Thursday, December 28, 2006

At Long Last, Home

2 things of note.

New home. Total furniture comprises 2 bookshelves, a mattress, some cushions and rugs, and lots of floor lamps. Love it. LOVE it. :)

In approximately 8 hours, god and airlines willing, I shall be on my way across the Atlantic, thence on my way across Asia Minor, the Red Sea and wherever else, en route to Bombay. Where I will revel in Nariman Point dosa-wallah's idli, chilli beef at Leo's, that lassi in a bottle, masala alu sandwich, et al. And also meet some old friends. And thereafter, Cal. Sleep starved and brain-dead, there is still a grin, ear-to-ear, on my face tonight.

More from home, the land of phuchka and shingara, New Market and Park Street, and my room with green leaf sunshine and the warm breath of dogs on my face in the mornings. Huzzah.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Holly, Berries And Yule Logs For You

One of the nicest things about growing up in Calcutta was, I think, the fact that there was almost no festival that didn't belong to one, that one couldn't celebrate. Pujo, Christmas, Easter, Diwali... all were celebrated with equal enthusiasm - either as occasions to enjoy the warmth of family and friends, or as opportunities to overdose on the city's carnival atmosphere: Ferris wheels in corner parks, fish fry and biriyani at food stalls lining the streets, midnight mass at St. Paul's cathedral, huge warm bricks of fruitcake, walking down Lansdowne Road at 3:00 a.m. on New Year's Eve, being passed by cars full of extremely happy people serenading one with new year wishes (or, in some cases, when they had imbibed a little too much alcohol and gotten confused about the date, yuletide greetings). Calcutta took every festival and inhabited it. Every religious festival was an opportunity for everyone interested to get involved and enjoy themselves.

Which is why I find it strange that in the US, it is politically incorrect to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Apparently, some people might be offended by a misplaced greeting, be it ever so warm and well-meant. When you greet someone here, you can, at best, wish them a happy new year, and if you really want to be correct, your greetings stockpile is limited to a bland "Season's Greetings".

But to hell with political correctness. To all, a Merry Christmas. May you enjoy the season with brownies and samosas (as I did every year, after the school nativity play). May you catch the Christmas special on TV, with that little boy with the awesome voice singing "O Holy Night", and may you sing along loudly and tunelessly. May you have fruitcake after inedible fruitcake delivered to your home. May you revive yourself with friends and laughter, wine and feasting, and not be sick afterwards. And may you be big enough to celebrate festivals even when you don't observe them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Random Thoughts

Atlanta, Georgia. I take the team out for dinner on Peachtree St (of Gone With The Wind fame) and get back to my hotel at 11:00. Work for a couple of hours. Before I know it, it's 1:30 a.m. I have a 4:30 a.m. start, and begin to wonder if there's any point in sleeping at all. Even consider the idea of going to bed complete dressed for the next morning, so that I can tumble out of bed and into the car the next morning. Go into the bathroom (this aids contemplation, in case you were wondering) and stare at myself in the mirror for a while. Brush my hair. And as I do, I see that the few grey hairs I've had since I was 18 have begun to procreate and produce new ones. Almost in a daze, I begin to count them, separating each strand. 1, 2, 3, 4... when I get to 16, I stop counting.

Kansas City, Missouri. On Tuesday night, before I left for Atlanta, the weather forecast predicted crisp, cold weather in Kansas on Friday. As the aircraft zooms down low over Kansas City, I wake up, and notice the ground covered in patches of glistening white. Hard to tell from up here whether it's sand or snow. I remain undecided until we land, and then, as the plane taxies to the terminal, patches of ice glistening on the runway catch my eye. Shit, I think. An unexpected snowstorm the previous day has covered freeways and roads, and on my way to my meeting, I see cars stuck in snowdrifts on the road. Once off the freeway, we get onto roads that the ploughs have not tackled yet - icy roads on which cars have slowed down to a crawl. Absolutely nothing all around. "Buckle up, Dorothy, cos Kansas is going bye-bye" runs endlessly through my brain. The airport has tornado shelters. Needless to say, my flight back to Newark has been delayed - thunderstorms near Newark have caused all incoming and outgoing flights to be grounded. When the boarding announcement for our flight is finally made, the waiting crowd cheers loudly. Suck as it may, I will be glad to get back to Edison.

