And, Kolkata yet again

From the last two days at Kolkata. This has actually turned out to be one of the better trips to the city. Got both the scheduled tasks done and, managed to sneak in some unscheduled work too (the home loan part pre-payment). And, all this in spite of the protests and rallies at the Metro Channel and what not.

Here are some notes in random order. Yet again.

  • Used cash to pay for all transactions but one. And, ended up with a clearer picture of spending patterns when in the city. Of course, being a single traveler does help since the need to carry around large sums of cash diminishes. I should try this again as much as possible.
  • I am still recovering from the shock of getting a phone line installed, phone instrument delivered and, a phone number generated all within a span of 7 days. And, the promise of a 2 day turn around in data link connection. And, a 1 day turn around for a 3G SIM.
  • Taxis have this annoying habit of standing around 10 metres ahead or, behind a designated taxi stand. The designated taxi stand has a forlon looking taxi queue coordinator either chewing tobacco or, listlessly smoking a bidi.
  • I’ve taken cab rides in cabs with the most funky upholstery. Including one that had a lady in a huge cocktail glass. Seriously. No pictures though. The cabbie was upset when I took one and had to mollify him by showing that I indeed deleted it.
  • The approach to the EM Bypass / Kalikapur via the Jadavpur PS can also double up as an obstacle course for cars during rush hours. Car sized cracks in the road on both sides of the approach.
  • The number of government and quasi government vehicles which ferry folks for a fare around the EM Bypass is staggering. I wonder why nothing is ever done about this thing.
  • The sight of a bus load of shawl clad folks getting off opposite the DLF building and then scurrying across the road in the smog to go to their workplaces is a sight by itself.
  • The globe on the Technopolis building needs some patch-up. It looks like it is going to fall off the perch in no time.
  • 45+ lac for a 3BHK at New Town seems to be the flavor of the month billboard. A Hiland Project of some sort.
  • Lots of buildings on the Rajarhat-NewTown connector use ‘Nook’ (as in Foo Nook) in the name of the complex or, building.
  • NSCBI (aka Dum Dum) hopefully would be more spruced up once the construction is complete. For now it is the most ill managed, chaotic, un-organized airport.
  • I don’t know why folks become such boors at airports when they have an e-ticket. Got queue jumped by 3 Blackberry wielding folks (all in suits and totally unapologetic when their behavior was pointed out. One of them seemed to be some sort of a fat cat at a Tata Group company) and, a family of 10 (actually a single person jumped the queue and fished out a ticket and that caravan of trolleys) with possibly 50 pieces of luggage all of which they wanted to carry on board.
  • Same queue jumping when the flight was called. And, guess what ? The same Tata chap did it again. Shameless !
  • Indigo did not have the fruit cake. I am planning to lodge a complaint now.
  • The flight was a bit choppy and I have a nice little headache which may flame up into something of a serious one. I hope it doesn’t.

On a city that will need to die

I had to visit Esplanade yesterday. This has been a week of rallies. One after another. And while the Police and general public have been berating the constant use of the “Metro channel” (the area in and around the Metro cinema etc) as the chosen spot for rallies, the organizers have been obtaining permission (from the police) and, arranging for the mass ‘protest’ and demonstrations.

When we were relatively young and, used to visit the Brigade Grounds and the Maidan for the casual playing of cricket and football, the elders accompanying us used to be averse towards visiting these spots till a week after the big rallies. The reason was practical – rally organization logistics demanded that participants needed to be brought to the city in buses and other vehicles. The basic amenities arranged for included open pit latrines across the various patches of green. The ugly remains of a “successful” rally was there for everyone to see and the very unfortunate to step upon/into. Years have passed by, the scene hasn’t changed. And, yesterday, the pavements and lanes of all the connecting pathways between J L Nehru Road and, Red Road were filled up with folks in tents, camped there to await the rally for the next day. And, the unmistakable scene of open-air defecation. Along with the stench. Either the wind wasn’t blowing across the river and across the Eden Gardens or, the stench was horrendous.

