Book Review: Squall by Sean Costello

Getting stuck in a snow storm is one of my worst nightmares. So, I was drawn to read this book where a snow storm forces an ordinary man into having a frightening and extraordinary day. The book is written as a third person narrative that suited the story. The story shifts between Tom Stokes, the ordinary man, and Dale, a drug dealer caught in a spot. I think the author did a great job with the characters, especially Dale. The secondary characters, a pair of Indian henchmen, were interesting but far-fetched. I noticed some errors about their background and such, but only because I am Indian and so it was obvious to me.

It was a quick read that was fast-paced and suspenseful with some dark humor that provided some nice comic relief. The climax was perhaps my favorite part of the story, even though it was somewhat far-fetched. I also loved the ending, however unrealistic.

This isn’t a book you read to enjoy the language or deep themes. It was a fun read that was pure entertainment. The writing is competent and the characters interesting enough to forgive the unrealistic plot. I was very much reminded of James Hadley Chase’s books while reading this. If you are Chase fan, you will enjoy this! Costello has other ebooks out there and I am looking forward to reading them when I am in the mood for something suspenseful but funny.

-AB

Book Review: You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

ywkmWhere do you get your book recommendations from? One of my reliable sources for good books are those recommended by Author Stephen King. A voracious reader, King, recommends good reads every once in a while on Facebook. It is my cue to immediately get hold of the book and plunge in with the confidence of it being a good read. King is more tolerant of slow-paced plots than I am and occasionally I find his recommendations too slow, but I know that if I persevere I will be rewarded with a good book.

So, I borrowed this book on Kindle from my local library based solely on King’s mention. The first half of the book moves very slowly and is a bit all over the place. But once the stage was set, the 2nd half races by very satisfyingly. I saw some reviews (on goodreads.com) saying that they did not finish the book because it was so slow. I think if they had persevered till about 45%, they would have liked the rest of it.

The story revolves around the family of an up-and-coming gymnast Devon. Devon is extraordinarily talented and her parents give it all to make the dream of her qualifying for the Elite competition (that would then allow her to qualify for the Olympics) come true. But, things get complicated when a death occurs amidst the community.

The author handles complex concepts such as:
how far would you go to achieve a dream?
how far would you go to help your child achieve her dream?
is the dream really the child’s or your’s? do parents try to live vicariously through their children?
how to navigate a parent-teenager relationship? etc.
The book makes you think about these things (almost like a Jodi Piccoult book), but also manages to pack a whodunit with it.

The author did a good job fleshing out the characters, except for that of Devon herself. Being such a central character, it was disappointing that Devon was somewhat one-dimensional. Devon is the subject of so much intense pressure in her life and it would have been nicer to know more about how she dealt with it. The whodunit was good. Although the perpetrator wasn’t a super secret until the very end, the book still managed to create enough doubt in the reader’s mind about what really happened. The language had no problems and the words flowed smoothly. The ending was somewhat abrupt but I can understand why it needed that ending. (I always follow the story past the book in my head and so open-ended books drive me crazy. I want to know the story, that is, how it was in the author’s mind and not just my interpretation of it. I love having friends who write fiction, because then I can directly question them on the story beyond the ending.)

I would love to give this 4 stars (which is what I clicked on goodreads.com) but if I had the choice it would be 3.5 and that would be only because of the meandering of the first half. I am excited to discover this author and look forward to reading more of her books.

-AB

Teaching an old dog new tricks

It has been a good ten months since I stopped taking my sleeping pills. I have used sleeping pills to fall asleep on and off for a good 10 years – almost constantly really, except for the time I was pregnant with my son. I have tried to get off them several times over the last five years, but I was never successful. Now that it is almost a year since I stopped, I cautiously hope that I finally kicked the habit.

It has not been an easy journey. In the past, my only motivation to quit the sleeping pill was a vague belief of “chronic use of sleeping pills is bad for you.” But this time, I knew for sure that the pill was messing with my memory. My memory skills are very important to me. It is one of my strengths and something that I am proud of. The threat of losing my memory and my mind was a strong motivator in this quest to conquer sleep. Sometime ago, my doctor wrote me a prescription for a different sleeping pill assuring me that it was safe. I was hesitant about it and so she just shrugged and told me that I could use it if I want. I got the prescription filled but I have not used it at all. Every time I am tempted, I recall the feeling of intense embarrassment that I felt every time I couldn’t remember what happened the night before.

