Month: July 2009

The good part of a rainy summer..

I spent a good part of the last post cursing the unpredictable Rochester weather and the boring summer. But to think on the positive side, there are two advantages of this weather too- Firstly, I am cooking a lot nowadays. Well, that is a good thing because those who know me decently well know that until about a year ago, I couldn’t make anything except tea, coffee and fried egg. Because I was coming to the US and had to live here with strangers, my mom forcefully taught me to cook a few simple dishes. But I was always like a fish out of water in the kitchen; cooking was always an ordeal! Moving into a house with three guys as roommates and no coursework gave me the time and desire to at least attempt to develop my expertise in the kitchen. And wonder of wonders, I discovered that cooking could be quite enjoyable! And what’s more, I could actually be good at it !! 🙂 Besides, it’s a known fact that there’s no better way to lift your spirits than good food! So the past few days have seen me make pretty successful attempts at Ragda Patties, Gobi Manchurian, Thalipeeth, Indian Chinese, North Indian fare and many other dishes that I otherwise would have stayed 10 feet away from. Of course, it’s not that I cook fancy stuff everyday but now I’ve reached a stage where if I have to rake up a meal for 5-6 people, I at least don’t get all nervous and jittery at the thought of it. And that is definitely something my mom and I are proud of!

I think now is a good time to mention a few people I credit this new-found skill to. Of course, a major source of ideas and recipes is my mom. I think we spend at least 10-15 minutes discussing what I cooked and what she cooked everyday! Apart from that, I also vehemently hunt around for good food blogs nowadays and this has been quite a revelation actually! I cannot believe the number of Indian women settled in various parts of the US who are actively running food blogs. Now these are all young, working, married women who have kids and a husband and maybe even in-laws to look after. And I don’t even know if they earn any sort of revenue from these blogs, apart from probably Adsense. But in spite of that, they regularly write about the food they cooked, add some pretty yummy pictures and conduct events to encourage fellow bloggers to come up with innovative recipes. Quite a strong network they have out there! Of course, you can always tell if the author is someone from the US when she uses cilantro instead of coriander and cayenne pepper instead of red chili powder !! 😉 While I do wish to thank all of them for their contributions, there are some who I am particularly fond of:

1) Naina’s recipes: Naina is actually my neighbor from Pune who has lived in Rochester for seven years and moved to Seattle just a few months ago. She has some pretty innovative recipes. I have yet to try out her authentic Italian fare though.
2) Aayi’s recipes: Now this is one incredible lady. She writes about the most complex stuff as well as the most mundane, every-day recipes. The thing I like best about her is that she cooks a lot of Konkani fare which is pretty simple and easy on the tastebuds too- afterall, who wants heavy, fat-enriched food everyday!
3) Manjula’s Kitchen: I guess most students in the US know about her website. She puts up videos of her recipes and though her website is not very exhaustive, it’s good for some of the North Indian dishes.
4) Hooked On Heat: I love her site mainly for the amazing tempting pictures she puts up! And she also has some very interesting recipes.

Okay, now enough of food stuff !! 😛 The second good thing about having to stay at home because of a rainy Rochester summer is that I get to watch a lot of movies nowadays !! You already know how fond I am of movies, but the funny thing is that until now, I have seen a lot of Hindi films but have somehow missed out on some of the most famous of English movies! And PD is a major fan of all Hollywood flicks. So we invariably end up hunting for movies on IMDB, download them and watch them. Add to that, one of our professors gave us his old TV and we bought an S-Video cable last week, so now we hook up our laptops to the TV too! Imagine what a heavenly combo that is- good food and a good movie !! :):)

The past few weeks of movie-watching have made me realize how much I’ve have missed out on all these years! There are some pretty incredible movies out there, which can haunt you for days on end! And you can always tell if I’ve liked a movie depending on whether I’m awake or not at the end of it! What happens is this- we usually see these movies in the night while having dinner and I am already pretty tired coz of school the whole day. So it is only a really good and gripping movie that manages to keep me awake all through it! 😛 Like I saw Shawshank Redemption (yup, I was seeing it for the first time! :P) till 2 am but it was alllll worth it! That movie is one of the most incredible movies I’ve ever seen. That’s the best thing about Hollywood flicks actually- they don’t glorify the “hero”; he’s not some brilliant chap who set out to do great things. He’s just an ordinary guy who made the most of the cards he was dealt with! And the whole movie is just about capturing his experiences and thoughts- and that’s what make them such extraordinary movies!

