Reviews

I am not a fashion blogger

The Swedish fast fashion giant H&M finally opened its doors to Chennai yesterday after a year and a half of having a presence in India, and a few months after it opened in Mumbai. If you’re from here, you’d that this is astonishingly quick. We’re still waiting for Forever21 to start shop, and for Zara to stop selling fur lined jackets during Chennai summers. I had no plans of going on opening day for the same reason I avoid zoos during school holidays, but after swiping through the barrage of posts on my instagram that morning, it became increasingly difficult to resist, and I caved in at around 4 pm. My sister, who has as many opinions as she has clothes, came with me.

Out, Damned Spot!

The store covers two floors, with one floor (ground) stocking women’s clothes and accessories, and the one on top for men’s and kids. We entered through the ground floor, and the first set of clothes we saw were from their Autumn Winter ’16 collection. Think sateen bomber jackets with patches on, short, sparkly lurex skirts and jumpsuits, sheer blouses and other clothes that are categorized under party/festive. I personally categorize them as ‘clothes I’m too old for’. My sister picked up a beautiful, slinky emerald dress from their conscious collection but closer inspection revealed a medium sized, murky stain. There was only one more piece in her size (small), and unfortunately, even that had a stain. My sister loved the dress so much that she tried scratching at the stain in the hope that it would go away, but it didn’t. Later, when we explained the situation at the billing counter, the sales assistant had a go at scratching it as well, and then put it away. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. In hindsight, we could’ve just asked for a discount.

Such Fashion Much Wow

What really surprised me about the H&M store was the crowd there.We knew we’d encounter groups of squealy girls (who were squealing about finding clothes in extra small sizes), but we had no idea that everyone there would be so…well dressed. Like I don’t think I’ve ever encountered so many well dressed people from Chennai per square foot until that day, and it didn’t help that my sister and I were in old kurtas and pants because well, it was H&M. Who dresses up for going to a shop that’s renowned for selling cheap, trendy clothing?

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Aren’t they the prettiest earrings?

Clothes in, Clothes out

Between my sister and myself, we got a dress, a pair of pants, three tops, and a pair of earrings, all from their conscious collection . It’s also worth noting that they have their conscious bins in the store. If you bring in a bag of old clothing (brand no bar), they will recycle it for you and give you a 15% discount on your bill. So if you’ve a lot of stuff that you want to get rid of, I’d recommend this approach! I’d also recommend you read about the dangers of the fast fashion industry, minimalism, and the growing tribe of women who are adopting the capsule wardrobe approach. I’m personally a huge fan of a particular sustainable shopping method called ‘steal from your sister’. It really works.

A Small Sizing Problem

The store stocks an impressive collection of basic dresses, tops and tees in their trademark you-can-see-my-bra-in-this-right jersey and nasty-but-will-last-a-long-time polyester blend materials, and clothes from their sporty/nautical LOGG brand. There was also a nice denim section, a compact plus-size section, and a lingerie department which we couldn’t see much of because the massive queue for the few trial rooms had invariably spilled over there. We did see some cute swimsuits, though. I hope they plan to restock them more often, and that it wasn’t an opening day thing where they never restock and the stray bottoms that don’t sell just wilt on the hangers for years to come. The store has a decent selection of work wear, active wear and maternity clothes as well, but it must be said that the smaller sizes are fewer in number (we feel you, squealy girls), although I’m not sure if it was because the morning crowds snapped them all up.

Now, do they have the full collection from their catalogue? No. If you look at the website, you’ll know that only 40% is in store. Like, their shoe selection was bleak – apart from a few basic pumps, the only other option was shearling booties, which make zero sense unless you’re a trendy sherpa taking a break in Chennai. Still, it’s not entirely hopeless, and knowing this city’s luck with fashion, that’s as good a start as any.

Origin One October 2016 Box – Review!

I caved into the Origin One October 2016 Stationery Subscription Box (The Diwali edition, it’s called?) sometime last month, and I have to say, I’m more than just pleased with it!

