Posts Tagged ‘India’

C’est la vie! No worries, Mate! Om!

February 22, 2011

I just finished reading “Eat, Pray, Love” and it was not a book that I really enjoyed. Call it a respect for books or call it obsessive compulsive but I usually don’t leave a book mid-way.

No, this blog is not about my analysis or criticism of the book I usually don’t read memoirs but I picked this up because of all the media attention that it received and also because a movie was made from it with my favorite, Julia Roberts.

In order to understand the blog, I have to give a gist of this book for those of you who have neither read nor seen the movie yet. The book is about the author’s divorce, a marriage that she decides to end because she didn’t want to have a child and settle down but then goes into a guilt trip looking for answers to justify her divorce and her actions. She re-energizes herself and gets her husband’s forgiveness through meditation and thus releases herself from the past.

How does she do this? She takes a year off of her life to follow her dreams. She travels first to Italy to learn her favorite language and to indulge in some authentic Italian food. I love Italian food and I must admit her writing was amazing because it made me feel so hungry even after a full meal. After 4 months she goes to India and lives in her Guru’s ashram to meditate and frees herself of all the guilt and past. Her last stop is Indonesia where she falls in love again. Eat, Pray, Love, get it?

What inspired me to write was the year long vacation to re-energize, rediscover her priorities and to enjoy life. How many of us would love to do this? She took this huge step at the darkest hour of her life. But do we have to wait until we lose grip of our life and ourselves? Life is unpredictable and sometimes does not turn out the way you would have imagined or even planned. To top this we all lead a busy life day in and day out carrying out the same mundane functions like a machine. Even our vacations are pre-planned with times etched out on when we should eat and when we should sleep and when it should end. We are always running to catch up with time or are so stressed about being late.

Let me hypothesize that I have the courage to get away from everything and everyone (those of you who know me will laugh at me ‘coz I have no such courage) for a year. What would I do with so much time? Here are the things that I have always wanted to do and I’ll tell you why.

1st Stop: Paris – Estimated Time: 6 months

Paris France

I have immense love for this city, almost like a crazy passion ever since my visit in 1998. I have always dreamt of living here and want to be able to speak the language like the locals. There is something about the French language that is so romantic. In fact it is included as one of the “Romance Languages”. Everything about this place is so beautiful, romantic and fashionable from Renaissance architecture to the art collection in the museums, the fountains and the way people dress. I want to savor every bit of the Parisian lifestyle visiting the cafes, indulging in some fine wine and cheese. I wouldn’t mind becoming an apprentice at a fashion house just to feel the pulse of how fashion unfolds in this country. I want to travel by train in and around France and tour the neighboring countries of Italy, Switzerland and Austria. Last but not the least I want to stay in the French countryside for a while and spend long blissful evenings sipping wine and savoring Camembert and Brie cheese.

2nd Stop: Australia – Estimated Time: 3 months


Now that I have relived the romance and beauty and re-energized myself I am left with 6 more months. The next thing that I will do is to travel down under. This is one country that I really want to go see at a leisurely pace and enjoy the coast from Cairns to Melbourne. I specifically want to see the Twelve Apostles (only 11 now), Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and wait for it… a koala bear.

3rd Stop: India – Estimated Time: 3 months

The last stop will be my home country with my parents. I want to just live there for the rest of my 3 months and reconnect with my parents, friends and my culture. I want to learn Yoga and Vipassana meditation and hopefully acquire the eternal peace of mind.

But seriously I have to win a lottery or get a surprise inheritance from a long, lost relative (where are you?) to manage this year long vacation. Well, you never know!

For now I am thinking of taking ten minutes in the day to do extra something that can give me a smile. For example read a book before going to bed which is my way of unwinding but there are so many things that can be done like taking a beauty bath or read to your baby before tucking them in or catch a TV show with your partner etc. As for weekends, I want to take 2-3 hours for myself to either go shopping or hiking or write a blog whatever that can give all of us the peace of mind. Let’s not let family, work or society dictate our lives.

