Monday, September 15, 2014

Reunion.


Can't believe its been 5 years since my last update on this blog. An activity that used to consume most of my  time had been reduced to nothingness.

- Obligation to write a few lines which kept my writing going
- Keeping my mind active and entertained in a positive way
- Meeting some cool people through blogging.
- Writing anonymously helped me to vent out without remorse.
- Productivity hadn't improved in the last 5 years

Unfortunaltely, I stopped blogging because I felt that all my wonderful writing was going in vain when Chetan Bhagat was publishing crappy books. So could I. But try as I may, I couldnt compete with that guy and slowly Facebook caught up and satiated my craving for a written word and instant gratification. Now a bit jaded by the sappy updates from my friends on facebook and jealous relatives thinking that I lead a charming life, I am hoping to phase out of FB a bit and give blogging another try. Also, I hate 'likes' on FB. Write something idiot!

Meanwhile an update on the last four years-
1. Got a dog (Jeeves) in Pittsburgh in December 2009- Cute black Lab who kept us entertained and made us proud with his capability of learning new tricks. He was a such a star!
2. Left the dog back in Pittsburgh because he has a medical condition that couldn't afford him to fly back with us to India. Very saddening but got adopted by a friend and Jeeves now leads a good life.
3. Yes, we returned to India on July 2010
4. Because my mom got the dreaded Cancer. I was heart broken.
5. Transfered with same company to work for Bangalore Airport. This kept my mind occupied.
6. Spent time in India shuttling between work and hospitals. Was tough and draining.
7. Mom gave up and passed away on November 21st 2011. Finally she got relief from the torture in the name of Chemo.
8. Dad contracted Pancreatic Cancer and succumbed to it on January 4th 2012. My dad had suffered a while because of other ailments. Emphysema. So his death didnt come as that much shock to us. But I also felt so alone.
9. Took some time getting over the above.The memory of them dying in front of me haunted me every night. Work helped. Friends helped. Hubby helped. Travel helped. I had to move on.
10. Did some amazing treks in Nepal and India- Annapurna Base Camp, Everest Base Camp, Indrahar pass. Fell in love with Hampi.
11. Bought a piece of land in Bangalore and started construction of our house.
12. Moved to Delhi on September 2013. Wasnt too happy about it.
13. Discovered Delhi through William Dalrymple. Became a fan- of both the writer and the city
14. Published two articles in India Today- Travel Plus. Quite kicked about it.
15. Adopted baby boy. The BEST thing to happen yet.

Life may have been challenging...but there's one thing I can say - There was never a dull moment. Except when I read Chetan Bhagat. Confession- I even read that Anu Aunty book and that 'If God was a Banker' book. *spending time on Facebook seems cool in comparison*.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Oh hi!

This blog has become that friend that you postpone calling because you need at least an hour to catch up and you never ever find that hour. How awkward!

If that friend were to be on facebook, he/she would have seen this on my profile- Moving back to India with my company working on Bangalore International airport.

Thank God for facebook, I don't have to update my blog.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Costa Rica, Do you really want me?

Came across this while whiling away on travel sites. Nomadic Matt and Gap Adventures are giving this trip away and I am entering the contest in the high hopes of white-water rafting in Costa Rica this spring. Here's my entry-

Costa Rica, you say? No thanks, I say! This isn’t the case of sour grapes even though it has been established in many years of my existence that I am not to win anything, not even a game of Pictionary. So with lady luck definitely on the side of another loser, I can be less skeptical and more honest. I am entering this contest because it gives me a chance to update my blog. It also gives me a reason to stand out from the rest of the pleading contestants. I don’t have stories of a troubled childhood, which definitely will make me deserve this holiday. I am not a single mom with quintuplets whose babies are stuck in Costa Rica. No sir, I am not even an adventure extremist who can live on slugs or cross the river on a raft made out of chest hair. I do not have much chest hair to boast of.

