Tag Archives: grandmother

Of Ghosts & Reliability

19 Mar

As a child, I could set the numerous antique clocks in our home by Nana’s schedule. At 7.30, she left for work. At precisely 1, she was back. Lunch was at 1.15, and tea was on the table at 3. By 3.30, she had begun to eye the aforementioned clocks as Chandra, washer of utensils and bathrooms in our home, had failed to stick to her arrival time yet again. On some occasions, she waddled in a mere half hour late. On others, there was no sighting at all. But we knew to wait a good hour before we gave up and reassigned her chores to other house help. This behavior never failed to elicit a caustic remark from my not-so-gentle grandmother:

“Chandra noh toh bhoot no bharoso!”, Chandra has all the reliability of a ghost.

Pronounced: Bhoo-t (as in toot), no (as in foe), bhur- (as in fur), -oh- (as in go), -so (as in toe)

Since few can claim to discern the inner workings of a spook’s mind, I suppose they must appear rather come-as-you-please to us mortals. Quite inconvenient, yes, but an entire genre of films would collapse if the spirit world gave advance notice of their appearances, not to mention we would never have the pleasure of this song:

Anyhoo, swooping back to ghostly (un)reliability, let’s practice our newly-acquired Parsipanu:

Dolly noh toh bhoot no bharoso. She confirms 6 o’clock and sashays in at a quarter past eight! 😡

You try:

OJ truly has bhoot no bharoso. Sometimes she’ll post every week, and at others, it’s twice a month. 😕

One last time:

Hey, is Behzad coming for the marathon?

Who knows if he’ll wake up? Enoh toh bhoot no bharoso!

~

Who in your life has bhoot no bharoso?  And now that you are armed with this wonderfully evocative phrase, whom will you use it on?  Tell, tell! Bhoot stories welcome too! 😉

Maps of Heart & Time

8 Nov

She rings the doorbell and skips in through the open door, looking at me for a reaction. I smile and tell her I rang a few unnecessary doorbells in my early years. She processes this information, taking in the tall lady with an unfamiliar accent, who cleans alongside her mother because she’s just anal like that.

I take the Swiss chalet from its perch on the bar, gently wind the old key, and open the roof. Sweet, lilting notes fill the air and her green eyes, sun-streaked hair tumbling into them, widen with delight. The smile extends to her mouth and she holds my gaze as I gently shut the roof. And then, because just once is never enough, I open it again and let the music waft between us.

When she picked this little box of joy somewhere in the Alps 64 years ago, Nana couldn’t have known that someday, a 4-year-old Mexican-American girl would share its delights with her granddaughter, who clings to this memory of her beloved spirit’s life.

November 8, 1921. Just the date makes my heart glad.

Happy birthday. Thank you for knowing how to love me.

Cook Like You Mean It, Feed The World Your Love

5 Nov

While the Boy and I were dating, I cooked for him exactly once. Dumped a packet of readymade Parampara masala into a pressure cooker with some mutton, and dished it up with rice when he returned from a business trip. “Parsi women don’t cook,” I said in an off-hand way, and we moved on to other topics of conversation.

I wasn’t lying. I grew up in a home with family cooks since my great-grandfather’s time, where both Nana and Mum made the sourest of faces when said cook took a day off, and have cousins who engage a caterer to supply their meals on a daily basis.  And, worried that his beloved daughter would have to enter the kitchen, my grandfather sent along a cook with my mother after marriage. That’s right. Other people give their daughters furniture and jewelry. My mother brought along her very own cook. “Slaving in the kitchen,” I was informed by the women in my father’s family, “is not for us.”And so it stood, not questioned or even considered.

The first time I cooked a meal, I was 23 and fresh off the boat in America. Painstakingly referring to my mother’s handwritten recipe notebook, I curried eggplant for my flatmates. It didn’t taste bad. It just didn’t taste of anything at all. “This is shit,” laughed a new flatmate, as I struggled to keep my face composed. I shut the book firmly and put it back in the suitcase that had traveled across the oceans with me. It was the last time I referred to it.

I was clueless. I didn’t know how ingredients blended together, what spice played off what herb on the palate, and which vegetables took longer to cook. Breathing deeply and refusing to be disheartened, I tossed out all written rules and lunged at cooking with my gut. I got creative, I improvised. Rarely measured, and went with what felt right. In a month, my flatmates were marveling at my rapid improvement, and the woman who’d called my food shit was eating second helpings, along with her words. Some months later, I was hosting a lunch for 20 hungry students (who, agreed, will eat anything), whipping up batches of freshly fried fish for 4 non-stop hours, all by myself, and reveling in my newfound skill.

