When love swipes right!

Tanya got off the car and rushed towards the coffee shop. It was drizzling, winter rains, she was walking as fast as she could to avoid getting drenched. When she reached the covered porch she stopped, took a breath and tried to calm herself. “Maybe I should have cancelled this”, she thought. “It’ll take me ages to drive back in the rains, and all this for a Tinder date.” She ran her fingers through her hair and smoothed her jacket and started walking slowly towards the coffee shop.

love swipes

Confident, happy and single Tanya logged on to Tinder sometime back, maybe out of curiosity, maybe out of loneliness, maybe it was a bit of both. She has been in love before, has broken her heart, she still believes in love and could be hopelessly romantic at times. Though her romantic quests didn’t go the way she had hoped, Tanya was a positive and a happy woman, doing well in her job, popular with her friends. She had pushed back all thoughts of love for a while and seemed to be doing a good job of it. Then, one Sunday afternoon, while flipping through TV channels to kill time, she was suddenly gripped by loneliness and boredom. Her friends, most of whom are married, were caught up with their family or in some other errand. “Maybe I should try Tinder,” she thought, “who knows maybe there are interesting men out there.”

She downloaded Tinder on a whim and started swiping right and left. To her surprise, she matched with every man she fancied, and all of whom seemed eager to meet her and take things forward. The initial response was overwhelming and exhilarating, ‘maybe I will meet someone nice here,’ she thought. She was not unattractive she knew, but the men out there made her feel like a beauty queen. Her optimism, however, was short lived, when most of her tinder matches seemed to be only interested in sex or one-night stands. Some of them were married as well, looking for ‘a true friend.’  “I was really naïve,” she thought “to think dating still meant coffee, good conversations and sweet romance.  Holding hands and walking in the moonlit nights, like college times.”

As she was about to delete the Tinder app, the message notification blinked, “How about coffee on Monday?”  asked an almost forgotten Tinder match, Abir. “Well one coffee shouldn’t hurt,” thought Tanya. “Fine, let’s meet at 7,” she wrote.

When Tanya stepped out of office that Monday evening it was drizzling, and she had a good mind to call off her Tinder date. “It’s too late for that now, it would be rude,” she thought, as she drove to meet Abir on a rainy December night.

As Tanya, walked towards the coffee shop, she found Abir waiting for her outside, he came forward and shook her hands warmly. By the time they sat down they were already talking, like they have known each other for a while. They talked endlessly for hours, till Tanya realized it was late and she had to get back home. Traffic was crazy on the way back, but she didn’t mind. There was something about Abir that was so different from the all the men who cross her path, on Tinder or otherwise. He was sweet, charming, polite, a little shy and seemed genuinely interested in knowing her.

So, they kept meeting and talking and before they knew they were dating. “Watch out,” her friends warned, “not so fast. You met him on Tinder, at best he’s looking for a casual fling.” Tanya took a step back only to realize that they were both drawn to each other hopelessly and there was no looking back. Neither Tanya nor Abir had thought that they would find something so beautiful on Tinder, so they plunged right into it – into a journey of love, friendship and companionship!

Virtually Yours

There was a time, not so long ago, when a girl named Mohini lived in the real world. There was no internet, e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other virtual online platforms in that world. People visited each other, talked face to face, wrote letters and sometimes talked on the phone. Mohini loved her little real world. She visited her friends and relatives regularly, wrote frequently to those who lived in other cities, occasionally spoke to them over the phone.  Mohini loved writing – poetry, short stories, sometimes just her fleeting thoughts. In the journal next to her bedside table she would write every night before going to bed. Mohini’s family and friends encouraged her to write. She was often requested to read from her work in social gatherings, her poems were published in school magazines. Mohini hoped to publish her writings someday, reach a wider audience.

virtual world

                                                                                                     Image courtesy nyooz.com

Then one day the virtual world came into being. People talked to each other less and less, they chatted in WhatsApp groups or Facebook messenger or just Snapchatted. Letters, journals and family albums went out of vogue. People posted pictures, posts and messages in social media platforms. Orkut came and went. The generation moved from verbose Facebook, to picturesque Instagram, to funny & pictures only Snapchat. Of course, there’s professional LinkedIn and opinionated Twitter. The virtual media expanded our horizons, helped us connect with long lost friends. Soon we could connect and converse with people sitting in another end of the world in jiffy.

To Mohini, the virtual world presented the audience that she was aspiring for. She started posting her poems in Facebook and Instagram, created separate pages. The encouraging and sometimes the critical readers of the virtual world stimulated her. She connected with so many wonderful people, joined groups that helped her read and write better. She learnt about writing competitions and contests happening across the world.  “These are wonderful platforms that are taking me closer to my dreams,” she thought happily. She felt safe in the virtual world; it gave her the space to create without being judged.

But Mohini’s illusion of a safe and unprejudiced virtual world soon came crashing! The virtual world inherited all the vices and the prejudices of the real world, the wider audience only made things worse. There was no privacy anymore, once you posted something in the virtual world it was out there for everyone to see and comment on. Soon, there were virtual stalkers who terrified Mohini. She felt so harassed that she went off social media platforms for a while. She came back wiser and blocked her stalkers from all her social media sites. “Thank god for technology that allows us to block such vile people,” she sighed in relief.

