Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Solitary Reaper - A mother's lone journey

Sometimes certain incidents or faces get stored in our memory and surfaces at times, reminding us of some forgotten event or moment which leaves a mark on us unknowingly. As I hit the so-called 'writer's block', this memory surfaced from the recesses of my mind.

When my mother-in-law was hospitalized a long time ago, I used to take breakfast and lunch for her, and relieve my husband who would do the night shifts. After spending a few days in the hospital, you sort of get to see some people, who also are there to attend to their loved ones. Over a period of time, you smile and then get to talk to them. 

I saw this lady for the first time when I was passing along the hospital corridor. There she was, busy preparing coffee on the heater. She seemed to be in her mid-sixties, less than five feet in height, chubby and cute. In other words, she reminded me of a typical grandmother from one of the many Grandmother's storybooks that I used to read for my children. She seemed to have that lovely aura about her. She had a radiant smile on her face, with a twinkle in her eyes. It was one of those faces, which you would love to see, and which would liven up your mood.

After a couple of days, our paths crossed and I smiled and she smiled back at me. This lady was very agile. I would see her climbing stairs and never seemed to use the lift. She would be found traversing the entire corridor to either get food or could be found standing in a long queue at the hospital pharmacy to buy medicines. Mind you, these corridors are so long that for everything one needed, one had to really walk quite a lot. Most of the time, she beat most of us who were half her age, hollow with her agility. I always found her doing all this tirelessly. I never saw any person who would come to relieve her. She seemed to be a one soldier army!

By the looks of it, she seemed to have been in the hospital for quite some time, as she seemed to be very familiar with the hospital procedures. All the nurses and doctors seemed to know her pretty well and would stop to speak to her. So, I guessed that, whoever her dear one was, had been hospitalized for quite a long time. I did not get a chance to talk to her as we were also busy during the initial days, hence my interaction with her was limited only to a smiling acknowledgement whenever our paths crossed. Each time I met her, I would always be amazed by her energy and enthusiasm that seemed to be radiating from her face. 

I wondered how she seemed to be managing everything all by herself? Because, as we all know, after a couple of days in the hospital, one feels really stressed out and would wait to get back to routine life, back home.

That evening, I was heading back home and for the last time, our paths crossed (as my mother in law was shifted to another ward). From afar, I saw her with a person in the wheelchair, which this lady was pushing. I smiled at her and she smiled back and as I came close, she introduced me to her daughter.  Sitting in the wheelchair was her daughter, who seemed to be in her forties, totally paralyzed, and oblivious to anything around her. I stood there benumbed and humbled as she passed me, with that sweet smile on her face. For some unknown reason, I had tears in my eyes. And I wondered how she could hide all her pains behind that ever-smiling face. 

I saluted this brave lone mother who was treading an uphill task of caring for her beloved daughter, who knows, maybe for a whole lifetime with that total love and devotion which only a mother can give to her child. I don't know why, but all I could think of at that moment were the verses from the poem 'The Solitary Reaper' by William Wordsworth.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Exploring the inner chef

'Master Chef, Australia' was the key inspiration for my children in their gastronomical journey. My elder son who is a foodie loves to taste different cuisines. He became quite enthused and started going through the recipe books which I had bought long, long ago. Well, I never got to be Julia Childs! You guessed it right, not a single page had been opened neither was a single recipe tried. So I was happy that my son was at least trying out some recipes from those books.

He made Noodles, Pasta Arabiata, White Pasta, mocktails like Fuzzy peg and so on. Barring our traditional cuisine, he loves all the other cuisines, and hence when he plans on cooking, we can expect tasty Continental dishes. Not that I am complaining, because not only we, but even his grandparents enjoy it! In addition, once in a while he would also help me roll out chapathis, puris, and so on. The moment I try new recipes his face lights up and both of us try and prepare it together.

Coming to my younger son, according to his hierarchy he joined my elder son as his sous chef! You can imagine him being bossed around by the Master Chef! This was however not to his liking, and after just about couple of times in the kitchen, he felt that cooking was not his calling and so there was me, who was promoted to the role of sous chef, when the post fell vacant!

Right from his childhood, my younger son's staple food both for lunch and dinner was curd with rice and mind you with no seasoning, with only one or two of his favourite vegetables. Parathas, Aloo parathas, chapathis were a big no with him. Every other dish would be spicy or not his favourites. In a way, it was very easy for me to plan a menu when he was around. It did not require too much of planning, did it now?  He was totally the opposite of my elder son and was loathe to experimenting with anything new. His taste palate dictated simple non-spicy, regular comfort food and that was curd rice! His knowledge of cooking I must say was zilch.

