Son Teaches Father Teaches Grandfather.

The tiny battery cell in my computer gave up and I had to replace it. I got a technician to do it for me. He cheerfully did it on Saturday evening, reset the timings taught me how to use the antivirus program in my computer to scan every few days and left. Today being a holiday for our Republic Day, he will return tomorrow to take the CPU for servicing, as he suggests that I do it as it is full of dust and other undesirable things inside it. Hopefully, I should get the CPU back tomorrow evening.

After he left however, every time I booted up the computer it started doing strange things and I could not figure out what to do. Luckily, Ranjan, our son was at home and he reset the programs and it has been working alright since then. Son teaching father case number one.

My father wanted to get a couple of his reference books covered with brown paper as the original covers were looking a bit shabby with much use. He asked me to help him with it, and I popped across to a neighborhood shop, got some wrapping paper and did the job in a few minutes. I am pretty good at it as this was something that we had to learn when in school to protect our books so that they could be handed down to younger siblings or more needy students.

My father was very impressed with the finished work and asked me to teach him how to do it so that, he need not trouble me again when other books needed such covering. So, with much flourish, I took a couple of old books, some old newspaper a pair or scissors and showed him how to do it, let him do it on his own under my supervision and left him alone to practice. After some time, he called me over and proudly showed off the outcome of his latest craft learning experience. I could tell that he was very pleased with himself. Son teaching father case number two.

Subsequently, I was musing about some of the things that my father had taught me when I was young and went back fifty years to when he taught me how to drive a car. We had a huge Chrysler Automatic Transmission car, which he thought was not quite the car in which a lad of my years could learn how to drive and so got another car, a small Morris Minor with floor stick shift gear. He first asked me to watch him use the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals and how he coordinated the foot and hand to shift gears. He then changed seats with me and asked me to drive while giving running instructions. After a few tries of releasing the clutch with much trepidation and getting it all wrong, and a few knocks to the head to get it right, I got it right and there was no looking back after that. He let me drive under his supervision for a while, and let me loose on my own, while he watched from a distance and gave me pass marks for having learnt how to drive. I of course had to learn the rules, signs etc on my own. In those days, many of these were taught in our classes on Civics so it was not too difficult.

I, in turn taught my son to drive.

Three generations of top down teaching of one subject and in the last couple of days, bottom up teaching on different subjects! I could not of course give a few knocks on the head to either when I taught them! Nor could my son to me I suppose!

Did you get knocks on your head when you learnt something from a parent? Did you carry on the tradition when you taught your child something?

Eat A Lot Of Greens.

I am too lazy to write today. There is something peculiar going on in the blog world as I keep getting 403 message from Google that some attempts are being made to access many blogs by spammers. I am therefore unable to visit my blogger friends’ blogs to get some inspiration.

I therefore use the opportunity to introduce my sister Padmini to all of you. You have of course read her little work of praise about me already. She is a professional writer based in Chennai, which used to be called Madras many years ago. She is a regular blogger with sulekha.com, writes the last page for Eves Touch, and contributes regularly to that magazine besides writing columns for the Economic Times, Chennai edition. She has also written or co-authored cookery books a couple of which have even won some prestigious awards.

This is a guest post from her on the adventures of purchasing greens of which India has a wide variety to choose from and to suit different tastes. Almost all Indian households consume green leafy vegetables as a routine and she is no exception nor we at Pune at my home.

If there are any queries about the terms used please do not hesitate to seek clarification in the
comments box. She will be delighted to answer.

Keeravani or Spinach Saga

Every morning, the streets of Chennai resound with the cries of the Spinach seller. The variety of the product in her little basket puts to shame the vegetable trolley of any supermarket. This leafy vegetable used to be known as the poor man’s vegetable. Today it is expensive, reduces drastically in quantity after cooking, tedious and time consuming to clean and cook for the busy working woman.

The Spinach vendor normally brings the molai keerai and the arai keerai, or as it is known in the North as the Chauli bhaji. This is the staple variety of the green vegetable in the South and has traditionally been cooked as a mashed side dish. Sometimes a little left over dal is thrown in and a tadka of mustard seeds, urad dal, a red chilli and hing are used as seasoning. The Keralite family cooks the spinach with coconut and green chilli with only mustard and urad seasoning. This is the traditional keerai molaguttal and other vegetables are also substituted. Pooshani or pumpkin, chow chow, knohlkohl, cabbage, cauliflower, tinda, peerkangai or toori make suitable thaan for the dish. The Tanjore equivalent is poricha kootu with some roasted urad dal and red chilli thrown in as well. The Tanjorians also make the same dish with avarai, beans and drumsticks with the latter boiled or steamed, the pulp removed from the fibre and added in bulk giving out the most exotic flavour. The more innovative make a sambhar with it.