Though the stalkers were gone the incessant pinging, messenger calls, uncomfortable questions irritated Mohini. “Are you single?”, “How old are you?” “Would you care to date an older man?”, “Madam what’s your idea of love?”, “Can I have your number?” etc. etc. Though there are separate platforms for dating and match making, citizens of the virtual world just didn’t seem to realize the difference. The virtual world evolved and grew so fast that virtual citizens probably failed to realize that this world too is governed by etiquette, as much as the real world.

For Mohini the virtual world is exciting albeit its draw backs and irritants. She valued the friendships and associations she made in the virtual media platforms and decided to share her reflections with her virtual friends…

Dear friends,

I am glad we connected virtually! We have shared so much and learnt from each other’s experiences. I read your wonderful poems and short stories, learnt about new things, visited places I never knew existed. Your fresh perspectives and views inspired me. You are my wise audience you who help me write better!

But sometimes we forget that the virtual world is like our drawing room. We showcase what we are comfortable sharing, so let’s not peek into each other’s bedrooms. Let’s respect privacy and boundaries and make this journey enjoyable and meaningful!

Virtually yours,

Mohini

 

Lau Tales: from a Humble Boy to a Yummy Prince!

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, a migratory bird dropped a seed in the heart of Africa, that germinated into thick green vines with white flowers that open only at night. From those white flowers was born Lau. Wait, Lau was known by different names then – Calabash, Bottle Gourd (owing to its bottle like shape), Long Melon and so many more. People didn’t even know how to eat this vegetable in those days but made utensils out of it once mature, owing of its round shape.

Many years later, after travelling many continents when Bottle Gourd finally landed in a Bengali kitchen, the Bong Fairy Godmother with hands on her hip, looked ponderingly at this long green vegetable and lovingly named it Lau. She then touched it with her magical khunti (spatula), poured a concoction of mild spices and turned humble Lau into a yummy sought-after prince. With her imagination and culinary magic, she gave so many avatars to this vegetable, each one more delightful than the other. Lau became the beloved vegetable of Bengal, folk artists started singing its glory:

Lau

Shadher laau banailo more boiragi
Laauer aaga khailam doga go khailam
Aaga khailam go….
Laauer aaga khailam doga go khailam
Laau dia banailam dugdugi
O Ami laau dia banailam dugdugi

Loosely translated the lyrics mean, beloved Lau has turned me into a wandering ascetic. Having eaten every bit of this delicious vegetable, right from its skin to the stem, I have even made a dumroo out of it. I dare say lot is lost in my attempt of translation. In fact, these lyrics are impossible to translate. Inserting an audio link of this folk song, made popular by Bangladeshi folk singer Runa Laila, for you to have a feel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbgJI2h9wFs

Lau is indeed one hell of a versatile vegetable for Bongs. Right from its flowers (lau phool), to skin, to stem (lau data) and leaves (lau shaag), we transform every bit of this vegetable into a delicacy. The many preparations of ‘humble’ Lau, a vegetable that often does not find place in fancy meals in North India unless made into kofta, will surprise those unfamiliar with traditional Bengali cuisine. Be it everyday meal or special occasions, Lau is almost always part of the menu in Bengali households in summers.

Lau skin (chilka) can be made into chechki. Lau in moong dal with few pieces of karela thrown in, is probably the simplest and the healthiest way to have this vegetable and trust me it’s delicious. We make different kinds of shukto with Lao that are part of everyday menu in summer. Lao moong is a specialty from East Bengal. Lau ghonto with dal bari, Lau chingri and Lau with fish head are considered delicacies. Lau data or the stem of Lau vine and Lau saag can also be prepared in different ways.  We make Lau datar chorchori, Lau datar dal. Lau saager morich jhol is both tasty and healthy, we even make a delectable paste out of tender Lau leaves (Lau pata bata). You can make mouth-watering desserts with Lau (lauer payesh). There is so much more you can do with this amazing vegetable!

Since Lau is so easily available, often the vegetable we are stuck with in the summers, I will share below few of my favourite recipes that you can try this summer. These easy to make, nutritious and low-calorie recipes will add to your cool quotient in the hot months ahead!

Lau in kacha moong (unroasted) dal, my mom’s recipe that I make very often in summer, can be done in no time.

Lau in kacha moong (unroasted) dal

Directions:Cut the lau into square dice of 1inch size

  1. Cut the Karela into very thin round slices
  2. Boil moong dal in 1 & ½ cups of water, with lau, green chillies, salt, haldi and sugar. I boil in an open vessel since mong dal cooks easily, you can pressure cook as well
  3. In a kadai heat ghee, shallow fry karela & keep aside. Put bay leaf, mustard seeds and ginger paste in the same kadai (add more ghee if required)
  4. Pour the dal with lau once mustard seeds start sputtering, add shallow fried karela.
  5. Add more salt if required and bring it to boil
  6. Put a little ghee on the top and your healthy, aromatic kacha moong dal with lau is ready. Serve with hot rice or just a bowl of this delicious dal.

Lau Shukto

Lau Shukto, or shukta, is a mild, creamy, Bengali vegetable preparation served for lunch. Shukto can be made in different ways and usually has a bitter element. We add bitter vegetables like karela or bitter spices like methi or mustard for the slightly bitter flavour. But it is always mild and usually creamy, that comes from either milk, or posto (poppy seed) paste, or mustard paste. Sharing below the recipe for my favourite mild and creamy lau shukto.

