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Day two in Ca.

We woke up to a beautiful, bright morning. The weather was definitely on our side, Alhamdulilah. Me and hubby excitedly got ready for the big day. MB dropped us to Lawrence Station from where we boarded the Cal-Train to San Fran. Boy, was I excited! We knew we wouldn’t have too much time on us, so we wanted to cram in as much as possible. The lovely Californian landscape whizzed by us and an hour later we stepped on the Promised Land.

Javed’s a seasoned traveler and so the first thing he did was buy tourist passes to ride the Muni buses (intra-city transport) for the whole day and then we headed towards the Fisherman’s Wharf. What struck us were the streets in SF. Each looks like a giant slide! All streets seem to originate on some steep hill and end in the sea. The incline is such you could practically roll down like Jack ‘n Jill on them! We also passed China-Town and frankly, it seemed more like an exotic Mumbai muhalla with throngs of crowds, only the people here were of Chinese origin.

Like a typical tourist, I clicked pictures of almost everything I saw, hoping to capture the essence of the moment. My suggestion to anyone silly enough like me: carry an extra battery with you- before long, your camera will be out and you will wonder why you had to click the same street from five different angles. I kept ooh-ing and aah-ing at whatever I saw when Javed told me to look to the right instead. The sight took my breath away. There before me was the most spectacular scene: a sparklingly azure sea, white gulls soaring over dreamy clouds and quaint ships and yachts dotting the expanse. I scarcely think pictures can do justice to experience. Some things are great not so much because of their extraordinariness but because they have been experienced. I stood there, inhaling the excitement. Was this for real? The Ghirardelli chocolate outlet stood opposite, a vintage car fair just in front, all types of people scurrying about me, and then the trams! Oh, those lovely, classic trams! Trademark San Fransisco. I was enjoying every single bit of it. But the best was yet to come. The Golden Gate Bridge was what we were here for. MB gave us the best way to see it-take a cruise under it! So we lined up at the queue at Fisherman’s Wharf for two golden tickets. Yessirs, an entire childhood spent watching the red suspension bridge on Full House and here I was, on my way to actually see it, for real.

We hop on the ship with a troupe of excited Japanese tourists. I jostle in to the stern for a better view but there are just too many people. We are given audio kits for a running commentary of the things we see on the cruise. The Japanese shriek with excitement and start taking pictures feverishly. I don’t yet have a great view because everyone wants a picture of themselves at the stern with the bridge in the background. Sigh. Why must everyone be so obvious? I wrestle in further. I want a shot like that too! Javed tells me to be patient; the bridge’s still miles away, he says. I chuck the audio after a while. I mean it’s great and educational, but I want to breathe in the sea air and drink in the calm instead. Besides, there are gulls flying with wings outspread just over our heads! After a while I give up the camera too. I can’t keep up with my Japanese counterparts and besides, I want an experience too – not just pictures. We inch closer and I feel a new surge of excitement. There it is, the grand, Golden Gate Bridge. I try listening to the audio again, about its architectural design and all, but my hands are frozen numb by now and I can’t care much. I look up at the magnificent structure and am awestruck. What beauty, Mashalah. Honestly, it’s splendid. Under the bridge, people are wind surfing. ‘Are they mad?’ I think. It’s choppy cold and they are prancing about in the iciness! Silly Adventurers!

The ship begins to turn around as we pass under the bridge. There’s my moment. Just a year ago and it feels like some distant dream now. We head backwards, but not before we close in near the Alcatraz Prison Island. Oh yes, the same ‘The Rock’ Alcatraz. The deadly dungeon; real life Azkaban. We could have toured inside too, but no time. The ship moves back to the wharf and I get an amazing view of the SF skyline. Right at the top stands Coit Tower and like a trail of an eclectic red carpet gown, follows the rest of the city. After we step out, I can barely feel my hands. They are stiff cold and I need something to warm me up. I really do. So we head to Ghirardelli for some- well, what else, hot chocolate of course! And they are giving away complimentary Ghirardelli squares at the cash counter. I am hungry too, so I pick up two each, for Javed and me. Needless to say, Javed is shock embarrassed. Oh well. I am like that only.

We browse around the local market and buy post cards and a SF fridge magnet- one of my prized possessions. It still hangs proudly on my bedroom cupboard! Anyway, it’s evening already and there’s yet loads to see. We still have to get on one of those cable cars and then walk down Lombard Street- the crookedest street on earth. Well at least, that’s all we can cram in before it’s time to catch the train again. The line for the more ‘touristy’ tram cars is hundreds of meters long, so with much heavy hearts we decide to give the ride a miss. Instead we board a rather boring version of the same, which as it so happens, is even slower than the cyclists on the road. When we finally are done with the drab fantasy trip, we decided to take a bus to Lombard. Not a very bright idea, it turns out, because we lost a good deal of our already limited time in switching buses and then walking up the dreadfully steep roads to finally reach there. The roads were so steep that the cars parked on the sides looked as if they were all poised to go down a slide! Of course that also meant a rough work out for both of us. It was literally a battle against gravity.

