Comfort food in Russia?

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Harmit ( my brother’s) magic… reminiscent of paintings in the book

“So papa where all did you go in Russia?” a question, I had asked him many times, but had never really gotten a proper answer. I grew up listening to my father’s first ever work related trip to Russia. He traveled to many other countries after that, to Nigeria, England, Germany, Indonesia, South Korea for work, and finally the USA to visit me. But Russia remained close to his heart.
Continue reading “Comfort food in Russia?”

Meera Aunty

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Meera Aunty with a steaming cup of coffee

It was a lazy afternoon, during our summer holidays, I hopped over to our neighbor Meera Aunty’s house as usual, opening the gate, I went in and rang the door bell. Nobody opened the door. I hung around for a bit, went over to her little garden of beautiful flowers – purple sweet williams and magenta zinnias were nodding to the breeze, right beside the huge papaya tree. Continue reading “Meera Aunty”

Rays of the sun merge with the sun

 

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A rare picture of my brother with me and my mother

It has been a whole year, since she has been gone; I feel a strange sense of calmness today. Isn’t she the one who had told me Shraddhs [ritual performed to pay homage to one’s dead parents] are not required, the essential thing is to remember our Creator, the Creator of this beautiful universe at all times. Continue reading “Rays of the sun merge with the sun”

O for Oota ( food)

O is for “Ordinary”. Yes Ordinary is regular, mundane and then special too.. and Ordinary is “Oota” ( food in Kannada) …actually the only greeting I know that is related to food in the world ” Oota aayita” (had your food) is actually an Ordinary greeting like “How are you?” Often times complete strangers on the streets in Bangalore are bound to ask you, “Oota aayita”? I am often tempted to say , “illa” ( No) , but have always nodded my head and Ordinarily said, ” Howdo” ( Yes)……

The Blogging: A-Z challenge is available every April to all bloggers. My blogger friend Arti – http://www.artismoments.blogspot.com, did it last year and is doing it again, this year too. I have been enjoying her blog posts. She came up with pretty interesting ones, related to our childhood days in India. Her posts on  L for Laundry, M for Maid, N for Naada were spot on! Then, while I was musing about “O”, I found my Oota  (food in Kannada) and decided to write about it. While, Arti found “O’ for Ordinary. Oota is a part of our Ordinary lives, it was perhaps the second word I learned in Kannada, the local language of Bangalore in Karnataka – a southern state in India. My first one being ” Gothilla”( don’t know). As a four-year-old going to school in Bangalore, I was taught by my mother to shake my head and say “Kannada Gothilla” (can’t speak Kannada), whenever anyone, be it the aaya ( caretaker) or any of my classmates talked to me in Kannada. And then, Oota was the second word that I learned!

During lunch recess, nobody left the classroom, as all the kids settled on the long benches to eat. A lot of my classmates and adults would touch their lips with their right hand – all fingers and thumbs enclosed together, as they asked “Oota Maadthiya?” ( Will you eat your lunch). There was plethora of food that looked nothing like mine, as they opened shiny steel tiffin carriers and dove into their food, that was mostly rice based, yellow rice with peanuts , plain rice with some kind of daal(lentil dish), rice blended in with yoghurt and green grapes. What more? Most of the food was steaming hot, especially when it was brought in by mothers walking in during lunch time to feed their children.  I watched them, while sitting in a corner and eating my roti-sabzi. (flat bread with veggies).

One day, I was excited to see two girls eating halva (pudding made with flour), now that was familiar. As I tried to get a closer look, I heard them talking in Hindi, a familiar language, but they were lost in their own world, laughing, talking, shaking the bench, while scooping the buttery pudding into their mouths with rather largish spoons. I would narrate the day-to-day happenings to my mom every evening, but she always seemed busy, lost in some “Oota project or the other.” Either she was baking a cake or making tomato ketchup or roasting flour in ghee to make some kind of dessert. She wasn’t impressed with the moms that walked to school with hot lunches for their kids. “They live close to the school and we don’t”, she said rather dismissively. Here, I was thinking of how she could sometimes, drive to school to deliver hot lunch. After all, she had the car on the days that my father carpooled to work with his colleague.

After Oota it was Aata (play) although Aata means wheat dough in Punjabi (my mother tongue), it wasn’t hard to understand. Here again, I the new kid, who had joined the UKG (Upper Kindergarten) halfway through the school term, was content to sit and watch my classmates run around as they played tag or hide-and-seek in the classroom. I was getting familiar with some names, that I heard again and again – Ranga, Meena, Malini. Meena was the tallest girl, she was always the engine of a long train, made up of many girls holding on to each other’s skirts as she gave instructions in Kannada, all the girls seem to understand her as they followed her around, I could tell she enjoyed being in-charge.

