Monday, March 11, 2013
Sunday was Maha Shivratri--a day dedicated to Lord Shiva.This day holds and has held a special place in my heart--the raw Energy that Lord Shiva projects is at odds with His Ascetic Image--yet a more easy God to appease is difficult to find.Also called "Bholenath" for his Simplicity and "Neelkanth" or the Blue Throated One--a result of the deadly Poison He drank and held in His Throat during the churning of the Ocean actually are both facets of His mesmerising personality.And believe me mesmerising is the only word that can describe him most aptly.
In my childhood Maha Shiv Ratri Festival used to be fun.There would be a variety of "Sattvik" or pure Food to gorge on--cooked only in Clarified Butter and without any Spices or Onion or Garlic---deliciously satisfying!!Even Sea Salt was never used--instead a certain Salt called "Sendhav" was used to cook the Food.To be honest this Festival is one of the most important religious events of the year.That day a late Lunch would be served--the Table literally groaning under the variety of the dishes cooked.There would be Peanut Curry,Amaranth Grain cooked with Green Chillies and Ghee,boiled Potato Curry cooked with Peanuts,Pancakes cooked with Water Chestnut and Amaranth Flour,a Savoury Sago Dish and deep fried Sago-Potato Patties all served with plenty of Buttermilk.For us kids it was a welcome break from the daily Food--something exotically mouthwatering but reassuringly Indian!!How much effort really went into it was something I realised only after I got married--a result of which was that during earlier years I preferred eating only Fruits and drinking about a 1 litre of Milk that day!!
However all this came to a stop once it was discovered that I was diabetic.Sudhir gave me a choice--either I ate something prescribed by our Saints and Seers--or I didn't fast at all!!I chose the former--and began cooking a few things I remembered from my childhood.My favourite was steamed Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes as well as Indian Yams--both Purple and White--served with a garnish of Green Chillies,Sendhav Salt and Lime Juice.Also I chose to drink both Milk and Buttermilk during the 24 hours I fasted.Yesterday it was for the first time in years that I cooked a few of my childhood favourites--Sago savoury called "Khichadi" and a Stuffed Banana Dish---Sweet golden "Rajaali" Bananas from Vasai stuffed with a stuffing made with roasted Fresh,grated Coconut,Jaggery,Green Chillies,roasted crushed Peanuts and Lime Juice and then baked at 200 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes till brown--simply deliciously yummmmm!!There was also a savoury made from shredded Sweet Potatoes and our favourite Boiled Potato Curry cooked by Mikki--and after consuming small portions of all that I had to admit--I AM getting old for i could barely put away a fraction of what I'd have loved to eat earlier!!
Saturday, March 09, 2013
I guess it is our childhood that shapes us--and while Mummy liked to laugh,Daddy was the Family Joker!!his antics had us in splits.Unfortunately he was also a workaholic---so I or rather we had very little interaction with him for 4-5 years in between when he was really busy--leaving before we woke up and returning long after we'd gone to bed.Being a highly qualified Architect and one of the select Team assisting Le Corbusier, he had plenty of Projects to fulfill for Chandigarh was growing and expanding fast. So from 1959 till 1965 he was someone whom we met rarely--on some Sundays if we were lucky--and except on the rare Treks Jeanneret Uncle and he took into the Hills I too saw very little of him.