So, when he had to go abroad for his studies, he just did not know A or in this case C of cooking!  Nor did he have a clue as to what ingredients go into what. Since this came up suddenly, I did not have enough time to teach him the basics, as most of his time was spent running around for visas and in completing other official formalities. So my only solace was, that he was going to stay with three of his seniors and I fervently hoped and prayed that they would at least know some basic cooking, enough to sustain them.

It turned out that I was fretting for no reason at all! Why? because it so happened that one of his senior housemates was an accomplished Chef! No not in the actual sense, but cooking was his hobby! So within a short time of them settling down, this Master chef with the other three sous chefs, worked magic in the kitchen in that far off land. The pictures of these gourmet dishes sent by my son, made even a pro like me look like a trainee. :-(

The pictures were something out of a food magazine. He sent pictures of absolutely delicious looking hot and spicy Vegetable Biryani, yellow sizzling Dal tadka with fluffy white rice, nicely roasted parathas, chapathis with vegetable kurma, yummy looking aloo parathas with curd and pickle, a melange of colorful Pav Bhaji ..... the list was never-ending. Not only did it look mouth-watering, but they also had the time and patience to plate it beautifully. It sure did cross my mind, that I might want to go on a sabbatical to their place! 

It was such a joyful moment for me to see my son, who used to run miles away from the kitchen, was now not only learning to enjoy his cooking lessons but learning to enjoy eating food which he would otherwise curl up his nose when I used to make it. What I really admired about them was they were managing to make all these gourmet dishes while juggling with their hectic study schedule. Can you imagine that in an alien country he was eating home-cooked desi food?

Breakfast was not at all on their list, as he said there was no time. Lunch would be a simple sandwich or salad which he would pack to college, he told me that he could not afford the canteen food. Dinner however was an elaborate affair. It was very touching as well as a proud moment for me when he sent pictures of his very first solo attempt at cooking. Yes, no prizes for guessing what it was - curd rice with seasoning, plain rice, dal tadka, and carrot and potato curry, which he said, his friends ate heartily.

We were really astonished when they threw a grand Diwali party to their house owners of foreign nationality in that distant land! This was a party where all the four children had whipped up a mouth-watering four-course meal, complete with a beautifully designed menu card explaining what each dish was....totally five star way! The pictures say it all!

I guess life really teaches a thing or two when you are on your own. What a delightful gastronomic journey this has been for him. Can you keep a secret?  I am planning on hanging up my apron when he comes home for vacations and let him treat me to some of his delicacies!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The foundations for a meaningful life

The other day I was listening to this podcast where an eminent personality was giving a Graduation speech at a prestigious university abroad. He said that he would like to share with the students the importance of imbibing virtues which would have an impact throughout their lives.

After listening to this, my mind went into a reflective mode to my childhood days and the parenting practices that my parents followed. I remember when we were children, our parents taught us these precious virtues by their own actions, advice, guidance, and of course reprimanding us as well.

I still cannot forget this incident which happened when I was 5 and my elder sister was 8. My sister and her friends were playing a tagging game and that too on a slide.  I was not included in the game as I was considered 'too young'. However, I was allowed to play on the slide as my sister was part of the group. I was standing on top of the slide when in the heat of the moment one of my sisters' friends accidentally pushed me down and I fell from the top of the slide! Mind you, these slides where of old times made with cement and stone and quite high. To my luck, there was soft sand surrounding the slide and I was not hurt. The teachers came rushing when the news reached them.

But here is what happened even before the teachers came. The girl who had accidentally pushed me was the leader of the group and was admired and liked by all. So none of the group was prepared to give her up, and sadly the least liked person in the group was made the fall guy or girl in this case. The rest of the group urged me to take the other girl's name when the teachers asked me. And here was I following their instructions, when even at that age I knew it was not the right thing to do. Well, luckily I was not hurt much and the girl was reprimanded and let off. But even after some 40 odd years this episode still remains fresh and my conscience still pricks me.

All forms of life need careful nurturing
My parents also taught us the importance of following virtues by narrating mythological stories like Ramayana, Mahabharat, Panchatantra, Hitopadesh, and so on. The result of all this was, when the need arose, we as a family collectively helped each other; as well as tried to help others whenever needed, respected others point of views, avoided telling lies as much as possible, respected and took care of elders at home and so on. All these were imbibed over a period of time.

