Monthly Archives: November 2012

AliExpress Haul

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I am a self confessed shopaholic, and because there aren’t any great malls near my place in Vashi I tend to do quite a bit of online shopping. Plus you can’t beat the discounts- I’ve picked everything from books to perfumes and shoes online and have never once been disappointed.

Some of the goodies

I had heard quite a few good things about AliExpress, and the sellers always stock the latest trends. So, finally I decided to give it a try and place a small order for myself.

Unlike its parent company Alibaba, all the sellers on AliExpress are from China. But the good thing is that these sellers allow you to place small orders, some only have a minimum requirement for 15 USD, and quite a few offer free deliveries. This also makes it convenient for single store owners or those who hold exhibitions, such as myself.

Finding the items that you like is the easy part, the difficulty lies is finding the seller who offers the best price and also one who has good reviews. It took me a few days to find a seller who I was comfortable with, and one who also carried an excellent selection.

I placed a 35 USD –approximately 1900 Rupees- order from one seller and selected around 50 pieces of earrings, bracelets and necklaces. If I were to purchase the same amount here in India I would easily have had to pay more than double. Just to give you an example an Aztec style necklace that I paid under 3 USD –165 Rupees- for retails for almost 700 Rupees here.

Pretty Earrings

The quality of the accessories that I ordered were excellent, and they were true to the pictures displayed on the site. Everything was individually packed and then bubble wrapped before being placed in a box.

Lovely Rings

My only issue was with the amount of time it took for the delivery. The seller had mentioned 30 days, but my order took almost 45 days to reach Mumbai. Most of my friends have received their packages on time, so maybe it was just a one off.

Love this bracelet

The good thing is that in case you fail to receive your parcel within the assigned time, or if the goods are damaged you can open a dispute with AliExpress, and ask for a refund since the money stays in an escrow account until you confirm receiving it. I really liked that since, a lot of people have a perception of sellers or goods from China to be dodgy.

Do you shop online, and which are your favorite websites?

Mystery Files: Case of the Missing Bai

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Indian Bais

In India, having domestic help around the house is common. Usually there is a designated person who will do your dishes, laundry, clean the house, etc. This story is rooted in the busy and somewhat puzzling streets of Kharghar, Navi Mumbai.

Diwali was approaching and my mom was busy in the kitchen making mithai (sweets). Various vegetables were laid out on the kitchen platform in anticipation of the bai coming to make lunch. Dishes from last night’s dinner were also piled up in the kitchen sink. Every few minutes, mom would look up at the clock. The stress on her face was imminent. I knew she would lose her cool any moment.

The clock struck 12 and off set my mom’s rampage. “These bais are a pain, I told her yesterday that she has to come early and now it’s already noon!” she screamed. Her rage continued after the bai didn’t answer her mobile phone, “now she is not answering her phone, at least she could have called.” My mom stomped around the house, continuing about how much housework was left. The bai not showing up was the topic of the night at the dinner table too.  “How could she do that, not just show up?” was another one of my mom’s infamous sayings from that night. Needless to say, my house is a complete chaos without the bai.

What happened to the bai? Why didn’t she answer the phone? The other households where the bai also assisted mentioned how they hadn’t seen her too. What went wrong?

The scenario described above has occurred at least 4 times in the past month and half that I have been in India—that is quite a lot. Sometimes, the bai was missing just for a day, other times it was 3-4 days. In every case, she would show up and ring the doorbell as if nothing happened and start her work. Upon talking to friends, I realize that the case of the missing bai is common to almost all households. The mystery appears to follow the same pattern in them too, bais not answering their phones, calling off sick at least once a month, etc. Could all of them be linked? I will try finding out and let you know.

The Tiger is no more

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Yesterday afternoon at 3:30 pm, Shiva Sena supremo Bal Thackeray passed away due to cardiac arrest. The news of his death however began circulating a few days back, when there was a noticeable police presence outside his house, and politicians, industrialists and movie stars began stopping over to pay their last respects. Meetings were being cancelled, and Mumbai had been cautious over the past few days as his health deteriorated.

Bal Thackeray

Born in 1926, he started his life working as a cartoonist, and in 1966 formed the Shiv Sena, with an agenda that put Marathis first. The objective was to see that natives were due given job preference over the immigrants that were now moving to the state in large numbers.

It is rumored that Bal Thackeray passed away a few days back, but to limit the effect on the population, the party decided to wait until Saturday to announce the news. Most people who had the day working would have left their offices, and considering at least a Mumbai wide bandh was eminent this might seem like a good decision on their part.

Within two hours of his death being announced on news channels, shops and restaurants across the state had begun closing. There were reports of some party workers threatening establishments into shutting down, but most closed voluntarily fearing riots or unpleasant incidents. Concerts and parties were cancelled for the weekend and most people decided to stay at home as is best advised during these situations.

I am down in Nasik for Diwali, and even here shops were beginning to shut by 6:00 pm and this included the malls and fast food chains such as Pizza Hut and McDonalds. Even the small tapirs or stalls were closed and vegetable vendors were heading home. We had plans for dinner and a movie, but those were obviously cancelled. And trying to find some street food meant driving around the near deserted city to find a half opened Goli outlet.

The President cancelled his tour of the state following news of his deteriorating health, and leaders of the oppositions last night cancelled their dinner with the Prime Minister.

I might not necessarily have agreed with his policies of Maharashtra only for Marathis and his strong stance against Muslims and Pakistanis, but there was no denying that he helped build the infrastructure of the state.

