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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

To Heaven and back

I visited my aunt last week. The trip was planned at a short notice. SG was going to Montana for a week and when I had gone to register for my Summer courses, my Program Director had advised: You are going to be really busy from July 13, enjoy the Summer till then.

I was running a temperature and my internship as a Marketing Research Analyst had started from June 11. It was a tough call. But I knew I wouldn't have time later. I told my boss about my trip and knew I'd make it up for him.

Seeing my cousins was a joy. Anupam ( Mashi's elder son) had grown up quite a bit since I last saw him in Xmas 2007. He picked me up from Washington Ronald Reagan National (DCA) airport. We took the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Yellow Line to Gallery Pi- Chinatown and then switched to the Red line to Silver Springs (The red line that smashed into another yesterday was on the way from Takoma to Fort Trotten. Takoma is the station before Silver Spring)

It was at Takoma where the man standing next to me said: Nice ring. I smiled and suggested: You can get it at Kay. He asked me if I was visiting or lived there. I looked at my cousin and mentioned that I was visiting my aunt. He asked a score of other questions like where I was from, whether I went to school etc. I scanned his dark business suit and wondered if he worked for the FBI. But I think he mentioned United States Department of Agriculture- quite innocuous. He said he was getting down at Silver Springs too. Before he could probe deeper, our station arrived and I got busy dragging my suitcase out in the crowd, and he shouted: 'Welcome to DC, have a great trip !!' I smiled at his affability and asked my cousin if it was common there to be so friendly. He said: I think he was trying to hit on you or something. And we both giggled. I saw the demographics was quite different from Boston. It was.. how shall I put it.. more diverse.

It was a vacation typical of my school days. I didn't have to cook. I had to sneak in to do my own dishes. I could drink tea without brushing and even had lunch once without having a bath first (very unlike me). No rules. Watched a couple of movies. Read : Stephen T. Kay's Boogeyman with homemade popcorn- oh yes, I did. Though, I don't think I can manage 'The Shining' all by myself yet. Boogeyman was not as scary as I thought it to be. It was all about confronting your fear. I liked the shots, well detailed and artistic. I usually like Sam Raimi's productions. My first kiss of fear was from Evil Dead. Ewww.
The 39 steps (1935) with homemade samosas and gulab jamuns. Hitchcock's depiction of a man and woman being tied in handcuffs together - now where have I seen this copied before? The 'Memory Man' concept was ingenious and hilarious. The following day, my aunt recommended that I watch Tales of the Kamasutra 2 :Monsoon. Helen Brodie looked good. Her father is Scottish I believe. Gulshan Grover was a convincing bad man. But the director could have done a better job. Later, we watched The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior and I think Michael Copon is cute.

I had picked The Kingfisher Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia by David Burnie and Anupam shirked : What are you reading? Personally, I found it interesting. The Argonauts for example. This unusual octopus spends most of its life in open water. The female is up to 20 times bigger than the male, and she has a paper- thin, spiral shell. Unlike other mollusks, the argonaut's shell is not attached to its body - the female holds it in place with her arms. She uses her shell to protect the eggs, and once they have hatched, she will often discard it.

I didn't know that Scorpions carried their young ones on their backs (or had forgotten the fact) and that some fishes have beauty consultants in Cleaner shrimps (a swimming decapod crustacean) who eat the parasites off their bodies and have a symbiotic relations with their hosts.

The overcast clouds spoiled most of our plans to go out, except when we attended a dinner invitation on Friday and went to Wheaton Mall on Saturday. I got the Transformers Blu-ray for Anupam and the Indiana Jones series for my collection. We tried to find four leafed clover, but in vain.

I saw something my father had said to me once.
Anupam showed me the Washington Monument while driving back to the airport on Sunday. Later, I recognized the obelisk in an Indiana Jones movie. Just like most movie makers show the Boston skyline with Prudential and the John Hancock towers to convince the audience.

