Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another vacation, another wedding and am back

Did I say that the vacation to India for my wedding was my busiest holiday ever? Now I realize that I said that because I had not yet taken a vacation to attend my sister's wedding!

Sis got married on Dec 11th to Deepak (congrats again :-)). S and me landed up in des during thanksgiving weekend (just in time for the engagement) and are back after a hectic whirlwind two-and-a-half week vacation. Wedding was ton of fun and we had a blast at all the the pre and post wedding events. Only, I re-realized that Indian weddings involve an insane of amount of getting up eaaaaaaarly. So much so both S and me actually slept quite a bit on the plane back to the US (that is definitely a record for cannot-sleep-in-a-seated-position me). Now I need a vacation for my vacation.

Being in India made me realize all over again just how wonderful it is to be around close family and how much fun it is to participate in family activities. I also figured that after living all these years in the US, India is still the only place which feels like home to me. Super good thing, if you ask me!

I am going to be spending the next few weeks dreaming of des. And also spend the next few weekends and long weekends sleeping.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Unnai pol oruvan - the review.

Since my movie reviews usually only dis movies, I thought I should write about a movie I liked for a change. Even seeing two Tamil movies in the recent past and getting mega bulbs in the bargain could not stop S and me from heading out to watch the latest Kamal Haasan movie, Unnai Pol Oruvan. Both of us are Kamal fans after all!

I learnt that this movie was a remake of A Wednesday! which was released sometime last year. This was a further plus for Unnai Pol Oruvan since I had heard many positive reviews for A Wednesday!

We reached the theatre and bought tickets. S rushed ahead to get good seats. Right. The theatre had an audience of two viz. S and yours truly. Mercifully some more people showed up as movie starting time approached thus dispelling our fears that the entire show would be canceled thanks to lack of an audience!

The movie started on time. From the beginning, a fast pace was set for the movie with every scene bringing anticipation of what next. No unnecessary scenes or songs. The movie's locations fluctuated between a total of less than half a dozen places but still managed to hold attention.

After intermission, the pace picked up further till the climax. I liked it, especially the speech at the end. I am specifically holding back details - I really think you ought to watch it yourself!

When the ending credits rolled, it was only slightly past the 2-hour mark. What a crisp and neatly made movie! Each frame of the movie contributed in someway towards moving it forward. The acting overall was quite good (though Kamal's accented English jarred a bit at times).

Thoughts provoked by the movie's ending speech were under discussion between S and me all the way back home. Its been quite a while since a Tamil movie did that.

Final verdict: go watch.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Benefits of blogging - updated again

Did you know there is a country by the name of Saint Kitts And Nevis? I did not but now I do and what's more, my blog had a visitor from there today!

Ever since one of my posts got linked here (before you jump to conclusions, a long while back Blogger had a link where we could submit posts from our blog which narrated some experience we had with blogger or something like that - I told you it was long ago, right? Anyways, I had no idea on what basis they picked posts but mine got picked somehow), I have been receiving one-post-stand visitors from all over the world.

So, now here is yet another benefit of blogging: you get to brush up your Geography :-).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Kandaswamy - the Review

Sridhar (henceforth known as S in this blog) and I decided to see the tamil movie Kandaswamy today. Since we had already seen one Tamil movie based on a positive recommendation (false, as it turned out to be) and gotten a mega-watt bulb, I was kind of wary about going to see this movie in the theatre especially since S said that the movie had gotten not so great reviews. But S wanted to be a true-blue Tam and see the movie in the theatre anyways.

We went for the 3.30pm, late noon show. As events later showed, that was probably the best decision with regards to the movie we made today. The movie started. After a series of events in the movie, a police officer steals money from a poor woman and is resting in his room at night. All of a sudden, this character wearing billowy black colored harem pants, a black full-hand shirt with big metallic buttons, gigantic bat-like wings with colorful markings, reddish-orange feathers on head and a red eye-mask (no, am not making any of this up - I don't have such a fertile imagination) descends from the roof and starts clucking like a hen while bobbing his head up and down to look like one too.

At this point, I assumed that this was the new-age punishment for wrong-doers - make them die of laughter. Instead the police officer on screen actually gets intimidated and scared. To be fair to the director, the red-masked character does deliver a few bodily punches between clucking. Still I could not wrap my head around the "hen laying an egg" act performed by the red-masked character. Who, by the way, was the hero - Vikram.

By now, my poor self was sadly drooping at the thought of sitting through the entire movie. Which was when I suddenly perked up. I excitedly turned to S and said "Hey, I got my idea for a blog post - this movie's review". With this happy thought in mind, I resumed watching the movie in a slightly happier frame of mind.

So, where was I? Ah yes, the hen act. Anyways, apparently the latest fad in the Superman, Batman, Spiderman series is Henman. Seriously, I wonder what Vikram was smoking when he agreed to appear on the big screen in that role.

Then the heroine, Shriya, appears. She studies in this college which looks like a harem-themed casino in Vegas. Correspondingly she participates in a college-dance show which looks like a Victoria's Secret model lingerie parade. I know masala movies require suspension of belief but this one required us to not only suspend belief but also expel it.

Anyways, the story is something along the lines of Henman robbing the rich and giving to the poor. In between, Henman performs this series of matrix stunts while bobbing his head up and down. What about Shriya you ask.

Well, when normal people need entertainment they watch a movie, go for a play or some such. When Henman needs entertainment, he goes to visit Shriya whereupon they immediately break into song and dance (I kid you not, every time they met, there was a song and nothing else).

The movie was proceeding along these lines when I realized that it had run for quite a while and there was still no sign of an interval. I anxiously asked S why the interval had not arrived yet. He consolingly said that since this was the US, there was no interval. I doubtfully nodded my head - Indian movies did have an interval even in the US.

Then around the 2 hour mark, the interval sign popped up. WTH!?! To revive our flagging spirits, we bought popcorn (easily the best part of the entire experience) and returned to the theatre. From that point, the movie dragged on and on. Obviously the director (who is also the screenplay, story and dialog writer) was so much in love with his masterpiece that he couldn't bear to conclude it.

