Somebody suggested putting in a matrimonial ad in the Times of India for my eligible brother who is visiting India. But apparently my parents forgot when the ad was supposed to come out and as Ma likes to pointedly say: “We’ve stopped looking at the classifieds or putting ads there… what’s the point?” So what is the likelihood that my uncle sitting in Lucknow – who already has 2 sons married/committed to someone – scanning the classifieds instead? Probably killing time checking out the grooms for his lovely niece(s)? Fair enough. But what is the probability of Lucknow Uncleji coming across the same bloody ad about my brother and not recognizing it as my brother’s? Highly unlikely. He calls up my dad and says this could be a probable match for your daughter. That's right... yours truly, y'all. Dad diligently takes down the details and tells mum – you know where this is going, right? In the meantime, charitable well-wishing uncle does not hear from dad for a few days. Hmm, wonder WHY… the family tree is still shaking in laughter.. haw haw haw!
The firefighters went running in with hoses and a smoke blower. A ladder went up somewhere. My roomie was nervously asking if we should tell the pros it was an electric fire. I nervously giggled in my tweety bird slippers (it was the only pair i could slip into quickly) and her friend nervously lit up a cigarette. was this an appropriate time to light another fire? Meanwhile, some neighbors had come out and i told them what happened. I looked at a couple from next door - they seemed vaguely familiar - but shook my head and thought it was a bad time to socialize. Soon, one of the firefighters called us upstairs and said the fire could have been caused due to leftover grease. I went back down and said hi to Angie and Jake, whom i had met at my former roommate's wedding last year. Surreal, but true.
Back at home, the kitchen was a mess and the oven is still out of commission. The landlord has promised to get us a new one but till then microwave meals will have to do! I also have a newfound respect for firefighters but i have to admit, there is a reason why they have so many sexual innuendos associated with them :)
I was only 16 but i remember feeling sad, angry and deeply secular. The newspaper pictures showed rubble and what promised to be utter chaos in the days ahead. And what followed was one of the bloodiest communal warfares in recent Indian history.
First, there was a Muslim backlash and then a Hindu backlash resulting in the Bombay Riots. Around 1,000 people killed before a commission was appointed to investigate who did what to whom when and where. It was found that the right-wing Shiv Sena party incited the riots but till date none of the commission's recommendations have been acted on or implemented.
That's secular, democratic, 21st century, call center, multiplexes, so-sexycool-yaar, dosa and tikka loving, nuke dealing, IT revolutionary India for you!
So on Dec. 1, I finally joined the YMCA. I was partly inspired by my roommate who is very disciplined about her running schedule and also because it would be good to have someone to go with. The Y in DC sits in the heart of downtown and has lots of cool facilities spread over 7 floors. I was especially excited about the Olympic-size swimming pool and the racquetball courts. However, Friday was not a good day to join because the women’s locker room was a real stink joint. The smell of sweaty socks was simply overpowering but I held my breath through it. Then there are the showers. I haven’t used a communal shower in ages and I think there is some sort of unwritten locker room rule: if you’re naked, look up and if you’re not, look down. I also thought the older naked women had to be German because they seemed to be the most uninhibited about letting it all hang out. It’s not as if there weren’t any towels available, people!
Finally as I was about to leave, one of the "happy smiley staff members" asked me to write a postcard note for a U.S. soldier in Iraq. The Y sends these notes to soldiers during the holidays and as she forced this on me, I really had to think about this one – why should I, an Indian, write a note to an American soldier in a country where a conflict seemed totally unwarranted. But I was going to reach out to another person in the end so I wrote: "Have a cheerful holiday and come back home safe."
As for the work out, that was really good. I felt great and hopefully I can break the resolution jinx for the new year this year.
On Sat. night my friends and I noticed this trilogy hovering around trying to do just that. They seemed like regular, nice geeks at first. One was in a suit and all; the other in a studly black and red leather jacket; and the third was in cargos. You couldn’t miss them because they were everywhere and trying extremely hard for any action.
