dancing beneath the diamond sky

And we'll dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free Silhouetted by the sea Circled by the circus sands With all memory & fate Driven deep beneath the waves Let me forget about today until tomorrow... Hey Mr Tambourine Man play a song for me...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

iPods for us, Toxic Sludge for them

I was outraged to read the recent news headline (well, not actually headline, amazingly enough: just a little piece of “also happened in another corner of the world last week”) about the Dutch merchant ship that dumped a tanker full of toxic waste onto one of the world’s poorest and most strife-ridden countries – causing almost a 100,000 people in the Cote d’Ivoire to seek immediate medical attention. Close on the heels of this article was an op-ed piece (in the New York Times, by Bob Herbert- "Poor, black and dumped upon") that comments on how a disproportionate fraction of toxic waste disposal sites in the United States are located in or close to areas inhabited by blacks, poor whites and other ethnic minorities.

We study in any “Principles of Economics” course that one of the failures of the free-market system is that it doesn’t know what to do about the externalities it creates, of which pollution and toxic waste are prime examples. What I failed to appreciate until now however, was that the scale of the problem has shifted into a completely different league: with increasing globalization and world becoming a smaller place – these externalities have now become international. Are the poor countries of this world (like my own, for example) going to become dumping grounds for global waste?

The biggest irony of all this is something that comes out of an environmental expert’s analysis of the Ivory Coast affair: to quote, that “environmental regulation in the North has made toxic waste disposal so expensive that companies are now looking to the South.” This brings us back to one of the fundamental questions in law & economics and any of the social sciences, really: what are the consequences of government regulation? Can we ever really fully comprehend or foresee all the positive and negative externalities that regulation will have on the different parties involved in the social welfare function ? – a question that has become horrendously complicated now that the “social” in the social welfare increasingly means more than just your own country but as far as even - the West Coast of Africa.

I am tempted to say that a market-created externality can only be kept in check by a market-imposed punishment: investors will have to stop rewarding companies that act irresponsibly. But that brings us to the thorny issue of: if all the economic actors in the grand scheme of the free market are naturally driven to act in self-interest, then maybe self-interest points you in the direction of short-term profit maximization, and towards doing whatever it takes to keep your investors happy by delivering positive earnings growth quarter upon quarter, even if that means dumping your toxic waste cheaply in an ignored country in West Africa that no one cares about and which doesn’t have the teeth to bite anyone – because at the end of the day, it makes your 2006 2nd quarter results look better. And that’s what companies are meant to do, ultimately – generate wealth for investors. That’s how the engine of the market should work, and that’s how it chugs toward the greater satisfaction of “everyone”s needs.

What a tangle ! Are we ever going to find a way to fix the ills of the free-market system, or is anyone who even tries immediately and irrevocably condemned to be labeled a Marxist and thereby ignored, calumnied, and consigned into oblivion by the Establishment ?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Trauma of the Unpaved Sidewalk

I read an article in the Hindu today that has set me off on a rant. (For those poor folks in Columbia who are forced to listen to my rants on a daily basis : You know who you are, and I tender my apologies. I had vowed to myself not to care enough about anything during my holiday to start ranting and raving. However, I realize old habits die very hard.)

"Indians find they can go home again" read the headline, and the byline went "Several Indian cities with their Western-style work environments, generous paychecks and quick career jumps are becoming magnets for Indians from the U.S".

Knowing my views already on this subject, I should have steered clear of this article. But nosy idiot I am, I plunged ahead and read it. Here's a blurb from somewhere in the middle: "The passage back is no longer an ordeal, because much has changed in India. Whereas watching a movie in a dingy hall was once a weekend high point, now fancy multiplexes, bowling alleys and shopping malls offer entertainment, and pizzerias and cafes are ubiquitous at street corners. "

My head is spinning at the undressed hypocrisy rampant in this whole sorry commentary. Why the hell do we need pizzerias and cafes, I ask, to attract Indians to come back and live in India ? I've been coming back to India for 3-week vacations for several years now, and let me be honest - eating pizza has never been an item that even figures remotely on my agenda. Let me get this straight : I do not have anything against pizzerias and cafes, per se. I enjoy the occasional slice of thin-crust and am known for my caffeine addiction. I just have a problem with us Indians who , for the first 20-something years of our lives, have grown up "kuppakottifying" (I'm using a very Madras term: for the un-initiated, I apologize; but no other word so fully captures my meaning.) around in Anna Nagar and Mylapore and T. Nagar with primary source of entertainment being drinking goli-soda at the Nair-kadai; how do we, within a year or two of flying to the US, find thin-crust pizzas and peppermint mochacchinos so goddamn essential to not just our well-being but our very survival ?

