2

Look how far we’ve come…

I met up with my friends from my Lonavala days over the weekend in San Jose. We used to be a trio when we started college. All three of us from different backgrounds, found some common ground amidst the chaos of 20 girls sharing a large hall in the first 6 months. We were roommates as well for almost 2 years after that. It will be a mighty understatement if I say that ‘yep, we have had our ups and downs.’ What we had was a family drama that will last longer than your bag of popcorn. But, we grew up(almost!)

It was a very fun weekend with a lot of happiness sprinkled around generously. Looking back, I realized one thing. We all have come such a far way from what we were. It is quite astounding because if you stand from the outside and look at us three, you will be hard-pressed to find a common trait that binds us. Our similarities are indiscernible. We are 3 girls with a very strong sense of individuality, with 3 absolutely different personality traits and 3 ways of thought processes. We think on completely different levels from each other, yet mostly, the end is similar. It’s almost like we are trying to reach the same point, but we take different routes. 

Back in college, when we first met, we did realize that our backgrounds were so different from what we were used to. Yet, we had a common plane. Specially in the first year, having common subjects and living in the common hall and eating in the cafeteria bound us somewhat. Going forward, two of us were in Mechanical Eng department and one was in Computer Eng, but things were still similar to a level. Yet we had our very strong differences. Only commenting about myself, boy, was I rigid! A lot of changes came into my personality and behavior over the years as I got influenced by situations and people. S and A have had a more lasting and a very deep relationship with each other over the years and they both are much easier to understand than all three of us together. I did drift apart, but it was mostly okay for all of us.

Not that I have lost my sleep over it, but last weekend found me questioning the existence of common plane and if it indeed is important. Moo, Ani and I bond over a myriad range of topics. We love similar things and hate similar things. Our families have very similar traits. Well mostly the way we bond is Ani yelling at Moo and I. We do have our differences but that also just blends with the way we are. Maybe that is a result of us molding together as friends over the last decade. But with S and A, I am finding it very hard to point at what is making us tick now.  One has a Roomba and wears flipflops on carpets, one had no idea about Legos till a week back and doesn’t like mushrooms, and one obsessively drinks smoothies for lunch and hates Beiber and loves T. Swift. Interestingly, I have noticed that with almost every topic, among the three of us, two will have the same view about it and one will have an opposite outlook.

But I suppose, it doesn’t really matter. As long as we continue to laugh over the ridiculousness of PG certified but actually X-rated Bollywood, we should be good.

31

29 it is!

Another year older, another year gone by so quickly!

Yep, it was my birthday yesterday and I had a wonderful time with some of my favorite people.

Like all princesses, my birthday isn’t limited to a single day, but spans across the weekend. The celebrations started from Friday afternoon when my buddies at work took me out for a huge birthday lunch. They ordered a shot of Fireball and beer for me and the result was 10% of efficiency for the rest of the day. I kept myself awake at work by thinking of elaborate ideas to take a nap, but without real success. I should have taken a leaf out of George Costanza’s book of ideas like the hammock under his desk.

The celebrations extended in the evening when I went out for a Japanese dinner with Shawn, Alicia and a few others form the Softball team. I love Ramen and their Ramen was no exception and I really enjoyed the vegetable sushi as well after a very long time. I am not big on sushi because of a few wasabi related incidents in the past(fire in the brain and tears from eyes, nose and ears), but this sushi was quite good! Abhi, Nish, we have another new spot to go to! After the dinner, we headed to a real divey-dive bar, in Tustin where our group became bigger as more of our friends joined in. Now, it was a Karaoke bar with an open mic. We belted out quite a few songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Sweet Caroline, etc. But the real highlight of the evening was the thorough butchering of Summer of 69 by Alicia and yours truly! I think we were hopping like bunnies more than singing! The DJ announced out that it was my birthday party and the entire bar was upon me to wish me.  We sang almost all the songs as a chorus to whoever was singing and by the end of the night, we had lost our voices. It was all worth it!

Saturday passed by in a whirl, where I did grown up things like laundry, vacuuming, renewing my apartment lease, crying at the depleting bank balance. I was expecting Abhi and Nish in the evening, but flight related incidents with their mom and sis postponed their visit to the next day. Shib called from Kerala after fighting with terrible phone network. I spoke to Hazra over video chat for quite a bit and the poor guy tried to order a cake for me which turned out to be a fail. I was so touched by his gesture and assured him that it truly was the thought that mattered to me! I headed out to the mall in the evening to use my discount coupons and birthday vouchers from stores that I may not shop full-price from. 😛 I ended my Saturday at the grocery store where I had an unexpected ego boost when the cashier gave me student discount without even asking me if I was one! To celebrate, I treated myself with some Chinese takeout. Yep, I love Asian food!

I spent most of my Sunday being lazy and talking to friends on the phone. Thank you Moo and Ani for the infinite wishes, and so much love to Ani’s Jonah for the cutest message ever for his PB Maasi! The xBF also called and we spoke for a long time. It truly made me happy and very satisfied that we now trying to get to a stage that we can joke and laugh and look back and look ahead without ruining our moods and dissolving into tears. It was good. Abhi, Nish showed up late afternoon with some absolutely yummy desserts and I finally cut my birthday cake/dessert and got to make a wish by blowing out the candle. Well, I think I forgot to actually make a wish! The day ended with another FaceTime chat with the folks.

