Friday, August 5, 2011

The night before.

This post is my entry to a witty event - Of Chalks and Chopsticks- by Desi Soccer Mom on her blog. the original idea being from Aqua Using the following photo cue, I have created this post. I am looking forward to reading the other entries. Bravo, DSM!!! Looking forward to knowing you and reading you, more! :)

Photo: From the blog Desi Soccer Mom

It was worse than my scariest nightmare. It was 8 o’clock, the night before the Monday that I was going to start my new job, 6 years after quitting my last one. Dinner was done, but it was all a blur to me. My family had sensed that I was ready to lose my cool and had stayed out of my way the whole evening. Come to think of It, even the baby had eaten her food without too much of a fuss! Now, it was sleep time. Sonny dearest had the beginnings of a tantrum brewing while the baby had decided that she wanted to “read” her favorite Winnie the Pooh story on the Ipad. But after a day of watching movies and doodling, the Ipad was completely out of charge. A frenetic search for the not-so-easy-to-lose white charger ensued only to end with the knowledge that the charger had shredded at its end and was now, useless. This brought forth loud bawls from the baby and I picked her up, trying to calm her down. I had planned the morning and the day to the minutest detail and was determined to execute it accordingly. Having satisfied her with hugs and intense kisses, I put her down and grabbed the grapefruit to make juice for the morning. I hate grapefruit. I hate the way it controls my taste buds with its bitter, sour taste and makes my lips pucker even if I don’t want them to.  But hubby dearest loves it and all the research I was shown about its anti-aging antioxidant content had ensured its place in my fruit basket. The bright golden orb with its rosy blushes was inviting me to squeeze the life out of it. I reached for it and my fingers squished right into the back of the fruit. Unbeknownst to me, this pretty ball had rotten on the back, the side away from my sight and the rot had gotten so far into the fruit that the only logical destination for it was the garbage bin. It landed there with a thud that made hubby dearest cringe! Strike one against my best laid plans for a stress free, back to work morning!  
I thought cleaning out the countertops might help me calm down and as the kids got ready to go to bed, I grabbed the leftover dried up okra from the white plate and laid them to rest next to the grapefruit.  The bag of key limes had appeared out of nowhere. I thought back to the first time I had bought one of these. My favorite chef Ida Gurgen had promised me- via her TV show - that I could make a delicious key lime mousse pie just like her. Foolishly, I had decided to make it the star dessert for a dinner party, the first social event I had planned after resigning from my job. The highlight of the evening was going to be my childhood friend Vidya, who had recently moved to New York with her family. I had planned the dinner for days and felt confident about the menu except for the dessert. I bought four bags of key limes, had juiced and zested them, just as instructed. I then assembled the ingredients in the order that they would go into the bowl. I baked the mixture of graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar and cinnamon at 375 degrees and the crust came out golden and perfect. It was cooling on the wire rack and I felt unbeatable. The custard was the next part. While the unflavored gelatin bloomed in the lukewarm water, I whisked the egg yolks in a small saucepan and slowly added the lime juice, sugar and zest. So far so good! Then I placed the saucepan on a pot of rolling boiling water as my makeshift double boiler and started to whisk. The dessert was doomed from that point on. The egg yolks did change color as mentioned in the recipe but they also were on the brink of getting scrambled. I should have just tossed out that mixture and started fresh, but time was running out and I was feeling unbeatable! I thought I could fix the error. I let the egg mixture cool down and folded in the egg whites and gelatin, poured it into the crust and set it in the refrigerator, to cool. With just a half hour left before the guests would arrive, I took out the piece de resistance and found out that instead of the silky mousse I had been waiting for, I had made a cold, congealed mass of semi-scrambled eggs with a strong sour lime-y flavor. The guests had finished the elaborate 4 course dinner with vanilla and chocolate ice cream!
That dinner had brought me and Vidya closer again, figuratively and literally. Since then, we had reconnected our old friendship and had added new memories, which included children and camping trips and late night museum trips.  Now as I was putting the dishes away, I saw something tucked behind the stockpot in the corner of a cupboard. It was a wooden serving tray, hand carved from walnut wood by the artisans in Kashmir. It was a wedding gift from Vidya. I hadn’t used it in years but could not bring myself to get rid of it or pack it away. Thinking of my wedding day still brought forth an intense reaction, a mix of jitters and excitement. That day had been a chaotic mix of ceremonies, music, people decked in their finery all moving with a purpose. I had felt lost and out of control, as though moving on auto-pilot, following instructions from the priests and my parents. But, looking up a few times at my beaming groom, I had known that I had made the right choice. Looking back, I can imagine what my parents must have felt that day, sending their little princess away from home, first to another family, then to an unknown land across the seas. I found myself tearing up and made a mental note to call my parents the next day. They would be waiting to hear the news of my latest adventure. A sad and tired cry of “Mommy” snapped me out of my reverie. Feeling thankful for little blessings, I turned the light off and walked over to the kids’ bedroom to read tonight’s selection from The Bedtime Stories.

