Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Sour" childhood friends!!!

Good morning blogdosts!!! Oh, what a beautiful Saturday morning it is here, in VA. Feels like Spring. I know, it's been a long time. I missed this spot too! The shop has not been able to repair my computer. I am waiting for an answer from them to buy a new one. It was my elder son's B'day yesterday. Baked a chocolate cake for him. (the kid can eat anything made of chocolate!). The cake was edible. For a non baker this is an achievement! I was not planning to share this on the blog. So, please ignore the poor presentation. This is not a fancy cake either. He loved it and that's what matters. Correct? Posting a pic.

He wrote something on the cake. It was his idea. If you can read it and tell me what he wrote and what he  used to write it, then please leave me a comment. Even if you get 1 out of the 2 questions correct, it's good enough:). I will mention you in my next blog. Consider it my motivation to write again! Thanks in advance!!!
Mention Tamarind (imli) and I am sure you start to salivate. Such is the power of sour taste! As kids it was fun to eat things like imli (pic. 1), bimbul (don't know the English name for it. See pic. 2 below), gooseberry (pic 3), lemons, raw mangoes, (you all know what lemons and mangoes look like, so no pics.) etc.

Aah! the title of this post misled you. Didn't it? Anyway, these fruits were all easily available, as people grew them in their gardens. Most naughty kids would jump compounds and go into their neighbor's house to steal these sour beauties. Little did we know then, that these fruits are a good source of Vitamin C and have great health benefits. It was easier on the teeth then. But now, the mere thought of sour things, is a stimulus that brings pain to my teeth. In addition, these foods are highly acidic and react negatively with stomach acids causing pain in the stomach. Sure shot sign of aging he he. The kids of today, know only about sour candies wrapped in fancy paper. So sad. It is believed that girls like to eat sour things more than boys. Not sure how much truth is in that statement. Women do crave for sour things during pregnancy and I can vouch for that. I craved raw mango "pachhadi" when I was pregnant with my second son. The sour fruits like tamarind and bimbul have culinary uses too! My Mom uses these sour fruits in her daily cooking. Somehow, it makes all her dishes just right. I think the sour balances all the strong flavors of all the other spices in the dish. It is very useful if you are having gastric or digestive problems. These days we can find ready made pulp of most of these fruits sealed nicely into very attractive jars. The preservative in them is not so attractive. Of course, it can be discounted when you compare the convenience. The fruit pulp of imli, is used to polish brass pots that have collected mold. Wonder what life would have been without the sour taste. At this age, I do not miss it.   Do you?

Monday, January 16, 2012

A dream vacation in a dream house!

Namaskar blogdosts! The Bachchan's played host to THE Oprah Winfrey. That's nice. Ash shares a friendship with Oprah which dates back to 2005. Oprah is in India to shoot for her new show, the next chapter. What was amusing to me, was the news that, Oprah is going to visit the Dharavi slums. I guess, the movie Slumdog millionaire has raised the curiosity. Well, whatever the reason, I hope it will all be good for India. Had a very relaxed 3 day weekend. Tried a "full body blast" class at the Gym. It was such a hard class. I didn't think that I could complete it.

Visiting parents in India, is the BEST vacation that I could ask for. I used to visit them once in 3 years for the longest time. But now, since I feel that they are getting older, I visit them more frequently. The house in the pics. above is my parents house. My parents worked hard throughout their lives to build this dream house of theirs. And what a house it is! People pay hundreds of dollars to have a vacation in a resort. Living in my parents house feels just like living in a resort. The house is located in a prime area, very close to Udupi on one side and Manipal on the other. There is a bus stop very close to the house with a very high frequency of city buses and service buses. The rickshaw stand is also close by. Local shops sell anything from branded clothes, to vegetables, to groceries, etc. From the terrace of the house, we can see greenery all around. We can also see the beach. It makes for a great view. Sitting on the benches that my parents thoughtfully constructed, one can feel completely at peace. I like to sit on the seats, and just watch the serene environment. The smoke from the chimney, the cows grazing, the people coming back home from their respective jobs, the milkman, the postman, the school kids, a very enjoyable scene that we just cannot see here in the US. Listening to the birds chirping, dogs barking and the whistles of the pressure cooker from the neighbor's houses, cooking dinner, feels like music to the ears. Nice theme for a documentary on life in India. What say? The rooftop of the house is made of clay tiles, which keeps the house very cool during scorching hot summers. This house gives the rural experience in an urban area, which to me a perfect combination! It has all the modern amenities of today. My mom has a very green thumb. Her garden is spectacular (this is topic of a whole new post). She has so many varieties of flowers and fruits in her garden that it is the envy of all the neighbors. The house is very close to businesses, yet far from the pollution and noise. Proximity to the famous Kasturba Medical hospital is a blessing for my parents during their old days. So, where is my next vacation going to be? No points for guessing:)

Friday, January 13, 2012

The "Dhaba" - home away from home

Happy Sankranti folks! It's also Friday the 13th. So far so good. My computer crashed 2 days ago. Has not been fixed yet. Using my older son, Sanil's laptop now. He parted with it after a long argument. Teenagers! He is a nice kid though. Very respectful and organised. I was craving for some nice home cooked food tonight. Hence, I thought I would write a post about the warm and cozy "Dhaba".

