Overlooked blessings

You hear so much negative news about India and its COVID situation. Let me share some positive facts that I have come across in just the past two days in my tiny circle of existence. I am using real names in this post.

  1. My best friend’s 16 year old daughter (Divya) called me to ask if I can cook and package food for 5-10 people to be distributed among hospital workers, funeral workers etc.  She and her mother are participating in the mission organized by someone they know. 
  2. I spoke to a friend (Sudha) in Mumbai today, and she said that someone or another in her apartment complex keeps testing positive, and the entire apartment community, irrespective of whether they know the family or not, pools in to supply food and essential supplies to the family with the covid patient.
  3. A friend’s (Radhakrishna) family tested positive in my community, and neighbours are supporting this family by providing everything they need.
  4. The university (IIT Madras), in the campus of which I live, provides food for any family with a member tested positive.  My next door neighbour (Bhavna) tested positive today and she was impressed and touched with the level of concern and assistance offered by the university.
  5. This above neighbour (Bhavna) says that the health care system by the State government (Tamil Nadu State) is fantastic – an hour after her tests came out positive (this morning),  the corporation sent an ambulance to pick her up from home to take her to a health centre in which she was given an X-ray test, the results of which were instantly sent to the doctor in attendance, and she was taken for a blood test, the results of which were obtained within one hour, and passed on to the doctor, and the doctor met her, asked about her health and living conditions, gave her a packet of medicines, and advised her to quarantine at home.  She said the process was methodical, people were courteous to her and everything was smooth sailing.
  6. Above friend also says that the state government has converted thousands of SUVs into ambulances to bring patients in for testing. She was taken in one of them. 
  7. Remember the friend in point number 3 – Radhakrishna?  They are a young couple with a 2-year-old son.  Both man and wife tested positive.  Since they were both sick, and could not take care of the boy at home, they were given accommodation in a room in a 3-star hotel, converted into a quarantine centre, with room service et al.  The husband, unfortunately, developed breathing problems and had to be transferred to a hospital, but the wife and child were well taken care of. She and the child are back home now, and he is better and has been shifted back to the hotel room for monitoring.  The wife says she is overwhelmed with all the support she’s been getting.

Yes, we are the country with vaccine shortage.  We are the country with corpses floating in the Ganga. We are the country with oxygen shortage related deaths.

But we are also the country with people who look out for each other.  It’s easy to forget this in the middle of all the negative cross talk.

Distraction

Understand that the rambling that follows is one way of getting my head out of the mess it seems steeped in.  So, if it sounds utterly first-world, it is.

When I am not muttering prayers while cooking, I am listening to podcasts of whatever takes my mind off the mess my country and my own head is in right now.  A few days back I heard a TED talk about how modern living has taken us too far from how nature intended us to live, in terms of posture.  For example, the talk said that the human body is not designed to sit on a chair.  I felt smug as I listened to it, because I don’t sit on a chair.  No, don’t get me wrong.  I sit on chairs all the time, but I don’t sit on it the way I am supposed to. I don’t let my leg down but bring it up to the seat and sit crosslegged (the suhasana posture) on the chair.  Any chair. When I was younger, my dad constantly chided me to “sit properly” on the chair, but the moment he was out of eyeshot, I’d fold up my legs.  I am superior – I am one with nature. 

Right.

To take it one step further, I convinced my in-house technician to set up my workspace on the floor so that I may sit the way nature intended me to, doing a thing that nature certainly hadn’t dreamed of – working on the computer. It’s extremely uncomfortable, but I don’t like the taste of humble pie.

A second part of the talk said that we are not meant to bend over to pick up something, but rather squat like children. 

I tried to recollect when I had squatted last – it was decades ago, when my father’s house had the squat type toilet when I was growing up. Then I left for abroad for my grad school, and since then I have not squatted.  No biggie.  I can get back to squatting anytime.

Right?  Wrong.

Since we are on lockdown and the maid does not come to wash clothes, I am washing clothes every day. Hitherto, I’d bend over and rinse the clothes, but now I decided to squat and do the same activity.  I’ve been squatting the past two days while washing clothes, and my glutes are killing me now.  I sheepishly confided to my family that I am not as flexible as I thought I was, and the better-half advised me to do a duckwalk to increase my flexibility. 

Utterly scandalising my teen age daughter, I duckwalked to and from the kitchen a couple of times (the look on the child’s face was priceless) and now, my feet, legs, thighs, lower back and tummy are screaming bloody murder.

