Almost 3!

Baby M is not a baby anymore! I really should start using his real name now, given that our identity is not such a big secret (with the link to my other blog). So well, Mihir turns three next Tuesday and I simply cannot get over the fact that my baby’s a big boy already! Imagine, he’ll be starting big school this June! I was going through my blog this past hour and it feels so wonderful to read the little I’ve written about him, that I’m feeling very guilty to have missed recording all the little joys from his entire third year here. So, much that I hate writing bullet point posts, here’s a quick recap of the year gone by.

  • This year, like the two that came before, has been all about Mihir! Funny that I wished for a little girl all my life, but this little boy I wouldn’t exchange for a thousand little girls! Talking nineteen to the dozen, making up his own outrageous stories, asking me to read the same book every single day, singing nursery rhymes or reciting alphabets and numbers all day long, running all the way to the neighbourhood park in the evening, insisting on kissing my nose and giving me a hug each time I make a sad face, he’s the joy and pride of my life as I’m sure he’ll always be!
  • Mihir has enjoyed every bit of his nursery school this year. Barring the first week when he cried a little, he’s gone happy, smiling and literally running and jumping to school every single day. It helps that the school is less than a minute’s walk from our place. And it’s just so wonderful to see his happy face when he comes out with his friends everyday, proudly showing off the ‘two-two stars’ on his hands, a pat on the back from his teachers for something nice he did that day!
  • And then there’s the wonderful friends he and I have made at his school – our mom’s group is the closest I’ve come to making real friends and enjoying girly stuff after college. We stay back to chat after we drop the kids at school every single day, exchanging notes on everything under the sun and ribbing each other like anything, meet up regularly for extended gab-and-hog sessions, take the kids to the park or go shopping or walking together, even babysit each other’s kids at times. Such fun! Most importantly, everyone in the group is chilled out, not quick to take offence unlike others I’ve been unfortunate enough to encounter in the past.
  • The domestic help situation at home has finally settled down, touchwood. Talk to any Mumbai mom, and she’ll tell you what a blessing that is. My new help is mature, sincere, polite and reliable. She cooks reasonably well and has struck up a good relationship with Mihir. And wonder of wonders, she never ever takes an unscheduled holiday. What can I say, simply, touchwood again!
  • It’s such a blessing to have your parents live in the same city as you. The husband and I have our weekly off on Saturday nights when we drop off Mihir at his fan club a.k.a. grandparents’ place and go watch a movie or meet friends for dinner. Sunday morning, we have a leisurely breakfast and then go and pick him up by which time I am feeling totally refreshed and ready to cope with Mihir’s boundless energy all over again!
  • We have stayed true to our resolution of exploring India with little Mihir – lots of fun trips this year – Kerala, Rajasthan, Goa and weekend getaways to Alibag and Harihareshwar. Coming up next is a short trip to Matheran with my parents and a longer one in the summer, probably somewhere in the North.
  • Last but not the least, Little Readers’ Nook! We have over 35 members now with some exciting corporate tie-ups in the offing. Of course, I have made hardly anything in terms of money and very likely never will, but in terms of an experience, it’s been the richest ever. The sense of accomplishment that comes from setting up your own venture from scratch, doing every little thing yourself is amazing – traveling all over Mumbai on the hunt for good books, putting the themes together, coming up with interesting activities to go with the themes, trying out everything with Mihir first, watching him blossom into the best Little Reader ever, explaining your concept to strangers, meeting some wonderful like-minded parents – it’s just like watching your baby grow up, only more fun, and dare I say, more hard work!

So that was the year gone by for me. There have been some small low points of course, but when I look back, I can remember only the good things, so that’s good, right?

P.S. Coming up soon – Mihir’s 3rd birthday party on 5th March. We’ve booked an open air bus from Mumbai’s famous double decker fleet and will be taking his friends on a joyride along Mumbai’s coastline. Return gifts will be Tulika books. And the neighbourhood balloonwala will decorate the open deck with bunches of gas balloons. My secret dream has always been to set free a huge bunch of those balloons à la Rajesh Khanna in Anand – let’s hope the kids will leave a bunch for me to set free!

Baby M at almost two!

Hi, Aai’s friends! I hope you still remember me. My Aai, having hopped off the blogging bandwagon, was determined to keep me away too. ‘Why not let me write if you are too lazy Aai?’, I kept asking her. She of course had no reply to that. But when I decide to do something, you can be sure I’ll do it. If not immediately, then as soon as your attention wavers for a second. And so, here I am!

Important things first. I am a big boy now, and I mean really really big – just imagine, I will be two years old come March! I am almost half as tall as Aai already. I expect to overtake her soon. Next stop, Baba! Aai realized how tall I was when I was able to dislodge the animal stickers on my new room’s wall, placed well out of my reach or so she thought. All it took was a couple of pillows strategically placed and stretching myself a bit and wham – mission accomplished! Aai is now complaining about some tiny marks on the wall where the stickers peeled off a little paint, as if anyone is going to notice that! I overheard Aaji scolding Aai about the stickers yesterday, it was quite funny really – why did you buy those cute animal stickers – for Baby M to enjoy them or as wall decor? Good question Aaji! Now why didn’t I think of it myself?

