Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Where we realise what a makeup addict we have become

"Is something... going on with your eyes?"

"Yes. Yes there is."

This was a conversation I had yesterday with a coworker while heating up my rajma chawal for lunch. And then later in the afternoon, I met a friend who hadn't seen me in a while, who shrieked  and said: "What happened to you?!"

Because, clearly, the people who do see me every day are too nice to tell me how bad I really look. But yes, the area around my eyes currently looks like what the internet tells me is called a sharpei dog.

Which, let's be honest, is a lot better than I did two weeks ago, which was basically exactly how Harry looked after they were captured by the Snatchers and Hermione jinxed him.

Except I couldn't open either eye at the time.

We can get into what exactly happened to cause all of this at another time, but right now, can I just say, for someone who used to put no makeup other than eyeliner till about two years ago, when exactly did makeup become so important to me?

This entire allergy nonsense started over a weekend. The first Monday after it started, I took photos of what I was looking like before and after I put makeup, and man, have I become really good at applying makeup. Of course, by the next day, my face was so swollen that no amount of makeup was going to do any good, but that one day, I was so freakin' proud of my skills.

For two weeks now, I've been banned from makeup. I get the need to avoid it for now, but when you look the way I currently do, and you're not allowed to put anything that would hide it, it really does do something to your self-esteem.

I've been rebelling a little - I'm still using mascara and perfume (I'd put eyeliner too, but that's kinda hard to do when you can't find your eyeline). Neither of those things is making me look any better, but they make me feel better.

The good news is, we seem to be getting closer to figuring out what may have caused this (and I am not happy about the findings, but that's yet another rant for another day). And so when I cautiously asked this afternoon if I can start applying makeup again, I was told I can "start testing it out and see what happens".

So hopefully, tomorrow when I walk into work, I'll be looking less zombie-like, and see fewer people stop in their tracks when they see me, and then quickly glance away politely.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Of solo trips and chocolate nostalgia

At this point, if you're still a reader of this blog, chances are you know me from real life somehow, and therefore have a sense of the amount I travel, as well as a vague sense of the how/why behind it. From 2014 to 2017, according to the site I use to track these things, I have apparently averaged nearly 83,000 miles of flying every year. And have already crossed 25,000 miles in 2018.

A lot of that flying was for work (I could tell you exactly how much, because that site tracks everything about your flights), but a significant chunk was for personal trips as well. The personal trips probably make up most of those miles, to be honest - work trips might have been more frequent, but the personal trips have been to more distant places.

I've done all kinds of personal travel in the last four years - solo trips, random day trips, trips with friends, trips with family, 24 hour trips, 48 hours trips. The one thing I hadn't done so far was a solo trip to a place where I don't speak the language.

Well, that changed this weekend.

I finally got around to applying for and getting my Schengen visa at the end of last year. They gave it to me for six months, and I knew I had to use it at least twice to make it worthwhile. A longer trip is being planned for this summer, but I wanted to use it over a long weekend as well. We get Good Friday off, and I figured... why not Germany?

So I flew to Frankfurt Thursday evening, landing Friday morning. I chose a hotel using my usual criteria whenever I travel alone - look at the chain I usually stick to, and pick whatever hotel they have closest to the main area of the city. In this case, Frankfurt's Central Station, because the plan was to to do a day trip to Heidelberg on Saturday, which was today and then fly back Sunday, i.e., tomorrow.

There is a reason I wanted to go to Heidelberg, and I'll come to that towards the end of this post. But first, a few musings on this trip overall:

