Friday, December 19, 2008

A journey of a thousand miles (and more) must begin with packing the first suitcase :)

Considering the amount of packing and unpacking I have been doing since the last two years, I think I should get into the movers n packers business. I have heard there's a lot of money in there :).
I love visiting new places, distant wonders, far-off foreign lands but I HATE travelling, and thus here are chronicled the woes of my travel on one of the longest routes in the world - almost 24 hours: Chicago - Frankfurt - Mumbai - Chennai; Carrier: Air India. (All times given in CST for accurate calculations ;))

And though our travel starts only at 1655 hrs on Dec 13 at Chicago ORD, here's a must-read prologue:
The journey of 24 hours - 8574 miles begins at least one week before when packing is commenced with the first suitcase. Packing, weighing, unpacking, weighing, repacking, weighing! God, how much do clothes weigh? I cannot travel light. I don't have my husband's uncanny skill of throwing everything, consolidating the bare necessities and moving on. I am emotionally attached to most of my belongings - clothes, shoes, accessories, small presents, cards, photographs, favourite mugs and the list goes isn't it inhuman to ask me to pack almost two years of our lives - memories, paraphernalia et al - into four measly suitcases of 23 kgs each and two inconspicuous handbags!
Without any other option, I set out on the herculean task of packing and trashing. My husband performed the last riots of a lot of my beloved possessions and after some sulking I too reconciled to the inevitable. Curse be on those that restrict luggage across cultures and countries - what a barrier!

The travelogue:
13 Dec
0900 hrs - Schaumburg, IL: Last minute packing, weighing, cleaning the house
1030 hrs - Denny's at Schaumburg, IL: A very hearty breakfast
1200 hrs - Schaumburg, IL: Anxious rest
1400 hrs - Schaumburg, IL: Last good byes to all
1500 hrs - Schaumburg, IL: Cab arrives (we had kept ice creams in the freezer to have at the end but that never happened thanks to all the heebie-jeebbies - somebody in the leasing office had a treat that day!)
1530 hrs - Schaumburg, IL:House keys handed over to the Leasing Office
1615 hrs - ORD Airport at Chicago, IL: Lined up at the Air India check in-counter (fingers crossed that the rude european officers on duty let pass the extra 2-3 kgs!)
1630 hrs - ORD Airport at Chicago, IL: All security check-in formalities completed and begins the long boring wait for the flight.
1800 hrs - ORD Airport at Chicago, IL: Boarding delayed by 30 minutes cause the baggage belt had broken! It has to be Air India...
1900 hrs - Seated in the flight - cramped economy seats - the only saving grace it's one of those Boeing 777's
2000 hrs - Somewhere on the east coast: hot bland indian vegetarian food

14 Dec
0000 hrs - Somewhere in Europe: Stiff neck (already!!!) but lots of choices for entertainment - classic movies to the more recent, TV shows...
0315 hrs - Frankfurt, Germany: Sleepy, groggy. Jolted back to my senses when I realized I had lost the transit pass somewhere. Had to some sweet and sad smiling to the German officers (one of them was amazingly good looking) and guess what the chauvinistic gentlemen bowed and smiled back and didn't create any trouble. Thank god for godly men!
0515 hrs - Back on the flight
0700 hrs - I forget what was served - lunch or breakfast, hot or cold - I don't know. I was sick with boredom and Vish did little to help matters. He just doesn't talk. How much can I keep on talking :(.
Till this time we had been dislocated from our seats atleast four times by the guy occupying the windows seat. I hate the aisle and middle seats precisely for this reason. How many times does the guy need to releive himself...good lord!
1130 hrs - Mumbai Airport: Under construction, hot, dirty, congested and stinking. Welcome to India!
1500 hrs - Mumbai Airport: 30 minutes after boarding time no announcement of the flight. Airport officials busy managing a group of Hajis en route to Bangalore from the Middle East.
1600 hrs - Finally we get to board the flight to Chennai...the last stretch!
1830 hrs - Arrive in Chennai (Local time: 6:30 AM - 15 Dec). We lose 12 hours...what the heck!

