Monday, December 25, 2006

Paris Trip - Day 3

We started using the museum pass from Day 3 and so we wanted to see as many as possible. We seem to be always leaving the hotel later than planned but still we make up for it during the day. We first went to Musee d'Orsay which has a lot of impressionist paintings and covers the period from 1848 - 1914 (Louvre covers the period before this). While I am not an art connoisseur by any means, I can appreciate the beauty and creativity in art well. Since I like impressionist painters like Van Gogh and Monet, I was quite excited to see this museum.

There is a clock in the main museum lobby which is supposed to be the one of the oldest clocks and it was still working fine. This museum used to be a train station and the clock is from that time.




We saw a lot of impressionist paintings by some known and lot of unknown painters. It was good that they let everybody take photos as long as we don't use flash. I unknowingly used flash once and was chastised by one of the museum employees. There were lot of people in groups and their guide was explaining the paintings in different languages. There were some student groups as well, like the one shown below. It was amazing to see young kids being exposed to such images. I can't imagine such a thing happening in the US or in India. These kids were looking at the painting just like any other painting and were not making any crude jokes or comments. It seems like the culture is more open and kids are exposed to various themes when they are young.




There were a lot of painters trying to paint a famous drawing in the museum and it was interesting to compare their paintings with the original. The original is in a museum because the painter has paid so much attention to detail and the color combinations are so good. It was fascinating to see how difficult these paintings are to reproduce even when one has the original in front of them.




We spent about three hours at Musee d'Orsay and then went to Notredame cathedral. Because I thought it was nearer than it really was, we ended up walking a long distance before we reached Notredame. The architecture of this cathedral was very impressive. It is called Gothic architecture and the place had a calming spiritual effect even though there were lot of people. There was a mass scheduled in a short while but we didn't stick around for that.




Our next stop was Arc de Triomphe via Champs de Elysses. Champs de Elysses is the most famous street in Paris where there are lot of fancy stores and restaurants. We walked by there and it didn't appeal much to me, except for the nice car showrooms. Champs de Elysses seemed like Pondy Bazaar in Chennai or Times Square in New York City. So we walked down the street just window-shopping and made our way towards the Arc de Triomphe. This is the arc that Napoleon built to commemorate his victory.

As we were walking towards the Arc, it was getting dark. We could see the Arc but could not figure out how to get there as there were cars all over the road and there was nowhere to cross the road. Someone told us that we had to go through an underpass but we couldn't find it. So we were walking around the Arc in a somewhat dark alley, when a guy came and asked us for directions to go to Eiffel Tower. That felt weird as you could see the Eiffel from where we were and all he had to do is either walk over there or catch a metro. But anyway, we were giving him directions when another guy showed up and started saying French Police and flashing his badge. Even though he was showing us his badge, there was no way for us to know whether it was a genuine one. Now I am all anxious even though I've not done anything wrong or have anything to hide. I just don't like to be in such situations. The cop wanted us to show our passports. He didn't seem to care about me but more about the other guy and my husband. We all showed our passports and then he wanted us to show the money we had and tell him if we had US dollars. Now this was getting very fishy. My husband asked why and got the answer that some people were trying to buy drugs with US dollars. None of us had any dollars with us and we showed the euros we had and then he let the two of us go. He was still talking to the third guy but we got out of there. I am not sure what to make of this incident, as both the guy asking for directions to Eiffel and the guy claiming to be a cop seemed very suspicious. But regardless, I was very relieved to get out of there.
Finally, we figured out how to get to the Arc and made our way there. I was so hoping for an elevator but did not see one till we climbed the stairs all the way to the top. My legs were hurting real bad after all the walking in the museum, but still I didn't want to miss the sights from the top of the Arc. Below are pictures of the Arc de Triomphe and Champs de Elysses (from top of the Arc) on a busy friday evening.







We were ready to head back to the hotel after the Arc de Triomphe. I made sure we got the elevator to come down. We took the metro to go to our station (Nation). While our ticket worked in the turnstile to go inside, it wouldn't work in the one to get out. And the only way to buy new tickets was after we got out. So we went from one turnstile to another as there were several exits, but our tickets didn't work anywhere. While we were explaining our predicament to a store employee, a passerby (Pascal) with flowers was generous enough to take the time to help us. He took us to a turnstile and this time one of our tickets worked and the other one still didn't. Since we couldn't find any metro agent nearby, he said that our only option was to jump and that is what we had to do to get out of there.
Day 3 turned out to be an interesting one and we got to see both the good (Pascal) and bad (the guy who called himself French police) of Paris. We were quite exhausted and so turned in to get refreshed for another day of museums (we had a two day museum pass) after getting some take-out Chinese food.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Paris Trip - Day 2

After a long evening/night's sleep, the second day in Paris began. We decided to get a museum pass to make sure we make the most of the various museums in Paris. Most of the museums in Paris charge a fee to visit but the museum pass lets you visit them (not all though) at a very economical price. There are 2-day, 4-day etc. museum passes. We thought that we could get the museum pass in the metro station, but then our hotel front desk lady told us that is not so. She suggested that we go to a store called FNAC (which is like a Borders or Barnes & Noble) and so we made our way to the store. This store is in a mall called Chatelet de Halles and the corresponding metro station is right next to the mall. I thought it was a neat idea to have the mall and the metro station so close. So anyway, we go to this store and then find out that they have stopped selling the museum tickets now. So the lady at that store suggested we go to the nearby museum of modern arts called Pompidou Center to get the museum pass. We made our way to that museum (we unintentionally took a detour ...... read we got lost) and got our tickets finally. They let you use the museum pass whenever you want and so we decided to start using it from the next day as we had already blown half of the day. We had got a 2-day pass and so we could use it for any two consecutive days.

It was close to lunch time and we decided to eat at a small creperie (a place where they make all kinds of crepes). They had more then twenty different kinds of crepes. The word "oeuf" was in lots of the crepes and I did not know what it was. So I was making signs with my hands asking the guy what oeuf was and then he bends down and brings an egg and flamboyantly says "oeuf". It was quite funny. And then I thought jambon meant jam but then when I learnt it really meant ham, I didn't get that one. A crepe is like a thin pancake or dosa and can be stuffed any ingredient from simple sugar to Grand Marnier. The most popular crepe is with Nutella, which is a chocolaty jam. Crepe and cafe au lait made for a hearty lunch that day. I was getting anxious that we had spent day and a half in Paris and had not seen anything other than Bastille and oeuf!

We made our way to Eiffel Tower. The whole area by the Eiffel is very nice. There are lots of beautiful places and restaurants and shops to see and they are all by the Seine river. Anything by a river seems extra beautiful to me. It was surprising that we could not see the Eiffel till we were somewhat close to it. It was raining when we got to Eiffel, and I took a look at it and didn't think it was anything special. It just seemed like a metal tower, even a bit less impressive than the St.Louis arch. The rain and gloomy day might have got something to do with it but still I expected Eiffel to woo me and it didn't. At least, not then.



We walked around some and then took a boat ride on the Seine river. It was getting dark and so it was a good time as the lights were coming on everywhere. The tour was multilingual and so we had to listen carefully not to miss the english part, as otherwise we wouldn't know what we are seeing! During the boat ride, Eiffel Tower came into view and this time it was magnifient and romantic. The only difference is that all the lights on the tower was on now. The difference in the tower is like night and day! I couldn't take my eyes of the Eiffel this time and couldn't get enough of it. Just wonderful. We did not take the picture below but this coveys the difference, I think.


Later, when we were standing on top of the Arc de Triomphe, we saw that the lights on Eiffel Tower were twinkling (called champagne fireworks) and that made it more beautiful. This twinkling only happens for a few minutes on the hour.
After the boat ride, we decided to call it a day as it was raining and getting cold. So we had a nice quiet meal at an Italian restaurant where nobody spoke any english. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel with tired legs but hearty spirit after having seen some fantastic sights.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Paris Trip - Day 1

How could anyone pass an opportunity to go see Paris? It all happened quite suddenly as my husband was going to Africa on a business trip and we decided to hook up in Paris on his way back and spend a few days there. I was in Paris for a total of five days but the first day is mostly a blur. My flight got to Paris around 9am local time but since I did not sleep during the flight, I had missed a night’s sleep and was feeling like a zombie. Due to some airport construction work, our flight landed somewhere (that seemed like as far away as Africa!) and there was a bus to take us to the terminal. There was only one bus there at a time and if that bus is full, the passengers will have to stand on the flight steps till the next one arrives. There was no announcement about what we had to do and so there was quite a frenzy while getting off the plane. I followed what the rest of the group was doing and got on a bus and it turned out to be a wild ride. I think that the bus driver thought that he was a driving a race car and made fast turns and even hit and broke the side-view mirror of a parked car near the terminal. Several passengers gasped at this but there was no apology or anything from the unknown driver. I was meeting my husband at the airport and he had landed in Paris a few hours earlier and so I was anxious to connect with him as soon as possible. So I went through the immigration and customs stuff and saw my husband through the glass doors and all my jet lag vanished (for some time at least). We had to have croissant and café au lait at the airport (this is one of the many times we had them) and then took the train to get into town. While I was waiting with the luggage when hubby dear was getting our train tickets, I saw people of all cultures in that area and that was heartening. However, everything seemed to take longer. We waited in line to get the tickets from the automatic vending machine but then realized after some time that it is only for metro train tickets. So then we had to go stand in line in a different place and get the tickets.

