V for Vadai

Tamil Nadu has a bustling “snack scene”. While most Tamil households practice the “tiffin” culture, (a small meal between lunch and dinner at around 4 o’clock) that consists of idli, dosa, adai or such, my family partakes in the “evening tea”. And no, we’re not British. I have fond memories of my extend, boisterous family spending our evenings talking about politics, religion and sharing anecdotes (some even for the millionth time) over bottomless cups of tea and golden brown masala/paruppu(dal) vadais.

The combination of tea and vadai was the most popular item in my house. My mother would fry batch over batch of crispy vadais, enough to satisfy the endless stream of guests that waltzed in to my home (many of whom I think came just for the tea).

I remember hovering impatiently over the hot kadai pestering my mother to “make it soon”. ‘Cause Lord knows, I was always hungry. Considering the amount of time I spent talking to my mother in the kitchen, I never actually managed to cook anything. So when it came to the vadai I took care of the consumption while she did the manufacturing.

Cut to last week when I decided to make these vadais because what’s Ramadan without some oily goodness clogging up your blood stream . I scanned the Interwebz high and low for a recipe that fit. Nothing managed to click. Finally I gave up and decided to just wing it. I soaked the dal and chopped the onions, green chillies and ginger. Few hours later I was frying up slightly misshapen, but delicious vadais. Turns out the time I spent in the kitchen was of use. While I didn’t pay attention to what or rather, how my mother made the food, my brain was passively recording everything for future use.

And that, my friends, is why you should never take yourself for granted.

Also, y’all are welcome to my house anytime for tea and vadai.

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Faith and Freedom

Yesterday I was talking to my friend S, who is from South Korea about the differences in our countries and our families. “I had an arranged marriage”, I told her.

“So you and your husband are same religion?”, she asked.


“Oh, we are not. My husband is Christian and I am Buddhist but I’ve never been to a temple. In my country we have no religion. I go to church every Sunday because it makes my husband happy. But I do not understand when the priest talks. I think, how can they believe in God. But I hope that my son believes in God when he grows up, maybe it will help him when something happens to him.”

Then she proceeded to tell me about another girl she met who was on an R (refugee) visa as she had to flee from Iran because of religious persecution.

On one end was this woman who did not have a trace of any religion yet, wanted the opposite for her child. At the other end of the spectrum was a woman who had to leave her country to hold on to her beliefs.

I realize how lucky I am to have grown up where I did – India, where the streets are dirty and cows wander by. India, where I could practise my religion freely. I went to school with Hindus, Muslims and Christians. We made Pongal on Pongal day and exchanged biriyani and cakes on respective occasions. My neighbors were Hindus and my bestest friends are Christians. I respect their belief, and they mine. I did not have to think twice about talking about prayers or wearing a headscarf. I studied in a convent where the values they taught me were the same as what my parents did. I had freedom all along and never really realized how bad it is for others who don’t.

I also understand that this may not be true for everyone who lives in India. But I thank God that the South is peaceful, that the people may not be hip and modern but they are tolerant and loving.

Honestly speaking, ever since I moved to the US I’ve been afraid of my headscarf instigating others, thanks to the countless stories I hear. But, thankfully, that all these fears were only in my mind. I have never felt awkward or threatened here. I did have my fears while riding the bus every day. There are a lot of crazy people in America and by crazy I mean for real crazy, like people mumbling stuff, screaming expletives, reciting poetry randomly, etc. I know its uncalled for but I was always worried one of them might say something to me. The only things that I had thrown at me were nice things – “You look really good in that”, and by that they meant my scarf. This made me happy. And now I finally feel like I belong.

It took me 24 years to realize how important it is to have the freedom to stick to your beliefs. But what if you have all the freedom in the world and still do not believe? Like the case of my friend S. Maybe she does not have religion because she does not feel the need for it in her life. That’s a freedom too. But what if she just never had the opportunity to experience the other side? Maybe her parents were not religious at all, and that’s a missed opportunity right there. Her country did not believe in any religion, that’s another one. But now she has a husband whom she accompanies to church every Sunday. I really hope that she gets to fill that void of God and the what, why, who’s with a little faith.


Big houses. Construction. Tiny streets disappear and with that, my childhood. T town, I hope you don’t look hella different the next time I see you.

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A Tale of Three Cities

I just finished making dinner (stir fry from left over rice). I have my steaming cup of lemon grass green tea and I’m listening to Frank Sinatra on loud. I haven’t felt this relaxed in weeks. I just returned from a month long trip back to the mother ship and to the flashy city of Dubai. That’s the first word that comes in to my head when I think Dubai – flashy.

My Madras vacation was amazing but it went by far too quickly it was almost like it never happened. I ate some delicious comfort food, caught up with my extra large family and met my beautiful girls. I did some shopping too although it was very restrictive because of airline rules regarding baggage (annoying!).

