A Few Things I Love – from India

I had a wonderful time traveling to Bangalore, India recently.

 Coconut Water on the Streets

This was a familiar sight in Bangalore – a man selling coconut water by the roadside, with a sickle in hand to cut open your coconut right in front of you. Fresh, and natural. They were definitely a lot more expensive than the last time I was in Bangalore, but I totally love it.  Each time I see canned and branded coconut water in a store, I crave for simple coconut water from the roadside like in Bangalore.

There’s other delicacies sold on the roads and in street carts in India – in much the same way rice platters are sold on every block in New York or Philadelphia.

Street Cart

My family, and most people in Bangalore consume Chai (doodh-patti chai) several times a day. Someone flicked a line from Dunkin’ Donuts for Bangalore. “India runs on Chai.”

Chai

I do cook every once in a while, but I’m more known for burning my chicken curry. I tried to use my time in India to improve my cooking skills. Here I am, making a mean Roti from scratch, kneading and all. I was quite proud of myself.

Roti

What did annoy me sometimes was that some people tried to speak with me differently, and not as though I was any other Bangalorean. The auto-rickshaws and taxi-wallahs could figure out that I wasn’t living in the area and charged me exorbitantly, despite protests in my broken Kannada. Everyone speaks some English or Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani in Bangalore, which came to my rescue.

India

Buying Halal Chicken from the store. If you’re not buying from a fancy store with an inflated price, this is how the poor and middle class get their chicken from the store.

You get the (poor) live birds from their cage …

chicken

You weigh them to bill your customer appropriately ..

chicken

And then, Zabihah them.

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For the record, except for my severe allergies in Bangalore for which I was on nasal steroids, I never fell sick.

I came back to freezing weather while I was relishing the sun back in Bangalore.

temperature bangalore

I love Bangalore so much. The family of course, and the city, its people, its diversity, its temperate climate. Until next time.

PS: Google Now on my Android phone was a pretty good companion throughout my trip, and intelligent. Traveling through Bangalore and Abu Dhabi, it helped me in sightseeing, translations, and currency conversions without having to search for any of them.

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Back from a Dream Trip

It wasn’t hard to miss the difference in how Ettihad Airways treats customers bound for India or Pakistan vis-a-vis those for Western destinations.

Flying to Bangalore, India, my gate at the airport in Abu Dhabi was in a corner that could have passed off for an ill-maintained basement. There were no signs, directions or flight information except marked gate numbers. It was crowded. I had to ask cleaners for information or search around for staff who gave conflicting information about the assigned gate. I knew I was flying cattle-class.

Flying back to Washington from the same airport was needless to say, a pleasant experience with an ambience you would expect in a modern airport in an oil-rich Sheikhdom.

My time in India. The surprise I gave my folks when I showed up at their door with no prior warning or information, from thousands of miles away, was one of the happiest times of my life. India was just the way I had expected  – full of people with loving hearts and intrusive personal questions by strangers. Uncles and aunts trying to get me married. It seemed very expensive – from public transportation to restaurants to groceries. I didn’t do much sightseeing – all I wanted was to spend as much time as possible with the people I had missed so much. It was a wonderful experience  – a getaway that I needed in a place I wondered if I should call home.

In the few days before I left for India, I was stressed, dejected and sad. From a friend who hurt me a second time and wanted nothing to do with me. From stress about my career. From the relative loneliness in a new city even though I had made several friends. From pressure with decisions I had to make in personal life that would affect others. I was low on self-esteem and motivation.
And then Allah opened an opportunity for me. ‘Eid was only a couple of weeks away and I had a natural break at my job. It was perfect. I needed a break from everyday anarchy.. a holiday with those that love me unconditionally.

The three weeks after I returned were the best days I had in a very long time.

What Valentine’s Day means to me.

“It doesn’t have to be that way. It is not going to happen with me.”

They laughed at me. I was sweet, innocent and childish, my older group of friends told me, among other things. I insisted I would not face the same problems as they did.

In a few minutes of uninhibited openness, I shared how I was in for a blissful future, a union extraordinaire. (Read the entire post before making conclusions.)

It could be a story from a fairy tale.  She, with a heart filled with the love of God. A heart that seeks His pleasure.  “A sweet, gentle, pleading, innocent, dedicated, sympathetic, loyal, untutored, adoring female heart.”   He, with a loving, comforting, supportive, insanely dedicated  heart for her, that sought her happiness.

This union completes both of them. “By her ease and liveliness, his mind is softened, his manners improved, and  “from his judgement, information and  knowledge of the world, she  received benefit of great importance.”  Some of these lines were from Jane Austen and they are etched in my memory for ever.  But there is a reason why I can dislike Jane Austen, because I think such a  marriage can indeed know what connubial felicity really is.

But still, Valentine’s Day, did not mean anything to me.

Not because of the dark roots of Valentine’s Day that has the moral police going berserk, or the fatwas against it, with it being an “imitation of another people.”

Not because of my dislike of the  crass commercialization – where “love” is bought and sold, where corporations promote the event so they could make $18.7 billion in sales. Where they need to create special days such as these for money.

Not because of my dislike of  the pressure to show one’s affection in a certain way, on a single day in an entire year.  Or for love to be packaged overwhelmingly to mean the lustful love between two individuals.
For a society as the one here with such overt displays of sexual love, 50% of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.*

Not for anything else.

But simply because I do not have a woman who I am married to, or who I would marry, or who would marry me, as yet. This is an idea.

A dream.

A dream that has temporarily been put off till I can find my feet. Someone as needy as I currently am could not be trusted to be the support or mean the world for another individual.