By this time, S and I were having our own far more interesting parallel commentary for the movie. We could no longer follow what was going on in the movie and frankly, we couldn't care less. Finally, at long last, the end flashed. At 7.15pm. For a movie which began at 3.30pm. We were out of the theatre like a shot (only the fact that wehad paid $15 a head made us stay for that long). As we passed the crowd waiting to see the 7.30pm show, we giggled conspiratorially. The poor sods!

On the plus side, the look and feel of the movie was top notch. On the minus side, um, everything else.

Verdict: Recommend this movie to people you don't like. You yourself stay away from it like the plague. Even renting out the DVD is a bit much.

p.s.1. Just to clarify, Vikram's character's name in this movie is Kandaswamy, not Henman.

p.s.2. Good thing we went for the noon show. Like S said, we would have been far more irritated had we lost sleep due to going for a later show.

p.s.3. Vikram, dude, you are established enough to pick the movies you want to act in. Just thought I should remind you.

p.s.4. This movie is hitting Bollywood soon as 'Bhagwaan Kand'.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Anybody there?

Hola folks! After a long-ish break, perhaps the longest one on this blog thus far, I am back. And this time round I have a water-tight excuse as to why I could not blog: I was too busy. Okay, okay, stop rolling eyes! I was too busy because I was in India. That's better, no? But wait, it gets even better. While I was there *drum rolls*... I got married :-D!

Yup, Sridhar and I got hitched on the 24th of June, 2009 in Chennai. The weeks preceding and succeeding it were a huge blur of activity - I don't think I have ever been more busy in my life. But I we had a great time.

This is the first week that I am back in normal operation since our return (though, sadly enough, my work-brain has been forced to be on full alert for quite a while now).

Now, if all this isn't a good enough excuse, I would like to know what is :-D! But fear not gentle readers, I will certainly be more regular from now on.

Sunday, June 07, 2009


The other day we were supposed to go to a conference in San Francisco from work. As I have said before, I *hate* driving in San Francisco and invariably take the Caltrain followed by SF Muni buses/trams whenever I want to visit SF. However, after lot of discussion, my colleague and I discovered that taking the Caltrain involved getting up at some unearthly hour if we had to make it to the conference on time. So, driving it was - sigh :-(! My colleague said she would get her GPS but I said, "Hmm - okay! I will also get printouts of the directions."

Now in this world where using GPS is the fast becoming the de facto standard and paper maps are slowly becoming extinct, I am still stoutly refusing to buy a GPS and am clinging to paper maps with a vengeance.

This is not because I hate trees and using paper maps is my insidious way of trying to destroy them. Just that, since the time I started driving and using maps to find my way around, my sense of direction has improved. A lot. This might not seem like a big deal to most of you, but not so at all to me!

I was a directionally challenged child. I would have to visit any place at least half a dozen times before the way to get there would get impressed upon my brain (and note here, I am not even talking about long distances, I am talking about stuff like "how to get to the library from my classroom"). Not surprisingly, I grew up to be a directionally challenged teenager and a directionally challenged young adult too.

Some of you may be thinking, "Ah, but everyone loses their way from time to time...."

Okay, beat this:

- When we moved to a small town near Trichy, we moved into a colony which had exactly two streets. On the way back from school the first day, I promptly turned into the street in which my house was *not* located. A neighbor (who knew that new folks had arrived in the colony - it was a small town, didn't I say?) kindly directed me down the right street.

- In the first week of grad school I trailed like a lost puppy behind two other new grad students who were temporarily put up in the same apartment complex as me because I could not figure out how to get back home from school. Don't get me started on the different kinds of grad orientation programs I was utterly uninterested in and yet had to attend because I did not know how to go home by myself!

- Within a span of five days in the same grad school mentioned above I asked for directions to the administrative building when standing right in front of it, behind it and beside it. Yup, with campus map in hand too.

- When I visited my parents for the first time in their new home, the first morning, I made the wrong turn while trying to get to the kitchen (before you get ideas about palatial mansions, this is a normal apartment)

So anyways, the point here is, if there was any way to get lost getting somewhere, you could count on me to get lost. Hence anytime I had to visit an unknown place, I asked for several landmarks/street-names etc to make getting there idiot-proof. I had more or less resolved myself to spending a lifetime of memorizing copious directions.

Then I started driving. Initially I had nightmares about getting lost along with a car. Then I noticed a strange thing. As if by magic, my sense of direction started improving. Not by leaps and bounds but certainly very much in the forwardly direction. Perhaps it was because, for the first time in my life, I was consciously noticing where I was going.

First I started recognizing which streets were parallel/perpendicular to each other. Then when getting back from an unknown place, I could pull out the reverse directions from memory. Then I could tell which freeways intersected with each other and whether to go north or south (east or west) to get to that intersection.

The pinnacle of progress (for me) was reached when I managed to guide my friends to spots around San Diego with only a normal AAA map to help me. A stellar achievement when you consider that just a couple of years earlier, my superior navigational powers made my friend drive about 15 miles in the direction opposite to Disneyland in LA.

All this is not to say that now I can get around the world with only a compass in my hand. I can't. For that matter I doubt I will be able to get around my city with only a compass in hand. But if I make a wrong turn now I can mostly figure out how to get back to the starting point and start afresh. I can also make intelligent guesses about where something is located. Which is not quite so grand in the big scale of things - but which nevertheless gives me a cheap thrill when I am right.

Ah - so where was I? GPS. Ya - the reason why I don't want a GPS is, I don't want it to dumb me down all over again and undo all my progress in recent years. I want to use my brain to do the work. Agreed that printing directions off Yahoo maps and driving to a place is not exactly a Mensa challenge but it still requires more work and direction sense than having a random female intone "Turn left in 0.3 miles".

So yup, I am not going to hop onto the GPS wagon as long as I can stand it out.

Image from here.

Friday, May 22, 2009


So you know how nowadays many weddings offer free on-site mehendi drawing to guests in one of the many the pre-wedding functions. Last year, I spotted one such mehendi artist at my cousin's wedding and promptly went and showed my hand. I got a minimalistic but cute design done across the back of my palm. I was hardly done crowing over its prettiness when a friend promptly managed to smudge it. Giving him a glare which could have melted the Himalayas, I got it corrected by the mehendi artist. Then the clarion call sounded for dinner.

