Saturday, December 15, 2007

Of Ghosts, Prostitutes, Babies, White Nights and Trains

Life has been a little busy last few months what with sonny boy’s long list of extra-curricular activities, homework load, social obligations and traveling, my favorite pastime had taken a backseat. I missed out pretty much on all the new releases at the local Hindi movie theater in the past few months. So last week I went to the Indian grocery store and picked up almost half a dozen DVDs and spent the next two days subjecting myself to a marathon torture session of watching the following movies.

Laga Chunri Mein Daag: What the hell was the all about? It was so regressive that I kept cringing every few seconds. It was so hard to believe that Pradeep Sarkar who made the almost brilliant Parineeta was at the helm of this disaster! Rani Mukherjee is uneducated and vernacular and can’t get a job in big bad Mumbai…oh boohoo!! So she sleeps with the first creep who offers her a job in return of her services for a night. She could have done a lot of things after that…but no, she decided to take revenge by becoming a high class hooker!! I didn’t really get the revenge part…but in no time she brushed up her English and got herself a rather swanky pad with a view. Geez, how much was she charging and how many men was she servicing per day?? Its hard to feel bad for her when it looks like that she’s having a jolly good time in her pent-house, wearing designer clothes or flying first class to Zurich and cavorting around with Trademarks & Patent lawyer Abhishek Bachchan. I don’t know if my copy of the DVD was bad, but one moment Jaya Bhaduri was asking Rani Mukherjee to not to show up for Kankona’s wedding, and the next moment we see Rani and Abhishek dancing to a really cacophonous ditty at the wedding! What was up with that…did I miss something in the middle, huh?

Bhool Bhulaiya: Ok, now I’ve already called LCMD regressive…so what do I call Bhool Bhulaiya? Hmmm…let’s see. How about ludicrous?! This headache inducing, never ending, torture machine had everything that could possibly be wrong in a movie – each and every actor hamming their lungs out, the camera going crazy every now and then, the ear-splitting background score, crass humor, bad music in general ( except for the Hare Krishna Hare Ram number at the end credits)…the list goes on and on!! Akshay Kumar was completely, utterly, absolutely, unreservedly, wholly unbearable…even the usually reliable Shiny Ahuja let me down this time!! But I must admit that Bhool Bhulaiya was really funny at times, albeit unintentionally!! Vidya Balan hoarsely croaking while being possessed by a Bengali bhootni called Manjulika “Bodmaayesh, ami tor gola ketey rakto paan korbo” was so bloody side-splitting, that I forgot it was meant to be scary and not hilarious!!!

Heyy Baby: Oh my god!!! Is there even a word that would describe this god-awful excuse of a movie??!! There was not a single redeeming feature in this crass, loud, preposterous 2.5 hr comedy…absolutely nothing!!! Sajid Khan should go back to doing what he does best - hosting countdown shows on the idiot box and leave the film-making bit to the talented sibling!!

Sawaariya: Its really hard to believe that Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the man who made the lyrical Khamoshi could come up with a self-indulgent juggernaut called Sawaariya!! And I thought that Black was as bad as it gets! Its been a while since I've watched it, but I still remember the hauntingly beautiful “Le Notti Bianche” starring Marcello Mastroiani and Maria Schell frame by frame. SLB’s over-ambitious set designer Oomang Kumar created this strange Venice like place with over-sized neon signs juxtaposed against sometimes blue-gray, sometimes green-black buildings and a canal that meanders through the town ending at a giant Buddha face lit by a thousand lamps!! There is a Gondola (or may be it’s a Shikara) that glides through the wave less canal without the aid of any oars. There are more hookers in the town than residents and they all dress either in green or in blue and look like extras from 60’s Eastman color movies. A Muslim girl from a conservative family walks around the town in the middle of the night wearing low rise lehnga and backless choli. And it rains a lot during Eid and then it starts snowing!!

To top all these madness, there’s the lead singer of RK Bar who’s called Ranbir Raj who drinks milk and zombifies prostitutes by singing to them. He wears bowler hats and sailor pants so wide that he can hide at least 3 prostitutes in each leg. When he dances you want to call the doctor because it looks like epilepsy fit! That is Rishi and Neetu Kapoor’s little baby boy Ranbir, who also acts out SLB’s most ambitious homo-erotic fantasy on celluloid by draping himself in a near transparent towel and gyrating obscenely against a sunny window!! (Now I feel bad for Karishma Kapoor who got so much flack for appearing in swim suit in her first movie Prem Qaidi!) He’s earnest; I have to give Ranbir Kapoor that. But he neither has his father’s good looks nor his mother’s infectious charm and the poor boy was asked to ape his grandfather throughout the movie resulting in a performance that grates on your nerves!! Daddy dearest should immediately pack off sonny boy to some acting academy in New York or London and if funds don't permit, to Anupam Kher closer home to brush up on his craft.
Sonam Kapoor on the other hand was sweet and pretty and hopefully other directors will notice her nubile charms and give her better roles in future to prove her mettle! The girl definitely deserves a second chance.
Salman Khan in his brief appearance looked like a doped pedophile on the prowl. And Rani Mukherjee’s hooker with a golden heart act is staler than a two week old loaf of bread!!
Sanjay Leela Bhansali used to direct the songs for Vidhu Vinod Chopra once upon a time – remember the beautifully picturised “Kuchh na kaho” from 1942 a Love story? Even the songs from Devdas were well choreographed and shot. But something went terribly wrong in Sawaariya. It was like watching Subhash Ghai movie. Tacky, tacky, tacky!!!! Monty Sharma’s rather pleasant tunes were massacred by the director and his team of choreographers!! Unforgivable!!!

Om Shanti Om: First and foremost, I’m not a SRK fan. If anything, I dislike him a lot…a LOT!! So I find it very hard to say anything positive or good about him. But I’ll bite the bullet and say it….Om Shanti Om was a blast!!!! Total time pass, total paisa vasool. SRK sings, he dances, he fights, he cries, he moons, he flies, he wears his red underwear over his super-hero suit, he wears his designer jeans unbuttoned, he slathers oil over his newly chiseled torso and shakes his stuff till kingdom come, he hams till its not possible to ham anymore…and it works!! It bloody works!! Bottom line is you can love SRK or hate SRK, but you can’t ignore SRK ! Deeepika Padukone with her long limbs and dimpled smile couldn’t have asked for a better launch in Bollywood. Arjun Rampal was totally delicious as the bad guy even with that ridiculous moustache!! But the best thing about OSO is the awesome Art Deco inspired set by Sabu Cyril…it was like being in Miami…fantastic!!!! Kudos to Farah Khan…she knows how to make a masala movie…yenna rascala…mind it!!

Jab We Met: Socha Na Tha re-visited. I absolutely loved SNT…a sweet and endearing romantic comedy that introduced us to Abhay Deol and Ayesha Takia. JWM has ample shades of it, yet its every bit charming and engaging by it own merit. Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor finally get their chemistry right in their so called last film together. What I loved about it, is the natural progression of the story and the easy believable dialogues. Kareena’s character Geet, a loud motor-mouth Sikhni from Bhatinda could have easily been reduced into a caricature, but her charm is so disarming and her enthusiasm so infectious that you just can’t help but root for her. Shahid’s Aditya on the other hand goes from silent and brooding to best friend to prince charming in a smooth transition! Only if Imtiaz Ali could have done away with the whole extra-large Punjabi household and ganaa-bajaana part, JWM would have been a gem.

So here it is…six reviews in one post! None of these really merited a separate review and at the end of long weekend I’ve realized that I haven’t really missed out on movies as much as I thought I did!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Let it snow

This morning I woke up to the first snow of the season. It must have had snowed in the night...when I woke up all the roof-tops and lawns were coated with white powder. It looked so pretty…so pristine…as if nature just decided to hide all the ugliness of the world under the magical white blanket of snow. The weather forecast had predicted more snow and lo and behold it came down fast and furious in the afternoon covering everything.

What a beautiful sight!! Snow on the trees, snow on the street, snow on the grass, snow on the roof-tops and chimneys, snow on the cars parked outside! Snow in my hair and on my shoulder as I walk to my car my arms full of shopping bags; snow on my tongue as I try to catch the flakes by sticking the tip out; snow on my eyelashes as I look heavenwards and utter a silent thanks!

Tomorrow the rain will start and all the snow will melt. All that is beautiful and sparkling now will be the same old again.

