Crash & Burn

“I swear to god; I will kill myself!” she cried whilst holding a sharp knife to her wrist.

“Mom, please! Don’t behave like this! Sambhalo apne aap ko!” screamed Vikas frantically. He couldn’t believe how quickly things had spiralled out of his control. At the outset, he had been so sure that he would be able to handle this well. He had been so sure that he would be able to get through to his mother. Little did he know that he hardly knew his own mother and how inaccessible she had become, surrounded thickly by her own grief and sorrow.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do! You have betrayed me all along! I trusted you so much, I thought you would listen to me!”

Hair unkempt, dupatta having slipped down onto the floor, tears streaming endlessly down her face, the frail and tiny woman shivered as she screamed each word. It did not seem as though her son had confessed that there was a girl he was in love with and wanted to marry, it seemed as though he had proposed to disown her. To her, perhaps, there was simply no difference between the two.

“Mom, please calm down! You’re really scaring me! At least try to understand what I’m saying. I’m your son!” Vikas screamed the last three words in a desperate attempt to make his mother understand.

She let the knife linger at her wrist a for a few more seconds before her knees gave in and she fell down on the floor, the knife slipping away from her hand with a loud clunk. She immediately started sobbing like a baby and held her head between her palms. Vikas slowly walked towards her and sat down next to her. He grasped her hand and said, “I’m sorry mom, I know I have hurt you. I know a lot of things have come as a shock to you. I lied and that is hurting you the most. But you must understand why I did it. I did it because I knew this is how you would take it. I cannot see you like this”

“T-t-hen wh-why dd-id you-u d-do it a-at all?” she asked in between sobs.

Vikas sighed, “I’m in love, mom. I don’t think that’s a crime. I do have the right to choose my life partner, don’t I?”

Although tears continued to stream down her face, she took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself down and said, “You’re doing your masters right now. Don’t you realize how much pain your parents have taken to be able to provide you with such excellent education? How much money we have invested in it, so that you can make a good life? How can you even think of marriage right now? All these things are a distraction!”

“Whose talking about marriage mom? All her family is suggesting is an engagement so that the commitment is final from both sides. We can get married whenever we want. I will focus on my career and so will she. This will validate the relationship, that’s all. Besides, I’m not a baby. I’m 25 years old. You do realize that we both have already committed to each other, don’t you?”

At this point, her temper rose and she said in a raised voice, “So is that my fault? Did you ask me before committing? Why should I bear the punishment and pain of something that I didn’t decide?!”

“That is not the point!” said Vikas in a slightly irritated voice, “I just told you that I have the right to choose my life partner. We fell in love. We didn’t decide to, it just happened. That does not mean that it will ruin my career or I will not be able to make a good life. We lived together when we were in US, mom. I think that speaks a lot for itself”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you do that? How could you take such a step without thinking twice?” she asked as she suddenly got up, “Is that what I have taught you? Didn’t you think about the family’s respect? About us?”

“I know that it sounds wrong to you, but what I’m trying to say is that we were able to take that step because we are so sure about our future. There is no doubt in our minds that we will marry each other one day. It was not a casual deal; it was a mark of our commitment. Please try to understand that”

Once again, she shook her head and said in any icy tone, “No, I don’t want to know. This engagement is not possible. We didn’t send you abroad to do all this. How can you get engaged to someone without even getting a job? Without standing on your own legs? I cannot allow you to make a commitment like that without having a financial backbone!”

“What does my financial backbone have to do with this? I’m not being asked to financially support her or spend money on her in anyway. Honestly, she wouldn’t ask for that even when we’re married! The commitment is already there and has been there for the past one year! That’s what I’m trying to tell you! Her family got to know that we lived together in US, they know that both of us have to go back again, so if we went as an engaged couple it will simply make them feel reassured. Come to think of it, it should be reassuring to you as well! Would you want me to lie to you again?”

Vikas was feeling drained. Their conversation was simply going in circles. She was looking at what had happened in the past and what he proposed should happen in future as two disconnected events that were both crimes in her head. She simply wasn’t trying to understand that the natural progression of any relationship is to take a step forward, especially when the two involved are on the same page. He had hoped that she would at least understand, if not respect, his decision. But he had not even been able to get past the ‘acceptance’ stage.

