Jamming!

The other day I made Jam. No, Really! I made Jam 🙂 I know for those of you expert bakers and chefs out there (and there are many of you amongst my friends), this may not seem like a big deal, but it is to me! Rather obvious that, since I’m blogging about it 😛

I’m NOT a jam-making kind of person. I’m not very fond of jam, but I do love strawberries. Although I can cook well enough, I do not enjoy the routine kind of cooking (the much maligned fish curry-rice meals which are a Goan staple). Instead I enjoy trying out dishes from various cuisines, salads mostly, coz they’re easy and tasty, if you can get your hands on fresh produce; but mostly anything that catches my fancy and is simple to make. Perhaps that’s why despite Nigella insisting that baking is uncomplicated, (and she does a good job of making it seem so!), I’ve always been rather afraid of giving it a shot! But I digress as I so often do! Back to the jam story. Bear with me 🙂

My friend S, is…what’s the word, ‘Superwoman’! She’s a busy pediatrician, Mom to a teenager, loving friend, dedicated wife…you get the picture. She’s one of those people who manages to have chocolates and a gift ready for Ishaan no matter how short a notice I give her of our visit! She never forgets Birthdays, anniversaries, and all manner of other special dates that do not exist in my calendar! Saying she has a full day, every day is the understatement of the century, and yet, she manages to come home at 9 o’clock at night, exhausted from seeing patients, and make…uh huh…strawberry jam!

So you see, why I HAD to make it don’t you? I mean really, although I am hard-pressed for time, I’m nowhere close to that kind of busy (although some days I do feel like the mother of a dozen kids rather than just the one!). A lot of my busy-ness (Is that a word?), comes from horrendous time-management skills and a penchant for surfing the Internet 😛 (I’m so happy to be living in the 21st century where one can safely blame the World Wide Web for all of one’s problems!). But this was just a smack in the face, especially coz the jam was delicious and she said it was easy-peasy. But mostly coz I was ashamed at myself for not stepping into the kitchen these past 2 years (I kid you not! One of the advantages of living with Granny & Mom, although it’s also the reason I’ve been avoiding the kitchen, if you get my meaning ;-))

So here goes…Delicious strawberry jam in 5 Easy-Peasy Steps.

  1. Weigh the amount of strawberries you want to turn into gooey, jammy, deliciousness. Now weigh out the same amount of plain white sugar. So if you’re using 500 gm (about a pound) of strawberries, you need 500 gm of sugar. No complicated formulas 🙂
  2. Cut up the strawberries (the large ones, you can leave a few of the smaller ones whole), mix them with the sugar and leave to macerate overnight. For those of you who have an ant problem (like we do in Goa), leave the vessel with the sugared-berries in a dish containing water, so any rogue ants will meet their maker through drowning! It’s all about being merciless!
    Maceration!

     

  3. The next morning, the strawberries will be floating around in a ruby-red liquid that’ll remind you either of jewelry or vampires depending on what kind of person you are 😛
    Ruby-Red Gorgeousness - The Morning After!

     

  4. Then, it’s on to a low flame (best to use a heavy-bottomed vessel for this part), stirring occasionally, enjoying the bubbly pink froth, until the mixture gradually reduces and turns into ruby-red glistening jam studded with golden pearls!
    Strawberry Bubble-Bath!

     

  5. S instructed me to test consistency by pouring the liquid on to a glass plate and checking for runniness. When you have the consistency you want (keep in mind, the jam will thicken further when cooled), stir in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of clarified butter (ghee) and turn off the heat. Done!!
    Gooey Deliciousness - Jam to Die For!

    Now for the MOST important step, without which all of the above have no meaning and are just a waste of time: Toast thick slices of bread to just the right shade of crisp golden-yellow and slobber on butter (Ignore calories at a time like this! Really! Do I have to even say that?), while still warm. Then apply a thick layer of the jam, take a sweet, gooey, crunchy bite. Welcome to Heaven 🙂

    And so there you have it, an easy way to make some pretty awesome strawberry jam. I store mine in the fridge although I reckon it will stay outside in colder climates. Not sure for how long though coz as you might have noticed – No preservatives! Unfortunately Ishaan refuses to even taste it, so I cannot report its effects on children 😛 I do find it makes adults very happy though 😉 All in all, here’s what I learnt. Jam-making is not that different from life. You start of with a mixture of acid and sweet, add a little heat and wait for a transformation. In life, so often the same principles apply. You start of with a mixture of good & bad, then some stress comes along and acts as a catalyst for life-transforming changes. Both require patience and both are easier to make & manage with experience! Ooh! I’m turning all Jamisophical, all of a sudden 😛 Good time to stop huh?!

    So, final words…use liberally when asking for favors 🙂

    Happy Jamming, People 🙂

     

It’s a Crab’s Life!

Saturday evening finds us on Miramar beach, where I spent a lot of time bunking classes during my college years 😉

As Mom & Dad take off on their evening stroll, and Hubby and Ishaan play Cricket (what else!), I meander along the water’s edge, camera on the ready, to see what I can see. It is low tide and I am sorry to say there’s plenty of exposed rubbish along the shore 😦 All manner of plastic – bags, wrappers, bottles, broken glass bottles, & lots of litter :(. Thankfully, the low tide has also exposed millions of crab holes and their iridescent silver-blue inhabitants 🙂 They go scurrying across in their hundreds, leaving a patchwork of feathery footprints across the moist sand. For all their running around, they seem full of purpose, which has me wondering, ‘What is the purpose of a crab’s life?’ Other than the obvious one of providing tasty meals for us greedy humans, I mean? But I ditch all attempts at philosophy, when I stumble upon a very neat crab-style tableau right under my feet!

A little crab scurries purposefully towards what appears to be an empty hole to my unobservant human eye. I shall refer to him (If it’s a her, I’m truly sorry, but determining crab-gender is not one of my skills. Also the behavior, kind of made me veer towards the masculine!), as Crab 1 or C1. I watch intrigued, for no particular reason other than I’m close enough to get a good shot.

Aah! Here's a nice looking hole!

Turns out the ‘empty’ hole actually belongs to Crab 2 (C2), who, I can only presume has been curled up inside, minding his own business! C1 is having none of that! He wants that comfy, dank hole (crabs like the dank don’t you know!) and he wants it now!

My, my! There's a chap in the nice looking hole!

He launches a brazen attack on the slightly larger C2, who has no clue what just hit him! However, he’s very sharp (Crabs are! Who knew?), and recovers instantly to launch an equally impressive counter-attack (could he be a she then? :P).

Attack!!
Get thee away from me, Villain!

C1 has the advantage (perhaps coz he’s smaller & nimbler), and after a few minutes of wrestling, scurries into his newly claimed home! I watch fascinated as these two tiny beings battle it out on the sand below my feet and use their luminescent pincers and their spindly legs to duel each other for Nature’s necessity…a place to call home.

Hah! Mine!

