Monday, April 29, 2013


"What begins with Z?
I do. 
I am a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, as you can plainly see"
 - Dr.Seuss in A B C

Dr.Seuss at his magical best again. What indeed is a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz? It is a nonsensical creature, scary if you want it to be, harmless if you want it to be or an angel if you'd like it that way. All of us live some part of our lives in fantasy and how better to instill that imagination, but at childhood? Creativity helps us deal with life's realities. A little imagination helps us escape horrible truths. A little embellishing makes any story more vibrant. A little thinking out-of-the-box gets us multiple awards at office. 

So how do you get the brain cells to conjure up the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzzs of your chosen field? By practice, by observation and by spending time and effort on it. Much like this blogging endeavor. The most creative of pursuits actually have the most arcane of necessities - practice. Sometimes the creative cells may have taken off to visit their relatives in Planet Krypton or may fight a bloody civil war with your fingers struggling to keep pace... either way, just "Z"ealously committing to the project is half the battle won. 

You're off to Great Places! 
Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So... get on your way!

 - Dr.Seuss again.

Commit to your life. 
Commit to your dreams. 
Observe the effect of your words. 
Observe the people around you. 
Travel with your eyes, ears (and mouth!) wide open. 

"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it`s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life`s realities."
- Dr.Seuss

Yaks galore.

The yaks are also sisters I guess, yakking away :) I was really stunned when my tethered yak moved forward. This pic was clicked off Manali, a mere 5 seconds before the yak charged forward. I have never sat on a yak after that.

Another memory yaks bring is of course the thick creamy yak milk I had at Leh, in a small little home (in Diskit), in 2007. The yak milk is like drinking full-fat milk, with the fat 5 times over. I could barely have a thimbleful.

When I visited Shillong, over a decade ago, I had the opportunity to sample a sweet that an old lady gave me in a tiny little tea shop, on the highway from Guwahati to Shillong. It was raining and I was shivering. She gave me a little sweet (looked like a barfi) and asked me to keep chewing it. She said if you chew it out completely, you'll feel totally warm, but you cannot stop chewing. So I chewed and chewed and chewed...and chewed.... and chewed. The sweet refused to melt or break down into pieces. It stopped raining and I stopped feeling cold. After a while, my gums threatened to fall off in protest, so I just kept sucking it.

On the way back, I stopped at the same lady's shop and asked her what it was. The wizened old woman said "Its not the sweet, but the philosophy. When you are cold, when you are sad, if you focus on the activity at hand, you will not feel the pain. We make this specially for our kids and old during winter. Its nothing but solidified yak's milk". I was stumped. Philosophy so true, offered so practically, a nugget that I treasure in my head to remind me that I should do my duty always. Bhagawad Gita in a nutshell, eh?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wonder of Xmas in Disneyland

I missed my W post. I almost missed my X post too, thanks to the internet cable being relaid around the building. I was actually wishing for a fairy Godmother to help me complete these 2 letters and hey presto! It was magic :) Who more to exemplify magic and joy and presents than Santa. So that being the train of thought, I almost started blogging about the annual ritual of buying and installing our X mas tree. Then I remembered a Christmas that still holds special memories. The one we spent at Disneyland.

Disneyland is a magical place. Its as much for adults who are basically big children as it is for children who are small adults! On X mas it becomes EVEN more magical (yes!). We were treated to a special parade. The fireworks were extra special too.

A word for those who are yet to visit Disneyland. The rides et al are nice, no doubt, some thrilling, some fun, some experiential. But the area to NOT miss is the one for small children - the ToonTown. Its amazing how Mickey and Gang come to life. The tea parties and little houses and small chairs and the costumes and colors... just takes you back to childhood and almost makes you a believer! My husband had to literally drag me outta there.

The year we went, Santa was Australian! Hence the summery shirt. Of course I sat on his lap and walked away with a lolly, whaddya think?

Here's to the goodness of spirit. On a serious note, I do hope the innocence of childhood prevails, given the spate of rapes and child crimes in our country (and some others around the world).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

VIBGYOR: Color me happy!

I wanted to do a real post with opinions or thoughts, but for some reason the acronym VIBGYOR kept coming to me. So I woke up this morning, actually unscheduled my earlier post on "Vulnerability" and began writing on VIBGYOR. Now being mommy to a really young infant (with night wake ups et al), I do remember thinking VIBGYOR, but can't recollect a word of the (hopefully interesting) post that I composed in my head. With colors, what better than "V"isuals? So here goes a photo post again :) 

VIOLET: I've loved the gorgeousness of this color always. This pic was taken when I was in Class VI, in a dress that I fought with my mom to buy. To put it mildly, it blinds ones eyes. Thank God it didn't have bling too! 

But I remember how my mom told me when I bought it "Kannamma, this dress is your choice. You REALLY wanted it. Now wear it with pride, confidence and the love it deserves. You'll look beautiful in it. And if someone says the dress is not nice, just smile at them and bounce even more, the dress does look great!"

INDIGO: Indigo is an interesting color. Halfway between violet and blue, it is often the misunderstood, misrepresented middle child :) Now Indigo always brings to my mind the story of 'The Blue Jackal'. And the airline of course. But I had never seen the color ever manifesting in the sky or sea.... I used to wonder whether it really existed or it was just a scientific term for a color that had different wavelength. 

