Letters to my Berry#24

Berry, I am sorry that I have taken so long to write this special edition of you turning two. It’s been really hard for me to come back to this blog since my last post. Everytime, I come to my blog to write, seeing the picture with Mani aunty leaves me a bit empty and I can’t muster enough will to write. So, yeah, “Manty” passed away a few weeks before you turned two. And I have no idea how, but you seem to know that she is not around. Every time I ask you where Manty is, you promptly say “Manty gone!”. I don’t know if it’s because you’ve understood what we’ve said in the past or if you know things that we don’t quite comprehend. Or may be you are growing up? Well, you sure are. You turned two last week, love.

This means you are no longer an infant and you will finally get your own seat on an aeroplane. But it also means we become the victims of your “terrible twos”. I never quite understood what that meant until recently a colleague explained it to me. Its when you just keep saying “No” to everything we ask of you, kind of like how teenagers act. So, by that definition, you are complying fairly well to the terrible twos. You are gnawing at a ballon right now and I am yelling/ begging you to stop but you go on without listening. I guess, I’ll just give up already and not even bother saying no unless you are putting yourself in real physical danger. But that’s going to be hard because everything seems like danger to mothers, no?

I like how my life has changed so irreversibly after you were born and all I can do is close my eyes for a split second and pretend like I am not where I am, or may be not even because that’s all you really need to bring the sky down. So proud of you, my little champ. Lol (or do I mean, sigh?). Anyway, because appa and I are not big kids’ birthday party fans, we decided to keep it really simple and take you to the zoo, once again. We were hoping that you’ll enjoy the zoo much more this time around given that you know all the animals from the pictures. What we quickly realised is that you found pictures in the zoo more fascinating than the real animals. May be kids these days just don’t get “Real life”?

We bought you so many toys including a black board, a playkitchen, etc. and you also got presents from Barbie, ajji and thatha but you seemed to get over all of them quite quickly. So I decided we shouldn’t buy you any more things because you seem to have enough and more to keep you occupied for the next year or two. Appa got you a toy car that you like to play with, but I am not sure how long that interest will last. But day by day you are growing up into a full person with a personality of your own. You like being talked to, being negotiated with and that’s why you get so upset when we force a decision on you.

Growing up, I don’t ever remember being allowed to have a personality. So, I am sometimes curious to see what it would be like to “let” you have one as it is not something innate for an average Indian parent. You decide what you want to wear, what you want to eat, where you want to go, etc. and it’s very cute to watch. I am sure 10 years from now I might not find it so cute, but let’s see. Have I ever mentioned that you are apparently very popular in your nursery? This has been the case even in your previous  nursery. I think you have taken after Avva who is exactly like this. You enjoy playing with kids older than you and you have a way to make them enjoy your company too, which is is very cool because I don’t quite understand these things.

You speak pretty well now, or may be you did for a while but I seem to understand most of what you say now. You speak both Kannada and English. You have a little bit of an accent, which is what makes it slightly hard to understand you and hence, I try to speak to you in English so you don’t feel like we aren’t trying to understand you. Appa hates it when I speak to you in English because he worries that he’ll never understand what you say. He already thinks we hang up against him when I try to teach you alphabets, letters or countries, and so, he calls me a “tiger mum”. I think it’s a little unfair because that’s my way of spending time with you and I feel a bit judged, especially when appa likes to joke about it with others.

I recently learnt that you enjoy making play doh figures, so I’ll do that with you going forward and hopefully that’ll be sticking to my perceived “dumb papa” domain and that wouldn’t irk appa too much. I sometimes like to show you what I am cooking and explain every step to you and that’s my way of making conversation. I like to involve you in the cooking by asking you to bring me ingredients that are within your reach. You feel very responsible and important and that’s so important to your personality development because we all like the feeling of being needed. Remember that I am doing this to let you know how good it feels to help someone so that you will find your joy in giving as you grow up.

You are growing up to be a good kid (so far!) and I hope that continues.From now onwards, I’ll write you a bi-annual/ annual letter only unless you something very spectacular happens. For now, God bless Berry ma. Happy 2nd!

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Mani aunty

Mani aunty

Sankranti 2016 lunch with Mani aunty at home.

For the last 4 years, I woke up every Saturday morning and the first thing I did was to call Mani aunty. I sometimes called her on Fridays too, when I work from home. I wanted to call her last Friday because it was Varamahalakshmi habba and I wanted to tell her about the feast Karthik and I cooked together, but it would be too late in India by then. So I thought I’d call her Saturday morning, as usual. Except I was woken up to the shocking news of her passing away. I couldn’t stop beating myself up about not calling her the previous night, but what makes it worse is that I am thousands of miles away from her and I couldn’t even see her for the one last time. I just sat on my bed and stared at all the planes flying in/ out of Heathrow sending a little piece of my heart on each plane that was going homeward.

