Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Random Musings on 2009

Those who know me personally or through my blog will probably agree with me if I say that it would be an understatement to say that this has been an eventful year for me. Getting married, moving to a different country, quitting my job, learning to cook, learning to do a lot of things for myself. This has also been an almost equally eventful year for a number of close friends who got married or engaged, quit work to get another degree and/or moved to a different city or country.

Five things I did this year that I didn't think I would do quite so soon:

  1. Got married
  2. Moved to the States
  3. Learnt to cook for myself
  4. Quit my job
  5. Spent time pursuing my real interests - reading and writing

Eight movies I watched this year (I watched them this year, some of them are older ones) that I liked a lot more than I expected to:

  1. Barah Aana
  2. Mumbai Meri Jaan
  3. Welcome To Sajjanpur
  4. Aagey Se Right (I'm gradually becoming a big fan of Shreyas Talpade.)
  5. He's Just Not That Into You
  6. Dr Seuss' Horton Hears A Who!
  7. Oh, My God
  8. Avatar

Twenty favourite Bollywood songs from 2009 (roughly in chronological order):

  1. Rehna Tu - Delhi 6
  2. Dil Gira Dafatan - Delhi 6
  3. Genda Phool - Delhi 6
  4. Paayaliya - Dev D
  5. Emosanal Attyachaar - Dev D
  6. Ranaji - Gulaal
  7. Tune Jo Na Kaha - New York
  8. Khudaya Ve - Luck
  9. Ajj Din Chadeya - Love Aaj Kal
  10. Chor Bazaari - Love Aaj Kal
  11. Ore Sawariya - Aladin
  12. Sapne Bhaye Hain - Dekh Bhai Dekh
  13. Pehli Baar Mohobbat - Kaminey
  14. Rabba - Main Aur Mrs Khanna
  15. Meherbaan - Ada (I'm not sure if this counts as a song from 2009, but anyway)
  16. Iktara - Wake Up Sid
  17. Tu Jaane Na - Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani
  18. Mere Paa - Paa
  19. All Izz Well - 3 Idiots (and all the other tracks from the movie too)
  20. Gadbadi Hadbadi - Rocket Singh

Okay, this was a fairly random post. But life is just so - fairly random. Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 28, 2009


Avatar is probably not the kind of movie I would have chosen to watch myself, but my uncle took everyone out to watch this one the day after Christmas. I must say I liked it more than I expected to like it.

It's a science fiction/fantasy film about a place inhabited by blue skinned humanoids. People are trying to get them to move in order to lay their hands on a rare and expensive metal, vast reserves of which lie underneath their land. These people create creatures by mixing human DNA with the DNA of the natives and use the minds of the humans to control these creatures. Makes me wonder, yet again, how Hollywood comes up with all these weird and interesting stories. And oh yes, how they manage to pull off all those special effects.

Interesting film. Definitely recommended.

White Christmas

When we were in primary school, we would always decorate the classrooms for Christmas and deck up small bushes to look like Christmas trees, using cotton to give them a snowy look. This was the first time I saw the real thing. Real conifers with real snow. Baubles, tinsel, and an array of ornaments. My aunt actually likes collecting bird ornaments. She has a separate, smaller tree where she puts up ornaments in the shapes of parrots, pheasants and peacocks. I helped her find a little bird's nest to add to the collection this year.

The weather was rather kind to us on our trip to my uncle's place. It was only cloudy on Friday when we were going there, and bright and sunny on Sunday when we were coming back. Saturday, on the other hand, was a dreary day of non stop rain which melted out all the snow.

It was a great Christmas with some nice family time and great food. And making use of the after Christmas sales. Good times.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Song of The Week

I just happened to hear Akela Dil from Dulha Mil Gaya. The name of the movie suggested to me that this would be the kind of movie I would neither want to watch nor listen to the songs of. For the most part, the soundtrack lives up to my expectations. But this Adnan Sami number is just great. Makes me want to get up from my chair and dance. And the lyrics are quite cool and kind of amusing. What is the first line, anyway? I thought (still think) it was "Akela dil all nice happy" but all my online searches for the lyrics come up with "Akela dil online savvy." It does kind of sound like that too, but my version, seems to make slightly more, albeit not perfect, sense.

Anyway, I liked the line that says, "kisi ke dil mein kyon rahein ghar apna chod ke." Rather cute. A nice, peppy number in an otherwise mostly boring and forgettable album.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tourist Season

Birds fly south for the winter. Bhatti flies north for the winter.

I mean, this is really not the time that someone would normally want to be touring Boston. Yesterday's high was 27 F (that's -3 C) and that's a fairly accurate representation of the weather patterns over the last few weeks. And we were out touring Boston and Cambridge in the lovely weather. We happened to go down to the banks of the Charles river and saw that even the river was frozen over. I mean, I know lakes and ponds do that, and I've been looking at them the last few days. They have a layer of ice all over them and snow accumulation on top of the ice. So you can't exactly tell that there's water underneath instead of land unless you've seen it in the summer. But I thought the river would be different because it flows. Not really, as it turns out.

Anyway, too much rambling about the weather. It was fun to see an old friend after a long while. It was fun to see bits and pieces of the city I haven't seen before. I'm hoping he will write a post on his own blog about his adventures and misadventures here in the Boston area some time in the near future.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Joy of Reading

After I finished reading Dear John, I was just browsing the publisher's page (Hachette Book Group) and read what they said about Nicholas Sparks. They say that he does all this athletic stuff and attends church and reads approximately 125 books a year. That's one book every two to three days. And he also has a wife and kids to spend time with. I read one book every three days or so last winter when I had ten days off from work and was curled up in my bed all day reading, pausing only for absolutely essential things like eating and taking a bath (in my world, that is absolutely essential), and for blogging about the books I was reading. This was a time when I had no responsibilities and could choose to spend all my time by myself in my room.

Now I pick out about that many books that I want to read, by visiting Barnes & Noble stores (The great thing about them is that they have comfy chairs where they let you sit and read and then decide whether or not to buy the book.) and previewing books on my Kindle for PC app, but I can't actually read them. For a short time, books can have you glued to them and keep you turning the pages as fast as you can, but after a while you still like reading them but you're no longer all together hooked to them with a touch of insanity. Or are you? Maybe, if you're Nicholas Sparks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear John

Dear John is the second Nicholas Sparks novel that I read. Though not quite as touching as The Notebook, this is also a beautiful, touching, very well written story.

The story is about a young man who enlists in the army for lack of anything better to do with his life. On one of his vacations from the army, he meets a young girl and falls in love. They promise to marry each other when he comes back from the army. Then the events of September 11 lead him to prolong his enlistment in the army and things change between the two of them.

A lot of the twists and turns in the story are rather predictable and the reader does know what is going to happen next. Even so, the author describes everything in a way that makes you relate to the way the characters are feeling and brings them vividly to life. His language is distinctively poetic in places, and the metaphors and similes that he uses add a certain charm to his writing.

This is essentially a love story, but it also has a strong focus on the protagonist's relationship with his father. It's a story of human relationships, and a story of love, both romantic and otherwise. Definitely recommended.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Great Things About Salads

Traditionally, at home back in India, salad was about sliced cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, cabbage and carrots drizzled with lemon juice. I never liked the lemon juice, actually. And I never liked eating the onions or tomatoes raw. I would eat the cabbage by itself. And sometimes the cucumbers and the carrots.

In recent times, I've discovered how versatile and fun salads can be. I always liked the cabbage, but it often had a rather sharp flavour. Lettuce, on the other hand, has a much better flavour and comparable, if not better, health benefits.

A lot of people here make a salad into a lunch, by throwing in some grilled chicken or tuna or bacon. I've discovered that it's a great lunch. It's easy to make (just throw everything together in a bowl), it's light so it doesn't make you feel drowsy right after you eat it, but it's still quite filling. So you're not hungry or drowsy in the afternoon or evening. Something like grilled chicken would need to be heated up, but tuna can be eaten straight out of the refrigerator. You can make your own variations by adding cooked chickpeas, sweet corn, olives, jalapenos, tortilla chips or what have you, and mixing and matching the dressing. I keep bottles of low fat salad dressing in my refrigerator at all times. I think it's one of the greatest things you can buy in a bottle, after bottled water.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

I have a beautiful view outside my window that looks like a Christmas card. We had about five inches of fresh snow accumulation this morning. I also drove in the snow storm a little. That's the not so beautiful side of it.

As it happened, the apartment complex's and the state's snow ploughs and trucks were rather late this morning and my husband had to pull his car out of a parking spot surrounded by five inch deep snow. And drive through slippery roads whose metalled surface showed only where other cars had tread before. I actually accidentally drove on to the wrong side of a smaller road because I couldn't see where the road actually was!

