Sunday, November 9, 2008

A fun Saturday evening

Weather forecast for saturday was light snow showers and rain. Due to bad weather we decided that we will not have the entire project mates to the party. So it was just few families get-together at our place. I was very excited and looking foward to meet everyone; specially the kids.

It was about 8:30 pm and I was running late. I was busy cleaning the house and getting all set to welcome the guests expected at 9:00 pm. Suddenly it strikes me.. .ah I forgot to get the rotis from the Indian store! Oh my gosh. People are expected anytime, so I could not leave the house. So I called Kripa; 'Need a small favor. Can you pick some rotis from the Indian store on the way to our house?'. I am sure Kripa would have cursed me; giving an unplanned task specially when Shweta( his wife) must have already been running late with the cooking and getting Ashi (their sweet daughter) ready.

But guess what! They decided they would prepare the rotis at home. In no time they prepared tasty parathas. Thanks to Kripa's assistance, Shweta quickly made the parathas and were just 15-20 mins late. Cannot compare the ready-made rotis to the hot, fresh, ghee covered yummy parathas.

Shyju and family were first to arrive. They were the only ones to drive more than 14 miles to our house and were right on time. Hats off... specially with a small kid at home it is tough to meet the deadlines :) Ann (their daughter) was bit unhappy to be woken up from her sleep. Moreover it was so cold to add to the irritation. She cried her heart out as she entered the house. But she was very pleased to get a bunch of cute stuff toys in an attempt to make her quiet.
It did not take much time for her to settle down in the new place. She is the cutest baby and I loved playing with her. Preeti (Ann's mom) made chhola and it smelled delicious.

Next to arrive was Sugu and family. He has 2 sons; Harish and Hrithik. Harish is in grade 1 and very adorable. He is great with kids and loves playing with them. All evening he was playing with the little ones and made sure he entertained them while he was awake. He made himself at home right away.
Hrithik is the quietest baby I have ever seen. He looked very cute in his dogie winter cap. Anu (his mom) made sure he lied down in a comfortable place and he laid there all the time. He woke up, slept, woke up again and slept again :) He was very happy to just be on his own.

Anu made vegetable cutlets. The cutlets were a winner from the start! Sugu claimed he made those but we all knew Sugu cannot lie ;). Anu also made the tastiest vegetable biryani I have eaten. I am not lying.

We missed Venu and Madhuri. Venu was in great spirits on Friday and added excitement on the idea of having a get-together over the weekend. But unfortunately Aryan (their little baby) fell ill and was down with temperature. They are just back from India and it will take a while for the young one to settle down. Hoping to meet Madhuri and Aryan soon.

It was Anu's birthday the following day. I had baked a cake for her. Also Aryan and Ann had recently celebrated their birthdays too. We did the cake cutting. Anu also shared with us a little secret; Sugu gifted her very special diamond pendant! I hope Navin reads this and learns something from Sugu. But I know what he would say; 'See, Sugu took 5+ years to get a pendant. So you can wait a little longer'. :)

There was lots and lots of food! It was a potluck and everyone had made delicious items. Shweta had made paneer capsicum and I could not resist having just one more paratha with paneer sabji every time. Finally I stopped myself with a final half paratha and when Kripa looked at the half eaten paratha, it became a joke; him saying 'How can anyone eat half paratha'! he he Well, what can I say. You have to stop yourself somewhere right? So I decided to stop on one last half!

The kids had a gala time. We decided to play poker. As we laid the poker chips to get started the little monsters made their way right at the poker chips! Well, well, well! What was I thinking when I planned to play poker at the party and got the poker set from Tushar for the event. Frankly speaking I thought the kids would be fast asleep at the time. It was mid-night but the kids were as wide awake like an owl would be.

I am glad no one took the picture of the mess with the poker chips; else Tushar will never share the poker chips with me again ;)
I had a smaller poker set with me. So we gave them to the kids. They played football with the chips and hit and yell with the poker chips while we enjoyed a great game. Preeti took care of the kids while we were playing.
Sugu and Anu were playing for the first time. Everyone had their bit of luck last night. Everyone won a game or two except Sugu. In fact, Anu had an awesome beginner's luck when she almost won the first game. She had a straight! but I dunno why; for some reason I looked at her cards (I was helping her initially) and did not see her chance of winning. And I asked her to quit in the last round! After that she never asked me for help ;)
After an hour or so we decided we would have the last round of poker. Everyone started with big bets. And guess what? Sugu was the winner in the round and so was the one to steal the game. Lucky Sugu! He adds in the end 'I am a champion, you guys didn't know'. I am sure he didn't know either ;)!