With cookery classes on TV and recipes in magazines the Palak Paneer (with cottage cheese) and Spinach Soup have become new ways of eating the vegetable. The inventory of the keerai seller changes according to the season and clime. It caters to a clientele that is loyal, yet difficult to please. In recent years, many North Indians have moved into Madras. So their demand for Paalak has seen the popularisation of the gooey creeper, pasalai, which comes closest to the original. The original Delhi paalak is available now in the city. I learnt to cook the vegetable in Mauritius in its various avatars. The zepinard is akin to the North Indian paalak. A bouillon or watery soup-onion, a piece of ginger, a pod of smashed garlic and a hint of tomato sauted and boiled with the green leaf- is the common way of cooking it in that island.

A favourite green of Mauritius is the Kachoo or the huge leaf of the Yam or Arabi that flourishes on the banks of the little streams that flow through many sugarcane fields and residences in the island. In fact the Kachoo is a compulsory dish that is cooked at their feasts especially on the eve of the wedding celebrations when the Tilak or Haldi is performed.

The same leaf is made into a curry by the Maharashtrians called paathal bhaji with tuvar dal, jeera and coriander powder, marathi moggu-a spice (substitute with garam masala), onion, tamarind pulp, ground peanuts and a thadka of mustard and heeng.

You can see the familiar ‘Aayi” cleaning the greens in the IInd class compartment of the suburban trains on her way home to cook the day’s dinner. The Gujerathis smear it with besan and masala paste, roll into cylinders, steam and then shallow or deep fry it and call it pathrel. Alas this leaf too like the favourite salad leaves lettuce are obtainable in Panagal park-impossible to access- and Broadway-parts of the city that any sane housewife will avoid.

Watercress is also a very popular leaf and is eaten in a salad or in a bouillon in Mauritius. The weekly shandy market at Quatre-Bourne and Rose-Hill saw vendors bringing the greens to sell on their by-cycles and vans. Often it was the Tamil people, especially the older generation, that would sell their produce to me with some spoken Tamil and a few free bunches of greens thrown in for goodwill. Strangely the names for coriander and curry leaves in Creole, the local language, are in Tamil. Inevitably in the early days when they could recognize my ignorance as a novice cook they would also advice me on the cleaning and cooking process. The green leaves of the cauliflower, the red pumpkin creeper, the chow-chow and knoll-kohl were also used in a bouillon.

The basic recipe was the same, only the leaf was a different one. Onion, garlic and a tomato were the common ingredient. As the years went by, the need to buy the spinach was overtaken by the largesse of our landlord, neighbours and friends who inevitably would bring bunches of their garden produce for me to cook. The irony was that their families would not eat the spinach for familiarity bred contempt. So I would cook the garden fresh vegetable and send to their houses. The paalak also makes great bhajji with the whole leaf dipped into batter and fried-add a hint of cornflour to the basic bhajji batter of besan, chilli poder, a dash of rice flour to make it crisp, heeng and haldi powder with a tablespoon of hot oil or liquified ghee.

Living in Bombay and shopping in Colaba, Matunga and Grant Road the sheer greenness of the leafy vegetable piled on the carts would invite you to buy. The huge bunches of the Coriander leaf, mint and the methi or fenugreek was taken home and cooked into chutneys, parathas or used as a garnish with potatoes. The popularity of Italian food with the families encouraged experiments in our kitchens and the Paalak began to make an appearance in lasagnas and fresh made pasta.

This was the time I was introduced to the Punjabi staple of Sarason ka Saag or the mustard leaf dishes. Alas, when I moved to Madras I missed the Paalak and Sarason. My friends and relatives would load my husband with plastic packets of the greens whenever he visited Delhi or Bombay. My doctor friend in Delhi would cook the sarason, freeze it and send it along with freshly plucked paalak from her garden.

