Archive for 2010

From Dreams To Anguish

Many years ago, a woman was born to a middle class family. Her parents believed in the power of education. And encouraged her to learn, expand her mind and reach for the skies. They gave her a liberal education, at a time when doing a simple graduation and getting married, was all that was expected of daughters in her community.So she grabbed the opportunities presented to her and chased after her dreams. Some proved elusive, others were within reach.

Then, as she stood at the threshold of thirty, the walls started closing in. The M word began to intrude into her otherwise orderly world. 'Why aren't you married?', 'Are you supporting your parents financially? Is that why they are not getting you married?' The questions infuriated her. At first she deflected them. With aggression, logic and later evasion. Then,under the covert, but relentless pressure, she began to shrink into herself.

And so it might have been till she met him. A good and decent man. So she crossed that milestone and got married. Love was in the air and everything seemed good.

Then the walls started closing in again - the expectation to conform. And the confusion and veiled reproach when she didn't.

"You don't know how to draw a kolam(rangoli)!" . She restrained herself from sharply retorting " No. But I do know how to stand on my own feet and be financially independent. Do you know how to do that?"

"When are you going to give us some good news?". She wanted to ask " what good news do you want? I just got a promotion. We bought a house. His cholesterol levels are under control. Take your pick"

"Still no kids? Have you consulted a doctor?" She couldn't stop her tears in the face of this blatant intrusion.

"My sister's dying wish was to have a grandchild." How was she to deal with such emotional blackmail? Her back, her spirit even, was likely to crumble under the weight of this expectation.

"Nobody asks you!" she ranted at him. "Am I expected to make a baby alone?". He did his best to shield her. But it was not always possible to prevent people from riding roughshod over her vulnerability, leaving her exposed.

What was she to do? In her mind she knew that one could not live one's life to please others. Hell, this was the advice she had handed out to many friends when they sought her counsel. But saying it and living it were different things.

Its true, there was price to be paid for wanting to live your life on your own terms.

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Please Rise For The National Anthem

What do you do when you hear that?

1. Stand up straight, hands by your side, chin up and with loud voice belt out 'Jana Gana Mana'

2. Stand up, shoulders hunched over, head down, hands clasped behind the back and head down, as if ashamed

3. Stand up lazily, shuffle from one foot to another, hands behind your back and / or in your pocket, and gaze into space in boredom

These are some of the postures that I have observed people assume, when asked to 'rise for the national anthem'. And am sad to say that there is a preponderance of people taking postures described in nos 2 and 3 over no 1.

Another thing I've seen is that people rarely sing along these days. This could be because they have dreadful singing voices or technology has made us lazy. And of course there are those singing the anthem all wrong.

It worries me. Because it seems like children are exhibiting these traits more and more. Children learn from adults. This must mean that adults themselves don't know the correct words, tune and respect, that is due to the national anthem.

Is the national anthem just any other song? Is singing the national anthem just tokenism? Does not caring about it mean we do not love our country? Are we becoming less and less patriotic? And if we are, does it matter? What does patriotism mean anyway? In a world where the Indian diaspora is growing by the day, has the notion of patriotism become obsolete? What do you think?

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Journey With A Shrieking Banshee

We're on the Young World Quiz circuit again! Today we took the train from Calicut to Cochin (sorry, but I prefer the old names)where the quiz will take place tomorrow. I'm now going to rant about my experience on the train journey. You may think I'm totally heartless after you read this post.

Whenever I travel, I pray to God, that seats near me are not occupied by kids. Not the cute, cuddly, infants that sleep angelically on their mothers' laps. I mean the 2-3 year olds that can walk, talk and throw tantrums. And the good Lord intermittently tests my endurance. Which He did today.

A lady, traveling with her two children, took the seat opposite us. A boy and a girl. I looked apprehensively at the boy. I know what boys that age are capable of by way of tantrum throwing. I once traveled with a boy, who stamped his foot and rolled about on the floor while his mother looked on in helpless embarrassment.

I need not have worried. The boy behaved impeccably. It was the little girl who was the star of the show.

She began with the usual kiddy babble and curious looking over the seat backs at other passengers. All fine. Till her mother took away something that she wanted. Then began the shrieking and screaming. I swear to God. I never knew something that small could emit a sound that loud!

The little girl's mother did try to quieten her. At which the child only yelled what sounded like 'Adikenda! Adikenda!' I assumed it meant 'Don't beat me' in Malayalam.

I spent the next four hours trying to drown out the sound of that shrieking by turning on my MP3 player. But the sound penetrated even the melodious strains of Mohammad Rafi. I tried Zandu Balm. Didn't work. Finally, I could take it no more. I left my seat and stood at the door of the coach, watching the countryside whiz past till we reached Cochin.

I'm a person who likes kids. I am! I've been around tons of kids, baby sat cousins and nieces. Kids generally like me. But this little girl? She could patent that shriek as a means of torture.

Still, I have no hard feelings for the little girl. God bless her. But I do wish her mother finds a way to stop her incessant shrieking!

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Spouse Grouse

Travel sure takes the mickey out of me these days. Over the past ten days, the spouse and I have been traveling on work all over southern India. It has been exhausting to say the least! After a tiring day at Vijayawada, we were set to leave for Vishakapatnam.

Vijaywada has one of the busiest railway stations in India. Thousands of people milling around, trains arriving, trains departing, vendors yelling and us trying to find out which platform our train was arriving on. The porters told us that Falaknuma Express usually comes on platform 6. The train, scheduled to arrive at 21.40 and depart at 21.50 was nowhere in sight. Soon it was 22.00. The train had still not arrived and I was tired, sleepy and irritable.

The spouse however, evinced no such symptoms. In fact, he seemed to delight in the delay and was full of beans, chatting up other passengers waiting for the same train. In between, he even winked saucily at me and made comical faces. Being the congenital wet blanket that I am, I was not amused and glowered back at him. Sauntering to my side he asked: ' Kya hua?' My grunt...er...reply was interrupted by his phone. I hadn't even heard it ring.

"Yes? Speaking. Yes sir. Please tell me." He glanced over at me before speaking once again.

"What? No. I'm sorry. I'm already married. !!!!

That got my attention in a hurry. "WHAT!" I spluttered.

He was grinning broadly. "Gotcha"!!

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Mail or Male?

This is a new commercial of Indian Railways doing the rounds in cyber space. Produced by Nirvana Films and directed by Prakash Verma of the ZooZoo fame. It is a slickly produced commercial and makes use of the classic song 'Rail Gaadi' rendered by Ashok Kumar in the film Ashirwad. Here is the commercial:


Most people I know have liked and enjoyed this video. I did not. Why? The tag line for the video is 'Desh Ka Mail' - with a play on the word 'mail'. Mail could denote the train or, in Hindi, it also means 'meeting' or 'similarity', thereby indicating that Indian Railways actually brings different people together.

The image of a train, to me, is a metaphor. Of different people traveling to one destination. Of meeting as strangers and parting as friends. Of a single thread that connects diverse lives. Except that the human train in this video is devoid of women and children. They have been reduced to spectators.

I am a Railway child. My father was a senior bureaucrat with Ministry of Railways. I grew up in a railway colony. Our social life was structured around the railway club and other railway families. And life in the railways is all about appreciating diversity. In the colony where I lived, our immediate neighbours to the right were Kannadigas, to the left were Hyderabadi Muslims, and in front lived an Oriya family. We moved every 5th or 6th year to a new place, a new city, a new State. My sister and I loved every move, learned new languages and imbibed new cultures.

