Thursday, January 22, 2015

With love, from Thiruvananthapuram.

One lazy day, as I browsed through channels on TV I came across this white guy on an international food channel, probably on his first visit to Kerala, saying that kappa(tapioca) and red fish curry is his ‘comfort food’. I almost laughed aloud. Comfort food it seems. That is MY comfort food my friend, yours is bread, I thought, with a typical bigheaded grin. And this grin is typical of Mallus, as we are known to take immense pride in our food. And our ego comes from the fact that even though the world eats bread for breakfast, we Mallus eat bread only when we are sick or dying.

You may think that on a map, Kerala looks like an strand of onion that fell out of your Biryani, but remember, this is God’s own ‘country’ and we have diverse slangs and cuisines across districts. I was brought up in the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram, and had a tough time communicating to an earlier housemaid from Calicut. There was nothing common in the Malayalam we spoke to each other; sometimes I had to use Google Images to make her understand vegetable names. Not to mention the number of situations Google decided to get naughty when I searched vegetable names on it:-/

I married a guy from Cochin and that turned out to be something like ‘2 States’. This household makes me question my proficiency in Malayalam. When Cochin people get angry or frustrated, they say ‘Manga Tholi’ and scratch their heads/bang their fists. ‘Manga Tholi’ translates to mango peel, and why they swear with a reference to the harmless and actually delicious mango we’ll never know. But for me, this is highly amusing. :D I still laugh when I see Cochin characters in movies tearing their hair apart and saying ‘Manga Tholi’. Another distinct feature of people in Cochin is that they look down on Thiruvananthapuram, our slang and food.  They also migrate to Thiruvananthapuram in large numbers for jobs, to attend good colleges, schools and for better living in general. Because Cochin has only malls, more malls, and a whole load of Manga Tholi ;-)  

Seafood, especially the red fish curry traditionally slow cooked in a mud vessel brings us all together, despite our differences, which is a feat accomplished earlier by the Janashatabdi Express. Even hard- core non-vegetarians (majority of the population) enjoy the purely vegetarian sadya on the banana leaf, complete with four payasams. A true blue Mallu will lick his fingers when he finishes the last payasam. And that is how it is done. We also intend to invite Oprah Winfrey for Onam to eat a full-fledged sadya with fork and spoon.

Image Courtesy: Here
Sadya in Thiruvananthapuram is different from other places as we have a special item called Boli with Aripayasam (Paal Payasam). My husband hadn’t heard of Boli till he married me. And he claims to have eaten Sadya! How ridiculous is that? Pity, I say. Firstly, living up to age 27 without knowing the awesomeness that is me, and secondly, not knowing Boli? Sigh.

Now Boli is a traditional sweet, served with payasam for Sadya.
Boli and Payasam: Image Courtesy
This is a unique item mostly known and enjoyed only in Thiruvananthapuram. And that is my idea of comfort food, my friends. I eat it with my soul. I have attended innumerable Hindu weddings for it, without any idea about the bride or the groom. 

This Christmas, Mummy Boli and Payasam at home and needless to say, it was the best thing about Christmas. I invite all my friends reading this, to try this delicious dish, if you haven’t already. 

We forgive you for hating Thiruvananthapauram.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The pre-Christmas pickle.

December 14, 2014.

Hubby had to leave from Muscat to his home on emergency, which left me and Aaron in quite an unforeseen situation. Our tickets were booked for the 19th of December and we had four more days to go. 1. I had to manage work, home and Aaron alone for four days. 2. I had to control him at the airport alone on the day of travel. 3. I had to pack our stuff and keep a tab on the weight 4. Last but not the least, I had to calm down.

On the first night without the hubby I realized that I was not a brave parent. So we slept with a small light on, so that any ghosts, thieves or serial killers wandering in the corridor may find us sooner than they intended to. For a three year old, ignorance is bliss and he is a testimony to that. He ate, drank, watched TV and slept peacefully. It was me who stayed awake till 2 am trying to hear imaginary noises.

