Thursday, August 26, 2010

1 dalmatian

The first time I entered S's family's house, friendly faces greeted me from all around. Only one face growled at me. It belonged to Figo, the dalmatian of the house. He took one look at me and barked sharply. Then, he pointedly turned his tail to me and ran back into the house. S's family consoled me saying that this was Figo's normal reaction to strangers, especially females (I later saw for myself that this was not true).

Things did not improve as time went by. The second time I visited, Figo repeated the growl and turn-tail act. To mollify him and bribe him into being friends with me, I fed him bones and other canine delicacies. Figo being the smart dog that he is, ate all of it and then signed his disapproval of me with a bark before sauntering off. Same thing happened when I stroked his fur and belly. He would enjoy all the attention and the moment I stopped stroking him, would get up, growl and walk away!

According to me, this was the problem: S was the first person in his family who got acquainted with Figo. Figo, though a very mild-mannered dog, is jealous and possessive by nature. He loves his family with a passion and at the same time hates sharing them with anyone else. So my theory was, his doggy instincts somehow told him that I was someone who was going to be competing (!?! - en owner-thaan, enakku mattum thaan*) for S's attentions. Hence the extra animosity.

I know - this seems like too much thinking for a dog but seriously, the way Figo refused to enter S's room (Figo's erstwhile domain) while I was there and the way he took an extra effort to growl at me before turning his back whenever he saw me told its own the story.

This remained the status quo for all my past India visits. This time too, I entered S's family's house with some trepidation. I could not decide whether to feel sad for Figo or feel amused that he would finally have to start learning to put up with me considering that the my visits would be far more frequent now.

Imagine my pleasant surprise then, when upon seeing me, Figo jumped up and tried to put his paws on my shoulder and lick my face. This was a gesture he usually reserved to welcome people he liked a lot! Then he nuzzled my hand - which was his way to indicate that that he wanted me to pet him.

Either all my feeding and petting of the previous times had finally worked or Figo had resigned himself to acceptance. Either way, I was finally his friend!

The rest, as they say, is history. Figo now trusts me enough to routinely come and lay his head on my lap or contentedly lie down and sigh while I rub his tummy. He still responds to my calls only when he feels like it and plants his feet firmly on the ground if I try to move him when he does not feel like it. But hey, now I am his family too!

* my owner, only for me. A famous Tamil song of long ago had similar lyrics

Monday, August 23, 2010


One of the best things about marrying a person from a different regional background is that you get to celebrate more than the usual number of festivals to honor traditions from both regions. Other than learning about different customs you also get to eat more than the usual amount of yummy festival food.

So guess who is mighty thrilled that it is Onam today? Me, me, me! My very first Onam celebration - yaay! In the morning I prised my eyes open earlier than usual so I could go and asist my niece in drawing the "Poo-kolam". We had a great time decorating the floor with flowers - finally, lamps were also lit.

Looks gorgeous or what?

Besides dosas/chutney/kurma, these are the Onam special dishes I had for breakfast. Unniappams (those small puffed ovals) are something I have never had before - they are very tasty.

I had a super yummy lunch as well. Burp. And oh, I am dressed in the traditional Kerala cream-colored saree. Yup, my cup of joy overfloweth :-D!

Happy Onam to all :-)!

p.s. Though S is technically a Malayali, he was born and brought up in Tamilnadu. So he is more Tam than Mallu. But happily for me, all the principal cooking members are true-blue Mallus - hehehhe.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

August 15

For the past few weeks, the newspapers, TVs and radios are filled with special Independence day offers. I have also spotted Independence day decorations at various commercial establishments. Of course, special Independence day TV programs are lined up on the various TV channels with a much longer line-up of sponsors for those various programs.

What a far cry from the days when Independence day meant dragging yourself out of bed on a holiday just so that you could have the pleasure of seeing a "Chief-guest" hoisting the national flag at school followed by the highlight of the day: a single piece of candy doled out to each of the captive students once the flag hoisting and the national-anthem singing was done.

It has been thundering and raining out here in Chennai since morning today. Ain't I glad those going to school days are behind me! Instead, I can wrap my hands around a warm mug of chai and cozily settle down to watch the Independence day advertisements and their attendant programs on TV.

Happy Independence Day :-)!

