Rambling on….

about anything under the Sun!

Monthly Archives: July 2010

I p(r)ay to thee, my country….

Jul 31…that’s like the Income Tax department’s Valentine’s Day in India. I am sure it is the only day most of us are forced to think about them and acknowledge how “special” they are. Of course, given that efficiency is my middle name, I don’t believe in filing my taxes even a day earlier than it absolutely needs to get done. So there I was, queuing up at my Chartered Accountant’s office this morning to make sure I got my returns filed on time. Needless to say, this is the one day that the Chartered Accountant’s office has a semblance of a cool place to hang out in. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to get done with my paperwork as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there. But today was the first time I saw more than visitors there than employees. And I am sure the accountants felt like superheroes today – mine even had a mask and cape on!

But all jokes apart, I am thankful for the service that these wonderful folks provide. I can’t imagine their jobs being fun – every single individual that comes along waits till the deadline is minutes away like yours truly, they usually have a good bit of their paperwork missing and they ask the dumbest possible questions – here are a few choice ones that I overheard today while I was there…

Oh, I am supposed to bring my Form-16? You didn’t tell me that when I called you (The Form-16 is the Indian version of the W-2)
No, you genius. The CA will magically figure out your Income statement and file.

Sir, this is my first year in a job. Do I have to count my entire salary as income?
There is something to be said about the Desi discount mentality – it is a core part of our DNA

I got married last year and spent quite a bit on my wedding. Am I allowed to deduct that? After all, I am taking up more responsibility, you know?
Yeah buddy, know the feeling. Pretty soon, paying taxes will be the least of your worries

So yeah, I didn’t know whether I was more amused or amazed, but I certainly don’t envy those poor CAs – superheroes or not, am sure they can’t wait for Aug 1 to show up so they won’t have to deal with these clowns for a while. And thank you once again, my dear CA for bailing me out at the eleventh hour, like you always do. We only meet once a year, and I never cease to be amazed at how well we are able to pick up from where we left off (and finish the next year’s returns). I can’t say the same for some of my best friends even.

All that aside, there is something to be said about some perspectives that one is privy to on this day though – for one, it is probably the only time of the year that you closely examine a compounded statement of everything you earned the previous year. And like it or not, it is a direct quantification of the work that you did. And you thought nothing would depress you more than just the thought of having to pay taxes? Think again.

As I was looking at my filing, I also realized how much money I pay the government, and with virtually no expectations for how that money will get spent. It is easily the single biggest expense of the year and yet I expect nothing in return? How sad is that? It is amazing how well our Netas have trained me to just donate that money away and not question it. If I had the freedom of putting that money to use, I know it will probably support a 100 families for the year. And if I extrapolate that to all the tax payers in the country, that could seriously bridge the rich-poor divide that our politicians so fondly speak of on every podium that’ll take their weight. Of course, the only class that pays Income taxes in India is the salaried class, so we can’t really count in the hundreds of millions here. But even then, this should add up to a serious chunk of money and will most certainly be put to better use than it currently is if smarter, more honest people were at the helm? I believe in paying my dues, and I am happy to do that – I really am, and always have been, but I only wish there was more accountability in the system and that the hard-earned money that people pay as taxes gets its due by being spent on better causes.

I will continue to hope and pray, but until a brighter day dawns, I guess the taxes I pay will sadly remain a write(right)-off!

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Curiosity spared the Dog?

We all know why the Cat died, right? Curiosity killed it, of course. That seems a little unfair though, no? I mean, its not just the Cat that’s curious? For reasons that’ll become obvious in a bit, this proverb has piqued my interest in recent times. So I decided it was time for some extensive research on the subject, which these days amounts to running about four queries on a Search engine of choice. And if that research is anything to go by, the experts tell me that the true origins of the proverb aren’t traceable. Go figure!

