Monthly Archives: August 2010

Mindlessness Over Reality: Saas-Bahu* Telly Soaps

This article was published on the CurryBear website on August 17 2010. *For reference: saas= mother-in-law; bahu = daughter-in-law.

Not being brought up in India, I violently reject old fashioned ideas of the stereotypical mother-in-law as projected by the many Indian television shows. Where the daughter-in-law is always obedient, subservient and a total slave to the domestic politics of an almost-always huge mansion-like house. Where the saas and bahu cannot happily co-exist because there is always a tug-of-war over the son. Where there is always an evil, conniving vamp (another bahu, or the unmarried sister, or the widowed aunt; take your pick) in cahoots with one of the servants hell bent on destroying the peace and quiet of their heavenly (and ultra over the top) abode. Where the women are always dressed in their best sarees and jewelery, even if they are only going to bed. To sleep.

I mean, come on! In a world where even Bollywood is changing (no, I am not talking about the increasing number of make out scenes) to imitate real life, why is the audience stuck on watching shows whose storyline hold no close resemblance to reality?

Starting this year, Yashraj films did attempt to come up with something haatke. Something other than the daily drama soaps. However, despite being a hit with the younger generation (ahem, like me), Rishta.Com, Seven, Powder and Mahi Way did not go down well with the saas-bahu shows addicts. After only a run of six months, due to low TRPs, these revolutionary shows died a sudden death.

My grandmother in India didn’t even know what I was talking about when I mentioned the new shows to her. “What? Rishta dot what?” she screeched from the buzzing telephone line. “I am happy watching Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”. Because mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law. She went onto regale me with the last episode where the husband’s first wife shows up but she is pregnant with his child. (Don’t ask).

What makes me mad though is not how insidiously integrated these saas-bahu shows are in the Indian telly watching culture, but how often we forget that these are unrealistic “made-up” worlds manufactured to distract us from our utterly normal (and perhaps, boring, for some) daily lives. For example, I cannot imagine my granny calling me shameless if I didn’t wear the traditional salwar kameez while in India. In fact, my liberal granny (who ironically enjoys these aforementioned vile shows) didn’t even bat an eyelid when I told her of my former boyfriend belonging to a different religion. She nodded wisely and said, “As long as he is a good guy”.

The point is, just as I cannot understand and stand the Twilight hype that has taken over the minds of every single girl/woman from as young as eleven to as old as forty and over, I fail to grasp the ever increasing and continued popularity of these shows that barely come close to reality.

As my former high school psychology teacher would say, “Arey, it’s pure entertainment!” I guess, for now, I can satisfy my curiosity with that, except the mindlessness of it all is immensely frustrating. I think I need to go watch my Sex and the City collection all over again.

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West Coast Tales: Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

The holiday is over. Your bags are packed. Heavy with your new possessions.

You look around the hotel room one last time. There will be no coming back for forgotten items.

As you leave the room and hear the door close behind you, you are not sad.

You know that there are many more tales waiting for you.

Photograph: Copyright Sanchari Sur

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Day 8: And down the Man-Made Hole we go…

Yes, we really are under the ground

Alice was lost and bewildered precisely because she went down a hole without a tour guide. Fortunately, Seattle’s Underground Tour at the Pioneer Square not only came with a tour guide, but a quirky sarcastic tour guide at that.

But wait… 15 feet below the surface. 90 minutes of history. Not exactly my idea of “fun”.

I was never excited about history lessons. My earliest memory goes something like this:

A grade three classroom at Pratt Memorial High School in Calcutta. Little Mrs. D’souza teaching us about Harshavardhana (or, better known as Harsha), a king who ruled North India in the middle of the 6th century. Me in my white shirt and green tunic uniform sitting inconspicuously in the corner, making silly rhymes to kill time.

But this underground tour came with the “untold” stories of the founding fathers of Seattle. A city that burned down to the ground once and was built twice over. A city whose failed sanitation system had the streets flooded with faeces. A city whose greedy mayor was more concerned about sucking out money from its people rather than remedy the situation. And, ironically, was elected mayor yet again.

Let’s just say this was a history lesson that did not have me day-dreaming.

The brainchild of Bill Speidel, this tour started in 1954 as an attempt to prevent the destruction of historical buildings around Pioneer Square. Speidel was onto something, as this tour is currently one of the highlights of Seattle.

But history or no history, when the time was up, and the tour guide led us out of the musty underground filled with the ghosts and memories of a forgotten era, I was happy to be back in the real world.

Yes, Alice, you have my sympathies.

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur

Under the ground...

A "Crapper" (that's how they were marketed back in the days)

Watch Your Step

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Day 7: “Material Girl” Goes Shopping

 ‘Cause we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl – Madonna, “Material Girl”, 1985.

When I first heard Madonna’s song “Material Girl” at the age of 12, I was clueless as to what she was harping about. I don’t consider myself the proverbial material girl. You won’t see me jumping on the ever-changing fashion bandwagon and throwing out half my closet every season.

