The Swirling Kaleidoscope

In a fit of inspiration, we planned a whirl wind of a trip to India and UAE. The grandparents, aunts and uncles were unduly enthusiastic, and we were welcomed with joy everywhere. The past month is a beautiful blur of family and friends, multiple cities, delicious foods, tropical fruits, flora and fauna like seen nowhere in the United States, and national forests. 🌳

I have tried explaining India to my colleagues and friends in the United States who have never visited. How does one capture the pure joy of peacocks dancing in the rain, the unease of the stray dogs barking and chasing you as your make your way to the ATM around the corner on the same day? (I did not stop to take pictures of the stray dogs chasing us – self preservation is a dear thing.)

It is difficult to capture the pulse of the buzzing populations, the incessant sounds of the chaotic traffic in cities, the mosquito bites, the sweat from the heat, the beautiful rains, the warmth of the people you know, the helpfulness of those you don’t, the colors and fashions like nowhere else, the birds, flowers, stray dogs, cows, street vendors, disappearing footpaths, haphazard constructions, the quintessential maids, the eateries, the clothes line, the flooring, the beautiful national forests and through it all, the keen and heightened senses required to be aware of the ever-present dangers in highly populated areas.

How does one explain the ubiquitous presence of religions – the call of the masjids, the church bells, the sounds of the temples? The paradox of freedom in a culture that is still quite demanding in its expectations of behaviors in its populace.

The varieties of music – traditional music to start off the days, the filmy beats to take one through the rest of the day: whether one asks for it or not!

It really is Incredible India.

If we stirred out into the urban areas, I quickly yearned for the quiet of home. If I was home, I was exhorted to go out, since there was so much to do, so many people to meet, and so little time. Even so, I did not do as much as I wanted to. Did not meet as many people as I wanted to.

Indian cities are a kaleidoscope of swift whirling colors, its countrysides a different kaleidoscope altogether but equally vibrant.

Consequently, back on the flight to our home in the United States, I realize I have had little time to slow down, read and rest. As the flight drones on, I nap, read, watch a movie, eat, stretch; rinse; and repeat; thrice only to see the flight blink back at me that there are 2 more hours to land. A grim reminder as to how very far away I live . My heart literally stretched across the entire span of the globe.

I cannot help thinking of Virginia Woolf’s saying on Women:
As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.

Too short, too fast and too little, but just enough to make me smile fondly.

Freedom Is Sweet

Driving through lush green hills, past wide rivers and huge boulders, the route was marvelous. We had been a-visiting India for a short trip. The roads were smooth, and the rain clouds brought on a blast of monsoon rains. The little car burst forth joyfully on the empty roads swerving like a little child to splash puddles along the way.

The driver may be a grown man who sports whiskers on his face, but the heart the body houses is a child’s when it rains.
“You know? Two years ago, I took this road and it was agonizing to drive. The road was full of potholes, and our backs were sore for days.” he said smiling before splashing a big puddle again. The brother was driving and we were on the way to the city where my parents lived.
“What changed then?” I asked puzzled, for the gray ribbon in front of us was smooth and clean.
“Politics happened. The interim chief minister’s constituency is somewhere on this road, so we got our lovely scenic route done up – no charge.”

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We reached home and affectionate greetings exchanged between parents, grandparents and children alike. A little while later, I was sprawled on the couch listening to the pater rile himself up with the news. Blithering-idiots-the-lot-of-them-are, seemed to about the gist of it, and I watched him amused.

The next day was Indian Independence Day, and the politicians were scrambling to see whose speeches would get maximum coverage on television, while ensuring that important topics of daily living were tabled for later. One incensed statement from the host of the News network forced the father to mute the television, and launch into a full scale explanation of politics that is best explained with a bedtime story. If you would snuggle in and close your eyes. Good then..:

There was a diamond ring, and everyone wanted it. But one strong, majestic troll had it, and did not let anybody else touch it. One day, the troll died, and all the remaining trolls fought each other for the ring. The troll children were hungry and thirsty, but that bothered no one. They are still fighting for the ring.

