Saturday, July 28, 2012

These Men and Those

Back home in India, recent incidents of molestation of young girls and women have everyone agitated. Everywhere you look, there are articles about how women are mistreated in India, how pervasive and accepted/expected this phenomenon called eve-teasing is, and how we need to fix this problem at the root. Everyone agrees that the spoiled uncouth Indian youth are out of control and something needs to be done to change them. Any smart person, man or woman, will find it easy to understand and concur with this sentiment.

Here in Singapore, two stories are hogging the limelight- one about an online "vice ring" involving underage Vietnamese prostitutes, and the other about an NUS professor who took sexual favors from a female student in exchange for good grades. Both classic male fantasies. Photos of the men involved in these scandals are everywhere: in newspapers, on blogs and on FB. One thing strikes me when I see their pictures- all of them look like regular guys next door. They appear educated, well dressed and seemingly respectable. Quite the opposite of the scruffy rowdy youth of the recent Indian stories. 

Indeed, most of the men in the Singapore scandals are well educated, married and hold important positions at work. Imagine this. After kissing their wives goodbye and dropping their kids off to prestigious schools in the morning, they find time in their busy schedules (full of important meetings I am sure) to locate prostitutes and have sex with them at various hotels. And the NUS professor is a successful author, a great teacher and a father of a teenage girl- who somehow fits in sex with a student into his idea of a wholesome life.

Yes, these men in Singapore look very different and lead very different lives from the scruffy youth in the recent Indian molestation stories. But look a little deeper, scratch the surface a little, and you will see that the difference is just cosmetic. These men are no better than those. 

My Wonderful Middle-Aged World

When I was a young girl growing up, "middle age" was a dirty word. It evoked vague images of saggy tired men and women going nowhere but downhill. It was associated with menopause and mid-life crises, things best ignored. Of course, being the self-obsessed youngster that I was, I never thought middle age would happen to me. It did! And not only that, it happened to my world, to people I knew, acquaintances from work, schoolmates, neighbors, and friends. One day, my world turned middle aged, and believe it or not, it's surprisingly cool!

In my middle-aged world, young women who used to be all about clothes, boyfriends and hair styles, are now focused on making the world a better place. People who used to bicker and compete for attention and affection of bosses and peers have now directed their attention to helping others. The disgruntled are now inspired; the self obsessed spiritual. Many are committed to activities they have mastered after years of practice- some run, some cycle, some sculpt their bodies by exercise, some take amazing pictures, some dance, some cook, some write, some grow things, some teach! Some brave ones have left the corporate world to follow their hearts. Many are mothers and fathers of teens, something that humbles the most arrogant and sensitizes the most insensitive of us. They have opinions, not the second-hand shallow ones, but those backed by personal life experiences. Even the prima donnas show amazing depth- life deals its blows to all evenly if you just give it enough time, and then it hands you two fantastic medicines for healing- reflection and fortitude.

If this is what middle age is about, then I will gladly exchange my giddy foolish youth for it. If saggy skin is the prerequisite to feeling comfortable in one's skin, then I will happily wibble wobble. If this is what going downhill looks like, then show me the way to the valley baby! 

Cartoon from:

Saturday Treats: Two of my Favorite Dishes

This first dish is my new breakfast of choice- cherry tomato bruschetta. It takes the absolute minimum effort, makes for a joyous colorful sight, and is so tasty that I can't think of anyone in this world who wouldn't like it. Except of course people who can't stand tomatoes (I personally know one such person).

The secret is cherry tomatoes. They are naturally sweet and become soft and gooy-ey once baked in the oven for 15-2 minutes on medium heat. This in turn helps them soak into and stay on toast when served.

Ingredients: Cherry tomatoes, button mushrooms, fresh mozzarella cheese (if not available, then any cheese spread for the toast would do), finely chopped chives, salt and pepper, and nicely toasted thick slices of bread.

This second dish, Mediterranean sausages with lemony potatoes, is a lunch favorite that I cooked with a twist today- I used my new favorite tagine! Once again, this dish is simple to cook and is a sure win with any meat eater. No technique needed.

