An Email About Plants On Mars

Weekday nights, apart from startling Californian flora and fauna out of their wits with the chaos and noise in the home, also means that the old father is busy. A note about the pater’s emailing habits. He settles down with a serious look on his face, a glass of warm water by his side, and corresponds with his trader in the Indian Stock Exchange. From 10 p.m to well past midnight, he is the paragon of efficiency. He painstakingly types out instructions, his tongue peeking out with concentration, leaning forward in his chair, his browser tabs opened to Gmail & Economic Times. His mind composes the shortest possible sentence before he starts typing, since he has to spend some time finding the right alphabets on the keyboard. Once a teacher, always a teacher, and he insists on using the right punctuation: commas, spaces, periods and semi-colons. Sometimes, he hits tabs for the extra space, and that lands up sending the email instead of moving the cursor, and then he starts over. The wonderful lady on the other side turns an indulgent eye on the septuagenarian’s emails, and sends him trade notifications and acknowledgements to the correct email.

Friday nights are different. The Indian Stock Market is closed, schools and offices in the USA are closed on Saturday. So the couch is cluttered with cushions, throws and comforters from the bedrooms, and the old television settles down to air a movie or television show down to the audience. Friday nights at the home always contain a general air of excitement. One would think that through the week, the children work 16 hours a day, with sparse meals and little fun, the way they whoop at the Friday evening fun. Entertainment choices are always a bit tricky given the age groups the television has to cater to at once. The son and daughter want different things. Throw the grandparents into the mix and it becomes a telling lesson in democracy. Sometimes, the choices made by popular votes turn out to be so bad that the voting audience clamors for a change midway through and the process begins again.One does not need to follow #Brexit and #Bremain for democratic ulcers.

One night we settled on The Martian. The budding toddler astronomer in our family agreed that he liked to go to Mars one day as a Space Racer, and helpfully showed us a rocket lift-off. (Space Racers is an animated television series. The main characters—Eagle, Hawk, Robyn, Starling and Raven—are cadets at the Stardust Bay Space Academy. The cadets spend each episode traveling through outer space) The old pater shelved his urgent emailing needs and settled in to watch. The rocket made a spectacular landing on the grandfather-tummy-airfield, and the audience quietened down to watch the movie.

Every time I watch a movie, I am amazed how clipped and to the point people speak. No rambling on the way we do, no unnecessary smiles. Maybe if we edited our speech thus, we would be as impressive. Meaningful glances that seal the decision of landing, curt nods that signal victory,  measured smiles that indicate tension. Waah Waah!

For those of you who have not watched The Martian, it involves an expedition to Mars going awry and people having to take off from Mars earlier than planned, thus clipping their mission short. One of the crew, Matt Damon, is left behind on Mars, and the story revolves around what he does on Mars instead of twiddling his thumbs and waiting for a slow, painful death.

Communication channels are broken, Mars looks unforgiving. Matt Damon is very sad, wondering what to do, when the pater piped up,  “If I was there, I would send an email to NASA and go to bed. “

A few scenes on, Matt Damon is growing potatoes on Mars. I know.


“What do you think happened to those organic vegetables that we planted ma? “ asked the father showing off rare horticultural curiosity.

The garden looks ready for a visit by the gardener every few months. That sturdy son of the soil comes over, sets the place to rights in an hour, and leaves after a tooth-ful smile. Last time in preparation for the gardener, the father and husband had picked up from Costco, some oddly shaped packets that looked like seed bombs to be dropped into the ground. Lo and behold, we were told, we should soon be playing host to some luscious, organic vegetables.

Anyway, it had been a few weeks since the planting of the seeds, and though the summer flowers were thriving, there did not seem to be much happening on the vegetable front. I looked forlorn: We seem incapable of growing potatoes on Earth, imagine doing it on Mars?

The toddler piped up and said he knew how to grow vegetables on Mars, since he had seen a program in which the Space Racers grew them on Mars. If I am stranded on Mars with these two, one can grow food, and the other can email NASA. It was a comforting thought to head to bed with.

The Full Moon & Half Sun

The past week-end  made me think of our Seattle-Vancouver vacation again. We trooped into the house after making a hash of things at the Annual Arts Fair in the sun. We looked like the grass in California with the signs on them saying “Brown is the new Green!” Parched, in other words. The son, approaching the color of a roasted salmon, put his hat down and said, “There is a half moon. There is a full moon. Why is there no half sun? Always full sun!”

