Monthly Archives: February 2015

Whistle-blower

I recently read an article about a whistleblower and was reminded of a funny incident that happened a few years ago, with a totally different whistle-blower.

It was a normal working day and I was working from home, as my daughter’s nanny was unwell and couldn’t come to work.  As luck would have it, the moment I booted my laptop, it crashed. There was no choice but to go to my workplace and send it to the IT support team.  I decided to take my 2.5 year old daughter along, equipped with her box of colours, colouring books and her favourite stuffed tiger.

I got my little one settled with her colours and paper and told her I would be back in two minutes.  Everybody was busy at work and only the sound of people’s taps on their keyboards could be heard.

Just when I was about five metres from my desk, heading towards the IT support desk, a shrill piercing whistle shrieked through the office. Heads popped out of work cubicles. Murmurs broke out and I turned around, only to see my daughter fully concentrating her energies on blowing into a small plastic whistle.  Embarrassed beyond measure and smiling sheepishly, I quickly ran to her and took it out of her mouth.

I asked her where she had found the whistle. She replied, “Me find in colour box.”

After my initial embarrassment wore off my co-workers & I had a good laugh.

My little whistle-blower coloured on, totally oblivious.

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Expectations – A Short Story

It was our first wedding anniversary and my husband & I had made plans for a romantic dinner at one of our favourite restaurants. For weeks I had agonized over what gift to give him & I fervently hoped that he was doing the same.

Stepping into his shoes, I concluded that it would be fairly easy for him to buy me a gift, as I love bags, shoes, perfumes and jewelry. Chocolates & roses accompanying any of these gifts would be an added bonanza, because my husband is not a roses or cards kind of guy.  But I could wish, couldn’t I? I was and still am an incurable romantic after all.

I finally burnt a CD with all his favourite tracks, bought a leather wallet and a few cards that conveyed everything that I wanted to say, that I had not managed to this last year.

We met directly at the restaurant, after work. The ambience was wonderful and we spent time talking about  the year that had just flown past and how we first met; things millions of couples would do on their first anniversary, I presume.

All through dinner I looked for  bags, small jewel cases, chocolates and roses . There was nothing I could see. I was a little disappointed, but consoled myself with the thought that he would give it to me on the drive back home, in the car.

After dessert, I happily gave him my gift and cards. He was very touched. He said, “Oh! I’ve got something for you as well.”

He pulled out his wallet. I was really curious now. What kind of gift would fit into this small wallet?

He took out something that was concealed in his palm and said, “Happy anniversary. Here’s the key to your new car.”

Life lessons from Indian Pickle

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A road-side vendor selling an array of mouth-wateringly delicious pickles, taken in front of Tipu’s Fort, Palakkad, Kerala, India, Picture Credits – Sastha Prakash, http://www.sasthaprakash.wordpress.com

We Indians can pickle most vegetable & fruit,  with our own unique blend of spices, depending on which part of the country one hails from.  In most Indian homes, you can find pickles made from mangoes, raw mangoes, gooseberries, lime, citron, citron leaves, curry leaves, coriander leaves, bitter gourd, green chillies, red chillies, tomatoes, egg plant, garlic, gongura…the list goes on and on.

Like a million other people, I need pickle with my lunch and dinner. Steaming hot rice mixed with pickle and a dash of ghee (clarified butter), a lovely way to start lunch. The wonderful thing about these pickles is that they pack so many tastes in one single spoon – sour, sweet, salted, mind-numbingly spicy (this is my favourite), bitter, or a mixture of all these.

Be warned, Indian pickles can cause sensory overload!

I recently read a recipe to pickle orange peel.  The Chinese New Year is being celebrated all around me, and during this season, Mandarin Oranges are available aplenty.  So, I gave it a shot this morning.

