Monday, 27 April 2009

Spring and My First Run

Spring is here!!!! In New Jersey weather is a little strange. We seemed to have fast forwarded to summer while still being assaulted with one off cold, wet days. Nevertheless, the flowers are blooming, a topless man with lots of body art is doing his daily crunches in the park outside my house, children are out playing till late in the day as the sun sets much later... all signs of winter being over.

There is another sure sign of spring... my first run outside. I am not much of a runner in the sense I have never been very successful in long distance running. But we all need to adopt some form physical activity so that we continue to fit into our jeans and for some strange contrary, reason I have gravitated towards running. 

No matter how much I try to keep in some semblance of shape in winter, it always proves quite futile. I did try this year. I tried a couple of winter hikes, tried skiing, and joined the gym. I still fit in my jeans but my first run was as always an eye opener. Winter months are just not meant for exercise. Winter is season when the fat polar bear has a better chance of survival than the lean panthers. It is a season to eat, cuddle and keep warm. I cannot believe I complained and whined about winter when winter in return gave me hot food, cozy nights by the fireplace and an excuse to do nothing. Such ingratitude does not go unpunished so along came spring. 

I am not sure why I picked running. I am not a very health conscious person and like my food way too much. Running is hard for most people and in my case I think I just do it because I am slightly masochistic.  My first run is always an exercise in pain, humiliation and frustration.

I set off this Wednesday with the moderate goal of two miles. Despite time spent on the elliptical in the gym every muscle and bone protested. I had picked that stretch because it was a street lined with pretty houses with gardens full of spring flowers. The plan was a pleasant run with flowers blooming, birds chirping, children playing. If any of you remember the opening credits of "My Little Pony”, a cartoon show that I watched as a child, where flying unicorns paint rainbows in the sky. That was how I had pictured spring and my run. Well not exactly but you get the drift. 

In the tortuous 25 minutes ( yes that is unfortunately how long it took me to run two miles) I did not notice a single flower, I was not interested in the children playing. I just wanted them to keep out of my way so I could jog in straight lines and make the ordeal end as quickly as possible. It took a lot of self control not to scowl at a couple of young mothers with strollers that I ran around.  I was however aware of every crack in the pavement, all the elevation changes however negligible, all the curves in the road. 

Since I am masochist I went again the next day and it was only slightly better in the sense I knew what I was in for and my mouth did not keep falling open in surprise at my physical condition. The third day was also just as physically taxing but I did notice one house with the most beautiful trees full of flowers. That is a definite foot forward. I hope to be able to realize some realistic version of my "My Little Pony" fantasy but I am still hoping that winter will come back and I can go back to being a polar bear. 


Yellow thai curry. This is surprisingly easy dish to make. I have not been able to find lemongrass so I just throw in some grated lemon rind. I am sure this leads to a loss in flavour but without the exotic ingredient I am able to have curry for a last minute dinner - a justifiable sacrifice if you ask me. 


Tuesday, 21 April 2009

If the shoe fits

The Slipper Gate is rocking India now. My response to this strange form of protest is very mixed. On the one hand I like Chidambram and throwing your Reeboks at the man who is not the accused seems rather mean spirited to me. On the other hand when a violent man like Modi cowers behind nets while giving speeches, I feel gleeful. Throw shoes at Advani, who every rational person disagrees with and I am not pleased (the heart knows what it wants but the mind does not understand it) but deny Jagdish Tytler a ticket because of shoe throwing and I am happy again.

I think the day is not far off when

- Attending rallies is a reason to buy shoes
- Political parties train the party members to dodge shoes
- Political parties train party members to throw shoes
- Parties condemn throwing reeboks as unindian and insist that protesters use Bata chapals.
- Throw away chapals with party symbols are handed out instead of election pamphlets/ posters.

