Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Nostalgia is a strange play-mate.. you never know when it is going to accost you and insist on taking you down memory lane...
Most of the times you can anticipate its arrival -
* When its festival time in India (almost every month, you might say ! ) and you are at work, in a different country , in a different time zone, yearning to be with friends and family who are merrily celebrating
* When you talk to your parents on the phone
* When you get together with friends to celebrate an occasion

Sometimes, you wont see it coming, but you can sense it gently taking your hand and leading you away -
* When you see the parents of your friends ; softspoken , bespectacled , tolerant, loving and probably balding fathers and vivacious, enthusiastic , gently smiling , laughing mothers who remind you of your own much-loved and much-missed parents
* When you see another family, going cycling together or playing tag in the front yard , or taking their dog for a walk, or just having dinner together in a restaurant
* When you see a football / basketball game in progress with vehement and boisterous spectators, you remember cricket matches in the past which you ardently watched with your family and friends

And oftentimes it takes you by surprise, striking you out of the blue and yanking you into days past. It was Monday morning and I was filling up my van with gas, on my way to my son's school and then on to work. I hadnt had my morning cup of coffee yet and would have been termed almost bleary eyed if it hadnt been for the fact that I had showered and was dressed
for work. It was a new week and a new day and I was looking forward to it , but not just then.

Out of nowhere, I heard a sound that I hadnt heard in a long time ...Caw Caw ...the shrill , often racuous cawing of the common black crow ! (I dont know if there is a paucity of crows in the city where I live or it just doesnt penetrate my conscious hearing, but I didnt recall hearing
that sound in the recent past !) I turned my head and there it was - a medium sized crow , sitting on a lamp post and singing ..err..cawing away merrily ..And just like that , I was transported to the backyard of my father's ancestral house in the coastal villages of North Kanara. That was an annual pilgrimage for my family when I was a kid ...visiting my relatives for two glorious carefree months.
Having been brought up in a city, living in a sprawling house with dusty attics and dark corridors was a refreshing change. Mornings and evenings would be spent in various activities and events around the house. But afternoons were ours to spend as we chose. My brother and my cousins would be holed up on the staircases, pretending to be bus and truck drivers and I would be tucked in a chair in the front yard, under a huge mango tree, with my favourite book of the moment. The shade was a relief from the afternoon sun and the slight breeze flowing in from
the sea was almost soporific. The only ones to keep me company were cats from neighbouring houses, scrounging around for food and of course , crows sitting on the above mentioned mango trees, enthusiastically and unrelentlessly trying to sing me to sleep. These were my constant afternoon companions, familiar and irritating at the same time. The afternoons would always pass as if in a haze, I would be half reading and half asleep, but I didnt have any complaints ! Hectic school days would arrive soon and I had only so many days of satisfactory solitude :-)
Evenings would again be spent with ever arriving cousins and visitors, as is the norm in any village setting. Every household always has guests trooping in and out and the hosts are ever prepared for every visit ! But thats besides the point (maybe another post!).

So there I was, remembering crows and lazy afternoons and mango trees. The thud of the gas nozzle thrust me back into the present. My toddler was squirming in his car seat and the gas pump was spitting out the receipt, thus ending my sojourn into the past. Getting into the driver's seat, I turned my head to look at the bird that had started this pleasant interlude, but it was nowhere to be seen.
....Perhaps it was sitting on some other lamp post - crying out its high pitched , ear piercing tune , leading some other hapless individual down memory lane.

What triggers your nostalgia ?

Friday, August 07, 2009

BBC Book Tag - How many have you read ?

Chanced upon this tag at the Punarjanman blog (Thanks!).
For all fellow book lovers out there, consider yourselves tagged.
This is supposed to be a BBC generated list. There are quite a few books in there which have interested me in the past and I have been meaning to read them !
Now that I have seen this list, I shall have to make sure and get them from the library (if only to have more x's on my list!! )

Instructions: Copy this into your blog. Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read. Tag other book nerds.
The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen x
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte x
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling x
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible in parts
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte x
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens x

Total: 5

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott x
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy x
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier x
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

Total: 3

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell x
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll x
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

Total: 2

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens x
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis x
34 Emma – Jane Austen x
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen x
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis x
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne x

Total: 6

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown x
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery x
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy x
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

Total: 3

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen x
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens x
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Total: 2

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas x
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Fielding x
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

Total: 2

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens x
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett x
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt

Total: 2

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens x
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom x
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle x
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

Total: 3

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas x
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl x
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

total: 2

Grand total = 30

Monday, July 27, 2009

Nourishing minds !

