Stroll around San Jose

On the first-day stroll around the city, you would notice that San Jose is a city of beautiful old Spanish architecture. From the majestic Bank of Italy building to the 18th century cathedral of St. Joseph. From the Sainte Claire hotel building to the art museum. The architecture is captivating. Then there are large and beautiful urban murals in the parking lots and smaller art projects in every corner of the city.

And the city is home to the homeless. On a lazy Sunday morning, you would see people packing their bags from their ‘spots’, and there is poop and pee and broken glass pieces of beer bottles on the sidewalks. In to the evening, you would see the homeless getting into a brawl with the security folks of the buildings, as they try to find a spot and settle in for the night.

On the first-day stroll around downtown San Jose, I found it quite amusing, with curiosity and a bit of fear, of the unknown and unfamiliar.

San Jose City Murals:

Saintly at St. James

St. James park is either empty or full of homeless in groups. Not many regular city dwellers in the area. And as you cautiously walk through the park, you notice that they get up from the ground and pace their way through. As you begin to wonder what now, you hear a voice asking, “did you get one yet?”. And that’s a group of three girls and a boy, distributing food packets to the homeless. From the look of those who rush through at the sight of this group of youngsters, I’d assume that its a regular supply.

Food, like people

American diaries } FOOD, LIKE PEOPLE

Some say food is like people. Like people, it travels the world and in the course it imbibe cultures and change its color and character. Like people, it survive the wars and carry the bitter-sweet taste with it. How else do you explain ‘Tacos Al Pastor’, a Mexican dish with Pork, that seem quite similar to the middle-eastern dish, Shawarma? And you learn that it was actually brought by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, and this immigration was a result of the collapsing Ottoman Empire back in the time? I mean, how many hundreds of years of history is that behind a single dish?

Or take the Greek dish called ‘Souvlaki’ (pita) which is also a close cousin of Shawarma, and the origins date back to the 17th century BC. When you look at the Vietnamese noodle soup ‘Pho’, it has stories of war to tell, because the soup was made popular in rest of the world by refugees of the Vietnam war (oh, and that soup is so delicious). While the Korean ‘Bibimbap’ has so many things mixed together – raw and cold vegetables, slices of meat that are sweet, fried egg and Kimchi. And you have to mix it all and eat. It is believed that farmers ate this during the farming season because it is easy to make food for a large amount of people.

Ain’t food interesting, like people?

Tacos Al Pastor
Tacos Al Pastor (Spanish/Mexican)

Souvlaki (Greek)

Pho (Vietnamese)

Bibimbap (Korean)

Between the two continents

It was past two in the morning local time in Abu Dhabi while we were waiting in the pre-clearance queue. The queue was long and kept changing as the take-off time for some of the transit flights were announced. Everybody was visibly tired but not complaining.

“What time is it?” the elderly gentleman who stood in front of me asked. He was well-dressed and looked like a retired professor or a scholar of some sort. I told him the time. “It takes a lot of time, every single time.” He pointed towards the interview counters. “I’m so tired and just want to board my flight and rest for sometime”, he said but with a smile. I returned the smile, agreeing quietly. As the conversation went on, I learned that he came to America for his studies while he was young. Back then he did not mind all the security hassles, he said. But now that he is old, and after traveling all these years, it has become difficult for him. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked around while nodding my head. “But I have to travel since my family, my wife and children are there.”

“So, where are you from?”, I asked. “Iran”, he replied. “Now that I’m retired, I spend my time between the two countries. My family wants me beside them and I want to stay back in the home country, so I have to keep traveling.” Every six months or so, he travels between Iran and America, so that he can keep in touch with his wife and children in America and his family members back home in Iran.

With the Trump administration’s travel ban, I wonder how that old man is coping up now.


Kanthalloor is a village in Idukky district in the south Indian state of Kerala. It is close to Munnar, the most popular hill station in Kerala, and is filled with picturesque landscapes all around and also famous for it’s vegetable and fruit farms. Our trip to Kanthalloor was through Pollachi and the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. Kanthalloor is yet to become a busy tourist place so it has it’s pristine nature much unexplored.

The windmills of Pollachi on the way

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As we reached Marayoor, the sky had this for us.

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It was almost 7:30 PM when we reached the place we stayed.

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And then we had bonfire, some barbecue, a lot of singing aloud to keep the night young.

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And in the morning, we woke up to this! The house was called “Madamma’s Mud House”. It was supposedly built by a British lady using clay, mud and wood.

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The view from the house was spectacular as there was nothing to obstruct the beautiful view of the valley and hills. It was breathtaking.

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Bring a cup of coffee, pull a chair and enjoy the serene view!

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Another view from the house we stayed.

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The majestic Madamma’s Mud House.

