Friday, December 16, 2011

Two Fates - a book review

I read about Blog Adda's book reviewing program on Binary's blog. Immediately, lots of bulbs went off in my head. Wheeeeeeeeeee - I can get free books to read! Signing up was the work of a moment. Within a week, I had received my first book: Two Fates by Judy Balan. Keeping my end of the deal, here is the review:

Two Fates follows the lives of Deepika Sundar, a Tamilian, and Rishab Khanna, a Punjabi, who, after a long courtship and two years marriage are now fed up with each other and want to get a divorce. However, their respective families, who were at hammer and tongs before their wedding have now become one happy family and Deepika and Rishab dread telling them about their separation plans. How they try to do it is what Two Fates is about.

In the first few chapters of the book, Deepika and Rishab are portrayed as two annoying individuals with few likeable qualities. Thus, it seemed like it made sense that they annoyed each other as well and wanted to divorce. But a few chapters on, I was not sure (like most of the other characters in the book), as to why exactly these two people wanted to get a divorce. They had been courting for five years prior to marriage and all of their current divorce-contributing factors would have been present back then too, in which case they probably would not have even agreed to get married in the first place. Or perhaps familiarity breeded contempt and all. Anyway, I decided the story needed some premise and this was it and I should leave it at that.

The story is generously populated with caricatures of Punjabi (and to some extent, Tamil) families. I have Punjabi friends and they do have other aspects to their characters than being a ultra-happy bunch of boisterous and loud people fond of eating. I guess this was for comedic relief but beyond a point, it got repetitive and I skipped a few pages with descriptions of how these Punjabis on Prozac manage to irritate Deepika and Rishab.

About a third of the way in, I began to think that perhaps this reviewing for free books was not such a great deal after all if I was going to be forced to complete reading books I rather would not have. However, the book picked up from then on. The characters had grown on me a bit  Though I could see the end from chapter 1 itself, I had become mildly interested in knowing how it got there.

In spite of the flimsy story line, the writing is pretty decent. Though I thought the prose was a little too wordy in the beginning, it sorted itself out in subsequent chapters. The language flowed smoothly making it an easy and quick (the book is only 200 pages long) read.

When I finally closed the book, it was with the feeling of contentment that comes from having done decent timepass. That would be my verdict for the book as well: decent timepass when you do not have anything better on hand to read.
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This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Going under

When I was told that I would need to undergo a minor medical procedure under the influence of general anesthesia, I almost started hyperventilating. As much as I hate doctor/hospital visits, I usually follow the resultant treatments without much fuss. But, this time round, I started panicking with a capital P.

I was not worried too much about the actual procedure. Instead, the alarm bells in my head had started clanging loudly the moment the words "general anesthesia" were mentioned. Years and years ago, I had heard a story of a neighbor who was administered general anasthesia for a very minor and common place operation and wound up never coming out of it. Since then, the words general anesthesia have always conjured horrific images in my head.

Yeah, so, I was less than enthused to hear I had to go under general anesthesia (GA). I tried wangling out of it by suggesting other options but finally had to recoincile myself to GA. On the bright side, if anything happened to me I would be too gone to be aware of it. On the other hand, I felt profoundly sorry for my family if anything did happen to me  (I can be morbid like that).

Two nights before the procedure saw me wide awake. For some reason I kept envisioning a scenario where I would be unable to move my body or open my eyes on the operating table but where I could hear all the people around me and had to fight the panic that image brought in. That lack of control over myself had me scared out of my wits.

It did not help that S casually mentioned that he was one of those people who did not take easily to GA. In fact, once he had counted all the way up to 35 before the anesthetist decided that the dosage was probably too less for him and decided to increase it (usually anesthetists ask you to start counting while they wait for the drug to take effect and people are usually out before they reach 10). What if something similar happened to me?

Anyhow, the day of the surgery arrived. After prep and waiting, I was wheeled into the operation theatre (OT). Darn, the OT was frigging cold! I wished I had several more layers of blankets on me. But before I could mentally start whining about that, the moment of anesthesia arrived.

I guess I had a frightened deer caught in the OT lights look on my face for the anesthetist kindly look at me through her mask and asked "Is this your first time with anesthesia?" When I dumbly nodded, she said, "Don't worry ma. You will simply start sleeping in a bit." Then, some drug was injected and she asked, "Are your teeth loose?". What a weird question, I thought, mentally bookmarking that I should later google the relationship between general anesthesia and teeth (my inner geek shalt never be quelled).

Then she again said, "You will sleep in a bit". I lay staring at the bright overhead lights. I did not appear to be any closer to sleeping at all. Did they really inject anything into me? Oh, wait a minute, I feel lightly dizzy, maybe I would feel a bit more dizzy in a bit. But wait, I can still see the lights.

Someone was prodding me, "The procedure is over, are you fine?" I had been in the middle of some pleasant dream (I have no clue about what) and was mildly annoyed at being so unceremoniously woken up. But then, realization dawned: Wait a minute, I had gone under and come out of GA successfully. With absolutely no recollection of what had happened in between.Yaay!

Then I looked around and thought I was still in the OT. It took me several minutes before I processed that the overhead lights were missing and a bunch of cupboards had sprung up next to me, thus making it highly unlikely that I was still in the OT. Oh, I was probably in the recovery room then.

I was quite lucid post-GA and was even able to walk around on my own in a short while. Contrary to expectations of nausea,a common GA side-effect, I was ravenously hungry in a couple of hours and was demanding food (ha, who can separate Archana and her food!), having been foodless for close to 14 hours.

The next 24 hours saw my head spin lightly whenever I changed positions between sitting/standing and lying down. But otherwise, I was not very much worse for the wear and was completely back to normal the next day.

So yeah, as a in case of emergency nugget of info, I now know that I do not have adverse effects to GA. Yaay.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our national pasttime

Officially, it might be said that cricket-watching is our national past time. But I think that our true national past-time is people watching.

Of course, everyone does people watching. Being curious is simply human nature. However, desis take people watching to the level of an art. Where people from other nations* may look embarrassed and turn away if caught in the act by the object of their watching, a true desi would hardly acknowledge that s/he has been spotted. Instead, s/he would watch with greater confidence now that there is no need for even the token pretence that they are not watching the object.

Which is how, many a time I have caught starers in the act of watching, turned away and turned back after some time only to realize that I was *still* being watched by the same starer. It is as though once you are in public, you become a part of the landscape and hence can be gawked at.

This could also be the reason that whenever it looks like more than one person is watching something, those persons are immediately joined by more people. No one wants to miss out on any fun. Often times, it turns out that an entire crowd of people are watching *nothing* (I am desi too, so, if circumstances permit, I will go and check out what's happening too - that's how I know) but why miss out in case it is some thing genuinely interesting?

Once we were driving around Ooty with some other relatives. A non-designated tourist spot, consisting of rows of pretty trees, looked interesting. So, we made a turn into the mud pathway leading to that mini-forest. Our relatives' jeep followed us. We had hardly gotten off our Jeeps when we realized that about six other random vehicles had followed us into the mini-forest. Evidently, the people in those vehicles thought that if this spot was of interest to *two* vehicles, there must be something to it and had decided to check it out for themselves!

Recently, I had a surreal conversation with my mom. We both were enjoying a cup of tea at my parents' place. We were sitting in a room which opened out into a balcony which faced a tree. Mom remarked on how much the tree had grown since the time they had moved in.

She added, "The other day, the lady from the flat across the street said that she was feeling kind of bad that she could no longer look into our house. The tree has become too tall and shields our house from her eyes."

My jaw dropped. I looked at mom and gaped, "Really? So not only was she she spying on us, but she also admitted it to you without any embarrassment?"

Mom shrugged and said, "Yes. Apparently she used to watch us all from her flat. In fact, I think she must have been happy when I invited her over for last year's Golu so that she could finally place the rest of the rooms in the house as well instead of having to imagine where we go when we move from this room!" Both of us burst out laughing. To think that her flat was a little too far away from ours to even give a proper view. True blue desi that neighbor lady was!

I love watching other folks at the airport, train-station and bus-station. I notice what they are doing and what they are wearing. And these places usually provide such a high turnover of people that there is never a shortage of entertainment. However, I have never done it blatantly (unless of course, I am wearing sun-glasses and cannot be spotted :-P) - I probably couldn't stand the attention that being caught in the act would bestow! And I also draw the line at deliberately looking into other people's homes - that just seems a tad indecent to me.