The End.

I know what you are thinking. As far as bedtime stories go, that was pretty rotten! I agree, but the state in which the parents live had recently lost their chief minister, and the squabble around the position was enough to make reality show hosts blanch. The populace has learned to look at the ensuing drama as such, and take a philosophical view of enjoying the good roads while they lasted.

We chewed the fat about the latest situ. in the United States, and how divisive strains were making themselves heard, and how we must do all we can to fight it.

Like Mark Twain said, The truth is stranger than fiction, but that is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities whereas the Truth isn’t.

The next day was August 15th – Indian Independence Day, and we chirped with the birds, looked smart and went down for the flag hoisting in the community. I had with me my son and nephew – both five year olds who were eager for any activity involving the outdoors. As they stepped out, the boys were warned that they were not to take more than 1 sweet when offered the plate after the flag hoisting. If they were pups, I could have seen their ears drooping, but they bore the blow stoically enough and charged downstairs.

I stood there marveling at the fact that a month earlier we had celebrated Independence Day in the US. I looked around at the knot of people with whom I was celebrating Indian Independence Day. The stupendous privilege of celebrating Independence Day in the world’s largest democracies was not lost on me. To every one of us who looked at the flower petals fluttering down from the flag, freedom meant a different thing. To some of us, it meant living peaceful lives, to some, it meant having the right to dream, to some others, the ability to dissent. But we all agreed that it deserves celebration.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran, a book about the oppressive regime in Iran, was still in my mind, and as I was in the habit of reading particularly affecting passages to those near me ( a malady I inherited from the pater), I was doubly grateful to Democracy in spite of all its pitfalls. Fighting for diamond rings or no, taking a stand against divisive policies or not, we have something worth fighting for.

Afterward, we walked towards a small store. The path was an exciting one – past barking dogs, and motorcycles weaving their way through the streets. I smiled and asked for some chocolates for the lads. Their faces lit up with joy: Freedom is sweet.

 

The Art of Monkey Pedaling

A variant of the post below appeared in The Hindu’s Open Page

Every now and then, the productive bug gets the husband, and he sets about trying to improve our lot. Last Saturday morning, he was making a nuisance of himself trying to keep us ‘occupied’ in the home, and handing us tasks meant to enlighten and what-not. He was settling steadily into the listen-to-this-podcast routine, when I realized that this handing-out-tasks is a two way street, and told him to get the son started on riding a bicycle. There was a sigh of relief from all the occupants in the house, and I bowed like a maestro acknowledging a master stroke.

I see you pulling out the old monocle from the pocket and pegging it on your nose-tip to give us the penetrating stare. The one employed to make us feel like our spines just melted into goop. but it won’t work. It is true that we let the toddler beg us into teaching him to ride, shamelessly ignoring the bicycle with training wheels propped behind the dining table. Every time the poor fellow hinted that fellows younger than him were riding the cycle, we shooed him outside to play.

Anyway the point is that the nourish-n-cherish street played witness to several scenes that merit enactments on the Broadway stage. A couple of days later, the son was to be seen wobbling along with copious tears cascading down his cheeks, the husband mildly breaking into a sweat, and the rest of the street muttering soothingly. Children came and told heroic tales of their own learning how to cycle. One fellow said he broke not just his arm, but almost broke his mother’s arm too. Some went for the inspirational angle and said that once he learnt to cycle, the adventures never end: One can fly down from pavements and cycle without holding handle bars.

Every story was worth noting down to sit and devour on a rainy evening.  This learning-how-to-cycle is one thing you can always hope to get good stories out of. Ask anyone how they learnt to cycle and depending on where they hail from, the story is bound to entertain, amuse and sometimes curdle one’s coffee.

