Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What about India for all Indians?

The Global Indian Diaspora meet, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2009, held in Chennai earlier this month drew hundreds of Indians (NRIs and PIOs) from across the world to the city. While many came to network with other like-minded Indians and explore business opportunities, others, like me, were hoping to discuss the issues that us, expat Indians, face in our adopted countries.

The PBD is a positive step forward in India's relationship with its diaspora. The conventions in the past few years have helped the Government acknowledge the important role played by the diaspora in India's efforts to acquire its rightful place in the comity of nations.

Among the decisions taken by the Government of India as a result of wider consultations held at these Conventions, are formulation of the Overseas Citizenship of India, establishment of Overseas Indian Facilitation Center, conceptualization of PIO University, formation of Prime Minister's Global Advisory Council of People of Indian Origin, and the proposed India Development Foundation. A series of programs like Know India program and a scholarship program for diaspora children have also been designed specifically for the diaspora youth.

Among other things, the convention this year held sessions on the preservation of diaspora language and culture and the importance of the diaspora as facilitators and bridge builders. The convention was a wonderful gathering of Indians from various walks of life and countries, and offered them an invaluable opportunity for interaction. However, like any new venture, there is a room for improvement. Here I list a few.

Where are the issues? As an Indian residing outside the country, we face many issues that are often un-noticed or overlooked. Some of these issues in todays' volatile economic situations may have serious repercussions and need to be addressed – like recession, job cuts, immigration issues, etc. Many immigrant Indians in the West face the imminent fear to receiving the pink slip. Many are stuck in the mortgage crisis in the US. Some face problems procuring migrant status for their families. There are many such issues that affect Indians abroad.

On the onset, when you hear of a diaspora meet, you expect it to be a dialog between the organizer, here the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, and the attendees. However, the convention this year seemed to be a monolog by the Indian Government. The ministers and officials of various states outlined their expectations from the Indians living abroad. At other panels the speakers spoke about the achievements of Indians overseas. However, there was no talk of the problems that the pravasis face outside the country and how the Government or the country can help them out when they are in trouble.

Representation of the common NRI: It seemed that there was little or no representation of the common Indian living abroad. The panelists at the convention, who represented the NRIs, can be easily called the elite crowd. They do not face the challenges of settling down in a new country or the worries of receiving a pink slip any day their company may collapse or decide on job cuts.

There is a dire need of having representation of the NRIs and PIOs from various walks of life who face everyday problems, to highlight these issues and the expectations that the non-resident Indians have from the Indian government. As the brief on the PBD website stated: “The annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention provides a much needed platform to the Overseas Indian Community for exchange of views on ways and means to fulfill their aspirations and expectations from the land of their ancestors.” The latter needs to be thought about.

Inaccessibility to the delegates: The PBD 2009 boasted of an impressive line-up of speakers of Indian origin from various countries. From former UN Under Secretary General Shashi Tharoor, to the chairman of India's National Knowledge Commission Sam Pitroda, to Harvard Professor Sugata Bose, and many more, they spoke and went. The sessions often went into an overtime, thus cutting out on Q&A sessions and leaving out the interaction with the attendees. The speakers were nowhere to be found once the panels got over. There was no opportunity for one-on-one interaction with them either.

Its all about money: Ultimately it all boils down to moolah. The underlying statement of PBD 2009 was attracting NRI money into India. Most panels focused on this aspect at the convention, some even losing focus of the topic and talking about money flow into India. Often there was a debate between ministers and officials of various states – each contending whose state was better for NRI investments and which states had made most progress and growth. The states clearly vied each other to convince the investors to chose their part of the country for ventures.

It was also pointed out that apart from business and investment opportunities, NRIs also had various prospects for philanthropy in the country. So whoever was not interested in doing trade and business in India, should consider diverting funds for charity to the country.

All said and done, a relationship can be based on the concept of give-and-take. As long as NRIs give their money to India (in form of investment or charity), they also have expectations from India to do something for them, and to look after their interests. The organizers of the PBD may want to think about this aspect for the future conventions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Identifying our identity?

