Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Of Mothers And Daughters, Of Tea And Tears...

I had been reading those Senior Mother Daughter Tea invitations in the on line school weekly news magazine ever since we moved to Kenya almost four years ago. And though it sounded good I did not give it more than a fleeting thought simply because my daughter was eons away from being a Senior, or as we say in India, a twelfth grade student. Or so I thought...
I saw the invitation a couple of weeks ago too and then I realised WE would be the ones to whom that invitation would be addressed next year! This seems to be a traditional American High School event and we have nothing even remotely like it in India, as far as I know. And then a week ago I got an invite to help for this event. The teacher who invited me explained that they invite a few mothers of Junior girls to help set up and serve the tea and snacks so that they, in turn, can continue the tradition the following year, when their own daughters are Seniors and ready to graduate from school. When it comes to volunteering I am often the first one off the block and if it means a totally new experience, I am more than ready. So I immediately agreed to come and help and looking back I would not have missed this event for the world!
A weather forecast of heavy rain in Nairobi last Sunday afternoon entailed a last minute change of venue from beside the school pool to the Elementary School library. Tables covered with spotless white table cloths, jars and huge shining kettles filled with the prettiest flowers Nairobi has to offer formed a colourful backdrop to the tea party as we quickly set everything in place. Pretty printed disposable plates, colourful paper napkins in pastel shades of pink, green, yellow and blue and flower patterned delicate bone china cups as part of the centre pieces gave it the perfect feminine touch required. The flower filled jars of varying sizes nestled up in colourful cotton Kikoi cloths which were scrunched up in the centre of each table, offering a deep East African connect, as it is from this continent that each young lady invited that day will soon step out into the real world of adulthood, independence, college...
And then the Senior mothers and their daughters began trickling in. A bit of chit chat, mingling, introductions, even as we Junior mothers observed and marvelled at the self possessed young ladies who were so well coiffured and perfectly turned out. Soon after every one had tucked in into the delicious food and fruit punch, it was time to sit back with a cup of tea or coffee and await the unfolding of the main ceremony. It began with a blessing by a Senior mother for all the girls as they entered this last month of their school life before they left this safe and secure world of school and home forever. Then each mother in turn had to say a few words about her daughter and bless her with a small gift, usually in the form of a scarf, a stole or a shawl which signified that the daughter would always be covered with the mother's love, blessing and prayers, no matter where in the world she might be.
Before they began this ceremony, they passed around a basket of small packets of tissues, daintily tied up with yellow ribbons, and each mother and daughter helped herself to a pack. There were three other mothers of Junior girls who were helping out along with me and we were at a table by ourselves and the basket almost by passed us as we were not sending away our girls just yet, but I was quick to grab a pack! I have inherited the most weak lachrymal glands possible. They leak even when I laugh so you can imagine what happens when a situation actually warrants tears!
Each mother, though determined not to shed a tear, was soon crying freely as she, in her turn, spoke about her own daughter and shared her inner most thoughts and hopes for her daughter. Sobs and sniffles dominated each speech. Some mothers spoke extempore, others had flash cards but could not see enough to read through their tears, still others had typed out words on handheld devices but forgot passwords or had to search for their spectacles, clearly spelling out that they did, indeed, have grown up daughters! Most of the girls had tears in their eyes too but were smiling broadly as well, eager to taste a new life. Many held on to their mothers as they struggled to speak, as if to lend them strength, as the mothers spoke of mentally preparing for the fact that all too soon it would be time to say good bye. At our table too, the Junior mothers tore open my packet of tissues as we could see ourselves right there at this time next year...My pretty yellow napkin was already a sodden mess and I, too, grabbed a fresh one from the pack. As expatriate parents at an international school, we send our children  away not just to a college in the same city, or to another city in the same country or to another country on the same continent. We are or will be sending our children to a different continent altogether, often a couple of continents away! So that makes it even harder, especially as the children are just seventeen and eighteen years of age...
There was laughter too amidst the rheum, as a mother spoke of how her own mother had gifted her a towel when she first went away to college! She had had it for many decades and it always reminded her of her mother. She finally threw out the threadbare towel one day but has regretted the action ever since. So she gifted her daughter a beautiful blue, ribbon edged towel and hoped it would soon become a precious item for her!
Another mother draped a colourful African stole around her daughter's shoulders and said the girl's late father had bought this for his daughter and she had chosen to give it to her on that day, as a reminder of the fact that the father would always be a part of his daughter's life...A few mothers spoke of daughters raiding their wardrobes, their jewellery boxes and their shoe closets. These were the little slices of life, as mothers of daughters, that they would miss, as the girls moved away to start their own life.
Yet another lady spoke of how this particular daughter had been born just a couple of months after her own mother's death, leading her to always seeing her own mother in her daughter and she and her husband have even given the baby the grandmother's name. A mother daughter bond that has transcended death...
Whether it was an only daughter, or the first one or the middle one or the youngest one that was going away, one thing was clear to me, that it never became easier and the pain seemed raw and fresh, as was evident from the reactions of even mothers who, by now, had become veterans at saying good bye, having sent older children away to college earlier. It simply spelled out the fact that each child is unique and has his or her own special place in a parent's heart. The fact that they were sending out their precious girls into an uncertain and dangerous world was underlined by the fact that the elder daughter of one of the Senior mothers there had been in Nepal during the earthquake last week. She had been at the airport, ready to leave, when the quake struck, leaving her stranded there till she was able to safely fly out a couple of days later.
And so we Junior mothers sipped our tea in this oestrogen charged atmosphere as we watched the mothers and girls exchange reminisces and hugs, promise to keep in touch, take pictures and pray for each other, even as the little nestlings looked set to fly... Can you blame us if our tea tasted a tad salty?

