Friday, August 31, 2007

Many Happy Returns

Today is a special day. The first of September always has been and forever will be special. I once read somewhere:

There is nothing that we place above

The happiness of the ones we love.

Once upon a time (1959), there lived a young man. He decided to go to the U.S. from Bombay and pursue his dream of picking up a master's degree from an Ivy League institution: The University of Pennsylvania. Just about the same time, another young man from Madras had decided to do the same after spending two years in Bangalore. They ended up as neighbours in the U.S.

The young man from Bombay went to the U.S. and started missing home food. All the Indians (the handful of them that was there) would spend time together and were like family. But this young man still missed home. Still missed home food. And being the first son after 7 daughters and just before the 8th meant that he didn't get a chance to learn any cooking. So, he decided to invite one of his sisters to the U.S. But it is not like the family was rolling in money. The young man lost his father soon after his two younger siblings came into the world. So his mother had single handedly raised all ten children and educated them. That meant that whoever came to the U.S. had to be employed there. Our friend was not going to be able to support anyone else. Among his 8 sisters, it was the youngest who was able to come to the US and work in the same University.

This little girl was all of 20. She was still waiting her turn to enter the kitchen when all of a sudden she had to pack her bags and fly. The last month that she spent at home was a pampered one. She reached the U.S. and her brother took her out for a pizza. The next morning they had toast for breakfast and the brother went off to the University telling her that he'd be back at 12.

Legend has it that he returned at 12 to find the house empty. No one was around. Then he heard some noise in the bedroom. He went in to find his little sister crying. She never had a chance to enter the kitchen and she has no clue how to cook anything. The young man was shocked. After all, he made her move to the U.S. possible so that she could cook for him. And she didn't know how to cook.

But she learnt. Through letters from her mother. Through friends. Through a lot of trial and error. And with time she became the best cook there ever was. And since all the Indians always hung out together all the time, the other young man from Madras also got to sample her cooking. They became friends.

About 4 years later, they got married. And this day comes 44 years after that event.

My last post was about my acquired family, this one is about the one I was born into. This couple is the one I have as parents. The ones I wouldn't trade for anyone else. There is truly nothing that I would place above the happiness of the ones I love.

Amma and Appa: Wishing you the very best of everything.

P.S. The date system is messed up in my blog software and the date shows as the 31st instead of the 1st.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Family Ties

I've learned -

that your family won't always
be there for you. It may seem funny,
but people you aren't related to
can take care of you and love you
and teach you to trust people again.

Families aren't biological.

I read this somewhere many years ago. I have lived away from home for so many years that I have lived this truth. I have had my share of ups and downs, of tears and laughter, of friends and foes, of wonderful love and tearful heartbreaks.

What do you call this family that you acquire over the years? Do you have to give it a name? VJ: My dearest friend, my next door neighbour at one time, and I were thick as thieves. Still are. Born exactly 364 days after I came into this world, it seemed so special to have found a friend in him. That our birthdays had to be so close... right next door... just like us made the friendship even more special.

I moved out of Hyderabad 2 years ago and among the people I missed, he was the one I missed the most. There's something about having a great friend as a neighbour. Making friends with your neighbour is very different from having your friend become your neighbour.

We'd visited each other several times and my trip to Singapore was thanks to him and him alone. We would talk late into the night about life, work, love and everything else in between. There was no way I could give this relationship a name. I still cannot. I tell people "we're family" and people ask, "is he like your brother?" No, he's not like my brother. But he's family. How do I explain that?

He's the guy whose shoulder I cried on when I had the worst nightmares of my life. When I had repeated visions of the one night in which I lost my handbag and the love of my life, he gave me the strength to carry on. When I left Hyderabad, we'd spent months debating that decision. We could rely on each other to look at something in a very objective fashion. And as recent events proved, we still can.

I am just back from his wedding. He tied the knot 346 days after I did. And just as he came to my wedding and was part of my big day, I was happy I could be a part of his. I'd not have missed this for anything but the recent incidents made me a little unsure of being able to make it. I tried and I was there. I had a lovely time. I was family. Not a friend, not a sister... but family.

VJ: I wish you and Sangeetha the very best that life has to offer. I can never be too thankful to have you in my life.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Triumph of Mind Over Matter

I got back on Monday from a 3 day camping trip at Mukteshwar, Kumaon Himalayas. I had a lovely time and got better acquainted with my colleagues (and every muscle and bone in my body).
I had three days of trekking in the mountains, blindfolded at times, in the dark at others, chatting away with colleagues, sharing tidbits about my life, learning about theirs.

