Saturday, July 21, 2012

Oh God!

Karnataka is reeling under a drought and the government has received plenty of flack for not taking sufficient action. This morning, I read in the newspaper that the government was spending 17 crores as a part of its drought relief effort.

'Oh goodie,' I thought, 'They are doing something. Wonder if they are providing aid to farmers or constructing some water delivery mechanism.' and read on. The answer was: neither.

The 17 crores is going to be spent for offering poojas to appease the rain Gods in not one, not two but in 34000 temples. Absolutely the most logical and sensible solution, eh?

Oh well, at least, Karnataka will have some happy priests soon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's your move, Wordfreak - A book review

It's your move, Wordfreak by Falguni Kothari.

The premise of the book is interesting. Wordfreak (supposedly male) and Worddiva (supposedly female) meet on an online Scrabble playing website. After several months of playing and flirting, they finally decide to meet in person. In the real world, Wordfreak and Worddiva would have in all probability found out that they are actually two much-married, balding, middle-aged men.

However, in the book, Worddiva is 28-year old lawyer Alisha Menon and Wordfreak is 25-year old architect Aryan Chawla, both living in Mumbai. They meet each other and fall for each other like a ton of bricks upon sight. Why ever not - Alisha is a tall (yet waif-like and petite), dark and slim beauty. Aryan Chawla is a tall (and hunkily muscled), fair and handsome stud. And both are single and rich to boot as well - yaay! 

So, the first half of the book moves in total Mills & Boon land where pages and pages are devoted to just how wonderful Aryan thinks Alisha is and just how adorable Alisha thinks Aryan is. This being modern-day India and all, a few pages are devoted to describing the couple having sex in loving detail as well.

If you are into this sort of romantic fluff,  those chapters might have been entertaining. However, I am not and was impatiently wondering if the story was going to go *anywhere* as I skipped pages. I was getting a tad too tired of  reading about two beautiful people mooning over each other while being helped along by other beautiful people. Seriously, not a single character in this book is ugly or even average looking - they are all beautiful and elegant.

Towards the middle of the book, somethings starts happening. Aryan has hidden his past beneath his gorgeous smile and an unfortunate run-in Alisha has with one of her clients results in all his insecurities coming to the fore.From that point onwards, the story starts to focus on Aryan and his relationships and how Alisha acts as a catalyst in helping him resolve his crises. This part made an engaging read as the story wound towards the happily-ever-after end.

The book is well-written and flows well. The secondary characters are quite engaging. I found Alisha's friend Diya very lively and a hoot, though her habit of calling Alisha, Lee-sha (yes, the dash is included) was a little grating. For that matter, Aryan's nickname of "Sunshine" for Alisha made me want to poke my eye too. And in some places, some rather weird observations popped up. Sample this:
"Even though tanned, he was still several shades lighter than her. The quintessential difference between them - he was a North Indian Aryan, and she was a South Indian Dravidian"
Say what!?!!

Still, the book makes for an overall pleasant read and at 282 pages, is a fast read too. Perfect for a holiday.
This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Smile please!

Not so very long ago, when one needed to take and view a picture, a lot of planning had to go into it. First, obviously, one needed to have a camera. Then, a film roll. Then, have the subject framed so that one could take the best possible shot in one try - hey, film-rolls don't grow on trees. Then, click the shot and hope one had done a good job of it. Once the entire roll had been used, it was dropped off for processing. After the processing-center defined processing time, it could be picked up. Finally, the result of one's efforts could be viewed. Phew! It WAS a long process and made all the more exciting for it.

Nowadays, you just need to whip out your digital camera or cell-phone and keep clicking pictures till the cows come home. Charging your device and downloading pictures is so very easy too. Maybe some of the magic of the previous process is lost; still, I love my digital camera and love taking pictures with it.

However, there's the dark side. Everyone knows at least one person who *will* send a link to some 800 pictures every time they take a trip in the mistaken belief that you will view them all. That is a minor annoyance though. After all, hitting reply with a generic "Nice pictures! Looks like you had a great time." takes probably a minute from your life.

What gets my goat is: when watching live shows like concerts, plays and dances not featuring one's kith and kin, what is it that possesses people to constantly take pictures (yeah, some times with flash turned on too) or worse, make a video-recording of the proceeding? Among annoying live-theatre behavior, I think this ranks near the top, right among formidable contenders like crying babies and non-stop commenters.