No deaths were reported that day, and from then on, there was no looking back. I fed myself and my friends many hearty meals in the years that I lived in America. When I moved back to Bombay, my kitchen activity churned to a grinding halt. Home claimed other parts of me, and I didn’t care about mucking around in the kitchen when my childhood cook was at the ready, serving up all my old favorites. It was no wonder then, that the Boy realized with delighted surprise only after we moved to California, that his spouse could throw a meal together and he didn’t have to pretend to love it.

The last year and nine months have been a journey of elaborate, made-from-scratch home-cooked dinners to throw-something-together-after-12-mindnumbing-hours-at-work meals. I have ground and peeled and grated and stirred, pureed and sautéed and infused and simmered. Concocted my own potions, and experimented with the tried and tested. Alongside my steadfast mission of honoring my roots, I have expanded my repertoire of recipes, scouring cookbooks and aunts’ memories, discovering food bloggers, and calling my mother at odd hours to ensure that exact taste of home. I have delighted in the heady scents of spices, the delicate notes of lavender and lemon, the more temperate palate of soups and bakes, and the kick of fiery Thai curries. The Boy devours it all like he was born to it, wants dhandar and fish every Sunday, recommends my dhansak to anyone within earshot, and is wowed by all the things Parsis can do with the humble eedu.

I cook for friends. I create for family. I conjure with all my senses and rejoice in feeding people. And today, I take a moment to acknowledge the amazing lady from whom this love of food and its preparation is inherited. Born on November 5th, 94 years before this one, my Granny left us many years ago, but in so many ways lives on. A sorceress in the kitchen and puppeteer of an intricate ingredient minuet, her food—comforting, flavorful, hearty, deceptively simple, nutritious, and madly scrumptious—was the stuff of my childhood dreams, and I am so, so glad her love of the culinary arts skipped a generation and was bestowed on me. (Also inherited were the chubby genes and the ability to be a human pillow that annoyingly skipped a generation too, but never mind that. 🙄 )

I do not aim to match my grandmother’s skill, for that is the stuff of family legend, with relatives traveling miles out of their route for a taste of her good stuff. I only wish to be the flag bearer of her passion for the things that nourish our body and spirit. George Bernard Shaw was bang on when he said “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” And I know he and my mum’s mum are having an agreeable chin wag about that wherever in the firmament they are.

Happy birthday, Granny. In these delicious ways, may I continue to honor you.