I have now come to see my chronic insomnia to be a disorder akin to alcoholism. I don’t think I will every be rid of it, but I can take steps to control it. I believe that using a sleeping pill even for one night will lure me back into the addiction. So, how do I control this beast that I have to live with? The answer lies in learning a few new tricks and following them diligently. Over the summer, I read a whole bunch of books on insomnia – from the helpful to the ridiculous. The first solution that is commonly recommended is the disciplined practice of sleep hygiene. Now, this is something that I have read so many times on various websites that I could probably recite it all in my sleep.

  1. Avoid or limit naps.
  2. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, especially after 3 PM.
  3. Do not eat too close to bedtime.
  4. Exercise regularly.
  5. Stop using screens with blue light for several hours before bedtime.
  6. Expose yourself to more natural light in the morning.
  7. Establish a regular sleep routine or ritual.
  8. Associate your bed with sleep – no watching tv or reading in bed.
  9. Ensure that the bed environment is ideal, not too hot or loud or bright.
  10. Go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day, including the weekends.

I have always shrugged off these suggestions because I believed that I was either already following most of them, or that some of them were impossible to follow. But after my research all summer, I wanted to give it a real try. Some things I was already doing – like no caffeine after 3pm, no screens for several hours before bedtime, somewhat regular exercise, morning sunlight exposure (as much as that is possible in the state of Washington!), and no tv in bed. I have always been against tv in bed. We have never had a tv in our bedroom. But I would always watch tv for an hour or so in the family room before bed,  (when kids are in bed and peace and quiet prevail) especially the shows that are not kid-friendly.

The first thing I did was start sleeping in a quieter room (aka no snoring from hubby). Then, I started turning down the lights at least two hours before bedtime. I stopped eating anything except for a small snack (to keep my blood sugars stable at night). Next, I started limiting or avoiding naps as much as possible. This was a bit of a challenge because I had to nap whenever I had a bad night’s sleep. I then tackled establishing a regular sleep routine. For this, I tried several things like a warm shower before bed, milk, or chamomile tea before bed and such. Nothing really caught on, so instead I settled for brushing my teeth, filling my water bottle, setting my phone to charge, and tucking the kids in bed. One change that made a huge difference was setting my phone on airplane mode during the night time. No more waking up because of notifications for every little thing! As my Fitbit vibrates for a silent alarm in the morning, I also made sure that I put the phone far away from the bed.

There were two suggestions on the list that were very hard for me. The biggest of them was sleeping and waking up at around the same time every day. As a night owl, this would be easier if I could go to sleep at 2 AM every night and wake up at 10 AM everyday. Alas, that is not possible in our world! So, I sacrificed the tv time that I used to enjoy after the kids went to bed and started going to bed pretty soon after the kids were asleep. This helped me establish a somewhat regular bedtime because I strictly enforce a regular bedtime on my children. Although it was difficult, I even managed to reduce the gap in bedtime on the weekends, to something more reasonable than four hours. But, even with all this, there was one more piece to the puzzle.

I resisted this last change the most because I never believed that not reading in bed would really make a difference . Reading in bed was my bedtime routine for years. In fact, that was how I realized that my sleeping pills were messing with my memory. I would have to go back and read the same section every night. My Kindle has a built-in light so I can read at night without disturbing others. Also, Kindles do not emit the blue night found in backlit screens, like phones and tablets. So, I believed reading in bed was okay and never made any effort to change that habit. However, over the past month or so, I have come to recognize my sleep window (that time just before falling asleep when your mind quiets and readies itself for sleep). I only learned to recognize this because of my regular bedtime. My sleep window is so small, such a light dip, that I would overcome it with the slightest stimulus (even reading). I never even realized that I had a sleep window before! But now that I knew I had one, I started waiting for it when I got into bed and give it a chance to develop before picking up my kindle to read. As weeks went by, I found myself avoiding the ritual of reading in bed and suddenly it all made sense. It was true – even reading in bed is disruptive to sleep (at least for someone like me). I really need to reserve my bed only for sleep. It just means that I will have to carve out some other time for reading. But, because reading is important to me so I am sure I will work that out.