I guess it helps that the Cat has nine lives? I’d like to think that they get killed a few times, say 3 or 4, and eventually learn their lesson and stop being curious so they can live happily ever after? Maybe that’s why Cats were chosen as the victims here? Really, after having seen dogs and cats up close, it is quite obvious to me that Dogs are way more curious. If there was anyone that need to be taught a lesson for being curious, it would have to be man’s loyal canine companion. Anytime you walk in the door, Z will absolutely want to know everything you are carrying. It could be a bag, a box or even a ticking time bomb – does not matter, we will want to sniff it to death. And if the said subject is moving, then we will practically go crazy trying to figure out what it is, why it is where it is, how many different angles can we approach it from, will it attack, can I eat it etc – just an endless list of questions. It is why I think God gave Dogs their long snouts, don’t you? They really were meant to be probes that help to satisfy their curiosity. When was the last time you saw a Cat with a Snout? Good, so we agree?

If you don’t, I am sure a walk with Z will put any doubts to rest. She will stick her nose in every possible bush and want to explore it inside out – I’ve actually followed her into some of these bushes myself, and I kid you not, there is absolutely nothing there. Yet, we could pass the exact same bush tomorrow, and I know we’ll go thru the whole ritual all over again, and with the same excitement and passion as our very first trip to that bush.

And don’t even get me started on any wet spots on the road. The rain is bad enough, but if the spots were left behind by another four-legged friend, then I might as well get a chair and sit down. The walk is about to come to a grinding half, and we aren’t leaving anytime soon. We will need to thoroughly analyze every single whiff and trace the family tree of the dog that had dared to relieve itself on the street. Yes, in a weird sense it is a tad repulsive but when she’s your own, its also somewhat endearing because you realize this is one of the few effective ways they have to relate to each other.

Yeah, so curious or not, Dogs are adorable after all! I am glad Curiosity decided to go after the Cat instead 🙂

Madras Masala

So this weekend was Masala Dosa time @ Corner House. And boy, do they make a mean Masala Dosa! I don’t know what they throw in the batter but that crepe is divine. I am guessing its the wee bit of salt and spice that they mix in that makes all the difference, but when I try the same at home, its just a salty, spicy dosa – who cares though, as long as they make it as well as they do and I live close by, I am covered. In any case, the discussion over the Dosa dinner veered to the topic of sambhar and one of my colleagues from Mumbai (she’s Tamil) had the audacity to tell me that Madras Sambhar sucks. Imagine that? But then again, she’s from Mumbai. She’s got Tamil roots, now lives in Bangalore and I am not even counting the dozen or so years she spent in the Bay Area. Of course she’s confused – my good side (yes, its small but I do have one) prevailed and I let it slide. But that got me thinking back to the wonderful eateries that I used to frequent in Madras (nope, sorry. I refuse to say Chennai because it was Madras when I lived there, and we shall stick to that) and how I missed them. Guess its time for another list? Given the Sambhar discussion, I am going to limit myself to native Chennai food here, so here goes…

Hotel Saravana Bhavan – For the religiously inclined, most good things start with saluting Lord Ganesha. But we’ll have to make an exception here, lets go with the younger brother on this occasion. It is the right thing to do. As long as you are trying any dish that’s native to Tamil Nadu, you’ve come to the right place. Some items on their menu that are worthy of a special mention – the ghee-dripping, sambhar-soaked 14 Idlis, their Chilly Parotta (not Paratha), the Spl Tamilnadu Meals (and you hit jackpot if the Rasam of the day is the Pineapple one) and a more recent addition, a Spl Kaara (Spicy) Dosa. Of course, no meal here is complete without a delicious cup of filter coffee…unless of course, you are here in the evenings and wanna try the Masala Paal (Flavored, steamed milk) instead. Some of us do both, one before and one after the meal. I’d provide directions but there’s a couple of problems there: They truly are all over town, so its hard to give directions. And more importantly, if you can’t find a Saravana Bhavan in Madras by yourself, you probably don’t deserve to eat there 🙂

Mylai Karpagam Mess – This is the one in Mylapore, across the street from the rear entrance to the Kabaleeshwarar temple. Its a totally nondescript place; be warned that things like ambiance, hygiene etc will be found severely wanting. They are not a hospital, so its wrong to expect a sterile facility but they do make some pretty amazing food. If you believe in the theory that the mess and grime that a kitchen houses add to the food’s taste like I do, you’ll enjoy your visit, and not just for the meal. They typically only have items that are classified as tiffin (I guess tiffin was meant to be a light meal but not here for it’ll be hard to stop with one dish). I’ve liked pretty much everything I’ve tried here but the ones I would particularly rate at the top would be their Adai-Aviyal combo, their Rava dosa (has black pepper corns embedded in the dosa, and that is simply divine!). Its a mess, so the food is cheap, but try not to eat like you’ve never seen food before – you will get a lot of cold stares from the Mylapore mamas that frequent the place. And don’t forget to polish off your meal with a slice of Badam Halwa, for you might as well go out in style.

