Wednesday, 14 February 2018

How I got An Impromptu Valentine Lunch

During my self allotted, strictly ten minutes only, of FaceBook time earlier this evening, I came across scores of pictures of couples, liberally splashed upon FB walls, in honour of Valentine's Day. It is always nice to see happy couples, no matter what the occasion. Whatever the origins of this day, in its current avtaar, it smacks of blatant commercialization and seems to consist solely of clever marketing gimmicks by multinationals, on line retailers and restaurants. The number of 'Valentine's Day Special Offers' I have had this past week on my India sim card from my favourite restaurants in my home town Pune, would put St.Valentine himself to shame... And they have served no greater purpose, besides making my craving for home and food from those restaurants worse...And the older I grow, the more abhorrent the occidentalization of oriental sensibilities and  norms seems to me...Not that I have anything against chocolates and cards and bears... Go figure that one out! But if you live or have ever lived in India, you will know what I mean. So how did I get to have lunch with my husband on Valentine's Day? That too on a smack, bang, middle of the week, Wednesday?
When you've been submerged in taking classes on line, busier than ever, because many of your students are, in the next two weeks, facing the all important board exam in India, and a constant stream of solved papers vend their way across WhatsApp for correction, thanks to conscientious students, your house keeping abilities take a definite hit. Yesterday after four consecutive hours of teaching online, my brain was whirling..My house help had bid a quick goodbye in between my sessions on Skype and had left by the time I finished. She is still new and under training because my previous two decided they wanted to increase world population statistics...I did remind her (obviously after muting the Skype microphone!) that she had been making a lower quantity of chappati dough than needed, so she should make more than she had made the previous day. But, presuming that my instructions had been followed, obviously I had not checked, until I began making chappattis for dinner.. And I finished the dough! By this time exhaustion had seeped in and I just decided to make more the next morning. (One of our favourite, friendly house hold arguments is who gets more exhausted, my husband in his glass cabin or me in my virtual class room! We haven't established a clear winner yet...)
Hardly had dinner got over, when I remembered that our electric fence alarm had gone off during class and I had turned it off, intending to see to it later. By the time I fed the dog, cleared the kitchen, served  and had dinner, it was late. With my husband and son already asleep, it was left up to the security guard and me to try to figure out what had triggered the alarm... the garage was opened, the ladder was dragged out, the shears were taken out to cut off a few slender branches that were too close to the electric fence and every inch of the perimeter was scanned to see if we could figure out the issue. I had to turn it on every ten minutes to see if he had found the problem  and then hurriedly turn it off when it began wailing, since it was close to midnight by this point...All these tedious efforts were in vain and finally I just turned it off and decided to deal with it the next morning when the gardener came in...
This morning my brain was still frazzled as I opened the fridge for making breakfast and lunch for the tiffins and half of it was focused on an impending India trip, wondering whether I needed to fly out soon to see my Dad, who is home after a fortnight's stay in the hospital, or if I could wait until spring break in March or stick to my regular India schedule and travel in June. New tests are being ordered, old ones being repeated, he says he is fine, his symptoms tell a slightly different story, so it's not a very clear picture! A quarter of my brain was focused on my daughter in college, like it is when I am in the kitchen because she doesn't get her choice of food there... She is dancing in a talent show in college and I was wondering whether she is taking in enough calories, as she is certainly expending a lot of them, judging by the dance practice videos she sends us. The child centric part of the brain was also yelling out to my son to be sure to pack the clothes he needed for the drama dress rehearsal post school...So with only a quarter of brain power trained on the task in hand, I went through three steel tins in the fridge without comprehending that none of them contained chappatti dough! During a repeat perusal, I realized that one had peas, another had mint leaves, the third chopped tomatoes...Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, that in all the melee of the previous night, I had completely forgotten that I had used up all the dough. I had rice and daal (lentils) ready for my son, who, being half a Maharastrian Brahmin, (we are known for our proclivity towards rice!) would happily slurp them up for lunch. My husband was a different matter, as all North Indian Brahmins ( actually all north Indians per se!) crave the glutenous carbohydrates in chappati and though he wouldn't say no to rice and daal only, I knew it wouldn't hit the spot! I stood there wondering whether I had time to make dough, then roll out chapattis and then deciding I didn't, because a late start of even five minutes makes a horrendous difference to travel time in early morning Nairobi traffic.
I tentatively asked him if he could send the driver to collect the lunch.. This is something we NEVER do, firstly because, being a capable Capricorn (Linda Goodman said it , I only quote!),  I am rarely caught on the wrong foot in the kitchen and usually have back ups lined up for everything and secondly because a twenty four kilometre round trip just to collect lunch, sounded like sacrilege to my carbon foot print conscious Capricornian mind... And that is when he surprised me! "Since it's Valentine's Day, why don't you join me for lunch?", he asked, "I will send the car and driver." (Looks like Librans aren't too hung up on carbon footprints!). Obviously he knows my low slung Mercedes will hit every single one of those extra large speed bumps they have put up for no rhyme or reason in the entire area where his office is located. Besides I rarely have time to visit his office and I'm not sure of the route. Also as the 'Boss's wife', I become the cynosure of all eyes and I dislike that. I am happy as an independent entity in my own academic world... I had a busy day ahead.I had to make Pulav (a rice and spiced vegetable dish) to feed forty people at my son's after school drama rehearsal dinner, I had a morning class and an evening class to teach, I had papers to go through but I said yes! After all, it's not every day that I run out of chappatti dough...or get invited out for lunch by my husband!
And that was how I got an impromptu lunch in the mall close to his office.. It felt SO much like playing truant, like being where you are not supposed to be, it felt like fun after a tough month, it felt like he had to sneak out of his own office to have lunch (not really!)... And then my son called up, as we were on our way back, saying he had forgotten the belt he needed as part of his costume and asked if I could please drop it off to school. I had to tell him I wasn't home, as I had gone out for lunch with his Dad. He couldn't believe his ears.."Lunch with Dad..how... oh it's Valentine's Day! Mom, I really don't want to know what you are doing in the middle of the day with Dad", he said, ("It's just lunch!" I interjected.) "just get my belt across, please, by 3:30 pm!"
And that one statement of his was a perfect example of the occidental thought process super imposing itself on the more traditional oriental one...!! But it certainly was one of the best Valentine's Days I have had in close to a quarter of a century, (yes it's been nearly that long since we first met!), completely unpremeditated, unplanned, unexpected and all thanks to no dough!




