Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The Third Time

The Second Time

The First Time

Memories of Four Fourth of Julys

Picture from web

The blue soon-to-rain morning rang a bell in my mind thereby initiating a vastastion of brooding on the sweep of life under my wings. And as I walked back a few hundred yards, stopped and dwelled on my kithless sojourn in a far-off country, I realized that Fourth of July is on the upcoming Monday. And with that thought, came a train of random images and a bouquet of exotic odors rushing into the sensory jorum: smells of dirt and grass and human sweat, a rainbow of jolly faces, hotdogs and umbrellas, music illegible accompanied by the nectariously soothing paean by the present Homo sapiens directed to the Stars and Stripes—
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, 

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? 

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thru the perilous fight, 

O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And then, just like magic, the cinnamon-colored sky is hit by a thousand enchanting arrows of light that would burst on the blank chalk-board above, fountains, spark-foaming rockets. Magical starbursts blushing red and yellow like the cynical play of Northern Lights. And for half an hour the season of dream continues, and all of us on the ground—native, immigrant, F1, H1B, alien worker—feel in our hearts a deep love for a country that adopted us and took us under its aegis, fed us, loved us, and looked after us. During this mystic season of hypnotic light-play, the differences in color or nationality or even social status seldom matters; and every year under the star spangled banner millions of America’s children stand united praising this great country and its big ole heart.

USS Constitution (Picture from the web)
I have under my belt memories of four lovely Fourth of Julys; the first one in Cambridge, MA in 2007. It was raining cats and dogs and my husband and I along with our Korean housemate had walked down to the Cambridge side of Charles River. In the morning we had seen the USS Constitution, the majestic three-masted frigate of the US Navy that is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. On the ramparts of Fort Independence, Castle Island, South Boston, Massachusetts the ship had unleashed its 19-gun salute; and all that while I, still a novice in the country, had been busy inspecting its gunports, its three masts, its quarter-gallery, and its overall grandiose.

The evening fireworks were the icing on my cake; I couldn’t recall another day, except for the first time I observed a snowfall, when I had been so excited about an enigma. It seemed impossible to me that people could have fireworks when it was raining so hard. The Boston Pops performed their rendition Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," and I remember how I had jumped from under the pink umbrella my Korean friend held when I saw the sky ignited by the first arrows of light. To define the next half an hour would be like catching the fragments of cloud, impossible, that is. Yet the major emotional outcome that was the result of the lighted-evening was spellbinding. I remember calling my parents and wishing I could draw before them the lights and shades that mesmerized me.

The rest of my Fourth of Julys have their roots in the Music City of US, Nashville, TN. Our whirlwind of shifting residences from state to state achieved its finale in the buckle of the Bible belt. Nashville has been home to me for three and a half years, and I loved it dearly. I loved its country music; I loved Cracker Barrel, I loved the city’s old homey touch, its retrograded signboards in Broadway, its pubs; I loved the library where I studied, the institution where my husband worked as a post-doctoral research fellow, but most of all I love the Fourth of July celebrations at the Riverfront Park.

Every year on the designated day, my husband I would head for the venue well ahead of time to find a nice place close to the riverfront to stand and wait for the fireworks. There would be country music bands, I remember Julianne Hough was there last year, and she was just terribleL Anyway, aside from listening to music, which is usually very good, we would have gyros and sodas and would take a walk down the smelly avenue at the hind side of the location stuffed with people, buyers and sellers, children with balloons and toys. Although we had to elbow our way in and out of the human labyrinth, the crowd never bothered us, the place felt like home. Dressed in my Fourth of July special T-shirt, I would feel I was one of the gang. I knew that in every way I was different from the majority of others, but it never mattered to me.

The firework show generally begins around nine in the evening; and last year after the havoc caused by the historic deluge in our dear old city, we thought that the Fourth of July celebrations would be attenuated. But Nashville proved all speculations wrong when she painted her sky with a stelliferous display of a lifetime. I knew that last year was my final Fourth of July since by that time my husband and I had taken the decision of coming back to India. Academia didn’t seem a sparkling proposition to us anymore; the hurdles were becoming more and more un-climbable. The job cuts, the heated political atmosphere, the sudden slash of opportunities to thrive in an otherwise welcoming nation forced us to search for options outside its borders.

