देसी देसी

अपनों के लिए हुए हम परदेसी,
दिल तो मगर है देसी देसी !

भारत से निकले हम तो, किस्मत अपनी आजमाने को
पेशा या पढ़ाई, नापे मंज़िल की गहराई
छोड़ चले बचपन की गलियाँ, परदेस का आसमान छू लिया
पैसा कमाना है, घर बनाना है,
बचपन का वो सपना सच कर दिखाना है

लंडन हो या अमरीका, कड़ी मेहनत, यही है तरीका,
नहीं यहाँ कोई भेदभाव, लगन और ध्येय की हो चाव,
जो यह तपस्या करने हुआ राज़ी, समझो उसने मार ली बाजी,
नही चलती यहा कोई ड्रामेबाज़ी, नही किसिकी हांजी-हांजी.

अपनों के लिए हुए हम परदेसी, दिल तो मगर है देसी देसी

जब त्योहार हैं आते, हम social media खूब सजाते,
रंग-बिरंगी साड़ियां, कुर्ते, धोती पहनकर, परदेस में देश की रौनक बनाते,
हंसते, मुस्कुराते, पुराने रीति-रिवाज मनाते,
हम अपना ही दिल बहलाते.

आए जो कभी गम का साया, या जो गहरा अंधेरा छाया,
तुरंत होते एकजूट, भुलाके सारी फूट,
नही कोई शिकवा दिल के अंदर, अपना देश जो है दूर सात-समंदर.

और इसलिए,
हिंदू, मुस्लिम, सिख, ईसाई, ना कोई रुसवा, ना कोई लड़ाई, कोई मिले पड़ोसी, तो परदेसी भी बन जाए देसी,
फिर “कटोरी भर नमक, थोडासा अजवाइन, मिलेगा क्या बहन?”
आना-जाना होता रोज़ाना, ना कोई गीला-शिकवा, नाही कोई ताना.

छुट्टियों में बच्चे इकट्ठे खेलें, हम संवारें यादों के मेले,
कोई चाची बने, कोई मौसी, क्योंकि परदेस में भी हम तो हैं देसी,
‘It takes a village to raise a child’
हम बनाते अपनी अलग सी देसी guide!

जाने-अनजाने हम कब बनते दोस्तों से परिवार,
फिर सजती महफिले हर शनिवार-इतवार.

दफ्तर जाते हम पहनकर सूट-बूट,
घर लौटते ही, we go back to our देसी loot!
जब मिलने जाए देसी दोस्तों के घर,
चल पड़ते हम सलवार-कुर्ता पहनकर.

झाड़ते हम अँग्रेज़ी ठेट

, पर बच्चे “माँ” पुकारे तो हमे लगती भेंट
हाय-हेल्लो का है यहा रिवाज, दिल में हैं फिर भी देसी लिहाज़
हम-उम्र से गले भी लगते, बुजुर्गों के सामने सिर आप ही झुकते
दहलीज के बाहर निकाले जूतों से होती है देसी घर की पहचान,
मानते हम यह अपनी संस्कृति की शान
चम्मच-काटे से काम चलालें, पेट भरना हो तो अन्न को हात लगालें.
स्टील की थालियां और कटोरी, देसी होते हैं बहुत चटोरी,
चाट पार्टी, पराठा, बिर्यानी की होती है बौछार,
भूक ना हो तो चाय ही पी लो यार!

Shweta Kulkarni Gode

Roadtrip to the Music City: Nashville

Road trip to Nashville, TN

Hoover, AL; 06/21/2021; 8:45 am

After a quick stop at the pet boarding to drop off Cutey for pet boarding, we took a pit stop at Oil Express to change oil and check tires of our Nissan Rogue to ensure a smooth drive on our holiday. Once the mechanic at the center gave us an all clear, we set off with a cheerful, “Ganapati Bappa! Morya!” as is our personal ritual.

Jack Daniel distillery, Lynchburg, TN, 06/21/2021; 2:00 pm

Jack Daniels Distillery

Our bellies full thanks to a lunch break at a quaint and beautiful Mexican eatery, we stopped at the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg. The signs all along the road led us to a parking lot across the street from the distillery. The shuttle ferried us to the very door of the beautiful place, and the chatty shuttle driver made sure we heard everything there was to hear about Lynchburg, and would you believe it, all great things!!

Once inside, the hubby and I decided to divide and conquer, since the tasting tour required all on board to be twenty one and above. Our now-not-too-little one is still in his pre-teens. Being the sacrificial, nice wife, I encouraged the hubby to go on the tasting tour, while sonny boy and I paid for the dry country tour. Our tour guide was a local hill-billy (her words, not mine) who is the third generation to work in the Jack Daniels distillery. She regaled us with her dry wit and her take on some of the stories that surround the charming but mysterious Jack, whose real name is Jason. The walking tour took us near the old warehouses and sylos, a total of ninety two in all, that house several thousand barrels of the ‘Nectar of Gods’ as the JD whiskey was publicly referred to by Frank Sinatra on stage!

She told us all about the process, from filtering the mash, drop by precious drop, through ten feet of charcoal, to the ratio needed of the grains, to the quality control process of the grain. “The process is pure chemistry”, exclaimed a certain pre-teen boy, who was excited to be able to relate what he was seeing with something he had learnt at school. His words gave me a moment of pride, easing away my worry about taking a young lad with me to a whiskey distillery. This was followed by another exclamation, came another realisation, from another corner in the group, “oh yes, we can chalk today as a science day!” Yay! My heart leapt for joy upon noticing that there was another young boy in our group. Less than a heartbeat later, the two boys were walking together, discussing the possible outcomes of changing the proportions of the grains and water and other components. Much as I love the kid, I did heave a sigh of relief, and from the corner of my eye, noticed the other boy’s mother mirror my expressions. With the boys having found company in each other, us mothers were now free to enjoy our tour! Yippee!

The tour spent extra time at the freshwater cave, because the cool cave gave us all respite from the heat and humidity. The water gushing over the man-made dam sounded almost magical, and I would like to think it is so, because the tour guide informed us that they haven’t been able to ascertain the source! Not to mention, that water contains absolutely no iron, and is therefore perfect for the whiskey making process! Indeed a divine ingredient for the Nectar of the Gods!

