Saturday, April 03, 2010

Confessions of an unshopaholic

‘There are only two things which are certain in Dubai – malls and mallus’. Have you heard of it? I’m guessing not, since I came up with it, only a little while ago. Let me substantiate by dwelling on the former initially, before narrating an interesting anecdote about the latter.

Nowhere in the world is retail therapy practiced as much as in Dubai. There are malls located all over the city, and outside. All of them have a large number of glittering, well-lit, well-designed shops stocked with a bewildering array of goods. Just to make matters interesting, each mall has a different theme - one has a ski slope, one is Pyramid-shaped and one has a Tower of London replica. In fact, the world's largest mall (located near the world's tallest building) has the world's largest aquarium, where you can interestingly practice your mall-dives.

To give you more detail about the shops in a mall, let me detail the shops found in the world's largest mall.

There are
• 34 fashion, accessories - If you imagined a small, box-like shop selling bangles and such-like, perish the thought. Think Louis Vuitton. And 33 other high-end names.
• 55 fashion, children
• 23 fashion, arabic
• 2 fashion, bridal
• 16 fashion, lingerie
• 2 fashion, maternity
• 26 fashion, men
• 7 fashion, tailors and textiles
• 71 fashion, women

And just in case you hadn’t found what you wanted, there are still
• 94 fashion, general showrooms

In addition, there are
• 47 footwear
• 55 watches and jewellery
• and 167 gold shops.

Bear in mind these are not your Palika bazaar type small shops; these are large shops of the biggest brands, in the most contemporary of designs. And yes, these shops are generally buzzing with activity.
To elaborate how big the opening of a shop is, listen to this story.

Two weeks ago, as I was randomly walking around the mall, I noticed a huge crowd of cheering, hooting people in front of a store. They were craning their necks, trying to look ahead, and many of them were taking photographs and videos. I questioned a few people around me but nobody had any idea what was happening. A security guy told me it was a store opening but didn't know anything more. I was extremely intrigued and wondered what store would get a huge crowd like this, and pushed forward. I asked some camera guys what they were taking pictures of, and was met with a shrug of their shoulders.

There was this pretty but not very intelligent-looking North Indian Female a little behind me, and I decided to ask her, not imagining she would know, but hoping that perhaps this could lead to coffee, my hotel room, etc etc.

Imagine my surprise when she said "Iconic store is opening"
"So what does Iconic sell?"
"Splash" With a look that said Duh! How could you not know that
"And what's splash?"
"Clothes" Followed by another look that said Duuuuuh! Don't you know anything

Just then, an old Indian businessman entered the area, surrounded by security, and he got a rock-star like reception. He looked to be the VIP, and went on to open the store.
Curious to learn his identity, I asked her. With the alacrity of a Mitesh Agarwal identifying a big biz dude, and the air of erudition of a Navin Jayakumar, she replied - 'Micky Jagtiani.'
"Oh ok" ( Knew him, but couldnt recognize)
"... , of Landmark Retail" She walked away with a frown, evidently considering me to not having the most basic knowledge in life.

I beat a hasty retreat feeling very mall indeed.
And now to get to the other burning issue of the day…

I often pass a restaurant called Pathan's, quite close to my house. With a name like Pathan’s, I had naturally assumed it served North Indian cuisine, replete with Red Drapes by the Dozen, Ghee by the Gallon, Buttermilk by the bucket and Dal by the DLF maximum. Never being in the mood for anything so rich, I had always opted for the slightly more distant Sangeetha or Saravana Bhavan. Incidentally, why do all north Indian hotels here have a red d├ęcor? Something to do with the higher literacy levels, perhaps? Higher literacy levels, so their hotels are red. But I digress.

The other day, as I passed Pathan’s, I read that it served vegetarian south Indian. I went in, and ate a good dosa with the most amazing thakkali chutney. I asked the receptionist, a mallu down to the last olan, kolan and rolan of his being, why the name Pathan's?

In all seriousness, he replied "It's a shortened form of Padmanabhaswamy'

What an awesome name origin!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Basically the Pun Da is

I like quizzing.

I like punning.

I like a combination of the two.

Which is what follows ( a small quiz I conducted)

Every answer involves some kind of wordplay.

1. This legend was given various colorful nicknames like Big Mig ( because of his size) and Colossus of Roads (because of his ability). What catchy nickname, was he given because of his name? 