Yet, being a Canadian, resisting the allure of shopping in the States is futile.

It’s no secret that Canada has a smaller market, higher taxes and duties on imported goods, and larger profits. Where do the consumers go? Across the border, of course. Shopping beyond the border is what we dream of. The latest fashions at lower prices can be quite a drug.

Even then, Canada’s government has Canadians in a tight leash.

Only $50 leeway is allowed, if you stay for 24 hours beyond the border. $400, if you spend 48 hours.

The best thing to do is to actually go on a holiday, spend 48 hours, and shop.

So, this material girl – only under the occasional circumstance of being a Canadian in the States – went shopping with crisp $20s rustling in her purse asking to be spent. I always say that if you are a Canadian in America, do as the Canadians do.

 Not going would have been a cardinal sin.

To know more about “Why Canadians Shop in America“, read this article by Diane Brady.

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Day 6: A Walk to Remember

The Water

Having driven down in a rented car from Vancouver to Seattle, it makes complete sense driving down to the Waterfront for a relaxing evening. It is possibly the smartest move for the day. For more than one reason:

  1. I am tired
  2. I want to click some good photos
  3. I love the smell of salt in the air

Unlike Toronto downtown, getting a parking spot near the Waterfront is as easy as saying “boo!” to a goose (from a distance, of course, lest it chases you; but I digress…). There is an overpass  (referred to as the  “viaduct” by the locals) right near the Waterfront under which there are rows after rows of parking spots. And the best part? It’s free after 6! Tell me of one free parking spot in downtown Toronto, and I will take you out for ice cream. Promise.

Apart from tons of places to eat and curio shops to spend hours at, the Waterfront is cluttered with scenic views of the water, ferries and moored yachts.

With the sun just an hour from sinking and the cool air playing hide-and-seek with your hair, walking along the Waterfront is ideal for unwinding after a long drive. And when hunger calls, I will step into Fisherman’s Restaurant on Pier 57 for some hot steaming fresh seafood.

Care to join?

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur

Under the Viaduct, Seattle

A view of the city from the Waterfront

A Bookworm's Haven, Waterfront, Seattle

The Dusk

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Day 5: Suspens(ion) above Capilano River

 

Capilano Suspension Bridge from a distance

Gingerly, she took a step forward. One foot at a time, she decided. The bridge wobbled and creaked under her feet.

“I can’t do it,” she said.

“But look at the others. They are all doing it!” her family urged.

She looked up, across the 450 feet gorge. The bridge didn’t look strong enough to hold that many people, but it did. She wondered how. She peeked over the railings and looked at the shiny sliver of the Capilano river, glittering in the sun. Mocking her from 230 feet below the feeble bridge.

Fine; I can do it, she decided quietly.

Holding onto the railing with both hands, she took one step at a time.

Halfway through, she stopped. For photographs. How was she supposed to smile while the bridge wobbled from side to side? What if it toppled over?

“Nothing will happen! Just smile!” they reassured her.

She forced a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. She wished this ordeal over.

Again, it was time to move forward. One step at a time.

“Yes, I did it! Thank god I don’t have to do that again!” she exclaimed jubilantly, as she reached the end and stepped onto solid ground.

“Oh, wait till you have to cross it to get back,” a passing stranger smiled as he stepped onto the bridge.

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur

Capilano Suspension Bridge, North Vancouver

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Day 4: Python for Breakfast

Python for Breakfast

The day started innocently enough. I was ready to take on Vancouver aboard the Big Bus. Like a pucca tourist. Do what all tourists do. Sightsee. Click. Eat. Sightsee some more.

What I didn’t count on was holding a live python early in the morning.

I took the subway from Broadway to Waterfront Station. Then, headed off to the Big Bus kiosk to get my ticket. Last night had afforded me undisturbed sleep, and I was in a perky mood.  

As I stepped outside into the sunlight and rechecked my destinations for the day, a small commotion attracted my attention. There was a man with a squirming snake – a python – around his neck and shoulders, surrounded by a tiny crowd.

I stepped closer for a better look.

“Here. Do you want to feel it?”

And, the next moment I had a snake around my neck. I could feel its muscles contracting and expanding as it struggled to move freely around and about me. The flickering tongue had me mesmerized.

“Somebody please get this off…” I found my voice.

Amidst laughter, the man reached forward and lifted the snake off me as if it weighed nothing.

With an awkward smile, I walked off to catch my Big Bus.

Photo credit: Shinjini Sur

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Day 3: Water, Water, Everywhere…

 

Water, Water, Everywhere... ; Photo credit: Shinjini Sur

When you think of a ferry, you imagine a small boat that can carry about 20-30 people from one place to another. But what about a ferry that resembles a cruise ship and has atleast 7 levels? That is large enough to hold a food court, a spa and swallows not one, but several buses and cars at once?

