Autumn Smitten

Photo:(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

I made my first apple crisp of the season today. Which is a delectable insinuation that bygone are the days of flip-flops, climbing mountains and canoeing on the still waters of Ipswich. Naps on the soft sands of Atlantic is a distant memory. Scarves and sweaters have found their way, out of closets. Days have started shrinking, skies are grayer, birds have started flying south. Frigid, gloomy, snow-clad winter is very well on its way. But, not until we get to embrace the magical fall, gracefully pushing the winter into a hiatus, for just the right amount of time.

I do not play favorites with the seasons, I love them as they come, the way they are. But, I can not help doting at the fall, just a little bit more than others. I am not to be blamed. I live in New England. Fall here is nothing less than chimerical.


Urban autumn scents the air with fumes of  endless cups of pumpkin lattes, spiced candles and steers the mundane conversations to connivance about eerie dresses and Halloween parties that mandate them. Sidewalks have yellow blanket of  dried leaves, which makes walking an adventure in itself. The houses are adorned with artistically carved pumpkin lanterns to ward off the darkness. Farmer markets boast the crispest of apples and there is no better season to drink the warm, creamy soups. Life is simply festive.

When you move away from the intoxicating apple cider to the woods, nature’s treasure trove awaits. From what I hear, northern New England is the best place in the world for leaf peeping. One can witness the foliage in its full glory. Hundreds of miles of winding roads and mountains lined by trees that are scarlet and yellow, russet and brown, make me want to make them my home. I want to bask in the beauty of colors, I want to store these memories in my mind, to keep me warm during the winter’s reign. If there is a heaven, probably this is it. Oh, Autumn! how I wish I were a poetess or a better writer for that matter, to explain truly, how you take my heart away!

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The World is Not Flat

sky-diving-shute-harbour

I know,I know, the folks from Greece came up with the stuff about earth being a sphere and all, some 5000 years back. I just happen to see it myself. Yes!! I jumped off a plane. Literally.

When I shared my penchant for sky diving, fiance retorted,”Can’t you hold it off until after the wedding? I do not want any crutches in our wedding pictures.” I came up with my own theory:

a. There is no possibility of getting crutches, if things do go south ( and by things, I mean me, up  at 11000   feet), they will really go south.

b.  It is better to have no wife at all than having one and then, not having one.

He pretty much threw his hands up after b. After this repartee,there was no telling the parents about planes or jumping off them.

The  date was set to first Saturday of October. I kept thinking about the impending adventure from day 1 of the week before. My excitement was tantamount to a child’s very first visit to Disney or a teenage boy’s first peek at you know what magazine. No fear had crept in yet. So, far I was pretty bad ass.

So, the day arrives, a beautiful one. I meet up with my friends, Dave and Jenn at the skydiving place, around noon.These two are my great friends and in general awesome.They are kind of veterans at sky diving(they ditched me last time they went).This time I made sure that I wasn’t left behind. It was hard to decide if, it’s reassuring that they are coming for a re-dive or the fact that they kept scaring me off with their goof up tales from last time. Mostly, they were just messing with me. We all decided to take pictures and videos of our jump.

The lady ushered us to a room with a huge television and told us that we are about to watch a safety video. The screen came to life and a stern looking lawyer started talking. All the talk was about, how you could die/become cripple skydiving and that if you do, you can not sue them. She said this in may be 50 different ways. When every one was about to fall asleep, a guy came up on the screen and gave the actual safety instructions. We bolted out the door as soon as  the video ended.

I meet up with the guy who was gonna jump with me and the videographer. I get into my jump suit. I was hoping for it to be orange but settled with a deep blue. Next, I was harnessed up and ready to roll. No fear yet.

I waive at the camera and get into the plane after my instructor. Jenn and Dave will jump first and then me. Plane wobbles a little on the runway and then takes off. It is a pleasant change to not to listen to any tiny humans crying during the take off. Soon, we are at 5000 feet up and the views are spectacular. I am feeling great, still.

