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

Ungoddess

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. 

(Image Source : http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-hyderabad-281-eve-teasers-caught-by-she-teams-in-one-year-2139682) 

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! 

(Image Source : https://www.pinterest.com/enhancedreams/workout-and-fitness-quotes/) 

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!

(Image Source : https://www.pinterest.com/sherryEholt/salon-laughs/) 

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.

(Image Source : http://www.goodywebs.com/2012/10/lovely-chennai.html) 

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 fiancé 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.)  

Thursday, June 08, 2017

My Love-Hate Relationship with Gyms


I belong to a family of fitness addicts. Dad and mom wake up at 5am everyday and go for a light jog/walk. My brother has been gymming and thulping down protein shakes, ever since I can remember. And, my grandfather has never missed a morning walk in his life. Quite naturally, my love for junk food and sleeping till 10am came as a big disappointment to them. Forcing me to swim, buying me a cycle and getting me the occasional "one size too small" dress, were constant hints they threw at me, to make me shed the extra pounds.

I was too blinded by my love for food and my oh so divine "sink till you become one with the mattress" fluffy bed, to pay any heed. Out of sheer frustration, my brother took me out for a long drive one day. "Gayu, pizzas and burgers are not food. The amount of carbs and cheese on those things lead to heart attacks, obesity and diseases you can't even fathom. Please lose some weight." For a nano-second, I stopped tugging at the straw of rich chocolate milk shake which I was cradling in my hand, like a precious new-born baby. "But why, Arjun chetta, do you think I should lose weight? I don't think I'm fat", I replied, continuing to sip on the shake. He let out a frustrated sigh and gave up. He took me straight to his gym (Fitness One in Ascendas) and introduced me to his trainer.

After gaping at all impressive equipment and admiring the spacious interiors of the gym, the trainer finally caught up with me and asked me with a smug smile on his face, "You weight about 63 kilos right?". Stunned by his accuracy, I gave him a thumbs up. "So when does she join sir?", he asked my brother. "From tomorrow, just show her the ropes." replied my brother. My fate was sealed. I was petrified of my brother, back then. His word was law. I could'nt go against it.

Thus began my love-hate relationship with the gym at age 19. As for his trainer, not only did he "show me the ropes", he belted me with the rope in question, a couple dozen times. He mercilessly tried to pound all the fat out of me. It was no easy task for him. Poor fellow! The minute I stepped out of gym, I would stuff my face with the biggest chocolate sundae or ghee laden pongal I could lay my hands on. After about a month of personal training, I gained two kilos. I saw a distinct, fat tear-drop roll out of my trainer's eye. "What are you eating, after gymming? Why have you put on two kilos, despite this rigorous workout?" After confessing my sins and explaining to him my logic of "I'm working out, so I can eat double", he threw his hands up in despair. "You're on your own now. My training with you comes to an end. Remember everything I've taught you and please try to stick to it."

What began as a forced ritual, slowly became an obsession. I shed five kilos without even realizing it. Then another five. I was down to 54kilos, at the end of one and a half years. I looked and felt great. I began eating lesser and lesser, until I fainted smack on my face in the bathroom one morning. That's when I realized I was pushing myself too hard. 

Over the years, my gymming has been on and off. My weight has been fluctuating between a modest 55 kilos and a dangerous 62. It's nice to comfort yourself with phrases such as "Stop body shaming" and "You're beautiful just the way you are", but the reality is, the minute the weighting scale hits 60 kilos plus, my confidence drops. I hate being fat and I hate my fat genes. Despite my dislocated shoulder, ligament torn and dislocated foot, severe back pain and sprained wrist, I'm back at the gym. A little older and wiser this time, hoping to not break any more body parts.

I've rejoined the fitness center under my house, after a hiatus of two years. The trainers and the receptionist gave me a warm welcome back. One of the younger trainers even gave me a little scolding for not cycling properly. It feels good to be back in my second home, the gym. 

(Image Source : https://thewondrous.com/funny-gym-pictures/)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Reluctant Woman

They wondered why I was one of the boys,
Playing with loud guns and crackers, gave me the biggest joys.

I wore shorts, instead of a pretty dress,
Causing Granny a great deal of stress.

I didn't want to have enviable long hair,
Each time I saw a comb, I hid behind my teddy bear.

