Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Times Square

Pic: Times Square

As I made yet another bus journey from Boston to New York last week, the feeling of awe had almost disappeared, as it had become a routine to make this trip every few days. Every time I traveled to New York, I was absorbed into a group; the group adding a different dimension to the city. The more I talk about NY, the less it seems, and that can just be attributed to the diverse floating population visiting the city throughout the year. Two of the best cities that I have visited, that have driven me to a feeling of absolute bliss, undoubtedly, have to be Paris and New York.

So, as the Memorial Day trip was made, there won't be any fun if I don't introduce the protagonists who had planned to get together for the three day weekend. Three day weekends are special, since it gives an opportunity to go one notch above, and travel that extra bit. Flight prices soar sky high, but when there are talks of meet up, it is too tempting to let go off the opportunity. Ok, let's get to the unholy introductions. There is no point in introducing about myself, because, I am a sort of guy about whom, The girl next door, would go and tell her mom "He is the 'bestest' guy in the world!"

Let me start with the important devil of the group, Shubhika. Half the time she talks, and the remaining time, she doesn't keep quiet. It is a different matter that her excitation levels are crammed at the peak of Mt. Everest, because that's where she is all the time. Oh, yes, she had me at boiling point on Friday evening, thanks to some last minute chaos!!! Just one of those days!

What about Yadu! If anybody has any ideas of a trip, this is one person you can count on. He would book the tickets a year in advance, and send us the itinerary, and ask us to make plans, when we would have no clue of what he is talking about! Another aspect of this great guy is the fact that, even if there are a hundred people shouting in a group, in excitement, he would remain hidden in a corner, as if he is soaking the world's emotions in silence! The pace at which he talks can actually leave you speechless. Maga,...he would start, and mostly, the others would end up finishing the sentence!

Pic: Liberty Aunty

Rama, the I-know-all man, belongs to a different species altogether. Sample this, Rama, do you know that they are doing...so and so...things in our University now? His response would be with a nonchalant swagger, Yeah, I know, I came to know last week itself!!! After some time, he would be asking us the details!!!

Karthik, aka KC, the guy for whom trash talk is everything in life. He can strike conversation even with a wooden statue, and find out the gossip it is involved in. He would scale all heights to find out the intricate details involved in your life! Machan, unakku oru vishayam theriyuma...(Dude, you know one thing...??)!

Sameer, my last minute planner. Both of us end up planning most of the things on the fly. He would give all possible ways to change your plan every fifteen seconds. He is more fickle minded than me, with a constant question hovering around his head Should I or Should I not? Mmm..., but I cannot blame a fellow Libran!

Gerry, another important character on this trip. He was the cause of the Friday confusion, but in the end, it turned out to be a great blessing in disguise. Thanks to him, Yadu and KC had to deal with the hoteliers to get us the rooms that were rightfully ours!!

Rama's parents, everyone would agree, were in a different league compared to the total bunch. I just pity them for having had to handle the set of different specimens. It is a different matter that they were completely impressed with me. But then, who is not?

About me, I am sure, my friends would spam the comments section with their value added opinion about me!!!

Pic: @ Hard Rock Cafe

Friday evening was filled with confusion, as Gerry was caught up at work, and after a whole lot of conversations exchanged between me and Shubhika, she eventually made up her mind to accompany me and Sameer in the 2:30 am bus. You just have to ask Sameer and Madan, as to how much time, we had spent on planning. It was fluctuating in such a way that the plan was changing every other second. Sameer had never been to the Statue of Liberty, so he stayed with us, the first day, and then, went his way to Philadelphia to spend time with his cousins. Two and a half days, and the number of places we visited were just too many - Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Times Square, Empire State, Brooklyn Bridge, UN building, Grand central station, and in the midst of it all, we had to go to Lexington Avenue for lunch on all three days. One of the things that seemed strange was the owner at Tamil Nadu Bhavan, who was so unfriendly, that I almost lost my temper. We were a group of eight, and as we entered the restaurant, he, in a very gruff voice spoke You have to sit at two separate tables. If you want to sit together at a single table, then there are no chairs. What did he expect of us? To sit on the floor and eat or what? I immediately told the guys, Let's vacate this place! But then, Yadu was like, Ask him to cool down, and let us get inside and sit at two separate tables.

Pic: On Brooklyn bridge

NY trip is great fun, but at the same time, it can be tiring too. Three days, and most of the time, you spend walking from one avenue to another. It was a challenge to keep pace with Rama's parents. They were a bundle of energy, and it was tough to keep pace with their enthusiastic attitude. One of the days, I was feeling so tired, that I was scared to ask the other guys whether they were feeling tired too. I didn't want a negative answer from them. But as the day progressed, I realized that everyone was as tired as I was. It was actually a comforting feeling, and, my energy levels shot up!!!

