Saturday, October 21, 2006

Happy Diwali to all

It has been more than a month since my last post, and more than a month since we lost dear Chin. It is still something we cannot believe. But life has to go on.

Today is Diwali. If I were to explain its significance to non Indians, I would say that for us Indians it is a sort of combination of the 4th of July and Christmas. 4th of July because this is the day we celebrate with fireworks, and Christmas because this is the time we meet with family and friends and celebrate and gorge over good food and sweets.

Per our tradition, we will not celebrate any festivals for a year after Chin's passing, but we cannot but help enjoy the various sights and sounds - especially sounds - around us. Goddess Lakshmi, the harbinger of prosperity and well being is worshipped on Diwali. There is an air of freedom, friendship and festivity everywhere. Houses are decorated with little earthen clay lamps. This ubiquitous little lamp really sends forth different messages. One - "Come, let us remove the darkness from the face of this earth", Second - to destroy the difference between the rich and the poor. The little lamp whether it shines from a palatial bunglaow or a small hut in the village, emits the same light and symbolizes unity.

Kids (and adults) wait all year for Diwali. For 3 days now kids in and around have been bursting firecrackers and fountains and sending rockets up in the air. Even tho we will not personally decorate our house with lamps this year, we will be attending the lavish dinner feast in our neighorhood and watch the fireworks display after.

I shall try to get some good pica and post later.

Friday, September 15, 2006

More tributes.....

We are all still reeling from the loss of Chin and it will be a slow healing process for all. Her body was taken to the crematorium after all the traditional last rite rituals were performed by Raga and his brother. The rituals will continue for the next 12 days culmintaing on the 25th, which is the 13th day. In Indian culture, a son who has the honor of performing the last rites for his mother, is a fortunate son. Raga told me yesterday that these rituals help greatly in the healing process.

Here are some things friends and relatives have to say about Chin -

She was one of the gentlest, softest-spoken people I've ever known......She was so dainty and fragile. - Nimmu Chitti

I know we will all miss Chinakka's presence, and what I will miss the most is how she used to ask me to have a glass of milk every morning! I think now it is important to remember what a wonderful grandmother she was, and not think about how it happened - Gautam

Suryam and I keep remembering her gentle and elegant demeanor - Usha and Suryam

She was a beautiful person with a gentle soul - Krupa

I hope our human resilience will help us focus on Chinakka's kind & gentle legacy and the closely-knit generations of family that she leaves behind. That is what I will be thinking about - Ranjit

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A tribute to a gentle soul

Today was a sad day for us all. R's mom passed away after succumbing to burn injuries suffered after her sari caught fire lighting a lamp last evening. She was rushed to the hospital but her body went into shock and never recovered.

We are all stunned at this. Chinakka was the gentlest soul in the family and every single one who knew here remembered only one thing - her smile. In my 26 years of knowing her, I have NEVER seen her lose her temper or raise her voice.She was soft spoken and had a shy smile with a tinkly laugh. She was endearing and endeared by all.

Chin - as she was affectiontely known - thrived on fussing over people especially children. Her aim in life was to feed them. There have been many adults who played many roles in the family - some taught the kids, some played with the kids, some disciplined the kids, some told them stories, some scolded, some yelled, but Chinakka did one thing only - she FED them! Her main mission in life was to fatten us all, kids and adults alike. Not a kid in this family has grown up without hearing her say - Have more cereal, another idli?, another dosa?, how about some milk? More Horlicks?. And not a single kid has grown up without replying - Nooo Chinakka, I've had enough!

We will miss her clucking and fussing over us! Rest in peace Chinakka. We love you and will miss you!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Back in least for now!

OK, so YES - I did get my driver's license, but NO - I didn't get killed at my first attempt behind the wheel like many may have suspected! My lack of blogging has been a combination of various things - lack of long bouts of uninterrupted time, not much to blog about, well....that’s not entirely true....and a slight lack of motivation. But many of my true blog fans are refusing to put up with my excuses, most of all my niece Nikila in New Jersey. She has been an avid reader of my blog and from her parents I hear that she checks religiously every morning to see if there is a new post! So Nikila - this one's for you, and hopefully it will get me back on the blogging path!

So much has happened in the last 4-5 weeks so I thought it best to categorize my posts by topic so I don't start to ramble on about one particular subject, in the midst of another! So lets give it a shot -


Since I left off on the verge of getting my drivers license, let’s talk about the traffic. Its in one word - CHAOTIC!

I came home triumphantly having obtained it in an hour's time at the RTA office. Normally something like this would have taken a week, but the commissioner's attendant - who I should mention, remembered the generous tip Raga had given him the last time and really its these guys who hold the ultimate power- ushered me into the commissioner's office, plugged my case to him and then continued to accompany us thru the various snake like lines and cues and in an hour I had it. Or at least a receipt showing I had paid the money for it. Since I had my US license I didn’t have to go thru any kind of driving test or eye test1 Nada! If traffic conditions were the same in India and the US I can see the point in this kind of logic – but heck, NO! In the US people follow rules, they “STAY” in their lanes till they signal, pedestrians are able to cross streets and so on. Here – might is right. Clearly there is a pecking order on the streets which is highly respected. You give way for anything bigger than you! Pedestrians are on the bottom and run out of the way of everything, bicycles make way for cycle rickshaws, which give way to auto rickshaws, which stop for cars, which are subservient to trucks! Buses stop for one thing only – the cow! (Read more under the “Animals” section)

Anyway, that day happened to be a Monday and they assured me my license would be mailed to me by “speed post” and I would get it in 2 days. Tuesday, Wed, and the rest of the week came and went…and then it arrived on Saturday – a gleaming laminated 2” x 3” card with my mugshot on it – YAY! We consulted the almanac for an auspicious day to start driving – here would be a good time to mention that NOTHING is done in India without consulting the almanac and the location of the planets and the appeasement of the gods! (I don’t mean to backtrack but the day we bought our car, after having paid for it and all, Raga and I hurriedly got in excited at driving off in a new car but were stopped speechless in our tracks when the car salesman asked us “Aap kaunse mandir mein gaadi ko pooja kar rahen hain”????? or in other words – “Which temple are you taking the car to, to offer prayers”???? We hastily mumbled something about a temple down the street at which point he and his assistants proceeded to drape a red ribbon on its front, apply some red tilak powder to the dashboard and suspend lemons from the front 2 tires….all prayer rituals here. Then they had each of us smash coconuts to the ground then happily they told us we could go! So now we are able to spot new vehicles on the road – they all proudly display the red ribbon).

So after my dad-in-laws help with the astrological consultations, it was determined that I should wait till Wed to start driving, so promptly on Wed morning I drove the car from our house to the gates of our development, about 100 feet or so without any trouble. This was just a sort of auspicious start, my plan being to continue during the week and master the beast in 2 weeks. It has been almost 7 weeks and I haven’t touched it since!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Everytime I make the decision to continue with my Driving 101 class, I see something terrifying that freaks me out. People unsuspectingly popping out of manholes, animals and kids darting across in front, scooterists coming dangerously close, potholes getting deeper and more treacherous with the rains – all these things have successfully kept me away! In fact a few days ago there was an article in the paper about a man who was riding his scooter with his wife on the back seat. He stopped somewhere to drop her off and when she stepped off she fell into a manhole that opened up miraculously under her at the precise same time! He didn’t know what had happened till he turned around to say bye to her and then saw her 20 feet below. It’s a true story – I swear!

I have just finished reading “Holy Cow” by Sarah MacDonald and with her permission I am going to quote from her book because she has really captured the traffic scenario perfectly.
She writes:
“Blokes – and a friend or two – perch atop tall, rusty bicycles. Entire families share motorcycles; toddlers stand between dads’ knees or clutch his back, and wives sit side saddle while snuggling babies. Auto rickshaws zip around like tin toys. Huge tinsel decorated trucks rumble and groan, filthy buses fly around like kamikaze cans squeezing out a chunky sauce of arms and legs. Shoes dangle from back bumpers and black demonic faces poke out red tongues from windscreens; these are for good luck. The road soundtrack is a chaotic symphony of deep blasts, staccato honks, high pitched beeps, musical notes and a weird duck drone. Its as if people are driving by sound – except it seems many are deaf”. Thanks Sarah!

So hopefully you can all understand why I have yet to hit the road – my goal is to be a skilled driver by the end of the year! So wish me luck!