What will happen to a city that revels in the most stupid way in such display ? Near the CESC office there was an agitation of the contingent workers. Led and organized by CITU. The usual cursory “Zindabad, Zindabad” litany was on when I turned towards the Ayakar Bhaban. When I came out, the crowd was dispersing in various four and three wheelers. And, the ground was red with chewing tobacco spit. That segment of road, hardly 20 feet is actually very well maintained and cleaned. That piece was full of spit – red and god-awful to look at. The wall of the Metro station right near the Peerless Inn is another gallery of chewing tobacco art.

I’m not generally the one who’d berate his city of birth. But, there is a limit till which one can turn a blind eye and keep telling fondly “but oh ! that is so Kolkata”. That doesn’t work not any more. Simple civic sense seems to have floated out of the brains of the citizenry. I’ve had a well dressed, well spoken gentleman walk into a shop smoking a cigarette and then arguing that the shop was a public place because it was open to the public ! On a side note, the ladies I’ve noticed smoking tend to be more careful about not blowing smoke into your face and up your nostrils. Try the stretch between Asiatic Society and, The Park, especially right opposite the ICICI Chowringhee Branch. You’d be hard pressed to see anything other than swirling curls of cigarette smoke and be assaulted on your nose by the astringent smell. It is the same you’d see in auto rickshaws, buses and, taxis. 

It amuses me to sometimes hear side conversations about the impending political change. As if things will be wiped out and a happy life would begin. Two things jump out – that the population is frustrated with the incumbent government and desperately hope that a change would be good and, in their eagerness to self-delude themselves about a change being good, they forget that the political actors haven’t changed, the equations haven’t changed and, that they all originated from the same cesspool of Bengal politics.

Living with a LG P500

I’ve been using a LG P500 for a while now. The phone is a couple of firsts for me – a first time shift from being a longtime user of Symbian phones, a first time user of a touch phone and, a first time user of an Android device (this comes with Android 2.2)

The phone specifications can be read at this page and it would be obvious at a first glance that it isn’t beefy. I would agree. Games aren’t the strong point of the phone. I’m not too particularly fond of games but I gave them a shot just to check how the hardware behaves. There are a few other bits too – the tiny power/screen lock button on the top, the lack of a flash, the latency of the camera between clicking to shoot and actually storing the picture and, the slightly cluttered up application screen. However, these are more than made up for by the balance of the phone. How an instrument feels on the hand is very important to me – this one is snug and evenly balanced and, even though I shifted from the all metal feel of an e71, this one doesn’t feel tackily plasticky. I like the interface and, although it took me a while to figure out how to prevent applications running in the background from slurping up data on a GPRS data connection, I blame the sparse manual for that rather than the phone UI. Having heard horror stories about the Android battery life, I was prepared to be disappointed. However, so far, squeezing out 20+ hours on a single charge and full day usage hasn’t been too tough. Either I am a lucky sort or, the battery is performing better in the initial stages. 

Which brings us to the thing that bothers the hell out of me. I’ve always maintained that the Ovi Store was a misery. Well, the Android marketplace seems to be a misery of a different sort – too many applications and not enough information about the ratings and what they mean. And, the AppAdvisor provided by LG is equally flawed when suggesting any applications. For the record, the current lot of extra applications I’ve downloaded and used frequently include the Status.Net application, Amazon Kindle Application (which is much nicer than what I expected and allows me to get ahead with me reading by handling reflows nicely), Evernote, Google Finance, Google Translate, Skype, Opera Mini, Foursquare, TED Mobile (clunky but functional), A Good Reader (I’m not too overjoyed with this but it serves the purpose) and, Mundu IM (a shout-out to the Mundu IM team here – they helped me re-use the same license I had for the Symbian phone). Oh yeah ! I used the Barcode Scanner application for a bit. It is a fun app – doesn’t work for everything but works nicely when it does. Google Goggles was fun too (for a day or, so). Coming back, it needs some explanation as how the ratings work and, what it means for the functionality of the application. A quick example could be that SMS Backup works nicely but SMS Backup+ failed to get going. And, the latter is fairly highly rated on the marketplace.

