Friday, December 30, 2011

Ethical Consumerism

So it's time to do the group blog posts again and the topic of choosing this time is “Ethical Consumerism” chosen by Swati. Sounds straight out of an MBA course? In a way it is, because Swati’s also working on this as part of her MBA and it helps to hear other’s views on it. To me it sounds familiar as well, because a few months back I had a discussion on the very same topic with my husband who’s doing his MBA.

So there we were on a beautiful Saturday morning, with warm rays of sunshine filtering down through the blue clouds. There had been a fresh sprinkling of snow the night before and our patio was covered in the sheer veneer of it, it was a beautiful sight. So, armed with hot cups of coffee, we sat down – to discuss Ethical Consumerism and Corporate Social Responsibility! Interesting topics, don’t you think? At that point of time, I certainly didn’t think so!

Even though Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR would entail other aspects too, like contributing to charities, doing your part for eradicating poverty, giving to the unfortunate etc, at some level it is also linked to how ethical their practices are. Swati’s specific questions were:

As consumers of products (any product is fine) - do you give preference to those that are ethically produced? I.e. do you put a thought into what you buy, how it is made, is it tested on animals or such. How is the company doing in terms of social causes and environment friendliness?

When I was growing up in India, I never used to pay special attention to how products were made, their testing practices, the company’s contributions towards the environment and social causes, but lately, I have been reading up a lot on such. In addition to reaping profits, keeping their books transparent and aiding in the overall economic development, it's required that every company now also play their part in taking responsibility for their actions and adhere to required norms in ethical, moral ways for the environment, consumers and the community as such. As an aspect of CSR, most organizations dabble in philanthropy, donating to charities for the disabled, those less fortunate, providing for education, yet others donate to foundations that are geared towards protecting the environment - planting saplings, cleaning up beaches, volunteering at schools and so on.

I will be honest, my decisions on buying products have not been so influenced with the organization’s views on CSR, but buying food has. A while ago, I dabbled in eating non-vegetarian food, trying different kinds of meat/seafood and even with that, I would be careful to buy stuff only from places where they boasted of ethical treatment of animals, not pumping them with hormones and such. However, it was possibly more due to my guilt than the "ethics" – due to the feeling that I was taking a life having been a vegetarian so long. I have moved back to the vegetarian side now, but even when I browse the grocery stores and wander into the meat section accidently, my eyes do wander towards the stickers that state something to that effect. I am a big fan of Bath and Body Works which clearly states that the finished product has not been tested on animals.

However, in the world of drugs and pharmaceuticals, it is still important to go in for animal testing, so it cannot be avoided entirely. For the advancement of science, for the greater good – in research to find the cure for cancer or AIDs or the next serious disorder, there will be situations where animal testing would be a must before they can go in for human testing and we cannot but condone it.

As far as social responsibility goes, I like to read about/promote organizations that, rather than donate to charities, have their employees do their part for the environment or the community. Recently, I read an article where the employees of Infosys had taken to the streets cleaning up the mess and painting over walls streaked with graffiti. It’s a win-win situation – the company doesn’t need to spend too much money and the employees feel good about themselves having contributed to the environment. In all honesty, I am skeptical of foundations that accept donations, because I don’t know where the money actually ends up. Having known/experienced phony charities, I prefer to work with or encourage foundations that roll up their sleeves, get into the deep and then truly work at the grass root level.

One major turn-off for me while buying products is, if the organization has been linked in racism or child labor. I do not buy fireworks from the Sivakasi fireworks anymore, having read all about the disgusting conditions in which children work in the factory, with the organization not paying attention to their safety or health. I recently had stopped buying the “Tommy Hilfiger” brand after I read an article in which the designer Tommy Hilfiger allegedly announced on Oprah Winfrey’s show that “If I knew that blacks and Asians were going to wear my clothes, I would have never designed them”. It was later confirmed, that this was a rumor and Tommy had not even been on Oprah’s until a couple of years after this statement was supposedly made. In today’s age, one cannot afford to make racist statements. The world is moving at an astounding pace, scary in fact, with every country going nuclear, a single spark could ignite a war. So yes, I condemn racism majorly and hence, products by organizations linked to it in any way are a major no-no for me.

Our company, iGate-Patni, on every New Years, sends New Year’s greetings to the top leadership at every client’s and then plants a sapling in their name in Madhya Pradesh. I do not know how much these get cared for, but do I like the thought of going green. The organization where my sister works, gave every single employee a ‘Tulsi’ sapling to take home and nurture, on their “Foundation Day”. With global warming threatening ice caps and melting glaciers, with the weather getting truly messed up around the world, I appreciate the fact that these organizations are trying to do what they can for the environment.

So while I might not specifically have the “good” in mind, while I go shopping, I know I will not condone the “bad” part. Miniscule as my purchase may be, knowing that my not buying something would hardly make a dent in their profits; at least I can have the mental satisfaction that I wouldn’t be adding to it.

I would love to hear your views!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Five Quotes I love and live by

The topic of choosing this month is "5 Quotes I love and live by".
Chosen by: Swapna Shirwalkar
Our pack is growing and we're now a group of 8 spirited individuals! More people, more fun, more perspective, more discussions and emails ! I thought choosing 5 quotes would be easy, but 5 favorites is one thing, 5 quotes I love and live by is a whole different ballgame. Here's my pick.

1. Whatever happens, happens for the best.
I do not know if that's an original quote in English, but in Hindi we have this saying "Jo bhi hota hain acche ke liye hota hain". We all pass through hundreds of decisions every day, some minor some ultra-major ones - life changing events - going back to India, filing for visa, resigning from a job, joining a new organization, making friends, letting someone go, forgiving forgetting and so on. Each of these no matter how minute cause us to think and then possibly think back later too and wonder if what we did was right. I have done that so many times. Double guessed my own decisions. But most times, whatever decisions I took with all heart are the ones I stayed with. It’s easy to say this, but to live by it is a struggle at times, I must admit. Every time something appears bleak and I teeter on the verge of regret, I have to really convince myself that I will see that silver lining pretty soon. So far I haven't been disappointed.