After sputtering mustard in oil and adding a pinch of asafoetida, I added finely diced orange peel to the oil. Once the pieces of peel were well fried, I added tamarind pulp, chilly powder and salt, allowing this whole mixture to simmer for a while.  Once the peel was properly cooked and mashed, I finished by adding jaggery (a coarse sugar made by drying the sap of the palm tree).  The finished product was yummy and looks like it can be eaten with most anything – rice, dosas, paranthas or as a sandwich spread. (Recipe Credit – Ms.Bhama Narayanan)

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Orange peel pickle – hints of sour, bitter, sweet, salt and spicy

As I tucked into my meal with my freshly pickled orange peel, I started thinking  about how our lives can be likened to an everyday meal, & pickles.

Most days, we are comfortable with the way our lives cruise along; the same routine, the same newspapers, the same people at the tube station whom we nod at, the mechanical chores that are unavoidable; this is our comfort zone and we are mostly happy to be where we are, very much like our everyday meals. We are creatures of habit and do not get too adventurous with food, or experimenting with food on a normal day.

However, just like the dollop of pickle, which enhances the quality of what we eat, and makes us experience stronger flavors, our lives are spiced up now and then, when we meet interesting people, experience something different or have unexpected surprises.

These are truly life’s pickles – when we feel more intensely.

However, one cannot eat too much pickle everyday, just like how ‘everyday’ cannot be exciting and wonderful.

Most days are vanilla days…but pickle days, now & then are most welcome.

Journey To The Unknown – A Short Story

To an onlooker, the lanky boy and the bearded old man walking towards the train station was not an unusual sight; but in the stoop of the boy’s shoulders and the glimmer of anxiety in the old man’s eyes there were so many stories, deeply burrowed, not ready to be talked about yet.  The lanky boy’s life had turned upside down in the last one month.  The old man had been his only support.

The pair walked towards the platform, where the metal serpent stood, waiting to take this boy to a new life. The boy avoided the old man’s gaze, by looking for his compartment, and scanned the names on the list to check out his name and berth.  There it was Arun.S, age 17 years, Seat 27.

There was nothing more to be said really.  The old man gently scratched his beard, at a loss for words.  Both of them looked relieved when the metallic voice came over the PA system, announcing the imminent departure of the Kovai Express to Chennai.  The old man hugged the boy clumsily and the boy’s throat suddenly caught.  If one watched him closely, one could see fear and uncertainty writ large on his face.  But nobody had time for a lanky 17 year old.  He was just one amongst hundreds on the platform, temporary residents of the railway station, inhabiting it for a short while and moving on to other towns and cities.

With five minutes left to go, Arun boarded the train and settled down in his seat and sat by the window.  The old man peered into the train through Arun’s window.

“Take care of the suitcase and call me if you need anything,” he said to Arun.

Arun nodded and mumbled, “Thank you for everything”.

Before either of them could say anything more, the train lurched and gently glided out of the station.  The old man stood stroking his beard, wondering if he had done the right thing by the boy.

Arun craned his neck to catch his last glimpse of the only person whom he could remotely call family. He involuntarily let out a sigh.

There was a young couple, an old woman, who was already asleep, and two children & their parents sharing the coupe with him.  By 11 pm, all of them had drifted off to sleep and the lights had been switched off.

Arun lay down on his berth, but sleep eluded him.  His eyes gazed at the ceiling fans that were spinning with a heavy whooshing sound.  What would become of him, he wondered.  His anxiety was palpable as he tossed and turned.  Suddenly his body would go rigid, as he resolved with every ounce of his willpower that he would make it, come what may.  Then his body would suddenly go lax, as the last of his energy drained away from him, as his mind and resolve weakened again.

His mind spun back to that day, when his life had turned upside down.  He relived it….

He walked back from school. It was another cold monsoon day in the small town of Ooty. The clouds hung dark and heavy and he knew that the skies were about to open up any moment now. As he reached the small hillock atop which was his house, the rain drops started falling in rapid succession.  Holding up his school bag above his head, he ran up the slope, his shoes sliding on the brown mud and the flowing water.

When he finally made it home, he was surprised to see that the door was locked.  He quickly let himself in with his key and changed into dry clothes.  He decided to make a cup of tea for himself and his mother, who had probably been delayed by customers or stuck in the rain.

He went to wash himself in the basin that was in the backyard of the house, where there was no roof but a corrugated metal sheet to protect them from the rain, when they had to use their bathrooms or wash area.  Here, he could hear the metal thump-thump of the rain drops as they fell on the sheet and rolled down to join other water drops down the hillock.

