In a land far far away

Most people I introduce my birthplace to pass it off as Jaipur, the more famous city that sounds like it but is nowhere near, aesthetically, geographically or culturally. I was born in Jabalpur, a nondescript little town in Madhya Pradesh located almost perfectly in the center of our country and on the tropic of cancer. I’m always proud of that, having a geographic talisman, that represents nothing but the one place where the sun is overhead on the 21st of June. There, I gave a little old-fashioned geographic gyaan. It is a little place swamped with government factories, army cantonments and its ticket to fame is the famous waterfall dhuandhaar or the marble rocks where Narmada gushes over pristine white marble . But dont panic!This post is not written on behalf of M.P tourism (which has a kickass jingle of its own anyway).
I was born in a little village just outside Jabalpur called Madan Mahal. Actually it is one stop prior to Jabalpur station if you go by train. Apparently the best hospital then was in that place far away from where our house was. Of course, today neither the hospital nor the doctor exists. (The doctor had some licensing issues and her degree was revoked! God! I hate to imagine if she was a quack!). So that tragedy apart, we lived in Khamaria, a small village on the outskirts of the little town. Our estate was luxurious, huge villas constructed by the British complete with elaborate portico’s, long driveways big garages and outhouses,red-tile roofs and giant corridors with wooden floors and fireplaces, enormous gardens, parks and tons of trees. It was a cosmopolitan closed little society, where everyone knew everyone else, where one could ride bikes without the fear of any traffic, where huge empty spaces with little grass were in abundance for kite-flying and little shepherds with their flock of sheep used to invade the estates during the hot summer afternoons. Tales of panthers and cheetahs spotted near tiny little creeks just outside the estate used to prevent us from venturing towards the factory which was mostly in a jungle. We had a little triangular park with lush grass and rabbits and deer and even a toy-train, a musical fountain and a dinosaur with glowing eyes. The little Westland bazaar used to come alive every tuesday and I used to accompany my mom and our domestic help as they filled their bags with fresh organic vegetables and fruits. Something that we pay insane amounts for here. Beautiful gulmohar and eucalyptus trees lined the roads which turned flaming orange in the fall. It was a beautiful place to grow up in then and it was my home.
My mornings were all about going to Moni dairy and picking the cow I wanted milked and getting free ice-cream samples of the newest flavors ;bathing in cold water in summers and scooting off to school on Vishuprasad’s bike and watching the buffaloes wallow in the mud as his cycle rolled down the steep hill into Chandan colony and to my school St.Gabriels. My afternoons were playing hopscotch with my baby-sitter and eating her delicious daal-chawal or waking up Blackie from his afternoon siesta. There were no 1000 channels or flat-screen tv’s. I dont even remember paying any attention to the television unless it was Sunday morning 10 am when we watched Ramayan or Sri Krishna in rapt attention. My idea of fun was running around the garden, sitting on guava trees or mango trees and avoiding the monkeys. I used to accompany my dad to Digambar stores, a tiny little grocery shop and then watching in awe as the mithaiwala in sonali sweets made samosas by the dozen in an instant. Eating hot jalebis and cutlets, reading all signboards in shudh Hindi. I knew not a word in tamil. Club dinners and diwali melas where I used to eat Chhole Bhature and ride on giant wheels and hang out with my sister’s friends. Teej season was one of hearty shrikhand-puris and sooji halwas in every aunty’s house. I used to pluck fresh vegetables from mom’s vegetable patch or play with newborn chicks and goats. Wild hibiscus and genda(marigold) lined our gardens. Spent days watch the langurs take over entire gardens and destroy them and named two-red faced ones Morgan and Torgan. Evenings were for pittu or just some crazy bike-riding. Not Diablo 3’s or Wii’s. The trip to the one bookshop in Sadar Bazaar was filled with extreme delight and hour-long rickshaw rides to chungi or the rickety tempos that took you to “the city” were highly anticipated. It was so magical and innocent. It was not a city, there were no supermarkets, no cell phones, no computers, just us in a small little town with so many friends. Summer vacations to Madras were like going to another country in a train that took 42 hours. Still, nothing felt like going home to Jabalpur.
I realize how different my life is today. Of course, you need to keep up with the times and move with the flow of technology. Everything there has changed as well ( as I realized much to my chagrin in 2005). But my memories remain fresh and clear, almost like a fairy-tale.Except that it was real and in a land far-far away.

