The birth of smart ignorance…

"We keep Frank around, because if there's a power failure he's the only one who can do anything."

So the other day in the great state of California, in the heart of  Silicon Valley there was a power outage. To most born in the nineties, eighties, seventies, sixties, fifties and before, it was just that- a power outage but to the next generation, the super smart, gadget aware, gizmo happy,  tech savvy, it was close to a catastrophe. The things heard by my friends and me as uttered by our kids who are students of some of the most renowned colleges and over achieving schools were….(Hold your hand below your chin lest your jaw falls off!)

 1. Alexa is not talking! Why is Alexa not talking?  How will I know what time it is? Seriously?

2. Mother, there is no power! Will there be water?  God help me!

3. Mom, Will the toilet flush?   Oh God, where do I hide!

4. Will the internet work? OMG will the internet work?  Breathe in, breathe out…

5. I can still make calls right?    I am going away. I will run to the nearest mountain.  I will become a hermit. I will… I will…

6. And then phone rings, “I heard no power, so no service today.” That was the cleaning agency which shows up once a fortnight. Before I pulled the remaining hair on my head I thought, hey, I could have told them that cleaning was NOT limited to vacuuming! Yeah, right, I am so going to that mountain.

Does that sound remotely familiar? It seems as technology invades all aspects of our lives, common sense makes a quiet exit. How I want to hold on to that remaining quantum of solace but it does seem elusive. I have the highest respect for technology and the ease it introduces into our lives but it does come at a cost. It adds complexity to simplicity which is no more the norm. And the blossoming adult has no inkling about the joys and ease of simplicity. Welcome to the times where  babies learns to click and swipe before walk and talk!

I recall buying planners or making planners as a student but when I accompanied my child headed back to college to buy planner I was taken aback by the confusion the ‘once upon a time simple planner’ could create. There were planners by size, shape, color, specific purpose (teacher planner, party planner, mom planner, student planner just to name a few). Then there were sticker books that complement the planners consisting of thousands of stickers saying things like to-do, today’s agenda, main focus, submissions, deadline, sleep time, zzzzz (just in case someone does not understand ‘sleep time)’ and so on and so forth.  While I do understand that planners need to be complex in the multi faceted, multi objective achieving lives that one leads but surely there might be a simpler way. Or possibly not.

When I talk to my mother in law living in India and get the kids to talk to her they stare at the phone and say, but I can’t see her! Will video calls replace audio calls? Texts too are more  prevalent than phone calls. My phone would make constant sounds ding ding ding ding because my kid at college instead of resorting to speed dial prefers to use two thumbs for narrations. Why oh Why! Over the weekend driving to the beach the husband started driving following the car GPS direction while I suggested the direction given by my phone’s google map showing a faster route and the kids from behind quipped in with a route given by waze to outsmart traffic together. Am I crazy that I miss poring over an oversized map while contemplating routes!

Alexa or Google home tell us the date, time, weather, traffic as the morning beverage brews. They manage our calendar, set reminders, play music, guide us through a recipe without us pressing any key or button. Another evening planning on dinner out with friends and family, out came the kid’s smart phones with each looking up reviews of restaurants with menu recommendations. The kids can’t dine out without looking up yelp reviews, plan trips without consulting trip advisor, buy a lipstick or any make up products at that, without going through trusted online survey of opinions and feedback, so much so that buying stationery is comparable to rocket science.

When we moved to the Bay Area five years back I was delighted to find carol singing was popular and groups were going door to door to spread joy and cheer. Last year in addition to the guitar and ukulele the new accompanying orchestra was on the smartphone.

'I am not giving money for carol ring tones!'

I dread the day when the picture above becomes a reality.

Yeah yeah, welcome to the Silicon Valley where simple power outage is catastrophic.  For someone with teens or tweens like me, how ‘dependent’ are your children on the gizmos/gadgets around them? What changes do you perceive in your children or as a new adult around you? Um apart from a perpetual bent neck….

