The Life and Loves of Rumana

Posted December 12th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I have been thinking about Rumana* lately, which is extremely odd considering the last time I met her or even heard of her was in 1997. Rumana was my classmate and friend upto 10 th standard.

Most students at my school were not academically inclined. Not surprising because few of the girls ever considered a serious career, most of them were sent to school because it was free education for girls and it was something for the girls to do until they get married. Many of them talked in Hindi more fluently than in English and spent more time discussing the latest movies and fashions than looking at a book. Those who didn’t fall into that group were classified as the geeks—and there was a subtle distinction between the two groups.

Rumana was different. She managed to move between both the groups effortlessly, gaining the respect and affection of all her peers. She was smart, excellent in mathematics and physics and wanted to become a mathematician: an unusual ambition for a girl her age. She was bubbly, loved to sing and dance the latest Hindi film songs especially those starring Aamir Khan. She was a misfit in her family—her elder sister was quiet and reserved, her younger sister was snooty and slightly sanctimonious, while Rumana was a bright cheerful outgoing girl. Her family was quite orthodox and didn’t allow her or her sisters any liberty and I believe that the restrictions chafed her more than her sisters, She also had another differentiating characteristic. She was always in love.

Rumana first fell in love when she was in the sixth standard. She confided in P and me that this was it. P and I had not yet discovered boys as an interesting species till then. We couldn’t figure out what Rumana was talking about but it seemed important to her that we see the guy. The love of her life turned out to be the servant boy in one of the flats of the next apartment building. The love story was simple, Zaheer played the latest Hindi film songs and struck poses from the opposite balcony and Rumana fancied herself as the heroine of the song. Even at that young age, despite a steady diet of movies where the rich girl poor boy love story ended with the poor boy discovering a fortune, I knew that this was a recipe for disaster. We convinced her that this is not a good idea and told her to be hard hearted when Zaheer played the next song. Fortunately, Rumana seemed to realize that. The next guy whom she thought she had a fancy for was Imtiaz. He followed her everyday from school to home, calling out cheesy filmi lines and drawing I & R in big hearts all over the road. I thought he was quite creepy but Rumana thought he had some potential and could be made a better person by the love of an honest woman.

That changed when she met Aman at her after school religious class. I didn’t meet him but if Rumana’s excited descriptions were to go by…he should have been a supermodel. We came to know about Aman when she announced in class one day that she was changing her name. P tried convincing her that Runama wasn’t really a name that real people had. But “Runama” was adamant. We were puzzled till she pointed out that Runama actually contained the word Aman in it, backwards. By this time we knew the drill…the madness would last a few days till someone else caught her fancy. The interesting thing to note that all these guys were in the strictly seen but never spoken to category. Elaborate fantasies were constructed, dreams were dreamt, possible scenarios were discussed thoroughly but luckily nothing was ever implemented.

All that changed with Hassan. I knew trouble was brewing when Rumana rushed upto P & me one evening after school, she had been to another school in South Bombay to set up our project for the annual Science exhibition. I wanted to know whether she could set it all up and if the model set up for a petrol station made it in one piece. But Rumana had even better news: she told me was that St. Mary’s boy’s high school was assigned the same room as us. There were about 4-5 boys from St. Mary’s…very pleasant and nice, extremely smart ( incidentally they won the first prize in South Bombay Science Exhibition ). We were in ninth grade by then, I was interested too! Rumana with her big smile and attractive face was an instant hit with all the guys. I think they saw me as Rumana’s strict chaperone friend…a role at which I was very unsuccessful given that Rumana was already on her way to falling in love with the St. Mary’s team captain. Hassan was kind of a smart aleck , and clearly not looking at a lifelong soul mate. As far as I know they did meet a couple of evenings after school but Hassan stayed too far for it to be a regular occurrence.

Now if this reads like Rumana was a silly female, I will be doing her a great deal of injustice. For Rumana was an intelligent girl, the teachers trusted her , she was elected as one of the school prefects, helped anybody with difficult subjects, and was interested in lot of extra curricular activities. Falling in love was like a chronic illness with Rumana. Take that topic away and she was a very sensible articulate young girl. She would work hard for exams, stood in the top 5 in class and was an interesting conversationalist. Looking back, I realize that this was her way of attention seeking, probably because she didn’t get much at home.

A few months later, Rumana & I were talking on the phone when there a cross-connection and a third person popped up into the conversation. Before I could say “wrong number” and disconnect Rumana and Arun Bhalerao were yakking away as though they were childhood pals. When the phone was disconnected, I thought that was the end of the matter till a big (and when I say big, I mean ginormous) pink Valentine’s day card arrived at my house along with a packet of KITKAT. My father handed the card over to me – in front of 20 other guests we had. All of them wanted to know who sent me the card. I took a quick peek, it was addressed to Rumana from Arun. I reassured my parents that the card was not meant for me, ( my parents were the best—they did not ask me any questions after that. Can’t believe how trusting they were ). I called Rumana immediately, she had given my address to Arun- “my parents would kill me, if they found out, was her reasoning. That evening, P and I went over to give Rumana the card. We ate the KITKAT on the way and rationalized that it counted as delivery fees. When we delivered the card to Rumana we realized that the card was just a harbinger of more problems. Arun was going to come to meet her and she wanted us to meet go with her to meet him. P & I tried hard to dissuade her but we had no way of contacting the guy. Arun actually turned out to be quite a nice guy, only he was about 21 years old. He & Rumana went off to talk for sometime, but when he came back to drop Rumana, he turned to us and blasted us for being trusting enough to talk to strangers. We watched open mouthed as he yelled at us and left. I don’t think he contacted Rumana again. Weird but true.