It's funny how you have perceptions about the people you interact with and how they fade away to give away to new ones. Somewhat like the layers of an onion. I never really understood that term until this trip.

I'm a complete beach bum. I attribute this to the fact that I was born on the coast (Bombay), spent 20 years on another coast (Madras) and went on to spend 2 years, under the pretext of completing a post graduate degree, at a wonderful beach resort called the Pondicherry University. I was also allergic to the beach sand as a child and so the beach was out of bounds. So, my connection only grew deeper.

But I've also always loved the hills. There's something magical about being in the mountains. The fresh air, the breathtaking views, the colours, just everything is magical. This trip, however, was about all that and more. It was about me. It was about pushing myself beyond what I thought possible.
At first glance, the view from this cliff was intimidating to say the very least. I had wanted to climb rock faces and all that when I was in college. And this trip was a dream come true in a sense. But it has been quite a while since I finished college and so quite sometime since I had the dream as well.

There I was, with a bunch of folks right out of college, most of them a gentle reminder of what I was 8-10 years ago. The world is your oyster kind of attitude. It was fun being with them. When the time for rock climbing came, I encouraged them to go on and they encouraged me in return. But when I started to climb the rock face, I slipped and fell. Not once, but twice. I was dejected to say the least and went off to eat my breakfast. The timing was off and I hadn't done anything remotely as strenuous in the last few years. That's when a colleague of mine, more a friend actually, said to me, "Arundhati, have you heard the term 'third time lucky'? Maybe that's what it takes. Why don't you try? We're all here."

I wasn't too sure. I decided to try rappelling. I loved it. Absolutely! There's something to learn from this activity, about trusting a man and a rope so much that you're sure they won't let any harm come to you. I did this twice (yeah, kind of like to make up for falling off the rock face twice!). That's me getting ready to jump off the cliff.

After meeting with success here, I decided to try climbing the rock one last time. I was off to a better start and made it half way up the cliff. And then it began to rain. I kept losing my hand and foot grips every few seconds. But there were about 30 people standing all around, coaxing me to not give up. Stuck to the cliff like Spider man, I cried for about ten minutes. Then I figured that I crying was going to get me nowhere. I saw a bunch of complete strangers encouraging me to get to the top. At that point, I thought to myself, "If all these people believe in me and feel that I can do it, what on earth is stopping me from believing that?" I cried some more, caught my breath and set out to reach the top. And I did it.

I cried again after I was done. Some people thought they were tears of happiness. I think I was just plain relieved. Boy was I glad to be back with these people! Happy that my age old belief:

  • if I want something badly enough and have the right reasons for wanting it, I will get it.
  • I will get what I want provided I work hard for it.
  • As long as I believe that I can do it.

still holds good. I am happy to be back, exhilarated that I achieved what I set out to, and thrilled to have lived a dream.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I once talked about some of the things that Indians do that make me not so proud of them. Here's an example. I took this picture at the Taj when we visited 2 weeks ago. The sign says in English and Hindi, "Please do not take off your shoes here" and that is exactly what everyone had done.

Where is it that we have a problem in taking orders? In following rules? I wonder. 60 years of independence and some of us behave like we didn't deserve that freedom.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Occupational Hazards

I think about the hazards that people put up with, day in and day out, just because of their professions. It's not like I'm writing an HR paper or attending a conference. This thought is a recurring one.

In school, we were taught about how asbestos factory workers ran the risk of exposure to silica dust. And for a long time, I always thought of occupational hazards much the same way. Exposure to this, lack of that, inhalation of something else: always a physical hazard. As I grew up, I also realized that being in the defence forces was a hazardous job. In its own way. But then again, not just physically, also mentally and psychologically hazardous.

I somehow never thought about my own job as being hazardous in any way. Until a few years ago. And several incidents over the years have thrown light on what those hazards might be.

I was waiting for my mother at the airport about 6 years ago. I met a guy who went to school with me. A few years my senior. We talked for a bit and exchanged cards. Then he said, "We should keep in touch." I thought, "Yeah, we should." I was looking at it from the perspective of rebuilding my friends' circle in Madras as most of my friends had moved out in the time that I was away. A few days later, I got a call out of the blue. From this guy. We got talking about this and that and at the end he told me he knew someone who is very enterprising and smart. Could I find her a job? There. It was out. Out there for me to see that the title of "Head - Human Resources, India Operations" of a multinational consulting company had worked its magic.

