Kada Prasad – Recipe And A Food Story


The melodious strains of Gurbani, prabhat pheris, prakash utsav, lagars ( free community meals)  and the unforgettable kada prasad were my initiation to something that would become a very important part of my life.

I was a young girl searching for solace. Drawn to the local Gurudwara by the strains of music I would go inside and get transported to a totally different world. Neither a Sikh nor a religeous person this experience was purely spiritual.

I remembered a Sikh friend’s granny giving me an extremely delicious halwa as prasad. I asked what it was made of and couldn’t believe when she said wheat flour. Now, we too made aate ka halwa but it never tasted like the one from the Gurudwara or from her kitchen. I insisted on other helping which she lovingly gave and told me that prasad is to be eaten like prasad not like mithai.

Whenever I found an opportunity I would visit the nearby Gurudwara for the shabad and for the prasad. The serenity of the place always calmed me down. I learned to prepare this divine prasad from beeji as she was called by my friend. I had just passed out from school and I think that was the last time we met before going our ways. We used to lead the school choir that participated in shabad & Kirtan competitions and still have my winning certificates of merit from Mata Sundari College.

Later, Gurudwara became a spiritual sanctuary for me, a place where I would go and spend hours sitting in complete silence, soaking in the healing viberations. Letting go of all the sorrow that filled my heart. Sometimes the tears would flow but no one paid attention or judged. I was at home inside that place of bliss. It is still a place where I become a witness to myself. Sometimes I would quietly sit by the sarovar and read Sukhmani sahib or Dukh bhanjini sahib. The words cleansed me from inside out. For me it was not just a journey with but a source of strength to cope with what lay ahead.

I still go to Bangla Sahib whenever possible though lately my visits have become irregular. You must do the seva in some Gurudwara at least once in a lifetime. I can not explain the feeling one experiences.

Today, I am sharing that recipe with you. Though I can never replicate the original. It does, however, bring back the same taste from my youth.

These silver katoris are from my childhood. Perhaps presented or bought at birth so about fifty year old. 🙂

This simple recipe for Kada Prasad doesn’t need any dry fruits or other add-ons. The flavor comes from the roasting of wheat flour in pure desi ghee or clarified butter. Roasting is also the most important aspect of making the halwa. It has to be even and just the right rich brown color or it won’t give you the authentic taste of the prasad. Also, the wheat flour needs to be coarse (Dardara) to get the right texture. You can use the usual wheat flour too but the texture won’t be like the one made in Gurudwaras. Two things that are a MUST in this recipe – Ghee and right proportion of the ingredients. You can not replace Ghee with anything else. Also, the halwa made from prasad is NEVER heated again. Something I learned from beeji.

One of the simplest of recipes and yet the richest. Today being Gurubpurab I decided to make the halwa and distribute to neighbors and family members.

Here is my recipe :

Whole wheat flour ( coarsly ground) – 1 Cup

Sugar -1 Cup

Pure Ghee (Clarified Butter ) –  1 Cup ( Yes, the halwa is laden with ghee and that is why it should be eaten less)

Water – 3 Cups

The proportion is always – 1-1-1-3 You can always double triple or half, quarter the proportion as per need.

 

Steps : 

In a kadhayi heat the water and add sugar to it. Stir to dissolve and keep aside. You can add the sugar directly also. If doing that just heat the water and keep aside for later use. Heating the water ensures that there is no change of temperature when it is added to hot roasted flour. It also ensures even cooking.

In another kadhayi heat the ghee till nicely warm. Add the wheat flour / atta and stir. Keep the flame on slow – medium as the flour tends to rapidly change from light brown – dark brown  and burnt stage.

This is an important process so do it it with patience and love.

You will see the color change, keep stirring till you get to the stage where the color is rich brown and the mixture has a sand like grainy texture. The butty aroma is another sign of an evenly roasted aata. You will also notice the ghee leaving the sides now.

At this point, add the hot sugar water to the wheat ghee mixture. Be careful not to scald yourself. Stir vigorously so that no lumps are formed. Shift to medium heat to ensure the right consistency. Now turn the flame to low and keep stirring till all the water absorbs and the halwa reaches the right consistency. The ghee will starts leaving the sides again once that happens.

Turn off the gas and remove the prasad in a clean bowl. Usually the halwa is covered with a cloth and cut into five portions for each of the Sikh Gurus and then distributed after the prayer and offering.

You can garnish with almonds if not making as prasad.

An interesting fact from my marital village in Himachal –

The village of Mairi has Dera Baba Vadbhag Singh Ji Gurudwara. After the Holi / Baisakhi Mela finishes the devotees or Sangat are offered karah prasad that is kept covered in a large kadhayi locked inside the basement in the gurudwara. After the ardas when the door is opened the prasad has a large hand imprint on it. It is believed that Baba ji comes to bless the prasad. It is then called panje ka prasad. No one knows how that miracle happens but faith keeps the prasad good for years. My MIL says that the prasad never gets spoiled. I will some day write about my experience of the village life etc.

For now, Keep your heart light burning bright. Stay blessed and once again a very blessed gurupurab to all of you. Remember the teachings of Baba Nanak who left us a beautiful treasure of how the life should be.

 

Awwal Allah Noor Upaya Qudrat Keh Sub Banday

Aik Noor Keh Sub Jag Upajiya Kaun Bhale Ko Mandhe

God created light of which all the beings were born

And from this light, the universe; so who is good and who is bad

 

 

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Monday Memories 15 – The Phoenix Rising


This is a different memory post. It is about rising from ashes. Letting go, reclaiming your rebel self, not settling for anything  that hindered my evolution as a woman. This is about defining my worth ,taking control and saying – FUCK.THAT. SHIT. I am the author of my life and I decide which path to take or not take. A discussion with some friends prompted me to write this. All lives are not full of exciting adventures.

There are lives which resemble a lonely boat tied to the post conversing with its shadow and looking out into the vast blue ocean , yearning to escape.  Mine was such a life.  Until I decided to leave the comfort zone that meant being ted to the silken chains and trust me it is hard to take total control. Many people prefer to drift through the BS that surrounds them just for the sheer comfort of not having any responsibilities. Be a puppet , dance the dance and shrug your shoulders, curl up. Do nothing. Conjure up some very solid reasons for doing so, one of them being not looking into one’s own eyes.  Don’t rebel  because rebelling means pain, agony, loneliness and hard work. Rebelling means confronting oneself before anyone else. Reclaiming oneself. Do what you always did. It is easy. Say what you always said. Never go beyond the known. So many of us do it.

