I'm shocked that the first decade of the new millennium is over. I still remember my sister and I were watching Titanic as 2000 dawned. And close to midnight, we ran to the balcony and counted the seconds to 2000 on her watch. I was a gawky 14-year-old, and she, a college student. She's now a mother! God, I feel so old!

I've been reading so much about the Margazhi season recently, that I am longing to go to Chennai so badly. I'm fiercely jealous of anyone in Chennai right now, and anything that people have to say about the city and the December kutcheries, etc., are capable of causing a spiral into nostalgia. As a kid and as a teenager I used to hate attending a lot of these kutcheries, but thinking back on them now, I figure I rather enjoyed them once I was there. Visions of accompanying paati (all gleaming in her silk saree) to a TM Krishna kutchery in Music Academy, and with amma to TTD for a Nithyashree kutchery seem like glimpses of someone else's life. Not to forget good ol' Krishna Gana Sabha that we used to go to thadukki vizhunda, simply for the sheer proximity of the Sabha to our house. And as years moved on and kutchery outings became rarer, the TV - especially the Margazhi Mahotsavam on Jaya TV - slowly became the window to the world of December season kutcheries.

The other day I asked my mother if Salem had any such thing. Her response indicated Salem didn't even feature in any musician's plans. Obviously, I thought. What wouldn't I give to go back to my life in T.Nagar - to five years back - when life, home, friends and everything outside of Singapore centered on Chennai!

When I think back on 2010, I feel it was a strange 'non-happening' year - despite everything that happened - an escalation of responsibilities at work, carrying the DSLR pretty much everywhere, and opting to have fun by watching movies, eating out and simply yapping away. I think I used up most of 2010 making plans for 2011.

Of course, Spark was among the biggest things that happened in 2010. My writing habit has been whipped back into shape, I have been having great fun editing people's works, reading the brilliant things a lot of them have to say. My awe for anyone who can write poems has increased manifold.

New Year in Chennai meant a trip to Muppathamma Kovil beating its crazy crowds. I haven't been home for New Year's in three years. Midnight would have made no difference at home because I'd be fast asleep :) Tonight, I'm determined to catch the fireworks in Singapore and take some photos of them - fingers crossed!

I know 2011 is going to be a big year. I see it coming. I feel strangely optimistic and confident, and yet my brains are telling me to stay calm and be practical. Keeping in line with my usual levels of resolutions, here's what I plan to do in 2011:

- take Spark to new levels
- more photography. Joining a beginners' class soon!
- travel. Greece is happening next year. I still can't believe it :)
- ice cream at least once a week, but reduce the number of chocolates.
- a return to those long walks I used to take in NTU.
- chart out a proper plan to volunteer/give back - no sporadic money donations,  something bigger.

That's enough, already. Cheers to the New Year! Hope 2011 has more happiness, no disasters or war, amazing health and fun!
Yesterday should have been a historical day in the life of the Chennai girl.

At 8.30 pm last evening, I was seized by a sudden urge to cook dinner. But what? The obvious starting point was vendekkai, okra, ladyfinger. That was enough; I grabbed my bag and walked to the supermarket.

It's not a good idea to go to the supermarket when you are hungry. You end up buying the most random things - simply everything looks appealing. After getting my shopping basket heavy with a bag of oats, kiwi, butter, Nuttella and such unnecessary stuff, I finally walked to the vegetables section. Potatoes looked good. Did we have onions? I don't know, why don't I throw them in anyway. Tomatoes, ah, yes.

The basket was too heavy to handle by now, so I decided to skip the cauliflower and capsicum. Struggling with three bags, I came home, turned the music on extremely loud so I can hear it in the kitchen all the way from my room. I had no idea what I was doing, but was elated for some reason. Turns out I did have onions, by the way. Never mind, chop them up. Blanch the tomatoes to make puree. Boil the potatoes in a microwave. And chop the baby okra.

I threw them into the cooking pot one by one, adding in spices as I wished. Pepper. Cumin. Coriander. Chilli. A generous helping of salt. Added some water. Dumped the potatoes and okra in, and closed the pot. My own recipe. And when I removed the lid to check it after five minutes, darn it, it smelled good. Quite good.

I was shocked. Really. This was the most I'd done in my life outside of those cook-vegetables-add-salt-chill-powder-and-coconut, and minor variations of the same recipe, the most I've deviated from this being for dal. Remember, I'm talking about cooking by myself here.

I gingerly opened the lid to the pot again. It still smelled good.

I did a little jig in joy. I can cook! And it's nothing, my mind reasoned in happiness. Cooking is totally overrated. If you have the interest, it's a cakewalk. I was immensely pleased. I was already thinking of what I could tell my mom on the phone later that evening. 'Yup, it was my invention!' I'd proudly say. And I knew that mum would be heaving a sigh of relief and laugh at my excitement.

