Saturday, January 31, 2009

Old women, medical dramas, grocery stores and a seven-course meal

A couple of days ago, I interviewed two residents of the Community Senior Living Center. We spoke for over an hour, about their lives and what they enjoyed doing. It's safe to say these were senior citizens I was talking to. But exactly how old? One was 102 and the other was 104.

Yup, don't blink. These women had cruised past the century mark. Touchwood. The things they must have seen!

It was wonderful listening to their fondest memories, of spending time with their siblings and the life choices they made. FYI, these women live on their own, do most of their own cooking and cleaning and socialize with friends or dabble in yoga and Tai Chi in their spare time. Mental faculties intact, these women inspire us to be better people.Poised and eloquent, I felt like I was spending an afternoon chatting with girlfriends. The funniest part? One of them didn't think that she had anything worthwhile sharing about her life. Blame it on my journalistic scepticism but I find it hard to believe that someone who has been around for more than a hundred years doesn't seem as though they have anything noteworthy to share!

It was a fun afternoon and I'm so glad I had the chance to meet and speak with them.

On another note, Scrubs is ridiculous and ER is too serious. Grey's Anatomy? Just right.

Trader Joe's is my newest find. I love the range of eclectic groceries, you never know what you'll find when you walk in next week. The quality is miles ahead of the average supermarket produce. It's delicious, affordable and most importantly healthy. Most of its products don't use sythetic crap. Check the ingredients. So the food tastes like what it's supposed Oh, and I love the "Californianess" the whole store exudes. The quirky shopping carts and the Hawaiian-print work wear. The attitude is all about the Golden State.

Though it's a few blocks away and further than the supermarket just across the street that I've been patronising all of last semester, I'll make the effort for a superior shopping and dietary benefit.

And finally, Friday night at Chicago Uno Grill. I approve.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Countries and Comfort in Class

I had been feeling slightly overwhelmed these past few days. With a full 16-credit course load, assignments pouring in with no indication of slowing down and an internship to balance, I felt like I was standing on upright bone china crockery while trying to pull a bunny out of a top hat. It was as though the winter break had never existed.

But today I went into my first class with Prof. Mills and for the first time in a week I felt so much at ease. That's because besides 80 percent of the class being international students, he uttered the words that every student journalist is aching to hear: Journalism is hard. If you don't find it hard, you're proabably not doing it right.

So I wasn't completely losing it. Phew!

That said, I'm excited about learing with people from so many different countries. We are from England, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Norway, Taiwan, Greece and of course India! It's hilarious to note that there is only one boy in a class of about 15. Poor guy, I sure wouldn't want to be him. But most boys in the journalism program must be used to the phenomenon by now.

Point to note: The joys of curling up in bed, propped comfortably against a large pillow, wearing fleecy pyjamas and eating a bag of Doritos and cream cheese while watching TV...sigh. Every girl should have a guilty pleasure. Now you know mine.

Here's hoping the rest of the semester moves smoothly and the lone boy feels at home soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Warning: Spoilers ahead. But I hardly think it matters. This one is beyond repair.

Every now and then, it's entertaining, and possibly necessary, to diligently keep track of Bollywood's actions. When a director who has created some well-made movies on offbeat topics in the past, the reason become even more apparent. But this time, that doesn't seem to hold true.

Madhur Bhandarkar made Chandini Bar. Tabu was at her best and it made the viewer belive that the acting prowess may have had a lot to do with the flawless direction. Traffic Signal though not as widely received was a good film too. How else would it be possible to see the thriving commercial system behind three green lights? Corporate also wasn't Bhandarkar's finest moment but it passed. Like Aamir Khan, it's an unfair standard. But the audience continues to judge against the best, in this case - Chandini Bar. They expect every movie to be as perfect.

That's possibly why Fashion fails miserably. The intention is good. But it doesn't deliver. Middle-class girl wants to be a model. Excuse me, super model. She heads to Mumbai against her father's wishes to make it in the big bad world. What follows is a whirlwind rise to stardom (this happens after a designer fires her from his show. I had no idea it was possible to become the face of a leading fashion house when you can't hold down one assignment. The Indian glamour world is just full of surprises), an expected foray into drinking and all things that good Indian girls should never even think of and the ineveitable downward spiral closely preceded by hard drugs and one-night stands.

I don't claim to know anything about the fashion industry. But correct me if I'm worng to believe that this isn't the path all struggling starlets need to take? The over-the-top elements just push the film over the edge. Kangana Ranaut is the "show stopper" (who uses these terms?!) until she's replaced by protagonist Meghana Mathur (Priyanka Chopra). The shock is too much to handle and Ranaut embarks on a self-destructive spree involving cocaine and booze to numb the pain. She finally becomes mad (yes, mad) and is found at some city station with a very bad hair day where it's believed that she hasn't spoken to anyone in two days. In some parts of the world, that's called PMS.

