Sunday, December 11, 2011

Go with the flow …. And you might run 5K, get two hamsters, share 25 ice cones and have a wonderful weekend

This weekend I had planned to
  1.  Meet a friend for coffee
  2. Volunteer at an orphanage
  3. Go on a night hike
  4. Clear up the huge pile of clothes that is cluttering up my room
Neighborhood kids all excited about the tiny
pets (pests??)
Out of these I only met the friend for coffee. The night hike and volunteering session were sadly cancelled - one had too many people and one too few.

But I ended up -
  1. Getting two dwarf hamsters home. The naming is still in progress but Ashvin has chosen Cutie and Cutie-Cutie. Ankit (inspired by Amritansh Uncle) is looking for weightier names – Schrödinger is the latest.
  2. Going for a 5K with neighbors at the Bangalore Midnight Marathon. The moon put on a beautiful eclipsys show for us. There were drummers and a band playing – moves like jagger. The kids ran faster than me and we gained all the calories back at an impromptu pizza party.
  3. Visiting  a Lion’s Club fun fair with friends – enjoying the afternoon walk but really enjoying sharing shaved ice cones with twenty-five kids.
  4. Finding my favorite pani-puri person who had gone missing for over two weeks now. Happy to know he has stopped working for a pani-puri chain and has started his own business. I did not know there were pani puri chains. I will interview this dude someday.

All this was unplanned and all of it wonderful. Going with the flow gets you a lot these days. It got me an awesome weekend. Now if only the clothes would clear themselves up.

Twenty-five ice cones and twenty-six smiles.

There is something about ice creams and me. A single cone will never suffice. I had a hundred when I was little (remember - One hundred Ice Creams ) and today I got twenty-five of them. I guess it is hard to see people sad with an ice cream in their hand.

Coming back to today – we had walked over to Lake View farms down the road to check out a fundraiser Lion's Club had going. It was a Christmas bazaar of sorts, with stalls of handicraft and food items for sale. Amongst attractions for the day, there was a dance, by the Siddapura school kids later in the afternoon. This was a school sponsored by the Lion’s club using funds raised by such bazaars.

I met the twenty kids that showed up for the performance when Ashvin wanted to play in the little playground where they were waiting. There was a single see-saw and a balance pole that comprised the playground and the twenty children seemed to be making full use of them. What surprised me was how welcoming they were. They helped Ashvin balance and put him on the see-saw. They shared and made him happy. They made me happy. Full of questions and smiles and dressed in their best clothes these were better sharers and happier children that I had encountered in a long time. A bit of a contrast to some I meet with their nannies in the playgrounds around here.

Long story short I bought them all shaved ice cones (due to the lack of other ice cream). It was funny when I asked the guy at the stall how much they were.

“Forty rupees” he said.
“I’ll take twenty” I said.
“No, ma’am, I can’t give for twenty, it is forty only”
“I am not asking you to give it to me for twenty, I want twenty of them” I replied laughing. “But do you offer a discount?” I added hopefully.

He didn’t give a discount and somehow I ended up buying twenty-five and not the anticipated twenty. The news of free ice cream travels fast I guess.

As I said earlier, I have never seen a sad face on anyone with an ice cream in hand and today I saw twenty (five) smiling ones.  Yes, I know it is better to give in a channeled manner but there is enough wrong in this world that sometimes making a few strangers happy is not too bad. And sorry, it was not twenty-five but twenty-six smiling faces - mine had the biggest smile.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Missing the North Indian winters

Bangalore Dec 2011. Waiting for corn to get roasted.
Bangalore does not get cold like Delhi or most of North India so I had not realized it was December and winter already. Then last night I walked back home near midnight and it was a little cold. Some darwans - security guys - had gotten a makeshift bonfire going. We had stood by a cart as corn was grilled on coals. The air was slight misty and the roads suspiciously empty.

I grew up in North India with very chilly winters. When we were little there was no central heating. Winter bought little coal firepots that were placed in the bedrooms. We would warm our feet over them. Washed clothes would be hung around the fire - on chairs and clothes racks. With time the coal heaters were replaced by electric ones - the rectangle things with three angry red coils but the clothes rack stayed the same - layered with damp clothes that kept the room humid and warm.

Bangalore Dec 2011. Waiting for jalebis to get cooked.
Winter also brought the hot, calorie dense comfort foods. Suddenly all the carts in the market were fitted with coal grills, huge griddles or fryers. Many still had the signs and prices for ice cream, kulfi and fruit salads from summer but were now selling chicken rolls, roasted fresh corn, pakoras and hot jalebis. We'd huddle around the cart, our breath fogging the air as we warmed our fingers while waiting for the hot snacks.

There were huge displays outside stores showcasing yarns of wool that aunts would buy and knit into questionably fashionable sweaters. Groups of people wrapped in checkered blankets huddled around makeshift bonfires was a common sight.