Education is not the answer to the question. Education is the means to the answer to all questions."
-- William Allin

"An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life."
-- Source Unknown

Recently, while randomly browsing through Barnes and Noble, I chanced upon a book with a very interesting title.
It was called 'The Well trained mind'. The few pages that I rifled through intrigued me and I couldnt wait until I got my hands on the book.
Its another matter that I did have to wait quite a bit before I could access the book (but since thats a testament to my laziness more than
anything else, I will not elaborate on that.! ) The book is written by two women, a mother and a daughter team. It is a kind of a reference book for parents who want to take a more active and involved approach to their childrens' education. A comprehensive guide to the list of topics that should be introduced to children at each development level, this book covers grades K-12.
Wait, you might say, shouldnt books of this kind be read by teachers and educators ? After all, kids go to school for that very reason.
We as parents expend some effort in finding the best schools for our children and we would be within our rights to expect that the teachers at these schools be on top of everything under the sky and be the best resources themselves when it comes to the education of their students.

While all that is valid, I strongly feel that we shouldnt forget that education always begins and continues at home. We as parents should always know what our children are learning at school. That is especially true for parents who havent attended schools in the US and have absolutely no idea about the curriculum followed here. All my dicussions with other parents in the know has made me realize that the
education system here is completely different than the one that I grew up with.
In such a situation, wouldnt it be advisable to be aware of as much as possible ? To be able to help them in their school work ?
Wouldnt it be gratifying to know whether your child's capacity is more than what they are learning in schools and then be able do introduce them to more interesting topics ?
Wouldnt your heart soar when you see your children make the best of their abilities and be able to use their intelligence to the maximum ?
Wouldnt you want them to explore not only academic interests but also fuel their imagination and curiosity ?

On the other hand, it is a rather large investment of your time and energy. Not everybody might be able to sit down with their children everyday to make them study. The kids might not have the inclination to do so either.. But then the challenge is about incorporating education in day to day activities where you do spend time with your kids in any case.

For toddlers, parents could teach shapes and colours and numbers and alphabets very easily in the course of a car ride, or while setting the table for dinner or while watering your plants. You could let the kids have a small container with a few flowers and let them water it and see the plant flourish. The point of this interaction would be more practical rather than academic.

For older children, you could invest in a good telescope and learn about the planetary system together. Enterprising parents could attempt to build a rudimentary solar system with lightweight balls and then cover it with paper. Let the kids paint it, either from a picture or from imagination and then hang it up from the ceiling in their rooms !

For kids in the 7th - 10th grades , a magnifying glass could open up loads of possibilities..Take every opportunity to use a dictionary with your children if they are of reading age.
Thats an amazing way to increase your vocabulary.

These are just possibilities ...I am a newbie at this myself, so its exciting to think about opportunities to learn with your kid,
because you will be learning quite a lot with your child and about your child too !

I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mother, revising spellings and doing homework. Thinking back, I am touched that she took enough interest in my education, even though she herself wasnt able to complete higher education. With the vast resources available to us now, we do not have any excuses for not becoming co-educators for our children.

There are a few online links that are pretty interesting :

A search on homeschooling will also provide lots of links that we can explore.

What strategies do you employ to make the environment around your family funfilled and enriching at the same time ?
I would love to know about your techniques !

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quinoa Upma

I made this as an entry for a Breakfast items contest in my orkut community.
The only thing that differentiates this from a normal upma / uppittu recipe is the grain used.
Quinoa (pronounced as "keenwa" ) is a grain like seed of the plant.
It is a complete protein with very less fat. ( This is very good news for vegetarians ! )
Its high in fiber and provides a good source of iron and magnesium.
Its very easy to digest, making it a good choice for kids too.
Its a good substitute for rice / rice products like rava )

Quinoa is available in whole food stores and at Sprouts.
For every 1 cup of quinoa, add 1.5 times water and pressure cook for one whistle.
Alternatively , it can also be cooked over the stove top.