Let me digress a little: the views in this article, I think, are symptomatic of a larger phenomenon I have casually observed till date. Relatives and friends remark.."India is really developing.." or something along those lines, and continue, "There are a lot of new malls everywhere". A reasonably intelligent & observant person does not have to commune with a lot of economists to know that development does not equal malls. To phrase it in familiar terms, malls & multiplexes are neither necessary nor sufficient for the kind of "development" we need to see before we can even talk about having solved the basic problems of life for the teeming millions who are the invisible backbone of this country.

The article goes on to talk about the new gated communities springing up in Bangalore and elsewhere, catering to the new Exodus of the Returned. "The communities buffer returnees from Bangalore's bumper-to-bumper traffic, unpaved sidewalks and swarming neighbourhoods". A million dollars would not convince me to give up my old-fashioned home in a very unfashionable old neighbourhood to go and live in a gated community. The very idea of a gated community where residents lead an existence nicely sanitized from all the ills of India, in rows of identical 2-storey houses with identically manicured lawns and serially numbered streets upsets me. (In fact, it reminds me a little of Orwellian "1984" or such similar dystopia, but that might be carrying it a little too far.) My whole generation (and many such before us) has grown up braving the "bumper-to-bumper traffic and unpaved sidewalks". In fact, a lot worse than just this: we've ridden crush-density public buses, studied for exams by the light of kerosene lamps due to unannounced power outtages, waded to school in knee-deep water during the flood season (PSBB-ians smile!), and ducked from hooligan stone-throwers on the way to school on the day of an All-Kerala Transport Union Bandh (Hari Sri-ites smile!). My point is only this: hey, all this doesnt seem to have hurt us any. We are not scarred or traumatized for life as a result of having grown up on these swarming sidewalks and unpaved pavements. In fact, we had a whole lot of fun and have also managed to pick up some street-smarts in the process.

The very vocabulary thrown casually into these articles pisses me off. "Ordeal". "Trauma". People, take a step back and LISTEN to yourselves ! We're talking about returning to live in our own countries, after all. Anyone would think the conversation was about going to live in Darfur or the Gaza Strip or New Orleans.

For me, the joys of being in India are too numerous to count.

Not needing an alarm clock to wake up in the morning because of the dedicated band of birds cawing away in the garden.

Having a temple right across the street from me that I can just slip into every evening in a matter of 10 seconds (dont even have to put on my sandals), as opposed to trundling along on the "7" train for an hour and 45 minutes to get to Flushing Meadow.

The fact that my front gate can just be left wide open all day with the only threat being from the stray goats who slip in and eat my mother's petunias.

The fact that I can pick up the phone and call the family doctor for a gratuitous telephonic consultation anytime I feel ill.

Having about twenty pairs of aunts and uncles scattered around in various neighbourhoods whose houses I can drop into for a cup of tea and some conversation anytime I feel bored.

Bhelpuri from the bhelpuri-walla on the roadside, the taste of which is directly proportional to the shabbiness of his little establishment.

Panic phone calls from little cousins at terribly inappropriate times, demanding help on a "project-work" or homework assignment or a poetry-recitation competition at school the next day.

Somnolent summer afternoons spent lying inanimate on the king-sized "oonjal"s in ancestral homes, reading the day's Hindu and crunching away uncontrollably on paatti's murukku.

Fascinating conversations with auto-drivers and taxi-drivers on how to fix the ills of Indian politics and the economy.

The sheer thrill of pushing and shoving at first-day-first-shows that just is not matched by going to Fandango.com and buying tickets online.

I could keep writing this list all day, but it wouldnt end and nobody would even bother reading beyond whatever they've read now. :)

Some disclaimers: I'm not trying to tell people how to live their lives, or what to do with their money, or how to bring up their children. Nor am I trying to make blanket statements about people who return to India or trying to comment on their motivations in doing so (my parents were, after all, amongst the earliest to both leave the country and to come back.) I just feel that we seem to be trying very hard to re-create Palo Alto or Sacramento in the middle of Vyasarpadi or Koramangla and in so doing, forgetting about the things that make this country of ours so perverse and so lovable. Why bother ? Just keep living in Palo Alto or wherever, spare yourselves the traumatic ordeal of transition, and spare us the trauma of having to read such claptrap.

