Saturday, December 31, 2011

        I have always believed that friends you make- atleast the best ones, will always stay. No matter what. And suddenly, towards the fag end of 2011, I seem to have been saying bye byes to many people who have grown to mean so much to me- First Sameer, then it’s almost time for Jennyka to leave, and then- the last person I would dream of not having around- you.
        Though I keep mentioning many, many friends, I’m sure, Nithya,, you know that there are some that I prize more than many others, and, I want you to know that you fall in that list. Office, and Chennai- in general, post Jan 8 is going to a lot duller for me. I keep putting off thinking about it, but today I realize that next week, this time, you would be all packed to leave. I am glad you are brave enough to follow your heart for what you want- it is not a decision many of us would be able to easily make, but I am also going to miss you very very much. The magnitude doesn’t sink in now. It would not sink in, until 9th morning, when I reach work, and ping you for the weekend gossip. It would not sink in until we don’t have you around for chai. You are not going to be there to kick Ranjith as nobody would dare to (considering his size :P) or ask Arun to shut up or roll your eyes about something that somebody says- an action which only few of us would catch. You wouldn’t be there saying. ‘let’s leave babe’, and those train rides with the incessant chatter or comfortable silences would be gone. Almost a year of travelling together- it is going to be very hard. Then there would be the Friday Toastmasters sessions that would need you so bad to fill in for some role or the other, some shopping that needs to be done, some new eating place that I would love to check out, or some sense that I would want drilled inside me- and an empty space which you had been filling in this far.

        I think of all the fun times I had this year, and more than often, it has you sharing the frame with me. The turtle walk, Himalayas,Nagala, innumerable birthday parties, beach fun, long rides, shopping, train rides, gossip, heart talk, free advice inebriated giggles, laughter, Pondicherry, Ooty, so many new eating places, lots of laughter, and, inevitably, some testing times as well, that we did cross pretty reasonable well.

        I am glad I came to know you- I admire you for many things, and you have taught me a great deal. How to pick up and move on. How it’s okay to try for what you want. And how to gracefully accept it when you don’t get it.  How to come to terms with the madness that the heart wrecks. How to set goals- and achieve them. How to selflessly love people, and be loved back. How to support friends when they need you, and be soothed by their support when you need it real bad.

        I know this is not bye bye, per se. Less than a week after you leave, I am going to there, anyway. And yes, you are going to be coming down, or I am going to be travelling to Pune every now and then. Work or not- excuses are not hard to come by J Still, you are going to be missed, in a way that is hard to pen down, and cannot be expressed, until felt.

        I want you to know that you maean a lot to us, you make us all very very proud of you, and I wish you a very happy 2012- may this year bring you all the happiness, answers and truck loads of money and loads of travel, merriment and joy :-) 

Ps- I know there are a lot of better pics, but I wanted to capture the ‘moments’ :P

Monday, October 17, 2011

The French Connection

          Very often it happens that there would be some marvelous destination that is a stone’s throw from your place, and you never really take the trouble to check it out; keep putting it off for another day, but head to distant locales, throwing more cash than you intended to on those vacations. And one fine day, you make up your mind to ‘just go check the damn place out’- and fall in love with it. Exactly what happened to me this weekend, at Pondicherry.

          I had always wanted to go to this little Union Territory, close to four hours from Chennai, by road., for the French connection that it offered. Having learnt enough of the language and culture for a good five-six years, with the folks at the Alliance Français  doing a pretty remarkable job of it, it was only natural that I  wanted to go see if it was  la meme chose.

          And boy it was. Much, much better!!!

          We started from Chennai at around 4 pm and the drive was uneventful, reaching Pondicherry at around 7.30 pm. The best part about the trip was that two among us were locals, so they had an itinerary in their heads, saving us precious research time. And I can say, no amount of research and planning would have made a better trip that what these friends had drawn up for us. We headed to one of their homes to dump the bags and freshen up. Then we headed out for the night. 

          The UT is markedly split into two- the French quartiers and the Indian neighborhoods. The architecture, colours, the crowd, even the width of the roads, spelt the difference. Smart policemen with red hats caught my attention everywhere we drove through. That is also a French-hand-me-down custom, I hear.  We went to this settlement near the beach, with all the roads named Rue-blah-blah. The spot is simply awesome for a walk- the weather and the bunch of merry friends only complementing the scene. We went to this diner called Le Club, Rue Dumas. Amazing place- great ambience and music, splendid food, only slightly expensive. Wanting to experiment authentic French cuisine, the gang asked me to choose. I picked dishes that I remembered from text books: Poulet au citron- (Lemon Chicken?)  and Poulet à la Crème de Champignon (Chicken cooked with mushroom sauce). The mushroom sauce won.