A short, but steep flight of stairs led us to the vent, which is a giant wooden bowl in which the mash is allowed to ferment into alcohol. The heat was intense, but all complaints stopped as soon as the guide shuffled the lid of one of the vents, sending fumes (read aroma) of the fermenting whiskey wafting into our nostrils. Heady and intoxicating, are inadequate adjectives to define the experience. 

The tour led us right through a warehouse and the tasting center, and some members noticed that some barrels had leaks. The guide informed us that the leaked whiskey is collected and offered in the tasting tour! Onwards we went to the assembly line in the bottling plant, which made for an interesting sight, even though we weren’t allowed inside due to pandemic restrictions. 

The tour ended on a wet note (literally, not figuratively) for it started raining the moment we stepped back into the visitor center. Feeling adventurous, we purchased a couple of bottles of whiskey, one of them being sixty five percent alcohol! It does not get any purer or richer than that, trust me; I should know after the whiffing experience at the top of the vent! We even purchased a glass and had it personalized with the names of all three of us, to remember the beautiful day we’d had.

The rain stopped after some time, and we drove to the town square, where the Jack Daniels hardware market gave us three shot glasses, one per ticket! I love the marketing strategy! The hubby loves grilling, and therefore purchased a bag of Jack Daniels coal. Yes! You guessed it right! The very coal that is used to purify the whiskey at the very end of the process, we are now proud owners of a bag of that coal! Can you imagine the aroma it’ll lend to the meat he grills on it? My mouth waters just thinking about it!

A few mandatory pictures later, off we set towards Nashville. 

Nashville, TN; 06/21/2021 7:00 pm

The hotel we’d booked into was right across the street from a paid public parking in the heart of downtown Nashville. So we parked, paid, and then checked into our hotel (kudos to my penchant for light packing). Less than ten minutes after we’d checked in, hunger pangs had us shooting out of the hotel to Amerigo, an Italian restaurant a block away. I pampered myself by ordering a dish that was price on request (something I realised after I’d placed the order). The salmon and veggies grilled on a plank of cedar looked great when it arrived. One bite, and I was in food heaven! Coupled with a Long Island cocktail, I was in all kinds of heaven!

Hayes Street Hotel, Nashville, TN; 06/22/2021; 9:00 am

The hotel breakfast was decent, packed boiled eggs, packed bagels, packed muffins, and coffee. What made it lovely was the fresh air lobby with its peppy orange chairs, and bright white swings. I took all the time to relax and sip my coffee, a luxury even in my world!

Parthenon, Nashville, TN 06/22/2021: 11:00 am

Ancient civilisations have wonderful legends and stories. Greek mythology is one that I find as enchanting as Indian mythology. The hubby drove us to Parthenon, a full scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece, which serves as a monument to the pinnacle of classical architecture. The tall columns outside the building made me stop and take note. The inside is a beautiful museum, full of artefacts and information about the ancient civilization. When we reached the second level though, I forgot to breathe! The forty two feet tall statue of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and strategy is majestic, to say the least. The fine detailing by the hands that created this statue is nothing short of a miracle in itself, right from the design of her crown/helmet, to the carvings on the soles of her footwear, everything is just splendid. On the right hand of the statue, stands a six feet statue of Nike, the Goddess of victory. She is just as beautiful and majestic, her regal hands holding the beautifully carved golden wreath. The shield in the hands of Athena deserves an altogether separate chapter of its own, so intricate and fine is the detailing. I especially like the phythos (half human half animal protectors) for they reminded me of the vanarsena from Ramayan of the Indian mythology. 

The Parthenon sits bang in the center of the Centennial Park, and we enjoyed a stroll there in the lazy summer afternoon. The light breeze made the heat bearable, and the afternoon ended with a few minutes of looking out at the lake in the park. The ducks in the lake provided ample entertainment with their antics. We were blessed to see a mother duck and father duck hovering near their egg. Yes! A real duck egg that was about ready to hatch! That was an experience none of us will forget in a hurry!

Lunch at Hattie B’s, a less than memorable experience

Lunch was less than okay at Hattie B’s, a burger joint. The place was crowded, there was an odor of drainage somewhere, and it made me uncomfortable. I was impressed to see the hubby and sonny boy enjoying their meal when it finally arrived, while I struggled to mouth even a spoonful of the canned beans (which were cold) and the bread (which wasn’t toasted). Once they were done eating, we left the place, but with my ruined appetite, I was hangry and irritable. The walk to the hotel was a short, heated one, and I shooed them both off to the room while I perched myself on the swing. A few minutes later, once my anger had subsided, I called them both back down, and we went to a nearby mall.

The mall was huge and indoors, perfect for a hot afternoon. I window shopped until I dropped, and was delighted to find some of the things I had been meaning to buy at the Ulta outlet there. Psst, a little secret, my heart had already lifted when I had seen the amazon delivery notification for the things I had ordered the previous day as part of the prime day deals! We had a cup of coffee each at the cafe in the mall, and I was dismayed to see that they were out of sandwiches. I ordered a bagel, which only served to annoy me further for it was just empty calories which I knew weren’t even going to fill me up. 

Broadway Street

From there, we went to broadway street, and enjoyed strolling along the river. The bridge above made for a perfect walk as well as served up several good spots to take pictures. The walk on the music street itself was enjoyable for us, but sonny boy found it too crowded and noisy for his comfort (I know he’ll enjoy the scene in a few years). The live bands at Honky Tonk, The Lucky Bastard Salon, and a couple other places were quite talented and interesting. We made our way up to a food court, where the meal was okayish, but the band was great! The music made up for my horrible (absent) meal all day. 

On our way back, we stopped at Whole Foods for a packet of trail mix, which finally helped to fill me up. The day would have ended on a sour note with my hanger, had it not been for those nuts, and the hubby finding us a great trail to check out the next day!

Sun and Fork, Nashville, TN, 06/23/2021 10:00 am

Guilty about his partial role in the meal fiasco of the previous day, the hubby decided to treat us all to a good breakfast. Instead of eating at the hotel, we packed up and checked out. His original plan to go to Another Broken Egg had to be cancelled because I called them up and they informed me about the forty-five minute wait. So we used the GPS on our phones and found this beautiful breakfast place on our way instead. Sun and Fork had some interesting options on their menu, and I had a tough time choosing! Breakfast was hearty and healthy and delicious, and the hubby’s guilt and wallet were now clean. 