Who is an Indian? How do we identify ourselves? Is it a person who was born and raised in India? Or the one who speaks Hindi and follows his culture and heritage? Or may be the patriot who misses his country and its people everyday, no matter where in the world he is. However, many expats today may prefer to identify and introduce themselves in a totally different way.

Activities abuzz, soon the many Indian American organizations in the country would be holding their annual conventions. But who will participate? Well, it really depends on how an Indian identifies himself.

If you are a Gujarati, you might be waiting for Gujarati Association of North America's (GANA) annual event. In case you are a youngster from that community, chances are you have already registered for Matri 2008 to be held in July. If you hail from Rajasthan, the Rajasthan Association of North America's (RANA) events may draw your attention. Same would be the case with Andhrites, whose Telugu Association of North America (TANA) also has a youth wing to encourage youngsters from the community to brace their language and culture. Punjabis have Academy of the Punjab in North America and the Punjab American Heritage Society. . We can go on and on with organizations for Tamils, Maharashtrians, Oriyas, et al.

Most of these organizations in their charter state that their mission is the promotion of their culture, heritage and language in the people of that community living in North America. These conventions also do very well with huge attendance registered by its patriots.

Organizations based on professions also are very popular among Indians here. The Asian American Hotel owners Association (AAHOA), which is predominantly Indian, held is regional conferences throughout June with good attendance. Their annual convention will be held in April 2009 and promotions are underway already.

Another popular organization is Asian American Convenience Stores Association (AACSA), which will hold its conference in November this year.

The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), which held its annual convention this week. Others not to be forgotten are The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE); Silicon Valley Indian Professional Organization; South Asian Women's Leadership Forum (SAWLF),; and the list goes on.

Most of these organizations register a good number of participation as their conventions cater to specific interests of the community. They get enough funding through their patrons, thus enabling the, to invite high profile guests like a Bollywood celebrity, a TV personality or a business tycoon.

But what happens when an organization that does not identify itself demographically or by profession but as an Indian holds a convention? No surprises here, the participation to such gatherings is very scarce, mostly constituting of the families of the people who might be presenting or are involved in the organization.

I was recently at the Hindi Mahotsav in New Jersey. The meet was organized by Hindi USA, an independent non-profit organization working pro actively to propagate Hindi in the Indian American community, and in turn promoting Indian unity. To linguistically stimulate the minds of Indian Americans the convention hosted two well known Hindi poets from India. The organization, passionately run by volunteers, holds Hindi classes in over 30 schools for children.

However, looking at the number of people present at the convention, it seemed that mostly they were the parents of the kids who took part in the program. The event organizers repeatedly requested the attendees to brace Hindi as their mother tongue and to respect the language as their own. Even the brilliant poets were intrigued by the fact that Indian Americans are letting go of Hindi in such a matter-of-fact way and that nobody is concerned about the preservation of the language.

Well, this is the state of our mother tongue today. And so is the state of being an Indian.

The Government of India has declared February 10th as World Hindi day. This is celebrated at the various Indian consulates and embassies all over the world. But that is where it gets limited to. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan holds regular classes in Hindi with the goal of preservation of the language. But many of us might be unaware that BVB actually has a branch in the heart on Manhattan.

When two Gujaratis meet on the street, they immediately start talking in their own language. So is the case with Punjabis, Tamils and other communities. We prefer to introduce ourselves by the community today, saying that “I am a Tamil, Punjabi, Marwari or Gujarati.” What should be on top of our minds is: “I am an Indian”.

This sentiment of our identity is only leading to a division within the society. At the end of the day we are all Indians. If an Indian organizes a meet, a convention, or a speech; we should all be there in the capacity of being an Indian... forgetting what part of India we migrated from.