Monday came bright and early and really hot with 100 F or 40 deg C and 9% humidity. More friends from work took me out for lunch and we had Thai food. Did I already mention that I am a sucker for Asian cuisine? I skipped gym yesterday and chilled at home with my friend Adriane to watch the presidential debate. We had my birthday dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy and celebrated with the group of friends that I call the OC squad! Of course, the prime members are Shawn and Alicia. 😀

It was the culmination to a fabulous, celebratory weekend and I couldn’t be happier. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by people who love me, care about me and keep me in their thoughts and prayers. No one can take the place of my parents, my family, but my friends come very close. I feel grateful.

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I have entered the last year of my 20s. I am determined to make it worthwhile. I want to do everything so that I can look back and say that I ended up my 20s with a bang. God willing!

19

Pune-Lonavala-Pune

I have called Pune home since 2002. I came to the city just before starting high school and I was half-expecting to be out of there soon looking at the way we were moving every few years. My prophecy sort of did come true after 4 years, even though partially. I got into an engineering college in Lonavala and had to move to the college girls’ hostel, it being a residential college. Initial months were really hard, due to several reasons. But after 2 years and countless number of crying sessions, I found my groove and turned my life around to get the maximum out of it. I would not trade away any part of it and would do it all over again, any day. I am very glad that I stuck to living in the hostel and not outside in the city, or even at home in Pune, 1.25 hours away by local train.
 
One of the memories associated with Lonavala, besides the incessant monsoon rains, is all the traveling and commute. During my first 1.5 years, I had a boyfriend who was from north of India and was full time in the hostel since he couldn’t go back home as often. So, I would spend the weekends in the hostel itself and would go back home once or twice a month with all my laundry and to replenish my snack supply and get my fill with the doggie-doo. We used to get around 20 days of break before the final semester exams to study that were called preparatory leaves or the PL. I would even spend most of my PL in the hostel, either studying in the room or the library with the guy. Bad idea. My grades, friendships, personality, everything suffered. Soon after, I broke up with him during the second year. A lot of things changed with respect to friendship too and I switched rooms. Things got back to track, my life was beyond fun, and my grades shot up(almost 😛 ) after that.
 
My new roommates were all from Pune too and they would go home every weekend and would stay put there during the PLs as well. I started doing the same. When the college would end on Fridays, we would catch auto-rickshaws to the city train station and catch the evening local train to Pune. If we were late, we would catch the Pragati Express that would stop at Lonavala during its 3.5 hour journey from Mumbai to Pune. There was another train that stopped in Lonavala at about 7.15 pm or so, called the Deccan Queen, which is my absolute favorite train forever, and was an absolute delight whenever I could catch it. We had the morning and late afternoon trains’ schedules memorized and we didn’t even have to take out the time table from our bags anymore. We were of course keener to catch the local train because even if it was slower and more crowded, it was almost 1/3rd the price of the Express trains. Sometimes, we would have some class on Saturday morning and we would have to stay back on Fridays and that would be when we used to be on our grumpiest best, and repeating outfit from the previous week. It was not that big a deal because I literally wore the same t-shirts every week. My dating and social life was booming, but unless the plan involved friends and the girls staying back as well, weekends in Pune were not given up anymore. Also, just because us girls we lived together, it did not mean we didn’t see each other in Pune. We have spent innumerable weekends hanging out with each other, watching movies, shopping, and doing other shenanigans.
 
Friday evenings were the best, because we had the anticipation of going home. But Monday mornings were evil. We had to catch the 6.40 am local and that meant waking up at 5.30 am to reach the station on time. N started from the previous station or the point of origin and would catch seats for us. I got in on station 2 and Ani on station 3. We were always in the women’s compartment so it was easy to spot N and for Ani to spot us. Then our college decided to mix things up for kicks and changed the timings to start an hour earlier in the mornings and thanks to that, we had to catch the Sinhgad Express going to Mumbai at around 6.10 am. Now, that was murder! But I am very happy to say that I never missed a train. My obsession with time and punctuality saves me from such headaches. My dad had to catch that train on Mondays because he worked in Mumbai during the week, when I was in high school and then after high school, he had to come to drop me every Monday. It was our running joke how his Monday mornings are always going to be painfully early. But the last time he dropped me for my last week in Lonavala, I don’t know who was more emotional.
 
Another fun part of the commute was traveling with my dad sometimes on the way back. He would go to Mumbai for work at times on Fridays and while coming back he would tell me if he took Pargati or Deccan Queen. I would wait back for those trains to be with him while going back to Pune. He would stand at the door when the train would pull in and wave his hankerchief at me. I used to be so embarrassed but so amused with that. He still does that at times in crowded places to pull my leg. His office was in Chinchwad which fell between Lonavala and Pune. If I was in the local train, I would call him up 15 minutes before Chinchwad and if he was done and ready to go home, I would just get down there and we would go home together in his car. It used to take around 45 minutes, but I thought that time was precious. Otherwise I would get down at the second last station in Pune, say bye to N and catch an autorickshaw home where dad would pick me up half ways.

