Everything you have always wanted to, and should never ask someone you just met, but were too nosy to hold back

I think the title says it all. Without further ado, here are the top offending/offensive questions desis seem to think their God-given right to ask someone they just met five minutes ago, but shouldn’t. Under no circumstances. Ever.

Possible justifications and suggested answers provided in bold blue.

  1. How much do you make? Unless you work for the IRS, and are auditing this person, or a loan officer at the bank, or a prospective bride.
  2. Are you married? While this is okay to ask, it’s a minefield for follow-ups. Stop if the answer is no, if it means stuffing your mouth with that second samosa, and resist from following it up with more drilling.
  3. Why aren’t you married? I am waiting for you to ask that question so I can start thinking about my loser life.
  4. If divorced, why did you divorce? Wait, didn’t I invite you to the courtroom during the ugly legal proceedings? I am so sorry, don’t know how I missed you.
  5. Why don’t you have kids? (If answer to #2 is yes). My partner and I are seeing the doc next week. Would you care to join us for the appointment?
  6. How much did you pay for your …(house, car, shoes, that bag of popcorn,…ok you get the drift). This one particularly rankles me every time I witness it, and you see them squirm—the askee, not the asker. Seriously people, get to know someone for a few years before you step into this, and even then it may not be okay.
  7. Is that real gold/diamond/platinum you’re wearing? Followed by—here it comes: how much did you pay? Nope, my fiancé likes to give me flashy $10 bling. Side note: my children frown on me using the bling word. More on that in another post.
  8. Does your daughter/son have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Why, are you starting a new ABCD matchmaking website?
  9. Never ask someone about their health issues. Leave it to them to share or not.
  10. What is your child’s SAT score? Depends on what your kid scored. You want to go first?

How to watch a movie when you are middle-aged

It starts out pretty innocuously. You decide to go to dinner and a movie with friends. During dinner, you relax with a glass of wine and kind of start to settle in. Do we have to go to the movie, you wonder, but don’t want to be the first one to cop out. It’s cold. The restaurant is cozy and warm, the food good and the alcohol loosening you up. As the evening progresses, any pretense of having the energy to go out on a cold winter day vanishes. When your friend suggests that we just go to our respective homes and rent a movie, you joke about her getting old, but are secretly grateful and relieved! You come home. Your husband flips through the on-demand movie list. Nothing sounds as good as your pajamas, the warm bed and the book you started….and so ends the dinner-and-movie-with-friends night.  This is just the beginning, all you 40-somethings out there. Pretty soon it’ll become a mighty challenge to get a movie in. There’s a name for this. It’s called getting old.  And this condition only gets worse.

This is how a recent attempt of ours to watch a movie went. I had been lamenting that I haven’t watched a single movie nominated for the Oscars this year. So on Friday evening, well in advance, a few of us planned to go to dinner the following day, after an afternoon Tamil function, and then to “Argo”. Saturday evening came. We first tried a restaurant at 8 pm where the wait was 2 hours. The showtime was 10 pm. So we went to the only place that has no waiting on a Saturday night, an Indian restaurant. We were 4 couples and 3 children. The restaurant was only half full. By 9 pm, they hadn’t even taken our drink orders. The prospect of watching “Argo” was getting slimmer and slimmer, but secretly I was relieved. It had been a long day, after all. By the time we got the checks and the hot towels, it was 10:15 pm. We shook our heads with fake regret, and said “Oh well, we’ll just have to catch Argo another day.”

So we came home, and my son suggested that we rent it on cable. Dang it, it was available! We all got comfortable, and rented the movie. I would say I lasted maybe 10 minutes. My son later said I was talking in my sleep and calling him by my sister’s name. He also said I was very confused about simple scenes in the movie before I hit the snooze button. My husband lasted slightly longer than me. My son said he didn’t even realize dad had fallen asleep until he tried to make conversation.

So we tried again the following afternoon, after a good hearty lunch. No prizes for guessing who was asleep on the couch barely 15 minutes into the movie. I woke up and sheepishly promised my son, who was thoroughly disgusted with my sleep schedule, to watch it again that evening.  He had been forced to start and stop each time one of us fell. So that evening, early enough that I couldn’t positively have any excuses to sleep, we tried again. Dinner was done, dishes were done–that’s another complaint my kids have—if we start a movie during dinner, I make them stop the movie so we could clean up! And this time, no one slept. The movie was excellent!

And that’s what it took us to watch a 2 hour movie–3 tries, and about 3 hours. It was an excellent Oscar-award winning movie, yet! Nowadays, there’s a formula I strictly follow when it comes to watching movies:

  • It cannot be after 8 pm
  • It has to be after my afternoon nap on weekends
  • If it’s during dinner at home, everyone needs to understand that I will stop the movie to clean up

 Hey, we’re having a weekend movie marathon this coming Saturday at our home. Our goal is to watch 2 full movies over 16 hours. Anyone interested in joining us? Anyone?