                            When you can't get Indian vegetarian food, Italian comes a close second..

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Glimpses Of History: Of A Piquant Padmavati And A Kafkaesque Khilji

Rajasthan: The only state among India's twenty nine states that is completely a desert. I went to Rajasthan as a four year old when my Dad was posted there by the Indian Army and we left very abruptly when I had just turned seven, because my paternal grandfather was on his death bed and we had to rush to be with him and my grandmother. I have never been back to Rajasthan since then but the memories are crystal clear to this day...Acres and acres of sand, as far as the eye could see, strong hot winds that blew periodically, whipping up the dry as dust sand into a mad frenzy, getting into our hair and our eyes, into the pores of our skin, settling down on our tongues, making us feel as if we had had grit for lunch! Awe inspiring forts and palaces, designed to allow the strong breeze to waft over deep pools of precious water, in an attempt to bring respite from the intense day time heat. Women in brightly coloured cotton clothes, very carefully placing the ends of their odhnis (a long piece of cloth draped on the upper body) over their hair and allowing them to fall halfway across their faces, especially if there happened to be men around. They were very cheerful women though and I recollect that they used sand to scrub their kitchen utensils in what, I know today, was an eco friendly bid to save water...

Today I went back to a Rajasthan on celluloid, after exactly thirty five years, almost to the day, courtesy of renowned Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film 'Padmaavat', which has been mired in controversy practically since the hour of its inception, but which finally got to see the light of the day last Thursday. The movie is based on the life and death of the famous Queen Padmavati of Chittod, which is in the province of Mewar, in Rajasthan. While there are multiple versions of the story and there is a dispute about the place Rani Padmavati originally came from, the movie is based on the poem, 'Padmavat' written in 1540 AD, by medieval Indian poet Mallik Muhammed Jayasi, more than two and a half centuries after the Queen's death. He claims she came from Sinhal, modern day Sri Lanka and was married to the Rajput King of Chittod, Raja Ratan Sen. Colonialist historian Col. James Tod, in his book 'Annals And Antiquities Of Rajasthan', written in 1832 AD, has her married to a completely different king altogether! 
A certain Rajput caste group has been up in arms ever since Bhansali announced his magnum opus. We were horrified to read of sets being destroyed while the movie was being filmed, we read of the lead actors and the director being threatened with dire consequences if they continued filming, we were appalled to hear of absurd amounts being bandied about to cut off the leading lady's well chiselled nose or worse to slice her head off her slender neck, and all because the said outfit thought the director would show their revered (and long dead!) queen romancing her husband's arch enemy, Allaudin Khilji, who at that time, was the ruling Sultan at Delhi. 
After much yoyoing, a couple of cuts and a slight change of name, the censor board of India allowed the producers to release the movie. Not without destruction and drama though. Movie theatres were trashed and malls were attacked on the first day by members of that particular group, highways were blocked, effigies of the main cast were burnt, worst of all a school bus carrying very young children was attacked in Delhi, with the result that four states in India have not released the movie, in direct contravention of the orders of India's apex court. But it is enjoying a very successful run in the rest of the country and the world, as was proved by the packed theatre in Nairobi today!