Again, in one word – HOT! The weather has been my biggest challenge since we got here in June. People kept saying it was an unusually warm summer, so I sort of put up with it. The assurance that next year would be back to normal and less warm sort of kept me going! Then the rains came, the much anticipated monsoons which lasted for about 3 days and then we were back to searing temps! Again, “they” said it was an unusually short monsoon and yet again the hope of a longer monsoon season next year kept me going. There was this buzz about the second heat wave which hits around September, and “they” were right!!!! The past 10 days has been blisteringly hot. My hair has been up in an unsightly knot since we landed here end June – so that’s about 10 weeks now. When I open it out to wash it, it sort of coils back into a spring shape from weeks of being tied up. It doesn’t know what else to do! Then once its all washed I cannot bear to have it hang on my neck, so I tie it up again when its not completely dry and that reinforces the coiled look! I think there’s a physics lesson in there somewhere! The thought of using a hair dryer when the daytime temp is 90 degrees is unthinkable. So, in other words I look like a fright! People keep saying Hyderabad gets cold in the winter, but I don’t believe them! If the temp dips below 70 degrees, my hair may come down. Till then it stays up! I hang around in loose kurtas and long skirts all day long cos that’s the only thing that feels sort of cool, but it only adds to my frumpy look. The other day I got all dressed up to go to s friends house and I looked like another person! I don’t know how these women manage in their saris but my mom swears it is the best dress for India. It makes you feel cool in the summer and keeps you warm in the winter. I’ll have to give it a try one of these days! I cannot imagine how as kids we used to walk home from school for fun, ditching the bus to walk together in groups in this hot weather! I am hoping I will get used to it. The three swamp coolers or desert coolers as they are called here, are all on during the day and that helps a bit. In the meantime I just marvel at the locals – zipping about merrily and looking as cool as cucumbers!

Next topic – Food!

Yet again, in one word – FANTASTIC!

The food scene here is so good , Raga and I have had to make a very conscious effort to not overeat and pig out. You name it, you get it. Indian, Chinese, Mexican, American, Italian, Thai – it’s all there and all so incredibly cheap. Our hands down favorite is Indian Chinese. It’s so yummy, there is nothing quite like it. Hakka noodles and Vegetable Manchurian are unbeatable and if we could, we would be eating it every day! Another favorite haunt of ours is a chain called Hyderabad House – they specialize in Hyderabadi food, their signature dish is the world famous biryani – this amazingly flavorful rice dish. For people in a hurry they have a carry out cafeteria and you can pop in and out in 5 minutes with Biryani, Roomali rotis, Panner Masala curry and Gobi Manchurian for 2 people for about 200 Rupees – that’s about $5!! Needless to say we have been visiting them a lot since we are on the run all the time. The one food we have not been able to get is Vietnamese and both Raga and I sorely miss Pho Cyclo on 1st Ave!!!!!

Then of course, there is CHAAT! For those who do not know what that is, this description may help. Chaat is best eaten from roadside vendors and the range is huge. We have discovered – thanks to our watchman - an awesome chaat stand, Maharaja Chaat Bhandar, 2 minutes from home. My goal is to one day go there and try one each of everything he has on the menu.

The pizza in Pizza Hut has cilantro chutney, corn, peas and paneer as toppings, the Subway sandwiches have falafel and hummus choices, Italian restaurants have pasta with cilantro and mint sauces. Then there are these ubiquitous corn stands all over the place – they take freshly boiled corn and mix it up with masalas - cayenne, paprika, lemon and black salt – and serve it to you in these small cups. Just delicious and a great snack when you’re a bit hungry. Dominos delivers within 30 minutes, hot piping pizzas with red peppers and garlic sprinkled liberally on spicy red Chettinad sauce and green chillis. My eyes are watering just writing this…..! When your thirst buds are craving, there are fruit juice stalls which serve either fresh fruit juices – pineapple, mango, sweet lime, pomegranate, litchi, grape – or milk shakes with fruits and vanilla and almond for flavor! In addition there are sugar cane juice carts that squeeze sugar cane thru a machine and mix the fresh juice with lime and serve it up in tall glasses. Another favorite is young coconut water. Carts are piled high with tender coconuts bursting with water inside, you pick the one you want, the vendor chops off the top and sticks a straw thru the flesh and you drink the sweet water inside. Not only delicious but also very cooling. There are bakeries with hot vegetable puffs, samosas, cream rolls, freshly baked warm biscuits, cakes, pastries and breads!

Even though I miss the beautifully laid out grocery stores, I thoroughly enjoy buying fruits and vegetables at the corner stands. The dizzying varieties are displayed in baskets, stacked precariously high so one false move and you could topple the whole thing. Spinach, cauliflower, carrots, bell peppers, garlic, ginger, tomatos – all fresh and chemical free and piled high- yours for the asking. You pick what you want and throw them all in these little baskets that are provided and the shopkeeper weighs them on his scales and then totals it all (in his head, that too!) and tells you the grand total is 45 rupees or something like that! Fruit stalls are loaded with papayas, mangos, guavas, pomegranates and whatever else is in season and lit up like Christmas trees at night. Apples and pears are expensive, papayas are the cheapest and tastiest – 10 rupees for one! That’s 25 cents! In most neighborhoods, the vegetable vendor brings his cart around every morning so you can haggle good naturedly and buy your produce for the day! But the gated community we live in is too snobbish and won’t stand for such middle class nonsense, so we have to drive outside to buy them. Hopefully once we move back into our remodeled house, I can have the thrill of buying vegetables at the front gate!

The animals of India!

In India animals rule! Dogs and cows are the most commonly seen animals on the roads, but you also see buffalos, goats and cats to a smaller extent. One time we actually saw 5 camels all in a row running on the street!

There are dogs of all imaginable sizes, colors and girths! They prance, they preen, they pose and they play on the streets! For the most part they all seem to get along with each other, the occasional fight breaks out when a well intentioned person throws one of them a scrap of food, then they all scratch and fight trying to get at it. They hang around food stalls hoping for food, but otherwise they sleep lazily on the streets. They are so used to traffic that you can literally drive an inch from their noses when they are sleeping, and they don’t budge an inch! And they are all so cute and surprisingly well fed looking. They clamber onto garbage bins trying to get food, they look at you with hopeful puppy eyes when you buy food at the stores, they follow you around if you give them so much as an encouraging glance. Sometimes you see 5 or 6 of them all laying in a circle and dozing as if they have just finished an important meeting or something.

If I could I would start some sort of home for all these homeless dogs, sometimes its pitiful to see them! I have a distant cousin who works with homeless animals in another part of the country, lets see if i can get his help!

Then there’s the cow! They graze on the roadsides and chew meditatively. They will not be hurried. Crows and birds sit on their tails and even on their heads and they don't seem to mind. Its as if nothing can bother them.

Again to quote from the “Holy Cow”:

“These animals clearly know they rule and like to mess with our heads. The hump-backed bovines step off median strips just as cars are approaching, they stare down drivers daring them to change, they turn their noses up at passing animals and hold huddles at the busiest intersections where they seem to chat away like the bulls of Gary Larson cartoons. It’s clear they are enjoying themselves”!

Then there is the occasional herd of goats and sheep that block intersections and roads and the herder is trying hopelessly to corral them together. The harder he tries, the more berserk they get! Its hilarious to watch! Sometimes the goats climb onto piles of rocks below trees to get to the leaves,sometimes they escape onto fields and eat grass! Cat appearances are rare, but every once in a while you see them.

The children:

I felt I had to write something about the children here and by that, I do not mean the kids of affluent families. I am writing specifically about the kids on the streets…..the ones who are barefoot, wear tattered clothes or sometimes none at all, but who are the most cheerful happy kids I have seen. These kids clearly come from families who have very little money and have parents who are very likely laborers working in other peoples’ homes. They play all day and all they have for toys is their imagination. They fabricate make shift swings out of cement bags or jute bags and tie them with rope to the thick branches of trees and have hours of fun playing on them. On our way to our remodel house every morning, I see three kids who have done just this and every time I pass them by, they seem to be having a whale of a time taking turns on the swings and giggling away. Then there are some kids who play with old car tires….they pump them up with air and roll them along the roads with a big stick running crazily after them. Usually there are 2-3 kids running after one tire! Because there is so much construction work going on in the city, there are piles of rocks and sand all over the place. Invariably you will see 2-3 kids on these rocks, playing with them like marbles or sometimes playing with the sand and making little sand castles. The other day I saw 6 kids piled on a runaway rickshaw…..the oldest of them, about 10 years old was riding the rickshaw and 5 of them were squished together in the seat squealing with delight as they went hurtling down the street. Little girls sit under trees playing with stones, little boys chase dogs and tires and they all seem blissfully happy and unaware of any problems that exist. I have to mention 2 kids, Bharati and Ganesh, a girl and a boy, both 3 years old and kids of the laborers working on our house. They spend all day playing with cement bags and little rocks and sand and plastic containers to hold the sand in. The moms have fashioned swings out of cement bags and hung them from the guava trees. They take their afternoon naps in them. Every once in a while Bharati smacks Ganesh and there is some commotion, but other than that they play all day in perfect harmony. I have been taking them cookies and stuff and now they look at me expectantly every time I go. Bharati sees me and comes racing towards me screaming "Aunty, aunty, biscuit, biscuit"....I am so tempted to buy them each some small toy, but R says “No”…that will only curb their imagination. He may be right! Anyway, all this only reconfirms what I have thought all along – that kids these days are all spoilt brats! I have seen enough evidence of this the past few years in the US! They have too much and don’t know how to respect what they have! And unfortunately this trend is becoming all too common here too. Working parents riddled with guilt are buying off their children!

