Friday, March 30, 2012

To Ooty and Back

Listening to: Zooby Dooby from 3 Idiots (It’s an awesome song. Get thee to Youtube if you haven’t heard it.)
Mood: Calm, for the moment

Hello there boys and girls.

So the last time you intrepid readers heard, I was headed off into the wilds of Tamil Nadu to visit a place called Ooty. I may or may not have told you all of that info, but that’s what happened.  Here’s how it went down.

Since my Sir was gone to the United States slaying conference dragons for Target and ensuring he is never able to be deported from the US again for overstaying his welcome and I was pretty much sucked into a black vortex (shut up, I know that didn’t make sense) of working my butt off, there was a lot of talk of escaping our fare city of Bangalore, but little actual planning. So we went through some last minute scramble-ry trying to make something work. The first suggestion was Sri Lanka. It has long been on my list of Yes I MUST Visit There While On This Side of the World.  Unfortunately, we had to shelve the island due to time constraints. I am not packing all that awesomeness into 2 days. We then checked out day trips outside of B’lore. Most were booked as this was 2 days before we were supposed to leave. Tempers flared, general pissiness was present because I was really looking forward to some quality non-work time with the hubby and kiddos. Folks, I really, really hate having my plans cancelled. Let’s just say I don’t handle disappointment in an adult manner most of the time. Yep, a ginormous planning fail. A kindly (and expensive, if I may add) travel agent came to the rescue and found a bed and breakfast type thing in Ooty as well as a fearless driver who would ferry us to our destination. Let the packing commence. We checked the weather and found out that Ooty was almost as hot as Bangalore is right now. This was incredibly disappointing for me. India is hot as balls right now, and I was hoping for a change of pace. Or so I had heard it would be.

We requested the driver for 7 am on Friday, because when you only have 3 days, you want to make the most of it. Well, we do anyhow. Anyways. Our driver Manju showed up a half hour late, which is on time for Indians. We calmly and with minimal throwing things chugged our coffee and hustled the kiddos out of the house. Our vehicle was a mini-van type vehicle which suited us fine.  Being a mom for the past 8 years has taught me that you never even look at a car for too long without having stuff for kids to do along with you. We were prepared for this and the kids were well occupied in the back row of the van. The husband and I had some quality time to chat and generally get used to each other again after almost 2 solid months of being apart.  The drive was nice. The first time the hubby and I came to India we went to Bangalore and then took a small road trip to Mysore. I remember lots of greenness and palm trees. For some reason, this trip seemed less to that effect and more of the India that I’m used to seeing. Lots of small villages (which I get a HUGE kick out of driving through and watching the people and goings-on) and general beigey goodness. I have a theory about why Indian clothes and houses are so brightly colored – everything else is beige. Our driver for the most part was great. He wasn’t overly psycho, but didn’t take forever and a day to get where we wanted to go. We stopped at a small, empty hotel for breakfast. Some idlis (steamed rice cakes), dosai (like crepes) and bottled water later, we were on our way again. We drove through Bandipur state park, which was good fun along with a tiger reserve. We saw quite a few deer, some random monkeys (those buggers are EVERYWHERE) and some wild elephants as a crowning touch. We would have taken some photos, but you’re not supposed to stop or get out of the car. The girls were quite disappointed not to see some tigers, but their dad said he’d be surprised if the tigers actually existed.  