Happy 378th Birthday!

My favorite city turns 378! The city I had the privilege to call Home for eight years introduced me to a new language, culture and gave me a lifetime of memories – happy birthday to you Madras!

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Often I find myself vacillating between Madras and Chennai. But the sweet spot is right in the middle where the perfect balance of old and new world exists. Somehow it this balanced outlook towards life and culture, that helped me fall in love with the city even more. The city transformed a timid small town girl into the confident, independent woman who is writing this blog today.

The year was 2006 when I first arrived in Chennai. I was awestruck by the simplest things – the tall multi-storied buildings, winding flyovers, wide four lane roads – an entire new world for someone from a small town in Jharkhand.

Though its been close to three years now that I have moved out of the city, it remains very close to my being. Here’s my ode to the city by listing down some of my favorite experiences.

Budget sandwich

Bread-omelette slathered with the spicy green chutney was my lifeline during college days. Over the years I remember the price rising up from Rs 5 to Rs 15 but it has always remained a favorite with everyone.


Connemara Public Library and Museum Theater

Being a literature student meant frequent trip to libraries across the city. Connemara Public Library is one of the oldest libraries in our country and has a wide collection of book, journals and magazines. I have spent countless afternoons in the library looking for reference books, making notes and sometimes just sitting down and savoring the moment. There is a section of the library which still retains the old structure of library and has ladders to access books.


Ten Rupee Tickets at Sathyam Cinemas

AC hall tickets to the latest movie all for Rs 10 – a dream for a college student as one can always enjoy Sathyam’s special butter flavored popcorn and a movie without putting a dent in the weekly budget.


Besantnagar Beach

This was my getaway place. A tough week at work or tiff with my BFF, I took the MTC bus to the beach. Sand scrunched between toes, sea breeze in hair, one can almost taste the salt in the air during evenings. It offered me solitude and reassurance in troubled times, almost like a true friend.


Kailash Kitchen and Naga Reju

I would not have discovered Tibetan and Naga cuisine if not for these restaurants. Both are hole in the wall eateries with a dedicated patrons who keep coming back for their lip smacking thukpas and momos.


That unspoken street food scene

It is disheartening how the street food scene does not get the focus it deserves. Kothu parottajigarthandaonion samosa, kuzhi paniyaram – these are few delightful snacks which I never knew existed. Also there is a very active Arabian and Burmese food scene in various pockets of the city.


Temple getaways 

I identify myself as a spiritual person who enjoys visiting temples. The charm of the city lay in the many temples located in the city who can trace back their origin back to hundred of years. Kapaleeswara Temple and Parthasarathy Temple were some of the few famous temples that I have visited while staying here. The elaborate rituals, offerings to the various deities, intricate designs on the temple walls and architecture are fine work and speak volumes about the beliefs of the people who have resided here and worshiped in these temples since long. Also the evening aarthi sessions at Ramakrishna Mission in Mylapore are nothing short of magical.


Ease of commute

With the existence of MTC buses, local train, MRTC and now, metro rail – the city is very well connected to its sub-urban and central areas. This is not taking into account the presence of  autos and various app based cab services like Uber and Ola. MTC has a neat website which lists the bus numbers, their location of origin, destination and bus stops in between. Also the origin and terminating bus stops and bus numbers are written out in English which enabled a novice like me to move around the city without any issues.

After I moved out of the city, I grieved for a good part in the following months. I had never felt like an outsider in those eight years. The city had accepted and embraced me as one of her own and it was difficult to let go. But then as I boarded the train, I realized I didn’t have to let go for it would always remain a part of me. I owe it to her and likewise no other city would be able to replace Namma Chennai for me.

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Twilight

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Aroma of fresh air, shiny glass windows of LIC building, autos, bikes moving with purpose on that busy Mount Road, washed clean by the late monsoon rain and us, waiting in that nondescript bus stop for 23C.

Romanticizing about a life which could-have-been was easy. But it was a heavy burden to bear. After the initial feeling of guilt, the darkness of a future without him loomed large, leaving Meera miserable and bruised. A year had gone by since that New Year’s morning of 2015 when she woke up to a coherent confession left by Sushant on Messenger. The person on whom she nursed a massive crush back in school was saying the same words to her after all these years. Her immediate reaction was denial and then she read the message again. And again. He say the words “admire” and “let go”, so had he let go?

She had been quick in typing out a smart, clean reply.  Forgetting to share the thoughts which had crossed her mind a hundred times in these years. It was a painful recollection for Meera.

“Foolish girl!”. If only she had bared her heart then, she thought with a deep sigh nursing that regret which had lived with her since that day,

With a partner who was always on the move she longed for company, few reassuring words and comfort of a familiar love. Was it loneliness? Was it the absence of a loving partner? Or was it her own past pushing her to confess? The battle raging within her heart had finally overpowered her mind.