After the game of poker, Shyju taught everyone Black Jack! It was very funny actually. While he was explaining, everyone was asking him silly questions. 'Why should I give you money?' 'Why should I add up?' 'But I have more than her, why did I lost against her?'

Finally, the mango pie was awaiting to arrive. After enjoying the tasty desert everybody left.

All in all it was a great evening. Here are a few light moments from that evening.

Shyju playing with Ann's toys :)

Hrithik the cutie pie playing with his elder bro

In the end, Ashi was wide awake while other kids slept

Ann baby!

Shweta will kill me for taking this pic :)
She is a slow eater and was one of the last people to finish dinner

Anu relaxed as her baby was fast asleep

Sweet Harish!

Happy Birthday to you!

Happy birthday and belated wishes - Anu, Ann and Aryan

Here is one video taken while the kids having a good time.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Excitement blown away

Tushar, Anees and I were very excited that we would be doing a good cause by donating blood this weekend. Little did we know that some 'unkind' U.S. rules would blow away the act of 'kindness'.

I had donated blood in my office back in India a couple of times too. Donating blood is the least we can do to save lives. And why not do it when we are healthy and young? I got myself registered for Platelet Apheresis at the Heartland Blood Center in Schaumburg. Cancer patients, those receiving organ or bone marrow transplants, victims of traumatic injuries, and patients undergoing open heart surgery require platelet transfusions to survive. Platelets can be stored only for 5 days and hence the need is vast and continuous. Besides, I had not donated platelets anytime; so was curious to know what it is and what the procedure was.

I logged on to the site and read through all the information posted for donors. I made sure I covered all the pre and post donate conditions and precautions listed out there. Person has to be above 18 yrs of age; above 110 pounds; should not have any major diseases mentioned on the site; not have had tattoo in last 1 yr; and hence forth. I did qualify for blood donation and so very excited about the whole idea.

I was not able to get any appointment except for the 7:00 am to 9:00 am slot morning on a Saturday morning. Getting up early for a good cause; sure - why not. I wanted to do it as soon as possible so this Saturday was the earliest I could get else I had to wait for few more weeks. I was surprised at the same time happy to know that all slots were filled; that means many people are involved in this kind deed.

They had mentioned that it is recommended to eat something within the four hours preceding the donation. Now, does that mean I had to eat at 3:00 in the morning? I did not want to take a chance of fainting or trouble the staff in case I felt ill because of not eating after the donation.

The previous night I got Chinese noodles parcelled from one of my favourite restaurants. The quantity was enough for two people! I was very hungry after work so had an early dinner and went to bed. Normally I don't sleep before mid night, but I did not want to miss the appointment; so slept at 8:30 pm itself. Well, that's not it. I also woke up in the middle of the night to eat the rest of my dinner :) I was well-prepared for my task!!!

I reached the blood center few minutes before time. The lady at the reception was very helpful. She started my paper work early even though the office was still not open. She made me fill some information related to medicines I take, illness if any and Travel. Travel? Well, I was not sure why that was needed.
Since it was my first time at the center, I was told that they would not be able to do Platelet Apheresis but can do the Whole blood donation. I was fine. I should have called in earlier and checked on this. But anyway. It would just take 10 minutes now and not 2 long hrs. It would have saved me some time this morning and I could have planned better.

I was directed to go and sit in a small room; I knew this was it. The real deal; time I was waiting for. She went through the form I had entered. Which state in India are you from? I said Goa and spelled it out. "You are going to hate me for this." she said.

What was it? She showed me a book with the rules for eligibility. Against India it was typed 'DEFER'. I did not know what that meant and neither did she know why it was marked deferred for a particular country; specially India where more than 10% immigrants are from India in the U.S. She called her colleague for help. She explained.

Well, the FDA rules say that a person eligible for blood donation should have stayed in the U.S. for at least 3 years from today. That means I should have been the the U.S. since Nov 2005. I was surprised and disappointed at the same time. Who would stay that long in a foreign land? Won't we visit or travel in between? Well, if you have travelled for a period of say 1 week then the time gap should be 1 yr. OMG! I felt bad; and dizzy. Thank God I had had a good meal :)
The lady told me that I should wait for 2 more yrs to donate. What! That was very sad indeed.