Andy had recommended the Holocaust Museum but the rifle-wielding James von Brunn, an 88-year-old white supremacist from Maryland, fatally shooting a security guard marred our plans.( Apparently, he is a known Holocaust denier who created an anti-Semitic Web site called "The Holy Western Empire" and has repeatedly claimed that "The Diary of Anne Frank," is a hoax.)

I can't complain. I wanted some rest. Mashi and I bonded over some manicure. Anupam made a Transformers wallpaper and showed me the E3 2009 Batman Arkham Asylum demo.

I saw Anirban playing XBox online mostly. He has grown his hair and his back looks exactly like SG. We made a joke of it. Poor kid had fever when I left them. The Wasabi sauce with sushi cured me of my cold. I hope it helped him too. And the Jamaican Habanero sauce with shrimp and vegetables spaghetti was heavenly.

My flight on Sunday got delayed owing to inclement weather in Boston. It was a good break, but I was pining to be back. My roommate picked me from the airport after being chased twice by the traffic control. SG joined us for dinner at The Kebab Factory.

The following morning I had my weekly meeting. But I felt ready for it after a restful week. Last night, I made the Italian sausage recipe I had learned from my aunt. It was a hit.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Abanimohan Kar Smriti Puroskar

Honorable Chief Minister of Tripura, Mr. Manik Sarkar is handing out the awards

Digging up the pics took a while, but I am glad I have them now.

Dadubhai always said : Kokhono bhulo na tumi kon baarir meye. (Never forget which family you belong to) I don't think I have ever forgotten that. And even if I had, the world would have reminded me.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Minnesota trip: Day 2: The wedding

The next day, I woke up thinking, 'The day has arrived !' Needless to say, I had been looking forward to it for some time now - ever since we got to know about the wedding date; that would have been seven months now, at least.

The ceremony was scheduled at 3:30 pm on June 6, 2009 at the Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota. Sangram had to reach at 12:30 noon for signing the wedding license. Since we had nothing better to do, we decided to accompany him. That meant getting ready 3 hours before the actual ceremony. Most girls would complain about that. But I didn't want to miss anything, though the thought of lazing about on a Saturday morning felt tempting.
We helped the best man get ready, I tied the ponytail :D

It was pouring when we reached the church. A professional photographer was directing the poses for the bride and the groom. The couple looked beautiful and very much in love. I always thought that Mitch and Sushma complement each other very well. That is how a husband-wife pair should be- like a team, making up for the weaknesses of the other by one's strengths.
Sushma and Mitch

I had already wept at the rehearsal, and John had offered to bring tissues on the day of the wedding. I felt choked with emotion again. It was like watching a very romantic movie. Most guys will never understand what is there to be sentimental about a wedding. Well, I don't blame them. They are emotionally less evolved than women. (Do I hear protests?)

In the afternoon, Arindam, John and I went out to fetch coffee for the groom and the best man. I had pancakes and apple juice in the morning. In fact, I liked the pancakes at our hotel so much that for three days in a row I had nothing else for breakfast.

I had seen a Caribou coffee joint somewhere on our way the previous day, but it was on the highway and we did not want to drive into the traffic. We couldn't find coffee shops nearby so we checked a couple of gas stations. The first one had only cold frappucino from Starbucks' and I was dying for a hot, brewed coffee. The next one had a coffee maker but the coffee was cold in the pot and there was no way we could reheat it. John lost his appetite for coffee. I decided to settle for a cup of hot chocolate and took French vanilla toast for the others. Though the guys insisted on paying, I rushed to pay in cash. That was the only thing I paid for the whole trip, except for the flight tickets. I kept track of my expenses, but Sangram wouldn't hear of it.

Before him, I had dated mostly losers who felt shy to take out their wallets. And since my father's first lesson was : 'There's no free lunch', I always ended up paying the bills. It feels good to have someone pay for you instead. After my father, I think it is him, who has me taken care of every little whim of mine. One more reason to feel special.

Fast forward to the ceremony. The ushers escorted the lady guests to their seats. The groomsmen walked first and laid down the white drape for the wedding party to walk on. I didn't see when the groom and the best man had appeared from the door beside the altar. The maid of honor and the flower girl walked in, followed by the bride.