Both my Aaji-Ajobas and Baba are on my side always. Aai is not allowed to scold me in their presence. They keep telling her I am too small to be scolded. I don’t really agree with the small part, but why argue when they are taking my side? Of course, when Aai and I are alone at home, there is no stopping her. M, don’t do this and M, don’t do that! She can be a real good sport at times, and a total wet blanket at others. She’s very unpredictable that way, my Aai. V mavshi (my best friend who plays with me and takes care of  me when Aai goes out) takes my side but that rarely helps. Usually I am able to get Aai to smile and forget her anger with a few giggles or funny faces. If nothing works, a loud high-pitched ‘Aaiieeee’, cried as though I am in great pain is the last resort but even this doesn’t work sometimes. Then I simply stop crying and turn my attention to the next interesting object at hand with a I-couldn’t-care-less expression and watch the amazed look on her face. Such fun, I tell you! And of course, as soon as Aai is sufficiently distracted, I am back to my earlier mischief in the blink of an eye.

Morning and evening, I gesture towards the front door and demand to be taken out. I am able to open all doors inside the house now, but the main door with its funny lock still baffles me. No matter, I am working on it and should get there soon. On the road and the playground, I like to run free. Holding hands is for babies you see. Besides, only when both your hands are free, everything can be properly explored. You can stop and stare at the cat sleeping under the car, hop, skip and jump when the whim strikes you, climb steps of random shops on the way, run your hand across each gate you come across (Someone has to clean them, right?), pat the doggies till they wag their tails and look for interesting stones and pebbles for your home collection.

Many of my friends are in playschool already, but Aai and Baba are determined to hang on to me for a few months more. They say they want me to talk first. I can hardly understand these grown-ups! What else do I do all day if not talk? I call out to my Baba, Aai, Aaji, Ajoba, Kaka, Kaku, Dada, Tai, Mama and Mavshi. I mimic almost every word they speak. I ask for Aai to sing each of my favorite songs, demand water and food, ask for my ball, bat, crayons, cycle, books, point to and call out all the animals in the books and their sounds. Is that not speaking, you tell me?

Hmm. Enough of me now. Why don’t you all tell me something interesting in return too? It’s not fair that only I speak! Say, how about you tell me your favorite activities? Mine are looking at books and asking Aai to tell me the stories in them, listening to songs and rhymes, playing with my ball, helping out around the house when asked to (and even better when not asked to!) – fetching stuff, watering plants, shelling peas, putting things in their proper place – but most of all, running about exploring things.

Okay then, bye. Do remember to write in and tell me what you enjoy doing. Bye for now!

Mumbaikar again!

How does one begin? Apologies for the long unannounced absence? But after a point, repeated apologies seem meaningless, don’t they? So let me begin as if it’s business as usual instead.

A lot has happened since I last blogged. The trip to Mahabaleshwar was fun. The husband went back to business school after the break. A short trip to Indore happened in the interim. And then the grand news – the husband finished his MBA and decided to take up an offer in Mumbai of all places! Now he already had a prior offer in Chennai, so I had been preparing myself to set up home there. One would think we would be overjoyed to go back to the city where both our families live – the husband and I are both born and brought up in Mumbai – but I was very apprehensive initially.

Ever since we graduated and got married, we have never lived in the city of our birth. Yes, I used to be a Mumbaikar and even traveled by the infamous local trains for four years of engineering college. But after six peaceful years in Pune and rural New York, Mumbai with its frantic pace, pollution, frequent terror attacks and horrifying commute stories never appealed to me as a place to set up roots and bring up our child. Add to all that, the husband’s workplace was to be at the tip of South Mumbai where real estate is unbelievably expensive.

Our families, however, were unanimously happy. And not to get in to too many details, but thanks to their blessings and efforts, we were fortunate enough to set up home in one of the nicest areas of Mumbai, even if I say so myself. Nicest, not the most posh or most expensive, which is so much more important, don’t you think? Picture this – peaceful tree-lined streets, a huge playground, children’s park and sea promenade a stone’s throw away, bustling markets with awesome street-side shopping and eateries in the vicinity and no sign of Mumbai’s ubiquitous slums – what more could one ask for!

The suburb we live in is reputed to be the center of local politics and culture; something or the other is happening always. Mostly good – dramas, concerts, exhibitions and sporting events, sometimes not so good – mostly political demonstrations, but it does keep the atmosphere lively. Festivals are still celebrated in the traditional way. There’s just the right blend of the old and the new, history and progress, wealth and middle class values. The library I recently joined is over a hundred years old, has the most amazing collection of books and charges the princely sum of forty five rupees a month! The biggest flower market in the city, the oldest flyover, the biggest open ground, the most famous temple – you name it and it’s right here. The only thing missing is a huge mall, but the husband and I are hardly great fans of mall culture and we are eager to keep Baby M from it as long as we can, so that’s not a major dampener for us at all.

