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Entries in all part of life (177)


By love, for love, of love.. 

It takes a lot of courage to jump into a home remodeling project, especially if you have gone through it thrice already over the years. 

We decided last year to remodel and get the girls their own bedrooms. Their bunk bedding days were clearly over. We also wanted an open layout and have a backyard we would spend time in. So we took the plunge and started the project. 

We lived in one part of the house (read two rooms and a bathroom with no kitchen) and managed it with a lot of sacrifice from San, the kids, MIL who visited us. We also had help from our neighbors and friends who understood what we were going through.


I made 9 trips to Asia during the time of this remodel and that did not make it any easier for the family, but we pulled through. 

Every day, we would do "inspection" when I got home from work and take pictures on my iPhone. The family would go to the forbidden side and see what changed during the course of the day!

There were more than 2500 pictures in this sequence. I took a select few and have made a video out of it.. have also included a few random pictures as time markers on things that still happened while all this was going on. . . 

and now that we have a final permit and things are done except for decorating the house... this video got made!

Here is a picture of San "doing the official milk boiling to intiate the new house". Brought back memories of a different time from 11 years ago.. 

I think I am done with remodeling. This is "IT".

Then again, wife and kids laugh at me when I say something like this. 

On the bright side, there will be no more fighting between the ladies for closet space, no more "you took my shampoo" fights when said shampoo is same bottle same brand same size in same bathroom, "you are in my space" fights, etc. etc. 

One can always hope! 

The best part was that we were a happy family in one room. When we all spread out after the house was done, there is more space, but more distance between people. It was a great experience to live in one room for those months! 


A place to be at peace

On our recent India trip, we went to visit our friend Swatantra (which incidentally means Freedom and she happens to be born on India's Independence day). She found her calling three years ago and moved to Chennai from Gurgaon to work on Srishti, a wellness retreat 90 minutes from Chennai city. 

It was an interesting drive and the kids slept on my shoulder while I held the camera for a time lapse video!

We had a hectic schedule but we were not going to miss meeting her. So off we went to her place and from there she decided to take us to the wellness retreat. I always thought this was still under construction. Turns out the place is ready for the public and we were one of the early ones to get a sneak peak. 

Srishti is set in a village. There is no noise pollution from the bustle of Chennai here. There is no light pollution either! You can see the stars even before the sun has fully set. There are cows and goats grazing around and there is an all engulfing silence in the place that is broken by the occasional sound of birds, goats or someone from the village or a helper at the Wellness retreat calling out to another person.

As soon as you walk in, you feel a sense of calm. Every little stone is set in its place with such meticulousness that there is an order that calms you down. You can see the love that has gone into every wall, every corner of this place. 

We were welcomed with garlands, and got cold water poured into the back of our necks.

That wakes you up instantly! You forget that you were in a car for the last 90 minutes navigating through OMR traffic! Then we got to see the rooms, meet the team of people who make this place work, see the lawns and got to walk around. 

You just keep going "wait.. how..it is like a secret garden!"

Given it was late evening, we got a small snack. Swantantra told us they only serve natural foods there like fruits, fresh vegetables, seeds, dates and grains. Their idea is to let the body recover itself by providing a peaceful atmosphere, natural foods, fresh air, yoga and other exercises and lots of love and care from people around you. Can totally see how that would work! Having done yoga for the last 6 plus years, have finally figured out the body is capable of repairing itself if you give it the right time, circulation and environment. You have to give it a fighting chance to recover! Srishti definitely does that!

After the snack we got to take a short nap and do a shavasana and relax. Then we went for a walk to the lawns and enjoyed the birds, butterflies (lots of them) and the cattle and monkeys in the village. After walking a mile we were back and it was time to say bye and go visit more friends. 

If you are in Chennai and want to take a break from the hustle and bustle and be transported to a place that can restore your sanity, strongly recommend a visit to Srishti! 

and if you have little girls, you can definitely get some fresh Jasmine from the plants for your hair. San was wearing Jasmine flowers. When little Reet saw it, she immediately went and found Jasmine for her hair to match. Watching her so happy with the matching flowers made my day.

did I mention tons of butterflies?!

they sat and posed for me...