Ranga was a short boy, who was prone to tripping over the long benches in the classroom, his knees and elbows were full of little cuts and scrapes but he and many other boys/girls endured them for the sake of the game. Occasionally, a girl or a boy would bawl and make a big deal about their cut, especially if there was blood, but it didn’t take long for him/her to amble along after a while, as if nothing had happened. If they were lucky, the aaya( caretaker) would put a few drops Dettol on a piece of cotton and apply it on the “bleeding cut”, accompanied by soothing, empathetic sounds of “ayay ooo…paaapaaa.” Paapaa in Kannada was an endearing way to say, “you poor little sufferer” or another way of addressing a baby or toddlers. A little confusing at first, considering I had a Papa at home who was always rushing to office for work, but I soon got the hang of it!

Traditional Oota

It took me a few years to realize that a proper oota is actually a balanced meal with as many as 10 to 15 varieties of  items consisting of Sambhar (spicy version of daal),  Rasam (tangier and more watery version of Sambhar), crisp veggies, chutneys and yoghurt with with oodles of rice in the middle, served on a banana leaf. It was a standard way of eating at weddings and celebrations at people’s houses. My father, especially enjoyed the real “oota”, as he would joyfully remark,”eh log payt tha bada khayal rakhde ne” (They actually care for your stomach, as the meals are light) , obviously comparing them to the food doled out at Punjabi weddings in the North, where the food is always rich, heavy and laden with milk, cream, fat and paneer ( homemade cheese). Mummy would solemnly add, especially when talking to our relatives ( who lived in Delhi), ” Saade taa khila khila ke bura haal kar dinde ne” ( In our celebrations in the north, they insist on over-feeding you). “You can easily attend 3 – 4 South Indian celebrations in a day, but when it comes to North Indian celebrations, just one is enough to keep you full for that entire day and even two days later”, was another slogan they both enjoyed repeating.

Our  Punjabi meals  at home, called Roti-shoti ( Flat bread-etc. ) were usually light, as my parents were very health conscious, less oil in the veggies, no deep frying unless there are guests. While, we had the humble roti ( whole wheat bread cooked on the griddle) for our daily meals, the guests got pooris ( deep fried bread) and pakoras ( deep fried veggie fritters). As a seven year old, I would sneak over to my favorite neighbor, Meera aunty’s house for their rice and tangy sambhar for lunch, while Ganesh their son loved to have roti with veggies at our house. He spent more time at our house than anyone else’s in the neighborhood.   Meera Aunty spoke tamil at home, as her family was from the state of Tamilnadu. So Sapaat  meant meals, and Sapd meant eat. I learned that and a lot more words in Tamil, rather quickly.

The Shastrys lived in the rental below ours, they spoke Telegu, another language from the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh, they loved their red hot chilly peppers and pickles mixed in with rice and spoonful of melted butter in their Bhojanam (food). Shastry Aunty was very strict, she was either beating up her four-year-old daughter Taruna, usually for not getting 100/100 in her Math test at school, or yelling “Kot es tannu”( I will beat you). So I was scared of her, I only went to their house, when there weren’t other kids around to play with or I was truly bored to death.

The Singhs who lived in the rental above Meera Aunty, spoke a different kind of  Hindi( India’s national language) called Hyderabadi – Hindi, all their sentences ended with an additional sound of “U or “O.” The  Singh sisters Soni and Bindu were proud of their Rajput ( warrior clan) heritage, plus they had a lot of nice dolls to play with. Their language was very easy for me to understand, as it was similar to Punjabi. ” Khaana Khaatu?” ( Eating meals), usually involved, Gosht (lamb chunks) – the only meat-eaters in our vegetarian neighborhood. My father brought in fish once in six months or so, but my mother could not get herself to touch it, so our maid who had the longest nails, filled to the brim with dirt ended up cooking the fish for us (my father, brother and me). One day, my brother saw the fish in the fridge and yelled out in disgust, “What are these little dead bodies doing her?” Well!  that signaled the end of the my dad’s “semi-annual fish buying spree.”

My mother got busy with her next oota project, learning how to make the local Dosa ( crepes) and Idli (steamed rice cakes), with the batter being ground by using the hand-driven stone mill, as known as wet grinder. Back then, almost every kitchen in Bangalore had the grinder as a centerpiece, ours was no exception!! My mom used that special “hand grinding mill” for at least five-six years, before she started using her trusty mixie (blender).

