Monday, April 25, 2011

To Hell's Gate And Back!

As the four day Easter weekend loomed larger and closer at hand, nothing much had been planned as to how we would spend it. I had quite resigned myself to the ways of the workaholic husband and just hoped to chill out at home, sleep in each day, and catch up on my reading the entire time. It so happened that the kid discovered that the stock markets would be closed for the entire weekend, and started getting really nasty about it. Of late, he has been playing the stock market simulators and making some wicked money, so you can imagine the whining and complaining and grumpiness that a bored teenager is capable of when he realizes he can't do what he wants to do! So boom, there we were on the road last Friday, without having planned much at all for the road trip! There was no time to cook ahead, as I had talked about in my previous post, so we just threw in a few clothes, called a couple of hotels for accommodation, and hit the road on Friday, with the agreement that there would be no whining from the teenager, and no discussions about the stock market for the rest of the trip.

The first place we decided to stop at was Chilliwack, a land that boasts of its agricultural roots and has popularized its own version of agri-tourism. The Chilliwackians take pride in their farming way of life that has provided them a stable living for more than a century, and it is a refreshing sight to see acres of farmland dotted with greenhouses, nurseries, orchards, dairy, poultry, hog, and a whole host of assorted livestock farms. It was fun watching the land being irrigated by large-scale sprinklers and low-flying aircraft spreading fertilizers, and hearing the buzz of farm equipment such as cultivators, tractors, and fruit-pickers. Made me think about my own homeland with farmers still toiling on the land the hard way. There is a laid-back rustic charm to Chilliwack, known as the Great Outside, and for the more adventurous, it offers a smorgasbord of outdoor activities such as river rafting, fishing, hiking, water skiing, surfing, swimming, kayaking, mountain climbing, mountain biking, paragliding, hang gliding, birding, camping, etc., etc., and to do all these in its glorious setting of lakes, rivers, mountains, and beaches is just an awesome experience for outdoor enthusiasts. High octane adventures not being our cup of tea, we just looked on at the paragliding and hang gliding daredevils coming off the mountains and silhouetted against the treed slopes, and decided to take in the Tulip Festival the next day.

We checked into our hotel room and headed out to explore the downtown core of Chilliwack, with its abounding treasures for antique hunters and souvenir shoppers alike. I decided to abandon my strict dieting for the weekend, and if not completely, to at least follow the 80 - 20 rule on the road, that is, eating healthy 80% of the time, and for the remaining 20%, indulging in food that makes life worth living we stopped at the Banana Leaf for some hot and spicy fish and vegetable pakoras! The next day we drove off to Seabird Island (don't know why it's called that, if one can drive to it!) to the tulip fields, and boy, what a memorable sight that was! It was a veritable Eden of sorts, with 40 acres of tulips in the valley stretched as far as the eye could see, with snow-capped mountains all around us. There were busloads of tourists from the US and elsewhere, and it was an unusual experience parking in the fields and walking through the wet, muddy fields to view those gorgeous blooms of various hues. It being the beginning of the festival, half the tulips were yet to bloom, and the kid sauntered along, commenting it was a retarded idea to have come then!

From Seabird Island, we headed to Hell's Gate through the Fraser Canyon, via Boston Bar and North Bend, stopping all along en route to take pictures and marvel at the scenery. It was fascinating going through a series of tunnels with names such as Saddle Rock, Sailor Bar, Hell's Gate, and so on. The place is steeped in history, and my surly teenager soon got caught in the excitement of it all, jumping out of the car at intervals to pose for pictures. The Fraser River's entire flow of water roars through the narrow granite gorge at Hell's Gate, and we were told that nearly 200 million gallons of water poured through the gorge each minute, twice the volume of Niagara Falls! We were also told that the name Hell's Gate came from the early explorer Simon Fraser who found this section of the river to be his biggest challenge, and said it was "a place where no human being should venture, for surely we have entered the gates of hell." The water depth was 110 ft. that day, and riding the airtram that traverses the gorge made our hair stand on end. Hell's Gate is also one of the world's largest sockeye salmon migration routes, thanks to the joint Canada - US Commission's International Fishways, an engineering marvel indeed!

