Tag Archives: memories

A Month of Milestones

15 Jul

I’ve been terribly remiss about blogging (as is apparent, how clever of me to point it out!) and am going to blame it squarely on eustress: good stress caused by positive life changes, in this case a new job, a visit from family, travel, several celebrations, and the contradictory urge to romance my couch and see no one but my Boy.
With that long-winded excuse out of the way, let’s collectively acknowledge some fun milestones in this, the best of months:

  • July 1: A bloggy birthday! Wisdom Wears Neon Pyjamas turned 6 and I did nothing but blow my blog a kiss. Finally, I understand all those couples who have to halt a moment and calculate how many years they’ve been married. The ones whose limbs are extensions of each other and those who think in twos. Not-so-Little Blogette and I, we’re at that comfortable juncture. I love her like an old shoe. She knows I’ll be back. I’ve been coming back for 8 and a half years. But in the meanwhile, there are sparkly heels to be tried. Oh, and speaking of heels…..
You likey?

You likey?

  • July 7: On this day in 1994, a girl tapped my shoulder as I sat on a class bench in front of her. “Excuse me, are you OJ?” she asked. “No, I’m Janice!” I replied huffily, knowing full well that she knew my name. What didn’t penetrate my thick skull was that she was trying to start a conversation. A lesser mortal would’ve run for the hills. She, she came back, and for the last 20 years has been my dearest friend, soul sister, and rock of Gibraltar (no connection to the one I couldn’t visit!) Her name means “Jewel of the World” and my lord, how she has shone me through my darkest hours. We now know why we weren’t given sisters: having each other, a birth sister would be a mere appendage.
  • July 9: Daddy blew out a ring of candles on a cake brought by SOMEBODY ELSE. HMPH. That’s right, snatch cake-sending rights away from your first-born now. That dethroned monarch business just never ends. But my Daddy, he had a birthday, and oh how the world is wealthier because his goodness dwells in it! (Still throwing that corner tantrum, though. )
  • July 25: SO excited about this upcoming birthday, not only because hell-0, it’s a BIRTHDAY, what’s not to be excited about, but also because it is another important milestone. Champagne and cake all around! Would it be terribly inappropriate to wear a huge party hat, get one of those tooter horns and be my very own one-woman parade? No?! See, this is why I love you guys. :mrgreen:
Here, make do with the cake our SIL baked on July 4

Here, make do with the cake our SIL baked on July 4th

~

In Other News…
When the Boy’s brother got married last year, I heard a strange word for the first time: “co-sister”. Apparently, in the south of India, this term denotes women married to brothers. Being a similar combination of un-Southern and irreverent, my sister-in-law (the one of cake fame above) and I cracked up over the term, came up with instagram hashtags for it, invented a co-sister ghetto sign, and even harmonized “Hey sister, co-sister” (Lady Marmalade). Can you tell I love her? Will I be forever banned from kanjeevarams and mallige for this? *beats chest at the thought of no more bisibele bhaath in her life and eyes some Angus divinity in its place*

~
My 18-month-old niece called me this morning. She is currently visiting family in Texas, saw her mother’s phone lying around, found my contact on it, dialed, and chirped “Hi OJ Mami!” When my uterus finally un-puddles itself from the floor, I can’t wait to watch her in mid-toddlerhood-almost-preteen action.

~
We’ve been taking visiting friends and family to this Gujarati thali place that serves the most amazing shrikhand and khichdi, among other delicacies, but I won’t be going back for a bit, because the last time I had 5 helpings of khichdi and they started looking at me funny and avoiding my gaze and I’m mortified that I might have eaten them out of business. This redness of face isn’t rosacea, my friends, it’s ignominy.

How do you solve a problem like more khichdi?

How do you turn a seventh helping down?

How do you walk away from yummy khichdeeeeeeee?

Ignore the glutton, she’s just being a clown.