          We headed to the beach carrying clinking bottles of breezers. There was this push cart selling fried fish, squid, macaroni, fried rice and noodles. I’m blaming it on the Indian appetite, because the single course meal at Le Club was simply not filling enough. We settled down on the sand less beach, making ourselves comfortable on the rocks, with the moon for company. In a word- Amazing. I would rate this the best part of the trip. Pulling one another’s legs,  sipping and stuffing our faces with food, giggling away, with the boys having more than enough eye candy for themselves- it was a very fine evening indeed.

          We headed back home quite late, calling it a day. The next morning saw us up just in time for brunch. We went back to the same quartier, walking around, checking curio shops, and saying non, merci at anything that was offered. Expensive stuff. Very very. But great ideas, if you are the handicrafts sort of person.
More food at La Terrasse,, Beach Corner. Fairly economical, good food, frequented by a mixed crowd. I even walked over to a gang of French girls and struck up a little bit of conversation...good fun. We ordered quite a bit, but I would recommend the steaks, pizzas and a certain bacon omelette. Very tasty.

          Post lunch, we drove to this spot that not many tourists know of. The residents took us there to show it off, and we couldn’t stop going ‘oooh-aaaah’ over it. It is a little down the rickety road from the light house- a pier leading into the beach, for a good two hundered metres. The sun was playing spoil sport, but it is a splendid place to go for a swim, or to just chill out. We hung around there for a while, and started back home…the poor man’s holiday, but couldn’t have asked for more!

          The way back was eventful enough, with Gaurav promising me a three digit numeral on the R15 speedometer- and keeping it. And ironically, after we relinquished the bike to Arun and switched to the car, he was caught for over speeding: 65 Kmph. (straight face)

          Some favoured must visit places apart from those mentioned- Madame Shante’s, Rendezvous, Auroville and the Ashram. Auroville stays closed between 12 noon and 4 pm, so you might want to plan accordingly. All of us had visited the Ashram, so we just skipped it- but it is beautiful- soothing. On a closing note- - Pondy is an awesome destination, every Chennaite simply has to visit it atleast once. You have no idea what you are missing!

Friday, October 14, 2011

          The other day, we had this debate at Toastmasters, the L&T Chapter. It was one of those topics that has been debated enough, through the centuries past, and will always be questioned for those that follow. Capital Punishment? Or Forgive and let live? I had gruesome facts and figures, but no matter what I said, my friend Gaurav stood his stand- prisons reform people. In the solitary confinement of a prison, he said, a man is condemned to live with nothing but this thoughts. He lives his past again, and withers away thinking about the future that he could have had. He craves for the love of his family, and buries himself in regret. ‘You have no idea what goes on inside their heads during those days, with nothing but stench, walls, stale food and survival instinct for company’ he told me in a low voice, with a buddhist-monk ring to it, ‘Read Shantaram’.
          And soon enough, it landed on my lap- gift wrapped. I kept putting off reading it. 900 odd pages needed exclusive attention and time. I was then reading a Harold Robbins, that was followed by a couple of Arthur Haileys..and when there was absolutely nothing to read on a rainy evening, I flipped this open.
And I was hooked.
          The tale is written in first person. Gregory David Roberts claims it is a true story, the grim details make you hope it is not. The title, Shantaram, is what Roberts’ friend’s mother names him when he visits a remote village in Maharashtra. Man of Peace. Though, through the entire length of the book, he goes by the name Lin. Lin baba. He is convict, a heroin addict, who escapes from prison in Australia, lands in Mumbai- and falls for the city. He lives in a slum, he starts a free clinic there, he trades in the black market, gets involved with the local mafia, fights a war in Afghanistan, stars in a Bollywood movie, attains international smuggler status, falls in love, and throughout- describes every detail with amazing clarity, that the words come alive, coming together to form motion pictures in your head.
          It is ironic, I believe, after reading this book, that a gora has taught me so much about the Mumbai that I share a very special bond- it is my mum’s city and the city where I was born. Not only did I pick some more Marathi from it (I’m in the Marathi learning phase currently), I also got to know quite a bit about the people and the culture of the city. The standing babas. The mafia. Cocaine. Cold turkey. Smuggling. Love.  Friendship. Death. Trust. Prisons. Black markets. Forgery. Guns. Refugees. And the value of life. How each one of us ought to be happy to simply be alive. And the gift that call the present.
You should read it to get the feel of it. It would ruin the surprise if I said more.
          Through the past week, I had also been giving a few friends a very hard time, texting phrases and quotes from the book, at very odd hours, as I was reading. Some moved my heart, some made me think, some made me go- ‘THAT Is the answer!’.  Some of those, for you guys:

“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised and we can never know which one is which until we've loved them, left them or fought with them.”

