September 24, 2010

India - Days 9-12

k returned back to Madras on 20th at some unearthly early morning time and l~ came home a day earlier than he had announced -- that was a nice surprise. I went to Ramanathan pathara kadai again and spent another bundle buying copper-bottomed stainless steel containers, a pressure cooker, nei jaadi (a small vessel to hold ghee) etc. The store had a computer but that was used more like a calculator to add up the total sum. The vessels themselves did not have any item number on them. The store folks just consulted an old ruled notebook to figure out the cost of the vessels. The store was extremely small but had everything!
We even bought a banana hammock and a dish rack there. Customer service there is based on how much money you have to spend. An old guy smelling of tobacco came to get his mixer blade repaired and had to wait the entire length of time we were there.

Ramanathan & Co

Then we headed to Shankara hall (Of course!) We spent an hour browsing there and I bought some golu bommais, an incense stand and picked out some wall hangings. My mom selected a 3D Parthasarathy wall hanging which was quite beautiful (all blue and gold). It's extremely humid here and somehow that's more exhausting than just being hot. I had an equally exhausting (although in a nice way) dance practice session and then we headed to Fisherman's Cove at Kovalam beach (courtest l~ who gets employee discounts there).

The view at Fisherman's cove is breathtaking. Blue waves crashing on the golden sand, green landscapes and coconut trees surrounding our's a different world here. It's almost as if I am back in the US (clean, wide corridors, dim lighting, western toilets) until I see the innumerable Indian staff employed to maintain the 5 star hotel. With the exception of my horrendous hair style (think Monica style frizzy hair, thanks to humidity -- remember that FRIENDS episode?) , it's blissful here. Service is the magic word here. Press a button and a man appears to clean your room, get you freshly squeezed sweet lime juice, decadent desserts, press your clothes and fold them in neat little white covers arranged in a wicker basket, a rose placed on a leaf on top of the clothes (Seriously! Yesterday it was a red rose, today yellow).The men had an underwear shortage situation since they gave away everything to be laundered!

View from our room

Sathukudi juice -- my favoritest!

We went or at least tried to go on a boat ride yesterday. We walked in the hot sand, wore our huge life jackets, convinced r~ to wear one and then sat on the boat. But, the motor sound, the rocking boat, the waves crashing into the boat and on her face were too much for her to handle. So she loudly protested and we headed back to the shore. Then k~ and l~ went back to complete their boat ride. k said he swam in the Bay of Bengal (or at least floated with life jacket in the water) and that I should try it too (Fat chance).

Fresh-pressed laundry
We opted for in-room dining a couple of times and stuffed ourselves crazy but after a couple of times that got boring and so we headed to the Mediterranean restaurant nearby. We ordered some familiar and some strange sounding dishes and they were all tastefully arranged on a plate (Food network style plate decorations!) and four different type of desserts! Yesterday we headed to the beach and watched the waves which looked beautiful bathed in the moonlight (but a bit ominous at night) and the crabs which were everywhere. r~ ran about as usual and we just hung out in lounge chairs. She actually fell asleep at the beach. k did his first Ganapathy visarjan at the beach :) The guard said we couldn't go into the water at night but made an exception for our spiritual quest. Yesterday we tried a multi-cuisine restaurant where they took almost an hour to serve us our order. Then we took a buggy back to our room (Oh yeah, the buggy. It's sort of like a low-weight open jeep that works on batteries. To go to any place within Fisherman's cove, we need to ask for a buggy and the driver will take us to the beach, one of the restaurants, the spa etc. I endured some painful threading and waxing but the facial was neat and the detox tea they serve (jaggery, lemon juice and holy basil) is amazing! Looking forward to my "relaxation massage" today (and the detox tea even more).

We went to the crocodile bank yesterday which didn't seem to be that well maintained but true to its name did house a large number of crocodiles.We then went to Mahabalipuram. Like true NRIs, we hired a tour guide and that turned out to be a good thing. He narrated a lot of stories explaining the significance of each important landmark there (Arjuna's penance, Bhima's stove, Krishna's butter ball, the shore temple...) He pointed to a pillar which seemed like it had the carving of a cow and then he hid the cow's face and the carving looked like an elephant! Mahabalipuram was probably the highlight of the trip. The shore temple is pretty amazing...I'll put up pictures here soon - the beauty is better demonstrated through images than words.
Krishnar vennai

Shore temple


Back to the real world today evening...