Anyway, we got the tickets and made it to the area we were staying in. We stayed near Bastille but took one of the farther exits out of the metro station and so had to roam around with our luggage before we found the right street for our hotel. We went and asked a cab driver to take us there but he refused as it was too close. You have to admire him for his honesty. We finally went to our hotel which was in a very old neighborhood and so it was laid back and relaxing. The hotel corridors and rooms are much smaller than what we have in America but that is not a problem, once you are used to it. I slept for a few hours and then we decided to venture out around 4 pm. Since we had not eaten anything since the croissant in the morning, we wanted to eat first. But since it was 4 pm, most of the restaurants were either closed or not serving food at that time. We saw a sign that said Ganesh Indian Restaurant and decided to try it. I’ve to admit that I was surprised to see an Indian restaurant in Paris but then we saw two or three more during our trip. And there were a lot of Indians around as well…and quite a few people were talking in Tamizh as well.

So we walk into Ganesh and were looking at the menu, and then we hear Tamizh. How about that? The guy at the restaurant was playing some movie dialogue (we later found out that it was from a movie called thenkaasip pattinam which I’ve never heard of) and I was delighted. So we started talking to him and learnt that he was from Sri Lanka and then ate our food (which was only so-so) and left. We walked around the neighborhood some and went and saw the Bastille (which is nothing more than a tall tower with some sculpture on top) and walked back to the hotel. On the way, we stopped to buy some fruits at a fruit and vegetable stand (just like in India) and managed to give him the right amount of money after some effort. I’ve to say that I don’t know much French and even the words I know, I’ve difficulty pronouncing them right as I believe all the letters in a word will have to be spelled out (otherwise why are they there?). But my able companion knows some French (more than I had expected) and so we managed well (most of the times). We went to a grocery store and saw that wine is one of the cheapest items there (you can get a Bordeaux for less than 2 euros). There were several people at the grocery store that seemed to be returning from work. Unlike in the US, people there like to buy groceries everyday. We walked around a bit even though it was raining to see boulangerie (bakery) and fromagerie (cheese shop) and just to take in the spirit of a new city. After that, we returned to the hotel and I just crashed even though it was early in the evening. I remember waking up once in a while but nothing more and ended up sleeping till the next day morning. And then our real Paris trip started.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Down Memory Lane

I should really be writing about our Paris trip while it is still remembered amidst the crazy work days but today was a trip down memory lane that I don't want to miss. My mom was a working mom and so the weekdays were quite busy with the cooking in the morning (never understood why we spent so much time in the mornings in the kitchen when we have to get ready to go to work and school in India). I had to go to school and my parents had to go to work on saturdays (half a days) too. So sundays were our relaxing being together days. Sunday memories are still fondly thought of by me. I would typically wake up late in the morning and much to my dislike and my mom's liking, would take an "oil bath". While I did not like taking it, I liked the feeling afterwards. My mom usually prepared a big meal on sundays. We used to eat something light as breakfast and have a meal that was kind of like brunch but we just called it "eating late". One of the combinations that my mom used to make on sundays is mor kuzhambu (buttermilk stew) and paruppu usili (which I can't translate). I like this combination so much that my mom used to prepare it often and this is something I crave for frequently. So usually after this heavy meal, myself and my parents would be incapable of doing much. My dad would lie down with the latest kumudam (a weekly magazine) and fall asleep before finishing the first page (interestingly, I seem to do this now a days). My mom would go off to talk to the neighbor and I would go watch TV and fall asleep. We would all wake up one after the other around 3 pm or so and then my mom would make tea. The excuse for an early tea is that it helps with the digestion. And then we would go around doing our regular things to get ready for the following week.

What triggered these memories today (sunday) is the fact that I made cauliflower/broccoli mor kuzhambu and beans paruppu usili. My cooking can't be classified as authentic Indian but there are a few dishes that could be. These two are like that and fortunately, they came out very close to how my mom used to make. I don't do many things Indian these days but when it comes to mor kuzhambu and paruppu usili, I can't get any closer to being in India. So we had the same things for lunch and dinner today. I had to take a nap after that meal (just for old times' sake, you know?) but it was a short one as our dear Kutti had to sleep touching my legs and I can't sleep like that. Anyway, for a rainy gloomy sunday, mor kuzhambu and usili brought cheer and nostalgic memories.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Global Citizenship

I recently became an American citizen by choice as it provides lot of convenience in traveling around the world and that is something I'd like to do. But during this process, I've been wondering about my nationality. I'll have a very hard time identifying myself as an American even though technically that is what I'm. I am a born Indian and that is how I identify myself most of the time. Just because my citizenship status has changed, I can't stop thinking of myself as Indian and start thinking of myself as American (maybe it will happen with time, but I don't know that now). I guess I can eventually start thinking of myself as Indian-American, if that is the right use of that terminology.

But regardless of what passport I hold, it is hard for me to think of myself as belonging to one country these days. I've been able to experience and/or get familiar with different cultures since coming to the US and can see the good and bad in all of them. So when I eat idli or listen to SPB's songs, I feel very very Indian. But then, when I see Jon Stewart or Bill Maher on TV or cheer whole-heartedly in a sports game, I feel very American. When I drink a good beer, I feel German. When I listen to Chieftains or any other good Irish music group, I feel like an Irish. When I read Kundera or Klima or Skvorecky, I feel as Czech as I could possibly do. When I eat pizza or tiramisu, I am an Italian. When I see a good mambo or salsa dance, I feel like a Latin American. When I see or read about any Holocaust related stuff, I empathize with the Jews so much that I could be a Jew. So I feel like I'm a mixture of all these nationalities and cultures, that it has become impossible to identify with one culture these days.

Needless to say, I can't understand why one sub-caste or caste or religion or state or country would think they are better than some other. The only upside I can think of with completely identifying with one group (be it a religion or country) is the sense of camaradarie. Which, people like me, will have to do without. I'm sure several people who have left one country to live in another would feel this way. Most of the times, it is good not to be blindly part of a group. Sometimes, it feels like being in a limbo. But then, people like me don't go hurting (both physically and emotionally) people that are different. That in itself is gratifying enough. Here's to feeling global!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Move and other things

I'm back from a short break ... well, sort of, as I'm not sure how frequently I'll be able to blog. Lots of things have happened in the past few months...the big move to Houston and becoming an American citizen. This post is partly about the former and the next post might be about the latter. Having come from a city as big as Chennai, we never wanted to stay in the small town in Oklahoma for very long. So we ended up staying there for only seven years! While it has its good qualities such as it would never take one to get anywhere more than 30 minutes and one never gets stuck in traffic, there wasn't that much to do even when one drives more than an hour. But this is where one makes lifelong friends and has wonderful barn parties. So after some time spent in rustic peace, it was time to pack the bags (the number of bags seem to keep increasing with each move, not sure if that is good or bad) and move to busier terrains. While the new place and experiences were exciting (Madras Pavilion in Houston was one big factor!), it was sad to leave a familiar place and good friends. There is something to be said about known surroundings.

Anyway, we drove to Houston (about a 10-hour drive) twice in two weeks and the second one was harder (on the dog than us). But we made it one piece (or three pieces to be precise) and got settled in our new house. I love our new house as it has lots of features I have always wanted and there are miles and miles of walking trails that one could (and has) get lost in. However, I was not prepared for the hectic week days. Now I have to wake up at 5 am (which means I have to be in bed by 10 pm to have a restful night's sleep and that means I have to miss Jon Stewart and that is just not fair) and still I don't get home till after 5 pm. There are several restaurants and stores nearby now but I either don't have the time or energy to go to them as often as I thought I would go. There is some activity of interest every weekend but we have become more choosy now as the weekend is only two days long and I need to catch up on my week's worth of sleep. But still it is all good. We go to work in a vanpool that is quite a fun group, where for some reason, I get teased quite a bit. I try to experiment different cuisines at restaurants and that means I don't have to cook quite as much. While I stil miss some things about the small town we lived in, this is the right p(l)ace and choice for us now. The winter weather is good and it will be quite hot in summer but that is not now.

There is a dog park (called bark park) nearby that we try to take Kutti to as often as we can. I think that we love it more than she does. The first few times, she was not sure what to do and so just stood there or loitered on her own. But the last time, she actually played with a couple of dogs. This dog park feels like heaven as you see dogs of all kinds and sizes running around and playing in the water. Some dogs absolutely go crazy here and don't want to leave at all. It has been fun to go there and hopefully will be for Kutti also pretty soon.