The whole story revolves around the fact that  Khilji is enamoured by the description he hears of Padmavati's unparalleled beauty and is determined to add her to his harem. That she is already another man's wife, is of no consequence to him. India's leading Bollywood hero does a marvellous job in the role of Allauddin Khilji and is evil personified! You do not want to be alone in a room with this man...Every time he and his coterie come on screen, it is as if darkness descends upon Earth. I do not know if this is a clever play of lights by Bhansali or it is the evil that emanates from Khilji that sucks out light and happiness from the screen...No morals, no scruples, no principles, he is the complete antithesis of Padmavati's husband.
Bollywood's leading lady glows as Rani Padmavati and the external trappings (and in my mind unimportant) of designer clothes and jewellery from one of India's leading jewellery houses only help to enhance her ethereally regal aura. But her real strength lies in her intelligence and that is how she rescues her husband once from the clutches of Khilji. Her highly principled husband is finally killed treacherously by Khilji's slave and the enemy is about to descend upon the Chittod  fort and Khilji can barely wait to finally lay his hands on Padmavati.
Now comes the part, which, those of us who have studied in India, had only read about in history books. Padmavati exhorts all the women in the fort to commit Jauhar. Jauhar is mass self immolation by women to avoid falling into the hands of the invaders to avoid capture, rape or death at their hands. It embodies the Rajput motto of 'Death Before Dishonour'. Jauhar was outlawed by the British in the 19th century and is obviously no longer practised in modern day India. But this did not stop a few hundred foolish women from promising to commit Jauhar if the movie was released...
Now comes the second part of the controversy being fuelled mainly via FaceBook, by India's intellectually elite women. They say the movie glorifies Jauhar. They say it feels like they have been reduced to a certain part of a woman's anatomy. They say there is life after rape. They are angry that she took her husband's permission to perform Jauhar, if the need arose. They are absolutely right but in the context of the modern world! It is important to watch this movie in the correct context. Rajasthan lay in the route of all invaders from central Asia and Europe. Battered and buffeted by constant invasions, women and children resorted to Jauhar as a last resort after all the men folk had been butchered. And the director has not made up this part of the story, it is a sacred part of Rajput history and folk lore and the site of Padmavati's Jauhar nearly seven hundred years ago can be viewed in Chittod even today. Let it remain in the past and do not even think of applying it to any aspect of our lives today...
Protest if you must but do it against female foeticide and female infanticide in Rajasthan and other states in the same belt. Protest against people grieving when a daughter is born, protest when a home maker needs her husband's 'permission' to spend money and does not even have an ATM card, let alone a credit card...despite India going cashless and digital. Padmavati proudly proclaims in the movie that there is as much strength in a Rajput woman's bangle as there is in a Rajput man's sword. So maybe with the spotlight sharply on Rajasthan, thanks to the movie, it is time to use that strength to protect fellow women, instead of using it to shove a grain of rice up a new born female's nostril?
The state that has one of the worst child sex ratios in India needs help. Instead of wasting time over what may or may not have occurred many centuries ago, folks need to wake up and prevent evil from spreading now. Go watch the movie if you so desire, do not be cowed down by protestors who have nothing better to do. Don't buy popcorn though, the Kafkaesque Khilji's shenanigans will dry up your mouth and throat and it will be that much harder to swallow! If you do choose to buy it, the very piquant Padmavati's character will add enough spice to it...Enjoy the movie for what it is, a slice of history delivered for the small price of a movie ticket. And be thankful you are a woman of today...


