Saturday, December 31, 2005

A fresh start

It's already 2006 in India. About 12 more hours and I will march into 2006 too. Phew! Or rather, wow :-)!

2005 has been one fast year - it just sped by, whooosh! Some joy, some sorrow, some successes, some failures, some fulfillment, some disappointments - as in previous years, 2005 had them all. And yet another year in my life is going to be marked up and accounted for. I am a bit different from what I was a year go. For sure I am older. I hope I am wiser too...

2006? I dont know what it holds for me. Oh, I do have plans about what it should hold for me. But then, when was the last time any year went according to how I thought it should go? I have a list of things to do in 2006 (not resolutions, a to-do list only - resolutions will be broken :-)) - and will cross my fingers that at least some of them get done.

Nothing about me will have changed in the next 12 hours. I will still be me. But somehow a new year feels like a nice, new, clean slate to start scribbling on again. I have great hopes from the new scribbles :-D!

In the meantime, wishing you all a very wonderful, prosperous, exciting and successful new year 2006. Peace!

Updated: I thought the post looked dull without the customary picture. So added a picture of New Year tiara I got last night :-D!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Can't get it out of my head ...

... Keith Urban's You'll Think of Me.

I love that song - the lyrics, the singing, the music, everything! Especially the opening I woke this morning at 4.00am... before the refrain begins. If I had a chance, I would tape just that opening sequence alone and listen to it again and again. For the time being, I just have to wait for FM Star 101.3 to play it. And feel happy when it does come on!

Keith has got an amazing voice! And with that wonderful voice, he sings with great feeling. Sigh! Alright, I am a sucker for songs which sing of heart-break (another such song I love is Engey enathu kavithai from Kandukondein KanduKondein). In case you are wondering, no, listening to sad songs does not remind me of my heartbreaks. Nor do they make me sad. Just that somehow, I connect to some of those songs in some unexplainable way!

I had never heard of Keith Urban before. I heard this song and just had to find out who the singer was. Even now I have'nt gone out of my way to listen to any of his other songs. Right now, You'll think of me is enough to keep me mesmerized!

p.s. I found this site where you can listen to the song for free.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Chitti Chitti Bang Bang

When I decided to buy a car last year, I started off my search with great enthusiasm. After all, I was getting my very own car for the first time. Being a new licensee and under-aged insurance-wise, I decided to go for a second-hand car. So, I not only had to know what make (for me, it was either Honda or Toyota) I wanted, but also had to get familiar with other things like KBB value, VIN numbers, mileage and so forth.

Of course, I was extremely nervous about the whole process. My knowledge of cars extended (and still extends) to knowing how to get in, put the key in the ignition and drive. This being the case, I was a prime target for any car salesman who was interested in ripping people off. So I decided to only look at cars which were being sold privately. Somehow I trusted private sellers to not cheat me!

In prepartion to buying, I visited umpteen web-sites which advised people on buying secondhand cars. I also meticulously prepared notes about the questions had to ask any car-seller. I registered with Carfax to do checks on prospective cars based on the Vehicle Identification Numbers(VIN). Then I scoured Craigslist and Sulekha for used car ads.

Finally, I took the step of actually contacting sellers. The first car I looked at was a Honda Accord. I took two friends - M and V - along. M was to do the test-driving. V was simply the male figure-head. You see, I had read somewhere that, when buying cars, it is a good idea to take a guy along because the general perception is that a guy would know a lot more about cars and thus the seller will resist the temptation to cheat. That V did not even have a learner's license at that time was a secret between us ;-D!

So anyway, this car was a red-colored one. M drove the car and gave it a clean chit. The price wasn't bad. Still, I did not feel comfortable about settling for the first car I looked it and so acted all pricey and said that I would let the seller know of my decision later. After all, I reasoned, given that there are so many Toyotas and Hondas in the Bay Area, how hard could it be to line up other potentially buyable cars?

This was about the most incorrect assumption I had ever made in my life. Sure, there were plenty of Hondas and Toyotas being sold. However, there were an even greater number of buyers for these cars. Every night, I would look at used car ads and diligently make lists of prospective cars and send out mails asking for the VIN numbers. Then, as soon as I got the VIN numbers, I would run a check through Carfax. Then, if it was clean, I would call the buyer. Only to hear them happily say that the car was already sold. What the @#$%! As V put it, it looked like more used cars were being sold than new cars.

After a week of doing this, my patience and sanity was at an end. A week is not a very long time I agree - but for a person like me, who believes in worrying in style about everything, believe me, a week of worrying is a loooong time. When I slept, I dreamt of timing belts, VIN numbers and maintenance records. When I was awake I kept looking at all cars in the parking lots and wishing that I could drive away one of them after putting some money in the parking lot. And of course, all my conversations centered solely around *selfish* car sellers who sold their cars before I could take a look at them.

Towards the middle of the second week, I was well on my way to baldness after all the hair-pulling I was doing due to frustration. Then one Thursday noon (yeah, yeah, I had started car-hunting from work too), I spotted an ad for a Honda Civic. The owner said it was in good condition and there was just an email listed. I promptly sent my asking for VIN number mail and alerted M and V about the potential car. Fortunately both were free and the seller mailed back too. After getting a clean report from carfax, we went that evening for the formal car-seeing ceremony. As we approaced the seller's house, parked on the road, we saw a car which pretty much answered the description in the ad. However, it looked extremely new and shiny (the owner later said that he washed the car regularly and had also waxed it just the previous weekend).

Anyways, that was the car and we took it for a test drive. M said it drove well. V and I, having no other clue about the various aspects of automobiles, declared ourselves impressed by the looks. Then we huddled in close discussion - all three of us agreed that though the car was obviously a good one, we should haggle over the price. Come on, all the how to buy used cars articles had advised me to haggle over the price. Besides the quoted price was over my budget.

So I went up to the seller, D, and asked him a couple of my well-rehearsed "car-questions". Then started to haggle. Which was when he said that the price he quoted was below the KBB value and that there were at least 6 other people who had shown interest in the car (and based on my experiences of the past week, I knew he was not lying) and he wouldnt bring down the price by more than a 100 bucks. So I was in a dilema for a while - a good car, but over my budget, what to do? Then I thought about repeating the car-hunt process. Gulp! That clinched it - I decided to take the plunge! From that point, gurukul students couldn't have been more obedient. V, M and me just stood there, agreeing to whatever D said. Haggling - ha ha ha! We just stopped short of saying "Yes boss." to D!

After that, D turned out to be extremely helpful and assisted me through the entire process of completing the deal. There was just one other hitch after that. D had kindly agreed to take me to the DMV for registering my car. So, on the chosen day, D picked me up in the morning and we went to the DMV. All the forms were signed and all I had to do was pay the registration fee. I grandly whipped out my check-book. To my horror, I found out that I had no more empty check-leaves left. D stared at me in amazement. I badly wished that the earth would open up and swallow me. However, no such thing happened and I had to request D to take me back home to fetch my checks. D did not say much other than, "If it was my daughter, I would be lecturing her by now." and took me back home to fetch my checks and we went back to the DMV where I completed the process. I now always carry some spare checks apart from my check book.

I felt wonderful the day I got the car-title. I actually owned a car :-). And oh, I still drive my first car and yep, it is doing fine *touchwood* :-).

p.s. Chitti Chitti Bang Bang is the title of a movie which features a flying car. My car does not fly but I have always thought that the movie title was too cute and decided to use it here :-P!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A series of unrelated events

Event #1
Sometime back, around a month ago, a brainwave hit me. Some of my colleagues at work are good friends too. And I thought, why not get christmas gifts for them? The more I thought about it, the better I liked the idea. The cynical ones among you will say that I had fallen victim to the good ol' "'Tis the season" marketing. I must say I did feel I belonged to be doing some kind *christmas shopping* too. But more importantly I felt good about about getting a chance to show my appreciation to them for making my life so much more nicer at work!

So I went shopping. Getting gifts for the women-folk was easy. All women love cosmetics which pamper. For the men-folk, it was tougher. Finally I settled on chocolates and neutral things like coffee-mugs and photo frames. Then it was off shopping for the tissue-paper and the gift bags. Okay, I admit. I love the gift-buying, the gift-wrapping, in general, the works about the whole process of gift-giving.

I decided Wednesday would be the D-day to give the gifts - some people were taking Thursday off and Friday onwards, the holidays started. So on wednesday I left slightly early for work, sneaked my gift-bags in and left them on the various colleagues' desks. And returned to my desk with happy contentment. When my colleagues came in, they were pleasantly surprised! Ah, isn't it even more nice to give gifts when the recepient has not been expecting it at all?

