Watching the Clasico in a bar

No, this post doesn’t have to do with the current El Clasico between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. When I’d watched the previous Clasico on March 22nd I’d formed a blog post in my head but I never got down to writing it (combination of travel and NED and enjoying my holiday) so I thought this is a good time to put it down.

On that occasion I was in Barcelona and briefly toyed with the idea of going to watch the game at the Camp Nou. That idea was quickly shelved given that tickets were going for about €500 each. Then there was hope that the game would be telecast on local TV (like the Barcelona-Ajax game I had watched at the Camp Nou was), but that wasn’t to be. The only option was to watch it at a pub.

While there were several bouts of NED due to which I had decided I won’t see that game, when Maxime, my wife’s flatmate, went out, I couldn’t help but join him. The first task was to find a suitable pub, especially given that it was a Sunday.

There is an interesting hierarchy of local businesses in Barcelona. Most Spanish-run supermarkets, for example, are closed on that day, though the Pakistani-run places (which are interestingly plentiful in the city) are open 24×7. A large number of Spanish-run bars are closed on Sundays, too, while the Chinese bars (again plentiful) are open all day.

Given that it was the Clasico and it was not broadcast on terrestrial television, there was no surprise that bars were full. Seating-only bars were thus out of question. And some of the standing-allowed places were choc-a-bloc. Finally it was this Chinese bar near the Entença station that Maxime and I went to.

The place was full, like most other bars in Barcelona that night, but there was some standing room with a view of one of the televisions. A sign at the entrance greeted us saying that each person was expected to order at least one beer for €2 (normal price for a beer in such a bar is €1,80). Estrella thus Dammed, it was time for the game.

I don’t remember much of that game, but the atmosphere in the bar was far from the kind I’d seen elsewhere. The crowd was partisan, of course, with anyone who wanted to support Real Madrid doing so silently (remember that this is a politically charged fixture, especially given renewed calls for Catalan secession). Loud cheers accompanied the Barcelona goals. The Madrid goal was met with silence, as you might expect (and people stepping out for a smoke). People stepping in and out created another problem – it was a rather cold spring evening, and every time the door opened it let in rather cold wind and disturbed the thermal balance of the bar!

There were a couple of other noteworthy sidelines on the evening. The first was how hard the bar staff worked. Expecting it to be a big night, they had pressed in extra staff, with possibly the entire family of the people who ran the bar involved. Children who looked as young as ten or twelve hurriedly ferried dishes from the kitchen to the tables (there were a few tables, which I’m assuming were pre-booked). Service was overall top notch, with our €2 beers arriving within two minutes despite the massive crowd at the bar. Considering that some bars were shut (given it was a Sunday), it was incredible how hard this one worked to make most of a good Barcelona night.


And then there were these guys at the slot machines. Like most other cheap bars in Europe, this one too had a couple of slot machines and they were all occupied, by people who couldn’t care less about what was going on around them, and whose only worry in life was to bet against the house. It could have been yet another night at the bar for them, except that the beer cost them twenty cents extra.

PS: I got distracted by the Manchester City – Liverpool game and hence took much longer to finish this post. I started writing it as soon as El Clasico started.


I was reading Shoba Narayan’s excellent piece in MintOnSunday about the Palani temple when I was reminded of my own trip there back when I was a kid, so thought I should write about it.

The memories are extremely hazy, for I was a really small boy back then (I don’t even remember how old I was). It was a strict pilgrimage, consisting of two overnight bus journeys, and the only purpose of the trip was to visit the Palani temple.

There was some religious context to it. Apparently my parents had visited the temple some time before I was born, and had promised to return had some condition been satisfied. I don’t remember the exact condition (though the fact that I’m named Karthik has something to do with this, I know) but apparently it had been satisfied, and so off we went to fulfil the “harke”.

I remember taking a Tamil Nadu State Transport bus. I don’t think I was old enough for them to take a ticket for me, so I didn’t get my own seat. But then my father spoke to some people across the aisle and found that they were scheduled to get off at Krishnagiri, after which we crossed over to the three-seater, and I remember sleeping across my parents’ laps.

We reached Palani in the morning and checked into some random hotel. I don’t remember much of what happened there. I remember going to the temple sometime during the day. There was a cable car, if I’m not wrong, to go up. I don’t remember if we took it.

