Aishwarya Rao
Bourke Street - saturated with department stores, malls, high-end boutiques to cafes, restaurants ranging from Vietnamese to Thai, is a heaven for those who love to shop and those who love to eat!

A performance on Swanson street (thanks Dave Krunal 46 for correcting me) - brimming with life, the city is home to the best in music, art and fashion.

Similar to the acclaimed Macy's windows in New York city, Myer on Bourke Street had a grand Christmas window up. Crowds of people, young and old hijacked the pathway as they stood glued to the animated OLIVIA windows!
Aishwarya Rao

The only way Parvathi kept track of days during summer holidays was by following serials that appeared on DD Metro. This morning the unimaginative tune of Chandrakantha woke her up...just when she was about to ride appa’s brand new scooter. For a while she wriggled in her bed in an effort to shed the drowsiness and then jumped on to the mosaic floor. As she walked past her thatha (whose hands were busy conducting the coffee wave from the tumbler to the davara) Parvathi gave him a dramatic good morning salute. She didn’t notice his gesture in response, as Parvathi was already headed in the direction of an aroma that was beginning to envelope the house.

In the kitchen Paati sat meddling with the karuveppalaia and the delicious scent of arachi vita sambhar made Parvathi hungry instantly. But as it happens with children, Parvathi’s attention to food was brief and it hopped on to her young cousin in the verandah. He sat there memorizing the ranks of gigantic men on ‘WWF’ cards.

While Amma had forbidden them from playing The Singapore Airlines cards, somehow it was okay to engage oneself with meaningless cards that had men’s biceps and chest sizes listed on them...As she stood at the entrance of the verandah staring at her cousin who had staunchly refused to play more intelligent games, she noticed something.

Something beyond the dependable walls of her grand parents’ cosy home in Officer’s colony. Something that grabbed her attention in a manner that the sambhar or the Herculean men on those cards had failed to do! As she took in the scene, Parvathi stood defeated by many emotions that swamped her all at once....May be it was the peppery air around her or the hopelessness she felt when it came to her cousin’s silly games, you see, Parvathi couldn’t stop crying.

Aishwarya Rao
"We all lead boring, ordinary, mundane existences and now and then a bird of paradise comes along, and we all get scared. It scares us because we're not like that, our feathers aren't brilliantly hued in red and green, we're brown and gray and seeing that bird of paradise makes us feel ugly or as though in someway we have failed. Some of us love to watch that bird, and we dream that one day we might be birds of paradise too..."

My most favorite lines from Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, 1970

Sid's shot of the Blue & Gold Macaw, Jurong Bird Park, Singapore, July 2009
Aishwarya Rao
I believe that sometime during his sailing years Sid got the idea that continent hopping was fashionable. That can probably explain how we found ourselves in Australia. Of course there was the motive of higher education. I, for once followed him like a dutiful obedient wife to the second largest city in Tasmania,Launceston...

Honestly to call Launceston a city might be a bit of an exaggeration. When I look at it, the place reminds me of surreal pictures in exotic travel magazines and Lonely Planet guides. Nothing like the ever-so-crowded world of Pondy Bazaar or the urban ruggedness of Dallas.

But I get the feeling I am not remotely disappointed by the absence of bling malls and gigantic super markets. You see for a non-nature lover I surprised myself by falling in love with this small yet beautiful place. I wouldn’t call it quaint...but Launceston seems to be lost somewhere in between its natural unspoilt environment and its raging enthusiasm to keep up with the concrete civilization.

Caught sight of a massive and perfectly semi-circular rainbow while walking back from work and was reminded of how...

We may run, walk, stumble, drive or fly but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way!

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Aishwarya Rao

-->A part of a post does little justice to the magnificence of the gigantic idol of Shiva located on the banks of the Arabian sea. At 123 feet, it is the tallest idol of Shiva in the world. Designed to receive the rays of the sun throughout the day, Murudeshwara shines in an unparalleled radiance, delighting his large and eager audience.