Both of us are still battling with the changed environment, the body is taking time to reset to the new time zone, the olfunctory organ is getting used to the smells, the ears are trying their best to tune to the increased noise levels but the heart instantly filled with joy and warmed up at the sight of home. Nothing in the world feels like being at home :)!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Les premières douches de neige

At the risk of being dismissed as a kid, I write here about my new found fascination with winters…cold, white, snowy winters.

I can relate totally to my three and a half year old nephew’s enthrallment at the sight of a truck, only in my case, it’s a snow truck!
It’s such a pleasure to wake up in the morning to the sounds of the snow truck backing up and beeping because that’s a signal that a beautiful sight of a pristine white blanket enveloping the streets, roofs, trees awaits you.

Though hailing from the northern part of India and having been born in Shimla (one of those places in India where it snows), I had not witnessed the glory of a snowfall till the last month. I have seen snow collected in glaciers in Kedarnath and Badrinath, and even California, but nothing like witnessing les premières douches de neige (the first snow showers).

An impossible romantic at heart, appreciating the beauty of nature, I must boast, comes naturally to me but there’s a whole fun angle to this snow thing you know. It takes you back to memories of fairy tale books that talked of cotton balls falling from heaven, of decorating bulletin boards in school with white cotton during December to celebrate Christmas, of the pictures of snowman and Santa with his reindeers on a sledge in the snow, of scenic bollywood songs (Yahooooo..from Kashmir ki Kali being my favorite) and quixotic Hollywood flicks (remember Serendipity?).

Ofcourse there are the practical problems that mundane everyday life imposes…frost bites, traffic jams, cleaning of the car and blah blah and more. But I am not complaining, it’s a delight to throw snowballs at Vish as he cleans the car everyday and complains, it’s absolutely thrilling to click pictures of the poor snow truck guy as he is groggy at work since like 4 in the morning, and finally it’s great fun to observe cars on the road and figure out from the condition of the car which guy has a covered parking! Maybe I have this impish streak in me which surfaces time and again…and maybe the season contributes to the craziness as well :)

Here are some pictures that stand testimony to all the joy and excitement that a white winter brings!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai carnage: bleeding hearts and sore wounds

The world watched in stunned silence as the financial capital of India blazed in the fire of extreme terrorism for more than 50 hours. Images of the Taj Mahal palace inferno, open firing on the streets of amchi Mumbai, terrified hostages being evacuated from Trident, NSG commandos entering Nariman house and the bodies of the deceased being recovered were flashed on national and international news channels 24x7.

What should we call Mumbai’s 9/11? A slap on the face of the Indian government, a ruthless threat to national integrity, an unprecedented attack on the world’s largest democracy – none of these phrases capture the brutality with which the massacre was carried out or the anger and anguish that the citizens of the country feel.

I think, more than the actual incident that occurred, what pains is that this was not the first time nor was it without warning. A country of more than a billion people was not prepared to combat 10 trained militants.
As we witness the funerals of the great officers of Mumbai Police and the Indian Armed Forces personnel, as our hearts go out to the orphaned kids and the families devastated, as our eyes dampen with tears watching the heroism of the “aam aadmi (the common man)”, as we clench our fists in rage at the guts of the terrorists, and as we turn our wrath on the total failure of our intelligence services, we, the citizens of India, feel cheated, let down, bruised, hurt, broken.

And if external threats were not enough, our politicians make sure we remain divided internally. Delhi blasts, Gujarat riots, Hyderabad explosions, Mumbai bombings are all opportunities to play the blame game and score brownie points against each other.
A simple gesture like opposition parties and the UPA making a joint statement or putting up a joint front against the single largest and gravest issue facing the country could not be shown.

