Friday, March 30, 2007

Wedding Gifts

Usha, one of my favorite bloggers, has a written a very nice post about Giving and Receiving gifts. She writes about the custom of gifts at weddings. She cannot be any truer.

Traditionally in the Mr’s customs people don’t gift anything to the bride and groom during weddings. Close knit elder relatives give a pre-defined amount of money to the bride and groom, that too not at the Kalyana mandapam or at the reception – in one of the pre or post visits to either house. The reason why no gifts are given is this – if you were to gift somebody some article; then the receiving party will take care of noting the article and will have to seek an occasion to compensate you with another article of the approximate price. This is an unwritten rule. So, giving and receiving gifts is considered blasphemy.

Now, on my side of the family the story, though similar, is presented in a different way. If you walk to any wedding without a gift, it is considered very bad. This too, has started to cause a problem.

Amma’s view on this - About 30 years ago, gifts at occasions meant a lot. It was often very useful for the couple starting their married life. Back in those days, the money earned by people often was just sufficient to meet daily needs and there was nearly none to satisfy wants; so gifts given at a wedding covered those wants and were highly regards. A wall clock, a water filter, a frying pan, a cooker, a decorative wall hanging, a sari – were all received with much gusto and were put to right use. Then people started growing rich, had more money – so were able to buy any ‘want’ thing on their own; and gifts received at weddings became too much of redundancy. They just lie around in the attic of most houses, waiting for another wedding / grihapravesam to be disposed off at.

In some cases, I have seen a new trend emerging – the concept of giving money or gift cards. That to larger extent seems to be what most people are appreciative of. Your ‘gift money’ may not be big enough for me to buy something, but it helps me to add something to it and get myself something I like – is the philosophy.

Personally I have never been able to decided for sure - gift or ‘gift money’. I always loved the ‘gift opening activity’ during weddings and would tag along with the group doing this activity in almost every wedding. There is so much pleasure is unwrapping a gift box, all the while trying to guess what would be inside it – and to end the task with a “Oooooh!” or “Ohhhhhh”.

But then when you have a big pile of things that you would rather not add to your personal collection and are at wit’s end not knowing what to do with it – I think ‘gift money’ is a nice option. Having personally experienced this at my wedding, I can safely say that, except in 1 or 2 cases; it was the ‘gift money’ or ‘gift card’ that proved to be a nice “GIFT”.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Visit to Toronto

It is rarely that working people get to go off on a vacation on a week day. I got lucky a week and half ago to take a good break – when the Mr. had to get his visa stamped in Toronto. I tagged along to make the best out the excuse.

Sometimes I feel that the Mr.’s life is all like a Hindi movie – in the beginning everything seems to be fine, then a bunch of problems crop up – and finally it is a happy ‘The End’. I cannot recollect any such episode that happened to him without any hitches at all. But then I am glad and thankful to God that the ‘The End’ is always a happy one. Following Suite, the stamping for a Canada visa had a hitch. We landed at the Canadian consulate (about 2 weeks ago having readied all our papers couple of weeks earlier, being prompt and getting the M.O. for the amount and all) on the dot – 8:30, were 2nd in line and were just about being quite pleased with ourselves – when the guy at the counter said the Fees has been dropped down by 5$ , so the MO would not work and we need to go and get cash. Hey! I am willing to pay you 5 bucks extra – why don’t you just accept it! Well, I sat there for about 20 mins while the Mister went in search of an ATM and got cash – by which time the line had about 10 or 15 people! Grrrr…. Talk about Early bird getting the worm!

I should have guessed when things at the Canada border went too smoothly; that there was something ‘BIG” going to happen! I was at the wheel for the 1st half of the journey. The Canadian border is about 80 miles from our place. As I reached the booth at the border, I pulled up at the drive thru counter – the fat chubby ‘moron’ smiles and jokes with us while inquiring about why we were going to Canada and ends the conversation with a ‘You know where you are going right?’. Assuming that he was asking me directions to Toronto , I nodded , smiled , waved good bye and started off towards the signpost that showed the way to 401! Girl – did you never hear ‘Assume’ means making ‘An ass of you and Me’ … Get that into your brain atleast now!

