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Rose Valley

Yesterday afternoon, while I was on my lunch break, I decided to climb Cardiac Hill (our name for the rather steep Primrose Hill) and wander around the High Street shops, as you would. As I was standing at the junction of Primrose Hill and Crown Street, a car stopped next to me and this senior-ish desi man asked me if I knew which way Rose Valley was. For once, I did and I was only too happy to show him the way. It was, after all, just down the road and tiddly road that went off the roundabout.

But translating this into motorese proved to be tougher than I bargained for. I have a problem differenciating between my left and right. When I normally say 'take the left', folks go 'oh you mean the right - okay, got you'. Of course, this innocent stranger didn't know that. So, when I said, 'go down this road and at the roundabout, take the left and then turn into the first road on your left', he took my words to be gospel and proceeded to do so.

Even as I watched indulgently, he indicated left at the rounabout and proceeded up Queen's Road. That was when it hit me - I had told him left, instead of right! Typically, I saw the bloke come bowling towards me as I walked up Coptfold Road. I flagged him down, apologised profusely and said 'I meant right when I said left'. He gave me a 'I forgive you, lady' smile and asked me 'okay now which way?' So I started again 'you go down this road and then you take the...' I was waving my left arm like mad when he went 'right, right' and I said 'yeah take the right, and then take the right at the roundabout'.

He waved me a cheerful bye, took the right and proceeded towards the direction of the High Street. That was when realisation dawned on me - I had meant left and when the bloke prompted 'right, right', I had got confused and sent him the wrong way - again!

So, all you good folks of Brentwood, if you see a poor, harassed man, with wilted flowers in his passenger seat, asking you the way to Rose Valley, please point him in the right direction. And do not, I beg you, do not tell him where I live!

Map of Brentwood - with Primrose Hill and Rose Valley

Posted by DesiGirl 7:29 am 7 comments Links to this post  

What a merry life we lead!

Popstars on an adopting spree, veiled Teaching Assistant and the Macca v Mucca battle - Britain was never such a fun place to be in that the last week. It was like being in the thick of not one but a myriad of newsstorms and we didn't know which way to turn! Whilst the celebs seemed to be hell-bent on making sure our attention was concentrated on them, the Muslim TA added more drama to our lives by making her views known far and wide. All I had to do was rub my hands in glee and sit back - this was pure entertainment!

Fairly on top of the ratings chart is the Battle of the McCartneys - when I read in the summer that the former Beatle was hoping for a quick and dignified divorce, I thought that was wishful thinking, even for him. Now, the shit has well and truly hit the fan and it doesn't look like it is going to be cleaned anytime soon. How eight pages of highly confidential divorce papers, detailing Macca's wife beating and other assorted antics (on one memorable occasion, apparently, he narrowly missed wearing the ketchup) mysteriously ended in the In tray of AP's offices is the million pound question. The dailies hazarded a guess whereby Heather, the "woman scorned", herself faxed the data to AP to get back at McCartney.

Macca is a British icon and one of my colleague's reaction on reading the headline that proclaimed Macca to be a wife beater was succint: "Rubbish! That woman is off her rocker!" Even if the allegations were true, it will take more than Heather Mills's words to pull the former Beatle from his pedestal. More likely, the mud will stick on her and once again, her past as a former glamour model and 'escort', who became famous championing anti-landmines causes after she lost her leg in a motorcycle accident, will come under scrutiny.

Middle of the week saw the furore kicked up by the Case of the Veiled Teacher as she accused her employers, a Church of England school no less, of discrimination as they refused to let her wear the veil in class. Aishah Azmi took on Kirklees Council when she was asked to remove her veil at school, sparking a nation-wide religious debate - yet again. To veil or not to veil became the question. Islamic women's rights were being downtrodden, claimed some supporters while Jack Straw's comments of the women wearing the veil separating themselves from society was aired once again and thrashed about the place.

Icing on this particular cake was, when Ms. Azmi was awarded £1100 as a compensation for her "hurt feelings". Well, I like that!