Ore Chennai Louus Pa!

No, its not an impending India trip that has stirred this homeland-Chennai-loouws this time. In fact it is the result of months of exposure to Chennai bhasha – Chennai tamil, their slangs, culture and habits that has brought out these emotions in me. I realize, I do not qualify to be called a Chennai-iite. I lived in the district of Chennai but cocooned in a suburban (bordering on rural) estate that was a mini-township in itself. I did roam the city like crazy – all the bookstores, eateries ( HSB, for those who don’t already know – Hotel Saravana Bhavan), frequented all the malls, studied in an extremely cosmopolitan school located in one of the modern localities, attended a gazillion weddings that took me in and around the city, played on the beaches and learnt Tamil. But I have come to realize that these were things that any outsider would do too. At home, we are typically not really south Indians – eating rotis and rajma-chawal, speaking in a mixture of Hindi-English, not sporting bindis or following extremely orthodox traditions or pujas. Most of our friends were also not from Chennai or south India. My parents though hardly aware of most of these customs ( they never lived in Chennai all their life until 5 years back) strived to give us a good heady mix of north and south Indian stuff. We are what you call – hybrid. This realization dawned upon me only when I came to the US (surprise surprise!) and when I met the folks who roamed the streets of Royapettah ,Gopalapuram, Mylapore and T-Nagar, played cricket (or was it Gaadji (batting)) in corporation grounds, terraces and beaches, ate at Bhagya’s or gorged on Aatu-kaal paaya at Ponnusamy’s, or stopped to have tea and biscuits after a game of cricket in a Nair kadai. I dont know this chennai but I am loving everything I am learning about it.
Add to it, the addictive following of some fantastic blogs by regular bloggers – I realized I had to move beyond my college folks who have synced their frequency of new posts with the occurence of solar eclipses, resulted this new found love and respect for chennai. It is indeed a city that is like no other. From Krish Ashok to the eloquent Maami and Tamizh Penn, they reflect this new modern era that youngsters in Chennai are ushering. Not afraid to flaunt traditions or mock fun at some of our oddities, they bring pride into traditions and culture. Not to mention – Tambrahm rage, the comic strip creating waves all over, pokes fun at extreme irritation caused by brahmin traditions on children. I particularly enjoy all of this because though my parents did not strictly enforce all of that at home, (they do enforce some) it still resonates with my daily life to a great extent. It is fun to read about how all grownups cringe when their mom calls curd rice “Thacchi mumum” in front of friends (happened to me a gazillion times) or the scorn of the maamis in Kapaleeshwar temple when they find me not sporting the pottu. It brings a warm gooey feeling inside to connect with your culture and poke fun at it, being proud at the same time. It is a feeling I cannot describe.
Why am I forgetting cricket? There is something unique about the love for the game Chennai-iites have. We are the city that gave Wasim Akram and his team a standing ovation after losing a match instead of flinging things at the players. We are ardent fans of the team as is and not of any one player. Take CSK or Team India. Never do we support a member from any one team, it is always the entire team and the sport we love. I don’t know if I have seen such widespread support for the entire team anywhere else. Now thanks to all the World Cup celebration and the whistle-podu videos (did you know it has been converted to Six-podu this year?) I cannot wait for CSK to win the IPL again this year. The tunes are so catchy, not to mention the dance moves. How can you resist from joining in?
And finally, my joy of discovering madras bhashai. Though known mostly for being rude, crude and incoherent with pure tamil, this is something Tamil purists (esp. those from deep south like Madurai) cringe or even chide. But I love it. I love it for the sole reason that it sounds like a lot of fun. To me, it sports a very cool and carefree attitude. I am still learning since I don’t understand many of the terms but I love saying the words and the phrases. My tamil movie knowledge, close to 0 (no wait, it was 0) is slowly inching up. I enjoy Senthil, Goundamani and Vadivelu and their crass comedy which despite its low standards, can bring a chuckle to your face. Seriously, apart from lines in Sholay and Andaz Apna Apna – why dont I remember anything funny from Hindi movies? Did I just forget our Thalai, the greatest ever? My apologies.
I wouldnt express the same kind of love for all the people there though, thanks to some very unpleasant experiences.But I have met a few good ones and I am eagerly looking forward to finding those makkal, who would make my day whenever I meet them. It is sad that some sorry-ass chennai hater had to write the lonely planet guide brief for this fabulous city. ( I did not know this until I read it myself in some of the blogs I mentioned. I wholeheartedly support the writers in showing complete hatred and bewilderment to whatever has been written). Ask any person who doesn’t like a particular place/dish/person to write something about it/him/her, I doubt it will be the true picture.
I know many people try so hard to shrug off this tamil culture when they leave India and sport fake accents and try and follow American customs. They feel embarassed to admit liking movies starring Dhanush or supress liking some of the unique traditions we have. I really feel sorry for such people for trying so hard to leave something so precious. Anyhow, having vented out my feelings, I can now get back to that term paper due tomorrow.
In any case – “Chennai ku oru periya Whistle podu!!!” ( A big round of applause for Chennai – decently put).