Once we got out of Bandipur, the mountains loomed in front of us. We stopped at a tourist trap right outside of the park that looked like it might make us die of some exotic disease for lunch, but the food was great. The kids ate fried rice and the hubby and I ate some variety of chicken with garlic naan.  After lunch, we hopped back in the car for the most harrowing 3 hours of my life. I’m a pretty sedate car passenger. I can ride in an auto ducking and weaving through traffic without batting an eye. This was completely different. I don’t have a particularly large amount of faith in minivans’ ability to handle the road, so you can understand my nervousness. Ooty is located firmly up in the Western Ghats mountains. They are proper mountains and quite high. The solution to getting up and over them is a series of steep, curved roads with no fewer than 50 hairpin turns. I am totally not exaggerating. The most ironic part of this was that there were guard rails, but everyplace you look that you would think it was critical, the rail would be missing. Right at the outside of a curve for example. I started having many morbid thoughts of all of the cars that must have taken out all of these rails as they crashed over the edge to end up in a fiery death pile at the bottom of the mountains. Why yes, I do indulge in hyperbole sometimes. Why do you ask?? As it turns out, the section of the Ghats that we were in is a hot mess of tea plantations and most of the missing barriers lead to a road that would slope off at an almost 45 degree angle to some small shack in a tea plantation. Still. Anyhow, the scenery was beautiful. Everything was green and there seemed to be flowers everywhere we looked. Over all, it took us a good 7 hours (with stopping twice to eat) to get from Bangalore to Ooty. By the way Google Maps, 7 hours does not equal 5, just sayin. We stopped at a big hill in the mountains and climbed up it to taking in some mountain views. It was beautiful. It never fails to surprise me that nature is rather foggy/smoggy in India. I expect it in places like Delhi and Bangalore, but I thought it would be less cloudy in the mountains as not to many people are staying there. Back in the car for a little bit longer. Needless to say, we were VERY ready to get out of the car by the time we got there. Ooty is a super cute little town way up in the mountains.  To my eternal delight, it was cold when we got out of the car. You heard me, it was chilly.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast type place called the Lymond house. A little history about Ooty – when the British decided that India was a great place to take over, they neglected to take the weather into consideration. (See Britain not being hot as balls) The British decided the best way to deal with this was to invade the small towns in the mountains and make Hill Stations where they could be a bit cooler and wallow in British-ness.  I’m not a huge fan of British things. I just don’t have much interest. The Lymond House was an old British house that revolves around a British atmosphere. Seriously a lot of British schtick going on there.  They do, however, have beautiful gardens around the house. We were let into our “room”. We had a small sitting room, a living room with a bed in it, and a nice, huge bathroom. The power was out, which is not all that unusual in India. Power cuts run rampant.  We decided to settle down for some tea at a small table and chairs outside our room on the lawn. It was very nice. Lots of birds singing, flowers blooming, all that good stuff. The tea came, and to our dismay, it was British style tea. We are not British. Hubs is Indian and I am Indian by proxy. We like us some Indian style tea and coffee. Let’s just say it was atrocious and leave it at that. After tea, we headed out to see the botanical gardens. You can’t really compare it with the botanical gardens in say the Bronx, but it was a beautiful green space that we wandered around for a few hours. First garden I’ve ever seen that is build into a steep hill. Hiking was required. We even met the Suspicious Buffalo. We had a great time making fun of this buffalo for freaking out any time we came anywhere close. It wasn’t an attraction, just something we found funny. 