Mani aunty is my mother-in-law’s eldest sister. I have never met my mother-in-law as she passed away before Karthik and I got engaged. So, Mani aunty has always been a proxy, may be also because she didn’t have any children of her own and always thought of Karthik as her own son. I was in awe of her the very first time I met her in 2009. She’d had both her legs amputated a few years earlier, yet her spirit seemed far taller than any of ours. She’d made delicious snacks and coffee for me when I visited her.

At first, I couldn’t imagine how she managed to cook in her condition, although she had some help from her caretaker, Shivamma. As I got to know her better, I realised that she was quite self sufficient with her prosthetic limbs and took great pride in not just taking care of herself but also taking care of others. She used her challenges with mobility to her advantage by always staying in touch with people on the phone. She was the designated inviter for our family functions, she was the clearing house of all information and everybody loved her. I remember when we organised Karthik’s thatha’s centenary, she was the one who invited everyone and every single person we invited was there at the function and not many people manage to do that. Everyone always went home to invite her for all functions, knowing well that she wouldn’t be able to make it for most of them. That’s how much people valued her involvement.

Personally for me, she played a pivotal role in integrating me into the rest of Karthik’s family because she was that good that being connected with the family. She always made sure I built and sustained relationships on Karthik’s side of the family by encouraging me to visit people and attend family functions. She also taught me about so many rituals, customs and dishes that were unique to Karthik’s family. We even celebrated several festivals together, which included her cooking up a feast with great enthusiasm, albeit with great difficulty. I can’t believe I won’t eat her kadlepuri, batani capsicum bath, dose or avalakki ever again. The only thing that remains of this legacy is the bathpudi she made for me in December. I know I’ll keep this for as long as I can, just like how we kept the last batch of Karthik’s mum’s home-made nimbekai uppinkai.

Every time we went to her house, she would insist on feeding us. For the past two years, she’s been partially bed ridden and can’t walk on her own. But that hardly stopped her from sending us coffee first thing in the morning the day we landed in India 3 months ago. It has to be the most delicious coffee we’ve ever had, and I can’t believe I won’t get that ever again. She was such an inspiration for everyone in terms of how hard she tried to lead a “normal life” despite having very little to look forward to. She would desperately wait for our call every Saturday and I’d desperately wait for it too. I would call her even if I were secretly mad at her because my week never felt complete without speaking to her. I don’t want to wake up to another saturday morning now, but I am also thankful that she doesn’t have to suffer anymore.

While I lived next door, I’d go visit her in the evenings sometimes and she’d be sitting there in the dark all by herself because Shivamma wouldn’t have returned home by then to turn on the light. I’d always wonder what she’d be going through being in one place all by herself, unable to move – not be able to go to the bathroom or go eat something. Yet, she’d give me the brightest smile as soon as she saw me Very rarely she would say that she prayed to God everyday that he take her away soon because she didn’t want to be a burden on the people around who helped her get by. This mostly included her younger sister who would send her food everyday since the time she fell very sick and couldn’t walk on her own anymore. I’d listen and not say much beyond asking her to stop praying for such things. While I didn’t want her to suffer more, I wanted her to know we all loved her very much and wanted her to be around. She derived great satisfaction from being involved in our lives, and knowing that we needed her.

Well, we all feel that way too.

If there’s one message that Mani aunty has left with me, it is to selflessly provide for others when you have very little yourself. She has been a great source of inspiration in terms of how she lived on her own terms despite the many challenges. She lived through the joys of others as she had very little to look forward to in her own life. I am going to miss her so much, but I am glad she is now resting in a better place. I just wish I could give her frail body a tight hug and say goodbye, just once!

How to make virtual dating work?

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The great thing about technology is that opens up your social network quite a bit and allows you to date someone at the other end of the world. Sustaining a long-distance relationship over an extended period is quite hard but it’s still a great way to meet someone. Whether you are away from home or you live in a small city, meeting like minded people can be challenging. So, making virtual dates work is an essential skill to have. So, here are 5 easy steps you can follow to both set up dates and follow through –

1. Cast your net far and wide

If you really care about meeting someone interesting, then its quite likely that they aren’t living next door (unless you are Penny from Big Bang theory). So you want to explore people who live in other cities, especially if you are open to moving or if the other person is (you can tell based on their ideas of travel and life) because they are likely willing to make something work if they’re invested in you. Don’t let physical boundaries bog you down, the internet makes the world a little village today.

