Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mom's Recipe Book

It's a Sunday afternoon. Adi's gone out to play and I don't know why but I am missing my mom's tea time snacks that I grew up munching when I used to come back from school.

No Fuss about Food
My mom says that even as a child, I never fussed about anything, particularly food. Except the smelly jackfruit, mom says that you could give me any type of food and I would eat it without any fuss. Even spinach! She says I loved the different types of cakes that she used to make that always for me. 

My Mom's Best Cooking Days
Our home in Africa always had baking smells. In the afternoona, Mom would bake cookies, cake, and each time it would be a different type. My friends used to love the chocolate mousse she used to make. For every birthday, she used to bake the cake for me. But she wasn't that confident with the icing so we had some other expert help her with that.


Mom loved spending her afternoons making naadan snacks like 'unniappam' and 'murukku' and the 'ada' and 'sukhiyan' she used to make were simply out of the world.  Hmm, I am already dreaming of 'ada' for tea time!

(Source: Kothiyavunnu)

Mom's Lost Recipe Book with Grandma's Secrets


But mom lost her diary of recipes when we returned to India. This is because a lot of the baggage got lost and had been misplaced when we were back. The recipe book was a thick green book with handwritten recipes that she had collected all her life from all over the world. The book also had timeless recipes given to her by her mom. My grandmother is one person who everyone reveres as a most amazing cook.

My Grandma was a Real 'MasterChef'
Top politicians like AK Anthony, Oomen Chandy, Vayalar Ravi and many eminent others used to flock to my grandmother's dining table because they loved eating the food my grandmother used to make. People who have tasted my grandma's food says she was a culinary queen. But she never wrote down her recipes anywhere. She knew them by heart and shared her culinary secrets with my mom. Just a whiff of a curry and Grandmother knew what the ingredients were, what the dish would taste like and so on. I miss her so much. 

I think I'd do anything to get that book. It's not just about the recipes. It's about mom's identity and passion. When she lost that book, I think she experienced it as a deeper loss. She never wrote down recipes again.

I really wish I could find that diary for my mom.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jyotiradiya (Adi) becomes Balram for a day

Schools all over the country are celebrating the birthday of Lord Krishna (also called Janmashtami) by making the little ones dress up as Krishna.

It happens that I had gone for an urgent three day trip to Kochi and come back and next day, Adi's off to school. I get a teacher's note saying he should dress up for the occasion. I know I need to get him a flute and a crown of feather but I am back home at six thirty, dead tired after a hard day's work and I need to sit with Adi to help him catch up with all the lessons he missed while we were in Kochi. So, I decide that I will dress him up well in the traditional attire but I won't go to the market for the feather. The very act would drain my energy further and by the time I get back, Adi would be too tired to do his homework.

So, now, D-day comes. I got Adi dressed up in a traditional Krishna costume that we had bought during my recent trip from Guruvayoor, the famous Krishna temple in Kerala. I put a little bit of eyeliner very lightly over Adi's eyes despite his stern protests that "I am a boy, only girls wear eyeliner" and little dash of rouge.

When I saw the makeover, I felt dizzy. I have such a sweet-looking daughter before me. So, off Adi goes to school.

When I see him in the evening, he isn't too pleased. He says, "Amma, they made me act as Balram on stage."

I said, "Wow, Adi, thats wonderful. Did you enjoy acting as Balram?"

Pat comes the reply, "No, Amma. If you had remembered to put peacock feathers in my bag, they would have made me act as Krishna."

Hmmm!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Memories of Swami, As I Remember (Part One)

If you are one of those people who are cynical, please don't read this post. It's not for you. If you are one of those people who want to know what I have to say with an open mind, fine - you are welcome to read. I request you to respect my beliefs as I do yours.

I led a perfectly mundane, happily normal life till Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) chose to make His presence felt. In April 1987, my parents became His devotees. But I wasn't yet a devotee.

Firstly, I wasn't convinced about Swami's divinity. Though a child, I had an insatiable curiosity on religion and spirituality. I had read the Bible, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the autobiography of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda at least twenty times. At that time, I could have easily recited the Bible because I sort of knew it by heart, having read it several times over and over again. While I had respect for these spiritual and religious concepts, they didn't 'click' with me naturally. Even as a child, I knew there was something very special and different that I was waiting for.  I didn't feel that 'connect' between Swami and I at that time. So I always averted my eyes from His picture whenever I chanted my prayers.                   