And then came the surprise of the day! Some of those colleagues had decided to surprise me with x'mas gifts on the same day too!! And hey presto, there I was, getting gifts! Ah, isnt it lovely to get surprise gifts too :-)? Now I have a haul of chocolates, cosmetics etc. etc. to give me company during the holiday season!

Some of you might argue that the true beneficiaries are the giant corporations which encouraged us to exchange gifts in the first place. Hmm, maybe. But I confess - I feel good!


Event #2
You might have read my post on 20 random things about myself. Point #4 was reinforced recently. I had gone out for lunch with a couple of my colleagues to a restaurant called "The Fish Market." It was the first time that I was going there and I was curious about the food. I ordered a sole (as expected, fish was the main item on the menu) and after it arrived, I took a bite and declared it tasty.

Then I set to actually work on it. After a couple more bites, I decided that it really was very nice-tasting and looked up to see how my colleagues were doing. And there sat my colleague (and friend) P, looking at me with a huge grin on his face. And he said, "Were'nt you just thinking - 'do I really like it? Hmm, maybe. Let me try a bigger piece. Mmm, it actually tastes nice. Should I use the sauce. Yes, the sauce makes it better' - before you looked up?". I promise, I had not said a single word to anyone. Apparently my ultra-expressive face can be read like a book :-(! Now you know I what a terrible liar I would make.

Event #3
As Thursday evening approached, many of us at work were discussing our holiday plans. I casually remarked to my colleague C that I was going shopping on one of the days, probably to one of the factory outlet malls near my house. Then C asked me if I wanted to go to her house, further up north, instead? She said she could take me around shopping. Only thing was, I should get to her house early, as the parking lots at the mall got full pretty early. I hemmed and hawed a lot. I was supposed to meet her on Friday - and seriously, who wants to get up early on the first day of vacation? However, being a true-blue shopper, I finally decided to go. Besides, I have never spent time with any colleague outside of work before and I was curious to see how the experience would be.

Like a good girl, on Friday, I actually woke up early, drove the half hour to get to C's place and by 9.40a, we were off. I must tell you, there were pretty good shopping outlets near C's house. Have you seen a Ghirardelli chocolate outlet store before? Then there was an Old Navy outlet store too - with everything SO inexpensive! And lots of other stores too. And in spite of non-stop walking, we were having a wonderful time. I had thought that I should be back home by 4.00p at the latest.

How wrong was I? At 4.00p, we were in the theatre watching Memoirs of a Geisha. Then dinner. Then some more shopping. By the time I got back home, it was 9.45p! Though C and I yack a lot at work too, I dont think we have had so much fun together before!


Merry Christmas folks :-)!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Just how tall are you?

Going by Indian standards, I am tall for a girl. At least for my generation. Aaaaah, I feel a sharp pain to admit that I belong to an older generation. But when there are people who are walking the earth for the first time, 25 years after you did, it is time to accept that you are growing old. Anyways, mez always been tall for a girl.

I dont know exactly when, like in the Complan ads, I became a growing girl and started shooting up. I think it was around the time I was living in Calcutta. I like to blame my height on the enriched Ganga water in Calcutta. Whether the Ganga-jal washed away my sins or not, it did a great job in making me taaallll. I was soon too tall for my age. Some impertinent people even had the audacity to ask if I had flunked a couple of classes when they found that I was not studying in as high a grade as they had expected looking at my height. Hmph!

Anyways, when I returned to Chennai, I was invariably the tallest girl in all of my classes. Not that I minded too much - being tall meant that you couldn't be asked to sit in the front of the class and I happily stuck to the back-benches. However, when everyone around you is shorter than you, you kinda start sticking out like a sore thumb. So there was this phase when I used to try to withdraw my head into my neck like a tortoise hoping to look shorter.

And then all these Miss.World and Miss.Universe contests happened with our own Indian beauties winning the prizes. And, all these beauty queens were taller than me and suddenly it was cool to be a tall Indian girl. Not that it changed the height of the people around me. But at least I did not feel quite so odd about my height any more.

Then it was time to go to college. I had only been in all-girls schools right from fifth grade. My college was co-ed and I thought, finally, many of my classmates (the guys) would be taller than me. Surprise, surprise. Turns out that the average height of the Indian male wasn't as high as I thought! Sigh! So while I was no longer the tallest in my class, I was still well above the height average. I finally settled down to being referred to as the "tall" one throughout my life.

Then two things happened. My cousins started growing up. And growing up. And Growing Up! All of my younger boy cousins have long since towered past my height while my girl cousins are not far behind. Now, when I almost get a neck-sprain while looking up and talking to some of them, I wish I was taller.

The second thing that happened was my arrival in the US. Here, far from being considered tall, I am just about near the average height. Note, I am not talking about the East Asians here. When in a crowd of pucca Americans, I sometimes even feel tiny - heheheh!

Hmm, why did all this suddenly pop into my head? Well, the other day, while at work, I was walking down a corridor and was just about to turn a corner. One of my American colleagues, G, came around the corner, reading something. So he did not notice me and though I had stopped, I was pretty sure that he would walk into me. So I instinctively put my hands in front my face to avoid a total collision. Fortunately he too stopped on time and there was no collision. As I walked past G, I thought about my reaction. Normally, to avoid a collision, I put my hands in front of my body and not my face. Then why did I shield my face this time? The answer struck me. It was because right in front my face was where G's torso was. I only came up to G's neck. Bye-bye, tall girl! Welcome, shortie!

p.s. I have purposely not mentioned my actual height in the post. Height is relative :-).

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Small screen tasters

This morning I was watching one of those television ad programs for a product called "nicer-dicer". Now don't laugh! I do not have cable TV in my house and somehow I thought some Indian program was supposed to be on TV at that time - but apparently not. And I was too lazy to turn the TV off. Anyways, all that is besides the point.

So in that program, as is usual in paid advertising programs, there was the "dumb" person (a guy) who used ordinary knives to chop stuff and there was the "smart" nicer-dicer person (a lady) who used the nicer-dicer to help her in chopping. And the lady was educating the man on how to make cooking simpler. One of the sequences was "how to make salsa". So they chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and blah blah and hey presto, taaza-taaza, swadisht salsa was ready!

Then the guy that took out some tortilla chips, dipped it into the salsa, took a bite and went "Mmmmmm..." Now my question is, how is it that on every cooking show on television, whenever anyone tastes *any* dish, they always go "Mmmmmm". How is it that every dish made on TV always (supposedly) tastes wonderful, when in fact, some of the end results I have seen on some cooking shows looked downright repulsive. I am sure, on television, even if the taster is given hay topped with water, they would still appreciate it.

I would love to see at least one show where the taster spits out a bad-tasting dish with a nice "thoo". I would then know that they are finally being honest!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The bicycle thieves of Davis

My sister recently forwarded a nice article entitled The bicycle thieves of Oxbridge to me. It was a light-hearted account of the wide prevalence of bicycle thefts in Oxford and Cambridge. She had also added her own note that I should probably write about the bicycle thieves in Davis. And I thought, why not!

As I have mentioned elsewhere, Davis is a very bicycle-friendly city. Many people use bicycles for commuting and almost everyone owns a bike. Considering that almost everyone already had a bike, you would think that there would be minimal bike-thefts. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite. Bike thefts were extremely common. If you have lived in Davis for a year or more, you would definitely have had your bike stolen at least once. In fact, having a bike stolen was a sign that you had finally "arrived"!

When I landed in Davis, my senior friends warned me about the bike thefts. They had all arrived a year earlier and all five of them had lost at least one bike each. The stories of how their bikes got stolen were rather simple. One senior had parked her bike in the Amtrak station and gone to the bay area. When she came back two days later, there was no bike to be seen. Another senior had parked it outside the recreation hall. When he came out again after a game of badminton, his bike had disappaeared. And so all the stories went.

On hearing these accounts, like a wise soul, instead of investing in a new bike, I bought an old beat-up Schwinn bike for $20. It was a muddy brown in color with a very comfortable seat and till date, I have not spotted any other bike which has looked like it. I was sure no one would bother stealing an old bike like mine and bought the cheapest lock for locking it up. And then waited to see who in my batch would be the first to have their bike stolen.

It started off with A and D. Both had ridden on their bikes to the Memorial Union building where the food courts were. They parked their bikes outside and went in for lunch. When they came out again, A's bike was still there but D's bike was nowhere to be seen (Note, in all these stories, the bikes in question had been locked. A good bicycle thief does not get deterred by minor inconveniences like locks). D panicked big time and A calmed her dowm. They decided to walk around to make sure that D hadn't mistakenly forgotten where she had parked her bike. They were walking around thus when they spotted another student whizzing by them, riding a very familiar looking bike. It was D's bike!! So A and D both gave chase. When they caught up with the undergrad student, he did not protest and sheepishly admitted to having "borrowed" the bike. After giving the undergrad a lecture on honest living, D got back her bike and the story ended well.

