Thursday, August 30, 2018

Sri Venkateshwara Suprabhatam By MS Subbulakshmi


Any self respecting South Indian worth his salt, will know this early morning chant by heart. We are woken out of our sleepy stupors, with MS Subbulakshmi's comforting nasal twang playing loudly and persistently in the background. 

For six years I've woken up to this prayer, while watching my grandfather potter around with his electronic shaving kit. I would stare at him sleepily, as he slowly went about his morning rituals. Right before he would step into the shower, I would drift back into sleep only to be rudely awoken by my grandmother.

Breakfast comprised of delicious fluffy egg appams, steaming hot idiyappams or fresh out of the stove puttu and kadala. In hindsight, I wish I had spent some more time in the kitchen with my grandmother and her maids, instead of behaving like the jungle prince Mowgli. All that time I spent mucking around in the outdoors, could have been utilised instead, to learn some of her signature recipes because I miss home food so much now, that it breaks my heart.

By the time we were done with breakfast, MS Subbulakshmi's chanting would be replaced by other  sweet sounding malayalee bhajans. And my grandfather would be in the prayer room, bathed and ready to take me to school. I would bully him to speed up his prayers, so that I could reach school on time. 

The days I didn't reach on time, I would go home and give him a lecture on the importance of punctuality and keeping time. He would, like all grandfathers, listen to my inane chatter with utmost patience and a sage-like smile, as he slowly yet steadily demolished the contents of my school lunch box, which would drive me even more mad. If I didn't want to eat my lunch, would should he? And that would be our next tug of war for the day. 

My days were incomplete without MS Subbulakshmi, my grandmother's delicious meals and my grandfather dropping me to school. If any of these things were disrupted even for a day, I would be in a very foul mood. 

I relied on MS Subbulakshmi to wake me up every morning, my grandmother's meals to keep me going through the day and my grandfather's hand and handkerchief to wipe my tears and blow my nose into after reaching school. Having panic attacks, being a drama queen and vegetating at home are three personality traits/habits that haven't left me till date.  

I had my grandfather to deal with my meltdowns back then. And now, with him gone, I feel quite lost. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Mumbai's Kaamwali Bais


Don't underestimate the power of the Kaamwali Bais in Mumbai. Their network is wider than Reliance Jio's and their word is law. If you're nice to your Kaamwali Bai, you have found yourself a friend for life. Be mean to them and no one will step foot inside your house ever. Their word-of-mouth publicity about your character, family history, background, eating habits and husband's behaviour spreads faster than the wildfire in the Amazon rainforests.

These smart saree-clad, tech-savy, Whatsapp dominating, Facebook-friend-request-sending women, trickle into various apartment complexes from 5am in the morning till 10pm at night. They work tirelessly with a perennial smile on their face. Ever-ready to help you and your family with any and every problem, these women are absolute life saviours.

I'm pretty sure the husband and I would have starved to death, if it hadn't been for my smart-mouthed, uber friendly cooking bai. I'm also quite certain we would've lived in a pigsty, had it not been for her network of soft-spoken cleaning bais. She is responsible for finding both my cleaning bais in record time. She didn't get along too well with the first one, therefore quite naturally, she wasted no time in finding another one who she could dominate easily. 

Often times I wonder who the bai is really. Her dominating nature is not just restricted to my cleaning bai, it also spills over to me. And I quietly obey. Afterall, who am I to oppose the maker of  yummy pasta, delicious aloo parathas and smooth as silk sabudana khichdi. 

She absolutely loves it, when either of the mothers decide to pay a visit. She finally finds herself a bakra to chat inanely with, as she simultaneously whips up delicious meals. She is as heartbroken as I am when they leave, as I'm not particularly fun company to be around, (especially not at 6am in the morning!). But her day begins early, she wakes up at 5am everyday, reaches my house by 6am, gives me a nasty stare for still being asleep at that time and then gets on with business. 

She hums a happy tune or two as she works seamlessly in the kitchen, chats endlessly with my other bai in rapid Marathi and before I can drift back into a dreamless sleep, both are out of the house. When I finally wake up by 7.30am, the house is sparkling clean and my breakfast, lunch and dinner are ready for the day.

Kaamwali bais are domesticated house fairies. What would we do without them and their endless Whatsapp forwards?

(Image Source : https://pakaamat.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/why-kaamwali-bai-rules-indian-homes/)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Rude or Friendly


We Indians love our neighbours, co-passengers, relatives, our neighbour's son's grandson, our uncle twice removed from our dad's side and even our dogs a bit too much. In our over-enthusiasm to get to know people, we pry a bit too much. My hairdresser wants to know why I don't have children yet, despite being married for close to 5 years. A bunch of Brahma Kumaris dressed in all white, with a white mask on their mouths, kept asking me insistently what degree I had earned from college and upon learning that I was an M.A in Public Relations, started giving me career advice.