I’m pretty impressed and manage to remember somewhere between thrust and parry, that the D 90 can also film video! I’m recording this epic battle and feel like a NatGeo reporter on assignment (Oh be quiet! A girl can dream can’t she!). I’ve included it here, but parts are out of focus…I’m still very much a beginner so forgive the poor quality.

C2 retreats for a minute and returns to launch a second offensive. Suddenly in the midst of the tangle of legs, there emerges a third crab, (C3 in a guest appearance that lasts for a few seconds!), who has obviously been disturbed by the brawl overhead. He pops out agitated and retreats in a flash, caught in a tangle of snapping pincers. That’s the last I see of him, wise soul! Finally, C1 seems to give up and scurries to the left where he dives immediately into an empty hole and seems content. C2 takes possession of his home and calm is restored.

Everyone's happy! C2 reclaims his own and C1 takes the one to the left!

I hang around for a few minutes to see if anything interesting might start again, but cries of ‘Mama’ distract me. Time to leave my brief foray into the exotic Natural World and return to my rather mundane, routine existence. And yet, not so different are they…food & shelter…in both worlds – necessities to be fought for and guarded with passion. I know we humans think of ourselves as evolved creatures, but sometimes I wonder. We are the only species that wants more than we need, breed more than we should and ruin our own home, the only Planet we have, with a nonchalance that is criminal & disturbing. We have a lot to learn.

p.s. I would love to hear any close encounters of the ‘wild’ kind that you might have had!

Have a happy week People 🙂

Epiphany

This morning I had a moment. You know – the kind of moment that arrives without warning, usually offering a calm oasis in the midst of chaos. The kind of moment that comes sometimes from recognizing the truth but mostly from just accepting it. Yup…an epiphany.

I had a rather thorny start to my day. Granny had a fall on her way to the loo early this morning at 4 am. I was completely unaware of the fact until I came down all bleary-eyed in the morning. Thankfully, nothing’s broken, just some nasty bruising. At her age (she’ll turn 85 in April) though, I’ll take bruises over a fracture anytime! Unfortunately in characteristic fashion, I had been rather short with her. It’s just like me that. My concern always seems to manifest masquerade as irritation, especially with those I love. I don’t why that is, except to blame it on some genetic character flaw beyond my control or maybe it’s a defensive mechanism to mask my fear of losing my loved ones. Whatever the reasons, suffice it to say, when it’s time for Ishaan to leave for school, I am not in a good place.

He is outside as always, playing cricket with our driver and Pushpa, utterly oblivious to all of Mom’s flaws for the moment 🙂 Oh that it would stay like that forever! Hubby calls out. It’s time to leave and there’s a flurry of Goodbyes to Pushpa, Grandpa and Grandma. It’s a familiar scene, repeated every Monday through Friday before he leaves. Just before he climbs into the car, I hug him and hold him close, tousle his hair and tickle him while he lays his head on my shoulder, in the crook of my neck (a perfect fit :)). He erupts with laughter and climbs onto Hubby in the car. The sun is shining and my boy is happy. His eye’s are sparkling and his tiny nose is all scrounged up, crinkled with joy 🙂 Suddenly I am in awe of this perfect moment when nothing else matters but the happiness that radiates from my son in great big tidal waves 🙂 I know, I know, it’s crazy…we’ve done this a million times before, but today, although I’m laughing with him and squishing my nose against the car window making funny faces, inside I’m still. Something is different.

Magic smile!

There’s a strange duality to the moment. I’m suddenly aware of its fragility. Of the power of laughter & the healing that comes with happiness. Somewhere deep within, a load feels lighter. There are a million good things in this World and a million bad, but there’s not too many things that can’t be made better by the sound of your child’s laughter 🙂 But the moment is also symbolic of the power my son has over me. Of how my happiness is now forever linked with his and my eyes get teary – whether from joy or sadness is hard to say. Probably both. It’s scary but I feel cleansed.

I stand still and watch the road after the car is long gone. He’s growing up so quickly…too quickly. And that’s when it struck me. It’s always like this between parents and children isn’t it. Children moving away, parents left behind, happy, concerned, and proud. Did I think it would be any different for me? This is how it’ll always be…him leaving, me watching him go…happy, concerned, fingers crossed, like mothers everywhere.

I take a deep breath and walk back inside.

My First Award…’Meme…’ what?!

An award!! Finally! Fame! Recognition! Validation! Fame!!!! Yoohoo and Hip Hip Hurrah!!!!

Alright, now that the hysterics are out-of-the-way, let’s get down to business, shall we? This ‘Memetastic’ Award has come to me through someone who in a very short time has become a great friend and inspiration! She’s also where I go for my daily dose of laughter 😀 Drum Roll…Wendy over at Herding Cats in Hammond River!! She’s creative and has a fabulous sense of humor…don’t take my word for it, go visit!! Thanks Wendy for passing this one on to me, I’m honored and ecstatic and consequently this post will be drowning in emoticons 😛 😀 😉

I must confess I had no idea of a what a ‘meme’ was until I read Wendy’s post where she shared that it’s a word used simply to describe a concept that spreads via the Web, rather like a spider 😛 I wonder why they chose ‘meme’ that rhymes with cream? As far as I know, ‘meme’, pronounced ‘meh-meh’ in my local lingo Konkani (spoken in Goa), is what we call fish when speaking to toddlers such as my son!! It has nothing to do with the Web and certainly doesn’t rhyme with cream 😛 And why cream? Cream which has nothing to do with an idea, a concept, a spider, a fish nor the Web, unless I’m missing something. But hey! Who said anything has to make sense, right? Onwards! These days awards come with rules. Gone are the days, when you got away with saying a simple Thank You’ on receiving a gift! If you were really thrilled, maybe you wrote a note or gave them something smashing when it was your turn! No More! Gone is the ‘Simple Life’. These days, awards come with threats of stalking and the possibility of being cyber-hunted all over the Web, until there’s no dot.com that’ll hide you!! Me, I value my Life. And I’m not about to let a few life-threats stand in the way of my first award 😉 Also I’m really obedient (Dang! Should have saved that for bold-faced Lie No. 1), so I’m going to do my best and hopefully provide amusement for all 😛

The Rules, which all Awardees must obey on pain of cyber-torture of the worst kind from the obviously creative & devious mind that originated this scheme, ‘meme’, and whom I shall hence forward refer to simply as the ‘Creator’ are as follows:

Rule I: You must proudly display the “absolutely disgusting graphic” created by the ‘Creator’ in your post. So, move over da Vinci! I give you the ‘Creator’!! The gender of the kitten remains a secret and requires code-breaking skills that you my friends do NOT have!

No seriously people...this is it!

Rule II: You must list 5 things about yourself, and 4 of them must be bold-faced lies. Again in the words of the ‘Creator’, “Just make some shit up, we’ll never know.” Truer words were never spoken! Oh and also “We’re not really interested in quality here, so don’t go crazy trying to think of stuff.” See, easy-peasy 😛

Rule III: This one is my favourite! Why suffer alone when your friends are just dying to lend you a hand 😛 You must pass this award on to 5 bloggers that you either like or don’t like or don’t really have much of an opinion about. The ‘Creator’, who has much better things to do with her time (such as thinking up new ‘memes’, I can only presume), claims your reasons for picking particular people do not matter to her. She is above such pettiness. But since we may share, I can tell you that Wendy picked me, because she wishes me to go insane in the company of two maniacs – the Kitten and my toddler Ishaan! Et tu Wendy! If you never here from me again, promise you’ll miss me? Oh Come On!!