Even before I stopped spluttering over the previous news tidbit came the Madonna and Son row. Deciding to give her flagging pop career a boost, the Material Girl took a leaf out of Angelina Jolie's footsteps and visited the Dark Continent to get herself a new child.

One-year-old David Banda, who lost his mum soon after his birth was the Chosen One and after 'careful vetting', Mr and Mrs Ritchie were given permission by the impoverished nation of Malawi to adopt one of its children. But the meticulously planned operation hit two snags: 1. public outcry over what they considered flouting of Malawi's adoption rule that the parents should be residents of the country for 18 months 2. David Banda's father backpedalling and crying foul just days of hitting at the media to leave Madonna alone. Now, Madonna is reported to be bewildered at the lashing she's receiving from the media for her latest action. She's even going to go on Oprah next week to put forward her point.

Well, after the action of the past week, this week's fare seems quite dull - Prince Charles' tax probe, R. Amazon's direction changing feat, David Cameron's efforts to show himself as being 'hip' and 'with it', nothing has a zing to it. Come on, Posh & Becks - do something! Spice up our lives!

Posted by DesiGirl 11:43 pm 1 comments Links to this post  

Schumacher's unforgettable swan song

Oct 22, 2006, Sao Palo will remain forever etched in every Ferrari fan's memory as the venue for one of the greatest F1 races ever. There was no shortage of drama and whoever had tuned in or turned up in person at the venue had more than their money's worth.

I hate to admit but I was nervous as hell - Mikey had qualified at P 10 and Alonso was in P4. Though I wasn't too worried about Mikey's starting position, I was doubtful the upstart would oblige and crash his car. Anyways, I wanted Michael to win the race and the championship proper - not by default.

So I sat through ITV's pre-race waffle and by the time the klaxon sounded, my nerves had got the better of me and I beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen, to watch the race from farther afield. I am really nervous about watching my favourite men play - Sachin always goes out on a duck if I sit cheering him on; on one memorable occasion, Mikey's car blew up in the last few laps at Suzuka and that sod Hakkinen walked away with the championship.

On lap 10 of the Grand Prix though, my world crashed about my ears as Mikey's car threw a wobbly and swerved all over the place. Moments later, we could see why - his right rear tyre had had a blowout, thanks to the debris left over from Rosberg's car. Mikey drove like a demon with the punctured tyre to get back into the pits and get a new set. He rejoined the race at P19 and from then on, it was pure drama.

Once it was clear that there was no way Mikey could win either the championship or the race, he just stepped up a couple of gears and drove one of the best races of his career. He continually set up fastest lap times, overtook every car that came in his way and showed us what we are going to be missing in the years to come. He blistered down the tracks, made some brilliant moves overtaking and just shone! It was like being part of a masterclass in F1 racing. His manoever, when he overtook Kimi with just 4 laps to go, was a thing of sheer beauty.

Schumacher did not win the race; he certainly did not win the championship; hell, he did not even finish on the podium. But he emerged a winner on race day. He drove such a brilliant race that the camera hardly registered Massa’s laps, save for a few glimpses every now and then.

He sure made quite a lot of enemies over the years but no one could deny that he is one of the best drivers ever. He definitely would go down in the history books as one of the greatest drivers we have ever seen. Alonso might go on to win more championships, Kimi might set the tracks on fire, Button might just prove to be the best British driver bar none but no one can ever replace Michael Schumacher. Formula 1 has lost one of its brightest suns and it is going to be a whole lot darker without Schumey around.

Posted by DesiGirl 6:14 pm 1 comments Links to this post  

Diwali mela: London ishtyle!

A quick glance at a poster advertising Diwai celebrations while driving through Ealing Road last month led to us standing in a gusty wind at 7:00 pm on a dull autumn evening last weekend. Even as the crowds gathered around me, I couldn't help thinking that I might possibly be the only mug who has travelled 30 miles to stand
there in that spot so assorted garishly dressed people could parade about the streets.