Cutlet shop next to Adyar bakery – If you ever set foot in Adyar, chances are you know about this little outlet next to Adyar Bakery House. Started by a bunch of seemingly unemployed guys that decided to take matters into their own hands back in the 80s, the place has done exceedingly well over the years, and with good reason. They make the world’s best Veg Cutlets and Mirchi Bajjis. Made fresh and served piping hot on tiny newspaper sheets, I know people that are addicted to the place and will never move out of Adyar for this one reason, and I can’t say I blame them. Hell, I wish I could go back myself.

Pillayar Kovil Mani’s Sundal – yeah, a somewhat descriptive name but he can call himself whatever he wants as long as he continues to make that mean Sundal of his, and it wouldn’t matter. He only runs his shop for 4 hours in a day, from 4-8pm, parking his push cart right next to the Pillayar Kovil (Ganesh temple) in KK Nagar and selling hundreds of plates of steaming Sundal for Rs 2 a plate (this was back in the early 90s – I doubt Mani is still around, but if he is, you can bet he’s going to charge you a little bit more). The Sundal was usually mixed with a crushed vada – the crunchiness component was a crucial element and of course, chopped onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lemon on top. Even the atheist will start believing in God once he tastes Mani’s Sundal. A note of caution – back then, the digestive system could take the abuse and we survived on Mani’s offerings for years together; if I try the same routine now, I will probably not live to see day 3, so be warned.

Annalakshmi – so from the cutlet shop on a makeshift verandah and the sundal on a pushcart, its time to take it up a couple of notches. Annalakshmi is really the queen of the eateries for authentic South Indian fare in Chennai. The ambiance oozes class, the service phenomenal and the food simply heavenly – and their consistency amazes me, not once have I been disappointed (except when I didn’t reserve a table and was turned away at the door). Try any of their Thalis, and you won’t be sorry. If I may offer some advice, try not eating the previous day – you’ll need all the room you can find to put away all the food they serve. The place is right across the street from the LIC Building on Mount Road, and yes, please make reservations – they are extremely popular.

There’s more obviously, but I am going to do this in phases – this should work for starters, but feel free to suggest?

1-800-MURALI

Heroes don’t come along everyday, and when they do, they occupy a special place in our hearts. Their actions, their accomplishments, their spirited and persistent efforts to overcome the odds that were undoubtedly stacked against them, and the manner in which they carry themselves and their success after they have arrived – the rest of us draw inspiration from all of that, and that’s why it is easy to put them up on that pedestal. One such hero for me is the Smiling Assassin, the ever so cheerful Muttiah Muralitharan, who recently climbed a peak that no man ever has, and no man ever will. 800 wickets in test cricket, more than double the number of any other currently playing cricketer, averaging more than 6 wickets a game with each wicket costing a miserly 22.7 runs! Get this – if Murali were the only bowler to bowl for his team, what that means is the opponent would be bowled out for 227 runs on average! It is easy to understand why he won so many games single-handedly for Sri Lanka. And oh btw, he is also the world’s leading wicket-taker in the One-Day version of the game.

Murali recently announced his retirment from test cricket and it is sad to think about the fact that we will no longer see him in action in whites – the hunger in his eyes, his drive for perfection, his consistency and just his plain passion for the game – all of those will be dearly missed as will his disarming smile and the class with which he carried himself on and off the field. In Murali’s case, the numbers tell the story – but there is clearly much more to the man than just those statistics.