Watching the son cycle made me think of dear Mr Bopaiah with a pang. It was Bopaiah Uncle who taught us how to ride a cycle. He may have taught the whole street. He had bought a new one for his son who was a couple of years older than I was. The times were such that cycles were not toys everyone had. In fact, toys were not something everyone had. So, obviously, getting a brand new cycle was gripping stuff, the breaking headlines of the street, that toppled the mildly interesting news that the servant maid had run off with the local vagrant.

Mr Bopaiah graciously let us monkey pedal on it (it was too big for us). On that one cycle, he thought 4 kids how to cycle in one week. One glorious week in which we waited with shining eyes our turn to get on the cycle. Praying that the rains would not dish our efforts come cycling time. Armed with the simple trusting confidence that Bopaiah uncle was holding the cycle and would not let us fall.  The hopeful look on our faces as we glimpsed back every now and then to make sure he was jogging beside us holding the cycle.

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Mr Bopaiah was the Physical Education teacher at school, and he probably enjoyed teaching us to ride as much as we enjoyed riding.  It is a knack learning to cycle using the monkey pedaling technique, but we all managed it with his help. I also fondly remembered the delicious, large helpings of tea cake that awaited our labors at the end of the cycling sessions. Mrs Bopaiah made the best cake I have ever eaten – to date it beats all the creamy and Mickey mouse shaped ones hands down (Her butter-making was an equally fascinating act) . Many a happy day have we spent at their house, and all the memories of the dear family came flooding back.

Mr Bopaiah passed away last month, but I could almost see him send an approving nod to the son as he wobbled along on his cycle. When the golden evening sun shone down on the street of excited children, and whoops of victory came from the now over-confident cyclist and his friends, I am sure he smiled down at us. It was the kind of thing he would have liked.

An Asian Reading Fest

Regular readers of the blog know that we recently returned from an Asian vacation. Every time I take a vacation with the sister in the Middle East, she has a set of books ready for me to read. The books she had laid out for me this time included books written by Jean Sasson, who happens to be one of her favorite authors. Jean Sasson  was a nurse by profession and spent a little more than a decade working and living in Saudi Arabia. One of the princesses of the Al Saud family solicited Jean’s help in telling the inside story of a Saudi princess’s life. She has since written eleven books dealing with various problems faced by middle eastern women.

This time, the book I chose from her pile was ‘Growing Up Bin Laden’. It is a book about Osama Bin Laden as told to Jean Sasson by Osama Bin Laden’s fourth son, Omar Bin Laden and his first wife, Najwa Bin Laden. She uses their alternating voices in the book to tell the story of his life. It is the first book of the kind and is an interesting read.

I am following up this book with two books that I hope to write about soon in conjunction with Growing Up Bin Laden:
Al Qaeda, The Islamist State And The Jihadist War by Daniel Beaman &
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

I suppose I expect to get a glimpse of the view from within Bin Laden’s family, from a professor on Middle Eastern Affairs and a President who finally caught Bin Laden, but is abetted by a world that is still host to a variety of terrorist organizations.

Serious fare thus far you will agree, so I followed it up with delightful fare.

What better mode to release those endorphins than by paying a visit to Malgudi?

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I fell in love again with R.K.Narayan and his writings. Every time I read one of his books, I am amazed at how simply, how nonchalantly he takes you on a stroll along the Sarayu river after passing through the tantalizing wares on Market Street or on quieter days muse and saunter along Vinayak Mudali Street, passing Albert Mission College on the way. The charm of Malgudi never stales. I have come back and scoured the local library for books on R.K.Narayan and find very few.

Note to self: Buy some books by this great writer and donate to the library the next time I visit.

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While I visited the hills of Dehradun with Ruskin Bond, or Malgudi with R.K.Narayan, the husband took off on his own into the Tamil world of Sujata.

Blissful are the days when one is visiting another world while sipping tea in a cool room.

The Spirit in the Photograph

The family got together and tried to take a photograph together:

Challenges here: The Saga of the Family Photos

Precursor here: The Family Photo Saga Part 2

How do you dress for a family photograph?

Motive matters.