Picture courtesy: http://www.cartoonstock.com

What’s in a name…

Been a while since I wrote about all that has been happening. The funny, spooky, hilarious, thought provoking, sad, debatable, happy, heartwarming, nonsensical happenings in life that make the unnecessary details.

jk_cartoon768In my home country India, naming a baby is a major auspicious landmark event. Each part of India deals with the naming ceremony of an infant in a different way, some going close to a war while deciding the nitty gritties of who the baby will be named after, who will have the honor of naming the baby, which letter should it begin with, should it rhyme with the sibling’s or the parent’s or grand parent’s names. In parts of South India, the name could include the names of father, caste, village or other details to emphasize upon the pedigree or how majestic the background was. In the previous decades, I kid you not when I say that some babies have gone without a name for the longest time because the feuding family members couldn’t agree on one. It was not mandatory to write a name on the birth certificate then.  To add fuel to the confusion of naming a baby, where I come from the name ought to have a profound, deep, interesting, beautiful thought provoking meaning meant to leave the one hearing it dumbfounded or even mesmerized and yes not to forget, it is also called the ‘good name.’ We then add further chaos by giving the same person another name, only the polar opposite of the good name, which is the ‘pet name’ or the ‘nick name,’ usually ridiculous sounding few syllables.  Seriously, I still recall our previous generation asking, “And what is your good name please?”

So, having given the above background on Indian names I must share that the daughter is named after a furniture store I loved in Kuala Lumpur. As in, I didn’t love the furniture, I just loved the name of the store. I guess we are kind of unconventional. The son’s name is made up of  ‘only’  twelve letters of the alphabet and when he wrote it the first time as a three year old, that is, when he fitted his entire name in one line of his notebook his teacher and I shared hugs and high fived. Talking of names I am reminded of the time in Tokyo when I picked the daughter from school and walked home pushing the son’s stroller chatting about her day and she regaled me with stories of a game they played.  She answered my query of who all were playing, with “Keito, I, Lou and me.” I corrected her that I and me were not to be used together while explaining the difference as well as usage and asked again only to get the same answer. “There was I, Lou, Keito and me.” Uh ho. And again the same. It took me a while to realize that ‘I’ was actually the name of her friend “Aai.” In the current days, I should probably sigh, my bad. Gosh, English is getting stranger by the day. In one of the central states of India, mother is called ‘Aai’ or ‘I’ and a dear friend from that state was taken aback when while living in Australia she heard her teenage boy’s friends calling her Aai just like her boys. To be fair to them, they thought that was her name having no idea that they were calling her mum.

Each country pronounces names in its own unique way as we realized while we lived in Kuala Lumpur. Initially when the husband and I would walk into parties together, we would hear ‘so many balloon’ while walking in, so much so that I would turn around expecting to see balloons behind or around us. Thank God for divine intervention because we soon realized that I Sohini, was somany and the husband Varun, was balloon. Somany Baloon, indeed! Probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my life also happened in this lovely city. When new at work I came across a lot of men by the name of Encik and assumed that was one the favored names amongst parents when naming their bundle of joy, something like a Jack or Tom in America or an Aditya in India. comics-cyanide-and-happiness-doctor-woman-721628I remember the daughter had five Adityas in her class in Mumbai. Well, before I could literally put my foot in my mouth, my misconception was driven away by another newly appointed colleague who smiled, laughed, laughed loudly, laughed even louder as tears ran down his cheeks to ask, “Er, you are new to Malaysia, are you?” On hearing an affirmative reply the gentleman, the highly amused but very kind gentleman said between guffaws, “Sohini, Encik is not a name, it means Mister!!!” I should probably say ‘my very bad.’ Since that day I admit, I google a country before going to live there. Forearmed with knowledge from google I will not think that Senor is a popular name in Spain or Mexico or even parts of California! To give myself the benefit of doubt, google search started only in 1998 and the Encik episode is pre google era. There, am excused for my faux pas!

While driving in Jamaica with the husband and his colleagues we were stopped by the police as the colleague was found to be driving above the speed limit. The policeman stared for the longest time at his drivers license, looked at him apologetically and asked as to how his name was said. Our friend replied, Kalancheri Ganapati Krishnan Hari Haran. The policeman further went on, “So I should write Kalancheri?” And our friend said, no that is my village’s name. The policeman then wondered if he could write Ganapati Krishnan and our friend corrected him, “No, no, that is my father’s name.” Finally Hari Haran was written on the ticket. Then the patient and courteous policeman man gave his hand and said, “By the way, my name is Joe.” I must add that it was fun to watch the ticket receiver and the ticket giver laughing uproariously on an unsaid but shared joke.