2. Invest in travel

Invest in travel if you really want to give something a chance, don’t hope to tie the knot virtually too. If you ever happen to be in a city you know you could meet someone interesting, prep for your travel by either finding yourself a date beforehand or by making plans to meet friends/ family who could help the cause. A lot of people I know get trapped in this ping pong of “Oh, I travelled all the way last time, they should make an effort this time if they want to”, and it’s not always fair. You want to strike the fine balance between being lenient vs not being in denial.

3. Stay connected

Now, you don’t need to spend all your time and money in travelling to meet people every weekend. There’s texting, audio and video calling at practically no cost, so make use of this technology. Technology is so powerful that it transcends distance like never before. Staying connected is a way of saying you are interested. If someone is not making any effort to stay connected, likely they aren’t interested. People can go on dating for years without getting even a step closer to making a decision because it’s easy to trail off when in a long-distance arranged setup. So, it’s doubly important to stay connected, have a routine (although boring) and be consistent.

4. Get creative

Although having a routine helps you sustain a healthy relationship, it’s important to get creative once in a while. Who says you need to hold hands and walk by the shore to be romantic. A candle light dinner on Skype can be just as romantic. Put each other to sleep after a tiring day of work, or play an online game together. The more creative you can get, the more fun you’ll have getting to know each other. It’s okay if you don’t have any ideas on your own, go research on the internet, there are hundreds of people like me to give you ideas.

5. Lock it down

Although it’s hard to hold someone’s hand and have a meaningful conversation, it’s important to let the other person know how you feel. It’s important to be as open and explicit as you can about how you feel. If you have this urge to take things to the next level, you must say so as early as you can because when you are seeing someone virtually, it’s easy to be distracted by other things or people. Time doesn’t always help build relationships, so it’s important to speak up when it feels right for you. If the other person doesn’t feel the same way yet, but you feel the strong urge to make it work with them, then you should look to move to where this person is. Now, if that feels like too extreme a step, it’s probably not worth it.

Simple enough? So, if your folks have been bugging you to meet someone at the other end of the world, give it a shot. These simple steps will surely help you get half the way and the rest is just your charm and luck. If not, there’s always Marriage Broker Auntie!

 

How do you decide whom to marry?

 

Ask the right questions

I hate to admit, but I am a compulsive googler. I’m pretty sure some of you out there are closet googlers too. So, this one goes out to you, especially if you are in a relationship (or just even seeing someone on the arranged marriage market) and wondering if you should get married to the person you are currently seeing. You want to start by asking yourself these 5 basic questions –

Do you get along?

If you are familiar with consulting interviews, a popular way of interviewing someone is to assess if you’re willing to be stuck with this person on an 8 hour flight because most committed relationships are like long haul flights, where you can’t possibly jump off the plane in the middle. You could change seats (read partners), but it’s not easy so you better sit next to someone you “think” you can survive the journey with. If their company is enjoyable, that’s a bonus. So, when you guys met, did you have a good time? If not, don’t bother.

Is there a shared vision?

This is quite easy to get wrong as it doesn’t always mean that both of you should want the exact same things. It can be as simple as – Does this person appreciate your dreams/ ambitions enough to stand by you? Achieving one’s dreams is hard enough already, you need someone who’s willing to cheer you on or not tug you down at the very least. The way to find out is by talking about lots of things that matter to you – work, food, travel, family, social causes, etc. – question is does this person listen to you, understand what matters to you and why?

Have they thought about marriage?

This is important, because you aren’t just looking for a flatmate to share rent with or recruit a new labourer into your household. Have they thought about what kind of a spouse they want, what kind of a partner they want to be or how they plan to accommodate all the changes that come with marriage? Its easy to tell based on what they’re asking you and what they’re telling you. If they’ve just walked in with a laundry list that they want to check off by the end of the night with the slightest of regards for what you want, give them another chance but if they fail yet again, move on. The first thing about marriage is thinking beyond oneself, and if this person’s struggling to do that, it probably means they’re not ready yet.

What about kids?

30 years ago, this question would have never made the list. But today, this is a very important question in most relationships. A lot of people today consciously choose not to have children for a variety of reasons that are personal and convenient for each. However, being married to someone who doesn’t share your thoughts about having kids can be quite frustrating and a sacrifice that may not seem worth it if your partner ceases to be around.

