Thursday, June 15, 2006

Springing Forward

Its spring time in Seattle. Actually spring is almost over…in fact, within the next few days, it’s supposed to be summer, officially! Then why the heck is it so cold!!!??? You can see that everyone’s ready for summer. Men are wearing shorts and t-shirts, women are wearing shorts and t-shirts and other barely nothing items of clothing (those who have the body to carry them of course) and everybody is hugging themselves to keep warm against the chilly wind that keeps blowing every now and then and looking wistfully skywards hoping for a sun-break (a very Seattle word…no where else in the world any one uses such a word!)

We had a sun-break last Sunday…it lasted pretty much all day and was beautiful! In fact so beautiful, that we braved our collective jet-lags, picked up Subway sandwiches and headed towards the park by Lake Washington for an impromptu picnic. I had almost forgotten how beautiful the lake side looks when the sun shines! The park was full of children splashing in the near frigid water while indulging parents lounged languidly in the sun. Nubile nymphets pranced around in miniscule bikinis showing off their perfectly toned and amazingly smooth (how do they do that?) bodies, while young studs with perfect six-pack abs strutted about wearing swim shorts that hung dangerously low on their butt ( I had to control the urge to pull one down when one them passed me in close range!) They rubbed sun-tan oil on each other, undid bikini tops to get smooth unlined tans on their backs and in general looked gorgeous!

Meanwhile, I was seating in the shade, covering my bags of cellulite in a mulmul tunic and long pants, munching on veggie delight sandwich (they are supposed to have only 6gms of fat), not daring to step out in the sun (I had forgotten my morning routine of applying Fair & Lovely on my arms, you see), feeling fat, dowdy and ugly!

So I went shopping that afternoon. My wardrobe consists of only mulmul tunics and jeans and salwar-kurtas…they were perfect for Hyderabad spring, summer, monsoon, autumn and winter. Being away for two and a half years, I had forgotten the art of layering that’s essential when you live in Seattle. Once in the store, I was thoroughly confused with the array of items that was available…skirts and shorts, shirts and shrugs, capris and culottes, camis and tees…everything looked great but nothing looked right on me. In my mind I was still the shapely teenager who was able to carry off anything she wore…but the matron staring back at me from the dressing room mirror looked completely incongruous in those clothes. I had picked things that looked nice on size 4 (that I used to be once upon a time) but not on size 8, 10 or 12 * sigh*

Next few days very cold and dreary and I felt cold and dreary. My birthday came and went. I general, I don’t like birthdays…mine or any one else’s…especially mine, since it reminds me that I’m getting old and makes me grouchier than usual! Spouse tried his level best to cheer me up. We went up to the mountains to a fancy lodge, had a fancy dinner watching the heavy rain obscure the valley below (it always rains on my birthday…always!), drank a fancy bottle of wine and passed out while wisps of clouds floated blissfully over rain-washed evergreen woods!

Yesterday, with renewed enthusiasm, and a vow to look good in future (birthday resolution…won’t last for long!) I walked into Old Navy and asked the first friendly teenager in obscenely low-rise jeans I could spot for help. I wanted to know what fat-middle-aged-but-young-at-heart women are wearing these days. She arched her perfectly shaped eyebrow and stared at me like I just landed from Mars or something (little did she know I indeed landed from Hyderabad) then smiled and said “Follow me!” Couple of hours later I left the store with two bags full of goodies, lighter by almost $300!! But now I have a wardrobe full of “in” clothes that actually fit me! Now that, as Mastercard would say, is PRICELESS!!

So I’m ready for Seattle spring, with all it’s the sun breaks, tall-non-fat-decaff lattes, walks in waterfront parks and fresh asparagus from weekly farmers ’ markets. I’m springing forward to a new beginning (yet again)!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Khuda Hafez Hyderabad

Its time to bid adios to Hyderabad. Two and a half years back when I moved to the city lock stock and barrel, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been to Hyderabad before; my knowledge about the city was limited to Charminar, pearls and Chandrababu Naidu! I had no friends, no social life, I hated the blistering sun, the heat, the laid back attitude of the people, the chaos and confusion that comes as package with life in India; there were so many times I wished I said no to the move! In fact, I choked the mail boxes of friends with voluminous rantings about the city and its people, which I lovingly christened the Hyderabad Blues series!

