Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cook like a Lazy Bachelor

I have spent a fair amount of time living away from home with roommates. Now most of that time was spent in India, where cheap, edible food is easy to come by. As a bachelor miles away from home, the mom's home cooked meal might become a paradise, but there are several options to cheap , edible food. There are small hotels, dhabas, canteens (mesh), food stalls (e.g. pav bhaji) etc. As if that is not enough, there are the dabbawalas and even cooks for hire. All these mean that as a lazy bachelor like me doesn't have to cook in order to get fed.

However I also spent a significant amount of my bachelor's life in US. That's were I learn't that all the options mentioned above are, like my Mom's cooking, a luxury. My instincts did ensure that I could still survive without cooking much. However, what was instinctive turns out, is actually a process worth defining. Thus the next few points are my words of wisdom meant to help those in need to serve the sloth in them.
So here is the 5 point approach to getting fed with good food in the US without having to cook or get married.

1. Searching
The whole process starts with the all important search. The search for a guy who can cook well and is either looking for a room or a roommate. The search really doesn't have to be for a guy. It coule be a better if the result is a girl but frankly I am a conservative Indian and the concept of live-in was not ok with me when I was in the US. The important thing here is a "cook in need" of a roommate or a room.

2. Marketing
If you have found a "cook in need" then this point is not too difficult. All you have to do is sell yourself well to this guy and convince him to be your roommate. You would even be in a better bargaining position if the "cook in need" is looking for a room and you have one with space for one roommate.

3. Cooking
This process might be shocking for the true sloths and perhaps even risky. Its a process which is contradictory to the very purpose of the 5 point approach. It's however arguably the most important one too. Once the "cook in need" is your roommate, offer to cook for both of you. Take pride in whatever you can cook. Then prepare the best of your recipes and appear to be putting your best effort. The most important thing here is to ensure that whatever you cook only looks good but tastes like shit. Actually looking good part is optional, but "tastes like shit" is mandatory.

4. Eat S**t
By cooking for both you would have ensured that the only edible thing available in the house is the meal you just cooked. Now all you have to do is eat this meal with total commitment to eating and take much more pride in doing so, than you did when cooking. That way you have proven that you can eat almost anything. By cooking a useless meal you have also ensured that your roommate is going to either have an empty stomach or order a pizza. From my experience I have observed, that a good cook would rather cook than eat s**t or order a pizza every day. Whereas for a bad cook like me, almost any cooking is better than the s**t I cook. Thus you have now ensured that your roomate knows that you can't cook and can eat anything edible.

5. Be prepared to cry
This last point is more like putting nails on the coffin. By point 4 you have now acquired a roommate who is willing to cook for you. However what is to stop him from looking for a roommate again. That's where this point comes in. All you have to do is be happy in doing 2 things. First always be the guy who does the dishes. Yes it is a little hard work but better than having to eat a meal cooked by self. In US, a lot of apartments come with dishwashers. If yours is one of those, then doing the dishes doesn't count towards a significant contribution. Then be prepared to cut the vegetables and most importantly the onions (unless your roommate is a jain or gujju who doesn't eat onions). All good cooks like people who can cut onions as per their size specifications (i even claim to cut them in terms of square mm). Onions make you cry, but it is better to cry over onions than to eat a self cooked meal or order pizza everyday. It is even said that the tears drawn by the onion's smell help the health of eyes in some way.

Thus I have now brought out the 5 point process. However it is important to remember that for lazy people a lot of this process is instinctive. My ex roomie referred to as The Owl seemed to know this whole process instinctively even as I narrated this to him once. Thus if your "cook in need" is also a sloth then you might face some serious competition.
Another disclaimer, this process will work only with roommates. I think that most wives are quite smart to see through this process and any married men wanting to try this out please be prepared for the couch and a little bit of the "belan"

Friday, April 20, 2007

A life called Infosys - When I was in the US ...

