Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Bells Ring All Night

The bells ring all night, 
In my mother’s house

I wake up many times...
Transported to Gangotri of many years ago
Sleeping in his arms on that cold damp night
The bells of the white temple waking up ahead of us
The day before that enchanted trek to Gaumukh…

Ringing, ringing

It doesn't stop, I don’t learn
Even after a week of telling myself
This is just a wind chime
Just a clever wind chime
Swinging in the strong wind outside

The bells ring all night
In my mother’s house
I live in different worlds all night
In my mother's house

Pictures courtesy:

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Maa tou maa hoti hai!

Aloka learned this new Hindi song at school. She doesn't understand it fully and asked me questions like what is "laut", "ghabrati", tub tuk". I simply love it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Two Months Later

The other day, my niece asked me if I was happy in Dharamshala and if I was missing Singapore. I answered spontaneously and truthfully. I feel happy. I feel this is where I belong. After more than two years of feeling homeless (ironically in the only house I ever owned), I feel rooted. I am home.

All that running around to earn a hefty salary to maintain an expensive lifestyle- all that seems so distant and pointless. All that being someone to the world and trying to find meaning in the work I was doing seems so meaningless. I spend my time looking after the people I love. I cook. I chant. I go for walks. I take lots of (average) pictures. I write. I dance. I meet people I do not understand. I am not important to the outside world. I have nothing to prove. I don't earn anything. And surprisingly, I feel alright about that.

I miss Atreya, my dearest friend, my son, a chunk of my heart, but the guilt I was carrying around for the last few months has vanished. I can't hold on to him any more than I can hold on to time, so I have stopped berating myself for coming away from him. I am here where I need to be, he is there where he needs to be. He needs to take wings and fly and my job is to show him the way with how I choose to live my life. My love for him runs in his veins and his in mine- who can take that away? So, though I think of him constantly, I am at peace where he is concerned.

I love this place- the mountains, the rivulet, the clouds, the sun, the shade, the light, the rain, the grass, the blue skies, the mules, the goats, the strays. I wake up to the sound of the khadd and I go to sleep listening to it. I look at the sunsets with wonder every day and wonder at my continued wonder. I dream about being one with the Earth and about adding value to people's lives by sharing this beauty with them. I have discovered that dreams, hope and wonder are lovely ingredients for a happy life- necessary and sufficient at once.

Regarding Singapore, I do want to go visit, mainly to see Atreya and revisit our favorite haunts with him. I also am making a list of things I need to buy from there to make life (mainly cooking) a bit more comfortable, but really that's all. I don't miss it any other way. Aloka misses it and talks a lot about it. She wants to go to Resorts World Sentosa and also eat peking duck at Imperial Treasure. She misses the fancy life we lead, but for me, it's something I did to make life bearable. I remember it fondly but I don't miss it.

So there- this is how I feel two months down the line. If I were to die now, like I almost did last year, I will die happy. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The New Routine- Aloka

Life is totally changed for all of us since we moved here with mommy. I want to remember these early days and thus this post.

I wake up around 6:45 am everyday, usually with mommy calling out to me to have tea. When I get to their room, Aloka is always up, chatting away to her nani and cuddling her babies- witchy and barney. We drink tea and chat a bit and after that I get busy making breakfast and school snack for Aloka. Breakfast is sometimes sausages, sometimes nuggets and once in a while dosa or egg. Snack is usually a single slice sandwich, with tomato or salami and cheese. A few times that I sent a parantha, it came back half eaten. While Aloka eats her breakfast in bed, I take Anakin out for his big and small jobs. He is done quickly and then it's back to Aloka and getting her ready for school, which involves brushing teeth, changing clothes and doing her hair. We are all set to leave by 7:40 am. Nowadays Sanjay drives us, though mom did the driving for the first 4 weeks. 