 

~
Swimming: I’ve been the resident hippo lately, breast-stroking gently through cool, turquoise waters on these warm summer days while our American neighbors wear toddler-sized swimwear, chug beers, burn themselves to a crisp, toss their hair and pose, and do everything but swim. Most puzzling, this behavior.

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Books: Sindh: Stories From a Vanished Homeland, by Saaz Aggarwal, and To Marry An English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD Wallace. Both recommended for history buffs, albeit very different eras and geographies.

~
Heard in the OJ-Boy home:
Me: I think I’m getting food-averse. I don’t think I’m so interested in it anymore.
The Boy: Good. Now we can buy a house next year.

How large can I make the font for HMPH??? 😡

Adios, my friends, pardon my future busybeeness, although I will put up a recently-published article before the month is out and would love to hear your thoughts!

Fresh, Fun Food Phrases

20 May

Pardon my alliteration allergy as it gets the better of me again: a deadly, devastating disease that doggedly drives one dotty.  Today, because it’s my favorite day of the work week, because it’s the farthest day from Monday, and because Tuesday’s child is full of grace (at least in her insane imagination), I bring to you a fresh platterful of Parsi food phrases!

Ready? Set? Go!

Bhujelo papad nai bhongi sake“, cannot break a roasted papad.

Pronounced: bhoo-jay-low paa-pud nuh-i bhawn-gee suh-kay

Everybody who knows what a papad is (and for those who don’t, it is a very thin, crisp, disc-shaped cracker made of dough and eaten as an accompaniment with Indian meals) knows that a roasted papad is among the most brittle, fragile things in the world. I routinely break mine even before roasting, but ignore The Resident Klutz.

So bhujelo papad nai bhongi sake refers to a person so lazy and/or inept that they are unable to break even a roasted papad.

Give it a try: Perin Kaki won’t be able to manage a house full of guests. Evan toh bhujelo papad nai bhongi sake! (By the way, true story. May Perin Kaki get lots of ready-roasted papad, wherever she is in the firmament.)

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Daar bari gayi“, someone whose dal is burnt, i.e. someone who is miffed/bitter/in a huff.

Pronounced: Daa-r buh-ree guh-ee

Wouldn’t you be pissed off if the dal (lentils for non-desis) you so lovingly stirred and simmered, all the while inhaling the aroma of garlic and turmeric and ghee, dreaming of topping it with crispy onions and garlic, fused with the bottom of your tureen and decided to char? Similarly, someone whose “daar bari gayi” is in a foul mood for a multitude of reasons not necessarily associated with the universal Indian lentil!

For example: Khursheed ni dar bari gayi because Jimmy didn’t get her jewelry on their anniversary.

~

Karakri biscuit“, a person as brittle/fragile as a biscuit.

Pronounced: Kuh-raak-ree biscuit

Usually used to refer to someone whose health is fragile/prone to illness, likely to crumble easily like a cookie/biscuit (the English/Indian sort–not the flaky, madly yummy American kind!)

This is how we say it: Arre no no! Don’t offer her street food, she’s a karakri biscuit as it is!

Or: These NRIs are such karakri biscuits-the smog bothers them, the food affects them, and they routinely pass out in the heat!

~

Chhamna jeva pug“, feet like a pomfret.

Pronounced: Chhum-naa jay-vaa pug (like hug)

Before you start visualizing feet growing gills and reeking of fishy smells, let me assure you that “chhumna jeva pug” merely means flat, wide feet– shaped like a pomfret, the Parsi National Fish. Growing up, I had a friend whose mother would constantly point out her “chhumna jeva pug”, to which she’d retort that chhumna (pomfrets) didn’t have any pug (feet)!

Get your Parsipanu on: Where do I find shoes in my brother’s size??? He has such chhumna jeva pug!

~

Ghotala-ma-goas“, bungle in meat.

This good old favorite has already been shared on the blog! Go read about it!

