Posted by & filed under Indian abroad, Travel.

Amidst the array of Mughal and British monuments that dot the New and Old Delhi landscape is a 21’st century tribute to the world’s oldest religion. Akshardham was highly recommended to me by a bunch of friends who told me to not stick to the usual must-see list provided to tourists. The three hours I spent in this uber secure and interesting temple complex were very educational. I will try to capture some of my thoughts here below:

Akshardham is huge and expansive. It is a complex of buildings that include a temple. If you have visited places of worship in the Western world, the expansiveness may not be very evident but compared to any other temple I have visited in South India, this complex is very very big. The long walkways between different buildings in the complex make fir quite the cardio workout before you are done. There is also an air of extremely tight security even after one has been too places that have existed for a lot longer. Cellphones, cameras, water bottles, coats and even books are banned from entry. The serpentine lines to get in were really long and it took me the better part of an hour to make it from car park to the ticket booth inside.

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There are eight different buildings at Akshardham. The ticket packages give you a lot of flexibility and let you see what you want to see and the people managing the complex give you realistic estimates of wait times and sight times. There is a main Mandir and an India Garden that capture Hindu architectural history for the curious and a motorized boat ride that offers an amusement park style tour thru the history of Indian science, literature, medicine and math. Each of these take up about an hour accounting for wait in lines etc.

I enjoyed the long walks thru the resplendent gardens that carried some amazing bronze sculptures. It is extremely difficult to find urban greenery in Indian cities but Delhi and the people behind Akshardham have done a great job of finding the space and maintaining it. The bronze sculptures are sculptures of Hindu gods and stories from Hindu mythology. Each sculpture is a Wikipedia-hunt in itself for the story behind it and the hours in the garden can go by with minimal effort.

Akshardham1

The part I enjoyed the most was the boat ride. There are two boats that take about 36 people each in seats of four. It is like any ride you have taken at an amusement park but a lot slower:). It seeks to and quite successfully does take you on a journey thru Indian history from the Rig Veda period to the time of British rule. The ride is an intricately set-up audio-visual arrangement and takes you thru the milestone moments and inventions in the rich and proud Indian history.

While I wish the security was a little less intense and intrusive and that cameras be allowed, Akshardham is a must-see for anyone with any curiosity about India and the history behind the grand Indian experiment. It fixes a lot of gaps in the way Indian history is taught in most CBSE schools by focusing in significantly more on periods pre-British and pre-Muslim invasion. It educated me especially on Indian science and scientists like Baudhayana and Susruta whose work was never explained very well to me in school. If you are in Delhi I highly recommend you stop by the grand Akshardham temple complex. You will like it a lot!

P.S: The trip to Akshardham was part of my trip to Delhi which was part of my sabbatical. For writings on all the other places I visited during my sabbatical please check out: http://no-sacred-cows.com/category/sabbatical/

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad, Travel.

I love running outdoors. I find it therapeutic and stress-busting. I know it is not the most potent and powerful form of weight control. I know there are a ton of things I could do instead including eating less to keep my Body Mass Index (BMI) at an acceptable level or build some muscle. Yet nothing gives me the short-term rush of running on sand or natural dirt or grass for 30-45 minutes. So I end up running a lot especially during stressful periods at work or in life.

I started running really late in my life. I bought a pair of shoes designed specifically for running only after I turned 26. I never ran regularly during my school or college days. There’s a million excuses I can give for this but the biggest one was the lack of a running culture in my Chennai social circles.

Color me extremely surprised then last week when I found out that the Wipro Chennai marathon was happening on Sunday, December 2nd and had attracted over 6000 participants. Here below is a post on the running and marathon cultures in Chennai and the dramatic change from a few years ago when the weather and carb-rich diets were convenient excuses to not run. The post includes quotes and actual audio from people involved in promoting running in Chennai and the marathon.

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I caught up with Karthik Padmanabhan (one of the main organizers of the marathon and Chennai Runners and the guy in blue shirt in photo below with another organizer Ronak) and some other key players at the Express Avenue mall on the evening before the marathon. The large spacious atrium in the ground floor of the mall was taken over by the marathon. Corporate sponsors, bib distributors for 6500+ registrants, help desks and publicists dotted the edges as curious onlookers and enthusiastic runners made their way around the space. This may seem impossible but every booth was busy at all times.I am grateful to those who made time to speak with me.

