Thursday, December 31, 2015

To my children on new year's eve!

 P.S. Although the following letter is addressed to my two daughters, it's message goes out to all my nieces, nephews and all the children whose lives I may have somehow touched. 
Dearest Isha and Amisha,
It's that time of the year again. Another year is drawing to a close. You are busy making plans... your friends will be here for a sleep-over and your minds are full of the TV shows or movies you will watch late into the night. The approaching exams are far from your mind and that's exactly how it should be. As the year ends and a new one begins, there is a sense of new beginnings, expectations of much happiness in the new one.
I sometimes sit and think how quickly time has flown. I can still see you being born, bringing you home, those sleepless nights, those first days at school, those bright smiles that awaited my return... you gave my life meaning, opened up a world of possibilities that hitherto I did not have. When we went partying you would cry and cling to our feet in an effort to not allow us to leave. It's been years since you've done that...nowadays you are happiest when we are out and you can do what you please.
I just saw  an old picture of your twin cousins as they slept holding on to each other and it is a real "aw" picture. I shut my eyes and was transported back to when you two tiny souls too could not do without each other. When one woke crying, the other would cry. When one was frightened, the other would call for help. When one was out, the other would moon around, bored, eyes searching for that familiar face. There have even been times when one of you would come crying to our door wanting to get into bed with us. Soon as you were allowed, you'd run and get your sister as well!
Those days are gone, you do not come to our room anymore and a sister is a good punching bag for all your raging teenage hormones and you are fighting most of the time except when you have to gang up against me. I am so used to all your bickering that it's like a constant background noise, much like traffic, only it's indoors.
You both have other friends and shall keep making them. Those friendships will remain, but I also know that one day surely you will look around you and find that your sister's friendship too is one of the most treasured joys because no one really knows you quite like your sister. And you will realise how fortunate you are, to have her by your side.
Coming back to where I was, it's been sixteen years. Yes, Sixteen years that have passed in a flash. In another three years you both will hopefully be leaving home, poised as you are on the threshold of board exams and thereafter college when I hope you will test your wings.
I know you don't do resolutions. A new year is just a time to celebrate, not make weird promises that no one keeps! I do not do resolutions either but as you grow older I just wanted to share some thoughts to live by, (I call them the 5 Cs), some things that may help you if you can fit them into your lives, especially when I won't be there by your side.
1.       Compassion. Be kind to others, specially people who work for you. You know the mess you left your room in? When you returned, everything was back in place. The table and your books were organised too. Someone obviously did that. Appreciate it. Can't find a book? Do not scream at the maid, remember she cannot read.  And  it's not her job anyway, she did it to save you from a scolding. It's your job. Just as it's your job to get a glass of water when you are thirsty. Not sit at one place and scream for the maid to bring you water. The servants are not your chattels. Remember they are here to serve only because they are less fortunate than you. There is no need for you to order them around. Or be rude. And there may be a day when you will not have any maid running circles around you, no driver to take you places either. learn to be self-sufficient. Yes, walk home from school, wash those clothes yourself, clear up after yourself! Once you start doing these yourself, you will find compassion is easy.
2.       Candidness. Above all else, be honest. Speak your truth clearly and do not think that lying will get you anywhere in the long run. In all your actions and dealings be true to yourself. Only then can you be true to anyone else. Ensure you can always walk with your head erect and look everyone in the eye. If you are dishonest, you will not be able to do that. We all make mistakes, learn to apologise for them. No one died of saying "sorry". Accept responsibility for your mistakes. There is no shame in being wrong but there is shame in lying. But let that not blind you to the fact that there is a time and place for everything. Do not gossip or feign affection. Many a time you will be faced with a situation when so-and-so will want to know what so-and-so says or is doing. Hold your counsel, choose your words wisely, so that you do not end up hurting anyone. How other people choose to live is none of your business. Live and let live. 
3.       Condone. Everyone makes mistakes, learn to forgive. It is not easy, but there will be times when you will have kept a relationship alive by a simple acceptance of a softly spoken "I'm sorry." And never make the person saying sorry feel small, tomorrow you may be wearing those same shoes! Most of all forgive yourself. Learn to accept yourself, warts and all. Curly hair is not a flaw. But if you keep using harsh straighteners each time you wash your hair, pretty soon there won't be much hair left to straighten! In any case at the end of the day, remember, what you look like does not matter. It's the person behind those curls that people will care for. People will come and go from your life. But there's one person who will always be there with you: Yourself. So be good to yourself. You will have your bad days and there will be times when you will fail. Face them and make no excuses. One can live with failure but not with excuses that take away your right to fail. Learn to laugh at yourself, learn from your mistakes and move on.  
4.       Consistency. Be sincere in all you do. Whether you are studying or just making a card for a friend, do it well. Whether you are at work or at play, sincerity is the cornerstone to success. There will be times when you will find less hard-working or less-deserving (in your eyes) people will do better than you. Let that not deter you from putting in your best effort. At the end of the day, you will sleep better.
5.       Contentment . One does not need Gucci handbags or Prada shoes or a Lamborghini to be happy. if you can get those, it's good for you. But if you can't, remember happiness can be found in the smile of a friend, a hand to hold, a warm bed to return to at the end of the day. The quality of your life does not depend on the brand of the shoes or clothes you wear. The quality of your life depends on you. You alone can find happiness from your life, be it in a small shared apartment or a mansion by the sea. The key is contentment. A lot of motivators will criticize me for this, "dream big", they say. By all means, dream big... but do not make your dreams your masters. Strive to be happy. Appreciate and be grateful for what you have, the rest of the world will fall in place.
Go then, may 2016 bring you every joy and happiness you deserve. 
May you always have enough.
Always and forever,


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Yes, I am a bully!

