Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Adieu 2009

So pooh, I didn't get the BBC job. Now the search for a new job in journalism begins.

As I kick back and soak up the Indian sun, here's wishing all of you a wonderful 2010!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


This week I did one of the most thrilling things of my time as a graduate student. I flew to London and back in 48 hours :)

Three months ago, I had just arrived in Washington and thought it might be a good idea to check out job opportunities, knowing that the busy semester would not allow specific time for applications. Out of curiosity, I checked London's options as well and came across an opening with BBC. I began the online application on my work computer, where I had found the posting, couldn't stop thinking about it all day, went home and stayed awake until 5 a.m. and submitted it.

As the days went by, what seemed to be glaring errors on my application jumped out at me. They haunted my sleep along with that growing sinking feeling in my stomach that I had just blown a perfectly good job possibility.

The last date to notify applicants if they had been selected for the next round was Nov. 4, which came and went without a whistle. I had resigned myself to not hearing back long ago.

And then, a message popped into my inbox.

I had been called to London for an interview with two BBC journalists. I had made it to the next round!

Thrilled beyond belief, I booked tickets and counted down the days.

Just back from London and I can't stop smiling.

When I got to the BBC headquarter in White City, I had to walk through a long cobbled pathway, lined with trees on either side. The three BBC letters stared back at me from across the building.

"In London, I'm Ayesha Aleem, for BBC World," I said softly to myself, grinning that I was actually here.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in a series of tests brought to a close with the interview, which was my favorite part.

Before heading to the hotel room for the night, I walked through packed Oxford Street, all lit up and pretty for Christmas. The queues at Primark were endless but with good reason.

I'm not sure if I will get this job. But I was among 60 people called for an interview from among 2000 applicants. Only 15 people get through to the program.

If I do get the job, it won't be any secret. And if I don't, I'll always have this whirlwind trip to London to smile about.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Priceless dining

On what I think was the nicest day since I've been in Washington, M and I went for lunch to Karmic Kitchen. Otherwise a a regular Indian restaurant that serves food at a price, the Karmic Kitchen is the same place transformed to a space of genorisity between 12 and 3 p.m. on Sundays. In other words, you can enjoy a fixed-menu vegetarian meal for free! All you have to do in reutrn is a random act of kindness to a stranger.

So M and I ate saag panner, basmati rice, novratna korma, chana dal and naan, without paying a cent. We intend on being repeaters and leaving a better donation next time round.

But pay a visit to the place by Dupont Circle. Whoever said nothing comes free?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In love with Washington

I had the most absolutely fantasgamorical wonderfully beautiful day today.

And I just ran out of adjectives.

So anyone who doesn't want to read about my endless gushing should wait until the next post.

This morning I went to the capital for the House vote on advancing the date for credit card regulation. Congressman Barney Frank, who cosponsored the bill, was managing the debate. This arrangement was likely to elicit some lively quotes.

I could have sworn I entered the capital on the House side. All the room numbers did begin with "H." But somehow I ended up on the Senate side in the press gallery. It took more than half an hour to meet Frank's secretary. But we finally found each other and spent the rest of the afternoon in the press gallery watching the vote on the House floor.

Afterwards, we walked down to the speaker's lobby where I met Frank himself. For all the horror stories I heard of his temper and unreasonable impatience with reporters, he was a perfect gentleman. Addressing me by my first name, he motioned to a sofa where he said we should sit down to speak.

Sit down and speak with Barney Frank!

I could have been in his living room at home for a cup of tea.

I'm smiling as I type this.

Walking out of the capital, Rep. Mike Capuano's chief of staff escorted me in the direction of the Metro station because he was going that way. And again my unknown thoughts were articulated when I said, "You have to let Washington grow on you. It's not love at first sight."

It's grown on me. Flourished and found a friend.

Read my published story here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Bigger Picture

We were discussing profile writing in class today, after spending a week poring over the lives of Valerie Jarett, Sen. John Kerry, Jon Favreau and a dentist who disputes President Obama's legitimacy to hold office. Our professors asked us to critique the readings when the words came out of my mouth before I had fully processed them. "The people were bigger than the details of their lives."

And by this I meant, where they were born, who their parents were, where they went to school - yes it plays a part in the grander scheme of their lives. But it doesn't define them. What people do, makes them who they are.

People are bigger than the details of the lives.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting it

Health is an asset. You don't know it's worth until you lose it.

Freedom is a gift. We don't know it's worth unless it gets taken away.

To feel joy, happiness and contentment are exalted human experiences that we too often discount.

The people we love get taken for granted until it's too late.

Seize your life and all your blessings before they slip away like sand through your fingers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An Evening at the Theater

The class went for the "mandatory" Shakespeare play at Folger Theater. The one Joe didn't attend because of a conflict of interest.

We looked so elegant, all dressed in black and high heels, me in flats to do my feet a favor.
The play was lukewarm, I'm not a big fan of theater. But I like Shakespeare for the writing. Strange?

The play was a Carribean adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. There were a few funny moments. But mostly it was about sitting in a Shakespeare-stlye theater watching a performance of the master's work.

At the end of the play, we took pictures outside the Capitol. The bright light still glowing in the topmost part of the tower to signal that someone was still in session.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekend with the girlfriend

Puneet visited me this weekend. The two of us sprawled out in my uber comfortable room with food and gabbed about life, boys, the works. We walked down the street with large smiles on our faces and had lunch at an Italian restaurant - Cafe Paradiso. She had pasta. I had eggplant timbales or grilled eggplant with tomatoes. Then we watched Grey's Anatomy and ordered pizza. And then we still had energy so we took a walk to Iowa Ave. to visit a friend.

Time flies so quickly when you're having fun.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

World wrap

Two nights ago, I went out for Ethiopian food with friends in Adams Morgan. Incidentally, we were a muticultural gathering of French, American, Korean and Indian people, partaking in food of the African continent.

And then the Turkish festival came to town. In a sea of champagne harem pants, sequined bodices, belly dancers and hot purple makeup, Washington celebrated the Ottoman state. Canopied stalls displayed glittery baubles and stuff. But the longest lines were at the shewarma stalls. Succulent meat wrapped in pita, rice-stuffed wine leaves and pickled vegetables. Americans, the Turkish and visitors who weren't either, enjoyed the Middle Eastern fare under the fall sun.

Writers and love make the world go round. Food and Skype brings the world closer.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Saving the planet: Sen. Lautenberg and Sigourney Weaver

I interviewed Sigourney Weaver today. She is as tall as they say in real life. She was wearing high-heeled boots as well. Very polite, approachable and someone who smiles, she puts a rookie reporter at ease. So I stood with my recorder, notepad and pen in the Capitol as she spoke about the ills of ocean acidification.

Read the story here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sunny afternoon on bread

Two reporters and my editor took me out to lunch today. We went to a Greek sandwich place a few blocks away. Sitting outdoors, munching on a chicken salad on wheat bread, talking about story ideas and the weather was perfect - sunny, balmy, gorgeous. Another great day in DC.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The National Book Festival 2009

Today, I attended the National Book Festival for the first time. Started by former first lady, Laura Bush in 2001, the festival is hosted by the Library of Congress and extends for seven blocks on the national mall.

White tents held up by silver, metal poles accommodated thousands of readers who had come to meet their favorite authors. I heard John Grisham speak and interviewed authors from Massachusetts for my newspaper.

The highlight of my day was a one-on-one chat with author of The Giver, Lois Lowry. I think back to the fifth grade when Ms. Blake introduced us to the Newbery Medal-winning book and recommended we read it. I remember being a wide-eyed nine-year-old who went to the school library and checked out the book from Ms. Tafoya, the librarian. Ask my nine-year-old self if I thought I would be interviewing the author one day? My answer would have been in the negative.

Books will always be special. Writers and love make the world go round.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walking with senators

Two days ago, I walked in to work on Monday morning and was assigned to cover a speech about energy by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Aleaxander took questions from the media after the speech when reporters, including me, charged out the doors of the room to ask him questions.

Yesterday, I was at back at the Capitol, accompanying a senior reporter at Gannett. We stood with other press outside the Senate chambers, waiting for senators to enter and exit the room, as they voted on amendments for a bill inside.

I missed Joe Biden, but saw Sen. Lindsay Graham.

I could get used to this.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Hero is Honored

A soldier from Massachusetts was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. He was inducted into the Hall of Heroes - a space at the Pentagon dedicated to honoring recepients of the Medal of Honor. This is the highest military decoration that can be awarded to a person in service, given for action gallantryin action, at the risk of life, beyond the call of duty.

Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti was head of a 16-man patrol adn had been travelin for three days when he died trying to rescue a wounded comrade. In the gallery outside the ceremony, a four-month old Jared stared out from a photograph, surrounded by many more of him at family occasions and in uniform for school sports teams.

Jared's parents were present at the ceremony. It amazed me how they could lose their able 30-year-old son and rise above the grief to be thankful that their child had served his country. It's a beutiful sentimen, just not one I can fully understand.

