My dearest Madras…

Today marks the 380th anniversary of my beloved city, that I call HOME. Studies and work have taken me away from this warm city for a decade now, but Home is still where the Heart is!

Growing up, I could never answer questions from people outside of my hometown about where you could go to, in Chennai, on a week long visit. You see, being a madras-vaasi, it’s hard to think of places a tourist would enjoy, and easier to take the things we did have for granted. But that’s it, this place is for a traveler, not a tourist! The people are warm, the food is beyond amazing, and the cultural hodge-podge, unparalleled!

I had all along been trying to answer the wrong question! Instead of “Where can you go around in Chennai?”, the question asked should be “What can you do in Chennai?”!!

Chennai is so much more than the cliched list of things people from here and others fondly think about. But, the list is cliched for a reason! They are some of the most amazing things that define the place.

Filter kaapi

I grew up in a family that started the day with half a tumbler of coffee, progressed into mid-morning with another half a tumbler, refreshed themselves after a siesta with a whole tumbler, had a second – evening coffee late evening, and made more excuses to have coffee whenever anybody visited. However, I was brought up  with no exposure to caffeine, except for my occasional trips to meet aunts who would sneak me a glass every morning, till I was 16. I am still making up for my loss.

As much as a Chennaiite loves his/ her coffee every morning, they come to appreciate it only in its absence! Ten years later, my dad still travels with his own coffee powder when he visits us, and leaves behind an ‘eversilver‘ coffee filter.

Dunk the idlis

A typical breakfast in everyone’s homes is idli with chutney/ sambar or even molagapodi (nobody calls it gun powder guys, sorry!). If you walked into a restaurant for tiffin (not breakfast guys, learn the jargon!), a plate of idly, pongal and vadai with sambar and thenga chutney is the go-to meal for most! And you do not dab the idlis in the sambar, you dunk them!

Better still, make a trip to Ratna Cafe in Triplicane and get a bucket of sambar to pour over them.

Of course, it goes without saying that you finish your meal with a filter kaapi.

We are a coastal city!

I cannot stress enough how much we take this for granted! One hasn’t seen and experienced Chennai without catching a sunrise at the beach. It wasn’t until my trip to Goa at 11 years old, that I saw another way of going to the beach and experiencing the water. While I do love the lazy day at the beach excursions near where I live now, and on vacations, my beach experiences back home were not even close to this. That was my beach day for the majority of my life, and it’s not with fond memories of the people I went with, and the stories that still stick with me.

The popular Marina and Elliot’s Beaches are chaotic and busy, but everyone has their spot to do their thing amidst everything else going on around them. Families run to the waters to take a plunge, while one designated member sits around the footwear and bags to ‘take care’ of them; young and old boys run around, playing completely different games with overlapping boundaries! One could be playing cricket and the other, volley ball!; older men walk with their running shoes and shorts; vendors place stalls (oh the stalls!) to sell Ice cream and specialty Beach food.

A beach trip is incomplete without some balloon shooting, Fun Orange ice cream sticks, molaga bajji and kaara manga!

Kutcheri season

December – January, the tamizh month of Margazhi is fondly called kutcheri season. Maamis, Maamas and youngsters alike, don their best sarees and traditional attire and make the rounds to Carnatic music concerts all over the city. The music needs to be experienced to develop a taste for it. How can I not mention the Bharathanatyam recitals?!One must go to a recital not just for the talent, but also for the beautiful costumes on the beautiful dancers. The sabha canteens are an added bonus!

A temple run 

The most popular temple visit among tourists is the majestic Kapaleeswarar koil in Mylapore. One could easily make a day out of a visit to the Mylapore area. Stop at Kapali koil in the morning, run to Karpagambal mess for breakfast, catch a concert in Mylapore fine Arts/ Rasika Ranjani Sabha, lunch at the concert venue canteen, shop at Rasi silks/ Giri Traders and Shukra Jewellers, have some rose milk and panneer soda at Kalathi and get back to Kapali koil to sit and chat with friends, and get home for dinner. The temple and it’s kolam (tank) are beautiful, and catch the essence of every temple in the area. You could walk into any other old temple though, and experience the same vibrations, bhakthi and everyday activity there. The city is steeped in history and there are any number of old temples with their own sthala puranam (temple history).

Archaeological wonder

Make a day trip out of a visit to the Mahabalipuram shore temple. What is standing today, is just the seventh in line of six other Pagodas immersed in the Bay of Bengal. The stunning rock carvings and monuments were built back in the 7th century by the Pallavas, and have stood the test of time. Book a cab now, will ya!

Apart from all these reasons to experience Chennai, the people are warm, everybody knows their neighbors, new people are welcomed in with open arms and served more filter kaapi, a small effort to say Vanakkam is well received and appreciated, you could walk into an upscale mall in a saree or go to a temple in jeans and mallipoo.