We headed back to our hotel room for dinner. We got some chicken pie thing for the kids – which was really like chicken alfredo pizza which was cool because they ate it. Hubs and I got some chicken curry and rotis. We were not impressed. We returned to our room and settled in for the evening. Everyone was properly beat by our long drive and hiking adventures, so we pretty much crashed. The room was rather dark, even with all of the lights on (who ever thought dark flooring and wall paneling was a great idea needs to be forced to live in a cave!) and the floor boards really freaked me out. They are very old, move when you walk on them, and squeak like you’re killing baby mice underneath.  They did, however, have geysers of a decent size. This was both very much needed and very much appreciated by yours truly. That was one of the best showers I’ve had in 6 months.

The next day, we woke up early again and headed out to try and catch the toy train to Coonoor, another hill station. Because of our spectacular lack of planning, we weren’t able to get tickets. We ended up just driving there anyways. Cue more beautiful scenery and heart stopping driving through the mountains. We stopped at a few tourist spots to do a little hiking and take in more mountain-ey goodness. The second place we stopped was much more commercial and had many more people. We didn’t like it as well. A monkey almost carried off my youngest. They are nasty, nasty little beasties. Thankfully, the hubs was holding on to her and a well aimed kick in the monkey’s direction stopped all the snarling and aggressive behavior.  When we were ready to go, we encountered a traffic jam. Let’s discuss this for  a minute. The roads in the mountains are BARELY big enough to let 2 cars pass each other going opposite directions.  While at this place, we saw full sized buses. No kidding people. All of these tourist spots are down long, windy roads in the middle of tea plantations. Cars were backed up for a full half hour while people tried to maneuver cars to the outer and inner edges of the road to get 2 busses past each other. It was hot, ridiculous, and ate a large chunk of the morning. We found a place to eat lunch after all the drivers banded together to project manage and get all of the cars moving. It was an odd place and I was even more afraid of the food than I was in Bandipur. It was the only thing we could find though, so we reluctantly ate. The kids again ate fried rice (SO thankful they like that – it’s pretty much available everywhere). The husband and I had paneer (it’s a type of cheese) curry and chapattis (whole wheat tortillas). The food was surprisingly good. After lunch, we headed to a park. It was nice, but we ended up listening to a lot of whining that we wouldn’t take the kids on the paddleboats.  We headed over to the train station to see if we could get tickets back to Ooty on the toy train. I was really hoping we could get seats. It’s a world heritage thing and seemed like fun for the kids to do. The kids and I sat in the car (where I napped to fend off a rogue headache) while the hubs and driver went and stood in line to see if there were any last minute tickets. We did end up getting second class tickets. A note to anyone else who wants to do this – plan ahead and splurge for first class tickets, especially if you have kids or don’t want to stand the whole time, but more on this in a minute. Hubs ran back out to the van and hustled us into the station. We crammed ourselves into an already full train car and fought our way back to the last 2 seats on the train. We crammed all 4 of us into the seat just as a butt load of people got on and squished themselves together, standing in the isle. Sitting in a very small seat with an 8 year old on my lap is one of my ideas of hell. Even if I love her to bits, my legs need a blood supply. It was about a 2 hour ride with some nice views. It generally went through a less touristy and developed route, so I enjoyed that. We saw a movie set too, but no one recognizable. Most of the locals we passed waved, which is unheard of for India.  After we got to the station, we headed out to find dinner. I was in a chaat mood (chaat is street food type snacks), so the driver took us to one of the nicer hotels that had a few restaurants attached. We got some pav baji (mashed up veggies with spices and hot rolls) and bhel puri (fried rice puffs with spices). It was all pretty bad, and that’s what we got for eating at a nice hotel. We went somewhere else to grab ice creams and then headed back to the Lymond house. We all pretty much passed out as the day was long and the hubs was convinced we were going to find the longest traffic jam in the history of the planet as we tried to go home so we were leaving early the next morning.

Another morning with English style coffee (for the love of baby yams people! It’s India – Indian coffee!!) and eggs and toast for breakfast. We packed up and headed back. The drive back to Bangalore was prettier.

As I left, I couldn’t help thinking that Ooty wasn’t very Indian. The British left such a huge impression on the way things were done there, it just doesn’t seem like India to me at all.  It certainly had its charms with the candy colored houses on tiers cut into the mountains and all the greenery, but it didn’t have India’s soul.
We took a different route down the mountain (a steeper and quicker one, of course) and a different route into Mysore. This one was so lush and green and covered in palm trees, we loved it. We stopped at the same breakfast place for lunch. The girls got puri (puffed up fried flat bread, it looks like a balloon) and vegetable noodles. The hubs and I got some chicken and rice. It was really good. It was funny, but the closer we got to Bangalore, the more crazy Manju started driving. The man loved his horn. We ended up back home around 4, which was nice so we could hang out and relax for a little bit. The kids played together and we hung out and had proper tea.

I enjoyed myself a lot. The food was pretty disappointing (I have very high expectations here people), but that’s pretty much true whenever you go on vacation here. Looking at you Delhi. I don't think I've ever seen so many cows, buffalo, goats and sheep since I came to India. It was a wildlife extravaganza. 

So that was Ooty. I would highly recommend taking a trip there, especially in the heat of the summer. I’m not knocking the Lymond house at all either, if you’re into British stuff, this is for you.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Off on an Adventure

The G family is on their way to an adventure in the hills of India. More specifically, Ooty and Coonoor. I'll be back on Monday with updates as to how it went and any of the culturally interesting things we did. Plenty of fun and educational stuff to do and I am stoked. In the mean time, happy Ugadi to those who celebrate!


Where in the World?

Listening to: Personal Jesus – Depeche Mode
Mood: Happy

Today is not the day that I discovered Blogger’s stat features. I have been occasionally throwing an eye around there for quite some time. 

As of late, this has especially fascinated me. I’ve found out that I have readers from Latvia (!), Malaysia, Iran, Russia, Romania (!!), Slovenia (seriously?!), Turkey, China, The Netherlands (holla back Dutch folks!), France, Nepal (!), Ukraine, Brazil, and Laos (again, really?!)

All I can say is wow folks. I appreciate every single last one of you. Please, please, please come back often. I’ll do my best to continue providing you with entertaining reading. I also love comments, so let ‘em fly people. There are convenient following options also if you want me all up in your email inbox or RSS feeder. All of my goodness delivered to your (virtual) doorstep. The email following instructions are on the left, the RSS subscription both left and at the bottom of the page.

