Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Growing Up with Boys

My brothers and I do not celebrate Raksha Bandhan. But that does not mean, we don't understand the importance of sibling bondage. Having a sibling means, having someone who will whack you on the head forever, every time you do something stupid. It also means, having someone who will watch over you like a guardian angel.

Thanks to my bronchial asthma attack in 1990, I was shipped from Calcutta to Trivandrum, to stay with my grandparents. In those seven years, I was excessivly molly-coddled and pampered by them, their relatives and my siblings (cousins and my brother) whenever they passed by, during summer vacations and school holidays.

Those were simpler times. All I had to do was cry or bite one of them, to get a hold of the toy car, gun or doll which held their fancy. Being the youngest, no one wanted to play with me. Conversations would be hushed and hand-held video games would be hidden, each time I entered a room. To be honest, there were times, I felt unwanted. 

As I grew older, I realised I had a huge identity crisis. Growing up with boys, made me presume I was a boy as well. I preferred playing with toy guns over dainty looking dolls. I wore silky boxer shorts instead of flowery dresses and skirts. I absolutely abhorred getting my hair-combed and oiled at night. Until I was 21, I had no idea about the existence of beauty parlours or salons. In my head, salons were evil places, that chopped off large chunks of your hair and made you look like an unshapely Rasgulla

As I grew older, my siblings grew more protective of me. Every friend of mine from the opposite sex was looked upon with suspicion. Each time I broke a bone (which was quite often), I would guaranteed get a worried phone-call from my brother, enquiring about what mischief, I had gotten into at that point in time. The night before my wedding, my fiancĂ© was found hiding behind me, because my well-built, 6-foot-something cousin wanted to "speak to him alone". 

Growing up with boys and being the youngest, was truly a blessing. I was showered with expensive gadgets (digital cameras, iPods, watches and snazzy mobile phones), that were yet to be launched in India, throughout my teen years. 

Thanks to my brothers, my brain will forever function as half man and half woman. Lastly and most importantly, having big brothers mean, having someone who is half you and that is most precious, irreplaceable feeling in the world. Your failure is theirs and their victory is yours. Your happiness is theirs and their sadness is yours. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chester Bennington Crushed A Million Souls Today

I was 13 years old when Hybrid Theory released. I heard the album every single evening, after coming back home from school. I listened to it insistently, day in and day out, until the next album, Meteora released in 2003. School got even tougher by then. I was about to write my 10th board exam. 

It was the worst year of my life. School was nothing short of miserable. I wrote 20 mock-board exams before the main board exam. After every exam, my parents were called to school, where they were subject to taunts of "Your daughter is scoring so less", "Her  Maths is terrible", "We are going to keep her for extra classes, just before the boards" and "No one has scored below distinction from our institution. This is a shame for us" 

Even though my parents stood by my side and encouraged me to keep working hard, I was depressed. I felt helpless, stupid and my self-respect took a solid, irreversible hammering. No amount of cramming was helping me score over 60%. That was the first time I fell back on Linkin Park's music. Their music gave me solace and Chester Bennington's soulful, agitated voice felt like a bam for my open wounds. 

Each time my Maths or History teacher taunted me for my barely there marks, I went home and blasted "One Step Closer" in the highest volume. Each time a "bright student" rubbed her 90% scoring answer sheet on my face, I turned to "Somewhere I Belong" for comfort. My parents and perhaps my neighbours, knew all the songs from Meteora and Hybrid Theory by heart. A loud, agitated Chester Bennington from my bedroom's stereo system indicated I was home, from yet another crappy school day.

I loved Linkin Park and Chester Bennington so much, that I decided right then, as an awestruck 15 year old, that if I ever got married, I would only marry an angry, tattooed, pierced, long haired musician. Chester helped shape my personality in those formative years, made me overcome my fears of being an average student and even urged me to listen to more of that kind of music. After 3 glorious years of listening to Linkin Park, I slowly moved onto Iron Maiden, Metallica, Green-Day, Within Temptation, Slipknot and Evanescence. And even then, I faithfully slipped back to Hybrid Theory every now and then.

You've touched lives in more ways that you can imagine, Chester. You've killed a million lives along with yours today. You've taken away our hope, our childhood and our confidence. And for that, I can never forgive you.

I cannot take this anymore, 
Saying everything I've said before,
All these words they make no sense,
I find bliss in ignorance,
Less I hear, the less you'll say
You'll find that out anyway

(Image Source : http://www.stereogum.com/1953249/linkin-parks-chester-bennington-has-committed-suicide/news/)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Mumbai Monsoon


For the past three and half years of my life, I have thoroughly dreaded this awful time of year, the Mumbai monsoon. A normal 1.5 hour car or auto ride to office in the morning, takes 2.5 hours and let's not even get started on how you plan to go back home in the evening. The "high and mighty" attitude of the auto and cab-wallahs are legendary during the rains. You're left to beg, borrow and even steal rides from unsuspecting commuters.