But yeah, I love people watching too.

* I do know that people from other countries (Asian, mostly) do unabashed people watching too. Maybe it has something to do with a country's culture.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Ponniyin Selvan

As I had said in the post, my interest to read the Ponniyin Selvan series was kindled after my trip to Swamimalai which included visiting the great Chola temples, Gangai Konda Cholapuram and Darasuram. I had said then that I will try to read the series in Tamil. Well, if my wishes were horses, the galloping sounds they would have made would have caused world-wide noise pollution. Given that, my wish largely remained a wish (my abominable Tamil reading skills ensured that)  and I eventually wound up reading the entire series in English.

The verdict? Definitely worth reading. There are five volumes with the fifth part being split into two books. The story is fact woven with fiction. All the principal characters are real flesh and blood people who lived in the 9th century AD. If you are familiar with the towns and cities in the Kumbakonam-Thanjavur region, you will surely get goosebumps when you read some of the place-names in the book - those towns have been in existence for more than a thousand years now!

The series has several passages which describe the beauty of the Chola country. You can see the lush green fields, the beautiful river Cauvery and its tributaries, the abundant stone mandapams and grand Siva temples with ardent devotees come to life before your eyes. Those were the places where I sorely missed reading the  book in Tamil. The passages have been translated decently enough in English but quite understandably, they lack the beauty that Tamil would have given them.

The story by itself is quite gripping. Book five especially has a significant event happening in almost every chapter. It was when reading part 5 that I was pretty much deaf to the world and could be spotted carrying my book everywhere. I can imagine how readers would have waited with bated breath for every edition of Kalki magazine back in the 1950s when the story was first published in it as a series! No wonder the circulation of the magazine shot up then.

My favorite character in the entire series is the boat-girl Poonguzhali. What a fiesty and spirited character! She manages to outshine even the "heroes" when featured along side them. What a woman!

Now I have re-embarked on my "read Ponniyin Selvan in Tamil" project. I really think reading the series in Tamil would be totally worth it. Let's see how that plan goes!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Plastic and steel

The other day, as I threw out yet another plastic water bottle, I thought back to my school days. That time, my lunch was always packed in stainless steel tiffin dabbas. It was one big sadness(!) in my young life back then that my mom wouldn't give me lunch in a box like one of those colorful plastic dabbas that some of my other school-mates brought. Plastic boxes just seemed way cooler.

Somehow, mom never listened to my pleadings and whining and I did carry stainless steel tiffin boxes for the entire time I brought lunch from home.

It was only when I went to grad school and got to pack my own lunch that I realized that most plastic boxes (and yeah, in grad school, these were the cheap ones) had the annoying tendency to hang on to the odors of the food last packed in it. Thus, food never tasted fresh after spending a few hours in the dabba no matter how recently the food had been made prior to transferring residence to the box. Finally, the bulb began to glow - stainless steel did have its plus points!

And then, of course, came the whole influx of articles about how most plastics are so terrible for your health. And thus I began my slow transition to avoid all things plastic, at least in utensils which could come in contact with heat. First, the plastic water bottles were changed to stainless steel. Then the plastic tiffin boxes changed to ceramic and glass.

That was when it struck me: not for nothing do they say that Mother always knows best. My mom knew even before the scientific community did that there was something iffy about plastic and thus withstood all the incessant whining from her nagging child and refused to pack her lunch in plastic tiffin boxes :-).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

10 years later

Ten years ago, the beginning of September saw my last few days in Chennai before I headed off to Davis, USA, to study. The last flurry of shopping was getting wrapped up. All important documents were collected and ready to  be placed in the hand baggage. The suitcases were brimming with clothes, shoes, utensils, books, groceries and were getting readied for the final weighing. Lists of people to whom I wanted to bid farewell before leaving were prepared.

And, all the excitement of going off to a new part of the world was slowly being replaced by a tight knot of dread at having to face the unknown soon. Yes, the first time of heading off to a country where I had no family to speak of was quite frightening even while being exhilarating.

Fast forward to today. In a quirk of fate, I got to visit the US again 10 years almost to the exact day of my first departure to the US. This time though, on work. And this time, with not much fear of the unknown. After all, this was my USA I was heading back to!

The past two weeks were probably my busiest two weeks ever in the US. Besides work, there was the shopping and catching up with people to do. Though I seemed to be out of the hotel at all times except bed-time, I still managed to not visit all the places I wanted to visit, not meet all the people I wanted to meet and not eat at all the restaurants I wanted to eat at. In short, I did not get to do all the things I wanted to do. Oh well!

But the trip was a great lot of fun. I got to drive again (yeah, turns out for all my viewing of driving as a utilitarian activity, I do *like* driving and had been missing it), got to meet several people face to face after a whole year (or longer) and got to see oh-so-familiar places again. Who would have though I would get all nostalgic upon entering a CVS of all places! I even drove by our old apartment (yeah, it's still there).

After two US weeks, I am now back in Chennai with the worst case of jet lag in the history of mankind - at least, it feels that way. Whatta souvenir, I say!

I had a lovely time in the US and enjoyed practically every minute of my stay. However, when it was time to head back, I did not feel a sense of loss. I guess, now that I have seen both the worlds, I know the good points of each and so have much to look forward to in both!

Here's to more such straddling between worlds!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rowthiram

Last weekend we went to see the tamil movie Rowthiram. Now, I am not a Jiva fan but parents had watched Jiva in Ko and had been suitably impressed. Thus, his standing had been upgraded from masa-masa (rough translation: not quite hero-material) to watchable. So, hoping that Rowthiram would be entertaining along the lines of Ko, we set off.

Morning of the movie, I read in the paper that the movie was not worth writing home about. Ouch. This is what happens when you book tickets without reading reviews.

Still, after thinking through, my eyes brightened considerably. We were going to watch the movie at Satyam theatre. The last time we had been there, I had totally fallen in love with their popcorn. S had added a wee bit of extra butter flavoring and then sprinked jalapeno seasoning over the fresh, hot and crispy popcorn. The end result was YUMMY. We had finished the entire medium sized bag of popcorn even before the movie had begun.

So, salivating, I thought, so what if the movie is bad, I still can eat the popcorn. Finding silver linings in unlikely places, that's me

At the theatre, in spite of his protests, I convinced S to buy the large bag of popcorn to share. And, being the, whatever happiness I get, the world should get it too, type of person, I convinced mom that she would be able to eat a medium sized bagful of yummy popcorn by herself (mom is the quintessential pop-corn lover. With popcorn, she looks as gleeful as a little kid with a bag of candy. Still, she always gets only the regular size).

So, armed with our popcorn, we entered the theatre and started munching on the it long before the movie started. Movie started. Movie story was like this: a whole series of fights threaded together with a few romantic scenes and songs.

Even considering that the fights were pretty frequent, I was still surprised to see that, by the time fight #5 rolled around on the screen, I still had more than half a bag of popcorn to finish. S had stopped munching on the pop-corn and refused my offer to have more. I sneaked a glance at mom and saw her bravely chomping through her supply.

By fight #10, I was seriously getting tired of the pop-corn. Man, was that bag bottomless or what? Another sneak peek showed mom was still bravely chomping through her popcorn supply. I whispered to her "Lots of popcorn, huh?". She grinned weakly and said, "Yes da. It tastes good but my mouth is beginning to ache with all this chewing."

That's when I realized that MY mouth was aching as well. Then, I casually pushed over the bag to S and said, "Here, you finish the rest." S said, "Ha, you are not able to finish it right? I told you it would be too much." Oh well, now I KNOW, right?

Anyway, like they say, all things happen for a reason. Turns out Rowthiram was competing for the record of the world's longest movie. Thus, it was way past lunch-time when we emerged bleary-eyed from the theatre. But hungry kya? No way! With all that popcorn in our tummies we (other than dad) were set to watch one more hour of the movie. Of course, that would have meant exacerbating my headache but at least the stomach wasn't complaining. I *knew* eating all the popcorn would have some good effect!