Of course nothing stands between Archana and her food and I was well at the front of the line for the sumptuous buffet spread. I was making my way through getting servings of the yummy dishes, safeguarding my mehendi decorated hand, when a young guy appeared out of nowhere and rudely pushed his way in ahead of me without so much as a muttered 'Excuse me'.

I was startled and annoyed but there was nothing I could do and I proceeded down the line after him. A bit later, when I glanced at my hand to re-admire the mehendi design, I got a shock when I realized that pretty much all of it had been rubbed away. Darn - that rude person had spoilt my mehendi - grrrrr!

I was ready to get all upset and direct my angry gaze upon rude guy when I spotted him and realized that most of the mehendi on my hand had transferred itself to the sleeve of his shirt. Which, till a few minutes earlier, had been a nice milky white.

FOr a moment I was filled with guilt but glee took over almost immediately. Retribution - ha! Since I spread word to my cousins I had plenty of spies to report exactly when rude guy realized that his shirt sleeve now had new designer patterns on it and was also able to note his expression. That would teach you to not cut lines, dude!

It is so true, that old jungle saying: "Never mess with the mehendi on a woman's hands or you will be sorry."

Image courtesy here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fact for the day - 2

Celery eaten as Cream of Celery soup with (important!) a side of toasted sourdough bread is actually quite palatable. Even though each serving has quite a generous quantity of celery in it. I still am not a celery fan though and will think twice before stocking up my fridge with celery again.

Soup made by yours truly. Not so the bread.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A happy ending

Have you heard this saying which goes, only the child which cries gets milk meaning that unless you make a fuss, you are most probably not going to get noticed?

Well, I learnt that for myself today. Two days after I wrote my mighty annoyed post about the misleading cancellation policy at 24-hour fitness, I found a message on my answering machine from a Jennifer at 24-hour fitness who wanted to discuss my troubles with the cancellation policy. With a slight dawning of hope, I tried calling her the next day, but got her voice mail repeatedly.

This morning, I tried her number yet again and voila, she answered. As soon as I said my name, she recognized me immediately and even before I could say anything, she said that they would not be charging me for the month of May because I felt so strongly about it (duh, I bet other people who were forced to pay up in a similar way would have felt quite so strongly about it too). And since the last month was paid for, I could continue to use the gym till June. In other words, everything would work out exactly how I wanted it to in the first place!!

I reiterated to her that the gym employees had given me misleading information about the cancellation policy and Jennifer said that it was "mis-communication" and in any case I would not be charged for May. Hip hip hooray!

I don't know whether this one-eighty degree change in attitude happened due to their pity for my whining or because they thought I was going to take some action against them. In any case, I am pretty sure I *would* have been charged had I not expressed my "strong" indignation.

Ya, so the child which cries does not get to pay useless fees too.

Also, people who want to become members at 24-hour fitness can now do so if you promise me to whine nice and strong if you see any sign of ripping off :-).

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A too green thumb

A couple of weeks back, the green bug bit me yet again and I went and bought a whole bunch of plants for my patio garden. Among my planting ambitions was growing coriander from seeds. According to the directions on the packet in which the seeds came, the seedlings would sprout within two weeks. So I planted the seeds in a pot along with planting the other plants (tomato, capsicum, Thai chilli, egg plant and two flowering plants - california poppy and geraniums - ambitious, ambitious, I know!).

Me being a very protective and caring plant "mother", I began every morning by watering my plants assiduously. However, after more than one and a half weeks, there was absolutely no sign of any activity in the coriander pot though the other plants seemed to be doing okay - touch wood.

Then one day last week I was discussing with a colleague at work about plants and she mentioned that it was watering day for her plants. Huh - watering day? Isn't *every* day watering day? And she said, "Oh no, though I drench the soil completely when I water my plants, I water them once a week only". I doubtfully asked her if her plants did not wilt and die due to this neglect. She replied that they were doing fine and in fact an avid gardener friend of hers had told her that once a week was plenty enough water unless it was very hot weather.

Hmm. Hardening my heart, I decided to neglect my "babies" and decided to keep the watering jug away the next morning. The next evening, my skeptical self was surprised to find that the all the plants looked fine in spite of not getting any water in the morning.

The day after that that, I once again skipped the watering. Later that day, late noon, I stepped into my patio to see how my plants were doing. Surprise, surprise, not one, not two but six seedlings had popped out of the coriander pot!
O boy, I had been drowning the poor seeds all the previous days and no wonder they could not put their heads up! What's more, my tomato plant had grown two more new branches, all the other plants had put forth lots of new leaves too.

Meanwhile I had consulted the Google God. Yup, more people kill their plants by anbu thollai* a.k.a over watering than by under-watering! And there was no need to water plants as long as the top one inch of soil had moisture in it.


Oh well, you live and you learn. Here's to hoping my darling plants will not be the guinea pigs for too many experiments!

*anbu thollai roughly translates to trouble brought on by too much love.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The shameless fraudsters a.k.a 24 Hour Fitness

A couple of months ago, I was forced to join a gym in spite of not liking gyms much because one of the classes at my beloved community recreation center got canceled and I could not find a suitable replacement for it.

In spite of some initial disputes with them(never ignore warning signs), I wound up signing a month-to-month contract at 24 Hour Fitness as it is conveniently located. Now, being the ever vigilant exerciser, I had read plenty of reviews online for 24 hour Fitness. Almost all of them sounded upset about 24 hour Fitness's cancellation policy. Apparently you would invariable be charged for one extra month after cancellation.

I decided to be extra careful and asked about the cancellation policy during sign up and was told that it would be no problem at all, I would simply have to cancel before my credit card got charged and I would have terminated the membership from then on. That sounded reasonable.

While signing up, I was charged the last month's fee too along with the first month's. I made a reminder for myself to call up to cancel my membership in May first week since I did not want to go to the gym from June and since the last month was already paid for, I would not have to pay for May. So far so good.

