It’s tough to let go of beautiful things…..

image… like a  beautiful friend who loves you dearly  and with who you share the customary onion soup on some weekday noons, a beautiful home you slowly build for  yourself , a crooked papaya tree that give out fruits exactly when your baby reaches the solids stage…. You miss oddities like  your walking/ jogging  buddies or who you think are your buddies just because you run past them every morning or afternoon or night and funnily they too are out at that time …. You miss that school in which your toddler studied for just three months just because the walls of the school had such cute paintings and those little teensy artists were treated with such respect  …. You miss that very polite shopkeeper who smiled at you and greeted you and took out the fresher pack of cauliflower for you…. You miss the bad breakfast you loved to hate every Sunday morning at the clubhouse because you want to desperately eat out like you used to before the baby came but then 50 steps from the house is all you can manage …. You miss that Saree shop you and your mother bought sarees from and keot your source a secret  …. You miss that small familiar fish shop from whence once a week a rohu was sent to you at home chopped up exactly the way you wanted with odd numbered  mackerel fillets and some dry fish for that Assamese potato mash….

 

You miss the annoying tailor who would always miss his deadlines and smile goofily at you …. You miss the rare green canopy of trees on the otherwise chaotic street close to your house …. You miss an enthusiastic  friend who more than once whipped up  lovely clay pot meals … You miss kind people who offer you company when you are lonesome ….You miss people who buy you a thoughtful gift on your birthday …. . Those things are beautiful.. Those people …. Those moments  …and letting go is so hard!!! If letting go is something we really do at all….

Like all good things we just get to borrow the beautiful things from eternity and hand it right back ….. As Rumi said … life is a balance between holding on and letting go!!!!

 

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Hello baby

I always seem to be out of breath. As a two year old’s Mom, with a work from home model (it is not easy, those who do it will concur), a home to manage in the absence of the husband currently living overseas, the solemn promise to self to stay fit (its important, I am a late parent and I have years of work ahead of me). It is me and the baby and her nanny. Someone would say “ C’mon its not that bad.. Stop it already” …Agree…But you know what, its not all great. Time management. And I am progressively getting insomniac. Post child birth my brain refuses to shut down. I wake up if a cat treads on my neighbours rooftop…You get the drift. And I hate that despite working from home I give my baby a consolidated 3 hours on weekdays. And of course the whole night of covering her every two hours , turning the fan off and on, switching the mosquito repellent on because I fear fancy diseases ( those who know me well will famously recount hypochondriac tales where muscle sprains have led to CT scans ) and turning it off (because FB posts on aerosols spur more hypochondriac-ism in me).

I feel like going for movies. When I do go to one, in the movie hall I feel miserable for being this awful mother for leaving my baby alone. Guilt is my favourite perfume when I step out of the house. You can see it more than you can smell it if you pay attention to my frozen facial muscles and unfocussed eyes. If you just told me your female dog is a nympho maniac I may laugh out the loudest but trust me I was also thinking if I ordered those diapers after all….  If you told me how awesome your vacay was I would make a point in my head to read up more about the place but all I end up reading (cross eyed of-course) is the thermometer grading.

Then the husband calls and to his hello I end up saying “Gotta go, our -cutie is turning into a scary thing”. Mom calls to tell me how her help got her traditional sesame laddoos whereupon I whine on how nothing is ok with my part time help who took the Monday off after I duly give her every Sunday off and how I am petrified that my full time nanny will feel used .I have never ever pampered anyone the way I have pampered my baby’s nanny. I give her a looooooong leash. Of course I clinch my teeth at times to the point where my molars look more bevelled than Victoria Beckam’s layered bob but literally eat away angry words and thoughts and force myself to see that lovely halo on my nanny’s head. Everyone has one I hear. Never seen it but I do see one on my nanny. I love her. At times my toddler showers her with such adulation and kisses that my innards singe with jealousy. But I still have that beatific smile on.

And what I am scared about? Being alone with my own child…without help. You see everything is about practice. About routine. What if she bawls and I am paralysed with mortification in a public place. What if she wants something and I can’t understand her demand? Such were some of the thoughts that circled my mind when I recently was supposed to travel and stay sans hubby and nanny. I was all alone with little cutie and my suspicion came to light. The little cutie is adorable when she is alone with one primary care giver. I think its self-preservation. This little tot, all of two, turns her charm on full blast when alone. No tantrums. No driving poor hapless baby caretaker up the wall. Simple. There is no audience to entertain. Meals go into the belly, self-soothing ensues, self-entertaining gets on auto. She is remarkably well behaved when alone. To be fair to her, I am relaxed too. I am able to give her time and am feeling great about it. We have been taking walks together. I have said yes to most of her requests. She does try and push the envelope but she comes around. I have never discussed this with friends or other moms mainly because I was not looking for advises or suggestions because we all eventually figure out things for ourselves. I am happy I did. They are right when they say “no one can reign in your baby more than you”. Its like you are primed to know them.