And finally the remodel

Our house remodel is coming along splendidly. Our contractor, Vijay Valluri, is like the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going! Its been 6 weeks since we started and the ground floor demo and masonry work is complete, the first floor walls are up to 7’, another 3 feet to go and then the slab for the roof will be poured. This is the first time I am witnessing house construction here and it has been an eye opening experience. No wood studs and beams….the walls are all solid 14” thick walls built out of bricks and mortar! Bricks are 31/2 “ x 9” so the walls are either 4”, 9” or 14: walls depending on how they are oriented. It’s a painfully laborious process. First the sand and cement are mixed in some secret proportion that ensures the strongest bond, then the wall is built brick by brick, the mortar is applied between them and then after the wall is done, it is plastered. Part of the problem of a remodel is you never know what to expect, so there have been days when we have been designing the house as the bricks are being laid. Now I understand why people choose to build their own homes even tho it is such a headache! The thrill of seeing a floor plan translated into actual 3D rooms with walls is very exciting. Raga and have not skipped a single day and have been at the job site every day. Some days its grueling to stand on the terrace and discuss dimensions under a 90 degree sun, but its all worth it.

Builders and contractors will be shocked to see what antiquated tools are being used here, but the fact is that they work, and very well too. The masons use a plumb line to build straight walls – it’s a top shaped thing at the end of a rope with a small toggle on top which is aligned with the side of the wall. If the side of the top does not align with the wall, its crooked. Then there’s the long tube filled with water that is used as a level to ensure horizontal straightness. Windows are marked at a specific distance on each end, then the tube filled with water is held up so the water level aligns with the notches on the window. There you have it – an absolutely level window!

The work is very gender specific. The guys do all the masonry work, plastering and mortaring while the women do the heavy work. To see the women work is absolute poetry in motion. They pile about 8-9 bricks on a platter sort of thing, then they balance it on their heads and walk up the stairs WITHOUT HOLDING ON TO IT – and bring them up to the masons. They fill up bags with sand and cement and again do this balancing act and haul them all up. Sometimes they form a sort of assembly line, with the first person on the ground floor by the bricks and the last person on the first floor and 3-4 in between standing on precarious scaffolding and pass the bricks one by one till it gets to the top. They do it so fast and so accurately, I have never seen them miss. All of them are so graceful and supple and toned and beautiful. There are about 15 workers and they have all worked together many times before, so the work goes on quietly and methodically and every one seems to know exactly what their job is. Raga and I have now made it a habit to watch them work from about 4.30 pm to 6pm…when the sun is setting and things are cooling down and the workers are all working furiously to finish up the days work. Then they all wash up, chattering excitedly about going home.

Monday, July 24, 2006

24th of July

Plan to go get my drivers license today and then learn to drive in this crazy traffic....let's see how it goes!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

5th to present

The past 2 weeks have been crazy. Somewhere along the way i lost track of my blog posts. For a while i was diligently jotting notes during the day so i would remember what had happened, but then it got so busy i stopped doing that. So now i shall sort of recap the craziness of the last few days, or to be more exact, from the 5th thru today, the 23rd.

Well, the packers showed up like they had promised, on the 5th morning. It took them almost all day to unpack and put things away where we wanted. Unfortunately our packers in Seattle had not organized things very efficiently. Their packing skills were superb, everything arrived intact, but they had packed kitchen dishes with art work, bedlinens with electronic equipment, clothes with rugs and odd combinations like that, so we had to open almost every box to figure out what was in what. Since we are renting this place for a year, we didn't want to unpack everything, just the bare minimum we will need for a year. So after opening the boxes, we had to sort of repack and put some away in storage to be opened next year.

The past 2 weeks have basically been spent settling in. The house we are renting needed a lot of plumbing and electrical work to be redone in order for it to be livable, so we have been running around to hardware stores, electrical stores, bath fitting stores trying to get everything. There's no place like Home Depot or something where you can get everything you need for a house under one roof. One has to scout around town to find out where to buy what. For all electrical and electronic products one goes to Gujarati gulley, a 6 foot wide pedestrian choked alley....Gujarati gulley may have electronics but no bathroom accessories...for that you have to go to Troop Bazaar in Abids...Troop Bazaar may have bathroom fittings but no kitchen hardware...for that one has to go to Begum Bazaar and so we spent days on end running around trying to get all these. Then once we got them we had to call the plumber, the electrician and the carpenter to fix everything. Sounds simple right? No way! They give you a which one should realistically add an hour, so for example if the carpenter says he'll come at 10am, plan on 11am....and if he does show up at 11am, you are lucky! So we have been going round and round trying to get all these dudes to come home. Then when they eventually show up, they have very likely forgotten one very important tool like a drill or a ladder or a wrench or they disappear again only by now its lunch time so they've gone for their afternoon siesta and then you are so fed up you give up and don't call them and they never show up!!!!!!!!!!!!! Day wasted! But the thing is that they are genuinely nice sincere people so one just puts up with it. And when they finally do get the job done its with a happy cheerful attitude and a job done all in all i have learned tremendous patience over the past few days.

Once we sort of moved in the next order of business was to get our phone and Internet connections. Again sounds simple right? Again no be able to get any sort of service, one has to provide "proof of residency" or some sort of identification. The all powerful US passport which gets you into virtually any foreign country doesn't work since it doesn't have an address on it. The locals here need something showing a local address. So Raga had to apply for a drivers license. Normally this could take up to a week but again knowing people in the right places helps....he got it in an hour or so. Once the phone connection was established, Internet connection followed. Same story with the phone and Internet guys....they give you a time and show up 2 hours later. So you plan your whole day around their schedule and nothing else gets done. But again when they do show up they are happy and cheerful. Basically a very laid back different from the US!

This is such a country of paradoxes. Here's a prefect example. R and I had gone a few days ago to the civil supplies office. This is where they give your your "ration card". For those unfamiliar with this card, it is a card mostly for the underprivelaged, which enables them to buy essential commodities like rice, sugar, flour etc at very subsidised prices. Everyone needs this card, event those who have no use for it and can afford all the luxuries of life, because this card is the "holy grail". THIS is your proof of residency, THIS is your identification, THIS is YOU! While opening a new bank account, this card basically waives all other forms of identification.....THAT'S how essential this card is. So anyway, we went to the office and like any government office, it was this small pokey, hot, crowded, stuffy place with papers and records from the past 100 years stacked up against the wall. But beleive it or not, what do you think they were using as a means to make sure someone else couldn't use your card....RETINAL IMAGE SCANNING!!!! In the midst of all this chaos - there was this totally state-of-the-art machine, all gleaming and occupying center stage in the room! Raga and I were stunned! The guy in charge instructed us to gaze into i, one eyeball at a time and then "zap"....he clicked it and the image showed up. What was funny is how he had to explain this apparatus to the people who were coming in for their cards. I mean, these are people who are not very well educated at all and have never even heard of anything like this. I think initially they thought it was some kind of eye chart to check their eyesight but when they peered into it there was nothing to read, they simply couldn't understand why they had to look into this machine one eye at a time. It was in a way sort of sad too....!

Anyway, now we are armed with a ration card, the most powerful form of ID one can possess here. Raga and have been working like busy bees....Our house is finally in a livable state and is beginning to feel like a home. I am heading to the RTA office tomorrow to get my drivers license. Initially I had made up my mind that I wasn't going to even attempt to drive in this crazy traffic, but I am realizing fast that I simply cannot depend on Raga to take me places all the time and it also dawned on me that learning to drive here is a lot easier cos if I stall the car or something, people just ignore me or honk at me and drive around me! No problem! As Raga puts it, the traffic here is like an orchestra without a conductor...absolute mayhem but every now and then there is some music!

Oh, forgot to mention that somewhere along the way, our wedding anniversary came and went in the blur of unpacking and settling down. Raga and I have been planning for days now to sit down one evening and watch a movie - that is yet to happen. We have settled into some sort of routine. We have a maid who comes in twice a day and does the dishes, the laundry, the mopping and sweeping of the house and bathroom cleaning daily for Rs 1,200 a month, thats about $28!!!! I get my clothes ironed daily by a guy around the corner for Rs 2 for each item, thats about 5 cents! Living here is definitely a lot if you can take the bad with the good, its pretty cool!

