Inside scoops ;)


I’ve been itching to offload all our trip stories quickly. Those rare days when you want 72 hours in a day as opposed to the norm of wanting 24 hours for 5 weekdays put together, but 60 hour weekends 😉

Part 1- Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers.
Part 2- To go or not to go? That is the question.
Part 3 –Poguma, pogadha?

So, I’m back to bug you more until you scream stop. I will not though. Will try to make it less detailed. Raji, referred to as R henceforth, will do the hard work of recording all the places we visited and how we got around on her blog. I will conveniently link to hers. In this post, I intend to capture some snippets that I’d like us all to remember.

The group unanimously conferred the title ‘Dora‘ on R. R has a built-in magnetic compass. Yes, she’d be the one ahead of us and would do the most tedious task of determining the correct route, correct bus stop, the right train line. She’d not want the entire group to go down two levels of platform only to discover that the trains there would go the opposite direction. Her idea of ascertaining the right bus stop from our hotel to the Eiffel tower was to ask everyone to wait in the hotel lobby, go to the bus stop, take the bus, alight at the Eiffel tower, ensure that it indeed was Eiffel, come back, gather everyone and make the trek again! To our credit, she had a couple of able assistants who would dutifully open the map, trace the route, buy group tickets, distribute, keep a tab on Dora speeding ahead, and usher the rest of the troupe to catch up, remind Dora to slow-down, and most importantly remind that there was such a thing as hunger and another thing called food 🙂 Less fuel, more mileage- that is R for you. Truth be told, she survived on the mushrooms we discarded from our own share of food. There’d be an occasional tomato or a bell pepper.

D is THE MAP. The moment we’d step out, she’d tell North from South. Validation of choices we’d make vested with her 🙂 It could be about a preferred mode of transport, choice of restaurant, or the place of visit. She’d also ensure R, in her excitement, did not jump out of the radar and vaporize. So she had her hands cuffed with R’s for the most part of the trip. I’m not exaggerating folks. Will send some pics (upon request) which J1 has so tactfully, yet truthfully captured on her wide-angle lens 😉 D apparently is also one who has attained total nirvana in our gang 🙂 She put her security management skills to good use and made sure our choices were always safe and intrusion-proof 🙂

If anything got R and the able D (I like the R &D ring to it!!) excited more than the white, snowy mountains or the rolling meadows, it was the Tabaachi shops in Italy! For the uninitiated, they are the tobacco shops. Yes folks. It would be hard to miss the excitement levels that’d be a notch up, with their palms visibly trembling and shaking in anticipation. These are the typical withdrawal symptoms. It was their bounden duty to rush to the nearest Tabaachi every morning, sometimes in the noon, or on some nights, to stock up. The days would be a drag to them and as a consequence, to us, without this mandatory visit to the Tabaachi. Of course there’d be even distribution of the ‘maal’ and sometimes involved additional perks like ice creams or cappuccino! But the bulk purchase here earned us curious looks that even bordered on shock😀 . If 11 tickets seemed like too many, asking for 22 must’ve seemed ridiculous! But Tabaachis were the only outlets selling local transport tickets at 1.5 Euros per ticket as opposed to 2 Euros if you buy in the counter or inside the bus. We were both cent-wise and Euro-wise you see. So, even before the last of us finished bathing, R & D would’ve set out to the nearest Tabaachi to do you-know-what!

J1 in our group was the official photographer and therefore earned the title JC-PC. However, unlike PC, her shots had a lot of light and life. But she was dressed for the most part of the trip like an astronaut. She clicked photos of everyone from every possible angle, with every possible pose. Her candid shots included my open-mouthed laugh that revealed the teeth that got root canal and the replaced ceramic one. Each of us have a hippo-look-alike pics where we are yawning away to glory. Jokes apart, J1 has captured every amazing moment of the trip and so beautifully that surfing through them feels like being on the trip again. When she was not busy clicking pics, she’d either be tossing-in tons of chilli/pepper powder in her food and eat, or she’d be sleeping. She’ll also speak sparingly so as to save up her energy to click the skies in all its splendid hues!

