Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Eve in Los Angeles

I more than made up for my absence in the US during Thanksgiving. Yesterday, we had a Christmas Eve party at Seema and Mick's and decided to have a full-blown turkey dinner. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite traditions and I was glad that we could do it this year before we moved to India.

Mona, Seema and I had the primary cooking responsibility while Mick played the able kitchen assistant role. I experimented with a new Alton Brown (foodtv) recipe for the turkey. This involved a rub of sea salt, black pepper, white pepper, allspice and brown sugar. My personal contribution to this recipe were the garlic cloves embedded in the meat. Finally, I added partially cooked apples, onions and herbs to the cavity. I also cooked my all time favorite garlic-basil mashed potatoes (to Aanish's delight). Mona did her ever-popular green bean casserole with fried onions, yams and a cherry/pineapple cobbler. Seema prepared the stuffing along with her speciality - Spinach did. She made another half dozen appetizers.

Richard started us off with killer Mojitos and the fun never stopped until the presents were unwrapped, dessert was eaten and some great memories were made!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Missing old friends

We were at a dinner the other day and my friend Glenn asked me what we would miss the most during our stay in India. I did not have to think much about this one. All of us are going to miss our friends and family the most. It took me many years in my life to realize that the quality of relationships and interactions with people defines the level of happiness that one experiences in life.

Our last few weeks in the US have been full of such interactions. We find ourselves spending most of our time thinking about people that we need to see or atleast talk to before we leave. We are working hard to make sure that we have updated contact information for all our friends and they have ours. Aanish and Ayaana have more play dates and sleep overs in a couple of weeks than they have had for the entire year. Seema (Mona's sister) and Mick (her husband) hosted a going-away party for us and gave us a chance to see some of our friends before we leave.

Fortunately, in the age of VOIP, e-mail, Instant Messaging and Skype - we will never be too far away. But we will miss the warmth and love of people with whom we have built lasting relationships over many years.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's a small world after all

December 14, 2006:

I thought I was in New York but why did it feel like Mumbai?

It must have been the aggressive cab drivers who kept trying to run me over every time I tried to cross a street. Or was it the street vendors on Times Square who had interesting and exotic merchandise that they were selling. No, no .. I think it was the throngs of people with battle-hardened faces storming down the roads with a mission! Was it the sights, sounds and smell of the place? The incredibly fine cuisine? The dogged determination and resilience of it's population?

I can't quite put my finger on it but folks who have been to both these cities will know what I am talking about. There is an uncanny similarity between these two cities that are situated a world apart. And it is not the roads and building that make them look similar but it is the heart and soul of the two cities that seem identical.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Peanuts and coke

I was on my first domestic flight in the US last week and flying from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. It is roughly a five hour flight and mine was an afternoon flight on American Airlines. As we reached the appropriate altitude, the hostess made her usual announcements about duration, flight time, dos and donts etc. followed by a description of in-flight food service.

The food service (Reminder: this is an afternoon, five-hour flight) consisted of a beverage. That is it. No peanuts, no pretzels, no cookie, nothing! A snack box was available for purchase ($10!) with two choices, both of which sounded unappetizing.

Of course, all of this reminded me of the 40-minute hops between Bangalore and Chennai where they fed you like this was going to be your last meal. I am reminded of the hot idlies, tasty snacks, yummy dessert, beverage and water served by polite and hospitable crew.

I remember reading recently that food service is not a significant expense item on an airlines budget. So what is wrong with this picture?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bangalore International

Phase 1 of my visit to India came to an end on Saturday, December 9th as I headed back for Los Angeles. I have spent over six weeks here and this place is beginning to feel like home now. But I am excited about returning. I have not been away this long from Mona, Aanish and Ayaana and can't wait to see them.

As I sat and watched the surroundings at the Bangalore International Airport waiting for my flight, I could see the transformation going on in India. I see a young American man walking in wearing a USC Trojans cap. A group of Chinese business men in suits are sitting in chairs across the aisle talking animatedly. Two women from Netherlands were sitting next to me and were in India for two days. They were in the banking business and were in India meeting with vendors and suppliers of banking software. They could not stop talking about their visit to the Infosys campus in Bangalore. I have heard that their campus in Mysore is even more spectacular.