I am pretty sure that by then God was guffawing at us because next we were transferred to Accra, Ghana where it is common practice to have the day of the birth as the infant’s name.  So we were suddenly surrounded by a number of Kojo, Jojo born on Monday, Kobby, Ebo for Tuesday, Wednesday was Kwaku, Yaw for Thursday, Kofi for Friday,  Kwame for Saturday. Go on, look up one of the most famous Ghanian Mr Kofi Annan’s birthday- April 8th, 1938, a Friday.

We Indians are really name snobs! We take great pride in the given name, its origin, meaning etc and I do give all credit to my adopted country -the great nation of the United States of America, where in my community itself that comprises of Swedish, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hispanic, Ukrainian, Australian, Pakistani, Israeli, Iranian, Russian, Indian, American and many more nationalities, we all pronounce each other’s names, initially probably with a struggle but eventually with aplomb and pride irrespective of nationality.

Do you have a story about how you named your baby? Or is there a story on how you got your ‘good name?’

Picture courtesy: Myfuncards & cyanide and Happiness (explosm.net)

 

 

Theory of adaptability…

The bitter sweet meeting of perception and reality: 'Yay! I'm saved!!'

Will the boatman adapt to a life on the island or vice versa? How do we perceive change? The winter we left Australia our daughter was in year ten and son in year six in school. We moved to California and not only did we encounter summer overnight but also our daughter became something called a sophomore in high school and son a grade six-middle schooler. Suddenly she was to write tests and more tests called the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test) for college admission , CAHSEE- the California High School Exit Examination and working on her GPA. Before I realized the son’s cricket bat was in the garage replaced by a baseball bat, in my eyes- a club instead of a paddle! The Aussie rule foot(ie) ball too was replaced by the American football which by the way, didn’t seem at all like football.

In Australia we saw a few cricket matches in the Melbourne Cricket Ground and I recall the son jumping with excitement as the Aussies slammed runs after runs against the visiting Kiwis. Then for a game between Australia and India, he clapped and jumped for both the teams, sharing each one’s victory and losses. He was an Indian at heart but home was Australia then and both the teams had his loving loyalty. I recall meeting the daughter’s teacher at a Parent-Teacher meet and listening to his enthusiasm and words of praise for her writing as he wondered which school in Melbourne had instilled the love for English language and literature. He couldn’t believe that she was not a native Australian but that her early schooling and foundation of the English language and literature was laid in two non English speaking countries- Japan and India.

The husband’s brother married a lovely British girl so I have an English co-sister who moved to Mumbai and adapted the Mumbai way of life literally like fish to water. A few times cab drivers tried to take her on a merry ride assuming she was a foreigner but she set them right much to their astonishment as well as amusement giving them a piece of her mind with a string of local Hindi abuses. When it was time to get her Permanent Residence Card for India my brother in law as per the undocumented but prevalent law added a ‘suitable’ bribe with her papers which she snatched back right from under the agent’s nose and reduced the amount by half. She had learnt the Indian way of bargaining far better than her Indian husband and accomplished the task with a big disarming smile combined with a reproachful look, almost reprimanding the agent’s exorbitant price.

When we bought our home in California we employed small businesses to do some work before moving in. The business fitting the closets was owned by a Native American with the Comanche background. We drew the plan for the master bedroom walk- in- closet and I explained that I wished to have a place for my prayers. I have a collection of idols, pictures, holy water, holy soil, holy oil from all over the world so my place of worship has the Holy Cross, Bhagwad Gita, holy oil, water and soil from Jerusalem, Rosary, sacred cloth from a Mosque, Buddha alongside multiple idols of Ganesha and other Gods from Hinduism. My place of worship is like the United Nations of  multiple Gods from different religions/nations. Some have been procured by us as blessings during our travels while others are presents from friends from their pilgrimage. So, I went to great lengths to make him understand that I wished to have them together in one place and he cut me short with, so you want a place for your Pooja (Hindi word for prayer/worship) and it was my turn to be taken aback at the knowledge of the gentleman without any Indian background. His take of- ‘I have lived and worked long enough in the Bay Area to know Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and many other cultures.’

Last week I was away at Washington DC and prior to renting a car commuted by using the lyft app. In the two instances that I traveled by cab, the first driver was an Indian who told me stories of his daughter going to medical school and how he and his wife were managing with her aspirations, while the second driver was a retired government employee, an African American and he regaled me with stories from the Bible, his son’s wedding and by the time we drove up to Dulles International Airport Terminal we had animated book discussions on a couple of biographies we both had read.

