Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Goa - Us at Sunset
Enjoying the Goan beach at sunset


Goa borders the Arabian Sea and is India's smallest state. Once a Portuguese colony, you can still sense the cultural and architectural influence. The region is also about one-quarter Christian, so there are about just as many churches to find as Hindu temples. However, our time in Goa was not about taking in culture nor about visiting churches and temples. Relaxation on the beach was what we made the trip to Goa for. So, this post will be void of narrative and just show a couple of photos of decompressing in Goa. Enjoy!

Goa - Taj Exotica
View from our room at Taj Exotica to the beach

Goa - Hammock in the Morning
Anjali enjoyed the hammock while catching up on phone calls and sipping morning tea

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meet the Family, Episode Three: A Day of Channa

"Where are you from?" is a difficult question for me to answer. My answer now is "Bangalore, India," to which I am just as attached as I am to Berkeley, California or Newport News, Virginia, or just about anywhere else. I was born in California, lived in several states, but I suppose I was raised in South Texas. Even within Texas as a boy, I lived in several places. For Anjali, answering that question is easy. She is from Amritsar, and we were fortunate to be able to visit just after Diwali.

Golden Temple Mail

Heading to NOIDA
Bye Delhi

To get to Amritsar, we took an overnight train out of Delhi. This was the best way to make the trip, because even if we flew we would have had to subtract airport time from our day in Amritsar. Already exhausted from things we had done in the previous days, we slept through the entire ride without any trouble, arriving refreshed. Anjali's dad picked us up at the station, and within fifteen minutes we were at his home.

Amritsar Visit: Overnight Train to Delhi
The Golden Temple Mail train

Morning Arrival in Amritsar
Good morning, Amritsar

Breakfast and Lassi

Our first stop was to enjoy breakfast, some delicious channa puri. A bowl of greasy, spiced potatoes came out and we poured from that right into the beans. My taste buds were having a great time, but my heart was sweating just thinking about the arterial clogging.

Breakfast in Amritsar
My first Punjabi breakfast

After breakfast, Anjali's dad took me to a roadside spot to have me try lassi. Friends at work had been telling me that the best lassi is found in this area of India because of the high quality milk. The preparation has a dollop of butter on top of some heavy cream. I am not the biggest fan of yogurt, so the drink was something I am happy to say I tried, drank the entire serving and would not likely order one again.

Lassi in Amritsar
Check out the butter on top of each cup of lassi

Harmandir Sahib

Amritsar Visit: Harmandir Sahib
Harmandir Sahib: The Golden Temple

The city of Amritsar gets its name from Amrit Sar, the body of water surrounding the Golden Temple. Amrita is what the gods drink, a nectar which grants them immortality. Sarovar is a body of water surrounding a temple. Translated, Amritsar means The Pool of the Nectar of Immortality. The Golden Temple, properly known as Harmandir Sahib, is the central temple, or gurudwara, for Sikhs. Each year, more people visit Harmandir Sahib than Taj Mahal! Though, I suspect a fair percentage of visitors to the Golden Temple are Sikh pilgrims, not all just tourists.

Amritsar Visit: Harmandir Sahib
A Sikh bathes in the sarovar

Amritsar Visit: Harmandir Sahib
Anjali and her dad before the Golden Temple

Jallianwala Bagh

A short stroll from the Golden Temple, we visited the site of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. In 1919, soldiers fired on unarmed civilians, which had assembled to protest high taxation. The orders came from Reginald Dyer, who coldly reported later, "I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself." News of the incident, hundreds killed and more than one thousand wounded, spread throughout India and served as a catalyst to end British rule.

Kesar Da Dhaba

Amritsar Visit: Kesar Da Dhaba
Kesar Da Dhaba has been serving Punjabi food since 1916

Anjali figured since I tried and enjoyed sarson ka saag te makki ki roti (mustard greens with corn flat bread), I had become Punjabi. Qualifications started pouring in on what it would take for me to be a Punjabi munda:

  • Must drink Amritsar lassi
  • Have lunch at Kesar Da Dhaba
  • Try galub jamon or fried fish from Lawrence Road
  • Have kulcha channa
  • Visit Southall in England

Note: I drank lassi. Lunch was delicious at Kesar Da Dhaba. I did eat something from Lawrence Road, but it was aam papar called "dead man's skin". Kulcha channa was homemade and was the last food I ate in Amritsar. Rajeev has certified me as a Punjabi munda, a Southall visit revoked as a necessity. Though, watch out Sanjeev and Monisha, we just might have to make a visit in early February!

So, we were at Muni Lal Moti Lal Jaini, Anjali's dad's wholesale shop, and Sushil dropped by, inviting us to lunch. Now it was Anjali, me and two Sushil's (her dad's name too), on our way to Kesar Da Dhaba. From the shop, we walked down a narrow gali or two and we were there. Kesar Da Dhaba was great! The lacha paratha was dripping with ghee and the masala channa was spiced enough for me to enjoy it.