Recipe - Orzo Stuffed Bell Peppers
Orzo is a great pasta especially for us rice eaters. I discovered this recipe while looking for ways to make orzo. I am not a fan of olives in my pasta. I mixed the orzo with sweet corn, chopped garlic, chopped red and green bell pepper, chopped onion and used a lot of dried basil. Also leave out feta and bake after topping with a cheese that melts ( mozarella, pepper jack).

Friday, 17 April 2009

Afghan Crisis

I am on vacation. One of my best ever vacations. Why would I interrupt this bliss to blog ....

Well for one news channels in Canada do not restrict themselves to American Idol and Obama's dog. Though I am sad to say that I did see some news reports about the presidential dog even in Canada. 

I am blogging to express/ register my shock at what is going on in Afghanistan....
Afghan Women Go Public. It is a strange society in which men can express their support to what is effectively a rape law without feeling shame. 
300 brave women turned up to protest against all odds. The number is despite the killing of Woman Activist by taliban and the public transport services boycotting these women.

I do not have anything to add. My thoughts are with these women.

Friday, 10 April 2009


After a few months of lovely domestic life I have surrounded myself with things that

- I don't really need.

- I don't ever want to do without again

- I would never have bought before said life of domesticity.

1. Shower Radio - I now own a waterproof shower radio so I can blare Dhoom FM even as I struggle to open my eyes completely and get ready to face the day. I had bought this as a part of a birthday gift for music lover husband but in reality I have enjoyed it as much as him if not more. I have been known to bathe multiple times (up to 4 times) a day just so that I can relax and face something afresh.

2. Euro pillows - Since I wanted our bed to look all pretty, color coordinated and inviting I invested in two Euro pillows. This I think was a part of the first baby steps towards the creation of my "adult" avatar. My bed looks lovely of course but these pillows give me so much more. The pillows are also perfect for cuddling, leaning, throwing.... just lovely.

3. Hair straightener - After meeting with fashionable old friends I decided to spend some money on clothes/ makeup apart from comfy t shirts, dresses that are 80% off at Kohl's and pajamas. So I bought myself a chi hair straightener. I have used it only once and I feel similar to how I felt when I turned up for my school farewell in my mother's silk Saree. It is not quite me but I like the end result :).

4. Carpet runner - 7 months ago I would have scoffed at the idea of buying 50 dollar scraps of carpet to put on top of a perfectly functional carpet. I was unjust in my opinion of carpet runners. They make a totally plain room look pretty, a lot of them are really soft and just nice to put your feet on and most importantly they are a great way to hide all those carpet stains that are a result of eating your meals in all areas of the house except the dining table.

5. An entryway bench - This is positively the single most scarcely used piece of furniture in the entire house. My husband and I continue to lace our shoes while staring at the TV and store our coats on top of the dining table for easy access (not eating our meals at the table has its advantages). But the real purpose of an entryway bench is to hide clutter. I had the foresight of buying one with big baskets underneath and that in turn results in a clutter free home in less than 15 minutes.

6. A gel fireplace - Our condo came without a fireplace so we bought an indoor one that can burn gel fuel. This fireplace had given so much. The fireplace, as can be expected, is great for a romantic evening. The other less obvious advantage is that lighting a fireplace gives you good reason to dim the lights. So on an exhausting Friday evening you can ignore the clutter around you not by cleaning but by turning off the lights.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Book Club

I always wanted to join a book club. There are so many scenes in movies with men and women sitting in cozy rooms huddled over a book. The conversation is smart, funny and yet it is a conversation between friends. The book at hand is a very good pick. It might be an old classic or a more recent cult sensation; in any case the book has been picked after much consideration.

More recently there have been entire movies about book clubs - the Jane Austen Book Club for one. And I am impressionable :). Who says that TV is bad for our imagination? So I joined a book club that met 3 miles from here, had great ratings with lots of members leaving behind posts about how varied the opinions were, how lively the conversation was and so on. What could possible go wrong? We would pick a good book, gather in some cozy restaurant and chat away.