Half Moon and Half Sun
Half Moon and Half Sun

I could not have expressed it myself better, and thought about our sentiments during the vacation.

As far as experiences go, the previous vacation was marvelous. We had many firsts. Almost missing a flight by arriving at the wrong airport in time notwithstanding.

The sun rose like it was being called to bake cookies in the open grass at 5:30 a.m., and long after the cookies were baked, the fish dried to make karivaadu (dried fish fries) and the vattals (some sun-dried lentils) dried, it blazed on. Around 10:00 p.m. it would reluctantly start to set, assuring us that it will be available at 5 a.m. the next day.

All this wonderful Sun meant that we were harder-put-than-ever to pass up any part of the day for resting or otherwise missing out on the fun. We went traipsing from waterfalls to rivers and bays with gusto. At 10 p.m. we took a short breather before heading out to night-time activities such as fireworks and taking in the lovely images of the Seattle skyline by night.

I have to also make a honorary mention of the fact that we were almost thrown out of a coffee shop. The Son has a loud-ish sort of voice. The kind of voice that make apples leap out of their skin. When excited, bananas peel themselves too. He was excited when we stopped at one of Seattle’s famous coffee shops for a refresher.

He had been spending time with my friends’ sons: two adventurous lads of 7 who looked like demi-Gods to his 4-year old self. When they leapt, he tried to leap too even if it it looked like a dull thump of a jump to retrieve his pride. The boys were having a blast in the car. They laughed at their own wit and the son was beaming trying to join in on everything. We were trying to keep things classy.
“Guys! No Fart jokes please.”
“Let’s try some other things to talk about. Poop is not cool.”
“Yuck! Guys! You know – let’s move it back to the classy Fart jokes again.”

When we tumbled into the Coffee shop, the boys were singing songs.

The son had learned a line or two from these wonderful boys-of-7 (He had to keep saying their age, like you call someone Dr Doofenshmirtz). They had taken him in to their circle without asking a question. He beamed at being included and used that wonderful voice of his to belt out the Lego movie song, “Everything is awesome. Like over-priced coffee.” The daughter can show a remarkable sense of propriety when she can boss over the little fellow and she clamped her hand around his bass tones chiding him for singing about coffee. “They won’t give us coffee then!” she said to him, and he replied quite logically, that he wanted ice-cream and not coffee.

All in all, it was a wonderful treat to hang out with friends, even if it got us nearly thrown out of a coffee shop, in Seattle.

We then popped into Vancouver and finished up with bicycle rides along Stanley Park, rope bridges, gondola rides and what not.


I must say the long days were lovely and though the husband and I on occasion looked like drooping dogs who could be mistaken for carpets, there were no such problems for the children. They were truly indefatigable. At the end of a long day, they would perk up again at the mention of ice-cream or a swim.

It is wonderful how Vancouver made a thing about rope bridges and we swerved and swayed with the best of them. The children were thrilled when shown nature’s model and we spent a few minutes crouching to see this marvel at 96 F before heading back indoors.

nature's inspiration
nature’s inspiration

In 5 days, we had thoroughly exhausted and enjoyed ourselves. We headed back hot and happy. The half-sun would have been good, but the half-sun is what those poor folks get in the Winter I suppose.

The Climax – Part 3

I had left folks off on a cliff hanger in the last post(The Lure of Fernweh & Veg..) We had arrived, with ample time left to eat a hearty evening snack, at the airport from which to fly towards Seattle. We were told by the crew, that forgot how to smile, that we had come to the wrong airport. Our flight, was to leave not from Oakland airport, but from San Jose at the same time, said one of the crew and the pair of them at the desk scowled.

I never knew what people meant when they said they were struck dumb. I now know.

On hot days, inside the brain, it feels like ice cream is melting and spilling over into the Broca’s area commonly known as the left frontal lobe.
Weather Forecast in Brain: Snow avalanche

The Broca’s area is the part of the brain that controls speech and having melted ice-cream over it renders cohesive speech delivery impossible. All that is manifest on the face is an advanced level of ogling, noisy gulping and impressive eyes opened in wide disbelief. Some people can then say, “Eh?”, but most like me, just continue with the ogling, g-ping and eye-strengthening exercises.

