A taste of R2A … and it was delicious!

3 Jun

So in July of 2014, we decided to R2A for a little while and ended up spending 8 months back in the US. Those 8 months were probably the best time I have spent in the US, like, ever ;-)!! Here’s why –

  • Location, Location, Location: We went back to the same state and county but lived in a different area. This place felt more like a community than the sprawling, f
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    Pittsburgh, PA

    ast-growing area we lived in before. My child started Kindergarten (yay for the public school system!) at a school that was 2, yes TWO, minutes walking distance away. I found a great temp job with the most pleasant commute I have ever had in my entire working life (except for the one I have now). The library (yay for the public library system!) was a five minute drive away as were numerous choices of great restaurants, malls, grocery stores and a fantastic community centre.

  • Connections old and new: The moment we landed I reconnected with everyone I had gotten to know before we moved back. Of course it helped that they are all on my
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    Pittsburgh, PA

    Facebook so we knew what was going on in each others’ lives, but it was wonderful to see them in person again. And I made new connections through old connections … in fact the second day after we had landed, I got together with a huge gang of girlfriends and had a great time! No whining about like-minded people there! I met many non-Indians because of my child’s school and my work and it was such a great experience (the only non-Indian friends I had were because of work and that is so not the same). We traveled A LOT in those eight short months. I managed to visit family in Michigan and Washington State, both of whom I had never once even thought of visiting in my 10 years there and both States that I had never visited before! We took random road trips and for the first time ever stopped at a hotel without a prior booking GASP!! We took turns off the straight path and saw things we never would have seen.

  • It’s all about attitude: I finally got the rid of the stick up my behind ;-). I don’t know what it was about working and having a baby in the US but close to our decision to R2I
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    Seattle, WA

    the first time, I was wound as tight as could be. I stressed out about everything!!! My child’s routine, my work, my diet, my shoes, my marriage, my in-laws, the environment, my parents, everything!! This time I was on the chill-pill for the most part. I took time off from work without guilt, I went on a field trip with my child’s school (to a pumpkin patch; I was in charge of three kids and it was awesome!), we did pizza from the freezer whenever we wanted instead of cooking roti-sabzi every night (blecch!). I  worked hard, but didn’t go crazy, at a job where there were actual human beings working rather than the shiny, always-on folks that I had met in the big companies (my job was with a government agency so it reminded me very much of India lol).

  • Money is a means not an end: I don’t know why, but my attitude to
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    Fall colours at Finger Lakes, NY

    spending was so much more casual and relaxed than before. Maybe it was not having a mortgage or it could have been that I was reverse-converting and actually thought things were cheaper lol or maybe it was just because I knew there was an expiration date to my stay in the US, but I had fun spending! I bought the things I wanted, spent on vacations, ate well and lived simply.

  • Home is where the heart feels happy: I think what surprised me most was that I actually felt like I was home, like I belonged. It was wonderful! Maybe if I had been able to capture this feeling before the first R2I, we never would have come back to India.

Anyway, I now feel like I have two homes. And I can’t wait to visit my American home again!

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Finger Lakes, NY

Restaurant Review: Incognito

5 May
Pune has seen a dramatic transformation in the last several years, and Baner (the area in Pune where I currently reside and that literally was jungle a decade or so back) is not going to be left behind!
The reasons I quite enjoy living in Baner, even though it is far away from where I used to live before and where most of my family still live, are the wide roads, the proliferation of shops of all kinds, the fact that the crowd is much more cosmopolitan as well as diverse and last, but certainly not least, the restaurants!!!
I am a huge self-proclaimed foodie; not the kind that will sample weird stuff like beetles or alligator or even rare meat, but the kind who just loves to eat out at new places and will definitely try cuisine that is different from roti-sabzi and daal-rice. And I do miss the diversity of food options from the U.S. (especially Mexican food, which I am yet to find here). So when a new restaurant is recommended to me by other people who love food like I do, I had to go!
Enter Incognito! The restaurant reminded me very much of a TGI Friday or Sweet Water Tavern (but much nicer :-)) with their high ceilings, wooden floor and muted lighting (so rare in Indian restaurants). I found the menu also very interesting in that it has a great variety of international dishes that I have not seen done successfully in very many restaurants here. They have steak, sausages, salads along with pizzas, burgers and some asian fare including indian dishes. They also good cocktails, some great beer and happy hour before 8PM where you get two drinks for the price of one, yippee!
I have been there several times now  and have tried the peshawar lamb kababs (loved them), nachos (meh), loaded potato skins (too cheesy but not bad), the sicilian veg pizza (yum), the veg burger (definitely give this a miss), bangers and mash (yum again), niemer currywurst (OMG yum) and the swedish chicken kotbullar (OMG yum again). Wow, I didn’t quite realise how often I have been!
I also love their cute 200ml servings of beer that are perfect for a girl who is pretending to herself that she is watching her figure. whilst stuffing her face with everything in sight.
All in all, one of my favourite places to eat around Baner and judging by the crowd there on Saturday nights lots of people agree with me, so reservations are definitely recommended.

Work-life balance … what’s that?