2. Ismay is a town in Custer County in the United States with a very small population of 26. As a publicity stunt coordinated by an American franchise in 1993, the town was renamed as Joe, for a few days. Which state was the town in, and why was it renamed?

3. Earlier this year, there were posters put up which said “Old South Wales Welcomes New South Wales”. What was the occasion?
4. Which award-winning ad campaign used great lines like ‘Leader;s Digest’,’ ‘Makes White Collars Brighter’ and ’Great Minds Like A Think’?

The next set of facts are entirely fictional. They would be good questions ( if they were true), and again, puns are involved.  

5. Angana Mathew was an early 20th century Indian Civil Servant, who led the British government response to tackling the droughts of 1905, 1919 and 1922. In 1926, when a particular area was reeling under drought, a village headman was sent to Madras to report it to her. Unfortunately, he died midway, and his last words, urging a passerby to continue his task, ensured prompt help from Ms. Mathew. To perpetuate his story, the region was named after his last words. Which region?
6. The South African Government, in the early 20th century, was not only brutal against Blacks and Indians, but also the environment. The first demonstration that Gandhi made was to protect the flora in a particular region. The slogan that he used, to urge people to give their lives to save the vegetation, was later reused with great effect in India. Which region was it, and what was the slogan used? 

7. Luciano Benetton became a famous designer using different colors on his clothes. He was particularly famous for his yellow color. When he was asked how he obtained it, he pointed to a vat of green color which he said influenced the adjacent vat of yellow. He said “ --- ----, yellow dyes”. What term did he use, which was later used in another field?

8. A group of 6 countries, historically, had deep enmity between them, sometimes even leading to war. To solve the substantial difference between them, and to ensure they worked together for each other’s benefit, which organization was formed?


1. The person is cycling champ Miguel Indurain. He was nicknamed Singing, so he would be Miguel Singing Indurain.

2. It was renamed Joe, so that it would read Joe, Montana in honor of the NFL legend.

3. Signs were put up at Cardiff, the latest test centre. It's first match was between Australia and England.

4. The Economist. Check out the other ads. It's a great campaign!

5. His words were Tell Angana, and we get the name of the place as Telangana

6. The region is Succulent Karoo, and the slogan is Karoo ya Maroo.
If you haven't heard of the Succulent Karoo, have no fears. This is revenge to a BBQ ( Boring Bangalore Question) where the answer, which no one had ever heard of, was something called Succulent Karo.

7. Green Shoots, yellow dies. Hence the term 'Green Shoots'

8. Tribute to a controversy that erupted in the quizzing circles earlier this year. The organization is the Gulf Cooperation Committee, which was formed to bridge the gulf between the countries.

Hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, November 16, 2009

How it all Ads Up

A Beginner’s Insight into the Advertising World

After finishing my MBA, I had a break of a few months before I formally started working. Wondering what to do, I did what any MBA student is well-drilled in. I analyzed my current situation and evaluated my goals in life. My aims were moderate - I wanted to do something fun, hopefully involving extremely hot women. After ruling out the modeling industry for obvious reasons, I plumped for an internship in an advertising agency. I had figured that advertising was all about a 4S Framework – “Sexy Supermodels Selling Stuff”. This promised to extremely fun, with the first 2S’s adding the necessary spice to life.

On entering an ad agency, I was suitably impressed by its funky atmosphere. Having prior experience in the staid world of software and consulting, being greeted by a billiards table and beanbags was a refreshing change. I met the manager to whom I stuck to the tried and tested goal of ‘Wanting to experience the industry, check out my creative side, blah blah blah’. He asked me whether I was experienced enough to work in copy. Taking this as a grave affront, I looked him in the eye, and told him sternly that as a true blue South Indian, I considered myself a connoisseur of good, filter kaapi and would challenge anyone anyone in a ‘Guess-Which-Plantation-This-Coffee-Came-From-Contest’. I agreed to this role, imagining that I would be taking cups of coffee to Sultry Supermodels. That’s when I got my first insight about the ad industry.
Copy is the (yawn) text of the print ad/script of the commercial. Nothing to do with coffee. Or with Sizzling Supermodels. Bigger Sigh.

Beginning the next day, the first article I was asked to read was on How to Write a Good Print Ad. This informed me that A Good Print Ad has  items in lists (preferably of 5 or 10). So without any further ado, I present –

5 things I learnt in Advertising.

