Sunday, November 18, 2007

Post Card from Germany - Snow Ahoy !!!

Wednesday evening (14th Nov) would be marked by a small footnote if ever I get down to write my memories in about half a century from now. This is because that was the day when I actually saw and felt real snowfall. Upto then the only snowfall I had seen was only in movies and the Nat Geo/Discovery documentaries. It may sound quite suprising, but the fact that I have lived in Mumbai throughout my life, where the word ‘chill’ reminds people more of chillies rather than the feeling of low temperature, and have not traveled anywhere close to the North (forget abroad) puts things in perspectives. It also serves to explain why I am making such a fuss about it (enough for it to deserve a separate blog post).

So on Wednesday evening here in Nuremberg, after having lunch at an Indian restaurant here with our German hosts (the food was excellent when compared to the crossiants and French fries I had been having the past ten days), we stepped out, only to find to our utter astonishment that our car was covered in a layer of white. I looked at the skies to see, for the first time, flakes of snow raining down. It may sound extremely childlish, but the feeling I had was quite similar to that when you get the first monsoon rains in India. Just as the earth smells different then, the air had a different feeling to it. The locals too were surprised. Germany is having an unusually cold November this year and they say it is not quite common to see snowfall so early in the winter. Anyways, like a group of excited school kids, me and my three colleagues immediately got to work: out came the cameras, the posing started and we happily played the old game of (snow)ball throwing, all near the middle of the road. It was all as if a sudden rush of juvenile adrenaline had been injected into all of us. It also felt good in the snow. Armed with three layers of clothing, the snow outside was not causing any problems at least to the upper body. But after about 15 minutes of playful activity, the realization that our palms were still bare dawned on us rather rudely. The palm and fingers went absolutely cold, as if the entire circulatory system running through them had been switched off. We had no recourse but to rush to the nearest heated shelter and nurse our frosty fingers back to health. The merriment ended with a cup of hot chocolate brownie with (would you believe it !!) ice-cream.

So this trip to Nuremberg will be remembered, if not for anything else, for that hour on Wednesday evening !!!



Saturday, November 10, 2007

Post cards from Germany - 1

Its been almost a week here in Nuremberg, Germany but life has already become a routine, just as if I have come down to settle here. And its far more one-dimensional here than back home in Mumbai. Each of the last 5 days have been almost a carbon copy of the other. Wake up at 6.30 am, have the same breakfast everyday (bread, cornflakes, juices etc), catch the same train to our training venue (no car pickups and drops J), eat the same kind of lunch as well (corn, vegetable rice and salads gulped down with 500ml of Coke), come back to the hotel by around 6.30 pm, spend the rest of the evening in some mall (since its too cold outdoors) and then have something to pass of as dinner at a nearby McDonalds or Burger King.
Hopefully the weekend should be more interesting !!

One thing which is really new to me is the cold here. I have lived in Mumbai for all but two years of my life and hence, anything less than 20 C was cold in my books (even when I was studying in Bangalore, the minimum I can remember was 12 C). Here in Nuremberg, the maximum is about 9 C !!!. Last evening, while traveling to the underground railway station from my training venue, I experienced my first hail. All of a sudden, small bits of ice started raining down from nowhere. Thankfully, they were not that big and I had to cover a short distance to the underground (have heard the hail can hurt you). Even with all the protection that I had come equipped with, it has been a novel experience.

However, all said and done, Nuremberg is a beautiful city. Not too large (only half a million people, I imagine about the same as Borivali and Andheri !!) but at the same time quite modern. It has a historical past (think Nuremberg and you think middle ages, Nazi times and the famous Nuremberg trials) and the history can be seen in almost every street of the city. One of the most lovely places is the Burg, or the Imperial Castle, which we had visited the day we landed. A castle dating to about 1200 AD, it has survived through a lot over the centuries (Nuremberg suffered a lot in the WW II) and still retains the charm of a castle. The towers there give a panoramic view of the city. Hope to cover a few more places over the next week.

Also, another new experience for me was to get a taste of English soccer madness, On Thursday, Everton clashed with the local club FC Nuremberg. Near our hotel was some English pub presumably showing the action. But that pub was way too small for the hundreds of English fans who had crossed over from England to see the match. The fans were all over the street in front of our hotel. Banners were waved proudly, beer was flowing at will and people were high even two hours before the match. The German police were, of course, on standby to ensure things did not ugly, which can happen fast as historical evidence suggests. But to walk down that street (and avoid bumping into a group of rowdy fans or tripping over a crate of beer lying on the road) that day was some experience. And yes, Everton won that game, so I can imagine even wilder partying that night. Thankfully, by next morning, the street (alongwith the thrash on it) was clear.

The saddest part of the trip is, of course, missing Diwali !! Anyways, here’s wishing all the readers of this blog, and their friends and families, a fantastic Diwali !!! May the lights of Diwali illuminate your road to happiness and prosperity !!!


Monday, November 05, 2007

The Perils of credit...

‘Recovery Agent claims another life’ said one of the headlines today. This was not an isolated case. I remember having read at least three such headlines over the past month. The thread is common: someone takes credit for varying reasons, cannot pay up the bank and is hassled by recovery agents (sometimes to the extreme). When this crosses the limit, the ‘poor’ soul has no way but to take his life. The recovery agents are then taken to task, the banks are warned against indulging in such practices and life goes on, until the next such incident.

Having read these different cases, I most definitely condemn, as the media has done too, the methodology of hiring recovery agents and the acts committed by these agents. But somewhere, what has gone unnoticed is the root cause of all this: why to take credit in the first place ? At least today’s case seemed genuine in the sense that the guy had probably taken credit to start his own shop and business. But I am sure that are also cases of people taking credit to buy the next big thing, the next gadget, the next status symbol; and then landing themselves into trouble. This is no doubt abetted by the ease with which credit is available in these days. Today, hardly anyone ‘applies’ for a loan. The banks do the needful. Given that, it comes as no surprise that a small proportion of the borrowers turn defaulters.

In fact, these recent cases are also connected with the recent book that I finished: “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyoaski. For those who have not read this so far, this is an extremely thought-provoking book in which the author tries to bring out the difference in the basic thought philosophy (when it comes to money) between the rich and the rest. He brings out a number of key points during the course of the book, one of them being that the rich use their money to buy real assets (not those assets as defined by accountants) whereas the middle class uses their money to buy ‘book’ assets (which actually are liabilities because they suck money in the form of maintenance instead of generating money for their owner). I believe this is truer in today’s world where I find a lot of the people I know rushing to buy the latest fad or gadget (especially at my age where one can afford to be more adventurous in investing their well-earned money). As Robert Kiyoaski rightly diagnoses, it is the dearth of ‘financial literacy’ that is responsible for this state of affairs. Most people, he says, are simply not aware of how to make their money work for them. This results in a never-ending rat race where people continue to work hard, get their increments and promotions only to invest them poorly and find themselves short of money after some time, followed by some more hard work.

I strongly recommend that every reader of this piece gets a copy of ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ as soon as possible and experiences the power of financial literacy, thus enabling him to harness the power of money and make it his slave rather than his master.