That would not only benefit us on the national level only but also globally. It is the need of the hour that we all came together as Indians and not as a divided community. We need to be united in Washington to lobby for the Indo-US Nuclear deal; We need to be together in Canberra to promote the India-Australia Uranium deal; We need to be united in London to promote UK's support to India in Biotechnology, which has been identified as one of the main areas for enhanced cooperation from the country; we need to be one in Tokyo to encourage India's trade relations with Japan. We need to be united so that along with remembering 9/11, the world remembers that India struggles with terrorism everyday.

If we Indians all across the world stand together in front of the world, it would only be a matter of time when we would see the rise of our country politically, economically and culturally. In a nut shell, we need to be united for the cause of India.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Turkish Delight!

“Marhaba,” my friend Ayfer said as I made my way out of the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Instantaneously, a vague song that went like “Marhaba, Marhaba...,” went on in the back of my head and I realized it was the Turkish way of saying hello. I reciprocated her gesture.

Traveling is not just going to different lands, seeing the historical and famous buildings there, trying out new cuisines or meeting new people. There is more to this very popular activity. An important element of travel is communicating with the new people from these new cultures and lands. Language crisis is something that can change the very experience of a journey. For some it can put a damper on their much wanted vacation, while for others it can be the spice of a trip. I guess I fall in the latter category.

Born and brought up in India and studied in an English medium school, I was very confident of my verbal English skills and never gave a thought about communication troubles when I planned a trip across the world. But it did not take me much time to realize what I had missed. Reality bites hard, and for me, it was indeed very hard. This was my first brush with non-English speaking community and I was at a loss. Full of enthusiasm and zest, I made my way out of the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. But soon I was lost to the core. There were no hoardings in English and hardly anyone spoke my language!

Soon it turned out that spending time with Ayfer was not going to be as easy as I thought. My host’s English was just as good as my Turkish! And my mind raced with ideas how I was going to manage in this Middle-Eastern country. After the cordial exchange of greetings, we did not know how to strike a conversation.

It is said that actions speak louder than words, and soon we discovered the pleasures of the sign language. Ayfer would compliment the signs with her broken one-or-two-word English and I would try to respond back in the same manner – not going too fast and breaking my sentence into words so she could understand. I was convinced that by the time I left Turkey, I would have forgotten English grammar!

My nightmare came when I boarded a night bus to get to Bursa and meet my friend Melek. To my horror, there was not a single English-speaking soul on the bus. Forget about speaking, they wouldn’t even understand! The bus got delayed ‘cuz of heavy rain and I was starting to worry if I had missed my stop. What was I going to do if this thought was true! Trying to inquire from the bus attendant was futile and I decided to go with the flow. In my mind, planning different strategies what I was going to do if I had really missed the stop. It was my good luck that I had not and that they did spell out the town’s name in English at the bus terminal. Even the bus driver tried his best: “Ladies and Gentleman, we have landed Bursa Terminal. Our take-off time is 12.20 am”. I knew it was time to disembark.

Melek had smartly planned my visit. Anticipating the language problem, she had an English-Turkish digital dictionary handy. And, this was going to be our lifeline for the next three days. It was then I realized how she had managed to write me letters in English for the past three years.
Each time we wanted to talk, Melek would open the dictionary and we would key in what was to be said. And our kind dictionary would obligingly give us an instantaneous English translation, saving us the torture of making stupid actions or trying to decipher what the other was trying say.

The language crisis made my visit to Turkey an everlasting memory!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Make a meal? Sure!

I often stand in my kitchen and ponder over my culinary skills. No, can't say I am a great cook...Well...to tell you about my skills in the kitchen...I was never very interested in cooking... that is, until I moved away from my motherland and my mother.

Food was always associated with my mum...she is an expert cook and, going by that...most people expect me to be as good as her... well its only fair! But whenever I worried about it my mum said "Abhi kya chinta karni, shaadi ke baad to khana hi banana hai...abhi you live your life..." (Why to worry now...you will anyways be cooking after marriage...live your life now)... so true! sari chinta ab ho rahi hai! (Its now that I am worried).

