December 29, 2012

Spoilt for Choice

I still remember the time when Diwali used to stand for waking up before the sunrise, the traditional ganga snanam, touching the elders' feet afterwards and receiving blessings and new clothes from them. Diwali, Pongal, maybe Ganesha Chaturthi and the birthday were the only occasions when we would buy new clothes. So much that, everybody would eagerly anticipate the arrival of the festivals, get their clothes ready in advance and get terribly excited about the prospect of trying the new "dress" on. Did i go through all that this year? Of course not. I woke up as usual since i did not have to really compete against the street kids as to who would burst the first cracker of the day. I stopped the cracker bursting business ages ago. The ganga snanam happened in cauvery water and since mister tailor had not gotten my new clothes ready, i had to resort to wearing something that was not brand new. But what surprised me was the fact that i was not really disappointed. And why is that? That is because i dont really look forward to the handful of occasions anymore to pick a new dress or a pretty accessory. The "have money- will spend" attitude has taken away  the thrill out of new clothes for festivals.
I saw a poster yesterday that said, buy only things that are absolutely necessary and things that you really love. I think half the stuff i have is something that i have picked up as an impulse purchase, only to stop liking it a few days later. Another quarter of my stuff is what i have picked up because the discount was great!  Goal for 2013- Junking all the items not used over the past 6 months, giving away everything that i have stowed away in the secret hope that i will be able to fit into it someday again and to buy wisely from now on.
Coupon shopping has wrecked havoc with monthly budgets the whole last year. After a year of reckless spending, i am now wiser to know that no deal is the last deal. And most things that are bought with coupons are only add ons to existing stuff. Do i need that extra handbag that is on unbelievable 50% off? I know i will survive without it. So am not buying it. How many watches does one need? One or two for regular use, a dressy one for occasions. The eyes and the heart will continue rivet at the shiny Rolex watch on the glossy supplement of the ToI. But it is about finding out whether it is a want or a need.
There is plenty of choice out there when you go shopping. Life was much more simple when there was not much choice. I had one watch that i wore all through high school and college. Bought clothes only for festivals. Wore that same gold earring everyday. And now, i have to dwell on what to wear to work each morning even though i have a closet full of clothes. Once the clothes are picked, think about matching accessories. And no, not done yet. Shoes? Winterwear? I dont know if it is simple to go back to how it was in school. That would mean giving away all those accessories and am not yet ready for that. But yes, i am resolving to cut down on purchases. To pick up only the best of the things rather than being carried away by a discount. And am reserving all future purchases for important occasions so that, when i recollect a purchase, i can also recollect the occasion and the happiness associated with it.

November 12, 2012

Diwali Wishes

Here is wishing you all a bright, happy and prosperous Diwali. May the festive season bring in a lot of peace and contentment to all of us. And may the festive season bring in a little more responsibility in every one of us towards Mother Earth. Let there be more light. 

November 2, 2012

A Ride aboard the Nilgiri Mountain Rail

I have a fascination for trains and train journeys. As a kid, it was a yearly ritual to travel overnight to visit grandparents for the summer vacation. I have fond memories of the Rail Museum in Mysore - a staple stopover whenever any relative with a kid visited Mysore. As I grew up, I have taken the train to visit places far and wide apart. And now, I shuttle between Mysore and Bangalore, almost every week by train. Train journeys can be chaotic, sometimes boring and sometimes full of fun. My weekly journey though spans three hours to and fro, is uneventful and mostly spent on getting some shut eye in peace. However, sometime back, I was in for an altogether different experience when I took the Nilgiri Mountain train on a visit to Ooty. For starters, there is something about the air in hill stations that makes you want to breathe deeply. It just fills you up with so much energy!
We reached the Ooty station at 9 in the morning. My friend had already booked through the IRCTC website. So did not have to worry about ticket availability.