Everything just seems to be insignificant right now
All that really matters is the magic from the sky
Let it snow
Let it snow
Let it snow...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Confessions of a Soccer Mom

As of last week I’ve become a bona fide soccer mom! I can already visualize some of you snickering and for the uninitiated, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about soccer mom:
The "soccer mom" typically indicates a single income family, where the husband works while the wife is a homemaker. They are strongly against video games, music, movies, and books that disagree with their worldview. The term can carry pejorative connotations, where the soccer mom may denote a woman who is aloof and has little responsibility or occupation, other than providing basic transportation for her children. In feminist circles, the soccer mom may refer to a woman who has given up on a promising and successful career, particularly after having some early aspirations and achievements.
Literally, soccer moms drive their children to play soccer, and sometimes cheer them on during the game. At once, the soccer mom is associated with encouraging, if perhaps over-scheduling their children with activities, and with making personal sacrifices for their children's benefit while perhaps remaining somewhat overprotective.
The term has found a life as shorthand for a stereotype far beyond its
literal meaning. Most widely, perhaps, they are associated with driving Volvos, minivans, or SUVs. Active pride in their children may be displayed, for instance, with membership in a Parent-Teacher Association, or with a bumper sticker boasting that her child is an honors student at their school. They may also have drinks and snacks in the car, for/if when the children finish school and/or soccer.

And now add the desi quotient into the mix. Culture confused, cleanliness obsessed, academic brilliance demanding, native language enforcing, over-the-top mom! Yep, that’s me – Mini (not the van type) driving, cell phone weilding, latte drinking, suburban homemaker and member of PTA (albeit the most inefficient of the bunch) who herds her child from school, to soccer field, to piano lessons, to martial arts class, to drama club, to play dates, in rain or shine without fail and on time carrying various paraphernalia in the trunk of her car that include folding canvas chair, three umbrellas (one of which doesn't work as I found out today), water-proof blanket to sit on, bottles of water, books from library and enough sugary snacks to keep a six year old bright eyed and bushy tailed for 18 hours straight!!!

This afternoon I stood around in pouring rain for 60 minutes, huddled under an umbrella watching a completely soaked sonny boy chase a soccer ball around the field as if his life depended on it! I was wet and cold, nose dripping, ears stinging from the icy wind that blew intermittently, my fingers so numb that I could barely hold on to the umbrella – my soul yearning for the dry, warm comfort of the car! But I stood there clutching a bottle of water and my oversized designer bag because my little angel would come running towards me on drink breaks looking for a high-five and a word of praise for all the good work he’s doing!! Note to self: carry ear muffs, hat and waterproof gloves to the soccer class next week!

Ten years ago if someone had shown me this picture I’d have laughed in disbelief! I was a career woman, single and fancy-free, not particularly fond of children and miles away from any sport whatsoever! Look at me now – so much has changed in the last ten years that I can barely recognize myself! Here’s where you’re probably deciding to feel bad for me…please don’t!! This post is not meant to garner any sympathy for the loss of my corporate aspirations or the consequences of putting my home before my career! I have very little regret for the choices I have made.

I’m living vicariously through my six year old – yes sir, I am!! He’s doing all the stuff that I couldn’t even dream of doing as a child – sometimes due to lack of opportunity and mostly because we couldn’t afford so many extra-curricular activities!! But sonny boy is lucky – he has me, his mommy who’s hell-bent upon saving him from the evil clutches of video games and endless hours in front of pixilated screens; who’s going to live up to the stereotype of first generation immigrant parent pushing her child to the limit for a dazzling future and if that means adding swimming, horse-riding, skiing, ballroom dancing and fencing in the already over-crowded schedule, so be it!

Hail the soccer moms. Don’t feel bad by the snide remarks ignorant people make about you at school parking lot or your husband’s office party. They don’t understand that you are raising model citizens of tomorrow! I’m going to be on your side and fight for your cause as long as you don’t mow me down with your giant SUVs or ask me to whip up 100 cupcakes overnight for the annual bake sale!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Exactly three months ago Quicksilver – the Queen of the Universe tagged me with “have-to-write-and-post-it-in-8-hrs” thing! It took me this long to muster up enough courage and write this – mostly because I got intimidated by her expectations!

Nautilus…I have a feeling that her answers are going to be very interesting.

Oh Quicksilver, I wish you hadn’t asked for this – and now the bubble will burst not just for you but for all to see…

So here it goes:

8 Random Facts About Nautilus!!

1.I have to, have to, HAVE TO sleep on the left side of the bed. If by some cruel twist of fate I find myself on the right side, I usually stay up all night tossing and turning; even if I manage to doze off, I’ll get terrible nightmares and wake up in cold sweat!!

2.I’m a total reality show junkie – Indian Idol, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Jhalak Dikhla Ja, Nach Baliye, Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelor, Super Nanny, Wife Swap, Top Chef, Design Star – you name it, I watch it ! But funnily enough I haven’t seen a single episode of the grand-daddy of all reality shows – Survivor!!

3.I’m a hoarder – not the obsessive compulsive type, but an intelligent hoarder (if there’s such a thing!) It’s a cycle I can’t seem to break – for example, I’ll go through a phase of buying shoes (80% of those will sit in their boxes and never the light of day) then I’ll feel guilty about owning too many pairs of shoes and go on to buy purses – then the same guilt and the same urge to move on to something else like kitchenware, perfume, creams and lotions, sweaters, sunglasses, watches, books, art supply…you get the drift!!

4.I’m an extremely uncoordinated person and I can’t help it!! Usually I mask it very well, but try playing Frisbee with me and you’ll know what I mean. I can see the disc coming straight at me yet I can’t decide which way I should move in order to catch it – as a result most of the time I’d find myself flat on my back after being thwacked by a Frisbee on my forehead!!

5.I read 2-3 romance novels after every serious book I read. I called decompressing, spouse calls it addiction to soft-porn :D

6.I relax by cooking. In the good old days spouse would get a five-course meal every time we fought! These days we don’t fight as much, so the poor man is starving himself to a trimmer waist-line :)

7.I can’t read newspaper if someone else has already read it. I don’t know what the big deal is, but I like the fresh smell of a crisply folded newspaper! If someone else gets to it before I do, its akin to wearing someone else’s underwear or using someone’s toothbrush! In the same fray, I should also mention that wet bathrooms give me the heebie-jeebies!!

8.I’m addicted to dried cranberries and tangerine flavored jelly-belly and Sour-patch Kids! I hide my stash from sonny boy and spouse on a regular basis. And when they do discover my…ummm…weakness, I never apologize for succumbing to such greedy decadence. I deny sonny boy from candies’ evil influence, but yield personally to its entrapment. Sometimes I eat candy to wake me up, or to keep on working when I want to stop and take a nap. Much preferred to a carrot on a stick. A self-imposed bribe to keep pushing. Of course, this bribe has negative consequences when my jeans don’t fasten. Oh well!!

Like it or not I tag...

Ghetu - because I'm extremely curious to know what else we can dig out of this disarmingly frank person!
Lonely Blogger - because I want to know what habits she has picked up since I saw her last almost 18 years ago!
Grey - because he needs a new post!! :)
Lavanya - because anything she writes reads like poetry! :)
Chatter - because we are members of an exclusive mutual admiration club!!
Magpie - because his recent ramblings have been too short!
Shashank - because behind all the nerdy stuff there's a fun guy!
Shampa - because I'm curious about other things in her Bookduniya!

And here are the Tag Rules:

1) Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.

2) People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.

3) At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

4) If you fail to do this within eight hours, you will have to acknowledge that you are a bigger slacker than Nautilus!!!

So tag along guys!!

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Sonny boy's summer vacations are not over yet!! So these days where ever I go, I have to drag him with me and play Bollywood item songs in the car to keep him entertained!! I know, I know I should be playing Rabindrasangeet or Beethoven to stimulate his young mind and not "Aa khushi se khudkushi kar le" I'm not raising a culturally elite kid...oh well!!!

These days most songs have bizzare Hinglish rap thrown in to make it more hip-hop I guess...I usually tune them out, but apparently sonny boy has been listening! So while such a song was playing, we had a conversation, which went like this:

Sonny Boy (SB): Mommy, can you turn down the volume please? I want to ask you a question!
Me: Yes baby!
SB: Mommy, what is sexy?
(Me pretending momentary deafness!)
SB: Mommy, you didn't answer my question!!
Me: Erm...
SB: I asked you, what is sexy!!??
Me: Sexy? Hmmm...lets see...what is sexy??!!
SB: Yes, what is sexy?
Me: describe a person who is...goodlooking, smart, well dressed and excercises regularly so that he or she has a very good body!
SB: That makes me sexy!!
Me: Huh?
SB: Yes! I'm goodlooking, smart, well dressed and I go to Aikido classes regularly!
Me: No baby! Only grown ups can be sexy! Children are not sexy - they are cute!
SB: Thats not fair!!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Disgruntled As Ever

I have been away for a while – physically as well as emotionally. Its one of those periods in your life where you are just tired and weary and going into a cave to lick your wounds in private seems like a good idea. Well, that kind of sums up my situation. And I could just stop writing anything more in this post – but I guess I won’t and so dear readers, if you’re still with me, let me warn you that this will be a long one!!!

I had gone back home in Kolkata for a month and a half. What a trip that was! Some vacations stay etched in our memories for the fabulous time we have and the wonderful experiences that we carry with ourselves for a very long time. And then there are trips straight out of hell like this one. In retrospect I should have had consulted my horoscope before making the plans or done some puja paath havan at the temple or worn an amulet or something around my neck before leaving home.