Having unconsciously learned lessons about inclusion, I cannot stomach this video. The Indian Railways transports 20 million passengers daily. At least half these passengers must be women and children. And yet, like in so many other domains, they have been excluded here too. One comment in youtube questioned "veryyy cool ad .. although i wonder y only males were included as a part of the रेल गाङी ?! :(". The reply to this comment is shocking in its insensitivity "The Ladies compartment is getting ready, gone for a makeover... "

Damn this testosterone driven train for being the metaphor of Indian society!

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Gastronomic Match

Nishi was browsing through online profiles when a chat request popped up. Who was this?

"Age 34, senior management professional in some multinational. Lives in Bangalore"

Hmmm. Nishi had begun to notice the gendered differences in the way these profiles were written. Women dwelled more on their looks: slim, fair, blah blah while men waxed eloquent on their qualifications, jobs and salaries. Showed what society, or rather marriage, expected of them.

Accepting the chat request, Nishi typed in 'Hi'

Social niceties out of the way, Nishi typed in a question about the guy's interests and hobbies.

Hmmm. These chats seemed to be scripted and followed a template. First, the social graces. Hi, Hello, How are you etc etc. Then the exploratory 'Tell me something about yourself'. Then more focused probing. Right now, the conversation was dwelling on food.

'I'm a foodie' said Nishi 'I love to eat and like to try different types of cuisine. My only limitation is that I'm a vegetarian'.

Speed breaker! Oh-oh.

'Vegetarian? But I'm from eastern India'

'Meaning?' Nishi knew what he meant. But she wanted it said anyway.

'I'm non vegetarian' he clarified.

'OK. I have no problems with that' said Nishi with growing irritation. She knew where this conversation was headed.

'But will you cook non vegetarian food'? he asked

'No. But if you want to eat non veg food, you are welcome to cook it yourself or order it from outside'

'Oh? I'm looking for a life partner who has same interests as me. And I would prefer if she is also non vegetarian. It would be difficult otherwise.

Tough Nishi wanted to say. Instead she said 'Well good luck then. I hope you will find a wife whose food habits match yours'

More disillusionment. She had heard of people matching horoscopes. But matching dietary preferences? That had to be a first! Did one really need to use food habits as basis for choosing a life partner? Why this insistence for standardisation? Same caste, same religion, now same food?!

Maybe she was a fool. But she did believe that it was possible to coexist and that diversity made a marriage interesting. It helped you retain your individuality, your uniqueness. Oh wait! The institution of marriage in India demands conformity, especially from women.

At this rate I'll never get married!

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Heritage Walk: In The Presence Of The Apostle

The final leg of our journey was inside the Church of St Thomas. Although tiny in size, the church has a rich history.

The Church is associated with St. Thomas, one of the Apostles of Christ. The spread of Christianity in India can be traced back to the arrival of St. Thomas on the shores of Kerala. From here he traveled, preaching the message of Jesus before he reached Chennai. It is said that his evangelising angered the locals and he fled to the Mount to escape their wrath. Here he was martyred in AD 72 when he was struck down by an arrow.

The Portuguese built a shrine here in the 16th century at the spot where St. Thomas was martyred. During the course of excavation, a stone cross was unearthed. The cross was believed to have been chiseled by the apostle himself. It was rumoured that he had clutched the cross to his person when he was martyred and his blood spilled onto the cross. Apparently, the stains reappeared even after being rubbed off and even bled periodically. So it came to be known as The Bleeding Cross. This cross is now mounted on the wall of the shrine at the alter. Here is a picture:

It is interesting to note the details on this cross. If not for the cross, it could well have been a Hindu sculpture! Note the 'thorana' and the sort of lotus base on which the cross stands. What a wonderful amalgamation of cultures and religions!

The shrine is also dedicated to 'Our Lady of Expectation' ie, Mother Mary. Above the alter, there is an oil painting of The Madonna. Believed to have been painted by St. Luke and brought to India by St. Thomas, it is one of the oldest Christian paintings in India. Here is a picture:

There was another rather interesting rendition of Mother Mary as full term pregnant. I have never seen it before:

With that our heritage walk concluded and we descended the steps on the other side of the hill. At the last step, I turned back to get one last glimpse.

But before I sign off on this series, I must introduce some spiritual beings that I came across during the walk. This gentleman was enjoying the morning sun at the Garrison Church and was kind enough to hold his pose so I could click a picture:

And this guy is totally self actualised. Bordering nirvana!

Ha! Ha! You didn't think they would be canines now did you? I love dogs and the Lord God Made Them All!

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Heritage Walk: Ascent Up The Mount

Moving on from the Garrison Church, the group took a long and circuitous route to reach the top of St. Thomas Mount. The road went past the main gate of the Officers Training Academy and wound up the hill. Once we cleared the defense area, we moved to the base of the hill. I must say it was not very pleasant. Overgrown with shrubs and bushes on one side and slum like settlements on the other.

Once we started climbing the hill, our focus shifted to the awesome veiw of the city that lay stretched out before us. The road was smooth and there were wall writings on the hillside proclaiming it as a 'Holy Hill' and imploring the public to maintain its sanctity. One person even compared the climb up the Mount to the 'Girivalam' at Thiruvannamalai. (Girivalam is a spiritual festival observed on every full moon day at Tiruvannamalai, for the sacred Mountain Annamalai.In Tamil "Giri" means mountain and "Valam" means circumambulation and involves the actual circumambulation of devotees around the hill with a diameter of nearly 16km)

Half way up the hill we passed some schools run by the Catholic Church (which I presume owns a great chunk of the land on the Hill), and a park on the outer edge of the hill with a life size statue of Christ a la Christ the Redeemer of Rio. We also passed a training center belonging to the Church where we saw a banner of an Indo Sri Lankan seminar:

However did the Indo-Sri Lankan fishermen reach the Pak Bay (whatever THAT was?!). A spelling mistake can be truly hilarious.

Huffing, puffing and sweating profusely, we finally clambered up the hill to reach the sacred Shrine of St. Thomas. As Sunday services were still on, we had to wait to enter the Church. While waiting, we looked eastward, hoping to see the spire of the San Thome Church and the Little Mount Church. But it was cloudy and we were not able to do so. Here is a picture of the vista:


Set a little behind the Church, we came across an interesting bust of Lt. Colonel William Lambton. Lambton served in the British Army and was the superintendent of the Great Trignometrical Survey (GTS) during its initial years. So what is the significance of the GTS to the St. Thomas Mount? The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India started on 10th of April 1802 with the measurement of a base line near Madras. The spot where the bust is located marked the first station of the Survey.


Lambton carefully laid the baseline, which stretched across a distance of 12 kilometres between St. Thomas Mount and another hillock in the southern direction, for the "measurement of the length of a degree of latitude" along a longitude in the middle of peninsular India....This 12-km-long horizontal at about sea level grew into what is known as the Great Indian Arc of the Meridian, a gigantic geometric web of 'triangulations' roughly along the 78° longitude across the entire length of the subcontinent covering a distance of about 2,400 km in the north-south direction. As a corollary, at the end of this massive and perilous exercise, which consumed "more lives than in most contemporary wars" and involved tomes of calculations and equations more complex than any in the pre-computer age, it was conclusively proved in 1843 that the Himalayas constituted a mountain range that was higher than the Andes, until then believed to be the highest. It also established the height of the highest point on the earth, what is now called Mount Everest....The GTS continuous to be the bedrock of topographical surveys even today, 201 years after Lambton laid out his first baseline from St. Thomas Mount to another nearby hillock... (Source: Frontline, Apr. 27 - May 12, 2002 and June 21 - July 04, 2003)

When the volunteer from the walker's group stopped talking, there was a brief silence,marked by a sense of timelessness. I felt as if I was also a station, standing in the path of the Great Arc.

