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.

My favourite uncle


Growing up, we’ve all had our favourite uncles, aunts and cousins. There were some ‘go to’ aunts and uncles, who indulged us, some whom we went to for advice and then again, others whom we didn’t bother with.

My all-time favourite uncle was my Dad’s younger brother. When he was with us, fun times were not far away.

From birthday cakes to surprise treats, he made our childhood days so special.

One absolutely special memory with him was  ‘Kids’ Movie Night’.  Whenever a new children’s film played in one of the oldest cinema houses in town, our uncle took us to watch them – ‘Annie’, ‘Lassie come home’, ‘Herbie goes Bananas’, ‘Jungle Book’ and countless other wonderful films.  We usually went to the 6 pm show on Saturdays.

When we stepped out of the theatre after the movie, the roads were usually deserted. Due to the biting cold, we wore our sweaters and caps, and walked back with our uncle.

On the way back, we usually made two stops. The first stop was just outside the theatre at a peanut seller’s stall. He was an integral part of the movie-going experience. He stood behind his stall, roasting peanuts in a huge wok, which had sand at the bottom. The spatula with which he roasted made a metallic grating sound, the only sound that could be heard on that road.  The warm fire of his stove set his face aglow, as he smiled at my uncle in recognition.

image

Picture courtesy – http://www.wikihow.com

He deftly rolled paper into cones and filled them to the brim with warm peanuts. We slowly munched our way through those yummy peanuts, as we headed towards our second stop.

This was a small, quaint tea shop, which served great coffee and tea (as I discovered when I grew up). But, when we were with our uncle, we got to have warm, creamy glasses of fresh milk and cookies to go with them.

My uncle chatted with the owner, as my sister and I drank our milk and compared our white ‘milk mustaches’, giggling at each other.

We discussed our favourite parts in the movie, as we held our uncle’s hands and walked back to our cozy home.

Early bird or Night Owl?


With certain things in our lives there are no ambiguities.  In one of my earlier blogs, I had written about Coffee vs. Tea. Most people are either coffee drinkers or tea drinkers. There are very few people, who would claim to fall in the common area of the Venn diagram between the two.

Similarly, I have noticed that people are either Morning people or Night people.
In my own family, there is a clear demarcation between the Night Owls and the Early Birds

Both these types exhibit distinctive traits. Early risers are chirpy, and so, so annoyingly productive, as the Sun moves across the sky. Their energy levels peak till lunch time, after which their battery slowly drains. By 8 pm, they are low on enthusiasm and are grouchy companions.

On the other hand, the Night Owls cannot open their eyes when the Sun looks into their windows. Alarms at their loudest, barely manage to cut through one leathery layer of sleep. Persistent and annoying alarms are a must. When the night owl wakes up, stay away till they have their caffeine-fix or whatever else it is that they need to jolt awake. These people mechanically perform their chores till about lunch time, after which they are fully awake.  Their enthusiasm starts peaking late in the afternoon, as they effortlessly finish their chores. By dinner, they are at their happiest best.

Most families have combinations of these two types and there are always family stories about members who have never seen a sunrise or about members who have never stayed up till midnight.

I am a loyal Night Owl Club member. Mornings are like midnight. How I wake up everyday baffles me. I love the quiet after everyone goes to sleep – catching up on work and my reading…can’t go to sleep without a book.

So what are you? A Night Owl or an Early Bird? Would love to know

Coffee or Tea ?


image
Image courtesy – Wikipedia

People have likes, dislikes and  ambiguities. However, when it comes to coffee and tea, most identify themselves as either coffee drinkers or tea drinkers. I don’t know too many people, who like both tea and coffee with the same fervour.

I love coffee. Period. The choice is as easy as black or white, maybe a few wisps of grey, when one of my friends serves me a cup of tea that’s laced heavily with fresh ginger or lemon.

I make a mean cup of coffee, but my tea making skills …well, what’s that? Enough said.

My husband and daughter are the midways, they relish both coffee and tea, so I’ve passed on my ‘barely-there’ tea-making skills to my daughter, so she can take care of her Dad.

So, why am I telling you all this? My tea making skills were put to the test. Sigh!

Two of my friends had come home to complete a community project that we were working on.

I’d made some spring rolls and decided to make coffee after we’d finished our work.

When I asked if I could serve coffee, one of them said she would prefer tea. The other friend also said that she wouldn’t mind tea, probably to spare me the extra effort.

Hmmm…tea???? My mind jolted awake…but my head, the traitor, nodded vigorously, aided by my mouth that added, “Sure.”

My tea jar had been refilled with a fresh box of tea leaves from India.

I set the water to boil and added the tea. As it boiled and bubbled, the aroma seemed okay, but when I added milk, the colour remained white, with a mere hint of brown.

I sweated…what could I do? This looked like milk. Oh dear. I added  a few more spoons of tea (I know, that’s not the way to make tea).

I called out to my friends with a fake laugh, “Girls, I am serving you white tea ok?”

So, I served it with all the dignity I could muster.

One friend sipped and said, “It’s ok. Must be one of those that do not infuse colour. It’s quite ok.”

The other friend looked pained after the first sip. To her ‘tea’ probably meant what ‘coffee’ means to me, so I totally understood the expression.

I love coffee.

So many stories in a cup of tea!


Tea stalls in India are ubiquitous. You will find them on busy roads, sometimes more than one on a road; outside theatres, outside office complexes, near the vegetable market, everywhere.

Most of them serve coffee, tea, hot milk and a limited menu of yummy snacks that vary depending on the time of day.

The beverages are served in small cups made of thick glass. I am yet to see a tea stall that is not doing brisk business throughout the day.

