Monday, December 13, 2010

Rants from the kitchen

With all the interesting food blogs doing the rounds, I find myself quite incompetent at the present time, lost in a sea of tempting recipes. I am marooned in a studio suite of Marriott which marks the fourth of such stays in this year. In conclusion, I am the quintessential nomad, one who not only lives in five different places in a year, but also has to manage to spread tolerable meals in five different kitchens, fumbling her way across cupboards and dishwashers. Such is the plight of being a trailing spouse!

Now, many on the other side of the grass (and mine is NOT green for the umpteenth time!!) believe this is a privilege - hotel life and hence the luxury of thriving on delivered food. But believe me, all that indulgence lasts well for a week at the most. Then begins the craving for simple home cooked meals. Even the most delectable chicken biryani from the local Indian restaurant becomes tiresome after four shameless visits in a row. And this time it is New Jersey - the Little India of Amrika. We have been on a gluttonous rampage with the Chandni Chowk styled parathas, the Chettinad curries, the chicken puffs and the vada pav. But after a fortnight of almost a crazy eating spree, even Sam, the foodie has begun whining for simpler fares, ones that are made with love and served with care.

My friend and fellow blogger, Somdatta, has recently written a beautiful post on comfort food, which for us eastern Indians is the ubiquitous rice-dal-mashed boiled potato with raw onion, green chilies and a swirl of mustard oil. It is the ultimate soul food and no amount of fish or chicken can supplant the emotion that this classic combo evokes. Thinking on the lines of comfort food, I wonder what happens to one who thrives for almost a month on this comfort food? Like we have been, for it is difficult to throw lavish spreads here, in this supposedly "fully equipped" kitchen which is a mere renovated hole with sleek gadgets. I miss my comfort zone, aka my compatible bamboo chopping board and santoku knife pair, the oh-so-convenient non-stick pots on which you can stir, saute, fry and frizzle the world. Mostly, it is the unique feeling of that space called 'my kitchen'. The maximum I can whip up here is a chicken or a prawn curry, because try anything less runny and it just sticks to the stainless steel surface of the pot. At times I manage a trick biryani, minus the layering and the classic Hyderabadi touch.

I miss the whole paraphernalia, the baking and experimenting, what Sam mockingly calls "lurking in the kitchen". Cooking is a major cathartic vent for me when my inner demons just melt away into the embalming aroma of spices. Isn't is pathetic when one misses one's own cooking? Even if it is the humble dalma (an Odiya delicacy made with dal and vegetables), for which a pressure cooker is a must.
So much for the fully equipped kitchens!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A tree story

I pout and preen in my blossomy sheen

I swing and dance in a greenish trance

I'm the perfect coy mistress in my golden autumn dress

I shiver and sigh when the winds are high

Cold and lonely I stand, dreaming of a happy summery land

Monday, December 6, 2010

In Ashima's shoes

"For being a foreigner Ashima is beginning to realise, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy - a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts."
~ Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

Seven winters back when I had first read The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri's heartrending tale, it had stirred and brewed a little storm inside me. Since then I have gone back to it, in chunks and bits, like a fate-worn lover who has to return to the memories, living and losing at the same time. The love affair continues, only this time I am one of them from the pages. Ashima - a demure Bengali woman born in Calcutta, brought up amidst a fierce sense of culture and draped in unpretentious tangail sarees. She marries Ashoke, an engineering student at MIT and accompanies him for a new life to America - "the land of opportunities".

Ashima's life in the States is shaped out of many realities - the regular calls to Fulton fish market in the hope of a lucky catch of rohu or ilish, the much dreaded driving lessons when she would cringe her face and push the accelerator uneasily which would result in a beeline of traffic honking impatiently behind her, the mounting vexation during the customer care calls when she has to spell every single alphabet of 'Ganguli' unfailingly and with examples. Prior to my life as a foreigner, this futile yet continuous search of one's identity and the reluctant unraveling of oneself to blend in, both physically and mentally, had not been this huge a part of me. Now I, too, am ashima - one who does not have boundaries - for one simply cannot afford any in the desperate confusion of the old and the new.

My solidarity with Ashima transgresses the boundaries of age and experience. A surge of tender pity grips me when anxious and alone in the final trimester of pregnancy she craves for jhaal muri (an East Indian snack of puffed rice and spices) and quite helplessly tosses chopped onions into a bowl of Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts. There was not much choice for an Indian's culinary comforts in the America of the 70s. Ashima's most intimidating task, more so because she wears her Indianness with aplomb, is to understand and accept the American ways of her children who are themselves trapped in a huge chasm of cultural mores. How much could one fight one's way out of the linguistic and cultural barriers back then?

Even after a good thirty years nothing much has changed. Foodwise, yes, a lot has. With the mushrooming of Indian grocery stores and restaurants in almost every corner of the States, pleasing one's taste buds isn't a questionable dream anymore. Also, what was once the struggle for existence has undergone a vast change over the last twenty years resulting in an unbecoming vanity fair. But the old haunting feeling of rootlessness sits still in the same dusty corner of the heart. Festivals come and go, seasons spring and fall, but the ache remains. I have been walking in Ashima's shoes for the past three years, across six states and on a multitude of roads. With each step the bite has become worse, fanning the sore of longing till the wound feels like a second skin. And thus another day breaks, impregnated with a perpetual unknown wait...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Aadatein bhi ajeeb hoti hein!

Saans lena bhi kaisi aadat hai
Jiye jaana bhi kya ravaayat hai
Koi aahat nahi badan mein kahin
Koi saya nahi hai aankhon mein
Paaon be-his hein, chalte jaate hein
Ek safar mein jo behta rehta hai
Kitne barson se kitne sadiyon se
Jiye jaate hein, jiye jaate hein...

Aadatein bhi ajeeb hoti hein!

~ Gulzar

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November, faithfully yours

It is a beautiful, very beautiful yet desolate November afternoon. The dramatic melange of the pristine, white snow and the blood red winter-berries makes my heart melt. Despite the absence of the sun. Despite the want of warmth.
There is something contagiously ominous about joblessness. First, you scream bloody murder for every lost opportunity of glory. Second, slowly but steadily self-pity replaces self-respect. Not to forget the all and sundry's opinion of you as the sole person inhabiting planet Earth living an idyllic life, where everyday is a Sunday. Then certain expectations from distant quarters of the globe just crawl their way into your space, that carefully constructed comfort zone of absolute anarchy. Of course, the last nail in the coffin is the obnoxious label - 'jobless'. And the rest of the regrets just follow, one after the other, like a continuous line of resolute ants.

Lately, I have been at my wits end for no particular reason, except for a bunch of unsolicited destinies that have tumbled down my way. Perhaps we all tread this autumnal path, only some must endure it for a longer period. We drift along with the tides unwarily and attach ourselves to a whole new existence, one that must always walk as a shadow behind us. There is a tacit beauty in namelessness, in the terrible truths that certain revelations carry. They ensnare you in a world where one is left with very little of one's own, except for a futile bunch of 'what ifs' and the obvious layer by layer of emotional corrosion.