The thing I realized on day one itself was that the-

1. Sensual Supermodels Seldom Seen.
This was an earth-shattering discovery. Most of the ads hardly used supermodels! I was shocked to the core – apparently, people often bought products based on their merits, or based on other factors. What was the world coming to these days? Most of` my product purchases were done on the basis of the hotness of the babe in the ad, and I was stunned to find this didn’t apply, by and large, to the rest of humanity. My earlier theory shattered to bits, I then discovered advertising was really –

2. Passionate People Peddling Products.
Seriously! A lot of customer research goes into paan masala, papads and pickles before people develop ads for them. If you are developing an ad for a safety pin brand, you should clearly know what motivates the consumer in buying Safety Pin Brand A, and not Safety Pin Brand B. Market shares are sliced and diced, focus groups are done to death, and category information is thoroughly analyzed. And once you’ve spent over a week reading on the Safety Pin Using Habits of the SEC B residents of Inner JhumriThalaiya, you feel you know the subject like a favourite brother. This information is lovingly imparted to the creative guy, whose job is to generate -

3. Ideas, Ideas, and More Ideas.
The creative aspect of advertising involves generating plenty of ideas for the campaign. Ideas can range from the absolutely mundane (Film star selling Safety Pin Brand) to the extremely creative (A giant safety pin fastening two pieces of a torn billboard, showing the brand can be used for the tying up anything) Once you’ve done that, the next hurdle is to convince people that No, That Idea Was Not Rubbish, It was Actually Pretty Good. This is a lot of fun, especially if people have really whacky ideas, which they defend passionately. Once the Grand Idea has been shortlisted by the account guy in conjunction with the creative guy, the manager, the art guy, the client and the friendly neighborhood Spiderman, the focus shifts to the–

4. Innovative Illustrator Implementing Idea.
The art guy works hand-on-mouse with the creative guy to realize the Grand Idea. Each of them has his own Grand Vision to match the Grand Idea, and a Grand Ego to match his Grand Visions. A Grand Argument occurs with each person trying to Grandstand. Finally, they settle on some common graund, the ad is produced, and then given to the client for approval. It is then aired or printed in the appropriate media outlet for the public to view, shortly after which they rush to the store to buy the product being advertised for. In theory, atleast.

Given that the ad industry has everything going for it, namely occasional supermodels; fascinating market research; opportunities for great ideas; and a chance to make aam aadmi view your work, you could be expected to pose the logical question – Why are people not desperate to join this industry? That leads directly to my fifth, and mercifully last, learning, which is –

5. Pathetic Pay Puts off Prospects.
Given that most people choose their next job by the amount of money it will bring, it makes sound economic sense to not touch this industry, even with a bottom end of a beanbag. After all, when you can be making your millions in the Lehmanns and Merrills Mckinseys of the World, why work here?

As I review the internship, I find that I have partly achieved my goals. The creative process of coming up with grand ideas has been an intellectually stimulating and enjoyable exercise. My alliterative articulation has advanced to an amazing achievement which has more than matched the adworse consequences of not working with supermodels. With those bad jokes words of wisdom, I bid ad ieu!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One line to rule them all

I present a list of my favourite status messages over the last one year. These status messages either deal with something I'm currently doing or with a topical activity, written in a funny way. To me, both conditions are both necessary and sufficient, to make a good one-liner. A pun on an event in the distant past, or something that never happened, is pretty easy to make. After all, the whole world over the course of time provides infinite opportunities for making good puns. And without a pun, I would be a mere news-reader (Obama gets the Nobel Prize!), or a status-updater( I am looking forward to watching Sun TV's Kolangal tonight ), both of which roles  I find extremely uninteresting.

Sticking to this framework was not as difficult as I had imagined - current affairs does provide a fertile field to plough. (Note - I have presented the topical situation in italics  - its probably clear in most cases, but I'm explaining anyway) These messages are roughly in chronological order, starting from the current time.

