Thursday, May 02, 2013
I was enrolled in my beloved Carmel Convent School when it was but a fledgeling Institution---and my Roll No. in the School Register was 103.I still remember being petrified of Mother Marcia--and in love with Mrs. Samuels--my first class teacher.Mrs. Samuels remained my favourite all through my School years--and Mother Marcia the disciplinarian Ogre till the very end!! How I loved that Aeroplane shaped Building set in a huge Compound filled with thick Banyan and Mango trees.The circular Montessori building came up much later but the basic serenity of our School environments rarely changed.
We grew up in an Era when many old beliefs and superstitions clung to the Society of that time.The back Gate of the School faced a huge Park--which was dotted with many big trees--Peepul,Banyan,Jaamun to name a few.We were strictly forbidden to come to this Park during both the Short and Lunch Breaks for there were fears of Kidnappers lurking in there.Many a times we'd see the gnarled roots of the Peepul or Banyan Trees spread with a Red coloured square cloth--a sure sign that the Tantriks lurked there!!We were young enough to be petrified at the sight---and when that happened we'd insist on the Rickshaw pullers who were contracted to ferry us to and from School to bring the Cycle Rickshaws in----no one wanted to end up as a victim of those Tantriks!!Funny thing is we never ever saw one--but the fear was very real and almost physically palpable!!Superstition mixed with Black Magic creates a very potent Cocktail!!
In my case my nanny Amma, was a very superstitious Hill women--firmly believing in Good as well as Evil.Her fearful,grudging respect of Black Magic rubbed off on my impressionable mind.Around the same time my seeing a Ghost in the Circuit House in Kasauli and an encounter with her "Ojha" or Exorcist firmly fixed the thought that we are all susceptible to both Good and Evil and only our personal mental strength can help us combat the forces of Evil.India was still firmly entrenched in the Ancient beliefs and though today I still respect some of these Beliefs, during my childhood these were very real possibilities and a force to reckon with.From Amma I learnt to revere Nature or "Kudrat" as she called it as a very real Power--for according to her anyone who broke the basic Laws of Nature would get their just retribution meted out to them during the course of their lives!!I think she was right--for Mother Nature is meting out her Justice to Mankind for having abused her generosity today!!
I was an extremely fanciful child with a very vivid imagination---day dreaming most of the time in School---a cause of concern to both parents and teachers alike.Despite being very popular I was basically a loner--and loved my own company a lot.Maybe this is why I've been able to maintain a normalcy since Sudhir died-----one can never have any Best Friend like oneself!!
Another legacy she gave me was a deep core of unshakeable Faith in The Almighty.He/She has always been and will always be the very base of my existence--God/Goddess was larger than Life,very,very real and tangible.Amma indulged in a lot of things--Poojas,Fasts and feeding the poor.The one thing that we all enjoyed the most was her "Nirjali" Ekadashi Fast at the height of Summer."Nirjali" means Waterless in Sanskrit and Ekadashi is the 11th. day of the Lunar Calendar.During this Fast she would not drink even Water for an entire 24 hours---instead would dole out cold sugared Water to passers by during the day.We lived in Sector 7 and right behind us one of the huge arterial roads lay--- running North to South.It was
called the Sarovar Path leading to the man made Sukhna Lake.There were a large number of shady Trees bordering this Road--blessed with a very thick foliage and it was under these Trees that we'd set up a tub of Drinking Water sweetened with raw Brown sugar and cooled with huge blocks of Ice.The aim was to serve the maximum number of passers by--but given the excruciating heat of June there would be very few of those--and we children would end up drinking the delicious Concoction by the litres---in fact at times we'd hear it sploshing around in our tummies!!
Amma actually believed in the genuineness of the Mendicants that came to the door----she'd pour a generous quantity of Whole Wheat Flour or Rice into their "Jholies" or Cloth Bags while sincerely asking them to bless her "Sa'ab and Bibiji" with a son to ease their way to their Afterlife and Infinity!!All the "Sa'ab and the Bibiji" acquired were two more daughters during the course of the next few years---but no "Moksha" giving son!!In Amma's room there was this luridly coloured Poster--showing the various stages of Hell a Human Spirit passes through after Death--a truly frightening depiction of a chain of Events!!Very earnestly she'd tell us with total conviction that this is what we'd have to endure if we were "bad" children--literally frightening us into becoming good girls!!Not that it was a bad theory--a deterrent always works!!Despite this Poster Amma's room was one of the most peaceful havens I encountered in my early life.Filled with the smoky scent of Incense and the scent of Jasmine Flowers,I'd be lying on the Grass Mat with my eyes closed---listening to Amma recite her numerous Prayers and Invocations to various Gods gave me the feeling of being in a Temple.The soft cadences of her voice rose and fell with an almost hypnotising musical lilt-----and these are some of the moments that I escape to during my Meditation Sessions.They refresh me and help me to face my life ahead with a semblance of Peace.
Over the years I acquired a questioning mind while studying the basic fundamental Ideas that form my Religious Beliefs.I am a product of a devout Hindu upbringing with a large sprinkling of Catholicism thrown in thanks to the Nuns--and later acquiring a healthy respect for many other Religions of my beloved Sub-Continent thanks to the people practicing those and with whom I came in close contact.Today I believe in looking at Humans and doing the best I can to help people I come in contact with---for there is nothing like giving of yourself and your means freely to Society.Today I follow what my heart and my head preach to the inner me----the positive tenets of a mix of Religions that appeal to me.Though loosely I can still be classified as a Hindu, I am more of a follower of the Religion of Humanity--absorbing the best that each Religion has to offer!!