But well, once you're home and dry, it's all still very beautiful.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snowing Away

Saturday evening saw a lot of snow for Boston and the surrounding areas. It's Monday afternoon, and the view from my window still looks like a Christmas card with snow covered pine trees and a sheet of white where the grass used to be. Saturday evening was something of a storm and was rather unexpected, being a little early in the winter season for something like this.

I've been to places where it snows, and I've been in snowstorms before. But those were short vacations where the hotel was in a warmer place and we visited a snowy place and came back to a place where the grass was still green. This is the first time that I've woken up in the morning to a snowy scene outside the window. I wanted to take pictures as soon as I got up on Sunday. I didn't know we'd have about three days to do that. Everything is almost intact, except that the roads have been cleared and there are a few footprints of the children who wanted to play in the snow. It's still all so pretty and yesterday was surprisingly warmer than the day before. And not that difficult to drive either. Not like we're snowed in. The little bushes and pine trees look like the ones we would decorate with cotton wool for school plays and Christmas. Only this time, it's the real thing.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Shopping Away

Before I came to the States, I knew what Thanksgiving was all about, and I knew that they have crazy “Black Friday” sales the day after. I knew that people camp outside stores in the night so that they can be first in line. But I didn’t know just how crazy it all gets.

The stores open at about four in the morning for shoppers. (Toys ‘R’ Us actually opened at midnight this Black Friday.) And there are already hundreds of people queued outside, waiting for the doors to open. There’s no parking, the place outside the stores are all lined with Dunkin’ Donuts cups, and people are just crazy. Apparently one of the salespeople who opened the doors to a Wal-Mart died in a stampede last year. Now they have special training for people who open the doors.

By six in the morning, most of the good deals are gone, but people are still trying to find parking spots and waiting for hours in the checkout queues for most of the day. There’s also a “Cyber Monday” sale in most of the larger stores, where they have great online deals for a day. That’s what I’m restricting my shopping to!

A Thought

You know how, when someone lives in a foreign country like the States or England for a while, they pick up the local accent? The younger they are, the faster and more apparent the transition is.

And then there are the African Americans who have lived here for generations and still have a distinctive accent. Why are we Indians trying so very hard to fit in?

Happiness Sold Separately

Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston is the story of a marriage undergoing extreme trials and tribulations. It’s the story of a couple battling infertility and infidelity and arriving at a point when they no longer really know how to be there for each other.

The story is about the complications of life and relationships, about dealing with everyday and not-so-everyday stress. It has characters who are confused and not completely sure of what they do or do not want. These are characters almost everyone can relate to.

The story is well told, with subtle humor and adequate descriptions of human emotions. It makes for relatively quick and easy reading, in spite of the fact that it is a heavy story. Nothing very new or unique about it, though. The characters are slightly stereotypical in a lot of ways. On the whole, it’s an average read, reasonably appealing but lacking in novelty.

Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr Fox is based on a Roald Dahl novel, which I never read. Dahl was and still is quite a popular author but I never got round to reading anything he wrote. I watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though, and I liked it. We went out for this one because my uncle is quite fond of movies with animals, especially canines. I think that runs in the family, because my mother and I share this sort of liking.

This particular movie, however, did not live up to my expectations. Not that it was a bad movie. It was a reasonably entertaining family movie with family values nicely woven into the story. And it does have its occasional dose of witty humor. But somehow it comes across as a movie for adults trying to disguise itself as a children’s film by simply changing the characters from humans to animals and not changing much else. The animals behave just like people and the story has a mundane, everyday theme with not much appeal or novelty to it. It's like they took a few days out of the life of an ordinary family and made it into a story. Nothing fantastic about it. Just okay-ish.

Giving Thanks

I went to my uncle’s place for Thanksgiving, which is, in case you didn’t know, a major holiday in the US and an occasion for family get-togethers. The traditional Thanksgiving Day meal includes a whole turkey and pumpkin pie, among other things. I’d never has turkey before, except in a sandwich or two, and they don’t put too much of it in there. I got to see how the whole meal is prepared, how the big bird is marinated overnight and roasted in the oven. My aunt made pumpkin chiffon for dessert, a lighter, fluffier variation of pumpkin pie that I absolutely loved. This was probably the first time in my life that I had dessert that was delicious and did not make me feel over stuffed and heavy in the stomach.

I like the way Americans plan their meal for this day. They start out with the turkey and everything else at about three or four in the afternoon, and eat slowly, for an hour or so, then take a break before dessert. It combines lunch and dinner into one meal and doesn’t leave you feeling heavy at the end of it. It’s a lavish meal with a number of dishes, but none of them use a significant amount of oil or butter or anything of the sort. The turkey is roasted; the mashed potatoes are baked and then mashed, as are the mashed sweet potatoes. I don’t know about traditional pumpkin pie, but the pumpkin chiffon was lighter than air.

The weather is quite cold now. My aunt ran out of space in both of the extra large refrigerators that they have, and she put the turkey and some other stuff outside on the deck overnight. I’m thinking it was cooled better than the stuff that was actually refrigerated.

The point of this holiday is to count your blessings and be thankful for them. I am thankful that, in spite of being so far away from home, I have a place to go home for the holidays.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Song of the Week

If you haven't already, you must listen to Mere Paa from Paa. It takes a while to recognize the voice, if you don't already know that it's been sung by Amitabh Bachchan. Of course, he's been singing a lot of his own songs throughout his career, but this is in a league of its own. It captures the innocence of a child with in the ageing voice of the character whose physical growth is accelerated but mental growth is normal. Absolutely amazing.

By the way, can somebody remind me of the name of the Robin Williams movie with a similar storyline?

While we're talking about songs, if you haven't heard the songs in the soundtrack of Couples Retreat, it has a few tracks by Rahman which are rather different from his usual stuff. One of them is in Tamil. This one is in English and Hindi.

Italian Cuisine

The Italians sure know what they are doing when they're in the kitchen. I think theirs is some of the greatest food in the world. Even though I've become slightly partial to Mexican food lately, nothing beats Italian. Pizzas, pastas, and oh, their cakes and pastries are just out of this world.

I've discovered that it's really easy and economical to make your own pasta. You get great marinara sauce (and in a variety of flavors) in a bottle, and all you need to do is boil the pasta and mix it with the sauce. And maybe cook some vegetables to add to it. It's quick and easy, and if you buy the whole grain pasta and the all-natural sauce, it's pretty healthy too.

The Domino's guys have this unique dish on their menu. They give you pasta in a bread bowl. That's a bowl made out of bread. So you eat the pasta, and then you can eat the bowl too. Saves space in the dishwasher.

All these Italian places have some sort of molten chocolate cake on their dessert menu. It's a soft cake with a liquid centre. I tried it in only one place, but it was just amazing. Normally, they serve you huge platters of pasta and don't leave you any room for dessert. And then they come along with their dessert trays and try to tempt you into eating it anyway. That's right, they don't bring you a menu, they bring a tray with a sample of each kind of dessert so that it's all the more difficult to resist the temptation. I've learnt to resist anyway. But sometimes I do give in and, I must say, it's worth it.

Holiday Cheer

The Holiday season is visibly approaching now. With Thanksgiving this Thursday and Christmas just over a month away, the whole place is looking different. There are special discounts and sales all over, and people are out shopping with their kids all the time.

One thing I really like about this season is all the great food. The Pumpkin Donuts are just great (They don't beat the double chocolate donuts, but they come quite close.), as are the Peppermint Brownies (They beat the double chocolate brownies.). There are all kinds of pies and cakes and chocolates all over the place. It's the perfect time to ruin your diet.

Friday, November 20, 2009


I normally write only about movies that I watch in theatres while they are still new, but Changeling is an extremely exceptional movie and I don't think that too many people I know have actually seen it.

It is a period drama set in the late 1920s - early 30s, primarily in Los Angeles, California. It is based on the true story of a mother looking for her missing child and not getting enough co-operation from the police. At first they tell her that, in line with their policy, they do not dispatch search parties for lost children for twenty four hours because ninety percent of them turn up by morning. Then they find her a child, not her child, and tell her that she is unable to recognize him because she is in shock and not thinking clearly, and that the boy lost weight over the past five months when he was missing.

The LAPD's appalling acts do not stop there. When the mother continues to insist that the boy is not her son, they accuse her of trying to shirk her responsibilities as a mother by turning the boy over to the state, and deem her mentally unstable and throw her into an asylum.