Lau Shukto

Directions:

  1. First make a wet paste of posto in the grinder
  2. Chop lau in thin long slices
  3. In a kadai heat a little ghee, shallow fry dal bari and keep aside.
  4. In the same kadai (add more ghee if required) put sauf & mustard seeds. Once the seeds start sputtering add chopped lau, salt and sugar.
  5. Cooked covered in low flame till lau becomes tender, stirring occasionally (lau usually cooks in its own water).
  6. Once the lau is tender, add the shallow fried bari, posto paste and milk. Mix the paste well. Add more salt and sugar if needed. This mild shukto has a slightly sweetish taste.
  7. Serve hot with rice

Lau Chechki

Made from Lau skin, this is something you can make every time you cook Lau

Lau Chechki

Directions:

  1. Cut the Lau skin into very fine thin slices
  2. Heat mustard oil in a pan. Once hot put red chilli & kala jeera
  3. Add sliced lau skin, salt, haldi, green chilli. Cook covered in medium to low flame stirring frequently.
  4. Once lau skin in tender switch off the flame. This usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes for tender lau skin.
  5. Serve with hot rice

 

 

Riverdale Lost: When Archie’s World Turned Dark & Gloomy

Archie FB

The other day I stumbled upon the super cool freckled teenager, Archie. Yes, the whole goofy gang – the lovable glutton Jughead, self-obsessed Reggie, magical Sabrina, musical Josie and the Pussycats, dumb Moose, talented Chuck, and of course, blonde Betty and brunette Veronica vying for Archie’s attention. They seemed slightly jaded at first, but one close look and I could feel the excitement and the fun, their eyes gleaming with silly mischiefs and their bright faces bristling with friendly rivalry. While Archie was showing off, Reggie was being a narcissist, snoring Jughead’s stomach was making funny sounds. Veronica was obsessing with her looks and a new boy in town, Betty on the other hand couldn’t keep her eyes off Archie and Josie was working on her next song for the party. Archie’s eyes moved from Betty to Veronica, to every pretty girl in town. Sleepy little town Riverdale with the school Riverdale High, abuzz with pranks of Archie Andrews and his pals! They were silly, goofy, stupid and self-obsessed. They were also caring and harmless. They were teenagers, high school kids, that’s how they are meant to be!

I fell in love with the gang all over again, when I chanced upon them at Pinto’s Café  over Sunday Brunch. There they were, sitting on a small book shelf next to my table. As I jumped up from my chair to grab a copy of Archie’s Comics, the Café owner, Sonal gave me a knowing smile, “Kids don’t care about these comics anymore, adults go for them”. Archie’s Comics came into being in 1940s. One of the most popular and loved comics for over decades, Archie became the epitome of cool high school kids. I read every issue of Archie’s, collected them and am still a huge fan of Archie Andrews and his pals!

Archie 1

Curtain rises on 2017, Archie and his friends walk into a world that has lost its innocent charm. Riverdale is now a dark creepy town ridden with murder, drugs, mafia wars, illicit affairs, it reeks evil. The once cool and carefree teenagers are now burdened with the grave task of setting things right in this crazy town. The adults seem to be not so responsible parents who couldn’t care less, costing Archie and his teenage friends their goofiness and happy-go-lucky attitude. It breaks my heart to see Archie, Ronnie, Betty, Jug and the gang behave all mature, step in where their parents failed. They drink openly, their relationships are complicated and very physical, rivalry is not innocent anymore. Teenage pranks have given way to the dangerous game of Griffins & Gargoyles. The gang is divided between the do-gooders and the not so good. They lie, cheat, betray and plot. Light-hearted fun that we associate with high school years is completely lost!

I am talking about the TV series Riverdale, a modern take on Archie’s comics. It’s been over 75 years since Archie and his friends saw the light of the day and times have changed. Teenagers love the new Riverdale, I am told. Have times changed so much that our teenagers are forgetting the simple pleasures of carefree high school years, I sometimes wonder! While looking up Archie I did come across reprints of yesteryear’s Archie’s Comics, maybe there still are a few takers for goofy fun!

Food trails and many tales: Titillating flavours of Holi!

With inputs from Sanchita Singh Roy

Memory of my dida (dadi) brings back the taste of her signature dishes – toker daal, sheem bichir torkari, kochur shaag, nobody can make these dishes like her. When I visit my didun (nani) I am immediately reminded of her musurir daal, jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja and dhokar dalna. Didun is too old now and doesn’t cook anymore. Sadly, these dishes cooked by others, even my mom, don’t taste the same. There’s some flavour missing, that I can savour only in my memories.

Dadi nani’s signature dishes! They are either no more or too old cook, and we don’t have the time or patience to recreate their culinary magic. Also, our taste buds have evolved, we have been exposed to a whole lot of cuisines and we often choose international cuisine over our own desi khana. Not just food cooked by our grand moms at home, every region of India has a huge array of cuisine that we are unfortunately losing out on – food that is so rooted to our tradition and culture. Each region has so much variety, for instance every district of Bengal has its distinct cooking style and signature dishes. Some of these tastes and flavours are deep rooted in our memories.

We Indians are food lovers, no festival or celebration is complete without a few signature dishes. I will attempt a few posts trying to recreate the taste of our authentic cuisines, both the everyday food that dadi nani used to make and the special dishes cooked during festivals. Since Holi is around the corner, the traditional delicacies served during the festival of colour would be a good place to start.