Pic: At Olive Gardens; The chocolate Almond drink was great!

These three days were a treat time for all. Yadu's birthday treat was the highlight of the trip, as we spent the evening at Olive Gardens, an Italian restaurant, on Times Square. Times Square is one place which can lift you from the worst of spirits. People from all walks of life assemble here, and the constantly moving population fills you with such a positive attitude like never before. The people, here, are lovely too! (wish you could see my grin!!!)

Overall, it was a great trip, and as always, it would be great to get to NY for a quick weekend outing. After every such trip, I realize that it is so important to have a good group to hang out together, else the whole entertainment value is lost. And it was a great one year, what with the last Memorial weekend (2007) too being spent in NY, and a part of the current crowd was with us at Boston some months back. It was also great to spend some quality time with elders, a great feeling of home away from home, with a luxurious first day breakfast of chappathis and aloo curry, and gojju! So, hoping for more long weekends ahead to have more colorful outings!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Catch the scene from a typical Hindi movie. The villains have surrounded the heroine, and the inevitable is about to happen, when our wonderful hero walks in like a champion with a pistol, and fires continuously (sheer magic, considering the fact that the magazine can hold only a finite number of bullets). The hero finds the perfect mark, and singlehandedly, destroys the villains. You almost let out a gasp of disbelief; this guy is a killer. What style! Of course, over a period of time, we realize that this is more unbelievable than fiction, but then, it has the desired effect.

Last weekend, I had been to a rifle shooting range with Yadu. Thanks to his colleagues, we had a chance to hold a real (yes, real!) rifle with our hands. Initially, I was apprehensive about the whole shooting experience, but Yadu insisted that it would be fun to get a know-how of what it is all about. It was a first time experience, and obviously, we had no clue about guns, rifles and pistols. There was nothing but doubt, as we were explained, how to load and unload the rifles, the different safety criteria associated with firing, and the target range. I still don't know the technical aspects of these different devices, but if I remember correctly, I think they were the AR-15 and the M1-GARAND rifles.

But in spite of all the inexperience I have in dealing with real world weapons, I took to them like fish into water. He was definitely feeling left out, because let alone striking a target, he was struggling to hold a gun. But, then, he came up with very good poses to prove a point that he can hold one. We were able to handle the rifles pretty easily, and came up with good shots at the 25 yard range. We were surprised by the amount of recoil the rifle generated, and the effect was much more pronounced than what we study in Physics. I still remember those complex equations which troubled me to get the velocity of the bullet given the distance. As I got ready to fire the shot, the numbers were flying off my head, and I was wondering what would be the velocity of the bullet. That's when our style icon, Rajinikanth, the man who has defied the basic laws of physics all along, came into picture. How does he split that bullet fired from the gun using a knife, and diverts it to two separate directions? It is funny even to fathom how the director could get such shots going. When we fired the rifles, of course, I knew where the target was, but to spot the exact location from even a 25 yard distance is impossible. The experience is like a flash. Everything happens in a split second. Somebody standing by the side, peeping through the binoculars, would then say "Well that was few inches from the target on the left." Such is the impact of the shot. So, it gets unbelievable to believe out of the world reflexes from the hero of our movies. Even the movie Matrix can be put to shame!

What about the pistol! Such a small device, you feel that it would be one of the easiest guns to handle. But, actually, we found it to be much more harder than the rifles. In fact, the distance was much lesser than the rifle range - about 15 yards. The problem with the pistol is that there is no support for holding the tail end, unlike the rifle, where there is a wedge for support. For a person like me, who is restless and can hardly balance on both legs, my hand was moving up and down as if somebody had just fed me with a heavy dose of anesthesia. Out of fifteen shots, only ten shots were there anywhere in the vicinity of the target. The other shots were not even registered on the target, and honestly, it was pretty embarrassing. Both of us, at the end of the day, felt that we were better off with the rifles than the pistols.

So, thanks to Yadu and his colleagues, we had a great time at the shooting range. The experience was way different from the conventional outings that we are normally used to. That doesn't mean that yet another NY trip is not going to be fun for the long weekend. The long weekend with the usual baays will be a blast!!!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The rice vault

The last few days, I read quite a few blog posts, each expressing the level of attachment to home made conventional South Indian food - sambar, rasam, mor kuzhambu, poruchcha kuzhambu and the variants, which border a lot on the similarities than the differences! I was tempted to write one too! There are a hundred different varieties of food that use the same paste or the same kind of powder, but our taste buds are so well designed, that it is easy to differentiate the food just based on the whiff of the odor emanating from the kitchen.