This film showed me a world I'd never seen before, or known that it existed. This is an extremely riveting performance by Angelina Jolie in the lead role, which was definitely worthy of the Academy Award nomination, perhaps even the Award, although I should probably watch The Reader before I express an opinion on that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Sunflower

The Sunflower by Richard Paul Evans is the first book I picked up based only on what the book jacket said; no book reviews or peer recommendations went into this one.

The story is set in Peru, and is about a woman who goes there from America on a humanitarian mission, hoping to be able to mend a broken heart in the process. She meets a man who came to the place with a similar purpose in mind, who takes her on an adventurous journey comprising of activities like crocodile hunting, caring for an orphaned girl with all her heart, and coming down with dengue fever.

It's a beautiful narrative that takes the reader into a different world, geographically as well as otherwise, a world largely unknown to the average reader. It's something that appeals to the adventurous at heart and also to the romantic, sentimental reader. Some parts, such a description of a camping trip, took me back to some great times I had when camping out with my teammates.

The story is written in an artistic, slightly poetic style which makes it a little more appealing. All in all, a pretty good read.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

With Best Wishes

This is for all those friends of mine who are getting married this season. I have seven wedding invitations and counting for the next two weeks, and I am not going to be able to attend any of them. Because they are all in India. And, in case you didn’t know, I am not.

I remember, when we went to Tanu’s place for
her mehendi function in February this year, we knew that Kavita and Anuradha were getting married within a week of each other in November. Ruchi mentioned that we would then be able to apply mehendi only once for the two weddings. Nobody knew then that Ruchi would be the one to get married first!

Ruchi’s been a close friend for nine years now, being classmates in college, in the postgraduate years, and also, briefly, a colleague. We’ve been out together to watch movies that nobody else wanted to see, and shop when nobody else wanted to shop. Hers is one wedding I never would have liked to miss.

Kavita, Ruchi and I had some wonderful times together because we lived close to each other’s houses and travelled together by bus in our college days. We talked of everything under the sun on those journeys. On a rare occasion when our bus was practically empty, we passed the time in a traffic jam by playing antakshari and singing at the top of our voices, unworried about the few but existent co-passengers staring at us. The company of friends makes even the DTC buses you travel by and the subway you use to cross the road, memorable, doesn’t it?

And Aman, who, as most of my former colleagues are only too familiar with, has been like an elder brother to me. Teasing me, pulling my leg, and also watching out for me and being protective.

This is for all of you, Ruchi, Kavita, Aman, Anuradha, Pavitra, Surbhi and Manoj. Don’t let the geographic distance fool you. My heartfelt wishes are with all you people. On your special day and forever after.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Life Lessons From A Diet And Exercise Plan

It takes a lot of courage, persistence and willpower to follow through with a diet and exercise plan and achieve your goals. But then, doesn’t one need all these things to get through just about anything in life? There are some things that I learnt as I went about my own weight loss regime. Things which are equally valid and applicable to other things in life.

  1. If you really want something in life, you have to sacrifice something else. You can’t have everything. You have to choose. You cannot eat all the foods you like and still be the weight that you want to be.

    In life, you can’t have a high powered, extremely successful career and an extremely fulfilling family life. You can’t have all the money you want and all the leisure time you want. You have to learn to strike a balance between the things that make you feel good in the short run, and the ones that are good for you in the longer run.

  2. If you put your heart into doing something, you achieve a lot more than what you first set out to achieve. When you work out a healthy diet and exercise plan and stick to it, you don’t just lose weight, you develop a healthier, happier way of life.

    If you find a job that makes you happy, if you like what you are doing, you don’t just make a living out of it, you make a life. If, on the other hand, you like being a mother and choose to do that full time, that can turn out to be more fulfilling than any job that you have ever held.

  3. If you feel like you don’t have the energy to go on and just want to stop and give up, don’t stop. Slow down, but keep moving towards your goal, slowly and steadily. Working towards a goal requires you to be persistent and regular in your efforts. If you think you don’t have the energy to complete your usual thirty minutes on the treadmill and are feeling tired after just fifteen, don’t stop at fifteen. Decrease your speed to a more comfortable level, catch your breath and go on. Even if you didn’t burn your usual three hundred calories, burning two hundred is better than just one hundred and fifty, right?

    When you feel that the stress of your job is getting to you and you want to just throw it all away and quit, just slow down. Discipline yourself to adhere to strict limits on working hours. Know how much work load you can take on, and politely but firmly refuse any more than you can handle.

  4. Achieving something significant does not have to be about depriving yourself of all pleasure. It is about making sensible, better choices which lead to a better output in the long term. You don’t have to stop eating all the things you like if you want to lose weight. You don’t have to give up chocolate and fried food all together. But make it a point to choose grilled meat over fried as often as you can, and to reduce your portion size when you have dessert.

    If you want to go back to college and get an advanced degree, that doesn’t mean that you will need to live on a tight budget and have very little social life. Eliminate unnecessary expenditures, such as designer labels. Choose the more economical places to buy your clothes, stationery and breakfast cereal. Watch movies on DVD at home. Cook for yourself as often as you can instead of picking up frozen dinners or takeouts. Make a few small sacrifices now and reap great benefits in the future.

  5. If you slip up once, that doesn’t mean that all is lost. If you gorge on pizza and chocolate pie one day, that doesn’t mean that your diet is ruined. Just don’t let that thought take control of your mind and pick up from where you left off.

    If you betray a friend’s trust once, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person and a terrible friend. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Even the people we trust the most will let us down once in a while. Just don’t let it get to you, apologize and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  6. Weekends are for fun, relaxation, for being yourself and for doing the things you love doing. When on a diet, eat normally on weekends. It prevents you from putting the weight back on when you go back to normal eating. Plus, it ensures you don’t feel deprived.

    Spend weekends with family and friends, watching movies you like, going out to places you like, and generally doing things that you like. Don’t ever work on weekends or worry about what you’re going to be facing on Monday. This is your time. Enjoy it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Timeless Charm

Some things just seem to lose their charm over time. The TV shows you follow begin to fade in their appeal, the food you eat begins to taste bland. But some things live forever.

Sometimes I find myself getting bored of just about everything around me. How I Met Your Mother is becoming an unnecessarily long, stretched out story, and The Big Bang Theory's appeal, it seems, was only in the novelty of its theme, which is no longer new to me. There are times when I don't feel like shopping and I don't feel like watching movies.

And then, there are those things that come to the rescue. Like writing for pleasure, without worrying about what anyone is going to think of what you write. Having the time and opportunity to do exactly what you want to do. Reading a good book. Achieving something people thought you couldn't. Achieving something you thought you couldn't. Like when I finally got my rajma to taste just like my mom's. Doing something for someone else, and seeing them happy that you did. Some things are just made for that - making you and the people around you happy. They don't bring in money or food or fame, but they bring a renewed sense of self and achievement.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Foliage and Flora

When I was a kid, my mother had a collection of about two hundred potted plants. She would spend quite a lot of time with them, adding fertilizer, trimming them, planting new lily bulbs. But watering them was my job. For as long back as I can remember. It was my own special time, when I would be out in the courtyard, all alone, spraying water on the plants and also on the warm cement floor, cooling off in the summer evenings.

My mother had a special affection for plants with colored leaves. Purple leaves, red leaves, multicolored leaves. She still does. She says she would love to see an autumn like what I’m getting to see this year.

We had to give up those plants when we moved into our own apartment, because there was no room for them in our single, tiny balcony. They went to the village with my grandmother, and wilted away soon afterwards because her health did not allow her to take good care of them.

But they still live on in my memories. That garden has always been and will always be a part of my childhood memories. It will always be the place where we took pictures of my brother and me when he was just starting primary school, and had put on his new uniform for the first time. The place where we sprayed each other with the watering hose. The place where we played with kittens that the alley cat had in my mother’s closet. Where we learnt to ride our tricycles. Where we were children.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Daylight Savings Time

I never really experienced jetlag when I first came to the United States. But I did experience a very mild variation of it when they turned off Daylight Savings Time on Sunday. I woke up in the morning to see that it was daylight outside, though not yet bright and sunny. Checked the time on my phone to see that it was only six in the morning. That struck me as strange, because I distinctly remembered that on the morning of Karva Chauth, about three weeks back, it was still dark until a little more than half past six.

I got out of bed to see the clocks that were set automatically, such as the ones on our phones and the one on the cable TV set top box, showed a different time from what the wall clocks showed. Well, what do you know, we have a forty nine hour weekend, don’t we?