Amritsar Visit: Kesar Da Dhaba
Delicious Punjabi food from Kesar Da Dhaba

After thanking Sushil for lunch, I peeked into the kitchen. I was beckoned when they saw me taking a photo. Every time I took a picture, I was called farther into the kitchen to take another. I wonder how long I would have been there until I was asked to help cook and clean?

Amritsar Visit: Kesar Da Dhaba
Kesar Da Dhaba's kitchen

Border Show

Let's see, a full morning of walking about coupled with a huge lunch made for a great excuse for a siesta. So, Anjali's dad and I chatted for a bit one-on-one while Anjali slept and after a bit, everyone was snoozing. Now it was time to head to the Pakistan border for the daily ceremony, called Lowering of the Flags. The military border guards from each country put on quite a show. It starts with music, people dancing and cheering. The Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistani Rangers "battle": who has the flashiest turban, highest kick, loudest marching stomp, etc. All this is performed in mirrored fashion and then the border gates are opened. The flags of the neighboring countries are then lowered in unison.

Neha's father works for the Indian government's Ministry of Transportation, and he arranged a treat for us. We were to be escorted by a government vehicle and given special seating close to the border gates. When the jeep arrived, I said, "I want to ride in that!" After getting some nod/permission, I was skipping off toward the vehicle. It was only after I had jumped in that I realized Anjali was planning to ride with me and not in the trailing car with her dad. This was not a bummer moment, but I was just too excited to even notice and be a gentlemen, helping her in or even letting her get in first. When traffic would get in our way, the siren would wail and we would cut through obstacles with ease. This was so much fun!

Amritsar Visit: Pakistan Border
Our ride to the Pakistan border town of Wagah

Amritsar Visit: Pakistan Border
Anjali with a border guard

Amritsar Visit: Pakistan Border
Some kids race to the border gate with Indian flags

No matter what I did, I could not get a photo of the Pakistani and Indian flags being lowered to come out. And, with the sun behind them, none of my shots of the Pakistanis in their grandstands came out either. You'll just have to take my word for it, this was an amazing event. Photos would not have done it justice regardless.

Border: India and Pakistan
Here you can see soldiers from both countries with open gates

Dead Man's Skin

The sun had set by the time we returned to Amritsar from the border. It was time to try some chaat from Lawrence Road. Sudev said that I had to try aam papar, which is dried mango paste, dried to the point where it has turned black or gray with the same appearance as dried skin. This is when it is called dead man's skin, and sheets of it are cut into strips, rolled in spices and eaten. I actually liked it and purchased some which I brought back to Bangalore for people at the office.

Amritsar Visit: Dead Man's Skin
Dead man's skin in the display case of a roadside cart

Channa, Channa, Channa

My quest to become fully Punjabi required kulcha channa. Kulcha channa is a bread, much like a hamburger bun, topped with spiced beans. This would be the third and final helping of channa for the day: started with channa puri for breakfast, lunch was lacha paratha with masala channa, now an evening course of kulcha channa. Mein re bhet kharab ho gaya! Well, more proper to say bhet bhar gaya, since I was full but everything was still in working order. It had to be, we still had some bhindi sabut to eat on the train ride. Some people stopped by to say hello, but our conversations were cut short in order for us to catch the train. A round of good byes and we were leaving Amritsar, headed back to Delhi.

Amritsar Visit: Channa Kulcha
Rajeev offers some onion pakoda to Anjali

Friday, November 6, 2009

Meet the Family, Episode Two: Tea and Tikkas

We decided to have a small get-together, time for Anjali's family to meet me and me them. We decided to do this the day after Diwali, not too late and not too early; and not a meal so people could mill about, allowing for more fluid conversations. The Claridges out the outskirts of Delhi, in Surajkund, was a perfect hosting spot. Staying there, we also ended up not having to travel, which was nice.

Meeting Dad

The first person to meet was Anjali's dad. Like a deer in headlights, I froze and completely forgot to respectfully reach down to touch his feet. I had read up on this, asked people at work about it, practiced it and was ready to go. Overriding my intentions, all the years of Western programming kicked in and I extended my arm for a firm handshake. I felt a bit self-conscious about it, but Anjali put me at ease, telling me that I would get another opportunity, after receiving a tikka.

Future Father-In-Law
Me and Anjali's dad


After a while, two chairs were placed away from the grouping of tables. Anjali and I were seated and a few people stepped over to give me a tikka. As far as I know, this a smudge of saffron placed on my forehead. At the same time, I am given a gift. Everyone was extremely generous. I think many people had a fun time with it, since it was a whole new experience for me.

Touching Feet
Here I am going down to touch Anjali's dad's feet

Family Tea in Delhi - Tikka
Having a laugh because I don't want so many sweets

Family Tea in Delhi
So many sweets!