We sang hymns in unison. One that particularly appealed to me was from ,' O Perfect Love'.
O perfect Life, be Thou their full assurance
Of tender charity and steadfast faith,
Of patient hope and quiet brave endurance,
With childlike trust that fears nor pain nor death.

The Pastor gave a humorous speech about love. He said that it started with Eros, 'Oh you are so hot', but it isn't enough to sustain a long-term commitment. The next stage is Philia, where you are more like companions, the husband is shouting : Where's my beer? But that isn't enough either. The ultimate stage is the love for God, with childlike innocence.

Neither Sangram nor I am very religious, but we have our own beliefs. And over the years, our relation wouldn't have sustained if we did not believe in each other. We were the oldest couple there, but I was the youngest in age. Naturally, there were questions about our wedding plans too. I told Mitch's Dad that we are just enjoying a long courtship.

Mark (Mitch's elder brother) asked Sangram if I were his sister. We have been asked that often. I wonder if we look like siblings. John negated that. Sangram told Mark that I was his girl and showed my picture on the wallpaper of his phone as proof. I didn't realize it then why those two were looking at me and smiling. I believe that was exactly the moment he sent me the text message: 'I love you.'

Sushma had asked me to wear a saree for the ceremony. Indian clothes can be really gorgeous. They were about five of us wearing sarees: The bride, the maid of honor, Sushma's aunt, Mrs. Seelan ( the wife of Dr. Santosh Seelan from the University of North Dakota, Mitch's undergrad guide) Someone feared what if they came unwrapped. That didn't materialize. I changed for the reception into a dress I had got exclusively for the wedding.
Sangram and me at the reception

Soon after dinner, and after quite a few number of audible requests from the guests for the couple to kiss (the traditional clinking of glasses with silverware), the speeches were made. Sangram mentioned that he and Mitch lived on Taco Bell's for a year until they discovered it was not healthy; they strummed the guitar and jammed the piano at odd hours; played racquetball and Mitch hit him every time Mitch lost. George Bernard Shaw was quoted and the speech emphasized: To be happy with a man, you must understand a lot and love him a little. To be happy with a woman, you must love her a lot and not try to understand her at all.

I agree somewhat. A plausible explanation could be that most men need space to breathe, unless you understand him, you can not respect his need to be on his own sometimes. And women need to be loved, they love getting pampered (at least I do) by the special person. But we have the most ephemeral emotions with a very dynamic internal environment, by the time our men get to understand us, we have hopped into some other mental state.

Mitch's eldest brother-in-law said that Mitch was a kid when he married into the family. He followed him around asking all sorts of questions. 'He still does that' he quipped. :D Matt and Mark welcomed Sushma to the family and said : It's great if you understand Mitch, because we don't. The audience was in splits.
Mitch's parents dancing

The floor was prepared for dancing. Sushma had requested a couple of Hindi songs too. You should have seen everyone dance at that. But imagine my surprise to see Sangram dance to a song of 'Disco Dancer' ! He hates to dance in public; I think he feels too conscious. Though, I had tried teaching him Salsa before and he had picked the steps really fast.

John teased, 'I thought you said that your guy doesn't dance.' Me : 'I thought so too', with my mouth agape. Sometimes, I think he does all the nakhra  just to surprise me in the end. John went to Sangram and asked, 'You should teach me how to dance.' He snapped back, 'Are you kidding me?', his feet still tapping.

Soon, they played one of my favorite romantic numbers: 'Have I told you lately?' I wrapped my arms around his neck while he held me by my waist. The floor cleared except for the couples and I looked into his eyes, like we were the only one in the whole universe. He joked what if some of the couples were talking about household expenses and their kids' school. I cracked up and thought that some day maybe we will too and enjoy it equally. But until then...

I closed my eyes, rested my head on his shoulders and found peace in a long, long time.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Travelogue Minnesota trip : Day 1: The rehearsal

Our flight from Boston Logan International (BOS) to Minneapolis St Paul Intl (MSP) was scheduled at 10:45 am (EDT). The expected arrival was at 12:52 PM (CDT), [that would be 1:52 pm Boston time.]