First, the Suit Guy danced with a bachelorette party and got his hands all over the bride-to-be posing for various pictures. Next, he zoomed in on the frat girls trying to be a kabab mein haddi. Meanwhile, Leather Jacket saw his Holy Vision: the modern Bhartiya Nari with long tresses and shy dance moves, albeit accessorizing perfectly with her cosmopolitan and cigarette. She spurred him immediately – but only to provoke him further, since he figured a ‘no’ means ‘yes’ – and as he tried to whisper sweet nothings, he just grabbed her arm. I swear I could hear her say eww! Cargo Pants was just dancing around, minding his own business, until he saw this unfold and did his bit by telling his friend to chill out.
The Suit Guy later discovered our Brown Crowd and thought hmm, 6 women, 3 men, surely I have a chance here. He slowly started to infiltrate – dancing with one of the guys and then coming on to a couple of us girls. At some point when Suit Guy and Leather Jacket were suitably drunk, they were almost coming to blows about some random thing. Again, the tension was diffused in classic Bollywood fashion by Cargo Pants who came between them and told them to stuff it. I don’t know how long they stayed or if they got lucky, but the last thing I saw before I left the place, was Suit Guy desperately trying to make conversation with one of my friends. She looked pretty bored herself, but even she wasn’t that desperate.
On another note: I saw “Babel” and was pretty moved and confused. But it was still a very good movie.
Once there, we were joined by a friend - who had agreed very nicely to come at the last minute in spite of his hangover - and the poor thing did not hold the sofa properly and hurt his back. both the sofa and the friend had to be abandoned.. he was in pain. but no love lost for the sofa. but by the time I huffed and puffed my way to help out, someone had lost control of the dresser and as it went rolling down the loading dock, i had become completely hysterical. i was in splits actually. then my cousin and i got in to a spat. so the two of us moved stuff silently for the next half hour. when it came time to go to my new apt., the truck refused to start. sputter sputter sputter for 15-20 mins. Uhaul hotline to the rescue - mechanic would be on the way in 45 mins., oh but after 45 mins., they said they might as well send a tow truck. great!
So while i went to grab a sandwich, I conferred with some friends and decided on movers to unload the stuff at my new place next day. there was no question about it. Finally, the tow truck (which was stuck in traffic as usual) arrived around 8 pm. did i mention we called the hotline around 4ish?? it was a big-ass thing and stalled traffic on Connecticut Ave. for a while to get the truck on the truck basically. while i was watching this unfold, one of my friend's parents were in one of the minivans stuck behind the tow truck and waved to me. they were like hey, Shilpa is that your Uhaul? you look fabulous with it. haha.
Anyway, the next plan was to drive to Capitol Hill with the tow truck driver as my cousin followed behind in his car. As you know, in life there's a first time for everything. I can say this was the second time I got a ride inside a tow truck but as far as tow drivers hitting on me, this was a first. Rodney was his name. When he said i looked 25, I was happy as a fiddle. Of course, questions about India and could he come "knockin' on my crib for Indian food" followed. "Where do you hang out with the girls?" U St. sometimes, I said. "You go to U St.?? Girl, you like to drop it like it's hot!" Then a rather strange qs: "Do you go to male strip clubs?" Umm, no i must confess. I've never been to one. Considering the kind of crrrazy day I had, this line of questioning was pretty hilarious!! But everything is fine now.. the movers came the next day and Rodney went back to his next gig. Maybe moonlighting at one of those strip clubs?
I’ve also been discovering the joys that come with living in a proper house instead of an apt. building where the management takes care of the smallest stuff. In the past couple weeks, there have been issues with a door lock, a window blind and the kitchen exhaust fan. Not to mention the weird purple stain I saw in the bathroom sink yesterday, caused by a marker on the back of some cheap tag. I had to spend a good 10 mins. getting rid of that one. Also just confirmed the lifestyle choice of our dear landlord when we were woken up to the sounds of Cher’s “Believe” blasting through the walls on Sunday morning.