Basant utsav

HoliHoli is a festival popular across India, especially North India. There are many dimensions to this beautiful festival of colours. It is the festival of spring that celebrates the victory of good over evil. According to Hindu legend, Holi is celebrated to mark the victory of Prahlada, an avatar of Vishnu, over the evil King Hiranyakashipu. Holika Dahan the night before Holi, commemorates this victory.  Festival of love, Holi symbolizes the divine love of Radha Krishna. Lord Krishna, the purna avatar of Vishnu, was known to play with colours with his lady love Radha and many Gopinis in Braj Bhumi (now known as Vrindavan) on this festival. It is this fun, frolic and playfulness associated with the many legends of Lord Krishna colouring his women in many hues of spring and love, that captures the popular imagination.

Food served during this intoxicating festival of colours naturally captures its spirit. Bhang is intrinsic to Holi, bhang wali thandai or bhang pakora add to the headiness. Gujiya, dahi vada and chaat add to the chatpata flavour of frolic. However, not many of us know, that each state has different signature dishes that are made during Holi. In Uttar Pradesh, Holi is incomplete without gujiya, kanji vada and kanji. Malpoya and dahi vada are essential to Holi in Bihar, while in Himachal they definitely make kadi on the day of the festival, besides gujiya and dahi vada.

“Before Holi, ladies from the entire community would get together to make gujiya,” says my friend Sanchita who originally hails from UP. “With my mom, chachi and aunties from the neighbourhood working in tandem, the tedious process of making gujiya seemed so much fun.” Sanchita still makes Gujiya, kanji vada and kanji at home during Holi. Kanji vadaurad or moong dal vadas immersed in tangy mustard flavoured liquid, is a delicacy from UP and Rajasthan. Kanji is a fermented drink served during Holi, made with water, black carrots, beetroot, mustard seeds and hing. They are both tasty and healthy, so you can ahead make them part of Holi or any other festival menu.

Holi foodSharing below Sanchita’s recipes:

Kanji Vada

For Kanji
1/4 cup split mustard seeds (rai na kuria)
1 tbsp black salt (sanchal)
1 1/2 tsp chilli powder
salt to taste
For Vadas (makes 20 Vadas)
2 1/2 cups urad daal, soaked for 4-6 hours and drained (You can add a bit of moong daal if you want)
1 tsp ginger-green chilli paste
1/2 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
1/4 tsp hing
salt to taste
oil for deep-frying

Method 
For kanji, combine all the ingredients and blend in a mixer to a smooth powder.

Transfer the powder into a deep bowl, add 5 cups of water and mix well. Cover it with a lid and refrigerate for 24 hours.

For vadas
1. Blend dal in a mixer to a coarse paste with ginger-green chilli paste, fennel seeds, asafoetida and salt and mix well. Keep it aside for an hour.

2.Wet your hands, take 1½ tbsp of the dal paste on your palm or on a sheet of wet muslin cloth spread over a bowl, shape into a 25 mm. (1″) diameter circle. Drop it in hot oil and deep-fry on a medium flame till it turns golden brown in colour from all the sides. 2 to 3 vadas can be deep-fried at a time in one batch.

3.Drain on an absorbent paper and soak the deep-fried vadas immediately in a bowlful of like warm salt water for at least 1 hour. Drain and squeeze out all the water by pressing each vada gently between your palms.

4.Place vadas in kanji and refrigerate it. Allow them to soak for at least 1 hour. Serve chilled.

Kanji (Drink)

Glass jars or jugs, Mortar & pestle or Spice grinder, Cheesecloths/muslin, Rubberbands

If you don’t have any of these, wrap the seeds in muslin cloth, place flat on a cutting board and crack them open carefully with a hammer or belan

Ingredients:
1 large beet
2–3 large carrots
1–3 tbsp mustard seeds, pinch of hing, 6–7 cups drinking water

(You can make kanji with just carrot or beet as well. Veggies like cauliflower, shalgum, raddish etc. can be added)

Method

  1. Crush mustard seeds with mortar and pestle
  2. Wash your beet and carrots and dice them into long pieces that will fit the height of your jars.
  3. Fill jars with veggies.
  4. Add crushed mustard seeds, hing and fill jars with water. Cover with cheesecloth/muslin and secure with a rubber band. Let the jar sit in a sunny spot on the counter for at least 2-5 days. Every day, with a dry wooden spoon (or the handle of that spoon), give the mixture a stir.

Once drink tastes zingy/tangy, it’s fermented and ready! Refrigerate it and enjoy the drink. You can add vodka if you want more zing! Enjoy the tangy vegetables as well

 

Tribute to a grand lady, N. Seemaipalam

Contributed by Seema Dhody Natesan

Took an early morning flight to Cochin to bid a final goodbye to a grand lady.

N.Seemaipalam, translates as fruit from across the borders, an exotic fruit. My husband’s grandmother and my grandmother in law. She would have celebrated her 98th birthday this July had she not decided yesterday, to move on and away. In the middle of her sleep, in the middle of the night. Her life was as much about her strength as it was about sadness. Seema gradma one

I met her when I first entered Nat’s house. We had come home for a holiday from the US and this was my first visit to his house after our marriage. She was carrying two small bowls in her hands, one with sugar and the other with yogurt. Apparently, we had arrived at an inauspicious hour and would have to stay out for about three hours before the time- turner’s clock would read auspicious. Not having any of that, she told me to take a spoon of sugar, hold it under my tongue, and take another spoonful of yogurt and swallow both as I enter the threshold of the house, thus effectively avoiding the evil eye also called ‘drishti’. I had been told that I would have to kick a bowl of rice, but there was none of that. She didn’t believe in it. Her inherent contradiction surprised me and I almost laughed out loud! Later, I realized that contradictions defined her and her life.

