Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Austria - travelogue

Austria is beautiful! There’s no better way to put it. When we visited, it was already the beginning of Fall, when the snow had all melted, yet the tall, rocky mountain tops, the green slopes, the crystal clear river that flowed alongside the road, pretty houses (mostly bright yellow) with germaniums hanging out from flower boxes in the balcony, and cows grazing in the meadows  made it all picture perfect. If I had the will and a chiffon saree, I would stride on the slopes singing “Tere mere hoton pe” forever.

Travelling - Since we were travelling with kids, which meant ‘not light’ and ‘no fixed schedules’ we decided to rent a car at the airport and drive around for the trip. BMWs and Mercs are available on rent for a reasonable price - definitely works out cheaper than train tickets. Over 6 days we drove a total of 1500 kms and didn’t feel it at all. Plus since we had a car, we had the option of staying wherever we wanted. We stayed in a city hotel in Vienna just for a day and then went to Salzburg where we stayed for all the remaining days in a beautiful family owned hotel/B&B, outside the city (Absolutely recommend it – Pension Blobergerhof). From there we did day trips to Werfen, Zell am See, Innsbruck and Hallstatt. Driving was easy since it was no different than here in Dubai. Though the sign boards were in German the symbols were self-explanatory. And it never got dull. There was always a beautiful surprise set for us, at the next turn. Just when you thought you had seen it all, came a new landscape ready to be adored.

Eating – I am a preferred vegetarian. I enjoy a piece of chicken now and then but that’s as far as I go when it comes to meat. In Austria, chicken was hardly ever on the menu, maybe a lackluster dish mentioned at the bottom on the last page of the menu. Pork and beef were the heroes there. That meant I was on margherita pizza or plain creamy pasta for most days. On one occasion when the rest of the family felt sorry for me, I was treated in an Indian restaurant.

People - People in general seemed very friendly and helpful. On more occasions than one, a stranger has stopped by to help us; at one time, even opening a map on his smart phone to show us directions. Most people smiled and greeted when we crossed them. They also seemed very relaxed and in no hurry to go anywhere. It was like being in Goa – susegaad!  Which is great for a vacation but..

And that was the pain point - everything closed at 5pm - shops and attractions alike. The only thing open after that were restaurants and pubs. Even the capital city Vienna wore a deserted look past 6. I would have hoped that at least between Spring and Fall when there’s daylight till 7, we could do fun things till late in the evening. But nope! The Austrians beat the Chitales in that! To add to the misery, The Pisals consider it ‘shaan ke khilaaf’ to wake up before 8 am, and even more so, if it’s a vacation. So by the time we hogged on the ‘free’ breakfast and got out, it would be 11 am, leaving us very few hours to do it all in a day’s time! After 6pm there wasn’t much for families to do - just sit in hotel room and watch German TV shows. I can't blame the kids that they got bored then.

All in all, a lovely trip. Moderately paced yet plenty covered. Some of the must do places that I would recommend are -


  • ·         Alpine coaster near Salzburg (or any other place, there are many)
  • ·         Sound of music tour on bicycle in Salzburg
  • ·         Salt mines near Salzburg or Hallstatt
  • ·         Dachestein ice caves near Hallstatt. The cable car ride up is thrilling)
  • ·         Five finger lookout (further up with another cable car ride). Awesome views and an adrenaline rush when you stand on the fingers.
  • ·         Burg HohenWerfen – the castle in Werfen where part of the movie ‘Where Eagles dare’ was shot. There are many such castles around, one even in Salzburg. This one was very scenic plus the funicular ride up was exciting.
  • ·         A walk in the city of Hallstatt, a world heritage site.
  • ·         A walk in the city of Innsbruck, a beautiful city with a lot of tourists.
I     (I will be putting my reviews of each of these on tripadvisor, but if anyone is planning a trip to Austria and needs some suggestions, feel free to message.)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

When mommy goes to 'Civil War'


