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Friday Feelings (in no particular order)

25 Sep

Poetry sorts my soul. Feeds it morsels of digestible nutrients, just as it is about to keel over from starvation. It swishes in, linen a-flapping, a crisp, brisk Nanny organizing my emotions, clearing out the clutter, neatly labeling, allotting buckets (transparent) so I may remember where I put my feelings.

~

In a moment of painful revelation, I see. Our love for each other will never be uncomplicated.
Perhaps I err. For the emotion is simple. It lays open unselfconsciously, in plain sight. But far too many feed off our cord. Sating their bloodlust on our abundance.
To the point where intrusion invokes murder.

~

Along with the gush of blood and birthing fluids came a rush of words. An unexpected side effect of labor. And, unlike the perfectly formed but fragile entity they delivered into my arms, the words they poured strong and insistent. Demanded I pay court. Danced circles around my shadowed eyelids and wouldn’t leave well enough alone.
So I wrote furiously in my head, even as the baby hungered at my breast; scripts and rivers and torrents flowed, swirling thick in the air around me. I breathed out lines. Sent them to live with my now-vanished placenta.

And such is the nature of new motherhood that nobody knew (until now) how much of the blood was the doing of my leech-like stories.

A Comprehensive Dictionary of Parenting for Beginners

3 Feb
  • Diaper: A piece of absorbent cloth Mummy wears between her legs because between feeds and singing and communing with the washing basket, a toilet is a once-familiar entity in a faraway universe.
  • Sleep: Word not found.
  • Blowout: Since we’re in polite company, let’s just say it’s not the fancy things a dryer does to your hair.
  • Midnight feast: Sod Blyton, sod Mallory Towers, it’s a full blown party of one to which a certain someone’s parents are very reluctant invitees.
  • Rocking: Formerly used as a descriptor for parties and weekends, this calorie-burning tool is the perfect substitute for pumping weights.
  • Shhhh: What you find yourself saying to the person responsible for 50% of Creature, because:
    1) That’s the sound you emit most these days
    2) Advanced language is highly overrated
    3) I just may be incapable of sophisticated communication at this point
  • Fun: Non-REM cycles of shut-eye.
  • Schedule: That hilarious entity that people who haven’t birthed a person ask you to share. Also known as “When’s a good time to chat?” Erm, 12 years sound good to you?
  • Jelly: Formerly an edible substance, now an apt descriptor for your mid section. Also, how your innards feel when a newborn smile is bestowed.
  • Sleep: Word not found.
  • Doorbanger: A special kind of Beelzebub spawned for the sole purpose of waking your finally-asleep child.
  • Anticlimax: Fitting into your pre-pregnancy jeans a few weeks after delivery, only to have them puked on three minutes later.
  • Social life: Be grateful you have the latter word. ‘Nuff said.
  • Auto pilot: Discovering yourself swaying side to side long after the baby was put down.
  • Freedom: One whole hour of your body being your own. 60 entire minutes. That’s 3600 seconds of alone time. What Marquez meant when he wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • Sleep: Word not found. Stop making up lingo.
  • Parenting: An extreme sport designed to challenge every ligament in your body and synapse in your brain. Not for the faint of heart, this lethal activity will put you through the shredder and your entrails will emerge smiling.
  • Spouse: Trusted general of your tag team. Your partner in tasks of increasing difficulty. The one who has your back and frequently rubs it too. Future old age home roommate if you mess up this gig.
  • Luxury: A hot shower. Water! Soap! And preferably no one else in the bathroom.
  • Love: An abysmally inadequate word to describe the tidal wave of tenderness, fierceness, punch-me-breathless-with-mineness, indescribable biologically engineered response that comes with the territory. Universally unique. Uniquely universal. Blabber blabber. Gufhndslsladpoo.
  • Romance: Having a free hand to hold your hubby’s.
  • Spatial intelligence: The higher ability to know your boob from your face. I’ll get there. Someday.
  • Pain: You think you know all about that from going through labor. And then you watch your child being punctured by needles.
  • Blessing: Lying in bed at night, parked between a snorer and a tooter, congratulating yourself on landing two gorgeous men.
  • Insanity: Loving every bit of this existence and not wanting it to change a jot. (Wait…could the poop be less ummm…poopy?)
  • Sleep: Persistent little gnat, aren’t you? Come back in 20 years, I’ll have an answer for you.
  • The Business of Fish

    16 Jan

    This piece first appeared in the December 2014 issue of India Currents magazine. I’d love to hear your childhood food memories! Share? 🙂

    ~

    Among my earliest childhood memories is a shot of thrill up my spine on hearing a certain raspy, faraway voice calling “Paaplet! Kolmi! Bombil-waleeeaaay!”

