Monday, December 13, 2010

Cooking By The Stars

What's your sign? This is how the article starts.....Oh I must explain that I discovered a few old cooking magazines among my cook-books. This one is a 1998 edition of Canadian Living's Food.


I found the idea of cooking astrologically very interesting. No, and that's an emphatic negative, I do not subscribe to the stars to dictate my days, decisions or relationships. But this is so much fun, when you remove the 'belief' from it. They say, and I quote...


"You'll discover some intriguing insights into who likes to eat what, and even some surprises about your own idiosyncracies. Many people's culinary personalities are a perfect reflection of their Sun signs. If yours or your guest's isn't quite typical, it's likely because there's a stonger planetary influence somewhere in your charts. But in that case ( or if astrology isn't your cup of tea), just match up the personality traits with someone else you know - then dazzle them with their favourite dinner!"


"Would pasta please a Pisces?
Will a Virgo like your new wine glasses?
Can a Taurus and an Aries find happiness at the same table?
Is it safe to take a Scorpio to a restaurant?
Will you let a Gemini in your kitchen?"



See I told you it would be fun just to toy around with the subject! However the article doesn't go on to enlighten the reader about how and where to get the required know-how about reading the stars for culinary excellence and delights....well it's all in the stars and who has reached them! But they have been kind enough to show the way by giving each sign one selected dish according to their reading. I am listing the signs and the dishes and do let me know if your selected dish works for you. I will list the ingredients that go into each one and if you need the recipe will oblige accordingly..:)


Enjoy the read, and if the dishes do not fit your personality or taste I'm sure imagination of the dishes would titillate the palate.


Aquarius - Blueberry Honey Soda Bread
All purpose flour, wheat flour,baking powder, salt, baking soda, butter blue berries, eggs, butter milk, liquid honey


Pisces - Fishy Vichyssoise
Butter, chopped leeks (white parts only), chopped onion chicken stock, diced peeled potatoes, fish fillet (white fleshed), salt and pepper


Aries - Show-off Shrimp
Jumbo shrimp in shells, chilli powder, paprika, cumin, salt and cayenne pepper, vegetable oil, dipping sauces


Taurus - Garlic Roast LambLeg of lamb, cloves garlic slivered, olive oil, herbes de Provence,salt and pepper, dry red wine, beef stock, Vegetables: potatoes, onions and /or rutabaga peeled, olive oil, cloves garlic minced, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper


Gemini - Fast Pasta With Two Sauces
Green Pasta with White Clam sauce: butter, cloves garlic minced, minced onion, whipping cream, chopped fresh parsley, dry white wine, can(5oz) baby clams(undrained), pepper, hot cooked fettuccine, freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

White Pasta With Green Pesto Sauce: Butter, cloves garlic minced, pine nuts, finely chopped fresh basil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, hot cooked white fettuccine.


Cancer - Floating Islands On Lemon Cream
Egg white, cream of tartar, granulated sugar Lemon Cream: egg yolks, granulated sugar, corn starch, light cream, lemon juice and shreds of lemon rind


Leo - Tropical Fruit Flambe
butter, granulated sugar, golden rum, allspice, cognac, mango sorbet or ice cream Fruit: thickly sliced peeled mango, papaya, pineapple, orange or banana (or combination)


Virgo - Perfection Salad Plate
fresh tiny vegetables: snow peas, mini carrots, baby beets, green beans, skinny asparagus, baby white turnips, sliced celery, baby leeks(white parts) green onions and mushrooms(oriental or tiny button), leaf lettuce or fresh water cress (optional)
Hot Vinaigrette: white wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil (preferably extra virgin) chopped fresh Italian parsley, chopped fresh tarragon( or any other herbs to taste)



Libra - Sabayon With Fresh Fruit
egg yolks, granulated sugar, dry marsala, champagne or orange juice, berries, grapes or sliced fruit


Scorpio - Swordfish Seviche With Peppers
swordfish fillets, lime juice, lemon juice, each small sweet green, yellow and red pepper, small hot pepper sliced, small red onion sliced, cloves garlic minced, chopped fresh coriander or parsley, packed brown sugar, olive oil, salt and pepper


Sagittarius - Souffle-ed Dessert Omlette
eggs separated, granulated sugar, fruit liquer, unsalted butter, sweetened berries or sliced fruit


Capricorn - Apple Almond Streusel Tarte
all purpose flour, granulated sugar, cold butter, egg yolk, cold water, FILLING: soft butter, granulated sugar, eggs, brandy or rum, ground almonds, all purpose flour, apples ( preferably Golden Delicious) STREUSEL: all purpose flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, cold butter, sliced almonds


I am a Taurus, and for me the choice of garlic roast lamb works...I like garlic flavour.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I look back to accelerate forward

Some time back I wrote a story where one of my characters was travelling through life with his eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror. I had referred to it as a character flaw because the man looked back to dwell on the negative aspects and developed a cynical approach to life. However, there is another perspective on this. Looking back is not a flaw, if one reviews the past with a positive attitude, with the intention of making changes in the present where changes are required, altering attitudes where alteration is needed and learning from past experiences.


I’ve been driving with an eye on the rear-view mirror for a couple of days. My hindsight goes a long way back, not to my experiences but to History, to the Exodus out of Egypt! I dwell specifically on the length of the journey; a journey that should have taken only eleven days. So why did it take forty years? Something there connects to me and my experiences in Chile. The lesson is constructive and enlightening. I suppose any lesson that can get you out of the desert faster and happier in less than the forty years you take going around the same mountain has got to be a great one.


So how did an eleven day journey stretch to forty years? I will attempt to summarise the main points in a layperson’s terms. According to the account, as recorded in the Bible, the Israelites were an ungrateful, complaining lot. The moment a bit of problems or trouble arose, they’d begin the blame game and in-fighting and grumbling would ensue. They would not listen to the leaders nor comply with the rules. This resulted in a breakdown of system, order and law.


During the tedious journey it was apparent things would be hard. They were travelling through the wilderness and the climate would have been harsh and there would have been lack of basic necessities. And definitely, even depletion of resources. In all this they were so focussed on the problems that they became blind to the presence of God, who was constantly guiding them, providing for them and protecting them. For example at one point, they were without food and near starvation, at this time “manna” was provided from heaven. Initially they were happy with something to fill their bellies and sustain them. Then when the pangs of hunger were fulfilled and strength regained, they began to complain that Manna was a poor substitute for the food they were used to eating in Egypt. They even began to lament their short-sightedness in following Moses. They preferred to be slaves in Egypt than to bear the hardships of an eleven day journey.


Their attitude brought up delays in their movement and progress not only slowed down but it also came to a standstill at times. Thus what they couldn’t bear for eleven days they bore for forty years!! There are many examples of similar attitudes along the arduous journey. Without going into the philosophy and scriptural implications let me come back to the point that is related to the lessons I learned, along the way.


Going to Chile was a literal uprooting for me, from the place that had been my home for my entire life. It spelt the closing of a chapter in my life and the state of uncertainty in terms of the future. It also took me out of my comfort zone; Comfort of not only familiarity but also of creature comforts and the small luxuries I was used to. In a way it was a takeoff on the exodus from Egypt. It was my ‘lone departure’ to the unknown future. My sojourn would take me on a long route touching South Africa, Brazil and finally to Chile.


Not a frequent ‘lone’ traveller and with mobility problems, to say I was nervous would be an understatement. I took the flight with complete assistance, wheelchair et al, and honestly looking back today I will have to admit it was almost hassle-free and I got through all formalities aided by airline attendants. Yet when I had long waits for flights, sitting in a wheelchair cramped, tired and feeling a certain amount of discomfort and pain, I’d begin to moan and groan a bit to myself. Fortunately I had the “complain and remain” and “go around the mountain” quotes getting me back to a more appreciative attitude. I could hardly walk by the time I landed in Sao Paulo, but I was thankful that I could sit up and also shuffle down the aisle to my seat. What’s more, I actually thanked God that I could go to the toilet without assistance. Just the thought of it continues to keep me grateful.


Barely seven days in Vina Del Mar, Chile and the big earthquake rocked my world. The stress and fear and constant moving from one temporary accommodation to another took its toll. Not being an angel, I did at times regret the hasty decision to travel there. But hindsight and lessons imbibed from it helped me to keep looking at the silver-lining that has constantly girded the dark clouds filling me with hope and gratefulness. Such an attitude provided the ability to look for blessings in disguise, and a sojourn that should have spelled a disastrous pattern has turned out to be a lesson in itself.


If I had continued to grumble, moan and groan and pick at fate, God, man and blame all for my predicament, I wouldn’t have met the amazing people I got to meet, I wouldn’t have made lovely friends there either. The innate goodness of humans would not have manifested itself, and I would have remained ignorant of the goodwill, humaneness and the indomitable spirit of people that continued to survive, even during calamitous situations. The beauty of this picturesque city would have been lost on me and I would have marked it as “hell.” Time would have moved painfully slow. But now I have indelible memories of kindness, thoughtfulness, warmth and friendship to carry along with me. The most important point is that it has underlined my belief in God and his presence in and around me at all times.


Have you ever rocked yourself in a rocking-chair? Where does all that rocking take you? Nowhere! Focussing too much on the problems and difficulties of life is akin to sitting in a rocking chair. You stay stuck in one place no matter how hard you rock and go nowhere. Looking back should not be a “rocking-chair” moment. Hindsight should be used to find areas of change or improvement; a gleaning time for lessons. Such an attitude will see you walking ahead a wiser and more cheerful person. Why prolong misery by sticking with it?


My stay over there has given me deeper insights into my soul. I have discovered the various hues of my spirit that mark milestones in my growth as a person, and the three months I stayed there passed as a few days. Much can be accomplished with appreciation, gratitude and determination. One needs to keep moving onward and looking for those “Kodak” moments and “ha-ha” situations.