I recall saying Jambo (greetings) while in Kenya, ohaiyo gazaimasta (good morning) in Japan and the other day when I was walking by a store at a local shopping strip a young Chinese strum his guitar singing in heavily accented Hindi, a Bollywood song and ending with aplomb, hands folded in salutations saying Namaste. While I laughed and commended his efforts he asked if I knew Shah Rukh Khan, the King of Bollywood. I tried to be funny and replied, ‘of course he is my neighbor’ only to hear the repartee, ‘oh really, he is my brother from an Indian mother.’

cartoon-wine-literature-library-saThe random incidents that I shared above are ordinary though unique, recurrent yet special showcasing our inherent tendency, ability, preference and wish to adapt. Unconsciously and continuously we evolve to encompass our environment, people, beliefs and customs. My faith that the world is a beautiful place despite the acts of terrorism by a select few gets reiterated by these little incidents. I smiled to myself as I read the newspaper that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is commemorating the Indian festival of lights Diwali by releasing a forever stamp  on Oct 5th 2016. While we adapt to our adopted country, our adopted country adapts to us!

How do you percept change? Do you react with optimistic positive thoughts or do you enjoy nitpicking? Do you adapt or do you attempt to change your new environment or maybe you manage to reach that perfect fine balance? Share your stories so we all know the speciality of ordinary random things…

Picture courtesy: http://www.cartoonstock.com & George Aldridge

The theory of connectivity…

b8f476489a91234379f2630ce3b5fb80The other day I wondered what I could write about next and sent out messages on whatsapp to a few of my friends in Australia, Singapore, India and here in the United States trying to get some fresh ideas. One topic turned out to be common between Mumbai and Melbourne and that is what I am writing about today.

When moving from Mumbai, my friends warned me that Melbourne would not be as warm, open and friendly as Mumbai. They felt that no other place could have a neighborhood like ours in Mumbai where we walked in and out of each other’s home even in our pjs sometimes borrowing a cup of sugar or a bunch of cilantro. And when we moved from Melbourne to California our Melbourne neighbors had exactly similar thoughts as those of our Mumbai neighbors. They couldn’t imagine that a neighborhood in America could be as great as theirs in Australia. When we moved homes within the same city in California my old neighborhood had concerns about the warmth of our new neighbors. I realize now that there was one  common aspect between all the  places that helped us and that is connectivity. And by that I don’t just mean the ways and means of connectivity but also the wish to remain connected.

I realize that one can be as connected as one liked to be or as disconnected as one wished. Distance, time difference, language, culture, religion, race and color are absolutely irrelevant in being in touch. With the advent of mobile phones followed by free calls with face time on I phone, free messaging on Whatsapp, viber, skype and the likes, today I am more connected than ever before with my neighbors, friends and family whether they are in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe or America. The world has shrunk many times over and beautifully so. The street where our first home was in California had its own neighborhood google group where neighbors stayed connected for any messages/information that couldn’t be reached in person. Then there is a next door neighborhood website where one registers with one’s address and gets information on all that is going in the extended neighborhood, right from town planning, theft, lost pets, babysitter,  homework help/yard work help, sale of old furniture to tickets to concerts.  Living in the Silicon Valley our neighborhood comprises of employees of Apple, Google, Facebook, Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle and many more and it is fun to watch the great minds from different countries put up the annual July 4th party with universal appeal to the multi cultural, multi lingual residents of various age group with a taste for diverse cuisine. The beauty of the party is that not even one meeting precedes the event since the whole planning is done over email right down to the menu to avoid duplicating. This year one very inventive mind ironed his shower curtain, duct taped the corners and hung it over his garage so we experienced our own  open air theater as we sat watching, eating amidst kids shooting hoops while the sun went down. Internet is such an amazing tool that it connects not only the neighborhood but also brings the world faraway within reach.

