Thursday, August 31, 2006

I love Indian Railways!!!

Seriously What a random title? But then when you realize how much Indian Railways has affected my life you will understand it too...

My first memories of a train: Me standing with my parents at Trichy Junction waiting for the train to come into the platform. I was restless and I am sure I was irritating my parents as well by running close to the edge of the platform and putting my head out to see if the train was coming. I was excited that I was going to Chennai for the summer vacation...

The early 80's were still the days of the chu-chu train or the steam engine...Diesel engine would come into the picture of the rural southern town of Trichy in a couple of years...So as I was peering my head out...A loud "baaaaaammmmmmmm" sound came from afar...scared the crap out of me and it saw me running back to my mom...I was in near tears and holding on to dear life...As the train pulled into the station it gave out another loud "baaaaaaaammmmm" and that was it...I hated the engine for me it seemed pompous and loud...the way it chugged itself into the station with a black cloud of smoke rising above its seemed indomitable and arrogant and haughty...Well it deserved to be I guess...afterall they take people and goods from one place to another and without them India would stop functioning...

Diesel Engine: My brother's were going to Chennai to play some Tennis tournament. I could not go this time and they were going alone for the first time. Vaigai had recently started running between Chennai and Trichy and it was the fastest train in the south those days (pre-Shatabdhi Days). It covered the distance in close to eight hours and was on-time most of the time...I was excited and went with my parents to drop my brother's off at the station. I was also happy to see different kind of seating for the first time...previously they were always sleeper bunks...but now they were seats...for day travel only...I was unhappy that I could not go with them but nevertheless jumped up and down to my hearts content...and pulled everything I possibly could without being fined.

My brother's came back from chennai and told me that the train made almost no sound...and no soot flew into our eyes if we peered out of the window or brother's and I used to try and look at the engine from our window in the train as the train negotiated a curve...and most of the time land with black particles in our eyes from the bruning coal of the steam enginer...but Diesel almost eliminated that...I was very eager to travel in Vaigai and when my turn came I was excited...

First time to see compartments connected, food sold inside the train, a cafeteria inside the train, a library inside the train (they even had Tintin and Asterix)...this was my favorite and my mom allowed my brother and I to stand near the door too...WOW! I loved trains then and I love trains today...There are no more libraries inside the train...thanks to people who started stealing books...but trains still connect every nook and corner of India. Buses are cool...but trains are another league altogether...the beautiful village scenes, hills, rivers, mountains, and valleys they cover and the perfect view they provide us with all still remain fresh in my mind...and with every passing village my mind wondered what was happening behind the placid scenic village that just passed by...

I liked it when Vaigai used to rush past stations where people waiting would look like ants in seconds. The train had the haughty look as if telling everyone that it ain't gonna demean itself by stopping at such a small station...I always loved the feeling of the train nearing a big station like Villupuram or Virudhachalam or nearing its final destination, a myriad of tracks appear out of nowhere and somehow the train always knew which one to take to go to the correct platform. The train's slow and caution speed informs us that the fun ride is almost over...Sad!

I can remember running besides a train waving at people inside and also remember kids waving at the train as we rushed through suburbs and villages. Even today I close my eyes and hear the sound of the car driving over the expansion joints and try to feel like I am back home travelling in Vaigai for the first time...Gone are those innocent days when my brothers and I used to fight for window seat and upper berth...Gone are those days when we used to eat curd rice after the the train took off from Trichy Junction before falling asleep. Gone are those days when I used to read a book with the little book lamp. Gone are the days when I used to throw coins when the train corssed Cauveri or Godaveri, but with me I carry a memory so fond that I owe Indian Railways a lot for making travelling fun during my childhood and grown up age too...and for literally shaping my future...for these same trains took me to college and back for almost 3.5 years...I miss eating at the VLR (Vegetarian light refreshment stalls) at Tambaram during the evenings and eating the hot kadalai (ground nuts) that were sold in the Electric Trains...Trains oh wonderful Trains...I miss you more than anything!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ganapathy Bappa, Masum and the Indian Ocean

I was soooper busy this last weekend. We did soooooooo many things. Here is a quick list...Saturday, we lazed around a little bit before we joined our friends to go watch the Texas Rangers game against Oakland at the Arlington Ball Park. We (Rangers) sucked and it was pretty darn humid so we left after the sixth innings and went to another friend's house where we spent sometime chatting before we headed home at 1.00am.