Friday, August 13, 2010

On the dark side

After the hugs and the cries of welcome, the first words my mom uttered upon seeing me and S were, "Why are you both so tanned?" Don't get me wrong. I have always belonged to the "curly hair, not so fair" species. I never been bothered about it either - perhaps I have been bothered about the curly hair part of it, as mentioned here. I used to get pretty pained when I saw the ads for fairness creams for women - who on earth mandated that being "fair" was the beauty ideal which Indian women should strive to attain? However, nowadays, I guffaw heartily when I see ads for fairness creams for *men*. Hahahah!

Anyway, I digress. Coming back to my story, I ruefully looked at mom and said, "I know. We got the first tan-coat at San Diego. Just when it was wearing off, we got a second, more-durable coat at New York city. This was followed by a third coat finish at Washington DC. By the time we reached Hong Kong, we were prepped and set for the final sealing coat."

July 2010 had been a month involving a lot of travel and sightseeing for us. While it was a lot of fun, it was also a lot of heat. I tell you, being in the Bay Area has spoiled me so much weather-wise. I imagined a similarly comfortable and pleasant summer in NYC and DC and was shocked to find that both the cities were giant ovens set at broil heat. Needless to say, we both were roasted and well-done by the time the trip was over. On the bright side, it prepped us well for the two days of Hong Kong sightseeing and for the current Chennai heat.

Now, some people, when they get tanned, get tanned evenly. So their entire skin takes on a nice, even, darker-hue. Not me, no siree. Instead, my skin gets tanned in splotches. So at the end of it all, I tend to look more like a human-cheetah or maybe a human-zebra than like a tanned-human. Sigh! Is it any wonder then that I tend to slather on copious quantities of sunscreen, at least on my face, before I go out into the sun?

Clearly, the sunscreen hadn't worked as well as I had hoped it would. So now, Mom has taken on "Operation De-tan Archu" with great alacrity. Every morning, she enthusiastically gives me a concoction of turmeric and cream (skimmed fresh off that morning's milk) - "to be applied right before showering". Then a cube of crushed papaya "to be applied to the face".

I strongly suspect that the only effect these rituals are having on me is to make me smell like day-old milk and old fruit-salad. Still, who can say no to such pampering?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chennai - the ugly

For the longest time now, I have wondered why it is so hard to provide clean toilets/wash rooms in Chennai. When you enter the Chennai International Airport, the first thing that greets you is the unpleasant smell wafting in from the toilets. Woe betide any person who actually wants to use these toilets. One look at the toilets and you will decide that a bladder burst is probably preferable to going through the horror of using them.

Now, if this phenomenon was universal in India, I might have chalked it to some unique Indian characteristic. However, toilets in the Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad airports seem to be well-maintained and in good condition. Why then, is it so hard to maintain similar standards in Chennai?

This phenomenon is not restricted to the Chennai airport. The other day, we went to Mayajaal, advertised as one of the "hang-out" places. The toilets there were again cringe-worthy. I am sure the story repeats itself in most commercial establishments in Chennai, that is, if they provide toilets in the first place.

In the US, I have been spoiled by the abundance of clean restrooms (most of the time), no matter where I go. Thus, I did not use to think twice before gulping down humongous quantities of water or coffee or chai before setting out somewhere. I need to curb this habit now.

I do not think that Chennai-ites have a sloppy standard of hygiene and thus are okay with the anything goes attitude. Then, why? I am unable to solve the mystery of the near unusable toilets.

Forget flyovers, the green-Chennai initiative and widespread use of cellphones. As far as I am concerned, Chennai's first step towards shining would be to provide something as basic as toilets in a decent state.

Update (August 14, 2010): I went to the Sathyam cinema complex today. I am thrilled to report that the bathrooms there were spotless and extremely well-maintained. Like my sister said, maybe I just had the bad fortune to visit the most ill-maintained wash-rooms in Chennai first!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Food in Chennai

Kellogg mango flavored cereal
I spotted this in the local grocery store and was thrilled. I expected something along the lines of Kellogg Special K strawberry cereal, only with real mango pieces instead of strawberry. Unfortunately, this cereal has a suspiciously bright dark- yellow color and tastes like regular corn-flakes soaked in mango Rasna. Sigh.

I *love* the guava fruit. Back in the bay area, I found guavas only in a bruised state and priced exorbitantly. Here, it is not only unblemished and delicious but is also priced sweetly. Is there any harm in scarfing down 5 guavas a day?

