Wednesday, October 02, 2013


As you already know, I hail from Malleswaram in Bangalore.  It's the area with the maximum TamBrahm population.  The Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt is very close to my house, and I was always filled with fascination when I entered the temple premises.  The Veda Pathashaala kids have a unique charm about themselves and it's quite interesting how they carry on with their daily lives with a sense of discipline and devotion.

As a kid, even as I went to college and work, I had the habit of going to the Mutt at least once a week.  My mother was much more regular than me.  The priest conducting the daily prayers and rituals was an epitome of perfect Vedic intonations.  There is something striking when somebody can recite the hymns with grace and authority.  The rendering, with the constant ebbs and flows, is easy to leave anyone in a state of trance.  It's pure bliss.

After a few visits, I knew pretty much everyone in the temple.  I approached the person in charge of the Mutt.

"Sir, I would like to learn Vedas", I said meekly.  I barely did Sandhyavandanam correctly and so I was not a subject matter expert when it came to these things.

"What do you want to learn exactly?",  he asked.

This is a hard question.  I knew Vedas encompass everything, and there was no way that I could have handed out a list.  The list is endless.  On the contrary, I didn't even know what it comprised of.  So, if I had to fill the list, it would have contained maybe two bullet points.  I was in a predicament.  I wanted to give him a decent enough response that did not make me look like as if I did not know anything.

I used to go to the Asthika Samaj (again, located close to my apartment in Malleswaram) for the Pradosham.  There, I used to be fascinated by the folks reciting Rudram.  I always dreamt that I should be able to recite like them one day.

So, the first thing that came to my head was Rudram.

"R-U-D-R-A-M", I said.

"That's what I want to learn."

He looked calmly at me.

"Okay, good.  At least, you know what you want to learn.  Come tomorrow at 4."

That was a Sunday evening.  Monday at 4 sounded vague.  I was working at that time.  There was no way in the world I could get home by 4.

"Sir, I will be at work tomorrow.  4 is too early", I said.

"Exactly! Who goes to work so early in the morning?", he asked.

That's when I realized that he was referring to AM and not PM.

"That works perfectly", I said.

I mean that doesn't work in any way.  But, I did not want to lose the chance of learning Vedas from an experienced practitioner.

"Okay, I will see you tomorrow", he said and walked off.

I came home and told my mother about the plans.  My father who was listening to all this from the adjacent room immediately gave a premonition.

"There is no chance that this guy is going to get up that early.  Don't keep the alarm and waste all our sleep."

I immediately opposed.  One of the primary things that a son always does is to oppose his father before towing the line like a good boy.  Ultimately, it's the father who always wins.

"No father.  I am going to get up early in the morning.  I am destined to learn the Vedas.  This is a great opportunity.  Who lives so close to the Shankar Mutt and gets a chance to learn Rudram.  Why don't you also join?"

It felt like a perfect pitch.

"Do whatever you want but don't wake the household."

I went to bed early that night.  When I got up the next day, it was 7 in the morning.  Immediately, I sprang from the bed.  I asked my mother, "Why didn't you wake me up?"

"Even the Lord himself can't wake you up, when you are asleep", my mother said.  I knew what that meant.  I did not make any further attempt to break the shackles and ask for early morning Vedic learning.  It just was not feasible.

Similarly, two years ago, I was in the Shiva temple in the Bay Area on one of the Pradosham days.  There, there was this gentleman, who was reciting Rudram in the most vibrant way.  It was enchanting.  I also approached him and told him I like to learn from him.

He told me, "You are most welcome.  I chant every morning at 5.  You can come for the chanting, and once that is done, I can teach you at 6."

I took his address and phone number.  Unfortunately, the same fate as of almost ten years ago prevailed.  I still had a hard time getting up from the comfort of the bed in the wee hours of the morning.

Then, subsequently, at the beginning of the year, he told me that he plans to conduct weekly lessons at 5 in the evening every Saturday.  That definitely felt like a perfect proposition.  It was as though the Gods were finally at peace with me.  I felt that this was the "perfectly perfect" opportunity.

I went every week eagerly.  I just wanted to learn Rudram.  Only after talking to him did I realize that Rudram had two parts - Namakam and Chamakam.  I made a sincere attempt.  I can say with some amount of conviction that I am in the right direction to recite the Namakam and Chamakam.  Of course, I can never say with confidence that I am chanting it right.  It comes with many hours of practice and I have just got started.  But, the feeling of looking at the Namakam page of Mantra Pushpam and reciting the verse is a fantastic feeling.

