To Universe, with Love

Baby sister gets married !

Posted on August 19, 2014

IMG_3034When i was a kid, my dad told me that it would rain at my wedding day. It didnt, all day. Till i decided to step out of my door and head out to the mandapam to get married. It was so bad that the power in the city went out and the car driving me stalled on the way. My engineer uncles can fix anything. Literally. And its no surprise that we all rejoiced when it started pouring on the day of my sister’s wedding. It was a much welcome relief to the hot day and the wedding stress. Everyone started smiling and started reliving memories of their own. I was secretly taking a nap on a hidden corner, and my cousins woke me up screaming “its raining!”. Yes dad, you predicted it right.

2014-08-19_0007I must be ambitious to think i can photograph my sisters wedding. Its close to impossible to have pursuits of my own when there are so many relatives and emotions all around. And so much work to be done. I did carry around my camera, partly because i felt naked without it. I told myself, ten artsy pictures and thats all i want. The photographers we hired will do the click-click-click for every moment from each possible angle. Even that was impossible when you have a huge family to catch up with and entertain.

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I have sat in the close proximity to the bride and grooms for a while now, and i was surprised to find myself able to chant some of the slokas the pundit was chanting. Nannagaru(dad) somehow got the head pujari at Vijayawada Durga Temple to preside over the wedding, and he had the most beautiful voice ever. There is so much art in an Indian wedding. And these chants are one of the oldest form of poetry and rhythm. He made the proceedings fun, as much as he could. And these are the only shots i could sneak in, during the down time during the wedding.

2014-08-19_0008 Someone i was most looking forward to meet and photograph during this India visit is my great-grand-mother. She is gorgeous, super intelligent and wise. She could not recognize me but asked me questions about my life and gave me some good advice (stop studying asap and have babies). I grew up with her and i have some amazing memories with her. She turned 100 this year and sat upright through out the wedding. Her life is a lesson for all of us.2014-08-19_0011 Introducing the bride aka my baby sister, Ramya. Saying it out loud, “Ramya’s wedding” sounded so un-real, all these days. And all of a sudden, she was playing the part of the bride. And looked the part. Gorgeous. I was amazed. Parents worried about how fast time was flying by. Cousins excited, just to be there. Too bad i couldn’t photograph her more. I dont think she will ever look this good and like a Telugu bride.

2014-08-19_0013 The most relaxed and fun part of the wedding was the mehndi ceremony. I was in a different frame of mind. I dont like mehandi nor colorful clothes. But this day was an exception. None of the French neutrals and 100% color was the theme of the day. And the fun started when Raksha (the monkey sticking her tongue out in the photo below) landed. In no time, all of us were dancing. Some of them really knew what they were doing and some of us just jumping along. Harithakka says, “i just want to watch her dance all day.” I think we look alike. No? I am proud to be her doppelganger.

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We forced Ramya to do some cliche bridal acts. She had no choice but to oblige. Hopefully, the professional photographers caught all the acts, i didnt. In the end, i was forced to pose with her being the sister of the bride. Harithakka got away coz she was taking care of Aarna baby and doing other mature sister-ly things. She did so much work while i pranced around looking busy and chatted with relatives.

2014-08-19_0014Above: The photograph to the right clicked by Nikki Sahani. Giving her the due credit. Thank you for the photograph, i love it.

Below: Start of the wedding. Ramya with amma and nannagaru. Sadly, only photograph i clicked of em.

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Introducing Sashanka, the groom. We haven’t poked him enough yet. More stories of him to follow as time goes by. Watch out Sasi !

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This day pushed me through exhaustion, made me wear my hostess hat on, greet what felt like a zillion people, try to make conversation with people of very diverse backgrounds,…. and saw a lot of tears of happiness and sadness. Happy Married Life Ramya !

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This post is dedicated to my two wonderful sisters. 

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Down the memory lane with Peter Perel, Dachau Concentration Camp

Posted on August 4, 2014

“Can you believe that just 70 years ago, something as cruel happened?”, Harsha says, after a long period of silence. We were standing outside the Dachau concentration camp, reading about the plight of 32,000 casualties. Even before we enter, there is this sad eerie feeling that looms over us.

The gate of Dacau COncentration Camp

Arbeit macht frei, the words inscribed on the entrance of this concentration camps. It is a German saying for “Work makes you free”. Yes, making them work like slaves killed them. The only way to escape this place, was by death, if that was the intent.

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We walk around the camp and listen to a hand held audio tour. In no time, we are both in a bad mood and cranky. Cant help it. This place can do that to you. The more ‘information’ we read, worse we seem to get. And then, we met Peter Israelovich Perel, a survivor. Listen to him talk about his experiences made us feel masochist for asking him all these questions. And tear up. 

 

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Background: A survivor. He was brought to this concentration camp when he was 16, from Soviet Union. He later was liberated and was saved by a German family that lives in Dachau. The lady of that house is 104 years today and he was going to go see her the day we met him.

What makes you come back here?

“To tell my story. Soon, I will be gone and in a few years, all the survivors will be gone. And i want to tell my story.”