2. The grass is always greener on the other side.
Contradictory to the one above, don't you think? How can one always crib about the grass being greener on the other side and yet agree that whatever happens, happens for the best? That’s because we are innately human, we have this tendency to want, to aspire, to achieve more. When I was working, I wanted to take a break from work and do other things. When I was home for a year, I couldn't wait to get back to work. That's basic human psychology. So yes, many a times, my days start out like those too, but in the grand scheme of things #1 trumps #2 every time !

3. Opportunity never knocks twice
Easier said than done. This was a quote that I remember from the days I was growing up. I don't know how much of it I live by, but this is certainly something I believe. On the same lines, when one door closes, another opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us. I try to keep up as much as I can. When I was home, I volunteered at the school - taught Math, taught Computer Skills to foreign immigrants, volunteered at the library. We've been to a lot of places in US, I love to travel, shamefully though I haven't visited too many countries, have gone skydiving, snorkeling, am trying to learn swimming, there's a whole bunch of things I still have to do ! It’s important to use the time and achieve everything you want to, be it something as simple as learning a new recipe. We never know if/when we would get another chance. I must admit I haven't always be able to "grab" these opportunities, especially those times when I mope around having lost the chance to do something else. But I'm trying!

4. "Neki kar dariya mein daal"
Now this is a quote, which I am not sure if it exists in English or not. It’s a very heartfelt saying that has always appealed to me, especially in the recent times. Basically, what it means is that "Do your bit and do not have any expectations from anyone around the outcome". Everything around us has become high-tech these days, friendships have moved online to social networking sites like Facebook, there are more "Facebook" friends and real friends talk rarely (even though when that rare talk does occur, it does not feel that way, it’s always as if nothing changed!). Families meet lesser and lesser by the day, demands at work ever-increasing, people have become more demanding and materialistic. In the midst of all this, relationships have taken a beating. I have slowly acclimatized to the fact, that just because I do a lot for someone or try to be a great friend to someone doesn't mean I have a great friend back. If I try and help someone in their time of need, does not mean that he/she would be around later on when I have a need. If I have that expectation, then I am not acting in the spirit of friendship/helping. So, I do my bit and forget about the rest. And no, that does not make me bitter. It just makes me understand people around me better. Except for immediate family and my closest friends, for all my acquaintances, this quote has started to seem more and more apt. “No expectations” is definitely a good way to go.

5. Be the change you want to see in the world.
Said Mr. M.K. Gandhi. And it is so true. A simple task can get delayed if you wait around for someone else to do it. I remember of a story in my Dad's Hindi textbook (when he had to take mandatory Hindi classes since he was in BARC) of 3 brothers who are farmers and a sparrow that builds a nest in their tree. After waiting around for his 2 elder brothers to get rid of the nest so the birds don’t destroy the crops, the 3rd brother finally has to do it himself. It is reality. Be it a "daily chore" task or a policy change, a way of life change, protesting against something unfair, doing something righteous, choosing the right path, helping someone, whatever be the "work", we have to do it and be fair ourselves. We talk about India having "baggage" in terms of corruption, cleanliness issues, littering, infrastructure etc. How are we ourselves ensuring that we do not accidentally/intentionally contribute to the wrong doing? Meager support of Anna Hazare is not going to solve it. We have to pledge ourselves to the cause too. Do not litter. Do not bribe. In other words, Be the Change!

I would love to hear your views!

Monday, November 14, 2011

And They Came to my Rescue

Disclaimer: The accident and the rescue attempts detailed below are NOT a work of fiction. There were about 20 witnesses to this event, as it occurred yesterday Nov 12th around noon.

A beautiful November morning dawned, the skies crisp and clear, temperature in the late 50s – a little unusual for Minnesota this time of the year, though something everyone clearly enjoyed – judging by the chirpiness and the spring in their step. We all gathered near the Nickelodeon universe at the MOA to celebrate a friend’s kid’s – Ritzu’s birthday. Kids of all ages ran around – the girls prancing like perfect princesses and the boys, kicking a football around as a typical guy trait. Adults stood talking, the parents with a watchful eye on their kids, the guys discussing NFL and home rates, the ladies talking about driving classes and carpooling, again a very specific trend if someone were to be studying gender traits. Every once in a while, a father or a mother would go and pull apart two kids punching each other for some silly reason. There were balloons of all colors and the tiny tots, sitting ensconced in their mother’s arms were enamored by it.

I was running along with Adya, holding her hand tight, flitting along tables as she tried to escape the playful catches by other friends. And that’s when the accident occurred. It happened too fast to notice. All it took was a second. She let go of my hand for just a second, and I went tumbling back. 3 pairs of hands simultaneously shot up to grab me, but they were a tad too late. The railings near the veranda were maybe 4 feet high, but they failed to stop me. I tripped over it and went beyond. It was a sheer 20 feet drop to the ground and I couldn’t even close my eyes, I couldn’t do anything, I was paralyzed. I was sky diving - in the opposite direction. The roof of MOA seemed to get farther and farther away.

Adya cried out for me, I could hear her tiny voice screaming as I fell. About 5 feet down from where we had stood, there was a solid extension out from the wall. It reached out for me as I fell and I hit it with a bang. Searing pain rushed through my body. My head and part of my upper body was still dangling in the air but I was unable to move. I lay there for a second, my eyes looking up to where my friends stood, as they thought of a way to rescue me.

One gentleman I did not know finally took off his camera strap which was about 4 feet long and swung it over so I could hold on to it. I don’t know how a weak little camera strap would help, maybe they thought I could hold on it and stand up, then they could hoist me back up. It just about reached me but was a few inches short. They tried swinging it to and fro but I couldn’t reach it. He pulled it back up and a couple of them contemplated on how best to extend the length. They found a handbag and finally broke off that strap, linked both together and let it down again. It was a good plan, except I couldn’t move my fingers, my hand, my head or even cry out for help.

