bringing up mother!

Volumes are written about how to bring up children. Everyone who is someone seems to have their own theory about how best to do it. If one feels that sparing a rod helps spoil the child, then another radically different one claims that children should be raised as free spirits. Magazines, newspaper articles, google searches and even pamphlets distributed with newspapers are taking over the task of telling mothers today, in great detail, about what their children need. Starting from the absolute need to enrol your child in a so and so preschool, to the need for developing multiple intelligence, about how you need to be their ‘friend’, how vacations and quality time are most needed and so on.

When I was a first time mother, I felt that parenting can be learnt by the book, and that books of psychology (both pop and serious!) would provide answers to all my parenting queries. It was shocking to realise that a lot of my beliefs were misplaced. The second time through, I was confident about how practical experience with my first child would pull me through the mothering confidently. Again, I came out confused and scrambled.

Taking care of two children and being a working parent seemed to mimic the experience of being put through the wringer of a washing machine on more days than less. I would wonder about the glowing pictures of mothers and happy kids that I would see in commercials and decide that it was just a marketing gimmick. No woman in her right mind could look that peaceful with two growing kids! At about the same time, I did notice that there were women around me without any high flying degrees, lesser help at home and still considering adding a third child to the list! And, surprisingly, there was no hint of panic anywhere visible on their face or demeanour. The more I interacted with them, the more I came to realise that these people had mastered the art of really enjoying their kids.

Lately, I have come to realize that you have to unlearn almost anything and everything that you heard, read or were qualified in. Of course advice helps, books give you confidence, but on the whole, it is a process of learning new things and going by what you feel is right.

On my earlier list of priorities, I had things like disciplined routine, spending time with the child doing some educational but interesting activity, making sure that I was adhering to the school’s guidelines for being an almost perfect mom and hence as a result of all these, having two perfectly behaved angels who would do me proud. Of course, I would put no pressure, but why would they need it? They would already be perfect.

Think about it- we have many such ideas which tell us how to mould and change our child. But in the process, we have hardly thought about how we, as parents need to change and grow alongside our children. Probably because it is so didactic and sad, many of us do not enjoy the process of parenting. We do love our children, but wish that they behave impeccably all the time and that their problems would sort themselves out miraculously, and they grow into poster kids who make us proud!

Both my children have temperaments as different as chalk and cheese. The one who mostly an introvert would suddenly shift gears in the most inappropriate of occasions! The other one who was wholesomely an extrovert, would choose to be at her grouchiest best on occasions when her amicability needed to be on display! And this was just one difference. The obsessive in me sought to find control, discipline them (by fair means and foul- by which I mean, scolding,pleading,bribes and emotional blackmail), but nothing seemed to work.

Then I thought of a civilized way of solving things. I told them that I would make a list of things which I appreciate about them and one more of things which I did not. They could make a similar one about me. And we would swap lists and try to change the things which were in the list of “not so cool”. They took a minute to ponder before they accepted my suggestion. After about 10 minutes of intense concentration, the papers were handed to me. My list was pretty long and winding about each one. I again told them that it was only their behavior that was targeted, and I loved them in spite of “not so cool” stuff- just as explained in psychology text books. We went over each item of my list, with murmurs of assent and dissent. And then it was time to open the list they made. I prided myself over the fact that I was being an intellectual parent by allowing my kids to poke holes in my parenting method. When I did open the paper, I was surprised to the list empty!

busy making the list
busy making the list

My son smiled sheepishly saying, “Well, we tried, but there was nothing that I could list in the negatives. And the rest is all positive. So, I did not take the trouble of writing! sorry”. To be honest, I know that I’m not the best mother in business. I am lazy some days, so involved in my book that I will not listen to their stories on some other, have strict rules about their behavior when we go out, have a certain fixed idea about how they should dress, occasionally lie my way out of things and have double standards. And I also know that at least my son is now old enough to spot these foibles of mine. I was so humbled and touched to be given a clean chit despite all this. This probably is what is called unconditional love, something which we forget to dole out as we age!