“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. In the end that's all there is: love and its duty, sorrow and its truth. In the end that's all we have - to hold on to tight, until the dawn.”

“We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive.”

“We find it easier to be brave for someone else than we do for ourselves alone.”

“Silence is the tortured man’s revenge.”

“Nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.”

“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread instead is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they are dead and gone.”

“When we are young, we think suffering is something that is done to us. As we grow older, we realize that real suffering is measured by what is taken away from us.”

“Most loves are like this: your heart feels like an overcrowded life boat. First you throw pride out to keep it afloat. Then your self respect. Then your independence. After a while, you throw people out-your friends, everyone you used t know. But it still keeps sinking, and you know it’s taking you down with it.”

“People haven't stopped believing in love. They haven't stopped wanting to be in love. They just don't believe in a happy ending anymore.”

“We know who we are and define what we are by reference to the people we love and our reasons for loving them.”

The gyan overflows. But it brought me peace. a lot of it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Tale Of Two Cities

          Yes, I know my choice of title is pathetic, sad, still. I have not posted in such a long while that I have been feeling extremely guilty for having been this mean to the blog. So here goes. This (of course) is a tale of two cities. One is my Chennai, and wonder as I might how it is rationally possible to even amount this much love toward a city, I find no answers, and only increased respect, for this misunderstood and (relatively) conservative, slow city. The second is Pune, where I went on this mini-vacation for an extended weekend, and simply could not get enough of. The funny bit in this story is that around the same time I went to Pune, a couple of Pune friends came to Chennai for a couple of months, on work. So while I was, over here, playing the expert city-guide and taking them around, over there, I was chauffeured around, playing tourist, dainty darling, and all fussed over. EOD- lots of fun, happy memories, and wide smiles.
           Pune is one city that boasts of providing domicile to a number of very close friends of mine. Ironically, when I left to Pune, two of those friends were ‘condemned to Chennai’ as they would like to put it, at around the same time, but that is a different war altogether and we shall not go into those details. So when I land in Pune, I expect to see just one friend, taking an extended lunch break to whisk me away to work. Instead I see a mini welcome committee (yes, three IS a crowd!) and I am already all smiles. The Pune airport is- yes, no other word for it- Small. It bears this lost, deserted look. But that can be excused. As I step out of the airport, I look for the sun dude. I feel the warmth, but no glare. And as I ride on the pillion, all of a sudden a mild drizzle makes me grin. And I learn that these drizzles are common place here. More grins. I bum around in CCD for a couple of hours, waiting for my crowd to finish work. Then we all head to Apache, on FC road- Ferguson College Road. And we sit there from 7 pm to..close to 11 pm. Long, but I lose track of how time flew. I vaguely remember someone-Soham(or was it Ninad?), scribbling on the wall with ketchup, loud, incessant laughter, and a tummy ache that resulted from it, walking (with support) on the roads in the drizzle (again), chocolate paan, a shouting war with Sameer- for no valid reason, of course, I just missed fighting with him, and finally, home, dry clothes, a cozy bed, and the two girlfriends- Dipa and Deepa, who are in the mood for girl-talk. The next day, we walk to a very late breakfast. Then we meet another close friend, Ru, who has come all the way from Mumbai, (big hug to you for that). He tells me, “Gitu, I’m not going to take you to the malls and the cinemas. They are the same everywhere.” And he takes me hill-climbing somewhere on the Pune-Mumbai highway. And I cannot get enough of the climate! You can imagine, a hidden sun, surprise sprinkles, and three friends who are all energy- I don’t remember what I found funny or what we spoke about, but I remember a lot of smiles. Oh, and a bullock that charged at us. And before we know it, it’s close to dinner time and we meet Ru’s dad, say pranaam, talk for a while, then uncle tells Ru, “Take them na, to Corinthians.” So off we set to Corinthians. In a word- Amazing place. I don’t know if it was the climate, or crowd, or the sheer architecture/design of the place that made the evening so magical (it was definitely not the food), but that, was a night to remember! The next morning, we wake up to feast on Misal Pav. And then I am taken around to all the roads- MG Road, FC Road, JM Road..yes, I’m already an expert! I stuff myself with SPDP and Pani puri, and walk around so much that my legs tire, and then I stuff myself with scraped chocolate shakes from Cad-B. And before I know it, day 3 finishes even before it started, and it’s time to leave! The next morning, I want to try Dosa in Pune. It was a bad idea. The best dosas are made where they belong. Period. But- I had the best coffee of my life at MM Restaurant, Aundh. Highly recommended. And then, all teary farewells and promises to meet soon ensue.. . And I board the plane back home. .
          Now it is my turn to play the tour guide, and show my city off. To people from Pune. But Anup and Shreyas are nice guys. I know for a fact that after their city, the sun was roasting them alive, but they bravely put up with it. I had my visit-agenda in place- they had theirs. The very first weekend they hit Pondicherry. Anup recommends Madame Santé, which specializes in authentic French cuisine. A little expensive, but great food. What does Chennai offer to a tourist? Variety in food, so we sampled biryani, idly, dosa, pongal, vada- the likes. We have no dearth of malls. Express Avenue leads the pack, closely followed by Sky walk, Spencers and Citi Centre. It is such a mad race to obtain tickets for movies during the weekends, though. We went all the way to AGS, Villivakkam once, to catch a show. Oh, and the boys booked tickets in AGS Navalur for another movie- that got cancelled an hour before the show. Yes, the theatre is outside the city, and yes, that also happens. We have the beach!! Clean beaches, clean water, but, are they safe enough for a small crowd is the question. The Puneites tell me that they love the transport facilities here. And the share auto system. That, I should second. It is a boon. God’s answer to the overpriced auto-wallahs. We have some great spots to visit around Chennai- but the sad part is that they are all so far off. We went to Mahabalipuram one Sunday. It took us the whole day to visit it and come back- but it was definitely worth it. And I highly recommend the light house climb. The view is worth the climb. We also went to Dakshin Chitra last weekend. That is one place every tourist simply MUST be taken to- because it captures the essence of South India- if not wholly, atleast enough to take back home. Great souvenirs, moderately priced, but awesome food, and lots of things to see! We went to 10, Downing street that other day, and that is another place that you could go over to, for lunch or dinner. Recommend taking a visitor there, anytime. I have taken people there all the time, and they are always floored. We also got to take them to T Nagar to experience a flavor of the Chennai shopping experience. I was looking for trekking spots around Chennai- Sadly there are none that are very close by. I happened to visit Nagala recently- but even that is close to 3 hours away. And if I am not wrong- it is the closest. So today I was making a list of all the places I ought to have taken them to- I added MGM/ Kishkinta- the theme parks. And Murugan Idly kadai. I think every visitor also needs to be taken to one of the many authentic Chettiar restaurants around- and try the fish fry. To the ones who bond with nature- Vedanthangal is a must during the season. And definitely take them to one of our big temples- Mylapore or Vadapalani. And grab some sundal and sit in the breeze, popping them into our mouths. Anup and Shreyas leave today, and I have promised them all these during their next visit, But ending on a don-your-thinking-caps-please note: what else do we offer that is uniquely ‘Chennai’?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