Monday, July 18, 2011

One Amazing Thing - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's best work yet!!


       Imagine yourself caught in a raging whirlpool, flailing your arms, trying to save yourself from drowning, but the water rushes over you, engulfing you in its cold embrace and just as you are about to black out, you find yourself on the shore, breathing in lungfuls of sweet, fresh air! That is what Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni does to the reader with her new novel, One Amazing Thing. It is an emotional catharsis for nine strangers facing a slow but ghastly end, brought together by chance and a common destination. Divakaruni is at her best in this book with physical descriptions of the scene of the tragedy so vivid that you feel the rumblings of the ground in your bones just as much as you feel the chill of the rising water and similarly gripping explorations of the characters' emotions. The characters are  developed beautifully as they narrate "one amazing"story that has happened in their lives. The fears each character faces and their resulting actions when faced with a dramatic situation are a mirror to the world in which we live in today. 
 In general, the narrative is crisp and brisk but towards the end, it slows down. The early stories are brilliantly constructed and give a concise yet in depth view into the emotional chaos of the characters. The later ones though, feel rushed. The sense of urgency and the feeling of not having enough time ties in with the timeline of the story but leaves you wanting for more. The author could have spent a little more time and pages on the last 3 characters -who are central to the story though not mentioned so explicitly - to bring a little more detail out of  their lives. The story does not have a sense of closure and I think it is intentional on the part of the author. The characters, who have been lost at one point or the other in their lives, do not reach their destinations. But handled deftly and sensitively by this gifted author, you breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have found their paths. How they choose to travel is left up to the reader.
      One amazing Thing is an examination of the minds of culturally diverse men and women, which reveals surprisingly similar angst and fears - of rejection, of disappointment, of the search for love - which should help bring us together in this time of strife and hatred. An exciting read that should have been a little longer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jungle Drums - Graeme Base

He said : Beautiful words and pictures that go with the story. It is an exciting story that teaches a lesson that if someone is too small or too big, it is not good to make fun of them. You should be happy just the way you are. I would recommend this book.
She said : A gorgeously illustrated book, Jungle Drums uses simple language to convey the story of a plain little Warthog, Ngiri Mdogo. Awash in beautiful alliterative phrases like "stunning stripes", "striking spots" and Swahili terms, Base brings life in the African Savannah right into your home. Issues of vanity and insecurity are addressed in a non-condescending manner that is appealing to the young audience. The message gets through very clearly thanks to the strong narrative and beautiful illustrations. A family favorite, this book is certain to grab the imagination of any young reader brave enough to venture into the jungles of Africa!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

He Said, She Said..

We are starting a new series, "He said, She said". By we, I mean, She (that would be me, mommy) and my 6 year old son He.  We both love to read and as school is out, both of us have a lot more time on our hands than usual. In this series, we will be collaborating on reviews of children's books and movies. The books featured here range from picture, board books to chapter books at the early reader level (7-8 year old). The review will be from two voices - those of the young reader and the parent.  We would love to hear your comments and suggestions. I have typed the responses He has provided but have not edited them (for the most part) for grammar or sentence construction.
Let the reading begin!!!

Rating system

*****: Excellent
****  : Good
***    : Ok
**      : Nah
*        : Yuck!

Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor, Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.