I had driven only a few feet forward when a siren sounded – I slowed and looked around but there seemed no indication that the siren was for us. Commenting on that strange incident we went on our way – rejoicing at the fact that we were again on a trip – noting the landscape and all. After nearly traveling for 40 km (yes Canada measures distances in Km, weight in Kg …. Well there ends the similarity with India hee hee), a cop car pulled up behind me and started to flash lights. I was dead scared and so was the Mr.

At this point, I would like to point out the Mr.’s affiliation to Cop Cars. As long as I am behind the wheel, we would never see a cop car and the moment the Mr. takes over from me to drive, suddenly there always has been a flurry of the ‘Mamu’ (as he is fondly called) cars.

I pulled over to the shoulder. Neatly dressed, wearing a nice furry cap – he walks and knocks on the Mr.’s window pane. Very politely he inquires why we never entered the ‘immigration building’ (pink one) at the border. We were surprised – hello! – were we supposed to go there? Then why did not Mister Fatty at the booth direct us properly? After taking all our documents, he went back to his car and came back about 20 mins later. In all that time, you really could not imagine our panicked state! With the same smile he told us that we would have to go back to the border and do some paperwork at the immigration building. Did I have a choice? So, royally escorted by the colorful and most dreaded ‘Cop Car’ , I took the next exit – joined back the freeway in the opposite direction and drove back all the way. I might have as well gone home and come back! We lost about 1 and half hours in all the process. So much for starting early to avoid driving in the dark. Well, at the immigration building , we were given ‘royal ‘ looks – even escaped convicts get looked at better – as if it was all my mistake. After the paperwork – well that was nothing but a scratch across the Canada visa and a valid end date for the visa – she should have only told me, I would have made a neat scratch with a felt pen! , the Chief Policeman had a ‘chat’ with us about our ‘language communication problem’ at the booth. Wait ! We had A LANGUAGE Problem! – tell that stupid fat person at the booth not to talk in puzzles and spell out the rules clearly. Anyways, what could we say – he did apologize for the trouble we were put thru. And then again we started back towards the signpost that said 401.

Needless to say we both were no longer bubbling with enthusiasm. One of my colleagues had had a very bad experience in Visa stamping at Ottawa. His name appeared on a black list and the authorities asked him to stay in Canada till the matter was cleared – which took about 2 months. This was one of our major fears – what is something like that happened to us. Now that this stupid incident happened, we were all the more worried. After about an hour of driving, the Mr. took over and a miserable rain also started. Driving on the 402 and 403 freeways at night is a pain because of the large number of gigantic and never-ending-long trucks, who don’t seem to care about any speed limit and just whiz past you or tail you so close (indicating that you change to another lane) that soon you wonder if your car’s length also will get added to its. Slowly our spirits lifted as I opened boxes of food that I packed from home. The Mr. who makes fun of my habit of eating curd rice after every meal, himself remarked after completing nearly ¾ th of the curd rice that it was the best meal he had had! Just shows how some traditional stuff that we ignore in life turn out to be the most comforting things in the toughest of times. As we approached Toronto, it was as if the day had started again at 9:30 PM. It was bright as a day in the dazzling lights emanated from the skyscrapers. It was awesome driving by the side of those tall buildings , zooming past at 120 kmph! I guess I sound like a ‘gawar’ – maybe because for the past 1 and ½ hours the tallest building I have seen is the 4 storied office I work in!

For a change, we managed to reach our destination without losing the way. The Mr. and I have a penchant for losing way especially while driving at night. Tucked away, just two blocks from the heart of Toronto downtown called ‘Yonge Downtown’ is the B&B (bed and breakfast) called Alan Gardens Bed & Breakfast, run by a very charming middle aged ukranian lady – Nadia. When we had searched for hotels in Toronto close to the embassy, we found that the cost of a hotel and having breakfast was more than what we would pay for a day’s stay at a B&B (breakfast included in the deal as well as the name). Besides, we also wanted to experience staying at a B&B – and let me tell you, it is worth the stay. A totally difference experience it was. When we stayed at a hotel, we cared very little about how the room was, where our things lay, who the person at the reception was and so on – it was all so impersonal. But here, it is like staying in your own home except that you don’t have to cook breakfast or make the bed , there is a person who will make you feel at home in a new city – be more personal to you. The breakfast was not elaborate but a very tastefully designed one. Nadia is a remarkable person – at the age of , can’t say exactly but she must be about 50, she runs a B&B with a capacity of about 3 rooms and also does part time acting. She explained us all about the city, what sights we could see and how we could reach there. What we loved most was how much attention she placed to small things – her breakfast ensemble was most admirable – cutlery very tasteful in decoration – fruits cut in thin slices and arranged well, the toast perfectly done and the best was the steamed egg (it looked exactly like an idli). She took pains to make the eggs differently on both days, when all she could have done was do the same thing daily. She would inquire if we liked the stuff or should she make it differently or what we wanted the next day and so on. Overall, something I would definitely recommend to anybody traveling to Toronto.