Oh, you thought this post was a review for the movie? Well, here is the short review: don't watch. The long review? It should have been shorter by at least 45 minutes. The actors (other than the main villain, who dad said looked like a oona (chameleon) and who was about as menacing) were pretty good - but the story was non-existent. You can easily remake Rowthiram by stringing together the fight sequences from some 15 movies or so. So yeah, buy your pop-corn and go for 15 other movies instead.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

One year and counting...

With today, S and I complete 1 year of moving back to India. Yaay!

Turns out, we are still lovin' it :-D.

Oh, the minuses are still there: the insanely hot summer, the no-rules-is-the-only-rule traffic, the number of hoops one sometimes needs to jump through to get basic services done, day-to-day living sometimes taking annoyingly more effort than what could be considered reasonable, very low understanding of the concept of privacy, lack of decent public libraries etc. etc.

But the pluses continue to outweigh them: being close to family and having the pleasure of being able to visit them as and when the mood strikes, the awesome food (Chennai has new restaurants sprouting every week and there are nice places offering delicious non-Indian food too), being able to afford household help, other friends making the decision to return to India too, celebrating Indian festivals and functions with gay abandon, being pleasantly surprised to find many of the products and services available abroad are either already here or are slowly making their way here and of course, the indescribably nice feeling of finally feeling "settled" and being at "home".

Considering I always wanted to eventually return to India since the time I set foot in the US, it is not surprising that my experience on my return has been overwhelmingly positive. I mean, if you see everything with rose-tinted glasses, everything will look good, right?

Still, even with a non-prejudiced view, I can honestly say that in spite of being highly frustrated at times, I still have not found minuses that cannot be worked around. And that the pluses still have not begun to lose their sheen.

Overall, I still think that moving back was a great decision.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Adieu Harry Potter!

After not getting tickets for last weekend, we went to watch the final installment of the Harry Potter series on Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At the end though, when the screen read the words, "The End", mom and I looked at each other misty-eyed and simultaneously said, "J.K Rowling really ought to write more Harry Potter books". It really felt like the end of an era.

I started reading Harry Potter sometime in 2000. My sister was the one who provided the first book. After that, I raced through books 3,2 and then 4 (I got hold of book #3 before book #2 and read it in that order 'coz I couldn't wait). Then began the long wait for book #5. I got that as a bribe.

I pre-ordered books #6 and #7. I was awake through the night to finish the humongous book #7 on the day I received it. Well worth it! By this time, Harry Potter & co were like friends. I also took strange joy in the fact that according to the book, Harry, Hermione and Ron were born in the same year that I was (the cheap thrills of life).

In between waiting for the next book in the series to show up, I refreshed my memory by reading the existing books all over again. With each reading I found more pieces of seemingly irrelevant information which later tied in perfectly with the plot lines of future books. Nice!


Then there were the HP movies. Initially, I mostly watched them so that I could complain about how they were not a patch on the books (movies #1 and #2 were such snore-fests - I slept through movie #1), but the main reason was, as a devout Harry Potter fan, it would be sacrilege to miss out on anything HP related. But slowly, I started looking forward to the movies as well.

I have HP to thank for tiding me through times when I was sick enough to be forced to stay in bed. Once I started reading HP, I got so immersed in its world that I pretty much forgot any other discomfort. I usually never cry while reading books. But when Dumbledore died (what, you did not know that??) in book #6, I shed copious tears: about Dumbledore dying but mostly for Harry - he was now an orphan in every sense of the word. But the amusing part was, when I re-read the book, I cried *all over again*. Like one of my friends asked, did I really think Dumbledore would not die when I read the book a second time around? The power of books!

This post is simply a rambling but fond farewell to one of favorite works of fiction. Seriously, even though I smirk when bands/authors make a grand declaration of some tour or book being THE FINAL ONE only to change their minds about a year later, I would be the first one to hand Ms. Rowling a paper and pen if she decides to change her mind about not penning any more HP-related works. Thank you Ms. Rowling for creating such a marvelous world for readers to enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Globe trotter and all

I haven't been exactly trotting the globe. But I had been trotting around two of my must-see destinations - Switzerland and Paris. Yaay!

I saw plenty of beautiful sights and heard plenty of French sounds. However, the first time I thought "I really ought to blog about this" was when I saw the following souvenir at a gift-shop in Lucerne.



Yup, not making this up at all. In case you are wondering, the tin was *empty*. I even shook it to make sure. I laughed for about five minutes and then clicked the picture just so that I could spread the joy further :-D. I only hope the tin was not manufactured in China - heh.

Watch this space for more stories and photographs. Right now I am recovering from the effects of an unwanted souvenir I brought back - a raging cold with cough and fever. Achhooooooooo!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Weighing me down

A couple of months ago, my work place launched a wellness initiative. Basically, it was a program to encourage its employees to become more fit.

I thought this was a great idea. Since, at any given point in time, I am usually on a quest to lose weight (the last time I was too thin happened in 2007). This event seemed like a good excuse to kickstart my fitness plans with vigor.

You see, when you are heavier than you know you ought to be but still not heavy enough for others to notice it, the road to losing that extra weight is paved with good intentions. However, actually traversing the road requires a lot of willpower, determination and most importantly, a GOOD reason to lose weight.

The last time I was super motivated was during the months before my wedding. I was so determined to lose the extra weight and look all slim and fit in our wedding pictures that I actually managed to pull it off pretty decently.

Since then, I really haven't had good motivation (looking nice in sister's wedding - um yeah, but eating all the wedding-related goodies sounded better, looking nice in summer clothes - um yeah, but I already looked nice enough in skirts and it was not like I was going to frolic in a bikini).

Getting married again was not an option. So, while I exercised okay-regularly, I decided to view my higher-than-my-liking weight with an indulgent eye.

Still, when the work-place initiative rolled around, I was happy to join in. For, the higher-than-my-liking weight niggled in the back of my head and I now had a goal to work towards!

Thus started the regular exercising, walking and daily logging. To my delight, soon, my arms got leaner and my clothes fit better. Filled with hope, I stepped onto the weighing scale.

Noooooooooooooo! I weighed exactly the same as I had done earlier. To be sure, I weighed myself again the next day. Great! I weight 1 kg more than I had the previous day. Ugh.

At this point, I was quite sure the weighing machine had stopped working. So, in the time-tested Indian way of repairing stuff, I shook it, banged it a bit and stood on it again. Yeah - it still showed the same weight.

Maybe it was stuck. So I dragged S and made him stand on the weighing machine. He weighed *lesser* than his normal weight range. Grrr. S is a lucky fellow. The moment he starts any kind of cardio exercise, he drops weight like crazy. Thus, he is forever being greeted with "Oh you have lost weight" as soon as he decides to jog for like 3 minutes a day.

Anyway, it was obvious that it was not the weighing machine's fault. For some freaking reason, my weight refused to go down :-(. Yeah, I have heard that people usually gain weight after beginning regular expercise as muscle weighs more etc. etc. But by that logic, I must now look like a female Arnold Schwarznegger, which I don't.

I am now at my wit's end. I thought of throwing in the towel and replacing all my exercise and walking with uninterrupted net-surfing/book-reading while munching thattai and seedai from Grand Sweets.

But, upon introspection, I have decided to not let a mere weighing scale beat me. So I have now started a food dairy to keep track of what I am eating and see what I can do there. And if that does not work too, I am going to trash the weighing scale. Haha, take that, you sucker!

Any tips, gentle readers?

Monday, June 20, 2011

On a positive note - Azzuri Bay

Of late, this blog seems to have turned into a whine-fest. So, instead of writing about another horrible dining experience which followed yesterday's already bad experience (in case you are curious, don't worry, that will be written about too), I will write about a good dining experience I had.

Time: A couple of months ago. The occasion: S's birthday.

After considering and tossing several restaurant suggestions, S said, "Hey, why don't we go to the other restaurant in the Crimson Chakra complex?" That seemed like a good idea.

Crimson Chakra is a restaurant quite close to our home. However, it took my cousin A's recommendation before we finally paid it a visit. We had a good experience. We also noticed that the same complex housed two more eateries and decided that we would come back to visit those too some time. One of the two restaurants was what S was referring to.