Born in Kandy in Sri Lanka and of Indian descent (his grandfather hailed from from Trichy in Tamil Nadu), Murali was a player from a minority community trying to make it in the big leagues. And any of us that has played cricket in the local circuits in the sub-continent, knows only too well how much of a challenge that can be. Forget being in the minority, just making it on the basis of your efforts was hard enough because it was never about just the talent or being in the right place at the right time; it was much more about who you knew and how well. Hell, back in those days in Chennai, if you weren’t from Santhome or Don Bosco or St Bedes, you hardly got a look-in; the selection trials were nothing more than a joke, a farce. So imagine not just having no advantage in terms of influential pull, but also coming from the minority Tamil community. A community that was increasingly detested in a region rife with conflict, with the Tamils at the center of it all. And now, to look back at how far along he has come, how much he has endeared himself to all of Sri Lanka and the rest of the cricketing world, and you realize he’s special.

A controversy that dogged him for a good part of his career was his bowling action – not just a needless distraction, it was also utterly disgusting and in very bad taste, on the part of the people that made it an issue. Of course, where else would something like that originate except Down Under? Umpire Darrell Hair, not a new face to controversy first no-balled him because Murali was “chucking”, in his eyes. Other notable cricketers joined in the chorus to quickly deride and dismiss Murali off, the crowds in Australia booed and jeered him whenever he took the field. In fact, on one of their tours, the Sri Lankan contingent once had eggs thrown at them as they were returning to their hotel after dinner. Of course, Murali in his typical style, dismissed the incident off saying “You expect those kinds of actions in Australia!” The Aussies have rarely shown the ability to acknowledge class when it was outside their shores. And this was understandable – Murali was destroying them with his bowling and this was the only retaliation they could possibly offer? Of course, Murali being Murali, took it all in stride. He undertook a series of bio-mechanical tests (which were conducted right in Australia); he had to actually bowl with a steel brace molded into his right arm as part of the test. And mind you, this was AFTER he had established himself as one of the game’s premier bowlers, not when he was starting out. Count on the Aussies to come up with something like this. Thankfully, the experts saw reason at the end of the day and blessed his action on the basis of those tests – that was good enough for the ICC to let him continue playing. Of course, the Aussies continue to complain but no one’s listening any more. (The great Don Bradman is an exception to that rule, of course – he actually ridiculed the entire episode, calling it one of the worst examples of Umpiring he had seen)

For me, it is also his actions outside the game that make him special. The man is a champion of social causes and puts his money and influence to telling effect in improving the lot of the impoverished people in Sri Lanka. Most notable amongst the causes he drives are his support of reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka post the Tsumani of 2004 that devastated large parts of the island nation. Among other things, his Foundation of Goodness has helped rebuild more than a 1000 houses in the Seenigama region in southern Sri Lanka. He also serves as an ambassador for the UN World Food Program, helping to fight hunger amongst school children. While we will no longer see him in action on the cricket field, something tells me we haven’t heard the last of him off the field; he is getting involved in a bunch of different causes across the island nation, and his exploits off the field might soon overshadow everything that he accomplished on it. The world needs more like you Murali, but sadly, we know there won’t be another like you. Adios, my hero – the world of cricket will certainly miss having you around.

Miss the Mrs.

She had gotten in the cab and barely turned off our street, and I was already missing her. Its not like we spend every waking minute in each others delightful company – on the contrary, we hardly spend any time with each other thanks to the hectic work schedules that each of us has. But when it hits home that the significant other is not going to be around for the next couple of weeks, how much time you actually spend together hardly matters. The emptiness in the house suddenly becomes very discernible. You are thinking about all the little things that she does, says or reminds you of – seemed like small things then but not so trivial now, as it sinks in that she’s not around. And here, less than 24 hours later, I am already counting down to her return.

Of course, misery loves company – and I know I am not alone in feeling the way I do. As her cab drove away, Z sat herself down by the living room window, watching her leave. And maybe I was hallucinating, but I could swear the look in Z’s eyes was pleading and longing for the cab to come back, and for A to come home. I was secretly hoping Z’s wish would come true too, but of course, I knew better, so no such luck. Z refused to budge from that spot for the rest of the night, she dozed off right there. And since then, every time she hears the sound of a car door shut, Z runs off to the main door to see if her favorite person is back, and comes back disappointed of course. She is such a darling!

