Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Splash Of Color

This appeared in The South Asian Times today.

Whether you have any new tricks up your sleeve this Holi festival or not, many do. The women prisoners of Tihar jail have made edible handmade colors that you can play Holi with. Edible - now that's revolutionary. You won't have to devour that someone who carelessly thrusts a bout of color in your mouth. Parachute hair oil is running ads with a special hair oil that won't damage your hair despite gulal. Our gals would be so relieved. The number one cause of depression amongst the fair sex post Holi day always seems to be damaged hair. And the Mayor of Mumbai has promised the residents extra water supply on the d-day. How we all need those endless showers and incessant scrubbing to wash it all off. Very thoughtful gift.

The colors of Holi, by its very definition, seems like an oxymoron to me. White, the purest and most colorless of all colors, being the unspoken dress code, is predominant on this day. I always wondered why people would want to ruin their whites. But what other color can take a multitude of color so well? What other color can make the other colors sparkle so much?

There is a variety of elements to Holi. Something for everyone. No wonder it's one of the most popular festivals. The elderly enjoy going in circles around the sacred fire and narrating its significance and stories to the young lot, the young ones love getting drenched in colored water and returning the favor to their counterparts, the youngest ones enjoy silly games like water balloons fights and related pranks and the festival even tends to bring out the worst from the violent and evil souls who get away with casually dragging unsuspecting strangers into it. But it’s all good. After all, what is Holi without a few street fights?

I have so many memories of Holi… some I think of fondly and some others, not so much. I still remember slapping a little gutsy boy who'd taken the liberty of drowning me in a tank filled with some yucky foul smelling color that stained my skin for days. How cool would it be if he still remembered? And we all know a neighbor’s kid who would invariably return bruised from all those water balloons that he would easily become a target of by random people. Of course seeing the uncles lose their sanity along with sips of bhang was entertaining to say the least and I’m being mighty polite. But my most favorite one was in the land of colors, Rajasthan. The glorious Krishna temple of Nathdwara was lit up beautifully, the bright neons that delightfully draped all the Rajasthani women and adorned the heads of local men added a lovely touch and heaps of colors brought out on silver trays were soon in the air making every face in the crowd indistinguishable. Folk music in the background was chocolate slivers on the cake.

Holi is a festival that unites like no other. Once the color is on, all bets are off unless you can tell one person’s smile from another. Whether you’re celebrating Holi at a temple or at a beach on foreign soil or on a crowded street in India, I hope it brings you immense bliss and joy. I’ve been letting the Holi Garba flyers just lay on the floor – but that’s an option. Perhaps I’ll just dab an extra dose of the blue shimmery eye shadow that I’m so in love with and give the colors a pass this year.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Road To Rio

This appeared in The South Asian Times yesterday.

Sao Paulo looks like any other metro in India at a first glance. It’s a concrete jungle. Houses in every color you can imagine, construction sites as messed up as any others you might have seen in India, clothes hung to dry in the balconies of high rises, two wheelers, street hawkers and people; lots and lots of people. Its enormity easily makes it one of the largest metros in the world and sky scrapers make it Mumbai-like, difficult to spot where the downtown is. But once you enter downtown, you know it; graffiti covered walls unmistakably set up stage for those crime stories you might have heard about the country. Traffic is so dense that it isn’t uncommon for those with heavy pockets to move around in choppers. Known as the fashion capital of South America, Sao Paulo definitely has a lot of color; in fabrics, on people and in general. Also hard to miss is the love for soccer in the natives; from spotting it on the country’s flag to spotting it in the eyes of bouncy teenagers, it is ubiquitous. If you’re traveling from any cold country, weather is to die for in February; warm and humid, just the way I like it. The biggest challenge though is the language. Not a word of English; I mean it. Luckily, I figured out nine magic Portuguese words that helped me get veggie food, travel through metros, ask for things in my size while shopping and bargain hard. The locals are a warm lot so just a few words in their lingo do the trick.