It was a little disturbing to see the sky turning completely dark at only a quarter past five in the evening. And it’s not even really winter yet. I remember reading the classic tale A Christmas Carol and the fact that it said that Scrooge was going home at about four in the afternoon and it was beginning to get dark. I thought that kind of thing happened only in stories, just like the leaves turning red and orange and being shed. Now I’ll get to see it with my own eyes. Around Christmas we’ll get only about eight or nine hours of daylight, and none too bright at that too. But of course, things will be nice and bright with all the red and green decorations everywhere.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Advertising In America

One thing that really strikes me when I watch TV here is how people advertise their products and tell you that they are better than their competitors. In India, it's like, "Your favourite detergent can't remove this stain. But Tide can!" Here, it's like this: "People say Honda is America's most fuel efficient car. But the Chevy Malibu is more efficient than the Accord, the Chevy Cobalt does better than the comparable Civic, and model X (some SUV type car from Chevrolet whose name I can't remember) is more fuel efficient than the Honda CRV."

And that's only the beginning. These people insult the competition like anything. The insurance guys, the breakfast cereal guys, the soda guys, everybody. They come with actual figures that represent an actual product from a competitor. They're aggressive advertisers who know just what they're doing. It's a very different style of advertising from what I've been accustomed to. I'm not saying that either is better or worse than the other, but it certainly stands out.


I've always held a certain amount of fascination for this festival that I'd seen in so many movies, stories and TV series. On Saturday I got to see for myself all the kids dressed up in costumes, going trick-or-treating all over the place.

We happened to be out, and I was window shopping at a mall. I wasn't too interested in that, because I didn't really need to shop. But I was interested in the adorable little kids dressed like pirates, witches, Darth Vader, Superman, Superwoman, Tinker Bell, Snow White, and whatever else you could think of. Even the little ones, the ones too young to understand what was going on, were dressed up by their parents and taken around in their strollers. There was this baby dressed up like a kangaroo. Another one was a ladybug. The cutest ladybug I ever saw, that's for sure! Chinese and Thai babies are just so cute in general, but they are even cuter when they're dressed up in a Disney Princess costume. And there was a pair of twin babies, in a twin stroller, dressed as identical pink bunnies. I saw another pair of twins in another twin stroller, dressed as pixies.

I watched the kids go from store to store, graciously accepting the candy that was given to them, with excited "Thank you!"s. I was a little surprised to see how disciplined these kids were. They were rushing off from store to store, but not trying to run around and create chaos, and when somebody held out a huge bowl of candy for them, they'd take one or two pieces and make way for the next kid in line. I mean, that's a little more than I expect from a child of four or five.

This celebration is apparently a pretty big deal to parents and children alike. The shops have been selling Halloween stuff - pumpkins, ornamental black cats, costumes, stuff to make costumes out of, hollow plastic pumpkins to collect the candy in - for a little over two months now. I've seen mothers looking around for feathers and beads to decorate their daughters' costumes. I've heard them discussing how they want to dress up their kids for the day. It's a beautiful, large-scale fancy dress party, and everyone seems to be having a good time!

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Home Away From Home

My husband and I were recently talking about how easy or difficult it will be for us if and when we choose to go back home to Delhi. Of course, there are the good things, being near family and friends, feeling more at home in the city, but there are definitely going to be issues.

We can hardly imagine water or electricity being an issue for concern any more. Americans are completely taken by shock if there is a blackout. Tap water adheres to very high sanitation standards and is completely safe for drinking, but these folks still buy bottled water. We drink from the tap, but in Delhi, is there any telling what the bottled water may be contaminated with?

I am now used to cars stopping for me when I want to cross the road. I get a bit of a surprise when we visit the Boston city area or New York City, because those are more disorganized in terms of traffic and pedestrians wait for the traffic to stop. But they are still way more organized than Delhi. Yesterday, my husband had to wait for seven minutes to cross a red light and he was agitated at being stuck in a traffic jam. Both of us have been stuck in Delhi traffic jams for about an hour at time.

It's so clean and cool over here that I find it easy to go without taking a second shower at night or dusting the house for a week. I found those things rather difficult to do in Delhi.

And of course, I will miss the huge Barnes & Noble bookstores (An average store is about the size of an average Shopper's Stop in Delhi. They let you sit right there and read peacefully for as long as you want.), which are something of heaven on earth for a person like me, the huge variety of restaurants with international cuisines - Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Indian - whatever you can ask for.

But, of course, nothing beats buying books off the pavement in Connaught Place, eating roadside chaat and shopping for trinkets at Janpath, does it?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Song Of The Week

I really liked Atif's Tu Jaane Na from Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani. It has a nice, romantic, blissful feel to it. I've been playing it over and over again over the last few days and it makes me feel really nice.

By the way, it's after quite a long while that I landed on an album where a lot of the tracks are quite nice, and all of them are reasonably nice. I think the last time this happened was with Love Aaj Kal. (Well, maybe Wake Up Sid or Aladin came a little close.) Most movie soundtracks that I have come across in recent times have involved looking for a needle in a haystack and finding one good track. Sifting through the likes of Dhan Te Nan and Raat Ke Dhai Baje to find a Pehli Baar Mohabbat, tolerating the Chiggy Wiggys of the world to land upon a Bhoola Tujhe, looking for the Khudaya Ve among the Luck Aazma and Jee Le types.

But this one is different. It has fourteen tracks, no less. Of course, those are not fourteen distinct tracks. The number includes four versions of Tu Jaane Na. All four are really good, but nothing beats the first one, the non-remixed one by Atif. The rest of the album has a balanced mix of peppy, foot tapping numbers like Prem Ki Naiyya and soft, romantic melodies like Tera Hone Laga Hoon. Definitely worth a good listen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Gadget For This And A Gadget For That

How many gadgets does one need? Particularly, in the kitchen. This weekend, I saw a salad mixing contraption while shopping at Walmart (I think that even my Indian friends will have heard of it, but, if not, that's to America what Big Bazaar is to India). It's a bowl that you put your lettuce and things into, and it mixes it all up with a spin or two. I mean, really? Do you really need a gadget for mixing salad? Is it really that hard to do that by hand? It doesn't seem to be, when I do it, or when I see the folks at all those sandwich and salad shops do it.

There was this lady I met at the hairdresser's a while back, in Delhi, who had been experiencing some trouble with her back and shoulders. Her physiotherapist had her knead dough by hand, which she had been doing with a gadget all this while. To me, that signals that we may be becoming too lazy for our own good.

Of course, there are lots of appliances that we do need. You need a blender and an oven and a can opener. Well, you may want to debate those too, but I could probably handle that debate. But there is such a thing as going overboard with these things, isn't there? You should certainly not buy so many of them as to clutter your house and kitchen. Or so that you don't leave much for yourself to do by hand. That's for your own good.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Memory Lane

It's interesting how, sometimes, just listening to a song or watching a movie again can take you into a world of memories. I was exploring YouTube and trying to seek out songs that I haven't heard in a while. I happened to land upon Zehreeley and it reminded me of Bhatti's hilarious rendition of the song on our Manali trip and then again at his farewell from our team.

Then I landed upon Morni Baaga Ma from Lamhe. This is the first Hindi movie I remember watching end to end multiple times and enjoying. There weren't too many children's films in Hindi that held me interest at that time. Come to think of it, there aren't many of them now either, are there?

So anyway, this song takes me back to the time I was ten years old and, when I didn't have much homework, enjoyed long, carefree afternoons by myself, because my mom and my brother would always nap in the afternoons and my dad would be at work. Well, I do still enjoy my afternoons by myself, but life isn't quite so carefree any more, is it?

When I hear a song from a movie I watched with some friends, it always reminds me of the good times I had with those friends. Of how some of them got annoyed when I sang along with the songs. How some annoyed me by laughing too much or just making too much hullabaloo for no apparent reason. Good times, good memories.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Secret Dreamworld Of A Shopaholic

This was the last of the dozen or so books that I picked up in India right before my wedding. This is a book by Sophie Kinsella, and it's known as Confessions Of A Shopaholic here in the States, and has been made into a Hollywood movie by the same name.

The protagonist of the story, Rebecca, starts out as a character who loves shopping and has accumulated a lot of credit card debt. She lives in a state of denial after her attempts to cut back expenses and to make more money all fail. Basically, she is a character one would find easy to relate to.

But as the story proceeds, the storyline doesn't seem to have enough meat in it to hold a reader's rapt attention. When I started out with this one, I thought I'd find it hard to put down and finish it in three or four days. But it took me about twice as long. The sequence of events is unimpressive and sometimes just plain weird. The other characters in the story are not quite as easy to relate to. Luke Brandon, in particular, was, again, just plain weird.

I read this book as part of my attempts to understand what makes a New York Times bestseller. Honestly, it's left me a little confused.

Six Months Of Matrimony

Has it actually been that long? It seems like it was just yesterday that I packed my bags and said goodbye to the life I had and started a new one.