Rule IV: This is a warning actually not a rule. The ‘Creator’ who is used to complete and utter obedience from her minions, will not tolerate any rule-breakers. You will be found. You will be hurt. You should be scared.

Rule V: Since the ‘Creator’ is not a bad person (whatever made you think that?!), she requests you to please link your celebratory post back to The Memetastic Hop, so she can see how her ‘meme’ has changed the world!! Disobey at your own risk (refer to Rule IV)!

So, with that out-of-the-way, down to brass tacks…Finally 😉 5 things about Moi…who knows which one is true?

1. I am an incarnation of the Moon Goddess ‘Luna’. That’s the secret of my general insanity and occasional flashes of brilliance 😀

2. I am the most organized person on the planet and my memory is…what was that word in Wendy’s post…diabolical 😉

3. In a past life, I used to be a pediatrician. Sometimes, I still am 😀

4. Harsha and H is for Happiness are pseudonyms I’m using for an undercover operation that will eventually lead to an expose of cyber-crime networks. I cannot reveal more for fear of death (real this time, not cyber) – yours and mine.

5. In the event of a nuclear holocaust, I will be the only life-form left alive. That’s coz I’m a Goddess. If you’ve forgotten already, you need to consult a neurologist now!

On to my picks then…

1. Munira’s Bubble: M has Fuzzy, who will either devour the cyber-kitten for sheer ugliness or take pity on the poor soul and protect it fiercely. Fuzzy may be confused, but Munira is a seriously talented, wickedly funny girl, who lives in Karachi. Go for it M!

2. Indigo Violet’s Blog: R2D2 as she calls herself at the moment, is Mama to two cats & two dogs (did I get that right?) and dear Kitty will find a loving home with this extremely talented and immensely sensitive writer. She’s into ‘kooky introspection’ and has a real eye for fabulous images 😀

3. 36 x 37: Maura is the first friend I made since I started blogging regularly. Her blog is about 36 ‘Firsts’ she wants to get done before she turns 37 and I’m enjoying the ride 🙂 She has some real cool ones! She’s a great writer and has a way of effortlessly weaving profound thoughts into her posts by way of humor, wit and irony. A must read!

4. Posky’s Blog: Posky is one of the funniest people I’ve read in a while. He can be brutally honest and in your face. I’m nominating him coz I can’t wait to see his take on ‘Awards’ in general and ‘memes’ in particular. He does wicked cartoon strips too!

5. Clouded Marbles: She is a recent addition to my blogosphere. I like her quirky sense of humor and her simple direct writing style. Photography is another shared interest and she takes some pretty great “kiekies” 😀 (“kiekies” is an Afrikaans word used in reference to photos taken by an amateur). And from today’s post, I see that CM is a slave to her own cat! So I guess Kitty would fit right in? Maybe, maybe not!

So there you have it…the List is done. The Rules obeyed. Torture avoided. And a new lot of crazies nominated 😉 I’m done here 😀

Have a good week ahead People. And be careful what you wish for 😛

p.s. I’ve totally enjoyed this post and can’t thank Wendy enough 🙂 I do hope you enjoy it too and hopefully I haven’t offended. Even if I have…I’m a Goddess 😉

p.p.s. This is where it all began…Memetastic Hop. Check it out or refer to Rule IV!

The Queen & I…

Turns out I’m a royalist! (If that is indeed the right word!) Who knew?! First a little background…

Like most people I know (who are not British), my fascination with Buckingham Palace and its inhabitants began when Prince Charles married Diana, in what to me is still the fairytale wedding of my lifetime! (I say wedding, please note…not marriage!) I was young enough then, to believe that two people who had that kind of wedding, would be together forever because of course they loved each other insanely and with abandon! Well, we all know better now! After ‘The’ wedding, I went on with my life and for all practical purposes, the Royal family ceased to exist unless I ran into their latest escapades on the news (Fairly regularly!), which were never very complimentary to any of them. In typical fashion, the only time they engaged my attention again was when Lady Di (I understand so much better now how hard her life must have been), died so tragically. Even then, I mourned her loss more because she was young, beautiful, and so full of life & promise, and because nobody (Princess or otherwise), deserves such a brutal death. It didn’t matter so much about her being a Princess or an ex-Princess (I seem to remember a lot of fuss over whether she could keep the HRH title or not, after her divorce, and thinking at that time, that would be the last thing on her mind!). After her death, the Royals rescinded once again as I went about the business of my life.

A few weeks ago, a new series on BBC Entertainment, called Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work, rekindled my interest in all things Queenly 🙂 Yes I confess, I discovered a new-found affection for Her Majesty 🙂 I put it down to my innate love for all things British 😉 Notice I say the Queen, this time! I’m no longer interested in the rest of the Royal household, not even with the nuptials of the world’s most eligible Prince 😛 I wish the Royal couple much happiness, but there’s just not that same fairy-tale quality about them (which is probably a good thing, all things considered!). Blame it on me being older and wiser or on the fact that I’ve seen it all before! No this time, it’s the Monarch herself who fascinates me! Unsurprising really given her life-history!

The Royal Crest on the gates @ Buckingham Palace.

The series focuses on the work-aspect of her life as Queen and I think that’s what’s caught my fancy. I remember jostling for space outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, waiting for the Change of Guard, wondering what it must be like to live in a palace and be a Queen. Her reality so far removed from mine! Yet as I watch this series, and her work-life unfold, I realize being a Queen is not just about the jewels and carriage rides and adulation from the adoring minions (although I’m sure that helps!). It’s about endless meetings & handshakes & small talk with Heads of State, the clergy and staff; it’s about always having to be proper in public and protocol, protocol, protocol; it’s about having to live your entire life under public scrutiny (You couldn’t pay me to do that!), with dignity and grace. In short, it’s a lot of hard work & pressure and it takes a special kind of person to handle it. She’s a strong lady and I never thought of her that way before.

One episode featured a state visit by the President of Ghana and it was amazing, the amount of planning and attention to detail that went into a single visit! They were planning for a year before the visit, right down to the route the Queen would lead her guests on inside the Palace! Nothing was left to chance and every eventuality thought of and planned for. And still, on the day, the lift that the President’s wife was to use, stopped working and I watched in amusement as the staff and the Queen pondered options until Prince Phillip thought of the Staff Lift 😉 (Even in the best run households people!). I watched the preparations for a state banquet, in fascination! Extraordinary! The one-of-a-kind china, gleaming silver, sparkling crystal chandeliers and goblets, the liveried staff – everything immaculate and ready for Her Majesty’s inspection! The sheer opulence and grandeur of the setting can I’m sure, be rather intimidating to the guests, Presidents though they may be! It blew my commoner’s mind 🙂 The Queen herself came around for a look before the banquet and she was like any other good host, making sure everything was in readiness and perfect for her guests!

