The Coffee Post – 2


So now we get to The Great Coffee Crisis of 2017. In Part 1, I had introduced you to the lovely ladies who were so instrumental in driving me mental. Yes, these ladies created the crisis, consigned me to the consomme and a fate worse than death – instant coffee. They watched in stony silence as I was reduced to a drooling, slobbering, drowsy semi-comatose le mort vivant over a period of 3 weeks. Telle est la femme, comment? C’est la vie, ooh la la, tiens! Tres comatose! Yes, well, almost.

Hey listen, I survived 2.5 weeks in La Belle France ( the real one, not the fake one they have up here in Canada ) on my ability to speak Franglaise like a badly educated peach tree. I practiced before going. I spent about 15 whole minutes in front of the mirror holding up 2 fingers and mouthing “oon cafay no aar. oon cafay olay”. We must have coffee! I’m sure you understand by now that coffee plays no mean part in keeping me from being a mean and nasty person. Oh ok! Meaner and nastier. Happy? Actually, I didn’t, being rather more pre-occupied about baby-pink shorts, to take or not, decision of.

Well, anyway, back to the crisis. (Digression Alert #1: Why do you let me digress so much? Really! You need to exercise greater control. Which, I realize, as I write this, is hard to do, because you get to see this only after I have digressed handsomely in all directions. )

Well, in mid-winter of 2016-2017, viz, January, I was deserted by My Beloved Bangalan, probably the most beauteous of all the ladies in my household. So for a period of 3 whole months, I was left to my own devices amongst whom exists the boxy Syntia, with whom you became acquainted in Part 1. Usually Syntia is the epitome of efficiency. Her main idiosyncrasy is a distaste for oily beans, such as Starbucks seems to manufacture. She can also sometimes get into a “mood”. When in such a mood she starts showing orange error messages on her little screen. Most of these messages are of the nature “Decalcify me NOW!”, or “For god’s sake, change the filter!!”. Sometimes she wants me to take apart her inner unit and give it a bath followed by an oily application to the joints.

In late January, she thew up a bunch of errors and then proceeded to go on strike. I took the inner brew circuit out and gave it a lovely bath and let it air dry for a day. However, when I tried fitting it back again, Syntia refused pointblank to allow the brew circuit back in. I pushed, prodded, patted, peered, posed and peeked. Syntia refused to accept the brewing mechanism.

Brow furrowed, I turned to Mlle Presse and pressed her into action. She was willing enough. Until, 2 weeks in, I ran out of coffee powder. Then I realized that Mlle Presse is a bit too big for a single person and thus guzzling coffee powder in a rather wasteful manner. Also, she was slow and ponderous and needed support staff in the form of The Whistling Frenchman. She expected, nay, demanded, that The Whistling Frenchman did his whistling act before she was ready to initiate her work. All in all, a lot of fuss and a lot of waste.

Time, therefore, to whip out the shapely Italian, the steamy one. La Signorina Caffettiera a Filtro was  rescued from the confines of the cupboard and put to work. I paired her with Illy, the swarthy Swiss; he providing the flavour, she providing the steam. It worked well that first day. The Swiss’ flavour is among the best in the coffee business and La Signorina is efficient when she puts her mind to it.

The next day, however, I realized that I had to strip La Signorina down and give her a bath before she could perform her pas de deaux with Illy. Resignedly, I did and was rewarded with another great cup of coffee, thickly dark with a strong flavour. The third day and every day after, I went through the ritual of stripping and showering her. It quickly became tiresome.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or rather, the GO Transit Station, things were getting even more annoying. Usually, My Beloved Bangalan drives me to the station dropping me 3 metres from the transit card reader at the top of the tunnel to the platform. Normally, this is performed even as the train pulls into the station and a steady walk down the stairs, through the tunnel and up the stairs to the platform gets me to the train just before it comes to a halt, the door turned towards my hand. However, remember I told you that She Who was not in town. This meant that I had to drive myself to the station, find a parking slot, then zip up the jacket, push the toque on my head lower, pick up my bag, lock the door and start the long 800 metre walk to the card reader at the top of the stairs.