Whats new & whats not

After three days in India, here's my first take on what has changed and what has not.


The fact that Thangam (our housekeeper), Shobhana (the second maid), Gobi (the driver) and Hussain (the watchman) ALL have cellphones this time round. I suppose it was inevitable, but it is still surprising to see it happen.

The fact that Hari Sri Vidya Nidhi High School actually has fans and tubelights in all the classrooms now ! And the kids studying there now complain that there's no air conditioning. At the risk of sounding like a 70-year old talking about those good old days, I will place on record that all those days during the monsoon season when the sky would get dark and it started to pour, we would have to peer down at our notebooks because there was not enough light to see anything; and the kids sitting close to the windows would run to the front and sit on the floor because they would get drenched by the rain coming in through the windows. But it was fun, though. Hee hee.

At the risk of sounding like the typical penny-wise, pound-foolish NRI: how expensive everything seems to have become. The musambi-juice at Trichur Fruits cost, amazingly enough, fifteen rupees and I had to borrow cash from Gopi to pay the shopkeeper !

The number of traffic lights on the streets. As also the complete nonchalance with which auto-drivers seem to ignore them.

Apartment buildings everywhere ! I mean everywhere. In my little town of which I would so proudly boast that it had NO ugly high-rises anywhere. who lives in these apartment buildings, I wonder, and where did these people come from ? Where were all these people living before the high-rises came along ?

The Hindu going colour. Very disconcerting. So no longer does the distinction exist between the unrelieving black-and-white newsprint that merits serious attention on the front porch as opposed to the nattering colour supplements that I would disrespectfully call "The Bathroom Papers".

The Hindu crossword. Gone. Replaced by (what else ?) Sudoku. Everything else I could grant is just mildly surprising. But this falls (along with the subway strike in New York City) into the realm of the unthinkable, the sacrilegious. Fads will come and go. But the Hindu crossword, I thought, was beyond the momentary winds of whim. Apparently not. So nothing IS sacred. Huh.

The erstwhile deadlock of Thalaivar & Ulaganaayagan on Tamil cinema, broken.

The less-than-complete integrity of Thrissur auto-drivers. We're not quite as bad as Madras yet (where the fare quoted only moves in multiples of 10) but definitely gone are the days when the meter showed 7.80, you gave the guy 8 rupees and he returned 20 paise to you.


The complete and total scarcity of small change in shops everywhere. Does this economy run only on 100-rupee notes, I wonder ? No shop, supermarket, taxi-driver, or auto-driver seems to have anything less.

The utter chaos at the point when MG Road meets Swaraj Round, and me having a panic attack for five minutes before being able to cross the road at that intersection.

People building 20-storey highrise office complexes without making any arrangements for visitors to park their cars.

Reigning heroes of Malayalam cinema: still going strong at the ripe old age of 50-something; Mammootty and Mohanlal.

Karan Thapar on TV: as abrasive as ever.

TKS George in the Indian Express: as depressing, gloomy, alarmist and pessimist as ever.

Shobha De in The Week: as abhorrent and fascinating as ever.

Appa's skill at swatting mosquitoes : he's still the world champion. (In fact, I think he's improved with time.)

The content of the 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM "mega-serials" on cable: still a bunch of well-dressed, overfed women sitting around and weeping about their miserable lot in life.

The alarming number of uniformed young students lounging around on the street at 11 AM in the morning, right outside the Government Model Boys High School.

The sheer audacity with which Doordarshan interrupts the Sunday-afternoon movie telecast for a thirty-minute news broadcast that nobody listens to.

The total lack of respect for other people's time. I show up for a 1:00 PM doctor's appointment at 12:55, and end up seeing the doctor at 3:00.

Oblivion to the idea of serving people in the order in which they arrive, at most shops and restaurants.

Indian ice cream: still creamier, way yummmmmiiier than Haagen-Dasz.

The taste of amma's aviyal : still a small mouthful of heaven.

In Airport Limbo

At Kuwait International Airport, God only knows what time.

My India trip has just started, and its been rocky and smooth alternately.