I'm happy to say that life has treated us well in these six months. We've grown to understand each other much better, to appreciate the good in each other, and to be more patient with the bad. We've learnt to anticipate each other's mood swings, and now we know what triggers them and what the antidote is. We love doing little things for each other from time to time. We know that time spent with each other is the best time of the day for both of us. We know each other's needs and wants much better now, and we take good care of those little things.

This was not the kind of person I had in mind for myself, actually. Nor did I want to move away from Delhi. But sometimes, we find happiness in the most unexpected places, don't we?

Diwali In A Foreign Land

Our first Diwali after our wedding was celebrated in a foreign land, which is home to us, at least for the time being. We celebrated in our own way, going out to an Indian place where we ate a lot of chaat and golgappas, which we do get easily around here, but it's all packaged in boxes and you have to mix it all up yourself. But there are a few places around here where you get it served on a plate. We went to one such place. It was just lovely to gorge on all that stuff after, maybe, three or four months.

We also went to a temple nearby. We've been to the same place once before on a weekend, and, relatively, there was a throng of people. But, of course, compared to what we would have found in India, it was still wide, open spaces inside and outside the temple, and just enough parking. People were dressed in saris and kurtas. It felt different. It didn't exactly feel like back home, because this is a South Indian style temple and a lot of the people were South Indians as well, but it did have a greater sense of belonging than whatever else I've seen in the States so far.

We did a small puja at home and lit a few diyas. Now we don't have a balcony, so we did all of it inside our house. I put the diyas in a plate and my husband decided to keep a sheet of paper under them to protect the plate. Unfortunately, the paper caught fire, but fortunately we blew it out when it was only a tiny flame. Even so, it set off the overly sensitive fire alarm and we had to open the windows on a cold night (We had a little snow on the preceding snow and more than a little snow on the following evening.) to let the smoke out. Ironical, isn't it? In Delhi, we keep our windows closed because of the smoke on Diwali night.

We also got some Indian sweets for the first time since we've been here. We had no room left for dinner after all the chaat, so the sweets and the bananas from the temple were all we ate in the evening. A beautiful evening for both of us.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Song Of The Week

This is something I never heard in India, which is surprising since it's an A. R. Rahman composition from a movie supposedly released in 2008. But Meherbaan from Ada has got to be one of his finest works in recent times. (Strangely enough, this movie is not even listed on IMDb.)

This is a beautifully written song, into which Rahman's voice breathes life. That's right. It's sung by Rahman, composed by Rahman, and I love it. Do I need to say more?

Four Seasons

A fellow blogger recently pointed out to me (in the comments section of one of her blog posts) that in India, we don't get to see four distinct seasons, whereas in places like the United Kingdom and the northern parts of the United States, we do. It's true. In Delhi there was never any significant spring or autumn. Well, of course, if there's no autumn, then spring really doesn't belong in the cycle of things. But that's a separate story.

So here I was, just getting the feel of the fall season (that's what it's called in America) and just beginning to feel the nip in the air, when, out of nowhere, I get up in the morning, and my husband tells me that it's snowing outside. I thought that was just one of the random things he says sometimes for no apparent reason other than to amuse himself and me. But it wasn't. It was actually snowing. Not like a snowstorm or a blizzard, but just a few light snowflakes. Enough to give the grass a whitish touch. It was beautiful. Like one of those Hollywood movies with a story that takes place at Christmas time. It lasted only a very short while, and I did not go out there in my pyjamas, but just looking out of the window was great.

So, what do you know? It's winter already. And a colder winter than any that I've seen in Delhi!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Random Musings On Wake Up Sid

  • For starters, I am a little bored with Bollywood romances and I like movies about friendship and/or trying to find one's own place in society, one's own identity. That's one where where this movie appealed to me. I liked the way the friendship between the two lead characters was handled in the movie.
  • I liked the fact that all of the characters were the kind that you can relate to, see a piece of yourself in them, and see a piece of them in yourself, even though most were rather stereotypical, the ones often found in Hindi movies. Or, more specifically, Karan Johar productions. I mean, Konkona's character would have been a little easier to relate to if she didn't land the first job that she interviewed for, the one she desperately wanted, but ended up with a vaguely similar job after a bit of struggle, and eventually grew to like that job and to do it well. But even so, she was a character I really liked and wanted to get to know. The same goes for Ranbir's friends from college, Laxmi, Rishi, and even Debbie, who wasn't exactly a friend. And his parents, and Rahul Khanna, who played the magazine editor.
  • I really loved the scene where Ranbir conjured up a "birthday cake" for Konkona's birthday in under ten minutes, out of bread and jam. That was just so touching and had a good feel to it. I know it's not a proposal or a romantic scene, but it belongs in this list.
  • Speaking of romance, the only significant disappointment I met with was the way the story ended. I was hoping there wouldn't be any romance and I would go home with a memory of the best and, possibly, only portrayal of a completely platonic friendship between two single, straight people of opposite genders. But that's where they chose to disappoint. Well, good thing that they saved it for the last two or three minutes so I could properly enjoy the first 135 minutes.

A Different Movie Going Experience

This weekend, I went out for a Hindi movie for the first time since I moved to the States. Not being in the Tri-State area, (For the uninitiated, that's where you'd find the largest number of Indians in the US. Apparently the city of Edison in New Jersey is called 'Little India' and you can find sari shops and chaat waalas and what have you over there. Manhattan is also host to Diwali melas and other such festivities.) it is a big deal for me to find a Hindi movie running in the neighbourhood, one that I would want to watch. I wonder why these folks are so enthusiastic about the likes of Kambakht Ishq, Do Knot Disturb and What's Your Rashee?, but well, never mind.

So I found Wake Up Sid running at a small theatre that's about two miles from home. I think the hall where I watched it had a capacity of about two hundred people, and the other halls in the building seemed to be of comparable sizes. I think it was one of the smallest movie halls I've been to. But I think it makes perfect sense for a sparsely populated suburban residential area like ours. Random fact: The state of Massachusetts has about half the population of Delhi, and about twenty five times the area. You get the idea. Anyway, I know I'm digressing. I was more than surprised to see a relatively empty parking lot and corridors at a movie theatre on a weekend. But well, by now I'm pretty much used to the idea that Americans like to spend their weekends and their evenings in the peace and quiet of their homes, unlike us Delhiites, who take a certain amount of pleasure in adding to the crowd at already overcrowded malls. But even more surprising was the fact that there were no ushers, nobody to check tickets. Well, the box office counter was a position that you couldn't get past without the guy at the counter catching sight of you. But there's nothing to stop you from watching a different movie rather than the one you bought tickets for, or watching both of them one after the other. But it doesn't seem like people do that kind of thing.

Multiplexes that I've seen around here have a much simpler scheduling system than the ones in Delhi. For instance, this one has twelve screens. They will run twelve movies. No more, no less. One screen for one movie, and a small poster of the movie outside the door. It's a much cleaner approach, and it has a certain amount of appeal to it, though, of course, the PVR folks in India are probably optimising things for themselves.

I think this has turned into a rather long rant on a subject of little or no consequence to anyone but myself. But that's why it goes on my blog. So I will save my musings on the actual movie for another post.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Song Of The Week

This is something I landed upon by accident. It's called Kangana, from a movie called The Great Indian Butterfly. Shreya Ghoshal has so beautifully lent her voice to the feelings of a young woman in love. She is one singer who is good with the mainstream Bollywood stuff, but simultaneously also tackles classical tunes with ease. This is one such tune, faintly reminiscent of her work for Devdas, her debut as a playback singer for movies. It has the same wonderful beauty, the same innocent charm, the same romance.

By the way, the rest of the songs in this album are also worth checking out, if you're interested in something slightly offbeat, a fusion of Indian classical with some Western music.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My First Karva Chauth

People who know me well know that I've never actually fasted in my whole life, although some would say that my regular lunch is not very different from what people eat during their Thursday all-fruit, no-cereal fasts. But this was the first time I formally observed a fast with religious strings attached.

My mother-in-law told me to eat something before sunrise, which is not too easy for me. I normally don't feel particularly hungry before eight or nine in the morning. It was not rare for me to rush off to work after having had only a glass of milk and a banana, and a few almonds. But I did eat a little in the morning, at about half past five. I think it was the first time that my husband and I had breakfast together on a workday.

Given my normal eating habits, which emphasize on a substantial breakfast and a medium sized dinner, with a light lunch or maybe just fruit in between, it was no surprise to me that I didn't actually feel like I was fasting until about six in the evening. I guess it helped that I wasn't working. Well, maybe if I had been working, it would have been even easier since my mind would have been fully occupied. Actually, as a matter of fact, it was. I was reading an extremely gripping book.

