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.


Instagram is evil.

The number of times I’ve picked up a  book and dropped it to check my phone is despicable. I have a huge stack of books to be read, yet I find myself watching random YouTube videos. At first it was funny like “Oh I’ll just watch this last cat video and get back.” But the thing is it never stopped. There are a million videos on YouTube and somehow I’ve made it my aim in life to watch them all.

The next experiment I tried was to turn off my computer so that I could concentrate better on my book.  But my hands have a weird magnetic attraction to my cell phone and the next thing you know I’m checking Twitter. I realize the  need to disconnect myself from technology is infinitely greater now.

I can feel technology slowly creeping in to all faucets of my life and setting shop. I know that’s a bad thing and I should stop, especially when it comes to my reading. Sometimes I feel like this online life is inching out my social life and just my life in general. How do I consciously stay disconnected at least for an hour without checking my phone. I don’t even get that many messages! I’m not that important!

When I was growing up I was anti social yes, but I read. I read all the time. I tried my best to get out from playing with other kids so I could read My mom hated it. She pushed me to play with the other kids. We can see now that it had absolutely no effect on me. I just want to go back to the time when I didn’t own a smart phone and my brother didn’t let me touch the computer. Things were much simpler back then. I didn’t worry about the future or Instagram and I managed to finish reading my book in record time.

Time machine or tips, anyone?

Beach day on labor day – Capitola Beach

Over a year of living in California and towards the last days of summer we finally went to the beach. I had dreams of blue waves softly caressing the white sand on a perfectly sunny day. Instead I got grey waters on a windy September evening. Capitola Beach was a pretty small beach. I come from Madras which has the Marina Beach, the second longest beach in the world so I might be a little spoiled. Or maybe I had high expectations for Capitola. None the less the beach was decent enough to last me till next summer.

There were quite a few restaurants around the beach. All that was very nice but I missed eating hot molaga bajjis and sundal on the beach. How can it be a beach without molaga bajji?! Americans are so weird, man.

The ratio of the beach size to the number of restaurants was like 1 : 8. We had dinner in a cute Jordanian falfalel place. Now that’s one thing I like about California – no matter where  you go, you are never far away from a falafel.

Go Falafel!













I had the saltiest salted caramel ice cream at the Village Creamery, a must visit if you’re in the area. They have over seventy five flavors of ice cream! Say whaaatt!!

Eating Out 101

I have never eaten alone in a restaurant. I always had someone to accompany in my quest to fill my belly – friends, my mother and brother were my go to options. I’d wake up one morning thinking I just HAVE to eat pani puri today else I will die of a deficiency of chaat. The next step would be to pick one of the above three options and off I’d go with savory dreams in my head.

After living here for close to five months now. Now my only option is The H and yes he is very accompanying of my cravings so that’s good, but on most days when I decide to step out for lunch it’s always a table for one.  At first I didn’t like sitting by myself in a crowded restaurant eating my meal. No conversation means Zarine will eat her food at an intense speed. So that’s ten minutes of polishing the plate and then what? I mostly people watch or eavesdrop (which I find highly entertaining) or read my book. But the secret to eating out alone is, I’ve realized  pretending to enjoy your own company. At first it may seem like a huge task pretending to be interested in yourself. But then for self loving veterans like myself, it is routine.

So you are sitting in a cafe, eating your scrumptious sandwich and you are having this deep conversation with yourself in your own head. No, you are not thinking. You are having a conversation with yourself (I swear I don’t hear voices in my head though). Oh, that’s wonderful Zarine! You are such an interesting interesting person. Do you like your sandwich? Oh yes thank you it’s delicious. Would like some? Yes I’d love to try! You can have some of my drink too. Really? Thanks!

See! It’s not that hard to be a generous person if you practice enough inside your head. Soon you will implement it in your life and people will finally like you. You will thank me for your training.

Coming back to the topic, yes, it is very easy to eat out alone at a restaurant. You just got to love yourself enough and if you really are that boring where you can’t seem to keep even yourself entertained then just bring a book or check your Facebook. That ought to keep you happy.

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,


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.

Good morning breakfast!

As a child I could never eat breakfast on a school day. I lived an hour away from my school. I would wake up at 6 am to catch my school bus that would come on the dot at 7 am. Breakfast was never on my agenda. After tenth grade I switched schools to one that was fifteen minutes away so there was always time for breakfast. I’d wake up to steaming idlies soaked in hot sambar, crispy dosas or vadas speckled with pepper corns. Those two years were amazing, breakfast-wise.In college breakfast was always with my friend S in the college canteen. Pongal soaked in ghee or pooris gleaming with oil, those were our only two options. College pongal was probably one of the best pongals I’ve had. S and I would get off from the bus, walk straight to the canteen and sit ourselves there, stuffing faces for a good half hour. That was one of the reasons why I added on to my puppy weight, I guess.

Today, breakfast was scrumptious, thanks to Trader Joe’s Super Nutty Toffee Clusters that absolutely made my day. Corn flakes with a bunch of nuts, what more could you want? How about Toffee Clusters that taste exactly like caramel popcorn! Whaat?! Ya ha!! This caramel popcorn cereal makes my mornings a hundred times better. This is also another thing I like about this country, the variety of cereal. Caramel popcorn cereal, who woulda thought!

Waiter, one coffee please.

photo (1)

Meals, Saravana Bhavan, Fremont.

We finally went to Saravana Bhavan a few weekends back. The food did taste a little different than the one in Madras but I was satisfied. It felt like a little piece of home that I could visit any time I wanted. Granted there were no familiar waiters, the smell of coffee in the air and the general chit chat that only Madras offered. But dipping my fingers in their famous sambar after three and a half months of a dearth, this was more than I could ask for.


Corn Cheese Toast, Ajnabi Mithai Ghar, Chennai

I don’t know if it is the fasting or the hormones but this corn cheese toast is all I would like to eat. But since D – Day is in T minus three weeks it’s better that I impose a lot of self control.