The biggest reason we chose to live here was the central location of course – the husband travels by bus and reaches office in anything from half an hour to an hour depending on traffic conditions, a blessing by Mumbai standards, believe me.  Weekends are spent exploring South Mumbai – sev puri and pani puri at Chowpatty, long walks and bike rides at Worli seaface, sunsets at Marine Drive, buggy rides at Nariman Point for Baby M, endless window shopping at Colaba causeway for his Aai. All this was a luxury the husband and I hardly knew growing up in the suburbs from where a trip to town involved tedious bus and train travel – all enthusiasm and energy getting exhausted by the time one stepped out of the train at VT station.

We have also been blessed with good neighbors here. An elderly couple next door who dote on Baby M, a sweet little girl his age in the adjoining building to play with, a dada upstairs to teach him football and cricket. The little girl’s mom and I are jogging partners already while the dads are still making plans for a game of tennis – perhaps 2012 will be the lucky year to be graced with this much awaited game!

The proximity to both sets of grandparents and other assorted aunts and uncles and cousins is simply the icing on the cake. It’s such a joy to watch your child being pampered and loved by family! Not to mention the guilty pleasures of matinees watched and candlelight dinners enjoyed while the grandparents babysit!

Living in Mumbai may not be so bad after all, I am now inclined to think. Especially now that I am home with Baby M, sheltered from the grimier aspects of our city. Let’s hope I feel this way always!

P.S. Coming up next – a house tour as soon as I manage to get some good shots. The house isn’t grand by any means, but I am proud of what I’ve managed to do in our cozy little space.

P.P.S. It would be nice if all of you would take the time to say hi just this once, so I know who is still around, reading.

Normal programming…

… recommences! Regular readers, please do excuse the last post. Let’s just say, after weeks of self-control, I found it impossible to resist this opportunity to be naughty staring me right in the face. And now, let’s leave it at that, shall we?

Excitement is in the air at the JnM household. The husband returns from a two month exchange program in the US next week, goodies in tow. Toys and dozens of books for his darling Baby M. A digital SLR and iPhone for himself. And one teeny weeny gift for me. Sigh! How the mighty have fallen!

Okay, I am exaggerating. My gift is a surprise, so I have no idea how tiny (or huge) it is. And guess whose pictures the SLR will end up capturing? And finally, the stuff for Baby M was painstakingly researched and selected and ordered online by none other than yours truly. The poor husband ended up merely playing messenger boy in this instance. So I thought, why not be generous and give him his iPhone in return for the courier service? Yes, I am pretty generous that way.

Baby M will be taking off for Mahabaleshwar as soon as his daddy makes an appearance on Indian shores. This will be his fifth trip in less than a year, after Lonavala, Delhi-Agra, Indore and Alibag. Quite the seasoned traveler already, is our Baby M. He’s been so kind as to allow his poor parents to accompany him this time as well. But don’t expect such largess every time, we’ve been warned. Okay dear, we’ll take what we get.

The no-fuss baby that he is, Baby M has been very little trouble the last four times, gleefully taking in all the different sights with large curious eyes when awake, falling asleep in our arms when tired, and lapping up the sterile but yucky-tasting packaged baby foods as well as the delicious but hardly very hygienic dhaba food with equal ease. The husband and I have our fingers crossed this time will be no different.

The only part that worries me is the long drive. Active toddlers can be hard to manage in a confined space, and Baby M is as active as they get. I am trying to get him hooked on to looking out of the window – nothing like observing the world outside to kill boredom and enrich your mind I believe – but the idea is yet to catch on. In the meantime, mommy’s singing (talk of captive audiences!) and his favorite books seem to do the trick.

Strawberry-picking (and eating!), boating, horse-riding, hiking, swimming and lots of parent-child and husband-wife bonding is on the cards. Wish us happy travels, please!

Mothers need mothering too!

Baby has a cold. So when after weeks of sleeping through the night, he wakes up at a godforsaken hour, just as you are slipping away into the most satisfying sort of deep sleep, you aren’t really surprised.

‘Poor baby, he must be so uncomfortable!’, you think.

So you try and blow his nose, apply a soothing aromatic oil to his chest to ease the congestion, adjust the pillow to make him more comfortable and gently nurse him back to sleep.

Only to hear a loud bawl ten minutes later, just as you are drifting off to dreamland again.

So you try and blow his nose, adjust the pillow to make him more comfortable and nurse him back to sleep. Again. Only this time, you have to remind yourself to be gentle.

Only to hear the loud bawl in what seems like just two minutes later. And so on and on, till the wee hours of the morning.

‘Poor me, will I get some sleep tonight?’, you can’t help but wonder by now.