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Heritage Walk: The Garrison Church, Chennai

This year, as part of the Madras Week celebrations, a series of Heritage Walks were organised all over the city. Organised by different individuals and organisations like INTACH, the walks covered some interesting routes like 'Heritage Walk of Madras Christian College', 'Railway Buildings of Perambur', 'Fort St. George', 'Temples of Madras'. The spouse and I went for the Heritage Walk at St. Thomas Mount on 22nd Aug - considered as the day when Madras was founded.

For those of you who do not know, St. Thomas Mount in Chennai, is a small hill near the Chennai airport. It derives its name from St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ, who is believed to have been martyred here. Organised by Vincent D'Souza and Richard O'Connor, the heritage walk started at the St. Thomas Garrison Church and ended at the historic St. Thomas Mount Church on top of the hill.

To be honest, my going for this heritage walk was a matter of chance. When the spouse first mentioned it, I did not pay attention. When he mentioned it again on Friday night, it finally registered. Seeing a golden blog opportunity, I jumped at it. When I sat down to write it though, I realised that just one post would not suffice. There was so much to write that I decided to write it as a series of posts. The first one is about the Garrison Church.

6AM on Sunday saw a bleary eyed me and spouse at the gates of the Garrison Church. We were the first to arrive and were apprehensive that the walk had been canceled due to rains the night before. A while later people started arriving and we were set to go.

Our first stop was the Garrison Church itself. Situated just off the GST road on the way to the airport, this church is 175 years old. It being a Sunday, some of the regular church goers had arrived to offer prayers and were kind enough to share the history of the church. In fact, one of the ladies present had done her M.Phil thesis on the Garrison Church. What a stroke of luck!

Till the 70s, the church had a three storey spire. It had to be lowered to make way for the air corridor due to the construction of the Meenambakkam airport. Here is a picture of the church:



Inside the church, there were many interesting artifacts. Three of these caught my attention. The first was this memorial tablet:

This was put up in memory of one Lt. Charles Wade Crump who died in September 1857, aged 32, fighting under General Havelock at the 'Relief of Lucknow'. It was put up by his 'Brother Officers' to salute his bravery. Very nice and noble indeed. But I'm sure you will understand that my sympathies are for the Indian side in the war.

The second was a painting over the alter. Of Doubting Thomas. You might have used the term many times to express disbelief. It has its origins in a Biblical anecdote, that Thomas, one of the disciples of Christ, refused to believe in Christ's resurrection and asked to feel his wounds before being convinced. St. Thomas being the patron saint of the Garrison Church, it was but natural to have this painting hanging over the alter. Here is the only photograph I took of it:

The last was the Baptismal Font. A baptismal font is an object that is used in the baptism ritual. Unfortunately I did not pay attention when its unique features were explained (probably busy capturing other Kodak moments!). I tried to supplement the gap with some net research. Unfortunately I could only find information about the Baptismal Font at St. Mary's Church in Fort. St. George. Here is a picture of the Baptismal Font at Garrison Church

A bit of trivia before I sign off on this one. The rolling greens beside the Garrison Church serves as a golf course today. We were told that it used to be a polo ground during British times and the place that is now the Chennai airport was the erstwhile golf course.

Seeing planes taking off and landing from the airport runway, it was difficult to imagine it as an idyllic setting where the sahibs and memsahibs whiled away their leisure time.....

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Fly Well? I Don't Think So!

I traveled back from Mumbai last night by Air India. I know I keep posting about my fear of flying. But I simply must write about this. I was less than satisfied at the overall flying experience I had last night. The aircraft was badly in need of maintenance.

For starters, the interiors were dirty. The overhead cabins for example were streaked with dirt and grime. How much does it take to clean it? Then, in the section where I was seated, the AC was really noisy and there was a dull roar which I heard throughout the flight. That, coupled with the turbulence, did nothing to soothe my jangled nerves (did I mention I am a nervous flyer at the best of times?).

You know the panel above your seat from where the oxygen mask is supposed to pop out in case of emergency? Well the panel near about seat no. 10 was hanging in mid air. I mean hanging like how a switchboard panel would hang if you unscrewed it. The airhostess did try to pound it back into its slot. But it kept dropping back.


Then of course there were the assorted holes in the carpet, loose back rests that suddenly shifted backwards even though you did not push back, and broken arm rests.

The flight ticket cost Rs. 6093. But there was absolutely no value for money. When we landed, the air hostess did her usual announcement, ending with 'If you choose to fly Air India again, we would be happy to serve you". Are you kidding me?! After this experience, why would i CHOOSE to fly Air India?!

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Aging Lotharios, PYTs And Visualising Melody

Lately I have taken to viewing old Hindi film songs on youtube. Last night I came across the song 'Jaane bhi de sanam mujhe' from the film Around The World in 8 Dollars. Made in 1967, the movie stars Raj Kapoor and Rajeshwari and is shot in some exotic locales - for that period - all over the world. I saw this movie many years ago. Cannot remember what the story was about. But I do remember the songs and they are wonderful. The songs feature the voice of Sharda Rajan Iyengar, a lesser known singer. Even though she had a lilting voice, sang beautifully and won a Filmfare Award. But this post is not about her.

Ever wondered, how some songs are lovely to listen to-but when seen in the movie, the visual impact is less than what you expected, leaving you disappointed. For instance, the chemistry could be absent between the actors on whom the song is picturised and would make an otherwise excellent melody fall flat on its face. Classic example - the song 'Roz Roz Aankhon Taley' from an obscure movie called Jeeva starring Sanjay Dutt and Mandakini. Superb melody from R.D.Burman and sensuous lyrics from Gulzar . Picturisation? Pits! Take a look:



Watching the song 'jaane bhi de sanam mujhe'I was disenchanted. It is an enchanting song. Its the sort of song where the gentleman ought to be tall, dark (or fair as is your taste) and impossibly handsome and be conducting himself in a manner where the girl breaks out in sweat!

So does ole' Raju Awaara Kapoor do that? NOT! He's chubby and looks distinctly avuncular. Poor Rajeshwari can barely get her arms around his portly person. To give him his due, he tries. He's not a bad actor and has done the yearning lover perfectly in the past. Remember Barsaat when he plays the violin and Nargis flings herself into his arms, driven by helpless passion? In this song, he attempts the intense yearning look, holding hands and titling his girl's chin to gaze into her eyes. But his age defeats him and he ends up looking like a fond parent instead of a lover. Add to this a black leather jacket rolled up at the sleeves and its a recipe for disaster.

Watching him struggle, one barely notices Rajeshwari. A PYT and the object of the hero's desire, one doesn't expect much from her. Though I must point out that her styling in this movie is reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn complete with the bangs and doe eyed look.

Not everybody can be Cary Grant, romancing women with panache at age 60. What do you think? Watch the song and tell me if I'm being too harsh and judgmental.