To qualify my first line, Costa Rica hasn’t really sent me those magnetic vibes like, say, New Zealand or Botswana has. Whenever someone looks at me with glee and goes,’ Guess where I am going next? Costa Rica!’ he can be certain I am not scheming to eradicate him out of abject jealousy. Beaches, volcanoes, islands, hiking, rafting, rainforests and green spotted frogs all sound like something out of my very own dream, but I was never intrigued by Costa Rica. The more I dwell into this issue, the more I am perturbed about my indifference to this apparently lovely country. I’m concluding it to the lack of country knowledge and my general apathy towards a certain demographics that don’t like traveling too far from their comfort zone (America). These people give bad press to the countries they go to- like Costa Rica. Why go to Faristan when Costa Rica is so close? Or maybe it is too green for my untrained urban eyes. Now if I were planning on checking off countries, Costa Rica would be somewhere I’d see myself spending a few hours on a weekend trip after visiting neighboring Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Belize. But I am not that kind of a traveler. I become a ‘ShamWow’ when I go to a new country as I feel the need to soak it all in. Only the sights and sounds, not their entire water bodies (For this free advertisement, ShamWow better send me someplace cool.)

When I heard about this contest, the first thing that went through my mind is, Wow, here’s one competition I can participate and not worry about winning. Otherwise I am a sore loser. I have fantasized about winning such trips, but I never entered any of them for the fear of losing.

I will admit to a few things that may be relevant. I am a person who would like to keep the earth as is and experience the world. I would like to travel everywhere if I could (even Costa Rica), preferably all the time like Matt. I love people who travel and I admire Bruce Poon Tip for what he has accomplished in his lifetime. As my role models, you probably will want to award me with this trip, but I understand if you are put off by my lack of enthusiasm for Costa Rica. But if you feel compelled to prove a point and make me fall in love again, I will grudgingly go.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

He proposes, she disposes.

Angelina, a friend after my own heart, has turned 40, and unfortunately the knight in shining armor has been scared witless and has probably choked on a spear (of asparagus). The boys are there, yes, but no boyfriend. One failed marriage under her belt, she’s rightfully skeptical of everything the spells men, boys, and grandpapas. As much as she puts forth a brave face in front of family and friends and declares she cares ‘two hoots’ for the institution of marriage, she does feel a strange sense of melancholy every time she spends time with her friends who seem content with their respective families, even though Angelina’s heart cringes when she sees Katie, her wild best friend Katie, flipping pancakes and throwing birthday parties for her kids, baking the cakes from scratch. Shudder! If only she could find a husband who’d be there in the cold wintery nights to cuddle with, cook food, one who would indulge her unquenched travel obsessions to exotic countries, and the one who might engage in deep romantic conversations that involve Theory of Relativity. Did I mention she has a doctorate and moonlights as a professor, apart from serving in committes that control the fate of Pittsburgh?

Living in Pittsburgh, there are only two kinds of people she encounters, the Pittsburgh native who can’t fathom leaving Pittsbugh or the people in transit who in their right mind wouldn’t want to live in Pittsburgh after their degree from CMU is complete. An average Pittsburgh man has two sets of clothes and both are the black and gold Steelers jerseys. The nicer one he wears during the super bowl game and the other one is worn proudly everyday. If all the people in Pittsburgh were to line up their Steelers Jerseys around the earth, I think it will go around the earth twice. But the only problem with proving such a fact is once the line of jerseys inches closer to the Western Pensylvania border, I doubt anyone from Pittsburgh would want to move further along the globe even if it is to make some well deserved world headlines. People here do not like to travel away from their comfort zone which includes two houses from their own home in that block. Moving zip codes is almost unheard of unless two people get divorced and everyone in the suburb knows the cause of the divorce. Pittsburgh people might leave the lovely city in search of jobs or whatever insanity, but invariably they come back to their hometown. Being so engrossed with their sports teams; it becomes exceedingly hard for Pittsburgers to devote time for any other activity other than lying on the couch and regarding the television with fondness.

So it is a miracle that our worldly wise Angelina even found a boyfriend in the vicinity. In some weak moment she would get attracted to some dude’s looks or bank balance, only to realize after a week that she needs someone who would take the Steelers less seriously and her feelings more.