Sushant had not promised her anything. But the questions kept haunting her.

Why did he say he liked her after all these years? Why now? Why after she had got married?

The mouse arrow hovered over Message button for a few seconds before she clicked it. Her eyes scanned the words for the hundredth time. Panic was rising in her chest. Heart beating too fast, her fingers nervously typed,

“Hi Sushant…how are you doing?”

Sometimes it is never too late to reply.

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This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

 

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Kitchen Duties

Married for two and half years, I have got a fair chance of learning and flaunting my cooking skills. Little did I know that I was entering a world where anyone and everyone sampling my prepared meals views it as an opportunity to give their two cents or as we Indians call it muft-ka-gyaan.

Last month we were hosting a relative from India who were visiting us for ten days. The relative, who shall remain unnamed for very obvious reasons, made it very clear on the very first day of arrival that I should keep an open mind while they dish out gyaan, identify the areas of improvement and list out the solution. Stumped beyond my wits I surprisingly was left dumbfounded. It was the very moment when my mind decided to play aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai while trying to numb out the pain and awkwardness inflicted by the guest. Mind drew blank while I fumbled for the right words but failed gloriously and remained quiet. To be honest, I was not even trying to be polite. Score for my seventh grade moral science teacher.

Two weeks later on recalling this educative moment of my life, I could come up with not less than seven smart retorts perfect as a response to the eager critic’s statements. So the new knowledge is tucked away in memory for future use. My wit chose the most oppurtune moments to jump to jukebox mode. It’s difficult for me.

Long story short, the episode played out everyday for the next ten days while the husband was conveniently left out of the conversation. So zero gyaan for him while I got the royal treatment. This was grossly unfair considering it was assumed and expected that the lady of the house should be in possession of all culinary related knowledge.

My cooking skills are work in progress. Only in the months after we moved to the States I had the opportunity and leisure to learn and practice the art of cooking. Internet and Skype were the medium in those initial days when I struggled with making chai. I know this is an unpardonable act. India is a tea loving, tea consuming nation. My ignorance stems from those years spent at Manu’s chai tapri outside DLF Infocity. That’s my defense.

I have always been very vocal about the double-standards that exist with regard to cooking and men. As someone famous had remarked:

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At a time when the lady of the house is constantly fending off criticisms (veiled as feedback) on the spicy tear inducing chicken curry or extra salty dal, I feel the urge to stand up and voice this out.

Cooking is a life skill; as necessary as education.

It is about self-reliance. Anyone who consumes who food, must possess the knowledge to its preparation. So encourage your son to enroll for that home science class and applaud his effort when he bakes his first cake. The kitchen realm is the abode of the hungry, gender unbarred.

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Graceful

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It was a warm sunny afternoon in May when I visited this temple as part of our one-day tour of the popular spots in Bhubaneshwar. We had to remove our footwear before entering the temple premises. I limped around with my soles silently screaming in pain from stepping on the scalding hot stones while my eyes were glued to this majestic sight.

This arch is constructed on the porch of Mukteshvara Temple in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. The temple made of red sandstone was built back in the 10th century dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

What immediately drew me to this part of the temple was the presence of Buddhist monks gracefully seated cross-legged in a meditation pose. The image left a deep impression on my mind.

A Buddhist influence on a Hindu temple!

The fact that Buddhism and Hinduism coexisted peacefully and its impact was etched on the walls of a prominent religious shrine speaks volumes about the ruler and his politics. Both are powerful and widely practiced religions, with their specific set of customs and codes. This maybe far from the truth but I would like to believe that the people and their ruler accepted both with open arms, embracing the new knowledge and practicing what appealed to the individual. Today in a nation where some are fighting for preserving individual regional traditions I hope we do not cast away love for the country and remember the value of peaceful coexistence. While I respect the decision to fight for what one’s beliefs, I am not sure if it should come at the cost of disdain for one’s own country. Coexistence is the key.

Namastey!

Graceful – Weekly Photo Challenge from WordPress

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Trip to Tonto National Monument, AZ

Tonto National Monument is located in the Superstition mountain in Arizona. It comprises of two well preserved cliff dwellings of the Salado culture who resided here back in the 13th- 15th century. The Salt River was the important and perennial source of water for these people who used it for farming.

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The Lower Cliff Dwelling can be accessed by paying a nominal fee of $5 at the visitor center. The path is paved and it is an easy 15-20 minutes hike upto the dwellings. One can admire the surrounding scenery of towering saguaros growing almost out of the tall brooding mountains. The access to Lower Cliff Dwelling closes by 4PM.

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As were unaware of the guided tour to the Upper Cliff Dwelling, we signed up for it in the visitor center for date later in the month of December. This was a strenuous but rejuvenating hike which lasted for little less than 3 hours. A park ranger from the NPS guided our team of seven people. The path is unpaved, with loose rocks and pebbles on the route.