Living together under one roof is an accepted norm overseas. In India, however, it’s a blasphemous idea, enough to make the immediate society shudder. So naturally when their parents found out, all hell broke loose. Her parents, however, came to the conclusion that if they had to be living together then might as well make the commitment official. “Let us feel safe and not unsure all the time”, was their argument.

Vikas had been apprehensive when that happened. He knew his mom would not take it well, but he also knew that he wanted to spend his life with that woman because she made him happy. She made him feel content. He had given her his word and he would keep it. It was the thought of her that gave him strength in difficult situations.

“My decision is final Vikas. If you want to be with that girl, you leave my house. I will never see your face again. You can do whatever you wish to with your life. I am already dead inside, so what’s the difference? How does it matter to you, whether I live or die?”

Tears started streaming down her face again as she continued to mumble to herself. Vikas realized that there was no point in trying to talk to her right now, he would have to try again later when she was saner and more mature. He took a deep breath and said, “We’ll talk about this later mom. Why don’t you have dinner and sleep?”

“I don’t want to eat anything. I won’t eat until you give up on this crazy idea!”

And with that, she got up and went inside her room, banging the door behind her.

Vikas sat there staring after his mom, trying to blink away some of the tears that were threatening to roll down his face. He was caught in a situation where he had no idea what to do. He wished his mother would stop reacting in such a childish way and using threats to manipulate him. He felt stuck and helpless. If he were honest to himself, deep down in his heart he knew what the permanent solution was. But he also knew that it would take a lot of courage to put it on the table. At that moment, his phone rang. He wiped a lone tear off his cheek and picked it up, “Hi Dad”

“Hi beta, is everything okay?”

Vikas let out a sigh, “No Dad. Nothing is okay. When are you back?”

“In about 10 minutes”

“Okay dad. I need to talk to you about something”

Vikas kept the phone down and tried to arrange his scattered thoughts. If he could convince his father, then he would be one step closer. It would be tough, but doing the right thing was never easy.

15 minutes later, when his father had arrived and had had his customary cup of coffee, Vikas sat across from him at the dining table and said, “Papa, we need to discuss Mom’s state of mind”

His father let out a defeated sigh and said, “Beta you know how she is. I have tried to channel her thoughts in the positive direction time and again, but she simply doesn’t want to. She is mentally very weak”

“Papa you can’t find a solution unless you identify the problem. The way she is right now is not something that has happened overnight. It’s the accumulated effect of all the years she has spent feeling wronged and cheated by everyone around her. She has started looking at herself like a victim in every situation Papa. Can’t you see what is happening here? It’s gotten to a point where she has started to threaten suicide!”

Vikas was trembling as he spoke. They had become so used to his mother whining and complaining all the time that they had accepted it as a part of who she was. “That’s just how she is”, was their usual refrain. They either tried to avoid triggering her or architected their behaviour to suit her wishes. They never really tried to tackle the root of the problem. This situation, however, was one too many for him to handle. It was neither avoidable nor designable. They would have to look at it for what it was and take a small step towards finding a permanent solution instead of band-aid ones.

“I know why you are suddenly saying all this. It’s because you don’t want to lose that girl”

Vikas shook his head lightly and said, “That’s a part of the reason, Papa. But mom’s behaviour has been raising red flags for a while and you know it. Do you think she has a problem with the engagement? No! she thinks that she will lose me in some way if that happens. She’s insecure and that’s why she’s lashing out. This is her fear talking, not her. She is trying to keep me clutched to her chest in whatever way possible. She will behave like a child, threaten suicide, will stop eating – anything to avoid facing that fear. And I can assure you that her passive-aggressive side will come out tomorrow in the form of depression and silent treatment”

His father processed what he said for a while and said, “So what are you suggesting?”

Vikas continued, “Look this situation seems to be the problem now, but it’s not. Today it’s the woman I love and tomorrow it will be my career choice, later my decision to buy a house or how to raise my kid. No matter what it is, she will react in the same manner. Except that it’s getting increasingly worse. She has no faith in either of us. She thinks if I don’t walk the path the way she wants me to, I won’t be successful in life. If you don’t comply with her wishes, her old age is doomed. She needs professional help. She needs someone who can make her face the fact that the real problem is inside her and so is the solution. She needs to stop expecting other people to fill the voids in her life”

“Are you suggesting that we put her in a mental hospital?” asked his father curtly.