Madras was gorgeous, not the same as I left her but that’s a post for another day.

Dubai was flashy. I ate unhealthy amounts of food. Like really unhealthy I’m so ashamed of myself when I think about it now. I did all the usual touristy things there is to do. The one thing that always gets me about Dubai is that while its fancy and modern it has no charm to it. Maybe its just me cause I have really strong “feelings” about certain things and that’s what drives me.

California is as gorgeous as ever. Cold and windy but I love it. I love the nature and the beautiful skies that I get to see here everyday. Every time I look up at the beautiful blue sky it never fails to remind me to send a little note of thanks to Him. I love how the small things around remind me of a greater presence. I’m so thankful I live here, eat good food and have everything I need and more. We don’t need to look too far to search for the blessings in our life. Blessings are all around us.

Now that I’m done with the ‘Thought for the Day’ can we all take a moment to appreciate how friggin’ amazing Frank Sinatra sounds? Every time I listen to his deep voice I get goosebumps! If only singers are as classy now. Take a note, Justin Beibers of the world.

I will be back with more stories. Don’t miss me too much, Interwebz!

Last week I took a seventeen hour flight from San Francisco to Dubai and another five hour flight from Dubai to Madras. In the first leg of my journey I sat with two boisterous Afghan women, one whose hair rivalled Cruella De Vil.

The Economy class gives one no option but to befriend your fellow passenger, and considering its seventeen hours you’d almost become BFFs. But isn’t that the most basic of human tendencies? The ability to friend a stranger? Growing up my mother always warned me about strangers. She would drill the Little Red Riding Hood story in to my head and would remind me about the wolf every time I walked alone to my bus stop.

But growing up I’ve realised that not all strangers are bad. In fact the wolves could be people you meet every day.

My theory that urine and phenol is the first smell that hits you when you land in Madras has been verified yet again. Honestly speaking though, I missed the smell of phenol. I always associated it with cleanliness.

Seeing foreign returned Uncles and Aunties at the airport is a nice time pass while waiting in line for immigration. The clothes they come up with are mind boggling. I saw an uncle wearing grey satin pants carrying a leather backpack. Go ahead, imagine.
Aunties wearing silk sarees and sneakers is the norm.

Madras seems a little different, like it’s lost its old world charm. I’ve only been away a year so maybe I’ve lost mine.

Dear Madras,

I hope you remember me. I miss you. It’s going to be six months since we’ve been separated and not a day goes by where I don’t think of you. Every time I walk out it’s silent and beautiful but I can’t help comparing my surroundings to you. I miss the crows cawing. I miss the sound of autos and the blazing heat on my forehead.

Please know it was never my intention to leave you. You know how fiercely I love. And loving you was inevitable. I breathed your air for twenty two years. We might have had a love/hate relationship but love always triumphs. I can’t seem to recollect a time when you’ve wronged me.

You remember the first proper article I ever wrote in college was about you. You play such a big role in my life even though we are miles apart. Remember all those long summer days when I cursed you for being so hot? Well, I could use some warmth right now. Living in a new country with no friends during the dreary winter is the perfect formula for depression to resurface. I’m using all my energy to keep from falling in to the dark pit.

If anyone knows my love for my clothes, it’s you. But here I have to wear a giant coat under my nice clothes and all that black is making me color blind. I miss leaving the house with just a layer of clothing and flip flops.

I miss your sunshine. I miss how happy you made me feel. I miss how I spent the best times of my life with you. You made me feel so carefree. You put me down, you picked me up and gave me the pat on the back that I so needed. You’ve seen my absolute worst and were a part of my best days.

I miss the beach so much it hurts. I want to roll on the sand and jump in the water. Remember that day in Fisherman’s Cove when the water just perfect? That was one of the happiest days of my life. I can’t count the number of times we used to bunk college with my friends and end up going to the beach. The beach played such a big part in my life. I used to drive there with my friends as and when we pleased and we would just have the best time. I haven’t gone to a beach yet here. I can’t wait to see if it matches up to yours. Even if it does, yours is always my number one favorite.

I can’t wait to come back to you again. But I am scared that when I do come around in a few years you would have changed and you wouldn’t be the same Madras that I left back. I want to say, “Please, baby, don’t change.”. But that is selfish of me. But I can say, please don’t become unrecognizable. I don’t want to land there one day and not recognize anything. That is my biggest fear. Please know that no matter where I go in life I will always love you with all my heart. Reminiscing about you will always bring tears to my eyes.

I don’t care if India Today finally decided to rate you as the number one city in India. You will always and forever be my number one city. New York was an amazing weekend. San Francisco always surprises me. You always make me happy. And that is all I ever want from life.

I love you and miss you.