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We had to step over a small stream which we were told turns into a gushing water source during the rains. The ranger was well informed and stopped to explain about the native plants and how the Salado people utilized them back in their days. Once we reached the top the ranger explained to us how the excavation team worked in the site. There were few broken pots and dried grains to show evidence of the flourishing life of the Salado.

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The hike down was relatively easier. It was almost 1 PM when we reached the visitor center. In total we had spent about 3 hours hiking 4.8 km with an elevation of 600 ft and were ready to head back home for lunch.

Statistics:

Total distance covered: 96.6 miles

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Netflix Diaries: Foyle’s War

History is written by the victorious. It is evident in the numerous movies and documentaries that the Allies gave the Axis powers a tough fight before rubbing their faces into dust. Most often the story on the silver screen is of a nation ravaged by the ambitions of a deranged man.

Foyle’s War is a glimpse into the lives of people in a nation whose young men are away at war defending their borders and country against the Axis powers. It is a British ITV drama set in the period of World War II. The protagonist is Christopher Foyle who is a Detective Chief Superintendent stationed at Hastings. His job requires him to keep a check on local crimes and illegal activities, maintain a state of peace as anything otherwise would adversely affect the army and the security of the British nation. The character of Foyle played by veteran actor Michael Kitchen stands out as a man of principle who often faces a moral dilemma between acting as a human and as a policeman.

The situation in England in the WW2 period was volatile, with frequent news of bombings and air raids. Fear and anxiety tightly gripped the minds those at home. Now since the young men had left their homes and farms to take up arms, women took charge of the house and the business. They were employed in industries like artillery, carpentry or as mechanics in garage, which were always a male profession. They worked alongside the few men who had been found unfit for duty and were left behind. Not only they clocked the same hours working the the same shift, they got paid in half, saving the business a lot money which they considered a fair bargain. Some businessmen even engaged in the black marketing of grains, liquor and tobacco. They catered to the whims of the rich who found it impossible to give up their caviar and champagne because a country is at war. A few of them moved to exotic resorts or country side guest houses which promised “state of tranquility in a war stricken country”.

The starving mouths were of the poor who survived on the limited rations provided by the government. Plenty of houses got bombed during the air raids at night; they attracted scavengers and thieves looking for valuables or anything useful to trade for money or importantly food. Food was scarce and soldiers lost lives guarding the government supplied rations. The need of the hour was to have a strict law and order in place to combat the perils of war which had permeated through the battleground.

Off late I had begun to find the gore depicted in the current crime drama series not only repetitive but also distasteful. For a history buff this British drama was a welcome change.

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2016: A Recap

With barely two days left in this year I feel this would be the best time to share my end-of-year review. This is the time when I imagine myself as a nervous school student terrified and living at the mercy of the teacher armed with my report card. There is that judgement day and then there are the other days.

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Travelling has been a major part of my itinerary this year. After I returned to the U.S. in August from the trip to India, the husband and I have managed to visit close to nine national parks including a few national monuments. I have a terrible fear of heights and the fact that I was able to complete few of the moderate level hike trails was a personal milestone. We plan to wrap up the year by driving down the iconic Highway 1 in California, from Monterey to San Diego.

My cooking skills are modest at best but with a partner who is foodie I am pushed to experiment and explore with spices and ingredients. It has been little more than two years since I ventured into cooking all the homemade meals. The best food items made in my kitchen are the final result of numerous hit and trial run of recipes across the internet. That Dal Makhni served for dinner our second anniversary, was cooked at least four different occasions before the final recipe was found, adjusted, perfected and saved for future meals. Patience is rewarding and cooking has made me a better person in countless ways. I intend to discuss its merits in detail in a separate post.

If watching Jonathan Rhys Meyers essay the role Henry VIII can be counted as inspiring, in a way I could say that I have a renewed interest in the English History. Yes I am reading history books for pleasure! The Tudors was a sensational dramatic narration of the English king’s life and his six wives. On the other hand,  Wolf Hall focused more on the religious and political scene during the reign of Henry VIII with special focus on Thomas Cromwell’s role in establishing the first ever known bureaucracy in England. While waiting for the second season of this Emmy nominated series I have made an attempt to learn more about this monarch and his times. I bet my History teacher from Seventh Grade will be surprised if ever he comes to know of my extra reading.

In the beginning of the year, a bitter personal experience left me nursing a broken bruised confidence. For a very long time I had denied the existence of certain questions and remained quiet taking comfort in the knowledge of its absence. This experience tattled me into action and pushed me to seek answers to the questions. I learnt an important lesson of self-love.

To accept my identity and to promise to keep working on making myself the best version of me.

As I begun to understand and accept this, there are less moments of doubt and uncertainty. I intend to work to preserve and protect this reassured self. Self-love is important.

Namastey!

Retrospective – Discover Challenge by WordPress

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

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