By that time, we were caught up in the tension and the workload for the 10 th standard board exams. Once the study holidays started, we hardly got a chance to meet. Rumana did quite well in her 10 th grade and she joined the Science stream in a good college in town. Soon, we were all caught up in the excitement of going to college, making new friends, new subjects, new rules (or no rules). I used to run into Rumana briefly at the railway station where we exchanged half hearted promises to meet up soon and rushed into trains heading for opposite directions.

When we were in 12 th , I heard that Rumana has married. I had heard rumors of her having a boyfriend but didn’t pay much attention to that. Apparantly this time, it was serious. She and the guy –Murtuza, I think eloped to somewhere in UP and got married. I tried to contact her but her parents had absolutely disowned her and had no contact information for her. I later met Rumana when I was in first year of engineering. As I came home burdened with my drafter and a roll of drawing paper, I met Rumana coming out of a grocery store, dressed in a burkha. She never used to wear one before, so I was curious. She was also 6 months pregnant. We exchanged hellos but really had nothing to say to each other. I heard later that she had a son and then another son the next year. I never met her or heard from her later.

Looking back, I attribute it all to the way she was raised. She was so starved of some affection at home that she created these imaginary guys who would lavish love and affection on her. If she were exposed to boys at a young age or atleast more boys she would have atleast chosen carefully. It is not an uncommon phenomenon. when parents cloister the children more than necessary, the kids rebel by seeing the most unsuitable partner and ruin their lives. But when I think of what she could have been, I can’t help but feel that her potential was completely wasted. I hope she is happy, wherever she is and I hope she is still in love!

* name changed blah blah

How I learnt to be a Hindu

Posted November 24th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I read this blog entry a couple of days back and remembered my initiation into the world of religion. My father was a practicing atheist so we didn’t have any obvious religions icons in my house. When I was in 4 th standard, we shifted residence from suburban Mulund to city-center Bombay Central. It was a big change for me in terms of school life: from a very South Indian school, I moved to a convent school. My father had already warned me that convent schools are tough and I would have to study harder to top my class. That was his way of motivating me to study further.

I was feeling a bit awkward on the first day of class. It was a new school, I didn’t know anybody. My class-teacher was taking roll-call and entering information about the new students into her register. Her name was Brenda Riberio and it was her first day of teaching too. To my 8 year young eyes, she seemed very old indeed but looking back she could not have been more than 22 or 23.

Ms. Brenda asked every new student about their name, date of birth, religion, parents name, address etc. She was doing a great job till she came to me. I confidently stated my name, date of birth, address, parents name…I would have gone ahead and given her the names of all my uncles and aunts and their occupation too if she was interested. She was not. But then she wanted to know more.

“Deepa, what religion are you?”

I had no idea. Being the nerd that I was, I was more upset about not knowing the correct answer to a teacher’s question than knowing my religion. “I don’t know”, I mumbled finally.

The teacher clearly didn’t expect this response. She looked up at me carefully, and asked “Haven’t your parents told you what religion you belong to?”. “No”, I replied….I was glad to pass the blame of not knowing the answer to my parents.

“Are you a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian”, she probed further.

I had never heard those terms before, so I shook my head at each one. Now the teacher was intrigued and decided to use detective skills to decipher my religion. I always wondered how she didn’t guess my religion because of my name was a dead give away. But I suppose, she, like many others, lumped all South Indians under the common tag of being a Madrasi and didn’t dissect them any further.

So she persevered. “Ok, so what festivals do you celebrate? “

I clearly knew the answer to that one…I took a deep breath and launched into my answer “ I like festivals very much. We celebrate Diwali, Holi, Christmas and Id”.

I knew by the teacher’s expression that my answer was wrong. I wasn’t sure about the whys and the hows but I was quite embarrassed to be standing in front of the teacher for so long on my first day at school. And clearly not knowing the answers to any of her questions. My father was correct, I thought, Convent schools are tough— I already couldn’t answer the teacher.

By this time, the teacher changed her tactic, “Tell me which God do you pray to?”

I didn’t pray at all. I had an inking that it would not be the correct answer. I tried to remember who we prayed to. I remembered we had an old black and white photo of Guruvayurappan that my mother lit a lamp in front of on certain days. My father always laughed when he saw that. May be the teacher wanted to know that, I thought. We pray to Guruvayurappan, I told the teacher, a little hestitantly. Not surprisingly, the teacher had obviously never heard of Guruvayurappan.