    That was Moti, our family fisherwoman for three generations, hawking the just-caught contents of her woven basket to a lane of Parsis willing to pay top rupee for their palates. Much hubbub would follow, as someone, typically a domestic or child tall enough to reach the window, was sent to wave her down. “Yete!” she’d screech, with all the decorum of a hurricane ripping through an island, and begin her ascent to our top-floor home, green glass bangles and thumping gait announcing her presence long before she huffingly-pufflingly made it.

    Moti smelled of scales and salt and the sea, odors I came to associate with happiness. In a Parsi child’s life, especially one stereotypically expected to manage her own kitchen in adulthood, an education in fish is vital. The lessons of laal pani versus safed pani, and using your finger to scoop under the gills to check for freshness are Fish Purchasing 101 tips. The nose is your savviest instrument, and one as undiscerning as mine is a serious liability. Then there is a banquet of bliss to choose from—all those varieties of fresh and saltwater fish, seasonal and available the whole year through—bangra (mackerel) and raawas (salmon), boi (mullet marine) and boomla (bombay duck), and the thrill of discovering bonus gharab (roe) in one of your chosen future meals.

    It is a messy business, the selection of fish. Not for those who aren’t accustomed to ooze and blood and scales. Its parts callously lopped into diagonal chunks, its silver-grey body glistening enticingly, a pre-purchase fish is a thing of beauty. It is here that I realize the staggering power of social conditioning, for a joyous childhood ritual that entails a dead creature’s guts can only be that.  Or perhaps it is a lesson in focusing on the end result: the perfect, well-seasoned accompaniment to a meal of dhandar. H.e.a.v.e.n.

    A trusting rapport with your machhiwali is expected to be one of life’s most enduring relationships. And when she moves on to a better place, where crispy-fried boomlas (I’ve mentioned them three times already in 300 words, can you tell they’re a favorite?) are dished hot and fresh by harp-strumming cherubs, you know better than to mess with the line of succession—her daughter or niece will become your supplier. Our Lady of Piscine Perfection is now Moti’s niece Tanuja, who has discarded the colorful nauvaris of her Koli roots and the ginormous beaded nath of Moti’s era, but thankfully, none of the accent or the mannerisms that we almost expect of our fisherwomen.

    It is a centuries-old communication, this unique and frequently amusing haggling between housecoat-clad Gujarati speakers and the shrill and shrewd sellers of fish. Odd words fly in Marathi, exclamations peak like stiff egg whites and many an eyebrow does a Prabhu Deva, with flung arms for company. Accusations of looting and starving little children are routinely hurled, as both parties bemoan a time when the catch was fresher, prices cheaper, and their respective communities were pretty much the only inhabitants of Bombay, apart from the Sahibs.

    The last time I was in Bombay, I partook of this ritual gladly. From carrying out round thaals (plates) to pile the carefully-selected purchase on, to washing each piece carefully under running water, scrubbing the scales and poking fingers into icky crevices, anointing each piece with flour and salt, rubbing the mixture in, letting it sit 10 minutes, and then washing everything one more time, I was never more closely connected to my bloodline. It came to me easily, though it was the first time I had actually done it from beginning to end. I was a natural, I felt at ease. I had learned my lessons well from years of bearing witness.

    Here in America, the process is supremely sanitized. Cleaned, deboned and ready to cook, artfully-arranged slices are put on display, eliminating consumer participation in so many crucial steps of the acquisition process. It reminds me of a time when a friend confessed she hated having a C-Section. “I feel cheated of a natural birth,” she had said, “I know I should be grateful for a healthy delivery, but I can’t help feeling duped.” Oddly enough, this is exactly how I feel walking into my neighborhood Safeway or Chinese supermarket—clinical, disconnected, disappointingly sterile.

    I can imagine how hard this must be for vegetarians to comprehend. They are as much products of their socialization as I am of mine, but the human relationship to food is an intimate one, and in a gourmand community like mine, it includes passion, devotion, and obsession. Having incorporated so many elements not quite our own on the long road from religious refugees to a privileged, respected, and still relatively unknown minority, our cuisine and its methods are understandably something we Parsis are immensely proud of. (So if you have considered offering a thoughtless suggestion like “Why don’t you turn vegetarian?” please know we’re already debating how much spice to marinate your brain in for those breakfast cutlets tomorrow.)

    From what I’ve learned in my score and 15 years on god’s bounteous earth, it is that life has a way of presenting precisely what you fight. So a fishless future isn’t the worst fate that can befall me.  (I’m so glad you can’t see my dilated pupils and crossed fingers right now.) But I also know that I am the honored carrier of the DNA of a long line of fin fans, and this—both the process and the end result— is one of my life’s joys.

