Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009

Joules World wishes everyone a happy new year. I will be bringing in the new year with friends, fun and flutes.

Cal will be feasting on her favourite - chicken of the sea.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Christmas Story - Part II

During the month of December after school and play practice we would hang out at my neighbors house - the Johnsons. Johnson Auntie would make cookies and mini plum cakes and their house smelled of sugary delight during the month of December. She would package these plum cakes and distribute it to all the neighbors.

She brought a lot of christmas cheer to the neighborhood, but what Johnson Auntie really wanted was for Santa to help her escape from an abusive relationship she had with her husband. One Christmas her wish came true, she decided to pack her bags and leave. We never got to see her as she left in the middle of the night. She left a couple of plum cakes outside our door.

As a kid I didn't understand why she had to leave without saying goodbye, but that year when I was making my Christmas list my mom suggested I ask Santa to bring peace and happiness to Johnson Aunty and her kids. Since then I always think of her during Christmas and include her in my wish list.

A Christmas Story

The holiday season besides being my favourite time of the year brings a lot of memories from my school days. Hubby is always surprised when I can sing along with 'O come all ye faithful' or 'Silent Night'. Although what probably astounds him every time is my inability to carry a tune.

My sister and I attended a private Christian school in India run by a protestant family, the Chalkos. Every year before the Christmas vacation the school had an annual tradition of enacting a play which between singing Christmas songs would tell the story of Jesus Christ from the time Christ was born in a manger to the crucifixion.

Parents would clamour to get their kids on the play. Parents whose kids made it would feel so proud while parents whose kids did not, always thought the teachers were conspiring against their talented kid. My sister always got the lead role of being Mary. I was an angel who had no lines and really no expressions. Just had to smile through the show. My pictures though came out well, always smiling.

My parents came to the show every single year and watched us act as if they were watching the next Meryl Streeps. After our graduation though my mom revealed that she was glad that we were pursuing engineering as acting would not have been our future.

Hurry Down the Chimney

Friday, December 12, 2008

Yashodha from Louisiana

We can do no great things, only small things with great love. ~Mother Teresa

As a child I would spend a lot of summer's at my grandma's home. Amma, as I affectionately called her lived in a village in North India that did not have any electricity. As soon as it would get dark, my cousins and I would sit with Amma by a lantern and she would tell us stories.

Most of these stories were about Krishna (a Hindu God) - the Krishna who was "natkhat" (rambunctious) and surrounded by gopis, the Krishna who Radha secretly loved, the Krishna who imparted wisdom to Arjun during the battle of Kurukshetra and the Krishna who saved his people from a murderous dictator.

But none of these stories fascinated me as much as that of Yashodha, the foster mother who saved Krishna (or Bal Gopal as the young Krishna was called), gave him love and shelter, spoilt him like a mother and made him realize his full potential.

That brings me to the story of my friend Caroline. A woman from Louisiana who went to India to find a child her friend was sponsoring through the Christian Children's Fund. Determined to prove it a hoax she landed in Orissa. Not only did she meet the child (who had every single letter written to him by his sponsor), she discovered the staggering statistics of orphans in India. (25 million orphans in the system, 3000 get adopted every year).

Appalled by what she saw - these kids had barely a roof, no medical help, barely any food and no one to love them or hug them. They were the lowest of the lows - the Untouchables. Caroline decided to become Yashodha to these Bal Gopals.

She came back to the US and started an organization that would build world class orphanages in India. Daunting as that task seems to most of us, she read international and UN mandated briefs, applied for licenses, worked through bureaucratic nightmares and the organization now owns six orphanages in Orissa and Jharkhand in India. Since then they are going through the process of upgrading these orphanages.

The model is to have 20 houses per campus with 10 kids in each house. Every house has a house mother. The house mother is hired from the underprivileged as well, hence empowering the woman. The kids get proper nutrition, an English school education, a stable environment and someone to call "mom". Two orphanages have already been upgraded to this model and Caroline and the organization is always improving on the model. She encourages every one to visit the kids.

In this season of giving please visit her website. It doesn't take much to transform a child's life.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Congratulations Shah Rukh Khan

Cal found this picture of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan being conferred the Datuk award in Malaysia. Shah Rukh looked absolutely dapper in a black baju Melayu (traditional Malay outfit for men) complete with a samping (skirt) and songkok (jet black head gear).

