Sunday, December 16, 2012


This particular piece is from a feature story which i saw on CNN's Anderson Cooper show a couple of days ago.A feature show that overnight changed my perspective about something as simple as having a normal meal and the concept of love between family members.

so after a routine day at work I decided to hit the gym.(okk!!! go on, mock me. how did this fat lump of  s**t decide to get into shape... anyways i finally decided its time). I climbed onto the treadmill and plugged my earphones onto the TV jack on the machine. the Tv is my only source of relief at the gym, else every minute on the treadmill feels like an hour. switching onto CNN, i noticed that the anderson cooper show was next with some special feature on north korea. the show started off and within minutes I was drawn  into the life of this man from North korea. 

People define freedom in different ways have you ever heard someone define freedom as the ability to eat broiled chicken and barbecue pork? sit back and read as I try to walk you through the life of this man whose only wish in life was to be 'not hungry'.

deep in the heart of North Korea there is a correctional facility which is a highly secure prison camp bordered by forests and an electrocuting barbed wire. it follows the concept of three generation correction i.e if you grandfather had defected or done something wrong against the rule then three generations of your family will serve in that facility. be born there, work as slaves there and eventually die there. the man on whom this story was based was born to two of the inmates of the camp. his mother and father had been married by the prison guards as a reward for good behavior. they didn't live together and were allowed to meet only if they did some good work of hard labor for more than 10 hours a day. for the ease of the story, lets call this man Bob. So bob was born in a camp where he didn't know what mother and father meant, all he knew was that they were inmates and had to work and fight for survival.  for 23 years of his life he din't know what life was outside the camp. he was unaware of the world and even if it was round or flat. he had to attend a school in the camp where all they taught was prison rules and how to cut wood and work in the prison factory. he saw one of the kids at his school being beaten to death just because she couldn't work properly on one of the machines.

Bob was fed corn meal and cabbage just once a day for 23 years of his life. so he was always hungry. he didn't know what it meant to be full. he hadn't seen people being happy, not seen people laughing, not seen people in colorful clothes because here in the camp everyone just wore one type of clothes. If someone tried to escape the camp, they were caught by the guards, stripped naked and hung in public view. Bob mentions in the interview that watching people being hung in public view was the most entertaining because that was like a relief from the routine hard work. Bob had become so heartless that death, people being raped, being burnt alive didn't affect him at all.

one day Bob was caught by the prison guards. he was carried to a dark room and tortured with fire. he shows some of his scars, but some of his scars are too graphic to be shown on tv. the reason for being tortured was because Bob's mother and brother had tried to escape from the camp and were hiding somewhere in the camp waiting for an opportunity to escape. Bob was being questioned about their whereabouts and was he part of the plan.he was tortured for a couple of days and then Bob finally gave in and told the guards where his mother and brother were hiding. his mother and brother were caught by the guards and were both hung in front of him. Bob admits that he didn't feel any sadness on seing his next of kin being hung or for that matter any sort of guilt that he turned them in.

Bob's life continued in the camp where he struggled just to get to eat the same meal everyday. when Bob was 19, a new inmate was brought into the camp. lets call this new inmate as Joe.  So Joe had lived in the outside world before being imprisoned. Bob and Joe were made to work in the same wood cutting factory in the prison. Joe spoke about life outside and how he used to wear colorful clothes and had friends. he also spoke of how he had eaten different kinds of food like noodles, bbq pork, broiled chicken. Bob was fascinated by Joe's story. he had always thought that life outside the camp was more cruel and that life was defined by the struggle for survival and following rules laid down by the guards.

years passed and Bob learnt more about life outside the camp. when Bob was 23, he and Joe were in the forests within the camp very close to the barbed wires that border the camp collecting wood.  Joe suddenly decided that they should try to escape. without waiting for Bob's approval he ran towards the barbed wire and stuck his head between the second and the third string. he was instantly electrocuted and died on the spot. Bob was perplexed for a minute but realized that this was his opportunity to escape, to have that broiled chicken he was yearning for and to feel something he is never felt before. the feeling of not being hungry. Bob ran towards the barbed fence. seing Joe dead. he crawled through the gap between the wires and slowly made his way out over Joe's Dead body. Bob was now free and he roamed the country side of North Korea for days. He was surprised by life outside the camp. the way they lived as a family. he somehow made his way into China. he sneaked his way into the consulate in Shanghai where he was granted asylum in South Korea.