And what is with Ranaut's English? If she can't speak it, don't make her!

Like I said, the intention was noble. Sadly, it's packaged terribly. Nothing makes an audience see red than an insult to their intelligence. Middle-class families are not found only in Chandigarh. And there's nothing more nauseating than watching the lead character go crying home to mommy and daddy after she finds out that the world is a scary place full of bogey men and scary monsters under the bed. Especially when she's treated them like dirty dish rags the entire time. Chopra begins to rehabilitate Ranaut because it does her good? Spare us the Mother Teresa routine. It got stale back when Chopra decided to draw inspiration from the deceased saint when asked which living person she most admired in the 2000 Miss World pageant.

Sorry Mr. Bhandarkar. You just fell a couple of notches from grace. It's going to be a long climb back.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Extensive menus and expensive movies

Yesterday, I volunteered at the Greater Boston Food Bank. No, I'm not looking for a pat on the back to say, "Look what a good girl are you." ( I already know that, thanks very much :) It was a fantastic experince I thought worth sharing.

We were approximately 30-50 volunteers from various organizations along with individuals who spent three hours in a cold cement warehouse sorting what I'm told was a little over 13,000 pounds of food. That's the equivalent of 10,000 odd meals with an average of 150+ pounds of food sorted per volunteer. Don't ask for an explanation of the math, these are the figures as I heard them.

The cold warehouse was not as miserable as it sounds. In fact, it was a lot like the movies, complete with conveyor belt, giant forklifts and orders being screamed across the room. On a cold winter day in snowy, icy northeast United States, I'll take the liberty of saying that it would have been impossible to find a happier bunch of people spending their Saturday afternoon in a grey building.

During the time, volunteers were allowed a 15-minute break where we were offered some of the delicious packaged food that we had seen while sorting. Total highlight.

It was a weekend spent like none other and a fabulous experience at that.

Upcoming events: The 81st Annual Academy Awards on February 22nd. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire are leading the nominations while The Dark Knight is trailing at a distance. Who will take home the gold statuettes this year? For now, your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A new favorite

Friday, January 23, 2009

To the edge of the world and back

I'm no expert. But after spending close to 24 hours in the air and finally sleeping off jet lag, I thought it would be helpful to share a near travel-disaster which could be helpful to keep in mind.

My bags were packed I was ready to go, my dad was standing at the door, telling me if I didn't hurry up I would miss the plane. We all loaded into the car after polishing off a cake that read, "Bon Voyage Ayesha" and decided to make a trip of it to the Bengluru International Airport. I love the airport.

Once my luggage was loaded on to a trolley, I waved goodbye and headed to the check-in counter inside. There I was told that my booking could not be retreived, that I had a "fictitious" ticket and that I didn't exist as a passenger at all! The nerve...

It meant I had to come home all over again and wait until the local airline office opened the next morning before I could sort out the matter. I finally did and managed to get on the plane, after I had been delayed by 24 hours though. But I learned the whole routine was totally avoidable if I had done the following:


Doesn't seem like rocket scince now, does it?

Do the above even if you have a ticket that's booked all the way through. In other words, despite how "complete" your booking may be, do the above anyway.

Once on the phone with the airline representative, be polite no matter how annoyed you might be. It really helps when you don't have to pay a delay/rebooking fee. Believe me you'll be glad you kept you cool and saved some money rather than giving them a mouthful which may not tilt the scales as favorably.

Being in four airports in the span of a day reminded me how much I love the places. It's fascinating how many different people there are in the world. Airports force you to step outside your bubble where you begin to think everyone is just like you. I especially love how you can never tell whether it's day or night in an airport. The bright lights allow travelers to believe that the time is whatever they want it to be. And the moment, the clock strikes midnight, the staff behind the food and sotre counters in the duty-free lounge greet you with a, "Good morning" although you know it really is still the middle of the night. Somehow, that makes me smile.

