The Aladdin's Cave

Hi, thanks for stopping by! The dictionary defines the idiom “The Aladdin’s Cave” as “a collection of interesting and beautiful objects”. Likewise, my website is a potpourri where you can browse and read from a variegated collection of articles on sundry subjects. Be prepared to stumble upon pieces ranging from noodles to analytics and from novels to friendships. Like what you read? Thanks a ton for being such a sweetheart. Don’t find it up to the mark? Well, blame it on back-breaking expectations ;) Jolly Reading!

Category: Let’s Read (page 1 of 3)

Washed Your Credit Card?

You know how they say you never know what life’s going to teach you next? Please don’t ask me who says that; I just know that many people do. Yeah, and they are quite right about it too. Here’s what life chose to teach me this past weekend – you can put your credit card (CC) through a wash cycle, and it will (probably) live to continue paying your bills. If you have read my blog before, I know exactly why your super-critical mind is telling me off at this very moment – ‘Huh, first she drowns her Nexus phone, and now she bathes her credit card’. Well, let me tell you that I took a good two-years-eight-months break between these two unlucky washouts. Now allow me to get back to my informative story because I think this one is going to take a while.

Like all of you, I have my usual pick of alibis (been traveling/busy/sick/lazy) for ‘not been able’ to have done my laundry when I should have. And then, ‘really not been able to have done it’ much later after this ‘should have’ date. As a result, there had been bucket-loads and bagsful of clothes demanding immediate attention for a while.

And then it happened this Saturday night: Gunjan officially ran out of clothes (another good reason to not be allergic to shopping). It was one of those ‘laundry today or naked tomorrow’ kind of situations, you know. It was then that we finally decided to wash anything that says machine washable, and then some others too. Armed with a generously loaded laundry card, detergents and fabric softeners, we hauled bags full of rags (and some fineries too – because we are too lazy to wash them by hands) to the laundry room. Gunjan and I started dumping the clothes in the machines (er, took three of them), and by the end of this activity, we realized that the last machine was quite unsatisfactorily filled. You know, it was one of those annoying situations when you just hate the asymmetry caused by this one under-loaded machine. Not getting a wash worth a dollar and seventy-five suddenly seemed to be a really big deal, and we simply could not ignore the pesky imbalance. To remedy this situation, I rushed back to our apartment upstairs to see if there was any washable linen lying around that had slyly escaped us earlier. Even after putting together a little pile of semi-dirty stuff, it seemed that my imaginary scale (mentally weighing the three washing machines now) would still be a little off and I was having this compulsive need to correct this misalignment. I reckoned that the trousers that I was wearing wouldn’t mind an early wash, so I changed in a flash and threw my trousers in the pile too. With this newly acquired somewhat-filthy plunder, I reached the laundry room again, and we hugged and celebrated the much-awaited gurgling and rumbling of the (perfectly-loaded) machines in action. (Judge me all you want until I find out your crazy idiosyncrasy and judge you back!)

Two episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. later, we rushed down to transfer the freshly clean clothes to the dryers. Now, imagine my shock when I saw my American Express Credit Card and my Discover Card sitting helplessly amongst the wet clothes. Oh, how I rued hastily stuffing these two cards in my pocket two hours ago when we had stepped out for a bite. I really don’t know why I can’t simply carry my wallet for these quick things (or at the very least, carry just one of these cards). And Gunjan – oh, he who is such a devotee to all things bearing magnetic disks and magnetic strips – oh, poor thing – I really must stop doing this to him. I don’t have the heart to describe his horror on witnessing this sight. Let me just say that at this point, I would have gladly accepted the vexation caused by a trio of unevenly-loaded machines than that caused by a pair of freshly-washed CCs.

Washed Your Credit Card?

Accidentally in Machine

It’s not like procuring a new copy of a CC is particularly challenging. But this blatant display of such shockingly irresponsible behavior did cast a pall over the joyful laundry session. Gunjan was too disturbed by the treatment meted out to the cards to say much – more so, after I pulled out a $20 bill from the pocket of the trouser that I had hastily added to the load. Even though I should kick myself for this third unintentionally-washed item, I will admit that it contributed in making his consternation complete and rendering him totally speechless. Hence, I had mixed feelings about this uber-hygienic albeit heedlessly-laundered bill. With dented spirits, we completed the drying part of the laundry session and ended the day with clean clothes but no hopes (for our cards).

Then, instead of resting on the seventh day (Sunday), I stepped out with two spotless but potentially dysfunctional cards (to test them out) and one not-so-spotless but functional card (as a backup). I picked a few random stuff (say ‘n’ of them) in Jewel-Osco, pretended to forget one of these n items in the cart and proceeded to pay for the (n-1) goods with one of the speckless CCs. As the sales assistant requested me to swipe my card, I was already fingering the backup CC in my other hand. The ‘payment approved’ message alleviated most of the nervousness that I was feeling, and gave me high hopes for the other unlucky CC. Not choosing to celebrate too soon, I duly acted out my part of forgetting the nth item in the cart, and now presented the second CC to make this payment. It suffices to say that this transaction elicited distinctly different reactions from the payer (who switched from a gloomy to a remarkably celebratory mode) and the sales assistant (who could hardly comprehend the reason for the payer’s joyfulness, relief and sense of achievement over this most mundane chore).

