A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Archive for September, 2012

Onsite Opportunity – A book review

Posted by Pepper on September 29, 2012

I don’t usually do book reviews. As much as I love reading books, I don’t really enjoy writing about them. Perhaps because I fear destroying the impact of the book, by using words that don’t fully convey its essence. This book though, is special. The author of this book, Mukul Kumar got in touch with me and asked me if I’d like to review his book on my blog. If I did, he would send me a copy. I have an insatiable appetite for books. So obviously, I was terribly excited. Moreover, I had read the book review on Sharell’s blog, and she had only good things to say about it. So I was waiting for my copy to arrive in the mail.

Within a few days, I had the book in my hands. I read it in one go, and let me tell you, I am not disappointed. This book is about ‘Onsite Opportunities’, offered to people in the software industry. The synopsis of the book told me I would be able to relate to it. I do have a lot of friends working in the IT world. In fact, the BFF spent many years in an IT company, before she decided to do an MBA and switch fields. Mint’s brother, Oregano, is also currently working in the IT industry. So yes, I already had an idea of what their lives are all about.

Onsite Opportunity is a book that gives you a dose of reality. Ganga, and a bunch of his colleagues end up in projects that take them to foreign countries. They are starry eyed Indians, excited by the possibilities their futures hold. As the book progresses, you find yourself relating to most of their experiences. On more than one occasion  I found myself saying, ‘Oh yes, that happened to me too when I stepped out of India’. It talks about Indians,who have always lived in a cocoon , and how they cope with the differences in culture.

The book also describes the desperate measures people take to grab that Onsite Opportunity. It makes you wonder and think why most Indians are enamoured by the West. How worth it it is. Do we end up disappointed? Or addicted to their ways?

Mukul Kumar has done a great job. The language is simple. The book is a light hearted read. At the same I would call it insightful as Mukul takes you to the countries he has traveled to. Since India is currently under the software/IT spell, I would say most people will be able to relate to the book.  If you are looking for a breezy read, I’d say this is the book for you.

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

When you are tired

Posted by Pepper on September 28, 2012

and cranky and grumpy after working on your assignments and projects for what seems like 30 hours straight, you decide to brighten your night.

Step 1. Ignore your pending workload and get out of your desk.

Step 2. Brush some slices of bread with spicy olive oil. Layer it with minced garlic. Add sliced cheese onto it. Then grate pesto cheese onto it. Toast it, till the cheese melts. Finally, sprinkle some chili flakes.

Step 3. Bring out the newly acquired DVD of Tom and Jerry. This one comes with a box of crayons!

Step 4. Sink into your couch, bite into one of the yummiest creations there ever was, as you watch one of your favourite shows.

Ah, happiness.

Pesto cheese that gives you a taste of heaven

 

My path to happiness 🙂

 

Posted in Small joys | 26 Comments »

Entertainment

Posted by Pepper on September 26, 2012

One of the advantages of moving back to India is that I can now afford things I couldn’t even dream of affording in the US. Take for example, a good massage. A few places around our home in the Bay Area charged $50 for a 15 minute foot massage. As a result, in all the time I spent in the US, I went for a massage just one single time, that too, when LivingSocial threw up a good deal.

In this regard, moving back to India has been a real treat. A few months ago, my neck and shoulder pain returned with a vengeance. I still haven’t identified the cause, but the pain is nasty. It surfaces and subsides at its own whim. One evening, I thought the pain was causing me a lot of discomfort. I could do with a massage. Since I couldn’t think of anything else, I went to the salon (or local beauty parlour) below my house, and asked them if they could use some hot oil to massage my shoulders.

They agreed. The lady there got to work. She used her fingers skillfully, to straighten my aching muscles. She used organic SPA oil, and went on for a good 30 minutes, kneading, dissolving the strange knots at the base of my neck and releasing the muscles of all accumulated tension. It was magic. The soreness almost disappeared. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. Just when I thought it was over, she got a hot towel and pressed it against my shoulders. I could have moaned in pleasure.

When it was time to pay, I was a little apprehensive. How much would this indulgence cost me? When she told me, the total charge was Rs.100, I almost collapsed in shock. A measly 100 rupees for such luxury? The owner of the salon happens to be somebody my mom knows. So they are always giving us good deals, but despite that, this seemed too good to be true.  I realised I could get used to this. So it turned into a ritual. Every few days, I would take my achy shoulders to them for a quick fix.

A few days ago, I went to the salon for my usual massage. The girl who does it for me was not around, and I was a little disappointed. She does a splendid job. They asked me if I was okay going under the hands of a relatively new employee. Not having the heart to say no, I agreed. She got to work. After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: Are you okay?
Me: *Not knowing what this meant..* Yes, I am fine. Thank you.

