Tag Archives: Travel

Shopping Misadventures or “What was I thinking?”

shopaholic1Less often than a blue moon, my compulsive globe-trotter (and now, entrepreneur, too) friend Achala Srivatsa decides to kick off her shoes, snuggle comfortably in her large First Class seat, and pull out her featherlite Apple Mac Air to write a post for me on a Singapore – Bangalore flight, thus preventing my blog from tumbling into total insignificance. And THIS is what she comes up with.  



Every now and then, I will read these articles on “How to Simplify your Life”, “The Bare Essentials”, “10 classics every woman over 20/30/40 should have” and have an epiphany. Yes, I say, if I throw out all the non-essentials in my wardrobe, I shall achieve a Zen-like sensibility, that elegant, minimalist classic Audrey Hepburn look that will make other women shrivel up with envy and men gape in awe. I shall have only classics in my wardrobe. Tomorrow is a new day, Operation Wardrobe shall start tomorrow.

This is usually a very, very bad idea because as I sift through my clothes, I am confronted by the Ghosts of Sartorial Misadventures past and present, which instantly drives me into a self-loathing spin. Some of the horrors I uncover display a level of wishful thinking, which borders on the delusional.

  • Delusions of Glamour – That Ao Dai bought in Ho Chi Minh is a prime example. After two days of Vietnam, I was seized with a need to shop. Every woman around me had on these flowing Ao Dais that were stunningly elegant and instantly this voice in my brain went “Buy this and look slender and stunning. People will gasp as you pass them… go now…” I rush into one of those charming little stores with bales of lovely silks that are designed to turn your mind into bubble gum. Yes, yes this brilliant green is so me… maybe this subtle shade of blood clot red… I remember forking over the doubloons and rushing out clutching my Ao Dai. It was only after I returned to Jakarta and I stood staring at a long flowing garment in bilious green, that I wondered what had possessed me to buy something that only a colour blind Vietnamese woman with a 14 inch waist and a 20 inch chest should be wearing.
  • The Slimness Delusion – I will also invariably find one tiny little black pencil skirt, one pair of stylish cropped pants that are 2 sizes too small both bought on an entirely unfounded conviction that I can drop 2 dress sizes over the next 2 months. In my defence, there was a time 20 years and 20 pounds ago when I used to live in these things but well, here we are. These will inevitably be reluctantly handed over to slimmer friends 4 disillusioned years later.
  • The Trend Train Wreck– Every now and then I will also find one truly bizarre item and, after racking my brains will identify it. Ah, a reminder of the scrunchy phenomenon of 1990, or the acid wash jeans of the ‘90s (horrors!)
  • The Cuteness Craze – –which happens when women in precious pale pinks and corals and baby blues surround me. Instantly my mind flashes the message “Go Pink and look adorable”. Shortly after, one putrid pink top bites the dust – or in my case cleans the dust off my bookshelves.
  • Delusions of Tradition – Half a dozen ridiculously heavy kanjeevaram silks (bought during my pious swadeshi phase) that I now almost never wear. Full Disclosure – just did this 2 months ago, but seriously how could I pass up a black and white kanjeevaram – umm that I most likely will probably never wear.
  • A corollary to this is the true Swadeshi phase of the early ‘90s when my friends and I went on a Fab India/Gurjari kick. Shapeless kurtas that blanched at the sight of water and mirror work that blinded everyone.
  • The Crisp White Pretension – Every now and then I will buy a super expensive white shirt in the fond hope that it will confer upon me a cool sophistication – a feeling that dissipates like dew in the sunlight as I stare at the 3 turmeric stains on it. Damn you Rasam!!

The Footwear Foolishness merits a whole new page:

  • My Sturdy Shoe Phase – Black and brown Batas and Scholls of hideousness unparalleled, the salesmen swore these would be the most comfortable shoes I’d ever wear. In my case, I’d ever buy and not wear.
  • My Delicate Shoe Phase – As a size 7, really what was I thinking? The things broke before I could leave the shop.
  • The Sling Back Syndrome – 4 pairs of black sling backs and 5 pairs in assorted colours including – I am not making this up – lime green.
  • The Mystery Shoe – Every now and then I will come across a pair that looks perfectly lovely and go “Oh I wonder why I’ve never worn these lovely peep toes? Let me wear them today!!” 2 hours later, I stare at my bleeding foot which the upper part of the shoe has viciously cut into, thinking – “Yup, that’s why I don’t wear them.”
  • The Bling Bungling or the Metallic Craze – Three pairs of blinding metallic slippers and sandals all blinged up and nowhere to go.