~

Kaando khai toh gaando thai“, the one who eats onions goes mad/crazy.

Pronounced: Kaan-doh khaa-y toh (like toe) gaan-doh thaa-y

I grew up hearing Adi Kaka chant this line with great relish (no pun intended) each time someone at the dinner table asked for the kachubar (Parsi onion salad). I don’t think it is any particular warning against onions  as much as it is a fun bunch of words that rhyme. And given that the lot of us are dotty anyway, this beautiful bulb couldn’t possibly be more crazy-inducing.

Still, chant it with me: Could you pass the kachubar, please?

Sure, but remember, kaando khai toh gaando thai!

~

Did you get your bellyful of Parsipanu? 🙂 Which phrase is your favorite? Does your native language have interesting food metaphors? I’m listening!

The Non-Redundant Indian

5 May

This piece was originally published in this month’s issue of India Currents magazine.

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As a keen follower of Indian politics and the upcoming national elections, and someone who is very active on social media year-round, I have lately been confronted by an interesting phenomenon: The tendency of resident Indians to a) diss NRIs and render them irrelevant by virtue of not residing in the country anymore, and b) actively criticize and debar them from having an opinion about their home country. The logic: You left, therefore you have no right to a voice. So that you understand exactly what I mean, here is a sampling of comments about non-resident Indians by people ostensibly living in India:

NRI types who would go out on a limb for foreign citizenship are the first to invoke patriotism.” (This tweet has been retweeted 15 times and favorite 4 times, so clearly others share this sentiment.)

No one will give you more concerned perceptive and farsighted advises (sic) on how India should be ruled than a NRI who has no plans to return ever!” (7 retweets and 6 favorites.)

All these NRI types vote for Modi, they’re the ones funding him, and we’re left to suffer.” (125 comments on Facebook, of which 83 were in agreement with the sentiment.)

Nasty comments and raging debates on Facebook apart, I and several of my fellow NRIs sense a thinly-veiled resentment directed toward us. Past what may or may not be jealousy of about perceived better living standards, or a residual sense of abandonment, there is the not-so-subtle accusation of betrayal and it scowls “You left.”

Let’s get some basic facts first: Of the 22 million Indians living outside India, at least 10 million still hold an Indian passport. Remittances to India totaled to $70 billion at last count, amounting to 4% of the country’s GDP. Yes, NRIs fund political parties they believe in. And yet, how many Indians in India do you know who would do the same? If you think being an NRI is all political money talk, think again: more than 50% of the funding for India’s top education nonprofit comes from the US, Indians abroad work beyond their full time jobs to actively volunteer for causes back home that range from education to disability to maternal health issues. I am likely to be an exception in that I volunteer for no less than 4 nonprofits working in India. But working right alongside me are Indians who have been here anywhere between 5 and 35 years. Those who form part of the “stop complaining and get it done brigade”. Those who put their money where their mouth is and ensure that millions can access the basic rights that we enjoy in our new countries—ones that successive governments have failed to provide Indians. For this, we are not even given our basic right to vote through consulates, and have to either spend on flying ourselves down to do it— a very expensive proposition, and not always logistically possible—or watch in silence as our country goes to polls and our voices are deemed irrelevant.

I have been on both sides of this apparent divide. As someone who has spent 5-year chunks of time in the US and then India and now the US again, I have been witness to plenty of non-resident Indians and Indian non-residents, a term I used to describe the many people encountered who complain loudly about the state of affairs, won’t move a finger to change them, and, while physically present in the country, won’t even bother to visit a polling booth. “What’s going to change,” I am defiantly asked, and labeled a sentimental fool for hoping.

