Saturday, August 27, 2005


That's hello in Czech! Yes, V & I are off for a 4 day adventure to the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic, Prague.

We are at the Club Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 1, V breakfasting on a croissant while I sip orange juice and use the free internet to post this.

Will post from sunny climes if I can or else be back with pictures and holiday tales in 4 days.

Meanwhile, Nashledanou (goodbye, if you had not guessed) and have a good weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Experiments with the truth

It's the absolute truth. I have struggled with my weight since my teens. Always been overweight, a fatty, rolypoly, cuddly, 'healthy'. Tried 548 diets between ages 14 and 19. Gave up at age 20. Decided that it was not to be. The aim shifted from thin to healthy instead. Ok, to a thinnie that sounds like a crock, an excuse from the fattie next door. But to this rolypoly it's a realistic goal.

Anyway, long story short, I'm a healthy fatty (or so I like to believe). I can cycle 45 minutes and cover 13 kms in that time without collapsing in a heap. London has taught me to walk (what seem like) endless stretches and my stamina has gone from strength to strength. I eat/drink a good balance of fresh fruit and veg, pulses and lentils, meat and soya, milk and juices. I swim 30 laps of a fairly large pool once a week. Blah blah blah. I'm still no thinner today than when I began this regimen. I'm still a fatty. Albeit a healthier one.

So what's this post about, really. I got handed a flier boasting a 5 day membership to a fairly fancy gym in my area with no strings (like a photocopy of my credit card) attached. Decided to take the chance and move a step up from standstill cycling in front of our TV each evening (or 3 evenings a week, realistically). The decision was threefold:
a. to see if this place was worth it's money and it IS ridiculously expensive
b. to see if I could exercise 5 days in a row, without losing steam, enthusiasm or a body part (trust me, in some of these complicated treadmill/climb/cycle machine morphs it's not hard to imagine)
c. to see if I could fit planned exercise (classes) into my daily regimen of volunteering, job and house hunting

So starting this past Monday I became the proud owner of a 5 day gym pass. Monday (Day 1) I got myself into a 1 hr Pilates class and then swam 30 laps of the pool. Tuesday (Day 2) I just swam 30 laps and gave up. Today (Day 3, Wednesday) I treadmilled at a fair incline for 40 minutes (it took me 20 minutes before that just to figure out how to get the damn machine to work), attended 'express' Pilates (30 minutes) and did beginners yoga (1 hr). The beginners yoga was anything but. The class immediately launched itself into shoulderstands while I huffed and puffed my way into the most basic poses. Luckily there was one other 'newbie', so we looked equally foolish together. I feel healthy because I'm keeping up with most things, not making a complete idiot of myself in a gym of green beans. The yoga class was just unfair...

So far so good, in terms of value for money (although it has been fairly inconvenient to lug myself to the classes during office lunch hours, especially since I'm not working) and available facilities. With two days to go (and I intend to do a whole host of classes and use the machines) I know for certain that this is not for me. My large shadow needs a slower and cheaper alternate, something less bruising to my ego. My ego can't handle the number of thinnies in the gym. Positively anorexic women who have come to be that way from exessive exercise (or have been planted there by the Thin Peeps Association to make me look bad) . Or maybe it's not they who are anorexic but merely thin by comparison (what all I see through my fat eyes!) to us fatty's.

But hey, what can I say, the thin people need us fatty's, to have something to compare their thinness against. We are the benchmark of what not to be. The holy grail of figures is in the opposite direction. I am the potato amongst the green beans as it were.

The experiment: A play with body image among the legions of thinnies
The absolute truth: I will never be thin. I will always aim to be healthy.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A 'Somer' movie

What does any open air event crave beside an enthusiastic crowd? Good weather would be my guess. As luck would have it we woke on Friday to downpours unexpected. The plan was to join friends for an evening on the courtyard tiles enjoying 'Flash Gordon' at Somerset House. Film Four & Somerset House organised 5 days of films under the stars and as luck would have it we chose Friday, the only rainy day.

At mid-day swimming to the venue and being completely soaked was not ruled out. Our pal was curtly informed by Somerset House that as no inclement weather was forcast teh show would indeed go on and there was no way to return our tickets. By 4pm the rain was down to a drizzle and by 8pm we congregated at Thai Square just outside Somerset House. The food was fine if a bit sour, solely due to the attitude of the terrible waitresses. Hot dinner in tums, £12.50 a pop tickets in hand, square plastic coated blankets (at £10 each - refundable on return) spread on the courtyard cobbles among 500 Flash fans and we were set.

