Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Ode to my adorable Niece

I’ve seen many kids grow up around me. But my most favourite of them all is my 8-year old niece, N.
Now this may sound like self-praise, but this darling is so much like me. She’s sensitive, she’s secretive, she’s bubbly, and she’s a gem to have around. Being the first born in the next generation, she’s also the most loved and pampered of all. What is more, our names are just different by one letter!

I was unmarried when she was born and so, I share a very special connection with her. From cleaning her poop to taking her to school to reading her bed-time stories, I’ve done it all. These were the fun things that I was responsible for. It was my mum, her grand-mother, who took care of her healthy needs. After all, the aunt (ouch!) needs to be the fun part!

I saw my mother take care of her from the very beginning. She made sure N was massaged properly as a kid. Every family has a history of diseases. We were very careful she had none of our bad genes. My mother use to do light acupressure on her tiny feet. Not only her, my grandmother also massaged her legs!

When she grew a little older, they started giving her a regular dose of chyawanprash. Kids carry maximum germs from school and so, it was important to build her immunity. Her snack timings were fixed – a banana in the morning, honey almonds in the afternoon, chawanprash in the evening, and a candy whenever my dad opened his cupboard! She was such a doll that if my mother forgot one of these, she would ask for it herself, including the candy, ofcourse.

This angel is now all of 8. She goes to regular singing and piano classes because of her sweet voice and her mother’s love for music. During summer vacations, she goes for tennis and dancing lessons. She makes rangoli on Diwali, draws us cards on every occasion (she once made me a card for gifting her an iPad!!), skips, jumps, sings, dances, reads us stories… the list is endless.

All this wouldn’t have been possible if she was constantly falling sick. If she has a bad throat, her singing suffers. If she’s feeling weak, her love for tennis goes bust. I am so glad my family was pro-active when it came to taking care of the health of a little one. Her roots are solid and so, I don’t think anything can ever harm her now.

But you know what keeps her most active? -  her smile. This 8-year old has an ability to crack a joke at any given time. Laughter, they say, is the best medicine. And it is that which has kept her the way she is – pretty, sweet and the most adorable girl in the world!

And really, it is her that has given our home a new meaning. Our home is a happier place because of her running around and spreading the joy. Love you, my best!

Me with my favorite girl :)
This ode was written for Dabur's contest on Indiblogger wherein bloggers have to draw from personal experience and tell how a healthy child makes for a happy home.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ghar Waali Diwali!

Diwali – the very word brings so many awesome memories to my mind. I don’t think there is any festival, any occasion, any birthday, any wedding that I cherish so much than all Diwalis’ combined together.

As a kid, I use to stay in this lane surrounded by Marwaris who were over-the-top enthusiastic about every festival! We use to go to their terrace, which was highest in the lane, and burst crackers. Preparations use to start a month in advance with those tiny gun waala patakhas. On the actual day, we use to go to our elder aunt’s house to celebrate the day. Those were the pre-teenage days…

When we shifted to our new place, my brother had grown up into an adult. He had a gang of friends (all handsome guys to my teenage mind!!) who use to come to our place for cracker display at night, KP ki Diwali, as they use to call it. He was like a father figure to them when it came to bursting crackers and setting a scene for festivals. His enthusiasm in life still makes me so proud…

Apart from polluting the environment (as we have come to learn only now), we use to do a whole lot of good stuff also. Mom use to start cleaning the house a month in advance. Dad use to order sweets to be distributed to karigars and clients. I use to buy rangoli color and make a new design every year. And the maids, they use to wait for the day to get their bonus and new sarees from mom!!

Since my father owns a saree shop, we use to do Lakshmi pooja both in the house and at the shop. It used to be like an event wherein I always bought new clothes. It was like a ritual to buy either a suit or a lehnega on Diwali which could be used in the forthcoming weddings. So we use to dress up in bright shaadi waala clothes and go to the shop which was in the centre of a huge market. Oh, the stares we use to attract. After the pooja, dad always gave us envelopes filled with lots of money which was carefully saved and used to call boyfriends after a certain age!