About a minute later, I found my voice. “What? I mean how? How could Alaskan Air send the flight notifications for Oakland then?”

The husband, was having a pretty tough time reigning in his Broca’s area too, but he coerced his left frontal lobe into speech. “I set up the alerting. I mean, we are flying back from Seattle to Oakland, so I must’ve gotten confused. The flights from San Jose and Oakland are at the same time remember?” he said.

“Well, the airport is pretty empty, so the flights must be quite empty too, who not ask them if they can put us on the flight from here?” I asked simply. It was a reasonable request I thought, but the flight crew taking in our plight did not seem to think so.

“We cannot do that. Call the reservations number. There is a 1-800 number on the website.” she said petulantly, like we were badly behaved, very naughty children, making mischief for her by arriving at the wrong airport. I could have told her that playing games with her apparently absent sense of humor was not exactly my idea of a vacation. But something about her face and mine, made the husband step in. Using his omniscient diplomacy, he held my hand. He had sensed the loosening of my left frontal lobe and he knew, it would be quick in making up lost time. His hand held back that sharp rebuke hovering near the tongue. He then asked her, politely, if there was anything at all that could be done, and she said “No.” (I mean there wasn’t even the perfunctory ‘sorry’ that most crew members throw in without meaning it.)

The husband tried yet again, “If there is a change fee or something, I can pay it here. “
“No. Please call 1-800 line Sir.”
“You cannot do anything?”
There was no denying it. Alaskan Air had missed a golden customer service opportunity. For, we are easily appeasable folks and would have gladly taken any help they could have given us.

We had flown Southwest Airlines before and though, this was a first when it came to airport bloomers, there have been many occasions when we have arrived early and had been delighted to find that Southwest could accommodate us on an earlier flight, or on a later flight if the security lines were horrendous, and we would have a mad rush getting to the gate on time. Every time, their proactive customer service was exemplary and better yet, unceremonious: It was handled by the crew checking or printing out your boarding pass.

Why then was this so difficult? Maybe, that is why Southwest was exemplary, because it was out of the ordinary.

But, of course, life is in the uncertainties and given that there was no help forthcoming from the airline staff, the husband called the 1-800 line and was listening to some music on their hold line. A thought struck me as I checked my watch: there were another 35 minutes in which to make it to San Jose if we caught a cab quick enough from here. The drive time at current traffic rates showed 40 minutes.

Time for a climax nourishncherish household! Time for a climax.

Say what you will, during moments like this, some people, like the flight crew above make you want to throw your hands up in despair; while some others make you want to congratulate their attitude and spirit. It just goes to prove that attitude is everything. Intelligence, rank, position and everything else seems secondary. The taxi driver arrived and within moments had the situ. surmised.

Here was a man who was determined, and sorry for us. He caught the high occupancy lane and concentrated rigorously enough to get us to the San Jose gate at 6:10 p.m. The flight was at 6:55 p.m. San Jose airport was empty too. We tumbled through security, raced past the terminals and ran into the aircraft. Then, we stood around choosing convenient spots in a half filled aircraft, and taking deep breaths, before giving ourselves congratulatory high-fives. The children were marvelous throughout the adventure and we made it. Just about.

Before switching off my phone for take-off, I checked Facebook. The results of the Vegetable Quiz were out. It turned out to be Cauliflower Paneer and Vegetable Biriyani with this helpful photograph to tide us over.

vegetable pulao
vegetable biryani with cauliflower pulao

We are not angels. Neither are we yogis. I found myself irascible. We had not had time to buy food, we had barely time to catch the flight. This photograph was too much.

Weather Bulletin in Tummy: Strong thunder storm.

I weakly waited for water, while my stomach rumbled loudly and frequently. The flight crew handed me 36 ml to sprinkle into the thunderstorm.

“If we had stopped at their house on the way, we could have had that excellent biriyani and paneer!”, said the husband and I moaned.

Weather Bulletin in Tummy: Hailstones & mild rain
The tiny packets of airline honey roasted peanuts landed like hailstones and more water rained down.