The recipe is as follows :

Ingredients :
1/2 C quinoa, washed , rinsed , drained.
1/2 onion , chopped / sliced thin
1/4 C diced bell pepper (of your choice, for more colour, use all 3 ! )
1/2 C mixed frozen veggies
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp jeera powder
1 tsp dhania powder
1 tsp garam masala powder ( optional)
1 pinch ( black pepper powder)
1 - 2 tsp salt ( or to taste)

Seasoning :
2 tsp canola oil
1 tsp urad dal
1/2 tsp jeera
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 - 3 red chillies
2 -3 curry leaves
1 pinch hing
2 - 3 tsp peanuts (optional)

1. Cook the quinoa either in the pressure cooker or on the stove stop.
2. Fluff the grains with a fork. Set aside.
3. Prepare seasoning in the pan in which you plan to make the upma.
4. Heat oil on medium flame. Add peanuts, urad dal, jeera , mustard seeds.
When the mustard starts spluttering, add hing, red chillies, curry leaves and fry for a few more seconds.
5. Add the onion and the ginger and fry until onion is slightly cooked.
6. Then add the bell pepper and the mixed veggies and cook until the bell pepper is slightly soft ( you dont want mushy vegetables).
7. Add the jeera , dhania, garam masala , black pepper powders. Also add the salt.
8. Mix thoroughly.
9. Now add the cooked quinoa and mix well with a gentle hand.
10.Taste for flavour and adjust accordingly.
11.You can add lemon juice and coconut for more flavour.
12.Garnish with coriander leaves and serve !

This can be paired up with a nice milkshake and served as brunch !
Try it and let me know !

Hearty apologies for the bad pictures, these come from my cell phone !

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Bindi Club ??

Seems like a very strange title for a post, right ? Outside the Indian community, I am not sure how many people are aware of what a bindi is and what its significance is ...A short explanation seems to be in order then...A Bindi (from the Sanskrit word 'bindu' meaning a dot ) is a forehead decoration worn traditionally by women from India..It used to signify the married status for women, but nowadays its no longer relegated for that purpose alone...Bindis come in various colours, shapes, can be stuck to the forehead or can even be painted on ! Its no longer restricted to the Indian community, either !
Continuing from where I left off before I began the definition of the 'red dot', I recently read a book with the alluring title of 'The Hindi-Bindi Club'. Its written by American author Monica Pradhan, who is of Indian origin. I had to wait a long time before I could get my hands on a copy from the local library; there seemed to be quite a demand for it.. Not surprising...I loved the book ! ( Now don't worry, I am not going to review the book ! My (ahem..) talents don't run in that direction..I decided to write this post because that book struck a chord in me ..Read on and you'll know why !
The story is about a group of friends, three women , in fact who immigrated to the US about 30 years back and have made their lives there.
They come to know each other through mutual acquaintances and although they come from different states and backgrounds, they quickly form a bond and a friendship for life. At the time of the story, these women are about 60 years old, each of them has a daughter, each has a different kind of a relationship with her daughter. The story unfolds with some twists and turns. The reader is regaled with phrases in native languages ( Marathi, Punjabi and Bengali, to be precise ) and is also presented with numerous recipes (yes, actual working recipes) of different mouth watering native delicacies...(In case you are wondering, I have already tried a couple of the recipes and they turned out very well indeed..I cant wait to try out some more ! )
I could relate more to the "Aunties" in the book rather than the contemporary daughters ...Not surprising, perhaps, because even though seperated in time by almost 40 years, I am in the same position that the mothers were in, when they first left their home countries and came to the States..Granted that life for Indians is less traumatic now than it must have been four decades back, there is no dearth of Indian groceries or Indian entertainment. Scores of Indian families dot the communities, in case you want to make friends, most major American cities have temples for the religious minded. In fact, but for one fact, its almost as if you never left India at all !
That fact is the absence of close family, a support structure, a warm blanket of love and understanding and empathy that is not available anywhere else in the world at any cost.
It is to make up for this absence of family that the fictional Hindi Bindi club came into existence. Without divulging anything from the book, I will just reveal that the American daughters named the get-togethers of their mothers because they wore bindis and spoke in Hindi (The national language of India). The friends were able to create a surrogate support structure, one that they could rely on in times of strife and happiness, a kind of an extended family that might speak different languages but would still be able to relate to their individual experiences and opinions.
Drawing a parallel from the book, when I compared my life to that of the mothers in the book, I realized that I wanted to be a part of such a group as well. To belong in a group of people with whom I could share my anxieties, my fears, my joys. To be able to narrate an anecdote and have them understand. To be able to share in their celebrations. To console and be consoled when in pain. To be able to raise children together. To be able to create a surrogate family. To be able to enjoy life together.
It also struck me that I already have the makings of my own bindi club..I have a wonderful group of friends, who might not always agree with each other on every point, but are always willing to listen to the others' opinions. Friends who are willing to help under any circumstance and are also willing to ask for help, if needed. Friends who welcome us into their homes like family and are always willing to be a part of ours.
Here's to my very own Bindi club, may we have many more years of friendship bestowed upon us, may we only become closer in our relationships, may we become more open minded and understanding, may we dispel each others' fears and give each other hope,
may we travel together on our journey by clearing the thorns and sharing the blossoms !!!