Thursday, October 12, 2017

Beaches, Dreamy Beaches

I love beaches. Nope, let me correct myself, I am obsessed with beaches. They remind me of all things happy. Some of my best memories, are from spending countless hours on beaches. Shanghumukham beach in Trivandrum, reminds me of my grandfather and the countless vanilla ice-cream balls he has bought for me. On the days I was too cranky/greedy, he would take me to a crocodile roofed restaurant opposite Shanghumukham and buy me a deep fried chicken cutlet that was larger than my face. That roof by the way, was crawling with kids because it was a steep A-shaped concrete green slab that had a "crocodiley" texture.  

Kovalam beach, also in Trivandrum, brings back a flood of childhood memories. My siblings and I didn't need a reason to go play on the beach. We would spend countless hours, wading into the sea until a giant wave hit us right on the bum and made us "drown". In the early 90s Kovalam was so clean. The sand was white, the waters were crystal clear and you could pick up seashells right from the sea-bed. While the brothers dunked each others faces into the water, I would quietly pee around them, with an all knowing smile.

Besant Nagar beach in Chennai also holds a special place in my heart. The minute a college-day ended, I would pick up my best friend from her college (Anna University) and we would ride to the beach. We would plonk ourselves in the Barista opposite the beach and would spend countless hours "girl talking". If that beach could speak, it would probably cry a river (sorry Justin Timberlake). We had young adolescent issues just like any other hormonal-crazed teenager.  

Juhu beach (although I've never been there more than 4-5 times in my life, thanks to my non-beach-loving husband) also has fond memories. It reminds me of home. And, the husband and I have taken long strolls on the beachfront, whenever he has been in a good mood. 

Beaches give me a sense of belonging. If it were upto me, I'd live underwater forever like Ariel. I'd build myself a dome shaped glass house and keep staring at the foliage, whilst munching on my freshly fried shark, swordfish, basa, shrimp or crab. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


My face is up here, press wale/paneer wale/paper wale/medical shop wale/sabzi wale bhaiyya. Following me like a puppy inside the gym and gaping at me with your havas bhari aankhen is not going to get you laid (sorry for sounding so crass, but when the issue at hand is so disgusting I will not mince my words).

Married, unmarried, short, tall, fully grown adult, pre-teen, teen; doesn't matter what age group, marital status or body type you fall under. Have boobs? Will stare. While some men do it obviously, some are more subtle, aka male colleague at work, male boss, male client, hell male watchman at work even!

No roadside romeos/inside your fancy office cabin romeos, giving us the "come hither look" and staring endlessly at our chests are not going to get you a date, a decent conversation or our respect. 

The "stalk her endlessly and annoy her till she falls in love with you" tactic, works only in Bollywood, Mollywood and Tollywood. In reality, such advances only builds fear in the minds of women.

While we're on this topic, I might as well share my thoughts on the new fangled, supposedly "cool" phrase invented by young, single, millennial men; "Friendzoned". There exists no such thing! What about the million women in the world who have been rejected by men? Forget about creating nonsensical terms, you will have no idea about the broken heart she is nursing. You know what we call that? Self respect. Dignity. Maturity even!  

No, I'm not a femi-nazi (before you jump to conclusions). I admit, there are some psychotic women as well who stalk, bully and create havoc in men's lives. The woman is not always the victim. There are plenty of good men in the world as well. 

Unfortunately, the ones I come across in my mundane day-to-day life, turn out to be the road-side romeos. And while I try to explain to my sleepy, work stressed husband about one particular joker at my gym, I'm thwarted with "But look at what you're wearing!". This from my IIT educated, smart, intelligent, 21st century husband. 

I sighed in frustration, quietly slung my gym-bag over my shoulders and battled yet another day of smirking and incessant staring. Such a pleasure being a woman, no? "Prem se bolo, Jai Mata Di" indeed. 

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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Opulence of Durga Puja

"Durga Maa is Goddess Parvathy beta. The whole festival symbolises the Goddess' visit to her maaike, (mother's house) along with her children", explained my mum-in-law earnestly. The 10 day festival is an elaborate affair with gigantic pandels, an overdose of food and gorgeous looking Maa Durga idols that look absolutely out of this world. 

Pandel hopping and thulping down freshly cooked, warm bhog in the sweltering Dilli heat is not for the faint-hearted. Despite being a Pujo-pro now (or so I'd like to believe), I had a heat stroke and nearly fainted by the Sindoor Khela day (or the last day) of Pujo

So why take so much effort you wonder. The simple answer to that question is warmth. Warmth not just from the killing Dilli heat, but warmth from a dozen strangers you meet at the pandel. For those 10 days, the Bengali community unites as one big happy family. 