My doubts were put to rest by the mighty Pangong Tso at Ladakh. I highly recommend a visit for words defy the range of colors that you witness there. You can read my earlier account of the lake here

BLUE: Blue brings to mind all kinds of things - from blue skies to blue seas to blueberries to kingfishers, but the blue that I always think of is the bright striking blue on superman's dress :) Yes, you read that right. The first TV in my house was purchased in 1988, when I was already 8 years old. I remember one of the first cartoons I watched was an animated 'Superman' who saved everyone and everything, including cats and violins. The blue on his dress always represented adventure and courage to me! 

Why will Mini-me like anything else? 

GREEN:  The first thought on waking up in Scotland was that it was just SO GREEN.  Meadows stretching to as far as the eye could see, in a lovely medley of multiple greens. The little white dandelions doing their merry jig. The gentle roll of the hills. The weak blue skies that threatened to mist over and cry. Just picture perfect. Beautiful. 

YELLOW: Yellow, yellow, dirty fellow! Remember the ditty? I LOVE the color. It is the most gorgeous color in the spectrum. Happy, smiling, sunshiney! Yellow be the bright flowers on the roadside everywhere. The 'sarson ka khet' song ('Tujhe Dekha to') in DDLJ, where Kajol comes running to meet SRK? I was focusing on the field, not the couple :) Apparently the reason we love yellow is that it is the nearest color to skin tone (not pink, as that Fair and Lovely ad repeatedly drones on). 

ORANGE:  Orange apart from being a fruit and associated with Mirindaah!, always reminds me of the Bryce Canyon hoodoos. I already did a post on the Grand Canyon, so I am not going there again. Did you know that there is no English word that rhymes with Orange? (trivia for you!) 

RED: Red as the rose, red as blood, red as the sun, but red is autumn! The 'fall' colors of autumn is a sight to behold. I used to wonder as a child how the impressionist artists always thought of painting leaves red, simply because in South India, there is no 'fall'. And then one beautiful September in MA, it all fell into place. Entire mountainsides awash in oranges, burnt sienna, bright vermilion, carmine red... just beautiful. Red is my favorite color in the VIBGYOR spectrum. To me it represents the simplicity of childhood, the boldness of spirit and the beauty of independence. 

Here's wishing you 'saat rang ke sapne' in your lives :)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

"No one wants to marry you. You are so ugly". The words of her dad kept ringing in her ears.

She looked in the mirror. She saw her fat body. Her round large face. Her thin hair. Her small eyes. Her large nose. Her thick lips. Her excuse of a neck.

She thought of her late mother.
A lone tear crept down her cheek.

The next morning, she was at school. Hellen Keller School for Visually Disabled Girls. Commonly called HK Blind School.

At school, she began her lessons with a song. A song that carried to the heavens. A voice that thrilled the nightingales. Her students sang with her. Happily.

She began telling them a story. Of a Prince who lived far away. A magician who spread his magic around the world to make people happy. Of Princesses who were braver than warriors. Of Warriors who sang sweeter than birds. Of Birds who were prettier than flowers. Of Flowers who were happy and made everyone happy. She described the flowers - their colors, their fragrance, their beauty. She told them that only one thing was more beautiful than these flowers - their mothers. She asked them to buy a flower for their mamma that day and give them a hug.

Lessons over, she came back home.

Her dad welcomed her with "4 boys have rejected you again. You are ugly. You are merely a teacher, not even a doctor or engineer, so boys will marry you for your job."

She walked to the bathroom to change. The windows, the door, the mirror all screamed in welcome to her - Ugly, Ugly, Ugly.

She thought of her late mother and steeled herself.

The sun rose the next morn. Wearing her fave pink kurti, the one she thought made her look sweet and happy, she left for school. She had dressed with care. She always did, especially when she was down and out.

She reached school and was greeted by one of her shy students - Mallika. The girl said "Ma'am, my father wants to meet you. Can I bring him?"

Her dad stepped forward.

Mallika said "Ma'am, I want to give you this flower, you are the most beautiful woman ever." She walked away.

Her dad said "I can see why Malli has been talking of you day and night. You ARE indeed beautiful. My wife passed away 3 years ago, a few months after Malli's birth. Malli was withdrawn until she joined this school. After joining this school, she has only been able to talk of her beautiful teacher who sings like a nightingale, who looks like an angel. I now know why she said that, you are an angel in every way, beautiful in AND out. Please don't mistake  me, do you think we can meet for coffee after school?".

She agreed. They met for coffee. The rest as they say is history.

She married him a few months later. Was whisked away in a Merc. You see, Mallika's dad owned the country's largest vineyard AND largest shipping company.

He reminded her how lucky he was EVERYDAY and said "you are beautiful" everytime they spoke.

The day she left her home, her dad said "you are so lucky. How did he agree to marry an ugly woman I wonder?"

She walked into her bathroom. "Hello old friend, You look SO BEAUTIFUL", the mirror said to her. She only saw her beautiful luminous eyes, shining with hope for the future. Her face, round as the moon, her hair in a stylish new cut, her nose adorned with a pretty silver ring, her body encased in well-cut clothes, her smile lighting up the entire universe - a woman in love.