So next time, ask the Madras-vaasis “What is Chennai?” After all, it is an emotion!

 

P.S. My daughter now grows in a world not even remotely close to my Home, physically and culturally.I hope she experiences and sees  the beauty of her parents’ hometown while developing fond memories of her own Home!

Glossary

  • Madras-vaasi : Dwelling in Madras
  • eversilver: Used in a Madras household in place of stainless steel
  • Kaapi : Coffee
  • Idli, sambar, chutney, molagapodi: Breakfast items. Please google and drool away!
  • Kaara maanga: Raw mango rubbed with red chilly powder and salt
  • Sabha: Organisers/ venue of concerts
  • Chennai and Madras are used interchangeably.

P.P.S. The image used is not my own. It is from google, and it has its watermark intact.

Traveler| Foodie| Fashion Blogger

This is a role that people often assume, when creating their social media posts, accounts and blogs. I have seen the same tagline in a bunch of Instagram accounts. “Hypocrisy?”, I asked myself? Then when I thought about how I felt about them, I wasn’t too far away. The reason? “I love bitter guard, like you do chocolate”, said NO ONE EVER!

Traveling

There is a calm that descends over you when you have your life in your hands. Everyday life is always affected by those around you, but when on a vacation, you know you are doing things you like and want to do! While growing up, my travels were restricted to the few places with temples in Tamil Nadu. I was more than happy with just that small outing with family. It wasn’t till I had the first taste of having itineraries, and travel without family, that I looked at it as something more than just visiting people, being touristy and settling down in my comfort zone. I continue to make family trips, but their nature has changed. The same trip to my native town in Kerala had me look at the different things. What used to be just randomly gazing out, and taking things for granted, was all about small things like the kasavu that 60% women wore to the temple, the Kalimark panneer soda that we packed on our way out of Coimbatore, the coconut and palm trees, the same beautiful and cute little tiled roof temples, the bumpy roads, and the buttering up of people to get some extra neipayasam, at the temple stall. They all had a new charm to them! So this new revelation that travel means different things at different times, to different people, and is greatly affected by the company, purpose and experiences, gets you addicted to it.

Food

If we didn’t have as many foodies, we would all be stunning-looking people, there won’t be so many diet fads going around, and there will not be as many restaurants. I still wonder why the tastiest of things is so unhealthy and say, the bitter guard is packed with goodness. Being from South India, an early fascination for ‘North Indian’ food develops. I used to order bhel puris and chole bhatura, every single time we went out to eat. Being a picky eater, I was never one to venture out of my comfort zone. So I was 16 when I tried my first pizza, and my first piece of panneer. Looking at me now, you can very well infer that there was no looking back after that. Things in India picked up, and it was time for the global scene! Enter Subway Sandwiches, pastas, bubble teas, Chinese food, and in recent times, even Mexican and Thai food! With so many options in hand, who wouldn’t have a favorite!?

Fashion

This part, I believe is an inherent style that each person has. Fashion, I believe is all about perception. Truth be told, I have always wondered why models on the ramp are given weird hairstyles sticking out, weirder eye make-up, and the weirdest lip colors. Maybe there is a reason. We don’t see people in everyday life wear green lipstick, purple eye make-up and so much gel in their hair, so I wonder what the audience of these fashion shows are looking for.

Now I am sure there is a reason.

The clothes, again, what one person wears on the red carpet, may not be what you gave a thumbs-up for! Who doesn’t feel good when they are complimented about a new haircut, a new style they tried while mixing and matching clothes, and a new accessory they picked up, while trying to be bold, and different!

Lifestyle

I believe that every single choice you make and habit you develop is a lifestyle choice. Having an organized home, putting away money for travel, eating out only over weekends, eating healthy, your profession,every single one, a lifestyle you choose for yourself.

So my blog falls into the same pile of every other blog and social media account out there. If you are an oddball, and you start your own blog about lifestyle choices, guess what, it is bound to fall in these categories. Welcome to the rut!

We get closer to turning 2…

I meant to post this on March 1, before we turned 2, but oh well!

As written on March 1….

My dad reminded me this morning that exactly two years back, H landed in Chennai for our wedding. The scene is still pretty vivid in my head- the entire bride’s entourage; appa, athai, cousin, ET all, along with the groom’s family, waited for a glimpse of his head bobbing over everybody else’s (he is pretty tall, you see!). Appa wanted to garland him as he came out, and knowing how embarrassed H would be , I was all set with my phone camera in hand, to capture that moment!

Two years later, looking at that picture, triggered an entire afternoon of memories from where it all started, leading up to the wedding.

