A Symphony of Sorts

In the initial years of our marriage, we lived in a very small apartment. While the living room, one bedroom and kitchen apartment was just sufficient for our small family of three, it was quite a squeeze when we had guests who stayed over.

One such episode stands out very clearly in my memory. My parents-in-law were visiting us and while they were here my husband’s uncle and aunt also decided to come over and spend a couple of days with us. My three-year old was delighted at the idea of having two sets of grandparents pampering him, but the question in my husband’s and my mind was how to accommodate four extra adults in our compact apartment? My neighbour who was planning to be out-of-town during that exact period, generously offered her apartment for us to use during her absence.

Just when we were relieved that we had a solution to our problem, my husband’s cousin called to say that since his parents were going to be visiting us, he and his family too would drop in for a day. Which meant that there were going to be eleven people in a house meant for three!! And though it was just a question of a night, we were wondering how we were going to manage.

The day arrived. Our guests arrived. And knowing that there was a gathering, two more of my husband’s cousins also dropped in. The day passed in a flurry of eating, chattering away and lots of laughter and guffaws. By late evening all were in high spirits. By then we were thirteen of us in the house and I knew I had no option but to take up my neighbour’s offer of using her apartment to accommodate a few of us for the night.The question was who? When I made the suggestion, no one volunteered to go next door to sleep. Actually no one wanted to shift from our home and miss the fun. In the end everyone was in consensus that they would adjust in the space available and all would sleep in our apartment. I brought in mattresses from my neighbour’s apartment and the living room was turned into a dormitory. One cousin and his family took over the single bedroom. That left nine of us in the living room. The space was arranged very comfortably and soon everyone settled down to sleep.

Lights were turned out. Voices died down to whispers and soon all that could be heard was breathing. I too was ready to turn in, as I had to wake up early the next morning to go to work. What I had forgotten was that I was about to go to sleep in a room full of snorers. And just when I was about to fall asleep, began the first of the snores. I could ignore that. But within a few minutes I could hear another person begin to snore. And though I couldn’t really figure out who the snorers were in the dark, within a few minutes there were at least six people snoring in that room. Every snorer had a different pitch and a different rhythm. And it felt as if there was an unseen conductor managing the whole sequence. When there was a gap in one person’s snore, another took off from there. And soon there was this whole synchronised feel to the half a dozen people snoring.

I tried my best to ignore the orchestra around me and wondered at the other non-snorers sleeping peacefully through the whole performance. But in vain. I think I must have spent most of the night tossing and turning, trying to shut out the sounds of snoring, with a pillow on my ear. At some point I must have fallen asleep out of sheer tiredness.

The next morning found me bleary eyed, but with no choice but to go to work. No one at home really believed me when I described how I had passed the night. But then how many snorers accept that they snore?

A Deeper Connect

I have immense faith in God. Only that I am not very ritualistic. And I seldom visit a temple. Maybe once in a couple of years,I feel this strong urge to enter a temple and that is the day I don’t ignore that call. I believe that if one believes in God, one can see it in every creation. And again,I also think that the way one decides to practice religion is a very personal choice.

Few months back some of my family members decided to go to a famous temple. And though initially I wasn’t too keen to accompany everyone, when the day arrived I decided to go along.

It was a crowded day at the temple, and we were jostled along, with everyone eager to have a glimpse of the deity in the inner sanctum. Once we were inside, and I folded my palms to pray, I could feel someone tapping my shoulder, urging me to offer my prayers quickly. The minutes inside the temple passed in a blur. On my way back home when I tried to recollect my moments inside, all I could remember was the crowd and the urgency of the people around me to complete darshan. I realised that when I had bowed in front of the deity I couldn’t even think what I should pray for or how to form my thanksgiving. I came back with a feeling of incompleteness.

150470_10151824475084466_1410514666_nA few weeks after that experience I happened to go to Goa for a short trip with my family. The cottage we occupied was right on the beach and every morning before breakfast I walked along the shore. One such day, as I stood gazing out at the sea, with the waves lapping at my feet, I felt such a strong connection with nature, such a strong sense of contentment that all I was aware of in those few minutes was the sea in front of me, the sound of the waves and the breeze caressing my face. I shut my eyes and send out a heartfelt thanks.

To me that was my true prayer. When I could connect with all my heart. And that is what I would like to teach my children. That one can pray anywhere, as long as they are there hundred percent,in mind and spirit.

From Glass to Glass

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My parents used to socialize a lot and I have been part of many Sunday lunches. My parents’ friends, their spouse and off-spring gathered in any one person’s house and while we children got engrossed in board games or outdoor games depending on the weather, the parents usually sat and chatted with a drink. Lunch was usually a potluck affair and we looked forward to the surprises that each casserole held.

On some days the parents decided to play card games. As most of them had crossed forty, they were using reading glasses by then. And it was inevitable that few of them forgot their reading glasses at home. But then…..the advantage of reading glasses is that most of the time any reading glass does! And so there used to be a ‘share a reading glass’ situation very often.