Words have always comforted me during such moments of utter despair, both the spoken and the written form. They work like an emollient on my fractured hopes. But of late, each time I have tried to give voice to my woes, (and mind you, I choose my people well) the content as well as the context just melt away into a clumsy - "Oh, I'm good. And you?" The moment I try to scribble something sane they disappear, back into the riotous corridors of my mind. I have realised my vulnerability, that arrant disappointment that crushes you when you have a whole kingdom of raging thoughts inside that just refuse to cascade out. And by the time I am done unhinging them, there is an impatient nascent batch waiting to join the pandemonium.

I have been struggling to keep up to the one promise that I had quite nonchalantly made to myself on the day I had created this blog - to at least publish one tolerable post every month. Now, howsoever perfect a procrastinator I might be, this is one thing that I have tried to stick to in spite of my reputation. In spite of the fact that promises are darn fragile.

November, faithfully yours.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Forgotten blossoms

This trifle of a post springs from an assignment where we were asked to compose our own little stories in a true Austenesque style. No matter how we fared, the exercise surely brought forth the novelist in all of us!

She stopped to smell the wilted flowers on her way and wondered what it would be like to drown in their nostalgic scent, to be able to hope, live and laugh again. If only she could feel the throb of that once ticklish ache of life in the fragile petals. Couldn't she, of all people, understand beauty anymore?
She had wiled away many a summer on this river bank, lying under the spread of an azure sky, breathing in the verdure as the elfish clouds fluttered past her languid gaze. When she was a wild child, she would wear a straggly crown of these very flowers and dance under a pagan sun, one that did not judge her every carefree step. These flowers, must have been their scores of ancestors then, had been her mainstay to reconnect with life and faith. They had been her moral that guided her back to a fearless world where she could stand undaunted by the demons of society, and a few others that lived in the lair of her own soul. What happened to them, the lessons that she had learnt and spurned alike?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Vermont, where nature speaks in colours

Lately it has been raining uncertainties for us and each time we would think of a serene getaway to assuage our rattled nerves, life would happen. To cut a long story short, we were in desperate need of a break. Since the summers and in between the nagging disquiet, I had nurtured countless dreams of a picturesque North American autumn (somehow, I prefer the poetic 'autumn' to the bland 'fall'), the kind that we come across in glossy photographic magazines. A trip to New England was always on the cards but we had often found ourselves at crossroads when it came to pick one of the six equally breathtaking states. Since the time was autumn, New Hampshire or Vermont ruled the gamble, and ultimately Vermont it was. So there we were, up in the air one cloudy afternoon, exclaiming at the jaw-dropping aerial view - stretch after stretch of red, like the unfurling and fluttering of a giant mass of red cloth. Beaming with happiness at so surreal a sight, we realised it was only the start of a humdinger of a vacation.

A snug little log cabin awaited us, nestled in the lap of mountains overlooking a little wooded pond. Every single arrangement befitted my fancies - red Adirondack chairs in the patio, vintage floral curtains, unlimited solitude and most importantly the "there's a jungle out there" feel. But we should have foreseen the jinxing of a situation so beguilingly perfect and blissful. Mother Nature, like always, had a mood of her own. It rained intermittently on the first day, like a curse, with a vengeance. But the resolute leafpeepers braved it anyhow! For this was a break that seldom comes twice in a person's lifetime, and what's more, we were spot on time for the elusive peak - the time when the leaves pompously display their best colours. Autumn was in the air- cool and crisp. Being the quintessential maple land, one can see the roads and lanes thronged with flaming maple trees that appeared to be on a feisty, full-throated song. Never had I seen so rich a palette - yellow, orange, red, rust, mauve, gold; nor could I understand the divine magic of the same leaf turning so many brilliant shades one after the other, in just a fortnight's time.

The quaint countryside with its little country stores, verdant hillocks, grazing cattle and weathered barns contributed to my perfect autumn idyll. I was brimming with emotions of one who loves to be far from the madding crowd, feasting on the virgin beauty of nature and relishing country delights like maple candies and syrup soaked pancakes. The remnants of a deep-rooted English tradition - red telephone booths, old English inns, bleached white rectories, and gastropubs named 'Mr Pickwick's, It's a Dickens of a place' - was quite inescapable to my Anglophile's eye. It seemed as if a chunk of England has glided across the Atlantic and has pieced itself to the most charming pocket of North America.
The Green Mountains that garland the northeastern territory of the state are a vast expanse of sheer delight - lush greenery and charcoal black crests veiled with mist. Our inn keeper had assured us that rains make the colours sparkle, and he couldn't have been more right. For the wet leaves not only sparkled, they spoke. After a day of incessant rains, the sun burst forth in nooks and corners highlighting a resplendent blanket of mellow tones. Like us, there were several others who were in quest of that little patch of blue sky and at the end were fairly rewarded. The sun peeped in and out of the stubborn clouds throwing a ray or two on the faraway mosaic mountains, giving the landscape a dramatic edge. The warm rays piercing the mist shrouded mountains gave the impression of one being in a futile battle to win against all odds.

There is a lot more on the tourism platter of Vermont like apple cider mills, sugarhouses (where they make maple syrup) and vintage covered bridges. The spectacular covered bridges that symbolise a fine melange of architectural beauty and history are a treat for the historians and photographers alike. These completely wooden bridges that date back to the nineteenth century were meant for accommodating a single lane traffic, mostly horse carriages. Due to their sturdy roof and enclosed sides they still hold good in spite of the continuing damage from rain and snow. We stopped by one of the bridges to bask in the tranquility of its surroundings. It felt like the moment had frozen into timelessness, echoing a hundred tales from the past - the monotonous clopping of hooves, the creaking of wood under the weight of the hurried carriages, the legends of many a distressed maiden who tumbled off the bridge for love. One of my musings also had Francesca plucking wildflowers alongside the bridge, just like in The Bridges of Madison County.

Intoxicated with ecstasy and quenched to the core, we returned to our life of duty and obligations, to be a part of the routine again. Now the Vermont of my dreams seems far removed, a mere blurry shape of autumn colours. But I do have the memories and of course the photographs, that will keep me warm in many a winter nights. And oh, there's my prized maple syrup bottle too, 'Vermont's finest'!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The first bud

"Just living is not enough... One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower."
~ Hans Christian Andersen
I spotted the first bud on my baby orchid plant today. There it was sitting pretty with a magenta pout amidst its family of older blossoms, who had walked out of the store with me. And since this is my first orchid, this wee bit o' bud made me really happy, very much childlike. I had often wished to buy one but something or the other would come up in the way. It must have been the geraniums. Their plump pink and scarlet clusters would always lead me astray. Wherever I have lived, however the climate, I've always had a geranium. It has been a bit like carrying ones own weather around!

When it comes to plants, I can be quite fussy till I have read and reread the instructions that come with the pots and sometimes even after that I'm not happy. I hunt down every little detail about them in Wikipedia, just to make sure nothing goes wrong in their nurturing. I have never been so thrilled about my flowers except the time when I was the proud owner of a potted lavender in Seattle. Lavender has a special place in my heart - be it the colour, the fragrance or the flower. I would sit by it every evening with a book and would have my own little sessions of aromatherapy in the patio, lost in its balmy fragrance. It was a hard time, watching the frost get it and eventually its death during the first snow of that year. All that remains is a handful of the dry blossoms carefully preserved in a little silk pouch. Sigh!