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh makes his most unconvincing speech ever in the feeblest voice possible; the President, Pratibha Patil heads to Indonesia for a “meeting”, wonder what could be more pressing a subject than that of national security; the leader of the ruling party, Sonia Gandhi takes almost three days to prepare her speech; the leader of opposition, L.K. Advani sacrifices a couple of hours from his busy election campaigning to sling some mud on the government; the self-proclaimed messiah of Maharashtrians, Raj Thackeray goes underground; the Chief Minister of Mumbai, Vilasrao Deshmukh takes this opportunity to transform the ruins of the Taj to a tourism package; and finally the deputy chief minister pulls the final straw with his famous quotable quote, “Such small things happen in big cities”. This is our leadership! What a contrast to how the US reacted to 9/11 or UK to its terror attacks.

I don’t know how many noticed but there is a crushing irony about the date - 26th November. India adopted its constitution on precisely that date back in 1949. I present here the preamble just as a reminder to our leaders that what we are asking for is not a privilege. Our security is our constitutional right and every time it is violated, the ruling government should be taken to court.

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual
and the unity and integrity of the Nation;


Five days from 11/26/08, and 59 years and 5 days from 11/26/1949 - we are still awaiting a decisive action plan on combating terrorism from the front runners of this country. We are still not sure whether such an intelligence failure will happen again or not. We are terrorized with the Deccan Mujahideen threat of a repeat of Mumbai in Delhi. We are free but our freedom is fettered. Our wounds refuse to heal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Veni, vidi, visa - I came, I saw, I shopped

Yes, I confess I am a shopaholic and guess what I am proud to be one. I can shop anytime anywhere! Shopping is always so exhilarating and uplifting. It easily qualifies as one of the most cathartic experiences I have ever had – a panacea to all my worries ever.

My earliest memories of shopping go down to my toddler years when dad and mom used to take us kids for the routine shopping rituals – uniform shopping at the beginning of each academic session in April, summer wear to brave the heat of May and June, birthday shopping in September, new clothes for Diwali in Oct-Nov and Priyank’s (my younger bro) b’day shopping in Jan and the cycle repeated year after year. Every instance was an outing, a celebration to look forward to.
New things – latest 3-d pencil boxes/cases, lunch boxes, bata shoes, school uniform, frocks, t-shirts, new socks … everything … caught my heart’s fancy back then and continue to excite me even now and I promise for many many more years to come.

School years made way for the frenzy and flamboyance of college life. Ritualistic family visits to conventional shops in Karol Bagh and Connaught Place were overtaken by group attacks to the crowded and dusty streets of Janpath, Sarojini Nagar, Central Market in Lajpat Nagar and Kamala Nagar. Rummaging through the export rejected “maal”: T-shirts and kurtas for half the showroom price, bargaining in the hot summer heat with the bhaiyaas and uncles to get the beautiful oxidized “Ashoka” jewelry – bracelets, armlets, chunky earring and stone necklaces in ‘do ka bees’ (2 pieces for 20 rupees) and finally the satisfaction of getting the embroidered bag with mirror work for the cheapest possible price made a great successful day.
Ofcourse, we also made it a point not to miss the pleasure of air-conditioned shopping experience at the more chic locales of Ansal Plaza, Fab India and Cottons and the upscale markets of G.K. M Block, South Ex, PVR Priya and Dilli Haat.
As college years threatened to come to an end, Delhi and the NCR region witnessed the surge of malls and multiplexes - (apart from flyovers, but that’s a different story altogether) – Centerstage in Noida, 3Cs in Lajpat, Shipra and many such vast giants emerged pushing the unorganized market segments to the periphery of the middle class shopping experience. Malls and the brands sold within these malls limited my choices for shopping when I started working in 2004. Haggling in Janpath et al, combining shopping with eating and merriment, and taking this time to bond with each other reminisced to a beautiful nostalgic memory – Shopping became an act of need, a job to be gotten done with...but not for long.