After much huffing and puffing we finally reach the summit and look down at the sinuous Lombard. We can see the Coit twinkle in the twilight and car after car rolls down the serpentine landmark. Wow. It’s past sun down but hubby can’t get enough of the city so we linger on for one last stop. The City Hall. After that, it’s Cal Train again. Hungry, tired and sleepy we look forward to the Halal Chinese meal MB has ordered for us. Hmmmm. Seriously, a delicious end to our yummy day!

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Confessions of a Lazy Bum

Ahem. I confess. I stand guilty. I am indeed a classified lazy bum. There’s no other way to explain my almost year long hiatus. Well, actually, you could add another reason- a morbid addiction to Facebook. Not that anyone must have particularly missed my ranting though. But at least while I was at it, it made me feel that the incidents in my life were worth the print. So what made me pick up the keys once again? Actually, a neat little message in my Facebook inbox from a cousin’s cousin(life’s irony). Anjum Mukadam, you have made me think! Thank you. I am back on my keyboard-for at least the next 3 posts. Can’s promise more than that, however. The lazy instinct is too hard to shrug off. So here’s where I begin.

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Munira’s Notes

My teacher and now colleague Munira has a sense of humor that reverbates with deep irony. Pune is not in the best of spirits right now, what with the sudden negative media attention and all that. While I agree with her in condemning ALL acts of terrorism, I couldn’t help but laugh at her post on facebook-FACTS ARE CERTAINLY STRANGER THAN FICTION. There are still so many gaping holes in the whole ‘terror’ canvas and neither the police nor (surprisingly, dissappointingly) is the media is helping elucidate or clarify. Community based stereotypes flourish as usual while prejudice and yellow journalism rule the roost. Oh well. At least someone’s asking the right questions. Never mind the answers.

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Issues unsettled

I like my comfort zone. It’s kinda cozy in there. A place where you are at peace with yourself. No tough questions to answer. No thinking outside of the box. Just being.

It gets a little complacent in there I guess, but still, it’s easy!  And it’s never easy trading that luxury for an enquiring conscience. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? Why should it also the road for perdition then? You tell me.

Here is what I came across in Surah Al-Imran (The family of Imran) in the Quran. It raises some very obvious issues. And yet, we all feel so much better sweeping them under our carpets:

  • By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love; and whatever ye give, of truth God knoweth well (3:92)

(That’s saying something! How many times have we given away things that we had second thoughts about using ourselves; and then believed we had done a great act of philanthrophy? “Of that which ye love”- I have yet to reach the stage when I can give my newest, loveliest, prettiest dress away to someone else in charity. )

  • O ye who believe! Fear God as He should be feared; and die not except in a state of Islam. (3:102)

(“As He should be feared”- Do we fear him because we are too cowardly to own up our wrongs? Or because we are afraid of His punishment? Or because we love Him too much to ever cause Him any offence? The last reason would be ideal actually. I am afraid I don’t yet fit there either.)

  • And hold fast, all together, by the Rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favor on  you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love…(3:103)

(Hmm. This one’s tough. “The Rope” (the Quran) is more often than not forgotten. The idea of “holding fast” to it is still a distant reality. “Be not divided among yourselves”? Now lemme see. We are divided because of sects (Sunni, Shia, Bori, Ismaili), we are divided because of language (Me Arab, you ain’t), we are divided because of color (You mean he’s Black?), because of race, because of regional origins, because of whatever you can think of. Sigh. And yet we claim we follow the Quran.)

  • Let there arise out of you a band of people iniviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity. (3:104)

(Oh boy! It gets harder here. I see someone doing something wrong and I let it be. Why? Because I am ashamed to correct them. What will they think! They will shun me! Call me a self imposed pontificator. And who am I kidding anyway? I am no saint myself. The moment I point out something to them, they will jump at me for my own failings. They will remind me of all the times I have been wrong, tell me that I dont have the right to tell them, ask me to mind my own business! I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite, you know- take the mantle of being the moral police and all. I think I should just let them be. Or shouldn’t I?)

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Why did he do this?

 

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  Just returned from a long weekend in California! San Francisco and San Jose to be more precise. Stay tuned while I gather my thoughts for a full fledged post on the sunny side of USA! 😉

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My husband loves traveling. So it was only a matter of time before we set out of the cozy confines of Chicago. At least for the weekend.

So we embarked on our first little getaway. The destination chosen was Ann Arbor, Michigan- a place Javed has visited nearly a hundred times, AA being home to Michigan University; where best friend Hirak and wife Sumedha are pursuing their Ph.D’s.