She thought of her late mother.
A lone tear crept down her cheek.

Ugliness is never skin deep. The ones who are truly ugly, are the ones with a black heart.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Twirls and Twists

In 2005 - 06, I lived in Bangalore. I was single then, and it was that stage of my life when I could easily try new things without having to worry about babysitters or cook or parents et al. I was working in a Bank, and a colleague mentioned to me that she was going to a certain club for a Tango night and asked me if I was interested. I accompanied her because a) It was Wednesday and I had nothing better to do. b) I was curious to see what a Tango night is. Turns out it was a 'happening' thing in Bangalore. Lots of teachers and students showing off their dance moves. I felt like I had stepped into a scene in 'Dirty Dancing'. I loved the partner dances and I decided on a whim that I was going to learn some.

The very next day after many inquiries I singled upon a dance studio midway between office and home, and began learning in earnest every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. It was lovely learning the basics of jive, feeling se#y with salsa moves and laughing giddily at the speed of rock and roll. The class was made up of a bunch of enthusiastic youngters, some in college, some working at their first or second jobs. The husband of our teacher was also in our batch, learning to groove. 

I had learnt 'Bharatnatyam' for over 16 years. Learning a classical Indian dance form would give me an edge I thought. I was in for a surprise. Jiving or dancing the salsa is not about the rhythm, but about the connection between the partners. It is just as important to have a good 'follower' as it is to have a strong 'leader'. The classes did not insist on a 'partner' and we had a round robin of partners if we chose to dance with a man, or we could opt to dance with a few advanced salsa 'women' dancers. The next few classes were superb and I learnt to groove to the beat. We used to go out as a class to Salsa nights around the city and dance up a frenzy with our choreographed steps, especially to songs we already used in our classes. 

Many many years later, in a nightclub in Goa, after a few heady glasses of Goan port wine, I kicked up a storm in my dancing shoes, to live music. Dancing does remain very close to my heart and I do hope that my husband reads this post and decides to take up classes with me :) If you haven't danced, I urge to try now. Doesn't matter if you have 2 left feet, nor does it matter if you can't stay to the rhythm. Its about really feeling the music, grooving to the beats and letting yourself go. Its about reaching out to the joy that's waiting in the Universe to be experienced. If you haven't tried jiving/dancing/just jiggling away in the bathroom, its time now... to twirl and twist! You do feel like you are dancing IN the stars!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sights, Sounds & Smells of Smiles!

I find myself at S and yet not a single post to thank the things the bring the most important of all acts in my life - "Smile"! So here are some sights and sounds that make me smile or sigh! Thank you, Big One in the Sky! 

Sunrise at Prabhadevi, view from my window
Sight of the Sunrise: Grateful for the lovely sunrise every morning, that reminds me that although the blackness and sorrows in our lives can never go away, there is always sunrise in the morning, and sunshine in our lives.

Surprised at midnight, on my 25th b'day
Sound of "Surprise, Surprise": Grateful for the sight, sound and smell of surprises that remind me that friends are always out there for you, watching your back, skipping ahead with you!

Asleep at last!
The sound of silence! Any mom would know what this blessed sleep means, and how easily it can be broken by the doorbell, neighborhood crow, neighbor's prayers or even the flush.

Song of the Spring
Song of the Spring or Song of Sorrow?This pic was taken at Gulmarg, Kashmir. It reminds me always how the loveliest of places can be marred by the most violent acts of life. It was at this very spot, 30 tourists were bombed a month before I visited it.

The Sight of Shadows: I see this pic as a metaphor for life itself. With valleys and peaks, bright mountainside and shadowed plains. The sky smiles on as always, giving the same blessings to all. One day you are here, the other day there, but the sun smiles at you always. 

Sight of Serenity: When the plane was touching down in Leh, I could see the entire plains being bathed in Sunlight. It looked serene, divine and I thanked the stars that if was finally meant to be, for me!

Marching together
Sight of Solidarity: Two people can come from different walks of life, different places in the world, but a sense of compassion, love and solidarity will see them walk together, hand-in-hand for the rest of their lives. Happily.

Sweet Delight
Sight of Sweetness: Half the joy of a festival is in the food! Easter eggs, especially chocolate ones always reminds me of gratitude, of thankfulness that the Good God decided to put chocolate and joy in this world for me (and you!). 

Sumptuous Spread
Smell of Sweat & Toil: After a hard (and early) day at work in the kitchen on an auspicious occasion, the smell of your yummy (and sweaty) efforts at kitchen wafting up your nose before the ritual offering is always a sure way to light up my face with a smile.

Prettiest Sunflower in the world!
Smell of Sunshine: Yes, you don't smell rain alone, you can smell the sun too (anybody who has lived in Bombay will assert to that!) This pic was taken in Ladakh. After days of cold weather, hail and snowstorms, one afternoon I was sipping tea outside a monastery when the Sun God decided to join me for a cuppa!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rage or Rape?

She flew at him trying to hit him with her puny limbs.

He ducked but came at her.

She tried to move out of his line of vision.

He only changed position and eyed her again, grinning all the time.

She was small.

He was big, oh so big.

She tried to bite him, try to attack him from behind.

He laughed evilly and muttered "I WILL get you, I won't let you escape so easily".