Such fun times have been had in the trains. On Monday mornings, we would always talk about how sleepy we were as soon as we sat down, tried to sleep for exactly 2.875347 minutes and then would start talking. Around exam time, we would come armed with books in hand to try and study but everything else happened like staring outside the window, chatting, my texting with the then crush, food, clothes, all this with the book open. We have had very interesting fights with other people in the trains regarding capturing seats and specially window seats. I have a vague memory of someone sitting down on me and me pushing the said person away. Most of the regular commuters sort of knew each other. I used to see a short-haired lady get into Sinhgad Express from my station till Mumbai and she would head back in the same train in the evening, every single weekday since almost a decade. She used to know when our exam time was depending on the amount of books open in our hands and would wish us luck. Someone had tried to snatch our seat once and she had spoken up for us. We have even been fined for sitting in a higher level compartment on a lower level seat ticket and it was not fun to meet Ani’s dad for the first time when detained by the Railway cop. It was not our fault and we had no idea we were doing wrong. Hmmpphh. Even waiting on the station for the train to pull in was fun. Whiling time away at Lonavala station was awesome because of yummy Bangalor Iyengar bakery products like cakes, muffins, puffs or Maganlal’s fresh Smaosas and the fried green chillies. Wait a minute, let me wipe my drool off the keyboard, be right back. Now, Pune station on Monday mornings was also fun.There were stray dogs around and the ones who lived there were particularly big and strong for some reason. They ate protein regularly due to the kind train station folks who owned stores there. It used to be funny when the big dogs would randomly stop by dad and I, and start sniffing our ankles and legs, catching on Moony’s scent. My dad would freeze and I would find that very amusing. One big event on Fridays, was trying to get out of the train in Chinchwad. It was a red zone with respect to crowd during peak office timings, and I had to shamelessly use my drawing sheet holder and backpack to push the crazy ladies out of the way to get out. It was a ‘you snooze, you lose’ sort of a deal.


How I miss all that. If I get to go back to the college for a day, I would start that right from a Monday morning, waiting at Pune(Shivajinagar) station and end it with a ride in Deccan Queen with the best chai in the world. For now, I have to be content with the memories. *Sniff* Damn you, allergies!

29

The dinner dilemma

“Baby, let’s go out tonight.
What do you want for dinner?”
“Sure, that sounds cool,
I am cool with whatever.”

“Where do you wanna go?
Entrees and desert to share.
Fine dining or fast food?”
“I don’t really care.”

“How about some Italian?
And that wine tonight.”
“Umm, I don’t know.
I want something light.”

“Let’s get some Ramen.
The weather’s cool.”
“We just had it few weeks back.
Not really makin’ me drool.”

“We can do some other Asian,
You sure like Pad Thai.”
“I want something spicy.
It’s not in my top five.”

“Indian sounds good,
To stir up the flavor,”
“We eat that all the time.
Curry over and over.”

“How about Pizza or sandwich.
We shall get that fast.”
“But baby, I will be hungry again.
That definitely won’t last.”

“Just tell me what you want,
Enough of this game.”
“I knew you don’t care for me!
All your loving words are lame.”

“No babe, I am sorry!
We will do what you want.
We shall go out and eat.
Or I will cook if you shan’t.”

“Meh, I don’t wanna eat at home.
Let’s just go out.
You decide where to,
That I don’t wanna think about.”

The BAE suffers daily,
Driven nuts by a girlfriend or a wife.
I may be strong and independent,
But this is also the story of my life.

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Haah! This is me day in and day out! With the significant other or with friends, my story is the same. I hate having to decide anything, specially cuisine and place to eat. I have almost cried because I couldn’t decide and have also made a few people shed tears by saying NO to everything. My strong Libran characteristics makes it worse for me. 

I hear the same going on with Shawn and his GF. This was partly inspired by one of his stories the other day. 🙂

The xBF had come up with an interesting solution. He would start asking what I was absolutely not feeling like having and then would narrow it down. So I had no other drama to entangle him in. Smart guy, him.

Public note : Girls, please don’t get mad at me. This comes from true experiences, but there’s no generalization. All of you who can make up their minds in a snap, I bow down to thee. 😀

15

The Converted Pluviophile

I hated rains.

The thought of going to school in my school auto rickshaw with rains banging on the roof, and my school uniform and shoes being wet, would make me teary. I would have a dark cloud looming on my head when I joined high school and I had to drive my two wheeler in pouring rains. Muddy waters splashing on me, my jeans getting ruined, my feet getting soiled, ruined any idea of relating any excitement to monsoon. Driving with glasses was even worse and made me long for teeny, tiny wipers in front of my face.

Then I joined college and my fight with rains got worse. I got admitted into my Engineering college in Lonavala and started my first semester during the peak of monsoons. For the uninitiated, Lonavala is in Western Ghats(mountain range)between Mumbai and Pune and is considered a hill station thanks to its height and cooler climate zone.  It is built as a resort town and my college is built on layers of hills where the Engineering building was on top of the hill and girl’s dorms and cafeteria were on the bottom. Great.

My introduction to the college was on a day where rains were raging a particularly bad fight against me and it remained the same for June to September, every year. Trudging along the road with the torrential rain on your face and back, in a parka(hey, raincoats were for kids and so not trendy!) was not something I looked forward to every day. An umbrella in that wind was like using a pencil to ward off a lion attack. The worst was sitting for class in dripping wet jeans that would form a puddle under the seat. There would be fights about keeping the ceiling fan on or off because half the class would be warm, and the rest, including me, would be cold.

The dorm rooms would be the worst. Every year when the semester would start in July, during the monsoon, we would be back to damp rooms that felt bone chillingly cold and smelled of mold. The lack of laundry facilities meant that we would have to arrange makeshift clotheslines in the rooms and hang our battle equipment aka clothes and parkas on them to attempt any sort of wetness reduction. I would join college and, thanks to the dampness and mold, I would fall really sick and would end up missing a week or two due to flu. Every single year. Again, stepping out for dinner meant braving those rains and a new set of clothes getting wet. Rinse, repeat.

And then it changed. How did it change, I am not entirely sure. Now, when I think of my days in Lonavala, I don’t see me fighting back. I don’t see the raging wet war and I don’t see the tears in my eyes when I hated the cold and dampness.

