The Vegetable Vendor


My husband’s parents live in a close-knit community of independent homes; where people have known each other for many decades.

The streets are always bustling with chit-chatting neighbours, children playing on the streets and vehicles weaving in and out. There always seems to be some excitement, amidst all this bustle.

Neighbourhood shops are a mere stone’s throw away, and one can pick up most anything from these self-contained shops that are tucked away all around the community.

What makes the atmosphere more vibrant are the street vendors, who have their regular ‘beat’ around the various streets.

Their calls, as they hawk their goods, are distinct. Each vendor arrives at a particular time – some on all days, some on alternate days, and some others on the weekends.

I am standing at the doorstep watching the goings-on in the street. The vegetable vendor arrives, parks his push cart outside our door, and calls out, “Tomatoes, beans, onions, potatoes…”.

The ladies saunter towards the cart, with their own bags. They carefully examine and pick and choose the veggies. The vendor’s eyes are hawk-like as he weighs, bargains, and closes multiple deals.

He throws in some coriander leaves, curry leaves and ginger for free, making every customer happy!

There is some personal banter – after all, he meets these people every day. Money and vegetables are exchanged. He takes a breather, someone brings him a cup of tea. He relishes it, while delicately balancing his cart.

I ask him if I can click a picture. He happily agrees. He smiles. His veggies look happy too!

He is on his way soon, to the next street on his beat.

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Beckoning Backwaters – Travel Diary


My friends and I are on a houseboat in the Vembanad Backwaters of Kerala, India.  Truly, God’s own country.

We lounge on the deck, soaking in the serenity, the lush greenery and the rippling waters, as our boat glides in silence.  A silence that is only punctuated by cawing crows, flitting butterflies and rustling reeds.  Water plants float in merriment, in celebration of all that wonderful beauty.  We are awed by this experience, as we keenly observe the lives of the people, who have made the backwaters their home.  Our raucous laughter and incessant chatter are sucked away by the beautiful silence, where we do not exist any more.

Later in the day, we board a small wooden boat, which takes us through the villages in the backwaters.  Life is happening all around us, everyday life – a woman is cleaning fish in preparation for dinner, three little girls are waving out to us in sheer joy, an old man is sitting on the bank, fishing, as he ponders over the mysteries of life.  Small fish and water snakes give us company, as our boat cuts through the waters.  Kingfishers sit on electric cables, waiting for just the right moment to swoop down.

Coconut trees flirt with the water,  some of them arching down to the water’s surface for a good gossip.  We wave out to people on other houseboats, and a sense of camaraderie prevails, at having enjoyed something exquisitely beautiful.

There is a sense of timelessness, as we sip strong tea and munch on ‘pazzha pori’ a local delicacy.

We feel distanced – from our everyday lives and from the mundane.  We feel content, we feel complete.  Life was meant to be lived like this, in the company of nature – rippling water, singing birds, swaying reeds and majestic coconut trees. Where a sense of completeness prevails, where solitude is the best company, where there are hundreds of thoughts as we took it all in, and then no thoughts at all……just bliss.

Sharing some pictures!

 

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Mysore Pak every 365 days


It is that time of the year again. Deepavali. The festival of lights.

I have been busy all morning, melting ghee, sifting flour, and preparing sugar syrup of just the right consistency. Stirring the mixture with my right hand, and then with the left, not pausing even for a minute.

When the ghee (clarified butter) meets the sugar and the flour, the aroma that wafts around the house defies description. It makes my kids come running into the kitchen, and causes them to hop about in excitement.

Just after my wedding, my mother gifted me two, big, stainless steel trays. I bring out these trays every year, during Deepavali, for the specific purpose of making Mysore Pak.

The trays are greased and ready to receive the mixture that I am stirring. As I stir, I realize that 365 days have flown by in the blink of an eye.

A year that was packed with activities, school projects, dinners and lunches with friends, work, daily chores, meeting loved ones, shopping. A year that was just like every other year – filled with a mix of rainy days, sunny days and windy days!