With due apologies and no offence meant to religious sentiments, I’m sure Biblical history would have recorded another story if the Israelites had known this.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Whispered Psalms and Tendrils of Hope

I’m alone once again. And once again I lose count of the days, the hours and the minutes…

They don’t matter any more.

Time is interminable.

My futile efforts to fill the void, send me foraying into a plethora of memories.

Rummaging through school days, college years

Adolescent joys and tears

They flash across the mental screen, I will them to stay….

Just a while, so I am not alone.

Vainly I try to hold a wave upon the sand, sadly I relinquish the moonbeam in my hand.

And it begins to rain.

The rhythm of the falling rain beats a haunting tattoo

That recalls vivid memories of other rainy days.

Evoking the sweetness followed by pain

That slowly gives way to a numbness.

I don’t want to feel

Happiness, sorrow, misery or pain.

I don’t want to remember….

Good days or bad days , grey days or wet days

I block out the past and stare out of the window.

Something stirs within.

I fight against myself…a losing battle this

For the dark skies and falling rain call out to me and I cannot resist.

I must yield. I can’t be immune to it.

The memories flood back like the overflowing drains……

Gurgling, rushing, uninterrupted

Washing away the dirt, dust and debris.

Leaving in its wake quiet , calm, peacefulness.

And I lay my head down exhausted.

Too tired from the roller-coaster ride of emotions……

The upswings and downswings.

Somewhere clouds clash streaking the skies, breaking the silence with its thunder.

The flood-gates open to the release…

And I drown in a deluge of tears.

Years of conditioning in convention and orthodoxy

Make me look for purpose and divine reason to every twist and turn in life.

The purpose is found, the reason justified

By theological philosophies I pretend to understand.

I try to be stoical in the face of it,

Wondering what else is expected of me.

The outer walls I build around me

Of hard cold reasoning and hollow sounding platitudes, harden and thicken while

Hidden inside the crumbling begins.

Broken and battered I cower inside the fortress

Suspicious and scared of every shadow,

Of which there are many

Some real , rest imagined.

And life goes on drawing hope from whispered Psalms…

Hope like a frail tendril clings to straws.

And I lift up my eyes and thank God

For things could have been worse, but for His grace.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

A letter.....

My Dear Beta,

How are you? Thought I'd do the old fashioned thing and write a letter....oh we call it mail these days...:) I think this quote says it better....“What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters. You can't reread a phone call.” But then I am a sentimental fool and being from a past generation only compounds it...LOL

I've had quite a restless night and am feeling a bit drowsy this morning. Even my cup of nice, strong ginger tea couldn't raise me up. Guess a cold shower will fare better! I suppose too much of time on one's hands is not good for the mind.......I thought about that too, about the connection, and figured it out.....the hands dig up old memories and skeletons long buried...idle hands..:) Whacky eh..??


Hopefully, things will settle down and I will finally be on even keel. Too much has transpired too soon...back-to-back and it is telling on me...age I suppose is finally overtaking my mental capacity and strength....the fight seems to be dying down. Still the morning brings hope, it's the evenings and night that dash all hopes while I battle loneliness. It's a sunny day today, clear sky so I guess we get some respite from rain.


I enjoyed a rickshaw ride in a drizzle the other day. It was early morning and I had to draw cash for the maid's pay. Threatened by heavier showers I scurried to the ATM....but remembered too late that muddy puddles and speeding cars were also on the way !!!!!!! Pachaaak...pachaaak.........:(

Oh that's a rhyme....unintended poetry LOL


That's it for now. I've had my tea and shall read the paper.

Love...Mama


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Glossary

Beta........son

rickshaw........a three-wheeled cycle carrier. It has a cushioned seat behind the rickshaw driver which can comfortably seat two people. It is canopied and offers some protection from light showers.

pachaak.......a Hindi word to convey the sound of splashing water...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Life's a ring of funnies....

I was swept by a deluge of things to do...things not done yet....things I should have done earlier....things I shouldn't have done earlier...perhaps not at all....!


Setting up home all again and that too alone, can take the micky out of you. Here in India it involves co-ordinating with the Movers & Packers, internet service providers, phone connection, cable (TV) connection, police verification, running to the Residential Society Management offices of both places, the current one I'm living in and the new one I'll be shifting into, to get NOCs to move my luggage out of the old and into the new. Then I need to ask for permission to use the lift to cart the big stuff down fifteen floors and of course pay a fee for that!! There's nothing wrong in all this except that none of these people value time or efficiency. And that's when the tsunami strikes in waves over waves of irritation, stress and eventually anger.


Very carefully I orchestrated the entire process of getting required permissions, documents, intimating service providers, making payments only to find that the Movers & Packers who were to come at 8.00am haven't reached till 1.00pm...which is why I'm at my laptop! The service providers have been "doing their job" for the past two days in bits and drabs, and the phoneline, internet, TV cable are yet not installed. The electrician is too involved with selling his old mobike and buying a new one so can't see to replacing damaged fixtures.


I'm on the phone every ten minutes yelling at one or the other of these guys, and at times I get my connections all mixed up and find myself asking the plumber why the truck hasn't reached...or the Packers why the aqua-guard hasn't been installed...Finally I decided it would take more than sticks and stones to break their bones, resigned myself to a cup of ginger tea and pouring out my woes on my blog.


Why didn't I do that before I think...and go back to my list of.. Things I should have done...things I have to do.....Life's a ring of funnies!!

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan...cont




Wedding Games

An Indian wedding is marked by its fanfare, colour, blaring music, brass band...a blend of the traditional and modern. That's how most Indian weddings are. And then when the rituals and rites are through you'd think its over, but there's another think coming up...there are wedding games to be played! Well, when I say 'games' I mean games.


I learned about these games when my elder son got married. A few of my friends from Rajasthan got the newly wed couple to play a few 'power games.' What was especially amusing about the activity was that the maximum wins decided who would wear the pants around the house! So it was obvious the bride would try her best to beat the groom.


I gathered that this was introduced to alleviate the anxiety the bride might be feeling. In India arranged marriages are usually the norm, so a girl doesn't really know the boy very well, much less the family. Besides an Indian girl doesn't just marry a boy, she marries the whole family too! It would certainly be tough for her to walk into a household of strangers who are now her family. But to come back to the games....


The first one was - searching for a ring in a thali (a big, deep, steel plate) of milky water. A ring is immersed with a lot of almond shells and rose petals. The couple have to search for it using just one hand.

The second one was - untying knots with one hand. A thick thread (dori) is tied around each one's wrist. Then the ends are knotted several times. The knots have to be untied using one hand. The winner is decided on who unties all and how quickly.


The third one was - find the cotton. Little balls of cotton are hidden on the person of the bride and groom. Hiding places could be their clothes, hair, behind the ears etc. The couple take turns locating these.


Since we don't have these games in our Christian wedding ceremonies, it was fun for us. Can't say about the couple, it was well into the wee hours of the morning and they had had a long day. Our wedding receptions are usually dinners that go on and on and on....weddings don't happen everyday, and thank God for that.


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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan....cont

"Looking for your face'......."Recognizing your face"......"Welcome."


That's my laptop's way of greeting me every time I switch it on. Makes me feel great. It's almost like a baby looking around for a face it knows, recognizing it and welcoming it with a smile of relief. Ever seen a baby do that...I remember how I used to feel when my babies did that, my heart used to melt.


And it makes me think. Don't we also look for a face; A special face in the crowd? At the railway station, airport, in a strange place, at weddings and parties, we look for a face in the crowd; and when we recognize one the welcome erupts in a million ways.


Waking, sleeping, dreaming...yes especially while in that sub-conscious to unconscious state, I look for faces. Faces from the past, faces from the present...faces that reassure me; that tell me "all is well." It doesn't matter from how far this assurance comes, from beyond the blue or from over the miles and seas and oceans, they comfort me. They are faces I seek, recognize and welcome into my world.


On the flip side there are a few times when my laptop, finds it hard to make a recognition. It asks me to face the camera. In other words I'm not in the ideal position. This makes me shift and turn, move forward and backward, in an effort to position myself just right. It applies to life too! We find a familiar face but fail to recognize it because the person has shifted or changed positions; grown, evolved. It becomes difficult for us to accept and welcome. At times like these I think the laptop provides the answer again!


Like your face is the stamp of recognition you carry all your life, in legal documents too, there are some values that define who you are at the core. If these change you become unrecognizable to some. It is the point where one can look within and decide if the changes and evolution are in the right direction. The laptop is like a parent or very special person in your life, no matter how much you might change, it still welcomes you if the most identifiable part of you remains the same.


The next obstacle my laptop faces in making a recognition is 'insufficient light.'
Someone is in darkeness here. It's either the laptop or it's me. So I begin to move into areas of light. When this doesn't work I realize it's not me but the laptop that's in insufficient light. So I reposition my little friend and voila...like a long-lost lover, friend, relative, baby...it finally recognizes and welcomes me.


So every time I'm 'welcomed' I realize I'm a face that has been sought and recognized in some capacity, in the other's life.


For now I'm glad my Della Baby, that's my laptop, has welcomed me!


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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mine Are Bigger.......

There was a time many, many years ago when having the best and being the best was extremely important to me. It didn’t matter who had what, I never compared myself to anyone. I only believed I had the best of everything, and so it was. This expressed itself in many hilarious announcements of greatness...or more correctly, perceived and misplaced exaggeration. This phase lasted till I was ten. Thereafter it took the form of quiet confidence and acceptance. I suppose age and related maturity that at most times follows, played a major role, which is good but I miss the humour it used to produce. I mean I appreciate it now, in hindsight!


One day, when as usual, I couldn’t find something that actually sat right below my nose, my brother commented that I had potatoes instead of eyes. This would have gone down quietly if it hadn’t been for a conversation with Daddy about the Irish people and the spuds that formed a staple diet in their country. So I knew that spuds were bigger than the potatoes we were used to. So how could I have simple potatoes for eyes?