I have some options for those who want to read something different. I regularly keep 6 blogs. Some get written in more than others, but the content is all different. Check out the links below for more of my content.

Politics: While I don’t get around to blogging here nearly enough to suit my taste – I feel that some of these articles are my best. Since I grew up in the US, but live in India, both will be included:

My take on a mommy blog:

My main blog with life musings:

For all things related to marriage and all of its tomfoolery (there may be posts about sex, you’ve been warned):

For what I’m reading and Recommending:

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Chicken Dance

Mood: ON.
Listening to: Billionaire – Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars

India has come a long ways from the way it was when I came back in 2005. There are grocery stores now. I see some people scoffing in the back of the room, but seriously. There used to be only small markets, veggie sellers, meat sellers, and assorted small shops that specialized in certain things – office supplies for example. This is becoming less and less common as India continues its slow but certain march towards sanitation and westernization. My apartment is a part of a huge compound on the north side of the city. We’re not at the edge of civilization, but we’re darn close. All around the edges of the city (whenever you happened to draw the lines) the city has been slowly, or not so slowly, expanding to swallow whatever happened to be at the edges. Sometimes this includes villages. It’s good fun to live in the city, yet find a completely uncivilized neighborhood that is clearly still a village. One such village is situated right behind my house and I absolutely love it. It reminds me of the way that I remember India from the last time I came and the idea I have in my head about how India used to be in the old days. We do have a grocery store that I use on a regular basis. However, I get great enjoyment from using the small, local shops that are slightly closer. 

Our grocery store is notably lacking in anything resembling protein from a live animal. That’s right folks, no meat or fish. Fortunately for me, there’s a chicken shop just down the street. One day, I decided it was about time for us to eat some protein, and decided to check it out. Now, in case any of you were thinking of sanitized pink meat in a nice Styrofoam package shop, let me disabuse you of that notion. This is the type of chicken shop that has cages lining the wall of live chickens. This is the type of shop where you tell the (very amused because I’m a different color than the locals) guy behind the counter that you want either a certain amount of chicken or a whole one. The type where he gets your approval for the weight of a specific chicken and then hauls it behind the counter where its head is summarily hacked off and it is left to flop around in a bucket until the blood is drained out. The type where you are vaguely uneasy as you walk home with warm chicken, because everyone who grew up in the US knows that chicken should NEVER be warm (we hate us some salmonella!), even though you know it’s because the animal was still living not 20 minutes ago.

I have a complicated relationship with this shop that I visit on a regular basis.
On the one hand: You cannot get much fresher than a chicken that was alive 20 minutes ago. I would venture to say that any chicken in the US supermarket has been dead WAY longer than that. I like freshness. I’m also a fan of natural chickens. No one is feeding these chickens antibiotics or pumping chicken meat full of saline to increase the weight. What you see is what you get. As a result, the chicken is much stronger tasting here. It tastes like chicken. I like the butcher. He’s always pleasant and gives me a chicken that doesn’t look diseased beyond recognition. I don’t have any qualms about him killing the chicken; a chicken will die either way if we’re going to eat one.
On the other hand: It’s a back country chicken shop. Although they do seem to try, hygiene is sketchy here at best. This is why I only get a whole chicken that is killed fresh in front of me. I am so not trying to get ebola from a chicken shop (ok, so I think I was looking for e.coli here, but still) Another thing is that while the butcher will skin the chicken for me (always ask for this – why pay for skin if you don’t really want it anyhow?), he does not debone the chicken. This leads to ten bazillion little bones breaking apart in the curry and requiring a lot of digging before you can eat your food without being afraid of accidentally eating one and it getting stuck in your throat. It’s annoying.

I like the fresh, tasty chicken, especially in byriani form.


The Eye Contact Game, or Why Midwestern Values Don't Matter Half Way Around the World

Mood: ON.
Listening to: Mama I’m Coming Home – Ozzy Osbourne

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been pretty much immersed in all things Indian for the past 12 years. It comes along with being obsessed with a certain somebody. And no Akshay Kumar, I wasn’t talking about you, well, this time anyway, but if you want to come over for tea some day and discuss it…I make some kick ass chai. I promise to try my best to not lock you in one of the closets and keep you. Johnny Depp doesn’t really need company in there anyhow. 