This was now early February, the coldest month of the winter in the Tundra, where I live. Temperatures are pretty cavalier about getting into the negative teens. The walk from the car to the train usually meant watery eyes and a pronounced sniff. Added to this was a move to a different workplace. So far, my workplace had been a shortish 5 minute walk up the street from the station. But in February, it was decided to move the whole team out near the CN Tower, the needle that shapes the Toronto skyline. Let me draw you a map.

Notice the duration. 11 minutes. Remember also that you have to walk down the platform at Union, then down a precariously steep set of stairs just to get to the concourse. Note also that, while an extensive underground PATH system exists, it is of no earthly use to a commuter bent on getting to office efficiently. This means that the only way to get to work is walk for 11 or 12 minutes. In temperatures hovering in the negative 10s or single digits. Along slippery, icy, slushy sidewalks. Amongst other commuters, some going the other way. Carrying a bag. 

That’s when I discovered that my winter boots were split wide open.

< to be continued >

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Tarun and Kavita


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On my deck, with my neighbour’s trees in the background..

When Tarun announced he was getting married, we were living in Lake Gardens, in the flat made famous by The Cantankerous Cat. This was the ground floor apartment where we dealt with Nosy Neighbours, Peeping Toms and performed Midnight Cooking Rituals to the consternation of our neighbours. Yes, that one.

Tarun was in school with me. Then Tarun was in college with me. He wasn’t what you would call a high-jinker. Nicknamed “Jaws”, after Richard Kiel’s iconic character in the James Bond movie, he displayed a dry and subversive brand of rebellion. Not for him were quips and wise cracks. His was a more subtle brand of weirdness. Let me illustrate.

In Grade 12 the signs of teenage rebellion in us took various forms. I took to deliberately and causally (at some other time, I may explain that. No, I did not mean “casually”. ), not adhering to the strict uniform policy in school. My grey trousers weren’t quite the requisite shade of grey, my maroon tie had a white pattern in the middle of it, which I successfully hid every morning by carrying my bag over one shoulder with my fist and forearm covering the pattern. This had the happy effect of also concealing the fact that my white shirt pocket did not have the requisite monogram expected by the school authorities. Others grew their hair long or had their trousers cut with ever widening flares. Flares were all the rage in the late 1970s. Eric Clapton even recorded a song called Bell Bottom Blues.

But Tarun? Tarun decided to bring in khaini for us all to eat in class.

Khaini is tobacco crushed and mixed with lime. A deadly and potent unifier of people. If you are ever in India and you see someone, it could be anyone, grinding their thumb into the palm of their hand, all you have to do is wait till they are finished and hold your hand out, palm upwards. You will be rewarded with a pinch of this lovely gum-rotting carcinogenic. It matters not a jot that you have never seen the generous person before in your life and will never, ever see him again, but for that one brief moment you are brothers-in-instant-gingivitis. Hygiene? Pshaw!

When the, mercifully very brief, khaini-gate was over, he moved on to those tiny blue-berry sized plums. This was more fun than the khaini and we would sit there, berry in mouth, placed there behind the teachers back, waiting for him to turn again so we could spit the stone out.

Tarun had a brief fling with the stage. The world of theatre lost a true master of deadpan dialogue delivery. My first play was written in Grade 12 as a tribute to the teachers for Teachers Day. ( It sounds very grandiose, but it was a rotten and highly plagiarized set of jokey and controversial one-liners. ) Tarun played the role of a teacher shooting the breeze with his colleagues. He had one line in that terrible play, which he delivered in a masterpiece of understated acting.

“Hot! You don’t know what heat it is!”, he said in a staccato monotone.

We, ( all of us directed… ) urged him to put more disdain and sneer into his line. He responded with a more forceful “Hot” before the monotone took over again.