My Article In a Contest

Hello followers,

I had sent a couple of my articles some time ago to some contests, and one of them is now published in the following websitse:


The article is about kids leaving home and is called “The Birds Have Flown the Coop”.

Please check it out, and vote for me if you like it. The contest ends this Sunday (Sept 9, 2012) and you do have to get a login id to be able to vote. But no worries, they don’t spam or share your email with anyone.

To login/get a login scroll all the way to the bottom where you will see this:

Leave your star rating and/or comment on this vignette.

You must be logged in. No login? Registration is easy. You only need to supply your name, a user name and email address. Register Now.

Click on Register Now to get a login id. Use your login id to login and vote.

Thank you all for reading!


How to manage sugar cravings

I discovered this week, not once, but twice, an effective way to control your cravings for good stuff like “mysore pak” – that traditional, melt-in-your-mouth South Indian heart attack in diamond-shaped pieces.  My mother’s recipe is simple: 1, 2, 3 – 1 measure of besan (chickpea flour), 2 meausres of sugar, to 3 measures of clarified butter (ghee).  Simple, right?


Unsalted butter, sugar, chickpea flour (besan), broom, paper towels – 4 rolls, swiffer, cleaning products for floor, cabinets, countertops

So here’s what you do:

  1. Make fresh ghee.
  2. When it’s cooking, (you would have turned it to low after the butter melts),  increase the heat to speed it up and go away from the range.
  3. Within seconds, you should hear a pop.  There will now be ghee splattered on every surface in your kitchen.  Cabinets, floor (which becomes slick enough to slide), light fixtures, counter top.  You name it, ghee got it!
  4. Now take the besan.  Sprinkle all over the ghee-splattered surfaces.  But first, make sure you turn off the stove.  This is very important.
  5. For the next two hours, spread the besan with a clean broom, or paper towels.  It absorbs grease like magic.  My friend here tells me atta (wheat flour) works just as well.  Good to know in case you run out of besan.
  6. Sweep up the kitchen, clean the countertops, wipe down cabinets, clean the range – which should, by now, be cool enough.
  7. When everything is dry, add the final touch – mop, wipe, polish, etc etc.

For steps 4 through 6, if you have another person helping you, it is more efficient and quicker.

Now put the sugar away.  Pick up the phone.  And order pizza.

Not only did you save yourself from eating mysore pak that’s easily 1000 calories a pop, but your kitchen is sparkling.  That’s two mangoes with one stone!

A rose by any other name…

Okay so I’ve neglected my blog for a few months now – can say ‘have a writer’s block’ only so many times with a straight face. Besides, my diehard fans, all 3 of them, begged me to write again over the weekend when we met for a family wedding. Also, have been feeling a bit blah and needed to cheer myself up – too much wallowing!
So I decided to write something light. During the weekend, as I heard Raj’s cousin calling him ‘podi’ (literally means ‘tiny’ or ‘powder’ – in this case the former meaning is the appropriate one – although, calling a 6’ tall, 180 lbs. giant ‘tiny’ makes appropriateness a moot point) got me thinking about weird family nick names. Both mine and my husband’s families have a rich collection of absurd nick names.

Let me start with my grandfather (henceforth known as ‘thatha’). Thatha had several nick names for patti (grandma) but my favorite one was ‘Chinta pandu’. This is a Telugu word, and means ‘tamarind’ or ‘puli’ – a sour fruit used in Indian cooking a lot – I found out the meaning only recently. Thatha sure had a great sense of humor. His tone, modulation and gritting of teeth would vary based on how frustrated he was with patti. A simple, long ‘Chinta’ meant patti was in mortal danger.

Thatha also had nick names for a few chosen ones in the family. My youngest aunt (his youngest daughter) has a birth star of Pooradam – now this was considered an unlucky star for some reason, and was obstructing her getting good matches for a husband. His favorite name for her was ‘Poora’.

She also liked to escape with her friends for hours at a time and this led to thatha fondly referring to her as ‘Ravaana’ – I think ravaanam means ‘oor suthradhu’ or roaming the streets in North Arcot dialect.   He would ask chinta pandu “where is ravaana” and chinta pandu would be running for her life.
He liked to call me ‘Sophie’ as he said I had very ‘sophisticated’ (read: expensive) tastes. Raj, I’m sure could attest to that. He also called me ‘Imran’ sometimes as I was crazy about Imran Khan, the dreamy Paki cricketer.