I playfully panned for gold, watched a documentary of the salmon runs, strolled along the suspension bridge eyeing the surging water underneath, dug into fresh salmon chowder at Simon's Cafe and some delectably sinful almond chocolate at the Fudge Factory, before we headed to our next destination, Merritt. It was yet another scenic drive through the mountain passes before we reached our hotel room in the evening. After briefly exploring the town, which was half-empty because of the long weekend, we scouted for some spicy food or whatever came close to it. It was Chinese food for dinner, a sumptuous buffet spread which I could not do justice to, considering my diet, and we retired for the night, sated and eager to rest our weary bones. Out came the laptop and iPad and Blackberry, as we caught up with the rest of the world, something we hadn't been able to do the entire day, as there was no signal in the canyons to use our gadgets.

On Easter Day, the only thing on the agenda was to drive through the Coquihalla Pass, one of the most scenic drives in the Pacific Cascades. As we left the semi-arid Nicola Valley, and started climbing to the summit, we were surprised to see steep snowbanks along the road. We pulled into a rest area on the mountains and had a frolicking time romping in the snow. The kid was wearing shorts because it had been quite sunny in the morning, and it was a ridiculous sight seeing him sprawled on the snow in his shorts, when one of his feet sank into the snow and threw him off balance. We drove back home again with the usual stops on the way, and I was happy to go to a farmers' market and bring home produce straight from the fields. When we reached our city. the husband was considerate enough to drive us to Noor Mahal for some soft idlis, vadas, and lip-smacking, spicy lamb dosas. A weekend well-spent in each other's company, precious moments to savor and treasure till we hit the road again!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Magic Of Road Trips

I have said enough and more already about my fascination with road trips. The pull of that long stretch of asphalt overpowers me now and then, and I convince my men to go along with me for the ride, and they do, almost always, hapless victims of that wanderlust of mine! The husband gives in because of an underlying sense of guilt - the workaholic that he is, he has neglected us for long with nary a vacation or break of any kind whatsoever, so he thinks "OK, maybe 2 or 3 days on the road is not going to kill me. If I give in now, then maybe she'll shut up for the next few months or so!" Great logic that! The kid thinks the whole idea is basically RETARDED, period! He knows for a fact that being the only child, we're not going to leave him alone at home while we're cruising the road, so he tries his darned best to be sportive about it and comes along anyways, but only because he has to.

It must be said here, that there is an innate magic to being on the road and exploring new, never-before-visited territories that turns even the die hard cynics and skeptics into willing, enthusiastic participants on a road trip. And so it always happens that the husband and the kid get caught up in the whole awesome experience, and have no second thoughts of stopping along on the wayside and jumping out of the car to capture a scenic shot or explore a roadside waterfall or venture off the main road to have a glimpse of a lake tucked farther away inside or wet their feet in a meandering stream or have a playful romp in the snow. This happens quite a lot, trust me, that I have to shepherd them and hurry them back to the car so we can move on towards our destination for the day. With his iPod and enough snacks (read junk food) to last the entire trip, there's no word of complaint from the back seat at all!

Most of the time I take home-cooked food along for the ride, just for the adults. The kid thinks a road trip, into which he has been dragged unwillingly, warrants an unlimited extent of artery-clogging food, and he turns into a ravenous, rapacious eating machine, unmindful of the pounds being packed on. Sanity and good judgement are left behind, and only a good appetite for the bad and unhealthy is taken along on the road trip! Mostly we let him get away with it, with a mental note to whip him into shape after we get back. As for the sane, well-thinking adults, there's nothing to beat idli, millagai podi, and thakkaalli chutney eaten on the beach, or lemon rice or pulliyodharai or thayir saadham with pan-roasted potatoes and assorted vathals and vadaams eaten under the green canopy of the trees. The food tastes extra special when eaten in the great outdoors, bringing out that nomad in us and all the allied romance of wandering away from home.