  • The kind of a traveler I am makes it easy for me to travel alone. I like seeing historical things, and I like seeing cliched touristy stuff. So it's easy for me to pick up a travel guide, and just hit the road. Every single guide book I own has every place I've seen or visited meticulously ticked off, a fact that makes friends who then borrow said guide books from me roll their eyes.
  • The kind of introvert I am also makes it easy for me to travel alone, but also has issues. I invariably realise either halfway through a trip, or after the fact, that I know someone in the city I've visited, and it's too late to reach out.
  • Selfies are hard to take. Thankfully, the world is full of tourists who offer to and/or agree to take a photo of you (and your group, if you're not alone), and then gratefully accept your offer to take a photo of their group. I met a very sweet German couple today who agreed to take a photo of me, and then very shyly agreed to let me take a photo of them. The gentleman asked me very grimly if I was from India, which initially made me wonder if we had done something to offend him. He and his wife respectfully minded the gap and stood three inches apart for their photo, and then he coaxed her to take out her own camera to get me to click some photos on that as well, which she blushingly did. He then proceeded to ask me where in India I was from, and when I asked him in return if he had been, he said no. He's only been to Karachi in Pakistan. Which left me even more confused.
  • The one thing I am not good at doing is dining alone in restaurants. I invariably grab something to go, or get something back to the hotel room to eat. I need to get better at exploring restaurants and cuisines when I do my solo trips. This trip was relatively easier though: a touristy curry sausage place in the square in Frankfurt yesterday, a crepes stall in the MarktPlatz, and of course, a McDonald's at the train station - none of these needed me to walk into a restaurant and ask for a table for one.
  • Yes, McDonald's. I have now been to this chain and had their McChicken burger in at least half a dozen countries (except Japan, where I ended up with a Chicken Teriyaki burger). And every single country I've been to does it better than Amreeka. But no one does it better than India. 
  • This trip is my first time to Europe since moving to Amreeka. I've done the UK several times, including a two month "study" abroad stint, but never mainland Europe. Which also means this was the first trip to Europe since this wonderful trip. And I am pleased to report that I have neither lost anything nor been robbed so far. Of course, we have another twelve hours or so till my flight takes off tomorrow, so who knows what'll happen in the interim.
  • The big thing I was worried about was the language barrier, because like I said, I've never travelled alone to a place where I don't know the local language. I've always had at least a friend with me who knows the local language enough to get us by. I mean, okay, Chennai a decade ago when I used to go for work might be the exception, and I might still have nightmares about my trips there, but other than that I mean. Surprisingly, it wasn't as much of an issue. Most people knew enough English to understand me, which was great since all I know is Danke, which I realised I'd been saying wrong all along only this evening. What was actually trickier was navigating, because the road signs are all in German, and the walking tour maps I had was using English names for a lot of places.
  • And lastly, I may need to revise my hotel picking strategy. Years ago, when I would plan trips, tripadvisor was my first stop. In the past five years, my interest in  loyalty programs has grown into a full-fledged obsession, so for the most part, I simply use my chain plus location plus price method of choosing where to stay. And so I've stopped looking at reviews as much. Which is why I didn't realise, till I was looking at the Yelp reviews of a very highly rated curry sausage literally right next door to my hotel, that the two streets on either side of my hotel are red light areas. The street in front of my hotel is fine, and two streets over is the main street of the city (complete with Indian restaurants, including a Saravanaa Bhavan, obvs), but those two streets are to be avoided apparently. Which was reiterated by the hotel receptionist when I was asking what to go see in Frankfurt. She point out points of interest, and then drew big crosses on the two streets on either side, telling me to avoid them completely. Oh, well. ¯\(ツ)/¯
So. The reason I wanted to visit Heidelberg. Years ago, when I was still in high school I think (so literally, 15-20 years ago at this point, because I'm old), the father had visited Heidelberg for work a few times, and had always come back with gorgeous photos of the castle. And this one time, he attended some sort of conference, where they gave him a box of chocolates to bring back. Called Heidelstones. They were cubes of chocolate, and inside were layers of jam, nuts, cake, and more chocolate. And they were amazing. And for years I've tried to find them, without success. I once found a website about them, but it was all in German, and it didn't seem like they shipped anyway. That site seems to have now shut down. 

A friend started looking into them a few weeks ago, when I started planning this trip, and didn't have much luck either. The closest thing she could find was dominosteines, which seem to be close, but I'm not entirely sure. You get them only at Christmas though, apparently, so I didn't see any to try either. I went into a couple of chocolate shops today to ask about them; only one person knew what I was talking about (so they do exist!), but had no idea where you actually get them.

So, while this trip has been fantastic, the main purpose remains unfulfilled. And I'm now sending an appeal into the universe at large - if you know what Heidelstones are, and/or where to get them, let me know please?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


This is not the post I was expecting or planning to write tonight.

A coworker discovered a new Indian restaurant near work, so after multiple rescheduling, we finally made it there for lunch today. As tends to happen after Indian buffets, I was absolutely stuffed. Having zero plans this Valentine's Day, I was very much looking forward to a quiet evening at home, with a corn and bean salad recipe I've been meaning to try for dinner.