They finally let down the heavy handbag itself and starting swinging that to-and-fro. I watched in horror as my legs started shifting towards the edge of the verandah. It was still a 15 feet drop. Were these guys trying to kill me? I could only hope they knew something I didn’t, because this did not seem like a very good idea. Maybe someone had put together some soft stuff at the bottom, so that when I fell, it could stifle my fall.

And then before I could realize it, I went over. As I fell, I could see a smile on Adya’s face. Kids are innocent. If she’s smiling, rest assured it would turn out alright. She came running to me as I lay on the ground and picked me up. I was a little bruised but I had survived. She laid a thousand kisses on my face and held on to me so tight; I knew she would never let me go again.

And then she screamed at the top of her voice with all the strength in her tiny lungs “Mommmyyyyy, I found Teddy !!!!”. That’s right. I am Teddy. Adya’s Teddy Bear. Her favorite toy. Forever.

I would love to hear your views!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Art of 'NO'ing

Day in and day out we interact with all kinds of people - co-workers, clients, acquaintances, friends, relatives, family. And in some way or the other, we try to keep people around us happy. Intentions aside, its just basic human nature. Share that Kit Kat with a friend, maybe run an extra report for your co-worker, put a rush on some processing for a client. Taking it one level further would be helping a friend solve his/her problems, trying to cheer someone up, give up on your gym time to help a friend get through the day. In any case, the relationship clearly dictates the lengths you would go to.

But I take a pause here and I think, how much really is important? Where do you draw the line? How important is pleasing people, keeping everyone happy? And more importantly, is it even possible to keep everyone happy? How long before you say "No"? It is important to say NO every once in a while, you can't be expected to do everything for everyone. Bear in mind, the "best/close friends" category is an entirely different thing, these questions might not even apply there. I am talking about the daily junta you run into every now and then.  I admire people who are very clear and precise about how much they would/would not do for someone.  But I have also seen the kind of relationships they share with others and somehow I am glad, I am not made that way. Nonetheless, at times I do think I need to get better at saying NO.

Same goes for guilt trips. I have had instances where try as I may, I couldn't cheer someone up. Earlier it would affect me too, as I would spend hours thinking what I could do to help. I wouldn't even know the root of the problem, but maybe the selfish soul in me would just want to confirm that I am not the root cause., though I don't think that is true. I have had a couple of people send me on guilt trips too, taking my jokes too seriously or taking something I might have said to heart. Me being the inane person that I am, meaningless jokes that I might have made a fortnight ago and completely forgotten about since, would suddenly crop up  portrayed as something serious which I shouldn't have said. I would leave a conversation thinking I was so wrong, I shouldn't have done that when all the while I wouldn't even know what it was that I had allegedly said or done. But I have grown up since. If I don't know what I did wrong, its not worth losing sleep over.

You can be mature about something, accept/admit it, see if it can be worked out, else just leave it behind. Life too's short to think too much about something and try to please everyone. If you're happy the happiness will spread automatically. You just do what you can in a day and hope that the others would come around eventually. Sometimes, easier said than done.

And as some of those cool quotes go:
1. I can please only one person per day. Today's not your day, tomorrow's not looking so good either.
2. Tell me what you need and I'll tell you how to get along without it !

I would love to hear your views!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Purpose of Life

I write this as am on a 1 hour 40 mins flight from MN to NJ. The topic of choosing this month is “The Purpose of Life”. Chosen by Pradeep. Heavy philosophy but interesting when it comes to discussing different perspectives on it. It also gives me an opportunity to contemplate on such matters: philosophy, regilion, current affairs - not something that I usually think about too much. I work in an IT firm like maybe at least 50% of other Indian folks, who are engineers.

For the past few years, I have been working at the same client location and without divulging much or breaking any kind of client confidentiality; I can say that they are one of the frontrunners in the business of leasing vehicles and equipment to conglomerates. I work in a department which helps come up with strategic reporting / data analysis to help the end customers manage their business better. All the embossing aside, basically what I do is help save a bunch of dollars for the customer. It took me 7 years in this field to realize that this is not how I want to spend the remaining 30 years until retirement. That was the easy part.

The tough part is what is it that I want to do? The question “Purpose of Life” does blend into the same thought process. I don’t think I am mature or qualified enough to comment on what should be the purpose of one’s life. All I can talk about is mine. Now, this might sound like one of the answers given by the 50 odd Miss. World/Universe pageant damsels, but in reality I do think that what I want to do is give. Give back. To my parents, teachers, the community, humanity. I do not want to be Mother Teresa. I do not have the patience or the will power to do that full time. But through these years, one thing that I have discovered about myself is that I am not a super ambitious career woman, am perfectly content with a 9-5 job, something that gives me a sense of fulfillment and enough flexibility to spend time with family every day. To me it's a job, not a career.

My mother is a retired college professor. I have been to her college multiple times, even attended some of her lectures and have seen the relationship she shares with her students. Her students love her. Even though she’s retired they still call her up on her birthday, Teacher’s day, Diwali etc. We get bouquets and gifts every once in a while. I remember very few teachers who have made that huge an impact on me. It’s funny how her ex-students run into her at all strange places – like this one who works at a theatre and every time there’s a hit Tamil movie playing, he will call her as soon as it releases to see if she wants to reserve tickets. Then there’s the one who’s a volunteer at a Ganpati Sarvajanik Mandal, when Mom and her friends were in the queue, she just walked over and whisked them in. It makes me envious sometimes, as I wonder how easily she commands respect. Bear in mind, commanding respect is very different than demanding it. I have to say her profession has influenced me in more ways than I would have imagined. It is a field I am contemplating; I might get into at some point of time myself.