So today I took another walk and found fresh hot jalebis. They were good but nothing compared to the ones you get up North. I don't think it was the taste that made them average. There is just something else about eating them when your breath fogs up the air.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adventures on airplanes – The honeymooners and the aunts that would not dance

You get on a flight and take your seat. The seats next to you are empty. You are hopeful but you know that you are not going to be lucky enough to have them both empty – you weren’t all that nice at the check-in counter. You sit there and look at people boarding. You look at their eyes as they scan seat numbers; that is the fastest way to know who is going to sit next to you. You realize how judgmental you are. Your preferences in people show up very vividly. Let it be a woman but not two women with a baby each. Please please don’t let it be someone with a weak bladder – not when you have the aisle seat.
I sat there looking and wondering and then a pair of lovebirds showed up. You know the sickly sweet types that touch and kiss each other at every opportunity. I saw their eyes scan and stop just above me. I evaluated them and scanned through my priority list. I had heard honeymooner horror stories from my Thai friends – they encountered many on their flight back to Thailand. But I had also one sat through the beginnings of a ménage à trois in a train once so these two seemed manageable.
They held hands and giggled a lot. They sneaked a kiss and when they finally fell asleep they were all cuddled up with each other. My only gripe was they incessant needs to go to the restroom with each other – many many times. Anyways, the long flight gave them ample time to rest and then they started to discuss the wedding.
“Seems everyone was tired after the wedding,” he said.
“Yes, they had fun, the women danced a lot too,” she said.
“Yes, why did you have the dance? Is it a tradition on your side,” he said.
“It is a tradition. All the women dance. All did dance except your aunts ,” she said slightly accusingly.
 “Yes, my aunts did not dance,” he said warily.
“Why? Did you not ask them? Or they did not want to?” she said.
At this point they were still holding hands. Not the loving holding hands but not letting go as they did not want to be the first to let go.
“It is ok if they did not dance, did you mind that?” he said defensively
“I don’t care, why should I mind if they danced or not”. Her voice was shrill.
I could see him wishing that the aunts had just gotten their act together and shook their hips a little. I could see her loosen her grip on his hand. I could see that they were learning to be married.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rajasthan - Doing Jodhpur, Osian and Udaipur. Forts, sand dunes and lakes.

This is a summarized take of our five day trip through three cities in Rajasthan.
We spent five days in Rajasthan during the first week of October. The trip booked by myself (no travel agent). I used for flights.For staying I used hotel website (after comparative analysis from makemytrip for rooms). Emailing and calling up hotels ensured I got a good rate. I used tripadvisor and other reviews extensively to choose the places I wanted to stay at, eat at and go to.

Getting around Rajasthan:
Bangalore to Jodhpur flight.
Jodhpur - Osian - Jodhpur was by a taxi 
Jodhpur - Udaipur flight *
Udaipur - Bangalore flight.

*We could have done Jodhpur - Udaipur by car but it is an eight hour drive. We did not have the time or want (due to Ashvin's car sickness) to find a taxi for it. I have heard that it is not a bad ride. The roads in rajasthan are pretty decent unless it is after monsoon when they can get a bumpy due to potholes.

Overall – great experience, saw a bit of everything. Would love to do Jaipur and Jaisilmer but was happy we did not try to add any more cities. With kids I’d recommend people limit it to three cities maximum. We met another family that were doing Delhi –Agra-Jaipur-Jodhpur-Osian-Udaipur-Delhi in one week and I must say I had not seen sadder wearier travellers.

Summarized Details
Jodhpur - one night.
Stayed at : Taj Hari Mahal Booked the rooms from their website.
Other Hotels Reviewed:
Umaid Bhavan - too expensive.
Raas - did not find enough reviews on it. Taj seemed to be a safer bet.

Ziplinning at Mehargarh fort. By far my favorite thing that I did in Rajasthan.
Evening entertainment at the Taj - very nice Rajasthani puppet show, magic show and traditional music and dance. High quality and nicely done.
The kid’s play area at the Taj Hotel - games and chocolates that the kids really enjoyed.
Swimming pools that the pigeons flocked at. There seemed to be guy whose only job was to shoo them away.

Trip to the old market. I guess I am not a foreigner enough. Growing up in a small town in Bihar we had plenty of markets like that - crowded and dirty. Places where you can get cheated and groped if you are not carefull.
Getting around
Used autos. Could have used the hotel taxi but we had short trips and autos worked. The auto drivers also give you a business card so you can call them to take you back if you want.

Osian (75Km from Jodhpur) - two nights.
Stayed at : Osian Resort Camps (they picked us up and dropped us back to Jodhpur)
Other places reviewed:
Reggie’s Camp – seemed a little too targeted towards grown ups.
Camp Thar – Not open till Oct 15th ( we were there early October)

Camel ride to the sand dunes. The boys buried themselves in the fine soft sands and never wanted to leave.
Good, homestyle Rajasthani food (lots and lots of ghee - clarified butter)
The cook walked us through the huge farm - the song "Along the fields of barley" kept playing in my head.
This camp was not high end like the Taj - entertainment in the evening was average but the people were great, the tents nice and there was plenty of sand to the kids to enjoy. By far my favourite part of the trip.
Nothing here. We really enjoyed it. There was another family that came by and the kids wanted pizza and were disappointed by the absence of anything but vegetarian Rajasthani food. My kids on the other hand gobbled up the parathas and kichdii and learnt to love ghee and jaggery.
Getting around
It was all inclusive so camel rides and jeep safari ensured we saw places around the camp.

