the wonderful world of veena.

28 June 2011

i started packing.

Don't worry, you don't need to get your eyes checked.  That does indeed state that I began my packing process.  A week before I leave.  No wonder the weather is a bit funky today.  I pulled out my duffel bag, dusted it off [it was looking rough], and started tossing some of my stuff in.  Chacos, trainers, heels, sweaters and hoodies and cardigans, dresses, stuff for my mum, a few kurtas and pyjamas, shawls...all the stuff I know I won't need for the next week got zipped up.

Why did I start so early?  Well, I actually thought ahead, and realized that today, Thursday, and Friday are really the only days I have to actually pack my bags and also clean out my house.  I'm out of the house all day tomorrow - lunch at Dorothy's house, my hair needs a trimming, Puma is having a 60% off sale, drinks at Guzzlers and Tavern, dinner with Amai and Kishore - Saturday will mostly be spent at the farm, and I want to have as much stuff as possible packed by the time my mum arrives on Sunday so that I can start taking my stuff to Bern's house.

Clothes-wise I don't have a whole lot, considering I've been here for 4 years.  I'm leaving behind most of my salwars, a few jumpers, and quite a few of my t-shirts.  Weight-wise I should also be ok, seeing as how I can distribute everything throughout 3 bags.  It's just a pain in the ass trying to sort through everything and deciding what to leave and what to take.  Amai has already claimed some stuff for herself, so now I'm waiting for everyone else to come through and take their turns.  Hopefully there won't be too much left at the end that just gets tossed.

As of now I'm still motivated to get it all done, so keep your fingers crossed that that keeps up.  For now, however, I'm off to dinner at the third-born's house...

26 June 2011

book list, #6-10.

I hope you guys enjoyed reading about my 1-5 list of books that I posted last week.  I certainly enjoyed reminiscing about my days and nights spent reading - and in some cases re-reading - them.  Now on to the next 5...

6. Harry Potter series [JK Rowling].  While I realise that this series is not particularly academically stimulating - they are written primarily for pre-teens and teenagers, after all - they are highly entertaining.  I spent many an enjoyable day reading and re-reading this collection of books.  Each time a new book or movie was set to be released, I would spend the weeks leading up to the release re-reading each of the preceding books and/or watching the movies.  While the movies will never stack up to the books, I find them entertaining once I am able to detach a bit and not spend each scene nit-picking over what was changed or what was left out.  I have the recording of the 7th book [Deathly Hallows] on my iPod [James Dale, not Stephen Fry, unfortunately], which I listened to while I was traveling through Europe last summer - numerous train rides went by much faster listening to the adventures of Harry, Hermione, and - my personal favourite - Ron.  I am beyond excited that I will be in the States for the release of the second part of the last movie this summer.

7. My Sister's Keeper [Jodi Picoult].  This was the first of Jodi Picoult's books that I read, and it is still by far my favourite.  Not only was it on an interesting topic - a 13-year old girl, conceived to be a perfect genetic match for her cancer-stricken sister, sues her parents for medical emancipation - but I enjoyed how Picoult used each character to tell various parts of the story, allowing the reader to learn the backstory and how the elder sister's cancer had affected each member of the family in different ways.  The end was a bit overly dramatic, even based on how the rest of the book was, but overall I thought it was a great book.  The movie, however, was a huge disappointment for me.  Too much of the story was changed or left out entirely, which I didn't like.  I'll settle for re-reading the book.

8. The Shadow of the Wind [Carlos Ruiz Zafon].  This is one of the books on the bbc's original list that I loved reading but did not necessarily think was one of the most influential books I've ever read.  It was a great book, certainly - I have read it a few times - but probably didn't deserve a place on their list.  It makes mine, though, because this is my own world, and each book on my list is here for different reasons.  This book was so easy to get wrapped up in, the characters were all so lovably flawed, and when I re-read it the first time, I loved how many different aspects to the story I picked up on that I had missed the first time around.  I also love the idea of having a Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  If I ever find one, I don't think I would ever leave.  This will be one I re-read for years to come; unfortunately, I can't seem to hang on to a copy of it, because every time I finish it, I immediately pass it on to someone else who I know will love it.

