Saturday, 29 October 2011

A Dismal Diwali......For Some!

Kenyans(of Indian origin),Indians(of Indian origin),the major malls,the small shops,in short everyone connected to India,were all set to celebrate a dazzling  Diwali in Nairobi.Then just a week before D day the bombshell fell!The Kenyan government resolved to flush out a certain militant group in a neighbouring country who had taking to kidnapping tourists from the beautiful beach resorts of Kenya.So the Kenyan army(which,I think,like the Indian army is a Kolonial legacy!) marched forth rapidly into their neighbour's territory.
Thus the action began and the upshot was that the militant group threatened to attack prominent malls and other public places in Nairobi.A couple of grenade attacks took place immidiately in downtown Nairobi and what is more surprising is that one of the perpetuators was caught and sentenced in a matter of seventy two hours!We Indians who are still butchering calves to feed Kasab(the butcher) could only look on in admiration....
To go back to Diwali,my friends had lost no time in telling me about the marvellous firework displays that herald India's festival of lights.These take place in about four different locations and were said to be worth a dekko.I,being of the opinion that we create enough pollution just by existing on this earth,was not really enthusiastic about encouraging even more pollution,but the children were eager to see the display and so we planned to go.
The net result of the grenade attacks was that all firework displays across Nairobi were banned by the government as they did not want to risk someone sneaking in a real bomb in lieu of a faux one!All the pollution enthusiasts were sorely disappointed and a few like me rejoiced!It was indeed a dismal Diwali for some!But,unlike in India,people here actually obey the rules and hence this Diwali was really a silent one.
The other immidiate effect we could see was that all the security personnel at all the malls began scrutinizing our cars,our bags and our purses for bombs,grenades and the like.The reassuring silence of the metal detector as it passed over us made us feel we were back home,where of course thanks to another neighbour,we cannot imagine entering a mall without being sanitized by the security people first!
Yesterday,the children's school had the parent teacher meeting and on the way there we passed the United Nations Africa head quarters.Sniffer dogs were actually entering each car and checking it before allowing it to proceed through the gates!A first for us since we have only seen these noble animals on duty at airports till now!
To top it all,it rained on all the days of Diwali and we got caught in a major traffic jam due to the heavy rains yesterday.It is more fun to write about a jam than to suffer through one.It took us two hours to reach our destination which is just twenty minutes away on a normal day.The kids were hungry and thirsty to say nothing of grumpy by the time we burst out of the car.How dismal can a dismal Diwali get?!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Preparing For CFS!

'I am going' my daughter declared,the minute she came home from school,in a tone that brooked no argument.Now since this tone is usually my perogative,I was surprised to say the least!'Going where?'I asked with some trepidation.(Trepidation,hesitation,palpitation comes naturally to mothers of children who have just entered their teens and already think they are adults!)Pat came the reply'For CFS!'As I am a complete ignoramus when it comes to the American system of education,she helpfully expanded it for me.'Cultural Field Studies'.
It transpired that the school was taking the 8th grade students to Mt.Suswa Conservancy,a double volcanic crater,which is a few hours drive from Nairobi.The children would be camping out in tents for three days,hiking,walking and exploring the caves formed by lava flow,with Masai guides.They would also be interacting with the local population at a school in the crater.Now I am not the type of mother who blissfully sends the kids hiking,camping,trekking and the like.I prefer them under my nose most of the time,never mind if they are underfoot as well!Hence my daughter's apprehension that she would be forbidden and the firm declaration that she would go!But since this was through the school I,for once,had no objections,nor did my husband,and so we began preparing for the trip.
The first must have on the list was a sleeping bag.We have two in India but I had never imagined we would need them here!So we had to fork out an exhorbitant amount to buy one from the nearest mall.Next on the list was a torch.We have lost count of the number of torches we have back home and  not one of them here!My husband liked a torch which could be clipped onto her cap and I had to remind him that they were going to explore the caves,not mine in them!A hand held one would do just fine!(at half the cost of the miners torch,of course!)
The next issue was that of vegetarian food.Being one of two vegetarians in the whole group of almost eighty students,I was not sure if she would be catered for.So in went Parathas,Mathri-both sweet and spicy,potato wafers and potato sticks,Oreos cookies in two flavours,apples and some sweets.I once read somewhere that Indian mothers just want their children to eat and study and her bulging sack surely proved the first part right!
Finally D day dawned and like typical Indian parents we went to drop her to school-though the regular school bus would have done just as well!The scene in front of our eyes reminded me of days from my cantonment childhood when we would see army units moving out for some military excercise.Huge overlanders were being loaded with everything from tents to ground sheets,massive bottles of water,crates of soft drinks and kitchen equipment,to say nothing of the luggage of so many students!There was no chaos or confusion,just precision.
Ten minutes before the given time of departure,they were ready to roll.Everything and everyone was in place.Our Indian Standard Time will definately not work here!
As I said 'Bye' to her for the upteenth time,I reminded myself of Khalil Gibran's famous verse,
'Your children are not your children,
They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself,
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you,they belong not to you.'