Sitting in India and going back to this oneiric season of celebration, I feel that my vision of America has always been positive and loving. Despite pestilential outbursts from certain prejudiced parties against the embracement of people who are different, I always thought America is an exceedingly tolerant state. My five year stay has made me love this country like a second mother, and even though it’s impossible to convince people who hate differences how much I love the United States of America, I know in my heart that I will always be patriotic to this nation. Far away from my second mother’s bosom, I will celebrate her independence with élan. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kitchen Disasters and Me: Complaints of an Unskilled Chef

Image Courtesy:

Call me a nupson if you will, but I deserve to speak my mind when wielding the skillet is considered. In fact, fidimplicitary no more on the cooking issue, I hereby declare my opinion: cooking is paucipilicate vanity! People who do that are conjurers of a different kind, they are alchemists; and I am sorry to say that I have finally come to terms with that fact that I share not a shred of DNA with that magical clan. Of course, I am not saying that I can’t cook, that would be erroneous since overtime I have cooked some amazing meals albeit with the help of online cooking blogs and cookery books. But when working in the kitchen on my own without the feathery touch of a helping hand on my shoulder, I tend to unleash one blunder after another. The common blunder of late has been me burning myself. I have deep-rooted evidence to prove that cooking has always been a disastrous exercise for me, especially when I am zealous about some dish.

I feel ashamed, even peeved to inscribe this ghastly words. But I guess we are all different in our own way, and the universe and our families must excuse us for our short comings, be the cause of such shortcomings inherent or rooted in one’s own self-induced habit of indolence or impatience.  Anyhow, when only last week I was in the cooking lab cupping pieces of marinated fish in my gowpen and getting the oil ready to fry the damn things, my intentions were anything but noble. It was an exceedingly hot day and I was sweating like a member of the suilline family; yet beaming within me was the good intention of cooking a good homely meal for the male half of the sketch.

And then disaster struck. I don’t know what went wrong with the fish, a total mood alteration, I guess, for when I dropped a couple of my meaty friends in the hot oil there was an intense spattering and I, being me, instead of walking away from the danger zone decided to inspect the container. The result: Three new burn-spots added my gallery of blemishes. If here had been a museum of kitchen accidents, I am sure I would have had a chance to shine, for not only do I own a gallery of burn-spots, I also have under my belt knife-cuts, scrapes, home-remedies-gone awfully-wild and many more. I doubt if there is another Vicenarian in the whole of Delhi NCR area who could boast of such achievements.

As my husband lathered my forearm with analgesic that afternoon, I experienced a moment of epiphany. Well, it was not exactly an epiphany-inducing moment, still, after crying a bit over the burns and complaining about how much it hurt, composure dawned on me, and in a silent soliloquy I told myself, “Honey, if you want to survive, stay away from the kitchen.” I declared my intentions to my husband whining all the time how I will be going back to school very soon and would have no time to cook or clean. He, obviously, had no problems. But I wanted to complain some more feeling, as you could guess, pretty—what’s the word— ah, yes—quisquilious, meaning worthless or trashy, thanks to the recent disaster in the kitchen.

I was totally under the weather at the time blaming myself for not being outstanding in the kitchen, in a good way, I mean, and not bothering to remedy the defect. I guess I really don’t care anymore. In some way it is good for me to shed off the pretensions of the multitude and know what exactly I am good at and what not; makes life uncomplicated, if you know what I mean. After careful consideration I took the most important decision of my life: cook as less as you can, and cook only when you have tooJ

My mother, however, took it really hard, as I had guessed. She thought my decision to cook once in a while and eat for the whole week “things” cooked hastily on one Sunday afternoon is totally irrational. She still loves to dwell in the old patriarchal era where Indian women cooked for the whole family wholesome meals consisting of not less than thirty dishes and refuses to acknowledge my Nuevo rebellious anti-patriarchal, boo-manhood mental get-up. It’s always difficult to convince mothers, but I don’t mind. I know someday she will understand that her vision of India is blindfolded.

Anyway, here I am on a sticky Wednesday afternoon typing my blog on my heated computer and wondering what on earth I can have for lunch. The options: bread and bread. I haven’t cooked anything substantial since last weekend and have been blissfully eating out. But now as I remember the warm afternoon meals people serve at home I could sense a Niagra in my mouth. Wonder why life gives us so many options and then leaves us dumbfounded. I should call some eatery and order in, or….I could just step into the kitchen and fix a warm meal….!! Sounds delicious, but never mind. Let’s order in.

