Thursday, September 29, 2005

Playlists

Here are the playlists from my show last Friday.

Old Hindi Songs:
  • Mere Mehboob Tujhe Mere Mohabbat Ki Kasam;
  • Baharon Phool Barsaao;
  • O Basanti;
  • O Haseena Zulfonwaali;
  • Aayegga Aanewaala;
  • Rukhja O Jaanewaali;
  • Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon;
  • Meri Bheegi Bheegi Si; and
  • Hum Bewafaa.

Western Music:
  • I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (U2);
  • What About Love (Heart);
  • Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen);
  • Space Oddity (David Bowie);
  • Wonderful Tonight (Clapton);
  • You Got It (Roy Orbison. Whoopi Goldberg sang a sad version of this song in a lovely, pathos-filled movie called Boys on the Side. I get the goosebumps every time I hear her version in my head);
  • Run to You (Bryan Adams - extreeemely popular in Bangalore);
  • Objection (Shakira);
  • Golden Eye (Tina Turner);
  • Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crowe); and
  • Red Red Wine (UB 40).

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How Much Information is Too Much Information?

A few years ago, I was on a flight from Denver to Washington, DC. The pilot backed the plane out of the gate and then stopped for a really long time on the tarmac. A while later, the plane started moving, but headed back to the gate. The pilot apologized to the passengers for the delay and announced that they had discovered a hydraulic fluid leak. The plane was not going anywhere until it was fixed.

I sat there at the back of the plane thinking I really did not need this information. I was perfectly fine not knowing that there was a hydraulic fluid leak. What happened to the good old "there's a mechanical problem and we're looking at it"?

The mechanics looked over the plane, we were told that the problem was fixed and the plane took off for DC. But as far as I was concerned, the flight was ruined. I had visions of the plane leaving a trail of fluid over the Rockies and, not really knowing what hydraulic fluid does for or to a plane, imagined the worst.

I'm still not sure what the pilot was trying to achieve, but that was just too much information. In this case, it was not a good thing.

Now just imagine what it must be like to be on a plane, to know that there is a problem with it - a problem big enough to require an emergency landing - to have to sit tight in your seats for two whole hours as the plane circles over an ocean dumping most of its fuel to prepare for that emergency landing, and, worst of all, to watch live coverage of your plane going through these emergency procedures on TV sets that the airline so helpfully provided on every seat on the plane.

Just too much.

I had felt miserable for those passengers on Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11. They knew they were flying to their deaths and had called their loved ones on cell phones to tell them that.

I feel equally bad for those passengers on the JetBlue flight from Burbank to New York, who, with their worst fears staring them right in their faces, recorded farewell messages to loved ones and final wishes on their mobile phones.

A case of too much technology enabling dissemination of too much information, but not making anyone's life easier.

Read the Guardian comment here, and the msnbc.com story here.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Anna stares in horror as the boy struggles against the raging current of the river. From the bridge, the favorite part of her morning jog, she looks around, desperate. The horizon is empty.

Anna is stymied. She does not know how to swim. But she looks at the boy and knows what she must do.

So she sprints to the end of the bridge, throws herself on her back and careens down the embankment towards the river. Stones tear at her shorts, a dead branch gashes her thigh.

Anna dives into the water. Arms and legs flailing, she wills her body to move in the boy’s direction. A passing log is a godsend. She looks up. Just a few more feet.

She grabs the boy’s hand. “Hold on!” she screams.

“You are a heroine! You could have died, you know,” the paramedic says as he bandages her thigh. She smiles, her face pale. “You will need a transfusion”, he continues. “You lost a lot of blood.”

One year later, a routine physical. The doctor has bad news. He needs her medical history – including any blood transfusions. Anna is HIV-positive.

Six months later, a letter from an insurance company, the fifth one she has applied to. This too denies coverage.


The reason: unacceptable risk.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Shopping

Shopping is a highly organized activity in the US. There are grocery stores in strip malls, there are huge shopping malls for shoes, clothes, books, household appliances, furniture, etc. And all these shops are in commercial zones. There are strict zoning laws governing where businesses can open shop and where they cannot. So much so that if you want to open a home-based business, you must obtain a special license for that activity, and even those are rarely handed out.

If you need to buy something, especially if you live in the suburbs, you get in your car, drive to a shop usually about 5 to 10 minutes away. There are no shops within walking distance and you will not see a single shop as far as the eye can see from your house.

If you live in the downtown areas of the city, the story is slightly different. In downtown DC, for example, shops are within walking distances of houses. The zoning is not as rigid as in the suburbs. Shops and houses coexist within the same block, the same street.

Furthermore, if you know what you're looking for and you know how much you want to pay for it, you go to the appropriate local franchise of a chain. For example, for reasonably priced shoes you head to the closest mall and go to Payless.

When it comes to the actual purchasing process, there is no opportunity for haggling in US stores. Unless you frequent flea markets or you're shopping around for contractors to redo your bathroom, that is. You walk in to a grocery store or a clothing store or a book store, you look at the price tag, thank your stars if the item you want is on sale, you stand in line at the checkout counter and you pay what the scanner reads.

Now, Bangalore is an entirely different story. Bangalore is heaven, not only for haggling but for every aspect of the shopping experience. From locating a shop or the shop that will have the thing you've been looking for to negotiating a price for that thing.

First, locating a shop. Telephone directories are useless because in order to use those, you need the name of a shop. Even if you knew the name, it's still useless because there could be two or three stores with exactly the same name but in completely different locations and completely unrelated. Just heading to the nearest commercial center is no good because good ol' Bangalore is just one big commercial center.

There are shops all around you, there are shops above you, there are shops right under your house. There are very few neighborhoods that don't have shops within a stone's throw. And there are no chains or franchises. Most of the shops are owner-operated so it's that much more difficult to locate a particular shop.

So, let's say you want to buy drapes. The first thing you do is to ask everyone you know about drapes and where they bought theirs. You then develop a list. You ask detailed directions to get to all these places. Even with this list, you keep your eyes open as you drive around the city for that store that nobody's heard of, or that which just cropped up overnight.

Expect to traipse all over town. And know that you can never ever visit every shop in Bangalore that might sell drapes, even if you took six months to buy them.

You group them by locality and hit the stores a couple at a time. These stores are in malls, shopping complexes (the older incarnation of Bangalore's malls), in a building that's the only shop in an otherwise quiet, residential street, in a big tent on a sidewalk, in someone's house, in someone's garage, or in some obscure part of town that your most reliable source assures you has the best drapes in the whole country.