Drawing myself up to the maximum my tiny stature would permit, I declared loud and clear, “I don’t have potatoes I have spuds,” which sent everyone into a fit of laughter. It needs no saying that I thought they were dimwits and it would be useless to make them see, that I had bigger potatoes for eyes than they imagined.


There were quite a few similar instances, but I will skip that for now. Many, many years later my younger son out-did me with a whopper. He was a little genius at three, who couldn’t understand why he had to study Hindi when he was planning to marry an American who wouldn’t understand a word of the language. What made this rationale interesting was that he could barely speak English beyond a few words. He had many more questions about other subjects, which he felt he was wasting time on. He loved sports, story-telling, drawing, sketching and such things, what I’m getting at is, grades meant nothing at all to him. As long as he passed each exam, percentages and rank were immaterial.



Alarmed by his nonchalance, my husband spoke to him about the importance of academics and why in our system rank and percentage played an important role in the examination results. He listened with rapt attention quite unusual for him. His report card lay open on the table, his rank 25/52. He looked at his father seriously, another unusual thing and said seriously (very unusual indeed) “Papa, I promise I will do better next time. I promise I will come 30th next time.” You could tell where he got that from! Well we laughed our guts out, and this was the last serious conversation father and son had. However, in his defence I must add that a couple of years later, he earned himself a swanky new bicycle by ranking in the top ten.


Yeah, kids say the darnedest things. I’m glad I had my time of quipping!

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Notes of a santoor....

It's Sunday...one of those days I really have nothing much to do on the home front or the professional one, and that's not something I always want. It's better to have something on my list...so I find things to do.

This morning lost myself in the early hours of the day in lilting Pahari music, played on the santoor. Here on the fifteenth level, the breeze is cool and fresh in the mornings...closed my eyes and allowed myself to float.

Back to earth, I am looking forward to a chocolate and dessert session with a chef of a five star hotel. I was lucky to get an invitation!! It's going to be a long drive but it's worth it.

My new commitment has kept me from blogging for a while. I realise it wasn't the lack of time but the choice to devote whatever time I had to dwelling on that one thing to the exclusion of everything else.

I'll be back.

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Glossary:

Pahari music (raga, dhun).......classical music and folk that originated from the Northern hills...from Nepal, J&K, Himachal, Uttaranchal etc.

Santoor.....The santoor is an Indian stringed musical instrument. It is related to the Indian shata-tantri veena of earlier times and has strong resemblances with the Persian santur. It is a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer often made of walnut, with seventy strings. The special-shaped mallets (mezrab) are lightweight and are held between the index and middle fingers. A typical santoor has two sets of bridges, providing a range of three octaves.

The santoor as used in Kashmiri classical music is played with a pair of curved mallets made of walnut wood and the resultant melodies are similar to the music of the harp, harpsichord, or piano. The sound chamber is also made of walnut wood and the bridges are made of local wood and painted dark like ebony. The strings are made of steel.(Wikipedia)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kora kagaz......

It's been some time since I've been down memory lane. That's a walk I miss. By the time I have done with the business worries, strategies, mails and "no mails" situation and decide to write, it's futile and "kora kagaz, kora hi reh jata hai."...my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak, and I succumb to bed and slumber...or soccer!

It's a fledgling flight...never been in the business area before...just a bit more and I'll be able to take some breaks on auto-pilot.


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Glossary:

kora kagaz kora hi reh jata hai.......the blank page remains blank.



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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Simian Encounters

My recent trip to one of the hill stations in the Kumaon Hills where the ubiquitous langoors and Rhesus monkeys can be spotted swinging on trees and jumping on rooftops, brought home some memories of other Simian encounters in another time: past and not so distant past.



When I was a young collegiate, we lived in a city situated in the foothills of the Shivalik Range and would drive uphill to towns further up very often. One of these places was Shimla. The town was infested with monkeys, some of which were just naughty while others were downright pests. The first time I actually observed simian cunning, was in the market where a fruit vendor had a rehri full of bananas. He was having a tough time keeping the thieves at bay. Every time he dealt with a customer, a bunch would be flicked off the cart. He would yell and gesticulate threateningly and smack his forehead but it just didn’t matter to the long-tailed Rhesus who would happily munch through the bunch and wait for the next distraction at the cart. While we were having our laughs at the expense of the agitated vendor, a young boy probably the vendor’s son, arrived. His appearance was an obvious relief for the man. He gave him a stick and put him on guard duty. Many of us, who had nothing better to do than watch the show, decided to move off. The fun had ended or so we thought. Fortunately, we were among a few who took their time moving along, and that’s how we got to witness this scene.



The boy successfully staved off all the monkey attempts to steal bananas. Every few minutes a monkey would approach the cart and by then there were more than one, coming in from different directions. The poor fellow had to run left and right shouting and twirling his stick. We cheered him on and this helped him to go at it with more gusto. Suddenly my friend whispered something and pointed under the cart. Underneath the cart, perched on the metal support was a smaller monkey who would stretch his arm and pull a couple of bananas from a bunch near the edge. It would eat them while staying hidden beneath the cart. It was not visible unless one bent down low and peered under the cart. With the bigger ones keeping the boy distracted and customers keeping the father busy the little one was making hay while the sun shone! However, we inadvertently gave the little thief away, and he was shooed off.



The next day we went up to Jhaku. It’s a point higher up and is frequented because of a famous Hanuman Mandir that sits on the top. Here the monkeys dominate the place, not only by numbers but also by the reverence they enjoy. In India monkeys are revered, as they symbolise the Hindu god Hanuman. This is why in places of worship as in Jhaku, they are kings of all they survey. It was amazing to see how they applied themselves to profit from the faith of the believers. This was a long time ago, in 1974, and things might have changed now. I haven’t been there in years. Anyway, to come back to the narration, we set out for Jhaku. It had rained and the pathway, which was quite narrow at places, was slippery. Certain patches had little pebbles and gravel and those of us who had worn leather-soled shoes had a tough time staying on their feet. Being a group of teenage girls, there was a lot of screaming and laughing as we slipped and slid. Finally, we managed to get to the top without much damage beyond scraped knees and palms.



Unfortunately the mandir had too many devotees at that time, so we had to wait. The place to sit it out was on a plain ground below the temple. Since I did not intend going into the temple to do puja, I wasn’t geared to jump up and run as soon as the crowd on top dispersed. Thus I found myself alone in a few seconds as the others were already running up. I got up and picked my bag, blissfully unaware of the big primate, keeping guard at the entrance to the sit-out. I heard a strange animal sound and looked up to see bared yellow teeth, and eyes warning me to stay where I was. I screamed, which agitated him more. The scream had alerted the other people around, who took in the situation and immediately responded; I was bombarded with advice; Do’s and don’ts and ill-timed humour.


“Sit down. Don’t move.”
“Stop screaming, you’ll scare him.”
“Don’t look him in the eye. Look away or down,”
“Don’t worry, he won’t harm you.”
“Hey, you got a monkey admirer.”
“Don’t monkey around...hahaha.”
“You picked the alpha male...”



It must have been a few minutes but to me it was eternity, before an old man who lived in the area rescued me from this siege. I laughed nervously as everyone broke into loud clapping and cheering.



The girls filed into the temple to offer their prayers to the deity. One of them left her purse, unattended, on the low wall that surrounded the compound. A very foolish thing to do in monkey territory. ..finders keepers, losers weepers it was, as a female monkey proceeded to investigate the contents. What didn’t catch her interest was tossed all over the place; and there was a lot that did not interest her...especially money. Then she came across a compact. For some reason it intrigued her enough for her to throw the purse aside and give her whole attention to the compact. While she turned it around and figured a way to prise it open, I hurriedly retrieved whatever I could, including the purse. All of a sudden, I heard a shriek. She had managed to flip open the compact and saw herself in the mirror. It was hilarious. She would glance into the mirror, look away, then shriek and jump up and down. Finally she tossed the offending compact away...I wonder if she disapproved of her image or the perceived competition.



The girls paid their obeisance to the deity and came out with prasad in their hands. We had to hurry back as it looked like rain and we did not want to get caught in a downpour. The way in and out of the Mandir was very narrow at one point, at that time. It had a wall or something, I can’t recall that, on one side and the other side went down in a slope, so people had to single file through that way. As usual, I lagged behind with a couple of girls who were intent on eating the delicious prasad. As we made our way back, we discovered we had to pay “tax” before we could pass through to the other side via the narrow passage.



One monkey out of the lot that surrounded this little pathway, was sitting right in the middle of the passageway. It would hold out its open hand ( or fore leg or whatever one calls it) and each person would put a bit of prasad into it, only then would it move aside and let the person go. All my friends paid up and passed through except for me and another girl. She was ahead of me so she was handed the remnants of prasad from the other girls. This left me with none to offer. I thought I could slip through but I sure had another think coming. Our big hairy friend would not budge. It sat staring at me and so did all the others that were squatting on the wall and all around. The moment I took a step, it would stick out its open hand. It was absolutely unbelievable! The only thing in their favour was that they were not aggressive or hostile. Finally I conceded when I realised there was no way I was going to get past that blockade. I went back and begged people to part with a bit of Prasad, which I paid as “tax” and got through.



Many years later, I worked in a residential school in the hills and there were instances of ‘monkey pranks’ all the time. But the worst was when they would attack in a group. This usually happened when they wanted food or when they were angry because someone had pelted them with stones. There was a particular gang of ‘food thieves,’ that used to hang out on the ‘dinner’ route, where an ambush would deliver a meal. A few of us did not go to the dining hall for dinner, so the maid would carry our packed dinners back to our cottages. Although she took care to avoid this notorious gang yet she got waylaid, twice or thrice. The dinners were snatched from her and she even got a few scratches in the bargain.



Monkeys are interesting creatures to watch but they can be a menace too. I suppose it is all about us folks taking up their space and habitat. We have forced ourselves upon them, encroached on their land and imposed “civilisation” on them. Well, if they ‘ape’ us must we complain?