Getting to the airport from home was a hassle beyond imagination. All New Yorkers are, I imagine, just beginning to comprehend over the last 2 days, the full extent of our dependence on the subway. Those MTA veins spreading out unseen under the earth are the city's life support system; silent, tireless engines powering the city-that-never-sleeps. In any case, after a whole day of perplexed non-action and confusion, New Yorkers were back to business on Wednesday, and life started assuming some semblance of normality again (whatever semblances it can achieve, given that the unthinkable has happened. ) Brooklyn Bridge was packed with bikers and walkers braving it in the cold to workplaces in Manhattan. The sidewalks and pavements were spilling over with people, in a crush worthy only of Pondy Bazaar. Cyclists and skateboarders were letting it rip in the middle of all the traffic. Restaurants slowly started opening up and supermarket registers started ringing. This is testament to the enormous resilience of this city and of the people who live in it - New York City stopped, shifted and shuddered for a brief minute; and then moved on to find itself a new equilibrium.

Anyway, it took me a grand total of about three and a half hours to get to JFK. I first hopped onto the free Columbia shuttle that left from 116th and Amsterdam & hopped off at Penn Station. At Penn Station there was a mass of humanity trying to get into the LIRR station, and riot police everywhere trying to control the crowds and direct the people into orderly lines. After about thirty minutes, I had managed to get into the station and buy myself a ticket. I got off the LIRR at Jamaica and then got onto the AirTrain and finally arrived at Kennedy Airport, about three hours and fifteen minutes after I had started. The only thought in my head was finding an empty seat somewhere and crashing. I hadnt even got onto the plane and I was exhausted already !

But coming to think of it, this trek to the airport sounds difficult only by smooth American standards. I've had journeys much worse (or much more colourful, if you want to think of it that way.) One that immediately pops to mind is one time I came home from Madras without any train reservations, in the peak holiday season. I first got to Central Station in Madras, and bought myself a ticket on a train headed for Coimbatore. At Coimbatore I got off (I think I had 1 big suitcase) and was just standing around on the platform, contemplating my options. The idea of lugging the big suitcase all the way up and down several platform stairways to the ticketing booth was not sounding very appealing at that point. I turned around and saw a train taking off on the platform right next to me, the one opposite to the one on which I had got off. A guy was hanging off the steps of this departing train and I just asked him on a silly whim, "do you know if this train goes to Trichur... ?". And he said it didnt go to Trichur but it went to Thevara Junction, very close to Trichur ! I had to think very little to grab my box and jump onto the moving train, observing idly to myself that I had just committed my first violation of law on Indian soil, for traveling ticketless. I realized later that I had no concrete plan as to what I would do or say when the ticket inspector came. I just hung around guiltily on this train till it got to the station I was looking for, and miraculously a ticket inspector hadnt come around until then. As I as hauling my box close to the entrance and getting ready to leave, the guy who I had seen initially winked at me and said that the ticket inspector never came around on this train in the afternoon and so it was a veritable free-for-all for bums, urchins, and idle youth who were either too broke or too lazy to buy themselves a ticket !!!! I laughed and made a mental note to donate the price of the ticket to the Railway Widows Welfare Fund, or closest equivalent.

Now at Thevara Junction I got off (again, at Platform number 12 ) and frustratingly enough, was faced again with the prospect of lugging my suitcase all the way over to the information booth to find out about a train to Trichur. Given that similar technique had already proven itself effective, I found a bajji-wala on the platform and asked him if he knew what train left for Trichur when. He pointed to a train lying just 1 platform away and said it would begin moving for Trichur in 5 minutes. I swore loudly and furiously. I didnt have enough time to run (suitcase in tow) to the ticket booth and hence my only option was to travel ticketless, again. I then realized that my nerve had failed me and I was suddenly too afraid to get into another train without a ticket. (I felt that I had gotten lucky once already; to try the ticketless stunt a second time in the same day I felt, would be pushing my luck a little bit. Surely the benevolent god of ticket inspectors who was watching me from above wouldnt be that kind. ) And then, right on time, brainwave arrives. I turned around to my bajji-bonda-wala and offered him a handsome salary of 5 bucks for making a dash to the ticket booth and buying me a ticket for this train. He was first startled and then thoughtful. He declined kindly, saying that the opportunity cost of missing out on potential bajji sales in that 5 minutes was too high. I countered, saying that I was more than willing to watch his bajji business in the time being and that it wasnt too much of a stretch for me to quote a price and take money from customers while he was away; given that his entire product line consisted only of pazha-bajji for 2 rupees and bonda for 1.50. He wasnt entirely convinced, but he went anyway. And so commenced my brief career selling bajjis on a platform in a station in the middle of nowhere (I made some handsome sales, too. I guess a lot of people were just very curious at the sight of a young girl with a Discman on her hip and a bajji tray tucked into her arm.) And so my saviour came back a few minutes later; I paid him his 5 bucks gratefully and bought some bondas from him as well (I hadnt eaten anything all day; just as well.) and so what better example of a win-win transaction ? I walked grandly into the train , basking in the warm glow of being a decent, law-abiding citizen. And on to Trichur, finally, thank god.