Thanks a lot, if you have stuck with me and my CCs through this rather long post and I sincerely hope that you never have the misfortune of laundering your bill-paying instruments. But in case you do, remember my story and stay hopeful. Even though I do not have the evidence to make a blanket statement like ‘Voila! Credit cards are waterproof’, I can say from experience that all may not be lost, and visiting a store to use a squeaky clean CC is definitely worth a shot!

Oh, in case you are wondering, the $20 bill managed to survive the wash too! 🙂

Take care!

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A ‘House of Cards’ Weekend

A very good morning to all my free and fine friends who have not (yet) been seduced by the brilliant Netflix series ‘House of Cards’ (HOC), and a tired hello to all fellow binge-watchers who, like Gunjan and me, have put their lives on hold since the latest season (the fourth one in this unwholesome political drama) went live this last Friday (March 4, 2016).

You know, the reason to write this particular post is quite odd. I have been stirred into penning down this rather abrupt piece because I absolutely need to make this weekend a productive one. Here is a little background on this. These days, I travel a lot for work, and am home only for about three and a half days per week. Owing (chiefly) to this, my weekends fall in two extreme categories – awfully lazy or surpassingly crazy. Most of the February weekends fell in the latter bucket, though mostly (and thankfully) in a fun way. Anyway, I had ambitious plans to make this weekend a really productive one, and to tackle either a couple of weighty tasks or a series of lighter ones that have been threatening to push their way from my ‘to-do’ list to my ‘must-do-or-face-the-consequences’ list.

But alas! While formulating these elaborate plans, I was remiss not to factor the release of this new ‘House of Cards’ season that demands about thirteen hours of relentless watching to cover its thirteen mind-blowing episodes, with mandatory breaks to absorb all the shocks and schemes. If you have not watched HOC yet, you might judge me for being a crazy and undisciplined loser to allow my plans to go awry because of a mere series. Well, to you I say this: let’s talk about discipline and plans once you have made the journey to our side because you just won’t understand yet. I will say no more because I know we all take spoilers pretty seriously, and I am not prepared to lose my readers over spoilers. And if you are a fellow HOC watcher, succumbing to one grueling episode after another, I say this: it’s not really in our hands anymore, so let’s stop trying to restrain ourselves and just get this done. We made friends with the wrong sorts (The Underwoods) and are paying a hefty price for this thoughtlessly formed friendship.

Oh, how I loathe myself when, during my unguarded moments, I find myself secretly hoping for the success of the Underwood pair. Or when, inexplicably and shamefully charmed by their ruthlessness, manipulation, brilliance, hunger and utter disregard for other people’s lives and feelings, I revel in this maniacal couple’s unmerited achievements. Or when, instead of cursing Doug Stamper for being a heartless robot programmed to serve Francis Underwood at any cost, I applaud him for his fierce loyalty and countless schemes. Oh, the misery of it all – to watch Francis Underwood (excellently portrayed by Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (superbly portrayed by Robin Wright) use and throw just about anybody as a pawn and exploit any event as a stepping stone to fulfil one of their many bold, depraved dreams, and to know that I shamelessly want them to go on!

We, the HOC viewers, have been sucked into this stupendous and merciless vortex and there isn’t much that we can do to crawl out of this trap. This post, however, is just a feeble fight that I am putting up to defend my noble, ‘productive’ plans that are halfway out of the window. I chose this method to fight back because the one thing that makes me feel really accomplished is seeing a new post on this dear website 🙂

Now, if you are thinking that this piece needed quite a few revisions before being published, I am totally with you on this one. But then, uh…well, Gunjan and I have paused after episode nine, and really must power through four more episodes before we can hope to get anything done this weekend. So please bear with the poor editing and crazy ranting, and allow us to get back to our binge-watching on Netflix. You have to understand that it’s out of our hands now.

Bye for now! Wishing you a happy and hopefully productive weekend!

Yours helplessly,
A die-hard HOC fan

P.S. I admit that it is quite ironical that my sole attempt to ward off this HOC-induced darkness involves a post about HOC itself, I don’t know what to say to that. I guess I am temporarily possessed by this brutal series.

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Writing With Pencils

It’s still the first half of the first month, which means it isn’t too late to wish all my readers a very happy new year! I wish you all loads of joy and peace and happiness, and sincerely hope that you will stick to your new resolutions for a little while longer. I also hope the same for myself, though it is becoming increasingly difficult not to find excuses to dismiss each and every old and new resolution. Nevertheless, one of my many 2016 vows is to write more frequently, and I invite you all to be the judge for this one 🙂

Now let me get back to writing something that justifies the title of this post. Gunjan has a growing concern with me using pencils for the draft posts that I write – he worries that when I author a book of my own, I will have to do a hell lot of typing to digitize all the words that would have got transferred from my heart (or muddled brain?) to paper. Notice that he says “when I author a book” instead of saying “if I EVER author a book”. But let us forgive him for this astoundingly ambitious belief. Both his confidence and concern stem from a very strong and genuine affection, and we can’t charge a fellow for a crime of the heart, can we? 😉

But even though I find his concern extremely endearing, I know for a fact that this Herculean digitization task is not gonna bother me in the near future or in the distant one for that matter. How I wish it would – but where are the words and the plot and the characters? Oh, just where? 🙁 Anyway, grieving and ranting about my cluelessness is for another post. This one is for discussing some of the many merits of using a pencil for putting one’s thoughts on paper.