The train chugged off at quarter past nine from the Ooty station. While you can feel the nip in the air in the station, inside the train, once the windows are closed, it is warm and cosy. And you don't really want to open the windows, lest the cold air troubles other passengers. But there isn't any need for it as there are big windows on both sides that give breathtaking views as the train winds through the hills. Scenic and green, it is a sight to behold. Once in a while, the view gives way to a tunnel, evoking screams from the kids and adults alike. We passed by the Lovedale station which has been featured in many a movie. It appeared to be a small, sleepy town, right out of a picture postcard. 
The train does not stop at Lovedale. We had to get off at Ketti, the next stop, from where we would proceed to complete our itinerary. The friendly guard made my day by asking which college we were from :).  Half an hour of train journey. Just 9 kms of distance covered. A small little toy train. But the happiness out of the journey knows no bounds! Do take the train the next time you go to Ooty. 

August 15, 2012

Coffee made from cat poop, anyone?

I was watching this program on Fox Traveler where the anchor went on a night trail to catch a sighting of civets in Coorg. While they did not sight the elusive civet, what they found were its droppings. And what's more, the droppings comprised of a bunch of coffee beans. 

The jungle civet apparently picks the choicest of the coffee cherries and feeds on them during the night. But the animal can only digest the pulp. What remains behind is your coffee bean. The bean travels through its digestive system, gets mixed with all the enzymes and juices and is pooped in clusters. And these people who could not spot the civet, spotted the coffee bean cluster, picked it up (yuick!) and were amazed by it! 
The coffee bean clumps are then cleaned, dried and roasted and processed, as if nothing happened! 
I frantically googled this after watching the program and was shocked to see that coffee thus produced, is the most expensive coffee in the world. It is widely produced in Indonesia and sold on Amazon, at a price that is astounding- $44 for 100 gms! So much for cat poop! And why would someone pay so much for coffee? Because it is custom roasted in most places, is produced in very small quantities and is less bitter due to the magic juices secreted from the palm civet. I have one more thing to add to the list of its qualities that it is made from an animal's poop. Ew! 
Bizarre people with tonnes of money to spend would not mind the indulgence. But i hope they do tell their guests what's in the coffee before it is served :) And me, I am happy with my cuppa chai :) 

August 12, 2012

The Village, Mall of Mysore

Sunday lunch was at this new place in Mall of Mysore called Village. Located in the fourth floor of the mall, Village (Not to be confused with its namesake in Innovative Multiplex Complex and other places) has a nice artificially created rustic setting. You pay soon as you enter, at 1045 for 4 people, it seemed very reasonable. Soon as you pay, there is a guy playing the dhol and a lady with an aarti plate who welcomes you with a tika on the forehead.

Soon as the ceremonial welcome is done, they just let you be on your own. There is nobody really attending to you, it is as if you have strolled into a village mela.

There is a central area with a so-called Banyan tree with buntings tied all around it. On the particular day, the restaurant staff had organised musical chairs, passing the parcel and some other fun team game in the area. There is an open auto and a stage alongside from where you can enjoy the proceedings. Anybody is free to participate in their games. As you are playing, you can walk by for a chaat and have some more since everything on the floor is unlimited. I thought that two hands weren't really enough for the chaatwala to serve all the people at the "tabela" as they called it.
After the chaat, you can walk by to the dosa making man and pick your choice of dosa- masala, tomato-onion and i forget the third variety. Dosas are served with Chutney and Sambar. There is another guy by the side dishing out fresh salad. I picked a channa salad that they had nicely named  "Chaniya Waniya" :)

Main course comprises freshly made tandoor rotis and bajra roti  with baingan bharta, paneer pasanda, a kurma and channa masala. You can then go on to rice, hakka noodles and manchurian ( in a village setting? I decided to skip for good :) ) or take your pick from Samosa, dal-baati churma,dhokla and piping hot pakodas. All this can be washed down with unlimited chaas/ lassi served in bottles.                                                                  
Lassi bottle
The food in all is just about average. Nothing to write home about or nothing that would make you want to visit the place many times over. But must give it to them for recreating the village setting, for being really warm. A lady in the staff distributed dandiya sticks to every person in the restaurant and goaded each of us to get on the floor and dance. When there is an enthusiastic crowd, live dholak, foot tapping music, one really can't help but shake a leg and try a hand with dandiya. Go there if you have a big gang to have fun with, loads of time to while away, an appetite to eat a lot and the enthusiasm to dance away all that you have eaten!