I didn’t really want to go to India in the summer. But sonny boy’s school was over for the summer. I hadn’t been home in a year. Ma was extremely distraught since Chhotu and Bhalo passed on. Going home seemed like the right thing to do even though I had a bad feeling about it. That bad feeling intensified even more when sonny boy and I landed in Kolkata early morning on my birthday and was greeted by a sky almost as dark as night. As soon as I loaded my stuff in the car the heavy dark clouds broke into torrential rain and crackling thunder. It was terrifying! It always rains on my birthday – I was born on the first official day of monsoon anyway. But never in my long years have I seen it come down so hard and furious.

The first few days weren’t so bad after all, barring the terrible rains followed by terrible heat! I was already getting tired of Kolkata and looking forward to Mumbai where Ma and sis awaited my arrival! I love Mumbai – I’ve always associated the city with fun times and excessive shopping. This time it was slightly different. Ma was still mourning Chhotu and Bhalo in a way that is very hard to understand. No one was allowed to enter the mausoleum of her grief; no matter how hard we tried to make her realize that her daughters are still there by here, she seemed to be lost in the infinite vacuum of her profound sorrow and emptiness.

And then out of the blue life threw a curve at me – it was quite unexpected and needless to say very traumatic! That was probably the time I needed my mother the most! But she couldn’t come out of her shell and extend her hand towards her daughter! Sis was already overwhelmed with her own set of troubles plus baby-sitting Ma for two months had left her exhausted! I was supposed to relieve her of that duty – but there I was, in need of attention myself! Her stress was palpable! I was completely alone through the worst nightmare of my life!!! Spouse proved yet again that he is the pillar of my strength – he dropped everything and showed up at Mumbai to be by my side in less than three days!! Together we lived through the final act of the real-life drama that left us heart-broken and drained! They say “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”! I guess its true to some extent. Am I stronger now? I don’t know! I don’t feel terribly strong! Even after more than a month I’m still limping towards normalcy! But then life goes on and while you never really get over your sorrows, you learn to live with it!

We decided to cut the trip short and come back home. I needed to be in my own space. The journey back had to be taken separately – spouse couldn’t manage to get tickets on the same flight as mine. He took a different route. I boarded the British Airways Kolkata-London flight on a Friday morning, eager to get home. But who knew that was the beginning of yet another nightmare!

I had mild flu symptoms when I left Kolkata. And as luck would have it, sonny boy and I got stranded in London for 48 hrs. It was total chaos in the true sense of the word! Thousands of stranded passengers, total collapse in the system, confusion, mayhem, fever, hunger, thirst, uncertainty…how I managed to stay sane through all that is still a bit of a mystery to me! Anyway, we gave up on British Airways and bought fresh tickets on Air Canada and flew in through Vancouver two days later. That flight also turned out to be rather interesting! I decided to glug down some of sonny boy’s emergency supply of Benadryl to control a rather embarrassingly hacking cough. It controlled the cough alright, but it made me real drowsy and added to that it gave me a major case of restless legs! So for 10 odd hours I stood next to the toilet dozing standing up!!!

Anyway I’m back now and we’ve moved into our new pad. There’s just way too much to do around the house – boxes to unpack, things to put away, curtains to hang, call the cable guy, mow the lawn, cut down the 6 feet tall weeds, fight with BA so that they reimburse all the expense I incurred in London…the list is never ending!! We’ve also discovered the presence of a rather large concrete box embedded in our yard! Now it could be for rain water retention or for collecting the neighborhood’s sewer waste – heaven knows!! Whatever it is, it has completely messed up all my lofty landscaping ideas!! All of a sudden a simple backyard beautification project has become entangled in endless bureaucratic paperwork and permits!!!! So now I have to go to the City Hall and find someone who can and is willing to answer my questions and help me out!! As if I already didn’t have enough to do!

As my spate of bad luck continues, I have burnt my hand; got mauled by predatory looking weeds; the city threatened to disconnect electric and gas line because we forgot transfer our accounts from the other house to here; my car is demanding an oil change for which I have to drive half-way across the state to the dealership…I wish I could bury my head somewhere and make it all go away!!!

Someone, whom we considered a very dear friend – in fact almost family, is acting very strange. Usually I would have just left this person alone, but this time I decided to go out of my way to figure out the problem. Apparently we have used a certain tone of voice with this person and that was not okay. Huh? What tone? Spouse and I sat down and painstakingly recalled the series of events before and after this person started this strange behavior and we couldn’t really fathom what could be wrong!! Still I went out on a limb and tried pacifying this person without much success! So I guess its over now – it was great while it lasted! Hope this person finds happiness and lots of tone-less friends!

Finally I caught up with Harry Potter – the last book and the movie! The movie was actually bad and I’m very upset because of that!!! The Deathly Hallows turned out to be a damp squib – I do feel like writing a review, but its just too tedious!! Just this post alone has taken me almost three weeks to write – at this rate the review will show up on Daniel Radcliffe’s 21st birthday!!

So here I am, disgruntled as ever, and with ample reasons to be so. The summer is almost over and it’ll be a summer I’ll remember for the rest of my life for all the wrong reasons! Hope the colors of the fall and the crispness in the air bring fresh hopes in our lives…

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Origin of Crows

Once upon a time there was a small boy who lived in a city by the sea. He was a sweet little boy, quite mild mannered and was loved by every one. Being the only son after two girls, our little boy was quite privileged. His middle class parents showered him with all the gifts they could afford. He got a home-spun version of Sinclair ZX-81 computer with 2kb memory at the age of 10 on which our little boy started writing his very own computer games. Later his mother would sell this prized possession for mere ten rupees to the local junk-shop. Arround the same time, on the other side of the world a geeky teenager called William Henry Gates III was writing Traf-O-Data on a similar computer along with another teenager called Paul Allen. Their paths would cross with our little boy many years later, but this post is not about that.

Anyway, our little boy got an air gun as a gift when he reached his early teens. He and his equally privileged friends soon developed a favorite pastime – shooting crows! This was highly unusual, because the boy didn’t have a single violent bone in his body! Yet, he possessed a strong dislike towards crows and ruthlessly killed them with his air gun. He also happened to shoot the insipid son of his mom’s friend in the thigh though quite by accident. Fortunately nothing serious happened to that boy. But I digress… Anyway, our little boy found a like-minded partner in his cousin when he was visiting his uncle during summer vacation. They bonded over their common hatred for crows and together they made a sizable dent in the crow population of the immediate neighborhood that summer. I guess his father got a little worried by the sudden change of nature in his little boy, so at the end of the summer vacation, when the family returned to the city by the sea, the air-gun was left behind at his cousin’s place. Next summer when they went back there, somehow no one seemed to remember having seen the air-gun ever!

Many years passed, our little boy grew up into a bright young man and like most bright young men he too decided to explore the land of opportunities. Far away from home, from his loved ones he was all alone and not so privileged anymore. And to top it all there weren’t any crows in the bright and shiny antiseptic country. Yet, he couldn't quite get over his strong dislike for the black ugly birds. One night, lonely and hungry, probably slightly drunk, wallowing in nostalgia, he sat down in front of his type-writer and painstakingly typed out the following essay with only two typos. Ladies and gentlemen, from the dusty pages of almost forgotten past, I present you –
The Origin of Crows!!!

There have been many theories about the origin of species. These theories were initiated by Charles Darwin and were followed by loads of other such loony scientists. However, all of them have been wrong only about one species – the Crows.

This paper intends to present to the world, the actual theory about the origin of crows. While all the species were developing peacefully, according to Darwin’s theory, in 20336858 BC during the time of dinosaurs, there was an invasion from outer space. Huge hoards of great black invaders stormed the earth. All over the earth there was panic wide-spread. The dinosaurs made desperate attempts to ward off the intruders. But there were too many of them. When the dinosaurs realized this they attempted in vain to flee. Finally, after a long drawn out, gruesome struggle, the dinosaurs were wiped out from the face of the earth and the world became the domain of these great black horrible repulsive creatures. For a few million years these creatures and their descendants ruled the earth. As they continued to dominate the earth, other strains of life stemming from the dinosaurs were also able to survive along with but under cover from these tyrannical creatures. Very soon these creatures adapted to air. They developed wings and took on a bird like structure. This was done so that they could look inconspicuous to their prey – all life on earth. These creatures were ruthless and cruel. They would very subtly kill other forms of life, making it apparent that they were absolutely innocent of the murderous deed. You may be surprised to know that these creatures still exist today.