When soft loving voices magically appear by the bedside, warm loving hands pick up the baby and the most reassuring voice in the world asks you to go back to sleep, we’ll take care of baby, don’t you worry.

Mothers need mothering (and as in this case, fathering) sometimes too!

P.S. All you folks envying me for having parents around when baby is sick, say aye!

The joys of Indian life – for babies!

“Rolly polly, up, up up!”, a chubby three year old sings, while her  cousin,  a cute little two year old, chortles with glee and a ten-month old Baby M watches them intently, fascinated. He kicks his legs wildly in protest at being held. So what if he can’t walk yet? His friends are running around playing and of course he must join them!

The girls are our neighbors at my parents’ home in Mumbai. Everyday, morning, afternoon and evening, the three get together in the building compound to ‘play’.  Whoever gets down first calls out to the rest until the entire building knows the gang is getting together again! Sometimes a little boy from across the street joins in as well. The older ones sing songs or tell stories (picked up at playschool), while Baby M is usually content to simply watch them, that’s when he’s not looking at the crows and butterflies, trying to grab at flowers and leaves and staring at the neighborhood cat! Sometimes he’ll laugh out aloud or try to imitate the funny sounds his friends make, more often he simply kicks his legs in delight at their antics.

In the morning, when Aaji sets out on her daily rounds of the market and sundry other chores, Baby M sees her pick up her purse and gets all excited. It’s time to go out! Aaji tries in vain to slip out unnoticed, but the ever-alert Baby M lets out a loud wail until she picks him up and takes him out. Perched on Aaji’s shoulder, Baby M roams the lanes of our sleepy suburb, visiting the bank, the fruit seller, the local library, even the school for physically challenged children where Aaji volunteers her time every week.

Every evening, when Aai shuts down her laptop for the day,  she gets herself and Baby M ready and mom and son head out, to the park, to the local bookstore to browse books for Aai, to pick up Aaji from her yoga class or to the market to hunt for some elusive ingredient for Aai’s recipe-of-the-day.

And at night, when Ajoba comes home, Baby M leaps into his arms before he enters the house and demands to be taken out for a walk or a ride in the car. Weekends, he travels to South Bombay to visit his cousin, just a year older to him, or north to the suburb where his paternal grandparents, uncle, cousin and many more of our relatives live.

Grandparents, uncles and aunts to pamper him, cousins and neighbors his own age to play with,  older cousins to teach him new tricks, the household help, the driver and  the watchman to entertain him when everyone else is busy, traveling by bus, train and rickshaws, a fruit seller gifting him an orange just because he seemed so fascinated with the color, random girls on the road pinching his cheeks and going ‘so cute!’ at him, the lights of Diwali, band-baaja of Ganpati and kites of Sankrant – could a baby’s life get any richer?

When Baby M first arrived in India, he’d look at a gathering of  two or more people and burst into tears. Guests at home, burst into tears. Enter a strange home, more tears. A stranger picking him up, loud wails and shrieks! Today, he throws himself at anyone who’s standing at the door. An unfamiliar uncle picks him up and all he notices is the pen sticking out of the uncle’s shirt pocket. He’s traveled to Khandala, Pune, Delhi, Agra and Indore over the past couple of months without showing a hint of stranger anxiety.

“Rolly polly, down, down, down!”, Baby M’s friend ends her song and I watch him laugh aloud, my heart bursting with happiness. The decision to move back home never seemed wiser!

Hello World!

Hi, mommy’s friends! This is Baby M, writing my first post ever! I hope you will enjoy it.

I have been pestering Aai to let me blog for a long time now. Let’s keep the blog alive, I keep telling her. And since you can’t find the time, let me at least write na? (I keep her so busy that she hardly has time to scratch her nose, where will she find the time to blog, poor thing?) But  Aai was very reluctant to let me write – she had this fear I’d drive away the couple of kind folks who might still be checking up on her despite her long silence.

Weird, huh?As if anyone could not enjoy my wonderful chatter! Tell you what, why don’t you guys write in and tell us how you like my post and we’ll show Aai who you all like better, okay? Thank you!

Now I see Aai’s told you about my dramatic entrance into this world already. But did she tell you how uncomfortable it was getting inside her tummy? And how when I would try to make some room for myself by wriggling my toes around her ribcage, she’d push me down saying her ribs hurt? What’s a small guy like me to do then, you tell me?

So I decided to end our tug of war and come out sooner than they’d planned for.  And it’s been an interesting 3 month ride since then.

Aai and Baba were very scared to handle me initially. As if I would break or something. Hahaha! They didn’t know me so well then you see! Of course now we do all kinds of masti – I have been working hard at training them well. Like they’d always put me in my crib at night before, thinking they’d squash me or something. But I put my foot down and refused to sleep in the crib after dawn – I compromised for the first part of the night, let the poor wrecks have some sleep I thought. Yeah, I am pretty thoughtful that way!