Friday, November 10, 2006


My first memory of dry leaves in winter is from a walk in the woods around Khajiyar when I was four.

I was holding Baba's hand - I probably had to reach up for it, his arm hanging down, mine reaching up higher than my head. The woods were shaded brown and ochre, and peaceful, my first memory of communing with nature. The leaves and pine needles, yellow and crumbling, rustled and crackled and crunched under our feet with a satisfying scrtsssstchhhhhh sound as we walked. I remember - I still remember - that momentous feeling - the feeling you get when something wonderful happens, or is about to, or when something touches and awes you, even when you have little comprehension of what it is. "Pa tule h(n)ato", Baba told me. I used to drag my feet (still do, sometimes) and he was trying to break me of the habit. I breathed in the smell of pine - pine cones and broken pine needles lying everywhere. Occasionally, sunlight pierced through to the ground, dappling it in shade and shadow. We crossed felled logs, Baba striding casually over them, me scrambling.

Where was everyone else? Ma, and Dada, and Didi, and Bui? I know they were all on this trip, but for those minutes, I have no recollection of where they were. All that existed was the wonder of a wood - an actual wood - and the smell, and the cool air, and the crackling leaves, and holding onto my father's hand.

Why am I suddenly thinking of this? Well, I suppose, because the leaves are lying thick on the ground, and gusting across the street and onto my balcony. Because the smell of pine is almost overpowering in some places. And because, for some reason, my memories are suddenly emerging from long-ago places and dusting themselves off and creeping towards the sunlight.

On days when my mind is crowded with long-ago-and-far-away thoughts, I sometimes wonder why we don't all implode under the weight of every moment we've lived through, every conversation and touch and smile we've shared, every story intertwined with our lives, every rare, wondrous moment when we've suddenly stared at the sky and felt the thrill, the sheer random luck, of being alive, here and now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oh, The Places You'll Go...

Cincinnati... Schenectady... Albany... Philadelphia... Washington DC... Cincinnati... Pittsfield... Anaheim... Atlanta... New Jersey...

Long drives. Tedious lay-overs in sterile airports. Staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, in alien hotel rooms. Flights at every unreasonable hour. Trying to navigate to strange airports down unknown roads in the wee hours, without a GPS, and watching the sky grow light on the way.

The days have begun to blur. The one shining light at the end of this haze is, at the end of this year...

HOME!!!!!! (This is where the soundtrack kicks in, softly at first, and then rising gradually as the scene fades out. Paul Simon, singing "Homeward Bound." How cliched can one get?)

Meanwhile, quick updates, for those interested:
1. No, Paul Simon didn't happen. (JAP, looks like your curse worked, you evil person.)
2. But (HA!) Roger Waters did - the Dark Side tour, in Virginia. He is THE man. I had goosebumps through most of the concert. (I wish I'd also had some of the stuff causing the blue haze above our heads, but unfortunately, that wasn't an option.)
3. The Bartimaeus Trilogy, written by Jonathan Stroud, is absolutely brilliant. Entertaining and witty, makes mincemeat out of some other popular wizardry-related series. Please pick it up.

I try to have all updates or learnings in nice round numbers, like 5 or 10, but my day's beginning to blur again, so hasta maƱana.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Paul Simon, anyone?

This is a cry of despair.

Paul Simon is playing at the Radio City Music Hall in NYC on Saturday, 21st October. I'm desparate to go. But none of my friends here (at least, the ones I know in person!) are interested - not quite their genre.

Anyone out there wanna go?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cultural Confessions

For the longest time, I thought Jessica Simpson was a character on "The Simpsons".

I haven't read "7 Habits" nor "Siddhartha", nor watched "Citizen Kane."

I have, on the other hand, read "Congo", "The Andromeda Strain", plenty of Alistair Macleans, Louis L'Amours and Sudden time without number.