I haven't ever seen the classic Flash Gordon movie but I do remember reading the comics as a kid. It was entertaining to say the least - and had 500 fans cheering on Brian Blessed (who introduced the screening) and Emperor Ming, and singing 'FLASSHHH' at the top of their voices while glugging down beer. I found this review online and it says it all better than I possibly could:

"There are films out there that can be described as a guilty pleasure - you know they're quite bad, but somewhere deep down in your heart you can't bring yourself to admit it. Flash Gordon is, in my opinion, the guiltiest pleasure of them all. Cardboard characters, lunatic script, embarrassing dialogue, trashy performances (apart from Max Von Sydow), and hilarious special effects... yet the one thing that comes out in the film's favour is that, despite its seemingly countless faults, it is still irresistibly entertaining.

American football legend Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and sexy babe Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are aboard a private flight when a weird red-storm forces them to perform an emergency landing. They crash into the back garden of wacky ex-NASA scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol), an eccentric madman who believes the world is under attack from alien forces and who has built his own spaceship to do battle with the enemy. Astonishingly, it turns out that Zarkov was right - and pretty soon, Flash, Dale and Zarkov find themselves on the planet Mongo, battling against its tyrannical emperor Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), with a little help from Ming's treacherous daughter (Ornella Muti), her lover Barin (Timothy Dalton), and the winged warrior Vultan (Brian Blessed).

Flash Gordon is an absolutely insane film. The set design is remarkable, as is the costume design, and a pounding rock soundtrack is provided by the group Queen. Performance-wise, everyone seems to be camping it up like an end-of-term pantomime, though Von Sydow somehow seems to give his villain a deliciously sinister edge. Some of the dialogue is so awful that it becomes eminently quotable by virtue of its badness (a few samples: "This Ming is a psycho!"; "That must be some planet you come from!"; and - my favourite - "Freeze! You bloody bastards!") Flash Gordon should be a total disaster - an awful shambles of a film with no redeeming qualities. It isn't. Perhaps we'll never know how or why it works, but it does. So let the dissection of Flash Gordon the movie end here - analyze it no more, just enjoy it!"

The hard coble courtyard was well worth it, both for the movie and the stunning buildings that surround it.

Pouring out into the night at 11.15 we crossed the road, via the bust of Jawaharlal Nehru in the courtyard of the Indian Embassy (that all the firangs think is the Mahaatma!) and into the impressive bar of One Aldwych. One is a swank bar with a sophisticated mood and a matching bar list. They have some amazing high back chairs that I want in my own house and seriously large scultpures to match the height of the room that I don't. Huge floral decorations that need ladders to be set up and ambient lighting made it the perfect nightcap point.

This was my first brush with Somerset House which I am assured is a wonderful place to enjoy fountains and coffee in the courtyard during the summer and ice skate in the winter. I vow to return.

One Aldwych: London WC2B 4RH. Tel: 020 7300 1000

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Spam hate

As you will see in the comments of the previous post we now have virulent spamming in the blogosphere as well. My friend shoefiend alerted me to this with her wonderful post on spas getting spammed with junk about hair oil.

Any ideas on how to get rid of these guys or do I just delete their comments and pray they stop on their own???

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The India diaries VI - Monopoly nights

As a gift for V's middle brother R and his wife T, this time round we bought (what we thought was a novel idea) a Classic Monopoly set. Little did we realise how welcome a gift it would be and how much we would use it in 4 short nights! Every night after dinner, V & me, both his brothers and their significant others would settle down to a few rounds of Monopoly. This is what the UK version (which comes ina wonderful wooden box) looks like: all places now so familiar to us.

What we never bargained for is that with 6 people playing it was always a case of the property getting bought up quickly and spread out in such a way that nobody ever owned a whole suite of the same colours. So with colours/ properties divided up the strategy moved to partnerships and amidst the giggles and loyalty-wrangling houses and hotels sprouted up on around the board. Then the inevitable would happen. The game would go nowhere and the person who perceived he/she was losing would declare 'new game, new game' and mix up all the money, forcing us to begin afresh. It's more fun this way, no outcome just the pleasure of play.

As we were taught, it's not winning, it's playing that counts.....i that true!!!???