Of course, what blows you away is the expertise of the film-makers and technicians- they delve into such intricacies of their film’s characters, it’s almost as if they’re living each of their lives! Like take a movie like Wall-E– the story of this film is so painfully simple but you look at the animation and you actually feel for Wall-E and Eve. You don’t think of them as just cartoon characters. Same goes for Cars– I don’t know about you, but I found the idea of making a delighfully cute film about a racing car lost in a small village where he finds the true meaning of friendship to be pretty innovative. Talking about innovation, I saw Memento today and I have no words for a movie like that! I haven’t seen Ghajini so I’m not going to compare the two. But I do believe that even a master like Aamir Khan would not have been able to capture the true essence of the film. This is probably why Murudagoss had to resort to making the hero seem like a violent, angry guy seeking revenge. Memento is hardly what you can call violent! That is another thing about Hollywood films- everything is so understated in them. Most of the emotions the characters are going through- pain, grief, joy, guilt, pride, jealousy- are either explicit because of the dialogues and screenplay, or are left to the viewer’s imagination. Unfortunately Indian films resort to very strong display of emotions, everything is very in-your-face and that sometimes does little to excite the viewer or make him think. But I guess that has more to do with the way we are- we tend to be more gregarious and loud than the Americans and so this behavior is reflected in our movies too. (Interesting view on it here by my friend Ketaki).

Of course, I don’t love all the movies I see. Like, I saw The Hangover the other day and it is the dumbest, ickiest movie I have ever seen. Why would anyone make a movie like that!?!

So anyway, going by the trend, I’m looking forward to loads of yummy dishes being cooked at home and even better movies being watched.. 🙂 And that sure does make it a wonderful summer! 🙂 Oh and by the way, I saw Harry Potter in the theater last week and it somehow was such a letdown! I think what is happening is- people’s expectations of the movie have risen so far that the directors are finding it hard to live up to it! I was specially expecting a good movie from David Yates, given that he did a fantastic job of the previous movie. But this somehow just didn’t have that magical touch. I can’t pinpoint to exactly what it was, but that awesome feeling you get after watching an HP movie was missing! I honestly hope the last two are brilliant- otherwise it would be a wayyy too disappointing end to the series…

Boredom x Time = A Tag !!

It’s been one of those long, excruciatingly boring weeks with nothing much to do except go to school at 9 in the morning and return at 4 in the evening and try to fill the time in between with a bit of thesis work and other random things. The weather’s been a major contributing factor to the inertia- that’s probably one of the worst things about Rochester- it’s unpredictable weather! I mean, it’s summer for God’s sake, it’s not supposed to rain the whole day !!! 😛

So anyway, lack of creative insights has forced me to resort to completing one of my long-overdue tags. It’s those “My 25” things doing the rounds of Facebook, where you’re supposed to write 25 random things about yourself. My friend had tagged me a long time ago, but I was a little wary about firstly, writing things about myself since I usually am not so self-observant, and secondly, writing personal things on Facebook- being a public forum and all.. (Our Career Services people scared me in the first quarter by telling me a lot of employers use FB accounts to find out more about their prospective employees and I know I have a private FB account, but nonetheless…) I’ve attempted a similar tag a while ago, so I’m going to try and not repeat the things I mentioned there. So, here I go with twenty-five random things about myself. Read on if you’re as bored as I am-

1) I love travelling by trains, they’re more fun than air or road travel.

2) I get put off by smokers. I remember when I was in COEP, Gauri and I used to yell at Akshay and Pranjal whenever they went to one of their “tapris“.. I love them both otherwise, but the moment they start smoking, I somehow don’t want to be around them.

3) I am pretty non-judgmental about people otherwise, and don’t discriminate against anyone- regardless of actions, beliefs, ethnicity. I’m a very strong believer in the “to each his own” philosophy.

4) One of the things I love about the US is the fact that I can travel a lot, something I missed out on in India. If I had the money, I would travel to a new place every weekend!

5) I used to suck at cooking until a few months ago, used to be a nervous wreck every time I was in the kitchen! But I am turning out to be a pretty good cook off late. I try out loads of new stuff and fortunately, most of it comes out well! A major source of my recipes is cooking blogs and my mom!