The synchronization with the Google Account(s) is both a plus and a downside. While it allows authentication to be quickly used, the fact that the phone call-in system cannot re-use the Google Contacts to display incoming caller identification and details is a bit of a bore. This has meant that I’ve had to do away with my workflow of not picking up the call of anyone whose number isn’t on my call log and, thereafter keep adding the details in. Either there is some setting I’m missing or, it is supposed to act in this quirky and annoying fashion. The manual doesn’t help too.

In two of my recent device purchases I’ve been tickled funny with the main set of keys – the slider switch in the Kindle (which I still think is the single weakest point of the design) and, the Home/Back keys on the LG-P500. Set on a single sliver of metal, the key has this feeling of running the risk of coming unstuck.

All I need now is the availability of the RSA Soft Token for Android and together with Touchdown I might be able to get more use out of the phone. Bottom-line, it is a decent phone with no big surprises or, achievements. The UI looks more like the stock Android and, it might actually be a good value for money purchase. On a side note, I quite like the keyboard functionality especially when used with XT9 enabled. It learns pretty quickly and suggests fairly accurately. No Indic rendering on the stock browser. Which is a bit of a let-down.

Season’s Greetings

Season’s Greetings to all those who swing by the blog and spend time reading whatever I write now and then. It always amazes me that you do find it worth your time. And, I deeply appreciate that act. In that moment when you do read and perhaps comment, you enrich my outlook towards life. And, such a selfish gain obtained by mere peddling of words is too much to let go.

And, to all the authors whose blogs I read daily or, as soon as they publish, I am grateful that you make my day such interesting times. Write on. Please.

Here’s wishing that you have a new year full of happiness, self-content, self-belief and satisfaction in knowing that you brought about change. 

Some more Kolkata anecdotes

I am doing a little bit of Park Street sprinkled with a bit of here and there. And hence the vignettes and anecdotes.

  • The Barista(s) have taken the festive season to increase prices of stuff by Rs 10 and sometimes more. Inflation strikes.
  • The Barista at Park Street should win some sort of award for pretentious baristas who don’t ‘listen’ at all.
  • School children who behave boorishly at coffee shops while wearing their uniforms should have their photographs published in some hall of shame kind of board. It is ridiculous that they behave this way and more so because they are indulged by their parents or, guardians accompanying them
  • The Barista on Hindustan Road is quiet and nice. However, the staff bitch a bit too openly about the management of the outlet 🙂
  • The queue of hopefuls outside Flury’s today all waiting for a table was worth a photograph. I didn’t want to appear the Grinch while doing so. Hence no photographs
  • The floor staff at Music World called me ‘uncle’. All perhaps originating from the fact that I was checking out the turntables (expensive hardware these are though). I’ve been called an uncle often, but this is probably the first time at a retail store at Kolkata. Very noteworthy.
  • Oxford Bookstore proves yet again that while the in-store face-lift has worked wonders, the attention to the inventory is getting shoddier by the day.
  • Folks do not heed the traffic warden near Music World on Park Street and cross nonchalantly into onrushing traffic. A pair of young boys and girls (ie. a pair of couples) did that today and nearly caused a concertina crash. They blithely ignored the stopped cars and crossed over.
  • The digital meters in the cabs need to be callibrated to show the actual fare. The cab drivers pull out all sorts of awkward charts and tables and only relent when they realize that the passenger is a local.
  • Which brings me to the funny part that at Kolkata I get responses in English and Hindi and rarely Bengali. I guess I must grow that ponytail 🙂
  • Re-tying the hair while waiting to board an auto gets jaw-dropping reactions from middle aged Bengali ladies and, fairly amusing whispered conversations. Amusing because it is hard to stifle a laugh at rampant imagination.
  • Having a camera is handy. Especially when one takes it out now and then and takes a picture. Shopkeepers seem interested for no good reason.
  • The buildings I always knew between Rashbehari Avenue Crossing (Kalighat Metro Station) and Basanti Devi College have changed or, are in dire need of facelift.
  • The street side vendors haven’t changed in ages.
  • The Post Office opposite Priya is as crowded as ever.
  • Tirthapati Institution seems to have changed the font on the Bengali typeface. It now looks a bit nicer than before.
  • Starmarks is an awfully confused store. Especially the one at South City. And especially when filled with Bengali ladies who speak with some god-awful accented Bengali. Reminds me of the newsreaders of Star Ananda, whose accents are so different from that on DD that it is sometimes jarring.
  • Gur/jaggery is available in ingot sized pieces. Amazing scent.
  • The weather is nice and bearable if one can somehow beat the dust that is stirred up by the sudden gusts.