I have a great family, have had a super awesome childhood, been raised right, got a decent education, had good teachers both in school (tho’ at that time, am sure we had our complaints) and all throughout life, some great friends, loving in-laws, a full life so far. Life’s still got a ways to go and there would be new lives getting intertwined with mine, something I do look forward to. Now it's my turn.

If only I could return the favour. I don’t want for much. Money, status, power, fame, not so much. My goal in life is to be a good daughter, sister, wife, mom, friend and teacher. Basically just be a good person. By my own standards. What’s good for me may not be good enough by somebody else’s definitions. If I could touch one life and have a positive influence on a person, help him/her in some way, anyway, I would believe my purpose in life is complete.

The avid Googler that I am (even though at times the total overload of information overwhelms me and the whole “search” backfires on me) – I found a quote which I like : “Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more - Anthony Robbins“

I would love to hear your views!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bucket List #13

So, I have this list going where I am trying to put together 100 things I would like to do before I die. Whenever that may be. When I started compiling the list, I had thought this would be a very simple task.  Little did I know that making a list of 100 things would be so difficult, let alone achieving those. Yes, you read that right. I can't find 100 things I would like to do before I die. Well, I have 51 items on the list so far, there were close to 80 originally but then I took out stuff which I knew were definitely impossible and revised some of those to make them achievable.

Like there was this one which said “Set foot on all 7 continents”. Now I don’t want to visit Antarctica ever. Why? After having stayed in MN where there’s 8 months winter and usually ~2-3 months of negative Fahrenheit, this is the closest I want to get to sub-zero temperatures! And Antarctica is at a negative 100F at least. Both of my wishes are contradictory and so obviously, that “thing to do” went away.

Then there was one where it read “Swim with the dolphins in the Atlantic“. Doesn’t that sound romantic? To those who know my swimming skills, that’s kind of a stupid goal, unless I want to have a dolphin rescue me from drowning. So this one got revised to “Swim the length of a pool”. If that gets fulfilled anytime soon, then the dolphins could hope to enjoy my company someday.

Now, why just pen down stuff which I want to do. Why not write about those as they get fulfilled as well? So here’s bucket list# 13, the one that got fulfilled the first. And, at the end of each, am even going to add a tiny little note on a secret desire related to the “achievable” one. Here goes.

Get my hair coloured. Check!!!

For some strange reason, I had this wish to get my hair colored (all over color, not just streaks) and it had been on the books for a while (since 1998 or so) but I never had the courage to go along with it. Seems harmless right? One would think so. Finally in 2009, during my India trip, my sister was pumped up enough to want it for herself. She even worked out some discount stuff with her usual beauty parlour, using a friend’s membership and such. Off we went, and duly spent the good part of an hour choosing the colours. She, the then more courageous one, went with one streak of a nice deep red and I chose three streaks of a safe brown coz I had to go back to work. That was the most risk I was willing to take. Maybe it had to do with age taking a toll on my risk-taking spirit or the effect of the movie Bride Wars, which I had recently watched. I kept waiting for my hair to turn blue, like Kate Hudson’s did in the movie, when the hairdresser was taking off the foils. Well, it did turn out just fine and was a good feeling while it lasted. I loved the way the sunlight used to play with my hair showing the beautiful highlights and I would toss and turn in front of the mirror. I wish I had a picture to go with this.

A few months later I even went with 10 streaks of red, when I was home on a break from work and that was even more fun, except they only lasted about 3 months. Then it turned brown and soon even that was gone. Once, I even went in for a full highlight! 

A related secret desire is to be able to once get a full hair colour of a combination of purple and green. I know I would never go along with this but wouldn’t that be fun!! Yeah!!

How nice it would be to get my hair coloured pink, violet and green!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Day 10: 1 Picture

Day 10: 1 Picture in the 10 Day You Challenge

Well, today officially marks the end of the 10 Day You challenge and I must admit I am going to miss the emails and comments and everything going on with my co-bloggers related to this activity.  

To my co-blogger buddies, this was so much fun and I have to say, this helped me get back to penning down my thoughts ! We should think of something again ! Loved it !

For today, I need to post 1 picture of myself. I thought about this a little and of the pics that came to mind, I wanted to pick a defining picture of some sort, something that I wouldn't have to talk about, I would post it and that would be it. ME.  Unfortunately the pic I would have liked to post is sitting in India and my sister's been too tied up (read: lazy) to scan it and send it to me. 

So, as an alternative : here's a goofy side of me ! Well, what can I say !
PS: I wish my parents had forced me to get those braces, regardless of how much of a stubborn brat I was back then and how I had fought against it then ! I'll be the first to admit parents do know best !

A picture of me with colourful hair: 1 Picture for the 10 Day You Challenge

I would love to hear your views!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 9: 2 Songs

Writing about 2 songs is difficult. I have never had any favourite song as far back as I can remember. They’ve been changing as I grew up. Every phase of my life, I have sworn by certain favourite songs only to have those replaced by something upcoming in the next couple of years.

I dont even remember school days in terms of music, except that I used to trudge along with my Mom as she took me to Carnatic music classes (and oh! Bharatnatyam classes where I would get beat by the great Kamal Hassan’s sister Nalini Raghu who happened to be my teacher, I was the worst student) every week. I trained in Carnatic music for 6 years under various teachers. Junior College was a time of transitions, moving from the chillar party gang up into the famed teens and like every other teen, being besotted by English boy and girl bands. I remember crooning along with my chums to the tunes of probably every song that was released by Backstreet Boys, Mysterious Girl, Words by Boyzone, That dont impress me much by Shania Twain and not to mention others like Aqua, Vengaboys etc. Annual functions at Junior college would play these songs and we would sway to these songs as if we have been born singing and dancing to these. 