A Week in Bullet Points

5 Nov
  • Our trip to the East Coast was fantastic. Everything we wished for and more. One of those rare periods of time when everything went off seamlessly, without a glitch, and we created stronger bonds and happier memories. No, I’m not gushing. This time was truly precious and we will always cherish it. For me, it was my best trip ever, to any place. And in the fray for that title were the surprise trip to Mussoorie to see Ruskin Bond and our pretty plush honeymoon in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.
  • It was also surreal. We walked around on campus, with me interspersing our contemplative silence with stories of “Here’s where we marched against the war in Iraq…” and “Here’s where we all lay down at 3 in the morning to watch a meteor shower….” and “This is where I watched the plane hit the second tower…” and I kept expecting the guys from the Engineering School to call out, “Hey, Bawi!” and to see my Swathi, flatmate and darling friend, scuttle down University Hill like the white rabbit, announcing she was late. I half expected to hear Prof. Evatt’s Texan drawl, to turn the corner and have Prof. Guiniven tell me he’d never met an Indian he didn’t like (and I’d retort that I had), and to witness one more candlelight vigil at the Hendricks Chapel. It was like time had formed a vacuum corridor and sucked out most of the people I knew and replaced them with fresher faces who looked at me blankly. But those who remained remembered me. And I was engulfed in warm hugs and exclamations. It was good to be back. It had been too, too long.
  • I surprised myself. Did not shriek or cry like I’d imagined I would. Laughed and exclaimed a lot. I visited my first apartment. Rang the bell, was buzzed in, and begged to be let in to see the first room I paid for with my own money. The suspicious Chinese student looked at me like I was Saddam Hussein and waved me away. I had on an angora beret for Pete’s sake, I wailed to the Boy. Who in their right mind would wear fancy headgear if they wanted to bust an apartment?  😦
  • New York City was the perfect starting and ending point for our trip. Devoid of any powerful memories, it is neutral ground and I can view it any way I choose to. And we chose to have fun! A day of Manhattan-ing at the Met, in Central Park, and on Broadway (Watch Mary Poppins! It’s excellent!) with the Boy’s brother and cousins was so enjoyable, even though we all had sore feet from all that gadding about. I spent an afternoon with an old and dear girlfriend. And it’s true what an ex-colleague said to me on this trip: You don’t realize how much you’ve missed someone until you see them. The City brought home how alarmingly soft we’ve grown in California. This was the first time since we moved in 2011 that we used public transport. Yup. You can close that jaw now. No wait, let me finish. I was the prissy princess who sanitized her hands each time she rode the subway. Okay, now I’m all done. Oops, too late, a fly just sauntered in.
  • I visited the place where awful things had happened to me. And stared it in the eye, cursed under my breath, then out loud, blew out bitterness like smoke rings, and then let it go. I faced my demons and made my peace with the past. I will carry its lessons for a lifetime, but I cannot be burdened with its weight anymore. Wonder of wonders, there were no sniffles, and I suspect that had to do with the rock standing by my side through it all.
  • I also found my Gujarati grandma, sitting right where I had left her 7 years ago, and knew I was home. Someday I will share how special this delightful 85-year-old is, her life story, and her progressive beliefs, but for now, all I’ll say is that she embraced the Boy like the son she never had and told me my piyar had been waiting for me all along. Life is too short, and good souls too many, to love and be loved by people related only through blood.
  • Even so, my brother was the highlight of this trip, though we met way too briefly. I hadn’t seen him in nearly two years, and this meeting did us both good. Siblings become even more precious as we grow older, do they not? That I got to see him in Boston, my favorite city in the country, was the icing on the dark chocolate torte. My baby brother made lassi for me. *sniff* And offered us homemade kaju katli. *blubber* He’s all growned up now. *desperately searches for a tissue* He was still eating leftovers from our dinner together, 4 days later. Praise the lord some things never change.
  • On this journey eastward and pastward, places, memories and people melded to form a potent amalgam in our lives. We met new family, old friends, my American parents and bonus grandma, both our only siblings (as as textbook first-borns, the Boy and I feel a shade responsible for these 31- and 29-year-old men respectively), ex-coworkers, advisors, mentees, and then we met one additional person: the old me.  The Boy quite liked her, I think. This was the last bastion in the list of places that have made me who I am, and also the most significant. And I was glad he could meet the 20s me, and the places that sculpted the person who eventually became his partner. Me, I smiled at her quietly, and told her she hadn’t done too badly for herself. She tried her best and gave it her all, and for that I will always love her.
  • We came home sated. And so, so much richer. How can anyone who acquires a pair of chocolate suede boots not be fabulously wealthy? Immediately upon our return, our life and friends here swarmed around us busily, and even as we were swept along, we know we’ll always look back with gratitude at this most blessed of times, a moment when life truly came full circle for me.

My Grandma’s Glasses

6 Jul

I’m sure it’s hardly news to you guys that I derive amusement from the search terms that bring visitors to this blog. Case in point, this entire category. So when the one below showed up, I giggled a little:

Then it occurred to me, what if someone really was looking for a poem for their 9-year-old? What if they searched and browsed and scoured books and the WWW and were disappointed not to find it here? What if they went home at night and apologized to their dejected child and they both stayed up worrying all night, the parent racked with guilt and the child quaking in fright at his teacher’s reaction the next morning? And because I’m nothing if not a bleeding heart and carrier of guilt about everything from the loss of a Palestinian homeland to the crisis in Kashmir, I arrived at a decision. “This child shall have his poem!” I cried and stood up with righteous purpose. Quickly realizing that it’s easier to write in seated position, rear end made contact with couch, and I hammered away at faithful Adele.

Here they are, simple enough verses that should hopefully satisfy all concerned parties. As for me, I’ll sleep well tonight, knowing a little boy somewhere averted a nasty remark in his school diary.

P.S. Do they still have school diaries these days?

P.P.S. I didn’t get a single mean remark in my diary. Ever. Thank you for letting me share boast  share.

My Grandma’s Glasses

by Orange Jammies

My Grandma wears big glasses

They’re blurry, thick and round

I bet if I sat on them

They’d make a cracking sound

~

Like children on a play slide

They slip down her nose

And bounce along her bosom

Everywhere she goes

~

Grandma says they help her

To sew, to read, to knit

So whenever I hide them

She gently throws a fit

~

One afternoon I stuffed them

Under the cushions round

And laughed as Grandma looked and looked

Then sighed and groaned and frowned

~

She tried to make some cookies

And rolled out the dough

But instead of adding sugar

She tossed in salt—what do you know!

~

She attempted to be helpful

By washing all my socks

But strangely enough what got soaked

Was my stamps in their box!