    Reheat, Serve

    30 Oct

    This past month, I’ve been revisiting definitions of home. Specifically, how my notion of the word itself has changed, from an intensely familiar brick-and-mortar space bearing my history and tales of generations of family, to new lands: both geographical and synaptical, and finally to the person I come home to roost with each day. It’s a fascinating concept, this little word, but I have no bandwidth to say anything new about it presently. So here’s another reheated (read previously-published) piece from India Currents magazine about home, histories, and belonging. What do you think of when you think of home?

    ~

    Three Fates

    We sit at a table crowded with spiced, steaming tea cups, a study in diversity. One whose bronzed, gleaming skin carries tales of her ocean-framed ancestors. Another, pale, fair, with whispers of ancient Persia in her veins, and the third, of the same people, her bloodline mapping the landscape of two great nations.

    Between us, live roots and displacement. Among us, rock movements and plane rides and boat journeys from 1200 years ago. We are of people who have shifted. Whose sensibilities and histories have shifted. People who once belonged, then belonged again, spun in cycles of precarious identity. Ripped from their homeland by threat, under duress and desire to build a life beyond living.

    Around this table covered in cheap formica we sit, the Buddhist from Colombo, the Parsis from Karachi and Bombay, who have known other lands as rank strangers, then intimately, as a secret shared on a one night stand. We congregate our beings around disposable cups of chai and unleash our stories.

    Time, it melts away. We jump off a cliff in the 10th century, swing past invasions, conversions, and long bloody, migrations, crash land into civil war and hurried overnight departures, past the smell of burning flesh and singed spirits, yank and sow roots stripped to rawness, touchdown in subcontinental cities where lineage marched to a temporary tune, then continent-hop over to Africa, to North America, the luckiest among us belonging only to two places,  now gathered here in these cities around the Bay, where a microclimate, a microculture, a microuniverse of one can safely exist.

    Turning around in unison, we nod to our waiting ancestors. It’s alright, we say, you survived, and then revert to the vapors rising out of our drinks, to punctuate our sagas with a period.

    Through the hollows of their eyes, Fate stands silently by, eraser in hand, knowing her day will come again.

     

    Spiritual Sundays

    7 Apr

    The Boy and I, by virtue of living in crunchy granola California, have turned increasingly spiritual and high-minded. Afloat on an ocean of good intentions and noblesse, we invite you to share this beautiful, light-radiant journey with us as we experience it each Sunday:

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    Our first act of worship feeds the soul (and other assorted body parts). Gently-poached eggs rest calmly upon a pair of perfect crabcakes, drizzled with hollandaise and a smidgen of paprika. Completing the holy trinity is a side of herbed potatoes that can be best described as divine. The benediction virtually spills out of us and far in the distance, angels tune their harps.

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    Consider it your fabulous fortune that you are about to be enlightened: Did you know Zoroastrians in India worship 3 grades of fire at 2 different kinds of fire temples? Agyaris, temples of the lesser fire, are places of worship where the fire consists of only 11 different varieties (from the homes of artisans, farmers, soldiers and civil servants, priests, etc.) Atash Behrams, temples of the greater fire, house a perenially-burning entity (as does an Agyari) that is the combination of 16 unique fires. Why am I sharing this today? Because the picture above is our version of an Agyari. Prostrating before Tiffany-blue platters and paying homage to lemon-print cushions, the Boy and I worship Our Lady of Immaculate Homesteads.

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    Our next pilgrimage takes us to this vibrant green wood, a good indication of afterlife beauty. The hum of humanity falls away, and all at once, we are enveloped in A Great Calm. Here, we rest on this bench and ponder Questions of Significance. Like whether we should have ordered one pancake less that morning. Or whether almonds should be coated in dark chocolate or caramel. If our stomachs weren’t that loaded, we would feel our souls levitate.

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    Turning our attention to more earthly pursuits, we gaze upon the wonder of this valley. Deer watch us from a distance, and so pious are we that not once do we discuss the venison cutlets at the Rendezvous in Pondicherry. Somewhere beyond those purple-hazed mountains lies an abbey that I would run into after trilling about hills and music and my heart wanting to sing every song it hears.

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    At the entrance of our favorite forest, we take a moment to breathe. Heady from the oxygen-and-pine-needles high, we resemble whirling dervishes, spinning our sins away. Our veneration, friends, is about to get intense.

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    The forest floor greets us, an emerald ocean of universal compassion, swathing us in its cool, unjudging love. It is the natural equivalent of the Hugging Amma, and we demonstrate obeisance by furiously capturing it for posterity. This is one deity that must grace our humble home.