If you found drapes you absolutely loved in the very first shop you visited, there is no way you cannot buy them because by the time you visit the other stores and decide you want the first set you saw after all and figure your way back to that first store, the drapes you liked may be gone.

So, depending on how finicky you are, how easy you are to please, how desperate you are and how lucky you are, you could be shopping for a really, really long time or you could be done before you know it.

Now, for the actual act of buying.

For a person that loves haggling, the bar code must be the most aggravating innovation. Walk into any supermarket these days, even in Bangalore, and those bar codes are slapped on even the most haggle-worthy of items. Onions, for example. Just because a shop has aisles, shopping carts, check-out lines and laser scanners, I'm supposed to pay whatever the monitor says, and what to do (when in Bangalore, you have say "what to do?" with your right palm facing up and the fingers curling slightly into the palm)? I don't have a choice. I pay up.

On the other hand, if I were to buy the same onions from a street vendor or from a vendor in a market, my first instinct would be to bargain. For a few minutes, the vendor and I are lost in a sort of a verbal tango. Never mind that I don't succeed in getting the price down even one bit. In the end, I may come away with an extra onion thrown grudgingly into my bag and he may exult in getting me to pay a rupee or two more, but the act of buying loses some of its sanctity if both sides have not fought for that last rupee or one extra item.

But the supermarkets do have one thing going for them. Convenience. Shops such as Food World, Monday to Sunday and Big Bazar (as close as you'll get to Wal-Mart in Bangalore and just as crowded and chaotic) stock everything from bathroom cleaners to Toor Dal with vegetables and fruits thrown in. For working couples, particularly, finding everything under one roof and knowing exactly how much you're going to pay for it must come as a big relief at the end of a long day.

And these stores do stock everything and keeping in mind the increasingly international make-up of their clientele, they strive to obtain items from the US, Australia, the middle-east and Europe. New stores such as Namdhari's (selling organically grown food a la Fresh Fields) and Dollar Stores are also coming up. There is also Metro, modeled after Sam's Club or Price Costco or BJ's, but I'm still trying to figure out how to get a membership there. The supply chain has a long way to go before it is even remotely reliable (items that you may find one week will disappear from the shelves for months before they are restocked), but still, it's something.

As I mentioned in my Lifestyle post, there is really no need to stock up on things to bring from the US or wherever you are moving from. If you can't find the things you were used to back home, there are plenty of alternatives here that you can get used to so you can settle in here quickly.

With the advent of the malls (Garuda Mall, Forum Mall, Bangalore Central) and the supermarkets, the shopping experience is more complete in Bangalore. If it is not to your taste, you could completely avoid having to visit the old-style markets (KR Market, Gandhi Bazar, Jayanagar, Malleswaram), but that would certainly be a pity.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Weekends from Another Life

Sunday mornings started bright and early at home in Bangalore back when my brother and I were still in school. Sunday mornings were not for getting up late, whiling away time in front of the television or for lazy breakfasts. Sunday mornings were action-packed adventure days.

My dad, my brother and I would wake up early, freshen up, eat a quick breakfast or sometimes not, grab a huge tote bag, leave my mother at home and head out. I would always wonder why my mother did not want to come with us. How could she want to stay home? But now that I have children of my own, I know exactly what she must have been feeling. I wouldn't mind staying back home all alone, just sitting there by myself in blessed silence, with uninterrupted reading time.

My dad had an old Bajaj scooter then, but we would let it rest in its parking place in our narrow compound and make our way to the bus stand, about a five-minute walk away. The bus stand would be near empty, may be a stray family here and there heading to a wedding or some such event. We would wait for a bus, any bus.

Our trip, you see, had no destination.

We would get on the first bus that looked like it had seats for three people and go wherever it took us and stay on until the very last stop. It was a great way to see the city, watch the people that got on and off the bus and listen to my dad talking about this building or that building.

On one such trip, we found ourselves at the Majestic bus terminus. We headed in the direction of Avenue Road and found ourselves in front of Abhinay talkies. We looked at the movie billboard and the movie timings. There was a showing starting just then. We bought tickets and went right in.

That's how I saw Shaan. That's also how I saw The 36th Chamber of Shaolin at the Galaxy theater. We had missed a good fifteen minutes of the movie, but nobody was particularly bothered.

After three or four hours of loitering around, may be a movie squeezed in, definitely something to eat somewhere, we would head to the nearest vegetable market, fill up that tote bag with all sorts of vegetables, and if we were anywhere near MG Road, with lots of goodies from Spencers and head home on another bus.

We would then take over the kitchen under my dad's supervision. My mother was forbidden from entering the kitchen on Sundays. All of the vegetables would go on the floor, we would pick one of each kind, cut them into large pieces and boil them along with the rice and dal in the pressure cooker. When the vegetables were done boiling, they would go in a large pot with the dal.

My dad would then open up the spice cupboard and open every spice powder (rasam powder, sambhar powder, curry powder, gojju powder, garam masala powder, chilli powder...) jar. He would then methodically take a little bit of the powder from every single jar and add it to the pot along with tamarind and salt. Within half an hour of our coming home, lunch would be served.

Whatever it was, that thing that he made, it was delicious.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

On the Road - Coorg

The road to Coorg is long - six hours from Bangalore on a good day. And most of those six hours are spent on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway.

The last time we drove on that highway was back in December when we went on a road trip to Wyanad in the northern tip of Kerala. Construction on that road was in full swing then - the road was bumpy and long stretches were blocked off, so traffic was going both ways on a narrow portion of the road.

The road conditions and the traffic were so bad, especially as we approached the towns, that all sorts of vehicles were on the highway pretty much going at the same speed. For quite a distance, it was the same set of vehicles sticking together because there was simply nowhere to go. There were buses, cars, lorries, vans, autorickshaws (autos), and, for about 5 miles after Mandya, a motorized wheelchair. I'm not kidding.

Although we failed to see the humor in the situation, three guys in an auto thought it was pretty funny. Autos are known (or are notorious) for their maneoverability. They stick their nose into the tiniest crack in the heaviest traffic. Because traffic was slow and because the auto could make headway even when the rest of the traffic was at a standstill, this one particular auto stayed with us for a good 20 minutes.

We would speed up in our car but would be forced to slow down, the auto would catch up and get ahead. We would speed up again when the traffic thinned a little bit but would have to slow down and the auto would catch up again, announcing its arrival with the high pitched drone of an engine pushed to its limit.

