October 2007

Dolls on StairwayDolls and Stairway

I thought off a few names for the Navaratri/golu/kolu and settled on the above. Could have gone with Nine-day Sundal Fest, or Dolls, Trolls, and the Fall (i.e. Navaratri and Halloween in Fall).

If there was a contest for the weakest staircase framework for Golu, I will win it every time. It is just a bunch of empty (similar sized) cardboard boxes turned upside down. Next year, I think we will go for a proper one. But then we have been saying that for 10 years now.

This year, as usual, I waited till the last moment to get things going. It was the evening before the nine days began. I was dead tired, and so was my wife. We were tempted to postpone the setup to the next day morning. But we had a very insistent, energetic trooper in the house, who just refused to accept that. I told mu daughter – “Okay, we will just setup the staircase (paDi in Tamil), may be put a few dolls, and finish the rest tomorrow – ok?”. Uh-uh. No way. She just went into top gear – she wanted the whole thing – the staircase, the dolls and the park (which she and her mom do every year) all done that night.

I groaned “Ma….n! My bones are aching, my eyes are burning. It is getting late”. But somehow I ignored it, and willed myself to get started at least on the framework. I was thinking that by the time I am done with the framework, my daughter would be tired and she would be ok for completing the setup the next day morning. But what do you know! Once I got into it, I was somehow re-energized. We got the framework done, and started putting up the dolls. Seeing my daughter’s enthusiasm in bringing the dolls, and playing with them, and listening to her constant excited chattering about where they should go on the staircase, and insisting on putting them up herself – they were the greatest “picker-upper” in the world! Before we knew it, all the dolls were on display. We did have to postpone the park etc. for the next day, as it was a bit late by that time, and my daughter was satisfied that she got to see the dolls, play with them and put them up – something she was really looking forward to.

I am glad we got it done in time. I am glad that “I did the right thing”, glad and thankful that I found my energy from seeing my child’s energy. I love Golu for that. And for the sundal, snacks in all the houses I visited 🙂

Here are some photos:

Scene from Ramayana Story of Andal  
golu_1.jpg golu_2.jpg  
The Gingerbread house The Park The Snacks
The Gingerbreak House The Park The Snacks

Update: After I posted this, the trees around my house started changing colors the next day. It was not very cold, but it was chilly with a very brisk wind, and it was very cloudy. So I had to take a photo and do an update as it fits with the theme 🙂

Impending Doom

October is here. This year, it is still unseasonably warm in my neck of the woods – but “warm” here is relative. The October chills are here although sort of half-heartedly this year. Fall is coming – signs of impending doom for a body genetically engineered for the seering Chennai heat. There are things to enjoy in fall and even in winter. But let’s face it. Those joys can be fleeting for a South Indian, and are soon overwhelmed by the overall gloom and doom of the Midwestern winter.

The first time you notice the signs of this impending doom is in early October. The perfect (warm but not hot), beautiful weather in September is replaced by a fickle one in October with wide swings in temperature: between the perfect 70s-80s, down to cool and a bit chilly low 60s or high 50s. That is if Ol’ Man Winter does not have a good game plan for that year. Else it is down to nasty (for October) 40s and 30s. Of course that is his top game for fall. His top game for winter here can get down to -10 to -20 (yep – Fahrenheit that is).

You also notice that the days have gotten considerably shorter. This will soon be made worse by the daylight savings adjustment. We, in Chicago get a raw deal due to this as we are in the eastern end of our time-zone. This means lesser daylight as winter takes over. It also means way more daylight than you probably need in summer – but hey I am not complaining. I do want to have the cake and eat it! But yes in winter, here you get to see the Sun set at freaking 3:30 PM! Although I do understand its purpose, I hate daylight savings adjustment!

Once winter arrives, for a few weeks (till the winter solstice), when you leave for work it will be dark, and when you leave work in the evening, it will be dark. Most days it will be cloudy and seeing the Sun would become as rare as seeing an eclipse. What a thrill – eh? There was this winter in the 90’s where we went I believe 3 full weeks without seeing the Sun. There was another winter where we went the same period without the temperature crossing zero degrees (yep – Fahrenheit). Now, do you get my point about impending doom?

Many years, Octobers are fine and you think “hey this isn’t bad!”. But come Halloween, and whoala – it is freaking cold, freaking blustery – with even some lousy snow flakes! And you groan loudly as this is the day you cannot huddle at home in some warmth. This is the day that you must get out and walk the neighborhood as your kid’s escort as she goes out trick or treating. You huddle in your coat shivering. But you see kids in much flimsier clothes having so much fun getting candies and treats!