There were about half dozen flights scheduled to depart to places all over the world within the next hour. The size of the crowds clearly indicated that every one of these was going to be packed!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

You can run but you can't hide

In a recent post, I was expressing my amazement at the connectedness that is enabled through technology. Well, I must confess that this connectedness is now making me paranoid!

About 2-3 weeks ago, I got my new blackberry and was happy to have my e-mail on the go. I had to go to the local Airtel office to pick up the handset and order service. The folks there were really nice and polite and tried to sell me a whole bunch of other stuff that I did not need.

Turns out that within a week or so, the Airtel billing cycle ended and my bill was due. This is supposed to be handled automatically by the company but apparently somebody forgot to tell Airtel. Thus far, I have received half dozen SMS messages, 2-3 e-mails and a couple of voice calls asking (politely demanding) payment. I have no way of turning this off and folks at the office swear that the invoices have been paid. Apparently the folks in the billing department and the harass-the-customer-for-payments-that-have-already-been-made department do not speak to each other often.

.... Hold on ... I am getting a call!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Let the Holiday Cheer begin

A common fixture on the roads in all major cities in India is the assortment of small independent "street-vendors" who are hawking a variety of goods to people in car, two-wheelers, auto-rickshaws, buses and of course, pedestrians. When a traffic light at major intersections turn red, these enterpreneurs move into action. Deals are made in seconds as they move from one potential customer to the other. Rain or shine - the business goes on. I have seen them sell everything from cleaning rags, fly swatter, flowers, fruits, roasted peanuts and of course newsppers and magazines.

Yesterday, I was stopped at the intersection on M.G. Road in my car and saw these hawkers spring into action. This time, they were not selling their usual ware. The item for sale was Santa Caps! Compared to other religious festivals in India, Christmas is quite a small festival. Christians form about 2.3% of the overall population (which is still 25M!). But the sale of Santa caps on the streets and the large well-decorated christmas trees in hotels and malls is clearly signaling the arrival of the holiday cheer (and shopping madness that is sure to follow!) here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Food fit for a "toothless" king!

I know, I know! My every other posting on this blog has something to do with food. It's probably because I am a food lover living in a food paradise. But I hope you are keeping track of my restaurant recommendations.

The latest one I must comment on is a place called Golconda Chimney. I visited this place with my cousins on Sunday. This restaurant is well known for it's kababs and deserves it's high reputation. The piece de resistance here is something called Kakori Kabab. This kabab was first prepared by the cooks of the Nawab of Kakori in Awadh. Legend has it that the Nawab had lost his teeth but not his strong craving for Kababs. These kababs are so soft, that they literally melt in your mouth. Apparently, the secret is the right proportion of papaya mixed in with spiced minced meat.

Simply, mouth-watering delicious!!!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Nature lover or just unlucky?

Aishwarya Rai is a well known Indian film actress who has also won the Miss World or Miss Universe contest in a prior year. A recent news item about her this week just fascinated me and I felt like I had to share it with all.

Aishwarya is dating another popular Indian movie star - Abhishek Bachan and wedding bells are expected to be ringing shortly. There was a story in the daily paper this week about the couple's visit to a Hindu shrine. Apparently they needed to make sure that their horoscopes are well aligned and all is well with the stars, planets and other celestial objects. Turns out that the lady is a Manglik! For the ignorant ones among you, a person is considered to be a Manglik when Mars is placed in the first, second, fourth, seventh, eighth or twelfth house from the natal ascendant of the moon. So what, you say? This condition results either in the early death of your spouse or an inharmonious relationship.

The solution? Miss Rai can deflect this terrible turn of events by marrying a tree! She must go through a complete and formal wedding ceremony with either a peepal or banana tree (no ordinary tree would do!). After this is done, she can marry a human being without any nasty consequences of planetary misalignment.

What happens to the tree? That is for the Tree People to worry about.