Be it Oota, Roti-Shoti, Khaana, Bhojanam or Sapaat, Food make our lives interesting. Nothing like Oota to bring people together and what better of way of taking care of folks other than by asking “Oota Maadtiya?” (will you have food?)  before greeting/asking them “Oota Ayitha?” ( Had your food? – How are you? )

A Foot here and a foot there!

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Snowshoeing at McDonald pass – near Helena
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Glass house -Lalbagh in Bangalore

The other day, I was dropping my son off to school. Here, I was waiting for the car ahead of me to move, and that car in turn was waiting for me to leave. This was in complete contrast to Bangalore, India – where I had just returned from, a few days ago. In Bangalore, honking rules, traffic chaos are the order of the day, and going the wrong way on a one-way is the norm. You deserve to be trampled by almost any vehicle, if you dare cross a road on foot. No wonder! my mother felt people in Helena were very nice, because they waited in their cars patiently with a smile, as she slowly crossed the road! She wouldn’t even dream of crossing a road in Bangalore!

To think of it, there was a time when Bangalore was mellow with lesser traffic and more trees and happy people. In the mid 70s, our family comprising my parents, brother and me, had just moved to Bangalore from another state called Bihar in India and it had felt like we had moved to another country altogether. My father could speak four languages Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English and yet, my earliest memory is of him using his fingers to buy bananas, and bargain with a good measure of hand signals and head nodding. How different are the languages from state to state? Well very different, the script is different, the grammar is different, the words are different, the pronunciation is different and off course the food, the culture and religions could be different too!

Punjabi has been spoken in both my parents’ homes for five generations or more, so like other indians, my parents have continued the lingual and cultural tradition of a Sikh-Punjabi at home. Actually, all of our immediate neighbors were from different states in India, so as a five year old, who enjoyed spending time in their houses, I learned to speak a few phrases in their languages, while enjoying their food. Thanks to my daily conversations with our maid, I could speak Kannada too! My favorite line was “Lets beat your yejmanroo ( husband) with a kuchi ( stick). As her yejamanroo was the reason she sobbed almost everyday.

My parents couldn’t speak Kannada, the primary language of Bangalore, so as a six year old, I became the Kannada – spokesperson of our house. I accompanied my mother to the vegetable market, usually bargained back and forth between my mother and the grocer, but never to my mother’s satisfaction. If I refused to talk to the big burly tomato seller, she reprimanded me “for being meek and cowardly”. She preferred a hindi-speaking grocers, so she could bargain herself, but then they didn’t always have what she wanted.

If the maid did not show up for work it was my job to interrogate her when she returned! My mom would want to know why she had skipped work. “Jwara” (fever) the maid would sigh! “She is lying, must have gone to watch the latest movie! Anyway if she had come, I would have taken her to the doctor”, my mother would retort angrily. Being the only one, who actually understood the exchange, I embellished, so as to soften my mother’s harshness, towards Parvati – our maid, it made me feel good!

The Guhas, our new neighbours from the state of Bengal, came over to our house for a visit. “Bangalore kaisa lag raha?” (How does Bangalore feel), my father asked in Hindi. “ Bahut Accha!” (Very good), replied Mr Guha, nodding his head. Mrs Guha was happy that she could talk to the milkman in English, as he politely greeted her with a Hello and a How do you do? When in fact , that poor guy was only saying “Halloo”, which means “Milk” and “Howdo” which means “Yes” in Kannada! Often times, a random person on the street would ask “oota aayitha!” “Had your meal?” a common way of greeting people in Bangalore.

Would I still want to live there, after having lived and raised my boys in the United States for almost 20 years? Yes!! It is a city, where multitude languages are spoken, where different accents are a way of life, where your name being mispronounced is common place, where everyday is a festival for some family belonging to some region of India. While, there is a sense of comfort & joy in connecting with people who speak the same language as you, there is also a sense of unity in diversity as people converse across languages, by using common keywords, replete with hand movements and head shaking. Our family (me, my husband and the boys) has visited India almost every summer, this year I have already been to Bangalore thrice!!!

Yet when I return to Helena, our home for the past eight years, that feeling of warmth embraces me, as I see familiar faces and smiles everywhere. When I hike on the trails here, with the cool, crisp breeze touching my face, and the beautiful mountains in the background, it feels like heaven!!! As a family, we enjoy hiking together, then maybe walk to the downtown area to watch a movie or a concert, followed by a walk back home in the dark. Did I not dream of living in a place like this all my life? I have spent a lot of time comparing the two cities in the two different continents, But, if I allow both the places and the people to surround me in their beauty, caring and sharing. The boundary between the continents and countries feels like a blur, that doesn’t need to exist.