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Karthik was extremely generous with his time and introduced me to different runners who were also actively involved in organizing the event. My first conversation was with Bala. Bala was extremely passionate about running and running for a cause. He was also humble to a fault. Karthik told me about how Bala did 21 half marathons in 21 days last April and how he was also in the midst of running 12 in 12 days this month. Bala mentioned this like I’d talk about moving a table for my mom! Bala’s humility and the reasons behind his pushing himself to such limits were inspiring. Bala was running to raise awareness for social causes. In the past he has also run in memory of great runners whose lives were tragically cut short. Bala also speaks with passion and enthusiasm about running while also pooh-poohing any excuses about Chennai’s notorious weather. Bala is an original member of Chennai Runners and is a great mentor and inspiration for any one who wants to run regularly in Chennai. His experience plus passion make for a killer combo and I was ready to run a marathon up and down the stairs at the mall once I was done chatting with him.

Please do reach out to him for advice and mentorship.

The next person I spoke with was Ram Vishwanathan who was the founder of Chennai runners six years ago. Chennai Runners is the kind of group I wish I was a part of growing up. They are active inspirers who run regularly. Ram spoke to me about how active the group is and wanted to stress how they have serious runners in every part of Chennai. So wherever you are in the great city, you are likely to find a mentor or partner. Chennai runners have an active Google group and they can be reached easily here.

Having figured out by now that there are enough influencers and runners active in Chennai I set out to process the size and popularity of the event. There are over 3x as many participants in the Chennai marathon this year as in 2011 and about 8x as many as in 2010. Such quick growth obviously has some underlying reasons that the corporate world is trying to understand and leverage. Here below is a short two-minute conversation with a representative from one of the twenty plus sponsors of the event. She did not want her name to be used in my post but was very generous with her thoughts and on where she saw the marathon among the other marathons in the world and India.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/69928164″ params=”?” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”false” /]

My next conversation was with Krishna Kumar who had returned to Chennai from the US a few years ago. Like many desis he was someone who soaked in the marvels of the wonderful American outdoors while in the US. I wanted to hear from him on whether he was able to replicate his running joys in the US back home in Chennai. While I expected his response to be one of a once-joyous runner disgruntled by the pollution and heat, his responses were very much the opposite. Here was someone who had moved back, reintegrated successfully and enjoyed running regularly in Chennai.

Here below is my three-minute conversation with him for the perspective of an expat who returns back home and runs –

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/69928913″ params=”?” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”false” /]

Lastly I spoke with ‘Tiger’ Ramesh Ponnuswami. ‘Tiger’ was a native of Coimbatore who gave me great perspective on how the city has grown in the last fifteen years and how he was trying to get a running culture going there as well. He was speaking in glowing terms about the seismic changes in the infrastructure and nightlife of a once-sleepy city and about how it was a matter of time before the fitness and running craze also set in. He presides over the Kovai runners association and is encouraging any one who is ever in Coimbatore to run and let him know about it! I was also mildly intrigued by his nickname. He promised me it had nothing to do with Tiger woods’ post 2009 and everything to do with how Tiger played golf prior :).

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The passion, organization and runners on display made me very proud to be a native of Chennai. Chennai runners and the Wipro Chennai marathon are only going to get get bigger. They have great leaders, passionate runners and a large young population waiting to be led and inspired. So spread the word, tell your friends and start running. And if you are in Chennai just join Chennai Runners. You couldn’t ask for better role models! Just ask someone who was trying to run in the 90’s……

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad, Travel.

While in Mumbai I had the opportunity to attend my first stand-up comedy performances in India. Here below are five thoughts and memories from my 2+ hours at The Comedy Store in Mumbai.

1) The Comedy Store is a comedy club situated in a swanky mall in the Lower Parel neighborhood. It took me about an hour to get to it by Taxi from Colaba on a Saturday evening. I had tickets for the early show that started at 8 and made it with about 20 minutes to spare. The club is easy to spot once in the mall. You can reserve your seats online and the will-call window moves very quickly to help you get to the show easily once you are at the venue. Tickets went for about 11 USD per person. Once inside, there a cafe which serves finger foods and drinks. The cafe was very busy but efficient in fulfilling orders with about a five-minute turnaround time.

