If It Rains, We’ll Just Get Wet!

wet wet wet!

wet wet wet!

I’m headed to Goa for the weekend. I leave on Thursday morning and am back by Saturday.

Two really fun people who lived about 10 minutes away from each other for most of their lives without really getting to know one another met after a series of failed relationships and life incidents that left them pretty disillusioned till cupid hit them right between the eyes and they never looked back. They’re getting married in Goa, monsoon wedding and all, and the rest of us are going to cheer them on.

I’ll be back on Sunday, so it’s going to be a short trip. But it looks like it’ll be a fun one, and I could do with some fun! I’ve been feeling pretty horrid lately about a bunch of stuff, so hopefully, this will be the breath of fresh air the doctor would have ordered. ;)

Cheers!

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If We Took a Holiday…

I desperately need a vacation! I feel listless and depressed. The Dubai summer is relentless and has brought with it intense humidity as well. Just walking to the car makes me start sweating and the summer somehow saps all the energy outta me. It makes me wanna curl up into a hole and drink margaritas till October (when I’ll simply switch to Irish coffee of course! *grin*).

I remember a summer like this one, a  few years ago. We had a long weekend and my friends and I decided to escape the heat and go away to Nasik.

We landed in Bombay to a wet and gray morning, which was just wonderful after all that intense yellow heat of Dubai. We set off immediately.

Onward to Nasik!

Onward to Nasik!

We stayed at the Beyond, a bungalow nestled in the middle of the vineyards of Sula.

The Beyond

The Beyond

If you look at their website now, you’ll see what they call The Beyond is a 32 room resort with a spa and all the other trimmings. But when we went there in 2009, they just had one bungalow, no restaurant, no resort or spa. This was quite perfect for us, cos you know how we prefer renting homes to hotel rooms.

we had hammocks!! :D

we had hammocks!! :D

Since it was off-season, we had the run of the entire place, including the surrounding hills and lakes.

View from the house

View from the house

Of course, other than lazy walks to the lake and hills, we didn’t do much of anything.

5

At The Beyond

lazing

lazing

Oh hang on! There was one thing we did with gusto! We ate! We ate like there was no tomorrow!

The bungalow came with three men who would cook and clean for us. I’d have happily married the cook and brought him back with me, he was so good! We’d start the morning around the massive round dining table. The cook would make hot paranthas and bring them out as soon as he made one instead of stacking them up to serve all of us together. This had all of us scrambling for the prime spot- the chair closest to the kitchen. When things got a bit ridiculous, the cook just shook his head and cut the paranthas into portions so he could serve more of us and make us behave like the adults we were pretending to be.

Then of course, he’d ask us if we wanted chai. We’d all nod our heads, but by the time he brought out the chai, we would have started on the wine (Yeah, right after breakfast. Don’t judge us! We were on vacation!)

In fact… a lot of wine was had!

Salud!

Salud!

When you know you've had enough  to drink! :P

When you know you’ve had enough to drink :P

We might have lounged around the pool for a bit, might have gone for walks around the hills and the lake. But what we mainly did was eat the wonderful food cooked for us and drink wine like there was no tomorrow! At the end of 3 blissful days, we returned back home with enough excess baggage around our waists to last us till the holiday season.

The end of the rainbow!

The end of the rainbow didn’t have gold, but there was wine!

 

Sigh. I need a vacation!

The Mystical and the Mythical

As you probably know, I’m Indian, though I’ve lived in Dubai most of my life. I’ve been to India too many times to count, and have even lived there for a few years for under-grad and then work. But every time I go there, I experience something new! It may be places I never knew about, food I’ve never tasted before, or customs and traditions that I never knew existed. 

For instance, have you heard of the Indian Devil Tree? In Kerala, they call it the pala maram. It is said that a yakshi (female demon) lives in this tree and likes to drink the blood of men and eat up children! At least, that’s the folklore I’ve heard. They  apparently have really long hair to hide their back, which is hollow and they don’t walk, but glide across the ground (which is lucky cos their feet are placed backwards :P). They are supposed to be really beautiful and lure the men in with their beauty and finally kill them (not sure why!). They come out of the tree when the flowers bloom and the smell of the flowers is supposed to be quite intoxicating. 

Now, my bedroom in my house in Trivandrum has a balcony which is shaded by a massive version of the Indian devil tree! Though I’m not usually bothered by the tree or any tree-hugging demon that may be living there, I occasionally wonder about all the myths and legends behind it, and then scare myself to the point that I can’t sleep at night! Yeah, I’m a wuss like that. It’s kinda also why I never watch horror movies! :P

So imagine my surprise when I saw this little procession walk by!

procession

procession

Mom said they looked like they were on a pilgrimage of some sort.

2

that guy looks like he’s covered in turmeric!