So anyway...right now I'm sitting at a cafe booth in Kuwait International Airport, on my way home (finally, finally) from New York City to India. I realized that this routing is very convenient for me; just 1 long-haul flight straight from JFK to Kuwait for 16 hours and then the short hop from Kuwait to Cochin directly; without that nerve-wrecking, squirming wait at Bombay airport. Initially when I got onto the flight and realized it was 16 hours long, I felt a stab of dismay; but it turned out to be unnecessary. I ended up sleeping for approximately 15 hours and 30 minutes. The remaining 30 minutes that I was awake consisted of time when I woke up briefly from my slumber, throat parched, stumbled into the galley, accosted a stewardess, glugged down a whole gallon of pineapple juice straight from the carton, and stumbled back into my seat and into oblivion again. I have to thank appa again for gifting me his can-sleep-anywhere-on-anything genes; sometimes it can be a bit of a pain (like the many times on the subway when I've missed the 116th and Broadway stop entirely; or on the 47B from Anna Nagar when Vani Mahal stop has chugged by and I'm snoring soundly.) but mostly it is a blessing, and a skill that I think is much more useful than being able to solve multi-generation dynamic moral hazard models with sequential investments and double marginalization of rents.

This airport is a bit strange; it looks somewhat like a warehouse, with tall asbestos-like ceilings and industrial lighting. I went into a restroom, contemplated it for awhile and left, because there was water on the floor everywhere and no water coming out of any of the sinks. I then walked into this cafe and ordered (without thinking) an "american coffee" from the selections on the board, and then felt deeply embarassed about the choice, for some reason that I'm still trying to figure out.

I've run out of things to say (a rare occurrence, as most people who know me would attest.), but I'll just stop with the observation that the last few days in Columbia have been great. Even though I was on some strange adrenaline high (at the prospect of going to India, I can imagine) and so didnt sleep really for about a week, the last few days meeting up with friends and saying goodbyes was very sweet, especially since I hadnt seen most of these people for a couple of weeks as everyone was busy battling it out with their respective exam schedules. Even though I would die rather than admit this anytime in the middle of the semester, life at Columbia does have its little perks and the people in my Columbia world have become an important part of my life, with their warts and all. It really hit me a couple of times over the last few days, when I realized that many of the people I would not see again; the ones who I had entered Columbia with in the fall of 2004 who were graduating and leaving with a Masters degree. Well, as always, the next semester will bring with it new people, new bosses, new classmates, a new dynamic, yet another episode of this fluid, ever-changing grad life. Oh, well. I'm being maudlin and I'm sure the holiday season is to blame. So before I say anything that I really end up regretting in my saner moments, I'll sign off . And of course, fa-la-la-la-laa-la-la-la-la.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

1 Rava Dosai + 1 Business Plan: All in a Day's Work

Remember I was talking about going to Udipi Palace and feeling like an idiot because I wanted to eat *everything* on the menu ? Anyways, that day after the onion-rava-dosai we were just wandering about the city with no particular agenda when we thought...hey, its been a while since we grabbed some skyline action.

It struck me - the only time I actually look at the New York skyline is when I'm showing visitors around which is a pity, considering that it is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful man-made sights on this planet. What is amazing about the New York skyline is the number of different ways you can see it, the fact that it looks different from every view, and is always breathtaking. Here's a list of my favourite ways to see the silhouette of our amazing city glittering against the night sky.

1) Hop off the subway at Brooklyn Bridge, walk halfway across the bridge towards Queens. When you're halfway across, stop and turn and look at Manhattan. And just stare.

2) Take the 7 train going towards Queens, hop off at Vernon-Jackson Boulevard, and head straight for the pier jutting out into the river. The whole city is spread out in front of you in a brilliant panorama. It feels like you're in an IMAX theatre, except you're not.

3) Take the last ferry out to Staten Island. As the boat chugs away from Manhattan, the entire city comes into view slowly. That, and the water lapping gently at the boat, and the breeze in your hair.