Bay Area has been awesome and there have been a lot of benefits in the move from Kansas to California.  But, even if all the other benefits are nullified, the very fact that I got a chance to learn Rudram far outweighs everything else.

Being close to the Shankar Mutt in Bangalore, I always felt that I was "this" close to learning Rudram and other Vedic chants.  But, it took me a period of another ten years and a distance of ten thousand miles to finally fulfill my wishes of getting a chance to learn the Vedic Chants.

Monday, August 26, 2013


The Great Wall

China is a fascinating country.  The fact that it is the most populous country in the world with the communist regime keeping a check on every citizen's fundamental rights is something that I have not experienced in India or the United States.  Though, with all the dangers that behold the world, no country can safely say that it does not monitor its citizens.

Exploring other cultures and understanding their day to day lifestyle is a great aspect of travel.  Anyway, I was on a one week business trip to China and my trip was filled with interesting experiences.

Day 0 - Vegetarian
The start could not have been worse.  As I got into the flight, I realized that I did not mention about my dietary requirements at the time of booking.  So, I asked the stewardess if there was any option of me getting a vegetarian meal.

She asked me,  "Have you mentioned it at the time of booking?"

I said, "No"

"Then sorry.  We don't bring vegetarian meals unless specified."

Anyway, for one of the meals, the stewardess said that there is vegetarian option and I can have it.

"Are you sure there's no meat?", I asked.

"Of course.  It's only quiche."

As I took the lid off the bowl, I noticed a beef patty lurking in the corner."

There went my vegetarian option.

Dal Makhani and Rice
But, when I checked into the hotel, I was surprised to find Dal Makhani as one of the options for dinner.  I gladly ordered that and went into a three hour sleep before jet lag set in.

Day 1 - The tryst with the strangers

Smog, not fog
I drew the blinds aside, and saw a very cloudy morning.  It was in stark contrast to the massive heat of the previous day.  I quickly got ready and headed out to catch the shuttle bus to the satellite office, and that, after a heavy breakfast.  There was a lot of traffic on the streets and people were crossing the roads in exactly the same manner as it was done in India.  It was pretty haphazard.

Just like India

Waiting for the bus
After we completed the official activities of the day, my colleague and I decided to take the Subway to the Tian'anmen Square station.  As we reached the Square and as I was clicking some photographs, I was interrupted by a stranger.  They were very friendly.  We said we were here for the first time.  They said they were students and that they were in Beijing on a short tour.  The conversation went on for some time.


"Since you guys are anyway hanging out here, why don't we take a small walk around the place?"

We didn't see the harm in it.  And as we walked on the small street adjacent to the Square, we came across a tea shop.

They said, "OK, we are going to have some tea and then move on.  Why don't you guys join us?"
I was in no mood for tea, but then, we agreed to get in.

They ordered tea, and some beer for my colleague.

We continued talking.

I was already in a hurry to leave.  I mean, I didn't want to spend the little time I had in a tea shop.  In spite of my badgering, they ordered some red wine.  It was supposedly a 1994 Cabernet.  I politely declined.

After some time, when they saw that I really wanted to leave, they asked the waitress to bring the bill.  My colleague volunteered to pay the cheque using his card.  We saw it was about 298 RMB (50 USD).    Then, the waitress came back after some time and said, "The card's not going through.  We need cash."

It was only then that we saw that the bill was not 298 RMB but 2980 RMB.  We almost freaked out.  500 USD for tea, beer and wine.  We immediately knew it was a scam.  We argued with them for about 45 minutes, and finally ended up paying 100 USD and walked out.

It was foolish on our part, but a lesson well learnt for a few dollars.

When I came back to the US, I narrated this to my friend who has been to China multiple times.  He told me that it was very common and that he had told me about this after his first visit.  He told me that he had mentioned it on his blog as well.

Maybe I had forgotten.  But, now I will never forget this incident.