I lived that life so I know. Don’t ask for the reasons for I do not wish to go there but I put my dreams and desires in a pretty little jar, closed the lid and kept it in a vault.

Sometimes when the shadows stretched long and thin and a slight breeze nudged me I would set free my mind and think what it would be to throw open that lid and let those dreams breathe. How would they smell when brought out into sparkling sunlight. It took me many years to realize my mistake of handing over the pen to others to write my story and that day I decided to break free.  It is not easy. We are not birds and do not have wings , we are women living in a society that tells us to bow down and stay tied to the post.

I am writing this to share how I began to write. It was my first step to claim myself. I had never opened myself to the world and it made me nervous to step out and expose. It is like being nude. If you are not comfortable in your own nakedness then you can’t be comfortable at all. Simple as that.

I was born against the wishes of death. Life had snatched me from it and put me on my feet not to sit around in a little box of velvety thorns but to get out and do my own thing.

Writing helped me expand my horizons , to get connected to people with similar passion for life. It helped me bleed out the pain, hurt, It helped me release old scripts, reject old plots, say goodbye to those characters in my life story who had done nothing but scarred  it, to erase, edit, chop out those bits that did not fit. It began to fill my lungs with the oxygenated air of freedom and self-worth.  After all this there came the time to write the ending. There is nothing more impossibly difficult than ending for it means snapping off with one clean cut all that is not you. It is a heartache and many times the voice from the little velvet box will pull you to come into its folds but that’s where courage lies. It is a phoenix rising. Death and birth, fuck up and bliss, heartache and joy all at once. We have to go through the annihilation to emerge again – victorious. Once you have cleared everything that did not serve you can bring in all that is yours, all that has been already yours just not claimed till now. It is a home coming of  the self.

To begin anew, afresh on a clean slate. It is a drudgery, a painful uphill ride, Alone.  I was lucky to find  friends who constantly stood by me like a rock and along with the patient love and care kicked my butt when the need arose. They helped me polish my dark side. Helped me break my mental barriers. They had my permission to do so and frankly they would have done it without my permission too. It is actually I permission one gives to oneself. To be totally in the hands of the sensei.  That is the way for the student. There is no other way.

You have to be uncomfortably grounded to start again. It starts from the bottom, from the scratch always. You have to release the past to move ahead. The lesser the baggage the easier the journey.

It’s been four years since I began to do serious writing. exposed myself completely, shed all inhibitions and surrendered myself to vulnerability of life. It has been worth every courageous risk. The changes were evident and they shook the world around me. The rope that tied me to the post began to loosen and break  with the strain and strength of my desire. It gave away finally two years back.

It was the night of storm and suddenly I found myself being tossed into the open waters but by this time I was prepared. The right thing to do on a stormy night is to lie still till it passes and the day breaks. These are the testing hours and if you survive those the ocean is yours for ever. These  times are life altering.  It takes courage to start clean to let the slate remain empty for sometime and not rush into filling it with the familiar. It takes immense strength to step into the unknown, to push yourself over the edge, to leave things behind that may have at one time been the only source of your reason to be. It is like the cutting of the umbilical  cord.

To detach completely so that you can carve new potentials. I am proud of my evolution. I am proud of my mentors, guides, friends who gave me rock solid support just enough to get going.  Always around in the shadows somewhere watching me chart my path.

Nature teaches us about our fragility and our strengths. There is no better teacher than the universe.

I learned that it is not about just staying in the light or seeking it ,, it is also about owning our dark, befriending it, polishing it, making it shine. You got to love your shadow that is the only way to be complete. Unless we learn to accept and be at ease with our grief, pain and destruction there can never be a movement.  I am grateful to the universe for the storms in my life big and small. They brought me to the shore or else I would have been drifting aimlessly in the ocean or crashed into pieces on some forlorn island and the purpose would have been lost for good. Meeting the darkness, facing the shit storms, taming and getting better of fears, insecurities, illusions, limitations (many of them self-created)  is all it takes to forge the path ahead. Never deny, suppress your dark side. Get into conversation with it.  You can never step into the light if you have not walked through the dark.

Shit happens . Move on. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve.

You lose some you win some. That is life. Write . Write your own story and keep the pen in your hand. Always.

I know this is not a usual memory  post but the time has come to grow new leaves, to flower and claim my place under the sun. I shed the old leaves, I bared myself to the harsh winter just for this spring. It is mine and am gonna make the best of it.

Memories will always be there , Good and bad. Imagined and real.  The trick is to never lose sight of he ” tip of the cold mountain” as my friend and teacher Kris says.

Onward we go.  Each ending is a new beginning. Each rejection a step closer to acceptance. We attract what we give. That is the law of attraction and the universe recognizes it. It worked for me , it will work for you.  Launch forth your heart. Create, co – create, stay vulnerable.

You are a woman. Sexy , beautiful, intelligent and totally awesome. Recognize it and take control before you get swallowed by others perception of you. Fuck everything Be yourself.  The strength of your desire will bring you what is yours and much more. Be pen and receptive and let me tell you this is not a discourse in some ‘New Age Teaching’ it is first hand experience.  Go get your shit. It is out there waiting for you.

I want to thank my readers, my mentors, my friends and each one you who contributed and continues to contribute to my life in one way or the other. Look for those who need you and be there for them. We all need each other. Never still your voice , never give up the student heart. Never limit yourself.  At least try not to. I am trying too. Join me.