Here I am eager to help and some rules in the country are stopping me from helping mankind. I felt very bad and angry on the U.S. rules. Isn't my blood good enough to help someone in the U.S.? I tried to make sense out of it. I knew it was for security reasons and the FDA knows what is best for the people. The lady at the center was very sorry I could not donate; and I was early too. But she said she appreciated my gesture.

Once I was home, I looked up on the site again.
It said - Due to Malarial risk, anyone who has traveled outside the U. S. or Canada should check with Donor Services Staff to determine eligibility. Among others, regions at risk of malaria include most sub-Saharan African and many Asian countries, some states of Mexico, areas in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cost Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Haiti and others. Refer to staff for details.

So India fell under the Malaria Area. How I wish India as well as other countries mentioned above were safe like any other healthy countries in the world.

I should have checked with the staff before registering. Someone else could have used my time-slot for donation. Anees and Tushar both did not qualify either. So I got their appointments cancelled so that their trip to the center was saved.

Waking early was good anyways. I now have a story to share and can help people be aware of such rules in the future.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Glad to meet you!

Last night I had set the morning alarm at 8:00 am but unusually I woke up at 6:30 am this morning. Since I was awake, I thought it would not be a bad idea to check out the apartment gym. It had been more than 3 months I had been to this 'not so exciting' place; at least for me.
I was surprised to see two other people almost half way through their workout already. Last time I was there at this time, I got to see only the cleaning service folks. I was happy to know people still do use our apartment gym :)

One of the people on the treadmill welcomed me with a sweet smile. Now, a smile from a strange
r and that too in a place which can get dreadful at times, was good enough to give a kick start to my morning workout.

Since both the treadmills were occupied I decided to try the Elliptical. One of them was lying on the floor, broken into pieces. I climbed the other one. It made a cracking sound and I was not sure if it was the introduction to my weight that caused it to cry out loud! I did not want to claim the 'last person using it' tag for the equipment; so decided will wait for the treadmill. The lady looked with the same familiar smile and said "They need to replace those". I agreed.

Soon I was on a treadmill and the new Friend and I were working out on equipments side-by-side. I am Linda BTW she said. Yes, friend had to have a name too! I told mine and we talked about how badly this place needed renovation.

Earlier, Linda was walking on the treadmill, and her hand bag fell off the machine and lots of papers fell off from her bag. Only later she told me that she was a writer and worked for kids. No wonder she
had so many papers in her bag.

She asked me where I was working. I told her I was working in the IT department and that she might be interested in taking advantage of a discount for family and friends at my client stores. So that was how I got her email id and I promised to send the coupons to her. She was in a hurry saying that she had to pick a friend at work and left.

I continued my workout and in a little while was ready to leave. Suddenly I saw Linda's hand bag lying near the treadmill. I was not sure if she would be back; I assumed she wouldn't as it was already quite some time since she had left. In the hurry to leave early she had completely forgotten about the bag. I decided to leave the bag at the leasing office and drop her an email that she could pick it from there. I was happy that I had taken the email address from her.

I drove back home and first thing wrote her an email. But unfortunately the mail bounced back! Now I knew I had mistyped the email address in my cell phone. Why don't the 'g's sound like 'g's and 'p's sound like 'p's to me! I need to work on my american accent I thought.

Now what do I do? What if she comes to the gym to look for her bag? I had to contact her and let her know that her stuff was safe.

I looked for her name over the web. 'Linda Piepenbrink' and gosh! I found so many links on the net. I was very excited; one- I was sure that now I would get her cell phone # and secondly- I came across a person who was famous. At least to some extent I was sure. On the internet, I saw her books on sale on ebay, amazon etc.

I managed to get her office number and dropped her a voice message. But what if that's her old office? It said Wisconsin and I was not sure if anyone would go for a workout early morning if they had to travel to work so far. I looked for her on facebook and luckily found her in th
ere. I left her a message on facebook too.
Later I dropped her hand bag at the leasing office.

When I was in office I was happy to get a reply from Linda. She said she would collect the bag from office and was thankful for taking care of her stuff. And I was glad to have met her.

My trip to the gym got me a new friend along with few calories off.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where on earth!