Shoba’s piece is about the Prasad at the Palani temple, but I don’t remember any of it. All I remember is going to some vibhuti (sacred ash) shop there to buy some vibhuti. And I remember the shopkeeper telling us that whatever we bought, we would only get half of it after the pooja was done. Finally my parents, after some deliberation, settling on buying one (largish) packet of vibhuti. I remember taking home half of that, and it satisfying our vibhuti needs for several years after that.

As I said right up front, this is one of my least memorable trips from my childhood. All I remember is the bus. The shady hotel. The steep flight of stairs to get to the temple (Shoba writes about that, too). The cable car. And the half packet of vibhuti. I have no clue what we ate. I think there were people there in Palani who spoke Kannada, but I’m not so sure. And I remember taking another overnight bus back (this one being empty enough that I could sleep across my parents’ laps for the full journey).

Ramzan walking in Jakarta

Ever since I stopped being vegetarian in 2011, I’ve started indulging in the so-called “Ramzan walks”. The concept is as it states – basically a bunch of you go to this Muslim dominated area where special stalls are set up so that people breaking the fast can indulge. Food at such stalls is generally of a very high quality, so you have a large number of non-fasters, which includes a large number of non-Muslims also indulging.


I somehow missed going on one such last year, but have done so in 2011 and 2012 (in Bangalore, in Frazer Town) and 2013 in Mumbai (Mohammed Ali Road), and generally enjoyed them.

And this time was going to be different, and special, since this is the first time ever I’m in a Muslim-majority country during Ramzan. Though I’m basically stuck in this hotel with access to little else but two adjacent malls, I got lucky in that one of these two malls decided to have a food festival to celebrate Ramzan. I wasn’t able to go the last two days since I was meeting people for dinner (one of the said dinner counterparties was vegetarian and the other(s) demanded a more formal setting), but made amends today.

So the open courtyard of this mall called La Piazza (in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta) has a large number of stalls set up. You have these cash counters where you pay up and get a prepaid smart card. Once this is obtained you can walk up to any counter and buy food from there upon swiping the said card. An excellent and efficient system to ensure fast processing, keep track of revenues (from the point of view of the organisers) and offer a hassle-free experience for customers.

The big challenge, of course, was the lack of knowledge of the language. While Bahasa uses the Roman script (because of which you are able to “read” stuff), almost no one here speaks any English, so trying to figure out what was what, and what to eat was a huge challenge.

We started with the safe option of the Chicken Satay (I had figured out through Rosetta stoning over the last few days that Ayam is Chicken), which is something we were already aware of. It was absolutely excellent. Next we decided to get a “rice item”. I saw someone at the adjacent table eating something and decided to hunt for that specific thing. I finally found it – “Nasi Bebek Madura” (Nasi is rice; Bebek is duck and Madura is an island off Java). It was extremely spicy but the leftover Satay sauce tempered matters.

We followed this up with a meat-based “kaDubu” equivalent, which was excellent once again, and rounded things off with a local dessert (a lot of random things poured over crushed ice), which was quite nice, too.

This food festival goes on for another week, so if you’re going to be near Kelapa Gading, you should surely attend. The organisation is top-notch. I already mentioned about the simplified payment dynamics. Apart from this, sufficient tables have been set up (both sitting and standing types) all over the place, and there are people cleaning the tables and floors at regular intervals. The variety in food is astounding and just the atmosphere itself is something worth taking in!


Now I’m jealous of the wife since she has an opportunity to continue experiencing this for a few days more!

Jakarta: General Notes

I’ve been in Jakarta for about two days now (not counting the weekend trip to Yogyakarta) and I’m not particularly impressed. My main problem with the city is that it is not walkable – roads are so wide and traffic so fast-moving that they are impossible to cross; there are absolutely no pavements to walk on (forcing you to take shelter from parked cars while walking) and there are no zebra crossings at all in some places!

A side effect of this unwalkable-ness is that it is impossible for you to explore – I haven’t seen any bus stops or buses nearby, too. So if I’ve to go somewhere it has to be by taxi, and with a purpose. This has led to my not going out anywhere at all, save for two malls that are close to my hotel and which can be reached without crossing any major roads (though you need to walk through a shady-looking alley to get there).