There is also a bar in the comedy store. However the day I chose to visit was one of Mumbai’s dry days which made for a mellow bar crowd that was getting its highs on Diet Pepsi!

2) The decor throughout the cafe and bar areas and the main performance hall is very reminiscent of comedy clubs I have been to in the U.S. There’s framed photos of famous performers and soft lighting. Once I had my food and water, I went to the main hall which has free seating. The hall is auditorium-style and no orders are taken during the performances. The acoustics are good but for some reason the songs played while there was no stand-up act on stage were blasted out really loud. The seating is uber-comfortable with leg-room the kinds of which is unheard of outside of business class on Virgin Air.

3) There’s three preconceived notions I went in to the stand-up acts with.

a) The acts wouldn’t start on time as this is India and all…
b) The acts would not be as uncensored and uncompromising what this being just one week after Bal Thackeray’s death and all….
c) The acts would include way too much Hindi what this being in Mumbai and all….

You will be glad to know I went 0 for 3 on my stereotyping.

4) The comedians for the day were Neville Shah, Kunal Rao and Tanmay Bhat. Each of these men had different styles in both choice of content and delivery. I enjoyed all 3 of them. Neville started off the show on time with a 20 minute blitzkrieg that skewered Bollywood, Mumbai and the unlucky front row-ers. Any fears I had that the acts would be censored and toned down were put to rest as soon as Neville went off on these sacred cows. Neville like many self-deprecating comedians has an interesting family background and went off on both sides of his family with gusto. Kunal is a retired chartered accountant and south Indian who went off on those very two things apart from giving a late-comer family the full shebang on punctuality and using one’s brains. Tanmay was the final act. And it was easy to see why. He is a big dude that oozes humor and sarcasm with every word while delivering laugh-a-second punchlines. Just like evryone else he was brutally uncensored and skewered people from every religion, race and gender.

5) I don’t want to play spoiler by revealing specific jokes or anything else about their acts but I want to reiterate that there was zero evidence of any censorship or restraint. This to me was the highlight of the night. To watch free speech in the manner of an unforgiving roast in Mumbai a week after the death of one of its most influential leaders was therapeutic and inspiring. I know this would not be possible in so many other places in the world. Thank you Comedy Store, Mumbai and India in that order!

Posted by & filed under cricket, Travel.

Fans of the England cricket team travel really well. They are collectively known as the Barmy army and were out in large numbers at the Mumbai test match versus India that I was at. They were all over the stadium and in all the city hotspots. They applauded good cricket, enjoyed the Mumbai experience and were gaga over the way the test match developed.

Here below is a three minute audio conversation that I had at the stadium with the most vociferous Barmy Army couple in my stand. I ask them about their background, their thoughts on cricket in India and their take on the test. It gave me very interesting perspective on visiting India for a test match and made me want to travel to test matches much more regularly.

Enjoy –

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/68881124″ iframe=”true” /]

Posted by & filed under cricket, Travel.

There are about 3000 seats at the Wankhede stadium which are fully exposed to the brutish Mumbai sun for much of an afternoon. Not even the thousands of English men and women who were in Mumbai on a cricket pilgrimage dared to occupy those seats thru the days of the Mumbai test. Outside of those seats, every spot was taken at five past 15:00 hours on the Sunday of the test. India trailed by 49 and had just lost their new #3 wonderboy Pujara. The resident god of hope and greatness was walking out to bat amidst a cacophony unique to an Indian cricket stadium. On a Mumbai afternoon, a riveting contest was evenly balanced and the local god was walking out for a likely final home test appearance.

Here below is a 40 second clip from really close-up of Sachin’s walk to the crease –

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYbDcQ0ihXQ?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

Forgive me for thinking at that very moment that I was part of a fairy tale. The prospect of anything but a Sachin classic and a close, nervy India win did not cross my mind. A Mumbai dream, here we go……

Yeah, right!

One classic Sachin straight drive aside, the rest of the test match was a tribute to the skill and character of the English team. History, sentiment and local knowledge were cruelly violated by the spin pair of Panesar and Swann. The crowd emptied out in meek and quiet silence thru the next 35 minutes just like the team they rooted for. A match hanging by the balance was now an English exhibition. And a series that Indian fans looked forward to almost as much for the final margin would now have to actually be played for and won.