For Sunday we had way too many things lined up...first was of course our darling Vinayaka chathurthi had to be celebrated...I made modakam and cauliflower fry, a friend made cabbage fry and dal, and Girish made sundal (channa dal)...Friends came over and we prayed and had lunch and lazed around till it was time to head out to Arlington once again and this time it was going to be fun!!!

Why fun? Ok I have a dear friend who is also my rakhi brother called Sameer and another dear friend called Mudassar and together they have started a band called Masum and have composed and written their own music. It is really beautiful. If you guys get a chance visit their website. So anyway back to the point...Well Masum was going to open for the Indian Ocean, a band known for their fusion music and interesting themes. They are not your usual cup of tea...but they are brilliant.

So our whole gang got there on time (for once). Moni had reserved seats for us and we got the best location in the auditorium. Pavel (the lead guitarist in Masum and also one of the main band members) climbed down the steps from among the audience to start the show and the rest of the band joined in with their most favorite single "Tumhari Yadein" (a clip of which is on their website), and cpontinued with two more original composition (including "ek Suraj naya") and a cover for Strings hit OST for Zinda, "yeh hai meri kahani." The crowd went crazy and these guys were perfect. Everything was great and all of us were beaming with pride...after all they were like an extended family to us. I pray that these guys make it big as they are really talented and they simply deserve the best...

Alright, then the main show was going to start, Indian Ocean, I had heard their song "Ma Rewa" once and was not completely sure I liked their genre of music...but was going to sit for one song before I headed home. I was pretty sure that I was going to get bored and would leave before the end of the show. I had honestly and truly gone only for the sake of Masum! But...Indian Ocean stopped me. Their music was brilliant, energetic, and superb. We all stayed back, all of us who were making noise about heading back home and playing cranium waited till the end of the show. You should listen to their songs, it is different, it is beautiful, soothing, interesting, and has a story behind each and every composition, a story that will really interest you...

Their show was over and as usual we all bought CD's and stayed back to get it autographed and then of course get photographed with the lead band members, Rahul Ram, Asheem Chakravarthy, Sushmit Sen, and Amit Kilam. We got so many photos with them and they were so kind and obliging.

Happy we all left the auditorium and drove over to the nearest IHOP for a very late dinner at 11.00pm and guess who joined us there??? Yup The Indian Ocean! So after dinner we got to hang out and chat with them. Amit Kilam even immitated Himesh (hillarious) and sang Kandisa like Kumar Sanu might...It was fun. We hung out and had a fun time. What was amazing was the fact that these guys were not really our age (except for maybe Amit) but their sense of humor and attitude jelled well with us, it felt like we were old friends hanging out...I mean they did not have any celebrity attitude and hence we did not have any inhibitions. We are happy that we went for their show...If they ever play in a city near you...Please go, you will not regret it.

And before I sign off here are some photos!!! Not very Great Pics...but you get the point!!!

Masum on Stage unplugged!

Sameer and Mudassar before starting Zinda

Indian Ocean Live in University of Texas at Arlington

Us with the Indian Ocean after the show

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Uyir (2006) - Tamil Movie Review

Ranking: 2.5/5

Cast: Srikanth, Sangeetha, Samvritha
Director: Samy
Music: Joshua Sridhar

Have you seen Aasai? Remember that Ajith (young and handsome) and Suvalakshmi movie that introduced Prakash Raj as an amazing villain? With beautiful music (lifted of course) by Deva? Remember all that? Then do not waste time watching this movie...Because this is nothing but an x-ray image of Aasai...

Sundar moves in with his brother's family that comprises of his brother, sister-in-law Arundathi (Sangeetha) and their little daughter. Sundar is very close to all three of them. Although Sundar reveres Arundathi a lot, Arundathi lusts for Sundar who is unaware of it.

Sundar drops his niece at school everyday and he meets his girlfriend Anandi (Samvritha) there. When his brother gets to know about their relationship he is very excited about the same. But his brother commits suicide soon afterward due to some problems at work. Now Sundar is tied to taking care of his brother's family as Arundathi and her daughter have nowhere to go.

