Thursday, November 18, 2010

Up in the air

My post on today.

If you're anything like me, the looming fear of being stuck on the window seat with a startlingly private, exceptionally cold or utterly uninteresting “flight mate” becomes prominent as flights that span over multiple days come closer. With my India trip itinerary flashing on my calendar, the speculation of landing up with a non-fabulous flight mate is causing me more anxiety than real issues like catching connecting flights in time or dealing with disgusting lavatories.

I wouldn't consider me lucky in the matter of air company. Time and again, I've ended up with the exact opposite profile of mine in the next seat. Sure I carry a book and flip through magazines and catch a couple of already seen movies and marvel at the artistic patterns that clouds form at 30,000 feet above ground and carry a fully charged laptop but after a bit, tête-à-tête beckons.

So here’s a shout out to airline companies. Wouldn’t it be incredible if you could use a little creativity when assigning seats to your customers? It’s no secret that at the click of a button, we all become a bunch of demographics at least here in the US – female, under 30, single, loves sushi, goth movies and rock music, orders home gym shopping catalogue... you get the point. Companies like club similar profiles all the time. On flights, it'd translate into seating similar profiles of people together without their knowledge to create a brilliant travel experience.

Much to my stern disapproval, the term ‘NRI season’ has become interchangeable with ‘winter’ in India. With a million of us getting on board to get home just in time to attend all the exciting New Year soirees or find love or detox at spas in Kerala or shop, a great expedition can get us a head start and put us in top gear.

Imagine: no dull moments, no noticing the lull of air pressure, young entrepreneurs exchanging notes on cash flow situations, hip fashionistas discussing the impending demise of harem pants, retired defense folks comparing details on golf shoes, mommies letting all the toddlers cry in unison without worrying about getting dirty looks and teens hitting on each other as the flight crew gently continues to dispense delicious nibblers and drinks.

Is it me or that’s a spotless illustration of a perfect world up in the air?

Here is the link to the article on

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Advantage fair sex

My last trip to my regular pizza joint was anything but regular. The skinny nerdy boy who'd been taking my order since months decided to break the ice finally and strike up a conversation. Except it wasn't much of a conversation. At least not a pleasant one.

"Where do you work?" he demanded out of the blue.
"Umm at this fun company. Why?"
"I'm looking for an internship in IT. Know of any openings?" Direct and to the point like most men I know.
"Well I..." don't really know how to respond when get asked that question by semi-strangers. Granted he knew
my taste in pizza toppings and I knew he was quick with orders and never forgot to include extra crushed pepper in my take out bag but that hardly qualified as grounds for professional recommendations.
"We all have to work hard for our first jobs don't we?"
"Yeaa" Smart kid I thought. He knew the whole deal right off the bat.
"Well not you I'm sure. Not girls. Pretty girls don't have to struggle for anything. Things just fall in their laps." Wait. What. He's got some nerve being snide with me.
"Excuse me? You don't even... "
"It's true. You can argue all you want but I am convinced." I couldn't let the arrogant prick get away with it. I had to dispense with the niceties.
"You know I'm sick of hearing that. That's just bull. I've heard it since I was 12. And it's far from truth. So may be you should reconsider your sample size before you go about broadcasting your conclusions for your own benefit."

I took my take out bag and stormed out wishing I'd forgotten to pay which would make him run behind me like a moron in the corridor. It’d ensure I had another opportunity to give him a piece of my mind. But it wasn’t just him I wanted to yell at. I wanted to yell at every guy who’d alluded to it. That guy who’s told me not to worry about learning apparatus in the physics lab since I could just get away with fluttering my eyelids. That guy who’d told me I’d easily get hired in IT for diversity. Many more of them. All of them.

Except I wasn’t sure if it was true or not anymore. Was it? Or have guys been happily living with the assumption that the unfair advantage does exist for the fair sex.

Not that I’ve been oblivious to stories like the Boston Marathon this year that allowed women runners 30 extra minutes for the qualifying round than men. Of course there was no evidence that women really needed that much extra time. But then those are few and far in between. I’d like to think that thus far in life, everything I and most girls I know have achieved is based on merit. Guys, do you have a different story?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Effective conversation enders

My post on today.

Pick-up lines, introductions and ice-breakers have long received a sizeable amount of limelight. There are numerous books, articles and speeches by professionals documented on the subject. It's been discussed to death really. They're hyped and overrated if you ask me. But have you ever noticed that the world around you is filled with 'effective conversation enders'?

Ever heard of that guy who brought up his ex's handcuffs within seconds of meeting a new girl. Or the guy who confided in his boss that all his friends were also going to be in Goa during the pricey conference he was attending. The guy who told an acquaintance at an outdoor event that he'd rolled deodorant on his face to beat the humid weather. The guy who requested a cop to spare him when caught speeding because he was woozy from happy hour. The guy who joked with his new investors that all his girlfriends believed he had commitment issues. Yup, the air around them was all that was left soon as those words made their way out of their mouths.

May be those incidents are a tad exaggerated. But surely we've all come across milder versions of conversation killers in day to day life. The dude in the seat next to you on a long flight who insists on showing you his kid's videos on his phone. The aggressive non-aunt lady who wouldn't spare your bachelorhood at the wedding as she begins to scout girls. Your girlfriend bringing up gory details about her girls night out.

The devil doesn't necessarily lie in the stories. I’m tempted to say that every anecdote has the potential of being interesting, just as long as it bumps into the right audience. There's always someone who'll appreciate it. Relate to it. Feel it. But with the wrong company, it can go awry faster than you can say awry – the Sarah Palin effect as I fondly refer to it. The hardest part is to do the match-ups between the story category and the audience category. A little common sense, a little sense of timing and a little empathy should save one from becoming a little story himself.

On the other hand, creative souls can use it to get themselves out of all kinds of less than ideal situations: a lousy blind date (“this new rash I’ve developed is really bothering me”), a boring social dinner (“I was just teaching your kid how to spell schmuck”), a dreary Lacrosse game with new vendors (“after the 3rd drink even I’m scared of me”) or a co-workers practice power point presentation (“a few offensive jokes about the boss equals a hit ppt”).

Whatever the situation, use some effective conversation killers and drop the bombs to your advantage to get out of it scot-free. Keep the guilt at bay (it’s just an harmless little lie) and always, always remember what you bluffed about.

Here is a link to the article on

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Obama live

Mumbai virtually shutting down despite the biggest festival, hundreds of snipers deployed on roof top of Taj and other spots on the itinerary, a convoy of cars carrying 3000 secret service agents, government agents and journalists following him, 34 warships patrolling the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast and an ordinary expense of $200 million a day to support all this... it isn't everyday the President of United States visits the nation. $200 mill a day... and I worry when I go slightly over my $25 dinner limit on my expense statements. Oh the disparities! In a naive almost silly kind of way, it makes me feel insecure about being on the US soil in the meantime. If he's taking away all the powerful men-in-black look alikes, who's protecting us? The Hulk?

Besides briefing the President on the economic deals in the works with India, I suspect the council of economic advisors had gotten Mr. and Mrs. Obama to learn about the Indian stereotypes from the hyped series 'Outsourced'. What else can explain Michelle dancing effortlessly on a punju song on day one and a marathi one on day two and the president going straight from celebrating diwali with kids to shaking a leg on the kholi number to tackling his toughest questions yet... those from the students of Xaviers college. The questions were neither innocuous nor subtle but the President answered them with poise. Each response seemed well structured, honest and sincere. If Bush had to sit through it along with the students, he would have been snoring by answer #2. If Bush has to answer those questions, he would have cracked one liners, made monkey faces and choked on a gum. But this isn't about Bush so I'll leave him alone to chase a moose wearing a santa cap or whatever he's doing in the Texan countryside.

Whether he's giving a speech for a premature Nobel or on the grim morning after the state election results, the president has never failed to deliver an earnest one. He wowed India Inc. with precisely that as he announced a $10 billion economic deal that'd create 50k jobs here. His message was clear; if you take our jobs, I'll fly out here, make you all work on a Diwali weekend and get the jobs back. I see those hurt... err the patriots gloating already "now they need our help... after rejecting my visa twice and not extending my brother's h1, now they need our help". No surprises that the two countries are likely to sign agreements in every field from trade and commerce to agriculture to monsoon studies to US universities to energy.

Later he vowed the student community as he made them aware of their future responsibilities. One minute the kids had plans to bunk classes and hog on paneer kathi kababs at the canteen and the other minute, they were thinking about how they could contribute in maintaining economic relations with the US. Nice touch! I anticipate an inflow of thousands of entries in the blogosphere titled 'My (insert activity here) with Obama' in the next few hours. Needless to say, the 'activity' will range from an eye-to-eye to a handshake to a hug to a dinner to as much as a life altering experience (for those trying to get more hits). Good thing Karan Johar released 'My name is khan' last year. SRK's motive in the movie would have lost its fizz after this.