J2, till we boarded our return flight, existed in two parallel worlds. In one she was drooling over Shahrukh Khan cut-out on top of Mount Titlis, while in the other she was singing her 5 year old junior, back home in Chennai, to sleep 🙂 She was blissfully unaware of a thing called ‘itinerary, and would mostly ask about the places we visited after we returned to the hotel;) On the day of boarding our return flight, she was a fox on an over-dose of honey. Four of the remaining 5 moms, that is, the notoriously evil ones, were already suffering from withdrawal and were trying to figure out how-moms-work. The only other time besides the return flight where she was existing in one piece was, every night around dinner time. If Tabaachi set R & D’s hands shaking, the kitchen counter top did that to J2. She’d wipe the place clean and leave it cleaner than the homestay/apartment folks let it to us. In fact, if they’d perused the monitored webcam footage, they’d be tempted to reduce the room rates for us, or would’ve contemplated paying her a hefty sum. J2 also made the best hot chocolate!

P, the quintessential mom, who until then had not believed it possible to do a trip sans the kids, exhibited some faint traces of being a split-personality. While she was the one who kept extracting promises from me and others to lose her in Switzerland and not bring her back home, was found profusely weeping on Titlis. For a minute, I was wrong to assume that the sight moved her so much that words failed her. Knowing her, I also knew that words won’t fail her. She was sad that her kids missed being where we were. Thanks to wifi, she was able to relay the beauty over a whatsapp video call and get her little ones to catch a glimpse! Other than that, whenever she mentioned ‘home’, she referred only to Switzerland and none other. She had already decided how to earn in keep in this beautiful country. Idly shop. There is absolutely no competition. Could not find the omnipresent Saravana Bhavan (which supposedly has a branch in Zurich) nor the speciality outlet-Murugan Idli Shop. I’m sure that is the bestest thing to do! 1 Euro/idli. The batter will never become sour. It might not raise too. But there is yeast! Will keep you all posted when her venture comes through.Throughout the travel, she kept furiously scribbling into her diary and would insist on finishing a paragraph even if the train reached the station we had to alight at. This was her best mode of coping with the rest of the group who will never be able to catch up with P’s rate of words/minute 😉

N1, the one who had taken an oath to process her visa no matter what, and avenge by not doing the trip, was on a roll. She was busy posing for not only J1’s camera, but everyone’s phone-cameras too. She is R’s able ward and has imbibed the ‘no-hunger’ culture from her. She was busy looking up the marathons happening around that time and her feet were itching to run. R will think. N1’s mind voice will catch and act on it. While the rest of the ladies in the trip were certified aunts, N1 was the ‘akka’ figure. The trip probably wouldn’t have happened but for her! Though she is in denial, I’m sure she got a personality make-over ever since the trip- inside and outside 😉 And guess what? N1 is said to have wept inconsolably because the trip came to an end. And she was caught in action by the sonny who apparently doled out some gyan on why it was okay to cry. Again, the evil moms wondered ‘why-cry?’! It is only a matter of time before our gang’s country effect rubs off on her!

N2, the awesome sister of mine, had panic attacks even before the trip. She was sure she’d not survive the weather. Then she’d philosophise to herself with, ‘when we’ve weathered so much, of what consequence is this weather’. On day-2 in our trip, she was turning Paris upside-down searching for a woollen face mask that would show just her eyes had have holes to breathe. Her extra-large nose got in the way and caught the chill in the weather much before the others. For most part of the trip, she sported a parakeet-like red nose, and a matching pair of red eyes. Though we were never able to ascertain during the entire trip if the redness was because of the chill or something she’d downed without our knowledge to keep the chill at bay 😉 She did find a burglar mask at the Paris flea market. I conspired with a few others and dissuaded her from buying insisting that it was expensive. Live like a Parisian in Paris and all that. She knew when J1 had her camera on her and would pose for the not-so-candid shots. Of the 5K odd pics on her camera, 50% would be N2’s!

N2 and I earned the title ‘cookies’. No. Don’t get any ideas. We can never be sweet. We cooked a simple one-pot meal for dinner in some of the places we had the facility to cook. We happened to overhear (not eavesdrop!) a conversation between two men sitting adjacent to ours. There was this handsome young man who introduced himself to the other thus,” I’m a cooker”. Indeed! If a guy who cooks is a cooker, what can the feminine gender be but a cookie? So. We were the official cookies who cheated our way through by doing a stir-fry of assorted veggies and wrapping in tortillas, or cooked a simple pasta meal. All the while pretending to do a thorough professional job of pounding some spices that weren’t there and tossing in random stuff (edible ones of course). The others profusely thanked us for putting food on the table and we soaked it in shamelessly!