I have taken lots of pics...shall post them soon. Not sure if i will have a aily post, but maybe every other day or so.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

4th of July

We woke up early to go to Dream Valley by 10am so we would be there when the unpackers arrived. Also R and I wanted time to work out a game plan for all our stuff....just unpacking what is necessary for a year, and keeping all the other stuff in boxes. We figured out a plan and waited for the crew to sign of the guys. So we called the local shipping agent to find out what the delay was, and were told they wouldn't be coming since we hadn't paid for unpacking services!!! WHAAAAATTTTT?????? So we called the Chennai office (since Hyderabad gets their orders from Chennai) and spoke to the guy in charge, Mr. Narayanan. Mr.N said he couldn't instruct his crew to unpack till he had got his orders from the US agent after he could confirm we had paid. I was tempted to call our shipping agent Mr.Tandon in the US (it would have been 2am in the morning for him) but instead i called my dad, had him pull up an e mail from our e mail a/c confriming we had paid, and e mail it to the Chennai office. Raghavan called Mr.N and told him to check his emails which he did. That wasn't enough proof of our having paid for Mr.N. At this point, i took over the phone conversation....typically male officials in India are not used to being ordered by women........I told him to send the crew over within the hour and i would e mail him a scanned copy of the check we had paid with. He sort of wavered a little bit and then relented and said we could expect the guys by 3.30pm.

At this time it was 1pm, so we sort of hung around unpacking some boxes...3pm...3.30pm...4pm..4.30pm....same thing! No sign of the guys. So in utter disgust i called Mr.N again and told him we were leaving and we would expect the crew tomorrow at 10am....! We went home in total disgust. At about 5.30pm we got a call from one of the crew guys to say they were at the house ready to unpack!!!! Obviously Mr.N failed to notify the Hyderabad office that we had left for the day!

All in all it was a pretty useless day...didn't really accomplish much!

3rd of July

OK, so here's what happened. Today Raghavan went to the customs office and was there all day till 4pm or so, so the officials could open random packages and check the contents. Fortunately we knew someone at the customs office in Vizag who was able to pull a few strings and get our stuff cleared thru. As much as i HATE taking advantage of people we know in important positions, I am finding out that without some inside help, almost nothing happens. Anyway, by 4pm they were done checking and we were slammed with a Rs.21,000 duty fee, which i thought was astronomical but learned later on that we were extrmemly lucky to have gotten away with such a small fine. After that our belongings - half of them unwrapped - were loaded onto 3 trucks and along with R leading them in a car ahead, they made they way to our rental house. Along the way, the truck drivers decided to drive thru residential areas to avoid heavy traffic and subsequently got slammed again with a fine for doing so. Another 750 rupees!

By the time they got to Dream Valley (our rental house location) bumping and jolting precariously along the way, it was 8pm. There were 6 guys assigned to unload our stuff, and quickly they had it all done by 9pm. Boxes were placed on the ground floor....for the time being. The plan is that they come back at 10am the tomorrow to unpack and place things in rooms per our instructions.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on, our frig and 2 beds we had bought, got delivered. Now we have a huge task ahead of us unpacking....and to think we'll have to do this all again in about a year's time..... :-(

1st thru 3rd of July

I've not had time these past 2-3 days to blog.....there have been too many things to do, i haven't had time.

Its been very hectic to say the least. I had quite forgotten how slowly the wheels turn over here. People are very courteous and happy and cheerful but in no hurry to get things done. The typical response is "Sab ho jayega sahib"...or "it will all get done sir".... On one hand its a refreshing change from the fast paced "get it done now" efficiency I got used to back in Seattle, on the other hand its darn frustrating. There must be a happy medium....

We've been going back and forth between the rental house, the furniture store, the customs office and our house here. So many details to figure out in so short a time....we asked for the rental house to be cleaned....they cleaned the floors and left!!! So we had to go back and have them dust it and sweep it and polish it and scour it. Then in order to get the phone connection we have to provide some sort of proof of residency, so for that one has to get a ration card...but for a ration card one has to show something else....and on and on and on. But eventually it all gets done. Patience is the key! Sadly i've never been known for my patience!

On the flip side there are some things that are fantastic - the food for one! To say its awesome is an understatement! Indian food in the US is nothing like Indian food in India....which i guess makes sense since Italian food in the US is nothing like Italian food in the Italy and so on. The flavors, the varieties, the spices, the incredibly delicious! 8 of us had lunch at a really good restaurant yesterday for Rs 1100, or $28!!!!! Chinese, Mexican, Pizza, Italian, name it, its there. You can go to Yo China ( a new fast food Chinese take out place) and get a large popcorn tub full of noodles for Rs. 25...thats 60 cents! That just doesn't seem possible!!! Another surprise was the availability of superb household products. With all the hype about how things have changed in this country, I guess i really shouldn't be surprised. We stopped by a home showroom yesterday and i was amazed at all that's fact we have had to redo our house plans after seeing all that's possible. In the afternoon, we went to a Home Expo sort of thing and it was fascinating. From cooking ranges to metal art to tandoor/roti makers to clothing to was just way too much fun. Had it not been for the fact that we are in a rental home for a year, i would have bought all kinds of cool stuff.

As far as getting settled in the rental house, we've ordered our frig which will be delivered today. We bought some furniture which will also be delivered today. Our personal belongings which came by container will be delivered tomorrow if everything goes well at customs as of now move in day will likely be Wednesday. We were supposed to meet one of the persons from the architect's office today at since R was occupied with customs, I got there and waited till about 12.15 for him. Finally in disgust i gave up and went home...he called a few minutes later to say he had been delayed due to the heavy rain and we would have to reschedule. I was so mad....delayed 45 minutes due to rain?????? I called the office and spoke to his boss and didn't get any kind of apology from him either which made me madder...i found out later from talking to another friend of mine that being late is the norm. Get used to it she said!!!!!!!!!!!!

30th of June

Woke up feeling very groggy. We had gone to bed about 10.30 or so but couldn't sleep for all the noise outside. Finally at about midnight we fell asleep only to wake up around 4 am or so. For the next 2-3 hours we kept asking each other "Are you asleep? neither am I"......and then again at 7am or so we fell asleep. But we woke up at 8am determined to stay awake.

We went for another round of window shopping and have identified the refrigerator, the cooking range and the dishwasher we want to buy. Also narrowed down the furniture store. We still have lots to do. I am figuring out this whole text messaging/SMS thing. Cell phone users here text message a lot. We got a hold of our architect and are meeting with him Monday. Also tomorrow we go to the customs yard and try to clear our container so we can have our stuff delivered so we can start living there.

Heat and traffic still a challenge!!!!!! Anyway, managed to stay up till 10pm so hopefully we'll get over jet lag tomorrow.

27th - 29th of June, the journey home

We left Princeton for JFK at 5.30pm. Our flight wasn't until 11.10pm but we wanted to allow for traffic so we could get to the airport by 8pm. But as luck would have it, we didn't really run into any real traffic problems, so we reached JFK by 7.20pm. After a quick check in, we hung around with Indu and Venkat and I had my final latte in the US...! Oh, while checking in we found out our seats were an aisle and middle seat right next to the toilets...I smelled trouble right away...ha ha, no pun intended.

Anyway, after a very difficult goodbye to them, we went to the boarding area about an hour before boarding time, and i made my final round of calls on the cell phone to all our relatives. Boarding was supposed to happen at 10.10pm, but it came and went and no sign of any boarding announcement. Finally at 11.10pm, they announced and in we went. The seats were worse than what i had been afraid of.....they were so close to the toilets, Raga could reach out and touch the door from his seat. the seats themselves were so cramped and short on leg space, we were practically hunched over. Then, as if that wasn't enough, a guy with his little baby sat in the 2 seats next to us, a mom with 2 small kids in front of us, a couple with a bratty son behind us!!!! I have nothing against kids, in fact i love kids.....but this was a bit too much even for me. We were so tired we fell asleep soon after take off, or maybe I should say we tried to sleep. The toilet door must have opened and slammed shut at least once every minute, the kid next to me hollered all night long cos he was squishedin his seat (i don't blame him, i wanted to holler too), the kid in front kept saying "no".....all in all a bad night! Thankfully morning came about 6 1/2 hours later and we were starved having skipped the dinner, so we were really looking forward to a good breakfast. Well....bad luck, all we got was a bowl of fresh fruit and no spoon, so we picked it out from the plastic bowl and ate it. The guy next to me with a kid had ordered a kosher breakfast, well when they brought it he was not interested, so i took it. No hot towels, no socks, irritable attendants...Virgin Atlantic Airlines sucks!!!! Don't ever use it!