As Mr. President makes his way to Delhi to meet with the PM and several other ministers and dignitaries (AR Rehman and Aamir Khan included) more talks will happen and more deals will get signed. All I can hope for is, amidst his packed schedule, he doesn't forget to bring us back a requisite turban picture a la Clinton style. I also can’t wait for Obama to declare Diwali a national holiday in US next year out of guilt if nothing else.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Light my fire

This appeared on today

“Ravana is in high demand” read headlines from a newspaper this morning. Today is Dussehra, a grand festival that marks the grand finale to the nine days of dandiya delight. It’s the day when thousands gather at various spots all over the country to watch Ravana effigies being burnt.

I’ve long held the presumption that every popular Indian face at some point must secretly wish for this deep down inside. Indian gods are very kind when it comes to granting chote-mote wishes. Nothing else can explain that every superstar has had the esteemed privilege of getting his or her effigy burnt.

Big B recently had his share along with Ram Gopal Verma, to see their effigies being burnt in public. This for the liberty RGV took to temper with the national anthem and include it as a song in his film Rann. These two join the list of celebrities who've had this distinct honor before: Madhuri got hers burnt for saying something controversial about Sita in Lajja, Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty got theirs burnt for the infamous peck on the cheek, Dhoni got his burnt when India lost to Bangladesh in the last World Cup, Varun Gandhi got his burnt for pushing his luck too far and making outrageous statements, Danny Boyle got his burnt for the usage of the term 'dog' in his movie title Slumdog Millionaire and Deepa Mehta is a veteran in this field.

Burning of effigies definitely takes the stardom a notch higher. It is nothing short of a movement and our media makes it imperative for the entire country to obsess about it for a short while. It's great free publicity for the popular face and since public memory is so short, there’s actually no harm done. Mutually beneficial innit. It's a whole different story that most protests are completely blown out of proportion but who cares. Burning effigies is like celebrating Dussehra on a random day. How fun! It unites people and gives them something to do: plan, execute and reminisce. Such a stress buster.

There’s something enormously empowering and liberating about watching the Ravana effigies being burnt. It’s probably got something to do with conquering the evil and watching it turn to ashes bit. If people could apply this concept for every boss or ex-boyfriend or landlord they detest, life would carry a lot less emotional baggage. If done the right way with the right company, it can trigger off an avalanche of muck raking and release all the bitterness and negativity. Imagine this: if you’ve harbored a slight resentment towards anyone which you aren’t able to shake, a little effigy and off it goes up in the air and out of your system. Bliss.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fit for the streets

This first appeared on

You know you're getting too predictable when you speed dial the nearby pizza joint at 2 am to place an order and they don't even ask for your address. When your caddy offers you a tissue box and a Red Bull on the 5th hole at that exact second before you start panting. When your building watchman winks at you and inquires if you were expecting a late night visitor that night, night after night. When your boss offers to give you a third extension on a deadline even before you ask. When the receptionist greets you and says, "I like that this tie goes with all of your shirts" and you're unsure if that was a compliment.

While changing most habits may require a detailed project plan, Outlook reminders, a shrink and anonymous chat rooms, there's a quick fix to the receptionist-calling-you-out-daily scenario. And the fix can do more than put the secretary in place. It can not only alter your look but potentially your outlook, add a spring to your step and get the world to take notice. The best part, it's a low investment high return plan. All it takes is a bit of dedicated and focused net surfing and having plenty of light bulb moments as your stare at your wardrobe. Cherry on the cake you ask? It can NEVER get old.

Ready to open the Pandora's box? Shake the traveler in you and think of an international city you'd like to visit next. Go to a search engine and look it up. " street style blog". You'll find street style blogs on Moscow, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, New York, London, San Francisco, Barcelona, Copenhagen (yes you read that right!), Berlin, Melbourne, Munich and several more. As the name suggests, the USP of street style blogs is what people are wearing on the streets, not the runways. These blogs showcase plenty of pictures of people in trendy and interesting outfits walking on the streets. While bloggers tend to capture the slightly wacky ones on camera and put in their two cents, you'll see a ton of fun and funky ones too. Then there are those that quintessentially reflect the flavor of the city.

The absolutely remarkable part is, it wouldn't require you to invest in a brand new wardrobe. All you'll have to do it get creative and mix it up. And voilà, you're on your way to being a New Yorker for a week and before people get too comfy with that image, off you are onto Mission Milan. Role playing can be an exhilarating game and the bonus is, when you do visit those cities, you'll feel right at home. Even if being a ‘fashion icon’ isn’t your thing, getting an additional cool title won’t hurt. Just don't forget to send season's greetings cards or thank you notes to the bloggers when you hear words like ‘swoon’ or ‘drool’ in the same sentence with your name.

Here is a link to the article on

Monday, October 18, 2010

Overdue and outta luck

'Fashionably late' doesn't half define me because it doesn't have the punch of 'hopelessly incorrigible procrastinator'. Most people take punctuality seriously. They also care about expiry dates and late fees. Fortunately or otherwise, I've been untouched by these concepts. Until of course things begin to fall apart and I'm thrown into a stalemate situation. My mailbox, in case you're wondering, is perpetually filled with yellow envelopes that tell me it's my last chance to renew Vogue or some other life saving magazine or pay the library late fees before they send it to a collection agency.

One such day last month, I was reminded of the fact that my passport had expired months back and needed to be renewed pronto if I had to be a part of all the parties I'm throwing and the ones I've got guaranteed invites to in India this December. Several reminders from dad later, I showed up on the Indian consulate website last week and was basically shown the finger. I was assigned an interview date for December! An interview to get something I am entitled to by birth and that too, months later when I'm not even supposed to be around. Ha, I said to the web page and showed up at the embassy instead. I don't believe in GPS systems and I don't own an iPhone or Android so it may not be hard to visualize me driving on the crazy one way san fran streets looking for an address. I think it's virtually impossible to drive in the city and not break at least three rules at any given time. I ran a red light, got into a wrong one way street and drove in the bus lane, all accidentally of course. Luckily I spotted about a 100 fellow desis lurking outside a tiny door and that was my subtle clue.

I stood in the rather long queue as anxious faces waited for what seemed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. They perhaps waited for the gold studded door of heaven to open with immense shining light brightening everyone's faces as a beautiful angel would emerge and guide them into bliss. But instead of the gold studded door, it was a worn out wood one, instead of shining light, the sound of chaos and instead of a beautiful angel, a rude middle aged Indian officer. One applicant at a time, the officer dealt with incomplete forms, unfollowed instructions and blank faces that posed never ending questions. Some people who appeared to have shown up straight from work with a laptop were lead into a secret area to put away their belongings in a locker but from where I saw it, it looksed like a cleaned up garbage tank with a giant lock. Some who'd shown up with a family got snapped at for crowding the space. A gentleman who'd come with a toddler got it bad. "Why have you brought your kid. Where is your wife?" barked the officer and all the poor guy could mutter while lowering his eyes is "at work".

While I people watched and derived sadistic pleasure out of witnessing all the drama, I got what I deserved as well. "Madam, what does it say under the passport picture?" I shuddered at being suddenly caught and began looking under the picture. I wasn't too happy with the way the picture has turned out but that’s what you get for getting pictures at Costco. For lack of being responded to, Mr. rudeness personified lost his cool and yelled at what I guessed was at least a 100 decibels "Paste is paste in every language. Now go to the facility room at once, take the clip off and paste your picture." I turned around and started walking in the direction of the finger on his raised hand that reminded me of the Dr. Ambedkar statue in Mumbai and came across an ugly depressing room with a boring couch, a table and a stick of glue. Did he just say 'facility room'? "They treat people here like they do back in India. Like cats and dogs. I'm going to complain to the consulate general" came a hurt and angry voice from the boring couch. "Umm yea it's odd". "You just see I will complain. I'm serious". "Yes yes you must. And while you're at it, could you please ask them to not call this the facility room. It’s just misleading" I encouraged him as I pictured me pasting my picture on that form in a lovely powder room.

Soon I got done and walked out, and as I glanced at those waiting in the supremely long lines with restlessness, I couldn't help but feel a little relieved about the ordeal I had just got done with and a little smug about the one that awaited them. Phew.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The better beast

This appeared on last week

Lately, every photo shoot I've done, I've been feeling the equivalent of what a street play director might feel in presence of Woody Allen, what a brand new musician kid on the block might feel bumping unexpectedly into A R Rehman or what someone from Jersey Shore might feel in presence of Johnny Depp. Somewhat insecure, a tad intimidated and very infuriated at why that person needed to be there at that point in time.

