Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Witnessing the Obama Inauguration and the Majesty of Democracy

I feel fortunate and privileged to be one of the 2 million plus people who witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama. And in the process i saw the "majesty of democracy and the making of history" (as heard on cnn).

Much is already being said and many can say it better, but no words and no amount of TV can capture the actual experience. Purely momentous, electric, humbling, inspiring, packed and bone-freezingly cold, but a lifetime experience.

My plan (as usual last minute) was simple. Get to DC by Midnight Jan 20th, spend sometime in the Adams Morgan area where city revelers have been celebrating since jan 18th. And then as the DC metro starts service at 4 am, get to the national mall (the almost 2 mile strip open to every one) and hope to get as front as possible (4th street) for the non-ticketed users. And so it was.

I got there by 5. Standing outside at 4am at the Adams Morgan metro station, i got a feeling that we were looking to a record-breaking crowd for the inauguration and perhaps hundred thousand were already at the mall. People had lined up outside the station even at that time to get in. And it was by the time i got to the mall, thousands were already there. And the crowds just kept coming and coming.

The Capitol at 5 am

They streamed in. The crowds came from afar. From Hawaii, from the deep south, from New York, from all the corners of America. Of all types and ages. Little kids (in groups, camped out). Really old people, trudging with their walking steps; looking frail in body, but mighty in spirit and determination. People with skull caps bearing obamas name. Some draped themselves in blankets woven with his image.

And we all stood there, braving (infact, for most of the time, oblivious and even nonchalant) of the biting cold. The only thing that mattered was being there to be part of something special, to see the dawn of a new era in American history. To see and to draw inspiration and to relive in their memories, the day America set to claim the unfulfilled and regain its lost dreams. To see the formidable barrier of race fall, in the inauguration of the first African-American President of the USA. The 44th President. And one with the amazing potential, of limitless ambitions, tremendous intellect, endless equipoise and untainted integrity.

The Scene at 6.30am

And we roared when he entered the stage. And roared louder when he came to take the Oath. And were ecstatic when he spoke. Some wept. Many who couldnt fully see the jumbotrons, were contented with just staring with hope. Everyone chanted the famous "Obama, Obama" chant. The kids screamed too, and perched on their parents shoulders. Thousands waved flags. And all booeed (when the ex-prez was being referred to ). Some fainted. But none, lost their claim in time and space witnessing this momentous occasion. And, i with my fingers frozen (and the cell networks irregularly connecting), kept twittering.

And then came the inaugural speech (will blog details on this soon). A speech punctuated with resounding applauses and pin drop silence listening to every word as it wafted in obama's grand voice and echoed in the air. A speech drawing inspiration and lessons from the past and setting the direction for the years and decades of work needed to renew and redefine the greatness of America. A speech that extends the hand of help to other nations and inclusive of all religions.

What a speech, What a day! And what an Audience. A sea of people stretching from the capitol building down to the Washington monument. And along with all this, were displays of the American Ingenuity, enterprise and sense of humor, that makes all this tick. An old man was selling "an official certification of attendance". Another man was selling a t-shirt on the pavement near Pennsylvania Avenue.

And this t-shirt summed it all for me as it said, in a cool blue font, "I came, i saw and i froze. But i would not have missed it for the world."

What a year it was been since i first heard Obama and volunteered for his campaign in the new Hampshire Primary in Jan 2008. A year ending in a promised fulfilled and a potential now being set to realization

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Conversation about Traveling to India, Eating at Karims Jama Masjid and Many Things to do and See

Its a cracker of a day in New York City. Bright, Sunny with a cold crispy breeze. Which makes one want to grab a cup of coffee and just sit and enjoy the usual hustle and bustle of the city. And as you let your mind wander into myriad thoughts, if you end up meeting people and get to talk to them about what to do and what to see in your home country (in my case India), then its even better.

I just had a great conversation with three people, one of who (lets say JB) is planning to visit India in February. As i took a seat at a table next to them, i overhead them talk about India and they had guide books (frommers, lonely planet). One of them had visited Delhi in 2007 and was sharing her experience and delight of visiting India. I ventured to give them some tips based on my own experiences in Delhi and other places.