Udaipur - two nights.
Stayed at:  The Sheraton. Nice hotel. Got an amazing deal from their website (something to the tunes of Rs 5000 per night for club rooms). The hotel was nice but really really pricey as far as food was concerned - even more expensive than The Taj. Club room perks were very nice.
Other Hotels Reviewed:
Lake Palace – too expensive
There are many other properties in Udaipur but after discovering the great deal at Sheraton I did not look. Most high end hotels are really expensive in this town so shop around a little.

Dinner at Jag Mandir (in the middle of the lake, next to Lake Palace). You have to make reservations and there is a cover charge of about Rs 2700 per couple. The amount easily gets used up if you decide to have a drink with dinner.
Dinner at  Fateh Garh palace resorts. Were invited there by some friends and it is a really nice hotel. The view from the hillside looking onto Udaipur was perfect to say the least.
View from Karni Mata Mandir - the line to get up there via a cable car is very long but we thought watching the sunset, seeing the lights turn on in the city below and then visiting the temples where the rats run free was worth it.
Half day horse Safari with Krishna Ranch. Ashvin (4) who rode with our team leader got bored two hours into it. They were nice enough to send him and my nanny back and Ankit and I spent around four hour roaming the outskirts of Udaipur on our horses. Great little walk though a local village was a treat when we stopped for a break.

Crowd at the city palace.
Trash around the city.
 Getting around:
The driver of the pre-paid cab I picked up at the airport was nice. I got his card and used him for the next two day - I'd call, he'd show up, we'd go over the rate for my plan for the day and go with it.

Adventures on airplanes - But that is my baggage bin.

I met a first timer on a flight today. Rare to see people taking a flight for the first time. He had boarded just behind me and showed up at his seat to find someone else putting their baggage in the overhead compartment. He checked his seat number, looked at the way more experienced man who had sneaked something to the tune of five carry-ons of all shapes and sizes. The man was stuffing them in the baggage bin above seat 30.

"This is for seat 30" blurted the poor newbie.

With an exasperated look of someone who has been through this before he said - "It does not work like that, you put your luggage where you find space".

Newbie was taken aback but he must have had a talk in the mirror earlier in the day. One of those talks to pump yourself about an upcoming event- where you decide you will not be taken advantage of; you will not be a newbie.

"But it says seat 30 here" He pointed to the number below the bin.

"But it does not work that way, you find a spot and you take it" repeated the bin grabber taking off his huge jacket and shoving that into the bin too before walking away.

I saw newbie looking lost, and then he found a spot for his carefully measured and weighed airline recommended hand luggage. I saw a look of fear as he thought someone else was sitting in his seat. I saw the look of relief as the confusion was sorted and he sat into the exact seat printed on his ticket. As he had his back toward me I could no longer see his face but I could imagine him taking mental notes. He'd be further ahead in the boarding line, he'd never relinquish his bin again ever, and maybe he'd even bring in some more carry-ons. I am sure flying was not as dignified and civilized as he had imagined.

Sadly this was a long long 15 hour flight. I saw his face again as we were leaving the plane. Yes, flying was not as dignified and civilized as he had imagined.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stories take work - sometimes they take two autos, two buses and a car ride.

Things don't just happen. I don't wake up in the morning and go off and something fun happens. Most of my days are pretty planned - even the ones that turn out to be fun. All in all most of what I have done in India has been very deliberate.

I had to take a train back from one of my trekking trips. It was four hours away from Bangalore. I was alone and when I reached the station I was told the train was cancelled. I asked the station incharge how to find a bus and he told me that I'd have to get to a town five kilometers away. I whipped out my phone and wrote down the name. It sounded really foreign. The way to get to that town was via shared autos - where you pay per seat.

I sat in a shared auto. One that had me alongside a group of interesting people. A woman - who folded her legs on the seat making room for a huge bundle of veggies and made herself really comfortable for the ride. A teenager in school uniform looking really depressed at having to wear school clothes on a Sunday. An old man with tobacoo stained teeth who shared the seat with the driver and talked non stop all the way. A middle aged man with a really strict face that kept sneaking shifty glances at everyone else in the auto. I really wanted someone to climb in with a goat, that would complete the picture of me backpacking through a small Indian town. The 5K trip  on this shared auto cost me Rs 5 (10cents).  It took that little to leave me with so many images and so many stories in my head.

The auto dropped me at the town's bus station. I walked around and bought two guavas for 20 cents from a guy I could not understand. Fingers and pointing helped. With fruit in hand I walked around looking for an air conditioned bus. The trip was going to be four hours long and I wanted something comfortable. It was a busy bus station but I soon realized that there were no AC buses so I got onto what is known as a local bus - with a hard wooden bench for a seat and open windows. Experienced, I placed my backpack on the seat next to me deciding to remove it only when the seat was needed. The Indian me had the whole bench to myself. I was pleased.

The bus stopped in towns I had never heard of. I ate boiled peanuts and South Indian fried fritters I had not seen before. I amused a tiny two year old that sat in the seat in front of me. I even sneaked a nap despite the hard seat and dusty wind blowing onto my face. I did cling onto my backpack as I slept but I slept.