Well, it's time to be on the road again. More in my next post! :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

School Day Reminiscences - V

As one gets along in years, why is it that some memories are so clear and vivid as if they'd happened just yesterday, that a few others come resurfacing after some concentrated mental effort, yet many others lie hidden forever in the nethermost recesses of the brain? Strange thing that! Whatever memories I have of my younger years are nothing but special and extra pleasant, colored by that characteristic magic of childhood. Oh, if only there were a time machine that could transport me back into the past, I'd jump onto it in a heart beat, and willingly savor the ride as I regress into those good old days! As cliched as that sounds, it is my fervent desire to do so, only my sane, practical self tells me at the same time that since that's next to impossible, all I can do is delve deep into my well of memories and see what I can come up with.

In the last few months, I have been reclaiming bits and pieces of my childhood by unearthing old friends and acquaintances on Facebook and reconnecting with them. As we grow up and get caught in the vicissitudes of life, we tend to drift away from people, forget either their faces or names or sometimes both, move to other cities and at times other continents, lose phone numbers, fail to update changed email IDs, and generally speaking, somehow lose complete contact with them. We are so preoccupied with the task of living and tackling the problems of home and careers that people from the past fade into nothingness, but boy, what a joy it is to rekindle old associations again! It was by sheer coincidence that I came upon the Jayabarathans, my beloved teachers from my elementary school days, the dynamic power couple who left an indelible impression on my young mind. I happened to find Mrs. Florence Jayabarathan's brother, Dr. Collet Masillamoni, now a dentist in Yuma, Arizona, on Facebook. The name rang a bell from my childhood and I wrote to him asking if he were the same person I had heard so often about as a child, and lo and behold, there I was, in touch with my teachers after ages!

Mrs. Florence Jayabarathan (also known as Kasthuri to those who knew her personally) was my Grade 6 Science teacher, and happened to live on campus at the time. Next to Mrs. Kamala Jagadeesan and Mr. Daniel Thomas, Mrs. Florence Jayabarathan (FJ in this post) occupies a special place on that influence meter I so love to talk about. She and her husband were newly-weds, and lived in the house across from the main building, the one to the right, close to the compound wall as you entered the school. As I'd mentioned in my earlier posts, there were plenty of guava trees and a huge tamarind tree outside that home, so it was a given that children would swarm that place at recess and lunch break on any given day. A few of us privileged ones had access to her home as well, and so it was that my friend Priya and I would always hang out there, wide-eyed and star-struck, full of admiration and hero worship that only a nine-year-old was capable of. In my eyes, she was the epitome of beauty and grace, with a lilt to her voice and gentle, lady-like ways that I so wanted to emulate. She may not have realized how I felt then, and I'm happy to reveal it now, almost 40 years later!

Her skills as a teacher were not inferior in any way to her personable self, and she wielded a lot of control and power in the classroom, not in an authoritarian manner, but in her own gentle, inimitable way, needless to say! As knowledgeable as she was and conscientious in imparting that knowledge to her impressionable students who soaked it all up like a sponge, she was a very strict teacher as well. Let me recount one particular incident here to prove just that. I was one of those nerdy students who had this obsession/compulsion about getting the first rank in class all the time, and it so happened that Mrs. Jegadeesan had announced that month that all the first rank holders would be taken on a picnic to the Gandhi Museum in a specially arranged bus.

The tests were done and FJ distributed the test notebooks to be taken home, with the warning that they had to be brought back the next day or else she would deduct 5 marks from our final score. As can be expected, yours truly promptly forgot to take it back to school the next day, and true to her word, she took 5 marks off my score. Now my classmate Harish and I had tied for the first rank that month, and now with 5 marks off, I fell to the second place, which left my dreams about that trip to Gandhi Museum wallowing in the dust. Oh boy, what a tragedy that was to my young soul! I cried and cried my heart out till she relented, and finally got to go on that picnic with my first rank restored, but it was a lesson I learnt in life! Never again did I forget my teachers' words in subsequent years!

FJ was a young bride in those days and many a time I would hang out at her home on campus and watch her cook. She had a pressure cooker called "Killicks" in those days, and with childish fascination I noted what a strange name that was, to which she promptly replied, " Yes, if you're not careful, it will kill you and lick you up!" Strange how I remember her reply after nearly 4 decades! I also remember going on a church trip to Thekkadi with the Jayabarathans in a special bus. FJ's sister Kala was my classmate for a short while, and she accompanied us on that trip as well, and so did my classmate Jeba. I had a small black and white picture of all of us that I clung on to down the years, but gradually, as time passed, our figures faded into nothingness. The photograph might have gone, but the memories are still vivid in my mind!