This season it's going to be just the good old sturdy chrysanthemum. Or as the Americans call them, the 'mums'. No one else can put up such a brave show in front of the harsh north American winter. Thank god for their stoicism, for in spite of the chill and the snow outside there will be colour, warmth and a kindling hope inside.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Of birthdays

I remember how I used to draw little glitter stars every year on the 2nd of September in my diary when I was young and happily dumb in the ways of the world. It's strange how fast, and with what vengeance the years creep ahead and very often it's with a jerk of strong emotions we realize that things have actually changed. I got my father's first email birthday wish today and needless to say, it felt 'capital'. I love the fact that in spite of the infinite miles we can communicate in more than one way. Although his mail has the natural eloquence that is expected of a retired professor of English, every time I read it I somehow stop at this one line --"Every year this day, I remember the night you were born and the subsequent birthdays we observed together." It has been more than four hours since I got his mail and I am still not able to shake off the nostalgia.

Birthday is the most awaited of all days in a child's calender and I was no different. I remember this day when Ma would prepare a grand feast for my friends in the evening and how after all the hullabaloo was over we would watch a movie that was rented especially for the occasion. A certain uncle who is a close family friend and also happens to be one of my father's oldest students would take my picture for what he called a 'memory photo'. This was an unfailing ritual for him every year and I reveled in the moment all decked up in my birthday finery. After all I was his beloved Sir's 'little girl'.

All this feels like a long lost era now. In the meanwhile this little girl grew up into a rebellious brat and now has a little world of her own. Where did those days go? Sure there are the ever faithful memories, and a trunkful of them I have, to revisit these happy days. But they don't help every time, they are not the real deal. Sometimes I wonder why do we have to grow up at all? Because then we grow out of certain moulds and fall into some less cherished ones. Here I am, a woman of 27, going on 28 arranging and rearranging the clutter of emotions inside my helpless head. Still, the one thought rules -- Why do we have to grow up?!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

That's it.

Will they come my way? I am tired of this wait, for the words. I can't write. I have been trying, trying rather hard, to write a few simple words that make sense, as a result of which I have five incomplete, badly scribbled posts. And I have this dreadful feeling that I won't be able to finish them anytime soon. All I have are thoughts, a chaos of clumsily jumbled thoughts which disappear the moment I start to type or pick up a pen. It's not only with words, but with everything I love. I can barely read a page before I get all restless and edgy; I am tired listening to the same songs again and again; and there is nothing exciting about this place that inspires me to grab my camera and go shot after shot till I'm happy. I feel a strange loss. Probably it's plain boredom. Or just the jitters of a new place. Whatever...

I remember holding on to One Art by Elizabeth Bishop six years back, after I had read it for the first time, when 'losing' had seemed my way of life. Perhaps I must do so now.

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Musings of a cat lover

Hero, a year and little old

"Who would believe such pleasure from a wee ball o' fur?"
~ An Irish saying

Cats and I go back a long way. It all started with a bowl of milk for a wandering grey tabby cat in a sultry summer afternoon. This was how we found Jhumri, the veteran girl of our cat family. The consequent generations had funny names too (courtesy me), irrespective of gender - Elli, Biti and Hero. My father was never fond of the brood and much to his chagrin there was always an addition or two every year. With time he became tolerant although he would remain aloof as ever. While my mother would be attentive to their whimperings, my love for them was overwhelming. I would sacrifice my share of fish for the greedy Elli who was the dearest of the lot and would swing and rock Biti's newborns no matter how ridiculous a spectacle it was. I was scratched on countless occasions as a means of retaliation for the suffocative, smothering love. Once I tried to chase off a poor garden lizard who was being stalked by Hero only to end up with a badly sprained leg. This time when I visited my parents, there was a looming emptiness. For the first time in ten years it was a cat-less home. There was no furry bundle cozied up under the blankets or sniffing flowers in the garden or trying desperately to catch its owl tail in circles in the most comic manner. Their absence felt louder and more annoying than the ruckus of meows on the fried fish days.

The other day as we were watching our neighbour's Persian cat, Sam casually remarked, "You must be this only crazy cat lover who doesn't own a cat". Not many would understand how crushing it felt at that moment. I always lament our nomadic lifestyle and how I can never have a cat until we have a permanent home of our own. Or I might just end up as one of those batty old English women sitting by the fireplace reading or embroidering, with a cat curled up in my lap. Sigh!

Friday, August 6, 2010

An old poem

It has been quite long since I've posted any poem. I found some fragments of an old poem, of old buried feelings, most of which I have outgrown. Or perhaps they outgrew me...

Such times were they...
Once called "once upon a time"
When the trees chimed and elves danced
The sun was a lump of citrine, the moon an enchanted mirror...
Love truly meant sleepless nights
Children trailed ruts of pixie dust...

In such times of perfection,
the storm came, one that comes after the proverbial lull.
So much happened, the change of hearts and hearths
Hopes aborted and lives defeated.
So many bits were scattered in the air --
A constellation of marred dreams.

I came out of it unscathed, albeit a little tired
Treading on the debris of skin and scars
into the clutches of a new world.
One without edges or frills,
a womb of openness.
No more walls.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dil agar aa bhi gaya...

The gorgeous lake from our patio

Chal junoon chalte rahen, tu kahin theher nahin
Dil agar aa bhi gaya, woh tera shaher nahin...

(O passion, let's keep walking and never stop
Even if the heart insists, that is not your city...)

Once again Gulzar comes to my rescue. As always. Off late the nature lover in me has been in a grouchy state of mind. We are once again on the move and this time I completely detest the very thought. Not that I would otherwise fancy a relocation once in every six months, but chiefly because a lake side apartment surrounded by a rich palette of greens sitting pretty in the pastoral countryside does not come everyday in a person's life. We came to Charlottesville during the bad blizzards of January and immediately fell in love with its innocent charm. Soon the spring came and every time I would go out for a walk or peep out of the window it felt like a vibrant page from a child's picture book. Each month marked the blooming of a different flower - daffodils, magnolias, dogwoods and cherry blossoms in the spring; freesias, coneflowers and lilacs in the summer. We would go for lazy walks after the afternoon rains and watch the mountains veiled in fog and the still lake with its cacophonous geese paddling away. We would return home soaked in the warmth of pure bliss. Be it watching the sun set on the faraway Blue Ridge mountains or stalking the devilishly tricky cardinals for that one lucky shot, every day was like the unfurling of a new fairytale. Even a lifetime would be less to bask in the beauty and tranquility of such a place. As a cruel contrast the place where we will be moving to is the industrial city of Cleveland, a cold concrete jungle in the state of Ohio.