In my last post I talked about the American Reality. However I did forget to mention that the reality also included several other non material experiences. These however form a part of cherished memories and not just material aspects of the life in US.
These include various experinces around the daily life like Driving, cooking, friday night parties, travelling, the snow fall, the autumn colours. I would have to write a whole different post(s) on those memories to be able to do justice to them.
This post is however about the after effects that those memories and the American reality have on an individual who returns to India after a really long time

My first observation as I came back to India, was of the vibrant life out here. There are people all around in the city of Mumbai .. even at 4:00 am in the night.It was a pleasant change after moving on roads which only had vehicles. So now that I am back in India to stay I might as well highlight (in no specific order) the after effects of coming back after a long stay outside India.

The Amnesia
After shocking my Mom by turning up unannounced at 4:00 am, I set out to rediscover India. Things had changed a lot in that 1.5 years that I was out. The stock market indexes had more than doubled themselves, the Indian economy was on an unprecedented growth path, old sick industries were replaced by tall buildings or shopping malls, there were many more cars on the street. It was almost a place alien to me.
That's when I realised that coming back from the US was more like waking up with an amnesia and as if I just can't remember what had happened in last 1.5 years. It was almost as if I had a void in my life for that period and the whole country had somehow propelled itself several light years ahead. Thus apart from the economic changes there were some other significant differences. Indian cricket team was no longer the world beater (except Australia) that it was in 2003. Himesh Reshamiya was a hit, and you could hate him but not miss him on any channel. Stand up comedy was now a big hit and Jhonny Lever, Shekhar Suman could now be seen as pioneers of a growing cult. Cheap airlines where everywhere. I thought wow ..where was I, when all this was happening... I guess I just lost two years of memory .. Frankly I didn't lose any but yet there is still this feeling of Amnesia.

1 Usd = Rs 45
The first few weeks on return spent shopping. As yet I hadn't received my rupee salary so I was still converting everything into USD and thinking .. wow India is so cheap..So I ended up buying goods worth more than a couple of months of my Indian salary in just 2 weeks. The good old 14 inch T.V used to suffice in the bachelor's room but now I wanted to unleash a 29 inch gaint in my 1 bedroom apartment. The I was even thinking of buying a small flat on down payment, but to my surprise I discovered that along with the booming economy the real estate prices too had doubled. Around the same time my first Indian salary came down and thankfully realty dawned on me. The fact that I wasn't really getting paid in USD any longer and that rupee is still a poor currency.

Traffic Sense .. What's that ?
Even as I stepped out of the airport into the front seat of a an out of production "Premier Padmini" taxi, I was still stuck in the traffic discipline of the US. Then I realised the first "When I was in the US" effect. As I sat on the front seat, I was searching for the non existent seat belt. The lack of it did make realise that I was back in India, but for the first time I was scared about effect of accidents in absence of seatbelts. After all "when I was in the US" wearing a seat belt was cumpulsory on the front seat. I also discovered that the 2 second rule exists only in books (all 2 / 4 wheeler license holders who haven't heard of this rule .. please do 10 sit ups as a punishment for getting the license through corrupt means). Every time the taxi drew close to the vehicle in front I was scared that we would rearend the vehicle and was shouting in my mind at the peak of my inner voice ... "Brake Brake !"
Later I realised that in India people do appreciate the concept of brake, except that they prefer optimising the distance between 2 vehicles to virtually zero.

Cooking and cleaning
"When I was in the US" I used to cook my own food and wash utensils. This had left a lasting impression. For the first few days I was still used to washing utensils and it was difficult to let go off the lunch plate after eating. That even if my Mom insisted on me not entering the kitchen. Of course my laziness ensured that I didn't resist much, but I have to say that being served and taken care of was a very welcome change. Apart from that, I was always out there to proclaim my culinary skills with head held high. Of course, that only upto the point till some one asked me to cook up something. Then I realised that I could cook excuses better than food. .On day one. I proudly announced to my Mom, that I could cook well. To date I haven't cooked the fried fish or chicken that I promised would leave her licking her fingers. At least I learnt cooking excuses I guess.

