Monday, December 15, 2008

A lot of food and a picnic (Dec 2008)

Sona's birthday was on the 6th of this month. Pratibha and her fine circle of friends got together and pretty much ran the show from start to finish. Sona and their kids had a blast. Lots of noise, lots of balloons, lots of fun. In one of my insane moments I said I would cook the biriani all by myself. I had never cooked for more than ten but I pooh poohed at Pratibha's concern at my lack of practical experience. "Experience" I told her "is over-rated. All it takes is an analytical mind". Precise portions were calculated out using my razor sharp brains. We called forty people and I ended up cooking for a hundred people. My eyes still water as I think about all the onions I cut on that fateful birthday eve. I was up late, I was up early, and eventually, the next day, I was up late trying to finish all that food. Feeling sorry for me Pratibha rang up her friends and we decided to go for a hike and have a picnic the next day.
The only longs hikes I'd been to with Sona since she got here were the aisles down shopping malls. Now those are really long hikes, but where is the fresh air, and the warm spring smell, and grass under your feet, the bird droppings, the dust, the rain .. er .. ok.. the fresh air .. where is the fresh air? Including kids, there were ten of us. Leena, Nilesh and their kids Aksh and Moksh, Sachin, Charu and their daughter Kashvi and the three of us. Nilesh suggested Mt Laguna "This time of the year, there will be at least a foot of snow, we can play there, make a snowman. There's a lake at the top. We can have our picnic there, maybe even skate on the lake if it is frozen hard enough" he said. Sounded like fun. In my enthusiasm to finish the food I cooked, I even volunteered to pack all the food into my backpack and carry it all the way.

We got together at Leena and Nilesh's at 10 in the morning. We were held up for a few minutes there as Aksh scooted off to fetch a carrot. "Snowman needs a nose" He said. Finally, 10:30, we set off and got there in an hour. Funny .. I always imagined snow was white. This place was anything but white. Plenty of green, a lot of brown and leaves of all colors. Aksh started to eat his carrot. Better that than to throw it away. So we set off, Sona and Aksh leading the way, towards the promised frozen lake where we would have our picnic. My backpack was heavy, which reminded me of the onions. I wiped away my tears as I plodded on in my usual spot at the back of the group. Progress was slow as we kept stopping for pictures. A quarter mile down Sona gave up and I had to put her on my shoulders too. A half mile down and Every one's breath was rasping. The wind was ice cold and our legs were aching. Leena suddenly remembered that she had pani puris at home. The vision of all that warmth and hot tea and pani puris filled our eyes. We held a small conference. I spied a small patch of grass between the trees. All of us agreed that looked like it was a lake a long long time ago. "Forget the picnic, Let's go home and eat", we declared and started back. My eyes watered even more as I felt the full weight of the backpack this time. I put sona down and told her she's on her own. She tried her luck with her mom and finally gave up and started walking.Somehow we made it back to the parking lot and took off for Leena's place. We had our food in front of the fireplace with a real table to keep food on. Even had a microwave to heat the food. I've never had a better picnic ever.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pratibha gets her licence (2008)

I recently came to realise what a disability it is to be a topper all your life. The problem with it is that failure destroys you. It paralyses you. life comes to a stop. you don't know what to do.
Now, on the other hand, look at me. What is failure .. I ask you? I don't know what it feels like to fail. Somewhere between the time in kindergarten when I was given my first 'quiz' and the time I got my answers back, I first met that shady rogue called failure. I got to see him so many times that, by the time I crossed over to primary school, he dint bother me much. By middle school, I had forgotten that feeling completely. Now I don't know how it feels to fail. An added benefit of this is that I got really good at studying just enough to pass an exam.

Pratibha, on the other hand, belongs to the former category. Last week we went to take her learner's permit at the department of motor vehicles, here in California. This requires her to take a driver's test. She dint bother to prepare much. Now, when a girl 'doesn't prepare' all she does is go over every line of the drivers manual and take all the practice questions she could get. So I wasn't too concerned. It got to the point where she was teaching me how to drive in Calif. Unfortunately, at the test centre she copped a tough one, and failed by a single point. Came outside all upset and sad. I dint feel too bad about all of that. Never felt like that after failing a test you know. So I led her to the car trying to make small talk.