Today Bob is a 30 year old man who works and lives in Seoul. he is a mild reflection of the man he was in the camp. He says that when he eats his broiled chicken and noodles, he feels a momentary excitement. that excitement quickly vanishes and he feels sad. he says he cannot sleep at night. when asked why, he explains that when he sees people living in a family now and seing them love each other, he feels a deep guilt of having turned in his own mother and brother.

As this show ended, I looked down to see that I had run for 40 minutes on the treadmill and had a lump in my throat. i came back that night and enjoyed my dinner a little bit more. I felt lucky to have never gone hungry and to be lucky enough to know the meaning of love and to know how to love someone and be loved.

Monday, September 3, 2012

42 degrees below the equator

Waiting on gate 42 at LAX airport, all I thought was wanting to get into the flight and sleep like there was no tomorrow. Getting into the swanky premium economy space seats on the air new zealand just reaffirmed my plan of sleeping on the 13 hr flight to Aukland.  After a long and unusually peaceful sleep, I got up to another 3 hrs to go before touchdown. looking out of the window it struck me that I was flying to  the last big country in the southern hemisphere before the beautiful and mysterious Antarctica. the land 42 degrees below the equator, the land of the long white cloud !!

landing in Aukland and boarding my local flight to Christchurch, I could already sense how beautiful the land would be beyond the routine cities and how friendly the people are. this particular piece is an account of the people I have met, the experiences I've had in my short yet amazing time in New Zealand.

I was told in a bar here that I could easily me mistaken for a local Maori because of the color of my skin and size. Is it that or something else I dont know but I end up with one free drink almost every time I go out to a bar with a Chilean , an Austrian, an American and a half Irish American, I often think that we can have a United nations meeting in our house here in Christchurch. just the way different cultures live, work, enjoy etc. is a fascinating learning experience in  itself. We try to put this cultural difference to great use every monday night at the local english tavern with their bar quiz. trying to bring knowledge from practically every corner of the globe. Another first for me are the savory pies. Kiwis can stuff anything into a pie and have it practically all day long for breakfast, lunch and dinner. this added up with the great tasting brews make up for a great culinary experience in this beautiful country.

Having moved from India to the U.S and now having temporarily moved to New Zealand, my experience with pronunciations and words in English have also changed. the most confusing bit is the use of  'i' in place of 'e' here among kiwis. At the airport the airline representatives will tell you to 'chicken' your baggage instead of 'check-in'. also Tomaato, aluminium and something called 'sweetas' which is more like cheers. the most commonly heard word or rather sound is 'aaayyyeee'. this sound/word is used at the end of almost every sentence and what it signifies, I haven't been able to figure out.

coming back to my experiences here in this land... . driving a 'campa van' as it is called here to lake tekapo and a ski town called Wanaka was quite an experience. a first for me. the drive was so beautiful that through the journey we often joked  that the whole land had been photoshopped. watching a new zealand vs australia rugby game in a small town farmers bar was an experience in its own.

the concept of PUB meaning public house is personified here in New Zealand.  the number of new, different and amazing personalities you meet in a pub is reason enough to hit up a pub every night :P. My first such  experience was with this coal miner from Australia. he was having a drink and struck up a conversation. his experience in the mine, how hot and difficult it gets and his near death experiences were a fascinating listen. another guy who was a ship builder based out of Christchurch was philosophical and talking about how money would ruin this world and that world war three is just around the corner. I would never know if those were his true beliefs or the alcohol speaking. the bar tender was an interesting personality herself. after being laid off from her job in home country Ireland, she decided to pack her bags and travel around the world in search of a job and possibly a better life. she flew into Australia and worked at a bar for a year, after which she moved to New Zealand to work for a year and plans to go to china after this.

my most recent pub escapade got me to meet a person who has accomplished a rare feet, that of spending time working at McMurdo which is the american station down in Antarctica. a few friends and myself were having a conversation in the smoking zone of the bar when this almost 7 feet, bearded guy walked up and joined in the conversation. this guy  from Montana had just gotten back from the 'ice' a day ago had a great story to tell. the rest of the night was filled with us asking him questions about antarctica. He gave us some great insights on the work he does there, the weather, the experiences and how you can get sunburnt in Antarctica due to the absence of the ozone layer.