After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: You don’t seem okay. You used to be such a funny girl at one time. Now you don’t even laugh.
Me: *Totally taken aback by that remark, I wondered what she meant. I used to be a funny girl? And she was saying that? Before this day, I had seen her a grand total of two times. I didn’t remember bouncing about like a clown on either of the two days. To prove to her that I was still very funny, I let out a small laugh*

After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: I think you have tension. See this pain here? It is because of stress. You can tell me what is wrong.
Me: *Really wondering where this is going..* I don’t know what is causing the pain. There is nothing wrong really.

After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: You should not be hiding things from everyone. You can talk to me.
Me: *Slightly exasperated* But there is nothing to talk about. I am okay. Why do you think something is wrong?

Silence.

After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: R told me you are staying with your parents since a few months, though you are married. Did you have a fight with your husband? Is that why you are stressed and getting pain in your neck and shoulder?
Me: WHAT? *Suddenly realising what this was all about* Err, I didn’t have a fight with my husband. I chose to live with my parents while he is doing his.. actually, never mind.

She was silent after that. Probably because she knew it wasn’t a good idea to mess with me at that time. And I couldn’t help wondering, what was going on? After a while, the whole incident started tickling me. I felt sorry for the girls who work at the salon. They need some gossip to keep them going right? I don’t mind, being their source of entertainment for a while. Now I am left wondering. Who else do I unknowingly entertain?

Posted in Life in India | 52 Comments »

The very long European holiday post

Posted by Pepper on September 22, 2012

– So yes, Europe was breathtaking. I don’t think I mentioned the reason behind our trip. Mint had to spend a few weeks in Paris for an exchange program, or to attend some seminars, or whatever it is that it was. But it was the school that sent him, and a bunch of other students there. Of course, the spouses decided to tag along and turn it into a holiday by adding a few more destinations to the agenda.

– We had our flight at 2 am. Till 8 pm, we were doing laundry and trying our best to rid the clothes of the residual dampness.  I used my hair dryer a few times. At 10 pm, we were at a mall, buying a suitcase. We started packing at 11 pm. I was on the verge of smacking Mint when he told me  at midnight that we still had to take printouts of our tickets and hotel reservations.  I guess I have to accept the fact that we have to do every single thing on the last possible minute.

– Once at the airport, I realised Mint had a new toy to play with – our new 4 wheel suitcase. He kept running around, spinning the suitcase every now and then, driving me nuts. Yes, I had to put this down here, so that I don’t forget about the childlike brat that resides in him.

Prague

– Prague was our first stop. I know I am going to find it really hard to stop raving about the beauty of this place. This is by far, one of the most beautiful places I saw. In my opinion, it beats Paris, Amsterdam and the other more popular destinations by a large margin. The city’s architecture leaves you awe struck for a long time. There are pretty cafes on streets, live music, gorgeous flowers lining roads that make walking there a true delight.

– During one of our night outs there, everybody decided to try Absinthe. We were in a club, dancing the night away. I gulped at the thought of trying something like that. Absinthe is a highly alcoholic beverage. It is banned in the US and most other parts of Europe due to its high alcoholic content. And people here wanted to do Absinthe shots? I wasn’t so sure. They did it anyway. I tried half a shot, and gulped it down without thinking. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes within seconds. I tried my best to douse the fire burning in my throat, lungs and stomach, but nothing worked. The others survived it without much effect. I wonder how? I know one thing though – I am not doing it again!

– We spent a lot of our time there in the beautiful gardens and parks, trying different kinds of beers and enjoying the warm sunshine. I am not a beer person, so I didn’t have much, but most people became a fan of the dark beers Prague offered. We also spent time admiring all the churches, cathedrals and palaces they have there. That place screams history, with some structures belonging to the 14th century.  14TH CENTURY! Walking in and around such ancient monuments was a strange feeling. There is so much to know and learn in this world.

– We were a group of 4 couples, out of which, one had a 1.5 year old little boy with them. I fell in love with him right in the beginning of the trip, and spent most of my time cuddling him, pushing his stroller, entertaining him, feeding him and loving him some more. When I think of it, I guess most of us did offer a helping hand to the parents, in some way or the other. But me, I was totally smitten and couldn’t keep away from him. To my utter delight, Mint seemed as smitten and we had a lot of fun, taking care of the little boy together.

– I attended my very first Opera concert in Prague. One thing I know about myself – I am not too much into classical music. I was pretty sure the long shrill verses sung by the Opera singers would bore me, but surprisingly, I actually sat through it, without feeling too bored. I even understood most of it, thanks to the translations.

