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.