I am sitting on my toes at the sill of a moving aircraft’s door.The wind rushes at a pace of 150 miles/hour, at my face. The guy starts counting.. 3-2-1! My heart skips a beat and I am off the aircraft, twirling like a leaf. A little perplexed as to my surroundings and then it hits me. I see the curvature of  the earth. I see the first of  fall colors,  dots of reds hiding amongst yellows and greens. I see a river, the water is blue like the bluest of skies and glistens like myriads of stars on a starry night. The guy with the camera appears in front of my face and I come back to reality. I am still up in the sky, yet carefree. Not being scared, scared me a little. I started smiling, waiving, blowing kisses at the camera, and a salute too!(Don’t know why I did it?). Will have to find a way to erase that from the tape. Okay, time to pull the rip chord, I waived my rights to pull the cord myself at the plane so, the guy did it. The parachute opened, we lurched up a little and then started going down at a steady pace.This probably was the  most serene moment, I have ever experienced. I am moving slowly through the atmosphere, all the adrenaline rush is gone. I can feel the gentle breeze on my face. I see a flock of birds flying right next to me. I pretend to be one of them. I keep falling, slowly. We do a few turns, I see the ground rushing at me. Time to put my feet up, o oh too late! I was so lost in getting the most out of this little journey that I forgot, it was about to end. I land abruptly on my feet. No major harm done.

I  say good byes to my instructor and the camera guy and rush to hug Jenn and Dave. We exchange our experiences, Dave shows off a little about his picture perfect face and Jenn sulks about missing the rip cord by a few seconds. We high five and wait for Vishesh(fiance) to land, who happens to be the co-pilot of our plane :). He looks happy to see us all in one piece and makes me promise that, I will never ever jump off a perfectly good plane again. That is still in question. If we ever go to New-Zealand, the promise will automatically become void. Just saying.

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Drowning in shame

cwg-reut608

Photo by Reuters

I grew up waking up to the echoes of tennis ball, hitting the hard court, Geoffrey Boycott’s chuckle and perpetual cricket test matches being  religiously played on my parents living room television set(much to my mother’s chagrin). I am the nerd who  ceremoniously waits for 4 years for Olympics to happen and burst into tears of joy when Abhinav Bindra scores a 10.8 in his final shot. Sports have been an inherent part of my being and commencement of Common Wealth Games (CWG) on Indian soil was naturally  a matter of pride and much joy. Little did I know that instead of being excited about the games (which by the way are less than 2 weeks away) I will be venting out my anger about the colossal mess they are now.

I banished the initial uproar about the procrastination and controversies surrounding the games to the corner of my brain designated for things I don’t want to think/talk about. Hoping that everything will eventually fall in place. I kept piling up the shameless debacles over time and now, my brains buffer is full, rather overflowing. I can’t help it. I must rant!

It all started with the corruption charges, which was no surprise to me. I accepted it as a reality. I did hope that they will at least  have the decency to deliver what had been promised or at least most of it. Not even an iota, I wouldn’t feel comfortable visiting the games myself after a series of roofs and bridges collapsed on people’s head. The  CWG federation president Fennel gave the conditions of the games village a swift “D”,  followed  by various participating countries. Many top athletes have already pulled out of the games. Mother nature has not been cooperative either, there are concerns about Dengue outbreak due to recent rains. To add fire to the fuel, two tourists managed to get shot in Delhi giving rise to a  new rhetoric about safety concerns and possible terrorist attacks. Is there a thing that didn’t go wrong?

So, what do people in charge of the event have to say? According to them every thing is fine and all these issues are blown way out of proportion. In words of Delhi’s Chief minister Sheila Dixit “These rooms are clean to both you and us. However it may not appear so to some others. They want certain standards in hygiene and cleanliness which may differ from our perception“. This is more than a farce and have permanently tainted India’s  image and capabilities for hosting any event of the sorts.

6 billion dollars later, it is still indecisive if we will be able to continue with the games. Australia has offered to step in and host the games . I can’t decide what is more shameful, letting them host it or try to pull it off ourselves with problems that refuse to recede? I am disheartened less as a sport enthusiast but more as an Indian. At this point, I do not even hope for a miracle. The little hope  I had collapsed with the last bridge. I am drowning in shame and the only thing that lets me come up to surface is the  incense  I am filled  with.

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Picturesque Poverty

The onslaught of social media rendered by easy accessibility of digital SLR cameras has given birth to a new  breed of self – proclaimed photographers who constantly try to wheedle people around in order to sate their narcissistic tendencies. I see a common  trend in these portraits, most of the pictures are riddled with malnourished children, child workers and in general the less privileged. Thanks to the advent of  Slum Tourism these photographers don’t have to be industrious in finding the subjects for their artistic endeavors (my eyes are doing a 360), they can just walk into the slums as they would in a  zoo and capture all the squatter and its inhabitants. Then, it would be a matter of seconds to convert the portraits to black and whites  and slap their names on them.