But other than that, it’s been a beautiful fall weather weekend, my friends. The holy trilogy of crunchy leaves, crisp air and brilliant sunshine are definitely keeping everyone in high spirits. It feels great to look out the window every morning and just see this huge tree turning colors.
Speaking of seeing, I also saw “The Departed” which was wicked good and checked out Henri’s Rousseau’s “Jungles in Paris” at the National Gallery of Art as part of a friend’s birthday celebrations (I know, so culturally astute) and reminisced more about Boston/Cambridge with some transplants from there. Anyway, I had seen “Jungles” at the London Tate Gallery earlier this year but completely forgot about it until I saw the Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) painting. On second — and longer — inspection, the tiger looked scared more than anything else. Rousseau was also a graphic illustrator for the newspaper Le Petit Journal. There were many satires depicting man vs. beasts and one was pretty interesting and comical – showing a man and lion in a jeep together, the man trying to control the beast with chains, but the lion sits upright with his mane blowing in full glory and pride.
Anyway, till now I was safe in the cocoon of knowledge that my parents’ use of the Internet was confined to rediffmail.com – nothing more, nothing less – unless you count Maa’s obsession with playing spider solitaire and some game involving wolves. So imagine my surprise when I get an e-mail from Shaadi.com Customer Relations with the subject line “Profile for you.” The body of the mail went on to say “Your friend maa (her e-mail id) wants you to check out this profile.” Needless to say, I was highly amused. Two thoughts crossed my mind: How did she start surfing this site? And besides standard job, family factors, what other qualities was she looking for in a potential son-in-law?
It was time for the weekend phone call, which went something like this:
Me: How did you learn how to surf this site?
Maa: This is so much fun. Your kakima taught me (this is my aunt from Ottowa who is like a pal to me and who I thought, till now, was super cool about not putting any pressure!!!)
Me: and who are these guys you’re choosing?
Maa: I think that chap from Texas is quite handsome.
Me: I thought you said looks weren’t important.
Maa: I’m also looking at this boy in California. He says he is very close to his family.
Me: How touching. And where in California? I am not moving to Sunnyvale.
Maa: This is not funny. By the way, he also has a sense of humor.
Me: Are you going to stop playing solitaire now?
Oh, I do miss my mum :)
Basically I had gone to procure some public documents at the Department of Education for a story I was co-writing with someone. On Day 1, I managed to get a pass and went to the specific room where said documents would be. Of course, there was this long corridor with the sterile cubicles on both ends. The room was there but the babu was missing. He was on vacation. A nice lady tried to help me but no luck. Totally unacceptable. On Day 2, I decided to show up but there was nobody even to issue me the damn pass. I was also told that I needed to make an “appointment” to get such information! My co-writer and I were livid and since he was up in Boston he couldn’t really help. But he was a pro and having also worked in Delhi as a Post correspondent, he knew the dealings of Babuland. In other words, he pulled some strings. Talked to the man upstairs. Whatever.
And suddenly I got a phone call from some contact who very sweetly and promptly offered to help in every possible way. So third time was a charm. On Day 3, I went there with the “appointment” and got a decent treatment… a nice quiet space to work, use of phone, computer, loo, soda machine, etc. Except when I wanted to make copies of the documents, this lazy ass babu told his boss (my contact) that it was “almost lunch time” (it was only 11:55 a.m., I swear) and he was working on “something else” (yeah, his personal e-mails/blog I bet). So after shooting looks of death at him, I made the copies myself. It's another story how i got the copy machine to work in my favor. But i finally left the confines of Babudom to return to the confines of my cubicle.