Though a DNA test might prove otherwise!!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A Kenyan Dussehra

Early in the morning on Dussehra day,a friend of mine from Dar Es Salaam days,now a long time resident of Nairobi,called me up to wish me.She told me that Dussehra is celebrated in a big way at one of the huge temples in Nairobi and urged us to take the kids there.I demurred,since as children in India we had always heard horror stories of how a half burnt effigy of Ravan invariably topples towards the crowd resulting in chaos and a stampede!So I had never seen one being burnt nor had the children.In fact,all my previous memories of Dussehra are centred around studies!October is the time we have the terminal(half yearly)exams in most Indian schools and they literally terminate the parents and children,what with the vast portions and the stress they generate!
But she managed to convince me and evening found us on our way to the temple.Even though we went quite early the temple parking was chok full and a steady stream of people were making their way behind the temple where all the action was.The Asian FM radio channel was actually covering the event live for their listeners!
Then we saw a huge,extremely well made effigy of Ravan in the middle of the lush green,well manicured lawn.A huge circle around it had been cordoned off putting to rest my fears of a burning Ravan avenging us Ram Bhakts by falling on us!The atmosphere was truly carnival like and reminded me of a village mela(fair)albeit a sophisticated one!There were stalls all around the place selling everything from bhel and paani puri to chole and Kacchi dabeli!Scores of people were milling around, most having already started on the chaat and steadily working their way through all the tempting fare!
There were merry go round rides for the children,a toy stall was doing a brisk trade,mehendi artists were busy decorating hands and the queue for nail art was so long that they ran out of nail paint before my daughter's turn came,much to her disappointment!A troupe of monkeys passed by,led by Hanuman complete with their tails hanging behind them,reminding me of Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana,in the Doordarshan era.How avidly we used to watch it!
We met one of our neighbours and he offered us hot,crisp,saffron coloured(and saffron flavoured)jalebi.It was delicious but my seven year old son was truly puzzled to find the family there.When I asked him why he was surprised,he answered that they are Kenyans so why were they celebrating Dussehra?Then I had to explain to him that one might be a Kenyan by birth,the last three generations might have lived in Kenya with most of them never having visited India,but being of Indian origin,they will always celebrate all the Indian festivals in a big way!The British brought Indians out of India to work on laying  the railway line in East Africa but they could not take India out of them!
As dusk turned to dark,the Ravan was set afire and blazed magnificently across the Kenyan horizon.Simultaneously,beautiful fireworks lit the sky!We were a long way from India and even further from Sri Lanka where the original story took place but I don't think I have ever felt closer to my roots, surrounded by Indians who have never even seen India,recreating an epic!Hats off to a Kenyan Dussehra!!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Mamma Boga

The intercom buzzes discreetly and when I answer a voice asks me if I need 'Boga'(vegetables)in Kiswahili,the local language of Kenya and the rest of East Africa.I answer in the affirmative and then wait for Mamma Boga,the itinerant vegetable seller,to trudge up to our third floor flat since we do not have an elevator.Such is the use of modern technology!She ensures that the effort of climbing the steps will not be in vain by using the intercom!
As Mamma Boga comes into sight I am reminded of our tea pickers of Assam.She has a huge basket slung on her back but going by the smile on her face one would never guess that she is lugging around at least ten kilos of vegetables.All married women are called Mamma in this part of the continent hence the name Mamma Boga!
She sets down the basket on the floor and begins to display the wares.Thanks to Kenya's cool weather and frequent showers even the vegetables thrive here!The tomatoes are farm fresh,a bright red with green sepals still clinging to them.She offers me tender,light green lady's finger,which she calls 'bhindi'(yes,they know all the Indian names of vegetables,we Asians being their biggest customers).It's just begging to be stuffed and I buy it immidiately!Then I turn my attention to the well polished brinjal which she assures me will be good for 'bharta'!Putting aside my inherent dislike for the blameless 'baingan' I buy it for my husband.Milky white garlic pearls and ginger rhizomes are a must have,though the garlic packet carries a 'Made In China' tag!
But though Mamma Boga assures me that the knobbly 'karela'(bitter gourd) is not bitter at all,I refuse to be persuaded!I snap up the  fragile french beans and the creamy cauliflower.Knowing the weakness we Indians have for pickles she hopefully holds up a bag full of raw mangoes and says for 'achaar'.I ignore the mangoes(who wants to ingest extra salt and oil!)but then she pulls out a packet of big,vermillion red chillies like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat!And I am smitten.I love stuffed red chilly pickle and so in go the chillies!A litre of mustard oil imported from India,costs the same amount as three litres of locally manufactured sunflower oil and so is the case with the amchoor(dry mango powder) that I need for this achaar!But that is another story and will not deter me from making it!
I see a mellow yellow pumpkin jostling for space with crunchy carrots and cool cucumbers.A few laukis(bottle gourds)lie languidly in another corner,sure to be sold before the day is over.After all,who cooks lauki the way we do?Sabji,raita,kofta,halwa,you name it,we make it!Pale pink,papery skinned onions smirk confidently at me,knowing they will be in almost every dish that is churned out in my kitchen!A pile of dusty potatoes peers out of the basket looking very humble,despite being a staple in almost all the major cuisines of the world!Of course I need a kilo of those!
Dark green spinach,grass green coriander and some fine fenugreek(methi) ensures enough iron in the children's diet and rounds off my vegetable shopping.A little bit of bargaining,(how can I digest these veggies unless I know for sure I have got my money's worth!) and we are through.
As I stock up my fridge with the vegetables,I know that after just a few days the intercom  will buzz again and I will hear a voice say,'Boga,Mamma?'

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