PS: I am excited about the Royal wedding. To all those folks to sport the “I-dont-give-a-shit-who-is-William-and-I-dont-care-if-he-married-a-guy” attitude, I dont care. It is not everyday a commoner (okay she is super rich and hot) becomes a princess.

Goodbye, Uncle Pai

Uncle Pai passed away last week. It is another bitter reminder that our childhood days are long gone. I, like millions of other Indian kids growing up in the mid-1990s loved them. Railway journeys were exciting because of the inevitable trip to the Wheeler & Co. mobile stalls where my eyes would scan hungrily for the latest issue of Tinkle Digest. Summers were even more looked forward to because of the Tinkle specials ‘ Suppandi’ or ‘Naseeruddin Hoodja‘(who was also my absolute favourite). I cannot remember being more excited about any other birthday gift than the 12 volume ‘Mahabharata’ that my mom gifted me, or the sheer pleasure of opening those old wooden boxes during hot summer afternoons and unearthing the millions of volumes of ACK that my sister had lovingly sorted and bound into volumes. I can so connect to all those carefree summer vacations spent reading and re-reading those books. Not only were they excellently educational but they were my initiation into the intricacies of Indian mythology. I jumped right into it. There were days when every character’s past and role in Mahabharata was etched clearly in my mind, days when I could recite Ramayana in my sleep (That is partly because of my Grandpa, he spent hours everyday telling me the story while I imagined colourful pictures of the monkey army, the evil Raavan (until Abhishek Bacchan came and made me feel like the mythological one was an angel) or the loyal Hanuman. )The news of Anant Pai’s death brings back some heavy duty nostalgia which I am not really a big fan of. It makes me feel so deprived now. But what it also brought to light is the conspicuous absence of cartoonists/children’s story tellers/ grandpa’s who told interesting mythological tales in modern India. (Forgive me for my ignorance if they are, but I doubt anyone has such an impact – except maybe Karadi Tales?)

I know that off-late, my blog is full of complaints about the way modern India is losing out on a lot of things so I won’t prod along the lines of how India has no taste for satire (since people take themselves SOOO seriously or that post R.K Narayan, we won’t have anyone left to fill that space of ‘The Common Man’). The point is we all should laugh at ourselves in a while. While we should aim at educating our genX about Jataka Tales, Panchatantra, Ramayana or gift them the wonder of ACK, we should also aim at encouraging comic-cons. It is astonishing that a country of 1 billion with the most fertile minds does not have a gazillion comic strips, a hundred stand-up comedians( Russel Peter -he is Indian origin!) or picture books. The point is, it does,just that those people never really get a break to the big league. I subscribe to a whole lot of such funny blogs (many of them columnists in renowned newspapers) which keep you in splits. Take a bow ,Ashish Shakya (the co-writer of our only funny show ‘The Week that Wasn’t’). He is one funny man.

