Demon Diwali

This is an old post that was initially a page. Switching from ‘Page’ to ‘Post’ requires me to hit the ‘Publish’ button and so you will see a whole lot of new ‘old’ posts on the Blog as revamping progresses! Sorry for the inconvenience and confusion, although far be it for me to stop you from actually reading some of them if so inclined! They haven’t been read much and would love your attention 😀

This Diwali, there’s an undercurrent of sadness for me and mine, but there is also great joy & comfort in Ishaan! It’s his first Diwali and we’ve stuck to good old (is there any other kind?) tradition!


Diwali is celebrated for a thousand reasons in India – every community picks their own 😉 It’s a democracy after all!  Here in Goa, it’s a celebration of Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon ‘Narkasur’! Yes I know, yet another demon, yet another victory!! It’s a wonder they kept a track of them all 😉

This Narkasur guy harassed the Gods & Men, in the usual manner of demons until, the Gods ran to Lord Vishnu and begged for help! They always did this! Never was Indra as King of the Gods able to handle any demon himself! So, Lord Vishnu as Krishna fought and defeated Narkasur, who to save himself from certain death hid in a little excessively bitter fruit called the ‘kaarit’, which Krishna then coolly proceeded to smash with his big toe!!!!

The moral of the story – when you’re trying to save your life, don’t hide in a fruit!!

The humble 'karit' and a diya...symbols of a Goan Diwali.

In honor of this rather squishy death, we Goans duly smash our own little ‘kaarits’ and symbolically have a taste, each of us turning into momentary Krishnas’! 😉 Well, be that as it may, we have ‘Narkasur’ competitions here in our major cities, Panjim, Mapusa and Margao.

So, this year, like all ‘good’ parents, Ishaan loaded into the car-seat, off we went to Panjim for a little ‘demon-viewing’! It was pretty cool actually…normally sleepy Panjim was buzzing with traffic and people. Both moving ever so slowly, stopping after every few meters, to gaze upon the sometimes fierce, often funny ‘demon-faces’, all to the accompaniment of the latest Bollywood hits, blaring from giant loudspeakers! Deafening! Colorful! Hilarious!

3 in a row!



We joined the procession and viewed a few ourselves, unloaded Ishaan and took the mandatory picture! He blew the demon a flying kiss and promptly lost all interest!

Now, that’s what I call setting priorities 😉

Kiss and be done with it! That’s my boy! 🙂

Monday Musings…A Fishy Story!

This post is inevitable really. You’ll know what I mean instantly if you’re Goan. Impossible to live here and ignore the Fish!

Fish is to Goans what air is to us other lesser mortals (I’m including myself here, coz I’m Goan only by birth…in all other ways, I’m anything but! Much to my family’s distress and my infinite relief ;-))! For the uninitiated (read lesser mortals), Goans LIVE for fish! I’m pretty sure they would kill for it if the need arose and most would die without it! A life without fish is no life at all for a Goan, you understand! [Alcohol is another substance that arouses similar passion! Ahem! I must confess to being Goan in this way ;-)] You’re laughing??! Don’t. Fish is no laughing matter here people. Fish is serious business. One glance at the fat, prosperous fisherwomen (Strangely, very few men actually sell fish. They’re the ones who go out and catch it!), with their arms weighted in gold bangles and their ear lobes stretched to tearing-point from the heaviness of their solid gold earrings, will tell you that there is serious money to be made here.

Everyone eats fish in Goa. It cuts across caste, class and religious barriers and every Goan worth his salt swears by that staple food combination that has sustained us, evidently since Vedic times – the humble ‘fish-curry& rice’. Even today, many Goans are reluctant to leave their home State for distant shores, for fear of dying from ‘fish-deprivation’ and resultant starvation 😉 I’m NOT kidding!! As I said, fish cuts across caste barriers in Goa. So although Brahmins elsewhere in India are traditionally vegetarians (for the most part), the Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs for short) of Goa are an exception to this ancient rule. But like everything else in Hinduism, exceptions require justification and explanation, so everyone involved can feel good about breaking rules while escaping ‘sinner’ status and so assured of their place in Heaven!

This is a story about how us Goan GSBs, defied tradition, became fish-eaters and in doing so became one of a rare breed – the meat-eating Brahmin communities of India. Here it is, in the words of my uncle, who has interesting opinions (as you’ll see!), and who shares my fascination and interest in Hindu Mythology 🙂 I’ve kept my editing to a bare minimum.

The Pomfret Story

Once upon a time there lived a tribe of people whose job was to study and learn stuff about the universe. This was the tribe of Brahmins. Many of them stayed and studied on the banks of the river Saraswati (a mythical river, named after the Goddess of Knowledge, which forms the sacred trinity of holy Hindu rivers along with the Ganga & the Yamuna). There is no physical evidence that such a river ever existed and naturally none is needed for the faithful 😉 This sub-tribe of Brahmins was called ‘Saraswat Brahmins’ or SBs.

Over time, there was famine and the fertile riverbanks became barren, whether from natural causes like floods and over-farming or due to some God’s anger, it’s hard to tell. So far the Brahmins had remained true vegetarians, shunning all foods that could run, fly and swim. As times became harder however, they realized they would have to migrate or break their ancient rule of vegetarianism to stay alive. They were intelligent, learned scholars, who probably loved where they lived and so according to my uncle used their considerable knowledge of genetic engineering (he’s an engineer himself), to solve their problem in the unique fashion described below!