Bellies full and hearts content, we set off for the trail the hubby had looked up the previous night.

Radnor Lake State Park, Nashville, TN, 06/23/2021 11:15 am

Nestled within the bustling city of Nashville is this gem of nature. Less than two minutes after we’d been on the trail, we encountered deer, yes, deer, grazing peacefully just a few feet from us. Every so often, they would look at us, then go back to grazing, as if they somehow knew we posed them no harm. They did not even run away when we took out our phones to click their pictures and videos! A few yards later, we were fortunate to see some fawn! About five or six little deer, with their tails swinging, grazing on the plants, looking at us, then jumping about as if to give us a few good pictures, then going back to grazing. A sight to behold! About a mile and a half into the trail, and we came across one of the most serene lakes. A crane sitting idly on a log in the water, one leg up in his typical style seemed to agree with us. There were so many people walking there, and yet, no one spoke, as if, by some unspoken consent, everyone wanted to maintain the peace and tranquility of the park! Several vines zigzagged across trees, and I began to wax eloquent (read drone on) about having a soft spot for such places because I grew up devouring Enid Blyton books. Any Enid Blyton reader will know what I mean. Moors, prairies, islands, lakes, caves were the landscape of several of her books. Therefore, even though I physically grew up in a city in India, mentally, I was always in such places.

Back in the car, I took the wheel, and off we set for home. We were hoping to drive nonstop, but the car, and the humans in it, needed our respective fuel, and we eventually pulled to a stop a few miles inside the state border. This reminds me to say, however necessary the mental and physical recharge, and however wonderful a trip, my heart always does a little merry dance when we cross the state line that says we are now entering ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, a place that was just a name on a map five years ago, but which has now become my home.

Now that I am home, my chores beckon, and I must tend to them. Until next time!

The Dance Party

Ira loves going to dance-parties and adores her family; not necessarily in that order. Read on to know more about her parties and her family, and know more about Ira’s real life.

Someone was calling her name. Ira woke up with a start and was surprised to see the sun already shining in the sky. How had she overslept today?

And then it all came rushing back to her. Ira had gone to a party last night. She’d had an awesome time amidst her friends. They had sung and danced for a long time. One of her friends had dropped her home just before four in the morning.

No wonder she hadn’t heard the alarm ring at six. Ira hurriedly scrambled out of bed and dashed to the bathroom. Once she was clean and fresh, she stepped into the family room and wished her family a good morning.

Her mother was in the kitchen, and Ira could smell the delicious pohe (beaten rice) being prepared. As the tempering sizzled and the pohe changed colours from white to a golden yellow, Ira’s stomach grumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten much at last night’s party.

A few minutes later, she heard the unmistakeable clang of the spoon on the rim of the utensil, and Ira knew her mother would be calling them all into the kitchen for breakfast in the next five minutes. She stepped inside her mother’s domain and hugged her from behind.

“When are you going to learn to cook something, Ira?” her mother asked her, only half-joking. “Mom! I plan to earn a lot of money and have a lot of maids to do all this,” Ira shot back. This was their usual banter, but this time, Ira’s father strolled into the kitchen following the aroma of the delicious pohe now cooking and warming on the stove.

“No Ira, your mother is right. It is not about keeping maids, or girl-duties or boy-duties, my child. You need to be able to cook for your own survival. What will you do if you get admission into a college in a different city? How will you manage so much in such little money?” he asked her wisely.

Ira bit her lip. She realised he had a point. She decided to start experimenting in the kitchen from the very same day. After breakfast, Ira set about clearing the table while her mother left the kitchen to get ready to leave for work.

A few minutes later, Ira too set about dressing up for college. She quickly picked up her heels and dashed down the stairs from their first floor apartment as she heard her mother honk impatiently.

“Sorry, mom,” the young girl apologised as she climbed into her mother’s old, but comfortable Maruti Alto. Her mother only shook her head at her and smiled, easing the car into the crowded main street. Ira’s college was enroute to her mother’s office and she was glad not to have to take the bus.

As they waited at a red light, Ira glanced at her mother’s profile. Her mother still looked beautiful and stylish despite her age. “Why the saree, mom? Anything special?” she asked her. Her mother smiled at her and replied, “No, Iru. Nothing special. I just felt a little extra-feminine today.”

Ira’s mother normally favoured chudidar-kurtas and had a huge and fantastic collection of them in her wardrobe. Sarees were for special occasions; whereas western attire had a separate place in a corner of her wardrobe, seeing the light of the day only when the family went out on picnics or vacations.

Ira’s mother said she preferred chudidar-kurtas for they were easy and quick to pull on, not unlike the jeans and tops that Ira wore, and were easy to wash and dry.

Ira loved the beautiful bindis her mother always wore on her forehead. They were sometimes studded with colourful stones, sometimes with tiny pearls, sometimes had a beautiful moon-like shape, and were sometimes simple and round, like the one today.

Ira always found her mother’s simple round bindis the most fascinating of all. The red dot on the forehead never failed to mesmerize the young girl. Ira’s gaze slipped down to her mother’s mangalsutra.

Today, her mother was sporting a simple mangalsutra of black beads and a gold pendant of two tiny bowls. Ira loved her mother’s huge collection of mangalsutras. She had them in all shapes, sizes and colours.

Ira was always fascinated by her mother’s attire and outlook. To her, her mother was a Goddess who could do everything. Ira knew her mother had a demanding job as the owner of a shop, and also as the lady of their family. But her mother seemed to juggle all the roles with equal finesse.

They reached the college and her mother expertly weaved the car through the crowded drop-point. “Bye mom. See you. Love you” Ira said in the typical exuberance of a typical college student, but stopped as her mom called out, “Ira, wait!”

Puzzled, Ira turned around to face her mom, never noticing a huge SUV that whizzed behind her. The huge car was too fast and Ira would’ve been hit by it had her mother not stopped her in time. “What is it, mom? I am getting late!” the young girl said, in her rush to enter the college before the bell rang.

“You forgot your assignment in the car. Here,” her mom said, and Ira quickly felt guilty for having been rude to her mother. She apologised, but her mother was her cool self as always.

Ira was grateful to her mom, for the professor asked for the homework assignments to be turned in, and gave extra work to the students who failed to do so. After a gruelling day at college, Ira went to the nearby coffee shop with her friends where they exchanged gossip and notes, all together.