The eldest daughter of a rich family from Sivakasi, she was married at the age of 13, had a child at 15 and was widowed at a very young age of 16. Her husband lost his valiant battle to brain-fever and left behind a young widow and an infant child. Not knowing what to do with such a young girl amidst them, her widowed father-in-law packed her off to her maternal home. There she raised my father-in-law and perhaps tried to come to terms with her life. I would often ask her if they ever thought of marrying her again, and she would look at me as if she didn’t even understand my question.
The first thing she said to me the day we met was, ‘Tum kaisi ho, tum seh milker bahut anand hua.’ To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. Nat never mentioned that his grandmother, his Aiyamma, even understood Hindi. And here she was speaking in almost perfect, chaste Hindi. There was a lot of similarity in our names, Seemaipalam Natesan to Seema Natesan, for my husband, her first grandson was named after her husband. And she was really fond of me, one of the few who accepted me and not just tolerated me. We returned to the US and she would often call me just to speak to me in Hindi. Nat’s father would call once in a while to complain about the huge telephone bills she was totalling up, but nobody said anything to her. She was always the pampered lady of the house.

We subsequently returned to India and over the course of the one year that we spent in Cochin before moving to Chennai, I learned a lot about her and her extremely loving but strict nature. Oona was a little baby, just learning to talk and as per the custom Aiyamma is to be addressed as Patti by her great-grandchildren. She almost threw a tantrum and refused to answer to Patti, she thought the word would be confused with potty. Smartly enough, she came up with a solution too and rechristened herself, Palamma, and that name stayed with her till the very end.

seema grandma 3

Despite the hardships, she had faced and her staggering loneliness, I never saw her sad. And the more I understood her and her life choices, the more I understood her mental and physical strength. With a house full of help to raise her son and a liberal mother Ratanamma, Aiyamma, didn’t just sit at home and bemoan her luck. Though I am sure others must have done that to her plenty, she perhaps was too young to understand the mountainous tragedy that had befallen her. However, having a small child to play with, and no work worries of the world, must have totally made it impossible for her to make sense of her life. Her first achievement was learning to use the sewing machine and stitching her own clothes. She continued to do that till almost the very end. Once I saw her stitching extra blouses for herself and she told me that these were for the time when she will not be able to stitch anymore.

Palamma doted on Oona, first great-grandchild, a girl born after only boys in the family made her very happy. Oona took an instant love to her and followed her on her tippy toes. Palamma became Palams, and Oona sat on her lap and churned cream into butter and ate dallops of fresh butter and drank the delicious buttermilk. She would take Oona to the garden and together they would pluck flowers and decorate her Krishna temple. Oona would pass the vegetables to her one by one and Palamma would cut them to finish her preparations before cooking lunch. Their bond was really strong and when I called Oona at midnight to inform her of Palamma’s passing, thousands of miles away, my poor child was in tears unable to decide whether she should feel good that her Palams was not suffering or be sad that she is gone.

She was not as weak as everyone thought she might be. To make sense of her loss as she grew older and understood the enormity of the life before her, she expressed a wish to start an orphanage. And did not rest till it became functional. It housed orphaned children of the nearby villages; she took in children without parents and also children whose parents could not afford to bring them up. Attached to the Bal Wadi, as it was called, was a school, which offered classes till primary. Older children were sent to a Middle school nearby. The orphanage ran for decades and only a few years ago it was shut down for reasons not clear to me. In Sivakasi, she heeded Gandhiji’s call, joined the freedom struggle, gave up wearing her jewels and took to wearing khadi. Not very educated, to begin with, she taught herself English. Today at her memorial service, I took an old khadi sari out of her cupboard and wore it and read from her book of Divine prayers. She used to read this book every day. I brought both back with me to Chennai. I am sure she must be happy looking down from wherever she is!

After her son finished his engineering studies, she moved back to her husband’s house facing much opposition. Equally or perhaps more wealthy than her father’s family, there was a reluctance to accept another partner in the business, but again uncharacteristically she fought for his rights and made sure he was accorded his due. Her strength at fighting this fight even amazed her and she told me once that maybe they sent her back to usurp his share. She told me that she brought a cash dowry of ten thousand rupees in the 1920’s and therefore she pushed to get him his place in the family. And regretfully, she also told me of my father-in-law, Chandran’s, loneliness and fatherless existence and his inability to make friends in his life, given the kind of sheltered life she had provided him.
Her husband’s family following their expanded business had moved out of Kovilpatti to Kerala and so Palamma moved with Chandran, to Cochin.