It's not particularly a series of events that occur after bumping into 'someone who's potentially better at my job than I am' that upset me. In fact for the most part, the events are restricted to harmless casual interactions and a brief exchange of information on the subject. Nothing even remotely threatening. Nothing that would send my confidence speeding down to my heels. The devil is in the conspicuous gadgets that uproot me as I begin to question the merits of my 'weekend photographer' label. There's invariably someone with a newer version of SLR, someone with a fancy lens that I've never held before, someone going non-stop about ISOs and shutter speed and image stabilization. Don't get me wrong. I'm no fraud. I know enough to get by. Under ordinary circumstances, I love to indulge in those discussions but when on job, it ends up being a deal breaker.

If you extrapolate, it’s the classic age old crisis. Whether you chose to indulge in the rat race or stay miles away and just be a spectator, it’s infamous for sparing no one. More pages than a book on the resume, more digits than a telephone number as net worth, more foreign trips than a commercial pilot, more girlfriends than Gerard Butler, bigger mansion than Michael Jackson’s, better wit than Shahrukh Khan, more charisma than Rahul Gandhi; those guys are all around us. Fate arranges for a tête-à-tête with one such person every once in a while. It keeps the ego in check and sometimes gives way to self-effacing humor, my favorite variety.

Remember ‘In Good Company’? Dennis Quaid couldn’t escape his fate as his life was taken over a younger, cooler version of him a.k.a. Topher Grace. But it doesn’t have to be our fate.

After mulling over it for a while, I’ve come up a life saver: game changing rules The next time you run into someone you want to be, here’s what will help you sail through the encounter breezily.
Take a deep breath and act cool. Yoga hasn’t been around forever for nothing. It works.
Share experiences. He might have more skills and better luck but not your perception
and experiences.
Offer to collaborate at some point. There’s no harm in trying. Your luck is constantly
Whatever you do, don’t overdo it. It’ll show through and fizzle out like air from a latex

The ball’s in your court. Here’s a virtual hi-fi. Go kill it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Six places to visit in Vegas

This appeared on today

Guy trips to Las Vegas are legendary. From Fear and Loathing… to The Hangover, no one expects a trip to sin city to be ordinary. But getting the mix right and hitting the best spots before the bright lights and spinning wheels clean you out of money and good sense is easier said than done though. So here are GQ's tips for a Vegas adventure you’ll remember for the right reasons .

Casino and hotel: Aria Don’t bother packing your pajamas because you’re not going to sleep a wink. Aria, the latest addition to the glamorous strip, is a visual treat. It is surrounded by upscale stores that feature the world's most elite brands like Dior, Hermes and Fendi. In addition to the 4000 plus guest rooms, it has some 500 suites with an exhilarating casino floor. The high rollers have access to the swankiest private space where nothing is off limits. When you want to catch a breather from all the gambling, you can head on over to one of the 16 restaurants by celebrity chefs like Michael Mina or hang out by one of the 10 bars.
Nightclub: XS at Encore Vegas is a clubber's market and quite a saturated one at that. XS at Encore is amongst the few new additions worthy of a taste. It’s popular in the celebrity circuit so men have to pay a good cover charge and wait in long lines. But can you really put a price to partying aside Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian? Dress to impress if you want in and just don't rule out bribing the bouncer (You didn't hear that from us). The drinks sure are expensive but how many clubs do you know with a pool area and day beds?
Pool party: Rehab at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Rehab is a massive all-day pool party, one of the wildest you’ll find in sin city. But women in skimpy bikinis aren’t the only incentive to visit this place. If ever there was a land of plenty, Rehab would have to be it. With alcohol galore, renowned DJs, relaxing cabanas, slides and sexy vibes – it's a brilliant playground for adults. Rehab only opens every Sunday from 11 am to 8 pm and unless you're with a group of super hot babes or a hotel guest, access may not be easy. But making reservations for one of the cabanas by the pool will guarantee you a piece of the action. Be prepared though because you might need a day of rehab after Rehab.
Show: Le Rêve at Wynn This 75-minute show takes place at the gorgeous aqua theatre inside Wynn. 'Le Rêve' literally means 'The Dream' in French and the show is a collection of stunning dream sequences. It’s incredibly imaginative and shows off some pretty crazy stunts in a backdrop of rain, fire and dancing lights. Just don't get a seat in the first row unless you love getting splashed on.
Exhibit: Ferrari display at Wynn When you’ve had enough of the boozing, gambling and pretty women, head on over to the Penske Wynn Ferrari display. This part-car dealership, part-exhibit features some of the most exotic automobiles ever built. Our personal favourite is Wynn's own Enzo Ferrari that’s worth over $1.6 million. Hands off though because this beauty isn’t for sale.
Restaurant: Mix at Mandalay Bay Located on the 64th floor of Mandalay Bay, the setting at Mix is just as much an experience as the cuisine. Thousands of glass spheres hanging from the ceiling and an all-white room set the stage for elegant dining. Add a spectacular view and futuristic "pods", capsule-type booths, and you've got an intimate dining experience to woo the ladies. It's one of the most romantic restaurants you'll find anywhere. The trick is to remember to eat.

Here is a link to the article on

Friday, September 17, 2010

A shout-out to stalkers

This appeared on today

During my short period of fascination with LA tabloids, I was introduced to stalking stories which intrigued me to an embarrassing extent. It’s a phenomenon I attribute entirely to then President, George W. Bush. His bloopers, his cartoons and his public speeches loaded with ‘Bushisms’ lost fizz after a while pushing me away from conventional media into the world of yellow journalism. Restraining orders being issued to stalkers against celebs are often splashed all across tabloids. It gives me the comfort that all's well with the world.

It's not unusual for crazies to drive around the distinguished 90210 zip code and try to jump over the sky high fences to peek at their favorite celeb or hang from fragile branches to get shots of Jennifer Anniston sunbathing topless in the privacy of her backyard. Not so private after all is it. Then there would be the occasional dimwit peeing at a celebrity doorstep and getting arrested because he'd forgotten all about security cameras. Britney Spears, I concur just from the myriad stories, must be the queen of stalker land. In fact I’m willing to bet good money that stalkers-in-the-making practice with a full blown cardboard cut out of hers. They must hate her at the LA Superior Court given the work load she adds by getting countless restraining orders issued.

Come 2010 and everyone can have the esteemed privilege of having a stalker. All one has to do is activate 'Facebook places' or 'Twitter locations' or get an app like Foursquare and you're on your way to giving Britney a run for her money. With these apps, you can tell friends your location and track where you have been in real time. The 'check-in' points you earn and the lure of becoming a 'mayor' while earning discounts is sure appealing and if you aren’t a female supermodel, why fret right?

Here’s the catch. Everyone Google-searches themselves when they’re bored. It’s no surprise that the public information available about you is often frightening. If you live in the US, it’s too late to undo any damage. UK has more stringent privacy laws but it still be a significant bit. India will be there in a few years as Nilekani’s Unique Identification Card project picks up speed. As the technology world moves towards a single integrated identity across social networking platforms, combining information across your accounts and profiles, they also end up making you more vulnerable each step of the way.

As with everything else, common sense and knowledge about options and settings on these apps will save you from becoming a target. But if you're building a fan club, it's all yours to play with. Next time you make a killer presentation at work or conclude a crowd-maddening speech at the college social or win a polo match and feel like a superstar, go on a Foursquare usage spree and wait for the stalkers to roll in. Of course, a cool profile pic will help too. Enjoy the limelight.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My (brief) Italian Romance

I might have chanced upon the ultimate romantic hotspot by the bay. It ain’t an exotic restaurant or a sizzling nightclub or an island in the pacific but a majestic castle on a vineyard tucked away in Napa Valley that’s eminent for producing some of the world’s finest wines. It’s not called the seductive land that is both cosmopolitan and quaint for nothing.

As I drove past several dozen gorgeous wineries a few weeks back that savor the bounty of this vinous enclave, I hit upon metal studded enormous gates of this castle that seemed to beckon me. Castello di Amorosa. The name alone has a magical ring to it and the place has the power to transport you in a blink into the Tuscany landscapes and regardless of the company, make you fall in love. You may not buy this but in the unbearably bright sun, I even saw a rainbow. Told ya, love.

Over five unique and evocative red wine tastings accompanied by some seriously delectable breadsticks and tinted cheese that looked like art, I learnt an awful lot about wines from my very chatty server. The winery primarily produced Italian style wines. All the juicy red grapes which can pass for blueberries, albeit longer, are grown in the valley around the Castle. Vineyards are typically on hillsides since hillside quality is usually far superior to valley floor grapes. Oh and those grapes are all hand-farmed. If you happen to ask them how they set themselves apart from others, you might hear “with delicious, classically structured, intensely flavored, well-balanced and elegant wines”. Who knew they were all adjectives for expensive drinks. Swirl, sniff, sip, repeat.

Winery tours are a must do but not the kinds that chauffer you around in a stretch limo serving sparkling liquids inside. Those are no fun. I mean the real deal where you get down and dirty. The ones where you can follow the course of the grape from the vineyard through the cellar to the finished product and learn about the many aromas and the basic components of a balanced wine. As a bonus, you might just spot a few owls and hawks who ‘work’ in official capacity as predators so your wine doesn’t smell of rodent poisons.