These creatures are none other than what we call the common crow. So while all other forms of life developed parallel to the ancestors of the unscrupulous crows, without being aware of the fatal danger of them being around, man soon became, thanks to his high level of intelligence (?), the dominant species of the earth. However the danger posed by crows is still very serious and every year approximately 7000 people get brutally but subtly massacred by the crows. No one knows as yet how they do it, but it is certain that they do it. This actually is the real theory about the origin of crows. If they are not stopped, soon they will succeed in what they came to the earth to accomplish…the demolition of all life on earth and the taking over of the earth for the crow civilization of Crowton – the planet where the invaders came from. We must not allow the crows to further monopolize the earth. Demolish all crows.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sister of My Soul - Part deux

Those who read my previous post called “Sister of My Soul Part I” and gave me their valuable insights, comments and advice, there is news. Last week, late one morning my phone rang and the number on caller-id was unfamiliar. I was on my way out and almost didn’t pick up the phone – but I did and now I’m so glad I did! It was a phone call that I’d been waiting 19 years for!!! In less than a minute, all awkwardness, all inhibitions and all trepidations were forgotten and two friends reconnected once again, like we were never apart!! And the entire credit for this unimaginable feat goes to one person – someone who knew both of us very closely, someone who took the time and effort to bridge the gap by constantly encouraging us to start afresh! You know who you are and I cannot thank you enough for re-uniting the Three Musketeers!

On the heels of this wonderful reunion came another news – not such a good one this time. News of someone – a very dear friend I once loved and cherished and then lost to stupid ego and irrational anger! She has lost her father. A part of me wants to pick up the phone and talk to her, be there for her and there’s another part of me recoiling in apprehension, in fear of rejection! She has moved on in life and what if there’s no place for me in her world anymore?!

I had known her for a long time. We were buddies at NCC camps and hung out regularly on Saturdays after drill practice. But it was during the last two years of school that we became really close friends – inseparable and each others’ confidants and allies! As young-adults, together we explored and enjoyed the taste of new-found freedom. Those were the wonder years…the sky was the limit for the free souls…the world was our oyster!

We went to different colleges – me in the drab, early morning jail for studious girls where I was complete misfit while she was in the most happening university campus. I spent a large chunk of my first two years of college life at the cafeteria of her university than in my own classroom! It was at that cafeteria, she introduced me to a boy – someone she liked a lot. He was perfect – in every sense of the word – good looking, from a good family, brilliant and on the brink of a promising career! I couldn’t be happier for my friend!!

Around the same time, she also developed a new habit – going for early morning walks by the lake. I’d join her once in a rare while if I managed to roll out of bed that early, which didn’t happen very often! Once, after I had ditched her several times in a row, I got a call from her – she was very excited and wanted me to meet her at the lakes early next morning! She had met someone at the park. He was a looker, she said – they had exchanged a few lines and she was smitten. What about the boy from the university, I asked. I thought they were getting serious about each other. She said she was confused – she liked them both and wanted my honest opinion before she makes up her mind.

Early next morning I meet my friend at the lakes. She was excited and nervous at the same time. We held hands as we approached the boy doing push ups in the distance. He was really nice to look at I admitted. He greeted us with a cocky grin as if he was well aware of his effect on women. We were introduced briefly. I don’t recollect exchanging more than a few words with him. But I remember having a long discussion with my friend, during which it came out that this boy was from a different religion, a school drop-out and earns his living by dancing at various shows around the city. Of course I was all for dignity of labor and stuff, but I couldn’t really see what could be so attractive about him except his pretty face. I implored her to think and act sensibly – her friend from the university held a lot more promise for the future than this boy I argued. If any amount of time and energy needed to be spent it should be after the boy from the university I reasoned. She seemed to agree with me which pleased my foolish ego to no end.

Over the next few months I saw my friend on and off, sometimes alone, sometimes at the cafeteria with the boy from the university. They seemed to be getting along really well. I once managed to corner the boy and asked about his intentions for her. He said, she was very special and that he liked her a lot and he saw a future together. I was ecstatic for my friend...everything was perfect! Little did I know that my world was going to fall apart in a matter of days!

A common friend came to my house couple of days later. He was very distraught. He had been keeping a secret for weeks he said and it’s been driving him crazy. He was afraid that if he didn’t get it off his chest he’d fall sick!! My friend had called him a few weeks earlier and asked him to accompany her to the house of the boy from the lakes who was laid down at home after a serious motor-bike accident. The “house” apparently was a one-room shanty in a filthy slum at a religiously sensitive area of the city. There the boy lived with his parents and about half a dozen siblings. Mortified, this common friend literally pulled her out of that hell-hole and berated her for dragging him to that place. She apologized to him and begged him to not to tell me anything about their little “trip”. Our common friend agreed not to tell me anything on one condition – she’d have to tell me herself. She promised that she’d tell me as soon as finds the right opportunity! But apparently it had been weeks since the incident and it seemed that she was still waiting for the right time, because I was clueless about all that!

I remember feeling very numb while the story was being narrated to me. I felt like a fool…that made me very angry! I loved her and trusted her…it was unimaginable that she’d hide things from me. The very thought hurt me so much!! Her secret now became my burden and it sat really heavy on my shoulders. But I wanted to wait for her to come clear…confide in me just like she always did and for the next few days I made sure that we had ample time by ourselves to chat… for her to tell me her secret. She didn’t…and every time I said goodbye to her, my heart broke a little more.

I still remember that evening quite clearly. I was at her house. Our favorite place to hang out was the terrace. She was making small talk and I was distracted. I had so many questions…why wouldn’t she tell me anything!! What was she afraid of? My disapproval? But she knew I’d disapprove – in spite of that she went ahead and contacted that boy! Does that mean she doesn’t care what I think!? Does it mean that my opinions are meaningless to her? But she had asked me for my opinion when she called me to the lakes. What was she thinking? Was she ashamed of her actions? If that was the case, she could just tell me and we’d laugh it off and move on!! The questions kept swirling in my head like a tornado. I was feeling sick!! I finally blurted out everything…I took the name of our common friend and told her that he had told me everything! She was quiet for a moment and then she got very angry. She was angry at the common friend for betraying her trust…he was not supposed to say anything to me…he promised to her! But he promised on the condition that she’d tell me herself I reminded her! That got her even angrier…she said, she never found the right moment to tell me. But its been weeks I argued…there were so many times we were alone…she could have told me anytime! “What are you afraid of?” I asked her, “My disapproval?” She looked at me with cold eyes and said she didn’t care much about my opinion and she was perfectly capable of taking her own decisions! And that I should stop trying to run her life for her!!

Every time I look back at that conversation, I feel that if she had shot me in the heart with a gun, it’d have hurt less! “As you wish” I said and walked out of her house and of her life that day. I moped around for days…sometimes heart-broken and in excruciating other times blinded by extreme anger. And in that fit of mad rage, I ended up doing the absolute worst deed of my life!! I sought out the boy from the university at his dorm and ratted my friend out to him! I still don’t know what I was trying to accomplish that day…but when I left him, I felt so low that I wanted to drop down in the gutter and die!! In one fell sweep I finished off whatever chance there was to save the friendship by my one stupid and irrational action!

I never stepped into that university campus ever again. For the longest time I refused to hear anything about my friend. Time dulls all pain…everyone moves on. I did too. So did the boy from the university and my friend - but in different directions! Some years later, I heard from common acquaintances that he’s settled somewhere in the windy city…married to a beautiful girl chosen by his parents, doing really well for himself. My friend never married…she’s working with a multi-national bank and lives alone in a city once known for its gardens. Nobody knows what happened to the boy from the slum! Sometimes I wonder if I hadn’t acted in such a reprehensible manner that day, whether my friend would have ended up with the boy from the university!! Did I change the course of their fate?

The burden of my guilt and my shame is too heavy to let me pick up the phone and call my friend again. What will I tell her? Ask for her forgiveness? Yes, I am sorry for ratting her out. But did she ever feel bad for trampling on my feelings? For belittling my trust in her! For crushing my faith in our relationship!! I suppose these questions will go unanswered, because I don’t have the energy in me to bridge that gap anymore, no matter how much I want to. So In this time of her personal loss, all I can do is wish her strength and pray for her well-being from afar!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Of Pirates And A Sugar-free Romance

One long weekend and two movies…both highly anticipated albeit by different groups of people…well mostly! Because there are some people, like yours truly for whom cinema is like oxygen irrespective of the language and genre!

So Friday night was reserved for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. I was slightly apprehensive of subjecting myself to the latest 2 hour 50 minutes long pirate extravaganza, especially when I totally hated the last installment which was too soggy for my comfort. Well, I’m happy to report that Gore Verbinski has once again redeemed himself in my esteem. Here’s the low-down. Lord Cutler Beckett has control of Davy Jones' heart, (which sounds sort of gay when you're just reading about it, but it's not — the heart's in a box). And because he's got the heart, that means he's going to rule the seas. All the pirates and their friends call on all the other pirates around the world to battle it out against the dark forces of uncool un-pirate-ness. And they do this by sailing off the literal edge of the world's map. I think. I just said, "I think," because it's very long, with a hundred characters and lots of plot, and most of the pirates, while speaking, actually sound exactly like "Arrrrrrrhh!!" so you're sort of just waiting for action to speak more clearly than words — truth be told. Eventually it does - in a way that's been designed to deliver maximum sensory blast. It's loud, the effects are cool, the action explosive, the décor opulent and there are surreal scenes of mayhem and madness -- including a mass crab-and-ship exodus, an apocalyptic-looking waterfall along with multiple Jack Sparrows and great Fish People, as well as a fantastic finale battle that'll simultaneously confuse and thrill you.

Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow's in fine flighty form and the enterprise as a whole has reconnected with some of that fun stuff that made it such a pleasant excursion when it first set sail back in 2003. Joining him are Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa (as delightful as ever) Orlando Bloom as Will Turner (blander than a bowl of mashed potato without salt), Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann (coming off as downright tough and Pirate Queen-ish throughout) and Chow-Yun-Fat as the ill-tempered Capt. Sao Feng leading the pirates of the Singapore. The extensive passenger list also includes Bill Nighy as the heavily tentacled Davy Jones, Stellan Skarsgard as Turner's imprisoned dad Bootstrap Bill, Naomie Harris as Tia Dalma, the gypsy queen who turns out to be a true force of nature, and, most notably, Keith Richards in a brief but memorable cameo as crusty and mumbling Keeper of the Code and Sparrow's dad, Captain Teague. And I must mention the funny pirate monkey – if I weren’t so smitten by Johnny Depp, I could watch At World’s End just for the monkey! I have a feeling the ride is not over yet…so watch out for the fourth installment in a few years or even earlier!

This evening I ventured out all by myself and treated myself to a sugar-free romance. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie alone and believe me, for the longest time I was alone in the entire theater. It almost felt like a private screening with samosa and hot chai for snack, till noisy and late-latif desis started trickling in and messed up my reverie!

Coming back to Cheeni Kum – I’d call it a romantic comedy with a difference. While it isn’t path breaking, it is eminently watchable!! It was short and well, low on mush! Amitabh Bachchan as 64 year old pony-tailed London restaurant owner - the egotistic, caustic and cynical Buddhadev Gupta and Tabu as the strong, independent 34 year old Nina Verma, a software engineer from Delhi are the most unlikely people to fall in love. But they do and their chemistry is awesome and you want to root for them when they decide to tie the knot! Of course there’s a kabab-mein-haddi and completey over the top Paresh Rawal who’s Nina’s father and is actually six years younger than his potential son-in-law! The movie was going great till Paresh Rawal showed up post interval and made it a tedious watch! Also a monolgue by Amitabh Bachchan rationalizing why Paresh Rawal is freaking out at the prospect of his daughter marrying a man 30 years her senior slowed the movie down to a crawl!*yawn*

Watch out for the scenes where Mr Bachchan shares screen space with Tabu and Zohra Sehgal who plays his mother! The grand old lady is still such a delight to watch. Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend in Hindi cinema where strong and entertaining characters are being written for supporting roles( Khosla Ka Ghosla, Pyar ka Side Effects) – Cheeni Kum too has a wonderful collection of supporting cast – the guy playing toothy Colgate (I totally loved his accent) and Swini Khara as Amitabh Bachchan’s 9 year old friend and neighbor Sexy stand out - she undoubtedly had the best lines in the movie!

Sometimes, they say, less is more. In this case, a little less sugar made Cheeni Kum a fun caper and saved it from being too sappy!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Obiter Dictum

As I write this, there’s a tiny little humming bird right outside my window flapping its wings frantically to stay afloat while drinking nectar from the freshly bloomed maple flowers from the tree that frame view of the yonder. This is my most favorite window in the house. If I look down, I can see the community garden where people grow herbs, flowers and vegetables and right now there are tulips and hyacinths and poppies and calla lilies blooming in riots of colors. A little beyond is the park where children play on the swing set and run around the fountain on a sunny day. And over the absurdly green tree tops that border the park, on a clear day Mt Rainier looms like the giant sentinel that guards the horizon. These days every time I look out from this window, I get sad…this view won’t belong to me for long! We’re moving…yet again! And this time I have no one to pass the blame on…it was solely my decision to move back to the suburbs; to be close to spouse’s work place; to get back into the big house, big garage, big yard lifestyle of the suburbia. It was a decision made with my head (or so I keep telling myself) and not with my heart! Because my heart breaks every time I think of moving away from this place!

I’ve been religiously going for walks last few weeks…probably to get my fill of this place before I say goodbye. I walk on the tree lined avenues of Capitol Hill, past the historic multi-million dollar mansions with their impeccable lawns and flower beds, listening to the soundtrack of Metro and Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, up and down the hill, sometimes through the winding roads of the Interlaken Park, enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air, stopping to smell the flowers and realizing how much I’ve come to love this neighborhood! My walks have become my daily pick-me-up, my time to unwind, plan the day, plan my life and come up with hare-brained schemes to make more money among other things! Beats going to the gym any day!!

Finally I caught up with the Koffee with Karan Season two. Interestingly, Karan Johar seemed a lot mellower and talks about his mom all the time! His guests are as boring and predictable as ever, barring of course Rakhi Sawant…I absolutely loved her! The girl has spunk and doesn’t believe in mincing words! My kinda girl! Even La Mallika Sherawat seemed a little subdued compared to Rakhi Sawant! Also caught up with the first two episodes of Indian Idol 3. Anu Malik should be fired with immediate effect for being obnoxious in general; Alisha Chinai should lose 20lbs and that weird accent; Udit Naryan should first fix his own diction before commenting on others' (Koi enzineer ka kaam karega, anyone?) and Javed Akhtar should leave his insecurities at home before coming to reality show as a judge! His constant bickering with Anu Malik was borderline juvenile. There was a sense of déjà vu while watching him bitch and moan about Anu Malik’s high-handed attitude…Javed saab had a pretty similar spat with Ila Arun during that pathetic show called Fame Gurukul last year (or was it the year before? ...who cares!)

Thank god the news-sites have stopped obsessing about Abhishek-Aishwarya’s wedding and Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty’s highly erotic kiss! Now I can go back to reading news in peace without having to devour the minute by minute details of the wedding of the century. From the pictures that made their way into the internet, I have only one thing to say - Aishwarya Rai needed a stylist at the Cannes and she needed one real bad for her wedding! Ok so I have more than one thing to say...sue me! Abhishek Bachchan’s jewels would put the Nizam of Hyderabad to shame…that Sarpech alone would have cost an arm and a leg; I’m not even getting into the string of pigeon-egg sized emeralds that were hanging from Baby B’s neck!! But whats with the garish mandap Mr Bachchan? It looked like something straight out of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan!! Then media brouhaha caused by Gere-Shetty PDA and the subsequent arrest warrant was even more ridiculous than the Aishwarya-Hrithik lip-lock controversy! Whether or not the media blew everything out of proportion, Richard Gere, the old goat should have known better!! And I own the DVD of Shall We Dance…there is absolutely no scene in that movie that is even remotely close to what transpired on stage that day! Having said that, I also must admit that Ms Shetty was looking particularly yummy that day and Richard Gere yet again proved the old adage “Bandar kitna bhi budha ho jaaye par gulatiya marna nahi chhodta!”

This afternoon on a whim I called a friend I haven’t spoken to in nearly seven years. No, we were not fighting or anything…in fact we’ve been in touch over instant messengers etc., albeit sporadically. But it was wonderful to talk to this person after such a long time. Reminded me why we became friends in the first place…even after three hours of marathon talking (during which I ran errands, picked up sonny boy from school, took him to the park, came home and started dinner) we were reluctant to say bye. Well lets see if it takes another seven years to pick up the phone again!

Spider Man 3 has apparently become the biggest hit of 2007 in India. Cool! I saw it last week…didn’t think it was anything to write home about. Now I want to watch the Bhojpuri version…I’m sure it’ll be infinitely more entertaining than the original!!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Yet Another Farewell

Last night Bhalo left us to join Chhotu somewhere in dog-heaven. We were expecting it and had braced ourselves for the eventuality, but that doesn't lessen the pain and the sense of loss even a bit!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Farewell

I still remember the day she was born, like it was yesterday! Pingo chose to give birth under my brother’s bed and we waited in anticipation and barely suppressed excitement as each puppy came out of their mother’s womb. She was the last one – almost half hour younger than the rest of the pups and the smallest of the lot. I was immediately smitten and named her Chhotu, because she was so tiny! My sister named the rest Lolo, Goondi and Bhalo! What a joyful time that was – watching the four of them grow from red and sticky looking creatures to white balls of fur, their tails like baby-corns. As much as we loved them all, it was impossible to keep five dogs in the house – so we had to give away Lolo and Goondi. I couldn’t imagine parting with Chhotu and my brother with Bhalo. So they stayed.