The shopaholic spirit in me was aroused and awakened - completely - when the wedding bells rang. Amidst the old Delhi colorful charm of the lehengas of Chandni Chowk, the bright bangles near Hanuman Mandir, the silks of Nallis, the chiffons, crepes and georgettes of Meena Bazaar, the gold and diamonds of Tanishq, the bandhinis of Jaipur the banarasis and kanjeevarams, the tanchois and the lehariyas, was revived the passion I had for the art, the skill, the experience – shopping!

“Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.” I so agree with whoever said that – a big hug for you!

Work and personal life, actually, married life has taken me to some of the most amazing and unique shopping destinations (apart from Delhi, which continues to remain no. 1 for me) – entangled streets of Hazrat Ganj in Lucknow, the long stretch of Jauhari Bazaar in Jaipur, the fashionable Fashion Street in Colaba Bombay, the always-busy Pondy Bazaar in T.Nagar Chennai, rustic Khurja in UP, the glamorous Night Bazaar in Bangkok, the never-ending shopping arcades in the world-famous Bloomingdale’s and Beverly Hills to name a few in the shopper’s paradise - Los Angeles, the expanse of Union Square in San Francisco, the noisy Beale Street in Memphis, the stylish Michigan Avenue in Chicago and the countless factory outlets and malls in the many states of US.

As opposed to many anti-shopping tirades in this universe (including those of my husband’s), I have a very holistic view to the distinctive concept of shopping. And my close shopping mates – voluntary – school/college friends, mom and involuntary – my poor brother and hubby – will agree.
While shopping you get to witness the miraculous creativity of us human beings as we see all kinds of people with varied tastes, backgrounds and budgets, trying to find the best fit, the perfect combination, the ultimate gift. Moreover, shopping brings out the best in people…I mean c’mon have you heard of someone saying let me buy this, it accentuates my paunch or hey let’s buy this for so and so, it will make her look uglier? No, right? That’s exactly my point.

I love the hustle and bustle of the swarming market places, the constant fretting of young teenagers to get into size XS or Petite-S, the forced hurrying by the dads and hubs, the worn-out look on the toddlers’ faces, the candyman at the corner trying to boost his sales, and finally the big sign boards with the golden four letters “SALE”.

Veni, vidi, visa - I came, I saw, I shopped.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Does originality exist in this world?

Or are we living in a world of plagiarism and undetected plagiarism?

The dictionary defines originality as “ability to think or express oneself in an independent and individual manner; creative ability; freshness or novelty, as of an idea, method, or performance.”

I am a die-hard optimist who sincerely believes in the greatness of the human race but the question from my mom yesterday, “Does originality exist in this world?”, left me baffled. I had no clear answer. I look around, trying hard to find one instance of originality. I cannot. Have we exhausted our distinguishing characteristics as human beings – innovation and uniqueness? When was the last time you witnessed the power of independent thought and constructive imagination?

I still cannot tell originality from innovation. Not sure if these are different. I try to argue with myself an original way of thinking is as original as an original thought but I end up tying myself in knots! I am beginning to believe that Originality is Dead. The original thought or the first instance of creation, that unique moment where all potential existed is lost.

We are living in a world of remakes, plagiarisms and inspirations (basically where the copyrights can be violated legally). From the Anu Malik and Pritam numbers to Hollywood copies in Bollywood; from the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharat retold and repackaged by the B.R. Chhopras to Ekta Kapoors and Sooraj Bharjatyas. And no, am not being harsh on us Indians or Bollywoodians. Even the so called virtuosos of Indian Classical, Western Rock and what not genres of music accept the fact that the seven notes of music can create only so many permutations and combinations and that those may have already been exhausted by the likes of Mozart and Beethoven. Forget the more obvious spaces of music and movies where it is too easy to substantiate arguments of intended and unintended copies.

Picture this, a teacher asks a class of 6 year olds to think of a story on their own. One kid comes up with a story that talks about a brother and sister who get lost in the woods and encounter many adventures on their way including deep dark woods, a witch living in a chocolate house. The child has never read Hansel and Gretel before but is this original thought or influenced by some other version of the story told? Even if this story has not been told to the kid in any form, the fact that the story existed before he thought of it takes away the originality? How do I distinguish between what is original, copied, influenced or inspired?