Then came V's turn. He had parked his bike outside his house and the next morning, it was gone! V was pretty upset about having to walk back and forth from school till he could buy another bike. For a week he walked. Then one evening he decided to go to the rec hall to play volleyball. When he reached the rec hall, he was wistfully eyeing all the bikes parked outside when one bike caught his eye. It was his bike! Wow, the thief had actually parked it in front of the rec hall! But then, wait a minute, the bike was still locked with his lock ! And then it all came back to him. The evening on which his bike had supposedly got stolen, he had gone to the rec hall on his bike. On the way back, he got a ride back in friend's car and forgot completely about his bike left behind in the rec hall. Hence his conclusion that his bike had been stolen when he couldn't find it outside his apartment the next morning! V was so relieved that his bike was actually not stolen and happily rode it back home.Unfortunately, a week later, his bike got stolen. This time for real.

Another friend K was riding his third bike when I met him for the first time. For some reason, people always stole only the front wheel of each of his bikes. Since it was as expensive to buy a new wheel as it was to buy a whole secondhand bike, K was sincerely wholly replacing his mutilated bikes. That year saw him get his fourth bike. Someone had stolen his bike's front wheel again.

My favorite bike-theft story is the one involving V and A. V and A had gone to Vacaville, a city near Davis with lots of factory outlet stores. They were both planning to shop for their upcoming India-trips. Since India-shopping always involves buying lots of stuff, they decided to take A's bike on the bus so that they could hang shopping bags from the handlebars instead of carrying them from store to store. This idea worked well for some time. Finally, the inevitable happened. They came out of some store only to see that the bike was gone! A got thoroughly upset and gave V an earful for having come up with the brilliant idea of asking her to get her bike. V, to pacify her, decided to take a dekko around to see if he could spot the bike. He walked around for a bit. Finally he reached a huge dumpster. Parked docilely beside the huge piles of garbage, was A's bike!! A had always complained about the poor quality of her bike. That was the day we realized just how bad it actually was. A thief had dumped it!!

I still remember the day my bike got stolen. It was the afternoon of a Saturday and I was going to the lab to get some work done. It had rained that morning and as I biked to school, I saw a very beautiful rainbow. When I reached my department, I parked my bike, locked it and took another look at the rainbow before entering the building. When I emerged 3 hours later, it was dark and I looked at the rows of bikes on the bike racks. No sign of my bike. A second look still did not yield my bike. After some 15 minutes of walking up and down and not finding my bike, there was no doubt about it. My bike had been stolen :-(. I had finally arrived.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hello neighbor!

You'll never believe what happened today. In the evening, we had a false fire-alarm in my apartment complex. I heard the annoying siren sound and at first thought that something in my house had gone wrong. Then finding everything okay inside the house, I cautiously poked my head into the corridor outside my apartment. Sure enough, there were all the fire alarm bulbs flashing. No other head was peeking down the corridor though and I wasn't sure what to do.

In any case, being the extremely cautious person that I am, I quickly gathered my car keys, my house keys, my purse, my cell, a warm jacket and ran downstairs to join the other gathering residents. There was a desi guy in the crowd too. Something about him seemed very familiar and when he waved at me, recognition hit me. He was my classmate K from my undergrad! And both of us went, "Don't tell me you stay in this apartment complex too!" We had both been staying in the same building for more than a month and had never bumped into each other before.

Then I asked him which apartment he stayed in. Surprise, surprise. Remember my crib of about a month ago? The one about my loud upstairs neighbor whom I wanted to hit? Well, K is that neighbor!!! I burst out into laughter and before I could stop myself, went "Oh my God, you are the noisy upstairs Tamil guy!"

K was under the impression that he is the silent kind and refused to believe that he was so loud till I started reeling off his daily movements around his house based on what I can hear below! Now K has told me that he will consciously try to reduce the noise. The fact that I casually mentioned some of the suggestions I got on that previous post about calling cops might have had something to do with this declaration. I don't know for sure ;-).

What a coincidence! After all my complaints that I hardly ever bump accidentally into anyone I know in spite of living in a desi-hub like the bay area, I find someone I know in the same apartment complex, living in an apartment above my own. Funny or what?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Half century :-)!

Nopes, I am not talking about any accomplishment of the Indian Cricket Team. And no, I haven't turned 50 years old either. This is the 50th post on my blog :-))! I thought I should write something profound and thought-provoking to mark the occasion. However, since it is the evening of a moody Monday, I will just put up these goofy dancing numbers I found as a marker.

Oh no, they don't dance any more :-(! Oh well, looks like my numbers suffer from Monday syndrome too. Anyways, pat on the back to myself and heres to a lot more posts :-)!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The art of commuting

The other day, while I was driving to work in the morning, I was pretty surprised to see almost empty roads. Just me and a bunch of thinly scattered cars. Where was everyone? I quickly convinced myself that I hadn't set out to work on a weekend (believe me, I might forget my name, but I will not absentmindedly go to work on a weekend). Another memory scan showed that it was not a government holiday day either. Finally, I concluded that it was just one of those lucky low-traffic days.

When I reached the intersection where I cross one of the entrances to freeway US-101, I saw the "metering lights on" sign and wondered why on earth they would turn on the metering lights when there was no traffic whatsover. Then I tilted my head slightly to look at US-101 (which runs below the bridge I was on). Voila! There was all the traffic which had been missing on the roads near my house! And, there were around 12 cars lined up on that entry ramp alone waiting to merge into the almost immobile lines of vehicles which constituted the freeway traffic.

For the nth time in my life I felt smug that my commute to work everyday does not involve taking any freeway. My house is just 5 miles from work and even in heavy rush-hour traffic, I can get to work in under 15 minutes. Hallelujah!

For a person who loves travelling otherwise, I am strangely averse to spending long periods of time for daily commuting. So, since the time I have had to choose my own place to live, the distance between work/school and home has always been THE deciding factor in choosing apartments.

My first mode of transport, when I started attending school was the cycle-rickshaw. I used to be pretty clingy as a child and when I was in LKG I used to wave heart-rending good-byes to my mom every single day from the rickshaw. I often used to envy the kids who could simply walk to school and back. I assume I must have thought that having a home at a walkable distance would have made it way easier to run away from school to home mid-day :-D!!

Anyways my wishes were granted when I went to Calcutta in my 4th grade. My house was at a comfortable 15 minute walk from home - though, of course, I no longer entertained thoughts of running away from school mid-day. My dad used to accompany me to school every day till I got to the 5th grade - by then my sis and I were considered grown up enough to do the walk (involving one major road) by ourselves. The only problem was the terrible monsoon season. Torrential rainful ensured floods and we had to be extra careful to not fall into open man-holes. Otherwise, it was nice to be able to walk to and from school. of course, true to the longing for what we dont have, I used to envy the kids who took the bus to school everyday.

When I changed schools next, we had to take the bus! That was a whole lot of fun. Though these were public buses, at that time of the day, my school students used to frequent the buses the most. With our huge book-bags we used to constantly bump into other passengers, irritating them. A nice part was that a couple of my friends lived in the same route - so every morning we tried to sync up to make it to the same bus. Sometimes when the bus was late, the friend who lived farthest down the route would come by in an auto and pick us other people up on the way :-). At other times, I have gotten rides from teachers and once I even got a ride the priciple of the school!!

The next school had school-buses. As seniors, we had to take the earlier bus in the morning and the later bus in the evenings. I don't think I have ever spent so much time at school in my life! It was especially painful to adapt to especially since in my previous school, we used to work from 8.00a to 1.35p only everyday. We used to call the bus naai-vandi (dog van :-)) for the extremely barred-up windows that it had!

By this time I had experimented with all modes of transportation other than driving on my own. Somehow my parents were very convinced that two-wheelers were extremely dangerous and to date, I have never owned a two-wheeler :-(.

In college, my hostel was almost next door to my department. I soon perfected the art of waking up at 8.10a for a 8.30 class and still making it on time. For the two years in between, when I stayed at home, I threw a tantrum and got a bicycle for the short ride from home to my nearby college. My cute ladybird bicycle stopped being my dearest possession when I had a head-on collision with a motorcylist. I got all the sympathy in the world (in Chennai, in any accident, girls always get the sympathy) but the incident left a bad taste behind. The rest of college days went by in a flurry of chauffered car-rides, pillion-riding behind friends and walking around.