Lastly, take an annual vacation and actually go away from home or let me warn you my friends that if we don’t we all will end up washing dishes. Getting away does not mean expensive vacations or a year long vacation. But it is a matter of switching off the blackberries and reconnecting with family and most importantly SELF. Think about it and plan a fantastic summer vacation filled with love and peace and don’t forget to pamper yourself.

C’est la vie! No worries, Mate! Om!

My life in Vizag, benefits of small town living!

January 18, 2011

Recently a friend of mine posted “Manikanda Samosas” on her Facebook wall which triggered a lot of comments from her group of friends including me as we all share one common thing and that is we grew up in Vizag.

Vizag is a beautiful coastal city in the state of Andhra Pradesh in southern India. The official name of this city is Visakhapatnam. I moved here from the hustle and bustle of a major metro, Calcutta in 1983 and lived there for 12 years. My life here in this city has been etched so deep in my mind that I seek it wherever I go even today.

Vizag Beaches

Irony is when my dad decided to move to Vizag, I was not looking forward to it. Having lived in Calcutta for the first 10 years of my life, I considered myself a Bengali and spoke the language fluently. I love Ravindra Sangeet, Bengali sweets especially Rosogullas (in the matkas) and Sandesh. I was lovingly acquainted with brands like K.C. Das and Flury’s, shopping at New Market and Gariahat with shop keepers shouting “Sale, Sale”! I sported a long face during the entire train journey from Calcutta to Vizag. But within 3 months, I fell in love with this city, my new life, my school and my friends and there was no looking back.  

We lived in the city for the first 5 years in Seethammadhara. It was an up and coming neighborhood when we first moved and our rental home was close to the Eastern Ghats mountains. Many evenings after school I would go on a short hike and sit at a vantage point enjoying the scenery and loving the peaceful silence with occasional bleating of goats. It was priceless! This is not something that you can get in a big city and no amount of television can give you that fresh air!

Every day I would look forward to school which was a 10-minute walk. With my backpack and my hair braided into two pig tails, I would happily skip to school, another unheard of thing in the big city of Calcutta or for that matter any major metro today. It used to be my best 10 minutes of the day. I would bump into teachers, classmates or even friends. Sometimes, on the way back home, I would stop at my friend’s place, indulge in some milk and cookies and then go home. It was so safe that my mom never worried if I were a bit late. But I have to admit that I took advantage of that royally in my teens much to her chagrin! Believe it or not, it used to take two hours in a bus each way between school and home in Calcutta and I hated that.

Coming to my school, SFS School is a very good school with honest and committed teachers who shaped me in parts of who I am today. The school encouraged sports, cultural programs, science fairs, quizzes, debates and not merely chasing the overall percentage. The teachers seemed personally interested in our academic as well as overall growth. They gently steered us towards what we wanted to do or be in the future. A school of this kind in a metro city is either hard to find or is hard to get in.

Being a coastal town, Vizag has some beautiful beaches on one side and Eastern Ghats on the other with scenic overlooks and myriads of picnic spots. It is called the “Goa of the East Coast”. Every Sunday, my parents and I would take walks along the coastline of RK Beach and I can still remember the fresh ozone filled cool air, the moonlit nights, the sunset against the horizon, exquisite! Some excellent picnic spots and beaches to jog your memory are Rishikonda, Silver Beach, Kailasagiri, Gangavaram, Araku Valley, Dolphin’s Nose etc. Best part was one did not have to travel far before you can actually find these treasures.