Below is the Politico video of the ceremony at the White House where President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bostonians and Washingtonians

There are obviously some differences between the two groups.

Washingtonians adhere to a military-style system of lining up on the escalator. It makes plenty sense, with people who want to allow the machine to carry them to a floor queuing up toward the right, leaving a clearly marked aisle to let people in a rush, jog past. But my question - why is everyone always in such a rush?

Bostonians - "What line? Huh? What, are we in Britain, now?"

Washingtonians - "I am a lean, mean driving machine. I will not stop or slow my car even if I see a pedestrian a mile away. I will brush past inches of them even if I run the risk of a lawsuit. I will charge forward and honk. 'Get outta the way you neanderthal on feet. Can't you see I have wheels and a motor and I intend on using them! '" (Blows raspberry)

Bostonians - "The pedestrian is our friend. We will not turn them into roadkill. We will let them cross, always. Read: always. Whether there's a zebra crossing or not. Whether the pedestrian cross signal is on or not. We will even let them cross if the traffic light has just turned green but we see them running toward the T which they will miss if they don't instantly cross the street. The pedestrian is our friend. We will not turn them into roadkill."

Washingtonians - "We are very important and very busy. We are after all, the nation's capital. This is where the president lives and all the rules are made. I have a lot of work and don't have time to chat. I wear high heels all day and change into flip flops on the Metro because I have a very long commute. I make lots of money and it's been two months since I spoke to my mother."

Bostonians - "We are New England! What could possibly be stressful here? We like our jobs but work a strict five-day week. We're historic and picturesque, intellectual and fun. We wear one pair of shoes all day and my mother will be making pot roast this Sunday for dinner. Any other questions?"

Washingtonans and Bostonians are spirited, American people. Fascinating and addictive.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The party in our apartment

Tonight and last night were great. Yes, they were Friday and Saturday nights but I've moved in with the perfect people who aren't averse to traditional plans on those days of the week. But every now and then, they don't mind doing something completely different. So we chose to karaoke.

Last night, we uploaded a bunch of youtube videos and just belted out tunes - Britney Spears, Cher, Backstreet Boys, The Spice Girls - yes, all the usual culprits. Our shining moment was, "Hit me baby one more time."

Tonight, we tried out Zumba - a cardio dance workout. Again, we uploaded a bunch of youtube videos. My thoughtful roommates even found a Zumba version to Bollywood music, especially for me. Twenty minutes of that burns some serious calories! And of course we celebrated the feat by baking brownies at midnight. Totally worth it.

Living with girls is so much fun!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Working with the president

Last night was unlike any other. And will probably remain that way for a while, at least. With other reporters in the program, I attended the joint address to Congress by President Obama. I was actually there!

As the president of the United States of America spoke about health care reform, I sat watching from above in the press gallery. Reporters, photographers and broadcast journalists filled the space with cameras and notebooks. On either side, pens and pencils made furious scribbles on notepads and people were close to hanging off the balcony to get a good photograph. I was among my own.

I shared breathing space with Michelle Obama, who looked elegant in a burnt pink outfit teamed with a glittering brooch, and widow of Senator Ted Kennedy. Both women sat in the First Lady's Box. Present in the main room were Hillary Clinton, in a signal red pant suit, Vice President Joe Biden, John McCain and Senator John Kerry.

It felt like nothing short of the Academy Awards. Star-studded and fabulous! I clapped like a seal until told not to. Oops. Faux pax perhaps, but mental note for the future.

Loved it, reveled in the moment, gabbed profusely over pizza until midnight with friends and called it a night. What a night!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

In Limbo and Stable

A month in the new apartment with the new roomates and I love it. Absolutely love it.

I've never been fond of change. I like routine but not monotony. Moving to Boston was a big change. Getting used to it this past year, even bigger. So the thought of moving just when I was getting comfortable seemed so tedious. But every so often, I surprise myself.

The new city with new people couldn't be better.

One of my roomates is from the Ukraine! She speaks Russian and is an absolute sweetheart. My other roomate is from Chicago and a total doll too. We have a full kitchen, three rooms, two bathrooms and feel very grown up in our sprawling livng space. Very Sex and the City.

I'll grow to like it here, I'm sure of it. And soon enough, it will be time to move out of what is quickly turning into a comfort zone. But if the past is anything to go by, I'll be fine, just fine, wherever the wind takes me.

Monday, August 31, 2009


I turned 23. The age that seemed impossible to reach, the day that seemed would never arrive, finally did, and it was great.

No, I didn't cut a cake the size of a small country bedecked with a dozen candles. I didn't get drunk out of my skull and take pictures that cannot be uploaded on facebook. I didn't even eat a year's worth at a restraunt that costs the GDP of a small country. I was indoors for the most part, unpacking large brown boxes and two large suitcases to get settled in for what promises to be an exciting, and sadly, my last semester at grad school.

A new city, a new course load and an experience that is anyone's guess at this point.

But apart from the "newness" factor, this birthday was special for the people who made it great. For a first birthday spent away from all family, I had to settle for their gorgeous smiles crowding for space on the webcam on another morning spent with Skype. Friends called from overseas and within the country. Old friends, new friends, school friends, friends I haven't spoken to in years - all called to say Happy Birthday Ayesha.

And my facebook wall is looking pretty cool right about now.

That's what made me the happiest. If I've gone 23 years living in a way that makes people make the effort of calling to wish me a happy birthday, I must be doing something right. Thank you to everyone who made this day special.

To a whole year of being 23 and fabulous!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dancing to a tune called Boston

And so I finally did it. I made the big move. With four very large overweight bags in tow and 12 brown boxes in transit with the U.S. postal service, I moved out of Boston. The city that was a stranger to me not so long ago turned into home for the past year. I knew the streets, was familiar with the public tranpsort system, had worked out the pedestrain clock for the traffic signals outside my apartment.

When I think back to a year ago, I remember the gripping pangs of uncertanity that knawed at my insides. I stepped out of one of my first late night classes at COM and remember feeling petrified at the night that seemed to swallow me in this new city. I was scared of getting lost, scared of speaking to new people, scared to try anything different. And now it feels like I've known the Bay State almost forever.

Boston is a great place - large enough to feel like a city, small enough to make you feel a part of it. The people smile, when the sun is out, it's the best, the air is clean. Boston's spirit is warm and fuzzy, welcoming and accepting of a largely migratory population that flock to its borders for a world-class education at one of many colleges. And when a student finishes their course and begins to move out of the city, Boston gives them a pat on their back, nudges them along their way and reminds them they always have a friend on the east coast. No strings attached.

I'm extremely excited about beginning a new chapter. But I love Boston. Always. For taking me in and making me one of its own. Yes, love. Not just like. I intend on being back for commencement. Until then, Boston, and the neighborhood in which I lived, Brookline, will be missed. Sorely.

Eating my way through Summer '09

This summer, the culinary pursuits were a top priority The Cheesecake Factory - M introduced me to this one which I thought served only cheesecake an hence the name. Turns out, they have some of the most delectable pastas and chicken creations that you can enjoy in adelicious settings. Dim lighting and booth-seating with great music and a brightly-lit, glass-paned kitchen. Portion size is fantastic. I enjoyed the Chicken Bellagio, served on a bed of noodles, and the Honey Caramelized Chicken. Liked the former more than the latter.

Qdoba - Not a big fan of Mexican fare but tried this one for the offer that was available with Coolidge Corner Theater. The tortilla bowl was insanely oily, the chicken smelled of chicken fat and I wasn't allowed to trade my free drink privilege for a cookie instead. Although the price was steal, I don't find myself returning.

Zenna Noodle Bar - I felt like taking my pretty self to dinner one day, so I did. To the noodle bar at Coolidge Corner. The food was very similar to that of Noodle St., on-campus. But the decor definitely more upmarket.

India Samrat - Total diamond in the dust, this gorgeous Indian restraunt on Mass. Ave. G and I ate the thali meal here. By far, the most authentic food I have eaten on foreign soil. Affordable, great portion, great service and the oh-so-India-feel, complete with a television that plays Hindi film songs.

Addis Red Sea - Reluctantly, Pu agreed to join me to this Ethiopian restraunt in Cambridge. And we're both so glad she did. A tiny space made to look like the country whose cuisine it represents, with a thatch roof over the bar and traditional mesobs, or wicker tables, instead of wooden ones. We ate Yebeg Wot, or spicy, curried lamb and Lega Tibs, or mildly seasoned lamb, with Ethiopian bread, whose name evades me. Very similar to the Indian dosa, or crepe. Absolutely fantastic. And Pu is great company - the kind that does not think good food must be accompanied with good conversation. Strees-free eating!

P.F. Chang's - Finally tried this one at the Prudential Mall. Ordered the Singapore Street Noodles, intended to be a recreation of the original. I was disappointed with the vermicelli preperation although I'm inspired to improvise on the rough draft.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Digging my feet into the ground

I'm leaving Boston in a little over a week. Why did I think this was going to be easier?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Around Boston

To know Boston better, this summer I did some sightseeing.