Once I got to the US, as I said in this post, it was back to bicycling. However, biking in winter, when it is cold, windy and raining must be the most horrible torture ever. Tha'ts when I rediscovered the joys of walking - there are certain times in life, when long-drawn but less painful beats swift but painful every time!! I think I discovered my love for walking then and even now, whenever possible, I try to walk instead of driving.

When I first started work, for various reasons, I did not want to buy a car. So the bus it was to get me to work. I spent an hour each way to cover the 3 miles between home and work. I used to have a book to give me company on the long ride. When reading especially interesting books, I actually used to long to get back on the bus again. I dont think I have ever caught up on my reading at quite the same rate again!!

Then of course, I got my car. It was really cool to have wheels - it opened up a whole new world which was not covered by bus routes! I still marvel at how on earth I used to get up at 6.10am every single day, rain or shine, to get my bus on time. Now of course, I no longer need to get up at crazy times any more. Considering that it used to take an hour earlier, even a half-hour commute from a place further away must seem like a snap. Still, I like staying close to work just so that I dont need to spend a long time commuting!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Save the trees !?!!

This morning I was paying the monthly bill for my SBC phone-DSL service on their website. Now, you might wonder why I need to pay for pathetic service like the kind I receive from SBC. But that is a whole different rant. Anyways, as soon as I logged onto their website, I was shown this big screen stating that I should switch to paperless bills. The page also said something about saving trees. My curiosity was piqued and I clicked the link. A cute screen with lots of cartoon trees popped up and asked me chose one of them. I chose a tree and a small note at the bottom displayed the tree's actual geographical coordinates and proudly proclaimed that it had been planted in October this year.

Wow! I was impressed. These people really meant what they said about saving trees. I thought I should sign up but did not as I could not find the link which confirmed that my switch would contribute to the tree-growth fund (which was what the cartoon trees were all about). The whole incident then slipped out of my mind.Till I returned home this evening.

I checked my postal mail-box as usual. A whole bunch of advertisement papers fell into my hands. After scanning through quickly to see if there were any envelopes caught in between, I tossed them all into the waste-basket without a second glance. Then it struck me. Wait a minute. I throw away bunches of useless paper away everyday and they seriously expect me to believe that my signing up to not receive the *two* papers that constitute my phone bill will save a forest?? I agree little drops of water make the ocean. But we are talking about a really miniscule drop in a really huge ocean.

If anyone is really serious about saving any kind of forest, the first thing to do would be to stop sending all these paper ads. Or at least send them only to people who are interested in receiving and reading them. The next thing would be to ban all credit card companies from mailing out offers. If I want a credit card, I will apply for one. A special ban must be put on the citicard group. I am not kidding - they sent me two credit card offers every week for a whole year. I have stopped receiving them recently only because they haven't located me yet at my new place. I have a lot more suggestions but the above-mentioned will be good for starters.

I doubt if any such ban will happen though. On one side all these self-righteous companies will urge to save two more pieces of paper and will plant trees. On the other side, a forest will vanish in less than the time it takes to say "tree" because some other company decided that everyone on earth has to be persuaded to own one of its credit cards. Is it just me or do others also feel that in a lot of cases, there is a lot of clean up done after the mess is made? Why not just stop making the mess in the first place? For example, why not just leave the tree as it is instead of turning it into paper first and then planting another tree in its place?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I don't know if it's the season or what. But suddenly a quote which I read about long long ago popped into my head. Here it is:

Practice random acts of kindness and sensless acts of beauty.

Some worthy called Adair Lara made this quote. I first read it in some article in the Reader's Digest. For some reason, it struck a deep chord in me and for sometime after that, I used to carry around a slip of paper with the quote on it in my pencil-case.

It feels wonderful to be at the giving end as well as the receiving end of an act of kindness, especially when it is least expected. A nice warm glow from within and your whole day looks up after that. Thinking back to those incidents makes me feel good again too!

Don't know why I thought about the quote. Don't know why I felt it necessary to write a about it. Only know that I should try to follow it from time to time.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I am 'It'!

Last week, Shilpa was very generous and tagged me. I am supposed to write twenty random things about myself. So here are twenty things you wanted to know about me and were too afraid to ask ;-)!

1. I am the ultimate book-worm. I can read almost anything. Once, in hostel, when I did not have any other book to read, I actually read the college calendar (containing rules and regulations, course-list, college statement etc. etc.) from cover to cover.

2. I love taking walks. Besides the exercise, it also serves as a cool way to ward off depression, confusion or anxiety.

3. My oldest brand-name (Titan) watch was bought for me by my parents in 1991. It still works and I use it!

4. My face is a color-coded, cross-referenced index of my mind. At any point, my face plainly shows what exactly is going through my mind. The more intense the emotion, the clearer the reflection. Unfortunately, I always assume this is not the case till I see the person across my reacting to something I was just thinking.

5. When I was small I was pretty sure that I would become a famous author one day.

6. I once won the first place in a drawing competition. This event happened in my 3rd standard and has never been repeated since.

7. I can't stand body odor. I am not thrilled with the over-perfumed either.

8. I have a thing for moisturizing and moisturizers. As per today's count I have enough stock of moisturizing lotion at home to last me till the summer of 2007. This does not include the opened bottles I have in every room of my house. My friends tell me that in case I am faced with some disaster situation, the first thing I will do is start using moisturizer. Apparently, my motto in life is, "even if I die, I shall die moisturized". The scary part is, I am not entirely sure myself that they are just joking.

9. I cannot snap my fingers to make the clicking noise. Somehow I missed learning it in childhood and in spite of many attempts by various people to teach me, I still cannot produce any sound by snapping my fingers together.

10. Similarly, I cannot whistle. But that hasn't stopped me from puckering my lips and blowing air through it from time to time in hopes of producing some sound.

11. I have never put up posters of any movie-star in any room I lived in.

12. I love drinking tea. In fact, I think I like the concept of drinking tea even more than actually drinking tea. How else can I explain the immediate craving for tea that I feel whenever I see even actors on television drinking tea??

13. Good weather makes me happy.

14. Corollary to the above: bad weather makes me irritable.

15. I don't like going to shows which feature performing animals. Somehow I always wind up picturing myself in the place of the performing animal and that image fills me with horror.

16. The word "sale" to me used to be like a red rag to a bull. Any shop displaying that magical word could count on me to join its list of shoppers. The alarming drain on my credit cards stopped when I realized that every store has some sale or the other every single day.

17. I was born with a phone attached to my ear. Given the right companion, I can talk for hours together on the phone. Nowadays though, I dont spend that much time on the phone anymore (hurrah for Cingular Wireless).

18. The first time I tasted wasabi, I felt like throwing up for a whole day afterwards. I have not touched wasabi since.

19. After reading The Da Vinci Code, my top place to visit has become the Louvre in France. The Louvre has pushed Switzerland to the second spot.

20. Thinking of the random things to make up this list has been one of the hardest things my brain has had to do recently.

To those who managed to make it to the end: Man, you really DO have it in you :-)! Now for the awards ceremony. I nominate Saranya and Spark to continue the tag.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Davis Ahoy!

My friend V and I are going to Davis this weekend. We are visiting our friends A, R and J. I always love going to Davis. After all Davis was my first home in the United States and I have had some really memorable experiences there. V, A, R, J and a bunch of other Davis friends are like my extended family. In the USA, when you are far away from home and your own family, your relationship with your friends takes on a whole new dimension. Although most of us are now scattered across USA, whenever we get back together its like we were never apart. When you have seen each other, among other things, grumpy, bad-tempered, angry, dishevelled, homesick, weepy, cranky and lived through it, the bond formed is for keeps.

Upon my insistence, we are going to take the Amtrak to Davis. Trains fascinate me! I think among my list of top 10 favorite activities, going on a train with my disc-man and a good book is right near the top. Travelling along with someone is also funnnn! I have already decided on the book (a P.G.Wodehouse) and the music (pleasant tamil music) that is going with me. What I am now worried about is the "punctuality" of V. V is legendary in our friends circle for his ability to arrive late for *any* event. The punctuality-freak that I am, I panic even more than normal people about missing planes/trains/buses, anything. I have already started threatening V with dire consequences if he fails to show up on time for the train we plan to take. Not that anybody's dire warnings have ever had any effect on V's punctuality! Oh well, what the heck - they have trains to Davis throughout the day!