My older daughter and I have been fighting a lot lately. The squabbles spill over to the younger one as well. So often enough you have the three women of the house flouncing in three different directions, heads in the air, not on talking terms with each other! No wonder my poor husband, who is painfully out-numbered, runs away each evening to his Chambers.
That said, I must admit it’s not only raging teenage hormones. Often, it is me. Goading them to study, change out of the school uniform (after all they came home from school four hours ago!!), finish the damn milk, clear the study table, clean up the mess they made in the kitchen (I tell you ever since Maggi has come back to the shelves, you won’t believe the amount that has been cooked and consumed by the girls!!!) etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
You see, one child is sitting for her ICSE next February. That’s about 2 months away. Let’s face it. The child in question does not have a brilliant track record. She loathes Science and Maths. But as we all are aware, ICSE has Maths and Science and you need to pass the subjects to clear the ICSE. And only then can you move on to subjects that are more appealing. I’ve said this softly. I’ve said it loudly. I’ve said it lovingly. And I’ve said it angrily. Somehow the penny does not seem to drop. She gazes at me unflinchingly and asserts that she is studying.
You know, I’d love to believe her. And I do believe she thinks she is studying. But do the kids know HOW to study? Are they retaining anything? Do they write things down, do they make notes, do they jot down the important points? More importantly, do they teach these things in school? I don’t know. All I know is that I wander into their room where the girls are purportedly studying and find them both sitting with their legs on the chair, books open in front of them. (I must be a terrible mom: I haven’t even managed to teach them how to sit on a chair! My daughters assure me that even in school everyone sits like that, as if it is some consolation!) Anyway, the table is a mess with books, papers, story books, files and an assortment of pens (obviously without their caps) lying about. Often a glass or mug or bowl of some half-eaten snack is balanced precariously on all that. As they say, if you looked you could find an elephant in there!  How can one study in that kind of an environment? I could ignore all that if I thought they were actually studying. One is cleaning her fingernails with the studiousness of a Buddhist monk. The other has one eye on her new phone (she got her first phone on her 15th birthday about a fortnight ago) and the other on some card she is making for some friend at school!!! I growl. I confiscate the phone. I take the other one too, for good measure. The girls sit up, yes, yes, they are studying they assure me.
This routine with minor variations is pretty common. Amid all that, often, they are fighting. In our household sibling rivalry has been perfected to a fine art. And the rules are simple. If I can hear them, they are in trouble. I do not care who started it or what she said or did. If I have to get up and go to the room, they are in trouble. So nowadays when they fight it’s like one boom and then silence. There are sounds of frantic whispering and a thud. Sometimes a shriek and “I’m telling!” Then silence. I call out from the next room, “what’s happening?” “Nothing,” comes the prompt reply, in chorus! Often these outbursts end with one child moving to the dining table to study while the other sulks or vice versa... I try not to involve myself. As they say, don’t trouble trouble till trouble troubles you!
Anyway getting back to where I was. Studying. I generally do not panic but as the ICSE looms ahead I find myself worrying. What is good enough? One mother is busy collecting question papers. Another calls to ask what text book is taught in the other school. I run about collecting notes. It looks like only the mothers worry. The little darlings are busy dancing to the fiddler in their own heads to music only they can hear.
And whenever I see my daughter I swear it’s like she has ICSE written in bold neon letters on her forehead. All I seem to say is “go study,” “have you studied?” “are you studying?” or words to that effect. She growls back at me, that’s all she has been doing apparently! She storms off, she doesn’t want to talk to me or so she says! The younger one suffers along with her sister. How can you have one child studying and the other loafing about and watching TV? She has been told to sit at the desk and do something useful. Write an essay or whatever! She sulks. She wants her phone back. I give it, but refuse to turn on the wi-fi. She doesn’t say it but I can see she doesn’t want to talk to me either!  

Truth is, sometimes I tell them to go study and regret it immediately. I think it isn’t fair. I wish I could let them do what they want. I wish I could tell them that ultimately these exams will not matter. In the long run what they do with their lives will not depend solely on their school results or Board Exams. I wish I could tell them that despite that I will keep goading them because I want them to have lives of “choice” and not “chance”. I wish I could tell them that happiness has nothing to do with the grades they get or the subjects they study. Ah no, I can never tell them that. I must be the evil mother, the relentless bullying harridan in their lives. For I know I may not be there to hold their hands forever. And I only wish to ensure that they have the strongest wings so that they can be straight and true when it is their turn to fly.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Do you know where your children are?

Sometimes I look back on my childhood and think we were a privileged lot. Of course, we did not know it then. We had no TV and the lone telephone rarely, if ever, worked. Computers were myths and radios were about the only exposure to a live world outside.
I'll tell you what we did have: we had the outdoors. We had a cycle and a huge garden and a pond and all the freedom to explore every inch. We had earthworms, we had fireflies, we had ladybirds and butterflies. We skinned our knees and wiped away the blood without a thought of running to tell our mother for fear of tincture iodine that burnt like hell and when we fell we never cried out. I remember being chased around the fields by my aged grandfather who wanted to put tincture iodine on a cut, I remember sneaking into the neighboring houses from under the fence and always being welcomed with orange squash, I remember lazy somersaults in the pond, our bodies tanned and black in the summer sun and I remember turning a deaf ear when being called to go indoors because the sun was too hot. We explored the streams near the house, swung from the branches of the Litchi trees and ate raw tamarind and mangoes drying in the sun with our grubby fingers and imagined nobody knew about it. We had the terrace, we had kites, we had the skies and we were our own masters. We had endless hours of making tea out of mud and water and making a mess. We played with our imaginations, and we bent them to our will. Dinner times always had the whole family gather at the table (no exceptions) and we'd  all sit and share our day. There was warmth and there was conversation. Often, there was Laughter... in our lives there was always room for Laughter and I am glad, that even now, he has lingered in my life. Sometimes, after dinner, we’d play chess or scrabble or just read a book. Often, we would go for long walks in the night and my father would point out the stars and I’d gaze at him in admiration and now I desperately try to remember all that he said but I was too self involved to pay attention to back then.
The TV was actually the first intruder in our home. Dinners were accompanied by the news and conversations verged on the (often) boring matters of State. We were, by and large not allowed to switch on the TV at any other time so I grew up unable to appreciate the finer aesthetics of TV serials and shows although I hankered for them after hearing all about it in school, but that is another story.
Foreign holidays were unheard of. We never came home and told our mothers "so and so is going to Spain, again" or, "can we go to Paris, three of our friends are going!" For our holidays we had my maternal grandparents' house in Kanke, we had the garden house in Maniktala and we had Madhupur, famous for its ghosts where we let our imaginations roam wild.... For serious diversion we had the beaches at Puri. Don't get me wrong... we did go on other holidays, we travelled to Lucknow, Agra, Darjeeling, even Kovalam and Kanyakumari but those were later, those came when we were older. The places I describe here are when we were younger and when, come winter, all the cousins would gather round from near and far and just fill the houses with love and happiness and lots of memories.
Now I look at my girls and wonder. Living in a joint family, they do have cousins at hand. They also  have TV which apparently tells them all they need to know, they have social media so they can communicate with their cousins and never have to climb on top of the tank just to share a secret that cannot be heard by others. They have computers that can download information in seconds so they never know the joy of hunting through an encyclopedia. They have cell phones to tell me just where they are and when they reached…hell, we ourselves never knew where our adventures would take us and when we were out, well, we were out. They have SnapChat and Instagrams and weird games, if I ask them to go out and play I may as well be punishing them! They have amusement parks; for us, the annual rickety Ferris wheel at the Park Circus mela at puja time was enough. And candy floss. And if you teamed it up with pop-corn our lives were full! Now pop-corn comes in microwavable packets in an assortment of flavours and any toddler that can reach the microwave will be able to make you some! My girls know all about international immigration and customs but they have never dabbled in the sand at the local stream where the clear water reflects every blade of grass. My girls promptly take off their shoes while undergoing Security check in foreign airports but have never walked barefoot in the soft dew-laden grass at dawn.