He said : I think it is very fictional. Story is well-written but it is silly, also funny. Like, you cannot go into a restaurant fancily without everyone looking at you! They will not give you any food!!
The illustrations go very well. When they write the story on each page, they draw pictures with it. Small kids can just look at the pictures and even if they do not read, they can tell the story.

She said :  A well-illustrated book with a lot of attention to detail (eg: glitter on the front cover as everything is "fancy"). Where an opinionated adult might see the forced princess culture shining through in little Nancy trying hard to be fancy (ultimately in vain), for a child, it is a girl engaging in silly, pretend play and is quite funny. The narrative is fast and the author uses popular culture indications of fancy (like French words and British mannerisms) to appeal to the minds of young readers. The story has a mild suspense building up to a major event which underlines the moral of the story (which I will not elaborate on!). The illustrations demand most of the attention in the book and call for a lot of pauses before turning the pages.
All in all, a fun read, for boys and girls, alike!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I will miss you, Kuki!

Kuki Deshpande is no more. That sounds wrong. Kuki has always been there. For the last 14 years, this crazy white ball of fur has been a memeber of our family, an important one, at that. My mother and I brought him home, wrapped in a red and white blanket, in a wicker basket. I remember the excitement he had caused in our household and the first night, when he slept in our bedroom and whimpered all night. But it didnt take long for him to realize we loved him so much that we would put up with anything he dished out. And boy, did he!. He was not at all a "useful" dog. He barked all the time, but not necessarily at the right time! He didn't fetch or play ball or do any other tricks that children teach their dogs. He owned us more than we owned him. He was the third child of our family. He was a part of wedding ceremonies and birthday parties. He always made it in to the letters I wrote home when I moved to the US. The newborn babies were introduced to him as were the newly weds. When planning trips, Kuki's whereabouts were decided before we booked hotel rooms. He moved with my parents through various towns till they found their home in Pune. My father lived in a different town for the first few years of Kuki's life and I remember he didn't take to Baba all that well, initially. But that changed when we all started living together again. Oh boy! from then on, he was my father's extremely spoilt brat. My father gave him unbridled love without the restraint of discipline and Kuki relished it. Though my mother did not approve of Kuki's food habits and complained about having to clean up after him, she loved him like she did either one of her human children (maybe slightly more). Everybody who knew us knew Kuki, his crazy way of chasing his own tail when he got mad and how he growled when anyone sat near my father. With his passing, another vestige of my childhood has been erased. My brother and I don't have a baby doggie anymore. And from now on, my parents don't have to leave the ceiling fan and light on, when they step out of the house for a trip to the market.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The human species prides itself on its imagination. As far as we know (mostly because we do not communicate with them), no other species has the ability to imagine like we do. We have credited most of our significant achievements on being able to imagine things that would have seemed impossible.

Merriam-Websters defines imagination as the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.The truth however is that imagination is wholly influenced by what we know of our reality, of what experiences in our lives have informed us about the world we live in, about what is and is not possible. When we imagine, we have a reference beacon very much in the reality. That is why we imagine aliens with a humanoid appearance; with a head and a torso-like structure ending in appendages. When we imagine heaven, it is the most beautiful manifestation of nature we can recreate from what we have seen or heard or read. If you close your eyes right now and imagine the place you most want to be, chances are it will bear striking resemblance to a picture you have seen on TV, on the Internet or in a magazine somewhere. We consume so much information, solicited and otherwise, that it is practically impossible to think of something which does not have a basis in our reality. Our art forms, even though they might involve tremendous imagination on the part of their creators, also reflect a familiar consciousness.

I recently watched the movie, Close encounters of the Third Kind. Even allowing for the 30 years that have passed since this movie was made, what struck me most about it was how we all were (and still are) restricted by our imagination. Extraterrestrial life exists? Sure and it looks almost like us, has attributes like us like music and touch and yes, just like a human facing a strange situation or a stranger, the first reaction is to fight. Whether it is in the design of the next generation vehicles (which will still have wheels and have contact with the ground) or a superbly made movie like Up, we are very much restricted by our imagination.