27 Apr

Disclaimer: I have worked in India for a couple of years only and that too before I decided to go to the U.S. for a non-IT, non-Engineering Masters degree, so my views here are perceptions based on observation and conversations with friends who are now working outside the home.

A good friend, who R2I-ed a year or so before I did and has a very similar-to-mine non-IT professional background, recently found a job after a long search. When I spoke with her the weekend before she was to join her new company, she sounded very excited on many fronts – she would finally be out of “housewife” and “mommy” mode, have her own income and last, but not least, put her hard-earned skills and experience to good use. A month later, her enthusiasm and excitement was flagging just a bit – her commute was terrible (an hour and a half each way by company bus), her coworkers were highly unprofessional, the expectation around her work hours seemed to extend into infinity and her boss was playing dirty politics. About a year into her job, tired of all the drama, she jumped at a vastly better opportunity that really valued her experience and background and would give her the opportunity to grow her career. Cut to one year into her new job and she has even less of a life than she did at her previous role. Now let me tell you all that this is a fantastic, upbeat, optimistic and very hard-working lady. She loves what she does and puts her heart and soul into everything she takes up. I squarely place the blame for her discomfort on the culture of this country … whether it is the one in our home-life or in our workplaces.

After commuting for an hour and a half to two hours each way (that’s a total of up to 4 hours spent each day just sitting in traffic!!), we expect employees to put in a minimum of 10 hours at their desks … pure warm-the-seat time. Most people in India (again, purely my opinion) have no social life outside of work. Nor do they have any hobbies they indulge in outside of work. So they really have no incentive to go home. What ends up happening? Traffic makes an employee late to get in, (s)he then takes at last three breaks lasting anywhere between 20 minutes to 2 hours during the workday, actual work probably begins in the second half of the day causing people to have to stay late to finish their tasks for the day or to leave it for the next day leading to deliverable delays.

Most of the working mums and dads I know hardly see their children during the work week. The kids are raised by grandparents or ayahs. Weekends are spent catching up on chores. It sounds so similar to the U.S. lifestyle that many of us (including me) lived, but for me it was a choice in the U.S. If I left at my designated time, no one taunted me with “half-day today?”. As long as my tasks were getting accomplished and done well, I didn’t need to sit around and warm my chair so that I would be perceived as working hard.

I have recently started working again after a long and frustrating search for a job in my field. So far, I am maintaining my work-life balance. Let’s hope it stays that way!

 

 

Restaurant Review: Le Plaisir

24 Apr

If you thought French food and Pune doesn’t go together, you would be so very wrong! The first time I visited Le Plaisir when they were located in a little shop on Bhandarkar Road, I was absolutely enthralled. From the hand-written chalkboard menu to the sloping ceiling and cramped seating, everything felt like my idea of a little European cafe (not that I have ever been to one LOL).

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We tried a chicken and bean salad, savory ham and egg crepe, roasted chicken sandwich, a chocolate and orange mousse and of course, french macarons. Each dish, and I mean EACH dish was delicious! Eating the crepe felt like getting a warm loving hug. Each mouthful of the mousse and macaroons was a mini high. I think what added to the warm fuzzier for me was the fact that I was sharing this food with family members who I adore and who like me a lot too 😉 … anything good becomes even better when shared with good people!

10436168_10152479415774655_4014916767406117438_nI have since returned many times and now that they have a beautiful, large space on Prabhat Road, the experience is even better. To be fair, I started this blog past eons ago and  came back to it recently. Since then, I have tried their pasta (just OK and on the dry side, you can find better places for pasta), other salads (the pear and walnut salad is YUM!) and the panna cotta (very nice but I’ve since had one much better).

Final recommendation: Definite thumbs up! It can get pretty crowded at peak dinner/lunch time and you may have to wait a little while for a table … but it’s worth it.

 

Getting my Marathi culture on in 2014

18 Jun

I seem to be on a culture-experience spree and I am LOVING it! I have always been very enthusiastic about watching plays and shows … I used be so excited to get the Wolf Trap Summer Program emails so I could plan the shows I wanted to see and my one big regret about leaving the U.S. is that I never watched a Broadway show.

As a young child, a big group of children from the neighborhood walked a few times to the Bharat Natya Mandir in Sadashiv Peth from my Grandad’s house in Shukrawar Peth to watch marathi plays for children. Although I have forgotten the name of the actual plays we watched, I vividly remember being thrilled when the old lady actually sat inside a big (fake) pumpkin to the song “Chal re bhoplya tunuk tunuk” (To all my non-marathi readers –  the best I can translate this is “let’s go pumpkin tunuk tunuk 😀 … go ahead, say tunuk tunuk out loud and have fun with it), and learning the song about the rabbit who went to all these fun places (like the circus) and did crazy things there …

I recently discovered that one can book tickets online for marathi plays as well (Wheee!) and lost no time in booking shows. So far, I have seen:

  • Marathi Bana: A total celebration of Marathi culture. I was especially in awe of the sheer energy of the dancers throughout the 3 hour show. I could have done without the political commentary at the closing, but still this is one show I will watch again in a few months for sure.
  • Ek Hota Deool: Presented by Udayan Indurkar, an Indologist, this lecture-style program uses images of different Indian temples to attempt to change the way we view temples, their purpose and ultimately, our view of history and culture. Admittedly, the language was a little heavy for me at times even though I speak fairly decent Marathi so I am hoping to catch the talk again in English someday. The group, Blushing Indian Stones, that organizes these presentations also organizes other outings to learn more about Indian history/culture. They are going on a trip to Cambodia this June to explore the temples there.
  • Ayushyavar Bolu Kahi (the 1000th concert tour): I had never heard of the people who created this program until my mum asked me if I wanted to go with my parents to see this show. And boy, was it worth it! The creative genius behind the show is a couple of friends (Sandeep Khare and Salil Kulkarni), one who writes the poetry and the other who composes the music for it. To watch professionals in action is such a pleasure and so hard to describe. The way the duo interacted with each other and especially with the audience was simply amazing. My parents had splurged on special tickets so we were right up in the front section (just out of reach of the moving camera, to my intense relief!). Most of the audience knew most of the songs and were singing along. Some of the songs brought tears to everyone’s eyes. If you understand Marathi, you should definitely check out some of their work on iTunes or YouTube.
  • Chhapa, Kata: The title of the play translates as “Heads, Tails” and is an intense experience. I prefer comedy to tragedy in my entertainment (Hmmm, what does that say about me, I wonder?) but this was one heck of a tragedy. Firstly, to be able to watch as famous an actor as Reema Lagoo live was amazing and even more amazing was the performance of all the actors. I was in awe of the fact that these actors were performing in front of a live audience (that wasn’t always terribly quiet) and missed not a single beat even when a line or two was flubbed. I swear, 95% of the audience walked out with eyes wet (guilty!).

I hope to inculcate the same enthusiasm for plays/performances in my daughter by introducing her to some kiddie plays soon!

 

Some things you can only get in India!

14 Jun

When it comes to customizing service, you can’t beat the creativity that Indian merchants show! Here are some of the things that I have never seen outside of India (admittedly my world-experience isn’t that vast 😉 !) –

  • Cutting chai: Aaah for that tiny little cup of hot, diabetes-inducing, milky tea that you are sure to get at pretty much every corner of India. Whether it’s the boy who comes bearing his kettle every afternoon or the local chai-walla shop frequented by all the office-goers (India’s unofficial water-cooler!!), cutting chai is a tradition that I am a-OK with. Just a little sidebar: the chai-boy at my local beauty salon has bought a flat from his earnings … whoa!
  • Family paan shops: I remember as a child stopping at the ubiquitous local pan-patti, which was a standard outside every restaurant, to eat a meetha paan (or two) when family went out for dinner. Now there are fancy air-conditioned geared-towards-the-family shops that sell only paan. Oh my!
  • Free doorstep delivery of practically anything under the sun: In India, nothing is too small to be delivered to your doorstep. Your local “kirana” shop will happily deliver daily needs like milk, eggs and other groceries. Your local chemist will deliver your one-off or monthly medicines, even the local vegetable/fruit vendor will deliver fresh veggies to your home at absolutely no added cost! Gosh, even the liquor store will send your boozy must-haves right to your doorstep. And with the number of online shopping portals opening up, doing your time-pass shopping for clothes, shoes, books, electronics and what-not from the comfort of home has become easy too. Happy times for us homebodies :-).
  • Free doorstep pick-up of the most unlikely things under the sun: No doubt having your laundry, bank stuff, library books and trash picked up from your home is awesome but … one can have lab samples picked up from home. LAB SAMPLES PEOPLE! No longer do you need to actually get your behind to the pathologist’s offices so you can pee in a cup, no sirree. They will come to your home and take it away for you. How’s that for customer service?
  • At-home service of the most unlikely things under the sun: Too bored to go out and get your beauty routine done at the salon? Call someone home to do it for you. The same goes for getting a massage and even getting your clothes tailored. I may never leave home again!!

What have you been surprised at when you visited India? I would love to know!

Indiarepeat needs a change of face and pace

28 Apr

I cannot believe that I haven’t posted anything new since August last year! I suppose one reason is that I no longer consider myself a returnee … I have now become a local (2 whole years this past January, yaay!) and so things that used to exhilarate or exasperate me in my early days of returning no longer do so (which makes finding topics to blog about that much harder). Maybe it’s time this blog received a facelift and a “pacelift” LOL.

Life in India has a way of keeping you busy, although it is a satisfied and contented busy that is very unlike the hamster-wheel busy that life in the U.S. can be. Since I was last here, so many things have changed … we visited the U.S. on a long trip that certainly put things into perspective, I have managed to find ways to keep me busy and earn me some money, I have started exploring Puneri cultural experiences and the best part, I think, is that I have finally made peace with all aspects of the way of life here.

So my promise to myself this year (who says almost-May is too late to make new year resolutions?) is to show indiarepat some love and post more regularly. I anticipate that not many of the forthcoming blog posts will be directly related to moving back to India, but I can promise that I will try my best to be entertaining and informative.