Ahem. Even with my current living situation placing me smack dab in the epicenter of everything Indian and my comfort level with Indian-ness being at an all time high, there will always be some things about India that slightly unnerve me. “But B, I thought you weren’t scared of anything!” You protest in a scandalized voice. Hold up there Buddy. I am indeed pretty much not scared of anything. This is more of a vague unease and difficulty adjusting. I was raised in the Midwestern part of the United States. We good Christian folks (ha!) value politeness (well, we did when I was growing up anyway. Now a days there is a rude asshole epidemic running rampant) above all else. You meet people’s eyes (without a shifty, shady intent), you say please and thank you, and you generally carry on in a pleasant naïve bubble. 

My Midwestern naïve bubble was popped long ago, I’m happy to say. New York had the honor. Ridiculous, useless, and dangerous thing that it was. What I am meandering around to say here is that some things are fundamentally different. Yes, that was a cry for captain obvious to spring into action and point out that yes dumbass, if you move half way around the world, things will be different. Aha! I haven’t even reached my point yet. This happens to me when I have too much energy, I tend to wander around the point. Ahem. 

Anyhow. Eye contact is what I’m trying to get at. I did not come to India the second time around the same wide eyed idiot who stared at everything with fascination. I learned my lesson last time that most of the time, it’s ok to watch what’s going on around you, but don’t stare and for the love of the Spaghetti Monster, don’t make eye contact with the men. They will either try to sell you something or look at you like they wished they were alone with you in a bedroom. I’ve become very, very adroit at ignoring certain types of people who are trying their level best to get me to meet their eyes. A bored, cynical look is an excellent defense here. The more interested/doe eyed/naïve you look, the better target you make. I’m not trying to lump everyone in one category. Obviously, there will be those who are just curious as to what a firangi (foreigner, and not the band) is doing wandering around a dirt paved village that has been swallowed by Bangalore. It’s rather superbly ironic. The people who you desperately wish would catch your eye simply will not. Apparently they have been taught this lesson from birth – best to keep your eyes to yourself. So making friends is difficult because it’s hard to smile at your neighbor when she won’t meet your gaze. Not to mention the fact that unsolicited smiles are met with a confused unease here, but I’ll get to that in another post. I also wish that shopkeepers would meet my eye so that I can just get what I need and move on too. The guy who runs the bakery refuses to look me in the eye, which makes it ridiculously awkward for me. I’m not used to just telling what I want without making sure the other person is listening. This is not the case here. They are listening, and she who waits for recognition will never be waited on. Gimme my dil pasand.

The guards at our compound get quite a kick out of saying either Good Morning or Good Evening to me and getting me to look them in the eye and possibly smile. For the most part, these types of shenanigans are harmless. These guys are north Indians who I think in spite of being old enough to know better, still get a kick out of saying hi to the white girl. I’m not saying I trust them completely, but for the most part, harmless fun on their part. They are not making asses of themselves and making me feel uncomfortable. For the most part they are professionals. This is totally not what I’m talking about. The people who you really don’t want to make eye contact will be the ones who are running into signs and falling off sidewalks trying to stare you into making eye contact are exactly the ones that you need to avoid eye contact all together. I’ll give you a few examples. 

  1. A group of teen – 30 year old guys walking down the street. The group part is what’s important here. Unless he is a totally shameless degenerate, a woman can stare down almost any solo guy. I’ve done it many times. It’s fun to stare until someone meets your eyes and challenges you to stop being an asshole. Most guys will be decent and look away. Boys in a group (and yes, they are for the most part acting like little boys) are best not confronted. They seem to think that it’s much more acceptable to act like fools when there are a whole bunch of them doing it. They will all stare directly at you in something that is just under a leer. If you’re quick enough with Hindi or the local language, you’ll probably catch at best a what is she doing/wearing, at worst it will be a crude comment.
  2. Anybody at an intersection, especially if you’re in a car. It’s hard enough to shoo junk sellers away if you haven’t shown any interest in the first place. The last thing you want to do is invite them over and take a good long look. Not only is this a bad idea as the people in the lane behind you will curse you to Afghanistan and back, the seller will not ever leave without selling you something you probably really didn’t want for a price that would make shaitan blush. If you want to check it out, learn to look without meeting anyone’s eye or looking like you are at all interested. Trust me, you will learn eventually. This is especially true for fruit sellers. Not from being a pest perspective, but just that they’re trying to hustle through the cars and make as much money as possible before the next set of cars comes through. If you’re dawdling over looking at the guava’s, or fumbling with change, the seller can’t move on. Again, if you make eye contact, that means come here, I want some guava’s.
I’ve gotten to the point where I just keep my eyes on the road ahead, even if someone is just curious. When you look different (and for the most part dress differently) than the people around you, it gets tiresome to feel like a circus act and constantly send out the message that you’re not to be messed with. It just gets old. My eyes aren’t on the ground because anyone has intimidated me or because I feel dirty because a man doesn’t know how to act. It’s just easier that way. Whew. I think I need some more time thinking about Akshay. Much more pleasant to think about.