I fell in love with metal,
Instead of helping mommy with her coffee kettle.

I also loved fast cars,
Refusing to believe they could lead to potential scars.

The transformation from a tomboy to a girl has been hard,
But I'm so glad I had the chance to play that card.

(Image Source : https://www.etsystudio.com/listing/279205736/tomboy-girl-die-cut-stickers-window) 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Three Musketeers

Classmates for two years, sisters forever,
I can forget you never.

We may have parted ways,
By choosing to swim down different bays.

But you still reside in my heart,
Like a beautiful piece of art.

You have always been by my side, 
Right upto the time, I turned into a nervous bride. 

From trying to figure out life, to bunking classes together,
We will always be birds of the same feather. 

Mother, wife, daughter-in-law, whatever role we may don,
Lets promise to be each other's lifelong dawn. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Meri Pyaari Bindu

A heart breaking story of unrequited, undying love that a boy has towards a girl. That's the plot of Meri Pyaari Bindu in one line. Nivin Pauly starrer Premam, Ranbir Kapoor starrer Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Dulquer Salman starrer 100 Days of Love have all attempted to capture this helpless emotion, in various shades of grey. 

One could call Meri Pyaari Bindu an out and out chick flick, as it appeals to the rom-com loving audience. Ayushmann Khurrana, enacts the role of a lovelorn Abimanyu Roy with candour and ease. As an onlooker, your heart would go out to him, whenever the love of his life Bindu, puts him in various comic situations. You will find yourself crying and laughing along with Abhimanyu as he tries very hard to win over the love of his life and childhood sweetheart, Bindu.

Parineeti Chopra as Bindu Shankarnarayanan plays the stereotypical "wild-child, untamed woman with a multitude of interesting personalities and interests" as essayed on numerous occasions by Kangana Ranaut in Katti-Batti or even an Anuskha Sharma in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. 

My only issue with this movie was that it centered fully around the man and his broken heart. Why does the female lead always have to be portrayed as the "jhalli/guaranteed will break all men's hearts" chudail

Women get their heart-broken too. More often than you know. The key difference between men and women, when faced is a heart-break is this; Women cry about it quietly for a year or two and then move on. They don't publicize it to the whole world. Men on the other hand, bitch about the partner that left them 'til kingdom come and make a mockery of themselves in public. 

Coming back to the movie, watch it, if you're one of those moviegoers who cries at the drop of a hat. I for one, finished an entire box of tissues while watching it. 

(Image Source : http://www.koimoi.com/movie/meri-pyaari-bindu/) 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Shameless Foodie Tales

Idlis, doshas, appams, puttu and Kerala porotta have been childhood favorites for as long as I can remember. I grew up on a staple diet of these irresistible carbs, doused with generous portions of chutney, sambar, chilli beef, egg curry and chicken stew. 

After relocating to Mumbai post marriage, I naturally began scouting for these authentic Malayalee and Tamil home made delicacies. Thankfully, the area that I live in, has an abundance of food loving Gujjus who are open to try any and every flavour, from various corners of the globe. Living amongst them, my taste buds have also been diversified. While they gave me poha, sabudana khichi, vada pav, pav bhaaji, dhoklas, samosas and chatpata farsan, my brethren (and non-brethren) were busy preparing doshas and idlis, with a strange murky orangish red version of sambar with oodles of sugar. At first, I was puzzled tasting the vile liquid and then I made peace with it because, when in Rome.. 

2 months ago though I met him, the man who would solve all my home sickness, Idli Anna! After my routine early morning run-walk and grocery shopping, my nose sniffed out a familiar nostalgia inducing scent. That aromatic fragrance of home, which I was so used to for 30 odd years. I followed the scent and found the cutest little road side stall selling piping hot poha, sabudana khichdi, sheera, upma, idlis, sambar and chutney. 

I gave him the brightest smile that I could conjure and greedily pointed out to the sambar. "Boliye maydum, kya mangta hai", was his cheerful response. "Sambar, idli, chutney, poha, sheera and sabudana khichdi", I replied greedily. He nodded and continued serving his mouthwatering home made food to a group of sweaty boys who were circling around him. 

