Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Not Expendable at all

I've never been much of a short story person. I prefer full length fiction; where characters grow (more in my imagination than on the page), stories spin around one another and I'm completely engrossed in the plot. I found Antonya Nelson not through word of mouth or book reviews, but browsing in a Greenwich bookstore. I bought 'The Expendables' (Book 8) by her along with 10 other books and only because it was the only one thin enough to fit into the already bulging bag and the jacket cover looked interesting enough. 'The Expendables' is a slim volume of short stories. I figured it would be a change from the droves of novels I have piled up. Each story filling a tube journey across London.

No such luck. One lazy afternoon on the couch and book finished. Same evening I told a friend it was a huge disappointment because for every story I kind of expected there to be a twist at the end and there ended up being none. Some of the prose was brilliant, passages that seemed poignant, ethereal and relevant all the same time. I don't like feeling disappointed with books of any kind so I resolved to give it a re-read and a second chance. Almost immediately. This time the book was magical. I read the whole book in one go and found the element I was looking for - a binder instead of a twist. Each and every story reinforced how fleeting and precious relationships can be. And there were relationshsips of all kinds: blind man-his wife-neighbours; teenager-her baby-baby's father-her parents; best friends; brother-sister-parents; father-son; dog owner-dog; neighbours; strangers. Through the collection the writing is smooth and characters are presented, followed by their situations, their actions but without a final twist or solution. We've become so used to reading books with happy, sad or known endings that this was a shock. I kept holding my breath, waiting for an outcome only to find I had to supply one of my own.

Almost all the stories veered toward the depressing end of the spectrum, but never without some humour thrown in. All the stories, without exception, lent a sense of hope to her characters that often belied their situations. So clear was her writing that I could feel the vulnerability and heartache of the characters, the drive to endure and the longing for their longing.

Subsequently googling her I found that she has received great press, including being named one of the twenty young fiction writers for the new millennium by the New Yorker. I'm not surprised.

I did leave it for the last of the Greenwich pile and that is the only regret. On the brighter side now that I have been introduced to her writing I'm craving for more.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I'm mathematically challenged, allergic to numbers. I'm so terrified of anything vaguely quantitave that I often dream of being told that the Math Board exams & finance courses in my MBA (that I barely managed to sqeeze through) have all been re-checked and I have to go back to class 6 and start all over again! As a result I'm usually the first to shy away from anything with numbers on/in/near it.

I haven't been succesful at all (even my job has always had me doing budgets and yucky number based things!). Hard as I tried to ignore all the press and public buzz about Sudoku, I've finally given in and checked it out. Everywhere I look someone seems to be talking about it or walking around with puzzle books.

Yesterday I found an online site with a new sudoku grid on it each day. I studied the rules, told myself to be fair and give it a go (knowing full well that I would not succeed and would need to be highly motivated to go back for a second go). As part of my turning wiser as I grow older ( 3 weeks I'll be thirty), I decided that I would not falter but persevere, challenge the challenged, go for the game with a mind wide open etc.....Yesterday I gave up after 22 minutes. Kept to my plan though and today I stuck with it and I've completed my first ever grid in 67min 19sec. YAY!!!! Not so challenged after all!!!!

It's was pleasant (read 'frowning brow') jog for the brain and required no maths at all (double YAY) - just a smattering of common sense and logic (I am blessed with plenty, or so I like to think!).

So Sudoku or Su Doku: This translates from Japanese as meaning single numbers or numbers by themselves. The traditional Su Doku puzzle grid is made up of nine cells (or boxes), each cell containing nine squares. Players are challenged to complete the grid so that every cell, row, and column displays the digits 1 to 9, in whatever necessary order. To begin with a number of squares are filled in by the puzzle's setter. The rest is up to the players sharp eyes and logic!

Warning: It's addictive.