After I am back, mom and I have breakfast. Breakfast is usually mom's domain- she makes the best omelettes ever. Sometimes I make eggs and toast. The next hour is my personal time. I check my mail and FB, write if I feel like, play SCRAMBLED left over from the previous night, and get ready for the day. Asha, our house help, comes in after 10 am and it is then that I start thinking of what to cook for lunch. Usually it is some freshly cooked vegetables with chapattis- the stuff I am just learning to cook from mom and Asha. Among the vegetables I have recently learned to cook are turnips and methi saag. Asha also readies some ingredients (usually onion and tomatoes, and sometimes boiled potatoes) for the dinner I have planned by then. 

We go to pick up Aloka around noon and are back by 12:30 pm. After eating lunch, it is homework time for Aloka. Depending on the weather, we take our work table and chair either outside to the back veranda overlooking the khadd or inside in mom's bedroom. We work together for about 40 minutes. Her interest in doing her work never ceases to amaze me- she genuinely enjoys studying and learning- my genes! Lately, she has become quite independent at doing her work, giving me time for one more round of SCRAMBLED.

After that, I bathe her (due to the cold, she is bathing on alternate days, with hair washing only twice a week) and change her. Then it is TV time for her based on an agreement between nani and grand-daughter. TV time is limited to 2 hours, though there are days when I get too busy with the other house and she gets to lose herself for another hour. In these 2-3 hours, Aloka demands food almost continually. This is such a new behavior, or perhaps it was happening earlier in Singapore too but I didn't know for I was busy at work. She gets only fruits and vegetables as snacks. It is my way of turning a bad habit (eating while watching TV) into something at least somewhat healthy. Luckily for her, she loves the stuff. 

We go out for a walk around 5 pm and are usually back in an hour after a 3-4 km walk. Anakin always comes with us for these long walks. Aloka has no choice but to come with us. She walks with us happily with just a bit of complaint towards the end when she is tired. As long as we talk to her and makes jokes or riddles, she is happy to walk with us and enjoy the sights just as we do.

When we get back, it is activity time for Aloka. I have brought many activity books from Singapore, which keep us both occupied. I get dinner ready while Aloka colors or makes jig saw puzzles. She eats by 7 and is in bed by 7:30pm. After doing our high-point low-point discussions for the day, Aloka goes to sleep in her nani's bed, with instructions for me to sleep with her for a short while. After she is asleep, I play my games one more time and then savor the next couple of hours as my alone time in my bedroom that I share with Anakin. If there is any consulting work to be done, I do it mostly in period. 

So that's how I spend my days nowadays. With the move to Anu's house next week, there will be changes. For one, we are both joining a dance class from 4:30 to 5:30 pm on week days. Luckily, days are getting longer and I hope we can still do our evening walks with mommy.

Next post about how life has changed for Anakin. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Apple Crumble

Last week, one of mommy’s friends from Tanda Medical College gave her produce from her orchard in Kinnaur as a gift. Among other things, the bag contained about 3 kg of golden apples. The apples had slightly leathery skin, something you never see in store bought apples. I actually liked their look because that’s how nature intends its bounty to age. No artificial coating to retain the soft smooth skins here!

Working with unfamiliar ingredients, I wanted to make something simple and low risk. So, I looked up recipes for Apple Crumble. Nowadays, I do not follow just one recipe. I read up a few and pick and choose ideas that appeal to me. 

I liked the idea of oats for the crumble topping in one of the recipes, but since I didn't have oats, I used whole grain cereal I had at home. Bad idea #1. I didn't like the idea of pre-cooking apples before sticking them into the oven, so I skipped that step. Bad idea #2. I chose to add walnuts to the crumble topping instead of mixing them with the apples. Bad idea #3. I went out to sit in the sun after sticking the bowl in the oven. Bad idea #4 and the worst of them all. The result of all these was a very bad Apple Crumble. It was burned from top and uncooked inside. It was chewy. It had no taste of walnuts. It was God awful!

Here is the recipe for attempt number 2 that came out so good that it will certainly be on my café menu. Here it goes.

For Apples
1. Peel, core and chop apples into small pieces. I used about 8 small apples in my successful attempt.
2. Place in a wok with ½ cup sugar (I had only white sugar but all recipes mention brown sugar), 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon and nutmeg (mom had toasted them on a tawa and then run them through a dry mixer), and a handful of chopped walnuts or almonds.
3. Cook for 10-15 minutes on low heat. The apples should just about soften, not turn mushy. 
4. Taste to check for sweetness. Add more sugar if the apples lack own sweetness.
5. Butter a baking dish and place the pre-cooked apples inside.