The mixture is slowly thickening. I realize that my children have grown taller, and that some of the children I know from their kindergarten days have now gone to University.

This is a ritual, this Mysore Pak, a family tradition, which my children will hopefully carry forward one day.

The mixture thickens, and I feel the drag as I stir. I pour the mixture into the trays. In a few minutes, I cut the mixture into square pieces.

Time seems to be flying, but now and then, it stops, maybe once in 365 days, for us to mark some event or festival or milestone, to tell us to stop and enjoy these simple moments.

To bite into a perfect Mysore Pak that melts in the mouth. To know that we have another 365 days coming up, to do the best we can and utilize our time wisely and focus on what’s important.

Happy Deepavali!

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Vibrant traditions


My husband and I are walking down a crowded street in Bengaluru, India. It is late in the afternoon, and the sun’s rays form net-like patterns on the pavement and the road.

Hundreds of small shops line both sides of the street. The shopkeepers and street hawkers are doing brisk business.

We need to stock up on cotton wicks (for our lamps), incense sticks, and a few other items. There are four shops that cater to our needs. They are all adjacent to each other, for they know that if we do not get what we want from the first shop, we will head to the next.

All four shopkeepers nod, and welcome us enthusiastically. We stop at the first shop. As I place my order, I am transfixed by the display of turmeric powder and kumkum (the red powder used for the Bindis that Indian women wear on their foreheads).

Art and Science are both at work here. The shopkeeper has painstakingly created mounds of these powders, by compacting them. They look so vibrant and colourful. The shopkeeper has planned this with precision. Just the right amount of powder to maintain the balance and prevent it from collapsing all around.

I ask him if I can take pictures. He obliges. I ask him, how he manages to take out powder from these mounds, if a customer wants to buy some!

He shows me how; I watch with bated breath. He does it with the ease of a seasoned professional. This is his turf and he smiles at my surprised look.

He packs our wicks and incense sticks. Deep from the recesses of his shop, a little boy comes running out. Presumably his son.

Family businesses that have been around for generations, carrying on the traditions of their forefathers. Selling simple, everyday things with so much creativity and beauty.

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A Pigeon’s Point of View


Most afternoons, when a gentle breeze sways the curtains, and the sun shines high above, I have company.

Pigeons visit my balcony, and sit on the railings. If the house is quiet, and I remain perfectly still, the pigeons sometimes brave it into the living room, walk around, and then disappear in a flutter of wings.

This afternoon, there is a pigeon on the railing. He looks at me, and seems to peer into the living room.

Image courtesy – Wikipedia

I try to guess what he sees. Does he see the laptop on my table, and wonder what that strange noise of typing is? Does he see the bits of furniture we have lovingly collected – beautiful bits of wood that once stood as majestic trees.

Does he see the porcelain birds on my TV console? What does he make of them? Does he wonder why they remain static?

Does he hear the music that is playing on my laptop? Does it sound anything like the song birds he knows?

What does he make of the huge coffee mug, from which wisps of steam are rising up and vanishing? Does he think about evaporation, about the sun’s heat and about all the water bodies that are drying up ?

When he sees the rotating fan, does he compare it to the wind whipping through the trees, and the joy he feels when he swoops down on a sunny day!

Does he see the water jug? Does he wonder why the water is contained?

I smile, and watch him. He looks wise, as he ponders over the mysteries of my home. I look at my home through new eyes.

He hangs on for some more time, and then flies away. He joins two other pigeon friends on a neighbour’s window ledge.

As I head back in, I wonder if he is sharing his thoughts with his friends.

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Shopping Basket Philosophy


I am standing in line at the billing counter in the supermarket. I have left my phone behind at home, and feel that I am missing an integral part of myself.

With nothing to swipe or refresh or read, I look around; my eyes taking in the bright displays, and the stacks of biscuits and chocolates and bottled water and potato wafers and moisturizers and tissues and cream bottles.