At this point, she was frustrated and she finally gave up. “Ask your parents and tell me tomorrow”, she said.

My parents must have told me later, I don’t remember that very clearly but I soon realized I am supposed to be a Hindu. The school was run by Christian/Catholic nuns. Almost all of the students were Muslims. There were a few Christians, and they had to attend a Christian class in a different room when the rest of us had Moral Science. Convent Schools were not tougher than other schools. I stood first in my first unit test, and then I realized it was easy to do that and stopped studying. I came second in my second unit test and third in my third unit test.

Ms. Brenda Riberio always thought I was a weird kid.

Let Me Give You a Hug

Posted October 18th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I met an old colleague at a conference a few days back. No, this is not another one of my office sagas…so you can continue to read ahead. As I walked towards him, I raised my hand to say hello and I saw that he stretched his hand out too …only when we were within arms distance, did I realize, he wanted to give me a hug and I was in a shake-hand mode. It was a bit awkward… We sort of gave each other the one armed half-hug.

Social hugs still are still uncomfortable for me. Social hugs in a professional situation are much more awkward. My family was not big on physical demonstration of affection. As a school-girl in a girl’s only school in a lower-income neighborhood, there were few air-kisses and social hugs amongst the students. While in BE, I was slightly amused and whole lot puzzled when other girls would get off the train and hug their friends good morning every day on the railway platform.

I have improved over the past few years and can hug without obvious flinching. Somehow I find it is easier to hug comparative strangers than my old friends. And again, it is easier to hug men than women. And its always best to accept a hug than initiate one. Weird but true. But I am improving, who knows some day I might just tell my closest girl-friends “Hey let me give you a hug!”

Taste of Bethesda

Posted October 5th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Food
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Bethesda and Washington area. Given constraints of time and money, the progress has been slow but delicious. So, when we heard about the Bethesda Annual Street Festival, held on the first Saturday in October, we knew we had to check it out.

4-5 streets were cordoned off in downtown Bethesda , each street ending in a make-shift stage where artists performed live. All the streets were lined with food-stalls from nearby Bethesda restaurants ranging from standard chains to the haute-cuisine establishments. About 45 different restaurants offered small servings representative of the cuisine that they make & sell. At the entrance to the street festival, we could buy “food tickets”- about 16 tickets for 20$. We could then exchange the tickets for the food items in each stall, one serving cost either 1, 2 or 3 tickets depending on the type of food and restaurant rating.

It was a wonderful way to sample cuisines from various restaurants without needing to commit to an entire entrée. I have always loved appetizers, so having an entire meal full of appetizers was great fun! And then again, it allows me a chance to decide which restaurant to pick if I wanted to sample the full menu. Of course you have no way to judge if you would like the ambience of the restaurant, but the atmosphere of the street-festival was similar to a carnival.

It reminded me of the Khau-gallis of Bombay ( and perhaps there is one in every city in India ) where eating food from the street carts was one of the few guilty pleasures we all indulged in. Generation of mothers must have warned their kids , from school to colleges, against eating food from the street cart, yet no restaurant pani-puri compares to the one made by the unkempt looking bhaiyya at the street corner. I was very excited to have the chance to eat food from the street stalls again—even if they displayed their “hygenity certificates” prominently.

We made our way through the crowd and religiously sampled the food by almost all restaurants. Some of the highlights for us included the smoked salmon on crispy toast from the Rio Grande Café and the rich crab-cake from Mcormick and Schmicks. The Shephard’s Pie, topped with the mashed potatoes (3 tickets) from the Ri-Ra Irish Pub was especially hearty and quite a surprise because I’d never order this off the menu in any restaurant. The onion tarts (3 tickets) from Brasserie Monte Carlo was another lovely treat, the pastry was perfectly flaky without being overly greasy and the onion was different from the usual sweet pastries that are generally available.

Some of the disappointments were the Argentinian chorizo from Divino Lounge and restaurant which we picked instead of the beautiful mussel paella which we should have tasted instead. We had the last few servings of filet mignon from the upscale Ruth’s Chris steak house, after standing in a long queue but the steak was cold and unappetizing & the bun was hard. The Crab-cakes from Tommy Joes were nice and cheaper (2 for 2 tickets) but was easily upstaged by the ones from Mcormick and Schmicks.

By the time we reached the end of the lane, the paella from Jaleo , offerings from Olazzo and Saphire Café had already been sampled and finished by the crowd before us. Chicken Satay was the staple food from all southeastern restaurants while the Indian staples were Butter chicken (3 tickets), samosas (2 tickets)and mango lassi(2 tickets). The only thing we didn’t sample were the ice-cream stores (Haagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry) and fast food chains(Chicken out Rotisserie , Papa Johns, Chipotle) and some staple restaurants (Tara Thai, Uno Chicago Grill).