And if Z is missing her, clearly V doesn’t want to be left too far behind. Hardly a couple of hours after A had left, V promptly wakes up in the middle of the night and starts asking for the mom. Its like she senses in her sleep that A’s gone…she scans the room and realization sets in. The gentle ask for Mom gradually becoming a wail, a scream with increasing intensity. In my infinite wisdom, I try to sing to see if that will calm her down. What was I thinking? The screams only get louder, a very explicit signal from V asking me to stop – the cacophony is clearly more stressful than Mom being gone. Thank God for the iPod – Jack and Jill not only went to fetch a pail of water last night, they also helped lull V back to sleep. I owe you one, Steve Jobs! Her sleep was very disturbed for the rest of the night, and its clear that she can sense it. And today, she simply went and sat next to Z by the living room window, with the same longing look. They looked adorable together but I also felt really sad for them because I can see how much they miss her.

On the bright side, the cook and the maid are having the time of their lives – with the boss not around to tell them what to do or watch over them, work seems like a picnic as they chit chat way to glory. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were saying in Kannada earlier this evening, but I am quite convinced they were making fun of me as I sat there there drinking my tea. They probably see the dazed, lost look in my eyes and find it an entertaining topic to discuss and giggle over. Who knows, maybe the maid is blogging about it right this moment.

‘A’ holds the fort at home – juggling all of her work stuff and yet managing to keep things in order on the home front. I don’t know how she does it, I don’t know where she finds the energy to do it every single day, but she does. As for me, just commuting to work and back seems like a big accomplishment for the day. So I can only look on in awe and wonder as she goes about her chores and still manages to find the energy to hang out with the family at the end of the day. Clearly, we all appreciate having her in our lives and everything she does for us, which is a LOT. And on days like this when she’s gone, the difference she makes in our lives is that much more telling. Come back soon A, we can’t wait!

I am usually the one that does a lot of the traveling and its probably our first time with the kids and everything that the spouse is gone on such a long trip. And now that I have the privilege (?) of putting myself in her shoes and experiencing what she goes thru every time I travel, I can see that it is sooo NOT fun! So those of you that travel frequently, spare a thought for the significant others in your lives as you read this, we owe them big for more reasons than one.

The Beavis-Butthead show…Live @ 35000 ft

On a recent long-haul flight across the Atlantic, I witnessed a live demonstration of how wonderfully human beings can co-exist…or not! There were these two clowns who seemed pretty insistent on making sure the rest of us were well entertained. Lets just call them Beavis and Butthead to keep things simple…and real.

Beavis was a middle-aged, ill-tempered man and seemed generally unhappy with pretty much anything in life – I had the pleasure of sitting next to him and even as we were waiting for the plane to taxi out from the gate, he was constantly muttering to himself in apparent disgust at something or the other. And as for Butthead, he was returning back to the States with his family (wife and 2 young daughters), presumably after a nice vacation back home. And we all know how happy someone in that state would be, right? So clearly, the stage was set and the players motivated…all we needed was a spark to get B & B going.

And who else but Butthead’s elder daughter to the rescue. You must know that I usually adore kids and am very tolerant of their bratty behavior. But in a public place, I expect the parents to show some respect for the others in the room, exercise their control and draw up some boundaries. Butthead thought otherwise, of course. The elder daughter was just screaming her lungs out about the movies she wanted to watch, the food she wanted to eat, games she wanted to play etc. It was annoying, to say the least, but that wasn’t quite the problem. She kept kicking the seat in front of her rather violently – she was either sugared up, or just plain excited about being on an airplane, or was listening to music that I need to get my hands on. And yes, you guessed right, she was sitting right behind Beavis and driving him up the wall.

So here’s how the rest of the conversation goes:

Beavis: Hey kid, you are BOTHERING me with your kicking, please STOP it!

Butthead’s daughter either doesn’t hear it, or hears it and ignores Beavis anyway. And yes, of course she continues kicking for the next several minutes. Meanwhile, Butthead is watching and chooses to ignore Beavis (bad idea!). And me thinks he’s actually enjoying the fact that his daughter is heading down this brave path, and quite proud of it.