        As the bunch of us twenty-somethings packed our bags and waited with frenzied excitement for May 13th , we could think of nothing else but snow, mountains, camping, tents, more snow, adventure sports, hard core trekking, loads of fun..oh and some more snow. We figured out that snow was not that big a deal in no time, but I’ll save that story for later. So off we started, to Manali and further up (via Delhi, but it doesn’t matter), in collaboration with Trek India. Two weeks of blissful calm- no deadlines, no excel sheets, no presentations to be made…Just the endless mountains capped with snow, perennial chill breeze, great friends, hot food- nature at its best- and to nobody’s surprise I had no recollection of my outlook password when I returned. Should give you peek into what made the trip something more than just unforgettable.

        The trip- let’s call it expedition from now on, gives me a nice feeling that way-had a three day trek as part of the package. Off we set, with rucksacks and all, camping in two different spots, each of increasing altitudes. If it was campfires, hot piping chai, and incessant laughter from within the cramped tents during the evenings, the mornings were consumed by long treks that seemed unending and at times treacherous. Each of those three days saw us trek close to ten hours a day. Trail 1 was just an ice breaker. Trail 2 was when we had our first brush with snow. We had visualized powdery white layers on which we could run and play catch. Reality- We kept tripping and falling on our faces. And when you sit on it for too long, it is like your butt is on fire. Not nice at all. We camped in a valley between two towering mountains. It was an evening with many firsts- first snowfall, first evening answering an unrelenting nature behind a tree, and going ‘Oi, that’s MY tree!’, our campsite being invaded by atleast a few hundred sheep, gleefully bleating away, drawing water from the stream close by, drinking from it, sleeping with the stars overhead. Ah. Trail 3 was something that only six of us volunteered for. We climbed 13,000 feet above sea level. It was literally that. Climbing. On all fours. One mis-step and it would have been goodbye life, you’ve been good. When I reached the summit, I cried. Never mind that we climbed an unnamed peak :P