The food was accompanied by your choice in music , the stage at each street end had singers and performers performing jazz, afro-Carribean music, latin American flamenco groups, some Asian (Thai or Malaysian dances) performers and a group of belly dancers performing to some upbeat middle eastern music. All in all , a great way to spend a nice October afternoon—with street music and street food.

Sreesanth

Posted October 1st, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Uncategorized
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Nowadays Sreesanth seems to top the list of “ Cricketers we love to hate ”. Infact I have recently read several articles online that call him rude, ill-behaved, arrogant or selfish. Now, I do not know the man personally but I felt compelled to share this story about him that portrays him in a completely different light.

Recently a Malayalam newspaper published a serialized biography of Sreesanth in about 7 or 8 parts. One part was exclusively devoted to Sreesanth’s early cricketing career and the path that he took to become part of the Indian national cricket team. In that he credits a Jayakrishnan for making him stick to the game when he was a teenager. JK was several years his senior, and knew him primarily as an enthusiastic youngster interested in cricket. He also was a friend of Sreesanth’s elder brother. For one entire chapter, Sreesanth specifies how JK intervened with the selectors of the Under 13 team in Kerala when he was suspended from the team, for a teenager’s outburst, despite getting plenty of wickets. He says JK encouraged him to go to Bangalore for a camp conducted by Brijesh Patel which proved to be the turning point in his career. He expresses in detail, his gratitude to JK and the affection with which he holds him. He also describes his emotional relationship with JK’s mother who is referred to as his second mother throughout the article.

JK is my cousin brother. He died in a car accident about 8 years ago, he was 29. My family has not come to terms with his untimely death—even now. He was a competent cricketer himself although he played only at the university level. His fame and exploits, cricketing or otherwise were legendary—but only within our immediate family.

There are very few people who give credit to the people who helped them on their way up—especially if they are not “somebodies”. But giving credit to a person who passed away 8 years ago, without any hope of getting credit or any thing in return is truly heartwarming. I very much appreciate Sreesanth’s gesture in doing that. He reassured my aunt, made her feel valued, made sure that her son is still being remembered and alone makes me respect the guy. Despite his busy schedule and “stardom”, he still makes time to visit my aunt or talk to her.

My family will always be very proud of Sreesanth, not for his cricketing skills but for his humanity and in acknowledging my brother’s contribution to his success. Sreesanth’s words keep his memory alive and make sure that my brother did make a difference not only to our lives but also to several others.

Outstanding Oregon

Posted September 8th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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While deciding on our next trip, we decided on Oregon as a destination by the simple process of elimination.  I had a free ticket to fly anywhere within continental United States, the west coast was the farthest we could travel and since California didn’t hold any attraction for me , we switched attention to the next state. The fact that we had heard a lot about Oregon’s natural beauty clinched the decision. Our idea was to land in Portland, drive east through Mount Hood along the Columbia river gorge and then go south along the Cascades parkway to Crater lake in Southern part of Oregon from which we turn westwards to the central Oregon and coast and then drive back up the Pacific coast to Portland.

Day 1:

We landed in Portland airport early afternoon on Friday, after an early morning flight from Baltimore. To reach the airport early enough to grab the window-seats, we had to get up at 3 am: approximately the time I go to bed on most days. Anyway this meant that the long 6 hour flight was just long enough for a good nap.  The flight was uneventful, we reached on time and by 11 am Pacific time, we were buckled in our rental Subaru and were on our way outside the city.

IMG_2627All American cities are similar—identical strip malls with the same departmental stores and chain restaurants. However move away from the city and the countryside surprises you with its varied landscape. Each area has its own distinctive landscape:  Virginia has its rolling green plains, Utah & Colorado with the Rocky Mountains, Texas with its flat landscape. Here the city gave way to dense coniferous forests on both sides of the road.  Our first destination was Mt Hood; the journey punctuated by brief stops at the several waterfalls that dot the Columbia River Gorge Scenic highway.

The geological peculiarities of this region ensure that it has one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in Pacific North-west… a claim that we later realized was not just a tourist trap. Of course, we couldn’t see them all but we managed to see the few that were closer to the highway itself. The highlight of all these waterfalls was that we could view each of them from a different perspective. We watched the plunging Latourell Falls from its base, the Shepherd’s Dell falls from high on the bridge watching it originate and fall from above, the Wahkeena falls as a bystander from the side as the water flows past you.  THE Water-fall to see was the Multnomah Falls where you can climb on the bridge and view the two tiered waterfall from actually the mid-point.