Day 2 - Pure Lotus
What an exotic restaurant

Four of us in the evening decided to have a hearty meal.  So, we decided to take a visit to a pure vegetarian place (Pure Lotus) thanks to my boss's insistence.  We had to take two subways to reach the place.  It did take a little bit of hunting to get to the place.  We had to take a deviation on the main road to go through a narrow alley to reach the place.  As we reached the entrance, a person holding a huge lamp guided us to the hotel.  From there, the owner took us inside and after walking a few meters, took us to a waiting area.  The place was truly exotic.  It was modeled on the theme of caves found near the Silk Road(or Route) in Chengdu and has some kind of historic significance.

This was fantastic

Trip Advisor calls this as a classy restaurant in the region.  When we told the waitress if the food is really good here, she just said,

"We don't claim anything.  It's just that everybody who comes here says the food is good."

Modesty, we thought.

Anyway, we soon got to the dining area after a wait time of about 30 minutes.  The food was truly exotic and so was the price.  It was really expensive.  The food was good too.


We ate heartily, and walked back two and a half miles back to the hotel.  On the way back, we admired the tall structures and wondered how China had transformed itself in the last twenty years.

Day 3 - Peking Duck
On day 3 evening, the local folks took us to a fancy traditional Chinese restaurant.  It happened to be one of the good places for the famous Beijing ducks.  As soon as I saw the ducks at the entrance, I realized it's going to be hard for a vegetarian.  I ended up getting some fruits coated in sugar, sweet potatoes, some spinach and fried rice.  I am the sort of guy who would ask "No meat right?" even in a vegetarian restaurant.  So, I had a hard time explaining to them that I need food not cooked in animal fat, no meat and no fish.  All the usual blah blahs.

The place was crowded on a weekday.  And the Beijing traffic was so intense that we had to wait in the traffic for about 45 minutes just to get to this place during peak hour.

I also told my colleagues that I am taking a one day tour to Great Wall the next day.  They were like, "Did you research properly? Don't be too adventurous."

At the restaurant
Day 4 - The Great Wall and Usain Bolt

The Great Wall
I had booked a one day tour as mentioned previously to the Great Wall and Ming's tomb.  I was to be picked up at the hotel at 7 in the morning.  The Great Wall is a magnificent structure.  No wonder the Mongols couldn't enter China.  We went to the old Badaling section of the wall, where it's less crowded.  The new area is more like a traffic jam swarmed with people.  The climb to the top was excruciatingly tough.  I pride myself to be a good hiker but this was elevation at its worst.  The Fitbit which I had indicated that it was equivalent to climbing 150 floors.  The view from the top was beautiful.
The new Usain Bolt
We then went to Ming's tomb, and on the way back dropped me at the Olympic stadium.  The Beijing 2008 Olympics is one of the best games till date thanks to the mammoth effort put forth by the Chinese.  I was really happy to see the Bird's Nest, the place where Usain Bolt shot to the 100 and 200 m World Record.  I couldn't stay up till late to see the lights.  I headed straight to Silk Market after that to see all the fake items of the big name products in the US.  I went to a shop and the lady handed out a Louis Vuitton catalog book and asked me to pick any bag I wanted from the list.  The fake produce is truly rampant.

Silk Market
Beijing International Airport
I got back to the hotel, had a fantastic swim, and retired for the night.  I had my flight the following morning.

It was an eventful trip, and just like any travel, I had experiences only to gain. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The social syndrome

My friend told me that he never blocks any of his friends on his Facebook news feed because that's the way he gets maximum fun on Facebook.

"It's a great way to pass time.  Most of the guys I barely know.  Half of them are jokers."

But, I somehow don't have the time for most of the nonsense that goes in the name of updates.  I don't even have a dedicated Facebook app on my mobile phone.  I just use the People Hub to get updates of people who are there in my phone book contacts.  Otherwise, I just don't care.  Most of the important updates in my friends' lives still come via emails or phone calls.

Anyway, last week, we had been to the Sunnyvale Hindu temple.  After the renovation work, it's all the more beautiful.  And as is the norm, we met someone we knew.  As I said earlier, you just have to step out of the house, and you'll meet someone you know.

We exchanged pleasantries.

I knew he was in the bay area.

Then, he told me, "I did not know you were in the bay area."

"Oh, surprising! Are we not connected on LinkedIn? I always keep my profile updated", I said.

"I see.  I am not very active on any social network", he said.

Anyway, we chatted for a few minutes and decided to catch up sometime later.

We walked towards the car, and I passed on a few details to my wife about her new acquaintance.

Immediately, she called up her friend.