She was mighty scared, her heart was pounding oh-so-loudly.

His blood rushed to his head, he was working himself up to get her.

She looked for ways to escape, couldn't spot any.

He swooped in then, clapping his hands in glee, he was brutal in his attack.

She pleaded for help, screamed, kicked and fought.

But he went at her again and again, didn't stop till he drew blood, till she died.

He then brushed his hands on his pants, and called out to his wife, "Will you please light the mosquito coil earlier? I have to kill a dozen mosquitoes each night!"

Did I hear you heave a sigh of relief that it was about rage?! What did you think it was about? Yes, RAGE could've very well been RAPE, right? Read this article yesterday about the 5 year old girl battling for life at New Delhi and my heart sank. Educate your child to speak out, be careful and learn self-defence. CSA is more prevalent than you think. Prevent it. Please.

* And as for that mosquito? I am sure she went to heaven  for not harming anyone :)

ETA: The idea behind this post is not to trivialize rape, but to show the demonic side of the 'man' who wants to show his 'power' over the innocent victim. Yes, rape victims are ALWAYS innocent, nothing ought to move the man to commit the heinous crime of rape, not the sight of legs, eyes or breasts, not a burqua, a bikini or bodysuit. Its a satire, got that Ms.M? Thank you for your email nonetheless! 

Quartet of Mischief!

My 3 cousins and I (that's me in the right corner, the youngest) used to be up to all kinds of mischief in our summers. Stealing mangoes from the kitchen, waving away the crows from the 'vadaams' (sabudaana paapads) that our grandmom would spread out to dry (but eating them ourselves and blaming crows for it!), eating 'nila choru' (dinner in the moonlight), wearing each others' clothes, bathing together and having a ball in general. 

Well, they are in different parts of the world now. Distance, commitments and adulthood separate us, but we'll always have our childhood memories! 

PS: We used to fancy ourselves as the Famous Five, with my pet goat filling in for Timothy! 

PPS: The 3 younger cousins (born after me) unfortunately never made it to the Quartet Clique! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Packaging - How my teacher taught me to fight Prejudices

When I was in class XI, I had a fantastic English teacher, one who encouraged us to think, to question and to form opinions. It helped that we were 16 years old, young adults, on the threshold of embarking on our adult journeys. 

We used to have a newspaper discussion class every week. Mrs.R (the teacher) once brought an article to discuss -  about a mom rubbing her teenage daughter's face with chili powder which would apparently cause the 'blackness' to rub-off, revealing her white skin inside. She asked us what we thought of the article. 

A girl said "Yes, its important to be fair"
Another one said "If her mom is so fair, and this girl isn't, her mom is right in being worried". 
A boy said "I want to marry a fair girl. She'll be beautiful, just like Sridevi". 
I remember thinking I had a 'wheatish' complexion and how I would never be judged by it. 

That's when Mrs.R said she was surprised that not one talked about how the girl must've been severely injured, scarred physically and mentally. She walked out of the class in a huff. 

Here's what happened next and the reason that teacher remains a "guide" in my memory. 

We had an English language lab a few days later. We entered the room to find it totally dark. She asked us to sit in a semi-circle and listen to the tape recorder. We listened to some short audio clips ranging from "I have a dream" to "He who owns the youth, owns the future" to "India has a tryst with destiny" and something to the effect of "Our country is an Islamic country and we support freedom of expression

She asked the same boy if he could identify which of the voices was dark or Muslim or educated or American.  We were stunned by that. 

She asked us all to name our favorite line. Dr.King won hands down. Many were surprised that he was a black leader. Next most popular was the "youth" quote (which then was my fave, I remember) and I was (and most were) shocked that we "liked" Hitler! 

She then switched on the lights and pointed to 3 packages in the room. One was big, shiny, tied prettily with a ribbon, the second was small, grubby looking, tied with a newspaper and the third was clearly packed by a child, in brown book-wrapping paper, medium sized. She asked a girl if she had a choice, what would she choose and WHY. The girl obviously said the pretty one and most of the class agreed.I confess, I did too. The girl said, it looks so pretty, am sure it has the nicest present inside. 

Not even one of us pointed to the grubby one. Mrs.R said she was upset with us all for judging not by the actual present inside, but the packaging. She went on to open all 3. The shiny one had 2 bricks inside, the brown one had ribbons inside, but the grubby one? It had bars of chocolate and Hero fountain pens inside. She refused to give us any that day and said we'd get it the day we learnt to use our brains to "think" and not merely accept lessons other people were giving us. 
She remains a powerful teacher to me (speaking in my mind) till date. I have fought the occasional prejudice that creeps up in my head if someone is dressed slovenly or makes obvious grammatical errors. I think of her when I pull back from being cruelly sarcastic about height or weight or any other physical characteristic. It doesn't mean you don't make fun of someone, nor does it mean that you make friends with everyone, it just means that stereotyping without giving a chance or worse, abating professional/personal growth because of prejudices is a big no-no. 

Most of all, I use her lessons when I talk to Button (my son). He knows better than to judge his b'day presents by cover already! He knows to go beyond skin color and see the prettiness inside (in fact all kids do, its the adults who forget). He will just as easily make friends with the maid's son as he will with my neighbor's. In fact, the incident of being in a minority while playing with my maid's granddaughter and her kids (when they spoke in Tamil and he couldn't meaningfully converse with them) taught him that only kindness and fairness (not of the skin color type) will let him belong, nothing else. 