The only super heroes I knew till last week were Spider-man, Superman and our desi Krissh. “Ignorance is bliss”, they say. My kids would discuss Loki and Fury like they were our next door neighbors. Often the man in the house would join the discussion too. My only hopes were pinned to my daughter but she’s turned out to be one who would rather watch an action movie than come bracelet shopping with me. So it was pretty much one against three. “What’s the big deal, anyway,” I thought and I decided it was time to take the plunge. So when Marvel came up with the ‘Civil War’ movie I said, “Well, why not? I’ll come to the movies with you.” After all I wanted to be part of the family activity too. The three looked at me speechless, like they did when they saw Bucky alive in Part 2 (Yeah, I know that now). They knew this meant a lot of hard work, but they were ready and so was I.

It was decided that to bring Mommy up to speed it was important she should watch the first two parts of the Captain America series. So I did. But in the middle of the first part I had to make dinner so I got up with an almost natural oh-no!-have-to-go face. 2 days later came part 2 on a weekend morning and I watched it while continuing with my weekend chores. I think I passed my test, cause towards the end I knew at least who the Captain was.

D-day. Dad made sure I had popcorn and chips so I could keep myself busy during the movie, in case I got bored. Expert Avengerist - my son, would be sitting next to me to clear doubts when required. (I think this was more of dad-daughter ruse to stay as far away from me as possible. The little boy fell for it as he was declared an expert. ) The first half hour went in figuring out one more time - who’s who! My constant “Ha kon, hi kon?” (Who’s this? Who’s that), amused my son in the beginning and he murmured with detail, “This is Black Widow and she is the captain’s friend.”  “Oh the one who was a fighter in the army? But she was blonde.” “Not that one mumma! That was Peggy. This is Black Widow. She was in the 2nd part. Don’t you remember anything? Leave it.” My next few questions got one word answers. I sat quietly trying to figure out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys and why the good guys were fighting the other good guys! Then suddenly came Spiderman from Queens and I jumped with joy like a dessert traveler who had seen an oasis. Finally a familiar face! “C’mon,” I said to my boy later, “you expect me to know there is an AntMan as well? Even IronMan didn’t know he existed.” ;) Point taken.

I looked proudly at my super heroes through the darkness of the hall; the ones sitting next to me - enjoying and actually understanding Sokovia accords, Hydra handlers and cryogenic sleeping. But my head had started hurting from all the clink clunk – You see, I’m more of a Bollywood ‘aa dhishum, aaa dhishum’ type of action movie fan. But when the captain’s shield and IronMan’s metal fist hit, its metal vs metal, again and again - clink, clunk and more clink and clunk all the way.  Add to that buildings falling and cars crashing and explosions everywhere. Finally the good guys on both sides have patched up and we start walking towards the exit. “See when two good brothers fight, it’s the outsider who wins,” I tell my kids (There isn’t a parental guidance opportunity I would want to miss). “Is that what you saw in the movie?” they asked disappointed. Anyways, it was over. “HALT!” said the dad, “there’s a mid-credit scene.” We sit down again on the empty chairs in the first row. It ends with Black Panther muttering something. The three give a high five “Black Panther! Yes. Have to watch the next one.” I call it quits.




Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bajirao Mastani - director's cut!

On one hand we have the Maharashtrians, especially the Punekars, coming together, not like they do at 4pm outside Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale, but this time with their pens as swords, to slam Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani.  On the other hand we have Bhansali and the film fraternity who stand by the movie in the name of ‘Creative liberty’. Whose side am I on? Doesn’t matter. No one cares. Will I watch the movie? Hell, yes! I have even watched Humshakals in the theater. My tolerance (a very popular word these days) for low IQ cinema is very high.  