We landed at London Heathrow with 3 hours for our next Emirates flight to Dubai. I was excited at being able to browse the luck again. We had to go thru security again and it took 2 hours to get to our next gate. Then to top it off, Emirates had run out of boarding cards, so they made us wait 20 minutes by which time they had started boarding our flight. So the agent told us to go to the gate and get them printed there, which we did. Virgin Atlantic and Emirates are like night and day! Emirates was super! Awesome food, awesome service, cheerful (almost syrupy) flight attendants, constant barrage of drinks and food, individual TV's....just great! We arrived at Dubai airport quite refreshed after the 6 1/2 hour flight. The airport reeks of money...polished floors, beautiful stores, sleek carts, palm trees, lighted walkways, white robed sheiks, burkha'ed women with their beautiful kohl rimmed eyes peeking out....lots of moolah here, no doubt. We had to go thru secutiry again but still had time to check things out. Then it was time to check in for our 3 1/2 flight to Hyderabad, and wonder of wonders - the agent upgraded us to business class. Yippee! We must have looked pretty beat! I used to wonder and sympathise with all those business travellers, feeling pity for them having to travel so much - but now i know that they don't deserve any pity. Business class is fabulous! You get a cushy seat, you're plied with food and drink and wine and champagne, you can stretch out fully and sleep, its like being at home.....even better cos there is someone to wait on you hand and foot. Anyway, i tried to look very casual about the whole thing, like i travel like this all the time - but i was sooooo excited! I loved it!

Needless to say we arrived at Hyderabad feeling quite perky! Which was good cos we needed to be in a good mood for what followed! Since we were in business class, we were among the first to get out and make it thru immigration, which was a breeze. Then it took almost an hour for our luggage to arrive. There was utter confusion at the baggage claim area. A sign at one belt showed our flight number, so everyone crowded around the belt....then suddenly they changed it to another belt, so everyone charged to the other pandemonium. So many suitcases look alike, people would take them off the belt, then realize it wasn't theirs and just leave it on the floor. I actually put a couple back. People were jumping over luggage carts trying to get their stuff. I have realized that in addition to a legit visa, people also need a large dose of patience and a good sense of humor in India. After a while i was thoroughly enjoying myself watching all the fun and chaos, in fact Anyway, after an eternity our stuff arrived and we went thru customs - again, a breeze. Went out and saw everyone waiting for was quite the moment. My dad took a pic of this momentous event.

Then we went out to the waiting car - the driver got in and turned on the A/ was sort of warm, then jumped out and closed the door to start loading the luggage in and realized he had locked the key in the car and the engine was still running. A quick note to my non Indian friends - when anything like this happens in India, it usually invites a huge gathering of all sorts of people trying to help. And so all of a sudden there were hollers and screams and shouts, people showed up with wires and sticks and keys and chains. There were heated discussions, arguments and yelling. Little urchin boys hanging around were sent off scurrying for assorted weapons with which to open the door and they all came back with weird things....after 15 minutes of trying in vain, a smart aleck guy punched the slider thing that opens the rear window, then stuck his hand in and opened the passenger door. Neat! Everyone almost clapped! Then each and every so called helper had his hand stretched out for "baksheesh" - a sort of tip.Small change works.

Anyway, after all this drama we left and got home. The rest of the day was sort of hazy - we went and checked out our rental house, made a vague plans of things to do the next day. Just like i thought, the heat and traffic are going to be my biggest challenges. We tried hard to stay awake and fight the jet lag, but R and I HAD to take a short nap in the afternoon. We went to a couple of furniture stores in the evening just to get an idea of what things cost.....! All in all not a very productive day, but given that its our first day, thats OK. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Back in business....yay!

Since its been a while - almost a month - since i posted anything and I obviously cannot post daily entries now for past dates, I think the best thing for me and the readers will be to post one big single entry with dates by each entry.

Also I figured all posts now from Hyderabad/India deserved a new look and so here it is. Even though personally I like the old format better, I think this is a nice change. My brother Ranjit, suggested the clever new title for the blog (sort of along the lines of "Unse(a)ttled")!

So sit back and enjoy.....its nice to be back in blogland!!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One final request.

Nikki playing one of my all time favorite songs - Marriage Dream.

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

D-Day...It's here.....!

Hard to believe, but its finally here......the day of our departure to India after 22 years in the US. I don't know where all those years went...they went by so fast. If it wasn't for the strong difference I see when I compare photos of myself 22 years ago and now, I wouldn't believe it!!

Tough to describe what i feel right now...excited at going back and being with those we have missed all these years, sad at leaving those with whom we have been all these years, worried at all the baggage we have, curious about the house we'll be living in in Hyderabad, nervous about the whole customs ritual we may have to go thru with regards to our container, very nervous about the heat in India, happy that we were able to see all our relatives in the last 6 weeks, tired from so many late nights and sleep deprivation, 5-10 pounds overweight from all the food we have been fed, fired up about the house remodel project....basically i'm in a state of chaos.

We just got back from a late lunch at Nanking, a fairly new Indo Chinese restaurant in Edison. Fabulous place and I am already salivating at the Indo Chinese food I'll get back home. Its 4.25pm now, we leave for the airport at 5.30pm, cos its a long haul to JFK from Princeton. If I am able to snag a wireless connection at either London or Dubai airports, i'll write something...if not, next post from Hyderabad.....!

I am not sure how long it will take for us to get our Internet connection, so it may be a while before i can update my blog. I do plan on writing it up each day so i don't forget all the details, but as for posting it, you all may have to wait....but then again you never know. Despite all the chaos in India, sometimes things happen surprisingly fast!

Monday, June 26, 2006

D-Day minus 1

Its almost here.....tomorrow evening we fly out of JFK for India. We are in the final shopping, packing, sorting frenzy trying to figure out how to take all our stuff and not have to pay for extra baggage....!!!

Had a fabulous time Sunday. Indira - my sis in law - hosted a great lunch, a sort of farewell lunch for us. It was a really fun day - the food was yummo, the desserts were delicious and the company was super. Played lots and lots of games including the ever popular Mafia and our new favorite - the south African card game, Mao. Its sort of like Uno, only you have to guess the rules as you go along, and then whoever wins adds a new rule in the next game without telling anyone...gets really crazy when the rules start piling up and you have to remember them. Gautam was home all weekend and that made it even more special. He was scheduled to take the early morning train to DC today, but then preponed it to a late 10pm flight last night, but when we got to the train station, the flight was delayed 40 minutes. Not only that, when he called the agent to prepone it, she mistakenly booked him on next Sunday's train. So back home we came....and he took the early morning train today like he had originally planned.

It was hard to say bye to him....i kept thinking its no different from our going back to Seattle, cos whether we're in Seattle or India, we'll still see each other the same number of times every 5-6 months or so....but it was still difficult. Anyway, i hope he can make it to India in Nov/Dec.He's doing an awesome job at the DNC and I'm very proud of him.

Washington DC is in a state of emergency due to heavy rains and floods. Parts of metro have shut down. Its been sort of stormy here too, but as soon as it clears i plan to take some pics of the house and people here in Princeton.

Was able to get s few shots of the house and the kids....

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Nikki playing the piano

A sound clip of my niece Nikki, playing "Nocturne in F Minor" by Chopin, on the piano. Unfortunately while listening to the sound clip, you are not able to see the joy with which she plays the piano. She clearly enjoys it...

this is an audio post - click to play

Friday, June 23, 2006

Connecti(cut)ing in Hartford

Spent the last 2 days in West Hartford, Connecticut with my cousin Vijay and his wife Ketki, and their 6 month baby son, Rahul. His parents (that is, my uncle and aunt) are also there, visiting him from India. Vijay and his wife live in a neat Cape Cod style house which I found out later is very popular in the east Coast, especially Ct area. It was a very leisurely time, spent chatting with them and playing with the baby, who is, hands down, the CUTEST, HAPPIEST, CHUBBIEST baby I have ever seen (sorry Gautam....i thought you used to be the CHC baby, but lil' Rahul takes the cake...and I suspect eats it too:-))He took a great liking to Raga....all kids do, I think his beard fascinates them.

We watched an Indian movie last night on his big screen (90 inches wide) called "Rang de Basanti" which we enjoyed a lot. Not the usual Bollywood song and dance ritual, but a serious movie on the efforts of an Englishwoman, who comes to India to shoot a documentary on freedom fighters, based on a diary written by her grandfather, an officer in the English army. If any of you gets a chance to see it, do so. For the non Indian speaking, it has sub titles and a lot of dialogue in English too.

This morning we all walked to the petting farm in front of the house and it was more of a thrill to me than to Rahul....cute little baby goats with little stubs for horns, pink piglets, soft furry donkeys and llamas,I got to pet them all. Unfortunately i didn't take my camera :-(

I have to mention that I saw a very different side of my uncle while in Hartford. This is my uncle who worked for the Indian Army and retired as Colonel, and I always remembered him as a pretty stern man, barking orders at everyone. My memories of him as a child were of someone who everytime I saw him was in the Indian Army uniform, all starched and ironed with medals glistening on his lapels and he carried this sort of stick in his hand....and everytime he spoke it was this stern deep commanding voice...we all quavered with fear...Ok, not exactly, but you get the picture!!!