But in spite of the commonalities, I make it a point to call up home to try out the different kinds. My mother would patiently list out the ingredients, and after a point I had got used to the contents of the mixture. The sambar had to have the pulses cooked from the cooker, the rasam had to have the same pulses, but of lesser quantity and more liquefied, and almost every other paste had the same contents. So, after a point, I had stopped jotting down what was being told, and made a mental calculation of how much I required to get the desired effect. But, initially, it was pretty difficult. The way she used to quantify perplexed me. For every dish, she asked me to put a handful (kaialavu) of this or that. It was difficult to fathom the depth of the handful proportions. But, gradually, I came to grasp the kaialavu measure, and now if I have to tell the measure to a rare listener, I let out the kaialavu tag, and explain to him that he can understand what that means only by experience.

In the last three years, I have experimented quite a lot with the different South Indian delicacies - Vaththa Kuzhambu, Poruchcha Kuzhambu, Mor Kuzhambu, Rasam, Podi Sambar, Arachuvitta Sambar, different kinds of kootu, differnt kinds of poriyal (curry) and so on. There are times when I also cook vegetable pulao or one of those dishes involving the Garam Masala powder. Somehow, the system within me has got so used to the many years of sambar and rasam, that as soon as I deviate from them for even a session, the black hole inside me begs to get back to the daily routine of tonnes of rice and sambar or rasam. It is the same case with many of my south Indian friends too! Even my father, who at one stage, wanted to go on a weight reduction spree, told my mother "Raji, from now onwards, prepare chapathis at least twice a week." My mother, a nice Samaritan that she is, did agree to my father's request. But, instead of a weight reduction, he was actually experiencing a heaviness. It took quite a while to realise that he was supplementing his diet of chapathis with little bit of sambar, rasam and curd rice! There ended the experimentation with chapathis and side dishes!

Being accustomed to a daily dose of three different dishes (sambar, rasam and poriyal), it was difficult to break the shackles and try out something new. When I was in Engineering, I used to have a good meal early in the morning; lunch had rice and dinner obviously was no exception. No wonder, my stomach is a big vault of rice! If George Bush points his finger at the Indian community for the cause of shortage of rice, he would feel more so justified if he looks at the diet of a typical south Indian family. The message is simply clear, try out different kinds of cuisine, but ultimately, you will fall for rice! This definitely holds good for me at least. Again, it is not just sambar and rasam. The meal cannot be considered complete, if I do not have my share of thayir sadam (curd rice) and oorgai (pickle) for the night. As a kid, my mother had to convince me to complete my food with curd rice, warning me that the stomach would churn without a bout of curd rice. But now, I am afraid that the statement has turned out to be quite true after so many years. Without the curd, the stomach does indeed churn!!!!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

6:35 AM

6:35 AM? Getting up so early? Had I been living in India, a neighbor aunt would have come running to the house to compliment my mother on having such a wonderful son. Not that it is false, but I'm just making a point!!!

This weird habit of getting up in the middle of the night (well, a wake up at 6:30 in the morning is as good as the dead of the night) got imbibed into me sometime over the weekend. The whole of last week, I struggled to get up early, and not before 8:30 did I get a chance to take a peek at the rays that were just forcing their way through the nicely covered shades of the windows. It was as if the Sun God was staring at me in exactly the same way as my mother would have, after I brought the test papers home, when I was a kid. You don't need to be a scientist to guess whether the marks had been good or not! At that time, I was cursing myself for my lethargy. But, I never realized that things can change quickly. On Saturday, I got up at 6:35 AM, felt very happy that I got up early, in spite of the fact that it was a weekend, and very happily, went back to sleep. But, if only, getting sleep was all that easy!!! Knowing it was a weekend, the sleep Gods were creating havoc. As the phrase in Tamil goes, ennada Kotta Kotta Muzhuchund irukkey (sorry, that would require some effort to get the exact translation), would have worked perfectly for me. I was peralifying (means rolling in Tamil) on my comforter (I still can't sleep on a bed, I need the comforter on the floor to give me maximum comfort) for about an hour, and then, after cursing everyone I hate, got up in a state of shock and horror (weekend, at 7:30 AM, what the hell do I do early in the morning!!). I got up, finished my morning ablutions, and then decided to place an India call. Ennada, udambu vichcha irukkiya? (Are you keeping well?), was the response on the phone from who else, but my mother! It was as though someone was rubbing salt to the wounds! Oh, Nannarken (Am great!), just wanted to get up early! You see, it is not good to sleep late. I cannot give away anything, at least, this was one of the few chances to get some mileage! Very rare! As usual, as is my want, I spoke about every trash in the world, and somehow, the day went quickly.