Now only if I got to attend a fashion show or a live auction full of ridiculous treasures or some equally outlandish event in this marvelous setting wearing a designer hat, it’d be amazing. Or perhaps I’ll get to photograph an over the top Indian destination wedding at this locale. Imagine the grandeur of jellewery and exquisite costumes against the backdrop of a royal castle and home grown wines to go with every dish. I may finally learn what wines compliment Indian cuisine. Dionysus, are you listening? Wait, is Bacchus the god of wine? I forget.

I bet you knew that drinking wine does give you superpowers; the superpowers to live healthier and longer. Cheers.

Identity crisis in a new jacket

This appeared on yesterday.

Using shorter versions of ones name is cool but it’s no fun when one has to resort to coffee aliases (using Americanized version of one’s name at coffee shops) just because the server doesn’t have time for you to explain to her why your parents/relatives/neighbors chose an extraordinarily long and complex name for you and how you had no say in it.

It’s almost been a decade since I moved to US and I've noticed the gradual shift in the qualities often associated with immigrated Indians. Back in the day they were the same set of boring questions. It was all about the irreplaceable nerdy image ("Ours doctors and engineers have a multitude of skills. We don't need a third profession."), the explicit red dot on the forehead ("It is for the little boys to practice archery"), curried spicy food that could kill ("If our armed forces are overworked, then that is how we destroy our enemies"), the HQ of arranged marriages ("Try it. My aunt can set you up.") and our supernatural skill of making snakes dance (I'd vary my answer on this one).Fast forward a few years and Shilpa Shetty's yoga DVDs have replaced those of Baba Ramdev’s on Amazon's yoga section, Frieda Pinto's sizzling sex appeal has replaced Tabu's docile image on movie screens in the US, Anita Nair's memoir about dating has replaced Arundhati Roy's prismatic literature on book shelves across the nation and Anil Kapoor's cameo on ‘24’ has replaced the typical Indian-doc-with-funny-accent on most shows.

It's not just media that is projecting these new improved versions. We’ve ourselves undergone bit of a transformation. Luxury cars have replaced our loyalty towards Hondas and Toyotas. Co-workers no longer shy away from inviting us to go bungee jumping or jet skiing since we’ve finally evolved past playing cricket in neighborhood parks. We don't just order diet coke without ice at restaurants anymore and resist the temptation to cover 15 countries on a first time trip to Europe in 15 days.

A few things will never change though. Like our nerds will never cease to be nerds. And I say that lovingly. The technology world needs them. Like our men's undying love for white tennis shoes for every occasion. Slick blazer, gap jeans, hot babe and white tennis shoes. Is it a sacred thing? I don't get it. Like our kids averaging 5 rides an hour at Disneyland when others can only average about 2. Eating from home packed lunch boxes sure beats standing in hour long pizza lines. We’ve morphed all we could. The rest, the world will just have to deal with.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just Wink It

This appeared in The SA Times today.

The Indian publishing industry is undergoing what I underwent a decade back. Too many changes, too soon. Such arbitrary changes that if they plotted a graph for every trend that has occurred in the recent past, they run the risk of being more confused than they might have been prior to plotting the graph.

First off, the concept of monopoly is passé. The space has opened up in a big way inviting major international publishing houses to get their fingers wet. So professionalism is in high gear and modern outlook, a must. Enter lit agents. It’s not a job title you might have heard of forever but now you can bump into them at a cocktail party for a book launch of a newbie (read not even old enough to drive) author and they’ll tell you they’ve helped bridge the gap between writers and publishers.

Commercial books (those that can unite a billion people with simple language and a touching story) is a big business now compared to literary and self help books back in the day. No points for guessing that whatever genre you’ve admired in international titles is home grown today. Crime, sci-fi fantasy, romance, graphic novels, children’s books… name it and we’ve been farming it. Just look around the fancy bookstores sprawled across every city, big and small. Until Chetan Bhagat came along, a book that sold 5,000 copies in India would be classified as a bestseller. Today, the numbers have risen steeply from that level in the ball park of 50,000. The next Vikram Seth or Amitav Ghosh book is just around the corner. Literally.

When an industry undergoes an explosion, a sub-industry comes into action too a la iPod style. If you like to be in the know of the newest statistics that hit the stands, here’s one. For every hardcover book that sells in the US, close to 2 e-books sell. It’s a significant ratio considering how young the e-book market is. I haven’t helped the ratio in favor or e-book btw. Still a hard copy kinda girl. Call me cliché but I love the feeling of holding something that I can spill coffee all over. Plus my blackberry does more than I need. I’d rather not own another device and have them fight in my handbag for space and attention.

A Bangalore based company just introduced a new e-book reader for the Indian readers under a brand name Wink. It stands at Rs. 11,500 and one can not only read books in 15 Indian languages but it also offers over 200,000 book titles on debut. 200,000! Impressive. It also offers access to journals, newspapers, magazines and selected articles.

The funny part is that Pi, the country's first e-book reader, was already launched at the beginning of this year. So technically Wink is 2nd in the game. But all I hear is “the first ever”. Who’s keeping a track right?

Wink seems too pricey and hello, no snob value. But one day, I’m sure I’ll see a panwallah reading a gujju newspaper during an extended lunch hour on one such device. And then he’ll take off in Tata Nano. All I can ask for is that he not judge me when he sees me with a then extinct real book.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A New Generation of Critics

This appeared in The SA Times on Saturday.

You know you were born in a pre-independent India if you strongly believe that a critic of books, theatre, cinema, art or anything else that fits the ‘creative’ mould would be someone who is qualified to carry out the task through detailed study, evaluation and interpretation of the subject. Someone who has a deep understanding of the form of art and is able to objectively assess without letting mass media opinions and biases impact his decision. Someone who has the requisite experience to understand the why, how and what of it.

Fast forward to 2010 and EVERYONE is a critic. Me included. I’m worse off actually. This article will in fact establish be as a critic of the new generation of critics. It’s a spooky place to be but someone has to do it so I shall oblige. And it’s not like I live in Iran where people get sto… terrible things happen when you do irresponsible acts like this so what the heck.

In the 90s, when every other news and tech magazine was running cover page stories of ‘internet explosion’, the extent of explosion was unfathomable. Some possibilities looked promising, some fascinating and most were inconceivable. Social media was one such concept. It’s gone from ‘ya right’ back in the day to a ‘the only way to live’ super rapidly. It’s also the sole reason why everyone is a critic now.

I have my reservations about whether people produced a million opinions a day in the pre social media era. With the ‘whats on your mind’ and the ‘whats happening’ questions that these website pose, one is forced to think and in turn produce an opinion on the spur. Opinions are a dime a dozen so guess how much these websites are worth. Some opinions have to be limited to 140 characters and if one doesn’t take a bold stance, the ‘likes’ make a no show. And we all know those likes are almost as important as paychecks. I’ve noticed trends lately where even zygotes criticize established authors and actors mercilessly especially if their gender is male. Women get the soft treatment atleast on the face. If the good old notion of ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ is to be relied on, it must help those on the receiving end of it a tiny bit. But I can’t help but feel a little sad every time I come across brash and brazen virtual bashing. Wittily worded criticism sounds catchier than simply expressed admiration and goes viral much faster thanks to those impressionable brains amongst us. Forwards, Retweets and several copy-paste statuses later, it becomes something equivalent of a movement ruthlessly scrutinizing those in question.

In good old days, an author or an actor would just have to open a few newspapers and flip a few news channels the morning after to check reviews. It is a rather extensive process now. First thing in the morning, with trembling hands, check Youtube or MTv to see if someone’s made a parody of their work already, then check online newspapers before checking their print versions to read public comments on the review, then watch news channels through fingers covering their faces to listen to random civilians being interviewed outside movie theatres expressing candid views, then log onto their Facebook fan pages and check who’s said what, then check their personal Twitter account to check how badly they’ve been butchered … and so it goes.

Yup, it’s a way of life. Perhaps soon enough, everyone in the public eye will mutate enough to swallow the superfluous criticism and go about life as usual. After all, as Aamir Khan once infamously said “Apun public hai public, jisme apna paisa vasool nahin, uska dabba gul.” True that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A sign from above

This appeared on today.

I might be slow on life lessons but have discerned that near perfect weekend mornings aren't an illusion. My new blueprint is here to stay until it gets old: divine savory mushroom crepes and tangy goat cheese salad for brunch, a modest bit of sun to warm up my face, Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition which is so heavy I can almost skip weight training, followed by a frothy drink to accompany me as I strut down the city streets.