Every time when I even hear the name of the town ‘Lonavala’, I get this sense of wet fragrance. I feel I can smell the freshly showered plants and earth. I can see the drops falling on my face and covering my eyelashes. I can feel the moist breeze against my skin and I can almost feel my nose turning red from the cold. All my eyes can see is the vast expanse of lush green mountains with the pond that would fill up to the brim and have swaying tiny yellow flowers dotting the water’s edge. This view was right in front of the dorm. I see us, almost 13-15 young adults, hiking along a narrow stream trying to reach a hidden gem of a waterfall. I almost can feel Hazra giving me a hand to climb on the rocks, Shete pulling the hood of my bright red parka to annoy me, or Ani making fun of my black giant raincoat with side zips looking like a superhero cape, that I got over getting embarrassed off and embraced it whole-heartedly, when I would be the only dry person in class. 🙂 I remember jumping into the puddles with my friend SP and splashing around like a pair of toddlers.

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View from the dorms in Lonavala…

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I still get this image of me sitting next to the date-like-person at that time, on the benches overlooking the cliffs, and feeling the drops on our brows. I remember the kisses I shared, surrounded by dripping trees, or overflowing dams and lakes or bright green cliff-sides. Heck, I am guilty of using the rains, as my wingman, to put it in the nicest possible way. 😉

After I moved to the USA, my first December here was spent in splashing around in the puddles with my friends, getting drenched on the beach and wearing 3 wet sweaters afterwards and having hot soup. The next favorite rainy memory in US is the evening of Angel’s landing hike during my Utah camping trip in 2015. It was wet, cold, annoying, yet amazing.

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Post spring 2010, California entered a state of perpetual drought where rains have eluded us since the last 5 years. Even the promise of a very stormy El Nino with dangers of floods has so far been empty.  The little rain we have had has been so sporadic that the longing I feel is almost like….. siggghhhh

I wanted to spend a rainy day with the xBF picnicking on a Torrey Pines hike or walking around in the drizzle at Point Loma, before he left. What do I even say now about that.

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For a person who hated rains, I have turned into someone who can’t tear away the romantic mystique from clouds and showers. Even if it’s cuddling in the bed under my giant comforter staring out of the glass panes covered in droplets, or it is driving around with wipers turned on at full speed, I have a smile on my face. Mind you, I absolutely love the sun and the warmth that it radiates on my skin. I love the brightness and the freedom that a sunny day brings to have an amazing time at the beach and in minimal clothing. Yet, I can’t wait for a wet season again in California and I will continue waiting with baited breath. I may or may not have someone to share the mysticism with. I may or may not have my bunch of friends who will do crazy things when it’s pouring. But I know that I will have me to soak it all up.

The foe has finally become the friend.

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Bhakti, this was going to be a comment on your post Ephemeral, to tell you about my love-hate relationship with rain. I almost finished typing it out before I decided to post it as a response instead of hijacking your comment section. And guess what? It’s raining outside. 🙂

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8

Of San Diego State, past life and ‘Kardashan’ business…

Whole of last week, I have been sick. I discovered that I am allergic to the smell of roasting atta(wheat flour) that my mom was prepping to cook something. In 5 minutes, my throat started closing down, my nose got blocked and I developed a sore throat that resembled a cat post after the kitty is done filing her nails. Ugghh. I went to work on and off. On Friday my dad texted me if we could go to San Diego on Saturday to see the University. I had already thought of going to either LA or San Diego for a day trip, so it sounded great. Except, I was still sick and feeling like death. Sheesh.

But when I woke up on Saturday morning, I felt great! Except for the coughing, I felt fittum-fine. And then we headed to San Diego at 11 am and then we hit horrible traffic making sure that we took 2.5 hours to finish our journey of 1.5 hours. But we had carried homemade paratha and potato fry (Indian tacos to the rescue for non-Indians!) to calm our hungry tummies. What was intended to be a picnic food at San Diego State was consumed in the car like road-tripping!

We finally reached University and I could feel flowers blooming inside me when the campus came into view. It still looks and feels just the same. 🙂 Wave upon wave of nostalgia hit me, but it was all good stuff. I could see me yelling at Brian to put his shirt on while walking to the International Student center(It is California and people walk around shirtless in summer, even at school). I could see the East Commons where lab peeps and I sat eating our lunch boxes and Adam accusing me of eating cat food/porridge. There were the famed golf carts around that groundkeepers used, which the xBF also used to trim plants, to change trash can liners, and to give me rides. Not kidding, he has picked me up from engineering building, just to show me giant snails in the gardens, because I love looking at slugs(Go Figure.) Once he was working in flower area with his older non-desi co-workers and he cut up some fresh roses and tied them up with Aluminum foil for me. His buddies teased him about his ‘moves’ to red hot embarrassment that day! And of course the library! Where I studied less, and took naps more/ watched shows/ collaborated on assignments with Karen. Then there was Educational Opportunities Office, where I worked for 2 years as a tutor to undergrad Mechanical and Civil Engineering students, that helped me ease the burden on my parents and enabled me to pay for rent and school.

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The iconic Hepner Hall…

It was a Saturday and I was not expecting anything to be open, leave alone Professors being there. But I took a chance and we went to see my Engineering building. Surprisingly, the door was unlocked. We got in and I took my parents to the Department, showed them the lab from outside, and even my first classroom! On a whim, I walked into the faculty area and ran into Prof. B who taught me a couple of classes. He recognized me right away and met the folks too. Being a true Indian, his second question was if I got married?! And then he went on to tell that parents need not worry, I will find a great boy. Haha! He was super nice and he offered to show them my lab. He said he will let Prof. M know later. Ooh we even spoke about our current mutual friends. 😉 You know who you are.

