Category Archives: NOT ABOUT FOOD

East marries West

As I spent an idle (how wonderful a feeling is that!) half hour this afternoon in one of my favorite spots in the whole world -the jhoola in the balcony outside our living room; truly, one of the nicest feelings in the world is its hypnotic gentle swing -my eyes paused once again at a  happy marriage of East and West that’s taken root here.


European basil and the very Indian curry leaf- two plants from very different parts of the world -have co-existed, in a pleasing state of harmony, in this single pot for several months now, and both have been doing quite well, too. The seeds of the former landed at some point from a neighboring pot, in which I grow basil for our pasta salads, pesto, and a tomato and basil pasta sauce, in to the latter’s pot.

The curry-leaf plant appears to have graciously made room for the basil seeds, which have since grown and blossomed in to a healthy plant.

Nature played nice here so easily, I think each time I see this pot, why can’t people?

A stay to remember…

Thank God for Google search, I thought to myself the night (just three and a half days before we actually left for the trip) I found Adiem home stay online after Shri suggested we go to Nasik last week, to visit Sula vineyards and a few others in the region.

We’d started to plan the Christmas break very late in the day, and it was looking quite impossible to get reservations at homestays – always our prefered form of stay wherever we travel – in Ganpatiphule /Ratnagiri, where we’d initially wanted to go. So when Shri suggested Nasik, and a quick google-search for Nasik homestays pulled up Adiem and pictures of it’s lovely-looking interiors, I could hardly believe our luck at having found something so promising.

Fortune continued to smile at us, because a quick call to the number on Adiem’s FB page confirmed that they indeed had room to house us during the days we wanted to spend in Nasik.

And that is how we found ourselves last Thursday evening- after a drive from Pune that included an exhilarating, enjoying stop for a climb up Shivneri fort (the birthplace of Maratha King Shivaji) – at the lovely home of Madhu Chougaonkar and Arvind Chittewale, who turned out to be possibly the most interesting and inspiring individuals I’ve met this year.


The homestay this couple run served not only as our base for a very relaxed two-day sojourn through wine-producing countryside, it also provided so much more. Right from the welcoming cup of excellent chai; the beautiful ambience created by the tasteful decor that reflects well the character of the hosts and offers a genuine retreat; and a completely unexpected, but delightful opportunity to engage with two quite original, intelligent minds on  subjects such as gender issues, parenting, and the fascinating possibilities with flea market bargains (Adiem’s furniture has been hand-crafted from such pieces). Madhu – a gender activist/researcher and Arvind are people who appear to live by their convictions, and I loved to see this example of honesty and courage in practice.

Some of their personal choices resonated with me strongly, and that was especially what made me feel that I’d discovered kindred spirits. The manner in which their children’s family name is composed, for example,by  a joining of  the parents’ first names. This, I’ve often thought, is the most logical way to give a child a family name especially in this day and age, since the way of life s/he experiences is often not the way of either of the parent’s first family’s, but a new/third way that evolves when the child’s parents  bring their own unique approach to their life together. To find that there is a family out there that has actually lived what has sometimes seemed to me one of my crazier notions, was quite surreal.

Madhu and Arvind are people with a lot of heart in more ways than one. Shri and I were quite blown away by the largesse of the breakfast they laid out for us every day. There was this truly magnificent variety of delicious and traditional dishes each morning, and I was grateful both for the healthy start to our days, and to see the girls discover as well as enjoy traditional recipes like the Maharashtrian lapsi,the Tamil paniaram, baajra and daal khichdi, different types of sprouts, and Madhu’s  delicious take on idlis (steamed with vegetables like bottle gourd and fenugreek leaves added in for flavor, and then sliced and shallow-fried).

As we were leaving yesterday, Madhu generously packed a few wheat and jaggery laddoos – they saw how much the girls enjoyed them at breakfast that last morning !! – for us to carry back, and shared as well organically produced turmeric (which I’m looking forward to using in face packs for the girls!) from their farm.

