Thursday, December 24, 2009

A "Rose" By Any Other Name

It’s that time of year again when everybody is absolutely sloshing around in festive bonhomie.

Almost everyone I know seems especially fond of this time of year, barring an otherwise-genial former boss – although I suspect his animosity was more to do with Rudolf’s red nose than anything else. But that’s another story.

So this is that time of year when my neighbour puts out her garish thermacol cut-outs of bells and scary Santa faces that can only be termed paedophilic to say the least. Not to be outdone, I string up my single green tinsel wreath and single string of twinkie lights.

After baking a batch of choux buns to be served at a small Christmas brunch being hosted at my place – well, just a brunch that was convenient since Christmas is a non-working day – I settled down to a conversation with my old pal KO.

So much for festive bonhomie! The vile... oh, wait, I shall call her names until after her Wine & Cheese Xmas eve party this evening... Well, the woman calls me an anti-national.

The reason for this slight upon my oozing patriotism you ask?

Rose cookies!

Yes, I shall still call them “Rose Cookies”. KO, who balks at saying anything vernacular in nature for fear of her innate Britishness buggering the pronunciation , mocks me for calling them “Rose Cookies” as opposed to what she deems is the proper name – “Achappam”.

Achappam? “Who, outside of Kerala, even knows that term” I spat and sparked off a long-drawn argument with Her Royal Highness over what the real and proper term for these fried Christmas delicacies is.

Finally, I decided to settle the matter. Who else would be a better judge than Lord Google? Final scores read: Rose Cookies 84,30,000, Achappam 7,680.

KO, what do I say? A rose cookie by any other name may taste just as sweet – to slightly borrow a phrase – but I and 84,30,000 search results prefer sticking to Rose Cookies!

{Oh, but you and 195,000,000 Mallus say "Achappam"! Sigh!}

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thekkady: Of boats, boars and boors

The single biggest draw in Thekkady is probably the boat safari. Of course, one wonders what the scenario is like now, post the tragic boat capsize that killed 40-odd people. We were on that boat exactly a week before the mishap and almost ironically, I had commented on the utter lack of safety gear on all the nine boats docked there.

Anyhow, our experience was far more pleasant. Thanks to KTDC’s super-efficient Mr Ravi (no, I am not getting a commission to mention his name on my blog this often), we had our tickets to the upper deck of “Jala Raja”, one of the biggest boats there.

As the boats chugged along, expertly dodging the dead trees in the lake, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast in the kind of crowd in the upper and lower decks of each boat. The upper decks were full of tourists from all over the world, cameras clicking away at the gnarled trees, the lush green jungle set against the red muddy river bank and the benign elephants plodding about their business as usual. The lower decks, however, were bursting at the seams with local romeos, grinning from ear to ear, cameras clicking away at anything vaguely human female, oblivious to the glares from certain other disapproving males. (*Ahem*)

We spotted a herd of elephants with their clumsy babies, an absolute multitude of bison, sambar deer (a name which a lot of people pronounce like the South Indian lentils curry), grouchy wild boar, and half a dozen snake birds and kingfishers.

No tigers. Tsk.

As we spotted each lot of animals, the boat would slowly spin around in circles so that everybody got a good view regardless of where they were seated. The excitable types would rush to the edge each time, clamouring at the top of their voices – until the ever-efficient Mr Ravi shushed everybody saying noise would scare the animals away. (Seriously, no commission)

The boat ride lasts a good two hours and you are almost guaranteed to spot an elephant or five this way. However, as we slowly chugged back to the docks, a sense of ennui set in amongst the crowd; even the know-it-all Bengali man stopped broadcasting his vast store of trivia to an admiring group of foreigners who’d lapped it all up until they could lap no more.

That is the moment the old foreigner seated in front of us chose to raise himself slightly and let one rip (or passed a noisy wind, if the former sounds too crass), and then sat back down absolutely poker-faced. His wife, although startled for a split second, remained unconcerned -which is more than I can say for Ducky. He began choking with laughter and set me off too.

The elephants were nowhere to be seen. They probably ran for cover.

The old windbag’s wife then handed him a candy. “That’s to combat the weakness he must be feeling after that expulsion”, said Ducky before dissolving into more laughter.

And thus it was that "Jala Raja" chugged back to the docks, with two grownups, belonging to an organization known for being prim-n-propah, snorting with laughter like two juvenile school kids.

Thekkady: Bamboo rafting and an eight-hour trek

Going on a tiger hunt, I’m not scared...Got leeches by my side, guavas too...

The prospect of bamboo rafting and trekking through areas of Periyar sanctuary that are otherwise off-limits for everyone except forest rangers was a cheering thought. No loud, lecherous camera-toting locals or excitable squealing tourists – just us, a bunch of forest rangers, a rickety bamboo raft, and the great outdoors...

Whatever. Okay, so I thought I’d get lucky and see a tiger. Put it down to fanciful Piscean day-dreaming.

The efficient Mr Ravi introduced us to our guides – rangers from the Kerala Forest Services – and I was immediately mimicking their strong Malayalee accents in my head for future use against certain “fake” Mallu friends of mine.

As it turned out, our trekking group was just the two of us with a young German couple. Ravi told us to don their improvised “leech guards” – khaki stockings that end just around the knee. The prospect of the little bloodsuckers around didn’t daunt me – I’m quite used to extricating them from self and dogs with a squeeze of lime or a pinch of salt (and tequila?) – which is more than I can say for the terrified German couple who thought the things got under a person’s skin like Guinea worms. Tsk.

We set off, traversing the first part of the river on a rickety bamboo raft that looked nothing like the one in the brochures. Our guide excitedly pointed out Touch-Me-Nots. “Oh, whee!” I thought, “this is going to be a whole lot of fun! Touch-Me-Nots?!!” I steeled myself for another “100% natural jungle” type rip-off.

Fortunately, the trek got more interesting as our guide was full of trivia about other flora and fauna as well. The only fact that he erred about was attributing the zoological name of a frog “Rana something-or-the-other” to Rana Pratap Singh, the Maharaja of Mewar (the "Frog Prince" of Mewar?).

My hopes of seeing any wildlife shrivelled as quickly as the Touch-Me-Nots. I had to content myself with heaps of elephant dung in various stages of freshness, an elephant skeleton, a tiger pugmark, a couple of noisy Drongos, a red dragon fly, some tadpoles and fish, a herd of bison (that Ducky quickly shooed away with a well-timed cough), and a fleeting glimpse of an elusive Malabar squirrel.

The Germans, who weren’t very fluent in English, didn’t know what a squirrel was. Pity for them, they will never know – although equally ‘well-informed’ Ducky helpfully told them it belonged to the pig family! (*Snort*)

The German girl looked increasingly flustered, most so when she asked to use the restroom during our stop for a tasteless lunch. The guide very politely pointed her in the direction of some thick trees and bushes.

Although I claim excellent bladder control most times, my luck ran out that day and I sheepishly waddled behind a bunch of bushes myself, keeping my fingers crossed that none of the greedy leeches who came dashing toward me became ‘bottom feeders’.

Towards the last leg of our trek, we trudged back in the hot sun, as one ranger enthusiastically plied us with all the wild guavas we could eat. We reached the last bamboo raft waiting to take us back to our starting point and I cautiously stepped onto it first.

As my rotten luck would have it, a bamboo log gave way and I sank knee-deep into the dark 120-foot deep water. Pure reflexes and an irrational fear of water made me leap to safety in a fraction of a second. If you thought the boats in Thekkady have no safety equipment, try the bamboo rafts!

I was more than grateful to limp back to my room and soak in the tub, gingerly nursing the awful blister on my foot that the ‘leech guard’ had created.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thekkady: Jumbo safari = 100% natural rip-off

The elephant safari promised a ride on elephant back “through 100% natural forest”. What we got was a ride on an elephant through a 100% cultivated cardamom plantation. For someone who has been reared in 100% plantations all her life, I was 100% super let down. So much for my envisioning us chancing upon an angry tiger who’d then send the elephant scurrying in terror with little old me clinging to its big ears for dear life.

All I did was cling on for dear life. I found myself seated right atop the elephant’s shoulders which wasn’t comfortable at all, especially when “Rooba” ambled down slopes. All I could do was pray that Ducky would grab my jeans if I fell down headfirst. 100% wishful thinking. He’d probably grab the camera first to capture the moment before hooting with laughter.

Nonetheless, despite the disappointing environment, I was cheered up by the prospect of being able to interact with the gentle four-legged giants. We fed them and patted them, amused with their names: Rooba, Shankaran Kutty the tusker and the little rascal whose name I have now forgotten. Someone doesn’t have an elephant’s memory, that is for sure.

The highlight of the trip was when Shankaran Kutty showered a squealing foreigner who’d opted to bathe him with water, twice. 100% natural shower. At least somebody got their money’s worth.