Their lives are fraught with dangers, real and imagined: physical punishment or criticism can traumatize them, or so I have been told. In our time we all recall a few well placed slaps that did us no harm, and criticism made us cringe but also made us want to be better. Yesterday I attended a Twitter Chat on cyber safety for kids. How much is too much? How far should we let them go? We have new worries to worry us: too much time on the net, social websites, strangers approaching them online, meeting up with strange people who they have met only online, peer pressure to participate in groups online, the trauma of not having enough 'likes' on a facebook post, the list goes on and on. It's not that the fears have changed all that much, it's just taken on a new name: The Internet. Over exposure to the media shares the blame. Every teenager wants to be as cool as the kids in those serials they watch. Every other child has a boyfriend! Our parents dealt with their fears their way; they warned us about the wolves out there and let us be. There was little else they could do, short of keeping us housebound. Those real fears of  letting the kids out alone, bus rides, accidents, not knowing where the children were going and pedophiles are rampant even today. In fact, I would say it is more of a threat now, "too much traffic, have you heard of the bus accidents? The auto drivers are too rash, so many rape cases!" We dare not allow them out on the streets on their own. So we do the next best thing we can, we give them the internet that opens up worlds for them. We allow them to chat online and leave them be. It's only facebook or twitter or whatever and you hope the friends are all people they know. But can you be sure? Do you know who your child is talking to? Do you know who their friends are? Most of all, yes, I know she is sitting at her desk in front of the computer, but do you know where your child is?  

No, I don’t blame anyone, and as they say, the old order changeth….the new has many wonders too. It’s just that once in a while I wonder where we are headed. A part of me feels sad that my daughters cannot hear the music of the stars and are instead lulled by the song of the air-conditioner. I guess I just feel nostalgic and wish those idyllic days were once more in my fist and I had my entire life to re live them and share them with my kids!

C’est la vie!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Durga Pujas... when Kolkata goes bonkers..

The Durga Pujas are over. The Goddess's short sojourn with her family to her home is over. She has returned to her husband's home in Mount Kailash. As always, her visit, right from the day she arrived, to the day of her departure amid much pomp and fervour is over. On street corners pandals are being dismantled, skeletons peep here and there, some will take longer to remove than others.
I have friends on my TL asking if it's worth it. All the traffic, all the crowds, the pandals that block the road,  the noise, the food stalls, the garbage... is it worth it?
Before I answer that question, let me tell you something. I always, but always make it a point to be away from the city when Durga Puja fever hits Calcutta. You see, I hate crowds. And noise. I particularly detest that shuffle-shuffle of feet interspersed by a cruel hoot of the hooters as they merrily visit the pandals every night full of inexplicable enthusiasm late into the night. I do not understand the cranky sleepy kids being dragged along, or the winding lines in the puja areas. Or the way a child's eye light up as he counts his 18th lion! Or the joy of eating phuchkas laced with the occasional light insect or the lines in front of the ice-cream vans. One relative once asked me, pointing to the crowds in front of the indigenous "Chinese" chowmein outlets that spring up everywhere, "Durga-puja or Chow-Puja, I can't figure it out!" I smile at the thought. I was watching the goddess being taken away from the puja up our street last night. As I watched, safely ensconced in my third floor balcony, I saw a little drummer boy, fast asleep, his body wrapped around his instrument. I wondered then, what is he thinking? Is he dreaming of the money he will rush home to his mother with? Where is his village, how many sisters and brothers wait for his meager income? And how long will it last? That man sitting on his haunches next to the big dhaak with his face in his arms.....does he dream of his family? Or will he spend his earning on cheap country liquor and fade into obscurity, just for this night? My thoughts are interrupted, someone calls out and the resting drummers sprightly rise and begin playing those drums. Dad-da-da-da--dad-da-da...... the base seems to kick start your heart; the smell of incense permeates the air...., a few crackers go off and amid much festivity and noise, the Goddess returns home. Until next year. I sigh. For five days and five nights, sometimes longer this has been going on every day, I'm glad I was away. I retreat.  
Getting back to the question. Yes, it's worth it. For those few days on the roadsides, in the pandals, gorging on bhel and biriyani, everyone's an equal. Everyone looks nice in their new outfits, there is a spirit of camaraderie and celebration.
True, traffic gets clogged. But on the bright side Kolkata Police does an exceptional job to ensure that the huge chunks of cars keep moving. It's hell getting anyplace to anyplace. The malls, the market places and shops are crowded, trying to negotiate your way into a shop  can be disastrous. Half the narrow lanes are blocked with pandals, if you do not know, you can get frustrated trying to back out of the area. Yes, there is cacophony on the road... the river does get polluted for a bit. A lot of people do not like to venture out during this time... or, like me, run away to escape the madness.

But do stop once and think of the larger picture. There are worse things happening in the world and all around us. If, for a few days there is some joy and that is shared...if, in those few days, a dhaki will finally be able to afford the school books his children need, or an artisan is finally able to afford that blanket for his sick mother in a village far away that you have never heard of...... can't we put up with the cacophony and minor inconveniences for a few day? After all, Durga puja is only for a few days every year. Our extravagances on the other hand...... 
...are perennial

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Back to the kitchen, ladies...Recipe by special request

Mangshor Jhol (A basic mutton curry)

Growing up, Sunday afternoon meals were, without exception, mangshor jhol time. All hell broke loose if that particular item was not on the table. There could be ilish(hilsa) or koi(climbing perch) or Kankra(crab) of dimer bora(fish egg balls) or any other delicacy but that mangshor jhol could not be missing! All week, we looked forward to it. And in my head I can still see that dining table laid out for a Sunday lunch and imagine the taste of that curry. My Mother was a very good cook. So those of you lauding my culinary skills know where I got it from. That, and my love of food. For I do earnestly believe that unless you love food and are willing to try out different things, you will never be able to make food work for you!
Enough chatter already. An old friend on twitter @monikamanchanda wants that "mangshor jhol" recipe. So here goes.
Disclaimer 1: There are as many ways to make mutton curry as there are Bengali households. In fact my father-in-law made one of the best mutton curries ever. As always, with everything Bengali there are no dearth of opinions. We all have something to say about everything. So you may soon find enough people to say "add a bit of ground poppy-seeds", another will say "what, no mustard paste?", yet another will ask for something else, the list continues. The following recipe is basically a combination of my mother's recipe with inputs and twists as added by my father-in-law.
Disclaimer 2: I am lousy with measurements and do it by eye. So all measurements except that of the mutton is approximate.