What do you feel being here, after all these years?

“My heart beats faster. Always. The sight of this place. I can smell the past. I am reminded of the events.”

We walked around the camp with him. And he told us about the purpose of each building. A building that is now the camp museum used to be the examination room for new prisoners. “In this room, we were stripped naked. They examined my hair, teeth and genitals. There was no dignity. I was given clothes of another prisoner who had died that day. They had a shortage. I was given a jacket, which was uncommon. And shorts that came below my knee. And sent to a wash room.” “Standing in this court yard always makes me stand erect. The commander would scream at us if we didnt. We had to remove our hats when he walked by. And stay in attention for roll call that happened every morning.” “I was a political prisoner, brought in from Soviet Union. They sowed in a red star to my jacket to indicate that. They shaved my hair in a pattern down the middle. It looked like a map. It looked like a map from Moscow to Berlin. Whenever i removed my cap, they knew what i was, a political prisoner.”

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Above are some pictures of inside the barracks. This one is left to show the world, but they demolished the rest after the war came to an end. But imagining 12 thousand prisoners crammed into 34 of these is painful to think of. And i don’t think i will look at a bunk bed the same, ever again. Listening to Peter describe how he had to sleep on his side with what felt like a sea of exhausted bodies, is heart wrenching. He talked about how this camp held various kinds of prisoners: political, rebels, non-pure bloods, homosexuals, emigrants, jews, Soviets, …. and how each kind was shown different levels of hatred. We have all read and heard about the horrors of the concentration camps. I will not proceed to write down all the terrible details again, here.

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This was apparently nicknamed the ‘wire of death’. A sure way to die, by getting close to it. Again, most of it was taken down after the war, but fragments of the past remain and they are enough to make you dread it all. One question that haunts you, “how could this happen?”. There is a museum with a time line and possible reasons. Jew hating was a century old tradition, according to a reason listed. And the bad economy, poverty, rise of dictatorship, end of democracy, … enabled Hitler to propose to his country, a ‘total solution’ that will solve all their problems. Makes me wonder, what about the rest of the people who didnt buy into this solution? The ones who didn’t want to follow this path? Below is poster of a film made to propose alternate views and need for democracy. It was immediately deemed ‘anti-German’ and banned. And the ones who actively protested became political prisoners, sending fear to the rebels. More specifically, the residents of the town Dachau, could smell the stench and knew what was happening in their town. But when the liberators came in and interviewed them, said they didn’t know what was happening or that they heard the rumors. Only a handful even admitted to the fact that they knew. Some denied it happening. Maybe its the people who don’t do anything that makes the world dangerous. Made me think of rape in India and i greatly admire everyone who voiced their anger instead of ignoring the problem. This is one problem i have seen a lot, around me, during my lifetime. I sadly, did nothing for the cause, except post a image protesting the way women are treated on instagram. Ashamed.

IMG_1264 copy “After liberation, i was offered food that looked like the best feast i have seen in my life. I tried eating all i could, but my stomach wouldn’t allow it. I had to slowly increase the quantity i eat, because after years of no food, it was too much. Even drinking water was painful. And it was hard because i was finally offered food and i had to resist”, says Peter, when asked about his life after liberation. He was full of stories, some painful, some sad and some happy. He comes down to Dachau once a year, every year and meets the people who are interested in his story. I have to say, interacting with him saved the day, put us out of the bad mood. Inspite of the grimness of the tales he was telling us, he had his ways of making himself laugh and the ones around him. Thank you, Peter.

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P.S: All the words converted to English for me, by a translator. I have a video footage of this walk. Let me know if you are interested in watching it. Its all in German though. But the message comes across.

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Day 0: Arrival at Munchen, First Impressions

Posted on August 3, 2014

I feel like my first day America after 22 years in India. New people, new language, old and new buildings, urban landscapes placed next to farms,… It still hasn’t sunk in that we are here. I am a little shy to smile back or talk to the friendly people I see everywhere. I have also become camera shy, shy to take out my camera and start shooting. Something I have never experienced before.

We landed in the night. And have early morning plans. Hence retiring for the night. We did do a little walking around and made a visit to a beer garden before crashing in.

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First impressions:
0. Customs, immigration check ,… All the officers are really down to earth and friendly. I write this line in reference to passing such check points in Hyderabad airport. Snobbish pedagogy officials trying to extract money off you and poke through your belongings ! Not here apparently.

1. The German people are really friendly. Really really friendly. People seem very eager to help out the tourists. And teach you some German words.

2. The hostel is as what i expected from popular travel movies. Bunk beds. Random roomies, broken house rules and ice breaker liners: “which country are you from?”, “Do you speak any other language than English?”, or “Where are you going next?”.

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3. Unbelievable number of people on bicycles! I love it here already. Backpackers on bikes, respect to them for putting their back through it. Grandpas in a blazer, oxfords and trousers on a bike, what a sight it is. Working women on bikes fixed with little carriages to hold their handbags. Men on bikes. A hoard of bikes outside every store, beer house, office, grocery store, ….