There you are, happily enjoying the dance or play or musical performance going on the stage when suddenly, the person two rows ahead of you lifts their digital or cell-phone camera and starts filming the scene thus giving you the *special effect* of having a small, bright rectangle of light in your line of sight in the best case or actual blocking your view if you are unlucky.

Seriously, who watches these video recordings once they are made? Perhaps the person doing the filming? After all, they have missed the live show due to focusing on their camera instead. But otherwise? Their family? Their friends? Heck, I have watched my own wedding video, a show where I was the heroine and the center of attention, only once. I thought a live show is special because it is *live*.

Recently, I went to a Thai cabaret show. The lady next to me started filming as soon as she sat down. All fine and dandy except that the show had not yet begun and she was filming the closed curtains! I immediately knew I was next to an obsessive filmer and sure enough, for about 50% of the show, her video camera continued to hover towards my left (after that, I guess her hands became tired). It would have been distracting but for the fact that the gentleman two rows ahead and the lady one row to the right, among plenty of other folks, were filming as well - thus, my eyes just got used to these splotches of light and ignored them.

A couple of  years back, we were visiting the Niagara Falls. We went to a theatre close to the falls which showed a movie about the Niagara Falls. Obviously, there were plenty of shots of Niagara Falls being shown on screen. Guess what some fellow audience members started doing? Yup, they whipped out their cameras and started taking pictures of the screen when these shots popped up, flashes galore. For heaven's sake, the REAL falls were barely 20 feet away! Just because one has a digital camera, one is not obliged to use it all the time.

So yeah, I love digital cameras and mobile cameras for the wonderful ease of use and the opportunity it gives me to chronicle even everyday stuff. But,at times, when I see the blatant misuse of these devices, I really wish I could grab them from the offenders and make a huge bonfire out of them. Perhaps even do a war-dance around the bonfire for good measure.

One can always dream I suppose.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


The other day, I was watching this song Chikni Chameli on TV. Call me a prude but I really don't think that song belongs on day-time television. It is very disconcerting to see a woman, a top-tier heroine at that, dancing so suggestively and yeah, I will say it, vulgarly. The post is not about that though.

So the song was going on and I was lifting up my jaw which had hit the ground after seeing Katrina's on screen antics. Then I realized that there were blurs on sections of the TV screen periodically and started wondering what that was about.  Then I realized that these blurs were actually cigarettes/beedis in the mouths of the extra dancers in the song.

Apparently, our censor board thought that watching these cigarattes will corrupt me majorly and make me take up smoking pronto while watching Katrina's heaving bosom right next to it is will not at all give me the idea that objectifying women so blatantly is normal. Because, you know, while we never, ever see people smoking on the streets, women dance provocatively in itty-bitty costumes on the corner of practically every single Indian road. The ways of the censor board are mysterious - I have never quite managed to figure out what constitutes 'censorable'.

I then watched some more songs on TV and realized quite a few Indian movie songs do have such suggestive moves and no one has any qualms about playing them at all times on TV on channels meant for audiences of all age-groups.

I think I am going to stick to watching Star World and Zee Cafe from now on. At least I know what I can expect on which show and besides, the channels very *helpfully* bleep out all kinds of 'explicit' words both on the audio as well as visually on the subtitles.

Come on, when you know you are watching a sitcom which also talks about relationships, is hearing the word 'sex' going to make you keel over in shock and have you reaching out for the smelling salts? It is sometimes hard to understand sitcoms like Scrubs when dialogs have four or more words bleeped out in a sentence (they once bleeped out the word 'broad' when it was not even being used in the derogatory sense - really) - good thing I have watched each episode about 3 times or so :-D.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Big Top

One fine day, S said, "Let's go to the circus"!

I don't like circuses for two reasons: 1. Long long time ago,  I had read news about a circus tent burning down (seriously, I think I heard too many such "drama-in-real-life" stories when I was younger. Either that or I am paranoid) and since then have harbored a fear of going to circuses in tents. 2. I don't like watching animals perform.

Still, S looked like a kid talking about a trip to the candy shop whenever he spoke about the circus and I gamely decided to accompany him. We reserved our tickets over the phone and headed out last weekend.