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Glossary

Mandir..........temple, place of worship
Prasad..........Anything, usually edible, that is first offered to a deity in his name and then distributed to others.
Rehri (pro.. reh-di)............a hand-pushed cart with four wheels

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I'll be away for a while..

I've been rather caught up with setting up my new Firm and have not been able to write as much as I'd love to. All my writing skills and energy are being put to use in doing writeups for flyers and website (which is under construction)and getting the presentation just right, making modules and finding the right ice-breakers, activities etc.

I will be out on my first business trip tomorrow...going uphill to visit some residential schools. Just wish me luck and those of you who pray...please pray that it goes well..:)

Will not be here on this page till Monday. See you then.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan..cont

Superstitions, Myths and Black Magic




India is a land of many superstitions. Today we do not hear much about them, as education and science have played their part in a large way. Having said that I must mention that all don’t come under this education of the mind. India lives in the villages and in these villages superstitions thrive.



Grandma was a storehouse of strange stories, superstitions and myths. She was a strange mixture of cynicism and credulity. She was a firm believer in God, nevertheless she had a couple of beliefs that had nothing to do with him. At times, I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to believe her or not. However what I saw convinced me she was right about developing strong conviction, but not about the superstition per se. What I saw was not superstition...it was extreme calm in the face of danger. This courage was born of unshakable faith. When one believes implicitly in anything, it transfers immense strength to the inner self. This is what I saw and learnt. But her stories and actions based on her belief in certain superstitions were indeed very interesting, and for that moment I allowed myself to go with it. It gave me the thrill that scary movies give...goose bumps and white-in-the-face breath stopping moments.




One of her firmest beliefs was that, a snake got hypnotised or as she put it “blinded,” if the firstborn child of a family came in front of it. Since she was the firstborn child in her family, she believed that snakes couldn’t move if they encountered her. Since we lived in the country and had big fruit gardens and vegetable gardens, our home was host to many snakes; permanent residents as well as visitors. Many of these unfortunate ones met their end at her hand. Now killing a snake isn’t such a great feat, but killing a snake that stayed rooted to the spot while she picked a lathi or stood quietly watching the snake while a stick was brought to her, now that’s something I have never seen or heard of before. The snakes were swift and agile when any other member of the family tried to nail them. They usually made their escape. To explain it further, I’ll recount an incident that truly left me flummoxed .



Grandma’s kitchen retained its rural identity to the core. It was fairly spacious, with an inbuilt “Chula” occupying the right corner in the north. A chimney, over the chula, released the fumes and smoke of this typical earthen cooking place. Coal and wood were used to light it. This corner chula, stayed burning 24X7. There would always be a kettle of tea on the embers. This was also the constant feeder for their hookah fire.



The chula was on ground level. So cooking was done seated on “pidhis.” These are very low stools made of wood with woven jute ropes forming the seat. There were four or five of these around the place. In the left corner there was a table, and a comfortable armchair. The other two corners in the south were occupied by big grain-bins and a hand pump.Grandma would sit between the chula and the table, with a kerosene stove in front of her on the floor. She would cook the main meal on this stove.



One day, I was sitting in the armchair and happily chatting away, while I ate a hot, crisp “cheeni paratha” straight off the griddle. Suddenly Grandma put her finger to her lips, signalling for me to keep quiet. I looked at her quizzically, but refrained from any verbal query. She stretched her arm out and picked up the “phukni” which was lying near the chula. Then she gestured that I should lift my feet off the ground. By now I knew it had something to do with a snake, but where was the creepy crawly? Grandma got up and bending down lifted her pidhi and kept it to one side. There coiled up and petrified lay a Cobra. I gaped and the next second I felt a scream coming up. Thankfully it got frozen into silence. Grandma lifted the iron phukni and smashed it down on the snake. She hit it some more to make sure it was dead then called Grandpa to take it out and burn it. Burn it? Why? I wondered. There is another myth attached to that.



I asked her how she knew the snake was there and when had it slipped in. She admitted that she did not know when it had come in but had sensed that there was one under her! She felt sorry that she had to kill a Cobra. She had another belief connected to that. She repeated her firstborn theory again and frankly speaking, I couldn’t but believe her then. But till date, I often wonder at the power of conviction for that is what it was all about, it had nothing to do with her being a firstborn. There were many similar instances when we saw her take her time dealing with poisonous snakes that lay quietly like lambs for the slaughter. However, none of these were burned.



This was another weird belief in the villages then, that Cobras carried a picture of their slayer in their eyes, like a negative and not like a positive print. So, if it wasn’t burned, its mate would see the image and then seek revenge on the killer. In the bargain it would attack many humans, till it found the actual murderer. This was why any Cobra that was killed had to be burned! Even as a child I found this pretty unbelievable. I wonder how people could digest this absurd story so whole-heartedly. We even had quite a few Bollywood films, at my time, based on this myth.



Grandma also believed that people used black magic to get even with their enemies or to get something they wanted really badly. I loved to hear her stories, they were spooky and I used to get chills down my spine. However what actually spooked me was an incident that convinced me that people did resort to some practices that could only be termed as “black magic” because they had evil intent. Whether these practices gave the desired result is anyone’s guess.


We had a teacher living down the road. She had married rather late in life and desperately wanted to have a baby. I am talking about the year 1965. India was a very young nation and very under-developed. We had no advanced medical facilities and generally women who wanted to have babies and could not conceive visited sadhus and medicine men, who would perform rituals to help them, while others would go to ‘tantriks.’ These are people who perform black magic.


One evening Grandma told us kids and my mother not to allow the teacher to carry my baby brother the next day. We found this odd as the teacher never did show any particular interest in my brother. She was only on ‘hello’, ‘hi’ terms with us. Besides, grandma was cautioning us about the next day, which was even more unusual. I asked her what made her expect the teacher and why we shouldn’t allow the teacher to carry my brother, but she told me that sometimes it was best not to ask too many questions.



Early the next morning, I was ‘walking’ my baby brother in Grandma’s garden when the teacher leaned over the low boundary wall of Grandma’s house and asked me to carry my brother to her. The sight of her put me on guard. This was bizarre. Grandma was right as usual, she did appear and she did show an interest in the baby. I refused to give her the baby. Then she asked me to bring him closer so she could play with him. I saw no harm in that, as she wasn’t going to carry him. No sooner had I reached the wall than she leant over and grabbed him from me. I yelled at her and called out to Grandma, who came running, and took in the scene at a glance. She literally grabbed my brother from the teacher, and for the first time I heard her talk to someone in such a harsh manner. The teacher almost ran back the way she had come. She seemed terrified by my grandparent’s vehemence. Actually right then I was a bit terrified of her too, she looked awesome; like an avenging angel…eyes blazing,and wrathful face wreathed by her crown of snow-white hair.



I was next in the line of fire. I explained that I had not let the teacher carry the baby; he was snatched from my arms. This was when she sat me down and told me that, that day was particularly auspicious and used for magical rites. I don’t remember what day it was. She explained that the teacher had displayed all the signs of black magic rituals. It had something to do with her hair being freshly washed, wet, left open and uncombed. There were a few other things that she mentioned, but I can’t recall them. Any way she called my mother and told her to keep a check on the little fellow. To monitor any change in him. By then we were all highly perturbed and worried. We did not believe in these things but Grandma was so serious about it and that affected us. Within the hour my brother developed high fever. He was taken to the doctor but I don’t think that was of any help because the fever wouldn’t subside. Soon he was throwing up. Grandma came up with all her home remedies and prayers. She prayed and prayed. Finally, the fever went down and he was well. I can recall without exaggeration, that my fat little brother became a twig in those four days.



Coincidence?... Black Magic?... I still don’t know what it was. But Grandma had predicted that the teacher would come, and had warned us about it. My perfectly, hale-and-hearty brother developed a strange fever suddenly, after being carried by the woman...again something Grandma had feared would happen. No, I don’t know what to make of it even after so many years. You can draw whatever conclusions you want.

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Glossary
Chula.....it means oven. Coal, wood are used to light it. It is made of clay (soil)
Phukni.... a bamboo or metal blowing-tube (for a fire).
Cheeni Paratha.....cheeni means sugar. Paratha is an unleavened Indian flat-bread. It is made of layered whole wheat (atta) dough. And fried on a Tava (griddle) There are many kinds of parathas. Cheeni [paratha means sugar stuffed in the paratha.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan...cont

Miriam James



Miriam was born in 1900, in a small town in Punjab. Her mother, a widow, had converted to Christianity before she was born. Her mother must have been a very forward-thinking woman, an exception in that era, when in India girls were generally not allowed a formal education. She was illiterate but intelligent. She had a family to support and while she wasn’t poor, she wasn’t a lady with ample means either. In order to augment her income, she began lending money; loaning money at a fixed interest. She kept meticulous accounts despite the fact she had never been to school. Miriam was fortunate to have been born to such a woman.



Miriam’s mother decided that her daughter would have a good education. She sent her to study at a school in Andrew’s Ganj in Delhi. Miriam completed her Matriculation here. Having studied in Delhi she learnt English too, which was the main reason why her ten children learnt the language fluently even though they were studying in small town Government schools in Punjab. Miriam’s education also served in getting her an educated husband. She married Bernard James, a teacher in a government school. Teachers in small towns, in those days, were highly respected members of society and their larders were always overflowing with the offerings and gifts of grateful parents and students. It would have been very rude at that time to refuse the gifts of grain, ghee (clarified butter) fruit, farm-fresh vegetables etc, which were brought to the home of the teacher. This was “guru dakshina”(gift of gratitude from student to teacher) and not any kind of bribe for favours of any kind. It was unthinkable to attribute any such base motive to these gifts.



Miriam and Bernard had ten children, five boys and five girls. Owing to her mother’s precedent, of not discriminating against the girl child, all of Miriam’s daughters were given a sound education too along with their brothers. Bernard went on to become a Senior Teacher in the Government High School and from there he moved to the Mission Schools. He rose to occupy the post of Inspector of Schools. Their second child, Jason, was my father.



