Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rajkahini - A review

There's love,
There's fight...
There's stooping low,
And soaring to a height.
The shame and the pain,
The utter disdain,
The blood, the tears...
The hidden fears.
It makes you look back,
It makes you look away...
And it gets so dark,
You can't tell night from day.
It's a story,
Of a time
That scarred us for life.
It's a movie with a soul
That will stay with us for a while.

It's corny!

One of my favourite childhood memories is of buying roasted corn from the roadside vendor who sat outside our apartment building many evenings. Sprinkled with salt and lemon, it was a delicacy bought with our pocket money. Sitting on the common staircase of the building and chatting away with friends until nightfall... we relished every bite. Then came the fancy little stalls at the big shopping malls, which sold buttered corn in paper cups, served with spoons. They did taste good...but were no match to the corn cobs of our childhood, rustic and charred. Reliving one such evening in our backyard today and wondering "why we ever grew up!".

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mahalaya 2015

Those who know me, know how precious Mahalaya is to me. It needs to be celebrated…it needs to be special. With Ma here with us Down Under, it was already special. We just had to figure out a way to celebrate it.

Not trusting a Monday to bring out the best in us, we dedicated the Sunday (yesterday) to the celebrations. After the little girl of the house had her share of fun at her first swimming lesson this term, we decided to “properly” inaugurate our new kitchen (yes, we moved into our new home a couple of weeks back). Nothing spells “special” more than “crab curry” made from scratch. Not for me, anyway. So the head chef “A” got straight to business, while I entertained the little girl with stories of crabs (trying my best to think of an ending where the creatures did not end up on a dinner plate).

If they made crab-curry scented candles or incense sticks, I would buy them (sounds gross….but that’s how divine the aroma was in the kitchen)! I couldn’t believe it was his first attempt at the dish! We licked our plates clean and sat at the dining table feeling content and happy. Our Mahalaya celebration was a huge success, as far as I am concerned.

However, it wasn’t complete until I heard Chandipath at dawn. So, last night, speakers were set up in the hallway, equidistant from our master bedroom and the guest bedroom, so that neither Ma nor I (“A” doesn’t care anyway) would miss any of it. And at dawn, the much-loved voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra filled our home and our hearts. And my childhood memories of this day played in my mind….with images of Baba, the pink bougainvillea tree in our little front garden, the sandalwood incense sticks that Ma used to light every day, visits to my uncle’s place to meet our favourite cousins and nieces/nephews, and of course, a cupboard full of new clothes and shoes, carefully stacked in the order in which they would be worn during Pujo.

And when I turned to give the little girl a cuddle in her sleep, I saw a pair of eyes wide open in amazement. It wasn’t a usual morning, she had figured. But looked like she was trying to get her head around the sounds she could hear from the hallway. After a few minutes, she said to me “Dida crying”! And “A” and I burst out in laughter.  To her, Chandipath sounded like Dida (grandma) was crying in the hallway. So we squeezed her in joy and assured her that Dida was fine.
And so, from now on, Mahalaya will not just make me smile. It will make me laugh too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

We have an eye-surgeon in the making!

My two-year old is showing great potential as an eye-surgeon. The precision with which she reaches for our cornea, with no lights to aid her (early morning 4 am is pretty dark in winter) and the dexterity of those nimble hands with which she keeps our eyelids no mean feat.
Using her nails - first to repeatedly apply pressure (local anaesthesia) and then as surgical tools to make fine incisions, she is a natural!

As far as punctuality and reliability goes, she has no match. Be it summer or winter...come rain or early morning mist, she is up every day (before the sun or the birds), to dive straight into the job.

I may be "blind" with motherly love, but my two-year old is cut out to be an eye-surgeon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

10 Things No One Told Me I Could Do to Prepare Myself for a Toddler

Having shared the 15 Things No One Told Me I Could Do to Prepare for Motherhood, I thought I needed to continue the journey. So here’s my sequel…

If you have managed your pregnancy well and did a reasonable job at managing your newborns/infants, you probably think you've got it figured. 

News flash! You've just seen the trailer. And as is typical of trailers, they get you excited about the movie (with clever editing and terrific background score) but watching the movie is something else!
So here’s the thing. Toddlers are babies on steroids. If babies cry, toddlers screech. If babies wriggle like octopus, toddlers jump like red kangaroos (fastest jumpers among mammals – 56km/hr). If babies break things within their reach, toddlers rampage through the house (and sometimes the entire neighbourhood/shopping centre/friends’ houses). If babies are fussy eaters, toddlers go on hunger strike. If babies are fun, toddlers are a party!