Toronto downtown reminded me of Manhattan, though the streets seemed narrower and more crowded because of the tram/street car as it is called. After having lived in a place where public transport consists of only the 1 bus that is seen once a day, going to a place whose lifeline is the public transport is a big relief. The two lifeline of downtown Toronto are – the street car and the subway train. A day pass for a family costing $8.50, during holiday season – is probably the cheapest amount that you ever paid to visit a new city for a day. All the attractions are reachable using these two modes of transport. Toronto is a very Cosmopolitan city in all aspects. You will find people from possible all countries in the world here – Chinese leading in the numbers. 1 out of every 3 people we saw was a Chinese – and their English was very good unlike the broken statements of the Chinese I meet in Detroit. There are a lot of Indians also in Toronto. On one street you can find restaurants catering to almost all the cuisine in the world - Thai, Chinese, American, Lebanese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek … you name it and it is there! The food is also superb. At every nook and corner you will find one Hot dog vendor making really ‘hot’ business and I was very surprised to find all of them selling ‘Veg Hot Dogs! – though did not dare taste one (I am a very big skeptic when it comes to tasting new stuff – I leave that all to the Mr.). There are plenty of very tall skyscrapers all around – mass produced buildings as the Mr. put it.

Many parts of this city reminded me so much of India – the best being the Chinese market. Shops selling all kinds of wares – just as the ones you would find on the streets of Mambalam – plastic wares, clothes, shoes, decorative show pieces – all crammed into one small room and hanging outside the shop from poles or racks.. Fresh vegetables being sold on the streets, shops selling only nuts and variety of other stuff – just like the ones you see back at home. And definitely it was one of the dirtiest places of Toronto downtown – no doubt about that too. What struck me strange was – whenever you see an Indian grocery shop you will notice that the title is written only in English and not in Hindi or Tamil or Telugu right? But all the Chinese shops had the name written in Chinese as well as English. The variety of these shops – the wares they sold, the services they provided just amazes me.

The downtown boasts of two very large and old fresh produce markets – the Kensington market and the St. Lawrence Market, the latter having a history of 200 years of existence. The Kensington market is partly like the Chinese market made up of many small shops, but the St. Lawrence market consists of all shops inside one single large complex. It is said to be the most crowded on Saturdays when the Market opens at 5:00 AM! Nadia told us that if you went to the place at about 10 in the morning, it was difficult to even find room to put your foot in. The Mr. commented about how he had never seen fresher meat / fish, as the ones there.

Royal Ontario Museum is one of the 10 most popular museums in the world. It is definitely worth a visit. Since it was Spring break for the schools at the time we visited, the museum was brimming with kids of all ages. And there were so many activities conducted by the museum authorities for kids. This is one museum which was far from being quiet and boring – as one always says museums are. The current special running there was the ancient Peruvian display – which was very informative and pretty.

The Bata shoe museum is one of the different kinds of museums that I have been too. It is all about Shoes, their history and stories attached to them. The museum is very well –laid out in terms of the presentation. Starting from the history of when man started the concept of shoes to depicting the shoes of different cultures of the world and ending with the imaginative creations of man using one of the most indispensable attire. This is one of the Must-See’s in Toronto attractions.

CN Tower – You just cannot miss this tallest tower in the world. And you won’t find a single person who has gone to Toronto and not gone to the top of it. It is right there staring at you no matter which part of the downtown you go to. Towering over you, with a height of 1815 Ft, 5 in; it has held the record of the tallest building in the world for 30 years now. At a height of 1,122 Ft is built the Observation deck and a very unique attraction called the ‘Glass Floor’. A small part of the floor is made of see- through Glass. It is a mind boggling experience to stand at the centre of the Glass floor and see down – it feels like you are suspended in the mid-air. I was bitterly disappointed to see that the observation deck was completely covered with mesh windows and there was absolutely no chance of a good photograph.