Image result for Padmaavat new poster

                                                        PC: Wikipedia.

Beatific Bedtime Basics

Bedtime for kids! It’s that time of the day that parents of young children really look forward to while it evokes an equally opposite reaction from most children. They are loathe to go to bed for fear of missing out on exciting things happening around the house or they may dislike their play time being cut short. But like all good habits, a smooth transition into bed at the end of a busy day, has to be inculcated from the time they are very young. Or else, be prepared for a battle royale every night…
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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Of Wasted Wedding Wishes And Cruel Condolences....

                         The traditional North Indian Bridal Chura (red and white bridal bangle set)
                                                      Picture Credit: The Inter Net

A little more than two months ago, I woke up rather early for a Sunday morning. Diwali had just got over and I was feeling languorous. Five days of festivities, coupled with my husband's office and son's school routines on in full force, does not leave much time for leisure. The only saving grace was that since my students in India had Diwali holidays, I, too, had the week off from on line classes. But I had invited our former neighbours for brunch on that particular Sunday, since their daughter was leaving for college in Singapore at the end of October, and I wanted to say good bye to her. I switched on the net, as I waited for the water to boil for my tea. The first group I always check is the security group on WhatsApp and a solitary message had popped in. 'Asian male shot dead in the early hours of Sunday, on XYZ road.' At first I mentally dismissed the message, sorry as I felt for the unknown victim, even as I thought that Asian males should know better than to be out on Nairobi streets at pre dawn hours. I'm ashamed to admit that my second thought was 'must be a young guy coming home from a drinking binge, and probably feeling invincible, as a result of all that alcohol floating around in the blood stream.' (Those who know me well, know that I am puritanical in my dislike of alcohol and tobacco and cannot understand to this day why men and women need to down a couple of pegs or ingest smoke to enjoy life, but I rarely air my views on this particular subject.). I could not have been more wrong about the circumstances of the death, as the next set of messages, which were rapidly pouring in, proved...
In what was later explained away as a bungled police operation and a case of 'mistaken identity', one of Nairobi's richest young businessmen had been shot in his own bungalow. The armoured vehicles had allegedly entered his compound by breaking down his gate and when he tried to retaliate from his bed room window, he was gunned down. Soon his identity was freely being shared on all the Nairobi groups and I was horror struck when I realized I had met his young wife, (who had recently had their baby), a couple of times, a few years ago, because she is very close to friends of ours from our Dar Es Salaam days. She also works for one of the Asian Radio channels as a Radio Jockey and is a celebrity of sorts in Nairobi. And we had heard all about the impending wedding on radio too, at that time...
Brunch menu forgotten, I sat down with my cup of tea and tried to process what the steady stream of messages was saying. I remembered our common friend flying down from India for one of the biggest weddings Nairobi has seen in the last few years. I went onto to Face Book to look at pictures. When you have common friends tagged in pictures, you can usually view them on Face Book. And there she was in all her bridal glory, wearing bangles very similar to the ones in the picture I have shared above, her proud, brand new husband by her side and our mutual friend grinning broadly, especially as she had made a special trip from India to bless the happy couple.... It was hard, SO hard to believe the young man was no more..
Just a week or so before this terribly tragic incident, one of my school friends, who had been keeping vigil outside the Intensive Care Unit in a Pune hospital where her mother had been admitted, shared a couple of stories with me, during her weekly telephonic updates about her mother's condition. She told me about a young girl, from a small town near Pune, who she met outside the critical care unit, who had just lost her husband to dengue. That day, she told my friend, through a flood of tears, was to have been their six month wedding anniversary... "How will I live without my husband?" she plaintively asked my friend. "The way I do.." was my brave friend's reply, even as she showed that young stranger her own husband's picture, whom she had lost to brain tumour very early in their married life. Another young bride, my friend said, had just lost her husband to a massive heart attack and was busy trying to make her new in laws eat a few morsels in the hospital corridor, in the midst of tragedy..