A close friend of ours - supposedly modern, chic and hip, made fun of our decision to have children when she stumbled upon a bunch of particularly screechy kids. I was stunned. When our very own peer group behave like they are from the stone age, how can we expect the rest of the world to be civil?

Is this an Indian thing? Or is this typical human nature? We often fail to comprehend, or conveniently ignore the fact that we are being blatantly rude, while prying for personal information. Unless you are that person's mother, he/she owes you nothing. 

How much a person earns, what his/her current weight is, why he/she has chosen to work or not work post college, why a couple has chosen to have babies or not - none of this is your business. It's time to stick that nose elsewhere, otherwise be prepared to receive the stick. 

In India, this prying business is not just restricted to personal circles, it extends to workplaces as well. God bless you, if you're a woman looking for a job. It's no mean task! If you're unmarried, the recruiters want to know if you'll quit when you get married. If you're married, they want to know if you'll quit once you have a baby. And if you have a baby (gasp! unimaginable!), you're questioned about how you can juggle both. That's my great India for you.

Sadly, this passing of crude comments and prying starts at a very young age. When children ask adults questions on their appearance, their haircut, makeup, clothes and even personal information, all their parents and grandparents do is sit and laugh. It won't be so funny anymore when they grow up to become prying adults. The dirty habit has to be nipped in the bud. 

It's time to live and let live. Let's all try to be kinder, less nosy and less judgemental about people. No one's perfect. Unless you're God himself, you have no right to pass snide remarks, give advice or pry for personal information from anyone.

Peace out! 

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Magic of 90s Boy Bands


Any self-respecting girl-child, born in the late 80s would have heard of Westlife, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. These bands not just shaped our childhoods, but also influenced major life decisions, such as, do I want my husband to be have a dimple on the cheek or not? And let's face it, these are important decisions. So while our parents presumed we were deeply absorbed in our Maths or History homework, in reality, we had our Walkmans on and had silent tears streaming down our face as Shane Filan, Markus Feehily, Kian Egan, Brian McFadden and Nicky Bryne crooned "An empty street, An empty house, A hole inside my heart, I'm all alone, The rooms are getting smaller" 

They got it. They just got it. They understood late 80s born teenagers, like no one else. They were our best friends. Their music was like balm to our broken souls and their voice, like honey on a scorching summer day. 

So what were our life problems as teenagers? Nothing really. But we loved the drama. We loved amplifying the bite of a mosquito on our raw skin and the taste of vanilla ice-cream on a wintry evening. And these men helped amplify those feelings.  

As I blared Backstreet Boys' "I want it that way" for the millionth time from my stereo system, oblivious to my mother's incessant pounding on my bedroom door, yelling at me to reduce the volume, I would find new layers to the song. Did Nick Carter have a breakup? Is that why they wrote this song? Was he single and ready to mingle? How can one man have such a perfectly blond mop of hair on his head? And that dimple. My oh my!

As my mind worked in overdrive, along came NSYNC with their cheeky "Bye Bye Bye" and that delightful video to go along with it, which showed the band members being strung like puppets, climbing over walls, over a train and just running all over the place, in general. That video and song, gave teenage girls everywhere an ego boost. We suddenly realised that we're apparently "players, in a game for two" and men don't want to become"fools for us". 

So from mopey teenagers, girls slowly transformed into rebellious teenagers who were suddenly too cool for school. This was also the time when Linkin Park was formed. So some of us girls, slowly began to cheat on our boy-band staple, with bad boy Chester Bennington. Here was a guy who was heartbroken as well, but with delightful rough edges, complemented by his million piercings and tattoos. There was pain and rebellion in his voice. What a deadly combination! 

As the noises from my bedroom grew more and more violent and the pounding on my door became more and more incessant, I grew up. I slowly began to listen to heavier and heavier music. The posters of all my favourite British and white American men, were slowly being ripped down from my walls and being replaced with deadly looking posters of Slipknot, Metallica and Linkin Park. 

But I would be lying if I said I didn't go back every now and then, to "Seasons in the Sun" and "Backstreet's Back". Even rebellious teens, had their mopey days. We were allowed one delicious shot of familiar, comfort-music (the equivalent of ear Gaajar Halwa if you may), on the bleakest of days. 