From the Archives: Marching Bands, Cows, and Dog Herds

Another post I had written and forgot about. This happened while we were still living in the guest house.

Listening to: Suga Suga – Baby Bash

Mood: Matches the beautiful Bangalore sunshine outside

The family and I, in our little holding pattern we have going on here (more on this later), are living in a guest house, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. As far as India goes, we live in a very residential, quiet neighborhood.  I need to qualify this a little bit. There is absolutely no quiet place in civilization in India. Perhaps if you want to go sit out in a field somewhere in bumbledum, you may find some silence until people come along, which won’t take long. India is just not the place to go for solitude. Try Nepal perhaps. Or Tibet. Anyhow. By quiet, I mean that we don’t live right off a major road, so we don’t get the massive amounts of noise that cars with horns bring. We do, however, have some cars, shouting fruit vendors, construction noise (pretty much omnipresent in any half developed neighborhood), the paper walla  (most of the time this refers to selling something, like a tea walla sells tea, but this refers to buying – they get money for buying bulk used newspaper from the neighborhood and then selling it for slightly higher cost) shouting for paper, the ever present people outside talking, and oh my holy noise pollution Batman with the dogs and the school across the street.  It’s enough to make a person insane.

India is a hotbed of fornicating dogs.  There are stray dogs everywhere. Most of the time during the day, they pick a nice sunshiny spot to nap in or a nice garbage pile to pick through and don’t bother anyone unless you bump into them or harass them. At night, they revert to crazy wolf like pack mentality and go about their nights in a crazy loud battle for supremacy of the neighborhood and pack. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve woken up in the night wishing with all my might that I had a rifle, BB gun or even a stick to throw at some yapping, snarling, whining dog outside. I LOVE dogs, but any dog that is making this amount of noise at 3 am needs to learn some survival skills that include not barking at my window. Or near it, whatever.

We also happen to live right across the street from a small, local school. I will never, ever make the mistake of staying across from a school in India again.  The school is a maze of hallways with classrooms off of them. They have a marching band (which includes a LOT of drums) that has been practicing every day starting at 8 am all day for a exhibition that they will have. As previously mentioned, I’m barely coping with my new found morning person-ness. Having to listen to drums that start at 8 am before I’ve even had a cup of coffee and last all day is killing my soul very slowly. They also have some routine that depends on some bass heavy dance music. And Yeh Hai Bombay Mere Jaan (an old Hindi song).  Now I like that song. Quite a bit actually. What I don’t like is hearing a crappy keyboard version played over 8 hours at a volume that is so loud it’s distorted. Seriously. Won’t someone please think of the children? I cannot imagine being at ground zero across the street and not ending up with hearing loss. 

After all the griping about noise in the neighborhood, we come to a positive point. I’m pretty sure everyone is aware of the stereotype about India that there are cows wandering around at will.  We didn’t see too much of this in Hyderabad. Plenty of buffalos, but very few free ranging cows. Bangalore, however, is absolutely filled with random stray cows. Our neighborhood in particular has at least 10 that roam around. They’re ugly, dirty beasts that love to dig through trash piles, but I still get a smile on my face about how they are able to wander around unbothered anywhere they wish. I’ve seen them wander into people’s yards and right up to fruit carts. Aside from a gentle shooing so they don’t steal fruit, no one even bats an eye. It’s fantastic. With all of the progressive changes that have happened for India, it’s still a very much wild, untamed place.


From The Archives: The Maid’s Quarters: Otherwise Known as My Storage Room for Zen Thinking

In the interest of honesty, I wrote this post back in January. I didn't finish it and completely forgot it for a while. Well, little miss OCD here was organizing her blog folders on the computer and came across this. Enjoy.

Listening to: 2 very rowdy little girls
Mood: Calm

In India, some of the homes and apartments come with a small room and possibly an attached restroom for a live in maid. The maid stays with the family and lives in that small room when she’s not doing her work. I always swore that we would never have a live in maid (my Midwestern guilt is just about killing me for having a maid come during the day!) so our maid’s room is used for storage. I brought along some very sturdy shelves (and boy am I glad I did!) along with the kids dressers. They have all been requisitioned for storage purposes. We don’t need the dressers anymore, as all of the bedrooms come equipped with almirahs, which are like cabinets that take up a full wall. In some ways they are wonderful, in some ways, I miss regular dressers and closets.