"Hey, you remember yesterday, we were talking about a guy who had posted pictures of him carrying his wife on Facebook? "

"Isn't he the guy who had also altered the Kolaveri lyrics to include some cheesy lines about his wife on Facebook?", the voice on the other line added.

"Yes, it's the same guy."

"Imagine the sheer coincidence.  We just met him today."

Saturday, June 29, 2013


Meetups can be predictable, and also, totally unpredictable and unexpected.  In the Bay Area, we meet people consistently without a planned agenda.  Sometimes, we go to a restaurant and it just doesn't feel right, "How come we haven't met anyone today? What's wrong?"

We have really had strange encounters.

I had gone to the nearest Indian restaurant with my colleague.  Nowadays, I don't even act surprised when I see someone I know.  It's become a part of life.  I just greet and move on.

Anyway, we both picked our stuff and were having our food at the table.  Suddenly, I see someone walk up front, order his food and walk back to his table.  I immediately told my colleague, "I think I know him.  He resembles a guy who was in Boston, but what is he doing here? I don't even know whether it's the same guy."

My colleague told me to go talk to him if I was so confused.  

I figured I would rather go talk to him, than wonder the rest of the day whether I should have talked to him or not.  After all, if he wasn't the guy who I thought him to be, it's not like he was going to throw the plate of food and abuse me or something.  I mean what's the worst that could happen, right?

So, I went up to him, sat in front of him, and said "Hello".

It was the same person who I thought he was.

"Ennada, Praveen!", he said.  "Great to see you.  How are you doing?"

"Good, good"

 "I knew you were in the bay area, because I saw your post about India Cash and Carry, Sunnyvale.  I told Nithya that you should be somewhere around here.  I moved to the bay area a few months ago."

And, obviously, with the kids, they had to be in Cupertino (school, education, you see).

That was coincidental to the highest degree.

Anyway, last week we had my friend's parents visiting us.  They told us they had been to Muir Woods.

Mami said, "There are so many Indians here.  You know what happened? I met my school class mate in Muir Woods."

"We were talking about the area we had lived in Madras, and suddenly, after some time, we realized we were class mates", she continued.

My wife and I burst out laughing.  "In Bay Area, you always meet someone you know."

Saturday, June 08, 2013

The food challenge

From Wikipedia, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms.  I don't need a Wikipedia to get this basic information.  I learnt this in my primary school.  But, life throws many such explanations on a day to day basis and still sometimes, you make the same mistakes again and again.

My wife and I are foodies.  My wife always complains that I eat and she puts on calories.  Yeah, yeah, yeah! I watch my weight.  And, definitely, that's not my problem.  But, when it's not your problem, and it's her problem, it means there is a problem.  No question about that.

Sample the many such scenarios on a day to day basis.

We go to Sprouts (it's an awesome place in Sunnyvale).  You get all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables.  And, you also have a section where you have the best chocolates, nuggets, almond coated dark chocolates, walnut coated chocolates, and a wide variety of stuffed chocolates with whatever nuts and resins you know.  It's like paradise.  I generally hate grocery shopping, but love going to Sprouts.  So, I go to the chocolates section, stuff different kinds of chocolate coated nuts in different bags and move on to the next section.  There, I see Wasabi beans, groundnuts, corn and other stuff that if you eat, would increase your cholesterol.    Again, I put them all in separate bags.  And then, I go to the confectionaries.  Biscuits, cookies and pies find their way into the shopping cart.

Till now, life is awesome.  Everything's good.

My wife, who is shopping for vegetables and groceries in other aisles, walks towards me and sees the shopping cart filled with all the dangerous stuff.

"Praveen, please, we are not going to take all this."

"You don't eat.  I want to try them at least."

"Once you buy, you never eat these items.  Ultimately, I am the one who is going to consume all this."

"No, no.  I will definitely eat.  Don't worry."

A week passes after these items find their way into the snack cabinet at home.

"Where are the chocolates? Can you pass me the almond coated dark chocolate?" I say in all earnestness.

"It got over two days ago.  I have been begging you to eat.  You never listened to me."

Begging? Really? I wonder.

"Okay, get me any chocolate."

"The chocolates are over.  You can eat the pumpkin pie if you want.  I didn't like it so much anyway."

I make a fuss about how I am obsessed with chocolates, and I just don't get to eat anything at home.

This is where things take a turn for the worse.