We bought a cheese platter from the crew, and waited. In our hungry minds, the fruit & cheese platter grew in dimensions. There were water melons jostling with grapes, and blueberries were complaining about the lack of space. The oranges tried to mediate the fracas, but got hit by the cantaloupes. The cheese just tried to get in wherever it could. The platter came, and well….see for yourselves:


By the time we landed in Seattle, the hunger pangs had quietened down somewhat, apparently given up on the idea of anything substantial.

That is why our hosts at Seattle saw us demolish the food laid out on the table like that. I always enjoy my friends’ hospitality, and the meal was doubly enjoyable given the circumstances. There was only munching for the first 10 minutes. Then, we sighed contentedly and gave them the lowdown of our journey there and they were suitably impressed.

The after dinner fruit platter showed us what fruit platters should look like and we retired happily to start our short vacation in Seattle & Vancouver.

The Lure of (Fernweh & Vegetable Quizzes)

In my last post, I set up the mood and setting for what it feels like prior to starting off on a vacation. We are smitten by Fernweh every now and then.

I participate in the enjoyable task of selecting a vacationing spot, and then graciously withdraw from the actual booking. The days leading up to the vacation, I spend drooling on the side trying to determine spots of interest, planning our days there and so on. As the vacation nears, I am all in, plunging my oars into the waters, packing, repacking and running around till the last minute. In short, like this: Tea please!

The husband, in the meanwhile, after my gracious bowing out, makes a pleasurable study of options available for our vacation. I am grateful that all the research is now online. I cannot imagine how a paper trail of booking a vacation would grate at my nerves. Starting with the ticket booking, he will find everything that is in the databases of all travel sites and airlines. He will have, at the tip of his hands, enough irrelevant information to fill a miniature book.

He knows better than to regale his process with me, for I have picked up a tip or two from my mother’s technique of shrieking with agony. When he started the last trip, the filtered down version of 62 pages worth of travel information was:

Flight Departures:
Oakland to Seattle at 6:55 p.m.
Available Airlines: Alaskan, South West

San Jose to Seattle at 6:55 p.m.
Available Airlines: Alaskan, South West

San Francisco to Seattle at 6:25 p.m.
Available Airlines: Alaskan, South West

Home to San Jose: 25 minutes
Home to Oakland: 30 minutes in the opposite direction
Home to San Francisco: 50 minutes
San Jose to Oakland : 45 minutes (You need some apparently useless information given too!)
Oakland to San Francisco (this is where you use S-with-A)

Return tickets:
Seattle to San Jose at 5:05 p.m.
Available Airlines: Alaskan, South West
Seattle to Oakland at 3:05 p.m.
Available Airlines: Alaskan, South West

He did try to add another destination & airline to the mix, but I employed S-with-A and vetoed the idea.


With me so far? The day of the trip dawned, and all day long, flight notifications buzzed reminding us of our upcoming trip with Alaskan Airlines from Oakland to Seattle at 6:55 p.m. (I set up notifications so we will be absolutely sure we will get there on time, said the husband looking very proud of himself.)

Flight notification: Flight is on time.

In between all this, there was Facebook to check during the day and any intervening minutes we may have had at our disposal, we dithered at this spot on the web. One friend of ours, having done his share of vegetable cutting for the day’s meal, took it upon himself to post pictures of his labors on Facebook.


Flight notification: You may now check in.

On the carnival grounds of Facebook, however, the picture of the vegetables was garnering interest. People poured in with their compliments on a job well done, and wondered what his wife must have done to deserve as able a helper as him. With vegetables like that, it was expressed, that any dish could be a success. His innocuous picture had turned into a sort of an online quiz as to what the dish was. I did wonder how a person so intent on cutting to specifications, did so without finding out so much as the dish name, towards which his labors were contributing. Maybe, that is the bane of all of us who contribute to projects without fully comprehending the greatness it can help unleash, I thought to myself philosophically. (There were no doubts, this was heading towards a great dish)

Flight notification: It maybe a good idea to leave.

We piled into the taxi and left in what was termed a comfortable span of time. The taxi ride inched us closer to the airport and the online quiz inched closer too. The latest hint was that paneer was involved. The answers made the stomach rumble when people, somewhat insensitively, bunged in Chinese Noodles and Vegetable Biriyani. Our own fare that afternoon had been slim pickings for I had gone in for the left-over technique, so as to leave an empty fridge while we were away.