Thekkady: Acco, food and service

Aranya Nivas is one of the Kerala tourism (KTDC) resorts located within Periyar Wildlife sanctuary. The others are the frightfully expensive Lake Palace, located bang squat in the middle of the Periyar lake, and the budget resort Periyar House. Would I recommend Aranya Nivas? Absolutely. No second thoughts about it, although it can do your wallet some damage. But then, with tourism being its mainstay, Kerala is bound to be expensive.

The staff is amazingly polite, helpful and very pleasant – everyone from the restaurant staff to the reception staff ooze congeniality. We were greeted at the desk with a free room upgrade to a premium suite, which meant total privacy, wooden decor, muted lighting, large bay windows, plush comfy bed and sofas (not to mention a “love seat”), large bath tub and shower, complimentary bath accessories including bubble bath – yes, I was a happy, contented woman.

There’s a clean swimming pool for use by guests only. In case you’re wondering, it offers you total privacy from the lecherous eyes of the local men folk who frequent the reserve purely to gawk at women, although it is in full view of some of the guest rooms and the dining room.

Now the more important aspect: food. Breakfast and dinner (usually buffet) are included in the room tariff. Breakfasts included a large spread of western-style eggs and toast with watermelon or pineapple juice as well as more Indian fare like pooris, Kerala-style puttu, dosas and more. Dinners offered good non-veg Kerala-style food as well as suspicious-looking Indo-Chinese fare. Note: No booze apart from beer is served here so it’s best you carry your own if you can’t do without. Even the beer is available only in a slightly dingy-looking room (“beer parlour”) with a barman and morose fish in an aquarium for company.

Ravi (pronounced more traditionally as “Ray-vee”), the KTDC guest relations officer, was efficiency personified. As soon as we arrived, he took out one of his many brochures, informing us about the various adventure activities and sight-seeing possibilities in the area. This was not going to be a lazy holiday I soon realized as we enthusiastically signed up for the bamboo rafting and eight-hour jungle trek, elephant safari and the more mundane boat ride on the river. Ravi took care of everything – all we had to do was show up at the appointed hour and he’d have the tickets, guides and everything ready. He was also a big help getting our daily passes (mandatory for anyone visiting/staying in the reserve) updated.

The reserve is closed at 6pm, so the area is absolutely quiet and peaceful after the crazy crowds have finished with their boat rides and left for the day. Aranya Nivas is a stone’s throw away from the edge of the lake, but the compound is locked up once darkness falls – whether to keep the elephants out or troublesome humans in is anybody’s guess – so there’s not much chance of a midnight walk around the area.

Aranya Nivas contact details:
For reservations (advance booking is a must): 04869 321930 (Thomas)
Address: Periyar Wild Life Sanctuary, Thekkady, Kerala - 685 536

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Satire Over Attire

The following letter popped into my email this morning and I thought it worth sharing on my blog (although this is not in keeping with my usual servings of original content):

Part One


On this poignant occasion I would like to make an observation after my recent visit to Delhi/Gurgaon and having met Col Moorthy I hope you all will take this constructive criticism and not negative comments about Defence services in India.

Let me first start by the experience that I had in Defence Service Officers' Institute, Dhaula Kuan. I attended a private party there but was stopped because I was wearing Kurta Pyjama - a very Indian dress!! I had to change into shirt and trousers to attend.

I just could not believe that after 63 years of Independence the Defence services are not only still following but also robustly enforcing a British legacy dress code that was meant to keep "Indians" out of the British establishments.

Can anyone of you explain to me why this archaic and anti-Indian rule is still being enforced with such vigour? India is a democratic country. DSOI is not a private club but is paid for by tax payer's money. If Dr Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, were to come to DSOI he will not be allowed to enter if he is wearing his usual Indian dress!!! How can Defence services be proud to be Indian and ask civilians and politicians to strengthen the defence services when they cannot shake off the British legacy?? - Dinesh Verma

Part Two

Dear Shri Verma,

I do not know you, your age, profession and other details. Hence I am keeping my viewpoint brief and pointed. We shall discuss each issue raised in the mail.

Firstly the title goes overboard without establishing any base for a viewpoint.

Secondly the DSOI is a club wholly funded by the members and some private and regimental fund. No public fund is involved. Hence the Institute is a private club and no taxpayers money is involved.

Thirdly, the Kurta Pyjama maybe Indian; so is a Langot which is the only garment worn by many children in rural areas. In the south men wear only lungis around their waist and tie a towel around their heads. In many tribes of India women go bare breasted. These are all Indian dresses. Surely it is not your case that the DSOI should permit all these dresses purely because they are worn in some parts of the country.

Fourthly, I usually wear a kurta pyjama to sleep as night suit; it may be worn in some parts of North India as a casual dress (however fancy; it still remains a casual dress) to each others homes, but that is a regional practice. By the same logic, if Kurta pyjama is allowed in the DSOI, children should be allowed in Langots and adults in Lungi etc.

Fifthly, the dress code in the Army is laid down in the Red Book (an amendment to Dress Regulations for the Army). The formal dress is the National Dress or Dinner Jacket (Black Tie/Tuxedo), for an event in a club ordinarily one is expected to dress formally. So the guests could be in the National Dress which is what the PM is often seen wearing. The PM does not wear a pyjama to the office.

Sixthly, in India the bulk of the people wear a trouser and shirt. It has ceased to have any colonial connotation; those who try to attach some such non-existent significance to it are off the mark. In fact the club has gone to the extent (which I am not in agreement at all with) of even allowing T shirts with collar; for male members. Even the tie has been done away with, in deference to the hot climate.

Seventhly, just for the record we tend to run down the British (though I am no fan of theirs) in their own English language.

Eighthly, being a private club meant for defense service officers and their families the members are at liberty to lay down the dresses which are allowed in the club.

Ninthly, the club by allowing an individual to utilise its facilities albeit at a fee is within its rights to expect the guests to adhere to its customs. Taking off from your analogy if you are invited to the Presidents Estate you would take pains to find out what to wear; why not to your friends party.

Tenthly, if you are in the corporate world try going to your office in a Kurta Pyjama with the same logic that it is an Indian dress.

Lastly, the dress is usually mentioned in all invitations from service personnel. If left out one must enquire, particularly if at a Defence Establishment, that much is elementary.

This rejoinder may be impersonal in tone, but I have had enough SH*T with people telling the Army what to do. Our brainless media and the half educated public are often commenting on matters on which they have no idea; from Golf Courses, Canteen facilities, orderlies, the AWWA etc.

I say damn FOOLs, before you express an opinion, least you can do is find out.

With Best Wishes,

Yours Sincerely,

Col PK Nair (retd)

{I thank the latter for my morning's dose of chuckles.}

Friday, September 4, 2009

The "Healthy" Flu Bug

I have decided to purge my world of a scourge that has slowly but surely taken it over. Not being overly ambitious, let me try small, like with this blog for starters.

I just woke up one day, and lo and behold, just about everybody who is anybody and wants to be somebody is pronouncing the humble word "healthy" differently. TV anchors, advertisements for cooking oil, and even the local grocer appear to be saying "hell-dhee".

Okay, so who changed the accepted pronunciation while my back was turned? As it turns out, nobody really. The dictionaries still specify its pronunciation as ˈhel-thē. So, this is, apparently, a "cool" new way of saying it. It appears that some Page-3 type mispronounced it and started an infectious trend that has claimed more victims than the Spanish Flu. At least in this country.

I chuckled in delight as Bobby Chinn, a food show host on Discovery Travel & Living, raised an amused brow and mimicked a girl in Punjab someplace when she said "helldhee". The pity, however, was that she didn't get it.

Unfortunately, this mispronunciation has become so well entrenched in society, it doesn't look like it will go away any time soon. On my part, I refuse to succumb to the hell-dhee pandemic. Even if it means I am ostracized from hip society. I shall say it right until my last breath, and I shall judge people who say it wrong. In fact, I might even have "A ˈhel-thē human, the last one standing" carved on my epitaph.

My Ears are Burning

I am a celebrity in my own right. For some reason, no matter what I do or don't do, I manage to set certain gossip mongers all a-twitter. This blog, of course, must be their most valuable resource to keep tabs on me, since I have most unfortunately dropped off their daily radars.

This post is dedicated to all those who seem to have nothing better to do with their lives than sniff around for tidbits of information about me.

I suppose the inability to ferret out juicy gems worth their weight in ash from my rather non-controversial, non-ripple-creating blog has forced you to seek other sources. Well, let me save you the trouble and have you know that my buddies really have lot more on their daily agendas. A chinwag with you about insignificant little people like yours truly is not and never will feature on their priority list.

And let's say, like for real, you are genuinely concerned about my well-being, whereabouts and what-been-uptos.... Okay, I cannot even continue that sentence without sniggering over the total unlikelihood of it all. Anyway, my point is that if you really want to know about me, you know how to contact me. May be we could have a good colloquy about the weather. Who knows, if you are really nice, I might actually tell you all about how I digested my latest meal.