Step I – Catch plenty of fish from the river. The fish were evidently unaffected by the famine and were rather large.

Step II – Cut said fish into 3 parts: Head, Body, Tail. (see attached diagram)

Step III – Eat the body while exclaiming “Ooooooooh!! I’m saved! & Whoa! That tastes awesome :)” (my contribution). A change in name seemed indicated with the change in diet and they were now called GSBs or ‘fish-eating’ Brahmins. (Name-changing is an ancient hobby with us Indians and we follow it faithfully to this day, changing names of roads, towns and cities at the drop of a hat or rather the whim of a politician!)

Step IV – Connect the remaining parts together, the head to the tail to create a body-less fish, with afore-mentioned engineering skills or perhaps they were just skilled in the black arts (I favor the latter!).

Step V – Breathe life into the newly created fish and release it back into the river (This is why I favor the black magic theory!), hence escaping the ‘sin’ of committing murder, replenishing food stores & enabling self to retain the Brahmin title and status (possibly the only thing more important than the delicious taste of that fish :P), all in one brilliant master-stroke of genius (Did I mention they were really smart?)! I include a second illustration of the new species of fish thus created all those millennia ago and enjoyed with relish to this day – the Pomfret!

Step VI – (I made this up but it’s not too far from the truth :P) Bask in glory of having escaped starvation, Hell and creating a new species, by vowing never to eat another vegetable for as long as they live!! (Don’t scoff! Thoroughbred Goans like hubby, do not consider vegetables an essential part of their diet! Any mention draws looks of incredulous consternation!)

Moral of the Story – If you’re an intelligent Brahmin, you’ll eat fish 😉 (That’s the Goan interpretation, don’t sue me! I just tell it like it is :P)

Pics courtesy Google, but collage by me!

The intelligent Brahmins however could stave off famine for only so long. Eventually the river itself dried up (not hard to do when you’re a myth in the first place!) and they had to migrate. They traveled to Kashmir in the north (where they became the Kashmiri Pundits), to Bengal in the east, and to Goa in the west, thus establishing the three major meat-eating Brahmin communities in India!

And that people, is the end of this story 🙂 Fascinating huh?

So as you can see we Goans have a special relationship with our fish. We love them, revere them and are eternally grateful for their sacrifice in keeping us alive 😉 They are therefore we are!

Enough said 😉 Happy Monday People 🙂

Funk-buster 2!!

Have had a dreamy Sunday morning…whoever invented Sunday Brunch gets my vote, my undying devotion…you know what I’m saying 🙂

This morning my cousins and I made our way to the Alila Diwa Resort in South Goa, for Sunday brunch, which came recommended by K’s friend. He wanted us to try it instead of our standard Marriott brunch, which frankly, I’m pretty much tired of. We were happy to oblige. I researched the Resort online and the pictures were stunning! They described it as a boutique hotel, with heritage architecture, nestled in the middle of paddy fields! This last is pretty unusual for resorts in Goa, which are eager to build on the beach itself, flaunting every building regulation in the book. Many do 😦

We left Ishaan at home, coz I needed a relaxed adult outing. It took us less than an hour to get there and I knew as soon we arrived that this was my kind of place! The Resort was styled after a large rambling traditional Goan home, with high ceilings, simple white-washed walls, a red-tiled roof, and several courtyards. The passages between sections were tiled with cool sandstone and dotted with pillars & archways of traditional Goan laterite stone, which shone ochre-red against the white walls. No gaudy decor here, just a harmonious synchrony with Nature, enhanced by green gardens and the judicious use of water features, including an infinity pool, which overlooked the lush green paddy fields surrounding the hotel.

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The brunch included use of the pool and snacks were served poolside. We made our way to it past a droll grey-marble statue of my favorite deity, Lord Ganesha, with a single blood-red hibiscus tucked at his feet. The poolside was full of ‘firangs’ (as we like to call them in local lingo), busy with the business of acquiring that perfect tan! We of course chose a spot in the shade and got down to the serious business of drinking beer 🙂 Not to forget eating the snacks that were really very good. Worthy of special mention – the moist, luscious ‘sheekh kebabs’ & the crisply scrumptious ‘tandoori baby potatoes’. I wandered around taking pictures, although I regret not taking any of the food! Was too busy eating to click 😛

After an hour, we moved to the restaurant area for the brunch buffet. It was indeed a great spread – a blend of Indian & Continental – everything from cold cuts to Sufi lamb curry and a great dessert selection. However, although I liked what I ate, I must confess that for the most part, the desserts looked better than they tasted! Let me take the precaution of stating here that I am NOT a dessert person. I do not like chocolate unless it’s very dark and very bitter and cakes and their ilk hold no attraction for me. I have noticed however that most stuff that looks exotic rarely tastes good or maybe that’s just me and my simple non-gourmet tastes! There was a chocolate fruit tart though that looked and tasted delish! K even stuffed two whole ones into his mouth, just to show me he could! I took a picture to prove he did too 😉

A word about the loos…the quality of which definitely catapults a resort from good to excellent in my book! These were excellent. Simple, clean, with actual hand towels (no paper rolls or wall mounted noisy dryers here!) and a pleasant attendant who flashed me a bright smile 🙂 And then it was time to leave, having gorged ourselves, we were all ready for a long Sunday siesta…just the tiny matter of settling the cheque and we would be on our way. K called for the cheque and this is where the entire experience transformed from a great brunch to a fabulous once in a lifetime experience – we discovered that K’s friend had arranged for the entire meal for all of us, on the house!! I nearly fell off my chair in excitement (yes well, I’m only human!), and it took us all a while to wrap our brains around this happy surprise 🙂 K even tried to get in touch with his friend and confirm, but couldn’t get through. However the restaurant manager confirmed it for us and we walked out very, very happy and thankful 😀