Dolphin's Nose Vizag

Dolphin's Nose

Araku Valley Vizag

Araku Valley



                                                                                                                                                               In our 6th year, we had to move to a small township built for Vizag Steel Plant employees which was about 35kms from the city center as mandated for my father by his company. This meant that I had to start traveling for over an hour each way to reach my school/college in the city and eat cold lunches once again. But I was older and I did not mind it at all. This one hour was great to collect my thoughts or re-energize myself with a short nap or talk non-stop with my friends who would take the ride with me sometimes. My father did not want me to ride the bus and forced me to have a chauffeur-driven car just for myself. Awesome luxury! But I was also teased because of that and I could not make my dad change his mind. Actually, no, I stand corrected, I loved that comfort so much that I did not try hard to convince him. 🙂

This Steel Plant Township was called Ukkunagaram and it literally translated to “Steel Town” in English. The town was divided into sectors and pretty much I could walk to my friends’ houses in the neighboring sectors. The only attraction at that time was the Ukkunagaram Club which became a central place for the young and the old. My friends and I would hang out there playing ping pong or at the library or just at some corner, gossiping, a blissful occupation of a teenager! The Club would air movies every week and have Bingo nights. It hosted so many parties and festival celebrations including the most sought after New Year’s Eve parties.

But as a teenager I was not satisfied about living in Vizag even though I cherish every minute of it now. This is a common affliction among small towners with big dreams. On one hand this was a city where I made some friends for life. But the city at that time was not hip or a happening place like Bangalore or Delhi. There were no cool places in the city for teenagers to hang out.  There was just one place called “Baker’s Inn” and we would flock to that tiny joint at the drop of a hat to indulge in their yummy black forest cakes. I wonder if it still exists!

Soon it was time to leave Vizag as my father retired and moved to Bangalore. I too finished my post-graduation and took up a job in Bangalore. I was really looking forward to enjoying all that I thought I had missed. But life was a complete contrast. I felt lost in the big city of Bangalore. I missed my friends. Yes, I went to parties and discos, hung out in cool places that I so much craved for as a teenager but it was not the same. The people I met were fakes or opportunists and everything was related to a “need” with a “use and throw” mentality. But eventually I met my husband and some very nice friends and its not that bad when you know people but I still miss Vizag. 

Added to that, I missed the comfort of our township life with no power outage or water shortage. Unfortunately such basic necessities are still a problem even in the metro cities of India despite all the advancements the country has made. This is an accepted profound reality of India where day-to-day life weaves along a patchwork of contrasting examples of progress and backwardness.

Anyway, I think my 12 years in Vizag has made me a small town person and I am proud of it. In fact I fell in love with Phoenix because it remined me so much of it like the heat, mountains, clear skies, beautiful sunsets etc.

Phoenix sunset

But can we really stop progress from happening with the world’s burgeoning population? Vizag is no longer a small town and neither is Phoenix. Either I have to keep looking for smaller towns until they run out or strive to keep my small town characteristics alive and survive in today’s rat race. As of now, its the latter but I hope some day I can settle down in peace by the coast preferrably!

                      Wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Is Ranbir Kapoor the next Superstar?

June 26, 2010

Ever since Amitabh Bachchan was conferred the title of a superstar, all of us from simple viewers and fans like me to the media and the movie industry have been waiting for a successor to this prestigious Bollywood title. Every some years we have young actors showing a lot of potential but falling short somewhere. 

I still remember when Shahrukh Khan made his debut in Baazigar he played the same angry young man’s role which had catapulted Amitabh to a profound fame and glory unmatched to this day. Although Shahrukh’s retribution tactics was a bit more on the gray side than that of Amitabh’s character Vijay, Shahrukh’s screen presence and his charisma with women (or should I say the would-be mothers-in-law) were awesome. But somehow it was nowhere near Vijay’s devotion to his mother, his style of avenging injustice a la Robin Hood style and his romance with women played by timeless beauties like Parveen Babi, Zeenat Aman and the evergreen Rekha. Well, no wonder Shahrukh Khan stopped doing the roles of an angry young man and became a romantic hero more like Rajesh Khanna and created a separate niche for himself as the “Baadshah” of Bollywood. Befitting, indeed!

