August 27, 2009

Truth or tale?

Are you one of those people who makes conversation with the person sitting next to you on the airplane/train/bus out of sheer boredom? I am. Many times I extend the first arm of conversation with the person next to me and then act off their reaction. Thankfully on long flights, no one is complaining for some chatting company and are typically content with some small talk that anyone is willing to offer... more so on the ancient Air India flights that lack a personal entertainment system, leaving the interested few craning their necks to glimpse the teensy TV sets that drop off the roof of strategic seats. Almost all of the time I am very honest about everything I tell the people about myself, mainly because it never occurred to me to fabricate anything on-the-go. But this time I was thoroughly bored on one of my shorter connecting flights and decided to give my imagination a go. More so because the person next to me went on and on about how Indians were incapable of doing "different" jobs and how we were all stereotypically only Engineers these days. And how Engineers led to IT jobs led to India's inflation and now the recession. After that, I didn't want to admit to being an Engineer. Hence, meet Jayanti Parasuram, food photographer for the Food Network in India, now travelling to Delhi for an assignment with the Taj for their annual Gujarati food festival. And so it began. Having chosen a very different tale to tell, the interest from my co-passenger was high and my prospects for spinning the tale in random directions even higher. Some questions I loved to answer - Do I get to taste the food? What happens to the food after we've photographed it? The answers? Your guess is as good as mine.

August 24, 2009

Bye bye India..

Isn't it typical? It always seems as though the time you countdown to a trip/vacation lasts much longer than the trip itself. In my case, I have little to complain considering my India trip was 30 long days in duration. Even still, it flew. I can't recollect exactly where I've gone, whom I've visited or what I've done during the trip... but it's over and I've reluctantly packed (and as always exceeded the baggage weight allowances - but this time blame it on Air India who allow me to check in 1 bag of 20kg). And I have just a little over one day to go in precious India... I have done everything I've wanted in this trip - spent all my time with family, eaten all the Indian goodies I've wanted to, caught up on a few precious books, updated myself on mega-serials (no, I didn't want this one.. but these are side effects of the India trip). I've not done a few things I've meant to - call many people and inform them that I am in India and now it's too late - I'm leaving. None of my friends are in Chennai anymore and hence I didn't meet a single person. I didn't travel out of Chennai to visit any of my relatives (blame that on Swine flu), etc. As always there are a few "could-have-beens" and a few "maybe-ifs". Ah, forget about all that.. let's be honest - I had a total blast. I maxed out my time with my family, was able to aid my Paati in her time of need. Now I suppose I am completely refreshed and recharged to pounce back on my PhD work and give it my all. And did I mention the brightest part of going back? My S is out there waiting. :)

August 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Ganesha..

Happy Pillayar Chathurthi to everyone! Incidentally, it's Happy Birthday Chennai too! Yes, Madras/Chennai turns 370 years old today but I am not going to ramble about the city's statistics in this post. This post is just a synopsis of my festival-ridden vacation month here in Chennai. It never struck me when I was young that all these festivals occurred pretty close to one another or maybe I didn't care because of all the holidays we got starting with Varalakshmi Nombu, followed by Avani Avittam (which occurs in Aadi, by the way), Gokulashtami and culminated by Ganesh Chathurthi... It's only after growing up a bit (or maybe it has something to do with marriage) that I've realized that apparently Aadi (the tamil month corresponding to mid-July to mid-August and is probably called something else in each of your respective linguistics) is inauspicious for conducting any major "good" function like weddings or grahapraveshams or the likes of it. And because we Indians (read Tamilians if you will) are a well-renowned lot of foodies, Aadi got ridden with all these festivals during which the pious junta make all the goodies from kozhakkattais (modaks) to vadais to what not.. Ah yummy.. As they say, we only need an excuse to eat.. and devotion is as good as any other reason. If you can't go to weddings for a plateful of food, make it a festival to invoke your own devotion. Do the neiveidyam (the practice of offering the food to God first) during which you think you're pleasing the poor Gods (who obviously don't eat anything) and then feed yourself. Foodies rule! Happy Eating!
PS: This post is in jest and not meant to hurt anyone's religious sentiments.