It's almost like love, you know. Either you love some one and you instantly know 'this is the guy for me' or you do what others tell you, marry the guy they find for you and learn to love that person as part of the natural process of your life. What works for you doesn't have to work for another person. It was the same for me in the matter of faith.

It was at that time that there was the demise of Shri Shiva Dathan Menon, my paternal uncle, some one I loved, adored, respected and idolized deeply - a real father figure. He was not just an uncle to me. He was my best friend to. He was some one who made up stories to make me smile, some one I could confide my deepest secrets with, some one who would go and buy a whole shop for me if I asked for a dress; that was the kind of love and friendship I had with my uncle. In my life, there has never been any uncle whom I have felt so deeply connected to.  He used to call me 'princess' with such love at a time when I was the plainest kid in my dad's and mom's family. The thing is he didn't do it out of kindness. He did it because he loved me as his own daughter and called me his daughter. Even today I always believe he's there up in the skies watching over me, protecting me. 

For me, it was a traumatic period. For more than two weeks, I was in a state of shock after hearing that he was no more. That was my first experience of death. I understood death for the first time and i hated it then. I couldn't believe I would never hear him call me 'princess' again. I was numb for days. 


At the time, as I continued my evening prayers as usual, I heard a voice. I first thought I imagined it.


But it called out to me again, softly, "Princess."


I froze. I wondered what was happening because I was chanting my prayers as usual.
Then, I heard the voice again and it seemed to come from Swami's picture. I stared in shock and disgust. My first thought was, "No one else can call me princess, who is he to call me that?"


Then I felt like crying. For the uncle I had lost, for the love that was gone.


Swami again spoke to me, gently. He said, "Who are you crying for? Don't you know every one has to come to Me some day? The one you are crying for is with me. Don't worry. Anytime you want to see him, I will show you. But first, you must promise me that you will share all your troubles with me. I am your friend. You don't have to take my advice. You can always decide the right way but sometimes you can let me help u find the right way."


I don't know why but those words, that offer of friendship, swept me off my feet. Here was some one who didn't tally up my good deeds versus my sins and then force me to do good things so that I get a seat in heaven. Here was some one who told me that faith begins with friendship and trust and that decisions are one's own responsibility but a good friend is one who shows the right away.


From that day, it was a deal. I told Swami all my joys and sorrows. I shared everything with Swami and we always had a great friendship. There is nothing in this world I have kept as a secret from Swami and for every secret I've told Him, Swami has always given me the right nudge in the right direction. He has never asked me to do something because He said so.

Later on, I was tired of speaking to Swami's photo and always hearing His voice. I longed to see Swami. Perhaps it is because I was a child, Swami always appeared before Me whenever I asked to see Him. Many of you may not believe this but I have seen and talked to Swami's full form in Africa while Swami was present in Puttaparthi. Countless devotees of Swami have seen His physical form in their homes while He resided in Puttaparthi. Swami always manifested to devotees, when the love and longing of His devotees was pure as crystal.

But He told me, "As you grow older, you will learn to see Me in your Heart because I cannot keep appearing everytime. Remember, I am within you, not outside. These appearances before you are only to show you that you are not imagining me, that I am as real as your parents and other friends, that you are not hallucinating. But very soon, I will end these appearances because it is time for you to outgrow the attachment to my form."


My love for Swami has given me the strength to never choose the path of Untruth over Truth. While taking shortcuts is more convenient and definitely lucrative, I would never do that because the moment I do or say something dishonest, I know Swami will cease to speak to me. His love is something I cannot lose. His love is what propels me to look forward to each day as a day to love, serve and be of use to others in this society. It is His love that showed me one thing: People are going to distrust you, see you as fake but as long as you are true to yourself, no one can stop you from serving the world and treading the path of Dharma.


All my life, I have seen and heard Swami being ridiculed, criticized and called all sorts of names. People who have benefited from Swami have often turned against Him. What I have also seen and experienced is that Swami never ceases to be Himself. Swami is so full of love for the world and for humanity. Swami radiates such positive energy.