Truth be told, I am sick to the gills of being nice and decent despite your obvious fixation with my otherwise quotidian existence. I feel like Truman in The Truman Show. It is such a pity that I have had to deface my blog with disclaimers to stop you from reading between the lines and jumping to conclusions. Much as I appreciate the fact that some of my posts moved you enough to hold mini what-do-you-think opinion polls, gee, you really shouldn't have. I think most fondly of you too - you are like an itch that cannot be scratched.

The bottom line really is: Go get a life. Oh, and while you're at it, could you get me a bag of gummy bears, pretty please? I really feel like biting a couple of heads off right now.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hungry Newsmen: Stop Crying Wolf

A few days ago, a well-known Indian TV news channel ran a story about an Indo-Chinese skirmish in Sikkim. "Indian and Chinese troops involved in a skirmish in Nathu La", said the ticker tape, followed by "More Indian troops being deployed at the border". I watched in disbelief as the channel then went on to make this headline news, complete with visuals of Chinese soldiers marching on snowy slopes.

Viewers were being led to believe that our nation was going to war. While the smug newsmen must have sat back to enjoy their soaring viewership, the only thing that shot up in my household was blood pressure.

Fortunately, my nerves of steel held out and I reasoned that the media is quite geographically challenged. It is probably never ever going to know the difference between Shillong and Sikkim, let alone Nathu La and North Sikkim. Besides, the footage shown looked nothing like Nathu La in recent times. Moreover, snow in August seemed quite implausible. A quick phone call confirmed my hunch: CNN-IBN has a bunch of irresponsible ignorant journalists. Nathu La was as peaceful as ever, with not even flies to swat at that altitude. Troops at Nathu La were themselves probably alerted about this ongoing "skirmish" through their TV sets like the rest of the country!

Once the smugness of my "I-so-knew-it" victory wore off, however, I felt some amount of anger against this section of irresponsible media. If this had been lawsuit-laden America, a bunch of very worried army families could have sued their feckless *bleeps* for causing undue emotional trauma. Even the visual of the fierce Chinese soldiers was old footage shot, and get this: not even at Nathu La.

Here's a note to all you viewership-hungry newsmen: how about some responsible reporting for a change? Check your facts and learn your geography before crying wolf! In your haste to outsmart and one-up rival channels, do ensure you don't come out looking like total jackasses. It will make all our lives just that much easier.

Oh, and if we want drama, we'll watch Colors, thank you very much.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our Pseudo Democracy

There's never a dull moment in India's political arena. Jaswant Singh's new book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence has invited the wrath of his own party men. The BJP promptly and ungraciously booted him out for airing his views on Jinnah and the partition, as well as some unflattering comments on Sardar Patel. Having condoned Varun Gandhi's inflammatory speeches against a minority community and now kicking JS out for what they deem "pro Jinnah" views, just what sort of a 'secular' message are they sending out to us voters? JS (whose previous books have courted controversy too) remains unrepentant, questioning the right of people to impose shackles on free thinking. Good on you, JS!

While the party can rightly justify their actions to some extent by saying that JS's opinions are not in keeping with the party's ideology, there is absolutely no justification for imposing a ban on the book in a few BJP-ruled states.

The last time I checked, this was a democracy ("the world's largest" as we take pride in trumpeting). As citizens of this supposed democracy, don't we have the right to freedom of expression? Doesn't it also give us the freedom of choice? I can choose to read the book or not. I don't need someone dictating what I should or should not read. I have the right to air my plentiful opinions but I definitely do not have the right to impose my views or restrictions on another individual.

Besides, how will banning the book in a few states, stop anyone from buying it from elsewhere? And then there's always Amazon, just have it shipped right to your doorstep!

JS is likely to have the last laugh. He remains a Member of Parliament, and can probably laugh all the way to the bank thanks to the free publicity that a couple of ignorant, rigid party leaders gave his book. Everybody loves a good controversy. That in itself is a fantastic farewell present.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good God! I'm Blond!

It is that time of year again. As the religious festival season rolls around again, I can feel the onset of slight pangs of anxiety that will no doubt become more frequent and intense as the months go by. Okay, I am just going to have to come out and say it. There is no other way to do so. I am not religious. Pause one moment for the gasps of horror.

Now that that is done, and before the saffron brigade and the Bible bashers begin to roll down roads or hold prayer conventions for my rotten soul, here's the meat of the matter. This is a country where 'the guy upstairs' (who I know exists because I hear footsteps and rolling marbles at night) has around 40,000 different names, avatars, and forms of accepted worship. So, life for someone who chooses to remain an agnostic (note: vastly different from atheist, so let's not get our saffron knickers in a knot already, okay?) is not easy.

I had a good and lasting taste of it while driving to my Spanish institute with an equally religion-clueless friend on what could have been a peaceful Sunday morning. I stopped at a traffic signal and surveyed my surroundings. There was something odd by the side of the road - in my defence, it was odd by my religion-ignorant books. The conversation went something like this:

- OMFG, who the hell left so many Ganesha idols on the side of the road? (Brownie points for naming the idol correctly)
- Oh, yeah! There are so many!
- And they're all PINK!
- Strange!

Before we could act any more blond than that, the lights changed and we trundled along to our class with our brows furrowed. Once there, we decided to update the others about our strange sighting that morning. Our 'dramatic' revelation was met with a moment of silent disbelief and then a lot of eye rolling, before the following outburst (I have omitted some of the choice expletives and stinging name calling):

- It's Ganesh Chaturthi!
- How could you not know? Seriously?!
- They're selling idols on the road because it's GC!
- How could you not know that?
- How long have you lived in this country?
- Are you guys even Hindus?
- It's GC.....
- Yadda, yadda, nag, nag, gasp...

You get the drift.

Tears of utter shame and repentance sprang to my eyes and I ran from there and threw myself in front of one of those pink idols, ripping my hair out, beating my chest, groveling for forgiveness and salvation.

Okay, I made that last bit up entirely (that's another black mark for lying, tsk, tsk), but if my life were portrayed on a Hindi soap on Colors, that scene would be played out in slow motion, three times over, with a lot of tan-tan-tan music.

In reality, my ignoramus friend and I just looked suitably ashamed, giving our best I'm-the-dog-who-peed-on-your-floor looks, deciding that there was nothing we could say to justify our blond moment.

Now, we keep our 'religious' discussions between ourselves and helpfully give the other the heads-up whenever one of us hears hints of some festival around the corner in other people's conversations.

{Note: No offense meant to blonds, anyone religious, pink people, dogs who pee on floors and tan-tan-tan music composers.}

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lapsi or Titaura, anyone?

People familiar with Kalimpong and thereabouts may be familiar with "Lapsi". If you're wondering still, then may be if I said, "the red tamarind-type thing which is a little sour, a little sweet and a little spicy", that could ring a bell or two? This is not to be confused with the commonplace red tamarind sold around Delhi and up north. Lapsi is Nepalese in origin and is commonly found in various forms around the North East.

I first had a taste of this addictive, finger-licking-good whatchamacallit way back in school. A friend of mine would bring little packets of the stuff for us to savour. I remained blissfully unaware of the actual name, ignorantly supposing it to be the common tamarind.

However, I recently found myself trawling the bazaars of Kalimpong looking for the "red tamarind thing", determined not to disappoint a friend back home who had specifically asked for it. I located hoards of it in a small shop run by a crotchety-looking woman, who grunted when I asked her if this was "imli". I take it she meant to say, "Whatever, stupid tourist."

Later, I found that this is actually called Lapsi (pronounced "Lopsy"), which is really a fruit grown in Nepal. The fruit is then used to make various condiments like the sour-sweet-spicy sticky stuff ("Titaura"), pickles, chutneys and whatnot. The plain dried/boiled fruit is sold as well, which looks sort of like an apricot, but tastes and feels like a jujebe of sorts.

More Googling turned up that the stuff is exported from Nepal to the west. I laughed when I discovered that each tiny packet retails for something like $9 on the net, when I picked it up for Rs 5 in Kalimpong! Let's take a moment and gloat.

Really gloat.

Gloat like there's no tomorrow.

Oh, and this goes out to the gossip trawlers (you know who you are): if you're wondering why I've been savouring sour-sweet weird things, no, there isn't one in the oven! I've always loved sour-sweet things. Now go discuss all that, while I sit back and enjoy my Titaura. And if you're wondering whether I might give you some, the (plagiarized) tag line on the packet says "A gift for someone you love", so.....

Friday, July 31, 2009

What's in the trunk?

The Indian media was agog with the news about an elephant, a young tusker, that ran riot through a film set (read). The elephant gored its mahout to death before ravaging the sets of the movie Ravana being directed by well-known director Mani Ratnam.

Of course, most channels immediately sought to reassure their (worried?) viewers that the stars of the movie, the famous cant-seem-to-get-out-of-your-face couple Abhishek and Ash, were safe and sound. I, however, seemed to be in the insignificant minority desperate for news on the fate of the elephant. Finally, one sensible channel informed me that the elephant was tranquilized. I heaved a sigh of relief. Invariably, the first reaction to any rogue elephant (or leopards that stray into towns, or mongrels that nip an interfering kid) in our land of non-violence is to club it to death. So this was a relief to hear.