Arundathi keeps Anandi at bay by doing everything possible from her side. She tries her best to break Sundar's relationship with Anandi while subtly hinting to Sundar about her love for him. Anandi warns Sundar about his conniving Sister-in-Law but nothing comes out of it.

What happens to Sundar and Anandi? Does Arundathi succeed in foiling their love? All the questions form the rest of the story.

I like Srikanth. I think he is a bundle of talent and energy although he does not get good roles to play. All the movies he has chosen in the last year have been just passable. This one is no exception. I sometimes wish he would not jump around too much...

Samvritha...She is not heroine material. All you can notice is that she is not pretty and has a huge squint! Which does not add to screen presence at all. She should seriously consider applying for other jobs.

Sangeetha...She made a point about her acting in Pithamagan...She is good. But some of the expressions she makes in the movie look funny...She needs to check on a mirror before getting them on the role. Also she needs to loose weight else she will be shelved for roles like anni or akka only.

On the whole the movie is watchable but Aasai was way more gripping and believable than this movie. Lot of things Arudathi tries to do are plain stupid. I am sure a smart person can come up with real workable ideas to break up a couple...But watch it once when you have run out of all your "fun" options!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wafers and My Journey!

Dad was going to do the final move to Chennai. Mom and I had already moved three months ago and Balaji (my second brother) quit hostel and moved in with us...One week before my quarterly vacations began mom had left for Trichy and I was going to join her with Balaji on the afternoon of my last exam! Yay! I was going to miss Trichy for the rest of my life and I was eager to visit BHEL township one last time before I bid adieu...

Till two days before my trip everything was going smooth when something came up for Balaji and he could not go to Trichy...Which meant I could not...Disaster!!! I was in 7th standard for the love of God and my parents are not used to sending little kids alone on train...But me the Great was adamant that I could travel alone. I beg, cried, hunger strike, everything until it was agreed that I would take Vaigai Express from Chennai to Trichy alone. Balaji was paranoid and very scared and so were my parents...I was just 12 then and you know how safe India is for little kids but I knew nothing about any of that and I wondered why my parents were so scared!!!...Looking back I wonder how stupid I was and I can understand why I had to follow a set of rules laid down by Bal!

So I was made to sit in the train at a window seat. I promised Bal that I will never leave the seat till I see dad in Trichy. Also I could not pee, buy anything from the vendors, or eat anything from others. I could not talk to anyone and could not sleep either. After hearing all the orders for the hundredth time, I told my brother that I might get hungry and what should I do then...Bal told me to wait and after five minutes came back with a jumbo packet of wafers and a small bottle of water. He told me to eat it. I asked him why wafers and he replied because they were his favorite snack...I was mad because I was think more on the lines of Idli, Bonda, Bajji, even Bourbon Biscut but not Wafers...that too strawberry flavor! But the train started to leave and it was too late to get anything else for me...So I put up a silent protest and left for Trichy...

Those days it took about 7-8 hours to get to Trichy. It was the fastest train in South but still it took its time...It was close to eight in the night when I was nearing Trichy Junction and I was hungry, tired, sleepy, and to top it all off I had a fully loaded bladder. I was sick and tired of eating wafers as I had finished almost 75% of it and by this time I had also sworn never to eat them again in my life...When I saw my dad in the platform I got so excited that I might actually get to pee...

But the hygiene freak that my dad is he told me no peeing till we got home...Home was 13 miles away from the nearest bus stop which was about a 10 minute walk!!! Which simply meant that no peeing or food for another hour or more before we reached home...God only knows how I survived the nine plus hours of no peeing with little food (I do not put wafers under the food category!) and no sleep...I was just a little adamant girl of 12...

So I did make it all the way to Trichy from Chennai safe and sound, in one piece, with a busted bladder...And more importantly I was not kidnapped! So Good! But I remembered this incident when my friend picked up a packet of wafers at Taj Imports last week...I realized that I have come in contact with it very rarely till date after the train episode. Even if people offered it to me I would take one and nibble on it before I could politely dispose it off...