After Saturday night’s rest, we reached the Murudeshwara temple on early Sunday morning. Apart from the main deity, we found two other deities interesting – Dattathreya and Jattigeshwara. After the darshan we headed up the stairs to learn and enjoy the history of the place. Right beneath the massive idol is a cave carved with murals narrating the origin of Murudeshwar (again in Kannada). If you prefer, there are guides outside the cave who would be willing to narrate the story with its engaging nuances in a language of your choice.
Our final and obvious destination was the beach beneath. With its fine sand and angular waves, it is easy for a bunch of travelers to forget their agenda and relax in the waters.
While we did not check out the Tipu Sultan’s fort in the vicinity, it might be a good place to check out if you have the time.

After breakfast at the RNS Highway Hotel we headed straight to Kollur.
Where to stay: The RNS Hotel on the beach. The air conditioned rooms can be a little too expensive at Rs.2000 per room for a day. Your best bet is the RNS Highway Hotel maintained by the same management on the way to Murudeshwara. Located 5 minutes from the beach, this newly constructed hotel has the facilities of a 4 star hotel and offers clean and fully furnished rooms (including TV) starting at Rs.300.
After Shiva, we headed to see Shakthi on the banks of the Sauparnika river in Kollur. It was in this Moogambikai temple that we waited for almost half an hour before we received the Darshan, despite having purchased special tickets @ Rs.15/- for a short-cut to see the deity. It is believed that Goddess Mookambikai, the unified form of Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Parvathi appeared before Adi Shankara in this very Kodachadri valley.
The lengthy queues, the gold plated crest and the “jerugandi” (or move quickly) orders inside the temple gives the impression that one is in Tirupathi. Being a part of the seven “mukti” sites in Karnataka, Kollur attracts thousands of devotees every day.
The temple hosts some rare idols like the panchamukhi vinayaka (five faced Ganesh) and a string of lingas such as the Pranalingeshwar, Partheshwar, ChandraMouleeshwar and Nanjundeshwar. More information is available here.

After a photo session at the Agumbe sunset point, our final call for the day was on the banks of the Tunga river, the beautiful Shringeri, one of the most prominent Hindu sites of pilgrimage in India. Words can do little justice to the striking scenic features of this place. There is little surprise that Adi Shankara decided to make Shringeri his home ground where he stayed and preached his principles of Advaita Vedantha. The Sharada temple in the premises houses the most pleasing looking deity bedecked in exquisite ornaments.
Nearby is the Vidyashankar temple, acknowledged as an architectural wonder, where the first rays of the sun corresponds with the zodiacal sign of the month that is engraved on its walls!
There runs a bridge across the river and on the other side is a dense rain forest. If not for our packed schedule, we would have loved to stay back in the lovely gardens of Shringeri where there are guest houses run by the temple administration. After an early dinner right outside the temple, we left to Horanadu, where we had planned to stay the night!
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A brilliant journey cutting across the glorious green canopy of Karnataka began with the darshan at our family deity’s- Kateel.

Kateel (Cut-eel) is a magnificent Durga temple right in the middle of river Nandini is located 27 kms north of Mangalore. The presiding deity of this temple is the “Sowmya Rupa” or the softened manifestation of the fierce Durga Parmeshwari. The deity’s unusual sitting posture is evident as her feet peep out firmly from under the elaborate decoration and a grand saree (most likely to have been an offering from her devotees).
The deity had such an unmistakable charm, certain ‘cuteness’ about her that almost everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of her poised form before we left. With the sound of flowing water (Nandini) and the echo of gigantic rain drops falling on the temple roof in the background it would have been easy to have remained immersed in the lure of this temple.

Legend has it that Nandini (the daughter of the sacred cow Kamadhenu) was cursed by a sage Jabali, to flow as a river on earth and that Durga takes birth as her daughter to release her from the sage’s curse.
You can read more about Kateel history here.
Kateel can easily be the starting point of your pilgrimage+of a weekend getaway. Not only is it located only 25 minutes from the city, but the route to the temple is also absolutely scenic, cheerful and green. Our next destination was Udupi. However on the way to Udupi we stopped at four other must visit sites.