August 20, 2009

The Friendship Ebb

Well, we've all heard about the "web of friendship" - that impenetrable fortress that forms around you and your precious friends circle. But have you experienced the "ebb" of friendship? No? Try getting busy for over a year, then consider getting married and then try contacting your friends. Suddenly there are gaps in conversation that were unthinkable back in the days you spoke for hours together even when you spent the entire day in one another's company. You don't share that common thread that held you together anymore. Of course a special few transcend this phase and stand the test of time. But not all make it. And it's not a walk in the park once you run into those people. Sure there's stuff to talk about but it's so not like before. The pauses are very obvious, as is the lack of common ground or the interest in the new pursuits of the people involved. If you are someone with a knack for small talk, then that works a bit. If not, both of you suffer through the ordeal counting the seconds to a decent interval at which you can make an excuse to get the hell out of the place. After one of these encounters I was a touch sad. I guess that's where the social networking sites like Facebook, Orkut help the others just keep aware of what's going on at the minimalist level and beyond, for the more snoopy ones. On the brighter side, it's the encounters like this that make you treasure the really close ones. And probably makes it worthwhile.

August 14, 2009

The lighter side of Swine Flu

Well... that's all that's hogged all the news headlines for the past few months - Swine flu. What??? You don't know what that is? You might as well read about it here. In India, there seems to be a late outbreak and well, people are panicking left, right n center. I do completely mourn the unnecessary loss of lives from not taking the necessary precautions. On the other hand, I find it utterly hilarious how people have been reacting in the name of "precautions". I guess the guideline would be to report any symptoms of flu - fever, nausea, throat infection, diarrhoea, running noses, watery eyes, blah to the doctor and get it ascertained that it is not H1N1. The people, however have taken it to a whole new dimension. They wear masks for no reason (though every bulletin clearly states that the infected people are the ones ought to be wearing it).. the schools are shut down for over a week to-be-safe, and here's the crowning thing - pigs are being hunted down and killed.

The other day, we were going to get my Paati checked by an ENT (Ear-Nose-Throat) specialist in our area. This was right after they'd announced that you'd rather avoid huge gatherings or very crowded public places, etc as a precaution to getting infected. Needless to say, at the doctor's office, no less an ENT at that, the crowds were ominous-looking and regarding each other with fear and suspicion over the face-masks that they'd donned (and no, it was not a clinic-enforced requirement), with their eyes darting furitively from one another trying to zero in on a possible swine-flu-infected candidate.. This doctor is very renowned and I have never seen under 15 people at any time in queue for an appointment. This day though, surprisingly there were under 10. Oh, did I mention that I have sinusitis? And that it manifests in me by making me sneeze in rapid bursts at random times? Well, I guess this was as good a time as any for my sinusitis to attack me... and there I was.. sneezing 3-4 times in quick succession(with a hanky) and I wasn't even the patient! In no time, the 5 people ahead of us had vanished and we were the next ones in! Bless sinus!

The other time this happened was at the Delhi airport. I suppose the cabin pressure had something to do with it or that stupid disinfectant airspray that Air India uses inside... Eitherways, I found myself with fits of sneezes and passengers looking dubiously concerned all around me. Thankfully, I wasn't the only one sneezing away... there were at least 3 more people.. and one temperature check later, I was cleared of being a Swine flu suspect.

I guess I respect the people for trying to be safe than sorry... However, instead of overcrowding the hospitals with unrelated symptoms, it would be better for people to be aware of what they need to look out for. And yes, this is as good an excuse as any to cultivate the people to wash their hands after they've been out. Be safe! On that note, get well soon, Paati (no, she isn't a swine flu patient either).

August 8, 2009

Honk honk!