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Before I go into what’s in the box, a confession: I’m a huge stationery junkie -My desk is littered with pens in colours that I’ll never need, along with pencils, coloured pencils, spare pens lest the ones I have run out of ink, and refills for the spares. As if that’s not bad enough, I’ve piles and piles of beautiful, expensive notebooks that I’ve left unused because they’re too pretty to use, and more piles of regular notebooks that I purchase in lieu of using up my pretty ones. Basically, a good part of my paycheck evaporates every time I so much as think about paper goods.

Anyway, so I was stalking around instagram a few weeks ago when a very well placed advertisement for the Origin One store showed up on my feed. Naturally, I wasn’t going to ignore photos of gorgeous, well designed stationery, and a few clicks later, I found myself ordering their stationery ‘subscription’ box. The idea of a stationery subscription box was something I found exciting because if you’re anything like me, you don’t purchase stationery on a need basis (and probably have more paper related paraphernalia than you have storage space), which is why it’s nice to be surprised with a variety of different products.

 

I placed the order for the Big October 2016 box (which was Rs.2,000/-, they also have a small version for Rs. 1,000/-) on the 24th of September and it was home on the 29th (they start shipping on the 25th of the previous month, I’m told). It was packaged in this wonderfully old-style fashion, with a colourful watercolour wrapping paper that was held with string, a detail that I loved – it was like opening a present (that you gave yourself but whatever)!

Here’s a picture.

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11/10 for Packaging

 

The contents were just as impressive. More pictures!

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How cute, right? Also: HOW CRAZY GOOD ARE MY PHOTOSHOP SKYLLZ RIGHT NOW?!!

All the products are really well designed and functional, although the only product I actually ‘used’ was the little sweet that they’d sent. At least I hope it was a sweet (either that, or I had some really tasty glue). The checklist notepad is genius, the notebook is small, but I loved how the pages were designed (they’re dotted on one side and ruled on the other), the coasters – 4 in total – are sturdy despite being made of paper and I can’t wait to print photos for the frame. The envelopes and cards are also exceedingly pretty for gifting and stuff, but knowing me and my alpam tendencies, they’re going to stay unused in that package for a long time.

Speaking of alpam tendencies, I’ve also saved the watercolour paper and the strings lest an occasion comes tomorrow where I’ve to wrap a present (although the truth is that I’m so alpam that I’ll never use it and might end up keeping it until it becomes mouldy or something and I’m forced to throw it away).

Am I happy with this box? Absolutely. Would I order another box? Hm, I wouldn’t want a repeat of the stuff that I already got, so provided that doesn’t happen, most definitely! Given the variety of products that they have (they have planner stickers, even!) it shouldn’t happen, but if it does, then eh, I’ll stick with Hindustan Trading Centre, thanks.

Are you a stationery nut too? Where do you buy stuff? TELL ME EVERYTHING.

{Blah blah this wasn’t a paid review blah blah honest opinion blah blah gtg bank account crying bye}

How To Book A Place On AirBnB

A few days ago, I’d read about a terrible experience that a dear old friend (and idol), Naren, had with AirBnB. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar, AirBnB is an awesome service that lets you rent Apartments and Private Rooms (or if you don’t care much for privacy, shared rooms) in pretty much any city in the world that you want to holiday in.

I have used AirBnB twice so far – for my trips to Barcelona last year and Paris a few weeks ago, and I have to say, the experience is way superior to the one you would get in a hotel, it is a great deal more convenient than any other living arrangement and most importantly, it’s considerably cheaper than getting a hotel room of an equivalent standard. At the outset AirBnB sounds like awesome doughnut unicorn land, but the truth is that there is a great degree of uncertainty, not to mention the fact that you are at the mercy of your “host”. My experiences with Airbnb have been pleasant because I have massive trust issues. I follow a certain set of rules while booking anything on Airbnb, and these rules have worked quite well for me, so I’m sharing them here and I hope they work for you too. So without further ado, here’s how to book a place on airbnb –

Rule 1: Read the reviews!