About the three musketeers, the nephew, the niece, and the sonny. I have just three words. Simply Awesome Threesome! They survived the grind without as much as sulk or a whine! They were convinced that their main purpose on the trip was to help lug the luggage;) They added a lot of fun and cheer to the trip. Though I knew my babies had grown up, this trip showed them in real ‘grown-up’ light. How time flies! Won’t say more. Kaala Teeka and all that!

Well, about moi, what can I say? You know by now how modest I am and how little attention I want to draw to the self. I would dutifully assist R & D, mercilessly tease P and J1, egg N1 to strike different poses for the pics (not that she needed telling!), hound P into not getting scared of the canine (a detail I overlooked mentioning earlier!), coax J2 nicely to make hot chocolate,harass N2 on keeping her bag safe, hound the kids to pose for the 8 cameras sticking on them, and chase to hug and kiss them.

All I’d say to end this post is this: *Aaashi-Aaashi-baaee!

*Our own little secret 🙂

*Poguma, pogadha.. (Part 3)


… in Urban dictionary, translates to – “Will it go?”. And thus we had an eventful beginning to our trip.

Part 1- Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers.
Part 2- To go or not to go? That is the question.

Before I get into the particulars, like my friend, Raji, has mentioned on her blog, we all have our immediate families, extended families,  and friends to thank for, without whose support this trip would have been difficult. And also a special note on our little ones that were left behind on this trip. They were amazing and were very cooperative. They dutifully made appearances on video calls everyday that we were away and showed a lot of understanding!

That aside, almost all of us got asked if the children didn’t miss us, and how we managed to convince them. The question is moot. Of course we’d miss. I had taken the older one, Vyas, on this trip and told the little one the real reasons for not taking him. That it would be a very tiresome journey, and that it involved a lot of walking and travel, and the weather might not agree with him. And that traveling as a family would be different where we can take each day slow and easy, especially if anyone falls sick, and how the same thing will be difficult when traveling as a group where we’d end up slowing down everyone else. He understood and has since not thrown a fit. Nor the children of my other friends who left their little ones behind!  So, the point in case- our children are nice like us and so are the other members in our families 😉

Coming to our eventful beginning, on the day of travel, all the eleven in the pack assembled at the airport 2 hours 45 minutes before the flight. We spent under one minute to bid adieu to the nice folks from our families that had come to drop and see us off at the airport. We had an hour and a half to kill before boarding the flight. Recording our memories of the trip began right there. Never would you have seen the interiors of Chennai airport captured so beautifully and artistically.  What we were not able to truly capture is the inherent smell of phenoil (disinfectant) that is so Chennai-airport.

Our boarding was announced and we hopped into the flight, and settled in nicely. There were a few first-timers. And we all breathed a sigh of relief as the trip was now REALLY on! The pilot steered the flight on to the runway even as the usual safety instructions were being relayed. The flight picked up speed on the runway and just when we thought it was going to go more faster and take off, it slowed down. It was followed by a slight commotion in the flight a few rows ahead of us. Which was followed by an announcement from the pilot that a passenger was very sick and needed medical help. There was a bustle of activities with a few people crowding around the sick passenger. It seemed like this person, an aged man, had a stroke. His daughter was on board the flight too. But we were not sure about the nature of sickness. Paramedics arrived in 10 minutes and more flurry of activities. The pilot steered the flight back to the departure gate as the passenger had to be de-boarded! It was now 30 minutes past the departure time. Our connecting flight from Dubai to Paris was in 90 minutes from the time of the actual arrival time in Dubai. More staff and more medical support arrived including an   IV, a stretcher, oxygen, wheelchair et al. The old man apparently was rendered immobile and the staff had a tough time bodily moving him on to a stretcher. He did not get any better with all the medical help. It was a good one hour by the time he de-boarded and his checked-in baggages were removed from the flight.

