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.

2013-10-11 14.02.16

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.

2013-10-22 04.24.55 2013-10-22 04.24.50 2013-10-22 04.25.01

Advertisements

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.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Washington DC for Sixth time in Nine Months.

One of my friends recently  remarked, “Hey, do visit your hometown too once in a while” .

Reason ? Another trip to DC (can you believe it?)  on the 23rd of April, my sixth in less than nine months.

I had to leave a day’s work and money to go to DC this time but I just wanted to be there, inside the Capitol Hill, and attend the Friday prayer services. The program was supposed to start at 11 AM but with the desi standard time that we follow on our clocks, we started out from home quite late, got  lost along the way and by the time we reached the Capitol, it was nearly 2 PM and we could see people coming out from the Jummah. The staff made us run around for some time but reluctantly let us in even though there was no way we could make it to the Jummah event. All the excitement that I was filled with was about praying Jummah inside the Capitol Hill and with that opportunity missed, I felt extremely disappointed with myself and my trip-mates, making no secret of my anger and frustration at them for having been cause of the delay. Once in, we luckily ran into the host of the program who was taking the other students on a guided tour inside the capitol hill. He let us in into his group and gave us passes to the gallery of the House of Representatives.  I could hardly enjoy this part as I was filled with guilt for having missed the Friday prayers and was repenting about not having stayed put in my hometown instead to attend Jummah when I was going to be too late here anyway. We were showed around a few places quite important/significant and historical  in the Capitol Hill – not that I paid any attention to what was being said by our guide, since I just didn’t feel it necessary to ‘know’ those things. The old supreme court, the library of congress, the offices of the leaders of the representatives, and so on were good places to see but we weren’t allowed to click any pictures here. After we came down to near the entry for the house of representatives gallery, we weren’t allowed by the security to go back up despite trying twice – I wanted to go back up and make amends for not taking enough pictures there earlier.

We finally went in to the gallery after a heavy security check, roamed around in the capitol for some more time and then took a long walk towards the Washington monument and the world war memorials taking a few pictures along the way near the museums too.Since one of my travel mates didn’t want to splurge a princely sum of two and a hald dollars on a metro train back to the union station from where we had to catch a train back to my place, we had to walk for as much as an hour and wait another hour in the historic union station for the train to come.  The trains were more like planes with their interiors, microphone announcements and at the stations with all the boarding gates. All in all, it was a good memorable trip that we made I thought, which could have been much better had we made it on time in the morning.  Leaving some pictures as I sign off for your viewing pleasure :)

A plane journey I will never forget !!- A memorable trip to the west coast

DSC00236

So there I was, after some of the most boring days of my life between Christmas and new year, I finally got the go ahead from my aunt I was supposed to visit at the other end of the continent to take the flight. This was when my holidays were getting over the day of my flight and when I was supposed to start my research work from the next day. I should have been back home by now from my visit I sighed, but  for starting now, I had only myself to blame given my reluctance to buy tickets for earlier dates  what with the high prices. I stood to lose one week of work and money but I had always wanted to make this trip for years and there was no way I was going to miss this chance.
To give you a sense of why this trip was so, erm, so absolutely memorable:

  1. On the way to the airport, I realized I forgot my tickets back home, something not unusual when I am going places. Luckily we had enough time to go back and get them.
  2. My connecting flight to Newark was delayed – I had to catch my flight to the west coast from Newark.  – They offered me an Amtrak train ticket to the Newark airport instead. I agreed, though I did feel sick for having to go in a train when I loved traveling in a plane and had paid for it, (or rather had my aunt pay for it). Turns out the train was heavily delayed too – I had to wait for quite some time before I boarded the train. My date with troubles was just starting off here.
  3. I MISSED my airport stop in the train to Newark and went further ahead.  I foolishly went to the restroom without realizing that my stop was so near – by the time I came back to my seat, my senior co-passenger had that totally worried look on his face and he had me scurrying towards the exit . I rushed out with my bags only to have the train door close on my face. I had missed the stop.
  4. At the next stop, I just didn’t know how to get back to the airport and was worried about splurging more money to do so, or rather, wanted to get back on track paying as little as I could.I finally found an information kiosk but they were of little help.
    I believe there was this obvious anxious look on my face seeing which a girl who was at the scene approached me and said she was going to the airport too and I can join her, and that she knows the train route. She  turned out to be friendly and helpful.  After helping me buy the train ticket back to the airport,  we went together in two trains and had a nice chat along the way. She was from Chicago and was catching the flight back home after spending Christmas and new year with her folks near where I live.  She was surprised I wasn’t from Oregon and I was actually starting my trip to Oregon when the holiday season was ending.
  5. Inside the Newark airport – Another round of confusion – where do I go now ?? I didn’t know where to go in the Newark airport, and was walking all around the airport trying to figure it out – We finally got to the terminal, and she rushed towards the queue for the security check, asking me to follow her but I went around the airport trying to confirm from people that I had to enter the same line for my destination too. I lost her here and then lost my way like a small child- I was misguided by some of the security personnel there who had me go to a different floor. I  finally found where I had to go, went through the security check  hoping I wasn’t treated differently thanks to my different appearance and Muslim faith. It was, by God’s grace nice and easy and I recited a prayer of thankfulness to God.
  6. Boarding CANCELLED ! – Just as I was  at the gate, in a queue, waiting impatiently to board the plane, quite tired as I was waiting for a long time – I got to the gate much quicker than I thought I would –and since it had been a long day already  journeying by train, a security officer came by and asked the flight staff to stop boarding, had people seated in the plane to come out. I was like, what in the world is going on???
  7. Airport EVACUATED !! It’s a SECURITY SCARE  !!

There was a massive crowd jostling to get out of the airport, from the secure area – I could never recall seeing such a crowd even in the Indian railway stations, leave alone an airport. There were television screens in the airport and some people, including me stood watching CNN to try to understand what was happening – CNN would only say it was a security breach and therefore a security scare that was the reason for the evacuation in the Newark airport.

The emergency siren was on for hours together in the airport – it was freezing cold outside, so there was no way anyone was going outside and people were seated on the floor all around, there was little space to even walk. People were even sitting and sleeping on the belts and the computers where they check-in bags. I myself finally sat down behind a computer used to check-in luggage, plugged in my mobile phone to charge and also plugged my laptop on to a power source there and started playing Fifa 2009 to kill time.  An Indian lady in a saree sought help to contact her daughter who had dropped her off here and also contact Continental to change her flight, so some time went off trying to get help for her and chatting with her. As is so usual with Indians, she was not satisfied with my first name, and went on asking for more information until she confirmed which religion I am from – I have always believed Indians tend to be extremely racist, and race, skin color, religion decide a lot about how they interact with people.

In the middle of the night, the siren finally went out , there was a general sense of relief and everyone applauded for nearly a whole minute. By now, thousands people were outside and all of us were made to go through a security screening again, but they were thoroughly professional here and made it real quick.

8. Flight CANCELLED ! Finally, after a long wait, I went near my gate to find that my flight was cancelled. With no idea where to go now, I had to call my aunt late night there – she had to pick me up when I reach there and I was concerned since she had to get to work early morning too. I found an information desk, but there was a line nearly a mile long here and by the time I reached my turn, I went through five calls from my aunt and three hours of wait. They gave me an UNCONFIRMED ticket for the next flight five hours later. I didn’t ask them to give me a hotel ticket since I was dead tired and didn’t want to give myself any chance of sleeping too much and missing the next flight. So, off I went, near my gate and slept on the floor for sometime. I hate eating non-desi food with the halal issues, but had to continously make do with that for nearly two days.
Luckily, I got a seat in the next flight and made it safe, sound and in one piece to Portland, to be received by my aunt’s sister.
I never told my parents anything about what I went through – even during my phone calls to them during all of this, I acted as normally as I could despite being half dead with hunger, lack of sleep and fatigue.
Looking back, I felt it only served to make my trip memorable and fun – I had a great time in Portland after that – went sight-seeing, ate outside, been to a theatre for the first time in my life(seriously) to see Avatar in an Imax, and had a real family feeling after a long time.

9. I lost a lot of pictures I took in the process of transferring  them to my laptop, forever!

Leaving behind a few of the not-really-good pictures I could retrieve from my simple mobile phone camera.