                                                                     The stage is set!

                                                                          Tea Time!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Guests Galore !

Yesterday I began the rather complex process of cleaning all the cupboards and the pantry shelves in our house. I say complex because, like most  Indians or people of Indian origin, our wardrobes have ten times the clothes we actually need and that is a very conservative estimate. Given the sheer variety in Indian cuisine, we have enough stock on our pantry shelves to open our own grocery store and just may be our own restaurant too! Why this sudden frenzy of cleaning? We are expecting four guests from India next month and in their honour I am cleaning the house from top to bottom! My daughter laughs at this behaviour and says it's not as if they are going to open every drawer and cupboard and check but, to my mind, a sparkling house will add warmth to the welcome we want to accord to them...
Three of the four people coming are complete strangers to us but that, in no way, curbs my anticipation and enthusiasm for their visit. No doubt it entails a bit of extra work for me and some expense too but that does not deter or faze me in the least! Why do I love inviting people to stay in our home and see a new country? There are multiple reasons for this. The primary credit for this attitude of mine goes to two families, one of whom opened up their house to me and my mother and the other family welcomed my husband and me, almost two decades ago. Another important reason is it helps to boost Kenya's economy a bit, as my guests go on multiple safaris, shop at the Masai Market, sight see in Nairobi and spend some big bucks! I feel it's the least I can do to help a country where we earn our living. The same holds true for my own country India when I invite friends there and help them shop in places which promote our traditional arts and crafts. Last but not least, I get motivated to thoroughly clean every nook and cranny of the house!
Many years ago when my father was still in the Indian army, he was transferred out of Mumbai and I still had an important exam to give. The pressure of housing is so much in Mumbai that we were not allowed to retain the accommodation allotted to him. We had to move back to our home town. A naval family whom we had known for barely a year came and solved the dilemma for us. They invited my mother and me to come and stay with them for the entire duration of the exam, which was around two weeks. We accepted their kind offer and the lady of the house literally waited on me hand and foot, ensuring that I was free to study. Their school going kids cooperated beautifully too and I passed my exams with flying colours. I will never forget this fantastic gesture of theirs...
The second family who came to our rescue were my maternal grandfather's friends. They were Indians who had settled down in the United Kingdom and had told him any one from his family was welcome to visit them there any time. My husband and I landed up in the United Kingdom and young, reckless, heedless that we were then, called them up from London, and asked if it was fine to come and stay with them for a few days. They lived in Leigh On Sea, around an hour's ride by train from London. They agreed, even though we had given them barely a day's notice, and came and picked us up from the train station. When they showed us to their guest room, they explained that they were in the process of renovating it, had ordered new beds and had already discarded the old ones. They actually apologised for spreading mattresses on the floor and said had they told us this on the phone, we might have felt we were not welcome! So they had said nothing then and preferred to explain it to us in person. We didn't mind sleeping on the floor in the least! Then they helped us plan the rest of our holiday and being retired, even joined us on a few excursions! We, in turn, were so grateful to them that we treated them to dinner every night! It was the best holiday ever, made possible only by the kindness and warmth of complete strangers! Sadly they both passed away in the next two years but we did invite them to a meal in our home when they visited our home town the following year..