I can never forget the times the daughter was in hospital for long durations and was throughly bored confined to a room with limited visitors. I thank God for the same connectivity as our family and friends around the globe made efforts to keep the teen entertained. When a friend from Mumbai wondered what she wanted, she thought that she was asking for the impossible as she giggled, “I want to see Mumbai rain”, “I wish to see Mumbai traffic and auto rikshaw too (a three wheel contraption which is a blessing in Mumbai to commute short distances).” The next day the friend forwent driving to work but rode in that three wheel helpful contraption-the auto rikshaw in pouring Mumbai monsoon rain and called her on facetime. Her wish was granted, simply! With a lump in my throat I watched my girl enjoy something as simple as Mumbai rain  with glee all over her face while confined to a hospital room in California. I sent a silent thank you to this friend and many others who gave their time, used technology to give themselves in ways one wouldn’t have imagined possible a few years ago. Technology has indeed revolutionized connectivity but it is actually people’s thoughts and endeavors that give fuel to that revolution, otherwise it stays a rebel without a cause. 

tumblr_lrpkrzvAYZ1qdwck5o1_500.pngThe heights of connectivity that I have witnessed in our own home was the kids watching tv shows together with their friends. Now say, what is so special about that? It is unique because the friends were in different continents and time zones so each one was either waking up at an obnoxiously early hour or staying up dreadfully late. They were happy to skip sleep to watch tv shows together for the joy of discussing it over extended time while and after watching it. Twenty years ago overseas phone calls were so prohibitively expensive that they were not only infrequent but also short. And today all one needs is the wish and the wifi. I am amused at myself when I make quick calls to friends overseas while cooking some of their specialities for instruction and tips.  At times Face Time is used as visual aid.

Where has your wish and wifi taken you?  How about sharing how wi fi has changed your life, perception of people and relationship?

Picture courtesy: Andy Singer & http://www.comicstory.tumblr.com

Mumbai…Meri Jaan (my life)

6229056564477d66d04bbc68b5d79641Having lived in multiple cities, countries, continents the one question that we get most often is which city was our favorite? Where did we like living the most?  The daughter is noncommittal, the husband smiles but doesn’t divulge anything and the son rambles for a while with commas, stops and exclamations… I love it here, no but I love Melbourne too. And then he gives a disarming smile to exclaim and Oh I love Mumbai!!!

I believe we can love any place we live in if we wish to. It can be the glitziest city with the most hi tech unimaginable convenient amenities or a tiny village with frequent power outage and water shortage. We have lived in both the extremes  and the in betweens too.  I joke with the husband that he is stuck with me for life and much more because our marriage will survive anything since it survived six months in a small town of Ghana where we were challenged everyday with power outage, water shortage, mal- functioning phone lines, no neighbors and long hours at work. There were more birds and animals around us than people. The daughter had her first birthday there and spoke her first word too- gooaaattt! Yes, I kid you not, goat came before mum! Wonders don’t cease, do they?

Prior to this during our stint in Lusaka, Zambia many of the husband’s colleagues and our friends had mercilessly pulled our legs guffawing at multiple  imaginary scenarios of us running away, back to Mumbai on the first flight from there. I must share that this was the only country that we lived in where safety/security was a huge issue, political scenario unsettled, medical facilities questionable and one in four locals were said to suffer from HIV. I had the ‘privilege’ of being mugged in broad daylight and the husband’s colleague lost all that he had on him to a ‘sweet friendly’ 7 feet tall guy with a swagger who put his arm around him as they walked on a busy street as though best friends for life while relieving him of his wallet, watch, rings, belt leaving with a loving parting shot of, “if my friends down the road trouble you, just tell them Simba took it all.” Simba indeed turned out to be the king of day light robbers.  As I said before, wonders do not cease because we thrived there, loved it and made amazing friends right from the CEO of multi national companies to the neighborhood cab driver.

imgresIn Malaysia for the longest time I took the bus to go to work with the husband dropping me and picking me on his way to and fro from work. Every time I got onto the bus the driver changed the music to Hindi/Bollywood songs with a nod to me. Our neighbors introduced us to Malaysian delicacies and customs and soon we could gorge on ice kachang and nasi goreng while nodding sagely to agree on the goodness of everything by saying good lah very good lah! Twenty years plus since we left Kuala Lumpur but I don’t bat an eyelid to switch to yes lah while talking to Malaysians/Singaporeans.

Japan, what can one say about a country where respect, reverence, humility, consideration, courtesy come from birth and go on literally till death does them apart. Right from the Japanese baby to the octogenarian next door were always super courteous saying their Ohaiyo Gozaimashita (good morning) bright and early as I pushed my baby boy’s stroller, walking my little girl to school.  The same neighbors were super excited to see their Indian neighbor, read yours truly pregnant when the baby in the stroller was expected so much so I would be taken aback when they would pat my baby bump with love and excitement wondering whether it was going to be a boy or a girl and even when he or she was due. Their excited chatter was contagious enough for me to smile and nod despite lack of clear comprehension. I knew that they meant well and they knew that I had full awareness of their feelings.