  • If you are going for the preserve-family-as-we-are aspect of things, then I suppose we lounge around in daily clothes, crack jokes and laugh at them in a manner that will make Vogue photographers cringe. #BeCool
  • If you are going for the best-behavior-photographs, then I suppose you resort to the prim look, and smile at the photographer like you are meeting him for a job interview. #JobInterview
  • If you are looking for the social propriety angle, then of course you observe and deduce based on women dressed in Tamil TV Serials before their daily evening coffee at home. #TamilTVSerials
  • If you are looking for the co-ordinated angle, what are the colors to pick out? Should we all wear blue and look like Smurfs? #Smurfs smurf_dino

The problem happens when each one is aiming for a different objective.

  • The sister-in-law in a bid to impress her mother-in-law (viz. my mother) shed the slacks and tights and swooped in looking beautiful in a saree (#TamilTVSerials look). The mother said, “See how beautiful your sister-in-law looks in a saree?” This did not bode well for me. Luckily a blouse emergency shot this option down.
  • The sister went in for the #Smurfs angle and said, “A bright color looks the best”. She paraded the sunflower-with-stalks look.
  • The t-shirt wearing men were hustled out of their t-shirts by smart men in pressed shirts and pants. (#JobInterview look)
  • Bearded Blokes refused to shave and went for the #BeCool look.

So it went. For every member of the family not playing with toy cars under sofas.

In all the melee, we forgot to soak the toddler boys, for whose sake the picture was being taken, in Dettol and scrub them with coconut-bristled-brushes. They continued playing till the last minute and looked delightfully dirty. It was in the car on the way to the studio that these boys were made look presentable.

The highlight of the family picture was the fact that as the photographer’s assistant tried to arrange folks one after the other in a way that will make us look good in spite of the clothes and the colors, the grand head of the family took a roll-call in true school teacher style only to find the youngest member of the family missing.

If one were to read through the chronicles – Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, you will notice the photograph was being taken to update the presence of the recently-added-to-family toddler boys. It turns out that the youngest one decided to play with his toy car under the studio chair beyond the range of the lens, and refused to budge. Chocolates did not help, future domestic world war threats did not work. Carrying him with the studio chair did not help. It looked like the picture was going to be taken without him after all.

Every picture has a story. I called the father a social dinosaur who might have called the photographer’s assistant to join in if you remember. True to the father’s nature, this family photograph did have the photographer’s assistant in it. His spirit can be spotted lingering in the photo. A chirpy young man, who showed absolute promise by cajoling the little fellow, hiding his toy car and flashing it out of his pocket at the right moment, making the boy look up in glee.

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The boy who looked up at the last minute after all this drama looks best, and as far as we are concerned, it does not matter if the rest of us had our eyes open, or were picking our nose, or were about to sneeze.

That is probably why we looked like a dysfunctional bouquet of sorts. I have always liked the impromptu wildflower bouquets with their riot of color, wild grasses and ferns. Captures the beauty of the wilderness.

The Family Photo Saga – Part 2

Since the last time the family had gathered together in one place, two toddlers had been added to the family banyan branches, and it was time to take a family photograph. “Let’s leave at 5 p.m. sharp, so we can get done with the photographs by 6 p.m. sharp!.” Sharp words indeed for one trying to finish that blasted book, lying flat on the bed. Just 100 pages to go.

Let me paint the 3:59 p.m. picture for you and the 4:02 picture for readers to compare and contrast. There is no point in saying that the bustle started at 4 p.m. sharp. How did it start. Where did it all start from? These become questions and relevant ones at that.

3:59 p.m.:

If a cameraman were to walk into the old parents’ flat, there would have been no one in the camera’s span of vision. A wild-ish whoop and some loud vroom-vroom sounds could be heard at ground level, where two toddler boys were lying on their stomachs and putting hot wheels cars through the paces in the afternoon heat. Every now and then the cars would fly through the painstakingly constructed hoops, and zoom under the sofas in the sitting room. The boys would then roll over and then sidle up on their bellies under the sofa to retrieve the car, and come out looking like they had dipped themselves into the vacuum’s cleaner’s dust bag. Their cheeks were not the rosy little cheeks that their mothers lovingly spoke and sang off  while they were babies,  but rather ones that could use the detergents being relentlessly advertised on the muted television near them.