When we moved to Kenya and the children joined the American school, I discovered that none of the Americans knew much about India but all of them were fascinated by our food and clothes. So I invited every one to visit us in India and three of my son's teachers from the Elementary school accepted the offer. We were thrilled to bits and began making plans to make their visit as fruitful as possible. The first step I took was requesting my husband to coordinate his annual leave with the date that the teachers wanted to travel on. The kids and I would be leaving as soon as the school closed. Every one knows that India can be completely unsafe for women, thanks to our skewed ratio. Since they would have to traverse the expressway at an odd hour to reach our home town, which is a four hour drive from Mumbai, I would be at peace if he accompanied them. And so it was settled.
Our sweet teachers enjoyed India, shopped to their hearts' content, sampled street food, gorged on home food and partook of the famous 'thali', which has at least twenty varieties on one plate, all this coupled with lots of sight seeing too! They even offered to pay for food and fuel, all of which I refused because I had invited them, so money wasn't part of the equation at all! I had to adjust some of my classes too, in order to take the ladies around town but my students were very understanding and flexible, so the whole trip  went off perfectly well.
Just before they left India, two of them gifted my daughter and me some lovely hand made items that they had bought in Nairobi. When I asked about the organisation that had made those, one of them promised to take me there the next time she went. I said I would love to buy from there too as those items were made by mothers who had physically challenged children. The children received treatment at the same centre even as the mothers made bead jewellery, cloth items and other things.
And then soon it was August and we were back in Nairobi. In September, I got a mail from the teacher saying that they had fixed the following Saturday to go to the place from where she had purchased my gift and would I be interested in coming along? I was game, as was my daughter.
That Saturday was 21st September 2013, the day of the horrific Westgate Mall Attack. It was also the day of the children's cooking competition on the roof top parking. Even as we were driving towards the spot from where the teachers would be picking us up, we heard the advertisements on the car radio every ten minutes. Come to Westgate at 11:00 am and watch the kids cook! I said to my daughter if we hadn't been visiting the organisation today, you and I would have gone to Westgate. I would love to see kids cooking! And I had been repeating this statement for the whole of the previous week, ever since I had heard about the cooking competition. And we would have. There was nothing to stop us. My son was at a birthday party at the other end of town, my husband could have come with us or he could have continued working from home. The attack started just after 12 noon and the roof top parking was the scene of the most heart breaking slaughter possible...
And so it was my penchant for opening up my home and hearth to people that probably ended up saving my life and more importantly my daughter's life or at least prevented us from being eye witnesses to an unspeakable atrocity. It was a strange chain of events, inviting the teachers to India, they buying gifts for us from an organisation which supports a cause, my own habit of supporting such places too, which led to me accompanying them that day, the teacher being true to her word and not forgetting to include us in the trip on that particular Saturday and the two families who had welcomed us all those years ago, which makes me do the same in my own home.
God works in mysterious ways and we can only do the best we can with a pure heart and leave the rest to Him.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Let's Talk About... Weighty Woes And Weight Loss!