As we approached Bangalore I pulled out my handy dandy phone with Google maps to find out that we were travling parallel to my house. Some five miles parallel but parallel enough. The bus conductor did not understand me but soon realized that I wanted to know how to get to Whitefield. Then it happened - something I have seen happen a lot in India (in a very positive way.) My business became everyone's business. Many conversed and then one man - who seemed to be the best in English and Hindi - walked over to me and told me the bus stop I should get off at. A college student was getting off at that stop and he was placed on the seat behind me to ensure I got off at the right stop. I was told what bus to take from there to cross town.

At the silk route bus stop I was seen off. The young man, whose name I never asked, walked me over two busy roads and saw me onto my bus. We did not talk but he seemed very pleased at having done a good deed for the day.

I had travelled 175km in five hours in under $10. Two autorides, two bus rides and a car ride later I was home. It would have been really easy to hire a AC chauffered car for less than a $100. I had had the money on me. I would have been home in three hours and would have had some good sleep along the way. But then I would not have a story. Stories take work.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Handprints on my heart.

The song playing was The Kills - Last Goodbye. Sad and sentimental as it gets.

I am getting our house painted so we can rent it out. I came, I planned and then I executed. Most walls were being painted by handymen but there was a small spot near the stairs that I thought of tackling myself. A little touchup was required. 

All seemed good till I came across a few handprints. Tiny handprints, hard to see on the wall, way down there. Little Ashvin's one and half year old hand prints. 

The world stopped still for a while. I could not get myself to paint over them. I had cried my eyes out when we sold our first car. Cried some more when we moved from our first house. It got better and by the third car I had stopped the wailing. It did not hurt all that much when we left this house but this little handprint bought back more memories than I could deal with with dry eyes.

 Ankit had bought home this poem from school once:

Very faint and very little.
Sometimes you get discouraged
Because I am so small
And always leave my fingerprints
On furniture and walls.
I’ll be grown some day
And all those tiny handprints
Will surely fade away.
So here’s a little handprint
Just so you can recall
Exactly how my fingers looked
When I was very small.

It had twisted my heart then and then again today.

The idealist me would have left the handprints on the wall. The practical me took a photo, wrote down this post and will paint over it. This time I will make sure Foster the People's Pumped up Kicks is playing loud enough.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Haircut and a story about love

Vinu was missing from work for over three weeks. When I ran into him  I jokingly chided him for being away for so long. "My uncle passed away", he said. That shut me up good and without further drama I booked my hair cut appointment.

"Dooor kay uncle thay" (The uncle that passed away was a very distant relative) - I was told with little remorse as he shampooed my hair. "I was only there for few days then I went to Ahmedabad. A friend of mine opened a new salon in a mall. I went to help him and he wants me to work there. He'll pay more than here and work is good too."

"So why don't you go for it." I asked.

"My parents wont let me - they have said not till I get married. This place looks better on my marriage bio data. "

This reminded me of the time at Microsoft when a bride was being looked for for a program manager friend of mine - is a very valuable address he told me and having 'manager' in your title helps too. I mean a year out of grad school and manager already and that too at Microsoft. That was your weight in gold in the Indian marriage market.

Back to Vinu- he told me how much he wants the job in Ahmedhabad- how his whole family (four older siblings, their spouses and his parents) were working hard on finding a girl. They have seen two already but they were not good enough. It seems two van full of people went to see the second one - his parents, siblings, spouses and kids of siblings. She had looked promising on paper but was short in person. Literally not tall enough to be a suitable bride for him.

"It will take a long time at this rate" I said. "Especially if the girl has to be approved by at least ten people.:

 "Yes" he said "but I don't mind."

Then he confided in me - "There is a problem, like a love problem. I like this girl but she is from the Northeast of India. She is Christian. I am Hindu and if we have to get married I have to change my religion. I don't want to besides my family will kill me"

That was a tough one. "Where is she now?" I asked. "
"In Udaipur. We worked together"

 Must be the reason behind the fried hair incident I thought.

" I don't know what to do, I don't want to change my religion and my parents will kill me." He continued.

"Aren't they looking for a girl for you ?" I exclaimed.

 Unfazed  he said "Oh, first they have to all agree on her, then her family will see me, then we will see each other, then there will an engagement, that is a long long time away. I wish I could just take the Ahmedabad job"

"Job? Don't you have a bigger issue to solve?"

"Yes, but Ahmedabad is just four hours from Udaipur." He said with a smile.

Now , the three weeks away made more sense. If they are anything to go by then I foresee a Christian wedding in the future where Vinu is repeatedly slapped by the ten elders in the family as he walks to the altar.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A haircut and a story

'Mein harami bachoo ka bal katnay mein expert hu' - I am an expert in cutting the hair of naughty little bastards- Vinu told me. "My dad used to tell me to round and chop of the hair of any and every kid in the village. Some were really harimi and I literally had to hold them down and cut their hair with one hand. They weren't the hard ones though  the little babies were. The ones whose head you have to shave at six months. Blue veins show below the scalp. One wrong swipe and....."

This sounded amusing and really out of place in the salon of a five star  hotel. It had taken a few visits before Vinu  had talked to me and quite a few more before he had enough to say that his limited English - how would you like me to cut your hair - ran out and he rambled in Hindi. And ramble he did with all the stories he had to tell.

Growing up in a little town near in Delhi he is the youngest of five - that means if you do something wrong you get six slaps he says. He has been cutting hair since he can remember, practicing on all the village kids from what I can tell.