Bunker Hill - The Boston Tea Party attractions are currently under renovation and will reopen only in summer 2010. Until then, I did the next best thing and headed to the North End, to Charlestown, MA. This is where the famous Battle of Bunker Hill was fought and a monument erected at the spot. I climbed 294 to the top for a panoramic view of the Bay State.

View from the top

Museum of Fine Arts - Because not visiting here would be simply inexcusable, I spent a day tat MFA learning about Greek culture and trying to understand artwork. For example, did you know that the Ancient Greek buried their dead in a large stone casket of sorts, called a sarcophagus, which etymoligically means, flesh-eating. The building is beautiful and the different sections eclectic, with modern and much older displays in separate rooms. But the layout left me befuddled so I was going back and forth to make sure I had seen everything.

The USS Constitution - After I came back from Bunker Hill, I told my professor about my trip and he sent me back to Charlestown to see the grand USS Constitution or the oldest commissioned warship in service, at the Navy Shipyard. Turns out, the word "scuttlebutt", which means rumours, comes from the double-butted water cooler aboard Navy ships such as this one, where sailors would swap stories and gossip.

The Cassin Young - Alongside the USS Constituion and also open to public viewing was this ship, which personally I found more interesting. The interiors have been restored and preserved remarkably well.

To get to the shipyard, Pu and I took a ferry from Boston's Long Wharf across the blue Charles.

John F. Kennedy's birthplace - Who knew that the former president, whose entirely family are originally Bostonians, was born just a few streets away from where I stayed! 85 Beals Street has been converted into a national site for public viewing, complete with a guided tour by uniformed rangers. Rose Kennedy, the president's mother, bought back the family home from the owners at the time and reconstructed the interiors according to what it was like inside, when Kennedy was a little boy. All restoration, down to the details of the linen, were done from memory and have been tried to mirror the originals as closely as possible, we were told.

JFK Museum - A tribute to America's royalty, the JFK Museum in Dorchester documents the life of the Kennedys.

4th of July - During the summer, the Fourth of July celebrations allwoed M and I to watch fireworks by the Esplanade. Although that meant a four-hour wait and it was far too cold for that time of year, even if we were by the water, the firworks were beautiful.

The Freedom trail: To know more about Massachusetts' significant contribution to American history, I took a tour of the freedom trail or a red brick pathway that has been laid out in Boston to connect points of historic importance. My tour guide was a portly gentleman dressed in traditional colonial attire. From him, I learned that "Beacon Hill" got its name from the practice of raising a torch at the center of the hill to warn locals of an approaching army or attack. Since Boston was surrounded by so much water, commniucation was difficult. Since then, the hill has been leveled and the proud Massachusetts Statehouse now stands there. Quick historical clarification - when Paul Revere went riding through the town ot warn people, he didn't say, "The British are coming," because they were all British! What he did say was, "The redcoats are coming." Very different.

Follow the red brick road - The Freedom Trail.

My tour guide at Paul Revere's Tomb in the Granary Burial Ground by Boston Common.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Reading List

Here's what I read during the summer:

Marrying Anita - Fealress, flirty, female writer Anita Jain decides to take on New Delhi with New York coursing through her veins. Having become an Indian parents' worst nightmare, the single, 31-year-old, Harvard graduate travels across the world to the place her parents left so many years ago for sunnier Sacremento shores, in search of a husband. Her quest for the perfect mate leads her in to the arms of the city itself - for its friendship, it's spirit, for the comfort that comes from finding an identity.

The Man who Owns the News - The lowdown on The Wall Street Journal takeover from the Bancroft family by media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. Gaining unprecedented access and thus astounding detail, Vantiy Fair correspondent, Michael Wollf reveals the eccentricities and genius that is Murdoch. The narrative that includes few direct quotes is candid, engaging. But the writer gets in to the annoying habit of overusing a word once he introduces it. Don't blame me if I don't feel like hearing "zeitgist," leitmotif" or "flotilla" anytime soon! With a clearer understanding of the bespectacled Aussie, let's just say I'm making much better use of my WSJ subscription.

Backcast - Boston University professor, Lou Ureneck travels the rapid waters of Alaska on a shoestring budget with his 18-year-old son. Torn by a failed marriage, a beaten ego and a haunting past, Ureneck tries to build bridges with Adam. For the pain of a father's heart, for a love of life or for the sheer joy that is this writer's ability to construct fluid text, read Backcast. Needless to say, I view my Busness and Economics professor in a whole new light.

Maximum City - Suketu Mehta uncovers the seamier underbelly of Mumbai. Dim-lit lanes, overflowing gutters, prostitutes and closely-packed's all in here and not for the faint-hearted. I thought he got a little carried away with the sex theme that seemed to be more prevalent than other elements. In comparison, I likes Shantaram slightly better for it's balance. But Mehta gets full points for his comic timing, easy style and engaging narrative. I take it as a very good sign when a book is becoming nauseatingly overwhelming but a reader can't set it down.

I began reading Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas that examines race relations in Boston. Extremely intersting topic and well told in parts. Sadly, it couldn't hold my attention. I intend on returning to it a little later. The Google Story, Kitchen Confidential, Lies my Mother Told Me, The World is Flat, Sea of Poppies, A Suitable Boy, The White Tiger and Unaccostomed Earth update the ongoing reading list.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My day in the sun

The sun was out for one the few times since November and I wasn't about to give up the chance to enjoy it. At around lunchtime, Italian food cravings translated to Mediterranean pizza at the Prudential Mall food court. Seated at the outdoor terrace overlooking a busy street, I bit into olives, feta cheese and tomatoes.

To be in Boston and not sample some of New England's finest ice cream, and possibly one of the most famous in the world, is a crime. Although, the brand is now available in India, if you are willing to put down more that Rs. 600 for a family-size tub.

I bought a cone of two scoops of Ben and Jerry's ice cream in a waffle cone. The flavors I chose were chocolate macadamia fudge and the signature chocolate cookie dough ice cream. I have to admit, I enjoyed the chocolate macadamia fudge better than the cookie dough. Somehow, the name seemed like too close an interpretation of the actual flavor, large doughy bits embedded in vanilla ice cream. Not such a big fan.

Then, I turned into a true local and found a cool marble bench, slipped off my footwear and alternated placing my feet on the green grass or the marbletop, as I read a book. When I had soaked in as much Vitamin D as I could handle, I took the T to nearby Longfellow Bridge. I walked, gazing at the blue Charles alongside. Sigh, Boston looked so beautiful. Here's what I mean.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Summer Movie List

Food Inc. - After I got back from summer vacation and waited for the rest of my friends to return from their trips, I watched this film, about the food industry in the United States. A behind-the-scenes look at farming practices, poultry and cattle-rearing, potato-growing, and other unappetizing details that the general populace isn't likely to know. Definitely worth a watch although be warned: You may lose your appetite for just about anything afterwards!

Whatever Works - This talkfest by Woody Allen came a s a total surprise. A friend suggested going to this and I had no idea how it would turn out. Hilarious, bizarre plotline, strangley endearing protagonist and alarmingly engaging for something that seems so mundane on paper. I'd describe it as a less-glamorous version of Linklater's, Before Sunset. And of course, something like this is only possible in New York City!

Valentino - Mindblowingly good is what this film is! If you haven't already, you have to watch this one. Not because it's about one of the greatest designer's of all time, or that it so beautifully documents milestones in world fashion history. Because this is the closest insight you will get to the mysterious, luxurious, hypnotic world of Valentino Garavani. Shot in a non-boring documentary-style, with personal interviews and footage from the celebration to mark the designer's 40 years in fashion - it's been a while since I watched a film with such rapt attention.

Julie&Julia - How could I pass on a story that combined two of my greatest loves - writing and food. Meryl Streep...sigh. Does she ever have a bad day on the set? Does she sometimes forget her lines? Is she ever so tried that she oversleeps and is late to work? Does she ever get a zit? No? Never? Okay, just wanted to get that out of my system. She is flawless, in potraying legendary culinary writer, Julia Child. From the way she says "Bonjour!" to playing a doting wife. Magical. Many more years to her outstanding acting talent. Amy Adams fits well but her character is a little depressing. The film gets extra points for featuring Boston!

Postgrad - Alexis Bledel has been a favorite for a while, ever since Gilmore Girls. So her own movie where she's just out of college and searching for a job in the publishing industry - too close to the story of my life to pass on. Entertaning, witty and everything I wanted from this movie to tell me I'm not insane for choosing a career in journalism.