So what happened to all those wedding wishes? Did they never reach these couples? If not, where did they go? You know, all those 'congratulations and best wishes and long and happy married life' ones that we dutifully spout at weddings,( but genuinely mean), just before we systematically attack the lunch or dinner buffet?
I like to believe they float around everywhere and though they may not always be of use to the couples that they were intended for, they do sometimes reach those who were, may be, meant to have them....All those young husbands and wives who were saved by a whisker from an accident, those who survived a life threatening disease, or a terrorist attack (like the young couple who was caught in the Taj hotel just before their own wedding reception, during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, but miraculously made it out alive) definitely benefited from their own wedding wishes, and those 'wasted wishes' still circulating around in the Universe too...That's what, they say, spreading positivity is all about, after all.
The tail end of November brought more terrible news. My school music teacher's ten year old son passed away suddenly in his school, in my home town Pune. He succumbed to heart problems and could not be revived... Besides being my former teacher's son he was also my son's classmate's first cousin and before we moved to Nairobi, I had often met the boy, who was a mere toddler then, while waiting to pick my own son up from outside the school. So when my cousin from Pune , who was my classmate in school, messaged me the news, I literally had no words left...
I lost a former student too, a few days ago, the victim of a road accident in my home town. He was fifteen years old and soon to appear for his tenth standard board exams.. I have his mother's number in my phone, but I do not have the words to express my grief and sorrow...Many of his classmates and friends are currently my students on Skype and the day after we got the news, every one of them made mistake after mistake in class. All I could say to console them was, 'I know you are upset,don't worry about your errors now. You will do well in the exam...'
When a mother has lost a child, offering condolences seems so trite, it seems as if one is being deliberately cruel. How can you condole pre mature death? Nearly three decades ago, I read an article about facing loss in Reader's Digest which has stayed with me to this day. Never, ever, tell a grieving parent, 'Oh I know exactly how you feel.' NO, you cannot know what a person who has lost their baby in a particular set of circumstances is going through, so do not even bother to try. Instead, send a hot meal, send a prayer, send a warm hug...do NOT send condolences.
Why did I choose to write about this when almost the whole world is on holiday and on vacation in exotic locations around the world and in a relaxed 'end of the year' mood?
My former teacher's Face Book post from a couple of days ago compelled me to put down what has been on my mind for a while. She said there is a word for a woman or a man who has lost a life partner :widow/widower. There is a word for a child who has lost both parents: an orphan. (And also for a child who has lost either parent: motherless/ fatherless). But there is NO word in the English language for a parent who has lost a child... She has requested everyone to remember those parents who have lost children and to say a prayer for them..even as you go about enjoying and living your own life, as you should and you must...
Today it's also been two years since my son's friend lost his little sister. A few hours from now, I will plant a tree in her name in a location in our garden, where, when it grows after a few years, it will be seen from the road this child took to school every day. A school she left too soon...That's my way of passing on my condolences, to all I know who have lost a child. I know it's not enough, it never will be, but it is all I can do...


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

My Grand Mother's Pumpkin Ice Cream

 

                                                       Boiled, sliced, orange Pumpkin   

                                                     
                                                       Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater,
                                                       Had a wife and couldn't keep her.
                                                       So he put her in a pumpkin shell,
                                                       And there he kept her very well!