Nowadays, I am falling asleep much faster than ever before. I picked out other small bits of advice, from books and websites, that have also helped. I keep a pad and pen near my bed to write down things that I want to remember the next day. That way I can let go of it in my mind. I surround my bed with everything I need. A full bottle of water, the pad and the pen, some headache meds and/or pain balm etc, all within a hand’s reach. To make my sleep “den” even more conducive to sleep, I set my thermostat a little lower than optimum. Did you know that one of the processes involved in falling asleep is a fall in your core body temperature? That’s why a warm shower before bed or a colder bedroom works. It makes your body temperature drop faster.

So, with all these lifestyle changes, I have made my insomnia bearable. I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and have trouble falling asleep again, but I am miles away from how bad it used to be. I still go to bed each day having no idea if I am going to get a good night’s sleep or not, but I am more hopeful. As each strategy brought me closer to my goal, I became more motivated to add more lifestyle changes to see if they will help. The downside of this type of management is the inherent fragility of it. Deviating from my sleep routine even for one day ripples into bad sleep for the next few days.

It helps to have a family that supports you. My family members, even my children,  know to never wake me up unless it is an emergency. My mother instilled in me a respect for sleep during my childhood. If I fell asleep before dinner (when I was a kid), she would rather let me sleep than wake me up to make sure I ate. She always said that missing that sleep would be more disruptive to my body than missing dinner. This is a unique attitude in an Indian mother (so many of them are obsessed with feeding their kids)! This family habit of “never wake a person who is sleeping” has even cost me a friendship. Just after college graduation, one of my best friend’s father arrived at my house to invite us all to his daughter’s wedding. I was out and my mother was napping and my 11-year-old brother refused to wake my mother and told him to come back some other time (as he was instructed to do with most people). He did not realize that it was an incredibly rude thing to do in this situation. Even after I apologized profusely on this behalf, my friend and her family took serious offense. Although I went to her wedding, she never spoke to me after that. Even after this incident, I stand by my “don’t wake up someone without a good reason” policy. I have heard it said in the Hindu culture that your soul communes with God when you are asleep. I believe that is the reason many of us wake up with a clearer head and more stable emotions after a good night’s sleep. Whenever a baby smiles in its sleep (and many babies do), my mother always said that the baby is smiling because God is playing with the child in his sleep!

Even after this incident, I stand by my “don’t wake up someone without a good reason” policy. I have heard it said, in the Hindu culture, that your soul communes with God when you are asleep. I believe that is the reason many of us wake up with a clearer head and more stable emotions after a good night’s sleep. My mother always says that whenever a baby smiles in its sleep (a lot of babies do), it is because God is playing with the child during sleep! I doubt most people think or write about sleep this much. But, for me, sleep is sacred. This morning, I tiptoed past the bird cage, because one of the birds was fast asleep! As I did that, it occurred to me that is an indication of how much I respect sleep. Its what prompted me to write this post.

So, please don’t wake a sleeping person unless you have a good reason. Here’s wishing everyone peaceful sleep.

-AB

 

Daddy

I watched Rajinikanth’s Kabali yesterday. Although, I personally do not like gangster stories I made an exception for the Superstar. I did not like the movie that much, but I do not regret making the exception. It was awesome to watch Rajini showcase his acting talents in this role. Punch dialogs and style aside, Rajini is inherently a great actor and you can see that clearly see that in this movie. Watching him in the role of an elderly father and husband was so authentic that it reminded me of my father and my recent time with him.

My dad visited me for four weeks this summer. It was the first real vacation he has had in years and I have never seen him relax as much as he did this time. I was so sad when it was time for him to go back to India that I spent the entire day with a big knot in my stomach. Before he left, he hugged me and told me that he had had a great time and made me promise to visit him next summer with my kids.

I don’t remember the last time my father hugged me. It must have been in my childhood. I have vague recollections of spending fun times with him when I was a really young child (less than seven years old). I remember being encouraged to call my parents “mummy” and “daddy” when I first started learning English. Over the years, I dropped “mummy” and called her “Amma” but daddy was always daddy – to this day.