It’s the Monday of the test now and I will carry with me memories of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar. Test cricket is just a touch easier if you have blue chippers and the English had more of them at Mumbai. It was a great triumph of character and preparation as three Indian spinners in very spin-friendly conditions were negated and dominated by the two batsmen who will end up being England’s greatest two ever.

Alastair Cook did the hard yards when fear of mystery balls on a mystery pitch could have sunk the team ship. It would be lazy to call him and his batting lazy or nonchalant. He is way more than that. At the age of 28 and with Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours to his credit, he is now in the peak of his career and en route to being England’s greatest ever. There’s a lot more runs to come from his blade at Kolkata and Nagpur. Whatever the opposite of Waterloo is, this tour may end up being that for him. Kevin Pietersen pooh-poohed those of us who dared to question his genius on the basis of two dismissals at Ahmedabad. Class is indeed permanent and Pietersen’s positive attitude and strokeplay was quite the contrast to what is expected of an Englishman on a turning track. Monty Panesar withstood constant scrutiny, ridicule and ribbing from Indian fans to fashion a special spell and win. He will not have many days like Sunday. Batsmen will be better prepared to deal with his unique skills but for one test match he was the nemesis of Indian batsmen. Most purveyors of spin do far worse in India.

I will also carry memories of a great test match. The Wankhede is not a great stadium to be in. It is understandably full of metal detectors and security personnel. It is also very devoid of quality food, clean chairs and a 2G signal. But the beauty of test match cricket is that the performance elevates everyone watching it. And for a little over three days, I was absorbed, entertained and immensely satisfied by the spectacle in front of me. Those who worry about test match cricket and its future in an ADD age need not worry. The product will survive and grow long beyond us.

I will carry memories of a large contingent of English fans. They travelled really well, applauded good cricket and rooted hard for their heroes. They were everywere at the Wankhede and wherever you went in Mumbai. It was quite the experience watching them plan, travel and enjoy test cricket.

I will carry memories of Sachin Tendulkar’s last homestand. And I will try to remind myself that as good as it is to be a sports fan, fairy tales seldom occur.

Yeah right! Like I’ll remember……

Posted by & filed under Travel.

Regular work and life entail a lot of routine and familiarity. This makes it harder for me to embrace and view other people’s perspectives and lives in this wonderful world of ours. Too often I am taking the same route to work, eating the same foods, repeating the same worlds and narrowing my comfort zone to a fine granularity.

Hence one of my goals on my sabbatical was to talk to as many different types of locals and tourists as possible. I wanted to soak up as many different opinions and perspectives as possible from the India that I experience on this trip. What goes thru the minds of those whose worlds are different from mine in every single way from clothing to food to shelter to goals? What can I learn and what can I empathize with? What can I appreciate and what makes others happy? What gives them hope and joy and what causes them the most angst?

In Jaipur, I spent some quality time with a cab driver by the name of Dalu Ram Saini. He was competent, polite to a fault and incredibly cheerful. He was also fiercely proud of his city and wanted me to tell all my friends that they should visit Jaipur. In my 3 minute audio interview below, I have tried to capture his spirit and my abysmal Hindi. Enjoy!

Interview – [soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/68565110″ iframe=”true” /]

Posted by & filed under Travel.

The ongoing Mumbai test match between India and England was a must-see for me on my sabbatical. Being in Mumbai over the next five days is going to help me kill several bucket list birds with one stone. I haven’t been to Mumbai in over a decade. That in itself was reason enough to warrant a stop. Also, I haven’t been to a cricket match at a ground not named the M A Chidambaram stadium in over 15 years. Also someone by the name of Sachin Tendulkar may have been playing his final test match in his hometown.

Here are some cricket-centric and not-so-cricket-centric thoughts at the end of an absorbing day 1 between India and England….

The Chatrapati Shivaji airport was the first of three or four really cool modern works of engineering I marveled at within minutes of landing. The domestic terminal was clean, organized and full of clear signage for food and transportation options. If I had to rant about something about the airport it would have to be at gunpoint and it would the enormous hoardings for some stupid Karan Johar show. Haven’t we seen enough of him already? How much more verbal masturbation of his friends in the industry are we supposed to be able to take? Anyways, the airport is awesome and I am glad I got to see it on a busy Friday morning.