While part of my reason for not blogging is the move and busier days, the other part of it is my losing interest in blogs in general. It appears to me that lately the blog world is becoming more like the real world we live in, with all its infightings and character bashing. While it is to be expected as we are all only human, the escape from reality that blogs provide seem to be in peril. So I've been introspecting as to what use are blogs when they seem to be following the same path as the regular world. Why do I have to read about whose religion is better and whether one can post gruesome pictures on their blog or not in a blog when I can read that in the mainstream media? But I am going to write for at least some more time as it feels good to write and some (even though it is one or two) people seem to wonder when I don't write.

Alright, now on to some fun stuff. Next week, I am off to Paris (yes, the one in France, ooh la la!). I'll be there for about five days and am planning to soak in as much of Paris as possible. I've talked to our hotel folks once so far and I just love the way they talk. I am so looking forward to the trip and hope it lives up to my expectations (how about that?!). If anybody that reads this is in Paris, please do drop me a line, as I believe in local folks than any tour book (even if it is Rick Steves).

And then, in January, we have our big India trip. Three of our friends who have never seen India are venturing there with us and so it is upto us to show them the Incredible India. Not a small task and so I'm planning on spending December planning for it. Again, if anybody has any ideas, shoot me an email. By the way, we will be in Chennai mostly but are planning a few trips to some nearby places.

So in addition to the busy days at work, I am planning on these two trips, and I realize that I enjoy vacation planning. Maybe I should consider becoming a travel agent, huh?! Just writing about travel has made me cheer up and that is a good sign.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Chemistry Miss

Let us see if I can write this without getting too sappy. Teacher's Day in India is celebrated on September 5. This post is a tribute to one teacher who has made all the difference in my life. I studied from kindergarten till high school in the same school, and Chemistry Miss (that is what she is still called by me and my friends and family who know her or know about her) came to our school when I was in my sixth grade. As is usual, one of my class-mates was asking me on the first day of school which Miss I liked that year, and even though I did not know anything about Chemistry Miss, I pointed to her. Needless to say, my class-mate thought I was out of my mind.

I was a mediocre unmotivated student who passed her exams but did not do much more than that till my sixth standard. During my sixth standard, when we started studying three different subjects (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) instead of one (Science), I started learning from her. I still remember the first exam we had in our chemistry class. I got something like 50 or so out of 100, and when she handed the test back to me, she said that she does not understand why I don't apply myself more as I can do much better then. That was the first time I had heard something like this and it took me by surprise. It sounds cheesy now, but at that time, I thought that if Chemistry Miss thinks I can, then I sure can. That was motivation enough for me to start doing better. It started with chemistry but gradually made a difference in other subjects as well.

I used to try and invent reasons to go talk to her and gradually our friendship grew. If she ever gave me a special assignment, I would be on Cloud 9. I used to think that if I did not do well in an exam, she got upset, but that could just be my imagination. She was a very dedicated teacher who wanted all her students to excel, and so my thinking that she wanted more marks for me felt nice then, but could not be true. When we would go on trips in school (we went to such cool places as Kutralam, Aurangabad etc.), Chemistry Miss used to tell us stories about her native town and the movies she has seen (when she wouldn't talk about movies at school at all). On one of these trips she was telling me that she would like for me to study really well and achieve all that she couldn't achieve. I was not sure exactly what she meant but decided then that I wanted to excel in my education.

When we were in our 12th standard, she had some health problem and had to have surgery and take some time off. We got a substitute teacher for chemistry, but he was no good (how could anybody be on par with Chemistry Miss?). When she found out about it, she was concerned about our final exams (12th standard is a big deal, isn't it?!) and decided to tutor us from her house. She got into trouble with our school management for that, but she was still willing to take the risk for the sake of her students. So we would all drive our bicycles to her house and study chemistry when someone from her family would make snacks for us. I have never seen anybody do such things for their students.

I finished high school and went off to college to a different city but still kept in touch with her through letters, phone calls and visits when I came home. Then I moved to the US and still kept in touch with her for a few years. Then we lost touch due to some misunderstandings and other things in life. But still, I often remember what she has taught me (hard work, sincerity and humility in addition to chemistry) and how she has helped me get to where I am. I have thought about setting up a scholarship fund or something else in my school for her, but haven’t done it as I am not sure how she will like it. Maybe it will happen one of these days. Maybe I will get in touch with her again one of these days. But for now, I am just grateful for a person like her to have come in to my life and steering me in the right direction.

Friday, September 01, 2006

30 Days

30 Days is a reality show that comes on FX channel. According to IMDB , this show is “an unscripted, documentary-style program where an individual is inserted into a lifestyle that is completely different from his or her upbringing, beliefs, religion or profession for 30 days”. The individual would either be the host of the show (Morgan Spurlock) or someone else. I have watched a few episodes of this show and it is interesting.

In one of the episodes I watched, the host and his fiancée spent 30 days living with minimum wage. That was hard to see as we don’t normally see that kind of lifestyle that close. They had to think twice about eating out or going to the movies, things that some of us get to do frequently.

In one of the other episodes, an American whose job was outsourced to India, goes to India and lives with an Indian family in Bangalore and tries to get an outsourced job there. This one was very interesting and the guy (Chris Jobin) did a great job and was very natural. His perception of outsourcing changed as he started viewing it as a way for people in India to bring up their standards of life.

In a couple of other episodes, an atheist woman lives with a religious family and a pro-choice woman lives with a pro-life family. Neither the atheist nor the pro-choice woman could really understand the other perspective but then it was a mutual feeling. It made me wonder why they didn’t do it the other way – a religious person living with an atheist family or a pro-life person living with a pro-choice family, but I already know the answer. Religious and pro-life are the majority’s way of thinking.

There was the season finale episode recently where Morgan Spurlock spends 30 days in jail – yes, you read it right, jail. I have no idea why they would let him do that or why he would want to do it (it can’t be that much money, can it?!), but they let him and he did it. This episode was not much to my liking, as it seemed phony (ok, ok, I know it is TV and it is reality TV, but still, this show has set a standard). He is taken aback at some of the poor conditions in the jail but still meets quite a few people who keep coming back. He says that several inmates are mentally affected and so the prison system has more mentally affected people than the mental institutions themselves. Apparently, all the prisons are over their capacity and some people think it is intentional as there are a lot of businesses that thrive due to prisons – businesses such as laundry, uniform, phone companies etc. It is pretty sick if you look at it this way though.

I was surprised to see that the inmates don’t have to do anything all day. They sleep, eat and sleep again. So jail is a perfect place for a lazy bum. Why in the world should some people get food and lodging without having to do anything, is beyond me. As part of his 30 days in jail, he spends 72 hours in solitary confinement and that is more torturous. He is in a tiny room with nothing to do (I don’t understand why there are not even books) but stare at the ceiling. After 72 hours in the solitary confinement, the other parts of the jail look great to him. He spends a few days in a drug rehabilitation center as several inmates are there for drug-related charges. Things are more structured and productive there as inmates have daily activities. He gets to meet his family members and fiancée once and that was touching as they are not used to meeting with bars between them.

The phony part of the show came when the host talks as to how bad it is in jail, and I keep hearing in the back of my mind that this guy knows he is there for only 30 days and he knows that he is there for the show and so what’s the big deal. In addition to this, he gives advices to a few inmates and tries to better their life. Those are noble things but just don’t go well coming from an outsider in this show.

Regardless of how the last episode was, this is an interesting show. At the least, it reminds me that a person/group with a different view than mine need not necessarily be wrong or inferior, but just different.

PS: If you want to see something more interesting, go to www.google.com, search for "failure", and check out the first entry that comes up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blog Day 2006

I decided to do this post for Blog Day 2006 as I can be officially declared to be addicted to blogs now. It all started accidentally, when I happened to run into a friend's blog. I had lost touch with this friend and so it was very nice to see that he was still writing and interesting to read a blog. So I started looking into it and one afternoon announced proudly to my better half that I created a blog (of course, that was my better half's introduction to blogs). This was less than a year ago and now I can't have enough of the wonderful world of blogs. When I go to Bloglines and don't find any new posts (which happens only very rarely), I am slightly disappointed. But then when there are a lot of posts, I can't wait to read them all (as though these are letters waiting for me to read).

Blogs have done two very important things for me. The first one is that they are keeping me abreast of the happenings in India (which I left about 12 years ago) and the second one is that they are making me read and write in Tamil (which I have not done much of). So because of these two reasons, I seem to be gravitating towards India related and Tamil blogs.

It is hard for me to pick only five interesting blogs but here are the ones that I have started reading regularly recently.

1. Within/Without by Neha Viswanathan: Neha covers a wide array of subjects from kozhukkattais to Almodovar's movies. Her writing is spunky and full of energy.

2. Mahanandi by Indira: This is the mother of all food blogs. The best food blog that I have seen so far and the recipes are easy to make (most of them at least) and they turn out pretty good. She does fusion cuisine very well and has eye-catching, mouth-watering pictures.

3. On the Urban Frontier by Josh Mogerman: This is a guy from Chicago who is staying in South India for some time and shares his experiences with the world. His views are without prejudice and makes for interesting read. I am interested in this because a few of my American friends are planning on visiting India with us next year.