Also I guess it helps us when we know the buttons that turn us crazy. I cant keep cleaning constantly after her. I do it every three hours than every 30 minutes. Luckily the country I am visiting grants me access to great food all the time at affordable rate. So I feel pretty chuffed taking the elevator down to the condo clubhouse that offers various food options. I have figured what she likes to eat and have long made peace with the fact that she is not to be led by my choices. I give her exactly what she wants. I have realistic feeding goals. She is not a big eater. If she has managed ten spoons of her food, it is good. Anything more is a bonus. You don’t get a bonus every day of the year do you?

All in all after a long time I am feeling relaxed quietly tucked away in a spartan house with bare basics. There is no agenda. Time is feeling tangible. No rush and no boxes to tick off. It helps at times to take one day at a time. With my little girl and me. It is here I revisit the theory of how little we need to stay afloat. How the business of living unfortunately takes away the very essence of why all that business is done at the first place. And how a baby can teach you to live in your moment.

Bless her little soul. While I was penning all this, she was playing all by herself, with occasional baby needs. Not saying such tranquillity will last forever. But till it lasts, its bliss. Time for milk and cookies

When stars shine bright

I envisage Arisha and Raksha sitting in some college cafeteria and talk about course credits and boy friend problems. I hope they both come to realise that parents everywhere are worry warts but the biggest champions of their children. I am sure Arisha will laugh at her ever hyper Indian mother and Raksha her very crazy Italian father. They both may agree that Robert Deniro is after all old to be crazily loved.

There would be frantic plans to land a job or study more or get married to the ones they love. There would be a whole wide world open to them both with infinite possibilities.

They may plan a visit to Bangalore amongst many things . Arisha in all probability will grow up to call Bangalore her home unless her wander lust folks take off someplace else. Raksha may perhaps have another agenda….. She may want to visit the children’s home SM where she spent the first two years of her life. Some long gone Akka there fed her lunch very lovingly. She may meet some other people who grew up in SM. She will have many beautiful stories to share with her parents in Italy who were chosen by God to love and cherish her. She will love to fly back home and enjoy some good old food cooked by her mom but I so hope she will come to love the food that was lovingly fed to her.

I hope and pray these girls find love and peace and have anxious parents always planning a home coming for them.

Soul warming frost tea

The tin box that has my latest poison is intricately designed with white on gold. The tin reminds me of those old almost black trinket boxes my Nani, one with the exotic name of Samsoon Nahaar, kept on her fireplace mantel in Shillong. However my treasure cove has no old beads and delicate brooches. It contains Frost Tea. One of the lesser known of its kind, Frost Tea is really a recent inclusion in the tea world. Unlike the Darjeelings or the Oolongs or the Assams even the Lapsang Souchongs of the world, Frost Tea is more like an Addendum in the Chronicle of Tea History.

Photo Credit: Sarah Huda

Photo Credit: Sarah Huda

The Brahmaputra Valley of Assam, the blue Nilgiris and the hills of Darjeeling are the main tea producing belts of India. Primarily, March through April (first flush) and then May through June (second flush) is when tea is produced in these regions. Tea requires more than 20 to 21 degrees Celsius and good rainfall to grow. During the conducive months, the shrubs look green and fresh. As you move from bottom to top in a shrub, the leaves tend to get thinner. Towering slightly above the well-manicured shrubs are slender shoots that end with one bud and two leaves. This threesome in Assam is called “eti koli dutee paat”.

Photo Credit: Sarah Huda

Photo Credit: Sarah Huda

These bud and leaves combos are plucked by tea pickers at dawn and then sent to factories for processing. The outcome is generally two: orthodox tea or the more popular CTC (cut tear and twirl) tea. In all the three belts, temperature starts dropping by the end of October. As winter approaches, tea shrubs are duly pruned and left to replenish their nutrients. Hibernation of sorts. These shrubs are kept dormant for 3-4 months. They sup up well during this dormancy. In addition tea and cold weather are not democratic to each other. You may like your piping hot tea on a cold day a lot but not generally the tea shrubs. Ambient temperature of 10 degrees and above is required for most tea shrubs to bloom into flowers and leaves. In India, barring few places, the thick of winter sees the flora specked with frost in the early mornings. Frost on tea shrubs adversely impact tea quality and production. Quite like vineyards, most of you who have seen the Keanu Reaves starrer A Walk in The Clouds will remember that. However, in the Niligiris the frost does allow a very special tea to be harvested: Frost Tea. Unlike tea shrubs in Darjeeling that completely go out of commission due to colder climes or in Assam that are deliberately pruned, frost or not, to improve productivity, in the Niligiris the growth of the flowers and leaves merely slows down. Slow enough for essential nutrients to concentrate the aromatic compounds in the shrubs. Frost tea is essentially orthodox tea.

The russet brown fruity flavored liquor that Frost Tea offers requires about two to three minutes of steeping. The water as always should never be boiling hot. As is recommended for almost all liquor worth their dime and time, the water for your tea should be poured out from your kettle a minute or two after you turn off the fire or rather when the auto cut-off goes off, in the case of electric kettles. One and a half teaspoon of orthodox Frost Tea can punch in a good deal of flavor for about 250 ml (1 standard teacup) of water.