By a giant stroke of luck, he also let me know that Prof. M was at school today since the Research Symposium was on. I have participated in that when I was at school so I knew Prof. M would stick around till the last talk and key note was done. So, after we were done with the lab, we headed towards the library  where I was looking for the presentations. I saw a girl in a business skirt walking across the campus and I decided to ask her if the Symposium was still going on. She told me that the key note had just ended and it was at the Student Union. We almost ran there as I kept my eyes peeled. And sure enough, I reached the stairs and Prof. M was coming down! He stopped, did a double take and got mad excited to see me. 🙂 We spoke over there for almost half an hour, took pictures and then said good bye.

The folks and I got some coffee from the Aztec market and finally sat down. What had started off as a generally mundane Saturday had turned into an extremely fruitful visit to San Diego State. My professor, who is never at school on Saturday, met us, we saw the Lab, and we saw my old spots where I had left tiny pieces of me behind. My dad says visiting the University was at the highest spot in his list. He was very overwhelmed with emotions. SDSU is truly where it all started as far as my career is concerned and we shall be forever grateful.

I also successfully managed to put my finger into the Koi fishes’ mouth. Just like old times.

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Topping off the evening, we headed to Abhi and Nish on our way back where I learned Pav can be made from scratch and can be more scrumptious than store bought ones. After a fabulous meal of Pav Bhaji and tawa pulav and avocado custard, we set off for home. Mumbai ki galiyon se(Off the streets of Mumbai) should be Nisha’s kitchen’s name till she decides to open her food business.

I learned about another thing on Saturday night while watching TV at home. My very Indian mother who has been in the US for only one and a half month recognized this picture below as the person who is ‘Kardashan’ husband, father of North, insulted a blonde girl and is CRAZY! I think we have hit apocalypse and some magazine stories need to be banned.

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This generation is screwed.

31

Why don’t I have new friends anymore?!

I was reading Pepper’s blog post here about friendships and I wanted to write a comment, which ended up being an essay on its own. So I thought, I may as well type out what I feel about my friends and friendships.
 
I was talking to a guy the other day, and he said something on the lines of, the more you live in USA, the lesser friends you tend to have. It made me think and I realized it’s not completely wrong. At least in my case, the statement holds weight. The only part being different for me was USA. This has happened to me every time that I changed schools or colleges. I have always had hesitation in talking to new people that I meet, and my insecurities about myself tends to compound the situation into total absurdity. I have switched so many schools, and my experiences with getting bullied, have made friendships difficult. For some reason, sustaining friendships was also a hard task for me. But it changed quite a bit in college, where I found some life-long friends(hopefully). Having verbal diarrhea is also not a big help.
 
Talking about friends in India, we were a group of girls and boys in the engineering college who are still together on different levels with each other. The girl group(we were roommates) is still together on Whatsapp. But my relationship with them is quite non-existent. The onus lies on my own personality issues too, but I will not take the blame on myself completely. I think I have stopped trying to please people, which was a compulsive habit even till a couple of years back and that has resulted in some acidic conversations. I do not feel welcome there, and so I don’t feel like I am a part of that group. Exceptions being of course Ani and Moo and I hope they understand my point of view. From the group of boys, I am friends with most of the boys who I was friends with earlier, but there are two people who are firmly within my circle of trust. Hazra and Shib are, and will always be family, and it makes me very happy that they are aware of this and reciprocate.
 
After moving to USA, I have switched between people and between groups and had reached a point where I needed only two people. The xBF and Abhi. The situation got weird after the xBF left, but Abhi made the time easier for me. We are not in the same cities. But he and Nisha are among the people I can count on if I get in trouble. Abhi is like the brother I would have had if I had one. I like to think that they are aware that I can be counted on if they ever need me to be there.

I have another really close friend who I work with and workout with(we recently paid extra for the gym membership, so that we can continue that after trying to work out alone since the last July). We have our lunch together where the other accompanies the person even if they have a lunch box, and we meet over the weekends to watch movies and have lunch again. We share stories, jokes, frustrations and work gossip and we yell at each other. People have mistaken us to be dating, but they realize eventually that we have turned into siblings, squabbling with each other. So that makes a grand total of THREE people around me who are friends in real sense of the word.
 
After a certain age, the dynamics of friendships change from complete buddy to people needed to spend evenings with, and even to call in case of emergencies. I may have a lot of friends around me, but friend-friend is becoming the Loch-Ness monster of people. There is a need to lower the bar of expectations when it comes to friendships. You cannot expect someone to show up when you crave a steaming bowl of Pho, leaving their partner or their kid behind. It is just like how you will not show up to spend an evening at the bar with your buddy during a work week. Situations change, priorities change, and the biggest cause of worry, proximity to each other changes. If we talk about making new friends in Grad school or at work, friendship thrives when you let your guard down, and that is seemingly impossible with so much competition involved. It is a cut throat world, and most people tend to hide their vulnerabilities.
 
When younger, friendship is a survival tactic. Proximity in school, college puts you together. You need someone to kill time with, to say the least. When family, partner, work and life are thrown into the equation, the unstructured relation of friendship becomes more vulnerable to collapse. It is no longer a real necessity. How well one deals with friends and balances relationships, depends on an individual’s personality and the need for social fulfilment. If they make a FRIENDS 2.0 I am sure Rachel and Phoebe haven’t met each other in 3 years. And Ross hasn’t heard from Joey since he moved away.