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated 7th April as World Health Day. They choose to focus on different aspects of health every year, for example, this year its about Food Safety, cooking and serving safe food. For me it's a good day to write about something that preys on the minds of most Indians, no matter where in the world we may be, weight!
My personal relationship with weight is a funny one. I was reed thin for the greater part of my life, the thinnest of our family of four. In fact I was so slim as a child and as a teenager, that rude, uncouth acquaintances often jokingly asked if the remaining three members of our family ate up all the food, leaving none for me! I was as healthy as a horse but food held no great interest for me, helping I guess, to maintain a weight on the lower side of normal. If a famous Bollywood actress hadn't immortalised 'Size 0', I surely would have, sooner than later!
Even the fact that I had two children did not have much effect on my weight and despite great gains of eighteen and fourteen kilo grams each time, I was soon back to a normal weight. In fact, the first time around I had lost ten kilo grams during the two day hospital stay itself, prompting even the doctor to double check by putting me back on the scales! Water retention due to sitting down and studying for exams for hours at a stretch in the last few months of pregnancy seemed to have had unexpected benefits, as in it equalled almost instant weight loss! The rest of the kilos were lost really quickly by never introducing my kids to a bottle... No better calorie burning than feeding your baby!
So when did an ideal weight turn to weighty woes? In my case I blame Africa and the relatively relaxed life that we lead here, compared to life in our own country, India, where we are continuously on the go, very often on foot. Here it isn't really considered safe for Asians like us to walk around in most areas and so it's all about hopping into your car the minute you have to exit your gate, even if your destination is just five minutes away.
My slow and steady gain started in Tanzania around the time my son was two years old. Though he kept me on my toes, it really wasn't enough and I saw a gain of a kilo and a half a year, helped by eating out occasionally and having wafers and chocolates once a week. So by the time we left Tanzania, I was at the upper limit of my ideal height for weight. Hang on, there's a reason for all these boring details. I was still confident I could get it off any time I so desired. After all, I was the Queen of Thin, wasn't I? Change that to had been! I could not have been more wrong...
It's as if a few extra kilos become like magnets for additional ones. Three years in my home town added another couple of kilos, a sure sign of age related slowing down of metabolism, as I had never really gained at home earlier! Africa was to blame, remember?
And then, we moved back to Africa, to Kenya this time. I was already three kilos above an 'ideal' limit. An odd kilo got added on again, with the misplaced confidence I can get rid of any time I wish! Two years in Kenya and the horrific Westgate Mall Attack happened. We placed ourselves under near house arrest for a while with nothing much to do except eat and mourn this tragedy. The scales showed a spike of three kilos with the result that I was now seven kilos above my weight limit. My Body Mass Index (BMI) was now a shade over what it should have been. It was time for action.
I was physically absolutely fit. All my tests were normal and I could perform 108 Sun Salutations at a stretch without even feeling out of breath. I was walking more than five kilometres every morning. But those figures on the scales were beginning to haunt me. I do not believe it's ok to be fat if you are fit, as I feel that extra weight will show it's true colours sooner or later. It's not even about body image or looking good, its just about the extra strain those extra kilos put on our poor, beleaguered bodies.
I joined a Power Plates class that cost a bomb but started showing results immediately. Working out on a vibrating machine for three months at a stretch with a personal trainer, along with walking eight kilometres a day showed fantastic results and I lost ten kilo grams! It's been a year and I have added on an odd kilo but I am well within my height for weight limit and feel satisfied that I attained my goal, though not as easily and effortlessly as I had always thought that I could...So start as soon as that first odd kilo shows up! Don't wait like I did...
Experts say do not weigh yourself too often. But I beg to differ. Invest in a good digital weighing scale and weigh yourself as often as you want to. You will see a clear link between what you ate and what you weigh, if you are anything beyond the mid thirties. It will help keep a check on your dietary habits like nothing else will! My personal trainer used to physically punish me on the machine every time I showed a half kilo gain after a week end of eating a large packet of potato wafers as a snack or a meal from a restaurant. I became like Pavlov's dogs in reverse, they began salivating when they heard the bell, I began losing my appetite every time I thought of my muscles screaming in pain, while being held down on the plates, as punishment for that extra gain!  But that was then and fair, as my aim was to lose weight. Once you achieve your desired weight, it is possible to enjoy treats on week ends as long as you continue to exercise in some form or the other.
And what of my husband? He was so thin that he has been described to me as 'thin enough to slip down the hole of an unplugged bath tub' by one of his college friends ! Russia, Tanzania, India, Kenya as well as the twenty odd countries he has visited on work or holiday added to his weight and he didn't feel the pinch of  extra adipose like I did. Fat but fit described him well, till he was diagnosed with gall stones three months ago! A strict diet till he could go back home for surgery worked wonders for him and he shed fifteen kilos in two months. He was successfully operated in India last month and his stony gall bladder removed. Now it's heartening to hear him refuse a particular dish with the words, 'It is fattening'! Absolute music to my ears! He still has a few kilos left to go. I hope he attains his ideal weight, we can't get all those clothes altered to a bigger size again but I will be happy to make them even smaller!
Jokes apart, may be it's time to make a change without the pain of losing a body part!  India has already become the diabetic capital of the world and should we add to the statistics, before we permanently become one ourselves, much before our time?
World Health Day seems like a good day for a fresh resolution, in case you already broke your New Year one!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Of Sleepovers And Sleepless Nights...