Paris

– This is where we spent most of our time. A little more than 10 days. It gave me a wonderful chance to explore Paris at length and actually understand and learn the city. Everyday, we would pick a neighbourhood, and walk around there, bumbling along cafes, restaurants, libraries. We explored the city during the day, and spent the nights dining at local French restaurants, sipping wine and chatting about our day.

– I repeat, there is so much to learn and know in this world. Each street we went to, each corner we visited had a story. They spoke about the sufferings the Jews underwent, the life of the locals, the history behind the monuments, tales from the World War, etc. I tried soaking up all the knowledge I could. This is why I love travelling, it enriches me.

– I mainly hung out with a group of girls that were extremely fashion conscious. They loved dressing up. To my surprise, they had carried 4-5 pairs of shoes, 3-4 handbags and a lot of stylish clothes. In my bid to pack light, I had taken only 2 pair of shoes and one single handbag, along with some tees and jeans. Being around them, I felt very under dressed. They also told me I wore a lot of dull colours and needed to brighten up. Eh? They also told me I should step out of my jeans and consider wearing more skirts and dresses. Mint agrees with them and says I need to dress differently, and in short – be more like a girl. Eh? Well, okay. We’ve declared a ‘no jeans rule’ for our dinner dates.  Let me bring out my skirts and leggings now.

–  Mint and I babysat the little boy for an entire day once, while the parents took a well deserved break. So it was the 3 of us in the room.  We spent all our time chasing him, playing with him, singing to him. After a while, I was too tired to entertain him. Mint had to get ready too, so he wasn’t available. I got fed up and turned on my laptop, put on a few songs for him, hoping it would quieten and calm him. It worked. He sat quietly for 30 mins, giving us a break. There, so much for judging parents who use technology to distract their kids. And oh, living with a 1.5 year old toddler is tough. Very tough.

– Paris has stunning museums. I loved Versailles and would love to take my child there someday. I wish I had seen such places when I studied the French Revolution in school. It would have helped so much. It was a sudden realisation for me, to know that the figures we saw in our text books are actually real people. They lived in this palace I was seeing, slept on this bed!

– Monalisa is overhyped. Everybody says it, and I will too. The painting was tiny, and I wondered just what was so special about it? The other paintings and sculptures in Louvre were fascinating though. Especially because they were so ancient!

Amsterdam

– We lived in a house boat! Or rather, a hotel boat. The rooms we stayed in, were tiny! So tiny, that there was no room for a double bed. We had bunk beds! But living and sleeping on water gave me such a high. We also had a beautiful deck to marvel at and lounge on. The boat had a ‘confidence bar’. Which meant, there was nobody manning it. You take the drink yourself, and leave the money there. I was amazed! And saddened, because something like this would never work in India.

– The red light district in Amsterdam was equally fascinating. It looked like women were on sale! Wearing bikinis and standing by windows, calling you inside. Oh yes, we went for a live sex show there. There was a stage on which the couple had sex, and the audience watched. Yes, we sat on the front row. I don’t know why. Mint said we’d never watch it again, so we might as well get a good view now. Um.

– I was left wondering. How do those people there have sex in front of an audience? Couples took turns to come on stage, and do it there. How? What must it feel like, to perform like that, for an audience? The moves, the positions, it all seemed so rehearsed. I sighed. That’s not how sex should be. It should be intimate and free flowing and spontaneous. Mint told me I was expecting too much, if I really expected to see some spontaneity on stage there. I know he was right. But watching those people have soulless sex like that to make money, made me a little sad.  And oh, I will never be able to get over the embarrassment I underwent here. It was about 3 am. I was tired and sleepy. We sat on the front row, watching the sex show. And, I …fell asleep. Only to be woken up by the performer on stage, asking me in a horrified tone, “ARE YOU SLEEPING??”. I woke up with a start, and said no. Mint, in a bid to cover up, said “Of course not”. My cheeks remained flustered for a long time. Me dozing off on the front row while watching a sex show also become the talk of the town, and people couldn’t stop laughing for days to come.

– Amsterdam is a beautiful city, and very bike friendly. We spent an entire day biking around the place. And it was gorgeous!

– We also stopped by in Brussels for a few hours. I thought the city was okay. Not as charming as the other places we’d visited.

Venice

– What do I say? Even the memories leave me speechless. This is a city that is built on water. It looks like the houses are floating on water. Imagine not having any land as you step out of your door? You have to step directly onto a boat. People go to work on boats and water taxis. Office buildings are built on canals. It all looks very surreal.

– The gondola ride was great, but overpriced, if you ask me. 100 frigging Euros for 30 mins? Not done!