Is there a possibility of original thought when the minute we are born, even before we develop our faculty to think, information is fed into our systems continuously - a horse is a horse, the sun is the sun, the color red is red. Do we get a chance to cultivate originality; what is originality anyway?
Is originality then overrated? Is there nothing original to create? Do we rather reorganize and use instances of creation to present that instance in an infinite number of combinations?

…And is this a thought that has been thought before and therefore not my own, not original?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hazaaron khwahishein…

The immortality and the relevance of Ghalib (18th Century) even after so many years, generation after generation, are almost supernatural. His verses, also often referred to as sonnets, though written in Urdu (in the Persian script) speak a language that cut across all barriers. The meaning they convey appeals to the emotions and touches the lives of many, across all barriers of culture and linguistics.
“Hazaaron khwahishen aisi ki har khwahish pe dum nikle,
Bahot nikle mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle.”

Bollywood introduced me to Ghalib at a very young age;
“Woh aaye ghar mein humaare khuda ki qudrat hai
Kabhi hum unko kabhi apne ghar ko dekhte hain”

But, that time, such shaayari only meant a fanciful set of urdu words put together to romanticize a seemingly mundane circumstance. I also associated Ghalib’s shaayari with lovers. A true lover should recite beautifully sounding couplets. (Though years later, when I did marry, the guy did not recite any such ghazals, and I did not remember that he had to!)
“Zindagi yun bhi guzar hi jati
Kyon tera rahguzar yad aya”

My first formal rendezvous with Ghalib happened in college, quite accidentally I must say. Searching for reference material on Chaucer in the college library, I chanced upon this old book with English translations of Ghalib’s selected ghazals. I soon found myself devouring each page. Each word so evocative, suddenly I could almost associate with the passion with which Ghalib had written.

“Khaamoshi mein nihaan khun gashta(h) laakhon arzuen hain
Chiragh-e murda(h) hun main be zaban, gor-e ghariban ka”
(Hidden in the silence are millions of desires that have been bled out;
I am just a silent, snuffed out lamp at the grave of a stranger)

In the fast paced tracks of studies, career and marital bliss, though Ghalib was pushed to the margins, he continued to dwell in a very special corner of my life.
“Meherbaan ho ke bulaa lo mujhe, chaaho jis waqt
Main gaya waqt nahin hun kih phir aa bhi na(h) sakun”

And Ghalib did return, where I would have expected the least. A fantastic library in Schaumburg, IL, chiseled wood shelves, second floor section on literary criticism and the book, “Love Sonnets of Ghalib: the first complete English translation, explication, lexicon, and transliteration of Ghalibs’s sonnets” by Dr. Sarfaraz K. Niazi. I was thrilled. Three weeks I spent immersed in his work. Each couplet so exquisitely crafted and drenched with varied sentiments that come alive in you as you read. Not a pro at Urdu, the English translation provided me with the tools to appreciate the poetry of Ghalib in much greater detail.

“Gardish-e rang-e tarab se dar hai
Gham-e mahrum’i javed nahin”
(I am afraid of the changing state of joy,
No fear there is for the despair of life)

The mystery and magic of his two line couplets remains unequaled as they range from spontaneous expression to extremely complex and convoluted poetic renderings. The nuances, the similes, the traps, archaic constructions, extrapolation of the humdrum of life to momentous events, the subtlety of expression and the profundity of thought make Ghalib one of the most fascinating and interesting poets of all ages.
“Us falak ke teer ka kya nishana tha
Jahan thee meri manzil wahin mera aashiyana tha
Bas pahunch hi rahi thi kashti saahil pe
Is toofan ko bhi abhi hi aana tha”

I could go on about Ghalib, but the fact is that the uniqueness and the sheer ingenuity of his creations leave a firm imprint in the heart and mind of his readers. Much has been written and said about his personal life as well which provides a sort of context for his writings but with or without context, Ghalib appeals to me in a way no other poet does. He remains an unsurpassed virtuoso who has enriched the world of literature immensely...his own couplet as a tribute to him…
“Jan di, di hui usi ki thi
Haq to yun hai kih haq adaa na(h) hua”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Autumn Hues...