The secret here is good quality sausages. It won't work if you use cheap factory sausages. Not being snobbish here- just factual. The taste of your dish is determined by the taste of your sausages, so get the best ones you can. I buy lamb and herb sausages and braise them in a pan with little water with some olive oil added. The water that cooks them evaporates and the remaining oil browns them.

Ingredients: 2 Onions, 5 medium potatoes, 5-6 good sausages, 2 bay leaves, a little lemon juice and salt & pepper. The pictures below are in sequence going from left to right so you can see how it was cooked. The only step missing is when I added lemon juice to the potatoes on pic 4.

Served with good bread and some salad. Today, I served with ciabatta loaf and finally chopped tomato-onion salad.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Conveyor Belt Conspiracy

A few years back, I bought a bright red large sturdy bag for my then frequent travels, assumption being that red will stand out and I will have no trouble locating it on airport conveyor belts. I soon realized that everyone had caught on to that trick, rendering it rather useless. Ask any red bag owner- there are more red bags than any other color at any given time at any airport conveyor belt!

Unfortunately, a wheel of my red bag broke last May after to a trip to homeland. I can only imagine what would have been done to it to force out the whole wheel from its socket! I mean really. Makes me understand why some folks pay money to get their check-in bags wrapped up in plastic cocoons at Delhi airport.

Anyway, a broken wheel meant I needed another bag for my Morocco trip. With little time or money to buy a new one, I decided to use one that I had bought from US some years ago for the sole purpose of carting two pairs of Atta's monster shoes. This bag was smaller than my red one, and it was brown in color. This would be distinctive by its very drabness, I thought to myself smugly. But I am telling you, no kidding, as I waited at Casablanca airport for my baggage to arrive, there were more brown bags than any other color on the conveyor belt!

Don't like it one bit- this conveyor belt conspiracy.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Quick Fixer

I seek pills for all ailments, quick solutions to problems
Get rid of them as quickly as possible- that's my philosophy.
Having faced enough of it, I see no nobility in suffering.

But even I, quick fixer, know that not everything has an answer, 
Not every ailment curable, not every problem... 
...a challenge to be overcome by hard work and smarts.

Specialists will give you antibiotics for your son's mycoplasma,
And new-age tricks to quieten his sinuses
But they have nothing to fix the loneliness eating into his young heart.

They have pricey treatments for your heartburn and asthma
Why, ingrate, didn't they just pull you out from the jaws of anaphylactic death?
But they have nothing for the anxiety that darkens your green mountain dreams.

If you try hard or smart enough, you will find some way (or someone) to...
...fix that layout, get that interaction to work, send that darn demo!
But there is no easy way to fix your irascible boss's quick temper.

The whole household may be marching to the beat of your drums
Change that bulb. Find that tool. Can we stop that door from creaking?
But no handyman can find lost friends and mend broken trusts.

You may have played a few life tricks better than others, you smart you!
But no Google search will lead you to enlightenment.
And girlfriend, there is no pill for the malady called life. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tagine Love

I am in love with my tagine. I have cooked three times using it and while the dishes haven't turned out as great as I would have liked, I feel a strong urge to return to it. The pressure cooker and the once favorite wok get nothing but disdain from me.

The secret of tagine cooking is in allowing it to bubble away for hours, something I don't have the luxury of (one or the other kid is too hungry to wait).

Here are some pictures. 
Mutton tagine with potatoes and pumpkin! Cooked for over 4 hours on slow heat (veggies added only for the last hour). Served with country loaf. 

Chicken tagine with coriander! Cooked for an hour. Served with steamed rice. 

Minced mutton tagine. Cooked for an hour and a half. Served with mint raita and coriander paranthas. 

Leaving Casablanca!

After nine glorious days in Morocco, it was time to go home. We reached Casablanca's Mohammad V International Airport a little before 10 am, in time for Swati, Julie and Rachel to check into their noon flight to Madrid. Heike had already left for Germany by an early morning flight. My flight to Dubai was supposed to depart at 1:20 pm but, as part of a continuing time zone mystery that foxed even our world clock-synced iPhones, we discovered that it would depart an hour later, at 2:20 pm.