“No, papa. And I’m not suggesting that she’s ‘mental’ either. All I’m saying is that her behaviour is alarming and scary, and we should get her some professional help. We can start with counselling sessions in either group or personal. Trust me, finding identification is a huge step in the healing process. Later, if it works, we can try suggesting something she can get involved in and commit her time and space to”

“You know she will never agree”

“I know, which is why we need to give her a dose of her own medicine and show her the mirror. We will suggest this idea to her and get it done the way she would get it done if it was her idea. Refuse to eat. Refuse to talk. Refuse to go to work. Keep complaining about everything. Tell her how dead you feel inside, how people in your life have used you. Be passive-aggressive. I will do the same. At some point, maybe a day, a week or a month later, she will realize what we are trying to put across. She will realize why we are suggesting this. She will accept it herself, Papa” said Vikas earnestly.

His father drummed his fingers lightly on the table and said, “Are you sure this will work?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that we need to do something drastic to get her to see what she is doing to herself and this family”

His father let out a sigh and said, “Okay then. Let’s do this. I am with you”

Vikas smiled and said, “Thanks Papa. We need to do this as a team”

His father smiled and nodded, “Yes we do. And what about this situation? Will you go ahead with the engagement?”

“Yes I will. If we want to find a permanent solution, we need to stop enabling her by giving in to her blackmail. There are healthy boundaries in every relationship, and its high time I defined them. If we do this together, I’m sure we can get through to her”

“Okay, beta. I trust you” his father said with a smile before patting his shoulder twice. Vikas smiled back and let out a sigh of relief. That’s one level down, he thought to himself. He picked up his phone and messaged her:

Baby, we will get engaged. I am happy this happened, because I could finally find the courage to do something I should have done long ago. I love you : )

 

 

 

She got up with a jerk and wildly looked around. She was in her bed, in her room, in her house. She quickly checked her phone for any messages. It reflected nothing but the time: 9:30. She opened her whatsapp contact list and scrolled down to V. She was still blocked by Vikas. It had been 7 days since they split because his mother threatened suicide and he couldn’t take a stand against her. She spent each day dreaming the same dream and waking up expecting the message she so badly wanted to read. But reality offered her nothing but the same disappointment every day.

She sank her head back into her pillow and let a tear roll down the side of her face. They were happy and content. If only he had done the right thing instead of the easy one. If only he had tried to fight the problem instead of giving into manipulation. If only he didn’t let her go so easily. If only.

All she had now, were her dreams that crashed and burned every single morning, taking a piece of her with them in the flames.

We all have ideal families, don’t we?

I just checked the date and it seems it’s been a month since I updated my blog. Clearly I need someone with a hockey stick right on top of my head, threatening to bludgeon me to death to make me work…which is a matter of serious concern for my future prospects.

I’m visiting my extended family this week, which is almost always an overwhelming experience. If the fact that I sit behind a computer for almost 8 hours a day wasn’t enough to prove it, let me say this out loud: I’m not good with people. Sometime a year ago, I figured out that I’m quite the detached person. I find it very hard to empathize with someone. I can sympathize, hell yes, because I love being the ‘savior’ in every situation, but I can’t empathize. Clearly, I’m a product of an extremely dysfunctional family.

Any who, a lot of jumbled up thoughts, feelings and emotions led me to write this. We are brought up to idolize our family. We are taught to respect every member and every relationship. Everything is perfect, hunky-dory and beautiful. Our families are so great that even Suraj Barjatya could take inspiration. I grew up believing that too. Unfortunately, I did not have the tools to cope when that illusion shattered and reality showed it’s big ugly face. The truth is, no family is perfect. Every family has it’s share of dark areas that they try to conceal, not just from the kids but from each other as well. We all want to live believing that everything is okay. Denial is one of the most common types of defense mechanisms. Hey, ignorance is bliss.