Think Rimsky-Korsakov. Think Flight of the Bumble Bee.

The first time it happened it was funny. We all looked at each other, looked at the guys in the auto and laughed. Ten minutes later, it was not so funny, watching the back of that darned auto disappearing into a sea of traffic. Apparently the driver of a bus that was with us during that stretch didn't think it was funny either.

As the auto was getting ready to overtake the bus for the umpteenth time, he ran them off on to the median. We were right behind the auto and turned to make sure the guys in the auto were all right. They were fine, but had lost the grins. And we didn't hear the drone anymore.

Eight months later, it's a completely different story on the Bangalore-Mysore highway. The road is paved, long stretches of the road are now wide and uni-directional. There's also a Coffee Day on the highway near Mandya with clean bathrooms. Perfect place for a break, especially if you're traveling with young children.

Road trips are quite something else in India.

When you are far away from the cities and not a single glass facade is in sight, when emerald green rice paddies roll out in front of you as far as the eye can see, when you have to slow down to let a flock of sheep cross the road, when you overtake a bullock cart laden with hay or firewood or families returning home after a long day in the fields, when you pass by small tea shops on the roadside where men are hunched over their hot cups of tea that's been boiled to a sticky sweetness in big brass decanters, when you pass by fields where children are spinning an old tyre and are running right alongside screaming at the tops of their voices, when you see farmers, both men and women in one long, single line, bent forwards at the waist, their ankles lost in the saplings sprouting on their fields, when you see farmers ploughing their fields not with tractors but with two bullocks pulling a yoke, when a toothless old man sitting outside his small, bright, colorful, unassuming home right there by the side of the road raises his hand and smiles to acknowledge your wave as you speed by in your car, you know you are in India.


Or perhaps in China, Mongolia, Indonesia....I don't know. But for right now, for me, this is India.

As we approached Coorg, the road every so slowly sloped upwards and rice paddies gave way to coffee plantations and orange orchards, and the highway gave way to bumpy, slushy side roads. We had left Bangalore close to nine in the morning and reached the Orange Country resort just as the resort's dining hall was closing after lunch.

After a quick bite, which mainly consisted of scraping left-overs from the bottom of the dishes, we were shown our cottages. The rain which had accompanied us for the last hour of the trip had washed everything down, from the cobbled stone paths to the leaves on the coffee plants to the roofs of our cottages. Everything looked fresh, green.

Our cottage itself was straight out of some postcard picture of the English country side.


It had a bedroom, a living room and a balcony out of which we had a view of the fields.


Everywhere we turned we had views of coffee plants, peppercorn vines, rice paddies, bamboos, aracenut trees and Mexican crab grass laid out for lawns.

That night dinner was by candle light and by the light of kerosene lamps inside a tent. No, we did not decide to go camping and there was no power outage. We were at the Peppercorn, the only restuarant on the resort's premises. For some reason the resort thinks that its clients, who have paid a whole lot of money and driven long distances for some R&R want to pretend they are out in the jungle, camping.

And they're right. Although there're plenty of room for improvement in the service department, the ambience was great, the food even better.

The next day, one of the guides at the resort took us on a tour of the resort's plantation. There we saw...

cardomoms (I know, looks nothing like what we know to be cardomom)...


peppercorns...


vanilla bean creepers...


a path in the plantation flanked by trees supporting peppecorn vines...


and a jeweller's inspiration, coffee bean clusters....

There are no museums to see, monuments to visit or malls to hang out in. This is the kind of place you go to because there is nothing to do.

Other than eating, that is. Or curling up in one of the chairs on the balcony with a good book, lifting your eyes off the page every so often to look out into the rain-drenched fields, to bathe your eyes in all the greenery, or curling up in bed to let the humming of incessant rain lull you to sleep.

Finally, I leave you with photographs of some buildings. Nothing special about them, no architectural marvels, these.





Just some buildings that evoke the sense of a time gone by.

Is Anyone Else Afraid...

that one day you will wake up and find that you cannot access your blog and that everything you've written on your blog is lost forever?

Or is it just me?

While we are on the topic of blogs, what is Blogshares? And why/how is someone buying shares in my blog? Is this some new-age monopoly?

Monday, September 19, 2005

What Makes You Happy?

Jacob Stein, who has a column called Legal Spectator in the Washington Lawyer magazine, wrote a piece on happiness a few months ago.

In it, he quotes from Lin Yutang's book Importance of Living, "In this world of ours, happiness is very often negative, the complete absence of sorrow or mortification or bodily ailment."

Stein goes on to say,
No creditor at the door and nobody sick is happiness enough for the wise. Lin supports his statement by the testimony of his expert witness, Chin Shengt'an, a 17th century Chinese writer who enumerated 33 happy moments in his life.
He then presents two of those 33 moments:
I wake up in the morning and seem to hear someone in the house sighing and saying that last night someone died. I immediately ask to find out who it is,and learn that it is the sharpest, most calculating fellow in town. Ah, is this not happiness?
I am drinking on a winter's night, and suddenly note the night has turned extremely cold. I push open the window and see that snowflakes come down the size of a palm and there are already three or four inches of snow on the ground. Ah, is this not happiness?

When it comes to thinking about happiness and what makes people happy, we wonder if the people around us are happy. I do, regularly, if not all the time. And I know for a fact they wonder about me as well because they ask me. Even my son - especially when he knows he's done something to upset me.

What most of us also do is maintain long lists of all the things that make us unhappy. We keep score - against family, friends, colleagues, bosses, the weather, the mailman, the traffic. On any given day, we can rattle of five or ten things that turn us off. We don't really have to think about it too hard.

But do we spare any time at all to wonder what makes us happy? Should we? Is it a frivolous exercise, indulgent even? If we have to sit down and think about what makes us happy, then does it imply that we are generally not happy? And although I don't know how old Shengt'an was when he enumerated the happy ocassions of his life, doesn't 33 sound like an awfully low number?

Well, frivolous or not, indulgent or not, I'm thinking it'll be a lot of fun to tabulate the good stuff, the stuff that makes us happy. It doesn't have to be specific instances. For example, in my case, now that I think about it, one of the things that makes me really happy is when someone laughs (genuinely, of course) at something I've said. The other thing is to see my son's flushed cheeks and twinkling eyes when he's had a good time running around with his friends in the park.

What makes you happy?

Update: Ravi over at Carpe Diem has taken this further and this is what he has to say.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Horton Hatches the Egg

Horton is not a hen. Horton is an elephant.