"I told you not to buy those chocolates.  See what's happening.  You don't eat the chocolates.  I end up eating them and not able to keep a count of my calories.  It's all your fault."

Wow! In the first place, I have not eaten anything.  And, above that, I have to put up with the tornado of scoldings.  It's really really hard being a husband.

Anyway, somehow, we make peace.  I apologize for my fault.  The point is I don't even know that I am at fault.  I apologize to myself for apologizing to her.

It's a different day.

We go to the Indian store.  We buy a packet of ready to eat Bhel Puri mix from Haldirams.  If you haven't tried that, I can tell you it's awesome.  I don't have to fear buying this item, since I am officially in charge of making Bhel Puri at home.

Bhel Puri slot falls on a Saturday or Sunday evening when both of us are sitting on the couch watching something on Netflix.

"Okay, let me go make some Bhel Puri", I say.  "Do you want to eat some?", I ask with sincerity oozing out.

"No, no.  I am fine.  Don't bother.  Just finish making the Bhel fast and let's continue watching the series."

I cut the onions, tomatoes, green chillies, ginger and some cucumbers in a finely chopped manner.  When I say finely chopped manner, I actually mean it.  It's that fine.  I mix everything in a bowl.  I mix the contents from the packet as well, and transfer the Bhel from the bowl to the plate.

I bring the plate and sit next to my wife.

"XBox  Play", I shout out aloud and all set to continue with Arrested Development.

Suddenly, I can find my wife nudging me.

"I too will have one spoon of the Behl."

"What?" I shriek out.

"Why are you shrieking as though I have killed you? I am just asking for one table spoon of what you have made."

"I just asked you fifteen minutes ago.  If you had said yes, I would have made a whole plate for you."

Then follows a series of back and forth comments.  It ultimately ends with

"After all, it's just Bhel."

It's hard to part with something when you have made up your mind that you are going to eat the complete quantity.  No point explaining this to her.

"Okay, eat whatever you want.  I am sorry."

There it goes again.

"Don't repeat this.  It's after all Bhel."

I nod and once again, apologize to her and to myself.

I wonder when I'm going to unravel the mysteries of life.    

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The tryst with spelling

Spelling and grammar form the two pillars of any language.  The fact that there is a Scripps National Spelling Bee challenge to test the outrageous abilities of young kids only highlights the fact that the language with all its abbreviations and short cuts, still relies heavily on the correct spellings and pronunciations.  The advent of several portable devices has given rise to a situation where people think that the colloquial usage of certain words is now not an aberration, but the norm.

I do have a smartphone just like any other spoilt human being today.  I text people, though not as frequently as the teens of today.  The main usage of my smartphone is to guzzle news reports and feeds, and of course check my email and reply with not-so-long emails.  For the longer emails, I revert to my laptop with keyboard support.

I cringe when I see messages like this.

ill c u tmrw cos i m bz at prty tnite

got 2 do my wrk tday. can u snd me ur notes

There is absolutely no explanation to some of these words.  Why would anyone write tnite instead of tonight? The puritans would consider tonite to be unacceptable, but tnite! Less said the better.  Tonite feels blessed.

Why prty and not party? I mean what in the world is stopping the person from adding an extra letter in "a".  It's not like he is runing out of time.  If a person can type such messages, I am not sure if he is doing anything useful in his life.

Anyway, I am not that bad in spellings.  That's what I thought.

There is another extreme though.  The kids who take part in the Scripps Spelling Bee challenge every year can put the best of minds to shame.  For a lesser mortal like me, it's like getting whipped and thrashed, as I end up watching in awe and admiration at the talent that these young kids possess.  It's totally humbling.

My wife and I try to catch up on the Scripps Spelling Bee challenge every year.  We have our own games as the actual challenge unfolds.

I would say, "let me take a guess at this word", and give my version of the spelling.  The end result would be such that the difference would be like the distance between North Pole and South Pole.

My wife would guffaw, and point out why she did not even try the word in the first place.  Some words are so outlandish that you don't even have the heart to try the spelling.  There is no way you can get them right.

Even though Arvind Mahankuli, this year's winner got it right with K-N-A-I-D-E-L, it was the way he spelt this word that was spellbinding.


Wow! If he can get that, he can get anything.  To get each word right means so much preparation goes into it.  And I don't even want to talk about how I spelt that word.  It's more than embarrassing.  But then, at least, I tried.