Can we go home – you ask.
No! Few more houses – says your kid.

Can we go home now? – you plead later.
No! Couple of more houses – says your kid

Can we please go home now? – you beg.
No! Not yet – how about that street? – your kid jumps excitedly.

You groan resignedly. Somewhere an some old dude with a frosty beard, crusted with ice, and a maniacal smile, giggles silly at this charade.

(Fortunately – this is not my kid. She does not like cold all that much. But still about 15 houses is a minimum, and I start shivering after 5 houses)

They say it is going to be a warm winter. They have been wrong before.

Indian CofeeCoffee house CoffeeExpresso Cup

Sometimes I wonder how come South Indians, particularly Tamilians, get hooked on to coffee so bad. We love coffee, and love to yap about coffee (like I am about to). We are in general very finicky about the taste of our coffee, and very stingy with our coffee ratings. These characteristics seem magnified among South Indians in the US, i.e. my kind. This is mostly about that kind.

Before I begin I must note this: I see a disturbing trend among youngsters from Tamil Nadu. They are not drinking coffee because (gasp!) they don’t like it . Some of them prefer (gasp! gasp!) Tea, and some prefer just milk (what the ?). Parents – please respect our traditions! Raise your kids the proper South Indian way so that they don’t end up like these!

I think I can say that most South Indians are in general stingy with money too. However, you see pretty much all of them hooked on to the trendy coffee shops i.e. Starbucks Coffee and its brethren – the modern success story on “How to repackage and market an age-old product and rip-off everyone”. When it comes to coffee all the South Indian stinginess is gone. We readily shell out $2.75 or so for a Cappuccino or Latte. For those in US, you know that means slightly more expensive than a decent lunch at Taco Bell!

So you pay $2.75 for a drink that comes in a cup that looks fairly large. But the first time you hold the cup, you know something is wrong – it is feather light. You soon realize that of course this is because 75% of the cup is foam and there is only 25% of coffee (albeit strong). But it’s dressed up in a cool sounding foreign name, sold in a classy joint, and we Indians (mua included of course) can’t seem to see through the charade. At least in Europe, they play it straight – teeny weeny amount of coffee comes in a teeny-weeny cup with a teeny-weeny handle. I suspect that Europeans raise their kids the “right way”- since the handles on the coffee cups seem appropriate for a five year old.

Anyway, I don’t get the point of this foam business. It is fluff and only for look. To generate more of it, Starbucks etc. use cold milk – which of course brings the temperature of the coffee down. That is a big no-no for the South Indian coffee palette. Worse – the foam takes up most of the cup, and so end up with mostly looks and little substance. But the looks apply only if you are drinking the coffee at the store itself out of a regular cup where at least you can see the foam. But most people take it “to go”, and the fluff is completely hidden by the cup. So unless you plan to practice for an audition for those “Got Milk?” commercials, you are getting ripped off badly. You are paying a lot for fluff which has little to no taste, is not even visible, and has the potential of making you look silly if you are not careful. But it is indeed marketing genius at work as even the smart, thrifty Indian continues to get fooled.

The South Indian home brew:
The South Indian in US is usually proud of his coffee at home. When you make a new acquaintance with an Indian friend, it is not uncommon for him to brag about how strong the coffee he makes at his home is, and how close to authentic Indian it is etc. He usually offers his coffee with the proud statement You cannot get real coffee like this anywhere else. Most of us Indian coffoholics are constantly looking to come with a US brew that is closest to what we have in India. I have searched high and low and finally settled on this: Melitta Classic Brand only. This is 100% Arabica – this is important for me. Three scoops for just 1 cup and only brewed in a small coffee maker (i.e. 4-cup capacity). This makes a super strong “decoction” an absolute necessity for South Indian style coffee.

It is strong, smells divine and is quite good. One puzzler though is that it tastes divine at 7 AM, the exact same brew tastes quite ordinary at 3 PM. Somehow my taste buds seem to behave differently between mornings and afternoons.
I brag about my home coffee brew. I serve it to my friends. They all seem to like it – but I wonder if they are just being polite, and are really thinking This sucks. This guy doesn’t have a clue about strong Indian style coffee. He should come to my home!

Of course, the fall back to reality is when I visit Chennai and take that very first cup of coffee made by mom (as soon as I arrive of course). I take the first sip and I go – Now. This is coffee. I have been drinking crap in the US.

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