Amitabh Bachchan vs Shahrukh

Another contender for Amitabh’s much coveted title was Hrithik Roshan. I fell flat for him in Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, loved his raw emotions in Fizaa and was smitten by him in Lakshya. But something happened after that. He just decided to go the Sallu way, shirtless, bearing his 6-pack and showcasing his dancing skills more than his acting talent. Guess what, Shahid Kapoor stole his thunder as a dancer and the 6-packs are so common these days, even cuties like Aamir’s got one.

My husband’s bet was and still is on Abhishek Bachchan. He is very likeable, simple and fun, a true chip of the old block. But how serious is Abhishek? He comes across as an ambition-less lad lost in his father’s glory and now basking in the splendor of his wife. I know I am harsh but he has great potential and I hate to see it go waste. Just think about it, he does a great movie like Guru and then he makes five awful movies in which he is so silly that if I had a “delete” button, I would just keep hitting it.

So, coming back to this superstar title, why is it so hard to get? Is it Amitabh himself who just keeps setting the bar higher and higher? Let’s look his career briefly – 

Amitabh Bachchan through the years

Superstar, Amitabh Bachchan

  • Amitabh started his career in 1970 with Saat Hindustani and bagged the best newcomer National Award. He then went onto win 14 Filmfare awards in various categories, 2 more National Awards, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shree. Still counting!
  • From 1970 to 1982, he gave us constant hit films like Zanjeer, Sholay, Deewar, Namak Haraam, Amar Akbar Anthony, Trishul, Don, Satte Pe Satta, Shakti and so many more. (He was also lucky that his only competitor Vinod Khanna decided to drop out of Bollywood to follow Osho Rajneesh. Otherwise who knows what the outcome would have been!) 
  • However, an unfortunate accident in the sets of Coolie led to a decade of flops for Amitabh but his image remained untarnished. Then came Agneepath in 1991! Bam! It resurrected his image. 
  • But he was not really young and went through another decade of flops and a lot of personal struggles. Best part about his career is that his fans never deserted him. 
  • With Mohabbatein in 2000, he totally re-invented himself and started playing the roles of a father and what a cool dad he became! 

There is no looking back since then. He played some very different and challenging roles in movies like Aks, Black, Sarkar, Paa, Rann etc giving him more awards, fanfare and fame. So, is it really possible for another human being to achieve this kind of success? But the title needs a successor. In fact, I was surprised when I heard this title being used randomly in the recent Filmfare Awards on everyone from Shahid Kapoor to Neil Nitin Mukesh who have not even achieved a quarter of what Amitabh has done. It looks like people in the industry have given up. But I am still searching for the next superstar.

After a long time, I am feeling very hopeful because of Ranbir Kapoor. A product of phenomenal genetic lineage (Neetu Singh, Rishi Kapoor and the entire Kapoor clan) and a perfect physical make up. He is gorgeous, period. And, he can also act. Phew!

A similarity with Amitabh is undeniable. Both are extremely tall and are not necessarily out and out handsome. Both are lanky with long nose and strange eyes but have some kind of a charisma to attract fans in big numbers and appeal to the young and the old. I know it’s too early to predict but hey, if anyone can get away wearing a pink turban and yet considered macho, it’s Ranbir.

Ranbir Kapoor vs. Amitabh Bachchan

In just 2 years or so, he has established himself as a great performer. But Ranbir better make up his mind on whether he just wants to be good-looking hunk dropping towels to expose his derriere or he wants to really become a superstar. His latest Rajneeti may have gotten him accolades but I was pretty disappointed. He just came across as too serious. If this was supposed to be a role of Michael Corleone, Abhishek Bachchan played it very well in Sarker. So, my friends, the field is wide open as it always has been but I will always remain hopeful even though I am a big fan of Amitabh.

Best of Both Worlds!

January 8, 2010

This is in continuation to my previous post. So, I finally reached Bangalore, India. I always strive to blend into the local life although sometimes it is tough and I can’t help feeling out of touch. Things keep changing so fast from clothing styles to one-ways on roads and even the general landscape that it is hard to keep up. This blog of mine is devoted to showcase these new changes in India which may tempt a lot of us to actually go back which seems to be the trend these days anyway.