After successfully staying alive for three nights (yoohoo!), came our last day before flying off to our vacation. It was an extremely busy day at office, but I took a few moments off to check-in online and I logged on to the airline website. The website was sophisticated well designed and had all possible options an airline website could provide. I was impressed.  The air hostesses on the cover page of the website looked like they just fell off from heaven. I clicked on the link ‘Online check in’.

I entered the confirmation number from the ticket only to get a message that said ‘We are unable to check in using this number. Please contact customer care’. My heart raced.  I called up customer care and the conversation went like this.

Me: ‘Hello?’

Useless female 1: ‘Hello, Good Morning, This is Airline office. How may I help you?’

Me: I have two tickets tomorrow on your flight  XYZ. I am unable to check in online.

Useless Female1: ‘No problem Ma’am. Please give me your ticket number’

Me: “It is 12345.”

Useless Female1: ‘I am sorry Ma’am your ticket was cancelled five days back. You may want to book ticket again at our revised ticket rate’

The revised rate of the ticket looked like the approximate net price of the aircraft.

Picture courtesy: Here
Me: “This is ridiculous! My husband had booked three tickets, and he cancelled only his ticket. Just his. My son and I are travelling tomorrow!”

Useless Female 1: “Madam, we have refunded the amount of all the three tickets”

Me: “ WE DID NOT request cancellation of all three tickets!

Useless Female1: “Hold on, Madam, I will pass your call to the concerned Department”

Why did this female answer the call if she was not the “concerned” person? From the way these people handled airline booking I dint think that anybody was really ‘concerned’.

Useless Female 2: “Hello, Madam, you should know that the entire amount for all three tickets was refunded, you have to purchase ticket again”

Me : “What the hell are you talking about? Does it occur to you that unless it is mentioned explicitly you cannot cancel tickets at your own discretion?”

Useless Female 2: “Then you have to talk to that person who sent the cancellation number!”

Me: “What do you mean ‘THAT PERSON’. Who is THAT person? Do you have someone who can solve this issue? A phone number you can give ? How responsible are you?”

Useless Female 2: “We can’t do anything about this Madam…”

I disconnected the call. I had emptied the fridge, packed and informed all my colleagues. Our minds were anticipating this trip for months. That’s not all. To make matters worse, I wished my colleagues a happy new year in advance as I was going on vacation, and now I dint know how to undo any of that.

This was a kind of pickle I did not expect to be in the last moment. I could somehow explain the situation to my parents and Aaron, but showing up at office another day, after broadcasting my itinerary to everyone as if I was going to Malibu was beyond me. I quickly made plans B and C in my head, one of them being taking my laptop and working behind the office Christmas tree. Meanwhile I logged on to another website to check if there were any other flights available for the 20th of December. And there was one at a reasonable fare.

Finally when the aircraft touched down my home grounds, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I took immense pride in myself, for all the things that happened in the last moment and how we managed to see through it. It was like a Christmas suspense thriller with a Bollywood climax.

I am now back from a blissful vacation. J

Thank you, Jesus, for the strength. May be next time you could consider giving me surprise tests at other occasions and not Christmas. Just saying.  Hope you had a great birthday!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

When there is more chaos than Christmas.

It's December…Christmas is here…! And we are going home for the season! Yoohoo!

We booked the tickets two months in advance as season tickets are staggeringly expensive. Well we had been religiously methodical and highly proactive about setting a reminder to be the first ones to book when the online ticket window opened. We are always the people straight out of ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ when it comes to booking tickets to go home. And it goes without saying that we reserve this habit for booking etickets only.

So what really happened was, in the early hours of the first of December, a new project kick started at office. 