Yesterday my son, who turned eleven a couple of months ago, went for his first sleepover ever. Many children in India from the same socio economic class as us, by the time they reach his age, are sleepover pros but not my children. I have been absolutely against what I term this very ' American Concept' from the day my children began school and started receiving invites for sleepovers when they had been out of diapers for just a couple of years! Ancient Indian wisdom clearly spells out children should be home before the sun sets...
On the other hand we have been hosting sleepovers forever, as there were many mothers out there who did not mind sending their kids to us, though we could never return the 'favour' by sending ours in turn! And so my daughter had to wait till she had finished sixth grade to go for her first sleepover and that too because the girl in question had a very persuasive mother who managed to convince me that my daughter would come to no harm, as there were ten other girls sleeping over, after her daughter's twelfth birthday party! And so that was my daughter's sleepover limit - one a year, in a group - for the next one year, till we moved to Nairobi. 
But I was labelled as the 'Mom who does not allow her daughter to go for sleepovers'. I did not mind in the least, my daughter's safety and well being came first for me! And then, one fine day, I was vindicated and how! The Principal of the elite school that my children attended in our home town called for an emergency meeting of the parents when my daughter had just started seventh grade and my son was in first grade. She took us into confidence and narrated the following story.
A ninth grader had hosted a sleepover for a couple of her friends. In the middle of the night the girls got up and, unknown to the host parents, began making 'anonymous' prank phone calls to three boys who were in the boys section of the same school and in the ninth grade too. The very next day the police landed up at the host's door and said there were complaints of crank calls from their number and a complaint had been lodged! The parents were thunderstruck and humiliated. The girls had forgotten all about caller identification and had been caught red handed. The Principal exhorted upon all parents not to allow their children for these senseless sleepovers. Her words, not mine, but I couldn't agree more! She said the world had changed, the kids had access to too much technology at all hours of the day and night and hosting or sending your kids for sleepovers was surely asking for trouble. 
It's not that we did not have sleepovers when we were in middle school and high school. We did and ours were the sweet, innocent ones based on Enid Blyton's boarding school books and the highlight was the Midnight Feasts! Taking turns to stay awake,then waking up every one at the appointed hour and gorging on chips, biscuits, cake, samosas, drinking synthetic juice made from artificial fruit powder, finally topped off with having unlimited ice cream, before going back to sleep. No staying up all night long for on line gaming or accessing prohibited material on the smart phones that every kid has these days, for us. Little wonder then that many educators are now coming heavily down on sleepovers, at least in India, as fewer and fewer children seem to have a moral compass these days and parents are often too busy to know what is happening in their kids' lives. I talked to my own students ranging between ten years to sixteen years about this last year in India and I was horrified to know that most of them were accessing the Internet even when their parents were not at home. Computers did not have passwords to prevent indiscriminate access by children and most mothers were not computer savvy enough to have heard of programs like 'Net Nanny' or its Indian equivalent.
Our first major battle occurred when our daughter was a thirteen year old in eighth grade, our first year in Nairobi, and came home one day from school only to declare that she had been invited, along with a bunch of other girls, for a birthday party and a sleepover at the house of one of her American friends. I almost exploded! I did not know the girl in question. I had never met her parents. How did she just expect us to let her go? And besides, this was Nairobi, where it was not unheard of for armed burglars to break in into houses in the dead of the night! What if that happened just when she was there? Her exasperated answer? 'Mom they live there. Nothing happens!' I finally told my husband to deal with it and he gave her permission! All went well except that I had a very grumpy girl on my hands the next day, as the girls had stayed up till four in the morning, chatting with each other! 
Today, at the age of sixteen she is allowed a sleepover only after the three school banquets and the group rule remains unchanged! I believe in safety in numbers and I feel if one child tries to lead the others astray, there will be at least one voice of reason in the group! Also I still confirm that the host mother will be at home throughout the sleepover. I cannot help thinking in this way, students are my bread and butter and I handle enough and more students to know exactly what can, does and will happen, sooner or later. It's enough to give parents sleepless nights!
The other down side is the messy bed room when they wind up a sleepover but that's the aspect I personally do not mind at all! It is funny how a perfectly neat bedroom can be messed up and trashed in a span of five minutes by a handful of teenage girls! They come for a night but carry enough clothes and make up items to last a week! They hole themselves up in the room, carry their meals and beverages there, snack in between meals and talk, talk and TALK non stop! They refuse to use the guest bedroom and all of them cram into my daughter's room, half of them on the bed, the rest of them on the floor, huddled up in sleeping bags! When they leave, the trash can is over flowing with empty packets of biscuits and chips, chewing gum and chocolates and cans of soft drinks. Some things, I guess, never change, just the brands do!