It takes a genius to keep a child engrossed in an activity that does not involve plunder of some object. So I totally respect folks like Uncle Pai, the editors/creators of Champak, Chacha Chaudhry (ooo, Sabuuuu), J.K Rowling (now she deserves a standing ovation – 400-600 pages on average and we literally swallowed it!) and all the Cartoon Network shows. Hell, they’ve changed too! No more Pinky and the Brain( my fav) , Dexter, Scooby Doos, Centurions, Swat Cats, The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, Captain Planet, Johnny Bravo, Top Cat etc etc. I saw recently the cartoons looked way more dumb-er and looked all very Japanese-y to me. (Is it becoz I’m old now?) Gah, the point is certain events act as bitter reminders of the enjoyable times you had and you cannot help but look back and smile wryly thinking about those absolutely blissful days. Why do we grow up again?!

And then we can always sit around and discuss about how the kids of today are missing out on real childhood pleasures. But in this case, they are.

Goodbye Uncle Pai. I enjoyed all those nights and days I spent on the top-berth of a rattling train drinking frooti and reading about Tantri,the Mantri or Shikari Shambu. I wish I could do all that again.

PS: How much do Tinkles cost now? Plus, do the Hoodja specials still come out? I’m adding items to my list I’m making for my next Landmark plunder. 🙂

A very happy Diwali indeed…

Pleasant surprises are always welcome. After spending most of the gloomy, wet thursday studying for the Kinetics mid-term and then finally writing it in the evening, I wanted a break from the monotonous and tedious routine of preparing for exams and studying my ass off. Someone up there did hear my wishes and voila! what followed were two successive days of amazing parties culminating in Diwali celebrations.

After the mid-term, our research group headed to Uncle Julio’s, a mexican grill located quite some distance away. We were celebrating a birthday and two successful PhD thesis defenses. The group was multicultural and multi-ethnic with Turkish, Greek, Korean, American, Indian(me) and Puerto-rican representation. It was so much fun! We(myself and one other member only) started off by hunting for the only vegetarian dishes in a menu full of beef,pork,frog legs and baby octopuses. Photographs were taken, dares were given, new drinks were tried, tubs of nachos were emptied and the conversation just freely flowed. There was exchange of cuisine details ( Paneer Butter Masala, Naans and Butter Chicken are total favourites of everyone around the globe, I discovered). We tested the spice-tolerance of everyone thanks to an awfully spicy pepper included generously in all our dishes. I ate a vegetable Fajita and maybe close to a kilo of nachos. I am never able to do justice to any of the restaurant serving portions here so invariably I packed up half my dinner (which will be my dinner today) and we continued the photo-sessions, the leg pulling, the hand-symbol games and the teasing till the food kinda settled down inside. We then headed to the Italian pastry shop to celebrate a birthday. The pastry shop was one I had seen only in movies. Dimly lit, it had a very pretty and crowded bar and little cute tables with small candles on them. I guess our group of ten was the only non-couple party out there and we headed out to the covered patio which had a fire-grate and logs of wood burning and settled down cosily. There was turkish tea, cinnamon coffee, white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake, peanut butter and chocolate cake and so many other varieties ordered by the others. I was asked questions about the caste system of our country, the religion and the festivals and other things which are second nature to us but they look at it with so much curiosity. It was amusing trying to explain the origins of Diwali to everyone. Then there was the whole topic about turkish coffee and the tea-leaves reading which those people are so good at apparently. I tasted it, it was horrid to say the least. No sugar, no milk and the coffee powder is not drained off from the liquid. My facial expressions on drinking that, got everyone rolling in their seats. It was a memorable evening, given many of these people are graduating to take up different professions in different parts of the globe. It was fun,food and frolic at its peak.