P.S.: Apologies for the video quality. I got it from youtube.

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Musings From The City Of Joy

I had a stop over of about four hours in Kolkata today, enroute to Chennai. I spent this time wandering through the city and taking pictures. You may have seen these pictures a million times. And I have nothing new to offer. Except - to me these pictures are reminders of a happy childhood spent in Kolkata, the City of Joy.

The first set of pictures are of the Victoria Memorial which have come to represent Kolkata as much as the Howrah Bridge. Wikipedia says the foundation was laid in 1906 by Lord Curzon. Here's an interesting tidbit. The funds for construction were not given by the British. Instead it was given by British Indian States and individuals who wanted to find favour with the British. So, apart from being a Memorial to Queen Victoria, it is also testimony to the sucking up and toadying done by Indians in the past.

The picture brings back a faint memory of when we had a picnic in the beautiful gardens around Victoria Memorial. I remember going into the museum with my father. I think there is a gown of the Queen on display. It was this delicate garment with some glittering embroidery or lacework on it. If being a Queen meant you got to wear grand gowns, then I wanted to be a Queen too!

Here's a picture of the sidewalk outside Victoria Memorial on the Fort William side. It was raining at the time that I took the photograph and the rain washed side walk with the greenery made for a pretty picture.


Here is a view of the Second Hooghly Bridge, also known as the Vidya Sagar Sethu. Taken from Fort William. It is beautiful no doubt. But somehow cannot compare to the majesty of the original Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu).


Walking down Park Street, I wandered past 19, Park Street. What is special about it? It is the address of the District Grand Lodge of Bengal of the Bengal Freemasons. It is tucked away between two large buildings and the lodge itself is not visible from the road. I didn't venture in. The signboard and interwoven letters on the gate intrigued me. Freemasonry is so secretive and Dan Brown has certainly added to its mystique.



Moving on to matters gastronomical - I had lunch at Flury's. Started in 1926, Flury's describes itself as a 'tearoom'. The website claims it to be the only tearoom in British India. Whatever the case, the food was good and the strawberry and cream sundae out of this world!





And finally, the drive to the airport in bumper to bumper traffic. Amidst the mounting stress of not knowing whether I would be able to make it in time to catch my flight, I took the time to be amused by the sight of traffic constables directing traffic while holding up umbrellas in the pouring rain. No pictures available of that though. You'll just have to take my word for it. It was a funny sight.


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Some More Wandering Thoughts Albiet On A Wednesday Evening

I was trawling the net to alleviate my boredom today when I came across a job announcement by a "boutique" recruitment firm (whatever that maybe). It was for senior positions in business development. But when I looked for the name of the hiring organisation, I couldn't find it. Now I think about it, these recruitment firms never tell you the name of their clients. Who is it that they are scouting talent for. I don't understand the need for secrecy. What is the problem in revealing the name of the client? How is a potential applicant to judge whether they want to apply or not? One does not make these choices based on the job description or the pay package alone. It all boils down to making INFORMED decisions for which you need full and complete information. I say we apply the Right To Information Act on these recruitment / HR outfits.

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Just finished reading Amitav Ghosh's 'Sea of Poppies'. What can I say - simply awesome. Its part of a trilogy. And the way Ghosh has written the first leaves you panting for more. I am eagerly awaiting the next part. What I love about Ghosh is his attention to detail. His novels are obviously well researched. They also indicate his background in anthropology. And he writes about people and locates them in a historical context. His books demonstrate an amazing divesity in theme, content and setting. Compare his writing with that of Arvind Adiga. As I've said in my previous review of White Tiger, Adiga's writing leaves much to be desired. Both have written with poverty and deprivation as their background. Where Adiga is just too in-your-face, Ghosh's writing is nuanced and somehow more profound. He is unequivocally, my favourite author.

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Was wondering, what is the etimology of the term 'you look fetching'. How did it come about? What does one fetch if one looks fetching? R said something about a dog theory. Like getting a dog to fetch. By that token, what is the dog connection if a woman looks fetching? Would she fetch you a stick?! Thoughts and opinions invited.

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My Sins AGAINST Gender Stereotypes

I was tagged by my blogger friend Maradhi Manni aka Sandhya to do this. That was about a week ago. I didn't see it until last night. So here goes.

The upbringing my sister and I received never made us realise that the world treats men and women differently or that there were different expectations from each. Perhaps not having brothers was the reason why. Or maybe it was because our father is a liberal minded man who believed that his daughters should reach for the stars. Whatever be the case, this is what I grew up to be and I' rather proud of it.

1. Self confident, aggressive, articulate are adjectives that usually describe me. They're also generally considered MALE traits. In fact I've been chided for my aggressive behaviour many times while growing up.

2. Some of my developmental milestones were delayed-I didn't get married the moment I completed my education at the age of 23. Worse, I got married in my thirties. And I'm not in a tearing hurry to pop out babies even though people say that the sound of my biological clock ticking is deafening.

3. I do not do the usual stuff that married women do. I did not change my last name. I do not wear a thaali (mangalsutra), toe rings or sindoor. I do not perform any rituals or poojas. My one concession to spirituality is a daily reading of the 'Hanuman Chalisa'

4. On social occasions, I am usually to be found in the company of men. I enjoy their company and seem to relate to them better. It irritates me to sit with the women and discuss recipes or school bus timings.

5. I can be relied upon to keep a cool head and take quick decisions during emergencies. People usually lean on me for support during crises.

6. I've lived alone in a big city and pretty much fended for myself. I rented an apartment, drove about by myself and even went for movies alone. It was weird at first. But then I began to enjoy it.

7. A few years back I went overseas for a vacation. I went alone and spent my own money. A dream come true. Expensive - but a dream nevertheless.

8. I returned to full time work recently and my father-in-law helps me in kitchen work. He cuts veggies and puts on the cooker so that all I need to do is throw things together when I finally wake up. Today he offered to take over the cooking of the entire lunch. I have gladly relinquished the responsibility.

There are two things where I do uphold the stereotype:

9. I love clothes, especially saris. Even a four door wardrobe seems insufficient! (refer post dated 7th July).

10. I am afraid of the dark and need to sleep with a night light on. Maybe the residue of a childhood nightmare.

So those are my sins. God forgive me for them! I don't know how to go about this tagging business. If you're reading this, and want to try it, by all means go ahead. It is open to persons of both genders.

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Chronicles of Deepa: The Wardrobe, The Dresser and The Side Table

Last month we went to an exhibition held at the Chennai Trade Center. We had been toying with the idea of buying a wardrobe since I needed more storage space. The exhibition was selling furniture on discount. We went to the Zuari stall and after much deliberation chose a nice four door wardrobe and a dresser. Purchases over Rs. 5000 had an attractive "buy for so-much and get this free" offer. And so we also got a side table for free. The Zuari guys said that they needed about 10 days before they could make the delivery. Since we had to dispose of our old cupboard and dresser, this suited us fine. So we paid up the full amount, took our receipt and invoice and headed home pleased with the purchases we had made. That was on 7th June, 2010.

That was the beginning of a month of sheer torture and extreme stress.

About 12 days after we had made the purchase, I received a call from the dealer. One U.M.Retail Pvt. Ltd informing that the items were ready and would be delivered in a day or two. My husband and I quickly made arrangements to dispose the existing furniture. So there I was, sans cupboard, with all my clothes heaped on the bed. My toiletry items were dumped on a stool with a 100 year old mirror propped against the wall (the mirror is another story).