Cochin changed her beyond what she anticipated. She joined the Shardha Math and learned to write accounts and keep books. Unable to converse with travellers from the eastern part of the country, she joined the Hindi Mahasabha and learned to read, write and speak the language. Later on my extremely forgetful husband told me that she used to translate the iconic television serial Buniyaad for the entire family and a few neighbors too! Who would have thought! Her contradictions surprised me no end when my father gifted me a fully automatic washing machine, she disdainfully told me that I should have asked for a pair of diamond earrings yet the very next minute she gave money to my maid in Chennai to buy books for her school going daughters.
My husband, Natesan was her favorite, to begin with and stayed so until the very end. During her last few days, drifting in and out of her haze, she did and did not recognize many, but whenever he visited and gently called out her name, whichever world she was in, she would open her eyes and smile and say, you have come, how is Oona?

Palams is no more but she is around. In the memories that she has created and in the mischievous grin with which she would look and ask me, tum kaisey hoh!

May she rest in eternal peace

Tiya and her old toys

Tiya's dolls

The green train engine was sulking. The joker with the tin drum was completely ignoring him today, he has been chit chatting with the bald doll since morning. Sitting on the pelmet, the crying doll and the walkie talkie doll were watching the whole scene below with amusement. They are all Tiya’s toys, though she doesn’t play with them anymore she has kept them very carefully. Her dad had got her the bald doll when she was a little baby. The green train and the joker with the drum were birthday gifts from her uncle. Her Masi had got Tiya and her sisters the crying doll and the walkie talkie doll from abroad.

As a child, Tiya spent many afternoons playing with these toys. She would wind the train engine and it would go across the room with a shrill whistle. The joker would play the drum and nod its head. The bald doll would be put to sleep, while Tiya and her sisters would make tea in their toy tea-sets or prepare lunch in their toy kitchen and serve tea and snacks to the dolls and a few wooden toys. The crying doll and the walkie doll were their most coveted toys. They would show off these dolls proudly to their cousins and friends. The crying doll would start wailing the moment her soother was taken out. The walkie talkie doll would wish good day and walk a few steps at the press of a button in its belly. The girls would watch them with delight and clap their hands. The toys were numbered, but they were enough to keep Tiya and her sisters entertained, and they handled them with great care.

Wooden toysEven after they grew up, they cherished these toys. The train, the joker, the bald doll, the mini tea-sets and few wooden toys were kept in a showcase. The crying doll and the walkie doll were placed on the pelmet. The train didn’t whistle any more, the joker wouldn’t drum at all, the dolls have stopped crying and talking, but the girls loved them as much. These toys were part of their happy childhood. Tiya would occasionally take them out, dust them and put them back.

Around that time, Tiya was introduced to the whole range of Leo toys and Hot Wheels cars, courtesy of her cousin. Leo Toys and Hot Wheels were pretty new then, her uncle started getting these for his son. Tiya and her sisters were invited to play and share the toys. A train with an engine and bogeys moving on the tracks, a hen that would lay eggs, super-fast cars, Tiya had never seen such fancy toys. She would play with them for a while, but her heart went to out to her old toys.

Soon Tiya left home for studies and then took up a job. Her sister got married and had a son. When the child grew up a little, their dad, the loving grandfather, gave all their old toys to her little nephew. The joker and train were broken in no time, the dolls now have broken limbs. Tiya’s sister finally rescued the dolls from her son and put them aside, whatever was left of them. “He has so many toys, nothing holds his interest for more than two days. And then there are video games,” her sister often complains. “Don’t know why dad gave our toys to him”.

Times have changed, children are spoilt for choice now. What do they know about cherishing a few broken old toys?

In memory of Dida

She was married off when she was thirteen. Daughter of a rich businessman from Rangoon, she traveled all the way to a village in Cumilla district of Bangladesh with her husband. After reaching the village, her husband, a manager in a coal mine, left her under the care of his elder sister to resume his job. Though her sister-in-law was caring, she would often mock her as the ‘rich man’s daughter’ who didn’t know how to cook. She gave birth to her first child at fifteen. She was a proud mother of 10 children – five daughters and five sons. Her husband passed away when she was in her fifties and she lived the next 25 years as a widow, wearing white and having only sattvic food. She was my Dida – my paternal grandmother.

Dida

I remember Dida sitting on the chaukhat or on the staircase next to the courtyard, in a completely white sari worn in Bengali style, her grey hair tied up in high bun, chewing pan and fanning herself with a hand fan made of palm leaves.  Her calm and loving face bore traces of the beauty that she was in her youth. In summers she would prefer not to wear a blouse and we would tease her endlessly for that. “It’s too hot, let the old lady be”, she would say.

After school I would chit chat with Dida for a while. I would tell her about my friends and the lessons while she would talk to me about Bengali literature, plays, jatra (folk theatre of Bengal), sometimes about movies of Uttam Kumar. She was a big fan of the Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar, I think she had a crush on him. Dida was a voracious reader.  She had read the entire volumes of Tagore, Sarath Chandra, Bankim Chandra and other prominent Bengali writers many times over. “Your father would get me books from the library. I would read every afternoon after finishing lunch. Sometimes there would be no new titles in the library, but I would ask him to get a book anyway,” Dida once said. Those afternoons with Dida probably developed my knack for literature. She would tell me her favourite stories, discuss her favourite characters with me. Soon I started reading myself, sometimes I would read out to her. For a woman of her times who hardly had any formal education, her views were modern and progressive.

Sometimes on those afternoons she would fondly remember my Dadu, her late husband. “Your Dadu was a man of principles,” she would say, “He was against dowry and would not attend any wedding function where there was any kind of dowry exchange.” Dadu had passed away even before my parents got married, whatever I know of him is from those stories. She would talk about leaving Rangoon as a girl with Dadu, spending the first year of her marriage with her sister-in-law while her husband was away at work. “She taught me everything, though she would taunt me at times as ameer zaadi.”