And watched Sleepless in Seattle, The Man With One Red Shoe, See No Evil Hear No Evil and You've Got Mail several times.

And (the kicker) I still, just occasionally, listen to Cliff Richard, The Carpenters and Abba.

(Head hanging low) I'm a cultural pleb, hoi polloi.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

La Dolce Vita

The end of a journey of little sleep, delayed flights, late arrivals and early meetings, malfunctioning credit cards, miserable weather, incorrect GPS information and other such. A final delay, sitting in a tiny aircraft on the runway for an hour and a half, cell-phone and laptop so out of juice that I could neither talk to anyone nor work, nothing to read or write on. Finally, clearance to take off. A rocky take-off, the small plane buffeted and tossed around by a powerful storm, the world invisible as we rose through clouds banked miles high.

And suddenly, as we emerged from the cloud, a perfect, perfect circular rainbow against the clouds, and our plane sillhouetted within it.

Wonder lies in the little things. As long as there's something to make one go "wow!", most other things fade into insignificance.

Friday, August 25, 2006

And now, even the song is over

Why don't we stop fooling ourselves?
The game is over,

No good times, no bad times,
There's no times at all,
Just The New York Times,
Sitting on the windowsill
Near the flowers.

We might as well be apart.
It hardly matters,
We sleep separately.

And drop a smile passing in the hall
But there's no laughs left
'Cause we laughed them all.

And we laughed them all
In a very short time.

Is tapping on my forehead,
Hanging from my mirror,
Rattling the teacups,
And I wonder,
How long can I delay?

We're just a habit
Like saccharin.
And I'm habitually feelin' kinda blue.
But each time I try on
The thought of leaving you,

I stop...
Stop and think it over.

~ Overs: Simon & Garfunkel

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


So there was a blood donation camp in my office building a few days ago. Posters were up for ages, asking, begging people to please donate. And as a good donor from years ago, I decided I would.

Off I went, on the appointed day, to the van in which the donations were to take place. Only to come back, because they needed ID. Back with the ID. Return again, to figure out my social security number - without which they wouldn't accept a donation, and which I never remember. Some time to hunt through documentation to find the number, then back again to the van. Fill out forms, extensive, long-winded forms about exposure to disease, sexual promiscuity, etc. Get finger pricked for blood-type testing. Wait for the nurse to be free to see me.

Only to discover that if you've been in the US for less than 3 years at a stretch, and especially if you come from sub-Saharan Africa, or India, or "places like those", they don't want your blood. Rationale: you've been exposed to malaria (I know malaria stays in the system for a while after you fall ill, but does it have that long a gestation period?!!) and "other such diseases".

I feel like I'm in a bad movie, where someone with a guttural Germainic accent is telling me, "So you fink you kan gif blood, eh? Vell, you're wrong. Go back to vere you kame from, filthy Indian."

Alright, so this is an exaggeration. Still, I'm feeling intensely alienated right now. Ironically, that's probably just how the INS wants aliens to feel.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


1. Hyperbole is usually a substitute for any real knowledge.
2. Technical information should still be readable English, but often - mostly, almost always - isn't.
3. You would think that there is a limit to the number of times the words "extensive experience" and "strong expertise" could be repeated in a 40-page document. You would be wrong.
4. Clearly, Very Few People are taught the Secret Code of using Capital Letters in Sentences.
5. If you're the only person trying to control quality, it's hard not to just give up at some point.
6. Especially if it's 11:30 p.m.
7. Drat.

Friday, July 21, 2006

It Is A Lovely Weather...

After days of stifling heat and humidity, the deluge has begun.

Complete with darkling skies, thunder, sheets of rain and that strange grey light that accompanies Indian monsoons. And only yesterday, I was trying to explain to a colleague the beauty, the absolute wonder, of the monsoon. Thank you, universe, for listening.