First was the Bappanaad Durga Parameshwari temple located in Mulki. It is believed that Bappa, a Muslim merchant was responsible for building this temple. A detailed explanation of the temple history is available here.

At the temple, you are likely to notice the fine architecture, the neatly maintained premises, and the temple authorities who are friendly and personal. The Bappanaad Dolus (drums) an essential part of the temple’s annual utsava (festival) hang majestically in a corner. If you like you can capture some of these antique instruments on camera as you are allowed to do so.
Our next stop was at Sri Vishweshwara temple, Yellur.The deity Vishweshwara is represented by the Shiva linga with an imposing face. The Linga is made of ‘Rudrakshi Shila’ a rare variety of stone and we were told that the Linga was discovered by a tribal woman who found the ground bleeding after she cut the woods. The attraction in this Yellur temple is the giant ox (Nandi) who is decorated splendidly during festivals and other special occasions. More information is available here.
Kunjaragiri Durga and Pajaka Kshetra
Located on a hill in Pajaka (the birthplace of Sri Madvacharya) around 9kms from Udupi is the Kunjaragiri Durga temple also known as Durga Betta. With two flights of stairs, it is an easy climb up hill. This is a must see location as it offers a fascinating panorama of the land around and the Arabian sea beyond.
Upon climbing down we visited the ancestral home of our Guru, Sri Madvacharya at Pajaka Kshetra. It is amazing to see how the place tightly holds traces of the life of Sri Madvacharya. Every visitor is first taken to see the Ananteshwar deity in the premises and then guided around the house. One is offered snippets from Sri Madhva’s life (in Kannada of course) including stories about the magical banyan tree and the two mammoth rocks that Madva used as a lid to protect milk from cats. It might be useful to have someone with the knowledge of the language accompany you.

After quick darshans at the Chandreshwar and Ananteshwar deities in Udupi we landed at one of the most ancient temples in Udupi, that of Sri Krisha. The idol is adorable and is decked up elaborately with rich jewels and stones. Although one can see him only through a small window on the beautiful carved door of the shrine, the spectacle is breathtaking.
The manifestation, believed to have been installed by Sri Madvacharya leaves a memorable and lingering impact. One must not miss the “Kanakana Kindi”, a small window through which Kanakadasa, a lower caste devotee of Sri Krishna is supposed to have been blessed with his darshan.
You can find the legend of Udupi Krishna here. If you land up in Udupi around lunch or dinner time (like we did) there is a vegetarian restaurant by name Sarovar that you might want to check out.
On our way to Murudeshwar from Udupi on Saturday night, we stopped at Anne Guddi a Ganesh temple. A large silver Ganesh dressed in rich tones awaits his audience and five year olds take up the responsibility of distributing the prasadha. After a long and magnificent day we headed to Murudeshwar through pouring rain and highway traffic. The Maravanthe beach beside the road added to the excitement late that night
Aishwarya Rao
It was another evening well spent at Alliance Francaise. Rebelz, a relatively new theatre group in Chennai, released their first production for this year - Two to Tango.

The production was an assortment of two plays 'Playwriting for Dummies' and 'Alice in Blunderland'. The show kickstarted with 'Playwriting...' a short play with an interesting twist to the art of playwriting. Preethika Hari as the world renowned playwright Sheila Punter gave a tremendously natural and realistic performance. In a story about characters taking control of a play, Preethika connected well with the audience.
Despite more than a couple of "rewind" moments in the play, the actors maintained pace with ease.
I am personally a fan of minimalistic sets, but this one was too empty for my taste. I was reminded of Gowri Ramnarayan's Mathemagician where Aarabhi Veeraraghavan had created a minimal but fine and artistic set. While such intrinsic artwork might have been unnecessary, a little detail could have created interesting compositions. I must grant one thing the lighting was impecabble; minute-minute and beautifully co-ordinated to help the audience focus on the characters. Overall short and sweet!