So i lived by myself for 2 out of my 5 yrs in the U.S. and both times i got harsh lessons in independence and self-sufficiency. but most imp. lessons have been in the "how-to" department: how to use a can opener (by holding can steady), how to hook up the dvd player (by reading the manual), how to react when a stranger walks in to your apt. by mistake when you leave your door unlocked for the first time (that scream that never comes out of your mouth), and of course how to enjoy my lovely company :) going back to living with someone won't be easy but Malini is highly amusing... just as normal women carry lipsticks or chapsticks, she carries around a Tide marker pen to remove food spills on her clothes!!
I thought i didn't care about Steve Irwin's death too much, until i saw his memorial service yesterday. In case you were in a cave Irwin is the crocodile hunter who used to do programs on the Animal Planet. I saw him a lot on The Tonight Show. He was totally fearless and loved all sorts of creatures. His little daughter Bindi - yup that's the Indian connection - gave an amazing eulogy in front of millions of viewers without any waterworks. "He was working to change the world so that everyone would love wildlife the way he did. Daddy, I miss you and whenever I look at crocs I will always think of you." Perhaps the most touching tribute i saw since Harry left his "I miss you mum" note on Princess Diana's hearst. And yes, i do watch mass televised memorial services at every given chance.
it was circa 1983 in former Soviet Union and i was waiting for a terribly irresponsible parent to pick me up from swimming practice... tired of waiting till pretty late in the evening, i went down to the metro and headed home. this nice old lady in the train must've seen the tears coming on this 8-yr-old and offered me the best piece of chocolate ever.
in Paris, i simply lost the whole family in the crowded subway (the question of who let go of whose hand is still debatable) but had the good sense to get off at the next station to wait for them. again, this college kid just wanted to stand with this 10-yr-old until my parents came to fetch me. in hindsight, he could've been a totally shady guy but i was reassured by his company. maybe these were all just elaborate plots by my parents to get rid of me... but i think their wish finally came true a few years ago!!! :)
Anyway, today morning I had this weird dream about Jon Stewart telling some joke about how washing machines affect marriages. The two musketeers were snickering on the sidelines. Dream over. Then as I was stepping out to work, some woman literally accosted (that’s the only word to describe it) me on the street and said, “good morning.” She scared the crap out of me… I don’t know why… she looked mean and sinister, could’ve been a ghost. Who knows? or maybe she was just a nice, old lady who wanted my earrings. I might have been dreaming again. But I managed to stutter "morning, gggg-gotta go."
Once again i found myself at the mercy of a "DC institution" which has consistently wreaked havoc on my so-called dating life. Yup, all the dates i have had here have been consistently bad, if not disasterous. Since it is a nice, well-populated place with the option of coffee/drinks/dinner, the first date can go on as long as you want to. Anyway, none of the men (?) i've met there have matured into anything resembling fruitful.
So tonight i met - on a very last minute invitation - this chap at Kramer's. At first, i thought we weren't going there, but since he suggested it, i rolled my eyes and said, "why the hell not?" I met Mr B online only 2 days ago (maa and married friends told me to be more proactive!!) and he was so insistent on meeting me i thought OK, i've handled other freaks, i can do this, too. I talked to him briefly on the phone and immediately dismissed him... did not sound confident at ALL, had a very saaad desi accent (and i have one, too but i'm a snob about the *type* of desi accent... something more coherent then what he was saying for sure) and just seemed too pushy for my liking.
so we ended up getting dinner there and it occured to me during the course of the conversation, he was getting a soft corner for me. this was due to 3 reasons (i think):
- he was very new to the city and i was being nice and friendly to him. wanted to meet more people, asked me about what to do, etc.
- i talked about his hometown in Bhopal which i had visited back in 1992 and he got this glazed look in his eyes. later he mentioned nobody in his 7 yrs in the US of A had talked about Bhopal like i did. what can i say?? i just have a damn good memory!
- he offered to show me his apt. (i mentioned my woes). "you should move into my apt.," he said. "err, that won't be necessary or even possible," i said. "nono, i meant my apt. complex. it's super nice," he said. hmm. don't think so.