I cannot stress on this enough, especially if it’s your first time booking a space on the website. Also keep in mind that a place with a four star rating after 200 reviews is a safer bet than a place with a 5 star rating and 2 reviews. I’m sure the 5 star rating place would be great, but for your first stay you want something tried and tested, with special emphasis on the tried. And tested. I read at least 25 reviews before I zero in on a place. Yes. I know.

Rule 2: Verify your account!

Now, the hosts aren’t the only ones who get reviewed, the users/guests do, too. So it’s only natural that well rated hosts are more likely to give their houses to well rated guests, which can be a problem when it’s your first time figuring out a place to stay on AirBnB. The idea is to be the least shady as possible so ensure that you verify your account with your phone number and email.

Rule 3: Research the area

Where is the apartment located, exactly? What kind of neighbourhood is it in? Is it accessible by Taxi? How close/far away is it from public transport? There are great apartments in shady areas and shady apartments in great areas, so don’t be swayed by the photos of the apartment alone, look up the area that your housing is located in.

Rule 4: Know the apartment and its rules

I almost booked a fifth floor apartment which was in a building without an elevator. Imagine lugging around your baggage for five floors! High rise apartments are cheaper sometimes, but make sure to check if there’s an elevator in the apartment. Alternatively, you can pack light (a skill I’ve never managed to learn because really there’s no such thing as too many pairs of blue jeans)

Rule 5: If it’s too good to be true…

…it probably is. Pass.

Rule 6: Be detailed and polite in your email to the host.

For most spaces, you’ll have to send a message to your host explaining the reason why you want to book their place. Suffice to say “Hai Plz give room” isn’t going to cut it. Introduce yourself, where you’re from, who you’re travelling with to their city, how many days you’re going to be there, and how great it would be if they’d let you have their place for your stay. You don’t need to write an essay, but providing necessary details about your trip (especially about the people you’re travelling with) will make you seem like a more reliable guest.

Rule 7: Other Reviewers

This isn’t an essential issue, but I am conscious about the experiences of people of colour (hello fellow brown people!) in the apartment. The world isn’t the most perfect place, and it is better for the sake of your vacation to be sure that your host is one who doesn’t discriminate.

Rule 8: Respect the property

Congratulations! You’ve got a room using AirBnB. To ensure that future bookings go even smoother, you need a good review, and in order for that to happen, you should respect the other person’s space. This means tidying up the bed, cleaning the kitchenette counter, taking the garbage out and generally not leaving it like your own room back home.
I love AirBnB and ever since I discovered the service last year, I’ve not even considered a hotel for travels. It’s affordable, it’s efficient and gives your holiday a kind of authenticity that staying in a hotel never will.
Have you tried AirBnB? What have your experiences been like so far?
{FYI, This is not a paid post. That I wish it was is a whole different matter altogether.}

Five Podcasts I Love

So I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, to the point where I wrote about them for The Hindu THread. As an addendum, I just thought that I’d list down five podcasts I’ve been listening to recently, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

    
     

  • TED Radio Hour – The TED Radio hour ties together TED talks which have similar context and puts them together. I wasn’t very drawn to this podcast at first because it just felt too science-y (not a word but should be) for me, but now, I’m a total convert. The TED radio hour is super informative without being boring. Notable episode: The Unknown Brain 
   

  

  • Modern Love Podcast: The Modern Love Podcast, which is by The New York Times is essentially essays read out loud, either by the author themselves, or actors. The essays are usually a little old, in the sense that they’ve been published a few years before, but that’s actually to facilitate the “Where are they now?” section of the podcast which follows the reading. Some of the stories are really emotional, so if you’re very sensitive, or having imbalanced PMS hormones, prepare for tears. Notable episode: Maddy might just work after all, by Jennifer Finney Boylan
  
  • The Simblified Podcast: Probably the only desi podcast I listen to (although I really should listen to more), Simblified has super-bloggers Chuck Gopal & Narendra Shenoy break down complex concepts and relevant issues which we (ok, I) usually tend to skip in the papers. Lots of fun, incredibly relevant, and might even make you a better person. You’ve been warned. Notable episode: Of Stock Market & Lollipops
  
Would also greatly appreciate podcast recommendations, so fire away! 

