Thursday 26 January 2012

Indian Adda

Today is India’s Republic Day and I am miles away from home.  As I wandered the streets of Davos, with snow crunching under my boots, cold air brushing my face, multiple accents filling my ears - I spent the time between meetings munching on samosas and veg kabob (can you believe it?). The India Brand Equity Foundation took over a room adjacent to a restaurant and set it up with hot chai and Indian snacks. The India chefs used the restaurant kitchen to create multiple dishes to cater to the Indian palate. The adda never closed at 7pm as it was supposed to but the hostesses never lost their smile and the food never stopped coming our way.  

As I sat there and watched the activity, I realized that one of the best assets India possesses as a country is the sense of hospitality.I thought of my grand mother who managed to whip up SOMETHING for the indefinite amount of guests who seem to flow in and out of our home; of my oldest sister who gets three blouses stitched for every saree she buys so that all three of us sisters can wear her sarees;  of my second sister and her husband who leave their family and move in with us at a moment’s notice to baby sit my son if I have to travel for business; of my maid who stays way beyond her negotiated hours if we are late getting home without expecting any overtime salary. 

What is common among all these people is their generosity and their innate sense of giving without expecting anything in return right away. Yes! there is a moral binding and an expectation that we all take care of one another in time of need.  In some ways, doing something per rules for which an agreed amount is exchanged is desirable because there are no expectations. It leads to a very predictable life of opening something on time and closing on time and not making any exceptions. And then, there is the Indian way where a shop might stay open because they could not say “No” to their customers, which might cause them to delay opening the next day.

As India matures, becomes a “professional” country, some of these courtesies may die and some more predictability might set in. And as we do that, I hope that we do not lose that in-born sense of hospitality, generosity and make exceptions to stay open a tad longer because the customers are really having fun. I hope that we master that dance taking into stride the discipline of the west and the flexibility of the east.  Here’s to the Republic day and hot samosas in cold snow :-) 

Wednesday 25 January 2012

A simple hello made my day

I went for my usual run at the English Garden.  The weather was crisp, the lawns were green and the sun was shining.  It was a gorgeous day. It felt great to run despite the cool air causing a nose freeze! I had to walk at times because the roads were a bit icy. 

As I was coming back to the hotel, I met a tall man in a green jacket at the exit of the park. He was just walking in and said something in German.  I did nor understand I told him “only English”. Then, he said that it was really good that I was running in this cold.  And then he asked if I was from India. When I said “yes”, he asked where I lived and I said “Bangalore". He said he had traveled for 7 months across India and that he thought that Indians were really friendly people. He said that he was going to be back as it was one of the best trips he has ever taken.

Here we were two people from two continents and he could have simply walked past me. But then, he stopped and said something pleasant and it has made all the difference to have a wonderful day past the interaction. We have something in common that we love and that’s all it takes. I told him that I loved Germany too and we parted ways. How simple life is … really! All it takes is a kind word and a smile.

Munich English garden on Jan 24th 2012

Munich English garden... covered in snow

A host who made us feel at home

I am always amazed by the kindness that surrounds us.When my friend Asha and I decided to go to World 
Economic Forum at Davos, she rented an apartment from a young professional, Chris. It is  a beautiful two 
bedroom apartment that overlooks the train tracks and mountain slopes. 

What he did totally unasked for .. is what truly touched me. He offered to drive to Munich to pick us up and take us to Davos. Mind you! It is a 3.5 hour drive each way. It was not just the driving but the way he took care of each detail was truly touching. He came to Munich on 24th night and we all left on 25th am to Davos.  He made rest room stops, meal stops at the right intervals without even asking. The most amusing stop for me was the lunch stop at “Marche”. This is a strange combination of fashion clothing store, rest rooms, spectacular café with splendid displays of fruits and salads – all under one roof. To top it all off, at the entry there is a fenced off area with a small shed in which there were live goats. As soon as you enter the building, you are greeted by mannequins displaying fashionable clothing flanked by a water wheel right behind. To the left of the mannequin is the clothing store and to the right is the café. This mix of country and chic was rather amusing.  After a quick lunch, we drove to Davos witnessing mounds of snow either side of the freeway. As we drove on the road flanked by snow, I felt as though we were entering a silent zone. The snow hung off the ceiling off the houses so precariously that I wondered how it stayed up. Chris told us that there are instances when an avalanche from the roof could hurt a passer by if you are not watching. After seeing my woeful shoes, he insisted on loaning me his girl friend’s boots. He stocked the fridge with the essentials and drove us to the grocery store to buy the rest. Only after we were completely settled in, he took off leaving us at his home. Chris could have just lent us his home, collected the cash and walked away. Instead, he made us feel at home and sown the seeds for a long term friendship.

Lady with a laugh

When I visit some places, I feel a sense of belonging .. As though I have been there before. The English garden in Munich is one such place for me. The moment I enter the park, my mind clears as I take in the expanse the greets me and it feels as though I am visiting a long lost friend. I discovered this park in June 2012 when I saw a group of people surfing across a small water body that was barely 10 ft wide at one of the entrances of the park. These surfers were of all levels of expertise and they were OK to make do with such a small space to surf across. Even though the surfers attracted me to stop by , its my entry into the park and running through it started my love affair with this park. The winding paths that cut through thick tree lines paths as well as across the open grounds and around a small pond weer a visual feast. 

As I arrived in Munich to speak at the DLD conference on 23rd Jan, I truly looked forward to visiting the park the following am. I was up at 6:30am and got out of the Bayerischer hof hotel and jogged to the park. It took me about 15 mts to reach the park from a different entrance than the usual one where the surferes would be. It was really cold outside and I was sure that there would be no surferes but I jogged over to that entrance to check anyway. As expected, still to my disappointment, the surfers were not there. Even though I do not know any of them nor do I remember the faces, I somehow felt that group of surfers were my long lost friends and I was really looking forward to seeing them. 

As I got over my disappointment, I noticed a small cottage that looked like a cafe to nestled in the woods. I decided to check this place out to see if I could use the rest room. I opened the doors and walked into a small, cute cafes with two young women behind the counter who were arranging the pastries and brewing the coffee. I asked them if I could use the restroom and one of the ladies pointed the door to me and said that I would need 50p. I said that I only had a credit card. She laughed and slipped in a 50p in my hand.  These are the small things that really touch me. It was not as though I had something to eat or drink and asking for a favor. I was just a stranger running across the park. And she did not bat an eyelid when I said that I did not have the money - not a moment of hesitation, irritation or indifference. She just laughed and slipped the coin in my hand and got back to her work. That act of kindness without thinking much of it is something I really admire in people. As I was leaving, I asked her if I could buy some scones with a credit card so that I could leave well more than 50pm as tip and she laughed again and said “sorry! only cash”.  I really felt bad but somehow was also charged by this simple act of generosity. I went for my run across the park and got back to the room still thinking of the small cafe in the woods - where the people behind the counter have truly large hearts. If any of you go to Munich and the English garden, please do to cafe and tell her that I sent you :-) and then go for a walk or a jog across the park and think of me.    

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Drive from Munich to Davos

Our drive from Munich to Davos - with our host Chris as our charioteer :-) 




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