For Crumbles
1. Place 1 cup of white flour in a bowl.
2. Add 1/2 cup of sugar.
3. Add about 100 gms of cold butter cut into pieces. My butter was regular salted one, so I didn’t add any salt later.
4. Rub the butter into the mixture till all the flour is coated. The result of the mixing should make the mixture look like bread crumbs- that’s what the recipes state- but mine didn’t. The clumps looked bigger and coarser.
5. Because one of the recipes mentioned it and because I had it, I added about a tablespoon of golden syrup into the mixture. This is the syrup I had bought as ice-cream topping for Aloka in Singapore. Adding it helped by giving the crumple a sticky toffee like texture in places. I think this ingredient is not essential. If I didn’t have it, I would consider adding some honey, but wonder if its flavour would overpower cinnamon’s.
6. Once done, spread the crumble mix on top of the apples evenly.

Bake at 180 degrees C for 30-40 minutes, until the crumble looks golden brown, the apple mixture is bubbling and the kitchen is filled with the fantastic aroma of cinnamon and biscuits.

Having burned the first attempt, I watched this one like a hawk. Mine was done in 35 minutes. I let it rest in the oven for another 10 minutes. Cut and serve with ice-cream. I didn’t have any, so it was served by itself. Serves 4.



I have never lived so close to- almost at the edge of- elements. 

My mother's house is built on a cliff overlooking a khadd or a ravine, which is a noisy little mountain rivulet all year round, noisiest during the monsoons. Right now, it is so noisy that if you stand at the veranda, you can't hear the home phone or bell ring. After a while, you get so used to the sound of the flowing water that it feels eerily quiet on the other side of the house. 

On the north east of the house are the towering snow-covered Dhauladhar Mountains. They appear so close that Aloka and I often fantasize about walking across and reaching the snow in a few hours. Of course, that's just fantasy- the mountains may be quite close as the crow flies, but to get to the nearest snow plateau, one needs to trek 10 km from Mcleodganj, which is another 15 km by road from where we are. The closeness to the mountains means that when it snows up there, the clouds invariably come down to the valley along with their damp coldness, which makes the temperature dip in record time. 

It rains frequently and heavily here. Unlike Singapore where it also rains frequently and heavily, there is a certain rawness to the rain, partly because there are no covered places or shelters. I am told that it rains non-stop for weeks in the rainy season, causing the roads, patched up hurriedly and poorly the previous year, break up all over again. In this continuous battle between the (corruption-ridden) efforts of man and nature, nature wins hands-down! 

Wind here picks up in no time and becomes a rolling storm that shatters open windows and bangs open doors. Last week, a howling night time storm blew away a big bag of Anakin's dog food. OK, the bag wasn't full, but it wasn't empty either. It also blew away a plastic bucket and mop a few nights later, much to my mom's chagrin.

On clear winter days, the sun is king. I chase it all day, moving my chair or rug every hour to get a glimpse of it as it makes its royal way through the skies. By now, I can tell time by just seeing which part of the backyard or the garden is receiving sunlight. I keep an eye on the bits and pieces of clouds that appear out of nowhere, silently urging them not to get too close to the sun.

Night falls suddenly. On clear nights, the moon looks bigger and closer, and the stars twinkle away to glory, literally. Starry nights are breath-taking, with strange patterns and details of constellations that are lost in city lights elsewhere. One bitterly cold and moonless night, mom took me outside to show me what looked like solar flares in the middle of the sky, golden and crackling, reminiscent of some science fiction movie. It was so surreal that my heart skipped a beat. It took us both a few minutes to realize that it was a forest fire on one of the towering mountain peak that was totally invisible in the darkness. 

After living in a city that has survived and flourished by conquering nature- reclaiming land, artificially cooling living spaces, keeping out rain, and taming forests- it is at once scary and exhilarating to live so close to the elements, exposed to them and almost totally in their control.

I feel vulnerable. I feel alive.