Till a friend texted "see you at 7", and confused me completely, because I thought we were meeting tomorrow. I scrolled up and realised I was the one who had suggested meeting today, except I know I meant Thursday, but whatevs, not like I had competing plans on either day.

Normally, when I have plans after work, I just stay at work till it's time to go, because going home and then leaving again just seems like too much effort. Today, however, I really had nothing to do by about 5.30, and didn't feel like sticking around for another hour, so I figured I will go home after all, and chill for about 45 minutes before having to head out, since the restaurant was close to home.

I was walking to my car in the garage, and realised I'd left my glasses and sunglasses at my desk. My purse was heavy, and I was almost at my car, so I figured I'll drop my bag off and then go back in. And as I got to my car, I happened to glance up at the ramp that goes to the floor above where my car was parked, and noticed a man lying on the ground. I called out tentatively to ask if he was okay, and got no response. I ran up to him, to see what had happened, and realised that he was bleeding profusely from his nose, and not responding at all.

I'm embarrassed, ashamed, and just plain heartbroken to admit that I have no first aid or CPR knowledge, had no clue what to do, and so did nothing other than dump all my belongings on the floor, and frantically wave down cars of other people who were leaving work. Thankfully, two people stopped, and one of them did know CPR, which she started doing, while we called 911. Others stopped too, and for the next horrible, horrible 15 minutes, a group of four or five people just kept doing CPR on this man, one person kept trying to see if he could find a pulse, and I, along with a growing crowd, just stood there an watched. By the time the police and medics arrived, it was increasingly obvious it was too late to do anything, but they tried too, till even they stopped.

As the half dozen of us who had been there throughout stood around, waiting for the cops to speak to us as needed, some of them told me I shouldn't feel so bad about knowing what to do, because I saw him and I came to him, and I stopped others who tried to help. My manager later echoed the same thing. But what if someone else had found him? Someone who knew what to do? Maybe those two minutes between me finding him and the CPR starting would have made the difference?

It was such a weird confluence of events, today. If I hadn't mixed up days for dinner. If I hadn't finished up work early and decided to go home first. If I had turned back to get my glasses instead of wanting to drop off my bag first.  If any of those things hadn't happened, I wouldn't have seen him when I did.

But if I had known what to do, maybe the evening would have ended differently as well.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Taking stock of 2017

I was terrible at writing in 2017. The blog was barely updated, and a lot of it were just cop out posts, and it wasn't updated at all for the past three months. And I largely went off twitter for a larger part of the last few months as well. A lot of it was wanting to shut down and switch off from all the annoying and horrid news that constantly hits you when you're online, and a lot of it was also plain laziness and procrastination. The hope is to be better in 2018, and what better way to kick things off in the new year than my annual taking stock of the previous year?

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?

Umm, almost drown in the ocean in Hawaii while trying to swim with dolphins?

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't think I ended up making any last year, actually. But for this year, it would be to write more, even if they're cop out posts. Also to find myself a damn job that isn't this one.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?


5. What places did you visit?

One of the unstated goals of 2017 was to travel every month, and to new places. That did not happen very much, mainly because work travel was crazy in 2017, and all over the dang place. I was in New York for overnight trips every few weeks, it felt like, which usually meant I had no energy to do my usual weekend trips.
Still, a few lovely short vacations did happen, and a fantastic two weeks in India, where I got to spend Durga Pujo back home after six years. So that was nice.
The full list, combining work and leisure:
January - Mexico City, Los Angeles, New York, Boston. The last three were back to back work trips, all while I was battling fever and a cold, but I got to spend time with friends and family on those work trips, so it actually ended up being nice. When your sister in law makes dal chawal for you on a cold and snowy night in Boston, you really can't complain.
February - multiple trips to New York (which included a train trip to Philadelphia because a snowstorm meant flights out of LGA got cancelled)
March - New York, Atlanta, Jacksonville (FL)
April - San Francisco, Kona (HI)
May - New York, Boston, Portland (ME)
June - Cincinnati (OH), Florence & Newport (KY)
July - ZILCH.
August - New York, Sioux Falls (SD), Des Moines (IA). I saw the butter cow, y'all!!!
September - India for the last week
October - India for the first week, which included an overnight road trip to Karnal for parathas that we do not regret AT ALL. On the return, work took me to New York, again.
November - New York again, as well as back to school after two years for a recruiting trip.
December - Work travel for the year had finally died down, but the parents showed up, and we ended up in New York (yes, again, dammit, but this time because I wanted to) over Christmas, and then an overnight road trip to Houston so I could get some visa stuff done.
This list has made me feel good about my year, you guys.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

Inner peace.