But before all of you rush to his defence and yell, "what's wrong with him? he sounds sooo nice!" let me make it totally clear i'm really not attracted to him. it's not looks, though it is def a factor. it's not his accent, either. though that really bothers me, too. he has zero personality!!! also very full of himself coz he works for the govt - pshaw! so? - and has no inclination to visit India in near future. plus he's got no interest to travel or do anything fun that i like to do. so let me sum up my quandry: nice chap, but i can't date him. i also don't want to pull the "let's just be friends" crap on him. i have lots of friends already :) right now, i have a legit excuse... my cellphone charger is lost... seriously... but is it better to tell the truth?? or should i just ignore the whole thing? he did pay for my meal.
anyway, i also visited Evanston, which is home to Northwestern Univ. and where Joyee is slogging away for her ph.d. in math. she was also doing something crazy like car-sitting for a classmate and managed to lose the keys! in the midst of this drama, we grabbed desi lunch at mt.everest. this is the 3rd place i've been to which is called everest. at least the other two had something to do with Nepal... in DC and one in Davis, Calif.
On Sunday, we headed towards Peoria which is about 3 hrs west of Chicago. my uncle and aunt have a massive home there and my cousins and i are always reminded that it's the best place to have some shaadi party! but we had a pretty good party ourselves... watching Maria Sharapova's black dress (and game, i suppose) at the U.S. Open; bbq in the garage (it started raining) and shopping at Steve&Barry's (everything $6.98). but no family reunion is incomplete without someone getting on someone's nerves... ah well, what matters is that we all said our goodbyes in a civilized fashion!
1. An American discovered Pluto. This proves most of the world is anti-American.
2. Dwarf is insensitive. We must refer to Pluto as Planetoidally Challenged.
3. Could this mean Mickey Mouse's dog is really a chihuahua?
4. What if folks on Jupiter do not regard Earth as a planet?
5. Do astrologers have to erase the parts that refer to Pluto's influence on our behaviour?
6. Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld amd judge of the dead. It's not a good idea to annoy him.
How many other planets will leave the federation in sympathy now that we've pushed out Pluto?And if they all join the Romulan empire then where will we be? I'll tell you. Working as slave labour in the acid mines of Rygel 7 while Darth Vader and Sadam Hussein are lying on sun loungers on Venus sipping Pinocoladas laughing at our sorry acid burn't asses. Probably.
Holy Astro-Bodies, Batman! Now they're discriminating against planets! What's next? Will Jupiter be an "Obese Planet"?
Planet, once was I, Laughing in the dark.
Uttered it was, I am too small,
Together they sealed my fate.
Orbit in the darkness now, my status is no more.
Pluto you are the weakest link, Goodbye!
News just in ... Plutonians have just reclassified Earth ... official report describes the Planet Earth as nothing more that a large blue cauliflower covered in creatures that think they're important.
This planet is no more! He has ceased to be! 'e's demoted and gone to meet 'is maker!'e's a stiff! Bereft of gravitational pull, 'e 'angs 'is 'ead in shame! 'is planetary processes are now 'istory! 'e's off the twig!'e's lost 'is title, 'e's shuffled off 'is planetariness, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir comets and icy objects!!
THIS IS AN EX-PLANET!!
also met up with alpana and her family later in the evening and did the whole national mall walk.. another exhausting trek but it was fun hanging out with them, of course.
in other depressing moving news, i may have to start looking for a new place because my landlord just hiked up my rent. bah! and i may have to get a roommate this time. again. double bah!!
I'm walking along as i normally do (yeah coz i hate running unless it's for a bus or i've been mugged, but i digress) and right in front of me is this crossdresser who is like the spitting image of Ricky Gervais except this chap was a bit taller, hair darker, no beard and wearing a pink dress and a lovely string of pearls to match. so i saw him for the second time and he was wearing the same outfit. maybe he just likes to put it on every thurs. or something. but the resemblence to Gervais was hilarious. why am i bringing up a crossdresser when there are loonies wanting to blow up planes with drinking bottles?? because this guy is just so sane in comparison. plus you gotta love pearls on a guy!!