After trying different methods to keep ourselves warm - stomping feet, swinging our arms about, scoffing hot samosas - we finally heard the faint sounds of, wait for it, bagpipes! I really thought I was hearing things when this van with a massive figure of papier-mache Ganesha came slowly, leading the procession. Following at its heels were a number of desi bagpipers, replete with tika and all! Do not make the mistake of asking me what it was all about!

Next came floats in the form of the many and varied Indian gods and goddesses as well as children dressed up as gods children dressed up as gods, butterflies, peacocks and some other far out creations. There were also various Swami somebody or the other and their followers, singing bhajans and my personal favourite, three jolly characters, dressed as Ram, Lakshman and Sita, showering blessings on everybody in sight! The rear was brought up by another 'band', playing amongst other tunes, 'Lajja Lajja' and an auto advertising Sony Asia Max!

As most of the people standing around me followed the last of the 'floats', I decided to follow suit. I learnt along the way that we were en route to the park where the fireworks display was to be held. On we went, singing and dancing (well, in my case, prancing about trying not to step on my neighbour's toes yet again and earn one more hot glare) and finally entered Barham Park and therein, bedlam.

There were at least a squillion people there, everyone one of them hell bent on squashing my foot to dust in order to get two and a quarter steps ahead of me. Inside were the usual Fireworks night extra fittings - slides and rides for the little kiddies and the older ones as well as the cotton candy and hot dogs stands. But clearly audible well over all this racket was this stage.

With bass volume almost three times louder than the treble, music was pumping out of the massive speakers that flanked the stage. A handful of skimpily-clad teenage gyrated to the beats of Dus bahaane kar ke leh gaye dil while the assembled crowd seemed to go mad with every thump. When the MC announced that the next performer was to be Jassie Sidhu, the girl next to me, who was till then merely content with jogging my elbow and screeching in my ear to Nach Baliye, went catatonic and did her best to push me out of her way to get herself as close to the stage as possible.

I have to admit this was the first time I had even heard of this bloke and when he started belting out a bhangra number, it just sounded like the other songs of the same genre that I have heard before. But I am sure he was glad that the crowd didn't agree with me. He continued to enthrall them and then finally, at about 9pm, the fireworks display started. Bright sparks, in a myriad of different hues, took over the skies amidst shouts of 'Happy Diwali'.

Happy Diwali indeed!

Posted by DesiGirl 10:10 pm 3 comments Links to this post  

Confessions of a Laundromat virgin

I hate to admit it but I was a teensy-weensy bit scared. The scrawny guy in the corner looked mildly menacing. The blonde at the table looked in control while the Oriental lady a few feet away looked positively territorial.

I was petrified.

I have never seen the inside of a Laundromat before. I have walked past it a million times as it was a few doors down from my workplace but never ventured inside. I was, after all, the smug owner of a working washing machine, with a dryer, I might add. I could do my laundry from the comfort of my own home, at my own sweet time. And I did so for five long years till the day my pipes got blocked with some mysterious substance and the water from my washing machine came flooding into the kitchen.

To say it caused panic in my heart is like saying the tsunami was a wee wave. What if the water seeped through my floorboards and into my neighbour's ceiling? What if it got soaked right through and fell on their heads? I would never be able to sell this place and make a whopping profit!

S put on his 'man of the house' hat and peered down the pipes as if he could unblock it with his laser vision. When that didn't work, he emptied the steaming contents of the kettle down it. Well, that didn't help one jot as the water stayed put - only now I had a sink full of water to deal with, as well!

As he went to root out the plunger and Mr Muscle's magic concoction, I loaded an Ikea blue bag with the dirty clothes and made my way to the laundromat. The minute I opened the door and stepped in, it was like I had gone behind the laundry world's version of the Iron Curtain. There seemed to be some sort of code to this place and I didn't have a clue what it was. Wrenching the door open, loading the machine, putting some coins in and getting it started, I found later, were the easy bits.

Not wanting to waste the hour it would take for the machine to chomp the dirt out of our clothes, I headed home to check on the progress being made. (And what a mistake that turned out to be!) By then, hubby dear had discovered that Mr Muscle was no match for our pipes and gone onto another stronger product, which promised to burst through the clog and make the pipe's insides look like brand-spanking-new.