I was gearing up for an 'everything exotic' afternoon last Saturday when abruptly the backdrop changed into familiar territory. God loving souls in a salmon soft cotton tee and matching dhoti with salmon powder smeared across their foreheads. Engaging a crowd. Imparting bliss. Allocating books. I took it as a sign from God that its time to buy the salmon shorts I've been eyeing at Zara (although I'm not entirely sure it'll complement my personality), read some interesting books (the profound ones have been neatly put away and I've read way too many breezy ones), replace my Lancôme sheer powder (Dr. Oz's bacteria detection tests on stale cosmetics have given me numerous nightmares about live stuff mooching off my bronzer. it's morbid) and mingle with new people (a competent geek, a fashion forward gay dude and a wonky writer is what I wish to add to the current mix of acquaintances). Mental notes made! I don't need next gen phones to remind me of notes I make on the fly. My brain never runs into space, capacity or performance issues despite storing petabytes of seemingly worthless information.

ISCKON followers sublimely dancing away in the trendy Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco where hippies hold fort is not something I expect to see. Or for that matter on Filmore street which hosts the city’s most glam designer stores and chic restaurants.. “The soul transmigrates from body to body” is what fell on my ears as I walked by and all I could do was wish my soul would get the body of the girl on roller blades across from me (her, LA 10; me, LA disqualified).

Ubiquitous (ISCKON followers), yes they are. I should have known post running into them in Rio de Janeiro, London and Santa Monica in the months gone by. It wasn’t just them. I ran into a gypsy tarot card reader recently and received some mystical wisdom “don’t be afraid to open yourself to the world”. But I'm on Twitter! Then there was this Sufi Saint in downtown saying jumbled words. And my loan agent’s been insisting I use his astrology site.

All mere coincidences or is the universe conspiring to uncover a revelation to me? *Shudder*. If my caffeine addiction doesn’t kill me, this trepidation certainly will. But I’ll still blog from afar.

A link to the article on

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A tale of extremes

Lately wherever I go, I've been encountering extremes. Am seeing two sides of the same thing in the same breath. White and black, truth and false, smart and dumb, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, lucky and unlucky, sober and drunk, busy and busier... ok the last one doesn't quite fit but you get the point. Of course there's shades of everything in between but that's for some other time.

One such extreme story is about the proverbial good girl and the bad girl. And their story one morning. Here goes:

With the widest stretch and the loudest yawn, she wakes up bright and early. Technically it was Saturday but she rarely slacked off. Art was her oxygen. She takes the pooch for a walk on the busy San Francisco streets as she’d promised. City mornings always inspired her. The sound patterns, the hues, the smell of fresh caffeine and complex carbs, the occasional hippie sightings and the fog that added mystic charm. She'd invariably spot something that would strike a chord and run off to her studio to give life to her inspiration. Today she's dared to take off. It was her flat mate's 25th birthday. She'd promised to help arrange for a small party. A wonky homeless fella calls out at her as she enters her regular coffee shop. A non-fat latte with extra whip was her morning treat for walking the four-legged angel a mile. She just carried exact change for the latte and had nothing to give him except for her diamond studs. Thoughtfully, she walks in, gets her latte, asks for an extra cup, splits her drink, gives one cup to the homeless guy, says cheers, does her typical "have a LOVELY day" with the finger and thumb stretched out that most people used to denote 'Loser' and walks off. It leaves the homeless fella bemused but her warm smile had taken over him already. She believed there were no losers, only people stuck in unfortunate circumstances. She was determined on changing how the 'L' was perceived. Half way through the dog’s excretion process, she has a light bulb moment and scurries off with him. She drops him home, takes a cab to her studio, dumps a boatload of stuff in the cab and off she goes to Jon's. Jon, her and flat mate’s pal, had graciously offered his lackluster backyard for a bbq party. She wakes up a visibly drowsy Jon and raids his place until she discovers an unused and filthy basement. Flat mate arrives at noon and is appalled to see her in sweat pants and worn out tee with grease all over her. And then, sees the basement that had miraculously transformed into nothing short of an exceptionally funky art gallery in Manhattan complete with lights. Voila, it was the new venue for her birthday party.

She hated it when she had an early morning shift. There was no justification for buying coffee at 5 am, she'd tell every buyer with her piercing gaze and her classic irreverent manner. Sometimes she'd actually say the words to those who didn't give her a good vibe. Most laughed or shrugged it off. What she meant to convey was that she was annoyed that her dad had abruptly stopped sending her money for living expenses making a million excuses which had compelled her to do this crappy job. It's not like she cared about making people happy by serving them a drink frothed to perfection, just in case they were delusional. A tall guy with bandana in a wife beater shirt with giant exposed biceps walks up and orders four ice drinks with extra ice. How brilliant, she smirked. She didn't mind serving sophisticated and good looking people but she didn't care to be politically correct or to resonate with blue collar workers for that matter. "James" she screams at her only co-worker who seemed almost immersed in the green tea he was so lovingly blending. James obliges by taking bicep guy's order. Bicep dude smells attitude, picks up his 4 drinks, tastes one, then returns it to her with a "honey it ain't no good" and a vicious half smile to match with it. Seeing the grimace on her face, he makes her remake rest of the three drinks as well. She remakes them, her eyes burning with anger under the steel-silver eye shadow and pushes them his way. He takes them, all smug, and walks out. Just when he turns the ignition on, something hot and brown and liquidy comes flying out at him. There she is, with hostile body language, cursing him luridly holding an empty coffee glass. Humiliated, he gets out of the truck to attack her but she spits on him and runs inside. This was one of the reasons this coffee shop was so popular. Drama, guaranteed, anytime. The owner gets the word soon and fires her, for real this time. When he gets home that evening, his wife had left with her bags and a note "Cheaters disgust me". Cheater who, he asks himself, perplexed.

Such extremes, both those characters, both having an impact on people around them and their surroundings but in such constrasting manner.

What do you choose to be?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Game of all games

Soccer is over and I'm over it. So it isn't that. Lakers won the championship again this season. Love them to death but am over basketball as well. Baseball, yeah right. Cricket, eh. I watch it here and there, make sure I know all the gossip that goes around and leave it at that. Let's see what else I missed. Anything that isn't a national league doesn't count so that might be it. And before you judge me, I'm a girl. Sports don’t really set my adrenalin pumping.

I'm, no points for guessing, alluding to the waiting game. It's a different beast which can kill like slow poison. Suffocate you with anticipation until you can breathe no more. If you do the math, it's usually an embarrassing number that will be the number of hours over the life time that one has gawked at the phone to ring after cleverly handing out a card at a party. Or refreshed a page for that one email to show up and transform your life. Of course it turns out that it was a silly silly email with no impact whatsoever. That one response to your tweet that you're hoping for, just because your bared your soul in front of perfectly random strangers hoping someone will understand the exact tone and meaning behind it. That nod of approval you were expectantly scanning your boss's face for after you justified why you should go to Vegas for that preposterous conference along with a smart joke. That one expression on better half's face after you decided to royally ditch him for a trip some place exotic with your girlfriends.

My timing is epic. Ok I promised not to use that word anymore. Everyone everywhere is calling everything 'epic' lately. Next up is 'rad'. Someone snap at me if I use rad. The wine in my hand and my age have convinced me that I'm past the using-a-cool-word-to-escape-thinking-about-what-the-real-word-should-be phase. Here's the real deal. I invariably end up cursing my timing. Don't know what it is but I'm the queen of wrong place, wrong time. Feel oh so lucky. Blessed, really. If there are a million outcomes for every waiting game I've played, a million minus one interesting and one that falls under the general category of god-has-a-sense-of-humor, guess what fate would pick for me.

I think I finally might have an upper hand on fate though. I've figured out the magic rule. Tested it thrice. Works wonders. So am running with it. It's called 'moving on'. And for the record, I'm not saying it indignantly.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is couples with same jobs the new black?

It's been an age old debate. To bite the bullet and accept that job at spouse's firm or speculate and back out? Lately everywhere I see, it is couples doing the same gig and frankly it's giving me a headache. Doctors in the same ward, chefs in the same restaurant, models doing the same ad, coders in the same department. It seems like the beginning of a new trend.

I was at a Rodrigo y Gabriela concert a few weeks back. They are a Mexican couple who specialize in playing fast, rhythmic acoustic guitars and by default qualify for an OMG. As I sat in my coveted front row seat absorbing the unique music that came out of these two with a huge cult following, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized. Rodrigo, being the lead guitarist would start off a new number and soon enough, Gabriela would follow suit with the rhythm. There were no words, no lyrics, just sounds that consumed me as they looked into each others eyes as if they were teasing each other with clues, signals and pranks. Their chemistry was invincible. It wasn’t just sparks, it was fire. And it was palpable. The rest of the audience perhaps looked upon them as open hearted, happy entertainers but I couldn’t get over the fact that two people could have such combustible chemistry.

