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Monday, June 29, 2009

Unexpected friend

I was traveling to Amsterdam to meet a friend last Saturday. It is almost embarrassing to admit that I have not traveled on my own on the trains here. When ever I travel to an unknown place I make sure to ask for directions a dozen times and even then I get lost! :D

This time, after asking the service desk people at the railway station in Eindhoven and one of the officer's at the platform about the next train, as I was sitting and waiting for the train I yet again had the compulsion to ask the person sitting next to me if I was at the right place. This Portuguese girl probably sensed I was having travel jitters and politely said she was going to Amsterdam as well and she would tell me when to board which train.

And thats how it began. We boarded the train together and ended up talking as if we had known each other since kids :). It is such a weird feeling to suddenly start talking to a literal stranger especially since I never do it. She seemed to have traveled all over Europe and motivated me to travel as well. We talked, giggled and gossiped non stop on every possible random topic and we complained a lot about the Dutch..hehe..:). The train that day was taking a longer route because of construction work and it ended up taking almost double the time it was supposed to take. I was losing hope that my friend would be waiting for me at the station as I was almost an hour late! My Portuguese friend waited with me for a while and she even suggested that I should come with her to look around Amsterdam. But I decided to stick around for some more time. We shared our contact details and split up.

In the end I did meet my friend who had almost given up and was just about to leave. We walked around the streets of Amsterdam, had dinner at the "Gandhi" restaurant and then I came back home.

A couple of pictures I took while in Amsterdam -

On my way back, I actually did get lost a bit, but some how managed to find my way home. :).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Iran - what does the future hold?

As I meet people from different countries I begin to understand their culture and relate to them in a better way. As a Master's student in Canada, I interacted with several Persians in my department. I have immense respect for their sense of togetherness and camaraderie, and the fierce love that they have for their homeland.

The Iranian elections were held on June 12, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi being the fore runners. With 2/3rd of the population being under 30, ready for a radical change and after the entire world saw the antics of the former president Ahmadinejad, it seemed quite obvious who the next president would be. But apparently not. Ahmedinejad won the elections with a 63% majority. With their religious Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declaring the elections to be fair, the peaceful protests have turned into a revolution of sorts. The protests run so wide and deep that now no body knows who is on whose side.

What really amazes me is the involvement of the people and their struggle for their fundamental right - to express themselves freely and get a fair vote. Persians from home and all around the world are making sure that the world hears their voice this time. With severe restrictions on journalists, the people themselves are reporting on the situation through Facebook, Twitter and the like, putting their lives in peril in return. I remember a Persian lab mate explain to me how the Iranians living abroad operate in unity and attack websites together to bring severs down. Incredible! What was even more impressive to me was the sheer courage of the young women who are a part of the protests.

I don't know what the future holds for them, but the ball has been set in motion; when it will stop and where it will stop remains to be seen.

Picture Courtesy -

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pop legend Micheal Jackson dies!

I remember my very first Michael Jackson song that I heard, as a part of our lesson in an English class - "We are the world". The song moved me that day and still stirs me today. The man also called called as "King of Pop" and more recently as "Wacko Jacko" died at the age of 50. It is suspected that a drug over dose could have possibly led to his cardiac arrest.

No matter how much he has been ridiculed recently, Michael created some amazing music. Every person who has known him would have at least once tried to do his trade mark "moon walk" dancing. His music crossed boundaries and touched people's hearts. I truly wish he had a better ending. His music though shall live for ever!

Picture Courtesy -

Thursday, June 25, 2009

PhD comics - smile some grad students :)

Every graduate student in North America especially in the Engineering stream would have heard of the PhD comics. When I first saw their website, I spent a couple of days reading back through their archives. There was this immense sense of relief when I read the comics, to know that every student goes through similar phases. I could totally relate to another reader's comment: you feel like laughing and crying at the same time when you read them.

Some of the best ones -

There is a distinct difference in the way PhD students are treated in North America and Europe. In the US and Canada, you are still pretty much under the mercy of your supervisor and you can take anywhere between 4 and 10 years to complete your PhD(probably longer, I am not sure). The pay is certainly above a set minimum, but may vary depending on the supervisor's will and whimsies. In Europe though PhD students are treated more like employees, bonus, increments and all. After the first year, there is an evaluation to check your performance after which the contract is extended for 3 more years. So after 4 years, you are out.