  1. Did a person with a split personality coin the word 'Fire Work'? (After a Diwali spent watching awesome fireworks by the beach)
  2. People go to Kashi to die. They should just go to Rashee and die. (After spending three boring hours watching What’s Your Rashee)
  3. Has learnt one thing after a bad experience at titan eye+ " Girls seldom make glasses, for men who have passes". (Had multiple vouchers to be used at titan eye+, which couldn’t be used for a wierd reason and it was extremely frustrating)
  4. Will you brave a Worst Queue to enjoy a Coast View?(I hate the proposed beach expressway)
  5. Jaswant's book is gonna be - wait for it - absolutely - Le Jinnah diary. (After the furore on Jaswant's Singh's book on Jinnah)
  6. Indian cricketers are not following the old song - ' Jo WADA kiya, woh nibhana padega' (After  Indian cricketers refused to sign up with the WADA code)
  7. To sum it up, Obama's Beer Summit teaches us one thing - When faced by troubles, grin and beer it.
  8. Is unclear on nuclear physics. Does an atomic sub use sub atomic particles?(After the launch of Arihant - India's nuclear sub)
  9. An idle mind likes a well-stocked bookshop. (Senti thought which was in tune with my state of mind at that time)
  10. Coimbatore's booming cloth industry should enter F1 racing as KovaiLinen (After a trip to Coimbatore)
  11. From all these conspiracy theories floating around, one thing is clear - you can kill all the mockingbirds you want, but remember it's a sin to kill MJ.
  12. Pondy is dandy, with liquor being cheaper.(After a trip to Pondicherry)
  13. How to describe today's interesting faceoff - Jab Dill mile, will Gul Khile?(The Dilshan-Umar Gul match up had promised to exciting. A rare one where I use Hindi words)
  14. How Brawn GP describes its highly-automated F1 car - "Button pushes the button, we do the rest." ( A take on Kodak’s slogan, given Button’s great start to the season)
  15. So many indian americans in the spelling bee; they sure know they're ABCD.(After seeing a million Indian-Americans in the Spelling Bee)
  16. The plot for devD is shaD - if ditched by BanD, go to RunD ( After DevD release – another Hindi one)
  17. Attending my last class at IIMA and wishes there would be a ReSession. ( Senti message)
  18. If the Independent Project system had continued, then would it have solved the credit crisis?(Major academic war on campus, over subjects)
  19. Why didn't the auditors notice the oddities? (After Satyam – most of the good lines had been taken)
  20. The plot for billu will killu (Billu was oh-so-boring)
  21. has decided to become a revolutionary and fight for lower classes, after having a time-table with a mind-boggling 28 sessions this week.
  22. Moores the pity if England cracks under strauss (Strauss made captain, and Moore the coach)
  23. Resolves to make a Thousand Splendid Puns in 2009 (New Year Resolution)
  24. Its better to bailout than to (let) fade away.(After the wave of bailouts that happened)
  25. The Day That Reeves Showed Skill would definitely be The Day the Earth Stood Still.( Keanu Reaves sooooo Bad)   
  26. Kandy may be dandy, but WACA is quick-ah(After a featherbed of a Kandy pitch)
  27. Found hiking in the Black Forest a piece of cake.(An awesome hiking trip to The Black Forest)
  28. Found Beer Steins in Munich, but sadly no Lehmanade. (Had gone to the Oktoberfest)
  29. Are the waters of the Rhine are full of Eau di Cologne? 
  30. Is back to a full stop in Sweden after a semi-cologne tour.(Had to return urgently to Sweden because of an academic requirement) 
  31. Danes may use Trains, but a Viking prefers Hiking. 
  32. Wants to write a story called 'Stock Holmes and the Study in Sweden.'(Hadn’t written it, plan to start sometime) 
  33. Candy may be dandy, but rasam is awsam! (Senti message on one of my trips home)
  34. Unpacking is truly out-of the box thinking  (After going back to IIMA, and confronted by loads of neatly packed cartons waiting to be unwrapped)
  35. Ledger closes his account in style ( After Ledger’s Death )
  36. Batman was a stormy and dark knight ( After The Dark Knight Release)
  37. Left goes ballistic as UPA goes nuclear ( After the UPA and Left broke ties over  the nuclear deal)
  38. Quickdraw Bindraw wins gold ( After Bindra won the gold)
  39. God phelps those who phelp themselves ( After Phelps won many golds)
  40. I'm.In.Madras.Again(After I came home)
  41. 'Jai Home!'
  42. The best tribute to curd rice is the old jungle saying 'What can't be curd must be endurd'  (After coming home, and realizing how much I missed curd rice)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Why Quick Gun Moorugun Should Take Over The BJP, Or Cow Banega Thalapathy