In some ways this city is like Gurgaon on steroids – massive roads, massive malls, massive traffic jams and massive freeways. To its credit the city is quite clean (much cleaner than any Indian city I’ve been to) and there is a functioning and efficient taxi system, so you can get around if there’s someplace you want to get around to.

But if you just want to spend some time here, “take in the city”, have a look around and so on, it is surely not the place.

The other day the wife and I were having a conversation on where we want to live, and one thing we agreed upon is that we want to live in a place where the commute doesn’t drive your life. Of course, rather ironically, the only time that has been true for me was in Gurgaon in 2008-09, when I had a commute which took less than 20 minutes at any point of time, because of which I didn’t have to base my schedule on when traffic would be smooth. A later visit to Gurgaon has shown that this is not true of Gurgaon any more (the same 20 minute commute from 2009 took 40 minutes on a rather empty Saturday morning in 2014).

I think I’m too much of a sucker for walking and public transport to be able to survive in a place like Jakarta.

Where Uncertainty is the killer: Jakarta Traffic Edition

So I’m currently in Jakarta. I got here on Friday evening, though we decamped to Yogyakarta for the weekend, and saw Prambanan and Borobudur. The wife is doing her mid-MBA internship at a company here, and since it had been a while since I’d met her, I came to visit her.

And since it had been 73 whole days since the last time we’d met, she decided to surprise me by receiving me at the airport. Except that she waited three and a half hours at the airport for me. An hour and quarter of that can be blamed on my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta being late. The rest of the time she spent waiting can be attributed to Jakarta’s traffic. No, really.

Yesterday evening, as soon as we got back from Yogyakarta, we went to visit a friend. Since this is Jakarta, notorious for its traffic, we landed up at his house straight from the airport. To everyone’s surprise, we took just forty minutes to get there, landing up much earlier than expected in the process.

So I’ve described two situations above which involved getting to one’s destination much ahead of schedule, and attributed both of them to Jakarta’s notorious traffic. And I’m serious about that. I might be extrapolating based on two data points (taking into the prior that Jakarta’s traffic is notorious), but I think I have the diagnosis.

The problem with Jakarta’s traffic is its volatility. Slow-moving and “bad” traffic can be okay if it can be predictable. For example, if it takes between an hour and half to hour and three-quarters most of the time to get to a place, one can easily plan for the uncertainty without the risk of having to wait it out for too long. Jakarta’s problem is that its traffic is extremely volatile, and the amount of time taken to go from one place to the other has a massive variance.

Which leads to massive planning problems. So on Friday evening, the wife’s colleague told her to leave for the airport at 7 pm to receive me (I was scheduled to land at 10:45 pm). The driver said they were being too conservative, and suggested they leave for the airport at 8, expecting to reach by 10:30. As it happened, she reached the airport at 8:45, even before my flight was scheduled to take off from KL! And she had to endure a long wait anyways. And then my flight got further delayed.

That the variance of traffic can be so high means that people stop planning for the worst case (or 95% confidence case), since that results in a lot of time being wasted at the destination (like for my wife on Friday). And so they plan for a more optimistic case (say average case), and they end up being late. And blame the traffic. And the traffic becomes notorious!

So the culprit is not the absolute amount of time it takes (which is anyway high, since Jakarta is a massive sprawling city), but the uncertainty, which plays havoc with people’s planning and messes with their minds. Yet another case of randomness being the culprit!

And with Jakarta being such a massive city and personal automobile (two or four wheeled) being the transport of choice, the traffic network here is rather “complex” (complex as in complex systems), and that automatically leads to wild variability. Not sure what (apart from massive rapid public transport investment) can be done to ease this.

Gloomy weather

For most of today, the weather in Bangalore has been what most people would traditionally classify as “gloomy”. The sun has mostly been invisible, popping out only now after a fairly strong shower. There has been a rather thick cloud cover, with the said clouds being mostly dark. There has been the threat of rain all day, culminating in a rather powerful shower an hour back.

I haven’t minded the weather one bit, though, though it helps that I haven’t had to step out of home all day. I’ve been happy sitting by the window, sipping coffee and tea and green tea, and eating Communist peanuts, and working. In fact, I’ve grown up considering this kind of weather (cool, cloudy, with a hint of drizzle) as being the ideal romantic weather, and when the weather turns this way nowadays, I miss the wife a whole lot more! Till recently, I never understood why such weather was traditionally classified as “gloomy”. Until I went to Europe to visit the wife last month.