The creator of the comics was at TU/e last week. I din't realize, the guy in the blue shirt in the comic, who is also the creator is Chinese. A PhD from Stanford, he started drawing the comics for his University paper for pleasure. It got very popular eventually and rest as they say is history. He talked about the power of 'procrastination' and urged the students to have fun and pursue their passions. The guy had the audience literally rolling on the floor with laughter! He tried hard to get a few Dutch words out! But the audience was in such mood that we kept laughing and cheering over every word he said. Good fun! :)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Temple van Eindhoven

Eindhoven is perhaps not the most exciting place to live in the Netherlands but there certainly is a joy in finding the nooks and pockets in a foreign city to which you can associate yourself with. One such place that I recently visited was a temple, run by the Hindus from Suriname. Suriname is the smallest country in South America which was a Dutch colony until 1975. Being a plantation colony, people from parts of India in agreement with the British were taken to work as laborers. Following its independence though, several people migrated and made the Netherlands their home. So these people of Indian/South American origin have quite some presence here, one example being this temple (clik on the link below to reach the website) -

Mandir Triloki Dhaam

The temple located at Tongelresestraat 371, is open on Sunday's between 3:00pm and 5:00pm.

The entrance -

Swagatham (Welcome in Hindi) -

The temple from inside -

For the first time I heard a Hindu priest preach in Hindi and Dutch!! It felt slightly odd somehow, but I could imagine that the kids born here would understand that better. He picked out verses from the 'Ramayana' (one of the epics in the Indian mythology) and elaborated on them. The part was about Sita, lord Rama's wife being abducted by the evil Ravana. He described how hopeless Sita felt while she was in Ravana's power and then he suddenly said in Dutch - Sita thought Rama had gone on a 'vakantie' forgetting his beloved. heehee!! vacantie?? I had a silent laugh over his description. My tolerance though for such sermons are not too high! I put in all efforts to concentrate and not nod off..:D. After the sermon there were some bhajans (songs sung in praise of the lord). The temple organizers were warm and friendly and with warm 'prasad' (food offering) at the end, it over all felt pretty good.

Well, now I know what I would be doing on Sunday afternoons, I will just need to time it better! :)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Blog name change

Well, I changed the name of my blog from 'Polambings' (which is a Tamil slang for cribbing) to something more understandable and close to a description of my blog - 'The Path Untaken'.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thursday night outs

To create a more social atmosphere between the colleagues working in our program, we have a monthly dinner at a fancy restaurant at the university called the University Club followed by brief presentations by students, just so that we know what everybody is working on. We generally have the dinner on Thursdays.

One of our colleagues having recently gotten a job wanted to celebrate so we decided to go out for a drink. It puzzles me why the Dutch students here always want to party on Thursday nights. What about Fridays? We still have work to do. I asked my Dutch colleague about it.Well, apparently students generally travel back to their homes on Fridays and are so particular about their family time that they do not want to ruin Friday evenings spending time with colleagues. I guess they still go to the bar but just with a closer set of people. :)

So we went to a bar to begin with and spent some time chatting. We talked about how the people here treat drugs with care. I am still amazed how the streets aren't filled with doped people. Nope! You wouldn't even know. To our Dutch friends staying in one bar wasn't enough. The streets being packed with bars, they wanted to move on to the next one soon. Well, I had work to do the next day. I came back home.

Mind your language - Eindhoven version :)

If you have ever seen the British comedy series - "Mind your language" you would agree that it is one of the most hilarious series ever. It is about adult students from different parts of the world, learning English as a foreign language and the slapstick comedy that they involuntarily indulge in as they mince the language in their own in way. Well, I had the proud privilege of being in one such fun class!!

I decided to take a Dutch course as soon as I started my program in TU/e. The class had people from Mexico, Spain, Germany, India (of course!), America, Greece, Italy, France and Nigeria. The group was meant mostly for PhD students so one can imagine the sort of geeks that this class had. There is something about learning a language. It takes you back to your more childish form as you begin to learn communicating from scratch.

The Nigerian guy was the hero of our class. He would answer ALL questions with - "Nee, dank je wel" (No, Thank you). The Spanish guy who was attending the class with his girl friend would just repeat all that she says, or simply " Ik ook" (Me too!). The most hillarious time was when a guy wanted to know how to propose to his girl friend in Dutch and he ended up practicing it with the guy sitting next to him who freaked out! We were in splits!!! One of our teachers would always speak in Dutch but she would also use a lot of sign language to make it easier for us to understand. We would half the time keep guessing what she was talking about. She would do the funniest of expressions. We not only learned the language but also got a lot of insight into the Dutch culture.

I just completed my Dutch written exam. I have an oral exam next week. I think I will pass :). Am contemplating whether I should take up the intermediate level course. Would I be staying here for more than two years?

Point to consider - For several of the grammar rules, we used this as the aid - "xtc koffieshop" :D Rings a bell anybody?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Obama, Federer - Kodak Moments

There are things in life that affect you deeply some how, even though you may not be even remotely related to it. I have labeled these - 32 teeth baring (I have only 28!!:( ), sentimental and woosy occasions of mine as 'Kodak Moments'.