India is well connected by not so well maintained roads. In Northern India, the friendly eatery joints called Dhaba’s have evolved along the National Highways.  Strategically placed, these Dhabas  are very easily accessible. Brightly lit with blubs and neon signs, the Dhabas are hard to miss at night too!  They are very well equipped with chairs and tables which are placed on the outside of the Dhaba, so, weary passengers can enjoy the beautiful green and yellow colored fields that the Dhaba is surrounded by while they are waiting for their perfectly satisfying meal. For a bollywood fan like me, it is a treat for the eyes, since I could easily relate to all Yash Chopra movies.  For a core South Indian that enjoys the Masala Dosa and filter coffee tradition, entering a Dhaba was a whole new experience. The Dhaba welcomes you with a mixture of pleasant and unpleasant aromas.  A perfect ambiance is created by sounds in the Dhaba environment – the clattering of spoons and plates, the clapping as the servers roll out the parata (bread) dough in between their palms, the mooing of healthy cows, the chirping of birds, the Punjabi language that the servers are talking in and above all the distinct sound of old hindi songs playing in the background .  I couldn’t help but notice the hot clay oven called tandoor. The server was skillfully placing the paratas (bread) using a piece of cloth into the hot tandoor. His impeccable timing to take the parata out of the tandoor without letting it burn was admirable. As I was dodging the vulgar gaze of the older men surrounding a make shift fireplace (see pic), an under aged server asked me to take a seat. Feeling very sad about the situation and taking mental notes, to one day, try and make a difference about poverty in India, I willing took the seat being offered. The little boy then brought a poorly written menu in English, along with a plate of “achaar” (pickle),  that god knows was how old. The Dhabas mostly boast of this highly potent drink called chai (tea) made of fresh milk, tea leaves , ginger and oodles of sugar. One cannot leave a Dhaba without trying this beverage that can be consumed any number of times and at any hour of the day. I enjoyed watching the making of the tea. The tea is brought to a boil and allowed to boil till it becomes very thick. The tea is then poured through a sieve, from a height of 3 feet or so, into a cup made of glass. This tea is impossible to reproduce at home. Like the tea, the Dhabas also offer Paratas (breads) of various types soaked in butter.  Droooool! Playing glutton is easy. I left the Dhaba after paying the reasonable bill of Rs. 40.00 (close to 0.90 cents) with the taste of saunf (fennel seeds) in my mouth which the Dhaba gives as a mouth freshener when you leave. With so much grease, and yummy food, how do the Punjabis stay healthy, I wonder. I could not eat this type of food on an everyday basis in South India, however, I must say, the weather conditions in the North allowed me to digest all this food and ask for more. Now I understand how different parts of the world have different cuisines.  It is not by taste, but more by necessity. Punjab, is a state with abundance of water and land. It is easier to grow foods like wheat and rice in their fields.  God has created the world very thoughtfully.  For a foodie, a visit to a Dhaba is a must!

Monday, January 09, 2012

"Bhaan" - big bellied pot

Good evening friends! It snowed here today. Was so divine. Reminded me of the movie Black. Amitabh and Rani on the bench. Posting the link so all of you can relate. I was listening to the song "Ishq Sufiyana' the whole time. Made for a romantic commute to say the least.

Imagine a life without modern facilities for a nice hot shower after a rough day. It would be miserable wouldn't it? But people in the past did not sit tight. They were creative. They made maximum use of the materials that they found around them to make their lives comfortable. They made the Bhaan to boil water. Now, Bhaan is a konkani word for a big bellied pot. In fact, people with big stomachs are often teased by calling them Bhaanas. The Bhaan is buried in cement half way. The cement square on which the Bhaan is mounted has an opening at the bottom. Firewood found in the backyard is collected and placed inside the opening and lit with fire. This boils the water. Believe it or not, we still have a Bhaan in my parents house. See below for pics.

We had this ever since I was born. The Bhaan comes with a tappil which means a mug. (The small golden mug by the side in the pic.) The tappil is used to take water from  the Bhaan and pour it on the body for a bath. I love taking a bath this way. My Mom calls me balanti which means a brand new Mom. Normally a balanti is given a very hot oil bath till all the hot water from the Bhaan is over. This is to make sure that the Mom is very tired and goes to sleep and get the well deserved rest. It is also believed that the hot bath and the massage will increase the milk in the mothers breasts, so the baby can be well fed. Whenever, I visit my parents, my Mom makes sure that the Bhaan is ready for me. I associate the Bhaan with the diwali festival. On the first day of diwali, Trayodashi, my Mom decorates the Bhaan with flowers and rangoli. On the second day of diwali, Narakachaturdhashi, when Lord Krishna killed Narakasura, Mom fills the Bhaan up to the brim with water and decorates the entire bathroom with rangoli. She writes "Narakasuranthakaya Namah" (end of Narakasura) on the wall. After this, my Dad does a Puja to the Bhaan. The entire family then has a hot oil bath. Awww, I really miss those traditions. I wish my children could experience it. Since they are born here, they cannot relate to these things. Maybe when they grow up, they will want to know more about our culture. I can only hope.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Caw caw says the ----?

