A Year in India

Venkata in Sankata
February 27, 2009, 5:51 pm
Filed under: Culture | Tags: , ,

Venkata in Sankata poster

Venkata in Sankata poster

During the past few months, I’ve had the chance to meet a number of foreigners living and working in Bangalore.  One of these friends, Meghana, left the US last spring and came to India to give acting a shot.  She landed a lead role in a major film here in Bangalore.  Having grown up watching Indian films, she jumped right into the language, the Indian acting style, and even the dancing.  Posters of Meg’s film, Venkata in Sankata, are all over the city now.  My friends and I went to the premiere last week (our photo made it in the newspaper, below!).  It was quite a thrill to see a friend on the red carpet & big screen.  It really made me happy to see Meghana taking such a risk with her career and lifestyle to pursue what she loves.

Deccan Herald photo of my friends & me at Meg's premiere!

Deccan Herald photo of my friends & me at Meg's premiere!


The Other Indian Winner
February 23, 2009, 6:16 pm
Filed under: Culture | Tags: ,

Despite feeling that Slumdog Millionaire shouldn’t be viewed as a defining film about Indian poverty, it’s been exciting to see India in the limelight after the movie’s 8 Oscar wins.  I’m tempted to write more, but I’ll give into the celebratory moment and avoid going into any further detail about my issues with the film.

What I do want to highlight, though, is another India-focused movie that won this year’s Oscar for best short documentary.  Smile Pinki tells the story of a 5-year-old impoverished Indian girl with a cleft lip.  Because of her deformity, she isn’t allowed to attend school and is looked down upon by her community.  The film follows Pinki as she manages to get an unintrusive, inexpensive surgery to fix her condition.


February 18, 2009, 2:01 pm
Filed under: Travel | Tags:

A few weeks ago, my friend Loren and I spent a weekend in Coonoor, a hill station about 250 km from Bangalore in the state of Tamil Nadu. Coonoor is a beautiful, quiet city in the middle of the Nilgiri Hills, an area known for its tea plantations.

Below, a photo montage (made using animoto.com – these aren’t my own editing skills!) of the trip. More pictures here. Written highlights follow the video.

Trip highlights:

The Drive: What began as a pleasant ride from Bangalore to Coonoor turned into a bit of a dicey journey. As the terrain changed from city to farmland to hills, our car started overheating. By the time we reached the steeper hills and switchback roads, we were stopping every five minutes to cool the engine. Needless to say, the stops were beautiful: the sky pitch black, the stars brighter than ever, and the night as quiet as I’ve heard in a long time. The charm, though, finally wore off, so we ended up parting ways with our driver and hitching a ride with a random park ranger whose massive SUV got us to Coonoor safe and sound. Eek.

The Hospitality: We were extremely lucky to stay at my parents’ friend’s vacation home in Coonoor. Their 100-year-old house sits on 6 acres of tea plantations and manicured gardens. What made the place even more special, though, was its caretakers warmth: we were pampered with fresh, gourmet meals, guided tours and hikes, midday drinks in the garden, and so forth.

The Scenery: Loren and I must have spent 99% of our time in Coonoor talking about how gorgeous the landscape was. We were surrounded by stunning greenery, bright blue skies, an astounding variety of flowers and trees, quiet sunsets, and beautiful nighttime stars.

The Treks: Mani, a caretaker at my parents’ friend’s house, led us on two beautiful morning treks. Being local, he knew exactly where to take us to avoid tourist crowds. The first day, we hiked up through the forest until reaching a tribal village. One of the villagers, Sangeeta, welcomed us into her home, showed us the quilts she embroiders to make a living, and served us fresh goat’s milk. The following day, Mani took us on another forest hike, this time leading to a spectacular view of the tea fields.

The Food: As mentioned, the food – most of it homegrown and organic – at our family friend’s house was phenomenal. We had a bit of everything: fresh morning juices & jams, bacon & eggs, idly & sambar, steak, chicken, pork, pasta, cheesecake, and on and on – all of it gourmet and delicious.

An amazing, memorable trip to say the least.

Random Acts of Kindness
February 3, 2009, 4:20 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags:

Yesterday, on my ride home from work, my auto rickshaw passed another auto driver who had run out of petrol.  Beneath the hot afternoon sun, he was pushing his vehicle down the street.  My driver pulled to the side of the road and proceeded to drive the next 4 kilometers with his leg outstretched against the other auto, pushing it forward as we drove along.  He refused to take money from the other driver when we reached my apartment, instead sending him towards the petrol bunk with a wave. Smiles all around.