4) Take the 7 train back from Queens into Manhattan. Somewhere close to the point where the subway track does that roller-coasterish bend, you catch a fleeting glimpse of the skyline, in between all the buildings. Its all the more fascinating because it lasts only for a fraction of a second.

5) The best thing about all these options is that they're free ! However, for anyone who insists on paying for the view, taking the elevator upto the top of the Empire State is always something you need to do atleast once while in New York. The view from the top - at night - is entrancing ; just make sure you dont get blown off by the wind !!!

So here's where the business plan comes into the picture - me and Sujata were wondering: is there a market for a tour that takes visitors around New York City and just shows them the skyline from a bunch of different places ? If anyone has any thoughts on that, let me know. After all, when you're in a PhD program, keeping alternative career options in the pipeline is always a smart thing to do. :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Sujata, the GOFER

(Warning: This post has High Food Content)

Guys, I am happy to tell you that there's been an abundance of good food in my life these days. ( dont sneeze : this is a big deal for a nutritionally-deprived grad student such as myself. ) So for those of you who wish to find out more about brilliant culinary options in NYC (and for those of you who just enjoy reading about food), read on.

Last Monday I ended up eating at the most unlikely of places: in a supermarket. I never thought I would actually come to that, but I did. However, this is no ordinary supermarket - this is the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. (Deepakka: note. You can add one more loyalist to the Whole Foods brigade). Whereas Deepa is a die-hard Whole Foodsie and I myself have enjoyed, on more than one occasion, the juicy raisins and the to-die-for Concord Grape juice she buys for Swapna and Meghana (my adorable little nieces) from Whole Foods, I have to confess that I havent been to a Whole Foods anywhere in NYC till last week. There I made the astounding realization that they have an Indian hot food bar that sells ....hold your breath...Indian food BY THE POUND !!!! Now as all you grad students out there know, food-by-the-pound itself is the greatest invention since the instant coffee and low-fat Haagen-Dazs; but INDIAN Food-by-the-pound is just a whole new level of nirvana altogether.

I also ended up discovering this delightful little place near the 72nd Street subway station: a tiny hole-in-the-wall called "Beard Papa's Cream Puffs" . From what I was told, they sell something like 6,000 cream puffs every day in New York City. How come I hadnt managed to eat even one of these 6,000*10*30 (thats 6,000 cream puffs every day for each day of the last 10 months) cream puffs in all the ten months I've been in New York City, I asked myself in disbelief. Anyways, if you want to find out for yourself what the fuss is all about, just take yourself to 72nd Street and you'll know.

However, the weekend was just unparalleled in terms of gastronomic content. On Saturday I ended up going to that old staple Udipi Palace in Little India. Now these days, Indian restaurants make me feel imbecilic. I can never figure out what to order because I want to eat everything thats on the menu. After approximately half-an-hour spent in deep contemplation of the cosmic question of whether to eat rava dosai or adai or idli-vada-sambar, I settled for my staple fare of onion-rava. After finishing up at Udipi, we hopped straight to an eating establishment thats almost at the other end of the culinary spectrum, but no less attractive : Lalo's. Anyone who's been in NYC for a little while there and not gone to Lalo's - Do something about it, guys ! Is all I can tell you. ( Oh, and by the way: when you're there, you might care to remember some strategic scenes from "You've Got Mail" and think about why the place looks so familiar...)

And on Sunday it was time for Thai, again at the atmospheric "Village Ma's" on West 4th Street. There, I cleared up a week's worth of sinuses with a fiery green curry worthy even of my palate (thats known to be super-resistant to any level of spice.) After this, we decided it was time for a change of scene and ended up at this cooooozy little wine-and-crepes place a few blocks down the road (I cant remember the name!) and freaked out on a magnificent nutella-almond-whipped creme crepe that would have floored the most rigorous Francophile.

Anyways...coming back to the original point of this post: people, dont make the mistake of thinking this is what my eating routine looks like usually. In order to help you better appreciate my reasons for waxing poetic, let me give you an abbreviated description of my diet the last 2 semesters:

Fall 2004: Greasy Pizza-by-the-slice, from Pinnacle Deli. Occassionally supplemented with a side of Jalapeno Kettle Chips and sometimes a few garlic rolls.

Spring 2005: Onion bagels from Uris Deli with a (supposedly) vegetable cream cheese, the Chinese bun stuffed with red bean paste from Tea & Tea, Tropicana Orange Yogurt smoothie, and a bazillion cups of *really bad* free coffee from my department's coffee machine.