IMG_2663From an historical perspective, the Columbia River Gouge area is significant as Lewis & Clark expedition (first planned expedition to map the West and find an alternate route to the Pacific) in early 1800s figured that the Columbia river was a way to reach the Pacific Ocean. But we continued the water theme by making a brief stop at the Bonneville Dam.  Large volumes of gushing water is always wonderful to watch as is the architectural and engineering wonders of a dam but what made this place stand out for me was the fish swimming upstream. The Columbia River is the route that the salmon take to journey upstream to lay eggs.  Let me digress a minute to explain the salmon lifecycle – they are born in streams or rivers in freshwater where they spend the initial few years after which move downstream to reach the sea where they live the life of sea water fish till some internal clock tells them its time to  reproduce. At this time they travel upstream from the sea to the river or the stream where they were born and then produce the next generation of salmon.  Coming back, the Bonneville dam was built right in the way of the poor salmon’s commute. Therefore, to provide the salmon a path to overcome the barriers and reach the streams, “fish-ladders” are created. These are a series of low steps that provide an alternate route that fish can take while swimming upstream rather than be “damned”. The day we reached there was one of the peak days for Chinook Salmon to swim upstream Mondays—around 7700 salmon had passed the fish-ladders the previous day. It was kind of fun to see these 40-50 pound fish trying to swim against the strong current—they would get pushed back at the ladders a couple of times but then surge ahead to move on.

IMG_2806We carried on towards Mt. Hood with a brief snack stop at one of the pear orchards on the way. It is difficult to describe the scenic splendor of this region—fruit orchards on either side with a snow capped Mt. Hood in the distance. The end of the day was with a brief stop at the majestic but surprisingly empty Mt Hood.  Sunny days are not exactly welcome in this ski-resort area, apparently.  Ended the say with some Pacific Northwest cuisine at a restaurant called Rendezvous.

Day 2:

We ended the previous day after seeing many waterfalls and ending at a mountain. Today was the reverse of that. We started off sightseeing with a mountain and ended with several water-bodies (lakes). We had an uneventful drive to Mt Bachelor in the morning, marveling at the way the landscape changed so quickly. We passed green fertile farmlands, large area of barren land with only burnt down trees ,  a desert-like landscape with nothing around, dense forest like areas with coniferous trees densely packed together and areas that looked like fruit orchards—all within a space of 2 hours. We only passed a tiny town by the name of Madras!

After a quick up and down Mt. Bachelor using the ski-lift we entered Cascades parkway. After which we proceeded with a lot of stops along the way – stopping at various lakes that are on either sides of the parkway.  It was a series of get-down at the lake area, marvel at the beauty, click a few snaps , look at the watch , sigh and move on to the next lake where the steps were repeated. We wanted to get to Crater Lake by sunset.

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Crater Lake  was formed when a volcano erupted through a mountain causing the mountain to cave in and cause a caldera. Rain water and snow filled the caldera with water and now it is the deepest lake in United States. The waters are an impossible blue – getting to the lake requires a treacherous hike down to the water surface and therefore there is limited human activity in the lake. The lake has ~ 20 mile drive around its rim—unimaginatively called Rim Drive with various pullouts where you can stop and view the lake at different angles.

We reached it just in time for sunset. At Crater Lake national park, we were high above sea level — in the distance you could see multiple mountain ranges one after the other. The sunset was easily one of the best sunsets I have ever seen.  But the magic started after the sunset ,while we drove to out B&B.  It was pitch dark , forest area , no other lights except millions and million of twinkling stars. I don’t believe I have  seen that many stars –EVER.

Day 3:

While selecting hotels during vacation trips, I never actively sought out Bed & Breakfast places. A mistake—which  I am glad to report I corrected recently.  Most B&B places are run by people who rent out rooms in their own houses and feed them a nice breakfast in the morning. Unlike most people who can afford to take two weeks of vacation to go to one place and spend a few days relaxing at a vacation home or a beach house, we who horde our vacations to make the annual India trip can’t afford that luxury.  I have found that staying at B&B hotels during trips can provide you the feeling of relaxation despite not having enough number of days. It is incredible to me to see these elderly people in remote locations open their houses to welcome complete strangers.

We stayed at Crater Lake Bed and Breakfast run by Janet and her son Tony. They rent out two rooms in their house –ours was what they called the nautical room. It was well named because there were atleast 25-30 ships on display in the room not to mention pictures of ships, old chronometers and sea-shells. They made us feel very welcome and we loved the night we spent at their place. It is highly recommended!  But better than the house and the delicious breakfast that Janet made was the view I saw when I woke up in the morning. Right in front of the house was a big green meadow with hundreds of cattle peacefully grazing away as far as I could see. It was kind of cool to wake up to sound of cows mooing away. They were beef cattle from California is what Janet informed us over breakfast—brought down to Oregon in summer to fatten up before they end in McDonalds!

IMG_3280Anyway we started back to Crater lake after a heavy breakfast  and did another round of the Rim Drive and a couple of short hikes to get better views of the lake. We also stopped briefly at Pinnacles—a strange formation caused by the gases exiting the volcano causing long hollow funnel like structures called fumaroles. Quick pit-stop later , we were back on the way to the coast.

It was a long drive where we appreciated the long straight roads & the amount of forest land that is present in Oregon. We reached the coastal city of Florence just before sunset –with barely time to get a few photographs of Hereto head lighthouse in the fading light. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant (Oregon has a surprisingly large number of Mexican restaurants—anyone recommending a restaurant would first point out the nearby Mexican places!!)