Monday Memories – 14 – You and I – Absence


rambling thoughts

rolling

like a pebbles

directionless

homeless

gathering dust

gathering memories

now stuck between

a rock

and hard place

it is raining incessantly

It had to pour

Something has shifted

since the time silence

fell upon us like a sword

so cold, so sharp one could cut oneself on it

A silence

that has rendered

me invisible

and

in this chaos of sadness

memories have turned green

under the

the empty aching blue

of your absence

and my heart

from this great distance

watches helplessly

nostalgia was supposed to be about

moments shared

memories created

laughter, kisses

endless conversations

songs hummed together

in different continents

pictures, poems, stories

waking up in each others arms

being silly

arguments. lovers quarrels

even silences

and

make up sex ( in whatever way it was possible)

Never Ever in my wildest moment

I believed

It would be

YOU

personified

I existed at two places

here

and

where you are

with miles and miles

of ocean between us

I drew you into my world –

 real  and imagined

painted pictures in words

but didn’t know where to draw a line

there are times even now

when I can’t decide

which one of us is missing

I don’t know which pain is

more excruciating,

the shock of what happened

or the ache of what never will be

I know it is over

as simply as it began (and I am trying to convince myself even now that THIS is a mirage not THAT )

THAT which is real

in my heart

throbbing

pulsating

a wound

which is

as much yours

as

mine

(Ah! the joy of pain we so willingly endure)

there are many words

you left unsaid

many questions

 you never asked

(maybe they were things you were afraid to know)

and many went unanswered

in your hesitation

I found all my answers (so I believed)

each of us

for all our lives

live

so bitterly

misunderstood

I listened to the friction within you

of wanting and not wanting

missing and yet not connecting

I heard it all

but my heart

it deliberately chose

selective hearing

and imagined a glimmer of hope

in the slithers of sun

that warmed like  love

and tickled me in glimpses

 between the veiled Autumnal shadows

that loomed large

closing in from all sides

nothing haunts us like the things

we never say

(sometimes also those which we so carelessly say)

I would not have left you

on that September afternoon

had I known it would be our last

 the regret pains my heart

now among other things

I dream of lost vocabularies

that may express what we no longer can

but even tough the words have turned stranger

it is alright

for I know

what we are

and what

we could not be

there wasn’t a  closure

No goodbyes

and I hope (there is still a hope)

that one day

when you  make an inventory of lost things

you will find me and remember

what I meant to you

till then

I will do what I do best

move in the rhythm

with your ebb and flow

All of  You and Me   

I collect your whispers and arranged them in tight sentences (lest they flee) try to make sense of it. In your absence sadness of things speaks for you. Your abject indifference has seeped in and taken shape of everything around me. Words have long since turned strangers. The cell phone has turned into a paper weight. No, if you think I am saying all this because I miss you you are wrong. One doesn’t miss oneself but gutters too have limits when the sky pours it’s rain .

Monday Memories 12 – You And Me


Some things are forbidden and yet we indulge.  We want to create memories.  Memories are not always made of  what happened it reality. They are also make beliefs. Things we imagined , dreamed , yearned for and with such intensity that they began to  seem more real than reality. It happens with dreamers, story tellers , poets , lovers  and people who aren’t too full of themselves. You need space to let these memories to take birth and grow. You have to endure the pain, the discomfort, the ecstasy and the constant reminder that they are not fragile and ephemeral as reality. They are amaranthine . They are powers of darkness and when these imagined memories collide with the real ones they become vehicles of destruction. It is a hypnotic drone and blur which makes nights sleepless and turns the days into a perpetual black hole.

I am entangled in those memories of you. Both real and imagined.  When people withdraw or leave they leave a gaping hole. Different people fill it with different things unable to remember what initially existed before in its place. I filled and glamorized  it with memories of time we spent together, with pain and self-pity, with tears and hurts. I called it solace, peace, solitude but it was nothing of those. It was just noise. Cacophony.  And then one day the tears dried. Just like that but pain remained. The hole remained. Gaping at me more than ever before and to make things worse It had taken a shape of you.

I was unmistakably going through lots of pain when I met you. You assured me it will go away. I had apprehensions. I had heard these words before but despite my apprehensions I believed you.   I waited. Patiently.  Days, Weeks, Months, Years. The vanilla flavor has long gone but the taste is stuck in my palate,  I am trying to wean myself off you. It is a long painful process of disengaging cell by cell, pore by pore, nerve by nerve. Sometimes I pull a wrong nerve and the scream shoots inwardly at a deafening speed leaving me convulsing with pain.

When you hand over your splintered heart to an absolute stranger you take a big risk. You are prepared for what it holds. You know if it all fails the memories of it will shred you but you still go for the forbidden.

Indifference is opposite of love , not hate and there is nothing I can fill these silences with other than memories. Nostalgia holds a lot of importance in our lives. Memories can also make you muddle-headed at times like they did to me today. They can make your adrenaline rush and bring with it bouts of immaturity and catastrophes that leave you feeling even more miserable than before. It makes you impulsive and everything done on an impulse is not good. It can go so terribly wrong that it can startle you.

I was thinking I had lost you but nothing is really lost to us as long as we remember it and today as I think of you memories are bringing me the whiffs of smells of places  that I did not pay attention to, that I didn’t really think existed. It is bringing to me songs that take me back to a  moment in time like nothing else can even if its bony fingers, sharp nails and pointed elbows hurt me no end. It is worth all the pokes and jabs and scratches.  Whatever is left unsaid , undone can be added to a memory and turned into a dream to savor till it too becomes a memory. New things take its place and the cycle continues of dreams and memories and all that it is between that. In these flickering images i find the warmth you forgot to take with you when you left.

Love Hurts. You And Me 

(song shared from You Tube. )

Monday Memories 11 – The Chess Players


I love the game of Chess. There is a certain beauty to it. The flow in the movement of pieces, the emotional and intellectual attachment with each move , each piece on the chess board. The riveting and aesthetically stimulating strategies and a well planned positioning and combinations.  It is an art  just like painting and music.

My dad’s family had expert chess players. In fact the Kayastha families were known for educating their women and for their passion for art and literature and for having some of the best chess players. Mainly Urdu literature as Hindi or Hindustani was considered as just a spoken language.  My grandfather was known as a good chess player in the Mohalla ( an area in town or village) in Allahabad. My father was the only child but all is cousins played the game. Many of my aunts were players in their own right though women usually played the game indoors among themselves or with men in the family depending on their relationship with them.

I never went to my paternal grandparents’ home but dad used to tell stories about chess competitions in the Mohallas and how it was a matter of honor to represent certain families. The chess players were revered and hero worshiped by the beginners who were learning the art of chess playing.