The reason for the elephant's rage was musth. Ducky, like a lot of men out there, must be familiar with the phenomenon. I believe its equivalent in women is called PMS.

I was reminded of a picture I snapped during my recent trip to Jaipur. Elephants being made to give tourists a joyride in that scorching 45+ degree desert heat. They plodded along the burning tar roads, quite placidly tolerating the jabs and hoots of their mahouts. I felt immensely sorry for them, watching them amble along, desperately trying to keep themselves cool by spraying their own saliva on themselves with their trunks.

The greatest affront, however, could possibly be what I captured with my camera. Some busybody prying at the elephant's backside, trying to find who-knows-what, the Jaipur jewels? Take a closer look at that picture and tell me what you think he's trying to find! (For the more tech-challenged lot who haven't figured out how to leave a comment yet, email me:

Anyway, if that pachyderm had run amok after that, I couldn't blame it. Anyone would be super pissed off if complete strangers came poking at their backsides! Wouldn't you be?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mum's (Not) the Word

If you believe that all women are born with the maternal instinct and are really all just waiting to experience the glorious miracle of childbirth, then this blog post is absolutely not for you.

There are two types of people in this world: baby people and puppy people. I most certainly and totally belong to the latter. Show me a puppy (or a dog) and I'm pretty much willing to do anything for it. Scoop poop, mop pee, you name it. As for a baby? I'd rather gauge my own eye ball out with my bare hands than go within 100 miles of a dirty diaper, a wailing baby, a precariously dangling snot bubble, or a mound of semi-digested Cerelac that just sloshed its way onto the dining table.

I know some folks are going to blame this lack of maternal instincts on the 'evolution of the modern woman': a woman who has lost her innate (and most important) instinct to reproduce and nurture. However, that is not the case. There are just some of us women who would rather skip the wondrous experience of pushing a watermelon out of a keyhole (as someone once described childbirth). And if that isn't enough, spend the next N number of years in baby hell, surrounded by the stench of soiled clothes and baby barf, screaming tantrums, sore nipples and broken china. All this after 9 months of wobbling around gracefully like a walrus in stilettos.

"But don't you feel the urge to continue your lineage?", I've been asked. Eh? Call me selfish, but I really just want to get through this one life focusing on me, and don't particularly care about leaving behind any bawling legacies. Is that a cardinal sin? Pardon me if I haven't realized that the sole reason I am on this planet is to be the vessel for new life in one of the world's most populous countries. "To create another person in one's own likeness" - that's what God wanted when he created man, I believe, not what I dream about.

I really couldn't care for putting pictures of myself on the net, holding up a young squealer like a competition trophy. Don't get me wrong. I am not against anyone who loves kids or is dying to have one. They are just born like that. I just resent the ones who act supercilious about less-maternally-inclined women.

It is just that popping one out doesn't really figure on my list of life's ambitions. For those women who share my sentiment, there is nothing wrong with us. Just like there are tea drinkers and coffee drinkers, homosexuals and heterosexuals, Einsteins and George Bush Jr, and Ferrari fans and McLaren fans, there are pro-procreating women and the non. Let's just reconcile ourselves to stark reality, accept our differences and move on already.

{This post is a general opinion piece and does not in any way reflect the goings-on in Basically Blah's personal life. This means that those of you trawling this blog for hints of gossip: stop trying to read between the lines!}

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Television Never Replace Reliable Old Keyhole

Television never replace reliable old keyhole.

So says a supposed Chinese proverb. Of course, these hilarious "Chinese proverbs" that throng the Internet are highly unlikely to be either Chinese or proverbs (Man who fart in church sit in own pew?!) in the first place, but they are quite likely to evoke a chuckle or two. Anyway, debating the authenticity of these "proverbs" is not my intention right now (or any time in the future, for that matter). I am just glad they are there so I can put them up as silly status messages on Facebook or Google Talk once in a while.

While the wise saying goes that TV will never equal spying through the (t)rusty keyhole, it looks like this could very well happen with the number of bare-all, expletive-heavy, will-do-anything-for-TRPs reality shows on air. There's a voyeur in all of us and that's why these shows are immensely popular. One of the latest is Sach Ka Saamna, a ripoff of the American show The Moment of Truth. Ripping off a reality show, of course, seems like the prerequisite for reality shows in India.

Like everybody else hungry for a whiff of scandal, I have watched a couple of episodes, gasping at revelations of home truths and rating each participant higher or lower on my "scumbag meter", reveling in my holier-than-thou smugness. Once the truth is out, word spreads and YouTube steps in to cater to anyone who might have missed a spicy revelation.

Now it's time for the culture vultures and moral police to show some signs of life, lest the general population forgets them and their beatings. Not to be outdone, (or possibly feeling slightly eclipsed by the with-the-times, net-savvy Tharoors and so-evidently-do-not-write-this-myself Advanis and Laloos of the political world), members of Parliament have begun protesting "the obscenity" of shows like Sach Ka Saamna. Not surprising though, considering truthfulness has never been their strong point.

So while Mamatha Banerjee reads out a railway budget that is really just a haha-in-your-face-take-that-Laloo tirade, MPs sit by and probably go:
-MP #1: Man, I really haven't a clue why I'm sitting here. I just had to write "BC" on a slip of paper, then people dumped a load of garlands on me, paraded me around town with loudspeakers.
-MP #2: You too? I did all of that, read a big "Banana" list of promises, got a bunch of them farmer guys drunk on cheap brew and sent them to the voting booths.
-MP #1: Ah, yes, it's all about the people, isn't it? Not only that, I got my bouncers to dole out free money and then free beatings to anyone who didn't put my name into the ballot. Works wonders.
-MP #2: Check out the [Mamatha Banerjee screeches] on Sushma.
-MP #1: Pity Renuka isn't around. She had a better [Mamatha Banerjee screeches].
-MP #2: True. Does Sushma always look like that or did she just see one of those new Manforce bubblegum and vanilla flavoured condom advertisements on TV?
-MP #1: Manforce? Isn't that the name of Mulayam's Anti-Womens-Reservation Bill protest campaign?
-MP #2: Oh, I thought that was the name of the new park with Mayawati's gigantic statues.
-MP #3: Dudes, quick, we need to raise a protest and disrupt this parliament session. The railway woman is driving me nuts and her [Mamatha Banerjee screeches] is not worth looking at either.
-MP #2: How about the Manforce commercials?
-MP #3: Dude, we're supporting Mulayam's campaign. We can't protest that.
-MP #1: How about one of those reality shows where women wear skimpy clothes?
-MP #2: No way, we need those. How about the boring one where one guys asks questions and the other answers while his family watches and cries?
-MP #3: Yep, that should do it. It's so bland, even Vajpayee the certified bachelor has better revelations to make. We do everything they confess to doing and more and we don't get an applauding audience. Besides, with no skimpily clad women to ogle at on the show and in Parliament, our existence stinks!

On news channel ticker tape that evening: Members of Parliament protest the airing of television show Sach Ka Saamna saying it goes against Indian culture.

So apparently, Indian home truths must not be voluntarily aired on TV for all to savour; they ought to remain at home, where neighbours can spy on them and spread the gossip themselves. Now that's Indian culture.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pitaya on my Plate

So this morning, my mother went off to the local grocery around the corner, Namdhari's, and returned soon after, thrilled to bits with her 'spoils of war'. She took out this flaming pink fruit with tiny green flaps all around it. It is called 'Dragon Fruit' and retails at 160 bucks a kilo. Which basically means you get one fruit for that price.

Since we're both fruit bats by nature, our excitement over this new find could scarce be controlled. I dashed off to get my camera while she ran to telephone her brother with the news. Even the birth of a new baby in the family couldn't possibly evoke as much excitement.

Once the photo shoot was done, I did what any normal person would do in these circumstances. I Googled it. As it turns out, this fruit is also called Pitaya and is found in parts of South America, China and South-East Asia.

Now all that's left is to cut it open and eat it. Aut viam inveniam aut faciam!

Monday, July 20, 2009

They All Fall Down

Even scorching 45+ degree heat could not deter a chronic shoppaholic like me. So, with Ducky in tow, I strolled around the bustling market of Sarojini Nagar. I've noticed that salesmen up north are much more aggressive in trying to drive up sales than their more benign counterparts down south.

And so it was in SN that we haggled with and were hounded by dozens of salesmen. We finally approached a store where there was a 'fantastic' sale on - pick anything in there for 75 bucks. It had a mound of t-shirts, shorts, kurtis and whatnot with dozens of enthusiastic shoppers burrowing into it like frenzied moles. The salesman, who stood outside the store bellowing for people to check out his fantastic sale, would put any foghorn to shame. "75 rupees, any item, all item, super sale! ", he hollered.

Three women strolled past him, lugging a whole lot of shopping bags. They paid the foghorn absolutely no attention. He would have none of that. "Arrey, Madam! Dekho kya gir gaya!", (look what has fallen down!) he shouted suddenly. Startled, they turned around, worried eyes scanning the ground. "Kya gir gaya?", (what fell down?), one of them asked him anxiously, obviously thinking one of her precious purchases had fallen out of her bag.