New York and Love Aaj Kal - Don't judge me. The entire two months that I was on vacation in India, moviemakers and film distributors were in some sort of tussle and wouldn't release any new Bollywood flicks in cinemas. The moratorium lifted a day after I left! So I had to get my annual dose of Hindi films. Liked the first one for a bold storyline, which sadly fizzled toward the end. The second is mindless entertainment with well-dressed Deepika Padukone to appreicate.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mastery past the master's degree

Today the New York Times carried an opinion piece about the value of a master's degree. A panel of financial pundits and academic gurus commented on how a higher qualification could be necessary or not. I was thoroughly frustrated after reading the whole thing, something that rarely happens when reading NYT, because it reached no definitive conclusion. Yes, perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a clear-cut answer. But a more concerted effort in the direction would have been appreciated. The article just seemed to skirt around the issue.

Anyway, what I took away from the text was that graduate schooling in engineering, medicine or law were obviously valuable while the same for the liberal arts or social sciences was a waste of time and money. Let's remember this was an opinion piece.

I scouted Romanesko for the latest posting of jobs and was pleased to find that most preferred master's degrees and some specified one from a J-school. But that's not the point. Whether you choose to get a master's degree in business management or oceanography, my opinion is that it should reflect a thought-process behind the decision. The person needs to seem, at least on paper, like someone who made the effort of investing in themselves to be better at their job and not a wanderer who enrolled because they couldn't figure out what to do with their life. Students forced into college to wait out the recession are more easily forgiven. The person should come across as someone interested in life and have a sharp sense of curiosity with a definite drive to bring excitement to their work. If an employer recognizes these qualities in someone who actually possess them, it's hard for it not to be a win-win situation. And in that case, a master's degree in infant-rearing, needlework or any other seemingly useless concentration is well worth the investment. But that's just my two cents.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Brunch and then some Bombay

Brunch in Bangalore is as big a deal as you want to be. The options range from the corner Darshini (read: Adiga's or Sukh Sagar) that will serve the safe (by which I mean standard-taste-always-good) Masala Dosa and Kesari Bhath fare. But every now and then when you feel like something different, there are a bunch of brunch options. Of these, Sunny's on Lavelle Road is pretty impressive.

Sunny's is an institution that began as a tiny kiosk on an offshoot of a road a few streets away. Today, it's housed in a Prestige building that looks as though it once was an old house. But it's been renovated and now boasts a swanky curb appeal, complete with a classic wooden gate at the entrance and a well-landscaped outdoors. The interiors are the highlight though, with spotless glass panes that look out onto the green space outside and which is remarkably well-concealed from busy Lavelle Road.

I loved the lights the best, that looked like ear swabs - short metallic poles with white bulbs on either end. A series of them dangled from a framework of sorts, possibly to provide a more dramatic effect than airborne ear swabs.

Once inside Sunny's, it would be unfair to say this is just another Indian restaurant. The atmosphere is different - airy, open, fresh. That's not to say that other eateries in the city are stale and claustrophobic. Just that this feels like a world by itself. Everyone was in capris and cotton shirts, sunglasses pushed back against their hair. People at nearby tables sit sipping a tall glass of beer where the foam has collected at the rim or a more colorful pina colada sort of cocktail/mocktail concoction with a lemon wedge peeking out.

And given the setting, it's easy to guess that the crowd had its fair share of Page 3 celebrities that jump out at you every Sunday morning from pages of Bangalore Times. But if you can get past the air kisses and the drawling "dahlings," you can pay more attention to the food.
I ordered a saffron cream chicken that I really liked. Mild flavors in what I would call a "smooth" dish. Mom and grandma ordered salads. I almost overlook the salad section on restaurant menus and with good reason. I've never considered vegetables, "food." These salads did little to shake my conviction. The sibling got lasagna which frankly was too tame an order for me, but she seemed to enjoy it. The highlight was dad's order of a whole fish cooked in some medley of pan Asian spices. Mighty impressive. Dessert was good too. The nice touch that all this was done on Father's Day.

In the evening, dad's friends invited us to dinner to Bombay Post of the BJN group on Airport Road. No matter how many times we go here, the novelty of dining in a restaurant with black and white paintings of old Hindi film stars and eating delicious Indian food that makes you think of being in Mumbai or Delhi, never gets stale. This time was no different except that we had to adhere to a vegetarian menu, to respect our hosts' dietary practices.

We had palak chat, which was every bit as fancy as it sounds. There was paneer and chole and naan. Somewhere along the way, there was some rice too, but we were so full at that point, that the details conveniently blur. Of course, none of this mattered when it was time to order the blueberry kulfi. Fantastic.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"My Pet"? I fret

Homework was to write five sentences about "My pet." Five grammatically correct sentences. Those were the only reuqirements. The assignment was for a college class. "What?!" she said. "This is insane!" I had to agree.

The papers came in the next day and the teacher asked the class to redo the assignment. The level of English used was so bad that he stopped evaluating after the first four papers, he said. Poor guy.

Yes, it must be frustrating to be in a class filled with people whose level of English, or whatever the subject, is evidently below your own. It must be annoying to be forced to crawl in a class when you'd rather be racing.

But that got me thinking that if no one took the time to teach people whose educational level was substandard, how can we ever expect to make progress? We talk about education for everyone, equal opprtunities and other lofty ideas. When saying that, do we subconsciously mean teaching more to the ones that already know enough ? So the ones ahead of the race get further, creating a wider gap between the ones who are already struggling to get past the starting line?

Maybe education doesn't mean just multiple degrees and a great job. Maybe it doesn't just mean becoming class valedictorian. Maybe it means getting education to people who really need it. Maybe it means visualizing an equal world and then putting your money where your mouth is.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quite a tongue-twister and tongue-pleaser, this meal

"Sawadika," they said in unison, bowing from the waist, with their palms pressed together in front of them. That put a big smile on my face and I knew the evening was about to be special.

We were at the newly-opened Thai restaurant, Benjarong in Banaglore. Owned by the same people as former popular bakery Hot Breads and more recently, The French Loaf, in Bangalore and Chennai. Dark pine interiors and the wafting smell of delicious Thai cooking greeted us along with very convincingly-costumed hostesses, when we stepped in. The entrance was a little complicated, with the only access being through an elevator and then we were led down a narrow passage of wooden stairs going underground. But the space opened into a comfortable dining area, complete with a private dining room. Incidentally, page 3 celebrity, Leena Singh was dining there with a bunch of friends at the time.

Soft instrumental Thai music played from speakers in the corner of the room. Dainty waitresses flitted through the room, with their hair wrapped in tight buns atop their heads and gracious smiles.

Our first introduction to the food was an unusual appetizer, that was served complimentary. A large platter of fresh lettuce leaves accompanied with tiny bowls of assortments that included chopped ginger, red chillies, tiny lemon wedges and some sauces. I'm positive there were more but these are what I remember at the moment. The waitress explained that we were supposed to fill a single lettuce leaf with the accompaniments, fold it up and eat the whole thing all together. Apparently, the different tastes would meet inside the mouth, we were told. And they sure did! Each taste was distinct despite all of them having individual strong flavors. It tasted great. A refreshing change from kim chee (chilli pickled cabbage) and pickled vegetables that are usally served at Oriental restaurants.

We ordered Bamme Phad Kai (Soft noodles with egg) and Tom Kati Poo (coconut soup served lukewarm to retain the coconut flavor and consistency. Had a subtle taste, but was especially good). With the soup, we got chicken satay, that was also quite nice. I was quite impressed with the size of the portions. I ordered Gaengjued Woonsen Ga or crabmeat and glass noodle soup. The noodles were interesting, though you have to develop a taste for it's sticky texture. Some of what we ordered was the standard fare - Khao Phad Kai (egg fried rice) and Goong Ohb Woonsen (prawn noodles). And we got Pla Yang too, which is basically fish, but I was intrigued by the name. The Goong Tod Nam Prik was a pleasant surprise. Large succulent prawns cooked in an aromatic blend of Thai herbs and spices. Truly flavorful. The Yum Mamung, a raw mango salad, was strangely forgettable.

For dessert we had Khao Niew Sankhaya. Melt in the mouth ice cream-like concoction, although warmer, served with sweetened sticky rice, cooked to perfection is a lightly flavored milk base.

Service was prompt and curteous. The decor was apt. And I was in great company. My only grouse may be with the layout of the restaurant that can be a tad confusing. But that's easy to ignore. I walked out happy.

Walking on thin Ice

So much of the world's progress and great ideas comes from inspiration. Of someone or something wanting to be better than their present state and not quite sure how to make that transition until met with a source of inspiration.

That seems to be what happened with Iceland, that is coping with financial ruin at the moment. However, the word "inspiration" doesn't really fit this situation.

My first clear insight to Iceland was around the time that Indian actress, Aishwarya Rai, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Iceland was shown as a nation almost unconcerned with the rest of the world. This tiny country tucked away above Europe, had a small, very happy population. People were in excellent health, the education system was great and Iceland was virtually self-sufficient, depending primarily on a thriving fishing industry. No wonder then that Icelanders partied hard and frequently and enjoyed the rich cuisine and vibrant arts their country had to offer. Until 2008.