So I've been sudoku'd - have you?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Master of my fate

A few days ago, during the course of a chat with a dear friend from college, a discussion on past events and their co-relation to current happiness took place. Would our lives have been better/ worse/ different based on decisions we made in our college days/ early 20's? Were we too immature to know any better? Have those decisions changed the course of lives from a pre-ordained path or guided us along it without our knowledge? Are we simply accepting of our fates or perpetually struggling against them? After much discussion he came up with this:

"samay se pehle, kismat se zyaada aur mehnat se kam kabhi kisi ko kuchch nahin mila hai"

(For the non hindi speakers here's the translation: Nobody gets anything before time, beyond fate and without hard work. Hindi speakers: correct me if this translation is not accurate)

So a declaration before the big 3-0. No matter how much I grouch and declare myself the queen of tense brow-land, all things I'm grouching about are just small inconsequential chapters, material growths and life epidermis.

As for the bigger picture I have no regrets. Ever.

Whats life without a few bumps eh?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Eerily green bath

Yellow people! or should I say 'green'!

Below is a picture taken at the ancient Roman spa in Bath. Made the journey last Saturday with V and his parents. Background: V and I are perennially lazy - never trading a lazy weekend in London for the sights around the UK. There is no better incentive than visiting family to get us moving. Last year we went to Cambridge with V's brother and this year knowing we'd have his parents here we decided to make the most of it and see a few places. So to Bath!

Green green water!Posted by Hello

Bath is an ideal day trip from London (just 1.5 hours by train from London Paddington). It's a small town named after the mineral spa baths (with supposedly 'healing' powers) that the Romans unearthed. In ancient times it was called Aquae Sulis - the waters of Sul. Apparently, the Romans had a policy of honouring and incorporating local gods and Sul was a Celtic goddess so they built a temple there in honour of Sul and their own goddess Minerva. Anyway, after a steep £9.50 entry fee each(it was teeming with 'us' tourists so they must be minting it!) they take you through a museum explaining the history of the Baths. You end up below street level at the green central pool. In ancient times this water was meant to be hot and theraputic. Now you aren't meant to touch it although plenty of people sat by the sides with their feet in it. I dipped my hand in - it's surprisingly clean and clear water, but it was luke warm (My guess - the strong sun shining above!).

The building in the background is Bath Abbey. It stands at the heart of the city on the site of an Anglo Saxon church originally built in AD757. Building started on a large Norman cathedral at the end of the 11th century but was in ruins by the 15th century as it was too expensive to maintain. The present abbey church was started in 1499 and that too fell into disrepair after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. However, it has been repaired and conserved and is today teeming with life.

Modern day Bath is a university town with oodles of character. The Baths, Pump House & Abbey stand firmly at the centre of the tourist circuit, surrounded by a heady mix of shops and restaurants, all sprung to serve the many tourists who arrie each day. After lunch we walked along the river Avon (along which Bath lies) to the Pulteney Bridge which is impressive from afar but far too touristy up close.

It was a lovely clear blue skies day and we ate brilliant Italian gelato's standing in the sun. The only real disappointment were the delays to the train journeys. Luckily Bath station is lined with benches and in the shade the breeze was cooling enough.

From it's hypnotic alien like water to the Georgian architecture, Bath is a wonderful slice of England, well worth a looksee!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A new journey

A month from today I will be 30 years old. I have to say that turning 30 is not my dream come true despite what people say about it being the best decade of ones life. And despite my trying to talk myself into this positive frame of mind, all I can think is: I’ll never be 20-something again. It’s somehow a far harder realisation than turning 20 when all I wanted to be was ‘more grown-up, responsible, have a life of my own etc’. All things that seemed so naively charming then, were often worrying as they happened and are so distant now.

The past few days have brought a personal wave of panic and doubt. Despite all the milestones I have accomplished or thought I was supposed to accomplish, I’m questioning prior decisions and worrying about those yet to be made. (Yes, that’s me – professional worrywart and the queen of tense brows)

With few and far exceptions I think I’ve followed the script (yes, sad boring old me still beleives there's a script!)to the letter – college, something of a career and a solid marriage. With 30 right here, right now whats the next thing - where is my copy of ‘30s for Dummies’?

There is yet more pressure to be looked forward to in my 30’s. My career path needs some polishing up (first step taken by leaving my old job and concentrating on finding my next one). I need to learn to drive and buy a cool car. Buy a house and decorate it till it feels like home. Buy lottery tickets till I strike it rich. Travel around the world some more. I know in my heart that all this ‘pressure’ will eventually dissipate and become realities that are wonderous and joyful, but till they do it’s with mild tremors of trepidation that I am looking ahead.