Melbourne endeared itself to us with its chic, casual, laid back yet go getter charm. Just last week the son and hubby were on a California golf course trailing a couple of Aussies and got talking to them. While one  was from Brisbane, the other was from Sydney and on hearing my boys connection to Melbourne, they very somberly said, Oh Melbourne, so sorry mate! Nothing and nobody really can top the Aussie sense of humor- it is unique because of its subtle yet conspicuous nature.

mumbai-slangMumbai, my one time home! I think the only city in the world which has ‘meri jaan’ suffixed to it is Mumbai. Meri jaan literally translated means my life. Songs have been written on places like New York, California, Denver, Chicago, London and lot more. Movies too have been made on plenty of cities. Similarly, countless movies have depicted the spirit of Mumbai, songs have been written on the unique yet multiple specialities of this city- the city that has a heart, the city that never sleeps, the city where you are one in a crowd but still don’t lose your privacy. A city which is as casual as you need it to be or and as sophisticated as you want it to be. It embraces those who make it their home adapting to the multi cultural, multi lingual, organized chaotic crowd.

Now we are in California and I am reminded of the time I first heard the song ‘California Dreaming’, never knowing then that it would be home one day. The hubby was jumping off the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe over the Zambezi river – The highest natural Bungee in the world off Victoria Falls- with a rope tied to his ankle- they called it Bungee Jumping. Now very popular but a couple of decades back it was relatively uncommon. The song the organizers were playing as the jumpers jumped was California Dreaming. I do not see any relevance of the lyrics to bungee jumping off Victoria Falls but today as a resident of California I do identify with the song…”All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey, I have been for a walk on a winter’s day, I would be safe and warm if I was in L.A, California dreaming on such a winter’s day…..”

Do you have a favorite city or a town dear to you?  It is memories that make a place special, that carves a place for it in your heart and mind. Is there a place that warms your heart on a winter day? Share your favorite city story and why it is so….and I bet it would be because of the people.

Picture courtesy: Jeff Stahler , http://www.missosology.info & http://www.sutrahr.com

 

Food for Thought…

imagesI proudly looked at my handiwork of cutting the avocado into two perfect halves and lifting the seed out with the whack of the knife. No big deal for most but for a woman to whom avocado was a stranger for the first thirty years of her life it my friend, is an accomplishment par excellence. Drum roll!!

Leaving home adapting to new places, people, culture, traditions and FOOD has been a constant in our lives. Growing up in a small town in India we thought we were adventurous with food as we ate culinary delights from all over our vast country where the simple potato, beans, peas, carrots are cooked differently in every corner of the country. The north makes drinks with carrots, mix it with peas, beans, potatoes for curry or even dessert in the form of carrot pudding. A part of south uses it in lentils while another part  uses it with coconut milk to make stew. The people in east believe in eating fish with everything, carrot, peas, meat, rice or dessert while the west spices up everything with a tinge of sweet. In the 1970s and 1980s many Indian restaurants proudly offered ‘continental food’ in their menu and if you dig deeper there is nothing called continental food really. Precisely, there is nothing continental in food. It may constitute a variety of food served under one roof, pasta, noodles, fried chicken or even a sandwich which by the way was a big deal when we were kids. Of course we also ate Chinese- the Indian Chinese which would make a Chinese dive off a cliff in indignation and shock.

The first time we lived overseas was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I thought we were mighty adventurous to try the Queen of Fruits Durian. Durian looks like jackfruit but it wins hands down to be the stinkiest thing ever to be eaten, grown, seen or avoided. Kuala Lumpur introduced us to roti canai (a kind of Indian bread served with gravy), nasi goreng (fried rice popular in South East Asia), Mi Goreng (fried noodles), Ice kachang (shaved ice with beans and anything under the sun).  Every thing was a discovery! I would read about a certain dish expecting it to be sweet and it would turn out to be a savory. At work I was surprised to find people gorging on boiled eggs, fried eggs, chicken and rice garnished with shallots and dried fish for breakfast. That was their go to food, comfort food comparable to the baked potato in the United States. In Zambia we were introduced to the meali meal basically maize flour and the locals used it for a variety to cuisine. When I expressed my wish to cook chicken and also teach it to our Zambian help he nodded wisely and said of course maaadaaam! Hearing a cacophony in the kitchen I rushed down to see two huge, really gigantic, well fed chicken fluttering in his hands while he delightedly looked on to me showing off his prize products ready for cooking! I didn’t have the heart to cook those two thereafter and they made a happy cosy home in our backyard often chasing the help’s kids or getting chased by them. I felt both the kids and the chickens were having a good time and that is the only time I came close to seeing chicken smiling.