TGIF folks :-))!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Of cakes and hostels

One of my favorite dialogues in the movie Dil Chahtha Hai happens when the trio of Saif, Aamir and Akshaye take Dimple to a restaurant to celebrate her bday. After the celebrations, Dimple thanks them for having come. To which Saif brushes aside the thanks and earnestly says, "Hum cake khaney ke liye kahin bhi ja sakthey hain." (We can go anywhere to eat cake). To appreciate the full humor of that dialogue, you should have been in hostel at least once in your life.

Students staying in a hostel are a perpetually hungry lot. The crummy food from the hostel "mess" can never satisfy anyone's appetite. And when you don't earn, you cannot afford luxuries like always going outside to eat. So anything which makes its appearance in the hostel and appears to be food-like is immediately up for grabs. I learnt this the hard way in the first year of my hostel-life.

My parents had just come down to visit me. After a few delightful days, it was time for them to leave. Hearing my sad stories of my under-nourished state, they bought me a whole collection of goodies to keep my company after their departure. It was a LOT of food and I was thrilled. In my excitement I rounded up friends, neighbors, people-in-the-corridors etc. and asked them to help themselves to the food when they felt like it and not feel shy about it. And with a glow of contentment, I left for my classes. When I returned in the evening, of my huge food-bag I could see no signs. All I could find was a big bag with one last measly half-finished bag of snacks left in it! My friends and neighbors had taken me at my word and finished *everything*!

Lesson #1: Unless you really want to finish off all your snacks in one go in the hostel (if you are a sane hosteller, you will not be having any such desire) do not broadcast that you have food in your room to the whole wide world.

Having been brought up to believe that every day should feature at least three square meals, I was initially upset to find that some of the days I simply couldn't eat breakfast because the food was too tasteless. On such days I had to drink the white colored water (oopz, milk) that was a part of the breakfast and rush to my classes. But slowly I realized that it was a privilege to be able to miss the sorry semia kichdi and the atom-bomb like idlis.

Lesson #2: Bread can become your all time favorite breakfast item. I used to simply love the bread-kurma combination that we got on Friday mornings!

After my first year in the hostel, I got the chance to shift back home - only to return back to hostel in my final year. The first few days were a traumatic re-introduction to the hostel food. I remember that one of my day-scholar friends, A (bless her), brought me lunch from her house *every day* for a week till I was ready for the hostel food. But being a senior in the hostel has its own fun. I knew many people in the hostel, the resident tutor liked me and my gang of friends and we had the run of the hostel. When the food was horrible, we could laugh about it - when it was good, we had contests to see who could eat more. I remember that my friend P once ate a baker's dozen (13 slices) of bread in one go :-))! On another occasion, when the dosa and sambhar tasted exceptionally good, we had dinner for a whole 2 hours...

Lesson #3: Even hostel food can taste very good at times.

Most birthdays had midnight-parties arranged by the friends of the bday girl. These parties typically consisted of cutting cake, chatting and then dancing to the latest hit tamil/hindi songs. The cutting cake part always attracted the biggest crowd. Being of a shy nature, I initially went to a bday party only if I knew the bday-girl. However, as the year went by, I lost my inhibitions. I think the lowest point came when I attended the bday party of a junior. I think I had spoken two words to her till that point. Add the "happy birthday" and it was a total of four words. Nevertheless, me and my roomies joined the thronging crowd and lustily sang "happy birthday" and got our share of the cake.

Lesson #4: Hum cake khaney ke liye kahin bhi ja saktey hain!

Now you know why I laugh especially hard whenever I see that scene in DCH :-D!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Things I learnt this Thanksgiving

* on Thanksgiving day, you can park your car right in front of an airport terminal for more than 20 minutes without anyone chasing you away.

* it is possible to have fun with your classmates whom you have never spoken with before when you meet them 4 years after leaving your undergrad college.

* you can bump into someone you really did not want to meet and can do nothing about it other than laugh.

* you can get stuck with carrying an umbrella around for the entire day just because it rained briefly for the few minutes you did not have the said umbrella.

* it is possible for girls to embark on a day of sightseeing and manage to squeeze in an hour of clothes-shopping on the way.

* taking a bus to see the view from Coit tower is a nice way to look smug as the bus whizzes past harried drivers of cars waiting for a parking space.

* the above said Coit tower has a view, no doubt. But no other country would have charged $3.75 a person to see that view.

* Ocean Beach in San Francisco must be a beautiful place in daylight. However during the night of a cold late November evening, it has the potential to freeze off the tip of your nose.

* Some un-informed decisions can force you to travel the entire breadth of San Francisco by bus - only to buy stale bagels at Safeway and return back to the starting point.

* Flights which arrive in San Jose can depart from San Francisco. It is possible to buy your tickets without realizing this.

* During winter, it is a good idea to stay in the sunlit spot of the lake while pedal-boating.

* It is possible to get lost while driving in a place where you have spent 2 years of your life.

* Playing mini golf in the winter season can have similar effects like visiting Ocean Beach. Only difference is that your fingers freeze off instead.

* It is possible for a low amount traffic to go at only 70mph (speed-limit 65mph) on US-101. Apparently cops handing out tickets like Santa Clauses with early christmas presents puts a dent on the speeding instincts of the driving public!

* Learning all of the above with friends is a WHOLE lot of fun!!

My thanksgiving holiday was just great :-D!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Left or Right?

When I first came to the US in 2001, I adjusted surprisingly fast to living in an "alien" land. This could be attributed to the fact that Davis is the very definition of a university town - a population majorly consisting of students from various corners of the world, a safe environment, a small but self-contained city. It also helped a lot that Davis is located in the liberal state of California - the demographic diversity made sure that I never felt like a "foreigner" from day one.

However, one thing which took a lot of getting used to was driving on the right side of the road as opposed to the left side of the road as is practised in India. Normally this shouldn't have mattered a lot - I was just a student then and driving a car was a distant dream. And no one cares really where you walk.

However Davis, besides being an university town, was a city of bicycles - meaning that almost everyone relied upon bicycles as the primary means of transport. I had to get a bike too if I did not want to wear out my feet due to constant walking. So I bought a bike. In spite of not having rode a bike for some time, I did manage to get around okay. Other than one problem. When I rode a bike, for some reason, I always rode it on the sidewalk. On the left side of the road. I think it created some illusion of being in India! Anyways, I kept this up for almost 2 weeks after which an old guy standing on the sidewalk treated me to such a delightful collection of choice expletives that I got shocked into riding on the road again. So I was forced to constantly remind myself to keep to the right side of the road.

One day, about a month after my arrival in Davis, I was riding to the my department from my apartment. The route was fairly straightforward. To turn into the lane leading to my department, I had to go around a small triangular island and turn left. I usually used to do this correctly. However, that particular day, I was feeling lazy and decided to take a "short-cut". Instead of going around the divider, I just biked over to the left side of the road and continued on the left side for the short distance before I had to turn left. Suddenly I heard a ear-piercing whistle behind me and turned around to see a bike-cop (yes, Davis had cops specially for monitoring bicycle users). Gulp! The cop asked me if I was an international student. I dumbly nodded. Then he asked me if I knew that I was on the wrong side of the road. I tried to look as innocent as possible and said that I thought I was on the wrong side and would he please forgive me.

The cop then continued to state that I could be fined $93 (aaaarghhh) for the violation that I had just committed and he was letting me go since I was a new international student but I better watch out or he would definitely fine me the next time. Then he let me go. I promptly got on my bike and continued to pedal on the left side of the road. The bike cop blew his whistle again and I told him smartly that since it was just a matter of a couple of feet, I would just continue on the left side. I think this was when the bike cop would have really loved to give me the biggest ticket possible. Instead he managed to only grit his teeth and tell me that I had to go around the island if I did not want a ticket! This time I did go on the right side!

Now I realize that it wasn't very smart of me to ride on the left side in the first place. And even less smart to be cheeky to a cop! In any case, I found out from the seniors later that if a bike cop accosted you at the beginning of any quarter, you could always feign ignorance due to being a new "international" student and get away with it most of the time! Sometimes being a "foreigner" helps ;-)!

From the days of mistaking left and right, nowadays I have the exact reverse problem. Whenever I go to India, for the first few days, anticipating an accident, I always close my eyes when people drive me on the left side!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Black Tickets

Unlike the US where you have to just go back home disappointed when the seats are sold out for the movie you *so* wanted to watch, Indian theatres always give you a back up. If you are willing to cough up a premium over the price of a regular ticket, there are people who will be able to get you the tickets even though the movie is officially "sold out". Essentially these people sell illegal "black" tickets. Movie theatres claim that they dont encourage black ticket hawkers - but sometimes, the way the tickets are suspiciously sold out even if you arrive 2 hours before a big-name movie, you wonder (this has been happening long before the days of online booking).