Peace be upon you! 

* Both images are UCB ads, etched in my memory. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Online - Offline

Google devta ko pranaam!There is no disputing the daily quota of internet we all need. Without checking the FB a
ccount or gmail or some specific sites, I feel as if I haven't brushed my teeth or eaten my breakfast. Thanks to the internet, a few key strokes I have all the answers. Or can just 'like' or leave a one-line response to a life-altering event instead of being polite and actually calling / writing to wish or discuss it. I know of people who even 'like' condolence messages. Quick fix right?!

No writing: No letters AT ALL. Not even emails anymore, its all FB posts, tweets and SMS / Whatsapp messages. For example its a dear friend's b'day today. 10 years earlier I would've written out a long email to him. 5 years earlier, I would've called him at midnight, or at least spoken to him. Today, esp since he is not on FB or Whatsapp, I suppose I'll send him an SMS wishing him and hopefully talk to him sometime today.  In a larger sense, I guess being 'hooked on' all the time lets an individual read lots more and even express better via blogs et al. Its easier to hide behind a terminal sometimes than go out and talk in person!

Split Personality  I feel like I have 2 lives - one online and one offline. In my case they aren't too different from each other, but I don't know if I can say the same about everyone. I have a friend who sounds so cheerful on FB that you'd think she is all sunshine and light. But meet her, you'll realize in an hour or two that she is depressive, tired and pessimistic, at least at the moment.

What about tomorrow? I am a bit worried about my kids too... if FB has changed my thinking itself (sometimes I think in posts, sometimes in blogposts too!) then I wonder how their lives would be? Maybe 20 years from now, all you'll need to do is think and the messages will be transmitted in embedded chips to the brains of the ones 'linked' to you! You don't have to talk or write at all! And at that time, I would be a fuddy-duddy, still refusing to let go of my pen and paper and buying increasingly expensive books, instead of just downloading them.

I still make it a point to talk to my friends instead of merely communicating via FB or Twitter. I do make many many new online friends and sometimes even encourage the friendship to transcend to offline and real relationships instead of merely being 2 dimensional. With abundant caution of course. Sometimes I feel I should completely erase my digital footprint and not let the internet-alien take over my life, but not strong enough now to step out completely.

How has your life changed? 

Do you think in tweets? Or posts? 

Are you brave enough to go off FB forever? 

Do you believe you use it judiciously? 

Are you worried for your kids? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Niagara Falls

Naughty, No Man's Land, Non-Judgmental, Neem Tree, Nighttime fears, Niceness, Nycil powder, Napalm..... after as many as 8 posts begun and discarded, the children woke up. So a quick nod to N with the Niagara falls. Here's to more luck with original "O"!!

The Horseshoe shaped falls

The first of many many rainbows
Peace Bridge to Canada

Maid of the Mist - boat ride to the foot of Niagara

From the boat - finding the pot of gold

Indian food everywhere!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Masala - The story of my sambar!

Immediately after my marriage, I relocated to Princeton, NJ. I had no time to learn cooking. My previous experiences in the kitchen consisted mostly of hunting for midnight snacks. No, not even making tea. Nada, Zilch! 

Armed with a few packets of 'masala' that my new mother--in-law promised would make me a kitchen diva, lots of enthusiasm and loads of time to kill, my culinary experiments began. Everyday my new husband would get a new dinner. But lunch? He loved sambar (Pet peeve here: Sambarpronounced sa like the musical note 'sa', and bar like car, not bar like burr) and potato curry. I promised I'd make it everyday for the first 2 weeks to work his way to his heart. You know the proverb et al. 

Every morning, I'd open the cupboard and find 3 large bottles of powder staring at me - 1 yellow, 1 orange and 1 red. I labeled them "Turmeric", "Rasam powder" and "Sambar powder". A note of explanation here - every tambrahm worth her filter coffee uses different spices for sambar, rasam (a thinner liquid delicacy made with tamarind - what else - and mixed with rice - again, what else) and kozhambu (another tamarind liquid, mixed with rice... no surprises here!) Every household has different proportions of the ingredients used for the rasam masala and the sambar masala, which determines the taste, pungency and most importantly the smell of the preparation. 

Lesson over. Back to Princeton. Everyday I would wonder why my mil had given me such a large quantity of turmeric powder. Yellow = Turmeric, Orange = Rasam powder and Red = Sambar powder. And every afternoon I would crib to myself that my husband's family's sambar powder was SO SPICY and that I missed my mom's spices. Every evening, my husband would gently ask me to add a little less sambar powder. This went on for 2 weeks. Then came a Saturday. 

The husband said "You cook today. I will watch and give suggestions". 
A bit nervous, I agreed. 
I started making sambar AGAIN. And just when I reached for the sambar masala, I heard the husband go "Stop. Why are you adding this?"
I said "Well, sambar needs sambar masala. How do you make it?"
And once he stopped laughing he said "That is RED CHILLY POWDER"!!!!!! 