The 3-seater sofa housed a young, handsome boy with a ghastly beard in a supine position. He had clapped on large earphones that did not invite conversation. The sofa under which the toddlers had to crawl to retrieve their cars had on it another young man (not as young as the supine one, but with an equally ghastly beard) snoozing mildly in front of his laptop. This young man had piled into his afternoon biriyani plate saying he needed to complete work on an important document.

Two lazy chairs were reclined to full-back: On one of them rested the Calorie Master, who after a fitful serving of 500 calories of Biriyani, was preparing himself for the rigors of a photographic session.(https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/newtons-sixth-law-of-motion/)

The other lazy chair found a septuagenarian who boo-ed at calorie counters and baa-ed at document writers, ate his heartful of his wife’s famous biriyani and snored peacefully. He did not seem to notice The Hindu newspaper placed on his tummy that mildly fluttered up and down with his breathing.

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On the floor lay a pyol (paai), and on it lay a restless gentleman reading a Tamil book while keeping a benevolent eye on the men folk. The biriyani was working its wonders in his stomach too.

Further inside, in the bedrooms, three females lay reading quietly in one room while the fan whirred overhead and the incessant water dripped from the water filter into the stainless steel bucket below.  In another bedroom lay two others fast asleep – content in the afternoon heat, while a septuagenarian lady lay musing about when she should get started with the evening coffee. There is little point in getting the old lady out of the kitchen when her family is around. If she isn’t in there, she is thinking of what she could be doing in there to fatten up her loving brood.

The clock clicked sturdily and moved towards the 4:00 mark. It was at this time that the s.lady saw the clock and leaped out of bed. “Shouldn’t we get started if we have to leave at 5 o’clock sharp? “ , she said in her best school-teacher-addressing-the assembly-without-mike voice that had the following effect on the populace:

(1) The sleeping ladies moaned and shoo-ed her out. (Amma! What are you bellowing like this for? )

(2) The females reading in the opposite bedroom leapt in their beds. It never is pleasant to be reminded of frivolous things like dressing up when a book needs reading. (Aaaaghhggghwwwhhhh! Paati! Amma! Paati! Awggrhhh!)

(3) The Calorie Master stirred and fumbled the word ‘Coffee’ through the fleeing mists of sleep

(4) The s. who boo-ed and baa-ed slept on since he had prudently switched off his hearing aid for just such emergencies.

(5) The man on the pyol was happy that the house stirred. These quiet afternoons were draining for the man of action.

(6) The bearded fellow with the earphones could have remained at rest in a South Indian wedding hall with the nadaswaram blaring nearby. But he too stirred.

(7) The toddler boys behaved as if nothing at all happened. (Lightning McQueen is now rounding on the turn and chasing Chick Hicks. Now Chick Hicks is falling through the loop and yes…he is flying through the race and oh no…..he went under the sofa again.)

8) The document writer’s laptop slid from his lap, and he showed remarkable agility and managed to catch it before it plopped onto either of the toddler’s heads as they dove under his foot to retrieve Chick Hicks. This sudden jerk to reality gave him a peeved look, and he too managed a swear word that got him chastised by the toddlers (Blimey is a bad word!)

4:02 p.m.

Where a minute before, soporific peace reigned, now confusion did.

 Children walked up and down looking important.

The girls asking whether they needed to change, (Yes! ), and the boys looking for their misplaced toy cars, planes and headsets. (No!)

It is but a question of time before the question of dress pops up. Oh the drama.

What kind of clothes? It is an important photograph said everyone to no one.

Part 3: Dressing Up for the Family Photo.