I could go on but you get the picture. I blame most of my hasty decisions partly on all those size zero sales personnel who stand outside the fitting room giggling and going “ Maybe an XXL?” In sheer mortification, I walk out with as much dignity as I can and say, “No thanks I’ll take the Medium,” and walk out wondering whom I can gift the top to.

Meanwhile, let me get on with my wardrobe cleanse. I still need to figure out what I’m going to do with all my low cut sequined tops (The Diva Delusion of AD 2000).


A Fond Farewell

Over the past year, I have made several friends in the blogging community. One of the nicest and friendliest persons I have come across is Akanksha Dureja. Several weeks ago, she asked me to write a guest post for her blog – the charming Direct Dil Se. I had been mulling over the right topic to choose for her, which was a trifle difficult task given the eclectic choice of subjects that she chooses to write on.

And then, I heard the happy-sad news – Akanksha was moving to the UK for work for a year, most likely longer. The news made me, as I am sure all her other friends too, happy because it is always nice to see your friends flourish in their careers. But sad, too, because it is never easy to part with them. My guest post for her is my way to say Au Revoir, Akanksha – until we meet again.

I know what most of you are doing now – planning your next holiday in the UK, right? After all, no more worries of booking expensive hotel accommodation or paying through your nose for pricey meals! (Oh, did I mention that Akanksha is a great cook?)


Do read my post on Direct Dil Se. My first attempt at writing a modern day fairy tale. With the hope that the reality for Akanksha will be even more joyous and eventful than the one I have described!

Akanksha Dureja : The London Diaries


See you later, Alligator!

See you later, Alligator!

Indian Railway : 22nd Century Up!

Indian Railway : 22nd Century Up!

(The Times Of India News Service)

Shri Ganesh to the 22nd Century!

Shri Ganesh to the 22nd Century!

New Delhi : February 26, 2013 : The Union Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal presented his first budget in Parliament today. Experts, parliamentarians and Aam Aadmi are universally hailing it as the most glorious rail budget ever made since the invention of the Steam Engine in 1781. This farsighted budget has, in a giant master stroke, erased the combined losses of Rs. 24,342 crores that Indian Railway has accumulated over the years, and transported it to the 22nd century much ahead of schedule.

The measures announced today are expected to effectively deal with expansion of passenger capacity, passenger comfort and rail safety. Revenues sourced from both passenger and freight services are expected to treble, with only a marginal increase in expenses. No fare increase was proposed.

In a bold and far reaching move, the Minister announced that every train, no matter how fast or slow, will henceforth be referred to as ‘Ultra Superfast Express’. Taking a leaf out of the French train naming convention, where such trains are simply called TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse, or Very High Speed Train), Indian Railway will title their trains as Tatkal-Tivrata or TAT-TI for short. Three trains have been shortlisted for immediate name change – Poorvanchal Tat-ti, August Krantikari Tat-ti and Shan-e-Punjab Tat-ti.

Interestingly, this change will not just be limited to name only. The locomotives pulling these trains will now bear new speedometers where a “0” will penciled in after each number on the dial. So a train running at 40 kms per hour earlier will now be deemed to be doing 400 kmph, easily beating the fastest trains from Japan, China and continental Europe. The fastest Indian train, the Bhopal Shatabdi Tatti, is now expected to gush at over 1000 kms per hour, comprehensively breaking the sound barrier.

“We are world beaters once again!” announced the Minister amid the din of thumping desks in the Lok Sabha.

An innovative approach to effectively deal with safety issues plaguing the railways has also been proposed in the budget. “Safety is paramount. I have a 3-word answer to deal with accidents due to signalling and human error (or Aam Aadmi Mishtake). Respected Madam Speaker, the answer is ‘Non-Stop Horn’”, declared the Minister. Non-stop tooting by the train engine is expected to keep the driver, passengers and everyone in the 25 km vicinity of every train wide awake and ever watchful. Experts agreed with this assessment. “Genius solution!” remarked Prof. A.K. Acharya. “Why couldn’t anyone think of this solution earlier? Was the government asleep?” he added questioningly. Prof. Acharya is Senior Vice President at Hasbro Toys where he manages the toy train sets division.