4. Trailing Technology by Scott Carney: A freelance writer living in Chennai since the beginning of this year. He is participating in the Indian Autorickshaw Challenge and I am curious to see how that goes for him through his blog.

5. Tamil Valaippadhivu by Mathy Kandasamy (Tamil blog): Mathy's writings are bold and give a Canadian perspective on things. Her Tamil is simple enough for me to understand.

I do like many more blogs and read them regularly but here is my 5-list for Blog Day 2006.

Happy Blogging, everyone!

Technorati Tag for Blog Day 2006

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Grocery Shopping

Even though grocery shopping has become a mundane activity after several years, it has had its moments. My memories of grocery shopping start with the small stores (used to be called maLigai kadai, remember?) in our neighborhood in West Mambalam. There were two competing stores, Chitra Stores and Azhagu Sundaram Stores, just a few blocks from one another. Both these stores looked the same. One can't go inside the store and look at any of their products (which seems unbelievable now but was the norm those days), but will have to stand outside the partition and tell the store employee what one wants. And then, he would weigh the 1-kg of toor dal, using a manual weighing scale, and wrap it in one of the old newspaper sheets. You had no idea if what you got was really 1-kg (and sometimes you doubted that some stores were cheating), but you just pay for the stuff you bought at the gallaa (counter, which is where the owner sat and observed all the happenings), and carry the paper packet home. The other thing I remember about these stores is the smell, which was an amalgamation of a lot of the cooking ingredients. Although both the stores were very similar in price, products and service, my dad prefered Chitra stores as he was friends with the owner. So we always shopped there, and Mr. Azhagu Sundaram knew that. One day I went to Sundaram's as Chitra Stores had not opened yet, and he gave me a hard time about our family not shopping at his store. I even thought that he may send me away without giving me that one ingredient my mom wanted for her cooking, but he is a smart businessman and would never turn away business. Since my mom did not buy groceries ahead of time, she would realize in the midst of her cooking that we don't have enough salt, and so either me or my dad will have to get it right away. Most of the times it would be me and I liked it as I would get some tips (usually 5 or 10 paisa, but still) when I brought the change back. These were the days when I went to high school. Then I went off to Coimbatore (from Chennai) to do my bachelor's degree and so did not have to do grocery shopping there.

And then I came to the US and started living in an apartment with roommates and I had to do grocery shopping. None of my roommates (nor me) had a car in the small town of Kingsville, TX, that I lived in for about six months. So one of my roommates' friends would bring his car around on friday nights (dating was not a popular concept amongst us!) and we would all go to the nearby HEB to buy our groceries. Because of the tight budget and the friend's time, we would buy only the necessary things (we would need all the roommates' buy-in as we just divided the total amount into five) and a few unnecessary ones. One such unnecessary thing was the Baker's Dozen doughnuts (HEB gives you 13!) and we always get that. Grocery shopping was just a weekly event then as none of us were very close and we did not have much money to spend.

Then I moved to Louisville, KY where I didn't have a car but got better friends. Soon after I went to Louisville, one of my department colleagues offered to take me shopping to get some household stuff. He comes driving in this boat sized car that impressed me a lot. When I got in the car, he asked me what all I needed to get. That was all I needed to bring out my list. He wasn't thrilled that my shopping list was so long but still didn't say anything but took me along. That was my lesson to let people know in advance what I wanted from them, be it time or something else.

Once I made some friends, once-a-week grocery shopping became a social event. We would all meet at one person's house and have dinner and then go to the neighboring state of Indiana as there was a store called Bigg's there, that we liked. Again, this happened mostly during friday evenings, even though some of us (ahem ahem) had started dating by then. I used to like these times as it was a good way of bonding and exchanging ideas about cooking and groceries and other things.

Tom Petty reminds me of another grocery shopping adventure. One of our friends drove two of us to Bigg's (where else) one evening and we got delayed for some reason. So we got our groceries and then got pizza and Killian's Irish Red and came to my place. We played Tom Petty and had dinner and just talked about stuff. It was nothing special but still lingers in my heart, for some reason.

And then, of course, there were times when I could not find anybody to give me a ride and so walked to the nearby Kroger. At these times, I buy only necessary things but since milk is one necessity, it was hard and heavy while coming back. But this didn't happen very often.

Now of course, I have a car and can buy groceries anytime anywhere, without having to worry about whom should I ask this time or how heavy the bags will be. But I still fondly remember those days when grocery shopping was a social event.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Yin Yang of House-hunting (and Life)

We will get to the part about house-hunting in a short while (or long while depending on where this wandering mind of mine goes). But first of all, I want to know what it is with dogs (or at least our dog, Kutti) and thunder. We had a bit of strong thunderstorms this afternoon and she was so scared that she was trembling the whole time. She wanted to cuddle so much that it was very touching but then even though I like our dog and cuddling, there is only so long I can do that, right? Anyway, I went and searched for dogs and thunder and found that the best way to "desensitize" a dog to thunder (or fireworks) is to record the sound and play it repeatedly (starting at a low volume, mind you) over a period of several days. Now that is one advice that I am not going to follow as there is only so long I can cuddle with Kutti. The storms passed and it cleared up some and so we went for a walk. Everything looks cleaner and greener after rain (I just love it) and I even got to see a rainbow.

One more thing before we get to the house-hunting part (only one more, I promise). I am glad that Blogger has introduced labels but then I am also not happy about it. Here's why. I labeled my posts today and realized that I don't (can't) have one for Books. I used to be an avid reader of books (mostly fiction) but that is in the past now. There are several reasons (read excuses) for my not reading books anymore but I am still disappointed. A little less TV and blog-reading might steer me towards books but I am not sure when that will happen. But till then, my goal would be to post enough to create a label called Books.

Ok, now we come to the house-hunting part. We went house-hunting (they don't call it hunting for no reason) two weeks ago, as we are moving to Houston, Texas in September. When we woke up one hot and muggy monday morning, our mission was to find a house in the next four days. That seemed daunting and possible depending on the time of day. We were prepared to do that as we had done extensive searches on the internet and created several lists (what else would two engineers do?!). So we go look at about five houses that monday morning, with our realtor. We didn't like any of them. Needless to say, we were quite upset. We discussed strategies and alternatives till it was time to go look at more houses.

By the end of the first day, our realtor had a better understanding of what we liked and didn't like. So the rest of the hunting was better. We drove by some houses on our list to find that we couldn't live in that neighborhood or the color was a turn-off and that made the house hopping a bit easy. We saw about 20 houses in two days, but then depending on whether it was before or after lunch, I remember different things about them. When we went to look at houses after lunch, I had a hard time leaving the bedroom as my inclination was to take a nap. But luckily, my more rational half took notes on all the houses we saw (hey, I took some too).

On the third day, we decided that we can't keep up with 10 houses a day. But by then, we had a good idea of what we wanted and what we can get (sometimes, that helps). We cherry picked a few more houses to see. Finally, we had two houses that we really liked. Unfortunately, we didn't get our first pick. Fortunately, we got our second pick. But the whole process was exciting and frustrating at different times (just like life). So now all that is left is to move there and start the next chapter in our lives.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Dear God

Ammani has a My Dear letter writing event that is one of a kind. Following is what I sent for that.

Dear God,

Hope you get this letter as I am not sure about your existence and don't know your address. I used to visit you in the temples and sing bhajans at school when I was growing up. Then there was a period when I thought you didn't exist and stopped them. But now, I am not sure whether you exist or not. So many people believe in you (although in different names and forms) and that makes me wonder. When I see people of different denominations fight over a piece of land in your name, I think that you would not let people die, if you were around. But then people die and you don't do anything about it and so I think that you are not there. Then there are things like the beautiful sunrise, perfect snow flake and colorful flowers that make me think that somebody has created these with a good plan. And so I wonder.

If you are there, I have a few requests for you. Stop innocent people from being killed through acts of violence, kids getting killed because of their parent's actions and dogs getting killed because of a totalitarian regime. Tell people that you are only one and all human beings are really created equal regardless of how they look, speak or act. Make good people live longer and don't let anybody suffer through old age on their own. And finally, make ice-cream and cheesecake good for us.

If I get a reply from you, I will know that I was wrong all this time. But if I don't get a reply, I will continue wondering this way, till I see any or all of the above requests taken care of.

Cheers,

Wondering Agnostic

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Revenge (A Short Story) - Part 2

Vijay is a MBBS student aspiring to be a neurosurgeon. He has been dating Kavitha for the last three years. Vijay wants to marry Kavitha soon but Kavitha's parents want him to become a doctor first. They have been going to the restaurants and parks a couple of times a week as part of their dating. While Kavitha is content with holding hands and chatting, Vijay wants more out of this relationship physically. So whenever he gets a chance, he will try to kiss her or caress her. And these things always make Kavitha uncomfortable as she is a traditional person who thinks that only married couples can have physical contact and that too, not in public.