Now here he is, a totally besotted grandpa to his grandson, bouncing him on his knee, sitting on the floor with him and cootchy cooing with him, giving him a bath, singing baby songs, and horror of horrors....changing his diaper!!! It was so cute....the same Colonel who aroused terror in the hearts of his subordinates, is mush in the hands of his 7 month old grandson.

We got back to Princeton about an hour ago after getting totally lost on the way home....took us an extra hour. Not sure what our plans are for the next few days...i still have to sort out my baggage situation..Hmmmm.

Video of Rahul

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Preparing for the journey....

Didn't do much today....except assess our horrific baggage situation and try to figure out how we are going to be able to take our stuff with the airlines having such stringent baggage restrictions. We may have to ship some stuff to India.

I have been searching on the Internet for days for a software or some mapping program that will allow me to plot all our multiple travel locations on a map, and i think I may have found one...

So, let's see if it works.

Click on this to view a map showing our pit stops from Seattle to Princeton

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Travel days are over.....almost

Back in Princeton again, resting up before our Transatlantic journey next week to India.

Its hard to believe that its been about 40 days since we left Seattle. We left on the 9th of May, with the excitement of the road trip looming ahead of us, and now its over. We have a short trip to Connecticut this week and then we have 4-5 days before leaving for India.

At the risk of sounding very formal, I should take this opportunity to thank all the people who have put us up, or maybe i should say "put up with us". We arrived at each destination with 4 giant suitcases, 2 bagpacks bursting at the seams, laptop and assorted wires and cables, and promptly made ourselves comfortable. In a few hours the place would be strewn with our belongings and one room in the house inevitably would become our makeshift office from where we could get on the Internet, spread maps out on the table, post comments on the blog, make phone calls to airlines, hotels and travel agents, pay our bills etc. Our hosts would be forced to put up with all this, as well as our weird food habits including our coffee addiction, and yet they would feed us and take us sightseeing with good humor.

It has been really good for us to reconnect with relatives we knew lived in the country but never got the opportunity to connect with, except for the occasional phone call. I knew it all along, but this trip has only reconfirmed that we have fabulous relatives and we are glad to be part of this close knit community.

As the day of our departure draws closer, I am feeling the enormity of our decision to go back. No regrets or anything, but just the realization that in about 10 days our life is going to be so different. I am also excited at this huge step we are taking.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Happy Father's Day to all dads out there....but especially to mine

God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,

The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle's flight,

The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,

Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it ... Dad

The Grassy Knoll.....

17th of June - visited the site of Kennedy's assassination. 22nd November, 1963 is a date that is forever etched in the minds of many Americans. Of all the world leaders who have been assassinated, none seems to fascinate people more than that of President Kennedy.

The sixth floor of the Texas Book Store Depository has been turned into a museum to honor the memory of JFK. The last window on the right, on the second row from the top - in the attached picture - is the location from where the 3 fatal shots were fired.There are films and footages that trace back the events of that day, as well as a recreation of the exact spot where Lee Harvey Oswald stood. From the windows of the 6th floor, you can look down onto Elm street - the street onto which the motorcade turned - and there is an "X" that marks the spot on the street. Its kinda spooky...Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside, so i don't have any pics of the interior. But got some shots of the building from the outside as well as the famous "Grassy Knoll" from where supposedly a 4th shot was fired indicationg that Oswald was not alone in his motive...but that is still a controversy!

After that we walked around downtown Dallas, like i mentioned before not that much to see. We came home by 3pm and after a late lunch watched a fabulous movie by Deepa Mehta called "Water". Trifle depressing, but good.

Didn't do a whole lot the rest of the day.....

More pics of downtown Dallas and Texas BD

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Austin City limits

We really didn't want to go anywhere today cos of the heat, but we figured we may not be coming to Dallas often so let's go check out the capital of Texas - Austin. Its a good 3 hours away. We left at 10am and got there by 1pm. There's really not much to see as you drive in Dallas excpet for the occasional highway or freeway named after "one of the idiotic members of the current administration". Its just wide open spaces and land - and not too much to see scenery wise. After Seattle, we really miss the mountains and lakes.

Austin was super hot - almost 100 degrees. We started out by visiting the LBJ library on the University of Austin campus. The library was founded in 1971 and showcases the life of LBJ from his birth to becoming the 36th President. LBJ is a native Texan. Its just beautiful. We were just in time to catch the 2pm movie of his life story.

Then we went to the Capitol building. I have never been to a state Capital building so i really cannot compare it with any other. It looks like the others I've seen from the outside, that is its round. On the inside, i am guessing they are all the same with the Senate Chamber and the House of Reps Chamber and the galleries above each for viewing. The huge hallways are lined with portraits of bearded reps. Its all very grand and impressive. There was a guest book for visitors to sign and i really wanted to add a comment on it to say "Get that monkey out of the White House"....but again that irritating thing called "better sense" prevailed.

We walked back to the parking lot - I was really starting to wilt in the heat (once again getting concerned at how i was going to withstand India temps - (but then again i don't really plan on walking the streets in the mid afternoon heat, so maybe i'll be OK). We then went to the Univ of Austin campus and got a picture of ourselves by the Texas Longhorns...i mean a statue of the horns. The campus is nice but being summer it was completely deserted. Then since i needed caffeine like a shot in the arm, we went on our usual Starbucks jaunt. Fortunately found one not too far away and I revived after the usual Triple Grande Caramel Macchiatto.

All of this had taken about 3 hours and it was about 4.30pm, so we started the long drive back. Ummmm...bad idea. We got snarled in peak traffic. By the time we got to Dallas it was 8.30pm and we were ravenous (oh, small note - we had skipped lunch). We stopped for dinner and then got home by 10pm. Another long day - this vacation thing is really tiring...!!!!! Work was way more relaxing.....

Friday, June 16, 2006

In Bush country

Today was travel day so i don't have too much to post. We caught the 8.55 am flight to Dallas and got in at 10.35.....No, it wasn't a 1 1/2 hour flight. It was a 2 1/2 hour flight, Dallas is an hour behind Orlando. One word to describe Dallas when we got off - hot! Actually make that 2 words - really hot! It was a searing 95 degrees when we walked out of the airport, but the amazing thing is i could handle it much better than the 80 degree heat with 95 % humidity of Orlando. Also i was very relieved cos i was very concerned at my inability to handle Orlando heat, cos the city we will be living in in India gets to be about 100+ degrees in summer. So the fact that i could manage in the Dallas temperatures made me very happy! The air in Orlando is so heavy with moisture and it was so stifling at times, i couldn't breathe.

Quick note to those who may not know - R's mom's cousin Raju, and his wife Malathi live here in Dallas - well actually in a suburb called Mesquite. They have lived here for 25 years. When we got home Malathi had made an amazing home cooked meal. We rested up the rest of the day. 2 of her friends dropped by in the afternoon. In the evening after Raju came home, we went and visited another (plane factory (I say "another" cos we had already visited one in Duluth) owned by a friend of his. The company is called IndUS aviation and the owner Ram, builds single engine private planes. We visited the many hangars with planes in various stages of being built. I found it all very interesting - R was literally drooling! Ram is a doctor who always had a fascination for planes and a few years ago he gave up his medical profession to delve into aeronautics. Now his company also trains pilots. Its an amazing story.

After this we headed to Campisis in downtown Dallas - an Italian pizza joint famous for its hand tossed pizzas. Its also known for its celebrity sightings tho we didn't run into any today. The Dallas Mavs/Miami Heat basketball game was also on on their big screen, so the place was pretty crowded. Pizza was good tho Raju claims it wasn't up to par. It tasted good to me.....!

By the time we got home it was past 10.30pm. It has been a long day, so i called it a day and went to bed. Oh - Mavs lost to Miami... :-(

14th of June

We were so exhausted from the previous 2 days, we could barely get out of bed yesterday morning. But we all made a valiant effort, and by noon we left home to go to Disney. Our intention was to get on the monorail that goes thru the theme park, hop off at the various Park resorts, take a look at the extravagance of each and get back by 5pm or so. Before that however, M & M, wanted to take us to an authentic Southern Home Cooked breakfast place called Cracker Barrel. Hmmm....4 die hard vegetarians in a place renowned for Southern cooking....this should be fun I thought.....and it was! Right off the bat we told our waiter we were vegetarian. He didn't bat an eyelid and straight away rattled off all the things on the menu that we were to avoid which included the soup as well as the hash we were left with eggs, toast, buttermilk biscuits, pancakes and sandwiches. Not too bad i guess......but we could have gotten that at McD!!!!! But they were really good pancakes and biscuits!!! I ordered a lettuce, tomato and cheese sandwich came fried. I kid you not - the whole sandwich had been deep fried. I'll be feeling the grease on my skin for days!!! But like anything that's fried, it was tasty!

