Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kaapi...

Normally I don't drink Coffee/Tea in office, because I am very sensitive to taste and smell. There have been very few coffee machines / vendors who have been lucky to have been as their customer. But today, I simply could not keep my eyes open. So, with great reluctance I dragged myself up to the "Java" coffee shop upstairs and ordered the only coffee type I can ever see on any american coffee shop board - Cappuccino. After sneaking a glance around, I unceremoniously scooped out the cream onto a tissue and dumped it into the bin. Carefully balacing the hot concoction, and murmurring all the god's names (after the coffee has been made, i don't know what is the use of praying - after all god cannot magically go into my coffee and change its taste - like the zee-boom-ba in Pattanathil bootham), I arrived at my place and tentatively tasted it - and ...... was thrilled to taste the extremely bitter coffee. Nobody else, I am sure, would even come near it - but I loved it! It brought back memories of the good old "Kaapi and evening tiffin" days of late 2004 - early 2005 in India - with Subha and Meens(as we affectionately called Meena).

It was in late 2004 and early 2005, I could say that our friendship bloomed the best - when all 3 of us were back from our respective onsite assignments and since we did not have other "gangs" to disturb us - we hung around with each other most of the time. And as any other employee, our fav hang out was the food court - hightlighted with hot-dark coffee from the indianised "Coffee-Day". The dark-skinned, ever-smiling young lad would just have a look at us and shout instructions - "One coffee - less sugar - more strong". With a satisfied smug on our face, at seeing the rich brown liquid in the cup, we would comfortable settle ourselves under the shade of a palm tree and gossip about the latest happenings in life,world,office - or 'sight adichofy' the new girls in campus(please don't get the wrong idea - we are straight - all 3 married to men only :D) - or complain about the latest boss/appraisal - or subha and me crib about how difficult it was to get wait to get married ... Somedays we would be lured by the enticing menu of the snack inside the Food court and order. Ah! I miss those - Masala/Onion/Plain Dosa(We 3 would always have a competition as to who got more when we shared the dosas - "Enakku konjam vidu dee panni..."), Bread bajji(subha would meticulously drain out all the oil on the tissue and still make a face), Spring rolls(I would complain how small the rolls were for the money we paid).... Those were some of the best days of my work life!

As the whiff of the freshly ground mocha nuts tickles my nose, my mind goes back to those carefree days in Chennai. I don't think a situation like that will ever come back, all 3 of us working at the same place - taking breaks and talking of this-and-that - much as I would love it - but then life is like that ..... Atleast I have those memories :).....

Monday, July 17, 2006

One Night .. & 5 . Someone



Last Year when I was in India, suddenly I started hearing a lot about this new writer on the block called Chetan Bhagat and there was a mad rush to buy/read this book called 5 point Someone. I somehow happened to miss my chance to get a copy of the same. Later I heard that the same person had written another book called "One Night @ a Call Centre".

Well, finally I managed to lay my hands on both of these. 3 of us at office circulated it among ourselves. And 3 of us had 3 different set of opinions after reading it. Laxmi, who has been in the US for nearly 16 years, was shocked after she read ON@CC, to see the drastic change in lifestyle and morals in the younger generation of Indians. She has been struggling with the confused ideals of Indian kids here in the US. My assurances that things were no good in india probably got cemented more after she read the novel.
Ritesh found it quite similar to a hindi movie plot. And I found it absolute trash!

I started with "5 point someone". Having stayed out of hostel and come out of an "almost kin" to IIT, I could relate to most of what was written in the book and ended the 270 page saga with a feeling "Almost anybody can write a book these days!". But then I could still appreciate the way things had been brought out most truthfully in this book, and how everything in life was not shown hunky dory - it brings out the most hidden part of a premier institute like IIT.

When the 1st book is nice, you have very much expectations from the 2nd one - but it turned out to be a damp squib. A complete let-down I felt. I almost scanned through the last few chapters to get to the end. It felt like one of those moral science stories that you read as a kid - about how you are on the wrong track, doing all wrong things : and then suddenly out of the blue somebody preaches and your life changes! It certainly portrays the life of the current youth in bright and vibrant colors ; but the call from GOD was a bit too much I felt.

Chetan Bhagat is a household name now. Basking in his sucess, he is doing the screen play for 5PS - which is going to be another "Rockford" (if you get a good director). But I think he can and should definitely write better.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Planning Trips

When we started to plan our vegas/smokies trip ; we found that every single information that we wanted was present in the dozen odd books available in the library and zillion web-sites. We could book to the detail of what time we would be doing what activity, which street corner we would find a restaurant, which trek leads to what place and what you can expect on the way, what events are scheduled for those days we stayed there in the nearby towns and so on....

Planning for a trip is so easy and so much fun, here in the States. In India, about 10 years ago, it was just impossible for one to plan a trip on one's own. As a kid, I have travelled to many places in India and it was all via a travel agency - because though my parents were travel enthusiasts; they were handicapped by the lack of information about the places beforehand. Now things have improved, with many travel books - especially the little ones that were published by The Outlook Traveller, but as my father says "Delhi abhi bahut door hain" - there is a longer way to go.