Here’s what having a super active toddler has taught me:
  1. Don’t stress about being overweight. When people ask me how I have lost so much weight lately, I usually tell them that I have joined a gym that is open 24x7, has no membership fee, and has designed the most personalised and extreme boot camps for me. Of course, I am only referring to the fact that I have a toddler at home, who is my personal gym. So all you new mums struggling to get rid of your pregnancy weight, hang in there. Your own personal gym is under construction. They’ll make you run, hop, skip, jump, squat, push up, dance, stand on your head or do full locusts. At the end of it all, even the Scorpion Handstand will feel like relaxation. 
  2. Be outdoor more often. Take them for picnics, beach, BBQ, zoo, parks…anywhere. Mother Nature is far more interesting and accommodating to them, than indoors.  Avoid spending your weekends at friend’s/relatives houses. Even if they love kids (or your kid in particular). Not unless you were planning to take them off your friends list anyway. Toddlers are curious creatures. A new house full of new things to break/damage/explore is their dream! 
  3. Do not take them shopping. The sight of shopping trolleys, rows of shelves neatly stacked with colourful items, announcements over the Public Address (PA) systems, other kids in prams, LED message displays, animated billboards….do strange things to their brains. Is this based on any scientific study? I hear you ask. No. But am sure of it. As sure of it as I am about the fact that my child becomes possessed in shopping centres. Of course there are those perfectly well behaved kids who hold their mummy’s hand when walking, sit quietly in their prams, never put eleven different types of chicken corn soup in mummy’s trolley and never roll on the floor wanting to buy a broom. But I don’t have one of them. My little girl is a delightful personality….but let’s say that she is not her charming best at the shops.
  4. Don’t stress about their meals. People who know me, know that my toddler doesn't eat. Because I told them. Not once. Several times. I have become the kind of person people avoid at parties…because they have nothing new to talk about. Yes, I stress about my child not eating. And when I say “not eating”, I don’t mean “not eating as much as she should” or “not eating as much as I would like her to”. I mean “not eating”. Full stop. They call her a “plant” at day care, because they think she survives on photosynthesis. Her carer told me that in her 22 yrs of child care experience, she hadn't seen anyone like her i.e. someone who survives literally with no food all day, and has no lack of energy. That’s how they concluded that she must be a plant. Anyway, the point is, it’s normal to get stressed about their nutrition. But don’t let it take over your life, so much so that you miss out on all the other things that are going great. I am yet to practise what I preach (this one in particular). But I know I’m trying. And I know that nothing makes me happier than to watch her eat half a cracker on her own.
  5. Accept germs. Toddlers seems to catch many. From day care…or kids at the park…or other friends’ kids. Their immunity isn’t fully developed yet, but it is getting stronger.  Babies/infants usually don’t fall sick so often, because they are not as exposed to those pesky bugs. But toddlers are germ magnets! If it’s out there, rest assured they will catch it. As mums, all we can do is to spot symptoms, see reliable doctors we can trust, be timely with medicines (if prescribed), give lots of cuddles…and be patient. This too shall pass. And before we know, we won’t have to take days off every second week.
  6. Do not compare with other kids. It’s tempting to do so. But don’t. How many times have we heard the “every kid is different” theory? But it’s amazing how often we forget it! Our kids will walk, talk, interact, dance, run, smile at strangers, know their colours and numbers, be toilet trained, grow taller/bigger…all at their own pace. Do you know of any adult who wears a nappy to work or doesn't know their colours (unless they are colour-blind, of course)? So, chill. They will learn everything when it’s the right time for them. Enjoy their journey and stop comparing or rushing them!
  7. Have music handy. Or at least ear plugs. Because there will be noise. Enough noise to make you jump out of your skin. Pots and pans being hit with metal spoons, toy musical instruments that have no volume control, screeches when the television is switched off or the iPad taken away, sirens on toy automobiles, TV remotes being hurled from one end of the room to another. And if there is a group of kids at play, be afraid….be very afraid.
  8. Find your “me” time. Because when you become a mum, you don’t suddenly stop being a person. Of course your kids mean the world to you. But you are not scarring them for life or depriving them in any way if you go for that girls’ night out, or a pedicure or a shopping day. Provided they are in good care (husband, carer, family, friends), you should not feel guilty for pampering yourself with the much-needed (and well deserved) “me” time. When you are back, you’ll be ready to take on the world! And they will love you for it.
  9. Be OK with exposure to technology. Just balance it right. I see a few eyebrows being raised! But let’s face it. Our kids will be exposed to technology, sooner than we like it.  Almost all the kids I know (and I know quite a few), were able to navigate the tablet or smart phone screen before they turned two. What’s important is what they watch…and how long they watch it for. There are some great videos/movies/TV shows out there that entertain a young mind and help it develop. As long as they are not glued to it for hours or watching age-inappropriate content, that TV or iPad is not necessarily their enemy. As long as they don’t think that a book is an iPad that does not work, all is good with the world!
  10. Be a child again. Your child is your last (and perhaps only) chance to be a child again.  So “jump in muddy puddles”, read fairy tales or superhero stories (real books, not on a tablet), build that Lego castle, ride your bicycle as they ride their trikes, pat farm animals, run through the sprinklers, have a tea party under the dining table, go camping, sing out loud, kick that big blue ball, blow bubbles in air, play dress-up, dance to crazy tunes, make sand castles, watch the stars… and relive your childhood with your precious little darlings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

An ethical dilemma

Noun | loy-al-ty | \ˈlȯi(-ə)l-tē\
a strong feeling of support or allegiance

There are fewer wars between countries today, than used to be. The kind of war where troops from two countries are out in the battlefield, fighting a physical battle to claim/defend things (land, natural resources, people etc.) that are important to them. True, there are still some parts of the world battered and bruised by that kind of war. But for the vast majority of countries, there are peaceful negotiations or political deals to resolve conflicts.