"Madam, dhaam gir gaya!", (the price has fallen), he whooped with a broad smile, gesturing toward his shop as laughter erupted all around him.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stone Deaf

In Delhi, I got the chance to attend a workshop conducted by a well-known crystal healer and tarot-card reader, Bindu Maira at The Maximum Store. Ducky was dragged along for good measure and cowered at the back of the room while the otherwise all-women audience waxed eloquent about the supposed fantastic power of gem stones on one's life. While I am still quite sceptical, the overall session was interesting.

At the end of the session, I went over to Bindu and asked her whether she could suggest any crystal for Ducky, since he's in the army et al. Only families of defence personnel must worry for the safety and protection of their loved ones every single day. Bindu suggested Larimar for Ducky, saying it would do his lungs good. Rarefied air at his high-altitude post and ciggie smoking is a bad combination!

I promptly told Ducky that he required Larimar and we decided we'd pick it up from Bindu some time later.

Days later, while shopping in Jaipur, I was busy thwarting the attempts of a resolute salesman trying to interest me in earrings made of semi-precious stones. "Ok, Madam, take a look at these bee-yoo-ti-ful earrings made of Lapis Lazuli", he persisted. At this point, Ducky, who had thus far displayed marked disinterest in the proceedings, suddenly pricked up his ears.

"Lapis Lazuli?", he said, eyes gleaming brighter than the gems on display. "Do you have just the stone?" Looking pleased as punch, the salesman enthusiastically fished out a tray with the bee-yoo-ti-ful stones. Deep blue with little flecks of gold. I had to agree. They were bee-yoo-ti-ful.

"Shall I buy it?", asked Ducky. I could see his mind was made up already. Nothing I said could deter him now, not even if I threatened him with the world's largest cannon (Jaivana) that was parked nearby. "If you like it so much, buy it", I said. And so, Rupees 1,550 later, we strode out, Ducky beaming and the even happier salesman doing the cancan behind a terracotta camel.

A day later, Ducky mentioned that he was glad he'd picked up "the stone that Bindu recommended". Dramatic pause.

- What? She suggested LARIMAR, not this!
- What! Then what is this?
- Lapis Lazuli!
- What! I paid 1550 for a stone I don't even need?!
- Hahahaha!
- Why didn't you tell me!
- [Choking] How was I to know that you'd gotten them mixed up? I thought you liked the stone. It is bee-yoo-ti-ful.
- I don't believe this!
- [Sides splitting] Oh, well, if nothing else, Lapis Lazuli has definitely taught you to listen to your woman!
- $$#@&%&*^*^^%**#@

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Giant Momo

If you're wondering what to have for lunch today, consider this: Thaifu.

I discovered this while frantically looking for a restaurant in Kalimpong that served lunch at 2:30 in the afternoon. Apparently, everybody eats at exactly noon and then looks amused when famished strangers show up asking for lunch at 2.30 pm.

Having been denied nourishment at Cloud 9 and The Park Hotel - both restaurants that I'd recommended in Kalimpong earlier - Ducky and I spotted a Chinese/NE cuisine restaurant tucked away in the basement of a ramshackle building. The restaurant, whose name escapes me now, was quite clean and nicely done up, a stark contrast to the dinghy surroundings.

The friendly waiter, sporting tattoos and a million piercings, probably noticed the disappointment writ large on my face when he said there were no non-veg momos available. He then recommended I try "Thaifu", which wasn't on the menu, but which, he assured us, was very much like a big momo and would taste good too.

He couldn't have been more right. The giant momo on my plate, served with the delectable red dallae chilli sauce, was delicious. The inside was stuffed with mince fried with spicy green chillies, coriander, peas and a little cabbage. Ducky sorely regretted the fact that he'd balked at experimenting with a new dish as yours truly wolfed down the Thaifu in delight.

Five stars for fabulous food and pleasant service, little nameless restaurant in Kalimpong!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jatties & Jaipur

Ducky and I just returned from a weekend trip to Jaipur. This trip was a hallmark of sorts considering that Ducky is a Rajput who has never set foot in Rajasthan!

We made it to Jaipur from Delhi in roughly five hours by car and spent almost that same amount of time trying to locate the Officers' Mess where we were to stay. Apparently, nobody can give directions straight in Jaipur. I have concluded that the hot desert sun has fried everybody's brains.

Amidst the chaotic traffic, we got stopped by a cop for not wearing our seat belts - something we'd forgotten in the confusion of hopping in and out of the car to ask for directions. However, the military I-card worked its wonder and we trundled off scotfree. Those of you who know how anal I can be about wearing a seat belt, this is your moment to gloat.

We finally located the elusive Mess (we'd passed it over a dozen times), ably guided by Scion over the phone (he had a satellite map open). Once we'd freshened up, we headed to the local markets. My glee and enthusiasm soon wilted as I found myself groped, fondled, leered at and more - all this with Ducky at my side. Soaring heat and soaring male hormones - that is chiefly what I shall remember about Jaipur.

The rest of the trip passed off in a blur - shopping for jooties, clothes, and knickknacks for an as-yet non-existent house, walking around forts, more shopping while ducking lecherous advances from strange males, and dinner at a restaurant that promised traditional folk dances. The single woman dancing with a couple of pots on her head was only interested in performing for the couple of foreigners sitting in the place. No sword and fire dances - sorely disappointing.

I was only too glad to get out of Jaipur as soon as possible. The blazing sun beat down on us as we drove out. I rummaged around for something like a towel to hang against the window to keep the heat and glare out. When I found nothing, Ducky suggested that I hang his recently discarded chuddies** across the window. With no better options, I complied. So we drove all the way from Jaipur to Gurgaon with a pair of checked undies flapping gaily in the wind. It most effectively cut the heat. Long live the jatties**.

**Jatties = Tamil language term for underwear; Hindi equivalent would be chuddies

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More for the Geographically Challenged

Continuing my last post on the complete and utter ignorance of a lot of people surrounding India's geography (or rather, just the South and East):

The other evening, I was watching Lola Kutty's GK show on Channel [V]. Not that I am a big fan of the woman who tries hard to mimic the perfect Mallu accent but fails miserably. Not even the frizzy oily curls or the jasmine flower garden atop her cranium makes up for anything.

Nonetheless, the questions are interesting. So, the other day, she went around asking people a couple of questions about basic Indian geography.

- Chennai is the capital of which state?
- Uhhh....
- Madras! Of course, I'm sure. Chennai is the capital of Madras.
- Dunno.
- Uhhh....

- What is Kohima?
- Huh?
- It is like 'Karma'. It's a state of being. [May be I'll give this dude some credit for his pathetic attempt at pseudo intellectuality.]
- It is where they dropped the bombs. [Oh, on your brains?]

Here's my question: How come some of us are so well-informed while the rest are completely clueless? My geography teachers were no great shakes - one would go running from the classroom in tears at the drop of a hat, while another would throw chalk dusters, books, rulers (basically anything she got her hooves on) and call us various bovine names. In all of that, I still know Kohima isn't a variety of minced meat.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Know the North East!

For years now, I have been grappling to come to terms with the fact that almost nobody north of the Vindhyas knows that there is a lot more to South India than Madras! I've given up on trying to educate the ignorant lot about the vast geography of the south.

- So where are you from?
- I'm from Coorg in Karnataka.
- You are a Madrasi?
- No, I am a Coorg.
- Huh?
- Madras is in Tamil Nadu.
- Yeah, same thing only, na?
- (shrug) So are you a Bihari?
- Nahi! I am Punjabi!
- Same thing, right?
- My God! Don't say like that, yaar. It is very insulting.
- My point exactly. See you around. [Exit]

After so many similar exchanges, I have thrown in the towel. Some people and their basic geography are beyond redemption. For everyone else down south who has experienced similar stuff, you can take heart in the fact that this ignorance extends to the North East of India as well.

Quick, name the 7 sisters of the North East! If you couldn't, you've got plenty of company out there. Since Sikkim has become such an intrinsic part of me now, I feel quite annoyed at the vast ignorance that people display when it comes to any place this part of the map.

When I said I was heading to Sikkim, there were a lot of people who simply presumed it was synonymous with Shillong, Shimla etc. Well, for the ignorant lot out there, here's what won't hurt you to know:
- Sikkim is actually a state by itself (you know, like Uttar Pradesh or Kerala etc).
- The capital of Sikkim is Gangtok (like Bhopal is to MP, or Bangalore is to Karnataka).
- Shillong is the capital of another NE state: Meghalaya (nothing to do with Sikkim).
- Shimla is the capital of Himachal Pradesh (a long way off from Sikkim).
- Oh, and for the record, (this is for the smart alec who tried to flaunt his geographic ignorance to impress), Thimphu is the capital of the country of Bhutan!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Politically Incorrect is In?

Quick, answer me this: What’s the first comment you hear as soon as you meet/greet someone you haven’t seen in ages?