The little fur-balls grew into playful puppies in no time and kept all of us on our toes with their mischief. They would run amok given the slightest opportunity throwing everybody in a tizzy to catch them and bring them back to safety! One morning when the pups were two and a half months old, Chhotu fell from the fourth floor terrace! No one knows till date how she reached the terrace and jumped over the vegetable patch – but she did, and miraculously survived the fall with only a fractured forearm! It was such a sorry sight – Chhotu would limp around all day on three legs, her forepaw stretched in a plaster cast! That made her even more adorable in our eyes. It was around that time she started sleeping on my bed, snuggling next me. She would sleep as long as I slept…that could be 10 in the morning on some days!!

A few years later I left Kolkata and moved to Bangalore. The first few months were sheer torture. I was homesick alright – but more than that I missed Chhotu; her playfulness, her frantic welcome when I came home, her warm furry body next to me when I slept at night! Eventually the pain dulled and I got used to living on my own in a different city away from everything I’ve ever known, but every now and then I’d rush back home to be with my babies Chhotu and Bhalo.

Eventually my distance from home became even greater when I moved to Seattle and I wouldn’t see my babies for almost two and a half years! When I walked into the house after such a long gap, Chhotu and Bhalo greeted me with the same frantic enthusiasm as always…but Pingo was very sick. That was the last time I’d see her…few months later she had to be put to sleep to end her sufferings! That was such a huge shock for me and even now when I enter my mother’s house, its hard to believe that Pingo is not there anymore!

As an empty-nester, my mother’s life started revolving around Bhalo and Chhotu. They were her children, her friends, and her reason to wake up every morning! When I relocated to Hyderabad, I decided to bring Ma, Bhalo and Chhotu to come and stay with me. It was a huge endeavor – convincing Ma that the two dogs, now more than 10 years old would survive the journey, stuck in a cage and locked up in the cold, dark belly of the plane! On top of that I had to get custom made cages for the two of them and get necessary paper work required by the airlines for transporting animals – finally everything was arranged! I couldn’t sleep at night all week before the journey and kept praying that Bhalo and Chhotu reach Hyderabad alive! Ma will never forgive me if anything happened to them in the hold of the aircraft! But we made it – Chhotu and Bhalo reached Hyderabad alive and all was well! We spent the next six months just like old times – well almost! I was reunited with my babies, but they were not babies anymore! Both of them were old and as much as they loved to play, they tired easily. Then there was sonny boy – those two never really took to him and regarded him mostly as a nuisance vying for attention from me and Ma! Yet, the six months flew and they went back home, which was yet another production involving cages, tranquilizers, frayed nerves and non-stop prayers!

The last time I went to Kolkata was a month before I was to move back to Seattle. Both Chhotu and Bhalo were not keeping well. Ma was tense and the vet had become a permanent fixture in the house. I’d call home every now and then to find out about them and talk to Ma who was getting into the vicious cycle of insomnia and depression. She would constantly voice her fears about the future without Chhotu and Bhalo and the bottomless pit of emptiness that she was slowly sinking into. How helpless that made me feel – not being able to do anything to help her out! I can’t leave here; Ma can’t leave Kolkata because the dogs are in no state to travel!

Then Chhotu fell violently ill…all of us gave up hope, including the doctor… but Ma didn’t! I’d call her everyday and enquire after Chhotu! I don’t know if it was the strength of Ma’s love or Chhotu’s will to live, in a few weeks she got better! We all heaved a huge sigh of relief!

But who has ever been able to cheat destiny?! Day before yesterday, Chhotu stopped eating and on wobbly legs started exploring the house. She would walk, fall down, sleep for a while and then get up and explore some more refusing all attempts to feed her. Ma waited for the inevitable with bated breath all day and then ten minutes to three in the morning, Chhotu came to Ma, lay down at her feet and breathed her last!

I was informed almost twelve hours later…not that I could have done anything had I known earlier! I couldn’t have done anything even if I was right there! Except may be lend Ma a shoulder to cry on, wipe her tears, distract her from the vacuous emptiness that Chhotu has left behind, relive the last 13 years of joy that she brought to our lives…but all I can do is write this post and try to reduce the numbness that has engulfed my whole being since I got the email bearing the news early this morning! I know I’ll never get over this, but I’ll learn to live without her, just as I learnt many years ago in Bangalore…but this time there’ll be no Chhotu jumping up and down with unbridled joy when I go home in June!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Abu Simbel and the journey to Alexandria

March 3, 2007

This morning after yet another fabulous breakfast at 1902 we bid adieu to the Old Cataract hotel (and to moronic Akram and his over-powering cologne) and left for the airport to go to Abu Simbel. Everything is so organized here. The India-esque appearance can be very misleading – people are very laid back here, but at the same time everything’s quite organized and extremely clean! The high point in the whole check-in and boarding process was spotting an item called “spiral taking away instrument for cork-plug” in the prohibited items list at security check! The flight itself was short and unremarkable, flying over the vast Sahara and Lake Nasser to reach Abu Simbel. From the top the vista tourists was spectacular! Our companions on the plane were a gaggle of Japanese tourists and a very butch looking lesbian couple. The Japanese tourists are subjected to constant “Arigato Gozaimasu!!” just like our “Indiaah! Namaste!” torture – but at least they don’t have to hear some actor’s name a thousand times a day!!!

At Abu Simbel airport, someone was supposed to say “Aton” to us – that person would be our guide. Someone did say “Aton” but he vanished leaving us standing around twiddling our thumbs. Then yet another “Aton” showed up, shook hands and vanished. After 15 more minutes of waiting, a third “Aton” showed up and introduced himself as Nasir and escorted us to – guess what – our very own 40 seat private bus and we headed to our hotel, Seti I! I’ve been warned by Alnoor back in Seattle that this was to be a very basic hotel. How basic? Who knows! I pretty much had no idea what to expect! Would it be bug infested, leaky roofed dump? Seti I turned out to be this really nice resort situated on the bank of Lake Nasser! And our room was actually a large one bedroom cottage in Nubian style domed architecture overlooking the lake on side and an infinity edge pool on the other! The only thing “simble” about this place is its name!!

Later in the afternoon the local guide and “Aton” number three came to take us to the Temple of Abu Simbel. Built by Ramses II the two temples of Abu Simbel belong to the 14 temples UNESCO saved from submersion in Lake Nasser. These people literally moved the mountain – a project that took four years and extreme precision to complete! The original temples were cut into a giant cliff face – UNESCO engineers created artificial domes of concrete and piece by piece they reconstructed the Abu Simbel temples on these domes like a giant jig-saw puzzle!

The façade of the main temple that of Re Harakhte takes your breath away no matter how many times you’ve seen its pictures! Arranged in pairs on either side of the entrance, are the four enthroned colossi of Ramses II. Standing at 20m high they dominate the landscape! Inside both the temples, well preserved carvings give glimpses into the life and times of the Pharaohs as well as the fashion of that era!

I was a little undecided about coming to Abu Simbel in the first place. But I’m really glad that I came – would have missed the fascinating sight that no picture or film can do justice to!

We decided to give the sound and light show a miss though. At $25 per ticket, it smelled of tourist-trap. May be we’d have gotten some really nice night-time pictures of the monument, but it wasn’t incentive enough to in cold wind and mosquito bites and get nagged by sonny boy!

The hotel, as nice as it is, unfortunately is completely dead. Wonder where all the tourists are. Saw a whole bunch of them at the temple complex! And I know for fact that there aren’t too many good hotels in this town, which by the way was built to house the people who worked in the rescue project of the temple. Before that it used to be just a Nubian village.

Well, all the tourists showed up at dinner time – most of them were Japanese, who rarely hang out by the pool or at the bar if you ask me. They were herded in by their tour guide – given time to eat their dinner and again herded out like chattel. I preferred to retire early than stay up and listen to soppy love ballads that were being played in a loop!

March 4, 2007

I woke up around 5am this morning – it was light outside. Looking out of the large picture window of the living room, I caught a spectacular sight. The sun was coming up casting a golden glow on Lake Nasser and the sand-stone cliffs on the bank. The moon hadn’t set yet – it was white disc hanging low on the horizon forming a perfect iridescent triangle on the lake water with its reflection. I stood around and watched the moon set – for the first time in my life. A very poetic moment indeed. But my inability to express my feelings in verse left me handicapped! Kabi kabi bhaab, chhander obhaab!