Miriam was a woman of substance. She had grit, determination, strength, perseverance, and all this coupled with her pragmatism made her one formidable force. In order to understand how progressive she was and how adept at adapting, I will have to recount this story that I would make her tell me over and over again, when I was a young girl.



Grandpa would be out of town quite often, as an Inspector of Schools. This left Grandma alone with the children, and not very safe and secure as their house stood beside a huge orchard on one side and fields on the other. Times were a-changing and petty crimes like thefts were on the rise. Grandpa had already dealt with a few attempts of thieves to scale the boundary wall on the orchard side. In order to protect the home and family she devised a plan to have Grandpa always at home. Since keeping him back physically was not possible, it had to be a ruse. Whenever he went on tour, that night Grandma would wear his “pagri,” (turban) light the “hookah”(hubble-bubble) and sit up through the night till daybreak, smoking the hookah. The glow of the hookah embers and the silhouette of a 'turbaned man' would be misleading to any one peering over the wall. However, one day some daring men decided to take on the lone 'man.' Grandma, ever alert, heard the sounds of furtive movement and whispered voices behind the wall, and even before they could get a hold on the top of the wall and heave themselves up, she was waiting and ready with a big, thick “lathi.” The moment the first head appeared over the edge of the wall, she struck with all her strength and let out a full throttled war cry. This sudden ferocious attack not only took the men by surprise but also woke up my father and his elder brother. Although they were in their early teens, both were tall and had robust physiques. They were quick to gauge the scene. Both were on top of the wall in a jiffy, with lathis (a stout stick, used for self-defence in India) in hand, shouting warnings and threatening dire consequences to the quickly retreating backs of the thieves.

There were two outcomes from this strategy... There were no more attempts at theft and Grandma became a regular ‘hookah’ smoker!

From then it was a common sight to see her puffing away at her hubble-bubble, not only in the night but in broad daylight too. She and Grandpa always had their lighted hookah between them and would take puffs alternately, while they chit-chatted or shared their silences. It was such a wonderful sight to see. So much of togetherness oozed out of these moments. That Grandma never hid the fact that she smoked the hookah, and indulged in her newly formed habit openly with undisguised enjoyment, speaks volumes of the kind of woman she was. In pre-Independence rural India, she was a rarity...a true woman of substance.


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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan...cont

The Collaborator



It was all about location. We were between two prime targets, namely the GT Road and the railway line, both of which were main transit lines for military equipment, troops etc to reach the northern borders where the fighting was fiercely on. For some time we were sitting ducks for stray bombs that wouldn’t hit the target. I didn’t know whether I should applaud or cry...a miss was good for the country but bad for us! Then the bombs began to fall farther away from us but closer to the targets, fortunately none caused any major damages.



Mr Major lived one house away from us. I never learnt what his real name was. In fact I wonder if any one even remembered it. He liked to be called Major, which wasn’t his given name, but his rank in the salvation Army. I’m not sure if one ever “retires” from the SA, but he was no longer an active member. He and his wife lived a quiet life in a small white house with a patch of green in front, where flowers grew and a vegetable patch behind, where he grew amazingly huge snake gourds among other veggies. We never communicated with them. But with the war on and security measures being solicited through citizen awareness and participation, Daddy and uncle had to inform the people around our residential area about certain things. Besides strict observance of total black-out, there had also been issued “shoot at sight” orders by the authorities. This was when we got to actually meet with him and his wife.



I remember the day Daddy and uncle returned from a meeting with the officials, in-charge of vigilance, security, law and order. They looked serious and thoughtful. Authority was given to certain citizens to challenge suspicious persons and shoot-at-sight if deemed necessary. Since our home housed a good collection of weapons including the carbine, a semi-automatic rifle, and Daddy and uncle had defence backgrounds this authority, for our area, was given to them. For the first time we saw the rifles coming out for a purpose other than ‘shikaar’. It was unnerving. I watched as the rifles were checked and ammunition was counted and kept out.



“Will you really shoot a man?” I asked my uncle, who was the crack-shot in this family of shikaaris.


“Yes ‘Bina,’ if he doesn’t come clean. In war we shoot the enemy. But you don’t worry your head about it. We’re here and you are safe. Nothing will happen.” He had spoken too soon.



Something did happen.



From then on uncle took up his position every night on the roof of the house with the carbine, and Daddy would patrol the boundary. Grandma would also be with him. She refused to get into the trench even when an air attack was on. Except for one occasion, I never saw either of them in the trench. One night, I heard uncle loudly challenging someone. I rushed out of the house only to be sent back, with stern orders to get inside and stay in. My uncle informed my father and Grandma that there was someone in the field directly behind our rear boundary wall with a lighted cigarette. It seems the glow was very visible in the dark. Daddy also challenged the person but there was no response. Then uncle gave the warning.



“If you don’t come out I’m going to shoot.” There was still no movement or response. As uncle prepared to shoot, Grandma intervened.



“Wait,” shouted Grandma. “Give him a second warning.”



“I’m counting to three, you have been warned.” He began counting.... “One........two.......”



“No,” bellowed a voice. A dark, shadowy figure rose from the field.



“Raise your hands. Who are you?” shouted Daddy, his rifle cocked and ready.



“Major.”



“Get out here you bloody S&*^%#. And keep your hands up,” swore uncle.



By the time Major had walked to a couple of metres from the wall, uncle was down and ready for him.



Major begged and pleaded with both the men who weren’t satisfied with his explanation of what he was doing in the field with a lighted cigarette. Twice uncle lost his cool and raised the rifle. Twice my grandmother asked him to wait and make absolutely sure that he was doing the right thing. Major had said that he had gone to the field to answer the call of nature. This reason fell flat as their house had an attached toilet. He explained this away with the excuse that his wife was in the bathroom and he had an upset tummy. He kept crying and giving all kinds of silly reasons for not answering when challenged. If it hadn’t been for Grandma, he would have been shot that night. But he went home alive. Daddy and uncle were not convinced that he was innocent; Grandma was not convinced that he was guilty. The jury was divided 2:1. She kept telling her sons that rural folk are different from city people. They react differently, think differently and this was a unique situation where one couldn’t expect them to fully comprehend the emergency conditions and the implications of their actions. One should not judge them by a city yardstick she cautioned.



They resumed their positions on the roof and at the boundary wall. The next instant gunshots filled the air as bullets whizzed through the air, barely missing uncle. He retaliated with a few shots. There was a shout and a heavy silence descended. Before anyone could gather their wits, the siren went off and planes zoomed through a night sky that was dotted with red blobs of tracers and sporadic glows of anti-aircraft fire. That was a tense night, the biggest concern being for the security of the family.


We had encountered saboteurs!



When had they landed, where had they landed? Speculation was that it would have been either before Major was spotted in the field or while he was being questioned. Uncle was convinced he had hit one of them. In the morning, a reconnaissance of the place from where the men had fired at us, revealed tracks of four people and signs that someone or something might have been dragged. This incident was reported to the police but nothing about Major was mentioned. He had the benefit of the doubt.



As the events of the night were analysed it became clear that the saboteurs knew where to shoot. They knew that the more dangerous weapon was on the roof. Slowly the truth began to sink in. Later on we were informed anonymously that Major was a non-smoker and his wife wasn’t at home that night he was caught in the field. We were shocked to learn that on a previous night saboteurs had landed quite close to our residential area. But it was too late. Major had disappeared and the house remained closed for a long time.




Glossary

GT Road........The Grand Trunk Road (commonly abbreviated to GT Road) is one of South Asia's oldest and longest major roads. For several centuries, it has linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent, running from Bengal, across north India, into Peshawar in Pakistan. Today the Grand Trunk Road remains a continuum that covers a distance of over 2,500 km Within India, the major portion of the road – the stretch between Kanpur and Kolkata – is known as NH 2 (National Highway - 2), the stretch between Kanpur and Delhi is called NH-91 (National Highway - 91), and that between Delhi and Wagah, at the border with Pakistan, is known as NH-1. Between Delhi to Muzaffarnagar is National Highway 58 which further goes to Dehra doon.



Shikaaar.......hunting
shikaari.......hunter
Bina...........uncle called me by this name. He pronounced it with a short vowel sound.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan....cont

My sister makes a wish



Daddy had decided to put in his papers and take a premature retirement. Premature it surely was, he was only forty-five and had a long way to go, but his heart was set on dedicating his time totally to evangelism. So in 1965, we moved to his town in Punjab. He was going home; we were going to Never Land! Of course, the descriptions differed in each of our minds. I am not sure what Never Land signified for my siblings, for me it was rich in every way; experiences, adventure, fantasy, challenges and fun.



My eldest sis didn’t fancy it much I guess, because as soon as she completed her Senior Cambridge, she came to the “village” from her snooty school in the hills, and dashed off to Delhi to train as a nurse. This left four of us kids ( my younger brother had arrived by then) with grandpa, grandma, mummy and Daddy, the cows, buffaloes, chickens, rabbits and a dog named Tommy; fruit trees, open spaces and rolling fields. It was an absolutely wonderful life for me and my brother initially, because, we had no school to attend and the whole day was spent exploring the surroundings, shooting pigeons and whatever flew or ran or crawled, with our catapults.



I don’t know how my elder sis spent most of her time, but there were rare occasions when she would join us to spend the afternoons in our treetop getaway. We would take up books, some munchies and lemonade, and while away the lazy noon swaying gently in our hammocks that were way up in the treetop. On one such rare day, three of us were sitting around in the vegetable garden behind our house and sharing our dreams, wishes and fantasies. As we tried to outdo ourselves in our imaginations, she blurted out that she would love to see two planes right above us in active combat. My brother and I guffawed. We knew she was right off her track, because she wasn’t into these sort of imaginings. She was very “girlie-girlie” and dreamt of “sissy” things. However, we had to agree that she had indeed outdone us in ‘bizarre.’