Two more days passed by without a peep from M/s U.M.Retail Pvt Ltd. So my husband called and they assured him that the furniture would be delivered that day itself. Another three days passed by. On 25th June, I called the shop again. I was told it MAY be delivered that day. I lost my cool and gave the guy a yelling. The guy said he would check with their warehouse and get back to me in half an hour.

Never trust a vendor when he says he will call back. An hour went by and he didn't call. I got angrier by the minute. I called back and gave the guy a dressing down. "I have paid full money for this furniture. That means you have my goods in your possession and are willfully not giving it to me. That is a clear case of theft and fraud. I will report you to police". This seemed to cow the down the guy and he gave me the number of their distribution manager Robin. I called Robin and once again faced ambiguous assurances. I had to do an action replay of the previous dressing down. Robin finally admitted that the wardrobe was not in stock and they would not be able to deliver the furniture before Monday.

That was a bit of a problem since I was leaving town on Sunday and my husband would have to hold the fort till Thursday. Easier said than done. He does not handle stress or vendors very well. Outlining a strategy, I told him to use sheer aggression to get our work done. "Keep calling them every hour. Use different phone numbers. If you're calling Robin at one time, call U.M.Retailers next. Harass them into sending the furniture". With that, I left the city.

My husband and I were in touch over phone to discuss developments. He was forced to remain at home in anticipation of the furniture's arrival. On 28th June there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. It appeared that the furniture would be delivered that evening. But alas, our hopes were dashed to the ground. Robin called me to say that the stock had still not arrived and hence delivery that day would not be possible. I told him that I was traveling and he should speak directly to my husband. Robin quailed at the suggestion. "No madam! I'm afraid to speak to him. Please inform him yourself!!" Stress levels hit an all time high when I delivered the news to my husband. He had taken leave that day and put off some visa processing work for this.

After several hundred more phone calls and still more (empty) threats, the furniture finally arrived on 29th June at 9pm. Oh Joyful day! But wait... A new shock awaited us. The dresser mirror was broken.

My husband refused to go back to yelling and threatening Robin on the phone. So I had to take over. Another 6 days followed filled with daily phone calls and entreaties. Sometimes there was no labour to make the delivery and sometimes no truck was taking a route that would bring a replacement dresser to our home. The dresser was finally delivered today at 6pm. We're hoping it will be fitted tomorrow.

I don't understand what went wrong. We paid full money upfront. Had all the required paper work. Had purchased from a reputed company. Despite all this we were practically held ransom by the dealer. At every step their inefficiency was reinforced. I must have spent at least Rs. 1000 in phone calls alone! And I'm not counting the mental stress and harassment we faced due to all this.

I do not know whether Zuari is aware about how unprofessional U.M.Retailers Pvt Ltd is in its dealings with customers. I plan to get in touch with the PR department and put in a written complaint about this dealer.

Hopefully tomorrow, this time, my dresser would have been fitted and life can go back to normal. But, like Robin said during one of the innumerable calls I made "Invoice No. 132? I will never forget it!" Neither will I Robin. Neither will I.

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The E - Slap

A friend and I were talking about delivering reprimands and homilies over email. It brought back memories of when I was still working full time. I worked as a senior manager and had a lot of email traffic. There were many demands, disguised as 'requests' that came my way. Mostly from headquarters. Now I was known as a bit of a firebrand at the work place. In fact, one one occassion, a colleague even branded me as 'Ms. Thunderbolt'. Naturally, my email communication matched my image. I developed a writing style that came to be known as the 'E-Slap'. A few examples:

If I wrote 'I'm surprised at...' it meant 'I'm pissed off!'. If I wrote ' I'm distressed...' it meant 'I'm enraged!'. If I wrote 'You will agree that...' it meant 'I don't want any arguments'. 'Thanks in advance for doing this' usually meant 'saying no is not acceptable'. And if I was REALLY displeased, then instructions over email would end with '...this is non negotiable'!

I thought I was camouflaging my feelings pretty well behind all those professional sounding words. Little did I realise how transparent I was. At a national level meeting, amidst discussions on e-governance and other 'E' stuff, matters took a humourous turn. A colleauge took my name tag - you know, the clip-on variety. It was cicular in shape. He flipped it over to the blank side and went to work with his pen. A while later, he handed it back to me with a huge smile. It carried the sketch of a hand with 'E-Slap' written across it. When I looked confused, the group broke out laughing. 'Its what you do when you said stinker emails.' they said.

E-Slap?! I didn't take offence. Was rather amused actually. It was an apt description of the way I expressed displeasure through email. Rarely had an appraisal gone by without reference to 'my tone' or 'communication style'.

Its not that I meant to be rude. It was a combination of factors. First, I did not suffer fools gladly. Second, the email represented me. I had to ensure that the words expressed what I FELT. And last - I (unfortunately) had an excellant command over the English language (please excuse my immodesty). All of which converged in a resounding 'E-Slap'!

There was a lighter side to this infamy. People in HQ thought twice before messing with me. Peers, on occassion, appreciated the 'E-Slaps' (naturally not the ones directed at them!). 'You said what we wanted to'. And come to think of it, if they could tease me about it, then they must have realised that my bark was worse than my bite!

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The Road Not Taken

As a woman I am constantly aware of threats lurking around the corner. I was told by my mother not to venture unescorted in the dark, to always travel in groups, not to talk to strangers etc. I relived these fears, overtly, covertly, every time a strange man walked upto me. Nobody thought this self inflicted curtailing of personal freedom was strange. After all, the world was a bad place and you had to take precautions to protect yourself from danger.

Last night, I was chatting with my 12 year old niece. She's at the threshold of womanhood, discovering life and forming her opinions. She' was telling me how she spent her vacation time at home. Like any other 12 year old, she was sent on errands - to buy groceries and vegetables at the shop next door.

At some point, the conversation turned to how once, when she went to the supermarket, this boy approached her and asked which class she studied in. She ignored the guy since he was 'a stranger', and walked past. Then she went on to say that if she was walking alone on the road, and she spotted women my age or her mother's age, she tried to keep close to them. Finally, she narrated an incident that took place a few weeks ago. It was dark and she went to the supermarket. On the way back, at about 10 feet distance, was a drunk, who leered at her and said ' hey...you're all alone'. Frightened, she raced back home. She concluded the story with 'But it was my fault you know. I should not have gone out when it was dark'. My heart broke when I heard her blaming herself. Life seemed to have come full circle. And not in a nice way.

When I argue for women's rights, people say that things have progressed so much that we should now be fighting for 'men's rights'. The world has changed and women now rule the roost. They say women have become heads of state, they've traveled to Antartica and even flown into space. No doubt these are splendid achievements. But what about when a 12 year old learns - without anybody explicitly telling her and through her own experience and observations - that she needs to curtail her personal freedom to ensure her personal safety - as generations of women before her have done?

Between self and ambition lies a long road fraught with obstacles. Braving obstacles on life's journey is par for the course one may say. But women, it seems, are not even permitted to make that journey! After all, it maybe dark, deserted or full of strange men! If 'anything happens' you have only yourself to blame. The earlier you learn that, the better. Age 12 is a good time to start.

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Midnight Musings On Film and Television

Ok, so the title is cliched. In my defense, it is close to midnight and I am musing!