When a child is young, two or three years old, it begins to comprehend the world around itself. It does not have enough data about the world to imagine events based on "real" facts. That is why a 3 year old can have tea parties with 5 dolls and 2 horses while engaging in pleasant conversation with all of them about the flying dragons. This does not seem impossible to the child's mind. That is real imagination. As the child grows older, we encourage the child to use her imagination in her studies, to think creatively and "out of the box". But when she does that, she is reminded that though it is very creative, the answers to the questions have to be arrived at, using a conventional and hence, effective method that has been favored over the years. In essence, the imagination of that child gets systematically culled as she grows into an adult in our society. By then, the exposure of that child to the "ways of the world" has happened in its entirety and try as any teacher might, that child can only think so much out of the box. There is no escaping the box from then on.

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” How many of us can separate knowledge from imagination? Aren't we all the prisoners of our knowledge-tinged imagination?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

It rained this afternoon.

The clouds had given fair warning. They had been talking to the meteorologists for the last two days telling them how urgently they needed to get rid of the load they were carrying. The experts, in turn, had passed on the word to the lay people to expect severe thunderstorms in the latter part of the day. They were always so accurate. Such accuracy can come only from getting the news at source -hence the clouds had to have spoken to them. All morning long, the clouds gathered around the town. Some gliding on the gentle breeze that blew from the east. The heavy dark ones, full to the brims managed to drag themselves without losing a single drop. It started getting darker and darker as more of them came. Women rushed out to get the clothes from the clotheslines. Some people shut down the windows while others opened the doors and sat at the stoops, waiting. A flock of swallows made a final dash to get out from under the ominous clouds. And then as if on cue, the first drops started to fall. Gently, haltingly - as if testing the lay of the land. And then it stopped. Nothing moved, not even air as everyone waited to see if the rest would follow. And sure enough as if satisfied that the land they were about to fall on was worthy enough, the floodgates opened. A rush of water started to fall from the sky, enveloping everything in almost a fog of water drops and accompanied by the loudest of shhhhsssss, first in a straight line and then with gay abandon. It rained as If there was no tomorrow. It rained as if this was the last gathering of clouds that would ever grace this land. It rained so hard that it stopped people in their tracks and sent them scurrying under the awnings along with the squirrels and the magpies. It rained with a rhythm that could only be played out by master conductor, Mother Nature, herself. It rained with a purpose. It rained this afternoon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What a wonderful world!

Lately, it seems every book I read, every movie I watch or any program I listen to is talking about the restlessness of the mind, the need to know what happens next, what happens when we die? How do you make your time on this Earth worthwhile? Maybe it was here all along but I have just started to notice. Another thing I have noticed is as I get older, things seem more and more impermanent, momentary. The fact that our time in this world is finite seems irrefutable and obvious. When we are young, it is all about opportunities, new experiences and to-do lists. Everything seems possible. All you have to do is work really hard. It feels like there is an entire lifetime ahead to achieve the goals and have fun. As you get older, you start crossing off those goals on your list. You get yourself a good education which hopefully lands you a good job. If you are lucky, you may even like your job. Find the right partner, get married and settle down for the long haul. Life chugs along just fine and then the kids arrive. That changes the pace of things. It sounds clich├ęd, but your priorities get overhauled , without you even noticing it. During those years of child rearing, life just paces itself out so fast that you do not realize how you have changed as a person. The responsibilities that you bear in raising these individuals bring into perspective your role in your own life. That is when the thoughts about the trajectory of your life and where it is headed raise their heads. Now a days, faced with the violence and bitterness in the society, the only response that makes sense is to simplify. To live in the moment, to enjoy each day for what it brings, to smile at babies and shake hands with strangers, to give the other person the benefit of doubt and not assume that the world is out to get you. These seem phrases copied from Hallmark cards but when put into context they make sense. We need to use the highly developed brain that evolution has endowed us with to further our species instead of destroying it.