Me (looking at the questions): "Tough luck .. you got a hard one. I would have failed this too"
Sonu: "It was the toughest one, the lady at the counter told me so"
Me (wondering what would constitute an adequate sympathetic noise) : hmm
Sonu: "She offered to let me take the test again"
Me: "oh! .. and did you?"
Sonu: " No .. I want to study more"
Me(now beginning to feel bad): what do you mean study more .. there's just one book .. you studied it
Sonu: "Nikku .. I failed the test"
I tried to look dignified and understanding ..but I couldn't digest the significance of that statement. She failed by a point on the toughest question paper.. why did she have to study more.
Me: " er .. hmm .. .. you do realise there's no prize for getting the most questions correct.
Sonu: "oh"
Me: "Let's do it"

Ok .. it wasn't that easy, but I got her to go back and she got her permit.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Kanush goes to school (July 2008)

It was with a heavy heart and leaden footsteps that I took my daughter for her first day in school. A sweet and endearing chapter in her life was over. It seemed so soon. Sona's teacher is a jolly and kind lady called Anita. Biting back tears as I rang the doorbell, I explained to Sona that her mom and I are always with her and that if she needs to speak to any of us she just needs to tell the teacher and the teacher will call. The poor kid dint seem to understand what was going to happen. She was happy and giggling all the time. The door opened, I said my customary hello, pushed Sona in and shut it. I was glad I was spared the customary wail of sorrow from the unhappy toddler.

I went back to office dreading the call from the teacher saying she's crying too much. Half an hour later I got a call, there was a lot of crying. It was from Sona's mom, asking if it wasn't time to pick her up yet. Finally, mid afternoon, I went to get her. I ran the doorbell, got down on my knees, and waited for my little bundle of joy to fly into my arms, all tears and relief on seeing her dad. This is where the script went horribly wrong. Sona took one look at me and took off in the opposite direction. She hid under a table refused to come out. Asked me why she had to go home when all the others could stay (it was a full day class for them). I was blindsided. I had my well rehearsed lines to remove her sorrow over separation, but my extensive library on child raising hadn't hinted that I would have a problem getting my child to leave school to come home on the first day. I looked to the teacher for help, but she too hadn't seen this before. Finally, with promises of chocolates and puddings, I managed to get her to the car and home. I figured it's because of the excitement of being in a new place and getting to meet new people. It'll wear off after a while and then I'll get the crying scene I so richly deserve, I consoled myself. It's been three months now. The only difference is that she doesn't cry when I go to pick her up.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cuyamaca Mountain (2008)

Cuyamaca mountain towers majestically over the southern Californian desert. A forest fire four years back has diminished some of its glory, but the new landscape is no less striking. Skeletons of burnt trees stick out like pine needles on a lush green carpet of shrubs and grass. It's a grim reminder that, in spite of all our advances, mother nature still dances to her own tune. Srujan first proposed that we hike Cuyamaca two weeks back. I wasn't sure. My last hike was a very painful experience. I was shown up by Kanush, then 18 months old, who beat me to the top of the mountain. I was discouraged, demoralised, ridiculed and outright humiliated. Of course I blame Pratibha . What are wives for if not to shoulder the blame? She feeds me too much. She should make me work .. push me off that armchair every once in a while. By selfishly doing all the house work all by herself, she tilted the scales in Kanush's favour. It's all her fault. poor poor me. But that incident served as a trigger, and ever since I have made it a point to hit the gym regularly. Consequently, I am now proud to say that I can beat an older and stronger Kanush (she's 2 years now) to the top of any mountain of her choice. The problem I had with Srujan's suggestion is that the hiking group he had in mind were not toddlers. So where did I stand in the middle of that? However, the pictures were spectacular and I decided I had to do it.

