Monday, April 30, 2012

What lies ahead!!!

Dear Amu,

How are you? I am sure it feels wonderful to be 20. You are driving, you are old enough to have unsupervised slumber parties, you are one step closer to becoming independent and start working. The world is your oyster. I remember what it felt like, to be at that exuberant age. It feels like it wasn't a very long time ago, yet so much has passed since that beautiful time of my life. And as philosophical books would say I am supposed to, I suppose I have gained some worldly experience. As your well-wisher, I am expected to share some of this wisdom with you and that to me, is a daunting task. Well, here it comes, and I promise I will try to give my best and hopefully not sound naive and be age appropriate. But, just in case I falter, I am not a lot older than you (it just feels nice to say that :)

So, where do I start? What I didn't realize when I was 20 was the importance of family ties and the impact it can have on your life, in terms of shaping you as an individual. I was so caught up with my friends, the TV "FRIENDS", and chat friends, I didn't realize there was a world away from them. I also didn't notice that my room was gradually becoming my world, with posters all over (not of actors, but with loads of quotes on them; it felt cool to make your opinions heard and read, in this case) and music playing all the time. My parents, especially my mother would not be very inclined those days, to come and talk to me; of course, how I could talk to anyone with constant music is still a question mark for me. So, I would say, get out of your room more, breathe the fresh air, talk to people in front of you, rather than people on the phone or internet and yes, it is okay to miss one episode of FRIENDS! Preposterous as it may sound, you won't believe the number of times you will be watching those reruns in your life to come. 

When I talk about family, I naturally have to talk about my sister. Oh yes, the sister that I fought with almost every day for one thing or the other. Some days, it was for phone time, other days for borrowing clothes or sandals or some insignificant thing, and mostly for the remote. I could not have been a meaner and jealous sister than I was to her then. But, what was I to do? I did not know what true love was, I did not know why she had to spend every waking hour of her day talking to her fiance and I did not know about the bliss you are in, during courtship. I thought all that was so silly and would keep telling her that I would never indulge in such childish talk (Oh, the irony!). Now, all these years later, I can only say, appreciate your big sister because you get your fashion sense from her, even though you would never admit to copying her style. Be glad that you had someone to share gossip details about every little thing under the sky. Enjoy your time with her, and do accept that her advice does help sometimes, okay most of the times! And most of all, just be grateful that you have an older sister who guided you through everything rather than an older brother who would have made life difficult.

Since I have established the fact that family is the most important asset in the long run, the importance of friends cannot be undermined. Although, school friends are supposed to last the longest, college friends are the ones you make most fun and wild memories with. There is never going to be a time like college ever again in your life. On this front, I don't have much advice to give you, because you already are 'living the life'; you don't miss on even one day of playing pranks, bunking classes, jumping around the Throw Ball court, and passing chits in class. So, for all those wonderful memories you made with your friends: Atta Girl, you won't regret them later. One thing though, a little less fights over insecurities and who is closest to whom, is something you could do without. It doesn't matter later, who was your best friend, what matters is that all of you shared a common history and that you can still bond over that. Oh yes, almost forgot, and those diaries you are maintaining, getting all your friends to write in them: Brilliant Idea. So many days of doom and they still don't fail to put a smile on my face.

Hmmm...What else? Ooooooh...the juicy part! Like I said before, I was jealous of my sister being sucked up by love, because I was losing my time with her, and I had never thought I would do such a horrid thing to my family! Be very careful, of what you claim, is the only thing I can say. And that childhood friend of yours, you insist is a very good friend, but not what you are looking for, be careful again! When you are 20, you have these crazy ideas and obnoxious ideals that you expect a prospective partner to fulfill. Take my word, a man who thinks about social upliftment all the time does not have enough time for you. And a man, who is poetic and in the romantic era, finds it very difficult to separate reality from theatrics. You just need someone you can spend great time with, and talk lots to. So, give real people a chance and that shy little chemistry lab partner of yours, I would say, keep an eye out for him!