All in all, this has been an experience that will stay with me for a long time. I feel we got so much more than we’d expected – a good time and a great stay yes, but also an elevating experience of a more important kind-an opportunity to meet individuals who inspire, who push our thinking, and remind us that there are many different but equally rich ways to live a life.


An Evening to Remember

Best moments of recent times – the girls walking in through the door one night after a week away recently (the quietest time ever because their father was away too) and pouring out tales of all the good times they had with their cousins; Indira looking around the apartment as if re-discovering the space and eventually saying out loudly “Home Sweet Home !!!” in a delighted way; and Noor said “Oh Mama, the roller coaster (her first time) was SO SO scary !!! that I just closed my eyes tightly shut, and thought only of my birthday and your face the way it is when you smile”.

Note to self – yell less, smile more.

Speaking of a “slight” matter…

In this article here today in the New York Times, it was good to see that what I on a few occasions experienced in my time outside India- though, happily, it was only rarely, but yes it happens and it hurts or rankles when it does – seems to have a legitimate term for it, and that it is a subject of discussion. It’s good for such attitudes to be recognized and addressed, I think. In all my years away from India, I feel very fortunate that I had mostly only very positive experiences with people of other races, and was mostly only appreciated for being Indian (since we’re as a race accorded the courtesy of being assumed to be in possession of qualities, values and skills such as intelligence, hard work and native fluency in English unless we quickly prove them wrong). And yet, as I said at the start, I too have on occasion encountered these “microaggressions” that leave you feeling like the outsider that you work hard to try not to be and don’t want to be reminded you are…. Which is why I’m glad to know this gets attention. Also reminded me of the book “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, which described the drift of a rational, educated individual towards radicalism precisely due to a gradual disenchantment with the other side due to these little daily acts that are born of an unacknowledged, unrecognized, deeply ingrained racist streak. Yet I don’t know that one should even call it that, it is I suppose simply a lack of examination of one’s inability to deal with anything other than one knows, and one’s discomfort with that which is not familiar.

About the changes this week to the SAT exam

Been reading these two articles in the NYT. The first makes a wonderful point, a thought for all parents, to hold on to.”Our children, precious, brilliant, frustrating, confused souls that they are, are more than a set of scores.”, the author says.

In my better moments, I know I tell the girls this -that their behavior, their manners, what the French call comportment- their happiness, and health will always be more important to me than academic achievement, and that I’m proud of the diverse skills they have. But in the pressure I feel – for it is us who feel it, not they, till we cloud their carefree minds with it too –  who are as “successful” in conventional terms as any other, I tend to forget this often, I know.

The second article is very insightful too, about the whole flawed and skewed process of the conventional kind of testing is one I must remember to read more than once in the coming years as the girls get to college age.

This part I thought was quite funny, reminded me of the kind of creative writing I’ve seen recently Indira being asked to do. or, rather, of the sometimes too high expectations I admit I have of her when faced with this kind of homework – “Over the course of their two-hour conversation, Perelman told Coleman that he wasn’t opposed to an essay portion of the test, per se; he thought it was a good idea, if done well. But “when is there a situation in either college or life when you’re asked to write on demand about something you’ve never once thought about?” he asked. “I’ve never gotten an email from a boss saying: ‘Is failure necessary for success? Get back to me in 25 minutes?’ But that’s what the SAT does.”

Beautiful, Soothing, Music to fall asleep to

I’ve made sporadic attempts over the years to introduce Indian classical music to the girls. They’ve sometimes liked some of it, but never evinced any interest afterwards in listening to any particular piece again, as far as I can remember. But tonight, I think what they heard made a definite impact, and Indira seemed to actually enjoy falling asleep to this superbly melodious rendition ( it is the recording called “The Valley Recalls” by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia).

They’re both sleeping now, as I write this and think that I must do this – listening with them to music –  more often.

Little pleasures @work

Sometimes, when I need to clear my head during a busy/stressful day, it is such a great feeling to be able to step away from my desk, down the stairs and in to the pretty, lovingly tended garden that surrounds the house in which we have our offices.