Then this wild looking guy comes up…

Then this scary looking dude came up

What’s going on?

… stops in front of the devil tree…

photo (17)

erm?

…and smears kumkum on it! 

!!!

!!!

 

photo (13)

praying?

I think he then said a little prayer, then they all walked away, still playing the drums and singing phrases I couldn’t understand. I asked my mom what was happening, and she explained to me that the yakshi was also worshipped as a goddess! There are even temples for yakshis in Kerala, which was quite a revelation to me! 

What is strange an exotic to some may seem absolutely normal for others. But in India at least, I can bet that even Indians are sometimes flummoxed by the traditions and customs that exist within their own communities!  

I guess that’s the magic and allure of India! The exotic and unknown awaits you, right around the corner, even if it’s around the corner of your own backyard! 

An Unexpected Trip

I was in Kerala all last week. My mom wasn’t well and needed surgery. I found out Thursday, while I was in the middle of work (cos my parents believe that telling bad news is something that can be left to the last possible moment). I took the next flight out, at 4am. The week was spent running in and out of hospitals, mainly. There was a lot of waiting, a lot of stress, and a lot of suppression of emotions cos you have to look brave in front of mommy and act like everything’s gonna be okay so she’s not more freaked out than she already is.

Thankfully, it all did go okay. The surgery went well, and she’s recovering, though slowly. Before they wheeled her into surgery, she made sis and I promise that we’d participate in the Attukal pongalaSis had already done it the previous year, with mom, but I’m not exactly religious. My religious practices revolve more around the eating of the prasad rather than the making of it!

If you’re too lazy to check the link, lemme give you an idea of what the Attukal Pongala is. It’s an offering of sweet rice pudding (or other stuff, this is what I made) for the deity of the Attukal temple in Trivandrum, Kerala. This ritual is meant to be done only by women (dunno why) and the prasad needs to be cooked outside, in a 5km radius around the temple. People flock to Trivandrum days in advance and reserve spaces around this 5 km radius to ensure that they have a good spot on D Day.

reservation

This was a couple of days before the day

lining the streets

On the day of pongala

 

Fortunately, I happen to live around this 5km radius, and we asked our watchman to save a spot for us, so it was pretty chilled out for us, relatively. In fact, I think my aunt, sis and I had the easiest pongala ever cos we had a shady spot right beneath our building and could walk up to the apartment and back whenever we needed to. We didn’t have to go to our spots at 5am carrying all the ingredients (including water) and wait till 10:30 in the heat for when the ritual actually begins.

The payasam is easy enough to make -first add water and wait till it boils. Then add the rice. When the rice is half-cooked,  add the jaggery and cardamom.

Making the payasam

Making the payasam

Towards the end, I added some grated coconut and chopped up a few small bananas as well. You can add other stuff like nuts and raisins, but I left it as is.

All done!

All done!

Pretty simple, right? The tricky part is doing this on a wood-fire, with an earthen pot propped on a “stove” of 3 bricks. The smoke from the fire makes your eyes water like crazy and you’re half-blinded by the tears and the smoke during the entire process.

In spite of this rudimentary method of cooking, I had a lot of fun. I was with my fun-aunt and my sis, and we shared a lot of laughs between us. Plus it was a relief to just concentrate on making the payasam instead of worrying about mom. It was somehow comforting to feel like I was doing something in an otherwise helpless situation. And it was a pleasure to see it all come together pretty easily into a tasty payasam. Everyone around me was doing the same thing (some people were making multiple pots even!), which kinda brought us all together in some strange way, even though I couldn’t relate to all the piousness and felt like I was a visitor in a Members Only area.

If you’re ever in Kerala during this time, you can’t escape the excitement for sure, but try and be a part of it, just for the experience. You won’t regret it.

 Pongala

Independence Day

Do you enjoy your work? Your job? Are you free to walk out in the streets by yourself without fear? Are you able to dress in what you are comfortable in and not be judged or looked at lasciviously or groped? Are you able to have a drink without being molested and then blamed for it cos “you ASKED for it” cos you chose to drink? Are you able to travel without a male chaperone?

Are you really Free?

Go-Ahh! :D

Annnd I’m back!

Back from my impromptu little sojourn to the most chilled-out place ever. It’s like everyone’s walking around in a stoned haze or something! Which wouldn’t surprise me, considering I walked into Martin’s Corner and instantly smelled pot in the air! I breathed in deeply and exclaimed to sis “I’m gonna love it here!” :D

And who wouldn’t? What with the delicious sea-food and their cheap alcohol and laid-back attitude, the place is a haven for a wannabe beach bum (I prefer mountains, but who can say no to alcohol and good food at these prices?).