As always when you build things up they are bound to let you down. So when the book that was chosen did not meet my expectations I blamed my rather steep expectations. We picked Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I have nothing against David Sedaris and I rather enjoyed the book but it was just not what I expected from a book club.

Things looked up a little after that. The book club seemed quite organized, I got reminder mails, comments and also a list questions that would aid discussion. So though I did not think that the book in itself lent itself to much analysis or discussion I thought with a bunch of irreverent, funny people this would be good. They did pick a very politically incorrect, laugh out loud kind of book and if that says anything about them, I expected a fun bunch of people.

Since it was my first book club meeting ever, it was clearly not enough for me just to read the book. I have spent a large portion of my life taking examinations and now I worked on converting a leisure activity to something that resembled an examination. I made notes about the questions asked, googled other details of interest, jotted down salient points. Three weeks after I had RSVP'd, I turned up at the designated time at a Panera Bread where a table had been booked for our meeting.

When I met the crowd I was not exactly elated. There were 7 women and 2 men all of whom avoided any eye contact or pleasantries. A couple of them seemed to know each other but that was about it. Things went downhill rather quickly... With the exception of two women most of the people there had either not read the book, or read it so long ago that they did not remember the details, or had read so many of Sedaris' books that they had no idea what this particular one said. Great start!!

I tried to cling to my mental picture of lively conversation, cozy rooms but this situation was past help. The questions were read out and everything contributed their half a cent (I give 2 cents to an entire sentence). I tried to contribute however the discussion was not what I had hoped for. One question dealt with coming up with the cast of a movie based on the book. David Sedaris is a self absorbed, funny, intelligent man who was a former drug addict, abused alcohol and spent most of his life without any goals. I had given this much thought and decided that Hugh Grant would play this role well. The group there however had decided because David Sedaris was gay, the person who would do this character most justice was Sean Hayes a very gay character in Will and Grace. That is like casting Kal Penn in every Indian role including Tipu Sultan and Gandhi. All in all we got through the list of questions very quickly. Clearly all my homework was to go to waste.

The conversation then got worse. There were two teachers and they began talking about their job. One was a female teacher who talked a lot about an 11 year old who just had sex on her mind. She of course dropped to a whisper every time she said the S word but the impression I got was that this teacher also clearly had "sex" on her mind. The other teacher also talked about the hell his students were going through. There were stories about overdoses, homelessness, and violence. The two teachers then spent considerable amount of time coming up with the most shocking story of the evening.

There was also a girl who kept talking about how she loved self help books. Having done my research I knew that David Sedaris had kicked his drug/ tobacco/ alcohol habits with the help of self help books. Though this was a commendable feat, if David Sedaris talked about said self books in excruciating detail with every passing acquaintance stuck in an hour long book club meeting, I don't think I will ever read a book authored by him again.

After the first 10 minutes when I was trying to at least trying to answer some of the questions, I gave up and stared at the people with growing amazement. Yet another dream shattered. My mental pictures of hot cocoa, fireplaces, and lovely books replaced with this- what was effectively a retelling of a trashy reality show.

And to add salt to my fresh wounds apart from one English teacher not one of them had heard of Agatha Christie. :(

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Improving Myself and Revisiting Other Teenage Horrors

I have now been in New Jersey 8 whole months. The initial months after my move were quite hectic. There was unpacking, organizing, buying furniture, assembling furniture, work related travel as I settled in. After those initial months now is a period of relative calm.

In a period of relative calm most mature people blossom. They pursue their interests, take walks and basically they stop to smell the flowers. I on the other hand, panic. But in my new avatar as an adult I decided to use the time on my hands to take steps to "improve myself". There were a number of things, as could be expected that needed "improvement". But zeroing in on my first "area of improvement" was harder than I would like to admit.....There must have been something I did in my youth that I could work on now.