As always, Vijay was trying to get as far as he could with Kavitha in the park that Ganesh walked into. Vijay was trying to kiss Kavitha and she was resisting it playfully in the beginning. Vijay should have stopped there but he did not that day. He continued with his efforts while Kavitha's resistance grew louder and stronger. When Ganesh saw them, Kavitha was lying on the floor yelling "no, no" and Vijay was on top of her trying to calm her.

This was the spark that ignited Ganesh's mind. He assumed that what happened to his sister was happening to another girl and then that girl was replaced in his mind by his sister. So he felt like he was actually watching his sister getting raped. He was so angry that his body started to shiver. He was incapable of thinking at that point, and he lunged towards the couple on the ground. He ripped Vijay off of Kavitha and started wrestling with him. Vijay was saying that they both were just playing and Kavitha was standing next to them helplessly. While they were wrestling, Ganesh applied undue pressure on Vijay's neck and snapped it. In a moment, Vijay was dead. It took a while for Ganesh to realize what he has done. He just looked at Vijay's body in shock and then looked at Kavitha to see that this was not his sister. Kavitha started screaming and running towards the park gates.

Ganesh wondered about what he had done. How could he have taken somebody's life? How does this compensate for what happened to his sister? Why did he do that? While there was remorse, there was an ugly satisfaction as well. There has been a bad act and Ganesh has done something about it and he justified it by saying that Vijay might have done the same thing to Kavitha. He slowly started walking towards the road. Only he knows whether he is going to the cops or his home.

(The End)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Revenge (A Short Story) - Part 1


He was walking down the street completely lost in his thoughts. His name is Ganesh and he works as a regional manager in a bank. This is what happened to his sister earlier that night.

His sister, Poornima, is doing her MBA and has been dating one of her classmates for the last five years. They both plan to get married once Poornima finishes her MBA. Normally, Poornima goes to college in her moped but since it broke down, she took the bus that day. She had to stay late to get one of her assignments done in the library that day and was waiting at the bus depot to come home around 9 pm that night. Ganesh or her boyfriend would have given her a ride but one was busy at work and the other one was out of town. So she had to wait for the bus that late in the night. The bus depot was deserted and that was making Poornima a little anxious. But the bus should be here any minute, she kept thinking.

Instead of the bus, a guy in his mid-thirties walked by. He looked the usual kind but his eyes were intensely angry. Poornima always notices people's eyes as she thinks that they are the windows to a person's soul. She did not want to chit-chat and so she did not make any eye contact.

The guy who walked by Poornima is Anand who has been dumped by her fiancee just today. She had said that he was not daring enough (man enough) for her. He could not take this very well and was just wandering around when he saw Poornima.

Seeing Poornima, who reminded him very much of his fiancee, made him angrier - both at himself and at his fiancee. He wanted to do something to take out his anger. And so he did the unthinkable.

He went and stood by Poornima and kept inching closer to her when she started moving away. Small steps became a walk and then a run and Anand kept chasing her. Poornima made the mistake of going into a back alley that was mostly dark and completely deserted. She was so scared that she didn't even think about calling somebody on her cellphone. Once they got into the alley, he picked up his speed and came very close to her.

He pushed himself against her and she could feel his hardness. Now she was really scared. She tried to get out of his hold and that didn't work as he was quite strong. She tried to bite him but that was not effective either. Now he was unzipping his pants and thrusting himself against her and she could not take it anymore. She had tried everything she could and did not know what else to do but she was so angry, so sad and so lost now. He did what he wanted to do like an animal and when he was done, there was that one second when they made eye contact. She looked at him like he was the worst creature on the face of the earth and he looked at her like he had accomplished something. Then he left.

She just laid there for about 15 minutes. She was thinking that the author who wrote that if a woman ever finds herself being raped, she should try to enjoy it, was a moron. She did not know what to do but got up slowly after some time and walked up to the main road and looked around for an auto or taxi. There were a few people walking around that gave her a suspicious look as she was still disheveled, in spite of her best efforts to clean up. Luckily, an auto came soon and she got on it. The auto driver gave her a cheap look but she didn't care.

She reached home in 10 minutes and she kept thinking how different it would have been if she had just taken the auto in the first place instead of waiting for the bus. All this to save 20 rupees. Her mom was in the kitchen and so Poornima just ran into her room and locked it. She usually likes a little alone time when she gets home and so her mother wouldn't think anything about it. She laid down on her bed and kept staring at the ceiling. There were too many incoherent thoughts going through her mind and her head started to ache. She removed her clothes and threw them in the trash as she did not want anything to do with that guy and went to the shower. She took a long shower and came into the kitchen. When she saw her mother, she had to muster all her strength not to cry. But she went and hugged her mother, which was unusual and her mother teased her about it.

Her boyfriend called after some time and she managed to chit chat with him quite effectively. She was surprised at her own resilience but she did not want to give in. She kept telling herself that she should not let this unfortunate incident ruin her whole life. As her boy friend was very tired, the phone conversation was short. Then her brother Ganesh came and he immediately knew that there was something wrong. They both have shared a special relationship and are best friends. When they got a moment alone, Ganesh asked her what was going on. Her immediate reaction was to lie but she decided to tell everything to her brother as she wanted so badly to share it with someone.

Ganesh listened to the whole story in a deafening silence. When she came to the end, he asked her if she knew who it was. She said no. Then he asked her what she was going to do about it. And she kept staring at the wall and then said (after what seemed like a very long time) "nothing". This infuriated Ganesh who kept shouting "how can you not do anything and let him get away with it". She said that she didn't want everybody around her to get hurt because of this and also that she might not even be able to identify the perpetrator. Their mom called them for dinner and so they both calmed down and went to the kitchen.

This is why Ganesh was so lost in his thoughts. He was quite impressed at how his sister was handling this, which was quite different from the character in that book he recently read, who wanted to commit suicide after getting raped. He had a lot of anger in him and wanted to do something about it but did not know what. He realized that his sister has to move on with her life and can't throw away her life because of a single event (no matter how big an event it was). But still, there needs to be some consequence for an act like this, right? Ganesh thought so as he entered the neighborhood park.

(To be continued)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Dreaming while Awake

If you are ever feeling great about your vocabulary in a language, you just need to try translating a song (assuming you are bilingual), and that experience will humble you. I used to be a big fan of the Tamizh author Baalakumaaran (the reason for "used to" is a post in itself) and have thought of translating his novels into English, so that more people could read him. But I have never done it and may never do it after this. But then maybe translating a novel is easier than a song...maybe.

One of the recent songs that I very much like is "suttum vizhi chudarae" from the movie Ghajini. I can listen to it five or six times in a row, much to the chagrin of my co-listeners. One day, I happened to be listening to this song with some of my friends who don't know Tamizh and so I translated some of the sentences for them. As a credit to this song, even my not-Tamizh-knowing friends liked the song (or so they said!) and figured out that it was romantic (maybe because it was a duet?!) . This, combined with wanting to translate for some time, prompted me to translate this song from Tamizh to English. But now I wonder what got into me to want to do that.

First of all, translating a song is difficult. You realize that it is hard to find words in another language even if you understand what it means in the original language. I like languages, especially Tamizh and English (the ones I know) and Spanish and Italian (which I don't know but like to hear them anyway), but now I have better appreciation for the nuances in different languages. These two languages are so different that it is a wonder that I can speak both :-)

Without much more rambling, here is the translated song in English.

Male:
Light from bright eyes
Light from bright eyes
My world revolves around you.
Your photo in my shirt pocket
Is touching me and
My heart is on fire.
I fall in your sight and
Fly in space.
I dream while I am awake
Because of you
I dream while I am awake.

I saw softness on your chest
Hardness in your sight
Searched for the in between
But didn't find it.

Female:
I blabbered in my sleep
Stood in the drizzle
And thought of you
When I sneezed.

Male:
Are there black and white flowers?
I saw them in your eyes. Your eyes
are flowers that eat the bees. Your eyes
are flowers that eat the bees.

Female: (Light from bright eyes)
A certain wood pecker
Snatched my heart and
I gave my body and soul.

Male:
With neither fire nor wick
That bodies would burn
I realized only today.

Female:
Is rain more beautiful? Or sunshine?
When you flirt, rain is beautiful.
When you are angry, sunshine is beautiful.
When you are angry, sunshine is beautiful.

(Light from burning eyes)




Notes on the translation:

The translation does not do much justice to the beauty of this song and so one is better off listening to the song either at Raaga (original version) or at Swarasthaanam (a beautiful rendition by Meera and Jo). "Light from bright eyes" does not come close to expressing all that is in Bharathiyaar's phrase "suttum vizhi chudarae" (I could not translate "suttum vizhi chudarae" and had to ask a friend for help and I don't mean to discredit the friend's translation but just want to emphasize the difference in the beauties between languages). I still don't know how to translate "mellinam" and "vallinam" into english and have went with substitutes like "softness" and "hardness".

The biggest challenge in translating is to choose between the literal translation and taking some liberty so as to convey the message. I think the above translation has both, as and when convenient for me! Regardless of the fact that the English version is not as mellifluous as the Tamizh version, it was a new and enjoyable experience.