In the end, it all boils down to this insanely accurate definition.

  

2

Travelogue : Sequoia National Park

I think I am a medium sized human. I am not super short, but I am not tall. I look like a mid size girl(I don’t think I am ready to be called ‘woman’ yet) at almost 5’ 4”. But I felt really, really tiny standing next to the massive Sequoia trees that form the forests of Sequoia National Park. I wish I was taller. Like just an inch more, or two.

It was Madhuri’s happy budday on Thursday and her boy DD decided to surprise her by flying over from Connecticut. He had taken Abhi, Nish and me  into confidence and we planned a nice little day trip to Sequoia and King’s national park on Saturday. We reached LA on Friday night and prepped for the next day which had to begin early to utilize all the daylight we had. I was up at 4.30 am to shower and we left at 6.45 or so after a Starbucks pitstop. We also took a lovely breakfast break where we had enough breakfast for all the king’s men. We had scrambled eggs, green omelets, toasts, pancakes, biscuits, hash browns, fresh orange juice between the 5 of us. Thanks to that, I was knocked out in the car for almost an hour. The food, and car’s movements and the never ending road is enough to push me into a deep stupor.

The drive to Sequoia is about 4 hours from LA. The road is beautiful because it is lined with huge orange tree farms. We even saw some farms owned by Halos that supply tangerines/clementines/’cuties’ to Walmart and such. At one point, we even got out, took pictures and stole 3 oranges. I had a very terrifying thought of a sniper up in the tree waiting to shoot trespassers, thanks to DD and Abhi.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we reached Sequoia. By the way I have to totally mention that I did not like the way the visitor center lady refused to give me a map. I am not sure how much it costs them, but they may as well print out a non-glossy plain version to hand out to people if they are so worried. It really pissed me off. But I also blame my hormones for over-reacting. I was in a lot of pain, and very moody. 😦

After driving up another little bit to the visitor center, Nisha spotted a sign about gas and that prompted her to ask if we had enough gas in the car. Turned out, we had barely enough to drive back to the gas station. So that cancelled our plan to go to the King’s but that was fine because we were anyways going to run out of daylight by 4.30 pm. There was no point in going to King’s and drive down those winding slopes in the dark.

At Sequoia, we did a little hike in the woods to go to this Tunnel Log which has been carved out of a massive fallen tree to let vehicles pass. They say that they never move the trees and let nature take its own course. Some of the trees have been there for almost 2000 years! A few witnesses say that the tree suddenly starts to snap and the roots make a huge sound like thundering avalanche and that’s when the tree falls. It is all a matter of minutes. I would rather not stray in that tree’s path. There was also an interesting point about forest fires and how natural fires are beneficial to the eco-system. Due to man-made activities, these fires have become rarer and more dangerous. So rangers start controlled fires to help in boosting the ecological balance of the Sequoia and Redwood trees. Oooh, and there are bears in the area. Also, we spotted a deer from very close in the car!

There was a foot of snow on the sides but the roads were clean. Some parts had the frozen, slippery snow, but it was okay to walk as long as you were careful. We were driving an all wheel drive SUV, so we did not need snow chains as well.

Some pictures form the park:

Pointers:

  1. There are campgrounds at the start of the national park and we plan to go back there to camp overnight in the spring. It is beautiful and very green.
  2. There is no gas for 40 miles inside the Park, so definitely put gas in the car before you enter the park. It doesn’t hurt to have a full tank.
  3. Keep in mind the amount of daylight you have if you plan to go hiking and plan your spots to see accordingly.
  4. Carry your camera and wide lens(if you have them). Beautiful opportunities to capture a very different landscape.
  5. Wear waterproof shoes with good grip. I wore boots but without any grip. But thankfully, I did not fall.
  6. There is nothing inside the park to eat. Or at least I did not see any café or restaurant. We carried potato fry and bread to make sandwiches. So, stock up accordingly.
6

Travelogue : Death Valley

Thanksgiving. Long weekend. Get out of town. That’s the mantra we seem to be following these days. Any long weekend or vacation spent at home is akin to a crime.

My holidays started pretty much when a very old friend from college Sayali came over to my part of the country to catch up on our friendship and enjoy her vacation. We had a blast, went to Las Vegas, clubbed, gambled, boozed and did the usual Vegassy stuff. After coming back to Orange County, we visited the local beaches which were too cold to be enjoyed thoroughly. Yet we had a great time sitting on top of the lifeguard’s post and talking.

Thanksgiving dinner was had at my buddy Shawn and Alicia’s where food was served to us in quantities that will put an elephant’s diet to shame. I am still eating leftovers and I am still set for two more meals.

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One of the very exciting things that I did was to go to the Death Valley National Park with Abhi and Nisha. It is one of the largest national parks in the country and is a huge expanse of flat lands and mountains, a lot of it actually below the sea level. The say that Death Valley is the land of extremes. The temperatures range from 120 F in summers to 20 F in winters, which is around 48 C and sub-zero. Also, you get to see extremely beautiful night skies with the milky band. It was a few nights after full moon, yet we could see a gazillion stars just at 7 pm. My skin tingles at the thought of a moonless night over there. And a date. Meh.