6) I am not too fond of chocolate and I hate bhindi !! (Yeah, gasp all you want; I’m used to it !! :P) I absolutely delightfully love vanilla icecream though! I could eat it everyday! Same goes with gobi manchurian and bhel puri !! 🙂

7) I hate my hair. I wish I could change it. I am always wary of going to new hair salons because people invariably give the most shocking reactions when they see my hair. Why don’t they realize that I can see them gasp?! 😛 Oh and when I was in school, I was called “chidya ka ghonsla“..

8) I miss my life in Doha- it was a conservative place but I had the best time of my life there..

9) Writing is also one of the things closest to my heart. I feel very restless when something I’ve written isn’t up to my expectations. The part I loved the most in those English exams in school was the essay writing section- so what if I have to write on “A Day on the Railway Station…” !!

10) I am a pretty talkative person when I have the right company. Otherwise I can be the most silent person; you won’t even notice I am there..

11) My ideal outings with friends is going someplace and having interesting conversations about randon things under the sun. Or else, doing silly things like playing Dumb-C, Uno, etc and laughing like crazy! I am not at all a big fan of friends getting together only to drink and act stupid all night long!

12) I haven’t had a really intense and intelligent conversation in a really long time! I wish Anup was in the US..

13) I am not a lot into any sports, though I do like watching cricket and tennis. I felt really really really bad when India lost the 2003 World Cup though. I think I wrote one of my most emotional articles then.

14) I love learning new languages. Though German will always remain closest to my heart. I am desperately waiting to visit Germany some day and do an advanced German language course.

15) I think I’m becoming more and more like my mom nowadays.. Which is a good and bad thing..

16) I take friendship very seriously. I have a few friends and I may not call or email them every week, but I can do anything for them! I despise people who sweet-talk with everyone, pretending to be their dearest friends but turn away when their friends need them the most.

17) I am not much of a phone person. I prefer communicating face-to-face or through email or IM. I go blank when I have to “chat” with people on the phone..

18) 2004 was probably the craziest year of my life. I did a lot of things that year which I am proud of and which I regret even today.

19) I am generally a very optimistic person. I tend to look at the pluses more than the minuses. That is probably why I could successfully get out of some of the crap I’ve faced in life.

20) I would love to dabble in film-making some day. My ideal job would actually be engineer by day and film-maker by night. I love the creative process of making films- right from conceptualization to scriptwriting to shooting. It’s a perfect blend of writing, photography, languages, travelling- all the things I love!

21) Design of Experiments is probably the first engineering subject I love so much. If I could do a Ph.D in DOE, I would..

22) I hated thermodynamics when in COEP. I simply never understood it..

23) I love people with nice, full smiles that twinkle in their eyes.

24) I canot stand dirty kitchens and bathrooms.

25) I get bored of staying in the same place for too long. Which is why I wanted to move out of Pune for my engineering. I am already bored of Rochester though.. I wish I get a job where I have to travel a lot..

Anyone who hasn’t done this and who needs some sort of motivation to update their blogs, consider yourself tagged !! 🙂

It’s done !!!! :):)

Who would’ve thought that less than 24 hours after writing the previous post, I’d have bought a car !!! :):):)

Yup, it’s finally done !! We now have a 1999 Nissan Altima that will be ours on Friday, July 10, 2009 !! :):) It doesn’t have a sunroof (sob sob :(() but it is awesome all the same.. 🙂

We saw it yesterday, liked it, showed it to the mechanic this morning, he okayed it except for a few glitches here and there (expected of a 10-year old car). The dealer is going to fix them in any case, so hopefully no issues there. Once all that is done, we’ll do the registration on Friday and drive it home.. 🙂 (Will post some pictures then..)

I know I’m putting in a lot of smileys while writing this, and I am really really happy too, but there is this weird tension at the back of my mind- did we make the right decision? should we have looked at other cars? or maybe thought a bit more? I think these are valid apprehensions- after all, this is the first BIG thing I am buying! A CAR for cryin’ out loud !! That’s HUGE! Add to that, I’m buying it on my own, without my parents. They left the decision completely to us coz after all, we were the ones test driving the cars and we were going to use it ultimately! It feels a little scary to be given that kind of responsibility! But I guess it had to begin some time..