Around 2003, Iceland had the brainwave to invest in American banks, with the idea of replicating a Wall Street. This for a country that didn't have experience in high finance.

As the American financial markets began to grow, Icelandic markets multiplied. But when the American economy collapsed late 2008, that left Iceland competely crushed. It became the first western country to borrow fromt the International Monetary Fund since 1979.

The aruguments are several and possibly valid: Why did Iceland not stick to fishing? Why did they venture into a the big bad world of money if they had no prior knowledge of the territory? Why interfere with a system that seems to be functioning fine?

But if inventors of the past had thought similarly, all of us would have been doomed a long time ago, deprived of great changes and valuable innovations. That's what makes this so sad. Iceland took a chance and got burned. It's such a depressing signal to anyone who wants to take a chance again. And that's much more likely to leave many more of us burned.

Monday, June 15, 2009


These were the most disciplined group of feathery creatures I've even seen. The ducks at the Windflower resort walked neatly in line and lowered themselves into a pond.


The entrance to Bylakuppe

On the way to Bylakuppe. I took this picture standing out the sunroof of my car.

Pretty sheep grazing along the highway.

The Sunday market.

Fields in Karnataka.

Curiousity got the better of me and I suggested a roadtrip to Bylakuppe. The family agreed and we set out on a Sunday.

Bylakuppe is a large Tibetan settlement in southern India, close to Coorg. The weather was great and India looked beautiful. Radiant in the sunshine, enveloped in a blue sky and green for miles, I couldn't help letting a tiny sigh escape my lips.

We drove for what seemed an eternity. Passing by IIJNM on Mysore Road, we entered and exited Ramnagaram, Chanapatna, Mandya and Srirangapatnam, enroute to our destination. At Ramnagaram, we saw the famous hill where the legendary Indian blockbuster, Sholay, was shot. In Chanapatna, we saw brightly painted toys and childrens' rocking horses lined up outside the stores. Somewhere along the way, we also saw a Sunday market in progress. Temporary stalls of tarpaulin attempted to blockout the sun as owners traded in fruit and vegetables.

Just before Mysore city, we turned on to another highway to head to Bylakuppe. The ascent became more noticeable, the weather got cooler. After nearly two hours of passing by green fields under fluffy white clouds, we reached Bylakuppe.

It's a well-planned settlement, spread across acres of green space. The Golden Temple crowns the area. Tiny shops lined closely next to each other form the industrial part of the habitat and houses are tucked toward the rear of the property. Quite possible to miss the turning to Bylakuppe bcasuse the sign is nestled among a million others. Unless you're specifically looking for it, you could drive right past.

We were at Bylakuppe for barely an hour before we needed to head back. Evening traffic on the highway is not the best.

We made a quick pitstop at the Windflower resort in Mysore where we ate dinner and sipped on mysore coffee. Nice place, new and well-landscaped. Would have helped to have some plumbing in the restrooms.

It was almost midnight by the time we got home - tired and perfectly happy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gettin' (Bus)y with it

Ami and I decided to investigate the bus routes a few days ago. Since the new international airport has opened, several shiny new red Volvo buses have been deployed to help weary passengers commute the almost 30-kilometer distance from downtown. Joining the new fleet are pretty grey and pink "Suvarna" buses, green and yellow "Big 10" buses and and attractive Orange and Blue line buses that aesthetically cruise down a fixed city route. Why live in the city and not take advatange of greater connectivity that the government is trying to provide in addition to the upcoming Metro?

Our adventure began when we stood at the bus stop just outside our house, located in the suburbs, 20 minutes away by car from the city center. Although we had intended to begin our bus trip at 7 a.m. that morning, we were officially at the bus stop only at 11:40 a.m., give or take a little. Blame it on the roadtrip we had taken the day before that forced us to oversleep.

Semi-crowded bus after bus momentarily halted in front of us, seemingly mocking our discomfort in the heat, seemingly dangling a mode of transport before us that it knew we couldn't take as much as we wanted to. Perhaps that's a stretch of my imagination. But whoever said that wasn't allowed?

All of three route options continually passed by us: Marathalli, Silk Board and Hebbal. Finally exhausted, Ami and I took the most logical of the three options: Hebbal. Ten minutes later, we reached our destination, crossed over railway tracks and waited for Bus No. 2.

More six-wheeled monsters passed by, some Volvos and an ocassional Blue and Orange line one. Again, only three routes: Jakkur, Kempegowda Bus Stand and another one that escapes my memory at the moment. None seemed befitting, so we took one to the Kempegowda Bus Stand.

At this point you should know that our original destination at 11:40 a.m. had been the Shivajinagar bus station. From there, we had intended to use our combined navigational prowess to take a connecting bus to Richmond Circle. The circumstances were that the sibling had recently enrolled in a college at Richmond Circle and we were attempting to create a more mobile Ami.

At this point, those not familar with the terms should aslo know that Shivajinagar and Kemepegowda bus stands are the two main bus terminuses in Bangalore. Get to either one and there's a good, though not guaranteed, chance you will find a bus to any part of the city.

When Ami and I got off at KBS, we were tired beyond belief, dried like prunes under the Bangalore summer sun and aching for lunch. We headed to KFC. Thank God for small poultry mercies.

Between zinger burgers and sips of iced tea and Aquafina, we regained focus in our vision. And thought too. Out in the sun again, this time we took the underground walkway and returned unscathed by traffic to the terminus. Earlier, we had swung our legs over slimy road railings to get to the other side. Apparently, there was no other more "civilized" way to cross the road.

Before entering the walkway, we saw a sign outside that read something to the effect of "Speshul Chickan Biryanee." In the words of my wise sister, "You know there is something seriously wrong with the fare served at a restaurant where every word of the dish is mispelled."

The walkway itself was a whole different story - burgundy betel leaf juice unflatteringly sprayed on the walls when some moron lacking civic sense thought it would be a good idea to immortalize his saliva. Dirty floors, more than one hundred bodies in the underground space at a time. And a vendor trying to sell three handkerchiefs for ten rupees to a passing crowd. His marketing strategy...thrust the product into the face of the closest passerby. When forced to examine the cloth from such proximity, there's a chance they'll consider it. At least he would have got them to look at it. He didn't seem to be having much success with the tactic.

Back at KBS, Ami decided the sanest thing to do after our little sojourn would be to park herself on the platform that hosted the most comfortable buses - air conditioned, one seat per person, no "standers" - and go to whichever part of the city these dream machines traveled to.

"M.G. Road!" screamed a bus conductor in a white uniform. My eyes lit up and soon filled with tears of joy. Music to my ears - the name of familiar territory. Ami shared my sentiment. We boarded the red beauty. To confirm our fortune, we asked the bus conductor again if the bus went to M.G Road. "Yes maam," he said, blankly typing away at the ticketing device that hung around his neck. "Garuda Mall, Lifestyle...," he continued in the monotone. Ami and I tried to suppress a giggle and ignore the insult to our intelligence. Evidently, there was no escaping our blondedness.

We reached M.G. Road as promised and eventually made it to Shivajinagar Bus Stand. An autorickshaw from there took us to Jaymahal, to our grandmother's house, where clean water and warm food greeted us. Aah, to be home after a day on public transport.

Did I mention that we didn't make it to Richmond Circle? But the day was filled with giggles and good food. Memories that we'll look back on and giggle some more while we share more good food. Paul Dunn did say," Happiness is a journey, not a destination."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Take me by the hand

A late night conversation with mom and dad turned into an aha moment for Ami and I. They began explaing the background of a long-standing family property dispute during which cropped up names and details of decesed family members. Our great-great grandfather and who he was. Our great grandfather and his eventful life before he succumbed to an early typhoid-induced death at 32. He was survived by my 26-year old widowed great-grandmother and six young chidlren. One of them would grow up to be my Baba.

Turns out, my family has had a long realtionship with the Indian railways and their roots are traced back to a tiny village, if all it can be called that, named Tayalur in Karnataka.
Ami and I were already too curious. This past Sunday, the four of us took a roadtrip to Tayalur and nearby, Bangarpet. It was wonderful, to put it mildly. While the dust and surroundings were reminiscent of my taluk trip at IIJNM, the bigger reason behind the journey made it extra special. We walked through the railway station, which by the way has been really well-maintained, both the old and new part, that was inagurated only in June 2008.

Although we only left home at around 10 a.m., all of us were promptly hungry at 2 p.m., so we stopped for a sumptious lunch at a roadside resaturant. The vegetable thali with puris* and aloo** was perfect.
Next stop was Tayalur, the tiniest vilage I have set eyes on, tucked away on a road that offshoots from the Mulbagal road sign on National Highway 4. It has just one tiny 'main street' with cubby-sized stores that sell beedis*** and peanut candy. The rest of the village extends behind this road, into a series of maze-like houses and sructures, packed in close proximity. Chickens and dogs roam the muddy tracts, freely.
Ami and I now know where we come from. Tiny villages in Karnataka, a few kilometers from Bangalore. Our ancestors have worked hard over the years to provide future generations with a standard of living greater than one they lived through. We're proud of our lineage and more at ease in our own skin.
Next stop, the inner boroughs of Chennai, that trace the lineage on our father's side.