We stayed at the Panamint Springs Resort which is a family owned resort with a few rooms, pre-built tents, RV hookup sites and campgrounds. It is an old and basic arrangement but worked very well for us. The restaurant had vegetarian options in pizzas and burgers and a couple of appetizers. Nothing fancy considering that it was a friggin’ remote location with ZERO cell service. Yep. No internet. No phone. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

We stayed in the lodge on Friday night after a 4 hour drive from OC to Panamints springs area. The drive was rough with a lot of unpaved roads as would be commonplace in such an area. In the next couple of days, we enjoyed quite a few Death Valley massages as Abhi called ‘em gravel-ey roads. We ate and slept, prepared for a an early day. We had some sumptuous buffet breakfast on both the days with pancakes, scrambled eggs, cereal, croissants and such. On Saturday, we set out to cover most of the sightseeing in the area.

There are two things worth mentioning. First, I was awed by the sand dunes. They were so beautiful! Now, I have an itch to go back to Rajasthan in India to see the desertlands. For the nerds interested, scenes from Star Wars have been shot at those Sand Dunes in the Death Valley. We walked quite a bit in those dunes to get to a nice high point and then returned with scoops of sand in our shoes, socks, jeans, yep.

The second point of interest that I loved was Badwater. It is a highly salty marshy area with encrusted soil on top as of now because of the heat and is about 300 ft below sea level. The history says that a traveler thought it was a good spot for his mule to have a sip of water but the mule refused to drink it. So, he named it Badwater. The water is so saline that only a few special aquatic creatures like this bunch of weird snails can survive there. To maintain ecological balance, straying off the boardwalk is not permitted. By the way, there is also a Badwater marathon for idiots who like to run in extreme weather conditions and die. Count me out.

Leaving you guys with some pictures I took during the trip.

Pointers:

  1. September-November seems to be a great time and so is spring. Any other time will ensure that you will either boil or freeze to death.
  2. Come prepared for some walking and bring your hiking shoes. Each point is atleast half a mile away from the parking lot with some good hiking loops around.
  3. Bring plenty of water. Don’t be too fussy about food if you are a vegetarian and be prepared to eat same meals. It is not a place to expect buffets.
  4. If you are a social media or smartphone addict, you are screwed.
  5. Bring all your camera equipment. The place is indeed beautiful for photography and astronomy enthusiasts.
  6. Book lodging or camping grounds well in advance. It seems to get full real fast, especially for long weekends.
  7. Do an estimate of the amount of daylight you will have and the places you want to see. Pace yourself accordingly.
  8. Forget everything above and let Abhi and Nisha plan, so that you can sleep in the backseat. 😀
25

Travelogue : Turkey : Istanbul

The ultimate Turkey travelogue is here!

After Cappa, we were all set to catch a flight to Istanbulllllll baby! I was mad excited about that one and I did not let the late flight play spoilsport. We reached Istanbul around 2 hours late than my expected timing. The craziness of Istanbul and the men started right away. Men in Istanbul are flirts and that’s just an understatement. The shuttle driver while going tour hotel,  called me to sit in the front, asked me if I was ‘Hindistani’, said mashallah to me a few times and made me take my sunglasses off because he wanted to see my face! I tolerated all that only because he was giving me a legit tour of all the places we were passing.

We got to the hotel, and met the 15 yr old daughter of the AirBnB owner, Ecenoor, to be called Ej, who made Moo and me fall in love with her. She had a funny way of doing Umm-hmm when we asked her anything, had the most beautiful golden brown straight hair, and milky skin, and, err,….. so on. After chilling in the room for a bit and re-arranging the space to ensure we could open our bags and walk around, we left for the Sultanahmet square. It was barely a 10 min walk for us and the most important places in Istanbul are located here. We had the Sultanahmet mosque on our agenda for that day, also popularly known as the Blue Mosque, the reason being the intricate mosaic work with blue tiles. It was stunning! Just, stunning! Such a huge mosque, high ceilings, intricate art work! It was so beautiful. We went crazy clicking pictures there. On our way out we had a crazy encounter with this creepiest person who touched me inappropriately and had suggestions to party at night with him and his cousin. Ewww. The string of crazy encounters continued with shop-keepers, restaurant servers, random security guards, taxi drivers.

Day 2 in Istanbul, started with an itchy throat. I did not pay much attention to it and moved on. We had planned on seeing the Topkapi palace early in the morning and the city’s main mosques after. We had breakfast and started to walk towards Topkapi palace. Like I mentioned before, most important locations are at a stone’s throw from each other in the Sultanahmet square. But at one point, I decided to ask this seemingly normal looking old man of around 60-65 who told us to follow him and that he will lead us to where we had to be. After a quick glance to ensure enough people in the surrounding areas for safety, we started following him. He spoke to us about ‘Hindistan’, Hema Malini, about him being from Iran and other random things, seemingly jovially. While walking, we came across a junction where Moo spotted a park and a sign that said Topkapi palace. So we stopped there and told the man that err, we have reached. He said ok ok and held out his hand for Moo to shake. As soon as she took it, he lunged towards her with the weirdest pouty kissy face to give her a kiss! She leaned back horrified and I wrenched his arm away from her and both of us pushed him away. It was awful!!! In order to not make a scene, we said bye to him and I tolerated a hand shake where again I had to pull my hand away from him. We ended up having a big laugh about it later. The side view of his pout is burnt into my memory now. Arrrgghh. We have had the strangest encounters ever in Istanbul with the men.

Topkapi Palace was beautiful but very tiring! The palace was home to the Sultans of Ottoman Empire and their queens. My dad told me later that he had seen the movie Topkapi from 1960s which is about a diamond robbery. Indeed, Topkapi palace had a jewelery collection with huge diamonds. But to be honest, some of them did not have the facets that make a diamond shiny and I felt rather under-whelmed on seeing them. But, I will not mind if you decide to gift me one of those. I will adjust.