What is it about couples who work together? Do they have a stronger connection with each other? Do they share a special bond that the rest of us don't? Do they complement each other better? It is believed that no two people are exactly like each other. And we have also harbored the notion of 'opposites attract' for the longest time. But once a relationship is past the attraction stage, common interests seemingly tend to become a very valuable asset. It generally means that two people don't have to constantly struggle for ideas to spend time together. It just comes naturally to them. It could potentially foster deeper understanding, respect and admiration for each other. Sounds brilliant from where I see it. Certainly, you've seen that occasional couple whose eyes twinkle when they give each other a knowing smile or who finish each others sentences. Question is, it is envious or is it annoying?

I imagine it has its share of troubles as well. Work place romance is often frowned upon for it not only seems unprofessional but promotes gossip eventually raising questions about acceptable employee code of conduct. Besides, it cannot be easy to keep your family and work life completely separate if you work together. Does that open up a can of worms about your personal life in the professional set up? It might. It might also introduce emotions like ego and envy in a relationship. Several movies have used this as a subject from Abhimaan to Mr. & Mrs. Smith where a couple struggles with maintaining the balance between professional and personal lives.

But I guess in the end, love is not a function of rules. It might just work for you... you'll just have to bear the wrath of those of us in different professions :p

The 'European' world cup 2010

Four years of impatient wait and speculations later, the Soccer World Cup was finally here. Not that it was constantly on my mind. But it somehow always weaved itself into a story. It would drop in casually during other sports conversations or travel stories to South America or just gossip about hot guys in general. The wait became more pertinent during my trip to Brazil earlier this year. The fever was hard to miss there. Right from a football in its flag to young boys playing it at all odd times of day in the numerous soccer stadiums and parks to soccer stars gracing magazine covers, it was all pervasive. I of course got carried away and bought myself a few Brasil team merchandise that I would proudly wear as the world cup would progress. Those yellow tees looked like such a great investment at the time. Imagine how much mileage I could get out of that gear. After all, Brasil was all set to make it to the finals and possibly win the world cup. Or so my laid back Brasilian fellas had me believe. It's amazing how impressionable I am and how I always realize it and do nothing about it.

Back to soccer. It has certainly been an interesting and unpredictable world cup so far. Africa, who analysts believed were in luck this time looking at the planetary configuration or something was out early on with Ghana being the lone survivor. Then Paul, the psychic German octopus rose to fame with his accurate predictions with a 100% success rate making the European teams knock out Brasil (sigh... all that gear, gone to waste), Argentina (Messi, I still think you're a rock star) and Paraguay. One prediction after another from Paul saw Germany sail through it with their amazing precision and brutal play knocking off the South American soccer teams. When Brasil was out, I was almost in tears. But much to my consolation, it didn't die the shameful death that Argentina did with an excruciating 0-4 against Germany.

What is it about this world cup that had us all, fanatics, fans and the couldn't-care-less category biting our nails with a thumping heart? Is it the European domination, is it that the big stars didn’t show the big tricks and ended up being a big disappointment, is it that well organized and disciplined teams performed better than popular teams with a phenomenal track record or its just a valid excuse to take time off work, get drunk and pass off trash talk as acceptable social behavior?

Finals are almost here. The psychic octopus has predicted Spain will beat Germany in semis. It must be hard to be psychic and loyal all at once. Will the Dutch take it all? My money is riding on them. They certainly have it all... Amsterdam, weed, canals, beer, euthanasia, cheese, cows, red light district, windmills... and football! Either way, it'll be all over tomorrow. Everyone will go back to normal life and some country will pay Germany good money to buy Paul off and I will start convincing people to go to Brazil in another 4 years when it will host World Cup 2014.

Oh and regardless of what happens, the world will be a better place for the world cup has given us 'Waka Waka' by Shakira :p

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ever wonder about small wonder?

Between the world cup frenzy and the basketball madness, a clipping of Small Wonder, that incredible 80s TV show hit me like a refreshing umbrella drink on a blazing afternoon.

My dad was a TV Hitler when I was a kid but I always found a way to distract him and watch Small Wonder. Little Vicki, with her robotic voice and her superhuman strength and speed was my role model. She was everything I aspired to be at the time: cute, intelligent and strong enough to punch all those annoying boys in school when they asked private questions and poked fun. I also harbored a secret crush on Jamie, her elder bro with salon hair, for the longest time and for that reason detested Harriet, their neighbor's nosey little girl who just couldn't leave Jamie alone and get on with her life. I mean, how hard is it to get a clue? Later when I'd stumbled upon an elder cousin's extremely drool worthy backless dress, I no longer cared to be like Vicki. Poor thing had an access panel in her back for crying out loud.

Then one day I had an epiphany. If all of my family members came with a 'Vicki mode' option, how amazing would my life be? Yes it'd make me Dr. Evil in theory but it's not like I would ever exercise it in an unethical manner. For instance, if my little one went berserk and performed third degree on me, all I'd need to do is switch her into the Vicki mode and instantly I would have a cooing, cuddly kid who could reverse the process of my desirable living room turning into an ocean of spiky toys, eat all her fruits and veggies, thank me in all the three languages I've taught her and leave my bed alone. If les husband became insensitive and started on with his unrealistic expectations, again, that magic Vicki mode and bam he would be making me bubble baths, massaging my neck instead of poking it with his fingers, working on making my kitchen pristine and of course, planning that trip to Italy.

I'm going to work on making that dream a reality even if I have to use Voodoo.

Travel woes, a decade after travel

As the disco lights-pounding music-numb mind phase retracts paving the way for its moon light-star gazing-thinking hard counterpart, I've realized that I'm often standing at the same cross roads in life with the same sights one too many years later: same faces, same events, and same places. The only thing different is the vantage point. And may I say thank god for more than few reasons. One, because the world is infinite so coming across familiar things makes one feel comfortable about covering a good portion of the infinitum. And two, because almost always, the familiarity factor is pretty vague and I end up seeing it with a fresh perspective. It kicks in those little life lessons. Makes one feel wiser, regardless of the reality.

It's been exactly a decade since I went to France. It was my first big trip as a grown up girl where the onus of everything from figuring out how to pull off broken French in public places without losing all my dignity to figuring out metro timings and routes so I don't make it to the palace of Versailles after it closes for the day would be on me. Both those things happened by the way. And a lot more how-could-that-happen-to-me incidents. This is why I never write travel journals. It'd be filled with one disaster after another in classic Murphy style.

Lately it seems like the online universe has been conspiring to overwrite memories I've gathered by going on these trips with memories that I gather by vicariously going on vacations to the same spots through other people... TV shows that feature single female travelers, friends, colleagues, colleague's friends, friend's colleagues and other random people on Facebook. Everyone who I share up to six degrees of separation with, is going to France. And it doesn't take much for existing feelings mostly of joy, pleasure and satisfaction to be overwritten by those of self loathing (for not doing enough research), wuss-ness (for not being adventurous enough) and, what the heck, I'll be honest, a little bit of envy (for not optimizing the opportunities) as much as others and I'm just left stoically watching... sometimes with jaw dropping disbelief.

Apply this to every trip I've taken and imagine the multiplier effect. It can't be good for my heart health. Someone has a better rear shot of the Louvre, someone found better Chinese food in Cannes than I could have ever imagined and someone else could indulge in cruising the romantic streets of Monte Carlo without an unacceptable out-of-season downpour.

Jokes apart, in the end, I guess life is like that. If everyone’s life experiences were the same, memoirs wouldn’t be a book category and tips would just mean money. One day I’ll be able to turn around my screwed up head and be grateful for the several opportunities I get to visit cool places although most of them might be virtually.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shucks, my phone is smarter than me!

This appeared in the South Asian Times today.

Did you ever think you would use the words 'retina display' and 'calling girlfriend’ in one line? Or for that matter 'gyroscope' and ‘kick ass score’? Pardon my ignorance but I thought gyroscopes were used by OBGYNs for finding dreadful bacteria in dreadful spots and no one except eye doctors should be liberally using terms like retina. Ok forget that for a second. How about a 5 MP camera in the phone with backside illuminated sensor for ambient lighting? I just signed up for an advanced photography class and I feel cheated that geeks all over silicon valley and later all over the country will now know what kind of lighting is used in the pictures they sloppily take through their phones.

Yesterday I virtually checked myself into the one of the most hyped technology events, WWDC’s (World Wide Developers Conference) key note speech made by Steve Jobs. I work in tech but conferences aren't my thing. I usually feel misplaced, disinterested, famished, chilled, homesick, non-receptive... anything but excited at conferences. Yesterday was a different story despite my not being there in person. Or perhaps it was because of that. In any event, witnessing change is a great feeling. And witnessing massive change brings about a high that not many things can.