A cousin of mine, (you know who you are) who would trip over all kinds of imaginary obstacles was called ‘pultha’ or ‘philtha’ – derived from ‘pul thadukki bayilvan’ or ‘the body builder who trips over a blade of grass’.

My dad, his eldest son, inherited thatha’s penchant for naming his children. He called me (sometimes even now) ‘mayil kunju’ – little peacock. I was flattered until I saw how ugly those things are – but I think he meant well.
My sister Geetha was called ‘gathe natha’ – go figure. Another sister, Radha is called ‘subbuni’.

My sisters and I, five girls, were collectively known as ‘LGVRJ’ – recently at my cousin’s wedding in Chennai, pultha introduced me to her cousin and said ‘remember the famous LGVRJ? this is L’.  !!
I’m sure I’m missing a few here but these are the memorable ones. Cousins and sisters: if you’re reading this (you better) and remember anymore, do post them as comments.

My husband’s family has a few doozies. We have a Goebbels mama, a Kannu mami, Paidu (my father-in-law) and of course, Raj’s podi.

Don’t you love family nick names? I’m sure each family has its own set of weird, but completely fitting nick names. What are some of your family’s nick names? I’d love to hear them. The weirder the better!

Sorggame endralum…

The title of this post is the beginning of a song from a Tamil movie and goes on to wax lyrical about how good one’s hometown is compared to even heaven.  Really corny Ramarajan number and I cannot believe I’m using it for a post, but it absolutely sums up how I feel – except in my case, ‘sorgam’ is India and ‘namma oor’ is my little village in midwestern US.

Yes – I’m back from India after 6 glorious weeks, and settling back into my non-guest, unemployed-by-choice existence.   Still a bit jetlagged after 2 days (or is it 3?).  While in India, just couldn’t find the time/focus to sit down and write my thoughts down so will have to go through the jumble of memories to write this post. 

My soap box – have to get this all out:

As clichéd as it sounds, India keeps changing every time I go there.  I felt it starting from my flight to Bangalore from Paris – where about half the flight was filled with desi consultants returning from a short assignment from the US, and a few non-Indians going to India to meet with their offshore team, as Obama famously said, I felt that India has ‘arrived’!

Even Diwali has changed which was a bit harsh for me – it no more means getting up at 3 in the morning, having patti or amma put oil on your hair, and give the new clothes, having an ‘oil’ bath while you’re half-asleep, and running out to do firecrackers in your new clothes.   Heck, Bangalore was quiet at 7 in the morning on Diwali day! All the sweet-making is totally outsourced to Adyar Anand Bhavan and other such establishments.  Everyone’s relaxed.  Our family wasn’t glued to the TV watching how the stars celebrate their ‘thalai’ deepavali or the patti mandrams (debates) about who works hard at home – husband or wife or what is more successful – arranged or love marriage, but I hear those are very popular these days.  Diwali was a bit of a disappointment for me as I was all psyched about being there after 16 years during diwali time! Oh well..

As for the economy and the general scene, there’s a sea change.  There’s so much drive, and fire to get ahead that it feels pretty much like the US.  My brothers-in-law (2 in upper management, and one running a business with his father) all work 12 hour days.   The downside is that the wives are left to deal with everything else – which is much harder to do it in a culture that’s predominantly at the mercy of maid servants, drivers (car and auto), iron-wallahs, the milkman and the 500 other random people who keep coming and going all day long!  I swear the bell rings every 30 mins.  And in a family like mine (5 daughters and a father who insists on calling and telling you to check the email he sent with a picture of your daughter), the phone simply doesn’t stop ringing!  It drives my mom crazy and it drove me nuts!   My sis in Hyd had 4 servants come and go in about 3 weeks.  

But what’s confounding, at least to me, is that with all the manpower available for hire to do everything from cutting vegetables (it’s true!!) to getting a home facial and massage (I had both done) it’s not all resort-style stress-free living.  People are stressed – or maybe it was just me.   To each their own, right?

This may make some desis angry but it’s my opinion.  While India has ‘arrived’ on the global scene, it has a LONG way to go in terms of infrastructure.   The basic infrastructure has not caught up with the growth in the economy.  

Take for example getting from place to place.  The traffic is unbelievably bad.  I really think that is a main source of pain for the majority of the people who have to be on the road any longer than 10 minutes.  The auto drivers rule!  I thought Bangalore was bad with the auto wallahs charging an arm and a leg to go anywhere until I went to Chennai – they don’t even pretend to use the meter.  One has to fix a price before stepping in and if you’re like me, with no sense of direction or distance, you really are screwed.  