We headed out to the Crimson Chakra complex. The other two restaurants were Cornucopia and Azzuri Bay. We picked Azzuri Bay which serves Mediterranean and Chinese cuisines. A lift whizzed us upstairs. We entered the dining area and were greeted with the sight of a pleasant and spacious arrangement of tables and chairs. But what took my breath away was the awesome wall which was entirely made of clear, glass windows. And from the windows, was a beautiful view of Adyar river and its surrounding areas. Whoo! Who knew Adyar river could look so beautiful!
Adyar River

We got a lovely table for two right beside the window-wall. I felt like I was seated on a tree-house. First, two iced popsicles were placed in front of us - what a cute summer treat! We then ordered our food. Food arrived promptly and was delicious. The portion sizes were quite big (S, as always, had the duty of finishing up all the stuff I transferred to his plate from mine. However, as I said, the food was delicious, so no complaints from S)!

Great ambiance, great food. But what impressed me most was the impeccable service. Our water glasses were never left unfilled. The waiter was patient with answering all the questions we had about the menu and even offered suggestions. The servers were attentive without being in in the way. All this service with a pleasant smile that did not falter.

We left a glowing recommendation in their guest book and a generous tip. What a lovely experience!

Thus, it was not very surprising that when sis visited about a month ago, I immediately suggested Azzuri Bay as a meeting place for lunch.

Sis was delighted with the great view and enjoyed the food as well. This time round, I was smart and suggested that we share an appetizer and an entree - even this left us quite full. Needless to say, we had another pleasant dining experience.

If you are in the Adyar area, check out Azzuri Bay. Food is a little on the expensive side but the portion sizes are generous besides the entire experience making it well worth it.

p.s. See, I don't whine always :-).

p.s.1 Nopes, I am not affiliated in anyway with Azzuri Bay and they are not paying me to write this review!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

No Kumarakom for you!


There is this sit-down restaurant near my house in Adyar which serves Kerala cuisine. Kumarakom it is called. We once had food delivered from this place, with the result that neither of us cared for it much.

However, we read a couple of good reviews for the restaurant and it being near to our place (and thus, a potential can-take-guests-to place) and all, thought we should give it another chance.

Last Saturday was the day. We went to the restaurant and were shocked for find a crowd for more than 35 people waiting outside the rather small restaurant. No matter how much the restaurant host insisted that the wait time was 20 minutes (yeah right), it was quite obvious that we would not be seeing food for at least an hour. So we decided to eat elsewhere.

Today, we decided to be smart and call up Kumarakom in advance to make a reservation. Which was when we were told that the restaurant does not take reservations. Oh well. We then said we lived quite close to the restaurant and requested that our name be added to the waiting list. After all, the current wait time was 20 minutes (yeah right, again) and we would be there in 20 minutes.

Which was when we were told that our names would be added to the list. However, as soon as we showed up at the restaurant in person, our names would again be added to end of the list and we could wait as usual. Huh and double huh!?!

The husband sweetly asked why seeing our faces was very important to the process of adding us to that list and what pleasure the restaurant got out of making us stand and wait outside their restaurant when we could wait in the comfort of our own home. We only got a non-committal mumble in response.

Which is how, we are giving Kumarakom a miss today. No promise of tasty food can make up for such arrogant customer service.

No more Kumarakom for us. And, no regrets.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Health & Glow

When I was younger, I absolutely hated shopping. So much so that I sometimes had my sister select my clothes and other stuff because I did not want to go shopping. Of course, this choice came with inherent danger. For, my sister seemed to select my stuff depending on how our relationship was at some particular point. So, while sis has selected some beautiful churidhars and cute tops, I have also been saddled with green-colored jeans (I am NOT kidding you) and a post-box red school bag (gosh, my friends never let me live that down).

Now that I have grown older and wiser, I do enjoy shopping from time to time. But some places, I can *always* window-shop without getting bored. This list of places includes stores which sell cosmetics. Though I don't use much beauty stuff on a regular basis, I love looking at what's available. I will admit that I have a problem knowing when to stop when buying eye-stuff - especially since I hardly ever wear eye-makeup - but on the whole, simply browsing or spending on inexpensive bargains usually keeps me happy.

I had a few stores ear-marked for cosmetics-browsing back in the US. Over here, the obvious first choice was Health & Glow.

Or so I thought till I stepped into a Health & Glow. This was when I realized that the shop was lined end-to-end with sales-people. Really. Till date, I have never seen any other store where the sales-persons outnumber customers by a ratio of 5:1.

You would think that with so many sales-persons, the service would be outstanding. Again, no. First, any product you ask for is either a) Out of stock or b) Not arrived yet or c) not available in the size you need.

If at all the store does manage to carry the product, you will get to participate in the sales-person relay. This is the game where you tell the sales-person nearest the door what you want. This person relays the product name to the next sales-person in line. And on it goes till the sales-person nearest the shelf housing the product will randomly point towards the shelf and say "It is here". At this point, you can bend/ get down on your knees while you search and try to figure out which exact rack of the shelf has the product.

While you are thus hunting for what you actually need, the sales-persons will begin the let-me-try-to-sell-you-a-product carousel. This game consists of a different sales-person stopping by every 30 seconds to ask if you need "ABC conditioner" or "XYZ face cream" or "PQR body-scrub". If you get really annoyed and answer tersely, the carousel slows down to about 1 sales-speech a minute.

What if you just want to browse? Heh. Good luck making a trip around the store without tripping over at least five sales-persons.

Really - what exactly is Health & Glow's business strategy? Always show a full store by having a shop filled with sales-people? If that's the case, the sales-persons should at least not be wearing uniforms! Or if H&G is trying to prevent theft, won't it be cheaper to tag all the products with anti-theft devices instead of paying salaries to so many people?

All that H&G has achieved is to make me quit the store as soon as I buy what I actually need because I hate being hounded while shopping besides hating feeling claustrophobic. Thus, H&G misses out on any impulse purchase that I might have made had I been allowed to browse around the store in peace. While this is good news for my wallet, I doubt this is the kind of customer-reaction H&G was going for!

Thank you H&G, for curing me of my cosmetic-browsing tendencies!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

So, you must be the elder sister...

When you and your sister are just a couple of years apart, it is a fairly normal occurrence for a person you have just met to incorrectly figure out who the elder sibling is. Especially, if you, like me, are taller as well as more broadly built (and I admit, weightier) than your elder sibling.

So, from the time I overtook my sis w.r.t height, I have heard my fair share of "Oh, you must be the elder sibling." Hearing it once was annoying enough but some of the strangers persisted with "Oh, but I thought you are the elder sibling. Aren't you?" even after I had corrected them the first time. Ooooh, you caught me! I am one of those weird people who pretend to be the younger sibling when they are not! Grr.

I know it shouldn't have irritated me so much. Especially since my sister, knowing how it grated on me, never took these insults (according to me) as an opportunity to tease me and instead was quite sweet about it. Besides, people thinking you look older than you are is quite low on the list of life's tragedies. Still, it rankled every time it happened.

With time, I reconciled myself to grinning at every wedding or family function or lots-of-strangers occasion I went to with my sis when I was greeted with "Oh, you must be P's (my mom) elder daughter" even as I inwardly ground my teeth. For, you see, I always translated this innocuous remark to mean "You look like the old woman of the mountains".

Then, yesterday, at a family party, a clueless relative by marriage stopped by, looked at me and my sis and exclaimed, "Oh, you must be P's daughters." Looking at me, she said, "I remember you." Then, turning to my sis she said, "I don't remember you though. You must be the younger sister who lives in the US." Sis pointed to me and mildly said,"No, that's her. She used to live in the US but moved back. I live in Mumbai."

Clueless lady could not get a clue still. Ignoring me completely, she continued enthusiastically talking to my sis, "Oh, you are from Mumbai? No wonder. You have that Mumbai look.", meaning it as a compliment. Evidently, according to Clueless, not only did I look older, I also looked like some fresh-off the bullock-cart villager. Gee thanks!

Obviously, I was annoyed. That was not the surprising thing. The surprising thing was, after a couple of minutes of bristling, I thought about it. a) I had no idea who Clueless was. b) There was no reason why what she thought about me needed to affect me at all. c) I thought I looked fine. d) Life is too short to be wasted over clueless people.

Two minutes after this introspection, I forgot all about the incident(till now) and totally enjoyed the rest of the party.

I tell you, this is the best part about growing older. Things which seemed like tragedies even a few years ago, no longer bother me much. The older I grow, the more secure and confident I am getting about myself and the less I base my worth on what others think of me. Especially when these others constitute people who have little or no role to play in my day-to-day life.