So today I called up the 24 Hour Fitness people and the operator there coolly informed me that I would be charged for one more month and since I had already paid for the last month, my membership would be active till July! I explained that since I had already paid the last month's dues, there was no reason to charge me for the month of May - they could use for my last month's paid fees for the month of May.

Then this idiot tells me "Oh, we have a 30 day cancellation policy". Well, if that was the case, I did want to cancel in June only but was giving him a 30 day advance notice by informing him in May! But apparently the prepaid last month's dues were some kind of Gandhi-kanakku* which was in some limbo-world where it could not be included as fees for the 30 day notice period.

I asked him why and he said that the payment request would have already been sent to my credit card company though the billing date is 8 days from now. I found this explanation ridiculous as any idiot knows that credit company's will *very* easily stop payment requests even two days before the due date.

So I asked him if it is was okay that I called up my credit card company to stop the payment if they found it so difficult to do it themselves. He said okay. Now this sounded too easy but since I did not have an option, I just got a cancellation confirmation number and hung up.

Then I called up my credit card company and they tell me that they cannot stop a payment request unless it comes from the requester, in this case, 24 Hour Fitness, itself - however I could dispute the charge once it was processed. Okaaaaaaaaaaay.

Since I wasn't sure what would happen in case of a disputed charge, I did a quick google search for other user cancellation experiences with 24-hour Fitness and was stunned by the number of complaint stories which showed up. The crux of the matter was 24 hour Fitness is well known for ripping off cancelling customers and has also been involved in a resultant class action suit which resulted in settlement with the plaintiffs.

Quite a few people had faced the exact same scenario that I have. And here is the rub, if users disputed the charge, in some case, 24 Hour Fitness came after them with collection agencies!!!! WTH!! Obviously, I don't want that to happen and now I am being initmidated into ponying up for a service I am not going to use. Aarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

I am so irritated right now. Their cancellation policy is extortionist in the first place - fine! At least, shouldn't they take the time to explain it to new members especially when they specifically ask for it? Or is this the way that 24 Hour Fitness makes money - by duping people? What kind of horrible corporate ethical business practice standards do they have?

I know one thing for sure, from June, I am never going to go back there again. I am also going to actively persuade people I know to consider other gymming options before they choose this big fraud dump.

Now I am seriously worried since there were quite a few people on the web who had stories where 24 Hour Fitness continued to charge them for months after they had cancelled their membership and had collection agencies come after them when they refused to pay it! I really hope I am not one of them and my relationship with this fraud-house ends permanently in June. Good riddance.

*Gandhi kanakku literally translates to Gandhi's account. Essentially it is equivalent to throwing money down a drain.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fact for the day

Raw celery eaten by itself tastes horrible. Yuckkkk! I am so glad I am not a super model.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Of videos and video stores

Between the ages of 8-11, I spent three years in Calcutta when my banker dad was posted there. Those were the good old days when DD was the only channel that came on TV. In Calcutta, most of the programs on DD were broadcast in Bengali.

My family's knowledge of Bengali extended to saying "I don't know Bengali" in Bengali. Thus, we used to wait with great eagerness for the very few Hindi and English programs which were broadcast: Ramayana (later Mahabharata), World this Week, Giant Robot (o boy, my sis and I used to *love* this show in spite of being able to predict exactly how the story would go - alien monster attacks city, baffled police unable to contain it, police let loose Giant Robot, Giant Robot vanquishes monster, everyone cheers- only the appearance of the monster changed from week to week), He-man cartoons etc. etc.

But this still precluded watching any show in Tamil but for the odd Tamil song or two which used to pop up in the national integration song show (forgot the name) and the odd Tamil movie (usually from the period immediately after the silent movie era) which showed up once in a blue moon as the DD Sunday movie.

Enter the VCR. In Calcutta we stayed in the Lake Market area. This area had quite a sizable Tamilian population and hence it was fairly easy to locate Tamil magazines, vegetables, you name it. The area also had a video store which rented out the latest Tamil movies. I even remember the name of the store - Balaji Videos. Most weekends, we rented Tamil movies/ song shows/ dramas etc. to watch during the time we were at home.

We also rented Hindi and English movies to watch. We watched almost all the Shammi Kapoor movies as everyone in my family liked him. We also watched a lot of old English movies as my dad was fond of them and both dad and mom has fond memories of watching them as newly weds. Oftentimes, Dad would remember the name of a good English movie and it would be on the rental list for the next weekend.

Sometimes, we managed to exhaust our weekend supply of movies rather fast. Then, my sister and I would make the 15 minute trip (by walk) to the video store to pick up some movie. Usually other than our desire to watch a movie trumping our desire to crib about the walk, these trips passed off uneventfully.

Once, my dad told the name of a movie about a shipwreck which had a rather unique name. Sis and I carefully memorized it and set off. On the way we got engrossed in other conversation and when we reached the store and went up to the counter to request the movie, we realized that neither of us could recall the movie's name other than the fact that it started with a P. Uh-oh, now what!

So we both racked our brains and finally concluded that the movie we were looking for was "Pobsbion Journey". Now this did sound like a funny name for a movie but then, hey, we did remember it was a weird name. So we both confidentally strode up to the counter and asked for "Pobsbion Journey". The video store guy had never heard of such a movie and asked us if that was indeed the movie name. Not the ones to lose face, we both said, "Yes, it is!" Seeing that the conversation was going nowhere, we asked if we could use the store phone to call our dad to confirm the movie name.

Mercifully, the store guy said okay. We called up home and asked my surprised dad, "What movie did you say you wanted, daddy?"

Dad said, "Poseidon Adventure*. Why, did you forget?"

"Oh no, no, just confirming".

With that we shamefacedly went back to the video store guy and asked for the movie "Poseidon Adventure", which turned out to be very readily available!

You would think this incident would have made us more careful in the future about writing down the movie name before heading out. No way! We were way too smart for that. That's how I once wound up asking for the movie "Kelavan" (meaning old man in Tamil) when my dad had asked for the Hindi movie "Caravan". Sigh, I never learn, do I?

There are a few other movie-name mistakes too, but I think this will do now!