All of a sudden, Ira realised that she had bought a few books yesterday and had emptied her purse of cash. She had forgotten to ask her parents for cash when she left this morning. She would have to borrow from her friends today.

But much to her surprise, when she opened her purse, she saw two hundred rupees in her purse, along with a neatly folded note. She opened it, and in it was written, “I saw the bag from the book store and thought you might need some cash. Love, Dad.”

Ira blinked at the sudden tears that came to her eyes. Once, around two years ago, she had asked her parents for privacy. All her friends locked their bedroom doors, and never shared their phone passwords with their parents.

Ira had had a long argument with her parents, demanding the same freedom and privacy as her friends, but her normally easy-going parents had remained staunchly against her demands. “You will lock your bedroom door only after you are married, Ira. Not before,” had been her mother’s dictat.

Same with the phone. Her parents never allowed her to go out saying she was going out with ‘friends’. She had to tell them the names of the friends she was hanging out with, she had to tell them the tentative plans, and what’s more, they insisted she leave the contact number of at least one of those friends at home, just in case there was any emergency.

After some time, Ira had gotten accustomed to this condition of her parents, and by now, all her friends had been to her home, and shared a lovely relationship with her parents.

Her father had once told Ira, that she could drink as much alcohol as she wished, but only when one of the family members was around. Never without them. She had understood and agreed to his terms, and enjoyed the occasional glass of beer or wine with one, or both her parents.

Her friends often told her that they envied Ira this relationship with her parents. She felt so comfortable with them, that she never thought twice about confiding about a crush or a love interest with her mother.

She valued her mother’s opinion and advice over that of anyone else’s. Her mother gave her the most solid, reliable and non-judgemental snippets of guidance. For example, once, Ira had confided in her mother that she liked a guy and he too seemed to like her, but he often teased her saying she wasn’t cool enough. And when she asked him what that meant, he said that she didn’t go to discotheques and late night parties like he did.

Her mother told Ira to invite him to her cousin’s mehendi ceremony the next week. The boy had been stunned when Ira passed on this invitation and had run with his tail between his legs. Ira and her mother had a hearty laugh at that.

Someone was calling her name. Ira woke up with a start and was surprised to see the sun already shining in the sky. How had she overslept today? She opened her eyes to see Vihaan hovering over her. She tried to get up and groaned as her old muscles screamed in protest.

Vihaan’s concern and worry were still apparent in his eyes. “Don’t worry, honey, I am alright. Just a little tired from last night’s dance party, that’s all,” she replied, her eyes twinkling with mischief.

“You and your dance parties!” he said, shaking his head. “I often wonder if the orphanage we grew up in was not an asylum for crazy people,” he teased her affectionately.

“The way you keep referring to your mangalagauri and jaagran pujas and bhajans as dance parties, someone might wonder if you have gone senile in your old age. Come on now, our family is waiting,” he said, as she went in to the bathroom, and came out ten minutes later, fresh from her shower, draped in a beautiful saree.

The couple went to the puja room and did their morning prayers. “Good morning family,” Ira said to her family, her eyes shining with mirth as she looked fondly at the various pictures and idols of Gods in the puja-ghar, as the aroma of delicious pohe being cooked in the next-door thela wafted to her nostrils and she could almost savour the taste of them on her tongue.

“I’ll make some sevai for breakfast today,” offered Vihaan, heading into the kitchen, as Ira sat down to pen a new ashtaka that she had thought of in her sleep last night.

 

An Author is Born

Four cousins, who have grown up in the city, are on a journey to a rural village against their wishes. They are accompanying their parents who have been asked to help change the village into a smart village. These city-bred children have to survive this change that begins with a long train journey in a non -air-conditioned coach .Will these brand-totting kids adjust to the local wares of a village…

City Cousins Visit the Village

“Why is our education system so outdated?” I ask my husband. The speed and intensity with which he drops his task at hand and looks up at me, I am sure that he thinks I have finally gone insane. “What do you want me to say? You are the teacher in the family, honey.” he replies a tad confused.

I pull out the vegetable tray of my refrigerator and begin scrutinizing the options for dinner. “Well, during the break at school today, I had a discussion with a few fellow teachers and most of us agreed that this is information overload. When I got to thinking about it, I realized that more than being information overload, it is simply static information. If my students don’t know why they are learning whatever they are learning, what is the point of all this exercise?” I demand washing the cabbage thoroughly.

“They are learning all this so that they can get a degree and land a good job and earn good money!” replies the husband looking at me as if he’s seeing a ghost. Something tells me he won’t be getting caught in a similar discussion anytime in future. “Precisely! Precisely my point!” I shout with an elated feeling of eureka moment as I being chopping the cabbage with a sharp knife. He takes a few sips of his chilled beer and says, “Careful babe! That’s a sharp knife you are holding, not the chalk!”

I bang the knife on the cutting board and turn around to look at him. “Why should an eighth-grader know about parts of speech? Why should my students have to rote poetry?” I question, almost dancing in my elation. “To get good marks?” he asks.

Thoroughly exasperated, I turn back to my chopping board and take out my irritation on the cabbage at hand. “Noooo!! It is so that they can use these skills in their working life in future. They need to learn how to express properly, how to communicate properly in the working world!” “Hmm! You might be right.” says my husband.

‘Of course I am right! I always am!’ I think to myself as I switch on the burner and place a pan on it to cook the cabbage that I just finished chopping. As I am pouring oil into the pan, I feel the need to prove my point. So, still holding the knife, I say, “I need to eat my husband”. He splutters and wiping the beer from his hands, asks, “so my vegetarian wife is a cannibal now?”

“See? See? See?” I advance towards him, “so that is why my student’s need to learn what I teach them.” He raises his hands in surrender and that is when I realize I am still holding the knife. I keep it on the table and continue, “One absent comma, and a dinner invitation turned into a cannibalistic statement.” I smile in triumph.

The man reaches behind me to switch off the burner for the oil has reached boiling point and asks, “So isn’t that what you are teaching them?” Now I am truly exasperated. “But where is the application? How do the young children know why they are learning all this? Not all of them are going to become physicists, so why do they need to study biology? Not all of them will become engineers, so why do they need mathematics? We need to show them how biology and mathematics are handy in daily life regardless of their career.”