9. Tuesdays With Morrie [Mitch Albom].  If memory serves correctly, this is the first book that ever made me cry.  And by cry, I really mean weep uncontrollably.  This was one of the first books that I copied entire passages out of.  There is so much I could say about this book, but I think I'll stop myself before I bore you.  If you haven't read it, shame on you.

10. A Thousand Splendid Suns [Khaleid Hosseini].  I remember working at Barnes & Noble and finding out that the store was going to receive an advance copy of this book.  All of us in the store were waiting with bated breath for it to arrive - we were ready to fight for it.  One day I was sitting in Robert's office doing some paperwork and just happened to glance at a stack of papers and books on the edge of the table.  I rifled through them looking for something, and lo and behold, I found this book staring back at me.  It had somehow made it from Receiving, all the way across the store, and into the Store Manager's office, all without being noticed by anyone.  I quickly snatched it up before anyone else wandered in and found it.  Once I had it in my clutches, I didn't put it down until I finished it.  Not that it took me long - I think I managed to finish it in about 2.5 days, even while working full-time.  It made me laugh, it made me weep, it made me seriously thankful for my life.  But most of all, it made me aware.

Those are this week's selections.
What are some of your favourites?

25 June 2011

birthday week / last week in bangalore.

Yes, that's right.  We are now down to Veena's last week in Bangalore.  How we got here so suddenly, I will never understand.

The Impington group left this morning, and suddenly I look around and realise that I am also leaving in approximately 9 days.  Yikes.

There is lots to be done this week, which means that I am mostly going to be running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  A bit of shopping; Vaidehi's wedding; Amai's birthday lunch; dinner at Shonu's house; lunch at Dorothy's; dinner at Kamal and Tanya's; nice birthday dinner with Prakash-a; a few last-minute Peace Child duties [newsletter blurbs; one final visit to say bye to the rugrats at the Boys' Home; finishing the project description notebook; etc]; and spending some nice quality time with baby Nilah before I leave and she forgets me forever.  And that is all before my farewell party on Saturday.  Then my mother arrives on Sunday morning.  Then we leave super-duper early on Tuesday morning.  Oh.  And apparently I am supposed to pack somewhere in all of that mess.

We kicked off birthday week last night.  According to Prakash, I will be receiving one surprise each day/evening.  Yesterday's was a nice shiny new bottle of Jack Daniel's.  The boy certainly does know the way to my heart.  Jane, Morgan, Carlos, Katharina, Prakash and I each had a shot last night to toast to the week.

Wonder what today's surprise will be...

24 June 2011

the lebron debate.

I have never been a fan of Lebron James.  I don't doubt his talent - he is definitely one of the best basketball players of the last 10 or so years - but I have never taken to his attitude.  The debacle when he abandoned his hometown team in Cleveland last year to go to Miami only served to lower my opinion of him.

Today on good two of the senior editors had a debate about Lebron James: who is to blame for his attitude?  Are we as a society responsible for cultivating his attitude, or is that simply just how he is?

I found it hilarious, because it highlighted many of the issues I have had with Lebron over the years.  Take 5 minutes to read it.

calculate your carbon footprint.

Carbon footprints are something I have become increasingly aware of in the last 5 years or so.  I'm not obsessive to the point of being annoying, but I do try to reduce my footprint wherever possible, just by doing little things like using less energy and making use of public transportation.  Many people don't realize it, but if everyone does just a little bit, it can make a huge difference.  The United States currently has the highest carbon footprint of any country in the world, which seems ridiculous considering its population.

A group of professors and students at UC-Berkeley have put together a carbon footprint calculator for US households.  By assessing each aspect of your household, from the mileage of your car to the amount of money you spend on electricity and gas in your home, you can see how large your footprint is as compared to other households of comparable size and income.  Once you have your results, you can choose which actions you want to commit to in order to reduce your overall footprint.