* Obviously, not the 2006 version of the movie.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Technology ki jai ho

Have you folks seen this video clip from Britain's Got Talent show, yet? If not, please, please, please do:


Isn't it amazing? I actually got goosebumps on my skin when I heard her sing the first bar!

I saw the video for the first time about a bunch of days back when it was linked on the popular India Uncut blog. Since then everywhere I turn, I seem to be seeing news about this lady. First, it was all over the internet news sites and blogs. Then, this morning, while at the gym (yup, no cable so no TV watching at home), I saw a news clip on CNN in the morning news about the sensation Susan Boyle has caused!

I have obviously never met her, but Susan Boyle comes across as a very optimistic, upbeat and sweet person. Since the time I saw the video I am rooting for her. Everytime I hear or read something positive about her, the voice inside my head goes "yaaay"!

When I saw the news on CNN this morning, it struck me all over again as to just how much technology has helped us in shrinking our world. Ten years ago I am very sure I would have never heard about Susan Boyle and quite probably neither would have any person living outside of Britain. Now all it takes for me is a few clicks to find out not only who the person is but also what the sang and how they sang it! Wow!

Really - information overload is sometimes sweeeeeeeet!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mahabharata's hidden cast

So the other day I was getting my monthly Hollywood entertainment news fix. As a rule, this is done when getting my monthly indulgence pedicure (mmmmmhhhh). However, this time round, I found myself in a waiting lounge with more than an hour to kill and a fairly recent issue of People magazine nestling in the waiting room literature.

I have heard (and seen) that some westerners feel that any vague information they know related to India makes them a minor authority on exotic/spiritual a.k.a Indian stuff. With such folks, it usually becomes fairly obvious that this exotic knowledge extends to hearing of the name Gandhi or attending yoga classes or seeing *one* made-for-an-international-audience Indian movie. Usually I just smile indulgently when I come across such examples.

But this comment from Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (no, I don't know him from Adam and frankly, I don't care either - I just memorized his name so I could make fun of him *evil grin*) I read in the magazine made me giggle uncontrollably. Basically various celebrities were asked about books they had liked. Our hero had to be different and make this thoroughly enlightened remark:

"The Mahabharata. It's pretty extraordinary. It includes the ultimate symbols of romance, like Emperor Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal for his wife."
Dude, while I do agree that the Mahabharata is filled with countless main characters, side characters and sides for the side characters, to the best of my belief and knowledge, Emperor Shah Jahan, his wife and the Taj Mahal very definitely do not feature in the cast. Thank you.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Status update

I know there are at least two people who *will* read this blog irrespective of what I write in it: 1. Mommy dearest 2. SK. At least they have promised so. So I shall assume they do and keep up my word of trying to post at least once a week.

So, what have I been upto?

- I have officially gotten green tea mania. All efforts by parents/friends to make me drink green tea the past few years have resulted in me going, "Yuck, this so tastes like boiled green leaves" except when I am downing it with Chinese or Japanese food. But a few weeks ago I got sudden inspiration (I read plenty of great things about green tea, which I have read before too - but the stars aligned that day) to inculcate green tea into my daily diet. The first few days were torture - I had to mask the taste of the tea with other condiments and had to force myself to gulp it down while scrunching up my face in a very unladylike manner. But soon the tasted started to grow on me. Believe it or not folks, I have now given up on my morning and noon-time coffee and replaced it with green tea and drink at least three cups a day - yaay! Now whether this change is actually having any effect on my health is completely debatable. At any rate, I feel highly virtuous when I thumb my nose at the coffee pot while passing it in the kitchen!

- This crazy California weather is driving me crazy. Some nights start out warm only to turn extremely cold by day break. Other nights start out cold and become all warm and cozy by day break. Since I am too intent upon sleeping to either pull on another comforter or take one off the huge pile on top of me, I wind either shivering or sweating on most mornings. Aaaaaargh!

- Adjusting to the day light savings time change this year was a breeze. I had a class to go to on the morning of the DST change and hence could not sleep in and had to get up per the adjusted time. Thus I did not have to experience the shock of finding the time ahead of what I had expected it to be all day. After 7 years of going through DST change, I finally realize that all I had needed to not feel grumpy when DST began was to get up by the adjusted DST clock as soon as it changed. Oh well, better late than never!

- Never buy that big bag of spinach from Costco unless you have to feed a family of 10 adults. Seriously, that bag is like an akshaya-patram - never ending. I have eaten enough spinach in the past one week to turn me into a green-hued human being. Yet I still have more than one third of the bag left to finish. I think I am going to take the advice of my colleagues and boil and freeze the rest of it for future use to avoid automatic gag-reflex at the sight of spinach.

- Everyone should invest some money in the stock-market and/or join some kind of fitness program just so they have something to talk about at the office lunch hour. These topics provide an inexhaustible source of conversation and also help tremendously in redirecting conversation when it starts heading towards details of how little Munna/Chutki/Poppins celebrated their birthday or starts a "my kid is smarter/is naugtier/eats worse than yours" contest.

- I really ought to come up with better topics for a blog post. I think I have caught a particularly virulent strain of writer's block. Get well soon to me!

Monday, March 02, 2009


It has been raining and pouring in California for the past few weeks. Not continuously but often enough. However news reports continue to insist that California is still not out of the drought danger red-zone. So I am stoically bearing all the rain instead of whining about it (so noble, I know!).

Surprisingly enough, the weather is no longer that cold. No need to turn on the heater or bury myself under 3 comforters at night. I can even make short trips outside with just a t-shirt and sweats on - cool or what?

One complaint about the otherwise glorious bay area weather for me is the lack of warmth when it rains. I originally come from a place (Chennai, India) where, when the monsoon rains come, it is hot too. So, there, it is perfect to go out prancing in the rain, come back indoors, dry oneself and be as good as new again. A similar scenario in the bay area would be: go out prancing in the rain, come back indoors, dry oneself and most probably land up with a severe case of cold and/or pneumonia. Sigh.

While in Chennai, along with the warmth, the rainy season brought a lot of inconvenience with it. The roads used to get routinely flooded and the usually unpredictable bus schedules became even more erratic. Plodding through ankle deep water in the rains to get to and from school was routine and wading in knee-deep water was not at all uncommon.