P.S. Village is also located in Jayanagar Central in Bangalore

July 16, 2012

Of strangers and chance encounters

It was like any other normal Monday when i climbed into the train, early in the morning, to get to Bangalore. Had a disturbed sleep and found myself wide awake in an hour. Most other people in the train were still fast asleep, all cosy in their woolens- it really IS cold early morning! It was then that the lady came by and asked if she could sit down beside me. Unable to sleep, she had just climbed down from the upper berth. I immediately moved my bag to make some place for her. She gave me a big smile and offered to put my bag beside hers, on the upper berth. Tall and well built that she was, she picked it in a flick and did not even have to stretch to shove it on the upper berth.
I went back to the music that i was listening to. We sat quietly for a long time. When people started waking up one by one, she asked around for directions to the airport in Bangalore and how she could get there. While most of them suggested a taxi, i told her that the volvo was a better and more economic option. When i mentioned about some auto and taxi people fleecing foreigners, she gave me the "been through it" look and narrated an incident where the auto guy asked her to push the auto to get it started. And yes, subsequently drove away. Her lucky star was probably shining bright cause she was able to catch up with him at a signal and got her stuff back. I was actually shocked that someone could fall for a trick in the book as old as this!
Since she found an eager listener, she told me how she had paid upwards a thousand bucks for quarter of a kg of tea and about 150 a piece a bangle, fully knowing that they were overpriced. She told me she was a music teacher in Austria and let me peep into her travel diary. Pages and pages of the places that she had been to, references of hotels and restaurants, people she had met during her travel and her "to visit" list. Next on it was Mumbai, where she was headed. I was amazed at the extent of her research and planning- down to the restaurants, shopping places and guided tours, for all 5 days of her stay. I threw in a few more places in an around Mumbai from what i remembered of my last visit.
We got talking about single woman travelers, safety concerns, of what good pepper sprays are and how it was so damn exciting for her to save up and go travelling like this. As we got down at Bangalore Station, i offered to walk with her to the bus stop to show her where the BIAL buses stopped. As we were walking, we picked up where we left off on single woman topic. She told me how there were people back home in Austria coaxing her to get married, and i went "oh my god, it is the same story everywhere!" When we reached the BIAL stop and i wanted to shake hands with her, she pulled me and gave me a tight hug when i least expected it. My name went into her travel diary, along with my mail id. And as i was turning back, she stopped me to give me a "gift". Much as i tried to say no and refuse, she persisted and gave me a pretty clip and said it would look good on my hair. And that she did not know how else to say thanks for the help that i did. I never thought it was something worth a gift.
 I certainly would not have had the sensibility to show my gratitude with anything more than a word of thanks. And now that i look back, i wonder if i would have been so open in the first place, to taking a stranger's help while in a different city, and whether i would have had that kind of implicit trust that i would be taken the right way. I would certainly have cross checked with some research off the net or asked around more than one person. I started to work with a smile, clutching a pretty clip in my hand.
My week started on a good note. I met Ilvana, a woman really simple, who taught music, sewed her own clothes and was determined to see as much of the world, garner as many experiences and meet as many new people as possible!

May 23, 2012

Latest Acquisition

Say hello to my new Kindle touch! :)

Now my travel bag will not groan under the load of multiple books!

May 6, 2012

Mad Over Donuts, Bangalore

Yesterday, Mad Over Donuts, or M.O.D as they are known, opened shop in Bangalore. My hotshot yembeeyay friend who had done some project on niche chains like MOD dragged me along with her to sample some donuts at the place.
It was a long anticipated opening. The store has been under construction for a while now. On Saturday, the atmosphere was festive with a friendly man distributing balloons to young and old alike. The head chef guy was cheering the entire staff and all of them were chanting M-O-D aloud. And to add to all the happiness, they were giving away free samples of the donuts to all the people who walked in!

The place is hard to miss- standing right outside the food court of Phoenix Market City. M.O.D claims that those who have not lost their hearts to donuts would lose them post sampling them. And they stand true to their claim.