Before I could get enough of Sao Paulo, I was on the road to Rio. Rio De Janerio; just the name has such an intoxicating ring to it. I’d forgotten notes from my history class and presumed Rio to be the capital of the country. Wrong. Brasilia, the capital, is known for its futuristic buildings and is a relatively new city. Back to the Rio story. They say sometimes the planetary configuration is such that no matter what you do, you end up doing things wrong. I did, several times over. It all started with a harmless decision to drive a distance of 230 miles in a country where I didn’t speak the language. Everything that followed was a thrill. Enormous tolls (forty Reais each way), indecipherable highway and street names, no exits for miles and stick shift rental car with no GPS added up to quite a bit of adventure. Driving inside Rio took that adventure several notches up. The city is carved out of mountains and has a breathtaking landscape. The gorgeous view of Christ The Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue made on the peak of a tall mountain hits you just as you enter. It’s easy to spot areas of poor-quality housing and slums that are usually located on the city's many mountain slopes, juxtaposed with middle-class neighborhoods. For driving to my hotel, I had to count my blessings. Endless tunnels with several parallel highways made me feel like I was trapped in a cob web. I feel highly indebted to Google. If not for their iPhone navigation, my imagination fails me on where I would have landed up. Even if one hasn’t seen Blame It On Rio or Cocktail, one has definitely heard about Copacabana. It’s one of the most famous beaches of the world located in Rio and boy did I feel like I was on cloud nine! Swimming in the bluest waters with the hottest bodies in the warmest weather is a sin one must commit.

The most sinfully inviting thing about my trip was the Carnival. For most of the week, samba is the call that brings people together, with daily parades setting off from various locations. One can either see it in grand samba dome or participate in one of the authentic street celebrations. A common misconception is that Carnival is a Rio thing. But one can practically go to any city and be a part of it. Sao Paulo carnival is just about as grand as Rio’s, with hundreds of majestic floats with mind boggling set up, samba dancers of all ages and at all stages in life with creative costumes, topless beauty queens with glamorous feather wings and sparkling heels preceding every float, beats that make even the laziest feet dance and lyrics that you can sing along with despite the language. It’s all about celebrating the spirit of the people. A spirit that lingers on in the air even after the carnival is long over. A spirit that is so contagious that one can’t help but get painted in. A spirit I’m bringing back with me. Chow chow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On board AA

Tuesday got off on a rough start. I woke up at 5 when I really could have managed it all even if I had hit snooze on the alarm set at 7 a few times. Then a very inefficient American Airlines rep made me shell out a whopping $450 out of nowhere for the little one (who’s under 2 for the record) for a ticket category that she totally made up on the spot – lapticket, which for the gullible means free ticket, sure but you still gotta please Uncle Sam. And they say we’re not frighteningly close to being a socialist country. Yeah right.

On the short 3 hour flight to Dallas, I was doing the usual – familiarizing myself with environment. A guy on expense (who immediately bought in-flight internet and wine and spent a majority of time playing online poker amidst sending some e-mails from Outlook), an obese woman (admiring her double cheese sandwich), a hippie traveler (with large hair and several piercings who didn’t mind the air on her with full force when everyone else (I) was freezing), an Indian nerdy gentleman (with thick glasses who kept himself busy with thick reports) and the guy who slept with his mouth so wide open, I could have slid a giant koi into it.

As I flipped a page of the novel I was reading, I read something interesting. One of the characters, a strategy consultant was recommending his client, an airline, that they use intelligence to assign seating to their customers on the flight. It’s no secret that at the click of a button, we all become a bunch of demographics – female, under 30, single, no kids, 125k income, property range of 250-500k, domestic traveler, orders home gym shopping catalogue, you get the point. The airline had built their business on price alone and the consultant was convincing the airline that it’d do wonders for them to market the idea of ‘human togetherness’. Which basically translated into seating like-minded people together without their knowledge to create a better travel experience. I couldn’t help think if it was to get implemented. Yes I might learn some new tricks of handling toddler tantrums if I was automatically seated next to another mommy and yes our kids could collectively cry in unison and no one would give us a dirty look but what would happen to all my fun observations? I need variety to survive! Don’t you?

I opened the flimsy plastic window shade to look out. The brightness from the thick cloud layer almost blinded me. With a mouth so dry that I couldn’t even swallow, I kept wondering. It didn’t look dreamy. The infinite vastness of the space made me uneasy. I think I might like confinement more than I think I like it. It was a slightly shocking realization. May be I just need some sleep and my $450 back. There’s so much I could do with that money. Aah the possibilities.

The little fat thing bounced on me one more time. Time to sign off. Have a safe one.