However, in spite of everything, with all the exuberance of youth (waah, I am actually beginning to reflect upon youth), I used to look forward to the rainy season. For one, when it rained, it was quite exciting and suspenseful to see if our schools would be closed or not. Usually, one of these two things used to happen: 1). The government would declare a holiday the day *after* a storm/cyclone had passed - so all school kids had the joy of sitting comfortably at home on a perfectly dry and sunny day 2) All kids would already have battled the rain and the floods and reached school only to be told that the school was
closed thus necessitating them to repeat the same arduous journey in the reverse direction immediately.

On the days we went to school and were surprised by an unexpectedly heavy downpour later in the day, getting back home was an adventure in itself. Only a few kids, if any, would have brought an umbrella as a precautionary measure for the rainy season. As a result, sometimes as many as four of us would try to squeeze under one small umbrella as we tried to keep dry (obviously unsuccessfully). Once we made it to the bus stop, the vigilant gaze for the arrival of the bus would begin. Our Pallavan buses were sometimes so state-of-the-art that it would rain right *inside* the bus too and we used to wonder if we should open our umbrellas inside also!

When I was small, for the longest time I used to think that wearing a rain-coat as opposed to carrying an umbrella was the uber-coolest thing ever. I begged and pleaded with my parents to buy me a rain coat and promised to diligently take care of it. Eventually my whining got on their nerves (hehe, I whine well) and they bought me a pale pink raincoat with dark pink flowers on it. I could barely wait for the next rain.

The next rain came and I proudly wore my rain-coat to school. On the way I felt hot and sweaty. When I reached school and took off my rain coat, I felt like I had just walked out of a slow cooking oven. I discovered for myself what my parents had known all along - rain coats are simply too warm for the hot and humid Indian weather! Of course, considering all the fuss I had made, there was no way I could complain and I resourcefully came up with plausible excuses to avoid wearing the rain-coat! Unlike umbrellas which used to disappear, never to be seen again, into some nether zone with metronome-like regularity, this rain-coat stuck around for the longest time and never got lost. I don't remember what eventually happened to it.

Another thing which I used to covet was colorful patterned umbrellas. The standard issue umbrellas were plain black. While they did their job just fine, my heart longed for colors. Given that my sister and I lost umbrellas like we were being given a special badge of honor to do so, my parents weren't too keen on investing in the more expensive colorful umbrellas. Finally, they succumbed and my sister got a checkered pink and patterned umbrella while I got a light blue flowered umbrella with a dark blue border. Surprise, surprise - we somehow never lost them (though we still *did* manage to lose black umbrellas occassionally) and eventually threw the colorful umbrellas away only when they broke.

In spite of the raincoats and umbrellas, sometimes the rain was so heavy that it was impossible to stay dry. At those times, I would come home to find hot water waiting for me. After a nice hot bath, mom would dry my hair as I sipped on the hot tea and munched on the hot snacks she would have made. Bliss!

Those are some vignettes from my Indian rainy reminiscences. This post has become longer than I intended it to be - so I will save rainy reminiscences in the USA for another day!

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Last weekend being a long weekend and all due to President's day, I had friends coming over visiting. I enticed them to California citing the warm, glorious spring-like weather. So of course, the day they landed, it poured like I haven't seen in months. Driving to the airport, I could barely make out the tail-lights of the vehicle ahead of me through the blinding rain. O boy - so much for spring-like weather!

By now the "San Francisco tourist circuit" is a well known route for me. Of the two visiting friends, S has been to the bay area before while it was the first time for V. So, though we had planned other things to do on two of the days, there was no avoiding the "let's go to SF and do touristy things" cry. It then struck me, instead of going on the bay cruise ferry yet again which had a very likely chance of me jumping into the Pacific if I heard Captain Nemo's voice (ya that is the name for the guy who gives the voice over on those tours) once more, why not do the Alcatraz tour instead?

For, you see, in spite of being in Pier 39 a zillion times before, I have never been to Alcatraz since those tours are *always* sold out. This time around, I was smart and booked tickets 3 weeks in advance.

Anyways, as I as saying, S and V arrived and we were having fun. The day of the Alcatraz tour dawned dull, cloudy and rainy (well, when it had been pouring for the past 48 hours, there was no reason for it to stop on that day either, was there?). I was worried that the tour would be canceled but a quick call to the tour operators confirmed that they kept the tour running come hell or high water. Oh well!

This I have to say for S and V. Where mere mortals (e.g. me) would have balked at the rain and shrunk from the prospect of taking the train to SF and then take public transportation to the pier and then travel on a ferry in the downpour, S and V cheerfully said, "Oh we are from Seattle. We are used to ignoring the rain and going about with our life. Come on, don't be such a wimp."

Who could say no in the face of such enthusiasm?

So off we set out. Mercifully it turned out that the rain was intermittent only and was never very heavy. After lunch, we ran pell-mell to the boarding area for the Alcatraz ferry - as usual we had ill-timed ourselves and were perilously close to missing our ferry. There it turned out that we were not the only crazy souls - the tour was sold out as usual and people in the long queue even stood in the rain cheerfully!

The ferry ride was rougher than usual. The boat rolled about quite a bit. But the incessant drizzle was finally taking a siesta and the sun came out to see the world a bit. S and me were very enthusiastic and clicked pictures from all possible angles. Of course, the Golden Gate bridge was our pet subject.

The ferry soon reached Alcatraz island and found the choppy waves near the dock too rough. After a couple of attempts, the ferry was finally able to dock at Alcatraz.

By this time the drizzle had woken up again and we were thankful that the guided tour of Alcatraz was indoors. We hurried our way to the entrance (quite a climb to get there) and picked up our head-phones and player for the self-guided tour.

As we neared the starting point of the tour, I saw the cells for the first time. Narrow, small rooms with a small bed, a small basin and a tiny toilet at the back. My stomach did a flip - this is how prisoners live?
The self-guided audio tour was an excellent one. But the more time I spent inside the prison, the more closed in I felt. I noticed S and V had become extremely silent as well and none of us were shutter-happy anymore. We were taking pictures more because we *had* to rather than because we wanted to. The unspoken thought was "I don't want too many memories of this place."