My eyes take in the contents of the shopping basket of the person standing in line before me – it has canned drinks, potato wafers and a loaf of bread. My brain immediately arrives at the conclusion that this person is young, maybe a student, looking forward to an evening filled with some school work, fun, watching TV or going out with friends. I am envious!

My eyes travel across the aisle to the adjacent billing counter. I see the contents of another shopping bag. Baby food, a good dose of veggies, eggs, bread and milk.

Young mother!

Then I look at my own shopping bag. Vegetables and more vegetables, band-aid, bread, tissues, milk, biscuits, snacks, cleaning supplies, pasta, wraps…! Hmmm, a mother stocking up and trying to avoid another trip to the super market soon!

Image Courtesy – http://www.123rf.com

When I was a kid, the only equation that I had with the shopping baskets my parents carried was to keep track of the little paper bag of candies or chocolates, which my parents bought for us every week. Everything else in the bag was irrelevant.

I see it now with my kids. They keep a hawk-like watch on what they have bought, sometimes totally oblivious to everything else.

The contents of our shopping basket reflect the stage of life we are in. Each shopping basket has a story to tell!

For example, why has the lady behind me loaded three baskets with fruit? I start speculating – is she going to make jam or fruit preserve or juice? Has she bought them to gift someone or is it for a celebration of some sort!!!

I look at her, she smiles and nods.

I move up the line. Very soon, I checkout, pick up my bags and head homeward – back to my children, and the realities of school assignments and deadlines, cleaning and planning.

My shopping basket theory takes a back seat, as I empty my bags, and grapple with everyday issues of putting away the shopping, and planning what to cook tomorrow!

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Rose Nectar Vanilla Delight


The sun has set on a wonderful nine days of festivities, after the Indian festival of Navrathri. All the wonderful anticipation, pre-festival, has now been replaced by exhaustion; but of a very beautiful and fulfilling kind.

The nine days seem to have just flown by, in a colourful whirl of saree draping, accessorising, having guests over and visiting the homes of friends, eating the yummiest of foods, and posing for and taking the most vibrant pictures to trap all those wonderful memories.

Phew!

Right now, I am sitting on the couch, with my afternoon coffee. I lazily flip through the hundreds of pictures. The smiles are contagious – I smile, I laugh; as I remember all the fun we had.

One photo in particular makes me smile. Just before the festival started, I was scouring the internet for dessert recipes. My criteria was that it had to be simple to prepare and good to taste.

I finally found what I wanted. It was rose milk shake with a vanilla icecream float! I tried it out at home, before I had my friends over.

My children were the guinea pigs. They had their first cup, and kept asking for more.

That decided it!

Later in the day, my son said, “Mom, I think you have invented a drink that is sensational. I feel it deserves a new name.”

I said, “But, it is an old recipe…!”

Son: But this is super-special because ‘you’ made it. Let us name it Rose Nectar Vanilla Delight!”

Me: Wow..is it as good as all that?

Son: I bet your friends will love it too!

And that is how it turned out. Armed with my son’s love, I served the Rose Nectar Vanilla Delight to all my friends, all of whom loved it!

And, as we wind down after Navrathri, and look forward to Deepavali, my son’s love and words warm my heart, and give me the confidence to try something new!

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Wisdom from 150 Beans!


I am flipping the pages of one of my handwritten recipe books. The book is yellowed – with both age and stains from the kitchen; from having balanced the book near the cooking pot or from having turned the pages with hands coated with dough or turmeric powder or a hundred other ingredients.

Against each recipe is a small note in my handwriting, which rates how the recipe turned out.

This book has recipes from my grandma, my mom, my mother in law and my dad’s sister.

Today, I can stand in front of the stove, and estimate the quantities of ingredients mentally, I can gauge by the aroma, if all is well. Skills that have been acquired over many years.

But there was a time when I was a novice cook, navigating the world of recipes with precise measurements and quantities. Life in the kitchen revolved more around the science of cooking rather than its creative side. My tools were a set of measuring bowls and spoons.