Thank you for the stunning memories Westlife, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. You've touched lives in more ways than you can fathom. If ever you re-unite and do one last concert, expect to see a whole bunch of women in their 30s along with their babies and husbands at your concerts. We probably married those men and had those babies, because of you. Take a bow! You've more than earned it.

(All images sourced from Google) 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Chocolate, The Elixir of Life


Chocolate, the reason to live. Chocolate, the mood enhancer. Chocolate, the stress buster. Chocolate, the saviour. Chocolate, dreamy chocolate. Creamy, gooey, molten, solid, dark, milk - whatever be it's form, the impact it has on the individual devouring it, remains the same. Pure undiluted joy. There can be no greater love, than the love for chocolate. Wars, marital disputes, familial disharmony, whatever be the problem, chocolate and only chocolate can save the day. 

There was a time (not too long ago) when my husband would not enter the house, sans a box of chocolate in hand. He would religiously buy a gigantic slice of white chocolate coated, red velvet cake and a bag of chocolate coated almonds from Starbucks. "For you my dearest", he would croon lovingly. I would go to sleep instantly with white chocolate dreams in my head, only to wake up to an empty icing ravaged box, stuffed unceremoniously in the fridge, the next morning.

Then there were mornings, I would wake up with a mad desire to drown my soul with copious amounts of molten, hot dark chocolate. We would head out the door, faster than lightening and drive for close to an hour, sometimes more, to reach Chocolateria San Churro in Bandra. We would invariably be the first and only customers so early in the morning. The server behind the counter, would give us a dubious stare, as we placed our orders for black coffee and hot chocolate at 10am in the morning. 

On one particular Friday night, the husband landed in Bombay at 10pm and wanted to head out immediately. I resisted at first, but he lured me with the promise of chocolate. He would soon eat his words, as we drove for close to 3 hours, to reach Sweetish House Mafia in Lower Parel. By the time we reached the joint, half their decadent cookies were over and the servers looked at us in astonishment, as we placed our cookie and coffee orders at 1 am in the morning. 

I celebrate Easter every year, just to gorge on a gigantic chocolate Easter egg. Not the marzipan one, the thick chocolate coated one, that can be broken in half. But of course I never broke it in half, I would always stuff the whole thing inside my mouth and then attempt to break it, with a  mighty crunch. One time I almost broke my teeth and dislocated my jaw, but it was absolutely worth it.

Is this normal behaviour? Without a speck of doubt in my mind, I'd say a resounding yes. All is fair in love, war and chocolate. If you don't eat that delicious looking piece of chocolate, someone else will. Embrace it, celebrate it, drown yourself in it. Chocolate is your best friend. Always was, always will be. 

Bad day at work? Stuff your face with some chocolate. Crazy fight with your better half? Grab that spoon of Nutella. Can’t loose weight? Eat some dark chocolate and then go for a run. Can’t wake up in the morning? Grab a piece of Ooty chocolate already with a steaming hot cup of black coffee and get moving!

(Image Source : https://www.google.co.in/search?q=chocolate&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwidwpWEvZ7bAhWBq48KHT_SAFYQ_AUICigB&biw=1280&bih=611#imgrc=1Y65lrutcwulvM:) 

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Konna Poovu



There are certain aromas, food items, music and inanimate objects that have the magical ability to throw you right back into your childhood. Some of these memories are happy, some nostalgic and some bitter. The happy, nostalgic ones are the best. You're taken in back in time and your eyes instantly get that hazy, faraway look that most often, puzzles people.

The Konna Poovu (Cassia Fistula, in Malayalam) does this job for me. Each time I see a Konna Poovu in full bloom, my heart does a happy flip-flop and my brain goes into a nostalgia overdrive. I'm overcome with a mixture of happiness and sadness, all at the same time. I'm happy, because it reminds me of my ammumma (grandmother in malayalam) and the gorgeous Vishu Kani (Vishu arrangement) she would meticulously set up in the prayer room, every single Vishu season. I'm sad, because I can never be that carefree, overweight kid again. 

Vishu is the Malayalee new year. Every year on Vishu day, I would be woken up between 4 and 5 am, with a blind-fold on my eyes and only my grandmother's hands, to guide me into the prayer room. The minute I enter the prayer room, she would remove the blind-fold, whereby allowing me to feast my eyes, on the beautifully arranged Vishu Kani. A typical Vishu Kani, comprises of copious amounts of Konna Poovu, decorated imaginatively around the idols of the Gods, along with  offerings of fruits, flowers and money. 