I could only imagine how horrible it must be to only see the outside world through bars! How long and similar each day must feel if the one after it only brought more confinement! How does a person keep from going insane under such a circumstance? Perhaps that is why the law tries so hard to make sure that no innocent get punished wrongly.

By then, the intermittent showers of the day had turned into a steady downpour. From inside the prison we could only see bleak and gloomy skies outside. The weather seemed to match our moods. Though we knew we were free to leave when we wanted, the place was still so depressing!

Once the tour was over, S, V and me made the unanimous decision to get back on a ferry to the mainland as quick as possible. One ferry had already docked and we ran all the way in the pouring rain down to the jetty to board it. We so did not want to stay on the island any longer than we had to!
On the way back, we were very silent, absorbed in our thoughts. Finally, I said out loud what all of us were thinking, "So far I have not had any intention of committing any crime - after seeing Alcatraz, I don't think I will get that intention ever!"

Really, prison is a seriously creepy and frightening place!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bollywood shining

All the hype* around Slumdog Millionaire already had people buzzing about India in the USA. And then A. R. Rahman goes and wins a Golden Globe award - how cool is that?

A couple of days later I was idly browsing through Time magazine (don't you think they publish the mag way too fast? I am barely done with one before I am picking out the next from my mail box) when I thought I had read the word Chandni (Hindi word for moon) in the shortlist section in the last but one page where they usually list out a bunch of notable (according to them) movies/books/music etc. I did a double take and sure enough, the last item in the short list of five was "Chandni Chowk to China" - what!?! A full-fledged Bollywood masala movie actually made it to the review section of a mainstream English magazine published in the US! I was totally thrilled - first AMC, Century theatres et al. start showing Indian movies and now this! Woohoo. Of course, they might have showcased a better movie** - still, bad movie better than no movie, no?

Finally, two days ago, gossip about the Bollywood actress in Slumdog Millionaire, Frieda Pinto, got featured on my local radio show. Yes people, gossip! Bollywood has totally arrived and is here to stay! Yaay!

Yeah, yeah I know I will enjoy Indian movies regardless of whether they arrive or depart or whatever. But cheap thrill is still cheap thrill only. Add also the joy of sitting in comfy AMC seats while doing the above said enjoying ...

And oh, Joy passed me a tag - this being easy tag and all, I am doing it immediately. Basically I had to take a pic of the front of my fridge and post it (or something to that effect).

As you can see, it is filled with magnets of places I have visited in the past 5.5 years or so. The only exceptions to the rule are the magnets from Dubai, China and London and the solitary postcard of NZ - all gifts.

I hit upon this brilliant idea of magnets as a cheap and easily transportable souvenir sometime in 2003 and have since been diligent about collecting them (sometimes friends/relatives have been bugged and begged to buy the needful in case I forget). As much as possible, I have tried to buy different patterns of magnets - that being about the only variety I can add to my standard souvenir. No magnets from India though - guess I have never actually seen souvenir magnets in India, have you?

Anyone who thinks their fridge front needs publicity :-) is welcome to pick up the tag!

* not yet seen the movie so don't know if there is actual substance to the hype.
** again I haven't seen this movie but the reviews were pretty bad.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


*Bread in this post refers to the western version. Not naan, parathas and the like.*

When I was in the hostel during my undergrad days, Friday mornings used to bring on a flurry of frowns to several faces around me. Friday breakfast provided by the "mess" was bread and kurma and quite a few students strongly objected to bread (hey, that's for prisoners!) being served for breakfast. Me, on the other hand, used to wait eagerly for Friday - I simply *loved* the toasted bread and vegetable kurma combination and it was easily my most favorite breakfast. Even at home, sandwiches for breakfast never evoked the kind of strong negative reaction like upma (gaaah) did. Bread omlette, toast, bread-upma, croutons, shahi tukre - I was up for everything bread.

My fascination for all things bread continued when I landed at grad school. I distinctly remember a period when I had two sandwiches - one each of jam and peanut butter - for lunch for almost *every* single week-day over a duration of three months. One fine day, I was midway through enjoying a peanut butter sandwich when my brain signaled, "Thus far and no more." I had to toss the rest of my sandwich and thus ended my love affair with peanut butter. But I still loved bread.

Anyways, bread has seen me through many a hungry evening when I do not have the time or the patience or the hunger-withstanding capacity to cook an elaborate meal before my stomach decides to digest itself into oblivion. When I casually mention my bread-based dinners to other folks, I always get a pitying "poor you" glance. Little do people know that toasted sour dough bread, olive oil and fresh ground pepper is pretty close to culinary heaven for me.

Anyways, I have tried all sorts of bread from the baked goods section - stone ground, dutch crunch (yummmm), sour dough, focaccia, pugliese and so on. The only bread I met which I didn't like was the multi grain, multi-whatever variety. But in a pinch, even that works.

Now it is obvious that I have an irresistible attraction to bread. Given that I am a fairly decent cook too, it has struck me only recently that I have never tried making bread. This thought has kept striking me on and off for almost a year now and finally in a serendipitous event, I found a link to recipe for focaccia in this blog which had followed the instructions from here.

Ah-ha. The instructions seemed quite straightforward and not too time consuming. Perfect! So last evening, while coming home from work, I stopped at Safeway to buy all the ingredients.

You would think that a person who has baked no kind of bread whatsoever before would be a little bit diffident about buying too much of ingredients which might go unused in case of a breaderly disaster. Not me.

I bought a big five pound bag of all purpose flour (really, is there anything else one can make with it, especially if you are fairly heath conscious?), not one, not two, but *six* packets of yeast, a big tin of sea salt (well, the small tin seemed too small) and jar of dried rosemary. After some prep last night, this morning the actual baking took place.

Contrary to what the original recipe said about pouring the raised dough into a baking tray, my dough was a healthy, firm specimen which had to be bodily lifted and dumped onto the tray for baking.

No smells of baking bread filled the house but after twenty minutes, I had nice looking golden crusted bread sitting in the pan. Whatever you might say, warm bread from the oven, even when it is not as light or spongy or bready as you would like it to be, still tastes heavenly. Of course, you also need to understand that I probably would eat hay too as long as it is topped with rosemary (rosemary has such a wonderful flavor, I tell you).

