Sunday, October 26, 2008

Contradiction curry

Its festival time in India - we just lived through Dassera and Diwali is round the corner. A huge cultural value i hold (as do most Indians, i think) is "festival = food". So keeping in line with the festival spirit, we decided to have friends over for lunch today. And NOT keeping in line with the festival spirit, I have decided to cook for everyone. I have ACTUALLY decided a menu that can be cooked with the limited culinary skills i have. And i have the next 4 hours, 48 minutes and 5 seconds to accomplish this.

Now let me explain the ridiculousness of this situation. i live with my mother-in-law who is a fabulous cook. I have a helper in the house who cooks snacks for 100 odd kids @ my learning centre through the week. And today when I have 15 people coming over, I decided to make things that both these talented women do not make! It is something that only I can make. This fully knowing that:
1) my friends love my mom-in-law's cooking
2) cooking as an activity completely stresses me out

I still have to get a ladle on this - why does cooking stress me out some much? Well, since a whole bunch of things can be conveniently blamed on early childhood & parents in general, here's my explanation: My mom is great cook. And when i say great - i mean really really GREAT! She could whip up delicacies in minutes with least prep time. She would actually remember what our individual friends liked and then accordingly cook when they visited (in a family of three children with many hungry friends - that's no mean feat). It almost seemed as if she was in direct competition with all the restaurants and the famous Bombay street food vendors. Now maybe that has set up this 'impossible-to-attain' standard in my head. To make things worse, my siblings seem to be quite comfortable in the kitchen and discuss recipes like i discuss comic strips. So that's another source of added pressure.

Also, a part of me feels that there is a unstated rule in our societal psyche : "woman = good cook". So for someone with limited skills like me (and great chefs in the family), this is again a huge obstacle to cross.

So with all this 'खिचडी' cooking in my head - why on earth did i set up this situation today???? why? why? why? But this is not the most absurd event in my life. What is even more preposterous is - when i think of what i would have been doing in life had I not been working with children - the ONLY answer that comes up is running a cafe that serves Indian short-eats. A place which is a happy hangout for people. where everything on the menu costs Rs. 10. And everything is made by me. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!! No matter how hard i try, i can't seem to get this fantasy off my head. Why? Why? Why?

So this Sunday morning, as i need to get ready to cook food for the 15 friends (who i must say are taking a bigger risk than me), i am obviously stalling for time cooking up questions to see how i still got myself into this soup. And can see myself walking on egg-shells. Gosh! My goose is cooked!

and since i have also run out of the self-imposed 500-word blog limit (and all food related cliches), there is nothing much left to do but to get myself into the kitchen and start. Which reminds me, i yet have to buy some the most critical ingredients for my recipes. why? why? why?

PS Coming to think of food cliches - why on earth would something easy be called "like a piece of cake"?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

To Bee or not to Bee

Just finished researching on social behaviors of ants and bees as part of the lesson plan for next week's theme @ our learning centre. All this information is quite new & fascinating for me - teeny weeny insects focus on their roles in the colony and how nature blesses them with just the right physical structure. For instance, the way the hive is structured and the way honey bees organize themselves to ensure survival and sustenance is mind-blowing. And also how insects, through their abilities, then develop unique ways of supporting each other. Take the example of leaf cutter ants. When the worker ants are out there collecting leaves for the whole colony, they are at risk of being attacked by the phorid fly, a parasitic pest which lays eggs into the crevices of the worker ant's head. So the minims (the smallest ants in the colony) often “hitchhike” on leaf fragments to ward of any attack by the parasites. Your own personal body guard as you go about your work - how cool is that?!

So all this research got me thinking - what if people too came with specific structures that dictated what each one is meant to do? What if our bodies got us to focus on specific tasks and only through that connect with others and the community at large? A spot reserved on earth for everyone doing their thing. No conflicts, no politics at work, no one-upmanship. No scurrying like headless roaches tying to figure things out (yeah, that was another thing i researched on!)

But then again, think about it - aren't we too like that little ant or that busy bee? We may not have physical structures geared towards a particular job description in life. But there IS an internal programming that seems to be operating. Maybe not in our bodies but in our psyches. A voice that helps us understand what feels right and what doesn't. Increasingly i hear about people pursuing what appeals to them beyond their educational background or early career choices. Of people giving up everything they do, as if on a whim, to follow a dream. And of others who feel they are stuck in a rut but are asking the right questions to discover their path.