So my day starts with a wake-up call for Aai as soon as dawn breaks, around 5 AM or so. To let you in to a secret, I am up well before that, but I enjoy looking at the animals around my crib for a while. And when I get bored of that, I let Aai know I am awake. Loudly of course, she ignores my gentle hints and responds only to a loud cry.

Then after my tummy gets full, it’s playtime! Except that I seem to have very reluctant fellow-players at that hour. Wonder why? Anyhow, I am fresh and raring to go – I am a morning person plus I can always nap whenever I want to later. But the spoilsports that my parents are, they keep me between them and go off to sleep again. So I play and chat with my hands for a while and then amuse myself kicking and punching Aai and Baba until they wake up.

It was so much more fun when Aaji-Ajoba or Kaka-Kaku were here – Aai would hand me over to Ajoba or Kaku and they’d play with me as long as I wanted. I miss everyone! Despite that, I am having fun with my Aai-Baba.

My Baba is the best Baba in the whole world. He carries me around perched high on his shoulder so I can explore my home properly. And he rocks me to sleep very nicely at night. Unlike Aai who wants me asleep in two minutes flat. I need to make sure everything’s in its proper place before I go off to sleep! Aai doesn’t understand that, but Baba does. So I love my Baba. Except when he insists on bathing me. Every single night, imagine! For some strange reason, he has this irresistible urge to dunk me in water as soon as it gets dark. Sigh! They keep telling me it keeps me clean. Bah, I say! I have heard them whisper amongst themselves that it make me drowsy enough to sleep through the night. They think I cannot understand them yet, but what do they know?

Aai of course is my best friend. She gives me yummy du-du and sings to me and tells me wonderful stories and makes me laugh all day. So I love my Aai. Except when she makes me wear pink clothes. Ugh! They even have frills and lace on them! She says it’s her way of fulfilling her dream of having a baby girl. That’s fine but I don’t understand why I should suffer for Aai’s unfulfilled dreams! But at least she hasn’t taken me out dressed like that. Yet!

Which brings me to my stroller. I am still looking for the guy who invented this stupid thing. I hope I find him soon. Grrr! And the weirdos that my Aai-Baba are, they take me out in it every evening. The first few minutes are fun. I like looking around at the birds and  the trees and those funny-shaped clouds. But I tire of all that very easily. So I let them know I am bored. Loudly!

That’s my philosophy in life you know – let folks know how you’re feeling as loudly as possible. Everything seems to fall in place after that!

Yawn, yawn! Okay, now it’s time for my fifth nap of the day, so I must stop. I’ll write more later if Aai lets me. Make sure you let her know when you want to hear from me, okay? Tada!

Life is precious

We got some shocking news from home last week. My cousin S, just twenty one, passed away in a horrifying train accident in Mumbai. Apparently there was a derailment on the central line that day, and the trains were running late and were packed much more than usual, if that is at all possible. S was in a rush to get to college for his third year engineering exam. Unfortunately, he decided to board a jam-packed train rather than wait and risk running a few minutes late. Less than five minutes later, before the train could even reach the next station, he had struck an electric pole, fractured his skull and passed away.

Such accidents probably happen everyday in Mumbai but only when it happens to one of your own do you stop and think about it. Otherwise, where’s the time? There’s a train to catch, a destination to be reached, an entire day’s work to be done. Train’s crowded? Never mind, surely I can squeeze in? Can’t get past the door? No problem, I can get some fresh air hanging outside. Train’s announced on the next platform? Let me cross the tracks just this once. If I use the overbridge, I’ll miss it.

Most folks who’ve used Mumbai’s local trains would be guilty of some or all of the above at some point of time. In my four years of college traveling by train in Mumbai, I was no exception. Except that we are lucky and get away with it. Others, like S, are not. I can picture him right now, hanging on to the doorway, barely managing to place a foot inside the crowded compartment, enjoying the cool breeze on his face, his mind intent on revising the syllabus one last time. If he knew what was coming, surely he would have waited, never mind the exam. The exam could have been cleared next semester.

Aside from Mumbai, I have used suburban trains in Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. Every other city has this wonderful PA system announcing the doors are closing, please step off. And when some idiots still manage to wedge themselves into the doorway despite the warning, the doors stay open and the train does not move. Even Delhi has the metro now. But in Mumbai, as far as I am aware, we still use the same basic train system designed by the British in 1853.

If you are reading this and use the Mumbai local trains, I hope you’ll stop and rethink your choice the next time you are running late and feel tempted to take such a risk. Your life is precious. Everything else can be worked out.

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The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the news was a baby-faced S. My mother and I had brought him and his mommy home from the hospital the week after he was born. I also clutched my tummy in an instinctively protective gesture. Becoming a mother does that to you I guess. Every sad story becomes personalized in your mind. Let this never happen to my baby is the overriding thought. Selfish but true.