“Pride is more important than posture”, my child begs, to stop the indignity by an almost 50-year woman she calls mom.  While the pain is certainly compulsive, that look on my child’s face gives me incentive to do this further.  Perhaps tomorrow, when I can feel my legs again, I will duck walk around the house when she is within range. 

**

This morning, as I stared into the refrigerator, I remembered the words of my writer-idol, Barb Taub. That woman is my twin soul – the one that took all the talent though.

Stay safe and sane folks.

Let’s carry the umbrella

I feel mentally exhausted.  I go about my daily chores, immerse myself in my work, kid around with the child and spend cheerful family time more than usual, but I can’t shake off the intense exhaustion I feel in my mind due to the latent stress. The worry is constant and intense both for the outside world and for my inner circle.   As much as I keep reminding myself that I am one of the fortunate ones in this world, and have no reason to complain, I feel the unrest in my mind. I try not to complain outside, and not put my worries and fears into words, partly because I can’t untangle the whole mess of intertwined issues inside my head to put into words, but also because I am in denial.

As I say my daily prayers, I sometimes feel like throwing a tantrum, but then I remember that faith can move mountains and when I pray for rain, I must carry an umbrella.

Everything passes.  May we find the strength within and without to live through these times and emerge stronger.

Stay safe and sane folks.

Painting – 4

This year is being relentlessly worrisome for me. Every four to five years, I go through a crisis in life, that appears larger than life but passes eventually – after all, isn’t that the maxim of life, that this too passes? This time it is not one crisis but three, all three taking a sizeable toll on my mental health. It almost feels like the universe is trying to assess my break point. I keep telling myself that this too shall pass, but as the days go by and there is no resolution in sight, I am tired. But hope is an eternal beast, thankfully.

Here’s the outcome of my current attempts at calming the overthinking mind. This is Krishna, as the blue colour may indicate. The word krishna means “dark” – this god from Hindu mythology is supposed to be blue black, which later became blue. Ram, the other avatar of Vishnu is considered to be green black, and now we even have a shade of green named “Ramar pachai” – or Ram green.

And for context – Krishna was a makhan chor – stealer of butter. Fellow had a butter fetish and apparently broke pots of butter in the dairy community in which he grew, for his daily fix.

That’s part of Hinduism 101 for you.

Blast from the past -3

Food in Mythology

April 11, 2011

Hinduism is built on mythology. It is, also, as we already saw, in cahoots with food. Think of any Hindu festival, and you think of some special food item. Is it little wonder that many of our mythological stories have a gastronomic twist to them?

Let us begin, as custom demands, with Pillayar (Aka Ganesh, Vinayak etc.). Down South, we tell our kids this endearing story of Pillayar and his brother Murugan fighting over a Mango. Unable to handle sibling squabble, the Father, sets up a race to circumnavigate the world, the winner being awarded the “Gnana Pazam”. While Murugan mounts his peacock for his version of Around the World in Eighty Days or less, the older brother chooses to circumnavigate (!) his parents, the personification of the entire Universe, and thus wins the fruit, much to the chagrin of the younger one. Murugan retires to a hillock in a huff, with nothing but a loin cloth on him, and is pacified by Auvayar paati – a story popularized by K.B. Sundaramabal with her bronze voiced “Pazam Neeyappa“, in the 1965 blockbuster – Thiruvilayadal.

Lord Ganesha is associated with another food story. Kubera, lord of wealth, arrogant of his riches, offers to feed Lord Ganesha – what is one meal to a small boy to the richest person in the universe? But the little elephant headed boy eats and eats until there is no food left, and threatens to eat Kubera who runs to Lord Shiva for protection. Ganesha’s hunger is finally appeased by a handfull of roasted grains, given with love.

Lord Krishna’s story is peppered with food – pun unintended. The little mischief monger is known for his butter eating propensity (cholesterol does not affect divinity), immortalized in innumerable songs and verses over the ages.

Of course, the guy does not stop with butter alone. Dust is just as delicious as butter. Other references of food in the Bhagavatham include His feast at the abode of a “devanadiyaal” (prostitute) and His meal at Vidhura’s house, the latter taken over completely by Bhakthi, mistakenly offering the Lord the banana peel instead of the fruit, and the Lord accepting the peel with love. There is also the tale of the Draupathi’s Akshayapatram , a vessel that produces unlimited food until the moment it is washed for the day. Story goes that Sage Durvasa, known for his quick temper, visits them AFTER the vessel is washed and the desperate Draupati seeks Krishna’s help. Krishna finds a single leaf of spinach in the vessel that was not washed off propertly (my maid must have worked for Draupathi) and eats it – this single leaf fills the stomach of not just Durvasa but all the world and saves Draupathi and her clan from sure-curse.