So far, I’ve watched her open Parliament in an extravagant ceremony of pomp & splendor; sign letters; make speeches; greet troops; meet clergy; and travel on a State visit to Estonia with Prince Phillip. In every undertaking, I find her manner charming and down to earth and I love that, especially in a woman so used to adulation and having her every wish obeyed. It can’t be easy being pleasant all the time, still less in public gaze but she handles it with aplomb. I understand that she’s being doing this all her life and that’s what makes it so remarkable to someone like me, so far removed from her life, and yet able in some way to identify. Isn’t that the sign of a good ruler? The team of dedicated staff that keeps the entire show going is impressive to say the least! From her personal secretary; to her ladies in waiting (who answer mail on her behalf); to the Crown Jeweler (the only man allowed to touch those precious gems honey!); to the countless butlers and pages and groomsmen and secretaries and chefs…everyone plays a part in keeping the wonderful tradition of the Monarchy alive.

Woman Power! I had to include this one 🙂

I’ve learnt a few things too! Did you know once a meeting is done, the Queen presses a discreet buzzer and her attendants open the doors to usher out her guests! I wonder when’s the last time she ever had to open a door herself 😛 Her Majesty’s throne is a few inches higher than Prince Phillips in the House of Lords, because no one may sit higher than the Queen, not even her husband 😉 The Crown Jewels reside in the Jewel Tower in the Tower of London, and travel by a secret route every time they have to leave! The magnificent Crown, her father’s, was altered to fit her smaller head and made lighter and more feminine! 2012, will be the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year, when she completes 60 years as Sovereign. That makes her I think the longest ruling Monarch in history! Pretty cool. I was so wrapped with the London Olympics in 2012, I never thought of that! Another reason to visit my favorite place on Earth next year 🙂 Her favorite tipple is Gin & Dubonnet (had to Google that) and she likes her seafood served traditionally – no fusion here! There’s a Royal Train (in the process of being converted to bio-diesel) that I am hoping will be featured in future episodes 🙂

I know there’s been an ongoing debate in Britain about the Monarchy and about how it’s an expensive proposition. I don’t get a vote in the matter, but I do hope it stays! It would be tragic to lose such a fine slice of history. Me, I’m a fan! I think it’s wonderful that we still have a Queen and her Monarchy. I love watching her Life unfold and am looking forward to learning a lot more about her through this very informative series 🙂

I love this one of the young Queen!

Happy Weekend People 🙂

Soul Sisters!

Today is the Birthday of a beloved family member and the one person closest to my heart on the Planet! My Mom’s sister, my aunt and most importantly my soul-sister 🙂 Perhaps it has to do with her being an Aquarian and my moon-sign being Aquarius, so that this special relationship was foretold in the stars 😉 But lets leave the stars out of it for the moment, the cosmic ones I mean! My aunt (I call her ‘Didi’, which means elder sister in Hindi), is unique, a star in her own right 🙂

The operative word in our relationship from as far back as I can remember has always been ‘Fun’!! When we get together or even on the phone, we just can’t seem to stop laughing 😀 to the point where our Hubbies have been known to ask us if we had lost our minds 😛 No fellas! We are ‘like that only’ 😉 She has a loud, hearty, infectious laugh that erupts from her like lava from a volcano (rather like mine :P) and I mean that as the best sort of compliment! You cannot be in the same room and not feel the laughter creeping up on you and sweeping you off your feet with its vigor! She’s funny and witty and can take as good as she gives.

Granny tells me and Didi agrees that she was a ‘first-class brat’, growing up! Especially when contrasted with my Mom who the entire family had christened ‘Ms. Goody Two-Shoes’, coz she NEVER did anything wrong and was consequently rather a pale, colorless character when compared to my boisterous, scallywag aunt!! Didi by her own admission was a ‘handful’ and more, still is 😉 Granny says she used to be very worried about how Didi would turn out, and hoped that she could just get her married safely and pass on the responsibility of her care over to some poor, hapless man 😉 She needn’t have worried. Didi proved quite capable of looking after herself and anyone else she had to! She’s a gutsy woman. Strong, sensitive, opinionated and unafraid.

The ever present ‘twinkle in her eye’, even as a child!

Didi has and continues to be a path-breaker. She had a love marriage, one of, if not the first one in our family, when the very notion was taboo. She was as I have mentioned a tomboy and getting into scrapes was second nature. She quit studying after 10th grade, coz academics was just not her cup of tea!! Bravo Didi!! At her wit’s end, my Granny decided to enroll her into singing classes, coz she had a great singing voice and hoping that would keep her out of trouble. She should have known better 😉 Or at least that’s what my Granny said for a long time after everything that followed! Here’s what I mean. Didi seemed to take to singing class in a way that pleasantly surprised the family and finally brought relief to my poor Granny’s frazzled nerves. (Ding Dong!! Warning bells anyone?!) And although this new-found devotion was partly due to the singing, much of it was due to the fact that she had met my uncle-to-be on the way to and from the class! Showing her smarts even then, Didi confided at first in her Granny, my Gran’s mother-in-law, hoping to enlist her support before facing up to her mother. Decades later, I followed in her footsteps, confiding in my Granny, and seeking her support before facing my Mom, when came the time to tell her about Hubby & I! Although my Granny finds it amusing now after 4 decades of a solid marriage, she wasn’t in the least amused then! She threw a fit when she heard and I won’t be surprised if Didi got a spanking (although I’ve never asked!). My uncle belongs to another community, (thankfully of Brahmins or it would have been disaster), and Granny was in no mood to listen or understand. For all she knew, her daughter was off gallivanting the streets of Bombay, with some loser she’d picked up off the streets!! It was her worst nightmare come true! It was a while before uncles intervened, calm prevailed, and a meeting arranged with the prospective groom and his family. They were married the same year that Mom & Dad were, and while there were misgivings on both sides (due largely to the rather large age-difference between my aunt and uncle in addition to cultural differences between the families), and a long struggle for Didi to be accepted into my uncle’s family, love prevailed! Doesn’t it always 🙂 In a rather sweet exchange, my uncle, who at the time was a chain smoker, agreed to quit smoking if Didi agreed to become vegetarian (his family is vegetarian). I think that particular deal worked out in Didi’s favor…after many years, she got my uncle to taste fish and chicken and her nephews have been converted into hard-core fish-eaters; but he’s never smoked another cigarette ever!