He is the kindest, gentlest, wisest, most helpful elephant. So helpful in fact, that he agrees to sit on lazy bird Mayzie's egg while she flies off to Palm Beach for her vacation.

What? How can an elephant sit on an egg, you ask? That's exactly what Horton wonders as well. When Mazie begs Horton to sit on her egg because she needs a vacation,
The elephant laughed.
"Why, of all silly things!
I haven't feathers and I haven't wings.
ME on your egg? Why, that doesn't make sense....
Your egg is so small, ma'am, and I'm so immense!"
But that conniving, lazy Mayzie turns on her charm and manipulates Horton's big heart.
...I know you're not small
But I'm sure you can do it. No trouble at all.
Just sit on it softly. You're gentle and kind.
Come, be a good fellow,
I know you won't mind."

Poor Horton gives in. He promises to sit on her egg and try not to break it. He promises to stay and be faithful.

So Mayzie goes off on her vacation and Horton goes about doing all the things that need to be done to nurture and protect Mayzie's egg. He first props up the tree so it can withstand his weight. He then carefully creeps up the trunk to the nest and gingerly sits on the egg. And sits and sits and sits.

He sits through days, he sits through nights, he sits through terrible storms, through snow and ice. He feels cold, he feels hot, he feels wet. He sits through the jeering taunts of all his friends. He hopes Mayzie doesn't forget.

Well, Mayzie does forget. Worse, she decides that she'll NEVER go back to her nest!

But does Horton give up? No.

He sits on that egg in the face of terrible odds. He sits even when he comes face to face with three hunters aiming their rifles straight at his heart.

And what is his mantra through all this?

I meant what I said
And I said what I meant....
An elephant's faithful
One hundred per cent!

Then, a lot of crazy things happen to Horton. The three hunters pick him up along with the egg, nest and tree. They ship him off to New York and sell him to a circus. He is the star attraction, a freak show. The circus takes Horton all over the country, but he never once abandons the egg.

The circus also takes him to Palm Beach.

Fifty-one weeks after Horton agreed to help Mayzie, their paths cross again. Just as they are getting reaquainted, they hear

A thumping! A bumping! A wild alive scratching!
"My egg!" shouted Horton. "My EGG! WHY, IT'S HATCHING!"

For the faint-hearted, for those who cry in movies - please, steel your mind, harden your heart, and compose yourself to withstand what is about to follow.

"But it's MINE!" screamed the bird, when she heard the egg crack.
(The work was all done. Now she wanted it back.)
"It's MY egg!" she sputtered.
"You stole it from me!
Get off of my nest and get out of my tree!"

Poor Horton backed down
With a sad, heavy heart....

Oh! The injustice of it all! I could wring that Mayzie bird's neck!

But wait! When the egg hatches, something strange happens. Something very, very strange.

From the egg that he'd sat on so long and so well,
Horton the Elephant saw something whizz!
IT HAD EARS AND A TAIL AND A TRUNK JUST LIKE HIS!

[...]

"My goodness! My gracious!" they shouted. "MY WORD!
It's something brand new!
IT'S AN ELEPHANT-BIRD!!

Ah! Poetic justice. Just. So. Very. Satisfying.

And you just can't help your tone getting gleeful, joyful, victorious, as you read the last few lines of this superb book by Dr. Seuss.

And it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that!
Because Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat!
He meant what he said
And he said what he meant....
And they sent him home
Happy,
One hundred per cent!

Did I hear hooting, whistling and standing up and cheering?

I discovered Dr. Seuss when my son was born. Within the first week. I came home from the hospital to find mailers from children's book clubs. Lots of them. They all wanted me to sign up to receive the first ten books for 1 cent each (yes!) and then continue to receive four books each week.

If I decided to keep any book after the first ten, I would pay their regular price, but if I did not want them, I could return them. Sounded completely harmless, and, to a hormone-crazed mother of a newborn with visions of her child flipping through books very, very soon, desirable even.

So I signed up.

Pretty soon, things went out of control. The books started arriving. They started piling up. I did not have time to take a shower, let alone keep track of the books, choose the ones I wanted, and make arrangements to return the rest. Soon I just found it easier to keep everything and pay. Which is exactly what those book clubs were counting on.

A couple of months later I caught on. So I called and cancelled every single de facto subscription.

But I will forever be grateful to those book clubs because in those rows of books accumulating on a tiny white bookcase in my son's room, at least five were Dr. Seuss' books.

I kept every single book that arrived in those first few months and as time went on, I read them to my son.

Of all of Dr. Seuss' characters, I love Horton the best. My son's loyalties keep changing, but me, I'm a die-hard Horton fan.

We have another Horton book, Horton Hears a Who, about this town called Whoville and its residents - the Whos - who are so, so tiny that they and their entire town can fit on a speck of dust.

Horton happens to hear their cries for help one day as the speck flies past his head (what with his big ears and all). He tries to help them and again he is the butt of all the jokes in the Jungle of Nool, this time because none of his friends can hear the Whos. In fact, they are very upset with him for harping on and on about a town on a speck of dust.

But Horton sticks to his guns. He grabs a hold of the dust speck, and worries,

"Should I put this speck down?..." Horton thought with alarm.
"If I do, these small persons may come to great harm.
I can't put it down.
And I won't!
Because, get this...

...After all
A person's a person. No matter how small."
And a little later, Horton begs his friends who are intent on destroying that speck of dust,
"Please don't harm all my little folks, who
Have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!"
And still later,
"Of course," Horton answered. "Of course I will stick.
I'll stick by you small folks through thin and through thick!"

The most enjoyable part of reading these stories was when we arrived at their central ideas, so cleverly written into the narrative as a sort of chorus, and my son would chime in with that adorable diction of a toddler, "I meant wot I shed, I shed wot I meant, von hunded pershent," and "A purshun is a purshun no matta how shmall."

Sticking by your word. Sticking up for the small guy. Healthy seeds to plant in young, fertile minds. And what a way to do it!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Horton Hatches the Egg and Horton Hears a Who are both published by Random House.

A version of this article has appeared in Deccan Herald.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Chacha

My memories of Pedda Chacha (a combination of Telugu and Hindi, literally meaning "big uncle"), my father's oldest brother, range from extremely dim to non-existent. Even those dim recollections may have had their origin in old black and white photographs that I've seen over and over, after a time the photographs themselves morphing into memories.

I'll call him Chacha here.