The expression when new project was announced 

All of November, I was trying to wind up official stuff and prepare mentally for the forthcoming intellectual freedom. Like someone said Man Proposes, Office Disposes. By the look of some people, wrinkles on their foreheads and the complex(mostly pointless) words written on some documents I realized that it was not going to be a smooth ride to the airport. I am supposed to write and deliver a certain code just before I exit for vacation.

For those lucky people who do not work in software, a new project means this:

1. Somebody’s brain child is converted into a task list with the names of victims (commonly called software engineers) against it. 

2. They seem to have no idea what life was like before it.(I swear we were just fine)
3. It is always on HIGH PRIORITY. There is nothing called a low or medium priority project. 

As far as software projects are concerned, people do not believe in postponing them to start ceremoniously after the New Year.

So here I am, bound in a file, eloquently named ‘Task Assignment’. But my hope is still looking up. Amidst all this, there is Christmas purchase, expenses that came out of nowhere, the tree which had to be decorated, toddler who has to be kept away from the tree and the ceiling fan and geyser pipe which collectively declared strike this week. All year Muscat is warm and when it starts getting cold the geyser screws up. Being a highly effective person does not give me more skin to endure the biting cold so among all this chaos I have to keep up with the maintenance guys whom I suspect to have hibernated for the season.

To complete the mess, the sudden change in climate brought with it all kinds of viruses so I am also coughing and sneezing as I type this. I am pretty sure my keyboard is now the dance floor of the most vivacious germs. It may even turn into breeding ground at night.

I am also gearing up for the major event that is packing for vacation. And this activity is
Image Courtesy: Here
scheduled next week

 In movies, when a guy gets banished from the family, he walks out leaving all his stuff behind taking with him just his ego. However when a girl runs away from home she has her stuff. Some of it are sent through cargo.

But this is strictly restricted to movies, my friends. During packing we realize that a whopping 65% of the space is occupied by the superficially free spirited, supposedly ‘light’ traveler husband with his shoes alone that needs a cargo box. However when I pack few extra earrings the most undeserving one speaks loudest. Have I told you that everyone in my house go completely out of their minds while I pack (which includes THEIR stuff)?

 I need to take a vacation alone just to pack in peace.  

So, how do I pack for my packing vacation?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

End the pretense. Speak up for Cleanliness. (AbMontuBolega)

We must stop saying the clichéd statement that our country is diverse, because there is one thing that keeps us united across the nation. It is the accumulated filth. And some of it dates back to the era we read about in stories and religious books.

The first and foremost step towards a cleaner India, is to make peeing in public punishable. We do not go to the living room corner and pee there because bathroom is ten seconds away, right? Similarly our surroundings are where we spend a majority of the time, so keeping it hygienic is equally important. We need more public toilets, and some discipline too. This is not impossible. Diapers are an option for adult babies who don’t understand discipline.

Secondly, we must learn through practice, to control the overwhelming urge to spit. We have a habit of chewing paan, or gum and dispose it wherever it seems convenient. I have also noticed that Indians produce the maximum saliva in the world and have the compulsive tendency to spit anything that can possibly come out of their mouths wherever they like. It could be a movie poster, a new car, or wherever it lands from the top of a building.

Thirdly, we must accumulate waste and dispose them at the nearest garbage bin. For example a simple road trip can generate garbage like tissue papers, disposable plates and glasses, tea bags, plastic wrappers, biscuit covers and the like. When travelling with babies there will be soiled diapers too. It takes little effort to combine these in a single plastic bag and dispose them at the nearest dustbin. Accumulate waste.Dispose at the right place. I swear this is easier than pulling down the window multiple times only to deposit the waste somewhere it should not be.

Fourthly, we all know our country has the most beautiful tourist locations. I am a normal citizen with a reasonable amount of patriotism and none of my ancestors have fought in the freedom struggle, yet I cry inside when I see some of the finest streams and architectural marvels infested with rodents and insects, because people enjoy throwing leftover food and plastic bags in these places . Of all the places I've visited, India has more pride worthy, breathtaking places (no kidding)  but we don’t flaunt it enough because we all seem to be busy abusing it beyond repair. It is high time we keep our tourist spots clean and help the Government generate more revenue from tourism and stop bothering us.