September 19, 2010

India - Days 7 & 8

Today for a change we went to Guindy National Park. We probably covered 1/4th of the park and then got too tired and sweaty and so called it a day. The park is well maintained and can probably take up several hours if you plan well and wish to cover the entire park. r~ saw deer, snakes, porcupines, birds of Vedanthangal, monkeys, fish and even got to go on a swing. I didn't realize Guindy National Park was the hangout for couples until today. Everywhere I turned, I saw lovey-dovey pairs hugging, sitting next to each other and just smiling for nothing, staring into each other's get the picture. Maybe this is where they enjoy some togetherness while also checking out some wild life!


I always complain about the dresses that my parents send for r~ and me. They are always too tight, too loose, too shirt -- something is always off. Today I discovered the reason for the continuity in the pattern. My dad took me to our "family tailor" -- an old old man stared at me through thick glasses from behind the tailoring machine. He had one lone assistant in a small shop in Mylapore. After my dad repeated what he said twice, he took note of us, nodded and took the dresses from my dad (to be altered). I guess he is the "aagivandha tailor" and so we stick to him. At least he is better than K.R.Dressers who said he was busy and needed a minimum of 1.5 months to stitch stuff.


We ate at Sangeetha's today. I don't know if I would have noticed this if I hadn't left India and returned but I definitely found some unsafe areas there. The restroom was completely wet and when I stepped out, I lost my balance a couple of times on the smooth restaurant floor (and this was with me carrying r~). The other day at a jewelry store, they had a full length mirror on what looked like a wall and when I stood in front of it, a man suddenly rushed out of what happened to be a door with a mirror on the outside. I noticed the small handle on the door later. If I hadn't moved in time, it would have been a classic Tom and Jerry scene with an RS shaped mark in the mirror :p


Am overeating everyday! Today's menu was biriyani, raitha, crisp alu curry in the afternoon; thayir vada, paniyaaram, idiyaapam and filter coffee for tiffin and paav bhaji and curd rice and pulikachal for dinner. I keep thinking my dance classes will balance out the extra calories but it is looking pretty doubtful now.


r~ is getting so much attention from her thatha-paati, I don't know how I am going to compensate for that back in the US. Plus she has the maid and the cook to entertain her, the driver and the watchman play small games with her. People people everywhere...what is a mom to do?


I went to AVM sound zone in Alwarpet. Seemed like a nice store that I wish I had more time to browse in...I need to go to Spencers before I travel to Bombay...can't do a Madras visit without setting foot in Spencers!


Everyone seems to be into cleanliness here. Every store I visit has someone sweeping the place with a broom -- Outside Apollo hospital, the jewelry store, Shanthi tailors, Nageswara Rao park, inside Sangeetha restaurant!

September 17, 2010

India - Days 5 & 6

I ran into someone from Lex at Parthasarathy temple. What are the odds of that  happening?! Today we went to Marina beach again because r~ can't get enough of it! A couple of days back on the way to the beach, opposite the commissioner's office right in front of the beach, a traffic police dude stopped our car. He said we had taken a wrong turn and insisted we we wrong even when our driver tried to talk and explain something. And then, the dude says, "100 Rs kudunga"! I guess the wrong turn is fine when 100 Rs enter the picture? I mean, it's nothing new but it made me mad.

I also went to the hospital to get some tests done. The endocrinologist was as I had assumed she would be. To the point, knowledgeable and quick to grasp the situation. She didn't complain that I did not have the recent blood test results, did not ask unnecessary questions, worked with the data she had and quickly diagnosed the problem. And the wait itself was not too bad although the general sound levels were a world away from that in the US. A constant buzz of conversation surrounded me even in the areas marked "Silent". But the staff was quick and efficient and really, they had no choice considering the number of people standing in line.

I always assumed learning Bharatanatyam in India would be a difficult job ("Muttilaye poduven") but the teacher here is not really strict. She is pretty much like my teacher in the US. Patient (of my mistakes) and passionate about dance although the workout here is a bit harder than in the US. Dancing in hot weather is as difficult as dancing in cold weather!

r~ reacts differently to the people here. She doesn't freak out when people touch her cheeks and her stranger anxiety is much lesser than in the US. Probably also has to do with the language since (for now) she is more comfortable in Tamil than English.

More later...not thinking too coherently now, pleasantly exhausted and ready for zzz.

September 15, 2010

India - Days 2, 3 & 4

Shopping: Service rocks here. If you have the cash flow, you get a personal shopper at almost every store here. I went to Sukra's to buy temple jewelry and all I had to do was read from my list and the salesman there got everything I needed and explained the choices I had. It was quick and very convenient. Ditto at Nalli silks and Citibank. The thatha at Nallis helped me choose the silk sarees and at one point actually picked out 3 sarees and said I must buy those!