7. What date from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

I nearly drowned in April. The brother graduated in May. And I was home for Pujo in September.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I don't think I have any that come to mind. How sad is that?

9. What was your biggest failure?

My complete and utter professional limbo.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Sigh, yes. This was not a good year, healthwise. All minor things that I could have ignored, but chose not to, which in a way is a good thing I suppose.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

I do love my new roomba, if for no other reason that my parents' whatsapp commentary about it as it runs while they're in my apartment is SO entertaining.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Meh. In 2017? I really don't know.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?

Aargh. Men, the world over. Politicians, in India and the US. Having political debates on FB about two countries is exhausting, y'all.

14. Where did most of your money go?

That roomba wasn't cheap, you guys. And I replaced my laptop of five years with a new one that I have fairly lukewarm feelings about so far.
Also I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of money on visa and immigration related nonsense.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Hawaii. Also that butter cow.
Also, the parents and I had planned a two day trip to Lucknow while I was in India that I was really looking forward to, but which had to get cancelled. Bummer.
Is it just me, or is travel playing too large a role in my ruminations this year?

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?

Not sure if there's a particular song.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

A little sadder, I think. I feel very disappointed in myself about 2017.

18. Thinner or fatter?

On the whole, marginally thinner.

19. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Travelled for myself. Networked professionally.

20. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Sat on the couch.

21. How will you be spending Christmas?

Spent it flying back from New York, and then making shepherd's pie for the parents.

22. Did you fall in love in 2017?


23. How many one-night stands?

At the risk of repeating myself, my mother reads this blog, people.

24. What was your favourite TV programme?

Comedies have been my lifesaver this year - Superstore, Great News, and The Good Place, all on NBC. Brooklyn Nine Nine. Late Night with Seth Meyers too.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Certain people at the workplace have been upgraded to worthy of being hated, yes.

26. What was the best book you read?

I read very, very little (if you exclude all my rereads of Nora Roberts and Mary Balogh, that is), even my woefully pitiful standards. But. I read Hillary Clinton's What Happened, and Alyssa Mastromonaco's Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?
I read the latter in three evenings flat, on my laptop, without getting distracted by other things, and will freely admit that it was my favourite book of the year.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

For a change, I actually paid attention to the new season of Coke Studio (a post about it has been sitting in my drafts for two months, and in my head for even longer), so I guess that might count?

28. What did you want and get?

I dunno.

29. What did you want and not get?

A different job. A manager who cares.

30. What was your favourite film of this year?

Wonder Woman. Hidden Figures.
I saw exactly five Hindi movies, but loved Lipstick under my Burkha and Death in the Gunj.
I'm sensing a theme here.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

It fell on a Saturday, and everyone was either travelling or busy, so the plan was to celebrate with friends the following weekend. So I planned to treat myself to a pedicure, followed by shopping. But then a friend made me come over to her place for dinner, so I ended up getting cake after all. :)

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

If I'd pushed myself to something about my career.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?

Comfortably smart.

34. What kept you sane?

Podcasts and late night shows.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Seth Meyers.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

Sigh. Have you seen the news?

37. Who did you miss?

I stopped keeping up with a lot of friends this year, both locally and otherwise.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

I didn't really meet any new people this year. How sad is that?

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.

I'm terrible at pushing myself to do anything, and that really needs to change.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

There is a song, This Year from Serendipity, that I had heard back in college, that I used to think was a great way to think about a new year. I don't know if there's a song that sums up 2017 for me, but I'd like to think I should keep it as my mantra, sort of.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A jeans and t-shirt kind of girl

I was home for Pujo this year, after six long years. Leaving the pandal after Anandamela, I saw a young girl entering with her family. She must have been 6 or 7 years old, and was wearing one of those really shiny frocks that continue to popular with girls that age. And I couldn't help but exclaim at her:
Such a lovely dress! I always wanted one of those, but was never given one.
She grinned shyly, and the mother just rolled her eyes.

It's true, I did always want one of those dresses. I don't know why I did - they're nothing like me, or what I usually like (or liked!) to wear. As an adult, I didn't start wearing skirts and dresses regularly till just a couple of years ago. I've always been a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl - except for when I was in a salwar kameez and a fabulous dupatta.