The house used to be the home of a well-known industrialist until around 65 years ago, and was designed during the Raj by the same British architect who also designed such famous landmarks as the Gateway of India and the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai.

It makes for the most soothing, tranquil ambience one could ask for at work, and for very rejuvenating post-lunch walks.


Truly an oasis in the midst of this NOISY, chaotic, madly growing city….

Music to remember and listen to often

That – the listen to often part – part is easier said than done, since I am not one of those people who can work and listen to music at the same time, as some colleagues do where I work –  and work seems to consume most of my life these days. oh well…

but these are some of the pieces I am listening to on YouTube tonight in the girls’s room, and loving –

The Blue Danube (I found a very interesting music plus dance performance of that here, it is a recording of The Blue Danube Waltz by the Vienna Philharmonic / Vals del Danubio Azul ), Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, here and Fur Elise, which Indira says she remembers hearing often at the music school in Mougins.

There is something in the music tonight that reminds me of the calmness of the aire in general where I lived in France, and makes me long for that old life and the more serene quality of many of my days back then, surrounded as I am here every day by the cacophony of traffic and just the generally hurtling pace of life. Oh well again. Or, should that be – c’est la vie 🙂

Look Ma, no wheels-Part Two

When I wrote here, almost exactly two years ago, that Noor was starting to ride a cycle without the training wheels, little did I imagine that it would be two more years before she’d do that again.

For in all this time since then, I can’t remember that there’s ever been an occasion when she was willing to attempt a ride without the side wheels. She has a taller cycle now than the little one she had in France, but has been reluctant to use it too often, I’ve suspected, for precisely this reason that we took those wheels off during the Christmas vacation, expecting to teach her to ride without that support during the holidays.

Well after a long delay that training session finally happened today. Having been away all week in Trivandrum until Friday – missing Holi with them in the process – gave me an extra determination, I think, to do many things at home and with them this weekend that had been on my mind as unfinished. So yesterday Indira and I went shopping and finally ordered the remaining half of the sofa, this morning I made egg and toast for breakfast – always a crowd-pleaser around here ! – instead of the usual oats with milk which they eat without fuss but are not crazy about, gave their hair a much-needed oil massage before lunch, in the afternoon I demonstrated once again to Usha, our cook, how I like sambhar to be made (since the girls had requested idlis for dinner), after which the girls and I went down to wash their cycles and to pump air in to the tyres, Then, after showers and gouter we went down to the park which is when Noor gave her cycle another go without the side wheels.

Perhaps these things really just are a matter of waiting for when the time is right, because Noor rode quite well from the moment I let go the first time. We’ll have to practise a little more, but she really does seem to be getting there now, and without the reluctance I saw before.

Well begun, Noor !

A moment of clarity at the airport

This week, I traveled to Ernakulam again for the program at the furniture cluster. The flight to Bangalore from Pune was over ninety minutes late so I got to do some people watching while I waited. Well actually it was more of baby- watching. There happened to be two “young” mothers in the boarding lounge, each with a baby who was barely two months old. And adorable little tykes they were, too. Watching those two moms rock their little babies constantly, change diapers on their laps and on the chairs they were sitting on- though the chairs these days are a vast improvement on those uncomfortable plastic bucket chairs that all Indian airports used to be equipped with not too long ago-and cooing to their babies brought back so many warm memories of when Indira and Noor were little babes-in-arms.  But along with a pang of nostalgia for those times, I also experienced a sudden feeling of immense, fierce gratitude. For it struck me then that though at the time the sheer hard work of bringing up the girls 24X7 by myself sometimes -often, if I am to be honest -left me feeling tired and short-tempered, what that has given me is many years of holding them close and the memory of the warmth from doing that. It’s a memory that still lifts my heart when I think about it.

So perhaps life has worked out the way it has for a reason. That though over the years I sometimes questioned the wisdom of my having given up what might have been a promising job all those years ago, at least now, when I am not home as much as I’d like to be, I am able to look back and feel that I was there to hold them -and did- as much as any baby or small child can be held till they begin to grow up and find their wings that take them away to school, to the park with their friends, to all the other activities that keep their days busy….