In my grandfather’s home there used to be a paved veranda before the main door to the Baithak ( A room where guests were received. Mainly men occupied this area and it was also called mardana ( for men) Women stayed away from this area.) This veranda was usually cemented and on those cemented slabs there used to be two board games permanently painted. One was a chess board and the other was Chopad ( an ancient game of dice).  The stage would be set for the game and slowly a crowd would build up around the chess players.  The rule was to remain silent. If a seasoned player was at the board it would be more fun to watch. The game would go on for hours sometime and it wasn’t just the players who would be involved in planning the strategies of the game, everyone’s mind would be equally involved but no one would help the players. It was a matter of pride and honor.

I learned chess from my dad at the age of six. I remember how fascinating I found the game. In the beginning he would patiently sit with me and explain about all the chess pieces and their role in the game. The best part were the stories that went with the learning sessions. A good teacher is one who can keep the interest of the student going. My dad was exception that way.

I remember many evenings when I would finish my home work and rush to him with the tin box rattling with pawns,  knights, rooks, elephants, bishops, kings and queens ready for a battle. Sometimes he would oblige at others I used to be satisfied with a self game which was more of a self story telling session than a proper game actually. There was anther kind of fun in playing with my other self. Makes me laugh now as I think of how I used to play that double role. Dad would sit on a chair nearby reading some book and keenly observing my antics. Sometimes he would join and help one of “me” to win. 🙂

It took me some years to master the game to an extent that I could defeat him. It was one of the most memorable day of my life as a girl. To beat my dad in the game of chess was like winning an international title. I could see how proud he was of his little girl and it doubled the joy.  Monsoon was the perfect setting for a good relaxed game of chess. The rain , the cool soft breeze, the hot pakodas with spicy chutney, sometimes a glass of hot chocolate or coffee at later stages and a gleaming chess board between dad and me. Some memories are just too precious. Mom would obviously not like it and complain about loss of study time etc but then mom’s complain and that’s a fact. I do it too. :p

When I grew older dad was hardly at home so he made me member of  Botvinik Chess Academy at Russian Cultural Center. It was a whole new experience for me and I realized how different it was to play under professional coaches. Dad and I used to play two variations of the game – Indian and International but this was something very different. I learned the finer aspects of the game there but missed the warmth that two chess players shared. For me the game of chess was not just about winning or losing it was much more than that. It was a bond that the players formed over the chess board.

Once dad stopped playing I yearned to find friends who played chess but there were none at the places I stayed.

It was later that I found friends with whom one could have a stimulating game of chess. One of the friends was extremely good and close to me too. We had many chess sessions at home when my boys were small. They would hover around and play their own games while we would immerse ourselves in a complex game over rum and vodkas 😀  there is a certain joy in getting checkmated for love 😉

We carried this love of chess on all our trips to the mountains and each evening there would be a chess session much to the annoyance of others who considered it anti social and waste of time.

Two of the most treasured memories of  games of chess are from those trips. One in Dharamshala, where under the moonlight in a German Cafe I and a friend of mine played the game till the clouds darkened and the beautiful full moon tugging the corner of night disappeared behind the mountains. Much can happen over a game of chess especially when you are in such exotic romantic surroundings but I won’t go into that.. leaving it for the reader’s imagination 😉 psst… I have written a post about it somewhere. You can look for it under memoirs :p

I don’t know which one of us won that day but at the end it really did not matter. The memory of it is unforgettable. One of those rare moments in my life when I really knew what happiness meant.

Another incident is from Kinnaur. There were six of us including Kid 2 in that gorgeous Kinnar camp at the banks of Baspa river. After a sumptuous meal around the campfire we decided to open up the chess board to the disappointment of some but we were riding high on something or the other and determined to play at least one game if not more. It was around midnight and under a swaying yellow light which made our shadows dance on the tent walls two of the male friends began to play. The rest just rooted for them and there was so much laughter, teasing and a serious game in the midst of all the din.  The game went on and on till we lost the track of time. A few of the lot fell asleep where ever they could but the players still concentrated on the few pieces that were left on the game board. It was fascinating how silence quietly crept in and no one bothered about the leftover rum in the glasses, the cigarettes that slowly burned out and turned to ash. Suddenly the players were locked into a complex game with a few minor pieces on the board. I could hear the low rumble of the mountain river near by and the heavy breathing of   those who had passed out for the night. By now even my eyes were becoming heavy with sleep and it was an effort to pay proper attention to the game but the two guys were wide awake and totally engrossed in the game oblivious to everything around them. That is the beauty of  chess, it takes you to another level. I call it Nirvana.

I don’t know who won that match and when did it finish but I can bet it went on till the wee hours of the morning for when I walked into their tent in the morning the chess pieces were all collected in a heap on the chess board with a black pawn guarding over them and a white king trapped in a corner.  That told the rest of the story of the game. 🙂

I miss those days of togetherness and playing with good chess players. Playing chess on computer is no fun although I did it for many months against virtual players through an app on FB.

The chessmen wait, dust motes dance in the shaft of light that falls on the chess board each afternoon, I watch  and remember the good old days thinking how much life has changed since then.

Gary Kasparov was one of the greatest chess players ever. Here is my favorite quote by him  from his book How Life Imitates Chess –

 “There is no one that can share your responsibility. It it is your responsibility you must carry it on and you must be responsible for your actions. At the end of the day we all are being challenged, sooner or later, by our destiny. And it’s up to us to make all the difference in this life. If not you, who else?”

Monday Memories 10 – Storytellers


We are all storytellers. Sometimes we know it sometimes we don’t. Each story we tell becomes a catalyst for another, it becomes a vital tool of healing, of reconnecting with each other and with past. Telling stories completes us , it makes us whole. Sometimes holding a story within can be an agonizing experience, a story sometimes seeks release so a person can live. It is cathartic as well as therapeutic to share stories. Memories form a large chunk of story telling. Growing up listening to  “memory stories ” as I called them helped me connect to my parents’ legacy , the life and times they lived in. It brought alive people, events, places, smells and aromas transporting me to  another time another place. It was a very liberating experience. These “memory story” sessions are one of my cherished memories. My father was mostly out-of-town and I had  working mother so there weren’t many opportunities of spending quality family time.  Many times something would trigger a conversation about some old memory and dad or mom would narrate something that happened when they were kids or in college. My parents especially my father was very interactive and we would sit and talk for hours. Even the most mundane events would turn into an interesting story and we would laugh and ponder and chortled over the incidents that took place years ago. Ma seldom got time for long conversations when I was a girl but later we spent a lot of time walking down the memory lane.