As we know, the BJP faces many problems. They were bull-dozed in the last election. Raking up the Ram temple issue proved to be a big foaly. Expelling Jaswant for honestly writing the Jinnah Dairy showed the BJP’s herd mentality. What the BJP needs is a new issue that will resonate with the electorate.
For this, we propose they turn to the noble cow for numerous reasons:
a) Voters always consider animals as a big issue. After all, the Ram won BJP many elections.
b) Cows are very punny animals. Can you imagine the above paragraph with the double-wattled Cassowary or the Paradise Flycatcher?
c) If you still don’t believe me, let me assure you “Where’s there is a veal, there’s a way”
d) How can voters not like cows, the most gentle of creatures(‘To err is human, to forgive bovine’.)
e) The world is beset with multiple problems like Recession, Swine-Flu and Shortage-Of-Good- Cinema-Halls-In-Chennai. Cows always display a thoughtful appearance that you know is trying to detect the ‘Cows-And-Effect’ and solve these issues.

Now that we have proved that cows represent the future, it is but a simple leap of imagination to select a cowboy as Symbol of Glorious Cows. QGM as quintessential cowboy who is unafraid to take the bull by its horns will appeal to any cow-lover. He will be The Antidote to those cow-killing Cowngressmen who’s buzzword is ‘Dined it, I say’.
Ok enough bulls*** for one day. Will stop before you start nagging.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review: Madras Day Quiz

The day dawned bright and and I woke early, as the morning jasmine peeped out amidst the green garden, dewy-eyed and pristine white, like a Test cricketer emerging out on the first day of a match. It was the day of the Madras Quiz, one of the biggest quizzes on the calendar. Looking forward to it, I knew it would be a quiz that would definitely be equal to India's biggest Open Quiz, the Landmark Quiz.

The Madras quiz is being conducted by Team IQL, and was located behind a place familiar to most of us, the PS Senior School . I was slightly late for the quiz and I rushed to the prelims location, but was aghast to find that it wasn't even close to starting. After a bit, it got underway in typical fashion.

The prelims were like a cup of steaming hot early morning coffee. Some questions were brewed to perfection, while a lot others were reused decoctions and left a bitter taste. The answer on AR Rahman was a great fact and I guess it played the level field. Some others, like the first question, left us with a "Eh? Why is it there?" Overall, quite a decent prelims and we hoped we would qualify.

However, there was many a slip between the filter kaapi and the lip. We narrowly missed out on qualifying. It was nice of the quizmasters to follow the Great Derek's style of announcing the teams that missed out on qualifying. It gave us an incredible opportunity to enjoy the limelight and attention that is bestowed on teams-that-nearly-qualify. Wouldn't have missed it for anything. If only, they had announced the scores of all the teams that had made it, it would've ensured complete fairness and transparency to all. After all, what is an hour more or less, when we go to quizzes?

Speaking of filter kaapi, it was a pity that they had not arranged for a provision to serve it to the participants. After all, what is Chennai without a cup of steaming hot filter kaapi in the afternoon? And one more point in the favour of the Great Derek. I notice in the Great Derek's quizzes, something to eat and drink is ALWAYS served. I wish more quizzes start following this noble tradition.

The usual faces were among the finalists - The Legendary VV Ramanan, the Legendary Jayakanthan and the Legendary Gaurav Sundaraman. DP had ( surprisingly?) made it to the finals, and I made a mental note to work harder next time. If DP can qualify, it should be possible for me to qualify too, especially in a quiz on Madras, which is so obviously not his core competence.

The finals were like a whiff of morning jasmine, smelling sweet and pure. The quiz started on higly scented note, with a very interesting picture of the Central Institute of Classical Tamizh Studies. Quite a few other nuggets of information, like a question on Pennathur Subramaniam were present. However, as with any strand of jasmine we get nowadays, there were quite a few genetically modified flowers which had no right to be present.

One-third of the quiz, for good or for bad, was on movies. While I would agree to the odd question on Gemini Ganesan, I draw the line at a question on K Balaji as a child. One more question read - Which scriptwriter blah blah blah? When the first two teams had guessed Anna and the second MK, I had exhausted my stock of guesses. The answer turned out to be Kripananda Warrier ( the only Warrier I know in Tamil Cinema is Sultan the Warrier) And when there is question after question along similar lines, it does get a trifle wearying.