These new generation phones, whether it's Droid Incredible by HTC that runs Google's Android Software or HTC EVP 4G, the first US phone to access faster 4G networks or Apple's iPhone4 that can make video calls, all offer features that 3 years back might have seemed like science fiction: reading books, video conferencing, streaming movies, capturing videos in high definition, refined photography and video games with sensors on extremely high resolution screens… things only Charlie’s Angels and James Bond could do simultaneously while making someone’s gums bleed. The future is here. Which means we need a new future. What will it hold, I wonder.

It isn't just these in-built features that make smart phones a life essential. It's the apps that can do just about anything short of serving you breakfast in bed. In addition to the standard apps for online banking, Amazon, Ebay, Zillow (oops guilty as charged), etc., there are a variety of uber cool ones. Like Shakespeare which lets you view and read all Shakespeare plays and sonnets with a push of a button. Who knew you could take Othello along wherever you went? Like Tuner which, believe it or not, helps you tune your guitar. What? How? Like BarCheck for the smart shopper. While shopping, you can enter the numbers on an item’s bar code to get review and prices from Amazon, Google and Yahoo. Like Aurora Feint which is probably on of the most entertaining and addicting games complete with full audio soundtrack, visual illustrations and characters. Like iphodmeter for the fitness freaks. It helps you track how many calories your workout is burning and sends you all your stats by email. Like HearPlanet app that will be your new talking tour guide which can make traveling to a new place easier than ever. Who need a husband on vacation when you can have a talking tour guide? ;) Oh and the most intriguing app... Farmville! How could I forget that one! Farmville (did you know it had a whopping 70 million user base?) is now available on the new iPhone and it syncs with your Facebook farms. Please tell me you see the irony. It’s never been more obvious. We're making technological advances at a remarkable pace so ultimately we could farm with smart phones ;)

Meanwhile, I need to put myself on a 5-year get-smart plan to avoid the Kasparov vs. Deep Blue supercomputer situation.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sex and the city, back with a bang?

This appeared in The SA Times on Saturday.

Having finally seen it (not until 36 hours after release though) I cannot wait to spill the beans. But before I go on a tell-tale spree, I feel compelled to apologize to Karan Johar. I heard him say this recently "Everyone is now a critic!! Where is the audience?" Hey Karan, trust me, I ain't no critic... just a girl who got carried away, excuse the pun, into the movie. And on a separate note, I also feel compelled to confess, going by the reports about girls dressing up to see the movie, I did do a little something something (just a tad more than what I do for other movies) to not appear a complete outcast in the theatre.

The movie had all the ingredients of a rip roaring chick flick... indefatigable fun, heart stomping fashion, exciting adventures, sexcapades, bursting emotions and confessions. At the core of those masked ingredients were challenges of marriage, motherhood, work and menopause. The magic formula was quite in place except I don't think the magic switch quite worked. The movie started off with the transition of our leading ladies from 80s look with garish fashion they had going to the ultra chic, sophisticated and mature look. That was my cue that the bold imaginative creations from Carrie's previous wardrobe would just make a peek-a-boo appearance, if any. The movie also started off with Stanford and Antony's deliriously white wedding. It was just a big white blur despite its over-the-top set up that couldn't even pass off as surreal. As the plot shifted to Carrie's married life, she gave us a taste of the urban nagging wife who was obsessed with the eternal fear of her and Big turning into a boring old couple. And so came criticisms of everything from regular take outs to flat screens in the bedroom. What else is new with that girl! Other girls weren't far behind. Charlotte was quietly dealing with the immense challenges of handling two kids, Miranda with her corporate job and an annoying boss and Samantha, her same irreverent self, with age. Speaking of age, excuse me for being superficial, but they all looked... umm lets just say weathered despite the amount of work (i can only imagine) they must have gotten done.

Enter a sheikh from Abu Dhabi (Morocco) who offers Samantha plus baggage err girlfriends a free trip in first class on some opulent airline with private booths, a hotel suite with private dusky butlers and sparkling white cars. With exotic locales like the desert to the spice market and exotic characters like religious Arab men to the fashion savvy women in burkha, it has a lot of unexpected elements. Also unexpected and frankly quite refreshing was the new wardrobe for the ladies with rich, middle eastern colors, bold hues and flowy patterns on everything from spangles, tassles, harem pants and gauzy headscarves. Oh and unless I was dreaming, I think I saw stilettos on the girls while they were riding a camel. Yes in the sand dunes. Brilliant ain't it.

A few interesting twists and wrong turns later, our girls arrive back safely but not without their share of secrets and/or confessions. I wasn't in splits through the movie... perhaps a few good laughs here and there but it was gripping nonetheless.

To wrap it up, there wasn't much sex and there wasn't much city. But Carrie's outfits throughout the movie were elegant... Halston, Chanel, and Christian Louboutin... I looked sooo green at the end of it. And so were Miranda's. But this review is almost entirely ineffectual because good or bad, you have got to see it. How can you not. It's your only chance to say good bye to our favorite ladies. They won't be (I'm really hoping for their sake, they won't be) back.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

99 years of invincible spirit

This appeared in The SA Times today.

If there's one thing that's hard to digest at 8am on a Sunday besides Cheese Danish, it's varying degrees of nudity. But one doesn't have a choice if one wants to be a part of this 99 year old tradition in San Francisco. Bay to Breakers baby! It's an annual footrace that happens on the third Sunday of May, is about 7.5 miles and started as a way to lift the city's spirits after the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it is the longest consecutively run footrace in the world. Oh and you wanna know how many people run it every year? Just about 60-80,000!

The funnest part is, runners and walkers dress up in elaborate costumes. It's like Halloween on steroids. Boys being bacon, women with massive amount of fruit on their hats, people being everything from animals to birds to fantasy characters to eatables to technology pieces like telephone and keyboards. And you can never be creative enough for it. I saw this couple dressed as x-box, this man dressed as a driver's license and this woman dressed as a pink slip! Yeah it gets quite innovative. Then there are those who wear nothing at all except footwear although it ain't legal… and not just those with embarrassing bodies but beautiful people. It's bound to give the uninitiated quite a jhatka. It's also the only event where participants can walk with beer cans and throw tortillas on one another to pass timed.

It was my 2nd year attending the race past Sunday. The narrow lanes of this beautiful fog lined city with an otherwise spectacular view was filled with heads as far as one could see. It seemed like everyone had come out of their dwellings, either to partake or to cheer. And within 2 hours, soon as the race was over, the streets were sweeped, opened and life was back to normal. Quite an amazing experience.

Think you missed out? Be sure to be in the city next year.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Futuristic moms

Ahmedabad. 2002. A small house with worn out blue paint, ethnic furniture and a giant swing in the living room. A woman in her 70s in a cream bandhani sari worn in gujarati style sitting on the swing cutting veggies and indulging in afternoon soaps for women. A fashionable woman in early 50s wearing designer shades walking in with pencil heels. Pencil heels approaches woman on the swing, greets, ferrets out what looks like a Hallmark card from her giant purse, hands it to the old woman and says "Happy Mothers Day". The look on the old woman's face, priceless. The look on my face, even more priceless. p.s. Does Hallmark make gujju cards?

Think I must have been behind on life because it tends to shock me every step of the way. The invasion of a variety of international days in India might have been an old story but the adaptation of it has left little doubt that we're flexible and eager to incorporate new concepts in our already saturated lives. I for one believed the Indian social framework needed no special days to remind people how much they appreciated their folks. But my argument for or against is irrelevant at this point because its adaptation has more to do with marketing gimmicks than emotions behind it. Or may be not. Either way, it's too late to do anything about it.

The world celebrated Mother's Day on May 8th. At brunch with my mom and all the new moms in the family, looking at the beautiful floral bouquets we'd all received, I had a thought. If I gather a heterogeneous sample of moms across the world, chances are 8/10 would be struggling with it. It's an incredibly tuff job that doesn't come predefined with a set job description. In fact the job description is all encompassing. And the underlying threat for those who can spot it is to kiss good bye to your own life. It’s incredibly rewarding as well but lets save that for later. The much hyped concept of urban moms who's able to magically strike a beautiful work-life balance is an oxymoron. At least in theory. I bet some execute it flawlessly but it isn’t the norm. If you take that one step further and think about futuristic moms, it makes the case for being an oxymoron even stronger.

Of the many conclusions I’ve come to since my first born, an important one is to ensure that a child falls into the parent's world and not the other way round where parent’s lives revolve around their child’s. This is especially applicable to the moms who often treat themselves to a series of sacrifices to treat her kids with love, care, education and security. Any species in the world can provide their kids with love and care but in this day and age, if one wants to impart the best education and make her kids feel secure, confident and ambitious, one often has to set that example. Security, confidence and ambition are deeply interlinked and are a function of each other. Setting goals other than things that involve household and child related chores and accomplishing them is vital to one’s own growth as well as the growth of the family. If a man is dynamic and self-motivated, it’ll take him ahead in life but if a woman is the same, her entire family will thrive. For it might be the man who makes financial decisions but it is her who takes every tiny decision every step of the way in her child’s life and the difference in her perspective will create the difference between the earth and the sky in her child’s life. Primary education, now being compulsory in India is a step in the right direction but it is every family’s responsibility to ensure this goes a few steps further to ensure every girl is independent in her life.