I still smart at this incident, while my husband never misses a chance to tease me with it! Apparently my in-laws use only a certain brand of red chilly powder and had given me a kilo of the same. So yellow = sambar powder (they add more turmeric than my mom), orange = rasam powder and red = chilly powder (or patta podi) for kozhambu etc. Bah! 

Here is a Karadi Tales rhyme to teach your children how to make sambar!

Lost in Translation

Some hilarious incidents thanks to language, accents and expressions!

Circa 2002: New Delhi
I was in Delhi to join my first corporate role. I had a dear friend in Delhi (Dipti) and decided to call her to check when we could meet.

I called and her mom picked up the phone. I decided to be super polite and started enquiring about the entire family.

Tina kaisi hai?” (How is Tina).
Sunny kaisa hai?” (How is Sunny).
Aap kaise ho?” (How are you?).
Dipti ke baap kaise hain?
Now I thought I was being polite and addressing Dipti’s dad in the ‘respectful’ stance, but the translation actually is “How are Dipti’s fathers”!!!!!!

Needless to say, aunty has never been able to talk to me in Hindi ever since :)

Moral of the Story: When you call a friend, hang up if he/she is not there. PC will never get you anywhere!

Circa 2004: Bombay

I was in Bombay for the first time. I needed to travel from Khar (the suburbs) to Lower Parel (Bombay, as is referred to here) alone. My friends told me to take an auto-rickshaw to Bandra and then a kaali-peeli (a black and yellow) cab to Lower Parel. They also said the names of the roads in quick succession – Senapati Bapat Marg and Tulsi Pipe road.

Now I had lived in several cities before, but in most of them the auto guy was the king of the road. I wondered why my friends had asked me to switch vehicles. Deciding finding a cab would be difficult (and if you haven’t been to Bombay, its like NY. Cabs are ALWAYS available!) 

I decided to take a rick the whole way. 

Now Bombay has some peculiar restrictions.  Autos or ricks are allowed to ply only in the suburbs, the old city or Bombay, is the taxi kingdom. Whereas taxis can ply anywhere, ricks have to stop at certain points and just return.

Anyway, without knowing that, I went to an auto driver and said “Tulsi Bai road”
Driver: “Auto nahin jaayega” (The auto will not go)
Getting angry at his ‘laziness’: “Mein double doongi, Urgent hai” (I’ll double your fare, its urgent)
Driver: “Kaha na, auto nahin jayega” (I told you already, auto will not go)

I was now fuming. I walked away in a huff asking several autos, but met with the same answer. 
Cursing the entire auto driver community in my head, I finally spotted a taxi.
Walked up to him and said “Popat road jaante ho?” (Do you know Popat road)
He looked aghast and bewildered.
I tried again.
Same look – Part bewilderment, part worry and a small smile curving his lips.
I then changed and said “Lower Parel”
He took me there.

Once I met my friends and told them the story, they laughed and laughed and laughed. Apparently it IS Tulsi Pipe road (why will you think it would be ‘pipe’ and not ‘Bai’!) and explained the auto-taxi limits. But what really kept them tickled was the ‘popat’ incident. Apparently ‘popat’ is slang for men’s privates. And of course I did not know, and my righteous indignation only made this story legen-wait for it – dary!

Moral of the Story: Get your facts straight before cursing harmless Auto drivers or taxi drivers. AND get the names of roads straight! 

Circa 2005: New Jersey

I had volunteered with ProLiteracy, a NGO that works in the Adult Literacy area, especially teaching English. One of my first students was an aged Taiwanese lady. (Must've been 65 years old at least). Her zest for learning English and becoming an American citizen was amazing though. She used to learn English the GMAT way. Meaning, pick up an alphabet every 3 days and learn as many words as she could and then use them in sentences, sometimes with disastrous/hilarious results. 

One of the activities we used to do with the students was to accompany them to a supermarket of choice and coach them to shop, entirely in English. They did not need to read the language, but did need to speak only in English to ask for help. On one of these trips with the Taiwanese lady, I was also accompanied by the Assistant Executive Director, who was paying my center a visit. 

Now Ms.C (the Taiwanese lady) was on letter O. We were in the vegetables section watching her pick up her weekly veg list. 
She walked to the organic section and loudly asked the helper there "I want some ORGASMIC greens. Where are they?" 
The helper looked shocked. 
Again, "I want orgasmic greens. Can you tell please if these are orgasmic or not?"
He did not know what to do. 
Undeterred (and insistent on showing us her progress) she walked to an elderly gentleman and asked him "I want orgasmic greens. I see you are buying greens too. Do you know if they are orgasmic?"
We were doubled up in laughter, backs turned to her (professionalism and all that!) 
Luckily for us, this gentleman gravely answered "I do believe they are orgasmic."
And she walked away with 2 bunches. 

Moral of the Story: Greens are good for health. Sometimes more than you think! 

Circa 2006: Scotland

Preamble: Have you heard a Scottish brogue? Let me assure it, it sounds like shaggy bearded Hagrid is totally drunk AND speaking to you from the bottom of a well. Mostly incomprehensible.

Anyway, I was with my nephew in the reception area of a quaint B & B in a small little village in Scotland, waiting for my husband and brother-in-law to finish loading up the car. The proprietress, a Scotswoman (of course) with ginger hair and a booming voice, came over to me. (her great-grandfather had visited India, and she wanted to know more!)