If I had been in India, this would have been a major festival. There would have been an elaborate puja. Here, the nearest temple I know of is about twenty miles away and even that is a South Indian one, and South Indians don't observe this fast, to the best of understanding. So I did everything the way any software engineer (I may not be employed, but I am still a software engineer by qualification and by nature) would do it. I looked up the katha online and read it to myself in the late afternoon.

It helps that the weather here is cool so you don't feel too thirsty. But yesterday it was even cooler than usual, with the wind blowing fiercely. The lawn was strewn with hundreds of leaves and dozens of pine cones this morning. It would also help that the moon was supposed to rise much earlier, at 19:09 hours, than in Delhi, if it hadn't been for the thick, grey clouds. But, as a friend of mine puts it, you're not eating, but you're surviving on love. That makes it easy. Or so I think. And I'd like to continue thinking so.

Q & A

People told me that the book was better than the movie. Well, it was.

It is a gripping narrative of the life of an orphan, filled with stories of fighting for survival. To the extreme. I'll quote myself saying a few things about the movie which also hold true for the book.

I like stories where one has to connect the dots in order to fully grasp the plot. Although I don't like ones with overly complicated plots where one has to watch with constant rapt attention in order to figure out whatever is going on. This one was just right.

But the book is so much more than that. It is not the glamorised, romanticised rags-to-riches story that the movie makers chose to adapt it into. It was a story of struggle. The struggle to live. The struggle that an orphan has to go through for his dignity. And the indignity that he has to come to terms with.

The author's portrayal of the whole thing, albeit a little extreme and dotted with a few stereotypical characters, is written in a way that makes you feel for the characters, want to know what happens to them next, relate to them. It makes you want to keep turning the pages and not put it down at any point in the story. I'd rate this one at about nine on ten, and strongly recommend that you read it if you haven't read it already.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Policing Styles

I finally took up reading Vikas Swarup's Q & A. This is not about the book. I will write about it once I finish it. The author says at one point that arrests in Dharavi are as common as pickpockets on the local train. It's obviously not a good thing for either of them to be common, is it? I don't know about the local trains in Mumbai but I certainly know about the local buses in Delhi. I've been pick pocketed twice myself, in the six years I spent at the University. Once it was my wallet, which, very luckily for me, contained only money, no IDs. My friend who was with me was not that lucky. She was running around the next day lodging FIRs for her college ID and her bus pass and then getting new ones made. The other time it was my cellphone. My first phone, which I'd bought with my saved up pocket money and birthday money. It felt really bad that time round.

I've had encounters with cops in Delhi, for registering an FIR for my phone (The Idea folks need a copy before they'll let you have a new SIM card.), for skipping a red light, for being in a car with a friend skipping a red light. I am sorry to say that I never got the feeling that the cops are out there to actually do something for the citizens. Most of them went easy on me because I was a girl, and I was a Jat and so were they, but that's not my point. My point is that they didn't seem genuinely concerned about the traffic conditions or the crime rates, but mostly about what was in it for them.

My only encounter with a cop here was my road test for my license. I was a little nervous because I wasn't sure what he would be like, but he turned out to be a rather nice guy. I'm not saying that all Indian cops are bad guys and all American policeman are good guys, but I'm just saying that the average patrol guy behaves differently in these two countries. The whole system works differently. If you get a ticket which you don't think you deserve, you can contest it in court, and my husband has actually done it and won the case. But if you do actually get the ticket, it goes on to your permanent record and your driver's insurance rate changes accordingly. So the total cost of a ticket adds up to about the cost of groceries for one person for a little over a year. Such regulations ensure that people are afraid of breaking the rules. I think Delhi could do very well with a few such rules.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Paper Or Plastic?

I was just thinking about the couple of occasions when I went shopping in India and the store's credit card machine refused to work because of network issues or something of the sort. On one occasion, we took Akash shopping for a birthday gift and we had at least five credit and debit cards between us, but not enough cash. The birthday boy was the only one carrying cash, and he had to pay for it himself.

I just asked my husband what he thought would happen if that happened here. Well, the store would be empty in just a few minutes. People here don't carry more than ten or twenty dollars in cash. They pay for everything with their credit cards. They'd go off to the next nearest store to buy whatever it was that they needed.

So I was slightly surprised when the checkout counter guy at a particular grocery store asked, "Paper or plastic?" Now this was not our regular grocery store, so I wasn't too sure about anything. Turns out, he meant to ask if we wanted paper bags or plastic bags to take our stuff home in!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Song Of The Week

I think I haven't really enjoyed a song with a girl-pataaoing-guy theme since the heyday of the likes of Alisha Chinoy and Jaspinder Narula. Well, this one comes pretty close. Shreya Ghoshal has done a good job with Ore Saawariya from Aladin. And the Amitabh Bachchan touch is just priceless. I can hear him singing sasur ghar jaana even when I am half asleep. I think his is one of the most legendary voices of our time, among people in all fields. And quite appropriately so.

The song has an upbeat, zesty feel lent to it by the vocalists and the foot-tapping music. I haven't paid too much attention to the words, because this is the kind of song where they don't matter all that much. Well, sometimes they do. Sasur ghar jaana re sasur ghar jaana...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just An Afterthought

Just to add to this post a little.

I've seen a whole bunch of movies where a heroine, or, much less frequently, a hero who is about to get married suddenly has this realization that she or he is getting into the wrong deal and escapes from the wedding venue in search of true love. Or in search of a more independent life. I used to find that kind of thing rather exciting, rather romantic. Now I can't help mulling over the amount of money that would go to waste in such an event. After experiencing first hand how much it costs to host a wedding, I can't help thinking about the kind of financial setback the bride's parents or the couple themselves (in the Hollywood movies) would face for nothing. I mean, hey, why can't you figure out your love life and career before you book a venue for your wedding?

I guess that kind of excitement and drama is ruined for me now. Oh well, I'd seen too much of it anyway.

Thank You, Jeeves

I'd wanted to read something by Wodehouse for a while now, and I finally got around to it. His writing has some of the best subtle and not-so-subtle humour I've ever read. The way he plays with his words and sentences is just wonderful. And, of course, I must mention, the character that is Jeeves is a man of culture and intelligence whom I found to be rather endearing at times.

The book is full of crazy people and crazy incidents, and a few normal folks caught in the middle of it all. Something like a Charlie Chaplin movie or a Walter Matthau comedy of errors. Or a Mr Bean episode. Well, you get the idea. It belongs in the Classic British Comedy Hall of Fame. Check it out if you're in the mood for something light and loony.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Just A Thought

Here in the States, getting married is very different and, in some ways, very similar to getting married in India. We go out and invite our cousin's friend's neighbour and what have you when we get married. We invite everybody in the neighbourhood where we live. Or in the neighbourhood where we grew up. These people, on the other hand, invite people they're close to. People who actually mean something to them. I wonder why we do that, really. Why do we invite distant friends and relatives to weddings, people whom we see only at other weddings where we politely say hello and goodbye to each other and move on?

I've seen a few Hollywood movies and TV shows in which people get married in a gathering of fifty people or so. I've also come across a few where people get drunk and married in Las Vegas without actually knowing what they were doing. Well, of course, the ones who know what they are doing do sometimes take a year to plan everything out and make sure that it's just the way they want it to be. I'm not too sure if a What Happens In Vegas-style wedding is actually possible, but I'm sure they wouldn't let you do that in India.

But you know, It's not such a bad idea to just decide to get married and get married within a week or so, with just close friends and family as witnesses. I mean, all the time we spend planning everything out and getting all worked up over it could be better spent elsewhere. And all the money we spend on it could definitely be put to much better use. Just a thought, with due respect to other people's desires to host lavish ceremonies.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Food, Family, Fun

This is an approximate transcript of a conversation I had with my family in India recently.

Me: So what are you up to these days?
My brother: I give mom food ideas. I find new and interesting recipes online and make her try them out.
Mom: I tried out this recipe for egg paranthas. They turned out really well. You should try it out too. Oh, wait, but you'll have to knead atta for that.
Me: But, mom, I do that all the time. I make decent chapatis. Every day.
(Stunned silence, arising from the fact that I never did anything of the sort while I was in India and she never expected me to try to learn.)

A couple of months earlier, my husband told my mother that I had made aloo paranthas for him. She knew that he was only kidding. But since then, she gets a bit of a shock each time I tell her I tried out something and it turned out well. She finds it all a little difficult to believe. Truth be told, so do I. But I love surprising my husband with all the dishes that he likes. Or with something new and experimental, to which I sometimes add my own touches.