It is obviously difficult for me to fill it out at the moment considering I am still in Bangalore [but only for another 10 days!  I really should be packing/cleaning...], but once I get back to the States and get a bit settled, I'm going to see if I can do it for my parents.  I think they will be good guinea pigs for me, because even though they probably have no idea what a carbon footprint is, they will hopefully be open to what I find out.  We'll see.  In the meantime, what is your carbon footprint?

22 June 2011

my happy places.

Hampi and Honey Valley.  Two of the most peaceful places you will find amongst the hustle and chaos of India.  Two seas of tranquility a stone's throw away from the horrors of Bangalore traffic.  Two of my favourite places on earth.  And I was lucky enough to be able to say goodbye to both of them in the past week.

As part of the traveling portion for the Impington group that is currently here, I take them to both Hampi and Honey Valley, as well as Mysore.  Hampi and Honey Valley have long been two of my favourite destinations - Hampi from the time I was an intern and spent a crazy 18 hours there with a few fellow interns, and Honey Valley from my first visit there with my first Impington group back in 2008.

Hampi is one of the most picturesque towns you'll ever see.  Boulders one on top of the other, just begging to be climbed on, and temples and statues in various stages of decay.  You can spend two days there, just walking around, or you can rent bikes or hire autos to take you to the sights that are farther away.  Even though it is a big tourist destination, everything is so spread out that once you leave the main bazaar street and start wandering through the ruins, it is easy to think you have the entire place to yourself.  Over the years I have found many a reading spot nestled in between ruins or on the hill where the Hanuman temple rests.  I have made friends with a few of the restaurant guys and shopkeepers, which always makes for interesting return trips.  I love the afternoons when the group goes shopping and I can have a peaceful wander through the town, lost in my own thoughts.  In each of my 6 trips, I have always found something new and exciting to see.

Honey Valley in Coorg might just be my favourite place.  Ever.  Tucked into the coffee plantations that are a staple in the Coorg region, it is a homestay run by what might be the nicest family to ever exist.  They're so sweet, taking time to sit and talk to every guest who wants to have a chat.  The scenery is breathtaking.  Each time I've gone I go on the same trail - straight up - because it's fun to get to the top of the mountain, but at some point in my life, I'm going to go for a week and explore all the other trails that they offer.  I love that after I took my parents there for one day two years ago, on every subsequent trip, all the staff ask after them and wonder when they will come back.  I love that I can sip a cup of tea and read my book amongst the beautiful outdoor setting.  I love that they strive to be as sustainable as possible, even generating their own electricity using the water from their on-site streams and waterfalls.  And I love that every time I go back there, I feel as though I am being welcomed back into their family.

It was sad saying goodbye to both Hampi and Honey Valley, particularly because I don't know when I will return to either.  Both places hold many happy memories for me, and I will miss both of them.  If you ever find yourself wandering around south India, make sure you stop in these two places.  Trust me, your life won't be the same.

[blogger is being annoying and not loading my pictures, so I will post those another day.]

19 June 2011

personal book list.

Jane and I were chatting last night about books, and I mentioned the list of 100 books everyone should read that bbc had published a few years ago.  We were discussing some of the books that we didn't really feel should be on the list, as well as others we thought were quite influential for each of us.  She told me I should make my own list of 100 books.  Now, I'm not sure if I have 100 that I can come up with, but I'm definitely going to give it the old college try.  I thought instead of listing all of them at once, I'll do a list of 5 each week, with a few lines [or paragraphs, in a few cases] about why I loved each book or what my memories are of reading that particular book.

This list is in no particular order, as on any given day I might feel one is more significant than another.  This is just the order that they are popping into my head.

Without further ado:

1. Shantaram [Gregory David Roberts].  It took me a long time to convince myself I could tackle the nearly 900-page behemoth that is this book, but once I read the opening paragraph, I couldn't stop.
The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air.  I could smell it before I saw or heard anything of India, even as I walked along the umbilical corridor that connected the plane to the airport. ... I know now that it's the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it's the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love.  It's the smell of gods, demons, empires, and civilisations in resurrection and decay.  It's the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal smell of machines.  It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats.  It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and loves that produce our courage.  It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches, and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers. ... But whenever I return to Bombay, now, it's my first sense of the city - that smell, above all things - that welcomes me and tells me I've come home.
 My most distinct memory of coming to India as a child is that initial smell of Bombay.  It's something I will never forget.  When I read these words, I could smell Bombay again, and I was hooked.