So you see…with a morning like that…Funk has nothing on me! Back home, Ishaan was napping and so did we. In the evening we lit some of the remaining firecrackers from Diwali on Ishaan’s request 🙂

All in all, an excellent weekend! Hope you had one too 🙂

And if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, be sure to visit Alila Diwa. You won’t be disappointed!

p.s. On our way back we had to wait at a railway crossing. The goods train that chugged by was pretty long…G counted 60 carriages!! I was pretty impressed with K’s knowledge of goods’ trains. He told us there would be a minimum of 54 carriages or a maximum of 58 – 60! He’s in the mining business, where one gets to know these interesting tidbits of information. Each carriage can take up to 21 tons in weight…and most engines can haul up to 3800 tons!! That’s some weighty stuff, that!!

Funk-buster is Back!

There really is something magical about writing and letting one’s thoughts out into the cosmos…no sooner do I spill my funk-beans online…news of my first Funk-buster’s impeding arrival, warms my heart 🙂 I feel light and joyous like a bird that’s just been released from its cage! It’s Pushpa, my helper, arriving back right on schedule. My messiah, my bringer of sanity, my gateway to a free world 🙂

Then the crazy logistics hit me. In typical Sagittarian fashion, I’ve forgotten to tell her which station she needs to get off at! There are 4 railway stations in Goa and now we’re all in a panic as to where she’ll get off and, “How on earth will we trace her? Poor girl, travelling all alone too!”  The panic sets in because her cell phone is not working. Both hubby and I have tried her number every half-hour to no avail. The battery’s gone and died on us all, at this crucial hour (talk about Murphy’s Law!). Be that as it may, it still leaves us with no solution to the problem. Finally I decide to go to Margao, the last station on the route and also the train’s last stop. The station is an hour-long drive away and I don’t know the way, so I call hubby’s brother who lives in Margao and who kindly offers to come with me, both to show me the way and help in the search. He’s a gem 🙂

The NRP "Sagres", where hubby spends his evening...

Hubby meanwhile, is off to the port city of Vasco da Gama (named after the famed Portuguese navigator who first landed near Calicut, on India’s south-western coast in 1498), with his buddies from Portuguese class to tour the N. R. P. Sagres, which is docked in Goa, as a part of its round-the-world trip, commemorating that first voyage all those centuries ago. Hubby takes his Portuguese nationality rather seriously. Talk about priorities! So while he’s off on his voyage of discovery, I’m off on my own ‘Mission Pushpa’.

My brother-in-law and niece come along to keep me company. We get to Margao station at 7 o’clock, after ascertaining that the train has been delayed by an hour (which can mean anything here in India!). At the station, the disinterested man in the Information Booth, tells us the train is 40 minutes late and he’ll let us know the platform number when it’s decided later! There’s nothing to do and nowhere to sit. The railway station is a place in constant flux. Nothing is permanent, except perhaps the stalls and their wares; the hoards of cockroaches which scurry around making me nauseous and the perpetual stench of urine. The seats are full of waiting passengers, with varying degrees of baggage, whiling away time, eating, sleeping, playing cards and the like; families with children on their way home after the quintessential Goan holiday, their bags probably bursting with cashew-nuts, cashew-feni, and shell-souvenirs; gangs of workers in their patchy, sweaty attire off home to see their families; the small-town businessmen, clad in vintage ‘safari-suits’, greasy looking and full of self-importance, distinguished by the single smart briefcase or valise; all waiting for a ride to their next destination, which likely as not is delayed!

...while mine is spent here @ Margao Station

We stand around watching the comings and goings on the platform and make conversation for half-hour before the loudspeaker overhead, crackles to life and a disembodied female voice  loaded with static, announces the arrival of the Mandovi Express (that’s our train!), from Mumbai, on Platform No.1! Yoohoo! We are in the right place and there’s no need now to scale the gargantuan staircase that connects the two platforms 🙂 A good 15 minutes after said announcement, the train lumbers into the station. It screeches to a halt and we split up to look for Pushpa among the disembarking throngs. While I’m fairly certain Pushpa will do the right thing and get off here, deep down, the nervous jitters persist. What if she’s not on the train? What if she gets off at the wrong station? A ton of what ifs, each one frightening. My niece and I walk towards the engine, while my brother-in-law checks out the rear carriages. We see a horde of humanity but no Pushpa. We turn back and my nerves are back in full force, until we meet my smiling brother-in-law, gesturing to Pushpa, who’s following behind 🙂 We smile and embrace, and in that instant I see before me long hours of free time in which to write, read, sleep and just Live!

Freedom beckons.

Suddenly, all is right with the world 🙂

Mid-week Recharge & Happy Diwali!

In the midst of a chaotic build-up to the Festival of Lights on Friday, Wednesday offered an oasis of if not quite calm, then respite from the craziness of last-minute cleaning and shopping sprees!

