Saturday, May 30, 2009

Jei Ho!

Pre-script 1: The good people at BlogAdda have interviewed the Bartender Bhai here. Special thanks to the interviewer Harish for his patience -- I think I asked him more questions than he asked me!

Pre-script 2: If you're wondering about the 'typo' in the post title, read on. Post abhi baaki hai, mere dost!

So S2/D2/P2 arrived back in Singapore today. (Bewdas who are new to the bar may need to refer to this post to find out who they are.)

"Shall we go receive them at the airport? They're landing early in the morning on saturday." Pizzadude wrote gleefully to Viv and me a few days ago. I can assure you that this was no caring friend talking. This was a man who had been burning in the fire of vengeance since this little incident. And this seemed like the perfect little opportunity for him to have his revenge. Of course Viv and I got involved. We're only happy to get involved in anything that involves these keywords - S2/P2/D2, Pizzadude, a high degree of embarrassment, and of course, a camera for posterity.

And as is normal with us, what's a project without a title? And thanks to Viv's project-naming skills, project JEI HO was conceptualised and finalised partly over email and partly over mysore masala dosas last night.

So there we were, up at 5 am this morning, armed with the following:

- One steel thaali
- One small container of sindoor
- The ugliest garland in the world (See picture at your own risk. Warning: graphic image; parental guidance advised)
- One homemade poster (you'll see)

So we took at cab at 5.30 am to the train station and then a train to the airport. It was in the cab that we suddenly realised that in our sleepy and dazed state, we had forgotten the camera at home! Damn you lucky S2/D2/P2! Anyway, we decided to take the videos and photos using Viv's phone instead.

The train ride was rather eventful, and as often happens when you make a journey at an unearthly hour, the talk was inane. We discussed the possible superpowers of our homegrown superhero Veshtiman (read more about Veshtiman here). Viv is still working out the finer details of how many ways Veshtiman can use his veshti in, to save the world, but that's a whole other post (coming soon).

Meanwhile, the three of us reached the airport and freaked out to see that the flight had already landed. We hid behind the pillars and waited and waited and wondered and wondered. "What if they have already gone home? What if they pulled a fast one on us and told us the wrong flight timing??" In the midst of discussing how we would avoid ending up as the "embarrasees" in the case of either of the scenarios being true, we spotted S2/D2/P2! PHEW!

So we hid behind the pillar again, and just when the unsuspecting couple came out, we ambushed them with this poster. Proudly held high, to the amusement of onlookers! (There sure were a lot of people at the airport at an unearthly time like that!)

(Of course, I have blurred out the wedding pictures in the poster. I may be the Bhai, but sleep-deprived furious brides who have just been 'surprised' at the airport can be ahem, quite unpredictable.)

This was duly followed by the 'teeka ceremony' at the airport itself, and then we made the couple exchange the ugly garland. Well, there was only one garland, so there was no 'exchange' as such, we just used the same one. Shub remarked, "Thank goodness there is no aarti!" and then immediately retracted it with, "Wait, that's a dangerous statement to make." (Inside joke: When we had ambushed Pizzadude with the poster at the airport last year, he had said, "Thank goodness you didn't get a garland or something!" and Viv immediately took the garland out and honoured him with it. Muahahaha!)

But to Shub's relief, there actually was no aarti. We had briefly considered the aarti and ghanti, but we dropped the idea as we were not sure of Singapore's jail procedures for lighting a fire in Changi airport, and whether we could be bailed out in time to go to work on Monday.

Oh well.

Anyway, S2/D2/P2, it's good to have you guys back! Really. :)


PS: Ooh I almost forgot to disclose what JEI HO stands for! It's Joint Embarrassment Initiative for Husbandu and Oifu.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Power trip

Finally, I witnessed my first 100% South Indian wedding. (Actually, my own wedding would have been one too, except for one little factor that didn't meet the specifications -- the bride.)