In keeping with our love for all things chocolaty, we set out to order the Choco Bomb and Double Trouble - two of their most recommended items. To our dismay, both trays were empty. However, the person at the counter told us that they were getting made, and would be available in a jiffy!

So I went on to sample my first donut from M.O.D. Sinful, delicious and wholesomely chocolaty. That is all I can say about it. Double trouble was worth every penny. It has a lot more filling when compared to what Donut Baker offers and scores on the taste front too!

One can see the bakers making donuts in the place. And my! I dont know whether it was because it was Day 1 or what, but the entire staff was buzzing with high energy!

They have other cheesy sounding flavors like Blush Factor, Original Sin and After dark. The donuts come in rings and are filled. And there are plenty of flavors to choose from! They are priced upwards Rs.50, slightly more premium than donut baker.

I intend to revisit and fill in more details.

P.S. Ashu, thanks a ton for taking me there and all the gyaan :)


March 29, 2012

The whole six yards

A conversation that led to this post:

Me: (In the pantry, steeping a tea bag) Wow! Enna special? You turned up in a saree!
She: Nothing special ya!
Me: Don't chumma say nothing. Birthday aa?
She: No ya! I have so many sarees. Rarely wear them. Why simply save it up for functions only? So i decided to wear it to work.
Me: Nice ya!
She: Well, it will look and all nice, but who is even thinking of me having to maintain it?
Me( thinking) If Saree maintenance is difficult, then why go for it? :)

For most of us ladies these days, office wear would mean a pair of jeans and a top or a salwar-kurta. The whole concept of the saree being an attire for everyday purpose is gone! Everybody complains about the difficulty in maintaining a saree! For God's sake, people work the fields in a saree. Until the advent of "modern outlook", the saree was our staple clothing. My mom goes to work everyday in a saree. How is being in an air conditioned office tough? Why then does our generation think that it is difficult to handle and manage? It is simply because we are not used to draping a saree. Anybody will vouch for the fact that a saree clad woman, when draped well, is elegance personified. But well, we have not been used to wearing it oh-so-often. It is only during some function that we would slip into one (of course, draping it isn't as easy as slipping-in!) And then all the maami's would go, aDa! So pretty! You girls look so nice in a saree. You should wear it often!
And then you suddenly feel that all eyes are on you. So much that you want to go back to being in your "normal" clothes. Ladies of our generation, who are interested, should learn the skill of draping the saree. Only then will we realise how beautiful it is. And we should start treating the saree also as normal clothing, not as something that is unmanageable and attention grabbing. And the first step to that would be to stop asking people who turn up to work in a saree as to what is special?! :)

March 15, 2012

Learning a new script

Having studied in KV, I am severely handicapped when it comes to my reading and writing skills in regional languages. So when tamil speaking friends at work took to learning to write kannada, i asked myself whether I was happy with just my English and Hindi script knowledge. I knew that I was happy with my passable kannada reading skills that serve the purpose of reading signboards and bus routes. Since I know that level of kannada, reading telugu movie posters is also not a big deal. The challenge of course, is with Tamil.

In the pre-google era, I would call my parents to read out the name of the interesting movie or serial playing out on Sun TV. Whenever I had to write out a comment in tamizh, naa english script ae vechchi sammaaLippen. But now, I want to learn the language. Simply because I want to read those lovely stories that Amma used to read out from Kumudam and Kalki. Because I want to be able to use right sounding tamizh words effortlessly like Gopinath does in Neeya Naana. Because I want to read Ponniyin Selvan. I have heard people raving about the novel like they rave about Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. I know that for a beginner, Ponniyin Selvan is far far away. But I like a good challenge. So I am at it, starting today :) It all  looks like jalebi right now, but very soon I should be able to make sense of the alphabet. Best thing is that the Tamil alphabet does not have so many letters!
P.S. Watch this space for an update in the form of the review of Ponniyin Selvan :)

March 13, 2012

Would you use Airtel money?

I am a big sucker for great ads. So when i saw the ad for airtel money, where the girl spots this god-awesome bag but doesn't have the cash for it, i really felt for her. And felt that she should get the money for the bag. And when her mum dearest said, tathasthu! for her bag wish and sent her money thru phone, i was smiling along with the mother-daughter.