It seems my mother was hesitant to share the news with me given my pregnant status. She worried it would upset me too much. Fortunately, I chose to take it in a positive sense. Sure, I grieved for my cousin and his family. Especially the parents who have to cope with the loss. It is a terrible tragedy for them, one they will take months or perhaps even years to recover from. They have no choice but to grieve.

As for me, such shocking incidents only serve as a wake-up call to me. I must have surprised the husband with my extra loving demeanour that day, I chatted with my baby just a little bit more that night. When life is so precious and unpredictable, I want to make the most of it. Perhaps it sounds hard-hearted, but that’s genuinely the way I feel. What do you think?

Say it with flowers!

Nothing brightens up a room better than a bunch of colorful flowers, I have always believed. And no gift gladdens my heart more than a surprise bouquet thrust into my hands!

So the husband, after almost four years of marriage, is finally learning. Here’s the welcome home gift he got for me a couple of days after we were back in New York.

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The husband simply warmed my heart!

Then last week, our office participated in the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days campaign. And I, as usual, forgot to order our daffodils. As I had forgotten last year. When a kind elderly colleague saw my crestfallen face and insisted I keep his daffodil plant.

This year, anticipating my forgetfulness perhaps, he had ordered two. And left one by my desk with a lovely little note explaining the gift.

‘Please don’t!’, I protested, ‘You got me one last time too!’

‘Let’s make it a tradition then, shall we? I’ll get you one next year as well!’

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So that, my friends, is my dear little daffodil plant!

And finally there is this dear old lady in our office who’s off on a long leave,  recuperating after multiple knee and hip operations. In the midst of all that excitement and pain, she took time out to send daffodils to all of us who’d sent over a get-well-soon basket to her home last month.

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It sounds so simple, doesn’t it, the secret to making others happy?

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Now if only we’d remember to do it everyday!

Foot in the mouth disease…

…happens to all of us at times, but a cousin of mine, by an unfortunate coincidence both uncommonly innocent and fearless for her age, suffered especially from the dreadful malady. She’s been known to have asked the most insensitive of questions with the sweetest of smiles and the most angelic expression ever in the good old days of childhood. For her sake (and her husband’s sanity) I hope she’s recovered by now.

Her infamous exploits were many, but this one takes the cake. During a family function at a temple, we cousins spotted an elderly hunchbacked lady doing her ‘pradakshinas’. Now we had never seen a hunchbacked person before and naturally all of us were curious. The question in every mind was the same – how does ajji (grandma/old lady) manage to sleep on her back? Do her legs go up as soon as she lies down?

We were all curious of course, but young as we were, there was this vague suspicion that any questions in that direction might not be taken very kindly. So we kept mum. Except for this cousin, who was fearless, remember? Before anyone could stop her, she went right ahead and popped the question to the lady herself. You can imagine the talking-to we all received later that day!

In my cousin’s defence though, she was just six or seven at that time. I wonder what these folks’ excuse is?

Food and its traditions

Growing up in a mixed Maharashtrian-Kannadiga household, I experienced two very distinct culinary traditions in my childhood.

Aai mostly cooked Maharashtrian dishes in the traditional Koknastha style – mild stir-fried vegetables or pulses with a hint of jaggery and coconut and a simple tadka or phodni, kakdi or tomato-kandyachi koshimbir and super-soft polis or phulkas. Sabudana thalipeeth was a special treat, as was batatyachi poli, better known as aloo paratha!

There were many other Koknastha dishes that I suspect were either too cumbersome to make or that Aai herself did not particularly enjoy and hence were not frequently prepared at our place. Those, I got to enjoy at Aaji’s – aamti, kothimbirchi vadi, puran poli and the like. Yummy!

Attya’s preparations, on the other hand, were typical of North Karnataka, the region she and my father hail from. Simple but delicious saaru-anna, her comfort food, was the dish I took for granted whenever she cooked for us. Bisi bele huli anna, muddi, kadbu and hittud dosa were eagerly anticipated too.

Pav Bhaji, the quintessential Bombay party dish, was reserved as a treat or for when my nagging got too loud and insistent for Aai to handle. As for pizzas, Punjabi or Indo-Chinese dishes, a younger me would have probably told you they are to be found only in restaurants and that too only on special occasions or something!

Lest somebody think I am complaining about what I ate growing up, let me clarify.

I am not! On the contrary, I think of those times with nostalgia nowadays. For one, the food was handed to me, hot and delicious, literally on a platter! Beats slaving over an exotic dish any day, don’t you think?

But jokes aside, Aai’s and Attya’s recipes are probably hand-me-downs from my grandmothers and their grandmothers, the result of decades of experiments and improvements. The secret of Attya’s cooking, I later realized, was in the masalas, painstakingly prepared at home and taught to her by her aunts and cousins.

So there was a strong sense of identification with the distinct taste of each dish and a peculiar sort of comfort in eating the food that my uncles and grandmoms and great granddads had enjoyed before me.

But alas, I did not learn to cook when I was home!