7343d52d5d0637a88290007408569663In Japan our home was near a blowfish restaurant and I would hear about the expertise needed to cook that deadly fish, as in if gourmet food could kill this one was it! We became adept at using chopsticks and eating sushi and sashimi while introducing our Japanese friends to tandoori chicken, paneer tikka from North India and dosa, idli, uttapam from the South. Surprisingly, they loved my tea and I fell in love with theirs though I am told that both are acquired tastes. In Australia, the son’s class had an international cuisine day and with lot of expat children in the class we saw cuisine from everywhere, Sudan to Singapore. A local  family proudly presented vegemite and toast as they felt that was true Aussie cuisine. The Indians had turned up with the whole nine yards and I got the impression that most were overwhelmed by the variety presented between the mere four Indian families. We do love our food and we are not shy about it, are we now?

Fresh off the boat America  hit us, shocked, amused and overwhelmed us with its gigantic serving sizes in food and drinks. Small, medium, large are known all over the world but grande, venti and trenta? Hello, who wants to dive into a coffee and drown? I believe trenta is a whole thirty fluid ounce and people do drink it! Then there is this Italian restaurant near our home which gives one free pasta/ spaghetti or whatever you order to take home for every pasta you eat in. Buy one and get one free taken to another level surely and the soft drinks just keep flowing. There is no end to refills until explicitly requested to stop and I feel the poor wine does get a step motherly treatment, no refills unless explicitly requested.

I baked sweet potatoes today and smiled to myself reminiscing  of the time we ate baked/boiled potatoes in India. They were cut into pieces, liberally mixed with chopped raw red onions, green chillies, cilantro, lemon juice, red chilli powder, crushed black pepper mixed with garbanzo beans and with a nice little whack of the hand mixed well in a little pouch made with leaves. The Aussies baked their potatoes by throwing spices, mixing flavors, splashing herbs to present quite an exotic yet simple dish of baked potato while the Japanese took it to another extreme with wasabi, miso, scallions and thousand other ingredients all of course very finely chopped, intricately decorated, delicately presented so much so that I hated to spoil the effect by digging into it. Then we came to America and discovered the version here- the baked potato was wrapped in a aluminum foil and was just that- a potato wrapped in foil and baked! A small container of sour cream sat neglected in the corner of the plate and trust me, the family and I burst out laughing. There is so much fun and joy to be found in our differences.

Why all this talk about food when the world is on a perpetual diet? Just to remind us that food is not just something to get rid of hunger. The scope of food is beyond that. It binds people just as it unites them. It is a discovery- of people, culture, regions, countries, geography, history, chemistry and even physics. The Italian cuisine in Italy tastes vastly different from the one cooked elsewhere and it is not just the tomatoes. Closer home the Italian cuisine in California is grossly different from the one in New York as is the Indian, Japanese or any other cuisine. The reactions of food- the chemistry, the ways and means of cooking – the physics are all intriguing. If my mum were alive today she would be tickled pink to find me switching on my gas stove without a gas lighter or a matchbox but with a simple turn of the knob that worked as ignition.

Food- Yes, there is a lot to it, far more than it will ever get credit for. What have your experiences with different cuisine been? Do you feel that it forms a connection? Does it make you stare at your plate in awe or gasp with wonder or at times proceed with caution or maybe eat at own risk…..

 

Picture courtesy: http://www.santabanta.com & http://www.twentytwowords.com

A world full of heart…

'Stocks rose on the news that random acts of kindness today outnumbered random acts of violence.'