This letter would be so incomplete if I didn't talk about the serious stuff: career, education. If my parents were to read this letter, even though it is retrospective, they would be shocked at the absence of crucial matters. I was so confused, and am not ashamed to say, that I still am, a little bit, as to what I want to do for a living. I wanted to be so many different things in different periods of my student life, that I could actually have managed to try out each profession, if given the chance. But, there was one thing I was most passionate about and did not want to budge from it. I ended up not getting an education in that, since it was not supposed to be a very stable career. My parents helped me chose a field that would interest me and give me better prospects.  I was angry to not be able to follow my dream. My advice for you: Don't be (angry)! You just know half the picture of any profession at that age. It is anyways, a gamble, but chances are people with more experience are better off at it, than you are. So, take your parent's advice and if something really is your calling, you will find a way to get there, no matter what your qualifications.

I am hoping this letter hasn't put you to sleep or bored you enough to get distracted into texting. Because I remember how it was like to be rebellious and not want so many suggestions thrown at you! Believe me, been there, done that (not to sound too snotty, and yes the pun is intended)! 

Your much older, supposedly mature and sensible self!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Welcome to the family!

Photo courtesy:

It was my maternal grandfather's 80th birthday, and the whole of my mother's side of the family was there, people I was meeting after 10 years and some I was meeting for the first time. There were my mother's first cousins, second cousins, even my grandfather's first cousins and their grandchildren and by then, I had lost track of who was who. There were so many introduction sessions going around at my Mama's place, it almost felt like it was the first day of college and all the classmates were being acquainted. Never had I seen such a huge crowd together, where there were so many unfamiliar faces, yet we were supposed to be family. My grandfather seemed very very pleased to be reviving lots of childhood memories with his siblings and cousins. 

And all of his children and grandchildren were busy being perfect hosts to all the relatives who were going to stay with us. We were going over sheets of papers, the adults over what menu was decided for what occasion and the younger generation over the entertainment part of the evening. There were going to be lots of people, all our relatives, my grandfather's friends and colleagues, some of his students, and basically anybody who knew him well.

The day of the celebration, a small "Pooja" was organized, and everybody participated in it. The evening was set for more fun things like a song and dance performance by all the grandkids; the youngest grandson reciting a verse from Gita as taught to him by our grandfather and what not. The most interesting part of the evening was when we had planned a quiz based in trivia related to our grandfather, like "Who was his favorite actress, what was his first school?". It was hilarious to see the audience guessing answers about who his favorite actress was, some saying "Madhubala:, others guessing "Nargis"; and finally when the answer was declared to be "Deepika Padukone", a cumulative sigh was heard from everyone.

Photo courtesy:
Now, during all this excitement, there was one person sitting in a corner of the room, feeling a little shy, a little left-out, a little intimidated. He was not sure why he was there. Of course, he was there to convey his wishes to this wonderful man, but he was not even related and he could have given anything to run away for a bit, and get some air. He fidgeted with the gift in his hand, in the process spoiling the elegant gift-wrap. He looked around the room, his eyes following the few familiar faces he knew, and trying to meet eyes with them. His eyes finally met the eyes of one person he felt comfortable with and felt a little calm, after receiving a smile from that person. But, very soon this person got busy with the duty assigned to them, and again he felt lost.

Soon enough, the evening came to an end, and everybody headed towards the dining area. This is when, I walked over to this person and tried to make him feel comfortable. I chatted about regular stuff, like the weather, how his family was, and other common topics. I was quickly joined by all my younger cousins and my sister's in-laws, and they tried joining in to the conversation too. But you know how it gets, when cousins are around, we tend to ignore everybody around and talk in our own secret codes, bickering about stuff, giggling over apparently funny things, which seem completely normal to the rest of the world. We did try involving this person in our chat, but it was his first time being around this group and naturally, took time to warm up. 