As a girl, mom and I would go to my maternal grandmother’s home in Pune and every evening and after dinner  all the uncles and aunts and cousins would gather and talk about their time in Banaras (Rajghat Theosophical Society where mom and her siblings were born) and the conversations would turn to their childhood games, music, friends and neighbors and the bonding that everyone shared in those times. Everyone had time for each other. We children would either gather around , keep out heads on comfortable laps or just laze around on mattresses neatly arranged on the floor, and listen to the tales from their lives.

Sometimes we would get bored and have our own sessions of  memory sharing.  One kid (mostly the cry baby) would become the target of leg pulling and all those funny embarrassing moments from his/ her life would start pouring out in the midst of laughter and tears. For days we would tease the poor cousin. I was the lamb of sacrifice many times and was teased to death by older cousins.

I miss those times terribly. We were happy when we were young and then sadly we grew up.

I had those story telling sessions with my boys too. They had so much to share and I would listen to them and interact with them and maybe that is the reason we shed all inhibitions of being “mother sons” and became friends. These storytelling bonding times brought us closer. They instilled the trust and a feeling of security between us. A feeling of being there for each other.

I didn’t have my grandparents living close by and had none from dad’s side but my boys were lucky to have both sets of grandparents living nearby. Two completely different sets of people with vast cultural and social differences. They even belonged to different communities, different states and were a treasure-house of “memory stories ” . I think my boys had the best education at home. They learned what to shed and what to incorporate in their lives through the memories of their parents’ and grandparents’ life stories.

I believe sharing memories , good or bad , enriches our lives. These stories tell us of  human lives, hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows  across a vast spectrum of life. These memories help us to cope with loss, with our insecurities , with our past so we can live better today. They help us heal and know those we love better. They help us shape our own stories. These voices from the past help us understand so much about where we come from.

I always hunger for these “memory stories ” from people’s lives. Have some friends who have introduced me to people from their lives in such a way through their memories of them that I feel as if I have known them personally for years. They are the greatest storytellers. That is he impact of a good story-teller. To bring out a life incident in a story from that people can listen to or read and feel part of it is an art. My life is enriches by such people.

I love street stories too and the waiting room stories.  I have met interesting people on the streets –  street vendors, daily commuters, homeless people, locals waiting for public transport, workers on construction sites, rickshaw-pullers and cab drivers, people  in waiting rooms of doctor’s clinics, hospitals, railway stations, hotel lobbies, restaurants, beauty parlors, malls and many such places who have recounted events from their lives, their memories of places they have been to or their experiences and trust me this people are the best story tellers. You will be surprised that the elderly are treasure chest of stories and very eager story tellers. They have so much to share and no one to share with.   These people are the ‘human manuscripts’ that combine all the genre you can think of.

If you are a good story listener then you will never be alone, never be lonely and even if you hesitate someday you will be telling stories too. It goes hand in hand.

You just need to be receptive and a story will find its way to you or pull you to it.

I will tell you some Memory Stories in the next few posts and you can tell me your memory stories too.

Monday Memories 2 – Memories From A Distant Meal Or One Moment In Time (Part 1)


I missed writing my Monday post. Too much to do and too little time. I desperately need a break to someplace quiet but that is not always possible so the next best thing I do is sit back and think of all the happy moments from the past.

Do moments from the past taste the same? Yes, sometimes they do. Moments which were like Pinot Noir grapes  turn into mature, vintage wine with time.

Yesterday I was thinking how certain aromas, textures, mouth feels, tastes, flavors bring back memories of people, places, distant meals and the sense of exhilaration associated with them.  It could be your everyday meal, a childhood special treat, a stopover quick brunch on way to some place, a relaxed evening snack during a laid back holiday or a little surprise created specially for you. There is nothing like quietly slipping out of bed at night and secretly eating your favorite food, often with bare hands.No spoons, no knifes. Eating with fingers has a spiritual , therapeutic benefit to which we can talk about some other time. It is also extremely sensuous at times. :p

I believe that like music food too is highly trasnportive. We are suckers for emotions and amazingly sensitive and even a thought of a kala khatta transports me to an evening at the beach in Mumbai or a tender stuffed steak and Merlot can make me year for that particular night in the hills. Nostalgia is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or return of some real or romanticized period or irrecoverable condition or setting in the past” and the best part about it is that it doesn’t discriminate against those dollops of butters, the fiery spices, the oil dripping roadside snacks, the tongue coloring lick lollies and the rest of those magically joyful delights.  Sometimes it is not just about food but it is also about the person or the place and the warmth it that fill you with.

The fondest memory is of my maternal grandmother’s home in Pune. I visited her during summer vacations and the sights and sounds, the aromas and tastes still make me hungry. I can visualize her sitting on a low stool churning white butter with almost devotion as if it was some spiritual ritual. I would linger around in the shadows waiting for the cue and land on her lap before she would call my name. I can still taste the softness fresh dollop of plum size butter dripping through her soft plump wrinkled fingers. A love that spread from her face to mine. There was a kind of an energy that passed between us at that moment. Something that even now makes me find strength in weaker moments. The best part was that none of my cousins were ever part of this luxury of love. It made me feel very special.

Travel can be very nostalgic esp if you are travelling by train or by road. As a kid the train travel revolved around incredible food smells and lip smacking tastes. The milky, sugary chai garam  in  mitti ka kullhar ( terracotta cup) n foggy winter days, the garam bajia wrapped in a piece of local newspaper, the unmistakable mouth watering station ki allu – poori ( boiled potato veggie with deep fried Indian bread) , the chana chor garam, the local ice cream which usually you won’t find anywhere else except on stations, local sweets and snacks, the list is as long as the journeys taken. Distinct  flavors  that change at every 50 Kms, region to region, district to district. You can never forget how wonderful the Agra ka petha or the Shrikhand of Gwaliar tasted on those rail journeys. It is an entire world of  authentic cuisine  waiting to be discovered. Many times I try to bring out the same flavor or texture id a particular dish I ate at some quint station but it just doesn’t happen. I guess it is a lot to do with that moment in time .