Without  further  ado:


Mutton, cleaned and washed, medium to biggish sized pieces 1kg
Sunflower/any white oil: I tsp
Mustard oil 1tbsp
Onions 2, medium sized
Ginger 1inch, thick
Green chillies: 2 ( more if you want it spicy)
Garlic; 6/8 pods peeled
Haldi 1 tbsp
Pepper powder 2tsp
Jeera powder  2tsp
Chilly powder 1tsp
Sugar about 1 tbsp
Unsweetened curd 1/3 cup
tomato sauce 2tbsp
Potatoes 3 big size, peeled and cut into halves
Salt  to taste

1.       Make a smooth paste of the onions, garlic, ginger and green chillies.
2.     Take the mutton pieces in a bowl. Add mustard oil and the paste and rub it in. Add salt, sugar, chilly powder, pepper, jira, curd, haldi and tomato sauce and mix well.
3.     Keep aside for at least an hour. If leaving it marinated for longer consider keeping it covered in the fridge.
4.     Take a big pressure cooker. Add the white oil. You can add a bay leaf if desired but I usually do not bother so you will not find it on the ingredient list.
5.      Add the mutton along with all the marinade when the oil is hot. Stir.
6.      As you stir and keep stirring, the mutton will emit a lot of water and juices. Keep stirring. In Bengali this is called 'kosha'. Stir the mutton till all the gravy disappears. This can take some time, be patient.You can also do this part in a non-stick kadai if you want.
7.     Once all the gravy disappears, add about two cups of water, mix it in nicely and cover and pressure cook for about 20 minutes on low heat. I wait for the pressure to blow the first time and then lower the flame and my timing of 20 minutes starts then. By now the kitchen should be smelling of something delicious cooking!
8.      After 20 minutes, turn off the flame and open the cover. For this you can hold the closed lid under a running water tap or whatever.  Add the big aloo/potato pieces. Stir it in. (A lot of people fry the aloo before putting it in the gravy but in my head that's just unnecessary additional oil so I do not fry them). If the gravy looks too dry, add about 1/2 cup water. The gravy must neither be too watery nor too thick.
9.     Close the pressure cooker lid and cook again for 5 minutes on low heat. As soon as 5 minutes are up, turn off the flame and let the cooker sit where it is.
10.   After about half an hour, open the pressure cooker. The meat and aloo should have settled down and you should be having a lovely red gravy. Check seasoning and pour into serving bowls, be certain to take all the gravy. Your mangshor jhol is ready!
11.   More often than not, this is had with steaming rice and a  side salad of cucumbers and onions. It also goes well with rotis or even a chunk of bread!
12.   I'd love to know if this recipe worked for you. Waiting for your feedback

13.   Oh yeah, enjoy! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I wish I had sons!

When I was expecting, many people asked me what I wished for, a girl or a boy? Frankly I don't know how that matters, but it seems to be everyone's favourite topic as soon as they learn someone is pregnant! Anyway, thing is I always wanted at least one girl. I wouldn't mind one of each but I was certain I did NOT want only boys!
Why? Because daughters are sweet, daughters are gentle, daughters are kind... 'sugar and spice and all things nice' kind of stuff! I wanted a child I could share my life with. Or so I thought.
Now after almost 15 + years of sharing, I find I have changed my mind!
I wish I had sons...
You see, it all started with them trying out my heels as toddlers. That was kinda cute for a while. The problem began when their feet grew big enough to fit into my shoes. I have small feet and that started quite early. I would find various footwear disappearing from the shoe cupboard. Invariably when I was getting ready to go out the heels would be missing and we would have to launch a man-hunt to find it.. because you can bet they have no clue where they left it. I remember this holiday in Kashmir when one daughter took my sneakers for the whole trip because she had forgotten hers and I was left tottering in heels on the mountainsides! 
Then they started to fit into my clothes. At first it was the odd t'shirt. Then they were picking at my jeans. I find one pair has taken up permanent residence in the older daughter's closet. I sneak it out once in a while only to have it disappearing when it goes for a wash. They even eye my sarees... Thankfully I am not fashionable enough otherwise I would find all my clothes in their cupboards!
Of course there are shampoos, deos, body-washes and other toiletries.... I seriously think they stand under the shower and let it all flow..down the drain. You cannot imagine the amount of shampoo, conditioner and body-wash I have to purchase.  One uses so much body lotion, she is oozing the stuff. The other one runs around with her arms and legs looking dirt tracks for a stock car race! And I often find myself standing in the shower and discovering that the three shampoo bottles in the bathroom are all empty! 
Then there is the endless saga of the hair accessories. Every morning it's the same story. There is a mad rush to get ready for school. Both girls insist on keeping long hair. So every morning that hair has to be combed and plaited for school. To keep the stray flyaway hair at bay, hair-clips are used. One would expect that the hair-clips and such things would be kept at a designated place and accordingly used. Hell, no! Every morning without fail they will rummage through my dressing table drawer looking for hair-clips because they have misplaced the ones they used the day before! As a result I can never find the damn hair-clips or grip or whatevers when I am getting ready myself and have to run about looking for them! So if you see me with unkempt hair, you now know why...

Just imagine, a son wouldn't wear my heels, nor would he want my  sarees.. nor would he leave the new jar of Olay open so that the cream hardens and no one can use it again!

After my two daughters were born, sometimes (presumably well-intentioned) people asked if I had wanted sons or regretted not having any. I sweetly informed them that I was thrilled with my two girls and it didn't matter to me.
Sometimes I wish I could turn back time and say I changed my mind.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The balancing act...

Marriages, unfortunately, do not come with manuals. And in every marriage there is some amount of disagreement. Every married couple fights every now and then and it is my firm belief that a good many of these fights are regarding finances.
After all, we all know about the shocking price rises. Every month our frowns grow deeper as we try to balance the budget. Speaking for myself, I over-shoot the household budget without fail, every month (usually by the tenth of the month, fifteenth, if I am lucky) and then have to rely on the ATM and debit cards to do the needful! The spouse, obviously, has no clue about the prices of groceries. If, by some miracle, he does accompany me to the super-market, he is oblivious to the price of lentils and busy inspecting the stationery. Otherwise he has smartly ensconced himself in the electronics department and is inspecting the latest gadgets until I call from the check-out counter.  So, he has no idea about the prices of the household stuff. Sometimes, at night if he hears me grumble about that onions are eighty Rupees a kg,  he grunts and sinks back into his game of Candy Crush turning a deaf ear to my woes!
And of course, like every normal married couple we argue about money. And where it goes. Sigh. I wish I could say I have been buying diamonds and sarees and bags and shoes. I wish. No, the precious things in my life are Nutella and Oreos, which, incidentally neither my husband nor I touch.