Day 4:

IMG_3152-1We drove up the Pacific coastline on a cloudy day with the mists coming inland looking hard for a patch of blue sky.  The mists cleared somewhat to help us take a few pictures. The highlight of the morning was when we stopped at a pullout just because we saw a couple of people there… On the rocks in front of us were several seals and sea-lions sunning themselves! This was also a place where we could see tidepools. A close observation of the rocks showed several different creatures clinging to the surface. Multicolored starfish, mussels, sea anemones , sea cucumbers and giant kelps. Having never seen such creatures outside of an aquarium it was quite exciting to see the bright colors that they have. The other highlight of the trip was at Depoe Bay. Right along the middle of the city—several whales had taken up residence in the bay nearby. One of them graced us by its presence, moved up and down the water to signal its presence and then floated away.

The rest of the drive was very beautiful. We stopped at several look out points, clicked tons of photographs and admired the beauty of the sea-coast.  I have probably used all synonyms for beautiful, great and amazing but like they say—words cannot express it all. We reached the city of Tillamook at 5 pm in the evening. Tillamook is famous for its cheese and ice-cream.  We did a brief tour of the factory , sampled both the cheese and ice-cream , brought a few souvenirs and moved on to get back to Portland by nightfall.

Day 5:

IMG_3395And now let me tell you the real reason of selecting Oregon. The easiest task I had was to book a hotel in Portland. Normally I’d try & make sure it covered a lot of criteria in terms of amenities and cost but this time it was simpler. All I had to do was to find the closest hotel to Powell’s bookstore. Anybody who buys second hand books will know the name of Powells— they have a huge store in Portland. I was excited when I saw that the store comes with its own map and they even provide guided tours.  It was a huge store—one block long, it had several other stores in Portland itself. One of them dedicated to just technical books was located just around the corner.

Anyway I spent a good amount of time browsing the books, selecting a few to buy and generally enjoying the feeling of being in a genuinely big book-store. The prices were not as cheap as those you find on the internet but of course buying directly avoids the S&H charges. I am not sure how I’ll go back to Barnes and Nobles!

We reached back home past midnight. It was a good trip— completely recharged myself. Photos posted here.

Fire at the Neighbours, Run Run Run

Posted August 23rd, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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It was late Saturday night, we were having dessert after a barbecue dinner at my home. We had a small party – my cousin sister, husband and their 4 year old daughter, cousin brother, wife and their 4 year old daughter and Seejo’s 22 year old cousin brother were visiting us that evening. It had started raining, we were sitting there listening to the pitter patter of raindrops and reminiscing about the getting wet during the monsoon in India . Caught in the spirit of the occasion, Cousin Sister opened the living room door and peeked out. “ Your neighbour’s kids are getting wet in the rain ”, she reported. “ Isn’t that nice, American parents generally tend to be more protective ”, I remarked as I joined her outside.

We watched the three kids as they ran down the steps and moved on to the street. You know at 10pm, they probably are not out to get wet , was Sis-in-law’s opinion. Hmm now that she mentioned it, there was something wrong with the scene. I thought I’ll try at being neighbourly, so enquired if something was wrong. It was as though the floodgates opened, the kids (who we were never more than on Hello and Goodbye terms) ran towards us looking frightened. Soon, their mother appeared at the door wearing nothing but her bra and some flimsy pyjamas. “Fire”, “Fire” she screamed and ran out of the house into the rain.

This galvanized Cousin Sister into action, “Fire Fire”, she echoed. Cousin Brother moved into high speed efficiency mode, he ran down the stairs and started his minivan and and started bundling the kids into the van. First the 4 year old who were shocked by the proceedings and had started whimpering. Next were the neighbour-kids the elder girl holding on to the younger brother and the middle one clutching their dog. Then he turned towards Sis- in-Law, she half entered the car and then suddenly squealed, “ There is a dog in this car ”. Cousin brother took one look at the tiny pug and glared at her. Faced with an irate husband, whimpering kids on one side and a dog on the other, she made a difficult decision and gingerly stepped into the car (in the front seat) and rallied the kids to be brave. Cousin Brother got into the driver’s seat and drove the car off away from the house. And all this within less than 5 minutes. The fire safety drill guys would be proud of him.

Neighbour lady was pacing up and down the road in front of the house and describing the fire in great detail to her husband , who was working the late shift that day. “ Did you call the cops ”, I asked her. She was too busy sobbing to her husband to respond to me. Finally I took the phone from her and dialed 911 ( I confess, I was a bit thrilled when I did that ). The cops were quite quick to transfer as to the Fire department and very efficient in nothing down the address of the house.

I looked around to see where Seejo was and I couldn’t find him. I rushed back into the house screaming his name, but he was nowhere to be found. I was on the verge of getting frantic, when I saw him coming down the stairs with armful of documents. “Green card papers”, was his response to my barrage of questions, as he ran down to the basement. I followed him openmouthed—the house may be on fire and the first thing he wants to save are the green card papers. Of course, he looks at me as though I was an imbecile and this was the most obvious thing to do and runs out of the house. Its pouring out there, so he rushes back into the basement to save the papers from getting wet, throws the folder in the backseat , climbs into the drivers seat and takes off with the precious green card papers. I make a half-hearted attempt to run behind him but bro-in-law is reciting a list of what he needs to get from the house before it is completely burnt. Camera, he decides and then turns into the house to capture his camera.