I switched it off just when the okra was starting to turn squishy. Yup, just fine. Excited beyond words, I dunked a spoon in and tasted it. The thing was friggin' hot, obviously, and I couldn't taste a thing. Ah, it can't be bad - and so it went on a plate.

My first reaction upon eating was that it was, erm... missing something. It wasn't salt, I'd learnt to identify that some three years back. The spices were ok. Not that it tasted bad, but something was off. I was disappointed. I thought long and hard for five minutes, and finally decided it had to be the bloody tomatoes. Those awful orange tomato-thingies you get in Singapore. They were the cause for my rasam tasting like boiled water, and now they had ruined my precious dish. The more I ate my preparation, the more convinced I was that it was the tomatoes - yes, that weird, tangy taste from pulikkara tomatoes. Bummer.

I was disappointed only for five minutes. Mum called soon after and I excitedly told her about the dish. 'Vendekkai and potatoes?!' she asked. 'Uh-huh. And it doesn't taste bad, except the tomatoes ruined the taste a bit,' I said. 'Err... ok!' she concluded, and went on to discuss how the pulikaachal she'd given me was doing. As long as it's not Maggi, mum is happy with whatever I cook. I guess she's just happy I'm getting my fingers burnt. The daughter who used to run away from the kitchen if the mixer was on or if mom was spluttering mustard seeds, has grown up.

And so you realize why yesterday should have been a historic day, and yet didn't quite turn out to be one. But of course, as with anything else, I move on.The biggest take-away from yesterday's incident was that it reaffirmed my delayed realization that cooking isn't that difficult at all. A little interest and involvement, and you're there already. Now, it's time to build that interest and involvement. For right now, any interest only stems from not wanting to eat anything else that's already out there (no Subway, no MOS, no Sticky Rice - ok, let me cook!)

P.S.: How do you like the new template? I spent over an hour going blind searching for the perfect one (not girly, not Manga, not grunge-rock, nothing too artsy, nothing too simple - I know, I'm a nightmare), only to choose the first one I'd seen and bookmarked. I realized with horror that my basic HTML skills have gone down the drain, and stared at the 60 pages (on Word) of code before giving up trying to edit it.
1. The flight I came in had no row number 13. 12 and then straight to 14.

2. Half an hour into the flight, I look out and I see a beautiful sky - a brilliant blue that gradually fades away into white only to merge with soft, puffy clouds. The clouds look so beautifully white, like snow - I feel like I'm flying low over the Arctic or something. The sun shines brilliantly on my back. We're at an altitude of 38,000 feet, and we're crossing the seas comfortably. I don't think I'll ever be able to get over the fact that man invented planes.

3. The old man sitting next to me - I'm sure he was in his 60s - started off with gin, then had two glasses of wine and two glasses of orange juice.

4. It's amazing how within 45 minutes of seeing blue, clouds which were fluffy white soon got tainted with a tinge of setting-sun pink.

5. On my way home in the taxi, I saw a SQ flight taking off (or landing) on a bridge a few meters above the road on which we were going. It was brilliant, and I was shamelessly staring open-mouthed.

6. Trips to India can just make you feel totally disoriented. I was up till 2 in the morning trying to fall asleep, went to the office in a daze, ate at 2 pm (this from the person who wants lunch at 11.30 am), was starving at 5 pm, and was craving for noodles with a dash of Amma's pulikaachal.

And I know that by tomorrow evening, home, rasam, nephew and Salem's setting sun will feel ever so distant.

I’m officially allergic to Salem. This is the third time I am visiting this city and been sneezing unstoppably. People try to convince me that it’s because I’m getting too used to the ‘pure air in Singapore’. Rubbish. This has never happened when I used to go home to Chennai. Never. All the same, it is highly annoying to be doing one of the following all the time: a) sneezing; b) trying to avoid sneezing; c) going through the painful moment when you have to sneeze but it’s not happening.

Sunsets in Salem are beautiful. The hills just provide the perfect background, and it’s amazing to watch the red ball of fire go down every day, painting brilliant streaks of orange throughout the sky.

Mom tries to interest me in cooking – again. She asks with complete incredulity: ‘Why can’t you make proper rasam?’ (she’s been trying to teach me for the last five years) Having been subject to my brilliant doubts such as why ulutham paruppu is labeled ulundhu (she was shocked when I said ‘Ohhh! You mean ulutham paruppu and ulundhu are the same?!’), she should know better than to expect more from me. My bad luck, I screwed up while cooking something as simple as oats, eliciting the oft-heard ‘Yevan unkitta vandhu maataporaano…’