When I was born, she had been married for just under a year and lived in the port town of Kandla in Gujarat, where my uncle worked in the Indian Customs. I love the story she tells about our first meeting…a cousin and I were born two months apart and, as babies looked quite similar (as babies often do), except that my cousin was and still is much fairer than I am! She hadn’t seen either of us, and when she arrived all eager to meet her darling niece, they brought my cousin, all bundled up to her instead, and said it was me. We were both chubby babies, but Didi claims she knew instantly there was something up and that she was being had! She held my cousin but wasn’t quite convinced and her uncertainty must have shown on her face, coz when I was finally brought out…we took to each other like ducks to water 🙂 So you see, she recognized me right away for who I was and knew me instinctively. And over the years nothing’s changed 🙂

My earliest memories of her, are of her singing songs to me…songs she invented stringing together all kinds of endearments she’d invented for me! She still sings them to me today over the phone and I am unashamed to admit I adore them 🙂 She adores children and doesn’t have her own and that could have embittered her, led to depression and darkness. Instead, she loved me and my brother and her two nephews as her own and I mean ‘as’ and not ‘like’. There’s a difference you know. She filled our worlds with joy and jokes and laughter and song and when we were older she became our first best friend. She remains that 🙂 I can talk to her about anything and everything and although we do not always agree, I can always count on her for a fair hearing and good solid advice. She is never judgmental and often puts things in perspective, especially with my Mom, about whom she is fiercely protective! When my Dad and Mom were going through a rough patch after my brother’s Duchene diagnosis, I wrote her a letter. I was terrified that they were going to split up, and I said as much in the letter. I don’t know what I was thinking or what I expected when I wrote that letter, but I remember feeling that it was the right thing to do. And it was! A few days later, much to my joy and surprise, I received not a reply but Didi herself on our doorstep! On receiving the letter, in true Didi fashion, she had convinced my Uncle to drive down from Bombay to understand the situation and set things right. My parents, completely unaware of the letter, were shocked to say the least! I think her arrival made them realize the effect their constant bickering and arguing was having on us kids, like nothing else would have. Just one of the countless examples in which Didi has touched my life and made it better. Always made it better 🙂

She is my idea of an emancipated woman and here is why. For as long as I have known her, she has truly followed her heart and preserved her individuality. It hasn’t been easy (it rarely is), but, and I know she agrees, it’s been worth the effort and the pain. When she turned fifty, she began to write poetry. She writes in Marathi and has the wonderful knack of combing simplicity of verse with profoundness of thought. I like to think, her journey into the world of verse, led to a kind of renaissance in her life. She has often confided in me that writing keeps her going when things get tough. Over the years, things have been tough…sometimes financially, sometimes health-wise, but each crisis has been handled with dignity, humor and quiet resolve. For all her strength she is never far from tears both of joy and pain! I remember her crying for joy when she first met Ishaan and holding me tight and crying with me when my brother passed away. I remember her tears of joy, when I surprised her on her 60th Birthday, flying down from Singapore and appearing on her doorstep in the middle of the celebrations! I had worked hard to convince her that I couldn’t make it although she insisted later that she couldn’t quite believe it! As if I would missed a milestone like that!

It is difficult to put into words all that she means to me, certainly a single post will serve to do nothing more than scratch the surface. She taught me the art of picking out the perfect sari. She has an eye for the unusual & is unafraid of going for bold & brilliant colors 🙂 We had a ball shopping for my trousseau! She also has a knack for finding treasures on a budget. She’s a great one for budgets, Didi is! It’s a standing joke between the two of us of how she would gift me either tops of a ‘salwar kameez’ without their bottoms & vice versa, in an attempt to save on tailoring charges, expecting me to have something in my wardrobe that would fit the bill 😛 Still does! She’s always well turned out and has her own unique sense of style. She loves lipstick…deep red preferably and wouldn’t be caught dead without her lips painted and her cheeks rouged with the same shade! It’s been like that ever since I can remember. She has a wicked memory and her story-telling skills are legendary! She always remembers the stuff everyone would rather forget and is never afraid to share it, especially if she put a funny spin on it! She loves fiercely, is a loyal friend, a devoted wife, and is one of the most generous people I know.

This then is the woman, I honor today, on her Birthday! Over the years she’s seen me through every milestone, good and bad. Her spirit is my guide and mentor and her presence in my Life – vital and uplifting. We are very similar the two of us…we both take life more seriously than we let on, we laugh our guts out every chance we get, we live to write and we love our families with crazy abandon. We’re both a bit nuts and loving it! I like to think we share a motto too…Live & Let Live! I’ve already had a long conversation with her this morning and will probably have another before the day is done! My only regret is that we don’t meet as often as we like but perhaps therein lies the secret to our harmony? I don’t know, and I don’t particularly want to analyze either. It works, is all that matters. And so here’s to Didi, an aunt, a kindred spirit and a soul-sister!!

Like two peas in a pod!

“May your light shine ever so brightly, May the colors never fade,

May the spirit stay forever sprightly, And may it never rain on your parade!”

Happy Birthday Didi! Love You Hamesha 🙂

Inferno…another poem!

I’ve just finished two serious non-fiction books back to back. Stranger to History by Aatish Taseer and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Both well written accounts, the former autobiographical and the latter a biography of Henrietta Lacks, a hitherto, uncelebrated woman, who unknowingly made a contribution to Medical science that revolutionized the field of genetics and Tissue Research (Will post my review later).

So after such heavy reading (although the books were surprisingly easy to read by my non-fiction standards!), I needed a palate-cleanser and so I turned to Roald Dahl 🙂 For the life me I cannot understand why I haven’t read him before! Yes, I confess I haven’t! Dahl and Seuss are not authors I read during childhood for reasons best known to nobody! But better late than never and I have been having a ball reading extracts from his stories and the genius of the man just blows me away! I don’t know why he should be labelled a children’s author either…none of his stories are fairy-tales in the true sense. Many are pretty graphic and gritty and don’t smooth over the rough stuff, especially his Revolting Rhymes which had me in splits 😀 There’s a lot of ‘cutting of heads with thwacks of the sword’ and the like, which perhaps not everyone would want to read with kids? They are real stories of real people told in the most fantastically imaginative ways 🙂 I for one though will have no such issues when it comes the time to read them with Ishaan! Something tells me, he’ll love reading about the BFG and Esio Trot and Crocky Croc 🙂 My favorite so far is Esio Trot and I’m going back to the store on Monday to get a boxed set of his classics like Mathilda, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 🙂 The illustrations that accompany the stories are a treasure! A huge reason why I love children’s books to this day are the pictures. I wonder why as they grow up, authors & readers, begin to feel pictures are redundant 😦

I know, I know, you’re wondering what all this has to do with the unlikely title of Inferno 😛 I’m getting to that…Geez a little patience people! Reading Dahl’s poems made me want to write poetry again. I have written two recently that you can check out here & here if so inclined, and quite enjoyed the experience 🙂 I’m not a prolific poet but for me the writing of poetry brings more personal satisfaction, coz I find it more difficult than prose. Also there’s something about rhyme that just knocks me off my feet 🙂 This particular poem on Fire took me a while to write, because I edit myself severely when I’m writing. Now that it’s done, the thought of a series on the 5 elements, Earth, Fire, Water, Air & the Void seems attractive! That’s me…never happy to leave well enough alone 😉 Meanwhile, without further ado, here’s my take on Fire.

Happy reading while I try to write something more Dahl-esque 😛

Happy Weekend People 🙂

Loved these candles in a church in Barcelona...