Gosh.. what is it with the honking culture in India?? It's enough if you live a few days away from India to realize that people abroad don't honk without reason. And both in the US and Europe, honking is strictly restricted to bringing to notice offensive road behaviour - an unexpected sharp turn or an indecent pass and the likes of it earn angry honks from the cars being crossed over by dissed drivers and only briefly. In India, it's a whole different thing. The traffic is so frustratingly stagnated in most places, the heat is so unbearable, the cars so unruly that people honk for no reason at all except to vent out some of their own frustration or to pretend that they are helping to move things along by honking. The result is pure chaos and noise pollution and further more frustration for everyone in the sweltering traffic. Ah, it's a very poor vicious circle. And the concept of lanes hasn't taken off in Chennai (and probably never will). Cars, trucks, lorries, buses, cycles, pedestrians, cows, stray dogs and bikes all compete for the measly space to squeeze in their vehicles to keep ahead of the traffic and get to their destinations. Half the time when you reach your destination, you are so relieved not to have hit someone/something and made it in one piece even if you are semi-deaf from the blaring horns of the vehicles around you. Yesterday was the worst. We heard the sizzling horn of a lorry (the one that goes exactly like this - pambanpambanpam in that snakey tune) and Appa huddled over to a corner of the road fully expecting a heaving giant to pass by us only to see a measly motorcycle pass by. The guy had installed a lorry horn on his Hero honda. Jerk. Personally I think they should fine unnecessary honking in India too.. though how they would enlist the offenders is something I haven't come up with yet. Perhaps it should become like the Western countries where honking is restricted to offenses. Of course that requires a certain level of driving decorum which I unfortunately don't envision in the near future. Darn!

August 7, 2009

The art of "giving"

For as long as I've known, my dad's been great at the art of "bribing". Well, that's a misnomer in this case. Appa has a great knack in making people feel it's their duty to accept the money from him for whatever work that they've done for him. And he is very neutral in the way he distributes money for no reason among watchmen, housemaids, doormen and the likes of the working class. And that makes him an instant favourite with them for obvious reasons. Naturally our mail gets delivered first in the building... and our car is washed first and the gates are opened for us and well, you get the picture... Being his daughter, I have reaped the benefits over the years of getting heavy stuff carried upstairs for me and blah-blue.. But I have never adopted Appa's skill in being able to give money to all these people and not feel like I am doing something wrong. I always feel stupid mainly because I think being with Appa makes me feel younger than I am. And that makes it look like a kid is trying to give someone (who is much older than her by the way) money which she didn't necessarily earn. Appa tries to hand me some money and ask me to hand it over to them every once in a while and I am always uncomfortable and end up declining. I've figured there's more to just the knack in giving the money. The thin line between the obvious bribe and the obnoxious over-patronizing attitude. And while people like my father are born experts and can come across with the perfect attitude, my discomfort alone rules me out other than perhaps being a woman which isn't so appealing when giving someone money randomly for some good deed of the past or the ones to follow. You've got to be supremely confident of your abilities, of not being misunderstood, of being superior-yet-approachable at the same time, of being normal and of not being patronizingly pushy. My dad is the perfect eclectic mix and I haven't seen anyone be as at ease with the task at hand. I guess some things you learn and practice makes perfect... and some others, you just have to be born with it or it's never there. I know where I belong on this one.

August 4, 2009

Maple calling

So Appa n I were out shopping this evening... Suddenly there is cacophony. A millisecond later I realize that it's coming from Appa's pocket. It's his cell phone resounding a ridiculously high volume. He grabs it and hands it over to me (he can't read who's calling without his glasses). An instant before I pick it up I glance at the screen. It says "Maple calling". I double-check the screen looking at it dubiously as I prepare to answer the call. Who on earth was Maple? I had a friend who's last name was "Oak" but I couldn't imagine that Appa had a friend called Maple. I had absolutely no clue what to expect as I clicked the "Answer" button and muttered a very questioning "Hello" into the answer-piece. A brief crackle of static later, "Hello" comes the very familiar voice of my husband. I had to laugh. It wasn't Maple then. It was a very simplified spelling for Mappillai (meaning son-in-law in Tamil) or simple Map-le (to be pronounced as Map-lay). LOL moment.