If you are trying to walk towards wellness, this is a great choice! 

Here is a link, if you are interested in a visit.

I for one am glad that my friend found her calling. Someday, someday, I will also have the will power and mental strength to make such radical life changes and follow my thoughts.. Until then, like my brother reminds me, have to finish what I started! 


Transcending space and time

The first planned event on our India trip was to attend the arangetram of Kavya. I have never been to an arangetram in India, but have attended two dozen or so of these events in the bay area. 

It was a treat to watch Kavya dance. Sat there wondering when this little kid we are so used to seeing got so mature in emoting! The audience in India is more of an untamed beast. The average age of the crowd that attended was a good 20 years older than the audience in the US, which in itself is not a bad thing. They do not have bladder control though and there is a constant stream of people walking in and out of their seats to hit the restroom. 

So here is a tip if you are used to seeing arangetrams in US and you go watch one in India. Get to the front seat! 

We also got to hear a few words from the Legendary Chitra Visweshwaran on art forms that have gone to foreign lands and are kept alive and well. She talked about the challenges kids face both in India and abroad but how the parents abroad give that extra priority to keep things going to get to an arangetram or a stage performance and not give up because of "board exams". 

Thought of recording it, but then switched the camera off and just listened to her talk.

Hearing that I realized that we put our kids through a lot here in the US and they also push themselves hard because of peer pressure. 

Hoping that BB will post pictures or videos of the event in his blog. I am still getting goosebumps going back to that evening. 

Promptly after the performance ended, we ran out to find an auto! Yes, that was a real challenge as autos are not easy to find after 9PM in that area and we had to catch the first flight out in the morning to Mumbai! 

We had to transcend to another space in short time. 

After reaching Mumbai, our plan was to go straight to see San's cousin and her new baby! We had no idea that the supposed 45 minute commute will become a 2 hour plus ordeal! Lunch plan became tea plan and we were exhausted by the time we reached her cousins place. 

Then a cute baby made us forget everything! 

That was again transcending time. They say you can see god in a baby's smile! There may be some truth to it...

After another 2 hour ride in rains and traffic, we made it to the in-laws place by dinner time, and that was day 2!

Mumbai might drain faster after a quick rain but when it comes to traffic, it is a lot worse than Chennai. At least that was our experience. 

Will continue blogging after coming back. . . 


Always read the manual, or watch a Youtube video..

Before trying something new, even if you over rate your IQ and the job at hands seems obvious, it is better to read the instruction manual before starting the job if one is available. This goes for assembling IKEA furniture to sound systems, not to mention simple hardware items for landscaping jobs like weed block sheets!

Then there are things where no instuction manual is there.. like getting a mesh fence around plants with Galvanized wire. I vaguely remember doing this 11 years ago after a real hungry deer family of four, finished off 700 dollars worth of plants over one evening. We were new to Cupertino then and had just finished upgrading this house. We did not know about the maurading deers and their appetite for Yellow hibiscus @29.99 each! 

Very depressed, we went back to Yamagami nursery and they said "oh.. why didnt you tell us the plan was to plant these in the front yard. we would have suggested other deer resistant plants. you can only plant this in the backyard where the deer cannot come". I was frothing at the mouth after listening to that elderly woman because this information could have saved a lot of money, effort and sadness. Then she gave me a paper that had a "deer resistant" list and we bought a few plants to make sure the front yard was not a barren mess. 

Then came the drought and we stopped watering anything. Lost trees and plants. We also went through another remodel and this time there was going to be some watering, to bring back life into those dying trees that still managed to cling on. 

There were arguments about "buying plants". San had the wisdom to remind me of the heartbreak from 11 years ago. She said "you might as well throw that money straight into the garbage or feed that to the deer". Having spent all that time cleaning up the front yard, meticoulously arranging stones to precision and feeling like the reincarnation of some Inca builder, was not going to just "let it go". 