I have sung my litany here time and again and all this must sound like a recurring rigmarole. But where else do I let it out? There is a strange comfort in typing away my despair into the fathomless spread of the cyberspace where my worries will drown and die in its endlessness. While others, the rational minds, might find this foolish and melodramatic, this is how I am when leaving a place that I feel connected to. There's nothing much a classic romantic fool can do anyway.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Her 'Lateness'!

There is a typical unyielding, old womanish thing about me. I have this unusual tendency to remain quite indifferent to certain cult things during their peak and then get completely obsessed with them after their prime is long over. I have never had much of a chance to join in the carnival and celebrate being a fan at that hysterical moment. Quite Virgo like actually, and the word here my dear friends is 'anal-retentive'.
My love for the Harry Potter books, that have so rightly entranced me at last and from where most of the fodder for my imaginary kingdom comes, can best explain this. When the whole human populace, from kids to grandparents was wandering in the charmed world of Hogwarts, I would remain aloof and complacent in my mask of a serious seeker of literature. After all, Jo Rowling was a children's writer and I certainly had had my share of Cinderellas and lost treasures. My tirade against Pottermania was such that I would confiscate hidden Harry Potters from my bewildered students, who would otherwise never care to flip a page of any book. I still remember the time when they had given me nasty stares for ruining their winter break with To Kill a Mocking Bird. One of them had even had the galls to ask this outrageous question - "How can you ask us to read a book about rape?!" Anyway, so all this while I was a great admirer of the movies, but then who isn't with the cute kids, the lovely British accent and most of all the ever bewitching Alan Rickman. But it wasn't before the dreariness of a humdrum life had swallowed me up that I decided to humour myself with a little juvenilia. And lo! Another Pottermaniac was born.
Friends is perhaps the second most horrifying embarrassment of my life. Often my friends would give me that wide eyed, frightening look that almost blared, "You must be the only creature on planet Earth who doesn't care for a bit of Friends". The old woman in me found history's one of the most popular sitcoms 'too American' for her tastes. But nothing lasts for ever. And hence my swallowing of my own words. Today I can barely live through a day without watching one episode or a clip, even though I must have watched it countless number of times. It has become my panacea for all sorts of trouble, be it certain difficult people or just a bad hair day.
I shall wait for the day when, for once at least, I shall be less judgmental and be one with the crowd. Sometimes it pays to be a pukka Virgo. Thank God I had started my Austen when I was 13. Or was I late?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer lessons

Our oldest mango tree back home, laden with beautiful blossoms

I'm back from my month long euphoria of mangoes and monsoons, with a bagful of memories. It was freakishly hot, there were too many errands that kept us on our toes throughout and ultimately viral fever marked the end of our woes. As I steered my way past prejudices and illness, a swarm of thoughts caught me unawares. Sam feels I've become the 'complaining type' and in my defense I can only say, it is not completely false. Could it be age catching up? Anyway, I shall jot down neatly, like a meticulous kid doing her holiday homework, life's lessons learnt during my Indian summer.

1. "Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't." Eleanor Roosevelt was right during her time and for the times to come as well. Do your bit and stop dreaming of the pretty laurel crown.

2. Never, ever kill these blessed days with bratty arguments with your parents. For once it is over it feels terrible. Also, it goes on to haunt you the most when you are thousands of feet up in the air watching your country recede into a vast blurry mass.

3. One cannot change the way people think, therefore it would be wise to change oneself. But again, wisdom has always been an elusive little elf with me.

4. Try to sense one's humour vein before dishing out yet another of your classic sarcasm coated jokes. Some people just don't have it in them.

My only possible means to wriggle out of such situations is to either rant and whine about my unfair share of luck in my diary or just blog out my flustered self or be a perfect nagging wife to Sam. Once I have found a cathartic vent, within moments my steely resolute self crumbles into airy nothingness. I could never make a good student of life's teachings. Baah!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yeh Dilli hai mere yaar!

It has been two days and a few hours in Dilli (I love it that way), and our homecoming could not have been any better. Our visas got approved, we gorged on lovely food and splurged on ethnic wears. Nothing could dampen our enthusiasm except the obvious complaints of the scorching heat and the blaring traffic. Seriously, we had no idea that the circumstances would be so favourable, especially after a harrowing flight journey of fifteen long hours followed by the fatigue and disorientation of jetlag. There were the rains too, accompanied by the nostalgic smell of wet earth and childhood. So this time the Gods weren't crazy! Ever since we got into the taxi from the airport I cannot stop humming the peppy number "Yeh Delhi hai mere yaar/ bas ishq, mohabbat, pyaar" (This is Delhi my friend, the land of love), one of my Rahman favourites. What else but this song, so simply yet so perfectly, can describe "Hindustan ka dil" (India's heart) and the eternally unbeatable mood of its people:
Iske baayen taraf bhi dil hai, iske daayen taraf bhi dil hai
Yeh sheher nahin mehfil hai.

(It has got a heart on its left as well as right side
It's not a city, it's a celebration.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pre-holiday jitters

This morning I woke up with a throbbing migraine which is normally accompanied by an irritable temper. Although painful, I am quite used to such depressing days at least once in every fortnight. So here I am, sitting with a cold compress balanced on my head and typing away my frustration. And ginger tea isn't much of a help always. I need to vent it on somebody and who better than my mute, eternally tolerant blog. I wish I could fix these tormenting headaches with the 'swish and flick' of a magic wand. But unfortunately this is a real world that I live in, where mortals have to deal with pain that could be anything from a skinned knee to a broken heart. The cause of my ordeals are mostly my nerves, a bundle of gnawing raw nerves. Therefore losing my calm and being perfectly obsessive-compulsive comes naturally to me. With only two days left for the journey home, I should be thrilled, which I am. But what actually rules my hours now is my fretting and peeving over inessential trifles. It is quite a raging battle of the dos and don'ts, the will happens and won't happens inside me. Surely our apartment will not perish to the lakeside spiders who just crawl up and love making their tiny webs in our living room. I know my blooming geraniums won't die of Sam's friend's neglect, who actually is a very nice person. Why on earth should anyone, who breaks into our apartment, steal my cute decorative mug that says 'cat lover' out of all things! Also it isn't all that complicated to be a daughter-in-law, or is it? Whooop!!!
Before I come across as a complete raving lunatic, I must stop my worry marathon here. I wish I could borrow some steely nerves from somebody. I also wish 'obsession' didn't always have to come with its annoying twin 'compulsion'. Sigh!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


A moonlit summer night back home. This is our mango tree bursting with this year's harvest. Thanks Bapa, for sending the seasons attached in emails.

So the restlessness has finally made its way into my days. The time has come when nothing, absolutely nothing can inspire me to be at peace with myself. My mind feels like a giant time bomb, ticking away furiously. In just another week I shall have what I have been longing for since what feels like ages. At last, after a year and a half, I will be home, that one word which is so powerfully potent of exciting so many emotions at one throbbing gush. The carnival of faces of your loved ones, the celebration of the familiar, the surprises because so many things have changed...

At the moment I feel a little blurred with emotions and so I have run out of my word bank. I think I must borrow the haunting nostalgia from Agha Shahid Ali's Postcard from Kashmir, which has often been by my side whenever the longing for home has swallowed me up.

Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a neat four by six inches.
I always loved neatness. Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.
This is home. And this the closest
I'll ever be to home. When I
the colors won't be so brilliant,
the Jhelum's waters so clean,
so ultramarine. My love
so overexposed.

And my memory will be a little
out of focus, it in
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Baker's delight

Plum cake, one of my much prized initial successes as a baker

I came across this little piece of truth in one of the cooking websites - "Nothing is more attractive around the home than the smell of fresh baking". It has been a month and a little more since the baker in me has been on a full-throated song. I must have baked more than five cakes, completely mindless of the bursting calories, and thus jeopardizing our fitness routine and dietary resolutions. I have always enjoyed cooking but had never given much thought to the age-old, classic art of baking. The only baking that I had ever dabbled in before was the traditional American fudge brownie from the oh-so-convenient brownie mix. And that ain't much of a talent. So after reveling in the pride of a frequently complimented cook, the time had come to don the mantle of a real baker. I wonder why it took me so long to think about baking from scratch. May be because I am a little idiosyncratic, therefore the 'new' or the 'different' does not strike me immediately. Somehow I am always stuck with the old, repetitive pattern. There are many 'lates' in my life, including Harry Potter and Friends, both of which have become so crucial to my existence that without them my world would seem rather drab. Before I stray any further, let us get back to baking. So there I was, scouring through for a simple cake, something that ran the least chance of being a disaster. I went for the orange cake for I wanted something exotic as well, and there I was beating eggs and grating orange zest. I had planned it as a surprise for Sam but the heady aroma of orange and baking gave it away. However the cake had turned out really well, the way cakes should be - moist and soft. Hurrah! With such a triumphant debut, there was no stopping me. I searched for variety and more flavours and ended up making them all - orange cake, chocolate cake, banana muffins, fudge brownies and even a plum cake. The trouble is, if I am good at something, I become obsessed with it till I have had enough of it and this is exactly the situation with my current baking spree. It just feels the most perfect thing to do.

What I love the most about baking, other than the hypnotism of the senses, is that it keeps my mind off from wandering away. I feel a soothing calm while baking, as if it was a healing process. The little swirls of aroma crawling out from the oven purge my mind of the buzzing monotone of life. At the end of a messy day, you know when you add eggs and butter to flour, it turns out perfect. And nobody can take this comfort away from you. Absolutely nobody.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In letting go...

To leave and be left behind are perhaps the two ruthless wheels on which the world strides. We have all left someone or have been left by someone at various unfortunate phases of our lives. What is it with me that keeps pushing me to the boundaries till I break? Years after a much cherished bond, one day it just falls out. Just like that. For a bunch of stupid misunderstandings, for reasons so trivial that they were able to toss years of love and laughter into a puzzled silence. It feels so supremely foolish to have had trusted someone with your life and its every little worthless detail. Sure I have lived through times when I would hang on to things that at some point would have hurt me or angered me. But the resentment would not last forever. Somehow things would patch up and the differences would be stocked up for a good nostalgic laugh. This time it is different and much more difficult, probably because we are adults now and the carefree air of childhood that shielded our blunders is no more there. We are all caught in an inescapable domestic quagmire of our own. There are so many new worlds in which we try to fit in and fail miserably. There are people whom you just don't understand, whose remorseless deeds tear you to shreds every time and in spite of all this life has to go on. Therefore this time I have not been able to pick up the shattered pieces and glue them together. May be because I can still see the fractured portions which are too loud to be ignored. Or may be it lacked the togetherness that such timeless relationships stand for. Or may be I am just plain tired.

Since I could neither forgive nor forget, the only other way left was a difficult but wise one. To let go of what is eating you, to get over the lingering gloom. I had never been able to understand the art of letting go because I loved wallowing in self pity. I was, and perhaps still am, obsessed with glorifying my grief. The free spirited child in me could never appreciate the subtle and uninvolved state of stoicism. Sure, I have quit wearing rose-tinted glasses long, long back but still I am a romantic at heart. But perhaps things are changing, and definitely for the better. The wide chasm of the deep rooted sorrow seems to be melting away. When something is just not meant to be perhaps it should be left that way. Although it is difficult to erase attachments that have gone strong for decades, I do feel healed of the anger and the hurt. May be this is a momentary feeling but it does feel light headed and wholesome. Whatever this feeling is, I want it to stay and nourish my weary mind. Because in spite of lugging the emotional baggage people do move on and so must I. After all the world has no time for clingy souls.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The gupchup diaries

Gupchup, puchka, golgappa, paanipuri... Call it by any of these names, the taste remains the same - irresistible. Gupchup, as we Oriyas call it, has very much been a part of my growing up and from the time I could understand the ways of my taste buds, it has remained a steady favourite. It's time I chronicled its meaning and memories during the various phases of my life so far.

1. Summers at Puri, which happens to be my maternal grandparents' home, were the best times of my childhood. Being the only grandchild/niece then, I was quite pampered and often had my own ways. Every evening Ma and my mausis would take me to the beach where I had the time of my life romping in the sand, collecting sea shells. We wouldn't leave before having our share of soggy gupchup and jhaal muri from the beach vendors. None of the brackish winds or the prickling sands dared kill that fun.

2. Probably it was the distractions of teenage or mostly my hatred for the branch of Sciences, but it wouldn't be a lie if I said nothing interested me in those days. After school hours, we would go for afternoon tuitions which would go on for two agonising hours. The only comfort that would keep me sane in these otherwise horrid afternoons were the gupchup sessions that were held regularly after the tuitions. How we friends would circle the vendor and wait patiently for our turns when he would toss the savoury delight into our leaf bowls!

3. I left the secured walls of home for my graduation in Bhubaneswar. In the initial days I found it rather difficult to adjust to the novelties of an independent student life. The only comforting, familiar feel was that of the rows of gupchup stalls right in front of our campus premises. Like every hostel, ours too had one common problem - unpalatable mess food. So the evenings, after a day of longish lectures, meant regular calls to the attractively decorated blue stalls.

4. After graduation I moved to Hyderabad, the mecca for biryani and kabab lovers. Not being a keen non-vegetarian, I would miss the simpler fares that my home state offered. No matter what, my cravings were such that I would go for the relatively bland paani puris and wouldn't notice the vendor's mean stare when asked, "Bhaiya, thoda extra pyaaz dena" (some more chopped onions please).

We have reached the rather sad end of my gupchup diaries. Life in the States can mean so many things to an Indian, culturally and emotionally. Mine is a long list of stubborn yearnings, right out of a Jhumpa Lahiri story. I have tried the tricky but extremely simple recipe at home from the ready-made gupchup pockets that are available in the Indian grocery stores. It turns out fine by home standards, but that nostalgic aroma of belongingness is always missing. Now all hopes are pinned on that once-a-year vacation, the most beautiful dream of every immigrant. Home beckons...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Flashback II

Remember the moon that night?
Burning with all its might and beauty,
with a strange neighbourly expression.
Like she was your confidante,
who could peep into your heart anytime
and play that nostalgic game of hide-n-seek.
I could never fathom these smirks and hushed exchanges.
They were cryptic, probably hieroglyphic.
To be so unmindful and foolish,
when the air was swollen with prophecies,
like the proverbial lull before the storm.
And I oblivious of the lurking fate,
marveled at the swaying gulmohars
and the pristine, ethereal moon!
The moon...ha!