Chacha in London, 1958

Chacha was in the Indian Air Force, a flight sergeant and a photographer. From all accounts, a dashing guy with a brilliant mind and a deep love and affection for his widowed mother and nine brothers and sisters.

Yesterday, my father gave me a letter dated September 27, 1960 that Chacha had written in response to one that my father must have written a few days earlier. At the time he wrote the letter, Chacha was at a military hospital in Kanpur, recovering from a heart attack that he had suffered when he landed at Delhi's Palam airport after a training stint in London.

I reproduce the letter below. But before that, a quick peek behind the curtains.

Chacha's wife and four children lived in Thiruvunnamalai along with Bombay Chacha (an uncle who lived in Bombay for a long time, obviously!), who was in the Indian Railways and Avva, my grandmother. My father was in Coimbatore, having just started his career with a bank that he would work in until he retired more than 35 years later. My grandfather, a school teacher, had passed away in the mid-40s, penniless.

Avva's greatest fear, my father says, was that her children would grow up without direction, that the world would know them as "fatherless children", the children of a widow. So she more than compensated. She brought up her children with an iron hand and a ferocious love. As far as the children were concerned, their world revolved around their mother, fiercly protective of her as she was of them.

The family stuck together against tremendous odds, foresaking cushy lives in relatives' houses so they would not be obligated to anybody. The older brothers were intensely aware of their role in the family, foresaking higher studies so they could start earning money for the bare necessities. With their support, my father, the youngest of the lot, the tenth child, went to college and got his degree.

Chacha's family learnt of the heart attack only days later, when a telegram arrived at their doorstep. But there was no money to pay for the trip. Bombay Chacha managed to rustle up two train tickets for Avva and Peddamma, Chacha's wife, to travel from Thiruvunnamalai to Kanpur.

So the two women embarked on the long train journey with a promise from Bombay Chacha that he would somehow arrange for the money by the time they reached Kanpur. And he did. Along the way, a Ticket Collector handed Avva some cash from Bombay Chacha.