“Now I am curious too,” smiles my guy. “Why do they need biology and mathematics?” he challenges as he leads me to the sofa in the living room. I sit down and begin my reasoning, “how do you make yoghurt? Biology. How do you know whether or not a stomach pain is merely an overdose of physical exercise or if it something more serious? Biology. When you go to purchase a set of pens at the local shop, how do you know how much money to pay the vendor? Mathematics. Love to play the drums, tabla, guitar, piano? Physics. Love your pet? Biology. Need to park your cycle in a very tight spot? Geometry. By now I am literally jumping with a sense of pride and achievement.

Hubby dearest is shaking his head in wonder. “Wow!! I never thought of it this way! Now that you mention it, life itself is a science, math, art and communication,” he agrees. By now, the hour for dinner is long past and my stomach growls in hunger. I head to the kitchen to put the vegetable for cooking, but the man of my life stops me and offers to take me out to dinner instead. Seems like my fevered arguing has caught his interest.

At the restaurant, we continue talking about this and a lot of parallel and tangential topics come up. “Do you know? That shop which I recently visited has an absolutely out of the world collection of clothes and home décor,” I say happily. I think I should be glad that hubby dearest hasn’t yet questioned my sanity openly. “What has a shop got to with education?” he asks with an uh-oh, not shopping again look in his eye. “They use only local produce like Indian cotton, natural colors like indigo and such things. You know, I would be doing my share of charity work by buying from them, I try to persuade him.”

He sits back in his chair and crossing his arms over each other, he looks at me. “Charity is great babe, but you still haven’t answered my question – what has this shop got to do with education?” Oops! I got carried away and deviated from the topic at hand again. “Oh yes! The shop sources these artefacts and clothes from a ‘smart-village’. This village uses only natural products and applies their education and learning to improve the quality of their produce. They make state-of-art flutes, hand-blown glass vases and so much more. Not only that, a few lucky shoppers get a chance to visit the village and stay in the home of one of the locals for a weekend!” I say dreamily. This spikes the interest of my techno-geek husband. “Let’s visit this shop this Sunday,” he says just as the dessert arrives. It is of course my favorite – malai kulfi with rabdi.

We pay the bill (yes, I staunchly call it a bill, for in India, money notes are called notes and not bills. So, I am adamant about using “bill” instead of “Check” in our motherland) and head home. By the time we open the door to our apartment, an idea has taken root in my mind and refuses to leave even after a month. So I follow through on it and persist despite the many time-constraints and other issues. Today, the idea has taken shape in a physical sense. I am happy and proud to present to you the physical and digital forms of the idea – “City Cousins Visit the Village“.

Dear readers, if you enjoyed this blog post, you will definitely enjoy my latest book – City Cousins Visit the Village. Available across all media in paperback and ebook formats including Kindle and Google play.

 

Proposing a fashionista

“Oh!! I absolutely dislike summertime!” she storms in. “Well! That’s what you say for every season when it is in season!” he retorts. Oops! You have pulled the plug on your safety buddy! She whirls around and shoves a finger into his chest… “How dare you! Huh? How dare you say that? I love springtime, and I love autumn.” He raises an eyebrow and looks smug. “What? No! Don’t shake your head. Say it!” she is now fuming. “Baby, you like springtime for you can finally pull out your colourful clothes and shine in all your glory.” Of course I love springtime for the short hemlines and deep necklines… he thinks, but is smart enough not to say so. “Well yes, why should I hide my beauty behind dull drabs?” asks looking into the mirror. Is that a zit I see coming up on my nose? She wonders. “But I seem to remember that last season; you disliked spring as the weather was finally pleasant enough for you to shake out of your heavy winter wear, but the stares you got made you uncomfortable.” he mutters. “You remember too much,” she retorts without looking away from her reflection in the mirror.

She’s now worried about the zit. “My school reunion is this weekend. I don’t want to go there looking like a pimply gal,” she cries. He rolls his eyes. “I saw that! You don’t know how we girls look at each other. Any excuse to pull down another girl, we use it,” she’s nearly in tears. “Yes! I know feminine penchant for gossip and bitching. I grew up in home full of females –my grandmother, mother, aunt, sister and female cousins. We men-folk were always in minority at home,” he reminisces. “Yes yes! I know all about your minority. How much you had to bear at hands of the women at home- how much they all pampered you boys, how they all always made your favorite dishes, shared their toys with you and so on,” she quips. “Puhleeez! They made our favorite dishes just to ensure that we would be willing guinea pigs for their culinary experiments. As for the toys they shared, what boy in his right mind would enjoy playing with dolls? And when we did play, the girls would get angry with us for breaking their oh-so-precious dolls!” he replies.

“Ok, now back to my problem. What do I do about this giant zit on my nose?” she worries. “It is only Monday yet. The zit will be gone in a couple of days,” he shrugs. “But why are you so worried about a measly pimple? You aren’t worried about my disliking it. How do opinions of your classmates who haven’t seen you in a decade matter to you? Or is there something I should know?” he wiggles his eyebrows. “Oh please! I told you already, I don’t want to be a laughing stock when I attend the event. I want to look my glamorous best when I walk in to the venue. I have told them all that I am a successful career woman. So I have to look my perfect best – porcelain skin, a to-die-for figure, shiny hair, well chosen ensemble, a dash of Chanel and a pair of my favorite Blahniks, teamed with my stylish Prada bag! Moreover, I need to time my entrance perfectly – I should be fashionably late without seeming tardy! I have been working out ever since I received an invite for the reunion. I am fit and look good,” she preens.

She turns from the mirror to see his shoulders shaking in a failed attempt to control his laughter. He can hold it in no longer and he laughs till tears begin to flow from his eyes. With hands poised on her waist, she pierces his laughter with an angry stare. Recognizing the famous ‘angry woman stare’ for what it is, he immediately stops laughing. He wipes his eyes surreptitiously and looks at her. “May I know what is so funny?” she demands in a dangerously controlled voice. “No no, it is nothing, I just…” he stammers. “You just what?” her volcano is about to erupt. Think quickly if you want to save yourself. Redeem!! “Your talk of the reunion reminded me of mine. A group of school-time bullies had decided to pick on their favorite victim – a guy who had been extremely skinny back in school days. But to their shock and everyone’s amusement, the guy they had known as a nerd back then, was now known as ‘the rock’ in social circles. He is now a body builder and a very famous entertainer!” he says. Whew! Good save. Or is it? “So what does that have to do with my school reunion? Are you saying that I am a bully? Or do you think I am the nerd?” she advances. Uh-oh! You are treading on dangerous ground here my friend. “No no! I am calling you neither. Like I said, your mentioning the reunion reminded me of a funny incident from ours, it had been the highlight of the evening!” he says in surrender. “Hmm. I’ll have you know that I was always an intelligent and good looking student,” she says going back to scrutinizing her beauty in the mirror.