A large part of it was I very much dislike the idea of giving up comfort for looking good, but some of it was I think because of how the mother dressed me. She tended to dress me in jeans most of the time when I was a kid, because she thought I looked smart, and I had no problem with this state of affairs because it meant I could run around and play Crystal Maze and G.I. Joe to my heart's content.

This article came my way this afternoon, and broke my heart a little. A nine-year-old girl was denied Communion by her school because her fashion-loving sense said she should wear a snazzy suit for the occasion, and the powers that be at the school wanted her to wear a skirt or a dress.

There are two incidents from my childhood that are seared into my memory. The first, from when I was 7 or 8 years old, was a little more innocent, I think. I was playing with a friend, and I think it was Ghar-Ghar, and we were deciding who would be the wife and who would be the husband. She insisted I should be the husband, because "you always dress in pants anyway." I remember feeling startled and wondering why that mattered.

The other occasion has bothered me for far longer. I was four or five years old, and it was our school's annual Song Day, or whatever it was called, where we all lined up in rows and made to sing some song. My mother had bought me this lovely woolen jumpsuit for the occasion, which was white with a colourful pattern, and was the most comfortable thing ever. I reached school, and went to the area where my classmates were collecting. The teacher's help for our class looked at me and exclaimed irritatedly, "Uff, why are you wearing this? Couldn't you have worn a dress like a normal girl?"

I don't think I had even noticed till that moment that I was the only girl who wasn't wearing a dress that day. I do know I hate every single photo of myself in that outfit.

It's possible that incident is why I always wanted a nice and pretty flowery dress to wear. I do know I hated wearing frocks, so it's entirely possible that if I had been given one of those, I would have worn it exactly once. Kind of like what I do with saris today.

That incident didn't change how I dressed. It didn't make me care more about clothes, or worry about whether I'm dressed up enough. I continue to be the person who dresses a lot more simply than most people around me - to the point where my outfits for weddings and other social events are almost always criticized for being too simple.

But that incident did stay with me for far longer than it should have. And I hope that doesn't happen to this girl.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017


A few weeks ago, I was browsing through old chat histories - I think it started off as looking for something specific, and then dissolved into sheer nostalgia - and came across this old gem between the BFF and me, from a few years ago. It made me giggle endlessly, and I texted her to tell her I might be blogging about it. And then a few days later, FB reminded me that I had in fact also posted on there about being called a dhakkan.

And so here, for your reading pleasure, on a day when the news has been even worse than what it's been for the past several months, is that conversation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 10:16 AM

Me: Can I tell you about my dream

Her: OK

Me: I come home (not really my home, but in dream my home) to find front door wide open
So I go, dammit I need to get my life together
And I walk in and the place is a mess
So again I go, I need to get my life together
But then I realize I've been robbed

Her: U say that IRL too

Me: Because laptop is missing

Her: Dream you is a dhakkan

Me: So I walk into bedroom and it's also been ransacked
So I am freaking out
And then I see that bathroom door is closed

Her: Erkkkk
I scared

Me: And bathroom for some reason is just outside the apartment front door, which is weird
But anyway, I poke it open
And the thief is there
Taking a shower

Her: Um

Me: And for some reason he has only one arm

Her: Um...

Me: And he sees me and smirks and next thing I know he's at the end of the corridor (like he apparated there)
And I’m trying to scream and call for help
But my voice is gone
Then it's later, and some guys are there helping me or whatever, and I think one of them was A, not sure who the other guy was
And the one-armed man reappears in my living room
And then I woke up

Her: Who is A
I'm not Freud
It's just a dream
Dream you is a dodo

Me: A is colleague-friend who lives down the corridor from me
So makes sense he would be there

Her: OK that's reasonable
Good dream well done

Me: Thank you

Her: :D


I have to confess, I think I'm a lot braver in my dreams than in IRL. Real me would have run far, far away, not gone looking for the thief. Dream me is is truly a dhakkan.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Where I get a bit cranky

Someone once told me "I don't have a problem with where I am with my career when I just look at my job, and how I feel about it. It's when I start looking around at my peers or people I started with that I get angsty."

I am realising the truth of this more and more everyday.

Who you end up working for matters a great deal. I wish I had realised how much it mattered when I was looking at roles. There are managers you get along great with, there are managers you learn a great deal from, and there are managers who genuinely care about your career and your growth. That last factor is something I never gave any consideration to, and that's where I'm feeling increasing resentment these days.