  • Reminiscent of Childhood – Even though this is not a prioritized list (yes, I was careful to use bullets instead of numbers!), I will go ahead and admit that for me, just this one certainly trumps them all. It’s one of the things that will always keep you connected to the most carefree time of your life. Plus, there is also the added hope of being able to write freely, just like a child, without  worrying too much about the vocabulary and the grammar and the world – not while drafting, at the very least. You can go nuts and scrawl all that comes to your mind, and save the sophisticated filters for later use.
  • Very forgiving – Ah, a pencil is one of the most non-punitive devices when used in conjunction with the classic ‘undo’ button – the trusted eraser. Right? Unless and until you’ve managed to tear away the paper with some ferocious erasing, you can always give it another try. After all, not all of us can get it right the first time.
  • Takes you off the grid – We live in an age where people first spend a hefty sum to buy all the latest and greatest gadgets and then spend some more to attend digital detoxification sessions that aid them in disconnecting with the electronics they bought earlier. In this crazy world of incessant clicking/flicking/gaming/chatting/emailing/reading/watching etcetera, sitting down with a piece of paper and a writing instrument (that doesn’t have any kind of internet connection) is like attending a free digital cleansing session. With no blinking distractions and stubborn notifications vying for your attention, you will be able to focus on your thoughts  and get something worthwhile on that paper.
  • Private notes – It is the perfect gear for penning down awful drafts that only you can decrypt – just write very lightly and nobody will be able to decipher what those curls and swirls mean. For example, if you would have looked at the paper draft for this post, it might have seemed to you that I had indulged in some heavy-duty doodling over a few pages. Yes, it is almost like your chicken scratch is naturally encrypted, and your familiarity with your own scribble is the key to decrypt this code. What a relief it is to know that nobody can judge you for composing scummy drafts!

Even though I just love the wooden pencils jauntily sporting their cute little eraser hats, I try to minimize their use and instead employ the plastic ones for writing. I suppose that sticking to a couple of plastic ones will do the environment less damage than callously sharpening away a forest, one tree at a time.

Hey, I was going to wrap up this post now but reading through the above bullet points again, I feel like taking a philosophical detour for a bit, and see if I can pull it off. So here are a few rhetorical questions for all of us. Is there some merit in taking a leaf out of our trusted pencil’s book? Would it be a happier world if we could be a little less judgmental/punitive with those around us? Is it possible for us to be a tad more rewarding to bring out the best in other people, just like our humble pencil? Well, let’s employ some of these practices in our lives and find out for ourselves!

Happy Scribbling, Friends! 🙂

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Winter is Coming!

Hello Friends!

As the second half of the fall semester begins from tomorrow (er, today), this post is an attempt to stretch the so-called extremely-mini break to its maximum possible length. Allow the soon-to-be swamped student to wring an extra hour or two of breathing time before getting lost in the usual graduate-level pandemonium! 🙂

Okay, first of all, I am extremely sorry for tricking you into reading this post by using the tempting quote from Game of Thrones
as its title. As must be clear from the image below, this post has absolutely nothing to do with GOT – apart from the fact that its author is as eagerly awaiting Season 5 as the reader! 🙂 But if the literal meaning of the quote is considered, I can be spared – because in Pittsburgh, winter does seem to be approaching at quite a disturbingly rapid pace.

My tolerance for cold is not something I am proud of – though I manage to survive by burying myself under every imaginable winter wear. To aggravate the impending misery, Pittsburgh (PA) is infamous for its merciless cold, thundering winds and relentless snow. And if the weather of every city could be assigned a gender, Pittsburgh weather, given its whimsical temperament, would definitely be a girl. Yes, the weather forecast applications have a hard time keeping up with the moody climate and the denizens have an even harder time deciding their attire for the day.

And to add to all this, there’s this totally uncooperative equation [C/5 = (F-32)/9] to convert temperatures between degree Celsius and degree Fahrenheit. Before you think that I am blabbering random stuff and cribbing about anything to do with temperatures, allow me to explain myself.

So here’s the thing: In India, we always express and discuss temperatures in degree Celsius. Having grown up using this unit, we Indians have trained ourselves to simultaneously imagine the temperature we are talking about. It’s like, you say 40 degree Celsius and I will raise my hand to wipe my brow. You say 2 degree Celsius and I will pull the sheet a little closer – it is like a reflex action. But here in US, it’s Fahrenheit all the way, which leaves me quite disoriented at times. And the conversion not being a matter of a quick multiplication or division (as is the case with miles and kilometers or pounds and kilograms), it requires a conscious effort to gauge the weather if the temperature is expressed in degree Fahrenheit.