It was however 'Alice in Blunderland' that was certainly more entertaining. A handful of actors, another handful of masala in the story, well scripted lines, decent use of sets and apt costumes that made Alice in Bluenderland complete and enjoyable. Simon works for a company that appreciates family values in a man. In all earnest he engages an agency to send him one Miss Alice to act as his girlfriend in front of a boss. The fun and laughter was nearly unstoppable this evening with several 'Alices' playing their parts in their own true style!
Of all the ladies this evening, it was Anupama who stole the show. She was a lady of few words today, playing a non-english speaking girl mistaken to be Alice. Anupama was a riot with her expressions that truly spoke her mind. In my opinion, if someone can make an audience laugh with some priceless expressions and a one liner "I pay, I stay", then she has truly mastered her character!
With some great support from his co-actors, Ashwin as Simon pulled off a neat and well rehearsed performance. Had the introduction of 'Alistair Campbell' been avoided the play would have scored full points for script tightness as well! Once again the presentation was rather stretched only because it claimed to be against a British setting. There was some interesting experimentation by Sandeep on the sounds with Tom and Jerry dutifully playing when appropriate. Overall a thoroughly enjoyable show. Who said a team full of technology professionals cannot make your laugh your guts out?!
Aishwarya Rao
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but the places and moments that take our breath away - Anonymous

This weekend half a dozen of us headed to Valparai, in the Anamalai ranges 3500 ft above sea level. A town that is almost isolated. Surrounded only by staggeringly beautiful greenery! Following a sumptuous lunch at Pollachi and a stop over at Aliyar dam, we drove uphill. 20 of 41 hair pin bends further was the accommodation we had arranged for earlier this month -an unpromoted private bungalow that belongs to one of the numerous tea companies that dominate the area. We were welcomed to a connoisseurs' tea + biscuits session that no hungry flock would have refused.

Our bungalow was a sheer delight - private, peaceful and with all stylish comforts we hadn't quite anticipated. Of all the amenities available to the visitor it was the unpretentious and magical touch of our full time cook Chandran that gave hospitality a new meaning.

The next morning we explored the tea factory, a discreet animal retreat called "Poothotam" and traveled up to Mudis, the highest peak in Valparai. On our way down, we stopped at the small and friendly town and grabbed some chocolate ice creams. By this time the sunny landscape had transformed into a notorious stage for the rains above. We then retreated in a hurry, listening to some Rahman melodies, awe struck by the beautiful moment when the falling drops teased the canopy of leaves above us.

The little time we spent at Valparai was intoxicating to say the least. The eager staff, the inaccessibility to Internet/cellphones, the breathtaking beauty of the small, clean and green scenery left us wondering why weekends couldn't be longer and more frequent...

The stage for this spectacular drama was however set much earlier. After a rugged overnight journey, we reached Coimbatore early Saturday morning. Our first stop was undoubtedly Annapoorna's for a delightful breakfast. Taking advantage of the clean and well maintained toilets, we freshened up and directly headed to Isha Yoga - located in the Vellingiri foothills. The Isha Yoga center acclaimed for its clever combination of ancient Yoga principles and modern science was a spectacular sight. As we sat in an ageless silence inside the humongous dome, an unexplained calm settled over us. There is a beautiful energy and vibrancy about the place that any one who is interested even a little bit in the path of personal exploration is certain to enjoy. I am not sure if it was the profundity of the moment, the dip in the sacred water or the time of day, but we were starving hungry. Following lunch at Gowri Shankars in Pollachi we headed to our ultimate destination - Valparai. Our last stop on Saturday before we reached the bungalow was the Aliyar dam.
Despite the unpleasant heat, the Aliyar dam was full of travelers and locals who were promptly diving into the water that runs inside the park, thronging boats in a mood so festive and so unnatural for some of us who believe we are too sophisticated to enjoy an unassuming cone ice cream on the top of a dam under the unpardoning spite of the afternoon sun.