10 – 20 years ago when I was living in India, there were a lot of things that I craved for but could not get my hands on them easily. A simplest of examples would be Coca Cola. It was not allowed to be sold in India until 1993. Computer and Internet at home was unheard of. It started to show up in a few affluent homes only by 1999-2000. But internet was through the telephone line and the downloading speed was so slow that you could easily have a nap. Yawn!

Despite growing up in a conservative South Indian family steeped in Carnatic classical music, I was hooked on to western music ranging from Pop to Classic Rock to some Hard Rock and Country. Music of this kind was not easily accessible then. I remember hunting down music stores who had a good collection of this music and paying through my nose to have them record it for me in metallic audio cassettes. Same with movies! We would get Hollywood movies only after 3-6 months of its release in the US and not all the movies made it.

Western clothes and shoes for women were hard to get even in the metros where it was mainly worn. All we had were small exports shops. I am sure a lot of my friends in Bangalore just like me have shopped at VT (Victoria Terminus) and La Bamba on Brigade Road. (FYI -the latter still exists). Once I started to work, I would eagerly wait for an opportunity to go abroad to shop. Singapore and Dubai were the nearest cities for our shopping needs. How excited we used to be for the Dubai Shopping Festival and I recall how busy the travel agencies and airlines were during those times.

You know, I sometimes wondered why we had so many local brands starting with a B – Bata (for shoes), BPL (for home electronics), Britannia (snacks), Bombay Dyeing (textiles)! Sumeet blender and Ambassador Car were either an aberration or a relief from this alphabet! 🙂

By 2003, we started to see a few American brands in major metros. But it was only in 2006 the Indian government took a monumental step ushering in a huge change. It started allowing single-brand retailers to own 51% of their business operations in India. That paved the way for a lot of American brands to enter the market like Subway, Lacoste, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Tommy Hilfiger, Subway and so many more on the way like Starbucks, Gap etc. My 5 year old nephew and I were so excited to see our favorite brand Crocs easily available in India this time.

Fast forward to 2009 and you will see that India has done a complete turnaround. With the economy booming despite the crisis in the western world, people have more money to spend and more people are getting hooked to urban way of life. But you can’t help notice that the old world charm existing side by side –

* There are malls everywhere housing not only American brands but also “desi” stuff.

* Cars have become a necessity now and almost all the brands that we see here are being driven there along with some unique ones designed for Indian roads.

* High-rise buildings and apartments are coloring the landscape everywhere. But can you really ignore the slums?

* The simple chai and coffee “addas” of my times co-exist with Coffee Day and Barista Coffee parlors.

* You have retail chain giants like Food World and Reliance but the small time vendors like Subamma angadi are also doing just fine.

* The wine industry is booming now and what a range of red wines and some of them as good and crisp in flavor as the Californian wines! Best part is they are from local vineyards that have mushroomed in the last 2 years.

* There is organic food now in India. There are not just stores selling organic vegetables that are locally grown but you also get jeans and tops made of organic cotton.

One of the main reasons a lot of us came here to the US was to enjoy the best of both worlds. As you can see the Indians in India are doing the same. On one hand they can be sporting foreign brands from head to toe and eat at Subway and love pizza but they can never divorce the masala dosa, Ayurveda or Yoga! They might watch all the Hollywood movies and be up to date with gossip but the ring tone in their cell phone would be the latest Bollywood song. Women who would never dream of wearing anything but the noble salwar kameez are comfortable wearing long tunics on jeans or leggings.

All this has happened in spite of the government. If the government had played hand in hand with this incredible change at every step, we would not be seeing a pathetic infrastructure barely supporting this progress.

This change is not only intrinsic but also global. The US companies are now doing a global launch of their new products as opposed to launching just in the US first. I can now go watch Avatar and so also my friend in India on the same day and we can talk about it in Facebook! I love it!

India today is a beautiful blend of the east and the west, the old and the new creating a unique identity for itself and I salute this new brand India!

 Jai Ho!