Traffic rules are a joke.  The intersection near my parents’ house in Bangalore is a nightmare between 8 am and 8 pm.  Everyone just wants to go and try to squeeze in to any inch they can find, but if they step back and think a bit, they could really avoid all the gridlocks that are caused about every 30 minutes.   I may be naive here, but I feel that a simple 4-way Stop system  like we have in the US will solve a lot of the jams.  

The thought that kept crossing my mind was – our people are incredibly resourceful and talented, why is it so hard to fix these basic issues…mystery!

As for the wedding which was one of my primary reasons for going, it was a blast!  My cousins number about 20 and one of them was getting married.   16 of us were at the wedding!  It was so much fun to see everyone.  Our family has a majority of girls, and this was one of the few groom-side weddings we were part of – so relaxed, and stress-free for everyone. 

Ties that bind…(and gag!) 

It was very different being there without my kids and husband, and I got to spend a lot of time with my aging parents.  Which was a whole different story!  They’re both in their 70s and don’t sleep much.  On several nights, I would wake up to use the restroom and just about scream at the scene reminiscent of the scene from the movie ‘The sixth sense’ – you know, the one where the little boy gets up to pee, and sees the ghost in the kitchen with all the cabinets open.   Replace the ghost with a tiny Indian lady in her 70s.  I am not kidding, every light in the kitchen would be on, the cabinets  all open, and my mom would be cutting vegetables or cooking breakfast in the middle of the night!  Catching up with my dad on family news, they’d make coffee, drink it and go back to bed whenever, or not.  

My dad was his usual self – criticizing my spending habits, turning off lights and fans behind me as I moved from room to room, driving me everywhere at his age in his new Maruti Alto without complaining but cursing the desi lack of traffic sense, the roads, the traffic cops (or the lack of them) the whole way …not much has changed there!

I had a lot of fun with my 3 sistsers who are in Bangalore and Hyd, and their kids.  Especially the youngest 2 – oh my, how I miss my littlest ‘laddu’ niece – 5 months old, roly-poly and all pink!  She would literally light up everytime she saw me…and everyone! But I felt rather special!

A boost to the Indian economy…

What is a trip back to India without shopping… yes –  I shopped.  Nausea caused by diesel fumes, rain, a closed car with a perspiring driver (read: choked by BO) – all of these did nothing to stop me from shopping in Hyderabad with my sister who accompanied me cheerfully.  We actually had to pull over to the side so I could throw up and continued …Black friday cannot hold a candle to shopping in India! 

There’s a new trend in saree selling these days! Ladies, if you thought having the saree wrapped around you was so cool wait till you hear this – the salesmen actually put it on themselves so we could see how a saree looks draped on someone!  This was only in Hyderabad – not so much in Bangalore.   What is that pazhamozhi that goes something like ‘nai vesham potta koraichuthan aaganum’ (‘If you act like a dog, you have to bark’).  I think that’s taking it a bit too far, don’t you?

On the whole, it was a great trip.   Hope to do it again – in 2 years!

To endings and beginnings

It is true! I have fantasized about it, struggled with it, wrestled with it, thought about it to death…and finally I have done it.

Turned in my resignation and 2 weeks notice on September 2nd, on my son’s 17th birthday.  Tomorrow is my last day at the company where I have worked since January 1998.  12 years, 9 months.  I am excited and a little terrified.  The last 2 times I quit my job I knew exactly what my next step was going to be.

Back in 1990, Raj and I resigned from CMC to start in Digital Equipment,  and start a life here in the US.  We hardly had a break between the jobs.

Our beloved ‘Chief’ as we used to call him tried talking us out of it.  But we moved on.

Then in May of 1991, we were starting a family – I had decided to take a break and raise kids.  I was pregnant with Sandhya.  I resigned, we moved to good old midwestern cornfield village, and I knew exactly what I was going to do.

Then when the kids were starting in school, I started at Ontario in 1998.  And have now resigned.  This time, I have absolutely no idea what I want to do.  I just know I cannot continue.  I need to take a break, clear my head, go home, spend some time with my family.  And then come back and decide what it is that will make this middle-aged and restless woman shut up and be happy with a career choice…

But it’s kinda bittersweet – when so many people say they will miss you, take you to lunch pretty much the whole week,  I must admit I wavered a bit ( to put a morbid twist on it, it was a little bit like being at your own funeral – stop rolling your eyes, Ad and Sandhya)  But I stood firm, and stuck to my decision.  Only time will tell if it was the right call – this time it’s all based on a gut feeling that strongly said I need to go.

Am I going to go nuts and drive everyone around me nuts?  Probably.  But I’m determined to try it out.  Take out my painting brushes, blog, have a good time with my family back home, maybe go back to school!  The options are endless and I can’t wait to find out.



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