And it turned out to be a great conversation. Now two weeks is not at all sufficient to experience India, as is JB's duration of the visit (in which he plans to go to Delhi and attend a wedding in Jaipur). I have lived in India till i was 25 but have only seen or experienced so much. But even though its not the full gamut, what most guide books don't have are the small details of a place or the ability to convey an experience, many of which i have had. And these are what i shared with my three new found acquaintances who clearly where very interested in knowing about things from someone who was from India.

There is so much to do, see, eat, smell and touch in Delhi. Where could i begin from other than talking about Karim's, the famous old Delhi restaurant (started in 1913) where i have spent countless nights savoring the best mutton (goat meat) burra (roast mutton).

Karims, Jama Masjid. Delhi.

Picture Courtesy: Vikas,

Karim's was started by the grandson of the chef who cooked in the royal kitchen of the last Mughal emperor of India. There is something about Karim's food - the richness of their taste, the authenticity of their setting (the restaurant is ensconced in bustling old Delhi market) and the consistency of their cooking, that makes one want to go again and again. "If you happen to visit Karim definitely try the mutton burra (see another testimony), the mutton korma (mutton curry cooked in rich spices) and the Naan (indian bread)", i told JB. And as i began to talk about the food, the more i vividly i could remember and thus describe my experiences in Delhi.

I did however, warn John that getting inside old Delhi is an arduous task - its a crowded marketplace (with a stretch that reeks of rotting fish ). But it has its rewards, like watching the numerous street vendors selling kebabs, rice pudding (kheer) and other goodies. And of course the reward of getting to eat Karim's food which as the restaurant says, "The secret to good mood, is Karim's food"

Since i am quite a foodie, i couldn't stop from talking more about it (and also how i ended up getting off the ground with some friends). Like recommending JB to definitely try some of the unique and just delicious snacks and sweets at Haldiram's a very popular (and deservingly so) chain of Indian snack food restaurants. Haldiram's is a story in itself. From its panipuri, raj kachori, dhoklas, aloo-tikki (cutlet)to the rasmalais and other goodies, the list is endless (see pics below). I have often wondered why they dont have a branch here in New York - perhaps bang at times square. America hasn't yet been introduced to the goodness of indian snacks and sweets.
Pictures Courtesy: Vikas Kumar,



By now my friends were also beginning to feel hungry! And as i talked about other things to taste, how could i forget the frozen paan sold on Rajpur road in delhi. I can only describe this as a mouthful of tantalizing tastes and an experience all on its own.

From the foods of delhi we moved on to other things - the drive around India gate, the president's house, the neighborhoods of south delhi, to the mausoleum of the sufi saint Hazrat Nizaamuddin Aulia and even the wish granting matka peer (where people hang clay pots when their wishes are granted) ... to navigating the crazy traffic of delhi as a pillion rider on a hero honda motorbike. To standing on the ramparts of the Red Fort and overlooking the bustling old delhi markets, to taking a meditative break in the peaceful confines of the lotus temple. And also to ride the swanky new Metro in Delhi

Till we talked about driving to Agra to make the customary (but highly recommended) visit to the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. And as i talk about the Taj, i remember being there and watching Yanni conjure his musical magic at the Taj in 1997. And then we moved further east to Benaras and its timeless ghats with their enchanting 'Ganga Aarti' (see below and more pictures taken by a friend . )

Pic Courtesy: Smarth

And from there to Hardwar, the town where the sacred river Ganga enters the plains in all its rushing might. I hope John can make it there and take a dip in the river - no matter how cold the waters. its worth the effort. And to reward yourself, you can fill up on aloo-puri (a popular Indian snack) at the adjoining bazaar and then top that with a glass of heavenly lassi at the Prakash Lassi shop. And from Hardwar we even went further north upto Ladakh, the mystical land, up at the northern tip of India bordering Kashmir, Pakistan and Tibet. Funny how quickly and easily the mind can condense vast spans of time and geographies (i had visited Ladakh when in 4th yr of medical school in 1998, but i still vividly remember the cup of tea with yaks butter in it ).

