December 31, 2005

kitchen escapades, and new year wishes

the closer i get towards my 14,000-word coursework deadline, the more routes i seem to find to escape writing. one of them, to my husband‘s delight, is the kitchen.

dahi vadas, eggless banana-walnut cake, murukkus, palak paneer and alu parathas, crunchy bread-rolls, melt-in-your-mouth maladoos, ragi mudde with sambhar, methi mutter malai and puris, rajma and rice, kerala parottas with spicy kadala curry, or simple thairchadam …my excuses continue to surprise me.

the year has been a restless one by itself. my friend rupali and i were room mates again after three years. i was in india for two months and more; i went to kottakkal to get my backpain treated. i enjoyed the desert safari on the two-day halt in dubai on our way back in june. i enrolled myself as a full-time MA student. amma came home to stay for three months, and my father followed a month later. we got burgled, and thankfully received the compensation that was due. we lost the films we so lovingly shot though. praveen and i got our british citizenship. i discovered i had never felt so indian before. a school friend got in touch with me; i still remember standing next to her during our assembly prayers in the mornings, shiny shoes and blue socks lined against each other. i learnt to be more tolerant of the cold climate, and it only got colder. i missed bombay even more, i learnt to live with my memories. i have decided to change my name. i have begun to listen to my favourite music again. after four years in the uk, i think i even made a new english friend.

some things i know will never be the same again. but some things i know, will never change. today, i leave you all with a tune that still fills my heart with pride, and causes that painful lump in my throat. thanks rupali, for sending it to me.

click here to listen (2.1 mb)

may everyone away from home find a home in their heart. may there be a heart in every home. happy new year.

December 9, 2005

save our farmers, a plea

have you ever visited a farmer in maharashtra, anywhere in india?
i have.

i was very young then, but i remember my father driving through the inner villages of nasik, kolhapur and other places around pune.

the farmers i saw had tobacco-stained smiles, but they were always smiling. they were a happy people. always willing to help, be it water for the carburetor, a few extra hands to push the car or lift the wheel stuck in the muddy pothole on the road. the women took us to well-hidden bushes where we could relieve ourselves after a long, back-breaking journey. sometimes they parted with the bhakris-and lasan-chutney and chai they had made for themselves. i remember my father insisting on paying them, when they loaded sackfuls of onions they were picking from their fields, into the boot of our car. i remember the sounds of the hand-wheel turning on fresh sugarcane, and the taste of those hot afternoons.

i can never forget the happy farmers in haryana, extending their big hands into our rented-sumo with tall glasses of chai and lassi. we were on our way to vaishnodevi then. i am so thankful for all those road trips.

today when i read about the farmers of vidharbha, i have to swallow the lump in my throat. i have to convert the pain into anger. anger to defend. anger to protect. in this cold home so far away, i have to do something to save my warm memories.

some days ago, i got my british citizenship. it took me the entire week to understand why, and what i was getting into. i felt i was betraying my country, and praveen had a hard time explaining i was not, and that i still am an indian in every sense. “look at it this way…now we can make the best of both the worlds,” he had said.

so here is my challenge, and also my request. i am not an agriculture expert. i have never worked with an ngo but i have travelled with my mother’s colleagues for some of her innerwheel social activities. i am also not a teacher. my father recently admitted, he consciously kept me away from politics in the country and abroad, forcing me to read history instead. he also said, “perhaps this was both a good and bad thing.” now i know why. it makes me tiny in the ways of the world, but it also makes me an optimist.

i always have believed it is never too late to change. it is never too late to give an education, to learn. to the 25 million of us indians who are abroad, let us make the best use of what we have. let us stop to read about the farmers on our homelands. let us think if there is anything at all we can do?

can we give them a free education? can we reach them simple computers so they don’t need to travel to school? can we make pesticides that kill pests and not the farmers? can we pay off the money-lender’s loans so the farmers are debt-free and can concentrate on their produce? if we stop one death, the family lives. if we educate one person, the family learns. this is a big dream, a difficult project. but maybe, it is not impossible. there must be a way.

just think.