You see, in this house we have two teenage girls. Earlier in a post I had described them as vacuum cleaners and the titles still hold. They are truly magical. They may be found anywhere in the house but are most likely sprawled on the sofa in front of the TV or in front of a computer or similar gadget. (Shh.. don't tell anyone. In our house the wi-fi is NEVER off!) They leave the whole house, particularly the areas designated to them, a complete mess. Books everywhere, paper on the floor, dust where there shouldn't be any, sticky glue in the most unexpected places, used glasses and plates balanced precariously on their desks and crumbs on the sofa. In fact, if you follow the trail of dirt and food leftovers in the house, most certainly you will find them....
But they also clean. They clean out the food from the larder and the fridge. Nothing survives their powerful suctioning skills. No matter how far behind the veggies you hide the chocolates or the sweets or the cheese, they have a special homing button that allows them to clear it in a trice! So do not look for left-overs of that yummy Chinese we had two nights ago, or the pizza, or the cheesecake, or the ham, not even that home made keema curry.... one fell swoop and it's gone!
I know people who put their daughter on a diet, "after all she has to maintain her figure," one lady told me disapprovingly looking at the big box of cookies I had in my hand, "in our house we do not have coke or chocolates or would do well to do that."
Yet other friends of mine complain their daughters do not eat. Despite much coaxing, they want to become slim. Like Deepika Padukone. I bet!
 My daughters, on the other hand, have no aspirations to be slim. One is a stick figure anyway and the other could do with some weight-loss I suppose (though I'd rather she exercises to do it) but when it comes to food there is no question of a diet. They love their food. And how. 
When they ask, "can I have a biscuit", it means the entire large packet of Hide and Seek will be finished. When they ask if they can have a 'little chips' it means the party stock will be over. When they have cheese toasts you can bet the bread loaf will be over and the maid will come knocking on your door  for money to buy more bread!They even wake up in the middle of the night to have the biriyani in the fridge! 
Take this: The other day Amisha  (their exams were on then) had three cheese toasts and milk at 6 PM. By 7:30 she was apparently hungry so she had a bowl of Wai-Wai. At 8:30 she asked me, "I'm very hungry, can I have dinner? " I (not unreasonably, I think) told her that she should wait for another half an hour or so and eat with her sister. She stood up tall, took a deep breath and declared, "fine, I can starve then!" and flounced out of  the room like a scorned queen! I sat there gaping at floor unable to believe my ears, and slowly counted the months till she would, hopefully, leave for college. 
At least 47.

I think a balanced budget is a distant dream, no? 
Until then I'll just continue to have these spats with my husband about money! 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Living with 8 children!

Within weeks of my marriage, I was a mother. Even I did not expect it.
I entered my husband's home with a head full of dreams, a heart full of hope and a minor trepidation of being saddled with a host of relatives that I hitherto did not have. Like many a newlywed, I too was more than just a little bit frightened. Oh I knew my husband and his parents well enough by then but here I was from a nuclear family, walking into a joint one. Yes, I was going to live with my husband in the ancestral house, far from the indulgent eyes of my immediate in-laws, with a assortment of relatives. I was not only frightened, I did not know what to expect.
As some of you may already know, I am not particularly fond of kids. So when I saw my niece and nephew, Ziggy and Rubic, for the first time, then all of two and three, contemplating me with those big cute-as-a-button eyes, I chose to ignore them. No, it certainly wasn't love at first sight. But their dimpled smiles and unquestioning affection won me over.. and why not? So long before my daughters were born, I was already a "mother". They say a mother is born when a child is born. I think I became a mother when, for the first time, I took those tiny hands in mine, dumped them in the dicky of the Maruti Van and took off with them.  We even had this ritual when I would say, "when Chachi says jump.." And the kids would look at me and jump! I must admit, that first time I took them out, (it was for a swim to the club) even I did not know what I was doing! And I appreciate their own parents, who trusted their children (who did not know swimming) with a relative stranger. I have often wondered. Would I have been able to trust myself, had I been in their shoes?
"Is she a safe driver? Can she look after the kids? What if she neglects the children in the pool? Suppose something happens?" I guess thoughts like that would plague me. I don't know if my brother and sister in-law ever thought that way, but they sure as hell never showed it. So I happily bonded with Rubic and Ziggy.... got drawn into their magical world. They kept me young, they made me play their games. Hopscotch, Chor-Police, Football, dancing in the rain, Cluedo, Dark room.... there's nothing we did not do. My own daughters came later, Isha and Amisha. Ziggy still teases Isha that she is my first daughter! Then came another niece, Zoya. Followed by Veer, tiny Veer, whose tiny fingers clutched at our heart-strings for a fraction and let go, leaving this dent in our hearts. Then came yet another nephew, Sarthak. And now, the greenest of my bunch, the twins Meenakshi and Satvik, all of seven months old. My brood, for now, is complete. 
Why am I saying all this? It happens all the time, you say, in joint families? Ah yes, I suppose it does. In a house with five brothers, eight kids are not such a big deal, right? 
But for me the novelty has never worn off. Rubic and Ziggy are now grown, they both live away from home. They come only on vacations, that too for Rubic, since he lives in Canada, it's just once a year.  Isha is at the threshold of her ICSE and Amisha will hopefully follow a year later. Soon, it will be time for them to leave home. I hope they do, for it will be their turn to spread their wings and find their own skies. To find themselves. I know little Zoya who loves my brownies will also grow up. And Sarthak, who still holds my hand and clings to me in the pool will also swim away from me. And I also know I will take the twins swimming to that very club, that very pool where I learnt to swim myself! And the circle will be complete....  
And you know what, time has a nasty habit of changing things, changing equations. People pass away, the house becomes emptier, corners go dead and then a little light flickers, tiny feet are heard again. The voices change, the old songs go unsung, footsteps fade away never to be heard again; all that remains are the memories, the tiny little bits of us that we leave in another person's life. Last week I had one of those rare windows when the twins had their 'annaprasan' and each of my eight children were home...together. My heart was full. 
I guess what I'm saying is, I don't know what will happen, how empty the house will be. I can't imagine who will return and who won't or where they will be, say twenty years on. But I know I will always have them, here, in my heart, meeting, coming together again and again. And I will scold them and hug them and cry with them and share my life with them.

For they have taught me to love.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Adventures of a reluctant mom.