Here’s what I did…

Ishaan & I visited a dear friend and her family, who are visiting Goa for a couple of days from Bombay.  It feels like I’ve known her all my life, although in years I think it would be just about 7. Aparna & I first met when we were working together at Good Health. She’s a dedicated professional (a dermatologist), a passionate woman with a wicked sense of humor and a fabulous Mom! She is now also a newly-published author and her first book, Skin Deep, An Inside Out Approach to Looking Good, Naturally!, has just hit bookshelves all over India. We hit it off at once and our friendship is now in that comfort-zone that exists between best friends. You know, the one where long gaps in communication seem not to matter at all, where there is understanding, acceptance and no judgement. I think I can safely say that we both wish we could see each other more often than we do, but when we do, we don’t waste any time getting down to the business of making every moment count, every moment special 🙂

Yesterday was no different! Aparna now has an adorable, exuberant, 1-yr-old Lab called Rocco, a recent addition to her family. Rocco and I have been introduced on our recent trip to Bombay when he licked me and especially Ishaan on every body part he could get too!! A bit overwhelming for Ishaan, but exciting for a dog-lover like me 🙂

Rocco 🙂

Thanks to her, I discovered a hitherto unvisited beach in South Goa (unvisited by me I mean, and from the looks of it by the touristy throngs thank goodness), Arossim. A beautiful stretch of smooth white sand, the water line dotted with hundreds of scurrying translucent crabs and sadly dead starfish, and a solitary shack. After an unseasonal thunderstorm, the weather was beautiful…cool and breezy. We all enjoyed the water – humans & dog! Ishaan is becoming quite the water baby 🙂 I’m definitely going back to take pictures…we were too busy having fun yesterday to take too many.

We had lunch at the resort next door to where Aparna was staying, @ the Heritage Village Resort, a charming boutique hotel that has pleasant, helpful staff and a very good lunch buffet! I pigged out on the croutons that were done to perfection (a rarity!) and Ishaan enjoyed the fried fish and Mediterranean roasted chicken! Before lunch, we worked up our appetite by playing (what else?) cricket on the lawns. I don’t think Ishaan could have asked for more enthusiastic playmates 🙂 He took to them all, like a duck to water & and walked back from lunch, happily holding on to Aparna’s hubby’s finger 🙂

We were loathe to leave, of course! There’s always that one more thing to say, to ask, to discuss…it’s never ending! And I was happy to have spent time with Sharanya with whom I share a special relationship.

All Aboard!

She’s goofy, witty, smart and utterly fun! She gets me 🙂 and I’m happy to report, approves of my parenting skills, such as they are 😉 High praise indeed!

And so, though by the time we got home, we were pretty pooped, I was also feeling recharged like you do after meeting a dear friend. The fatigue of preparations seemed lifted and the world a brighter place! Such is the healing power of a great friendship!

Tonight, we do the rounds to catch the Narakasurs on display and tomorrow we celebrate Diwali, the ‘Festival of Lights’, with enough horsepower to recharge our lives!! You’ll hear about that here in due course, probably next week after the dust has settled!

Until then…Stay Safe and have a Wonderful Diwali surrounded by love and lights 😀

Happy Diwali!!

A Party, a Phone-call & a Reunion…of sorts

Have been busy as a bee this weekend! I’m still getting used to the feeling. Before Ishaan, both Hubby and I preferred quiet, lazy weekends with only each other for company. We are not party animals and Hubby especially needed the time to unwind from a hectic corporate schedule (that’s if he was in town at all!). With Ishaan, we feel the need to make an effort to do stuff with him…take him out, to the beach, to the park, for a drive…you get the picture.

As you know, spent Saturday morning with a peacock on Vagator. Spent the evening with (I wish I could say peacocks of the human kind here! But…they were all good people :P), humans, partying. It was a seriously rollicking party…loud, noisy and fun-filled! Left Ishaan @ home with Mom and proceeded to enjoy 4 guilt-free hours, of adult conversation and banter with gay abandon 🙂 (Don’t scoff people and NEVER underestimate the therapeutic value of adult banter. I won’t!). No watching my language, no worrying about being a role-model and setting a good example and (here’s my favorite), guzzling down obscene amounts of Thums Up, without having to hide from Ishaan’s hawk-eyes 😉 Bliss 🙂 I must mention the ‘egg pakodas’…they were a marvel those pakodas! Piping hot, fried to a crispy, crunchy golden-yellow batter on the outside, enclosing a succulent bite of boiled egg within! Heaven! Was a glutton to add to my other sins 😉

The perfect ingredients for a gluttonous evening...Egg pakodas...
...and Thums Up!

Then there were the games! It’s been a while since I played games, other than cricket with Ishaan! My cousin K, our host, is quite the whiz, especially at Bollywood-based games and these were no different. Interesting and well thought-out. We were 5 teams and had to figure out in turn, the lead pair of a movie from its title (harder than you think!); the debut film of a given actor (ditto); and actors on whom a particular song had been picturized (toughest one this, especially since you only heard a garbled bit of the song for 20 sec!). Amidst much shouting and screaming and cries of “No fair!”, our team won all 3 games in spectacular fashion, thanks to P, who apart from being a Mills & Boon addict, also has a PhD in Bollywood Science 😉 Wicked skills P!! I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in a long time 🙂