Farmer Falgu Goes To The Market – A Review

Some time ago, the very wonderful Chitra Sounder posed a question on twitter – would anyone be interested in reviewing a Children’s Book, she asked. I volunteered to review, because I like books, and more importantly, I much prefer children’s writing to their grown-up counterparts or any other genre for that matter. There are two reasons why – the first being that the writing, I’ve found, is consistently better, and the second, is that I’m still denial about my own age. Adulthood really doesn’t appeal to me.

ANYWAY, Farmer Falgu Goes To The Market is a lovely little book for the little one you know, or have. I would peg the appropriate age group for this book to be the 5-8 category (although I’ve actually no idea with respect to which age group the publishers have targeted), because I personally felt that each age group would get something different out of the book. The book’s about Farmer Falgu who is heading to the local market with all his lovely fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs, but encounters a difficulties on the way (including an adorable duck family and some hungry goats), that ultimately destroy his bounty. Instead of worrying about how everything’s been ruined, Falgu proceeds to borrow a few pans and starts selling omelettes instead!

The book is very appealing, visually, and the crayon style illustrations are unique and make the whole story pop, which is quite an achievement considering how the emphasis throughout the book is on sounds (the eggs cracked, the pan sizzled, the oink oinks and the maa-maas), so all credit to Kanika Nair!

I believe that it’s important that kids read, for lack of a better word, indigenous writing when they’re in that 5-8 age group because it plays an important role in helping them understand what’s really around them, like Farmer Falgu and his bullock cart, as opposed to quaint English concepts like Golliwogs and Treacle Pudding (also known as the two great disappointments of my childhood because I was never able to find either of them where I lived despite searching in many places and harassing even more people).

I think it must also be said that Indian Children’s Writing, today, is of such better quality when pitted against Indian Fiction Writing in general. When I was younger, and when my parents realized that I liked books, they bought me what they found in the stores then – my mom wasn’t really a reader, but she ensured that I got the best. I grew up on the Little Golden Books before I graduated to Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene before eventually falling into that black hole called Young Adult (I lost many years to the Princess Diaries). My sister, though, went the Dr.Seuss – Roald Dahl route. Although she followed me into the YA Black Hole of No Return, Varsha read a lot more Indian Children’s Books than I ever did. Karadi Tales, and Tulika were just getting mainstream. True to form, Karadi Tales have been doing an excellent job all these years, and this book is no exception.

Over all, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m twenty five (I’ll be twenty six next year), so if you know any little ones who you want to introduce to good books, do pick up Farmer Falgu Goes To The Market!

Thoughts on Kochadaiyaan

1. When I was in VIII standard, which feels like yesterday but is actually a little more than a decade ago, the only options for entertainment on television were Cartoon Network and Splash Channel. While I can recall the shows on Cartoon Network (which could be because I still watch it occasionally), I cannot recall any of the shows on Splash, other than two of their home productions, The Pandavas and Sinbad. Both Pandavas and Sinbad were 3D cartoons, which were novel at that time, yes, but also terrible. The movements were jerky, almost epileptic, and the emotions on their faces were binary – they either looked like  needed to take a dump but couldn’t find a toilet or they looked stoned. This, though, was in 2003. Animation was still new to “Our Industry” (Somewhat related factoid – Finding Nemo released in 2003). When I complained about the sub-par animation of Kochadaiyaan on Twitter, I received a couple of replies to the tune of “Tamil Cinema-kku idhu nannave irundhudhu“. Why do we say that? It is not like the creators didn’t have a budget (it was close to Endhiran’s I think). It is not like the creators have never been exposed to quality animation. Why is it that they can take advantage of the fact that it is Tamil Cinema? And why do we let them? Why can’t Tamil Cinema, and more importantly, Tamil audience, have “Hollywood Quality” movies?

2. I’m going to rant about the animation again – The rendering is so focused on Rajnikanth that it seemed to ignore the other characters completely – Deepika Padukone looked less like Deepika and more like Gareth Bale, and her choreography seemed like it was borrowed from The Sims.