We headed on to Disneyworld and just like we planned, we got on the monorail and stopped at the 2 themed resorts. One was Polynesion resort, complete with tiki torches, white sandy beach, carved totem pole like things, bamboo furniture, mud huts with straw thatched roofs etc. Even thought the resorts have been designed so meticulously, and are so like the real thing, they look fake......i know it sounds contradictory, but they look almost too perfect! Even the people staying there seem to feel compelled to dress the part - you know, tanned people in Hawaiin shirts, sandals etc like they're really in the Polynesian Islands....!!! As a designer i cannot help but admire the decor, but its not my cup of tea.....i would NEVER pay $300 or whtever it is for a night there. I'm happy with Quality Inn and Hampton Inns with the free Continental breakfast!!!!!

Then we were off to The Floridian! This was equally extravagant...all southern charm and hospitality with white curving staircases and ornate balustrades, painted domed and coffered ceilings with marble chandeliers, rose motifs on the walls, tables with English lace tablecloths, floral couches and the mandatory guy in a suit playing a piano! Again, beautiful in its own right, but just too perfect! Its funny how people choose places that reflect their personalities...i mean the people there were all sort of fake looking too...all prefectly manicured painted red nails and coiffed hair!!!!

Anyway, after gawking like country bumpkins, we took the monorail to Epcot....just for fun. Its a 4 mile loop and we got to sit in the engine driver's coach up front so we got an awesome view of the track ahead of was pretty cool.
There was plenty more to do if we had chosen to do so, but we were really tired so we called it a day and headed home. We had a flight to catch the next morning so thought it best to catch up on some Zzzzzs.

A quick word about our gracious hosts M & M - i have described their house before, now here are some pics.

Mani, like i mentioned, used to work at GM in Flint, Michigan for some 25 years or so. Mythili, his wife was an Ob Gyn and had her own practice and has in her life as doctor, delivered 4000 babies!!!! 4000...WOW! Their 27 year old daughter Uma, graduated from Univ of Ann Arbor in aeronautical eng in 2001, worked at Northrup in LA and is now headed back to business school at Harvard! M & M are now retired in Celebration, Florida They are fun people with an incredibly refreshing but exhausting zest for life! i always thought people slowed down after retirement...not these two! We had a blast! They welcome visitors with abandon and never tire of going to Disney!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Epcot Center

Left for Epcot Center around 11am even though Alberto was threatening to bring in a lot of rain. Just before leaving home Mythili remembered some Disney rain ponchos she had and threw them in the car at the last minute. That was the best decision we made that day cos even tho it was only a bit cloudy when we left home, by the time we got to Epcot Center, it was raining cats and dogs. Not the steady rain we have been used to in Seattle, but an absolutely blinding torrential downpour. Even tho we had on our bright yellow raincoat ponchos, by the time we got to the ticketing booth from the parking lot (about 3 minutes), we were all soaked to the skin. So we all crawled into Epcot like wet rags, along with all the other gazillion drenched tourists who were there. The good thing is that the temperature was a balmy 85 degrees, so even tho we were all wet, it was not cold and uncomfortable.

Epcot is spread out over a pretty large area and despite it being a weekday with Hurricane Alberto had lurking around, there were hundreds of tourists. Lots and lots of kids. So we really had to pick and choose what we wanted to see and were willing to wait in line for. Again, i thought the admission price was shockingly expensive - $65 for an adult day pass! That's about $200 for a family of 4, not to mention the food, shopping, gifts etc! The first attraction was the AT&T exhibit in the Spaceship Earth Pavilion, about communication over the ages. Fabulous! You sit in a tram - 4 to a tramcar - and are taken 140 feet all the way to the top of the dome, and all along the way there are stages and props explaining the evolution of communication over time. Not unlike Treasure Island in Disneyland.

From there we moved onto the Exxon exhibit which explained the concept of energy. Most of these are geared towards educating kids, but its fascinating for us adults too. Then after a quick - well, maybe not so quick - lunch break at Living with the Land pavilion - we headed to the "Honey, i shrunk the audience" show. This was by far the best show. You sit in a theater and wear 3D glasses, and they show you a movie similar to "Honey, I shrunk the kids", only in this you feel like you're in the movie and part of the experiment. There was this one scene in which the inventor dad creates this machine that can duplicate anything, and his son accidentally uses it to create another pet mouse, only something goes horribly wrong and he cannot get it to stop. So he recreates hundreds of they show all these mice scurrying around on the screen, then the lights go off and a voice says "Now, where did all the mice go" and then suddenly as you're sitting in the audience you fell mice running around amidst your feet....FREAKY!!!!!! Then their dog sneezes and the audience feels the spray on their faces....!!!

Our next adventure was on the Test Track. This is sponsored by GM and you get to sit in a car - 6 to a car - and they test the car like they do for real in the GM motor factory. The car goes through loops and spins at 65 miles an hour, including a sideways track, breaking sharply and suddenly at corners, thru different temps. from hot to freezing cold and at one point, looks like its going to crash thru a barrier and then at the last minute, the barrier lifts. At least thats what Raga told me....i was so petrified at this whole thing, i pretty much had my eyes closed...! Quick side note - R's cousin Mani, who we are staying with, worked at GM in Michigan for years, and even tho the lines for this were huge, we got on thru a special backdoor entrance in 5 minutes! Unfair i know, but cool!

Next, we took the ferry across the water and visited World Showcase. These are basically small cities recreated to look like the real thing - for example, France has an Eiffel tower, a creperie and a pattiserie exactly like you would find in France, Japan has pagodas, Morocco has minarets, really feel like you're in the city and all the people working are from that particular nationality. We ended with then it was 8.30pm and we had walked a thousand miles and were exhausted. Fortunately the restaurant Cantina, was alongside the lake where the 9pm fireworks were to be we watched a spectacular show eating burritos and salsa and chips. For families with kids, I wonder how much they really get to see after paying $65 for each ticket. Summer is not even here and still some shows had wait times of 70 minutes...i cannot imagine what this place must be like in the height of tourist season.

We left Epcot at we were leaving we asked one of the park attendants what EPCOT stood for and he said "Every Person Comes Out Tired"...but really it is "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow".....! The attendant's answer is more accurate! We literally came home and tumbled into bed! Raga and Mani stayed up late to watch the Miami/Dallas basketball game - Miami won with one second to spare!

More pics at Epcot

Monday, June 12, 2006

Hi from Gatorland

Arrived here in Orlando last night to spend 3 days with R's cousin and wife. They live in Celebration, a city within Disney's 40 square mile park. Epcot, Disneyworld, Magic Kingdom and MGM are all a few minutes away. They moved here from Flint, Michigan after retirement. The house is fabulous and built in true Carolina style, complete with swimming pool and all, and looks like something out of "Gone with the Wind" with large pillars, a wrap around porch and wide wood shutters.

Unfortuntaley hurricane Alberto is lurking around....the bad news is that they have forecast thundershowers the next 3 days, the good news is Alberto has cooled things down considerably, bringing relief to 100 plus degree temps!!! So we will stick to indoor we plan to do Epcot Center, tomorrow Kennedy Space Center where the Challenger shuttle is open to viewing, and then on Wednesday, MGM studios.

I am looking forward to a gator sighting. Apparently they are seen very often because of the preponderance of lakes here and it is against state law to mess with feeding or anything of the kind. See attached picture...

Well, since Alberto had spared us and the weather was looking good, but iffy for the next day, we decided to do Kennedy Space Center today. It was an hours drive away from home. What an amazing place. Admission fee is shockingly expensive, but worth every penny. We started out by seeing a 3D IMAX film about the Space Shuttle.....the 3D glasses they give you makes you feel like you're up there with these guys in space. We saw a couple of people in the audience reach out to touch things as they came flying out towards us. I never cease to wonder at this IMAX technology.....HOW DO THEY DO IT????? I mean, where is the camera? Especially if they are filming in outer space and you see all the shuttle crew members floating about in space, where the heck is the camera located? After the movie we took a bus that took us on a tour of the various facilities around....the spacecraft assembly factory, the launch pads, the landing fields etc. We got to see the Discovery shuttle waiting on a launch pad for scheduled take off on July 1st. The whole place is so utterly fascinating even for a complete novice like me, so you can imagine how thrilled Raga was.

By then it was close to 4pm and we had not had lunch, so we had a quick bite of pizza...! Then we saw the rest of the exhibits including a 3D movie about the lunar module's landing on the moon complete with props and all, you feel like its happening on stage! Again.....HOW???? Amazing!

Oh...we DID get to see a gator today on our bus tour. Because of heavy rains the past few days all the little streams and culverts are full, so as the bus was rounding a corner, there it was.....laying in a culvert, eyes and parts of its body above the water. Creepy but cool. Then again on our way back we saw another one....