Also realized that I’m quite the local celebrity (well in my limited friend-circle) as a blog-writer! That fact can cheer me up on my darkest days, and this one was far from it. I do hope I was suitably modest and humble, but I can tell you right now, I was bursting with pride and joy 🙂 A friend, I shall call S was especially kind 🙂 She called herself a ‘Fan’ and said there should have been a button that says as much, so she could click it on my posts!! Aaaaaaaaaw S…you’re very sweet and I’m very flattered and now it’s on ‘record’ so you can’t retract it later 😉 LOL…seriously though, I’m very grateful that you take time out to read my scribbles 🙂 However, to be fair, I must add that when I let S know that the party and its people would probably find themselves in my next post, her exuberance did taper a little! “You’re dangerous!”, she said, “Very dangerous!”, she announced to all those listening, before erupting into a bout of uncontrollable giggles 🙂 S & the afore-mentioned P are related (who isn’t in Goa?!), and yet while P has the Bollywood PhD, S is…well lets just keep it simple and say, she’s  Bollywood-challenged 😉 And yet thanks to her knack for making the right sort of friends, she had the largest pile of chocolates (that’s what we won for all our troubles!), at the end of the games session, without winning a single one! But that’s S…smart, witty, tongue-firmly-in-cheek! Here’s to you S…enjoyed your company & for what’s it worth, am a ‘Fan’ too – yours 😉

At 9.30, I made the mandatory call (good mother that I am), to check on the doings of my little devil. That led to the most amusing if rather weird phone conversation I have ever had! Mom picked up the phone and informed me that they were all still at the dinner table, and that Ishaan in his high-chair was in one of his crazy moods or should I say sugar-highs?! He had them enthralled with crazy talk and faces and they were all in splits! I must admit at that moment any teenie-weenie vestiges of guilt I may have felt for leaving him behind, magically evaporated! He was having a good time and so was I, and what could be better? 😀 Ishaan then came on (phone conversations are his new area of interest these days), and burst into an amusing incoherent monologue, punctuated occasionally with meaningful phrases like ‘Beggin yo! Sandwich khali. Nani asa.” (Come quickly! Ate a sandwich. Grandma’s here.). He went on in this vein for a good 15 -20 minutes, while I asked him questions in the hopes of improving his coherence, trying hard to control my laughter that threatened to ruin everything! Finally, after a particularly long diatribe, Mom managed to get the phone back and rather reluctantly, with Ishaan still yelling at the top of his voice in the background, we hung up. It really was too funny! We finally got home after midnight (we gave the karaoke session a miss :(), to be told that Ishaan has just fallen asleep not  10 minutes ago!! Looking down at his peaceful, sleeping face, I’m seized by a sudden urge to wake him up, tickle him and have a chance to say Good-night…but I resist (see, I am truly a good Mom!). It’s been a wonderful evening 🙂

Sunday morning and Hubby & Ishaan sleep in until 10 am! I should be so lucky! Still, I wrestle out of the bed by 8.30 and wandering downstairs decide to clean up the living room, which these days looks like a permanent war-zone! I’m expecting a friend in the evening and if I don’t get to it, she and her kids will have to squat on the floor like refugees 😛 There’s something you should know about me…I’m the world’s laziest person except when I’m possessed by a fiendish form of the cleaning-fairy. Then I can be clinically brutal. I spent the morning happily banishing Ishaan’s  innumerable toys to obscure corners, rearranging and dusting furniture, and sprucing up cushions. When I was done, the room was once again fit for human habitation. The evening was an extremely pleasant and memorable one 🙂 M arrived with her Mom and twins and we talked ourselves hoarse! A little background…M is related to me (Didn’t I tell you before that’s how it is in Goa!), and has visited our home, several times as a young girl. She’s my brother’s age though and I must confess that until she found and wrote me on Fb, I had no clue she even existed! She however had wonderful memories of time spent with my brother at home, on the beach, eating ice-cream and the like, which she was happy to share and we were more than happy to relive 🙂 The twins are 3 and a 1/2, adorable and Ishaan enjoyed their company. M is just as I thought she would be! You know how disappointing it is when you think you know someone and are then cruelly disappointed on the actual meeting? I’m happy to report, M met and exceeded every one of my expectations such as they were! We hit it off splendidly as I had known we would and my only wish was for more time together, a wish I hoped M shares 🙂 She did as I got to know from her very sweet message later that night 🙂 I do hope we get to catch up again, just the two of us over lunch. As always with women, there’s so much more to talk about 😉

A thoroughly enjoyable weekend…one that I’ll remember for a long time to come.

And now, Happy Monday Folks 🙂

Homework…Ishaan’s First Assignment, Undone!

Where there’s school…can homework be far behind? And one mustn’t forget, this is India, where ‘learning’ is sadly secondary to exam results.

So I wasn’t quite surprised (just a little sad) when Ishaan brought home, his first ever homework assignment – coloring, just surprised at the detailed picture he was supposed to color! It seemed way beyond anything a toddler would have the skill or patience to do. Ishaan like all almost 2 and a 1/2 year olds is incapable of sitting still for more than a minute at a time. The only exception being when he’s watching cricket (with Sachin Tendulkar in it), when that period can stretch up to two minutes 🙂

The picture he had to color was one of ‘Shera’, the mascot for the Commonwealth Games to be held in India next week. My only knowledge of said Games is that they have been mired in controversy…everything from the actual ‘bid’ to the construction of the stadia and athletes accommodations has provided sensational headlines & fodder for the Media, tainted as they are, by scandal, corruption and shady politics. Sadly, none of this surprises me, cynic that I am.

"Shera"...the Tiger. Mascot for the 2010 CWG to be held in New Delhi. Pic from Google images.