Every now and then, I'd be overcome with amazement that I was at the wedding of someone whom I met through my blog! I liked this conversation between Pizzadude and Urv (fellow blogger-attendees at the wedding):

Urv - "How crazy is it on a scale of 1 to 10 to attend someone's wedding whom you have just met?"
Pizzadude - "19."

Of course, trying to explain to Shub's and Sumanth's surprised relatives how exactly I know the bride and groom without bringing in the blogs was a bit tricky, but most of the time, we got out of it by saying, "We're their friends from Singapore."

The wedding also proved to be a bloggers' meet of sorts, as I finally met Urv and Ved (technically not a blogger yet, but that will soon change -- *pauses to muahahaha* -- as Pizzadude and I have already started the brainwash process). Wait and watch.

Poor Urv and Ved. Where there are two Gujjus, will the Gujju jokes be behind? Viv and Sumanth were making plans for go-karting at this place called Patel's Inn. Urv had also expressed interest and so when he called to confirm he was joining, all of us yelled out at the same time, "Gujju discount!" Sheesh. Oh, by the way, Pizzadude and I have decided to do the 'G-U-J-J-U' dance from Kal Ho Na Ho at the next Gujju wedding we attend.

The wedding was great fun, especially for me, because I was considered as being from the groom's side (*ducks to avoid bridal chappal thrown by Shub*) and so got to partake in many of the ceremonies such as dousing him in turmeric, pouring rice over his hair and other such fun stuff. Fun for me, not him, of course. It is also noteworthy that Pizzadude, Viv and I woke up at 5 am, even before the bride and the groom did, just so we could be sure not to miss even the slightest detail of the early-morning wedding.

On the wedding day, I was feeling like the odd one out in my chiffon sari, surrounded by all the Kanjeevaram ones. I instantly felt better when my friend V looked at me and said, "If you were single, some 5-6 mamis would have surrounded you, asking you for your horoscope!" Heh heh!

I know I am digressing but speaking of the mamis, I got the pottu (bindi) lecture from one of them the other day. The pottu lecture is a lecture given to every non-pottu-wearing girl at some point in time or the other. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for pottus. But I only wear them with a sari or a salwar kameez. On this rather fateful day, I was in jeans and a T-shirt. The T-shirt had some text -- I’m not quite sure what as I had bought the T-shirt because I liked the colour -- but I’m sure it must have been something T-shirty (read rude). Point being – that’s the last outfit you would want to wear a pottu with. But as soon as this mami found out I had married a south Indian, out came the pottu lecture and how I should always wear a pottu no matter what clothes I’m wearing. So I smiled and nodded as I always do whenever I get the pottu lecture. Insincere, yes, but better than saying “Are you kidding me??” isn’t it?

Anyway, going back to the wedding, Viv and Pizzadude had decided to turn up in veshtis for the wedding. Pizzadude was so comfortable it seemed like he was born in one, earning himself the nickname 'Veshti-man' (We actually sang the theme song about the friendly neighbourhood Veshti-man whose veshti doubles up as his cape). Viv, however, had a tough time managing his, which almost fell off four times. So much for his proud "Of-course-I-don't-need-a-belt-I-can-handle-this."

During one of the ceremonies, the aunties had to nazar utaaro the bride and groom with laddoos and then gently toss the laddoos, one each in the four directions. Some aunties got a bit too excited and started hurling them like cricket balls. One of them went and hit a guy on the nose, while the other crossed the wall and landed on the road, prompting everyone to raise both hands and yell "Sixer!" How we laughed!

No marriage is complete without food. I do not even know how to begin talking about the food. Let''s just say I have never had so many banana leaf meals in my entire life as I had during the wedding. While I was almost dying of shock looking at the quantities, Viv was slurping away. In fact, he was the cook's clear favourite. Everyone kept telling him that he was the only one doing justice to the food, which prompted him to crack this food court joke.

Q - What do you do in a food court?
A - Justice to food.

As he wiped off the third helping of rice and rasam within seconds, somebody made a cricket joke, "Power play, eh, Viv?" Next thing I know, the guy serving me (obviously a cricket fan too) is grinning at everyone, pointing at me and saying, "But Madam here has declared." Sheesh.