3. The story, and screenwriting though, are very good. It’s gripping, it’s interesting, the dialogue is snappy. The reincarnation of actor Nagesh was slighta too much for me, but it worked in it’s own way I suppose. 
4. That you had to have a Rajnikanth – 3 just to help the audience come to the conclusion that Rajnikanth-2 had avenged Rajnikanth -1, I just couldn’t able to. 
5. What really bums me out is that, if only this film had been taken realistically, with a good visual effects team, that would’ve been something new, something bold and a step like none other. Surya’s landmark flop, 7 Am Arivu is probably best proof of this – everyone loved the first fifteen minutes and wanted to leave the theatre for what followed. Historical fantasy/mythology (whether or not it involved any relatives of NT Rama Rao) has had a history of doing well in the past, is always going to sell, and to think of Thalaivar in a Game of Thrones style film – goosebumps. 

How I Wish You Met Your Mother

The TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother ended last week, and I’ll admit that I was in that majority which hated, hated, HATED the season finale. Is this what I spent close to 6 years of my life waiting for?

I started watching HIMYM right after I finished watching reruns of all 10 seasons of Friends from start to end which was sometime around 2007. Looking back, I ought have just watched all ten seasons of Friends again. Let me put down what I hated about the finale. It’s full of spoilers, but in my opinion, the entire finale episode was a spoiler.

1. WTF BARNEY AND ROBIN:
Two people, both wary of commitment, but completely in love with each other, getting married and living happily ever after. After watching season after season of Barney and Robin pining for each other, being perfect together and screwing it up and then getting back together again and screwing it up and getting back together in the most perfect way, after watching AN ENTIRE FREAKIN’ SEASON dedicated exclusively to their wedding and how their love is true and forever, they’re made to divorce in an exceptionally lame way.

2. WTF MOTHERKILLERS
Let’s write a show on based around a character. Let’s never show that character for 8 years. Let’s make the audience crazy by driving the show into becoming a steaming pile of garbage, knowing that they will stick on *just* for that character. Let’s introduce her, let’s make the viewers fall completely in love with her, while making them think about how perfect she is for the guy who’s been narrating the story of how he met her for 8 years, and then, LET’S KILL HER.

Replace Chucky with Carter Bays. 

3. WTF TED’S KIDS
You guys are like the worst kids ever, and should be grounded, and made to listen to the story of how your dad met your mother all over again.

4. WTF MARSHALL AND LILY
Kidding. Those two managed to stay adorable.

Anyway, that ends this rant. There are a lot of other fans who thought that the ending “made sense” and was “realistic” and that irrespective of how the show ended, there would always be criticism. Uh, no. If it had ended the manner it had been building itself up to, there was only one way it could’ve finished. No twists, no gimmicks, and no blue fucking french horns.

UPDATE:
Apparently the video has been taken off due to copyright violations. The alternate ending goes like this – There’s the wedding scene where Ted talks about how much he loves Tracy and how he’ll love her forever, and it cuts to the Farhampton station where they have their first conversation, cuts back to Ted saying “And that kids, is how I met your mother” and the credits roll. No plot twists, just a mushy, grin inducing happy ending. Call it cliched, but why is it so wrong to go the predictable route? Not everything has to have a twist, or an explosion or death or divorce.I mean, this was a show some of us took life lessons from! I can’t believe the writers thought it would be okay for Ted to be in love/obsessed with Robin THE WHOLE FREAKIN’ TIME he was with Tracy and that Tracy herself was just some consolation prize. It’s not okay for someone to be romantically obsessed with an another person for years together. If this is how the writers wanted the show to end, I hope it was because they had written a sequel series titled “How I Met My Psychiatrist”.

Bhima: The Lone Warrior

Bhima: The Lone Warrior by MT Vasudevan, is the Mahabharata entirely from Bhima’s perspective. The popular Mahabharata retellings have always etched a sort of stereotype when it came to the Pandavas. Yudhishtra the Righteous. Bhima the Strong. Arjuna the Archer. Nakula and Sahadeva the…ambiguous. Bhima: The Lone Warrior explores Bhima’s feelings and perspectives on the events that unfolded in the Mahabharata.