I remember one evening, when we had a potluck dinner with our friends. I had to prepare a vegetable side dish for around 40 people.

I used this very same recipe book then. However, I had scrawled down the ingredients and quantities, but had not written down how many people the recipe could serve.

Then began the complicated math. The recipe said 2 carrots, 15 French Beans, 3 tomatoes, 1 onion and so on. To me this seemed like the quantity for around 4 to 5 people.

Being an expert at the math of cooking, I multiplied the quantities by 10 to serve 40 people. When I wrote my new quantities down, the 150 beans seemed out of place………..and thus it began – my journey towards learning that cooking is more about intuition, and less about precise quantities.

Courtesy – http://www.123rf.com

It has taken me many years and many errors to get here. There have been times that the dishes looked good but tasted anything but! Then again, there were dishes that crumbled, but tasted delicious.

It has been a long and enjoyable journey. Today, as I stand in front of the stove, I add salt and spice with practiced ease, I can see and tell, smell and diagnose what is right or wrong. I am a better judge of quantities.

After all, it is the wisdom acquired from 150 beans.

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Smart Charades


My mobile phone rings, and its call is insistent. I drop what I am doing to pick up the call. It is an important call, and I settle down with pen and paper, jotting down notes, and doodling unconsciously, eyebrows furrowed and shoulders hunched forward, my concentration absolute.

Image courtesy – fotosearch.com

A few minutes into the call, I sense rather than see a presence. A momentary lapse of attention, and I refocus. In another minute, the presence becomes palpable, I look up to see my son waving at me.

And then the game begins. A game that has its own unique rules. A game that I call the Smartkids game. I am sure that most parents are familiar with this game – maybe each of us plays different variants, but the basic game goes something like this.

The parent is on an important call. The child now tries to sneak-in a request to do something that he or she would normally not be allowed to do, when the parent’s attention is fully focused on them.

So, back to my call. My son waves. I wave back, and I signal that I am on a call, as he can see. The game of dumb charades begins.

My son signals for permission to play games on the iPad.

I shake my head and mouth a ‘no’. He has already used up his quota for the day.

He shows his ten fingers and the clock. 10 minutes and makes a pleading expression.

My eyes roll an exasperated NO in capital letters, bold font!

I am trying to keep my wits about me – to hold my telecon together.

My son goes away, but he is back with a pen and notepad. He writes, “Please, at least 5 minutes.”

I scribble a hasty big NO, font size 72.

Another PLEASE…and I am teetering on the brink of an eruption.

I stand up, and with violent hand gestures, and rolling eyes, I signal a final DECISIVE NO.

I can picture myself, trying to hold a sane conversation on the one hand and trying to play a rather difficult version of dumb charades on the other.

My son shrugs and frowns. He walks away. My call ends at the same time.

Game over. Phew! I have lost a few rounds in the past, but now I know how it works

My son knows that there will be other calls on other days, when I will falter and give in.

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Sunset


We are lounging on reclining beach chairs, staring at the ocean that stretches beyond one’s comprehension.

Waves vie with each other to play tag with the beach – the younger waves, smart and nimble, as they compete with each other in a race that has no end; the older waves, sedate.

The sun, which was a bright yellow ball till a few minutes back, slowly takes on a warm orange hue that defies description. Within this beautiful orange are a million shades of pink, red, yellow and orange.

The clouds form molten orange streaks across the sky, basking in the sun’s reflection. The sun’s outline can now be seen, a huge golden orb that is moving down the horizon.

Silhouettes of birds dot the sky. Faraway coconut and palm trees sway in the evening breeze.

The waves catch the reflection of the golden sun and throw up a stunning light display on the water’s surface. The play of colours is superlative.

We settle down with refreshing milkshakes; to ponder upon the mysteries of nature – of the indefatigable ocean and the dancing waves.

In a matter of minutes, the sun slips out of sight into oblivion, into other faraway lands. The crickets set up their nightly chorus.

The waves are calmer now, winding down for the day; for the same cycle will repeat tomorrow, and bring with it another day full of promise.

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