Have you ever tasted the udderly delicious colostrum milk preparation called Kharvas. I had it for the firs time as  a small girl and can never forget the taste of it. I was woken up early at dawn and rushed to witness the most amazing experience of my lifetime. My cousin showed me the little calf just three days old sitting near its proud jersey mother and other doting females. It was the first time I had fresh milk warm and rich straight from the udders .. it was an unforgettable experience and though I am not a big fan of Milk I thoroughly enjoyed it. My aunt prepared Kharvas that day and I can tell you there is nothing in the whole world that tastes that yummy. Google it 😀

There is a special kind of magic in certain kitchens Some hands dish out the most simple yet unforgettable dishes. Many of them leave you  longing for them even after s many years. Some places have specialties that haunt you to come back  like the neera centers in Lonavala and Pune, the chaat at UPSC in Delhi, the parathas at Murthal and Moolchand flyover (heard the place has shut down), the  idli sambhar of college canteen split 1/2 with bestie, the ripe jackfruit and tangy raw tamarind on a push cart in an old local Pune market, the bun omelette and tea at a roadside stall after a night out, the pot meals cooked with children and their cooking disaster/achievements which were thoroughly enjoyed, mom’s varan bhaaat etc etc..

I knew once I get on to nostalgia food train it will go on forever so the post is in two parts. I still won’t be able to cover all of it I know but will try to share as much as I can.

Though all my travels and time spent in various cities has very fond food memories some of them are special.

Special because of the people who are part of them, special because that time spent together, the fun, laughter and chilled out feeling will never return.

I will take you through that in the next post.

Meanwhile let me tell you there is no such joy as slowly licking chilled a bowlful of smooth delectable saffron freckled shrikhand with your fingers or digging into red juicy watermelons and ripe mangoes , their juices dripping down the corners of your mouth or the insides of your arms. 😀

Some fruits need to be eaten with the passion they require. Of course now in a “civilized ” society one needs to learn the “table manners” but What the Heck… sometimes we can give in to the joys of eating .. can’t we?

Watch out for Part 2 with some sizzle stories next Monday. I will go get my bar of dark chocolate.

 

GBE 2 – Bittersweet Days of High School


I attended an all girls school and I loathed it. This is the truth.  I was sure I will end up as a mental wreak by the time I graduate. I believed that it was a conspiracy against me to be thrown to those “catty” girls with painted claws , fiery tongues and  narrow, mean outlook just because I was a tomboy and wasn’t interested in ‘Girlish’ stuff. Actually the very fact that there was a continuous pressure to behave in “lady like’ manner  made me rebel and do all the opposite things :p  I also felt these ‘all girls ‘ schools increased gender stereotyping and sexism.

When I joined in middle school I was declared an outcast.

The reasons –

one – I did not fit in.

two – My mom was member of parent teachers association and a high official in Education Department. She officially visited school very often much to my annoyance .

The girls thought that I got more attention and that every soul who walked the school premises was favorable towards me. That my academic performance and all the medals / certificates that I won were colored by my so called special status.

Three  – They also thought I was way ahead of time and maybe not a  ‘ good girl’ to hang out with , which actually suited me fine. :p

I was filled with such rage and hurt to be forced in to a school I did not like but could not stand up against it. Dad’s word was finally.  The school was near home and less expensive. Also that the merit truly depended on our performance not the status of the school. I am sure he also wanted to rein the wild horses on which I was always riding. (It did not work 😉 ) I remained as ‘un- lady like’ as one can be except for my much coveted “lady like’  body :p . I had the best of both I guess. 🙂

I hated mom’s every ‘official’ visit ( the principal was a great friend of hers 😦 )  and expressed it openly at home but she too had a job to do. We were at loggerheads most of the time.

Those who know anything about the government and government aided schools in India would know the kind of moral policing that goes on there. The dress and behavior codes, the skewed mentality, the look busy do nothing attitude of teachers. It sucked. #shudder

By the time I reached high school I got the hang of how things worked.  I found that it wasn’t just girls but the lady teachers too had an agenda. I saw how inner politics worked. How different they were from public/ private schools.I hated those long ‘below the knee’ skirts and the hawk-eyed Physical education teacher who made life hell for those of us who were actively involved in outdoor sports and had to practice in shorts or short divided skirts along with the boys who came with the coaches. That was my first experience of moral policing  and gender discrimination.  I could see the other girls turn green with envy. It did not matter if they thought of me as an outcast but I often fell pray to their traps. Notes vanished, Notebooks vanished, Practical files either mad pages missing or ruined and much more. I never took lunch from home but the only time I did , it decided to empty itself in my bag full of books and stuff.

It was a task to stay sane and practice non violence. Though an outdoor person I was a shy and introvert girl , rather naïve and not at all street smart. Sometimes I thought my mom’s position there actually helped me stay alive but it still bothered me.

I did make a few friends but it was all superficial.

The only good came in the form of  NCC and Red Cross camps,  intra/ inter school music competitions, sports meets, and choir fests.

These were the events I looked forward to. They opened new avenues, gave  opportunity to explore and experiment new things,  and gave a new meaning to school life. I met students from all over India. Came to know about their lifestyle and culture. Made some long-term friendships.

Being in that ‘same gender’ school also made me realize what I ‘did not want’ to become.  these years in school helped me discover myself. I felt blessed that I was way above the deep-rooted traditional values these girls carried with them. Not that traditions are bad but I had  serenity to know right from wrong and a family who despite of everything still gave us enough freedom to be ourselves.

In the later half of  high school I began to muster up courage and took liberty and advantage of my place as a Red Cross Volunteer and NCC Sargent Prefect  to slip away to watch athletic meets, concerts, special screening of movies etc. or just to grab a bite and return but the sword of Damocles always hung over my head. Senior school was an easy ride.