Softly cooing into his ear, she wanted to know what was the last book he read.

‘In high school, I guess. Why do you ask?’

She dumped him.

The next one didn’t want to travel to Bolivia with her.

‘Why go to Bolivia when you can be in Pittsburgh? If you really want to go to a foreign country, how about Canada?’

She dumped him.

Being a hardcore liberal and vegetarian to boot, the last boyfriend tested the limits.

‘What are your hobbies?’ she asked casually trying to get to know him after some great sex.

‘Well, watching football and hunting.’

Worrisome indeed. But she attested that everyone is entitled to their own hobbies and like every woman she knew she could change him. She figured that the hunting rules are much simpler to comprehend. You shoot and, boom, your target should cease any activity it was performing by dying. That is much more than she knew about football.

‘Hmm.. Hunting? You have a er.. gun?’

‘Yes, three in fact. You should see my babies. Do you shoot?’

‘Yes, with a camera. I have three lenses. You should see my babies. Heheh. I just got back from Botswana and the camera really helped in capturing some of the animals.’

‘Yes yes. It’s in the Caribbean, right? You took pictures of dolphins?’

She decided to be polite and move on to some topic that involved Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He seems to show some excitement by asking if they play in some bar on East Carson Street. So she tried to change the topic back to his original love.

‘So where do you practice, ermm…this hunting?’

‘On Montour Run trail. I hunt deer there.’

She dressed up quickly. A month later she left Moon Township (where she ran everyday in the Montour Run trail) and moved into the city where there are no woods. Needless to say she dumped him that night itself.

After many such car wrecks, her family decided to show some concern to her lonely state and decided to hook her up with people they thought would definitely work considering her desperate state. Till now her family didn't interfere. Her aunt took her aside and said, ‘I’ll introduce you to Roger. He’s been divorced thrice with 8 kids and is probably paying more alimony than what Bill Gates earns. He lives with parents, but the good news is that he has driven them insane, so they might end up in an asylum soon. You may meet him next week when he is released on bail.’

Now I’m wondering if I should introduce Angie to Karthik.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Gandhi lived here

January 24th 2009- Johannesburg, also fondly known as Jo'burg is roughly located on the Northern central part of South Africa. A few hours away from Krugger National Park, Drankensberg mountains, and the country of Bostwana, its location is quite coveted. The biggest surprise as we land in Jo'berg is how progressive the city looks. The transportation system is in par with the US. We just rented a car from the airport and took off with a GPS. Though unlike America, we get a tiny car that rivals the Maruti in India. Hilly and almost picturesque, we see cute little subdivisions that dot the slopes. Just like Lagos, white people don't seem to be on the streets walking. Blacks are everywhere, walking with umbrellas, either going to school or cleaning the streets. As a brown person, I guess I could choose which camp to be in. Most black people were working menial jobs and most white people were shopping at the malls. Did I tell you things are very cheap in South Africa. Cheaper than the US and much cheaper than Nigeria. BTW, Nigerians are regarded as scum in every part of Africa other than some parts of Nigeria itself.


South African art is quite pleasing to the eye. But then there are somethings that the eye can't see. Deep down in every South African's psyche is the strange feeling of actually walking in an (apartheid) free country. I couldn't get my head around the fact that 4 million minority whites ruled 20 million blacks. To do this with such brutality and for so long right into the 90s….is something I can't even imagine. Can you imagine how it must have been for me to actually stand on the ground where so many people fought for their rights- to able to go to schools, to get health care, to be able to live in areas they wanted, to walk freely with their heads held high, to live in peace and above all to be treated as humans in their country, the country of their ancestors?

In our tour of Jo'burg, we passed through a highly affluent neighborhood called Houghton. During the Apartheid Government, this locale was primarily a 'white-area' and any blacks trespassing would be arrested without interrogation and put in prison for 6 years. Even now, as South Africa heals, we don't see many black people here other than staff. The houses here are grotesquely huge. Unfortunately we couldn't admire these homes due to high compound walls, with electric fencing as heightened security measures for a once paranoid white population. Some of these houses are now being converted to offices.