But I was eating one last week and it was not so bad afterall...But impressions formed about certain things during our childhood are so strong that we tend not to notice them until we look back and reflect on our past!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Run! It's them guys from AMWAY!!!!

1st Attempt: It was dandia night in Dallas and all of us were in this huge auditorium filled with 10,000+ desis dancing to gujju music! Our gang was already 10 or 12 people and we had formed our circle when a few people joined in and we did not complain. So we danced till the music ended and when we were about to leave a couple who had joined our group started complimenting me and my friend about our dancing skills and dressing style. And before we knew we were swapping phone numbers. And by the time we left the place Giri and I forgot about these guys totally...Until we received a call the following weekend...

The husband wanted to Girish to stop by at his house or he would come over to house to discuss some business proposal with us. The minute he said this Girish politely cut him off and changed his name on the phone to "Do not Answer" so that he would not even accidently answer the phone. But this guy was persistent. He called using different cell phone numbers and literally to the point of harassment!

2nd Attempt: So Girish and I were at Taj Imports buying Biriyani Masala when I walked over to another aisle to pick up some other spice. I heard Girish talking to someone and this guy was asking Girish's help to choose the best Tandoori Masala. The gourmet chef that Girish is he started suggesting what is good when this guy thanked and asked Girish, "Where are you from?" and then started the conversation about how he is also from Bombay and that his wife is also and architect, etc. and eventually he had Girish's number again!

Yes, predictably phone calls followed and this guy also harassed us until we completely started to ignore any calls from people who were not in our address book already!

3rd Attempt: This time it was Wal-Mart. Girish and I hate doing this but it is a necessary evil and we were there on Sunday evening trying to get our house stocked up for the week! I was trying to pick up some vegetarian soup...and Girish was reading the ingredients to be sure that I don't pick up anything that has beef stock in it when this desi guys walks up and goes, "Which soup is pure vegetarian? I can eat egg but chicken is a no no." Girish and I help him and start leaving hoping this is not one of those Amway attack when this guy stops us and asks, "do you guys live around here." Girish curtly said, "yes, we just moved." To which this dude looks at his watch and goes, "I moved here recently too, exactly 20 days ago." To which we both smile and he continues, "where are you from?" Girish is like, "Bombay," and he is like, "I used to live in Ville Parle for a year but I am from Gujrat." We told him politely it was nice to meet you and turned away making eyes at each other...

We were happy that we had smartly dodged another guy from talking to us but we were not sure that this was an AMWAY attack...But true to our suspicion he walked around the aisle and caught Girish when I was not with him and asked him for his phone number to which Girish had replied that we had just recently moved in and we did not have a phone yet!

Conclusion: The reason I am writing this is because of a few of these AMWAY Desis, I am at a point where I do not trust any of these Desis who accost me in public spaces. I am afraid that they are going to bore me with their AMWAY crap that I really do not care a dime about. How on earth can they even think that I will start anything with someone whom I know nothing about and met at Wal-Mart? It just does not make sense the way these people approach us. It is rude, irritating, annoying, and do not think that just because you are a Desi I will drop everything and trust you!


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Photos of my newly Redecorated home!!!

I only have a few pics of our new apartment that we are almost done furnishing. I will get some better ones soon...These were taken by my friend Preetha and my hubby Girish...

Our Kitchen that looks into the extended living/dining space

The Guest Bathroom...Not sure if you can see it but it has black tile all around with gray lines...Its super and white combination...

A view into the dining space...To the right is the kitchen and left the living...At the time of this pic we hadn't yet completely set the place up...Also note that I cannot wrap a saree well!

This is a view to our kitchen from the living area. We have a nice glass coffee table with a sofa of the same color as the love seat on which our friend Rama is sitting...But for the Master Bedroom all other rooms have faux wooden flooring and the kitchen/bathroom have real floor tile (not vinyl composite tiles like what we get in a typical apartment).

Ok Fosix...this is all I got for now...more to come :)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Concerts and Weddings! *phew* What a Weekend!

One of my dear single friends got engaged last Monday (July 31st)...And guess when they scheduled her wedding??? Exactly five days after her enegagement. Now that does not happen too often! It was that sudden that we did not even feel like we spoke to her enough before she got married...I mean just last Saturday (July 29th) she was at our house-warming party...and this Sunday (August 6th) she is married...