From the first chapter, when Bhima arrives as a child to Hastinapura, it is made obvious to the reader that the fates have never been kind to the second Pandava brother. Dronacharya ignores his talent in archery, Yudhistra dismisses his counsel, Draupadi manipulates his raw love for her and most painfully, the entire Pandava camp celebrates the death of his beloved warrior son, Ghatotkacha.

It is difficult to talk about the flaws in this book, for it is a translation. MT’s famed prose has not been preserved during the process of translation, and as a result, you don’t feel strongly for the characters. There is no anger when Dronacharya picks Arjuna to be the most talented among his students, no righteous outrage when Yudhistra blindly refuses to listen to his counsel, no sympathy when Draupadi carelessly drops the precious Saugandhika flowers that Bhima risks his life to obtain, just to fulfill her whims.

One of the few living memories I have of my paternal grandfather, is of sitting on his lap listening to him narrate the story of Gajendra Moksham to me. One day, Gajendra, the wise king of the elephants, came to the lake to bathe, and fell prey to a hungry crocodile who managed to trap Gajendra’s foot with his enormous mouth. Gajendra cried for help, but to no avail.
“Help me!” he cried to the fish. “Help me from this giant crocodile!”
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. “Ask the frogs!” they told him, and swam away.
“Help me!” he cried to the frogs. “Help me from this giant crocodile!”
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. “Ask the birds!” they told him, and hopped to safety.
“Help me!” he cried to the birds. “Help me from this giant crocodile!”
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. “Forgive us, Gajendra, but we can’t help you.” they told him, and flew away.
Gajendra was now alone. The crocodile tightened his grip on his leg by the minute. He began trumpeting loudly.
“Do not waste your energy, foolish elephant” said the crocodile. “No one can save you now. Didn’t you see the way those cowards ran away from me?”
Gajendra trumpeted even louder.
“Elephant! I have had enough of your trumpeting. I am going to be your death” said the crocodile, and bit harder into Gajendra.
Stranded, and unable to bear the pain anymore, Gajendra called out to The Lord.
“Narayana!” he cried. “Narayana! Help me! Help from this giant crocodile!”
No sooner had Gajendra spoken the words, the clouds thundered, lightning blazed and the heavens parted, making way for Lord Narayana to come to Gajendra’s aid. With a single swipe of his finger, he released the Sudharshana Chakra which killed the giant crocodile, and saved Gajendra.
This Hindu fable is supposed to illustrate Lord Vishnu’s loyalty and benevolence towards his devotees, and is narrated to to tell people that the Lord will not let you down if you call upon him. I can never forget this story – not because of the message it carries, but because of the way my grandfather used to narrate it. I cannot narrate it like him. He made me believe in Gajendra’s helplessness, Gajendra’s pain, and Gajendra’s faith. Truth be told, he could’ve made me believe that the crocodile was a poor, hungry reptile who was deprived by the nasty loud elephant and the masochist god Vishnu if he wanted to.

Today, the more I read, the more I realize that fables and epics are never about the story as much as they are about the story teller. MT Vasudevan’s Bhima: The Lone Warrior, has his story, but it does not have him.

Buy it here

If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai – A Review, Among Other Things