My flat is not made for rain-spotting. No grilled balconies where the spray comes glancing in, which is half the fun. But through the time I was growing up, I had a balcony to sit in. Cosily wrapped in a ragged "kantha", sitting in an "easy chair", with a mug of steaming tea and a couple of books balanced on the arms, I could watch the heavens burst open. A book would lie open (and forgotten) on my lap, and my senses would swell with the smell of wet red earth, as I watched the rain streak in dirty lines down the sides of once-white houses. Little puddles would form in the "maat" in front of our house, and swell to rivulets that would wind their way through the mud. Occasionally, a hapless cyclist, desperately trying to shield himself with the aid of a garish green plastic sheet, would go by, leaving deep squelchy ruts in his wake, and the rivulets would wind through these. Shivering crows would take shelter in the eaves of the balcony, or in trees.

And the sound! Everything else was drowned out by the companionable pattering of rain interspersed with bouts of rrrrrolling thunder and cracks of lightning. And you could just sit there and watch... and watch... and watch... and let your thoughts drift and your train of thought run away into far-away lands.

As a seasoned rain-spotter (no, I'm not sorry!), I knew when the rain was going to begin, and when it was going to end. And once the clouds had spent their fury, and the rain slowed down to a the occasional big fat drop, all the neighbourhood dogs - and the kids - would come out, to jump around in the mud and run around screaming, exulting. The air would have cooled, the skies grown a little lighter, and there would still be the occasional rumble of thunder, like the muted sound of someone's indigestion, promising more rain to come.

Not strange at all, I suppose, that of the thousands of songs that I learnt through years of singing classes in school, the one that sticks in my brain the most has a line that goes, "it's kind of nice when rain falls."


I wrote that last bit while I was still safely ensconced inside office.

Then I stepped outside. Traffic lined up for miles. My usual roads home awash with water, the rain pounding down so hard that even at the fastest wiper speed I could barely see. Driving through ocean-sized puddles that my temporarily-opaque windscreen had rendered invisible, making sheets of water rise from the wheels like the parting of the Red Sea. Crawling through foot-deep puddles and patting the wheel of the car reassuringly, murmuring, "Come on, Bootle, don't let me down now," looking at all the cars that had got stuck and praying it wouldn't happen to me. The world outside looked like this:

But I got home, finally, and opened my door to the rain, and stood in the doorway for a while, cradling a mug of hot tea in my hands and watching the rain, and all was right with the world again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Delightful, Delicious, Delovely

London in summer. Blue skies and sunny conversation, laughter and love. Food and wine (read: beer, Baileys, vodka, scotch, Kahlua. And, of course, wine). Picnics and exploration, history at every turn.

Walking down Southbank, soaking in the city, poring over books and old maps, wandering through the streets, figuring out the Underground, and gradually a city maps itself out in your mind.

Old friends - sometimes actually sitting on park benches. How strange and wondrous to feel someone kicking in one's oldest friend's stomach. To meet friends one hasn't met in years, sit in the sunshine on a boat on the river, talk of this and that, share old stories, talk of plans and dreams and just look out at the street.

Family, laughing hysterically into the night about old stories and new, dawdling at the table over dinner, enveloped in contentment. Big family get-together, teasing and laughing at each other. Photographs and memories. Happiness.

Lazy mornings, coffee and conversation. Home. Perfection.

Friday, June 30, 2006

This Blog Does Not Encourage Behaviour Modification

I just realised that I have, several times, told readers to "watch this space" for follow-ups. And never followed through. Hmmm... food for thought.

Not, of course, that I'm going to do anything about it.

In Passing...

Writing about China on the basis of seeing two cities would be like judging all of India on the basis of Delhi and Bombay. Not that there's much of a comparison between Delhi / Bombay and Shanghai / Beijing. And of course, where language is a constraint, travel can't open up new vistas to the extent one would like: one can see other people going about their lives, but not really understand what they're all about - what they want, what they think about, what they really think about the cultural revolution and Chairman Mao and the world and their place in it.

Still, a story about the trip will be posted soon.

For the moment, more travel is on the cards. I'm off to London tomorrow. A week with family and friends, time to think and recharge my batteries and figure out my life a little, and hopefully when I come back, I'll know in which direction I need to start hacking to clear the undergrowth a little.