Last week was hectic...I had to attend some training sessions in Irving away from our office and I had to travel a lot...then my friends and I shopped around a little and of course "What to gift" was the major topic on the discussion agenda and we spent hours pointing and counterpointing all arguments!! And as usual finally settled in on our very first choice...

And then came the weekend...Girish had heard on the Desi Radio (which he listens to because he has no cassette/CD player in his car) that Atif Aslam was performing at Funasia and it was going to be for free...Since we all like his music...We reached the place promptly at 9.40pm for a show scheduled at 9.00pm which eventually started around 10.10pm or so...

First on Stage was a singer called Fakhir, a Pakisthani pop sensation...We had actually heard his music but did not know that this was him...Then it was followed by Mr. Vaibhav, a local Dallas resident, who swayed and shashayed to Bheegi Bheegi (Gangster) and Allah ke Bande (Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II)...he looked so stupid dancing around alone on the stage...we now make so much fun of him everytime we get together...

Finally Atif came on stage...Atif, I must admit is cool, stylish, good sense of dressing, can dance, can bend like elastic, and most important can sing really good (you should listen to his alap!). He sang most of our favorite songs plus a few others and we were very happy that he was as good live as he was in his cd. The show was great...Everything was perfect but I am pretty sure that we might have been the only seven or eight Desi's in the whole auditorium...It was slightly intimidating, I must admit...We got very consicous!

So the concert is over and we walk out of the hall and start discussing what our POA would be for the next couple of days considering one of our best friend was getting married. We started to share work and discuss stuff when a bunch of Pakisthani guys drove up in a Lexus, parked it in front of the theater and started screaming "Pakistan Zindabad!" and they were jumping around. We really felt very alienated and threatened for a few minutes and decided that we would all meet at one of our friend's house to conclude our discussions...

I wonder why they always carry a flag of their country to all their shows and then behave like this...I am sure there are a few Indians who would do the same thing, but I am not one of them and would certainly never do such things...As an after thought I felt sad for their insecurity that they always have to do this :(

Then came Saturday and the gang split into groups to get some final shopping and gift buying completed...later in the evening my friend and I went for the Henna party while the guys went for the 25th Birthday Party of another friend of ours...After the Henna party my friend and I joined the guys and by the time we got home it was well past two...Two of our other friends from Austin who were also coming in for the wedding came in at 3.00am and we sat up talking till 5.30 in the morning...We were woken up at 8.30am and then had to get ready in a rush to get to the temple on time for the wedding...Half of us got there on time and the three girls missed the wedding by 5 minutes...ya we were getting ready!

After the wedding we went for this wonderful reception at Mariott, where we toasted, ate lunch, Sammy sang, and we danced a little before heading back home in a thunderstorm...All our friends joined us at our home and then we cooked Dal, rice and potatoes, before saying good bye to everyone around 10.15pm...We saw half of the movie called "Makdi" before we hit the bed around 11.10pm...

The week was loaded and the weekend was all the more loaded!!! We are tired from our hectic weekend and hopefully the next one comes even before we realize it considering we had a "Start of week dinner party" at Rama's, we also have a Preetha "buh-bye" party on Thursday, and we might go and watch "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna" this Friday...*Phew*...B.U.S.Y...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Omkara (2006) - Hindi Movie Review

Ranking: 3.5/5

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Saif, Vivek Oberoi, Kareena Kapoor, Konkona Sen Sharma, Bipasha Basu
Director: Vishal Baradhwaj
Vishal Baradhwaj

Yes it is an adaptation of Othello by Shakespeare. Did I enjoy the movie? I am not too sure...I cannot explain why but I surely had a bad after taste after I walked out of the theater. Let me explain the story and then let me see if I can try and explain why I did not enjoy the movie.

Omkara (Othello) - played by Ajay Devgan is a leader of a gang in a town in UP/Bihar. As much of a leader that he is he is also led easily by his gang members conniving plans easily. He can be a romantic lover and suspicious husband too. He lacks trust in anyone which leads to his own downfall.

Ajay D is always serious. Can he be a comedian? Not very convincingly. Having played so many serious roles the role of Omkara must have been a piece of cake! I did not think that his acting as Omkara was any better than what he did in his previous movies...But yes the casting was right and he was good at the job!