        We tried our hand at the many adventure sports that Manali offered. River crossing- monkey-on-rope-tied-between-two-poles style, for starters. Add a bit of rock climbing, jumering and other mountaineering tricks. Then you are ready for the big ones. I did not have the stomach for Zorbing, but I believe everybody should paraglide atleast once in their lifetime. From up there- people looking like pinpricks, even with your stomach crying for deliverance from all the virtual frogs jumping inside, you love the feeling! And it always gets over too soon. We later rafted on the whooshing Beas river. A nice guy from Nepal was our instructor. And that again was ten kilometers of screams, prayers, too much water- and fun that we could never get enough of.

        Manali town can be described as small, vibrant and colourful. It has something for everybody- We spotted a Madras Idly Restaurant there. It is famous for the different flavoured wines and fruit crushes that are locally produced. Another must have is the famed trout fish that is caught from the river, cooked and served in no time. Delicacy- and super tasty. I would highly recommend walking around the town by oneself. The people are a friendly lot. Even if two cars close to ram on one another, nobody yells. They smile and say ‘aap pehle’. The Tibetan market is a great place for some super-colourful woolen wear, at great prices. And one should not miss fresh, ripe strawberries that are sold at throwaway rates on the pavements. Oh, and I should say- weed grew like how it is called- weed, over here. Such a waste, We walked for hours, savouring the myriad sights, smells and sounds. Good times, I must say.

        Though the days were slow, and we had no necessity for a watch or the mobile phone, and nothing to do but laze around and just…let go, it seemed like it was all over too soon. What did I carry home? Lots of happy memories, an awful, stubborn tan that I got from the snow (that scared people at work and prompted a friend to start addressing me Blackey), a sense of contentment and achievement (yes, I climbed an unnamed peak!) and an urge to go back at the next given opportunity. Manali has gotten to me :)  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My mum’s favourite lines

Carefully picked from my mum's repository. My reactions to all these would vary from defiant stare to tearful sob to indifferent eye-roll.
  • I think we got the wrong baby home from the hospital.
  • Did I bring you up to think and act like THIS?
  • Where did I go wrong with you?
  • Why of all the girls in the world are only YOU like this?
  •  I think this is God’s way of testing me.
  • I need strength.
  • No sane mother will put up with all this.
  • May be I did a lot of paavam in my previous jhanmam.
  • You are old enough. You are not a child anymore.
  • Look at your hair.
  • Are you going out wearing THAT???
  • Did you look at the mirror?
  • You need more clothes?? No, seriously?
  • Don’t you have anything else to wear? (the answer will trigger the previous line. Vicious circle)
  • I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Tell me again. Why?
  • Are you mad? You need to meet a shrink.
But her favourit-est one, whatever said and done:
I have the best daughter in the whole world!!!! :D
Aww. Love you ma :-)


Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

Random stuff that has been swirling around my head past few days.
A woman can intuitively sense it when her man means what he says, when he doesn’t. When he lies and when he is faithful. When he ‘goes into his cave’ and when he wants to talk. But why, why can’t a woman just KNOW for sure that it would click with someone when she sees him for the first time? We can’t go wrong with the secondary aspects. But we stumble so much when it the primary aspect in question.

Why is it that the closer we get, the more we fight? Differences that never mattered get highlighted. Trivial things achieve volcanic proportions. Why is it that people act cool with everything in the beginning- and then all of a sudden, have a problem with the same issues?

Why can’t men say what they have in their mind? And then there are all these jokes about how a woman means yes when she says no, and says no when she means yes. The biggest joke of all is a man who has a song in his heart and cannot bring himself to sing it. Sometimes he might hum it and give us hope. But there it ends.

Why is it drilled into our head that it is the man who has to say it and never the woman? Why can’t we bring ourselves to change it?

What is the best thing that can happen to you?

Why can’t we bring ourselves to be happy with what we have? Why do have to keep wishing for more? Screw motivational theories. Where did all the “self-motivation is the way” go?

Why is it that the greatest happiness comes from the smallest things?

Why is it that the most unachievable things seem so important..and once you do reach them- they seem so banal?

“Dissatisfaction is the nature of existence. Unanswered questions are the only answers.”- Karan Bajaj, Keep off the grass (highly recommended)