*Puris -Fluffy fried Indian bread
**Aloo-The Indian name for potatoes
***Beedis-Indian cigarettes

Below are some pictures of the trip.

A dog takes a nap in the waiting room of the Bangarpet Railway Station. Also seen in the picture is a wheelchair(?!). Before the days of chairs on wheels, the elderly and passengers who needed assistance moving around were carried in chairs with long poles extending from the frame that people would use to carry the seat.

The winding railroad tracks.

Huge boulders on the Old Madras Road. It's amazing how insignifcant one of these rocks can make you feel. When surrounded by them, you realize that you're just another person, passing these huge stones, your tiny car just a metal toy that it could crush instantly.

View from the top of the station.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Custard Topsy Turvy

Ami dropped custard powder in the kitchen today. It was so hilarious, dad and I could barely stand straight as we doubled over with laughter. Like a scene out of a comic movie, the carton exploded in a cloud of powdery dust and settled all over the counter top. The windows. The bottles and jars. And that was just the beginning.

Mother was not pleased. Amu was embarassed but only momentarily, as she should be.

Out came the sponges and mops, the custardy mess cleaned by eight pairs of hands in 20 minutes. Aah, to spend the evening at home after dinner. Entertainment guaranteed.

The antics Amu employed to open that fateful carton will forever remain a secret.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Seven Pounds

The trailers on tv were enough to hook me. A Will Smith movie titled Seven Pounds. I finally watched it and it was totally worth it. The moviemakers didn't want the audience to know exactly what Ben Thomas was up to. They succeeded in creating that mystery. But perhaps one step too far. There were loose ends that bothered a viewer. Will Smith is pure magic, no surprise there. Rosario Dawson is pretty great too.

I won't be a killjoy and give the story away. Let's just say that the climax is colossal. The kind that hits home so hard it knocks the wind out of you. And when you understand it, many people may be flooded with their righteous, moral viewpoints. The protagonist's behaviour would guarantee a place in hell according to most religious doctrines. The plotline of Seven Pounds makes you wonder otherwise.

I'm waiting with bated breath for Angels and Demons, based on the book by Dan Brown, starring Tom Hanks, that releases today in the United States.

Update: Watched Angels and Demons and thought it was great. Does justice to the book, fast-paced and TomHanks is well, Tom Hanks. Flawless performance, no doubt about it. The movie did leave out some parts of the text but that was probably necessary to deliver a powerful story. Watch it to see the Vatican in a whole new light, no pun intended. Everyone's guessing where the movie was shot, the theories oscillating between sets and the actual church. Since access is not likely to be granted at the basilica for a movie like this, the sets are mindbogglingly-convincing. That is some seriosuly talennted art direction.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Airborne entertainment

On the plane ride to Paris, I watched Marley and Me. Although I'm not a dog-lover, this movie is wonderful! (I love dogs more than I used to. Vidu, Vineeta and Kumudaa, look at what you've done, I hope you're happy! :P) The movie, based on a book, is a fantastic story of a man and his dog and the canine's connection with the man's family. Utterly candid and well-told.

Then I watched Vicki Christina Barcelona and the only way I can decribe it as is "weird." But good weird. Can such a thing happen? Coming to the bigger of question of, does such a thing happen? I don't know the answers but Penelope Cruz was entertaining. Can't say the same about Sacrlett Johannsen.

One word (sound?) for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - ugh! I got bored midway and flipped the channel.

Other movies on the trip were "Nights in Rodanthe." This one was no big deal. Unfair as it is, I was comparing the chemistry between Gere and Lane to the kind in "Unfaithful," where it was virtually flawless. And then I watched "Bride Wars." The less said the better.

Landing at the Charles de Gaulle Airport at the crack of dawn was interesting, watching the planes land on the runway in succession. It was like a synchronized dance of fireflies, the planes' lights bright in the night sky.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The music is playing

The first of our classes ended for the Spring semester. So Prof. Mills took the class to O'Leary's. M and I sipped on a coke and dove into a basket of french fries with ketchup. Nabeela was a little late coming in, but caught up on the conversation. I stayed till the end and chatted.

I can't believe this phase of the B.U. experience is already coming to an end. A couple of months ago, all of this felt so new and unfamiliar. Now...I can imagine little else.

Shruti and I went for a super early dinner to Bertucci's. I hade Fettucine Alfredo chicken with asparagus. Good stuff.

It's late. And I'm sleepy. And happy. And hopeful.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I'm not the biggest fan of gushing. Okay, who am I kidding, yes I am!

Today was perfect in so many ways. I woke up on a Saturday morning to go down to the Charles River for a cleanup organized by the graduate society of my school. We spent two hours scrounging the banks of the blue Charles for litter. My most interesting finds? A single windshield wiper and two used alcohol shot testubes. Two hours later I was hungry and walking toward Copley.

An impromptu call to M turned into a lunch invitation. So I pushed thoughts of impending hunger as I browsed the shelves of nearby Marshall's. Headed to campus and then headed to M's place.

M had made kadhai chicken! Homecooked kadhai chicken all by herself! We love you M! And by we I mean Puneet and I. It was the most scrumptious lunch, don't take my word for it, here's a picture.

Did I mention that M even baked a cake for us?
Then we gabbed in M's room for the next three hours. It was 73 degrees outside. In Indian terms, that means Bangalore weather. For the first time in months we were able to go out without jackets. The sun on our face and being out in a T-shirt...the joy is known only to someone from a tropical country who has lived in frigid New England for two semesters. No offence Boston, we love you.

Friday, April 24, 2009


After class, M and I went for lunch to Shalimar of India in Central Square and then shopping to H&M on Newbury Street. Mm, mm, good! :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

And it's all good

What does a foodie do when her editor announces that instead of spending the afternoon discussing journalistic practices in the office, they're going out for a "taste test?" She flips out, of course!

Today, my editor and I, along with another intern, spent the afternoon in Roslindale and West Roxbury. The weather was nice after so long and we just walked the streets stopping at pizza parlors and sampling their cheese pizza.

In four hours, we covered five places. The original plan had been to go to six. But one place didn't open for a while longer. And it also looked a little sketchy, so we were happy about the opportune timing that the food wasn't available. Heavy wood-paneled interiors, only one aged waiter and two old women sitting at a booth, complete with a martini in the middle of the afterrnoon...this place definitely gave us the creeps.

It was a sort of sneaky exercise, heading to the counter and asking for a slice of cheese pizza without identifying our reason for being there. Once we got our hand on the delectable (although not always) slice, we took pictures of it. The next few minutes were spent rolling the food in our mouth, investigating for saltiness, oregano falvoring, texture of the cheese, crispiness of the crust, color, feel, look, taste! Phew...exhausting, yet heavenly.

After the fifth pizza sample we were ready to call it a day. But I wasn't done yet. A friend and I headed to Sweet, on Mass. Ave and sampled the famous red velvet cupcake and another coconut flavored one. Never a fan of coconut, my opinion did not change today. However, the red velvet was a pleasant surprise. Moist and sweet, but not in a cloying way. And the interiors were interesting. It was easy to imagine that you had gone back in time to the 60s, when roller skates were still cool and you couldn't wait for the captain of the football team to take you to the drive-in movie theatre in his vintage red Ford Mustang. Done in shades of pink and brown, it was a convincing match for the fare served there. However, I doubt I'll make the effort to return. Just doesn't seem worth the effort.

A day when the sun is out and features freinds and pizza while's hard for that to turn out wrong.

Monday, April 6, 2009

New York, New York!

There is nowhere in the world quite like New York. Period.

It's not just the insanely tall buildings or how every aspect of public life is larger-than-life. The money, the h, the city in geographical terms. No, those are periphery factors. It's that New York is a world in itself. And once within it's five boroughs, it ensures you understand that. Allow the world to fade away into oblivion, it whispers in your ear. And although the tone is gentle, you know it's an order. So you obey and allow the outside world to slip away. Because it's when you allow New York to flow through you, do you regain control.



Or something to that effect.

New York is wonderful, in every sense of the word. Stare down the aisle of a crowded subway car mid-afternoon and you're likely to see people of atleast six ethnicities. It's anyone's guess what the landscape of your surroundings will be when you step off the next subway station. I've been told that there are so many restaurants in the city that even if you were to eat out for all three meals in a day for an entire year, you wouldn't be able to cover all. And new ones are constantly opening.

Get the picture?

This time in New York, I got off at Penn Station at headed to Columbia. G was in class so I read The Wall Street Journal at the student center until she came and picked me up with a big smile and a warm hug. We headed to dinner with two more friends, uber nice people I hope I meet soon again.

Seated at a Chinese restaurant close to campus, we chatted over noodles in chicken. Mine were unlike anything I had eaten before. The noodles were dumpling-like. Good stuff. And then we shared coconut ice cream flambe. Baked goodness encasing a cool creamy inside.