Unlike moribund policies of the past, the current budget proposes drastic changes to mop up additional revenue from freight. Goods trains will now bear open-air seating on their roofs, opening a brand new revenue stream for the ministry. Ticket price will be kept in line with 3-tier Non-AC. A ladder to climb up to the roof, and a raincoat, will be provided to passengers at nominal costs. However, to contain costs, no bedding or pantry services will be available.

Passenger capacity is also being augmented in other unique ways without incurring additional rolling stock expenditure. The Minister announced that all train toilets are being disbanded with immediate effect. These spaces will be refitted as sleepers and chair cars. In lieu of public conveniences, each paying train passenger will now be provided an earthen lota which they are free to use as they wish. Given that all trains make frequent unscheduled stops along our nation’s picturesque countryside, passengers will have ample opportunity of simply hopping on and off to answer a call of nature at their convenience. Most train passengers interviewed by this reporter heaved a sigh of relief at the new benefit, including those seated 100 feet around train toilets and had been holding their breath for several hours. Rama Devi, a passenger interviewed on the Patna-Indore Janshakti Tat-ti, seated a mere ten feet from the train toilet, managed to mumble “Fantastic news!” before succumbing to the odours in the bogey.

The Minister made it clear that, as always, in case of dire emergency, or whenever one felt like doing it, the ‘chain’ could be pulled to instantly stop the train and fifty others behind it.

The Minister lamented that passenger comfort had taken a back seat in the past few budgets and was eager to bring it back as a key focus area. To that end, he proposed a repainting of the interiors of all bogies to be carried out on a war footing in the current fiscal. A dual-tone colour scheme has been selected. From the ground to a height of 3 feet, all train surfaces will be painted a shade of reddish-orange. Surfaces above that height will now bear the inviting shade of dark brownish-greyish-black. The new paint scheme is being called ‘Bhartiya Rail Rangoli’ and is expected to uniquely complement the millions of passengers who enjoy oiled hair and paan, and like to touch and feel things around them constantly.

Politicians cutting across party lines gushed at the “best railway budget ever”. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerji tweeted, “Best rail bhaajet : beeg ween for TMC”. Later, however, she retracted the tweet, possibly after realizing that her party was not in the government any more, and called the Minister a Maoist.

Earlier in the day, before the budget was even presented, there was an air of exhilaration pervading through the Parliament. Many Members of Parliament were seen locked to their iPads cancelling impending flight trips. “I will use my rail quota myself instead of giving it away to my in-laws,” said Kumari Selja, when asked for her expectations from the budget. The minister, considered to be single until now, however refused to divulge any details on the ‘in-laws’ despite persistent questioning.

White Knuckles In The Air

Friend and fellow victim of a career in Market Research Achala Srivatsa is back with a delighful piece on the joys (woes?) of air travel. Musings, coping mechanisms, call it what you may, but I promise that by the time you are done reading this piece, you will have relived your last (few) plane ride(s).   

Look out! Frantic Air Traveler Inside!

I am a nervous, you could say anxious flyer. I would not call it a phobia exactly but I find myself sweating quietly at takeoff, scrutinizing the cabin crew’s expressions and body language and clutching the hand of whoever is next to me during turbulence.

I envy that guy in front of me who pulls up his blanket and begins to snore gently the moment he straps himself in, that lady whose concentration on her book does not waver even a little as we battle through dense, angry clouds, the businessman who continues to frown at his balance sheet even as the plane rocks.

Since mine is a job that requires travel, I’ve had to bite the bullet and develop some coping mechanisms to ensure I don’t turn into a gibbering wreck by the time I land. Fortunately, the human race is a colorful one and I find that between our very own Bhai-Behen and the dour farmer from South Dakota, I am provided with enough entertainment, aggravation and amusement to take my mind off… oh my god, is that lightning? No, it’s some twit taking pictures in the aircraft.

