Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Recess from the recession ... 7 months later

Lesson learnt! In October 2007 I got an email from the Australian immigration department that my long sought after visa was finally approved. For me it was three years too late and it couldn't have come at a worse time - work was great, my social life had really picked up and whats more - for once in my life everything seemed to be going my way. I thought to my self, did I really need this distraction. I really didn't, so I put my migration plans on hold for a while just to see how time would change things.

A couple of months down the line and I still didn't have the answer. The anxiety was getting to me and the call had now become even more pensive. I had just three more months to make the move or my visa would be canceled and I would never know. I started to reach out to some of the more sensible and practical people I had the privilege, to call my friends. Their advice was in unison, the decision was mine but it was worth the risk and I should take the plunge. They even worked out my worst case scenario - I come back to India. Bravo! I thought to my self, if only it were as simple as that.

I booked my ticket, handed the bitter pill to my manager and bade my goodbyes. In the meantime, I was so overwhelmed by the thought of being thousands of miles from home that I threw myself this elaborate farmhouse party, drowned all my sorrows and called it my last. At the airport it was a typical Indian farewell - some 50 people just to see off one person, but I would have it no other way.

I arrived in lucky-land downunder on the third of the ninth 2008. The immediate plan was to quickly settle in and start job hunting. During the first couple of weeks, I was left with the daunting task of not looking back. Yet as blue as the skies, as blond as the hair and as swanky as the wheels; when the sun went down and it was time to call it a day, I was transported back to my humble home and I wished I could be there just for a couple of minutes. I had been warned about times like these, and the idea was to stay focussed on my dollar dreams and the bigger picture, after all I had taken the path less traveled by - so I thought.

I arranged to meet a few consultants and hoped to take it from there. Melbourne is a great city and although it takes you a while to fit in, once you're in you really start to love it. It is like most great cities - a melting pot of cultures, none of which it can call it's own. For me it was like stepping into this new world which had hundreds of people like me - yes thousands of Indians migrate there each year. In fact the Indians are second only to the British in the annual immigrant statistics. I knew the process was gradual but I had quickly warmed up to the idea of calling it my home away from home.

It had only been a couple of weeks into my time in Melbourne when the global economy began it's downward decent. Initially it seemed like a passing phase, at the most a slowdown, nothing that some good policy changes and quick action by the world's powerful economies couldn't counter.

December 2008 and things started to get ugly. The US economy was calling in sick, with the rest of the world starting to feel the temperature. Governments the world over had realized the inevitable but tried plugging the hole using their trademark move - propaganda. It would have been commendable on their part if only they had come off it with their victory hats on, but alas the stench had already been raked up. People all over, recession or not, started to tighten their purse strings. Even corporates started to crumble from cost cutting to throat cutting, everything suddenly seemed fair, all in the name of recession. The irony though is that in dire straights like these taking a chunk out off their own gut never came up as obvious. Hundreds of jobs being lost, repeated failed attempts by the government to cushion Australia by pumping in free money to the people under the guise of stimulus packages really started to put a dampener on general sentiment. Although the government in these desperate circumstances meant well, it just turned people into a group of greedy little children taking smaller licks of their ice cream just so that they outlast the rest.

This did a great deal of damage to my sentiment as well, but I was as determined as LK Advani to come out on top as the prime winner. I was willing to try everything from sales positions in top notch IT companies to waiting tables in an Italian restaurant to selling credits cards for the Cobra Group. It all made perfect sense at the time and I was convinced that my grit would finally get me through this. My support system started to kick in - reminding me that the darkest hour is before the dawn, bad times are opportunities in disguise and so on. Running from pillar to post, falling then getting up and trying again, in between all this, I became a not so avid reader of novels, a wannabe champion cyclist, fitness conscious runner, amateur basketball player, 5 times roller skates crasher and an ace B2B credit card salesman.

The lateline news however had uncle Kevin on every night with an even grimmer picture of where Australia was heading. I just thought to myself, forgive them father for they know not what they are doing.