Travel writing as a genre had never really interested me. I am fairly certain that the numerous English Comprehension tests I wrote in school that featured extraordinarily tiresome pieces on places around the world are to blame. After I passed out, I’d read very little travel writing and whatever I’d read, I found to be too introspective and unnecessarily geographical for my taste, if not boring. Through the years, I managed to maintain the same distance one does with dull, but well meaning uncles with it: far, but somewhat friendly. So I suppose it was slightly out of character that I picked up Srinath Perur’s “If It’s Monday, It Must Be Madurai” – a collection of ten travel essays, based wholly on conducted/group tours the author has taken. 
It was one of the essays (“Memorial For The Victims Of Repression”), which was published as an excerpt in the Open Magazine that initially piqued my interest in the book. The essay featured his participating in a conducted sex tour to Uzbekistan. Perur, as the self-appointed fly on the wall among a group of repressed Indian men, is a joy to read. What I particularly loved in that essay, and as I would later find out, the entire book, was that he does not pass judgment on any of his travel companions – He merely observes, but his observations bear the kind of extreme sincerity that toes on sarcasm, and delightfully so. 
I laughed with this book in ways I have not laughed with a book in a very long time. There are some paragraphs in his essay on a conducted tour of Rajasthan, “Desert Knowledge, Camel College” that are so hilarious that I read them a couple more times for extra giggles. “The Grace of God”, an essay in which he describes his experience travelling across Tamil Nadu on a temple tour, made me reminisce about my own family’s seemingly never ending temple trips on which I was a very reluctant attendee. In “Saare Jahaan Se Accha”, he takes on Europe with his Desi tour group. Perur makes many earnest (and thoroughly amusing) observations about his group’s uniquely Indian characteristics. However, one stood out for me – that of the the foresight of some of the members who had packed snacks and food from home. The reason it did, was because it brought back a rather stark memory from a trip my family made to Hong Kong in 2010. 
Excuse me while I indulge in a slightly long digression. 
My father’s rationale while picking out a place to go on vacation has always been very simple. Is a Saravana Bhavan there? If yes, then we could go. If no, then we shall go to the next closest city with Saravana Bhavan. This was primarily because Saravana Bhavan, according to my father, gave us the freedom to do away with hectic conducted tours that forced you to wake up at 6 AM on vacation. We could pick what we wanted to see in the city, when we wanted to see it and the moment any of us felt hungry, we could run into the reliable arms of our old friend, Saravana Bhavan. For some inexplicable reason, he had picked Saravana Bhavan deprived Hong Kong that year, and after much debate, we opted for what we thought was the perfect compromise: a “flexi-tour”, where we would join existing conducted tours as extras depending on how we wanted our itinerary to be. 
One of the days involved going to Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s famous water themed amusement park. Two tame rides, one ridiculous roller coaster and a slimy reptile exhibit later, it was lunch time, which, according to our programme, was “At Park”. As we trawled Ocean Park to find a place to eat, we found out that it was the kind of place that thought vegetarian food was fishy. Literally.
(We would also find out upon coming home that there was a pseudo Indian restaurant in another corner of the park, but unfortunately, it had evaded us). 
An hour of aimless wandering in the sultry sun took a toll on our hunger, and us – My sister and I wanted to just eat Ice Cream for lunch. My mother, who had previously suggested that we buy bread and cheese at a convenience store (a suggestion we had ignored because let’s face it we were too cool for that) wouldn’t have that, and started whining about how no one took her advice and as a result, here we were, paying the price for our coolness by being hungry in this strange country with no vegetables. My father wanted to sit down for a while, and that scared us, because he’s a diabetic and extreme sugar level fluctuations aren’t the most pleasant things to handle in a foreign country. Ten minutes later, by what could only be termed as divine coincidence, we found a place to sit next to an Indian family who were part of the tour group we had travelled with to Ocean Park. They smiled at us in recognition, and we managed a weak one in response. “Lunch?” was his next question, and my mother summed it up for us.
“Vegetarian”
The man clucked his tongue in empathy – “Us also. Which is why my wife and I always bring Theplas when we travel abroad”, and proceeded to fish out a fat aluminium foil wrapped parcel from his bag. Some slightly uncomfortable silence later, which was primarily due to my family’s staring at theplas like Dickens Orphans, the nice man gave us the foil packet, which contained around a dozen theplas that were promptly wolfed down. “You must come prepared when you travel abroad.” Uncle said wisely, once we were done.  “We went to Europe last year. One small bottle water only 3 Euros. 150 rupees! Can you imagine food? If it we hadn’t taken Haldirams and Theplas, then I don’t know” 
After thanking him profusely for his kindness and adding his 13 year old daughter on Facebook, we wrapped our half day tour of Ocean Park, and three days later, were back at Chennai. The first thing my mother did when we came back home was locate a Thepla guy. We are, however, yet to make that trip to Europe.   
Coming back to the book – Perur writes about taking a trip to the North East in “According to Their Own Genius”. Reading the essay made me feel quite sad. It seemed I was more familiar with the places and culture discussed in the essay about Europe than I was about places in my own country! “Real India”, “Santa Claus Aa Rahe Hai” and “The Same Water Everywhere” were good to read, but “Foreign Culture” seemed a bit like a filler arrangement– something that he wrote because he wanted a nice round number of essays in his book. Incidentally, Foreign Culture might just be the only essay among the ten where it seems the author actually had a holiday, so you can’t help but feel happy for him and his toddy induced stupor.
My absolute favourite essay in the book, was “The Taste Of Sugar”. Perur undertakes a Wari, the traditional walking pilgrimage to Pandarpur. It is not often that you come across a piece of writing which balances being insightful and being side-splittingly funny with as much grace as this essay.

