Sunday, August 16, 2015

Signs of an NRI (and RI) Socialite

Disclaimer: The author shuns responsibility for any feelings of hurt this “Honesty 12.0 on a scale of 10” post may cause. All characters that have inspired this post are certainly not fictitious, although not all of them are known to the author personally. Any resemblance to anyone living or throwing Hangover-themed parties on their fiftieth birthday is purely so not coincidental. The author has documented her observations based on years of harrowing experience of living in the US and failing miserably to blend in with the nouveau riche NRI crowd. The entertainment their over-documented, cookie-cutter celebrity lives have provided the author so much inspiration that the author has renounced any contact whatsoever with the NRI community in Europe. Love them, hate them, unfollow them, but you cannot delete them. Although primarily meant for the NRI, the average Resident Indian (RI) has also started to show such symptoms, thanks to globalization. Here are some sure shot signs of an NRI/RI-socialite, documented without any prejudice or judgment (written in first person for special effects).

1. The more pregnant we are, the filmier our lives get. By the time it gets to the pregnancy photo shoot, replete with Surf-Excel-washed flowing white clothes, pink/blue props (how innovative!), sugary-gooey loving expressions, and close up shots of sixteen different positions of the man kissing the baby bump (that is more of a hillock by now) and making heart signs with jointed fingers, you will be wallowing in self-pity, looking at your own not-so-colorful life and frantically Googling, “How to look amazing despite greying hair, hormonal earthquakes, and PMS”.

2. For someone who attends five weekend parties on an average, you will never see us wearing the same designer clothes or accessories twice. The 90-day return policies of the stores certainly help.

3. We call our close friends "girlfriend", "babe", and "bestie" on Facebook. And a bitch behind their Faceback.

Corollary: Behind every happy groupfie taken with or without a stick is a bunch of dysfunctional friendship stories gone awry due to petty jealousy.

4. The man we are standing next to, and most of the time intimately, or even being lifted up in their arms, is not our husband. In fact most of the time, the husband is the photographer, or a distant spectator.

5. We might originally hail from Kochi, Ernakulum, or Muzaffarnagar. But our children have the names of Roman Gods and Greek Goddesses. A far cry from the Hemlata, Indumati, Agniveena, or even the Nisha, Pooja, and Neha.

Nama Sutra: The art of giving our children never-heard-before names. Take a mixer. Pour plenty of Hindi alphabets you learnt in the first grade. Blend well, until they mix thoroughly. Pick up two or three alphabets at random, and combine them in any random order, creating names like Napa, Resa, Saga, Roti, Kapda. Remember, if the name makes people go scratching their heads because they have never heard it before, it is Roman and Greek enough.

6. You have never seen us without makeup. Even our family has never seen us without makeup. Go check out the makeup groups where we dedicatedly post too-close-for-comfort close-ups of our faces, giving detailed step-by-step accounts of the makeup products we used in different quadrants of our face. Talking of effort, your entire effort of writing that goddamn dissertation that you mistakenly thought would pull you out of your pitiful existence would be put to shame.

7. Our predictable display of affection for other friends is very entertaining. Most of the time, we Like and comment on the same set of people’s updates. We root for brand names, not (writing) products. The comments typically look like this:

We: “Love your dress. Your nail polish. Your shoes. Your sense of style. Your blah blah blah.”
Them: “Thank you. You inspire me. XOXOXOXO.”
We: “You inspire me too. Muaaah.” 

Did you know that the number of Likes and comments are a direct function of a person’s popularity, and hence, should not be underestimated? We sometimes ask people offline how our Facebook picture is, and nudge them to Like or leave a comment, or paste their personal email/chat messages on our cake-cutting birthday pictures. We often ask people to "show some love”, because it is not love if it does not show.

8. Akhaade-Mein-Pehelwaan, or AMP alert: We will diligently tell you about every effort we made to get a finely chiseled and sculpted body, making you look at your six pack of (fl)abs and want to die out of shame.