When I board a Pacific Coast Line bus from downtown Victoria, my imagination allows me to envision being dropped off at the docks to board a small boat- those miniature dinghy types that can be hired in Toronto for private parties- that would take me from one port to another.

What I didn’t- or, couldn’t- imagine was still sitting on the bus while it went into the underbelly of a humongous cruise ship.

Astonishment would be an understatement.

The ride to Vancouver is a revelation. With wind in my hair, while standing at the front of the ship on deck 6, I can almost pretend to be Kate Winslet in Titanic. Only my Jack is missing.

And then there is only water. Everywhere I look my eyes are met with deep blue- of the water and the sky. I imagine this is what Coleridge must have been thinking of when he composed The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I shudder at the desolation that that old mariner would have felt while being lost in the open ocean.

Eventually, however, I can make out the blue outlines of faraway mountains, coming closer with each second.

Vancouver is not far.

Photo credits and copyright: Sanchari Sur, unless otherwise stated.

First proper glimpse of Vancouver

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Day 2: The Last Supper… At Sooke

I prefer a Starfish to a Crab; Undersea Gardens, Victoria; Photo credit: Shinjini Sur

I am not a big fan of crabs. There is something lethal and unattractive about their pincers. And maybe it’s my imagination, but I see malevolence in their beady dark eyes. Moreover, my father tends to get crabby too, with his Cancerian personality.

Naturally, I had no idea what was in store for me today when I boarded the 61 Express bus to Sooke after lunch. It was time to visit an old family friend.

Her name is Ruma Roy, and she lives in a quaint little log house in Sooke, a small town about one and a half hour away from Victoria downtown. She and my mother have been friends since their air-hostess days at Indian Airlines.

When you usually see old friends after a long, long time (in this case, nearly 3 years had passed since her visit to Toronto), they absolutely insist on feeding you.

“I am cooking some crabs for you,” she announced.

I had been vaguely aware of her conversation with mom regarding the “menu” of this feast. Being ignorant of the ways of cooking crabs- since I clearly steer clear of them- I had assumed she would be cooking some dead, frozen crabs for dinner. But when her neighbour, Cindy, dropped off a case of large writhing crabs at her place, I went into mild shock.

“You are going to cook those?” I asked with incredulity interlaced with my question.

“Of course. Watch!”

With a sharashi (or, Indian tongs), she picked one up and dangled it in the air.

“You must cook them directly in hot water. If someone gave me a dead crab, I would throw it away. You can get E. Coli.”

And with that, she dumped it upside down in the already boiling water in the pot.

I cringed. For a second, I imagined being boiled alive.

“Don’t worry. They die within 30 seconds.”

Apparently, crab cooking has some easy steps to keep in mind.

  1. They must be alive and kicking.
  2. They must be dumped upside down in a pot of boiling water so that they die quickly, with as little fuss as possible.
  3. They must be boiled for atleast 6-7 minutes.
  4. They must be washed in cold water in order to maintain their tart brick-red colour.

Not that being a crab cooking pro makes it any easier for me to think of cooking them.

Apart from the delicious crabs (and trust me, they were; I ate guilt free), she had also made shrimps with quinoa seeds (substitute for wheat/rice), and baked salmon and halibut with vegetables.

 Heaven must be this way, I thought as I broke into a crab leg. With lots of good food.

Definitely, a supper to remember.

Photo credits and copyright: Sanchari Sur, unless otherwise stated.

Fresh live crabs; Photo credit: Shinjini Sur

This is HOW it's done!

Let me OUT!

Boiled Alive!

Washed in cold water

The Last Supper?

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Day 1: Taking it Easy in Victoria

 

With an old-fashioned name that reeks slightly of colonialism, Victoria throws you off with its small town European charm that beckons at you like the embrace of a former flame. The many horse-drawn carriages flanking the Inner Harbour bring back fond memories of Calcutta’s Esplanade. Yet, the old charm mingles effortlessly with the carnivalesque atmosphere around the harbour with street musicians and entertainers lining the walkway, creating a fusion of the old and the new.

After a slow lazy day at the harbour and a forgettable lunch at a nondescript cafe (with a rude waitress) on Government Street, I end up heading off to the hotel for an afternoon siesta.

How typically Indian of me, I think guiltily.

The evening brings about a visit to Chinatown. Touted as the oldest Chinatown in Canada, and a former opium den, it is a block of Chinese restaurants, speciality emporiums and derelict houses. I choose a restaurant that is bustling with customers and has a sign outside boasting of dim sum. I give in to my inner dim sum worshipper.  

This time the food doesn’t disappoint and I happily gorge on wonton soup and varieties of dim sum.

As I head back to the hotel, I yawn. It’s been a long day. My body clock running three hours behind my regular time is screaming for some more sleep.

Tomorrow, I think to myself. Tomorrow will bring forth some adventures.   

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur

An alley in Chinatown

 

Wonton soup

Inner Harbour in the Dying Sun

 

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