How can one forget the spiritual anchor, which over a period of time has truly helped us lead a contented life? During our childhood, prayer time was part of our daily routine. When we were young, the prayer time seemed to be a hindrance, which came in the way of our fun time. We felt that those 10-15 minutes that we would spend praying could have been utilized more meaningfully in activities like playing games, reading our favourite books, and so on!

Times changed. We became parents ourselves. Slowly all the virtues that we had been taught by our parents combined with varied experiences that we ourselves had gone through, made us mature enough to be role models for our children. We have tried our best to make them realise the importance of these virtues that they have to individually build upon, as well as the values that are expected from them as members of the society that we all live in.

Again this does not mean I am perfect, far from it, I am still learning and strengthening and building upon these virtues as I grow more mature with the passing of time and experiences that I come across every day in my life.

The virtues that at one time felt like a waste of time, have now provided me with a strong base on which I can rely on, to lead a better life. I think my children too will over a period of time build a  rock-solid foundation and become role models for their children. Finally, I believe, that times might change, eras might come and go, but virtues like love, honesty, faith, discipline, respect, humility, and a host of other virtues will never get outdated. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Lockdown diaries - a new day, everyday

Life takes a strange and mysterious turn when you least expect. Sometime in February, news about the virus in China started trickling, and before we knew, it was a worldwide pandemic. No country was spared. And then, our Government announced a total lockdown! This was something which we had not experienced at all, ever. 

Comforts which we had taken for granted, like having maids, cooks, home delivery for groceries and medicines, ordering food online, and not to forget the comforts of living within a gated community, where even the garbage disposal is taken care of by the housekeeping staff! All this came to an abrupt halt.

The topmost thought and concern looming large for all us women was, 'How are we going to manage without the maids and cooks?' A part of my mind was trying to give reassuring positive signals suggesting that we might still have that teeny bit of chance that this nightmare would come to an end soon and life would very soon be back to normal. Something like, here today and gone tomorrow kind of scenario. 

So there I was clutching at straws as the saying goes. But going by what I was reading, I knew doomsday had arrived. And so it was with great trepidation and a very heavy heart, I informed my maid that she was to go on a paid leave from the very next day until further notice. I had absolutely no 'notice period'!

Well, the grind started two and a half months back and is still continuing. What with senior citizens at home, we cannot take the risk. The initial few days were tiring, but if it had to be done, it had to be done. No two ways about it. 

Very soon life turned into a rhythmic cycle of cooking, cleaning, sweeping, mopping, washing, and so on and so forth. Whatever time left thereafter was taken up in finishing assignments that I had taken up. Before I knew the day had just flown past! Yes, there are days when I get up in the morning and feel lazy just thinking about doing all the chores, and then there are days when things get done in a jiffy. So right now I am all pretty set and pulling along.

This is not to say that it is all hard work and no fun. On the contrary, I must say I am enjoying the lockdown period. For one, my husband and my son are now working from home. My son who otherwise would visit us 2-3 times a month was now home 24x7. 

I am pampering them with homemade delicacies, though once in a while my son does complain about not being able to order outside food. So I try and whip up menus to suit all. I have embarked on a culinary journey. I experimented with Spanish cuisine which we had immensely enjoyed during our visit to Spain. The Paella, Patatas Bravas, Spanish omelet have become part of my cuisine. Mexican dish Guacamole is being relished with nachos, potato chips, cucumber, carrots, and other veggies! I am also adding Indian cuisines from different regions! So my culinary repertoire is expanding.

When it came to veggies and fruits, thanks to some volunteers, we are being pampered with a whole array of them literally brought to our doorstep by the farmers themselves! Fresh avocados, different varieties of mangoes, different types of jackfruits, grapes, litchis, zucchini, bell peppers... the list is a long one. It is a win-win situation for the farmers as well as for us! I guess, back then when things were normal I had never gotten around to buying so many varieties.

The icing on the cake is family bonding which is happening big time. Summer vacations meant looking forward to visits by my sisters and my nieces and nephews. This time too we did not miss our rendezvous! We have them in our living room every night - virtually! Thanks to WhatsApp video calls. Every day new games are being planned out. Every night all three families are on video trying to solve riddles, puzzles, play atlas, scrabble, jumbled words, and so on. All this is going on till late in the night.

Over the course of these three months, I have learned several things. When problems crop up just face them and move on. I can make do with what I have. I can definitely do without things which I thought was essential. What I thought was very important was never so in the first place. Yes, if health permits and circumstances are conducive, we can definitely manage without the maids and cooks. No matter what happens, life goes on. There's a new day, everyday. 

This is my lockdown story. What's yours? Do let me know.