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    Presently, we chance upon a stream, and proceed to wash away our sins by wiggling toes and splashing each other’s sinful faces. Did you know we need to wash before we enter the inner sanctum of an Agyari or Atash Behram? For every cleanliness-obsessed Parsi, there are three rules on how to scrub behind the ears. Heaven seems just around the bend, as we are tempted to float on our backs and sail away to a parallel plane, where our spirit guides dole out personalized M&Ms in silvery gauze gift bags.

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    But then, gentle reader, we chance upon this. And our wretched spirits soar to the tops of these cloud-cossetted trees, awed by this magical Land of Wishing Trees, and never mind the mixed Blyton references, have you ever seen a 5’9″ woman this dwarfed??? Even as our bodies shrink and our souls expand, we whisper gratitude into the ether and thank the universe for landing us plonk in the middle of this paradise.  Newly awash in this unique redwood incense, we turn homeward, blessed for being able to choose our definition of spirituality, and for this, the best of Sundays.

     

    Under the Redwood Trees

    5 Feb

    There is no feeling in the world comparable to standing on a forest floor, surrounded by redwood trees as they quietly, mightily graze the sky. It wasn’t a feeling I was familiar with when we first moved to Northern California 3 years ago. An acutely urban creature, I am completely at ease amidst concrete and glass towers, maddening traffic, and the ceaseless buzz of humanity that characterizes metropolitan cities. Be it New York, Philadelphia, Boston, L.A., Paris, Washington D.C., Miami, London, Seattle, San Francisco, or my own Bombay, I have felt a sense of comfort in city air. I have never known nor craved the outdoors, or wanted a home with a sprawling garden like some folks dream of. The streets were to get to places. Who aimlessly rambled outside their home when there was so much fun to be had with indoor pursuits? So when I first walked into a redwood state park 40 minutes from our home, a never-before hush descended on me.

    There, in patches of sunlight that struggled through dense treetops, I experienced an exquisite sense of aloneness. Not to be confused with loneliness, no, just a feeling of being the only human in that cool, scented universe, being watched by companionable flora and the creatures that call it home.

    Occasionally, there were others who passed by respectfully, with a nod and genial smile, their sneakers crunching along the path, babies on their front or bottles of water on their hip. Then, I was alone again.

    The silence pressed in on my eardrums. It is amazing how deafening a lack of sound can be. There was, quite literally, nothing. I strained to catch a distant chopper. I recognized the sound of my breath. And all the while, I was dwarfed by these magnificent natural marvels that have stood guard for several centuries.

    I touched their tannin-tinted bark. Imagined what they have witnessed. Has their environment changed so much in the last 500 years? Some trunks lay horizontal, their gnarled roots exposed. Others formed a ring around their Mother Tree, a mammoth entity worthy of awe. A carpet of ferns sprawled around them, gleaming emerald-gold in the slanting light. Embarrassedly, I hugged one of the slimmer trees, my arms wrapped around its solid girth. Bloody Californian, I mocked myself inwardly. But there was wisdom in soaking up their energy, and I was conscious of doing just that as I loitered, no particular plan in mind, no agenda, just a wish to be.

    Deeper in the woods is a river. Jumping across stones, I stripped my socks off and wiggled toes in an icy stream. I’ll never be Huck Finn, it’s true, but for someone for whom taking off footwear outside the home is a Parsi version of haraam, you’ve got to concede it was a beginning!

    The sun traveled, ruling a cloudless sky. Such welcome warmth in its friendly rays! I inhaled the pungent, heady scent of our ancient friends one last time, then turned and walked toward ‘civilization’. And this worshipper of all things urban knew an unexplored part of her had awoken.

    ~

    I leave you with pictures from an afternoon jaunt to Land of Medicine Buddha and the ‘Enchanted Forest’ in the Santa Cruz mountains, and hope you experience the peace I did. Click on any picture you wish to view larger.

    [Credits: Instagram on my Google Nexus phone, and the charming Land of Medicine Buddha.]

    Opposes/Supposes

    11 Dec

    I shared this with close friends exactly a year ago, and the question still haunts me, so I thought I’d put it out there for you guys to shed light on. Not your typical cheery holiday fare, I know.

    ~

    American rhetoric is littered with war words on a daily basis. The nation’s lexicon is so charged with conflict–the war against smoking, the battle against cancer, the fight to save a marriage–that every act, no matter how innocuous, is verbally militarized. So deeply entrenched are these cultural references to violence, that those raised in the country barely appear to notice. Is there anyone else who sees this? I can’t be the only one! Why don’t we question it? Is there any literature or research on this that would help me understand the phenomenon?