Another 10 minutes pass, and we are still waiting at the gate. One passenger was yet to board, and the pilot decides to wait for him – am sure he was a surgeon saving someone’s life next to the liquor shelves at the Duty Free store in Terminal 3. Of course we should wait for him, good call! Only problem? Beavis’s blood is boiling some more and I can actually see it bubbling up under his skin. It was scary, and I wasn’t even the one kicking the back of his chair. In one swift motion, he gets up, turns around and goes off on the little one

Beavis: Goddamnit kid! Can you not listen when I tell you? How many times do I have to tell you to stop bothering me with your kicking? Do it one more time and watch what I do to you.

Wow, real class – Yelling at the 6-yr old was bad enough, but he had to top it off by using his size and temper to intimidate her. Moron!
Butthead finally gets into the act…starting slowly but quickly getting into the act

Butthead: Sir, she is just a little kid. Please don’t be so rude.

When he notices that Beavis isn’t retaliating, he gets a little braver

Butthead: You don’t talk to a kid like that. I don’t want you talking to my daughter.

Beavis: But I did tell her 15 minutes ago to not kick my chair. She wouldn’t stop!

Butthead: You are a nasty fellow. How can you talk to a little child like that? Have you ever been around children? I am sure you have never had children yourself. You are nasty, your behavior is nasty. Very nasty!

Beavis starts to ignore him…of course, the poor kid is terrified by now and thankfully the kicking has stopped. But Butthead is not done just as yet.

Butthead: If you talk to her again, I will call the stewardess and tell her about your behavior. Yes, you are nasty!

Wow! I was sure his next move was going to be calling Beavis’s Mommy and telling off on him. Thank God for small mercies, that did not happen. By now, Beavis was clearly done and pretended to go off to sleep

Butthead (to his wife, in his native tongue): He has never been around kids, I am sure. He is a bad man, shouting at kids like that.

Of course, there is no mention of the kid’s behavior (which from where I sat – actually I was sitting dangerously close to an angry Beavis, so maybe I am a tad biased here) was certainly out of line and needed some correction on the parents’ part. And that’s when Butthead’s wife pulled one out of the hat…

Butthead’s wife (to her kid): sweetie, you didnt do anything wrong. You have nothing to be afraid of, so you continue to ignore this man and enjoy your flight. He is a bad man and you don’t have to worry about him.

I couldn’t believe it…everyone was really stooping to see how low they could go. This had all the makings of an outstanding live entertainer. I was about to return my headsets, this was going to be way more fun to watch…at some personal risk to my life, of course, given where I was perched. Alas, nothing of that sort happened. Beavis went off to sleep and the kid did heed his warning, I think. And poor Butthead resigned himself to watching some Bollywood classics. The next 15 hours turned out to be pretty uneventful and boring. Quite the letdown after such an exciting build-up!

How can one not love Emirates? 🙂

And the angel turns 2!

Dear V,
You walked into our life (Well, more like crawled at that point) a little over 6 months ago, and since then, you’ve really been the center of it all. And how fantastic that change has been! Life seems to have a higher purpose now, a lot more meaning than academic excellence, corporate accomplishments and material gains – things that were so important at one point all seem so trivial in comparison now. I know I was told to always expect that, but actually experiencing that change has been very fulfilling (one of the classic ironies in life, I guess!) and humbling.

Well, today, my dear little angel, you turn 2 and A and I couldn’t be more thrilled that you have accepted us and allowed us into your life. You have given us more joy and satisfaction in these last 6 months than we have ever experienced, and for that, we can’t thank you enough. I know it was all very confusing when you stepped in the door – and I am sure you wondered who these strange people were, why you were in their house and when this ordeal was going to end. I truly hope those fears have now settled. I know the early months were a little rough, but I want to assure you that you are now in a safe and secure place, a home where we deeply care about you and where your mom and I plan to utilize every ounce of our strength and energy to give you the happiness and the joy that you so fully deserve. We are very proud of you, sweetie, you are such a pleasure to be around, so effortlessly bringing a smile to people’s faces. I am thrilled that you are not shy, that you mix so well with people. And I am speechless when I see how brave you are – whether it was feeling at home from day One, or allowing Zoey into your life, or even going off to school all on your own right from the start. When you trip and fall and hurt yourself, I am so overwhelmed that you are able to shake it off quickly and move on as if nothing happened. I sometimes wish I had the strength and resolve that you do – as you can tell, I am trying to learn from you on that front. I mean that will all my heart.