Well, my children taught me a valuable lesson that day. To love completely without holding back, accept our faults but still love, nonetheless. It sort of melted my overbearing sense of discipline. Now I don’t seem to mind lego blocks over the floor, unfolded sheets, waking up uncomfortable with a toy under me, books all over the house, and an occasional piece of cookie on my bed! I can tolerate tantrums better. I don’t fly off the handle and think   about how my life was cleaner and easier before kids.I still haven’t changed completely, but I am on my way, and can slowly feel the spring creeping back into my step!

Thanks my babies! In the process of bringing you up, you are teaching me valuable lessons and  definitely helping in my upbringing!

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Memories of kashmir.

Every time I visit a new place, there are a few things about it that I end up storing away between the folds of my brain. These memories are unique, customized and last me forever. There may be things which everyone remembers, important monuments  which I may forget, but these special memories stay with me and make my experience unique. Thanks to digital cameras, (the old ones meant that I lost quite a lost of my pictures because of over or under exposure) and now smart phone cams, most of what I want to retain comes easier to me. Kashmir gave me many such favorite moments which I wanted to share.

A few of the photographs have been borrowed from our friend Dr. Deepak, courtesy a better camera to capture the same scene as compared to my phone cam.

1.This photograph was taken early in the morning from our houseboat on the first day of our trip. It was a cold chilly day, and we saw this couple start their day of work as usual. They seemed oblivious to the scenery around them, concentrating steadfastly on their work of fishing. They worked in harmony, no words needed. The mountains in the back, the bluish light of dawn and still waters made for a beautiful click.

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  1. On the way to Pehelgaum, we spotted a roadside stream and stopped for a photo shoot. There were some girls from nearby villages watching us curiously. We were reluctant to approach them at first, wondering how they would react. Finally when we did ask them, they were really excited and did an entire photo shoot with us! I love the smile on the first girl’s face. Such happiness!

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  1. This was a lovely sunset at Nishatbag, Srinagar. All of us tired after a long day. We were supposed to go to a Kashmiri friend’s home for dinner. There was a little bit of unease owing to the fact that, the area we were venturing into was a little unsafe, within the old city of Srinagar. Most of us were worried, but had no energy to think of an alternative. So we just sat and stared. And then came across such a lovely sunset,that it left me spell bound.
  2. 20150504_190840Well, the old city did come across as a scary place. There were no street lights, small gullies, houses packed against each other, and an eerie silence. There were broken down dust coated maruti cars, old scooters and small joints where boys stood smoking cigarettes and staring at people passing by. But, on the plus side, we got to see an authentic kashmiri house, which is so different from the ones we live in. There are huge completely opaque gates in front of every house. There are innumerable neat glass windows, but all are firmly shut.Even if a few of them are, they hide the innards of the house with gossamer thin lace curtains from which you can see some partly hidden faces peering out! On the first floor of this house, there was a small kitchen cum bedroom. Then on, upstairs a room with a single light bulb and huge pillows to lean on to while sitting on the floor. The floors are made of wood and carpeted. Food is served on a mat, and we need to pick whatever we want sitting around it. But the food compensated for any fear that we might have experienced. Our hosts, in an attempt to make us feel comfortable told us that they had stopped eating non vegetarian fare three days ago, to prevent us from feeling uncomfortable when we ate from the same china! Though we had not even thought about this, we were touched that they had been so thoughtful and hospitable!Each dish was finger licking tasty and we felt royal washing our hands from a huge samovar (a kettle like apparatus made of silver).
  3. 20150504_211601This photograph is my favorite. It looks like the snow is starting to form a wave and trying to move on. It almost seems alive to me.
  4. DSCN0384We trekked on to a mountain about 7000 feet above sea level at Sonmarg. We were out of breath, cold and out in the open with frozen nose tips.Though it was beautiful, there seemed to be a hidden element of danger lurking somewhere. A sudden thought came unbidden that if we were actually trapped on to this mountain with no one around, it would have been really scary. This was when, as if on cue, we happened to spot a small hut across the expanse of snow. Our guide informed us that it was both a mosque and a temple for people who had strayed to pray for their survival. Unfortunately it was closed, but the image stayed.
  5. 20150505_151350This is a Chinar tree up close and personal. The leaves resemble maple trees and the color is a vibrant green belying the fact that the tree is at least 400 years old according to the board stuck on it. It feels so new and so old at the same time.
  6. DSCN0358 Kashmir is such a photographers paradise that you cannot help clicking away continuously. It is one place where you wish your eyes had inbuilt cameras to film what you saw continuously to remember for a later day. Choosing these few were a difficult task, so I hope you enjoy it and feel a little whiff of kashmir inside you:) .