Some news that actually made me smile in the past few days -

Nummer Een - Obama's Speech in Cairo

In what has been claimed as the most historical speech made by Obama yet, the thunderous applause following his 'Assalaamu alaykum' had me in goose bumps for a while. A new beginning in the horizon?

On a lighter vein - :D

Nummer Twe - Roger Federer conquers the clay court, finally!

God! what keeps this guy going? After being beaten in the French open finals four times successively, he doggedly came back the fifth year to clinch the title. This win made him the sixth man to have won all the four grand slam events and equaled his total tally of 14 grand slam wins, with the legendary Pete Sampras. In his own words - "It's maybe my greatest victory - now and until the end of my career I can really play with my mind at peace, and no longer hear that I've never won Roland Garros ".

Picture Courtesy -, Al Watan - Saudi Arabia,

The grim situation Down Under

I wouldn't want to be in Australia now, especially being a student. What began as a stray incident in Melbourne on May 24th, where 2 teenagers stabbed 4 Indians in their home (with 20 other people inside!!) has gradually turned out into what can only be called a nightmare for the Indian students. I hear reports of the so called 'curry bashing', specifically against the Indians every day now. Slowly. the students begin revealing that they have been receiving similar racial treatment from time to time but have just been afraid to speak out for fear of getting their records tainted. Since 2004, around 3 reports of violence have been made by the Indian community every week! Meanwhile the Australian Police brushed the 'remote' incidents under the carpet saying they were student fights??

Education is the third largest industry in Australia now. Indians are the second most common foreign students after the Chinese. The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd made his sympathies clear when he stated that their economy would be hit by such negative publicity. With about 80,000 Indian students studying there, and each student being $30,000 worth, the government makes roughly $2.5 billion per year! My question then to the punks who indulge in this violence would be - " I know you have mental limitations but are you seriously brain dead?" I mean why would you go about attacking people who indirectly pay for your social benefits!! And if you have something against the Indians, then please don't let them in the country in the first place!!

With the media attention that this news has received and with the otherwise good relationship between India and Australia ( Australians are among the top five tourists in India!!), I am sure both the governments are working hard on damage control. Though soon enough I hope.

What did sadden me even more is that while the entire world condemned the cruel face of racism that Australia displayed, the Indians being the usual self criticizing and over analytical self that they are, began to question themselves. The media reported of how Indians are the worst racists possible, indulging in it with our own countrymen! Media people, I know you want to be the best news website/channel but that being true or not in no way makes the discrimination faced by Indians in a foreign country right! Most of the news channels have switched topics completely over the issue.

Whether Indians are racists or not will be a much analysed topic for some other time. Meanwhile, I am just happy that Australia got eliminated in round one of ICC World 20-20 series...:D..Serves you right!!!

Picture Courtesy -

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wolfram Alpha aka Wolfy :)

A group of us were sitting in the last lecture of the term with a team presenting their vastly boring project. Thats when we experimented with the new search engine on the block -

The chief architecht of the mathematical tool - Mathematica created this semantic "knowledge engine" that actually "understands" (or tries to) what you are looking for. To put it simply, if you type your query in Google, it feeds you back with millions of websites that may contain the answer. It is your job though to sift through the maze to find your solution. But what Wolfram Alpha (quite a mouthful; named it Wolfy) does is that it simply gives you the answer along with data related to your query, graphs, diagrams and so on. Its like an encyclopedia of sorts. You can look up geographical details, dietry information, solve mathematical equations, get musical notes for playing instruments and much much more. It is especially useful when you know how to use it and when you are looking for straight forward answers.

Alas, one mostly doesn't have straight forward enough questions and sometimes we do not even know what we are looking for. Wolfy has a looong way to go even with direct questions. But it definitely is a plus for students and techies. Geeks galore! :)

So, should Google be worried? This conversation should sum it up-
Dude 1 - Hey dude, did you check out the Wolfram Alpha?

Dude 2 - The wolf ra...what?? Ah! never mind. I will google it up!

Dutch criketers make history

Coming from a cricket crazy country, I have to admit the Indian media has ridiculed the Dutch cricket team which has several times in the past not even qualified to make it to the world cup. Cricket has been around in the Netherlands for more than a hundred years but somehow though it currently ranks as the 25th most popular sport. Yiikes!! 

So no wonder the English team took it easy for the curtain raiser match in the ICC World Twenty20 series against the orange country who incidentally are playing the tournament for the first time. And what did the bunch of  semi amateur Dutch cricketers do - defeat the mighty English team in their own country!! Boy, was I overjoyed...:D

Indian cricketers better watch out for the Dutchmen! :)  

Picture Courtesy -

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Midnight Intruder

I was happily asleep yesterday night and having a rather amusing dream in fact, which had my friends from India, Canada and the Netherlands in it. It had me writing a Dutch language exam with my Canadian friends and Indian friends and I was in a hurry to leave early as I was preparing a traditional south Indian dinner in Chennai! And an American friend from here was helping me cook wearing a 'veshti'(a traditional wear)!!!The dream was so fantastic and vivid that I still remember some details of it.