H is not even remotely cheesy, and I think I am almost there with him, so I will skip all the details and get on with where the wedding preparations started.

I always thought that when it came to my wedding, I would be extremely excited, be a part of every decision made, every single thing bought, and being bride-zilla meant I could have my way in everything I had dreamed of! This is not even close to any part of an Indian wedding! The funny part was, I wasn’t even complaining. When it came down to the specifics of how many people would be invited, how many people I was going to call, the caterers, the invitation designs, the photographers, the venue, and so many other things, I was extremely overwhelmed, that I was more than happy letting others make that decision for me.

I would do a few things differently if I had to do it again now (H has already given me the glare for even talking about ‘do it again’,so it will not be happening)!! I met random maamis, maamas, friends of my dad’s and distant cousins. However, so overwhelmed was I, that I was cut off from everyone and missed inviting some important people that I would have liked to have with me on the day. I could have made a few decisions to make my dad’s life easier (after all, he was going through the same amount of work, and decisions to make!).

I was looking forward to all the shopping, but when it came down to just having two weeks after I was in Chennai to get blouses stitched, and lehengas made, I had to resort to letting others choose a few things for me. I wanted to stay away from silk, and this made life hard for H’s family! They had to make my nine yards specially made with ahimsa-silk, and go to a thari to look at zari saris that were made of ahimsa silk (a post is long due on this one). Every time someone asked me if I was stressed about the wedding, I would so, “Why stressed?It’s fun!”. In my defense, I did think that it was, until the wedding was done. I had been stressed subconsciously! It came out in short bursts, as I looked for some space to breathe with loving aunts around me while changing sarees or getting my makeup/ hair done. What should have been a fun affair, and some stolen moments between rituals of them making fun of me, pouring in a thousand suggestions, and feeling like an active part of the bridal brigade, turned out with me estranging myself from the fambam.

But our wedding wasn’t without its funny moments!

When I landed in Chennai, so naive was I, that I thought only my dad and athai would be at the airport! I had the husband’s extended family waving to me too, as this was the first time they were meeting me, after all! Here I was with 2 big alcohol bottles from the Dubai duty-free store,while meeting my in-laws for the first time!

Then there is that popular story of H walking out on me at the reception. This story comes up in every party, friends get together, or my go-to funny story (my contribution to any place I want to make conversation!). H found our photographer very annoying because he kept re-clicking pictures when people closed their eyes. Our reception, as a result of the slow photographer, and the crowd, went on for about 5 – 6 hours. It was a while before we got to the family and close friends’ portraits, and we were allowed to sit in that fancy sofa provided to us. The clock struck 11.30, and H got up and left in a huff. Here I was, the poor bride, thinking that the husband-to-be would come back after a drink of water. Comeback, he did, but this stime he came out wearing his “potatoooo” minion t-shirt! I los it. i think that gives the end of the story? :p

Then there was the other time when the aforementioned wonderful photographer would ask H to “wet his lips” because he found it very dry in the pictures.

So brides-to-be, bridezillas and the saner brides, please note. Your wedding will be what it will be. It’s not just about you, but the people around you and the memories you make of it. Enjoy every single moment, and yes, that includes the moments that don’t go your way too. There is no such thing called a stress-free wedding. Soon after your wedding, you will think back to the funny times when you did something totally out of character,the times you made your aunts and uncles and parents happy, and the times you were sane during your wedding! Do not be afraid to delegate! A bad saree can make for a story, but an angry bride will make for sour moments. So chill…

These memories and lessons- learned, along with a few embarrassing moments, flooded to my memory. I (we) still haven’t gotten around to seeing our wedding pictures and videos. Maybe completing two years should be reason enough to get to it?

The story of an Indian, vegetarian in a foreign land!

These are no longer the days where people land in a foreign land and are left stumped about what to order in a restaurant, what to cook as a student, what groceries to buy to make it taste remotely like paati’s saapaadu. Our uncles and aunts and several Indians who came before us, have already established a foundation for us F1/H1B visa holders landing with US flag’s starry eyes and dollar signs in our heads. Let’s face it; with competitive tests, assignments, bagging assistantships and staying with room mates, food should be the last thing you need to worry about! Oh, how we wish that was true!

Things are definitely easier these days. My room mate had bought samosas for me to have for dinner the moment I landed, and two days later, another new room mate’s sister sent us a huge USPS dabba full of bakshanam. This was followed by visits to relatives’ who hosted us during holidays and always sent us back well fed, and with a big box of brownies, milk sweets and lemon pies to share with the other forlorn souls near the university (who came back with their own stock). There was someone around, who’d make a trip to India each break, and they would come back with 2kg of bakshanam and sweets, from the mothers who thought that their kids (paavam) were cooking everyday for sustenance. Sambar and rasam podi came from four or five households in the very beginning, and stayed in the top shelf/ freezers in zip lock covers, to be transported two years later, upon graduating, to the new accommodation we moved to on finding jobs.