I learned from a show I was watching tonight that Shilpa Shetty is a 'trained Bharatnatyam dancer'. I remember reading somewhere that even Lara Dutta is a 'trained Bharatnatyam dancer'. Apparently the ice maiden Aishwarya also lays claims to the same distinction. Dance requires application, dedication and a whole lot of self discipline. So I wonder - can this really be true? Call me prejudiced, but I'm pretty sure the ladies are fibbing. Being known as a 'classical dancer' probably lends credibility to their otherwise bump and grind dancing style. I mean, I could also claim to be a 'trained Bharatnatyam dancer'. I took classes as a child. It is another story that everytime the master arrived, I locked myself into the bathroom and refused to come out till he left!

********

NDTV good times airs a show called 'Cooking isn't rocket science'. The show is presented by 'one of Britain's most popular chefs Manju Malhi' - not my words, this is what the channel website claims. Now this so called popular chef is dreadfully annoying with an affected British accent that simply grates on my nerves. If you ask me, the show is really a cheap imitation of 'Kylie Kwong Cooking With Heart and Soul'. This Manju woman dresses like Kylie, wears similar spectacles and even has similar red highlights in her hair!!

********

I saw this Telugu movie 'Ye Maya Chesavey' last night. It is the Telugu version of the Tamil film 'Vinnaithandi Varuvaya'. Made by Gautam Vasudev Menon, the Telugu version stars Nagachaitanya (son of actor Nagarjuna) and a new girl called Samantha. My feelings about this movie feature on my status message on facebook also. But it it bears repeating - what a drag! For starters, the lead pair cannot act. Second, the chemistry between them is conspicious by its absence. I suppose the music was ok. But I was so irritated by the movie that I didn't notice. So, without wasting more time and space on this washout of a movie, my verdict: Learn from my mistakes. Avoid!

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Celebrating Milestones

Did I mention previously that rituals and sacrements form an integral part of the Tambrahm lifestyle? From birth to death, every milestone is crossed with determination under the eagle eyed guidance of the priest. The rules are strict and immutable. They are also male centric, institutionalising discrimination and exlusion of women.

In the Tambrahm way of life, when a man reaches the age of sixty, he celebrates his 'Sashtiapthapurthi'. When a man reaches seventy, he celebrates 'Bhimaratha Shanthi'. When he reaches eighty, he celebrates 'Sadabhishekam' and when he approaches one hundred years of age, he celebrates 'Kanakabhishekam'. These can be celebrated only if his first born is a son and his first born's first born is also a son. Yes. Its complicated. And where does the woman figure in all this? She just needs to be beside her long living husband when the celebrations take place. If she has not been so disobliging as to have kicked the bucket before the festivities - which are basically a re-enactment of the marriage ceremony by each subsequent generation of male children.

Discrimination, exclusion and isolation are experienced by women everyday in different ways. You could be an illiterate woman surviving on daily wages, or a highly educated woman belonging to a privileged class of society. Regardless of the strata of society they belong to, these are realities women learn to confront, negotiate, accept or propogate, depending on socialisation, experiences and personal mission in life. If you choose to stand up for egalitarianism, then the support and partnership of men can make the difference. And that is the origin of this long winded narration!

My parents are celebrating the golden jubilee of their marriage this year. All his life, my father has looked askance at poojas and rituals that mark the Tambrahm lifestyle. On several occassions he was simply pressurised into going along with them. But in this matter, he refused to budge. My father scorned the 'Shashtis' and 'Bhimas'. 'My wife and I have together built this family. I see no reason to celebrate only MY birthday.' But this year he was rather excited. 'Our marriage will be 50 years old. Lets celebrate!.

So we will Appa. And this post is a daughter's celebration of the wonderful liberal thinking man that you are.

With love.

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Faith, Beliefs And All That

After her last three misadventures, Nishigandha should really have been prepared for this one. As it turned out, this one didn't even progress to a formal meeting of the interested parties!

The first contact was made by Mr. Sharma, father of the hopeful groom. He owned a business in advertising and after handing it over to his eligible son, was now leading a comfortable retired life. He appeared to a liberal minded man. He suggested that Nishi get to know his son, Arun and if they clicked, then the parents could come into the picture. What a nice thought!

With optimism, Nishi sent an introductory mail to Arun. He replied back and their communication was on.

"What do you like to do to unwind and relax?" asked Nishi.

"I like to read. I'm into spirituality and mysticism". said he

"Really? Thats interesting" said Nishi

"Yes. I attend discourses and seminars. Last weekend, I went to see this holy man. He lives in a slum, having renounced the world. I waited three hours outside his hut and when I finally saw him, I wanted to ask him so many things. But I remained silent."

Nishi was taken aback. Not that she thought being interested in spirituality was wrong. But in her experience, her peers and contemporaries rarely showed this level of interest. She was also a little worried. From spirituality, it was just a hop, skip and a jump to ritualism - which she abhorred.

"I should tell you that I take a skeptical view of god men. I believe in God and respect all faiths. In fact, my brother is married to a Christian. We're totally fine with that."

The reply to this mail stopped the progress of this alliance in its tracks!

"I must admit I am not comfortable with your views. I think it is not good to have two different faiths in one family. I have certain beliefs and opinions and don't feel like I have to compromise on them. I will be constantly paranoid about the influence, a member of another faith, will have on my children. I'm sure they will try to convert them into another faith."

Was this man for real?! Seemingly well educated, erudite and liberal minded. Yet he believed in 'holy / god men' having no problem waiting three hours in a slum to meet one. His political views on religion were fundamentalist to say the least. Well he could take his views and just buzz off!

Introspecting on the matter later, Nishi wondered if she was the exception. Did most of her generation think like this Arun character? Was SHE the misfit? And if she was, what next? Marriage, people said, was a compromise. Should she compromise her beliefs and values to attain the state of matrimony? But if she did, she would not remain herself. Nishigandha would become the sort of person that she hated. And self loathing was the worst punishment in the world.

"I think I'll just be me. Wait and watch. There are more fish in the sea!"

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What Was She Thinking?

I have a lot of time on my hands these days. Naturally, I spend a huge chunk of it in front of the idiot box. So I was watching this program E! tonight. And realised how behind the times I am. It seems that Sandra Bullock's marriage is on the rocks. Turns out that her husband - who goes by the name Jesse James - was cheating on her with a tatoo model (it is news to me that this is a lucrative career option!) by the name Michelle 'Bombshell' McGee.

Now I like Sandra Bullock very much. I've seen many of her movies: Speed, While You Were Sleeping, Two Weeks Notice, Miss Congeniality etc and I really like this lady. I find her immensely likeable and relatable (if there is such a word). She's like....the Juhi Chawla of Hollywood! But her choice in men is lamentable. I did a bit of digging on the net and found out things about this Jesse James character that make you wonder - What was she thinking!

So this guy is a TV personality and owns a company that makes motorcycles. He's been married twice before he married Sandra Bullock (which to my conservative Indian way of thinking is one time too many). But the interesting bit is, that his second marriage was to a porn star, who according to wikipedia, was also convicted for tax evasion. Now I don't want to be judgemental here - but even the most open minded person would agree that there exists a yawning chasm between convicted porn star and classy Oscar winning actress.