I vowed to stay away from anything and everything that had to do with GIRLS  but life had something else in store. I joined an All Women’ college ( notoriously infamous and one of the finest in Delhi University).  😀 😀

What I missed in high school I covered in college. 😉

Now my younger son is in senior school and I see how much has changed in last one quarter of a century. Don’t know if our school days were better but yes, we were less stressed and burdened to excel than the students of today.

With all its bittersweet experiences High school still holds a special place.

This post is written for  GBE 2 – WEEK #55 (6-3-12 to 6-9-12): High School

Memory of Memories 2- The True Indian Summer


Only two long hours in intense heat and dust of summer afternoon, with strong hot dry wind, (loo as if is referred to in India), devoured not just the body but the soul too. It simply sucked life out of me. Mostly confined to the stabilized city life of 20 degrees Celsius in air-conditioned homes, offices and even public transport, the metropolitan dwellers are devoid of the true experience of summer that sweeps northern India and some other regions in the months of April to July. With coming up of malls and supermarkets, even those visits to local bazaars, bathed in sweat and grime , laden with cloth bags overflowing with groceries etc have become rare for us.

Indian summer is not romantic, short, and full of blooming flowers and mild sunshine like the English Summer nor is it anyway near to the descriptions we read in the western stories. It is a furnace that engulfs all that comes within the range of its gaping mouth, an extreme season with heat rising from the asphalt and sweltering hot winds screaming through  towns and villages like a lunatic. In big cities however the summer almost loses all its nuances of sun and shade, thirst and cooling sherbets, sweat and breeze. There are those for whom summer is cold dark air-conditioned places and others for whom it is dusty heatwaves, sweat, prickly heat and a doomed existence under the merciless sky with sun spitting fire.

In northern India summer is a season of trees. I have spent endless summers in north and everything revolves around shades of trees for a common man and the other creatures that are destined to atone for their sins under the surveillance of a cruel barren sky.

Sitting in cool comfort of my 20 degrees Celsius room and sipping a chilled beer I was suddenly filled with a longing for those summer afternoons that stretched languorously, endlessly. When life moved at slow leisurely pace, when long power cuts made us yearn for comforts, when preparations to combat the hellish summer was a meticulously planned task, when something new was invented everyday to pass those still, listless days and nights, when adults were too wary of controlling the children and afternoons were spent under makeshift huts of upside down chairs and cool white sheets, when we read and sang and played indigenous games, climbed trees, plucked fruits or simply lazed on a straw mat (chatayi) or  under the tree shade, mainly  flaming Gulmohar, Neem, Tamrind, or Molseri, like a buffalo immersed  in pond thankful that it doesn’t have to swish its tail to shoo away flies.

Even blinking an eyelid took effort so we just lay there, very still… sometimes carelessly nibbling on a twig of grass and trying to decipher the cacophony of  crows, mynas, barbets, parrots and other birds hidden in the thickly covered branches. We even had the house sparrows then.

As the day progressed the shops pulled the shutters down, streets wore an empty look, people dozed under huge  trees in parks and roundabouts. Schools had holidays and parents had one more trouble on their mind – how to keep the restless kids engaged but we found our own ways and even conjured up mischief , knowing none of the adults would lift a finger , leave alone come chasing us.

We have lost peace and joy to comfort and stress in these modern times. There was ample time to just do NOTHING and it did not matter at all. As the fragrant mango blossoms began to turn into small green fruits, we knew it was time to gear up for yet another summer. Earthen pots (ghada and surahi) were bought with utmost care to keep drinking water cold. We even had small earthen pots called kasoras for making curds and chilling kheer and phirni (Indian sweets made from rice and milk).

Khas mats were rolled out and a systematic arrangement was made for them to keep drenched with water. The sweet fragrance still intoxicates me as I think of the cool breeze that used to filter through them to fill the curtained room.

In the evenings water was sprinkled on terrace and garden which steamed angrily but eventually cooled down under our bare feet. Wooden woven charpoys would be neatly arranged in verandas or terrace as most people slept outdoors on summer nights. A big table fan would sometimes add some music to the stillness or we would lazily sway a hand pankhi (fan) made of cloth or straw, even old newspapers served as fans .

The nights were deeper, darker and full of zillion stars. It was a fairy tale that came alive outside the mosquito nets.  We would lie down wearing the minimum clothes needed and listen to the night sounds.

The fabric used in summer was usually handspun khadi, thin handloom or mulmul ( voile). I remember cursing the men and boys for having one advantage over us girls – they shed everything except their lowers and let the breeze flirt with them. It seemed unacceptable and cruel. We also wrapped wet gamcha ( thin cotton towel) on our heads and half of face when we stepped out in heat.

Summer food included everything that acted as a coolant. Fresh green coriander, mint, raw mango, coconut Chutneys, fresh salads of kakdi and cucumber, fresh chilled sherbets made from khus, lemon, phalsa, bel ( stone apple) were kept ready at all times. Even thandai, rooh afza, aam panna, Kokam sharbat, nariyal pani (coconut water) were great favourites.

At our home there was a tradition to offer petha or peda (Indian sweets) with cold water to anyone who came from outside. It protected against the excessive heat. Various raitas ( condiments made from yogurt) were included and dahi bhat (curd rice) seasoned with curry leaves was a must every day. Curd, in various forms was included in every meal.

Most of the meals ended with mangoes. Dashehree, langda, chausa, neelam, safeda… the variety was endless. Even the little chusee aam ( to be sucked) came in abundance. Fruits also included jamun (java plum), phalsa, watermelon, musk melon, loquat (Japanese Plum) , plums, apricots, peaches and pineapples. Mango eating was a ritual in itself. Mangoes were soaked in cool water in big tubs or buckets. None ate one or two of them. They were eaten with passion and abundance with juice dripping from between the fingers. we had to drink a bowlful of kachchi lassi or mix of water and cold milk to calm the heat after eating mangoes. Green raw mangoes were used for chutneys, pickles and aam panna (drink).

Burf ka gola (balls of crushed ice dripping with colorful sherbets) , faluda kulfi were a healthy substitute for ice cream which was a luxury at that time. We even had chilled phirni, custard, jelly, fruit smoothies etc as everyone had sweet tooth.