But you know what I miss? I miss the element of surprise in finding out what is on the table for dinner or for lunch. My rajma tastes a lot like my mom's, but it's not the same thing when you know that it's sitting in a bag in one of the cabinets and you can cook it whenever you want. It's entirely different if you come home from work and smell the aroma coming from the kitchen. Some of my friends from the office lunch group would recall how much I enjoyed the fruit custard in the cafeteria. My eyes would light up at the sight of it. It was the only dessert I would always eat. I would hardly eat anything else on the fruit custard days. It's not the same thing when I have custard powder in my kitchen and make it myself every other week.

Planning your meals yourself is good in that you make the things you like, and you make them the way you like them. But it's not the same kind of fun, is it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Richard Feynman poses a very interesting question in his book that I just read. He asks another scientist to define what is "real." The other guy says that an experience is real if it can be reproduced. Feynman then goes on to talk about reproducing hallucinations. He says that if one thinks about a particular subject before going into a mental state that invokes hallucinations (There's a whole process to it. You have to read it for yourself to know more about it.) then the hallucination will be related to that subject. And you can do it multiple times. That makes the hallucination "real."

There was this movie called 15 Park Avenue that dealt with schizophrenia. The doctor in that movie told a patient's sister that the schizophrenics' world is as real to them as ours is to us. Their reality is what they perceive, ours is what we perceive. Doesn't each of us imagine things that don't actually exist? It's perfectly normal to imagine that someone you fancy could want you as well, while knowing fully well that the odds of that happening are rock bottom. What Konkona imagined in that movie was basically an exaggerated version of that. We're all a little bit like her, a little crazy.

I still don't have an answer to what I started out with - what is reality? Any ideas, anyone?

The Big Bang Theory

There's this sitcom on CBS called The Big Bang Theory that I've been watching for a while now. I absolutely loved the first two seasons. I missed the last couple of episodes of the second season in the midst of the everything that was going on with the wedding and the move to the States, but they released the DVD recently and I rented it out from Netflix and caught up with what I'd missed. I watched it with my husband and he had an absolutely wonderful time too!

So the third season's season premiere was this Monday, and this time I actually had the opportunity to watch it on regular TV. But you know what? This episode didn't quite live up to the expectations set by its predecessors.

For those who are unfamiliar with this, the show is about a bunch of highly intelligent physicists who are in their element with Star Trek and Batman but at a complete loss when it comes to interacting with women or just being social with non-geniuses. But over the course of the show, they've gradually learnt about all that stuff from their female friend who lives across the hall. It kind of takes away the USP of the show. For me, at least. I mean, of course, it was the only way to go, but it kind of takes away the innocent charm of the whole thing.

Don't get me wrong. It's not hopelessly ruined for me. I just liked it better in its initial stages.

Oh, by the way, in case you missed the closing credits, the theme song is sung by a group who call themselves Barenaked Ladies. That's quite a name, I must say! It's a pretty interesting song. Check it out on youtube. This is the full version, not just the snippet that plays on the show.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!

I'd wanted to read Richard Feynman's book for a long while and it got sidelined for various reasons. So I finally got around to it recently, and it was nothing like anything I've ever read before.

Feynman was a very interesting person indeed. Or, as the byline of the book title reads, a very curious character. He was a professor of Physics who taught students, worked on the atomic bomb, figured out how to open safes, and did a whole lot of other interesting things. He had some remarkable ideas on what science is all about and how it should be taught. Ideas that a lot of people of his time often failed to appreciate. He toured lots of places within the United States and all over the world, delivering lectures and experiencing different cultures. The way he talks about the shortcomings of the way science was taught in Brazil at the time is quite enlightening. The problems with their education system that he talks about are exaggerated versions of the problems quite often seen in India.

He seemed to have a strong interest in studying sleep, dreams, hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. Some of his encounters with these things are quite interesting.

He doesn't talk exclusively about scientific research, though. He talks of his life outside of work as well, which includes learning to pick up girls in bars and learning to draw and play drums and other instruments.

This book does make one revise their definition of science and scientific research a little. It makes you look at the world around you differently. It makes you want to explore it further, to get to know it better.

If you have even a slightly scientific bent of mind, and haven't read this one so far, you definitely should.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Life With A Non-Geek

I've read any number of articles and stories about women who say that their husbands or boyfriends are too geeky and more interested in their gadgets than their women. Well, in our case, it's kind of the other way around. I'm supposedly the geek in the house. Or so my husband claims. He says that I am a bit of a geek. I think he's slightly technologically challenged.

Come to think of it, he's probably the first guy I've known closely who didn't know any programming. All my male friends from school whom I'm in touch with are software engineers, except perhaps Gullu, who was also an engineer to begin with, and then went on to do an MBA. In my tenure as a developer in India, I met some really geeky guys. Of course, by then, it seemed to be the normal thing for guys to be, since I'd been living with the Chairperson of the Geeks' Hall of Fame for a while. In class eleven and twelve, I'd come across some weird science fiction writing guys who would skip all classes other than computer science and go sit in the computer lab in the school.

And now, suddenly, I'm the one who knows more about setting up a wireless router. I'm the one who reads books on Physics and Mathematics and watches The Big Bang Theory. It's a different feeling. It's sometimes fun, sometimes rather odd. It's a new adventure.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Song Of The Week: A Rediscovery

Ever since I heard Tune Jo Na Kaha, I have come to like Mohit Chauhan's voice more than ever before. So I was digging out some of his older works, like Boondain and Guncha, when I ran into Ek Meetha Marz from Welcome To Sajjanpur. I actually never had the opportunity to watch this movie properly until quite recently. This song beautifully tells the whole story of the letter writer's life, his heart's desires, his hopes and his dreams. He is flirting with a married woman, but there is a certain innocence, an endearing quality to the whole episode. And the song tells it all. Tells it like it is. It's beautiful.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Why do we find it so difficult to accept people who are a little different from our own selves? Why do a lot of straight people not try to understand that gay people are just as normal as they are? Why do Hindus think that Muslims are after their lives and vice versa? Or Indians and Pakistanis, for that matter. People find it difficult to accept a marriage between two people from different cultural backgrounds. And that's not just in India.

My husband was telling me about the few Pakistanis he has come across during his stay here in the States. He's been on friendly terms with them, as have his other Indian friends. He also visited Pakistan for a short while, and he didn't make any friends there. The same people who would not talk cordially if they met in India or in Pakistan, become friends when they meet here. Is there actually that big a difference between the people themselves, or is it just about opening your minds a little?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Scary World

I happened to be browsing through the Teens section of a Barnes & Noble and I noticed something slightly disturbing. Horror stories seem to be so very popular with these kids these days. So much of the stuff is about vampires and zombies and the likes of them. My husband was similarly horrified when he was passing by a comic book store. It's unnerving, the stuff that kids read these days. What became of the good old Disney comics? Why don't people want to read Pride and Prejudice any more, instead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? I tell you, if that book was anywhere in my house, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

I have actually always found the whole idea of horror movies and books rather repulsive, but this stuff for kids and young adults? I'm not sure if that's good stuff for kids to grow up on. Interestingly, that horrifying book cover was right next to the Parenting and Childcare books.

Well, that's just my opinion. I would want to keep my kids away from this sort of thing. But well, to each her own.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Of Teachers And Teaching

My husband often tells me that I should have been a teacher, that I should have taught Mathematics or English Literature or something. Well, he is mostly kidding about that.

I don't really think I could have done that. Because I don't have the kind of patience that it takes. I get bugged if someone asks me the same question twice.

I had a lecturer in college who once told us something very essential to teaching. She said that when she taught us, she needed to forget that she had a PhD in Group Theory and that she knew so much about it. She had to think like we were thinking. She had to think that she knew only as much as an undergraduate student, and talk at that level.

Another one of my lecturers said that teaching was great because you were always in the company of young people, so you always stayed young. You had all these people around you who helped you come up with new and fresh ideas.

The philosophy in our college was that there are no teachers and no students. There are Senior Members and Junior Members of College. Everybody learns something from everybody else. It is actually true, of course, that when you try to teach somebody something, you learn a little something yourself, as I have learnt during my random experiences tutoring my brother or my friends, and mentoring my juniors in the workplace. Different people have different approaches to the same thing. And the "teacher's" approach may not always be the best. It's just that, sometimes the teacher will accept this, sometimes they won't. I really respect the ones who do.

Teaching is not just a skill, it's an art and a science. It's an art that people develop gradually with time and experience, not through PhDs and BEds and NETs. It's a science that improves with experimentation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Teacher's Day

Okay, I know this post got a little delayed but, well, these days, my weekends are reserved for my husband and my household chores.