We entered a dusty ground and parked the car. S said we should take the water bottle along as it would be hot inside. I said, "Come on, the show is only 2 hours long. How can you feel thirsty sitting in an air conditioned hall?"

S burst out laughing. "You think the tent is air conditioned? Hahahaha! You really think the tent is air conditioned? Hahahah!"

Looking hurt, I said I had visited a circus only once before in my life. I had seen it when I was 8 years old: the Russian circus performed in a large concrete auditorium in Calcutta (evidently my parents shared my paranoia of circus tents burning down). And yes, the auditorium had been air-conditioned. S grinned and simply said, "You have lead a life of luxury till now, Archu. Wait and watch!"

So, we strolled up to the ticket counter and picked up our tickets. Then we entered the gates. And guess what, I saw a big tent ahead - an actual circus tent! Just like I had read about in Enid Blyton stories. I was so thrilled that I even ignored the animal-y smells and instead looked at the four elephants, three camels and seven admittedly anorexic-looking horses parked near the entrance with delight.

Then we entered the tent. And I understood why S had laughed. Calling it a "hall" was generous. It was simply a dusty ground with a concrete ring in the middle. Plastic chairs were arranged all around the ring for the audience excepting  the walkways which lead to the front and the back. A few big pedestal fans valiantly tried to blow air throughout the hall without much success. The whole setup was covered with a big circular tent. So this was what a *real* circus looked like!

We looked around and picked seats right next to the ring - perfect ring-view seats! Pity there were no fans near any of the ring-view seats (I guess the excellent view of the entertainment was supposed to preclude the need for any physical comfort) but thankfully, it is still not peak summer in Chennai and hence manageable.

By this time, the prospect of seeing a real, honest-to-goodness circus had completely excited me and I was completely in the circus-mood, all set to enjoy myself. With only a 10 minute delay from the original starting time, the show started.

It featured all the usual elements - trapeze artists, fire-eaters, jugglers, clowns, daredevil motorbikers, a cricket-playing elephant ( and I must say it performed much better than how the Indian cricket team is performing currently) and so on.

After seeing the clinical precision and perfection of the like of Cirque du Soleil artistes, in a weird kind of way, it was nice to see down-to-earth, "human" performances. As in, the artistes performed well but did make the occasional mistake and then carried on beyond the hiccup. They perhaps would not have qualified for the Circus Olympics, but did a decent job and seemed to be having a good time at that.

Besides, it was interesting to see just how quickly the various helpers set-up and took down props for the various acts. And heartening to note that all the artistes had a strict policy of wearing safety  harnesses for every single act that took place more than a few feet above the ground. To my surprise, the troupe featured all stripes of Indian besides Chinese, Russian and African artistes. But the background commentary was completely in Tamil (and amusing, *very* purple commentary too).

With child-like delight, we both enjoyed the show. It only helped that groups of kids from three different schools had come for the show and were enthusiastically applauding the various acts (it was nice to know that TV and the internet has not completely jaded the younger generation yet).

All in all, it was two hours of entertainment bathed in generous doses of feel-good and the nostalgic appeal of simpler times.

If you are in Chennai, check it out: . It is on till March 11, 2012.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Long winded tale of a train journey

About three weeks ago S and I got the brilliant idea of going to Wayanad in Kerala over the Republic Day almost long weekend (an almost long weekend is one which becomes a long weekend when you take one day off. Republic Day was on Thursday this year).

The trouble is, if you want to travel by Indian Railways, such brilliant ideas should hit you at least a month before your date of journey. If your date of journey, like ours was, is during a public holiday, any brilliant idea would do well to hit you at least 2-3 months before the proposed journey. Because, Indian Railway trains fill up notoriously fast and if you want a sporting chance of securing a ticket on them, you better adhere to booking your tickets by those timelines.

Well, we hadn't. "Fear not," said S, "I know someone who works for the railways who can get us a ticket". So, our tickets were booked; and though our waitlist position was at some insane number, we continued to plan. As D-day approached, our suitcases, dinner, books and snacks were packed. I was running a comb through my hair preparatory to leaving for the station in 15 minutes when S's phone rang.

I heard S answer the phone, listen for a bit and going, "What!?! No tickets? We can't go?" and ran to find out what was happening. Apparently, we had reached spots 1 and 2 on the waitlist and any further movement into getting confirmed tickets was unlikely. Ouch.