The entire city comes to a standstill. Vehicles crawl along at snail's pace and trains just give up. Despite these difficulties, Mumbaikars never fail to upload a million dreamy pictures of the rains on their social media accounts. Each romanticized picture of the rain, would drive me mad. "What is wrong with these people?", I would wonder.

Middle-aged aunties "forget" to open their umbrellas in the middle of a torrential downpour, the sabzi mandi-wallahs are busy haggling prices with the neighbourhood aunties and the samosa-vadapav wallah is busy selling his freshly fried dose of jaundice, to hungrier than usual customers, who believe in "Thoda chai peete hai, aur baarish ka mazaa lete hai, garma garam kaanda aur batata pakode ke saath". It's business as usual, while the city literally melts into the sewers.

For someone who carries an umbrella even on a hot sunny day (I'm a Malayalee from Chennai, hence the umbrella, don't judge me), I find it very odd to find aunties, uncles and children taking slow lazy walks in the torrential downpour. The odd aunty and uncle even invest their time in scolding me, for accidentally poking them in the eye with my half broken umbrella. "Abhi baarish thodi hai, bandh karo chaate ko. Paagal ladki!", they yell.

Last November, I decided to take a break from the routine office rigamarole and began working from home. I now enjoy the "beauty" of the rains, by sitting in front of my half french window. I sip on my cup of warm morning coffee and watch the world go by. Excited children, morning walkers and Yogaholics, splash around in the puddles of muddy brown water, formed inside a gigantic rectangular park right opposite my apartment. Their energy levels somehow spike up during the rains. The walkers, walk even faster on the slippery red tiled park pavement, the Yogaholics laugh even louder at the end of their body-wriggling session and the kids are just jumping around, splashing water into everyone's eyes.

I suppose there is something magical about the rains, despite it's numerous pitfalls. The cobwebs in your mind begin to lift, you begin to appreciate the confines of your cozy home a little more and perhaps the poet in you comes to the fore. 

Mumbai rains, you have to experience it, to understand the madness. It's more dramatic than the saas-bahu soaps, more tragic than Romeo and Juliet's love story and more magical than Tinker Bell's fairy dust. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Woman and Machine

Call it peer pressure or the chance to play God, owning a bike as an 18 year old, college freshie, was an absolute thrill. I wanted a Harley Davidson, but my parents turned a deaf ear. "How can you get a bike for her when she is just starting college!? You bought me the Yamaha, only when I was in my final year", my brother protested. Thankfully, my parents chose to listen to my pleas instead. 

A Scooty Pep, was considered appropriate, for a young girl in 2005 and before my first semester of college ended, I was gifted a spanking new purple pair of wheels, that would forever change my life. There was some amount of hesitation initially, to let an untrained, overenthusiastic rider, travel 8.7kms back and forth from Sringar Colony in Saidapet to M.O.P Vaishnav College in Nungambakkam, especially during peak traffic hours. So, my father plonked himself behind me for 2 months. The minute he was convinced that I wouldn't kill anyone on the road, he let me take her (yes, my Scooty Pep obviously had to be a "her", a very pretty "her" at that) on my own.

I lost track of the number of minor mishaps I had, while riding. I didn't tell my parents, fearing they would ban me from taking her. But one morning, a huge Chennai MTC bus rammed me from behind just as I left home. The entire incident is still very blurry in my mind. I felt like Keanu Reeves from the Matrix. My bike flew from right under me and I was violently scrapping the tarred grey main road with the right side of my arm, face and leg. There was some crying and howling involved (from me of course), right before some helpful strangers gathered around me, lifted me up and took me to a local government hospital (which was close to the scene of the accident). I vaguely saw the worried look on my mother's face at the hospital, before throwing up and falling unconscious. When I regained consciousness, all I was worried about was the condition of my Pep. "Is she okay?", I asked my annoyed parents.

Of course, I got back on my Pep within a week (much to the horror of my parents). My college professors were also bewildered looking at my accident ravaged face. Bruises and cut marks were visible on the right side of my face, arm and leg. I still considered myself to be a pretty good rider. Pillion riders and my mother's house-maid strongly disagreed to this notion. "Please slow down", "Watch out for that man", "Stop right there young lady" and "Paapa romba speedle ottikire aama" (Baby, is driving too fast ma) were some of the mild complaints thrown both mine and my parents way, each time I took her out on the roads.

I was unperturbed. My love for riding and the independence it gave me, to go out anywhere, anyplace, anytime (before 8pm of course, I had curfews like any Chennai girl, who stayed with parents) gave me a kick like no other.