The laziest trip to Kolkata

This would probably qualify as the laziest visit to Kolkata ever. I have simply not done anything much.

Umm… that statement isn’t really true. I did fill up an application form for a BSNL Landline on 20-Dec-2010 and by all accounts it seems like that the installation would happen today. As someone who has seen his father run between various telephone offices to get a telephone line and then finally get one under the Own-Your-Telephone scheme and that too with the hefty fees involved with that scheme, this development, if it does happen, should be an unique experience. I also visited the LIC Housing Finance Ltd office on the 21-Dec-2010 to make a part pre-payment of the housing loan for the flat. And, surprisingly enough, that went well too. Not much by way of hassles or, tantrums. Nice and polite interactions along with quick completion of the transaction. So, in all, it appears like two of the big ticket tasks are done. That is the good news.

That I have been lazy enough to not go around tripping is partly a factor of the city being besieged by protest rallies. And not having anyone to go around with. The traffic situation is terrible compared to what I remember. Couple it with the rallies and I already had a taste of having to do a circle around Strand Road to get into Esplanade – that puts anyone off. The only thing which I’d fancy doing is probably going to Tero Parbon and dig into some meal. Eating outside has been totally restricted on this trip – just two trips to Mocambo (I had the most amazing spicy Crab Cheese Balls – recommended) and even those, being a single diner, meant limited food 🙂 Not much by way of eating the “street food” too ! I guess not having friends who have the free time to indulge in my trips are influencing the home bound habits.

Add to that the cultural shock of seeing an avowed and staunch Bengali sweet shop selling pakodas, bhajjis and other oil-fried snacks I associate with the northern part of the country. My quick trip to get some singara was thrown askew at this mindbender. Imagine this. And, imagine this at a staid Sakherbazar ! The Chandi Mela seems to be on in full swing and doing the needful to throw traffic out of whack. The WB Police Personnel are helpless bystanders at the Sakherbazar intersection of Diamond Harbor Road. And, is it me or, have the number of auto-rickshaws plying between Behala Tram Depot/Taratolla and areas beyond Thakurpukur have exponentially multiplied ? I chanced to look at the Behala Chowrasta – Sarsuna etc stand and it does seem that an incredibly large number of new auto rickshaws ply that route.

There’s an odd thing that has been happening since the time I’ve been here. Every day, during late evening, there are innumerable cars passing by with the lusty yet heart-rending cries of the journey of the dead. The intersection is on a route to two crematoriums and as such it makes it a place which these cars pass by. Every evening, there are at least a dozen or so that pass. And, it is somewhat startling. In the midst of life at a traffic intersection – the car carrying the dead wait their turn to pass through and complete the task they have been hired to do.

Winter,cricket and the Maidan

It is winter at Kolkata. With evening temperatures touching single digits, the colorful and trendy knits are out. The streetside hawkers are in full swing. And, so is cricket on the Maidan.

The other day I was riding a Behala Chowrasta – BBD Bag route minibus and was scheduled to get off near the GPO. A somewhat unforeseen traffic snarl near the Mayo Road crossing allowed me to look outside and there it was – a cricket match was being played. Full formal gear, two umpires, a scorer and even a small drinks cart. Just the way I remembered it. I got off the bus and sneaked to the sidelines. And, since I was probably one of the handful of folks who weren’t known to both the teams, barring the peanut seller and the lemonade chap, it was fun watching the bantering and snide remarks that passed back and forth about fielding ability, the inability to judge the rise of a ball on the matting or, general bowling talent. The quality of play wasn’t of excellent standard and, it wasn’t one of the better middle division teams being fielded. But, with a wind breezing through the huge gaps in the Eden Garden super structure and, the stadium looming in the background, it made for some nice half an hour plus of diversion. The sun was light and that was probably one of the reasons to see a lot of ‘keep the scoreboard ticking’ shots being played. A new thing I did notice was ‘the huddle’. Earlier, the celebration was more sporadic and uncoordinated. It seems that the local teams have made the huddle a part of the ritual of celebrating the wicket. Then there was the gear – the quality of the gear has improved. I don’t know how much money flows in through these games but the gear was certainly branded and, kept in decent shape. Or, perhaps it is due to the early stages of the season.