I can only hope and pray that I’ve made the right choice…. Until then, no more looking up postings on Craigslist and Cars.com, no more calling dealers and weird car owners, no more fixing appointments and looking up directions on Google Maps! Gosh, life is sure gonna feel empty! :):);)

The Car Hunt

The story goes thus –

PD and his roommate bought a 96 Toyota Corolla (what else!) in November 2007.
The car was a steal- low miles, great condition, well within budget.
All was great for 19 months. (:):))
But. All good things come to an end.
So did this.
A fateful trip on one day and a (terribly!) overheated engine and from then on, everything went downhill.
Thousands of dollars spent and loads of frustrated days, but things didn’t improve.
Until finally, they decided to sell the car. Depression.
But this was easier done than said !!
On Day One, we put up an ad on Craigslist and half an hour later a guy was on the phone demanding that he’d buy the car tomorrow (negotiated the price a bit, but was expected!).
On Day Two, the car was test driven (phew!) and sold !!
PD’s roommate bought a new car since he got an internship in the Village of Wolcott.
But life in Rochester is difficult without a car due to the terrible public transportation.
Still, we managed somehow.
But then finally, something (happy) happened which made buying a car imperative for PD too.
But he didn’t have enough savings (thanks to repair jobs on the Corolla!)
So PD and I decided to pool in and buy a car together.
And so from June 1, 2009, the car hunt began.
And…it still continues.

We don’t have a lot of demands- just a non-American car (read: Honda, Toyota, Mazda or Nissan) which has not more than 120k miles on it, is in good running condition, has well-maintained interiors and is less than $4000 !! (Well, I did have a CD-player and a sunroof on the list initially, but after seeing what’s out there in the market, I had to leave those for when I buy my brand new car !! :(( Kidding !!) But honestly, in the past one month, we have seen close to thirty cars and only one has come even close to the final stage! That itself gives you an idea of how frustrating this has been. The hunt still continues and hopefully I shall have positive news in the next few weeks..

But if I were to look on the brighter side, then this has been a brilliant learning experience too. I, for one, have never been much into cars. I’ve admired their engineering of course, being a mechanical engineer, but I definitely am not the types who can rattle off their specs, given a car’s make, model and year! These are some of my “lessons learnt” –

  • It may sound like a typically “Indian” thing to do, but never trust American cars- especially with the economy in doldrums! For a grad student hunting for a used car, it has got to be Toyotas and Hondas all the way! We have included Nissan and Mazda only because we haven’t been able to find a decent car within our budget.
  • Craigslist is going to throw thousand cars at you. If any car seems too good to be true, then it probably is !! For example, if someone says they’re selling a 1998 Toyota Camry with 106k miles on it and in excellent running condition for $2500, then there’s probably something majorly wrong with the car! Good guideline to use is the Kelly Blue Book.
  • There are these ads you’ll find on Craigslist for cars being sold at lower prices. If contacted, a common story told by most sellers is that they’re going through a divorce and so want to sell the car ASAP. Then they go on to say that they’ll ship the car to you through eBay Motors (shipping included in the cost of the car!). You have ten days to drive it and if you don’t like it, your money will be refunded! Absolute and total scam!
  • It is always good to educate yourself about what to look for when you first see the car. PD’s dad found this simple superb link which has an excellent description of how to look for potential problems- things like the oil levels, transmission problems, etc, which even a person with basic knowledge about car components can do. I was illiterate about these things at first, but now I can proudly say that I know how to check the engine oil levels or ensure the timing belt of a car has been changed or detect weird sounds from the muffler..
  • In a place like Rochester, where it snows for eight months of the year, it is imperative that your car have good tires, good brakes and little or no rust, coz otherwise you’re in for big trouble! These are little things which may not seem important at first, but seem crucial once you actually start using your car.
  • The interiors of a car can reveal a lot about how well-maintained it is. Coz an owner who has spills all over the seats or didn’t bother to use floor mats in his car probably didn’t bother to change the oil every 3000 miles!
  • Similarly, if dealing with a dealer, make sure to speak to him as much as possible about the car. Ask him all the info he has about it- maintainence, any changed components, since when is he trying to sell the car etc. Dealers usually quote a price much higher than expected, coz they know customers are going to bargain. But if a dealer readily agrees to negotiation in price, then there’s probably something he’s hiding. Also, one thing I’ve noticed- a friendly and approachable dealer is a much safer bet than a grumpy guy who just wants to fix the deal and get the car out of his shop.
  • Before finalizing anything, make sure to check the car’s records through a CARFAX report. It reveals a lot about the car’s history- accidents, major repair works, past owners, inspection reports etc. I don’t think they have such a system in India, but this is one must-do before buying a used car.
  • And finally, regardless of how good you think the car is, it is always a good idea to have it inspected by a mechanic. We once nearly finalized on a Honda Accord- all seemed good, the dealer was a friendly chap too. We showed it to a mechanic and he told us there was a small crack in the rear tires, the AC condenser was leaking, and a bearing near the driver’s seat was loose! One good thing about the incident was that we got hold of an excellent mechanic (we went to him coz he was the only one open at 6 pm!) who did a thorough job and actually took the time to explain every detail to us.