I go sans milk. Excuse me but sans sugar too. Oddly I find adding milk or sugar to my cup of brew akin to adding these two jokers to a Riedel crystal of single malt. There is a more scientific reason for sipping your tea well brewed and cast aside the sugar and milk. Tea, orthodox not so much CTC tea, has goodness of flavonoids. As you move along the spectrum of white to green to amber to black tea, the percentage of these cancer fighting flavonoid compounds reduces. And what is more irksome than the tea with milk and tea without milk debate? Well it is the eternal “is coffee better than tea” debate. That I feel is plain ridiculous and an illogical discourse. All those who pooh-pooh tea should please recall that Boston Tea Party ultimately proved to be the catalyst to the American Revolution. As they say, there was too much trouble brewing and had the infamous Tea Act not been left to steep for too long, who knows maybe the war could have been avoided all together and Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks would have served gallons of tea in Continental US.

History takes its own course and what is bygone is bygone and we shall please learn from it that denying someone tea can lead to unpleasant things. It’s a good practice to alternate your tea with some short eats. Some cake may be or say some biscotti? Or may be that scone freshly baked and smothered with butter? Well whatever suits your palate. In Assam, black tea (tea sans milk) is also enjoyed with a teaspoon of seera (beaten rice) or till pitha (sesame savoury) by the local population. Fills you up pretty well that teaspoon of beaten rice and I must say that the absence of all the refined flour and sugar that ordinarily your cookie or cake or other confectionaries will surely contain, will not be felt much.

Photo Credit: Sarah Huda

Photo Credit: Sarah Huda

As I sit in a French bistro about to bite into those toothsome macaroons and sip my Darjeeling, undeniably my first love, I spot the olive green merchandise rack. There sitting pretty is another tin of Frost Tea that I must remember to buy.

Wafting through alphanumerics

CS

F10 smells of Maggi. Orange blossoms on the two trees flanking F10 do nothing about the instant noodle smell. They look nice but are very reticent about fragrances, these orange blossoms. At 7AM this waft of instant noodle wreaks assault on my olfactory sense. I turn away disgruntled. One morning I saw a small boy running near F10 in his school uniform. He was being chased by a man.  I think it was his father. I have not seen anyone after that one time. The two St. Bernards tied opposite to F10  are a different matter. They go wild every time I pass them. Well, someone does. I wish men frothed in their mouths for me. But …Cest la vie !!

E2 houses a beehive. The sweet sick smell assaults my nostrils each time. The untidy approach is replete with 3 weird sized trees: neither bonsais nor full grown. It’s as though the dwellers of E2 wanted bonsais and got distracted by the many shrubs on pots and the trees grew beyond the respectable bonsai size. But when you start out to do something you justify the end. By any means. So they must have cut off the primary roots of those unfortunate trees, freezing them in time.

C8 is one of the 8 Gargantuans as I like to call these huge 5 bedroom homes. Tucked away in a corner, it shows-off shamelessly the 5 shades of Bougainville. Neatly trimmed. Rattan chairs adorn the top floor balcony. A life size portrait of the seer Sai Baba at the doorstep transforms the edifice to a shrine. The ones who inhabit this shrine though are very robust. God had surely blessed their bellies. With enviable geometrical rotund shapes.

T3 has three identical tricycles lined outside. There are odd assortment of tiny footwear. An upturned plastic basket ball net is unceremoniously ignored. Eggs fry inside.

R3 is a gardener’s paradise. The 10 feet by 15 feet kitchen garden has neat arrays of tomatoes and coriander and chilly and turnips and broccoli. My earlier gardener , a 12 year old lad with many pimples, was forced a pilgrimage one unsuspecting morning by yours truly. Needless to say that was the last time the poor chap was ever seen. I hope he shows up to collect his wages. I will be humane and fair and so I will pay him his dues both in money and verbal spanking. For taking off and denying me turnips. Which I hate.

O10 has an annoying Dachshund hybrid. A runt if you please. He runs away and defecates on well manicured lawns. I am safe. His name sounds fierce. Gunda. In colloquial  Hindi it means a “goon”. He is too. At odd hours I hear whistles of a pressure cooker go off at O10.

M1 is somber. Mr. C looks gaunt. Mrs. C is a very private lady. And a very practical one at that.  It has been a few full moons now since I have seen Mr. C setting out for his 6 AM and 6 PM steady walk. Mrs. C has been of late planting a lot of tall palm shrubs barricading her portico. There are hanging horizontal  bamboo shells, cleverly morphed into plant tubs, that dot the awning of her portico. Once upon a time Mr. and Mrs. C could be seen sitting on their dining table and holding rendezvous. Now the peek into their dining area stands obfuscated. The waft from the kitchen is not strong. Some mornings, when the light within is stronger than the early morning light, I just see a faint outline of one head instead of two sitting on the dining table.

M8 has squeals of a toddler reaching my ears. I enter the portico. Black gram is cooking in a sonorous pressure cooker.  I open the door gingerly to be greeted by a little girl with pudgy fists. This morning’s run has ended. I did not hear the niggardly calories suffer. I sure am sore. I am happy