I was just thinking about some of the teachers I've had. I wrote a post about my college lecturers and professors a while age and there's not much I want to add about them. But there are some other people I want to talk about.

My mother. She taught me to read, got me into the habit of reading on an almost daily basis. I was a bit of a brat who refused to go to school and she would patiently take me to school and wait around and make sure I was okay.

My grandmother. I don't think I would have been able to scrape through my Hindi and Sanskrit exams if it wasn't for her. Or be good at Mathematics. She helped me out with all the subjects that she was capable of teaching, and she did it every day after school.

My class eight Mathematics teacher, Mrs Renuka Mahani. She was the one who ignited the spark in me that took me all the way to an undergraduate degree in Mathematics. She had her own ways of teaching, different from the rest of the teachers I'd come across. She got all her ideas through, and made me want to study.

My class eight English teacher, Mrs Sonia Chhabra. She did the same things with English Literature. We had our own English textbooks, which Mr Lewis compiled, but she taught them in a way that I liked. I still remember her reciting Mark Antony's speech to us and getting us all excited about Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It was lovely.

There are actually others I may want to write about as well, but I will save them for a future post.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Changing Seasons

In this part of the world, the leaves have begun to change colour and the temperature has been hovering around fifty in the mornings. That's about ten on the Celsius scale. Last week, I told my brother that things were getting chilly, and he remarked, "But it's only August!"

Apparently, Labor Day marks the official end of summer. That means that summer is officially just about gone. The weather is beginning to behave like it does in early November in Delhi, with chilly mornings and evenings and pleasant days, a beautiful time to go out on weekends but a time when you start wishing that you didn't have to get out of bed and go to work so early in the morning. A time when I keep telling myself to drink warm milk in the morning, but end up drinking it cold most days anyway. A time when I would need a light jacket or sweatshirt when coming back from the gym in the morning. Well, right now, I have the option of going to the gym later in the day.

Of course, I knew that winter here was going to be very different from winter in Delhi. I just didn't know winter would drop by this early in the year! Anyway, I'm looking forward to making snowmen right outside my house!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Disastrous Beginnings To Good Things

Quite often, I've met with fiasco when trying out something new. For instance, the first day of my job back in Noida, I took a chartered bus that a friend of mine had told me about. It found itself stuck in a bad traffic jam and took a diversion which turned out to be even worse. It took us through rickety bridges that I never before (or after) saw in my life.

Then there was the first time I drove myself to work. I didn't tell too many people about this, but that morning, I missed a turn and had to take a U-turn and go about three extra kilometres in the process. That was quite okay, but the second time I drove on that particular road, a cab driver driving a Maruti Omni hit my front bumper from the left side. I chose not to stop and argue with him, because I knew that no good would come out of it anyway.

After that, I would drive to work every now and then, but not on a regular basis. Later, when I began to drive every other day, we got stuck in a horrible chakka jam the first morning I drove my car, and we were there till a little past noon. Okay, that was not really my fault. I had warned the other members of my carpool and suggested that we start out a little earlier that morning, but they didn't believe me.

I drove to work regularly for a long time after that, carpooling with different people. An old friend of mine, whom I'd known for about eight and a half years then, joined us at the beginning of this year. Her arrival was greeted by one or the other of my car tyres getting punctured on three days in one single week.

When my husband and I were boarding our flight to the United States, the X-Ray scanners at the Indira Gandhi airport broke down and they checked everyone's luggage manually, delaying the flight by an hour, making us miss our connecting flight from Newark to Boston.

I've come to take such things in my stride, and I no longer think of them as setbacks. I think of them as a signal that something really good is about to happen. That things are about to look up. And, quite often, they do. I had some wonderful times in my three years at my job. I learnt to drive myself to and from work with the greatest ease, so much so that I did it on an impulse the week after I left, just to see my friends. I like being here with my husband. It's the loveliest place I've ever lived in.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Embracing Change

You know how, at some point of time or the other, we've all had the feeling when we wished things didn't have to change? All of us sometimes wish that our best friend in primary school didn't have to move to another city, or our most helpful colleague didn't have to switch jobs, or our kids didn't have to grow up and leave us to be on their own. We like familiarity, we like things the way they are, and we wish we didn't have to move on.

But you know what? Just because a change is throwing you out of your comfortable cocoon into a less familiar world, doesn't mean that the change is a bad thing for you. Things have to change. People have to change. That's the only way each of us can grow and become the people we were meant to be. That's the only way we can get more our of life.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Evening Walks And Other Such Stuff

The apartment complex where we live has a lovely courtyard for people to walk, jog, or ride their bicycles. I go down there some evenings for a walk and some fresh air. I see lots of kids riding their bikes or scooters (the kind with wheels and no engine, that kids ride for fun) or running after each other or doing other random stuff. A lot of these kids are Indian, whose parents grew up in India but the kids are growing up here. The parents have South Indian or Bengali accents, but for these little ones, an American accent comes completely naturally. Some of them cannot speak the language that their parents speak to each other in.

When I was about that age, I would take walks on the street or in the park with my grandparents. They would tell me anecdotes, some of which would be in Punjabi or Haryanvi. I cannot speak either language too fluently, but I can do just fine and I can understand both of them pretty well.

A few weeks back, there was a small poster that somebody had put up downstairs in our apartment building, advertising a Hindi workshop for Indian kids. That was when I realised that if, when we have kids, we are still living here, then we cannot take a lot of things for granted. The kids learning to speak Hindi is one. Them knowing about our culture and tradition is another.

Well, anyway, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, I'm happy with just the way things are.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Birthday 2005

I was just watching Bunty Aur Babli on DVD today and it reminded me of the time I first watched it - on my birthday in 2005. It was the time when my classmates and I were readying ourselves for our campus placements and I was hassled with the task of balancing my duties as placement coordinator with my own study time. In the middle of all that, I had a birthday and I told everyone that I would take the whole day off. I would not study, I would not check the e-mail accounts where we got mail from recruiters and potential recruiters. I went out for a movie with my friend Aditi, who was the only one in town among all the friends from school I am still in touch with.

So we decided to go to PVR Vikaspuri (our then favourite hangout) for a movie. Now when I was at the ticket counter, I told the guy that I wanted two tickets for the current show. Now I thought that he'd understand I wanted tickets for the show that was to begin in an hour and a half. But he gave me tickets for a show that had already begun half an hour ago. Now I didn't check the tickets. And I didn't give them to Aditi. (Those who know her don't do that. Long story. Separate post.)

We thought we had an hour and a half, and we could grab a bite at McDonald's. We took our own sweet time doing just that, and it was only after we'd finished that I checked the tickets and realised what had happened. We went back to the box office to receive a standard "I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do." They suggested that we go in and catch whatever was left of the movie. We asked to speak to the manager but they wouldn't let us. Now keep in mind that this came at a time when I had not yet started working and Aditi was between jobs, so a couple of hundred bucks were a big deal. We persisted, and eventually they gave in and let us speak to the manager. My friend, I learnt that day, has a way with people. She convinced the manager that what was going on was unjust and we should be allowed to see the next show. He did. Thankfully, it was a weekday afternoon and the hall was not too full. The guy changed our tickets by hand and signed them. By then, we had been around the entire complex, asking the entire staff if they knew where we could find the manager. So the guards and ushers all knew the story.

But do you know what we gained in all this? The early morning shows were fifty bucks cheaper than the others. The one we originally bought tickets for fell into that category, and the other one didn't. I wished I had chosen to treat more people that day, as did some others.

I was receiving calls from friends all day long. In between, I also got a call or two from people who did not know that it was my birthday and insisted that I should act like their placement coordinator. But the best one was a call I got at about half past eight in the evening. This is an old friend of mine who has known me for, like, forever. He was in another city, and we talked about once in a couple of months. The conversation went something like this:

"So, what are you doing?"
"Nothing much. Went out with Aditi in the afternoon for a movie. Been relaxing since I got back home."
"Oh. I thought you were really busy preparing for your placement."
"I am."
"So how come you decided to take the day off?"
"Excuse me, do you know what the date is?"
"The date? Oh, oh no, I forgot!"

I still burst out laughing each time I think about it.

I've had a bunch of very special birthdays. Maybe I can do a series of posts on them.

Stuff I Like About Having My Mother-in-law Around

  • I don't have to eat my own cooking all the time. (No, it's not bad at all. But it does get boring.)
  • On days when I don't feel like going to the gym and just want to go downstairs for a walk, I have company.
  • I get to hear all kinds of stories about my husband's childhood.
  • I get to learn new tips and tricks to use in the kitchen.
  • I have someone to talk to in the daytime.