Hillcrest was another White-Area, but it was the only area that blacks were allowed to come to and the only place where they could meet the whites if they 'had' to. Present Jo'burg is seeing a lot of black people moving into this area and the whites slowly moving out. We do see signs on abandoned stores that show some evidence of the past. 'Non-Whites not allowed' or like the photo above.

Our next stop at Soweto (South Western Township) was quite an eye-opener. In the 1900s there was an outbreak of bulimic plague and many blacks started getting affected by it. Using this as an excuse, the British council moved ALL the blacks and Indians to Soweto to be used as 'evacuation camps'. Soweto is 10 miles away from the white city. With more gold being found in the area, more blacks came from every where to work in the mines. The Soweto slums increased in size to 1 million people. Many uprisings against whites took place here. Many freedom leaders grew up here as did much of the African consciousness. One most noteworthy person is Nelson Mandela. Winnie Mandela (Nelson Mandela's ex-wife still lives there in a division in Soweto called Beverly Hills-slightly nicer neighborhood, hardly the Beverly Hills of Southern California). Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto is on the same street as Desmond Tutu's. So Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world to house two Nobel laureates.
Seeing the prison that housed both Mandela and Gandhi was quite a stirring moment. And there, said someone, is the Gandhi statue. Yes, I do see the signs saying Gandhi square, but that guy is not Gandhi. I was certain. Then it struck me, quite profoundly! Gandhi was not always old, slouching with a stick talking a long stride looking at heaps of salt in the horizon. He was also a young barrister smartly dressed with books tucked away in his hand, a stern face that would take no racial nonsense, not in India and definitely not here in South Africa where he was flung out of the first class compartment in the train for not being white. He stood up for the atrocities shown to his country men in South Africa before he left for India to lead the country to freedom. It is also said that he didn't really care much for the black people and considered them savages. Interestingly, our good old man is branded racist among the blacks of South Africa and they was some resentment for this statue to be unveiled in the first place. This could be attributed to awareness at that time and brainwashing of the Indians in South Africa against the Blacks (which I believe is still prevalent). Later in India, Gandhi stood up for the cause of untouchables and no 'rasict' would have done that. Anyway, I think Gandhi started the first passive resistant movement in South Africa and got the Black people motivated to begin their political movement.
So Yay to our Gandhi!

In the corner, there's a Zulu Muti store 'Museum of Man and Science', that sells every conceivable ingredient for the traditional African healers to perform their medicinal skills for any ailment ranging form common cold to hepatitis A. The store sells star fishes, snakes skins, lion teeth, bones of assorted animals (or maybe humans too..i didn't ask) and of course intestines neatly folded. There were drums and spiders. I bought souvenirs for all of you from here, but they ate each other up. Expecting to see a Zulu guy with face paintings and spear, I walk into the store to get a closer look. 'You don't look Zulu at all' I say to a few folks that look more Indian than I. They laugh and say they are from Madras, at least their great grandfather was. They were so excited that I spoke fluent Tamil (hah, at least I could trick them into believing that) and were very happy to have met fellow Tamilian. I think I had more similarities to that stuffed monkey in their store than them. Indians seem to have permeated all sectors in South Africa, even as freaky as above. Being third or forth generation Indians, they speak very little of their mother tongue, but are fluent in Afrikaans and other local languages. Just as I was leaving their store they wanted to know if Aishwarya Rai is Tamil. I say she is from Mangalore. It took me a while to assuage their sorrows.



Drakensberg (Mountain of the Dragons) in South Africa is the home to the Zulu warriors, who have for the most part abandoned their spears and taken up to farming. I was very disappointed to see Zulus in pants riding bicycles. What was not disappointing was the stunning scenic beauty of their home in the mountains, a backpacker's paradise. Beautiful and lush green mountains are found just a few hours south of Johannesburg. We hiked up to a few caves at Big Castle Mountain to see some bushman paintings. Nomadic bushmen used to roam around in these mountains only 500 years ago. They are said to have traveled all the way from West Africa in the BC to East Africa and finally to South Africa in the later stages. They are just 4 feet tall, nomadic hunter gatherers and talk in the famous 'click language'. See Gods Must Be Crazy movie. A few tribes still thrive in the Kalahari Desert though many of them are lost to colonization, civilization and the lure of better lives in the cities. One of the people we met was a bushman and when she spoke in that 'click' language, I was stunned to note the kind of sounds a human body could make. All day I tried to bring out that guttural click and in the end I managed to hear my bowels groan.