Anyways...coming back to my travails in the kitchen... I had often wondered how am I going to meet those expectations and be able to put some extremely delicious food on the table. But you may be surprised to know that I am! How? If I say its a secret you would thing I am bluffing so here I reveal my new found love for my kitchen. The magical formula!

They are called make a meal sachets. They come in a wide variety of cuisines and companies. From Gits to Knorr to Pramapara to Milkmaid and now Sanjeev Kapoor...they are all competing with each other to provide us expat Indians with the desh ka swaad! (Taste of India) And some of them have come up with quite authentic and tasty stuff.

Knorr, I use for their soups and Indian Chinese dishes (Schezwan Paneer & Chinese Chilli). Sanjev Kapoor comes handy for Paneer Butter Masala and Pav Bhaji and I stick to Gits for Dhokla, Uthapam and Idli! I have tried Milkmaid's kalakand and its delicious but difficult to find in Patels. However, I do try to improvise with these packets and add my signature touch to them to make them taste a little different than what others might be cooking! Rest of the things I prepare from scratch. I sure inherited some of the culinary skills.

So you see having these products in the kitchen cabinet have made my life so much easier. Now I don't have to worry much about cooking on the days I am not in a mood to spend much time in the kitchen. Though on most days I do cook fresh regular food... I always have these packs stacked up at my home...who knows what my husband might be in a mood to eat.... at least we don't have to go to the restaurants anymore to eat Idlis! Thanks to these products my life in the kitchen is a bit easy!

Friday, October 19, 2007

A dip on the Dipper

I don't like roller coasters. No, I don't! There have been many instances when I have stood in the que for an hour and then chickened out when the enormity of the fall has struck me (my husband would be more than willing to testify on that one). With those high falls, my heart skips not just one but many beats... I shout and scream... sometimes even pray that I come out alive! They are simply scary. (Don't take me wrong though... I sure have ridden many before coming to this conclusion!.. and yet... I sometimes do like riding one.)

But this one was different... I am talking about the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz, California. A mid size, wooden roller coaster, which at some point in history was one of the giant coasters around in the United States... In fact, it was one of the few around.

This woodie was first built in 1924 and happens to be the 6th oldest roller coaster in the U.S., continuously operating in its original location.

Painted Red and White, it is a landmark of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and is a National Historic Landmark! It is said that the dipper would have hosted 55 million people at the end of 2007!

The coaster was built in just 47 days and cost $50,000. And, it cost $135,000 to paint it in 2001! Not just that...in 1924 the fare was only 15 cents; today it’s $4.50 for a one-ride ticket.

This roller coaster is quite a star as well. It appears in television commercials and videos for Mitsubishi, Ford Motor Company, Levi’s, Coors Light, the National Association of Credit Unions, Sony, U.S. Air, MTV, Yahoo, etc, etc, etc! It has also been featured in movies Sting II, The Lost Boys, Dangerous Minds, and Sudden Impact.

At a speed of 55 mph, the Giant Dipper has no loops and its drops are fun. when on the top one can see the Santa Cruz beach and the buzzy Boardwalk. And when the cars roll down the tracks, the rattling wood reminds the age of this structure.

It is said the Dipper works its magic on couples... tugging to my husband's arms...and screaming as my stomach tumbled inside...I was laughing as the ride ended... The Giant Dipper's charm sure worked on us.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sheer Brilliance

Remember that scene from the 2005 Tom Cruise movie War of the Worlds? If you have seen that movie, you may also remember that in one of the scenes... a Boeing 747 crashes in a neighborhood. What a scene... what conceptualization... and what picturization... it sure makes one wonder!

On the first instincts, one may think that director Steven Spielberg must have shot the scene through CGI effects and with the aide of miniature props.

Think again, it wasn't just CGI effects. And it wasn't miniature props either. Our director extraordinaire had the sheer brilliance and thought of bringing in a real Boeing 747 and breaking it down to look like a crash to shoot the scene!

Wow! I had gasped when saw the set still intact and preserved in the back lot of the Universal Studios, Los Angeles. I could have never thought that it was a real plane... ripped apart with every detail to make the scene look real and believable. No wonder why a Spielberg movie is a must see!