I arrived at seven in the morning on Friday to cloudy skies and beautifully lush green landscape. I felt like I was in Kerala, the flora is so very similar! I was staying in South Goa, which is quieter than the north, the party-place. This suited me and sis fine as we are not really into the crazy party scene, and cos it was off-season, we got a very good rate at the hotel as well.

As there is no direct flight from Dxb-Goa and I had to take a connecting flight which basically meant I had to keep running through various airports from 10pm till 6am and was exhausted by the time I’d reached Goa. When I reached the hotel, I took a shower to wash away the grime of 3 cities and fell into the kinda deep, dreamless sleep that comes with exhaustion. I woke up around noon, famished and salivating at the thought  of goan fish curry and rice.

Lunch at Calangute

The hotel lunch, unfortunately, was a bit disappointing. I think what happens at hotels is they try to cater to a wider audience and so compromise on authenticity and opt for bland, safer food. It wasn’t bad, but not as good as the Goan food I’ve had previously (or since).

My sis arrived by the afternoon flight, and we headed straight to the massive pool at the hotel. The water was lovely and cool, perfect for the weather. The pool was surrounded by lovely coconut palms on one side and a massive bar at one corner. The clouds stayed gray and lovely, with a beautiful breeze  bringing us the smell of the lovely frangipani trees a little away. We stayed there for a very long time,  talking non-stop and jumping from topic to topic, running away with our thoughts and so into catching up after so long that we didn’t realize that we had become as wrinkled as a couple of prunes! When we finally got out of the pool, we were both hungry again. Dinner was at Martin’s Corner, where sis got super tipsy after a couple of sips of their very potent Long Island iced tea, or maybe the smell of weed in the air had something to do with it as well!  ;) The food was delicious, and and the conversations hilarious, thanks to the LiiTs!

Aguada Fort

The next day was mainly spent in North Goa and in the evening, we checked out St. Xavier’s church and then headed to Panjim to meet Haathi. She took us to dinner at the lovely Portuguese restaurant – Venite. Meeting Haathi didn’t really feel like I was meeting someone new! I felt like I already knew her, the conversation was easy and flowed just as easily as the feni!

At the end of it, she took us for a nightly stroll along the lovely Portuguese-style houses and I was so distracted with things that I forgot to give her the gift I got her from dxb. :( I felt like an idiot about that, cos I kept reminding myself to not leave it at the hotel… and I didn’t… I left it in the car. *sigh*

Oh well! This just means I’ll have to go back and meet her again, na? :)

Beat the Heat

I was so busy in the office these past couple of weeks that I’ve been working myself to the bone and then coming home exhausted and too mentally wrung out to do ANYthing else.  Though we’re supposed to have reduced working hours for Ramadan, I’ve been staying at work till 7-8pm on most days. Not to mention that it is hot here! This summer’s been the hottest and most difficult that I can remember, with temperatures rising to 50 deg C and lowering only to 40 deg C in the nights.

bit warm, isn’t it?

At work, I had no time to think! My boss was on leave and I was doing his work as well, so I’d be running around from his meetings to mine and then rush back to finish work and when I got home (late) and finally got a chance to catch my breath, the assault of all the emotions pent-up from my day  would leave me exhausted. I would just lie on the couch, surfing the channels continuously, not able to retain interest in anything. I’d fall asleep and wake up hours later, freezing to death, and then drag myself to bed.

I stopped cooking. I’d order take-away or eat maggi. I stopped exercising (other than the mandatory yoga in the morning to control the pain of overworking myself). I stopped cleaning. So there’s piles of newspapers stacked around the house, most still in covered in plastic. The ones that have the plastic taken off are those that I don’t pick up early enough in the morning, so someone “borrows” them and after reading, brings it back. I would have been more exasperated with that, except, I feel slightly better that at least someone is reading the paper and it isn’t going completely to waste. Plus, exasperation takes effort too, and I just couldn’t be bothered.

But thankfully, my boss is quite cool. He gets the all-work-and-no-play-makes-me-cranky mindset (he’s the same) and so he gave me a day off next Sunday (our regular weekends are on Fri-Sat, this being the Middle East). I also got my commissions for the last quarter, and because we did so well last quarter, I’m rich (for like, a month :P)!

So I called my sis and made plans to meet. I mailed Haathi and asked her how the weather was in her neck of the woods, and after hearing  how lovely the rains are and seeing my car’s thermometer rise to crazy levels and stay there, I decided to go to Goa for the weekend! :D

By the time you read this, I’ll have landed in Goa and be enjoying my welcome drink from a nice lounge at the hotel (I hope!). This will be my first trip to anywhere with just my sis.  I’m so looking forward to this!  The rains,  spending time with sis, meeting  Haathi, exploring the Goan landscape and eating the awesome local cuisine … can’t wait! :D

I’ll see you on the other side of this mini-holiday!

Stay cool!