But I digress. Some quick research on Google (Where would I be without it? Indeed where would any one of us!) and within minutes, I had a print-out of the Mascot for ready reference. He is rather cute! Ishaan however was completely uninterested! The most he would do was repeat ‘Shera’ after me a couple of times and after the fifth time, he just grabbed the printout, crumpled it up into a ball and proceeded to play cricket with it…sigh…what am I going to do with this boy? I persisted…mostly because the worksheet had two tiny clock-faces on it with start and end time to be indicated, one could only presume, by drawing tiny clock hands on them! But Hey! No Pressure! I handed him his crayons and the test of wills and patience begins…and please, no prizes for guessing who comes out tops! I’m just human after all 😛 He picks every crayon and either flings it across the room or lays it aside with contempt (Yes, toddlers do feel and display contempt!), and eventually the living room room floor is colored with bold strokes of green and blue, while Shera remains quietly watching on the sidelines, pristine, untroubled by color (except for a few blue strokes that bisect him in two), black on white! I give up after 10 minutes…I’ve decided to write a note to his teacher saying I tried but he’s not interested, which is the truth. I glance at the paper and read that the objective of this exercise is for Ishaan to identify Shera with India, his country! Ambitious! Too ambitious methinks!

I postpone the note-writing until late Sunday night. As I write, I’m aware of a vague sense of failure, probably, coz somewhere within, I feel like I haven’t done my homework, like I’m failing some crucial test, and worst of all like I’m failing Ishaan, in a way that will forever scar his future ‘homeworking’ ability! I should, I could have tried harder, longer, been firmer…sigh…I know I’m over-reacting, of course I am! My rational self scoffs at all the crazy thoughts in my head, but there it is, another lesson learnt, parenting is not always rational is it? So I write the note and it goes into his school folder. Eventually it will come back to me with his teacher’s comments and staying with irrational, I dread the day, as if her assessment of this one thing left undone will decide Ishaan’s academic future! Why do I allow so much power to slip away from me to another human being where my child is concerned? Another unanswerable.

And so this story ends here…a tale of homework undone but lessons learnt. I’ve learnt that I need to trust my knowledge of my son’s ways & interests and leave the homework-obsession to those who care 😛

Wedding Tales: Homecoming

Goodbyes are always hard…we leave the wedding after a deluge of hugs and kisses and promises to meet again threatens to drown us, before lurking tears can ruin our mascara!

@ Thiruvalla station: I'm not sure which Gang they mean to shelter 😉

We pack and head to the station and happily, our train, The Chennai Mail (en route to Chennai from Trivandrum) is only 10 minutes late! I’m not hassled though…maybe it’s ‘coz I’m anticipating a comfortable ride in First Class or the thought that at the end of this particular journey, is home & Ishaan! And for once I’m right! We settle ourselves into our comfy cabin and stretch our legs.

Rubber trees @ Kottayam

There’s a bit of fluster at Kottayam, as a porter ushers in a family of obvious NRIs (the huge wheeled suitcases, 4 of them, are a dead giveaway!) and proceeds to squeeze in the over-sized bags under the seats or on them, all in the space of 3 minutes (that’s how long the train stops here)! The family Kurien, consisting of Father, Mother, Daughter and a bright-eyed Granny using a walker, are on their way to Chennai. Father explains the luggage (he must feel it demands explanation!), telling us that since Granny is now at an age where she cannot live alone without causing infinite worry to her family, she’s moving to Chennai and possibly Dubai with them. The bags contain her entire wardrobe 🙂 I’m impressed! I wonder how many bags it will take to pack my entire wardrobe…100 x 4 seems a more realistic number 😛 We pass a pleasant two hours with the family, in which I am amazed again at the ease with which personal stories are exchanged with complete strangers on board the Indian Railways! It scares me a little (in my cautious, urban core), but for the most part, relieves me to think that somewhere within, we still think it safe to reach out and share 🙂

Meals on Wheels in the Rajdhani!

We arrive at Ernakulam (Cochin) Town station at 7 pm and take an auto to Ernakulam Junction (a second station), where our connecting train, the Rajdhani will arrive in three hours. The ride takes us 15 minutes through narrow, dark, winding roads riddled with potholes! As we alight, battered and bruised from our ride, the thought for waiting for 3 hours at the station suddenly makes me nauseous or maybe it’s the stale odor of urine that seems to prevail everywhere!! After a quick glance at the sorry state of the First Class waiting room (why can’t they have a paying lounge, I wonder?), we walk up and down the crowded platform looking for an odor-free zone without much luck and finally settle for seats where we at least have light to read by 😦 I buy two of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five mysteries, which boosts my mood. Odor or no odor, a book always helps make things better! The 3 hours pass slowly…and we both heave sighs of relief when the Rajdhani rolls up to the platform, a few minutes before its scheduled arrival at 10.30 pm! See, miracles can still happen 😛

@ Asnoti, before Karwar.

Again, we have separate berths in two different cabins, but we’re experts now and hubby quickly resolves any issues, in the usual manner (Money! It’s the only way!), with the TC. At the end of the exercise, we are comfortably ensconced for the night, in a First Class coupe cabin (just two berths, so we’re the only occupants!). The staff is all in smart uniforms and wonderfully solicitous. They bring us trays of bread, butter, a banana and some apple juice on being told we’ve not had any dinner. They’re sorry they don’t have any dinner left on board. We awake refreshed after a restful night’s sleep and are now impatient to get home. The surrounding countryside, particularly around Karwar, is pristine & divine. We decide that we have to drive down here with Ishaan soon 🙂 We are scheduled to arrive at Margao at 11.30 am but do so finally at noon. After that it’s an hour’s drive home.