Life progressed to college then where I drifted towards Bollywood songs. I didnt realize it then but now when I think back, I believe it was because I was interested in singing in college functions, competitions and Bollywood was what appealed to the masses. Of course, I still mostly gravitated towards those with a classical base. A couple that are dear to me from my college era are Kaadal Rojave (Roja Jaaneman) which I sang during my college fest auditions and Mungda which I sang during the fest. I still remember, a close friend S and I would sit sharing lyrics or humming songs in the back benches of our lectures. 

The music fever in me did not die even when I started working. I remember trying to get back to formal training but I would take it up for a year and drop it again after that due to work pressures or the hectic lifestyle. Even in the organization where I worked, I found comrades who were way more into it than I was and it was good learning for me. Now as I type all this I realize, that music to me has been singing way more than listening. Its been a serious part of my growing up life. Singing medleys during the company's annual function, then performing the “Suraj Hua Maddham” at a later honorary function for the participants, I enjoyed it as much then as I think about those days fondly now. 

I have gravitated completely towards desi music, not just Hindi, but Tamil, Telegu, Bengali too. I do enjoy English songs on the radio once in a while and hum along while we’re on a drive, but they not have a special place in my heart. So, coming back to favourites, I really do not have 2. Some songs I like are Naina and O Sathi Re from Omkara, Munbe Vaa from Sillundru Oru Kaadal, some songs from the movie Paheli, A.R Rahman has always been my favourite, albeit, his earlier movies like Rangeela, Bombay, Dil Se, Roja, Kaaka Kaaka, Kandukondein Kandukondein, Kannathil Muthamittal have been nicer than his latest compilations. I also like songs like Seekho Na by Shubha Mudgal, Jhuki Jhuki si Nazar and some songs sung by Raahat Fateh Ali Khan, Hariharan to name a few.

My 2 top songs for this week are going to be just that, the top songs for this week. Like a chartbuster list, they have not always been at the top nor will they stay forever. 

1. Shree Ganeshaya Dheemahi sung by Shankar Mahadevan from the movie Virruddh
I discovered this song around a month back, during Ganesh Chaturti, scrounging around for songs to play while we did our puja at home for the festival and instantly fell in love with it, so much so that I pinged and left messages on Facebook for people I knew interested in music (especially those who loved songs with a classical base). I have been trying to memorize the lyrics whenever I do get time or remember to do it and I must confess I am only halfway there. But so far, at this point, this song rules. Shankar Mahadevan is so good and I doubt anyone else could have made such an impact with this song as he did. 

2. Yeh Jo Des Hain Tera sung by A.R. Rahman from the movie Swades
This has been playing over and over in the back of my mind for a while now. Everytime I think of listening to some music, I start my playlist with this one. When I get addicted to a song I can just play it on repeat for days at a time and my roommates are witness to this. Maybe its because I haven’t been to India much, well that isn’t true, I have visited often but I haven’t stayed much over the past few years and the yearning is what makes me like this song or maybe its just A.R. Rahman’s magic all over again, whatever the reason, this will continue to be in my top 10 whatever the other 9 be. 

Others racing up the charts at this point are Ami Je Tomar, the Bengali song which was then dubbed into Mere Dholna and Naa Jeyo Na, the Bengali song which was remade into O Sajna - discovered listening to Anwesha in the Star Voice of India series, a young kid, who’s already gone into playback. I salute the talent, dedication and effort these kids put into their passion. 

Next week’s the last post of the Ten Day You Challenge and going to be by far the most difficult. For everything else up until now I had a fair inkling of what I would be posting, for the 1 picture, I have no idea !

I would love to hear your views!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 8: 3 Movies

Movies. What can I say. Never been a huge fan. Until that is, I met my husband. I had not met a man more a fan of movies than my husband until then. Before marriage, I used to stay with a friend of mine as roommates. Of course, she had been here in MN, long enough to have formed her own group of friends by then. So the first two weeks I was here, I used to hang out with my husband (then my friend) and his roommates and watch 2 movies a day. Yep, thats what they used to do after coming home from work. Dinner prepared by someone else was a bonus ! :)

I remember, as kids, I did not particularly enjoy watching too many movies on TV. I do have fond memories of movies like Maine Pyar Kiya or Mr. India which when aired on TV, we would record those using our VCR and then play them multiple times. Similarly, in Chennai, my cousins recorded a movie called Guna. Every summer, we would visit and the vacation would definitely include one screening of Guna. In a few years, I had memorized all the scenes and dialogues. If only remembering history were so simple !

The only movies I watched when I was young was those once-in-a-while visits to the theatre - watched Heena, Jurassic Park and some others. When I was in my teens, I fell more in love with the lovey dovey emotional movies and even those emotional serials, I will shamelessly say. So I wouldn’t particular have movies in my list which have memories associated with it, this one’s going to be more the impact the movie has had on me. Even without that, there are 100s of movies if not more, that I have watched, so picking 3 was difficult. So, I am going to list one favourite movie in each of of my 3 most used languages. Needless to say, I am also going to cheat a little and list an additional one in each category :) Here’s my top 3, ahem (6) !

1. Anjali: A movie which never fails to bring me to tears every single time I watch it. I have watched it n number of times, thinking that one day I will stop crying towards the end of the movie when Anjali dies, but every single time I will end up in tears. Yet, it never stopped me from wanting to watch it again. A beautiful heartfelt movie on relationships, being accepted, accepting and the unbreakable bonds in a family. I fell in love with the characters, every single one of them. The father played by Raghuvaran, the mother played by Revathi and all 3 kids especially baby Anjali. No one could have portrayed those characters better than these folks.

2. Roja: A movie that had everything in it. Hope, yearning, an endless positive struggle, a fight for your rights, patriotism everything. The nuances of a relationship were so beautifully outlined against a patriotic backdrop. I feel like I have visited Kashmir and the beautiful south through this movie. The main leads were two basically unknown people, but yet they managed to play their roles with such conviction, add to it A.R. Rahman’s music - one of those first movies of Rahman where he used to create magic with music, before composing music for movies like Slumdog and having people think that's his best.