Baboons In An Orchestra Aid Bold-And-Beautiful Actress

We played host to a few relatives from Tamil Nadu, India lately. Uncles-in-law & aunts-in-law have been taking in a spot of the Californian sun and we added ourselves a few pounds of weight with all the cooking and eating that ensues. In all the hustle and bustle that visiting folks entail, I was not entirely surprised to see that Tamil TV serials reared their ugly heads in the television too.

Before I start, I want you to imagine a cage with a baboon waiting to get near an orchestra of badly tuned musical instruments nearby. Bear with me, I shall explain why a baboon is caged nearby.

I was cleaning up in the kitchen after an impressive sort of meal while the visiting folk switched on the Tamil serials. I need not have worried that I had not been following the serial for the past year and a half. In ten minutes, I knew the whole plot: Rohit and his father were bad, bad men and bold-actress-with-lots-of-make-up, had filed a police complaint against Rohit. Bad Rohit’s bad father clutched his heart when his Rohit was arrested and was carted off to the hospital with a weak heart. Rohit’s mother came to plead with bold-and beautiful actress with lots of make up, who was sitting at home and reading a magazine, to take back the case, and cried a river. All with me so far? Good. For it is here, that we wade into murky waters.

Bold-and-beautiful actress said she could withdraw the complaint but she had one condition.

The baboon breaks out of his cage and is now letting loose on a harmonium, while thumping his feet on the drums and the horrendous background music prepares everyone in our house, and the neighbor’s house too, that impressive stuff is about to happen.

B-and-B actress goes to visit ailing father in hospital and tells him her conditions for withdrawing the police complaint. Baboon is warming up now and lets you know that. Apparently, reprehensive Rohit had raped poor Divya, gotten her pregnant and not only had he abandoned her, but bad Rohit and his bad father then tried their best to get poor Divya killed.

The baboon now tries a windpipe sort of instrument that makes one forlorn and wane.

The B-and-B actress sets forth her condition: Rohit must marry Divya.

The baboon bangs, clangs and deafens one with the din on an impressive scale.

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There are loud murmurs of approval from the audience, and I am shocked. I should know better than to expect anything else from a TV serial, but I still am shocked. I mean to condemn that poor girl Divya with a rascal of a husband is nothing short of criminal. She could have carved out a life for herself (and her baby if she wanted to keep the baby that is) with dignity and self-respect. Who wants her to be saddled with the rapist for life?

The maudlin entertainment pulled my attention when the parents or parents-in-law were here several times previously. There the heroine is:  impeccably groomed, dressed like she is going for a party, to receive her abusive husband or to confront angry relatives. She babbles on paying no heed to the social cues, and pretty soon, there is an explosion of sorts and everything thuds to a stop with a slap on her face. The glycerine acts immediately and there are tears and dubious sentiments on culture and I gag (once again) in the confines of my home.

For all our efforts at education, social reform and trying to open the mind to gender equalization, I think we have an epic fail with the Television serials. The producers may say that in the end, good triumphs, and after three years of bearing abuse, the emancipated young lady defies that kind of ill-treatment in the last one week of the television show and their souls are salvaged.

But where is my apology? Where is the apology to the audience? For three years, you send misogynistic messages every evening to the audience – an audience comprised of young, impressionable children, parents of married daughters, parents of daughters-of-marriageable-age, parents of young sons,  parents of sons who are married, not to mention every human-being, who actively seeks or passively receives the entertainment. What is the social message you are sending them? There is no subtlety there – the socially disgusting messages are there in Techni-color with dialogues.

Like my young daughter says, “Oh. In Tamil TV, everybody slaps the women when they don’t want to talk about something anymore. They never just walk away!”

That feels like a slap. Let loose baboons on drum now.

The Empress of Palates Examines The Upma Conundrum

This post is heavy on Indian foods: Upma, Chapathi, Koottu. Here is an image that will help: (Just a snapshot from Google Images when you look up South Indian Tiffins – idli, dosa, pongal, upma, sambhar, chutney, koottu.)