Kids today are street smart.  They have instant access to everything.  Some of them know how best to use technology to their advantage, and not just while away their time on social networking websites.

Again, it's a humbling experience to see these kids excel without a trace of fear.  For me, as a kid, it took some time for me to realize that it was not "ruf".  The harder part was convincing the other kids of my age after I learnt the actual spelling.  Times have changed and so have a lot of other things.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

India cash and carry, Sunnyvale

Bay area signifies a lot of positive things for an engineer.  I've always dreamt about the place ever since I was in college, and after a few years of learning my wares at the mid-west, I moved to the west coast. San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara and so many other small cities signify the heart of the tech population in the country.  Every lane, every street, every building in every corner, houses an engineering setup - startup or a multi-national.  When friends from other cities come over for a visit (which itself is rare when you are in the mid-west), they drool at the sight of these companies.

"Man, I need to come here."

"This is the place to be, for a techie" and so on.

The weather is cool, doesn't get into the extremes, although the winters can be colder than to your liking.  Whatever it is, there is something that makes bay area tick when it comes to engineering.  Being an Indian, unlike in any other part of the US, you would see Indians (Asians in general) in clusters in the major areas of South Bay.  Sunnyvale can be a mini Malleswaram or a mini Mylapore, with lines of Indian restaurants - some of them chains (Saravana Bhavan) and some of them local joints (India Chaat Cuisine, Madras Cafe, Chaat House, etc).  Simply waiting for a seat in these restaurants on a busy day can knock off your hunger.

Shopping in bay area in an Indian grocery store is an experience by itself.  The most popular grocery store in the area is the India cash and carry located on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale.  There is nothing Indian not available in this store.  Be it the powders - turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, different types of Rice masalas, different types of lentils, various types of rice - boiled, raw, half-boiled, par boiled, white, brown; flour - wheat, all purpose, corn and what not; vegetables - taro, sweet potato, white pumpkin, sweet pumpkin and so on.  So, there is nothing that is not available in this store.  And so, you can imagine the number of Indians shopping here.  Be it a normal occasion or a special occasion, the checkout line is a long line around the store.  So, it is better to hunt in pairs - one does the shopping and the other stays in the checkout line.  Then, you have people nudging and when you are busy trying to pick the right vegetables, a hand slips in from behind with a wry smile and a gruff "Excuse me".

Dude, what about me.  I am doing the same thing.  Patience!

You don't say anything as you are sure he is not going to listen to it.

In fact, shopping here has to be absolutely pre-planned.  If you happen to go on a weekend at about 5 or 6 in the evening, you can forget the rest of the evening.  It can be an enervating experience.  After all the shopping, the only thing you end up doing is heading to the nearest restaurant.  You are literally drained of all your energy.  It can also cause a lot of anxiety and turmoil at home.

Oh no, we have to go to India cash and carry.  We have to buy this, this and this.

OK, let's do this.  You go to this aisle.  I'll go here and so on.

I mean, I have never been involved in a first hand shopping plan like this.  Who would sit and strategize how to shop at an Indian grocery store.  But trust me, if you live in Sunnyvale and you end up shopping at this place, you too would plan.

"OK, I'll cook for the evening.  I'll put the clothes in the washer and dryer.  I'll clear up the kitchen as well.  But, you should go to India cash and carry", I would say.  I think this is still a fair deal than doing the shopping.

"No, I am the one who went the last two times.  Now, it is your turn.  I can take care of everything at home." She would say.

I still would not give up.

OK, I'll go to another store.  Will that work? I would ask even though I know what I'll be getting.

No.  He has fresh fast moving stock.  You can be rest assured that the vegetables are fresh, and in any case, you need to buy the Indian vegetables only here.  Since we would anyway end up going here, we might as well buy the other things as well.

This is what I can't understand.  I don't know how it affects you if you buy vegetables from elsewhere that has maybe 75% freshness as compared to here.

Anyway, this is a weekly routine.  We would huff and puff, but anyway somehow, get the job done.

The first time I went to this store on a busy evening, I thought there was a traffic jam near the store, only to realize that it is a normal shopping experience.  On a weekday evening, a day before a festival, I have spent half an hour trying to find a parking spot in a complex that can easily accomodate 100 cars only to park my car in an adjacent street a couple of blocks away from the complex.  That was the last time ever I went on the previous evening of a festival.