We also use to go to my elder aunt’s shop for the pooja. Their shop was right in the centre of the main road, called Hazratganj in Lucknow. After the pooja, they use to burst crackers on the main road (those were the days of very less traffic). Not only this, the other saree shops in the market use to compete. So a rocket launched from us would be matched by a rocket launched by them. As a kid, it was the most awesome thing for us!

I wish I could go back to those times when someone was there to do cleaning for you, when someone was there to handle finances for you, when someone was there to take care of all the food, etc and you can just burst crackers and make merry…

Although Diwali has changed tremendously after marriage, the euphoria remains the same. Every year, we make sure we go to my in-laws place. I wish we could go to my house as well. But then, my parents have my brother, the Boy’s parents have us. In the last 6 years, we have skipped only twice because of work commitments.  This year, we will be heading home just a day before the big day and frankly, I cannot wait. The whole point of Diwali is being with family, enjoying the rituals, inhaling the fragrance of incense sticks, distributing/hogging on sweets and you just cannot get the same feeling playing teen patti with friends.

We are lucky that we have an easy going office that gives us so many leaves. We are lucky that we can afford the money it takes to go home. It's a blessing indeed to celebrate festivals with family. If you're still in two minds about going, I'd tell you to stop thinking and book your tickets. And from now on, celebrate all your Diwalis' at home. There is no better gift you can give yourself ...

I was reminded of my Ghar waali Diwali for this contest onIndiblogger. Do watch the following video which made me so emotional. I wannna go to my place tooooo!!!!! Damn shaadi!!!! Ok, ok, I will go home for two days post Diwali, so I should not complain :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Trip Report - Athens, Greece

In 2005, I went to South East Asia with my extended family. We were at Changi airport in Singapore when I saw this tall, gorgeous couple using the free Internet kiosk. When they left, I took their screen only to find the girl's mail-box open in front of me. It said that she was eloping with this boy. For me, this was like a fairytale with the most beautiful prince and princess starring in it. They were from Greece.

That was only a year after I had finished graduation in English Literature. Our course was full of stories from the Greek islands. Poseidon, Zeus, Athina... I knew them all. This land fascinated me a whole lot. Although that was also a time when I never wished for anything because of the fear of losing it all, I subconsciously dreamt of Greece being one of the places I could see.

Fast forward 9 years, we planned a trip to the islands only because we had a direct flight from our country of residence! Frankly, these trips were never a part of my agenda till we actually started doing them. And now, we've become greedy. So much so, that we even forsake fine-dining on weekends so that we can save for a good trip! Are we addicted or what?

Anyway, this was another unique trip because we had another couple with us along-with their 1-year old baby in tow. We had no clue what lay ahead of us, but because they asked us to accompany them, we just decided to go. The Boy told me that they will take care of their baby, and he will take care of his!

Athens was our first city. This city is the birthplace of western civilization surviving since more than 3000 years. The most fascinating thing is that they have managed to retain the homes of people who existed even then. The Acropolis stands tall in the middle of the city reminding everyone of the past. The likes of Zara, Mango, Chopard, Burberry co-exist in the by-lanes depicting the present times. But with all this, every day, there are protests in the centre of the city reminding us that the country has little future. The policemen, however, are the sexiest I have seen anywhere in the world!

Preserved beautifully.

A lot of the Acropolis was under reconstruction, so this is all we could see.

View of Athens from the top

Only if I knew all the history behind it!

The real beauty of Athens lie in it's ruins. If you're not a fan of history, the city will not do anything for you. It has a gorgeous port area where hundreds of ships park for visitors to take a glimpse of this historical delight. We went to lively squares, ate in bustling restaurants, avoided huge shopping areas and drank at the port. I had to push the Boy to see the Acropolis who didn't feel anything even at the top. I, on the other hand, felt like I was in one of my Literature books, living in those times. The climb wasn't easy since I had to convince the guard that I was indeed unable to climb and wanted to use the elevator which was only for people on a wheelchair. Thankfully, he obliged otherwise I would have been deprived of seeing one of the most awe-inspiring things in the world. That would also have been one of my first defeats which would hurt a lot...

The most lively place in all of Athens - Monastaraki square.
The Acropolis is in the background.

Athens port area

Another thing that stuck was a gang of 6 elderly ladies on a very slow Happy Train that took us inside the lanes. These women were in their 70's and seemed like very good friends. For more than an hour they did nothing but laugh. They were not interested in the sights but just living their life. I wish I could understand their language because I was extremely inspired by them. Their group is that one thing that will stay with me and motivate me for the rest of my life.

to be continued.