Anywho. When we first moved in, I set up all the shelves and dressers in this room to accommodate all of my paranoia that India doesn’t provide anything I’m used to: See hoarding of soap, shampoo and cranberries, along with many other things.  This turned out to be a bunch of crap, except for the cranberries, but none of the stuff I brought along is perishable, so we’ll use it eventually. 

My maid thoughtfully mentioned to me (and no, I’m not being sarcastic here) that she cannot possibly sweep under the beds with the large storage containers with clothes in them under there. She wanted me to move them somewhere else.  This is one of the conundrums with good maids. They have a lot of initiative and often see things that you tend to ignore, but this leads to you having to do things differently than you want. Even so, this usually ends up to be a good thing in the end.

So. Into the storage room the clothes went. Now maybe you know, maybe you don’t, but I love me some organizing. After a very stressful morning involving lots of whining (and not all of it mine) trying to get one child to learn Hindi words and the other child alphabet sounds, I needed a break from the other three occupants of my house, otherwise known as my family. I got some very much needed zen from changing around how things were placed in the storage room. I get some crazy satisfaction from finding the best way to arrange stuff in a constrained space, and I’m really, really good at it. I got some quality quiet time to contemplate as I shifted stuff around and wonder once again what the hell is wrong with me for bringing so much stuff.  My husband has grand plans of returning to the US someday with only our clothes in suitcases. Eh, very, very unlikely, but we’ll see. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the differences between the US and India.  I have some nice pipe dreams about buying a big house in the Midwest with a picket fence. Trust me, they are very nice daydreams, but with our history, we probably won’t settle anywhere long enough to commit to a house. We have property commitment issues. This led me to wondering how long exactly we would be here. Don’t misunderstand me here: I LOVE being in India. It has been one of the most thrilling, amazing and fulfilling experience of my entire life. There are still things that I really miss though. Mostly family and friends, although I have very little hope that I’ll ever be in the same place with the same set of amazing people again. It was difficult for me when I moved around as a kid to make new friends every new place I went. As a 30 year old adult, it’s teeth grittingly frustrating, because friendships are never made overnight. Those are called one night stands. Kidding…

I also wonder if we’ll ever return to India in the future. I know it’s rather ridiculous to contemplate our plans so far into the future, because we never plan beyond next week. But it does make me want to make the absolute most of our time here in case we don’t get back here again.

I’m glad I have a room to sit in and contemplate the bigger things filled with stuff for me to organize.


Monday, March 19, 2012

The Wonderful World of Byriani

Listening to: You Belong with Me – Taylor Swift

Mood: Wired, thanks to some extra strong coffee today

My name is Becky, and I’m a foodie. Not in the pretentious New York Hipster way, but someone who truly loves food and the creation of it. No seriously. I love me some food. 

Since I started dating Daddy G almost 13 years ago (my marriage anniversary is in April – fun useless fact), I have been having an extended love affair with everything and anything spicy. My married-into folks (the inlaws) are from Andhra Pradesh India. For those geographically challenged, that is smack dab in the lower center of the country. Now Andhra – ites (not the technical term at all, but I like it anyhow) love themselves some spicy food. Being an honorary Andhra-ite, I have completely lost count of how many taste buds I have voluntarily sacrificed in the name of spicy yummy-ness. Yes, that is the technical foodie term. Yummy-ness.  Anywho, no one does byriani like Hyderabad does byriani.  Guess where my married-into folks are from? You got it. Hyderabad.  It is one of my favorite foods of all time. For those who are Indian food challenged, byriani consists of basmati rice (the nice yummy smelling one), meat (or not, if you're a veg head, then it's vegetables) and a metric ton of spices.

The magical thing about byriani is that I’ve never encountered a really bad one. I’ve had uninspiring “meh” ones, but never bad. The ones that are amazing (the ones that come from the tiny, dirty, you’ll-get-typhoid-there-son are the best way to die, but what a way to go!!!) are enough to make me consider giving my first born for. I didn’t say I’d actually do it, but damn, it’s worth the consideration.  The only thing I can think of that would really ruin a byriani is if they try to Americanize it and lose the spiciness. This would be an abomination. Byriani should be spicy. It has to be. It’s like a law of food physics (not the technical term – but I totally claim this term) or something. 