We did not have enough time to visit the harbor front of Toronto. We were planning on taking the ferry to the island across the downtown for some photos, but the sights above itself took up most of our time. It always is interesting to visit a new place, see the local sights and gather a bit about the lifestyle of the people around. I really did not want to come back to the bland and boring Michigan after the hulchul of Toronto – but … can’t help it, can

Monday, March 19, 2007


Just When I started to believe that Spring has finally started , this nasty day of snow and sleet had to come up again! Boy! I am really puzzled with the weather in this place. Just yesterday though the mercury hovered around the late 30s, there was dazzling sunlight and the sun just would not go down even at 8:00PM – I was so frustrated to be cooking in the kitchen with the blinds on – and today morning we woke up to find the most morose weather. Snow and rain at the same time – causing the worst conditions for driving.

It all starts with having to brush about 2 inches of snow off your car – showering your freshly laundered and ironed black pant to all turn dirty white-black.
And then comes driving on the freeway at a speed of 50 MPH with hardly a visibility of 50 ft and that too only in the front. Through the back windshield you can atleast manage to make out glowing spots of other car lights, but the two rear view mirrors on the side might as well not exist! I must give it to the residents of this country – no matter what the weather, no matter how much you can see or can not, no matter whether the entire road is covered with slick ice that can cause a skid at any point, they have to rush like their tail is on fire at 70 MPH. Hello! Can you not be normal at drive slow – you MORON! Not only do you cause my heart to race at a high speed fearing that you might skid and crash into me any moment, but you cause my wipers to operate crazily to remove all that slush you spew on my windshield and yet I cannot see a thing!

The other day there was a discussion as to which of the two evils you like better – snowy conditions but a temperature around 25- 32F or no snow but extreme cold with mercury refusing to acknowledge the fact that there could be Temperatures on the +ve scale also (meaning a constant -10 to -16F). I choose the former. I am fine with able to see the road thru one tiny corner of my window and yet drive , but can not watch for 4 mintues in mind numbing , life sucking cold , thanking god each day for making thru the 5 minute walk from the parking lot to the office – ALIVE!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Here’s wishing all the great and unique women friends I have – a Happy International Women’s ! I have always been a sucker for these kind of ‘Days’ – Valentine, Mother’s day, Children’s day … so on. The idea is that you take time out atleast on this one day – to ponder and do something about the ‘thing’ that the day stands for.

On this day, I would like to celebrate all the great women that I know in my life. Starting with the ‘bestest’ women in my life – my Mother. Her place in my whole life is the topmost and most unique – the great lady who gave birth to me (ya ya my father was also a part of it, but then he did not carry me around for 9 months right?). No matter what happens, I know amma is always there for me. In the most difficult of times, where I was even at war with her, she did not let me go. In her own ways, she always showed her love to me. What I wanted was against her will, she tried to reason, cajole, force me – but in all that she never turned away from me. Some of my most happiest moments in life have been spent with her. All those rides on our two wheeler – initially it was her at the front and then, very soon, it was me in front and has always been that way – chatting away nineteen to dozen; her plaiting my hair in the morning rush – while I spoke non-stop about this and that, much to my father’s annoyance at not being able to read the newspaper in peace; the evening tea times, when I would sit on the little foot stool near the spare gas in the kitchen and re-account all the happenings at work, pour out my frustrations as she poured a hot glass of the best tea and made a muru muru dosa for me; those fun-filled, adrenaline pumping hours of ‘porukkal’ in the streets of T.Nagar; the typical women-women talk about colors of sarees, jewellery, local family gossip; all her energy boosting talks each time I felt low and depressed…. and so much more. I miss amma so much.

The woman that I admire second in life is my Patti (Mom’s mom). Almost reaching 90, she is an epic by herself. The mother of 9 kids – she has seen and borne so much in life. She is bed-ridden and needs help with every single activity, but whenever you go to meet her you will see her with this big broad smile on her face. She will ask about every single thing about your life. There are 3 generations after her that are alive today and she remembers everything about each of those people. She knows how long it takes me to go to office, who my colleagues are – even met a few of my colleagues in India, how big my apartment is, which area in Mumbai my cousin lives, what is the name of her kamwali bai – all this just sitting on that bed in one dingy room in Adambakkam. It is always a pleasure to talk to her – someone who genuinely cares about you. If you tell her about something you are going to do , say, 3 months later and go and meet her after that – you can be sure that she will ask you about the thing that you were supposed to do. Rarely do you find somebody who is interested in others than always talking about themselves. I miss you Patti – wish there was something more I could do to ease your pains.