I must say, life's good :-)!

p.s. For heaven's sake though, if you meet siblings, wait for them to bring up the topic themselves instead of playing the "Are you the older one?" guessing game. Being mistaken for the older sibling is a pet peeve of many younger siblings I know!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tamilnadu election results

Note: This was supposed to have been posted before noon today (May 13, 2011). Unfortunately, blogger decided today would be a good day to go into read-only mode. Thus you were deprived of my excellent (and now, dated) writing till now.

*****

And so, after a whole month of suspense, vote counting for the Tamilnadu Assembly elections was today. S and I turned on the TV first thing in the morning. Most of the Tamil channels were busy broadcasting the preliminary results. We surfed through all of them and were amused to find that the "results" varied widely depending upon which channel we were watching. Essentially, depending on which party's mouthpiece a particular channel was, the number of seats garnered by that party would be higher. LOL!

Thus, we resorted to watching an English news channel which seemed to be broadcasting something closer to the truth (as in, the results were an average of what was shown on the party channels).

But around 9.00am or so, it became quite clear that the AIADMK front was heading for a sweep. And the DMK party channels could no longer keep broadcasting their elevated numbers for DMK. So, some of the DMK party channels dejectedly switched to telecasting a movie or regular programming instead while the others somberly started sticking to the real results! Meanwhile, Amma clearly believes in rubbing her opponents faces in the mud. Because, Jaya TV (the AIADMK party's channel) for quite a while kept displaying such a low number of leads for DMK, in single digits in fact (the actual count then was closer to 33)!

Now that the numbers have pretty much coalesced and the final results almost decided, all channels are finally beginning to broadcast similar results. And with that, the last bits of the voting tamasha is coming to an end.

I admit, I enjoyed the whole election process a lot more than I thought I would.

Now, let's hope that this change of government brings at least some good news for the people of Tamilnadu. The general thinking seems to be that given the magnitude of scams the DMK front has been involved in, it would be difficult for the AIADMK to match up. Ergo, AIADMK will form a less corrupt and better government (I know, excellent logic for choosing a government. Still it trumps voting for a party because they promised a free food processor or some such)!

I really hope that Amma proves to be worthy of this trust!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Summer

How can I call myself a self-respecting fairly newly-returned NRI if I don't sigh, moan and complain about the weather? So, here goes!

It is so darn, horribly, terribly and infinitely frickin' hot. I now totally believe our bodies are made of of 98% water. Nothing else can explain the amount of sweat I shed every day and the fact that I still haven't run out of sweat. Or maybe it can be explained by the amount of water I drink every day. I drink like a camel. And still can put away more glasses of water at any given point in time. Phew! Summers in Chennai are really, truly HOT.

On the brighter side, with the advent of summer, a whole host of summer fruits have been showing their faces: mangoes, jackfruits, palmyra fruits (nongu), watermelon - yumm! Having to face summer in order to enjoy them even starts to feel worth it when one of those slices of deliciousness are sliding down one's throat!

But, remember that post from before? Kindly ignore the advice in that post at least till August unless and otherwise you are a masochist. The new advice is: at the first sign of a day-long power cut, put on your walking shoes and head out of the house to the nearest fully air-conditioned mall. Do not come back home till you are reasonably sure that electricity has returned to your house.

Like Mom sarcastically said, "The government is so nice. They force us to save on our electricity bills by not supplying any electricity. Then they also make sure we get our daily exercise by forcing us to walk around the mall". Dad quipped, " Yeah, I am planning to send a bill to the government to get reimbursement for all the money I spent as a result of all that mall walking!" See, we can now laugh through our frustration. So much character building, I tell you!

With the temperatures hitting 42C in the past few days, there is finally something I very, very, very much miss about not being in the US. The awesome California bay area weather. Yeah, those were good weather times!

p.s. In the last sentence, I had wanted to link to some post in which I waxed eloquent about the bay area weather. Then I realized, the posts I have about the bay area weather are the ones where I complain about how it was not to my exact specification! Truly, you never fully realize what you had till it is gone!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Vaanam - the review (sort of)


Before you start judging me for watching Chimbu movies in the theatre, this is what happened:

S had wanted to watch the Tamil movie Ko. Last night, he said he had booked tickets for the movie. Late this morning, we went to the theatre. We were well in time for the pre-movie trailers. A couple of movie trailers later, the trailer for the Tamil movie Vaanam popped up. The theatre was filled with ear-piercing shrieks and whistles. Wow! I turned to S and whispered wonderingly, "I can't believe a Chimbu movie is getting so many whistles for the trailer itself!"

Which was when S turned to me and grinned broadly, "This is not the trailer, this is the movie. We are watching Vaanam. I booked tickets for Vaanam, not Ko."

I think my face became smaller by 3 sizes. For, a) I hate the gimmicky lyrics and consequently the song "Evandi unnai petthan" in Vaanam and had mentally made a note to never watch the movie even if it was featuring anyone other than b) Chimbu, whose movies I think are usually cheap (VTV being the exception). Furthermore, the movie featured c) Anushka, whom I fondly call Anushka maami coz I think she looks like a maami with those big-round kohled eyes.

And now, S had successfully managed to make me sit in the theatre to watch a movie featuring all of the above. Aaaaargh! S, how could you!!

Anyhoo, after some 10 minutes of bristling (and thus happily not paying much  attention to the totally gratuitous opening song and subsequent fight sequence), I decided that I might as well make the best of a bad thing and settled down to watch.

And wound up being pleasantly surprised. The movie has five parallel tracks and of course, one knew that all the twines would eventually meet but it was quite interesting to watch how events would unfold to make that happen.

The stories are multiplexed with one another and hence, before you get too bored with one track, the next track is on. There are some funny one-liners in between to keep you laughing when things become too serious.

But the thing which I found was a very refreshing change from typical Indian movies was that Anushka (one of the more popular heroines in Tamil cinema now) was cast as a prostitute. That was not the big deal. The big deal was that she was unapologetically cast as one.

Otherwise, all Indian movies I have seen, which dare to feature currently popular heroines as prostitutes invariably have a long flashback about how a dead/alcoholic father, a mother racking with whooping cough, a crippled brother, an unmarried sister and numerous other pathos-ridden family members were the reason why the virtuous heroine took it upon herself to become a prostitute. No such stories for Anushka. She just says "I have no education and I took this up as a profession." and that's all there is to it.


Finally, even commercial Indian cinema seems to be growing up! Actors (especially female ones) need not always have to maintain their "good" image - they are acting in a movie and what role they play in a movie has no reflection on their real life!

On the whole, the movie was fast-paced and decent entertainment. While I wouldn't urge you to run out and watch the movie ASAP, it is definitely not something to be avoided either. If you voluntarily go or if you are caught in the theatre like I was, be happy and enjoy the ride!

p.s. In case you are wondering, both Chimbu and Anushka acted fine and I was not irritated by either :-).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Serendipity

Last year (gosh, it is soon going to be a year - it feels like a lot less), when we decided to move back to India from the US, one of the factors which helped me feel a little less odd-woman-out was knowing that a bunch of my peers were moving back around the same time too.

One of these movers-back was my close friend, A (who has been featured on this blog quite a few times, possibly under different pseudonyms). Though she was going to be in a different city, we would at least be in the same country again!

Then, a few days back, A gave me the awesome news that she and her husband are moving to Chennai soon. Yippeee!

Like my sister put it, "Man, I don't believe your luck. You move 10,000 miles and not only do you have a good friend moving back to the same country, you also have her moving back to the same city! And then you tell me that she is probably going to live close to your neighborhood too. No fair".

Yeah, me lucky, I know!

Welcome to Chennai, girl! I am busy arranging the red carpet, the flower-girls and the band! We sure are going to have a grand ol' time :-D!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Of patti and crochet

I have often been told that looks-wise, I take after my patti (paternal grandmother). As in, I have a similar face-cut and smile. Note I said similar and not same. I wish it was the same because patti is one of those lucky people who have naturally smiling faces. Thus, it is very pleasant and calming to look at her. Me, er, not so much. In fact, I have been told by people who had the misfortune of waking me up from deep sleep that I have looked like the dragon that St.George slayed. Sigh.