Then came 2012. The year which gave me the biggest riding shock. I had the most random accident, ironically on a road that I knew like the back of my hand. This accident too is quite hazy in my mind's eye. I dislocated my right shoulder. I had to undergo a pin-hole surgery and was bed-ridden for a good 2.5 months, with two metallic pins firmly lodged into my shoulder, to keep me company on warm summer nights. After one more month of vigorous physiotherapy, my right hand slowly began to resume to normalcy. I was allowed to swim and brisk walk as per doctors orders. After each swim, I could feel a million bees biting me viciously inside my swollen right arm. As for the walks, I hated them. From being an avid gym-goer, who had just reached her ideal body weight, I was once again looking like a ball of mush. I was feeling frustrated and helpless.

I had to part ways with my Pep. I looked at my battered helmet and knew that it had saved my life. Seven years later, I still miss my Pep and the feeling of having a pair of wheels under me. Each time a purple Pep whizzes past me on the roads, I feel a distinct pang in my heart. 

While Harley Davidsons and Bullets continue to capture my imagination and excite me, my soul forever belongs to a certain purple Scooty Pep. I miss washing her on the weekends, readying her for the fresh new week ahead. I miss dodging cows, people, autorickshaws, cyclists and cars. I miss
having a petrified pillion rider behind me. I miss taking off for the beach on a whim, with only my Pep to keep me company. Mostly, I just miss being a rider. There is no purer love in this world, than that of a woman and her machine.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Fat Kid Forever

It all began in the summer of 1994. I was all of 7. A healthy 7. When I say healthy, I mean I was rounder than your average 7 year old. My passion for food had no bounds. My partner in crime and connoisseur of fine food, was my grandfather. Our evenings were spent munching on medu vadas, onion bajjis and puffs of all varieties comparing each snack in grave detail. We knew the best bakery for chocolate cake, the best thattu kada (roadside shop) for onion bajjis and the best restaurants to gorge on burgers, biryani and kotthu porotha. 

I was happy. Life was simple. Until, that doomed summer evening in 1994. I was sitting on my grandparent's solid teak rectangular table with my skinny, leggy cousin. We were both munching on our evening snack, when my father walked in. He looked at both of us relishing on our egg puffs (me a bit more than my cousin) and he said, "Enough Gayatri. Give the rest to Sowmia." With the puff still dislodged half way through my mouth, I gave him a dubious stare. Was he mad? I wondered. Which sane person disrupts a good meal, however small it may be.

"Come on. Stop eating", daddy ordered. After much hesitation, I nudged the remainder of my puff towards my cousin and walked out of the dining room in a huff. I went upto my grandfather (who was as always, busy taking his all-day nap on his cushiony recliner, with the television switched on in full-blast) and poked him on the belly. He woke up with a grunt. "I'm hungry, appu. Can we go out?" I announced. He gave me a puzzled look, scratched his head and yelled out to my grandmother, "Indire, INDIREEY, ee kochunnu endengillum kazhizyan kodukku" ("Give this child, something to eat, Indira", for those who can't read Malayalam)

Over the years, aunts and uncles of various sizes and shapes (yes, you read right, none of them were shapely, but had tongues wide enough, to cover the circumference of the earth), repeatedly announced how round I'd become over the years.

While my ego, took a severe battering, I continued gobbling down anything and everything I could lay my hands on. Finally, in 2006 (after receiving a mild form of verbal whipping) from my brother, I shed 12 kilos. But in my head, I was still that fat kid who everyone called "round", "chubby", "gundu bedalam", "fatty fatty boom boom" and much worse.

The scars remain even today. I'm 30, somebody's wife, a homemaker, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a passionate PR professional, a loyal friend and much more. But nope, none of the above make the cut when it comes to having the "perfect body". I'm still "fat", in the eyes of my trainers and the gazillion aunties and uncles I meet, each time I make a trip back home. Thank you for making every single woman in the world feel like a beached whale. Are you in shape? No. But you still want to make that pretty girl in the blue dress feel less confident about herself, by announcing to her that she is fat? Okay then. 

(Image Source : https://www.pinterest.com/pin/497225615088695475/) 

My Little Vivi


You were a bundle of blue,
When I first laid my eyes on you,

I had to tip-toe around you,
So that you wouldn't let out an angry coo,

You will always be my first child,
This I knew, from the moment you smiled,

I'd like to believe, I was your favourite aunt, 
Even before you could say the word plant, 

I miss your baby gurgles,
And the way you wobbled around in circles,

You prefer playing with uncle Raj now,
But forget me never, yours forever, aunty wow. 