P.S. Like every trip, we didn't click many pictures because of the Boy's allergy to the camera. So, well, let me show you one of my favorite from Athens. Also, let me clear it before you say anything, I AM SHOWING OFF!!!

Bollywood go take a hike!!!!!

P.P.S As soon I landed back in my country, I saw these results. I think this year is special in many ways :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A post that goes nowhere

Packing for a vacation is a tricky business. Some, like the Boy, pack 1/2 an hour before leaving for the airport. Some, like my SIL, start packing 3 days before the vacation. And some, like a friend's MIL has a separate set of clothes for vacations which she packs weeks in advance!

Most people are like me - we start packing about 8-18 hours before our journey, depending on the flight schedule. So, like I have a flight tomorrow afternoon, I'll try to pack most of the stuff by tonight so that I can wake up late, bathe and just leave.

I usually go for one big vacation in a year. It is like an annual event for which I even buy new clothes. We never shop during our trips because, one, the Boy hates to enter shops, and two, because we never have the budget for it!! So before leaving, I'm told to buy whatever I want so that we can spend all the money on food and booze.

This year, however, I haven't done much shopping. I have no idea what I want to pack. The temperature is going to be around 20 degrees and so, a lot of skin show won't be possible! You see, our last trip was with my in-laws. I had to be fully clothed with them. So now, I'm dreaming of shortest shorts and skimpiest dresses. Ha! What is a vacation if you don't do stuff that you usually don't do, hmm?

Now here I am, 24 hours before I have to leave for an awesome trip, having no clue what to stuff in. However, I know everything the Boy will wear. He has the privilege of not knowing what is in the suitcase till we reach our destination. He says that I am too bossy and so he leaves the packing bit to me. I think he's too lazy! Also, I can't wait till the nth hour for him to pack and he will pack clothes from another era and then he will not fold them properly and....

Ok, I'm bossy, but it's for his own good.

I don't know what I want to achieve with this post. I've been trying to write since 2 days but have come up with absolutely nothing. I don't want to talk about NaMo or Rajdeep or Bigg Boss. I have a love/hate relationship going on with Karwachauth because, although I love the festival, the feminist in me hates the idea behind it. But I don't want to write about it either.

Oh by the way, I won a prize on Blogadda and was absolutely thrilled. This month, I also gifted a laptop to my maid's daughter in Lucknow. This was from my petite earnings from the prizes I win through this blog. She called me up and said so many awesome things that my eyes welled up. It made me feel better than how I feel when I win a prize :)

Anyway, I think I should end this jigsaw post and bid adieu to you guys. We will be in Greece for the next 10 days and soon after, we will head home for Diwali. I hope I can update this space and tell you all about the handsome men and women I see on the Greek Islands.

Till then, be good.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What Women Wear

It’s no hidden fact that women love to dress up. Our entire lives revolve around that one word – shopping. We may or may not be very fashionable, but we love to buy new clothes and flaunt them.

Whom do we dress for is a question that can have multiple answers. If one said she dressed for herself, you should probably look for the pajama she wears at home. If she has worn it for more than 6 months, then probably she doesn’t dress-up for herself. You know, because then her pajamas should be shiny as well.

If she says she dresses up for her partner, she would have an extensive lingerie collection as well. Now, of course, these generalizations are just, well, generalizations and are subject to standard deviations. The most common answer that you’ll hear is that we dress up to look good. Look good to whom? – One may ask. Well, to look good to other women.

How else can you explain the dressing up for Kitty parties? Women buy one new dress after the other bearing in mind that kitty party she has to go to the next month. They think of the coffee mornings, the girl’s night out and the Mommy meets before deciding on what to buy. We don’t want to impress other women, we just want to make them jealous. And somehow, we feel, wearing better clothes is one of the subtle ways to do that.

Women in Saudi Arabia wear abayas in public. But when they are at a party (which usually segregates men and women), they take off their abayas and show-off what they are wearing underneath it. I have heard that they are the most fashionable people in the whole world. If they dolled up for themselves or other men, they would probably never take off their abayas or probably wear basic, simple clothes. But because we dress up to look good, they go an extra mile to buy the most chic clothes available.