Then it hit me, I could learn to dance!!!! I had learnt Bharatnatyam for a good 4 years in my teens so I could pick up where I had left off. So I looked up the dance classes in New Jersey. I found a rather long list of classes, all nearby, all convenient, all with teachers that had exemplary credentials. So all I had to do was call them and get things going. At this point I found myself strangely reluctant.

I had spent 4 years during my impressionable youth learning to dance, however I recollected quite reluctantly that my "impression" of my dancing was that I sucked (I tend to block unpleasant things). I was not bad in the front of my mirror at home when I practiced before my classes but when I got onto a stage, even a stage in front of other gawky, graceless teenagers, I froze. And not all teenagers are gawky and graceless especially those who spend their afternoons in a dance class. I had my share of comrades in arms. They like me had some redeemable qualities but just not this one quality. But there were also those who really belonged. Girls who were not clumsy, who could smile on cue, look sad on cue, bat their lashes to indicate the subtleties of emotion, stand still in a pose without rolling their eyes and giggling.

As I mentioned I was not a complete failure at dancing. The mechanics of it was not impossible. And with some effort I was able to be at least fairly proficient at least in that aspect of it. But dancing esp. Indian classical dances is not just about the mechanics. And though my class was full of little prodigies, expecting a 11 year old girl to emote the pathos of being Krishna's dejected Gopika seemed not only very hard but quite frankly also just down right inappropriate.

I could blame my mother for this. She had no time for "girly" pursuits. I could count on her to refuse to emote the pathos of a Gopika even if her life depended on it. Or my brother. I am betting all those graceful dancers could not climb trees like I could. But my tree climbing skills didn't help me on that stage. Or my father who spent turned up at all the dance events and was always spotted smiling and proud. So there was nothing wrong with what my father did but it made my "sucking" just a lot harder to come to terms with.

I also remembered that I enjoyed dancing. Moving to a beat is quite relaxing and exercise in the form of dancing is one of the nicer ways to exercise. And in all honesty, as I grew older although I still could not emote on stage I was emoting away in my head :). Despite that I think I will give the dancing idea a rest. There are some advantages of being a rather lazy teenager who spent most of her time reading. One of course is that there is no substitute for reading, none at all. The second is that maybe I do not have to relive my past failures and can at least fail at something new(My current favorite is horse riding).

And when I have come to terms with my limitations with respect to dancing I am considering Bollywood dancing. A good friend has been at it and is having so much fun that I am convinced that I should give it a shot.

Recipe - Couple of things I want to post. One is Aviyal which I did not appreciate as a child but have learned to love. Credit goes to husband who makes it all the time.

Macaroni grill serves this bread that I think is just delicious. I found a copy cat recipe and the end result was great. The recipe is here.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Where Are You Really From?

Growing up most of us have heard/ watched the famous "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara".  It is a beautiful number about national integration.  In a country with many different cultures and languages national integration is an important message. This song though inspiring and very well executed is a little too politically correct. The idea of national integration seems a tad incomplete without the idea of national identity. 

Living in a foreign country a national identity should be easy to stir. All things Indian are now dear and have fond memories attached to them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. What is a little strange is that despite all the distance we have traveled our identities still seem tied to rather small part of our country. 

 Which brings me to the title of my blog? A lot of conversations start with "Where are you from?”.  Since I bear a long Tamil surname with many A's “Delhi" as an answer does not seem to suffice. So I have taken to "I am a South Indian brought up in Delhi". For dinner conversation you would think this would be sufficient but that is seldom the case. "So what is your native place? Where were your parents from?" Again "My Dad was brought up in Delhi too and so was my Ma". Most polite folks stop here but some really persistent ones counter with. "Yes that's nice but you must have a native place?” 

To make things worse I am now married to a tamilian who was brought up in Bombay. So the questions continue. So where is your husband "really" from? What is your husband's "native place”?

Which leaves me to wonder why we obsess about where our forefathers are from. Is it our need to mentally put people into slots that we have in our heads? Just a need to keep our mind free from clutter? A mental equivalent of a filing cabinet? Maybe we meet so many people this trick is required to assimilate it all. 