                                                    Look what happens to a neatly made bed!

                                              Sleepovers come with messy room warnings!

The parents of the young students, who were fast asleep in the dormitory of the University that was attacked in Northern Kenya two days ago had sent them there for an education so that they could better their lives. Many of them will never wake up from that sleepover and the parents will now have sleepless nights for the rest of their lives. We protect our children so much only to send them out into THIS kind of a world?

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

In A Pickle Or In A Jam?

Last month my husband came back from India and he got me a gift that was beyond my wildest dreams and expectations. Now why he had gone to India and what he did there, is a tale for another day. In fact it will be the perfect culmination for a post that I have been wanting to write since exactly a year ago and have not got around to yet! No, he did not buy me diamonds, gold jewellery, designer shoes and purses,outrageously expensive perfume or silk sarees. He brought back packets of my favourite red stuffed chilli pickle! I say it was completely unexpected because this particular pickle has been unavailable in my home town for the last four years, though I have fruitlessly (pun intended!) been searching for it every year while in India, in every possible grocery store, big and small.
My relationship with pickle goes back a long way. Pickles of various types and in myriad flavours and hues were and still are a 'must' in every Indian home. My grandmother used to have a whole array of shiny glass jars lining her kitchen cupboard, tightly covered with spotless white bonnets. Come summer the whole process of pickle making would begin with  mangoes, limes, chillies, sugar for the sweet variety, oil, and various spices. No ready made pickle spice powder for her! She made every thing from scratch and the comforting aroma of those spices in hot oil is as fresh in my mind today as it was in my olfactory glands then...I always craved a bonnet for one of my dolls. It seemed just the perfect size but she always refused, as she had the exact number of self stitched bonnets that she had glass jars! And those bonnets were an important part of storing the pickles for the entire year as they rendered the jars virtually air tight because her pickles, unlike store bought ones, were without even an ounce of chemical preservatives in them. Now I wonder why I just did not ask her to stitch an extra one for my doll. I know she would have happily obliged me. But I guess the fun lay in the begging and the haggling and the subsequent denial!
I had even christened each type of my grand mother's pickles, so great was my love for them. She was very amused and fascinated by the names, as they gave the pickles their own personality and she had never found a greater connoisseur of her art than me, though she had been making them for decades before I was born! Some of the names that come to mind were the following ones and I have translated them from my mother tongue Marathi. Spicy Lime, Sweet Lime, Sweet and Sour Lime, Medicinal Lime, Lime and Chilly, Only Chilli, Tamarind and Chilli, Spicy Mango, Sweet Crushed Mango, Crushed Chilli, Chilli and Mango ...well you get the idea. If she was creative in her pickle making, I was equally creative in giving them names which was very useful when we had guests. I used to rattle off the names and they could take their pick without popping, horror of horrors, a piece of the wrong kind into their mouths!
The best part of a freshly made mango pickle was that it saved my sister and me the trouble of chopping raw mangoes for our personal consumption in the summer holidays. We used to just dip a spoon into the pickle jar, scoop out a raw slice of mango and crunch it down to the accompaniment of whichever book we were reading then! As a result the Spicy Mango pickle jar always looked depleted for the rest of the year, compared to its other counter parts that lined the wooden shelf !
My parents were pickle makers of the vegetable kind. They loved making mixed vegetable pickles with cauliflowers, carrots, lemon, mango chillies, all chopped and chucked together into a huge earthern ware pot, floating in mustard oil, tempered with coarsely ground spices and salt. A couple of these jars roamed the length and breadth of India with us and I am surprised they lasted as long as they did! Well, I shouldn't be actually, things were still made in India then!