Now, I am usually one of those people who obsessively plan their trips. Thus, long weekend plans are hatched well in advance and the necessary arrangements are made eons prior to the actual trip. When the date of departure arrives, all that is left to do is packing, locking the house and heading off to the airport/train station. Thus, any uncertainty in travel plans usually throws me for a loop and I tend to become a nagging nervous mess of, "Oh my God, oh my God, what will we do, what will we do?"

However, that day, I could have been the poster child for the Zen philosophy. Even as S frantically called other people who could help out, I told myself that we would go to Wayanad. Worst case, we will go to some other place. But, we are going somewhere. So, unperturbed, I helpfully hovered around S doing nothing ( in retrospect that time would probably have been better spent ticking off the items on our check-before-we-leave-the-house list but hey, moral support is important, right?).

A few calls later, S said that he was told that we should go to the train station anyway and see if someone there could help us but we should leave immediately to maximize our chances of getting tickets.

Now we both ran like two chickens with heads cut off. Good thing we had packed and done all winding up activities earlier. So we were out of the house in five minutes and in an auto. When you want to get somewhere in a rush, it is a given that all kinds of traffic not seen on normal days will show up. And thus, we found ourselves stranded amidst the Republic Day arrangements near the beach. But our enterprising auto driver found an alternate route and deposited us in the train station 30 minutes later. Yaay.

Once inside, I continued my helpful moral-support giving act by sitting on a bench and keeping an eye on our luggage while S did the honors of running around to find out what to do about the tickets. The thing about S is, if something can be accomplished by talking to people, he almost always accomplishes it. In other words, he is the type of person who can not only take the horse to the water but also  make it drink (and happily at that). So, I was still in my Zen like state and assumed that we would be going on the train we were waitlisted  on. The neat part was, I only had to assume while S had to actually do something about making that assumption come true (can you see a pattern here?).

Twenty minutes before the train left the station, S came running towards me and said that the train's ticket conductor had asked us to take seats on the train and he will work something out for us. Yaay. Of course, it was not the airconditioned coach we had originally wanted, but hey, at least we will be going on the train.

So, S and I boarded a coach which looked like it belonged to the first batch of coaches which were made when the railways were first introduced to India. Oh well. We had another couple already seated in the coupe. Ah, good! Only four of us were there and there were 6 seats. So maybe we will get our seats without much fuss after all. Yaay.

Which was when a group of 6 guys looking to be aged between 20-25 entered the coupe, looked at the seat numbers and declared, "Hey cool, looks like all of us are in the same coupe!" To their credit, they did not remark upon the 4 characters already seated in the coupe. To our credit, the male half of each of the two extra couples got up to make space.

And thus the situation was when the train set off with a long-drawn horn. S was standing in the passage way, I was seated next to the window. Both of us looked at each other and giggled like truant-kids. The train was off and at any rate, we were at least going out of Chennai. Yaay.

S found another seat. I stuck like a clam to my seat by the window. It had been ages since I last went on the train. I love, love, love looking out of the train during day-time while listening to the chugging (which is why I prefer non-AC cars since the chugging is louder there).

So, I sat there, the wind blowing my hair about my face and a blissful smile on my lips while my mind wondered at the blase attitude of the rightful occupants of the coupe with regards to the 2 non-authorized folks occupying their seats (God bless them for that attitude. In the past, prim Ms. Perfect me has often displayed unlady-like frowns and muttered uncharitable remarks about people lacking the common-sense to plan beforehand when I have found myself dealing with passengers having no pre-allocated seats. Like they say, never ever declare that *you* would *never* do something like blah, blah, blah). In any case, my newfound Zen attitude, however temporary, was still sticking around. Thus, instead of cringing in shame, I thoroughly enjoyed the view from the window

S called me over the phone and said that the ticket conductor had said that he would allocate seats to us in an hour and asked me to stay put till then - as though I was going to navigate seven pairs of feet which getting up would entail any more than necessary!

After an hour, the blase attitude of the rightful coupe occupants had diminished considerably, which probably had something to do with progressively sorer backs. I thought I heard someone whisper about why extra folks were sitting in the coupe. However I blithely (though a little guiltily) ignored it. How the mighty had fallen!