My mind pulled out that memory from a far corner very recently. I have been using spectacles since high school. I needed them for clarity so didn’t need to wear them all the time and as the years progressed I gradually moved on to bifocals. Recently my husband also started wearing reading glasses.

Last Sunday as we lazed with our Sunday newspapers and cup of tea, I realized that I had forgotten my glasses on the counter. Feeling too lazy to get up and get them, I leant over and plucked my husband’s reading glasses to read a section of the newspaper. And while I read, he sipped his tea and gazed out of the window. And soon enough asked for his glasses. This exchange went on for quite a while. But neither of us bothered to get up and fetch my glasses.

In those few minutes, a plethora of emotions coursed through my mind. Nostalgia, thinking of my parents’ friends, many of whom are no more. A quiet giggle within, at the thought of my husband of twenty years and I having reached a point together when we could share reading glasses. And a sense of romance. Yes, romance, at the thought that we had walked together long enough to share a pair of glasses. It’s the oddest thoughts which cross our minds sometime.

Fishy Tales

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Today I cooked bhetki (Barramundi or Asian Seabass) in gravy of mustard paste (shorshe baataa). A very traditional fish preparation from the state of Bengal, this dish is a popular one not only amongst the Bengalis but also a cultivated taste for people from other states who relish fish. This spicy preparation is best complemented by rice and green chillies.

The key to the perfect mustard paste is to make it by hand and not in an electric grinder. The shil nora (grinding stone) is still seen in most Bengali households and I remember it as a permanent fixture next to my mother’s gas stove. She used to quickly grind the masala and add it to the dish cooking on the gas. On a day when she was running late and decided to add ready-to-use powdered condiments, we could immediately detect a change in the taste of the meal. Anyone who has tasted dishes with freshly ground condiments will know what I mean when I say that.

 I have a shil nora at home, which I use for certain dishes. Though I must confess that I too have fallen prey to the electric grinder and the ready-to-use condiment powders. But for dishes like the shorshe baataa I always make it a point to use the traditional method.

20150920_223824-1   Shorshe baataa is made from mustard seeds, turmeric powder, green chilies, and a pinch of salt. Mustard when not handled properly has the tendency to turn bitter and thus is the make or break factor of the dish. The trick is to briskly grind the mixture into a fine paste.

When I learnt to cook this particular dish, my teacher (a friend and not my mother) passed on a secret to getting the taste just right. She said that to ensure that the rhythm of my arms remained brisk and strong, I was to think of my mother-in-law and the way she managed to get my hackles up. And the anger/ irritation, which coursed through my mind with those thoughts, would fuel the grinding of the mustard paste. And the briskness would also ensure that the mustard wouldn’t taste bitter.

When she saw my startled expression, she had a good laugh and enlightened me that this was a story passed on from generation to generation. And even though I really don’t have much to be upset about with my mother-in-law, each time I grind the mustard paste, I always get this big smile on my face when I recall the ‘secret’ of a good paste.

Let them be..

Many a time I have been told by other moms that they find me a very relaxed and ‘chilled’ mom. Probably because they have never seen me hyperventilating over low grades, messy rooms, having 6 energetic boys over for a play date in our apartment or a dozen pre-teen girls for a party.

Even my 17 year olds friends find me ‘cool’. Their measuring scale being the fact that I tolerate them settling in our living room to have a go at the play station. Where my only acknowledgement of the din they create is to shut the door to my room to shut out the deafening throb of the roaring machine guns in the games.

But this calmness doesn’t come from the fact that I am a calm person no matter what, but because generally when it comes to children and young adults, I like to let them be. It is their age and privilege to be noisy, exuberant and messy. Of course there comes a day when I can’t stand any of it and yell a lot but most days I am alright with it.

When I look back I think the only days when I have had mini panic attacks regarding their school activities, academic and otherwise, is whenever I have visited their school to pick them up. My children have always travelled to and from school via the school bus. On rare occasions I used to go and pick them up. This entailed my waiting at the school gates with the other mothers. Most of them were the regulars. Mothers who picked up their children from school daily. So they met and swapped notes daily on the progress of their wards. As an observer and an eavesdropper it looked to me more like a ‘my kid is smarter than yours’ competition than just simple information swapping.

Mothers sighed over how their child was getting an A and not an A+, how the child wanted to do six different after-school activities and excel at them. And underneath all the clucking and sighs and head shaking was this message which  screamed out, “See!My child is actually doing so much.” After watching this for 15 minutes or so was enough to give me chills. For the next two days I would bite my nails and wonder if I was a good mom. What if I had missed some bus and was not taking my child to the required number of after school classes? My palpitating heart settled down only after a good 48 hours or so.

While it is very necessary to boost our children’s confidence and encourage them to exploit their natural talents to the maximum, it’s also so necessary to let them be….