What is it about smart,successful and beautiful women that makes them choose such losers? Take Zeenat Aman, who was battered by her beau Sanjay Khan, so badly that it left her with a permanently damaged eye. Or the lovely Hema Malini who married a married man, and settled for being the 'second wife'. Does the world of glamour and showbiz play such havoc with your psyche, that your good judgement and sense of self preservation totally deserts you? Or is this a risk that comes with any relationship? And it is only because these people are celebrities that it gets highlighted?

Or is it just that Deepa's idle mind has become the devil's workshop?!

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Passing Thoughts On A Wednesday Morning

Two days ago, my father grumbled that he was facing a 'book drought' and wanted a good book to read. He didn't look very excited when I gave him The Lord of the Rings. An hour later, he wandered into my room and announced the coordinates of Middle Earth. "It appears this book is set somewhere near the Equator". He couldn't understand why I cracked up over that comment!

* * * * *

You remember those halcyon school days when you and your friends spent hours wondering what you would do when you grew up? Well, my twelve year old niece reports that, a classmate told the class teacher "Miss, I think I will be a lesbian when I grow up". The teacher, paled and hovered on the edge of a panic attack (or so I imagine)on how to handle this unusual career choice. My niece offered her career-choice-of-the-moment. "Miss, I want to be a journalist when I grow up". The teacher clutched at this straw gratefully "Yes. Now that is much more practical". Yes....school hasn't changed much, though career options available to young people seem to have expanded manifold.

* * * * *

My mother is an unsung hero. She grew up in a small temple town in South India where families were tradition bound and life revolved around the temple. Among the fifty odd families that lived on that street, my mother was the first girl to complete high school. Back in the fifties, this was a remarkable achievement for conservative Tamil Brahmins. So how was she commended for this out of the ordinary achievement? What accolades did she receive? "Nothing. Life went on as usual".

* * * * *

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A Review And A Rant

Javed Akhtar must be real proud parent. I know I would be if I had a talented son like Farhaan Akhtar. The guy is so multifaceted - can direct, act and sing! So what brought on this gush fest? The spouse and I saw 'Karthik Calling Karthik' last night. Our collective verdict is that we liked the film.

The story, set in Mumbai, deals with the life of Karthik, a young professional working in a construction company. In the first thirty minutes of the film, he's this loser who gets bullied by all and sundry. He's in love with Shonali (Deepika Padukone), an architect who works in the same company but doesn't notice him. Then his life undergoes a transformation, when, strangely, he receives a telephone call from himself! I'll stop here with the story - don't want to spoil it for you. Its not a thriller or a murder mystery, but the story does have a twist.

Farhaan Akhtar owns this film. I mean the guy is superb. Apart from the fact that he's totally yummylicious, he's a talented actor. I don't know how he does it, but he gets Karthik's body language absolutely right. Look out for this scene where he's dressed in a black suit, saunters confidently into his office and proceeds to get his life back. The sauntering is total perfection!

Deepika Padukone is improving with each film that she does. I love the characterisation of Shonali. For starters, she's an architect. Imagine what a breath of fresh air that is, when all film heroines are expected to do by way of a career, is look breathtakingly beautiful and gaze worshipfully at the leading man. Second, she's a girl about town. Smokes, drinks and frequents pubs (at ease Mr. Muthalik! This is just a movie) and isn't considered a slut for doing so. She's a level headed girl trying to make a career for herself on her own terms. Applause!

Of course there are the occasional googlies and boo-boos. But if you can overlook these, the movie is good and worth seeing.

While on the subject of movie watching, I thought I'd use some space to rant about 'cinema hall etiquette'. Agreed the movie revolved around telephones. And agreed that audience being engaged is good. But does that have to be demonstrated by NOT putting your mobile on silent mode? Also, I'm baffled why someone would spend time on the mobile when you've spent money to come watch a film? Like this PYT that was sitting next to me. She spent some 30 minutes just sending and receiving sms-es-after having arrived late. Then the movie got interesting I suppose coz she stopped. (Way to go Farhaan!).

Before I sign off on this post - do look out for a Shyam Benegal movie called 'Well done Abba'. We saw the trailor during the interval and it looks promising. It has the same feel as 'Welcome to Sajjanpur'. Its set in Hyderabad (my home town) and seems to have captured the local Hyderabadi flavour. So I'm going to watch it for sure.

(Phew! Glad I got this post written. Its been a month since I wrote anything and was getting worried that The Muse had left for good.)

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Glimpses of Goa

I've just returned from spending the last three days in Goa. It wasn't a holiday - for some reason people automatically think a visit to Goa means a holiday!! I had gone on official business. But I did take time to see a few of the sights. Not all and not the celebrated ones (like the Church of Bom Jesus). But what I saw, I enjoyed very much. I wanted to share those moments and so I'm putting up some photographs which I took. Alas, I forgot to take my camera. So these pictures have been taken with my mobile phone. Please bear with the not-so-great picture quality.

My stay was in Panjim which is about 32 kms from the Goa Airport. The drive was beautiful - lush greenery, waterways and bridges. Here is the one snap I managed to click from the moving taxi.



On the second day, I took a stroll with my colleagues along the promenade down to the jetty. The area has some superb buildings with a distinct architectural style. I'm not an expert, nor did we ask any local to enlighten us - but the architecture certainly indicates Goa's Portuguese past. Here are a few pictures.


At the Jetty


The structure in the distance is actually a floating casino. There were several of these, including one called Casino Royale!



Above is a picture of the Institute Menezes Braganza and Central Library-apparently the oldest public library in India set up in 1832. It is a lovely building in butter yellow. I noticed that many buildings were painted yellow, blue or red. As you will see in the pictures that follow.


Headquarters of 2 Signal Training Centre

According to a blog I found on Goan Architecture, the building in the picture below is named 'The Maquinez Palace' and was orginally built in 1702. The premises were used to house first the Goa Medical College, and then the Dept. of Food and Drug Administration, Govt. of Goa. It has since been renovated. In the present day, the offices of the Entertainment Society of Goa and the India International Film Festival, Directorate of Film Festivals and Press Information Bureau are situated here.





Deciding to do the 'touristy' thing, I took a cruise on the Mandovi River. The sailing vessel (it was too big to be called a boat and I do not know the correct name) is this huge three storeyed structure. On the topmost deck there is a stage with a DJ and lots of chairs. Passengers are 'treated' to song and dance. Loud music is played and people are invited to come and dance. People generally shed their inhibitions and shake a leg. Alcohol is consumed freely regardless of time of day. I cannot say that I enjoyed this experience. The water was lovely and the sights par excellence. I would have preferred to enjoy these in silence with only the sound of the waves for accompaniment. Be that as it may, here are some pictures:








The white structure you see in this picture is a sort of midget lighthouse

And, saving the best for last, the sun setting over the Arabian Sea....

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Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!

"Off with the old! And on with the new!" thought Nishi. New Year always brought with it a sense of anticipation. She was all set to put the JP episode behind her and get on with the business of finding a life partner. Logging into her profile online, she powered the partner search and began browsing. Eventually, she stopped at one profile.

"Hmmm....", she thought " Thirty six years old. Has a masters degree. Works in the pharma industry. Is against dowry and states it. Thats good. Lives in Delhi with widowed mother. Hmmmm...." Nishi decided to let her dad do the talking. She was going to handle this through remote control.

A day later, her father called.

"So? What gives?" asked Nishi.