1. Swades: I never imagined this would be my #1 movie for the one reason that I actually detest Shahrukh Khan. I think he’s fabulous as a showman but sucks as an actor. Usually, his movies are a confab of overacting and useless chuckles, stupid jokes and absolutely rubbish dances. But Ashutosh Gowarikar managed to bring out the true serious actor in him and hence made the movie watchable. Chak De was a close second. A very down to earth concept, no known actors except for Shahrukh, a simple place in India, a pretty low budget considering - yet a very powerful inspiring movie. When I first watched this movie, I was with a group of friends, and when we came out of the theatre, we were all silent, speechless. Not a single word was exchanged, every one of us was in our own thoughts. I especially liked how the director managed to make everything very realistic. Had it been any other director, it would have ended with Shahrukh staying back for the heroine and easily forgetting his work and responsibilities at NASA. But Ashutosh gave it a logical end, something that we could relate to. A movie which makes you yearn for your earth even when you’re miles away. Not that I dont otherwise, but this one emphasises the feeling even more !

2. Dil Chahta Hain: My friends and I used to have contests on who knew this movie more in and out than the other ! We would quiz each other on some of the intricacies of the movie, I guess it brings me back to memories :) A very coming of age movie on friendships, the strains of relationships, expectations from society and how you can still stay in touch and be the best of friends even if you haven’t met in years. I have some friends like those, who I dont really get to talk to very often but I meet them after years and we talk like nothing’s changed ! I feel so lucky and blessed to have such friends ! Loved Amir Khan in this, he was my favourite actor until the day he suggested gifting roses in a Gandhigiri fashion to the Taj shooters. I have since given up on this guy !

1. Finding Nemo: My first animation movie. Opened me up to a whole new world. Fell in love with animation movies after that ! Its so sweet the way these movies, basically cartoon characters spin up such fantastic tales each with a moral in them. If the first animation had been a fiasco I would have missed some of the nice movies which I do think one should most definitely watch. My recommendations: Cars, Up, Shrek series, the Toy Story (its unbelievable how you can make a movie on feelings of toys, makes you want to fall in love with your toys, of course I always loved my toys !), Ice Age series (Peaches! was so funny), Kung Fu Panda to name a few.

2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: This movie had an effect on me similar to the book “Not Without My Daughter”. The images and the story stayed with me for a very long time after I had watched it and I remember walking around telling everyone I met to watch this movie. Built on the base of the German-Jew war and the holocaust, a heart touching tale through the eyes of two 8-year old kids. Most movies around the Holocaust end up as documentaries, which I have not watched much of, I must admit, but this is one movie which really drives the message home. A very high impact movie. Watch it if you haven’t !

I would love to hear your views!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 7: 4 Books

There’s a quote by an unknown author. ‘Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book’. I concur 100%. There have been innumerable instances when I have completely immersed myself in some books only to be jolted out of my daydreams by Mom or Dad. When I first read the book Client by John Grisham, I could actually picture the scenes happening in front of me. I didn’t have to see the movie Client for the visual representation. The book played itself in front of my eyes. Books by John Grisham and Robin Cook opened me to the world of novels but I was hooked to reading (read fiction) long before that.
Growing up was a magical experience for me. Books were my first love and will continue to remain the fondest to my heart. Who says time travel does not exist? I have travelled wide and far through the fables; lived different cultures, met all kinds of people – and loved the experience. I remember reading so many different kinds of books including and not limited to Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha, Chandamana, Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, and Nancy Drew. Enid Blyton clinched the #1 position in my list of favourite authors and on reading books like Malory Towers I would wish I could join a boarding school.
I’ll attempt to list the top 4 books of all-time but it’s going be a very difficult task. Asking one to limit your life’s readings to 4 books is very unfair unless you ask me to pick 4 books of history. I could hardly come up with 2 there. So here goes:
1.       Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody
One book which left such a deep imprint on my mind that I couldn’t sleep the night after I read it nor could I bring myself to visit the Haji Ali! I was in the 11th standard when I first read this book. I read it in two sittings and literally shivered with fright at certain points. It might not have this effect if you read this now, but it was very different at that age. A few days after reading this, I went to Haji Ali with my close friend D. As we walked over the bridge with beggars on both sides chanting something; it started to have a creepy effect on me. In the short distance from one end of the bridge to the steps of the tomb, I had removed my bangles, removed my ‘bindi’ and worn my dupatta as a scarf around my head in an effort to be someone I wasn’t. I have nothing against Muslims or the Islam religion. But remember, I was young and at an age where my thoughts might not have been the most sensible. The book had left its “carbon footprint” on my mind, never to be erased. We reached the steps of the tomb but I could not bring myself to go in. I stood there contemplating for a couple of minutes and finally we both turned and came back. I have not been able to visit till this date. Hope to visit it one day tho’.
2.       100 Photographs that changed the world
It’s a publication by the LIFE magazine. A quick book which you can browse through in less than ½ hour but again, a book, that this time, it’s pictures stay with you long after. It’s a collection of 100 life-changing photographs or basically pictures of memorable events ever since photography has been at play. And brief descriptions of each picture. Be it evolution related or culture, nature or science, this publication has tried to bring the best of life to one place. I can close my eyes and still picture one photograph on Chinese infanticide where new born babies are left to die in the woods. Of the Holocaust survivors. The Chernobyl disaster. The World Trade Centers. The very first picture of the double helix DNA. Science has come a long way. You might definitely feel that there are some events which should probably not have been listed and other important ones which could have been missed. Many firsts listed and overall a very well-made kaleidoscope. Definitely deserves a read.