My ride to the Wankhede took me on the Bandra-Worli Sea link. The bridge is imposing and stunning. The entire drive thru the bridge is full of gorgeous views and Mumbai sights and sounds. My cabbie told me that the bridge now shaves off a good half hour of a lot of drives in the city. It is a wonderful achievement of exceptional Indian engineering. I will not be surprised if it evolves into a massive tourist attraction in its own right like the bridges in San Francisco and New York City.

I got to the longish lines outside Wankhede close to start of play and hoped and prayed for a Sachin special on his home turf. However, it was not to be. Sachin was out clean bowled to the best delivery bowled all day for a measly 8 and a Friday crowd that chanted ‘Ganpati Bappa Moriyaaa‘ on Sachin’s entry, was to be disappointed. The rest of the dismissals were fairly tame on a pitch that I still don’t have a very good read on. Yes, some deliveries turned and bounced a bit too much for a first day pitch but Cheteshwar Pujara also played some gorgeous shots off the front foot and looked untroubled and unhurried all day.

Speaking of Che Pujara,

I really really did not want to root for Cheteshwar Pujara. He is a great story but rooting for the guy who took over Rahul Dravid’s spot in the test line up was equal to adultery for me. After all, if Pujara failed or was mediocre, it would only make my impression of Dravid even better and bigger. Kinda like how Ronald Reagan looks awesomer with each passing year because of the Bush II years. My life would be happier and my worship of Dravid would go better if Mr. Pujara came a cropper. So far I have had to eat some humble Mithai for my warped thinking. It was a privilege to watch his masterclass today. He seemed to be batting on a different pitch against different bowlers. He was fluent and composed all day and made a chanceless unbeaten hundred. While Ashwin made some handy runs towards the end of the day comforting everyone that the pitch isn’t quite the dustbowl predicted, Pujara’s innings will not be forgotten by me for a long time to come.

Here is an 1-minute video of him reaching his hundred and the ovation that followed – [youtube=http://youtu.be/Vnb36M3mcZs]

My two most hilarious moments of the day were at lunch and whenever Monty Panesar fielded in the deep just in front of where I sat. Lunch was hilarious because the Mumbai Cricket Association made it so. The vegetarian options in the portion of the stadium I was at were Domino’s ‘Pizza’, Samosa and bags of chips. Pizza is in quotes because just because something looks like a Pizza and is called a pizza does not mean it tastes like pizza. This melty concoction of crust, cheese, capsicum and corn was definitely not what constitutes pizza:). Monty Panesar for the uninitiated is a Sikh of Indian origin who plays for England. What I saw at the stadium today may be happening at every ground he plays in but it was a first for me. Fans were so amused by his name and ethnicty that a million ‘Full Monty’, ‘Half Monty’ and Chicken Tikka utterances were heard anytime and everytime Monty made some sort of noise. It was hilarious to me that the fans tried this all day and Monty did not react to it ever. It certainly doesn’t seem to have any effect on him.

I will be spending my evenings checking out the wonderful bustling city and visiting hot spots recommended by veteran Mumbaikars. But in the meantime, I am hoping to witness a truly special test match of cricket. After day one, the scene is set quite perfectly. Test matches are books with up to 15 chapters and the first three today were memorable and enjoyable and topsy-turvy. I cannot wait for play to start tomorrow. There’s many twists and turns left in this game and Mr. Tendulkar may still play a role…. But for one day, Pujara was god and Wankhede was WankheChe!

Posted by & filed under Travel.

Tucked away amidst a million national consulates and embassies in the verdant Chanakyapuri neighborhood of New Delhi, India is the National Rail Museum. For an entry fee of Rs. 20-50 (depending on your nationality) it is the tourist attraction with the highest return on investment. If you’re into trains and the history and engineering behind them, this place is an one-stop orgasm! Here below with pics is a summary of my fun-filled half day at the National Rail Museum, New Delhi.