You may think that that is quite a load of rant about a simple thing – but trust me it’s not. You really don’t want to be ill-equipped or freezing or sweating, just because nobody could figure out a better relationship between the two units. So as always, Gunjan (hubby dearest) came to my rescue and created a little something to help me arrive instantly at a ballpark temperature figure before I step out of the house.

Here’s the graph that he has created using Microsoft Excel:

What's It Like Today?

What’s It Like Today?

The intuitively color-coded legend and the easy-to-read plot does a wonderful job of enlightening me everyday. This simple graph has made me “weather-wise” and I feel a lot more confident due to this latest addition to my winter-kit. And yes, it’s not everyday that you receive such a meaningful and personalized gift – so that’s another factor that is gonna add to the warmth this winter! 🙂

Please feel free to download this image and use it for quick reference if your weather-sense is as orthodox and inflexible as mine.Have a beautiful winter! 🙂

P.S.: I do realize that one could easily change the setting in the weather forecast application to set the desired unit. It’s just that something like this comes in very handy when the news channels and the newspapers and everyone around you are all Fahrenheit fans. You definitely do not want to be either clueless or totally out of sync!

 

 

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The Exotic Tadka!

Hello People!

Two to three months back, I started to draft this article dealing with the topical subject of the monotonically increasing prices of tomatoes. Totally flabbergasted by the high headedness of tomatoes, I had titled the article ‘The Tomato Exoticism’. Since it lay in my draft folder for quite some time, I had feared that this one too would lose relevance and share its fate with the other members of the sad group of expired articles. But thanks to our very dependable government and the inexplicable mayhem of inflation and wroth economics, this article still stands relevant! And at the risk of sounding cruel, one could almost say that the article even got a shot in the arm because the onions joined the tomatoes in an expensive game of one-upmanship. Yes, and that’s how the humble, commonplace, unsung ‘Tadka‘ acquired its nouveau exoticism!  (For the uninitiated, a ‘tadka’ is an amalgam of tomatoes, onions and a few spices added in oil and is imperative to a plethora of Indian/Indianized dishes.)

Since childhood, we have heard and read about weird things breaking long standing curses (e.g. a kiss from a princess has been known to turn a frog into a prince!!). Hence, I’m doing my bit here. Since the government seems to be in no hurry to rein in the runaway prices of the tomatoes and the onions, I think it’s only fair that I should take a chance and and see if this post can break the curse.

My dadi (paternal grandmom) was a beautiful, rosy, chirpy woman who doted on the whole family, more so on her grandchildren. She loved nibbling on sugar-sprinkled tomatoes or on tomatoes roasted over charcoals and would invite us all to share. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it then but in retrospect, I realize how stupid I was! Yes, I should have had my fill of tomatoes and onions while I still had the chance!

Given the current state of things, you stand the danger of being labelled a snob if you discuss more than three tadka-based recipes at a go. Yes, I even heard about the addition of a new filter (viz. ‘Sans Tadka’) to some recipe-sharing blogs and websites. The ‘haut monde’ has deigned to include this topic in their chit-chat and the freeloaders have found a new zeal to look for their next free meal. Visiting the vegetable market no more remains a quotidian activity. You don’t just stroll in with a friend and pick this and that, not caring twopence about the pennies and dimes jingling in your pockets. No, Sir! This undistinguished chore has lately been exalted and now demands respect, inspires anxiety and even extorts a prayer or two!

With these staple items acquiring the status of edible gems, we have taken another giant leap towards anarchy. And I hope I have not disappointed you by not providing a solution to this problem because no, this one does not have a happy ending. Let’s just pull off what we’re best at – making peace with things.

So what is it gonna be this time? This time, it’s gonna be unsavory Arrabbiattas and insipid Rajmas!

Hang in there and take care!

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The Nexus 4 Redemption

Hello Friends!

I admit that my capacity to dilly-dally before actually posting an article (if at all) is quite impressive. But in this case, I am allowing an aberration. And I have a sound reason to do that. If this post saves the life of even a single phone, the effort will be worthwhile.

We all have our own phone stories. Quite often, more than one.
So here’s my story:

Yesterday night, I did the unthinkable. You see, one second my phone was on the basin and the next second it was in a bucket of water. Just like that. Slipped and slushed! I must have had about two minor heart attacks in that one second! I scooped it out, as fast as Flash, but the sight of my dripping Google Nexus 4 made me want to go and drown myself somewhere. Maybe in the same bucket! 🙁

Okay, another thing – Gunjan almost worships electronic gadgets. I love them too – we all do – but he is really, really devoted to them. I contemplated not telling him about it as I suspected that he might seek to initiate criminal proceedings against me. But my conscience didn’t allow me keep mum because I owed at least that much to my Nexus 4. It needed to be attended to. And quickly so. And by the right person. Not by someone who could have been so careless as to let it soak in water!

So, mustering all my courage, I broke the devastating news to him. I can’t describe what he went through. He was positively distraught. And I was not wrong about the criminal proceedings. He was looking daggers at me, feeling totally betrayed by such alarming irreverence. And I, with the guilt of my heinous crime weighing me down, held my head low and stared numbly at my phone.