We heard the roar of planes and looked up. It wasn’t unusual to see these fighter planes in sorties, as the Air Force base was quite near. There were two Gnats chasing a plane, which we couldn’t identify. It was a bigger plane than the Gnats. My brother and I were intrigued. By then they were almost over us and he yelled.


“It’s an attack, run. That’s a Pakistani plane. Look at the insignia.”



It happened in a twinkling of an eye. Before we could even digest what he was saying, the air was rent with staccato gunshots. We stood transfixed as we watched a raging dogfight in the sky. I can recall the feeling even today. It was all in the extreme...the fear, the excitement, the amazement. Then in front of our eyes, the Pakistani plane took a fatal shot and burst into flames. It careened wildly and began a wobbly descent, away from our ‘home air space,’ and finally crashed in a field not far from where we were. Our yelling had brought out my uncle, who was on one of his breaks between joining ship again. He wouldn’t believe us because by then the plane had gone down, but the trail of black smoke convinced him, and he ran out with all the others who appeared from nowhere in an instant. We followed, my brother and I.



It was a terrible sight, but not as terrible as what was to follow. We were at war with Pakistan.



I peered at my sister later in the night, when we were in the trench and our town was taking flak from an attack on the Air Force base. She smiled wanly. I knew she was thinking what I was thinking, but I had to say it.



“Couldn’t you wish for something better,” I shouted in order to be heard, through the cotton plugs in her ears.



She wouldn’t reply. Her teeth remained clenched on the handkerchief in her mouth. I stuffed mine back into my mouth as Daddy yelled a warning. A bomb exploded two hundred and fifty metres away. This was just the beginning.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan ....cont

God give me an Ark...Please!


Ours was a very religious home. Both Mummy and Daddy were strongly entrenched in the preachy kind of religion in a big way, which made it but natural that we kids came under a dogmatic training. Well, not all the children, the fourth one namely me, did have it a bit easier. It never occurred to me then that I was a privileged one. However, even though I took my father’s leniency for granted, I never expected any from Mummy. She couldn’t fathom why I was being spoiled so much by my father. If I had spared a thought for it, I wouldn’t have understood it either. At the age of six, I had other more compelling issues to think about, none of which involved mum.



With both my elder sisters in boarding school, and just my brother and I at home, I took the full brunt of her disciplining. My brother was a meek soul; quiet and docile, who wouldn’t question anything mom or dad said. On the other hand, I was a fire- brand. I’d have to ask ten thousand questions before I’d do anything, and if my questions were not answered to my satisfaction I’d argue my case endlessly. If my mother got exasperated, I don’t blame her. I must have been a handful for her. She blamed daddy, poor man, for my argumentative nature and endless questioning. I would go into a fit of giggling as she’d grumble how my tongue was growing faster than I was. This only added fuel to the fire.



My biggest rebellion against religious restrictions arose because of being curtailed from singing anything other than hymns and choruses and I wanted to belt out ‘Travelling light...,’ ‘Lipstick on your collar’...,’ ‘One and a-two, I love you..,’ So I retaliated by refusing to pray out loud. I would say that I wanted to pray in my mind. Daddy was fine with it, trusting that I would pray but mum knew it was a ruse. Anyway, my enthusiastic participation in singing at evening family prayer mollified her. I remember once she caught me in one of those rare, pliable moods and cajoled me to pray loudly. I did. It went like this....



“Jesus bless mummy, bless Daddy, bless Faith sister, bless Ruth sister, bless Jasper brother......” and I proceeded to name each of our uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, friends and call blessings on them. She tried to interrupt me, but I was so caught up with remembering names I refused to listen. Finally, when I had done with the names I had to end the prayer but I was loath to do so. I was having such a good time. So I decided to “bless the people who were in, and bless the people who were out, and bless the people who were in and out.” By the time I reached ‘Amen’ my mother was laughing so hard she had tears running down her cheeks. She never coaxed me to pray again.



We were in Cochin (Kochi) those days. This city is in Kerala and situated on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It never rains in Kerala, it pours cats and dogs. The thunder-storms and lightning scared the daylights out of me. My brother would sleep like a log through the worst storm but I’d cower in my bed or then roll into his. When Daddy wasn’t home I’d run to Mummy and climb into bed with her, clinging so tightly to her that she’d have to loosen my arms. One terribly stormy day, it was very bad. I lifted my head and peeked through the window. I couldn’t see a thing for the sheets of rain water pouring down. I lay down again, my little heart was skipping a tad too fast. I shook up my brother.



“What is it?” he asked sleepily.


“It’s very bad outside. I haven’t seen so much of rain ever. What is going to happen? Will there be a flood?”


“Could be,” he mumbled and dropped off.



I had to know if there would be a flood. I jumped out of bed and stood at the window. The garden was water-logged and I couldn’t see the low shrubs. We’re going to drown, I thought. I panicked because I did not know how to swim. At such times for some unearthly reason, the mind recalls the most impossible things. Mine called up the story of the flood from Sunday school. ‘Everyone had died except Noah and his family,’ it prompted me. Think girl. I thought. Right there by the window, I folded my hands and said my first sincere prayer, out loud.



“Dear Jesus, you promised not to destroy the world with floods. I learned that in Sunday school. I know I have been stubborn and I make Mummy angry, but I am a good girl. So please give me an Ark like Noah had. I promise I will listen to Mummy. I will pray. I will not sing the songs I shouldn’t be singing. I will not even use those bad words I use sometimes. Please give me an Ark. Thank you.”



I was so exhausted by the end of it that I slept... as peacefully as a baby. My prayer had been answered, I had been given my Ark. Faith. This was a turning point in my spiritual life.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan....cont

You Sang To Me



It all started when I was eighteen, at a dinner hosted by my parents. Mrs Joel had called up to ask if she could bring her brother David along. He had arrived that afternoon to join a new job in our city. My parents said he was welcome.



As the party progressed, the youngsters present began to sing and dance. David joined in. He asked if he could do a solo number and we cheered him on. Soon we were rolling with laughter as he sang the most hilarious parody I had ever heard. That was definitely the first time I 'noticed' him. I never met him again for months, till the big Convention. Mr Joel, who was incharge of the choir was conducting auditions. I didn't think I'd make it but I did get into the sopranos. David was singing bass. Singing practice had never been so enjoyable before.



Then the week-long Convention was over. I got busy with college and David with his job and teaching guitar at weekends. It was some time before I ran into him again.



The Youth Fellowship had to conduct the Sunday service and desperately needed someone to sing bass in the choir. One day to go, no luck. We resigned ourselves to what we had.



Each one of us was assigned some work in preparation for the Sunday Youth Service. I had to see to the flower arrangements on the Altar. The fresh blooms arrived in the evening and by the time I carried the big bunches of flowers into the church, it was already getting dark outside. I'd never been in the church at this hour and looking down at the rows of empty pews, from where I stood on the altar steps, gave me an eerie feeling which I should not have felt considering I was in a church! So I gave myself a mental kick and set to work.



Did I imagine it or was that a guitar I heard ? I turned around slowly. The pews were unoccupied. I looked further, at the Choir Stand - no one. Ghosts ! I thought and then shook myself. Can't be. This was a new building. That was a reassuring argument!! It took all the courage I could muster up, to walk down the aisle and cautiously peer into the Choir Stand. There on a bench, doubled over his guitar was David.



" It's you," I exclaimed more with relief than surprise. " What are you doing here?" I continued. He stopped strumming and raised his head and looked straight at me, he was so handsome and the way he looked at me just took my breath away.


" Playing for you," was the simple reply which got me flustered and at a loss for words.


" Oh," I blurted and turned and walked away, so that he couldn't see the puce colour that was spreading all over my face. What's he doing here was all I could think. He doesn't ever come to church. I walked back and continued with the flowers. He continued to play, and the melody seemed to seek me out as it reverberated off the walls and filled the void. So I was startled when I heard him speak just behind me.



"I see you've almost finished. Can I help you with the bucket?" he said and without waiting for a reply picked up the bucket with the left-over flowers, and walked out. I walked behind in a trance.



That Sunday the Youth Fellowship choir outdid itself with the new bass singer.



It was back to study and exams. I didn't see David for three months. With the exams finished, the Summer holidays loomed over my head in a rather dreary way.


" Would you like to play the guitar ?" asked Daddy.


" Of course, if I could that is," I laughed.


The next day my mother announced that my guitar lessons would be starting on Saturday. I gaped at her.


" Well isn't that what you wanted ? You better be punctual for practice. Mr Joel is very particular," she said.



On Saturday, as I was getting ready to leave for guitar classes, the doorbell rang. David stood there with a guitar case.


" My brother-in-law will not be able to conduct classes for a while, so he has sent me to teach you at home. And here is your new guitar. Can I come in ?"


I realised that we were still at the door. I mumbled an apology and told him to come in.



My heart was beating like a bongo. This Adonis was going to teach me how to play the guitar! It seemed like the entire universe was indeed conspiring to create some magic here.



At some point the guitar lessons took a backseat as our conversations took over. Then it was cycling, walks, movies, sitting in the coffee-shop nursing our coffees that had long turned cold.



A year later David sang the Hawaiian Wedding Song to me on our wedding night.



The years that followed were full of fun, laughter, song and romance that made the ups and downs that much lighter. At every get-together with friends and even at parties David was always asked to sing. He'd pick up the guitar and while he checked the notes and took a while to decide the song he should sing, his eyes would surreptitiously seek me out. This was our little secret and our very special moment. Because wherever David sang, whenever he sang there was always a special song for me. He would catch my eye across a crowded room and silently dedicate his song to me.



And then one day, the angels came.



David joined the heavenly choir above, leaving behind a neverending interlude. How was I to survive in this vacuum, I thought to myself. I needed strength and right then I didn't feel very strong. Neither in mind nor in body. For years he had told me over and over again that I was his strength......now I looked to him to make me strong.