To my pleasant surprise, things like tofu and mozzarella cheese are very readily available in all stores. Also, the number of ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat items available is staggering. Ready-made chappathi, idli-batter, idiappam? Yes, yes and yes. A great number of food delivery options are available as well. One thing is for sure. As long as you have the money, you can eat your fill without ever putting a toe outside the home.

Mom's cooking, Dad's feeding

It is taking a great amount of effort to not wolf down mounds of food at every meal time (and every in-between snack-time). I have now banned my parents from buying snacks from outside. That is not stopping them from plying my plate with home-made stuff like vadas and fried fish. Parents, I tell you!! I love them :-).

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Bidding adieu to my noble steed

One of the hardest things for me to leave behind during our move was my beloved car, my trusty steed of the past six years. True to the Honda brand, the car was very low maintenance, highly reliable and ran like a charm. Considering that I tend to view cars primarily as a means to transport me from place A to place B without any hassle, this car had been my almost perfect dream car. So ya, having to sell it was a major downer.

Our ad on Craigslist evoked several responses. As luck would have it, we zeroed in on a Tamil buyer. This acted as a palliative in several ways: a) Somehow, the buyer being Tamilian assured us that the car would be taken care of well (this is regionalism - but delusions are comforting). b) My car is already familiar with Tamil being spoken in it (I can be weird that way). c) I had a slightly higher chance of visiting the car if I made a visit to the US.

Soon we found that the buyer, K, was a first time car-buyer in the US. He was also younger than us by a few years. Both these facts put S and me in the the position of advisers. K, a nice chap, was only too eager to lap up any and all the advice thrown his way. So we gave him gyan on maintenance, tires and insurance. I had deja-vu as K asked many of the same questions that I had had when buying my car. In turn, K let us have the car right until the day before we left.

The last time I drove the car was a couple of hours before K arrived to pick it up.
As I turned off the engine for the last time, I literally kissed the car good bye and patted it for its faithful service of all these years.

When K showed up, we handed all the car-keys and the maintenance records to him. Both S and me assured him that he would have a ton of fun with the car. We then threw a barrage of information at him: how to adjust the mirrors, how to get to the expressway, how to drive safe and so on. K dutifully nodded his head.

Finally, he reversed the car, made a right turn and the car disappeared from view. As we walked back to our apartment, I told S that perhaps we had thrown a wee too much advice at K. I was beginning to feel like we were K's surrogate parents. S laughed and protested.

After 20 minutes, the phone rang. It was K. S and I anxiously looked at each other and exclaimed "Oh no, I hope K did not get into any trouble.". S answered the phone. He spoke to K and after he hung up, S looked at me and burst out laughing.

Apparently K had called to say that he had reached home safe and sound. Ha - so K had felt our surrogate-parenty concern enough to let us know of his safe arrival! I *knew* it!

Monday, August 02, 2010


The check-in bags had finally been packed and fastened shut. The hand baggages weighed a ton. The last of the trash had been thrown away. Our apartment, my home of the past five years looked empty, save for the five boxes of stuff to be donated. We were set.

Our friend arrived with his SUV. Soon, every last piece of luggage was loaded onto the vehicle. S and me returned upstairs to bade one last farewell to our home. Our eyes met. Though we had barely had had time to even think about missing anything till then, for a brief instant, all the memories built up in the home flashed before us. I felt a lurch in my stomach. Then, it was time for goodbye.

The ride to the airport was smooth. At the airport, our cosiderably weighty luggage got through without any penalties. S and I grinned in relief though the grins drooped a bit when we had to lug our hand baggage to the gate. Oh well, in case we ever had to backpack a house, we were getting good training.

Once we sat in the flight, I waited for take off. When the aircraft's wheels left the ground, we would have officially left the USA. That would be a poignant moment.

I woke up with a start - I had dozed off. Boy, had the last stretch of winding up been tiring! The plane was still. I turned to S and asked why the plane was taking so long to take off. S replied that we had taken off a while ago. I had slept right through the take off!! So much for poignancy!


Chennai is great. It is just more than a day since we landed. We are being pampered and are being treated like royalty. For the first time since I moved to the US, I don't have to count the days till I had to leave India again. It is a curiously heady feeling.

I know I will miss the US in a lot of little and a few big ways. I know I will probably be frustrated, annoyed and will have some regrets once the honeymoon period gets over and real life starts happening.

Still, here feels like home and I am lovin' it.