For young Bengalis (like my husband), the festival is a trip down memory lane. It invokes in him fond childhood memories, of participating in the various Pujo cultural programmes and winning prizes. 

This was my fourth year of Pujo in Dilli and much like every year, I have returned to Bombay with a few extra pounds. The freshly fried chops (cutlets stuffed with meat filling) at all the pandels, the irresistible Bengali mishti (sweet) and my mum-in-law's fantastic cooking are to be blamed. 

After a whole day of pandel hopping, aggressive mall hopping is carried out, to buy new clothes and gifts for the entire family.  Energy levels are at it's peak, much like the unusually hyper, pink bunny from the Energizer battery advertisement. Some more food thulping sessions are squeezed in, until the top buttons of your jeans burst. 

Durga Pujo is not a mere 10 day festival. It is an exhilarating experience, that will enthral your mind, body and soul. Give in to the sounds of the Dhak while you relish on that freshly fried Mughlai paratha and say "Bolo bolo duggaa maai er joyy!" 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Euphoria of Exercising

Horrendous day at work? Husband giving you hell, over that undercooked piece of Tandoori Chicken? Feeling fat? Feeling low? Whatever be your problem, exercise, exercise and more exercise is the only solution. There's an undeniable spring in your step and sea change in your personality, the minute you're done with a satisfactory one hour of exercise

For me, exercise is like meditation. I go to my happy place and allow myself to have long conversations with my soul. Excuse the cliche, but I'm 100% serious. I strongly believe that the saying, "there are some things money can't buy" was written for exercise. Nothing else in the world can give you that undiluted feeling of peace, than a good one hour of sweaty calorie burning activity. 

People who exercise are the happiest people in the world, because they can eat like a pig, guilt free. That extra slice of pizza or gooey cheesecake won't hurt you because *cue drumroll* exercise! 

My sleep-loving, late-rising husband is often perplexed with my annoyingly-chirpy, schizophrenic behaviour, post my one hour session in the pool/gym/park. "It's not me, it's the adrenaline rush" I say to him, while he stares at me blankly, with a sleepy 'one eye open' daze.

The time of day you choose to exercise, is of paramount importance. Mornings are best. However, if you choose to go in the evening, be prepared to stay up all night, to keep the night-owls company. That same "happy high" feeling will make you, your night watchman's key contender (and most likely you will win). 

Exercise, it won't let you down, it won't break up with you, it won't make you feel bad, it won't emotionally blackmail you. Most importantly, it definetely, won't give you grief over that under-cooked piece of Tandoori Chicken. So run, jump, swim, gym, dance. Get up, get moving! No excuses! 

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Hairstylists, Those Unsung Magicians

Hairstylists are like the Dark Knight. The heroes we deserve, our silent hair guardians and frizz protectors. Now, there's no need to chase them down and hunt them, thats being a bit dramatic. I'll get straight to the point now, (after my failed attempt at humour), finding a hairstylist who understands you, every inch of your hair and your innumerable "beauty insecurities", is equivalent to finding a pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow.  

A good hairstylist is like Pablo Picasso. They can create magic, faster than you can say abracadabra. You will walk out of their salons looking and feeling like a diva. My tryst with hairstylists started off rather unpleasantly, with my mother calling all the shots. (I don't blame her of course, how can you trust a 4 year old to make sane haircut decisions). To cut a long story short, I was made to look like a boy till I was 12 years old. 

By the time I was 13, I announced to her adamantly, that I wanted the Nick Carter haircut. So off we went, mother and daughter, to the nearest Chinese salon with exotic looking helper girls. I sat optimistically on their plush children's sofa/chair, as one of their hairstylists began to furiously chop off large chunks of my hair. 

In 10...9...8...7 seconds, I began howling like a wounded puppy. My mother sprung up like a Cheetah, from the guest sofa and ran towards me. "I..I...want to look a girl mummmmaaaaaa", I wailed red faced and rather incoherently. She pointed an accusatory finger, at my helpless hairstylist and gave her a verbal thrashing of a lifetime. Before the dumbstruck woman could say anything back to my warrior mommy, she yanked me out of the chair and walked out of the salon in a huff. I kept wailing, throughout the 30 minute car-ride home, as my mother profusely apologised to me.

Fast-forward to 7 years later, we found another Chinese hairstylist. Thankfully, she was amazing. Mum and I visited her every month. Even today, my mother trusts no one else (except Susy aunty of Liu's Beauty Parlour) with her hair.

I relocated to Bombay in 2014 and was in a fix once again. I was clueless about where to go, to cut my hair. I tried all the overly hyped, wallet-ripping, Bollywood-type salons only to discover that I missed Susy aunty more than anyone else in the world. A great hairstyle is everything for me. It builds my confidence and makes me believe I can do anything. Without that, I feel invisible, ugly even.