Photo courtesy:
Just as he was getting a little settled in this company, with all of my guy cousins talking about video games and action flicks, to his horror, he was being ushered into a crowd of adults, being introduced to all of them. And as Indian culture goes, very soon, he was seen bending down a hundred times to touch their feet. This person was my then husband-to-be and it was his first time being introduced to the family. Ours being a love marriage, and both of us coming from opposite corners of the country, with huge cultural differences, we always knew meeting the families was going to be a challenge and making room for ourselves in each other's families a huge step out of our comfort zones. And today was the day of the verdict.

Of course, he had met all my cousins, and aunts and uncles, but today was the fateful day when he met our extended family. He had said he would be fine meeting them, but I guess, what he hadn't anticipated was, how large this extended family could be.  It was like he was the star performer of the evening. Everybody wanted a piece of him, to scrutinize him and get a chance to know what he was like. He looked like a fish out of water, considering the fact that his was a pretty small family and this was the first time he even came to know of how many possible relations there could be. Fortunately my parents were with him all the time, and signaled one of my cousins to come and get him, when they thought he had gone through enough. 

As soon as he saw all of us, the poor thing literally slumped into the chair in front of him. Me and my cousins tried being decent, but there was no way we could have stifled our laugh. looking at his puppy dog face. The jolly man that my husband is, he eyed us for a minute and broke into laughter too. He muttered, "I am glad some of your relatives are based abroad, otherwise with them, I am sure your family would be equivalent of a kingdom  in itself"!

Till date, everybody in the family talks about that day and appreciates his courage to face such a huge family. "I am surprised he was not scared away by that meeting" says my grandfather. "But the fact that he was able to hold his own and get all our relatives to like him, is testimony of his character and assurance that he can survive in this huge family". It sure was, today my husband has bonded so well with everybody in my family; that of course, if you ignore the part where he still does not remember their names! For that part, we might have to look elsewhere  for help organizing the family tree!

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Friday, April 20, 2012

Confessions of a Chocoholic!

It is raining, the beautiful drops of water glistening on the fresh green leaves just starting to bud. The wind has a cool, serene flow to it. And the fragrance of dew drenched soil just fills your heart with joy. I am gazing out the window and trying to soak in this pleasure, when my mind grazes away and starts thinking about things that make me happy: the first drops of rain, the fragrance of a flower garden, the sight of a cuddly little squirrel or a rabbit, a good book, some soul-stimulating coffee, and, anything CHOCOLATE! The pleasure derived from chocolate is the one that adds on to any of the other joys mentioned above. And it does not actually have to be chocolate. Anything slightly resembling the taste of chocolate, strikes a chord with that part of the brain called the pleasure center. It could be a chocolate flavored coffee, chocolate shake, chocolate cake, choco pie, chocolate croissant, chocolate icecream, and the list is never-ending.

That moment when you place chocolate in your mouth, and your taste buds come to life; that moment when the taste buds are singing ecstatically, that moment when it is a party inside your mouth; it is that moment which defines everything for a chocoholic. The world ceases to exist for one long interim and there is no one but the appreciator and the muse. The beauty of chocolate is that all the worries are wiped away in that single moment and the world is suddenly full of bright and beautiful things. I don't know how it feels like to be high on a drug, but I can vouch for the fact that the euphoria brought on by chocolate is equally addicting. The mood-uplifting capacity of chocolate should qualify it to being an anti-depressant. I see so many infomercials about depression and the pills you could use to tackle depression and yes, the oh-so-long list of side effects; and I wonder why don't people just eat chocolate and get rid of their depression. Believe me, if you lay your hands on rich chocolate, the moment you eat it and it melts on your tongue, it feels like it was made for you, you feel special and appreciated. This may sound crazy to most people, but chocolate lovers over the world would know what I am talking about. Eating great chocolate is like pampering yourself. It is like the chocolate speaks to you 'Go on, indulge yourself and feel special; that little bite of heaven was made for you and you deserve it'.