Avva and Peddamma stayed with Chacha until he recovered and was discharged, and they all returned home to Thiruvunnamalai.

~~~~~~

Dear _,

Thank you for your letter. I got it only this morning and am very happy to hear all the news about you, particularly, the trend of your thoughts towards life - God bless you.

I am being discharged from hospital and I will go to the camp for a few days to get cleared. I am coming home for good and I am going to be a burden on you people. I am not sure about the details of my pension yet, but I am sure it won't be less than Rs. 60 per month. Anyway, it will be enough for rice at least at the present rates and of course with a bit of luck and God's grace I may be able to earn some money. I am not very ambitious and I must learn to be satisfied.

Well __, it is a shame that you have not got your bedding attended to. It is I think more important than your clothes, at least it is as important. So get a decent pillow, pillow covers (4 at least), at least 4 bedsheets and a good blanket. I think you should accord the highest priority to the same.

It is nice to see that you have teamed up with a good set - if a chap's idea of relaxation from busy duties is a visit to the temple there cannot be anything wrong with him. Don't you think so? My compliments to all those good souls and may God bless them all! I suppose they are all bachelors in fact and of course it will be foolish to expect them to be in thought also! What?

I will be home any time now. With love and good wishes,

Yours affec'ly,

_______

P.S. Don't worry about the radio for the present. I may bring one with me.

I imagine Chacha sitting in his hospital bed propped up by a pillow or two, a blanket draped over his legs. His bed one in a row of beds in a long, sunlit, dormitory-like room. His fountain pen ready, poised over light blue paper 11cm wide, 18cms long. I imagine him trying to organize his thoughts to respond to his brother, 20 years younger, living alone, away from family for the first time as he embarks on a new career. I also imagine him trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he himself is at the end of his career with the Air Force.

Giving solace, seeking solace. Giving encouragement, seeking reassurance. But trying to keep it all lighthearted.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

20 Q: God! How Does It Do It?

Along with quizzes and dumb charades, 20 Questions was a staple at all the inter-collegiate fests way back when I was in college.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, this is how 20 Questions is played:

The conductor of the contest has a list of celebrities. The teams try to pry the names of the celebrities from the conductor by asking questions. The faster they guess the answer (i.e., with as few questions as possible), the more points they win.

For example, let's say it's Team A's turn, and the celebrity whose name the conductor pulled out of box is Chuck Norris.

Question 1: Is it an Indian?

Answer: No.

Question 2: Is it a politician?

Answer: No.

Question 3: Is it an actor?

Answer: Yes.

Question 4: Is it a male?

Answer: Yes.

Question 5: Has he won an Oscar?

Answer: God! No! (of course, that would be a dead giveaway, but who could resist that response, eh?)

etc., until they got the answer or ran out of the 20 questions. Typically, the names are chosen out of the newspapers, so if you had been following the news, the chances were high that you could guess the name of the celebrity in the span of a few questions. Of course, there were some conductors who fancied themselves tough and would pick the obscurest celebrities.

Well, now, there is a game called 20 Q.

It's the electronic version of 20 Questions. It's a rectangular black plastic box with a screen and some buttons. When you start the game, a question scrolls from the right to the left of the screen. Your options are "no", "rarely", "unknown", "sometimes", "on/yes/new game", and "undo".

You think of a thing (anything - switch, phone, giraffe - whatever) and start answering the questions that come scrolling through.

We've been playing this game ever since we aquired it two days ago, and all I can say is, it's downright scary how it guesses what you are thinking. Things as diverse as rain, space shuttle, iron, and piano.

Just to give you an example, I started a session as I'm typing this and am just noting down what 20 Q's questions are and my responses to them. The thing that I thought of (i.e., the thing that 20 Q had to guess) appears at the bottom of the post.


20 Q: Is it an animal?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Does it have fur?

Me: No

20 Q: Is it a vegetarian?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Can it run fast?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Does it have four legs?

Me: No

20 Q: Can it climb?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Does it lay eggs?

Me: No

20 Q: Is it a predator?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Is it comforting?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Is it dangerous?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Is it usually colorful?

Me: No

20 Q: Can you play with it?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Is it ferocious?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Can you find it in a church?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Would you use it in the dark?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Could it be found in a classroom?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Can it be used for recreation?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Do you clean it regularly?

Me: No

20 Q: Do you use it in your home?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Is it commonly used?

Me: Yes

20 Q: I'm thinking.

Me: Ok, ok, come on then!

20 Q: You win!

Me: Yay!!!!

20 Q: Just joking!

Me: What????

20 Q: Is it a soulmate?

Me: Wha???!!!!!????

My mouth is wide open, jaw scraping the floor.



The thing that I thought of (i.e., the thing that 20 Q had to guess): Man.

Should I be nitpicky and pretend that I won?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Education, Not Interrupted

Preparations for the Dasara festivities are in full swing in Mysore. The star attractions of the Dasara festival are the elephants. They are transported from the forest preserves around Mysore and are housed at the Mysore Palace grounds a few weeks before the festivities actually begin.

Along with the elephants come the mahouts and their families. The school year is already in full swing in India, and this necessarily means that the mahouts' children will miss classes for the two-odd months they are away from their homes. Because they miss two months of classes, many children apparently are in no mood to go back to school even when they return home.

So the education secretary hit upon an idea, to hold classes for the children on the palace grounds.

Sounded so simple when I read it. Why not?

But the idea had to be thought of. It was. And it had to be implemented. This week, it will be.

Read more here.

Friday, September 09, 2005

9/11 Remembered

A generation ago, the question was, "Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?"

For my generation, there are too many questions. Tragedies and calamities abound in our collective memories, but one question that will be asked again and again is, "Where were you on 9/11?"

At this time of year, that question doesn't even have to be asked.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was at home in northern Virginia with a cup of tea and a newspaper in my hand, standing in the breakfast room and looking out into the backyard through the bay windows. N was already at the baby sitter's and V was on his way to work.

Three days ago, N and I had returned home from a six-week trip to India.

I savored all the little things I had taken for granted, but had missed sorely when I was away from home.

Outside, the sky was blue, cloudless, bright with that early fall sunshine that was not too hot on the skin. A slight breeze ruffled only the tops of the tall trees in the backyard. Everything looked fresh, clean.

Inside, Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson's easy, morning talk show banter filled the silence in an otherwise quiet house.

Then, confusion.

In Diane Sawyer's voice. In Charlie Gibson's voice. The banter was gone. Replaced by broken sentences, words that were coming out staccato. Too many pauses in between. They were searching for words, for understanding, for any information that would explain what has just happened. I turned to look at the TV screen.

There were no video shots yet. Just two lines repeated over and over - the Vice-President of CNN had seen a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. His office had a direct view of the World Trade Center.

I flipped furiously to the other channels - NBC, CBS, CNN.

The first images that replaced the Good Morning America studio scene were shots of the Twin Towers, smoke billowing out of a gaping hole near the top of one of them.

None of the TV channels had any confirmation of the news that a plane had crashed into one of the towers, yet. The discussion focussed on whether there was an explosion in the building. Or speculation that may be it was a helicopter or one of those chartered planes. They are known to fly low, staying just above the Manhattan skyline, sometimes even seeming to dip in between the buildings. At this point, there was no thought (at least none that was voiced) that it was anything but an accident.

I called V, who was still on the road, on his way to his office about eight miles away.

I watched the TV screen, describing the scene to him. Then I saw a plane entering the screen from the center-right side. My first reaction was, "God, how stupid is he? He's too close to the buildings!"

Within a few seconds the plane rammed into the other tower. A ball of fire followed by an inferno, black smoke.

The TV anchors were just repeating what I had said to V when describing the second plane. The theory of the pilot's stupidity now duelling with the theory that may be, it was not an accident. Compounded by the shock that this was happening twice within the space of a few minutes.