These Treks are some of my most prized Memories--frozen in Time and vividly crystal clear in my mind--I can still feel the cool Breeze on my face as I drink in the sparkling Mountain Air.The scent of the Conifers,the feel of those slippery needles underfoot,the elusive but haunting aroma of the Wildflowers I crushed under my feet and the sparkling tiny Streams tinkling in a musical Rhythm on their way down the Mountain slopes---everything is still very,very real and sharp.The Mountains were our favourite Summer haunt--and I loved going there.We'd drive there in Jeanneret Uncle's Beige Hillman--parking it at the side of the Road randomly take off up the steep mountainside.These Treks brought me closer to Nature as the two men taught me about bits of History,Geography and mainly broadened my mental horizons.The gentle Hill Folk with whom we'd interact were simple people--hard working but extremely hospitable--willing to share whatever they had with strangers like us--and without expecting a price!!I still remember the time when one old man sitting outside his cottage told my father "Sahib hum Roti aur Paani key paisey nahin letey!!" which translated means that Sir we do not sell Food and Water!!While I enjoyed these rare interludes,Daddy was changing into a brusque and impatient man and the distance between us was growing wider.Finally in early 1965 the axe fell--he was advised a Medical break because he had developed a severe bout of Low Blood Pressure and needed to rest.His yearly leave was pending---the period of it had stretched to as much as 2 whole years and while he couldn't utilise all of it,he did take 6 months off.Being unsure of Daddy's mood while he was stressed out had made the three of us view him as an Ogre----for despite disciplining us pretty severely herself, Mummy would still run to him and get him to bark ferociously at us each time we misbehaved!!Thus the thought of this irascible man being in the house all 24 hours each day was a truly daunting experience---one neither of us wanted!!
That we rediscovered Daddy once more was the unexpected Joy we all reaped--for he became a child to reach his children and connect with them once more.We just couldn't wait to rush back home--and all of us--but specially me as I was the oldest---bonded beautifully with him!!Daddy was an overgrown child--a man of unbending principles which caused him a lot of heartache---but it is something he has passed on to each one us in varying degrees--of all 3 sisters I am the worst hit.As Sudhir used to say,I view the situation as either Black or White--the shades of Grey are something that I have trouble accepting!!Not just that both he and Mummy were perfectionists and that is another thing that I've inherited in a large measure---I get extremely frustrated with my own mediocrity at times!!Daddy however thought I was a genius--he was extremely proud of my so called Intelligence--and liked to show me off to all our extended Family and his friends.As a result everyone holds my intellect in exaggerated esteem--and while I agree that I do have a good Intellect I'm definitely not a Genius!!Yes I have been blessed with an exceptionally great Memory--and in my childhood I retained entire Books that I read.Daddy would show my Memory off by flinging random sentences out of the books I'd read--and ask me to give References to the Context--which I did accurately 95% of the time.That I was and still am a voracious reader was something he was inordinately proud of--and would get me Books from the Library to read.He encouraged me to read about Archeaology and Astronomy besides great Literature--in English,Hindi,Marathi and Punjabi.History became my favourite Subject and the only subject he couldn't get me interested in was Arithmetic--the very bane of my existence!!However,1965 was one year when Daddy spent our Summer Vacation completely with us--and we travelled to Bombay together as a family once more after a gap of 5 long years!!
Saturday, March 09, 2013
Where ever I may travel--far or wide--- to me India is synonymous with "Home".Guess you can take me out of India--but never India out of me!!I have had a charmed life--growing up in the erstwhile Indian Punjab and then moving on to Bombay--the Financial hub of India.It took me a very long time to come to terms with the hurried pace of Bombay life--and I missed my surroundings--specially my beautiful Mountains terribly to begin with--but insidously the sylvan surroundings of our new flat wound their tendrils round my heart--and my soul attained a certain peace!!Today I've lived here for the past 38 years this May 23rd.--and this is where my roots reach deep down below to anchor me to this 700 sq.ft. carpet flat I call home!!
As a child I grew up in the dusty Plains of North India---excruciatingly cold in the Winters and blisteringly hot in the Summers.Much to my mother's chagrin I was Nature's child--shinning up the "Neem" and numerous Mango trees that populated our Garden.As a result i had scraped knees and shins--not to mention innumerable scratches and small wounds that would sometimes develope into slightly larger issues.My interaction with the long,sharp Thorns of the hardy "Keekar" tree was a constant pain for both Mummy and Amma---for sometimes the white,slender inch long thorn would break inside my bare heels as I drew it out---and would within a week escalate into a visit to the Doctor's--for neither Mummy nor Amma could reach that deep inside with a cauterized Needle to remove it!!The Doctor would administer a local Anaesthetic and draw it out--tut-tutting all the while and remonstrating with me--educating me on the evils of such thorns turning into septic wounds!!All this was Water off my back--for I was a dreamy child--constantly day dreaming and living in a World populated with the characters from the books I read.Early years in School were my favourite ones--later Mathematics and I agreed to disagree and I could never really understand the benefits of studying Arithmetic--I mean how did doing Sums about Fractions,Stocks and Shares and Percentage affect my existence???Today I realise fully well how they do.I adored Algebra and Geometry---but I'm not a very logical person--my arguments tend to meander away from the subjects at hand!!