I still don’t know any woman who dresses to impress other men. I mean, do men even look at clothes? I assume they have wild imagination and if they want, they can even look underneath an abaya. Of course, most civilized men won’t do that.

This brings me to the whole cleavage controversy between Times of India and Deepika Padukone. If Deepika or any other woman wants to show-off her cleavage in REEL or REAL life, how does it matter? By pointing arrows on her assets, whom are you trying to titilize? Sure, you got a scandalous story on your site, but doesn’t that bother you that an educated lot like you has become like another road-side gunda?

What women wear has been under scrutiny for ages. Most people say women should dress up modestly to keep themselves safe.  Tell me, if men had such little self-control, would there be any nude beaches? Or rather, would there be any beaches at all? How would have cave men got any work done when they have had so many free-shows around them!?

If a woman wants to flirt with you, trust me, you would know. She doesn’t have to tighten her skirt or deepen her blouse to attract attention. We dress-up because we just LOVE to dress-up. You’re probably jealous because you just have that blue shirt and black pant. Pray you become a woman in your next life, because it is only then you will understand why we wear what we wear.

It is unfortunate that this article in TOI is by a woman herself. I really have no words to describe how ridiculous it all sounds. If the newspaper had apologized, it could have become like a ray of hope in our country. A response like this one is unbelievably regressive and makes me hate the newspaper and the journalism behind it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Movie Review - Daawat-e-ishq

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Daawat-e-ishq or the feast of love(!!) is set in the food havens of Lucknow and Hyderabad. Even though the title was repelling, I went in to watch only because I wanted to revisit my hometown and drool over the yummy Aditya Roy Kapur! Since I was able to do both, the movie worked for me.

The movie starts in Hyderabad where Gulrez (Parineeti) is looking for prospective grooms for herself. She is a well-educated, confident girl who refuses to settle for any Tom, Dick or Harry. Her father (Anupam Kher), a clerk in the High Court, has collected over 15 lacs to pay for her dowry. Since the amount is pretty less, Gulrez attracts only less-educated, mediocre guys. This frustrates her and so she plans a rather devious scheme to make her future brighter.

This plan lands her in Lucknow where she meets the charming Tariq who, obviously, runs a Kabab shop. I would like to add here that Lucknow serves the BEST Kababs and Biryani there ever is. I mean, you can make biryani at home, you can order it in restaurants, but the one you get in the streets and the dhabas in Lucknow is so different and sumptuous. My mouth was watering during the introduction scenes, and rightly so!!
They even serve this paratha with Kababs which you will not get in any other part of the world. That combination of succulent, melt-in-you-mouth delicacy is to-die-for.

So, yes, Tariq is not as educated as Gulrez, but his charming personality and humility makes her (and me!) fall in love with him. What follows next is for you to see because I don't believe in revealing plots here.

I thought the movie was fast-paced enough to keep us entertained. The trio acted very well all throughout. The music is awful. I mean, I didn't like a single song!! I think Hindi movies should start having just 2-3 songs for promotional activities and not incorporate these songs in the movie. They really make no sense.

Daawat-e-ishq deals with a very serious subject in a light-hearted manner. There are lots of how-can-this-happen moments in the movie which makes it a typical Bollywood affair. But in the end it leaves you with a smile and that is what really matters.

It also leaves you very hungry, especially for the authentic Indian food, which you will end up eating after the movie no matter what you planned for before entering the mall. So, Bon appetit!

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Walk through Vienna and Salzburg - Part 2

Read Part 1 here.
It's only fair to write the trip report of one place before heading to another. We will be going on a vacation to Greece in two weeks and so I should write this one now, right? I say it again on this blog, be jealous! Or not. We might be miserable in our old age for saving so little!!

So, anyway, after walking the lanes of Vienna (and a lot of walk at that since my FIL loves to walk and make everyone else walk with him!!!), admiring its architecture, falling in love with its sculptures, cruising in the canal and enjoying in the parks, we took a train to Salzburg. At this point I should tell you that some Europeans can be very mean. The trains usually have two two-seater rows. I was blatantly refused a seat twice in a packed train by teenage German girls. Now I am a decent looking girl - why would they refuse me a seat next to them!? Your guess is as good as mine. The adults were far more nice, by the way, and this was a two-off incident.