When I was about eight years old, daddy quit his job to start up his own firm. Over the next ten years, I barely saw him. He’d come home from work after I went to bed and I would just see him for a few minutes in the morning. As a teenager, I hated that I never saw him. The teenage hormones robbed me of common sense and understanding like it does in all teenagers. All I could see was that he wasn’t there for me. He wasn’t physically or even verbally demonstrative of his affection. I resented him because I believed that money (that he was working so hard to earn) was more important to him than his daughter. My mother filled the emotional void and I grew up with her as my best friend.

Even in adulthood, my brother and I were always in the dark about his feelings towards us. Most of our interactions with him were through my mother. I came to re-evaluate my opinions about him only around the time of my marriage. I was taken aback by his attitude towards my interracial, inter-religious marriage. I am sure he had all kinds of dreams about my wedding, but he set all that aside and embraced my decision without reservations. It was a turning point in our relationship. Soon after that, I became a parent and gained a whole new understanding of parenthood and its challenges. Finally, I was able to put myself in his shoes and understand his actions. Suddenly, I was aware of the things that he had taught me even during those years when I thought he was absent. I recalled little moments here and there when he had told me things that had made an impression on me and molded me to be the person that I am today. I realized that the few memories that I had of him when I was growing up are some of my most favorite memories in all.

I can trace so many of my characteristics back to him. One of the first things he taught me was that everyone is a person and deserves to be treated as such, whether they sweep the floor or own the house. He told me to always ask people for their names, remember it and always address them by their names. So, I know the names of my neighborhood dhoti, the young lad who delivers tea to my dad’s office, my mother’s doctor’s assistant, the errand boy at the pharmacy, the watchman at the flat next door to my parents, the lady who cleans the bathrooms in their building and many such others. I love to see their smile when they realize that I know and remember their name. It breaks down barriers and makes it easier to get to know them. I know that the watchman next door is from Nepal and that he works in Chennai and sends money home for his sister’s marriage. I know how and why the tea lady at the office I worked at had burn scars on her hand. She told me one day when I asked her name and we stuck up a conversation. The simple thing that my dad taught me has opened worlds for me.

I learned the importance of charity from him. He told me that it is silly to drive hard bargains with someone to whom five or ten rupees means so much more than it does to me. I finally learned that it was not money that was important to him, it was the success, or rather the need to prove himself. With his actions, he emphasized to me the importance of honesty, education, reading, hard work, perseverance, and continuous self-improvement. He taught me interpersonal skills and the importance of good communication. I get my English skills from him and to this day I feel the best compliment that I receive on my writing is that it is on par with his.

Above all, I realized that he gave me something that I had taken so much for granted because I have never lived without it – freedom and independence. In the 80s and 90s in Chennai, India, I had so much more freedom than girls in Chennai have even today. He never made me feel that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something just because I was a girl. All around me, I had friends who were treated differently than their brothers at home but I never felt that way. It was a shock to me when I grew up and realized that not all girls had the freedom that I took for granted. At age 20, he trusted me to go off to Australia by myself to study what I wanted.

In the past four years, I was blessed with the opportunity to live in his house once again. The experience brought us closer than we have ever been. We had long conversations that made me understand and learn so much more. I continue to learn from him every day. Someday, I hope to have the same simple and implicit faith that he has in the divine. A college friend of mine once told me that I would grow to change my opinion of my dad later in life and she was right about that. I am just glad that I got to know him and cherish him before it was too late. I know that I am incredibly blessed because I have some close friends who did not have that time with their dads. With all that I know now, I feel their loss even more deeply.

To my much-misunderstood father: I love you.

-AB

 

 

 

It’s time to do away with belittling Tam-Brahms

A response to Ms. Sharanya Mannivannan’s article in the Indian Express titled It’s Time to Do Away With ‘Tam-Brahm’”.

In the Indian Express article titled “It’s Time to Do Away With ‘Tam-Brahm”, the author Ms. Sharanya Manivannan, rants about an incident from her mid-twenties when an inebriated person in a night-club asked her if she was a “Tam-Brahm”. She uses this incident to launch into a tirade about the audacity of Tamil Brahmins to refer to themselves as “Tam-Brahm”. In short she asks, how dare Tamil Brahmins use a term that reminds people that we have not been stamped out of existence? Especially, when people in Tamilnadu have worked so hard to do just that?