WHERE: Weekend getaway, small town, staggering scenery near Coimbatore
HOW: Take a train/bus from Chennai and reach Coimbatore. Hire a cab in Coimbatore to avoid depending on local/public transport
TIME: March-November when it is certain to rain intermittently during the day. Forest department also allows entry into certain areas during this peak season.
MUST CARRY: Glares, Caps, Water Bottles, Anti-motion sickness tablets, Summer wear
Aishwarya Rao

Breakfast in Basavangudi, coffee on MG road, visit to National College, dinner at Kamath hotel listening to a soulful kutcheri, prayers at Ragi guda, sloshed evenings at Firangi Paani, hot paranthas from a friend's kitchen, Taste of Rampur, ice cream at Corner House, Changeling @PVR, fire at Forum mall, lunch at Shanti Sagar, coffee with besht friend, shopping at Blossoms, paani puri on Brigade road, The Lord of the Rings, magazine store, coffee at Barista, Midnight's children, vodka at Vaayu's...

Aishwarya Rao
For those of you who think you know Parvathi...Thank you for loving her so much!
Kumar had telephoned the previous night and asked her for an unusual favor. "Will you meet me at The Fruit Shop tomorrow morning?", he had said with a lady-like hesitation in his voice. And for the first time in her life she wanted to refuse Kumar. "I suggest we meet in the evening. That way we can go to the beach" she retorted hoping that her best friend would get convinced by the sincereity in her voice. Afterall she was not yet prepared to break the news to him. How would he react to her story? Would he accept the idea of another man in her life? Would the three of them hang out in coffee shops together? Or would Kumar leave her life forever? A barrage of questions were haunting her while she waited for Kumar to suggest an alternate plan.

But Kumar was insistent. "No yaar. Why can't we meet as I suggested? What better plans do you have? Thatha and Avva are coming home by Lal Bagh. Amma has asked me to pick them up. And remember you owe me one. The last time you were upset about Prabhakar I heard you out patiently for an entire week. In fact I want you to spend only half an hour with me..." As Kumar went on and on with a list of reasons why she couldn't refuse him two thoughts came to her mind. Why was Kumar so insistent? And what would she tell Dev?

It was way past midnight and she had very little energy to argue with Kumar. Blasted son of a lawyer she thought to herself as she meekly agreed to his plans. She could always come up with something to tell Dev. A flat tyre or too much traffic near Nandanam signal. She was sure Dev would understand. Afterall he seemed to be the guy she wanted to spend the rest of her life with...
29th December 2002
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This valentine's day Sid and I managed to escape to a spa - Aura, located in the heart of the city. We had signed up for an exotic (or should I say extravagant?) 'You and I' massage. After the customary refreshments we were ushered into a royal ruby red suite. There we indulged ourselves in a 'choco+strawberry+essential oils' massage executed in a traditional Balinese style.

The massage full of robust strokes, rolling and kneading almost miraculously cured us of the severe back and leg aches haunting us (following some terrific time on a kinetic honda on the much pleasurable roads of Madras!). This was followed by a rose and milk bath in an imposing jacuzzi and I couldn't help but appreciate the majestic decor that added an unmistakable aura to the entire experience.

I am not sure if it was the soothing influence of the ambient music, the regale setup or the personal service of the therapists but both of us seemed to be in a romantic daze for the rest of the evening.A must-go for any one who is visiting Madras and is overwhelmed by the city's snarling traffic and sunny madness!
Aishwarya Rao
From custom made pastas in Little Italy to the Chef's baked bowl at Eden's, Sid and I have explored almost every vegetarian specialty in the city this margazhi season...However our favorite continues to be the signature 'idli vadai sambhar' and 'degree coffee' in Saravana Bhavan on the busy roads of Pondy Bazaar.

There is something nostalgic about relishing the idli dipped in the delicious sambhar. And I have never tasted anything like what I call 'the red chutney'.