So, how does an aspiring photographer gets the notion that picturing half-naked children and paupers on the street is art and is aesthetically pleasing from an artistic point of view? Well, they just look around and see Slumdog millionaire getting an Oscar and God of small things getting a Booker. Skin and bones is a thriving industry and every one wants to jump on this bandwagon. What started as an elitist pursuit of understanding poverty has turned into a resource to be exploited.

There is no denying the noble and practical reasons for taking these pictures, they do tell a story and educate the rest of the world. It’s all well and good but, the  problem is with the ulterior motive tied to these pictures. There are families in Africa who earn 50 cents for 2-3 days of hard labor, they have severely malnourished children and fight hunger and diseases on a daily basis. A photographer taking their picture earns a minimum of 300 dollars for clicking them,  striping them off their dignity and intruding the privacy of their homes. It is beyond unfair.

The copyright laws give the full ownership of a picture to its photographer, the people being clicked do not have any say in the profits made from it. These laws need to be revisited and people being portrayed should be entitled to the part ownership of the photograph. Authenticity of displaying the  stark reality in 2 dimension is all together a different story. One would think that the indigenous photographers would take different pictures than their western counterparts, but that is not the case. Photographers in Africa have no more higher moral ground than photographers from the west.

If the community being portrayed is not getting any thing back then,  in my opinion, this the plagiarism of the worst kind, we are plagiarizing the very existence of a person. So, when you decide to take a picture of a smiling child with his hands extended forward to receive the candy you are about to give him. Think twice, don’t be that guy who goes to Africa or slums of India and changes nothing.

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Beyond Stereotypes

In the fall of 2006, I embarked  my very first flight to US. I had  two reasons for choosing United States for furthering my education. I was disheartened with the Indian education system and I wanted to explore the world. US seemed like the perfect milieu for both academic excellence and ethnic diversity, I so coveted. I picked Boston as my city of choice and rightly so (I will never get over the beauty, multicultural vibe and quaintness that this city offers).

The Simpsons

All illustrations Fox/Photofest.

So, a doe-eyed fresh out of college student started her journey to a whole new world. I wasn’t coming alone, I was bringing my baggage with me, which consisted of anticipation, anxiety and more importantly preconceived notions that years of television, books and media had ingrained in my mind. I came here thinking that it’s a country of  Budweiser drinking, beer belly couch dwelling slob who drives with a shotgun under his seat.

Four years flew in a jiffy and left me with nostalgia and new impressions based on my very own experiences. It is easy to give in to the stereotypes as we homo-sapiens derive this perverted pleasure in seeing through some one elses glass house. From what I have seen, stereotypes tend to be over simplification of people and situations. When I contemplate about the common American stereotypes and my experiences with them the following comes to mind:

People have right to be stupid, some people abuse that privilege

Americans are ridiculed globally for being stupid. I didn’t think any differently. I came here thinking that Chinese students will be my only academic competition. I couldn’t be more wrong, American students were equally intelligent, diligent and passionate about their work as every one else. Same applies for people at different places I have worked. I might have seen some dumb wits here and there but, aren’t they every where else too? The world isn’t exactly dumb proof.

The Wild Wild West

Whenever I plan a trip to India, I am presented with a list containing pricey electronics and not so pricey chocolates a.k.a gifts for my relatives and friends. The shining star of  this list is always the iphone but, this time I was shocked or rather amused to see a semi automatic lingering some where in that list. The person requesting it said, “Can’t you buy it in the  supermarket for cheap?. That’s not true. Well, not exactly. Every one here does not sleep with a gun under their pillow. We all have watched way too many Clint Eastwood movies. Interestingly enough, I did happen to see the cowboys and girls when I was traversing Wyoming, they were a bunch of teenagers watching their cattle on a summer break. As far as I am concerned, I couldn’t feel any more safer. It might look like an over simplification but really none of the people I know own guns!.

From Cars to Houses to Breast Implants

We all believe that Americans believe in bigger the better. I can not entirely deny this. But, again not every one is same. Many people just drive the cute Minis, actively recycle and stay away from cosmetologists.

It is only the superficial qualities that last (Oscar Wilde)

Another common stereotype is  Americans being superficial. Well, money does speak it’s own language and riches every where behave in more or less the same manner(also most of the Americans traveling abroad are either rich or are businessmen). The common folk here seems to indulge in simple pleasures. I was surprised when I heard for the first time people  boasting about cheapness of something they bought. It’s a recurring phenomenon. So many of my friends work in non -profits by choice. Again, do not judge the book by it’s cover.