On the way back I saw a Bombay frankie place. The wave of nostalgia rose and I was ordering the Masala Unda (yes, that is how New Yorkers like to spell it) before I had digested my dinner. But totally worth it. The even cook it the same way. An open stove on which they crack open an egg, flip a chapati (Indian flatbread) and generously sprinkle spices on the cooking egg. Wrap it up and we're good to go.

We passed by a pub called 'Pour House.' I thought that was hilarious and the name so apt because the beer there is only 1$. It's not uncommon to find inebriated undergrads there, soaking up the affordable elixir, I'm told.

I spent most of the next day on my own on the subway system. I got lost a couple of times, would have been doomed without google maps but eventually found my way to my destination. The Channel Thirteen Tower by Penn Station. The tower also houses the Associated Press office. My appointment was with Maria Hinojosa. Incidentally, I ended up bumping into her in the restroom before the interview. She was dressed in a white shirt and blue jeans, her clear skin comlimenting the outfit quite nicely. She just laughed at my suprise and said, "It's okay, everyone does it. I'll see you in my office." I spoke with her and also had a chance-meeting or 'chat' with David Brancaccio of PBS. I came out of the office with a big smile on my face.

I finally managed to find my way back to the Morningside campus, exhausted and hungry. So G took me to a lovely Italian restaurant closeby. Camille's is cool and somewhat dark inside, but not in a creepy way. I ordered the Lemon Chicken that was the most heavenly poultry preperation I've had in a while. The flavors came together to create a smooth, creamy dish of succulent meat and a side of salad. In the evening, G and one of the friends I had met the first time headed to The Living Room on the lower east side. I sipped on a large orange juice, complete with lemon wedge, and listened to some really great music. We ate pizza and headed home.

The next morning, G took me out to brunch at The Kitchenette. I had a turkey omelette and cheese grits (cornmeal). It was so fantastic and filling, that became my only meal for the day. I made a mad dash for Penn Station to catch my bus only to learn that it had been delayed by a half hour and my gut-wrenching cramps were in vain. It could have been worse though.

The Bolt Bus is an extremely convenient and affordable way to travel the north-east. There's plenty of legroom, it's really clean and the drivers are the nicest. Did I mention it also has free Wi-Fi on board for people married to their iPods/laptops and other passengers are curteous? I met a history of science graduate student at Harvard on my way to NYC and a prospective international relations graduate student at Tufts on the way back. Nothing like good conversation to keep restlessness at bay on a long drive.

New York is close enough to Boston, a four-hour road trip. It allows me to sample the city every few months while running back to the Bay State, where I feel a little safer. A little less vulnerable. But my appetite more piqued than before. Always craving more.

I've had my fill of The Big Apple for the moment. But I have a feeling that won't last long.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Because Facebook just wasn't enough

There are no rules. There are no formulas. It is what you make of it. Deal with it. FYI, "It" is whatever you want it to be.

If not for google, youtube and basically the Internet, there's a strong possibility mankind would be doomed.

If I hear one more person tell me about the future of journalism or how the print medium is dying, I may just physically injure them. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Despite popular opinion, blogs can be constructive too.

It costs nothing to be a nice person. Go ahead, try it and get addicted.

There's too much that's right with the world. So stop complaining about everything that isn't.

You're worth it. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

There's a song for every mood.

Love is the gift that keeps on giving.

"If it's healthy, it's not dessert." - Daisy

The sky really is the limit. If you think about, even the sky is just a layer of atmosphere. So, technically, even that's not the limit. Go figure. Go soar.

Don't ever the light in your head or the fire in your soul go out. It's what keeps you alive.

Hush. There's a reason we have one mouth but two eyes and two ears.

Now go ahead and open that big mouth. Isn't verbal diorrhea a blessing?

Like I said, there are no rules. No formulas. Break 'em. It is really what you make of it. Deal with it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nieman 2009

The three-day 2009 Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism ended yesterday. One of the most invigortaing three days.

I had no idea what I was in for when I signed up to volunteer. But to say that "it blew me away," would be an understatement.

From the moment Connie Schultz, Pulitzer-prize winning columnist began speaking at the keynote address, I knew I was in the right place. The Grand Ballroom at The Sheraton in Boston was filled with journalists and writers from The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Columbia University and The Poynter Institute. It would be hard to find a larger gathering of like-minded people who made a living from telling stories.

In the next 72 hours, I was swept away with Schultz speaking candidly about her family and how her personal ties affect her writing career. It was lively and upbeat, an uplifting talk. I heard Mara Schiavocampo, digital correspondent for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, talk about telling a story through video while making it sound so simple. And I heard Amy O'Leary, multimedia producer for The New York Times talk about doing the same through audio.

There was a "networking" lunch on Saturday afternoon where I munched on a turkey sandwich while in conversation with a travel writer for The Chicago Tribune. Did I mention that lunch was delicious, that came packed in a pretty cardboard box, complete with pasta salad and brownie? The writer was super nice too.

I had a chance to meet health editor for The Times of India, Kalpana Jain, who is a 2009 Nieman Fellow and such a lovely person.

I listened with wide-eyed fascination, wrote feverishly until the white pages of my notebook were covered in black squiggles and then sat back and smiled, partially happy about the fantastic event and partially to digest the four varieties of cheese and strawberries I had eaten during refreshments.

I can't wait until Nieman is back again next year.

On another note, Ying and I went running yesterday despite the temperature being all of 1 degree celcius, according to Indian standards. Bundled in sweatshirts and tracks, we pounded away at the pavement before we ready to call it a night. We headed back to my place, shared a dinner of palak paneer and naan (yeah, yeah, who's counting the calories anyway?) and then kicked back with ice-cream sandwiches to watch the latest episode of Desperate Housewives. Sigh...the simple joys of life.

On an entirely different note, I also made it all the way out to Gardner, Mass. and back all on my own today. That would be the equivalent of going between Bangalore and Mysore and returning. Sure, it's no major feat, but when the whole thing is planned on google maps using public transport, I think it accounts for something. Reason for going out to the industrial town was to interview the president of a federal credit union who was extremely warm and coopertative. Since we had to cut short the interview because of a "webinar" (I love that word) which she had to tend to, there's a possibility I may be Skyping with her in the future. Yes, I may succeed in convincing the president of a federal credit union to Skype with me to finish the interview.

I love the creative freedom(s) journalism allows.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In Transition

While walking through dowtown Boston the other day, the answer finally hit me.
I love this new city which I've spent the last few months in. The public transport is great, the people are friendly and in many ways it's like my hometown of Bangalore. There are no rigid rules, no one cares if you wear trousers or tracks to class, there are plenty of interesting places to eat if you only know where to look for them. So what was has prevented me from falling hopelessly in love with the place, apart from the fact that it's not home?

I miss the chaos! I miss the unruly traffic and blaring horns. I miss the pulse of a Southern Indian city gasping for breath everyday as hordes make it home, IT capital and more. I like to belive it actually enjoys it, all the attention. I miss the buzz at the local supermarket as opposed to the polite chatter at Trader Joe's (although I looove Trader Joe's!). Pedestrains actually have a pavement to walk on here and the right of way! Who would've thought such a think exists?! And the taxis actually take you exactly where you want to go without the question of "one and a half meter, madam." I must be dreaming.

All of the above used to drive me insane in Bangalore. And the newly-developed Metro, that is still under construction, meant that a slew of trees on M.G. Road had to be slayed. That hit a raw nerve. I was irritable and short-tempered because of all this confusion which I thought was completely unecessary. But somehow, strangely, I miss it now. I never thought I'd find myself saying that. I guess I need that madness albeit in small doses. A theory I will still firmly stand by.

In Boston, everthing is neatly divided - the financial district, the business district, south Boston, the harbor area. It's so orderly. I miss setting out two hours to get from Jayamahal to Jayanagar. And getting caught on the flyover when I thought I'd take a "short-cut" on the Koramangala Ring Road. Sigh, come to think of it, it's probably easier to miss these things when the exhaust pipe of the BMTC bus in front of you is not causing mild asphixiation. And the luna sandwiched between the manic Cititaxi and your car decided he would achieve world notriety by proving he could fit his narrow vehicle in all of three inches of space. Which he did, but then he knocked the sideview mirror of your car. And while you were busy muttering curses to his ancestry under your breath, he was already busy trying a similar feat with two other behicles further up in the traffic mess.

I miss you Bangalore and I like you Boston.

Above is Brigade Road, Bangalore all dressed up for Christmas and New Year - an annual, much-loved schindig.

Above is a picture of dowtown Boston by night.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A teacher's story

The student-teacher relationship has long been an interesting one and which is percieved differently among world cultures. Some are taught to fear their teachers, adulate them like gods, bow down in ultimate obedience. You get the drift. And in others it's quite the opposite, where the establishing of an equal relationship is encouraged. To share ideas and learn from each other.