It reminds me of childhood. Of days when I used to return in Bus #2 and hurry down the busy roads in order to watch whatever appeared on TV. I used to wait for Amma to return from office, so that we could take the much awaited trip to the Siva Vishnu temple on Usman Road. Now I have to admit that my primary interest was to window shop on my way to the temple. The bangle seller, the poo-kaari, the second hand book store, the kulfi-wala and the the panjumittai-karan with his hot pink cotton candies provided the sort of entertainment that Door Darshan didn't.

And once the archanais and abhishekams were over, Amma would occasionally walk me across to the tiffin section of one of the earliest Saravana Bhavan outlets. On the days she had enjoyed herself at work I would be rewarded with my favourite 'sada dosai' in the A/C section on the third floor. The waiters who by then were our extended family always made it a point to keep an extra kinnam of my 'red chutney'. After dinner I would grab some somph in my right hand and salute the sentry at the door. Outside Saravana Bhavan, Amma would help herself to the customary paan and advice me on the repercussions of children tasting paan! If I managed a convincing puppy face she would buy me a Goldspot or Frooti from Shekar stores on the way home. We would walk back with an unexplained contentment in our lives. And I would thank Siva Vishnu for being so strategically located...

Almost 19 years later, the sada dosai with red chutney (and now a degree coffee has joined the list) brings back memories of innocent days and carefree moments...Of times when all that mattered was that extra kinnam of red chutney!

Aishwarya Rao
A couple of years ago I issued 'Q&A' from a library in the neighborhood. That particular copy had hardly been issued in the months it had been in circulation. I noticed a marketing bubble slapped on the cover page. It read 'Now being made into a film'. After a hundred or so pages I was convinced that Vikas Swarup had a knack of being intricate and untangled at the same time. The story teller's incredible gift was reflected in his straight forward story line and the boquet of experiences he had tied together and in style.

Now three years later I sit in front of the TV screen, watching the BAFTA awards on Sony Pix, getting excited and cheering for the incredibly talented and humble cast and crew of the film Slumdog Millionaire. Beginning with a very simple acceptance speech by the genius who scored the music for the madness of Mumbai, A.R.Rahman, the unassuming and enthusiastic responses of Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto to the cheerful Danny Boyle with an infectious pregnant smile, the team seemed to deserve every bit of attention and awards that were coming its way!

There seemed to be honor for the film for simply being stacked against the likes of 'A curious case..' and 'Changeling'. With 7 stunning awards and nominations in almost every other category Slumdog Millionaire, the real underdog, beat the much awed 'A curious case of Benjamin Button '. As they received their awards and congratulated each other, the Slumdog team made competition seem irrelevant.

And now if media reports are to be believed not only did the film win India a couple of statues ,it is now attracting the attention of world travelers to the slums of Mumbai. Now my curiosity is restricted to the big stage... I only hope there arent many surprises at the Oscar!
Aishwarya Rao
Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri's work(s) have become an obsession of late. Her latest novel, Unaccustomed Earth is rich with thoughts and stories that cannot be quickly forgotten! A rather (brutally) honest reflection of the lives of Bengalis in The United States. The following are her words from the novel (that I am deeply fond of for apparent reasons).

Sudha had no fondness for her younger self, no sentimental affection for the way she had looked or the things she had done. She had looked of course, perfectly ordinary, her black hair worn in pigtails or braids, grown to her waist...And she had done ordinary things: played clarinet in the school band...And yet she could not forgive herself. Even as an adult, she wished only that she could go back and change things: the ungainly things she'd worn, the insecurity she'd felt, all the innocent mistakes she'd made. 137/ Unaccustomed Earth/ Lahiri, Jhumpa
Aishwarya Rao
There is something queasy about coming back home to India. It is not the scorching heat outside, the mangled traffic on the roads or even the invisible odor that hovers around you throughout the day...It is the uncanny ability of people to impose their ideas and opinion on you. In the past week alone there have been moments, moments where I have wanted to scream in rage and wondered if I had the jutsu to inflict similar tortures on them. But of course I am an over-absorbing married woman that belongs to a middle class brahmin family. So it might be a better idea to wear my bindi and tolerate the claustrophobic company of presumptuous people...
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