4. People walking. Everywhere. Something I don’t see in America. And very few cars, most of them compact.

5. Lack of obese people. What !!

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6. Food markets. Street side food is all fresh food ! You can pick out your fruit and they wrap it up in a paper cone for you to take it on the go. Loving it. There is a market in the airport with the veggie and fruit isle as big as that of a grocery store, where people seen to be picking up fresh fruit to eat on the go. Respect! Kids snacking in carrots instead of cookies or red bulls.

7. Hostel are bustling with very busy people or ppl extremely relaxed. And they are full of travel stories and advice to make your travel cheaper.

8. I can’t sleep in beyond 3am due to jet lag. My bunk bed frame is full of engravings of people’s sexual escapades. Interesting reading while I wait for sunrise.

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9. Food and beer. We tried out some Weisse beer and ordered goulash soup, lamb chops and breaded pork.It was delicious. Beer usually served in liter mugs, not that i am complaining. And the waitress took a liking for Harsha for his German accent and his willingness to say out everything in German. She would respond back in broken words so that we understand too.

10. Fashion. I expected it to be this casual, but am a little disappointed at it all.

Can’t wait to learn more.

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Whats in my bag: Backpacking Edition.

Posted on July 28, 2014

Europe Packing List copy

We are travelling for 21 days starting this Wednesday. And i am super excited. After discussions back and forth on what to pack, this is my list. Having never backpacked or stayed in hostels, we did our fair share of research on what to take. Not mentioned in the photograph above: laundry detergent, towel, trash bags, journal, stationary, a tripod, a ziplock bag full of nuts for snack and some medjool dates. I will update this post to make notes on what i did right and what i did wrong.

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They came home: The everyday oxfords

Posted on July 27, 2014

As a part of my Simplify resolve, i decided to come clean about any incoming ‘clutter’ in my life. I hope the fact that i have to put it out here will refrain me from purchasing too many things.

I called my sister, and asked, “Can you suggest what i can wear if i were to take only one pair of shoes to Europe, and it should serve me to climb mountain, walk in a field, visit a farm, bike around in a village, dinner dates and lots of walking around?” She replied, “They dont exist. Carry flats, sneakers and another pair.” But i immediately dismissed my big sisters advice and started hunting for the perfect pair.

‘I am travelling. I am going to see, not to be seen.’ So i will wear converse.

‘oh that blogger wore her Frye boots’. So maybe they will do for me too.

‘I need ankle boots.’ ‘I dont want to wear sports shoes.’ ‘i dont want to look like a tourist.’ (p.s: i am going to carry a backpack) ‘i need ……..’

… and lots more research later, i found the perfect pair. I still dont think i will be doing that 7 hour hike in these. But think these will carry me pretty much from dawn to dusk. I dont think they will replace heels if we are going to a fancy restaurant, but i will have to do. I am still going to see, not to be seen.

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Some interesting facts about oxfords:

1. What distinguishes an  oxford? The lacing system and the exposed ankle.

2. Legend has it that these shoes were a modification to boots, done by students at Oxford University to make the shoes popular at that time, boots with heels that were popular in the French court.

3. Are they for women? Men and women wore boots that were fastened with buttons, in the 18th century. And they moved to oxfords when they were introduced. Initially, the laces were considered feminine, but the fashion caught up with the men who initially resisted. I dont see lot of women in America wear them, but they are popular in Europe.

It came home: The perfect safari shirt

Posted on July 26, 2014

 

As a part of my Simplify resolve, i decided to come clean about any incoming ‘clutter’ in my life. I hope the fact that i have to put it out here will refrain me from purchasing too many things.

equipment green shirt (1 of 1)
My perfect summer wardrobe consists of airy, simple, clean linen shirts. And finding great linen shirts has been harder than imagined. What makes finding a good shirt so hard? The quality of the linen. Most of these shirts cost upwards of 50$ at places like J Crew. But the linen used does not match the quality it delivers. A little research into this matter claims that French, Belgian and Irish linen is great quality, owing to the climate and the production methods used. Any thing else from Europe is considered good to poor. And linen making is one process that still hasn’t become mechanized like with cotton. All these factors contribute to the astronomical prices of good linen.I have been picking chambrey over linen for its durability and cost effectiveness. After borrowing/stealing Harsha’s shirts for so long, i thought its time to spend on one of my own. This is a big ticket purchase and i hope it doesnt disappoint me. Shown below are my most loved and used shirts.

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Some interesting facts about Linen:

1. Linen is technically a vegetable. So i love my vegetables, even more when they look like clothes.

2. Its one of the oldest cultivated plants in the history. Egyptians even used it as currency, according to historians.

3. Linen is actually scratchy when newly made. With washes, it softens and even catches some shine after 2-3 years, is cared for well. On the other hand, cotton falls apart of 3-5 years of use.

4. Linen absorbs moisture 30% better, when compared to cotton.

5. Pointers to assess the quality: origin of weave, weave defects, reputation of the maker, how the material folds near the creases, …

 

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