The plane in the crash scene is an All Nippon Airways (Japan) plane. Its' tail fin was repainted in a flat grey tone because it originally bore the colors and logo of a real airline. Pilots flying over the Universal back lot apparently saw the staged wreckage, recognized the colors and symbol on the tail and began calling in plane crash reports to the FAA. The plane parts were then repainted and disguised in order to discourage further false alarms.
Interesting...isn't it?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

God save your hands

I often think about this phrase. More often when I am in the kitchen. I learnt it in Istanbul, Turkey. My friend Ayfer had explained the Turkish tradition: "When someone cooks for you, you kiss their hands and say God save your hands." Basically you appreciate and honor his efforts to cook for you by doing this.

So I kissed Gulzaan's hands and repeated what I had just learnt! She had made veggie shorba for me..Turkish style.

But I think of the phrase not due to the tasty food that my friends cooked for me... going out of their way to feed me with something vegetarian for the many days I stayed with them...but because of their sensitivity. That one must thank the chef for the delicious food that one might be savoring.

For generally I can only associate "Bon App├ętit" with good food habits. But that is essentially to say...enjoy your food...thanks to whom? the person who cooked...right?

I have often advised my friends to compliment the chef in kitchen for the great food on the dinner table. Precisely... this is for all the wives and mums who cook the delicious food day after day..for years! Until we ourselves take charge of the kitchen... God save your hands!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Pretty pretty pretty...

Isnt it simply beautiful?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Save that walk

I learnt a new and conveniently important lesson in travelling last week. I was on a trip to California and you see I haven't yet started driving in this country. So I mostly rely on local transportation and often have to walk long distances to reach a destination.

I was in Sacramento and wanted to see the Towe Auto Museum. This collection of vintage cars is located about 2 miles from public transportation... so I printed out the directions and took on the foot... though I walked for a while... almost a mile later I got to a point where the sidewalks ended and the only option was to walk on the road. With the scorching heat on my head, I decided to give up.

I sat on a bench and started scurrying through the museum's pamphlet, trying to console myself that I was not going to miss much. And, that's when I saw "Free Shuttle" service that they offered. I immediately called them up and ten minuets later I was picked up in a 1916 vintage car and taken to the museum.

Moral of the story: Many sightseeing and tourist places offer shuttle services from bus stops, train stations, hotels and malls. You may want to check it up by calling them before walking down unnecessarily.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Generation Gap

Latest Dell laptops sit atop 18th century mahogany desks in the California State Assembly in Sacramento....making the officials' work easier... no more scurrying through the piles of papers as they did in the yesteryears. the age difference between the laptops and the desks -- more than a 100 years!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ocean one-on-one

How would you feel if one of the fiercest creatures on earth was staring at you.. only wishing it could dig its teeth into your flesh? And that creature is a shark! May be a chill down the spine...? Well I had a similar encounter...only that I was on the other side of the reinforced glass, thankfully!

I am talking about my trip to the Adventure Aquarium where I had teet-a-tee with sharks, hippos, turtles, seals, fishes and all kinds of sea creatures.

The Adventure Aquarium on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border sure has some adventure attached to it. Located on the Camden Riverfront in New Jersey, it overlooks the gorgeous Philadelphia skyline right across and can be a lot of fun for the sea lover and those with an interest in marine life.

The aquarium is divided into many parts...like the West African River Experience, where Nile hippos Button and Genny entertain the visitor. One gets to see them playing underwater... through the massive glass tanks.

The Juels Verne gallery houses the beautiful jelly fishes (See my pic below), the giant spider crabs and a Giant Pacific Octopus.

The Shark Realm is what i liked the best... my primary reason to visit...to have a full frontal view of the sharks! the 40-foot shark tunnel is the best what I have seen. Not only can you see the sharks through the glass...you can see them right over your head..often their eyes staring in hunger at you. Over 20 sharks live in this 550,000-gallon shark realm.