Today we are flying back to Cairo and from there we’ll be driving to Alexandria. I’ve been a little wary about Egypt Air, mostly because of my bad experience with state run airlines. Especially the harrowing experience (thanks to China Eastern airlines) in China will be indelibly printed in my mind forever. Alnoor in Seattle had glowing things to say about Egypt air, but I wasn’t convinced. And I am happy to say that I was wrong to assume. Egypt Air is extremely efficient and always on time. There are some quirky things I noticed which are quite amusing! The first one is the small audio-visual presentation of Islamic prayer before the plane takes off! That’s a nice touch I thought – “Keep the passengers safe and reach the plane to its destination on time O Allah!” Then there’s this film for safety instructions – the protagonist is an animated pot-bellied Arab with unibrow and heavy moustache, who walks us through all the safety procedures of the aircraft. Last but not the least is the announcement from the cockpit by the captain. In the Arabic version, pretty much every third word is “Inshallah”. To me it sounded something like this, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. In a short while, Inshallah, we’ll take off from Abu Simbel for our destination to Cairo. We’ll make a small stop in Aswan, Inshallah for re-fueling. This aircraft will reach a maximum altitude of 30000 feet Inshallah! Inshallah we’ll provide you with light refreshments as soon as the seat-belt signs are switched off Inshallah!” That makes me wonder if Allah is flying the plane! Anyway, no cause for complain – if He is, then He’s doing a great job!

So we’re off to Cairo from where we’ll drive to Alexandria. I don’t understand why we’re not flying to Alexandria directly. But that’s something I will have to take up with Alnoor once we get back to Seattle.


At Cairo airport we were received again by Ramzy and Saeed. Together we loaded into Saeed’s van and went off to pick up Zainab, our guide for Alexandria from Ramses Hilton in downtown. Zainab turned out to be this delightful old lady who’s a big Indophile, or should I say Kolkata-phile. Having lived in Kolkata for almost a decade in the seventies, she still remembers quite a bit of Bangla and was delighted to make our acquaintance.

We took the desert highway from Cairo to Alexandria. Its desert highway only in name – Egypt has reclaimed more than 3 million acres from Sahara desert and urbanized it. They’ve built industrial townships, Smart City – the technological hub of Egypt, country clubs, private estates, olive gardens, vineyards, stud farms and acres and acres of green.

We stopped somewhere half way between Cairo and Alexandria for refreshments at a rather swanky pit-stop. Posh looking shops and rows of shiny foreign cars in the parking lot gave it a rather upscale mall look. Spotted a proudly displayed red leather thong set at one of the shop windows – hmmm so this is what the apparently conservative Egyptian women wear under their burqas!!

I had a very interesting exchange with the young Arab who served me coffee at the pit-stop. He poured three whole sachets of sugar in my miniscule cup of Nescafe with milk (no 12oz extra hot lattes here!) and exclaimed “Indiaaah!” I instinctively knew what was coming next, so I told him “Please don’t say Amitabh Bachchan!” The guy was very perplexed “Why? You don’t like him?” “Yes, I liked him, a lot in fact – but before you Egyptians started chanting his name wherever I went!” I said to myself. Back in the van Zainab explained that Amitabh Bachchan has always enjoyed major fan-following in Egypt. Apparently last month he came to Cairo to inaugurate some film festival. There were some other Bollywood stars with him too. But young girls stood outside the airport in thousands and screamed his name completely ignoring the rest of the stars. Now, how many men in their sixties can claim to have such effect on young girls!!

We reached Alexandria around 8pm. Our hotel, Sheraton Montaza was pretty much at the end of the corniche, next to the Montaza Palace. The hotel turned out to be a little ratty – may be because it was old and was in dire need of renovation. The lobby had a big poster for Monday night belly-dancing competetion – the girl featured prominently on the poster looked vaguely like Mallika Sherawat!!

The day was long and tiring and we covered a long way from southern edge of Egypt to the northern tip in just one day. The room-service menu had something called “The World Famous Egyptian Lentil Soup”, we decided to sample that and which by the way was really yummy! Tomorrow we have an early start yet again, so its time to switch off the lights!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Journey Through Egypt - Two days in Aswan

March 1, 2007

This morning we arrived at Aswan, the last port of call for the cruise boat. Apart from our usual droning guide Ahmed, we were met by a travel coordinator called Akram – a cool dude of sorts wearing a suit in the stifling desert heat and waaaay too much perfume with a cell phone perenially stuck to his ear. There was an instant chemical reaction…I don’t know which happened first; did I decide to dislike him first, or did his perfume assault my olfactory sense and gave me a headache first? Whatever it is, I started bristling every time the dude came within 5 feet of my personal space. Much to my dismay, Akram decided to accompany us to our first stop of the day - the Temple of Philae. I had to endure his smelly company for the 15 minute ride to the small dock from where we were to take a motor-boat to the temple. Allah be praised, Akram left us there and went back to town to do whatever that he does, and I was finally able to breathe properly!

Now here’s the interesting bit of information about Philae that I wasn’t aware of before coming here. In 1902, after the British completed the Aswan Dam, the island of Philae got partially submerged threatening the future of the ancient temple that stood on the grounds. Then after the construction of the High Dam in the 70’s, this island got completely submerged in the waters of Lake Nasser. Before that happened, UNESCO took on the mammoth project of dismantling the Temple of Isis stone by stone and rebuilt on the nearby island of Agilika located about 500m away from the original site. So seamless is the re-assembly that it’s hard to imagine that the temple has not been standing on Agilika for the last 2000 years, but since the 1980’s!!

After suffering yet another attack from hawkers selling tacky souvenirs, we set out towards the High Dam. We had to cross the old dam and while doing so, we caught a glimpse of the first Cataract of the Nile. Though there weren’t much swirling water rushing through the stone outcrops, one can always imagine how spectacular it must have been before the dams were built. We passed a stretch of desert which I was told was the eastern edge of the great Sahara – how fascinating -makes me want to sit on a camel and embark on a desert safari. Since the morning at the Valley of the Kings, I have been wearing my shawl as a turban – in the true Bedouin style – tres chic I must say!! So no harm in fantasizing about hopping on a camel and seek out the mysteries of the desert!

The High Dam is definitely a giant feat of modern engineering. Apparently 17 times as much material went into its construction as was used to build the Great Pyramid of Cheops! The dam has also created the world’s largest artificial lake called Lake Nasser (named after Egyptian president who commissioned the dam), which reaches back 500km to the second cataract of the Nile in Sudan!Thanks to UNESCO, about 14 ancient temples were saved from the threat of submersion by Lake Nasser. One of them was the Kalabsha Temple situated now at the banks of the lake. It was visible from the view point of the High Dam, but the only way to reach it is by helicopter or a boat.

We drove on to see the unfinished obelisk in the ancient granite quarry. Had it been completed it’d have been 42m tall and would have weighed over 2.3 million pounds making it the world's largest piece of stone ever handled! Since no inscriptions were made on the stone, historians guess that it dates back to the time of Ramses II or Hatshepshut (New Kingdom 1570 -1090 BC). Standing in front of the gigantic obelisk I’ve had an epiphany – these Pharaohs weren’t very well-endowed! You know what they say in America – people with small …erm…apparatus buy big cars! Going by the same theory, the Pharaohs who weren’t very well-hung built extra large phallic shaped obelisks. Especially Hatshepshut, who asserted herself as a man, commissioned the largest number of obelisks – talk about overcompensation!

In the afternoon we went for a ride in the Felucca. What a wonderful little boat! It was rather windy and the boat kept tipping from side to side – it was great rush!! None of wore life-jackets (Ahmed insisted that we trust his judgment about the wind conditions) and the water of Nile looked dark and formidable! 12 weeks of swimming lessons with Frenchie hasn’t given me the confidence to even dip my toe in the Nile much less swim and save my life if we were to capsize! From the boat we had a better view of the Tombs of the Nobles and Aga Khan’s Mausoleum on the other side of the Nile. The trip back to the boat involved walking on a thin concrete ledge holding on to exposed re-bars for support! Its getting more and more adventurous every day - but not in a good way!

March 2, 2007

Today we were supposed to see Aswan at our leisure. Ahmed vanished in the morning after receiving a generous tip for his services – not that I’m missing him or anything! We checked out of the boat after breakfast and keeping our bags with the concierge, we went for a walk on Corniche El Nil (every city in Egypt has one such corniche) dodging various offers for Felucca rides and horse carriage tours! Indiaah – Namaste –Amitabh Bachchan seems to follow us where ever we go! I have developed a strong dislike for Mr Bachchan in the last few days!!!

We walked the entire length of the promenade and reached the Coptic Church. Being a Friday (equivalent to Sunday in non-Islamic countires) morning – the mass had just ended and a whole lot of Arab-Christians were coming out of the church. We walked into a hall – very plain, made of concrete and plaster and whitewashed walls greeted us. There weren’t any pews either – only cane chairs. The walls were mostly unadorned – few painting depicting Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection thereafter hung on one side. It was so sad! Even the Medak Church in middle of nowhere Andhra had more character than this! We quickly left the so-called cathedral and made our way into the Feryal Gardens across the street.

A group of noisy school-children waited outside the garden gates waiting for their turn to enter – and what an entrance that was!! With what sounded like a war cry, at least 50 children shot through the garden gates leaving us shocked and petrified in their wake! Sonny boy was paralyzed with fear, poor thing! And to make matters worse, a group of pre-pubescent girls decided to stare at sonny boy and whisper and giggle among themselves! Sonny boy declared that he hated girls in general – hopefully this hatred won’t last for long! I’m not very sure that those girls were laughing at sonny boy…may be collectively we looked like a funny family…who knows! We spent some time chilling out in the beautiful Feryal Gardens – located on a cliff just by the Nile – overlooking the idyllic Feluccas dotting the river, the ruins of the Tombs of the Nobles, Aga Khan’s mausoleum and the vast desert beyond.