Paying a 15000 training fee he trained officially and got a hair cutting certificate and through times and tribulations became a senior haircutter at a reputed five star hotel's salon.

'Cutting women hair is hard, harder then men. Women are fussy and have very short temper' Vinu then proceeded to tell me about the 'angry' women - the spoilt madams who just liked to shout, and the muslim ladies in burkhas that he promised not to look at the face of while cutting their hair.
Then about about the woman's whose hair he fried by leaving chemicals on it too long. Seems he went for lunch then on the way back started flirting with the girls who work at the spa.  "I was young and stupid " he justified.

Well, he was and from what I hear she went beserk and broke the reception's computer. His manager asked him to leave the building - there are scissors around and we are not sure what she will do was his reasoning. Vinu left but he said she returned- angry but placated slowly as he worked and gave her a good short hair cut.

"She had to return" Vinu said.  Seems her  little son was a hair cutter's nightmare and as Vinu put it - even the little bastards need a hair cut.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Siri likes us Indians

We were at the iphone store today. We means me dragged in there by a very excited Peeyush.

"Do you have an iphone 4S ?" he asked as soon we made it through the door.
"None for sale but there is one on display if you want to play around" The very helpful iGenius replied.
"It is unlocked ?" asked my excited husband. Irrational ask as there were none for sale but I guess in his head he was ready to grab the display model and run if it were unlocked.

The next few minutes were spent watching him lovingly fondle the phone and then Siri came to life. iGenius and iLonging spoke together so the first few questions were not responded to as expected. The good sales man decided to stop talking and Peeyush had her for himself.

Peeyush: "Call my wife"
Siri: "What is your wife's name?"
Peeyush: "Mallika"
Siri: "Mallika. I don't have her listed in your contacts. Do you want me to search for businesses with that name?"

This had us laughing and making wife jokes. iGenius caught onto this and told us that 'she' could be really useful for useful things but also great for useless but fun things like tongue twisters.

Peeyush then went on to say "How much wood does a wood chuck chuck?"
The reply was prompt. Encouraged Peeyush asked the eternal question "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

Peeyush was tickled and then iGenius did the wrong thing and told him that Siri would be available in the app store soon. 4S went back on the display stand and we shuffled off to find hot coffee.

Peeyush was very impressed by Siri. "She was funny", he said. I had not been that impressed and did not know if I was jealous - the sales guy and now Peeyush were all - she is so good, she is so funny and as a female 'she' always draws some attention. Then Peeyush said something that was impressive indeed. "She understood my accent"

Yes, Siri was cool with Indians. You did not have to twist words to make her understand you. She is gooooood.

The chicken crossed the road to get to the other side.... in case you were wondering what she said.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When do birthdays stop being fun

Ashvin and I have our birthday during the same month – his excitement and mine towards the event are pretty different. He cannot wait to be five and a year closer to ten !! I am indifferent to say the least, another year less to live if I think too much into it. That is another thing growing ‘older’ takes away from you – the sheer joy of your birthday.

The first birthday that I can recall was my third (or fourth – well, many many birthdays ago). I could barely wait as I had been promised a walking doll. We were at my grandma’s place and I had spent the last few days searching high and low for it. I woke up with nervous anticipation that day – not sure if I would get it but very hopeful. My mom never told me where she hid it and I accepted the story of a plane dropping it with a parachute that morning without too many questions. The doll was everything I had imagined and much more. She walked and her eyes opened and closed. She was big and beautiful. It was a wonderful birthday.

Cakes we had growing up :)  cake photo from here
For the next few years birthdays were about parties organized at home – in a room decked with balloon we played passing the parcel and musical chairs, there was cake decorated with icing and little silver balls (that must be banned by now for some health issue for sure). You were treated special at school – standing in front of class as everyone sang for you before you doled out candy. Everyone was nice to you on that day.

By college the birthday parties and games were replaced by friends arriving at midnight with cake and birthday bumps. Birthdays were something you still looked forward too. Parents still gave you a gift – the popular slightly expensive electronic device of that time – and you could weasel out of trouble by using "it's my birthday" as an excuse with professors.

As you hit 25 (in the US) your car insurance rates drop and you still throw birthday parties or fake surprise at the ones carefully planned and executed for you.

Then somewhere along the way they stop being as much fun. You get a hundred wishes on facebook and seeing 74 new notifications does bring a smile to your face. You still feel special on that day but somehow the cake gets fattening and there is no gift that you hold your breath for (as you have usually bought all you wanted when you wanted them). 

So, as age has sucked the joy out of my birthday I have spent my energy  hiding the very special extra large Lighting McQueen car in a place Ashvin will never find. I am going to spin a story on how it appeared and watch his face light up as he sees his cake with extra frosting. I am going to make sure he enjoys every birthday cause I have realized you don't have that many - that many that you actually look forward to.