And if you’ve got the guts, the aquarium also lets you swim with the sharks under the guidance of an expert shark handler, of course. And no...I aint that adventurous. I did not even have the guts to touch a star fish (another feature).

The Caribbean Currents features hundreds of brightly colored tropical fish, lined seahorses, pipefish, barracuda, and the blue and gold macaws and double yellow-headed amazons.

The Ocean Realm introduces one of the rare creatures of the aquatic world the Shark rays. They are considered the "pandas" of the aquatic world because they are so rare in any aquarium setting.

The penguin island is one of my aves...cuz I love penguins...who doesnt? They’re cute. They walk funny. They’re flightless. They’re the African Penguins. And they’ve got over twenty of them.

And this is just a peek into the adventure..I sure had a great time there.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Love for the leaf

It was only yesterday while preparing dinner it stuck to me that may be I should write about the curry leaves sometime...Well, this may surprise many...who know me...cuz they also know that I never had a love for cooking! In fact...kitchen was just as unexplored for me as Mars is to the mankind... that was until I moved out of India...Yeah! slowly its getting me...I am enjoying my experimentations in the kitchen... though sometimes they do end up in disasters!

Coming back to curry leaves, or kadhi patta as it is called in most of India...or meetha neem patta, as we UPites call it! I was at a friend's place a few days back... and she suggested I must use the curry leaves to add fragrance and taste to my food. Though I wasn't very convinced at first, I nevertheless decided to give it a try after tasting the food she had prepared. And, on my next trip to Patel Cash & Carry I got a pack of fresh curry leaves.

The first time I tried it...I was a bit sceptic...how my family would react to the new found fragrance in my food. But everyone appreciated! Bingo! That is it! Curry leaves have now replaced the dry Bay leaves that I have been using all this while. And, they have become a regular feature of my food.... So much so that last week my husband commented: Are you going to use curry leaves in every dish you prepare now? My answer...? You must have guessed that by now!

My mum always made me go in the garden and pluck a few fresh ones... now I know why. May be I will do the same when I have kids too (and a garden!).

Curry leaves work the best when you put them first in oil along with cumin (jeera)...so try it that way.

Well...I don't know much about the curry leaves...so I am not going to profess my intelligence on the subject...but my experience says...it's a mighty good ingredient and worth a use in the curries that you prepare!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And while I was there...

A few shots I got while visiting Lady Liberty...

Standing Tall

We visited the Statue of Liberty this weekend. Though, the excursion is a bit worn-out for the seasoned traveller -- who likes to explore the unknown... Statue of Liberty sounds a bit too touristy to me as well. Yet, I enjoyed it!

Visiting Lady Liberty can be quite exciting for anyone visiting New York City or even New Jersey. The trip, not only allows a peek into the American history and heritage, it is an ode to every immigranat in this country. And, of course, it is of great visual appeal and offers many great camera shots. Add to it a nice breezy ferry ride on the Hudson River.

The statue itself is enormous and a must see. One cant even gauge the size of it unless he sees it for real. Very few know about the statue's history -- that it was a gift from France to America on the occasion of American independence. The statue was built in France itself and then shipped all across the Atlantic Ocean to America, where it was installed next to the Ellis Island just off Manhattan.

What could be more surprising? that an exact replica of the statue (at a much smaller scale) is also installed in Paris on the Seine River... And is also visible from the Eiffel Tower.

For many years, the statue served as the American landmark. Ships travelling through the Atlantic Ocean, knew they have reached New York when they could see the statue from afar. They then docked at the Ellis Island, where the passengers had to clear immigration before entering the US.

Today, the Ellis Island still harbors the American museum of Immigration. And one can take a look at the old immigration records by stopping at the Island en-route the Statue of Liberty. All ferries make a stop at the Ellis Island, which is also included in the fare.

And why is the statue green? It is built with sheets of copper. Over the many years, the metal has reacted with oxygen and water and has changed the statue's color from original bronze to green.