We came back to the boat and waited for Akram who was to escort us to the Old Cataract Hotel (even though we knew exactly where it was!). The wait was long and tedious and somewhat irritating! Since we had already checked out, we didn’t really belong on the boat and on top of that there cropped up an issue of two missing cans of Heiniken from the mini-bar, which we knew nothing about! Finally cool dude Akram showed up around 1:30pm reeking of some strong perfume and we got off the boat for the last time with a bad taste in our mouth and me with yet another headache!

The Old Cataract, a very historic hotel in southern end of Aswan, that has hosted various celebrities and dignitaries since they opened their doors in the late 1890s. Their guest list includes names like Sir Winston Churchill, T E Lawrence, Lord Mountbatten, Alfred Hitchcock, Agatha Christie (who immortalized the hotel in her famous novel Death on the Nile), President Mitterrand and Princess Diana among others. We decided to lunch at the picturesque patio overlooking the giant cataracts of the Nile and the ruins of the ancient Nubian village of Yebu, while our room got readied. By 3pm we were tired and anxious and extremely irritated. Finally a very apologetic Resident Manager informed us that we have been upgraded to a suite (sweet!!!) and escorted us to our room. And what a room!!!! Called the Champollion Suite (named after French archeologist Jean-Francois Champollion, who deciphered the Rosetta stone in 1822), it was by far the biggest room in the hotel with a spectacular view! Appointed with period French furniture (most likely Louis XVI – I’m not very sure!) and silk damask in yellow, gold and blue, it was bigger than a lot of apartments I’ve seen! Instantly our mood lifted! I went down to read by the pool, a glass of chilled white wine keeping me company while spouse and sonny boy took a dip. The room had a decent library of really old first edition books – I picked Voices in the Night by Flora Annie Steel published in 1900…seemed like an interesting story set in India during the Raj. The sun was setting over the western desert and the hotel seemed to glow under the light. I quickly went back up to the balcony to enjoy the view of the sun setting on the Nile.

One of the Old Cataract's broad and lofty corridors led to a vast Moorish dining hall simply called 1902. From the dome shaped ceiling that rises at least 40 feet if not more, hung a massive Moroccan chandelier flanked by a dozen or so smaller pendants which cast an ethereal glow on the entire hall. There is a formality and timelessness about dining in this vast hall with the dishes named after the hotel’s more famous guests from Howard Carter, Sir Winston Churchill to Prince Charles and King Farouk. Come to think of it, that we almost didn’t come to 1902 because Akram said that the restaurant didn’t allow guests in without a dinner jacket! Also the totally fish-y prix fix menu displayed outside thwarted us somewhat! They did have a whole bunch of vegetarian options in the a la carte menu. Great dinner, great wine and great ambiance – tonight I’m a happy camper! Wonder who all lived in this room before us and if there are any famous ghosts haunting the halls in the dead of the night!!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Journey Through Egypt - Edfu & Kom Ombo

28th February 2007

I feel like a human being today! The few extra (precious) hours of sleep in the morning has finally rejuvenated my tired soul!! This morning we anchored at Edfu. Without wasting any time, we immediately head out to the Horus temple in a horse drawn carriage. The driver was ancient and the horse emaciated! We clip-clopped through the small town of Edfu towards the temple complex. Edfu could easily have been mistaken as old city area of Hyderabad – the only difference is that Edfu is a lot cleaner than Hyderabad! Sonny boy complained loudly at the foul smell the horse emanated – we should take him back to India soon…he’s getting too used to the antiseptic environment in the US.

There were many entrances to the temple of Horus – but all the gates were closed save one – which made us walk through a series of souvenir shops and rather pushy salesmen! It was extremely annoying and sometime down-right nerve-wracking to say the least!!! We finally made it to the temple complex and what a magnificent sight it was! Temple of Horus is probably the most well-preserved archeological site in entire Egypt. In fact so well preserved it is that the temple almost looks like a set from some big budget Hollywood historical! Inside the temple, all the chambers are still there with their roof intact – giving us a glimpse of its actual grandeur!

Though younger in age (built in 237BC) than some of the other sites we saw over the last few days, it is no less awe inspiring or beautiful! Lot of the carvings inside the temple has been defaced by the early Christians in Egypt who were on a crusade of orts against paganism. It amazing to think that vandalism in the name of god has been practiced since time immemorial! Countless works of ancient art has been destroyed in the hands of religious fanatics all over the world! My mind keeps going to the Bamiyan Buddhas and their destruction by the Talibans. I wonder if Egypt, as an Islamic state, would ever consider destroying these temples of pagan gods?! Probably not – billions of dollars coming in from 9 million tourists a year makes it worthwhile to practice tolerance and secularism!

After lunch we sailed for Kom Ombo, another port upriver. We passed the idyllic Egyptian countryside, dotted with lush green farmland and palm trees on the banks of Nile and dry, arid desert land just beyond with dark brown mountains looming in the horizon. We pass villages of mud-huts painted blue – they look dusty and desolate under the hot sun. Fishermen throw nets into the Nile from their white painted sail boats known as Felucca. It makes such a picturesque setting, but life must be really hard for these people. Egyptian countryside is really poor and every year more and more people leave their villages to seek fortune in big cities like Cairo and Alexandria.

We reach Kom Ombo right after sunset. Its supposed to be one of the most important ports on the Nile owing to the large sugar factory located here. But you couldn’t guess that from the state of the dock! It’s a mess!!! Boats were parked 7-8 deep and we again trudged through lobbies of 8 different boats to get to the shore. The temple of Haroeris and Sobek is located right off the dock accessible by a few flights of stairs. This is yet another exquisite example of Ptolemaic architecture and looked even more spell-binding in the evening with all the strategically placed lights on. It was once a famous hospital in ancient Egypt and the very first documented cataract surgery was done in the halls of Kom Ombo. Sculpted wall relief include one showing ancient surgical tools, bone-saws and dental instruments.

Coming back to the boat was yet another nightmare. It seems that the traffic volume dictates the parking spot for the boats. In the one hour that we spent at the temple, our boat had to move away. So when we came back to the dock, the Sonesta St George was nowhere to be seen. The acrid smell of burning diesel hung in the air and the hawkers selling sub-standard souvenir created a terrible racket! Keeping spouse and a half-asleep sonny boy on the lookout for our boat, I decide to go for a walk. That was a very bad decision – I realize within a minute. Hawkers mill around me brandishing their special wares – camel bone jewelry, ghastly belly-dancing costumes, towels with King Tut’s face printed on them, hieroglyph-printed sarongs, Nefertiti’s bust, granite obelisk, fake turquoise scarabs and cheap Galabiyyas – I walked into a nightmare with my eyes open wide! Smelly men in skull-caps and dirty Galabiyyas jumped into my line of vision - so close to my nose that my eyes blurred! “Indiaaah! Namaste! Amitabh Bachchan!” they shouted trying to attract my attention. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and to save my sanity I quickly retraced my steps shaking my head vigorously and screeching “La shokhran! No – don’t want! Don’t touch me!! Get Lost!!”

Finally I find spouse carrying now-asleep sonny boy still waiting for the boat! The Japanese tour-guide who sits at the table next to ours in the dining room finds us – she was herding a gaggle of Japanese tourists to the nearest coffee shop where everyone’s to wait till the boat moors again at the dock. Just few minutes back, we refused Ahmed’s invitation to join him for Turkish coffee – I kept praying that we don’t bump into him at the café. A band of folk musicians were playing loud music and traveling from table to table looking for baksheesh. I already had a pounding headache and that music made the pain so bad that I had to grit my teeth and squeeze my eyes shut in order to ignore the cacophony! An orderly from the boat found us before the musicians could reach our table – thank God! I might have punched them in the face or something! The trudge back to the boat wasn’t terrible, but again we had to cross four other boats in order to reach ours – I’m getting used to it now!

Tonight the dining room hosted an Egyptian themed gala. It totally made my day. The falafel was great; so was the lentil soup, hummous, babaganoush, mousaka and the baklava was simply sublime! After dinner the party shifted to the lounge upstairs where most of the people showed up wearing cheap Galabiyyas bought off the street vendors, pretending to be Arab sheiks! It was surreal – almost like being at the pajama party at a retirement home! Grey haired, moldy old-fogies shook their replaced hips and gyrated to thumping Arabian music wearing long night-shirts!! I was too depressed to linger – spouse was half asleep anyway and sonny boy passed out cold at 7pm…there was no reason to sit around and watch old European women rub themselves against the good-looking young stewards! Ewww! It was time to retire for the night!