When we visited Munnar, we stayed in the Sterling Resorts. As part of the trips, was a visit to a place called "Kollukumalai Tea Factory". This factory built during the british period is nestled on the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It is the only factory where tea leaf picking is done manually and not using a machine. The only way to reach this place from Munnar is a very very bad katcha road full of sharp twists and turns - only a jeep could go through this one! A very old man gave us the tour of the factory. It was saddening to hear the crumbling story of that place - how people struggled to make ends meet. Almost all the machinery there is from the old era. We could taste various grades of tea. It was one of the best factory trips I have ever had! But then - had we - like other visitors of munnar chosen to stay in the town and not the Sterling/Club Mahindra, we would have never known of this wonderous place. Is it not a pity ? There is a place that is maybe far more beautiful than smokies - but hardly exposed to the world! I search for this factory on google and see what I found - http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=+Kollukumalai+Tea++

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Smokies ...



Yup! That was where we were for the long weekend - The Smoky mountain National Park. It was a very relaxing and eventful trip that we had. The park and the cities sorrounding it are filled with all kinds of activities for people of all ages and tastes.

If you are the adventure kind - it is white water rafting and some head-cum-body turning-cum-twisting rides in Pigeon Forge for you.
If you are young - there a multitude of activities and amusement parks on either side of the "Parkway" that connects the three towns Severvile, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg - just 5 miles from each other.
If you are old - there are good hotels with relaxed swimming pools and rocking chairs in abundance. Small walks and hikes all over the place.
If you are a trek buff - there are a multitude of hike trails ranging from simple to moderate to difficult all over the park.
If you love driving - this is the place - curved roads, long drives into the mountains with abundant of vantage stop points.
If you are a photographer enthusiast - you are sure to get all kinds of subjects - from humans to animals ; to buildings to forrest to waterfalls....

So, there I have provided a good advertisement for this place, that needs none. Smokies is probably one of the most often visited spot , atleast for all folks on the east coast of United States - because as I told above , the variety of things you can do here.

The mountain range is bordered by the city of Gatlinburg at its feet. A small quaint town consisting of only one 2-lane road - the Parkway / US 441 ; and innumerable shops, restaurants and activity centres on either side of it. If you are at this place during a long weekend, then don't even think of taking the car - unless you love the brake-gas pedal excercise every 3 seconds! Just 5 miles away from this place is the small town of Pigeon Forge where we stayed. US 441 grows slightly bigger here - with 3 lanes on each side. This place is no less compared to "The Strip" in terms of the people , attractions, neon lights and variety of entertainment. Mini-Golf and Go-Karting are two of the most popular events here. All kinds of eat-outs flank this town of about 6 miles in length. This is where we stayed in a very nice inn called Twin Mountain Inns and Suites. One portion of the pigeon river flowed by the backside of the hotel, providing us a good view and picnic spot.


Summer is the best time to visit this place for white water rafting and tubing; as the water is in abundance and at the best temperature to soothe the scorching sun. We did both of them. I don't know how to swim - so was scared - but as our raft got stuck in more rapids , the more I felt I was enjoying. Tubing - is probably the best ever thing I did in life.. You just seat yourself on the little tube and then float down till eternity, soaking in the sun , splashing some cool water over your face and relaaaaaaaaaxed!

We trekked down one of the many trails in smokies that end up in a beautiful waterfall. This one was the "Grotto fall" - the only fall behind which you can walk around. Rajesh had his best time here, photographing the falls and we were pleased that every single shot of his came out terrific.

We went on long drives :- on the Newfound Gap road - leading to the Clingman dome - the tallest tower in smokies from which you could see the entire mountain range. It is as we were here, that we realised just how "smoky" the place is - a blue haze sorrounds the mountains all the time - which is how it got its name; many a times on the US 321 -once to Cades Cove and once to Foothills Parkway. Having come from Michigan, the roads of Tenesse seemed like silk to us.

Cades Cove - is the area where the early settlers in this area stayed. It is a flat pasture land, abundant with deer - you see one even when you don't want to :D .., cabins of the early people and a couple of historical churches. It is a very good place to make a picnic - snug in the laps of nature.

Foothills parkway is a scenic drive divided into 2 parts. The first one is a small well-rounded and curved strip of 6 miles that connects the US 321 and I 40 (the route to go for white water rafting). The second one is a 15.4 miles scenic drive providing wonderful vantage points that goes up to the Chilhowee lake. It is here that we saw a bear , about 100 feet in front of us - hopping from one side of the mountains to the other. We were so happy to see that one as we were dissapointed that we would leave smokies without seeing one.

But then, I did meet a "Bear" at the world's largest Bear factory - Boyd's in Pigeon Forge. In fact we had breakfast with "him" ....