And about the braveheart – prima facie, my phone looked just fine. The touch worked as beautifully as ever. The display was as perfect as it comes. But we still weren’t too hopeful. Neither would you be if your Nexus 4 was leaking from every little port! 🙁 And then came the blow. Gunjan tried to play ‘Payphone‘ (no pun intended – we were totally not in the mood 🙁 ) using PowerAmp but it seemed that ‘Maroon 5‘ had lost their voice! Dejected, Gunjan declared that the bucket of water had rendered the gadget as useless as a bottomless bucket.

Having hit a dead end, we did what we all do in such situations – resorted to Google. We looked up a few YouTube videos and out came the tool boxes. After a lot of tedious trials, we pried it open. The fine assortment of ICs, buttons, sensors, chips – which make Nexus what it is – lay before our eyes. I admit that it’s not meant to be treated this way – you don’t wedge apart Google Nexus 4
. It’s nothing short of a violation. But then, you don’t even drop it in a bucket of water!

So after bringing it apart, Gunjan used my hair dryer and tried to dry out every nook and cranny in the panel. Meanwhile, the guilt-ridden me (besides appealing to every God up there) was googling like crazy and going bonkers reading forums. Do you wanna know why? Because I thought it was some kind of a freaking joke. People had suggested to bury the phone in a bag of rice!!! Yes, you heard it right! I thought that in their grief, other unfortunate Nexus-drowning fellows like me had lost their thinking faculties. But I cannot deny that the success stories on the forums kept my dawdling hope just alive.

After drying the panel as best as he could, Gunjan switched on the poor thing. Unable to accept the outrageous treatment meted out to it, the phone continued to act deaf and dumb and ignore all our fervent pleas. If I called on my number, all it did was feebly croon ‘Glad You Came‘ and that’s it. You could scream your lungs into the mic after receiving the call but the other person on the line wouldn’t hear a thing. Neither could you. And if you switched on the speaker, wildly distressing noises forced you to end the call.

Having tried out every trick in the book and devoid of all hope, Gunjan and I (so not united in grief – he was still contemplating suing me) joined the loony group and turned to the mysterious box of rice. Normally, he won’t let me keep a grain of rice on Nexus but today, we both dug in the pile, placed the violated device in the dent, covered it with rice and then closed the box. I can’t tell you how disturbingly similar the rice burial ceremony seemed to a final goodbye.

Saving Private Nexus

In a stupor, we went to sleep. There was nothing left to do but wait.

Morning came and we rushed to exhume my phone. After retrieving it from it’s purported rice grave, Gunjan put the SIM card back in the slot. Mercifully, the panel was parch dry and there weren’t any signs of seepage. He switched it on and it looked just fine. Then, with fluttering hearts, we played ‘Payphone’ again and trust me when I say this, even ‘Maroon 5’ couldn’t be as happy hearing their own song as we were. The crystal clear sound resounded in our room, announcing the restoration of the speakers.
Heady with success, we used my Google Nexus 4‘s kin (Yes, Gunjan too has the same phone and it had been eyeing me with disgust since last night) to call my number. And there – when we could both hear each other’s repeated ‘Hellos’ on the line – that truly was a ‘Dear Diary’ moment! :-):-)

Yes, the life-infusing white grains did the trick! Believe it or not, rice worked like a charm! It worked as a desiccant and healed my ailing, weeping phone. And my Google Nexus 4 is up and alive again! Bless you Google for making such a beautiful and resilient cell! Overnight, my love for the phone has increased exponentially!

And yes, lesson learnt!

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Hey!

Doesn’t the title of the post make you insanely happy?? Yup, me too!! :):)
Okay, kindly spare some time because it’s gonna be a little lengthy.

Gunjan and I took our first Europe trip together to Italy this March to celebrate our ‘primo anniversario’ and it turned out to be the perfect grand finale for the very first year of our marriage! Though we had to postpone the anniversary celebration by a week because of a work assignment I had in Germany (about which I hope to cover in another post), the love sickness that we suffered got compensated for in good measure with all the wild fun in Italy!! 🙂 If you know what you’re looking for and how to go about it, it’s a lot of fun to plan your very own trip customized just for you than to rely on travel agents to do so. Apart from being a means of sharing and treasuring our dream trip, I would be really glad if this post could help my friends in any way in planning their special trip and so I’m gonna try to be systematic about the whole thing.

Total Duration: 8 days (excluding the traveling time to and fro Italy)

Dates: 9th March, 2013 to 16th March, 2013

Weather: It was quite wet and chilly most of the times. That didn’t really play spoilsport because we were well equipped with umbrellas, jackets. scarves, gloves etc. We would generally visit one of the beautiful churches in the morning, plead and beg for a sunny day and get one for ourselves! 🙂 This only failed us once in Florence when the rain and the wind seemed hellbent to lock us indoors. But then we took a half day round trip to Pisa which made our day! Just try not to visit Italy when it’s very hot – from what I hear, the heat there incapacitates you.