So you see, buying a car in the US is not easy. It is a long and tedious procedure and can get quite irritating at times! But I am happy that I am at least getting gyaan about cars in the process. Now to be fair, I know of guys here who’re mechanical engineers no less, and don’t even know the difference between a manual and automatic transmission! And there is one I met who didn’t know how to open the bonnet of his car! He was looking at PD and me in awe when we were examining his engine !! So I am a lot better compared to them! After all, I worked on bonnets for eight months when I was in TATA Motors !! 🙂 But all in all, this has definitely been worth it!

Now if only I’d get my car with a CD player and sunroof soon enough !!! :):)

Back to the world of board games

I PLAYED SCRABBLE TODAY !!! AFTER YEARS !!! :):)

Well yes, the thought of having played Scrabble today, for real and not some animated computer version of it, makes me feel really really happy! I’ve never really been a fan of computer games- never really tried any of them except the occasional NFS or Counterstrike. I do have a lot of friends who are literally addicted to some of these games, willing to spend whole weekends killing the “enemy”, collecting health and buying weapons. Though I don’t have anything against these people (I try to remain unbiased! :P), I somehow never really got any of that adrenaline rush from playing them! I did always love board games though- like the good old Scrabble, Monopoly, even patte (though I’m not really good at any patte games :P)

But these smart ass computer guys (I’ve always hated them !! :P) always manage to come up with e-versions of games, and to attract players, they add all these special effects and sounds to them, making the whole thing look very chic and stylized. I know, because I keep getting updates on Orkut and FB about someone looking for “a purple poker chip” in Mafia Wars (duh !!) and scoring 76584 points in WordTwist !! And then there’s this game called Crazy Taxi and Texas Hold ’em Poker (or somesuchthing !! :P) Now imagine- if you’re going to keep people busy with racing taxis around the place, where is there time to even have a conversation, leave alone play a board game !!

Even I had completely forgotten the pleasure one can get from playing a real, real game, until I went for a friend’s engagement last month. That is when I played Pictionary for the very first time !! (Yes, I’m equally surprised I hadn’t played it before!) And I cannot even explain how much fun it was! I sucked at the first few words, but then came the big one- Obamania- and you may call it bragging but I did manage to pull that one off pretty well !! Of course, it helped that we had brilliant players- we didn’t just split the word and draw each bit, but we actually built a story around each of them! Sample this- We gave this guy in the other team the word “penance” and he went on to show a guy who rapes a girl and then (coz he feels guilty about it) decides to leave the city and move to the khets of Punjab. While sowing seeds in the fields, he spots God standing right in the middle of the field. That is when he decides to sit under a tree and meditate for the rest of his life !! Well, the other team did guess the word eventually, but you can only imagine the hilarity of the situation! I really wish I had that notebook we drew all our words in- It’s worth saving for the sake of posterity! I really wonder if our kids will know what drawing with an actual pen on a real page made of paper pulp is ! 😛

Anyway, I was bored after a long day of thesising last week and that’s when I spotted the box of Scrabble by my bedside. One of my friends had given it to me when she left Rochester last September, but I somehow never actually got around to playing it even once! This time though, I dragged PD to play with me (he’s another computer game addict !! hmmmpppfff :P:P) And I cannot tell you how much fun it was! The first time around, we came up with the usual 3-4 letter words kike hat and cat, but the second time it was brilliant! We managed to build some pretty unusual words and so what if we tweaked the rules a bit too (He allowed me Rehab and I allowed him Prez!) The sheer joy of being away from the glaring computer screen and playing something for real was brilliant! Scrabble is definitely going to remain on my list of favorites for a while! I am still in the process of persuading PD to give Pictionary a shot. And while I am at it, I plan to treat myself to a 4th of July gift- the original UNO card game !!! (Boy, I used to LOVE that game as a kid !!! :):))

And well, after we were done with the game, I was so happy that I actually clicked a snap of the board! 🙂 Here’s to more such evenings! :):)