We both think he looks absolutely fabulous. Cal and I will watch "Chhaiyya Chhaiyya" (he is the one in the red jacket in the picture accompanying the wikipedia entry) again to celebrate this huge honor.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Over the years, I have heard a lot of stories from Indians about Americans perception of my homeland. Some of these stories are true, curiously asked by people trying to make sense of a country that is alien to them, while some of them are often repeated remarks in the form of "a friends-friend was asked". Examples range from "what does the dot on the forehead signify?" to "do people in India travel on elephants?". Most of these tales were repeated with a John Stewart like mock disbelief on how less the average American knows of the rest of the world.

I probably would have thought the same based on this anecdotal experience had I not lived in Texas. In a trip to Jaipur in 1994, one of my friends father asked me where I live. When I told him Austin, TX, he remarked that Texas was a dangerous state as they had assassinated a President in Dallas. I had to politely remind him that two Prime Ministers have been assassinated in India since then. Note that this was before George W. Bush and his so called "cowboy" diplomacy. In fact, most of America also wonders about the gun totting cowboy ways of Texas. Austinites apologetically explain that Austin is not like the rest of Texas. At least we don't cling to religion or guns like Pennsylvanians.

This got me thinking that not only Americans, most people form conceptions of alien lands and of people they don't know and most of the time these impressions are negative. Our window to these worlds is through television news which tends to usually focus on the negative.

Watching television I have always wondered "Do people in Rwanda walk around with machetes?", "Is there a women jeans market in the middle east?", "Does everyone live in a tent in Sudan?", "Are all Hawaiians wind surfers?", "Do people get regularly eaten up by sharks in California or Florida?".

One of my new years resolution is to try to resolve these preconceptions and I hope you do it to yours as well.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Most and Least Expensive Hotel

The resort Atlantis at the Palm Jumeirah (palm shaped island) in the United Arab Emirates was launched with an impressive firework display which lit the whole island and was bigger than the fireworks for the chinese olympics.

In an over the top show, singer Kylie Minogue was joined by Middle-Eastern pop sensation Nawal and former Miss World and bollywood star Priyanka Chopra (in a tacky outfit) who essayed the role of the goddess of Atlantis. The exclusive event which was attended by 2000 guest comprised of the who-is-who of hollywood and bollywood - Janet Jackson, Charlize Theron, Preity Zinta, Lindsay Lohan, Robert DeNiro, Shahrukh Khan and others. If you have money to burn, the Atlantis boasts a $26,000-a-night suite. Cal is wondering if pets have to pay extra.

In these economic times though when every one is looking for a deal here comes a zero star hotel in a converted nuclear bunker in Switzerland.

Eleven pounds extra buys a “luxury” room, with “antique” beds from a condemned hotel.
Complimentary slippers are provided for walking across the icy concrete floors — while customers enter a draw to decide who gets the luxury of a hot morning shower.


And they [the guest] will be given a pair of EARPLUGS to help blot out the racket from the ventilation system.

Related Sites:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mumbai - The Aftermath

Indians and Mumbaiites are rightly enraged by the latest terrorist attack on their soil but we need to wait for all the evidence to come through before we can start finger pointing. Indians need to come up with some constructive solutions which cannot be determined until the investigation is complete. My suggestion would be that the government appoint a 26/11 commission similar to the 911 commission after the terror attacks in the US, which looks at all aspects of the terrorist (where and who trained them), federal government preparedness (what did they know and what did they do about it), local government evacuation plans and emergency response, media zealousness (did their need to be first on a story endanger lives) and separate facts from rumors and innuendoes.

Fortunately there are signs that the government is taking this attack more seriously than it has in the past. The resignation of the Home Minister Shivraj Patil and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Vilasrao Deshmukh is a step in this direction. Indian government has rightly publicized that Pakistan hand over the HVT's on India's terror list. India should, with aggressive diplomacy get United States to put pressure on its ally to hand over those HVT's. The Obama administration has stated multiple times that it will focus its GWOT on Afganistan and Pakistan. The fledgling pakistani democracy is more inclined to help than previous pakistani administrations. As they say in India the "tava" (frying pan) is hot and this is the time to strike, diplomatically speaking.

The findings from the investigative body should come up with definitive answers to the following questions:

1) Did the US intelligence warn India of an impending attack? If yes, what actions if any were taken by the federal government.

2) Why was there no security on the Taj and Oberoi hotels?