Now I can finally say that I *can* make my own bread. I probably will try making this bread again with minor variations but if anyone needs all purpose flour, I have got some for you!

p.s. While we are talking food, here is an awesome recipe for Chinese fried rice - I followed the recipe as is (minus soy sauce) and wound up with near-perfect fried rice. In the spirit of "what happiness I got, let the world get too" have been promoting the recipe ever since!

p.s.1. Sea salt does have a different (in a nice way) salty flavor.

p.s.2. Nopes, this blog hasn't changed into a food blog. Regular programming will resume next post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A ten minute post.

I saw this rather interesting "writing prompt" on Altoid's blog.

Before you read the prompt, make sure you will have 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to write and please do time yourself. Once you've written it, please leave a link here so we can come over and read it.

Write about a sleepover, a slumber party or the time you stayed somewhere overnight.

Now, for a rambler like me, it is quite a challenge to get in all that I want to say within ten minutes. But I shall try.

Time start: 2.05pm

My parents never used to allow me to stay over at any friend's place. Visiting was fine, but we were supposed to be back home to sleep. The very first time they allowed me to stay over at anyone's place was when they allowed me to go to all the way to Bangalore (from Chennai) to visit Shilpa along with my friend C. I guess they knew just how close Shilpa and I were and somehow did not think to much about me staying at her place.

I was totally thrilled - yaay, I was finally going to do a "grown-up" thing of actually visitng an out-of-station friend all by myself (never mind I was in high school then). C and I went by train. Shilpa had come over to pick us up at the station. After the usual whoops of joy, we traveled to her house and were safely ensconced there. I don't remember much about the trip - I remember visiting her school (junior college as it is called in Bangalore), meeting her ultra-thin (omg, these bangalore girls!) friends, going to the ISKON temple and listening to an entire presentation in Kannada there(I don't understand Kannada) and in general having a lot of fun.

The nights were the most fun though. Long after Shilpa's parents were off to bed, we would sit in the hall watching late night movies. Or we would all retire to her room and chat and giggle through the night. In between we would silently sneak downstairs and make chai. Shilpa and I being avid tea drinkers, Shilpa actually harvested lemon grass from her yard in the middle of the night to make "lemon grass" chai. It was totally yummy. Of course, we also raided the kitchen for food.

Mornings were very lazy. Other than the weekends, in spite of the antics of the night, poor Shilpa had to go to college (Bangalore and Chennai had different academic years and Shilpa still had to go to junior college) while C and I would lazily/sleepily wave her goodbye.

We did go shopping in MG road and managed to buy stuff even on our meagre student budgets. I remember this black tshirt Shilpa and I brought with cute pictures of Tom Cruise all over it. I had it for a really long time.

This was supposed to be a slumber party post - oh well, it is a first solo no-parents trip post now. And my ten minutes are almost up. And it is. Adieu!

Time end: a few seconds past 2.15p.m

p.s. I have not gone over the post to correct errors. So if it reads even more gramatically incorrect than usual, I plead lack of time!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Notes from a vacation

- Did you know Anna Nagar tower in Chennai provides a wonderful 360 degree aerial view of Chennai? All for the royal sum of five rupees per person! Chennai looks super-green from above, I must say.
- Shops in Chennai sell winter clothes. I do not know for winter in which place. As far as I know, Chennai has no winter (or spring or fall for that matter).

- The side berths in current three-tier AC cars in south India are apparently meant to give us Indians a feel of how it used to be when the British used to rule (and be extremely mean to) us. I cannot think of any other reason why any genius would come up with the idea to insert a middle berth between the already teensy space between the upper and lower berths on the side.

- Attending weddings in India is so much fun!

- The mutton in the famous Hyderabad Paradise biriyani is the softest and yummiest I have ever eaten. However, I still think Ponnusamy biriyani wins the overall best biriyani taste award by a whisker (true blue Tam that I am). But nah, this realization did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying three generous sized helpings of Paradise biriyani in one sitting (I had to roll around for the next hour due to inability to walk).

- Hyderabad sells beautiful cultured pearl jewelry. In general, all ethnic stuff (clothes, accessories, footwear, furnishing, deco-items etc. etc.) in India rocks - shopping for them is a divine experience.

- Food in India is also awesome - my tight jeans and gentle pot-belly stand testimony to that. How come Indian restaurants here never manage to quite get the same taste?

- Mumbai's Colaba-Nariman Point-Cuffe Parade-Marine drive area looks breathtakingly beautiful. Its clean, cobbled streets and wide, tree-lined roads made it difficult for me to believe that I was in a bustling metropolis in *India*. My heart ached even more when I thought about the terrible terrorist attacks.

-Mumbai's traffic is a whole lot more well-mannered and regulated than Chennai's traffic. Like my sister said, given its humongous population, no one would get anywhere in Mumbai if they did not follow at least basic traffic rules like sticking to lanes, always using indicators etc. In fact, after spending time in Mumbai I am now even more convinced that someday India will grow to provide all the conveniences of the West.

- Of the very few books I read in India, Srividya Natrajan's 'No onions nor garlic' was a great pick and a hoot from start to finish. Go read it, especially if you are Tamilian (some of the references are very language/culture specific) - unless you are one of those easily-offended types.

- Some Trichy restaurants have interesting-sounding dishes like Pomegranite (that must be one hard fruit!) and vegetable stud nan (has it been working out :-D?) on its menu!

- I had forgotten how stunning some of the sculptures in Mahabalipuram are. I am definitely spending at least a day there next time round.

- Jude Law looks a lot like Aamir Khan when seen from a 3/4ths face angle.

- International flights from Chennai usually have much better tasting food than flights to Chennai. Yup, even when there is transit in between in Hong Kong. Weird.

- I still love watching the early episodes of friends. I thought I had seen *too* much of the sitcom. But I laughed as hard as ever while watching six back to back episodes of friends from Season 3 on the flight.

- 1 month India time = 10 seconds US time. That is the only sane reasoning I can come up with for explaining how my vacation went off in a jiffy.