I dredged the past and picked each special moment. Like pearls, one by one I strung them on the thread of melody that had bound us for fifteen years. And as I battled with denial and then depression, I managed to hang on to a sliver of sanity that kept me and my two little boys afloat.



My beautiful string of pearls will always see me through. When despair threatens to drown me, I shall finger each pearl like a rosary.



PS: I still love that old melody he was playing in the church....

Ek ajnabi hasina se, yun mulakaat ho gayi.

Phir kya hua yeh na poochcho, kuch aisi baat ho gayi....

(I happened to meet a beautiful stranger. Don't ask me what happened next, it's hard to explain, it was something like that...)






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Monday, May 17, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan....cont

On Breaking Down



I hated funerals. I never seemed to know how to express my sorrow and to what degree. Being emotional by nature I would be deeply moved by someone’s grief, however sharing it was an art I had yet to master.


Often termed "tough" by my family, I had moulded myself to live up to the impression, without consciously realizing it. My shoulder was always the Rock of Gibraltar, which gave solace to many weeping, heart-broken friends in college. Over the years counselling, advising and listening became my forte and I soon became the agony aunt everyone sought.


Marriage, in-laws, kids and career posed new challenges along the way. Each was to be met and resolved firmly, positively and cheerfully. I had learnt the art of hiding my emotions. Displaying pain, disappointments, tears of anger, frustration or grief did not become me, hence had to be hidden. At some point I became a perfect pretender.


Then tragedy struck. I lost my husband. I could not cry. I found myself incapable of expressing the deep sorrow, fear and insecurity I felt. To people I appeared calm and composed. They called me brave.


Since then, funerals became even more difficult to attend. Fortunately, there weren't any of close friends or relatives, till that day in August 2000. My sister lost her elder son to militancy in Tamenlong. My nephew was a young, brave, promising officer in the Army. Just twenty-six, he was not only the apple of his parents' eyes but also the pride of the entire family.


I did not know how I was going to console my sister, and express the deep sense of personal loss I felt. Dry-eyed, I tried the best I could. It was not difficult as both she and her husband, faced it with a stiff upper lip. I wondered if they were going through the same inner turmoil I had experienced, at my own tragedy.


Their son had a martyr's funeral with full military honours. When the buglers had sounded the Last Post and the echo of the gun salute had faded away, the flag that had draped his coffin, was presented to his parents. In the deep silence that wrapped this poignant ceremony, we heard a broken voice saying--"We bear no ill-will against those who killed our son", as they accepted the national flag.


The quiet dignity in sharp contrast to their pain-wracked faces and haunted eyes, unlocked the door on years of pent up emotions and I felt the pinprick of tears, as they welled up and overflowed.


I cried.


Unashamed, unmindful of the onlookers, I was crying not only for them but also for myself. I had learnt at last to feel pain, sorrow, anguish and to express it without the feeling that I was a weakling.


In years of trying to be what my family thought of me, I had forgotten to be myself. By reaching out to my grieving sister and experiencing her pain, I came face to face with my true self and I was not ashamed. I came away putting to rest all my fears and misconceptions. Now I no longer shy away from the onerous task of offering solace to the bereaved, it is an art, which I have mastered.


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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan ...cont

The Things People Say


My friends and neighbours are wonderful people. But the most amazing thing about them is the way they provide moral support and understanding when something goes wrong. Their language on its part, conveys in full measure, all that they intend ( and don’t intend) to say. It isn’t the fault of the speaker or the language—Oh no! It’s just that they’ve been saying the same things for so long that they’re absolutely unaware of the shocking meanings or messages their well-intentioned words often impart.



For instance, take the day my son met with an accident and broke his left arm and had to undergo surgery. I heard things like...
“That’s good, it could have been worse.”
“Oh it’s the left hand, then it’s fine. If it were the right it would have been bad.”
I’m not sure what this person meant when he said,” Chalo bahut achcha hai. Now he will become a man.” ( come on it’s very good. Now he will........)


Of course I know they all meant well. There’s never been any doubt about that!


Then there were those well-wishers of mine who helped me through my post-operation days with gems like these.....
“Thank God it was only cervical cancer...”
“You’re so lucky, you have no more worries.” A rather short-sighted conclusion, I thought.



But the remarks that were truly bizarre were the ones spoken to comfort my sister who lost her son, a young Army officer. How does a bereaved mother react to....

“ It’s good you have two sons, one is left for you.”
“It’s good he died in action, now you’ll get a sizeable compensation.”
“It’s good he died before getting married....imagine how it would be....”

They were all friends and genuinely concerned, but they did not choose their words carefully, and came across as rather insensitive people.


I’m sure these are not isolated cases. Everywhere and all the time sympathy and empathy are conveyed in similar fashion. In an effort to encourage and pour out hope and comfort to the family people put not only a foot but both feet in their mouth. Call it faux pas or whatever you may, my friends will continue to flock around me in times of distress and need, with their support fortified with ill-placed words and phrases.



I’m not complaining. And I’m not expecting them to change because they just can’t. Their way of looking at things and expressing their grief may not be my way. They think they are being “positive” and would be hurt if any one even suggested that they were insensitive. They bring me loads of comfort wrapped in mis-placed vocabulary.......but who cares if their words aren’t in place when their hearts are!


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Friday, May 14, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan.....cont

Stolen Verses



My parents were poles apart and naturally had very different ways of remembering their courtship. It brings the much quoted line, “Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus” into sharp focus. Daddy's way would be teasing, humorous, sweet, loving. Mummy’s would be in extremely sharp contrast. She would recall all the old squabbles, grouses and peeves, then she’d pout, I imagine the same way she must have done a long time back. One of her major discontents emerged from an incident involving her book of poems that she gave Daddy, instead of the chocolates the other girls gave him.



In 1945, Daddy had got commissioned and was transferred from HMIS Llanstephen Castle to join Bombay as CCO. He was called Jimmy unofficially. This is where he met Peggy, a stenographer (WRINS)



When all Jimmy’s efforts to break the ice had failed, he gave up and left Peggy to her own world, which in the office was a small New Testament. Every minute of spare time would see the little book in her hands. She would devour every line and word. She was on the way to “being saved” as they say. However Peggy outside the office was another person! Anyway, Daddy was quite impressed by this and took note of her “good character” even though her “holy cow” act didn’t appeal to his macho image. In the mean time a particular Ms Cutting made her move and caught Daddy’s fancy. Although Peggy wouldn’t admit it, Ms Cutting had ignited a spark of jealousy and Peggy decided to show another side of herself to the boss.



One morning Daddy was surprised to find a diary in his desk drawer. It was Peggy’s offering to him. He was taken by surprise and as he read the beautiful verses she had written, he was impressed. Peggy had given him her heart and soul in that book of poems. If she thought that she had executed a coup she was mistaken. Ms Cutting had the boss’ total attention. Daddy thanked Peggy for allowing him to read it and returned it to her with a word of praise for her talent. Peggy was fuming. Country bumpkin, she thought to herself. Then decided to put it back on his desk, hoping the message would be clearer this time. The next day she was in early and the book was kept on his desk instead of in the drawer. She waited impatiently for Jimmy but he didn’t come in. She got up in a huff and walked across the room with the intention of taking back her precious book. Before she could reach the desk, Jimmy and Ms Cutting walked in.



“Good Morning Peggy,” said Jimmy and sat at his desk. “Did you want something?”


“Yes Sir...N..No Sir,” Peggy stuttered. Just as she was about to turn around and go back, Ms Cutting picked up the diary and flipped the pages.


“You write poetry too? How wonderful. I love poetry and I’m sure you’ve written this for me. Jimmy, this is for me right? This is the surprise you wanted to give me, isn’t it?”


Jimmy looked at Peggy. They stared at each other and the silence was ominous. Ms Cutting also glared at Peggy. Then the quiet was shattered as Jimmy said, “Yes of course, this is what I wanted to show you but it’s not...” Jimmy hesitated a moment then added, “it’s not yet typed out. I just wanted you to read it, that’s all.”


“It’s beautiful as it is in its original form. Thank you so much for the gift Jimmy. I’ll treasure it always.” Ms Cutting took the book with her as she walked out the door.


“Look I didn’t want to give it to her. I brought her here to show her your book. Why did you have to put it on my table right now? I just wanted her to read your verses. You write so well, Peggy.”


Peggy did not wait to hear his explanation. She was already back to her work.
The rest as they say is history. Jimmy took it upon himself to make up for his cowardice and “cheapness” in gaining brownie points from stolen verses. He even joined the Christian group Peggy had recently joined. He even got “saved.” Before long, Ms Cutting was out but not forgotten because Peggy was in and she never let Jimmy forget her or the stolen verses.



This incident became a joke with us kids, but for Mummy it wasn’t funny. She never accepted Daddy’s explanation for what transpired that day way back in 1945-46. Her argument being....


“You didn’t take the book back from her. You were more concerned about how she would feel. Why should I believe you?”


I would play devil’s advocate and side with her telling daddy that he was mean.


“I’m here so where’s the lie?” he would counter.


I’d nod my head wisely and ask mom what was her problem.


Yes, women are from Venus... They’re love personified with all the add-ons.....jealousy, possessiveness, martyrdom and phenomenal memories included. They never forget and don’t let you forget either.


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The Chile Diary Chapter 16

The Native Returns



Friday, 9th April, 2010.....It’s a cold, cold day today. To me it’s winter even though the Chilean calendar says it’s still Autumn. A chill wind, started to blow last night and it was mucho frio. I had hoped for a sunny day as I have promised to put mehndi on Gabriella’s hand. The cold has got to my back and one spot on the right is acting up. I’m resting it out and hopefully I’ll be able to keep my side of the promise.