Finally I am at peace with a foot here in Helena and another foot there in Bangalore!

 

Howling winds & Nightmares

I open my eyes and stare at the question paper one more time. The subject title says “Physics”, as I look around in a daze, only to realize, that I had gone to sleep while answering an exam paper. I peek into my neighbor, Sakira’s paper and she is circling question no. 40, here I haven’t even read the first question. I read question no. 40 and realize it is futile to even attempt answering it. I read the next one, and it seems more like a History exam as the question goes, ” Which kingdom was attacked by the aliens in 1882?”

I stare blankly at the next question, which is just as vague, and then I actually wake up. It is 10:00 AM in the morning. I had overslept! As I start getting ready for the day, I muse over exams and how they chewed away a huge chunk of my life. They continue to scare me even after 25 years of my last one. I realized their importance, as a first grader, when my parents quizzed me repeatedly on the “potential exam questions”. My father always sharpened a dozen pencils, filled my fountain pens with ink and dropped me to school/college an hour before “the exam.” I didn’t take a bus to school that day, so that way, I was fresh and well prepared for my written exam.

Every Friday, we had exams, sweetly labeled “Prep tests” then Terminal exams every three months, followed by the dreaded “Final exams.” After finals, were celebrations and jubilations galore among us students. The exams kept getting drearier and scarier every year as we kept climbing the ladder of grades, but I had to prepare harder and do well as my entire future and career depended on them. Doing well, helped me become a computer engineer, even if it wasn’t something I actually wanted!

Back when I was eight years old I was worried about strange people peeking into my bedroom window. It was a strange house we lived in, it had an open staircase with no gate, just about anybody on the street could walk up the staircase and land up in the balcony of our house that wrapped around my bedroom window.

Whenever the strong winds and rain made a tapping sound on the window, I was scared! The nightly shrill whistles and the merciless beating of the street with a stick followed by yells of “Jaagte Raho!” (Stay awake!) by our friendly neighborhood watchman, only stirred my imagination further! Who was he trying to yell at? The thieves, the hapless folks like myself or simply trying to keep himself awake. Sometimes, I imagined all sorts of thieves running up the staircase and peeking through my window as I tried to sleep, and other times I imagined the watchman peeking through the window looking for thieves. All this make-believe only made my heart beat faster and body shiver as I hid under the blanket, trying really hard to go to sleep.

Lovingly known as chowkidaar, the watchman was a timid guy in his late 50s, barely 5 feet tall, who went door to door the first Sunday of every month, asking for his salary of one Rupee from everybody with a big broad smile? “How does he survive on such little money?” I would ask my dad? “He will be fine, because everybody in the neighborhood gives him money”, he said. But, I knew of people, who gave him only 25 paise (a quarter) or not even that! I felt sad for him, but found it unbelievable, that he could become such a huge presence at night!

Even then, there were some nights, when the entire neighborhood woke up to garbage dumped on the floor in the back porch – as our garbage bins had been stolen, or water running relentlessly in the back porch – as our metal faucets had been stolen. Our back porches, where the maids washed dishes and clothes were open to intrusion. All it required was a jump over the 3 foot high, boundary wall. Naturally, everyone directed their fury on the poor chowkidaar. It also meant no salary for him, that month. My mother rebuked him when he came, “What is the use of you walking on the streets, when the thieves are running amock, stealing stuff from everywhere?” He merely nodded his head and tried to smile.

As if the howling winds and the Chowkidaar’s nightly walks weren’t enough, our neighborhood in Jayanagar, Bangalore, now had the added attraction of a liquor store, right next door. Men in drunken stupor often screamed and shouted late at night. Often times, they were found sleeping in front of our house right by the dreaded staircase in the morning! It only made sleeping harder for me as I now had visions of drunk men loitering around our balcony! So I wound up in my parent’s bedroom, sometimes walking in my sleep. I felt so much better, when my father had time to put me to sleep with a story, or rubbed Amrunthanjan – a strong smelling balm on my forehead, so forcefully, that it hurt, but somehow it was soothing at the same time and it was easy to fall asleep.

As I get older, the nightmares continue, even though I live in another house in another country; sometimes I am being chased by people, sometimes I find myself asleep in the middle of an important exam, and at other times the howling wind is actually tapping on the roof in the middle of the night, it all reminds me of that familiar, not so nice feeling of somebody mysterious out there. But I know my father is with me, I feel his comforting presence as I lull myself back to sleep…

 

 

 

Grand arrival of the Television

.There was a heated discussion going on at home, after all it was an important issue. An issue close to our hearts, a Television set. We (my mother, my brother and me) had our hearts set on watching the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics on a color TV set at home. After all our neighbors had one! We could hear the movie songs and the dialogs, and desperately wanted to have a TV set of our own. We lived in Bangalore, where – the people were quieter and calmer, unlike Delhi, where everyone spoke loudly and all at the same time.