After we got home, Mani, R and I decided to take a walk by the lake in downtown Celebration. There is a beautiful boardwalk all around the lake and we were hoping to see some gators, which is apparently very common. But no such luck....

Pics of downtown Celebration

Kennedy Space Center pics

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Having a capital time!

Hanging out in our nation's capital today. We arrived here from Princeton on the Amtrak at 10.10am, disembarked at the legendary Union Station and by the time we got to our son's place it was clse to 10.45am. He lives in a really adorable English basement, sort of sized like a studio apt. What impressed me the most is how clean the place is...he tells me he cleaned it out last week so when he moves to his new apt. end of this month he will have less cleaning to do. All those years of yelling at him to clean his room during his teenage years seems to have paid off! Soon after we left home, first to quickly go check out his new digs and then to Georgetown for lunch at Le Madelaine. His new apt. is gorgeous....a 1920 hotel converted into apts. and he will be sharing an apt on the 4th floor with another roommate. It has a really opulent lobby and for $500 a year ($250 apiece) they each get to indulge in all the extra amenities which include a gym on the main level, dry cleaning pick up services and - get this - a full Continental breakfast in the hotel lobby every morning!!!!! Wow!

After lunch we went and saw the new movie out by Al Gore called "An Inconvenient truth". For those of you who have not yet seen it, I urge you to do so! Its fascinating and compelling and most of all, scary! The influence that global warming is going to have on future generations is grim...!

I just absolutely love this city...its row houses, the quaint streets and fabulous restaurants, the cabbie drivers, the energy it radiates, the young people....just great! In a couple of years Raga and I want to come and live here for a month.

This evening we are heading to see a live taping of the Bill Maher show - Politically Incorrect. Should be a blast if previous shows are any indication.

Just got back from a fun evening. Had dinner at an Indian restaurant (Gautam wanted Indian, he doesn't eat it often enough and was starved for some). Then we went to the Bill Maher wasn't the usual taping of the show but a sort of stand up routine. He was very funny, but very irreverent. Cracked some very off color jokes which had some of us squirming in our seats, but nevertheless very funny. Then we went to see the White House, the Capitol building, the treasury and other govt. buildings in the area and then walked and walked and walked till we got home...some 16 blocks or so.

G's new apt

Friday, June 09, 2006

Post trip R & R....

Nothing much to report for yesterday. For the past month all of our mail had been redirected here (by the way, we are staying at R's brother's place in Princeton) so Raga and I had to plough thru tons of mail and take care of business. You would think that without a house, or a car, or a job, we would not be getting any more bills....but i tell you they still keep coming. Stuff you wouldn't think anyway, we waded through that yesterday and are still not done. In the evening we visited Princeton campus and did the mandatory campus coffee shop visit....nothing much to write home about there!!!

Later in the evening, my sis-in-law Indira, my niece Nikki and I went on a 5 mile bike trip to the park. The weather had been kind off iffy all day and it seemed to clear up in the evening, so we thought we'd take a quick bike ride.....bad idea. As we were turning around at the half way point, the rain started and by the time we got home we were soaked to the skin. Then watched an Indian movie last night called 9-2-11....a quirky take off on "Changing Lanes" with S.Jackson and Ben Affleck. It was alright.

Today we have some mundane errands to run...Bank, PO, etc. We're off to DC tomorrow morning and our son has tickets to go see Bill Maher tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to that.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

28 days, 5500 miles, 13 states.....

No, that's not the Amazing Race finale, that is our road trip. Here are some fun stats:

The road trip lasted 28 days
We travelled a total of 5500 miles
We visited 13 states - Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey
We visited 2 countries - USA and Canada
We visited 45 relatives
We went looking for Starbucks stores - 15 times
We found Starbucks stores - 4 times
We got issued a warning for speeding - 1 time
We stayed at 8 different motels

All in all it was everyting we hoped it would be. We didn't overdo the driving distances although there were some days that seemed really long. The motels/hotels we picked by and large met our expectations, some more than others. I'll admit there were times when we would check into a motel and think to ourselves "Didn't we just check out of this one"??? Also, living out of suitcases for days on end is not easy to do. We tried to be as efficient as possible in our packing, but suddenly we would find ourselves without enough clothes to wear or some very important personal item missing! In the beginning it used to take R and me about an hour and a half to get ready in the morning having to share a bathroom (we used to have separate ones in the condo), by the end of the trip we had it down to half an hour from the time we woke up. R and I used to joke about signing up for the Amazing Race, and I used to tell him we'd be no good at it cos we'd be arguing all the time, but if this trip is any indication, i think we would have done great. We were in total sync! No arguments, but the fact that he would wait till the gas tank was bare bone empty to fill it up drove me crazy!!!! The car is totally trashed....inside there are remnants of food all over the place....cookie crumbs, chips, fruit peels....the exterior of the car is mud spattered and sticky, the windshield is spattered with blood from the constant "ping ping" of insects dashing against....yuk! Budget has their work cut out for them.

We saw a huge slice of American life in terms of how people in different parts of the country live, what they eat, how they perceive us and it was an education in itself! There is no denying the partisan divide in the country, its very visible when you do a trip like this. There are definitely some places i do not want to visit again, then again there are some i'd love to go back to.

There are still so many states we have not visited, we hope to do more road trips like this on our annual visits. For those of you who have not ventured out too much, I urge you all to visit all the fantastic parks and monuments this country has to offer.

We will be visiting DC, Orlando, Dallas and Connecticut over the next week but it will be a combination of air and Amtrak travel. Shall keep posting pics and commentary!

Home stretch - Niagara Falls to Princeton

Well, this is it! The last and final leg of what has been an incredible road trip. We left Niagara at 10am with the intention of going to Marineland to see the beluga whales, but it ended up being $35 for a day pass, and I didn't think that was worth it to pet some beluga whales, however cute i think they are. So we headed straight for Buffalo. As I mentioned before, we have had near to perfect weather for our entire road was the exception. It was great till we got to Syracuse, then it was non stop rain till Princeton. It was by and large a fairly uneventful trip, the only exciting moments were when we had to pay toll. The New York toll guys have it all down to a science! Very efficient and streamlined.

No pictures taken today...but i shall post a recap of our road trip tomorrow, complete with statistics of distance travelled, places visited, high points, low points etc....

Travel tip: When driving thru NY, make sure you have plenty of change handy for paying tolls. Some toll booths have a bucket sort of thing into which you throw the for that you need exact change.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Leg 13 - Toronto to Niagara Falls

We left Toronto at 10.30 heading towards Niagara Falls. We had decided not to see too much in Toronto and use the time to get to N.Falls early and spend it there. Oh, i must mention that we had to try Tim Horton's coffee......and we did! I have one thing to say and that is "They are not anywhere close to Sbux".

We passed a gazillion wineries along the way, many of them had signs offering wine tasting tours so we decided to stop at one, but wouldn't you know it, by then we had passed them all! We got to N.Falls by noon and checked in early at the hotel. This place is so fantastic! I didn't know quite what to expect, but this is a really fun fun place. Our hotel is right in the middle of all the action....shops, tours, Hard Rock Cafe, Theaters, name it, its right here! We had a quick lunch and then walked along the Falls and then took the boat tour "The Maid of the Mist" which takes you right under the Niagara and Horseshoe Falls. It is breathtaking! They give you a raincoat sort of thing to wear....and it was a good thing they did cos we were drenched at the end of it all. The boat takes you right under the Falls!

It was hot hot hot outside, so we got back to the hotel room at 4pm or so. Its 6.10pm now and I am in the hotel lobby updating this blog. We plan to head out for dinner now, then see the lighting of the Falls and get back. Tomorrow will be our last leg on this amazing road trip :-(

Since we had more or less skipped lunch we decided to have an early dinner. We stopped at a cute Italian place called Antica and had some vino, (Limonata for me)pasta and garlic bread. By then it was close to 7.15 so we walked about a mile to the end of Niagara Parkway to get a real close up view of Horseshoe Falls. You can actually look over the railing and see the water from Lake Erie gush into Lake Ontario. Its a scary feeling as you look over, almost feel like you're being swept away with the water.

The lighting wasn't due to happen till 9pm so we just wandered along the walkway till then. It was gorgoeus! Promptly at 9pm the huge floodlights came on to light up the falls beautifully! It takes on a whole new appearance when lit. By the time we had walked back to American Falls it had become quite dark and they glowed with a strange luminosity at night. There is so much to do here, I could easily spend another day, but now its time to go to bed and catch up on our Zzzzzz's.

Even tho tomorrow is the last leg of our road trip to New jersey, it is by no means the end of our travels. We still have DC, Connecticut, Orlando and Dallas to visit. But I shall post a recap of our road trip tomorrow.

Niagara during the day

Niagara at night

Film clip of the falls