Our cousins, sisters and brothers visited us every now and then and took a few of us for nice lunches and dinners which they thought we didn’t get often. This was true to an extent, because for the first two semesters, we were restricted to the free pizzas handed at events around the campus. (The ten or more pounds I put on the very first month in the US, can vouch for my unlimited supply of pizzas when I wanted them. If you were vegetarian, of course, you’d have to limit yourself to the cheese pizzas. So sad!). If your town had a Chipotle, you were saved. Black beans, rice, pico de gallo, salsa reminds you of rice, channa masala and thakkali thokku. Closest associations to Indian food! and of course, the chappathi,er… tortilla!

So what’s the struggle, you ask? The struggle comes mainly from trying to order in non-Indian restaurants. Some restaurants (just not steakhouses/ seafood places) give you the stare when you ask for vegetarian options. H always rolls his eyes the moment I start ordering something, because I am always directing the chef on how to cook and present my dish. “Can I have the combo three, replacing the chicken enchiladas with mashed potato enchiladas, have black beans instead of refried beans, and oh, do you cook your cilantro rice in chicken stock?!”, “Is your roasted tomato soup made with veggie broth?”, “Can I just have the baked potatoes, without the bacon, please?”, “Does your marinara sauce have meat in it?” and the list goes on.

I have to pat myself on the back, for finding ways to stay vegetarian all these years. There are things you learn not to order. Thai soups that come with your lunch plate usually have oyster sauce in them, or some restaurants make their marinara sauce with chicken stock, or some authentic Mexican places make their tortillas with lard. Can you blame my dad or H’s mom for asking for “thuliyoondu thayir sadam” for dinner?

So here’s to all the struggles we have, on days we don’t want to cook, have no relatives in the area that day, and no Chipotle around in town!

What’s my calling?

mood04

 

I spend two hours of valuable time everyday commuting back and forth from work, and my mind keeps me entertained! Last night was another example; Miss D was drawling away on the radio, taking a whole minute to complete her short sentences. “Howww aree you aall doooiiinnnggg? It is a beuuuuutiful day todayyyy…”, she went on and started giving callers (I still wonder if it is a group of people set up to provide questions, for her to provide relationship advice to!) her opinion on how they should run their lives! That’s where my mind wandered off.Hmm, I can definitely do a better job at being a radio jockey? Then I thought about my short-lived tryst at public speaking. I had lifted my sword as the Rani of Jhansi at a fashion dressing competition when in middle school, and froze there,  glittering Rani dress, mang tikka, big bindi, et all, but no words of encouragement to the open mouthed (and now snickering) middle school kids. Rule that thought out!

I then thought of how my decisions had always been a process of elimination. I don’t like this, this, this, this, and oh, that doesn’t sound like a bad option, I would think and land at the only option on the table. So if not an engineer, what would I have been? What was my calling? I am one of those people who dreams big, but is too afraid to move out of my comfort zone to try something out. An average person (read non-Indian) changes their career seven times in their life. I have changed it about thirteen times (all in my head). I have loved being a part of so many extra curricular activities when in school. Dance, music, art, and even the Exnora club! I loved every one of them, all except my physics and chemistry that I was doing in high school! In one dream, I was an active volunteer with the Exnora club, doing my master’s in Waste Disposal,in another,I was teaching tiny tots Carnatic music, and in another one, I was a personal stylist, telling the ladies ( and some clueless gents) what would look good on them!

There have been several occasions at work, when too much stress has always left me thinking “Maybe I am not cut out for this!” I was moving from my first job, and a few uncomfortable days at my second one proved me wrong. Some of the traits, that were hidden at the first one as a newbie, came out while handling situations at the second work place.My survival instincts had to be used because I was now outside of my comfort zone, and hey, I survived! I was not bad at my job, I had been inexperienced. A new city, new work and social environment, new responsibilities, and a new husband gave me perspective!

The new place and no known faces around in the beginning, and the long commute, made me wallow in self-pity. The commute did one good thing though; it gave me enough time to think about what would make me happy. I decided to stay as actively involved as I possibly could in everything I liked. Sure, I can’t make a living out of trades that I was no master at, but I can still stay in touch to stay happy! Bharathanatyam classes, Paint Nite once in a while, blogging (I did miss mentioning that I had had a penchant for words and writing as a kid, that I completely lost touch with), reading, styling my clothes ( read shopaholic) and singing for myself and my family can keep me as happy as making a living out of any one of them! In fact, happier; now I am proud to be the jack of all trades, but the master of none! 🙂

The image used is off the internet. You gotta love Calvin and Hobbes!