3) Did the media endanger lives by giving out exact location of the hostages and/or the security forces?

4) How did a boat enter the harbor without the Indian Navy spotting it?

5) Were there only two active fire engines available for the Taj as CNN reported?

6) Did the cops have World War I weapons?

7) Did the cops not have proper bullet proof vests?

8) Did the terrorist call the banned terror group Lashkar-e-taiba in Pakistan?

9) Are five terrorist still at large?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Victoria Terminus

My dad was posted in Lonavla, a hill station in the Pune district in Maharashtra. We took the trains to visit my grand-parents in Kanpur often and we would change trains at the VT station. As kids, my sister and I would marvel at the architecture of the Victoria Terminus building and the size of the railway station. My dad who was an engineer with the Central Railways would bore us with stats about how many trains stopped at VT and how many people changed trains at that station while we would cling to his legs trying not to get lost in the sea of people rushing in all directions. VT was a happy place for me and my sister. We had a twenty four hour train journey from VT to Kanpur and we would double up on supplies at the VT station - popcorn -check, Stardust/CineBlitz - check, Archie's comics - check., the latest Amar Chitra Kathas - check.

So its with horror I watched the terminal become a part of the siege of Mumbai. While a lot of news has been focused on the higher end hotels of Taj and Oberoi and rightly so, since these are still ongoing campaigns, the assault on VT was on common people who travel by trains every day. If there is a silver lining to this terrorist act, it is bringing Indians of all stripes and colors together. Indians are also banding together to demand more from their government. Mumbaiites and Indians have shown resilience and defiance to terrorism before and they will again.

Update: The siege is over.

Style Icon of the Week

Of course, Michelle Obama. A lot of ink has flown to describe Michelle Obama's style. However for me, she is a rare combination of style and substance. She has a natural elegance, a grace and a non fussy style. Comparisons to Jackie Kennedy are overblown because unlike Jackie she is your everyday woman in her forties - a working mom, exercises regularly and spends an effort in portraying a down to earth style. She has been criticized for some of her fashion choices but I find it refreshing that like any of us she has had her fashion faux pas. I also find it interesting that at important events she coordinates her outfits with those of her children Malia and Sasha as if to put forth a united family front.

All eyes were on Michelle when she spoke at the democratic convention. The pressure was on, the media dubbed it as the most important day of her life and the most important day of her husband's career. She was there to soften his image, to show to the world that their family is like any other American family. Michelle chose a teal sheath dress designed by Maria Pinto. It was a simple understated v-neck dress that won her rave reviews from all. I loved this dress and it earned a can of tuna from Cal.

Thai-born New York Designer Thakoon Panichgul designed her dress on the night her husband accepted the democratic nomination. The dress is called a "reverse Kimono" and sold for $1250. Michelle picked the dress after it was shown on the runway. The dress was too floral for my taste while Cal thought Michelle should have paired it with some high-heels to look more lady-like.

Then came the monstrosity of a dress - The Narciso Rodriguez black and red dress from the designers Spring '09 collection that she wore at Grant Park on election night. The dress was modified from its original version to make it look fit for a first lady. Her saving grace was Jill Biden who looked cold and shivering all through the evening. The dress was awful but I and Cal both loved Michelle's confidence in picking such a bold number and rejoiced in having a first lady who finally breaks out of the boring skirt-suit or pant-suit mould.

Just when I thought Michelle was doing all wrong, saw a picture of the Obamas at the white house with the Bushes. She was back to her sheath dress in a color and a cut that looked fabulous on her. I was not surprised that the dress was a Maria Pinto. The dress retails for $750. She did play it a little safe this time but was appropriately dressed for the event. I gave her two thumbs up while Cal meowed her approval.

Cal and I, can't wait to see what choices she makes for the inauguration day and the balls.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

No turkey for us this year. Hubby and I decided to cook an indian meal. Hubby is preparing Mughlai Lamb Biryani while I am making my traditional Chhole, Paneer Butter Masala, Eggplant and Raita. We picked up some Naan from Whole Foods to complete the menu. Hubby is also making Oriya Cheesecake (his family recipe) for dessert.

Most of the recipes are courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey. The Paneer Butter Masala recipe is from the fun and food blog.

Cal is having canned tuna and some Whisker Lickins for dessert.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai Under Fire

Cal and I send our condolences to everyone affected in Mumbai and hope the nightmare would end soon. Amit Varma reports from the front line.