It's 1:30 in the morning. Dylan's birthday tribute plays, yellow lamplight sets everything aglow. Outside, it's thundering and lightning-ing, and there's that old feeling of excitement creeping in. Tomorrow promises a great quarter-final too, the kind that needs to be watched with friends, with copious amounts of beer and raucous cheering.

And ultimately, who cares what happens tomorrow? In the final count, may the best team (Brazil) win. :)

These @*%#-ing Brazilians. Now I'm seriously depressed.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Days Like This IV

1. Waking up to nasty emails.
2. Rushing through morning ablutions to get to work by 7:30
3. Missing 2 important calls on the way
4. Getting on a series of conference calls that flow into each other
5. Missing lunch, because there's no time to have it
6. For a conference call with an idiot
7. Who loves listening to the sound of his own voice and keeps on talking
8. So that one has to stay connected when one is desparate to take a leak
9. With hours of work still ahead
10. Spilling into offshore working hours

But still, China! Beckons! Woohoo!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Shanghai Ahoy

Takla Makan. The Gobi Desert. The great wall of China. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree. The BRICs report. The world's most populous country. All those old jokes about sardarjis who name their third child "chang", because every third person in the world is Chinese. Printing technology, huns, the way of the dragon. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Ho Chi Minh. Tiananamen Square. Google's China problem, or China's Google problem, as the case may be.

Hallelujah, China, here I come.

OK, so it's just a few days, and just one city / area. Still, I am thrilled beyond belief.

Shanghai it is. Any ideas, people? Things to see, things to do? Cheap hotels, if you've traveled there at all? Overcoming the language barrier? Any other tid-bits? Historical / geographical cultural info?

I shall keep posting my research. Meanwhile, in honor of this event, I shall finally buy that digital camera so many of you wrote in about so long ago.

Watch this space!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Music to live by...

"I'm so tired,
I haven't slept a wink.
I'm so tired,
My mind is on the blink
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink
No, no, no..."

~ The Beatles, "The Beatles" (The White Album)
© 1968 Northern Songs

Does anybody find it strange that you can think of lyrics to match almost any mood? Or does everybody out there have a soundtrack for their lives?

Monday, March 13, 2006


This is an excerpt from a piece called "Just Say No To Rugs" by Dave Barry, Pulitzer winning humor columnist. He wrote for the Miami Herald till recently (and is now on sabbatical), and has published several books. In my book, he's one of the funniest people in the world.

With all due attribution, I can't help but post this excerpt. It had me in splits for a full ten minutes after I read it. Because I can see myself (and several others I know) doing exactly the same thing, in all seriousness.


Mousse was a Labrador Retriever, which is a large enthusiastic bullet-proof species of dog made entirely from synthetic materials. This is the kind of dog that, if it takes an interest in your personal regions (which of course it does) you cannot fend it off with a blowtorch.

So anyway, Mike and Sandy had two visitors who wore expensive, brand-new down-filled parkas, which somehow got left for several hours in a closed room with Mousse. When the door was finally opened, the visibility in the room had been drastically reduced by a raging down storm, at the center of which was a large quivering down clot, looking like a huge mutant duckling, except that it had Mousse's radiantly happy eyes.

For several moments Mike and Sandy and their guests stared at this apparition, then Mike, a big, strong, highly authoritative guy, strode angrily into the room and slammed the door. He was in there for several minutes, then emerged, looking very serious. The down clot stood behind him, wagging its tail cheerfully.

"I talked to Mousse," Mike said, "and he says he didn't do it."


I haven't found this piece of his online, but you can find other stuff he's written (if you don't already know) here.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Tagged again, darn it.

Like a Rohrschach test, these responses are straight off the top of my head. Let's hope you find them interesting, Shakey!