August 2, 2009

French flaws

What happens when a country starts to grow on you? Embarrassment! I have been saying "Bonjour" instead of "hello" and "pardon" instead of "sorry" consistently over the past week. While the others think I am alien, I turn red from the heat/embarrassment or both and am found floundering for the right equivalents for words that the people can understand. So much for trying to embrace the French culture. Hmph.

BTW, Happy Friendship Day everyone! If you want to read rants from last year - here you go!

August 1, 2009

3 seconds later...

Want to know the value of 3 seconds? No no... I don't mean this in the way that a fraction-of-a-second can make a difference- so don't go asking the accident victim or the people with big regrets from big moments. I am really only talking about something on the lighter side... like temple queues. Being in the land of a thousand temples, Kanchipuram, it was imperative that I visit a few on my yearly visits here to my parents-in-laws' house. And so we temple-hopped today. While a couple of them were deeply, spiritually satisfying, one of them was one of those thoroughly commercialized affairs where you had to pay for everything from leaving your footwear outside to getting normal dharshan of the God/Goddess. Mind you, this wasn't even one of those temples like Tirupati where the monetary collections were part of maintaining some vague decorum or strata of luxury. There must've been about 30 of us in a queue today waiting to get a glimpse of the main deity. Yet, everyone was in a hurry. Why would one come to a temple if they were in a hurry? Beats me. And I am sure that they weren't exactly in a hurry... it was just the way they were used to being in temples. Want to know the value of 3 seconds? Ask the sweaty woman who makes it her business to drip all over you and push you with all her weight from behind while if she just waited instead, she could still glimpse the deity in like 3 seconds. Or the man who's twice your size trying to elbow you into a corner so he can squeeze past you in the single-line file and be ahead of one more person (or how-many-ever more he manages to elbow past). Oh and I hate groups that are trying to move in packs. My philosophy is if you get separated, deal with it (unless you have kids walking by themselves risking a stampede). The line's usually so narrow that you are unlikely to evaporate or get lost. Have a reunion at the clearing after the dharshan for God's sake instead of squeezing past in groups or worse, holding onto one another to keep together. Perhaps, it's a mental victory of sorts for all these people who do it... that they caught sight of the deity 3 seconds before the guy behind them or say 3 minutes before the end of the queue. No, that doesn't make sense, does it? Why not then move in an orderly fashion and behave decently rather than stifle the already stale air in the waiting queues by huffing over someone else, or worse dripping perspiration over them? We'll never know.

Unfamiliar land..

It seems that everytime I set foot in Chennai something has changed. And you unfortunate folk read about it each time... I bet a bunch of you must be like - here she goes again, out to crib... The change in the landscape of the place you call "home" is never something easy to digest. Remember I'd cribbed about it last time too? Here it is. Ever so often, there are new buildings... new stores... new protocols and new modes of transport. Sure, Chennai has seen a big improvement in the public transport sector and those who can afford it, one can now ride AC public buses on popular routes paying a tad extra for a pollution-free and necessity-chilled ride straining through trecherous traffic and loud everyday life. Indeed I was able to experience the tranquility of the experience on an AC Volvo bus to Kanchipuram, reaching here unruffled, unsweaty and non-distressed for a mere 75 rupees. Having lived at a stretch in Chennai for 14 long years I still seem to be unequipped with ways to deal with the changes in the last 5. There are of course more one-ways, more flyovers and more ways to get to a certain destination... all of which I am unaware of. My little cousin asked me the route to Mount Road from some place... Normally I'd be able to give it in a jiffy... but with the changes in the public transport system and road routes, I was rather clueless and had to transfer the responsibility of the right answer to my dad who's become more Chennai-ite than I ever thought it was possible for a former Mumbai-ite to become. Then again, you probably adapt to things as they happen around you.. and to take it all in one gulp every trip isn't exactly like having mango juice... It takes a while... it maybe be bitter even if it is for the better and by the time you adjust, you're leaving the place and have much more to contend with the next time that you're back on vacation. I guess they don't say for nothing that "change is the only constant thing in life". Time to take it all in.