South Africa seems to have it all. Capetown was awesome in its own beachy way. The vibrant culture, the wonderfully friendly people, the wildlife, the natural beauty, the natural resources (gold and diamond mines), the art, the history…No wonder the British couldn't leave. I didn't want to either.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Shower without Thunder

When mankind plunges into amnesia just because they all bumped their heads on the same rock, I would want them to regain their entire memory only to have forgotten one thing- baby showers! Yes, that would make me very happy.

I went to one baby-shower during those days when my thinking was confined and my exposure limited. Hoping to see a naked pregnant lady getting into a shower while guests looked on, I was in for a rude shock and am still paying shit loads of money in therapy. What confronted me was a fully clothed glowy type pregnant person who seemed quite smug and hassled at the same time, ’Thanks guys! So sweet of you to do this for me.’

I had already done the congrats bit before and since I had to say something, I lied,’ You look great.’ In fact in reality she looked like a python that swallowed an auto-rickshaw.

After settling that awkward bit, I just about sit down to eat the nipple shaped cookies when the hostess (a friend of hormonal pregnant lady, equally hormonal and obsessive about making sure everyone has a terrible time) decides to kill whatever little joy by announcing games. Right under our noses, are 6 diapers that are disgustingly soiled to depict various stages of stomach malfunction. In fact, the hostess proudly informs us that it’s not human excreta, but different chocolates melted to look like the real deal. ‘Look at the various poop in the diapers on this tray and please write down what chocolate you think the baby had for dinner. You are allowed to smell and taste.’ This is a sure shot way of keeping all the other women in the room very prompt with their birth control pills.

Melted on a diaper with little raisins and peanuts peeping from the shapeless brown mass, however much you want to believe it is chocolate, you end up swallowing some of your puke. If this makes Guantanamo Bay sound like a massage parlor, wait till you hear more torture that I had to endure.

Then there is a game where you have to guess the correct circumference of the mommy-to-be’s stomach. ‘Diameter of the earth’ was the wrong answer and so was ‘I’m not sure’. More appalling is how some women will try to cheat by asking me, ‘Would she be at least 6 times my size?’

Then there is the dreaded gift unwrapping at which point there is the mandatory ‘Awwwww’ for each gift from us onlookers. I also have a problem with this word ‘Awwww’, but not so much that I would write a whole post on it. [It would suffice to say, I grew up on Shakti Kapoor going 'Awww' at every nubile damsel he wanted to rape on the silver screen.]
‘Awww, it’s a cute little toy train. You must have missed my gift-registry that was typed twice in the invite,’ she croons while shooting murderous looks at me. ‘Well, I just wanted to get rid of this dumb train that you gave me for my wedding.’ I said while creating more wrinkles in the fabric of the event.

After that terrible experience, I had a huge success rate of avoiding baby showers all together. I fell terribly ill, ran away to New York, had out of town guests visiting…and somehow managed to stay out of the excitement of digging my nails into my skull while playing ‘baby shower’ games.

This time my luck wore out and I got invited to a shower where my friend knows only three people and the person throwing the shower postponed, preponed etc, just to accommodate those three people, including poor me. At that point, after 15 emails, I threw my hands up and said with resignation, ‘Alright, show me the well.’

The hostess in all zeal sent us ideas for games. ‘Who wants to volunteer for conducting the games? I went to this baby shower where they had the measure the belly game. Or this other game with baby diapers, its gross…but we can do it…’ My faculties started failing me instantly and I hated myself for being surrounded by pregnant people. It isn’t their fault, I know…but they are the root of this misery. What probbaly started off as a well meaning congregation of experienced women teaching a few things about raising a child to the expectant mother and giving nice gifts, has now turned into a nightmarish ritual of cheesy d├ęcor, terrible games and a very awkward atmosphere which expects single women, never-been moms and men to attend. Why in the name of Lord do we Indians have to do this? Our traditional bangle ceremony is so cool...some little prayer, bangles, loads of good food and no games! West, please look at the East in this aspect.