In order to classify the people we meet (if we must do that) the questions about their hobbies, work, interests have now been replaced with tracing their genealogical tree all the way back to Adam. 

Do these questions give people an insight into my life that I have overlooked? I believed that my husband’s and my personality attributes were a result of our genes/upbringing/exposure. Perhaps it is not that complicated. Does "My native place" hold the key? 

To the person with this question it seems to hold all the answers. Despite my reluctance stemming mostly from the fact that I have no idea whatsoever where my native place is, the bearer of said question is usually quite persistent. As if I am withholding the one nugget of information that is the answer to all questions. The rest of the conversation might as well be -

Do you play tennis? Oh wait a second don't answer that. I know. Your native place is "XYZ". 

Do you like knitting? Oh I am sorry, why am I asking you this. Your native place is "XYZ".

Did you opt for biology in school? Pardon me, I am repeating myself. I know all the answers. Your native place is "XYZ".

Food for thought.....

While on food for thought. This Gujrati kadi was first introduced to me by my aunt - My Favourite Aunt :).

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Old Friends

This last weekend I met a very old friend. P lives in Canada and intended to come to New York City for a few days to celebrate her birthday. The plan was to meet for dinner and a night out in New York City.

P and I had been friends from school. We were close friends in school but after that unlike the women in Sex and City who ended up living in the same city as their best friends, life took us in different directions. Soon we barely found ourselves in the same country let alone the same city. Also unlike the women in Sex and the City only one of us was fashion forward and owned clothes as expensive as her car or for that matter a car that was not bought on Craigslist.

So though I was looking forward to meeting her, I was also a little apprehensive. P and I had kept in touch over the phone and we had great conversations. We were still good friends at least over the phone. And I was worried that if we met and "went clubbing" things would change. The last time I went clubbing was to check out a club in New York City near Times Square that played Himesh Reshammiya and Punjabi talli numbers. Needless to say I loved it but also needless to say P would not touch that club with a 10 foot pole. Also the "last time I went clubbing" was over 2 years ago. I would like to pretend this is new and that I painted the town red when I was younger but sadly though long nights might have involved a bottle of wine and some merriment, clubbing was beyond me.

So I was worried that the meeting would change things. I liked having a friend who I have known forever and who has known me for long. So armed with a gag gift bag that belted out a Yiddish number when opened, I went to join the birthday celebrations at her hotel. 

When the door opened I was greeted by not one fashionable, beautiful woman with lovely, expensive taste but three. I was soon elbow deep in Burberry shawls, high heels, and sexy party clothes. The women had gone shopping in New York City and had loved it. Since I am the kind of local they turned to me with questions about where I shopped. To their credit when I mentioned the 9 dollar dress I had bought at some random store in NYC there was only a slight amount of surprise expressed ( They were pretty and gracious). After that when the showed me the bounties of their shopping expedition they preceded every item with " So have you heard of Coach/Gucci/ Burberry?".  Again I could only see the slightest relief on their faces (very gracious women). 

But I had no reason to worry. Some old friends stay friends. We could still talk like we did when we were 17. I had put on a brave front about the whole clubbing thing but I think P knew that I was a fish out of water.  P did my hair, lent me clothes and let me believe that I fit in ( I didn't !!).  P looked lovely and after much makeup which did nothing for me apart from embarrass me but made the three women even more glamorous we headed out for dinner and fun. P also held my hand through the mad crowds in clubs. Early in the evening I noticed P guarding the vegetarian appetizers ( I am the only vegetarian). She was making people put back the avocado sushi even as they were going to stick it in their mouths. 

After that sweet, silly gesture I was completely relieved. She might be a successful girl with glamorous clothes but she had made one friend too early.

The recipe for this post is Poha. It is the simplest recipe but is perfect breakfast/snack food. Husband adds ginger and skips any chilly powder and relies only on the green chillies for the heat.