Sure, it is easy to introspect when you are leading a comfortable, healthy and happy life. When you have to worry about where the next meal will come from, how you will keep your baby dry when the roof leaks or where you will hide when the barbarians are banging on your door, these questions seem irrelevant. That is why it is important now more than ever that the people who are content and have happiness to spare, share it with those in dire need. Religion has tried to do this but in my opinion organized religion has failed humankind terribly. The brilliant writer and historian Tony Judt put it succinctly and beautifully when asked about his thoughts on religion and after life. He said :

"I don't believe in a single or multiple godhead. I respect people who do, but I don't believe it myself. But there's a big 'but' which enters in here. I am much more conscious than I ever was — for obvious reasons — on what it will mean to people left behind once I'm dead. It won't mean anything for me. But it will mean a lot to them. It's important to them — by which I mean my children or my wife or my very close friends — that some spirit of me is in a positive way present in their lives, in their heads, in their imaginations and so on. So [in] one curious way I've come to believe in the afterlife — as a place where I still have moral responsibilities, just as I do in this life — except that I can only exercise them before I get there. Once I get there, it will be too late. So, no God. No organized religion. But a developing sense that there's something bigger than the world we live in, including after we die, and we have responsibilities in that world."

So, if we all stopped worrying about the afterlife and paid attention to living this life to the fullest, then we will mean it when we sing …what a wonderful world!

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Mother's Manifesto

My dear children

I am scared. I am scared of the world around us today. It seems everyday we wake up to another natural disaster, another war or another tragedy ruining the lives of millions of people around the Earth. We are running out of natural resources, we are running out of money, we are polluting the Earth, we are in the process of wiping out many species from the face of this earth. It seems people are getting sadder and lonelier with each passing year. I am scared of the state we are leaving the Earth in, for you. With all the technological achievements, we still cannot stop people from dying of a mosquito bite! The gap between the have's and have-nots is ever expanding throughout the globe. Everything just seems to be spinning out of control!! However, there is something I have control over - our lives together. When you were born, I was overwhelmed to think that I was going to be responsible for raising you to be an individual all in your own right, someone who can function normally and productivley in a society and lead a happy life. Over the years, I have learned that this is a partnership. I have taken cues from you and changed my opinions about doing things a certain way. We have started this wonderfuljourney together and its time we put down a manuscript for this adventure. Here are the things that I, as a mother, promise to do for you :

- You will always have unconditional and unending love from me.

-I will not expect anything but excellence from you in everything you do, so that you may never expect mediocrity from yourselves.

- I will never assume that you cannot do something until you have tried it and put in your very best.

-I will not limit you to my own knowledge. I will share all that I have and then search far and wide to get you more and as you get older, teach you how to find your own information.

-I may be busy but never too busy to hear you. In our conversations, I will pay complete attention to you so that you know what you are saying is important. I will also teach you how important it is to listen while the other person is talking.

-I will love you father with all my heart and be true in my relationships so you can experience the pleasure of family.

-I will explore with you everything this world has to offer in all of the areas of the arts so that you can start your own journeys.

-I will make sure you sample every cuisine in this world before you are 18, so that you will have a well-developed palate by the time you are ready to go out into the world on your own.

- I will let you experience the bliss of reading a book in a quiet house on a school-day afternoon

-I will take you on trips around the world and into the next-door woods, so you can experience the majesty of nature in all of its forms.

-I will share with you the joy of sports-playing, watching, the thrill of the win and disappointment of the loss.

-I will discipline you even if it makes me cry inside - I will have to be the parent then, not a friend.

-I will try very hard to not pass on my bias and judgmental feelings about issues to you but let you make up your own minds.

-I will never be judgmental when it comes to you.

-I will make sure you know where you come from-your family history, the struggles and triumphs of your family members so you have a sense of pride in your roots even if you are far removed from them.

-I will remind you, everyday, how special you are and that the pursuit and enjoyment of happiness is entirely in your hands.

All this will not be easy. All this is probably going to take a long time. But as I often experienced when I lie down on the bed and think about my day, the moments that bring me the greatest peace and happiness are the ones spent with you. And that makes it all worth the while.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A breath of cold, fresh air.