~

I shrieked, I howled, I hopped around

In anger and in pain

Salty cookies and unwashed socks

Were driving me insane

~

I dug under the cushions

The same ones oh-so-round

And pulled out Grandma’s glasses

From underneath the mound

~

Take them, take them, I pleaded

Let my world be alright

I promised never to hide Grandma’s

Crucial guides to sight

~

The next morning I arose from bed

And smelled something bake

In my drawer were bright, clean socks

As many as I wished to take!

~

We had cookies for breakfast

They were a special treat

Especially because, no, only because

They were so very sweet

~

My Grandma she must love me

I saw a glimmer in her eye

When she announced as her glasses bounced

Our next treat: apple pie!

~

I make sure Grandma’s glasses

Stay firmly on her nose

This time it was cookies and socks

Next time, who knows?!

To Nana. Because Silence Never Worked For Us.

19 Oct

I tried to celebrate your birthday quietly. To hug you to myself and cradle your memories and bask in my fortune at being loved by you. It was a silent day, the hours bristling with things unsaid, and aside from an oblique mention to the Boy and a brisk, awkward acknowledgement to Dad, I bent inward and let you incubate in me.

But now I want the world to know. You, the most beautiful of women. You, of the grey eyes, porcelain skin and sparkling wit. Your heart larger than your slender gold-bangled hands that patted me to sleep each night. Your temper shorter than your bobbed hair. Your eagerness to devour the world. To engulf me in hugs. To shower “dearies” on my emaciated soul. Your laughter, liberation and military order. And midget nail scissors wielded compulsively. Your sharp mind slipping away into a fog of grey. Your sprightly legs that exhausted us. The parchment skin that contained our history. The flannel blanket you laid for me nightly. Your belief I was leaving forever.  And then, turning the tables and slipping away before I could burst out from behind the door, laughing “Here I am!”

You left. Just like that. Because I wasn’t little anymore? Because I had parents? Because you had taught me all? Because you thought I was ready?

Now I know what I must do. And when she is born, my beloved soul, you shall have your answer. Or perhaps you already do. And it is I who must await mine.

The Lady Rules

10 Jun

Nana worked in the admin office of a South Bombay girls school for 40 years. With her clipped boarding school accent, strong sense of discipline and not a hair out of place, she held court from behind a large desk, stepping out only to silence high-decibel schoolgirl chatter with her mere presence during Assembly. At least two generations of schoolgirls quaked in their shoes as a hush swept over the room, and I, on my rare visits to her workplace, would wonder how they couldn’t see the person whose love of laughter and good times I have inherited.

Knowing her extreme honesty and loyalty to her employers, traits historically associated with our community (but certainly not exclusive to the Parsees), the school board entrusted her with the annual fee collection. “If I had taken only a hundred rupees from each of the families who came seeking admission, we’d have a bungalow on Altamount Road today,” she was fond of saying. But for Nana, Altamount Road bungalows held little attraction if they came with dishonor, and so we continued living, as had 3 generations before us, in a humbler locality down the road, where the prices of homes run into only single digit crores versus the doubles Peddar , Carmichael and Altamount Roads command.

But this post isn’t about Nana’s honesty. It is about the rules she lived her life and ran her home by. The etiquette that made her every bit of the lady she was—straight-backed, well-mannered and house-proud.  And it is now, in the setting of my own home, that I realize how tremendous her influence has been.  How grateful I am for it. And how I have consciously and unconsciously modeled my home living on her ways.

This post isn’t to toot my/her horn or uphold a certain way of life over others as much as it is a documentation of the lines I grew up hearing. The practices that insidiously crept under my skin and now hold me very willingly captive. This is a collection of my grandmother’s hostessing, housekeeping  and daily living beliefs, but they are certainly not the only things she held dear.  I write this so that someday I may pass on to my children a way of life that they are tied to by blood. Whether they choose to follow or reject it will be up to them.  Some or none of these may apply to you, but bear with me, I do this for myself. Without further ado, here are The Lady Rules:

  • A home must be, at the very least, clean and organized. Beauty is not optional. As much as you can afford it, take the trouble to tastefully design and maintain your nest. Make it a joy to live in.
  • Don’t confuse simplicity and frumpiness. Worse, don’t use the former as an excuse for the latter. Decorating a home needn’t be expensive or bury you under the effort.
  • Maintenance is key. Polish the furniture, use dust covers and moth balls where necessary, rotate the crockery and linens, nip signs of wear and tear in the bud. Antique furniture requires devotion. There’s a reason why Parsi-owned cars sell at a premium.
  • When playing hostess, do not ignore rooms you think your guests won’t see. Lay on the embroidered bedcovers, tidy your desk, have potpourri/perfume and extra hand towels in the bathrooms.
  • Take the trouble to look presentable when you have guests over. It’s disrespectful to be sloppily dressed and for heaven’s sake, don’t run around in your slippers just because it’s your home. Wear shoes, like everyone else.  <Note: Parsis do not remove shoes at the door.>
  • Stepping over the threshold necessitates a switch from house slippers to shoes. Yes, even to buy bread. <House slippers are a non-negotiable, by the way.>
  • Slippers are what you wear at home. A sandal must have a strap at the back and at least a low heel, or you can’t wear it with a saree.
  • A handbag. Never go without. And please carry one to suit the occasion and your outfit.
  • Coordinate your handbag and footwear. And always carry a handkerchief, preferably with a dab of perfume on it.
  • Dress appropriately. Be event-specific. Wear your family jewelry proudly but elegantly. Never pile on all the pieces. Bling looks best on Christmas trees. Don’t go around clinking and jangling like a bag of coins.
  • When in doubt, pearls and baby pink always work.
  • Manicures and pedicures are a good idea. Even if you just cut your nails short, your hands and feet are visible signs of grooming.
  • Learn to lay the cutlery when you are young, so you know which fork to begin with when you’re older.
  • Practice eating with a fork and knife in front of the mirror when you’re about 6, so you can be taken to the Taj and won’t embarrass your ancestors.
  • Always “pardon?”, never “hanh?”
  • Excuse me when you sneeze, God bless you when someone else does.
  • Mind your Ps and Qs.
  • Zip that mouth when there’s food in it and zip it good. And may Ahura Mazda help you if chomping sounds emanate.
  • Clean the toilet seat each time you’re done. Especially in another’s home.
  • Use “tameh” (the Gujarati version of the Hindi “aap”) for all older people, even the domestic help.
  • Pick up after yourself and thank the household help. You’re not the boss of anybody.
  • When sitting on a chair, your feet stay down, down, down. If you want to cross your legs, go join a yoga class.
  • When visiting someone’s home for the first time, take a little token—flowers, a box of chocolate, something they would appreciate.
  • Never give back an empty container. Not even to your mother. Put just sugar in it if you have to, but don’t leave it empty.
  • Cash, cheques, letters are all handed over in envelopes. If you think it’s a waste of paper, don’t write on the cover and ask the person to reuse it.
  • Write a note or call to say thank you for having me over.
  • Apologize for rude windy sounds that emanate from your body. Burping after eating is for neanderthals in the hinterlands.
  • Use napkins at mealtimes. Light a candle or have a pretty centerpiece at the table. Play soft, soothing music if possible. It aids in conversation and digestion.
  • Do not display personal pictures in the public areas of the home. Portraits are acceptable. Photographs can be put up in the inner rooms that are not typically meant for guest use.
  • Unless the guest is a close friend or relative and will be living with you, a house tour is an unnecessary Indian ritual. It is a home, not a museum. Unless you live in Buckingham Palace, a walk-through isn’t necessary.
  • If you have been eating, wipe your mouth on a napkin before taking a sip of your drink.
  • At a table, seating must be so arranged that a person from the opposite sex sits across from as well as next to you.
  • Cutlery is to be laid so you use it from the farthest piece from the plate to the nearest.
  • Have a basic knowledge of drinks that go with specific foods, even if you do not imbibe.
  • If you are not comfortable with a guest smoking in your home, inform them politely and lead them to the balcony. Politely is the key word.
  • Don’t confuse formality with courtesy. Many folks don’t know the difference, there is no reason for you to be one of them.
  • When hostessing, ensure there is adequate seating for everyone. And extra crockery. The same goes for beds and sleep-over guests. We do not throw down mattresses and flop onto them, or, heaven forbid, sit on the floor and eat. <insert dramatic shudder>
  • Do a weekly nail and hair check. Does either need a trim? Banish chipped nail paint. And oil your hair. Just don’t gad all over town without washing it off first.
  • Iron your pillow covers and bedsheets. Or let the help/dhobi do it. Live genteelly, even if no one’s watching.
  • Whites are always washed separately. They live longer that way. Refer earlier point on maintenance.
  • Put washed linen and crockery at the bottom of the pile so the unused ones get a chance/an airing.
  • Do not encourage latecomer guests. Do not be a latecomer guest. It isn’t fair to those who made the effort to arrive on time.
  • Be warm and welcoming to family and friends. Even if you have leftovers, gather around, make them comfortable and enjoy life’s blessings together.
  • Ensure your granddaughter is around, learning and imbibing these ways, so that someday she may write of the gray-eyed, pepper-haired grand dame with a heart larger than the vast home she lived and loved in.