I have a confession to make: I am not one of those people who see babies and go angelic motherly feelings are roused in my breast when confronted with a snotty baby... bells do not ring, music does not play and my dreams are certainly not sprinkled with baby powder.
Let's face it: I've never been big on kids. Specially babies. More so when I have nothing to do with them. I know people who see a strange baby on a train and immediately start cuddling it or whatever and strike up conversations with the mother. I do not have the patience for it and am more likely to stick my tongue out at the baby than cuddle it and go "cho chweet!"  I especially dislike noisy restless toddlers who will not sit still, be it at the airport, on a train, in the super-market or (horrors!) on a long haul flight. I want to whack the child (and the parents too, sometimes!) and hopefully have them duct-taped for the rest of the journey.
 As a child, I was always the hero of several extra-ordinary adventures: flying motorbikes and jet skis and racing fighter planes occupied my mind. I never had time for dolls or soft toys.... I remember this one time someone gave me some dolls. My mother sighed, my father shook his head. Within a day dismembered bodies of the dolls with all their hair chopped off were found under the bed.... I never dreamed of a home or children..I dreamed of constant adventure and travel; sleeping under the stars and living off the land...The Three Musketeers, Indiana Jones and Mr. Spock all rolled into one!
But life has an uncanny knack of interfering with such dreams. Here I was, in my late twenties...married and all. I thought I was ready for it. (Don't tell Hubby, but as things stand I still think I'm not ready for quiet domesticity!) And post marriage into this semi-joint family, for the first time in my life I shared my life with two children, my niece and my nephew… who were then all of two and three. They were adorable. They were the right age for spoiling and I discovered the joys of tiny feet pattering about the house without any of the rigors of potty training and weaning, which, luckily I knew nothing about then.
A few years down the line, my daughters came along. And they are barely 13 months apart. So you can imagine, for about two and half years I was either pregnant or lactating! Thenceforth all my adventures centered on my girls.... First came The Great Breast-feeding Escapade, then The Potty-training Capers along with the Mystique of The Feeding Time (The Story of the Mush that Jumped off the Plate) and the Exploits of the Sleepless Nights! There were times when my patience wore thin, there were times I felt like throwing them out the window. Don't look at me in horror, I once mentioned this to my mother and she told me, "Everyone feels that way sometimes, it's just that you don't go around saying it!"
As my girls grew I grew with them. Yes, I guess I grew into motherhood. And I must admit it has not been an altogether unpleasant experience!
But thanks to the aforesaid handicap, I thought I was at a disadvantage. I had to do ‘the right thing’ for my kids.  For a while I listened to everyone. When they said coke was better used as a detergent, I flushed away bottles of the stuff, when they said “Chavanprash” is good for them I stuffed it in their mouths till they spit it right back at me. When my Mom said Maggie was bad for them (No nutrition, only carbohydrates) I sighed and put it away. Till I realized there is no such thing as “the right thing”. How can there be, when each child is different? My girls, despite being siblings are as alike as chalk and cheese. They have their distinct likes and dislikes; each has their own way of handing things; each their own unique way of coping! So I gave up on ‘the right thing’ business and since then my girls have been brought up on a healthy dose of coke, Maggie and neglect.
I remember this relative once told me, “Oh, I only have the necks of the chicken.” I looked at her aghast. How can anyone like those icky things? Then she explained, “You see, I always give the good pieces and the legs to my husband and my sons. I only have the necks!” She sighed as if her heart was breaking.
Yuck. I decided then and there that I would never do that. My kids would not only have chicken necks from the curry but also learn to share the legs and the nice pieces. When seeing food on the table they would certainly not just pick out whatever they like and leave the rest. (Yes, I know kids, even adults, who do just that!) They would learn to share it with everyone else, and, if necessary, also refrain from taking it if they thought someone else wanted it too.
Now the years have passed, the girls are now almost 15 and almost 16. The adventures continue tirelessly, my mother assures me that the fun never stops and I am inclined to believe her! Our current adventure is Let’s Get Decent Scores in The Board Exams!
And the one thing I’ve learned from all this is that whenever someone praises my kids or says something nice about them, I feel like I’m ten feet tall!
And yes, they do eat their chicken necks too!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Kiss

My Dad and I had this little ritual, if you can call it that. In the morning, (provided I wasn't getting ready for school or otherwise frantically finishing homework), as he left for work I would walk him to the front door and see him off. I would give him a quick hug and a peck on the cheek as I said, "bye", and "have a great day!"

My father would be looking fresh and handsome, he'd be smelling of after-shave, (usually Old Spice), his hair would be wet, neatly combed back, his shirt would be ironed and crisp.

He'd stop and turn. He'd take hold my nose and my ear with two fingers of both hands, much like you would hold a jug by its handles, turn my cheek towards him and give me a kiss on my cheek.

Years and years have passed.
I would sell my soul to feel those cool lips on my cheek again. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

To my father on father's day...

Dearest Baba,
My hands are empty. I have not bought you anything, not even a cake or a childish painting....

My daughters, (your grand-children) plan and whisper... they are so excited Father's Day is coming! I listen to them and nod encouragingly, feeling some of their excitement rubbing off on me.

Just some. Not enough.

For I have never celebrated father's day. Hell, when I was growing up, we had never heard of father's Day!

So why am I here? Why am I writing this?

Knowing fully well that I do not have you here with me, that you probably will never read this?

Lets see, maybe it's because I know what I DO have:

I have the dawn on a sea beach where we walked looking for sea shells.
I have early morning walks with the sun barely out where you would point out flowers and trees and tell me their names and I would never remember...
I have the biscuit crumbs in my pockets for the kittens and pups by the roadside that you allowed me to pet and feed and play with.
I have the sunrise in the mountains through the mist rising from among the pines.
I have the mornings spent doing Mathematics set by you each day because you believed that if I could do basic Maths, I could do anything. You were right, I think.
I have the daytime jaunts with friends wearing your shirts when you were at work because a wardrobe full of my own stuff was never as trendy or comfy as yours.
I have lazy summer holidays with great food and family for company at the garden house where our bodies would be tanned and black from too much sun and swimming and cycling.
I have afternoons of turning lazy somersaults in the pond while you inspected the grounds and trimmed the ivy.
I have another afternoon when you taught me to cook eggs and we made a mess of the entire kitchen which we then cleared up, giggling like conspirators before mother woke up from her nap!
I have your gentle discipline to guide me, when a frown from you was enough. It still is.
I have yet another afternoon when I had lied to you and I watched you as you struggled to keep the hurt out of your face and I swore then and there never ever to do anything that I would have to lie to you about and I have kept my word.
I have long evenings spent watching the rays of the sun as they set over the horizon even as the kites we were flying could no longer be seen.
I have evenings infused with the clear scent of fresh gardenias plucked from our garden.
I have summer nights walking in the clear night and having the Pole Star and Orion's belt watch over us..
I have swimming in the rain, in the moonlight, in a pool, in a lake, in a pond, in the sea......
I have lonely days and nights sitting alone in a strange hospital in a strange city watching you battle a cancer that was eating you whole.
I have lessons of strength for never once did I see your face cringe in pain as night after night I changed the dressings with my clumsy hands.
I have your eyes, tear filled with pain, but fighting still....
I have your voice, that still soothes me when I think I hear you call my name. 

More than everything, I have your love.

And I have the memories....oodles and oodles of them...
They have served me well for the past 23 years. And I know will continue to give me solace for as long as I live...
And you know what?
I will not wish you on father's day because you cannot take a father's love and limit it to a day. It's forever.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The knave.

He has needed you from the moment he first saw you. At first the attention was light and flirtatious and you thought it gave you joy. Then he became more demanding, wanting to walk by your side and watch you while you were sleeping...till he became an indelible part of your life. He came along for movies and parties, even accompanied your family on vacations. Till you realised you are only one of his many conquests. He was hurting you and you had been fool enough not to see through it. He is eating into you, bit by bloody bit.
So you told him to leave.
But he wouldn't.
He'd sneak back into your life with false promises and placebos and you could not get rid of him. You know you have to do something about it.


