissed with my terrible absent mindedness. But sometimes when things are going well, when you’ve had a nice time, and when life is as exciting as it can be, you could just ignore the rain & cold conditions, forget who and where you are, and just run hard with the rain on your face and a huge grin over nothing in particular. That’s what I just did…

Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: If you liked this post, youmay also enjoy reading: https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/the-singing-sensation-the-ultimate-bathroom-singing-list-the-band/

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