Over the next year things started to change. I got myself a job (and quit it pretty quickly too…but that’s another story), met a woman who opened the door to a whole new world. I had always considered myself to be worldly wise, the been-there-done-that kind of person; but of course I was in for a rude shock because I had seen nothing before I came to Hyderabad! After two and a half years I can truly say that I’ve seen it all…desperate P3 types straight out of Madhur Bhandarkar’s movie, male strippers, drugs, adultery, attempts of murder, gun-totting bodyguards, mujra party at far-flung farmhouses, a foreigner who over stayed her visa and is now a fugitive, a man with many passports who love the thrills of international human trafficking, open marriages, upper-middle class women pimping their bodies for cash or kind…the underbelly of an apparently staid and boring city!

I also met some amazing people… true blue Hyderabadis, so kind and generous; they welcomed me into their city and their lives with their arms open wide. Memories of their warmth and hospitality will remain in my heart till I die. The last weekend was hectic…two farewell parties in my honor! The first one thrown by my girl gang…women I’ve come to love and respect over last two years…women with whom I’ve laughed and cried, partied and done tequila shots, had endless cups of coffee over hardcore bitching sessions and called up at 3 am when I couldn’t sleep! The other was organized by a very dear friend, the most generous and kind man in the whole wide world! The venue was perfect - open air, lots of trees, a pond and a cascading waterfall - all very carefully lit up. There was an open bar, a DJ spinning foot-tapping tracks all night long and lip smacking food (including haleem and grilled bater). Half the town showed up (there were some gate crashers too) to say good bye! It was such an emotional experience!

I never thought I’d say it, but I can’t help it…I’ll miss Hyderabad! Didn’t realize when the local lingo invaded my vocabulary and no became nakko bhai and go slow became hulloo lelo! I was always a foodie, but my decadence in Hyderabad will (hopefully) remain unsurpassed (because the weighing scale has been sending me signals for a while now!) I’ll miss Fusion 9, Angeethi, Dosa Plaza, Encounters, Gufaa, midnight Biryani at Ohri’s Banjara, Sunday brunch at Touch…heck I’ll even miss Indian Harvest, the Gujju thaali joint that closed down a while back!!! I’ll miss shopping for bangles and laces in Laad Bazar, its myriad colors, the glimpses of fair arms of Burqa-clad maidens, laden with sparkling bangles. I’ll miss my walks through KBR Park, the view of Golconda Fort and Qutb Shahi Tombs from the vantage point where Narne Road dips into Whisper Valley. I’ll miss the Ladies Night at 10D, Touch, Liquids and the after hours party at B&C. I’ll miss making fun of the ineffectual security guards armed with only a whistle who take their jobs too seriously! I’ll even miss the way Hyderabadis lie “raaste mein hoon” when they haven’t even dressed to go for a party! I’ll miss the awesome rock formations that dot the Banjara Hills-Jubilee Hills skyline (specially the one shaped curiously like a male body-part that can be seen from the terrace of Zafraan Exotica) and are fast disappearing thanks to the real estate development. I’ll miss the AP Riding Club, a heritage building gifted by the Nizam to the riding club almost 150 years ago, where generations have learnt to ride; thanks to the greedy bureaucrats it’s closed now, the horses languishing in Chanchalguda jail (of all places)! I’ll miss my man Friday cum chauffer, who would reverse the car in heavy traffic just to save me from walking a few extra steps in the sun; my maid, in spite of her limited intellectual capacity and her inability to follow instructions kept my home in shape and took over the greatest challenge a mother faces – feeding a five year old!! I’ll miss my family (even though none of them stay in Hyderabad, they were never more than two hours away).The list is pretty long…

I’m moving again and I wish I had said an emphatic NO this time. I’ll pretend that I’m taking one more of my frequent trips and avoid the emotional (read teary) good-byes and the heart ache that I invariably feel every time I leave a place. So farewell Hyderabad…hopefully I’ll see you again sometime soon!