It is evening, you are quietly sitting at the water's edge, deep in contemplation. It is time.
You rise, the water slides off your body as you shake your head and pull on a pair of shorts and a shirt over your wet swimsuit. It is completely still and the wind has dropped, nothing stirs. From behind you, where the house lies you can hear the sounds of your children as they animatedly discuss their day, bits of music come to your ears. You turn towards the house but pause and turn away following the narrow path among the overgrown grass. There is no birdsong, only an ominous silence as the stony old path twists and turns away from the house biting into your bare feet ... till you reach the ruin of the old out-house that no one ever visited. You climb the few steps, noticing how the weeds have choked the entire step and think nothing of it. Stones, bricks and broken walls greet you and you enter the cavernous dark. You know there are snakes that inhabit the ruins and you are afraid, but you know you cannot turn away. Not now.
You make your way in the semi-darkness till you reach the short stair-case. A narrow shaft of light falls from between the leaves of the Banyan tree that has made it's home on the outer wall. You climb the stairs slowly, your heart is beating wildly even as the stench of decay assaults you. You know what you will find.


There he is in front of you. Tall, misshapen and just as grotesque and ugly as you remember. To think that at one time you had found him attractive. He looks at you pleadingly, his eyes glimmer hope. The chains clank as he pulls forward but you know they will not give. He rattles his chains; he is, all at once, demanding and pleading and you  almost forget and give in. But something stops you. Maybe it is the recollection that he now threatens your world, your very existence?  He's always needed you, he is saying, he will never leave you.
But you finally have him locked up. You know that if he becomes strong he will once again run your life, he will once again ruin the life you have been clawing to reclaim. For, if he is strong, he will break the chains that bind him.
You look at him with loathing. Even pity.


So what will you do with this Knave, this killer, this terrorist who would riddle your home with bullets if he could?
Will you feed him?
Or will you let him starve to death? 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Things they do not tell you...

We women never have it easy....after we are married, barely have we settled down that well-meaning relatives and friends urge us to have babies. It's like a conspiracy, they get together and drop broad hints that  are designed to make us feel incomplete just because we have not started a family. Yet.
I was married in 1996. In 1998 my father-in-law moved to Andhra Pradesh. Obviously, we visited often, and would often meet his colleagues and their families. I clearly remember the look of disappointment in the faces of the ladies when they heard I had been married for two years but had, as yet, failed to produce any children. There was sorrow, pity even, writ large on their faces.
It's not that we did not want children, it's just that we were in no tearing hurry either.
All in good time.
So that's how it was. In good time, my daughters were born: one after the other, in fact they are just about 13 months apart.
So, do the Math, for about three years continuously, I was either pregnant or lactating. My husband forgot what it was like to drive fast, we were constantly careful and holidays, if we dared take one, were planned with great deliberation.
Besides that, once the older child was born, I realised there are a good many things that well-meaning relatives, aunts and other mothers do not tell you.

They don't tell you that for the next few months you will be running about with your hair standing on end, smelling of curdled milk and poo and wish you could just go to sleep anywhere, anytime.
They do not tell you that for the rest of your life you will forget what it was like when it was just you and your husband and you used to come home from a party and pull the curtains just as the birds began to sing outside.
They do not tell you that the mere thought of any harm coming to your child would keep you sitting bolt upright. Every night.
They do not tell you that your toddler will open your eyes with two grubby fingers when you are finally getting that nap and ask, "are you awake?"
They certainly do not tell you that hence forth your life is not your own and anything that can go wrong will do so, specially when you are in the loo.
They don't tell you that once in a while you will actually lock yourself in the loo and pray for peace and quiet!
They don't tell you that there will be a time when going out to buy Pediasure will be the high point of your week!
They don't tell you that your heart will break into a million pieces each time your child is hurt or has fever and clings to you and you are helpless to stop it.

Yes, a few years have passed. My daughters are now 14 and 15. Well on their way to becoming mature young adults, did you say?

They don't tell you that being a mother is a full time job that does not have a retirement age.
They don't tell you that once you've gotten past the potty training, there is always a new challenge coming up.
They don't tell you that you will now lie awake, sleepless worrying about the studies that they are not doing because they have no idea of what the real world rat race is like.
They don't tell you that you will feel guilty when they do not do well in their studies because you will feel somehow responsible.
They don't tell you that if ever anyone praises your child you will feel like you just started floating on air and will start beaming like the stadium lights.
They do not tell you that you will worry about the boys they meet in tuition class and the men on the road as they go out and you will want to follow them everywhere.
They do not tell you that it will take every ounce of self restraint and courage that you have to NOT follow them everywhere.
They do not tell you how, on Mother's Day they will buy you a gift you do not need with money taken from you and then run loose in your kitchen and you will do your best to be happy about it.
They don't tell you how relieved you will be that Mother's Day only comes once a year!
They do not tell you how tears spring to your eyes each time you sense they are hurt or upset.
Most of all they do not tell you how lonely the house feels when the children are not home and you worry that all too soon they will fly the nest and your heart will fly with them.

For they never, never tell you that from the day you become a mother till the day you die your heart will belong to your children and you will forever be wearing it on your sleeve.

(This was written for a contest entry. The original post is here: )

Monday, May 4, 2015

The A to Z Reflections Post

Ah. So it's time to reflect on the past month. Let's see now, what do I have to say?

I took up this challenge for the first time last year. I was ill prepared, to say the least. Every morning found be frantically banging away at my computer trying to find thoughts to match the word I had chosen.
This year, I decided I was going to be more organised. So I chose myself a theme: Food. Something I am comfortable about as I quite fancy myself as a home cook. So there it was; A theme staring me in the face.
Also, April was a busy month: we had visitors and we had a lot of long weekends which meant I would not be able to put in that much time in front of the PC. So I tried to schedule some of my posts. Some came naturally, some seemed forced. And sometimes I'd wake up in the morning with an idea rattling in my head and decide I did not like my scheduled post at all... then I'd be at the computer typing away for all I am worth to get to the post and change it before the scheduled time!
The spouse, frankly thought I've finally lost it all, all at once!

Oh yes, It's been fun.
Would I do it again!
You bet!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

'Z' is for Ziti ... . A to Z Challenge Day 26.

When I got married, my nephew was all of three and my niece almost two. They were the first children I had seen at close quarters. They quite easily wormed their ways into my heart and I took to taking them out with me all over the place: be it shopping, loafing about or swimming. Yes, swimming was the high point in all our lives!

Then, a few years later came my own two daughters, born a year apart. They were followed by another niece and then a few years later, another nephew. The latest additions to our family are three month old twins: a boy and a girl. As a result I am now a proud 'parent' of eight children, whose ages range from 22 to 3 months!!!! Two of them have left home. One lives in Canada and visits annually. The older niece is in Bangalore but currently at home on vacation. 

And I love to take them swimming. In fact that's one thing we all love to do. Right from the time they were small we had these outings when we would go to the club, have a leisurely swim and lunch...

"So what has all this got to do with ziti or even food?" you ask. 

Thing is, and I will never understand why, on each and every one of these outings someone or the other always, but always, orders the Club Macaroni and Cheese. In fact even the fussiest eater of the day (and that crown moves around) cannot say no to Mac and Cheese. I have tried it sometimes, its the same horrible bland taste every time. So the other day I said I'd make them Mac and Cheese at home. The youngest one, all of five, piped up. "But it won't be like this one here!" 