So off we were on a frosty Friday evening towards the railway station. So frosty was it, that Javed put ‘Vanilla Morning’ as his Gtalk status. Sure looked like we were walking in a humongous freezer with heaps of ice cream everywhere. A picturesque journey to the station, if not the snuggest. ann arbor n lakewood 030

Luckily for us, at least the train left on time. As for reaching the destination, the lesser said about Amtrak, the better. Anyway, reach we did, at almost midnight, hardly a time to soak in the environs of a new place. But what I saw in the next couple of days was this: AA is a quaint little town, very unlike Chicago. Quite streets, old gabled houses of wood. Each looking as if it had sprung to life from your bed time story book. Or Barbie’s doll house set. Open, airy porches with white washed wooden chairs. Icicles hanging from railings. A church that seemed to tell the tale of generations gone by. Old world charm. Mingled with Starbucks and Urban Outfitters. Stuff that post cards are made of. Here are some pics Javed clicked on his last visit. Much better in summer, I must say.

Anyway, Hirak came to pick us up from the station in his dainty little car (it has just two doors!) and once inside their cozy house (and a few helpings of chocolate walnut cake baked for the newly wedded couple), it was show time. Well, at least for Hirak and Javed. I looked with amusement as my husband guffawed uproariously to his old pal’s jokes. Quite a switch from his otherwise mild demeanor. Oh well. Old friendships die hard, I guess.

After a whole day of lounging before the TV (the weather didn’t seem very inviting), we needed to get out of the house. Dinner thus was reserved at this beautifully done up Middle Eastern restaurant called Lashish. ann arbor n lakewood 021

The decor was just as appetizing as the delicious food. Highly recommended if you are one for crunchy Falafels, tender Kababs and Shwerma or juicy Bakhlavas. Add good service and its a scrumptious affair.  And the best part? It’s Halal! Go dig in!ann arbor n lakewood 011

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The evening rounded up with some hilarious games of cards and Amir Khan’s latest flick on dyslexic children, Taare Zameen Par, a movie I found a tad bit disappointing; the brickbats for which I will reserve for a better time. For now we move on to the next day, when Hirak and Sumedha gave us a tour of the University campus. Or at at least a part of it. Whatever they could squeeze in the time we had. For one, it IS a HUGE place! Nothing like what we have back home. Being one of the most well endowed universities in the country has its share of up sides. And it shows. The sprawling campus and state of the art infrastructure is good enough to make even studying addictive. Which is saying a lot.

After about two hours of being impressed by the Uni’s formidable structures, we descended to mundanities again. One of the things I happened to observe, is that no matter how academically inclined a girl might be, her first love, for all it’s worth, is still going to be – shopping. And ice cream. And well chocolate too. A fact consolidated by Sumedha’s forceful invasions of the fashion stores. And ice cream parlors. Just the kind of accomplice I needed. So while the husbands rolled their eyes to the heavens, the wives’ club marched into the stores with aplomb. Of course that did not deter them from wise cracking. Men, after all, will be MEN; a fact I have gotten used to after being brought up with three brothers.

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After a brief stint in a souvenir store for University of Michigan (all the items had huge ‘M’s on them, ha!) the four of us walked down the streets of the University Town, contemplating on what we could do before it was time for good byes. The option of a movie was vetoed and so the three book lovers and one book liker (me, if you haven’t guessed) traipsed into a uniquely antique bookstore called the Dawn Treader Bookshop. The store has an incredible collection (and a mummy coffin shaped book case!), plus the oldest editions of P.G. Wodehouse and several autographed books to boot. While my self proclaimed artist of a husband picked up a book on sketching landscapes and a book on New writings from the Middle East, I picked up The Mother Tongue a humorous review of ‘English & How it got that way’ by Bill Bryson, a writer my husband has gotten me hooked to lately.

After a few more rounds of jokes and laughter (and some hot onion bhajias, yum!) Hirak suggested we go to Ann Arbor’s famed Zingerman’s bakehouse and creamery. Amtrak did not let us down. As expected, the train was running late again, so we could squeeze a good half hour in this place which has got a wide variety of bread, cheese, chocolates, you-name-its. And all of them fresher than fresh, exclusive and somewhat expensive. But good stuff is good stuff. Hubby picked some sour dough with chocolate chips and Sumedha made us try an assortment of cheese. Now I must say, I have a somewhat conservative taste in food; I don’t even have fruit in the middle of a meal because fruit is sweet and well, curry is spicy. Too much confusion for the taste buds. But if you like sampling new flavors and tastes, it’s THE place for you. Check out their site to see what this exotic eatery’s all about.

Well folks. That’s all for now. More after the next weekend, Inshalah. Toodle-loo!

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