Seven things to do before I die - not that I expect this to happen - I think I'm immortal, ineffable and so on. Still...
  • Get back to playing the piano.
  • Travel through the Congo.
  • Ditto the Savannah. Kenya, here I come.
  • Also Latin America.
  • Learn to play the saxophone. Alto sax a la Boots Randolph and Fausto Papetti.
  • Win a Booker. Or similar. (Modesty is not my virtue. Practicality and realism are not my mores.)
  • Swim with dolphins. Or whales (though preferably not Orcas)

Seven things I can't do:

  • Abide cruelty to animals
  • Make small talk
  • Play bridge (despite years of begging people to teach me)
  • Listen to music - any music - without tapping my feet or trying to sing along
  • Deal with dishonesty / a particular brand of smarmy sucking-up
  • Refrain from making cooing noises when faced with puppies
  • Fall asleep without reading for a while (unless excessive alcohol renders me unable to see straight, and even then, I try, while my crossed eyes try in vain to follow my finger across the words)

Seven things that attract me to Europe (really? Does it have to be Europe, or can it be any place that fascinates one? Oh well, going with the flow)

  • Language. Spanish, specifically.
  • Old looming cathedrals
  • History
  • My colonial roots
  • Wine & cheese
  • Adventure, or the hope of it
  • Je ne se quois

Seven excellent books:

  • To Kill A Mockinbird - Harper Lee
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
  • The Great Indian Novel - Shashi Tharoor
  • The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
  • Impossibility - John D. Barrow
  • The complete Winnie-the-Pooh (OK, so it's not "a" book and I'm cheating. Still.) - A. A. Milne
  • Falling Off The Map - Pico Iyer

Seven good movies:
  • Jungle Book (Disney animated)
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • The Usual Suspects (speaking of which, almost every Kevin Spacey movie I've ever seen)
  • Monsters, Inc. (yes, I'm an animation freak)
  • The Untouchables
  • Those Magnificent Men And Their Flying Machines
  • Beckett

Seven people on whom to inflict this!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Behold the Bootle

Yet another silver Japanese car in a sea of silver Japanese cars.

But isn't it sleek and shiny? :)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Apropos of nothing, here are some photographs.

Long straight roads on deceptive blue-sky sunny day (with bitter cold and frosty winds outside), we raced an Amtrak for a while. And out-ran it. But there's something magical about shiny steel train against flat, bland countryside.

The bridge on the mighty river Missouri. Perhaps it's the wrong season, or the wrong place, but it didn't seem that mighty. I've always been fascinated by bridges, though, so this picture is really my favourite from the whole trip.

Blue skies, bay and mud-brown earth. Coffee and music as we speed by. Heaven in a package. Not much of a picture, but go with it, go with it.

The St. Louis gateway arch, designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1965, towers 630 feet above the Mississippi river, commemorating America's westward exploration in the 19th century. Taller than the Washington Monument and more than twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, even the giants from Mount Rushmore, had they bodies proportionate to the sie of their heads would be able to stroll through the arch.

The romance of the arch, however, lies in the idea of pioneering expeditions to the west, in intrepid explorers in boats and on horseback, crossing the river to go where no man they knew had gone before.
The Arch refused to fit into a single frame, no matter how we tried. Here's how it looks from below.

I had thought the view from the top would be something spectacular. It wasn't, in the normal sense of things. But for the first time, I could see the curvature of the earth. I checked this photograph with a ruler, just to be sure I wasn't imagining it. Yes, you can really see the curve.

Photographs courtesey R.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Missing the Mardi Gras

The Plan:
Fly to Chicago on Friday evening, meet a couple of friends, then drive out to St. Louis early Saturday morning in time for the Mardi Gras parade. Stay overnight in St. Louis, drive back Sunday morning. See the city (if you can ever see a city in one evening) on Sunday. Fly back early Monday morning and head straight to work.

The Problem:

Meeting friends on a Friday evening, and expecting to drink sufficiently little that evening to wake up sufficiently early the next morning.