"See, he's working for a public sector undertaking. Its under the Ministry. I know about this one. Job wise, its all pucca. He is the only son. His father passed away some five years ago. He lives with his mother. Has a sister who's married. No encumbrances." said her father in delight. " I gave him your mobile number. Talk to him. See how it goes. If you're comfortable, then at some later date, you can meet him."

Two days later, he called.

"Hi. This is Bharat. Am I speaking to Nishigandha?"

Bharat lived in Delhi with his mother. His father had passed away a few years ago. Due to bad business decisions taken by his father, the family had suffered a financial set back. Bharat had started working after completing his graduation. He did his MBA part time and brought the family's economic situation back on track. He was now ready to settle down and get on with his life.

Bharat gave Nishi a lot of attention. They talked on the phone for at least an hour daily. His English was poor and he preferred to speak in Hindi. But at times, it felt to Nishi, that he was coming on a bit strong. Particularly after one incident. He had gone to Bangalore on official work. He called her from there and said that he was at his aunt's place and would she please speak with his cousin? Nishi didn't really want to speak to cousins this early in their relationship. But not wanting to sound rude, she agreed and promptly had an anxiety attack.

The cousin, trying to appear friendly, started the conversation with "Congratulations!"

"What for?" asked Nishi

"For your upcoming marriage to my brother"

"I haven't yet decided you know. Its too early to tell" replied Nishi feeling cornered.

"Doesn't matter. Thats just a formality. You're going to be my Bhabhi (sister-in-law)"

It wasn't the cousin's fault, Nishi supposed. Bharat must have led him to believe that things had progressed further than was actually the case. The thought annoyed her. She didn't care for high handedness. Later, Bharat apologised for putting her on the spot. Nishi grudgingly gave him the benefit of doubt.

********

Nishi scanned the airport terminal nervously. Here she was, at Delhi - come to meet Bharat and see if he was 'The One'. He had warned her on phone last night that he was 'no Hritik Roshan'. That he was 5'4" and weighed 90kgs. Nishi knew this from his profile She hoped she was not one to judge people on the basis of their physicality alone.

There he was. Wearing a yellow kurta and white pyjama as he said he would. He bore little resemblance to his profile photograph. It had not been very clear anyway.

Well, ok. The Hritik Roshan disclaimer had been bang on. He resembled a stuffed toy more than anything else. But that could be cute yes? And look! He was carrying red roses. How sweet!

********

Nishi lay back on the bed with a tired sigh. It had been a long day. She was glad to be staying at her friend's place for the next two days. She had gone to Bharat's home and had lunch with his mother. A sweet lady who hardly spoke. She had just greeted Nishi and disappeared into the kitchen. After lunch, Nishi had insisted that she wanted to speak to his mother - alone. Bharat had reluctantly agreed. He went to take a nap and left the two women alone.

Nishi had asked his mother what she was expecting in a daughter-in-law. The lady had replied softly," I have no expectations. I just want my son to be happy".

"But you must have SOME idea about the sort of woman who will be Bharat's wife" insisted Nishi. "The reason I'm asking is that I'm not your 'typical' daughter-in-law. I am a working woman and would like to be in a liberal minded family. I am not religious and do not observe rituals. Are these ok with you?"

The lady had seemed surprised. Then collecting herself, she replied " Like I said, I have no expectations. Maybe if you light the lamp daily that will do..." Some reality orientation was called for here thought Nishi. Before she could get to it, Bharat walked in.

"So? Finished all your discussion?" he wanted to know.

"Not really", said Nishi, annoyed at the interruption. Naps should last at least an hour she thought.

"Well, you ladies can discuss your matters later. I want to show you something Nishi" said Bharat.

"What is it?" asked Nishi

"I don't know if I mentioned it earlier Nishi, but I have got another job offer from a multinational pharma company. I have decided to accept the offer and will be moving to Bangalore."

"No. You didn't mention it." said Nishi. Not that it mattered really. Bangalore....Delhi. One metro city was the same as another.

"I've been offered a package of fifteen lakhs per annum. I will also be given accomodation and a car. I wanted to show you my offer letter."

"Congrats Bharat. Thats a great offer. And you don't have to show me your offer letter. I'm sure its as you say it is."

********

With her thoughts in turmoil, Nishi prepared for her departure from Delhi. What was she going to do about Bharat? On the one hand, he was well qualified, had a great job and good prospects. The way he had pulled his family out of financial doldrums was admirable. On the other hand, he was pushy. He took things for granted about her (cousin incident). They didn't really have much in common as far as interests went. And the weirdest thing was how he never left her alone with his mother for too long. Where was this headed?

At the airport, she told Bharat, " I need time to think things over. You're a nice person. But I need to think whether you are right for me. I'll get back to you with an answer in two weeks."

********

Two weeks later, Nishi was still in a dilemma. Was she headed anywhere with Bharat at all? To make matters worse, Bharat would call incessantly (truth be told, it was probably just 'regularly'. But given her mental agitation, it seemed more like 'incessantly'). Her parents kept asking what her decision was. She felt like a storm was trapped inside her head. Finally she decided to seek guidance from her college professor - someone she had great respect for and who had always given sound advice.

Prof Kamat listened to Nishi patiently. "So what do you want to do?" she asked Nishi.

"If I knew that ma'am, I would not be sitting here!" wailed Nishi." As time goes by, I'm filled with misgivings. My brain says I should say yes. But my heart and my conscience are holding me back. I don't know why".

"Hmmm...." said Prof Kamat thoughtfully. "Buy some time. With Bharat and with your parents. Let me do some digging on the chap. I have some contacts."

********

Five days later, Nishi sat looking at Prof Kamat in horror. "What?! Are you sure its the same Bharat?"

"Positive. Lives in Delhi at Dwarka with widowed mother. Works in a PSU in pharma industry. Yes. He's already married. Whether separated or divorced I don't know. My contact could not dig that much."

"No wonder he wouldn't let me talk to his mother! He was afraid she would spill the beans. How can somebody attempt to deceive like this? This is a lifetime decision. It should be made based on trust and transparency." said Nishi, shaken. What a narrow escape.

"Well Nishi," said Prof Kamat, "I know you. When you said your conscience did not permit you say yes, it got me thinking. You called it conscience. Others would call it a gut feeling or intuition. That's why I took the trouble of doing a bit of digging. And it was worth the effort. Now you know the way forward."

"Thanks Prof. Indeed I do."

********

Nishi was waiting for Bharat's call that night. She had already brought her parents upto speed. They were equally shocked and thanking their lucky stars their daughter had the good sense to seek objective guidance.

"Hi Nishi. Its Bharat."

"Hi. I've been waiting for your call. I have a decision."

"Yes?"

"I'm turning you down Bharat. The reason being that you're a liar who can put all other liars to shame. You deliberately tried to deceive me about your real marital status. You should be ashamed of yourself. Please do not attempt to contact me ever again. And a word of advise - foundation of marital relationship is truth and trust. You can never be happy unless you cultivate that. Goodbye."

Nishi disconnected the phone and looked across at her parents. They were smiling in encouragement.

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Missing in Action

Hello readers. I've been missing in action for a while now. The last days of 2009 and the entire month of January 2010 have been filled with anxiety and tension for me and my family. My mother underwent a by pass surgery and I've been busy (still am) taking care of her. Doesn't leave much time for anything else. But....I hope that I will be able to get back to blogging pretty soon. One more episode from Nishi's life is begging to be told. So...watch this space!

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