Chances are “Oh, my god! You’ve put on so much weight!” slash other weight-related observations, right? At the risk of people calling me “racist” etcetera, I’ve observed it is a very Indian phenomenon. I am not sure whether it is our complete ignorance of social etiquette, a total disregard for human sensitivity, or a driving urge to hit a person where it is likely to hurt the most in an effort to make us feel better about our own shortcomings.

When it comes to being politically incorrect, we are completely unapologetic. Unaware of the utter rudeness of it all? Now that is a matter of debate. Doesn’t something strike home when your target grins sheepishly, mumbles, shuffles feet, looks around to count how many people heard that (or to find the closest exit), or gives out a loud, hollow laugh, followed by a rueful “I know.”

The other day at the gym, I watched admiringly as a girl, whom I am now on smile-and-nod terms with, went through her stretching routines and then did a perfect ballet split. She, being of a slightly stocky build, raised many an eyebrow, but it was fascinating to watch, nonetheless. Finally, one of the ragamuffins (the manner-less, inconsiderate, territorial tribe of men who thrive in the gym) commented, “You know, you’re really flexible, but you don’t look it at all.” Just had to throw in a little bit of a sting in that compliment, didn’t you, sweaty towel muncher?

The only way to deal with blatant rudeness is to turn a deaf cheek or offer the other ear. Ha! Who am I kidding? No, the only way, I’ve learned, is to return a ‘compliment’ in the same vein. It works like a charm. For instance, I put up with my pain-in-the-wrong-place insurance agent for quite a while, but my patience wore thin after she chose to open every single one of our meetings with statements about my innate skinniness. Of course, it was heavily tinged with jealousy, for there always seemed to be “a lot more of her” at each meeting. (An inability to pile on the pounds and instant obesity, fyi, are really two sides of the same coin). Finally, one day, she greeted me with a cheery “Oh, you’re so thin!” Equally thrilled to see her, I gushed back, “Oh, you’re so fat!” The expression on her face told me that vengeance was mine. All our subsequent meetings have since been devoid of any more personal small talk. Ah, bliss!

It’s people’s inability to draw the line at delving into the personal that really irks me. Like the painful office gossip that plonks her nosy self on your desk and right away begins to ask about the romantic goings-on in your life like she’s your best friend and confidante. (Of course, she is most likely to clam up and feign ignorance when asked about her personal life.) If people are that starved of spicy stories, might I suggest reruns of The Bold & the Beautiful or closer home, the spate of familial fiascoes being aired on Colors?

How anyone can get away with saying things like, “You’ve put on so much weight, you look like a father of many kids”, “Homosexuality is very common in the army” (to a newly wed army wife), or “You look like you could benefit from this weight-loss program” (to a total stranger in the hallway) is beyond me. When I recall things I’ve heard, it almost seems like I could be reading them off a “Best Quotes from the World’s Stupidest People” list.

The line that separates frankness and total discourtesy is very thin. Unfortunately, there seem to be very few who toe that line. Social etiquette is almost lost. There’s nothing much to do, people, but to give back in equal measure what you receive. When someone completely disregards politeness, all bets are off. Go ahead, point out that that mole on the nose is showing robust growth, ask if female beards are the new trend, whether chewing with the mouth open is a come-hither tactic… anything that takes your fancy really. The results are worth it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I Can Poll Dance (hoo ya!)

So India has begun its dance of democracy. I watched with a great deal of skepticism the various gimmicks of the media and other concerned groups to get the indifferent urban middle class to vote. I (rightly) figured that this section of society in Bangalore would disappoint yet again. Of course, when it comes to complaining about our pathetic civic amenities, corruption and so forth, the loudest armchair gripers are from this section of society. If you are reading this AND you haven’t bothered to get out and vote: Yes, I AM referring to YOU, yes, shame on you, and yes, I AM judging you.

In case you ask, I have a perfect voting record, having diligently got that telltale black mark on my finger at every election there has been since I turned 18. In any case, this post isn’t about pointing my inked finger at blasé non-voters. It is about a certain “poll dancer” I encountered at the voting booth.

I tromped into my designated voting station, bleary-eyed at the wee hour of 7:30 am. “No! I don’t want that! I can’t have that on my finger” a voice protested. It belonged to an old (and by that I mean fossilized) Anglo-Indian lady in a trademark pink flowered frock and short gray hair. She was objecting to having her index finger inked. “No! Don’t put a big mark” she barked at the flustered election officer, “I have to attend a wedding today!”

Really, Granma, I hate to break it to you, but nobody is really going to notice you at that wedding, let alone your gnarled index finger. She, however, continued to make her displeasure known. “I won’t cheat. I have voted in so many elections. I know THREE freedom fighters.” (That was kinda my point, Granma.)

Granma Flower Power then made her way to the voting booth. Of course, she (having known THREE freedom fighters) must have been taken aback at the sight of three electronic voting machines. No ballot box and paper? She declined assistance from the still flustered election officer. “I know what to do! You don’t have to tell me. I have voted so many times!” barked our veteran voter before attempting to press one of the red lights on the EVM. The persistent election officer then informed her that that was a light and she ought to press a button.

“I know! Don’t worry! I won’t press it twice” she raged back. She then pressed a button (glory, glory, hallelujah!) and then stalked out yelling, “Why will I press it twice? Nobody is even worth it!” (They don’t make them like those THREE freedom fighters anymore, huh?)

Road Trip to Goa Part II - The Curse of Piles & Fistula

Just about 2-3 kms short of Belgaum city, I took a left toward Bellaghavi City, rather reluctantly leaving the superb expressway behind. Up to this point, our directions from a dear old colleague, a Goan local, had proved spot on. However, the general chaos and traffic and numerous intersections in the city proved confusing and we had to stop several times to ask for directions to the Amboli-Savantwaddi road. After a slight delay of around 10 minutes as we blundered around in search of the right turnoff, we finally found the right road and set off at a steady pace again, with Ducky at the wheel once more.

My holiday glee and general bonhomie was shaken as we overtook a bunch of rowdy college boys on bikes. One bike sped up and stayed slightly ahead as the pillion rider precariously tried to focus his camera-phone to snap a picture of me through the windshield. I instinctively slunk down in my seat, grateful for my super-dark tinted windows, while Ducky stepped on the gas and left the offenders behind in a haze of dust. However, I continued seething with rage and indignation, brooding over the harsh reality of eve-teasing in India. It is a menace that will never go away simply because the belief that women are nothing but sex objects, far inferior to men, is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of a vast majority of Indian men. I hope those boys contract severe piles and fistula.

Thankfully, the landscape along the Amboli-Savantwaddi road (state highway 121 in Maharashtra) restored my cheery spirits. We stopped briefly to take in the sight of strange fields of sunflowers. I had thus far believed and learned that sunflowers always faced the sun – however, this lot of sunflowers resolutely kept their bright faces turned in the opposite direction! I suppose they were afraid of getting tanned (another “horrific” calamity so deeply entrenched in the Indian quest for beauty and perfection)!

I curiously took in the sights of piles of cashew fruit being sold along the road and the Marathi style of tying a saree. I can’t imagine why India’s moral police is so up in arms over western clothes like jeans and t-shirts when women wearing the saree in this particular fashion flaunt so much of leg AND inner thigh! Hey, Muthalik, Maharashtra is your home state, isn’t it? Have you ever looked at women in your own backyard?

Once we passed Amboli, we began a climb through a ghat section toward Savantwaddi. The view was spectacular with lush greenery stretching for miles around us. Comical monkeys gazed with unabashed curiosity at our passing car – I gawked back equally shamelessly.

We stopped at Vithal Kamat for a spot of lunch. This restaurant was interesting in more ways than one. The “Malvani” thali was delicious, complete with a drink made of kokum and coconut called “Sol Kadi”. Of course, Ducky is famous for always wanting to order something completely incongruous to the place he is in and in trademark fashion, decided to order a Punjabi thali! I scowled and vetoed the idea immediately, so he settled for the Malvani thali as well and later (rather grudgingly) admitted it was good!

Vithal Kamat has the strangest restrooms! The entire place is built to be eco-friendly, but I thought the restrooms were taking things a tad too far. Each toilet has a door and two walls. That’s right, TWO walls. Where the third wall ought to have been, there is a thick green expanse of trees! I must confess it took me quite a while to convince my sphincter muscles to relax and “go”.

Vithal Kamat also had one of the most pleasant and genial watchmen I have seen. He greeted us with a wide welcoming grin, told us not to worry as he’d keep an eye on Slinky while we ate, and saw us off with a beaming smile and a wave as well. We handed him a generous tip, which he didn’t appear to be looking for in the first place, before setting off again.

From Savantwaddi, we crossed into Goa. A lone policeman at the border flagged us down and wanted to see the car documents. What Ducky showed him instead was his military I-Card and we were promptly flagged through. That military I-Card saved us a lot of time and money. Thanks to it we didn’t have to pay toll at any of the toll gates along the expressway, which saved us almost 500 bucks up and down.