The museum is a tribute to the over 150 year old rich history of trains in India. The bulk of the museum is the open tract of land that houses and exhibits engines, coaches and cabins from trains thru the years. It is colorful, easy-to-navigate and understand as each exhibit has a board with relevant history right next to it. The Rail museum is known to quite a few locals but is not quite as popular yet among tourists. This makes it a more peaceful, personal and fulfilling experience unlike most others in the city which involve intense crowds. Also, there’s literally no restriction on touching, climbing into and running around in the trains if you so desire. There is an adjoining building with miniature exhibits and pictures that prevents photography but everything outside of that is fair game to fully experience and enjoy.

I had a lot of fun at the museum and felt even more intrigued about trains than before. Trains are amazing creations of human ingenuity and labor and are primary instruments of connecting India and Indians. To see their history and to learn about the evolution of engines and the organizations that manage these trains was a stimulating and fulfilling experience. I will try to convey how good the experience was by using some pictures I shot and some words that came to mind during my walk thru the museum. I hope they pique your interest enough to make you visit the museum the next time you are in New Delhi.

This below is the bland walkway that you enter the museum on. It is devoid of color or even basic signage:). Just like some of Indian Railways’ trains today.

The museum starts off with some cool steam locomotives on display. The museum does a good job of convincing you that steam locomotives were to humanity once what the internet is to humanity now. There is also a fun primer on metre gauge, narrow gauge and broad gauge and the challenges associated with each. A lot of these were built-in the 19’th century by Indians in India. Their customers were usually people of royalty from various provinces of the time. The engineering behind these locomotives is easy to see and the engines have incredibly been preserved as-were.

This meter gauge locomotive above is the first one built in India and was built in Ajmer in 1895. Is is named the ‘F-734’ for reasons unknown to me.

This picture above is of the Prince of Wales saloon. The steam locomotive gives a good feel for engineering in 1876 while the saloon provides a great perspective on what opulence to a prince meant in that time frame. SPOILER ALERT: There were no outlets for laptops for the prince!

The train pasted above here is the Maharaja of Mysore’s saloon. It is the first train built to run on both meter gauge and broad gauge tracks. The engineering behind swapping out the wheels is interesting to think about. Especially because they did this stuff in 1899.

This engine above is the World’s oldest steam locomotive. It is a beautiful blue and is called ‘RAMGOTTY’. It is the highlight of the visit in how well it has been preserved.

Towards the end of the exhibits is this fun demo of how the engines get turned around once they reach their destination. A portion of the track swivels around and this is demonstrated very clearly at the museum. I have tried to capture this in the above two pictures.

Lastly there’s a very Indian souvenir shop where you can purchase cool models of trains and engines. There is also the section I mentioned earlier that has a detailed and beautiful breakdown of the evoluton of the various zonal railways that make up what the Indian Railways is, today. They didn’t allow cameras in there and the exhibits are a fun reminder of the history behind every thing from the various zones to the toilets on trains.

New Delhi is a fun, engaging and big city with a million things to do. It is very well connected by the metro and honest auto rickshaws. It’s easy to get lost in the routine of Mughal monuments. The Rail museum is a wonderful, inexpensive distraction. Check it out!

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad, Travel.

For the second leg of my sabbatical, I chose India. This wasn’t an easy choice. I have always wanted to spend time in Scandinavia and Australia much much more than I have wanted to visit New Delhi. But part of this sabbatical was to understand myself and like millions of Indians who left India for greener pastures, I constantly wonder about how Indian I really am? The color of my skin and my confused and convoluted accent are set in stone. No one who has seen Indians will doubt that I am from anywhere else. But here’s the thing – I barely know India. I am much more a Chennaite, Californian or even Internet-ian than I am an Indian.

I grew up in Chennai and Bangalore and left the country at a very influencable age. My India was five parts cricket, three parts hanging out with male friends and two parts studying for shit I hated. My India was two erudite cities in South India. My India was protected and shielded from the poverty, heat and dust that define India. My India was being uncomfortable in my own skin as I feared judgement and deviation from conformity in the intersecting neighborhoods of a smallish city. My India spoke Tanglish and made fun of Hindi. My India did not know how to hold a drink or a mature relationship. My India did not know Muslims. My India barely knew girls. My India did not know how to talk to girls. My India only served spicy food. My India skipped all the fun parts of school. My India was enabled by servants and chauffeurs. My India saw the birth of Indi-pop and coffee shops. My India was very different from most people’s India. My India was small, incomplete and personal.