 While women and men want  to be desired and yet  resist others’ unwelcome advances,  spending countless hours studying their reflection in the mirror  – admiring it, hating it, wondering what others thought of it, something about inner beauty gets lost in the conundrum. Where a 7/10 on the scale of physical attraction trumps a 10/10 in inner beauty that would make for a blissful living. I hope I am not one of those making the wrong choices in decisions with such trade-offs, when the time to make the decision comes.

What Valentine’s Day did teach me was the power of a clean heart sans any resentment, a general feeling of happiness with everyone . As with anyone else, I falter, and hurt others, or get hurt. But it is the power to forgive and patch up that separates people.

  I wonder if men and women can ever break out of this infinite loop, and be in  freedom. In a feeling of freedom. With wings flapping. And light. Light enough to find oneself in the skies. High enough that, when one looks down below, those stuck in cycles of bad blood, and resentment look puny.  With a life of pure, unadulterated happiness. Of the kind that simply runs out of scale. Of contentment.  Of God’s pleasure.

If there is indeed such a life, I  seek thee.

Winter trip to the UK and India

After a grueling Fall semester in school, I got to get away from this place for a five-week long holiday and visit friends and family in two countries – the United Kingdom and India.

People are often surprised when they hear about how much my family and my extended family is spread out over three continents. A few days before I left, one of my lab-mates expressed his awe at how much of the world people like me have got to see. I told him that going to and living in different parts of the world has widened my horizons,  and that people who haven’t lived in different places tend to have skewed understandings of other parts of the world. They tend to believe more in stereotypes and are easier to fall prey to propaganda about other nations and cultures. No, Muslims don’t actually worship a black box in the middle of the desert and don’t actually kiss the ground five times a day !
Well, this guy did not actually say that (Yusuf Estes did in one of his lectures ), but he did have some of the wrong but popular impressions about Arabs and the brown people, and he’s always been in the area between Indiana and the east coast.

After a Christmas day shutdown in London when I landed, I had little to do but sleep at a friend’s place.  It was just my poor luck that my next and final day in London was going to be a strike-day for the London underground metro workers and none of the tube trains would be working.  A Brit replied to a ranting me: “Welcome to London”.
Apparently, strikes are not too uncommon here.

I still enjoyed riding the jam-packed double decker buses for the first time, but long waiting times for buses, higher walking time  towards stops, and a very early sunset meant I could cover only so many places. Our group got to be at  The Tower bridge, London Bridge, the aquarium, London eye, Piccadilly Circus, Liverpool station, ice-skating near the London eye , Trafalgar Square in the dark,  London Central Mosque’s closed gates and Madamme Tousadd’s closed doors.  At least I could tame a huge lion and sit upon its back – so what if it was a statue in Trafalgar square and the pictures were crappy in the night ?

Generally overcast skies and dull weather had me humming “Welcome to Seattle” as my next few weeks were spent visiting relatives and friends in Manchester, Blackburn, Cardiff, Liverpool etc. interspersed with visits to local attractions in these cities, the best being the museums in Manchester. I would recommend the Nawab restaurant in downtown Manchester to anyone who wishes to have the best of desi food in the area.(UK for me).

Next stop, Bangalore, has always been my absolute favorite city in India despite my allergies, the pollution and the heavy traffic.  Mysore, an erstwhile royal city in the south also had a bunch of relatives I had to visit and was my next stop. The Mysore Palace was definitely a better structure than the more famed Buckingham palace.  A musical fountain show in Bangalore a few hours before I had to board my flight back home was my last stop and provided for my last few hours until a long time with  some of the most beloved people in my life.
Pending work at school was enough motivation for me to gather enough courage to control my emotions as I headed back home.

I arrived back to a warm welcome by the customs and border protection folks at the airport, who opened all my bags and searched every inch, all the while asking questions about the books (most of them on Islam) that I had bought during my trip.
Okay, it has been enough procrastinating. Heading back to my work now. I’ve added a few pictures from my trip below.

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Snow brings holidays

We had the first legit snow of the season today, but that was (un)fortunately not enough to postpone the two exams that I had. The exams were not bad anyway, and I am glad to be  done with them. It’s never a good thing to have to suffer from postponed exams and an extended period of pre-exam tension.

We had an entire week off this February when we had three snowstorms in a week. Those who know me would point out that getting locked down at home for snow or whatever is among  the worst things that could happen to me. I just love getting out of the house, and go places.  This one time , I ventured out with my camera when there was a heavy snowstorm accompanied by 80kmph winds – it was indeed a crazy thing to do and people pleaded with me not to -but that was something that gave me the kick. At 125 lbs, there was a good chance that I could have been blown away, and be ‘gone with the wind’ !

Now that my winter break is about to commence, I am so looking forward to my trip abroad and continue challenging the snow and freezing temperatures, only this time in Europe. And then, to some warm weather !

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End of a whole year here!

Finally. My second semester in graduate school has ended with one last exam. It is a good feeling and I am looking forward to a good break for sometime. It’s not that I feel elated since I know it is going to be a busy summer for me with a lot of work.

I expect decent if not perfect grades this semester which was largely a breeze compared to the previous Fall semester which had me go through some of the most anxious days of my life.

I have had a  memorable time in the last six months or so, having had courses which seemed easier to handle, work that I enjoyed doing and interspersed with these, were other moments of joy –  having experienced  what Obama called the “Snowmageddon”, the wonderful  sightseeing trips, getting to spend time with my cousin, and a  trip to the west coast. The only negative factor, a major one at that, which managed to eat into the blissful life was my inability to find a scholarship that would pay for my huge tuition – I just did not want my parents to spend again on me but that was not to be. I am not taking that to heart now since it is convenient to ignore it.

I sign off now, off to enjoy the few days I have before the summer grind starts.

Leaving behind a few pictures from the last few months for your viewing pleasure.