Tarun, Suzy ( it’s a contraction of a boy’s name. Suzy is a middle-aged man, like me. ) and I all attended Ratan’s sister’s wedding in Allahabad; a winter wedding in north India. The nights in the plains of North India are cold, with temperatures in the low single digits, and even during the day there is more than a nip in the air. Late at night from a visit to a friend’s hotel, we hailed the only rickshaw we could find. There were, four of us, but only three could sit squished in as the rickshaw driver pedalled away in front. Tarun declined the offer of a seat. With encouraging cries from Suzy, snorts of laughter from Ratan and bemused amazement from me, he jogged along beside the rickshaw all the 2-3 miles home.

With long lines for bathrooms, it was his idea that we young guys bathe in the open with a bucket of water pumped from the handpump in the bottom of the yard. Cold water with an air temperature of around 4c is not the greatest way to have a bath. But we did it and lived to tell the tale! The trick is pour the bucket over your head in one fell swoop… Count 1,2,3, under your breath, lift and whoosh. Simple.

He moved to Delhi after qualifying as an accountant and we saw less of him. He then came to town to tell us he was getting married to Kavita, a girl we didn’t know at the time. It was a classic Indian affair. Lots of booze, lots of partying, spread over many days.

My Beloved Bangalan ( or to give her her real name, Rita) and I have many wonderful memories of the wedding and the late nights we spent in celebration. A few moments stand out. Around 6 am, Rita and I were at our front door fiddling with the keys when the milkman appeared on his morning rounds.

“Ah!”, he said, beaming from ear to ear, “Been out for a morning walk?”

Given the fact that I was in a tie and dress shoes and Rita was in a sari and jewellery, I wonder now whether he was being deeply sarcastic or profoundly unobservant.

One other memory really, really stands out. This was the night we almost got killed. Its a miracle we didn’t. We were, obviously, all very soaked in alcohol. Packed into 2 cars we decided to go for a drive. The two guys driving had pretensions of being race car drivers. Late at night, Calcutta in the late 1980’s slept the sleep of the just. Traffic was non-existent. The two cars raced down the street oblivious to the fact that Calcutta was in the middle of the Twenty Year Dig for the subway. Our car hit a mound of mud, jumped clear over on the other side and landed with a crunching, shuddering crash on the other side, in the best tradition of the Bluesmobile. In the shocked silence, we heard the quiet voice of Tarun’s quiet friend from Delhi, the guy with the quiet wife.

“Well, looks like my heart surgery has worked.”

We drove home at a snails pace.

For the big night after the wedding, someone found out where the newly-married couple were going. To a hotel. Of course, we all headed there before the couple could arrive, all dressed in our best clothes. It was thought that Rita and I stood the best chance of posing as the newly-wed couple, so we checked into the bridal suite. The rest of the crowd followed and we hid around the room waiting for the newly weds to arrive. We jumped out to surprise them and spent some time teasing them before heading down to the coffee shop. A quick headcount revealed we were one short ! Frantic calls were made to extricate Prasad from under the bridal bed before it was too late. We have not yet been able to get him to relate his tale.

Kavita, we found, was a bright and lovely character. I realize now that I’ve never seen her glum-faced or gloomy. A stranger coming into a closed group of barely-grown-up schoolboys, who’d barely grown up together, she took it all in her stride. I never once saw her stressed out over the two daughters, even when they were young. I don’t see her stressing over them, living as they do now thousands of miles away from her. I’m sure she must have stressed over something, sometime. I certainly have seen no evidence of it.

Tarun also featured in one other episode, the one where we attempted to schmooze with the school authorities to pave the way for our kids into our old school. You can read that shameful story here.

Now we’re on different continents and neither I nor Tarun are the world’s greatest keep-in-touchers. We know, though, that we can pick up where we left off when we do meet. ’tis enough. ’twill serve. It has all these years.

Happy 30th Anniversary, you two.

This was actually written for their 30th Anniversary, which was a few weeks (months? ) ago. Hey, my alter-ego is the SloMan, remember? 