I am simply in love with the changing colors of leaves in the fall. The exquisite beauty of the chromes, auburns, oranges, yellows, deep-reds leave me wonder struck. The charm of nature never stops seizing my heart so much so that a simple drive to the local grocery store during this time of the year amazes me.

I have spent many moments, consciously and unconsciously, trying to understand this unique phenomenon of nature. Not that I don't love spring; spring's supposed to be splendid, but the magnificence of the autumn hues mystifies me.

In my mind and heart, I associate the fall to the necessary decline and end of life to make way for new life. It's the rhythmic cycle of life; what is born must grow and reach its zenith, and then humbly take a bow on the stage of life. New life is born again. Thus, the trance of life and death continues, extending into each other, as if one was a part of the other. The exuberance of the leaves just before they become one with the ground they grew on is a miracle that I think teaches us a very important lesson. Exactly how the last song of the swan is the sweetest and how a flame burns the brightest just before extinguishing, you should live life to the fullest and not be scared of the end; live your prime always - spring, summer, autumn, because the winter is a necessary phase of the cycle followed by spring again. Let not your mind or heart fear of entering the winter of your life.

Each season of life brings with it renewed hope and belief. Effervescent spring gives way to cheerful summer that leads to the wonderful fall that brings the chilling winters and finally takes us to the elixir of spring again.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Justice for Sowmya Viswanathan

The callousness and insensitivity of the law makers and law enforcers in the country (India) drive me insane.

A young girl on her way back from home late night/early morning is shot dead. Instead of focusing all effort towards nailing down the culprit, we are discussing whether women should go out in the night or not, whether they should get options to work from home or not. All these useless deliberations are disgusting to say the least. Dear CM, your city is not safe anytime of the day for person of any gender. It doesn't matter if it's 3 AM or 3 PM. Doesn't matter a man or a woman.

When a woman goes out to work and stays late to meet deadlines, she is not being "adventurous", she's being competitive in a world which is not lenient to her because of her gender and the threats it exposes her to. Sheila Dikshit's remarks simply expose the hypocrisy of the social mindset.

We want to so desperately prove ourselves to the rest of the world, we shout slogans on equality of men and women, we raise our daughters to take on the world like our sons do and then when the perverted miscreants strike, our disintegrated social thread slaps us on our faces and we are quick to recoil back into our narrow mindsets and try looking for easy answers. "We all know Delhi is unsafe - why work till late".

Yes, we also know a woman can be raped in broad daylight, we know a CEO can be lynched in front of a 100 people, we know a bomb can explode at 6:00 PM on Saturday evening before Diwali, we know we can be murdered sitting in the comfort of our house, we know we can be run over by a speeding bus or a drunk son of a business tycoon/politician. So what do we do with this knowledge repository? Just accept that we live in times of total anarchy and not work, not shop, not relax, not live life?
What makes the whole situation more hurtful is that this does not come from an ordinary not-so-educated house wife who is worried to death about the safety of her working daughter, but the Chief Minister of the capital of the country who has been elected and entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the citizens safe and punishing the criminals.

I pray to god that this time the government and the law surprise us by taking speedy action to provide justice to Sowmya because this is not about Sowmya alone, it is about Neha, Priyanka, Pooja, Yuvika, you, me and all citizens, man or woman alike.

When I step out of home I should not be worried about the uncle who is waiting to feel me up in the crowded DTC bus, I should not be tensed about eve-teasers and robbers on the 2 minute walk I might have to take alone from the bus stop to college, I should not panic when my classes or even movies get extended wondering what awaits me in the darkness of the night, I should not worry my self sick when my parents go out for diwali shopping, I should not be anxious if my daughter is held up at work in the wee hours. Is that too much to ask for Ms. Dikshit?


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