Twelve of us were to gather at the base of the trail at 6:30 sharp .. Indian time. haven't heard of Indian standard time? To make it to a trail at 6:30 sharp Indian time, you should get up at 6:35. Then, take your own sweet time dressing up and be out of the door at 7:30. If you reach the trail before 8, you'll be the first one there. Srujan had sent out driving directions. If no one knew the way to the trail it wouldnt have been a problem but as it was, there was only one car of four people that dint know the way and had to follow Srujan's directions. Therefore, two cars reached the trail head and this one group ended up in a remote outpost with more coyotes than cars around them. They also saw a huge snow capped mountain that they thought was the one they were supposed to climb. Frantic phone calls to the rest of the group allayed their fears and by 8:00 we were all ready to start the hike. By now I was an experienced hiker. There was no way I was going to underestimate the height of the mountain or overestimate the limited capacity of my lungs. I took it slow, real slow. After a while, the long shadows of the trees and the eerie noises of the forest started to affect me. I was wondering if I should try and catch up when a friendly rattle snake nearby rattled it tail in greeting. I shot off in pursuit of the group and caught up with them beside a burnt out hollow tree. Dang .. these trails .. wont even let a poor soul take it at his own pace. My next best option was to fall in step with the next slowest group, Suneel and his wife Sindu. Suneel was going slow because 8 miles, by his standards, wasn't even worth going fast. He was a marathon runner. Sindu and I were on the same boat. 8 miles would be the average distance we cover in one year. I fell in step with them and Suneel and I got talking. Suneel had also trained for Badminton and the poor fellow did not realise what he was getting into when he told me that he used to play. All exhaustion left me as Nishant- former National champ took over. I started off with my tall tales.. the workouts, the glory, the pain, in short .. the full 25 course meal. 8 miles .. heck I could have gone 800 miles like that. But after a while Suneel started to feel the strain and so I stopped once we reached the top. The view was great. The rest of the group had this odd impatient look on their face which told me that had probably reached there a few hundred minutes before me .. but I assure you, if Kanush were there, I'd have beaten her.

We started down in a few minutes and I tortured Suneel with another couple of quick rounds of stories. He was saved by a group on horseback that we met. They told us the history of Cuyamaca and how beautiful it was before the fire. The were a riding club with a difference. Every week they would read some book, then ride up a trail, have a picnic and discuss the book. They were also very involved in work to restore Cuyamaca to its old glory. They worked with groups to plant trees all over the mountain. It would be another fifty years before they grow, but it's a start. A very erudite group, they had such beautiful tales to tell us that even I forgot to boast. Time flew and I was at the bottom in no time at all. I couldn't believe it when I was told that the trek had taken more than 5 hours.

I loved the trek. This group is going to Hike the half dome in Yosemite in June. I'm joining them, but for some reason Suneel has decided not to come.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Four men and a Car(2008)

My second coming to US has been no less eventful than my first. Apparently, I am very good at remembering my old mistakes. I had a checklist somewhere in my subconscious memory that meticulously ensured I repeated them all. Therefore I landed in Phoenix,AZ, once more, with everything I need back in India, and everything I don’t need in two over sized suitcases superman would struggle to lift. I got a ride to my apartment from Anand, my boss. At the apartment I met the two unique individuals whose would be the only two faces I see over the next two months. Fortunately they were jolly good fellows and so it was not so bad a deal. Pavan and Surya are my roommates. Pavan had just graduated and was busily searching for a job when I came in. When he was not searching for a job he was cooking. When he was not cooking he was watching a telugu(Indian language) movie. If it was none of these, he was asleep. Surya worked for American express and was a very busy person. He spent all his free time online, searching for articles he could read to while away the 8 hours he was forced to spend in office. They are both very easygoing and I had no trouble fitting in.