Immigrant Tales – Arrival


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Ok – This was taken in Niagara about 8 months after Arrival, but it is still represented of my handsome self. My hairstyle has changed, as has my waistline since then…

This was my second ( or third, if you include the Nepal adventure ) foreign trip and I had much on my mind. This was my second trip to North America and the first hadn’t exactly been a carefree and joyous one, if you remember. I don’t think it is easy to describe the wealth of feeling and emotion an immigrant carries with him ( or her, if faux feminist). While the earlier trips were temporary excursions, this one had the element of finality about it. This was it. I was burning some of my bridges. I was forsaking the land of my birth, the friends I had made over the years, the memories of a thousand little events would fade, I thought. I was leaving my wife and two young kids behind me. I had no idea when I would see them again, if ever. I do remember, the chest clenching feeling of pain as the A310 opened up its engines and started its run down the runway on its way to Bombay. I hadn’t been expecting it. I hadn’t anticipated the lurch of emotion as we raced down.

And so The Great Immigration commenced. The A310 took me only to Mumbai, where, after some initial confusion, I boarded Air India Konarak to Delhi and on to London’s Heathrow airport. I sat in the aisle seat of three on the left hand side of the plane, or port side. Beside me sat an elderly Indian couple, a very polite and slightly sheepish looking couple. They seemed embarrassed by the whole business of flying to a foreign land. I got talking with them, polite conversation to satisfy my natural curiosity.

They were flying to Toronto to spend the summer with their son, an IT engineer, who had paid for his parents to visit him. They were painfully shy with the flight attendants, not knowing what to say, or how to respond to the queries about tea, coffee, lunch and dinner options. I helped where I could, but at one point during meal service all communication completely broke down. Most Indians believe that ice cold water is a terrible idea and seriously detrimental to good health. Most North American’s drink five drops of water with their ice to lie at the other end of the scale. During the previous meal service the attendant had done the usual scooping of ice cubes into the glass before pouring a few drops of water. This was in reply to the horrified response to the query about wine or pre-dinner drink. My poor neighbours knew not what to do with their glasses of ice cubes and thus drank no water after their first meal on the plane. The second meal service came around and the gentleman next me spoke up in his hesitant English.

“No cold water.”, he pleaded, accompanied by the Indian sideways head nod, “hot water. Hot water.”

The flight attendant nodded and continued with serving meals. She then disappeared back to her galley and came back a few minutes later with two steaming glasses of gently boiling water, which she handed out to the non-plussed travellers. It took a few minutes of confused conversation between the now very embarrassed gentleman, the irritated attendant and the immigrant interpreter in the aisle seat. Finally, the couple got what they really wanted; room temperature water with no ice.

I don’t recall the meals otherwise, but I think they were basic Indian meals, rice daal, some curry, maybe there was some chicken too… all those details I keep giving you are mostly useless bits of trivia that don’t do anything for this absolutely riveting story, other than enhance the flavour of boredom. I knew you’d see it my way! Soon, we were landing at Heathrow, where I had been before. We were all offloaded and herded out into a lounge, so crews could get in there and clean up the mess made by us. I also think, they must have refuelled and generally taken a look at the plane in preparation for the hop across the Atlantic. I’m guessing here, I’m not an aviation expert, even though I do know what ETOPS means and can tell a wing from an engine pod.

And then we were on the long boring Great Circle path south of Greenland and on to landfall over Newfoundland and Labrador before sweeping down on the north bank of the St Lawrence into the Greater Toronto Area. As we started our descent, a disembodied voice came over the PA system.

“As some of you may have noticed, we have started our descent into the Toronto area. The approach at this airport usually has some swirling winds, so expect a bit of a bumpy path in. Buckle in and thanks for flying with us.”

Around 2:30pm on the 2nd of June, 1997 I finally received service for the Right To Land Fee I had paid Her Majesty’s Canadian Government over a year ago as Air-India Konarak, VT-ESM Boeing 747-400 put its wheels gently on the runway at Lester B Pearson International Airport. The Immigrant was home, his New Home. I had traded in my old home for this new home. What would the new home bring? In future instalments we shall explore such topics as Jobs, Life, Food and other mundane details of the Immigrant Tales

Oh, yes, also we shall chat about the Great Canadian Okra Crisis! We don’t lightly forget!