Anyway, here's a whole new take on Monopoly I stumbled upon.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Swatantrata Diwas ki shubh kamnaye...

... best wishes on Independence day

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance .... We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again."
- Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (Speech on Indian Independence Day, 1947)

Wherever on the planet you are, be proud to be Indian (if indeed you are)!
Swatantrata: independence
Diwas: day
Shubh: auspicious
Kamnaye: wishes

The India diaries V - under the sand

I have been to Mahabalipuram a zillion times (or so it seems!) but this trip was a bit different. After all the wedding reception and birthday celerations we needed a sack out day. Hired a very comfy Swaraj Mazda and packed 11 adults, 3 kids and a large bag of snacks into it for a day out.

Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram, was the chief seaport of the Pallavas who ruled over much of South India from as early as the first century B.C to the eighth century A.D.. It has some marvellous sculptural architecture hewn into the very tough grantie and is visted by tourists from around the world with good reason. Well, why go on about something well documented in a gazillion books and webpages. Here is why:

The Shore Temple with its lying down Vishnu has been a UN World Heritage monument for quite some time now. The legend is that Mahabalipuram is the port of the seven pagodas. The shore temple is one pagoda. As the other 6 were never found the legend grew to incorporate the 5 rathas and Arjuna's penance making up a suitable 7.

This is the Shore temple

And NOW the Tsunami has uncovered this,

the remains of another temple's walls. With a well and beautiful lamp burners built into rock sculptures

So the legend that was built to include the 5 rathas and Arjuna's penance is being revisited. Sonar readings show 5 more such sturctures bruied under the sand along the coast.

Fascinating that the dune behind which we used to hide as kids has been levelled to reveal something of such significant importance. It's all under the sand.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The India diaries IV - the walk

Forgot to talk about the walk. Sachin walked to our table. We did'nt mob him like crazed fans (not unlikely in my case!). People at every table watched Sachin walk towards us and then the gawking began. After they left we continued to be the subject of whispers. Who were we? Why us? How come he came to our table? And then when we got up to leave, our every step was watched by every table. Oh, how good that felt!

I know it sounds conceited - especially as we did nothing to merit it. But it's never going to happen again so I'm going to revel in it (while the memory stays in my sieve like brain, thank you very much!)

The India diaries III - Dinner with Sachin

We had dinner with Sachin Tendulkar while in Mumbai. Yes, yes, the very same - Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar - object of affection for all cricket loving Indians, highest run scorer in all forms of the game etc. No, this is not just my overactive imagination or the Mumbai malady stomach hallucinations.

OK, I'll admit that it's a half truth. Here's what really happened.

Saturday night. Dinner at Taj Lands End, Bandstand. V's whole family together after what seems like aeons. The in-laws: father, mother, two elder brother, respective spouses and daughter of the eldest brother. Decision is to eat 'Chinese - Chinese' (our term for 'authentic sichuan cuisine') at Ming Yang, where the Head Chef David is known to my eldest brother in-law and therefore always comes to our table to make suggestions on the food like: "I will make for you, no picy or velly 'picy'?'. (At this point my middle sis-in-law and I can only stop ourselves from giggling by sipping at our water and looking at the bonsai on our lazy susan with intense concentration).

Anyway, cut to before we are actually at the table and being picy'd by David. We are waiting in the corridor for our table to become available and who should walk up to us but Anjali Tendulkar. Now, the reason she walks up to us and not right past us is not because we are famous (quite the contrary!) but because above said middle sis-in-law is a teacher at a famous Mumbai school. And Anjali and Sachin's kid was in her class last year. So she walks up to us to say hello to the sis-in-law, is introduced to and shakes hands with my brother-in-law and me, and mentions that they too are waiting for their table at Ming (where no doubt David will suggest the level of 'picy' for their table as well). She leaves saying she will come over and say hi again before she leaves. At this point I'm already gobsmacked. I've met met and shook hands with Sachin's wife's hands. That's like shaking hands with Sachin by association!

Sitting down to dinner. The Tendulkars are with friends at a table close by - he is clearly in our view, in my direct eye line, but too far to get anything clearly on our rubbish mobile phone cameras. Atleast we have seen him up close as he passed by us to be seated at his table. Anything more would be too much to ask. Memory is imprinted on eyelids. Good enough.