Some of them play the latest Bollywood hit numbers. The owners of all these tea stalls know their regular customers and their unique preferences – less sugar, black coffee etc.

They laugh and joke, their hands boiling, sieving and serving, without missing a beat. Nerve centres in people’s days, where they come to recharge or unwind.

I remember one such tea stall near my parents’ home. Every evening, my Dad and I would stop by to have a cup of tea, laced with fresh ginger and cardamom, when my kids and I stayed with them during the holidays.

And when we sipped our teas and chit-chatted, many regulars would also be there. A man, whose wife was in hospital, who would come there, with a thermos to buy coffee to take with him to the hospital, after work. There was a group of sales executives, with their ties loosened, discussing their sales calls over a cuppa. They joked with the tea stall owner and went on their way. There were two nurses who stopped by to buy snacks for their children on their way home.

There was an old woman, who would also visit the tea stall at the same time. Her wizened face bore the grooves of many wrinkles, wrinkles that had witnessed her hard life. She did odd jobs in the area and from what we knew, she lived alone. Making ends meet would have been a challenge. But, every evening, she would come to the stall, neatly dressed, with a string of jasmine adorning her loosely tied chignon, and a big red bindi on her forehead. She had bright eyes and a mouth that looked like it had smiled a lot despite the difficult journey.

On one such day, as we sipped our tea, the old woman walked to the stall and placed her coins on the counter, asking for her usual tea and bajji. She proceeded to enjoy this with relish, slurping the tea in an almost musical way. She would nibble into the bajji and then sip. We watched her, enthralled. This was probably an important part of her day. Her eyes stared into the distance, as we wondered what thoughts visited her mind.

And after she finished her tea, the stall owner called out to her, “Amma (Mom), do you want another cup?”

She replied, “Don’t have change.”

The owner said, “There’s an offer today, buy one get one free.”

Her eyes appreciated his generosity and kindness, but her shoulders stiffened proudly, as she smiled and walked away, nodding her head to say no.

The tea stall was a world unto itself. People dropping in to unwind, stopping to catch up with friends, sometimes relaxed, sometimes in a hurry to get to their next appointment, sometimes happy, sometimes sad.

So many stories in a cup of tea!

On Being Indian During the ICC World Cup


We Indians are an emotional lot!  We are quite vocal, have very strong views about cricket, about our players and about every little thing associated with cricket.

Having won the 2011 ICC World Cup, the pressure on the team, carrying the expectations and hopes of 1.2 billion people, can only be imagined.  The excitement in the country is palpable.  Retailers & brands are probably torn between promoting Valentine’s Day and the ICC World Cup, especially on day one.

Inside each home, cable connections are being checked, schedules are being matched with fixtures. People are probably trying to complete important assignments at work so as to keep their schedules relatively free to watch the matches.

I can imagine the scene in each Indian house – the whole family before the TV, the mom supplying a constant stream of samosas, pakodas, tea & coffee.  I can imagine neighbours from one block, all gathering in one house to watch the India- matches, yummy food from each house, lots of chips and drinks. Boisterous yelling, whooping, unblinking eyes,collective sighing and a billion hearts palpitating.  I can imagine the curses and yells of frustration, when a power cut happens during a crucial match.

I can see boys, girls & men wearing the same T-shirt they wore the last time round, for good luck. I can see people who stood up in the last World Cup, when a wicket fell, and who then continued to stand till the end of the match, for fear that a change in their posture would alter the outcome of the match. Will these people stand through all matches that India will play for this World Cup too?

I can imagine people talking cricket, walking cricket, breathing cricket and arguing cricket endlessly.  Cricket is the pulse of the nation after all.

And as 1.2 billion hearts pulse in unison the refrain, “India, India, India, India”, my heart pulses with them, as I wish the Men in Blue the very best.

Good luck, Team India.

Airport Persona


After an hour-long drive, the taxi driver drops me off at the airport. It is 10 pm and my flight is only at 1.30 a.m. I resign myself to this long wait.

I am not an airport person at all. The cold gets to me.  I am already wrapped up in my ‘goes-with-me-everywhere’ shawl.  I finish all the formalities and settle down to wait.

I am a silent observer now. I watch and categorize the people in the airport.

The ‘talkers’, who are talking non-stop into their phones.

The ‘earphoners’,  with earphones that look like extensions of their body, gently moving their head or tapping their feet.

Then there are the ‘oblivious’. Fully stretched out and deep in sleep..(what if they miss the announcement for their flights or don’t hear the alarm?)

The ‘duty free shoppers’, who do the rounds of all the shops till their flight is called.

The ‘hassled moms’ who are managing cranky kids or high-energy toddlers, who run around the airport.

The ‘corporates’ – men and women in formals, still working away on their laptops, signing major deals, and so busy at this unearthly hour.

Then the ‘models’ – women who look so well-groomed and fresh despite the lateness of the hour. How do they manage it?

Then there are the ‘readers’ – who scour the bookshops in the airport or who take out books from their hand bags & read till they land at their destination.

Then the ‘coffee & tea’ drinkers – at the coffee shops – busy sipping and enjoying themselves.

Then the ‘pacers’, who can’t seem to sit still. They pace up and down.

Don’t know which group I fall under – maybe a ‘reader’ sometimes & ‘coffee drinker’ sometimes, ‘duty free shopper’ too maybe, but never a ‘model’. Would love to be in the ‘oblivious’ group but am too paranoid about missing my flight. Imagine enduring another day in the airport!

For now, I am frozen and wishing I could be back home, stretched out in the comfort of my bed.

Sigh…52 minutes more.