This time, Home depot. If the deer were going to get the plants, they were going to get cheap plants... ha! I would still have to face the angry lion at home if they got to the plants. A wise old man in the gardening section who was in charge of advising folks like me came up and showed me "you see these tags. they tell you if it is deer resistant or not!". I was like, me in a Home Depot. These kids in candy store analogies don't do justice to me in a Home Depot nursery. I take Jr. to home depot with me, just so she can practice rolling her eyes for her Indian dance class. Mexican beach pebbles at 15 bucks a bag? "hmm, these will look nice in that corner" will be me thinking out aloud and the kids will go "what?!"

Where were we? Yes, deer resistance.. exactly what units this resistance is measured in is beyond me, but after planting those last week and writing a nice blog about it, was surprised to find out Friday morning that resistance was futile. Touche.. yes. Deja vu.. yes. The lion at home roared in anguish and I suddenly commiserated with the deer for being deer? Yes! 

Amends had to be made and quickly. So like a guy who drinks some more in an attempt to forget the fact that he is too drunk, I went back to Home Depot and the wise man. A galvanized wire mesh of 50 feet was purchased, the old wire cutter from 11 years ago was searched and found and it was time to "protect" what was left of the plants. 

This is where the importance of instruction comes in. In what can only be described as a momentary flash of stupidity mistaken for brilliance, I put the roll of wire on the floor, kicked it with my feet to may it lie flat and started cutting the mesh. The minute I had cut a small section loose, some stress relieved itself somewhere and the rest of the wire decided to coil itself back. That would have been fine if it wasn't sprining towards me at 40 miles and hour, with the sharp cut edges coming at me like claws! By the time I managed to stand up and tried to block the mesh coming at me, my hands and legs were cut in multiple places. Both hands, both legs. This was bringing me memories of Kalidasa and my dad who would launch into sanskrit poetry when I was little and be annoyed that his son didn't just understand a language he was never taught. Turns out he was trying to reach me on the phone at the exact moment this was all happening to wish me a happy anniversary. 

My neighbor who was watching this comedy show came up and said "you know you could just stand that whole thing up as a roll and just cut it. Then it cannot roll over like that and come at you!" . After some first aid and deep breathing and recalibrating my IQ, came back to cut the rest of the mesh without further incident and finished the job!

The deer are evolving and one can never be sure.. but so far it has been two nights since the mesh was installed and the flower buds are still there! 

My hands have cuts and callouses that just started peeling off in the middle of a hot yoga class to the point where I could not grip anything with my hands without going "ouch". Right now the hands are getting some moisturizing treatment with stuff from the wife and kids cabinets. They seem to have half a dozen varieties of this stuff and I am.. let's just say, trying everything! They have not said anything or maybe have not caught on to it, because I just smell like them. 

There is still a lot more work to be done in cleaning up the front yard, but so far so good!

Learn from me! Always put the roll of galvanized wire like a cylinder standing up  and then cut. Also wear a nice thick glove and use a bolt cutter instead of a small wire cutter to avoid callousing your hands!

Most important.. it is better to fence the entire front yard instead of going through all this!


I love you.... "Rasna"

There was a time and place where an average summer morning would start with the temprature at 82F and by mid afternoon would hit 110 F. We were used to measuring it in C then in Chennai and those numbers definitely seemed smaller, and were easy to get used to. Never even think of the max temperatures.. we could see the road side tar start to melt. As kids we have scooped up semi molten tar to make small bouncy balls to use for cricket games. 

As a kid growing up in an Agraharam type environment (lets translate that to a Temple enclave), the drinks of choice for cooling down the system on hot summer evening were :

1. Water that was stored in a red clay pot with some cardamom husks in it. There was no refridgerator during our childhood days. Only when we were almost in middle school did the concept catch up. 