Then it's David and the 'picy' issue - we decide on a combination of not too, a bit and velly 'picy' to suit everyone's palate. The food arrives. We eat an extremely yummy meal, all the while keeping one eye on Sachin. Order dessert and while we wait it happens. They get up to leave. Their friends drift to the door and Anjali begins to walk towards us. We think aaahh, how nice of her to come and say bye. Then we think aaaahhhh, (more like yikes!) that's Sachin following her. Panic strikes and those 5 strides toward our table seem like they are from a slow motion movie. Nobody at our table can quite believe it and we remain pinned to our seats as my sis-in-law stands up, quickly followed by her (smart) hubby. Anjali introduces them to Sachin, who shakes hands with both and then turns to us. He says 'Hi' to everyone with a small wave and huge smile on his face. We all mumble back a feeble (collective) 'Hi' as best we can muster (what with our jaws actually stuck between our knees it's a challenge). Meanwhile, my sis-in-law introduces us, eldest to youngest. When it's our turn she says "this is my youngest brother in-law, V. Remember I told you he often goes to Lord's to watch you play". At this point Sachin says "England are in a very strong position" - obviously refering to the ongoing Ashes 2nd test and trying to make polite conversation. V looks completely dazed, he can't stop grinning like a cheshire cat, but gamely nods and mumbles something under his breath, not blinking once. Then they are gone, goodbyes all done. We remain in shock, convinced that this is THE ABSOLUTE COOLEST thing ever to have happened to us.

Sachin walked up to our table, was introduced, said hi, smiled and waved. He ate in the same restaurant, same 'no picy' as us, same time as us - as good as eating with us. If that is not cool, I do not know what is.

Dessert tasted all the sweeter although really, we didn't need anything sweet for that high!!!
Ming Yang: Taj Lands End, Band Stand, Bandra (W), Mumbai - 400 050. Tel: +91 22 5668 1234

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The India diaries II - Swish of silk

Madras (yes, I'm old school, not used to changing names of cities with ease) - what can I say about this wonderful city? From the moment we landed at Chennai Airport I had flashbacks of my time in the city: a month each summer (home to my grandfather, two aunts/ uncles, four cousins and numerous family friends), half of class 4 & 5 at Harrington House School (when it was in a big leftover British house) and the first year of my career between 1996 and 1997. I'm no authority on Madras and although the weather puts a dampner on things, my memories are all happy ones - walks on Marina and Elliot beach, shopping for vegetables in Pondy Bazaar, eating ice cream at Chit Chat, visiting the Ayyapa temple, Anjeneyar temple, eating in Sarvana Bhavan. I won't expound on it's virtues and instead encourage you to look up some interesting blogs on Madras (OK, OK it's Chennai) to get the low down on the city, such as Under the fire star, Chennai Spot, nimbupani

These 5 days were spent celebrating my cousin A's wedding reception, my aunts 60th birthday (very big deal in the realms of the Malayalee's) and generally enjoying the company of my parents and extended families. We are 6 first cousins and this is the first time in 10 years we have all been in the same place at the same time. We spent every evening just chatting, catching up on news that telephone conversations and emails do not do justice to. For V it was his first intense interaction with my cousins and their spouses. He enjoyed it, methinks.

On the shopping front my agenda was to get some silk and this I achived by going to Sundari Silks. Unlike shops where there are massive crowds jostling for space to get a dekho, Sundari Silks is a haven where one can take time, mull over the numerous choices and make one's selection. Situated in a spacious showroom over two floors what I wanted to take home was the beautiful tiled floor! (3300 sq feet each on the ground and first floors) the range has become much wider. With that much choice it was a very difficult hour; trying to eliminate the wonderful colours, textures and huge variety and be sensible can be sooo tiring. After much contemplation I settled on a beautiful silk skirt for myself, and a saree each for my mum, nani and my mum-in-law. The swish of silk is the magic of Madras.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The India diaries I - What a journey

It took us two days to get anywhere. Every element that could conspire against us did. But we made it and once were there it was a holiday not to forget.