I met up with my fellow wayfarers, Sangram and Arindam at terminal A of Logan airport and made way to the check-in kiosks. I was really excited about seeing my first Christian marriage, and looking forward to the trip. I kept hopping around in the airport in anticipation , while the guys laughed at my childlike demeanor.

While Sangram and Arindam brooded about the 'Bahut kharcha ho gaya' factor at Au bon pain (French translation: At Good Bread), I sipped at my coffee and savored my apple croissant quite obliviously.

The flight was uneventful, except for the National Geographic magazine that I borrowed from Sangram and he showed me some vacation destinations including St. Moritz in the Engadine valley in Switzerland.

At Minneapolis we met two other people who would be attending the wedding : Balint Karosi- a friend and the organist at the wedding, and Karen- another of Mitch's friends.

We pooled a car from Minneapolis, dropped Karen at her Grandma's place, had lunch at a joint called Hamburgers. The freshly baked bread and the fresh ground meat made it a haven for steak lovers. And it was dirt cheap compared to Boston. While any high end steak house could charge you $ 30 + in Boston, I had a combo meal - of a swiss melt steak with mushrooms and onions, a vanilla shake and fries for just $12.49.

The state, also called "Land of 10,000 Lakes" , would be a perfect vacation spot for anglers too. I had seen quite a few water bodies when we were airborne. However, I imagined that our tight schedule wouldn't probably permit fishing, and I was content with feasting my eyes on the lush green meadows.

Someone mentioned ( I think it was Karen) that it was drier than usual. I looked at the tint of yellow in the grass. Anyways, it was a welcome break from a city like Boston. ( I love Boston, but a change is invigorating)The great stretches of land reminded me of my Colorado trip. Except, Minnesota appeared a lot greener. Colorado is more reddish.

We left the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul behind us and drove some 60 miles on Interstate 35 to reach Owatonna, our destination. For some impalpable reason, the traffic was moving at snail pace. Gawd ! It was as bad as I-93 South in Boston with two left lanes closed at rush hours.

We took exit 48 on Mitch's direction and met Mitch and Sushma - the to-be groom and bride at Preferred Outlets. Sush was still doing some last minute shopping for her wedding and told me about the really cheap clutches she saw there. From Calvin Klein to Nike, Bath and Body works to Levi's - there were stores of all kinds and I wanted to start shopping right away. But I knew I had to control my impulse. I voiced my desire anyways. Sangram mock copied me, 'I really should find time to shop here', but I knew he had made a mental note of it.

We just had time enough to check into our hotel. My chums were not helping and I was feeling a little weak. A quick shower pepped me up and a new brush of eye shadow took care of the rest. I discovered a disaster among my toiletries. I had forgotten my bronzer. Would have to go without make up on the wedding. I was glad though. My skin could breath. Trying to look glamorous can be a pain in the wrong place. I am the most comfortable in a pair of shorts, an old t shirt and my glasses.
We were at the Trinity Lutheran Church before 6: 30 PM CDT and I got a fair idea of how everything was going to be the the following day.

A pastor had flown from Boston and I was surprised to see his competence at remembering names from the guest list. The wedding ceremony participants included the Maid of Honor- Meenu, Sush's best friend (I am guessing),the Flower girl - Paridhi- Sush's kid cousin, Best Man- Sangram, and Groomsmen Mark and Matt Schull (Mitch's elder brother)

We had dinner at a place called ' Celebrations', where the reception would take place the following day. There I met the rest of the Schull family and also the youngest guest at the wedding.

Mitch and Balint with Mitch's niece

The bed looked very inviting by the time we went back to our hotel. It boasted of free wi-fi and free HBO on TV. None of us had got our laptops but we checked our mails from our phones. I remember seeing Stallone in Demolition Man; there was this funny scene about a Moral Statute Machine (in the future) charging for violation of Verbal Morality Statute. I guess that was exactly when I had fallen asleep.