This Post is my dedication to the spectacular beauty of Manali and Rohtang Pass. It was my first long distance trip with Navin and I am so happy that the we decided to go to one of the most amazing places in India. It has been more than a year that we visited Manali but when I recall or look at the pictures from the trip, I can still feel the freshness in the air and enjoy the stillness of time.
I could never imagine what a true 'Himalaya ki Godh main' experience would be. It is like nature has uplifted you to an entirely new space where you get a chance to witness God's craftsmanship. Manali is rightly called the 'Valley of the Gods'.

We took an overnight bus from Delhi to reach Manali early morning. Manali bus stand is right in the middle of the city; you get the feel of a small town. A look around and you will see tons of autos, small restaurants, travel agencies, small and big hotels, souvenir stores, open chai (tea) shops, shawl shops and of course many many tourists. Yes! Tourism is a major source of income here.

After a long, bumpy, tiring bus ride, it was a pleasure to enjoy the spectacular view from our hotel room. Long pine trees everywhere with snow peaked mountains in the background enveloped by wide open sky! The scotching heat of the month of May in Delhi was already faded far behind. Another interesting thing I should mention were the apple trees! I had never seen apple trees in my life. And in Manali you can see them everywhere. And lots of big red roses too! Beautiful.

(Click on the pics to view enlarged photo)

We decided to go around the city for the rest of the day. There are quite a lot of tourist attractions within walkable distance.

One of the big attractions was the 'Hadimba' temple; famous for the exquisite wooden carvings. Hadimba is the wife of the Pandava brothers Bhim and is the local deity. We were lucky to get to attend the festival at the temple which happens every year in May. I remember we were standing outside the temple and were very hungry; there were no restaurants close by. Suddenly we see a line forming outside a small hut-like room for Prasad. You can see Navin standing in queue for the Prasad :) We both thanked God for the perfect timing! Really.
There are a lot of buddhist temples to visit too. Infact you get to see a lot of buddhist monks and sages everywhere you go. I remember we took an auto to visit these places. The auto driver said that you guys go around and come back in 1/2 hr. When we came back the driver went missing. Navin sat in the auto took a ride in it! Or may be he was just posing in that pic!
One thing we learned from Day 1 was don't fall for the innocent looking locals sitting outside temples renting Manali traditional dresses or more specifically the ladies holding the giant Angora rabbits. You have to pay 10 bucks to click a picture of the rabbit! We had just reached the Hadimba temple and I saw a cute rabbit sitting on a table. My quick reaction was... 'Ah such a cute rabbit...let me touch it'. A lady came by and put it in my hands. I was so happy on the sweet gesture! Navin pulled the camera out for a quick pic and the lady demanded 10 bucks! 10 bucks is not a huge amount but we felt cheated. But nevertheless I was happy to hold a huge rabbit in my hands. But let me tell you; they are not so clean creatures and give a not so pleasant odour. Besides the Angora rabbits are so big yet so delicate like a huge ball of fur.

And oh yeh! We took the 'must take' picture in the traditional Manali dress. An old lady was renting the dress. These folks tell different price to everyone. There were another couple who had just rented the dress from the lady. Navin started talking to the guy. The old lady thought that we were checking the price of the rental dress with the other guy and was very furious. Hehe. Anyhow, we did get to know price the guy paid!
Another interesting place to visit was the Vashist hot water Natural Sulplur springs. Vashist is supposedly a holy sage with some relation to Lord Rama. There is a small Rama temple and a Vashist temple near the Springs. The Vashist temple is a rest area for many Sadhus who keep moving around. I was very amazed to see the natural hot water springs. Again, something new for me to experience. There is a small place where the hot spring water flows and a bathroom like structure is constructed around it. There are separate areas for gents and ladies. You will be surprised by how hot the water is; it is almost unbearable to put your feet in it.

Solang Valley is another big attraction near the city. It reminded me of the song 'Dil Deewana' from the film 'Maine Pyaar Kiya'. The valley is very scenic with huge open area covered with green grass and overlooking the snow covered mountains in the background. The valley is always crowded with visitors to enjoy the para-gliding. We were too scared to try any of that! It is more like a fair event with balloon sellers, many chai/food stalls around the valley. Oh yeh, and how can we forget the guy selling Shilajit. There are these people going around who sell some ayurvedic medicine called Shilajit. There was this one guy who kept following us wherever we went; no matter how hard we tried to dodge him. That guy kept pointing out Navin's spectacles and said that he has the best medicine in the world which can cure the eyes. He used to say "Aap paise mat dijiye. Bas humara naam aur pata likhke rakhiye. Wapas jane par paise bhej dejiye". Navin was very annoyed with the guy and would have blasted him off if he showed up one more time.