After asking for directions to Mandrem, we finally arrived at Cuba Beach resort. This was one fun road trip, plenty of memories and plenty of people (hopefully) reeling from severe piles and fistula along the way. North Karnataka might just have a bountiful grape harvest this year (snigger).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Road Trip to Goa Part I - Slinky Goes Wheee!

Hurrah! Our road trip to Goa finally materialized after some rather pessimistic moments. We awoke bright and early and set off in our car (which shall hereon be referred to as ‘Slinky’, a name that will not be further explained) at 4:15 a.m. With thumping music and a good deal of glee, we raced out onto the dark and empty roads. Although I had a route map all chalked out, I had failed to find out exactly how to get out of Bangalore city via Yeshwantpur! This cost us about 15 minutes as we blundered around Yeshwantpur before being directed back onto the road to Tumkur (NH4) by a kind soul who had, for reasons best known to him, decided to walk the streets at that wee hour.

The road to Tumkur is awful, made worse by thick truck traffic even so early in the morning. The expressway is still under construction here so look out for diversions and non-existent stretches of road. We finally covered the 67-km rugged stretch to the outskirts of Tumkur and made it to the deceptive fork in the road at 6.15 am — fortunately, Ducky astutely realized that we needed to take the right fork to stay on NH4 and not the left one, which would have taken us into Tumkur city.

From hereon, the road is spectacular. This stretch of NH4 is a smooth 4-lane highway with pretty flowering plants on the median and rows of windmills in the distance. We sped along, flying past Sira and onward to Chitardurga. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the drive for I spotted a man hanging out of a car window, letting the wind whip through his hair. An even stranger sight was a man doing “Surya Namaskar” in the middle of the road on the turn-off to Chitardurga town! Luckily, not too many men or beasts venture onto the highway, which is fenced on both sides (although there are the suicidal few who do). I eyed the tender coconut vendors along the sides of the road, but it was far too early and we were making too good time to stop. We reached the turn-off to Chitardurga at 6.35 a.m and took the right fork along NH4 (the Pune highway), avoiding going into the town.

From Chitardurga and on to Devengere, the highway was nothing to write home about. As the designated navigator for this part of the journey, I found the going tough – there are absolutely no signboards along this stretch although there are rows and rows of poultry farms on the side. We decided to press forward since chickens probably wouldn’t be able to tell us if we were on the right road anyway.

We reached the turnoff to Devengere at 8.35 a.m. and were absolutely ravenous at this point. (No, the poor cooped up chickens had nothing to do with it). We decided not to take the right to Devengere town to look for a decent place to grab a bite and stuck to NH4. However, this stretch of the highway offered nothing to satisfy two starving wannabe beach bums. A couple of shady little joints where truckers took a break were the only semblance of hotels that we saw. At 9:10 a.m, my eyes lit up at the sight of a Reliance A1 Plaza. My hopes of food, fuel and clean toilets were cruelly shattered – none of the A1 plazas along NH4 are open or functional yet. Blast! The bandicoot in my stomach was here to stay.

We entered the bustling town of Rannebennur in Haveri district. No signs of a decent hotel still. I saw signboards for a black buck sanctuary here but the only animal life I spotted in the town was two pigs, one bullock, two buffaloes and three dogs.

As we exited the town, we spotted a Bharat Petroleum bunk with an eatery attached, called Ghar Dhaba. With a great sense of relief, Ducky, I and my screaming bandicoot alighted at Ghar Dhaba at 9.30 am. The women’s loo was passable at best. The door of my stall had a lewd drawing of a certain part of the male anatomy with some Kannada writing and a cell phone number. Being Kannada illiterate, I shall probably never know what it said. It shall have to remain of (my) life’s great unsolved mysteries! The idli-vada-sambar at Ghar Dhaba tasted delicious to our starving palates.

We decided to tank up, but the attendant seemed least interested in serving anybody until he had finished his breakfast. When he did finally arrive, other two wheelers decided that they had the right to break the queue and get fuel ahead of us. I fought to keep my temper in check but silently wished a severe attack of piles and fistula on all the queue breakers.

Having been delayed more than an hour thanks to the dawdling attendant and ill-mannered men on two wheelers, we set out once more on the road toward Hubli. A wonderful 6-lane expressway greeted me—I was pleased I had taken the wheel at this point and kept Slinky in overdrive for what is possibly the longest time in the last five years! We chortled as we whizzed past a signboard that pointed out a village called “Chakapura”.

The drive from Hubli to Belgaum was a breeze on the amazing 6-lane highway. The trucks are surprisingly disciplined here and stick to the left-most lane. They also give way and allow you to pass with no reluctance. Later, we realized that a severe penalty is imposed on trucks found flouting the left-lane and speed-limit rule. Kudos to the vigilant cops along the highway for that!

{To be continued}

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Freelancing: Busting Myths!

I decided to chuck my steady but highly unsatisfying full-time job for a chance to take a shot at freelance writing. It has always been something I have been meaning to do, and I chose to take the plunge during these highly unpredictable times of the recession, economic uncertainty yadda yadda yadda... you get the drift.

I suppose some people shake their heads in disbelief and call it madness. I can't care two hoots for their (freely doled out in liberal portions) opinions. I like what I am doing now.

What I do not like is that fact that people think "freelancing" essentially makes you "free"! So apparently I am free to run errands any time of day, free to supervise the electrician's work in the house at any time, free to up and leave the city on a holiday or attend a stranger's wedding any day.... The list goes on and grows by the day, and frankly, I am fed up! As some lousy recruitment agent put it (in a pathetic attempt to lure me into a job I didn't care for): I am "not working".

Really now? So how would you explain the invoices that I send out and the dollars that are now going into my bank account? American charity toward an "unemployed" Indian brown skin?

I do not have a boss waiting for me to "swipe in" each morning or monitoring my productivity - it's now a whole lot of self regulation, and I ensure I get up at a decent hour and get cracking on work. Believe it or not, we freelancers have such tight deadlines, it is not funny! I had more time to chat online, surf websites and try personality tests online while I had a "real job". Ever since I began freelancing, I do not surf for entertainment until my work for the day is done.

Freelancers do not have set working hours. I cannot call in sick and take a day off on a whim. I do not get a holiday, whether it is for an American holiday or an Indian one. If I do take a day off, I will not get paid for that day simply because we freelancers are not entitled to a set amount of earned "leave" as full-timers are. It just makes me think 10 times over before I decide to send advance notice that I need time off.

No coffee breaks, lunch breaks, office gossip or anything else that constituted a fun day at work. Of course, there are breaks for a now constantly ringing doorbell as everyone seems to have figured out that I will always be at home to cater to their whims. I now work at one long stretch and take a break only when I am actually done for the day.

Contrary to popular belief, freelance content writers do not just sit around everyday, staring into space and swishing a pen around in the air, inadvertently stabbing unsuspecting flies in the genitals.

Yes, I work from home and I am a freelancer. But I do believe that the operative words there are NOT "free" and "home". The words are "work" and "lance" - something I would gladly drive through the skull of the next person who says, "you are free"!


Breaking My Silence

I haven't posted here in a really long while. Not that I thought anybody would really miss me, but all the same I would have you know that my lack of blogging activity actually inspired a certain someone to put up not one, but TWO blogs of their own because they were so bored of seeing my non-active blog! How is that for passive persuasion?!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Have We Reached an Undie-standing?

The self-appointed enforcers of “Indian culture” have called off their plans to protest Valentine’s day celebrations across Karnataka. The reason for this sudden change of heart? “"We fear that any violence on that day will be blamed on us” states Prasad Attavar, vice convenor of Sri Rama Sene—the group behind the attack on young women at a Mangalore pub.

However, a large majority of us are inclined to think differently. It seems highly unlikely that a group that publicly proclaimed the incident a victory of sorts is now shying away from an opportunity to claim more success against growing “Westernization” and “immorality” amongst Indian youth.

Could this have something to do with the moral brigade underestimating the opposition they would receive from a section of society they thought too small, insignificant and voiceless? The counter attack launched by indignant independent urban women—spearheaded by the “Pink Chaddi Campaign” where thousands of women sent pink knickers to the head honcho of the radical Hindu group—seems to have made the self-appointed torch bearers of Indian culture rethink their strategy. Have they now realized they just may have bitten off more than they can chew? That the thus far mild-mannered, passive group of women they decided to target turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Has the unanticipated ferocity of the response the Ram Sene provoked proved too much to handle?

While the radicals may be silenced for now, this could very well just be a lull before the storm. The whole issue is essentially a testament to the growing battle within India to balance rapid modernization with its deep-rooted traditions. What we see today could just be a preview of things to come. Neither party is going to back down any time soon. As long as we are a democracy, we have the freedom to protest and more importantly, the freedom to choose which side of the divide we stand on.

For my part, and I suppose I speak for a lot of us, I would like the freedom to walk down a street sporting tight jeans and noodle-strapped tops or grab a drink in a pub without fear of being attacked. I would like to live in a country that allows me, as a woman, to decide how to lead my life as I see fit without having to gift my pink knickers to a strange man to grant me that freedom!

