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...