At times, I felt like the guys who were serving the food were invisible! You don't even see them coming and suddenly you find yourself facing a rather large model of Mount Everest, made entirely of rice. Viv's very crucial advice to me was, "Watch your banana leaf, or it will auto-refresh." Very true. These guys just don't take no for an answer. In fact, there was this time, the offended cook himself marched all the way to my seat to teach me a thing or two, because I had refused the seventeenth helping of rasam.

If you are faced with one of these banana leaf serving guys, only the secret password can come to your rescue. One word. In fact, the only Kannada word I learnt in this trip. The life-saving "solpa" ("a little").

The wedding also had babies galore whom we subjected to our weird facial expressions in an attempt to make them laugh, but more often than not, reducing them to tears. Sumanth's 5-month-old niece, however, was quite receptive towards me and would often smile when she saw me. Of course, there were times she'd burst out crying, but it looked like she wasn't quite sure why exactly she had started crying in the first place. However, being a baby of principle, she'd ensure she finished what she'd started and conclude the crying in proper fashion.

Shub's elder niece of about three was initially shy, but after I put henna on her hands, she got all chatty and even declared that she liked me the most. I was instantly warned not to relate the incident to Vidya, one of Shub's best friends, upon whom the kid had bestowed the same title earlier. Oh by the way, Vidya reads this blog and I believe she is now fuming at the big fat thenga I am showing her. Muahahaha!

Then there was Shub's younger niece who had the most amazing hair-o-dynamics I have ever seen on a 6-month-old! And last, but not the least was another cousin of Sumanth's, also of about the same age, but with the amazing ability to drink from a steel tumbler. The baby finished two tumblerfuls of coconut water, and did not even pause to breathe or burp even once as she gulped them down. You had to see it to believe it!

Throughout the wedding, we came up with corny nicknames for the bride and groom. S2 (for obvious reasons), D2 (Dulha-Dulhan), P2 (Pati-Patni), and my favourite - husbandu and oifu! :D

Sumanth was such an awesomely DIY dulha. He was on his toes the entire time and yet, made time for us and drove us around, still maintaining his characteristic sense of humour, which is actually quite uncharacteristic of Indian weddings. Great guy. (Shub, you are also OK.)

Speaking of driving around, holy shit, Bangalore is all dug up for the metro, eh? As Viv says, the theme song for Bangalore should be 'Khudaya khair' from Billu. The traffic is more insane than what I remember from my trip there last year. But the drives were made so much more fun by Indian radio! Corny as it may be, I totally love the Ulfat 'Seekho mere saathu, Englis ki do baatu' Sultan chap, as he tries to teach the difference between 'motion' and 'emotion', 'shy' and 'cry' and 'propose' and 'dispose'.

Over the radio, we also managed to catch this uberly hilarious Kannada song. I don't know the lyrics, but it went something like:

"Australia, Nigeria, Cambodia,
Columbia, Malaysia, Namibia,
India Mandya India."

The guy just continued churning out country names ending with 'ia' with every stanza of the song, till I felt he was going to run out of countries and start singing "Malaria, Diphtheria, Diarrhoea!"

As if all the food we had at the wedding wasn't enough, we went on a food trip around Bangalore under the able guidance of the biggest foodie I know - Pizzadude. Of course, the highlight was Food Street, a quaint galli located in V. V. Puram, with stalls selling everything from masala Thums Up to masala dosa. We started off at the dosa stall, where the dosa-maker was holding a packet of ghee over the dosas. The packet had a tiny slit, and he was squirting ghee over the dosas like nobody's business. The dosas were so yummy we couldn't care less. We also had pani puri, pav bhaji, some sweet yellow pancake thingy (which I just learnt from Pizzadude's blog is called holige), and my favourite gobi manchurian! Yummy!