Namaskar blogdosts. Watched the grand finale of Bigg Boss 5. Very disappointed! If entertainment was the USP of the show, then either Sid or Mahek deserved to win. Sky kept the show going, but was very hurtful in the process. So, Sid, in my opinion, should have been the winner. Other than that, today was a family day. Morning was spent with the kids, helping them with homework and afternoon, cleaning house as it had been neglected for sometime now. Just came back after a sumptuous dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I ate the chicken soup and salad. Trying the diet thing again. Sigh!
On our trip throughout India, my cousin who travelled with me and enjoyed photography had an eye for birds. Below you will see some of the pictures of the birds that he clicked.

However, today's post is about a very common bird that is found everywhere. I heard that this bird, that is connected with many superstitious beliefs in the minds of the Hindus, might be listed as endangered species sometime soon. Yes, I am talking about the ugly bird called crow.

This is a picture of a crow sitting on the roof of my In laws house in Mangalore. That day we were having a Navagraha homa in our house and we were offering the food cooked, to the crow as it is believed that one of our ancestors comes in the form of crow on auspicious occasions. If the crow eats the food, it means that the homa was performed successfully without any defects. However, that day, it was very difficult for us to spot a crow. Many of us tried cawing like the crow to catch it's attention, only to make a fool of ourselves in front of nosey (now laughing) neighbors. My Mother In law made the final call. She left the food on a banana leaf on the compound wall for the crow to come at it's time and enjoy the food. Sure enough, as soon as we left, the crow in the picture came by to eat the food. We were so glad for 2 reasons. One, we felt, now that the crow has eaten, we were blessed by our ancestor and the homa was done satisfactorily and two, we could now eat! The crow has a very harsh voice. It is very unpleasant to the ears. Crows begins to caw just at dawn. This jet black bird is often associated with bad luck.. Shani or Saturn, the god of ill luck, rides upon the crow. The cawing of a crow at mid-day is said to foretell evil. Thus, to the Hindus this bird is very sacred in spite of it's harsh voice, ugly shape and color. A crow is also know to be the most cunning and clever bird. We all have heard the popular pnachantantra story "The thirsty crow" that demonstrated the intelligence of the crow. A thirsty crow sees a pitcher of water. Unfortunately, the water is at the very bottom of the narrow mouthed pitcher. The crow cleverly throws pebbles into the pitcher that brings the level of the water to the top of the pitcher and quenches it's thirst. Not only is the crow sacred to the Hindus, it also acts as a scavenger in nature. It eats almost anything. So, please try and save crows. We need them.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Ringa ringaa ringaree

Hello friends! I hope some of you missed me. Had gone home for the holidays. The Mughal architecture, foggy mornings, cold weather, dhabas, adrak chai of North India, the gopurams, temples, hot weather, filter coffee of South India, and above all the pampering by parents, relatives and friends. I captured it all on camera. My favorite companion the Nikon 21X. Had a good first day at work after the break.

With India's booming economy, it's no surprise that the common man can afford luxuries like mobile phones. From businessmen, to students, to rikshawalas to conductors, they ALL carry mobiles and use them rather obnoxiously. Amidst all the confusion of the traffic, one cannot help but hear all kinds of ring tones that go off simultaneously and contribute to the noise pollution during a rush hour commute. It is surprising to me how one can remain sane by the end of the day. Since, I was a tourist, I had the time and patience to observe the people who talk on the phone. People mostly picked movie songs as their ring tones. Any guesses on the most popular ring tone for 2011? You bet, "Kolaveri Di" it was!  By the end of my trip, I was sick of that song.  I could easily guess a person's age just by listening to his/her ring tone. "Kolaveri di" belonged to students, Hindustani classical was picked by middle aged people, the bollywood item numbers were preferred by masses of age group 15-40 and the sahastranamas were popular with the early morning south Indian commuters ranging from 15-75. Not surprisingly bollywood too lately cashed on the ring tone concept by using it as a signature comedy act in the movie Singham. Everytime this character's (who played the heroine's father) phone rang to the song of "Dinka Chika". Of course the phone rang at the oddest moment, making the scene funny. Public gets influenced by this. Result - nuisance to the ears for people like me, but bliss to the people who use mobiles and enjoy the ring tones on a daily basis.