For me Heaven meant lying on my back under a Mango tree in the Summer,gazing up into it's thick foliage and trying to count the number of unripe,Green Mangoes hanging on it's branches.My favourite perch high up in the "Neem" Tree was lined with an old "Durrie" a thick,woven Cotton Carpet and an irregularly shaped Cushion much the worse for wear that used to cushion my spine.A nearby fork of it's branches acted as a Book shelf--and contained an assortment of Books as well as my Diary--that contained my most private thoughts.There also was a Diary in which my Poems were written---and this was my secret World--the World I loved!!Daddy had made a leafy Arbor of Grape Vines by training these over Aluminium wires over the roof of our Garage--another favourite retreat during the hot Summers----the cool dark recesses were a sublimely secret place--only had one very big drawback--one could expect Snakes--the poisonous varieties right next to you!!I have danced in wild abandon in early childhood with the Peacocks--loving the wild fury of Nature when it brought about the sudden,torrential Summer Showers-----and had fun catching wild Parrots as they swooped down to peck at the Green Chillie I held out invitingly to them!!One of these became my pet named "Mithu" and became pretty tame till one day my pet cat named "Kitty" caught him and killed him.Daddy was fond of Hunting and the surrounding Himalayan Foothills were full of Game. Quail,Partridge and Hare were the preferred Game and also the Rivers teemed with Fish.The Trout,Malli and Singhada were the common varieties--the Rohu however was the delicacy!!Till today no visit to the North is complete without a sampling of the delicious Fish Fry and Fish Tikka--the former fried in sharp tasting Mustard Oil and the latter broiled over hot coals!!
Most of all I loved and still love the "Scent of India".It is really intriguing how this changes with every Season in every region.Chandigarh smelt of the Village---Dust,Cement,Grass,Cow Dung and of the bloom on the Mango trees in the Summer during my early childhood as it was in the very throes of being built.Later the Winter scent of Roses,Narcissi and Tube Roses would change the entire atmosphere into a flowery Arbor.I still remember the scent of various types of Jasmine scenting the ambience just before and during the Monsoon months--the Air redolent with the scent of these various Varieties and wet Earth--a perfume I would love to bottle and hoard!!Summer Air every evening smelt of the smoke of the Tandoors--and the warm smell of Bread--Tandoori Breads--Naans,Parathas and Rotis along with the scent of succulent Chicken and Meat delicacies.For me these were an indivisible part of my childhood--the scent of the Coal and Cow Dung fired stoves,freshly cooked Summer Vegetables--Okra,tiny Round Gourds,Ivy Gourds,Eggplants/Aubergines and various varieties of the Gourd family were daily regulars at our table.The simply cooked Dals were redolent with the taste of Butter or Ghee and an endless supply of various Squashes made by Mummy during the Winters--bottles of Orange,Lime and Mulberry would be gulped down copiously in huge quantities.There would be huge quantities of Indian Buttermilk we call "Chhaas" and "Lassi" to help us combat the heat during the day.My most favourite smell is however of "Khus".This aromatic Grass would be woven into thick sheets--and these woven sheets would be placed outside our open windows---acting like external curtains.A rubber pipe would then be strategically placed to water these and keep these wet and a Table Fan would rotate some distance away from behind the woven curtain----blowing in cool Air through the woven Grass.The room would turn into a dark,cool,scented Paradise and emerging from it into the Light would be like coming out of a very dark,deep Tunnel!!An idyllic childhood made me into a dreamer--naive,trusting and looking at the World through rose coloured Glasses!!
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