And as a result, my cooking now is a mismash of bits and pieces I pick up from here and there. A pav bhaji recipe from a cookbook, a poha recipe my mausi wrote down for me once, thalipeeth taught to me by my mother-in-law and a spicy Andhra sambar recipe from a family friend. Attya would be shocked to know my favorite bisi bele rice recipe actually comes from Sanjeev Kapoor’s cookbook! And when all else fails, there are the food blogs, my saviors and best friends in the kitchen.

In the last one month alone, I’ve made pithla-bhakri, masale bhaath, solkadhi, manchurian and fried rice, baingan bhartha, dum aloo, bruschetta and tomato-sev-shak, all from recipes so generously shared by my fellow bloggers. The wonderful part, of course, is that the husband and I are able to cook and enjoy such a wide variety of cuisines from India and elsewhere.

But on the other hand, there’s no pattern to our cooking at all! One never knows what to expect. My pithla may be of Kolhapuri origin and very spicy one day, and of Koknastha style and boringly mild the next. The husband has given up trying to analyze my cooking and asking me to make a particular dish ‘like last time’ by now!

Plus there’s no sense of the familiar in my food at all! I struggle to recreate the taste of Attya’s saaru each time I make some, but in vain. My concoction is delicious too, no doubt, but it’s not the taste I associate with the saaru of my childhood, you see!

A simple solution, a practical person like my father or my husband would say, is to set aside some time and learn to cook my favorite dishes from Aai or Attya one day. But if only it were as simple as that! If I had the patience to sit down and learn to cook, I would have done it a long time back, wouldn’t I?

The fun of cooking is in experimenting with different recipes and ingredients I think. I’m sure I would die of boredom if I had to cook the same sort of food day after day! So I’ll continue to hunt everywhere for recipes and play around with the poor husband’s taste buds instead. Maybe a pattern will emerge over the years.

If not, my kids might feel inspired to write a post on their mother’s wonderfully erratic and vibrant style of cooking someday!

The loss of innocence

Death, fear, torture, executions, hostage situations, loss of loved ones, panic, helplessness, hatred – this was stuff we were supposed to watch on a television screen I thought. So after a point, when things would get too dark or depressing, one could switch off the movie, read a comic book and go to bed with a smile again. Except that the nightmares have now spilled on to our streets and trains and buses and hotels and markets and homes, leaving us floundering for a remote to switch it all off somehow.

I vividly remember my first ever brush with terror as a kid, when I happened to read an article on the plague epidemic in Surat. It was an India Today article, I think, with the story suitably sensationalized to scare a twelve-year old with no prior exposure to the gory side of life right out of her wits. I came home sobbing uncontrollably. ‘Are we all going to die?’, I wanted to know. ‘Don’t worry darling, nothing will happen to us, I’ll keep you safe’, Aai promised me, enveloping me in a bear hug. All problems solved and my fears melting away in a flash, I ran off with a hop, skip and a jump to play outside with my friends.

Today, I watch my parents struggle to reassure themselves. Baba sounds listless even a week after the Mumbai carnage. ‘Is something wrong?’, I ask, half-knowing the answer. ‘What happened in Bombay is troubling me’, he answers, simple and straightforward. I have no idea how to respond to this.

My mother is far more resilient, embodying the famed spirit of Mumbai perhaps. She and my mausi were out shopping in a crowded South Bombay market this weekend. ‘Aren’t you scared?’, I want to know. ‘How do I live my life if I sit at home scared?’, she counters. And cites the example of a non-Mumbaikar who missed his train and died on his way to spend the night with his relatives in Mumbai, a few minutes away from our home. ‘I will go when my time has come!’, she says and truly seems to believe in it. Yet what other choice does she have?

Does Aai actually feel safe, I wonder? As long as she doesn’t think about the dangers, she probably does. After all, South Bombay is where she grew up and went to school and college and shopped and laughed and lived life. It is where my parents met and fell in love. It must be tough to think of such a place as anything but a warm and loving home. So her resilience and spirit, as that of most other Mumbaikars, is more a strange combination of escapism, fatalism and harsh ground realities than anything else I think.

My father and I, on the other hand, think too much, which is our biggest problem, my mother and the husband would say. I, for one, am terrified to board a flight to Mumbai a couple of months from now. ‘Isn’t the city your home? Will you stop going home because of these incidents?’, the husband asks, dismissing my fears with his characteristic nonchalance. How do I explain to him the hopelessness and sense of doom engulfing me?

Are these feelings a part of growing up? Surely each generation must face their own difficulties? For my parents, it would have been the Emergency, for my grandparents, the struggle for independence. Yet we all think of our problems as the most troubling. No doubt the times we face are more violent than most. But surely there is an end to this too? I fervently hope so. How else will I reassure my kids the way Aai reassured me that scary summer day?