Finally, the guy sitting next to me politely asked me what my seat number was. Which was when I announced that my seat was yet to be allocated. To my surprise, none of the guys gave me death glares but nodded understandingly. But that was when my Zen attitude began to take leave. Assuming that all was well in your own little bubble was one thing. But *knowing* that  all was not well with others made me feel very uncomfortable and I started praying that we would get seats allocated soon.

Thankfully, within 10 minutes, S called me and said that the ticket conductor had found other seats for us. After apologizing to the paragons of patience, the rightful occupants, about hogging their space, we lugged our luggage and went to a different compartment.

Only to find 5 people already seated there. God Lord - was anyone *not* traveling over the long weekend? However, it turned out that 2 of them were getting off at the next station. However, we got 3 other people as replacements once the original 2 got off. O boy, were we going to be playing a version of musical chairs the whole night?

Now that we were sitting on fairly official (i.e. not fully confirmed) seats, my Zen attitude had returned full force and I found everything amusing. Finally, 4.5 hours after we had first got onto the train, we got our tickets in our hands. Yaay. Finally, we were all set!

I clambered onto the upper berth with my book, read for a while and then slowly fell asleep to the rocking of the train, looking forward to seeing Wayanad the next day. However, before Wayanad happened, 1. Moron turning on the bright coupe lights in the middle of the night, 2. Moron with a cellphone alarm which rang every single hour, waking me up, 3. Moron hawking coffee to train passengers by yelling "Cofffffffffeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" at 1a.m. in the morning happened.

Still, it was, to put it mildly, it was an interesting experience. And no, I am not looking forward to repeating it anytime soon.

p.s. Wayanad was awesome and worth every minute of the effort we put into getting there.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Wednesday Soul - a book review

The Wednesday Soul by Sorabh Pant is the second book I received from Blog Adda as a part of their book review program. I did not read the book description through fully - just the first few sentences. It had sounded like an interesting enough premise. With the few sentences I had read, I had assumed that the book was some kind of chick flick.

When I got the book and finished reading through the first couple of chapters, I realized that a chick-flick this book wasn't. Nyra Dubey, a self-annointed vigilante finds herself dead after being run over by a bus. She goes to the after-world and finds out (along with the readers) that it is absolutely nothing like popular imagination of after-life. What follows is a humorous tale of adventure, drama and war as Nyra finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy to wipe out after-life.

Sorabh Pant creates a whole new universe filled with "new" characters and new concepts. The twist here is that most of these "new" characters are people we have heard of in this world. Only difference is, they play roles that, while related to their roles on earth, are not quite exactly the same. Thus, Agatha is a Karmic detective. Pythagoras is a mathemagician who reincarnates from time to time as other famous scientists and mathematicians.

To guide us along, there's Radha. N. Recliws, a thought-caster (a thoughtcast is something like a podcast, difference being you don't need an ipod, your mind is enough)  who gives titbits of information about the after-world at the beginning of every chapter.

There is a whole lot of information about the after-world. While this was interesting to read, beyond a point it became tough to keep track of what was what and recollect what a concept meant when it made a reappearance. Skimming through the book is not an option unless you want to be left scratching your head wondering whether you can grasp the English language anymore as there are plenty of terms which will not make sense unless you have read about them earlier in the book.

The book reminded me of Terry Pratchett novels in the way it creates a new world with its own rules. The footnotes in the first few chapters added to that feeling (these footnotes mysteriously disappeared in the later chapters though). However, it was a little more difficult to navigate this world and I found myself re-reading pages at times. It did not help that in some places the editing job was a bit shoddy. Spaces separating events happening in two different worlds were missing and I had to do double-takes.

Overall though, I found the book an interesting read. The various characters featured in the book are very likeable. The writing style is irreverent and amusing without looking like it is trying too hard to be funny. Though it takes some amount of concentration to read the book, it is time well-spent. The book ends after laying the foundation for a sequel. I wouldn't mind reading the sequel too!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Happy New Year!

Chai in a earthenware tumbler that I bought at a handicraft fair over the weekend:

Wah - chai!

So cute - I know!

How are New Year wishes connected to tea you ask. Well, drinking tea makes me happy and comforts me too. My wish for you for this new year is: May you not face any trouble this year that cannot be eased by drinking a steaming cup of strong chai (or insert your favorite drink with appropriate adjectives).

Happy New Year folks and here's to your hopes and dreams coming true in 2012! *clink*