But it's unfair to blame everything on external factors too. Because I suck at networking, at schmoozing, and keeping up with people because they might be useful to me some day. Heck, I suck at keeping in touch with people I do like and love, so clearly people I don't know or like far lower on the totem pole.

If I didn't love my job so much, I would really hate the fact that I seem to be in a bit of dead end in terms of my career, mostly of my own making.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

On podcasts and a year of listening to them

A year ago, I had no idea how to listen to a podcast. I knew they were a thing, and that I should probably figure out how to listen to them on my Android devices, but since my Googling skills suck, I never quite got around to it.

Then, The West Wing Weekly started. And I had to listen to that. So exactly one year ago yesterday (as FB reminded me) I sent out a plaintive request for help out on social media, and friend of the blog* @tantanoo figured it out for me. So I downloaded PocketCast (the only app I've ever paid for in my life) and started listening to TWWW. And I really, really enjoyed it. It also helped me actually stop rewatching The West Wing nonstop. Instead, I would watch only one episode a week - after listening to the podcast episode, so that I could also make sure to notice the little things they'd mention.

At some point the folks on TWWW recommended The Bugle, and that got added to my queue. Then the Pod Save America folks came on some late night show I was watching - I think it was Seth Meyers - to plug the podcast they were about to start, I decided to check out, and that got added to the queue. They started more podcasts, and some of those added to the queue too.

Then, having dinner with friends some months ago, podcasts came up, and my friend's husband suggested the Slate Political Gabfest, saying I'd enjoy it given my "political inclinations." When I mentioned them on Twitter, someone else suggested Slate's Trumpcast podcast, and that got added to the queue as well.

After a while, I felt my podcast queue was just too full of US politics, so I again turned to social media to ask for recommendations for some Indian podcasts. After trying out multiple ones, I have eventually settled on the ones from Newslaundry, and the Mint podcast.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped watching The West Wing, and listening to TWWW completely. Life in the real world got so damn depressing, that it got harder and harder to watch this idealist dream, and then come back to reality. But even with that, suddenly I found myself with a queue of three hours' worth of podcast on any given day.

I learned very quickly that I can't focus on podcasts if I'm doing anything else. So the only times I really have when listening is a possibility is on my daily commute - which is just twenty minutes long. In weeks when I'm travelling, the flights are an excellent time to listen. Sometimes when I'm cleaning up around the apartment, or cooking, I'll try and do some listening then too, but somehow it doesn't seem to sit right. On the very rare occasion I go to the gym or for a walk, I get some listening in then too.

But all of this has meant I had to prioritize what I will listen to. And since I very clearly like/pay attention to more the podcasts that are discussing the news, and as a friend put it, have "banter" in them, the sequence became this:

  • Pod Save America - yes, they're three white dudes, but they acknowledge that, which I guess is something. I usually agree with their opinions, except when they don't push back on something their guest says.
  • Slate Political Gabfest - I think of this as a grownup version of Pod Save America, frankly. But my favourite thing about this podcast is Emily Bazelon, her passion and her articulateness, and the very clear way in which the men on this podcast defer to her as the legal expert. That is refreshing simply because no other podcast I listen to does that.
  • The Bugle - no, John Oliver is no longer a co-host, but Andy Zaltzman is fantastic even so. And his choice of getting a rotating panel of co-hosts from around the world works very well I think. Anuvab Pal, who I had never really heard before this, and Nish Kumar, are the ones I enjoy the most, for perhaps obvious reasons. And I really, really like Alice Fraser too.
  • Lovett or Leave it - purely for the laughs. There's really nothing else to say on it.
  • The Mint Editor's podcast - a weekly, 15 minute podcast that recaps and pontificates on business, and occasionally other, news of the past week. I like it because it's a good way to keep up with things back home, and it's short enough for a one-way commute. Also I like R Sukumar, the editor of Livemint. What I really don't like about this one though is the format - it usually has one other person, who is there to purely bring up a topic and then say "hmm" in varying tones and lengths as R Sukumar speaks. Also their ads are weird.
  • Newslaundry Hafta - the one I have the most mixed feelings about. First of all, it's a pain to listen to. Even though I did end up subscribing to NL, their app is terrible, so I don't like using that. I did figure out a way to download their episodes and add them to PocketCast, so that helped. Each episode is also close to two hours long, which gets painful. Having said that, this podcast is also my way of keeping up with what's going on in India, which is something I've struggled with for the past few years. Their panels, deliberately so, have a range of views, and so there are some I agree with almost all the time, and there are some I disagree with almost all the time. Manisha Pande very often sounds like the only person who knows what she's talking about, while the rest are expressing views, but sadly she seems to get talked over more often than not. There is one particular person on the panel who has been increasingly irritating me over the past several weeks, but the other panelists have for the most part yelled back at him, so I still haven't sent in that rant-filled email I mentally compose every time he speaks.
  • Newslaundry Awesome and Awful Entertainment Wrap - my main source for what Hindi movies I should or should not watch. Unfortunately, one of their co-hosts left a few months after I started listening. I did like the banter between the remaining co-host and the replacement co-host, but then both of them decided to not continue, so it seems to have gone on an indefinite hiatus.
Those are the ones I listen to every week. Then come Pod Save the World, Trumpcast, NL's sport podcast (which I listen to only if they're discussing cricket), the Late Night with Seth Meyers podcast, Pod Save the People, NY Times' The Daily, and With Friends like These - all of these are listened to if I have any time and if the topic they're discussing is still relevant by the time I get to it. Because that's how crazy the news is these days. I have two Pod Save the World episodes half listened to from last week, when North Korea was being talked about** by everyone, and then Charlottesville happened, and I simply haven't gone back.