Bhansali justifies that when the audience comes to watch his movie they would want entertainment and he is giving them just that (a biopic on Sunny Leone would have been more appropriate for that purpose, IMHO, but that’s besides the point). And then, this is his style – Grand sets, a love triangle and a dance sequence with the leading ladies. His movie should have that Bhansali stamp, right?!
So while I read the amusing WA and FB jokes on Bajirao Mastani (may their souls rest in peace), I wondered what would happen if other directors joined the bandwagon and decided to make their own version of the same story. Here’s my take.

Karan Johar – [Star cast: SRK, Kajol (Kashi), Kareena (Mastani).] Mastani is on a horse, ready to leave, but looking at Baaji, longingly. Kashi is holding Baaji’s hand firmly. The horse neighs. It’s time to leave. Baaji looks at Kashi with a ‘Kaashiji-mujhe-jane-do’ face. Kashi lets go. “Ja Baaji ja, jee le apni zindagi”. Baji sprints and jumps onto the horse and the two gallop into the far in slow motion as a beautiful mandolin piece plays in the background. Creative liberty hain bhai!

Anurag Kashyap – [Star cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Huma Qureshi (Kashi), Kalki (Mastani), Nawazuddin would have a special role – a fictional character that has been added on the pretext of artistic freedom].  80% of the movie will be shot in the dark in the natural lights of the glowing lanterns with sounds of crickets in the background. Bajirao’s mother Radhabai and Kashibai meet in the darkness of the Wada. The ever increasing influence of Mastani is worrying them. Kashibai is infuriated and in a weak moment bursts out, oblivious as she stands in front of her mother-in-law. The non-Marathi audience in educated with a series of Marathi cuss words being spit out like venom. ‘Tujhya ....chi, …chi, ..chi’ chichichi Kashi chirps on. Mastani canot live, they both agree. “Keh ke lenge”, they say with clenched fists. The screen becomes dark. Creative liberty hain bhai!

Suraj Barjatya – [Star cast: Salman (who else?), Kareena (Kashi), Sonam Kapoor (Mastani), Reema
Lagoo (Radhabai), Anupam Kher (Balaji Vishwanath), Sanskaari Alok Nath (Chatrasaal) with Renuka Shahane, Mohnish Behl, Bindu, Himani Shivpuri… I could go on ]. Barjatya declares he is making a sequel to his 1994 blockbuster and calls his new movie – ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun Firse Batao’. And wait, hold your breath - Instead of one wedding, audiences would now be treated to two. The first half would be the wedding of Baajirao and Kashi. After the intermission, the second would be the wedding of Baajirao and Mastani.  And mind you, you poor Marathi people from humble backgrounds, if you have issues with Bhansali’s grand portrayal of the Peshwas, wait till you watch Barjatya’s set of the Peshawe Wada. Bharjatya’s set would make the descendants of the Peshhwa’s wonder where all that money went. (The movie will go on floors as soon as Barjatya recovers from the loss of PRDP.)

Ram Gopal Verma – He was last seen doing the rounds of Shaniwar wada, to gather content for the film. The chowkidar mistook him to be the ghost of Narayanrao and ran for his life. Disheartened, RGV left. Thank god or “Kaka, amhala vachva” (“Save us, uncle”), is what the audience would have to say.

Sajid Khan – Are you still reading this?

“So is there no one who could do justice to this biopic?” I thought somberly. I thought of Rajkumar Hirani. But he has burned his lips once and refuses to delve into any sensitive topic, be it mythological or historical. Sunju will be available soon, so he’ll probably just play it safe with Munna Bhai Part 3. Then Zoya Akhtar? She said she loved the script, but Farhan was busy. Ashutosh Gowarikar? -  Is he still around?

Finally!! Hallelujah - Amir Khan, the perfectionist. How did I not think of him before? He would probably be the only one to do it right. Alas - he is leaving the country! ;)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Why I refuse to be called an immigrant

“America is a land of immigrants”, they say. About Dubai they say “It’s a land of expats”.  I would think immigrants and expatriates were synonyms. Until now. The Oxford dictionary defines an immigrant as someone who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. An expatriate on the other hand is someone who lives outside his native country. The main difference you would think is the thought of being ‘permanent’. Could be. Yet, I see so many Indians returning back from America, either willfully or just because their visa had expired. On the other hand I know of many Indians living in Dubai for close to 20 years.