It is important to note that when this inebriated woman asked the author if she was Tam-Brahm, she did not follow it up with any words that implied that she was disappointed that the author was not Tam-Brahm. There is no indication that this question rose because the woman thought Tamil Brahmins are “upper-caste” or superior in any way.

Now let us imagine a similar scenario. An intoxicated Christian asks someone with a name like “Akila” if she is a Christian. Before Akila responds, someone else says, “No, her name is Akila Malik, Christians do not use names like Malik”. Such an incident would have been forgotten and never thought of again. Akila would not be outraged and would not construe the innocent question to be “a subtle act of aggression”. That’s because admitting that you belong to a group whose identity is Christian is alright and you are even allowed to be proud of it. But God forbid someone admits to an identity of being Brahmin! So many people believe that Brahmins do not even have that right. We Brahmins are secondary citizens because of the sins of our fathers. Our ancestors did bad things and so we should quietly subject to being belittled, degraded and ripped of our identity for all eternity.

As a Tam-Brahm, I and many like me have been treated with this contemptuous attitude all of our lives. We have been ridiculed and bullied all through our lives because we were born in a Brahmin family. Like the author mentions, I did nothing to earn being called a Brahmin, just like she did nothing to earn her surname. Yet, it is fine for her to use her surname to identify herself, but she self-righteously condemns my use of my identity as a Tam-Brahm.

She says that she was struck that “a young person in a casual, urban social setting, that too in a state of intoxication, had maintained such a sound grip on how to peg people quickly”. I think the key word here is “intoxication” and the implication is that Brahmins shouldn’t even admit to their identity in a state of intoxication. Can you imagine the outrage if the person wasn’t intoxicated?

Personally, I have noticed that many of the young people (in urban social settings) who riot that Brahmins should be eternally ashamed of their heritage are those who did not grow up in Tamilnadu during the last 50 years. They were raised abroad and are lucky to have been brought up “caste-oblivious”. Brahmins like me who grew up in Tamilnadu in the last 50 years never had that luxury. We were constantly reminded that we belonged to the caste-that-should-not-be-named; the caste that is constantly picked-on; the caste that is freely made fun of in movies, songs, and dramas. This is because we are the caste that doesn’t retaliate and, we are the caste that does not have the right to retaliate. We were forced to grow up feeling ashamed of our heritage and downright scared to reveal our identity as a Brahmin. I grew up hating my first name because it revealed that I am a Brahmin, as if just being born a Brahmin was an unforgivable sin. It took me years to become comfortable in my identity as a Brahmin and stop worrying about my name. I wrote a blog post about that more than a year ago.

Tam-Brahms are derogatorily called “thayir sadam, namam, pattai, parpan, pappathi, mamis” and so on. If we were ever to use such word for a person based on their caste, we could face criminal procedures. I recall an incident from my early teen years where a stranger threatened to report my father to the police for calling him “lower-caste” when all my father did was to tell him not to touch me. So, I would like to know who really keeps casteism alive?

The author says that it is not incidental that “the artsy, alternative, more affluent circles” that she moves in is dominated by Brahmins. She does not know how many Brahmins are poor because she has not moved in those circles. It is also not incidental that she moves in circles dominated by Brahmins if she grew up abroad. That’s because most of us have been chased out of our homeland to earn a living just because we are Brahmins. I have heard it said that only those who have sinned have to leave their homeland and seek a living in other lands. So, this is another way by which we continue to pay for the sins of our ancestors. But, when does this debt end? Never, apparently. Most of us that leave the blessed shores of Tamilnadu for other countries end up staying abroad. Why? because in other countries we are not constantly judged by our names or our caste or our diet or our dialect or our other day-to-day practices and religious beliefs.

So, the next time you hear the term “Tam-Brahm”, please realize that we do not use it to subtly aggravate or make history more palatable. We do not use it to clarify our rank in a hierarchy of your imagination or to defend the caste system. We certainly do not say it to negate centuries of bigotry or embrace the same. Instead, we use it to feel solidarity in our oppression. We ask about it to find out if we can feel comfortable and safe in a group. We use to tell each other that we understand and to know that we have some things in common. We even use it to make fun ourselves. (Please feel free to peruse some of the Tam-Brahm communities on Facebook. You will find that the predominant theme is making fun of ourselves.) So, please stop attributing malice where there is none. We all use terms like Indians, Tamils, Chennaites and many such other names to identify ourselves in various circumstances and Tam-Brahm is just one other way.