What a year of listening to podcasts has done most for me though is two things. One, my interest in watching TV and staying caught up on shows has somehow gone down dramatically. I am now far more interested in staying caught up on podcasts. Even if I'm not really listening to podcasts when I'm home, the TV isn't always on like it used to be. I think part of why this has happened is that I also watch late night shows regularly (my friend's offhand comment about banter was a lot truer than he or I realised at the time, I think), and so all other shows have taken a backseat.

Two, the biggest sufferers in my yearlong obsession with podcasts are very clearly the parents. My drive to work used to be my time to call them, every few days. Now, with my podcast queue constantly growing longer, my calls to them have become more and more infrequent. And that is something I definitely need to fix.

* Yes, I stole that phrase from one of the podcasts I listen to. Shoo now.

** I was about to write North Korea was blowing up, and decided to rephrase because I realised that may have been a bit too much on the nose.

Monday, August 07, 2017

On hating to love a show

Some five odd years ago, I asked Twitter, that fount of all wisdom, whether I should read the Game of Thrones books, or start watching the show. The show was in its first or second season, and the general consensus at the time was that I should read the books, and so I did.

I often say I have a love-hate relationship with the books. There is SO MUCH that annoys me tremendously about them. There is a ridiculous amount of seemingly unnecessary violence, which is not something I tend to enjoy in literature. There is misogyny and mistreatment of women on practically every page, and anyone who tries to bring up the old argument about how "that's how medieval times were" can just stop now - if the kind of language and curses expressed by people can be updated to reflect the 21st century, so can other things.

And yet, I plodded through all five books, even if the cast of characters had grown so much that I was constantly flipping to the glossary at the end to try and remember who's who. But I plodded through them, whimpering at various stages thanks to GRRM's insistence on killing off practically any character I started growing even slightly fond off. I plodded through, mainly because, dammit, you want to know what happens.

When I finished the fifth book, the next book was expected to release that fall. But it kept getting pushed, and pushed, and pushed, till I'm very sure it's never coming out at all. And meanwhile the show kept going.

I never wanted to watch the show, even though everyone said it was SO GREAT. I can barely read violent stuff in books, why on earth would I want to watch them depicted on the screen? And since this is a show that is talked about pretty constantly, I've pretty much known what the show is doing even without watching. And reading about things the show changed from the books, which more often than not sounded like they had just made things more unnecessarily cruel, did not make me want to watch the show.

But then in the last couple of years, the show has clearly overtaken the books. And while I still held out, thinking maybe the next to books would come out eventually, that just seems stupid at this point. So in the last few weeks, I've been talking to friends who do watch the show, and asking which season I should start from.

Almost without fail, the answer has been, well, why wouldn't you start from the beginning? Because, well, I don't want to. I'm already going to be doing this very grudgingly, my interest in watching TV has gone down dramatically in recent months (which is a topic for another day), there is already SO MUCH TV that one must apparently watch, and I only really wanted to start watching from where the show really starts diverging from the books, and then keep going. And based on that, the consensus seemed to be that Season 4 would be a good starting point, and I figured I'll plan on that.