I was suddenly facing the difficult yet imminent question that seemed almost like it had the answer as well. Strange it even came up, because I was so confident, so determined, so focussed, so desperate and then I realized. My mental flip flop was not really between what was right or wrong but rather a very biased struggle to keep myself afloat in a sinking ship even when I have the option of safety and comfort in situ. I finally swallowed halfheartedly and made my way back to the pavilion, which once cheered for me hoping in anticipation that it still will.

Friday, 16 January 2009

And then they came for me

This is a must read editorial written by a very brave journalist, to
be published when he is no more.
It was written by Lasantha Wickramtunga, the assassinated editor of
Sri Lankan News Paper "The Sunday Leader"
He was assassinated by two gunmen while on his way to work on Jan 8.
The article was published by the news paper posthumously as his obituary.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Christmas and what it means to Christians like me

This Christmas in 2008 will be the first I will celebrate away from home and family. In a way it makes me appreciate this time of the year and more so my loved ones who I was always around this time of the year.

All my life until now I lived in a town called Ambernath near Mumbai in India. Ever since I can remember, Christmas was always about celebration - new clothes, gifts, decorations, the Christmas tree, carol singing and the time of the year when all was forgiven and forgotten. It was that special time of the year that I knew I needed to spend with my family. I always knew it signified the birth of Christ our saviour and we celebrated it.

I lived in a kind of joint family set up and Christmas eve was very special; everyone would put on new clothes, and it being winter the night felt extra special and the sky looked clearer. We always went for midnight mass, wished each other "Merry Christmas" and then returned home to cake, wine and chicken roast. It was our own little family tradition. I always looked forward to it. The next day we would have our joint Christmas lunch where all the family got together, cooked different meals and made the best of the Christmas spirit. It was the time of the year when you believed miracles happened.

I never questioned the little intricasies like why do we have a Christmas tree or why do we make believe in Santa Claus, or why we hide gifts under the tree.

I was at a friend's house yesterday in Melbourne, Australia and his non-Christian wife asked me the significance of the tree and Santa Claus and I paused, but I knew the answer. I told her it was a tradition that was started some centuries ago and we just keep it alive. I will miss my family this year at Christmas but I know in my heart the tradition will be kept and although I know they will miss me too, we will celebrate because it is Christmas and next year I know I will be there to take part in the tradition, exactly how we have been doing it for generations.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Friday, 18 July 2008

Train to Ajmer Sharif

Well delayed as usual

I scrambled with my duffel bag and laptop tucked into my haversack, changed over from the central railway line to the western just so that I could make it on time for my long distance train due to depart at 2 p.m. from the terminus called Mumbai Central. Well the effort paid off, I made it, only to discover the train was delayed by 4 hours something you get used to over time in India.

I was traveling to Ajmer with a friend. Rishi and I got acquainted during my Diploma at Xavier's Institute of Communications in Mumbai, India and have been in touch since. Rishi who worked with Unilever as a brand manager for Dove was on his way home to tell his parent's he was detected with Crohn's disease and he was required to undergo a minor surgery. Trust me, news like that can take the wind out of your sails but Rishi was very optimistic for words even.

Now getting back to the delay. Since we had 4 hours and nothing to do, we reckoned a Hindi movie would provide the apt filler. So after a quick bite at McDonald's off we were to a nearby theatre to watch Indian Cinema at its silly best - "De tali". Like all Hindi films a love triangle with a twist and off course not forgetting the song and dance sequences. I like Indian Cinema that uses the conventional mix, its stupid at best, but thats what they're trying to portray right. We left the movie 20 minutes early so that we had enough time to get back for the train. Arrgggh.... the suspense - we missed. Back at the station, we figured 10 minutes to pick up some bottled water and chips and hey I could afford some bars of chocolate, it was going to be a long journey.

Getting comfortable

It had been many years since I took a long distance train and it sure can take a while to get used to. The on board tit-bits kept us going through the journey and we spent the time talking, the occasional game of cards and taking some pictures. I was always a fan of capturing important memories, what better than the digital age photograph. I had recently upgraded to an a decent prosumer camera - Sony Cybershot DSL H 50. Point and shoot at its professional best, I would say. We spent the remaining part of the day eating whatever came our way, from South Indian Idlis, to the Maharashtrian Wada Pav to the North Indian Dry Bhel - all the junk food you could possibly eat in a day and not get sick.

That was easy