A couple of days after I came in Surya bought a car, his first car. A fully loaded Acura. Slick and fast, it was the pride of our apartment .. for a day. The next morning we had a flat tire and Surya caught the bus to office. We fixed the flat that evening and went to bed. The next morning Pavan and I woke up to curses and rants from the parking lot. The other tire was flat. That evening we took the car down to a mechanic. He checked it out and told us that the car needed repairs of ~1200 dollars. I looked to my left and saw a handsome white stranger next to me. A moment later I realized it was not a stranger, it was Surya, on the verge of fainting. For want of money we dint give the car for repairs, and that turned out to be a wise choice. We later came to know that nothing was wrong with the car and the mechanic was trying to slip a quick one past us. Behind the wheel, Surya is the equivalent of your average 60 year old. Wait’s forever to cross an intersection, signal a couple of blocks before the turn etc etc. As if that wasnt bad enought sometimes Surya would go into NFS(need for speed) mode. The gas get’s floored, turns get acute and fear grips your heart like never before. When this happens Pavan and I usually crouch down in our seats crying loudly to the lord to forgive our sins before he takes us. I remember one pleasant evening, when we were cruising down an unfamiliar road. The sight of a Walmart to our right jolted Pavan’s memory and he remarked that we need groceries too. He paid dearly for saying that. Surya’s eyes glazed and in an instant Shumacher Surya was behind the wheel. He twisted the wheel all the way and floored the gas. The car spun into a 90 degree turn, cut an S shape perpendicular to oncoming traffic and shot into the parking lot of the Walmart. The only thing I saw was a building approaching at the speed of light. Somehow Surya managed to stop the car before we crashed.

Time is the best medicine and time helped Surya’s driving too. Shumacher incidents have slowly died out and his regular driving speed has slowly gone up until, now, he’s pretty handy with the car. We were also joined by our fourth roommate. Naveen, a self confessed foodie, and someone who would give the average girl a run for her money for time spent on the phone. Naveen loves to cook, and we love to eat .. a match made in heaven. He fit right into our group. Our car troubles, however, still dog us with us hitting a new low last week. The remote for central locking had died. It seemed to us to be a minor trifle and we ignored it. Ever heard of a fellow called Murphy? He struck again. We were at a gas station. Surya was filling gas, Pavan and I were in the car and Naveen had gone to purchase cigarettes. As peaceful a setting as could ever be. Spotting Naveen coming back, I leaned over and unlocked his door from inside the car. Pandemonium broke look. The car started honking and blinking, and we understood what it meant to be a celebrity. Everyone within a mile radius was staring. I glanced outside the car to see how Surya was taking it. He was frozen, his mouth open, tongue hanging out, eyes bulging .. I don’t think he realized it was just the car alarm. He thought it was a bomb about to go off. A part of him wanted to run for dear life but the other part told him to do something to save his beloved car. His first reaction was the pull the gas nozzle out, with gas still flowing. Nearly a whole gallon later he managed to put that back it. Then, realizing it was the alarm, he took out his useless, non working remote and started furiously jabbing the unlock button with a desperate pleading look in his face. When that dint work he shut off the gas pump, started the car and drove around the gas station. We looked great, horns blazing, lights blinking driving around the gas pump. Dint work too .. so Surya parked at the parking lot and we stepped out. We popped the hood and all of a sudden the sound stopped. Silence never felt so golden before. Still sweating profusely from our ordeal we got into the car and Surya turned the key. Off went the alarms again. Pavan, Naveen and I shot out of the car and pretended we were also part of the pack of ‘irritated bystanders’. Surya, meanwhile, decided that the best thing to do was to make a quick getaway .. but the car would not start. He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He kept on turning the key but the car would not start (we later realized the transmission was on ‘Drive’ not ‘park’). We decided to call a mechanic and we rang up Surya’s friend to get his number. I don’t think he is a friend anymore. For every sentence of ours he had five questions. Personally I think he dint know the mechanic and was stalling for time. Here we were, on the verge of tears, with half the world staring angrily at us and this comedian was playing twenty questions with us. Fortunately, the alarm turned off again. We waited a full five minutes before we tried starting the car again. This time it worked and we slunk quietly off from the parking lot. We still haven’t fixed that alarm remote.