River Beas originates in Manali and the spot is called the Beas Kund. Beauty of Manali is enhanced with the river Beas flowing across the city. Navin tried his hands on river crossing too across the river Beas at the Solang Valley resort. There are a few funny videos too which I should upload :)
One day we did a 14 Km river rafting along river Beas. The water was freezing cold! And the trainer tried his best to make sure I was soaked in water by the end of the 'cold adventure'. Navin, trainer and me - just the three of us on the raft! My teeth chatter when I think of the freezing water come rushing to wet us. Besides the water I enjoyed every moment on the raft. The rivers flows along huge mountains on one side and the local roads on the other side with people bending over the fence to have a look at you. The mountains are a spectacular view; it is very rocky with rocks in the shape of huge pebbles.

The roads in Manali are narrow and rocky. There is a small bridge over the river Beas which you need to cross to go anywhere outside the city. Only one vehicle is allowed to pass over it at a time. With no traffic police, it is worth seeing how vehicle owners make their way over the bridge.

The best part of the trip was arriving; we had been waiting to start our journey to the 'Rohtang Pass'. In winters the roads to the pass are closed and open only around mid of May every year. We were lucky to make it just in time. It took almost 1 1/2 to 2 hrs to reach the top in a van but the view was just breath taking. It was a bumpy ride with lots of twists and turns along the road. There are tons of scenic points all along the road. As you go higher up, I could feel the air getting thinner and colder.

This is the view we get all along the way. Look all around and all you see are the snow covered mountains, hidden behind the clouds; giving you a feeling of comfort and happiness that there is some place on mother earth where nature does all the talking and not humans. You realize how small and fake humans are before the mightiness of real and pure existence. The calmness in the place forces you to stay in the present; you can hear your heart beat; makes you listen to your breath. You can smell the freshness in the air. The trip up above was very fulfilling.

As we moved along, we could see many small areas between mountains where people had set up small tea/snacks shops. People were enjoying skiing and snowmobiling too. We decided to go further ahead as far as the roads were open.

It was getting colder as we moved up the mountain. It gave a feel of what the soldiers at the Ind-Pak border may be going through specially in harsh winters. I however cannot imagine how anyone can have the vigour or zest to take lives in a place which feels close to heaven.
Btw, on our way we saw couple of people on motorbikes too. I am sure they must be having backaches after their long ride. Finally we reached a point where the vehicles could not go any further. We parked the car and started walking in the snow. A few minutes of walking and suddenly we came to a wide open snow field. There were many people around; it looked like a festival. Everyone was wearing bright colored snow suits; some were busy clicking pictures; others learning to skii; one place we saw a couple playing in the snow. They used to walk by a small slopy area and roll down in the snow- the way they show in the movies. It was hilarious! The entire place was surrounded by mountains. You could only look at them with a feeling of awe and admiration.

We tried skiing for sometime; took a ride on snowmobile too; that was so much fun. We met a few people who were selling tea and coffee in this cold. When asked how they managed to travel all the way on top of the mountain they told us that they used to stay overnight because the transportation was very costly. Sometimes, tourists were very kind to allow them to travel with them in their vehicles.
Soon we had to head back to the hotel else we would be caught in the traffic on the narrow slopes. We didn't want to leave but were left with no choice. But Rohtang Pass will continue to remain a very special experience for Navin and me.
Next day we decided to explore a small and beautiful village named Naggar about 25 kms from Manali. The houses in Naggar are very small and are located all along small hills.

Nagar has a beautiful ancient palace amidst the greenery and mountains. The palace had beautiful wooden carvings. A movie was being shooted while we were at the palace. We also got to know that Kareena Kapoor was in Manali to shoot for Jab We Met too. We hoped we could get a glance of her sometime but we were pretty happy to rather enjoy the real beauty :)
There are many temples to visit there but now I have lost count. However we came across an interesting temple. The pecularity of that temple was that the pujaris of the temple were ladies! The lady preist told us that men of the city would travel away for business (I think we said business or may be war) and they had to look after the deity.
That was the end of our special trip to Manali. We were lucky to enjoy the wonderful weather of the month of May and enjoy some fun adventure trips which were open in summers.
Do plan a trip to Manali atleast once in your lifetime. You will realize how enjoyable it is.