The chocoholic that I am, a few days back, when I entered a bakery and came across the world's most 'happy cakes', I almost had a mini collapse. Now the reason I call them 'happy cakes' is because I know even if nothing else worked, these would bring me up from one of those tough blows life hands you. They are my life savers. And now, you must be wondering why I had a mini collapse; I had been looking for great chocolate cakes since the time I had landed in America, and I was tired of eating the same old Turtle Cake, and Cheese cakes and the other usual stuff. I had been looking for custom-made cakes for chocoholics, the ones that have so much rich chocolate and such a moist layer to it that you would not know what you had done to deserve this. I am talking about the cakes that are all dark brown, with some chocolate syrup dangerously sliding down the edge of the cake, and scream "Pick me, I am the one you want". And this quest of mine had led me to try horrible, horrible things that would have a tinge of chocolate and would still dare to call themselves choco-pecan pie or something. 

This was my day, I felt like an achiever. I had finally come face to face with my muse. The one I had seen in my dreams, the one that egged on the flow of creative juices inside me, the one that made me believe in heaven. And like it always happens, when you finally stand across from that great conquest of yours, you need to be pinched, to confirm reality. And yes, my husband did it, more out of embarrassment than out of a favor to me. Embarrassment for the child-like squeals that I did not know were coming from me. You see, I was completely lost in admiring that glass display that had the most luring options ever. I behaved like a spoilt brat, acting all crazy: "I want all of them, I can't decide which one....Please get me all of them, I want them right now!" and I am not even ashamed of it. I was running end to end, luckily with my eyes and not my feet, otherwise my husband would have abandoned me in that bakery long ago.

Finally my husband had to use his stern voice and say "We are getting two for now, pick what you want". And then again my scanning process started. I kept gazing at each one and analyzed them from all angles. It was like we shared a common language and they knew what I wanted. My husband shook me twice "Please don't do that, don't look at them like it is the first time you have seen cake". I mean he was right, I was almost drooling there, with that hungry look in my eyes, but I couldn't help it. This was that moment I had been waiting for, so I was going to enjoy as much as possible. If I could only get two, I was going to take in the rest with my eyes, my 'hungry, greedy eyes', to quote my husband. But, eventually I had to decide on the two I wanted the most, the two that had been successful in selling themselves to me, not just with how chocolatey they looked, but also with how welcoming they were. 

When we walked out of the bakery, I wouldn't let my husband even touch the box, and held it so carefully as to not disturb even one edge of the pastry. These were the most beautiful cakes in the world, they even had a piece of dark chocolate on the top and some raspberries to keep me interested. There were nuts, and choco chips and chocolate syrup and by then I was losing it. I couldn't wait to get home, tear apart the box and start digging in. My husband was looking at me and said, "The way you are fondling the box, you might very well start muttering 'My Precious', with that Gollum look in your eyes". It is true, I was possessed by that cake and that mean streak I get when I can't get myself to concentrate on anything but the chocolate, had started to show. Laughing at me, my husband said "They look good, but I don't think I could eat more than one bite of each". That is when I looked up in shock. First, that somebody could actually insult those wonderful creations like that and second, replying, "What do you mean one bite? This is for me; if you wanted some, you should have gotten one for yourself"! 

By the time we reached home, I was in that ever-existing dilemma of every choco-lover: to eat or not to eat. The cake looked so beautiful that I couldn't destroy its beauty, but it was so tempting that I could not not eat it. I was playing with the forks and spoons, weighing out my options, when my husband dug his fork into the first cake, me open-mouthed, looking disbelievingly at him, and..............and he put the spoonful in my open mouth. And that was it, no longer was I faced by any dilemma, worry or tribunal. I was transported to the world of chocolates and was relishing, the rich, creamy taste, thanking God for making such wonderful pleasures in life. "How is it, how is it.....?" I was brought back from heaven with these questions from my husband, and all I could say was "When can we go back for more?".

Some of my favorite places to pick up chocolate delights are:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Visa Power!

"Panchi, nadiya, pawan ke jhoke....Koi sarhad na inhe roke,
Socho tumne aur maine kya paaya insaan hoke...."