following are some highlights from our conversation that night. a five hour flight from christchurch in an American airforce flight takes you to Mcmurdos station which follows the New zealand standard time. the temperatures at the station get upto -50 to -60 degrees celsius in winter and about -10 degrees in summer. He also spoke about the food which is shipped every 3 months and stored in the station due to the lack of vegetation there. the fascinating things he spoke about included how you can see the moon circling right above you in its one month cycle from full moon to complete darkness in those days when they have 24 hours of darkness, the penguins and seals which come down in summer and the friendly rivalry between McMurdo and Scotts base which is the new zealand station. He also spoke about his greatest adventure yet to be undertaken next year, that of driving from McMurdos station to the south pole on a tractor. A thousand mile ride which he said would take him 30 days to complete in extremely severe colds of the south pole. the research done there ranges from anti freeze liquids in fish in the lakes to paleontology and underground unfrozen lakes.

all in all my experience here in New Zealand has been one of amazing experiences, great people and  scenic locales.  I am glad I came here for work and learnt so much more about the people of the world.

Monday, February 20, 2012

the fire that burns the tyre...

why do bathrooms have mirrors and that too life sized ones.... why you ask and there you get the answer. To flaunt those flush board abs, that bulging and well curved biceps and those rock solid herculean shoulders. that rock solid chest swells with pride on seeing this epitome of human brilliance and after this five minutes of your fairy tale dream your eyes open. dragging yourself out of the bed with utmost reluctance added by the sight of dull, gloomy and cold weather, the only thing you want to do is to hide back into that blanket, but life doesn't let you do that.

In you walk into the bathroom with a beard that irritates, a double chin and those bags of fat all over your body. Your eyes guy directly go to that part of your body (lets not get dirty here..) I am talking about those sets of Tyres. some say it is prosperity, some say beer belly  but eventually it is perhaps that part of your body you cannot hide. The mirror looks back at you with disgust and then it hits you, this is it !!!!!!! its time to hit that sole place on earth where you pay to inflict torture upon yourself, THE GYM.

so after buying a pair of new shoes, gym apparel and blowing off those valuable dollars, you hit the gym. little do you know that this place is filled with people for whom the word fat doesn't exist. entering the gym, you see hundreds of machines, people running, cycling and some lifting as much as twice their body weight without dropping a sweat. fighting those jitters, you enter and and climb on to the treadmill.

embarrassment is writ all over your face when you fiddle with the millions of buttons on the treadmill but all you want to do is make it start. finally it starts and you keep the speed to a poultry three. Ahh!!! comfortable you think and increase the speed up by two notches. a slight glance on the left and you see a female running at three times the speed. male ego kicks in and there you go. 30 seconds down and you feel your lungs are going to come out of your mouth, dinosaurs dancing before your eyes and just before darkness steps in, you press stop.PHEW!!!  what a workout.

Next we move to the bicycle. strategically you choose the one with the back rest. 10 mins of cycling with minimal to slight stress and you feel energized. lets do some weights you say. and then you head to that precariously dangerous place. a huge mirror welcomes you and your 200 pound self. In front of the mirror are dumbbells ranging from 5 pounds and beyond. you take a calculative risk of picking a 20 pound weight comparing it to the gas cylinder that you helped you mom pick up. 5 reps of the dumbbell and you start to turn slightly pink. 10 reps and you turn red and see nerves popping out of your neck. the dumbbells crash down onto the floor and you take in truck loads of air. a slight glance to your left and there stands a girl who may be one thirds of your weight but is easily lifting twice the weight you were. that red face of yours is now red because of embarrassment.

pushing yourself to do more exercises, you finally decide to call it a day. before that you look at that tummy and decide to do some ab crunches( wrong choice I must say..!!!). 3 crunches and the stomach feels as if it will explode from the inside. And there ends the first day of workout. instead of feeling energized you feel extra tired and feel double the amount of hunger (trouble I must say...!!!). This time when you head home and take that shirt off, you try to convince yourself that with just one day, the effects are seen, and you are beginning to deflate one of those tyres.

that mirror which you see into every day convinces you to head to the gym and when that slice of pizza calls out to you with lust, you say NO. There you realize that you have found that fire which will eventually burn those layers of tyres.