more links:
gaurav sabnis has a few suggestions on the indian economy blog

india together

sonia faleiro’s blog

the good news in india

December 6, 2005

how do you hug the streets that take you home?

twice a week on the london underground, i make my way to university through the stations in mumbai.

seated by the window, i see the wheeler bookstalls, the samosa vendor running to collect change before the train leaves. i hear the boy selling fanta and coke, interrupting his cries with the dderrrring-dderrrrring of his bottle-opener striking the cola bottles. not a scratch on any of them. like me, a little girl is mesmerised by the sound, and she wants to have a go at doing it herself. the father rushes to the window, hands out a note through the bars and gets a bottle from him to pacify her. i strain to catch a glimpse, of another girl trying to catch up with the train; in her hand are strings of lemons and chillies, tied together with a piece of coal. “buy it, buy it,” she shouts over the rising noise of the engine, “it will keep evil away.” i think of all the things you can buy in mumbai.

just then a group of english school kids rush in even while the doors close. their uniforms neatly pressed, black stockings for their legs. i’m looking for mud stains, or ink leaking from fountain-pens loose in their pockets. one of them pops a pink chewing gum. some of the commuters look up at them, expressionless. i am sure their hearts have leapt to their mouths. at baker street station, behind the plain glass windows of the tube, we move again.

a lady sits close to me, smelling of fish fries. she is restless with her hands. after a while she takes the yellow box from her bag, peeks at the contents inside, and gives in to temptation. the trapped air begins to reek of vinegar and stale oil.

another lady pushes in on my left. when i look at her she smiles broadly. “please adjust, i have been standing for long.” i immediately oblige. her friend pushes a bag overhead, and leans next to her talking about her husband’s raise. the woman who has been knitting, seated opposite, pushes the glasses on her nose with the back of her hand. a sign that she is taking an interest in the conversation. it turns out her brother works in the same department. she puts the needles aside and gets a stainless steel container from her bag, to celebrate the new association. “i made them myself, steamed rice cakes with chutney, try them, come on.” the women are thrilled. “not until you have this first,” they challenge, and get their own lunchboxes out. in the crowded train compartment that has turned into a canteen in an instant, afternoon lunches are shared in the mornings.

a chill fills the air as the doors open again, the gossip, the women, their recipes, disappear. except for the train driver’s announcements, there is silence all around. i look up and even the swinging handles are gone. then of course i remember, trains in mumbai don’t use doors. the tube in london can do without the overhead support. in front of me, i marvel at the multi-coloured faces buried in novels or the free metro newspaper; we might have well been in an advertisement for benetton. in a corner near the emergency exit, i spy on someone gulping down a banana behind yesterday’s evening standard. the journey continues.

i get off the piccadilly line and take the lift to the street near university. hawkers have lined the roads today. fruit-vendors, newspaper boys, a man sells fresh mogras for girls and housewives, another irons clothes piled up on his cart. two stalls later a boy pours steaming hot tea from one steel glass to another. if he misses he will get burnt. but the liquid seems like flexi-rubber, expanding and contracting into the shiny glasses in his expert hands. a radio plays popular bollywood numbers for public entertainment. the voice fades out as i move away from one stall, and re-emerges as i approach another. by the time i get to my class, i will get to hear the complete song along with some of the commentary.

that’s when the lights turn green, and i see that i am not alone. a student-army marches across to the other side of the road, then splits into groups of twos’ and fours that walk into the library, the rest heading for classes in the other direction. just after i’ve swiped my card to enter the gates, i stop to look behind me. the hawkers look up from their carts and wink. i can make them disappear if i want to, or i can let them stay.

it all depends upon where i want to be.


you know you have a serious blogger’s block when you’ve forgotten how to update your entries.

i have been reading, writing, revising and re-writing a lot since my course began 10 weeks ago. somewhere along the way i stopped writing for myself. this is just an attempt to get me started again (i also decided to do away with the links for this post)…

thank you anne, for setting this as a class assignment for me. and thanks to the others who asked why i had disappeared. hopefully, this time i’m back for good 🙂