In the US, everyone has a unique visa experience.  Everyone has a story to tell.  That's exactly the way it is when it comes to shopping at India cash and carry.  There is every chance that an Indian living in South Bay may not know some of the tech companies, but there is no way that he will not know India cash and carry.

Sunday, March 03, 2013


Travelling is fun.  There are no two ways about it.  You always pick something new when you see a new place.  My friends, who are on constant business visits to China, when they tell me about their experiences, I wonder how it would be for a vegetarian to survive in a South East Asian nation.  I didn't have to wait long enough as I was sent to Taiwan on a business visit along with a colleague.
Taichung, Taiwan
I found my window seat on the plane.  Of course, I was expecting a middle aged man or an old lady to find his/her seat next to mine.  That's the way it's always been.  All the good looking girls were seated right behind me or just ahead of me.  Obviously, I was totally surprised, when a young lady walked towards the seat next to mine.  Something had to be wrong, I was sure.  Anyway, the introductions were done.  She was a French girl settled in the US.  Fun company, I thought.  I checked my Lumia 920 for the messages.  I saw my wife's message on WhatsApp asking me how long before my flight took off.  Details about the flight were immaterial now.

"Looks like I have good company for the flight.  A cute French girl seated next to me."

"Don't bore her.  She might jump off the plane", she responded.

Almost immediately, a guy walked towards us and told the French girl that she was seated in his seat.  She looked towards me and said, "This is actually my seat."

"Is this 69K?" I asked.

"Nope, this is 70K"

I took my stuff and took the seat right in front of me.

"Oh, that was the wrong seat.  Had to move a row ahead.  Anyway, things back to normal.  A middle aged lady seated next to me", I "whatsapped" my wife.

"Hahaha, Good Night", she said.

It is a different thing that the lady was very helpful and we ended up talking a lot about Taiwan, the culture, the food and the people.  It was actually great fun.

Once we landed at Taipei, we had to take the high speed rail to Taichung.  The high speed rail travels at 200 kmph.  The infrastructure was pretty impressive.  The days were busy at work, but during the evenings, I had a chance to explore the city and try out the food.  My colleague and the host in Taiwan accompanied me during the evenings.  As long as they were there, I didn't have to worry about the food.  They were able to make sure that I got the vegetarian food.  I don't think I could have entered any hotel without them and be convinced that I ate the right food.
Basil Tofu
I also made it a point to travel on my own whenever possible during the short stay.  I went to Eslite Bookstore in Taichung at about 10 in the night.  It was open till 12 and what struck me was the fact that there were so many folks spending time in a book store that late in the night.  The area around the bookstore was pretty awesome as well, with a lot of young people adding so much energy to the area.
Eslite Bookstore
Three Idiots - At the bookstore
The hotel booked a cab to take me to the area.  Anticipating that I could have problems during my return, I took the hotel business card with me.  So, when I had to take the cab back at about midnight, all that I had to do was show the business card and ask the cab driver to take me to the hotel.
I would ask them, "English?"

They would be quick to reply, "No, no English."

For me, to sit in the cab without talking for fifteen twenty minutes is like facing a life sentence.

Anyway, I had a chance to try out veggie dumplings, vegetable hot pot, basil tofu and tapioca and taro desserts.  There is no dearth of food in Taiwan.  There is food everywhere, in every nook and corner, and tons of hotels and food carts.  The city is always bustling with life.  The night life is very very active.  The night market is also pretty cool.
A funny sign - I have never seen this anywhere else
Bikes for commute
Taiwan <-> English
I asked some folks where I could get local Taiwanese items to take back home.  They replied, "There are many Departmental stores".  So, as I walked towards a departmental store, I saw a mall which was pretty sophisticated (All the American apparels and items are found in the malls).  Again, I asked a lady at the mall

"Where is a departmental store?"

"You are standing in a departmental store", she replied.  That's when I realized that a mall is a departmental store.  

"Departmental Store" - Very very commonly found
On the last day of my trip, I had my flight at about 8 in the evening.  So, I wanted to see the city during the day.  It was good fun taking the high speed train and the metro train to hang out in Taipei alone.  I had a bunch of important places written in English as well as Taiwan at the hotel lest I get lost.  Even though language is a problem, the people in Taiwan are super friendly.  On the train, there was a girl sitting next to me who did not know English, but was able to use her phone to translate the sentences in English.
Taipei 101
And yes, almost everyone who entered the train, would enter peering at their phones.  It was always Facebook and instant messaging that they were preoccupied with.  If Mark Zuckerberg can monetize mobile traffic, maybe the super high PE of 2000 would look justified.  Galaxy S3s, Notes and iPhones were the prominent phones that I could see.