I am an easy mark when it comes to interesting book titles. I am very likely to pick up books at random, if they have catchy titles. Even if I may not judge a book by its cover, I certainly give a lot of points for the title. It is very difficult to give a title to your work that embodies the spirit of what you have written and conveys its intensity. So when I heard about The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson, it certainly topped my to-read list. It took me a few years to get to it, but it reaffirmed my hypothesis of judging books! It is the most beautiful collection of essays collected in the form of a memoir. Though not strictly chronological in its narrative, it draws on a time line that is easy to follow. It is a fine line that an author has to walk when writing about one's own life. The "story" has to be interesting enough to hold the reader's attention while the subject has to be examined in detail with objectivity. In this book, Ms.Dickinson chronicles her journey from and back to her hometown, physically and figuratively in a manner that is unassuming and honest. The parts dealing with her divorce and early struggles in establishing herself while raising her daughter are candidly funny yet poignant. The narrative feels like you are sitting across the table from your friend, chatting over a (few) cup(s) of coffee. Her experiences of parenting, "dorkitude", living with aging family members and pets while making a life on her own come across as life lessons without being pretentious. The central theme of resilience and strength that comes from family ties almost feels like fiction. The descriptions of life in a small town in New York are so appealing that it makes you want to map it out and drive down for the weekend. I can't wait to read what Amy Dickinson writes next. Two-thumbs up!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Follow that scent..

It is a well-researched subject - the connection between smell and memory. It is believed that the olfactory bulb is a part of the brain's limbic system, which is closely associated with memories and that is the reason why smells are associated with certain memories. I have been credited with having a keen sense of smell, almost akin to that of a dog-which if I was not such a die hard dog lover, would have been insulting. But it is true, I am very sensitive to smell. I do not mean that even slightly strong odours upset me. On the contrary, I have quite a high tolerance for noxious odors. I am senstive to the good kind of smells. You know how the advertisements claim the sweet scent of the soaps can tranport you to a tropical paradise or the lavender oil can instantly calm your stresses - well, it sure works on me! And the most memorable smells of all are that of food. I remember telling my mother after coming home from school one day that I could smell tandoori chicken while I was in the class! Today there are some memories so strongly intertwined with smells that even though I am far away from the places where these events/memories happened, for that instant i get a surge of familiarity rushing through my senses that takes me to a very special place.
My favorite food smell is that of frreshly made rotis - unleavened Indian bread, being puffed over the open flame. That for me is the smell of my mother's kitchen. Throughout my growing up years, when I finally got interested in the kitchen (much to my mothers relief) the thing that amazed me the most was how my mother would make perfectly round, evenly puffed rotis, day in and day out, as if traced with the back of a bowl or made in a mould. It took me years to perfect this craft and even though most of the times my rotis do turn out round and evenly puffed, they still cannot rival my mother's. The earthy scent of wheat getting roasted over open fire is as close to nature as you can get, sitting in your dining room.
Another very strong scent that floods the oxytocin receptors in my brain is that of warm ghee - clarified butter. If you think the smell of butter is irresistable, wait till you get a waft of this heavenly perfume, when ghee is pured over anything hot - usually steaming rice or when put in a hot pot to be used for cooking, like my ajji (grandmother) used to do. She didnot let the minor fact that ghee is 100% fat, free of all annoying milk solids, ever get in the way of her cooking. Ghee was (and still is) a mandatory addition to most of her dishes. But the one dish which I absolutely devour and one that cannot be replicated is her Kadhi - a hot soup usually used as an accompaniment to the main course; made up of yogurt and gram flour, flavoured with green chillies, ginger, cilantro and tempered with hot ghee, cumin seeds and curry leaves. The smell of cumin seeds sputtering away in hot ghee is the stuff of my childhood dreams!!
A scent I was introduced to after coming to America was that of vanilla...ummm..just the mention of the name brings to my mind visions of perfectly kept, beautiful houses or quaint boutiques with candles and glasswares in tiny town of the West. Yes, even though this is a food fragrance, my immediate memory associated with vanilla is our first attempt at house hunting in California and innumerable visits to the model houses. Since then I have lived in a number of houses and have never ever achieved that level of vanilla-scentedness, no matter how many candles or chemicals I have burned.
The memories are innumerable. The whiff of teriyaki chicken being grilled outdoors on cold, fall saturday mornings in the Strip district of Pittsburgh, the magical essence of lavender oils floating through the streets of Ojai, CA or the pure unadulterated fishy ocean smell of the Hawaiian coast - every memorable experience has a smell to it. I realized I was helping my son form his own memories when, on sniffing a handful of fresh basil leaves, he remarked, "Oh this is the smell of the pasta from yesterday!!"