Song of the Trip:Enjoy Yourself‘ and ‘The Godfather‘ tune! 🙂
Oh, the joy of holding hands and wandering and losing and finding yourselves in the cities of Italy! The country surely makes you an offer that you cannot refuse 🙂 Sauntering through the ‘viae‘, posing for pictures over the ‘ponti‘, romancing over a cone of the very best ‘gelato‘,  admiring the incredibly beautiful ‘fontane‘ or ‘basilica‘ in one of the ‘piazze‘, learning about one of the oldest and richest cultures of the world in the ‘muesos‘ and of Christianity and its spread in the ‘duomi‘…Well, all I can say is that the wealth and richness of the experience offsets the dent the trip makes in your bank account! 😀

Cash, Cards & Crimes: Read on for more clarity! 😛
I was quite surprised to find that cards are not accepted at MANY eateries, shops, ticket counters etc. in Italy. So you need to carry some cash with you at all times. Sounds quite straightforward, right? Now here’s the catch: the country is teeming with pickpockets and con-men and you have to be very alert AT ALL TIMES, especially while using public transports. Such a beautiful and culturally rich country shouldn’t be discredited with this but I guess that’s Italy’s baggage! 🙁 I could have been milder about this if I hadn’t lost about hundred euros, two debit cards, my driving license, PAN card and a precious picture of Gunjan and me to a gang of scheming, thieving girls in Milan’s metro. Residing in Italy, these skilled crooks are quite familiar with all of Machiavelli’s Principles and are experts at stalling tourists, creating distractions, faking misery etc.!

The country is plagued by many immigrants/unemployed people who are always on the lookout to earn a stray euro or two by tying a ‘blessed’ thread on your wrist or by playing the good Samaritan and pointing you to your hotel (when you’re already there) or by helping you with the ticket machine (which you have no problem whatsoever in operating on your own!). I don’t want this to be a demotivator – just the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach! Yes, ATMs are readily available. If you’re using a traveler’s card, no worries. If you’re using your International card, you might want to check the exchange rates, transaction fees and service charges.

Hotels: We swear by the magical combination of Expedia and TripAdvisor! All you need to do is find your hotel on TripAdvisor, check the ratings, reviews and pictures and then use Expedia (or maybe booking.com) to make the reservations – very reliable and safe. Also, if you use Expedia, you get the added advantage of availing the services of Thomas Cook for your visa. You might want to check our reviews (posted by sgunjan) on TripAdvisor for the hotels that we stayed in:

Milan: 1 night
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g187849-d202884-r159637938-Ibis_Milano_Centro-Milan_Lombardy.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Venice: 2 nights
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g194822-d1646121-r159637084-Hotel_Villa_Costanza-Mestre_Veneto.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Florence (and Pisa): 2 nights
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g187895-d232978-r154988188-Hotel_Jane-Florence_Tuscany.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Rome (and Vatican City): 3 nights
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g187791-d1863272-r154984197-A_Peace_of_Rome-Rome_Lazio.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Trains: We made prior bookings using Trenitalia to commute between cities. The rides are short, scenic (especially the Tuscany region) and reasonably priced.

Expensive Leaks: Okay, I realize the crassness of this heading and so I am gonna keep it very short! Just so you know, using washrooms is a costly affair in Europe. You will be required to cough up a euro (sometimes more) for every visit and so you might want to use public restrooms available in restaurants (if you eat there), trains and at the sites you visit.

Packing for the Trip: Well, this will obviously be governed by the season in which you’re planning your trip but the rule of thumb is to travel as light as possible. I personally feel that the happy phrase ‘backpacking in Europe’ has an underlying message which we tend to overlook: Pack just what you ‘will need’ and give a miss to the paraphernalia that you ‘might need’. Escalators and conveyor belts are absent/amiss at certain stations and hauling the trolleys up and down the flights of stairs can be quite a task, more so if you’re running late.

Every morning, we both used to rue the lack of fresh jackets, don the only ones that we were carrying and then forget all about the frugality amidst the run and the fun 🙂 We did applaud each other though if one of us managed to get a pic where we weren’t cloaked in our “jacket of the trip”! 😀

Language: People involved in the tourism business generally speak passable (sometimes good) English but Italian is what you hear from others. Getting around is not really an issue but it will certainly help if you mug up a few Italian words and phrases.

Gadgets: Yep, it surely is liberating – being off the grid and all that with no mobile connections and internet to give you away. But I cannot deny the convenience of carrying your very own guide in your pocket! In our Google Nexus 7, we had offline Google maps of the cities we visited and apps to guide us through the cities. Everyday, we would star-mark the places which we planned to see (on Google map as well as on a paper map) and then charge forth to cover the day’s syllabus! 😛
Ah yes, a good pair of running shoes (if you’re an incorrigible traveler like us, prepare to walk for around a hundred kilometers or so!) and some sprays for pains and aches are a must. And needless to say that when you’re visiting a country as beautiful as Italy, your camera (maybe tripod too) and you should be inseparable! 🙂

Dine and Drink: With the ubiquitously available pizzerias and gelaterie and the lip-smacking cakes and croissants, you’ll find a lot to experiment and enjoy 🙂 Anyway, who am I to recommend their bread and beer? The Italian Cuisine speaks for itself, in volumes! Say Cheese! 😀
Chicken based recipes are not very common, though. Also, as a fall back option, you might want to locate a restaurant of your choice near your hotel. On certain days, we didn’t mind savoring ‘paranthas’ and ‘aloo-gobhi’ at the Shanti restaurant in Rome!