One of the sure pieces of knowledge I will take into my 30’s is this: I have a lot of questions and I don’t have all of the answers. I’m nowhere near any of my goals but I know that the important thing is to keep striving towards them. So I’m not where I thought I would be at 30 but I am having a wonderful journey.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Weekends = battery charging

Two things: I love Calvin & Hobbes. The second is connected via Bill Watterson (the amazing cartoonist-creator of C&V) who aptly said: Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless. I also love weekends.

Battery charging - that's the plan....

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Word spell

It’s been on the news and 3 people (so far) have sent me links to sites with news of young Anurag Kashyap of California winning the 78th annual National Spelling Bee in Washington last Thursday(June 2, 2005). He spelt ‘appoggiatura’ correctly to win.

So what's special this year? Isn’t he just another smart Indian kid. Look at this list of Indian kids who have won the Scripps Spelling Bee since 1985:
1985 Balu Natarajan with milieu
1988 Rageshree Ramachandran with elegiacal
1999 Nupur Lala with logorrhea
2000 George Abraham Thampy with demarche
2002 Pratyush Buddiga with prospicience
2003 Sai R. Gunturi with pococurante
Ok out with it, how many of you could spell all 7 words accurately on your first go.

The gap between years with Indian kids winning has dropped dramatically. Smarter Indian kids or pushier Indian parents? Not being a parent myself and trying desperately to become a responsible adult (from overgrown child playing house), I think that’s a debate I’ll stay well away from!!!! (Smart huh, that’s part of the desperately trying...). Either way well done desi bacchelog……yes, the desi community both in the UK and USofA are very proud of your spelling capabilities.

Apparently you can take the Indian away from India but not the Indian-ness away from an Indian...must be all that haldi flowing in our veins!!!!
Desi: From the 'Desh', countrymen, Indian
Bacchelog: Children
Haldi: The spice Tumeric

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

An entertaining weekend....ahem!

Two things of note from the weekend.

Watched Bunty aur Babli. Complete waste of money, time and effort (although I still think Abhishek Bacchan is very cool). The first half of the movie was funny enough, good character build-ups and the story seemed to be going somewhere. Enter Amitabh Bacchan at the halfway point – looking slovenly and anything but a police inspector – and it was all downhill from there. Felt like the first half was written by someone who gave up halfway and handed over story development to a loony. Some of the dialogue was brilliant, the songs were alright, the costumes and pictography quite interesting, but the storyline just let it all down.

For those planning to go watch, DON’T! Here’s the story: Abhishek and Rani both leave their hometowns and families to follow their dreams in big cities. They team up quite by accident, on a railway platform. Both get their dream crushed underfoot by people trying to take advantage of them. Finding this dearth of decent (!) people to help them achieve their dreams, they decide to make their way to Bombay where they hope to make it big like the industrialists. With no money to get there they begin scamming their way through north India, collecting cars, cash and even a hotel room full of stuff before landing in Mumbai. Enroute they change their names to Bunty & Babli (B&B), fall in love, get married, sing a few songs – the usual. By the time they get to Mumbai they are so used to the scams way of life that they just continue. Meanwhile intermission has brought on Amitabh whose life mission is to catch the pair and put them behind bars. And so the chase begins. B&B are now in Mumbai expecting a child and meet Amitabh at a bar of some kind. Aishwarya pops out of nowhere to sing a song with them (so bizarre!) and they all part with B&B realising who Amitabh is but him not guessing who they are. Then B&B plan one final scam to get some government gold from the airport that AMitabh is guarding. Big final chase during which Amitabh tweaks who they are, pursue’s them through the whole child being born scene and finally catches them just as they decide to become good citizens again. Amitabh let’s them go free based on some really badly played emotional technicality. Then the scene cuts to them 3 years on, living in their village bringing up their son and walking the straight and narrow path. Amitabh find them and gets them to agree to help him fight con artists and unearth scams. They walk into sunset in Men in Black suits. End of movie. YAY! I was really ready to leave by the time Ash broke into surprise song……..If you haven’t seen it don’t bother. This is a movie which needs no brains so leave ‘em behind if you must watch it. It’s a movie where the sum of the good parts adds up to one awful hindi mess!