Immigrant Tales – Departure


International Driving Permit photo. ( A waste of time getting that.. )
International Driving Permit photo. ( A waste of time getting that.. )

Actually, the notes are not early. They’re late. Late by about 19 years now, will be exactly 19 years late on the 2nd of June 2016. Yes, you are very correct in your maths. I arrived in the great country of Canada on the 2nd of June, 1997. ( Sorry. I wrote this when the post was titled “Early Notes”. I forgot to edit this. I saw it later and felt obliged to offer some explanation and not leave you mystified.. How nice of me, no?) 

Before I left Calcutta, I inquired about taking some foreign exchange with me. The Reserve Bank of India was stingy about people taking foreign exchange with them. I was directed to the American Express office, where the clerk looked at my requisition and asked “How much do you need?”

“How much can I get?”

“Show me your passport and visa.”

I did. He opened up the folded Immigration Visa. Folded it back.

“500 bucks in USD. That’s all you are entitled to take with you.”

“You kidding me? It’s my money! Why can’t I take my own money with me?”

“RBI rules. Sorry bud.”

“Oh! OK, give me what you can.”

Appropriate forms were filled out. Rubber stamps went on my passport and 30 minutes later I had USD 500 in my pocket. All the money I was allowed to take with me to start my new life in a strange, cold land. A rather cold start to my immigration story.

At the airport, I found out I was eligible for a further USD 50, so I changed my INR for USD 50, bringing the total amount of cash I was carrying to a whopping USD550. I was booked on an Air India flight to Toronto; a barnstorming flight, as we shall see. An Airbus A310 left Calcutta on the 1st of June, at 8:30 in the evening with me on board. It landed in Mumbai about 2.5 hours later. I was off loaded into a transit lounge in prep for the plane that would take me to London, UK and onwards to Toronto, ON. I took the time to visit the washroom, receive my boarding pass for the onward flight and headed down to the exit to the gates. This is where the uniformed, gun carrying dudes at the gate stopped me and asked me to show my boarding pass. I did so. They stiffened up and became alert.

“How did you get here?”, they asked.

“On a plane from Calcutta. I’m on my way…”, he cut me off.

“Answer my question! How did you reach this gate?”, he was inistent.

“I told you. I came on the flight from Calcutta and they offloaded me into this lounge.”

“Ok. So you came from Calcutta?”

“Yes.”

“But how did you get into this lounge?”

“I told you.”

“Who let you into this lounge?”

“The airline folks did. There was no other way to go except into this lounge.”

“Wait here. Do NOT wander off. I need to talk to my supervisor.”

He nodded at his companion, who took up a position of alertness. An intense conversation ensued over his walkie talkie and 2 minutes later, the supervisor showed up. My friend showed him my boarding pass. Supe looked at, flipped it over looked at the other side. Flipped it over. Held it up to the light. Peered at it again. Then he looked me in the eye and asked his first question.

“How did you get here?”

I took a deep breath; repeated my story.. flight from Calcutta.. on to London, Toronto..

He was unimpressed.

“You cannot have this boarding pass and claim that you came from Calcutta and are enroute to London and Toronto. It is impossible. So how did you get in here?”

I felt like a gold fish in a bowl. “Hey look! A security guard!”

He saw my bemused expression.

“Look,”, he said, “your boarding pass is not a normal boarding pass. If you were a genuine transit passenger it would have a big bold T printed here.”

I looked at it. He was right. The T was missing.

“Where did you get this boarding pass?”

“At the Air India counter. Over there. I pointed behind me.”

“Come with me.”

I walked over with him to the Air India counter, where the lovely lady in the Air India sari was reaching for the phone. She replaced it as we came up to her.

The supe showed her my boarding pass.

“Oh, good,” she said, “I was just going to page you, Mr Sharma! We gave you the wrong boarding pass.”

She took my pass, tore it up, reached under her desk and gave me a new one. This one had a nice bold T printed on it.

Just past midnight, I was on the plane, foreign bound.