We reached with the bags, ruts and tots at Oakland airport. After bidding our taxi good-bye we entered an almost empty airport and washed up in front of the grumpiest crew on duty. Maybe, they too were hungry, I thought to myself charitably. It was after all, inching towards the evening coffee time.

Flight Notification: You should now pack up and leave, or things could get sticky.

Ha! We are already at the airport – take that Flight Notification! I thought grimly. It is rare that we are in positions of ample time to kill, and I was thinking of hitting a good eatery once past the security check gates. All that face booking and quizzing and vegetable-guessing had me jotted down firmly in the ‘hungry’ category.

Imagine our shock then, when the crew that did not know how to smile, said our flight left, not from Oakland, but from San Jose at 6:55 p.m.

I never knew what people meant when they said they were struck dumb. I now know.

To be continued….

The Mushrooming of Fashionistas

T’was the evening before our return to the connected world. We were to leave beautiful, bucolic, Bala with its bubbling brooks and baying buddies, to catch a ferry to Ireland the next morning and the brother’s family was to return to London. The refreshing walks and hikes had resulted in much sharing of life’s wisdom. As the niece said, the toddlers now know they must not stamp on the black balls on the trails for that is sheep poop.


There was great excitement in the house.  We were getting ready to go to a fancy dinner. What I had seen of Bala was wonderful, but did not look like the whipping hot scene of the fashionista and the twitterati. The old farmer we passed on the road seemed nice enough and waved at us from his tractor, but I was having a hard time imagining him as the charging center of Bala’s social scene in his earthly tweeds and hat. Which suited us perfectly.

Allow me to digress here for a bit. The husband cannot for the life of him squash his neck into a tie. I would not put it past him to crinkle a freshly pressed shirt. He is the sort of fellow who feels compelled to fold up his full-hand shirts lest they look formal. (I have touched upon this aspect here: So you can imagine how sterling the sister-in-law is for convincing us all to dress up nicely for a dinner out.

 I felt like we had gone back to Jane Austen times when they dressed for the ball and no other reason, but shook the feeling away firmly. The slightest doubt about dressing well would mean we all slip back to yoga pants or worse, pajamas for dinner. That does seem to be fashion trend these days: )

“Are there any restaurants in Bala, or are we just going to eat out like what we did in the afternoon? We could do that, you know? Under the stars.” piped the girls. You can rely on them to surface any nagging doubts sniggling in your brain.

Though we were miles from any restaurant or super-market, I don’t want you to run away with the notion that we were hungry. The Balas and those who marry into the Bala family like their nourishment. Consequently, the brother and sister-in-law had a box of considerable size with ‘provisions for a few days’. What that meant is that if the sheep were not happy grazing, we could have fed them all Channa Masala, Dum Aloo, Creamy Pastas or Steaming Basmati rice any time of the day.  This is what the girls were referring to: we had eaten food fit for feasts in the backyard in pajamas, why not have more of that after a shower?

Anyway, despite hemming and hawing about dressing well, we collectively put up a brave show of it. The toddlers looked like strapping fine gentlemen, and the strapping fine gentlemen looked like harassed toddlers forced into wearing pants; the girls looked like young ladies, the ladies wished they looked more like the younger ladies teetering next to them and all was well. The toys, boys, girls, men and women got into the cars. After brief stops to open the gates by the ponds, we sped off towards the adventures of the night.

I must say, for a small town, the eateries were very good. The Bala-name’s reputation with respect to food was intact in our minds. I was asking the brother about cuisines and pastimes when he said, the Welsh love their mutton chops and lamb stews.

There was an ominous silence from the back seat where the daughter was yapping seconds before. “Uh oh!”, was all the brother could say before a quivering voice asked him, “You mean people kill these lambs – even Patchy?”(Patchy was the sheep who she managed to get close to that morning, We assured her that we will not be killing Patchy and bleated out a white lie to set her animal activist’s heart at rest.

The brother heaved a sigh of relief and told her he was going to ask the waitress for a vegetarian menu. It is at times like this, that I wonder how lovely it must be to live in a small place. The service we got for this simple request was exceptional. The head chef left his busy haven. He probably switched off the oven, turned off the gas, untied his apron, removed his mittens and headed upstairs to ease our hearts and tell us all about his offerings.