In the culture i grew up in - there were several external factors that determined what you chose as your profession. And early in life, the inner voice is hushed. But going by how i experience a whole of people specially in their 30s - there is hope. For the psyche finds a way to push through the responsibilities, job descriptions, politics and performance appraisals, to say out loud what it needs to. It can come to you in a book you read or a conversation with a friend or a mystical dream that lingers on or just tuning into yourself in your quiet time. And without any clear logic or discussion, our entire being seems to respond to an idea, a thought - "yes this is me!" or atleast what i meant to be! And going by personal experience - when we march in step with this inner voice, life does not get any easy, but it sure does get a whole lot meaningful!

So like those little bees, its nice to heed to the waggle dance your psyche does to direct you to whatever you are meant to be. Go on - ask the right questions, pause & listen, take that one tiny step - and viola, see the magic unfold!

Monday, October 20, 2008

In the company of friends

Of late, i have begun to notice that weekend nights with friends is getting a very different flavour and spirit. We once went through a phase of watching late night movies at a theatre close by. Seems like something we gave up eons ago - i guess a combination of us having kids of our own plus multiplexes getting overcrowded. Then there was a phase of Games night. That too seems to have died a natural death. Reason: we seem to know the taboo and pictionary cards like the back of our hands! or maybe it was just that the men lost so badly to the womenfolk each time - they just gave up!

So of late, weekend nights with with friends seems to be a time to just connect over conversations. The last few times we met, we just spoke and listened and then spoke some more over cups of coffee and tea. And what do we talk about? Nothing of great consequence but somewhere things that do matter to each of us. From interesting books being read to cooking holiday plans that never may take off. From struggles we face as young parents to how blessed we feel to be so aware in life. From absolute jerks we sometimes meet at work to how at times we end up doing dumber things with our time! Personal philosophies, musings, budding ideas, weird questions, stories, facts all making the rounds.

For me this is a feeling of comfort i can't quite express - a similar feeling of wearing that run-down t-shirt that is so in taters but needs to be held on to like a family heirloom! Its a time to speak without being judged, argue without worrying about offending, question without challenging and finally just being. Concerns that are general and yet not too general; feelings that are deep and yet not too deep! Its interesting to see how little snippets, opinions and thoughts all simmer and rise over the conversations to create a final shape and form that appeals to everyone. And then waiting for that last piece of conversation to run out in the wee hours of morning so we can finally go to bed.

How can facebook ever replace connections as these?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan!

Its almost been a year that I am travelling in Mumbai (Bombay to me - my city, my home!) and have been in for a few surprises. For everyone out there who thinks Bombay is uncaring and expensive - well think again!

i had to go to a friend's house in Colaba and took a local train to VT station (as u can see - i am sticking to the old names). I wasn't sure which is a better exit to take - so i approached a help desk manned by two cops and asked them the best way to get to Regal theatre. One of them immediately said (in Marathi) - just go to that bus stop there - Bus # 1 will take you straight to Regal. I said i'd like to take a cab. His immediate response: "Why do you want to waste money on cabs when there is a straight bus taking you there?"

Anyway, thanking him for his advice, i proceeded towards the taxi stand (i was running late :-/ , that's why). I asked the first cabbie in the line if he could take me to a street ahead of Regal. His response: " i will drop you until Regal. You can walk from there if the place is close." I wasn't surprised at this response - living in Bangalore, this is something i face everyday from the auto drivers there - something like - hey if your destination is where i "feel" like going today and you are willing to pay double the fare, hop on! So i told the cabbie, i don't want to walk, i'll take another cab that takes me to the street. That's when the cabbie told me that he was running a share cab. Which means he takes in four passengers all wanting to go roughly in the same direction. And that's why it's hard for him to drop me till the end point of my destination. Thus enlightened, i told him i was running late and would take a regular cab - he immediately responded, "madam why do you want to spend on a regular cab when you could get there at 1/4th the price? Anyway the place you need to do isn't all that far from Regal"

So people out there - Bombay cares, Bombay saves and Bombay helps you save. I struggle a lot more in Bangalore where public services assume EVERYONE living there has plush software jobs with high disposable incomes and will pay whatever it takes to avail of the public services. But Bombay knows that people have different lives, different stories and are working hard to earn their living. And no matter what the pace of life is out there, Bombay is willing to stop and listen and help. Bombay truly rocks!