Down South, we have the mythology of Meenakshi Kalyanam, where Gatothkaja eats up all the food made for the wedding, and the resulting thirst is only quenched when Lord Sundereswarar creates the river Vaigai that still flows in Madurai. “Kalyana Samayal Saadam” was quite a hit in 1957.

There is the story of Adi Shankara, seeking food at the house of a poor woman, who, on dwadeshi day, has nothing to offer but an over-ripe gooseberry. Touched by the generosity of the poor woman, Adi Shankara sings the Kanakadhaara stotram, that causes golden amla to rain on the woman [Image source].

What better way to end this post than with a story from the Ramayana, considering it is Sri Ramanavami tomorrow? Rama and Lakshmana arrive at the ashram of Mathanga rishi during their search for Sita, where a very osteoporotic old woman, Shabari has been waiting for years to get a glimpse of her Lord before her end. Wishing to serve her Lord, the sweetest of fruits, she bites every fruit to check for its ripeness before offering them to Rama [Image source]*.

With that, let us make and enjoy paanagam, neer mor and kosumalli for Sriramanavami tomorrow.
Perhaps G will post recipes soon.

*Edited to add: Those were pre-Covid times.

Blast from the past – 2

The Paste

July 22, 2012

Lord Brahma was deep in thought.  He had a piece of human clay (Let’s call it “G” for convenience).  What to mould?  Madame Curie had been done already.  Sarojini Naidu, over.  Agatha Christie, over.  Jhansi Rani, finished.  Simran, Jyothica, Madhuri Dixit – still around.

Suddenly, another piece of  clay (“L” for convenience) disturbed his reverie.  “What do YOU want” asked the Lord.  “Oh Lord”, said L,  “I need a special gift when I am born”.  Fast losing His patience, the Lord thundered “What is it?”.  The timid clay whispered “Lord, anything I cook must be tasty”.  Her question gave Brahma an idea – “why don’t I make G a fabulous cook?” he thought to himself.  In his excitement, he misheard L’s request and in the hurry to get back to moulding G, He granted L her wish – “Alright alright…I grant you the boon that anything you cook on earth will be pasty“.

Years passed.  G grew up to make Gobi Manchurian and Chinese fried rice when she was not in the mood to cook.  L grew up in another town, making pastes in her kitchen, as blessed. As destiny would have it, G and L met in their third decade of existence and became friends.  Like the crow who got stoned by passers-by for trying to mimic her friend the cuckoo, L hoped to be inspired by G  in the kitchen.  Despite the boon.

So one day, G posted a recipe for Cabbage Rice.  Not knowing what else to make, L decided to get adventurous, despite her established history of pastifying food that were not meant to be pastified.  G assured her that “soak the rice for half an hour and fry nicely along with the vegetables” will make it un-mushy, forgetting that it was L she is talking to.

L, the recipient of the special boon from Lord Brahma.

So, with that promise, L followed the recipe, word for word. After two whistles, the cooker opened to exhibit rice, uncooked and separate from its water, like the water on a lotus leaf.  Feeling sorry for the family, L let it cook for four more whistles.

Brahma had the last laugh.

Blast from the past

In the course of a websearch for some information, I landed on a cookery blog that my friend used to have nearly a decade ago, in which I contributed snippets now and then.  My posts, though juvenile now, were pretty entertaining, if I say so myself.  Here’s one that I had titled “Kitchen tales”.

Kitchen Tales

May 03, 2012 in Cookalogue

You know how people have family rituals?   Like the mandatory Friday night movie session, the Saturday morning oil bath, the Christmas baking, the Diwali laegiam.  That kind !

There is one family ritual that one particular family is subjected to – the monthly cleansing of the kitchen (strangely coinciding with the PMS cycle of the mistress of the house, that prompts thoughts of “if the kitchen gets any dirtier than this, I’ll kill someone”).  Usually the kitchen cleaning routine involves changing the paper lining on all shelves, discarding food items that have developed sense organs, and scrubbing the counter top and sinks of their thriving micro-and not-so-micro ecosystem.    The microcosm includes a stray lizard (which the lady does not mind, really, they are not very threatening) and an odd cockroach or two, that she minds terribly, which are promptly smashed to pulp.

Usually, that is.

Yesterday’s kitchen cleaning was different.  Of course, the papers were changed, discolourised food items discarded, the counters scrubbed etc.   What was strange was the absence of living matter apart from the mistress of the kitchen and her helper lady. Where is that stray lizard?  Where are those odd cockroaches?