When we later recounted this incident or even as I record it here, it kind of felt/feels selfish to have worried about our connecting flight. I guess we were all given to some amount of cynicism ever since  a few visas got rejected. A terror attack in Paris exactly 6 days before our journey added to our concerns. We were sure that someone was out there, trying to jinx this trip. Seems very silly now. The things rejections/failures can do to you! We sincerely hope the old passenger got timely medical help and has fully recovered. It is tough to imagine how it would have been handled if he’d fallen ill 20-30 minutes into the take off. Hats off to all those who handled it smoothly!

The pilot made good time and we had about 50 minutes for the next flight. The airlines folks were thorough and whisked us to the departure gates without further ado. So we got off one, did a run-walk-run through a security check, and boarded into another without even a loo-break 😉 And finally we landed in Paris! We had evaluated quite a few options on the best way to get to our hotel much ahead of the trip and found Uber to be the best, most affordable option. And so, we Uber-ed.

We checked-in at ibis budget hotel in Montmarte. True to its name, everything about this hotel had ‘budget’ written on it with a capital B. To give you an idea, the bath towels were ‘budget’ towels. Which means the length would be half the actual size of bath towels. The bathroom and toilets are separate. But your movements inside both are ‘budget’. Very restricted. A person of average height cannot swing a full arm without banging the elbow or at least the wrist on the wall or the door. But who needs to swing a full arm inside the bathroom or toilet, right?! And yes, there is no lock on the door-like fixtures on the bathroom and toilet. But what is there to complain when you can afford to post a guard outside while you are at it? So it worked. The beds were comfortable, the wifi was great, the location was great and safe, hassle-free check-in/check-out, the paid unlimited breakfast (6 EUR/person) was awesome with a great choice of beverages that included piping hot coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.  Paris welcomed us with an evening temperature of 4 and 5 degrees against our expectation (based on web information) of 15 or 16 degrees!

And right away, we learnt our first lesson on France. The spellings and their pronunciations have no bearing on each other.  They are like synonyms – two different words, but the same meaning 😉 You can never get around to a place by pronouncing the name of a place going by the spelling. A tip- prepare a cheat sheet of names, phrases, and directions! Or, learn French!

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“The end justifies the means”, they say. The day that began with some apprehensions, ended with a memorable evening and a lovely, cool, night on the Eiffel Tower. We had arrived!

Read more on the places we visited in Paris, here!

Demonetization impacts..


I’ll spare you the agony of reading through yet another account of the boons and banes of Modi’s demonetization and will instead share a couple of instances to provide some comic relief.

1. I was counting a few old 500 and 1000 rupee notes that were to be deposited in the bank. The brat who was watching this asks:

“Ma, is that black money?”.

2. Varun: I want the next Geronimo Stilton book from the series.
Me: Okay, but not now. No money.
Varun: Yeah, I know. You can buy me after Narendra Modi gives you.
Me: Done!

Varun Bond 007


Yes, my champ, you turn 7 and I must say you are on a roll! As cutely shameless as 7-yr IMG_1821olds can get, you called or whatsapped all and sundry to remind that it was your birthday today.

Between last Feb and this, the single biggest change  I see in you is that you speak nineteen to the dozen and continue to be that drama king.  You roll your eyes in frustration, and still say the darndest things. Like you went about telling the folks in our apartment early morning to pick just one chocolate each!

FullSizeRender (2)You have style and tell the barber how and just how much of hair he can chop off your head. You run your fingers through your hair standing in front of the mirror and make sure there is no damage done to your style. Jeans are still your thing! How do you not tire of wearing them?! And you must be the only fella in entire Chennai to sport a tuxedo at 3.00 PM and not sweat. You practically gave your dad and mom a heart attack when you waxed eloquent on how to make a bomb! I hope we don’t get tracked down just because you learnt google/youtube search.

Your business idea of launching a ‘Dog Hotel’ was simply cool. Only until I knew that there was such a game and you were playing it:) But you ARE serious about doing one when you grow up. Special menu cards for the canines, a dog spa, dog rest-rooms, play area, children in attendance – all these sound cool! You have already decided the names for the ten dogs that you are going to pet when you grow up.

When everyone in our apartments was fretting over the flood water and lack of power, you woke up each morning that week asking if Wi-Fi will be restored.  And you’d go back to making paper boats of old newspapers and float them in the water till the water tired of your boats and receded as fast as it could! When will I get to talk to you about first-world problems?