My mornings in Chennai have been vastly enriched by the visit of my spinach seller. She was a crafty old lady who would bully me into buying the greens everyday. Her selling spiel would include the need for me to cook and eat all kinds of country greens. Vallarai for memory, manathakaali for stomach ailments, nettu nelli for heaven knows what! My ignorance of the efficacy of these specialties was derided with scorn. I was also emotionally blackmailed to supply her with Gelusil, Crocin and Ibuprufen with a never-ending list of ailments. Once she even claimed that somebody had split opened her skull in anger and took money from me for hospital expenses. My request to her to slightly alter her timings to avoid my husbands meal times was unheeded and “Amma-a-a-a, keerai” was the cry that heralded her arrival at the exact moment when I was serving food on the plate. Her impatience inevitably matched that of my husband. Her prices were comparable to the rise and fall of the daily Dow Jones. Often she commandeered fancy prices and got away with it as she would play on my sympathies with-“I am old, my legs are aching, you are the first one to whom I sell because you are a good Boni(lucky buyer)”. She was an ace saleswoman who could bring on the violins and play on my sympathies.

When I was away for over a month in the West, I enjoyed the varieties of lettuce. The frozen spinach, cleaned and moulded into cubes and cylinders was truly delicious. My regular cooking of spinach ( a packet that lasted me for the whole month with 2 cubes used to make my molagguttal caused a lot of heartburn to my son, as spinach to him is still strictly “Popeye stuff” as lettuce is rabbit food.

On my return to India and my routine life, I missed the call of my Keerai kari. When I made inquiries I found out that she had a tiff with the building society board members. She had literally been thrown out, screaming and yelling after a bout of verbal abuse and misbehavior. The lady who threw her out alas disappeared from the earth after a horrendous accident. My raucous and strident ‘ keeravani’ -named by Raju my husband, not in honour of the exquisite raagam in Carnatic Music, but for her strident call, returned in the morning.

I confess that I love spinach and am always on the lookout for new ways to cook and enjoy the dish.

Solution Before The Problem – II

Back again to some serious stuff. I confess that I made an error in judgment about the new American judgment in my earlier post here. It is worth reading my response to Delirious about what I believed was the new administrations agenda on Pakistan.

I had not anticipated such rapid developments on Pakistan and on day 1 President Obama has ruffled feathers in Pakistan and the cat and mouse games have started all over again. Our leading newspaper in Western India, the Times of India catches the nuances quite well and I urge my American friends to give some time to this article.

I also request my American friends to read this post by my friend Jerry Davich in his blog. This is also a case, unusual for its novelty value to keep track of a politicians promises and his ability or willingness to deliver on them. I hope to start something like this in India come next elections for our national parliament, just three months away. Here is a case of the solution being presented before the problem becomes one! Just citizens monitoring action!!

The “Cute” Patriarch.

I have been posting some serious topics recently and it is time for a lighthearted one.

Our son Ranjan thinks that his grand father is cute!

Let me explain.

On his arrival to stay with us, among the various adjustments that had to be made, was to fit my father with a new hi-tech hearing aid. This was duly arranged for, and he has already been to the clinic a few times for adjustments to the instrument. While at the clinic, all complaints are satisfactorily attended to, no sooner he reaches home, where the environment is not sound proof, he was finding wearing the aid discomforting.

When a couple of days ago, he caught hold of Ranjan with some spare time, he requested that he be taken to the clinic. I suspected that it was to enjoy an outing with his grandson and did not particularly object.

On return Ranjan came up to me and said, “Dad, Thattha (Tamil for grand father) is cute”. This is the first time that anyone has called my father that, and I asked in amazement as to what made him think so.

It transpired that my father complained to the doctor that the aid was not responding to his adjusting the volume control to which he was told that that facility had not been activated yet, as per normal procedure, and that it would be done, once he got used to the unit. My father had been informed of this on earlier occasions, but perhaps had not understood the message. He then complained that wearing the unit did not result in any improvement whatsoever to his hearing ability. He further complained that when he wore it, there was a loud disturbing hum in his ear. When the hearing aid was examined by the doctor, it was found that there was no battery inside. Apparently, in fiddling with the volume control etc, the battery had fallen off! Since there was no battery, obviously, the loud disturbing noise was only in his imagination! My father was again tutored in detail, as to what all he needs to do to get used to the unit and sent back.

After they left the clinic and in the car, my father apologized to Ranjan and wondered how he could have lost the battery! He also wondered how the loud noise disturbed him at home but not at the clinic!

Ranjan found this episode quite funny and that is why he thought that his grandfather is “cute”. My siblings and other second and third generation members of the family reading this post, will vouch for one fact. That description would not have been used by anyone else in the family in earlier years.

Any such “cute” stories out there?

The Empty Nest Syndrome.