Thanks to Selvaraj for helping me with the translation. If you have a better translation for any of the words/phrases in the song, let me know through the comments.

And folks, try to dream while you are awake as well (not the same as day dreaming!).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mumbai Train Tragedy

A heinous crime was committed in Mumbai on July 11 and about 200 innocent civilians returning from work lost their lives. The tragedy and the Mumbai pride have been expressed very well by Amit, Gaurav and Uma. In addition to posting updates on their blogs, these three and some others, did a terrific job at Mumbai Help trying to get in touch with stranded folks in Mumbai and keeping their loved ones updated on the internet. Now, that is useful blogging and one of the best uses of the technology, that I have seen. Thankfully, the city of Mumbai returned to normal (as normal as possible) the next day and there was no follow-up violence. Violence can never be the answer to violence and it surely doesn't help reach a solution. What happened to Mumbai train passengers can be compared to what happened in New York City in 2001, but still the coverage in the world press has been minimal.

I have been to Mumbai only once and spent only a few days there, but still I was sad for what happened there on July 11 (and it is not 7/11 but 11/7, according to the Indian style of writing dates) and at the same time proud to read about so many humanitarian acts towards strangers. The folks at Mumbai Help stayed up till the wee hours of the morning giving hopes to the ones in different continents about their loved ones and trying to contact them quite frequently. It was a day/night when both the best and worst of humanity was exhibited. Unfortunately, the worst took a toll of several lives.

The one thing I keep wondering (whenever a terrorist attack takes place) is what message do the terrorists want to send by killing normal working class people. Are they trying to threaten that they have the capability to cause damage and more might follow? Or is it just a senseless act on their part that we can't reason out? Why don't they want to sit and talk, like humans are supposed to resolve conflicts? What purpose can they be serving that needs 200 lives? I just don't get it.

Bombings seem to be continually happening in Mumbai. The previous big one was in 1993 and the culprit on that one is still at large. So the first and foremost thing to do would be to identify the responsible set of people for this one and bring them to justice. Only then can the common person feel safe in Mumbai. One can only wish that politics and money don't influence this in anyway. And then, security measures will have to be beefed up in the train stations and other transportation areas. Also, intelligence measures will have to improved (a cabinet minister said that there was some intelligence information on some activity but he did not know when or where, which is ridiculous as even I can say that). Providing safety for its residents is one of the most important duties of a Government and no amount of economic progress can substitute for that.

In the meantime, this incident illustrates the fragility and transience of life. So enjoy every day and don't worry much about the past or the future. Try to be nice to people and if not, stay away from such people. If there is nothing good to say about somebody, don't say anything. Perform random acts of kindness and spend a lot of quality time with your loved ones. Don't bicker about who is better than whom, as in the end, everybody is treated the same. And let us hope the people who died on the 11th rest in peace. And let us hope for peace.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Wow!!!!!!!!

It is not very often that I am speechless in wonder. But that happened twice in the span of two weeks. First, when Bill Gates announced that he is going to leave day to day operations at Microsoft to spend more time managing the Gates foundation. Then, a week or so after that, Warren Buffett announces that he is going to give away about $30 billion to the Gates foundation. Wow! is the only thing I could say about that. At least, till now.

I have been a big fan of both these guys for about 10 years now. I used to admire Warren a lot when I started looking at investing in shares and mutual funds. It was inspiring to learn that here is a guy who made billions of dollars through his prudent investing. There used to be a time when I had hopes of attaining a bit of what he accomplished in the stock market. Not anymore. Now I will be glad to own at least a share of Berkshire Hathaway A fund. But after some time, I stopped admiring Warren as much as he was not big on charity and I used to wonder what could he possibly do with so many billions of dollars. But that was his choice and so I respected that.

Bill is another story though. Just like everybody, I learnt about him and his ruthless and overly aggressive manners in Microsoft related activities. I was neutral about him as quite a few businessmen behave in such a way and sometimes a little bit of it is even necessary to survive in the cut throat environment. But then came news about Bill and Melinda Gates foundation (it is awesome that the foundation is named after both of them, I think). And then, there would be pictures of Bill and/or Melinda spending time in India or Africa with HIV infected kids. This made me start admiring Bill and it just kept growing the more I learnt about his foundation.

Last year, when I was in India, Bill and Melinda visited India and that gave me an idea of how much they are influencing (in a positive way) the downtrodden. They were everywhere in the media and were treated almost like a country's President. Now with this announcement, it is clear that he is planning on spending his second half of life (with his wife) doing a much more noble thing that running a business (even if it is one of the leading businesses). Just the fact that a college dropout created a company like Microsoft is impressive. But then, after amassing a significant amount of wealth, he creates a foundation and puts a lot of thought into making it effective is even more impressive. It takes a big heart to give away money and it takes a bigger heart to spend your own time and life in making sure the money is spent on worthwhile necessities. This is what Bill seems to be doing and this is why he is on the top of my most admired list.

It seems to me that Warren has had a change of heart as regards to giving away his wealth. And that is a welcome decision. I cannot help think that this change is due to Bill (at least partly) as they both are pretty good pals (how cool is that?!). So while I admire Warren more now, I credit Bill for leading by example. It is not very often that one gets to hear news as good as this and so let us savor this for some time. Check out the Gates Foundation to find out more about what they are doing. I did it last week to see if I can volunteer but the site says that they do not need any (sigh). It appears that they are running the foundation like a business and since they are successful businessmen and woman, this will be a success story as well. So once again, kudos to Bill, Melinda and Warren. That is a terrific trio that is bound to affect a lot of people's lives in a very positive way.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Simple Pleasures

It is important in life to be able to appreciate the simple pleasures. After all, the big ones like winning the lottery (I keep wishing!) or getting married only happen rarely. But the simple pleasures are all around us, if we only pay attention and take things easy. One such simple pleasure in life for almost everybody (I have not seen an exception to this yet) is ice cream. And especially mango ice cream (ooh la la!). Sorry to disappoint anybody who was expecting something more profound (go have an ice cream and you will forget the disappointment).


A few weeks ago, I was at a restaurant where they had a buffet that included mango ice cream. I was sitting facing the buffet table (of course) and so soon after we sat down, I noticed that people kept crowding near the mango ice cream. I am trying not to eat much sweets and so I was hesitant to go near the ice cream, but tried a spoonful and realized why the ice cream was so popular.

I got ready to get my own share of the heavenly delight (the first spoon was just a taste) but unfortunately they were out of cups. And there was only one piece of it left (the ice cream was on a big baking tray). Here I am waiting anxiously for the cup (a cup, actually) but lo and behold, someone else comes with a cup (definitely seconds) and scoops off the ice cream. My heart sinks (just like there are a lot of small pleasures, there are a lot of small disappointments as well).

So now I wait patiently for the new tray and so do several others. Aah, here comes another tray fully laden with frozen ice cream. Someone else got to it before I did and so I was the second person to take a stab (literally, as it was quite frozen and hence hard) at it. I kept stabbing it till I got some and left wanting more but too lazy to stab any longer.

And then things got (more) interesting. Everybody who came to get ice cream seemed to have their own technique in getting the frozen delight off the tray into their cup. Some would try to dig it while others would try to stab from the sides. In the meantime, the scoop fell on the floor (due to the heavy hitting perhaps) and was not replaced promptly. During that time, it was saddening to see everybody's faces that came to get their share, only to find that they can't have something that is so close. The best part was when one guy tried to get this frozen mass by breaking it with a papad. It was hilarious to watch as the papad kept breaking and falling on the ice cream but he kept at it, till he realized that it is a lost cause and people might be looking. The scoop was replaced and the invasion of the ice cream snatchers started again.

During all this, I had finished off what was in my cup and was contemplating if I should go for it again. But feeling guilty enough for eating a lot at the buffet, I decided not to. I was also giving a running commentary of the gala show by the ice cream tray to the ones at my table who had their back to the buffet and they were roaring with laughter. So we decided to leave before getting kicked out.

Moral of the story is to get your ice cream first!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Cruelty in Sri Lanka

Last thursday, the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) brutally killed a family of 4 in the Sri Lankan town of Vankalai. The news item can be read in detail at TamilNet ( warning: there are some very graphic pictures from the massacre site here). Thanks to Selvaraj and Gilli for writing about this (both of them are Tamil blogs). There is no justification for this heinous act and this family could have done nothing to deserve this. This kind of incident makes me feel guilty for the innumerable pleasures and comforts I have in my life, but this is not about me.

There has been a struggle going on between Tamils and Sri Lankan government for a long time now. And there are the Tamil militants/terrorists/freedom fighters that are called LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). But now the SLA (which is part of the democratically elected Sri Lankan government) is on a rampage and killing innocent folks. For a native perspective on this, check this blog.

There are a lot of questions that come to mind about this.

1. What kind of democratic government would resort to such killings? Why haven't the citizens of Sri Lanka done something about this? I saw an excellent movie called Judgment at Nuremberg recently in which quite a few Germans claim ignorance at all the atrocities committed by the Nazis. This makes me wonder if it is like that. Finally, one guy has the nerve to tell all those Germans not to pretend that way. Powerful stuff.