What is your gut saying?

We almost always know when it’s a yes or a no. It’s with the maybes that most of us have an issue with. When someone seems good enough, we like to hang on see if we’ll get more convinced over time. This is a trap you must avoid at all costs. If you really want to be able to make a firm decision, sooner rather than later, I’d say finish the thinking bit even before you meet someone and then let your gut lead. More often than not, our gut leads us to better decisions that we respect for much longer, so if you are a romantic like me, trust your gut.

This is not the ultimate guide to a great marriage, but this gives you a great head-start into making a well informed decision in a short period of time. If you have your own set of questions you like to run with, feel free to do so but make sure these are questions that  would be relevant even after you get married.

Good luck, happy spouse hunting!

Letters to my Berry#23

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Can’t believe you’re going to be two in less than a month and we’ll have to start buying you a seat on flights. In some ways I am glad we can travel more comfortably, but I also worry about you sitting in your own seat on a flight because take off really scare you. When we went to Munich a couple of months back, the flight made a sharp turn while taking off and that scared you to no end. The same thing happened when we went to Copenhagen recently. I went back to feeding you so you could feel secure, and you shut your eyes tight so that feeling of stress subsides.

Watching you be scared was a strange feeling. I wanted to help you feel better but I also knew that it was a part of growing up and you’d to learn to deal with fears your own way too. Growing up, you are. You are very particular about what you eat, what you do, what you wear and well on your way into what everyone likes to call terrible twos.

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When asked what these terrible twos were, someone defined it as toddlers acting like teenagers. You are super territorial and won’t hesitate to even push if someone else sleeps on “your pillow”. You like to carry your bag to nursery everyday. You have this fabulous routine at less than 2, which involves waking up to a cuddle, drinking your milk, dressing up and heading out to the nursery. You stand next to me while I get ready and I have to, have to make sure that I’ve dabbed some cream on your face, brushed your hair and also pretended to put some kajal in your eyes just because I am doing it too! The funniest thing about you is your insistence to have nail paint as soon as the previous coat has gone off. How much more of a girly girl can you be – I surely struggle to keep up.

You’ve become addicted to these kannada nursery rhymes that ajji thatha introduced you to when you were in Bangalore earlier this year. So, every day, you keep screaming for “chinnu” or the protagonist of these rhymes. Although it teaches you a few kannada words and songs, I worry about your creativity being dulled down because of excessive TV watching. I find myself easily resorting to “screen time” just because it lets me get on with life. The downside is, you are two and you don’t know how to play with any of your toys. So, henceforth, I am going to keep an eye on how much “tv time” you are allowed.

We have even ditched our usual bed-time routine of reading a few books and going to bed. Now you need to be rocked to sleep on your bouncer with “Has he lost his mind” playing in the background. From a professional perspective, things have been fast changing for me at work and I can see the effects of it at home in terms of disruption in your routine, so cue for me to get a grip and get us back on “track”. Okay alright, I know I sound like a tiger mum but I also know how much you love routine, so I’ll try.

We have been trying to potty train you without much discipline to be honest. We tried successfully a couple of times but when accidents happen, we panic and that’s scared you off from telling you when you need to go making it difficult for us to try. Things would have been different had you been in India because ajji is very committed to getting such things taken care of. Sigh, I miss her. But hey, I’m not giving up because I plan to tell your nursery folk to start “working on you”. Lol.

We have been thinking about your second birthday and we want to make sure you have a memorable time because you understand birthdays. You keep stacking up bossed and pretending like its a cake and sing happy “terdey”. We’ll probably take you to the zoo again because this time you’ll probably remember seeing the animals better 🙂 Oh and you’ll get a cake for sure. The only thing I am unsure about are the presents to get you because you don’t seem to be getting toys at all. Maybe a drum set? As I’ve said several times before, you love music. You can recognise all songs just by their tunes. When appa starts to play a tune on the keyboard, you immediately start signing along, it’s damn cute. I don’t know when we’ll introduce you to formal training, but for now, this is fun.

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The other highlight of this month has to be your trip to Copenhagen – your 6th country. Once again, you were too scared of the beach and hence chilled on the shore, playing with the sand and screaming your lungs off at all the sea gulls. We were staying in an Airbnb which was very nicely done up with lots of little interesting things, which was like heaven for you. As you can imagine, I spent the rest of my holiday just trying to protect that flat from you bringing it down. This is when I decided no more Airbnb for us, because I can’t be bothered spending my holiday cleaning other people’s houses!! Thanks for making our holidays so eventful, otherwise I would have just chilled in hotel rooms doing nothing, and that would have pissed appa off. Now, we’re all incentivised to step out and see the city. Haha.