DSC00012 DSC00017 DSC00022 DSC00029 DSC00030 DSC00032 DSC00033 DSC00089 DSC00180 (2) DSC00180 DSC00186 (2) DSC00188 (2) DSC00192 DSC00210 DSC00218 DSC00221 DSC00236

Trip to New York City !

Just the second day after my last exam into the break and under intense pressure from friends, I got going for a trip to new york. The grades were yet to be announced and i was quite nervous, wanting to stick around at home until they are announced, lest there is something that comes up, but I finally fell in.
After 2 hours of total chaos (which is usually the case whenever I go anywhere :D ), I finally heaved a sigh of relief when the bus started.  To give you a sense, I hurried to finish work, ship a laptop by USPS -no, beg my friend to do it for me so I can get ready and catch the bus in time, friend finally agrees to do this for me, and then when this friend of mine calls me for the address to ship to- I am boarding the bus while the address is in my laptop locked in my bag-he called me earlier for the address than I thought he would-  it takes time to get on to the seat, open the laptop you know :P.  and as I am in the bus, can hear my friend constantly shouting at me for 10 minutes for wasting his time etc.. and then lo, there is no cash with any of us, so having to run to find an ATM. Yes, my trip started with an absolute bang :).
The journey of 4.5 hours was completed without we realizing it. Of course, there was the so- polite and the so-non-violent African American shouting barbs at my friend for constantly getting up from his seat behind him (!, wonder what his problem was ).
Soon, we found ourselves shivering outside JCPenny on 32nd and 11 right in Manhattan.
My friend from high school was there in 15 minutes, and then off we went to Times Square with one of us almost getting hit by the racing cabs there – no road rules seemed to apply in New York City, pedestrians cross roads at all points at will, the lights are just for a show  and cabs are driven wildly. After a munch at McDonalds there , I finally reach my friend’s house in NJ dead tired.
On Christmas day the next day, we started late, and went to all the free attractions nearby – the ferry to Stratten Island, the World trade center site, Macy’s, the Hudson, the Empire State, the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, one of the public programs for christmas, chinatown, the rockefeller park, the rockfeller center and  roamed the streets of Manhattan taking pictures all along. It was a lot of walking but was worth it. The day ended with me  having a video chat on Skype with my family right from Times Square using the free Wifi connection there, it was a wonderful experience. But the day started and ended with a lot of tension, I read an email from my professor before I started from NJ that I had a problem with the project I had submitted, and by the end, also got to know of a low score in the finals in another course reading my mail in Times Square. Though the fun from the trip was certainly diluted with all of these things, with some of my fears coming true and me regretting making this trip before the grades were out for sometime, looking back, I still feel it was worth it.
Back to NJ for the night, I made the necessary corrections to my project and finally shut the case. The grade was out in a little while, thankfully, it was not bad, but wasn’t good either, but way better than my expectations.
The next day, I was left all alone high and dry by my other friends visiting their relatives. I walked for a long time to attend the Friday prayers in one of the mosques I found after a long search in Manhattan. I prayed Asr, ate at the Halal delis in the streets twice, spent some more time in times square – atruly awesome place, visited the Tausad’s museum before boarding the bus back to Baltimore.
On the trip overall, it was extremely cold and windy -so much that I  couldn’t even remove the gloves to see the map, which was a pain. And New york was really dirty due to the snowstorm a few days earlier; all the streets/pavements were filled with black snow and it was not a good sight. Plus, the fun was obviously diluted what with the trip being before the nervous days before the grades were out.
But still, I was happy i made this trip – I had always wanted to visit New york and I could hardly believe I actually fulfilled one of my long-standing wishes :) I even banged my head to make sure I wasn’t dreaming . And NYC was awesome, the skyscrapers were a sight to watch, it was an awesome experience to roam the streets in Manhattan, the other places we visited were good too. I could see people from all over the world in the streets, a lot of them didn’t speak english.  It certainly was a great experience,but I don’t think I will make another trip here, as I am pretty much satiated  :)
Signing off, I am leaving a few pictures from the trip, and believe me, we took a lot of them :)