India as a society is very uncomfortable with displaying negative emotions. We try to brush sorrow, anger, dislike, disappointment and hurt under the carpet. It’s all about putting up a front. We’re never really taught to deal with any of these emotions, which is why most of us are clueless about how we should express them when we feel them ourselves. We don’t know how to channel our anger, how to deal with our sorrow, how to express our disappointment and dislike and least of all, our hurt. We bring in our own permutations and combinations of defense mechanisms to deal with our emotions, but never really confront them.

As long as you are going through and dealing with these emotions on an individual level, it’s fine. At least your family is happy, at least the bills are being paid, the food being cooked, the clothes being washed and the dog being fed. You feel safe despite everything. But what happens when that structure shatters, and a lot of realities that were brimming under the surface, come out? Say the family is struck by a financial crunch. You suddenly find out about the debts your family is under. You suddenly discover that that uncle who used to be over every weekend is nowhere to be seen. Your mom has so many resentments that it’s hard to fathom how your parents ended up married. Your paternal and maternal grandparents only have insults to throw at your mother and father respectively. Your father isn’t as strong as you thought. Your extended family wants nothing to do with you.

What happened to the perfect family picture? Weren’t you all supposed to be the big happy Indian family? How are you supposed to react now? Are you supposed to accept what you see or continue pretending that things are just perfect? Until yesterday you were being taught to do Namaste to every relative that enters your house, and now suddenly your parents are heartily bitching about every Chachi, Maasi, Bua, Phoopha etc they’re associated with. The truth is it takes a pretty bad bump to reveal the realities of the perfect car. We can’t get rid of the bumps, but I do wish that we were brought up to believe that our family isn’t perfect, everyone doesn’t love us, everyone isn’t great, but we’re making through each day with effort and that’s how we plan to do it for as long as we can. I wish that we were taught that respect is earned and not offered to just anyone on a platter because they’re ‘elders’. I wish we were not taught to feel obliged to greet people we didn’t want to. I wish we were given the freedom to explore our relationship with every single member and discover how much we would like to be associated with them ourselves.

It takes a lot of time to realize that not every word that comes out of your parent’s mouth is a gem. Not everything they do has to be idolized. Not every part of their life is an inspiration. They’re human beings too and make mistakes. Those mistakes have carved their experiences and have led them to where they are now. They’re a part of who they are, for better or for worse. We all grow up telling everyone that our parents are the best, that they’re simply amazing and that they always do the right thing. Not true. There should come a point in every kid’s life when both the parents sit down and explain where they went wrong and the circumstances that led to it. No matter what happens then, it will only make the kid respect them more in the long run – for showing trust, confidence and vulnerability. It will make the kid a much more independent person, and will make him or her realize that they need to think and make decisions for themselves, and stick to the consequences.

Let’s start accepting that mistakes happen. Both intentionally and unintentionally. Instead of teaching kids to not make mistakes, we should be teaching them to be strong enough to deal with the consequences, and to learn from each mistake and move on. Let’s start showing our vulnerable side to our kids. They can handle it. They can learn from it. There is no such thing as the ‘Perfect family’, but there can be a happy family if we all stop pretending and be real for a change.

The curse of the 20’s

So you’re now in your 20’s. The teens are over, so according to your social learning, you should now turn into a responsible person overnight. “Bade ho gaye ho beta, zimmedari ko samjho” – becomes your daily music. Friends, parties and most importantly selfies begin to take a backseat, while your career starts crawling to the forefront. There are options to be explored, potential ROI of your chosen field to be discussed and very importantly, wedding planning to start.

Each year that passes by without you having achieved any of the subsets of the above, your forebodings and fears increase. What if I’m a failure? What if I never get anywhere in life? What if I’ll always be financially dependent on my parents? What if I never get married? What if I’m impotent? Unless you’re a rich dude from a rich family, these thoughts will plague your mind like the Ebola virus. Having entered the 20’s club myself a couple years ago, I deal with these thoughts every single day of my life. I try to imagine my life 5 years from now, and can’t seem to see anything but a couch and a pillow.

For a long time, I was under the impression that I was born to do something great, that I was different. But now that I’m letting the years pass me by, I’m beginning to wonder whether all I was suffering from was delusions of grandeur. I have ideas that I want to explore and pursue, places that I want to visit, different fields that I want to experiment with; but none of that ever materializes. It’s all just in my head. Like everyone else in my age group, I too am shackled by the ‘karna hi hai’ thought process.

