Monday, January 31, 2011

A new bruin in our family!

Today was a memorable day for Aanish. He received his acceptance letter from USC this evening. He has been working extremely hard on his college applications for the past 2-3 months. He applied to a total of 9 universities in California but USC (Mona and my alma mater) has always been his top choice. So there was major excitement in the house today when a courier from DHL delivered a package from USC. A loud cheer from Aanish confirmed what we were anxiously waiting for - the admissions confirmation letter.

A week later (I am editing this post after an interesting turn of events), Aanish received his acceptance letter by e-mail from UCLA. Along with his acceptance letter, he received multiple scholarships. Subsequently, he received scholarships from USC as well. But by then, he had decided to attend UCLA. All of a sudden, USC became the University of Second Choice!

It is a proud moment for Mona and I and we are relishing every minute of it. Just yesterday we were going through some old baby pictures of Aanish and Ayaana and now he is off to university. Don't know where the years flew by! But he is clearly ready for the big league.

We wish him the very best and hope that he will fulfill all his dreams!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Off with the training wheels ....

You feel that you are moving one step closer to sending your child out into the world when he/she starts learning how to drive. The symbolism about preparing your offspring for life in the big world out there is unmistakable as you watch him/her get behind the wheel.

Our moment has come! For a couple of weeks now, Mona and I have been giving Aanish driving lessons on the weekend. Today, he managed to get most of the complicated steps right and was able to nail the basics down - starting, moving and stopping! It is like watching your infant take his or her first steps (except this one involves a big machine and a misstep could land you in a hospital). But we were lucky. No major mishaps.

The lessons are on the service road in front of our building. We try to do them early in the morning when the traffic is light. We were pleasantly surprised to see a couple of other beginners learning to drive a car and felt the unspoken bond among us.

This is probably going to last several weeks and the experience is one of mixed emotions - pride and sadness!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Big Fat Indian Wedding!

Over 6000 (yes, I meant six thousand) guests, a dozen different rituals spread over a week, hundreds of out of town guests, choreographed dance performances and more! Move aside, Toula Portokalos. This is the real big, fat wedding.

We just returned from the wedding of Mona's niece, Shivangi, in Anand (Gujarat) and what a wedding it was. I had been wanting to attend a family wedding since we arrived in India over four years ago and we got an opportunity to do so last week. It was a unique and memorable experience for all of us.

Weddings are huge family affairs in Gujarat and this one was no exception. I met several of Mona's cousins and their families for the first time ever. But it seemed like we have all known each other for decades. The incredible warmth and the hospitality by all was overwhelming. We had a really good time getting to know each other and became really close during the days we spent together. This is a real boisterous and fun-loving family. The very first evening, we got together for what turned out to be a talent show. Everybody's (including mine) hidden singing talents were discovered that night.

The other fascinating aspect of the wedding were the number of interesting rituals that took place. These rituals are full of detailed tasks assigned to people with specific relationships to the bride and the groom. I couldn't imagine how somebody could remember all the details. But strange as some of the rituals seemed, all of them had a meaning and purpose.

There is lot of singing and dancing at a Gujarati wedding. These range from traditional Gujarati folk music and tribal dances to modern bollywood music and Bhangra! The bride and the groom along with a few dozen of their close family members also performed choreographed dance numbers during one of the events.

The other striking thing about this wedding was the medley of colorful outfits that everyone was wearing. The women looked stunning in their bright and colorful dresses while the men sported a combination of traditional suits to ethnic men's wear. All of us got into the spirit and were well equipped with special outfits that we had bought for the event. Ayaana probably had the best time of all as she really got into it and went all out to get dressed up and made up - all of 14 going on 18!

It was four days of unbridled fun and excitement. I can't wait for the next one!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The day the sky bursts into colors!

If you have not celebrated Sankranti in Gujarat, put it on your "100 things to do before I die" list! This is a must-have experience. For the uninitiated, Sankranti or Uttarayan, is a festival to celebrate the harvest season. The highlight of the festival is the flying of kites by thousands of young and old, women, men and children all over the city. Residents of the state of Gujarat are serious about this festival and we were fortunate to spend it this year in the cities of Anand and Baroda.

We spent the day of the festival (January 14th) in Anand with a number of Mona's cousins, nephews and nieces. The day was mostly spent on the terrace of an old house in Mona's ancestral neighborhood. The sky was dotted by thousands of kites of different colors. It looked like the entire population of the city had found it's way to every inch of a terrace of every building. Many of them had even setup their music system and were providing free entertainment for everyone. Of course, food, snacks and drinks were in endless supply.

None of us had much experience with flying kites but Ayaana seemed to have a natural talent for it. But all of us tried our hand at it and had a blast doing it. As the sun started to set and it began to get dark, paper lanterns with a small flame started to float in the air. We set out a couple from our terrace as well. As night time rolled in, the sky started to come alive with spectacular fireworks. It was an awesome sight and a fitting end to a memorable day.

We were fortunate to replicate this experience in Baroda on the next day. This time we were on the terrace of Ami (Mona's cousin) and Mayur's (Ami's husband) house. This time we had lots of their friends and neighbors for company. We spent a few hours flying kites and releasing paper lanterns in the sky.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Some Khaana and lots of Gaana

A group from Mumbai puts up a musical show each year in Bangalore called Khaana (food) and Gaana (songs). The show features live performers singing songs from the Golden Era of bollywood music (40s, 50s, 60s - hey, I was born in the 60s and 70s!). Mona and I attended the show last night and it was a blast!

First - the food! The food was organized by type (chaat, snacks, south indian, chinese etc.) and was being prepared and served at different stations. You could sample anything that was being served out there and almost everything was delicious. Snacks ranged from Mumbai's famous vada pav to Gujarat's fafda with green chillies. Since this was in Bangalore, there was an extensive selection of south indian offerings. Several options were available in the buffet for a full dinner. The dessert selection was extensive ranging from hot jalebis and kulfi on a wheel (!) to interesting selections like tawa mithai etc. You could top the dinner off with hot badam milk (served with style and flourish) and a paan (served straight into your mouth by a live paan-wala!).

The show itself was awesome! It started a bit slow with songs that were unfamiliar to us but soon picked up as the artists started to sing popular numbers. The singers were all amazing and their rendition of songs by the yester-year greats like Mukesh, Rafi, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, Lata Mangeshkar and Aasha Bhonsle were on the mark. The 30+ member orchestra was a masterpiece. The show was supposed to conclude by 11pm but it was still going past midnight when we left.

Quite an evening to remember!