The design on the cake Ashvin wants this year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Chuck E Cheese’s Birthday – It is not about you

Last year Ashvin wanted his birthday party at Chuck E Cheese’s (Seattle). Personally I do not like that place but kids seem to love it. For me it is a little too crowded with below average pizzas and too many flashy lights but kids seem to love that too. Ashvin really wanted his party there. When he first mentioned it I tried my best to talk him into other options. I talked about the zoo and the bouncy place; I tried to sell every idea besides Chuck e Cheese’s. Ashvin however is a pretty adamant little guy who is very clear about what he wants. He stuck to Chuck e Cheese’s. Seeing how tortured I was Peeyush gave me some pretty good advice – “It is his birthday. It is not about you. It is about him”

It is hard but crucial, as a parent, to remember this. It is not about you. It is not about you when they throw a tantrum and embarrass the life out of you in a store. It is not about you when they want to wear their Spiderman pajamas to school every day for a week. It is not about you when they want their hair spiked in the front, or insist on learning Mandarin and not French (that you wanted them to learn). They are individuals and not mini you. They are going to have their own wants and make their own mistakes. You should be there to guide and provide a safety net so they can takes risks as they explore and grown into confident happy beings.

So, we had the birthday party at Chuck e Cheese’s. Ashvin was thrilled. He wore the blow up crown and played every game there. He was elated when the chuck e cheese’s mascot – the big rat – came over and danced with him. I can’t say I liked the rat or the pizza but the happiness on the little one’s face was priceless. It was definitely not about me but it was his best birthday ever and a parent what else could I want. (Anyways, I had had the first two birthdays, the ones before he got a mind of his own, and those with their pretty flowers and fruity cakes were definitely all about me J)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Making Money

I came home to a twelve year old almost in tears and a four year old busy drawing in a corner. Ashvin (4) had accidentally dropped and cracked the screen on Ankit’s phone.

I consoled Ankit the best I could – buying a new phone was not an option so he’d have to just deal with a cracked screen. As we walked along Peeyush said something about not giving kid’s phones in the first place. I was all the way up the stairs when I realized that Ashvin had not left his corner. I had bags in my hands so I walked over to the bedroom planning to have a talk with him in a bit.

Before I could call him Ashvin appeared with bits of paper in his hands. Rectangles and squares with numbers written all over them. “This is money”, he said. “I made money so you can buy bhaiya a new phone.”

These are the times I wonder if he is just innocently cute or super intelligent and playing with us. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I love my body

I was working out the hotel gym today. After a long time I was on a treadmill with a mirrored wall in front of me. The gym was empty and I started my run. I want to run but I suck at it. That does not stop me from trying. Some fifteen minutes into my run I wanted to give up and was mad at myself. Mad at wanting to give up. Mad at not being able to run faster. Mad at not being able to run longer. Mad at my stupid legs and my stupid lungs. Then I looked up and saw my face in the mirror.

It is rather funny to be cussing at yourself while you are all sweaty, running and  listening to Pitbull in an empty hotel gym. Try it. I was smiling before I knew it. And as I looked at myself there – all sweaty and running and trying and wanting to do something I was lousy at - I just loved myself.

I had felt this love before – during a really hard acclimatization walk during my Everest Base Camp trip. It was my first high altitude trek and hardest uphill walk I had ever done. I had some bad menstrual cramps that day but somehow crawled my way to the top. Up there I was ecstatic. I loved my legs and thighs and lungs and every freaking thing about my body. I remember saying that to myself again and again (as I could not explain my sudden love for my thighs to the guys there) – I just loved my body.

Being a fat child leaves its share of mental turmoil way into adulthood. I had wanted to be thin for the longest time and mentally criticizing a lot of things about my body had become a part of life. Somewhere along the way I got some sense kicked into me and I focus way more on being healthy and strong now. Every now and then though the little disparaging voice gets a little strength. Today I am glad there was a mirror – a real literal mirror – to give me a reality check and remind me what amazing stuff this body is made of.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thailand should take over India - or at least lend us their king for sometime

In the last month I have visited Bangkok in Thailand and then Udaipur in India. This is little rant - I enjoyed both trips but was amazed by the huge different in cleanliness and infrastructure support in the two countries. 


Bangkok roads - Photo from here
When people grumbled about things in India – lack of decent infrastructure, corruption, and trash all over the place – I’d tell them to stop grumbling and find ways to fix it. This was before I visited Bangkok.
My first impression of Bangkok as I drove from the airport to my hotel was of pleasant surprise. We started off on a really nice six lane highway, the road from Bangalore airport is similar so I did not pay much attention but when the ‘nice’ road continued for miles I started to pay attention. It was weird in a way to see houses and flats that looked like Indian homes besides a road that looked like it belonged to America.
Once in the city we travelled extensively using the skyrail (metro) and the river boats. They were frequent, clean and on time. From the hotel terrace we could see bad traffic during the heavy commute hours but they moved on decent well-constructed highways.
Junk on the terrace of the much visited
Udaipur Palace. Something tourist see daily.
The streets are way dirtier than this.
During our visit we also noticed how clean the streets were, there were many trash cans and people did not throw rubbish all over the place. Alleyways and backstreets were remarkably clean.  The food with the roadside vendors looked clean and appetizing (well besides some fried worms – they were all clean though).
The reason I rant on is because I am a little pissed with the state of affairs now that I have seen Bangkok. Bangkok is not a rich state. It is not an IT hub or an economy much talked about. It, like India, is young in a way – Siam had become Thailand, and was still unstable since the change from Absolute Monarchy to Constitutional Monarchy in 1932” However, it does have something done right and a lot of it seems to be due to a good King. Most people there worship him and I would too. He has done something for the country. So while I agree we should do something besides grumble when we are disappointed by things, I must say getting a dictator or King of some sorts might get this country somewhere. Electing politicians that focus on using their four years to amass all the money they can is not getting us anywhere for sure.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jog Falls from Bangalore - a weekend trip

I have been to see Jog Falls twice now. To me it is not a fancy weekend getaway but a really nice fun one. You leave Bangalore on Friday night and are back by 5am Monday morning (in time for school and work). Taking a train means that you sleep well and reach back well rested to take on a Monday.