What makes everything seem worse is when I see people around me doing well for themselves. FB feed has officially shoved me into depression. I see people getting new jobs or getting married every single day. It’s a harsh reminder of my own imperfection. I’m surfing reddit, twitter and instagram while people are out there doing something worthwhile.

We’re living in a century that has spoilt us for choices beyond imagination. Every single time you go out to do something, you have hundreds of options glaring at you from every direction. Which one to pick? Which one will offer maximum utility? The truth is, no matter what you choose, you will always feel buyer’s remorse. If you choose to do MBA, you may spend years thinking about how it would been if you chose MA. If you choose to become a driver, thoughts of becoming a waiter will torture you forever. And on and on it goes. In the end, despite having a plethora of choices at your feet, you choose to not take a step in any direction at all.

I want to be a writer, a dancer, a psychologist, a cook and a driver. But I don’t know which way to go first; which opportunity is worth giving up for something else. And it just seems as though I’m letting this confusion rule my life instead of working towards something. Can’t I get a mysterious signal from gravity so that I can find my way towards a high-functioning facility that will transport me to another planet via a worm hole or something?

Arranged Marriage vs Love Marriage

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This is an age-old debate, much like the tussle between men and women. However, with changing times perspectives change too, and so does the meaning of relationships. Back in the day, an arranged marriage was a pretty strict affair. It wasn’t a union of a man and a woman, it was a union of two families who were economically, socially and caste-wise matched. All the dendaari was discussed between the parents in the absence of the two people who were actually getting married. It was a business deal camouflaged as a wedding.

Love marriage, on the other hand, was not completely accepted because as they say, love is blind and does not see caste, economic or social status. The families were eternally torn between allowing their kids to have their way and log kya kahenge. Countless Bollywood movies have mirrored this situation. However, what they have also done is romanticize the idea of a love marriage and made it seem like saccha pyaar is everlasting and transcends all mortal boundaries. The ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship is the one that needs to be taken least seriously, but unfortunately, couples are blinded by their saccha pyaar to the extent that they take the plunge while their hormones are in an overdrive and decide to get married after only a few months of courtship.

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Guy says: “I love you!” Girl says: “Let’s get married!”

As times have progressed, the idea of ‘love’ has slowly been condensed to a few factors – the relationship status on facebook, not ignoring whatsapp texts, cheesy late night discussions about future plans (about a beach house, a dog named Rosy and kids called Shona and Shonu) and saying “I love you” to each other at every chance. This sentence is now being thrown around so casually then I fear very soon people will start greeting each other with “I love you” instead of “How are you?”. What is love? I don’t know yet, but I know that it’s none of the above either.

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Marriage is the ultimate commitment, and cannot be made on the basis of a few stray dreams sold to us by companies like Hallmark, Archies and Bollywood. It’s easy to stay together when the world is pink and emotions are raw, but the real test is when you hit a rough patch and still find the strength to be with each other. Everyone has a temperamental and weak side that they hide, especially in a relationship. Occasionally it does come to the surface, but the thing about being in “the romantic kind of” love is that people ignore each other’s faults. They keep telling themselves “Oh he’s not like that, he would never shout at me infront of everyone again” or “She won’t flirt with him again, it was only this one time..” But this can be ignored only for so long. Eventually it creates resentment and hurt. This is usually the time when most relationships fall apart, and partners claim that only recently saw each other’s “true self”. The truth is, it was always there, albeit hidden or ignored. The question that then arises is – Didn’t you know the person you loved and decided to get married to?

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Check: if you can hear violins playing each time you see your partner, then it’s not the right time to make important decisions. However, if this continues then you probably have schizophrenia.

Which is what brings me to the next part – why this generation needs arranged marriages. Arranged marriages are not what they used to be. Now they’re progressive. Although the family still looks for the potential partner, an individual has the right to say no if they don’t click. What happens here is, that people skip the honeymoon phase completely. They know they have been brought together by their family for marriage. They haven’t met each other before. They aren’t in love (as defined above) so they give each other a real chance. They don’t overlook each other’s faults because they aren’t blinded by saccha pyaar. If things work out, then the relationship follows the logical path and the two people fall in love after getting to know each other. If not, then they can amicably say goodbye.