There was no other way of reporting it. They had no more information than I did. The pictures were there for all to see.

There were no backround file photos. No fillers. There was no script.

This was not pre-meditated war. This was not a natural disaster. This was not a multi-car pile-up on some icy interstate.

This was the story of two planes that came out of the clear blue skies that sunny September morning and crashed into the Twin Towers, those pillars of American achievement.

This was as real as TV could get.

I wanted all three of us to be home. Right away.

There was a deep sense of foreboding. Something was not right. I could not explain what I was seeing on TV. The people that were supposed to be able to explain could not, did not, explain what I was seeing on TV.

I wanted V to turn around wherever he was and come right back. I wanted to get N back from the baby sitter.

I could not. I was stuck at home. One of the cars was in the garage for maintenance. V had taken the other. He told me not to worry, that he would be back home as soon as he could and pick up N on the way back.

I'd been standing all this time. As I sat down on the sofa, remote in hand, I heard a loud thud. The windows rattled, the house trembled. Blasting at a construction site, I thought.

Without warning, the the television screens switched to Washington, DC. Claire Shipman was on TV, mike in hand, her back to the Vice-President's office, plumes of smoke rising from a building behind her.

From one angle, the building behind the Vice-President's office is the White House. No one was certain what this meant. May be a fire in one of the buildings? At this point, no one, least of all me, was connecting the loud thud with the smoke.

A few minutes later, the connection was clear. A plane's tail was sticking out of the side of the Pentagon that faces Arlington.

I called V. The cell phone circuits were jammed. I called all of my family that's in the US, made sure everyone was fine. I called India, told my parents and in-laws we were all fine. Everyone was trying to call everyone else. It took us all a few minutes to reach each other.

I still could not reach V. He managed to call me.

Washington, D.C. was being evacuated. He was turning back. But there was no place to turn. By this time, the morning rush hour had mushroomed into a monster. Two-way roads were switched to one ways, vehicles were going around in circles. Rush hour that was usually uni-directional was becoming bi-directional. All the bridges coming out of Washington, DC into Virginia were choking with the overload.

As V would say later, the evacuees were sitting ducks for anyone wanting to target huge numbers of people with nowhere to go. That evacucation was anything but orderly. It was an unmitigated disaster. It took V three hours to cover the distance that would normally take 30 minutes, to get home.

Still no information on what was happening. I don't know, may be because of the movies, or may be it is what I was getting used to, may be getting spoiled even - what with all the news channels, all that information, the idea that the nation should know what is going on, the images of Presidents addressing the nation - but I kept thinking, ok, the President will be on any minute. There will be something someone at the White House will say that I want to listen to.

Everyone had their two cents in. Everyone except the people I wanted to hear from. I was waiting for an answer to a simple question, "What is going on?"

The thing is these thoughts rolled through my mind right then. They were not the result of some post-mortem of the events that transpired that day. That day, I realized for the first time that I was looking for something from the government, something other than services or social security programs or budgets, or low interest rates.

The image of David Bloom - with ash, debris on his hair, his voice hoarse, his face gaunt, his eyes red from the dust, from hours of standing on his feet, his back to the falling towers - is the strongest in my mind from all the hours of TV coverage we watched, compulsively.

Then news of Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania. By this time, the shock was gone. There was the dull realization that whatever this thing was, it was relentless.

Hours, days, later, the stories.

Of bodies flying out of the windows of the towers, a desperate attempt to escape the fire and heat inside. Of policemen and firemen and dogs risking their lives to save others'. Of Todd Beamer and Lisa, the telephone operator who connected him to his pregnant wife, also Lisa, for a final few words before going to meet his death.

Of people trudging home on foot for hours. Of firms losing all their employees in a span of minutes. Of a six-month old baby waiting for her mother to come home and wailing every time the door opened but the mother did not come. Of rows and rows of cars waiting in vain at metro stations in New Jersey for their owners to come drive them home. Of my own neighbors who work at the Pentagon (two of whom died in that attack), coming home shaken, unable to eat for days.

Of depression among the people living around the World Trade Center because they are no longer in the shadow of the Twin Towers.

Their view outside their windows and our view of the world inexorably altered.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Perseverance Pays, a Life Lesson

Mary Ann Elliott has a story she likes to tell when she speaks to women’s groups.

When Motorola first established a policy opening jobs to women and minorities, she applied for a job selling wireless phones. But she faced tough resistance from the regional manager in Norfolk responsible for hiring.

At the interview, he laid out reasons why she would not be a good hire – he’d never hired a woman for this position before, and he was not sure women could handle calling on customers at client sites he thought were inhospitable to women. Finally, when he said he had to worry about what his employees’ wives would feel if their husbands worked so closely with a woman, “he had dug at me enough to where I got up out of my chair and I got right in his face and I said you can’t hire me or any other woman on the basis of what your employees’ wives will feel. And then I sat down,” she declares, obviously enjoying the memory.

“I learned a valuable lesson. Is your objective to win the battle or the war? …I won that battle, hundred percent, but I lost the war, because I didn’t get that job.”

She reapplied and was rejected again. Refusing to give up, she wrote to the Chairman of Motorola’s Board introducing herself and describing her dismal experience in applying for a position with Motorola and trying to get hired.

She got that job.

That was in 1978. Mary Ann was a widow in her early thirties with three children and an 8th grade education. Her previous job was selling World Book Encyclopedias door-to-door.

Now, she is President and CEO of McLean based Arrowhead Global Solutions, Inc., which she founded in 1991, an industry expert in mobile satellite and international private satellite networks who has received many awards and serves on numerous boards, and a grandmother.

Arrowhead, spread across 13 US states and three international locations, started out providing satellite and terrestrial telecommunication networks, and diversified into information technology and professional services. “Today, Arrowhead focuses on the convergence of telecommunications and information technology,” says Mary Ann and caters to both the government and the private sector.

With a diverse workforce of 200 and $66 million in revenues in 2003 (and a revenue goal of $100 million for 2004), it counts among its clients the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and the Defense Information Systems Agency, and was recently named a winner of the Fantastic 50 Award instituted by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Her determination and “bull-headedness”, as she describes it, an abiding love for technology, her business acumen (inherited from her father who ran a roadside mini-supermarket and extended credit to the community), and a “quitter never wins and a winner never quits” attitude (instilled by her mother), have been major contributors to her success.

After three years at Motorola, she realized that promotions were going only to the men. So she quit and successfully started a small business, but sold it after nine months, unable to manage it and care for her three young children and her foster children.

She joined a satellite communications company and worked at several other companies thereafter, constantly expanding her knowledge of technology – from radio technology to satellite communications and navigation to global positioning systems. She traveled the world, training dealers in the technology and was soon considered an expert. “When you’re on the cutting edge of technology, there are not a whole lot of people who can challenge you,” she says with a laugh.

Although she was successful at each company, “I also realized … that without a degree, I was always going to hit the glass ceiling. I was in a man’s world and I lacked the formal qualifications that senior management liked to see in people.” She survived five mergers in eight years, but no matter how high she had managed to rise in her previous company, in the eyes of each successive management, “I was just a nobody again. So…I just decided, well, I’ll go try this on my own, not knowing how hard it would be….”

With a $20,000 investment, and no salary for the first two years (she only drew out expenses), Mary Ann founded Arrowhead (named in honor of her Tuscarora Native Indian heritage), in the basement of her home, to provide satellite communications to the military following Operation Desert Storm. The company introduced the military to the commercial satellite marketplace and enabled it to bring voice, data and video communications back into the US.

Although now, 98 percent of her business comes from the federal government, the toughest obstacle she faced when she started was that she did not understand the federal acquisition rules. “I made so many mistakes and the lessons were painful and very expensive.”