She walks into the bathroom to retrieve her pair of tweezers to shape her brows. “But you know what? I think all this hoopla surrounding the reunion is a bit overrated. We don’t really need such a ball for it, do we? They could have simply arranged a no-fuss event. We could have met each other in our casual attire!” she says while examining her work with her eyebrows. She pulls out her compact mirror for closer inspection. “You look gorgeous in everything baby!” he calls out from his seat in the living room. “Are you trying to point towards the expensive gown I purchased for the reunion?” she peeks out from the bathroom. “Oh no!! Never! As I said, you look gorgeous in everything you wear. So why not present yourself in your best?” he replies quickly. After all, what man in his right mind would tell a woman she’s spent too much on a dress? He doesn’t want to suffer instant death and/or damnation, does he? “Honey, are you sure the pale blue dress will bring out my color? Should I go exchange it for a bolder color? Is it long enough to look elegant? I want to look classy, not dress like a nun,” she ponders as she comes back out into the living room. She’s wearing the pale blue dress she’s bought for the gala and is now posing in front of him. His jaw hits the floor and he gets up. “I think you are right, the dress is definitely a little pale. It needs something to spruce it up,” he walks toward her. “I thought so. I’ll drop in to the shop tomorrow and look for something different,” she decides. “But what if you don’t like what you see?” he asks, still walking toward her. “Why didn’t I think of it?” her faces falls. “I was so excited about finding the perfect shade of blue that you like so much, that I didn’t give much thought how it would look on me,” she continues. He has reached her by now and he takes her hand in his. He kneels down and slides a beautiful ring on her finger. “Now the dress doesn’t look pale at all,” he smiles at her. She is shocked. On her finger sits a giant blue diamond. “Is this what I think it is?” she asks shyly.

“Don’t think, feel it. Will you marry me?” he proposes. She curtsies in delight and finally giving up her ladylike stance, runs into his waiting arms and squeals, “YES YES YES!”

One Potato Curry

A typical day in the life of a typical urban superwoman!

It is a typical Monday in my life. It is almost six in the morning and I have been running around for the better part of the last half hour trying to clean up the house, make something resembling decent breakfast tiffin for my active six-year old, trying to cook up a stormy lunch for his long break at school and still ensure I load it with all the nutrition. And in between all this, I realize that I don’t have enough potatoes for tonight’s dinner. We had been to the mall, and I got so engrossed in window shopping, that I completely forgot to enter the supermarket in there.

So being a supercool mom, I just shrug to myself and decide I’ll pick up a kilo of potatoes from the grocer on my way home from work. Yeah! Didn’t you figure it already? I am a woman of today – the super cool working mom who juggles ten tasks in the air without letting a single one flop! As the two meals are getting ready, I pull out mini-tiffin from the freezer for the kid’s early evening fruit time and push it into the chiller. Of course I am smart. Did you really think I would slog for hours in kitchen each morning? No way! I have set aside two hours each Sunday for just these preparation tasks – making dough for parathas, preparing dosa batter, chopping onions and tomatoes and vegetables and keeping them in air-tight containers to last through the week and save me oodles of effort and time during the hectic working week. Don’t tell anyone, but this supermom does have a few underhanded tricks that she doesn’t divulge to her envious mom-friends. I chop the fruits and keep them in mini tiffins in the freezer and pull out one each morning for the kid. As for the healthy meals, well, most of them have their ingredients prepped up in advance too! I only have to roll out the parathas each morning. <wink, wink>.

As I am gloating over my own intelligence, the alarm tolls half past six. So I quickly wrap up all the kitchen work and rush into the bedroom to wake up my sleeping family. I take a minute or two to relish the sweet innocence on their sleeping faces and then cuddle with my kid for a moment while he’s waking up. My man of the house gives me a sleepy smile and my two men take up a few more minutes cuddling and playing on the bed before their day starts. I surreptitiously walk out of the room letting them enjoy their daily ritual of early morning boy-time. While the two are washing up and getting ready for the day ahead, I finish my now cold coffee and set about warming up milk for the two. As I am in the shower, I remember I forgot to pick up the clothes from the laundry. So I now need to figure out which sari to wear to work today, as each sari has its own accompaniments and some of them are still stuck in the laundry thanks to my forgetfulness yesterday. We got so late strolling around in the cool climes of the mall that I completely forgot to ask hubby dearest to make a quick stop at the laundry to pick up the ironing for the week. And today is a Monday – so the laundry will stay closed. Which means, I will have to manage two days with “make-do” boring saris and blouses instead of my usual classy cotton and silk ones. As I turn off the shower, I make a mental note to remember to pick up the clothes tomorrow.