Sort of. For the plane headed off to New Delhi, where we were not allowed to get off. Some more passengers entered. Finally, around 5:30am we took off for London on an Air India 747-400. Around 8am, about 12 hours after I had left Calcutta, I left Indian airspace for the first time as an immigrant.

Immigrant Tales will continue. Same batty blog, same batty writer. Come back and read as I recount every hour of the journey to London, the off and on trek through the lounge there and the landing in Toronto.

Punjabi in Paris – Day 5 – Vast Versailles


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Imagine you’re a peasant looking desperately for bread, or at worst, cake. You pass by this gate. Would you or would you not mutter darkly under your breath?

So here we go again. Another travelogue. This time to a hunting cottage of the Kings of France. Now if you’re thinking about a run down, ramshackle wooden cabin in the woods, remember:

  1. This is France
  2. It had a Revolution ( The Revolution ) yup! Capital T, Capital R. Long before the Ruskies, the French showed the world how it was done. In spectacular fashion. “Here your Majesty, if you please. Step up right here. Now, sire, put your head here, like so… Oui, Oui. Allez, Monsieur Bourreau!
  3. Among the reasons for The Rev was royal excess.
Gold topped lodge
Gold topped lodge – I think this is the side entrance….. yeah!

Right! Stage set, then. Off we went, Continue reading “Punjabi in Paris – Day 5 – Vast Versailles”

Punjabi in Paris – Walking Woes


The Seine below us
The Seine below us

I’d known about the walking bit. In fact, I’d gone out of my way to buy some comfortable walking shoes. But, as the poet Burns said, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. It was entirely my fault and the fault of my map-reading skills. Apparently, I’d forgotten a lot in the 40 years since I was an Eagle Scout.

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Oh look! There’s that strange iron grid tower again. It’s everywhere !

Our first full day in Paris was supposed to Continue reading “Punjabi in Paris – Walking Woes”

The Chennai Conflict – 2


My stay in Chennai was not a very happy one. I was already well-short of being gruntled. ( see history in Part 1 ) I found the ultra-conservative nature of the locals disconcerting. Every light switch, every fan, fan regulator, every keyboard, monitor and tape was Continue reading “The Chennai Conflict – 2”

The Chennai Conflict – 1


Me - 1985 at CSI. Notice incipient fatigue ( onset of tiredness )
Me – 1985 at CSI. Notice incipient fatigue ( onset of tiredness )

I once worked for a very large IT / computer company. This job led to some very strange experiences. A lot of it was due to my inexperience with the world and my lack of communication skills. ( Which continue to plague me to this day…  🙂 )

As a newly wed, I was often Continue reading “The Chennai Conflict – 1”

Midnight cooking


English: (2nd Hooghly Bridge), Kolkata, West B...
English: (2nd Hooghly Bridge), Kolkata, West Bengal. 457.2m, built in 1992. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We spent a brief year in the little flat in Lake Gardens. You have met this flat ( apartment, if American ) before. This is the same flat that saw us beat off the Cantankerous Cat. You know also, by now, that we had to contend with Peeping Toms. And, of course there were neighbour. Some were Nosy Neighbours. Other neighbours, though, were quite confused.

Just like we were. We’d moved in with Continue reading “Midnight cooking”

Alice doesn’t wear drawers, anymore


It’s funny how words have more than one meaning. It’s funny how that one fact can give rise to some very funny situations. Here is one I remember from an earlier time.

English: Flowchart about how to become an Indi...
English: Flowchart about how to become an Indian Chartered Accountant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regular readers will remember that once upon a time I was a young man living in Calcutta. This is a story about a time when, as a 19-year-old, I was serving my 3-year sentence as Articled Clerk to a firm of Chartered Accountants. This was a mandatory service required to be a Chartered Accountant. You had to pass two sets of exams too, the first of which I failed miserably and did not bother to retake. Thus, you’re reading the words of a loser, dropout and quitter, all rolled into one. I prefer to think of it as a providential escape from the humdrum world of accounting to the exciting world of a lion tamer, which is what I became. ( But that’s another story… ) Continue reading “Alice doesn’t wear drawers, anymore”