In all, I cannot recommend If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai enough. Read it for the places he’s travelled to, but more importantly, read it for the people he’s travelled with.  
Buy it here.

Belated thoughts on 7 am Arivu

It’s way too late for a review, blame it on the exams, but I finally did see the movie yesterday. This isn’t a review, more like random disjointed thoughts, which, if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, would know is my specialty. 
1. I’ll be honest with you guys. I really like watching movies with good looking actors in it. You know, theres like the big screen, then there’s this gorgeous face that smiles at you (ok, so it’s the camera but a girl can wish). Sometimes I overlook glitches or logical fallacies in the movie just because the actors look nice. Yes, I am shallow.Which is why it’s so appalling that even these completely gorgeous leads (Surya is super hot, and Shruti Haasan, like whoa) couldn’t distract you from the movie’s plot line. 
2. It’s a brave attempt, no two thoughts about that – trying to feed genetic engineering to an audience that whole heartedly accepts Premgi to be an IIT-ian or Tamanna to be Theni ponnu. But Genetic engineering, Pallava history, Tamil pride, Tamils in Sri Lanka AND biological warfare? 
3. The first 20 minutes are great – Surya is shirtless most of the time, so. 
4. Harris Jayaraj’s music is really annoying the crap out of me these days. There’s Oh ringa ringa which sounds exactly like that Damak song from Aadhavan which sounds like Yaethi Yaethi from Vaaranam Aayiram which sounds like Pala Pala from Ayan and so on and so forth and finally leads to Oh mama mama from his debut movie Minnale. Another super recycled tune is that sad Ponamma song which sounds exactly like Anjala from Vaaranam Aayiram. I mean, his professional integrity with respect to not recycling anybody else’s tunes but his own is very commendable, but it’s really about time he came up with a new set of tunes to recycle because this is just extremely tiresome. 
5. Operation Red is hilarious. Especially the Indian guys dubbing for the Chinese. I am not sure if this is a valid comparison but the Indian guy speaking English with wannabe Chinese accent was like really really bad Gobi Manchurian. I wish Murugadoss had just let them speak their language and provided subtitles (a la Gautham Menon in Vettaiyaadu Villayaadu) or even dubbed over (like in the scene were Johnny Nguyen speaks to his teacher in China) because this was super contrived. 
6. Johnny Tri Nguyen as Dong Lee is nice looking and has performed well. Only wished he had opposed to his character’s name. I mean, the possibilities for Dong Lee jokes are endless. 
7. The graphics and visual effects are awful. It’s not Dasavatharam awful, but it could have been so much better considering the star cast and the director. 
8. The preachiness of this movie really gets you after the first few times. I mean, I get that Murugadoss is trying to douse the wannabe “I am talk English so I am madarn gais” subculture but after a point you just want to slap your forehead and go “Yenna Koduma Saravanan Idhu!” to the person sitting next to you. Which I suggest you don’t try unless you know the person sitting next to you. 
9. Finally, should you watch this movie if you haven’t already? I say, watch it, but on DVD.