I rush out of the shower and drape the six-yard feminine wonder around me. In the meantime, my boys as I like to address my husband and son together have gotten ready and are now checking their respective bags to ensure they will have all the things they need for their day ahead. I of course don’t bother emptying my bag to ensure the same. My wallet, my car keys, house keys remain in the said bag all week long. My husband likes to call it my “dronagiri” for he says I lug around too much weight in my huge bag. Right from stationary like staplers and whiteners to feminine basics like some makeup and napkins, my faithful “dronagiri” carries it all. As I step out of the house to see off my little one to his school bus, he suddenly shouts, “Mamma! I forgot to keep my art book in the bag. And his supercool mamma replies, “Chill baby, I packed it in last night. It is kept neatly next to your organizer”” He gushes in relief and runs out to see if his school bus has arrived yet. The faithful old watchman gestures to me to let me know he’ll keep an eye out for my baby while I pull out my scooter from its parking. So I place my bag on the base of the two-wheeler and take it out. But being my luck, the scooter refuses to start. It doesn’t even wheeze when I kick it in frustration. Just then the watchman tells me, “memsaab bus aa gayee“. So I give the watchman the entertainment of his day by running to the gate to see my precious one get into the bus safely and wave off to him cheerfully. By now I am sure half the people in the society must be giggling to have seen this daily sight of me running with my sari hitched up like in those funny movies. As the bus drives off with my kid in it, I walk back towards my two-wheeler muttering about my bad luck. I meet a couple on my way to the parking, and the lady smiles and says, “You aren’t running a marathon Shweta, pull down the sari folds now.” As I neaten myself, I realize that I haven’t even combed my hair yet. So I quickly run my fingers through my hair and tie my scarf around my head to keep my frizzy mane in place. Just as I reach the parking, the love of my life walks down, talking on the phone in one hand. He signals to me to wait and I pray he has had a change of heart and is going to offer me a drive to the school where I teach foreign languages to the students. But fate has better things in store for me. The man actually hands me the car keys and kisses me a good bye, all the while continuing to talk to some colleague in another country over the phone. He heads off towards his own car and I rap my forehead scolding myself all the more for constantly forgetting that we recently bought me a smaller car as I run around too much from school to tuitions and classes and ferrying our little one to his activities in the evenings and so on. So I gleefully get into my shiny new four-wheeler which even has automatic transmission and drive off to work in pride.

In all this, I am running behind schedule and am a God forbid ‘five minutes’ late! My students are enjoying the unexpected free time and they all look a little disappointed when they see me walk into the class. The next five minutes are spent in discussing how each one spent the weekend. The whole point of the exercise is to give the students some verbal practice at the foreign language. By the time the lecture ends, I am on the verge of forgetting the language myself. I walk out of the room after assigning them home assignments which I am sure they will do after about five to eight times of being reminded in not-so-kind style. The day moves on and soon it is time for break. We all are supposed to enjoy half an hour of time to eat breakfast, sip our tea and discuss our academic plans for the students. While we are doing just that, a parent comes calling. The peon announces that the parent wants to meet me. I push aside my delicious breakfast to go out of the staff room to see to the parent’s concern. The principal chooses that moment to walk into the staff room and looks at me curiously, wondering why a parent is here to meet me on a non PTM day. I am worried too. The parent informs me that his child is in a grade younger than the one where he can take up a foreign language. The parent says that he wants his ward to excel in the language next year and asks me if I can guide him to any courses for preparation this year itself. I advise him to not over rush the child and let him decide it for himself. As I step back into the room, I realize that I have missed out on some important announcements by the chief of the school and I get a sound scolding for disturbing everyone by asking my neighbor about the announcement.

After recess, we head back to our respective classes to impart some more knowledge to our future generations. The school bell rings, signaling the end of the school day, and we all head back home in the simmering afternoon heat.

I have three more blessed hours before my little one will return from his school. I hurriedly pull out my bowl of chilled rice from the fridge, dump some cold yoghurt and give it a more than healthy dose of sugar and salt to make the otherwise bland curd rice taste delicious. I switch on the TV in the bedroom and gobble up my cold tasty lunch in peace. As a rule, I don’t allow TV during meal times, but since I am home alone, I tell myself I need this break and change of pace to calm the nerves frazzled by my mischievous students. Being a woman, multi-tasking comes naturally to me and I change, eat and watch TV all in one beat. A few minutes and some deep breaths later, I am ready to head back into the sun to a student’s home for tuitions. At this point, I feel grateful to God and my love for having got me a four-wheeler. I start the car and first thing I do is switch on the AC. As I drive towards the student’s home, I remember that I again forgot to pick up potatoes. ‘Never mind’ I think to myself. ‘I can buy them on the way home.’ I park the car just outside the gate of the society where the student lives. As I ring his doorbell, the chillaxed teacher in me remembers that she forgot to bring the worksheets she had made for the group for today. But improvising at run time is another gift God granted us women. So I call upon that gift and I make up some questions and dictate them to the group of students assembled for the tuition. I tell them that they need to be able to understand the words dictated to them and this will give them practice for both answering writing questions as well as understanding dictated ones. So saying, I nicely sign off from the student’s place reminding them that they have to come prepared for worksheets for next session. Next, I head to an academy nearby and finish my hour long lecture there too. A group of students there has their school exams coming up and they surround me with questions and doubts for clarification. As I patiently explain the French grammar to them, my phone’s alarm sounds again and I realize that my teaching session at the academy has run overtime and now I need to rush back home to pick up my kid from his school bus. So I hurriedly wave off a good bye to my students at the academy and drive home and back to my ‘mom-role’. I reach the stop just in time as I see the school bus turn the corner. Ours being the last stop, the kind bus driver and the bus maid or ‘didi’ as the children fondly call her, smile and make time to chat with me for a few minutes. They love to tell me all about my little one’s antics at school during the day. I like to think it is because he is their favorite child and also maybe because being a teacher, I am from the school fraternity too. As soon as the bus drives off, my precocious child starts chattering away and telling me all about his day at school making me wonder if he has a hidden well of energy from which maybe even I can pull some. By now, we have reached home and my kid wants to go and play with his friends. I have to remind him… daily… that he needs to first wash up, change, eat something – all a matter of maximum ten minutes and only then can I let him go down to play.