But then.

I was travelling for work last week, and needed to go through a gazillion decks to prepare for a call the next morning. I was flipping through channels on the television to have something play in the background, and the most recent episode was playing as I came to HBO. And for some reason, I let it stay on that channel.

By the end of that hour, I knew I was going to have to start my binge watch sooner rather than later.

And then.

Last night, I happened to go online soon after the latest episode must have played. And twitter had clearly watched, and gone berserk. So I decided to watch the episode.


I spent the next hour gasping practically every five minutes. And now I can't decide if I just start my binge watch tonight and keep going till I'm up to date, or if I just watch this season as it happens and then do my binge watch, or do a combination of both, or WHAT.


Monday, July 31, 2017

It's food, you moron. Just food.

The summer before moving to the US, I was trying to find a classmate I could share an apartment with. I had set up time to chat with an American girl who was also looking for a flatmate at the time, and when we spoke, one of her first comments to me was "OMG I have to tell you, I love Indian food. And I make amazing chicken tikka masala!"

At the time, I laughed politely, but I remember thinking in my head - what on earth is chicken tikka masala?

When I moved to the US, I had several people tell me how amazing chicken tikka masala was. And it turned out to be served in the cafeteria whenever they had Indian food, in every Indian restaurant I went to, and by friends who said they cooked great Indian food. It looked like butter chicken, but tasted... blah. And for the life of me I couldn't figure out what this oh-so-popular dish was that I'd never managed to ever even hear of in Delhi.

Then of course, I read up on it, learned it was invented in the UK, and proceeded to roll my eyes and avoid having it as much as possible.

I have nothing against chicken tikka masala, I am just against people who have never lived in India telling me that Indian food is amazing when that is the only "Indian food" they've ever had.

This tweet popped up on my timeline yesterday:

This tweet made me hungry, but also made me think of another pet peeve that's been bubbling up recently.

I'm offsite tomorrow, at a location that is five minutes away from my favourite Indian restaurant in the city - their gulab jamun is to DIE for. And then I'm in NYC later this week, and have as usual already checked how far my hotel is to the closest location for The Kati Roll Co. The same coworker is going to be with me at both the offsite and in NY, and her reaction when I told her was "you want to have Indian food twice in a week?"

This isn't the first time I've got this question. When I came back from India last year, someone suggested an Indian place for lunch, and then paused and asked me if I was okay with that since I'd just come back.

First of all, can we be clear about something. For you, it's Indian food. For me, it's food. I grew up eating it. I live to eat it. Sure, pasta is great, as is Chipotle. And yes, I will admit, when I go home to India, I actually never eat Indian Indian food there, because I want my Indian versions of pasta and fried rice. But Indian food is just... food.

Second of all*, do you have any idea how many types of cuisine exist in India? I grew up there, and I don't know. Just because YOU have never bothered to eat anything other than chicken tikka masala, does not mean that's all there is to the subcontinent. In fact, show me one restaurant in Delhi that actually serves the blessed dish, and I... well, I'll promise to never visit that restaurant, that's what I'll do.

I mean, I could literally have "Indian food" every day for the next fortnight, and not have the same thing two days in a row. Less than a 5 minutes drive from my apartment is a chaat place, a dosa place, a chettinad place, a desi Chinese place, a Punjabi khana place, 3-4 biryani places, and half a dozen of those places that do buffets and serve a bit of everything. (Yes, I do live in the Little India area of this city). Literally the only thing missing from my life is Bengali food, although if I'm really craving it, I force my self to go to the Bangladeshi restaurant that makes mughlai parathas. And on occasion, I even manage to cook stuff that is somewhat edible.

So if I say I want to go have chaat even though I came back from India last week, or if I want to have a Maharaja thali on Tuesday and an Achari Paneer kathi roll on Thursday**, save the disbelief and pity a little. Because one of those is not like the others, and you're a moron to think otherwise.

End rant.

* I will confess, I was going to say secondly, but then I remembered this:

** Yes, you're right. There is a very good chance I have kathi rolls on Wednesday too if my flight gets in on time, but I'll probably do the Chana Masala roll that day. Although I just checked, and they have a Kosha Mangsho roll too that I've never tried, so it's 50-50 at this point.