But then, those talks can wait. I’d want to read to you some more, cuddle you, strike deals with you, listen to your nightmares that feature all the characters from your commando games, lose arguments with you on why you can’t go to bed with your jeans or commando gears, let you believe that iPads and TV talk to the ‘bad neurons’ and that sports, music, reading and stories talk to the ‘good neurons’, let you still be surprised to find me home when you are back from school and draw you into that glue-ey hug, see you beg, cajole your brother into finishing that game for you even if he hates it, listen to you sulk about how unfair it is to sit through the same grade for one full year, and how unfair it is that you are expected to write in school! Don’t grow up yet my Bond. There is a lot of time! I love you to bits my baby!

 

The craziest V


The soon-to-be seven’s  ambition is to become a black cop, whatever that means! Says they can be found in America. Practice sessions are in full swing.

He talks about assault rifles, snipers, bazookas, pistols, shotguns, combats, and commandos. He sets alarm to rise early and work out. Does push-ups both one hand and two hands, stretches, punches and other such wierd things. ‘To get 25 packs’, he states.

He is in full combat attire most evenings when we return home from work. Includes a head gear and mask. He partners with our apartment watchman and takes careful aim at some people on the road who he claims are in the ‘Most Wanted’ list. He is sure that a couple of the bad ‘mens’ are in disguise and alerts the watchman.

He insists on installing security system at the apartment entrance and a security vault inside our house. The purpose of the vault is to store his guns. He urges me to accompany him to the ‘security shop’ to get it. I tell him that it is very expensive and not affordable. He asks if it costs over hundred rupees. I tell him that it costs over two hundred thousands. His come back is, “Why fear when the piggy bank is here?”. We are planning to go vault-shopping soon!

Here’s until the next crazy thing.. Have a great day!

My buddy of a few months


Meet Kaaw, my morning buddy. We’ve been friends the last few months. Kaaw’s kith and IMG_1998kin fly by the kitchen window too. What makes this champ different is that, she alights on the window sill the moment I enter the kitchen, and waits for 15 full seconds without a noise. She feeds from my hands and loves chapathi, warm dosa, vada, papads, chips, and such crunchies. Kaaw hates idlies, cold dosas, rice, veggies, and bread and refuses to even take a peck. The folks who notice this blatant refusal, do not miss the opportunity to drive home the truth that even Kaaw doesn’t like my idlies :/ She turns her face away and waits till her favs arrive.

I sometimes deliberately ignore Kaaw till she announces her arrival. And the announcement comes as just a single ‘Kaaaw’ 🙂 The rest of her brood maintain a wary distance and wait for the food to be placed on the window and there is one that waits for me to disappear from the kitchen! They aren’t as selective about the food offered too. Still I look forward to engaging in the one-sided silly banter (which is moi) and feed rotis to Kaaw.. On some days, she comes back a few more times for repeat treats.. Haven’t had to disappoint her so far 🙂

 

Much Ado about cricket


My little champ wakes up in the morning and comes into the living room with a bowling action.  Doesn’t let his dad off the hook till the daily dose of ‘practice’ happens. He has stuck Ravichandran Ashwin’s picture at random places in the house and sometimes blows a kiss his way.  Sharing a picture he did a few days back:

   
   
Continue to color our lives in all your bright hues little buddy 🙂

ThirTEEN!


Dear Big Boy Vyas, I just have to ask you two questions to see you color and wag that forefinger at me. I’ll still go ahead and ask them again. When did you grow up? And how come you are so cute (OK, that is ‘mommyspeak!’).

Your ambitions have continued to graduate from being a garbage collector and the guy who’ll man the railway level-crossing, to that of an automobile engineer. There is still a long way to go and I’d not be surprised if it changes another dozen times by the time you finish high school. I however think you’d make an awesome lawyer, specially a defense counsel 😉 Your sense of reasoning and logic is something that should go on the records.

You are ‘unaffected’ by competition. Well, is that good or bad? This mommy doesn’t know. But I’m happy that you are happy when your friends do well, and you are unassuming when you do well. Which I think is good. When I see some parents running from pillar to post, dropping and picking up their kids from various classes, there definitely is a tiny element of guilt. I’ve felt inadequate on several occasions. But you have been indifferent to all that. You are probably secretly happy that you are not saddled with classes and more classes.