Inferno

Mellow flames that sing & dance,

Burn yellow, red and gold,

Shining warmth and comfort,

Soothing to behold.

From the first time that they came alive,

In putting stick to stone,

The radiance of fire,

Through centuries has shone.

Glowing orange embers,

Shutting out the cold,

Melting milk & chocolate,

For children, young and old!

Baking pies & cookies,

Roasting birds and nuts,

Melting cheese and toasting bread,

In warm and cheery huts.

Shaping glass and metal,

Weapons old & new,

Fireworks on summer nights,

In scintillating hues.

Flames can be kind and gentle,

As we have seen above,

But the fury of a fire,

Hides in the gentleness of doves.

A violent reaction,

To a flame upon a stick,

The dainty, humble kitchen match,

Brings down forests, old & thick.

When luminous and steady,

A traveler’s delight!

In a fire-breathing dragon,

Lies the bane of every knight!

Burying town and city,

‘Neath stones and dust and ash,

Molten flowing rivers,

Life extinguished in a flash.

The flames, they hallow and they cleanse,

The spirits of the dead,

Sometimes they feed on fuel,

Sometimes on souls and dread.

Spreading light and sparkle,

Innocently shone,

The flames that roast a chicken,

Can char it to the bone.

So listen to your mother,

When she warns you little thing,

“Don’t play with fire, Darling!

That’s how it all begins.”

Beware the gentle flame my friend,

Lest it burn that tender skin!

Trust not its gentle shimmer,

An inferno dwells within!

– Harsha

 

 

A Cultural Stranger

I recently read Aatish Taseer’s, Stranger to History – a fascinating account of a son’s quest to understand his father through his religion, Islam. What interested me most were the author’s concepts of ‘Cultural’ versus ‘Traditional’ or ‘Historical’ Islam, which he uses effectively to describe his simultaneous affection for & disconnect from, a religion that’s as new to him as his famous Pakistani father. Estranged from his father before the age of two, he was brought up without any specific religion, by his Indian Sikh mother and grandparents in Delhi. His only sense of being ‘Muslim’ came largely from the fact that traditionally on the sub-continent, children follow their father’s religion. He is thought of as Muslim and largely accepted as such in the Muslim world (although not without doubts & questioning as we learn in due course), because his father is one. And there in lies his dilemma.

My edition of 'Stranger to History' by Aatish Taseer

What does being a follower of Islam really mean? Is it a dynamic state of being that changes in historical & cultural context or is it a static constant determined simply by the accident of birth, that remains unchanged & unmoved by circumstance? Is being a Muslim more important than being a citizen? What does being part of the global Muslim ethos really mean in the 21st century? Do Muslims everywhere believe in a uniform Islam? Should they? Do they aspire to the same freedoms? Is there a place for those that believe differently within the community? These are the questions he sets out to answer, in hopes of gaining insight into his life and his father’s, and he does so by traveling through a major chunk of the Islamic world over land, from Turkey, through Syria, The Kingdom (Saudi Arabia) and birthplace of Islam, Iran and finally to Pakistan and his father’s house. Along the way, he finds some answers and more questions and his thorny reunion (if it can be called that), with his father who is at best distant, difficult and a slave to his political compulsions, doesn’t make for a happy ending, just a real one.

Through his journey I learned a lot about Islam & the Prophet – how it began, the initial struggles, its eventual spread and its inherent uniqueness in offering a set of written rules for practically every part of life, including paying taxes, which I find fascinating, if a little overwhelming! I identified with the author’s feeling of camaraderie toward what he terms ‘Cultural’ Islam. He uses the term to loosely refer to the Faith that allows him to wear a religious thread around one wrist & the Sikh ‘kada’ on the other; allows his father to be a Muslim while enjoying a drink; and encourages Hindus and Muslims to pray together at certain shrines across the sub-continent, without comprising their Faith or identities.

This book hit a nerve, mostly because a lot of the questions Taseer asks of himself, his father and of Islam are similar to the ones I’ve been asking myself lately. My context though is not religion but culture. Questions about what it means to be a Goan living in Goa and yet feeling disconnected and rootless. It’s not a new feeling. I’ve felt this way ever since I was old enough to think about stuff like this! I couldn’t wait to leave Goa fast enough, way back when, and the first chance I got, I did. I thought then, it was a combination of the usual emotions that makes people restless – a desire to escape the past and a belief that the grass is greener elsewhere! And for the most part it was. I did want to get away – from my parents mostly and be independent, master of my own fate, an adventurer! I stayed away for 14 years, and can honestly say that if it were not for family, would have been happy never to visit! (I can almost see the shock and disbelief on the faces of my Goan friends!). The thought of coming back to Goa to settle down therefore, you can imagine, was tantamount to suicide in my book! Scary, awkward and painful, more so coz it was a choice we made.

This August, it’ll be two years since we moved back to Goa and while some things are easier, others are not. It’s the not that worries me. There seems to be a Goan sensibility that everyone is a part of but me! And it’s not to do with the fish-loving either (although I will never quite understand that!). It runs deeper. I don’t fit in. My views and opinions on almost everything from politics to people seem at odds with everyone else. My Mom says it’s coz I’ve lived away for so long, but that’s not really true coz I felt disconnected when I was in my teens, only then I blamed it on hormones & teenage angst! Where does it stem from, this reluctance to become part of what seems a happy Goan collective? Not from my family that’s for sure, they’re model citizens and cannot imagine a better fate than living & dying in Goa! Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never felt truly at home anywhere, except for the years I lived in Bombay, coz I’m a city girl at heart and Bombay offers anonymity & privacy, which I prize fiercely. Blending into the background – that’s me. And yet sometimes that frightens and disappoints me. What does it say about a person, when all they want is to be left alone to live their life in peace, free from judgments and expectations? I always thought there was nothing wrong with that, but moving back to Goa, brought stuff back into sharp perspective.

It’s a cultural thing. Or is it? You tell me. One is expected to do the right thing, be strong for one’s children, for one’s parents, be willing on occasion to sacrifice individuality for the sake of societal acceptance and the greater good (whatever that may be). And while one is being advised on how to do all of the above, the underlying hypocrisy is revealed. I see that rules and principles are broken and bent at will, if the rewards are big enough…usually monetary. That rules do not in fact apply to all, only to those who do not have the means to get around them. That corruption has come to mean ‘being practical’ and that ‘being practical’ is an accepted way of life. All of this and more scares me. The insistence on trivial religious practices and superstitions simply because it’s been the done thing for centuries. The desire to conform, to not be the one who rocks the proverbial ‘boat’, to accept the unacceptable out of fear or worse nonchalance. Wouldn’t it scare you? And the scariest thing of all – knowing for a fact that even though you can fight against the system, you can’t ever win, coz to do that requires unity and these days unity is like a rare metal…precious & scarce. This is not the way of life I want for my son.

Goans by Mario Miranda, a famous Goan cartoonist!