Family Tea in Delhi
Huge smiles at the end of the tikka

Monday Means More Tikka

After the tikka, it was time to eat a bite, then see people off. It was nice to talk some more with people. Conversations could be about business and working in India, like I had with Shekar, or about travel and full of laughs, like I had with JK Uncle. No one was closed up; everyone I approached was happy to chat with me, welcoming me to the family. After clearing out, a small group of us met for a drink, then it was time to get some rest. The next day was going to mean more tikkas, in different parts of Delhi.

That next morning, we headed over to Alka and Sudev's home. Anjali tried some pancakes made by Neha and then it was time for more tikkas. This time, women would give their brothers or male cousins a tikka. We visited different homes in Delhi and at each place sampled delicious food. I do not know everywhere we went, but I do remember NOIDA being one spot we drove out to.

Parakh giving Vitesh a tikka

Alka finding the largest sweet on the tray to give me

Anjali receives a gift

Avika wanted to give tikkas as well

Off to Amritsar

Toward the end of the day, it was time to catch the train to Amritsar. This would be an exciting leg of our journey for many reasons. First, we would be spending the day with Anjali's dad, a great chance for us to get to know each other a bit. Second, we would be visiting Harmandir Sahib, or the Golden Temple, which is the main gurudwara for Sikhs worldwide. At the end of the day, we would witness the flags of Pakistan and India being lowered in unison at the border. And to top it all off, we would be taking two overnight train rides. You'll have to read about these events in Meet the Family, Episode Three.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Meet the Family, Episode One: Diwali in Faridabad

What is Diwali?

In Sanskrit, it translates to "row of lamps", and it is a festival which lasts for a number of days, usually in October (depending on a lunar calendar). It is called the Festival of Lights, and to the Hindus the lights are put out to guide and welcome Rama back to town from his victory over the Demon of Lanka. To other groups it means something completely different: Jains, Sikhs and others have their own reasons, but almost all religious groups use the date to celebrate a victory of good over evil. Lamps, or small pots with oil and a wick, and/or candles are arranged and lit.

My understanding of Diwali was that was when you meet up with as much family as can fit in a house, perform a group prayer, eat way too much food and pop firecrackers. For you in the States, imagine the Holiday Season, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July happening simultaneously, in one night.

Diwali Puja
Preparing for the prayer

Meeting Family

The first night of Diwali 2009, was indeed special for me. I was invited by Anjali to meet family and to enjoy the festivities and traditions associated with Diwali. I was warned by Sudev (Anjali's brother-in-law) to pace myself on eating, as we would basically have the equivalence of a complete meal after each puja, and we were going to have three that evening! The first food given at the end of each puja is a sweet, or barfi, which is milk and sugar cooked down until it is solid. At the final puja, I accepted my offered block of concentrated sweetness, then witnessed Anjali break off a tiny corner of one. My immediate exclamation of, "You can do that?", gave us a bit of a laugh.

Diwali in Faridabad
Anjali and me sitting on the front step

You can see that I wore a kurta pajama for the occasion. Note the lights. Let me tell you, it is difficult to light candles with a candle while trying not to set yourself ablaze in a kurta with a scarf!

Lighting Diwali Candles
Thinking "Don't catch on fire. Don't catch on fire."


After each puja, it was time to grab a plate and enjoy some food.

Diwali in Faridabad - Aloo Dum

And, of course, more sweets.

Diwali in Faridabad

Where is the DMZ?

I mentioned there would be firecrackers. I failed to mention that it would sound like a war was going on outside!

Diwali Warzone
You can see lights and smoke from fireworks

Taash, or Card Game

So, now what do we do? We have full stomachs and all the candles and lamps are lit, pujas are finished. Ah, let's play cards! A coworker told me the name of the card game was Tin Patti. I asked, "Three Husbands?" Korak then said, "No, not pati, patti." We finally got it figured out once he informed me on the number of t's: pati means husband, patti means cards. You could call it three card stud, as you are dealt three cards and there are no community cards, nor a draw. Several rounds of betting ensue and the people left in show their hands. I won the first hand and lost just about everything else past that point. Anjali joined the game after an hour or so, and the losses were now doubled. At least the stakes were low. It was fun to play and we had a great time.

Playing Tin Patti
A group of card players

Taash: Tin Patti
The pots were never very big

Engagement Get-Together / Afternoon Tea

It was technically the next day when we headed back to the hotel. We needed some rest to prepare for Meet the Family, Episode Two.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Rajyostava

Karnataka, the state in India where I am living, celebrates turning fifty-three today. Today is Karnataka Rajyostava, loosely meaning "celebrating the kingdom of Karnataka." Festivals will occur throughout the month, but it was November 1, 1956, when Karnataka became a state. Well, technically it was the State of Mysore until the name changed in 1973.

Happy birthday, Karnataka!