Fifth and an important step towards our goal is a turnaround in terms of attitude. For example in the Middle Eastern countries, a third of the population are Indians. Believe it or not, here one can see Indians who actually know how to keep the city clean! The metro trains and public spaces are spotlessly maintained, they clean up after picnicking at the parks, follow the 'accumulate and dispose' commandment religiously, and even have their cars cleaned on a daily basis. The same people upon landing in India, throw their boarding passes on the roadside first thing after exiting the airport. They stick their gums at the back of the taxi seats. This is the worst kind of NRI hypocrisy. It should be given a name, considered as a sickness and treated through disciplinary action.

Image Courtesy: Click here

It is our responsibility to keep the surroundings clean. Sadly, ‘they’ (whoever was supposed to come and clean up after us) are NOT coming.  The #AbMontuBolega campaign, initiated by Strepsils is a strong reminder to that. We need to stand up, speak and practice cleanliness. Let’s START!

This post was written to support the Strepsils initiative towards a cleaner India, #AbMontuBolega. You can follow the same on Facebook and Twitter. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bucket List Status: One down, 728356 to go.

Image Courtesy: Google Images

I have a bucket list which had been conveniently ignored ever since the birth of my son. The procrastinator in me was hoping to hang on to the same when suddenly in the month of September, realization dawned (no, it wasn’t anything I ate, it just happened). What am I doing? At this pace I may just die at some shopping mall and no one will even know I existed. My bucket list had started glaring back at me. I had to take some initiative. The last time I remember taking some initiative was in the labor room. Let’s not go into that now.

In Oman, the entire journey from getting a learner’s book to the license is like a monkey maze with snakes and ladders in between. Before you get any ideas that this is anything close to interesting, let me remind you that the ladders are lined with fire and the snakes are King Cobras. I got the learner’s book after the eye test and signal test, which is a baby step towards the goal. And baby steps don’t count for adults.

Soon I found a trainer near the place where I stay, and when I went on my first driving session with him, he made me feel so nostalgic, I couldn’t believe my ears. He sounded exactly like my parents when I was 17 and they were pushing me to clear the entrance examination. Sweet! I knew I was in for a rough ride. But there was no looking back.
Image Courtesy: Google Images.

I got the license yesterday, so I want to share with you the invaluable gems of wisdom I happened to get in the process.

1. Do not mess with the driving instructor. If they don’t press their side of the brakes, you are dead.

2. Time is everything, so is timing. Never make the instructor wait for you.

3. The instructor will talk. You will listen. That is how it works.

4. You must be a veteran in the art of how not to convert your thoughts into words.

5. The argument that you have only one pair of eyes will stay in your head. Forever.

6. Traffic signals can’t see you. They don’t get it when you are giving it a deadly stare.

7. No matter how long you've been driving, you just cannot spare a moment to check your hair in the rear view mirror. You may have done your hair and make up in India when cows in slow motion where crossing the road, but that simply does not apply here.

8. If your instructor is checking Facebook or WhatsApp chats on his phone while you drive, it does not mean that he trusts you. Remember, his foot is firm on the brakes.

9. Silence is golden. Always scream internally.

10. Always say ‘Sir’ at the end of every sentence spoken to the instructor. It goes a long way.

11. If he says you touched the white line, you probably did. Always agree with him.

12. When he is mad at you, shut down your mind and keep driving. Do not restart it.

13. Even if your enemy is trying to cross the road, let him. Chill, you will get      better opportunities.

14. Parking between the lines is not as easy as reading between the lines.

15. You are allowed to swell with pride when you get that parking right between the cars. Unfortunately nobody appreciates good parking and you don’t get any brownie points. Life is a bitch.