She asked me “Have you had breakfast?”

I heard: “HoukVirkdpsSkutpdet?”
I indicated I did not understand.
She repeated her question.
I still did not get it.
She asked me really slowly.
It sounded as incomprehensible as ever. I said “Pardon?”
She for the fourth time, said it syllable by syllable.
I swear, it still sounded like drunk Hagrid. 
Finally, it occurred to me that she could be saying “Have a good day”. People are super-polite in Scotland you know.
I said “Wish you the same”
She looked flabbergasted. And persisted with asking me the question.
I smiled and said “To you too, to you too!”

My young nephew looked totally disgusted at this point and said “Ma’am, I am English, my aunt is Indian. Her English has an Indian accent and she doesn’t understand you. Yes, she has had breakfast, and particularly enjoyed the scones.”

I understood what he said PERFECTLY and literally ran out in embarrassment!

Moral of the Story: 1. If you don't understand, just say "Cheers" and run out! It'll help you cope. 
2. If you have over-smart nephews, don't let them hear you! 

Can't end the post without a shoutout to Sophie Coppola's 'Lost in Translation'. For good times, Suntory times indeed! 
(And if you don't get it, DO DO watch the clipping.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kalpakkkam: Mourning the loss of Character!

20 years earlier - Kalpakkam beach
I grew up in a tiny seaside hamlet called Kalpakkam. Picture an army cantonment but located in the middle of nowhere.... Got it? that's Kalpakkam. Picture it in Black and White now :)  Located midway between Pondy and Chennai, 20 years ago, it was connected by 2 small roads to Chennai (now with grandiose names like East Coast Road and Grand Trunk Road). It was a time when casurina groves nodded to the salty balmy air by the dozens everywhere. A time when swinging on Banyan trees was fun. And reading books was the greatest summer-time pursuit. When cousins visited us for 2 full months. The place did not have any restaurant or movie hall (still doesn't have the latter I think). So going out to eat or taking a train or watching a movie was a big big treat reserved for significant achievements. A time when you traveled by foot, cycle or cycle-rickshaw. It was a time when you could cross the road without looking left or right, and talk to strangers without wondering if they are kidnappers, pedophiles or sadists. A time when going by bus meant looking out of the window and figuring things out for yourself. (okay, I've finished wallowing in nostalgia, now for the rest of it!)

The same spot. Notice the plastic?
I went to Kalpakkam a few weeks ago. And HOW changed it is. Autos, buses, many may cars. Everyone as plugged in as anywhere else. No more Casurina trees. Plastic bottles, bags on the beach. You don't talk to strangers. You sanitize your hand after shaking hands. Be connected via FB, don't listen or absorb your surroundings.

What I mourn is not the modernity or the power of gadgets, but the loss of character the place had. Its now just another place. You could speak in Hindi and very well be in Indore, or speak in Telugu and be in Vizag.... or whereever. That is disturbing. Take the popular Phoenix Mills mall in Bombay. It used to be a fave, until it opened shop in Chennai. Walk in, and if you ignore the Tamil around you, you could well be shopping in Bombay!

The wonderful element called 'character' we've traded in exchange for the newest, fastest, bestest. I wish we did a bit more to preserve some element of the unique nature of our villages, cities, country in fact. The bigger consumerist players have more money, but is there anyway we can protect the artisans? Give them their place under the sun? I wonder how I would ever explain to my grandkids what a 'kumiti' is (well, its a contraption used to burn fragrant sambrani over coals to dry one's hair) or worse teach them kinship. Well, everything has its price. We lose some, gain some. Would I be able to live without my iPhone? NO! Or travel in a bullock cart? NEVER! But that doesn't mean I shouldn't mourn the loss of handmade paper or a string of flowers so thick that a child would need 2 hands to hold it or feel terrible about my beloved casurina trees now making way for highrises. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Jai Jawaan!

"What is the Finance Minister thinking, increasing defence personnel budgets? They do not do anything anyway?" 

"What? The Army? Its a wretched life, going from place to place. You study Engineering. Be a good boy."

"Why do you want to join the Armed Forces? To serve this corrupt country? You could do better."

Arguments I've heard time and again. 

Let me tell you a true story first. 

In a train a conversation ensued between a 8 year old precocious girl, her grandmother and a turbaned, really fit Sardar uncle. 

Girl: "Paati, why should the army go to great lengths to protect Kashmir? Always there is fighting there. Why do soldiers want to die? We should just give the other country the state and live with the rest of the country."

Grandmother: "No ma, the fighting is to protect it. It is our state. Why should we give it away? Our freedom fighters worked so hard to make it part of India."

Girl: "I think we should just do that. The Army is being silly trying to protect it."

Sardar uncle jumps up and snatches the girl's book and biscuit. The girl looks surprised, then starts crying. Grandma steps in and asks firmly, but menacingly, "Why did you do it? Its hers! Don't be rude, please return it now."

Sardar (returning the books) "See the anger you felt when your things were taken away, merely a biscuit and book. How would you feel your home was taken away? That is how Kashmiris feel. And the soldiers are like your grandma. Fighting for you was not her dharma, but she made it her karma. She stepped in and fought for you and so justice was done. She may have feared me, a hatta-katta burly man, but she still did what she had to do. Like a soldier."

