Sunday, August 12, 2007

Going Dutch (This is the smartest title I could think of at this hour)

Washing machines are best used in the Mix mode where they wash clothes of all materials- denims, cottons, synthetics, etc. Running the dryer for 40 minutes might not be enough if you stuff too many clothes in it. One detergent cake lasts very long in the washing machine. In steam irons, make sure you don’t fill too much water. When washing dishes in a dishwasher, keep all utensils facing downwards and run the tap at moderate speed. You must change the dust bags of the vacuum cleaner regularly. One tea spoon of red chilli powder and one-and-a-half tea spoons of garam masala are perfect for aloo curry. To let the aloo cook, close the vessel. Use more oil if you want crisp aloo. Oh!

Reading this, people who don’t know what I’m actually up to will quite understandably assume I’m on a training course for house-husbands. Of course, that’s not the case- the truth is that I’m training in The Netherlands, and being in an apartment, have to handle all the ghar ka kaam myself. There’s not too much work actually- BHU has taught me the art of taking pride in wearing the same clothes for days, so washing is not a problem; we need to fend for food only on weekends, so my limited knowledge of cooking suffices. Vacuum cleaning is not really necessary- since I wear slippers I can’t feel the dust on the floor and since I take off my specs I can’t see if anything’s dirty.

Yes, ironing is a problem. Even my refined sense of bad-dressing doesn’t allow me to wear crumpled clothes. Vowing to change my attitude towards dressing, I picked up the sleek steam iron. One problem I’ve always had with irons is setting the mode according to the material of the cloth. Now, I do a great job of feeling the cloth and saying “cotton” or “synthetic” like a seasoned pro, but the truth is that I’m as unsure of the material as Sreesanth is about where his next ball will fly. Worse, it’s a steam iron- which means I had to fill water in it. I don’t want to bore you with details of how I struggled with the damn thing, but let’s just say that at the end of 5 minutes, my shirt looked more washed than pressed.

The Hague is an empty city. It’s unbearably well organized. For people who’re used to the push-and-shove culture of Indian roads will be taken aback by the peace and calm on Dutch roads. The roads are so clean that I almost feel an impulse to dirty it. The standard of living is pretty high too. Tram and bus drivers are dressed much better than I am. I know I’m not a valid standard for comparison, but hey they’re really well dressed!

August 12, 2007: I’ve changed my opinion about the cleanliness of the roads here. On close observation, you can see as many chewing gums pasted on the road as you can see bird droppings on Indian roads- and they don’t look very different from the droppings too. The real reason for the apparent cleanliness is the small population. On busy days, the streets here are as dirty as any I’ve seen.

The markets here close at 5 p.m. on all days except Thursdays. Can you believe that? The city is dead by the time I return from work, and it’s not like the sun sets early. There’s daylight till 10 p.m. on most days. The place is just lazy and reluctant to work.

There are some things about The Hague that amused me greatly. One is their predilection for long names. These are some of the stations the tram stops at on the way to office: Rijswijkseplein, Jonckbloetplein, Van Vredenburchweg, Oudemansstraat. Or consider this url- Or this building- Rijvaardigheidsbewijzen. To steal Preeti’s thought, names like Swaminathan, Subramaniam, or even Sivaramakrishnan pale in comparison. I mean, imagine calling your house ThisisthehouseIlivein, or naming your dog Mydogdoesnotpeeintheopen. Most names look like someone’s typed them blindfolded.

Another thing that amused me like hell was their dustbins. They don’t have the traditional ‘Use Me’ (or the equivalent Dutch screw-up) scribbled on them. All their bins are called Sita (and I’ve verified that Sita does not mean dustbin in Dutch). Sita is a brand of dustbins- ever heard of people using branded bins? Back in India, anything from polythene covers to empty barrels to king-size rabbits are used as crap holes.

August 12, 2007, 23:40 hrs: I’ve just tried my hand at ironing again, and to my relief (and to the relief of my war-worn shirt) I’ve successfully operated the steam iron. It took me more effort to figure out this steam iron than James Watt would’ve taken to build the steam engine. Still, I’ve been only partially successful. Let’s just say that if I get thrown out of office tomorrow, my shirt will not be to blame.

We guys went to Amsterdam last weekend. When we walked out of the railway station, we saw this huge banner saying “I Amsterdam” with a picture of a group of naked people with their backs facing the camera. Generally you’d expect a “Welcome to Hyderabad” banner to have a steaming plate of biriyani or a “Welcome to Kerala” banner to have a green-eyed Kathakali dancer; so this unusual welcome to Amsterdam gave us an idea of things to come. Many women were wearing stuff that I used to see on MTv, including tank-tops (or how-the-hell-does-that-thing-manage-to-not-slide in layman terms). Beer was flowing like water, and water itself was scarce. In general, water is more expensive than beer in Holland. Ok don’t worry ma, I still have juice- have tried wine, though.

Most restaurants in Holland have an open-air seating arrangement. It’s amazing those cane chairs don’t vanish overnight. Beefy men downing cans of Heineken and families munching on some processed creature are common sights at these restaurants. There’s also live music at some places adding four moons to the atmosphere. (Ok that’s a really cheap translation of chaar chaand lagaana) Restaurants don’t have those customary glasses of water on tables. Many eateries are too expensive- so expensive that I can just order extra cheese. I’ve got used to drinking juice and flavoured milk when I’m thirsty. Even my apartment doesn’t have a drinking water supply. I was asked to drink water from the basin if needed!

We started our Amsterdam trip by scratching our heads for directions and convincing each other that we were not very hungry, when in reality we could’ve each devoured an Adnan Sami. We went to Madame Tussaud’s Museum, paying 15 euros for each ticket. Fifteen euros! Can you imagine paying Rs.850 to enter a museum! I made sure I got my money’s worth and clicked photographs like crazy. The museum was wonderful, and the wax models were stunningly similar to the originals.

We then went to Van Gogh’s museum, and though I tried hard, I couldn’t appreciate his paintings. Unfortunately the use of aniline ink and the use of charcoal and acrylic paints don’t really turn me on, so the museum was a put-off.

A striking feature of Holland is that you have to pay to use every public toilet. Would you ever pay 28 rupees to use the loo? This has made me an expert in the art of hypnotising my bladder into believing that the only place it’s supposed to make its presence felt is in the apartments.

August 13th, 2007, 1:30 hrs: My Sunday dinner was at home. After a successful day at the kitchen 2 weeks back, we guys were at it again. Aloo-tomato with gravy, rice, and boiled eggs were on the menu. The rice almost became a paste, the aloo-tomato gravy became unresponsive to salt, and thankfully boiled eggs taste okay when left alone. Too many cooks spoil the broth, right? Well, what about 6 engineers with as much knowledge of cooking as of the minimum temperature of Vanuatu? While cooking, each of us spoke like we’d been possessed by Tarla Dalal, and the result of that was in front of us, and later inside our helpless stomachs.

After labouring through the meal, we loaded the dishwasher. Dishwashers need running water for as long as it takes to clean the vessels. The amount of water it took to do the job could’ve irrigated a few hectares of farmland back in India.

I have lots more to tell- interesting stuff about my stay here, but I’m kind of busy so I’ll update sometime later. Thanks for your constant enquiries about the wellbeing of my blog. A lot of you have asked me for an update, and here it is. Hope it’s okay. Good night :)