So I am big time trapped and dreading this upcoming baby shower. I have volunteered to help with the games with the intention of making it bearable for me. I am seriously considering strip poker. Worry not, pregnant lady will be excluded from game!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

On the road to Timbucktu

March, 2009

If losing your baggage is on your travel to-do list, please refrain from doing so in West Africa. In almost all situations it isn’t your fault, unless of course you feel your camera and the various lenses are more important than an extra set of clothes that you could have packed in your carry-on luggage. So there I was in the market in Bamako, haggling for underwear from a wicker basket with my translator Sekou Camara waxing eloquence in native Bambara. At that point, I failed to comprehend who was more hassled; me, who had never worn anything that was covered in a four inch layer of dirt or Sekou, who probably never ever bought lingerie for any of his three wives. After taking care of that awkward detail, we proceeded to buy the rest of the ‘outerwear’. Sekou, who had an idea what I would care to wear, took me to a section of the market loosely known as ‘Dead Toubab’s Closet’. Toubab meaning ‘White Man’. These clothes are donated by the west and are sold in the streets as 'dead white-man’s clothes' because Malians are convinced that nobody in their right mind would discard their clothes unless they are in the grave. One of the many eye-openers I would witness in the world’s fourth poorest country.

So from a huge pile of T-shirts ranging from second-hand Tommy Hilfiger to Levis, I chose a green T-shirt that said, ‘MARDI GRAS PUB CRAWL’. It came with some gentleman’s body odor (is all, I hope) as an add-on bonus. I found a fabric for a native skirt, which was basically a colorful wrap-around that was to be tied around the waist. After a day of frolicking around in my skirt all over Mali, I was politely reminded that the slit should be on the left to signify a lady of decent standings. ‘I am sorry, where I come from, we don’t wear skirts.’ I tried.

We boarded the Bani bus to Segou on this 100 some degree afternoon (It gets hotter in May). Just before embarking on this four hour journey, Sekou asked me to buy myself a hand fan. ‘I have a book to keep myself busy,’ I assured him. I wish I had listened to him and bought two. Now this bus was supposed to be Belgian import and the Belgians didn’t design it for Malian conditions. The A/C had stopped working eons ago (to save on diesel) and the windows were sealed shut (for A/C efficiency of course). To make sure the passengers didn’t die of suffocation, the officials had punctured a few holes on the roof of the vehicle for inadequate ventilation. The whole scene reminded me of a frog in a bottle. Very soon, I started to feel dizzy and very uncomfortable. If not for the umpteen stops the bus made (for checkpoints, prayer sessions, food breaks, toilet breaks, god-knows-what-else-thanks-to-language-barrier), I would have definitely perished in this very unglamorous way.

Outside the bus, poverty was in open display everywhere and even in the capital city of Bamako, infrastructure is limited to the main roads and a few brick and mortar structures that are used as government buildings, hotels, shops and restaurants. Most of the buildings were made entirely of mud and held together by sticks and tin roofs. Garbage was being burned in every conceivable open space and many plastic covers survived the cremation process. Some kids rummaged the vast fields of garbage for treasures such as a used plastic bottle. What they needed was a good waste management program. Fortunately for Mali, the population was under control and they didn’t produce much trash as the reused almost everything. The scenery was really nothing much to gloat about…just vast stretches of brown and some dirty green (occasional baobab and acacia trees). Every check-point greeted us with a surge of hands of young women thrusting grocery on our faces. You could buy anything from a choice of water-pouches, boiled eggs, carrots, meat, cakes, peanuts, juice, apples, bananas etc.

This was my second trip to Mali on this Engineers Without Borders Project and the tragedy of the most friendliest country hits me each time. More to come..