We are so much more than what our ancestors did to others. That is exactly why it’s time to stop deriding us. Usually, all we ask is to live and let live. But this time, instead of choosing to remain invisible, I shall step up and say no. I am done paying the debt of my ancestors. I refuse to be stomped on for sins that I did not commit. I am Tam-Brahm and I am proud of it, because what the term means to me is not what it meant to my ancestors. So, start getting used to it; we Tam-Brahms are here to stay.

-Ambuja Bharadwaj

PS: Those who know me know that I am not one to air my personal views on controversial topics in public. But I did so this time, because the original article in the Indian Express upset me greatly. Thanks for all your support, friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born again Love

 

My Dearest,

I don’t remember the moment I fell in love with you. But, in love I fell and now there is no turning back – forever. I fell in love with you only a few years ago, although, I have known you for most of my life. I heard about you even as a child, interesting tales about the things that you did, but they never affected me the way they affect me now. When I was a teenager, I went through a phase where I even disliked you! I felt you weren’t as perfect as everyone claimed. I could not understand your actions. I felt you were partial, unfair, and dare I say it? Yes, I thought you were unethical! I compared you with other men and found you wanting. You did not seem deserving of my love or devotion. I saw your mischievous smile as the arrogant smirk of a know-it-all.

In my twenties and most of my thirties, I was indifferent to you. I never really thought about you much. It was like my life had nothing to do with you. I thought that we completely lost touch. Now, I know that wasn’t true. I had pulled away from you, but you never gave up on me. You always had your eyes on me. You didn’t push, you didn’t force, but you stayed there, waiting, knowing, completely confident, that I will eventually realize that I can’t live without you. You waited all the while, smiling your know-it-all smirk. Only now I realize that if you had abandoned me, I would have never survived.

Then a few years ago, you decided that it was time. You reached out to me in an almost passive way. I don’t know how you did it, but you slowly wormed your way into my heart. You made me see you clearly for the first time and you lit a spark in me. A hunger to know you and find out everything about you. I turned to every resource I had, I spoke to people who knew you and I sought out those interesting tales from your childhood. Finally, I was able to see your actions in a whole new light. What I had seen as partial, unfair, and unethical finally made sense to me. Viewing it with older and wiser eyes, I understood the reasons behind your behavior; that they were driven by a pure sense of ethics, unmeasurable love, and amazing grace. That spark that you lit in me is now a raging bonfire that can never be put out. It keeps me warm on the coldest nights and makes my whole world brighter every day.

These days, I find myself day dreaming about you. My heart sings whenever I recall your mischievous smile. It no longer seems like an arrogant smirk to me. For now, I understand the language that you speak with your eyes and that smile. I imagine running my fingers through your dark curly hair, gazing into your kind eyes, and resting my head on your broad majestic shoulders.  But most of all, I come running to you when my heart is heavy; I lie on your lap, pour out my grievances and tears, and wait for you to tell me what to do. How many times have I fallen asleep like that? And you have just sat there, while I slept on your lap, watching over me, even though you had a million other things to do. You stroked my hair and my troubles dispersed away with every stroke.

Now, I can’t imagine my life without you and all that matters is that I want to spend the rest of eternity with you. I have a picture of you in almost every room of my house. Wherever I spend significant time, I want my eyes to fall on you. I have a photo of you on my bedside as well, so that your face is the last thing I see before I fall asleep and the first thing I see upon waking. Even right here, next to me, on my desk I have a picture of you. One from your childhood, of that time you were dancing, on top of Kaliya, imprinting your lotus feet on his head and subduing him to save the people you love.

I am never alone, now that you live in my heart. Thank you for saving me. I love you.

-AB

This post was written for the “Write a Love Letter” campaign for The Chennai Bloggers Club

 

 

 

Lord of the World

Lord Jagannathan

Lord of the World: Lord Jagannatha

I spent the last week in Puri, Odisha. My main objective: visiting Lord Puri Jagannathan (Lord of the World). I am not much of a traveler but I really enjoyed this trip… even with my busted knee.