“We have mushrooms and cheese that I can make into a lovely omelet. “ he boomed heartily. “And some of the best creamy mushroom soup. If you are looking for something a little more spicy, I could make you a Mushroom Stroganoff with some mushroom and tomatoes. Or you could have a vegetarian lasagna with mushroom.”  Clearly, he couldn’t help noticing that he was going a bit strong on the mushroom motif, for he hastily added that  “Carrot and coriander soup is also available.”

We ordered them all and the chef sang his way to the kitchen. The daughter was happy and Patchy would have been happy.

Patchy happy with menu: Mushroom stragonoff, mushroom lasagna, mushroom omelet and carrot soup!

As we headed out, the brother pointed out a picture taken about a century ago on Bala High street. Even though the picture was a black and white one, you could discern the flushes on the cheeks of about 30 young ladies dressed for the Ball at Bala, and it looked marvelous. Suddenly, it seemed okay to dress up and come to dinner. Like the husband said, “Anyway, no one knows us here, so why not dress up?”

Patchy’s Lessons in Patience & Perseverance

Walking has always been a favorite with the Balas. From a mile away, one can identify the fathers or my walk. In moments of thought, we tie our hands behind our back, take long, energetic strides and march on. Walks are also the time when we come up with our epiphanies and learnings. Ripe with the lessons gleaned from a reading of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I took a walk near the cottage at Bala.

The mists were lifting and the sheep and their kids were starting to get on with their day. I looked at them and saw a number of tendencies that were downright endearing. The ewes and rams that were mothers and fathers cast a protective eye upon the surroundings and while they watched their kids frolic around, were quick to show they meant business if you approached too close to the kids.

After jumping over a gate and skipping over a gushing stream, I sat down to gaze at the surroundings. 

The English Countryside
The English Countryside – pic taken from wikicommons but where we stayed looked similar

As I sat there admiring the sheep near me, I mused on how wonderfully the whole society looked after one another. How they let the young ones thrive, while ensuring their safety. How they grazed, and what useful animals they were. Human beings have no means of knowing what animal thought processes are, but as I sat there gazing out at these gentle creatures, one of the kids came closer to me. I saw it approach, saw the mother cast a warning look and bleat at it to be careful (probably, for I don’t speak Sheep, but you can always get tone). I just continued to sit there and the kid approached me even closer and finally came really close to me,  before bounding off to boast to its friends. There was much bay-ing among the kids when this one bounded back and I could not help thinking the kid had approached me on a dare. It brought a little smile to my face and I headed back.

But again, I maybe inserting anthropomorphic tendencies into that lamb’s demeanor.

Over breakfast I told the daughter about the lamb and inserted a ‘lesson’ about the virtues of patience. A lesson I can learn myself as I know too well. “Sitting and patiently waiting for things beyond our control is a skill and one that can be developed, “ I said to the children like I was Buddha. To give the daughter her due, she did not call my bluff and she did not laugh, but absorbed the statement with as much mellow-ness as her character would allow. Which was to say that she continued attaching herself to the chocolate syrup and the pancakes and ignored the banana pieces.

In a place like Bala, it is phenomenally hard to do something filled with purpose. After a few hours, we decided to walk. After walking for a bit, the children wanted to touch the lambs, but they would not let them approach. They frisked and ran when we approached. After some time, the daughter decided to try what I told her and I was truly amazed.

She approached a lamb and sat at a respectable distance for a few minutes. Then she moved an inch or so and then waited again. Patiently. Quietly.  Every time she moved, the ewes and rams gave her a warning look as if to say ‘Don’t mess with our kids!’. The minutes ticked on and though, at other times, she would have been anxious to move on to more gregarious activities, she sat and waited.

Apparently, she had taken my words to heart in the morning. It made me realize that though it looks like children are not sitting like disciples around the Buddha and listening, they are absorbing and it drove an even harder lesson to me.

Buddha's disciples
Buddha’s disciples

It happened after what seemed like a long time. The kid approached her. He let her talk to him and look into his eyes. She named him ‘Patchy’. When she tore herself away after a few minutes,  it followed her around like Mary-and-the-little-lamb. She was ecstatic in her joy as were the rest of us.

It was hard work winning the confidence of a lamb, but it was worth it.