When the start of the day is so beautiful, you just know that you're going to have a splendid day. The rest of the day, post the Vishu Kani goes by in a blur activity, comprising largely of eating a senseless amount of food and receiving clothes and money from all the elders in the house. A couple of visits to relatives are also squeezed in, depending on the amount of Sadhya (a large celebratory Kerala meal, typically eaten on a Banana leaf) you've thulped down. 

Each year on Vishu, I would roll around proudly with a large leather handbag, stuffed with notes of money. Just for that one day, I would feel like an important banker, who had the responsibility of safeguarding, collecting, counting and re-counting the notes, to ensure that no-one pinched anything from the precious bundle, each time I took a pee, lunch or siesta break. 

I would dream of all the burgers, medu vadas, Kerala fried chicken and Sharjah shakes I would devour with my Vishu loot. Unfortunately, that dream would only remain a dream, because my clever mother would lure me into her bedroom by nightfall and tempt me with shiny, jiggly coins. She would convince me that Re 1 equates to a Rs 100/- note. I readily believed her each year, because coins anyway had more weight than untidy, smelly notes. I would quickly shove the bag of notes towards her and greedily bring out my pink piggy bank, from the hiding spot in my closet. I would watch her like a hawk, to ensure that she puts me in the right number of Re 1 coins into my piggy bank. Rs 5000/- meant she had to put in fifty Re 1 coins and Rs 10,000 meant she had to put in a hundred Re 1 coins, and so on. After counting and re-counting the notes and coins, I would have a sound sleep with my piggy bag, placed next to my pillow.
Unfortunately all good things come to an end. So does Vishu. I would wake up the next morning, with my Vishu hangover blaring in full blast in my head, and try on all the clothes I would have received from my family, only to discover that they would all invariably be either too tight or too lose for me. Typical fat kid problems. Sigh! 

(Image Source : http://decodingeswari.blogspot.in/2018/04/blog-post_27.html)  

Thursday, April 19, 2018

My Teddy Bear Dowry


I was 12 years old, when my mother brought home an adorable, teddy bear shaped, Salt and Pepper shaker set. The ceramic duo, looked like they had tumbled out of an Enid Blyton novel. Instead of sitting daintily, on a prim and proper British family's high tea table adorned with muffins and croissants, they were stuck in front of my dad, who was at present, viciously murdering a fluffy, vegetable stuffed omelette, with his fork and knife. I was appalled with the way he was vigorously shaking the teddies, for a generous dose of salt and pepper on his already sodium-overdosed, deep fried egg.

"I want these teddies to be sent along with me, as part of my dowry", I blurted out to my mother, without thinking. My father put down the shakers momentarily and gave me a dubious stare. My mother just ignored me, as always. "Mumma, I'm serious. I don't want them to be used until the day I get married and go to my new house", I persisted. "Don't be ridiculous, Gayu", she replied promptly and went back to sipping her morning coffee. 

When I came back home from school the next day, I observed that mom had washed and put away the shakers in her kitchen cabinet. I hurriedly opened the cabinet doors and smelt the shakers, to ensure that it was thoroughly clean. Satisfied with the odour that wafted up my nostrils, I walked into my parents bedroom and planted my mother with a huge sloppy, wet kiss on her cheek. "For rescuing the teddies", I explained, while she stared at me quizzically and tried her best to wriggle out of my iron grip.

Fast forward to present day, I'm much married and have set up a house of my own. The very first curio set I put up in my house, were the teddy bear shakers. There is almost always, a single tear drop, that fills up inadvertently in the corner of my eye, each time I clean them.

My sofa cushions, eerily resemble my mother's. I'm endlessly wiping and dusting my house from top to bottom, all day, everyday. And my kitchen counters, sparkle like diamonds. If you stare at them long enough, you can see your face reflecting right back at you. While I made fun of my mother's obsessive cleaning my entire life, I realize I've become just like her. 

I've always been the most punctual person in my class, office and among my group of friends. I deliver promises, even before I can make them. Once I've made up my mind, on getting a task done, I'll do it faster than spandex wearing superhero Flash. My punctuality annoys people. My habit of getting things done, faster than I can think about it, irritates my husband. But I can't help it, I am my father's daughter. I'm a stickler for routine. I'm in bed by 9pm everyday, out of the house by 7am latest for a jog/walk/run/swim or a quick workout in the gym. We're restless beings, my father and I, but we're disciplined, restless beings. There is always a method to our calculated madness. 

Our parents try their best to inculcate in us, excellent habits. So the question is, are we ready to face the world, all by ourselves with these values ingrained within us, subconsciously? I would like to believe, yes (with a generous dose of "occasional" babying from mom and dad of course).