When it comes to chowing down the latest New Zealand rack of lamb recipe that costs the equivalent of the working class’ monthly paycheck or going berserk at the Zara sale, plenty of Indians will be the first to declare that with the world going global now, it doesn’t matter where we live. Why then this discrimination against those who choose for whatever reason to live away from their homeland? Our money is gladly accepted, Indian-origin celebrities and achievers are proudly touted by the motherland as one of their own, but when it comes to having an opinion about the country we grew up in, we’re suddenly pariahs? It is all very convenient to declare oneself a global citizen and then deny a fellow Indian the right to a voice about his/her country based on their location—rest assured it reeks of hypocrisy.

One argument against non-resident Indians is that we are unaware of the ground realities by virtue of being physically removed from them. This is certainly true of some part of the NRI population. It is also equally true of some part of the resident Indian population. But in this age of global connectivity, instant news updates, round-the-clock media, and Twitter frenzy, the premise does not hold true anymore. Gone are the days when we would land in India after a span of several years, only to find we were serious misfits and the country of our birth was unrecognizable to us. More than ever, with the first generation Indian migrant population ballooning, especially in places like Silicon Valley, service providers, both Indian and local, have worked toward bringing the land into our homes on a daily basis. Our passports are perceived as unavoidable inconveniences, temporary pit-stops on the way to other colored ones, and our very nationality is questioned for our audacity in getting on a plane out of the country.

Over the last decade, there have been waves of NRIs returning to their home country, not just to visit, but to establish roots and make a life where they started theirs. There are others who divide their time between lands. Whether we choose to return or stay on, our cultural and emotional connection is, believe it or not, stronger than the iron-clad US immigration system, and no, we don’t all come down in droves every December to whine about smog and dug-up footpaths and the myriad failures of state that seem to especially embarrass you in our presence. Our ties to India are primarily emotional. Almost all first-generation Indians still have some family there, and, as is human, we worry about their safety, comfort, and peace, as they worry about ours each time there is a mass threat. The sheer number of phone plans and calling cards and now video conferencing options are testimony to our efforts to remain connected to our loved ones, and the land of our birth and heart.

It is time our opinions are heard and considered—if only for the unique perspectives we bring from being exposed to various governance systems around the world. We live in 205 countries and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. We have learned to discard that sense of entitlement that many in our old home still carry, and build lives and families and meaningful existences in all corners of the globe, while a piece of our heart remains where you live. No Indian, resident or otherwise, has the right—moral or legal—to tell another their opinion is irrelevant. If we are to raise India to new heights, and truly make her an equal, competent world player, can we really afford to discount 22 million of her people?

 

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! 😉

Rain Again

13 Mar

This piece was originally published in India Currents magazine. Written as an opinion piece for a print publication, it is longer than the usual post, so sit back with a nice cuppa. 🙂 And share your favorite memories of your favorite season (I’m hoping it’s the monsoon!) Oh, and for other rain-related posts, read this and this.

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Three and a half decades ago, on a late July night in Bombay, the rain came clattering down on the red-tiled roof of the Parsi General Hospital. Just a few hours earlier, my mother had delivered her firstborn, and I lay in a bassinet under ultra violet light, tiny and jaundice-ridden, strangely soothed by the rumble of thunder even as other babies wailed and started.

In the years that followed, the only thing that made the start of the school year tolerable was the monsoon that accompanied it. Through the warm downpours and rising waters of my coastal city I would wade, delighted by the damp and the puddles and my red Bata gumboots.

My first solo travel experience happened at 18. And as the train wound through the emerald northern Maharashtra countryside, my face mirrored my elation. It was August, a steady stream of raindrops splashed my tee-shirt in the doorway, the wind was in my face, life lay waiting for me, I was young, and thrilled, and free!

Die-hard fans of summer can keep their king of fruit and the steaming, sultry weather that comes with it. Each year of my life, June was the Holy Grail, and the anticipation of rain was excruciating. Sometimes the clouds would gather, then flit away. Every pore of our bodies spewed humidity. Who could blame the brainfever bird in its near-hysterical state? I would fly between trees in agony if I could! Finally, at long painful last, the sky would darken, the drops would descend, falling faster and faster toward the eager earth, and all life would stop to watch  the miracle unfold.