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I’m not against love marriage. In fact, I used to be an ardent advocate of it. But then I realized that what’s important is free will and personal choice. Dowry deaths in arranged marriages are still happening and so are honour killings due to love marriages. One should have the freedom to choose. Of course, given the rate at which the meaning of love is being compressed to fit a Karan Johar song raises quite a few concerns about the sustainability of a love marriage in my mind, but there are people who do give their relationship enough time before making the commitment. They do spend years being in a relationship, gauging their compatibility, before getting married, which is something I respect and admire. As far as the concept of chat mangni, pat byah is concerned, I’d rather just watch a Bollywood film.

When being a vegetarian was a curse

Being a vegetarian is the new ‘cool’, isn’t it? Apparently the phenomenon isn’t yet global – as seen during my recent trip to Singapore. Now, Singapore is an amazing place. I loved the landscapes, the organized neighborhoods and the amazing amalgamation of culture and technology. But, and this is a pretty heavy ‘but’ (soaked in the syrup of doubt, panic and survival instincts), if you are a vegetarian and want food after 10:30 in the night, you will have to suck it up and sleep on biscuits, my friend.

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Now, there are plenty of Indian restaurants in Singapore. I’m sure there are some that are open late in the night too. But it’s like trying to look for a needle in the haystack in the middle of the night. Forget Indian food, vegetarian food is like an endangered species on that island. I mean, you are visiting for a couple of days and are staying in a hotel. After fiddling around with your Singapore guide map for hours and trying your best to get a simple request across to the Singlish speaking staff in the hotel, you finally manage to find a vegetarian (and hopefully, Indian) restaurant somewhere, but by that time, you are so hungry and tired that the additional 1 hour journey seems like Dandi March in slow motion that just isn’t worth it.

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Key point here being – accessibility. Yes, Indian and vegetarian restaurants are scattered across the island, but they aren’t even 1% as accessible as the local hawker centres that are almost within a km of each other and are open till 3 am in the morning. They’re like chowpatties in Mumbai, minus the eatable food. What do they offer? Seafood and it’s pungent (=disgusting) smell that looms over double the radius of the actual centre. Crabs, prawns, fish, lobsters, shrimps, frogs (?!?!?!?!) are all fair game as far as food is concerned. Mind you, I don’t mean to offend any culture, I just find it hard to imagine for someone to be salivating over a crab or frog. FYI, frog porridge is a very famous delicacy of the streets of Singapore. [Insert poker face emoji]

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So having converted to vegetarianism a decade back, and lived in Delhi for almost 8 years now where my midnight cravings have always opened up a vista of possibilities, (=drawer full of home delivery menus) being a vegetarian and a midnight muncher in Singapore combined to put me through my worst nightmare.

The room service menu was extensive, the veg options however, were limited to an eggplant (baigan) sandwich and garden salad – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes, true story. The only veg option the buffet had to offer was the smallest version of the Samosa that you could ever come across, presented on a table like it was some exotic delicacy. There was also pasta in white sauce, which the staff weren’t sure contained beef or not. Usually I love risks, but I abstained from this one.

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Thankfully though, Singapore has a lot of South Indians and consequently South Indian joints. We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel right next to one. Thankfully for them the term ‘vegetarian’ didn’t also cover chicken and fish. The only minute problem with them was that they spoke only and only Malay, so communicating with them was as hard as watching a local wolfing down a huge crab. So finding another Indian joint elsewhere, without doing a 101 course in Malay first, was out of the question. So we travelled all the way from Changi to Downtown to Marina Bay to Singapore Zoo and then came back and had Masala Dosa at that South Indian joint at 2 in the morning.

And I simply could not understand their obsession with eggplant. Anything vegetarian had to have eggplant in it – eggplant in sandwiches, as pizza toppings, in pasta, heck even in the samosa filling! I have not had as much baigan as I did in these seven days in my entire life. Who the hell likes baigan anyway?

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Clearly, this part of Asia is still way behind on catching up on the vegetarian trend. While the ability to eat anything that moves on four legs is a handy survival instinct, I think in an apocalyptic situation, the thought of eating frog porridge will kill me before the actual apocalypse.

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