The maid, with a rare insight that only maids can have, caught hold of the insect repellent spray (“HIT”), and like 007 and his licence to kill, directed it against the no-man’s land beneath the sink.  Soon, one cockroach fell out. Get the slipper.  Smash.  Then another. Smash again.  One more. Smash.  And then it happened.  An  avalanche.  About hundred roaches succumbed to the joint forces of HIT and gravity and scurried hither thither, unmindful of the weird noise that emanated from the whereabouts of the woman’s vocal chords.

The single slipper being sadly inadequate for defense operations, the lady of the house sought refuge in the broom stick. Brandishing the palm-vein broom in one hand and the soft-broom on the other, like Kali Ma, the woman thrashed the floor wildly, while the maid resorted to more modern chemical warfare, spraying the obnoxious liquid specifically around her mistress’s nose, as though the chemical would find way through her body into the weapons.



You think cockroaches, those tiny little living beings, are harmless little creatures?  Those tiny little creatures kept two fully-grown women brandishing deadly broomsticks, on their feet, doing acrobatics for the next two hours, as the critters sprinted around, under the newly changed papers, over the freshly cleaned counters, and even out of the battle area (not fair) into the bedroom, the office room, and the living room before you could say “Periplanata Americana”.  And so the next few hours were spent smashing cockroaches, having their white gut spill out, and their broken compound limbs littering the entire house, the house smelling of the unique cockroach perfume you wouldn’t get in Paris for a million dollars.

This happened yesterday.  And no, the war isn’t over.  When least expected, one single roach peeks out of an unexpected corner it chose to hide like a coward during the war yesterday.  So, the woman has been walking around the house wearing the slipper on her palm, on the ready.

There must be a hell for killers, and the lady of the house has guaranteed her place there.  At least she knows where she is going after her life on earth, plagued by roaches, ends.   It can’t be much worse than the kitchen,can it?

Pat Cummins

I was a peeved at a national newspaper’s recent stance to not report on IPL (the league games of our national religion – Cricket).  I am not a follower of cricket (or any spectator sport for that matter), but this holier-than-thou stance of the newspaper irked me – their logic was that the IPL is a disgustingly commercial venture, and when the country is reeling under the pandemic, it is disgusting to support it.  It would have been alright, had the same front page carrying this announcement not also carried a quarter page advertisement for a toothpaste with an impossibly cheerful kid grinning through unnaturally white teeth.  Pot-Kettle?

My argument in support of the IPL is this.  Yes, it is a money-spinner, but so is every business. The matches are being held without real-life audience, so, it’s not going to be a super spreader.  Besides the same newspaper that now sticks its nose up in the air at IPL, painstakingly covered the election rallies, which led to this mess in the first case.  Hypocrisy, is thy name IE?  Also, the three hours that it is broadcast on television are three hours that keep youngsters off the road congregating, so they are, in fact promoting stay-at-home culture.

Here’s my final argument. Pat Cummins, an Australian cricketer playing for the IPL has donated $50000 to PM Cares Relief Fund for oxygen supplies to India.  Fifty thousand dollars is a huge amount for an individual to part with for a country that is not even his.  Even large large rich countries have to be dragged kicking and screaming to help people in need – human memory is poor- India had shipped 50 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine to the United States following a request by then US President, when we were not doing as badly as them. And Indians who’ve made their fortunes abroad commit to things like “$15 million in free advertising for public health information campaigns”, seriously? We need oxygen. We need vaccines. We need hospital beds. 15 million for campaign?

But politics aside.  Thank you, Mr. Cummins.  I do not follow cricket.  I did not know who you were until now, but you’ll henceforth forever be in my gratitude list.   Your gesture has made a difference.



Tall tails

The kid has been watching the tale of the nine-tailed (fox).

Kid:  These Korean guys are so good looking. Lee Yeon is cool, but Lee Rang has a Vibe… see (shows me picture on computer). So Lee Yeon is the nine-tailed fox, and Lee Rang is half human half fox,

Me: So, Lee Rang has four and a half tails?

Kid:  Not amusing.  Anyway, Lee Rang is Lee Yeon’s half brother. He is also kind of villain

Me: Is he anything full? Half fox, half human, half brother, half-villain?

Kid:  Shut up and listen.  He has emotional issues.

Me:  No kidding.  Who wouldn’t with four and a half tails?

Kid:  Will you stop it with the four and a half tails? He does NOT  have four and a half tails.

Me:  Neither should he have nine.  He wouldn’t be able to stand because his center of gravity would be messed up.

Kid: Aaand we are done here.