That girl was me. In 1988. That uncle was a Lt. General in the Army, returning from an awards ceremony in OTA, Chennai to New Delhi. The Grandma, well RIP, she was heading to visit her daughter and was putting up with a never-ending stream of questions from me! 

I learnt a great lesson that day. A pride in our armed forces. I have always been fascinated by their clothes, their weapons and their special camaraderie (and these are not officers alone, jawans too). Years later, I'd notice their proud straight posture, ever-polite demeanor, fierce pride in their country and most of all, a liberal attitude having traveled around the country. 

When I traveled to Israel, I noticed how young (compulsory) military recruits were taken around the country, shown various Jewish historical spots and were initiated into a nationalistic fervor/pride mentality.  Even if half these kids continued to stay on, Israel would have a great defence force. 

In India, I notice slowly that pride in the Armed Forces is slowly dying. People do not want to join the Forces anymore. Arguments like the ones listed on top are true. My dear friend make it through the entrance exams and was emotionally blackmailed into an Engg degree. His eyes still light up when you talk of the new Rafaelle deal! 

Everybody wants a cushy sedentary job. Why? What can we do to instill pride in being a 'fauji' again? Why can't the Armed Forces be as envied as a role in a private Bank? Even a commercial Pilot possibly ranks higher as a career choice than flying a Defence bomber! Why? Is it merely a communication drive that is lacking? Are people frightened of the malaise in the system? Is it the pay? How can we fix it?

For sure, I will educate my kids of that option early on, so they make an educated choice. Will you? 

I propose a simple solution. Let there be compulsory 'National' service. All 12th graduates compulsorily do a 2 year stint. If you are fit and/or willing, the Armed Forces, need not be combat zone, could be in CRPF or OTA. If you are not fit, then Traffic Police or Judicial System... work towards the country in one way or the other. What do you think? 

This is my "J" post for the A-Z challenge. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Images in my head

Struggled with finding a topic to blog on today.... not my usual style, but sleeplessness, long travel, 2 kids and no maid caused tremendous stress and fatigue. So I resorted to some pics from my arsenal (loosely images, get the drift, eh?),  just so I don't miss my letter of the day. 

Tomorrow is anther day said the wise Scarlett, and well, I just agree!

No matter which country you live in, you want to prettify yourself eh? Why not look good when you are fighting for your rights! 
A poster outside a beauty parlor in Nablus, Palestine

I bet you thought now or a long time ago, that all Arab women were repressed eh? Nor your fault, blame it on the media. Here's a stunner in Palestine flaunting her to-die-for red boots!

And children have their likes, no matter which part of the world! These teletubby slippers in a marketplace in disputed Palestine.

When I clicked the pic below, in a small eatery near the Dead Sea, the waiters were cringing in embarrassment at having been 'outed' by an Indian!
Aspirational India, huh? 
Its true. Hardcore Israelis wear their nationalistic pride on their chest. And its horrible that these people exists.
Iran, take care!

In Jerusalem, its wonderful to be able to travel back in time and experience religion intimately. Prayers come alive and bring a deep sense of spirituality, no matter what religion you practice (provided you want to absorb the sense of peace a brother from another mother wants to give you!) 
Do you recognize this familiar grace?

Now you do!

Religion doesn't confine you. It sets you free! Lets you feel the wind in your hair, or on your pate!
Buddhist Monk in Bylekuppe, Coorg

Kids sometimes thrill you with their acts. In a tiny, poor village in Bangladesh, these 2 kids who had next to nothing ran about trying to find some flowers for their Indian guests! Humbling, eh?
 We took a pic with these weavers' children and practiced English with them for some time.
Madam aunty, Madam aunty & kids!
 And you thought you need to go to Harrods to get the finest bone China? Ha ha! Maybe you can book a ticket to Dhaka instead.
Exports shop selling chinaware in Dhaka
 There is something magical about the Himalayas. This was love at first sight.
The clouds cleared... a vision in majesty!
 When you climb up thousands of feet(albeit in a car) and absorb the extent of hostile territory that your army has to protect, the sight of an Indian flag makes you weep. Jai Jawan!
Khardungla, Ladakh
Something magical about finding a branch of your school in a small tiny hamlet en route Siachen glacier.
Kendriya Vidyalaya mahaan shreya hai! 
Rosy cheeked, naughty as ever! They look as Indian to me as my kids do, why discriminate on basis of features?
In a hamlet close to the Chinese border, Ladakh
 No wise cracks please! Am sure they did NOT study in a KV!
I wish they could've had a better English teacher though!

Whether you have one kid or ten, the first birth experience is always etched in memory. The Bombay monsoon broke the day my son decided to make his way to this planet. 
View from a room in Breach Candy hospital

If you can't have an iPhone, why not a pillow instead?! 
In a Chinese market, Chinatown, SG

Good words can be found anywhere, and wise ones can be of any age!
In a bus in SG

Something about rains that always make me happy!

Children are amazing to observe and learn from. The smallest of things that you don't even notice anymore give them reason to pause and play for hours on end. My son, at 14 months, used to be fascinated by the sunset (of which we had a GREAT view at Prabhadevi, Bombay)
The curiosity on seeing the sun rays still grabs my attention