Since then, I have always wondered about why people befriend me. Earlier, I used to believe that it was because of who I am, not because of what I am. Now, somehow, I am not so certain. I am a little wary of people. And let's face it. I am not averse to helping someone. If I can be of use, why not? After all, I have been helped too. But I hate the fact that this "help" can be the be all and end all of the supposed relationship.

My teachers at school always thought I was a spoilt brat. I didn't want to go to IIT and my parents said OK. I wanted to study Biology and my folks were supportive of that. While I was a popular student at school for most part, towards the end of my school days, I wasn't much loved by my teachers. Why? Because I wasn't too good at Math and Physics. Because I didn't have high ambition. I didn't aim for the IITs, JIPMERs and AIIMSs of the world. It's a different story altogether that the same students with high ambitions landed up beside me in B.Sc. I got what I wanted, and they got what they deserved. Yet, somehow, in the overall scheme of things, I was the lowly one. The star who could have gone anywhere she wanted, but the star who went astray. The top ranker who chose Biology over all else. The one that started out great but turned out just about average.

Accused of lying, cheating and just about everything else (because I needed time off for my cousin's wedding), warned of stuff such as, "My God is watching you." To which the every-cocky I responded with a, "Just as mine is watching you." Fast forward to about 3 years ago. I run into the same teacher who told me I was a good for nothing liar because NOBODY gets married in the December 15th-January 15th time frame. And I was accused of printing my cousin's wedding invitation. We're talking about the early 90s. I didn't even know where one went to get such stuff done, let alone actually go do it. Time is a healer like no other. We talked. I was civil and nice. She asked what I did after school. I told her about everything, including the fact that I was a University topper. And she asked for my card. Immediately, I had a sense of deja-vu. I didn't say or do anything, but I knew what would happen next.

A few days later, when I was back in Hyderabad, I got a call. The same teacher had an enterprising, smart (hmmm!) nephew who needed a job. I asked for the resume and called him for an interview. He made it through the written test, but the technical team rejected him after 2 rounds. I happened to be in Madras again at the time. I got back and sent the candidate a reject mail. My ordeal started from that point on. The teacher called me said, "I'm banking on you. You're the HR Director, how can they reject anyone if you say not to. Is there actually someone above you?" I told her that it didn't matter whether or not there was someone above me. I would do the right thing even if no one was watching. After that, I never heard from her. How did she start banking on someone who barely 10 years ago was a cheat and a liar?

There was also the case, slightly before this one, of the librarian whose daughter was doing her MBA. I met him at an alumni meet and later, he called. Could I get his daughter an internship? No, I couldn't, because we had a space constraint at the time. A few months later, I moved to another company and he probably tried to reach me at the old workplace. And he probably couldn't. Sometime later, he passed away. I sent a condolence message and his son lashed out at me. Saying things like, "When he was alive, you avoided him and now you're sorry he's no more." I was shocked. I don't try and "avoid" anyone. But when I am helpless and the hound me, maybe it does seem that way.

Why am I writing about this today? Because I'm upset. Irritated. I heard from someone I'd barely worked with. She was leaving the company just as I joined. And I had to complete her exit formalities. I was done with everything and there was something pending from her side. I had to attend a family function at my cousin's place and told this lady that I'd leave at 8. She delayed and then pleaded with me to come back and finish her paperwork. For a host of reasons, I decided I had to finish her work. Then she started hounding me for her relieving letter. She'd call everyday, even at 9 p.m., to ask for the status. People in HR have no life, you see. When that was settled, I never heard from her. I didn't expect to. Then I realized all the lies she told me about studying further and moving abroad. She moved to GS, another job. Why lie about it? But suddenly, yesterday, the woman has added me as a friend on Orkut. The usual, "Do you remember me? You looked very cute in a sari." and all that rubbish. I sarcastically told her that I never forget people who make me miss family functions.

This morning, I opened my mailbox to find an email from her. Her brother-in-law is moving to India from the US. Could I help him find a job? I politely declined because I have no contacts in Bangalore anymore in any case. But the point is, if I did, would I still have? I doubt it. I want to have nothing to do with people whose every move is a calculated one. Every phone call, every meeting, doesn't have to have an outcome, doesn't have to have a hidden agenda.

Talk to me, spend time with me, I'd love it. As long as you're doing it because you want to, because you like to, not because you need to. Take me for who I am, and not for what I am.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

This past week

I have had an eventful week.

We've done loads of stuff in the last 7 days and to a great extent, it has been great fun.

