Saturday, January 31, 2009

Behold the Atlantis!

The last two days were a fantastic experience at the Atlantis, the new hotel/adventure park at Dubai which has captured the world’s imagination. Themed on the fabled city of Atlantis, the hotel combines cutting edge technology, ultra-modern architecture and landscaping techniques with world-class family entertainment options to create one mind-blowing experience, which has tourists thronging from all over the world. Atlantis comprises several accommodation options, with executive suites offering fantastic views of the Arabian Gulf and the Palm Dubai, presidential suites large enough to accommodate a joint family, and the super special Lost Chamber suites, which have 3 floors of floor-to-wall view into the Ambassador lagoon, a 35000 gallon ‘aquarium’ comprising 30000+ fish of 125 species. The adventure park, Aquaventure has superb water rides, with the showpiece being the Ziggurat, having a 100 foot vertical slide into shark-filled waters! Dad’s company ran a special 2 day stay package at Atlantis for its employees at a small fraction of the original cost. And Boy did we have a good time!

We left Abu Dhabi around 10 and landed first at the Mall of Dubai, which is basically a small city posing to be a mall. Mom bought a mobile phone, I had a cold stone sundae and we rushed to catch the bus to Atlantis. 20 minutes later, we were being ushered into a new world, with architecture inspired by the ocean. 10 minutes and as many photos later we were in our suite and we immediately proceeded for lunch to the ‘Saffron’ dining room below. This was a contemporary dining place with stylish red neon lighting and red and wood seating areas. The food , oh the food! Even though it was predominantly (yuck) non-veg, there was an over-abundance of choice and quantity. There were 30 items in the salad bar, around 100 dishes, a bakery stocking 15 varieties of bread and nearly 40 desserts. Some of the stuff which I could sample included superb Japanese sushi with wasabi and 

soy (thanks to abhilash for introducing me to these in Bangalore, and thanks to hemant for teaching me chopsticks), 2 cheese selections, risotto, double choc chip muffin, blueberry muffin,  dark chocolate mousse, crepe suzettes, labneh zatar, hummus, thin crust original Italian pizza, and some more. The service here has been exceptional too, and we have had bright, smiling staff sensitive to all our requests. Post lunch we visited the ‘Lost Chambers’ where the legends of Atlantis come alive. It is a labyrinthine passage inspired by the atlantis style of architecture. Part-historic, part-fantasy, the structures built inside the chambers - including the Kings court, the Sages council, the mining counter, the emergency exit – were colored with the vivid stories which the tour guides enthusiastically narrated. Also on display were fish from every major ocean in the world, thronging multi-hued in their 

schools. We finished the trip and headed to our room. I went to the fitness center and left after a tough but invigorating 1.5 hour workout. Mum, dad and I headed for our dinner to the ‘Kaleidoscope’ dining hall, and we enjoyed another gigantic spread covering 150+ dishes and 7 different cuisines. We then had a night stroll by the beach, with the ocean contrasting brilliantly with the glittering hotel building.


It was interesting to see how the hotel has attracted tourists from all over the world. A majority seemed to be Asian – Japanese, hong kong, Singaporeans, etc. Plenty of arab and European visitors too. And fashionable crowds too, which means that the boots covered more than the skirts did. The nightclub, Sanctuary, had a cool red and black theme, and the DJ was really smooth.

Saturday morning saw us getting ready for the Aquaventure. I had a nice jog by the ocean and went to the gym for a while. Then we moved to the Aquaventure, specifically to the Ziggurat, as I wanted to do the slide on an empty stomach. The life guards were mostly Kenyan and were ready with bright smiles for all instructions. The service throughout the facilities was amazing,

 polite yet very attentive. They really put us all at ease. The Ziggurat, which is a Sumerian word for temple, has 7 different rides and slides. The most famous of these is the Leap of Faith, a 30 m near vertical dip, which requires us to climb up 3 storeys. I literally ‘fell’ in love with it, the only regret being that it was over too soon.  After 2 nearly heart-stopping runs down that slide I went to the shark lagoon, where you can float through a transparent tube surrounded by shark filled waters. We caught the golf cart back to the hotel , stopping by at the dolphin beach on the way. Breakfast was again at Saffron, with an overwhelming choice of fruits, cereals, fresh breads, Indian, thai, Japanese, Arabic and Italian delicacies. The waffles and pancakes were great. We packed and checked out of the hotel after that, headed to Abu Dhabi. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire, a supersoldier and a tycoon

I am pleasantly settled in the afterglow of the course :) We had our first follow up where Saroja and Renuka treated us to great food, which was after a long kriya and a  superb talk of Guruji (Dealing with Fear). Bimlesh had an amazing comment "Keval yahan Art of Living mein hi aapko log aapki kamiyon ke saath accept kar lete hain. Aur kahan yeh hota hai?") We are all working for the next big course, from 10 Feb.

Mum and me watched "Slumdog Millionaire" yesterday. I had my misgivings about watching a movie shaped by a westerner's cliched view of India as a slumdog nation, but I have to admit that this was one of the most impactful movies i have seen in a long time. I was amazed by one aspect of the movie - the movie is based on absolutely fantastic events. It is too much for all this to happen to one person. Yet, by avoiding any hyperbolic dialogues, by clever editing, and sharp dialogues, Danny Boyle has created an experience that is not only completely believable, it is also immersive. I felt like a part of the movie while watching it. -5  stars for showing India as a place where only the tough survive (okay -3, as there is a hint of truth to this). but 5 stars for the dialogue, acting and cinematography. Though i hated it, the image of Ram branded in the mind of Jamal as he watched his mum killed in riots is left in my mind. It serves as a reminder to me on why I must keep organizing Art of Living courses. As Guruji says "Transcend religion and embrace spirtuality" - it is the only way.