The Circle Line ferries run from Liberty State Park in NJ and Battery Park in New York. Make sure you chose a bright sunny day and don't forget to take your camera along, or you will Miss the great views of the world-famous Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Verazzano Bridge.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wonders of Life

Or the wonderous life? A jelly fish

Stoned stupor

Today my mind wanders to one of the very few racial experiences that I have faced. I, along with my sister were travelling to Stonehenge in UK. We took a train from London's Waterloo station for Salisbury.

So, we were on the train, when we felt that the ticket checker wasn't all that friendly to us given our "brown" skin. He gave us quite a few looks that made us uncomfortable...nevertheless, we ignored him until we had doubts about our stop.

It so happened that our train was delayed and made an unscheduled stop at one of the station en route. Confused, we inquired with the TC if that was the right place to get off for Stonehenge, to which he gave an affirmative response with a nice "YES".

As we disembarked, it was only after the train departed that we realized that the guy had shown his true nature...one of dislike for people who are not "blessed" with white skin. He had made us get off at a station where there was no transportation available... no buses...no cabs. And the next train was 45 minutes later.

The two of us were deserted on a deserted station for more than an hour to hop on the next train and reach our destination. It was only then we realised that no matter how advance we get, there are always few who pull you back.

Even though we lost more than two hours on the day trip we made (the next train was a local one) ....as we caught the first glimpse of the beautiful rocks of Stonehenge... we forgot how bad some people can treat you....no matter how shitty life may get..there is always a silver lining....!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Under the Bridge of Sigh

The Bridge of Sigh on River Cam in cambridge, UK. Named aptly, for on the left are the student houses and located on the right are the exam halls. A student surely lets out a deep sigh as he crosses over!

Painted Red & Blue

Colorful artistry at the temple at Badrinath

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A sloppy show

After attending his show at the NY fashion week last Friday, I am almost tempted to label Sabyasachi Mukherjee's Spring-Summer 2008 collection as sloppy! I am sure that raises a few eyebrows here and there, but I am driven by my honesty.

I won't say I am a fashion expert...but as a New York journalist, I sure have seen tad-a-few shows in the City to be able to comment on one. Being a New Yorker itself teaches you some very basic lessons of fashion. And if you live in this high profile city and want to jive-in with the rest of the Big Apple(ites), you sure would be following some good fashion sense.

Coming back to Sabyasachi's collection. Well, I am having to work some extra brain cells to be polite. No, I am not his critique....neither do I despise the designer...in fact I have been a fan of his...till last season, so to say. As much as I appreciated his collection at the New York Fashion Week in 2006, I also wore a Sabyasachi-inspired Saree for my own engagement this summer.

And, whatever I write here is out of sheer disappointment I went through last week. I think I was hoping for something much better. or shall I say much..much..much better.

For whatever I have understood about fashion shows and organizing one, I know for a fact that the success lies in its planning. I have interviewed many Indian and New York based designers and most of them suggest that not only should one have the best of the designs to show off... one must also plan for the right models...and for the right accessories to go with the designs...shoes, hair.. accesories...music...seating arrangement...and everything else.

Sabyasachi's show seemed to fail on many counts apart from the clothes. The designs did not offer anything fresh or out of the box. None would say that this was one of his spectacular shows where he presented something new. They were the same Sabyasachi cuts...same colors and same patterns.

But even if we leave the designer's creativity aside, even the planning wasn't up to the mark. Most models walked the ramp in their sneakers...and by New York fashion standards, that wont be flying too well. For the upscale New Yorker never thinks of anything less than stilettos and pumps.

There were also no accessories used to complete the looks. No hair-does... no hand bags and no jewelery. So the collection looked pretty much incomplete.

I do understand that coming from India, its a huge investment for anyone to show in NYC...but then if you are doing it...do it right! For the benefits that you may reap may even be better!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Flagged wisdom

So, I was at Barnes & Noble today when I saw a pack of Tibetan prayer flags on sale. They have reminded me of my involvement with the Tibetan cause....yeah that was some time back though! Back in the 90s, I was quite involved in the whole Tibetan movement for autonomy. I, along with my sister started the Delhi chapter of the Indo Tibet Friendship Forum and also took part in many rallies to protest Chinese possession of the small Himalayan country.