The Balas at Bala

Last names come in a variety of different flavors. Family names, father’s name, husband’s family name, husband’s name, the name of your hometown, occupation. Our brand of surnames belongs to the Father’s-name-variety and given that the father’s name is all of 15 syllables, we can be excused for cutting it short to the first four letters every now and then. For convenience and sanity.

In other news, if ever one is looking for some aspect of  the English countryside to compare and contrast with South India, I think an area of stiff competition could be in the names. The Welsh names were some of the most tongue-twisting I have ever come across. And this is from a person who has visited Hawaii( LLanfo, LLyn Tegid, Afon Trywryn, Gwydyr, Llangolen and so on. School is written as’ Ysgol’ pronounced Yisgool. Can anyone see how similar that sounds to the famous South Indian  pronunciation of Is-cool? (Is School cool? Or is Is-cool cool? Or school is cool?)

For Is-cool to be understood as School and then to be -reinterpreted as Ysgol must be hard work. Now please imagine the plight of Indian Americans trying to understand the Tom-Tom’s British accent while pronouncing Welsh names. It is no wonder that we went-the-round-about-in-Ysgol what?! ((  Before we could understand the Tom-Tom and interpret what it is saying, the round about had already spun us out in a totally different direction.

However, there are benefits to this and one of them is the fact that we stayed in a place called ‘Bala’ (The first four letters in the alphabet soup that produces my father’s name) Bala is home to the largest lake in Wales and is a bustling town of about 100 residents (one of whom is having their home remodeled, and that is the talk of the residents) The husband and brother had found a marvelous cottage in the middle of nowhere i.e. about 5 miles from Bala. I kid of course, but Bala was beautiful (

The Bala Lake:
The Bala Lake:

The directions to the cottage were something like this:

  • Satellite navigation will end at one point in the road.
  • Keep going.
  • You will notice a road sign saying the road ends and there are no more through roads.
  • Keep going.

What they should have said:

  • The roads are narrow. If another car approaches, God help you.
  • You will see three ponds, three ducks, a farm full of sheep and 15 rabbits.
  • Keep going.
  • After this you will see two gates. Send the author of future blogs about the trip to heave and ho as hard as she can to open them, while the rest of the party sits in the car and cackles at her plight.
  • Keep going.

After all of this, I have got to tell you was the most marvelous experience of all time! For the first time in many years, we found ourselves without hearing any man-made sounds for a few days. All you could hear for miles around was the soothing sound of lambs and sheep baa-ing, the song of birds and the sound of a rushing stream of water.  I suppose people find this when they go camping to some place in the woods or something, but smack in the middle of this bucolic heaven was a cottage with all modern amenities. If ever there was bliss, it was the gratitude of knowing a warm, comfortable lodging awaited you the moment the stars shone down.

Thank you Bala for everything (My father first and then the town).

The Balas at Bala
The Balas at Bala

Coming up next: What the sheep taught us at Bala.

The Roundabout Tom-Tom

We are back after what felt like a short vacation. It was, in fact, just right. Like a good cup of coffee that wakes and rejuvenates you, yet leaves you thirsting for more. I hadn’t met the brother in three years (the bane of multi-national families) and I was like a happy child in anticipation for a good three months before the trip. We visited London, then drove on to Wales and finished up at Ireland. After a hectic day sight-seeing around London, I was quite glad of the opportunity to pile into the car and make for the famous English countryside. I do like cities for a spot of sight seeing, but give me a forest or the fields any day and I will be a happier camper.

The plan was to leave London in an orderly manner in two cars, one following the other, and drive to Wales, stopping in Oxford and Birmingham on the way. The brother set the destination on the TomTom, a name I found hilarious. Well, it should have been Tom-Jerry since we were playing catch with the brother’s car ahead of us most of the time, and he like Jerry the mouse was quick at turning at the right turnoffs, while we…well, read on.

Tom-Tom or Tom-Jerry
Tom-Tom or Tom-Jerry

The relations between UK and US maybe perfectly cordial, but they insist on doing everything opposite. The flushes are on the right, the toilet paper is on the left,  toilets here have half hearted doors, while they go all the way in the UK.  (brother’s blog here when he visited the USA)

More importantly it is left hand driving there while it is right hand driving in the US. This, in and of itself, was confusing enough without adding roundabouts, turnabouts, Tom-Toms and the lot.