But not everything that bothers me culturally is earth-shattering and system-related. I can be petty! Or not! I like people to be punctual and the Goan lack of respect for time, drives me crazy. ‘I’ll be there in 10 minutes’, is best interpreted as ‘I’ll be there when I feel like. Don’t wait up!’ I have lost count of the number of times I’ve called up people after days to remind them of an appointment they didn’t bother to keep nor cancel. “Couldn’t you just call and say you couldn’t make it?” I ask, only to be met with sheepish excuses or more often, awkward silence. (It’s been two weeks since we called the guy to service our ‘Inverter’, a contraption that gives us electricity during Goa’s infamous power outages!) It gets my goat more than anything else, especially when I hear people bragging about Goa being such a paradise to live in…beaches need cleaning people and tourists need facilities, and as far as I know self-cleaning sand and self-developing infrastructure have not yet been invented! And don’t even get me started on driving and Goan drivers…complete disregard for every traffic rule combined with supreme confidence & pride, in the ability to get out of every scrape through political connections, and a healthy dose of road-rage especially when caught in the act, best describes it!! Compared to these, the penchant for gold displays and a tendency to equate over-the-top with ‘good’ taste, seems inconsequential. I know you agree!

When I complain about this, most Goans answer me with this completely inscrutable and to me unacceptable defense, ‘It’s a matter of time. You’ll get used to it. Things work differently here in Goa.’ They say it in a rather superior, irritably smug kind of way that excludes me from some secret formula they are in on! “Get used to what?” I ask. To unprofessional behavior and lackadaisical attitude? To the tattered state of infra-structure which results in random power outages and water shortages & an Internet connection slower than a turtle? “What if I don’t want to?” I persist. They look at me sadly amused, again with a secret knowledge that I will eventually surrender to this way of life coz what else is there? I don’t know what it is that makes me so unforgiving of their presumptions. They all seem happy, successful and at peace with their assimilation. And yet here I am, struggling to hold on to my individuality and the things I believe in, against all odds. And no, I do not think that sandy beaches, great cocktails, the famous Goan ‘susegaad’ lifestyle, and the fish (especially not that!), make up for all the stuff that bothers me. Coz I ain’t living on no beach!

Regardless of the rant, I don’t hate Goa or Goans 😛 (Hah! You don’t believe me! Don’t blame you ;-)) It’s just that sometimes it feels like you have to love fish, gold and land (the Holy Trio!), to fit in and I couldn’t care less about all three! So where does that leave me? Bemused and bewildered! Perhaps that’s why I identified with Taseer’s dilemma. I have a Goan pedigree. Indeed, in my case, there are no doubting Thomases! Why would there be? I’m born to Goan parents with impeccable pedigree, married into another family with equally impressive credentials and belong in a sense to the Goan Hindu elite. But that is the key isn’t it…everything says I belong except my own sense of disconnect. For the most part, I make the right noises now in public. “Yes, Goa is beautiful” I say, (No problem there!) 🙂 “Where else could I possibly want to live!” (Anywhere but here comes to mind! No matter what Goans think, Goa is not the first and last beautiful place in the world!). I don’t blame for thinking that though coz they hate to travel and the thought that any place comes close to Goa is sacrilege. Perhaps it’s easy for them to feel that way, coz to them Goa is home!

Sometimes I think people can sense the charade, smell my underlying discontent. Perhaps that’s where the real problem lies, in people defining me within set parameters, trying to fit me into their idea of what a Goan should look like and behave. Or perhaps it’s me, trying to fit in, knowing I never will and not really wanting to, that leads to the stress. Or perhaps it’s the original small-town ethos, that made me so happy to leave all those years ago. A place where everyone knows (or thinks they know), who you are, is free with unsolicited often bad advice, and where attempts to assert one’s individuality are often met with stubborn resistance and narrow-mindedness. That’s the Goa I left, and in many ways the Goa I returned to remains unchanged. Perhaps that’s what scares me more than anything…the resistance to change and even scarier, the inability to consider that some change might be for the better and that in the long run, all change is inevitable!

I guess what I’m wondering is, how long does it take to feel like you’re no longer a stranger to your own culture? And all I can say for now is…as long as it does.

There…now you know why I like to call myself Crazy Goan Girl 😛

p.s. For those of you still awake after reading this post…read the book 🙂

A ‘Ballsy’ Drink!!

On the weekend, while Dad’s friend was over for a drink on Sunday evening, and we were busy elsewhere, here’s how Ishaan spent his! He was on his evening wanderings, which generally consist of leisurely strolls through the rooms and corridors, with a ball in hand, interrupted only by sudden spurts of manic activity when he drags any one of us for a game of impromptu cricket! We then either bowl or bat or field depending on his majesty’s whim of the moment 😀 He also has a thing for drink as I think I’ve mentioned before 😛 He loves the time of evening when my Dad & Hubby bring out the bottle and relax over their evening tipples. He gorges on cashew nuts that go with, and his wanderings are constrained to trips between the men and their glasses 😛 Sunday was no different and we weren’t paying him much attention. Suddenly I heard a loud “NO!” from Hubby, and this is what I saw!!!!

Anybody 😉

Thankfully he didn’t do it to our guest’s drink, although he does have a great sense of humor 😛 Like he had a choice!! The boy is ‘Out of Control’!!!!!!!!

Heeeellllllllpppppppp!!!!

44…A Daughter’s Tale.

On the 4th of this month, my parents completed 44 years of married life. We had a quiet celebration at home, just us, which was what they wanted.

What with Hubby and me completing 19 and their 44th, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage in general and my parent’s relationship in particular. I’ve been around for 42 of the 44 years they’ve been together, and I can safely say that their relationship is as mysterious to me today as it was when I was younger…perhaps mysterious is not the right word, perhaps enigma is a better one (Yes, I know they mean the same thing, but enigma is just so much more sophisticated!). Marriage is such an intimate relationship between two people, that it’s impossible really for anyone else to understand it’s mechanics. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years it’s been that nowhere are the old adages, ‘Appearances are Deceptive’ & “Still Waters Run Deep’, more true than in the context of marriage. I’ve seen (and I’m sure you have to) seemingly happy couples who are on the verge of separation, seemingly happy couples where either one or both partners are having affairs, obviously unhappy couples who can’t seem to let go, couples who let go only to reunite, and thankfully, obviously happy couples who are just that – happy!! But you get my meaning…anything is possible.

I’m no relationship expert and the only reason I think I know my parents’ marriage is coz I’ve had an awfully long time and many opportunities over the years in which to observe them at close quarters. And still the key word here is ‘think’! They had a traditional arranged marriage as was custom at that time. There’s a funny story there. My Mom went along with her uncles to meet my Dad who had come with his friend. The friend had played match-maker and is Dad’s oldest friend to this day 🙂 My Granny, had given my Mom, instructions on proper conduct at the meeting! “Don’t talk too much! Don’t talk at all unless you have to! You can have a look at the boy but DO NOT make it obvious! Just do as your uncles say!” and more advice along the same lines. My Mom has always been a shy, reserved person and I imagine an occasion like this one would only serve to make her more so! She tried to steal glances at the boy she had been told would make her a good husband. She had seen a picture at home. Back home, my Granny asked her what she thought of the boy and my Mom with her trademark stoicism, said he seemed alright, but that she was surprised at how different he looked from his picture and he wore rather thick glasses which were also absent in the picture. My Granny was a little surprised and took up the matter with her brothers, who said No! The boy didn’t wear glasses and was very smart-looking and a worthy match. His married friend however did wear glasses and apparently that’s who my Mom had given the once over!!! Every time I hear this story, it makes me laugh 😀

4.1.67...The Beginning...