These lines, which will have my ultra feminist daughter up in arms, (wives aren't kept, they can well earn their own 'keep', thank you very much, I can hear her say), are from a book which was a childhood favourite: Illustrated Mother Goose, Nursery Rhymes. Outdated and outmoded the rhyme may well be, but whenever I gazed at the pumpkin in my refrigerator, it kept echoing through my mind...And stared at it I certainly did because it sat on a shelf in there for two whole weeks. My husband was on a business trip to Tanzania (he's back now so I can safely declare it in this post!), my daughter isn't home from college for her winter (Nairobi summer) break yet and so with just my son and me rattling around the  house, cooking had been reduced to a bare minimum. The longer it sat there the more distasteful the idea of cooking it became. Being Indian, we have myriad ways of cooking pumpkin: a stir fried vegetable with peanut powder and spices, or steamed pumpkin with spiced curd or sweetened pumpkin mixed with whole wheat flour and deep fried...the list can run on, depending on which region of India you come from. None of these seemed very appealing and then I remembered my grandmother's pumpkin ice cream!
I was ten years old and we were living in Gauhati, Assam and my paternal grandmother was visiting us. My sister and I came home from school one day to find that a lovely surprise awaited us. A mellow yellow, tempting, home made ice cream! We immediately helped ourselves to bowlfuls of frozen gold, for that's exactly what it looked like. My grandmother asked us to guess the main ingredient, but  try as we might, we just couldn't and had to finally, reluctantly, give up and ask her to disclose the answer. It was Pumpkin Ice Cream!
Since that day, until she passed away nearly a decade later, my grandmother often made this particular ice cream, especially when we had guests over for a meal. Our favourite game was asking people to hazard a guess about the core component! Believe me, few succeeded...
My grandmother belonged to that generation of ladies who never really needed a recipe to cook. They did everything off the top of their heads. And silly, foolish, immersed in academics me never bothered to ask her either...And so the recipe for the perfect pumpkin ice cream, instead of being passed on to me, passed away with my grandmother...
A couple of times in the past I did try to make pumpkin ice cream. But either I could clearly SEE pumpkin strands embedded in the ice cream or worse I could taste boiled pumpkin, which was not supposed to be the case at all...So I had given up.
This morning I did not have a very busy Skype class schedule and that pumpkin in the fridge was grating on my nerves, with its clearly printed super market price sticker. Pumpkins are expensive here! The Internet did not yield a satisfactory recipe because every American pumpkin ice cream recipe had cinnamon and other similar spices! We use cinnamon in our curries and biryanis, rarely in our desserts...I decided to make up a recipe as I went along..
So I asked my house help to skin the poor pumpkin and chop it up. She kept complaining how tough it had become...well, it had been aged to perfection! It was finally ready to be boiled, then pureed and mixed into the milky concoction. After simmering the whole mixture for quite a while and then cooling it, it was finally ready for freezing.
                                                 
                                           Bubbling merrily away in all its golden glory...   

I wanted to play the guessing game with my son but I realized that I had given away the secret on the family WhatsApp group, which he read after coming home from school. I tend to forget he's on that group because he has only recently been allowed to use WhatsApp, albeit only from home.
 Post dinner I scooped up some ice cream for myself in a glass bowl. It was amazing, though it still needed a bit more time to freeze firmly, but it certainly brought my grandmother and those long gone days to mind.. But my son was very skeptical and took just a spoonful of the ice cream to begin with. Needless to say, he LOVED it and came back with a huge bowlful. GenNext had become successfully addicted to this nutrient dense, rich ice cream.
  My sister wanted the recipe immediately and I told her I planned to write up the story on my blog and would share the recipe there too. So here it is! I've never shared a recipe in the last six and a half years of blogging simply because there are people better qualified to do so out there but I really couldn't get anything good for the Indian version of this ice cream and so I modified my Kulfi recipe!

Ingredients
Whole Milk: 1 litre
Condensed Milk: 1 can
Saffron: A few strands
Cardamom: A few green pods
Pumpkin: 400 gms approximately.The bright orange one, skinned, deseeded, chopped, boiled and pureed finely, when cool.