Where was my insight?
My sixth sense, which I was once so proud of?
Where was my heart...
Surely I had it tucked in somewhere safe,
and not just strewn morsels of it on the deserted road
to be trampled on by known and unknown prejudices.
Sure, there it was.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bridget and I

Many a times we get immensely fond of a certain movie without being judgmental of its characters or their situations. We can watch it time and again through the regular mindless channel flipping or by just peeping from the kitchen window. Bridget Jones's Diary is one such movie that has grown on me over the years. Not only I love the humorous plot which cracks me up every time I watch bits and pieces of it, but also the lead actors (Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) are some of my personal favourites. After being thoroughly charmed by the movies (it has a sequel), I considered digging into the original brains behind them, the books written by Helen Fielding. Upon my reading, I could see a huge part of me in Bridget's disaster girl image and her clumsy, oh-god-why-me mishaps. The books helped me to laugh at myself which is not very ego flattering for a woman. Other than rambling the 'sorrows' of life in a personal diary (read scores!), Bridget and I share many other dilemmas.
1. Procrastination... Err can I not do this post later? Yes, rescheduling things till the point where nothing can be done about them happens to be our tragic flaw. Following a routine religiously is no less scary than anonymous death threats. We plan things well ahead of time, but in a strange, mysterious fashion the minutes just run and it becomes impossible to keep pace with them. People who always reach before time must therefore naturally lead sad and empty lives.
2. Social mishaps seem inevitable. We spill, we stammer and sometimes we even stumble. Innumerable chants of 'inner poise' fail us and eventually we land in a thick soup of public embarrassment. A crowd of unknown faces, more so if they belong to influential people, is often intimidating. Not that we don't know what we are thinking of, but when we utter the same thoughts they turn out to be in an alien tongue, a complete jargon. Be it crowd phobia or stage fright, social dos are surely nightmarish.
3. Weight, that persistent tormentor... Like Bridget, I too suffer from an abnormal obsession of weighty issues, practically starting the day slouched on a weight watcher. We love to crib about that agonising extra flab almost every single moment of the day without actually doing anything about it. Year after year, resolutions keep piling on gathering dust and neglect. We do manage to knock off a few lbs from here and there, but like the universe weight remains a constant in our lives.
4. Friends... Ah, how meaningless the world would be without them. Be it a major costume disaster or heart breaking turns of a wretched love affair, friends are the ultimate support system. Not only they lend you their ears and shoulders when you are down in the dumps, but these adorable angels also work hard solving life's puzzles for you. Whether one is 'Single' or 'Smug Married' (as Bridget categorises the world), whether it is sunny or raining miseries in one's life, friends are absolutely indispensable. Amen!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


There was once a heart inside me.
I remember swallowing it on a cold, rainy day
For warmth to feel snug and protected,
For a demon-fire to burn the wishful desires.

It was a Saturday I think.
A weekend for a perfect end
of Hope and a heap of other useless abstract nouns.
The fire remained, but only for a while.
Since then it has been dark and cold there.
A lump, perhaps of flesh, still beats feebly...
In its own mad rhythm, which I fail to understand.
Anyway, I never understood much.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shopper's hullabaloo

So my spirits are as bountiful and colourful as my treasure trove. I have been desperately waiting for this time of the month. Just two more tedious months and off we go to India for that much needed break. Obviously my euphoria knows no bounds, so much so that I wouldn't even mind hopping into the shoes of an amateurish Mahima Chaudhry dancing to the tunes of yeh mera India. Being well aware, and often being the victim, of my restlessness, Sam had struck a deal with me that we would only start shopping once the dates are decided. I am finally allowed to obsess over lists and fret every moment of the day while browsing online stores. Mine is an interestingly diverse list that features almost everything imaginable starting from books, movies, home decor, cosmetics, shoes to even Hershey's chocolate brownie mix for my mum which I had quite conveniently forgotten during our last visit. After a meticulous online survey, I would visit the stores with a grumpy and ever reluctant Sam. In the archetypal male way he would only consider the purchase worthy once we would finally get back home, after all the hullabaloo would be over. I remember the last time when we had been to India, which also happened to be our first visit after an eight months' stay here, the situation was no different. We generally prefer shopping from Amazon (what would life be without it!!) for electronics and rarities like National Geographic documentaries and old books. Somehow the same delivery man would knock at our door every alternate day with a box, wearing a wide grin. Once he even complemented me saying, "Thanks! You keep me in my job"!
Shopping, be it for anything or anybody, has often worked as a purgative for me. In a strange way I love the feel of an exhausted body and a pair of aching feet which result from hours of pointless wandering in labyrinthine shopping malls. And during such times of prolonged shopping it feels so very festive and thrilling, more so with the excitement of going home and seeing your loved ones after a distressing gap of a year and more. Being an absolute shopaholic I play by the rules. While these purchases will contribute to others' wardrobes, I have plans to stock up mine once I get to scour through the bright and motley collections of ethnic heaven. God knows how miserable I have been every time I would grudgingly browse Orkut albums of friends draped in gorgeous Indian wear. And what's more, retail therapy can even cure the most horrible of jet lags!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tired and bruised!

There are days when you feel broken and torn and everything around you just goes on to contribute to this hard, knotty feeling. Moving to a new place is really tiresome and this was our fourth move in just two years. It has been a week since we moved into our new apartment and I, who is otherwise smart with new places, is struggling to find my way around. The built up lethargy of our longish hotel stay prior to our moving here is showing up. Now when I am back to my mundane do-it-on-your-own life, with no blessed "housekeeping" knocking at the door, I am at my wit's end. Nicknamed "queen of orderliness" by Sam, I find difficult to live up to it in the present circumstances. The 'queen', who loved to cook, now dreads the kitchen because that is where most of the disasters take place. I spill, drop, scatter and even manage to turn on the wrong stove while the pot is sitting on the other. Dinners which I could fix in no time are taking hours with my sluggish pace. I am a complete sight!

While browsing through the gardening isle in Walmart yesterday, I chanced upon this lovely sham bamboo sitting pretty in a ceramic arrangement. The tag said "Let luck shower on you", so there it was on my kitchen window, sipping sunlight through the blinds. I could never understand Feng Shui and the only reason I get lured by these items is because they represent the colourful, exotic Orient. It was simply a fake assurance, something to bring a smile to my careworn face.