The H1 and L1 visas are called non-immigrant visas. That itself takes away the ‘permanency’ from the word. If they are not intended for permanent immigration why are they not called ‘expat’ visas? Could there be a racist connotation, I wondered? Looks to me, there is. When white folk/westerns work outside their country they are called expats. When Asians/Africans work outside their country they are called immigrants. Now that sounded like a more correct (yet unfair) definition.  

When I utter the word immigration, the thoughts that come to mind are ‘cross border illegal immigration’, ‘Cramped boats waiting for relief on foreign shores’, ‘cheap labor’ and ‘visa woes’. When I utter ‘expatriate’ what comes to  mind are ‘Plush expatriate colonies’, ‘expat wives shopping at malls flashing their Louis Vuittons’ and ‘a lot of pampering in general’.

I can decorate the word with feel-good adjectives like ‘highly skilled’ or ‘professional’, but the fact is I would still be an immigrant and I would still not be guaranteed permanency! Unfair, don’t you think?




(A cartoon on US immigration, from a website related to women and finance.)

(An image in an article on 'Expat living in Singapore' in The Telegraph.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Chess Stress..

A year has passed since I wrote this blog - http://heartuponmysleeve.blogspot.in/2013/01/the-chess-mess.html. (It was a time when chess was a game, not a contest.) After seeing my son's interest in the game, we enrolled him in a chess coaching academy three months back. Before we knew it, he was selected by his coach for a district level tournament. Since this was my first time as a mother of a competing child, I have to admit, I was unprepared.

A day at the tournament meant playing back to back matches throughout the day. It meant a tiring day for me and him. Most parents there seemed far more experienced in this. At the end of the day I won’t say I learnt much but I did observe a lot.

The hardest part was seeing a child loose; anybody’s. One came out, eyes down, saying he lost. One came out with just a thumb’s down. One came out looking out for her mom or dad with a look that said it all. It caused a pang. A parent consoled a child with an “It’s ok.” When the child came out victorious after the next match, the same parent gave a high five and exclaimed, “Yes, you did it!” I think children are smart enough to understand then, that it wasn't so ok with you the last time. I think, if failures are to be downplayed, victories need to be too, don’t you think?

Another dad amused me. Between every match he would take his son aside and bombard him with his '21 most likelys'. “If I move my queen to some x position, what will you do?”, “In some y scenario would you do the short castelling?” He just went on with his little U7. Needless to say, his son was a winner throughout. Is this what it takes to raise a winner? I simply can’t see me doing this. I thought taking your kids to a coaching class, guiding them when they asked for and taking them to such tournaments, was good enough? That's the difference between being an involved parent and a dedicated parent, one would argue. Unfortunately the way I saw it, the line between being dedicated and pressurizing was too thin. 

Another kid was peering into the iPhone that my son was playing during a break. His mom cautioned him not to. “Not now,” she said. “If I win the next match, can I play after that?” he asked back. I was surprised he didn’t phrase it like “Can I play in the evening?” Unlike my child, he was used to being rewarded.


That’s why I fear my little one will always be the average player who won some, lost some, and ate and played on the iPhone in between. And on someone else’s blog I’ll be the mom who let him be that way. L