Method
Boil the milk in a heavy bottomed pan and let it simmer for around thirty minutes. Add all the condensed milk, along with the saffron and cardamom and keep stirring. When the quantity reduces to three fourths of the original, add the pumpkin mix and keep stirring. Let it simmer for at least thirty to forty minutes more, until you actually see it becoming thicker and creamier.
Remove from flame and allow it to cool completely. Pour it into the vessel or box you want to freeze it in. After a few hours, take it out from the freezer, scoop it up and let the rich, smooth, creamy goodness trickle down your throat! There will be no ice crystals if you have done it right. And yes, allow folks to try it out and play the game with them! That's actually the icing on the cake... I mean the topping on the ice cream!


                                               
Home made pumpkin ice cream, anyone?



Saturday, 11 November 2017

Knick-Knack Paddy Whack, Who Gives A Bone?

The past week has not been an easy one. The mother of a very dear friend of mine passed away in my home town, Pune, after a month long battle with multiple ailments. While we all have to accept that our parents are ageing, what makes this triply hard to bear is the fact that my friend lost her husband to brain tumour more than nine years ago. Since then, her mother has been her bed rock, helping to care for her then toddler, now pre teen daughter. And when the time came, my friend stood strong, like a rock too, by her mother's side in the Intensive Care Unit, firmly pushing away the terrible memories that hospitals evoke from her husband's battle for life, of more than a decade ago.. When I messaged her yesterday, she was keeping herself busy, 'taking stock of things', she said. This brought home the point that while our bodies leave this earth, we leave behind a vast array of our 'things'...
This grim reality was spelled  out to me when I came to view the house we are currently living in. I have been wanting to write about this for a long while but somehow, the time never seemed right, and it just kept brewing in my mind for the last nearly ten months...So here's the rather strong brew for you. Ingest it, if you can, then act upon it, if you will...
I contacted the house agent after seeing the advert for the bungalow for rent in our bi weekly on line school reporter. We were interested because the house was a minute's walk from my son's school and we had been saying for a long while that once our nose-to-the-academic-grindstone daughter graduated from high school and moved on to college, we would definitely move closer to the school because, besides academics, our son has a finger in every pie: Music, Sports, Drama and this entailed in him reaching home rather late most days of the week, something that makes me very uncomfortable in Nairobi. And so there I was, with an appointment to view the house, having rushed across town in between taking classes on line, because good houses, that close to school, don't remain empty for long...


The first thing that greeted me were two permanent geranium beds on either side of the front door steps, filled with scarlet geraniums, interspersed with pristine white ones. I have loved these flowers since I was a child and it looked like the owner did too...