And while I chew the fat with myself and whine some more you could listen to this new piece of recording I did this morning. Wondering if I am sounding hungry!!

P.S.: I am a wordsmith, I love collecting strange words. For those of you interested in knowing the meanings of the strange new words I have used in my blog, here they are:  nupson— an idiot; paucipilicate— totally, utterly; gowpen—hands held to form a bowl, cupping.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Day from My Diary — Account of my first day at the BCL Creative Writing Class and My Delhi Trip

Profound was my relief yesterday when I found that the prospect of being initiated to the penetralia and the mysteries of the craft of writing wasn’t actually as intimidating as I thought it would be. Indeed, I couldn’t point out a happier day in my recent academic history when I had enjoyed my time in the confinement of a classroom as I did yesterday. The lively conversations that precipitated from my hung-up abditories surprised me exceedingly.  I never knew that I could be so assertive, that I, one whose perdurable companion is her daily journal, could actually be a part of an intellectually stimulating debate.  I was stunned by the revelation and I couldn’t say if my assertiveness added a hint of positivity to my vacillating level of literary confidence. Anyway, I suppose I should give you a better and more substantial account of my first creative writing class at the British Council.

The whole day yesterday the mad quopping of the clock at my desk suggested the beginning of a new decade in the annals of my life. For long I have yearned to be a part of a stimulating writing group to experience the enjoyment of collaborative literary creation and learn the intricacies of the writing art. Yet when the time came to get ready and pack my bags, I was dubious and hesitant. A rain of arrows targeted at me by the meta-voice suggested negative possibilities. The thoughts enervated me, and I was amazed at how our inner spirit seldom agrees when we are out on a revolutionary road trying to re-write our personal archives. I decided to turn a deaf ear to my own inner self. Although when I was getting ready to leave the house I failed to observe the beckoning hand of grand success floating before by eyes like some photic illusion, I was conscious of an all-embracing sense of peace gradually enveloping me.  For the past few months I have been relying on the calming effects of meditation and deep breathing. The practice has been helping me relax and focus on my work.

For yesterday's outfit I chose a pair of well worn jeans, a simple royal blue T, which happens to be my favorite shirt despite its mundane getup, and my black walking shoes. It was a warm day yesterday, warm and humid. The weather around these parts often remains dry and arid, but it was strangely clammy yesterday. I felt as if  the atmosphere was sweating profusely as it waited with breathless enthusiasm for my outcome in the new sport. Yesterday’s traffic wasn’t bad; “the busy old fool” was playing hide and seek in the clouds and so its piercing rays didn’t scorch my skin. I sat on the back seat of the car humming along with the tunes on the radio. The driver talked a lot, he is an agreeable gentleman who loves Delhi and couldn’t stop talking about its innumerable offerings. He proposed to give me an impromptu car trip to the major attractions around the Chanakyapuri area.

The diversion proved efficacious in relieving some of the strain. By the time I was observing the President’s Mansion (Rashtrapati Bhavan) and the beckoning of the India Gate on the other side of the road, I felt patriotic and inspired. The treasures of our country are endless, and I was overwhelmed by their iridescence.”You cannot possibly finish touring our whole country in one lifetime,” observed my mustachioed companion with glee when he saw me half hanging out of the car window trying to capture the fleeting scenery on my cellular phone.When we crossed the India Gate I dedicated a patriotic salute to the monument and remembered the time my best friend and I went to a cool nationalistic Bollywood movie called Rang De Basanti and devoted a long salute to the movie screen soon after the show was over thereby adding considerably to the entertainment of the moviegoers present in the theater on that day. 

Having jettisoned all my dubiousness by this time, I found myself inspecting the environs with alacrity. The penannular roads gave way ultimately to the hub of Delhi—Cannaught Place. This place is Delhi’s Times Square, a place seething with people, quadrirotal vehicles, omnibuses, shops and many more. My driver gave me a quick tour around the inner and outer circle of this place; and I could feel the pulsating vein of the city throbbing under the weight of its inhabitants, the life of city bubbling and bursting with unbounded enthusiasm and vigor.  It was hard to not acknowledge the Joie de vivre in that area. I was stunned by the amount of activity in the region: shops all settled waiting for customers, street-vendors ready with their offerings, flower shops with blooming blessings waiting for the hand of the gift-donor, and people coming and going in all directions. The setting was a mighty old chain that attached all of them in its links, all breathing, seething, and living in the narrow expanse of a constricted city hub enjoying the contributions of life.