Another memory of mine is of FJ's relative visiting her, probably an aunt of hers, with a cute baby called Parimala. Priya and I would go early to school just to carry around and cuddle that baby before classes started, and then would rush to their home at recess to do the same. Sometimes the baby would be sleeping and I remember being disappointed that she wasn't awake. After a while, FJ had a son and moved out of campus to Ellis Nagar, which was when Kala came to live with her sister and became my classmate. I remember my warm friendship with Kala with great fondness, and how we both used to beg FJ to let her come to my house in Vilangudi for a sleepover. I can vividly recall one such occasion, when I was 10, when my Aunt was visiting us from Bangalore, and Kala had come for a sleepover. The house was crowded and we were giggling late into the night over the symphony of snores coming from each part of the house, the adults deep in slumber, and us wide-eyed, awake and alert!

Mr. Jayabarathan seemed very big and tall from my perspective as a child. He was a very warm-hearted, genial gentleman who showed nothing but kindness to us. He came across as a well-spoken, knowledgeable, debonair person, quite sophisticated in his ways in the Madurai of those days. He rode a motorbike, which seemed huge to me then, and was so cool in the early seventies. Kala and I were like his kids, and we basked in his affection and that of his young wife. In 1984, while I was writing my M.Phil. dissertation, I took up a temporary teaching position in the Faculty of English at Holy Cross College, Trichy. The Jayabarathans were in charge of the SDA School in Trichy at that time, and I had the unique privilege of visiting them then. Boy, were they proud of me and overjoyed to see what I had become! Subsequently, I moved to Madurai to join the Faculty at Lady Doak College, and as I stated in Paragraph 2 above, fell out of touch with this wonderful couple. Thanks to Facebook and Collet Annan, I have reconnected with them now, and am grateful for all the myriad ways in which they influenced me as child! Life has come full circle now, and what a treasure trove of memories it has brought to the surface!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Facebook Peeves Revisited!

Not long ago, I wrote a post about some of my Facebook peeves and how it would serve us all well if we could take a course on Facebook 101 or at least a lesson or two from that course ( to learn proper Facebook etiquette. Nothing has changed so far about my peeves. I still keep getting friend requests from strange men, the latest being from a stranger from Madurai (my hometown) two days ago, saying , "Hi Madam, wanna good friendship from Madurai?" I have no idea on earth what "good friendship" means, and I would seriously like to know what compels a thorough stranger to ask to be my friend. It's not as if we have any mutual friends, or he knows my family or someone else I know for that matter. Strange case that!

In other cases, I have sent out a few friend requests to people I know from my past, always with a note to introduce or reintroduce myself lest they don't remember me, and have been overjoyed when my request was accepted and we were able to catch up on the past all over again once we became friends. Some of them are my friends from my school days, a few their brothers I knew as young boys, some not much older than me, and some quite senior to me, my teachers from elementary school, my friends' children who are young adults now, and so on. A few others have maintained a stoic silence to my request and am yet to hear from them, while some others have accepted me as a friend but have not responded to what I wrote on their wall. They continue their studious silence as well, as if to say, "You can be my friend, but I don't want to communicate with you. I'll keep you on my Friends List and will read all your updates and look at all your pictures, but will not comment on anything or reach out to you in any way whatsoever. You can write on my wall or comment on my pictures as you wish, but don't expect any response from me at all!" Strange behavior on a social network, eh? Isn't Facebook all about reconnecting and reviving friendships and maintaining open lines of communication? Why even bother having a Facebook account if you don't respond to friends' enquiries or friendly comments, I wonder!