Instead of taking off on Thursday night and thereby reaching on Friday morning we took of on Friday morning, thereby wasting a whole day. We were travelling with friends who are moving back to India after a few years in London. As we had an early morning check-in and they had to give up the keys to their house they came home and spent their last evening in London with us. Slept fairly late, clearing up last minute things, postponing locking our suitcases till the very last. Reached the airport in London darkness at 4.45am and joined the mile long line for the Jet Airways flight, along with the hundreds of other hopefuls from the previous two days of cancelled flights. No information or sign of anyone remotely in authority till about 5.30. Then we heard that priority was being given to those on the Thursday flight (us chickens!). Finally, at 6.55am, after more than 2 hours in line we reached the counter where the very cheerful check-in chick told us that boarding was at 6.55am as printed out on our boarding cards. V had to repress his laughter as he pointed out that it was already 6.55 and there were atleast 400 people in the line behind us. Anyway, checked-in we proceeded to the security check counter. There an offical directed us to the fast security check-in counter, the sign of which claims that you must be 'invited' to join this esteemed line (read: a business/ first class passenger)

Me (with big frown): But we aren't invited...
Him (with big grin): Madam, now I am inviting you...

So into a far more crowded line where everyone seemed to have been invited. Duty free'd and at our gate and in our allocated seats by 8am. Plane fills up slowly and we finally take off at 10am. Nice clean new A340 with polite and friendly staff, good food and a wonderfully modern entertainment system gets us into Mumbai at midnight. All of Friday lost - not the best start to the holiday.

Mumbai airport is hellish. Easily THE WORST airport on earth. It's no wonder that foreign visitors to our country have such a dismal impression to our country. What do you expect if their first encounter is with Mumbai airport. A first impression is made up of bricks and mortar and no amount of friendly Mumbaikers at the airport can erase the images of a dim, worn and broken down airport. Thanks to the dearth of immigration lines, the slowest luggage belt, absence of any ventilation and archaic customs systems we staggered out of the airport at 2.15am, gasping for breath. It was a relief to breathe in the muggy air that envelopes Mumbai.

Home at last....our flight to Chennai was scheduled for 9am on Saturday, so there was just enough time to unpack, repack and catch 40 winks before heading back to the airport. With all the yacking and catching up of tales to tell, the un- and re- packing went on till around 5am. Slept for a bit, called and confirmed that our onward flight was delayed to 10.20am and left home with my middle bro-in-law (R) and his wife (T) to arrive at Chatrapati Shivaji airport at 9am. On arrival a hurridly scribbled sign greets us: All flights delayed until further notice. Passenger whisperings, the TV crews and talks with the security gaurds reveal that an Air India flight has skidded off the runway rendering the only working runway for the domestic flights completely useless. How's that for luck!

Useless Jet Airways staff did nothing to help the situation by sealing their lips and throwing away the keys. When they finally did find the keys, ambiguous answers like 'All flights are cancelled', 'All flights are delayed', 'We cannot say anything', 'Some flights will/ may go later', 'Please check in 4 hours', flew out of their mouth with no restraint leaving an airport full of irritated passengers. With my cousin A's reception scheduled for 7pm in Chennai, the whole point of this trip was fast dissolving into the material for a very funny story. In reality I was in tears, talking to my parents and cousins in Chennai, all of whom had flown many miles so we could all be there for the occasion. It was also to be V's first trip to Chennai and trying to cheer me up he kept joking about how it was a conspiracy to keep him from ever going south of Goa! At mid-day convinced that no flights would take off under the soft drizzly skies till atleast 2pm, we set off back home.

Our Mumbai-Chennai flight was a connector flight that would arrive from Ahmedabad, take us to Chennai and go on to Coimbatore. No amount of calls to Jet Airways would solicit a straight answer on when it would arrive from Ahmedabad or take off for Chennai. On T's suggestion we called Ahmedabad airport and they informed us that the flight had left an hour ago, thereby about to reach Mumbai. So we raced back to the airport and fought our way through suitcase security and the check-in counter just in the nick off time. Mad dash through security and onto the plane re-scheduled to leave at 2.15pm. Of course it only left at 4.15pm. Airborne we heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Arrived at lovely clean and very well organised Chennai airport at 6.15pm to be greeted to hugs and kisses from my brother N (whom I had not seen in two years) and my mum. Dash home to see my aunt as she left for the reception, then a dash to our hotel and quick change later we arrived at the reception at 8.30pm. Such relief to be among my family at long last, all my cousins, my nieces, grandfather, aunts and uncles. For the smiles on their faces and mine, it was a journey well worth it.

...and 10 days later

...we're back from our holiday to India.

Not much luck with trying to blog remotely. Blame it on the lack of internet connections and paucity of time.

We had a brilliant vacation - my tales will begin tomorrow!