As we marched up the terracotta coloured steps, I saw two decorated, brightly coloured cloth birds hanging from either side of the door, very ethnic, very Indian.. I turned to the agent and asked if the owner was a person of Indian origin. She affirmed that that was indeed the case!
We stepped into the foyer and I took in the mellow wood floors and the chocolate brown built-in cupboards, shelves and cabinets. Carefully selected (or so it seemed to me) paintings hung at well chalked out intervals along the long, broad passageway, leading up to the living room or hall, as we call it in India. Long curtains, both sheer and printed ones, fluttered in the gentle breeze coming in from the French windows, which led to a spacious porch, where I could just imagine the owner and his wife sitting down for numerous cups of tea over the last few decades, since they built this house.
The house agent explained to me that the old man had passed away six months ago, while his wife had preceded him a few years earlier. Both the sons, had left Kenya for greener pastures many moons ago and that's how the house was now available for rent. Numerous vases of various types lined  the mantelpiece, over the huge fireplace that dominated the room, each one chock full of artificial flowers. I guess, as the couple aged, they gave up getting in fresh flowers from the garden and settled for fake ones instead...Other knick knacks too vied for space there and I could see souvenirs from various countries around the world, much like I have back home in India. Compact disks spilled out of their allotted niche in the television cabinet. Rugs and comfortable sofas were scattered around the room.
A beautifully carved, black-brown glass fronted crockery cupboard adorned the dining room with it's large dining table and fancy overhanging lamps. That cupboard and another built in crockery cabinet were both crammed with delicate tea sets, dinner plates, quarter plates, exquisite bowls, cut glass serving bowls, expensive glasses and pudding sets. Specially bought and cut to size laminated faux-wood paper lined the shelves which were literally groaning under the weight of this collection, out of which some of the items were at least half a century old, if not more..
A quick walk through the master bedroom revealed a huge ornately carved bed and two of the walls were lined with floor to ceiling wooden cupboards. I dared to open one just to check the shelf size but hurriedly closed it again when I saw that bedding, pillows, quilts, towels and curtains were threatening to spill out of that vast space!
The remaining three bedrooms were no better off in terms of the sheer quantity of items in cupboards, old mementos, books, long forgotten clothes and more pillows, but the agent assured me that the things would be 'disposed of' the minute someone agreed to rent the house. The master bathroom cabinet had packets of disposable gloves and medicines, a poignant reminder that an ill old man had lived and breathed his last here. And then, I came to the kitchen.
The heart of any Indian home is it's kitchen. Our spicy, tasty food, with an infinite variety of  dishes aims to please the palate. But that comes at a cost! We need a large number of utensils to whip up those delicious meals. This kitchen, with its cosy breakfast nook and 'cooking' themed grey tiles was no different. Though the lady of the house had died a few years ago, her things remained untouched. Shelves upon shelves of steel vessels in all shapes and sizes, iron woks, serving spoons, knives, peelers, pressure cookers in myriad sizes, rolling pins, a built in oven, electric stove top, you name it, it was there..A tiny glass cupboard was still full of her spices dating back from heaven knows when. All the little touches that make a home were present. Only the owners were conspicuous by their absence...
The most heart wrenching sight, for me, that day, was a little wooden temple lying empty in one of the bedrooms. All the idols of our Gods were missing and someone had carelessly thrown a back supporting orthopaedic belt across it, one that had probably been used by the old man. The house, being a very tangible and lucrative asset, would be cleaned and rented out for a princely sum but no one was bothered about that one lone belt that had been the old man's constant companion in his last days, perhaps his only comfort.
By the time we moved in, the house had been 'decluttered' and, the agent told me, all the furniture and most of the things had been distributed to friends and distant family members. The rest of the things were either being taken away by the live in house keeper or had been consigned to the dust bin. And so that was how a full house was reduced to a mere shell and a lifetime of memories were simple swept away or given away, because frankly nobody had the time or the energy or the inclination to care..
On my first morning in the new kitchen, the house keeper who was vacating the detached servants' quarter that day, knocked at the window. When I opened it, she told me to look in between two shelves in one of the kitchen cupboards and to pull out the three things kept there. I did as instructed and out came three cast iron griddles...Any Indian woman will tell you how particular we are about our griddles because they influence the quality and texture of our chapattis, parathas, dosas, to a very large extent! The house keeper wanted to take away those for her own use but had overlooked them earlier, as had my house help, when she had cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom, before we moved in... I handed them to her through the window and, as I closed it, sadly thought to myself that I had now truly obliterated the last trace of the actual owner of this kitchen, I had just donated one of the cornerstones of her kitchen, her 'tavas' (griddles).
After this interesting and novel experience of moving, I was doubly glad that I started my own declutter process in my own home in India nearly a decade ago! Instead of hoarding and buying more and more, I simply keep donating what I have, be it clothes, toys, crockery, furniture, NOT books! Holidays are restricted to buying just a couple of affordable souvenirs, if at all even those..Literally and metaphorically, at the end of the day, I would rather throw my own junk out of the trunk than have strangers do it for me...because really who gives a bone about your knick knacks?

                                         Some of my knick knacks from back home in India!

             Well, to be honest, I have a whole cupboard of them! But no additions now...Who gives a bone!


Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Helpful Houseguests Make Happy Hosts

No matter how much we protest, a time comes when our children go off by themselves to friends’ houses for short as well as long durations of time. It starts with a much begged-for sleepover, followed by a weekend friend’s house, then a long weekend to a friend’s straight from the college hostel. Of course, coming home and then leaving would not be worth the time and money. These scenarios are going to come up sooner or later in all our lives and the sooner we start training our children, the better it will be for all concerned, but more especially for the parent hosting your child or young adult!
To read more please go to  http://www.parentous.com/2017/09/29/good-manners-during-sleepovers/

How I got An Impromptu Valentine Lunch

During my self allotted, strictly ten minutes only, of FaceBook time earlier this evening, I came across scores of pictures of couples, lib...