But this was not the end to my string of maladies. It also happened to be the much dreaded time for one of these blinding migraine headaches which made things worse. At such times I become this ultra sensitive person who would flinch from any kind of light or noise and would just prefer to lie down in a dark corner with a cold gel pack pressed on the forehead. There was a saviour for my disappointing afternoon in the name of Julie & Julia. I finally got to watch the movie and could relate to Julie in more than one way. Like me she loved to cook and also happened to blog. Like me she too felt that her dreary life had no purpose and that she just lived her days one after the other. The movie cheered me up like any other Meryl Streep starrer does. I felt revived and was looking forward to an evening walk with Sam by the lake side, which happens to be right in front of our apartment. So there I was promising myself to be cheerful and positive, surrounded by dogwood flowers and paddling geese. Everything was perfect until this cute little Dalmatian came along with its owner. Normally pets here are very friendly and well trained. But this one, for no apparent reason, lunged forward at me with a nasty snarl which made me grab on to the hedge behind as a desperate measure. Just then I felt a stabbing pain in my thigh and almost for a second thought the canine had managed to get a chunk off me. Instead it was the fence which I had bumped into hence resulting in a big painful bruise. The puzzled owner just offered a polite American 'sorry' and marched off with her leashed fury.

It has been more than four hours since this harrowing incident and I still wonder what made that dog behave in such a strange manner. I am utterly crushed because I am a major dog lover. I am tired of this horrible day and I want it to end. Without further ado, the best thing would be to go to bed. I might have a perfect sleep with the perfect dream as Dumbledore says "In dreams, we enter a world that's entirely our own". I hope when I wake up I will find my lost world of order and reign as the 'queen' again.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The changing portrait

I remember being mighty impressed with, and therefore pensive after having read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Had it not been for a seminar on Victorian Literature, I doubt if I would have ever cared to dissect this Gothic classic. Some of my classmates had found it quite creepy and I would not dare to disagree with them having found it somewhat disquieting myself. For my friends who haven't chanced upon this Wildean fare, here is a handy little summary of the novel. The protagonist, Dorian Gray, is an elegant and handsome young man who in time grows conscious of his charismatic influence on others. His exposure to high society makes him extremely narcissistic and hedonistic in his approach to life. The major motif, as the story unfolds, is a portrait of Dorian done by his artist friend Basil, which has a striking likeness to the real Dorian. Dorian cherishes his portrait above everything else as it portrays him in his youthful best. He looks at this painting and wishes that it, rather than he, could grow old. He challenges time and nature by giving his soul away. His wish is fulfilled which leads him to a life of debauchery and duality. Each time Dorian sins the painting undergoes disfigurement exposing the hideous side of his soul. Thus Dorian's youth and beauty are preserved from the clutches of time. This intriguing tale would push me to the boundaries of my thoughts and there would be abstract questions swarming in my head. Does my soul have a face? If it does what colour is it? A blaring red or a pristine white or may be a soothing blue... What if there actually was such a portrait which could unveil our monstrousity each time we transgressed? Come to think of it, we all have a tinge of Dorian Gray inside us. The wish for eternal youth, that elusive elixir, we all have a secret yearning for it. How else does one explain the confusing isles of age-defying and wrinkle lift creams that are flooding the cosmetics market. It is only too normal for someone who is blessed with divine beauty to be obsessed with it. Gradually this self-love or self-obsession grows into a deeper shade called narcissism. There is a very thin line between self-obsession and narcissism. But while self-obsession is often tolerated and is perceived as a folly, narcissism is not because it is considered to be deviant and therefore a psychological disorder.

Such is human nature that to understand it completely would be a rare and remarkable feat. There are so many complex layers to it, as we live in so many worlds, both imaginary and real. Juggling between reality and charade, such is the ambiguity of life that sometimes we struggle in a phony garb of self-pretense which we are absolutely unaware of. I don't mean to draw any logical conclusion of Dorian's absurdities and self-preservation, because there is hardly any. It feels cathartic to indulge in such profundity and art, in any form, is the perfect way to fuel a soul searching trip. Go meet your soul, it is one of the best encounters ever.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Switch off! It's Earth Hour

Just a couple of days back, on the 27th of March, the world celebrated the fourth annual Earth Hour from 8.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. As I was browsing through the latest reports, the huge participation this year made me giddy with joy thereby prompting me to write this post. It is time that we give back the earth its life that we have so selfishly and wantonly been stripping off for years together. Earth Hour is World Wildlife Fund's global initiative where individuals, schools, organizations, businesses and governments turn off their lights for one hour to fight against pollution and climate change, and to show support for our planet and our future. What went on to become the biggest climate concerned event began in 2007, in Sydney, Australia where 2.2 million homes switched off their electricity to make a stand against climate change. Since then, Earth Hour has been held on the last Saturday of March every year. This year many major landmarks around the world such as the Colosseum in Rome, the Tower Bridge in London, the Empire State Building in New York and the Petronas twin towers in Kuala Lumpur answered the clarion call and embraced darkness for an hour. More than 125 countries participated in the cause which goes on to prove that we, after all, are not fighting a lost case.

When the environmental geeks in the 80's foretold the alarming consequences of climate change for the coming years, we rubbished and rejected them. Now the time has come to repent and repair the damage done, and just how much. The United States, according to studies is the most affected by global warming with its year-round floods and hurricanes. Places in the East Coast that just experience a normal snow shower in the winters, tackled two brutal snow storms this year in February. It is not a surprise though when one considers the ruled-by-gadgets lifestyle of the Americans. It troubles me a great deal as to why even the trivial of tasks like the peeling and dicing of an onion should require electricity. As an Indian I am more concerned about our future generations who would not know what regular monsoons were like. The iffiness of the monsoons these days brings in longer spells of a merciless tropical sun or the opposite, severe floods. The adverse effect of climate change is the most visible in the changing ecosystems. This further poses a threat to the already dwindling numbers of many animal and plant species. The Arctic marine life is probably the best example to explain the alarms of global warming. In no time the polar bears and the walruses, who are already facing the survival challenge because of the shrinking sea ice, will be part of stories that once consisted of dinosaurs and dodos.

Nature is at the brim and it might give up anytime. In such desperate times I would even choose to agree with the grossly exaggerated movie 2012 that showed the end of the world in the year 2012 as predicted by the Mayans. Surely I do have my personal prejudices against the film and also because I don't have the heart to face something as beautiful and giving as the Earth to simply end in chunks. Collective efforts, like the Earth Hour, are a symbol of love and unity and hope for a better tomorrow. We know that a single hour every year is not much of a help. But it is for us, for our lovely planet. Lights out then!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Virginia is for lovers!

Cherry blossoms from our living room window

So it is that time of the year again when happiness just blooms and spreads its roots inside you because mother nature is on a song. I often lamented about never having the chance to experience a spectacular North American spring. When I arrived here first, on the land of opportunities and ambiguities, it was too late. It was June and I could see the spring blooms withering away with a very few exceptions. That was when I first met the rhododendrons or as the Seattleites would call their state flower, the "rhodies". My heart leaped and jumped and bounced as if I had never seen anything of such remarkable beauty. Now there is this 'thing' about me and those who know me would understand this. I am an obsessive nature lover and at times like these I become this absolutely incomprehensible person as if my life depended on that single moment. Most of Sam's techie friends must find me rather daft when I ramble on about how the Mount Rainier is actually an active volcano or the different kinds of maple trees or the hundreds of wild Himalayan flowers. Not that I mind their uninvolved air, but I just feel that there is so much more life in these marvels than watching detestable modern television or going to shopping malls and killing time by mostly window shopping.