Got me to do some digging up on Airtel Money. So how does it work?
1. Mom has an airtel money account. Daughter has an airtel money account.
2. Mom loads cash into her account either by physically depositing money at an airtel office or transfer thru net banking.
3. Mom needs a power account to send money (Rs.50 subscription). She pays Rs. 5 per transaction below 500 and 10 for transactions above 500. (The bag certainly isn't coming for 500!!)
4. Daughter receives the money.
5. Daughter prays real hard that the store accepts the airtel money. If she is in luck, then he would. She would have to transfer money to his account by payment. And in case she sends it to the wrong ID, airtel does not hold itself responsible. If the merchant did not receive the money, then she would have to contact airtel customer care with transaction ID.
And yes, its a given that this would mean that all parties involved in the transactions have airtel accounts!

Now a simple question, why would anybody go thru this hassle in the age of debit and credit cards?! And if the mom is as tech-savvy, then she can as well use mobile banking and transfer money instantly to her daughter's account.
Same case with money transfer. When i can fund transfer directly to another account, free of charge, why would i do it to my airtel phone, so as to later transfer it again, at a charge to someone else's money account?
They let you book movie tickets using their money service, but you cannot pick your seats. Riders, charges  and conditions are there with almost every transaction. While their tagline says, it's not just about the money, they are charging money for everything ;)
I really did not understand airtel ka funda behind launching this service. I'd rather swipe my credit card free of cost and also accrue points for my purchase. Can you think of anyway in which airtel money would be advantageous and convenient?

March 4, 2012

Why Pinnnk for the ladies?

I have been going through hoards of websites in the past couple of weeks in order to get the best deal for a certain phone that i have had my eye on for a while. The search spanned the Valentine's day week and I was cringing whenever i saw the hearts all over the websites. What irritated me the most was, in the gifts for Him section, you found all the smart looking phones and practical gifts. On the other hand, gifts for her featured *PINK* stuff, and was mostly things like stuffed toys, chocolates, pink bags and wallets, pink phones (Beat that!). What makes the online stores think that girls would love stuffed toys? The very fact that she is old enough to receive a valentine's day gift means that the girl is a grown up! Stuffed toys are for kids! And why do they not think the ladies would be delighted in receiving a practical gift? Why give a pink phones that has hardly any desirable features? Don't you think a black "useful" phone would please her? Don't you think she would appreciate a practical gift like an external hard disk ?

A note to the online marketing people, women don't need a pink phone or a stuffed toy to make them feel special. The poor guy will probably face her ire if he gives her an overstuffed teddy bear while she was expecting something useful! And what makes you think that women should be given pink gadgets? I bought myself a stylish black phone  and am in love with it! More on the phone later.
Women these days are probably as informed as the men about gadgets. They are practical and they know what they want. And speaking from common knowledge, what they want is certainly not a cuddly teddy bear!

February 5, 2012

Volvo Janata

I take the Volvo to work everyday. It is convenient, i can switch off during the journey, take a nap or just watch the traffic passing by. It is a short distance from home to work- about 8 kms. But the traffic makes sure that everyone moves at a snail's pace, There are people driving by, beside the bus- one person in a car. A royal waste of fuel that just adds to the congestion on the roads.
I take my eyes off the road and take a look at the people travelling along. Most of them have a laptop bag on their laps and are occupied with their phones. Some fancy, some basic. They are either talking or listening to music. I see the girl giggling away and giving a coy smile as she talks. And i want to say, "Lady, the person on the other end can certainly not see all your 32 teeth. No point smiling so much."
Then there are the people oblivious of their phones having three plus inch displays. The person next to you cannot but help accidentally looking at the message that you are typing.
There are also the intellectual types. Some come armed with the newspaper and use the travel time to catch up with the latest news. And the person beside him and behind him will try to read the same news, for free. The next kind of intellectuals is the most common kind. People with novels. If you are a regular, you will know the pattern. Takes close to a week to finish a book. Most people will have books from flipkart. Maybe the same bookmark as you do.  Usually it is a Chetan Bhagat or Durjoy Dutta. So much for intellect!
The ones who are not on the phone or occupied with the book, are using the Volvo ride to put on some soothing or headbanging music and relax their own way. And this is not just on my bus route. I am sure that this would be the scene on any bus route.
The people whom i cannot put into any of these categories are the ones who simply sit and stare. Some openly, some under the veil of their sunglasses. The persistent starers always sit in the seats the face the others in the bus.
I suddenly realize what i am doing, and take my eyes off the people in the bus. I certainly don't want to fall into the staring people category. It is time to turn my focus onto the newspaper of the person sitting in front of me. :)