In the meantime, 22 year old cousin has managed to find a fire extinguisher, that we keep in the basement. He has always wanted to be a hero so off he marches into the neighbour’s house armed with a bright red fire extinguisher. I follow him halfway urging him to check if the fire extinguisher even works, it is more than three years old. As I reach the house, I see that the entire living room is full of smoke, the origins of the smoke seem somewhere in the kitched. Cousin Hero sprays a test spray outside the house, there is a fine mist of white powder. Completely convinced that he can save the house, he charges inside. At the same time, there is a loud wail behind me. Neighbour lady saw the mist from the road and thought the smoke was coming out of the house. My house my kids she screams and flaps her arm about. I tried to console her that the house is not on fire and Cousin Hero was just testing the fire extinguisher. By this time she was hysterical and I was irritated. I asked her if she might like some clothes, the rain was hammering down and all she had on was a flimsy bra. She looked at me, as though I was speaking Malayalam, I repeated the question carefully in English. She still had the same look, I am smart, I knew there was no use insisting. After spouting some inane stuff like “ Things will be allright , what matters is that people are safe ”, I tried to see what Cousin Hero is upto.

Bro in law apparently had decided that an umbrella is more worth saving than his camera, and so followed Cousin Hero in regal style with a massive umbrella. Cousin Hero and Bro- in law had identified the source of the smoke. The electric toaster was switched on and some one had accidentally, left the oven mitten on the toaster. It had become completely charred and was slowly melting the plastic toaster. Cousin Hero flung the glove out of the house in great style, stomped on it a few times for effect and then proceeded to spray the entire house with the fire extinguisher spray. Thanks to his efforts, the entire kitchen was soon covered in a thin film of fine white powder.

I checked the house to see that nothing else was on fire and then grabbed a sleeping bag from the living room and went out with it to wrap it around the soaked neighbour lady. She is still on the phone with her husband and is screaming away. I tell her that it was all smoke , no fire and the only thing that was damaged was the toaster oven and a mitt. She refuses to believe me, why would I switch the toaster on at 10 pm, I was just ready to get into bed . The firemen arrive just then. Bro, Bro in law and Seejo also turn up along with the cops after finding far away parking spots for the car. I am impressed that Seejo left the green card papers away from his sight but decide prudently, that it was not the time to ask that question. Like I said, I am smart!. The firemen inspect the house and pronounce it safe. “ Who used the fire extinguisher ”,, asks one of them. Hero acknowledged that it was him— The cop looked at him, and drawled in an amused manner, “ Good work, tomorrow go get a new fire extinguisher—you certainly emptied this one ”.

By this time the cops left, sis and sis in law had determined that our house was not going to burn down after all and gathered all the kids back in my living room. Sitting as far away from the dog as possible, they were trying to reassure that their house would not burn down. The boy was feeling guilty when he realized he had crept down to the kitchen for a snack and switched the toaster on. The elder girl sat there murmuring words of encouragement to the dog.

I convinced the neighbor lady that there really was no fire. “ Really ”?, she asked. Really I replied. Didn’t the firemen just say so?. I showed her the charred oven mitt and asked her if she wants to talk to her kids”. She suddenly remembered she had kids, and ran to my place to collect them. The kids were sitting abnormally quiet….feeling scared and awkward at the same time. When their mother turned up, they turned their attention on her. It is all ok, kids, the mom said. Mom, “can we ask you something?” piped the boy. “Why are you wearing a sleeping bag?”.

It was an interesting Fire Drill….and there can be a smoke without fire. I just saw that!

Weekend at OBX

Posted July 8th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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The only problem with vacations is that they end rather too soon. The empirical rule is that however long the vacation is , it is always three days shorter than what it should be. Switching off the work-mode was surprisingly tougher than what I thought but the beautiful location helped!

The highlight of this vacation —atleast for me— was not any of the activities we indulged in or the beautiful beaches or the company (awesome though each of them were). The beauty of the trip was the cottage we rented. We found a lovely beach house right on the banks of the Sound at Outer Banks with an affordable rent & a million dollar view. Surrounded by water on three sides, the house was literally 10 steps away from the water. In the distance we could see the Roanoke island with its towns of Manteo &  Wanchese and golden sands of Jockey Rodge State Park.

OBX-Nature-76

Jim—the live-in owner of the house was away for this long weekend and decided to rent out his residence to us while he visited family. The living room had long windows that looked out on to the water, sitting in the living room seemed like we were right on the sea, it was like going on a ocean cruise without leaving your home.  We could see bea

utiful sunsets right from the living room. The first sound we heard on waking up was the sounds of the water lapping the shores.  You couldn’t help but feel happy when you see this wonderful view every day!