I am glad to say that this post was featured in the Open Page in the Hindu dated 19th July 2016. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/not-cool-enough-yet-the-upma-conundrum/article8866694.ece – illustrated in the article by cartoonist Keshav, whose work I have admired ever since I knew how to appreciate humor in the written form.

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“Folks are coming home for dinner tonight, what do you say we finish up all the leftovers in the fridge, so we can start afresh tonight? ” I said peering into the fridge. One box of chinese take-out (kung pao vegetables) was stacked atop a glass container with homemade vegetable biriyani. Beside it lay some south indian koottu and a few chappathis. One sweep to conquer Genghis Khan, Akbar and Raja Raja Cholan.

“Sure!” said the husband. I must tell you that of the many virtues I love about the husband, one is the fact that he is not a snooty gourmet. He is one of those lovable fellows who will have an omelet with dosa and soup, and gush on to say that it was a good meal. So much so that, I have gotten used to being quite the Empress of Palates around the house. If I think we could have masala vadas and I am in the mood to make them, I set to it with gusto.

“I told the guys we shall make it a South Indian dinner potluck.” said the h. as I peeked into the phone telling me about one friend’s contribution. I nodded. One friend said she would make a side dish that would go well with upma. So,  I said I will make ‘Upma’. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upma) It is that beautiful dish that is garnished with beans, carrot, peas all cut up into tiny pieces like stars, planets and comets speckling a clear night sky, and to complete the panorama of the flitting clouds added,”I’ll also make a mean groundnut chutney. ” Van Gogh’s Painting would beg if I made this beautiful one swirl.

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I had that smile that tints my face when I look up at the night sky, while the husband looked mortified. . “How could you? Why would you make upma when you can make so many other things? Upma is not the right dish for .. it just isn’t the right dish pairing for dinner alright?” said the man hovering his chappathi between the kung pao vegetable and the koottu, on his plate, as though deciding which was the worse choice to make.

“But you don’t mind eating upma. Even though you say you don’t particularly like it, you do justice to the dish don’t you?”

“Well yes. But upma is not a dinner worthy dish.”

The brain was fumbling with the light switch somewhere. “We had it for dinner last week with tomato chutney remember?”

“Yes! For us it is okay, but it isn’t exactly a dinner dish for Guests.” he said with a flourish. Like one who has just scored a particularly tricky point at the Local Debating Competition. The way he said ‘Guests’, one would think President Obama was stopping by with Elon Musk to discuss the Space Program over a plate of upma that evening.

“I thought you said that the only folks who visit our home are those you can open the kitchen to.” (This, he said in another discussion surrounding the use of a formal dining table in the home, but I am entitled to use the argument here: I checked with the daughter.)

“Yes but upma is easy to make. “

“Really? Last month do you remember me peeling some pasty stuff off the pan when you attempted to make it? You said that I made it look easy to make upma, but it actually is an art by itself.”

“Yes…I did. But that was to appease you.” I drew myself up. The husband raced on before I tacked on to the subject of appeasing and said, “NO. Not upma. Anything else.”

“I don’t understand this – what is wrong with upma?”

“I don’t know. It is considered a poor man’s dish.” said the husband, his arguments thinning. The cashews and ghee swam before my eyes and wondered which poor man would cook like that.

I gazed at the poor fish, and let it go. A few minutes later, the phone piped up with friends telling one another what they proposed to bring. One of them said she would bring Upma and then went on to add: My husband thinks I should not say Upma though, so I shall bring Vermicelli – Sooji Khichadi. A few minutes later, the phone buzzed again with her husband chiming into the conversation saying he had convinced his wife to switch their entry to Pongal instead of upma.

What is the mystery that plagues Upma’s status in South Indian Society? The Empress of Palates demands an examination. An Upma Festival maybe?

The Knee Scooter

I have always been a loving aunt and have prided myself in the fact that I love being around children. This time, the nephews and nieces seemed extra nice around me. At first, I deluded myself into believing that they were sympathetic towards me and my broken leg. But it turns out that while they love their aunt like an aunt, they loved my knee scooter better than any toy they’ve seen.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knee_scooter

scootk

I often muse on our purpose on this Earth. I wonder how we will know whether what we make of our lives is meaningful or not. The knee scooter has provided me with deep philosophical answers.