I know Appa has his imperfections, so trust him when he says he is working on those – but on the bright side, you have such a wonderful and caring Amma that more than makes up for all of that and more. And if that isn’t enough, you have an equally caring set of grandparents too – mummymma, paatti and the 2 thathas, and an amazingly loving circle of friends and family. You will soon get to know them personally and see how much they all adore you. And together, we all look forward to the many more milestones we will celebrate and cherish with you. Thank you for accepting us into your fold, dear V, and making our lives so much more meaningful and worthwhile. Happy Birthday, my darling!

Distance only makes the Heart grow fonder!

The better-half recently helped me realize that it has been 6 years since we moved back to India from the US. Wow, time sure flies when you are having fun! A lot has happened in those 6 years and those are worth a few blog posts, but it also got us thinking about all the stuff we miss in our lives now. Here’s a list for starters – not in any particular order

The Outdoors Not that we did this every day, or even every week but you could do it when you wanted to, and have a whale of a time. A fun back-country camping trip, a walk by the waterfront, weekend hike up the mountain trails, riding the ferry, or maybe just a scenic drive with the windows down – all of those count. And yes, I know you can do a lot of these in India as well, but it takes a lot more planning, effort and just isn’t the same.

Watching NFL games on a Sunday This is a big one. Yes, Lalit Modi and the IPL have tried really hard to compensate, and maybe even succeeded partially but the excitement of the NFL was just something else, especially the Playoffs. Irreplaceable loss, really!

Just getting things done What used to be an organized, take-for-granted setup for whatever tasks you needed to get done has now been replaced by chaos, disarray and rampant inefficiencies. Miss those times!

Drivers that can co-exist aah, The orderly roads, Drivers that follow rules, stick to their lanes and actually stop at red lights, and are just plain courteous to fellow-drivers on the road. It wasn’t always perfect but was a helluva lot better.

Cricket at Marymoor Yes, they consumed an entire day and the 40-over a side games tested your endurance but the passion and the spirit were infectious and made it all worth looking forward to. The NWCL and the Microsoft cricket teams rock, period!

Sunday breakfast at the crepe store @ Pike Place Market No, we didn’t do this every Sunday but the luxury of being able to walk down and get one when we felt like it was pretty awesome. Now that is reserved just for those occasional trips back to Seattle – sure wish they were more frequent.

The Jay Leno show Another classic. Yes, we can still watch him in Bangalore but they are really reruns and the timelines are out-of-whack. And when you don’t live in the US, its hard to relate to some of the stuff. In short, it just isn’t the same!

Starbucks coffee! I cannot believe I am surviving without it. The fact that I have so much of the java in my blood is probably why. One of the very first things I do after I land in the US is to run to the airport Starbucks store and grab myself a Grande Americano w/ room for cream. The South Indian filter coffee is awesome and I love it just as much, but Starbucks was special – and I am sorry, the Cafe Coffee Days and Baristas are just plain lame imitations!

My apartment in downtown Seattle Overlooked the Puget Sound with the Olympic mountains in the background. There is something very calming about looking out your window and seeing the water and snow-filled mountains first thing in the morning, even with the usually grey Seattle skies. Just makes the rest of the day go easier.

The International cuisines I miss the endless options. No matter what cuisine you fancied on a given evening, there were tons of options to pick from and they were pretty darn good. The options do exist in good old Bengaluru as well, but they just don’t cut it.

Circle of Friends And last but not the least, the truly wonderful circle of friends we had built over the years. They made life what it was and needless to say, are irreplaceable. I had made a commitment to do a good job of staying in touch, but sadly haven’t been able to do justice there. And the distance doesn’t make it any easier.

Don’t get me wrong, I love India and I love Bangalore – the crowds, the colors, the smells, the people, the chaos, the extremes, the seemingly mad rush for everything…I am sure I am biased, but life here is an amazing blend of so many varied constituents and just seems much more enriching for us, given our personalities. But that doesn’t take away from what we dearly miss. Every time we go back to the States for a visit, we try and experience a slice of that – and the rest of the time, the memories will have to suffice!