16. Do not check your eyebrows while waiting at a signal. Traffic signals are evil they sense it and suddenly turn green.

17. ‘Orange’, ‘Amber’ and ‘Yellow’ are the same when it comes to traffic signals. It means DANGER.

18. Do not stop or reduce speed for the pigeons. Their lives are suspense thrillers. Yours is not.

19. When you drive, anything he eats sitting next to you may smell tempting. Do not look. Try not to think about it. Never drool.

20. When he is drinking hot coffee, continue driving normally. We are not authorized to change anybody’s destiny. If anything untoward happens, refer points 3 and 9.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The shopping trip I almost survived.

For the past week, every time I open a document to write something,  I have been mysteriously disturbed by more important things. Last time I remember, it was hunger. Basically, I did not do justice to my blog in the month of October. I do not call this a writer’s block, as it is applicable only to writers. A more plausible term would be laziness.

Image Courtesy: Google Images
My husband and I work at the same office, and obviously stay in the same house so the only time we take time off each other is while shopping. Aaron, my son, usually chooses to hang out with me because I carry around a mini living room  which contains everything he needs except a TV and sound system – namely water, biscuits, wipes, extra clothes, shoes, sanitizer, napkins, coconut oil, tiny toys (just in case the patience limit is exceeded) the list is never ending. Whereas, whenever he hung out with his Dad, he returned like he came from battle ground. I take him shopping and keep the conversations going…’Aaron did you like this dress?’ Without a pause I involve him in whatever I check out at the mall, because non involvement makes kids extremely bored, frustrated and unwanted. This causes screaming, hunger, loo visits that are not genuine, thirst, "I miss Appaaaa" and other unexplained catastrophes that I am forced to dump the shopping bag and make an exit as fast as possible. And leaving the shopping bag at the shop without billing it is not easy. It contains carefully selected stuff and things I may not want other 'lovely ladies' at the mall to have. Well one thing they don’t tell you about motherhood is about having to let go of shopping bags that will never make it to the billing counter.  

So, yesterday he had an extra class at school. Yes my son who is in nursery had extra class for his upcoming dance concert. In my school days, the first time we ever came across anything that involved waking up early on a weekend was in the tenth grade. Even then it was ridiculous enough. After his ‘extra class’ we went to the mall, because it was November 1st and salary was credited into the account, which was a feeling of fresh rain on a dry, parched land. As usual, my conversation with the little one started, keeping him cheerful and engaged. I also chose a nice hat for him to keep his spirits high. I showered him with compliments too, which made him feel really good. He was hopping around with me, and even offered to carry the shopping bag – well it was more dragging than carrying.

I reached the cosmetics section and was checking out some nail polishes, and I asked Aaron to see if there was something he liked. The section was handled by a sweet lady with very small eyes and heavy makeup. She was like the poster girl for the makeup section and looked like she wore every possible makeup that was available. After a few seconds I realized that Aaron had been silent for a while. I turned around to check on Aaron and he was staring at this lady, while she was trying her best to ignore him. I interrupted him and said  ‘Aaron come here…see this?’ and he came to me saying in his broken English ‘ Amma…look’ and pointing directly at this woman’s face who was standing right behind me, he blurted out  ‘CARTOON’.

I had lost my will to shop. I held Aaron’s hand, and left that section in a hurry frantically searching for any scarf that I can get to cover my face. I did not give a second look at this lady who must have been mortified. If someone said that to my face I’d be really insulted and wouldn't feel any better just because it came from a toddler or a talking parrot. I did not apologize and make it bigger for the same reason. And I fled like there was fire. Later while I waited outside with Aaron I explained that it was bad manners to point at people. He nodded, but I wouldn't expect a three year old to understand social code of conduct. In fact he was checking out his forefinger to see if something was wrong, because I told him not to point :-/ 

That was another weekend of my volatile shopping trip with little Aaron. Like every other day, I ended up buying more stuff for him than for myself. Sigh.