Moms, lets pick up the pace shall we? And dads, mind making us those specials meals once in a while coz we need all the strength and support we can get. Yay for mommy power!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The sound of silence

This appeared in The SA Times on Saturday.

Sounds of everything. Or those of nothingness. Noises of things man-made meant to aide or entertain, entering my world without consent. People. Lots of people. Loud chatter, soft whisper, superimposed laughs, screams, grunts and howls filling the space. Constant distractions beckoning from all angles. Decibels making unpredictable waves on a graph. Applause at a slam dunk on the big screen. Turn tabling by a DJ with a pink bandana. Heart thumping beats from massive speakers. Tapping of heels on the dance floor. A colorless drink spilling. A fancy glass breaking. A careless teen slipping. Urban entertainment unleashed. Sounds of everything. Or those of nothingness? It's everything I love until I start craving some natural quiet.

I think what I might be craving is a still place. Like a canyon. Or a glacier. Or a dense forest. Some place that gives an illusion of remarkable stillness and tranquility. Some place where mechanized intrusions are rare as snow on a tropical island. Some place where I can guess if a cricket is infuriated or rejoicing by the emotion in its sound. Some place where I can hear ice melting. Some place where I can hear the echo of my own thoughts.

The closest semblance to silence I can get during routine life is when I lay motionless in my bed trying to fall asleep late at night but my brain is completely out of fuel at that point to bask in the quiet. To breathe it in. To absorb it. I heard once that the longest one can experience natural quiet is about fifteen minutes in certain secluded parts of the world. Not sure I would need more. Not sure if I can survive more. May be its just what I need to recharge my batteries, to fight stress and to clear my head. But it could potentially do more than provide some rejuvenation therapy. It could perhaps aid in identifying the profound questions that I’ll need to answer at some juncture. It could perhaps assist in dismissing the trivial issues that remotely threaten daily equilibrium. It could perhaps provide ultimate gratification that materialism can never.

No points for guessing that soon as I sign off, I'll be back to an evening of ipod entertainment, some unconvincing young reporter blurting out news in the background and a squealing kid, but I'll leave you with this. "There was in this immensity… a silence so profound that soon all the noises from the life around us on the Rim were lost in it, as if our ears had been captured forever, drowned in these deeps of quiet.”
Never experienced it, have you? Me neither. And yet, it sounds so attainable!

Friday, April 30, 2010

People's (Gay) Prince

I get into the elevator from the 11th floor club room to get to the hotel lobby in San Francisco one Saturday afternoon and I see two guys with a slight funk factor, chatting each other up.
“Is that where you buy all your swim wear?” The blonde guy asks the muscle guy with more interest than all my shopaholic friends display when they inquire about a new something at brunch.
“There. Hollister. It depends. But OMG I have to give you the name of this website. It has like yum swimsuits for us.” The muscle guy replies with the thrill of a new bride showing off her wedding ring, putting an extra emphasis on “us”. I am leaving all the body language to your imagination by the way.
“Good deal. I’m still new to the area you know.” Blondie confesses.

“Yea don’t worry about a thing. You’ll be taken care of.” Muscle man says with a mischievous smile.

The elevator reaches the lobby level and the door opens. But before I could step out, the muscle guy, with an animated expression on his face, bows and tells me “show time honey”.

See this is why I need a gay friend. No one’s told me that before! And it seriously helped add that spring in my step although I was just meeting a few regular friends. I hate to generalize but they’re so full of life. And I love their perspective on most things and their arty eye and their uninhibited opinions and their sense of humor and their fashion gene and… ok now I’m getting carried away so forget I said that. Back to the episode. That would be just another scenario if you’re in SFO. It’s not the gay capital for nothing.

But the story I heard today has disconcerted me a tad. Only because I didn’t expect it. It might uproot you too if you haven’t heard it before.

He's lanky and completely sans the royal ego. Cool, calm and approachable, he teaches yoga on the lake front to a responsive group of people. He's an activist who works hard to prevent the spread of HIV through his NGO. He's one of those with multiple first or middle names. Add the words 'his royal highness' to name and it would become seven words long. He is Manvendra Singh Raghubir Gohil, the prince of Rajpipla. And oh yeah, he's gay. Minor detail I guess. I wonder if he's ever had a boyfriend in a town like that though. Amidst family disownment (emotional; I don't believe the legal system allows for that anymore) and contempt from his region, it's a shocker he's not only survived in that place but evolved. I can already see Oprah nodding. His NGO has provided services to some 17k gay men so far in Gujarat (what? 17k gay men in Gujarat) and he plans to create an old age home for gay men in Rajpipla (holy cow). A people's prince in the real sense. Having heard the details from an interview, I feel ignorant. I still don't know the details of the last massive project hubby has been working on for years and that's ok but if THIS I learn for the first time, I must be ignorant.

Now imagine I’m going down the elevator at a hotel in Rajpipla. And imagine the same scenario as the San Fran one. Tell me your jaw is down at the ground and your eyes have popped out! Not too far from that day, are we?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Too real to be fake?

The voicemail that I'd received in lieu of a formal invitation, the one I've replayed a million times already mentioned today's date. In pure unadulterated exhilaration mode I arrive at Aer at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai. Aer is 34 floors above the bustling streets of Worli and India's highest rooftop bar I think but don’t quote me on that one. It takes my breath away quite literally as I begin to borderline gag. There’s nowhere else like it in the city. Being so high up, I feel as though I've have been transported to a parallel universe. All one can see is the sea and the lights of Mumbai spread out like a blanket beneath you. It's totally worth the hype in case you haven't been.

Oh and did I mention the occasion? Brace yourself for this one. Chennai Super Kings had just become the 2010 IPL champions by beating Mumbai Indians and this was their larger than life celebration party. My friend Zubina does PR for Super Kings and was giving me special treatment on my trip back home. She was a die hard John Mayor fan and I'd taken her to a concert in LA once. Thought she was just returning the favor but boy was I wrong. My premium seats for $150 at the John Mayor concert wouldn't even have covered me valet parking and a decent tip at a party like this. She was just being nice. Way too nice.

The crowd was, no points for guessing, a killer mix of the sparkling faces from tinsel town and the cricket world. And models. And TV artists. And influential politicians. And people with connections. But the shock factor came not from the faces but below the necks of those faces. Guccis, Pradas, Diors and Cavallis seem to be the big contenders jostling for some breathing space. Most of them I recognize from very recent runway collections. But that wasn't it. Gosh why am I spotting a million brands around and who are these unknown faces sporting them? Yves Saint Laurent, Diane von Furstenberg, Herve Leger, Mango, FCUK, Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney and tons more. What WHAT? How? And why do I feel like barfing instead of going wowza when I see amazing things on seemingly unknown faces? Don't even get me started on the bags and shoes. May be because I wasn't au fait with the norms of the glitzy world, had decided to precariously follow my instinct and slipped into a teal Forever 21 silk dress... or what is Charlotte Russe from a couple years ago and looked so meh. That's all the 411 you get on me because I'm going to maintain dignified silence after that major blow to my self esteem that will require god knows how many therapy sessions to get over.

I hear an ear piercing splash that uproots me and abruptly open my eyes to realize my kid had jumped into the Jacuzzi despite a detailed lecture to hubby and baby on the concept of me-time 30 minutes ago. The dream sequence, I presume, was a result of too many IPL news updates I get hit by and too many High Heel Confidential (it's a website that is very very habit forming for non-males) updates I get by hitting it. But what I did NOT dream about is the international designer pieces on nobodies part of it. It's true. I've seen it. And I've got proof. The question again is, HOW? Call me bitter and you might be right but that isn't the correct answer. How is every other whats-her-face suddenly sporting labels that cost a liver or a kidney in India? I don’t mean to raise the status of this burning question to the level of how can we preserve the earth question but trust me its getting there. And it is killing me slowly but surely. I know India is home to the largest number of billionaires in Asia now but hello I’m not talking about royalty here. I’m talking about those who you might have seen in some reality dance show once or an item number or an anchor hunt challenge. The blink and forget category. Are they wearing fake? But it looks like the real thing. Are they really buying it? I majorly doubt it. Is there a common pool where people contribute monthly to buy latest runway collections and use it turn by turn? Yikes… err brilliant. Do international designers have a different pricing system for India just to be able to penetrate the market? Perhaps. Wait are they renting it? They are, aren’t they? Think even my thinking neurons are exhausted.

I may need to safe drown myself in that Jacuzzi water for a minute or two to detox my head.

p.s. The first gal below, Natasha Poonawala (who?) is wearing a Cavalli top which I'm in love with. The second gal below, Renu Chainani (who?) is sporting a Gucci gown.