 Speaking of immersive, I have also been playing Metal Gear Solid 4 . The thing about video games is that they can offer a level of immersion no other artform can hope to match. And if videogaming is an art, the MGS series is like the Eiffel tower, it is a vernerated monument of the medium. MGS4 marks the last installment in this epic franchise, and the word epic can unabashedly be used to describe its perfection. Critics and gamers alike have unanimously claimed it to be the greatest accomplishment in video gaming history. I was understandably excited. I had heard of how everyone - fans, media, critics were in a tizzy over its release . I also read how the launch of the game upped the sales of the PS3 by 180%, with people buying the machine only because MGS4 was on it. 

I have completed 3 acts of the game so far (yes, it runs like a Quentin Tarantino movie, divided into chapters and acts), and i feel that the noun 'game' doesnt do justice to this technical masterpiece. The game blends cinema and gaming tightly, with narrative sequences and gameplay flowing seamlessly into each other. You could be watching an action thriller movie going on, and suddenly, you are in the middle of it! 

All praises said, however, the game really has a strong message. It leaves you feeling grey, gloomy. Mr. Kojima has repeatedly tried to assert in the different cutscenes on how war is a depressive, tense affair where there is no winner, and even the survivors are only left with scars. I appreciate his direction towards this as most other First person shooters revel/ gloat in killing.

On another note, i also discovered a jem of a game called "Railroad Tycoon 3". The 

mission of the game is as the title suggests - create and run the business of railroads and create a massive, profitable business empire. On the way to becoming a tycoon, you would dabble in the stock market, purchase and run factories, and do a lot of stuff. I just finished the tutorial yesterday and absolutely loved it. I seriously recommend it to all those who intend on doing business on thier own. This game has captued, in a simplified way, what it takes to be a tycoon. And although not nearly as complicated as real life, it does familiarize you with business basics much better than a book ever could. Defintely thumbs up for this PC game. 

So this was a hatke post...would add more soon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First YES+ in Abu Dhabi!

Wow, i am so happy writing these lines. We had a small but very cordial and fun first-ever YES+ course in Abu Dhabi. All the participants were working professionals and two Art of Living teachers also did their first YES+, one of them being my mom! The bonding that we are all experiencing right now is amazing, like a thread has strung all us different pearls into a link of love and joy.

Everyday threw up surprises, and we had passionate discussions on being Indian and on
 vegetarianism. We plan on playing cricket to start our first YES+ follow up here, and look forward to a bigger, more dhamaal course on Feb 10. 

Hatke happenings in the 
course, hmm...we had three dinner outings! One to Lebanese Mill, one to Pizza Hut, and after watching Meet your Meat, to the local vaishnavi-gujju restaurant. Bau sent his wishes and blessing too, and we may get a chance to speak to him today.

Personally, it was an emotional course as Abu Dhabi is where i grew up and it is always special to do seva in a place where you grew up with your parents. The bonus is your parent deciding to join the course...:) 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


The last 2 weeks hae been full of activity since Tanvi's birthday, which was a blast.  Tanvi and mum channeled all their efforts into cooking so we had a dream menu comprising hummous and tabbouleh, 5 layer guacamole and salsa dip with nachos, broccoli farafelle, rich chocolate cheesecake, and a greek salad. I compered and hosted the games and dad photographed the proceedings. We played a fun mummy game, where two teams had to make a 'mummy' and wrap it up in one roll of toilet paper. The results were fun, with one mummy and one half mummy.

Tanvi travelled to Dubai on the 6th for her GMAT, and i was amazed by her complete lack of
 tension before the exam. She did pretty well too. With just 2 weeks of studying she got a 690. We celebrated in the Mall of Dubai, which has a huge 3 storey aquarium filled with all manners of fish. Hammerhead sharks, baby white sharks, 
schools and schools of colorful fish, manta rays. Watching them swim was like seeing clouds floating. The mall of Dubai has humongous floorspace. The floorplan is circular, and it must at least be 200 metres going around one floor! It took mum, Tanvi and me a good 10 minutes to complete one round.

After she left on the 7th i was completely engrossed playing Metal Gear Solid 4 for the next few days. It is like playing the lead role in a tense war/espionage movie where there are plenty of
 mini-movies and of course the game itself. Also watched Shoot on Sight, a nice movie about a dedicated, moderate muslim cop 
(Naseeruddin Shah) caught in the social dillemma thrown up in the wake of fundamentalism and terrorism in present Britain. 

The last 4 days have been familiar action again. We are working on the first YES+ course in Abu Dhabi and there have been 2 intro talks with volunteers enthusiastically reaching out to new people. The course starts today evening. So hoping for the best in the days to come.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

Many many many wishes for a great new year...

Celebrations here were fun. A satsang was organized at the camp at Asab, an oil field in the interior of Abu Dhabi emirate, where we had around 150 devotees in a well decorated hall. We ushered in the new year with a meditation and prayer. There was satsang, cake cutting, dinner, meditation, some games and a long bus ride to and from the destination.

Also, today is Tanvi's birthday so its a double celebration. We gifted her an iPod last night and are planning for an interesting get together in the evening today.

I am enjoying my stay here, looking to expand my social circle, as most of my friends are outside. Have joined a gym here and then there is the corniche, a beautiful 10 km walking and cycling stretch by the arabian sea. So am working out a lot, which is necessary considering mum's
 impassioned efforts at making me put on weight. Am helping tanvi prepare her applications for further studies by writing her essays. She is very happy with the same.

This place is just full of all the comforts i could imagine, unlimited movies to choose from dad's library, video games, malls selling everything, abundant food, and the best thing - our whole family being together.