We didn't have too much time as we also had to visit Viv's cousin that evening (he has three sets of relatives in Bangalore) otherwise I'd have gone for another round of pani puri. Like I say, "Pani puri ke liye jagah pet mein nahin, dil mein hona mangta hai!" Till the day I left Bangalore, I had pani puri every single day. To the point that I shamelessly had pani puri on two consecutive days at a stall right outside the wedding mandap, in my heavy sari and lehenga respectively! I even had a rating system for the various locations where I had it, and Gullu's came tops. Of course, I deducted 1 point because Gullu junior dared to shoot the offensive "Medium?" question at me when asking me how spicy I wanted my pani puris. Medium meri jooti!

I had also been looking forward to McDonald's. Who looks forward to McDonald's, you ask. Well, when they have something as awesome as the paneer salsa wrap, there is not much you can do but give in. I also OD'ed quite a bit on... Maaza hi Maaza! Shaam sawere hun Maaza hi Maaaaazaaaaaaa! :D

Ooh, I almost forgot the shopping. When we got back to Shub's place after our shopping, and Shub asked, "So how was it?" Viv answered, "Let's just say Commercial Street has relocated to the boot of the car." True true.

We also went DVD shopping to Landmark, and at the sight of the thousands of Bollywood DVDs in front of me, I went quite nuts. We actually looked through every single DVD they had before picking out 13. In fact, I think they suspected something fishy was happening in the DVD section over their security cameras and actually sent a guard over to watch us. Sheesh.

After the wedding, we made a short trip to Puttur (took an overnight train, and talked into the wee hours of the morning), where we got to see plantations of araca nuts, vanilla and cocoa, and also cow farms. I actually touched the forehead of a cow! The last and only time I had touched a cow was when I was about 6 years old and was visiting my Dad’s ancestral home in his village. I had gone on a brave venture to attempt to milk a cow, who had almost whip-lashed me into oblivion with her offended tail. The cows at Puttur, however, seemed more respectful towards curious visitors like us.

We visited three of Sumanth’s relatives who fed us and fed us and fed us until they could feed us no more. We started off with mango juice made from mangoes grown in the backyard, followed by idlis that were twice the size of normal idlis, then mango payasam, then bananas, then a full banana leaf lunch. I believe that at some point in time, there were jalebis, pies and pineapple juice too, but my mind had blanked out by then so I don’t quite remember where we had them. And after all of that, we went to this ice-cream place because Sumanth insisted we had to try this sundae called ‘gadbad’. Gadbad was truly worth it, even though the next day my stomach experienced an emotion of the same name.

The trip was full of insane levels of travelling. We pretty much covered all modes of travel - plane, train, bus, car, cab, scooter and autorickshaw. Speaking of scooters, I was so amused at how offended Pizzadude got when I called his Activa a scooter.

Pizzadude (very offended) - "It's not a scooter. It's an Activa."
Me - "But Activa is a scooter, no?"
Pizzadude - No, it's not a scooter! It's an Activa.
Me - Then what is a scooter?
Pizzadude - Scooter is like... Bajaj!
Me - And Activa is not a scooter?
Pizzadude - No.
Ok this could have gone on forever.
Me - Erm... okay, do you have to tilt it when it doesn't start?
Pizzadude - NO!
Me - Ok then, that's settled. It's not a scooter.
Pizzadude - *big grin*

Shub also took me on a ride around her place on her scoo... I mean Activa. And then she actually let me ride it for a while! Under Viv's supervision, of course. Sheesh. The closest thing to an Activa I'd ridden was a jet ski in Bintan so at first I thought the brake was the accelerator as in the jet ski. If you have been on a jet ski, you'll know what I mean. No wonder I kept wondering why the scoo... Activa kept stopping when I wanted it to go faster! :P

All right, back to Puttur. After about half a day at Puttur, we set off for Mangalore where I finally tasted the famous Mangalore fish curry (yes, we ate. Again.) Finally, to the newlyweds’ relief, Pizzadude, Viv and I left them alone and made our way back to Singapore. We have been depressed since.

The warmth and hospitality you see in India is one of its kind. And it’s uniform across the country. Both the bride's and groom's parents behaved exactly like my parents do -- take in their children's friends as their own children. Incredibly heart-warming. We spent some 9 nights in India and almost every night, we found ourselves in a different house. And everywhere, we were greeted with the same warm and welcoming smiles.