We started celebrating S's birthday the previous day and were at a posh restaurant at midnight. This was a futuristic modern European restaurant. But I'm fairly certain I'm never going back. Why? Because the duds didn't know how to serve us nicely despite the fact that we were the ONLY guests. And I told the DJ that it was my husband's birthday at midnight, so could he please play "Happy Birthday"? "Sorry Ma'm. We only play House and Lounge music."

I thought that was fine. But when the clock struck 12, I wished S and hugged him. Not one of the restaurant's staff even bothered to wish him. What does it cost to say, "Many happy Returns"? Maybe in "Modern" Europe they don't wish people. That's a little too futuristic for me. I am a little old fashioned in these matters.

Now coming to the nice part. I got the day off. Why? Because my company has a policy that allows employees a day off on the birthdays of their spouse and children. Isn't that fun? I spent the day making a nice cake for the birthday boy. You can read all about it here.

After cutting the cake, we went shopping. I got him a gift and he got me one. (I'm liking it even more.) Then we bought a whole lot of stuff for the house and to aid my food blogging efforts. And then we went to our favourite restaurant in the whole world, oops on the whole earth: EARTH.

There, the manager, chef, waiters... just about everyone came and wished S. We got such royal treatment despite the fact that restaurant was overcrowded. We had some nice wine with mushroom starters, pizza, pasta and the chef brought us a special cheesecake (with his compliments) with a candle on it and "Happy Birthday Sachin" written on the plate with syrup.

THIS is the stuff birthdays are made of. I'm not saying that on other days people can be rude. All I'm saying is that be nice, but be extra nice on someone's birthday.

I had a few cooking firsts. The cake and the icing were a definite first (in 20 years). I also baked my first successful batch of masala buns and then, my very first bread.

My office has been sealed by the MCD and until the matter is resolved, we are working from home. So, that gives me about 2-3 hours extra to myself in a day.

I was interviewed by CNN IBN on Monday and S and I came on two of their live TV reports as well. After our earlier India Today feature, we're suddenly very very media friendly. After the burglaries, we featured on Aaj Tak and an auto driver in Delhi recognized me the next day and was very sympathetic.

I have also completed 8 years of being part of a workforce. A very rewarding 8 years this has been. I walked into the office of a TTK subsidiary on the 8th of August 1999 and there has been no looking back. I think about giving this all up, I think about it a lot. But will I get around to it, I don't know. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


So much has happened, yet it feels like nothing is happening. Apologies for ignoring this blog for such a long time. My food blog does get a lot more attention these days and with time, I am fairly certain that this problem will be fixed.

I was in the news almost all of yesterday and for a good part of Monday. CNN IBN was covering the crime rate in Gurgaon. Despite the shocking numbers, the ACP said that there was no need for panic. The situation, according to him, is under control. I'd like him to have 6 weeks of sleepless nights. Or 6 weeks of leaving for work each morning not knowing if all will be OK when we get back. 6 weeks of being suspicious about every activity outside his door. 6 weeks with no peace of mind. 6 weeks of the trauma I've been faced with, before he says, "I don't see any need for panic."

I've had advice pouring in from every corner.

  • "Why don't you leave your jewellery in a bank locker?"
  • "Why do you wait for a Saturday to go meet the authorities, why can't you go tomorrow?"
  • "Did you not lock your house properly?"
  • "Get a better lock."
  • "Get a maid to stay full time or ask your parents to come and stay with you."

Hindsight is always 20:20, right? I can think of a thousand things I could have done. But nothing can change the fact that my privacy was invaded. Someome broke into my house while I was away. Someone went through my personal belongings and took away something so dear to me.

People asked me, "If that mangalsutra is so sentimental, why were you not wearing it?" I really want to slap some people so hard. I don't need to explain to them that I got 5 mangalsutras at my wedding and can only wear one at a time. And isn't wearing it my choice? Even my mother didn't ask me why it was in the locker.

What amused me the most, however, was this guy from the Crime Branch.

Inspector: Aap gehne ghar mein kyon rakhte hain? (Why do you keep jewellery at home?)

Me: Sir, thoda sa to ghar mein rakha hi jaata hai. (Sir, some of it has to be kept at home.)

Inspector: Theek hai madam. Aap ka to gaadi se aana jaana hota hai, apne bag mein rakha keejiye." (That's fine Madam. You must be traveling in a car, carry the jewellery in your bag."

Me: Kyon? Taaki mera handbag chori ho jaaye aur aap poochhen ki akal nahin thi jo itna saraa bag mein liye phir rahi thi?" (Why? So my handbag could be stolen and then you can ask if I didn't have the common sense to not carry expensive stuff around?)

Having had your house burgled is one thing. Having your life open to question by just about anyone is quite another.