3.       The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Be it Hansel and Gretel or Rapunzel’s story, fairy tales have always enticed me and drawn me into their magical world. It’s been at least 20 years since I last read this collection but I still remember some of the stories and images from this book. I was just talking to Swaps about my trip to Disney World, Florida and how I had got immersed in Cinderella’s coronation. Grimm’s fairy tales are what introduced me to that world. Sometimes I feel, even when I can grow up to be 60, I would love to sneak up at night and stay awake reading this collection J

4.       Blindsight by Robin Cook
My first true ‘novel’. Everything else came later. Hence, it had to figure on my list. This is what triggered everything else. If the first novel had been a downer, I doubt they would have held my interest. After I read this, I remember scouring the internet for information around organ donors to see if lists really exist so freely on the web or not. Like any other Robin Cook, a first rate thriller with a lot of twists and turns. I have enjoyed reading crime, medical and legal thrillers after that – starting out with the typical author list of any Indian - John Grisham, Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, Jeffrey Archer, Kristin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner – I have must read all their publications. Not to miss out on sagas like those from Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon but after a certain number of their books, they start to feel like stereotypes. I have also enjoyed light dramas by Kristin Hannah, Jodi Picoult and Barbara Delinsky.

There are quite a few more books which are worth a mention and it would be unfair to say they haven’t made an impression. So I’ll still list those out. Some of the few books (apart from those of the above listed authors) that I have rated 4 or more on a scale of 5. (PS: I maintain a list of books I have read and rated plus those I wish to someday).

·         Deception Point – How can I forget Dan Brown! Has to be the best master story teller ever!
·         It’s not about the bike by Lance Armstrong
·         Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
·         The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan
·         Why Men don’t listen and women can’t read maps by Barbara Pease
·         The space between us by Thrity Umrigar
·         One Night at a Call Center by Chetan Bhagat

I would love to hear your views!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 6: 5 Foods

Never in my life did I imagine that listing 5 favourite foods of mine would be so difficult; that limiting the list to just 5 of those would be so excruciatingly painful. I was never a foodie the first 27 or so years of my life, and thin, lankly pictures of me are proof of that statement. However, in the last 3 years or so, it’s like I got introduced to this whole new world and my taste buds have started having the time of their life, of course, the rest of my body having to bear the brunt of it gaining pounds at every possible opportunity. Not that I had any shortage or lack of variety of vegetarian food in India, but somehow the activity never made me gain weight. Hence, I didn’t think of food so much. Now, I gain, so I restrict, so I miss it more. I guess.  

I remember a quote from Friends, which a friend of mine Ankur, had posted on one of my recent photographs. 

Monica: The camera adds ten pounds
Chandler: How many cameras were actually on you?

Well, here goes. No prizes for guessing the #1 on my list. Most of my good friends would nail this one.

1. Paani Puri ! 
The mouth-watering streetside version of it has to be the best thing ever created by man ! I will be honest, I haven’t tried too many street vendors, just a few. I have tried the ones with boondi, ones with alu, ones with chole, even the healthy ones with sprouts (yuck !!!!) and loved all. The barrage of tastes every single one releases when it crumbles in my mouth .. mmmmm .. missing them so much now ! I make them sometimes at home as well but the satisfaction in someone else making them and me just enjoying them is something totally different ! Having a couple of them completely “theeka” would bring tears to my eyes but I still wouldn’t stop. And no, its not complete till the sukha-puri at the end !!! The walks and talks with so many of my friends from all circles of life, endless gossip, and finally topping it off with an Amul Kulfi at the end - Great times !!

2. Vada Pav
Another street delicacy. This is probably also the staple of a lot of people in Maharashtra. A quick stomach-filling snack, the taste of which stays long past. Often, while waiting for the bus either coming from college or travelling someplace, I might have missed my lunch or I might just be feeling hungry, a quick Rs.4 (those days) would fetch me a scrumptious vada pav and I would go munching happily. The best of those has to the be the Jumbo Vada Pav at Vashi Station. The garlic chutney and the fried green chillies, mmm Heaven !!! 

3. Daal Chaaval
Leave me stranded on an island with Wilson (that’s right, Tom Hank’s football from Cast Away) and an assurance that I would get my daily dose of daal chaaval and I would live happily ever after. I think this is one dish that you can’t really mess up, but then I have been known to mess up things that cannot be messed up. Thankfully, daal chaaval is not one of them. I dont make it way too often, however every time I do, Mahantesh and I sit licking our fingers at the end. 

4. Mommy’s Maggi.
Yep, very specific. Maggi might be a 2 min activity as they advertise it, however it has to be the way my Mom makes it - half boiling the Maggi first, then sautéing veggies (potatoes, carrots, peas, beans) and then boiling those and adding the Maggi back. Sounds simple right? I have tried and tried but the only thing simple about this is the way how the exact taste eludes me when I make it ! Something’s always off and I am yet to lay my finger on it. I have been away from home for a few years now and every time I go for a visit, this has to be in breakfast at least once/twice a week. Usually our breakfast menu would be either Dosai or Idlis or Adais, but me, I got to have my Maggi !!!!

5. Amul Kool (Pista/Kesar/Rose)
Not really a food, but it still figures on my top 5. Picture a hot day, riding in a crowded BEST bus, sweat dripping, sticky clothes and the hot sun burning down on you. You alight the bus and there’s an Amul stall right opposite with the Amul Kool bottles gleam in the shining sun. Yep, this has happened with me innumerable times and hence, the memory of it, is what makes it the best 5th food on my list. When I had my tonsils removed and could hardly open my mouth to eat food, Amul Kool was the one to pull me out of my miseries and my hunger. It had been a life saver then and continues to be one of my favourite foods. 

I am going to cheat a little here and also give due credit to other amazing foods like Dahi Batata Puri, Malai Sandwich, Cheese Masala Sandwich, Pure South Indian Curd Rice, Indo-Chinese foods like Gobi Manchurian, Paneer Chilli and so many more !!! I admit that most of the foods on my list are all Indian, this does not mean that I do not like other international foods. I love foods from the Thai cuisine, pastas with pesto sauce, some Mediterranean Greek dishes, some specific Mexican dishes and some others I am sure I have forgotten about, but I am sure, if I have to list the top 25 or so, they would definitely make it to that list !