Public Transports: In all the major cities, there is a very good network of metros and buses. Well, trams too are available but they are slower. Try getting hold of a route map to help you get around. Spend a few minutes to figure out the connectivity and it will save you a whole lot of confusion later. Also, the hotel staff can guide you very well on the sightseeing stuff.

So you know what next to save for, right? Totally worth it – because it’s gonna stay with you forever!
An experience of a life time + bountiful of merry time!
And yes, please don’t hesitate to post any questions that you might have.
Enjoy!
B’bye!

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Side Please!

Hi Guys!

I guess it’s kind of an achievement for me to post something before celebrating an anniversary of my last post. Fell short by just two months..huh!!
Well, the customary thing to do right now would be to launch a horde of excuses to defend my disappearing act. But instead, let me just offer you the trump excuse – Well, I was busy getting married! 😉 Hope that explains a lot! 😛
Yeah, and about him…
Though he’s been hanging around here, heaping amazingly biased praises and egging me on since the inception of this blog, yet, let me just introduce my Mr. Right here formally!
(Don’t we all love a bit of melodrama?? :-D)
Mr. Gunjan Srivastava — My Missing Puzzle Piece! 🙂
And life’s never been better! 🙂
Okay, I do realize that the title and the content of this post seem insanely inconsistent. So getting back on track…

This post is about my first-hand experience at full-fledged driving and the ensuing intellections. You see, earlier, I always considered the driver and the car to be a single entity. You know, like a package, two-in-one sorts. It makes me look so mean but I can’t distinctly recall having ever given much thought to the ordeal a driver faces while manoeuvring and motoring his harassed vehicle through the on-road mayhem. It always felt like the invisible thestrals are drawing our automated carts.

My sis and I used to go shopping with our driver and oh, how we drove him crazy! We would screech excitedly if we spotted something interesting and no matter what be the traffic conditions, we would plead and beg for him to let us out. The combination of being so sweet and such a pro at the same time proved quite troublesome for our poor driver.

OK, that’s about then.
But when I started driving in Gurgaon a few months back, my instructions were quite curt and clear to the passengers. Here are some of them:

1) You tell me the right turn at least two turns before or else I don’t turn at all.
2) You announce the way well in advance or get ready to receive an earful.
3) Air condition usage – my discretion (You’re not the one who has to worry about the pick-up and stuff!).
4) Music – again, my discretion (Why, you’re not the one who needs all the attention and concentration!)
5) Chit-chat – Huh! (Does this feel like a picnic? Well, certainly not to me!)
6) Parking – No, I don’t have the heart to talk about this one. Just know this that it was the Achilles’ heel of my rudimentary motoring skills.

Sounds like a shrew, I know! But trust me, the rules have mellowed quite a lot since I spent some time behind the wheels. I used to get so exasperated. The traffic in Gurgaon frequently makes me think of an unrehearsed sports day – a day when everyone’s out on the roads with their props (read cars) with no coordination whatsoever! It’s all about heaving, shoving, cursing, coaxing, honking,barking – ya, totally maddening! But thanks to the dedicated efforts of Kush Bhaiya and Luv Bhaiya (for accompanying me on those early morning lessons), Shelly Bhabhi (for being my learning partner), my papa (well, for many things but a huge one for passing the driving gene along! 😛 ), Gunjan (for dragging me in the most awful of traffic conditions so that I had no other go than to find a way out 😛 ) and to my ‘driver saheb’ (for his patience and very handy tips, like- just ignore the honking lot! 😀 ), I can proudly say that I find myself quite useful these days!! 🙂 And what a liberating experience it is!!

And apart from this essential skill, I learnt an even more essential by-product lesson:
“Always put yourself in other people’s shoes,
If it hurts you, it probably hurts them too!”

Yep, that’s about it for now!
Happy Living, Safe Driving!
And as Gunjan reminds me only too often — (esp for us girls, with the ubiquity of these shopping places causing constant distractions!!):

“Eyes on the Road”! 🙂

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My School Prayer

Hi All!

I know I’ve been away for quite a while (again) but trust me, really been caught up in quite a mess. Talk about one’s plate being full! Here my plate’s disgustingly over-piled and yet it’s getting ladleful of servings from every quarter.  And believe me, very few of these servings are palatable! As for the rest, I just have to shove them down my throat. No other go!

And it isn’t just me. Similar is the case with many of my friends. We say this so often — that one feels that he/she is being pulled in every direction, all at the same time, with forces of comparable magnitude. And we all know how that feels! Not good!

OK, that’s the cribbing part! A wonderful therapy, I must say! Makes you feel a whole lot better! 😛
But that isn’t the real point of this post. I intended it to have some spiritual merit too.

Sometimes consciously, sometimes not so, I say my school prayer quite frequently and it does a lot to restore some degree of sanity and quietude to my often toppled life. Not to mention, it takes me back to those amazingly sweet and simple school days, which are so fondly remembered by all of us.