I truly believe people are inherently good, sometimes we just have to pause a moment, breathe in and wait to savor it because more often than not that goodness just happens, unfolds and passes by taking us unaware just like sunrise each morning. Today’s post is dedicated to all those unknown people, perfect strangers actually who knowingly or unknowingly touch a life, making random incident memorable, turning  traumatic events bearable, to be talked about, reminiscing over a cup of coffee, glass of wine or simply…

I recall the time the son was a baby, a mere 4 month old happy cuddly little fellow with the widest gummy smile and eyes glowing with happiness. He was born with a congenital kidney problem and needed multiple surgeries. That was in Mumbai and after painstaking efforts from the nurse, wails from the son and silent tears from me an IV line was set up on his podgy little arms. After the first surgery he was discharged from the hospital with the IV line on for the next few surgeries as no one wished to put the baby through another trauma probably saving the doctors, nurses, mum and dad too from the same. So there we were headed home with the husband driving, trying to reach the four year old daughter waiting for us, while I sat behind with our boy who happily grinned at me from his basinet as though sensing that we were going away from the place where he was poked and prodded. Suddenly  we were flagged down by a cop. The husband ‘apparently’ had driven through an amber light turning red. Unlike the United States, one doesn’t hand over license/registration while sitting in the car when stopped in India, but gets off to stand by the sidewalk with the cop with  an explanation/license/registration/cash-bribe, and not exactly in that order. I viewed the two talking in the side view mirror and was surprised to see them walking towards the car and next the cop peeped inside to see me and our boy whose big toothless smile was still in place probably only getting wider. The cop and the baby exchanged toothy/gummy grins as if sharing their own little joke.  He saw the IV and looked again at the two of us, dropped his notebook back into his pocket, gave me a little salute and bid the husband adieu with a big hug and instructions to take good care of the baby and drive safe. Yes that is Mumbai…a city full of heart.

It is not surprising to encounter these warm incidents in Mumbai. The city indeed is full of heart. It gets battered with bomb blasts and rises up the very next moment with everyone walking an hour or more to reach work with public transport suspended. It gets flooded and the city that was supposed to grind to a halt continues to move, with neighbors helping each other, picking up a child, reaching food or even sharing groceries with supermarkets closed or sold out.

London is famous for being cold, weather and otherwise, no offense intended but I feel it has the most amazing heart. Another time the husband had flown to London on work and on landing at Heathrow airport saw my text message that the daughter was admitted in hospital. At immigration when asked the purpose and duration of his visit, he told  that he was supposed to be in London on work for 3 days but was going to take the first flight out as his child was in hospital. The immigration personnel picked up the phone and murmured a few words and an airport ground staff appeared to escort him through the quickest shortest way to baggage claim and customs, reaching him back to the United Airlines Global desk in a few minutes skipping all lines and waits. And United Airlines, not exactly famous for its great service on grounds or inflight wasted no time having him back on the same flight that reached him to London and soon he was flying home having touched down in London, cleared immigration, taken baggage, gone through customs, back in with new ticket, check in, security check in less than two hours!

In Tokyo our friends visiting us forgot their backpack containing a high end camera with multiple lenses and a $ 1000 in cash in the overhead compartment of a train. On lodging a complaint with the Station Office we were directed to wait at the exact place we had disembarked and check in the train when it returned in 43 minutes to be precise as it had a circular route. He was convinced that it would be found exactly where it was left since it had not been deposited at the Lost and Found department. Robbery was not an option even considered. We never really  expected to find the lost bag but there it was exactly where forgotten, waiting for its rightly owner having escaped both theft and bomb disposal squad.

During one of my walks in the neighborhood park, I was getting to a point of discomfort since another walker, a young man kept looking at me very blatantly every time we passed one another. I didn’t believe that I was unsafe but nevertheless felt hesitant until he stopped in front of me with a big smile and said, “you are wearing Kathmandu, you must be from Australia.” For those unfamiliar to the down under, Kathmandu is like the Nike of Australia- everyone does it!

 

'Beauty is on the inside.'

Last few weeks my brother-in- law was visiting from India and we had been hiking pretty often as I showed him the sights and sounds of bay area. He couldn’t get over the fact that strangers walking past each other either said hello, how’s it going? or remarked on the good old weather or simply nodded. There was always a courteous, respectful acknowledgment. In a world rocked by terror these simple etiquettes go a long way in building better communities.

Do you recall the moments when perfect strangers made your day? Or does an incident with an unknown make you break into a smile or feel grateful and blessed? Reminisce those  and share,  let the world know yet again how wonderful it is….

 

Picture courtesy: http://www.cartoonstock.com