Anyhoo, patti is also super-energetic (again, unlike me. I think I will have checked myself into a retirement home by the time I turn 40). She would rather be doing something than simply sitting around. Thus, whenever she visits, my  mom specifically sets aside tasks for her so that she does not feel bored.

Recently, I heard that patti had taken up crocheting again (she used to be an avid crocheter when she was younger). When she came to visit a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to know that she had crocheted a napkin for me.

Guess what she had made it out of? Off-white cotton thread which had been used to string flowers together! Apparently she was unable to get hold of regular crochet thread and hence landed upon this improvisation.  Talk about recycling!

However, patti's inner artist rebelled at the idea of leaving the off-white napkin without a border - "It looks unfinished", she said. Thus, she and mom hunted the house till they found some old leftover woollen thread. Using that, patti happily crocheted a maroon border around the it and gave the lovely napkin to me.

I promptly decided that it was too pretty to be used as a napkin and decided to use it as a part of the centerpiece for the coffee table in our house. Here it is:
See how subtly I worked in the showing off?
S and me were both super impressed by patti's enthusiasm and thus set off on a hunt for regular crochet thread for patti. After some googling and calling around, we found a store and bought her several balls of colored woollen thread. Patti looked like a kid receiving candy when we gave it to her - she just couldn't stop grinning!

I hear that she is busy coming up with new things to crochet. I can't wait to see them!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Exercising my franchise

A violet-mark day in my life! I voted for a government election for the first time today. Yes!

The voting came with all the attendant Indian-voting tamasha. We waited for over an hour at the election-booth while voting-machine malfunction was corrected. This was of course accompanied with plenty of shouting, self-importanting and useless stand-bying. Some people walked away in frustration but the majority of voters stood their ground declaring that they were prepared to stand for however long it took for the malfunction to be corrected. I was rewarded for my patience with a violet mark on my finger and a chance to press a key on the voting machine. Yaay - I am now a part of the democratic process!

Marked finger! And no, I don't have dirty nails - it's just that they put too much ink which then spread around!

Other stuff:
1. Since the time I turned 18, it has been a long-standing desire of mine to get that mark on my finger. I remember how my cousin sat on election-day furiously painting her finger-nails. Her sister enquired why she was doing so instead of getting ready to go and vote for the first time. Cousin smartly said, "I want my nails to look pretty when they apply that mark".

2. This election's campaigning has been a whole lot of fun to watch. The various party-affliated television channels showed speeches from their own candidates - some of them were pretty entertaining. There were also plenty of party-ads and smear campaigning too. Of course, there was our truth, their truth and the real truth. Very interesting. Ever since the campaigning stopped, I have been missing this entertainment a lot.

3. I hear quite a lot of working professionals have treated the election-holiday as a vacation and have gone out of town since today is followed by a lot of public holidays. I wonder how educated people especially can be so irresponsible. These people are probably the same ones who will later complain long and hard about how the government is awful and does nothing for the welfare of the people. Even if you don't want to support any candidate, at least file the option to not choose any candidate! At least you will prevent bogus-voting! It is your duty as a citizen of a democracy.

4. Why on earth is it taking a whole long month to reveal the results of the election? Something does not sound right at all.

5. Some of the election-related SMS-es that have been floating around have been really witty. Sigh, I am going to miss the end of the elections!

Friday, April 08, 2011

How to survive Chennai summer when there is no electricity

The way electricity supply works in Chennai these days is, the hotter it gets, the lesser the electricity available. Thus, when the fans and ACs are working hard to cool you off, electricity to the said devices is shut off. I suppose this is the government's way of building our character. After all, if we can survive the Chennai heat without electricity, then we must be able to handle almost all types of adverse situations, no? See, our government does so much for our welfare. Does yours do that?

Anyways, back to the point. This morning I was busy working when all the lights and fans went out leaving an eerie silence behind. That is, till the generator at the bank next door started up. Yup, we had had a power shut down. I frantically rifled through the newspaper again. I had read that parts of our neighborhood was having "maintenance" shut down but not our specific area. Oh, by the way, what once used to be called as "power-cuts" or "load-shedding", now has a new fancy name: maintenance. Though one's mind keenly wonders how certain areas of Chennai need this maintenance shut down *every* week. Exactly what is being maintained? The body-heat level of the concerned citizens?

Anyhoo - a second glance at the paper revealed that our entire neighborhood had been snuck in under some other area's power-cut schedule. Great - so we were not going to have electricity at home till 6.00pm.

Due to various reasons, I had to stay put at home. I survived. How can you do the same?

1. Live in a house which has at least one floor above it (and hence whose roof does not get direct sunlight). If not this, the house should at least be surrounded by trees. If neither of the above conditions are true, tough luck. The rest of the points will not help you. On the brighter side, you will get a bird's eye view of chennai as you evaporate. (Alternately, hit one of the closed air-conditioned malls for the day.)

2. This is a no-brainer - be dressed in cool cotton clothes.

3. Do not move unless absolutely necessary. If at all you have to move, finish whatever you need to do and then come back and sit down quietly till you stop sweating. Permitted sweat-free activities include reading a book, listening to music and fanning yourself.

4. Under no circumstance should you go into the kitchen and light the stove. If this means surviving on water-melon and yogurt from the non-functioning refrigerator for lunch, so be it.

5. Do not make the mistake of bathing. Contrary to what you think, a bath will make you sweat even more profusely, rendering it an absolute waste of time and water.

6. Drink plenty of water. Follow the directions in step 3 to come back to sweat-free status once you have made the trip to fetch the water. Or, be smart and make one trip to get a few bottles of water to keep beside you.

7. If you need to talk on the phone, keep the conversation to neutral topics. Any kind of excitement increases your heart rate and thus your sweating tendencies.

8. Do not go outside the house even if it is only for a few minutes. Once you have gotten some sun on you, coming back to sweat-free status without a fan or AC is very hard.

9. Do not drink hot beverages of any kind. Even if a cup of tea is the only thing that will take you through the noon slump. Chew gum instead or if you have been doing all the things outlined in the above eight points, you can even be lucky enough to sneak in a quick nap (no blankets).

10. Most important of all, do not focus on the missing electricity. This will just cause anger and irritation and that will, you know, cause sweat.

Ta da, now you can grin about a job well done when the turning of the fan alerts you the return of electricity to your home!

Mercifully, thus far, my neighborhood has not had a lot of prolonged outages - this is the first one for the year. The comming summer months will see me keeping my fingers crossed tight. Amen!

* Picture courtesy here.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The ICC 2011 World Cup is ours!

Winners
We won and how! Congratulations Team India! Finally, we can stop looking back at 1983 and start looking at 2011. YES!!!!

Image courtesy www.cricinfo.com

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jana gana...

Who has sung the Indian national anthem which plays at the beginning of every 2011 ICC World Cup cricket match featuring India? Why on earth are they singing it soooooo slowly? It sounds more like something sung as an accompaniment to a funeral march (going by some of India's performances, perhaps it was appropriate but that is a whole different topic).

Especially during the last bit of Jaya he, Jaya he, it seriously sounds like the singers fell asleep to their own singing, woke up with a jerk, remembered they had not yet completed the song and finished singing the rest of it. There are such long pauses between each of the Jaya Hes!

Aren't anthems supposed to inspire you? And shouldn't that inspiration be to enthusiastically DO something rather than enthusiastically hunt for the nearest comfortable couch or bed for a snooze?

We have an awesome national anthem - is it too much to ask for it to not be sung by what seems to be a bunch of geriatric people woken up from deep sleep?

Update: Oh we won, we won! We won the match against Australia! I really should stop watching these matches - my heart isn't built to withstand such stress! But yeah, we won :-D :-D :-D!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The great living Chola temples

About a week back, we made an awesome surprise (all planned by S) visit to Swamimalai, a quaint temple village located near the temple-town of Kumbakonam. The entire area is located in the very fertile Cauvery delta region and thus is generously dotted with lush fields and abundant greenery.
Green paddy fields
The area also has several other towns which are places of historical significance. The Chola dynasty (more than a 1000 years ago) reigned in this area. The Cholas, those avid lovers of art and culture, showcased their sculptural and architectural skills in a number of temples constructed throughout the region.

Of these temples, three of them, the Brihadeshwara temple, the Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple and the Darasuram temple are marked as UNESCO heritage sites. In the case of the last of the aforementioned temples, this was huge stroke of luck - it is quite possible that the beauty of the temple would have been left to crumble into ruins otherwise.