Traveling for 20 hours or more by air!

December 21, 2009

Most of you know by now that I recently flew to India to spend some time with family. It’s always great to meet up with relatives and friends and even greater to shop and to gorge on some mouth-watering food which we miss so much here.

But the thing that I really hate about going back home is the long air travel. By virtue of my location, it becomes even harder as I only have one airline option to fly directly to Bangalore, India. But being from the travel industry, I am not too keen to fly that airline as they are notorious for poor baggage handling and lately their crew goes on strike often.

Once during our previous trip, our baggage didn’t come and the airline staff was right outside our gate waiting for us. Before we could react, they handed us cash for necessities and told us that the bags would come in the next flight. Cash is good, really good. It makes you even smile at them. Then the form makes its appearance where we have to list all the valuables and the net worth in each baggage. It hits you then, “what if I don’t get the bags…oh, my favorite pair of jeans, my expensive sweater and all the gifts I got for family. I know the money they give will cover everything but do they really understand how much time and effort I have spent shopping for those best-fit jeans?

Psst! I didn’t lose those jeans. 🙂

So, my only other option was to fly out from major airports like Denver, Chicago, LA etc depending on the airline. I took my friend’s suggestion and tried Singapore Airlines, loved it and have been flying with them since 2006.

So, my first leg of travel was to fly to LA and it takes about an hour and a half. There was a short layover of 3 hours in LA. But by the time you go to the international airport, stand in line to get your boarding pass and go through security, trust me, you will have no time to kill. Because, LAX airport is worse than an airport even in a developing country

Okay, the next leg in my journey was from LA to Tokyo which is about 12 hours. Since it took off at noon, you really can’t fall asleep. That’s why I am glad to be on Singapore Airlines as they have the best in-flight entertainment. They not only have the latest movies but also some episodes of popular TV shows, non-stop music, games etc.

I watched 3 movies back to back on my own personal monitor. The first one was “Julie and Julia”, loved it. The next one was “The Ugly Truth” with the dashing Gerard Butler. You know, I just love his Irish accent and the way his mouth gets so crooked when he speaks. No wonder my husband hates him. 🙂

At this point, they served us lunch. Their vegetarian Indian meal is pretty average. I really don’t know why they gave me a bag of Sun Maid raisins at every meal. It’s not like we Indians keep snacking on raisins or maybe they want us to. Go Figure!

I still wasn’t sleepy so I went back to browsing for more movies and decided to watch “My Sister’s Keeper”. It had some great performances and tear-jerking moments! I recommend watching such movies to keep your eyes from getting dry in that frigid air. Then came dinner with another bag of raisins! LOL!

By then it was 11 pm (LA time) and I finally fell asleep but an hour later the flight landed in Tokyo. Aarghh!

Here, we get an hour’s break before we embark the same plane to sit for 7 more hours to reach Singapore. At this point you are pretty much dead beat and despite all entertainment, all you want to do is sleep.

We finally reached the magical Singapore Changi Airport, a Mecca for the tired traveler. I fly Singapore Airlines mainly because of my love for this airport. It is not a mere airport people, but it is a mini-city. It has everything that you can possibly imagine from a full-fledged state-of-the art gym to transit lounges. It also has a hotel called Ambassador Transit hotel where you can rent rooms on a 4-hr basis.


Apart from numerous restaurants serving different kinds of cuisines, there is also a fantastic range of shopping from travel necessities to apparel, make-up, perfumes, electronics, souvenirs etc with brands ranging from Burberrys, Tiffany’s, Gucci and so on. There is free internet browsing stations, Wi-Fi areas, a movie theatre, children’s play area, an orchid garden and now more recently a butterfly garden. They even have a huge swimming pool. Phew! You can live here for 2 days and not get bored, really!

  My last leg was a mere 4 hours flight and I was in Bangalore. Touch down! Of course, you now deal with jet lag until your disoriented body gets used to the time zone.

 Best part for me is I travel either ways and I still come home!

 Bon Voyage!