Let me start with myself. I am no mean hand at dishing out irritation and amusement to those around me in a plane. The moment I am strapped in, I kick off my shoes and then crawl around on my knees the entire duration of the flight trying to find them.  When my tray of neatly wrapped AVML arrives, I consume everything on it, including the cling film, noticing with mild interest that the watermelon is a bit chewy. I spend 20 minutes getting the little sponge wraps around my earphones, tear them and sheepishly ask for more. Meanwhile, the 14 something old next to me rolls her eyes and deftly slips on hers. I manage to lose my blanket and pillow, demand blankets slightly petulantly and then discover I’d been sitting on them all the time.

At the slightest hint of turbulence, I clutch the hand of the person next to me (a bonus if it turns out to be a cute guy, not so much if it’s a large hirsute man with heavy gold chains around his neck). I babble about my life, my work, the events that led to my traveling that day. The moment the rockiness stops, I drop his/her hand and spend the rest of the flight squirming with embarrassment trying hard to remember exactly what I said to the man and whether I should expect a call from him soon.

So people pretty much cheer when I walk into the aircraft because it makes them feel supremely tremendously calm and competent. It’s a public service really.

But enough about myself. The one thing I’ve learned by flying is that all men LOVE that little hot towel that’s handed out. The man next to me will extravagantly and thoroughly scrub his face, neck, his ears, wring out the towel and proceed to wipe his arms up to his elbow. The women around me, meanwhile politely pat their hands with the towel.  As hard as I try not to get distracted by this, I find myself wondering every single time if: a) Men have discovered the link between hot water and hygiene just yesterday b) have taken a sacred vow to not clean their necks until they are seated in seat 45B next to me.

One of my most memorable moments and one that made me forget my fears completely was on a flight from New York to Minneapolis. I was seated next to two very pleasant gentlemen. As is my wont, I began to babble the moment we hit some turbulence, explained to the man next to me that I had a need to converse to get me out of panic mode. He asked me where I was from, to get the conversation going. He turned out to be a farmer from South Dakota on an annual pilgrimage to NYC to watch a Mets game. The whole conversation we had was about Hinduism (what is it about?), Christianity (only those who believe in the Lord our Saviour will go to Heaven) about my family and me – we’re not bad people really (Nope, it’s Hell for you heathens) and finally the Big Question (why don’t you convert?).

I was mildly amused by his assumption that a 2 hour flight could have me questioning my beliefs but a friend of mine had the last word when he wrote to me saying  – “ Well, think of it this way, Hell will be full of your friends while Heaven will most likely be full of farmers from South Dakota, so I think you’re better off”.

In that Baptist farmer’s defense, he really was not being offensive, he genuinely could not believe anyone would actually choose to follow a different faith. Ah well…

Swinging back to our own motherland, on my way back from Bangkok recently, I boarded the plane, settled in and then… the sweet, unmistakable sounds of two self-righteous Indians squabbling over nothing. It started slowly – a few splutters of “what, what is this, I say?” then slowly swelled to a crescendo of “How dare you I say? What you are doing? See Sir (to a startled fellow passenger minding his own business) he has just thrown my bag out of the overhead baggage hold… how he can do that?, “you mind your language” and then of course the sweetest, classical Indian high note “Do you know who I am”?

This question always reminds me of an Asterix comic  strip when a Roman soldier asks Asterix what the password is, to which he retorts “Why? Aren’t you in the know?” (The response from the Roman soldier is classic. Drawing himself up, he replies  “I should think I am. It’s Cogito Ergo Sum”)

But I digress. By this time, the Thai crew is standing around smirking and barely hiding their loathing for us as a race (“such a silly matter”) and I have never been more interested in my biography of Clarence Darrow.

Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that as long as people keep me amused while flying, I think I can keep my fears in check. Plus, I have a theory. I believe I am not alone in my fears.

While I may act out my fears, (okay, so banging on the cockpit door demanding that the captain sit next to me holding my hand was not the wisest thing in retrospect. To be fair, the police were very understanding) that businessman staring at his spreadsheet is most likely mentally reciting the 10 names of Arjuna feverishly as we fly through a storm and I did notice our bookworm toss back her third glass of red wine. So maybe there is a collective sigh of relief when we land and that typical scramble for the door is a way of us kissing the ground and saying  “let me out of this tin can”.