Gabriella is a pretty, young and vivacious waitress working at Manchester. She knows a bit of English so we talk whenever she has a moment to spare. Yesterday she learned that I was from India and got all excited about henna art. It seems her grandfather is Arabic and he has given her some henna. I’m neither sure about the quality of the powder nor about how to apply mehndi with a wooden pen. In India we use a cone, which makes it easier to make the intricate designs. I’ve asked her to make a paste with a bit of lemon juice and sugar. Eucalyptus oil or any other essential oil is out of the question for her. In all probability it won’t be available or then too expensive. But it all depends on my back.



Last night Tintin found a beautiful apartment to shift into. It is on 4 Norte, very central to the shopping areas and the spot where the office cab picks them up. The most important thing it is on the first level. Second it is bigger in area than the present one, which is also spacious, and it falls cheaper too. Since I won’t be here when they move into the new place, I plan on seeing it before I leave. Back home in India this would be no problem, but here one has to fix up an appointment with the property dealer first. And woe to you if you don’t keep the appointment! So now it rests with the dealer and landlord.



On Sunday we have an invitation from my friend Roxana. They’re having an asado (barbecue) at home and we have been invited too. I’m looking forward to that.




12 April, Monday, 2010....The morning dawned grey and cold but the sun has put his hat on and is out now. Our lunch was fun even though it wasn’t an asado. I suppose it would have been more fun if we knew the language. Jokes can be made and understood better if not translated into another lingo. There were only two people who knew English, Gabriel and Raphael. Later in the evening we were joined by Gonzalo who also knows English, but he walloped down his food and got into the Table-tennis fray. Still, it was enjoyable. Roxana is such a warm hostess and there was nothing left wanting in her hospitality.



The food was made by her and the menu was... Mango sour with hot, freshly baked queso-olive empanadas for starters, Baked chicken with pineapple in a cheesy sauce, Beef pot roast, whole fried potatoes, fresh salad, Chilean pan (bread) washed down with a choice of Wine, Sprite or Orange juice. Dessert consisted of three ice-creams. Lunch was served in the patio which opens onto the lawn. Great ambience too!



Post lunch saw the guys getting into table-tennis matches, as we, the girls watched and cheered. Roxana kept a steady supply of cold drinks and iced water coming to the table. Thus ended our luncheon on Sunday. Back at the apartment there was no joie de vivre with Tintin and Manu as both got into their usual phone, serials, movies mode; making any kind of conversation unwelcome. So I watched some TV, then got myself occupied with turkey (pavo) empanadas. This entailed cooking the turkey mince which becomes the filling for the empanadas. Then I folded and sealed the empanadas, wrapped them in plastic wrap and stored them in the fridge, to be fried as and when desired. We were to go back to the GH, but Manu went to bed so I decided to stay the night here. Good decision as I get the advantage of the net.



Tomorrow morning I make one last visit to Roxana’s place. She has so sweetly offered to colour my hair before I leave. Honestly, none of my Indian friends or relatives has even offered to do it even when I wasn’t able to go to the parlour due to my back problems. I feel so nice and blessed with her friendship. That’s it for now. Have to post a thank you card to Roxana.



This brings me to the end of my Chile Diary. I fly out on the 14th of April. I know I’ll miss this beautiful city, despite the constant fears of tremors and quakes that I experienced. I’ll miss saying “como estas?” and replying, “Estoy bien.”

glossary

Mehndi...........henna. It is applied in intricate designs on hands, arms, feet and even as tattoos these days. This is a custom application on many festivals and an important tradition of Indian weddings, where the bride's arms, feet and calves are covered with finely executed patterns.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Chile Diary Chapter 15

Easter week and farewell parties


6th April, Tuesday, 2010......It’s been a while since I wrote anything....anything at all. Almost the entire Easter week went away in suspense. I was to leave Chile on the 3rd, as I have mentioned in one of my previous entries. Till Thursday evening we were still not very sure about my ticket. Then finally we were told that it couldn’t happen and now I’m looking at this weekend, probably Saturday, as my day of departure. So I wasn’t in the mood to recount much. Wednesday saw Manu and I doing a bit of shopping. Nothing much and I could hardly walk or stand. It wasn’t a very pleasant spree for me. We visited just one shop so that speaks for itself.


Thursday Tintin had an off, half of which he spent seeing to some of his pending work. Then in the afternoon we went to Lider to buy some things like essences and peppers, which I wanted to take back with me. From here we went to the mall across the street called Marina Arauco, checked out a few things I liked, then went to Ruby Tuesday for lunch. Fortunately they have Wi-Fi so I could check my mail too. I had a sumptuous meal starting with Thai Phoon Camarones (breaded shrimps, Thai style) followed with a Loaded Potato and fresh salad. A fresh strawberry-lemonade washed it down. While we were here there was a tremor (5+) but I didn’t feel a thing. I was blissfully oblivious of everything except the laptop and my blog and writing site. Actually I was feeling quite happy and calm, so I suppose it numbed my senses.



From here we retraced our way back to where I had found a couple of things I wanted to buy, picked them up and returned home. I enjoyed this day thoroughly. A farewell dinner had been planned by Tintin and Manu so they had invited Roxana and her family too for dinner. I rested at the guesthouse, in order to be better inclined physically and mentally to handle the evening.



Ranjit had left the choice of the restaurant to Roxana and she led us all the way to Valparaiso. A few yards from Pablo Neruda’s house stands a sea-food restaurant called Oda Pacifico, and this was our destination. I was disappointed by what I saw, and so were Manu and Tintin. It was a nondescript building, poor facade, and resembled one of the humble dwellings around it. (Valparaiso is made up of an economically weaker section of society)

“Yeh toh dhaba hai,” I whispered to Manu.

“I know,” she whispered back.



We would call it a dhaba in India. A dhaba is a wayside eating place. It’s simple and very basic. Usually these places are set up along highways and are frequented by travellers and truck drivers. Many dhabas have earned a name and permanent customers because of their excellent food. I couldn’t bring myself to accept that this was her best, but gave her the benefit by telling myself that probably the food was out-of-the-world kind.



The Manager welcomed us and led us through the pub at the front, passed the kitchen and pantry and what we found at the end of this tour took our breath away. There before us spread out in all its splendour was a restaurant with a splendid view of the city and port below. Awesome! Everything then on was fabulous. We thanked my friend profusely for her excellent choice. The food by Chilean standards was indeed great. But dessert outdid every ‘dulce’ experience we’d had till then. It was 1.00 am by the time we got home. Thursday was a resounding success and one of the rare days I have enjoyed so much in Vina.



Good Friday dawned bright and clear. Manu and Tintin were up unusually early......Oh no, the religious day had nothing to do with it; luncheon at home was the reason. I had invited Rekha and her family for lunch. Rekha and her husband were visiting their son who is a big boss in the company Ranjit works for. Since both Tintin and Manu declined my offer of help, in any form, I was left to my own devices, which weren’t many. But being me and finding ample number of bananas, enough sugar and vanilla at my disposal in the 3 Poniente dwelling, I got cracking.



My earlier plan, as conveyed to Tintin had been Caramel-bananas served with vanilla ice-cream. But he vetoed my culinary offering and announced that vanilla ice-creams weren’t available here. I didn’t believe him you know; how can a country that grows vanilla not have an ice-cream of the same flavour! But truth turns out stranger at times and I made the dessert despite all Tintin’s admonishing and well, he found vanilla ice-cream. I even pushed myself between the two cooks (Manu & Tintin) and made my famous sour-sweet green chillie dish! (khatti-meethi hari mirch)



Lunch again was finger-licking delicious with the superb butter-chicken Tintin makes, mixed vegetable, dal fry, khatti-meethi hari mirch, pudina chutney, raita, fried rice, chapattis followed by dessert. Palates were titillated enough by the delicious aromas, to work up ravenous appetites and we had great conversations too. Another very pleasant day went by. Saturday was an easy day. We ate Friday’s dinner for lunch, and still had quite a lot left over. At the food court where we had papa fritters for dinner, we found a willing party for Friday’s leftovers; A few Indian youngsters, who work at the same place as Tintin. Boy! Were we relieved!



Easter morning found me up early, fresh and keen to go out in the day, perhaps to visit one of the churches and say a prayer. It didn’t happen. We stayed in, and I nibbled on some marzipans, jujubs and Easter eggs made of chocolate...dark and white. In the evening I bamboozled Tintin to take me to the beach so I could at least say I’d been on the beach. Can you beat it, the beach has been lying there, five minutes from my door, since the day I came to the guesthouse on 3 Poniente 10 Norte, and I hadn’t even been there to gaze at it. Anyway, we clicked some pictures, peeked into the feria stalls, ate some cotton-candy; I got more on my face and hair and clothes than in my mouth. I washed it off with soda...yes ‘agua con gas’ as plain water isn’t available on the beach. We even bought a mathi like object, which did taste like a sweet mathi. It is called ‘palmyras’ and is made of refined flour, and rolled out into seven-inch roundels and fried. Then it is sweetened with palm syrup.



It was time for dinner and we drove around looking for parking space near the restaurant. We finally found a spot and it just happened to be in front of a showroom that was still open for business. Shopping is therapeutic and can always lift one’s spirit, if the shopping’s for you. And so it was. The showroom was selling Patagonia Argentina woollens. Talk about a good day...this was it. I’m sure I was tired when I walked in but quite the uplifted one when I walked out. Our dinner at Delicias Del Mar added the cherry. Now we were absolutely ready for home, as Monday loomed large after the long weekend.



Glossary

Dulce.............sweet

Dal...............lentil made with spices and a typical (spluttering)seasoning

Khatti-meethi...........sour-sweet

hari mirchi.............green chillie

Raita.................yogurt mixed with anything one chooses to add.....could be cucumber, boiled potatoes or just onions and tomatoes, even fruit. With a sprinkle of salt and some Indian seasoning.

Mathi............a crisp fried savory. Sweet ones are made on particular festivals.

Chappati.........Tortilla kind of flat bread, made of whole wheat flour.

Pudina chutney........fresh mint ground into a chutney.


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