All in all, a good trip, and it was fascinating that I could see the city alone without actually knowing Taiwanese.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

India trip - Learnings

Coincidence is a rare thing.  It happens all the time, but unless it is absolutely explicit, you don't realize that there was actually one.  Some of the worst and best things in life are those that happen on the spur of the moment, and somehow, when they seem to be remotely connected, they add a new flavor to the whole situation.  Mostly, you're making a reference to someone, when the same person either calls you the next instant or shows up on you.  You call it a happy coincidence or a comeuppance depending on your equation with the reference.

You question yourself occasionally.

Recently, I was at a point where I was questioning my beliefs and the whole purpose of existence, presence of God and so on about things which I have no idea of, and which even if I read a million texts, would ascertain none.  I spoke to a lot of people, and most of them have been through this phase or dismiss it as over the board thinking.  Whatever! I am surprised that people think I think.  Thoughts have never been my strength and when you couple that with profundity, I am a goner.

So, on my recent India trip, with a billion thoughts running in my head, my wife, my mother-in-law and I caught a local bus in Chennai when we headed out to this Express Avenue Mall in the heart of the city.  It's a good mall, but it's nowhere compared to that other one in Bangalore, called as Orion Mall.  Orion Mall makes you feel like as though you are in the US within India.  Anyway, as we picked the last row of seats in the bus and were immersed in our conversations, a couple of old ladies sat next to me to fill the remaining seats.  Right in front of them was a middle aged couple.  As these old ladies started talking about the vagaries of their work and the helplessness that came out of it at various times, the middle aged man sitting right in front turned back and got into the conversation.  Such a thing is pretty common in India.

"Sorry for interrupting, but since you talk about helplessness, I have my own stories to tell."

He went on about how he was ill treated by his sisters and how his wife suffered all these years in submissive silence.  He then looked at me and said the following.

"Brother, I will tell you something.  There is God.  Don't lose faith in God.  Keep your faith.  If not for God, this world would have suffered destruction long time ago."

My wife and I immediately glanced at each other.  She knew what was running in my head.  If Paulo Coelho was sitting nearby, he would have immediately told me to understand the signs.  But then, how some things unfold in life is mesmerizing and beyond belief.

Anyway, I purchased a Kindle version of "The complete works of Swami Vivekananda" to understand more and pick the brains of one of India's finest philosophers.  It's not an easy read, but then I did not set myself any lofty ambitions.  I figured I'd read one chapter a day and not more.

Coming to my favorite topic of food, which I can talk endlessly and with a lot more assurance and confidence.  When you go to India, one of the things that you can't escape and that you wouldn't want to miss is food.  Any food is good food back home. 

So, my routine in India was something like this.

Go out for a walk in the morning with my father, eat something on the way (pre-breakfast if I may call that way), get back home, have breakfast, take a nap due to jet lag or whatever, get up and have lunch, then watch TV, have some tea, have a light snack, head out, eat chaats or one of the thousand things that's lined up on Bangalore streets, then come back and eat.  I didn't even feel like adding a full stop to that sentence.  Even a full stop feels like an insult there.

Half the time, we were meeting people and going out, but there was one common factor in all this - food and more food.  There was no dearth of good food.  I just devoured.  I was eating as though I would never eat again in my life.

And then, what happened? I developed a severe stomach infection.  I stalled visiting my doctor; he has seen me since I was a little kid.  Eventually, I did visit him.  He examined my stomach and let out a guffaw.

"What's it Doctor?", I asked with the same meekness like I used to when I was a kid.

"You've been over-eating, Praveen.  Just take this medicine and you'll be fine."

I took his instructions grinning at him sheepishly.  I mean, who would get treated for over-eating.  It just felt dumb.  So, when I came back home and told my wife that it was my over-eating that had caused this, she gave me a look that felt exactly like the way I felt after reading about Jab Tak Hai Jaan in the reviews.

So, if you see, an India trip teaches you a lot of things.  A person in the bus told me that God exists and a person in white coat told me that I was over-eating.