I would love to hear your views!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 5: 6 Places

On to Day 5 of the 10 Day You Challenge. Today's about 6 places. I thought and thought and couldn't decide if this one was supposed to be about 6 places I have already been to or 6 places I want to go to. I did have a "want" in my previous week to visit Greece and it would already taken up one spot. So I finally a flipped a coin and it came to 6 places I want to visit. So I am promptly going to ignore the coin flip and am go with 6 places I have already been to. Here goes.

1. Maldives
A location of your dreams. The serenity, the beauty, the romance, the smells, the sand, the ocean. All of it takes your breath away. We had stayed at the Taj Resort and ended up getting completely pampered. The treatment would have been akin to those that princes and princesses would have got in earlier times. The island that we stayed at could be covered in a couple of hours stroll and even the capital of Maldives, Male was a place that tourists would cover in 4 hours. We lazed around with beers and ginger ale, waiters serving us drinks in the pool, floating in the waters in the private alcove behind our villa, feeding the sting ray, taking part in night time entertainment activities at the resort. 3 days of bliss. Not once did I remember work or home. Selfish us. But the place has a way of making you forget everything else. M and I keep thinking that we would love to go back there again. Someday. 

2. Changi Lake at Sikkim-Gangtok
This was a trip Appa-Amma, my sister and I had taken maybe 12 years back or so. A trip of the northeast. We visited Calcutta, Darjeeling, Sikkim-Gangtok during this trip and I was spellbound by some of the sights. One of the points on this trip was the Changi Lake at Gangtok for which we had to leave at 4:30 AM in the morning. I still remember my sister crying at having to wake up so soon and Mom dressing her up in her blue sweater because it would be cold out. Driving up in the van, with mist forming everytime we spoke and breathed, it was a new experience. The scenery, the lush green mountains and valleys, the chill nip in the air, the soft spoken beautiful people with bright small eyes and pink cheeks, and the air of complete serenity enveloped me. Driving up 12000 ft above sea level, where the lake had frozen to form a solid ground was something I had never seen before. I was scared and terrified to step on it afraid that it would break and I would fall through. The terror shows on my face on one of my pics where I sit on a rock with my feet on the frozen lake. This was also where I had the second best Maggi of my life along with small veggie samosa kind of items (I dont remember what they were called). Heavenly experience !

3. Athipulyur
A very small village somewhere south of Chennai. My dad's maternal uncle was the landlord of this village and I remember taking a trip every year from Chennai. He had a huge palatial house, of those kinds seen only on TV. Rock solid ornate oak pillars, a beautiful chained wooden swing, a magnificent courtyard, an open patio, fields and orchards where we as kids would play all day long. Even after tiring ourselves out, we would sit in the patio enjoying the evening breeze playing "choi" (a game played with small shells) watching goats saunter by. We would go play in the water from the local pump, pluck mangoes, so many that Grandma wouldnt know what to do with them ! I am sure we city people wouldn last more than 3-4 days in such a place but yet a beautiful childhood indulgence !!

4. Lonavala-Khandala-Matheran
Suicide point may be called so, but to me, how can someone ever think of giving up their life at such a beautiful spot. Maybe thats what drives them to. They get so lost in the moment it becomes easier to let go. Depressing thoughts apart, go to one of these places during the monsoon and with the fog, the light rain, bhutta, pakode and garama garam cutting chai - one cant go wrong. I have met people who have stayed all their life in Bombay, yet haven't visited one of these places. I say wake up people !! Matheran is also the place where a donkey/ass/horse whatever it was, threw me off its back for whatever stupid reason and thankfully I landed on my backpack that I was wearing. So even though my watch and cell phone broke, I was safe ! Everytime I think of that incident, I chuckle :) So yeah, I do love and remember these places for more than one reason !

5. Bombay
It may be called Mumbai now but to me it will always be Bombay. Love everything about it. Maybe now more because I have been away for a long time and hence I could be missing it more. I could be biased because of that but I do love the feel of Bombay. The local trains and buses, the incessant crowds, the haggling at roadside shops, the chaat ke theles, sugarcane juice shops, the ever growing number of malls, the number of cars on the roads and the people ! I could stand at a bus stop for an hour and just keep observing everything around me and not get bored. Most people complain about the traffic, the pollution, the population, at times I do too, yet at the end of the day I always come back to it. Home is where the heart is. And even if I think that I might want to eventually settle down somewhere where I could spend more time with my kids and family and not stuck in a bus in traffic, Bombay will still always be my first love !

6. Anushaktinagar
Sure, my college friends used to call it the "Lost World" in reference to place where dinosaurs lived, a place from an ancient era. But its where I spent all my time growing up and so its obviously a place extremely close to heart. Like any other person, I have so many fond memories of the people and things associated with it that it cannot but be on my list. The stream behind our School 3 where we used to catch tadpoles, the MAFCO corner, Garuda, North Gate, Nilgiri, the fields where we used to play the frisbee, the AEJC football ground, Prakash's store, paani-puri waala, the long walks we used to take, the late hours me and my friends used to meet up until, everything is special and it all links back to Anushakti. In my growing up years I used to have a lot of complaints, but my home and I have both since patched up !

When I listed all of these, it struck me that even though I have been in the US and been to a lot of places here, they don't figure in my top 6. I loved some of the spots here like LV, Niagra, SFO but I guess my list has more to do with memories than sights ! 

Addendum: I happened to read my own post again and I realized its funny how I have remembered to mention food items in each and every one of them !!!! Up until this post I didnt realize how much of a foodie I have become. If one were to pick all my favourite foods and put them in one place, would that become a favourite? Interesting thought ! Tho' I seriously need to step away, no wonder I have been loading up on pounds !!!

I would love to hear your views!
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