Writer's Note : This cheeky poem is on my nephew, Vivaan. We've spent countless precious hours playing, conversing and coochicooing with each other. In the recent past though, he prefers the company of boys and children his age. He finds me (his ancient aunt) to be rather uncool and boring. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Delhi, The Food Capital of India


Delhi. Dillwalo ki Dilli, Butter Chicken wali Dilli, Old Dilli, New Delhi, a melting pot of art and history. Delhi can be described with multiple adjectives and phrases. Love it or hate it, you can't ignore the mystery that is Delhi. Each trip to Delhi, unlocks a new facet of the city for me. This time, I discovered Delhi, the gastronomical wonder. Shameless foodie that I am, I never miss out on pigging out on the local cuisine of the city, state or region that I visit. 

Whether you seek butter chicken, international fare or wholesome road-side food, Delhi has it all. The foodie in you, will be teased, tantalized, tested and finally tempted to try something new everyday. I am going to make your food journey in Delhi a bit easier for you, by giving you a low down on some of the best eateries in sadda-Dilli. Here goes;

Paranthe Wali Gali - A narrow street in the bustling Chandi Chowk area, you can easily get lost inside a maze of roads, on your quest to find Paranthe Wali Gali. Fear not though, go ahead and pull out the antennas of your foodie radar. Soon enough, you will be able to sniff out that gorgeous earthy smell of fried besan, potatoes and maida. It is a haven for lovers of samosas, kachodis and paranthes. Dig into rabdi, tomato, cashew, chilli, potato and paneer paranthe, then wash it all down with a hearty creamy glass of Lassi.

Connaught Place - Popularly known as CP, it is Delhi's Central Business District. Visually appealing and a shopper's dream come true, CP is a heritage structure in New Delhi. Much before the mall culture began in Delhi, the locals shopped and ate in CP. Every visit to CP opens up a new local delicacy for me. From the creamy Keventer's milkshakes to Wenger's Mutton Patties, Nizam's meaty rolls to Kake Di Hatti's signature butter chicken, you will be spoilt for choice. This time around, I tried my hand at Banta or Goti Soda. You could call it the "Father of Soft Drinks". Much before the likes of Pepsi or Coca-Cola, Delhi discovered the art of making carbonated drinks with a Goti or marble firmly placed on the mouth of the bottle. More than the drink, the bottle caught my fancy. I had never seen anything like it, in my entire life. While I was busy running my fingers on the cool glass surface, trying my best to pull out the goti, the shopkeeper gave me a dirty stare and snatched the bottle away from me. I tried once more to grab the bottle back from his hand, but to no avail. I drowned my battle scars with the Banta-wala at Punjabi by Nature, my favorite Butter Chicken haunt in Delhi. The perfectly cooked tandoori chicken is drowned in a creamy, cashew, tomato paste. The melt in your mouth mutton kebabs are also to die for.

Haldiram's - Home to the best Chole Bature in India. They also serve sinful thalis and melt in your mouth Indian sweets. I am a hard-core non vegetarian, but Haldiram's makes me forget the taste of meat. Greasy, buttery and creamy, these are the words that best describe every dish at Haldiram's. Forget your diet and wear a loose pair of jeans on the day you want to eat at Haldiram's

Cyberhub, DLF Cybercity - State of the art office complexes that can put an international office complex to shame. DLF Cybercity is not just home to some of smartest brains in our country, but it also houses some of the best restaurants in India namely Farzi Cafe, Theobroma, Dhaba by Claridges, Oh Calcutta, Soi 7, The Wine Company, Yum Yum Cha, Olive Bistro, Canton Spice Company, Nooba, Red Mango and much more. I ate at the newly opened IHOP this time around. I ate their Chicken Florentine Crepe (in memory of my Dubai trip last December), and discovered that they have more or less got the flavours down to pat. Their fruit juices are fresh and wholesome. Their waffles are crispy and browned to perfection. 

Hauz Kaus Village - Home to an Islamic seminary, a mosque and a tomb, Hauz Kaus Village is the perfect example of how the old and the new merge harmoniously in Delhi. At night, HKV (as it is popularly nicknamed by the locals) turns into an ultra modern night out spot for the youngsters. The crowd here are always dressed to kill in their party best. Food, drink and merriment is what you will discover at HKV. I ventured into Coast Cafe and travelled back in time, right to my grandmother's kitchen. Flavorful prawn moilee, divine appams and soulful Kotthu Porothas await you at Coast Cafe. If you are a true blue Malayalee like me, you will shed a silent solitary tear of joy, as you dig into their homely dishes. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

AJ

AJ, the other half of my madness,
We filled each other's lives with badness.

From friendships gone wrong to bad hair-days,
We conquered them all in our own ways.

You've been a concerned brother and the bestest friend,
At every tricky bend.

While you constantly pulled my leg for overeating,
You ensured there was good food at every meeting.

Not once did you call me fat,
Not even in front of a little rat.

May our bond grow stronger with every passing year,
Like a freshly brewed bottle of beer.

(Writer's Note : This poem is about my chaddi buddy AJ, whom I haven't met in years, but the crazy memories we created still make me smile. We were each other's "bros" for the longest time.)