A couple years ago in my zeal to acquire some classical stuff I got a hold of this 2-CD compilation called The No. 1 Opera Album. The name is pretty tacky but it really has all the hits of the opera world – Carmen, Figaro, Hebrews Chorus, Madame Butterfly – you name it, and it’s there. It takes me a while to actually get in to the music (since I’m multi-tasking as usual) but when I do, my falsetto, baritone and soprano come out together in such a way that anyone will be forced to say, "STOP." I've been doing this ritual since I was around 7 (Russian opera singers apparently fascinated me), my mom has threatened to disown me more than a couple times.
Yesterday I did one of those cacophonic performances for my ears only, but methinx a neighbor might have knocked gently to give me a not-so-subtle hint. I know my singing is half-baked, but what I truly believe is that I was supposed to be an orchestra conductor. The control, the drama, the crazy hair – it’s all me. Can’t you see it?? Also, does someone have a copy of Smetana's "Ma Vlast"??
Next was Palena, the cute little French bistro where the bartender makes the best sidecars. The prix fixe menu with a 3-course meal is damn pricey so stick to the $10-12 cafe menu. French cuisine is always a nice break from American standard fare because of its portions (small) and although they use cheese liberally in salads, quiches, crepes, etc., there is a method to the madness. For more on French cheese, go here.
Last night was another cosy place called Yanni's, and yup, if you're familiar with the musician, this place was Greek, too. No snotty maitre'd trying to intimidate you here. Mediterrenean food is healthy and yummy... the spinakopita (grape leaves), spinach pie with feta cheese, mousaka (eggplant with meat and potatoes) were some things we ordered. a friend even tried a liver cutlet with a side of onions and gobi, which was not bad!
besides that, the small comforts of just catching up with some old - and new - friends have been oddly reassuring. so far the summer has been the inevitible mix of the good and the horrible but as the Dog Days of August rears its ugly head, i'd like to believe the rest of the year will be as cheerful - if not crazy - as the past few days.
I had accompanied some friends from Afghanistan and they were a bit surprised by the sex, violence and abusive launguage shown in the film - compared to "normal Bollywood fare." But that's what interior India is... the director showed UP thug politics at its ugliest best, besides the usual colors and rustic way of life. It's interesting the plays he's chosen to adapt for desi sensibilities. After Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello) maybe he should complete the trilogy and take a stab at Hamlet or King Lear next. Then collect his laurels at some film fest!
But the thing is - a laundromat is not the best place to socialize. you just go in, dump your clothes, and get out. there's no Friends or Seinfeld-type banter (although i admit i know of at least one person who had an affair with someone she met there!) or 'hey, what's that bleach you're using?' or 'gee, even i have the same shirt.' sometimes there's like a 'oh, i'm almost done here [with this machine]' or a passing smile with a familiar face.
So last night when i went to transfer the garments from ze washer to ze dryer, this couple was standing right next to my machine. So they had to move naturally. I came back about an hour and a half later to retrieve my stuff from ze dryer. And someone had ALREADY taken my stuff OUT of ze dryer, put it in ze laundry basket and basically left me this huge invisible post-it: "here's your stuff. needed to use the dryer. now go."
I have to say i felt kind of victimised! not to say that some random stranger (i think it had to be that couple) had gone through MY clothes. shudder. whatever happened to laundromat rules???
i have officially moved - yet again!! a lot of you have been asking about the whereabouts of www.shilpabanerji.com but that alas, my dear friends, has been put to rest for the time being due to reasons behind my own comprehension.... blame it on the mideast crisis for now. anyway at some point i will reclaim my domain name from the U.N.'s World Intellectual Property Organization ala Tom Cruise and other celebs. but i'll wait for my 15 mins. till then :)
anyway, hope you like my new look and keep writing in. i'll try to amuse you guys in the best way i can - just sheer madness.