The next evening (the day was so sleepy thanks to the sudden chill in all of US with temperatures well in single digits -thankfully positive here) got even better. A couple of guys organized a potluck party on Diwali eve. A friend of mine and I made pulao to contribute to it. The others got curd rice, homemade snacks, gulab jamuns, sabji and the hosts had the drinks, nachos and chips. We had a ball! (Literally all of us kept taking turns bouncing on their gym ball). Jokes apart, it was amazing fun. We played a plethora of games, ranging from a warped version of cricket with a tennis raquet and ball which had rules like if you hit the wall directly, it is out and strict under-shoulder bowling to card games which were so much fun ( all were new to me but I am now in love with them) like Bluff and 5 Carder. We played Uno, Clue and the hosts had a dart board in their living room which we enjoyed playing and distracting the members of the opposite team. I am no good at it since my aim is horribly pathetic. I was happy to even touch the board with my dart! 😛 Food was in plenty, so were the desserts and so was the teasing,leg pulling and laughing. A very very memorable diwali party. For once, we all forgot everything about academics or exams and just had fun.

(Long post I know, but this is for me to read later -when I’m old and jobless perhaps! :P). Sometimes, no-plans become amazing plans. We all woke up late (the other roomies were in other parties themselves) and there was an impromptu enthusiasm to cook in all of us. We split up the dishes ( I made pulao – Ok, I know I’m becoming some expert in making it or something; Ramya and Pallavi made the Shira barfi and raita ; Richa made chole and Priyanka made kheer) We did a small Lakshmi Puja after my elaborate oil bath and then dug into the food! Awesome it was! A sweet and warm, homely Diwali!

It is freezing outside, close to 4 degrees and the windchill making it 0 and cloudy and windy. I have a midterm on tuesday (sigh!) and one more the week after. Somehow, I’m recharged and raring to go. Festivals do recharge you emotionally!
On that note ( to all those to stuck with me and actually read the entire thing and to everyone else as well)

HAPPY DIWALI! 😀

PS: Some pics are here, more will be added later!

Team efforts of our apartment
Team efforts of our apartment

And finally, the fun sinks in…

Contrary to most people’s experiences about having fun (i.e its all fun and free time in the beginning and then come the exams which vaporize the tiniest bits of fun that could ever exist), the fun is now beginning to show up in the most unexpected places. No, my course work hasn’t reduced nor have my assignments and mid-terms vanished. We are beginning to have fun in the middle of it all, that is the fascinating part!

There are jokes in the middle of a matlab code, sarcastic comments in the middle of partial differential equations, simultaneous hunt for articles on the net which is immediately mailed to everyone else, detailed explanations of solved homework questions to those who dont understand, plenty of cross-talk, discussion about the running back and the quarterbacks in the middle of a transport theorem, inboxes full of current homework files and most importantly, collaboration. The class diligently troops into the computer lab after every class and after the flurry of printouts to be taken of papers, assignments and lectures, starts their homework. There is doubt asking, clarification, help and lots of laughter and fun. Interspersed between course work is probably the tactics of the last football game or the last match that federer lost or tid-bits of interesting gossip and news about the faculty that goes around. You have discussions about how Indians nod their heads in the exact opposite fashion of Americans or how our vector symbols are so different from their squiggles. There is imitation of teachers, whiffs of free food being detected by someone and the rest zooming in that direction to make the most of it and so much more! Gosh! I’ve never had such fun in my life. It is globally diverse education at its best. Amazing fun, (though might be very geeky superficially, trust me, its the best amalgamation of fun+knowledge that anyone can aspire to have!)

Speaking of different things, (thanks to end of thermodynamics mid-term and final submissions getting over), I decided to swim in the Olympic pool of our recreation center. Of course, facilities are world class with heated showers, sparkling locker rooms, shower gels, absolutely clean pools, plenty of lifeguards and fresh warm towels. The feeling was a class apart. It felt absolutely great to use the same pool that the best in the world once swam in. Though, the temperature of the water,as I discovered the moment I dived into it, is kept such that your body does not sweat once you have warmed up. In short, it is cold as soon as you enter. It takes around 10 laps to warm up. There are 3 pools, diving, competition and family pool and it was packed with people. Awesome experience. I am so making it a habit. Georgia Tech Aquatics – simply godlike!

I’ve had my dinner (rice and peas curry) and am now contemplating if I should open my box of Haagen Das Dule De Leche. Maybe not. I’ll save it for when I’m blue. Ah, that reminds me, Chiggy wiggy seems to be pretty hot in Indian airwaves, though I didnt appreciate it all that much. Let me continue listening to the remaining of the blue songs and yeah, I didnt like Porcupine Tree’s latest at once but I hope it grows on me.