Brief historical aside: The three temples above were built by Raja Raja Chola I, his son Rajendra Chola and his grandson, Raja Raja Chola II. All three temples have similar styles of architecture.

I have visited Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple once before during childhood. All I could remember was I loved walking through the temple compound and the green lawn. So, this time around I was quite thrilled to visit it again. The temple was still as beautiful as I remembered it to be. We took plenty of pictures and tried to decipher the sculptures and carvings as best as we could. In retrospect, we should have hired a guide here too (see below).
Views of the Gangai konda cholapuram temple.*

At Darasuram, thanks to my sister's suggestion, we hired a guide. Our mouths fell open as he showed us the amount of detailing that had gone into every pillar, every window, every ceiling and every wall of the temple. Each pillar showcased a different story or a different scene. Miniature sculptures too stayed true to intricate detailing. We could see for ourselves that what the guide had said in his intro was absolutely true: Darasuram truly was a temple built to celebrate beauty!
Darasuram temple up close.*
As we walked around the temple, I swelled with pride. After all, isn't it wonderful to know your ancestors were purveyors of such talent and beauty! I wished I could close my eyes and go back a 1000 years to the time the temple was built...

Staying true to the spirit of the trip, we were lucky to stay in a resort which was actually a renovated agraharam. The resort maintained its antique-rustic ambiance throughout its property which was totally delightful.
The agraharam turned resort.*
My only regret was that we did not have time to visit the Brihadeshwara temple. Next time, for sure!

But, as a lovely way to relive the trip, I picked up the English translation of Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan, a book I have wanted to read for a very long time (my mom and aunts have raved about it for as long as I can remember). I am told that this book is a part-fictional/part-historic account of the life of Raja Raja Cholan (the builder of the aforementioned Brihadeshwara temple). Mom and Dad had pointed out several historical places on our way back from Swamimalai and now as I read the book, I grin everytime a place I saw is mentioned!

Anytime you make a trip to Tamilnadu, earmark a couple of these days for these marvels of Chola architecture!

* Click on the collages to enlarge.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Mumbai times

Impromptu trips are just SO great. All of a sudden, a routine week turns into something very much worth looking forward to. We had one just this past week. We were going to Mumbai where my sister and BIL live! And from there to Alibagh for a weekend stay. With family and extended family. Yaay!

So thrilled was I that my grin remained intact even as I scampered hard to meet work deadlines, threw clothes together feverishly into a suitcase in 30 minutes, wound up things at home and survived a night with only 2.5 hours of sleep to make it to an early morning flight. S matched me grin for grin just like he matched my rushed pace.

South Mumbai is an awesome place. The entire area has an old-world feel about it with cobbled streets, pretty architecture and quaint stores. Only thing, I was warned again and again that the trip from the airport to Colaba in South Mumbai would be a long one.

For the first time in my life, I saw Murphy's law work in reverse*. First thing, we were out of the plane 5 minutes after it landed. And we got our luggage almost as soon as we reached the luggage carousel (usually the arrival of my luggage signifies that all the luggage on the plane has been unloaded. And no, I am not exaggerating). And then the traffic was so unusually light that by the time I was told over phone (I have no idea what is where in Mumbai and hence had telephonic directions relayed to me) that I would be crossing some particular land-mark, I had already left it far behind. I was at my sister's place about 40 minutes before anyone expected me to. Yeah, I knew it was going to be a great trip!

And a great trip it was. We managed to do some mall-walking, plenty of great-food hogging and total week-end vacationing. I have fallen in love with all kinds of parathas. The feeling of a hot, freshly made, flaky paratha melting in your mouth is simply too divine to describe.

The beautiful coast
Sand, rocks and the sea.


Alibagh is a calm weekend getaway from Mumbai. We stayed in a place built in a mango orchard (the mangoes were alphonsos!! Pity it is not mango season yet) in airy, bright rooms.
View from the room

We woke to the sounds of chirping birds and ocean waves. Had breakfast, lunch and dinner made off the organic vegetables from the farm and fresh fish from the ocean. Got our exercise from walking to the scenic coast and from playing badminton. Got plenty of unwind time with laughter, chatter, drinking steaming cups of ginger chai, reading on the hammock, playing cards and did I mention, laughter? I can totally get used to this.

The fun bunch of travelers

Sunset as seen from the Alibagh ferry area.

My only complaint is that the trip was too short. Still, am totally basking in the glow of an awesome break. Vive la impromptu trips!

* When something can go right, it will.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Exercise

I have talked (or rather whined) about my exercising in various posts in this blog. My primary goal when I first started to exercise on a regular basis was to lose some weight and get some muscular definition.

For folks who have never exercised in their entire lives, even a few days of exercising can show a difference when looking in the mirror. Even other people notice enough to comment upon the altered appearance. And having muscles where none were before brought a high on its own. In short, it was quite easy to keep going.

But then, all new activities soon get the patina of boredom due to repetition. And sure enough, exercising too lost its charm.

Though I knew that exercising was helping me be fit and look better, it was still not a good enough motivation for me to do it regularly. Then I hit upon the idea of signing up for fitness classes. Knowing me, I knew I would feel guilty if I paid for classes and did not go since it would mean that the cost of every class I missed went down the drain (unlike the gym where I could always reason that I would go "tomorrow", though tomorrow sometimes never came for several weeks)

I was right. Where gyms had failed, fitness classes kept me exercising regularly. All this was back in the US.

Then, after we moved back to India, the first few months were too busy to think about resuming a regular fitness routine. I finally got back to exercising regularly in December. And of course, in January, I promptly fell sick. Fever and cough and cold and body-pain encourage lounging on the bed and not exercising.

Finally, I began to feel much better towards the end of January but (according to me  - I am great at finding excuses) still not in exercising shape. After all, I was feeling lethargic most of the time, sniffly-nosed and consequently, cranky .

But then after a week of excuses, even I became tired of them and finally decided that sniffles or not, I was going to start exercising regularly. I had exercised for 3 days in a row when it suddenly hit me that on all those 3 days, I was not lethargic and though the sniffles remained, they no longer made my cranky.

It did not take me too long to realize the only change I had made to my daily routine was to exercise. I had read in several sources about how exercise gives you energy and releases mood-enhancing endorphins. But, while I had always  agreed with being in a good-mood post-exercise (I attributed this to the wonderful feeling of knowing that I did not need to exercise for the rest of the day), I had always pooh-poohed the increased energy theory. Run over by a truck was what I usually felt like after exercising.

But now, I was a believer! I did have great energy for the rest of the day, the noon-time slump notwithstanding. And with this realization came another. Where I had not been motivated by the carrots of "being fit and looking good", I was motivated by "great energy and feel-good factor".

Not to say that I have now become an exercise freak. I still have to push myself to exercise on most of my designated exercise-days and I still sometimes continue lie down in bed long after being wide awake since getting up means having to exercise. However, it has become easier to not skip exercising and not come up with lame excuses since I started looking at exercise as something I do for mental and physical well-being and not for vanity.

Of course, since I have been enlightened only for a few weeks now, it is still too early to tell if this enlightenment too shall pass or not. Still, I am happy that it is working for now!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Indane

Indane is a great Indian company which sells LPG cylinders. Indane considers itself to be God's gift to Indians and makes sure you treat it with respect. After you register for a new connection with them, you wait, wait, wait and continue waiting till it generously decides to bestow a new connection to your name. Oh, the connection is not free or anything, of course, you have to pay for it. That way you can pay and feel extremely grateful for getting something you paid for too. Win-win all the way.

Among the other rules for getting a gas connection, is the rule that you should not have any other gas cylinder in house when procuring a connection. So essentially, when you wait, wait, wait, wait and continue to wait, you are expected to subsist with either wood-stoves or induction stoves or just keep buying your food from hotels. Since most people are not insane (wood stoves are too smoky, induction-stoves - haha, with the highly reliable electricity available here, you are kidding, right?, hotels would be too expensive and unhealthy), they borrow gas cylinders from kindhearted friends or relatives while they wait for the new connection to appear.