My mind wanders back to those days today...of meeting The Dalai Lama, making posters over night at the Tibetan Youth Hostel in Delhi and organizing debates on the topic across the Delhi University. And with that, all the delicious Tibetan food that I hogged on while doing all that.

Yeah, I am still sitting at the book store while I write this.

Coming back to the prayer flags, it was the first time I visited Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, when I saw these prayer flags flying high in the sky. The White, Red, Green, Blue and Yellow flags... attached to a rope, cris-crossed the streets. They not only added color but also gave the place an instant Tibetan character.

The Tibetan prayer flags are considered extremely sacred and you may find them at every Tibetan, home, temple, restaurant, shop... or any other place you are able to think. Why so important? They have many Tibetan Mantras, prayers and chantings printed on them and considered an important part of the temples.
Often, they are put up in the airy and open spaces. Tibetans believe that wind will carry the sacred mantras and chantings and their goodwill across the world, which would touch the lives of every human being!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Weekend Blues

We just had the Labor Day weekend here in America. Indeed, it's wonderful to have three days off from work. But what do you do... most of America travels on long weekends. So it may be by natural instincts that one may plan his trip on the three days as well.

But travelling on the long weekend can get quite tricky and sometimes disastrous. For one, as I said, most people plan to travel on their three-day breaks. The result -- over filled airports, too much traffic on roads, and trains have no seating space. Not only that, most hotels offer rooms at double or may be triple the price on such days. And so are the travel costs - flights to be precise.

I planned to go see the Niagara falls this weekend... but looking at the hotel prices, I decided otherwise. A room, that costs about $70 on any other Saturday was priced at $200 for this week! Most hotels and B&Bs were even sold out. So if so many people were going to one place, then one can imagine how crowded it would be there! Just taking the Maid of the Mist would have been a task. And driving to the falls would have been a nightmare, with all the traffic directed in the same direction.

Also, by my earlier experience in New York City, long weekends are big for tourists, who throng all such places to make the most of their holiday. Often, it is impossible to set your foot in NYC on these big weekends.
My take : Relax at home... or chill out at near by places on a big weekend and travel during the off season. It is much more easier and more value for money.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Food Fiasco

So, I was at Times Square in New York, when a friend, who recently came from India, suggested that we all eat hot dogs. Well.... sometimes making food choices in the West can be disastrous. Not because there is anything wrong with the hot dogs, except for one thing -- here they are made of beef unlike the potato ones that we get in India. And, I am sure for most Indians beef is a no-no on the menu list.

It is always good to research a bit on the food before you travel. It only makes your life easier and avoids any such disasters!

Honeymoon Travels

So..I was chatting with a friend of mine when she shared the plans of her upcoming wedding and the honeymoon that follows. Her plan -- to go India for the wedding, and while on her way back to the US, take a stopover in Europe for the honeymoon.

I guess many expat Indians often make such plans for their weddings. But, to me it doesn't sound to be the best idea. And as a recently wed person, I definitely can say that.

First, you are dead tiered after a three-day Indian wedding... which you arranged within the three weeks of your time off from work. Believe me, organizing an Indian wedding is quite a task and given that most American companise allow an average of three weeks' vacation every year, which one definitely uses at the time of his wedding. And then, the ceremonies leave you drained off energy... you definitely don't want to travel right after that when you know you have to take a 20-hour flight back home.

Second, the trans-Atlantic flights allow two baggage to check in and another one to carry...so together with he spouse, one may be carrying six+ baggage... and you don't want to travel in Europe with all that load. Given that you just got married chances are that you had enough to carry back to US... and this just might ruin your dream holiday!

My Take: take a short vacation after the wedding in India or close by if time permits, basically to relax and catch up on that lost sleep during the festivities and then plan another holiday in Europe or any place else, when you are rejuvenated, settled and ready to enjoy the beauty of the place. And travel light!