Jannat.

a view of srinagar with hazratbal shrine in the background
a view of srinagar with hazratbal shrine in the background

There is a sense of trepidation at the beginning of any holiday. Especially when a holiday is hard earned, and has burned a reasonably big sized hole in your pocket. When I am travelling so far away from the place I stay, and when I know that the place I am going to was and is a place which has had a troubled history. Kashmir. The name itself generates a gamut of emotions from within. A sense of fear,awe, a thrill of excitement, a surge of patriotism and a burning urge to go on and explore despite all of these.

They say that first impressions are the best impressions, and aptly, the sight of Kashmir from the plane window was enough to convince me that this was a holiday well taken. I have always had a thing for the mountains. They make me somehow invigorated. At one end, they convey a sense of peacefulness, and wisdom akin to an experienced patriarch quietly observing life and whose presence gives you a sense of security like no other. At the same time, they feel like someone young, rough on the edges, dangerous but beautiful like a sorceress. Bewitching, dragging you into her spell to never let you go again.

love at first sight- a view of the valley from the plane
love at first sight- a view of the valley from the plane

And Kashmir is a valley nestled between a ring of such mountains. Looking out from the window of any hotel room is guaranteed to give you a glimpse of all kinds of mountains. Some, dark, gloomy and jagged and others on which the clouds seem to be caressing the rich carpet of snow on top. The valley is filled with houses with slanting bright colored roofs which glitter in the sun. Everything appears sharper than it does in the rest of the world, as though you were looking through a HDR camera filter. One could keep looking forever and not get bored. Every look is click worthy and you finally get exhausted just trying to sort the photographs you have clicked in over enthusiasm.

these are real flowers being sold on a shikara
these are real flowers being sold on a shikara

Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K, is a large, sleepy city surrounded by lakes and gardens. The lakes are filled with shikaras (boats) and house boats. The boats men told us that they were born on small boats on the Dal lake, and as soon as they were old enough to learn to swim, they were taught to row and given a boat of their own to go about their everyday work, like the way we own bicycles! It is a common sight to see small kids in uniforms and hijabs being rowed by their mothers to and from schools. The houseboats in itself are grand affairs built in with intricate carvings, wall to wall embroidered carpets, four poster beds and delicate cutlery to eat out of. Our cook rowed back and forth in his small shikara to bring us piping hot food from his home, which happens to be (no prizes for guessing), another boat!

a samovar from which hot tea (kashmiri kahwa) is served
a samovar from which hot tea (kashmiri kahwa) is served
the opulence inside the houseboat
the opulence inside the houseboat

The city of Srinagar, is bustling and full of traffic. The best view of the city comes from across the Dal lake, with the backdrop of the Hazratbal shrine. This shrine contains the hair of the Prophet, which is displayed to devotees at different times in a year. This shrine allows people of all faiths to pray and visit. Lal Chowk, which got its name from the massacre of a few militants in 1963, looks like any other market area from any city across India. The only difference is the silent presence of army personnel everywhere carrying rifles and walking about as a routine. Apparently, according to our guide, incidences of stone pelting, and street fights between the police and locals are so common that they don’t scare them anymore! At first the omnipresent presence of the convoy of army trucks and so many weapons around makes you uneasy, but as time goes by, just like the kashmiris, you get used to them and then they seem to fade away into the scenery.

srinagar
srinagar
a view of the old city of srinagar
a view of the old city of srinagar

Another amazing landmark is the Adishankara temple. It is said that Shankaracharya climbed on to this peak and meditated, before he set up a shrine there. The small cave which he meditated in has been preserved intact. And it seems easy to understand why he chose such a place. It offers a grand view of the valley below, and mountains around. It must have been a hundred times more beautiful in his time, if that is possible. It also must have taken a lot of will power to close his eyes to meditate as against just continuing to look.

snow capped mountains
snow capped mountains

The Mughal gardens and Nishatbag are abodes to huge chinar trees which are hundreds of years old and have probably witnessed the turbulence and grandeur of Kashmir with equal poise. The gardens reminded me of the Forbidden City of Beijing, China,in the way they are built. The first portion for the commoners, an area behind for the harem and ministers, then on for the king and the queen. There must have been so much similarity in the culture and systems of the yore!