Just as he placed the saucepan on the hob to boil the water for tea, there was a loud banging on the door.

“Must be mom,” he said to himself and went to open the door.  Mr.Raman, his neighbour stood at the door with a huge black umbrella that blocked out all the light.

“Yes, Uncle Raman,” he said.

“Arun, I have some terrible news for you.  Your mom has been in an accident on Commercial Street and was rushed to hospital, but the doctors could not save her.  I am sorry, so sorry,” said Mr.Raman.

He hugged the boy and patted him and said, “Come with me, we have to go to the hospital.”

Arun stood dazed, the sounds of the raindrops seemed to magnify and overtake his brain. He could not think, nor understand or process what he had just heard.

He had only had his mother, nobody else, save for a few friends like the old man. He spent a restless night, waiting for the train to draw into the station and to get started with his new life.  By 6 a.m., he was washed and ready, his suitcase ready to be taken out.

He checked the slip of paper with the address written on it, he knew it by heart by now, but the act of reading it again, gave him something to do.

L.M.K Boys Orphanage

24th Main, 15th Cross, Saidapet

Chennai

He smiled wryly to himself. This moment was where life had brought him to;  17  long years compacted into his physical frame, mental agony and this one suitcase.

Sweet Aunts & Dashing Uncles

These last few years, our family has shrunk.

Sweet aunts and dashing uncles are suddenly no more. The ones who took us out to the movies, who gave us innumerable treats, who watched us growing up, who threw us in the air and swung us around, who bought us lollipops and indulged us, when our parents refused.

Aunts and uncles, key nodes in the network of our family, who unfailingly wrote to us on our birthdays, who told us stories during meal times, who baby sat us when our parents had to go out.

Aunts and uncles, who could not believe that their diaper-wearing nieces and nephews had graduated from University. They wondered at the fast passage of time.

They laughed in happiness and wept tears of joy when we called to say we were getting married. They took time off from their lives to help with our weddings, teasing us about our spouses-to-be and wishing & blessing us to lead happy lives.

After marriage, we nieces and nephews moved on to set up our own lives, and to build our own homes. Years flew by, and suddenly when we gathered for a family wedding, we saw how these beautiful aunts and dashing uncles had aged. They needed walking sticks, they needed help with small things, they peered at you through their glasses and hugged you with their frail arms.

Where did those days go? We, are  ‘aunts and uncles’ now. We, are ‘that’ generation now, hopefully bonding and creating such memories for our nieces and nephews.

There are very few left from my Dad’s generation. We,  first & second cousins, suddenly feel rudderless. Our family was so big and vibrant. Now, one whole generation is almost gone.

We vow to keep in touch and meet more often to strengthen our bonds of love, the seeds of which were sown by beautiful aunts and dashing uncles.

The Reminder Saree – A Short Story

My mother stands in my grandmother’s room, it is still my grandma’s room, though she is no longer in this world.  It’s been six months since she passed away, and only today, my mom feels strong enough to sort through my grandma’s things.  I can see her eyeing grandma’s things, pausing here, and appearing to flick something from her eye, when she is actually wiping away a tear.

Then her body straightens, driven by her resolve to finish the task at hand.  She attacks grandma’s big metal trunk that has all her sarees.  When we open the box, the trunk gives a metal creak, and the smell of my grandma floats up.  She used to smell of a little bit of cardamom (that she chewed after every meal), a little bit of jasmine (flowers that she wore in her hair everyday), and a little bit of our home.  Both of us are hit by nostalgia as we sift through the bright hued sarees – parrot greens, yellows, reds, midnight blues…!

As we reach the bottom of the trunk, there is a saree that is folded rather oddly, it does not have the geometric precision of the others.  Curious, I pull it out, only to find that one whole section of the saree has small knots tied on it -at least a hundred, at first glance.  I trace my hand across one of these knots, only to find something hard under it.  I show them to my mother and ask her what they are.

My mom laughs, and replies, ” Oh! That is grandma’s Reminder Saree. ”

Reminder Saree?” I ask, puzzled.