"Aap kaha se ho? Pehle dekha nahi aapko", I continued. "Raigad maydum", he replied. How can a man from Raigad make mommy's sambar, I mulled. He continued giving me his toothy grin as he swiftly packed the food which I had asked for. 

I rushed back home with the overflowing packet of food and gobbled down Idli Anna's fluffy idlis with his sambar and chutney. After the first 2 bites, I realized that the sambar was not what I had grown up on, still, it was the closest I would get, being 1000 odd kilometers away from home.

Food is an emotion. It has the power to build childhoods and bring back a flood of happy memories. What I would'nt give, to be 4 years old again, thulping down morsels of delectable meat with my grandfather by my side.

This one's on you appuppa, this mad craze which I have for scouting out food and eating endlessly.(including your salty drink snacks, which you thought you hid so smartly between your overflowing wardrobe of shirts and pants). 

(Image Source : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WH2vEN5seVY) 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Flock of Ducklings

I woke up bright and early today to hit my building's swimming pool. I aimed to leave home by 7am and be back by 8 to baby-sit both my "Quick Gun Murugan" maids, who make me feel like their maid 90% of the time. The only reason I get up early on my "swim-days" is to avoid being scolded by them. (Don't laugh!) Handle a Bombay-Bai for a week and you will know how feisty they are. 

Back to my swim now. For the first half hour, I was all alone inside a dreamy blue trance. I took slow lazy laps, back and forth and allowed my mind to wander. After about half an hour, two pleasantly plump boys violently dove on either sides of me from the deep end, whereby almost drowning me. After attempting to give them a dirty glare from the insides of my foggy swim-goggles, I continued with my laps. 

After about 10 minutes of trying to swim peacefully inside the Titanic-drowning-current created by the two tornadoes on either sides of me, I began to pant like a baby-seal. My lungs were on fire and I clung onto the nearest wall I could find. Just as I felt comfortable enough to get back to my "calorie-burning" laps, I saw a group of skinny little girls, in bright summery swim-suits and cute swimming-caps which had Mickey Mouse ears stuck on them. They were accompanied by a middle-aged gentleman.

As the twin-tornadoes and I swam back and forth, the group of little girls began swimming between us in the shallow end, whereby causing even more confusion in the already choppy waters. The older gentleman ("Da-Da" as referred to by one of the girls), held them back and signalled us to go back quickly, so that they could continue with their splashy attempts to swim. 

Da-Da's patience levels must be applauded, as he single-handedly managed three very excited little girls in the water. He was teaching them how to swim, breathe and use the right hand-leg co-ordination while afloat. He was even bribing them every 5 minutes with Dairy Milk Silks and Amul Ice-creams, each time one of them felt tired.

I couldn't help but grin at them like a Cheshire Cat. When the clock struck 8, I quickly climbed out of the pool (in fear of my maids), threw on my clothes and just as I was about to leave, one of the little girls screamed "Bye DiiiiDiiiii!". I chuckled, went upto their Da-Da and told him how my daddy taught me to swim at their age. Even my Da-Da (daddy) used the same tactics of food and meat, to get me into the water. 

If it weren't for my Da-Da, I would have been a food loving, lazy football. Thankfully, the football has been reduced to a golf ball and I still love food. Sorry my dear Da-Da, there are some battles you just can't win! 

Friday, May 05, 2017

Poopie Love


One year shy of a decade,
The madness is yet to fade.

You love beef burgers and salads,
I prefer mutton biryani and soulful love ballads.

I plug my ears with cotton wool,
As you play Primitiv's Taurus, the bull.

Our home is filled with laughter and food on the weekends,
As you whip up strange fruit and veggie smoothie blends.

Come Monday,
You fly out of the 'Bay.

I hurriedly fall back into my chocolate binging ways, 
Sneakily shielded from your annoyed gaze.

"I'm following my diet", I slyly text,
But you catch my first bluff, as easily as the next.

The house has never been quieter, 
With the absence of it's rioter.

Thankfully, Friday dawns bright and early,
And I find myself doing a happy twirly.

(ALTERNATE ENDING : Thankfully, Friday dawns bright and chirpy,
Once again I prepare myself to indulge in your strange hand-made slurpees.)