“Kids aren’t ruining parents’ lives,” Dr. Gorchoff said. “It’s just that they’re making it more difficult to have enjoyable interactions together.”

I came across this fascinating article which caught my eye because we went through the empty nest syndrome on three separate occasions and came out of them fairly intact. We were told on all three occasions that we were particularly impacted because we have only one child.

Let me explain.

Firstly, in India, children living with parents and grand parents is still quite prevalent and family ties are very strong. This is changing rapidly, but for our generation, this is still so.

When our son Ranjan was growing up, I was in an employment where, every few years, I was getting transferred on promotions to newer locations. This was impacting Ranjan’s studies quite a bit and when in 1983, when he was just twelve years old, we decided to send him to a boarding school, it was a very difficult decision to make but take it we had to. The timings of the transfers did not particularly accommodate school term timings and this was the primary reason for our decision.

Off he went to boarding school, and for the next three years, my wife Urmeela and I were left to manage on our own. During those days, I was also traveling quite a bit and Urmeela had to be alone at home for about three weeks on average per month.

In 1987, luckily, we were transferred to a city when academic timings coincided, and Ranjan joined us for the next eight years. He completed his college education and post graduation while staying at home. Subsequently, he also got employment where we lived. It was a boon for Urmeela as I was still traveling to the same extent.

In 1995, when I retired for the first time, Ranjan got a job offer in another city that was just too good and he left home again. Since I was at home, it was not too bad for Urmeela and we had a quiet retired life for a few months. I was pulled out of retirement by a local industrial house with an offer that I could not refuse and so for the next thirty months, it was back to corporate life. I completed that assignment and went back into retirement. In the meanwhile, Ranjan returned to our hometown after just over an year’s working as his employer had to shut down due to some family problems of the promoter of the company. Since then, he has been living in our home town, with a few long stretches of overseas postings.

Ranjan got married in 2001 and he and his lovely bride made their home with us. Till 2005, they lived with us when they decided to separate and both took separate residences. Ranjan moved out again and was living as a bachelor for about a year and a half till he decided that the infrastructure in his parents’ home was better than what he had experienced all alone by himself. He is now back with us.

We have thus experienced the empty nest syndrome on three separate occasions and Urmeela has experienced the worst of it because, she was left alone for long stretches of time when neither Ranjan nor I was at home.

The article revived memories of those days, and I can vouch for one thing that the article does not pay sufficient attention to. Whenever the nest was empty, Urmeela and I found it possible to relate to each other in a completely different way than when Ranjan was with us or when he and Leena, his wife were with us. That relating has brought us very close to each other and I sincerely doubt that such closeness would have been possible without the empty nest situations that we experienced.

The article is more relevant to Western readers, but parts of it are relevant to us too. I know that many of my readers are parents with children away from home and it is for this reason that I have thought it prudent to post this article.

How does the article impress you?

Getting To Know Me – II

I am really overwhelmed by the response to my previous post. Apart from the comments that have appeared on the blog, I have received many emails congratulating me for putting it up and seeking to know more about me.

Rather than write an autobiography, my dear sister Padmini, has suggested that I post what she had said about me on my 60th birthday.

For my non Indian friends, the 60th birthday in India is an important mile stone, and Hindus usually celebrate it in a grand scale. This goes back to those old days when life expectancy was not as high as it is today and so anyone living up to 60 years of age was considered to be blessed and so the fuss. That tradition has continued till date. None in my immediate family however had a big bash but we did treat it as an important milestone and congratulated each other by mail. Subsequently, when my brother from England had come to India,we had a grand evening out with the whole family as by then, all three brothers had crossed the threshold. This year, our youngest, the sister will reach that milestone in October and hopefully we shall do something about that.

I am rather embarrassed about posting this little note but, I have never really been able to say no to my sister. So, here it is for what it is worth.

Roller-coasting through life’s
Adventures, experiences, encounters
Manoeuvring the waves of existence
Always available with a friendly shoulder
Neutral, never dictatorial and overbearing
A Man for all seasons

Relishing, the good things of life
Adopting change and surrendering, but
Jovial, joyful, jaunty and insouciant
Going the extra mile in work and for people
Open to inputs on the trivial and profound
Painfully and obsessively neat and tidy
Amiable but with the simmering clan ire
Unparallaled sibling and beloved, dutiful son
Loving, loyal and nationalist Vedantic

I find it difficult to believe that it is me! May be from the eyes of a sister things look different!