All around the Maidan, there will be various matches that will be played this season. Fortunes and careers will be made and unmade, teams will be reshaped and, the league will keep moving. What is reasonably tragic is that throughout the time I’ve seen this happen, the matches are generally bereft of an audience. Save for those who peer out into the field from moving vehicles or, those who are stuck at a traffic signal and are jolted by the sweet sound of a cricket ball being smacked by a willow. That “thwack” is good enough to carry across the field and that is possibly what gets the hanger-ons to the sidelines.

Cricket in winter, football in summer – the Maidan provides ample means of sports. And, it goes on irrespective of the political sloganeering happeining half a kilometer away near the Metro Cinema or, the rallies forming around the Strand Road approach. No pictures this time though. I was bit mesmerized with throwback memories to try and get a few pictures. And, come to think about it, what good is a 18-55mm lens when there’s is this wide expanse of straw-gold, brown with wisps of green where sportsmen are running around trying to do best what they are good at. I don’t really have enough talent to make a narrative out of that kind of a landscape. Probably I’ll drop by this weekend and, try to take a few pictures. I guess I should hitch a ride on a tram too.

The upside of it all

I had a relatively pleasant taxi ride back home on Sunday. By relatively pleasant I mean the lack of traffic, the general end-of-season -ness in the air and, the slightly distracting cool wind that drafted in and out through the windows which allows one to think thoughts in solitude and peace.

And, I thought about the project that we’ve been undertaking for the past couple of years.

When we did begin to draw up the scope or, vision about what we wanted to achieve it was mostly at the stage of “this should be done because it needs to be done”. That is an ideal scratchpad to start with. And, it provided the impetus to go through repeated stages of iterations and prototypes each time enabling us to demonstrate potential if not capabilities. Along the way we played around with software development processes, workflows and the ability to measure our own success against our own remorseless benchmarks. When you don’t specifically have anything to measure yourself against, the best possible way is to set a brutal and punishing schedule and hope to hell that you end up doing a stellar job. The trick is that while you are hoping to hell, you work diligently towards building up the nuts and bolts capabilities to indeed end up over-performing. Along side a few catastrophic and comical failures by the side, it did allow us to luxury of getting things done. And, it allowed us a tremendous joy – identifying and hiring what we can probably now say is a good team working in cadence towards getting things pushed out of the door in a remarkably well rounded way.

However, this wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how we’ve adopted and evolved the various software development processes to ensure that our work was more visible and much more ‘smart’. In the early days it was along the lines of ensuring that we have smaller improvements to show. Now, when things have become a bit more mature and, there is actual consumption of services and tools – it has become imperative to adapt newer ways of achieving the same results – high quality of work with resultant high visibility. 

Visibility is a double edged game. It can make you feel like a deer in headlights or, it can make you feel like the one under the spotlight turning in a virtuoso performance. Which is why at each stage there has been debate about the upsides and more importantly how it affects the rhythm within the team. It hasn’t been one of the happier moments when cadence was lost or, productivity took a hit. But I’d rather reflect on the wonderful times when things clicked together and came to produce results that were desired and above expectations.

Anyways, the sum total of the rambling so far was to elaborate on the fact that attempting to avoid ruminating excessively on the downsides of an equation and instead focusing on the positives/upsides does lead to a good result.

Which is a good online store for music ?

Two conditions : it has to be an Indian store and, it cannot be The latter because their inventory is limited and, limited mostly to the modern and movie/filmy stocks. The former because I want to pay in INR at reasonable rates and not a USD -> INR rates.

It seems ridiculously baffling that there isn’t a store with a decent catalogue and search mechanism where I can order music. The only reasonably decent store is saregama but whoever designed their store needs to tied down to the chair and made to use it to purchase music in bulk. Additionally, why cannot they think of allowing their APIs to be used (if they have any that is) by nicely designed applications that enable purchase of music ?

The question still remains – where to go online to buy music ?