In such day and age, what does it mean to be loyal to a country? With concepts like “one world” and “global economy”, geographical boundaries are becoming less significant. The tribe of “born in one country, living/working in another” has multiplied in enormous proportions over the last few decades. Migrants or “economic refugees” (as some like to call it) have taken over the world. I am one of them.

In short, be it lifestyle, education/career opportunities, being close to other family members who have also migrated, being away from certain aspects of our motherland we do not like (and don’t have the mental framework to stay back and change) – whatever our reason, we all made a choice. The choice to move to a country that was not our country of origin. Some of us, have chosen to become permanent residents or citizens of our new homeland. Little wonder that most passports have two distinct fields – Nationality and Place of Birth/Origin. These two fields say a lot about who we are, where we come from, and the journey we have made (literally and spiritually).

And although we take pride in both these countries (at least most of us do, most of the time), every now and then, there is a dilemma. If I was hypnotised and someone asked me where my “home” was, I think I would rattle off the name of the Indian city I grew up in…and not the postal address of my current home in beautiful Australia. Not to say that I don’t love Australia. But I think the deep recesses of my mind haven't still processed or stored the new information – that I am now an Australian by nationality. There is a reason why psychologists go back to our childhood for those deep seated truths we cannot remember or verbalise. Our childhood doesn’t lie or hide.

 I am not sure what citizenship pledges sound like for other countries. But I know that on the day I gave up my Indian citizenship (unfortunately, dual citizenship is still a concept for us) and took up the Australian nationality, I read these lines:

And I think there is a reason why “loyalty” (meaning “true and constant support to Australia and its people”, as per the citizenship website), is the first thing I was asked to pledge. Because no one can take it from me, unless I pledge/want to give it. Loyalty can’t be enforced.

So, on this important day, as India and Australia prepare for the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup 2015, I am in a strange dilemma. I have received strange looks and have been laughed at when I shared this dilemma with other Australians of Indian origin. Of the responses I have got, some are:

 -  Once an Indian, always an Indian at heart. Go India!
 -  It’s a sport; we can choose any team to support. Doesn't have to do with loyalty to country. It is loyalty to team!
 - May the best team win.
 - We’ll be a winner either way, no matter who wins.

And while I love the last answer, it doesn't help me with my dilemma. Who would I cheer for when the match is on? I can’t jump in joy when an Australian wicket falls….and then celebrate again when an Indian batsman leaves the field. It is, unfortunately, an “either/or” situation. A dual citizenship, (although no more than a piece of paper to some), would make it easier for me. I would scream my lungs out in public, with no guilt, no shame in cheering for any one team (as both would then, equally and officially define me). But until that happens, an India-Australia match is never going to be just a game for me.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The divine creamy crust

The baingan bharta-inspired walk down memory lane was so enjoyable that I set out for a new one today. This time, I tried to replicate that sweet, creamy dessert that's become synonymous with birthdays in Bengal. Long before cakes and candles were in vogue, a bowl full of "payesh" (rice pudding) was considered to be a warm hug from Mum/Grandmum on our birthdays. It wasn't a dessert one cooked everyday. It was reserved for special occasions...and did have strange powers to bring in the festive cheer.

Perhaps the only time my sister and I volunteered to help Ma clean the dishes, was when payesh was made. Not the dishes really...the pot in which it was cooked, to be more precise! Fondly called a "chaachi", the creamy crust that was left behind in the pot was the highlight of the whole payesh-eating experience. It caused many a fights with my sister, who was also more interested in the "chaachi" than the payesh itself.  So we meticulously took turns to lick the pot clean, until we could taste nothing but our hands.
So every time I hear someone say "The proof is in the pudding.", I secretly smile in disagreement. The proof has always been in the "chaachi"...always. And while my little girl may never "get it", I will continue my love affair with "chaachi", and lick the large pot clean...much to her amazement (embarrassment?).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Eggplant roast and lizards made of dough...

In a rare cooking spree, I made baingan bharta, tomato chutney and veggie-chapati today. The thunderstorms and rain in the background, and the smell of roasted eggplant rising up in the air, took me back to my childhood, where, in a similar setting, Ma instructs our "rannar mashi" (cook):  "Shoni Mongol  baar e begun porano bhalo. Aji begun ta redhe felo, Mashi". (Tranlates to: It's considered good omen to roast eggplants on Tuesdays and Saturdays. So let's roast that eggplant today.)

In a strange coincidence, today is Tuesday too...and although I have no idea which of the gods I have pleased with a roasted eggplant on Tuesday, I feel so grown up! I made chapatis for the first time...and a special mini one for the little girl in the house, just like our "rannar mashi" used to make for me.

We don't realise how we're creating memories everyday. Even an ordinary day can come back to us, years make us feel extraordinary! Here's hoping that I am able to create a childhood for my little girl, which will continue to make her smile...decades later...