The Discovery Channel got it right with their latest ad campaign. The World is Awesome!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Between two worlds

I just bid another goodbye to my homecity after a month-long vacation. I'm not complaining. It was a wonderful 30 days spent with family and friends. I got to visit all the places I missed so much in the past four months, eat a wider range of food as compared to a pretty much staple diet that I have as a graduate student and enjoyed endless late-moring snoozes and late-night conversations that lasted until 6 a.m. Two of my cousins got engaged which meant that I was right in the middle of all the action of zardosi clothes, trips to the beauty parlour, heaps of biryani and all the fanfare that goes into the the big fat Indian wedding. Or the pre-wedding celebrations in this case. After the lazy sabbatical, the verdict:

UB City gets two thumbs up. It's unlike any building/destination in the city. I love it for the oppportunity and feel it gives Bangalore. It gets extra points for the way it looks at night, lit up in soft yellow. Vijay Mallya is undoubtedly a maverick. And not in the way you-know-who says it! Nearby property shaped like the Burj in Dubai which belongs to Siddarth Hegde also looks interesting. Next time, I'll have to check out the Coffee Day Lounge on the ground floor.

There's so much fluff floating around in Bollywood. I diligently fed myself a number of Hindi movies that I don't have as much access to as I would like in a foreign country. Ghajini was alright, worth a watch, but definitely not worth the hype it generated. Honestly, after Taare Zameen Par, it's a disaapointment. It's an unfair standard, but an audience expects Aamir Khan to shine radinatly in every performance. Dostana was okay if you wanted to see Miami. But we all know that whoever liked it did so for very different reasons - Priyanka Chopra who was covered only for the sake of decency and getting past the censor board with the same applying to John Abraham. Was Abhishek Bachchan even in the film? The highlight: the song Bounce baby bounce with Shilpa Shetty. Corny yes, but an addictive tune. Don't even get me started on Chandini Chowk to China. Why oh why did I decide to advance book and subject myslef to three hours of pure agony? Some answers will eternally evade me. Singh is King which I managed to catch in between alternating bouts of slumber on the flight back, much better. Upcoming Delhi 6 looks interesting. I will publicly admit I'm waiting for Billo Barber, although the title makes it sound like a B grade flick about the local tress tamer, complete with sleazy men with thickly gelled back hair, combs in their back pokets, goggles covering their eye sockets and upturned collars in jazzy hues. It's hard to quash the die-hard Shah Rukh Khan fan in me.

The traffic doesn't seem as bad somehow. Either plenty of people were away during the holidays or they suddenly decided to be more courteous on the road. But it's still plain havoc when the police decide to get emperimental, turn the signals off and take matters into their own hands, quite literally. When will they understand it's a failing proposition?

Bangalore doesn't disappoint on the culinary front. In keeping with it's trend of new restraunts opening every couple of days, there's plenty for the foodie to sink their teeth into. One place in need of a serious fixer-upper- Frescoes. The place looks just the same, but the new menu is dismal. The harsh reaction could stem from the fact that they've removed my all time fave Spanish omelette from the offerings. Nah, that's just banter. Almost everything is fried, oily and tasteless. Service is sordid too. It was only the company that saved the trip from turning into a complete disaster. Infintea continues to be wonderful. Give me Kashmiri almond chai, steamed chicken momos and the delicious mozarella fritters that I mooched off of my friend's plate any day!

Bangalore hasn't changed drastically. Perhaps it was my naivete to think that it would in four moths. I didn't get teary eyed when I drove past MG Road, I could still drive my black hatchback on all the roads and knew all the directions. I even remebered the one ways. I could actually cross Cunningham Road too :) I guess that's what makes a place home. You're never a stranger. It's like it's been waiting for you, to welcome you.

Back on foreign soil, winter has firmly set in and snow covers everything for miles. It's been years since I saw actual snow. I'm reminded of when I last saw it as a ten-year old, skiing down a gentle Californian slopes and being thrilled beyond belief after being flung off a man-made hill on a tyre. The wind in my hair, the snowflakes on my eyelashes. This morning, I stepped out of my apartment and ran my finger along snow that had collected outside. It felt wonderful. There's so much snow everywhere, untouched. Looks almost good enough to eat! And the moment you touch it, it's like it was never there at all. Fascinating.

I'm told this is the coldest it gets. Not too bad for what I imagined. I think I'll survive my first New England winter.

Hello Spring '09! Bye bye Bangalore until we meet again, real soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Because some stuff is just better said

Slumdog Millionaire won four Golden Globes. India is particularly overjoyed with the one AR Rahman won for original soundtrack. I join the world when I say. " Am I surprised?" Rahman has been great, not once, not twice, not a couple more times, but every single time. Dil Se, Rangeela, Jaane tu ya jaane na and now this. Jai ho!

The late edition of the news last night said that the latest fad in Goa is "silent parties." Yes, such a thing can exist, apparently. It involves giving people a pair of headphones before they hit the dance floor. They can tune into three available channels and dance the night away with blaring music between their ears but silence just outside that "dance zone." They're allowed to continue well into the next morning because they aren't even waking up the neighbours. Go figure!

I really hate goodbyes.