Leaving him to his cartload of pipe-clearing products, I went back to the Laundromat, only to learn that these machines took a lot less time to do the washing than my one at home. While I was listening to the relative merits of Cillit Bang vs Mr Muscle, my wash cycle had ended and some one had emptied my sodden clothes into a basket and collared my machine.

Worse, two of the four tumble dryers sported 'Out of Order' signs. So I had to queue behind either a blonde with four bin bags full of dirty clothes and a dangerous looking individual with a bulging tote bag or a tough looking Chinese lady, who looked like she had a never-ending supply of clothes. I decided to go for the Chinese (fellow continent-woman and all that!) and thereby, made my second error of the day.

What I had assumed to be four bin bags full of dirty clothes, turned out to be four bin bags full of clean clothes. Even as I stood slack jawed, the blonde tipped out bag afte bag onto a table and neatly folded the clothes into her humungous hamper. She varied this routine by opening the dryer every once in a while, taking her family's smalls out and folding them into a different basket. By this time, the Chinese lady was joined by her husband and son, who went to a machine each, emptied their loads onto baskets and joined Mum. Mum then proceeded to open the door of her dryer, tipped the contents of the two baskets inside and put about half a million quid worth of coins in. As I stood there gaping like a fish, the timer went up and up, finally stopping at 85 minutes.

Eighty-five bloody minutes, on top of the twenty I have already put in! Someone's having a laugh and it certainly wasn't me!

I decided to put my years of Chennai living to good use (if you have stood outside your house, waiting for the water tank to come and dispense water, you would know what I am talking about!) and join the party. Tugging and shoving in turns, I moved my bag of clothes so it stood directly in front of the dryer. Kin or not, I was not budging for anyone anymore! I casually flipped my book open, lounged against the wall and maintained my position.

While I was deeply engrossed in the antics of Malachi, Gideon and Rebecca, the blonde finished her job and the bachelor with the tote bag dumped his load in, waited around for 20 minutes and cleared the way for the quick-footed brunette who had stood behind him! All the while, I waited like a lemon for my machine to finish drying all the wet clothes in China.

There was mild panic when the machine was still half-way through and Mum pushed my bag rudely out of the way. Even as I was wondering what I would do if she chucked in more clothes, she calmly took some of the dried ones and wandered away, while I breathed out a sigh of relief.

After a mind-numbing, mammoth hour and a half, the machine finally did its job and Mum slowly started emptying its contents into her bags. I stood behind her, hiding the machine and trying to look as menacing as I could armed with a paperback and a sack full of wet clothes. Mum took off, thankfully and I heaved my stuff in, praying the machine won't give up its ghost now that it was my turn. That would have been really the limit!

I nabbed the chair vacated by Mum, plonked it in front of my dryer and continued with my book. Soon enough, the deed was done and a call to the landline ensured the plumber downed tools and doffed the chauffeur's hat, carting me and my clean, fresh-smelling clothes home.

I arrived to see the kitchen in chaos – there were bottles of bleach, assorted chemical products and even a bottle of vinegar, some salt and soda bicard on the floor (well, we do watch How Clean Is Your House?) and assorted bits of pipes. S had finally thrown in the towel and started thumbing through the Yellow Pages for a plumber. Of course, no self-respecting plumber would come immediately and the only one whose diary wasn't booked till the next century offered to come in during the following weekend.

Even as S spluttered down the phone, I went back to my book without a care in the world. After all, I could do my washing at the laundromat down the road. I am not scared; I'm not a virgin anymore - I am a pro!

Posted by DesiGirl 5:58 pm 2 comments Links to this post  

Tag: now I'm It

Whoever came up with this cyber tagging, I wanna know? Kishore tells me that he has tagged me and what's more, is gonna put some wacko questions to me that I have to answer. *sigh*

The 'theme' is 'me me me' and here I go!