2. Why isn't India doing something about it? After all, India is the closest country geographically to Sri Lanka and the people being killed are Tamils, who are originally from India. Is this the kind of protection the largest democratic country provides its natives? Makes me very proud to be an Indian! And then, where are the international human rights watchdogs?

3. Why is the media not covering this in more detail? The mainstream media in India is not even bothering with this, and I am not sure what they are afraid of. The Indian blog world (other than a few Tamil blogs) is not paying attention to this either as they are busy with Rakhi Sawant and Mika's party kissing (which is interesting, by the way). I have to admit that I came across this only because I am Tamil and visit some of these blogs but still this is much more than a regional issue.

The international media and agencies know how things can get worse when nothing is done about such violent acts, as we just witnessed it in Darfur in Sudan. These kind of abonimable acts need to be curtailed as early as possible as they have the tendency to take way too many innocent lives. And nobody has the right to take somebody else's life.

Other than write about it, I don't know what else to do. So now I go back to my comfortable world while innocent people like Mary Medaline, Moorthy Martin, Ann Nilxon and Ann Luxica die. But they will be in my thoughts for a while.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Munich: After-thoughts

I saw the movie Munich a few weeks ago and found it moderately interesting. The first half of the movie was a very fast riveting thriller but the second half was more like a slow drama. The change in pace and actions in the movie made the second half seem like a let down compared to the first half and hence the moderately interesting comment. But the movie accomplished something (for me) that not many movies do and that is to make me think and discuss about it for a few days after that.

Simply put, the movie is about taking revenge for a bunch of unnecessary killings of the Israeli Olympic athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. During the first half of the movie, the athletes get killed and Golda Meier appoints our hero to get revenge. The hero is so sure of what he needs to do and sets about doing it. But after a few revenge-killings, things start becoming gray. The hero (and his small group) wonders about the purpose they are serving and what they are accomplishing, and that is when my thoughts start racing too.

Although this is something I have thought about several times, I always seem to stop with no conclusion. The fundamental question is if it is ever alright for one person to kill another person. In Munich, what the killers did to the athletes is unjustifiable and the athletes did not do anything to deserve that. But is killing the murderers for that justified? I am not sure. The follow-up question is what is the right punishment for an act like that. I have to admit that I can't come up with any that even I can buy. There are options - some practical and some impractical. The practical one is putting them in jail for life but then the public will have to pay for a murderer and that does not seem fair to the public. The impractical option is to send all murderers to a remote island and have them work for their living expenses and do whatever. But this is not feasible as some might get killed in the island or escape and would just lead to more issues. I do realize that if murderers do not get punished adequately, then they could take advantage of it, but I still can't bring myself to say that they deserve to die.

If there is one thing I can't even begin to understand, it is how anybody can take somebody else's life, regardless of the cause.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Natural & Person-Made

We went on a trip to Las Vegas and Utah a couple of weeks ago. We wanted to go to Las Vegas but did not want to be there for our whole vacation and so decided to combine them. We flew into Las Vegas and spent a night there and drove to Bryce Canyon, Utah the following morning. This is my second trip to Las Vegas and I really liked it the first time. It felt like Las Vegas was the epitome of capitalism and represents America in all its glory and pitfalls. But it just did not have that appeal this time. It was very surprising to me that I did not want to go gamble or even look at any casino that first night. Everything seemed too big and too much – just too much.

So after a good night’s rest, we started on our 4-hour drive to Bryce Canyon, Utah. Once you leave Las Vegas, there is nothing and there is more of nothing. Somewhere in Utah, we picked a restaurant called Gimme Sum mainly by its name (I am a sucker for interesting book or movie or restaurant or drink names) and the food did not disappoint us either. As we went closer to Bryce Canyon, it got considerably cooler and more beautiful. This is my second trip to Utah (the first one was to Salt Lake City) and so I am going to generalize and say that Utah is a clean and beautiful state.

Bryce Canyon is the opposite of Las Vegas. There were only a couple of restaurants around and they close at 9 pm. Only a few places were open as the season begins only in May there. And it was very very cold. We got ready to go see the canyons and take some hikes bright and not so early the following morning. It was too cold to hike but we wanted to get the most of the trip.

Our first long stop was Kodachrome Forest where there were some interesting rock formations. We stopped at some lookout points to take pictures or just wander. It was nice to do that in the serene environment. We walked on a few short trails and then decided to head to Bryce Canyon after lunch.





Bryce Canyon is absolutely beautiful. I have seen Grand Canyon but Bryce is much more complex formation and just more beautiful. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. The tall rounded structures (called hoodoos) are everywhere.





We saw deer as were driving by and some of them just stood and stared at us. It felt like the whole place has been kept very close to nature, without being commercialized. And that was a good feeling. We walked on a few hikes amongst which one of them was a difficult one (for me). And so I was proud at having walked through the distance and height.

We went back to our hotel for a brief rest and came back to the canyon with dinner to see the sunset and the night sky. But it was too cold and so I did not last more than a few minutes on the canyon. I like to see sunset and all but not when it is biting cold and when I don’t have the proper attire for that. So it was sunset from the hotel!

On our way back to Las Vegas we took the scenic route from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park. Zion is more rock formations but they are much bigger and less complex than Bryce. We went through a mile and a half long tunnel (we were the first ones leading an entourage in the tunnel….ooh…..scary) and that was exciting. This tunnel is built through the mountains and there are some holes inside the tunnel (like windows) and you can see the vast mountain range as you drive through the tunnel. This made the tunnel drive more interesting. As always, some people were honking while driving through the tunnel, the reason for which I will never understand.

We spent longer than planned in Zion as it was hard to leave such a beautiful relaxing place. But then we hit the road to get back to Las Vegas. We got into Las Vegas one Sunday evening and it took us more than an hour to get to our hotel in the “Strip”. That would have to be one of the most frustrating things during this trip and the moral is not to drive in Las Vegas, and especially on the Strip. We checked into our hotel after wading through the crowds and learnt that 1300 groups have checked in and 1300 groups have checked out that day (just in that hotel). And it was Easter Sunday, for crying out loud. Whatever happened to the religious right, I wonder?!






We found a new Indian restaurant called Tamba (or is it Tabla?) between MGM Grand and Aladdin and decided to eat dinner there. It was surprising to see an Indian restaurant in an area famous for its culinary greats, and so I was curious as to how this place would be. Interestingly, the place was quite full – never mind that 80% of the patrons looked Indian. The dinner started off with a lychee martini (it is very good) and ended with carrot halwa (mm..mm..good). Overall, the restaurant got thumbs up from us.

After dinner, it was time to hit the blackjack tables. I decided to play single deck blackjack thinking that it would be easier. But then I lost interest as the folks before and after me were hitting blackjack and I was busting. So we played for a little while and headed back to our room. Came back home the following day to a blistering heat. But still it was good to be home.

This trip combined one of the man-made wonders and natural wonder. And nature won hands down.

Next trip will be to Seattle end of May, and so watch out for travel writing again then. I have been lackadaisical in updating my blog due to a variety of reasons but thanks to those who have been subtly and not-so-subtly prompting me. I tend to go into some philosophical pondering as to why I need to write and what it matters for, but I will just have to do it.

Enjoy the summer, everybody.

One Year with Kutti

Today is the completion of one year since we brought Kutti home. So, today is her birthday as far as we are concerned. It is hard to imagine life without her now. Just like with a human being, I have developed a pattern with her. When I come to the living room in the morning, she knows that it is time to go out and she will wait by the door. When I am ready to leave for work, she would wait by the door for her treat. Once she gets the treat, she will move away from the door so that I can close it. Then she will wait by the fence to make sure I am really leaving and then she goes about her business.

She is bilingual too. She will come (most of the times) when I say "come" in English and “inga vaa” in Tamil – how amazing is that?! She knows that she is in trouble when I raise my voice and will just go into her most vulnerable position as a way of apologizing. It is just so touching that I forget what I was upset with her for.

The latest accomplishment with Kutti is walking her (in parks) without a leash. It is interesting that when she is on a leash she will try to pull but when she is not on a leash, she will just walk a few feet from us and then either wait for us or move on after making sure we are coming. I have come a long way with Kutti in this one year, and it has been a wonderful experience. In the first few days after coming to our place; she tried to run when we had the front door open for just a minute. Now, she just roams around the front yard when we are doing yard work or washing the car. There are still a few lapses when she sees that daring rabbit or squirrel, but our home is her home now.

Here is one photo of Kutti by herself and another one of her playing with one of our friend's dogs.



Thursday, March 16, 2006

It's March Madness, Baby!

March is my favorite sports month. I am not a big sports fan but like college basketball. And the best part of that is the tournament that takes place in March every year. The March Madness this year started today and so I thought I would write something about it (can’t write a whole lot as I will miss the games then :-)).