My brother read my copy a few years after I did, and he was always commenting on the difference in the passages he and I each found significant.  I read this after my initial 6-month stay in Bangalore, so I highlighted many of the passages about discovering India and getting to know India in its most basic and simple terms.  When he read it, he highlighted the passages about relationships and about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off.  We each had our own interpretations of it, and it touched us both in different - yet equally poignant - ways.

2. The Namesake [Jhumpa Lahiri].  This was a book my brother recommended to me, rather than the other way around.  For some reason I waited a few years to read it, and I'm glad I did.  Reading this story as a 20-something affected me in much different ways than it would have had I read it as a teenager.  Having those few extra years under my belt allowed me to experience the story and interpret it in a different light than if I had read it earlier.  Jhumpa Lahiri continues to be one of my favourite storytellers.  She manages to capture what it's like to grow up as a child of Indians in the US - desperately trying to fit in and keep up while also trying to maintain as much of your culture as possible - as well as what it must be like for recent immigrants to navigate a new world while at the same time trying to figure out the best way to raise a family in an unknown environment.

3. Beach Music [Pat Conroy].  This was the first nearly 900-pager that I read, and it was another one that I couldn't put down once I started.  It's both beautiful and tragic at the same time, which is not something that many writers can pull off simultaneously.  I've read almost all of Pat Conroy's books, and I always find that I am drawn in by his characters - they have layers and depths that you don't necessarily find in other books.  I've been wanting to re-read Beach Music for a while now, to see how different it is after nearly 8 years.  I have unfortunately given away both of my copies, so I'll have to see if I can find a used copy once I get back to the States.  I can't wait to dive back into it.

4. What is the What [Dave Eggers with Valentino Achak Deng].  This is the book that made me want to work in a refugee camp in Africa.  It is the true story of Deng's experience as a Lost Boy in Sudan - he was separated from his family as a small boy and joined a group of Lost Boys that walked across Sudan and first into Ethiopia and finally into Kenya.  He was one of the lucky ones who managed to survive and was chosen to come to the US as part of the Lost Boys Foundation.  The book goes back and forth between his experiences as a boy and his current experience trying to survive in Atlanta.  Eggers did not receive any royalties from the book; instead, all proceeds from its sale directly benefit the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.  That's something I can get on board with.

5. Three Cups of Tea [Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin].  I know there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book in recent months, with Mortenson being accused of sensationalising many of the stories as well as taking credit for schools that were not built by his organisation.  I know this.  But for me, this was still an amazing book.  And Mortenson has still dedicated his life to building schools and educating girl children in Pakistan.  That takes balls.  So as far as I am concerned, if even half of the information in his book is true, I still think he's done a great job.

That's my list for today.  I'll be back with another 5 once I'm back from Mysore and Coorg next week.

12 June 2011

the last two weeks, in pictures.

Although there were a few intended pictures that did not end up getting taken [a shot of the sea in Mahaballipuram, for example.  forgive me, I was a bit under the weather], I managed to accumulate quite a few pictures over the last two weeks.  Most of them were taken in and around the farm on various nature walks, so you'll have to bear with lots of pictures of various flowers, and some are from our Science and Art exhibition at the Somanahalli school.  My apologies for the sheer number of pictures, but I wanted to get it all over and done with in one post.  As always, enjoy!

[I spotted this just outside my room at the farm and had to snap up a picture immediately.  this led to my first nature walk of the two weeks]

[I'm pretty proud of this one, if I do say so myself]

[prakash and I picked up McDonald's for some of the kids one night]

[our awesome marble paintings]

[we lost power a lot at the farm, so I got lots of shots of candles in various stages of melting]

[the Fettes College room from 2008 still stands!]