Dida was the centre of our family. Every morning mom would go to her to decide the menu for the day. While mom would take care for the non-vegetarian kitchen, Dida used to do all the vegetarian cooking herself. My memory of Dida is strongly associated with the flavour and aroma of her dishes – kochu bata, vegetable made from jackfruit seed, sheem (broad beans) and baigan sabzi and many more.  She would insist on mom serving us macher jhol (fish curry) everyday, something that I strongly resisted. As a girl I wasn’t fond of macher jhol, but Dida felt a meal wasn’t complete without fish. “I couldn’t eat even one day without fish,” she would often say to convince me to have fish. “How do you eat now?” I would retort. “I eat just fine,” would be her reply. I would sometimes wonder how she could give everything she loved one fine day and not complain about it.

Though widows on those days were not meant to touch fish, Dida would make an exception for her grandchildren whenever we insisted that we would eat fish only if she feeds us. I still remember the nights before a pujo (Lakshmi or Saraswati) when Dida, mom and all the other women would be busy making naaru, sandesh and other delicacies to be served to the goddess next morning. We cousins would hang around the kitchen hoping to sample some of those delicacies. While the other ladies ignored us, Dida would sneak some sweets out of the kitchen for us. “God resides in children,” she would say, “you need to give them first.”

On weekends, after lunch when Dida would sit with her paner bata (paan daan), making a paan for herself, with her transistor next to her listening to the play. AIR in those days used to air a play every weekend. I developed quite a taste for those plays and would listen to them with her on lazy Sunday afternoons. Picture of Dida is incomplete without the brass paner bata and the transistor, those items were always next to her.

We lost Dida to cancer when she was in her seventies, the disease that she dreaded. “I hope I don’t get cancer,” she would always say. Tobacco that she would chew with paan gave her cancer. Doctor suggested surgery. “Please don’t cut me up,” she pleaded. We respected her wish. On the last few months of her life she could hardly eat. She would break out in fits of cough whenever we tried to make her eat. She would never complain, just lie peacefully on her bed most of the time. Fortunately, most of her children and grand children were around her at that time. One morning her frail body gave in and she passed away peacefully.

This post is a tribute to Dida, a women who lived her life abiding by traditions and yet managed to hold her own and inspire the generation after her!

Pen Pals – The Magic of Letters

inland letterOnce upon a time, long before social media had taken over our lives, long before Snapchat and Tinder, there lived a girl Tirna, in a sleepy little town Duru tucked in between three hills and a river. She lived in a small bungalow with her parents and sisters. Her father was quite an important man in Duru, and Tirna and her sisters went to the best school in the town. She was already in senior school and would be going off to college in Delhi or abroad in a year or so.

Tirna was a young girl with lot of dreams. While she was eager to explore the world outside Duru and was studying hard for it, she loved every bit of her little town – the slow flowing river that would get wild during the monsoons, the green and gentle mountains, white and grey clouds playing hide and seek with the peaks, starlit nights when she would lie on her back and gaze at the stars for hours, chirruping birds waking her every morning, beautiful flowers that blossomed everywhere in Duru. But most of all she loved the moonlit nights. Moon light created a magic for her, and she would sit on the terrace for hours losing herself in the magical moonlit world.

Tirna loved to read. She would spend hours in the small library on the hill top devouring on Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Leo Tolstoy or Anton Chekhov. She liked to write as well, she would pen down her thoughts in her journal, try her hands in poems and sometimes short stories. Her writing was still very private to her, her journal was carefully locked away in her study table drawer, away from the prying eyes of the world. Tirna’s letters to her cousins and relatives living in faraway places were the only writings her friends and family were privy to. She wrote long and beautiful letters to them regularly, sharing little things and happenings around her.

One day, as she was going through a magazine in the library, she came across a small announcement in the letters section – ‘Make new friends through letters,’ and listed in the announcement were a few names and addresses of people who would like to make pen friends. Tirna found this very interesting, she picked up a name randomly – Ankur Roy, an engineering student in BITS, Pilani. She took out her pen and pad and started writing a letter to Ankur, telling him about herself and her life in Duru. She wrote the address and posted the letter on her way back.

Weeks passed, she had almost forgotten about Ankur and the letter. One day as she got back from school her mother said, “There’s a letter for you Tirna. I have put it on your table.”  The letter was from Ankur Roy of BITS Pilani. Ankur was having his 1st semester exams, hence the delay in responding to Tirna. He hailed from Delhi, was a topper from DPS RK Puram now pursuing engineering in BITS. Ankur never had pen friend before and thanked Tirna for writing to him.

Tirna’s excitement knew no bounds – her first pen friend, getting to know somebody outside her little circle, it was all very exhilarating. She immediately wrote back. Her schooling was coming to close and her parents wanted her to take up engineering, but she wasn’t very sure, she wrote. Her grades were good, and she could probably get into any engineering college, and that seemed to be the sensible thing to do. After writing those lines to Ankur, Tirna realized she has never shared this with anybody before, not even her best friend Payal. In fact, she has been scared to admit this even to herself, afraid of disappointing her parents.