Roasted / boiled corn cobs with masala and lime or butter and spicy tamarind chutney (Sonth)were the delicacies we enjoyed in the evenings.

A staple thing for us kids was roasted wheat flour mixed with boora cheeni (kind of powdered sugar considered to be cooling) and namakpare or mathri. Sattu made of powdered barley, horse gram and other pulses was another coolant which we had to drink with salt or sugar. I began to enjoy it much later though. Sattu is made with seven  cereals, millets and pulses.

There was a certain pleasure in sweating it out to prepare these delicious things, serve and relish them with family. A pleasure mostly lost these days, with everything delivered and available at one call’s distance.

Being born in a family which has confluence of two cultures, added to the summer delight.

The only thing that I resented as a kid was to travel in DTC buses to public libraries and cultural centres. Reluctantly I would walk out of house at snail’s pace all covered to protect myself and believed that time was a conspirator who deliberately moved slower than ever but at later stages as a teenager I began to enjoy those outings. Sometimes we also went to India gate lawns and to see circus or visit old city, monuments, parks and museums etc.

I itch to go back to those days, and to the true Indian summer which is now only a memory. I am glad that I made my kids experience at least some of it by taking them to village and other places I had visited and introducing them to many of the summer rituals that not just brought joy and helped pass the endless days but also brought the family together.

Lines from a favorite song come drifting to me …..

Dil dhoodhta hai phir wohi , fursat ke raat din ….


			

Memory of Memories 1 – Treasures from childhood


So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us.
Gaston Bachelard 

As a kid I never understood why my mother had a bagful of old letters, cards and another of little mementos, clothes from our childhood. It seemed like an extra baggage though once in a while I did do through them and listened to the stories attached. When I grew up, got married and had children mom gave my little clothes to me and said ,” theses are for your sons”.  I smiled. Suddenly there was a gush of emotions .. you know I think I got it from mom, this sentimental gush for people and things 😀

I carefully wrapped them and gave to the boys. Even made my younger one wear my parkar polka ( lehnga and choli) I am sure he hates me for this but he looked super cute 😛  . Maybe I wanted to fulfill my desire to have a daughter by dressing him like one .. Ya ya I know that’s kind of not good but then every boy is dressed in those pretty frocks as babies , aren’t they? 🙂 I will share the pic if he allows . This particular lenga I had word on my first birthday and is very precious to me.

The other thing that mom gave was a small coat and cap which I wore as 3-4 month old baby . It is still is perfect condition with no dry cleaning and all. Preserved  just with love and care.

There is some special fragrance and softness in these clothes. I had seen myself wearing this in photographs but to hold it in my hand and run the fingers on its fabric gave me a feeling which is beyond explanation.  I realized there were so many things which were part of my memory of memories. Things straight out of magical days of childhood, connecting me to those wonderful days. A little box that held my first curl of hair, my umbilical cord wrapped in cotton wool. little anklets, small silverware ( a glass, bowl and spoon).  It brought back memories of many things that were so precious to me but aren’t there now. A doll I always tagged along everywhere, picture books, scrap books, box of crayons and much more. Those were days when we had imagination and crayons instead of mobiles and play stations.   I now knew what ma must have felt to so carefully treasure them. There are letter written in colorful scribble  from me to ma, picture with alien like characters and scenery with exceptionally imaginative colors. 😀 .

Many times ma would take the bundle out and we would read and go through all of it and laugh and cry at the same time. She also managed to make the grandchildren gather around her and narrated stories about our childhood much to the amusement of the lot.

Letter writing is a lost art. I feel that nothing can replace the warmth and intimacy of a handwritten note or a hand-made card. Just as I was encouraged to write letters and draw , I encouraged my boys to scribble a few lines or draw something and send to grandparents. It always went with my letters and kids felt so proud of their feat every time , waited eagerly for mom or dad to reply. They were never directed what to write, just given a paper, pencil and colors and what emerged was a kaleidoscope of their imagination . I believed that this kind of interaction helps to develop a bond and creates a comfort zone. It sometimes even bridges the generation gap, at least it did in our family.

As they grew older and learned to write , these letters became one amazing peek into their inner world. Mom carefully kept each one in labelled envelopes with dates and time written in neat bold letters. From the time they began to hold the pencil/ color to when they could write properly. My elder one sent a lot of handmade cards and letters from hostle to both mom and me and each of us kept each one.

letters and cards from grandsons to their maternal grandmother

There is a bundle of my letters to mom and Adi’s letters to me. Pix will be added soon. 🙂

I have preserved some of the things from the childhood of my boys. Some of Adi’s stuff was buried in a transparent plastic bag as part of  Dorling Kinsley Publications  millennium year project.

I am a sucker for such stuff. 😀

Like mom I too kept the little clothes, letters, pictures, cards, toys, whatever I could squirrel away.

  Here is my elder one’s first birthday dress. (he is twenty year old handsome adult now) 🙂

Adi’s first formal wear

There are a treasure trove when it comes to these beautiful memories. I am sharing just a few. I may add a few more pictures in coming days.

I always loved book and the family encouraged reading from a very early age. Most of the books I gave to a library of a village school. The picture dictionaries, children’s literature by Tolstoy and other books from PPH( People’s publishing house), CBT, etc. Some books were handed over from my brother to me and some others are part of my maternal grandfather’s collection. Collectors issues, first prints and some now out of print editions. Here are three of my favorites from my  childhood.

The pages have yellowed with time. The books are a treasure from childhood.

The covers. These are out of print I think. In Poem Town is in 8 volumes.I have only one left.

These books are priceless treasures. Fruit Gathering ( Indian edition 1927), a gift from my grandfather’s collection. In Poem town is published by Blackie and Son Limited (London) somewhere between 1939=45). It says ‘Book production war economy standard’ and here we are talking of WW2. Now we are six doesn’t have the first page so the year is not confirmed but its yellow crumbling pages show it is as old as the other books.  I am searching for someone who can preserve these books. If someone can help , please leave a comment.

I will do yet another post as I get hold of some other precious things which are tucked away somewhere.

Do you have such precious objects? Things from childhood –  yours or your children’s? Do share links if you write about them.

Here is one more post I did long ago https://tikulicious.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/heirlooms-treasures-from-the-yesteryears/