Below are the logistics I have used for both my trips:

Getting there:

Bangalore > A.Shimoga > B. Sagar > C. Mattuga (Homestay 6km from Jog Falls)

A. We went on a train Friday night. You leave at 11:15pm via Shimoga Express that gets you to Shimoga at 6:30am. We returned on Sunday night on the Bangalore Express that left at 10:15pm.

B. The first time there we got on a bus from Shimoga railway station (right outside the station) to Sagar. The second time we had a taxi waiting for us at the Shimoga station (arranged by the homestay)

 C. The homestay will arrange for a taxi to pick you up from Sagar and bring you to Mattuga - a 30min drive away.


Both times we stayed at Stay@Mattuga – a home stay.

There are not many places to stay in that area and this is the most ‘luxurious’ and a pretty decent homestay.
  •  Really nice huge property with lots of fruit trees.
  •  Nice people and nice home cooked food (only breakfast in included in tariff.)
  •  Owned by a person staying in Bangalore but run by locals.

I really like this place; it has potential but needs some overseeing and extra help during high traffic weekends. The first time we were there we were the only people and stayed in the main house. Rooms were basic but nice and we loved the attention we got. Since then the number of rooms has gone up but the number of staff seems to be the same.
Second time we ‘upgraded’ to newly build cottages and did not like it all that much (as of 11/9/2011) –
  • Construction on cottages is still going on so there is raw material around the place.
  • Cottages are complete but not ‘finished’ and tested. Teething pains are ongoing (only hot water in taps one morning), paint and dirt in the bath tubs.
  • Beds felt damp and musty and towels were hard and washed out.

I expect these to be sorted over time and this is a pretty nice place for a home stay (best in Jog Falls area)

Getting around:

Full Day Taxi with awesome local driver (speaks very little English or Hindi)

There are buses from Sagar ( and Shimoga) that take you to Jog Falls. We opted for a full day taxi (Rs 1700 per day). The taxi is a slightly beat up Maruthi Van  but I cannot praise the driver enough. He is who made the whole trip for us. A local man he knows the place inside out. He showed us the waterfalls from three vintage points. Walked to the bottom of the falls with us. Took us to sugarcane, pineapple and coconut farms. Showed us rock and log bridges. Arranged for a motor boat ride on the back waters. He was the driver cum guide.

Things To Do:

  • Waterfalls: See from multiple vantage points. Play in the water. Eat from the shops lining the path to the viewpoints. Walk down to the waterfalls (20min – 1hr), walk back up (25min – forever J) (Tip: Go early morning to avoid the touristy crowd)
  • Village and Plantation visits: Ask the driver to show you what is local and growing. He will take you to really nice farms with hospitable people.
  • Temples: Sagar is home to a lot of very old and architecturally beautiful temples. You can spend the whole day visiting them
  • Backwaters: Motor boat and water adventure sports on the Sarawathi backwaters.

Contact Details:
Driver:Mahabaleshwara – Phone: 9449454168

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First take and review of Monkey Maze at Marthahalli, Bangalore

I had seen Monkey Maze many times on my drive over to WhiteField. It falls almost eye level on the left as you come off the bridge after Marthahalli. Today I finally took my four year old to it.

Monkey Maze is located above Pizza Hut, next To Purva Foundation Square. It is a huge, airy and well lit space. It has a nice play gym with slides, tunnels, climbing net walls, a ball pit and trampolines. It is not a huge gym but big enough for ten to fifteen kids to play comfortably in. Next to the gyms are toys of all sorts – kitchen supplies and soft foam puzzles and a few toddler entertainers like swings and push cars. In front to the gym is a café selling coffee, chips and juice. Lots of little tables and chairs near the café make it look like an ideal place for a kid’s party. At the other end of the huge space are a few book shelves with toys for sale sorted by age. The collection is not intensive but is interesting and there are a few puzzles that I plan to pick up for an eight year old from there.

Price Structure:
Rs 100 for 45 min of play
Rs 150 for 1hour of play + a cup of coffee + a drink (slice) + a pack of chips
Rs 200 All above + a surprise gift.

I took the Rs 150 package. While I paid Ashvin attacked the jungle gym. I joined him in there for a bit but the presence of other kids and a really helpful supervisor let me escape for my cup of coffee. I spent the rest of the time looking at their ‘store section’, taking photos, making faces at Ashvin and looking through their party packages.

The one in Marthahalli seems to be work in progress. Half the area seems to be undergoing some remodeling but this is shielded well and not obvious unless you walk around  and peek. It looks like a promising space with a lot of potential. Once they have more traffic and staff hopefully they will get regular pottery and other classes going for kids.

If Ashvin were to write the review I am sure he would say it was awesome. He had fun, so much fun that when his one hour was done he want  more time. As he is the one that matters at the Monkey Maze I’d say they have a good thing going and will see us back soon.