After spending some time at a cafe, the only place with available seats, I hobbled over to the Emirates counter (my back was hurting), expecting it to be fairly uncrowded three hours before the boarding time. Certainly, I would be among the first to reach so early, I thought to myself smugly. But the sight at the check-in counter proved me totally wrong. The place was teeming with white jalaba-clad old men and old women, surrounded by animated young people and kids, all in throes of talking loudly and calling out to each other. I stood in a queue but was overtaken several times by someone or the other, without as much as an attempt at an explanation or apology. Since there was still time, I took it all in my stride and decided to focus instead on observing the families at close quarters and guessing who was whose.

After boarding, the scene inside the plane was even stranger. All the jalaba-clad folks were there, at least a 100 of them, minus their younger companions. Everyone was standing around talking loudly to each other across aisles, and seats were being exchanged, mostly amicably, but some semi forced. One old woman stood near a Chinese-looking traveler seated ahead of us and talked to him in Arabic nonstop while gesticulating animatedly, until he finally gave up his aisle seat and moved to the seat she was pointing at (middle of the middle row oops!). The stewardess's requests to all to be seated were falling on deaf ears. A lovely Spanish stewardess, totally lost in the sea of chattering humanity, found an ally in me and confided that she had never seen anything like this in her entire career. After being totally ineffective in getting the passengers to sit down, the stewardesses backed off and an Arabic-speaking stewards came by, but in vain. No one could be bothered by what they were being told. As a result, the flight was delayed- it could not take off for over 30 minutes due to this madness!

Seated next to me were two Moroccan businessmen travelling to China, who were quite amused by my shocked expression at what was happening around us.They explained that these men and women, from far off Moroccan villages and towns, were on their way to Mecca for Ramadan. For most of them, this was the first trip to a city and the first time on a plane. But even that did not explain why there was a non-stop movement towards the toilet. At no point did the queue to the toilet on each side have less than 15-20 people. I could see the same people get up and go towards the toilet several times during the flight. Obviously, I sat put and prayed my bladder would be kind. When food was served, there was utter chaos, with some people wanting to go to the toilet despite the trolley in their way and others calling out to each other and passing food across seats and rows. At no point during the flight was their any semblance of silence- it was like the proverbial fish market...for the entire 8 hours! But I must add that despite the chaos, the atmosphere was friendly and warm.

Luckily, the landing was better. Much to my relief (I had a connecting flight to catch with a short layover), almost everybody had been seated and belted up in time for landing. When the plane touched down, I was surprised to hear a strange noise. All the old folks were clapping and laughing! It was crazy. Sweet, but crazy!

There were many memorable events for me in this trip to Morocco- I will never forget the beautiful sights, the mountains and the deserts, the feeling of stepping into history, the disparate bunch of friends, the trip to ER, the luxurious riads, the wonderful architecture- the list goes on. This crazy flight from Casablanca to Dubai added another memorable event to my long list.

(I have no photos from the airport or the flight- Moroccans are known to be extra sensitive about being photographed and we had first hand experience of their dislike of the camera. Here I am attaching two photos picked from the Internet just to show traditional jalaba-clad Moroccans, the kind who were my fellow travelers on this unforgettable flight.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Baby's Favorite Playmate

The day I brought Aloka to Singapore, Anakin gave her a quick warm lick straight on the face, catching all of us by surprise and leaving me feeling both indignant and amused at the same time. By the time she was four months old, Aloka would smile at him every time he passed by. When she started crawling, he was an easy target. She sat with her back against his and practiced all her new skills, and when tired, rested against his soft belly. When, at nine months, she decided it was time to stand up and walk, Anakin became her safety cushion and acrobatics mat.

Here is a compilation of videos taken in late July 2008, when she had just turned nine months and had begun to stand up. If anyone thinks dogs are not good for babies...think again!

Early Morning Companionship

(Written on June 29)

Each day this week, I have woken up at 3 am to complete my work before my vacation. I have no trouble waking up or motivating myself to get out of bed if something needs to be done urgently. It's my thing and has been all my life. 

But anyone who has woken up early in the morning to study or work while the rest of the world sleeps knows it is not a lot of fun. Switching on lights in the dark living room, shutting doors to avoid disturbing others, making a hot cup of tea, starting up the laptop, arranging papers on the table, making the to-do list...this stuff feels lonely and sad when it's dark outside and you are up alone. 