Damn Sudoku!

Every time I visit home, I get this incredibly special treatment from Mom. She treats me like I deserve to be treated (yeah!), and my wish is her command. The day begins with a nice, steaming cup of Mom-made Leo filter coffee and a copy of “The Hindu”, the local newspaper, to go with it. It is one of the reasons I enjoy coming home. Trust me, no matter how far you get in life, this is one pleasure you always yearn for.

Lately however, things seemed to have changed. My mom has this fascination for something that is getting much more of her attention than I ever did – the daily Sudoku puzzle in the paper. Thanks to this monster, I neither get the paper (she will solve every Sudoku puzzle she can get her hands on before she lets go of the paper – the rest of the stuff in the Newspaper is irrelevant apparently) nor my early morning coffee. To say she is addicted to Sudoku would be an understatement. And if she steps away for a second and I so much as glance at the paper (I could be looking at some old issue from the previous week, and it still wouldn’t matter) and she will reappear with a fury that can shake the bravest of men. All you would hear is a “Don’t you even think about touching my Sudoku!!” Yeah mom, THAT is what I was planning to do. Please, give me a break!

Really, whats with the whole Sudoku craze? Don’t get me wrong, I do like solving those puzzles, and I think they are fun. But the kind of excitement I see around me – is it for real? What is it about this puzzle that’s driving this frenzy? I wonder if someone is making any money on this addiction. There has gotta be some compelling business proposition in there. I can’t wait for crazy contraptions to show up at Pondy Bazaar that are based on it. The day that happens, I’ll have to start foregoing my lunch and dinner at home as well, not just the Coffee. Poor mom will be so buried under all of it and we’ll probably end up getting the local Saravana Bhavan to deliver our food every day. Come to think of it though, that might not be so bad after all 🙂

In Shimla

So, continuing on from here, we got to Shimla after a 4.5 hr drive, right in time for Lunch. We checked in at the Oberoi Cecil…and were told our room wouldn’t be ready for another couple of hours. Granted we were early for a 2pm check-in, but that is so not what you want to hear when you think you are really starting your vacation and just got done with a tiring trip. Yeah, we are spoiled – 4.5 hours in a chauffeur-driven, air-conditioned Toyota Innova is indeed tiring.

Anyways, we decided to make the most of the time we had by hiking up to Mall Road, getting a feel for the town and grabbing lunch. And we quickly realized, as for checking the town out, Mall Road was it – there isn’t much else to Shimla. The weather was still kinda warm considering it was June and despite the obvious attempts by the municipality to keep the town clean (I swear to God, I haven’t seen nearly as many litter bins and Do Not Spit here notices on the walls in any other Indian town), people couldn’t care less. The place is dirty, a little too crowded and kinda boring. And food? Oh, don’t even get me started on that one. Options just don’t exist, and every restaurant in town serves authentic cuisine from every place on earth that you can imagine. You thought you’d never see a Sher-e-Punjab serving authentic South Indian fare? Think again!

Hordes of monkeys (and they are perpetually hungry, of course), lots of school/college kids (apparently Shimla is a favored destination for premier education), tons of tourists – and that was about it. The locals don’t seem a very happy bunch but I don’t blame them. I would be grumpy too if I had to trek up and down steep mountain roads all day, and only to deal with millions of annoying tourists that seem to be taking over. But really, nothing else stood out as far as the town goes – the clouds were really beautiful and seemed to be constantly floating around, and the weather patterns change fairly dramatically. Sun one minute and heavy rain the next, and then bright Sun again shortly thereafter. Heck, we even got to see some Hail and it does come down with a vengeance.

I also think the folks that reside there have a terrific sense of humor – its a pity that they don’t realize they do, or worse, maybe they don’t even intend to be funny. But funny they are! A picture is worth a thousand words, they say – so here, take a look…

Well, if Mr Parkash has to go, then I guess he has to go. Deal with it, people!

Skull & Bones warning sign @ the Hospital - you were warned!

But of course...authentic South Indian cuisine from an authentic Punjabi!