Here is the story of the rest of the trip in pictures….

What Not To Do At An Interview

Posted June 11th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Raves and Rants
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A simple online search reveals a lot of useful advice on behavior during job interviews:  “How to behave in an interview”, “Top 10 tricks to ace an interview” etc. Most of these belong to the category called “Common Sense”. But, with the vast information at their fingertips, you expect people to know what not to do during an interview. But I have realized that some tips are worth reiterating. So you want some advice? Here it is. Direct From Me to You. (Sorry, just saw Chicago again!). Do not mention your personal troubles to the interviewer. They are not interested. I might sound as your favorite agony aunt but I still will not recommend you for the job!

Recently I had two experiences that prompted me to specify this. The first one was a about a year or so ago, when I was conducting a telephone interview to select a new employee for a particular position within the company. It was actually my first set of interviews. I was given a bunch of resumes, my task was to call these hopeful candidates and weed them down to two possible candidates, who would be invited for a personal interview. I called the first candidate and asked him a few general questions about his past experience, work profiles, qualifications etc. He seemed an excellent choice until a random question regarding ability to travel somehow opened floodgates…His matter of fact manner underwent a change and he assured me his willingness to travel. That would have been the end of the matter but he proceeded to expand on his reasons for that answer: and his current state of health. He was recently diagnosed with from prostate cancer, ( I make the appropriate sympathetic noise) , he has since successfully recovered (congratulatory murmur from me) but then he was suffering from depression, he has probably recovered from that (or so he said) but he is still on anti-depressant medications. Friends have advised him that all these pills may not be a good idea…he himself would prefer not to be drugging himself…don’t you agree that he should avoid medicating himself. ( weird noises from me this time). Natural way to come out of depression is always better; he is of course all right now, if only he could wean himself off these medicines.  (Stunned silence from me)

Another potential candidate went one step further. I am not sure at what point he forgot that he was interviewing for a job as opposed to being interviewed by Oprah. Before I could pause, he went on with his marital difficulties: recent divorce, wife who took away his beach house as part of the alimony,.it was a bitter divorce he clarified. He was left with the bigger house but it was far away from the beach and he really loved the beach house and his wife —sorry ex wife— was not a nice lady at all. This beach house was in addition to the alimony he was paying monthly… I am not sure if he thought that the sob-story would help him get the job. It didn’t

Recently I met a fellow Indian at a conference.  After initial hellos and exchange of home-town information, she told me she is trying to look for a job. I asked her to send a resume to me and I would  direct it to the right person within the company. She seemed quite excited about the prospect; I asked her a few basic questions regarding her educational background. She responded in true Indian way.
Do you have any kids?”.  I replied in the negative….
She consoled me “That is ok, you are still young”.
I shrugged my shoulders not keen to venture into a child discussion. But she wasn’t giving up.
I have no husband, no kids….I just drifting from one place to the other”.
I give a weak smile…my eyes are scanning if I can spot a colleague and make a getaway but no luck
Do you know how old I am”, she continues
I am old enough not to fall for that trick, so I shut up—Shut up and smile….
I am 35” She looks around 35.
Then she makes her big dramatic declaration. “I am divorced”.
Now I am back to making sympathetic murmurs.
By now she is launching into her life story to a complete stranger she has met hardly two minutes ago –one who might give her a job.
He was an Indian, but born in US, his parents liked me, I liked his family, my parents wanted me to say yes—so I did. Hamaare yahan to aisa hi hota hain na..”
I controlled myself from delivering a lecture on the need to take accountability for one’s actions…..
Unka mere saath to bana hi nahi…I even changed jobs and moved to where he is, I asked him what we can do but….
By this time I want to run away….I make a feeble attempt to change the topic, so what was your new job like? She probably didn’t even hear the question.
I tried to get to his place quickly because “meri pehli karva chauth thi” but he filed for divorce a day before….

I have seen enough Hindi films to know the response to that….I widen my eyes and look as shocked as I could. I even manage to wring my hands to show sympathy. I fall back to safe clichés  “Life is not fair” is a favorite one in all kinds of situations…By this time, I spot my boss…never was so glad to see him. I exited that place quickly.  Boss wants to know who the lady was. A potential candidate for our vacant post, I reply. Was she any good, my boss wants to know. I give him a brief gist of the conversation.  Now, he looks shocked too. I am guessing my boss is not going to hire her….what do you think?

Joint Air Services Show

Posted May 21st, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Uncategorized
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Photos for the Joint Air-services show held in Andrews Airforce Base  on 19-20 May 2007. We attended the show with Ashu and few of his friends.  Seejo took tons of images of jets flying in formation, jets flying solo and jets parked on the grounds.  Highlights of the show included

•    F22 raptor proves that sound travels slower than light.
•    Some cool formations from the Thunderbirds
•    Saw flying acrobatics of John Klatt (>20 year old veteran at these shows)
•    A flop Jet car v/s jet plane race (over before we realized it was on)
•    Access to the interior of some of these aircrafts.