So imagine my joy when on the first morning I was up that early, a little person in loose pajamas walks into the living room with witchy aunty under her arm and a shy grin on her four in the morning! 

After assuring her that I was just working in the living room and not going anywhere, I took her back to bed and sat with her, but she hung on to my arms. Pressed for time, I settled her on the living room daybed with her pillow and blanket and she went right back to sleep, a few feet from me, not bothered a bit by the bright light in the room.

Every morning since then, she has woken up around the same time and slept on the daybed next to me until it was time to wake up for school. 

Did I mention early morning loneliness? Pray what is that?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fes Episode

Two days ago, after a tiring but exhilarating day in the medina at Fes, we decided to go to a music and dance show. Just before leaving, I casually popped in a Brufen tablet to ease the pain in my legs. Either before or after that, I took a single small sip from Swati's glass of white wine.

We reached the venue at 8:30 pm. As soon as I entered the room, I began feeling a little hot. As we sat down at our table, my heart started racing and I started to feel stuffy and uncomfortable. Not sure of what was happening, I decided to walk out into the open to get some air. Near the door, our kind gentle driver Hamid saw me and said something. I walked out hoping I would feel better but knew something was seriously wrong. My legs were shaky and my head was woozy. I sat down and asked Hamid, who had followed me outside, to give me his phone number in case I needed to contact him in an emergency. As I started punching his number on to my phone, I realized I couldn't press the right numbers. I was losing consciousness and I remember saying to myself "This is not happening to me. This is happening to someone else, someone who doesn't have kids who depend on her". Hamid took the phone from me and said he would enter the number for me.

The next thing I felt was the sensation of cold water on my head. Someone was pouring cold water on my head and Julie was showing me her hand and asking me how many fingers. Then she demanded that I count backwards. I don't know if I complied. All I remember is this crushing lack of breath, like no asthma attack I have ever experienced. My eyes felt as if someone was pulling them inside and my sinuses and throat seemed stuffy and blocked. Swati was craddling my head and asking me to stay awake. I croaked in my hoarse voice that I needed a doctor because I couldn't breathe.

When it was discovered that the ambulance would take at least half an hour to reach, my friends decided that they will take me to a hospital themselves, even if it meant they would have to carry me to the car which was 50 feet or so away at the end of the narrow alley. Luckily, I was able to walk hanging onto Julie and Rachel's shoulders. The ride to the hospital seemed like forever. I was hardly getting any air in and my back muscles were cramping. Swati kept talking to me positively as she held me in her arms throughout. I had a sense of impending doom and kept shifting to get some air in.

At the hospital, I was rushed into the emergency room on a wheelchair and my vital signs checked. I remember that my blood oxygen was down to 88, which Swati tried to pass off as normal (just to calm me down) but I know too much about these things. After an exchange in Arabic/French between Hamid, the nurse and the doctor, cortisone was injected and then I was nebulized for about an hour. I was able to breath comfortably by 10 pm and lo and behold, discharged!

(As soon as it was clear that I was out of danger, the four friends posed for a photo next to the bed I was lying on. Here it is...Crazy bunch!)

I learned later that I had been unconscious for over five minutes during which time Julie had tried slapping me and Swati had poured 3 bottles of cold water over my head. Medically speaking, I had suffered an anaphylactic shock due to allergy to something. I believe that it was the combination of Brufen and that one sip of wine, but really there is no way of knowing for sure. My blood pressure had dropped dangerously low and my airways were blocked by edema, resulting in low oxygen and therefore unconsciousness. In short, I had almost died. Read more here:

Thanks to my friends, and Hamid and the staff at the ER, I am up and about and writing about this harrowing experience. I hope that writing about it will make me less anxious because honestly speaking, I am terrified that this episode will recur. But most of all, I am happy and grateful to be alive and experiencing all that life has to offer, which is indeed a lot. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The New Canvas

I have a new canvas for my doodles- one that appreciates even the simplest of designs. Ah the pleasures of having a daughter!
It was all her idea. 

The stuff she likes, hearts and stars!

The stuff I like!

I asked for a smile.

But she finds it hard to keep a straight face!