Writer's Note : This poem is about my management-consultant husband, who travels excessively due to the nature of his work. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Bhutanize Yourself


I'm back home after a lightening trip of 5 days and 6 nights at Bhutan. From my outward appearance, I look absolutely charred and burnt like a badly cooked piece of Tandoori Chicken, but from the inside I'm filled with warmth and joy, much like the serene blue haired Golden Buddha Dordenma at Thimpu. 

Even before my flight could land at Paro airport in Bhutan, the view outside blew me away. The majestic mountains all around my aircraft beckoned to me. Being a city kid all my life, the pristine beauty was overwhelming to my senses. Upon landing, all passengers (self included), hurriedly began taking pictures of the cutest airport in the world, Paro. The architecture of the airport and the breathtaking view of the intimidating, majestic green hills were all a little too much. We all felt like Alice stuck in our respective wonderlands. 

After completing our immigration, we were welcomed by our enthusiastic young guide, Eelo (to be pronounced as ILU from the cheesy ILU ILU Bollywood song, as explained by him). 

After a day of rest at our local hotel in Thimpu, we began our exploration of the city. We were taken to the Thimpu Chorten to begin with, where we had our first sight of the cylindrical golden prayer bells. Next, we headed to the Buddha Dordenma, one of the largest Buddhas in the world at a majestic 169 feet. This Buddha can be seen as you ascend up the hills of Thimpu and your excitement level will mount as you near closer and closer to the enormous statue. We ended our day by visiting the Tashichho Dzong, where we took multiple selfies with amused monks and gleefully ran our fingers (like a child in a candy shop!) over the multiple cylindrical golden prayer bells. The centre of the monastery will remind Kung-Fu panda fans of Master-Shifu and the Furious Five. I almost expected all of them to emerge out of the woodwork and give me a flying kick.

The next day began bright and early. We checked out of our local Thimpu hotel and began our 3 hour journey to Punakha. Enroute Punakha, we stopped at Dochula Pass where we breathed in huge lungfuls of almost snowy air and took pictures galore with the cutely built 108 memorial chortens/stupas. Next we stopped at the vertigo-inducing Puakha suspension bridge. An architectural wonder and a sight to behold for nature photographers, as the bridge offers panoramic views of the river and the surrounding landscape. However, if you have the fear of heights (like me), look straight ahead and march on without clinging on to either sides of the bridge! Our day ended at the cozy local hotel in Punakha, which was set right on the banks of the Mo Chhu river. Needless to say, our evening and morning were spent attempting to dip our feet and face (Tamasha style like Ranbir) in the freezing cold Mo Chhu.

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and began our journey excitedly towards Tiger's Nest. Tiger's Nest is home to a very sacred Buddist temple by the name of "Paro Taktsang". Situated on the upper Paro valley, the climb up to the temple is not for the faint of heart. The total climb up and down is a steep 9 km and takes 6 hours in total (if you are an expert mountain climber!). Buddhists believe that love for God must be shown by bodily effort and pain, which is why most of their temples are situated on a hilly terrain. My climb up the Tiger's Nest was not a successful one, I could only reach upto the halfway point of 4.5 kms which was home to a well laid out Cafeteria. I apologized to lord Buddha and promised him I'd be back next year to give it another shot. 

Whether you seek tranquility of the mind, an adventurous trek or virgin beauty, you will find it all here in Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon. 

How to get there :
Calcutta to Bhutan by Drukair flight takes you 50 minutes exactly

Hotels to stay in :
Thimpu :
Tara Phendeyling Hotel

Punakha :
Damchen Resorts

Paro:
Olathang Hotel

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Magician


It's been an empty decade and a half,
Without your infectious laugh.

No one to eat medu vadas with,
Or drink Sharjah shakes with.

All the ugly fights we fought, 
And the dirty jokes you taught.

Each dreadful morning to school, you were by my side,
To wipe my tears and to give me a ride. 

Your obsession with Hercule Poirot and Baywatch, were unmatched, 
I tried my best to stay detached.

You are my home,
I latch onto every memory of yours, like a honeybee to it's comb.  

(Writer's Note : This poem is about my grandfather, who died when I was a teenager. He made my world alright, without a magic wand or spells. He was always ahead of his time and had a broad-mindedness, which often shocked people of his generation. Needless to say, he was extremely popular and really close with his grandkids.)