Getting back to my spring euphoria, last year we were in Texas during spring and there was nothing much on the platter except a few desert willows and Mexican buckeyes bursting out in their white and pink glory. Fortunately we lived in the Hill Country area which is home to many little charming German villages that are nestled on higher altitudes and host the wildflower festival every year. We did get to see vast stretches of red poppies, bluebonnets and cornflowers, and being a wildflower buff I loved every bit of it. But all the while I longed to see some typical spring queens like tulips and daffodils which are exotic to my tropical eyes. My friends back home would often ask me about the American spring and I would be at a very sad loss. But this year luck has smiled upon me and we have recently moved to this quaint little place called Charlottesville in Virginia. Apart from getting to live in the eastern part of this huge country, there is another aspect that quite thrills me. The state of Virginia that got its name from the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth the 1st is culturally rich and is home to historical sites like Colonial Williamsburg, which was the first British capital. The stately red brick buildings and the gastropubs here are a classic example of the once flourishing British rule. This is also the land of the legendary Indian princess Pocahontas. So I do feel pretty regal in a strange fashion! And to add to all this, there's spring here. There are pearly magnolias on naked, leafless branches and vibrant forsythias that ring the word basanti in my mind. During my solitary walk yesterday I could spot clusters of wild daffodils here and there, some upright and the others still sleepy. There is a certain untamed beauty in things of the wild which is wanting in carefully, patterned landscapes.
Till date I was unaware that the prim garden daffodils also had wild cousins. Then the thought struck me, "of course, Wordsworth must have seen these wild ones in the Lake District"!

My next agenda is the national cherry blossom festival that takes place annually in Washington, D.C. After almost a complete month of being buried in brutal blizzards, the time has come to venture out and celebrate nature. This is that sort of place where I could wonder around like Ophelia, wearing a crown of wildflowers and throwing my cares to the mad world. And why not, because as they say here - "Virginia is for lovers"! Or for incurable romantics. Or a bit of both?!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Sakura experience

Last evening we went out to try some Japanese delicacy to Sakura, a Japanese steakhouse. The word sakura in Japanese means flowering cherry or cherry blossoms. I have always wanted to taste sushi, but for some reason or the other I keep postponing it. Probably it is the thought of consuming raw fish that turns me off. But I always love to learn and experience the different food cultures and Japanese was one that I had yet to taste. So off we went and were warmly welcomed into a place adorned with huge murals of cherry blossoms and other Oriental artifacts. The ambiance was perfect. We were comfortably seated in the grill section of the steakhouse and Sam promised me that it will be a mesmerising affair. We decided our food to be simple, so he went for a grilled salmon whereas I chose to play safe with a grilled shrimp and sauteed mushrooms platter. We waited till we savored the last drop of osumashi (the Japanese clear soup) and the tricky miso (a seasoning made with fermented rice and soybeans) dressed lettuce salad. Then came our chef wheeling a cart of veggies, raw salmon and shrimp and other condiments that were required for the preparation of our entrees. We were seated in a square fashion where the grill consisted the center of the arrangement. And as the restaurant boasts of "where everything happens before your eyes", the chef sputtered off the hot surface of the grill with water followed by the ingredients. The manner in which he used a chopping knife looked like sheer magic. For the next fifteen minutes he was on song slicing and chopping away to the tunes of his knife and the sizzle of the items on the grill. He did it so effortlessly, it looked no less than a performance. In no time the flames boomed, reaching the chimney and our salmon and shrimp turned a deep rust, that lip smacking, perfectly grilled colour. The spices and the sauces that were used in the preparation enveloped us in an aromatic fog. I felt like being transported to another part of the world, one where there were gardens choked with cherry blossoms, where the geisha (a female Japanese entertainer) served tea in her typical delicate and artful way in a chashitsu (a tea room). It seemed like the tea ceremonies from Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha came alive! Once the food was cooked, our magician chef ladled the food on our plates. Needless to say that such aesthetically prepared food that tickled all our senses soothed our hungry and eager taste buds. What's more, Sam even rated this as one of his best dinning experiences! It was truly a heavenly experience, one that I would love to go for again, probably some day in God's own land of the rising sun!

Friday, January 22, 2010

A whiff of nostalgia

Strange, how a certain place grows on us and then goes on to become a part of us, of the intricate web of 'who I am'. Most of the times this gossamer bond is formed due to pleasant people who go on to make sunshine memories. But there have been occasions when the tidings were a little rough. Still, I find myself so much tethered to that place, to its lanes and bylanes, to every one of its facade. A strange sense of sadness and loss overcomes me while leaving a certain place, even if the stay would not have been of such a conclusive duration that would define my emotions. It is not the coming change that worries me, but the leaving behind, the little somethings that I shall no more be able to hold as a part of my everyday life bothers me. There is always some bit of memory or a piece of my surrounding that I cling on to dearly as a remnant, a precious fossil of all these places.
A few days back I stumbled upon a quote by the French poet Anatole France which did help me to understand my predicament to a great extent: "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." And so I yearn for this dead life, one that has long shut its doors on me.

Most of the times I nurse my nostalgia with a characteristic scent of these dead lives. I have read somewhere that this tendency to associate memories with a definitive smell is called associative nostalgia. Isn't it strange how we decide to preserve certain memories in the backstreet of our minds? The world may not care twopence about them, but you do. I remember my childhood in so many ways - the festive air swollen with incense and the latest Hindi film songs during the pujas, the comforting scent of Nivea creme which used to come in a round blue tin box back then, the smell of old, yellowed books in Bapa's room. My inexperienced hostel days in Bhubaneswar take me back to the evening summer breeze that made its way through the windows to my study table where I would be fiddling with the bulk of A History of English Literature, knowing not what to do with the scores of literary heavyweights mentioned in there. Sometimes the graduation days also remind me of the fresh roasted bhutta (corn on the cob) in the rainy evenings or the citrus Elle 18 perfume which I loved to wear to my morning Honours classes. When I remember my days in Hyderabad, the city of love for me, I get a whiff of the old world charm from the ittar vendors along side the bylanes of Charminar. At other times the addictive elaichi chai (cardamom tea) of the university canteen does the trick. It is as if I live and relive these fond moments in these aromas, hence making them immortal and exclusively mine. The mention of Seattle brings back the characteristic dewy, dreamy scent of rain and pines. Our apartment in Redmond, the little Microsoft city neighbouring Seattle, reminds me of freshly mowed grass and a dish washing soap of water lily and jasmine fragrance. The minimal amount of time that we spent in the bay area of California contributes to my nostalgia bank as well. I would often admire the intimidatingly beautiful redwood trees during my solitary evening walks, and later would try to recollect their woody smell.
Jagjit Singh, with his voluminous range of ghazals that perfect such sombre moods has sung the most apt lines on the lingering fragrance of memories:

Shaam mehke tere tassawur se,
Shaam ke baad phir saher mehke...
(The evening is fragrant with your thoughts,
After the evening, the dawn is fragrant as well...)

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