There are only a handful of people in Indian politics who command the respect and following that Bal Thackeray did, and his will be big shoes to fill.

To eat or not to eat: Indian Fast Food Snacks

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To eat or not to eat: Indian Fast Food Snacks

Samosa, Pakora, Paani Puri, Vada Pav, Misl Pao, Bhel, Pao Bhaji, Bombay Sandwich-the list goes on. My mouth is watering as I am writing this post, but having some delicious chaat (indian fast food snack) is all I can think about after my 3 mile run this morning. In the US, I would miss Indian chaat even more so than an actual Indian meal. I mean the taste of having street chaat is unbeatable, and I felt the Indian restaurant in U.S. never really did justice to it.

In India, you can find multiple stalls on the road serving these items. Each neighbourhood usually has their favorite chaat walla, the person who has the best and probably most hygienic food. In Pune, I LOVE the vada pav from JJ Gardens. Even though vada pav is a Mumbai speciality, I think the vada pav in Pune is hands down the best I have ever had. The amount of chutney is just perfect and it’s not too spicy either. The vada (potato filling) is always hot and super crispy. I like that the masala in the vada isn’t over powering either. There is always a huge crowd in front of this guy’s stall, even at 7 AM, but service is impeccably quick.

JJ Gardens Vada Pav

I am also a HUGE fan of the bhel served at ELCO market in Mumbai. Last time I went to Elco, I tried their basket bhel and wasn’t disappointed at all. My mom had the traditional bhel, and just as a warning it is a bit on spicier side for those who are not accustomed to Indian spice levels.

Basket Bhel at Elco Market, Mumbai

So is this food really healthy? Nope. I am usually very conscious of what I eat, but I think Indian chaat is definitely one of my weaknesses. It serves as the perfect snack item at any time of the day for me. Also, you just have to use your judgement on what stalls you really want to eat the food from-not all of them have good levels of hygiene. My advice is to ask around for recommendations if possible, or use your own judgement before picking up a snack.

I am going to cut this post slightly short as I am going go downstairs and see if any chaat walla is open 🙂 Happy Munching!

Diwali: Light them Up!

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On this festive spirit of Diwali, we decided to do a combined post!

Growing up, I don’t think there was anyone who did not get excited with Diwali. And we celebrated some of our best Diwali’s back home. Bursting crackers for at least a week, and on the day of Diwali itself we were all up way past midnight, dustbins being blown up to the roofs, dressing up for the annual party, and hogging on the pakodas. And no Diwali was ever complete, with at least one aunty trying to kill the rest of us.

Swara85:

Diwali Diyas

It’s Diwali! The festival of lights, Diwali is literally the Indian New Year. Even though I grew up in Thailand, Diwali was probably the biggest festival for us. New clothes, fire crackers, endless sweets, pujas (prayers) and parties with families and friends made Diwali so special. In the US, I lost touch with Diwali. I only made it to the Shiva temple in Parma, Ohio and that too for may be 5 minutes. After 9 years I am having the chance to celebrate Diwali again and that too in India itself. I can’t explain my excitement. What makes it even more special is that this Diwali is being celebrated with my parents and fiancé.

Bursting crackers

Diwali usually consists of families conducting festivities for 5 days. These rituals include making rangolis (colorful floor paintings made by using colored powder), lighting diyas (mini lanterns), bursting crackers is probably the diwali tradition I missed the most. Lighting them and sprinting for my life was my mantra for crackers. Yesterday, I had my fair share of lighting sparkles, bombs, and rockets and then running:) It was such a small thing, but one that made me so happy.

I look forward to spending the next few days with family-bursting more crackers, eating more sweets, and lighting up those lights! It’s these similar pleasures that make it so memorable.

Pallavi:

I absolutely love Diwali and Holi, and I guess it’s my dad’s enthusiasm for both the festivals that has rubbed off on me to. I remember always going shopping for crackers with him a week or so before Diwali. Lighting up houses is universal with Diwali, everyone put ups lights and diyas. Oh, and bursting crackers, as it is meant to ward off evil spirits. In addition to that people clean their houses, make sweets and elaborate snacks. My mom makes the most amazing besan ka ladoos during Diwali, mine just don’t turn out like hers. Here in India, the decorations are on a larger scale, and in Maharashtra, households put up aakash-kandils, which is a lantern of sorts and make elaborate rangolis. The snacks as well are prepared to last at least a month, and are these days usually prepared by a cook. Preparations this year included: sev, chakli, shankar paras, and ladoos.

Back home, on the day of Diwali itself, we would do Lakshmi puja in the evening, and as after we would just be running in and out bursting crackers, mom would always prepare a snacks dinner. Chole bhatures, tikkis, samosas, which were not only quick to eat but were also ideal to grab and go.

Diwali Snapshots

Here, at my in-laws, at least one meal is supposed to be puran poli, and since it is quite heavy, we decided to have it for lunch. A full plate is shown to the deities in the temple at home, and to the photos of parents or grandparents who have passed away. Dinner, however turned out to be quite a heavy affair as well, since we decided to go out for a thali meal.

Lunch

Dinner

I do miss the firecrackers of Thailand. Used to love pop, dragon eggs, soccer and triangle bombs, none of which we get here. The names here are funny; chatachat, Indian Ocean, flower couple romance and Red Fort to name a few. And they are most unpredictable, both with the sound they’ll produce and the direction they might fly off in.

And I definitely miss Diwali back home with my parents and brother, and the lovely gaon ki goris who I grew up with, and with whom I have celebrated my best Diwalis.