[Sebuh's ice cream cone.  he was very proud of it]

[Melissa's "baby".  we were all ordered to protect it with our lives]

[one of the schoolchildren made this awesome turtle]

[our marble paintings and clay sculptures on display at the exhibition on Saturday]

[an updated version of the "Tree of Life", this time with the handprints of the SFX students and the Somanahalli schoolchildren]

[movie posters along Mysore Road]

[these used to be my favourites when I was a kid.  I was tempted to buy a bag, until I noticed the price: that's roughly $7 for a medium-size bag.  I like them, but I think I can wait another 4 weeks until I'm back in the States]

[people inform me that this is a popular flavour, but it sounds rather disgusting to me]

[celebrating my fiance's 27th birthday at The Biere Club, Bangalore's first microbrewery]

[found on a nature walk with Prakash]

[another from wandering at the farm]

[and another]

[I was tramping through some thorny bushes to try and get a shot of a bright red rose, but then I found these berries instead and got distracted]

[orange rose in full bloom]

[Prakash's contribution to our photo shoot]

[I swear I did not almost fall off the terrace attempting to get this shot]

[omelette a la Prakash-a]

[our breakfast stop on the way to Mahaballipuram]

[we had an awesome sky on the drive]

[the pool at the Tamil Nadu Tourism Resort.  it actually worked out well that our hotel's pool was being renovated, because this one was bigger and a bit nicer]

[some of the decorations around the Tamil Nadu Tourism Resort]

[Surya and Samy being goofy at the top of the lighthouse]

[the inside of the lighthouse.  just don't tell those ladies I took this, because I didn't pay the camera fee.  shh]
So there you have it, my last two weeks in pictures.  I'm heading to Hampi, Mysore and Coorg in the next week with the Impington group, so I'll have quite a few more in the next week or so.

11 June 2011

back to some semblance of normalcy.

Well hello there, world, it's nice to see you again.

It's been a crazy few weeks in Bangalore land.  I've been staying at the farm for the past two weeks with the SFX group - all 22 of them.  Thank goodness for Surya and Samy, and Ryan as well.  If not for them, I think I would have lost my sanity long back.  Other than a showdown with Prabhu last week, it was a very pleasant two weeks.  The students were super sweet, and they really pitched in the last few days and helped Samy and Ryan with getting breakfast together while I was not well.  Between the crazy weather changing and the lack of proper sleep, my body took a beating.  My smoker's cough is out in full swing, and I'm hoping that a few days back in my own bed will clear that up quick fast and in a hurry.  I spent most of the last two days sleeping at the farm, but there is just something about being in your own house and sleeping in your own bed that works wonders.

We took these guys to Mahaballipuram, which was fun, other than the stupid hot hot heat.  On the way there, it was already boiling hot at 7 in the morning.  I kid you not.  And then we got to the resort and found out that they were renovating their pool.  Seriously?  They had to make arrangements for us to swim next door at the Tamil Nadu Tourism hotel.  It worked out well for us, though, because their pool was bigger.  And with 25 people, a little extra space is always helpful.  Plus they were filming one new Tamil movie just next to the pool, so I entertained myself by practicing the dance moves along with the hero of the film.  The director sent one of his assistants to ask if I was interested in dancing for the movie, but I very graciously turned him down.  Just think, I could have been the next Tamil movie dancing sensation.

Honestly, my single complaint from the last two weeks is that I've not had any spicy food.  My taste buds are in full rebellion.  My only request for dinner choices tonight is that it is spicy.

I got some nice pictures the past few weeks that I will get around to uploading one of these days.  Prakash and I went on a nature walk at the farm last Sunday after we sent everyone into town, and we got some nice shots of the flowers blooming.  The only thing I forgot to get was a shot of the sea in Mahaballipuram, but that was partly because I was sick and in bed most of the second day we were there.

While all of this was going on, Morgan has been looking after the Impington group.  They are finishing up their work at the Boys' Home this week and we are leaving to Hampi on Wednesday evening.  We're back on Saturday morning and then off again next Monday to Mysore and Coorg for three days.  And somewhere in there I need to start cleaning out my cupboard and begin deciding what to take with me and what to leave behind.

I will be back soon with more interesting life updates as well as some pictures.  Until then...