More for later, happy 23rd month birthday, my love! 🙂

Visiting Copenhagen

I was in Copenhagen for a family vacation earlier this week. It was unbearably hot, as is London right now. So, I don’t know if it was just the heat that had everyone worked up but in so many ways, I could hardly relate to the things I saw.

We had taken this 3 day tourist pass that allowed us to board trains, busses and ferries through our time there. People had recommended the Canal tour as it was supposed to be like in Amsterdam/ Venice, but we passed as it seemed to wannabe. Instead, we decided to board the ferry and randomly explore. After waiting 20min, we boarded a ferry, and decided to get off randomly at some stop to take a ferry back in the opposite direction. Except, when the ferry arrived, the conductor of the boat came out and said he had a limit on the number of people he can take on the boat and he had a ticker to count. We were about 15-20people waiting, and he let everyone board the ferry except us. He had stopped counting on his ticker after the first couple of people.

Now, at first we thought, oh well bad luck, but some part of me felt like it was discrimination. Maybe I felt this way because just the previous evening, there had been protests around Copenhagen against the recent burqa ban. So I naturally felt like the place might not be very open minded afterall. I know, law of small numbers and all that but you know how the human mind is irrational with these things. Anyway, the husband and i argued about what it was all about and then gave up once we found a place to lunch at. Sigh.

The same evening, we were in a bus on our way to dinner when we witness a black woman and an asian woman fight. Both women had kids with them but that didnt stop either of them from letting the heat get the better of them. The incident started because the black woman pushed her way into the bus tumbling the asian women and her children over to which the asian woman said something to the effect of stop pushing. The black woman retorted saying that people push in a crowded bus and that was life. From there it went on to the black woman calling the asian woman’s husband a pussy for trying to but in to end the argument. The details are quite silly, ugly and unnecessary but the point was that there was so much intolerance among two people who clearly didn’t belong to the place and you would have expected them to be more open or flexible, but sadly that wasn’t the case.

I felt sad, I felt bad that there was so much hatred in the world for no good reason. Maybe Ive been fortunate to not witness such things in London, maybe thanks to the British way of handling things? I am not going to say there isn’t any intolerance here but surely its far less blatant. Luckily, i also met a lot of local people on the train who were very friendly and it took me by surprise after what i’d seen in the first day or two. I would imagine that people in cold countries are warmer because they need that sense of community and warmth when there is little else during winters.

Talking about winters, i wondered how depressing living in Copenhagen during the winter would be because the Area in which we stayed was fairly residential and you could look into peoples homes through your windows and it was a in a strange way the only form of entertainment in the darkness. If you think looking into peoples homes through windows is creepy enough, i found a man opposite us use a binocular to look into peoples’ homes. Beat that! So yeah, Copenhagen was a very strange experience for me, but totally worth the visit.

Rasagai

This is a recipe I have been waiting for all my life. It’s a family recipe of a dish I think is unique to my mother’s family which is Telugu speaking. It involves a pretty strange combination of ingredients – bitter gourd, brinjal and ladies finger. So, it’s fair to say that it’s an acquired taste, and not something you will fall in love the first time. If you feel brave enough, try it a few times and tell me what you think.

Prep Time: 20min | Cook time: 15min

Recipe:

  1. Firstly, you make the masala by dry roasting the following ingredients separately – 11-12 dried mild red chillies (byadagi), 9-10 curry leaves, 4tsp coriander seeds, 1tsp stone flower, 4tsp til seeds, 1tsp chana dal, 1tsp urad dal and 1tsp menthya or fenugreek seeds. Make sure you don’t fry for over a min each. You’ll know as the aroma comes through. Blend these into a coarse paste with 1 cup of grated coconut, a ball-sized tamarind soaked in water and some water.
  2. Next, fry separately 1 cup of ladies finger, 1 cup of brinjal and 1 cup of bitter gourd with little oil and salt.
  3. Prepare seasoning by adding 1tsp mustard seeds, a ping of hing or asafoetida, 4-5 green chillies and 7-8 curry leaves in 2tbsp coconut oil.
  4. Add the pre-fried vegetables, the masala, 1 cup of dal water (water used to pressure cook toor dal) and salt to taste.
  5. Let it boil for about 10min and then it is ready to serve.

It is best eaten with rice, hot or cold. Eating it cold is an acquired taste, but something worth trying. Tell me how it goes once you try it. 🙂