Before I wind up, my primary point: Let me formally acknowledge the role played by Sujata Narayanan in these culinary adventures. I state in writing that Sujata knows every good place to eat in New York City (well, almost.) And by the authority vested in me by the fact that I own this blog, I christen her The Great Almighty Finder of Restaurants, or GOFER.

Applause, please !

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Center of the Universe

Monday June 13th:

Myself, Sujata, Ashwini and Mai went to "Broadway under the Stars".

This was a free event at Bryant Park that happens only once a year, and they promised us snippets from all the smash Broadway musicals. Naive children that we were, we showed up half an hour ahead of the show ( 8:00 PM) and realized that there were already 15,000 people squeezed into Bryant Park and not one square inch of space left anywhere to park our asses. After some minutes of gawping at the crowd in sheer lack of comprehension, our old Indian street-smarts slowly awoke to life from some musty recesses of our brains ( Come on, girls! This was just 15,000 people ! There's that many people at most weddings back home :D) , and we managed to find a teeny little spot on the lawn to rest our tired backsides.

Even though I would hate to do something as mundane as remark on the weather, I could have sworn that Bryant Park was a furnace that day. Anyway, after keeping us waiting on the lawn for the lord-only-knows how long (whaddaya expect in a free show, I was asking myself), Christina Applegate came onto the stage (atleast, I think it was her. I couldnt really tell, because the stage was so far away) and said some pretty things and started the show off.

To be honest, the program wasnt that hot (even though Bryant Park was). Some guys who were, apparently (judging by the cheers from the crowd) very famous on the Broadway stage, came on and sang some songs. I was just about nodding off when the couple right next to us decided to call it a day and packed up. Thanks to them, we finally got to place more than half-a-bum each on the lawn and ended up stretching out nicely on the grass.

It was then that I really started enjoying myself. Not the show itself - that is ; but the atmosphere. I have to admit - there I was, in Bryant Park, on the lawn, on a balmy summer evening, watching a show that millions of people would only be watching on their TV sets a few weeks later, in the middle of the greatest city in the world, the city lights twinkling like jewels all around me, the midtown skyscrapers touching the sky all around, the Empire State soaring above them all,(dressed in Blue, Red and White that day), ...and I thought to myself, .."Wow. I'm really here."

..And then the last performer came on and started singing ole' Frank's evergreen classic "New York, New Yorkkkkkkkkkkkk !!!". And my cup was really full.

Nothing beats being a Noo Yawkah.

Summer's rolling, folks !

On Thursday, June 9th:

Myself, Ashwini, Mai, Gideon and Gideon's juice-bar friend went to "Shakespeare in the Park".

My predominant emotion was sheer wonder: How could so much of time passed that I was already attending my 2nd summer of Shakespeare in Central Park ? I still feel like a shiny, newly-minted New Yorker. I know this sounds trite, but it seemed like just a couple of weeks ago that we went to our very first "running play" and trooped around (making a valiant attempt not to appear shocked) when players in 17th-century costume actually made us run all over the park !!! However, to be rigorous - this is my first "Shakespeare" in Central Park, considering that last year's play was "The Feigned Courtesans" by Aphra Behn. It was funny no doubt, but also bewildering, and I well remember a bunch of us having ernest, whispered conferences over the printed abstract in the program, trying very hard to figure out what the hell was going on. (I also remember being completely bowled over by the performance, graciously donating 10 bucks to the NY Classical Theatre after the show like a great patron of the arts, going to a Mexican restaurant afterward, and realizing that those had been the last 10 bucks in my wallet. Sounds familiar, anyone ?)

Anyway, back to "As You Like It". This play is so close to my heart, because this was the exact same play we had to read over 2 years of high school. Prejudiced I may be, but for sheer poetry of language, "As You Like It" is matchless, even amongst Shakespeare's other plays. Even though I seem to have conveniently forgotten Integration by Parts & Polynomial long-division (and lots of other stuff that I really need to remember), I find it hard to forget "As You Like It".

"Oh, what passion hangs these weights upon my tongue... ?"

"Sweet are the uses of adversity..."

"All the worlds' a stage, and all its men and women, merely players.."

"So, whats the news at the new court ?..." (this one's for Ashwini !!!)

And finally, but of course, ...

"Who ever loved...that loved not at first sight ???"