The Tom-Tom did what most GPS-es do. It kept telling us what to do, and when we did not listen, stopped just short of sighing. One time, I did hear something that sounded like “Chee! Not there – Turn around when possible

There is something else one must know about the Tom-Tom: It was either surprisingly good at Mathematics or gapingly poor at it. One minute, it would be saying , in quarter a mile, take left on the round-about, and third exit towards A-56648.

The next minute, it’d say, in 200 yards, take left on the round-about and fourth exit towards A-56648

Now, we are all for good-natured fun at our expense, but really! How was one to figure out whether:

(a) There was a round-about at 200 yards and another round-about at quarter of a mile.

(b) 200 yards is approximately equal to quarter of a mile.

(c) Since they don’t use miles, does it really mean kilometers?

(d) To take the fourth exit or the third exit to A-56648

New Delhi had a similar menace too and I remember writing about it 9 years ago here:

All highly muddlacious and confusional. The result being that the brother would be waiting at our rendezvous point twiddling his thumbs (read, running after his over-active toddler happy to be released from his carseat) when we’d tumble into the scene mildly cursing the Tom-Tom. The husband quite often blurred the lines between the Tom-Tom and his faithful wife who directed him with a firmer voice than the Tom-Tom. When asked who he was cursing, he’d use his charming smile and say, a tad too quickly for comfort, that it was the Tom-Tom.

The Roundabout Charkrayuga
The Roundabout Charkrayuga

The night we reached Birmingham, we could easily have reached Manchester, for there was a round-about that spindled out like a spider in seven or eight different directions. Having muddled up the previous round-about with just three turns and going away after some pretty deer in the countryside before turning around, we were really scared about this one. We managed though and generally tottered out towards our hotel like sheep lost for a day and a half on the pastures by the stile.

After the fifth muddle-tum-misseoso, the brother took things firmly in his hand, and sent his wife in our car to direct us. We’d have to say things were better, because we told her we will. But the truth was that the Tom-Tom just upped its ante when it realized that it had another person to misdirect. I don’t know whether I really trust folks when they say that inanimate objects have no feelings. I could not shake off the feeling that the Tom-Tom sat up with glee at the additional person in the car and laughed its way through the countryside. One time, the b’s wife said, “I am absolutely sure – you turn here” and then, the Tom-Tom chuckled and said, “Chuckle Chuckle Grin Grin, Turn around when possible and take right on the roundabout and fourth exit.”

Really, what is wrong with good old fashioned signals I ask you. Why can’t you have crossroads that say, Turn Right on signal to go to Birmingham and Left to go to London? Why have people go merrily round and round a roundabout? Not that it got us in anyway because we had all the time in the world. We were driving through the countryside with breath-taking views and any sense of purpose seemed wasted. Miles and miles of farmland with sheep and lambs spotting the hills. Any time, we took a wrong turn, we simply released some giggles from our giggle pots and carried on.

rush hour in wales
rush hour in wales – our fridge magnet

Till the last day when we had a ferry to catch, but that is an another blog for another day.

What next?

Have you heard the shocking news of the suicide bomber who marginally achieved his target? He was supposed to kill the Deputy something minister for Saudi Arabia. He became a victim to his own ass. attempt, but failed

This man, had the “stuff” tucked neatly away in his ass – that’s right! Up his anal cavity! It managed to destroy him, but not the shocked Deputy something minister for Saudi Arabia.

The last time somebody said liquids are hazardous, airports made people regurgiate their saliva when thirsty. No liquids allowed beyond check point. Fair enough. Rather thirsty than an entry in the obituary was the general consensus. I have blogged on this particular phenomenon here:

Now, if people start carrying *dash* up their *dash*, what are the measures to be taken? The mind boggles. As it is, we take off jackets, shoes, purses and are allowed our personal intimates for decency during the process. But, if the most personal of spots is the culprit, what would the regulation be?

1) Show evidence of having gone Potty atleast 5 minutes prior to check-in? What do people with chronic constipation have to do? (What? We have to cover all angles, don’t we?)
2) Remove the g-lines?
3) Sit on a hot spot during the check-in process. The seat would alternate with heat and coldness alike.
4) Make you lie face down through the baggage checker scan.

Do come up with your own speculations! I am eager to see the ideas lurking out there!

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