There were two long visual connects, which are like one-minute instant coffee served to quizzers brewed on the traditional thing. It might be easier to make, but unless it is interesting to all, it should not be there. The first theme had 5 unidentifiable people, and Maharajapuram Santhaman. The answer turned out to be Roads in Chennai renamed after people. Some more clues perhaps, to make it more guessable to aam audience?

The second theme, on places in Chennai named after flowers, was a poser to some teams, with the Legendary Gaurav going for the refreshingly different answer of Restaurants in Chennai. From the audience, I established my credentials as a blooming idiot on Madras, by not coming close to answering this theme.

The Madras quiz was won by L.Jayakanthan alongwith Alagarsamy from Hyderabad, with Rajaram and Joshi from Muscat coming second, and Ashwin Prabhu and Ramkey from Coimbatore coming third. The favorites, L.Ramanan and Ramkumar Shankar, and the young team of L.Gaurav and Anirudh surprisingly didn't finish in the top three.

A Madras Quiz is very hard to conduct, given the knowledge of quizzers and paucity of fresh content available. Given that there have been quite a few editions before this, it is increasingly becoming hard to find good questions. Moreover, today's quizzer is an incredibly savvy googler, and finding questions to please him is definitely a hard, if not as difficult, task. Given these constraints, the IQL team did a great job conducting this quiz. Most of the questions were very good, and most of us came away with the feeling ' I learnt something new about Madras today'

And finally - I'm thoroughly sick of a filter kaapi and jasmine analogy parallel used whenever Madras is mentioned. Thoroughly boring. How's this? "AAh Madras. Whenever I think of the old city, I think of Jalapeno-Tomato Chilli-Cheese-Cajun Pepper-Popcorn with a hint of Butter, served by good ol' Sathyam Cinema"? It has so much more of a zing to it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Cold and the Beautiful

One more article from my Euro Trip.

I had pretty much seen all of Jonkoping's attractions in the 2 months I had been there - being a sleepy, small town, this primarily consisted of beautiful women, beautiful lakes and beautiful scenery. Having a small break in my academic schedule, I decided to Boldly Go Where Man Has Seen Snow Before. It was October, and being in southern Sweden, the temperature was irritatingly low, but with no hint of snow. Friends in Germany had ridiculed my lack of snow, while displaying numerous photos of them making snowmen. I was even gloomily told that snowfall was predicted in January, by which time I would be back in India. A brief background - Sweden is like the Arunachal Pradesh of Europe - it just tapers on and on. The snowy, extremely cold bits we read so often in the papers are all in the sparsely-populated north.

I opened the Swedish map, and randomly looked at descriptions of places really, really North. The train time table was opened simultaneously; I had to select a place which would enable me to spend a night on the train, reach there in the morning, and leave that night again by train. (I must add that I possessed inarguably the most essential piece of paper any backpacker worth his hiking boots needed - a Eurail pass. Travel by train was mostly free, and most decisions to go places were dependent on the trains to that place.) I narrowed down my choice to a few places, and finally chose Kiruna.

I left that evening, making a note of train timings, and the places to see. It got dark pretty early, and the train journey was livened up by a group of middle-aged women getting up and singing Happy Birthday to You in loud Swedish (Grattis till er! Grattis till er! Grattis till er, dear Whatzisname! Grattis till er)

What I saw the next morning was truly magical. The landscape was pristine white, the forest of leafless pine trees, which had appeared bleak, forlorn and forbidding, now appeared to be shimmering with light, when draped in white blankets of snow. The air was exceedingly clear and this vista stretched on for miles together. Having lived in hot-hotter-hottest Chennai all my life, it was the first time I was seeing snow. Now, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and snug in the train compartment with the outside landscape to gaze at, I could joyously skim through Raskolnikov's debate to
kill himself. ( Long train journeys with nothing else to do are ideal for wanting to read books one has always wanted to read. Depressing books like Crime and Punishment so aptly fell into this category.)

I reached Kiruna at 1000 AM, and ventured straight out of the station. I rushed to the fresh mound of snow outside, made my first snowball, and 'shot the snowball into the air, it fell to the earth, I knew not where.' I was preparing another snowball to follow its predecessor, when I did know where it had fallen. I was caught white-handed in the act, and profusely apologised to an old gentleman for having pelted his dog with snow.