Your girl,


“Dogggg!!!”, is what I say the most.

I miss Madras. I miss waking up to the crows cawing. I found them extremely annoying when I lived there but now I miss them. The only animals (not that I love animals) I come in contact with are obese cat and huge, mutated squirrel. I’m glad that I don’t have to deal with cockroaches and lizards in this country. But I did have a little somethin’ somethin’ with the bed bugs. On a cold night. With no comforter. Not a very pleasant experience.

I may not come in contact with too many animals on a day to day basis but I do find myself running away from the most perfectly behaved dogs. The dogs here are creepy. They are so well trained that they do not bark. At all. I find this unnatural. In Madras where I lived there was a dog on my street that would bark at and chase every moving vehicle that went across. Ok, that might have been the rabies barking, but still, I’m used to stray dogs growling at me. That gave me the reason to cross the street to the other side. Here I don’t have a reason to run away from the dogs and that irks me to no end.

I live in an apartment that is dog friendly and I jump a mile when there is a dog in my vicinity  This somehow insults the dog owners and they tell me “It’s okay, he’s friendly.”.  I get that lady, but I’m not friendly.

There are some dogs that sens my dislike even behind closed doors. I have a neighbor who brightens up my mornings by playing the piano. She/He also has a dog in her/his house. This dog has the sixth sense because every time I walk outside his door he CAN SENSE ME WALKING AND HE BARKS EVERY TIME. And I run every time, but you know that already. Maybe I might lose some weight that way. Just keep a doggy at the end of the treadmill and watch me fly!


I’ve been sick the past couple of days. The flu has been doing the rounds and I didn’t want to catch it, so I went to the two most public germ filled areas I could think of : the mall and the movies. Yup, I was dying to get all coughed up. Now I have some coughing, sneezing and a runny nose. Ever since then I’ve been craving some nice home cooking. I Googled ‘How to make rasam’ and stumbled up on a fabulous Tam Bram pepper rasam recipe. Having sneezed four and a half times in a row, I just had to have it. So I made mashed rice and the most peppery pepper rasam for lunch. Ah, so yummy! I can feel my throat getting better already. Rasam is just the best.

Me and my kuchi ice.

This blogging every day in January gig is proving to be harder every day. I have to wake up each morning and search inside my head to come up with something that’s even passable. It doesn’t help that its cold and dreary outside. No, something has to rain on my usual sunshine-y demeanor  I’ve been informed that the cold weather will end only at the end of February, maybe even March. I am so ready for summer already.

I loved summer holidays as a kid. Endless hours watching tv, playing with the apartment kids and scrumptious food provided my mommy dearest. You could say it was the perfect summer. But the one entity that had to dampen my spirits was the saravana Bhavan ice cream man. He would ring his little bell on his little vandi all the way to my street. I could hear the bell even at the far end of the house and would run as fast as my pudgy legs could carry me. There were times when I’ve even chased him down the street. We have all done things we are not proud of, so let’s not dwell on this?

All this hullabaloo was just to get my hands on the best kuchi ice ever – the grape flavored kuchi ice from Saravana Bhavan. So delicious, so slurpy, I’ve been know to inhale it three at a time. Good for me that my mother had the same interest in kuchi ice that I did.

But after a few years the losers at Saravana Bhavan decided to discontinue grape ice. And that’s where my story had to end. But it’s okay, I found the second best kuchi ice – Sravana Bhavan orange kuchi ice.

photo (2)Orange kuchi ice, outside Saravana Bhavan, with mother as the back drop.

Naan auto kaaaran.

Auto men in Chennai are very famous thanks to the antics they come up with. I have quite a few auto man stories and I was reminded of one that stripped me of my maanam . So during college days my college bus would drop me off at the main road near my house. Walking from bus stop to my house that was inside the streets would take at least ten, fifteen minutes. Some days I would just walk the distance but on lazy days I would take an auto. If I took an auto it would hardly take a couple of minutes to drop me off so I would want to pay ten rupees but some days,  persistent auto guys would ask for fifteen rupees.

So on one of my lazy days I took an auto. When I got down I handed the guy a ten rupee not. He looked at me like I was crazy and said no ten rupees, it’s twenty, lady. I was already on a short fuse that day and I blasted at him, “It hardly took two minutes to get here, indhe route nan daily varuven, twenty rupees too much, blah blah blah”. He listened to me patiently and said, “Ille ma twenty rupees dhan. Government has put new rule that minimum fare is twenty rupees. Nennege inniki paper padiklaya?”. He said that in such a condescending way! Me being the newspaper disciple that I am, that hurt my ego and I was like whoa, is he saying the truth? So I paid him the twenty rupees and ran home to grab The Hindu. I scanned every page for this piece of news. It wasn’t there.

And I was twenty rupees poorer.