They made a handsome couple 🙂 He was dapper and she was beautiful and they were both blessed with a rare generosity of spirit. To this day, they never hesitate to help a stranger in need. Indeed, it’s a habit that has often cost them dear and that makes me equal parts annoyed and proud! Theirs is a traditional marriage – my Dad is most definitely the ‘Head’ of the household and has the last say in most everything. My Mom defers to his judgment and opinions in almost everything. And yet she has perfected the art of getting her way and still making Dad think it was his decision, in the manner of all seasoned wives 😛 I live and learn 😉 My Dad’s love for us children is rather legendary in the family 🙂 His stern demeanor effectively hides the fact that he is the world’s biggest softie!! I cannot remember ever being told ‘No’ as a child and it’s a miracle I’m not a spoilt brat! I’m not! (You’ll just have to take my word for it!). My Mom often speaks of how my Dad has always put us kids first, not enviously, coz I think she did it too (it’s what parents do right?), but wistfully, I sometimes think, and I can’t say I blame her.

I think (or maybe it suits me to think), that the most idyllic years of my childhood, were also the best years of their marriage. Dad had been transferred to Japan and we spent a happy six years there in the seventies 🙂 I still get teary-eyed when I reminisce about those golden years, when life seemed so simple and happiness just a cartoon away!! We socialized, traveled, had picnics and did all the things a young family does! It’s no wonder Japan has a special place in my heart 🙂 My parents though, Dad especially, never had any intentions of settling down in a country other than their own and so we were back in Bombay and then to Goa which is their birthplace and which is where their dream of building a home for the family was realized 🙂 This is also when our family split up for the first time and that’s how it’s been since, except for short periods during which we were all together. My Dad was transferred back to Bombay and we stayed behind, my brother and me with Mom, because I wanted to be a doctor and admission into Medical College required 5 years domiciliary proof in the state of application. My parents did what most parents would do (or so I console myself), and decided to live apart for my sake, a fact that never fails to make me feel guilty and sad to this day. Now that I’ve been married so long, I know how terribly hard that must have been for them. Yet despite the distance, I like to think we were still happy. My brother was born in 1980 and for a few years after that, we were still the perfect, picture postcard family, epitomizing the ‘Hum Do, Hamare Do’ policy of the then Indian government! Could we have known then the turn things would take? Was it Nature’s great balancing act? Having given us great happiness, was she now showing us the dark side? The evil eye perhaps? I used to think a lot about why our life changed so dramatically, when I was younger and it made me angry and frustrated. Not any more. Age has some advantages…wisdom and acceptance among them.

And so, my turbulent teenage years mirrored the turbulence in my parents’ marriage. My brother being diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, was the turning point and much as I would like to say otherwise, it was all downhill from there for many years. Even when we were able to finally accept and rally as a family, there was no going back. Life changed irrevocably and finally, and nothing was ever the same again. I was twelve and I cannot remember being more scared than I was then. I saw the ugly side of marriage then, as my parents went through stages of denial to acceptance and settled down into a permanent grief that hasn’t left them completely even now, two years after my brother passed on. It never will. I watched them, tense, as they battled both inner demons and external monsters in an attempt to make sense of it all as their hitherto perfect world crumbled all around them. My Dad was always angry and bitter and my Mom retreated into her shell, resigned, finding solace in religious rituals and hundreds of Gods. I wish I could say that I was understanding and helpful and didn’t cause them additional pain. I can’t and I’m not proud. My only excuse is my age and the fact that my world imploded too, although I tried hard to pretend nothing had changed.

It was as I said, an ugly time. I grew up then, quicker than I would have otherwise. I realized that my parents were human beings after all (not Gods on a pedestal), fragile ones at that, capable of being hurtful and destructive, and of shattering like so much glass. It’s a hard lesson to learn about parents, to discover that they are not the perfect, all-conquering heroes that one has idolized and venerated through childhood, but human beings like everyone else, vulnerable, trying to do the best they can and capable of failure. With help from family and God’s grace, we got through those turbulent times and yet many things changed forever, as they are wont to do after major upheavals. I’ve always felt my parents have carried their guilt with them ever since. They always blamed themselves for my brother and dedicated their lives wholly to his care. Everything else took back seat and that included their own relationship. And again, despite the surrounding debris, there were happy times 🙂 Dad was transferred to Singapore and much to my delight, my brother had the same experience I had in Japan 🙂 He went to a fabulous school, traveled, partied and had a ball!! I’m so very glad he did, coz he always referred to that period as his ‘golden time’!

I got married at 23, when my parents were still in Singapore. The year I got married, they celebrated 25 years of togetherness and there were grand celebrations with most of the family who had come to the wedding 🙂 It was a happy time, if bittersweet, coz I left home to make my own life and it took me away from Goa and later from India. I visited home as often as I could and yet often my visits resulted only in increased stress for my Mom in particular. I have been a difficult daughter at best (still am), and the empathy and compassion that come so easily for others, desert me when it comes to my parents, especially my Mom. I don’t really even know why. Perhaps it’s residual feelings of anger and guilt from my teenage years, when I craved attention and didn’t get it. Perhaps it’s me being judgmental (which I’m not with anyone else), about the way they cared for my brother and the fact that they ignored everything, most of all themselves, occasionally to the point of illness. Or perhaps it’s just the disconnect that I feel from having lived my own life and being apart so long. I like that third option, makes me feel less guilty and evil. I always relied on my brother who acted as a buffer between my parents and me during these visits!

At My Wedding...25 years later!

Over the years, Dad has mellowed and Mom, well she’s mellowed too I guess, in her own way. In the two years since my brother passed away, they have come to rely on each other again and I think they are gentler with each other now, more forgiving. They revel in Ishaan’s company and he brings them the kind of joy that only children can – innocent, pure and magical. They see my brother in him and it’s no surprise, given how Ishaan has inherited his uncle’s love and talent for cricket! They are not the kind of people who discuss their feelings or relationship. Being reserved and conservative, they have definite ideas about what children need and don’t need to know and that’s not likely to change. Their marriage has survived 44 years of Life, and when I think that they hardly knew each other when they made their commitment, it blows me away!! The kind of dedication, compromise, understanding, perseverance and sheer gumption it takes to make it through all these years with their sanity still intact takes my breath away. I have in them an excellent example of how to celebrate the good times and make a relationship work through the worst crises. What daughter could ask for more?

I am so very, very proud to be known as their daughter and I do hope in my own small way, I can make them proud too. (As I type I can hear them both saying “You Have! You Have!”)

Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad! Love always 🙂