"My breakfast was 50 push ups, 50 pull ups, 50 deadlifts, and 50 Surya Namaskars. For main course, did yoga and Zumba. For dessert, held a buffalo for five minutes to build bicep strength. Loved getting hot and sweaty. Now, time for chocolate pastries." (Hashtag: Loveyourbody, hardcorehotness). To which, rain comments like, "Love your dedication. What an inspiration!"

N.B.: We never ate that chocolate pastry. That was just to distract you, and make you crave for desserts.

9. Our moms and dads are also on Facebook, and usually comment on our funnily scandalous pictures with Alok-Nathish-sanskaari comments like, "God bless you beta.", or, “You are our baby doll.” (Parents, do you know what a baby doll really means?). In case of pictures from trips to exotic islands, our parents mostly write Tagore quotes in pure Bangla in the comments section that no one else understands.

10. We usually comment on other friends' pictures, writing things like, "hawwt momma", and "yummy momma" (although they are neither our mom, nor hot; far from it). Imagine your average Mashima from Midnapore, calling your Mom “Garam Ma” or “Swadisht Ma”. Yeah, I know. When said in English, even the most inappropriate of terms sound sassy and cool.

11. For your birthdays, you visit the local deity and the restaurant to celebrate with friends and family. If the birthday is the 50th one, you hide in your basement. When we turn 50, we fly to Vegas with a bunch of friends, ride limousines, drink champagne, gamble, throw themed costume parties, and wear identical tee-shirts with identical slogans to show solidarity.

12. Chin up. Hands on hips. Turn body to a 45 degree slant. These are not confidence-boosting mantras, but posing tricks that can effectively take care of the double chin, the hanging biceps, and the sagging tummy, respectively. And talking about pictures, if there aren’t any close up pictures of every food item, including the chips and the soda, the party was as good as having never happened at all.

13. Date nights occur more frequently than trips to the grocery store, post office, or bank in our household.  

14. One of the epic lines in my favorite movie When Harry Met Sally is when Harry tells Sally, “It is so nice when you can sit with someone and not have to talk.” That’s why every vital conversation with the partner, from when we will be home to how much we love one another, and even wishing each other Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary is made on Facebook.

15. Significant, coolness-enhancing, once-in-a-lifetime events like road trips need special, live updates. Crossed a field. Saw a tree. Stopped by the gas station and took a selfie. Ate roti and achaar while watching the sunset. You get the picture.

16. If a new child arrives without preamble, a maternity photo shoot, an elaborate baby shower, periodic documentation of every emotional crest and trough mapped on the pregnancy curve, or live updates from the hospital, the new child is probably a puppy, kitty, or a new car.

Lastly, you see our pictures from five years ago, and we look like totally normal people.


Saturday, August 08, 2015

Frankfurt Diaries

Truth is stranger than fiction. On a Saturday night at 11 pm, I sat in a bar right in the heart of a red-light district, sipping on orange juice, and working. I had a bus to take back home in two hours, and it made more sense to be indoors than outdoors. This area is right by the Hauptbahnhoff, the central station. I had a few more hours to kill, and it made sense to work, and watch guys pick up girls, amid glasses of beer and other alcoholic beverages.

Europe is amazingly open-minded this way. In India, I wouldn’t even dare walk close to the red-light districts, even during the day. Even in the US, these areas always had a bunch of cop cars flashing their blue lights, letting you know that these areas are not trouble-free. In Europe, no one cares. No one bothers you. There are no cops. People, families, pets, and kids walk around without any hesitation, even as late as after midnight. No one will do anything to you (unless you want something to be done to you). This area I was staying at is infested with sex shops, strip clubs, blue film theaters, and what not. And right next to those were ice cream shops, the Indian grocery store, an all-vegetarian South Indian restaurant, a Starbucks, and what not. It seemed like the pimps, prostitutes, strippers, call girls, drug addicts, devout vegetarians, traffic police, beggars, restaurant owners, and tourists, all co-existed together in the same neighborhood. That is so remarkable, and truly the mark of a progressive society.