They’re watching for us…and Ishaan comes bounding to the door…I have no words to describe what follows, except to say…the smile that lights up his face, lights up my life 🙂 We are both where we belong.

Wedding Tales: Getting there…

Am just back from a great trip to Thiruvalla, where we went to attend my best friend Beena’s brother’s wedding! This was a special trip in many ways…the first time I left Ishaan at home with Mom; the first time I saw Vinod (the groom) in 18 years; the first time I traveled without any reading material (a conscious decision!), and the first time I saw my favorite family together since school!

We left on Monday evening. It’s 6.15 pm, our ride is at the door, bags are packed and we’re all set. Now all that remains is to say goodbye to Ishaan 😦 He’s sensed something’s up and tails hubby all around the house. We kiss him and hug him and I inhale his sweet baby scent so that it fills my being…so he’s with me in something more tangible than spirit, to drown out the thought of not seeing him for the next 4 days 🙂 The whimpering begins and I signal to Pushpa. She whisks him away and we make our escape. Our journey begins…

We get to Tivim, well in time for our train, the Mangala Express (on its way from Delhi to Trivandrum), which unsurprisingly is delayed! 3 Cheers for the Indian Railways 😉 It arrives after a 20 min delay (thank God for small mercies!) during which a monsoon shower has managed to dampen the platform, the seats and our spirits! We get on, find our seats, which are not together (again, 3 cheers for the Indian Railway!) and one of which has been usurped by a family, who requests us to “please adjust”. This is not a big deal really, and we are happy to accommodate, but the fact is, we had wider seats and are now forced to squeeze into the narrow, uncomfortable aisle berths, which fellow Indian patrons of the Railways will be familiar with. Sigh…since I’m so non-confrontational however, I settle for mumbling my grievances and ill-wishes for the family, sotto voce. (What? I’m only human! And separated from my son for the first time…I’m entitled!) Hubby meanwhile has several conversations with the TC and finally after slipping a 100 rupee note into his pocket, we manage two berths together, for the rest of the journey. We are now in berths 29 & 30, after originally starting out with 2 & 15! Hip Hip Hurrah. (I do hope you get the dripping sarcasm…)

About 20 minutes into the journey, while we are still sorting out seating arrangements, we notice the train is at a standstill. We don’t pay attention, thinking it’s a signal. It’s only when we are stationary for a good half-hour that we realize, there must be something wrong. We stay on for another hour (Uh huh!), at Verna, halfway between Tivim & Margao, ‘coz something or someone has wrecked the tracks ahead and we cannot move ahead until they are welded together and safe for travel! By now, I’m so exhausted, even anger will not help, and the journey hasn’t even begun!! We chug into Margao at 10 pm, 2 hours behind schedule. By now, we’ve missed dinner (which we thought we would buy at Margao), because all the vendors seem to have disappeared! Oh well, there’s worse things than sleeping on an empty tummy…more delays for one! We bunk down for the night trying to make the best of our narrow spaces. Sleep is fitful at best, and sometime during the night, poor hubby, who’s having rather a tough time staying on his berth, moves to an empty, wider berth across the aisle. Here, he mercifully drops off to sleep. Just as mercifully, the train makes up lost time and when we wake up in the morning, we’re on schedule to reach our destination, the town of Aluva at 11 am 🙂

The glorious countryside!

I have seriously begun to believe in the ‘rejuvenating power’ of mornings 🙂 It’s a new day, and though our night wasn’t the best, the morning brings a renewal of hope! And it is a wonderful morning! It has rained through the night and a light drizzle continues…the scenes slipping by our window are glorious…green undulations of paddy fields interspersed with the occasional farmhouses, grazing cows, wallowing buffaloes and hundreds of egrets, kingfishers and gulls…all awash in dew and the misty morning light…awesomeness 🙂 I discover that hubby has been up for a while, ordered breakfast and made friends with a middle-aged couple, Padma & Veerbhadra, on their way to Pallakad on the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, for a ‘Puja’. They are wonderful company, and as we converse in halting Hindi and broken English, the morning passes pleasantly by. We exchange stories about other train journeys, places we’ve visited, Goa and Karwar (where they are now settled). I’ve never thought it would be this easy to have a conversation with complete strangers…but it is! I think the ‘Indian’ in me is finally blossoming 😉 The couple get off at Shoranur junction after inviting us to their home to sample some authentic ‘Karwari‘ cuisine. After a tough night, they reaffirm my faith in humanity 🙂

The train makes good speed and we arrive on schedule @ Aluva, where we are met by our friend Johnson 🙂 Boy, is he a sight for sore eyes! He’s coming with us to Thiruvalla and the very thought warms my heart! But first, we visit his new office in Aluva, set up by our friends Ajay and Tom, in a beautiful bungalow, in a quiet part of town. It is the day after Onam, the biggest festival in the state of Kerala and an auspicious time of year. We get the office tour, freshen up and have a typical Kerala-style breakfast of ‘appam & stew’…bliss! After a while, it’s time to leave for the station and get on with our onward journey to Thiruvalla, which is now just 2 hours away! I’ve called Ishaan thrice since we’ve left, which I think is pretty good, all things considered. Mom has taught him to say Baygin yo! (come soon!), which he repeats in his baby bird-like voice on the phone, much to my heart-breaking amusement 🙂 He’s doing fine and hasn’t asked for us after my Mom has explained that we will be away for a while! Well, someone’s doing well 😉 We make our way to the station once more and settle down to wait for our connecting train, the Shabari Express (en route from Hyderabad to Trivandrum), at 1.10 pm. I should have known better! The morning has grown weary and so have we, when at 3 pm, the train finally pulls up to Platform 1…sigh. We’ve misjudged where our carriage will stop and as a result have to traverse a long length of the train to get to our seats. Thankfully, we have just the one bag! The train is vacant for the most part and we choose comfortable seats without a thought to our tickets 😛 We have coffee and hubby takes a nap for an hour, while Johnson and I discuss wedding arrangements and the like. The excitement is returning now as we finally near journey’s end 🙂