You see? This simple aid has been a boon of sorts. I broke my foot a few months ago and am still hobbling around on a boot(cast). I was advised the use of crutches to not put any weight at all on the foot. My resolve to bear the injury stoically crumbled faster than some dried up cookies on my counter-top. Three days into using the crutches, I found myself weeping at the hopelessness of it all. My arms hurt from the crutches and I could not run behind my toddler baby to get simple things done. That is when one of the children in my neighborhood came and told me about this knee scooter. A contraption that can be used to move around without putting any weight on the foot. The husband got me access to one quickly enough and I must say, I whooped with joy!

The knee scooter was amazing and helped me perform most of my duties as normally as possible. In fact, I even undertook a trip to India and Dubai using it. Many people thought me nuts. In fact, my own family thought I’d become a salted walnut. I realized that it is not easy to travel halfway across the globe with a toddler in tow when one’s foot is broken. Most people would have cancelled without a second thought. Well…I am not most people, and went anyway (with some ‘subtle’ encouragement from the husband and daughter of course).

knee 1

I tried to find the inventor of the knee scooter, but it is not easy to find. Nevertheless, the person (or team) who invented it, or even helped conceptualize it in one way or the other, has led a purposeful life. The beauty of it is that they may not even know it. It is not a very popular contraption. The medical team at the hospital I got treated in did not tell me about it. They gave me crutches. If doctors tell their patients about knee scooters, patients could try to obtain one on their own even if insurance doesn’t cover the cost for it.

While I was scooting my way in Dubai one day, a Doctor came up to me and introduced himself as an Emergency Physician. He’d noticed my boot and asked me what I was using to move along. When I told him all about the knee scooter, I was surprised to hear that he had not seen one like it. He vowed to make enquiries to make knee scooters available for patients in the Middle East. To me, that one conversation was well worth the trip.

That and the large number of people who saw me forge ahead with a knee scooter. I hope they will remember seeing something that alleviated a person’s distress with a broken foot. If my trip abroad can help even a few people with foot injuries, I think the trip was a success. An unconventional one maybe, but a successful one.

Santa Followed Us!

Here is wishing all of you a wonderful new year! For those of you who noticed the quiet blog, I have been offline on a trip to India and the Middle East for the past few weeks. The daughter was sick with worry about whether Santa would know where to find her, since she was to be away during Christmas. She left letters and cookies under the tree in our home in the US (‘Just in case’ she says!) But she need not have worried. We knew a manager who worked at one of Santa’s factories and arranged for Santa to drop his presents off for the children halfway across the globe in our hallway in Chennai.

You know? If I were Santa, I’d be quite flustered with all the last minute changes that he had to deal with last year.

1) The lists changed in the last minute. For a whole month, there was something on there, and then the day we were leaving for India, a new list appeared with a bunch of cookies. I had to physically ban the milk, since we were scheduled to be away for over 3 weeks. ("Huh? I Changed my mind" – the daughter shrugs her shoulders when quizzed about the change in list contents!) IF I were Santa, I would have stuck around and shrugged my shoulder too, but he didn’t. He was very accommodative of requests procuring items from the local markets at short notice.

2) The location changed. There was a large Christmas tree with an updated list and a post script saying, "Santa: We will be in Chennai for Christmas for this year." I mean. What?

A number of questions arose in my mind. First of all India is ahead of us in timing. So, technically, by the time he read the note and zipped past time-zones, he would already have been late, but he wasn’t!

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The daughter and her cousins spent all afternoon on 24th cutting up pieces of paper and coloring them to be Christmas tree and decorating them with stickers and bindis. Santa behaved admirably and left the gifts for them under make-shift paper trees that made for endless days of fun.

Happy New Year!

 

(Image from Google Search)