When I was doing my undergrad, for me, black-tickets were a big no-no. Shelling out extra money to watch a movie was a bit too extravagant for me. Till the year 2000 rolled around. That was the year the movie Alaipayuthey got released. I have always been a big Maniratnam fan and I have to watch any movie of his in the theatre. My friend V and I decided to go to the theatre a few days after the movie's release. My cousins, K and S were visiting me at that time and my mom decided to send them as escorts (hahaha, my cousins were around 10 years old that time) for the both of us to watch the movie.

So, keeping in mind the popularity of the movie, the four of us arrived a good 2 hours before the movie started - only to see a big "SOLD OUT" sign. But of all the people who must have bought all those tickets, there was no sign. However, there were a whole bunch of characters who looked suspiciously like black ticket hawkers who were eyeing us greedily. As soon as we turned away from the ticket booth, with disappointed looks on our faces, all these characters made a beeline us. The current going rate for first class tickets was 50 rupees per ticket instead of the usual 40 rupees. V and me were scandalized. Black tickets??? Never!! Hmph, did they think we were fools?

And then we looked at each other again. Maniratnam movie. With a hero who apparently looked very cute. And we had come all the way to the theatre with so much excitement. After all what is an extra 10 rupees per ticket. We can always make up for it later. So gulping back our guilt, we asked for 4 tickets and paid the extra 10 rupees/ticket premium. I also gave my cousins a little lecture about how silence was golden and how they were not supposed to breath a word about black tickets once we got back home.

As the movie started, V and I hoped that the movie would justify the extra cost.Oh, it did and how! For starters, Madhavan looked extreeeemely cute (hehe, I have been waiting to put up this picture of Maddy somewhere ;-)). The story was lighthearted and told in an interesting manner. The music was wonderful and the picturization of some of the songs was breathtaking. When the movie ended both of us had difficulty taking our eyes from the screen. My cousins werent as impressed but they enjoyed the movie too. As we walked out of the theatre and V and I were discussing about what a total paisa-vasool movie Alaipayuthey was. And we reminded my cousins once again about the mouth-shut policy as far as the black tickets were concerned.

So, of course, as soon as I got home, K and S ran inside the house, loudly proclaiming, "Archu akka bought black tickets. We saw a movie with black tickets!" Grr! So much for silence is golden.

Alaipayuthey was the first movie I saw with black tickets. After that, I saw a few more high-demand movies with black tickets before I came to the US. Its been quite some time since I last bought black tickets though...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

So on Friday last week, my friend V and I decided on the spur of the moment to watch Harry Potter on the day of its release itself (yesterday, November 18). Emails were sent out and finally 4 of us booked tickets online to go to the 10.30p show on the day of release. After that, the week went by slowly but yesterday went by fast in anticipation of watching the movie. I really like the books and though the movies always disappointment me, I always watch them (at least to complain about them ;-))!

On movie night (yesterday), V and me decided to go in one car to save car-parking space and at 8.15p set out for having dinner first and then going to the theatre. The plan was to be at the theatre at 9.30p itself in order to stand in line for a good seat (WHY on earth do American theatres not issue seat numbers in tickets like in India is totally beyond me).

We reached the theatre complex at 8.30p itself and were gloating about finding super seats due to our early arrival when we noticed that there were about a dozen cars ahead of us all trying to find parking. V confidently said that there were always parking spaces at the back of the theatre and drove there. And guess what, there were no spaces there either and in fact some cars were parked in spaces which looked suspiciously illegal. At 8.45p we were still in the car trying to find a space. At 8.50p I was fast losing hope of finding a parking space before the movie started. Finally at 9.00p we found a spot - eeeeehaaaaw :-)! Quicky we parked the car, grabbed burgers and gobbled them and then ran to stand in the line.

And what a serpentine line it turned out to be. It was only 9.20p and there were already a million people (I am not kidding) ahead of us in the line for the 10.30p show. The other friends watching the movie had also arrived and we stood in the line commenting about the pointlessness of having arrived early for finding a good seat.

However, thankfully, the queue behind us grew and grew too. The whole area had a carnival-like atmosphere. Some people were wearing black robes similar to the Hogwarts uniform and a couple of them were wearing witch hats. All of them seemed to be discussing Harry Potter and time flew by. Around 10.00p we were somewhere just beyond the half way point in the line and I jokingly predicted that we would find 4 seats together but we would be sitting either in the 2nd or the 3rd row from the screen. Around 10.10p they started letting us in and the whole crowd moved into the theatre. From the way the people thronged, I had the feeling that I was going for darshan in Tirupathi or entering the 'Swarga vaasal'!!

And we entered the theatre. Lo and behold, for all our efforts at having stood in line an hour and 10 minutes early, we found places which were four rows away from the screen. Hmph! But at least they were together and in the middle (and as a bonus I could feel smug at having made an almost correct prediction) and the location actually wasnt too bad. Anyways people still kept pouring in and eventually there were people who couldn't find seats. The theatre management came in and asked people to squeeze in and not leave free seats in between. After they did this some four times, everyone found seats!

Everyone was chattering excitedly and even the trailers received enthusiastic applause. I enjoyed the atmosphere tremendously and felt that regardless of how the movie turned out to be, being a part of this crowd would still make up for the long search for parking and the long wait in the queue!

When the movie started, there were whistles and hoots all around. The only thing missing were the paper- rockets! It was almost equivalent to watching a major-star movie in Chennai! The movie, as expected, was nowhere as good as the book. However, it was fast-paced. Non HP-fans would not have been able to follow the plot too well though. And a lot of liberties were taken with the flow of the story to allow for screen adaptation. But it did make decent entertainment and I liked it better than HP-1 and HP-2 (which were sooooo slow that I thought I would fall asleep half-way).

Final verdict? Trying watching it before the excitement dies down - I think most of the charm of the movie came from watching it with fellow HP fans!

Some other "interesting" events that happened yesterday:

We witnessed a fight between two car owners about a parking spot and it almost resulted in one guy hitting the other guy. After our not so nice experience with finding parking I totally sympathised with the would-be hitter!

To confirm that we were going to stand in the correct line, I asked a person standing in the line if it was the line for the 10.30p show. The person replied that he had no clue and he was standing there just waiting for us. My puzzlement at this strange statement turned to embarassment when I realized that the person was actually one of the friends we were meeting up and whom I hadnt recognized due to his new hair style!!!

There were a lot of cops around - presumably to control the crowd if it got unruly. But as far as I know, all they had to do was walk around looking serious...

And this isnt an event. But what was up with those ugly Yule-ball costumes that the Patil twins wore in the movie?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Childhood Stories - #1

Yeah, usually I don't number my post-titles but I think I might come up with more stories as I remember them.

Though my immediate family is small, I have a pretty crowded extended family consisting of aunts, uncles and cousins. We often have family get-togethers and since childhood, these get-togethers were always the highlights of any holiday season. When all the families could make it, there were almost a dozen of us children (note, all the offspring of the uncles and aunts are termed 'children' irrespective of the age while all the uncles and aunts are termed 'adults'). My sister and I hover somewhere among the oldest kids in the list and so, from the time we were around 5 and 7, we got the younger kids pressed into our charge.

Baby-sitting your younger cousins is not exactly an easy task. However, creative as we were, we came up with different ways of entertaining the younger kids and ourselves also. One of the popular ways of entertainment was to host "programmes" entirely written, directed, produced and acted by us. These programmes could be anything from dramas and dances to fashion shows and interviews. The cast always exclusively featured all the cousins with the props, costumes and accessories being borrowed from whichever house we were staying in at the time. The audience was made up of the very appreciative adults (not surprising, considering that the performers featured their own children). Of course, putting up programmes meant rehearsals and many a happy afternoon went by with all of us enthusiastically practising our various parts.

I can still remember the very first "programme" we put up. We were just starting out with the concept of hosting programmes and it had still not burgeoned into our later day repertoire consisting of plays, dances and games. The only item on the first programme was a skit. It featured four of us - all between the ages of 2-9. We wouldn't have featured the 2-year-old but for the fact that the script called for a child and we were rather shorthanded then.

Anyways, I do not remember the actual plot of the play. But among its cast, it featured a mom, a child and a Goddess. Now, the bulk of the dialogues were handled by the the more senior kids. All that the two-year-old had to do was: state in a sad voice "Mummy, I feel hungry". Our rehearsals on- the morning of the performance went off well. The actual performance was to be held in the noon, after lunch.