Well, after much cajoling and threatening, the little one finally accedes to my request and goes off to play and cycle with his friends. A few more deep breaths and I sip my coffee and munch a few tidbits. I sing along to some silly song playing on my phone’s youtube while setting the cooker. And I again remember, ‘oops! I forgot to pick up the potatoes!’ Having no other option, I improvise and change the menu. I pull out the packet of frozen peas and add them to the curry of one potato. Using some ready-mix masala, the curry gives out an appealing aroma and I am all set to drive my ball of relentless energy off to the stadium where he learns athletics. He jumps into ‘mamma’s new new car’ and off we go. “Mamma, do you know? I was able to jump my cycle today. At school, my friend Kovidh always talks about jumping his cycle. I tried for many days but I was able to do it today. Nice na?” asks the ball. “Hmm, yeah, very nice,” I reply while trying to maneuver the car around an auto that has stopped bang in the middle of the road. “Very nice means prize, so when are you giving me my prize?” he questions. ‘Oops!! I drove straight into that one,’ I think to myself while trying to come up with some ideas acceptable as prize to my little one. “Your prize will be ready and waiting for you at dinnertime tonight,” I say. “Wow! Are you making a cake for me?” asks he. Unbelievable as it may sound, I am actually jealous of my six-year old! He can finish off a huge portion of the cake without gaining an ounce of weight. I meanwhile slog slog slog all day long, even go for walks and gym in the evening while the bundle of energy is busy doing athletics, and yet I never seem to lose a single gram of weight despite abstaining from all the sinful goodies like cakes and ice-creams! How unfair can life be! “We shall see. Now off you go into the ground. I can see your friends already starting to play.” Hearing the magic words, he jumps out of the car and runs towards the group of bundles of energy like him. I park the car in the stadium’s car park and head into the ground to check on my little one. Seeing that the coach has arrived and my little one is safely in the able hands of the coach, I head off for my walk. I enjoy my daily one and half hour of walk, looking into the windows of various shops, buying some knickknacks, sometimes having a vadapav or a cutting chai. This is all my ‘me’ time. This is the time when I am not a mom, wife, daughter, teacher or friend. While I am on my walk, I am free to think whatever thoughts I want to, without having to wonder what someone is asking of me. My phone’s alarm goes off again and I see that it is time to head back to the stadium from wherever in the city I am. So I walk back to the ground and wait for the batch to end. My now sweaty, dirty little bundle of energy comes running towards me and tells me he saw a big dog that he wants to take home. His coach has come up right behind him and ruffles my son’s hair saying, “You ran well today. But you need to improve your focus.” I greet the coach and pull my bundle towards the car park. He is again talking nineteen to the dozen and moving off to the next question before I can answer the first. He uses the sanitizer I keep in the car and opens his snack tiffin. I see his disappointment when he sees a laddoo in it. He has been asking me to pack some wafers for his post-athletics snack since quite some time now, but I am loathe to feed him such addictive snacks for fear that he’ll over indulge.

I drive him home and once again feel irritated that I forgot the potatoes! Once home, I hassle my bundle of energy into the shower, where I have to literally peel off his dirty, sweaty clothes. As I am scrubbing the dirty monkey with a loofah, I often wonder if the kitchen scrub would do a better job of cleaning him up, so dirty and sweaty is he. He, meanwhile, is still talking non-stop and I am surprised when he suddenly starts crying. “Mamma! You put soapy in my mouth!” he cries. “Sorry baby, then blow it out and remember to keep your little lips closed next time I am washing you,” I retort. I wash him up and then handing him a towel, I am head into the kitchen to warm up his dinner. I look towards the bathroom and I see that he is still busy drying himself. I smile to myself thinking how quickly the little one is growing up, when the doorbell rings. Thinking that it might be dad returned home, the little bundle runs to open the door. I run after him shouting to go hide in the bedroom and put on his clothes and even as I am shouting, the little monkey slips on the water dripping from him and falls hardily on his bottom. That brings on one more crying session and whoever is outside has by now lost patience and rings the bell again. So I wrap a towel around my monkey’s waist and lift him not heeding the warning pain in my back. As he begins to calm down, I open the door and see that the visitor is looking for some Mrs. Iyer in Anandvan society. I inform him that this is not Anandvan society and I am not Mrs. Iyer. As I am about to close the door, the visitor has the audacity to ask me for a glass of water. I go against my upbringing and refuse, as the fear of allowing strangers into one’s home has imbibed itself deeply in our minds today. I tell him to ask the watchman for water and quickly shut the door still holding my half-dressed monkey in my arms.

I set him down and he goes into the bedroom to put on his clothes. Now I have to wipe the floor to make sure no one slips on the water again. Just as I am finished doing that, the little monkey steps into the living room proclaiming ‘big hungry’ and asking for food. Knowing his preferences, I serve him rice and ladle the potato rassa I had made earlier today. As I am about to head into the bedroom to change out of my now soaking and already sweaty clothes, my little one suddenly complains of a tummy ache and I hear a sickening wet splattering sound in the kitchen. True to my luck, the monkey has thrown up all over my kitchen floor. He starts crying. I tell him not to worry and lift him off the chair and plonk him on a plastic chair in the bedroom. I switch on the AC for him and tell him to relax. I head back into the kitchen and clean up all the stinking, dirty bile and then wash all the utensils and chairs for added hygiene. All the newspapers that I used to clean up the bile are now in a huge plastic bag, waiting to be thrown out of the house. After a quick touch-up mop as I call my final post clean up mopping round, I wash the mop head with antiseptics and soaps a few times.

Hubby dearest chooses just that moment to walk into the house. The revolting smell of the sick assaults his nostrils at the door itself and he reads the signs as soon as he steps in. My dream man that he is, he quickly picks up the plastic bag containing the soiled newspapers and tissues and goes downstairs to the common dustbin to drop it off. Once back home, he helps me dry off all the washed utensils and chairs. It has been fifteen minutes since my little monkey threw up. As I step into the bedroom to check on him, he has fallen asleep in the chair and has veered towards the edge. Hubby lifts our sleeping kid and places him on the bed. He freshens up and joins me in the living room after changing. I have lost my appetite by now, so my love very sweetly warms up our dinner and brings me a plate. We make an exception tonight and eat in the living room instead of at the dining table in the kitchen. Thus pampered, I am able to push in at least half my usual dinner and we both chat about our day. While washing the dinner dishes, I hear a sound from the bedroom and am about to head in there, but my husband beats me to it and I go back to the kitchen to clear it all up and prepare a bit for the next day. My boys step into the kitchen as I am finishing up and the little monkey says his tummy doesn’t ache any longer and that he would like to eat something. I soften some cooked rice and serve it to him with a helping of yoghurt and sugar. He gobbles it up and then goes back to sleep.

The husband and I watch some TV for a while and my multi-tasking self forces me to pull out my kindle and finish the last few pages of that story that I have been hooked to. I look up at the clock and am shocked to see that I have been reading for the better part of an hour. I force myself to keep back the kindle, switch off the lights and doze off to blissful sleep. But as luck may have it, my phone’s alarm chooses that moment to ring once again and I am forced to get up and take my daily dose of tonics and medicines to keep myself fit, or that is what I believe anyway. As I come back to bed, I see that the husband is already fast asleep and snoring, so I lay my tired self on the bed and try to doze off. A million thoughts keep pulling at my brains from different directions for a an hour or two before I finally fall into the blissful state of sleep.