Even as animals scuttled away to safety and dry spaces, human beings would emerge to partake of what was surely heaven’s blessing, laughing, splashing and exulting in the headiness of this grand new season. As the days turned into weeks, these same ribbons of water would cause damage to parts of the city, washing away homes and flooding the roads with their ferocity, but in that first moment, they were welcomed like god himself, all of his creatures rising to celebrate this magnificent arrival.

Indian movies are frequently accused of filling our brains with associations of rain and romance, but as a child I watched none. And yet, I cannot imagine anything more romantic than the end of summer and the lushness, virility and borderline-obscene greenness of this reckless season. Not for the monsoon is the polite chill of winter; not for the rains are the persistent claws of heat; this is a time for unbridled joy and a celebration of life and all that perpetuates its cycle.

My personal definition of rain was a downpour, one in which we could barely see beyond the cascading sheets of water. Anything less was a mere drizzle, and the sheer number of words used in India to describe rain based on its volume never fail to amaze. There is varsaad for rain—audible but not blinding; there is jhoptu for a brief, forceful shower; there was chhip-chhip for a slight drizzle; and naago varsaad for that rare combination of simultaneous rain and sun. There are also dhor maar (pouring) and ghela ni kani (like a madman), my favorite kind of precipitation. And these are just the Gujarati words! Then there are the Marathi rhymes our maids taught us about their beloved, benevolent bestower of prosperity on the fields back home.

The scent of wet earth is a cliché that’s been done to death—for a reason. Have you ever smelled anything that drove you to greater elation? That scooped you right up and plunged you straight into your childhood? That made you long for this unique and precious Indian phenomenon on this continent so far away?

When the skies turn stormy in our home country, Indians across the length and breadth of the land quicken their steps. They emerge onto rooftops and terraces and into narrow gulleys, calling out to friends and neighbors, their eyes trained skyward, their fragile hopes clutched deep within their hearts. The first drops are intercepted before they can embrace the earth, a collective gasp encircles the air, and exultation and dancing are de rigueur. No matter what their age, religion, or station, the advent of the monsoon is the Great Indian Equalizer for my people. In the land of a thousand festivals, this is probably the most universally celebrated and uniformly welcomed. And when that first deluge is done, leaves drip leaky silver missiles onto freshly cleaned streets, and to be sure, it has washed some of the dust off our souls.

When I landed in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day three years ago, I was newly-married and eager to join my spouse. It rained for six straight weeks after my arrival, and even as I laughed about being duped by “sunny” California, I could not have felt more accepted by my new patch of sky. Today, as the state battles the severest drought in its history, that gentle rain is but a memory that I hold on to with hope. A rainless existence affects me in ways deeper than just the physical. It strains the connection to my past, highlights the flaws in this Valley I am learning to befriend, and keeps me hankering for home.

It may sound dramatic, but it’s true: a lack of stormy weather parches my soul. I become unreasonable, forgetting the potholes and waterlogged streets of Bombay, and unfavorably comparing my desert-surfaced skin to the dewy glow of a season run wild to the strains of Hariharan’s “Indian Rain”, the aroma of ginger tea, and the crunch of freshly-fried pakodas. I swear up and down that I’ll visit Bombay this very monsoon, I rail at the maddeningly blue skies, and even as the rest of America faces extreme, dangerous weather, I can only wallow in my own drop-less fate as I watch the country of my birth drifting away on drain water.

Maybe it will rain before the winter is over. Maybe it will compensate for the chronically cloudless air. Maybe it will pour down in sheets as penance, and drive the weather channels into a frenzy. If this indeed manifests, as thousands across this state will it to, then in the midst of it all, remember to watch for a lone Indian woman standing in a parking lot, soaking it all up and deliriously reclaiming her connection to her ancient skies.

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.