So, happy as I was having this wonderful dream, I vaguely remembered the calling bell go. Not being a heavy sleeper, I got up confused as I wasn't sure if I was in the dream or in my room. And then the bell rang again! Was it morning already?? I realized I was still very much in Eindhoven and checked the time - 2:30am. Its amazing how adrenaline works! It can bring a person from semi-comatose to "Attention!!" in seconds :). It dawned on me that some body was pounding on my door in the middle of the night!

I tried to be cool and yelled to ask who it was. None of my friends would do that without calling me or informing me before hand. Who the heck was it? No Reply!! My door doesn't have a glass to peep outside or any safety chain, so I firmly decided not to open it at any cost. The pounding continued and I was freaking out! I frantically looked around for what I could use as a weapon (ya, thats how my brain works! :D) and was considering what I should do because the person or persons outside kept banging at my door.

I quickly decided to call this guy I know who lives right next door to check who was banging at mine. I dialed his number nervously, but as I suspected he was probably in much deeper comatose than me to even wake up at the phone's ring. Just as I was getting really nervous, the pounding stopped as suddenly as it had begun.

I ran by the window and closed all the curtains and peeped into the streets to see who it was. No sign of anybody!hmmm....God I couldn't sleep for quite some time after that! I rattled my brain over who did that and why. The only logical conclusion that I came to was that some drunk student must have knocked my door thinking it was his friend's and then must have realized his stupidity and left. Sigh! I hope thats it.:-|

Note to Intruder - Well, if you decide to come by tonight "Mr/Ms Loose Character", I have some surprises waiting for you. Did I mention anytime before I have a karate black belt?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Its annoying how exactly when your exams are around, your mind plays all possible tricks on you to stop studying (mine doesn't even have to work hard on that!). Sitting in my room, I conjure up images of how possibly everything in the world is wrong and will go wrong. Wading in self denial over the humonguos amount of reading that I need to get done, I distractedly watched outside my spacebox window. I looked at the river Dommel trickling by gently, the sun lazily setting its fiery wings behind the trees sorrounding the river and a lone cloud drifting across the horizon. It suddenly reminded me of this poem that I read in school (one of the very few) by William Wordsworth -

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Well, my inner eye thankfully has stored if not in thousands but at least a hundred of "Daffodil" moments. Living alone can be a tricky thing. It gives you lot of freedom, time and space to do what ever you want, but not without a price (ya, the rent is high too!:)).

Right, back to work...go away you stupid cloud! :D

Monday, June 1, 2009

Confusion with numbers

As if other things were not enough!! The Dutch punctuation system can catch you off-guard sometimes. Okie, so what is this - Euro 3.990? haha! that is not 3 euro and 99 cents my dear friend, that is Euro 3990 and 3,99 is 3 euro and 99 cents. Of course, looking at a bag of noodles you would know that it is not going to cost Euro 399 but cosmetics and jwellery, not so sure! Especially scientific measurements - 1.399,02 - what the heck is that??

The Dutch clock reading is yet another complication - the hour is divided into four quarters. For example -

10:00 - tien uur (perfect!)
10:05 - vijf over tien (5 past 10, fair enough)
10:15 - kwart over tien (quarter over 10, not bad)
10:20 - tien voor half elf (10 minutes of for half eleven - whhhaaa?)
10:30 - half elf (half eleven - why why? why can't it be simple ten thirty?)
10:35 - vijf over half elf (5 past half eleven...I am already lost)
10:45 - kwart voor elf (quarter for eleven - makes perfect sense)
10:50 - tien voor elf (10 minutes for eleven)
11:00 - elf uur (sigh!!)

All that in reading is comprehendable, but in super fast speaking, leaves you wondering which quarter you are in!

Even more confusing is the way they say the numbers. Till 20, perfect, no problem
but 21 - een en twintig (one and twenty)
and 43 - drie en veertig (three and forty)

okie, that is also fine but here is the tricky part. The Dutch speak all numbers in pairs. For instance, if your postcode is -

2143 QK, then they would say - een en twintig drie en veertig QK and you are mentally expecting something like - two one four three QK in regular English. So when you quickly hear - een en twintig drie en veertig you write it as 1234 QK!!! Phone numbers are equally complicated. Sigh!! Thankfully the Dutch are very polite and they immediately switch to English, seeing the lost expression on your face but its not easy in telephone conversations.

Time and only time with some actual practice of my Dutch lessons will help me. For anyone interested, is a good website for basic Dutch.
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