I’ll sign off dear readers, with a beautiful poem, Nightfall in the city of Hyderabad by Sarojini Naidu

See how the speckled sky burns like a pigeon's throat,
Jewelled with embers of opal and peridot.

See the white river that flashes and scintillates,
Curved like a tusk from the mouth of the city-gates.

Hark, from the minaret, how the muezzin's call
Floats like a battle-flag over the city wall.

From trellised balconies, languid and luminous
Faces gleam, veiled in a splendour voluminous.

Leisurely elephants wind through the winding lanes,
Swinging their silver bells hung from their silver chains.

Round the high Char Minar sounds of gay cavalcades
Blend with the music of cymbals and serenades.

Over the city bridge Night comes majestical,
Borne like a queen to a sumptuous festival.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


My previous house-owner got into Time Magazine’s list of 100 people who shape the world! He’s been doing great work in micro-financing, making venture capital available to more of the 800 million people in rural India. He’s a true visionary, making a difference in the lives of people who live way below the poverty line.

But this post is not about his achievements…its actually about my experience in dealing with the only human being I’ve ever personally known, who got his name printed in Time magazine. When we rented his Hyderabad house, he used to live in Chicago. The house was in complete mess…his family here was in charge, and they couldn’t hand over the keys till the 23rd of the month even though we started paying rent from the 1st. When we wrote to him, about a refund or a rent adjustment, all we got was radio silence! Anyway, we did move in, and after some time a woman called us up, introduced herself as a cousin of the house-owner and told us that she’d be in charge while he’s away. Fine!!

A year and few months went by. In the mean time the electricity meter blew up, the man-hole covers got stolen, snakes and stray dogs kept coming inside through the gaps in the main gate, a septic tank pipe burst, the light fixtures inside the house kept blowing up one after another, ants ate up the exterior light wiring, the bore-well conked off at the on-set of summer, monsoon left huge damp patches all over the wall and rain-water seeped in through leaky windows and flooded my living room! Some stuff got fixed, some didn’t, some I paid for because I was living there! Then one day he came to visit us; seemed like a nice guy; gushed about how beautifully we kept his house, blah blah blah, told us about his divorce, his son, his alimony program and lot of other things about his personal life that we didn’t really want to know! But over all the experience wasn’t unpleasant.

Another six months went by. He came to visit us again…this time, he wanted to know how long we were planning to stay in his house…the lease was to expire in three months’ time. We told him that we were planning to move out at the end of the lease period. He expressed interest in staying in the house…his dream home, which he never got to enjoy! In the same breath he also added that we could stay on as long as we liked if we paid him the “market rate” which, according to him, was nearly 70% more than what we were paying him!! When we recovered from the mini heart-attacks this piece of information caused us, we enquired around…and no prizes for guessing that the so called “market-rate” was nothing but a figment of his fertile imagination! We were certain that we would be able to vacate the house by the end of the lease period!

The big move was in the pipeline and no matter how hard we tried, couldn’t wrap up everything within the stipulated time. We needed at least one more month in the house. Mr. Philanthropist immediately turned into Mr. Shylock and demanded his pound of flesh, in this case the exorbitantly inflated rent! We had very little choice but to comply. On the upside, he did buy out all our appliances which we couldn’t move and most of the IKEA furniture that I was dying to get rid of, but he also tried to weasel out a free dinette and an air cooler, which finally went to someone else. We left that house with a bitter taste.

Then came the news of his great achievement. It was in a mail from yet another female cousin of Mr. Philanthropist which was languishing in my Junk Mail box. I send him a congratulatory mail and in reply I got this:

It would be helpful if you could call the cable operator and indicate that you do not want cable service terminated but instead transferred to the new occupants (me). Otherwise, he is requiring me to pay a new installation amount. I realize that it is a relatively small amount I would save (Rs. 2,500), but would appreciate a call nevertheless.

Can’t blame the poor guy, he’s involved in micro-finance after all. *Sigh*