Sunday it was!!! Believe it or not, the 6:35 AM bug hit me again. Andava, En ippadi Sodhikkarey (God, why are you testing me like this!). Andava is my favorite gasp when confronted with a not-so-likable situation. I went back to sleep again, at least I tried, and then got up after a few hours (well, that's what I thought!). It was still 6:35. I repeated the process (at least five times), and my mobile was still showing 6:35. Now, I did not feel like getting back to sleep. I waited for close to twenty seconds. Does my mobile have a problem or worse, do I have a problem? What the hell is happening? It was a true test of my character, as I waited for those twenty seconds which seemed like twenty hours; then the mobile ticked past to 6:36 AM, and I closed my eyes, and a feeling of liberation took over me (anybody reading this sentence alone would think I had climbed Mt. Everest, but the blunt truth is that I knew I was still sane). I hug on to my rug, and tried to close my eyes, but again, it evaded me. I tried to be harsh on Him, but I didn't want to take a chance. It was too scary to play with the Gods. The best thing to do in such situations is to curse your fate. That's exactly what I did, and on Sunday morning, at 7:30 AM, I was sitting on the couch, as if I was the most unluckiest guy in the world. All this drama for getting up early!

In order to make up for the lost sleep, I had set my alarm clock perfectly at 8 in the morning on Monday and Tuesday. But, strangely enough, I got up again, at 6:35 AM (yes, Oh my God, the same 6:35 AM, the killer time that has been troubling me whole week!!). I could feel the beads of perspiration on my forehead. This certainly was the time to be reflective. Oh God, please forgive me for all the sins that I have committed. Please give me some sleep! I hope there is nothing wrong with me. Had anybody seen the earnestness in my prayers, he would have thought that I had lost a million dollars in shares (what with the Wall street plummeting by the day). But, the situation, according to me, was more grave! I am sure I have incurred the wrath of the sleep Gods. Nidra Devi, sure, is offended!

So, let me go catch some precious sleep, most of which have been lost over a considerable period of time. As I set the alarm at 8 AM, I am more than convinced, that the robotic body clock will wake me up to pangs of anxiety and incomprehensible thoughts. So, wish me good night!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Oh! Freebies, freebies!

It was a fairly new concept in the mid-nineties to offer giveaways along with the main product. In the nineties? Yeah, I think so, because that was the time when life started making some sense. It's a different matter altogether that I have lost it completely now! It was great to explore new paths, and be awestruck by everything around. Well, this post is not about the new found wisdom of the wonder kids. OK, let's get back to where we started. Knowing me, you can well fathom, how quickly I tend to digress.

How many of you remember seeing advertisements on the television promoting an offer along with the main product?

Buy a 500 grams packet of Complan, and get a Complan mug free!

Buy two refill packs of Boost, and get a bat signed by Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev absolutely free!

But a 250 grams packet of Red Label tea, and get a stainless spoon (who cares!), absolutely free!

Buy a refill pack of Maltova, and get a nice cricket cap, free!

Buy a refill pack of Bournvita, and get the Bournvita Quiz Contest quiz book autographed by the quiz master, Derek 'O Brien, absolutely free.

How do you think I remember these free items? I have troubled my mother all along to get these items, come what may. My partner in crime, my brother, would make my task a touch easier by employing sophisticated "wailing" techniques to grab her attention. But those days, it was not an easy task, because unlike today's kids who can get anything they want, it required an Herculean effort to convince parents to get us something. Generally, wailing is not a great method. We realized it years later! In spite of the fact that there were fifteen unused mugs at home, the Complan mug advertised on TV would still be the "Ultimate" mug. We were never a fan of Maltova, but what to do, who can get us a free cap? It is a different matter altogether as to who uses the cap after we get the pack. Our mother would obviously not get more than a pack (that itself is quite a task), and now it was up to us to wrestle that cap from each other's grasp to adorn one's (only one not both!) head. It would be difficult to outwit the other as both of us knew the same strategies. Even though he is five years younger than me, he picked them up pretty quickly, much to my disdain. The bat that was advertised would break easily into two pieces, but come on, it was signed by two cricketing greats. How can we let go?

It really did not matter whether we liked Boost or some other drink. Generally, what was purchased as the monthly drink depended largely on the cleverly advertised by-product. One more thing, we knew there was no point in asking for something which was just not in our hands. We knew what to expect when it came to out of bound things. It was a strict NO! We, obviously, never cared to find out what was offered with dish washing detergent or washing powder or one of those numerous household products. They were never interesting. Of all the free items that I remember obtaining, the two things that I used maximum were the Boost bat (it was pretty good, it lasted for at least two or three games) and the Bournvita quiz book (pretty informative). The rest, after the first round fight with my brother, used to lay discarded, which eventually found their way to some of the poor kids in the neighborhood. I still remember the joy on their faces on being offered these simple things.

Yeah, one thing is for sure. The best way to advertise your product is to offer a nice attractive giveaway. Again, it makes sense only if it is something that would interest the kids!