Anyhoo, I tried to focus on the scenery that almost never ended in our 4-hour journey. Austria is actually a mini, cheap Switzerland. The only difference is that in Switzerland the grass is always trimmed because, I think, the residents are fined if they don't maintain it. Austria has fewer rules so probably they don't trim their grass as much. But their huts and hills are equally beautiful. No matter where you go, you will find picture perfect scenery. Seriously, take any turn, no bad spot ever.

I had read that Salzburg is divided into two parts by a river - Old town and New town. We had booked a hotel apartment in the New town, which, upon arrival seemed equally beautiful. Unfortunately the pictures I have from there are all mine, gorging on food and beer.

Oh, beer. The Germans make the best beer in the world. There was this particular Indian restaurant below our hotel that served the yummiest local beer. The second time we went there, the waiter came to us with the menu. The Boy gestured and said hume bus... Before he could complete, the waiter said, haan bus beer chahiye! We felt like such bevadas (drunkards!).

The first day we walked around town and saw the famous old town. It was indeed very pretty. The main lane had such character that I was swept off my feet.

The famous Old Town street of Salzburg
We walked around a lot and just admired the town. There are very few pictures of places without us in the background and so, it's tough to put them up. Nevertheless...

The next day we took a bus to Berchesgaden, Germany which is very close to Salzburg. Our main aim was to cruise a beautiful lake called Konigsee.

St. Bartholoma on Konigsee

One of the most beautiful pictures I've ever taken without
 knowing anything about photography ;)

The lake from the church - this seemed
 like Panong Tso in Ladakh - just as pristine and quite.

Yes, this was nature at its best. But what lay ahead was even more amazing. We hired a car next day to go to a gorge. But as luck would have it, the gorge was closed for the day for some renovation. Thank God we had a car because otherwise switching buses is quite a task in remote villages. We then headed to a waterfall which was not as big but the mist was divine. I've fallen in love with mists from the waterfalls since Niagara - it was one of the most divine experiences of my life.

A picture from the road - told you, scenic, very scenic.

A castle along the road. Unfortunately we were bound by our GPS!!

Gollinger Waterfalls, Austria. Can you spot the couple? I wish I could jump
and reach that spot. It was soo damn romantic!
By the way, we packed yummy vegetable pulao and yoghurt for all of us in tiffins! So everywhere we went it was like a mini picnic. Although I missed trying a variety of foods, this was very important for my in-laws who, although didn't want to eat ghar ka khana, survived on home cooked meals. We packed another pulao the next day and headed to the most beautiful place I've ever seen.

It is called Salzkammergut - the lake district in Austria. The whole stretch is pinned with beautiful lakes and small picturesque villages.That is another reason we hired a car - because we wanted to cover the whole area and stop wherever we wanted. The first stop was Wolfgangsee.


After being mesmerized for the umpteenth time, we headed to the famous village of Hallstat. I can’t describe much in words how I felt there. It was a very touristy village but well, I could see why. Every house was picture perfect. Every spot was picture perfect. It was so, so pretty! I don't know if I could live in a tiny village like that (we walked the whole of it in an hour, I guess) but I could have certainly spent a few more days just admiring each and every corner. Let pictures do the talking for this:



Where was I!? Hallstat has that kind of power on you.

Our last day in Salzburg was a rainy day. It rained non-stop for 24 hours. We took a local bus pass and just saw the whole city. Since we took so many excursions, we missed quite a bit in Salzburg itself. But then, we might return. Salzburg was the first city in a hilly region that had a peppy vibe to it. Normally hill stations are boring in the evenings - Switzerland is. But Salzburg was awesome. All our evening were spent in classy restaurants where we went on dates without the in-laws! It was like college all over again. Only this time we were not sneaking out :)

Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg

Rain, rain, carry on!
Mirabel Gardens, Salzburg

A river runs through it - Salzburg

We loved the fair weather and we loved the rain. We loved just about everything in this cute little town. If you want to see one picturesque area in Europe and you don't want to spend a bomb going to Switzerland/Scandinavia, go to Salzburg. You won't regret it.