The trip was all about greeting, meeting and eating. I resisted the urge to switch on my phone and also put a restraining order on myself when it came to computers.

I had no connectivity. But I didn't give a damn. I'd still managed to connect.


PS: That was not a pottu. That was a kala teeka for the husbandu and oifu.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Break away

As we sat around the dining table at a friend's place on Friday night and listened to him relate tales of Rishikesh and how people from all over the world went there and got stoned, I ignored Viv's "They get more b(h)ang for their buck at Rishikesh." joke and wondered. What is it that makes people from other countries go to India? Do they really find nirwana? Truth is, those who want to find nirwana can even find it in a Las Vegas casino. But there is something about India that attracts them. Tells them they will find what they are looking for.

I have my own selfish reasons to want to go to India every year. Just like them, I'm also looking for something. And contrary to popular belief, it is not just pani puri.

A trip to India, like the upcoming one to Bangalore this week, is my own little commercial break.

I have never worked in India, and I don't really know how it is to work there. But I have worked in Singapore and a part of the crazy, disciplined life does appeal to me. In spite of the competition, the stress, the work hours, there is structure and procedure. Things work, people work, and I appreciate that. Of course, many people leave the country and move to places like Australia and the US for a more relaxed work culture. Speaking of relaxed work cultures, My Dad, a banker in India, has time for a 1-hour morning walk, a gardening session, a newspaper session, and a hearty breakfast before he leaves for office. And he is home by 7. The bankers I know here, are also home by 7, but with a slight difference. They get home by 7 am instead of 7 pm.

Maybe it differs from industry to industry. Friends in India tell me it's getting more and more competitive and stressful to work in India. I guess the competition and the stress are more within us than around us, and that's why no matter where you are, you'll feel it. Sometimes one work-week feels like an extremely long never-ending day, and then the weekend is spent just recovering from it. By the time you recover from the weekend, the extremely long never-ending day is at your heels again. And the cycle repeats.

Thank goodness for holidays.

And here's why to me, an Indian holiday is different. A holiday at any other place is more about what I get to see. In India, it's always about what I get to feel. Last year, during a drive from Jaipur to Delhi, Starbreez, Viv and I were discussing the same thing. Every time I visit India, a part of me breaks open the cynical shell and emerges. An emotional, sensitive, humane part. Like a file in my computer which I never for because I tell myself I don't have the time to really go and look for it. Even though I could just run the search function, I don't. Because in my heart, perhaps I'm too afraid of not finding it. So I tell myself that it's probably there somewhere and that some day I will just stumble upon it and know for sure that it's there.

Going to India helps me find it. In spite of the very real possibility that the moment I land back here and get sucked into my work, I'll lose it. In no time. Like when a dream ends and you wake up, but you can sense the happenings of the dream linger on till you get out of bed and forget it all. It's kind of like how I feel when a movie makes me cry. The tears are not just of sadness, they are of relief. Relief of still possessing the ability to feel someone else's (albeit fictional) pain. Even though I may completely forget all about it as soon as I switch off the DVD player, it helps to know that I've not gone dead on the inside.

So I look forward to my little commercial breaks in India. Just like the commercial breaks during movies that help you take a break from the intensity to grab a snack, drink some water, take a pee, make a phone call, I need these little breaks to pause the intensity of my life in Singapore. Kind of helps me get back on track, reminds me of all the things that I want to do, all the things that I have to do. To be away from all the things that don't allow me to think about the things I should be thinking about. To make those little differences in my life when the break ends.

And just like how commercial breaks are best appreciated when they don't happen too often, I'm happy with my once-a-year trip to India. And having grown up in several cities, I have no so-called 'hometown'. So I just go anywhere. It doesn't matter where I go actually. No matter where I go, I know I'll still find that file.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Backstreet bird

This is a pretty old video and some of you may have already seen it, but I just came across it and was so amazed it had to be the video of the week!

Original YouTube video here.