Slowly and steadily, I discovered two gems. My personal Sweeney Todds! Unfortunately I had to discontinue my sessions with both, as their salons are at the other end of town. I now visit a salon closer to home. The hairstylist is an enterprising young man, who is an animator turned hairstylist. He left his successful animation career, to pursue his passion of being a hairstylist. One of our topics of discussion today, was about short hair. He is an expert in blunt cuts, under-cuts and every imaginable hairstyle designed for women who love short hair. 

We both agreed upon the fact that, Mumbai (supposedly one of the most developed metros in India) is still quite unaccepting of women with short hair. Both, his wife and I, are subject to the most peculiar stares, thanks to our choice of hairstyle. We laughed over the fact, that most of the stares are received from women themselves! If I'm found walking hand-in-hand with my husband in my own apartment complex, I'm stared at. If I colour my hair an elegant burgundy, I'm stared at. If I wear shorts, I'm stared at. If I wear a saree, I'm stared at. 

What exactly are you looking for? Do you want to compliment my hair? The credit goes to my awesome hairstylist. Do you want to compliment me for my choice of clothes? The credit goes to my mother, for teaching me to dress elegantly at all times. Staring just for the heck of staring is really rude and to be brutally honest, very country bumpkinish. Snap out of it. Preferably, now!

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Happy 378th Birthday Chennai

Chennai, Madras, Madrasapattinam. The capital of Tamil Nadu. Home to the first shopping mall, Spencer's Plaza in 1863, home to the first technical college, Guindy Engineering College in 1794. Land of filter coffee and home to people sweeter than the sugary brown concoction. My Chennai, is all this and more. My Chennai, my singaara Chennai. You beautiful, humble, modest, down-to-earth, non-flashy city.

Your dignified silence is sometimes misinterpreted as helplessness, your ever helpful, good-samaritan nature is also taken advantage of. So what if you have fewer restaurants, shopping malls and discotheques to offer as compared to other big cities? So what if residents can never get a hold of first-day, first-day movie ticket for the latest Spiderman or Ranbir Kapoor movie? (Nope, I'm not exaggerating, I've lost track of the number I walked away dejectedly sans a movie ticket, from the Satyam cinemas ticketing counter all through my school and college years. BookMyShow and online reservations you say? We didn't have those luxurious in the mid '90s.)

So what do Chennaites do for entertainment you ask? We chill at the world's second longest beach, Marina. We take slow, long, lazy laps at the Olympic-sized pool, housed by the 133 year old Madras Gymkhana Club. We enrich our literary knowledge by visiting Higginbothams, which also happens to be the first big book store, that was set up in the country. We indulge our culinary cravings with massive paper dosas that can feed an entire army of famished footballers at Sangeetha, Saravana Bhavan and Murugan Idli. If we're in the mood for sizzlers, we head to Tangerine. If Thai is on our mind, we head to Benjorong. And for Biryanis we head to Dindigul Thalappakatti, Karaikudi, Anjappar and Samco.

Chennai for me is an emotion (trying my best to not sound cliched, but what to do). It gave me my identity, gave me the best education, empowered me by showering me with some interesting professional experiences and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone.

Like every true blue Chennaite, I voted for my Amma, Dr J Jayalalithaa in 2001. I cried each time she went to jail and felt my heart-breaking into smithereens, the day she died. She took a huge chunk of my childhood along with her death.

Each time I took a flight back to Chennai, I would peer down eagerly from the ovular airplane window to catch a glimpse of the larger than life, movie posters of Rajnikanth, Vikram, Surya and Ajith, until it got banned by the Supreme Court in 2008.

Elliots Beach or Besant Nagar Beach as it is popularly known by the locals, was my refuge each time I bombed my Maths or Chemistry exams. Visiting the famous Thirumalai Thirupathi Devastham Temple in T.Nagar, (which is a replica of the famous Tirumala Tirupathi Temple) was just an excuse for me, to gobble down their gigantic, sinful brown laddoo laden with an overdose of cashew nuts, cardamom, ghee, sugar and raisins. Freeze Zone and Milky Way made our sultry Chennai summers bearable, by dishing out the softest, creamiest softy ice-creams topped with chocolate sauce, candies and nuts.

So why do Chennaites go to bed as early as 9pm if the city is filled with so many activities, you wonder. So that we can wake up early, take a long walk/jog on the Marina and dip our faces in ghee laden Pongal. Duh!

Filled with abundant rich cultural history, enthralling musical programmes (Kutcheris) and shopping spots (both on the streets and in malls), Chennai will never fail to amuse you. Having lived away from the city for close to 4 years, I deeply miss it's warm embrace and the comforting smell of "tiffin" in the evening.

Chennai, my small big city, with an even bigger heart.

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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.