After Topkapi, we checked out some mosques in the Eminonu area which were walking distances from each other. While walking to the mosques we crossed the Egyptian market, Spice Bazar and the small internal Istanbul bylanes. It really felt like we were walking in the old town area of Pune. The activity, street food, hustle and bustle is so similar to home.

The last stop was Grand Bazar. On the way to GB, Moo and I took a cab and turned on Google Maps for good measure. That led us to realize that our cab was cheating us and we ended up yelling big time at him and paid only 20 lira vs the 40 he was demanding. By then, my itchy throat was feeling like a cat’s scratch post and was full-fledged hurting. We shopped, bargained, felt cheated, felt glorious, and felt extremely drained out  by the end of our Grand Bazar experience. It is huge, people! There are so many shops, so many trinkets, sweets, lamps, it is unbelievable! Of course the shop keepers flirt big time! In order to get magnets for cheap I had to endure getting propositioned for marriage, being told weird things about my lips and being questioned about my v*rg*nity. Goodbye self-respect. Going back to the hotel from GB also involved yelling royally at 2 cab drivers.

Day 3 in Istanbul started with a visit to Hagia Sophia or the Ayasofya. That place made me feel like I was a part of Dan Brown’s book.  It is a huge museum which was a church in the 500s and then a mosque in 1400s and finally restored and converted into a museum by Ataturk in 1930s after secularization. It is the only place I have seen which has Christian mosaics and frescos along with verses from the Holy Quran, side by side. The chapel was H-U-G-E! It was impossible for us to capture the entire ceiling in one go. The domes were decorated so beautifully! It was all just visually so stunning.

The next stop was the Basilica Cistern. The cisterns were used to provide water to the city during the Roman period. It was eerily creepy yet so strangely fascinating. There was water still in there with these giant fat fishes floating around. Somehow I had the chills the whole time we were down there. There are two pillars in there with Medusa’s heads that were not discovered until restoration in the 1980s.

One big surprise was that Vince texted that he and Proctor had just reached Istanbul last night and they would be free to hang out. Moo and I were planning to do the Bosporus cruise after lunch and we asked them to join us. Like every other water body in Turkey, the Bosporus is also a very striking shade of blue! The cruise was so relaxing! We had a pretty good time clicking tons of pictures, and generally enjoying the views. We even sneaked in a nap towards the end of the cruise on their comfy benches inside the boat. Yep.

We had dinner after in one of the many street restaurants over there which involved a huge confusion over the bill and the money we paid and tax and tips. But we chugged along.

Day 4 was our last day in Istanbul and we decided to take the train and check out the other side of the town and Dolmabahce palace. That is the palace which later also became Ataturk’s part time residence in Istanbul and where he eventually passed away after battling Cancer. The palace has been converted into a museum. As with other historical buildings in Turkey, even Dolmabahce features exquisite decoration and intricately painted ceilings and walls. It houses gifts exchanged with other empires and countries in form of Baccarat crystals, chandeliers, carpets, and paintings. A lot of political diplomacy could be seen at play in the pictures and paintings and the gifts. The grounds were lush green, well-manicured and looked out to the gorgeous Bosporus. I would not mind living there at all!

While we were there, the weather decided to play spoil sport and it started raining. But I really, really wanted to have this local street food Kumpir(a loaded baked potato) and Turkish waffles in the Ortokoy area and so we headed out over there, braving the storms, err, the drizzle. The Kumpir was heaven, but the waffle, was O-M-G! It was beyond delicious! So rich, and so yummy! All for 15 lira each which is like $5.

We headed back to our familiar Sultanahmet area back after and spent the evening strolling here and there and rounding it off with our last dinner of Lentil soup.

The next day, I said bye to Moo early in the morning to catch my shuttle to the airport. I felt bitter-sweet leaving Istanbul. They say that you feel sadness about leaving a place, not just because you will miss the place, but you will miss the person you were, the age you were at and the state of mind you had. I couldn’t agree more.

Turkiye, it’s been real. And it would be a real pleasure if I get to see you again. Till then, hello new lands!

Tips :

  1. 3 days in Istanbul are not enough if you get tired easily. 4 days should be good to be able to space out all places of historical importance.
  2. Go to the Spice Bazaar to buy most of your Turkish Delights(sweets) and spices. Rest of the goods are similarly priced in Grand Bazaar.
  3. Your bargaining must be at its A-game. Otherwise you are going to kick yourself. There shouldn’t be room for  hesitance in your voice. I think I am good at it. Always offer 1/3rd of the price they quote.
  4. Do go for a Tukish Bath/Hamam. I missed that and I feel bad about it. Don’t feel shy. Who knows you there? 🙂
  5. The cabs are expensive if you are alone or 2 people. For 3-5 persons, it is a better deal than public transport wrt to costs and comfort.
  6. I will not suggest Istanbul as a part of a leisurely vacation unless you don’t care about historical sites.
  7. Try and stay in the Sultanahmet area if you are touristy, and stay in the Beyoglu area if you like street cafes, bars and nightlife. You will have access to train stations from both places.
  8. Vegetarian food is available but not the greatest variety. Don’t expect a royal meal and don’t get fussy. Do try the desserts.
  9. Have the Turkish tea and coffee if they offer it in stores and such. It is a nice experience to sit and chat over tea. I am not too fond of tea, but I rolled with it. Like they say, When in Rome, do the Romans, do as the Romans do.
  10. Keep your eyes, ears and nose open. Take in ALL the sensory delights. 🙂 Turkey is amazing.