I have always accepted any friend request from an ex-student of mine and appreciate it all the more when they send me a personal message with their request. I have also accepted requests from people whom I personally didn't know, but who had the decency to write to me that they were the daughter of a colleague from a long time ago, or a collegemate's sister, or a junior from my high school who happened to be a former student's cousin, or a student's husband, etc., etc. I feel gratified that these friends are reaching out in a positive way and are making an attempt to widen their network and stay connected, which is what Facebook is all about. Thank you, guys! I also have to say that as a rule, I usually don't accept any of my current students as my friends on Facebook. I feel that their seeing me in a social context takes away that edge I have as their instructor, and wipes out that tone of formality and professionalism I strive to maintain in the classroom. And most certainly, I don't want them to know what I did on the weekend or where I went with my family, lest they see me in a new light in class the next day. When they ask to be my friends, I always tell them politely that I will, once they graduate!

And I'm not even going to go into that peeve about people playing a million games on Facebook, or taking a billion quizzes, or flooding my news feed with a trillion videos, or recommending a zillion causes or apps! Let's just leave a few things unsaid, shall we? I do love all the smart, pithy quotes my friends come up with, or simple updates about what's happening in their lives or with their kids or families, in general. I have a good laugh at some of my young friends' threads rife with slang and good-natured ribbing and pulling of each other's legs. I enjoy looking at the pictures my friends post, which give me an insight into what they're up to, and I vicariously live their adventures with them or just sit back and marvel at their creativity and photographic skills. I appreciate the support and comfort we extend to one another through our updates and back and forth comments. I exult in the achievements of a friend excelling in his speech as a toastmaster, or share the pride of a friend's child winning a scholarship or playing at a chess tournament or dancing bharathnatyam (an Indian classical dance) or having said something smart, or admire an update of a friend training for a half- marathon or taking up barefoot running. I feel grateful about reconnecting with people from my childhood and subsequent years, and marvel at the passage of time and how a genial networking tool has brought us all back together again! It is all these wonderful things about Facebook that keep me going. For the pleasure of all these, my friends, I'm ready to overlook all my peeves! Amen to that!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Party Wars

Having been to an outrageously expensive, extraordinarily themed and hyper-planned party recently has rammed home the truth in me that we live in a world of excesses and thrive on a lifestyle of pomp, show, and flamboyance. Simplicity is no longer a given, and people love to be the talk of the town or at least the neighbourhood, with the spectacular parties they throw. I am constantly amazed at the lengths people go to in order to make the event memorable and ensure that others talk about it for months or even years to come. It doesn't stop there ... it's time for the next party and there they are, racking their brains as to how to outdo their own earlier parties and everyone else's they know of. To be moneyed and to spend lavishly is one thing, but to run into debts just to keep up with the Joneses or to outdo them is a problem and spells disaster, financially and morally, in my opinion.

Birthdays, engagements, weddings, graduations, housewarmings, births, and even deaths, warrant a party, not to mention other festive occasions such as Christmas, New Year, Valentine's, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc., etc., where people can let their hair down and convince themselves that life is worth living after all! I am not against the partying per se, but only against excessive pomp and pagaentry, with a total disregard for the amount of money being spent, while the rest of the world is wallowing in poverty and neglect. Event planners, themed parties, gourmet food by renowned chefs, rock stars singing a song or two at the shindigs, chartered jets to exotic locales, celeb DJs spinning records for the hand-picked guests may all be in the domain of the rich and the famous, but the not-so -rich-and-famous are also taking up their parties a notch these days and bleeding their wallets dry to doom.

One of my earlier posts in 2009 was about over-indulgent parents and modern day excesses ( ), with parents planning their children's birthday parties months in advance and giving away goodies worth a king's ransom. I'm pleased to record that the husband and I have been steadfast in our resolve not to over-indulge the kid, but to inculcate in him values that will hold him in good stead in the years to come. Our son does attend the birthday parties of his friends, but he doesn't have one for himself, and that spares me the trouble of staging a hoopla on his birthday. I am definitely not into the party wars and I'm thankful the kid understands that and doesn't throw a tantrum about it. He will be 16 this Christmas, a milestone in his life accompanied by the usual rite of passage of earning his driver's licence - will it be marked by an elaborate shindig and a BMW or Mercedes to boot? I don't think so at all. Perhaps a quiet day with his parents is more likely in the cards, or better still, a volunteering stint somewhere with the sick and the needy would serve him well, I'm sure. Party animals we're not, and party wars mere frivolities to us!