2. Really watered down buttermilk with some curry leaves and hing (asafoedita) thrown in aka "neermor"

3. The occasional "panagam" which was water from 1 above, but with some jaggery, cardamom, saffron etc. (sweet spices) 

Refridgerators and ice cubes became pletiful in every house all of a sudden, thanks to fridges becoming a commodity product and every family wanting it as a convenince or status symbol or both. There were two types of kids in my neighborhood. Kids who could give you "ice water" when you went to their house and kids who didnt! Let's just say that "ice water" kids were chosen to host cricket games with their street electric box as the chosen stumps... what I am trying to say is that other issues with street cricket were overlooked in favor of ice water!

That is when something dropped from the skies. It was called "Trinka"! It came in Orange, Grape and Lime flavors if memory serves me right. You got this packet of powder, had to prepare a concentrate with this powder by mixing it with a sugar syrup and then store it in the fridge. Then you could dilute that concentrate with water and ice and you had a refreshing drink. Eventually they did away with the powder and came up with a liquid concentrate bottle. 

We were Trinka's biggest fans. My mother was not a fan given the trinka concentrate I used to make took up a lot of sugar and the thing took a lot of space in the fridge. Eventually even the adults in the family were won over and it was a good "ice breaker". Trinka lowered down blood pressure levels of folks in the house on hot summer evenings. 

Then came competition. A new brand of concentrate for mixing flavored water came into market. This one had a packet of powder and a liquid that had to be mixed into a sugar syrup to make your own concentrate and it had a catchy name. RASNA! The advertising campaign for Rasna was a notch above Trinka. Cute kids were drinking Rasna and their parents were making it for them.. and they always ended the ads with kids smacking their lips and saying "I love you Rasna!"

We were and probably still are a loyal family. We don't switch brands easily. There is definitely a loyalty gene that runs in the family. So we stayed with Trinka even if its market share dropped. We would serve Trinka to folks and not exactly contradict them when they told us "thanks for the Rasna".. these were days before Coke and Pepsi were household names in the desi soft drink market. You could get Thumbs up (grape), Goldspot (orange) or Limca (lime) or the odd Goli Soda (fizz water). Then one day curiosity trumped loyalty and a packet of Rasna was obtained. It was tried and initially found to be too sour compared to Trinka. Then the young scientists in the family realized that this one needed different ratios for sugar and water and the "kosuru" water or sugar we used to add was not enough to compensate for rounding errors  in this case.

Rasna was given a second chance and this time it was a hit. By the time this happened, I was too busy studying for high school and before you know it, Mishrambu and Baba Tandai replaced Rasna. Used to come back from Banaras with bottles of Mishrambu to handle the Madras summer. We also switched to two milk based drink essenses which were bought from this store right between the LIC building and Alankar theater. One was Rose flavored and the other was Badam (almond) flavored. They were delicious and between those and Mishrambu.. Rasna was almost forgotten.

Fast forward a decade or more and we had a little Jr. craving something in summer. We were not going to give her carbonated drinks and she got tired of "Caprisun". So we went to a local Indian store and bought Rasna to give her a taste of something from my childhood. She loved it! We had five or six packets made into concentrate and that was it.

Why all this nostalgia for Rasna now?

Well, recently we have had a few hot days to put it mildly and when I came home, my hand was itching to find something other than water and ice. Have been mixing "Emergen-C" after yoga classes with cold water and ice. Hot summer day is one thing. Coming out of a 120F hot and humid room into a house that is showing 85F can be a little interesting. You never stop sweating post yoga class.  

San happened to be at the Indian store and I asked her to get a few Rasna packets. She came home to report the following conversation with the local Indian store guy

San : Where do you have Rasna?

Store kid (apparently in his 20's) : Maam, what is Rasna?

San : thought !@$%^&^%^@$^%&  and came home

at home :

Me: seriously, he asked you WHAT IS RASNA?

San : Apparenty Rasna is not a thing anymore!

Me : What is the world coming to? Okay, even if Rasna is not a thing anymore, how can a person in a desi store in his 20's not know what Rasna is?! 

Have to see if Rasna is still a thing in India these days.

In the meantime, we have to find a new concentrate that has the right ratio of sugar to orange that will not just help cool down on hot summer evenings, but bring back happy thoughts!