Thiruvalla Station

At 5 pm, two hours behind schedule, again, we finally arrive at Thiruvalla station, exhausted and in dire need of showers almost 24 hours after our journey began! The last time I was here, it was Beena’s wedding, 18 years ago, and we had just been married for 6 months! Although I only remember vague details of that trip, as I walk along the platform, toward the exit, memories are starting to come back…slowly seeping back into consciousness!

Johnson drops us off at Hotel Elite, where we’ll be staying while here. As we unpack and wait for room service to fetch us two buckets of hot water (there’s no hot water on the tap!), it finally sinks in…we made it! We are here!

Let the good times begin 🙂

Divar: The Isle that Time forgot…

Well, that’s how it made me feel!

Saturday saw us take off on our meanderings through Goa after a week-long break during which hubby was in Delhi. With the family united, and the weather suitable (a steady but light drizzle and a cool breeze), it was time to go exploring again!

The Adilshah's Palace gates

This time, we headed for Divar, an island in the Mandovi River, no more than a 10-minute ferry ride from Old Goa, the old state capital when the Portuguese still ruled here. I had never set foot on the island and hubby was no better, having last visited in 1988, to examine polio cases for his doctoral thesis (there were 4)! The trip had that expectant quality – the excitement that comes from knowing there’s something special coming 🙂 I had heard great things about Divar from a cousin (who’s a native) and was prepared to be swept of my feet…but that’s later…

Shroom magic!

On the way to the ferry crossing at Old Goa, quite by accident, we stumbled upon another heritage monument, The Church of St. Cajetan, an impressive building, built in the 17th century. There was nobody around, just some workers in the garden and a couple of tourists inside. The whitewashed interiors were stunning – cool, calm and peaceful in the usual manner of churches. In the garden were more unique finds – an old gate from the Adilshah’s Palace and a fluorescent orange mushroom sprouting from a massive tree trunk on display!

After a pleasant half-hour, we finally started toward the jetty and were lucky enough to find a ferryboat waiting. In under 10 minutes we got our first glimpse of sleepy, green, dewy Divar 🙂 My first thoughts were of travelling back in time, as though instantaneously transported to some long forgotten era, when people were few and Nature reigned supreme!  A single road led us from the jetty into the village,  flanked on either side by Mangroves and paddy fields and myriad birds. I don’t know my birds, but we did see a whole host of them, including several kingfishers, gulls, ducks and a pair of kites fishing for their afternoon meal. I must brush up my bird-watching skills! The isle of Chorao, next door, is home to the Salim Ali bird sanctuary and so it’s no surprise that there are so many of them here. We stopped on the road to turn back and catch glimpses of Old Goa and the St. Cajetan Church we had just left.

Then we just drove, on a whim, wherever the roads led. We tried them all, up a slope to the inevitable Church and just below it, the inevitable temple, overlooking intensely green paddy fields as far as the eye could see. Along tiny winding roads flanked by old houses, some quaint, others flashy and gaudily painted. Down more winding roads to two more ferry crossings and discovered what looked like a resort, Devaaya, next to one, which after research on Google, turned out to be an Ayurvedic Spa! I found Divar sleepy even by Goan standards, but that’s an integral part of its charm. I’m surprisingly thrilled that no bridges have been built across the river here, just yet, because that would just bring unwelcome change and bustle to this quiet, quaint village.

The visit took me back to the times when as a schoolgirl, I holidayed in just such another village, the green, rustic, sleepy village of Amona, my ancestral home in North Goa. Times have changed, and it is unfortunately, no longer, as green or virgin as it used to be. Instead, we now have an enormous iron-ore mine and processing facility that mean pollution, increasing temperatures in summer and noise pollution all year round 😦 Such is the price we pay for progress. Well, people have jobs and that’s something, I guess.

Crab catch!

But yes, Divar, what we saw of it, is thankfully untouched by that kind of progress. The air here is still crisp and lightly scented, the fields bejeweled, the atmosphere quaint and cozy, and the pace of life I’m certain, calm, relaxed & unhurried. It’s almost as if the island had grit its teeth and dug in its heels, firmly resolved to resist allegedly progressive change and preserve instead, a simple lifestyle in commune with nature, and I for one say Amen! It really is the ‘Isle’ that time forgot…at least for now…and with luck for a long time to come  🙂

Here’s to many more wanderings in sleepy Divar!

p.s. On the way back in the ferry, a fisherman on board, caught a little crab all in the space of a few seconds, using a simple plastic line! Ishaan was very thrilled indeed! I asked to take a picture, which I include here!

This time, tried my hand at making a video of the pics. It’s my first attempt, so please forgive any mistakes!