January 29, 2012

Have you started reading The Hindu yet?

I was pleasantly surprised to come across the commercials that were asking common people GK questions at the airports, railway station, parking lots and malls. What does ATM stand for? Who is the Vice President of India? Who is the successor of Rantan Tata? That evoked a very matter-of-fact response- Actually, his son, Mukesh Ambani! LOL! What is Tahrir Square? A shape, like circle :P! And they followed it up with questions like What is Hrithik's pet name? Who is the actress known for being Size zero? And well, everybody knew the answers to those questions! And they all got the same question after that- Which newspaper do you read? Then come the stock replies- beep-beep-beep- all the dumb looking people mouthing, you guessed it-  Times Of India. There are multiple minute long ads, with a good background score, crisply edited,  that make a fun watch.  And to add salt to the injury, they tell you to read The Hindu in order to "stay ahead of the Times"! Ouch!
I personally don't think that people who read ToI are essentially dumb. The paper just has been packaged well to make it appealing to a casual reader. That does not mean that ToI would not talk about Cyrus Mistry or the Egyptian crisis. Just that, people probably reach for the supplement for the gossip more than looking at the headlines. On the other hand, The Hindu has more "stuff". And that makes you read the headlines and all that goes along with it.  I am a recent "The Hindu" convert and can vouch that the paper does wonders to  your vocab and general knowledge- only, only if you read it line by line. A cursory glance at The Hindu would not do you much good. You might as well read any other paper and get the same information.
But out of all this, what gladdened me was to see The Hindu taking pot shots at ToI. The newspaper has recently had a management change and looks like they are set to change their image from being the laid back "no fluff-only stuff" paper to an aggressive paper that wants to assert that it is the best. May even prompt a lot of people to take to reading The Hindu. It now remains to see how ToI responds to this. This is Fun! 

January 23, 2012

Of rivers and plastic bags

I am sitting in the train and waiting for it to reach Mysore as soon as possible so that i can do something to satiate my craving for an evening snack. My calculation about reaching home by half past 5 on a Saturday, right in time for chai and snack has gone amiss. The train started off late from Bangalore and is running behind schedule. And my stomach doesn't really like it and growls in response.
The sight of Srirangapatna is heartening- 1. Mysore is not very far off. 2. It had been a while since i had gotten to see Cauvery at Srirangapatna. Since my regular travel happens early in the morning or late evening, i normally do not get to see the river flowing by. It used to be a favorite activity during childhood to see the river, notice the rocks and wonder during summer at how this sparing water body feeds an entire state. Or marvel at the gushing waters in monsoon.
As i was reminiscing and staring at the water, PLONK went two plastic bags from the next compartment, straight into the river! While i wanted to give a piece of my mind to the people who threw it in, I held back, wondering whether it would be of any good?! They would probably ask me to point them to the dustbin that was glaringly absent in the compartment. Also, i have had bad experiences in the past when the person i was giving advice to would stare at me as if I was the person on the wrong side. And i would get some collective looks from the onlookers all of them giving away what they are thinking- "This girl has gone crazy!". I dunno if it is crazy to tell someone to use the dustbin and not pollute the river with plastic bags. It should not be. The river is the lifeline for so many people. It is from that river that you get your water for consumption daily. So please think twice before throwing plastic bags with trash into it. If there is no dustbin, you can always leave the trash under your seat in the train. The cleaning people will take care of disposing it. Water bodies should not be your dumping place. Please give due consideration to the environment. It needs effort to sustain. And that effort should come from each and every one of us.