In his next letter, Ankur urged Tirna to go for what she wanted, not be pushed by others. Being an engineer was his dream, he wrote, and he will probably go abroad after graduation. Ankur and Tirna wrote to each other regularly, about their dreams and aspirations, about their little romances. When the girl Ankur liked started seeing someone else he was shattered, as if his world has fallen apart. Tirna’s letters urging him to focus on his studies and telling him that he will find someone else helped him move on. Tirna started sharing her writings with Ankur, little poems, short stories. He was her first critic and appreciative reader. Unwittingly over the months, Tirna and Ankur became best of friends and confidante. They shared their wildest dreams and silliest fears with each other, in their letters they would bare their hearts out without the fear of being judged. They were patient with each other, encouraged and advised it each other. Maybe it was the distance that was between them, maybe it was the medium of letters that created veil of security and intimacy.

When the time came, Tirna plucked up courage to tell her parents that she wanted to pursue English literature. She has already applied to few colleges in Delhi and Kolkata for the same. Though her parents were upset with her for a while, they ultimately gave in. Tirna got selected in a college in Delhi and left home and the little town Duru to pursue her dreams. She let Ankur know of course, and he was indeed happy for her. Meanwhile Ankur was now in 2nd year, getting busier with his studies, but he continued to write to Tirna regularly.

One day when Tirna got back to the hostel after her classes, she suddenly heard her name being called out loudly, she had a visitor. Tirna she wasn’t expecting anybody that afternoon, in fact she was soon to meet her friends in the café outside. She went to the visitor’s room and looked around but couldn’t see a familiar face. As she was about to leave the room thinking that she must have been called by mistake, someone called out her name a little hesitantly. When she turned and saw a tall, thin boy looking at her. “Do I know you,” she asked curtly. “I am Ankur, Ankur Roy.’ Tirna couldn’t believe herself, Ankur visiting him of all people. He was on a short break, visiting his parents in Delhi. “Thought I would surprise you,” he said.

Tirna somehow had never imagined meeting Ankur in person, and surprised she was indeed. She did envisage what Ankur would like at times, and there he was before her, a tall boy with an intelligent and friendly face. Tirna took Ankur to the canteen outside the hostel, and there they sat talking for hours, giving physical shape to the friendly intimacy of the letters. They talked easily like old friends who have met after years. They realised only when the canteen manager came up to them and said that he had to shut the place, it was almost 10 and they have been talking continuously for the last 4 hours. Tirna had to get back to hostel as she had a 10 pm curfew. Ankur visited her again the next day, before catching his train back to Pilani.

Tirna and Ankur continued writing, they would often talk to each other on the phone and meet whenever possible. Their first meeting or may be the first letter, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that grew stronger with years!

 

 

When I Walked with a cool Man

I am the dude super cool, I walk around the campus humming tunes in the ears of cool guys & gals. Be it soft romantic melodies, rap or hip-hop, I play you songs that make your hearts flutter, your feet tap joyfully, and your lips whistle. Be it walking around the campus, hanging out in the canteen, sitting under a tree, studying in the library or just sitting quietly in your hostel room, I am your hip companion who sings you your favourite song. From my huge collection of music cassettes, I choose one that suits your mood.IMG-20190222-WA0000.jpgWalkman, the dude super cool I am, the most aspired gadget of all the cool guys & gals. No matter what, they never part with me, they are unwilling to share me with their friends and peers. I am forever stuck to their belts or waistband, with my stylish friend Headphone stuck to their ears or hanging around their neck. Together, we make a deadly pair!  The cassettes change hands, they are passed around, but Walkman & Headphone, no way, get your own pair!

Then one day I wasn’t so cool anymore. I lay ignored on the study table or bookshelves while cool gals & guys rushed in and out of their rooms. “Didn’t you hear the rumour,” whispered a hip-hop cassette in my ear, “kids are moving to CDs now and the much cooler Disc-man.” I raised my eyebrows in disbelief, “Don’t pay too much heed to such rumours.” But soon the shelves were flooded with CDs and the haughty Disc-man adorned the waistbands of my cool friends.  I sat there sulking with my friend cassettes, to be drowned under the jazzy CDs.

IMG-20190222-WA0002.jpgTo my surprise, the haughty Disc-man came and sat next to me one fine afternoon. I turned my face in disdain, “Oh chill! I am just taking a break. I will be soon gone.” “Haven’t you heard,” said a CD sounding alarmed, “the cool kids are moving to iPods now, CDs and Disc-mans will be soon forgotten.” “Stop spreading such malicious gossips,” snapped the Disc-man angrily, “Kids are busy with their mid-term exams, they will come back to us soon.” Exams got over, kids went home, leaving the sulking Disc-man and the CDs behind and came back with smart and digital iPods!

“What’s happening?”, the Disc-man yelled, “Who’s that? Why aren’t they looking at us?” “Oh, stop whining,” chided a CD, “Music has gone digital, can’t you see? We are too bulky and outdated, they don’t want us anymore.” The Disc-man looked around in disbelief, as he sat listlessly next to me.

Yes, music has gone digital indeed! There was a whole line of cool iPods that the boys & gals proudly owned. Then one day they dumped the iPods for even cooler iPads and mobile phones! Chic kids today download music & music apps, create their albums and listen to music on their super cool and hi-tech mobile phones, paired with sleek and stylish ear plugs. Walkman, Disc-man, cassettes and CDs are relics of a time gone by!