Man, I love weekends 😀 :D.

Vacation

Vacation is

…getting first off a plane only to get lost in the luggage concourses, followed by a relieving hug from G-Joo at 1 am!

…cuddling up and sleeping next to mom after 3 whole months.

…giving sis a bear hug after half a year.

…introducing yourself first time to your 2 month nephew and being called a-gooo. 😀

…playing with all his toys and rattles.

…watching the Manhattan skyline from the bed.

…looking at the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island bridge and Hudson from the living room window.

…eating steaming hot idlis and mum-made coconut chutney for breakfast.

…driving in a BMW to the biggest mall and entering every shop possible.

…trying out shoes at Nine West.

…getting locked out of a GAP trial room in the store.

…digging a Mama Sbarro’s pizza and planning the next store to attack.

…not being able to decide between a Donatella or a DKNY jacket for half an hour.

…tasting divinity with Dule De Leche from Haagen Dazs.

…hunting for swimwear in Macy’s and buying something totally unplanned for.

…getting irritated with the full-of-attitude AT&T store people.

… introducing G-joo to twitter \m/

…enjoying the morning breeze on a walk with mom.

…giving nephew first ride on shoulders and making him sleep.

…eating homemade godlike pulao and beans sabji followed by Ben&Jerry’s Imagine Whirled Peace. (yummm)

…finishing the shopping list with visit to the all-familiar Target.

…eating california burgers with coriander chutney and sauce.

…more ice cream.

…showing mom around facebook and all my friends.

…hot mom made dosa with garlic powder from Grand Sweets.

…debating which phone to buy for ages and finally deciding on the iphone.

…thinking of a twitter nick for sister.

…watch nephew sleep and smile in his sleep.

Ladies and gentlemen,now that’s what I call a PERFECT VACATION!
😀
{Thank God for the awesome break, Im all set to hit my books again! \m/ }

Chotu’s homecoming

It was the usual welcome for me. The familiar horn of the ancient white ambassador ( I love the white curtains on the windows though, I wipe my nose on it many times..hehe), the crack sound when the car doors open, the familiar voice of the driver ( I know him very well, after all it is he who drives me carefully everytime to my doc even talking to me and never complains about the mess I make on his carefully laundered white seat covers!). I began my bark and continued all the way till the ambassador was out of sight. I ushered mom and dad in with the usual tail wagging…I did not expect what I saw next.

There she was. Peering at me from the mesh door, standing ever so solidly. I knew something was up when I saw the extra broad grins on mom and dad’s faces, but NEVER expected her. I stood for a while with my jaw hanging open till I let my nose do some research. Yes, it was her. I jumped on her, coating her with my saliva, scratching her clothes and tugging at her pants. I was the happiest creature on the planet then. Dressed in a dark blue kurta and very bitable jeans, she picked me up and I scrambled all over her. I ran around the sofas, jumped on them and even pushed the cushions down. WOW! She was back!

I do get all the attention everytime, but with her around, I get that something extra. I love the way she will run her fingers under my ears looking for those ticks ( I managed to scratch one out myself and was so overjoyed that I rolled over it and it went back in…but anyways) or the way she will threaten me menacingly everytime I start biting my paws. First thing she does is this full body investigation, turning me over repeatedly but I enjoy that since I manage to extract a belly rub from her. I get the entire breakfast fed with many stories about crows and some weird thing she says about this cat eating up my food. (As if I care!). She is my sole competitor for eggs (damn! some compromises somewhere) and I hate the fact that she peels them early morning for her breakfast and doesnt give me till my lunch! I get those extra chicken treats after her loud argument with mom. Hmmm…it indeed is festive time for me.

Alright folks, this is all the time I have. I just returned from a bath and will soon be dried with that stupid thing that emits a blast of hot air (I HATE THAT!). Then I need to nap before my hot meal of chicken and eggs . She makes me run around these days( she has this new fad of walking really fast and even jogging the whole distance we once walked slowly). So I better not waste any more of my precious siesta time. After all, I need my beauty sleep.

Adios people..hope you have a blast as i am having.

Love
Whisky.