For a moment I tried to imagine the collective stream of consciousness of the people around me, but then I couldn’t hold on to the thought. Eventually, my driver stopped the car before the establishment that was to house me and all my thoughts for the next two hours. Inside the citadel, the sentinels directed me to a chamber marked Room 1. I was accompanied by a girl who was also doing the course. I later learned her name and that she is an avid traveler. She was a very young lady, a first year student of English Honours at Delhi University. She wore a white T-shirt, a pair of watchet denim capris and small-lensed eyeglasses encased in a bright pink and black frame. Her front set of teeth slightly protruded and her hair had blond highlights which did not suit her.

As I sat introducing self to this youngster in bits, I observed the rest of the clan. The room where we sat on a circle with our chairs along the wall in one neat curve smelled of tension, apprehension, and excitement. The girl sitting next to A was another very young person, in fact, we found out later on that she was the youngest of the lot. She wore a blue top, blue denim capris and sported a simple back-brushed and clipped hairdo that suited her. She displayed considerable English skill. A couple of people in the group stood out and one of them was V, who reads one book every month and writes factual stuff; S, a dear girl, is writing her novel and could speak to her characters. She is a rather pretty lady all in pink and blue and displayed ample enthusiasm about the course. G is a lawyer and has been staying in Delhi for over ten years. Though from Nigeria, she is well versed with the nooks and corners of the capital. P and I gelled as soon as we spoke to each other during the interaction session where we were required to talk among ourselves and break the ice. Our teacher, to whom I am going to dedicate one paragraph, handed us printed out pages which had a list of common and infrequent qualities and interests and we were asked to match our new friends with the allotted interests.

The exercise turned out to be a real fun sport, slow in the beginning but gaining spirit and reaching the crescendo of conversation around the closing time. My impassioned feverishness bid an ignorant goodbye while I shed my normal diffidence and went about talking and discovering the interests of my classmates. AN was a wonderful guy, a lawyer by profession, who has the unusual dream of living in Beirut. AP speaks with a lovely accent and shares my interest in Khaled Hosseni. R is a MBA and complained about not being a voracious reader, although I though she is rather well-read and doesn’t really need to sweat over the reading issue. We all hang out talking about ourselves and our love for literature.

Our teacher was a lovely lady dressed in pristine white. She was a vision of intellectualism, sophisticated and uberous in knowledge. She is a writer and has written academic and non-academic books. An avid reader, she enjoys both the Elizabethan offerings of Shakespeare and modern Indian write-ups by authors like Khuswant Singh, Amitav Ghose among others. Although not an aficionado of Arundhati Roy’s renderings, she reads her for Roy's style of writing. During our interacting session she went about talking to the students and when the session was over she made us all partake of another fun sport. One person from the group was asked to introduce another person in the group and point out that person’s interests and qualities as discovered during the recent interactive session. AP introduced me with some lovely lines, and I introduced P, rather clumsily, I thought, and pointed out our common interest in cooking as an anecdotal reference.

Anyhow, the introduction was over soon and we then began talking about literature and narrative procedure and were asked to give our opinions to a number of selective arguments presented to us in a printed form. The list included such questions as to whether fiction needs a plot for development; whether the reader is more important than the writer and so on. We were divided into groups of four where we discussed and consolidated our points of view based on the arguments provided and tried reaching a unanimous consensus.  One spokesperson from each group delivered the groups ideas and then the other groups were given opportunity to expatiate on the issue and provide their view points if they deemed desirable. We did not go into a heated argument, but the discussion was lively, and I was more vociferous than I thought I could be.

At the end of the class my new friends and I exchanged our contact details and I felt for the first time full of beans at having gone ahead and taken the decision to be a part of this extensive, not to say nerve-wrecking course. The intimidations that had been a part of my morning saga having bidden adieu by then, I felt more at ease. As I reclined in the back seat of my car on the way back, the daunting façade of the BCL establishment seemed benign, and I felt happy. 

Now here are some pictures I took yesterday on my cellular phone: 


Rashtrapati Bhavan

Rashtrapati Bhavan

Rashtrapati Bhavan

Rashtrapati Bhavan

Gyarah Murti