A Thanksgiving Tale

There is this sweet old lady in our office who’s one of the most talkative and friendly Americans I know. She must be over sixty years old, but she’s the one greeting us all first thing in the morning with a smile and a chirpy ‘Good morning’, she asks after our weekends and remembers all our birthdays. A warm grandmotherly sort of person is how I always think of her.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I got chatting with her about our holiday plans. She was planning to go over to her daughter’s place. ‘No more cooking for me, I’ve done it for so many years, let the daughter do it now!’, she declared. And then she wanted to know our plans. ‘We are going to Vegas’, I told her.

She seemed slightly shocked. ‘Do you have family in Vegas? Thanksgiving is supposed to be family time!’, she told me, a somewhat disapproving look on her face. It would have been rude to tell her I didn’t know what Thanksgiving was until I came to America two years ago and that it wasn’t exactly the most important festival on my social calendar.

So I did the next best thing and told her our family was in India and we had no family here, so we thought we might as well take advantage of the long weekend and have some fun instead. She seemed to get it, I think, for the frown gave way to her usual smile once again as she piped up, ‘Oh yes, enjoy while you can dearie!’

Long after our conversation was over, her words and her reaction stayed with me. And made me re-think my views on Thanksgiving. Why were we so disassociated from the festivities? I couldn’t think of a good reason except that we had never really given a thought to it!

Thanksgiving isn’t a religious festival at all. So there’s no reason we cannot celebrate it. And we don’t believe in any such religious restrictions anyhow. Even for Christmas, which is a religious festival, I learnt Christmas carols for the office luncheon and we brought home a tree and decorated it in our amateurish desi way and had great fun in the process.

The problem was in our perception, I realized. Here was an American treating us as fellow Americans while we thought of ourselves as Indians after all. In our minds, we were still living in India.

Was it time to assimilate a little more? At least for the time we are here? We could have vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners, couldn’t we? Call over friends, if not family. Maybe we wouldn’t want to it every year, but trying it once in a while wouldn’t be a bad idea either, would it?

I am still thinking about this. Perhaps it will never make much of a difference to us either way, but if we decide to bring up our kids in this country, we’ll need to be much more participative in this whole Thanksgiving/Christmas scene, I feel. Do you folks agree?

My Cooking Dilemma

A health bug bites me every few weeks. A friend and I usually take a brisk walk during lunch hour, but I inisist on dragging the husband out for another evening walk while its effects persist. And our fridge gets stocked with fruits and broccoli and carrots and salads and the choles and parathas make way for fresh veggies, sprouts and whole-wheat rotis for a while.

I also try and cook healthy, with less oil, ghee and masala in this phase. The concoctions I thus come up with are – how do I put it nicely – hardly lip-smackingly delicious, shall we say? I can see it on the husband’s face with the first bite he takes!

He’ll take his time chewing on his food, avoid eye contact for as long as possible and hastily rearrange his features into a somewhat less unpleasant expression when he catches me looking. A few more pointed looks and he’ll be forced to throw a seemingly casual ‘The sabzi is good, slightly different, but still good’ my way!

But sometimes, when I get tired of the routine myself or when we are having guests over, I cheat. Which means I sort of dip the oil bottle in the direction of the cooking pan and close my eyes for a while. The results are totally predictable of course.

‘The food was delicious today! Did you try something different?’

Oh, it was a new recipe I read on a blog the other day’, I airily reply.

Now, this strategy has two benefits, you’ll find. I have safely avoided revealing the ugly truth for now AND earned some brownie points for my otherwise much-maligned blog-surfing in the process. I know, I am so clever!

But my original problem remains. Do I cook tasty food or do I go the healthy route? I know it’s possible to cook wholesome food that tastes delicious as well, but my culinary skills haven’t reached that level yet. What about you? Have you faced the health versus taste dilemma in your cooking too? How do you handle it? Any tips for me?

P.S. If Baba’s reading this, of course I am exaggerating!

P.P.S. If the husband’s reading this, OF COURSE this story is NOT about us!

No words…

I wanted to do a super-excited account of our Vegas trip here. But I have no words for that now. The world seems to have turned topsy-turvy in the four days I was away. My beloved city is at war. And I am very very scared.

My parents live less than a mile away from one of the blast sites. My dad came home a few minutes before the blast. He was just in when they heard a loud noise outside. So they switched on the television only to watch the nightmare unfold onscreen.

I heard some colleagues discuss something about Mumbai in hushed voices in office. Walked back to my desk with a thumping heart and opened Google news. Nothing in the US section. Clicked on the India section and read the horrifying breaking news in disbelief. Called up my parents immediately. They were shaken but safe.

We were to leave for Vegas in a few hours. I had no wish to go. But the tickets were booked and non-refundable. And our families were safe. What do you do under such circumstances? Carry on with life I guess. But with a heavy heart. And a constant urge to look across your shoulder.

Several people in Vegas asked us about India. ‘Is your country safe?’, they wanted to know. I wish I could have answered with a confident yes. A few years ago, I would have. Yesterday, I couldn’t. I think back to the beautiful Mumbai of my childhood. Will we ever feel safe again? I am not sure.