Does anybody remember this song from the movie "Refugee"? It didn't make too much sense back then, in terms of a global meaning to it. But, now that I am supposedly an NRI (Non-resident Indian, as opposed to the many hilariously invented versions of NRI), and that I go through all the painful bouts of paperwork for Visa processing, the words of this song make much more sense. Wouldn't it be nice if we, too, like the elements of nature flow across borders without being tied down by technicalities? Believe it or not, it feels like you are appearing for an exam, by the time you finally reach for your Visa interview, after you have gone through the immense amount of paper work. And the atmosphere there does not help either. You see ecstatic people jump up and down after their visa gets approved and then, you see other people looking lost and completely blown off their feet, because their visa applications were rejected. It is intriguing how the human mind feeds off of the pheromones from other fellow human beings. The excitement in the air, the tension, all of it takes a toll on you and even if the visa is not such a big deal for you, you start getting restless too.

At one of these visa interviews, I was wondering if it was always this difficult to travel. I simply can't understand why somebody wanting to visit another country should be stopped from doing so, unless maybe, they have a criminal background. Why has the art of appreciating the world around you been made so challenging? I double up with laughter imagining about the Cave-Man standing in never-ending lines, waiting to be accepted to cross the border over from Manganese Cave to Magnesium Cave. Or maybe, he wanted to travel longer distances, all the way from Manganese Cave to Volcano Crate. And what if, he wanted to move to the coveted "Land of Opportunities" - "The Diamond Valley"? Would he have had to face stricter rules and more stringent questions at the interview? As amusing as that thought is, evolutionists would vouch for the fact that nothing of that sort existed. 

Why think back so far? Let us think about Jules Verne and imagine if he had considered these visa hindrances  when the protagonist of his book, Phileas Fogg decides to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. I am not even sure if, the book, set in 1872, even mentions anything about any official paperwork. Because, if you look at the history of Visas, until World War I (1914-1918), there wasn't even a need for Visas. So, I am guessing Jules Verne could not have imagined how tough it would be to write about travelling around the world today, without dedicating a few chapters to the adventures and misadventures of obtaining entry into a country!

One of my relatives recently embarked on a year-long World Trip and I was in complete awe of them. Who would not love to travel the world, look at ancient ruins and modern architecture rise neck-to-neck? Who would not want to taste the actual cuisine from the real country of origin, rather than have hybrids, like Indo-Chinese or Americanized Italian food? Who would not want to learn by experience and really envision what the History and Geography books said about the world? I would definitely want to do all of this and would want to possess multitudes of stories to pass on to the future generations. But, and the 'big but' here is, would I want to go through the hassles and the tensions of all the paperwork and visa processing? I do know for a fact, that some countries are pretty lenient on their entry rules, and it would be a lot more easier to plan a trip there. For the rest, that have strenuous procedures, it would be a big deterrent to have to go through all that. 

I am a true dreamer and if I had one power or wish granted to me by my personal Genie, it would have to be Visa Power- the power of flight, the power of freedom, the power of liberty. I have a bucket list that I think has new things added to it everyday, but for the most part, it is just the list of places I want to travel to, that keeps going up. And for me, if travel was Visa-free, I would be on wheels all the time. I like to think and also have convinced my husband that if it weren't for travel and touring, the world would come to a stand-still. All the developments in knowledge, technology, art, music, food, etc. over the years, are a result of the global exchange of culture. If not for easy travel, we might never have seen the Renaissance and might not have been able to appreciate the artistic phenomena of that time. I don't know how true my theory is, but for now, if my husband buys it, and feels that he should support the culturally proactive group (which I claim, I belong to), I am more than satisfied. 

Although the practical aspects of this wish could make it a little flawed, all I can imagine is how culturally aware each of us could be, thanks, to this power. Of course, there is the other big boulder of expensive travel. But, as they say, "There are some things money can't buy, for everything else there is Master Card". I am not sure if adding something to my wish would be too much to ask for. But, my ideal wish then would be to conjugate Visa Power and Master Card - Go Get It!
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