It has now been close to a dozen years since I bid a tearful goodbye to the city of Chennai and to my India. Most trips to the country since then have been short (<=2 weeks) and did not take me past my neighboring Zip codes. So I decided this summer that Norway and Copenhagen can wait. I really just wanted to experience everyone's India. I wanted to visit the cities that most people associate India with. I wanted to experience public transport in all its forms. I wanted to visit the countryside and experience an Indian village. I wanted to watch test match cricket from the stands. I wanted to eat street food and talk to some locals about politics. I wanted to experience an India that was some one else's India.

Over the next few weeks I will share with you my experiences in the India of New Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Bangalore. I will write about monuments and places that everyone assumes I'd have seen and I will speak with farmers and taxi drivers about their lives. I will vent about the hardships of watching a cricket match live. I will have at least one embarrassing Hindi faux pas and will share the story of at least one digestive malfunction due to overindulgence of the greatest cuisine in the world.

Pretty soon, this sabbatical will be over and I will be driving on the right side of the road again. I will be drinking Starbucks and driving at 70 miles an hour. I will have reverted to my American accent and I will come across someone who will ask me where I am from. In my confused, convoluted accent I will repeat – India. And this time I will be saying so with conviction that I am more Indian than I was a few months earlier….

This is the restaurant sign that welcomed me at the New Delhi airport! Couldn’t be a better start!

Posted by & filed under Media.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR12Z8f1Dh8?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

I would love to see what a Google search of the term ‘kolaveri’returned prior to November 16, 2011.

On November 16, 2011 an innocuous YouTube promo of a Tanglish song “Why This Kolaveri Di’ affected the world like no Indian song ever did or ever will. Extraordinarily simple lyrics plus an even simpler tune and the production values of a home video together should not give rise to a hit. A regional actor and part-time singer mouthing the words to a meaningless song with all the fuzz and feel of a bathroom drunk should not be viewed enthusiastically by over 50 million people. It makes zero sense. There have been 500 or more Tanglish songs that have been catchier. None of them raised a ruckus outside rickshaw stands and pot-luck dinners involving people from Tamil Nadu.

Anyone who tells you they know why this song succeeded and resonated worldwide, is lying. Even Gangnam style has its hot chicks and crazy dance moves. Kolaveri has 4 spoilt children of privilege of the Tamil film industry pretending to be busy. In an alternate universe, Kolaveri is the anthem of drunks relegated to midnight footage on Tamil cable channels. Or it is a symbol of everything that is wrong in an industry and culture where who you know and were born to are much more inportant than what you can do. Somehow someway it made its way to the mainstream and way way beyond!

This is not a post that is going to try to explain the success of the song. I can’t….

This is also not a blog post that recreates the fairly fresh deluge of memories and events alongside the worldwide phenomenon…..This is just a rambling of thoughts from a bewildered fan of the song and all things Tanglish, who is still in shock and awe thinking about the amazing success this song had.

I remember being a Tamil speaking teenager in Bangalore in the 90’s. It wasn’t a lot of fun. Curd rice was far too easy a nickname and the culture and movies that defined my language to my friends were way less cooler than Indipop and Western music and Bollywood. Channel [v] had just rolled around and AR Rahman was big but not yet big enough to make a dent in the perception of Tamil pop-culture outside Tamil Nadu. There was an interview of young dance sensation Prabhu Deva on Star Movies that was more notorious for his horrendous english than his amazing dancing skills. For a very long time it was pretty far-fetched and preposterous to think that a song in Tamil would ever penetrate the pop-culture universe of anyone else. This is not to call the Tamil songs or culture inferior to others or to seek other people’s approval. It is just to point out the absence of any potential cross cultural appeal in a language and movie industry designed for the region and by the region.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrtO_Kizdmo?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

So when Kolaveri conquered decades old “South is South and North is North” stereotype while also becoming a nation’s biggest pop-culture phenomenon in ages, I was and am still shocked and surprised. I still don’t get it. It’s been a year. Ganan songs do not make it to CNN America (video above). This just happened. It’s a good time to remember and remind ourselves that what we witnessed in those few weeks in November 2011 were unique, unprecedented and unexplainable. There will never quite be another Kolaveri Di…..

Happy Birthday Kolaveri! Hopefully I understand you better as you get older.