By now all of us seemed to be immersed in our own imagination of this land far away - of this country with these myriad tastes, smells and sights, people and stories. We traversed trough our mindscape from the North to the West, where JB is headed to the capital city Jaipur of the royal state, Rajasthan, for a wedding. I hope JB can get there in the train, on a regular class ticket. I have always loved the trains in India despite their ordeals.

I had to stop somewhere. In two weeks, JB can only do so much and to give him all these visions would only make his heart desire more and expect more. I had to ground him in the realities too. For India comes at you in different ways. There is the excitement and fantasies that one begins to create reading books, hearing stories and sometimes watching Bollywood or movies showing aspects of India. But then there is no 'One India'. There have never been one. India reveals itself as one wants to see and experience it. It is a kaleidoscope and i told John he should be prepared to face the ugly with the beautiful, the desperation with the satisfaction and the chaos with utter serenity and peace. And of course, my experiences are just another snapshot of time and perspective.

I hope JB has a great trip and gets the taste of the many different Indias. And as they were leaving, i thanked them. For in the space of 30-40 mins i had relived so many memories. And yes i promised JB and his friends that i will invite them to some of my favorite Indian places in the city next time i do a dine out with some friends

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Slumdog MIllionaire Bags Gloden Globe for Best Picture, Screenplay, Original Score and Director!

11.00 pm - SLUMDOG Millionaire wins the TOP prize - Best Picture DRAMA - totally deseving. Some one please contain Anil Kapur. !

9.15 pm Slumdog Millionaire ( see review) just won the best screenplay award at the Golden Globes. With a big applause. Breaking news that Shahrukh Khan is also at the awards and will be presenting an award (as per SAJA). More to come.

9.45pm -Slumdog Millionaire just got the best original score - A R Rahman is a genius and he finally gets noticed on the international stage. Awesome musician and he really deserved it for Slumdog

10:20 pm EST- Slumdog gets best director for Danny Boyle and Anil kapur and the other members of the crew erupt !

10.38pm SRK enters the STAGE to present SLUMDOG Millionaire - He does an awesome job. Very stylish and people are engaged. Pinto does the cutomary line speak

What a BIIIIIGGGG NIght for Bollywood. Just the start it needs - spielberg gets $500 million to make bollywood/hollywood films and now Slumdog $$ shows how to do it.

Also Awesome to see Micky Rourke win the Best Actor for Wrestler, very touching and sad movie but brilliant made.

More oscar-hopeful moview reviews here

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Wrestler. Very touching and sad movie.

Micky Rourke and the director of The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky will make your heart wrench in this simple tale of a WWF wrestlers lonely life.

The movie is very realistically shot - starts a bit slow and has many shots of Micky Rourke who plays the Aging Wrestler, 20 yrs past his heyday, struggling to reconcile his urge to continue believing he is still as strong as

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fairway food is Fungus Ridden

As many new yorkers, i usually eat out and rarely cook. So grocery shopping is a rather infrequent thing (not counting the 1-2 things you pick up at delis). I had heard quite a bit about Fairway on 125th and riverside av , just off the Hudson river. The company's tagline is "like no other market"

I recently shopped there on Xmas eve (to make Xmas lunch for friends ). Okay, they have a wide variety of selections and a huge cold room. The shopping went off nice but then came the big surprises.

The very next day i opened the ricotta cheese to make the lasagna and to my great surprise, the cheese had fungus! It was in the cold room of Fairway and overnight in my fridge and yet i open to see it having fungus.

Okay, i can ignore that one mistake. Then within two days, the pita bread caught fungus, this when pur kitchen is not very well heated and is quite cold in the new york weather. Fine, i can let that go too.

But 3 days ago, i took out the cream cheese that i had bought and that i had not yet opened - baam - the thing was a stinker with the cheese badly fermented. I cudnt stand the smell to take a pic.

And then today, my beef salami slices, also had fungus on them and thats not all.

The pesto sauce, which i had only used once and stored properly in a cabinet had fungal growth on it.

This has never happened before - usually the pesto lasts for weeks. The beef slices for 2-3 weeks easily in a fridge.

I am thoroughly disappointed. Indeed, fairway is like no other store, when it comes to fungal growth on its food items.

Not me. I am not going back to that store again.