“Yes, reminder.  Your grandma used to tie small coins in this saree, as reminders for tasks she had to complete”, says my mom.

“Oh!” I say. “But how did she remember all of them?  Why didn’t she simply write them down? How did she know which tasks were done and which were not?” I ask.

“This was the method that most women in those days followed, as they were busy in the farm or in the kitchen and had no time to write things down, so these coin reminders were easy. And your grandma had a fantastic memory. Once a task was complete, she removed the corresponding coin”, replies my mother.

“Oh! so you mean she has these hundred reminders for things that are not yet done?” I ask.

“Yes, probably. Now we will never know what they are”, answers my mother and goes on with her work.

That day we managed to finish sorting through grandma’s things and relived all the fun memories we’d had with her.  I asked my mother if I could keep the ‘Reminder Saree‘ with me.  My mother agreed.

Time just flew by, as I got busy with my school year, projects and playtime with friends. Occasionally, my eyes would fall on the ‘Reminder Saree‘, and I would wonder about those unfinished tasks.  But then, some other small thing was enough for my attention to waver, and life went on.

Soon, it was my tenth birthday.  We had a family lunch, where I was showered with gifts. After our heavy lunch, most of us had dozed off, when we heard the door bell chime.

I could hear my mom talking to somebody.  Suddenly I heard my name called.

“Malli, Malli”, my mom called.

When I went to the living room, I saw our village bangle maker.  He had a parcel in his hand.

He handed it to me and said, “Your grandmother had ordered these for your birthday & had told me that she would tie a coin in her saree, to remind her to pick these bangles up on your birthday. Since she is not with us anymore, I decided to come in person and gift them to you on this special day. Happy Birthday.”

I opened the gift and was thrilled to see that my grandmother had ordered five colourful sets of the most beautiful glass bangles for me.  I remembered telling her that I loved the green ones she always wore on her wrists.

I wore the bangles and spun around the living room, moving my arms up and down and enjoying the gentle tinkling of the glass bangles.  I quickly ran to my room, took out the Reminder Saree & untied one of the reminder knots and took out the coin.

At least one mystery of the ‘unfinished tasks’ was solved.

Hot Bajjis & Filter Coffee on A Rainy Day

It has been a hot, humid day thus far.  Finally, in the afternoon, the glare of the Sun is hidden by clouds, grey, dark grey and now black.  The clouds hang low in the sky, waiting for a signal to let go of the heavy water drops they are patiently bearing.  I stand on my balcony, watching.  The birds are waiting, the green leaves are parched, and waiting.  The humidity is killing.

In a few minutes, plop, plop, the rain drops fall down..huge heavy drops, reveling in their free fall from the heavens.  Big drops, falling faster now, sheets of silver gray, as they beat against the windows and fall on my potted plants.  The trees enjoy this fresh wash as they sway in the gentle wind that blows with the rain, now this side, now that side.

I allow the rain drops to fall on my face, the small needles of water rejuvenate me. Little silver threads moving in a cascade with the wind, the soothing sounds, the gentle flow of water as it touches the earth.

The children are expected from school any moment now.  What’s a rainy day, if one is not tucking into something yummy to eat!

 I decide to make ‘bajjis’ – potato slices dipped in gram flour batter to which salt, chilly powder and a pinch of asafoetida are added.  I pour oil in the wok and switch on the hob.  When the oil is heated just enough, I fry the ‘bajjis‘.

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As they gurgle and fry in the oil, I make a cup of filter coffee for myself.

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South India Filter Coffee in its traditional steel tumbler and cup (davara)

The first batch of bajjis is ready, a dollop of tomato ketchup and we’re good to go.Featured imageI watch the rain from my kitchen; the aroma that’s unique to frying, travels in the air. Tiny wisps of these may have escaped through the bottom of the main door.  In a few minutes, the children come trooping in, hair wet, clothes plastered and sniffing the air appreciatively, “Mom, what’s cooking?”

Bajjis“, I reply.

“Yummy”, they chorus.  Golden bajjis with ketchup, washed down with rain!