Sarah Palin Believes Humans and Dinosaurs Coexisted

Well, this one happens to be true.

I do not find it funny when Tina Fey makes fun of Indian accent and when people think that we have monkeys running around every where in India. I am sure, a Chinese person wouldn’t be thrilled when it is assumed that they are good at computers just because they are Chinese and I am pretty sure that French do not appreciate being perceived as rude. In the end it boils down to the fact that every one has their own idiosyncrasies, it’s not prudent to take things at their face value. As my not so favorite writer Paul Coelho said “We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”

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There is no such place called Far Away

Calla Lilly cake

For all the family and friends whos birthdays I have missed over the years

In an ideal world, I would have been vacationing some where  near Cape Town, right about now. Sadly, “ideal world” is an oxymoron.

And here I was, sitting in my living room, staring at the screen. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Unload the dishwasher, offer to come with me to watch Shakespeare On the Park  or even bring along Samosas on your way to my apartment and I am happy as a clam. If no one is  doing even that for me, I just have to take matters  into my own hands. Usually, it has to do with calories and more of them.

Last week was rather plain, there was no sense of achievement. I needed a project. I have been away from my kitchen (not physically) but  I didn’t have my mind or for that matter my heart into it. Since, I was not in South Africa amongst the lovely Calla lilies, I decided to bring them  to me. Me and any my dear friend Preethi decided to decorate a cake with Calla lilies.

I started off with a classic yellow cake, jazzed it up with crushed pineapple and frosted it with vanilla pudding(half of which was already gone even before I started frosting). The second cake happened to be German Chocolate. I can’t resist chocolate in any form and this one here, tops the list. I decided to use the butter scotch frosting for it. So, I spent half a day  making these yum yums .

Now comes the fun part, making these cakes look pretty. I made the fondant the night before ( not fun at all). The rest of the day was spent on     making the flowers and coloring the fondant. In the end we were satisfied with the results. Calla lilies looked beautiful and I felt the same joy that I would have experienced in a Calla lilly field. Life just got better.

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Love Thy Neighbour

One fifth of Pakistan has been affected by the devastating floods, worst calamity in 80 years. Its leaders are constantly SOS-ing the international community for aid. India offered 5 million USD, they refused. US intervened, they reluctantly accepted. Looks like a bad soap opera’s plot to me. Except, real people are dying here, real children are going hungry and without shelter. This can be confusing to any bystander, how can a country afford to do this in such a dire situation? Well, this is just not any country we are talking about, its  India and Pakistan. Ours is a different story….

India  and Pakistan went their separate ways in 1947. At least in theory. Pakistan started its journey as an Islamic nation (headed by a man who himself was  an agnostic). India chose to remain a secular nation. This is a classic example of political ambition taking precedence over reality. Both Jinnah and Nehru were agitating and preparing to exercise the power for years and this was their chance. The problem was, there could  only be one leader. They found a convenient scapegoat in religion. This was the advent of what would be the  tremulous history of the two nations.

The nations separated, people remained the same. Partition was the ugliest picture of pain, misery and  death possible. The atrocities committed during that time can easily dwarf Rwanda. 2 million people were killed in the communal riots and many more lost their homes. Memories of ghost trains have been haunting generations of Indians and Pakistanis. This is where we come from, this is how we started..

The memories of this gruesome start got etched in the hearts of people of both the countries and manifested itself as this deep rooted animosity, which constantly gets fueled by the perpetual conflict over Kashmir.  India and Pakistan have fought 3 wars since independence and can easily be called  the epicenter of  the next international war. Both the nations being nuclear powers. There have been many failed attempts of reconciliation, but this is  a stalemate. No one wants to go one step farther than the other. Is there a solution that can work for both the countries?

3 wars have taught us that military is not the solution. Talks and goodwill are great in theory but haven’t been proved  fruitful so far, nevertheless , there should be constant dialogue between the two countries and more importantly between the people. The only solution that seems practical enough is to increase the trade and commerce between the two nations. Let both benefit from each other. We can take the example of France and Germany after world war II, how they intertwined there economies  so that the  war became impossible. It is not as easy as it looks for us  in theory but this can be a start. If we look objectively at our situation and try to find ways to improve it, it is possible we can prevent history from repeating itself.

Our geographical location bounds us to stay together, there is no escape. The only thing we can escape from is our history. As they say, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

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