1/4 cup Low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tbsp gram flour (besan)
1 cup water
2 tsp ghee or butter
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 serrano/jalapeno chilly seeded and chopped
5-6 curry leaves torn
handful of chopped fresh cilantro

In a bowl, whisk together yogurt, water ginger, turmeric and salt. To it, add the gram flour slowly and mix it well. Whisk it well and break up any lumps that may form. Add the chillies (if using). In a thick-bottomed sauce pan, heat the ghee or butter over low heat. Add the cumin seeds when the butter melts. When the seeds start to crackle, add the curry leaves. To this add the yogurt mixture, making sure that the heat is turned down to low to medium low. Stir the mixture and let it come to a slow boil. Do not let the mixture thicken. You will need to add more water, upto 1 cup to keep the consistency of the soup. Cook over low heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the cilantro leaves and serve hot as soup or as a side dish with steaming white rice.

Gram flour or besan is found very commonly in Indian grocery stores. It is light yellow in colour and smells of chick peas.

Monday, March 7, 2011

In conversation with…….

I have been accused to talking too much-with my children! It has been said that both of them (ages 6 and 3) talk so much and are so precocious because I talk to them about things they have no business knowing about. Point taken. Please allow me to present my case.

I agree that I talk a lot with my kids (I talk a lot, in general) and that to an untrained, illiterate eye, they might seem precocious . But I believe that my children are developing at a rate and extent faster and deeper than their peers because of their exposure to things that children of their age usually do not even know about.

Case in point: My 6 year old son and I were talking about the Civil War and then the Civil rights movements in the context of a project for the Black History month in his school. When we were talking about segregation, he asked “So what was the problem Indians had in those days, Mom? ( he meant Indians as in from India). I told him that the problem Indians had at that time in history was that they were ruled by the British and there was a war of independence going on. Then we discussed the colonization of the various princely states that made up India by the British rulers and how the in-fighting among the various kings made it easy for the British to “divide and rule”. After a while, I could see that his attention was wandering and that it was getting to be too much information for him and we ended the conversation. Later that day him and his sister were having an argument over the Pokemon cards and he says to her , “ You are invading my territory. You just want more and more and that is why you are fighting with me!” So, the conversation was not wasted after all!

One question that bothers parents is that in the trouble-prone pre-adolescent and adolescent years will their children come able to come to them for help if they need? Will there be proper communication between the two that the child will not feel intimidated or embarrassed in opening up or questioning something that may be bothering him? As with every other relationship, communication is the back bone of a successful parent-child partnership. But if you wait for the child to be “mature” enough to handle conversations you are too late. From the time a child is born she is processing information according to the capacity of her developing brain. It is a well established fact that the more you talk to your infant or toddler the quicker and deeper the child’s development is in areas of talking and vocabulary. Using normal language when talking to an infant is better for teaching him language than using “baby” words for “milk” and “blanket” and so on. The same premise should be carried over as the child grows. Conventional wisdom may suggest that certain topics are too complicated for a preschooler or grade school age kid to to comprehend. But whether it is slavery or global warming, evolution of humans or even death, there is a way of explaining the facts in an age-appropriate manner. Kids may not understand everything that is thrown at them but the exposure guarantees a reaction in terms of thinking about the topic which can lead to creative and analytical thinking. And when this kind of exposure happens in their daily life, with parents, the stage is set for a lifelong open channel between the parent and the child which can foster communication forever.

So, as we discuss the merits of having a Raichu Pokemon card versus a Meowth I hope that he won't hesitate about telling me of the day when he was offered a cigarette by his friend or when he got a Valentine from the cutest girl in his class.