And then there are scores of wonderful women I have met in life – my Friends. Each one unique in herself, each one has been or is a significant part in my life, each one with many admirable qualities and each one from whom I have learnt a lot.

So, here’s an ode to all of the womanhood – for without you there would be no ‘Life’ and no meaning in it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

My Tastes ...

I was blog hopping on Friday and found this on a blog, so decided to put in my choices too.

What was I busy with ..?

So, as promised in my last post - I am unveiling the activity that I was busy with for the past 3 weeks or so.

TADA .... I was making this chain - it is made by weaving beads together.

The Ladies in my office learnt to make various adornments out of beads quite a while ago. When about 6 months ago, my Boss showed me a chain she had made, I was so impressed and asked her to teach me. She did - and the result is this!

I feel so happy at having done this. I am not a very 'arty' person. In fact I was very clumsy at this initial effort - could not put the thread through the eye of the needle, my hands would slip while pulling the thread out of a weave, I would cut the ends of the knot too close and the whole pattern would unravel and so on. But patience made me stick on and finish this piece. It is a gift for folks back at home. So. Shhhh... don't tell them about this. It is a surprise!

This chain would probably be available for a thousand rupees or so in India, but I realised there is so much pleasure and joy in making one and pride in wearing it with the thought that ' Yes! I made it on my own!'.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Jihva of the Month – Potato

I have been quite silent here for a while. Have been a bit busy – at work and otherwise (see next post), and also not in the mood to write anything new – because everytime I opened my blog, I would see the post of Bertie and feel low. I have a bad news to share – we lost our Bertie on 21st of Feb, 2007. We cared for it well, changed its water often, never forgot to give its meal – and yet! A freak accident of nature I guess. I don’t want to dwell much on it. It was my first ever pet in life and losing it like this in just 3 and half weeks after we brought it home is indeed painful.

I saw the new Jihva event on Indira’s site and that cheered me up. It is based on one of the most favorite vegetable all over the world – Potato. There is probably no cuisine that does not include this very staple food item. It is one of the simplest vegetables and its taste appeals to all alike – kids or grown-ups. It is one of the most wonderful of vegetables that can be cooked in a million varieties. If nothing, just boil it with a little salt and it is just as tasty! C, my American colleague, once remarked in one of the team lunches – how many Americans just hated vegetables, but the only one that they really can have is Potato. By the Way, is it Pot(A)to as in ‘Apple’ or Pot(A)to as in ‘gAme’? Remember the song ‘I say Potato, you say Potato’ from ‘When Harry Met Sally’? P, an ex-colleague, prided about knowing atleast about 80 dishes to make which this 4th largest fresh produce in the world, also called ‘Apple of the Earth’ in more than 3 languages.

Okay, over to the dish! When I first saw the Jihva event – I began to run in my mind all the dishes that I would like to post – there were numerous! Finally I choose one, which I started to make recently, after having taste it in a friend M’s place. Clearly it has become one of our favorites.

Aloo – Capscicum Subzi.
Well, there can be really many ways to make this one dish itself, this is one of the many.

1 Big Capsicum
1 Big Potato
1 Medium sized Onion
1 Tsp Corriander Powder
½ Tsp Jeera Powder
1 tsp Red Chilli Powder
Salt to Taste
Mustard Seeds, Urad Dhal seeds – for Tempering.
Oil – to cook

How to Make?

Slice all the 3 Vegetables into very thin slices. In a Wok, heat oil and add mustard seeds. When they start to splutter, add the Urad dhal. When the seeds start to turn brown, add the onions and sauté. When the onions turn translucent, add the capsicums, potatoes and the 3 masala powders. Cook on low to medium heat with constant stirring. Ensure that the pieces don’t get burnt. In about 15 minutes, the Capsicum and potato pieces will be nicely coated with the masala and will be moderately cooked. Sprinkle a little water and add Salt. Cover the Wok and cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Switch off the gas and open the lid to let a wonderful smell into the Kitchen. Tada! Your dish is ready!

PS. This is dedication to a friend A - who would teasingly call me Potato Face(which I hate - becuase my face is indeed round like a Potato and I always wanted an oval face).