These are the top five things I loved about Puri: i.e. places you should check out if you go there.

1. Lord Jagannathan Temple: Beautiful architecture and the cutest deity. Lord Jagannathan, unlike most Hindu deities, is not made of stone. He is made of wood. He is modeled after a tribal idol with beautiful big eyes, a smiling mouth and a small disproportionate body. In Puri, He is accompanied by his brother Balaraman and sister Subhadra. The temple architecture is very different from the Chola architecture seen in South India. The best part is, you can get really up close to the deity. They don’t stop you a mile away like they do in Tirupathi. If you plan to visit, please read up about the history of the temple and Lord Jagannatha. It is a beautiful story. The temple also has one of the largest kitchens in the world and feeds thousands of people with its prasad.

2. Sakchi Gopal Temple: Although we visited various other bigger temples, this little one captured my heart. The simple reason: Its a Krishna temple. Lord Krishna in all his glorious dark skin and beautiful smile playing his flute! The little story behind the temple of how Lord Krishna came to bear witness to a poor but righteous man so that he may marry the woman he loved is also very sweet. There is also a little sannidhi for Lord Ram just outside the temple. When I came out of the temple and walked a hundred yards or so, I came upon this cute little park. The centerpiece of the park was a diaroma of Krishna’s Rasa-Leela:  life size figures featuring Lord Krishna with Radha (playing the flute of course) surrounded by His Gopis. Unfortunately, the park was closed but I was able to get some photos from the outside.

3. Dolphin sighting at Chillika lake: We were not in the right time of the year to observe the migratory birds at the lake. But we did see about 4-5 dolphins swimming and frolicking. It was an exciting sight and I barely had any time to get any good pictures. However, it was well worth the two hour boat ride during with my kids drove me crazy with their fighting.

4.The Konark Sun temple: A world heritage site and rightly so. Its beautiful and breathtaking to imagine how it was built in a span of 12 years in the 13th century. Such intricate stone sculpting. Shopping in the little shops outside the temple was a lot of fun.

5. The sea breeze and the people: Puri is set on the coast like Chennai and that made me feel very much at home. The Bay of Bengal is the same, but the temps were lower than Chennai and so was the humidity. I loved walking along the beach road and shopping. The people were kind and friendly and found us pretty exotic. They are more familiar with Telugu people and Tamil was quite alien to them. The only frame of reference our boat driver had to us was the IPL! He was excited to meet people who came from Chennai, the land of the Super Kings!

I have lived in 3 different countries, but I am not much of a traveler. I prefer to do my traveling through a book while curled up on a comfortable couch. However, this trip gave me hope that I might be able motivate myself to see a few other places. One place I definitely want to visit in India is Mathura: the land of Lord Krishna. One factor that limited my traveling within India was language. I was always intimidated by places where I might need to speak Hindi. To my surprise, my diminutive Hindi skills were more than enough in Puri, especially after I got over my initial fear of trying to speak the language. I do realize my grammar must have been terrible, but oh well, you do what you need to survive.

Here are the top five things I didn’t like in Puri: aka things you should watch out for

1. Temple “guides” and others who are waiting to rip you off: I have never visited temples where they expect you to “donate” money at every single stage of the seva process. Charlatans hover around the temple in hoards and expect you to pay them for no reason. It was very annoying and also a little sad. The worst offenders were at the Sakchi Gopal temple.

2. Dearth of vegetarian food: Apparently the people of Odisha love their meat and sea food. Even with a huge Hindu temple in its midst, it was quite hard to find good pure vegetarian food. Tip: Check out ISKON for veggie food.

3. Chappathis: Ok, this is just me. Rotis/chappathis are my least favorite food, but was the only thing that was commonly available. Within four days I was craving idlis and dosas!

4. Language difficulties: They want you to talk in Hindi or at least Telugu. The hardest part is when they quote prices in Hindi or Oriya.

5. My bad knee: My knee injury has not healed fully and I had to use a walking stick everywhere. Now that I am back home, I am following a rigorous rehab program to break the inflammation cycle and get it back to normal. But it sure made things difficult while I was there. Note to self: Ensure you are physically fit before travel.

All in all, the good outweighed the bad and that’s all you can ever ask for.

Jai Jaganatha!

-AB