Continue reading “Grand arrival of the Television”

Boot Camp Anyone?

Me and a mile run… never! It is too boring and too exhausting… I haven’t done it in ages, but I was convinced I could do it the other day, after all I was in a fitness boot camp. My trainer jogged slowly with me every step of the way, quietly instructing me to keep an even pace, even stride and a rhythm. He had a backpack on him filled with bananas and water, just in case I need energy. I took a short water break or two, but surprised myself by finishing the mile run in 12 minutes 0r was it 13.

Just before I could rejoice, my boot camp trainer asked me how I was feeling? I answered, “Great!!!”, with a lot of enthusiasm. ” Oh! good, he said, “Now can you run up that hill”, pointing to a trail that went into the woods. Willing to give it a try, I manage to run up about 30 steps before huffing and puffing my way up there, followed by a hike of about 2 miles. I was beginning to enjoy the hike, when he asked me if I could run downhill, but at an even pace. I tried that too.

“Ok now, lets see you do a 100 meter dash”, he said. I ran fast, but not as fast as I could, so I ran another 100 meter dash in 29 seconds or was it 39 seconds, can’t remember. Then we walked home. I was ready for lunch! “Let’s do some stretching now” he said softly. Now that is a good idea, I thought, a good amount of stretching to round of the activity for the day and before lunch.

“Now can you get out of the window and climb a ladder”, my trainer said, in a very matter of fact manner. Before I could feel triumphant about having done it, I was asked to climb a tree. “I can’t”, I said, hoping he would give up on that idea. But he wouldn’t budge, “Can you hold on to a branch?”, he asked.  ” I can, is that enough?” I wanted to know. “Now try  to move your legs, wrap them round the tree trunk.”  I could barely hold on for five seconds.  “Now that is a fun way to improve your upper body strength”, he said. I nodded in agreement.

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The path of my one mile run……..

I learned a lot that day –  how to use deep breathing while running, short even strides, long even strides and the control over the downhill terrain. All thanks to my awesome trainer!

Just when I was thinking of making a sandwich for lunch, he mentioned that he was in the mood for crepes. And that meant – a three mile bike ride to the Creperie! The crepes were absolutely delicious. Anything is bound to taste a lot  better, if you have worked hard enough. Then we walked to the library and back, which felt like an absolute breeze. Though, the bike-ride back home was a bit more strenuous, I was happy to have the company of my cheerful trainer who was making sure that I was using the bike gears properly.

Only yesterday, my wonderful trainer had taken us (my husband & me) on a eight mile uphill hike through the mountains, a long roundabout way to the movie theatre to see the movie “Finding  Dory”, just a fun way to get to the theatre. And the movie felt extra special, even though, we had barely managed to reach on time. As the young guy had enthusiastically led us across 4 -5  trails.. How much longer?” I had asked. Then after another five minutes, I had wanted to know if the trail ahead was shady, as I had slowly trudged along uphill sipping water.

About ten  to twelve years ago,  when we hiked together, our boys would ask”Are we there yet?” or express their boredom. Then we parents would try to make it exciting for them by singing together or sharing stories. Soon enough, hiking together had become a family affair. Now, that my 15 year old spends 3 – 5 hours running on different trails, there is a complete role reversal.

He is my fitness trainer now! Firm and gentle at the same time, he knows how to make me (or anyone) perform difficult tasks with a big smile on his face. So anybody interested in joining his boot camp?

 

Not so little guy enjoying Rhubarb juice…….

Now……………….&…………..Then 

10 awesome tips & tricks for everyday living

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  • Try to jog 10 times everyday day for 10 minutes…
  • Jogging on empty stomach improves metabolism.
  • Doing Yoga in the middle of the night improves blood circulation.
  • Exposure to Moonlight has more benefits than Sunlight.
  • Night air helps heal body pain.
  • Walking around with your eyes closed is better than sleeping.
  • Singing in the rain helps improve the quality of your voice.
  • Standing on one foot all day can improve your balance, as long as you switch your feet on alternate days.
  • Arguing loudly with your co-workers is actually a form of healthy release of emotions.
  • Doing 10 sit-ups during business meetings actually improves the outcome and body posture.

 

 

 

Inspired by looking at random covers of the  Cosmopolitan magazine! These tips are for laughs only...Were they actually they believable?

 

Chronic Town

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