On the brighter side, we wandered around the lovely (read big, bright and clean) town centre mall in Wandsworth before the movie and bought 7 new DVD’s to keep us occupied for the next many weeks:
1. Schindler’s List
2. Love Actually
3. Moulin Rouge
4. Something’s gotta give
5. About Schmidt
6. The Ladykillers
7. Ocean’s Twelve

Far better end to the weekend was the fact that I finished the book I was reading (Book 7 for purposes of this blog only - I've actually whizzed through about 25 books this year so far). I picked up The Collector’s Wife by Mitra Phukan the day before I was leaving Delhi to come back to London. This is the first novel I have read about contemporary life in Assam and it left me fascinated. The main protagonist is Rukmini, married to the Parbatpuri District Collector, Siddharth Bezboruah. She teaches English Literature to mostly uncomprehending students at the local college and does just about as much as is needed of her to play the role of a suitable Indian wife. Rukmini’s life is also intensly interwoven with the political situation in Assam. Being a teacher and the collector’s wife, she has a view of both sides - the administration led by her husband and the students who have begun a somewhat idealistic anti-migrant movement.

Rukmini’s personal life is also in some turmoil. Taunted by older women for her barrenness and somewhat neglected by her workaholic husband, she tries hard to find a purpose in life. Enter the alternate hero, Manoj Mahanta, salesman from a tyre company, who at one time had what could be called the benefits of a classical education and has managed to retain them through the mundaneness of his everyday job (thus making him very attractive to Rukmini). With whirlwind events, all entangled in the political strife, Rukmini’s discovers to her horror that her husband too has an adulterous reason for ignoring her. And as the political turmoil escalates, Rukmini’s story too spirals into unimaginable horror.

The backdrop of Assam (notably the change in season and the natural beauty each demonstrates), the kidnapping, extortion, killing and the fight for an independent homeland make for a gripping narrative. Mitra Phukan’s first book is a achievement in finely weaving together the issues of tolerance, hatred, loyalty, belonging and mere indifference. Much enjoyed!

With the weekend done and dusted (indluding a satisfying meal at Dalchini), I'm back to the mundane jobhunt...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

There Is Absolutely No Place Like Home

Berlin was the last bit of the ride with my job. As my earlier post mentioned I am now jobless and trying hard not to be aimless as well. Tough when one can wake up at 11am without a pang of guilt, but hey, what’s a gal to do!

So India……every time I go to India, no matter what the season, I fall ill. It’s only ever fever – something to do with change in temperature from the insipid weather here. In September 2003 I had 104 deg fever for 2 days. Even then deliriously high fever did not stop me from an enjoyable evening with friends at that time. Well this time as if on cue I developed 104 degrees temperature within 4 days of joy and merriment in Delhi.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Almost every Indian (currently NRI) couple we meet come back from their holiday in India with tales of the marvellous shopping, posh places to eat in their hometown, enjoyment of being home, fights with the pollution & dust and the endless mineral water to keep away from germs. Armed with all this ‘current’ information, 1 and ½ years in which to process it and a slightly overactive imagination, I landed in Delhi with tears in my eyes (living away and growing older - the two ingredients for sentimentality). It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away or what weather you’ve got used to, home is always home – and for me DELHI spells HOME.

My 104 only lasted 2 days and neither of those did it stop me from venturing out and exploring my city. This bout of fever confirmed my suspicions – I fall ill the minute I see my mum. No, no I don’t mean that in any rude way, rather as flattering compliment. In all my time in the UK I have fallen ill very rarely, just one bout of flu last year. No colds, scrapes, muscle pulls etc. With this second set of fever, one on each trip to Delhi, it’s confirmed – my body only allows me to fall ill when it knows my mum is around to tuck me into bed, put a cold compress on my forehead, feed me soothing soup and comforting words. I know it all sounds improbable and is probably coincidental but psychologically its comforting that I need my parents and that despite my home now being in London with V, Delhi continues to be my home and not just my parents house…..