It’s been eight years since I passed out from St. Joseph’s Convent High School (S.J.C.) and that would mean that I learnt this prayer some 18 years back! WOW.
Sharing a little something about our prayer time at school…

In S.J.C., classes one to five comprised the Junior Side while classes six to twelve comprised the Senior Side. There were separate assembly grounds for these two sections. When I think about it now, it appears to me that the time that these two groups devoted to the daily prayer was sort of a heads up to the continual shortage of time that seems to be the norm these days.

OK. Allow me to put that a bit more plainly.
As tiny tots, we would follow all the instructions to the tee – join our hands, close our eyes and recite the prayer very slowly and clearly, in a singsong manner. Listening to that recitation, you would have been sure that the kind Father was lending a patient ear to the cute prayers of these pure-hearted children.

In the senior side, all of us (though no less devout) would be in a frenzy to complete the prayer. We would all rush through the familiar lines like crazy, as if it were a verbal race of some kind. And before God could have turned His attention to this hastily delivered chant, we would already be wishing Good Morning to our teachers! I bet you wouldn’t have caught more than ten to fifteen words from that hustled buzz if you didn’t know it beforehand.

At times, disappointed and disturbed by this hurried salutation to the Lord, our Sister would ask us at the end of the prayer, in a very quiet manner:
“Children! How many of you actually remembered God during the prayer?”
Well, just a few proud hands shot up. Most of the girls would smile sheepishly and avoid the faculties’ eyes. On those days, a very guilt-ridden and earnest group of girls would repeat the prayer, enunciating each and every word, reciting the lines flawlessly.

Through this simple post, I wanted to share some of these fond memories. But more importantly, I intended to share my School Prayer here.
I’ve been saying this prayer for my loved ones and myself for so many years now and it always makes me feel that God does carry us in His arms during the difficult times and brings us ashore, no matter what! These lines, whether recited hurriedly, chimed devoutly, muttered nervously or petitioned wordlessly, have been my ready made supplication to God for anything and everything!

There are things we never forget and then there are things that we never wanna forget. This prayer is one of the things none of the Josephites would ever want to forget – not a word!
I’m sharing it here with the hope that it’ll help you stay connected with God and soothe your frayed nerves during troubled times!
(Many of you would already be knowing a variation of this. Here, I’m sharing my cure-all!)

Our Father In Heaven
Holy Be Your Name
Your Kingdom Come
Your Will Be Done
On Earth As It Is In Heaven
Give Us Today Our Daily Bread
Forgive Us Our Sins
As We Forgive Those Who Sin Against Us
Do Not Bring Us To The Test
But Deliver Us From Evil
Amen!

All for the Greater Honor and Glory of God!

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Hallelujah!

Hello, Fellow Survivors!

And congratulations to us all for making it through yet another Doomsday prophecy!

Writing this post because I’m ginormously glad to still be around — what with those in the know (or rather, those claiming to be in the know!) predicting the end of the world – left, right and centre! Wasn’t the beginning to the end supposed to begin last Saturday?? Yeah, the schedule chalked out by some moronic creatures (oops, preachers!) did list May 21, 2011 as The Rapture Day.  Praise the Lord for ignoring all this morology and letting us live!

I mean, the state of affairs might not be super ideal, weight loss pills might not be as effective (or at all effective) as they ought to be, a sane and sound system might still be a distant dream and the whole world, in general, might seem to be a shambles. Yet, whatever it is, am I not delighted to fret over these things instead of groping my way through some mystic tunnel or gliding ethereally or…er..Well, I’m not so sure about what people exactly do en route to the Pearly Gates!

Whoa! No Mr Grim Reaper (or. if you like, our very own Yamraj)! Please don’t be mistaken! I’m not complaining and for once, really, really not curious or nosy. Happy to mind my own petty businesses! 🙂

You see, it never does to tempt Providence, and so brazenly, at that. We keep cancelling bulk orders ever so often. It’s just not right. We might be asking for big trouble because we never know just when our luck will run out! Yes, I have always maintained that it’s just too risky to rub Mr. Yamraj the wrong way! Why meddle with things so totally out of our scope? Why not be contended with butting into the affairs of the lesser mortals??

I mean, there has to be a stop! First of all, we come up with this rotten idea of mischief – whereby anyone and everyone is so eager to share their two pennyworth (and much more) on the impending doom. Then, this freaking bit of an idea snowballs into this raging madness. And then, people are making money (via movies and documentaries and books) out of this whole business! Talk about being an opportunist!

OK, just picture this for a sec! What if the merciful Lord’s still willing to put up with our lot for a millennium or two but on witnessing the ongoing hype about an impending apocalypse, He reviews His original decision! What if He gets so convinced about the futility of our damned race that He decides to toss an apocalypse our way?? Then what?? All that ill-gotten money won’t buy you the Noah’s Ark to row to safety!

Yeah, so the point being — go find something else to thrill yourselves with and leave the doom alone. A little knowledge (and a truckload of stupidity) really is a dangerous thing!

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