Now even though I had that amnesia, I discovered that there was something useful also about it. As I entered my Infy campus, I realised that there was a whole set of people who had joined after I left the campus on my deputation. Thus the campus was full of whole new and younger crowd. Suddenly there was a new found sense of seniority. There were now people who took even my crap quite seriously. Afterall I had the onsite return tag associated with me. The managers treated my ideas with more respect and seriousness. The new joinees seemed to look up to me. Informal "Tu" and "Tum" words in the daily hindi were replaced by a respectful "aap" except by people who had like me recently returned from onsite. In fact for some time they were the only people I knew. Hence I guess the associated "seniority" factor. Soon I got tired of hearing the formal diction of people with me and decided to give up the seniority feeling for a more peer feel. However it is one feeling which was a pleasant change for some time at least.

Art of Story telling
I was never a stranger to the art of story telling. I think talking from own experiences coupled with using simile, metaphors and hyperbole comes quite naturally to me. Most of my blogs are also thus written. However the seniority factor had kicked in quite well and people listened (especially juniors) quite patiently to all my stories. They showed keen interest and I happily obliged. I soon found my stories starting with "When I was in the US .....". Soon as the seniority turned to peer feeling, the term "When I was in the US ... " was used more to pull my leg whenever the "Amnesia" seemed to hit me. Thus the name of this post.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A life called Infosys - The American Reality

This post has not much to do with Infosys, except that Infosys sponsered my Ticket to the USA. After looking forward to the "Great American Dream" ,mentioned in the previous article, when the dream finally comes true the experience is totally different. It is almost unexpected. Right from the time one lands on the airport to the point when one leaves the country for the trip back home, its a mixed bag of experiences. Some which one cherishes others which serve as a reality check.

The first thing one would notice at any US International airport is that it is a country which is now a home to, in a sense, a whole world. Thus one sees Africans, Asians, Europeans and of course Americans all in the same place. Its afterall it is a country built through several hundreds years of immigration. Immigrants who came in search of their own Great American Dream and then became a part of it. Diversity is nothing new for me, as a Mumbaite and an Indian but this diversity of the whole world is definitely a different experience.

The next thing I observed was wide, flat roads and speeding cars. After being so used to the bumpy rides all over India, it was a welcome change to be able to move around in a car without risking a sprain in the back. However while there were such wide roads and fast cars, I soon realised one big thing missing. There were almost no people moving around on the footpath. From a country which was densely populated with people all around, this was a change that was definitely not welcome. I guess as social animals, being around people is quite important for us. It was a strange and eerie feeling to be not able to see people walking around. Its almost as if all those fast roads and comfortable cars had made people forget what walking was all about.

A few days into the country and i came to know some important definitions. Definitions that marked the presence into a country which seems to value people so much, Yet the full life revolves around materials.

1. SSN
The Social Security Number is a unique number identifying every US tax payer. However its beyond just being a number. Its almost a number without which, as a foreigner, one cannot exist in US. Whether it is opening a bank account or getting a drivers license or even a mobile phone the SSN is a must.. In short if there anything that either identifies you or is related to your finances .. you don't exist until you have an SSN. The physical presence and passport identification don't seem to be enough to change that lack of existence...
However, Pubs, Discs and Gentlemen's club allow entry with just a passport..Had it not been these -- lack of SSN makes it feel as if its a dog's life ... The scariest part especially for some one on a work permit is that the Salary reportedly cannot be credited without a bank account and a SSN . Thankfully though I got mine quickly.

2. Credit histroy

Now even if one has an SSN, in a country where there is perhaps more plastic money than paper money... it is again difficult to imagine making do without a credit card. Its a country that's almost driven by Credit.. So much so that there is whole credit history which is maintained against an individual and his SSN. This history is queried by anyone who is considering lending money or a service that involves credit payments.. Be it a bank loan or even the mobile service provider every one checks your history... Paradoxically however, without having availiing any credit one cannot build that history.. There are of course ways to do that, like secure credit cards .. but it is a long and painful processes to be recognized as a credit worthy individual. The ironical part however is , once established as one, the people extending credit (retail banks) won't stop haunting you to take more credit.