So the other day at the store, I found a packet of Ziti. I've decided I'm going to make a nice meat sauce with bacon and sausages and I'm going to bake it with cheese.... 
And I'll call my children over for dinner!!!

And since this is the last day of the challenge I leave you with a happy picture of me and 6 of my kids.... just after a satisfying meal that had a lot of Mac and Cheese! 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Y" for Yours. A to Z Challenge Day 25.

There's no one quite like your mother.
Or anyone who cooks like her.
Or anyone who can take the place of your father.
Or the time he spent teaching a little girl to poach eggs
All the times you tried to cook and failed
Or the times you were sure you screwed up up but didn't.
Or the joy you felt when your meal was praised
Or the way you squirmed when the salt was too much
There's that kitchen you call your very own
A five-star affair...or is it a hole in the wall?
Too small, too big, just about right...
Where you conjure dishes day and night
That oven, that old pan with the loose handle
That measuring cup that has seen better days
That old cooker that was a wedding gift
Those serving dishes you use with care...

All that...every moment
you spend cooking
spreading smiles
sharing love
are special
are all YOURS!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"X" is for Xacuti. A to Z Challenge Day 24.

Xacuti is a Goan curry. You can make it with fish or mutton or chicken but the recipe I want to share today is with prawn. If you like Indian curries, this will certainly be a favourite. Just adjust the cooking time if you are using chicken or meat.


  1. Prawns (medium size) 1 cup tossed gently with a little salt and pepper.
  2. Onions (large) 1 chopped finely.
  3. Coconut grated 3/4 cup
  4. Nutmeg powder 1/2 tsp
  5. Coriander seeds 3/4/tsp
  6. Cumin seeds 1/2 tsp
  7. Tamarind paste 1/2 tsp
  8. Poppy seeds 1/2 tsp
  9. Fennel seeds 1/2 tsp
  10. Dried red chillies : 3/4
  11. Star Anise 2/3 (optional)
  12. Cinnamon 1 (1 inch) piece
  13. Cloves 2/3
  14. Oil: 1 tbsp
  15. Salt: to taste

  1. Dry roast the coconut till it turns lightly brown. Keep aside.
  2. Dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, dried chillies and star anise, if using till a nice aroma comes out. Do not burn. I usually do this in a tawa over a low flame once the tawa is hot, 
  3. Gring the dry roasted seeds with the coconut into a smooth paste. Add as little water as possible. 
  4. Heat oil and fry the chopped onion. When it starts to brown, add the masala and fry till the oil separates. 
  5. Add the prawn and fry for about 3/4 minutes mixing the prawns in the masala nicely. Add some water and cook till prawns are done. Do not over cook as the prawns will turn rubbery and hard. 
  6. Add nutmeg powder, tamarind and cook for 2 minutes till blended. 
This is lovely with rice or roti but it's really special with local paos (buns)!  

Monday, April 27, 2015

"W" is for Wednesday Dinners. A to Z Challenge Day 23.

Growing up, my Mom was a Librarian at our school. We had a lady who used to take care of us. She seemed to have been around forever, Pramilla was her name. Most of our childhood memories have Pramilla there somewhere.
Now this Pramilla used to have a evening off every week. Every Wednesday after we returned from school in the afternoon, Pramilla would take off to be with her family and not return until the next day.
Hence, on Wednesday nights, without fail, my mother cooked dinner.

And Ma never made rice and daal and boring stuff. Often it was roast mutton. Or chicken. Sometimes Moussaka. Or Shammi kababs. Caramel custard. Lamb chops cooked to perfection, chicken shaslik, grilled fish, meat loaf..... the whole house was infused with delicious aromas emanating from the kitchen. We'd help in whatever way we could but Mom was happy and cheerful those evenings although the utensils piled up in the sink. After the cooking was over, my Mom would have a shower, wear some perfume and dress up nicely and wait for my father to return.

I never could figure it out. Then. It made no sense.
But, oh yes, we all loved Wednesdays, specially at dinnertime! 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"V" is for Vindaloo. A to Z Challenge, Day 22.

In college we were a hungry lot.
(I've already said that.)
In any case, days before we were coming home for our holidays, we used to be dreaming of all the delicious goodies we would eat when we got home!
Those were the days of the snail mail. Long distance phone calls were a luxury I could ill-afford. So six weeks before I was due to go home I would start penning the menu that should be waiting for me from the day I reached home. I still remember my favourite orders: Aam Shoal (a fish spiced with raw mangoes), dahi vada (no one still makes it like my mother!) Mangshor jhol (mutton curry) Moussaka (we all know what that is!) and on and on it went, the list was endless.

As they say, all good things come to an end. So it was with our vacations. I don't know what made us more sad, the fact that we were leaving home or the fact that we would not be getting all the good food we got while at home... For me I am sure it was the latter.
So my mother devised a way I would not miss home food for a few more days even as I was away from home.
She made vindaloo.

The train journey from my city to a place called Kalyan, took 36 hours. After a two hour wait we boarded another train which took four hours to reach our final destination, Pune. This was provided the trains all ran on time and there were no delays or mishaps on the way. Often, these journeys across India were taken in the fiercest heat; as a college student I never travelled by air conditioned coach.

So what is Vindaloo?
Vindaloo is Goan dish made with mutton or pork or even chicken (My mom made it with mutton for me to take to college.) It is marinated in garlic and  ginger and other spices and cooked with vinegar. It is almost pickled and hence stays for a few days so it would survive the journey to college... That's when I learnt that if there is onion  and/or water in a recipe it will spoil fast. Same with potato.
But there I was.... miles, days away from home;

Savouring, little by little, a slice of home!

Friday, April 24, 2015

'U' for Ugh. A to Z Challenge Day 21.

Let's face it. Not everyone can cook. Although some people have the best of intentions and spare no effort or expense in doing it. If fact there have been times when even the best home cooks do screw up. I've done it: experimented with something, tasted it and gone "UGH. That cannot be how it is supposed to be!"
So every once in a while you may be invited for dinner or given something to eat and although it looks presentable enough, when you taste it your heart sinks. "Ugh," you think!
So what do you do then?
Here's what I do.
I calmly finish the food, as much as I can anyway, find something on the menu that's half edible, (like the salad, maybe?), set down the plate and profusely thank the host and tell them what a wonderful meal it has been.
That's manners!

And then there are some things that make you go ugh anyway and you wouldn't touch it for the world. It may be the smell, the texture, the taste. After all, we all have our preferences.
For me, it's the smell of Bombay Duck as it's cooking.
It's the mild fish curry cooked at home day in day out. Smells too fishy, I never touch it.
It's plain boiled okra with it's slimy texture.
It's the yolk of fried egg sunny side up... could never stand it, either the taste or the texture though I know people who would kill for it. Well, almost.
It's idli and vada after more than a month of having it day in and day out at the hospital canteen. Thankfully that was temporary.

The list goes on.
So tell me, what are the food that make YOU go "ugh!"?