Traveling is always enlightening. It shows me things that are unimaginable. And Frankfurt is by no means anything like the tiny city I live in, where I get to see mostly Germans. Ever since I left the US, I have missed seeing demographic diversity. Never before have I been in a country that is a melting pot of so many people, so many cultures across everywhere in the world. Living where I live now, Germany looks very German, very White. But Frankfurt is more cosmopolitan. This is the only city I have seen in Germany that looks closest to the US.

Transportation in Frankfurt is also something to be admired (true in most big European cities). The neighborhoods of Frankfurt are extremely well-connected. There is a thick network of lines for the trains, buses, metros, and trams. One could reach any corner of the city in no time. The metro is marked U with numbers (U1, U2, etc.), and runs every five minutes. A daily pass costs €6.80, giving one access to any train, bus, or tram (basically, anything that moves). People compare Berlin to Washington DC (country’s capital), and Frankfurt to New York City (the financial capital, also known as the “Main”hattan, because the river Main flows by Frankfurt). I can totally see why.

Picture: The Frankfurt Skyline.

I spent some time walking around the city, by the river Main, touring the Goethe University campus, riding the trains, climbing churches, and generally taking in the sights and sounds of a new city. I have been flying via Frankfurt for the last nine years now, but never before did I visit the city. There was a visible skyline of tall concrete buildings in the downtown area. Although much smaller compared to the major US cities like New York City and San Francisco, this is the most American looking set of concrete buildings I have seen in Germany.

I stayed in a hostel (as always) on Kaisserstrasse. The neighborhood is very red-light, like I said, but nothing that makes you feel unsafe. The plus points: It’s a five minute walk from the central station, the neighborhood is full of restaurants and stores, and this place is within walking distance from any major tourist attraction. In short, you cannot go wrong with the location. The neighborhood was alive and throbbing with activity even at midnight.

The hostel was clean, functional, and promised what it offered for the amount it charged. I love to travel on budget and live in hostels, so this was great. If you like to travel in luxury, this is not the place for you. If you do not want to spend extra money, carry everything with you. What you pay for is a bed in the hostel, and access to showers and bathrooms. Beyond that, they charge you for everything: Towels, soap, shampoo, breakfast (€4.50 for all you can eat), and padlocks for your locker. The strange thing is, they charged me €5 extra because it was Friday night, although eight out of the ten beds in the room were empty that night. My bus was 13 hours after the checkout time, and the good thing is that they let me wait in the common room, and then at the bar for that long. The internet is free, although the connection is not superb, and you have to refresh your connection every three hours. I was there for three nights, and there was a constant inflow of traffic in my room. The interesting thing is that I shared a ten-bed female dorm, and every single person other than me was Asian. Well, technically, I am from Asia too, but not Asian.

Do not miss eating at Saravanaa Bhavan on Kaisserstrasse (no free internet, the staff is really friendly and gave me extra helpings of sambar and chutney all the time, desi kids are a pain and made a mess at the table) and the Hyderabadi Biryani in Ruchi (Ludwigstrasse; internet is free, kids continue to make a mess, making the table look like a war-zone). The ice cream shops along the area (€1/scoop) were pretty good too. The other nice thing was huffing and puffing while climbing up the Frankfurt Cathedral (€3-4). My biggest advice is, travel Europe while you are physically fit. Because Europe means a lot of churches. And that involves climbing on top of them to get panoramic views. Many of these churches are old, do not have elevators, and involve climbing up hundreds of flights of steps in roundabout stairways. Sometimes, all you have are railings and ropes to hold on to. And when someone is descending the same way, all you can do is tuck in your tummy, stop breathing, and hope that you do not trip and fall.

I am beginning to realize that most big European cities are structured similarly. There will be rivers and canals, with many bridges to walk by. Some of those bridges will be weighed down by locks the lovers leave after inscribing their names. There will be a few churches you can get on top of to get nice panoramic views. There will be food districts, and red-light districts. Hamburg, Frankfurt, Berlin, Dresden, Copenhagen, Malmoe, Paris, Geneva, Luebeck, Prague, the cities look similar. Perhaps Lisbon and Sintra (both in Portugal) are the only two cities that looked a little different.

My next trip will be a tri-capital trip. Helsinki-Tallinn-Riga. The capital cities for Finland, Estonia, and Latvia, respectively.