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And then we took a hike through the dense forest nearby.

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After a long and tiring hike on a chilly morning which made us sweat, we reached a farm land maintained by the tribals (do you see the dragon flies?). The hut on the right is for the watch dogs who didn’t stop barking until we left. There were many sorts of crops around.

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Ever seen apple on the apple tree?

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‘Your Moment is Waiting’

The new Kerala Tourism advt is the talk of the web now. The new video, created for an international tourism campaign, is exotic and sensuous. The whole presentation is different from the traditional ads about Kerala. The overused and cliched imagery of Kathakali is presented in a different way. And that same scene highlights the new strategy of Kerala Tousism of promoting rural tourism. Theyyam is featured and that scene is just amazing! The backwater scene sends out a message of finding oneself within the beauty of Kerala. The well-being element of Ayurveda is promptly highlighted. The grove scene is yet another breath-taking shot. Then it concludes beautifully with the final scene of wildlife with an Asian elephant.

I am not sure what is Kerala Tourism targeting with this advt though. If they are after the people in the west who have a mystical passion about Africa and want to get them here, I think they will succeed. This advertisement video, being as sensual and exotic it is, establishes itself as an alternative destination to Africa (is that why there are too many African elements in this movie including the music?). One thing I don’t understand is why they had to bring in a Senagalese singer to lend voice to this video that markets Kerala. They should have included some Kerala elements in the music. And the first scene doesn’t convey anything about the movie (Is that eerily looking human figure a ghost, an old man with a walking stick or a fisherman?). Okay, we know the place is Thekkady but since this is an international ad, I don’t think anybody would understand what this is about in the beginning scene of the video. Except for these couple of points, I loved this fresh new approach.

Shot at Thekkady, Munnar, Thalassery and Kannur in 11 days, this video is directed by Prakash Varma (of Vodafone Zoo-Zoo fame) and is produced by Stark Communications.

Roadrunner – An Amerindian Story

RoadrunnerThe image of America that I had in my teenage was that of a heaven. The stories I heard were plenty – that, in America, even beggars travel in Mercedes Benz, there is no poverty, you get a 1 ltr pet bottle of Coca Cola for Rs. 1 (yeah, in Rupees not in Dollars) etc. But not all stories gave such rosy pictures. Another set of stories told me that despite of being so rich, America has no family values or culture and their men and women are sex machines who are ready to have sex with everyone.

Watching the Hollywood movies and reading more about America in the late teenage gave another set of pictures. Drug peddling, racism, teenage pregnancy, school shootouts and so on. But it also threw out some old stereo types of the sex hungry females and culture-less families. And when I looked at it, I could draw a lot of parallels between my country and America. On both the good and bad sides. Then I realized that there isn’t much that I should be proud of or feel inferior of my country in comparison with America.

When I finished reading the book “Roadrunner – An Indian Quest in America” by blogger-writer Dilip D’Souza, I felt the same way again. Dilip draws parallels between India and America, oh and perhaps it’s not just about these two countries, but what the human kind everywhere in this world shares in common. It is a travelogue that takes you along with the writer while you go through the pages. Instead of going through the prominent tourist spots and presenting the boring details of such journeys, Dilip chooses to take the paths less traveled by travel writers. He talks to ordinary people, takes us through the extra-ordinarily ordinary places and gets you glued to the pages. He also observes both countries in terms of patriotism and liberalism and gives us a food for thought on the subject. And one story he has kept for us in one of the final chapters, based on a personal account, would shake us cold.

In Roadrunner, you won’t see a blind admiration or an outright contempt for America, both of which could be prominently seen in the books about America. The book is more than 300 pages long and I did skip a couple of chapters that seemed boring to me. I wish Dilip could have skipped some of the detailing in those chapters. I think in the web 2.0 era, writers have to learn how to engage readers in striking, but shorter lines. Dilip does that in his blog though.

Nevertheless, Roadrunner is a good read and as a person who has never visited America, I enjoyed reading it because it gave me a feeling of going on a trip along those long windy roads with the author.

Oh and about the package – it was a refreshing change that the back cover of the book did not have any newspaper quotes, or celebrity quotes saying “Great book! Thumbs up!! I would strongly recommend it to everyone” and such gimmicks. I like that. 🙂

Order the book in Flipkart here

Title: Roadrunner – An Indian Quest in America
Author: Dilip D’Souza
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: Rs. 399

Siruvani Hills, Palakkad

Last Friday, I went to Palakkad with some friends to attend a friend’s wedding. His wedding was on Saturday, so we had a full day to spend there. Our plan was to visit Siruvani Dam, but couldn’t go past the forest department check post as we did not have a sanction letter from the district forest officer. Sp we just enjoyed our ride and clicked some pics. Here are some snaps I took in my mobile phone camera.