The Reality:

  • R wakes up at 6, as planned, and begs, grovels, for an extra hour's sleep. Since he's going to drive, and since we're all in the same shape as he is (but too dignified to beg), we aquiesce.
  • R wakes up at 7, and begs for another hour. We agree to half an hour.
  • By the time we're all ready, it's 8:30. After stops to buy coffee and food and for smokes, we reach St. Louis finally at 2:30 p.m. The parade is over, and only its junk remains - debris from the floats, broken beads on the ground. We settle for being tourists, go up in tiny steel cubicles to the top of St. Louis' arch. The view is strangely disappointing, as the trip has been so far. As must be, when strangers decide to be friends taking a trip together somewhere. Starving after no meals throughout the day, there is, really, only one option: alcohol.

The TrainWreck:

We walk into "TrainWreck" - a restaurant / pub / nightclub, and things begin to get happy. Copious amounts of beer and vodka are consumed, happy people at the next table join us, and we all get up and dance (around the tables, thankfully, and not on them), and exchange phone numbers. S calls from Delhi, and I speak to him for half an hour, but have no idea what we spoke about the next day - I only have a vague memory of using the F word fairly often.

R wants to drink on the way back, so I drive back part of the way on Sunday. Open roads, miles of nothing all around, wonderful driving. R plays DJ, inserting CDs and going ga-ga over some song before losing patience and skipping to the next one, till we are at the end of our tether. (It is annoying, when singing along loudly and tunelessly with Billy Joel, to suddenly find oneself singing loudly and tunelessly on one's own while the CD searches for the next track.)

The Madness:

Chicago is big, and R doesn't know his way around yet. But we manage to find our way to a comedy club, where there are some decent performances, then onto downtown Chicago. As we drive around, R, who can barely see straight by this point, shrieks at us desparately to keep our eyes open. "Quick, what's that road? what's that road? Is it Michigan?" "We're on Michigan already, aren't we?", I ask, poking my head out of the window to check. "Shit. OK, so is it Congress Parkway?" And so we navigate on.

The Sight-Seeing:

And so, if you visit Chicago, let me recommend that you see (based on my somewhat unconventional tour, which comprised coming across things more by accident than design, and my even more unconventional and somewhat pickled tour guide who made up for his lack of information with liberal doses of scorn, alternating with careless inventiveness) the Millennium Park (which we saw from a distance, and which, as per R, "has some structures and shit"), the famous Chicago theatre (which is "famous for some shit") and the Magnificent Mile (a mile of road on Michigan avenue, famous for shopping, but with some old architecture that is interesting). The Millennium Park, R says, letting go of the steering wheel and gesturing grandly with his arms to the near-detriment of the car in front of us, is the biggest park in the US. P and I both look suspiciously at him. "Bigger than Central Park?" "Oh, Shentral Park!" says our guide, "yeah, that might be bigger. OK, sho it'sh the shecond largesht." Moments later, he tells us that Chicago's Hard Rock Cafe is the second oldest in the US. A moment of thought, while we just look at him suspiciously. "I jusht made that up", he tells us proudly. "Do you even know this city?", I ask him. "Not really", he says in rare moment of honesty, following it up immediately with another whopper. But to do him credit, he does find his way to the House of Blues (where we missed B B King playing the previous night), entirely by the hit-or-miss method of "that looksh short of familiar, let'sh go that way", and eventually does manage to find his way back home.

The Epilogue:

I sleep through the ride to the airport the next morning, and all the way back on the flight. So we missed the Mardi Gras parade, and so we didn't end up doing anything we couldn't have done in New York or Chicago... but it was a fun trip anyway. And it's fun to have strangers become friends.


Pictures are here

Further update: cross-posted here

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What Has Frog Been Doing?

1. Getting her New Jersey driving license

How she did it: Waited and waited, procrastinating until the day before her Indian license and IDP were about to expire. Then spent a night reading the NJ motor vehicles manual, before running to the testing center in the morning. Took the knowledge test (multiple choice questions) and vision test (unless you're totally blind, this shouldn't be a stumbling block).

Aside: The cool thing about NJ is that if you have a long driving history in in some other country, and you pass your knowledge test OK, they can waive the road test - as they did in my case.

2. Digging her rental car out of 20 inches of snow.

Two and a half hours on a Sunday afternoon. Charming weekend. And to really provide us with a challenge worth sinking our teeth into, every hour or so, after all of us trying to liberate our cars had more or less cleared the snow behind it, the snow-plough would come back and push all the snow from the road into banks behind the cars.