I am thinking about… how best to avoid the day of chores that awaits me and lounge with my new Nora Roberts instead!

I said… let me be, but no one's listening!

I want to… break free! I want to breeaaak frrreee!

I wish… I could get the hooks and shooks sorted and my novel starts flowing freely.

I hear… thunder, I hear thunder, hark don't you? :)

I wonder… at the miracle of Nature.

I regret… the lost opportunities.

I am… what I am and what I am needs no excuses!

I dance… the merry dance of life!

I sing… in my mind, in the loo, in privacy - for the good of all mankind!

I cry… when I am hurt, when I am moved by a good book or like Kishore, while chopping onions!

I am not always… a nice person!

I make with my hands… some of the world's greatest artworks. Pity they are visible only to folks blessed with X-ray vision!

I write… cos it makes me happy.

I confuse… acquaintances with friends.

I need… the space to be just me.

And finally… Apu, Saks, Sowmya, Qalander and everyone else who has read this - you're tagged!

Posted by DesiGirl 1:10 am 4 comments Links to this post  

Call centres: The Great Data Theft

'Good morning ma'am, my name is Vandana Narayanan, could I please speak to Ms. so&so please.....' If I had a penny for every time a Vandana or an Anil or a Kumar called me from a call centre, I would be a very rich woman. There is no escaping these call centres, they have got us covered. Morning, noon, night - they are there to rouse you out of bed, interrupt your tea, crash in on your family dinners, time after time. That was all they were to me, a nuisance.

Sue Turton has changed all that. On Thursday night's episode of 'Dispatches: The Data Theft Scandal', she brought to the fore what we all fear deep down - some faceless person getting their grubby hands on our personal and financial data and using it to their own means. To find out more about this, Sue visits various places and people across the UK and in India. And what she finds out is fascinating - and more than a little scary.

Turton goes to India to try and find out how easy it is to get the confidential data we innocent people give over the phone on a regular basis, to these nameless strangers. To her own surprise, it turns out to be a not-too difficult task. Posing as a businesswoman who is interested in getting the financial details of UK customers, she soon makes contact with a Mr Arora. He turned out to be a fount of information, this Arora, as he shows her page after page of data 'leads', detailing a caller's name, bank account number, bank sort code, credit card number, the CVV security number etc. Turton tries to disguise her shock by enquiring if this isn't illegal but Arora flatly states 'not at all'!

Then onto Calcutta, where enterprising Mr Chandak goes one step further and proves the authenticity of his 'leads' by playing the voice files of actual telephone conversation between his call centre agent and the unsuspecting caller. All this info for just £8!

In the UK, she talks to a convicted felon who tells how difficult it is to get the data from the call centres. Furthermore, he tells of the number of people who join these call centres with the aim of getting their hands on such data and making money out of them. While in the UK, one has to go via the underworld to get such info, in India, it seems much more easier to lay one's hands on extremely confidential data.

There are brokers whose 'job' is to play the role of middlemen, between the call centres and the buyers, who pay tens of thousands to get hold of these 'hot leads'. What's even more shocking is the role played by the technicians, who come into such places to maintain the hardware and walk away with millions of data stored in the pen drives. 'You wink and it is done', boasts one such middle man.

Then there are these high-class brokers in Hyderabad, who charge upwards of $50 per lead - why? 'Cos theirs is fresh and unused!

Sue Turton, over the course of a year, has managed to open a massive can of worms. The repercussions of this investigation will be manifold. Here in the UK, there's going to be a great deal of panic amongst the public and this would undoubedly be fanned by the media and others disgruntled by the shifting of operations to countries like India and China. Indian government is also going to be under some pressure to put the foreign investors' minds at rest and assure them of data protection. The great boom in the Indian economy owes a great deal to the call centres, BPOs and other associated industries - which could come down like a house of cards if these companies decide to up sticks and move out, en masse.

Will our government step-up? Will we see a marked decrease in call centre-related crimes? We'll know soon! Until then, keep safe!

Posted by DesiGirl 12:24 am 1 comments Links to this post