– The Burrano island left me spellbound. Rows and rows of colourful houses. Each house a different colour! Pretty little bridges over blue water. I had to pinch myself to believe this was not some fairy tale land. Mint and I did a lot of Bollywood stunts here, while the others had a good time clicking us.

On the whole:

– We had the time of our lives. Period.

– Mint won the title of ‘Best Husband’ around. His extra good behaviour surprised me too. He would be willing to carry me and walk if I said I was tired. He would encourage me to shop more and spend more, and even be willing to bunk class to take me shopping. He would bring me the mini cakes they served them in their school there. Just the way he did earlier.  He would seek my permission when he wanted to drink. He would bring me coffee and breakfast in hand, and a lot more. The guys made fun of his ‘good husband’ behaviour. The girls went “Awwww”. Me, I was left wondering, what really happened to him? We hardly fought during our entire trip!

– A lot of the waiters and servers we interacted with had traveled to India, and even lived there for months. Was it a coincidence, we wondered. They had only nice things to say about our country. I loved meeting people like that, with different backgrounds and experiences. I loved conversing with them, and learning their perceptions of India.

– Mint has still not gotten over his obsession of jumping. Each location we went to, he said he wanted a picture of him jumping there. He said he was doing a series called ‘Jumps around the world’, and will compile all his jumping pictures and make an album.

– I don’t know how, but we nearly missed every single flight and train we had to catch. Every single time, I remember giving up hope and being sure of missing it, only to have made it in the last second. Every single time, we ran, with huge bags. Why don’t we ever learn?

– I didn’t have any plans to shop. Despite that, I did end up buying stuff. Magnets from all the places we visited, a block of delicious, green coloured Pesto cheese from Amsterdam (my favourite), 3 handbags,  key chains and a jacket from Paris, a gold plated coin with a carving of Christ (this one went straight to my wallet, for keepsake), a puppet from Prague, leggings from Rome (from the airport), chocolates from Belgium and post cards from every place we visited. What a lovely, lovely vacation this was.

Live music on the streets of Prague

Locks on the sides of the river. It is said that if you come to the riverside after your marriage ceremony, place a lock here along with your partner, and throw the key into the water, you will remain in wedlock forever

Me smiling at the number of couples who have locked their lives here together

Playing with the little one, as we soak in the sun

Coffee with a view

We had a blast, playing together in the hotel room

Running around in Paris

Fooling around near the Eiffel Tower. I am glad Mint obliges, each time I want to do something crazy

Venice!

Look at the row of colourful houses.

The pretty Venetian masks. That’s really not how I look though *chuckles*

Because we love jumping and dancing when we are transported to a fairytale land

Posted in Travel | 82 Comments »

Lost belongings and heart ache

Posted by Pepper on September 18, 2012

Hello people! I am back. After all the fun I had in Europe, returning to routine hasn’t been easy.  I just got back today, and the thought of unpacking makes me cringe. My trip was fantastic, but as of now, I am crest fallen and very heavy hearted. It was our second day in Europe and we lost our camera. I hadn’t transferred the earlier pictures and losing the camera felt like a hard slap on my face. Like the Gods telling me,  “You keep procrastinating and never do things when they should be done. Now live with the consequences!” Sigh. Fortunately though, we were in a great group with some professional cameras and talented photographers. So we managed to get good pictures taken during the trip.

I was returning home today, with all my luggage in tow. And my bag pack got flicked. In Bombay. From Borivali station. It was 5:15 am, and all I know is that I put my bag down for one lousy moment, and it was gone. It contained a lot of stuff. My laptop and iPod, amongst other things.

The moment I realised it was gone, I could feel a deep wail filling my throat. My iPod was precious to me. And we had purchased the laptop just before moving from the US. It was a good one. We had transferred a lot of data onto it. It had a million folders with all our pictures, right from 2003. I have no back up. It’s all gone. And I can’t describe the ache I feel.

We went to the police, but the cops there seemed too uninterested and uncaring. The moment I got back home, I sobbed. Loudly. The pictures were priceless. The other data it contained was irreplaceable. I don’t know what I will do. And I am not even talking about the monetary loss. Though, my camera and laptop and iPod put together, equals to *a lot* of money.

Anyway.  I have been telling myself there are more grave issues in the world. There is hunger and poverty, and agony and death. People are suffering. My lost belongings are not worth crying over. I will start afresh. I will buy new stuff, slowly. I will click more pictures and build a new collection. It is not the end of the world.

Let me now focus on the rollicking trip and highlight it’s awesomeness in the form of a post. I shall put it up soon. Just after I settle down a little. How you guys been?

 

PS  – If any of you are travelling to Bombay from the US, and are willing to carry a laptop for me, please do get in touch with me. Thanks so much!

Posted in Chaos | 87 Comments »

 
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