But what possibly doesn't change is that all teachers have lives outside school, just like their students. which often isn't given much thought. Every morning, when we walk into class, there's the professor, waiting to begin another class, surrounded by all the symbols that give them that status - pens, notes, slides. Ever thought what they ate for breakfast? Who's their best friend? Where did they go on their last holiday? The characteristics that make them people, not just teachers.

Recently, I've been discovering the backgrounds of my professors based on what they share in class and their work which is available online. So many of them have fascinating existences beyond the premises of 640 Commonwealth Avenue.

As mentioned in some of my previous posts, one has Parkinson's and fights the disease everyday with a beautiful, undying sprit. Another had a rough childhood, rougher marriage and emerged from both, stronger and sparkling. And some share lifetimes with the same person, cherishing their spouse whom they're glad to have by their side as their teenaged children head off to college. I feel like Matilda in Roald Dahl's book by the same name, who learns of Ms. Jenny's life outside school.

The next time you're in class, let your mind wander just this once. Try seeing your teacher as a person rather than a professor, for just a couple of moments. You may gain an education rather than a lesson.

Monday, March 9, 2009

An overdose of champagne, white lace and three-tiered cakes

What is it with American cable and so many shows about weddings, marriage and other shenanigans that surround the topic? Recently, it's been virtually impossible to flip channels with at least one bridal show airing at the time. Irrespective of what time of day or night it is!

Bridezilla, Platinum Weddings, Confessions of an American Bride (which is a full-length movie) it just me or is the amount of content bordering on unhealthy?

My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding, Disney Dream Wedding and still counting...

Sunday, March 8, 2009


The yoga class turned out to be everything I expected and some more.

Before heading there however, I stopped off at the robotics competition at the Agganis Arena. The stadium was filled with a cheering crowd as area schools competed to prove their robot was the best. The smell of pizza filled the space and loud, upbeat music added a nice finishing touch.

Getting back to the yoga class, it looked a little weird from the outside. It had ugly neon signs and just looked like no one had bothered to enter in at least five years. But inside, it was clean, with soft lighting and wafting music.

I grabbed a yoga mat and did many of the 'asanas'. I'd like to think my yoga teacher was quite pleased with me :)

Shutting out Somerville, MA for an hor and a half, we strecthed and breathed, until I felt so calm that the traffic on the street outside started to sound like waves.

After the class, I treated myself to some home style Bangaladeshi food - chicken jalfrezi, rice and roti. Perfect would be an understatement. Tender meat slow cooked in a medley of spices. I poosibly discounted the value of the yoga class. But the chicken was so hypnotically good, I could hardly seem to care.

Not a bad idea, this yoga class. There's no saying I won't make it a more regular practice.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Today was so interesting, I felt like documenting all of it.

I'm working on a story about alternative healing techniques in Boston and interviewed an acupuncturist. Initially, I thought I'd ask my questions and be done in under half an hour. But I stayed for close to two hours listening about the fascinating method and finally got pricked with my first acupuncture needle too. Not as bad as I had anticipated. A slight tingling pain, but that's about it.

Tomorrow I try out a yoga class in Cambridge.

Then my friend from Shanghai who lives with an American family invited me for dinner to their house. Wonderful people, with the cutest dog (who I took on a walk). In keeping with their faith, they had a traditional Sabbath. Since this wasn't my first, I wasn't so much of the wide-eyed tourist this time round. But it was still a new feeling, allowing the prayer to engulf the dining room and fill the guests with a soothing calm, the sonorous notes dancing off the walls.

We ate roasted potatoes, baked cod, Muligatawny soup (made espcially for me) and carrot cake with frosting. Simply divine.

A thought that crossed my mind during dinner. Photographers depend so much on light for the right picture yet spend so much time in the darkness developing the perfect shot.

Noam Chomsky visited campus a few days ago and I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the law tower. It was a provocative discussion which sparked tempers.

My story made it to the front page. Check it out here.

Friday, March 6, 2009


“Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed. Maybe they just need to run free till they find someone just as wild to run with them.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

Checking in as a patient is not the only way to know what it's like to be in rehab. Sometimes, it's possible to get a fairly accurate picture by reading a book like A Million Little Pieces by James Frey.

Frey was a 23 year-old who had been abusing drugs and alcohol since he was 10 years old when he was brought to a rehabilitative center in Minnesota. He was told he would die by the age of 24 if he did not get immediate help. And so began a long, painful, highly graphic journey of his path ro recovery.

The writing is conversational in parts. But it's more accurately an insight into the author's mind, as though he has hooled it up to a silent reader which translates his thoughts into text. Frey has employed an interesting use of capitalization, treating different words as though they were characters. Ironically, this is not distracting but actually lends more meaning to the reading.

The story develops very well, carrying the reader comfortably through it at every stage. The beginning of the book is quite harsh and it takes determination to get through the first few chapters. But once past that, the effort becomes worthwhile.

The timing of reading this book coincided with my discovery of a television show called Intervention. It deals with addictions of different kinds through real people suffering from the conditions. With help from their family, victims get help from medical facilities in different parts of the country. The visual elements of the show helped put the book into perspective.

A Million Little Pieces was once Oprah's choice for her book club. However, soon after it was discovered that not all parts of the book were true. Frey appeared on the show to admit and apologize for the falsity which was part of his "memoir." I don't support deception and it is tragic for the credibility of a text especially like this to be marred by something like untrue facts. But the story is compelling. Read A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. It will suprise you how a book with that title can make you feel reknewedly whole again.

On an aside, I've started my new blog here, where only my published journalistic work will be available. I encourage you to to take a look and would really appreciate feedback.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Changing times

This economy is scary. Although it was inevitable and felt imminent for a while, it still is shocking. But yesterday, a proefessor was explaining how the restructuring of a newspaper office may be the answer to keeping the suffering print industry alive. That's when it hit home that although this economy is here now and there seems to be little recourse from it at the moment, it will untimately end and that will happen when some radical changes take place.

So the answer does not lie in returning to old models which got us in this mess in the first place. Restructuring seems to be the answer - the process of making marked changes without changing the essence of the product. That means, reassessing business plans, rethinking the finance market, reorganizing the stock market and real estate sector with the efforts being extended to pertinent areas such as education, infrasturcture and of course, the media.

The right changes could likely help avoid such a catastrophic scenario in the future, making the public sector more insulated to the need to layoff employees by the dozen, snatch away their paychecks and leave them standing cold and wet by the side of the road.

We will ultimately go back to being okay. But it will take time. And things will not be the same when we do. Which is probably a good things. It's better to return to different models which work better than old onee which fail.

There is hope. All is not lost. It's just about making those changes. And as a wise man once said, "Change is good."

Monday, February 23, 2009

India is on a date with Oscar

The Indian presence at the 81st Academy Awards was unprecendeted. For once, India did not feature in only the foreign film category. Nor is Satyajit Ray, a great contributor to Indian cinema, the only Indian anymore to have one an award. AR Rahman joins him and does India proud.

As does Resul Pookutty, part of the sound mixing team which also won an award and the gorgeous kids from Mumbai who endeared a worldwide audience.

From the riot of hyper-pink-costumed dancers who performed a modern day jazz bharat natyam* to the dhol** players among the audience, the Indian actors who attended the event and the mindboggling number of awards Slumdog Millionaire won - the night truly belonged to bringing the world several steps closer to India.

Besides the entertainment factor, this movie and now these awards, will hopefully make the world more aware of a land which is home to more than a billion people and swelling community overseas. Make them appreciative of a culture of celebration and resilience, much of which languishes in indifference. No, not the politicians and geography majors whose job it is to know. But the next door neighbor in Sweden. The classmate in Australia. The fireman in Alabama. The everyday people around the world who will be curious to know more about a place like no other. And hopefully, just maybe, that curiousity will translate into opportunity for Indians to play host, to learn tolerance and embrace the process of opening of the mind. Because India needs more of an education. What better way than for an exchange of ideas? Only when this is successfully achieved can we claim to belong to a civilized society.

* A form of Indian dance
** An Indian drum-like instrument

The night belongs to Hollywood's Golden Boy

It's Oscar night baby!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Like a house of cards

A toy store I went to a week ago (don't let your imagination run wild, there are plenty of toy-age-playing babies in the family for whom I go shopping. Besides, no one ever said it was illegal to linger by the doll section a little longer than necessary, did they?) is two days away from closing down. A large scoreboard sort of sign hangs conspicously in a corner screaming out the number of days to go before closure.

The economy is in shambles. This is just one of the many victims.

The prices are marked down insanely low. A toy that cost 15 dollars at Christmas get five of them for five dollars. I gulp hard.

Losing businesses give me such a pit in my stomach. Like they're a contagious disease which will afflict anyone who breathes the same air as them.


Like the rest of the world, I'm waiting for this economy to get better. When cash registers are ringing again and money flows freely. Much like healthier times we had not so long ago before too many people in important positions decided to gamble.