We applied for our LPG connection in August last year. After months of telling us they were processing our application, we finally got approval in the first week of February this year. Yaay, we got it in just 7 months - aren't we extra blessed or what? Right during the application process, S told the gas agency folks that we had a borrowed connection with a borrowed regulator due to the long drawn-out process of getting a new connection. Shouldn't be a problem, S was told.

Two days ago, a gas inspector came over to our place. Not for inspecting that the kitchen is well-ventilated or that the gas cylinder would be kept in a safe place. No siree - that would actually make the inspection useful.Turns out, his only job was to make sure that there was no other gas connection in the house.

Since I had no intention of dragging the borrowed cylinder and hiding it under the bed as soon as I saw the gas-inspector at the door, the inspector saw the borrowed cylinder in all its glory. The inspector then magnanimously told me that he would not report the existence of the other cylinder so we could get our own connection. I could not believe how he could shamelessly declare that while Indane took its own sweet time to grant us a connection, we are not supposed to have any alternatives. However, I did not say anything. In retrospect, this was apparently a mistake*.

Today I call up the Indane gas-agency asking what happened to our first cylinder which was supposed to have been delivered hours after the gas-inspection took place. Then we got the news.

After seven months of making us wait, the Indane Gods had gotten angry with us. Since we had a gas cylinder in the house, they had decided to cancel our application.

But I totally get it - how dare we mere mortals use borrowed LPG till the Indane Gods decided our time to use a LPG cylinder had come? Stupid, stupid mortals! When you are registered with Indane, till Indane says so, you don't get to use LPG. And hear ye mortal, Indane shalt make you repent your presumptuous folly. No LPG connection for you!

Thus, as of today, we are no longer in line for receiving our own LPG connection from Indane.

All this is happening in a the country which is aiming to become a future superpower. Bless its little heart.

p.s. BTW, the name of the gas-agency is Kalarani and it is located in Mylapore. Just letting you know so you know upfront what you are facing in case you get cursed and get assigned to them!

* When S went to the gas agency, he said the employees there actually hinted something like we had not grovelled enough for the connection. I guess I should have shed copious tears of gratitude and kissed the gas-inspector's feet when he magnanimously said he would not report the borrowed cylinder. Totally my fault.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Operation Zero Crack

While being the first to admit that I am quite far from the Miss World mold, I am nevertheless quite vain about a few physical features of mine. When I was kid, I used to love the smooth feel of my ankles. For some unfathomable reason, cracked heels were disgusting things to me and I would primly inform my mom that she and my aunts had ugly feet when those horrible heel cracks appeared (for some inexplicable reason, mom continued to love me). I had no idea back then that cracked heels were prone to afflict adults more. Instead, I just assumed that I had been born with divinely blessed perfect heels.

Fast forward to adulthood. Regular readers of this blog will know my penchant and fondness for moisturizing. If a person bathes themselves in moisturizer I guess that person's heels will have a very hard time trying to crack. So, while I did not make the connection, I continued to have smooth heels and I continued to believe in my divine perfect heels.

Fast forward some more. Last year we moved back to India. As I said, moisturizers were mostly unnecessary in Chennai and I had to regretfully give up on using so much. Then, the winter set in. Now, in Chennai, you have to look really carefully to find winter. About two days of the ceiling fan being unnecessary and winter is over. Still, the air does tend to get a bit drier than usual.

Fast forward to a few days ago. I was climbing the stairs to my in-laws house ahead of S when he asked, "Hey Archu, are those cracks in your heels?" I froze mid-step. Just like in that ad where a teenage boy calls a prematurely graying lady "aunty" and the lady hears echoes of "aunty, aunty, aunty", I could hear echoes of "cracked heels, cracked heels, cracked heels".

Stunned, I checked my feet and sure enough, I could spot two cracks on each heel. Noooooooooooooooo. All I could think about for the rest of the visit was "I need to get rid of the cracked heels NOW." How could I have neglected my favorite activity (moisturizing) so much?

Now I have launched Operation Zero Crack. I soak my feet in warm water and scrub my feet morning and night. Then douse them in moisturizer and cover my feet with socks. So what if I look like a geriatric wearing socks in 29C weather? Getting rid of the heel cracks is priority #1.

After 4 days of this routine, I don't know if the heel cracks are healing. But I do know that I have the cleanest feet in the whole of Chennai.

Here's to crack-less heels!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Only in India

For the past three days, celebration (read, eating plenty of yummy food) has been in full swing in honor of Pongal, the harvest festival.

I ate sugarcane today after eons. I still remember the days of yore when we kids used to spread plenty of newspapers on the ground and then seat ourselves in a circle around them and chew and spit the sugarcane husks away to glory. This was probably a negative calorie activity since tearing away the sugarcane's outer layer, chewing the inner layer, spitting the husk out and navigating through the sugarcane eyelets (kanu) used to be quite energy-consuming. This was the macho (and time intensive) way of eating the sugarcanes - the cut and cleaned pieces were for sissies. We kids used to enjoy this ritual a lot and it was one of the highlights of Pongal.

Today, maattu (cow) pongal day, as I stuffed yet another vada into my mouth at my parents' place, I was thinking about how Pongal has mostly lost its significance for urban dwellers. After all, hardly anyone living in a city is tending to farms in their backyards that they can give thanks to their hardworking farm-animals or for a bountiful harvest. Still, considering that Pongal comes with its share of festival food and celebrations, I really was not complaining too much.

Later in the night, as S and me set off home, we bade good bye to my parents and took the elevator downstairs. We were about to walk out of the building when the strangest sight met our eyes. Standing outside the building was a cow and her calf!

The cow had tiny bells tied to its horns. Both the cow and the calf looked resplendent in the silk clothes covering them and the garlands of flowers and glittering paper hanging around their necks. In front of them stood one of the ladies of the apartment complex, venerating them with aarti as the animal-caretaker looked on.

So what if we can't give thanks to our own cows? Just rent-a-cow :-)! Still, it was great to see maattu pongal being celebrated in its true spirit!

There is still one more day of Pongal left tomorrow. So:

Wish you a very Happy Pongal!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Weird tag lines

I simply *had* to write about this somewhere. When stocking our kitchen after we moved into our new place, one of the things we bought was maida (all purpose flour). Now, I am quite used to some desi products having funny-sounding names (kali mark, bovonto, seval-mark beedi (translated to cock-mark beedi), sudermani veti, poomer veshti, Bommi nightie etc. etc.). But the new love for having tag-lines associated with products have me reeling again.

So our maida had the brand name Naga. The tag-line? Naga - the glow of satisfaction.

??!?! So the maida glows or it glows when made into parathas or the Naga company owner's face glows when he sees the profits? No idea. What an irrelevant and weird tag line for an edible item I thought.

Then I saw this ad on TV today: Naga bubbly-bubbly maida. Complete with a lady singing about her bubbly bubbly son and bubbly bubbly husband and how they eat bubbly bubbly parottas made with bubbly bubbly Naga maida.

Ayooooo!
I tell you, this company needs a new marketing team, stat.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Clean slate to write on

Happy New Year 2011, folks! Boy, 2010 went whizzing by or what? Though, like S said, instead of mourning for a year gone by too fast, I should look forward to adding many more new experiences in 2011. That's a great way of looking at it, no?

My 2011 got off to a flying start. First, we went on a family outing to a resort in Pondicherry. The weather was great, the company was great, the food was great and the beach was a stone's throw away. What more does a mini-vacation need?

Then, as if my cup of joy was not full enough, this happened: I went to the in-house spa to get a massage done. The masseuse first asked me if I was a student. Amused, I said no and stated that I was working. We continued talking about some other topic. In reply to a question, I started off saying, "Yes, my husband and I..." only to be interrupted by the masseuse with a, "What, you are married?" followed by, "Oh, then you must be newly married.". I am told I wore a cat which has drunk milk expression for the rest of the day.

Before touching the big 3-0 last year, I was briefly depressed and felt that as soon as I turned 30, I would be standing with one foot in the grave. Only after turning 30 did I realize that except for filling in new digits next to my age in application forms, absolutely nothing had changed. I was going to be as old or as young as I felt and not as dictated by the number of years I had spent on the planet.

Still, it was a total cheap thrill to think that I had looked young enough that particular day to be assumed a student. Especially, since being ID-ed is something which happens more and more infrequently these days!

Yup, like I said, this New Year got off to a flying start :-D!

Here's to a wonderful 2011 *clink*.