There was a special procedure for removing the pickle from these cavernous jars. A sparkling clean steel ladle had to be heated till it was red hot and then this was lowered into the jar and a mound of pickle was carefully scooped out into a smaller glass jar. No preservatives equals extra care!
My love affair with the Red Stuffed Chilli pickle began when my Dad was posted to the city of  Jallundhar in Punjab. This is a typical North Indian pickle so I had never tasted it till I was thirteen but then I was hooked for life and it became my only vice ! Well, fine. I know choclates, ice cream and potato wafers count as vices too but that's the sum total of my vices! Red hot, plump,smooth and shiny chillies, stuffed with aromatic and flavourful spices like cumin, fennel, coriander and mustard seeds, turmeric and dried mango powder for that tanginess, all shimmering in a bed of slightly pungent mustard oil. Wow!
Even when I got married and moved to Russia a large part of my suitcase would be stuffed with cans of Red Stuffed Chilli pickle that my brother in law would procure specially for me from our capital city New Delhi. Oh yes, my inlaws certainly indulged this love of mine, with my father in law and his brother lugging large packets of this pickle for me every time they visited each other. It was available in their home town but sadly not in mine. My Russian house help caught this spicy bug too and whenever I was leaving for India, she would ask me to buy her some of this pickle! I am solely responsible for corrupting a pair of Bolshevik taste buds!
When I was expecting my daughter, I began eating really heartily and found a good excuse to satisfy this permanent craving of mine. It still wasn't available in my home town so my husband and a friend of his scoured on foot a Sikh part of our town, asking in each and every shop if this pickle was available or if anyone had any at home that they were willing to sell. He would pay top price! Sadly none was to be found  as these chillies ripen only at a certain time of the year in India, unlike in Africa, where we get them all year long. But I appreciated the effort and yes, my daughter turned out to be a huge fan too, though I never had any during those nine months. Some vices are genetic!
I was surprised and thrilled when a well known local pickle manufacturer in Pune began making this pickle and launched a simply great version of it. I bought as much as I could whenever I could lay my hands on it. Also it began lasting longer, as I changed the pickle eating rules in our house when our children were born. It was restricted to just once a week due to the high salt content and of course the preservatives found in factory made pickles. The sacrifices that parents have to make!
Sadly that supply petered out soon as maybe not too many people in my home town really liked this pickle and so I began making my own. It looks like I inherited my grand mother's pickle making genes as all my attempts produced fantastic results from online recipes!  A couple of small bottles twice a year were enough to keep me sated and I came to terms with the fact that I would have to share with not just one but both the kids as my son turned out to be an equally big fan. My husband prefers mango pickle. Yes, one contender less!
And so I was over the moon when my husband handed me not one or two but FIVE packets of the Red Stuffed Chilli pickle. The pickle manufaturer in Pune had reintroduced this type of pickle and there had been a special promotion just when my husband was in India.
Troubles come to all of us in life sooner or later. That is life! Idiomatically 'To be in a pickle' and 'To be in a jam' mean exactly the same thing! Well I know where I'd rather be - In a huge vat of Red Stuffed Chilli pickle, where else!

                                                            The best gift ever...
                                          My grandmother's bonneted pickle jars were like this one.
                                                I made my own Red Stuffed Chilli Pickle.
                              The jars that travelled with us looked exactly like these ones.

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...