Tyagi (Iago) - On the other hand is an integral part of Omkara's gang. He is smart, intelligent, conniving, and can be cunning. He gets filled with contempt for Omkara after having been passed over the position of General in the gang to a younger unsuspecting Kesu. Tyagi slowly plots his revenge against Om and Kesu.

This role is beautifully portrayed by Saif. The transition from the suave chef in Salam Namaste to Langda Tyagi in Omkara is remarkable! I could never imagine Saif speaking the dialect and he did have me convinced because I always thought that Saif could only play "the rich kid" roles.

Kesu (Cassio) - Is a lad who can speak English, university educated but is also a part of the Omkara gang. He becomes the general of the gang but is at the receiving end of Tyagi's revenge. Kesu lands up becoming a pawn in the elaborate game that Tyagi plans! A loverboy at heart he has his eyes set on Billo, a dancer!

Vivek Oberoi as Kesu is not bad. I will not say he was great but he acted to the full capacity of what is required for the role. If he had done anything more it would have become gaudy. Yes he stood "there" most of the time, but that's what his role demanded. He cannot be written off (like he has been in for that. In fact he did justice to Kesu.

Dolly (Desdemona) - Is the beautiful girl who elopes from her house to marry Omkara against the wishes of her parents. Dolly is in the center of the big revenge plotted by Tyagi. An innocent girl who is in total submission to Omkara realizes in the end that her lover did not trust her...

I like Kareena. She is a very beautiful actor and can surely dance to the beats but she is not the correct person for the role. She sticks out as a sore thumb in the landscape of UP/Bihar. For this I will not blame her because her acting was not the one in question here but I will blame the casting manager!

Billo - Bips plays this role of the girl who charms our young and handsome newly appointed General Kesu and also falls for his marriage promise. In the end also forms an integral part of Tyagi's plan!

Bips cannot look anything but stylish. Even though people in villages and small towns use cell phone now, they do not get their make up done like an actress in Bollywood. She seemed too conscious to do the item numbers and in spite of her dusky complexion seemed out of place as Billo! Again bad casting!

Indu (Emilia) - is the wife of Tyagi and the one who tells Omkara the truth. Konkona who acted this part was the only lead lady who did not look out of place in her surroundings, and what more can I say about her acting. She the fit the role like a glove on a hand!

The reasons I did enjoy the movie:
1) The pace of the movie was very slow. It might have been okay with Shakesphere wrote Othello but in 21st century we are used to speed and somehow could not enjoy it.
2) Even if the pace was slow had the screenplay been a little more interesting it would have been better.
3) I did not think they did a good job with the casting of Kareena and Bips!
4) The item numbers did not make a difference to the story.
5) Murder of Dolly was not visualized well. I really did not have to see her body jolt and shudder when she died.
6) What difference does adding a love scene to a movie make other than getting more front benchers in? It spoils the look of the movie if you put in a love-making scene just for the sake of it. I strongly believe that the love making scene of KK and AD was not necessary. Just showing his love for her is enough to convince me of the fact that he loves her deeply.
7) The movie gave me a headache. It is not that I do not like sad/slow/tragic movies because I have seen Pithamagan, Sethu, Thavamai Thavamirundhu, etc and I did not have this feeling about any of them. So there is something wrong in the movie only!

I usually ruminate over a movie I see for a couple of weeks before I finally come to a decision that I like it or not. And hopefully in the next couple of weeks I don't add a few more points to my above list of "Why I don't like this movie." Having written the stuff I did not like I must also write what I liked...So here goes:

1) A great adaptation of the original story. Conscious effort has also been made to keep the names of the lead protagonists similar to the original story.
2) The location where the movie has been shot is really impressive and shows a different part of India if you are not from around there.
3) Dialogues, although I did not understand most of them (Subtitles Zindabad!) was in local dialect and effort from each actor is noteworthy.
4) Costumes too are very impressive.

That's all I can think for now. Nevertheless the movie is worth watching once to form your own opinion. This movie certainly did not fall into my "please do not watch for your own safety" category but does fall into my "avoid watching with your family" category! Feedbacks and healthy discussions are always welcome!