Travel: Traveling in Chennai is a pain. No news there. But, if you have a car and a driver, you are sort of insulated. It's like travelling in a bubble watching the madness outside but shielded from it. Even if you own a car, it's quite a task to find a parking spot for any place. 2 wheelers dominate the road. But the stores themselves are a lot more interesting than stores in the US, mainly because these are family owned, mom and pop stores and it's refreshing to have people help us choose products instead of staring at aisles and aisles of products and having to choose, buy and assemble everything yourself.

We went to Marina beach which was fun. Nageswara Rao park was good for r~ although she couldn't really play in the toddler play area (too wet, too many puddles and very different from the "sanitized" parks of America) but it was nice to walk in the park and it was well maintained. We went to Parthasarathy temple which was surprisingly tiring (I know am not supposed to say that) but delightful all the same. r~ kept announcing loudly that there were Umachis (Gods) everywhere and at one point inside a Sannidhi said, "Velila polam, anga chillunu irukum" (Let's go outside, it will be colder outside). She was flushed by the time we finished but she enjoyed the temple trip.

Eat: I ate my "favoritest" foods in the whole world, South Indian parotha, kuruma, raitha and sathukudi juice from Saravana Bhavan! Ate Gulab jamoon and samosas from Gangotri. We have a cook at home for a short while but as with all service providers needs a fair bit of maintenance. She and my mom launch into atha-paati kathai (stories) often much to my dad's irritation because it usually results in us paying the cook for talking to my mom more than cooking :p Yesterday I had elumbichanga oorgai (lemon pickle) and spicy mangai (raw mango) with thayir sadam (curd rice).

People: Everyone here is more open about family matters in front of others, even strangers, except if it involves money :p And the relationships with neighbors, gate keeper, car driver, maid servant, milk lady are closer than in the US. So all of these folks were waiting to see r~ and came home to see her. The calling bell rings home several times a day and so does the phone and the cell phones in the house. Our house is going to sound disconcertingly silent when we go back to the US. People here also offer advice more easily than in the US. Another sight comfortingly familiar is the sacred marks on the foreheads of the people here.  Guests don't expect to be entertained here. So, it's perfectly ok to be cooking or cleaning or even paying bills while the guests make themselves comfortable at home. For kids, even without the better play areas, parks, large open spaces, India is a better place w.r.t the attention they get from people (More on this later).

September 12, 2010

India -- Days 0 & 1

Travel: The first thing I noticed in Brussels (Ok technically not India but let's let's assume it is) airport was the restrooms. I walked into a restroom area, saw the full doors and almost assumed I was in the wrong place. I have always been a supporter of restroom doors that don't stop 1/2 way through like shorts instead of pants (or 3/4ths) especially in those years when I was still new to the US but when the third person tried to lower the latch of my restroom door to see if someone was in or not, I discovered an advantage to the American style restroom -- you always know when someone's inside and the size and style of the shoes they wear!

I was thrilled when I saw that my snack for the last leg of the flight was Paav Bhaji. Welcome home RS. In flight entertainment for Jet Airways rocked -- The Devil wears Prada (4th time?), Athithi, tum kab aaoge, Karthik calling Karthik :)


Service providers: Yesterday, the electrician came home because my dad had asked him to come and we realized he didn't have to fix anything, so my mom gave him 20 rupees and 2 mysore paks and sent him away.
In the US, that would have translated to $120 for just showing up.


Mornings: Heard the Kokkarako Sevale sing it's good morning song yesterday morning at around 5 (because we hadn't slept yet) and today at 5 (because I woke up already)!


r~: r~ has a lot less stranger anxiety here which is surprising because she is surrounded by more people (and more strangers) here than back in Lex. And if I spent a couple of months here, she would be a lot more fluent in Tamil (To her credit, she already speaks well in Tamil and I know that's going to change, fast, once I start school for her) than I can hope to make her given a couple of years in America. When we landed in Chicago and the lights were turned on in the aircraft, she said, "All done! Vandudthe! India vandudthe!" :) 


RS: I have become one of those absurd moms sanitizing her daughter's hands in airports and other public places here. When did that happen?

Eat: I told the samayalkara maami that I wanted a lot more coffee than the one small tumbler she gave me and today she gave me a bigger tumbler of coffee (probably the biggest tumbler we have in the house) and it's still less than half of what I would have in the US.

More to come...someone is up :)
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