Delhi is well on its way becoming a world class city. The nanosecond of apprehension as to the germs and pollution were wiped away in a blink. I regularly define myself as someone born and brought up in Delhi and being a foodie I had a long list of things I had been warned about – don’t eat on the side of the road, chaat is made from ‘kharab’ paani, drink mineral water, eat malaria tablets, only eat home cooked food you can trust etc. I ignored every single warning. Beside 3 meals cooked by my mom I ate every single meal out – with my parents, my best buddies, my brother-in-law and his wife (who came all the way from Bombay to see me - YAY!). Delhi is fast becoming a city of flyovers each one ironing out the crinkled, crumpled mess on the roads. Construction of the Metro in congested Connaught Place has made things difficult for the moment but only a moment (yes, breathe deep and think of it as a blink in time) and when its all done they will wonder how they lived without it. Vasant Kunj and Gurgaon are no longer the ‘burbs’, instead very much part of the buzzing South Delhi area. And restaurants – where do I begin – new ones have sprouted up in every corner. Name the cuisine and there it is. I had loads of memorable meals, including chaat in Bengali market and momo’s from a childhood haunt side-of-the-road van, neither of which made me fall ill. It's confirmed: my stomach is a desi stomach, lined with iron!!!

Shopping was very much on my list but I ended up not buying too much stuff. It was not restraint in any form, just me being completely dazzled but the range of choice. There is nothing you can no longer get in India. Everywhere I went the city seemed to be buzzing, teeming with people eager to spend their moolah and time and no dearth of places to spend it on. Every brand, every product – it’s all available. At the other end there are lovely hand made things, crafts, jewellery art – all ethnic and oh so beautiful. I loved it, every minute of wandering in Delhi was like being in a new city. I saw everything with new eyes. It is true that you appreciate all the things you took for granted when you no longer have constant access to them – distance does make the heart fonder!

So here’s where I ate, with a line or two of 'opinion':
Olive Bar & Kitchen: One Style Mile, 6-8, Qutub Haveli, Sarai Kalkadass Marg
New Delhi – 110030
Lovely evening under a banyan tree in the courtyard in Olive with 3 friends and my parents. Magical with candlelight, cool breeze (yes, at the end of April!) and scrumptious food.

Bauji ka Dhaba: Metropolitan Plaza, Gurgaon
V and I were frequent visitors to original Bauji ka Dhaba in Hauz Khas. Went there to eat lunch after watching ‘Hitch’ at PVR. And although this one in Gurgaon is done as tastefully as the original, you can’t get away from the fact that it is in a very busy mall and lacks the village (albeit fake) charm and pace. The food also seemed rushed and not nearly as good. For the original stuff go to Bauji ka Dhaba, Hauz Khas Village, Near Deer Park, New Delhi 110016

Thai Wok: 1091/1 Ambavatta Complex, Mehrauli, New Delhi – 110030. Tel: (011)2664-4289
Excellent Thai food and a grand view of the Qutab from the roof terrace. Unfortunately it was two hot to sit out in the middle of the day, but since I’ve done that before I can safefly say it’s a grand experience. The food was outstanding as always.

Bengali Sweet House: 27 - 37 Bengali Market, New Delhi – 110001. Tel: (011)3311855/ 3319224
Still the best chaat in town. The only problem is the crowds. Small, cramped tables and endless people (who obviously had nowhere better to be on a weekday mid-morning) standing around your table watching your every bite as if to goad you on. The chaat is as delicious as ever, and I guess the atmosphere would be shot if it changed and became some up market boutique type thing. So I take back the problem bit; it is not to be missed.

Saravana Bhavan: 46 Janpath, New Delhi 110001. Tel: (011)2331 7755
This is new to Delhi but familiar to me from my days of living in Madras. This one lives up to its reputation and serves up world class South Indian food in a clean, air conditioned prime location. Ate the thali and loved it! Delhi has 3 now and London has 2 branches. We have yet to try it out. It’s on our list for next weekend!

We also ate a super Chinese restaurant near home but the name evades me. Needless to say I’m back in London and slowly hunting for a job. Had terrible flu all of last week – fever, sore throat, the works. That was just to prove my mom-loves-me-and-I only-have-flu-when-she’s-around! Anyway, I’m better and back and will post more often....