A committee picks the 64/65 teams that play in this tournament and there is always a debate over some teams that got in and the rankings of some teams. Finally resigning to the fact that I can’t possibly agree with the committee on the whole bracket, I have told myself (which I needed to be reminded of sometimes) that the ranking does not matter in the end. A team that can win will win, regardless of whether it is ranked #4 or #9.

Here are some things I like most about this tournament. There are always upsets and it is so heartening to see the underdogs win. These kids (oh man, that makes me feel old!) give their all to win and that is their only objective for the forty minutes of the game. Yes, there are contracts to sign and money to make but those come after the games.

The other interesting thing is to watch the courtside demeanor of the coaches. There are some coaches who would be yelling at their players even when their team has a comfortable lead and then there are some who won’t be saying much even when the game is within a few points. The theatrics can’t be scripted to be this dramatic.

I have been filling out brackets for the last few years just for the thrill of it. And it makes the tournament more exciting to keep track of my teams – the ones I have going to the Final Four. I have to say that I got lucky last year and won the office pool and that was an easily earned few hundred dollars. This is sheer luck as there were other people who knew much more about the teams and the sport than I did. But then that is the beauty of any sport, isn’t it? One can’t say that this is the better team and hence this team will win, as there is always the possibility that the underdog could play better and win. It is 50-50 chance for either team.

Some years ago, the tournament brackets were filled on paper and the pool coordinator would be checking them after each round and posting the results. But now, lots of sites have pools that can be managed online and this makes it so very convenient to participate in pools with friends (regardless of where they are).

For anybody that is interested, here is (one of) my brackets for this year’s tournament.




Root for my teams, if you haven’t filled out a bracket :-)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Eating Healthy

Just like a lot of people, I would like to lose a few pounds and get in shape. But this is one of the hardest things to do. If not, why would there be a zillion commercials and products related to weight loss. The thing that I find very interesting in these weight loss commercials are the before and after pictures. The before picture is of someone very fat (of course) and sad whereas the after picture is of someone extremely attractive and joyful. These before and after pictures crack me up whenever I see them.

I am trying to "eat healthy" these days by watching what I eat. While I was trying to pick a way to lose weight, I read about the different diets. Atkins was out of the question as it does not allow carbohydrates. How can I survive with no rice and bread? Finally it dawned on me that it is the calories that I should watch for. So now I try to limit the number of calories and especially the ones from fat, to keep it simple. Of course, then they say there are some good fats and some bad fats and that one should eat less fat but still eat good fat. And that makes the whole thing very confusing. Of course, I give in once in a while. How can one resist when they bring the dessert tray to your table after the entree? But so far, it seems to be working somewhat - could be better but could be worse as well!

Of course, when I go to India, all bets are off. The justification is that the next chance will be a year or two away and so I have to eat all of my favorites. Here is how a typical day goes in India. Wake up and have coffee and some breakfast. Then we go shopping and the first place we see is a fast food place and so we have to try out that latest snack they have. We do that and then go to a store that we planned on going and then we stop by a juice shop to drink something. Then we go to a couple of other stores and then stop by a restaurant (mostly Saravana Bhavan) for lunch. Then we go to a few more stores and then stop by another restaurant for a light snack and to pick up something for the ones at home. Then we head home. There we have tea and some more snacks. Then it is time for dinner, which may sometimes be preceded by a snack as well. After dinner, we eat some fruits before going to bed. Yes, there is some exaggeration involved here, but you get the idea. Inspite of all this, I do not gain weight in India as there is a lot of walking involved, I think.

I noticed several health conscious efforts going on in India as well. But the Ananda Bhavans and Hot Chips don't help them in anyway. But that is where all the good things are! So Enjoy, but in moderation.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blank Noise Project

Blank Noise Project is an endeavor by a few people in India to recognize eve teasing as a sexual crime and make it unacceptable. It is a very laudable effort as this is not a topic that is discussed openly in India, let alone protested against.

Here are my two cents on sexual harassment in the Indian context.

Just like most girls growing up in Chennai, I have been subject to sexual harassment - the groping, the rubbing, the pressing etc., mainly in crowded buses, but also on the streets and inside some houses as well (curiously Blank Noise does not have a group in Chennai, which is one of the four biggest cities in India). In spite of these happening very long ago and my being more mature and open now, I am not ready to talk about the details for various reasons.

Here are some things that I think could be done to alleviate this issue.

1. Raise awareness among young girls that this is a common problem and that it is not their fault that they have to go through this. Encourage them to talk about it with anybody they feel comfortable with. Impress upon them to retaliate. I attended a self defense course a few years ago where they told me that the best offense against a guy is twist-grab-pull (you know what), and I wish I had thought of that then and had the guts to implement it (you got to give it to them where it hurts). At the least, raise a shout so that they would be too embarrassed and move away.

2. Introduce a sex education class in schools so that everybody is aware at a young age what it is all about so that they don't covet it secretly. Hopefully, this will also encourage open dialogue about sex and related matters. It is a normal thing and everybody is doing it, and so what is wrong in talking about it?

3. Make it a crime, as this hurts the woman - both emotionally and physically. Publish stories and photos in the media so that those guys know that they are being watched.

Yes, all of these are easier said than done, and much easier said online and from outside India. But for my part, when I go to India, I wear what I want to wear (in spite of the stares I get on the roads) and vocally admonish when some stranger touches me. However from now on, I will be more conscious of this around me, and raise a voice even when I see it happening to somebody else.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Things I can Learn from Kutti

For those who don't know, Kutti is our pet dog. Here she is (can't miss an opportunity to show her, can I?).



I keep thinking that there is a lot to be learnt from her. If I could, I would write a book called "All I Really Need to Learn, I Learnt from Kutti". But since that is a tall task, here are some things that I think are impressive. Now, if only I could actually apply them!

1. Always express love: She always shows her affection towards me, either by wagging her tail (sometimes really really fast), or by licking my face or by just collapsing when I pet her.

2. Be ready to play: No matter what time of the day (or night) it is, she will be ready to play (mostly fetch). This seems like an excellent way to keep oneself active and healthy. Sometimes, for no particular reason (that I can think of), she would run and run around the yard and that gives her the much needed aerobic exercise.

3. Live in the present: She has no memory of what happened just a few minutes ago but is always living at that moment. Of course, she remembers some big things. One time, we scolded her for jumping on us while eating pasta (it is hard enough as it is!) and so from then on, she knows not to do that while we are eating. But then, everytime the vacuum cleaner or blender goes on, she just goes crazy and starts chasing her own tail.

4. Never hold a grudge: This is an extension of the previous one. Even if we leave her alone for 12 hours (it does not matter whether it is 2 or 12 hours), she would be waiting by the door when we get in the house, and express the same kind of welcome.

5. Show happiness: We tend to not express our happiness sometimes, but she will always show it by wagging her tail (is the speed of tail wagging directly proportional to the happiness level, the engineer in me can't help wondering?!).

Of course, there are a few things like not to lick and sniff everything that she can learn from me, but I don't think she would. I think we would all be better off if we learnt some things from dogs. And I truly hope there are dogs in heaven, if there is one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Life is Good....Still

Seems like there is bad news everywhere these days. The only good piece of news that I have heard in the last month or so is that of the eight co-workers who won the $365 million powerball. Good for them. I feel happy for them, even though I wouldn't mind being the ninth member in the group :-)

But all the other stuff around us in the world seems not so good. There is the guy Entwistle who has allegedly killed his wife and nine month old baby, which if true is abominable. And then there is the U.S. VP shooting a co-hunter by mistake; come on, give me a break. And of course, there is the ongoing killing and rampage in Iraq, where they say a civil war could start anytime. Then there are the cartoon protests and killings, the DUI-ed coach who wouldn't resign, the doping athletes at the Torino Olympics, so on and so forth. For its part, in India, there is the omnipresent moral police who want to take us back to the 18th century. Then there is the big hoopla about an article on celebrity pets. And some serious issues such as killing infant girls and dowry related deaths.

I have had enough of the bad news, and so I don't even want to watch or read the news anymore. Sometimes, it can get hard to maintain a positive outlook when all one hears is bad things. What do I do then? I go deeper into my own little world where there are only good company, good coffee, good books (not magazines though) and good blogs. It helps to do things that don't involve lot of thinking - like walking the dog, watching sitcoms on TV, listening to music (sappy romantic songs would help a lot), and cooking some good spicy Indian food. These are the times when good friends and close family members seem invaluable.

In spite of all the bad news around us, we need to remember that life is good, as there are still small wonders all around us, if we take the time to pay attention. It is easy to get bogged down with work, everyday chores and the bad-news-hungry media. But then there is that occasional phone call or email from a long lost friend. There is the letter I can write to another long lost friend. There is the weekday get-together with friends like I had last night. There are those times when I laugh so hard (at something that is really not that funny) that I have tears in my eyes and my stomach hurts, but I can't stop.

So, life is good....still, in spite of everything. What good does it do us or others if we are miserable, in addition to all the bad stuff around?

On a different note, check out this very thought provoking post by Amit Varma, Do not draw my unicorn.