3. Buying a car.

How she did it: She shopped around for weeks. She spoke to dealers, did some test drives, searched the web desparately for the cheapest cars, certified used cars at reasonable mileage and prices, and despaired. And finally, she walked into a dealership, test drove this one car, and said, OK, that's it, here's my cheque. Or, you know, here's 10 bucks, and I'll get a loan for the rest and come back and pick the car up.
So anyway, my 2006 Honda Civic LX will be with me on Monday! Woohoo!

4. Attendant hassles:

The problem is, when you buy the car, you need to buy insurance. And for these guys, no driving history in the US = no driving history whatsoever. (To be fair, perhaps records are not easy to access - and it's difficult to believe that there could be a driving record for each licensed driver in India. Still, in one's nastier moments, one tells oneself that this is the same mind-set that calls a national event "the world series".) Which means, high premiums. *sigh* But, the silver lining - the insurance business is not all about making money - there are caring insurance professionals out there. Like one guy Frog spoke with, who told her he wasn't comfortable giving her the NJ state minimum coverage because what if she got in a collision and got sued for more, and had to pay it all herself? No no, he'd feel really bad if that happened, knowing he'd OKed the coverage, and so he was going to give her higher coverage and (of course) charge her higher premiums. Frog almost broke down and cried, at how this individual was shattering all myths about insurance professionals. Then she told him where he could put his premiums and rung off.

5. Traveling. Like fury.

Hurrying from meeting to meeting, whirling across the east coast like a ... well, hurricane, she guesses.
See also: waiting around at airports for delayed flights, waiting around at airports for someone to provide some information about whether the flight I'm scheduled to take is just delayed, or has disappeared into the blue, waiting on board flights for delayed take-off, waiting on flights circling airports to be cleared to land, waiting at airports for connecting trains. NB: A margarita, taken just at the point where the waiting is beginning to climb over the hill of bearability and grab you by the throat, preparatory to making you grab someone else by the collar, is wonderfully calming!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Movie Recommendation of the month: Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain, based on a book by Pullitzer prize winning author Annie Proulx, is one of the best movies I have seen in a very long time. It's not that the story's so unusual - after all, it's a love story, and what could be more common? OK, so it's a love story involving two people of the same sex, but that's not unusual either.

It's just that the evolution of their connection, from spark to romance to tenderness to angst and resentment, all the while growing stronger, is shown so beautifully. And the starkness of the story against the starkness of the landscape - a land where men are men, not "queer"s - gets under your skin and nestles there, refusing to leave. One viewing will not be enough. (I'm headed back to the theatre this weekend.)

Powerful performances by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall. I know nothing about direction, but if the Director's job is to get the movie to pull you in and get under your skin, Ang Lee has worked wonders.

This is not a movie review. It's just that I can't stop myself from writing about this movie. Even though I can't seem to find the right words to describe it. So go watch.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

You Know You're Becoming American When...

... Someone asks you how much she has to pay for the gas this month, and you say, "Gas? But we just filled the tank on the way to work."


Monday, January 23, 2006


1. I'm not yet old enough to not secretly enjoy my birthday.

2. I miss having someone turn up at my doorstep with cake at midnight.

3. Finding one's way around using mapquest directions ain't so scary after all. Except when it's dark and rainy and nothing looks the way it does during the day.

4. Quietly, sneakily, my house is taking on the feeling of a home. Things have Their Own Places, cabinets Contain Things, the boiler's hum-and-gurgle routine has become Only Background for my pottering around, or reading, and has ceased to annoy.

5. I used to love twilight, once. Dusk once stood for the reluctant close to a happy afternoon of play and stories, coming home and skolling half a bottle of cold water straight out of the fridge, bath, homework, dinner, TV, reading. Or perhaps it stood for coming home. But yesterday, as I watched the sun set over dull brown rooftops, and my room turn from gold to ink and shadows lengthen, I felt mopey.