My favorite is goat or lamb. Something about the gamey, spicy meaty goodness that makes me insanely happy.
 (Hear that? That's my taste buds Sqee-ing.)

Next comes chicken, which I’m going to skip a picture of because it looks just like the one above.

After that comes Vegetable byriani. Now I have some serious concerns about whether vegetable byriani should actually be classified as byriani. This is because meat is a flavor here that belongs in the dish. It’s essential. 

 More Squee-ing.

My maid cooks for us 2 – 3 times a week. As I mentioned in a previous post about her, she is also an Andhra-ite. The woman knows how to cook some Andhra food and I love her for it. A few weeks back, she made some vegetable byriani for us. It was gone in 2 days and I have to fight the urge everyday to beg her to make it every day. It’s that amazing.  

I don’t eat much rice. I’ve been trying to cut back in order to lose some weight. (Yes, I needed to. I’ve lost 35 lbs so far, and am far from done). Having the amazing yummy-ness around the house is making it challenging to say the least. With any other curry or vegetable fry, I am totally cool with eating whole grains (Cracked wheat and brown rice the only ones I can actually find in India. I miss Quinoa! And Barley! And Bulger! And we’re done here.) in place of rice. Some people (ahem husband) have what I call a “rice gene”. This gene makes them crave white rice in a crazy way and become unwilling to substitute anything with the connotation of being “healthy” and or “Wholesome” for those beloved empty white carbs. I don’t have this gene. I love whole grains.  Unfortunately, you cannot just make byriani with whole grains. Or anything else for that matter. White basmati rice is the only acceptable carbohydrate in byriani. If you try a substitute, it is not technically byriani. In fact, you may spontaneously combust for your presumptuousness. Seriously. Just wrong. 

One of the best byriani’s I can recall came from a Pakistani restaurant on Chicago’s Devon Street – the Indian destination for everyone up to 3 states away.  The place was Gareeb Nawaz. It has the most amazing, balls out spicy, tasty byriani. It’s best to take it to go (unless you like dirty, loud, crazy cafeteria situations – more power to you!) because it’s not a fancy place. You better make sure they give you yogurt too – you’re gonna need it. If you are anywhere near Chicago and love spicy - you simply have to try it. It's really not even optional. 

I can’t even begin to rhapsodize about India’s byriani restaurants. There’s nothing quite like the real deal.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Another Lamentable Loss

Listening to: Fat Bottom Girls – Queen (hells yeah!)
Mood: Mildly annoyed and fading (the annoyance, not me)

So another thing I really, really miss about the US is the milk. It comes so nice and clean and pasteurized. If you want skim milk, you buy that. No skin to be found unless you boil it.

Let me describe the milk situation here for you. It took me a good 2 weeks to even figure out how to get milk delivered. Even then, it came about rather as accident. I happened to stumble upon the milkman in the basement. He sold me a book of tickets. The idea is, you place however many tickets out that you want in the night in some container. Now no one told me this, so I put ALL the tickets out in the bowl, figuring that he would take some and leave some milk. The next day, I complained to my husband about the milk man not coming. He had a good laugh, and then scolded me – it was really lucky someone didn’t come along and just take all of our milk tickets. Sigh.  So next night I put out a few tickets. Each is good for 1 liter of milk. Voila, the milk was there in the morning.

Now, the milk here hasn’t been cleaned in any way, shape, or form. There are quite a few stories in our family of liver problems from not properly boiling milk. I’m not sure if I believe them or not, by I sure don’t want liver trouble….so the milk must be boiled. 15 minutes covers it and you have to watch it or it boils up out of the pot and covers your stove, most likely making your housecleaner roll her eyes because you let it happen again. Not that I would know… Ahem.  Anywho. We have the option of getting skim, or “diet” milk. I have asked for this as I have been drinking skim milk since I was little and love it. I have yet to once get skim milk. They just toss in toned (whole) milk and call it a day. I hate, hate, hate whole milk. I hate seeing the fat float on top, and yes, that is not at all an exaggeration. So the milk goes in the pot. As anyone who has ever cooked milk knows, the minute it boils (which is non-optional here), it gets a gross skin on top of it. WE filter it through a fine sieve, but you never really get it all out. I have theories that it sits and makes skin at night in the fridge, but that’s just my imagination. I think. Then there's the taste of fat in your mouth that comes with skim milk. Ugh.

Oh to grab a liter from the store….