Friday, February 6, 2009

It Takes All Kinds

“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” – Mark Twain

Bangalore seems to attract all loons—and I don’t mean just the likes of Pramod Muthalik. Thinking back, I seem to remember a few characters with apparent bats in the belfry.

The Great Orator
My friend and I are walking in the park one evening—one of those decent parks, mind you, not the strange-characters-doing-stranger-things-behind-bushes sort. We sit a while on a bench and are in the middle of a nice conversation when The Great Orator saunters by. Getting on in age, he walks slowly. He stops short as he passes us, looks over his shoulder and hisses “And good luck to you too!” Then he carries on like nothing untoward just happened. My friend and I are dumbfounded and paralyzed with obvious confusion over what just transpired.

He then walks to another bench, sits down and flies an imaginary kite for a while. The imaginary strong breeze probably stole his fantasy kite away, so he clambers into the middle of the waterless fountain pool and proceeds to give a long speech. I have no clue what his tirade is about and I don’t stick around long enough to find out either.

The Great Orator has been spotted standing upon a cement structure that was once a traffic circle, in the thick of Bangalore traffic, delivering another of his obscure speeches. It is rather like watching a politician at a political rally on mute.

The Dark Knight

We’re standing on a pavement outside a park. A man in a white kurta with a long black coat and dark glasses sidles up and makes himself a part of our threesome. Our conversation trails off as we take in his overall unkempt appearance, prayer beads around his neck, pouch strapped around his waist and rod in his right hand, which he uses to support himself (or more?).

Two of us women move away instinctively. Our first thought is that this is a Ram Sena madman, gearing to instill traditional Indian values into us. After all, two women talking to a guy is taboo to them (and a certain boss at work, but that is another story for another day). The guy with us, who towers over everything and everybody, decides to stand his ground. The Dark Knight moves really close to him and says, “Move out of the way.”

All of us move away and keep moving, deciding to steer clear for our own safety. I am in no mood for a beating with a rod at the moment.

Moral of the stories? Stay away from Bangalore parks. The crazies appear to be crawling out of the woodwork there.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Muthu's V-Day Offer - Hurry! One Day Only!

Too broke to take the big step this Valentine’s Day? A victim of the recession, inflation or been laid off? Too poor to host that simple wedding you and your beloved so badly wish for?

Fear not! Cupid 2009 Pramod Muthalik is here! Just ensure that you and your beloved are spotted in a public place together on February 14. Muthalik and Shri Ram Sene will provide the following completely free of cost*:

 Free videography
 Free turmeric application
 Free trip to Sub-Registrar’s office
 Free registration of your marriage
 Free wedding audience
 Free publicity
 Free beatings **

Offer is valid on February 14 only!

*Terms & conditions apply. Offer for Karnataka lovers only.
**Only for women.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Modern" Women - An Insignificant Vote Bank?

Up until a few weeks ago, Pramod Muthalik was almost unheard of and the Shri Ram Sene even more so. However, when 40 henchmen of the outfit resorted to rather extreme social vigilantism to instill “traditional Indian values” in five unarmed women in a Mangalore pub, fame for the man and his organization was instantaneous.

The timing could not have been more perfect. With the country’s general elections around the corner, this provided the perfect opportunity for politicos to jump on the moral policing bandwagon with an eye on their vote banks. In their trademark style, politicians have chosen to completely overlook the real issue at hand—that of the brutal attack on five unarmed women—but instead talk themselves hoarse about the increasing “westernization” of Indian society. Very few, besides some women leaders, have taken a stand against what is clearly an attack on democracy.

Considering that politicians and political parties choose to air views that will appeal to the masses, thus ensuring themselves a solid vote bank, is there a clearer message for us in the fallout of the entire incident?

As educated, independent women, we have thus far enjoyed the freedom to indulge in recreational activities that are now being frowned upon. Does this now push us into a minority—a section of voters whose views and opinions do not matter, simply because we are too miniscule a section to upset anybody’s applecart of votes.

Leaders of state like Karnataka CM Yeddyruppa and Rajasthan CM Gehlot lashing out against “pub culture” and opposite sexes “holding hands in malls” certainly appear to be setting the tone for the upcoming elections. In fact, the term “pub culture” has come into its own, becoming something of an all-encompassing synonym for westernization of dress and social tradition.

The divide is getting clearer—for “pub culture” or against? In all of this, the real issue has been lost. Do women really have a voice or must we cow down to regressive opportunistic political forces just because we do not have the numbers to rock the vote?

In any case, just who does one vote for? A weak political party that cannot defend its women citizens against blatant abuse or one that clearly shelters, and possibly supports, the perpetrators of that abuse?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Word is the Law

“Mangalore Horror!” screams one headline. “The Talibanization of India” proclaims another. When 40 men from the Shri Ram Sena set out to beat up and molest five young women in a pub in Mangalore as part of their strategy to instill “traditional Indian values” in today’s youth, they probably did not expect to create such a nationwide stir. Although the state government tried to sweep the incident under the rug, the media coverage has not let up. Arrests have been made, ministers are making the appropriate noises and women’s groups are promising to see that the culprits do not go scot-free. Just how long this uproar will continue before the incident fades into the remote recesses of public memory is anybody’s guess.

However, the fact remains that moral policing is here to stay. Self-styled vigilantism may be curbed by better law and order enforcement. Nonetheless, our democracy guarantees us freedom of expression and this very freedom also supports moral policing. It makes us free to frown upon another and declare them sinners. While this in itself is not wrong—after all everyone is entitled to an opinion—enforcing your views on somebody else definitely is.

Are we not all guilty of that at some level or the other? People from all walks of life, varying levels of education and different upbringings label certain things “immoral” while completely dismissing others as perfectly acceptable. It could range from drinking, smoking or smoking up, premarital sex, noodle straps, live-in relationships, dancing in discos, friendship with the opposite sex and more.

I have a confession to make. I am guilty of this intolerance as well—I frown upon Smoky Joe (Ducky). Worse, I have decreed that he step outside, even into sub-zero temperature, every time he wants to light up.

Am I in the same league as the Taliban, Shiv Sena, Shri Ram Sena, RSS or even Hitler? For an answer, please check with the human ice sculpture outside with a smoking cigarette in its mouth.

Friday, January 16, 2009

An Officer & A Gentleman

After a long wait in a mile-long queue for a movie ticket at a multiplex, it was finally my turn at the ticket window. “May I have…” I began before I was rudely jostled to one side. “SIX GHAJINI!” yelled a man sporting a bright yellow t-shirt, thick gold chain and spectacles, before proffering me a generous lungful of “fresh” air from his underarms. Recovering quickly, I felt my hackles rise. This was just plain rude and I don’t mean the assault on my olfactory senses.

“Excuse me” I snapped, “there is a queue here.” “But I am standing here, no?” he shot back. Apparently, that was reason enough to be issued his tickets first. I decided that there was really no point arguing with someone who clearly lacked basic courtesy and thought flashing his gold credit card was reason enough to jump a queue. I turned to the man behind the ticket counter and looked at him questioningly. At least, I hope that was the expression I managed considering I was seething with anger. He looked at me sheepishly and then at the waving credit card. I am quite sure he would have favored the bobbing credit card had the person behind me not piped up and voiced his displeasure as well.

At the software biggie where I worked, it was commonplace to see women being shoved out of the way as their male counterparts rushed through entrance doors, boarded company buses, and grabbed cups of coffee from the vending machine in the miniscule pantry. The narrow office aisles only made matters worse for the fairer sex. Women found themselves bunged out of the way, only just stopping themselves from landing on the laps of other employees seated at their desks. The word “lap top” almost acquired a whole new meaning thanks to a bunch of uncouth men. The cliché “chivalry is dead” could not have been more pertinent.

One time, a group of us five women found ourselves squashed into the back of a company bus, unable to disembark because the men were in a hurry to do so first themselves. “Ladies”, I sarcastically called out, “please remain seated, the gentlemen have to get out first, remember?” Apart from a few puzzled looks from the men in question and a lot of horrified “Lord! Let me pretend I don’t know this woman!” looks from my women friends, the statement failed to incite any positive reactions.

I became so accustomed to crude male ways in the civilian world that meeting a bunch of army officers (read: genuine gentlemen) was a sea change of sorts. They stand when a lady enters the room (okay, I agree that this is a bit much), politely greet her, call her “ma’am” at all times (amusing although unwarranted I feel) and offer her a drink. Men offering women drinks out of pure courtesy and no ulterior motives whatsoever are almost unheard of in “civvie” world!

I had some work at an army club office the other day. As I waited my turn, an elderly gentleman stood up and offered me his seat. Although I politely refused for quite a while, he insisted that I sit and would not take no for an answer. So (I say this with some shame) this 20-something damsel sat down while the kindly 70-something old man stood and waited.

My respect for the complete chivalry that officers of every rank and age display knows no bounds. Gentlemen, you offer a complete breath of fresh air amidst smelly armpits.