Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Taste Of Nostalgia

Everyday-spices lined up on the kitchen platform. Myriad ingredients filling the kitchen cabinets. Vegetables that crowd the refrigerator trays.

Harmless. But potent.

Every once in a while you reach out for them but end up opening a bigger jar…of memories. And you land up right in the middle of a moment, tasting forgotten flavours.

The pepper grinder that smells like weekday dinners of Daddy’s favourite Pindimiriyam, the flavor hitting the back of your throat. And Charu-Annam with Kandi-Pacchadi, their distinct flavours blending together in a magical combination. A crate of eggs bringing back a Sunday lunch of Anda Curry that Mummy used to make for Daddy because he liked it so much…prohibited pleasures. Even the sad excuse available in the name of Okra takes you to summer afternoons, lunch plates filled with Bhindi ki Sabzi, Aamras and Phulka. Fresh bunches of cilantro resurrect the surprisingly rare Dosa with Hari Dhaniya Chutney. The ginger you are grating into the evening tea hints at Bamma’s Allam Pacchadi served with Pesarattu. And then her Rava Payasam. Special invitation dinners over Attaiya’s signature Dum Aaloo. Fun evenings involving homemade Bhel. Festival lunches with Mummy’s signature Sevvaiyya Payasam and Attaiya’s Tomato/Imli Pulihora and Shrikhand. The Pav Bhaji made for Sis’s birthday every single year. Mango milkshake. Aam Panha. Puranpoli. Avakai. Dosakai Pacchadi. Bengali Khichdi. Baingan Ki Sabzi. Masale Bhaat. Pulusu

Sweet. Sour. Bitter. Hot. And everything in between. The taste of nostalgia.

Food is memories.
- Hassan Kadam in The Hundred-Foot Journey. 

I now realize that food is also luxuries…having people who love you always be there to cook up their signatures and your favourites…having people who even remember your favourites or ask the simple question, “What do you want to eat?” And one must carry the burden of these memories and luxuries for ever after.

A kitchen of your own is a gain in many respects. It is also a loss of these memories and luxuries. No one is going to whip up favourites for you or ask that question again. It’s your turn to remember favourites and cook them up. As for your own, until you can go home and answer the question, “What do you want to eat?”, they must be relegated back to the big jar of memories.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dark Side Of The Moon: Stories From The Other Half

Chanda ko dhoondhne sabhi
Taare nikal pade...
Galiyon mein woh
Naseeb ke
Maare nikal pade…

(Left at the mercy of fate, all the stars set out in search of the moon...)

My father used to sing that song from the film Jeene Ki Raah sometimes while putting us to bed. It was a sad song for a lullaby, I now realize, but it used to sound beautiful in his tender and hesitant voice. 

This is an attempt at that. Finding. Not the moon but its dark side. The side that no one sees. The stories that no one knows because they are destined to be lost by fate’s design. Sometimes it's patience, sometimes, politeness. The lack of one, another or both. It's perennial eclipse...of the dark side by the bright.

The stories on the bright side are told and retold much like the returning phases of the moon. But stories from the other side remain hidden and are eventually forgotten.

But these are the stories that make two halves into one whole. Without the stories from the dark side, the moon is but a two dimensional disc in the sky. The dark side adds dimension. The stories keep the bright side from devouring the dark. If they are told. 

This is an attempt at telling those stories. At salvaging pasts. Forgotten faces, remembered feelings. An attempt at creating two equal halves in an unequal bargain. An attempt at adding a third dimension to life. 

These are stories from the other half. Better or worse.



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Of Old Paint Tubes And New Lives

Have you ever found an old tube of toothpaste or water-colour paint lying around the house, in a forgotten corner? Discovered accidentally in a cleaning spree? And you know how the paint or the paste comes out of that tube when you squeeze to check if it can be used?
Crumbly. Crusty. 

That's what this is. This blog post. The first squeeze from a long-unused tube.
Crumbly and crusty. 
But as is the case with many long-unused tubes, I am hoping this will squeeze out just fine next time.

I recently threw myself way outside of what leadership literature warns us of getting stuck and stagnating in - the comfort zone. I have done it before, in bits and pieces. But this time it went too far, I think.

I quit my job of 7 and 1/2 years without knowing what it was that was next.
I finished the course of studies I was pursuing, something that kept me busy well for 2 and 1/2 years.
I gave away all my books, barely packed any stationery.
I dismantled base in a city I dearly love, vacated what I called home and gave away my set of two wheels, and my independence with it.
My old clothes went too. 
The family I grew up with went back to where we came from.

I gave away or left behind most everything. When I boarded the plane the night I travelled, all I had in my hand were two suitcases filled with new clothes and new shoes and the address of the person whose hand I will hold for life. The only thing familiar to me at that point was the clothes I had on. My excitement in that moment temporarily numbed me to the feeling of being stripped of everything that had defined me until then.

That Augustana song has always fascinated me, Boston.

I think I'll go to Boston...
I think I'll start a new life,
I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name,
I'll get out of California, I'm tired of the weather,
I think I'll get a lover and fly him out to Spain...
Oh yeah and I think I'll go to Boston,
I think that I'm just tired
I think I need a new town, to leave this all behind...
I think I need a sunrise, I'm tired of the sunset,
I hear it's nice in the Summer, some snow would be nice.

I used to hear that song and wonder in my low moments what it must feel like - to start over in a place where no one knew you and you had no history to define you. It's funny now I'm not far from Boston. It's funny that we dream of living in Spain some day. And the snow is actually nice.

But here I am where no one knows my name. Where I haven't seen a familiar face other than my husband's and best friend's in over a month. I haven't read or written a word. Haven't gone out on my own or explored the town. And although that's the whole purpose of being outside one's comfort zone, it was uncomfortable like I've never known before, this lack of any foundation, footing or familiarity...this floating from one day to another, just passively receiving information and stimuli.

I would have continued my state of float if I hadn't read this:

“People with interesting lives have no vanity. They swap cities. Invest in projects with no guarantees. Are interested in people who are their polar opposites. Resign without having another job in sight. Accept invitations to do things they have never done before. Are prepared to change their favorite color, their favorite dish. They start from zero countless times. They are not frightened about growing old. They climb on stage, shear their hair, do crazy things for love, and buy one way tickets.” – Gio Sguario (Translated from Portuguese)”

In the moment of reading that quote it hit me. The fact that it's not my possessions or what I do that defines me for myself. It's the reason I acquire those possessions or do those things. It's who I am deep inside, it's what makes me put myself in a situation like that in the first place. It's what gives me this optimism and faith to travel halfway across the world and begin building a new life, in partnership this time. It's what allows me to surrender a life and identity I built over 7 years and yet know that I can build it all over again. It's what helps me embrace this daily adventure of marriage and being in a new country without losing my wits. It's the realization that this is what I have always wished for and it has now been granted to me!! I may not be one of the people who would fit the description in that quote but I'd love to try and get there and that's what matters.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

I love that poem by Kipling, If. I now have the opportunity to live a part of it. I realize many would give a lot to be in my place right now. And if I didn't just say thank you and move on, it would be injustice to a lot if people's dreams, mine included.

So yes, I started out crusty and crumbly when I got here...like old unused paint tubes squeezed for the first time. But the paint tubes, pages and pens have been reclaimed and they will keep the fabric of life colourful and interesting for some time to come. Meanwhile,

I think I'll start a new life,
I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name.

Boston by Augustana on Grooveshark