March in Europe is traditionally classified as “Spring” (summer doesn’t come until June there, which is hard for someone from Bangalore, where summer ends in May, to understand), but in most places I went to (I visited five different cities during my trip), the weather was basically shit. I had carried along my “winter jacket” (bought at a discount in Woodland at the end of last winter), and didn’t step out even once without it. It was occasionally accompanied by my woollen scarf and earmuffs, with hands thrust into pockets.

For days together the sun refused to come out. In fact, our entire trip to Vienna was a washout because of the weather. Thick dark clouds and no sun might be romantic in tropical Bangalore, but in Vienna, where it is accompanied by chilling winds and occasionally maddening rain (and once snow), it can be devastating. It can cause insane NED – you might argue that if weather was so bad in Vienna we could have used it as an excuse to stay inside museums and see things, but the gloom the weather causes is real, as we frittered and wasted hours in an offhand way, hanging around in coffee shops doing nothing, and just touring the city in trams, again doing nothing (we had got a three-day pass).

The one time the sun peeped out (after a heavy shower like this afternoon’s in Bangalore), we went ecstatic, but our joy was shortlived as it was quickly followed by another downpour which killed our enthu for the rest of the day.

The bad weather followed us all though our 10-day trip across Prague, Vienna and Budapest. The first and last being former Soviet cities didn’t help, as the (really beautiful from inside) apartment we stayed in Prague was in a rather dreary area, with the weather making the locality even more depressing. As a consequence, we hardly hung around in the locality, taking away dinner on each of the three days we were there. Our Budapest apartment was in a more vibrant part of town (most of our meals were within 500m of our apartment) but the general dreariness and chill meant that we didn’t explore as much as we would have otherwise done, perhaps.

We were back in Barcelona (which too had been rather dreary in March) last Saturday night, and when there was bright sunshine on Easter Sunday morning as we went to the nearby bakery for breakfast, we were absolutely ecstatic. We spent time just sitting on the parkbench, soaking in the sunshine. I made a mental note that if I’m going those parts next spring, I should go there AFTER Easter and not before (like this year). I also made a mental note to never again question why weather that is traditionally called “gloomy” is called so.

Queueing up for boarding

I’m writing this from Barcelona airport, waiting for my flight to Doha, as I return to Bangalore today. A pre boarding announcement was made some minutes back but boarding is yet to commence, and this is what the airport looks like now.


As you can see it’s a fairly long line. And boarding hasn’t even begun. I used to believe that this phenomenon of queueing up for boarding is a uniquely Indian phenomenon, but over two trips to Europe over the last  months I’ve disabused myself of this notion.

In the last six months I’ve taken seven flights within Europe and for each of them there has been a long boarding queue, mostly before boarding has begun. In a couple of cases I’ve participated, and for good reason. On one occasion I chose not to participate and regretted it. But there have been occasions when I’ve chosen not to participate and haven’t regretted. I have no plans to participate in the queueing today. For an international flight it’s not rational. Let me explain.

Within Europe most low cost carriers charge for any checked in baggage. As a consequence, people carry on large pieces of luggage. As a consequence of this, there is severe shortage of luggage rack space within the flight and so if you don’t board early there’s a good chance that your baggage will have be carried in the hold, resulting in unnecessary delays after landing.

Thus, pricing of low cost carriers where they anally charge for luggage results in suboptimal boarding process, and significant discomfort.

In any case, Europeans are thus used to queueing up for boarding, for that can guarantee them a relatively smooth flight experience. And my theory is that this carries on to international  too.

But why is this irrational for international flights? Because most international flights (Qatar for sure) have reasonably generous check in baggage limits, because of which people don’t carry on massive pieces of luggage. The per capita availability of rack space, from my unscientific observations, also seems higher in wide body flights. Hence it matters less whether you board first or last.

Finally the queue didn’t matter today since Qatar decided to use the rather idiotic zone wise boarding system on the flight today. I’ve boarded. And had to place my bag one seat away. Not that I mind.

See you from the dark side