2ND Floor, Above Pizza Hut, Next To Purva Foundation Square, Varthur Main Road, Marathahalli, Bangalore - 560037
Phone:                 +(91)-(80)-40957631      
Hours of operation: 11:00 am - 08:00 pm everyday

Birthday Package details (please email them for the most up-to-date) please take a look at -

Even KFC can do some things right

I walked into KFC at Forum Value Mall today (don’t judge me – this post is not about me J). I knew exactly what I wanted so I walked over to an open counter and while squinting at the crazy offerings on the display board ordered. A hand politely waved at me. The person taking my order smiled at me, and pointed to his badge, then motioned me to point at the big hard board menu in front of him. He moved his hand over his ears and mouth indicating he was deaf and mute.

I must admit I was slightly taken aback – this is very unusual in India - but in all politeness I kept my face straight and found what I wanted in the card in front of me. While I paid and waited I realized that all the people in five order stations wore the same badge. The order was taken and filled in no time at all.

As I sat down to eat I realized I had forgotten to ask for water. Back at the order station I could not find any water on the menu card in front of me. I was wondering whether I should point to the soda fountain or try a drink gesture. Reading the confusion on my face the guy flipped the menu over and pointed to the drink selections. He obviously was used to confused people like me.

KFC does a lot of things wrong but this is one thing I must say they are doing very right. Highly impressed and delighted by their initiative.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Memories of Childhood – Ashvin cuts his hair

When I was six years old I had given someone a hair cut. The "someone" happened to be my best friend’s four year old brother. I had him sit on the stairs and gave him a comprehensive hair cut. Not a snip here or there. I made sure I took the scissors all over and all around. The results I guess was a disaster especially as it required my mother to apologize and a barber was immediately called over. He looked like he had his head shaved after the ‘real’ hair cut and I was banned from EVER touching scissors.
Yesterday, my four year old was watching Lion King. I took a bath and on walking back into the room saw three clumps of hair on the floor. He was sitting at the edge of the bed and there was more hair near his feet. He was still watching Lion King but in his hand were a pair of small scissors. I know worse could have happened – lot worse happens with scissors – and I am luckier than my mom, I did not have to take him home to his mom.
Circle of Life I guess J

Friday, September 2, 2011

32 Hours – Bangalore to Hampi and back

It will be a hot there, it will rain there. I heard that a lot but what I heard the most was - one day is really not enough. I had a simple choice – one day or zero days. I chose one day. So this is a summary of 32 hours – from Bangalore to Hampi and back. For some funnier incidents read - Oye, you are not a foreigner?

Timeline, experience and cost:
Bangalore Cant for Hospet (AC 2 Tier) - Hampi Express
Auto from Hospet Station to Bus Stand
30 (actual 15 but it was early J and I am a meter + twenty ;))
Bus to Hampi (runs every 20min)
Walk from Bus Stand to River to find an elephant being bathed
Free (would have paid for it)
Good breakfast at New Shanthi Resturant with free guide book to Hampi, plus intro to some good autorikshaw guides
Haggled with guide and got one with an auto for the next four hours
Exhausted but WOWed by the many sights of Hampi. Only Queens grounds required a ticket ( Rs 250 for foreigners, Rs 10 for Indians)*
Horrible lunch at Hotel Moonlight
Awesome lunch at Mango Tree (really nice)**
Exploratory trip up Matunga hill
Free (Priceless?)
Bhel puri and cuppa sweet tea for me and two friends I made
Bus back to Hospet (last bus leaves at 7:30pm)
Walk to station from bus stand
Free but little longer than I expected
Freak out at station as the train was at 8:40pm not 10:40pm as I had misread.
Free Adrenaline and relief
Shared a masala dosa from railway canteen with a dog
Unknowingly entertained a few people with photos on my iphone
Free (could have charged and got a full dosa for the dog)
Train was slightly late but my RAC ticket had a confirmed berth so found my seat.
Bangalore Cant Station, in time to rush home and see kids off to school
TOTAL:  32 hours
Too Many
Rs. 2175 ($ 48)***

* Four hours in not enough to see these ruins. I took it slow and spent time in places that I really enjoyed. I did not have a check list, I just wanted to see and be there. Places I loved – tank at the recently excavated marketplace. A little stand with an amazing 360 view at the Royal properties and the view from Matunga hill.  Climb up the hill – it is worth the steep and rock steps.
** The best eatery in Hampi. It is by the side of the river with an nice view and really good food. FYI – Hampi is an all vegetarian town.

*** Splurge on the best tix you can afford if you are down this kind of a round trip. A good night’s sleep helps a lot going and you are tired on the way back. I could have paid less by taking a cheaper train ticket and more by taking an AC taxi for the day from Hospet. I deliberately chose and paid for the experiences I wanted.

The river was full from the recent opening of Tungabadra Dam so there was no boat service and thus no way to see the other side ( not that I had too much time). But that is another place to goto if you have time. Shanthi Hotel on that side is recommended as a good place to stay. Gopi on the Hampi side is recommended if you don't want to chance the river.

Contact info of my nice autowala who explained all the places in decent English - only the basement remains cause the rest of the building was fired ;) -  (just don't take his recommendation on Hotel MoonLight) - Raghu 9449135915.