You are happy because you are one of the shortest in class because you escape getting paired, specially because most girls are taller 😉 But then, I didn’t stop to tell you that ‘height’ is never a factor. Most of Tom Cruise’s heroines are taller than him 😉 I’ll however tell you when the time is ripe:) IMG-20150420-WA0003

Your brother adores you. When asked to speak about ‘a person’ he likes the most, he burst the ‘mommy-balloon’ and chose to speak about you. I was not even aware till the GA was over. He said that he did not talk about mommy, not about Mahatma Gandhi, not about Sachin Tendulkar, but spoke about his brother instead. And here I’ll quote him so we can come back to this post later and read it together again and again:

Varun: “I like my brother the most. He is my best friend. My brother plays cricket with me. He makes funny faces. I love my brother very much.”

I’ve told you always, (even before he was born), that your sibling will be your companion for life and never your competition. I’m so happy that he chose you over me (amma can be selfish and demanding, okay? yes, moms are allowed that). He wrote in his baby handwriting, wishing for your birthday. It was his special surprise for you. I’m sure you’ll always be available for him and be that unconditional source of support. By that, I don’t mean that you must constantly boss over him. I can see you roll your eyes at that piece of advice. Ok, I know you know. Still.. Be that ‘fun bro’ you always are. What is a sibling relationship without it’s share of fights? So, go on and have them. It’s okay as long as you are not tearing each other’s hair apart. But note that you’ll get yelled at in the process and you’ll be largely blamed, because you are the anna in this equation and according to the law of universe, the older siblings are usually held responsible for all that goes awry among siblings. Sometimes, it IS true, and sometimes partly true 🙂 So, yeah, life is like that! If I had to make a snapshot of your 13th year on this beautiful planet, here is what I’d pull out from the top of my mind:

  • You are very conscious when I wrap my arms around your shoulders in public
  • You have the funny habit of not logging out of your email. Dad and mom are not responsible for inadvertently landing into your mail-box..
  • You like comfortable clothes, specially a track suit and a tee.
  • You look at yourself in the mirror a little more than you did in the previous years
  • You want to sport an hairstyle like that of Ryan Teddar’s!
  • You love good food, and food shows, specially the Master Chef series
  • You make awesome dosas and sometimes offer cooking tips
  • You anxiously wait for the Autocar mag to arrive every month and religiously read through every word.
  • Wikipedia is your GOD.
  • You love using new words in speech. For instance, the other day, when we were going out for dinner with all your cousins and their families, you wore a new tee and said something about it being a little ostentatious for the occasion 🙂
  • You test the patience of your paternal and maternal aunts when they call and you end up picking the phone. They have a hard time getting one straight answer from you.
  • You know the things that’d rile up your dad or me. You ask your dad if he can pre-order the Apple Watch for you and also get the new MacBook and rattle on about its resolution, the aspect ratio, and the 9hrs battery life, even while you know what his or my response to those ‘requests’ will be 🙂 And at the end of it all, you’ll simply say, “a guy can try”!
  • You go on about the differences between and Airbus and Boeing, even when there are no listeners..
  • Your little bro hangs on every word that you utter and whatever we tell him is validated with you. Not fair! I hope you’ll use your influence well 😉
  • You like drowning yourself in books and chocolates.

I can go on except that you might not appreciate me putting some things out here. I cannot take that ‘Indian Constitution’ talk where you’d go on about individual freedom 🙂 Keep going buddy. Your are a terrific thirteen year old, with a lot of zest for life and an awesome sense of humour. This is a smitten amma talking.

Wish you a very healthy and happy life kanna. May you dream beautiful dreams, may all the dreams you want to come true, come true. May you always be surrounded by a big battalion of awesome friends. May you have the will to stand up for all the things right, and also the resolve to stand up against all that is wrong and unfair. May you always be blessed with the courage to stand up for yourself. May you be blessed with infinite capacity to forgive and empathize where needed and be available for those whom you love and those who love you. May you always be blessed with the sense to put people ahead of your ego. I love you my baby! Happy thirteenth!