you  wake up to sights like these
you wake up to sights like these
a view of mughal gardens
a view of mughal gardens

Away from Srinagar, the roads are winding, small, with small quaint picturesque villages all over, which gives it the name of Switzerland of India. But in contrast, most villages up close have dilapidated, burnt down houses, age worn creased faces of the villagers telling you of their suffering, schools where kids have to walk from afar, and people sitting idly smoking hookahs. Through their travails, people seem to have learnt to enjoy the small pleasures of life. We saw in these villages, boys lazily playing cricket ( incidentally, I never knew that Kashmir produced cricket bats and has so many bat factories), villagers distributing free rotis in wicker willow baskets as a part of some festival, giggly girls doing their washing near crystal clear streams just off the roads. It may be a sense of acceptance that keeps them happy, or maybe the sight of so much tranquil, natural beauty around them. Or maybe it is just the sight of the mountains.

aru valley, pehalgaum --  wish I had a house there
aru valley, pehalgaum — wish I had a house there

Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pehalgaum each offered us snow and mountains to our hearts content. These places seem to be made for early morning walks to watch the sun rise on the mountains, listen to the gurgling, rushing sound of rivers, hot kahwa steaming mist on my spectacles, smelling the clear mountain air with a hint of pine, lazy evenings of huddling in front of warm fires with monkey caps and shawls, and a persistent sense of confusion whether you want to finish the book you started on the plane or just soak in the scenery for future reference (for once, I chose the latter).

jagged peaks
jagged peaks
soft carpeted mountain tops
soft carpeted mountain tops

Kashmir is a land of contrasts. The natural beauty is so abundant that you are scared to blink lest you miss something. But the cities and towns are crowded, stuffy and basic though quaint in its own way. The people are so extraordinarily hospitable and warm, that you wonder whether the history of violence and terrorism that haunts the place was all but a myth. You feel as if you belong, but then somewhere at the back of your mind, there is a voice nudging you that you may not be let in so close.

Definitely as our kashmiri guide called it — “jannat”, albeit a troubled one!

army personnel standing guard
army personnel standing guard

Food, glorious food.

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To call myself a foodie would be an understatement. My love affair with food began quite early. Even as a child, I was somehow drawn to food the way sugar draws ants. In a way, my obsession with food and books have a mutually common base and an intensely satisfying connection with each other!

By virtue of being a painfully shy kid, I was always happy hiding behind books, which acted as my comfort zone. My earliest memories of reading go back to when I was 7, and when I was given an Enid Blyton book of a circus girl, Carlotta, and her adventures. For someone who had a secret appetite for adventure, her life almost seemed magical. More awe inspiring though, were the different kinds of food described in the book. I must say, Enid Blyton was a master in making the most drab of foods seem so gourmet like, that I grew up on fantasized versions of  Ginger beer, sandwiches, lemonade (which I later discovered was a fancy name for nimbu pani!), boiled eggs, fresh fruits, jam, pickles, midnight feasts and picnics over the hillside. These were the dreams that my childhood was made of. I would almost smell the mountain air, feel the texture of the sandwich and hallucinate the taste of ginger beer. Through Malory towers, Famous five and  Five find outers, unconsciously I became a fan of food.

My make believe games involved getting some food from the bakery, putting it in a basket, laying it out  and having imaginary picnics with myself, and of course my books for company! Over the years, my love for food diversified from street food and chaat to food from north Indian restaurants(which in the 80s were the only alternative cuisine available in Shimoga) and later a fetish for Chinese. Even as my memory for other important things fails me at that most crucial of times, like names of people whom I am definitely supposed to be knowing; food memories never deny me that favor. I still remember the taste of Hakka noodles made by a small Chinese joint in Shimoga which shut shop  a few months later due to lack of regular patrons (other than me, of course!).

Over the years, my love for books and food grew in equal measure, both competing for the first spot. My college days in Mangalore opened new avenues to explore, the best of both worlds. I think I must be the only person who spent all her pocket money on food and the library. I am sure though, that I am the only person in the whole world who read loads of crappy mills and boons only to enjoy the description of food which is described in it rather than the romance! I was introduced to fancy names, french food, Hors d’ oeuvres(which by the way, I still do not know how to pronounce), wine and the mouth watering deserts like Crepe Suzette which I enjoyed by proxy, through these books.