So after lunch, all the adults assembled in the drawing room to watch the play while we kids got into our respective costumes and trooped to the make-shift stage. The play had a few minor glitches but was pretty much proceeding along the expected lines. Then came the time for my 2-year-old-cousin, K, to say his line. And we waited. And waited. But K was as silent as a tombstone. Finally, I (who was playing K's stage-mom) hissed in a low voice to K, "Mummy, I feel hungry." Then K looked up at me and said in a voice loud enough for the whole room to hear,"But I am not hungry. I just had lunch!" and ran off to his real mom!! Upon this declaration, the whole audience was in splits and it was sometime before order could be restored.

Needless to say our first programme was a super-duper hit ;-)! We hosted a lot more performances after that. Each of it had its own share of bloopers but this first one was *the* most memorable one!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Of the 1,685,188 people who stay in my city...

...the one person who becomes my upstairs neighbor is the person

* who thinks talking loudly on his phone at 1.00a in the night is entertainment.
* who thinks jumping up and down on his bed as he talks so that his bed squeaks is fun.
* who does not think that the above two activities will wake up his poor neighbor (me :-( ) sleeping in the room below in the apartment downstairs.

Aaaaaargh! I really wanted to stand on my bed and and poke a hole in the ceiling just so I could hit this moron on the head with something. Fortunately I moved to the futon in the hall before my baser instincts prevailed. If I fall asleep at work today, I know who to blame! Some people...grr X-(!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Fall Colors

I took these pictures of fall colors standing on my patio. People from the East Coast will probably ask what fall colors and then point at their computer screens and start laughing. But hey, this is California and I did not even have to step out of my house to see these lovely colors!

This tree is located right across my patio. I can see it from the drawing room.

These trees line one side of the road when I look out northwest from my house:

When I was small, I read in my geography text books that there are four seasons in a year: spring, summer, autumn and winter. However, in Chennai, all I got to see was summer and what may be loosely referred to as winter. Of course, flowers bloomed and leaves fell in Chennai too - but there was never a very obvious distinction between the seasons. So I always used to wonder when this mysterious spring and autumn happened - till I came to the US.

Finally I understand that the a year is divided into different seasons because there are distinctions between them and not simply because some geographer thought that it would be good fun to name every group of three months differently! And I also understand that sometimes my Geography text books taught me stuff which was not really relevant to the place I was living in!

Of course, California has a short spring/fall as compared to other places. Still, I like seeing the transition between seasons (as I like doing the clothes-shopping which I feel is necessary to welcome each season ;-)).

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Dil Ka Rishta

One of the songs that cropped up on the Raaga non-stop channels was from the movie Dil ka Rishta and it stirred up memories. Its been a long time since I wrote a detailed movie review and Dil Ka Rishta really deserves one. In case you are searching your memory to remember when in the recent past such a movie get released, don't! It got released some three years ago and I had the "good" fortune of seeing this movie with a bunch of friends. Actually this is not a review per se. For all the people who missed this gem, I am chronicling some of the more brilliant sequences of the movie. Here goes!

Dil Ka Rishta is a total family enterprise from the Ash Rai family. Mom Vrinda has penned the script, bro Aditya produced the movie and obviously, it stars Ash. You are never allowed to forgot the last piece of info throughout the movie.

Ash is a teacher at a deaf and dumb school for children. The school organizes a charity program to raise money and Arjun Rampal is one of the invitees. Normally, when a school for deaf and dumb children holds a charity program, you would expect the children to feature in it. Right? Wrong! Instead we have "teacher" Ash Rai dancing on a stage surrounded by a whole bunch of hunky guys. Anyways, this performance results in Arjun promptly falling in love with Ash.

Then comes the twist - Ash is already happily married to Priyanshu Forgot-the-last-name and they also have a baby. On discovering this, poor Arjun does exactly what rejected Bollywood heroes do - he starts drinking. One night he drowns his sorrows in a little too much drink before driving and accidentally rams into a car. This particular car unfortunately carries Ash and Priyanshu returning from a party and bam! Priyanshu dies in the accident while Ash loses her memory. In case you had missed all the umpteen closeups of Ash so far and thought that this movie was not produced by her family, in the overturned car, they show the "dead" Priyanshu behind a close-up of Ash. Come on guys, be fair! Usually even extras get shown in solo-close-ups when they "die".

Anyways, the scene shifts to the hospital. Ash has just woken up and everyone (Ash's mother (the screen one, not the real one), Ash's baby, Arjun and his dad (Paresh Rawal)) is there. Now the doctor makes the great pronouncement: Ash cannot be subjected to more shock and hence nothing shocking should be told her. So only the fact that she has a mom is revealed to her (I swear, the scene had a solemn looking doctor telling Ash's mom "We have told your daughter with great difficulty that you are her mom. We cannot tell her anything else.") while the fact that she has a kid and that she is a widow is conveniently not told to her.

In the mean time, Arjun and Paresh Rawal are suffering big-time guilt pangs.You would think that Arjun would be doing his suffering in jail for man-slaughter. But apparently this accident took place in a world without cops and Arjun suffers only conscience pangs. Well, the father-son duo come up with the idea that Ash requires a change of scene to recover (hmm, did I not say earlier that she had loss of memory? So even the place she is in currently shd be a change of scene for her right? Oh well!) and so, since all other locations have become too commonplace in Bollywood, off to South Africa they fly.

Now the presence of the kid is explained to Ash by stating that it is Arjun's kid! And that Arjun's wife died in some accident. So Ash starts looking after the kid. Then she also starts slowly falling in love with Arjun. In between all these hapenings, Ash, her mom and Arjun go to a fair. There they meet one of those future-reading gypsies. In a scene which is apparently supposed to rend your heart, Ash tells the gypsy "Everyone comes to ask you about their futures. But poor sad me has come to ask you about my past" and utters a sob. Dear Ash, when I want to know about my past, I usually ask my mother. Why don't you also try asking your mom, who incidentally is with you all the time? Maybe losing her memory also took away her common sense.

So, well, Ash falls more and more in love with Arjun and Arjun cannot accept her as he feels guilty. Ash's mom also does not approve of her daughter marrying a murderer (smart mom). Then comes the next heart-rending moment. Paresh Rawal sends two boxes to Ash's mom stating that she must choose one future for her daughter. One contains a red bridal saree and the other *thunder-claps in the background* a white widow's saree. The mom looks at them and thinks that it is better for Ash to marry murderer Arjun than remain a widow. Ahem, did all unmarried men in the world other than Arjun die? Well, apparently in this movie's world they died and so Ash's mom accepts the idea of Ash marrying Arjun.

But Arjun still feels guilty. After a series of events, which finally culminates in the entire cast standing at the top of a mountain, Arjun reveals to Ash that she was married, that his kid is actually her kid and that he killed her former husband. What does Ash do? Scream? Slap Arjun? Swear to never see him again? Kill him? No! Instead she utters the best dialogue to ever make it to the movie-dialogues Hall of Fame "Oh, my husband was meant to die at that time. If you hadnt killed him, he would have anyway died some other way. Its not your fault." and accepts him!!!! Duh!! And thus ended the movie.

To say we were speechless at this last pearl of wisdom would be an understatement. Actually we were too busy rolling on the floor with laughter to say anything. Finally one of my friends gasped, "Next they will throw the child over the mountain and tell 'oh, the child was meant to die at this time anyway. So does'nt matter that we threw it over the mountain.'" For a long time after seeing this movie we used this dialogue to justify any action which was questionable!

The one good thing about the movie was Arjun Rampal. He looked real good. So the girl-viewers at least got some value for money. However Ash was very annoying with a horrible fake smile. Towards the end of the movie, even our staunch-Ash-fan male friends were asking her to shut up whenever she smiled. I wonder how Vrinda Rai could have kept a straight face while penning those imbecilic dialogues. Or maybe they really sounded like great stuff to her. We will never know.

Final verdict? Watch *only* in the company of commenting friends!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Smell for thought

Here is something to mull over. I recently read that in order for us to smell something, actual molecules of the thing we are smelling need to enter our nose. I did not know that! I mean, I knew that our nose interacted with the source of the smell in some way - but I did not imagine the connection would be quite so close as this. Interesting, huh?

Now, try to not remember this the next time you smell the spoilt milk or the stinky socks or the garbage or the ...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Je ne parle pas le Francais*

I have always been fascinated by the French language and it was a long-standing desire of mine to learn it. When I was a kid I used to read umpteen Enid Blyton school stories taking place in English boarding schools. All of them invariably featured a French mistress often lapsing into French dialogues, which I really wanted to understand but could not. Little bits of French in some of the classics and in Agatha Christie novels made my resolution to learn French and understand what exactly the characters were talking about only stronger.