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Adlabs iMagica - a review

The two words I have for Adlabs iMagica, the theme park near Khopoli, are - ‘Distinctly Indian’; and I mean it in a good way.
Rides:
Every ride/attraction at iMagica, I have seen before at one theme park or the other. But never before have I seen it with a beautiful Indian touch. Mr. India reminded me of The Simpson’s ride (Universal) but the fact that we were helping Mr. India fight evil Mogambo made it so much more appealing. If Soarin (Epcot) made me proud to be associated with California, ‘I for India’ based on the same lines, gave me a bird’s eye view of My India. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari it covered the beauty of my country, making me so proud I had goose bumps at the end of the show. The ‘Wrath of Gods’ reminded me of ‘Songs of the Sea’ (Sentosa) – the elements of nature working in harmony – this depicted in a mesmerizing show with water jets and pyrotechnics.  Rajasaurus is Jurrasic Park (Universal) in Hindi. Then there were the usual roller coaster rides with Nitro being the scariest of all; it made me scream even when I watched it from a distance.  For the real dare devils the Scream Machine is a must-do. There are many rides for the little ones too – like the favorite ‘Dumbo the elephant’ - they call him Tubby here.  But I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘paisa vasool’ experience for them. Also some of the rides can make you pretty wet, so pack some extra clothes if you don’t want to stay wet for long.
The Park:
It wasn’t just the rides; the entire park had so much to offer. The location of the park was breath taking, a vast open area with the Sahyadri’s in the back drop. The landscaping in the park was also lovely – a lake with artificial lotuses, bridges built over them, water jets for the soak-enthusiasts,  Alladin’s city, a castle that resembled Cinderella’s castle, a dash of the Wild wild west, simple rustic huts in the Africana region –all spotlessly clean! And here’s where it passed the real test - plenty of restrooms and all pretty clean.  Also found in every nook and corner, souvenir shops that sold everything from fridge magnets to soft toys.
Wait times:
There’s something else I cannot help but compare with theme parks around the world.  I have stood for almost 2 hours for a ride in Universal. Here, it might be due to the fact that we went on a Friday or due to the fact that the foot fall is still low, there was no wait time at all. In fact for some rides we had to wait because the minimum requirement was not being met. J Now that’s a first time experience in India! I have heard weekends are slightly busier with wait times up to 15 minutes, but don’t bother to pay more for the Express Pass (front of line pass to escape the lines).
Food:
Nothing can give you more content than a cup of Masala Chai on a rain soaked evening in a theme park. You will realize the significance of this if you have had to manage elsewhere with dark coffee that’s turned cold after, in an attempt to make it potable, you’ve poured huge portions of creamers! The food court had a variety of choices, even a special Jain Thali. The American Diner had everything to satiate your International taste buds. And then there was the usual sandwich, salad place too. Note, as expected, you cannot carry any food items inside the park.
Thoughtfulness:
Keeping in mind that rain could be a frequent visitor, the park provides big umbrellas for free use in the park. Use it while you want it; keep it in one of the umbrella bins available near every attraction when you are done. Helpful park representatives are also available around every corner to provide all the information we need.
The future:

All in all it was a fun experience for the entire family. Glad something like this came up close to Mumbai and Pune. I hope that Adlabs keeps up with the standard that they have started off with. They are working on more attractions and I heard from one park member that a water park is also coming up next to it.  Grab your tickets before the crowds gather and the ticket prices rise. Just remember to bring an open mind; I promise you’ll leave with aching legs and a full heart.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

7 reasons why I can feel my 7 year old is no longer 7

1.  She no longer whines and wins, she argues and wins.
2. She thinks all boys including her brother but excluding her dad, grandads, Hrithik Roshan and Ranbir Kapoor are STUPID.
3.  She thinks Disney princess and Barbie Tees are childish. But she's still not gotten any interest in the Hannah Montanas or Justine Biebers
4.  When she sings Gangnam style she lowers her voice between the words 'Hey' and 'lady', almost muting the S word. she then tells me she thinks this is a 'cheap' song.
5. She has a pair of high heel shoes in which she walks comfortably.
6. She watches the  'Sound of music' with me and enjoys it. And then we sing 'raindrops on roses' together.
7. When I am driving her to school, she turns off the radio and says, "mumma let's do some gappa-tappa (chatting) ". 

Happy 8th birthday daughter-turning-dear-friend Tanisha.