Back then, the only kind of food writing that I knew of were cook books, which describe cooking in a really dull, drab way, measuring each ingredient in great detail, and eventually spoiling the spontaneity of it all! Which is why, I love the way Nigella Lawson cooks. Just by instinct- a handful of this, a sprinkle of that, a bunch of coriander  torn right out of the garden, whisk it all together, and viola! You have a drool worthy dish in front of you! Any ways, I’m digressing, which usually happens when I am talking food.

Coming back to the point, I only got to know that there was a genre’ called food writing  when I discovered a book at a sale. The book called “Endless feasts”, edited by Ruth Reichl, is a collection of articles that various food journalists in Europe and America. The book describes delicious traditional breakfasts of Maine, the grandiose dinners at Ritz in Paris, and stories of how Italian home food is made. Though being a vegetarian meant that I could not even try most of what was described, the descriptions were enough to make my mouth water! From then on, I was hooked! Every book shop I went to, I would scour in the cooking section for hidden gems like these.  They are really difficult to find, and when I did chance upon one, they would be quite harsh on my purse! Nevertheless, over the years I have managed to make up my very own small yet tasty food library! In fact, these are the only books which I return to again and again, when I am in distress. They are my therapists!

For those of you who dig books like these, a list of my favorites:

1. Eating India, by Chitrita Banerjee — which describes the different cuisines of India elaborately along with the history attached to each kind of food. For example, the culinary mastery of chef Pir Ali, who delighted the Nizam of Lucknow’s English guests by presenting a pie which contained tiny live birds which flew away when the crust was opened! Maybe, some connection to the English rhyme, sing a song of six pence….. Such anecdotes makes each dish interesting and each cuisine worth exploring. Different cuisines of India are thoroughly explored and tasted, leaving you slightly full and satiated, by the time you put the book down.

2. Kheer,Korma and Kismet, by Pamela Timms — who is a Scottish Journalist, living in Delhi. This book describes the yummy street food(my favorite kind) of Delhi in vivid detail, down to romantic gully names like Hauz Qazi Chowk,Ballimaran and Chawri Bazaar which elevate the food from the streets to something more exotic and something for which you want to catch the next train to Delhi in a tearing hurry. Daulat ka chaat, phirni, chana bathura,kheer… I’m coming!

  1. Hot tea across India, by engineer turned writer Rishad Saam Mehta. I have always been a lover of coffee, but this book converted me. The book describes the author’s tryst with different types of tea all over India and anecdotes built around it. It describes a journey he took on his bike and how he encountered diverse people, simple meals, different but tasty versions of tea. Definitely my cup of tea!(pun intended)
  2. Choclat, by Joanne Harris . Though this book is about a bigger something, with a moral behind the story and all that, the main attraction remains … yes,the chocolate. Believe me, when you read this book, you can actually smell the warm smells of bread and hot chocolate emanating out of the book. Pralines, marzipans, pastries, hot chocolate and bonbons creep into your dreams and give you a feeling of fuzzy happiness.

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5. Eat, pray love, by Elizabeth Gilbert . Well, to be more specific, the EAT part of the book. That someone could travel to an unknown place, just to experience eating made me feel as if I was reading about a kindred spirit! I would soo do it, if I could just brush my other responsibilities under the carpet! And to go to Italy, would be icing on the cake, but I would be happy just about anywhere! After this book, I don’t feel so weird anymore for being in love with food.

6.The temporary bride by Jennifer Klinec. This book is a non vegetarians delight. It describes the various kinds of food prepared in Iran, and how two people fell in love while exploring food. Some of the food described slightly grossed me out, but nevertheless, I would certainly recommend it for the lovely description of the food given.

There are many more such books which describe food with the love and attention that it deserves on my wish list. With instagram, good reads and tv shows, my ongiong love affair with food has reached new proportions. But, how much ever these tempt me, there is nothing like the comfort you get when you are curled up with a good book, a cup of chai, a plateful of  pakodas, or a bar of dairy milk crackle, or a bag of kurkure, or french fries, or paneer chilli or…hmmmm… the list goes on.