She talked to other businesswomen in federal contracting, eventually figured out the marketplace and pursued the lost bids. She learned the rules, lobbied to have portions of the contracts reserved for small businesses, and when they came up for bid again (in one case, almost nine years after she had first lost), she won the contracts. “That was a real crowning achievement,” and one of the best memories of her 13 years with the company.

Along with these achievements, there also have been painful episodes such as the time Arrowhead had to reorganize and let people go.

Even with these ups and downs, “the thrill of the conquest of winning a major program,” her daily bible reading and exercise, and being acknowledged for all the things Arrowhead has achieved, keep her wanting to come to work everyday.

She also relies on inspirational stories – of former prisoners of war and missionaries who defeated incredible odds with their belief and hope in something beyond themselves – to survive the tough phases.

They help her understand when she’s having “problems on a bad day, it’s just another day. The sun will come out tomorrow.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This was one of five articles on women-owned businesses that I wrote for my local newspaper in Northern Virginia, The Springfield Times.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Home

In the vastness of the Milkyway,
under the gaze of the sun,
under cloudless blue skies
the color of sapphires;
under a billion stars twinkling on a velvety blanket,
bathed in moonlight
the color of hay,
stands a house in San Jose.

It is a house like all others,
with doors, walls, shingles and rafters,
with a lawn to mow, a yard to tend,
bulbs to replace and appliances to mend.

But,
it is home,
unlike any other you’ve known.

It stands at the cusp
of a journey ended
and a journey just begun;
at the threshold
of dreams come true
and hopes of yet unknown hue.

In its warm embrace,
each door, wall, shingle and rafter
will bear silent witness
to squeals of laughter;
to favorite songs warbled in the shower;
to celebrations
with friends from far and near;
to the pitter patter of tiny feet
playing a game of hide and seek.

In its warm embrace,
each door, wall, shingle and rafter
will provide safe harbor
from storms of the heart
and those of rain and thunder.

In its warm embrace,
may each door, wall, shingle and rafter
record memories
of wishes fulfilled,
of content lives lived
of dreams realized
and none of memories less desired.

In its warm embrace,
may each door, wall, shingle and rafter,
of that house in San Jose
make a place you can call home
in the vastness of the Milkyway.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
For my brother-in-law and sister-in-law who have a home in San Jose.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Life in Bangalore: A Local Market Preps for the Ganesha Festival

The Ganesha festival is right around the corner and markets in Bangalore are resplendent with color. The Jayanagar 4th Block market is no exception.

The Jayanagar market is a haven for old-style stores (no Fabmalls, Coffee Days or Big Bazaars in the good ol' complex). It is the mecca of old-style shopping, the kind in which you haggle shamelessly. No bar codes or scanners here.

The complex itself is sprawling and has many entrances. In addition to book stores, luggage stores, clothes and shoe shops, and a supermarket, the shopping complex is home to an indoor market with a maze of shops selling everything from vegetables, fruits, and stationery to all the items you need for a puja.




While plantain shoots and mango leaves arrive at the market only during festivals...




....flowers are a daily feature








The indoor market has four entrances. All the pathways leading upto the four entrances are prime real estate and on any given day, these pathways are permanently lined with fruit, vegetable and flower stalls. On days preceding a major festival, the pathways themselves become the destination. More stalls manage to appear in already cramped spaces. You could get away with not bothering to enter the enclosed market.

Which would be a pity.

The enclosed market is an ode to stimulus overload. For the first time visitor, it is nothing short of an assault on the senses.

The scent of agarbathis and camphor clashes in mid-air with the mild stench of the just-beginning-to-rot fruits and vegetables. The flower stalls try to out-do them all, but in vain.



The makeshift shop on the right specializes in Ganesha and Gowri idols.




A tiny shop within the complex holds everything you might need for the puja.



There are stores that sell only coconuts, all the same brown color, and there is a whole lane of stores devoted to decorating items in every shade, even some that nature never intended. There are stores that make and sell photographs of gods right next to a store selling pets. There are stores selling crimson kumkum and sunny yellow haldi and then there are stores that sell decorations made in plain white cotton. There are stores that sell carpets, clocks, steel utensils, sheets, towels, plastic papers and cups, napkins, decorations for birthday parties, and stores that sell hooks to hang your mosquito nets.



Mounds of kumkum and haldi...



...mimicked by mounds of fruit.









Shoppers crowd around the tiny shops, all vying for the attention of the shopkeeper at the same time. No lines here. Lung power trumps chronology. Shopkeepers with no shoppers at their stalls call out hopefully, "En beku madam? Banni nodi" ("Madam, what do you want? Come, see").

One circumnavigation of the market is enough to make you want to see the light of day.



An entire row of shops dedicated to decorations.









Crossposted on Everymanscity.

What a Cool Idea!

At one library in the Netherlands, you can borrow books, but if you would prefer to talk rather than read about an issue, you could also borrow a person for a chat at a pub close by.

Here is the report from the September 11, 2005 edition of The Week:

Hand it to them for being innovative. A public library in Almelo, Holland, is lending out people in a new initiative aimed at challenging stereotypes.

Besides books, people can borrow gay people, gypsies and Muslims for an hour and talk to them about their lives. "Clients can borrow a muslim woman in a head scarf and ask her the questions they would not dare to if they met on the street," said Jan Krol, director of the library.

The library has contacted 10 people from different backgrounds who are willing to have a chat with its visitors in a nearby pub.

Most of us have already filled this role of walking, talking reference libraries for our friends and colleagues, sometimes even complete strangers. I've been pumped for information on arranged marriages, Indian cuisine, labor pains, and traveling to India, just to mention a few.

Once, a fellow commuter on the Washington metro just leaned over and pointed to a word in Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things. He wanted to know what "dhobi" meant. I could not only tell him what it meant (which he could have easily found out from the internet), but was also able to paint a picture for him with all the details filled in.

Sometimes getting your information out of an encyclopedia is just not enough. You need the interaction, the back-and-forth of a discussion to learn about something to your satisfaction. You may not get all the answers and you may not agree with all the answers you get, but you get to see a red-blooded human being articulating a point of view. Which must make it real.

It sure would be interesting to find out how this program is running six months from now.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Thanksgiving, Desi Ishtyle

Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest weekend for travel in the US. It is the one holiday for which everyone, no matter how far it is, tries to get home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. For a week prior to Thanksgiving, TV and radio stations carry stories related to cheap airline fares, which routes are expected to be the busiest, the weather, etc. The day prior to Thanksgiving day (the fourth Wednesday of November), the coverage rises to a feverish pitch, when a few unlucky reporters get stuck with airport duty, filing stories on the long security lines and delayed or canceled flights.

The year before last, the gathering at our house was a mixture of family and friends. Among our guests were a close friend and his family, a sibling, two cousins and the wife of one of the cousins. It was as Thanksgivinggy as it would get, and it was lovely.

If you're wondering why this sudden nostalgia for Thanksgiving considering that it is not even Labor Day yet, the reason is that I was going through some old documents in one of my Word folders and I found this menu I had put together for our last Thanksgiving in the US.

It induced disbelief (what!? we made all that and we ate all that?!) and a sudden longing for the rustling of the last few dry leaves on the trees, the chilly breeze, the cold, wet air caressing my cheeks, the first flurries of the season, football, mulled wine, Jacob's Creek and my thick jackets.

Well, for what it's worth, here is the menu. May be you'll get some ideas for your Thanksgiving this year, if you want to celebrate it desi style, that is.

Main dishes:

Chicken Biryani (made with Basmati rice, lots of onions, and boneless chicken and slow cooked in a pressure cooker);

Vangibath (a rice dish made with curried eggplants);

Rice mixed in plain yoghurt, spiced with salt and green chillies and garnished with cilantro; and

Store bought pitas warmed on a grill;

Side dishes:

Cabbage curry;

Okra (ladies finger*) curry;

Deep fried pappadams; and

Cranberries pickled in salt, chilli powder and roasted fenugreek seeds, and tempered with canola oil and mustard seeds;

Dessert:
New York Style Cheesecake.


* No, ladies finger is not the same as the one that goes in Tiramisu. It is the Indian name for Okra.

____________________________________________________
We're off on holiday for three days. Will be back on Sunday. Hasta la vista!

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