3. Shopping Malls and Mega Stores
As I write this post, India is changing. There are shopping malls everywhere in India. However when I made my first trip to US, shopping malls were an alien concept in India. There were huge stores which called themselves malls and there were true shopping malls in some of the metropolitan cities. However none of those compare up to the sheer size of a Walmart or a Sam's club or some of the Shopping Malls that house these Mega Stores. As one enters one of these malls, a realization dawns. This place has practically everything from a safety pin to large furniture. For a shopper its a paradise... Several racks full of merchandise to pick from. They also define the competitiveness and commiditization in almost all goods. The malls are a defining moment of America to an Indian. As a friend put it "For me the defining moment of entry to America was when we walked into that store picked up the TV, table, kitchen stuff and other things, and walked to the checkout counter to finish shopping with a swipe of a card" ....
So simple huh ....

4. Bills.
Bills stand for a lot of things in this country. If you are paying the bills its a great thing because it also means that you are earning bills .... The statement might sound illogical or paradoxical but its true. Almost every service that is provided and involves credit, has an associated bill that the service provider sends to you. You have to pay the bills to make a good "Credit History" and enjoy uninterrupted service. To pay a bill, of course, you have to be earning money. To pay a bill you have to shell out bills .. the Dollar bills.. What we,in India, call as currency notes are also known as bills out in the US.
For any person, within a month or two this list of bills becomes quite long ... so long that life seems to just revolve around "Due dates".. To name a few bills - telephone, mobile, credit card, internet, cable tv, DVD subscription (movie buffs .. take a note) ... and so on ..
After all its a country which runs on Credit ....

5. Laptop with wirless lan
If you are a techie or for that matter even conversant enough with computers to be browsing the internet then there is a good chance that this point applies to you. Soon after entering the country and settling down in an apartment, you would realise that you need internet. Afterall chatting with your friends and family back home is important. If you can afford it you'd choose broadband which of course is not too costly. This is also one country where laptops are quite affordable. Thus almost anyone who can afford it has one. If you are a IT employee like me then add to the list a company and possibly a client provided laptop too. Once you have a laptop and broadband you want to be able to connect to net from the comfort of your bed ... There you discover the convenience of wireless LAN. If you are a corrupt DESI like me, you probably discovered that convinience without even having to buy a wirelass router .. God bless those non techie neighbours for setting up unsecured LANs..
Soon you would realise that every waking moment that you are seated home and not doing a household chore .. you are in fact accessing the net .. mailing, chatting, browsing, reading, "Dealing" (more on this in the next para) .. Soon your main means of communication to the outside world becomes the net ... For all you know, you are in an interesting conversation with a chat friend and you figure out that it is none other than the next door neighbour you never care to say "hi" to when in person... Remember Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in "You got Mail"... That's the power of Laptop with wireless Lan.

6. Dealing.
I think this is one an art rather than a concept and that it is more common to Indians in America than Americans themselves. The American salesman has a unique way of making sure that the consumers buy 10 things they don't need. Its called "Deal". Put simply they would offer various options like instant rebate, cash back, mail in rebate (you are paid back by check if you care to send them a snail mail saying you are entitled to it), buy one get one free,coupon discount, and so on.... These are advertised as deals.. Not only that these deals are advertised, there even websites that bring you information from the various stores, service provides, sellers, companies etc, about deals on a product that you choose to search on. Thus you can find out the right deal from the comfort of your bed (Laptop with wireless lan). Talk about lazy shopping. Then there are the highly marketed Deals on the big shopping days like the day after Thanks giving day sale.
I have to say though that if you are a patient and smart shopper, all these deals mean that you can actually get hold of something that you have a fetish for, at almost a throw away price. The key is keeping a track of all the deal sites, on a regular basis, watching the objects of interest and making notes. That is the art of Dealing. I remember I had quite a few friends who were quite skilled at this art. One of my collegues was so preoccupied with this art that "Deal" became his middle name. Need I say more on this art...

7. s***p Clubs.
No comments... Lest I blow out my truth.

My next post would be life after coming back to Mother India ... the homeland