I shfted operations to another area; after hitting a tree, a stationary car, and a baby in a pram, I decided to ease up on the snowball throwing and decided to tramp about in the snow. The sun was shining above, and it felt mildly pleasant at around 2 degrees( I was wearing six layers of winter clothing - basically every sweater and jacket I possessed) After working out the exuberance of twenty four years of Never Having Seen Snow, and feelingly slightly cold in hands ( normal gloves - after all, a shoestring does not extend to your hands) I headed out to the friendly, neighbourhood tourist office to plan my itinerary. The lady at the counter gave me a map and marked out a walking trail that would take a few hours. She regretfully informed me that it was only the beginning of the winter, so everything was closed, so there would be no Reindeer and no Northern Lights. Drat! I had so wanted to see Rudolf prancing about, with a Red Light on his nose, a green light in the skies above and an amber drink in my hand ( the last mentioned just so's traffic conventions are maintained)

I started walking along the path she had marked, when I saw this middle-aged lady, walking in front, with the professional air of a Nordic Walker. I smiled at her, and that broke the ice between us. She agreed to let me join her in her walk, and agreed to show me the sights. As she quite trustingly unbent, she told me she had lived all her life in the town of Kiruna, her husband worked in the mines nearby and found the 2 degree temperature rather warm. ( These Swedes! Tap Tap Tap) The thought of my seeing snow for the first time was immensely humourous to her, and when she learnt I had worked in the software industry, she was quite respectful.( You do our job so much better, she said)

After a brief tramp through a forest, we came to a hillock where we could view the entire town, where she pointed out Kiruna's sights - a large school where her children studied, a church and ugly black hills in the background which provided the mines that served as the backbone of the town's economy. The entire experience seemed extremely surreal - joining an unknown person on a brisk walk through a snow-clad forest in the Arctic Circle, with the sun shining down.

After a while though, it sadly came to an end she regretfully told me that I was not properly dressed for the walk. Was it my unshaven, three-days stubble, the slightly wolfish look that came from eating only fries for breakfast or was it the ugly red backpack filled with clothes, I asked, feeling the brunt of the backpacker's curse on me. Neither, she said, and pointed to my shoes.
Lesson Learnt: Reebok Tennis shoes bought in Chennai are NOT meant to be used for walking through Deep Snow.

I trudged back to the town centre, and after buying a pizza costing as much money as needed to start a pizza joint in Chennai( Goach's Paradox: Why are Scandinavians the most polite people on Earth, when they pay the steepest prices for everything?) I decided to go into the church. Immensely peaceful, with dark wooden panelling, big candles and bright lights that looked quite picturesque. It was around 1400 hours by now, and the town centre was the only place I hadn't been to, so I dutifully went there and learnt quite a bit on the history of Kiruna ( Amazing fact: Due to mining, the entire town is sinking, and they have to transplant it lock, stock, home and school, to another area. Where exactly is still being debated)

Feeling quite confident in my ability to handle a How Well Do You Know Kiruna Quiz on Facebook, I was told to see an icehotel in Jukkasjarvi, a short bus ride away. I took a bus which deposited me near it( It is the same one in Die Another Day). They were still building it, and I could see huge chunks of light blue ice being cut into different pieces and laid on the ground. The water was taken only from certain pure, pristine streams, so any guests who so desired could have the best Ganga snanam possible. Being quite cold now, I made a cursory trip round it and then went inside a brick hotel. The return bus would be back in an hour, and I was advised to go to a church nearby.

I went there, was not surprised to find myself alone and remained inside for quite a while. You might wonder if I had been entranced by the beauty and magnificence of the 18th century church, or captivated by its bright lights and golden candles? Rest assured - I stuck to my tambram roots. It was just that by this time become quite sick of the extremely dark ( at 1630) and the cold ( minus five degrees) and wanted to be somewhere else( Chennai in peak summer looked so inviting) Visions of frost-bite and snowstorms floated in front of me, especially since no one knew where I was. The stupid bus was taking forever, I needed to go to the toilet and desperately wanted a warm drink, and the church was the only shelter around.

The bus finally came, the walk to the station seemed infernally long, especially against the cold wind, and I reached around an hour before the train came. I waited for the train, felt like killing Dostoevsky for rambling on, and resolved never to go to infernally cold places ever again.

When I reached Jonkoping the next day, I banished the thought of cold to the distant recesses of my mind, aided in this process by an expensive Chai Latte. I brought out my Lonely Planet, all eager to plot the next trip...