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Those lazy,blazy days are back--and today is May Day--the first of May!!Staying put in Mumbai can be swelteringly humid and hot--but there are certain perquisites that one enjoys--the juicy,yummy Summer Fruits!! Mangoes top the list--followed by the luscious deep Purple Java Plums--called "Jaamun/Jaambhaley" in Hindi and Marathi.Today these are wildly expensive for their anti Diabetic virtues are widely known--making this indigenous Tree a very popular source of various Medicinal uses unheard of in my childhood!!
As a child I have enjoyed a surfeit of this sweet,sour,tart but lusciously juicy fruit the entire Summer.Our Garden sported a few Trees that bore a generous quantity of Fruit.Daddy would spread out our old Bed Sheets under the Trees to catch the free fall of Fruit from above.These Trees would be so laden with Fruits that even a slight Breeze could cause a deluge!!The Bed Sheets sported deep Purple patches for the Juice leaves an indelible stain and were set aside only for that purpose.During our visits to my maternal Grandparents' home in Poona/Pune,many Hawkers would begin making the rounds since early morning--selling portions of this Fruit with a sprinkling of Sea Salt on it----my mouth waters as I write--many years have passed since but the divine taste still lingers on my tongue!!Sometime while I was growing up Daddy devised a safety Net to catch the Fruit--for it's falling to the ground would sometimes bruise the Fruit badly.We spent so many hours experimenting with the Net before giving up---for getting the Fruit laden Net down was an impossible task!!
Of Course we had our share of Watermelons,Musk Melons and Cantaloupes coming in from the hot Desert Sands of Rajasthan---very sweet and juicy!!There were also the fresh Figs and Papayas from our own Garden and because of this surfeit we'd grumble whenever we had to finish the Fruits!!We were ungrateful wretches--for today when I shell out a pretty penny to buy a far lesser quality of Fruit I always wish that I could just pop back into the Past just to pluck a few succulently plump Figs and sweet Papayas---- for the Fruit in the market rarely matches up to the memory!!Our proximity to Shimla and the Hills meant a steady supply of Fruits from the colder Clime----Cherries,Plums and Apricots.Mummy would be busy making Jam--the Mangoes and other Fruits from the Garden would all begin to ripen all at once--resulting in a splurge of Mango,Fig,Loquat and Mixed Fruit Jams from our own Garden.There would also be plenty of Jellies made with pieces of the Fruit , Fruit Juice and Gelatin---all set in our Icebox in the Pantry.Though the means were not sophisticated the results were truly superlative---in fact so good that they can still surpass many of the best today!!
There would also be huge Ceramic Vats of Mango Pickle---for the huge number of Mango Trees also ensured a steady supply of unripe Green Mangoes and these would be turned into huge Jars of spicy,hot Mango Pickle.Some would be turned into Mango Panna and Mango Squash-----and no matter how many bottles of these poor Mummy made we'd ensure that they'd be over as soon she turned them out!!Today when I glance back over the years and compare my childhood with that of my daughters and grand-daughter, I feel that I was truly blessed to be born in an Era when many things were still simple and pristinely pure--very much as God and Nature intended them to be!!One cannot truly forget the pleasures of Summer--the limited choice of Vegetables would bring out new depths to the way our Cooks thought.There would be some really superb dishes crafted out of the humble Bottle Gourd to add variety to our Menus.That is why I was surprised to learn that there were very few Vegetables that Sudhir actually ate when I came Bombay/Mumbai after our marriage.Living in Bombay meant that they had access to all Vegetables--Summer and Winter variety all year round.So Cauliflower and Green Peas were very much favoured in our home.So also were the fresh Variety of Seeds--the Green Kidney Beans and Green Field Beans being equally popular.The Winter variety of the fresh Lima Beans--shaded in pastel Pink and White were perhaps the most popular of all!!
Sudhir's Vacation meant that I just never cooked at home--he'd say that all of us deserved a break and so except the early morning and afternoon cups of Tea we never ate any of our Meals at home!!There was an Eatery in Girgaon region of Bombay called "The Virkar Velankar Aahaar Bhuvan" run by a Brahmin family.It was our most favourite place to eat our Lunches and Dinners at.Vegetarian only it served an exquisitely simple, unlimited,extremely homely " Thali" the taste of which was delicious and wholesome.Their Menus differed daily and they served a huge variety of Salads and Green Vegetables--my own personal favourites.Today if I can make a variety of different Raitas and Salads it is thanks to the amazing variety I enjoyed there!!Eating there also familiarised me with the huge variety of ways to disguise the lesser considered species of Vegetables into mouth watering Favourites---and Sudhir was a prime example of this for he began first eating and then later enjoying these Vegetables as much as I did!!For the Girls it was the way they served their Dal and Rice with a tiny bowl of "Ghee" in each "Thali".Also the many bowls of fresh Mango Pulp called "Aam Rass" downed with scores of hot,crisp deep fried "Puries" was something they never could get enough of!!The wonderful Faloodas and Ice Creams from Jai Hind Ice Cream Parlour in Nana Chowk,the chopped Fresh Fruits smothered in Cream at Batchelor's on Marine Drive,the divine Kulfi available in Matunga and Shivaji Park and the best freshly squeezed chilled tall glasses of fresh Fruit Juices at Sukh Sagar were to die for-----but then I'm forgetting those divinely refreshing wonderful,chilled,tall Punjabi Glasses of fresh Sugarcane Juice flavoured with fresh Ginger Root and Lime at Apollo Bunder--better known as The Gateway of India!!
Since my very early childhood Summer to me has meant the musky scent of Mangoes ripening in their bed of Hay pervading our home.That is something I have to admit has never changed over the years that have passed by--the very scent of Summer permeates my home each year since mid-March----and the musky allure of the King of Fruits is very difficult to resist!!
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