The first chance to turn my dream into reality came when I began my 11th grade. I had the option of choosing French as my second language. I almost did, but at the last minute decided that during the so-called "life-deciding" years of 11th and 12th, it was better to stick to the known devil, Hindi. And so the opportunity slipped through my fingers and my dreams of learning French were put into cold storage.

Fast forward seven years. I was now doing my masters and was about to begin my second year. I had already finished taking all the required courses and so, in the Fall quarter I had to just handle my TA and my thesis. When the Fall quarter registration began, I went through the schedule of classes to find out if there were any interesting extracurricular courses I could take. And my eyes fell upon "Elementary French - Level 1". Here, finally, was the opportunity I had been waiting for all my life! I immediately enrolled in it and awaited the first class with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

The classes were to be held five days a week, just after lunch. For my very first class, in spite of my best efforts, I landed up a little late in class (my sense of direction is pretty pathetic and I used to get lost *every time* I had to go to a new building on campus). I quietly entered the class and slunk into a seat at the back of the class. The instructor, who looked very French, had written something in French on the board and was handing out the course syllabus, also completely in French. And to top it all, she chattered constantly in French. The unfairness of it all struck me. Here I was, attending a course ostensibly called "Elementary French" - and level one at that and there the instructor was, thinking, at least from the way she refused to use any English, that we were all French pundits. Whats more, while I gazed dumbly at the instructor, unable to comprehend anything of what she was saying, the rest of the class intelligently responded to her questions with either a "oui" (which, even with my almost non-existent French knowledge I knew meant "yes") or a "non" ("no").

Feeling more and more foolish as the minutes ticked by, I perked up when I finally heard English. The instructor, in broken English, asked "How many of you took French Level 1 here?". And I thought, "Level 1? Isnt this class level 1?" and closely examined my copy of the syllabus. And there it was, among all the French, two glimmering words: "Level 2". I had mistakenly come to the Level 2 French class instead of the Level 1 class which was why I couldn't understand anything! Relief flooded over me - I was'nt that dumb after all! Of course, after that, gathering all my belongings and getting out of the class ASAP was with me the work of an instant. I went back to my lab and re-checked my registration. Sure enough, I had registered for Elementary French - Level 2 by mistake.

After this harrowing experience, I thought of giving up the French-learning madness. However, I was still bitten enough by the French bug to feel that I ought to give a shot at attending the right class. So, once again, the next day, after lunch, it was time to go to class. This time around, my friend R, who did not find any other more interesting thing to do till his noon lab meeting, decided to sit through the French class with me. We both set off and again were late. Unfortunately for us, all the seats except the two at the very front of the class were taken. We both marched to it and sat down.

This class was slightly better - I could understand bits and pieces of what was happening. The instructor, a guy from a French-speaking part of Africa, still used a lot of French. But at least he interpsersed them with English phrases which was good. What was not good was the fact that R and me were right under his nose and hence got way too much attention. Considering that we knew almost nothing it was pretty embarassing.

The instructor made the class recite the entire French alphabet. Till date, I cannot say either the French "e" or the "u" properly. And guess which letter of the alphabet the instructor wanted me to say loudly so that the whole class could hear? Of course, "e". I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself into it. After a while, thinking we had sufficient practice with the pronounciation, the instructor called on various students and asked them to spell out their names. R was eventually picked on. With great confidence, in a clear, bell-like voice, R solemnly spelt his name,"R-S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z". There was stunned silence for a moment and then the whole class dissolved into laughter. What R had done was spell his name using the perfect English pronounciation while what the instructor had obviously meant was that R had to use the French prounciation. R and I looked at each other and burst into laughter too.

I dont remember too much of how the rest of the class went other than the fact that I spent most of it with my head buried into my notebook, trying desperately to stiffle my giggles. I have this habit of laughing when things go way beyond my comprehension and this really was one incomprehensible affair.

This time, when I returned from the class, I had very serious misgivings about the whole enterprise.I almost dropped the course. Then my friend M (who knows French), told me that French was not as hard as I made it out to be and strongly advised me to give a shot at learning it. I heeded her advice. The rest of the quarter turned out not be so bad after all. Initially, I went to my instructor's office hours to get extra coaching. It helped a lot, even though the instructor, for some reason, insisted on calling me "Anshara"! I also took genuine interest in learning and even picked up reference books from the library. Eventually, the whole thing went so good that I wound up taking Elementary French Level 2 the next quarter. Yes, this time I too could follow the instructor!

Maintenant, je parle le Francais! A little only - but still, yes, now I can speak French :-)!

* Je ne parle pas le Francais = I do not speak French

Monday, November 07, 2005

I got it, I got it!

Yippee, finally got DSL back at home! Wireless network is all setup too and I am now posting from the comfort of my home :-). Woo hoo, here I go!

Er...I can't think of anything worthwhile to say now. Gulp!

Oh well, good night folks!

Either this or that

Once upon a time, long long ago, when I used to have DSL ALL THE TIME at my house, I did not find the mood or the time to blog. Now, when I am full of blogging beans, I cannot find the the DSL to blog from home. SBC-Yahoo, I am going to sue you for smothering my creative instincts.

Friday, November 04, 2005


My new neighborhood has about a gazillion schools. So, on the rare mornings that I leave for work before 8.00a, I see lots of kids proceeding to school. Looking at school-going kids always brings feelings of nostalgia and longing. Sometimes, I think I would like to do what I consider "real" homework (the kind where you write down stuff in notebooks and submit it to a teacher for correction) again. Sometimes, I even miss cramming at the last minute to get through exams! But most of all, I miss wearing school uniforms.

I have always been fascinated by uniforms (which explains why I like looking at all the folks (guys especially ;-)) who belong to our Armed forces). I like the smart look it instantly imparts to the wearer. Any place with a group of people wearing similar clothes immediately acquires a new respect from the viewer. Of course, a uniform quells individuality. Obviously. Else we would be calling it un-uniform, right? But I think the charm of a uniform lies in the uniformity!

I went to 5 different schools before I finished 12th grade. Every time my dad got transferred, boom! It was a new school and, hopefully, a new uniform. For me, one of the more cheerful side-effects of joining a new school was the chance to try out a new uniform. Unfortunately, most of the schools I went to had the standard white shirt with navy blue skirt and buckled black shoes ensemble. Some of them also threw in a navy blue tie and a badge for good measure. It beats me to this day as to why we had to have that noose, oopz tie, around our necks. Of course it made us look smart. But given the choice between looking smart and not slowly choking to death on a hot summer day, I think we would have chosen not choking every time. But of course, wearing a tie was the RULE - when we did not wear one, we had to pay a fine.

The first time I had a sweater as a part of the uniform was when I got to study in Calcutta (it had not yet become Kolkata back then). Calcutta has pretty severe winters when temperatures go down to about 3 - 4C. Most of my Calcuttan friends had a good collection of winter clothes, unlike yours truly who had one sweater which was bought during the family trip to Kodaikanal. Mercifully, due to the uniform concept, all of us had to wear sweaters of the same color - a smart navy blue for the junior school and bright red for the senior school. Red colored sweaters for everyone? As you might have guessed, we looked like an army of post-boxes during winter! And to add insult to injury, the red sweater went with a peacock-blue colored skirt for the senior school. You can imagine how "dashing" I must have looked. Actor Ramarajan could have borrowed some color tips from whoever came up with the combination. I think that was the "pakki-est" uniform I ever wore.

The uniform I liked the best was for the school I studied at in Chennai. They had a very lovely shade of blue and white as the uniform colors - a white shirt with a blue pinafore over it and a belt. I like wearing pinafores - no fuss, easy to maintain and looks good on most girls. That was also the last uniform I got to wear before I entered the grown-up world of college where we all could express our own individual selves by dressing up as we pleased.

I remember that most of the schools had a uniform different from the regular one, usually all white, to be worn on one day (usually Monday) of the week. Invariably, every week, a few students would forget about this and turn up in the regular uniform on that one day and earn the wrath of the teachers and the sniggers of fellow students. Cases of students wearing the special uniform on regular days also happened, but not as frequently. Regardless, all of us went to school wearing uniform clothes only. When we were in lower grades, some of the schools allowed us to wear "color-dress" on one day of the year - on our birthdays. I used to await my birthday with great excitement every year just so I could skip wearing the uniform for a day!

I sometimes feel sorry for the school-kids I see here in the U.S. because they have never been introduced to the concept of wearing uniforms to school everyday. For me, a uniform confers school-going status on a child - there is something really endearing about watching uniformed kids on their way to school. Among the list of things I would like to do if I can ever go backwards in time is to be able to wear a uniform and go to school again. I think I might even settle for the peacock-blue uniform.