Once a student complained to Swami, "I do service and practise your teachings but people are so ungrateful, Swami. They use me to get their things done and dump me thereafter. What's the use of service to the society when the society is so ungrateful?"


Swami smiled and said, "Did I ever say that service is to reform the society? Service is to reform you, the individual. It is to awaken your divinity, it is not to reform others. Who are you to reform others? First, reform yourself fully and then think about reforming others."


Swami never tolerates criticism of other people no matter what you say they did to you. Swami always expressed love, especially to those who say bad things about Him. He would say, "If it gives them Ananda to say these things about me, I am grateful to them that I am their cause of Ananda. I have come to give Ananda to all, those who hate me and those who claim they are my Devotees. No one is separate from Me. All are part of Me. I don' t see anyone as separate from Me."


It's hard for me to not think of Swami as I remember Him. I realize now how blessed I am that Swami shared fleeting golden moments of love and friendship with me. He didn't have to but He chose me.


Swami has always given me His love and I have always treaded by it. Like a divine shepherd, Swami always made sure i am safe and happy. Even now, there isn't an hour in my life when Swami doesn't protect me. All my life, Swami has protected me like the eyelids protect the eyes. Even in my sleep, I believe Swami protects me. Not just me, those who love Him have experienced His all-pervasive, protective love.
 


And I wish, like He first said to me, "Don't you know every one has to come to me someday?" I am grateful to Swami for the love He has showered on me and my family. I pray that He will accept me when it's my time to go to Him because I don't want to go to heaven or hell as long as I can be with Swami in my afterlife.

Swami's presence is my anchor. That is my heaven. The abode of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba is where I shall live long after I am gone.

And when Swami welcomes me to His abode, I know how He will greet me.


"Welcome, my princess."


That's what Swami always called me right from my first conversation with Him.

Malayalam Movie Review: SaltNPepper - For Foodies & Lovers



Salt N Pepper movie - I heard so much about it from my Twitter friends. I was praying for the movie to reach me here. For those who love food and romance, this movie has IT. With food as the movie's main theme, I was totally glued to the movie's starting point that showed different types of tasty food in different stages of creation and presentation. Colors oozed from the dishes, each distinct from the other. You would have seen the audience licking their lips in anticipation of the next dish, such was the visual delight of the movie when it began.

SALT N PEPPER - REAL FOOD & REAL CHARACTERS
Aashiq Abu's 'Salt n Pepper' is simple, brilliant and stays in your heart forever. The story revolves around Kalidasan (starring Lal) who is an archaeologist but is more obsessed with food - the scents, the taste and the texture of food that takes him to the past and beyond. Maya (starring Swetha Menon) lives in the same town and works as a dubbing artiste. 

Personally, I have never liked any of Shwetha Menon's movies though she is currently a hot favorite with Malayalis all over the world. In this film, I loved her performance. The insecurities she portrays and struggles to deal with when people constantly remind her that it's time to get married and she has a beautiful room mate who's confidence sometimes totally gets on her nerves. She also has to deal with lecherous men who work with her and show no hesitation to invite her over a weekend for 'just sex.' She portrays the contemporary woman effortlessly. Her way of speaking, walking and dressing are 100% natural. 
WHO CAN FORGET MOTHER'S COOKING?
A scene that I liked was when she talks to Kalidasan about her mother's cooking - the smell of the food her mother used to make and how she feels that when she is cooking, her mother 's presence and love is constantly around her. Don't we have such moments in our life too?

IS THERE A WOMAN WHO DOESN'T BREAK DOWN?
Another scene I liked again was where she breaks down crying in the beauty parlor, saying she's fed up of life. Every woman, at some point, has said and felt that. Shwetha Menon had the conviction to bring that universal moment onto celluloid with amazing naturalness.

OPPOSITES ATTRACT, THANKS TO DOSAS:)
Kalidasan and Maya - the two unlikely couple clash when one of Maya's calls to the local Dosa expert reaches Kalidasan's new mobile. Their quarrels become conversations of memories, family ties and much more. 

Kalidasan's narrative of teaching Maya the secret of baking Joan's Rainbow Cake is one of the best moments of this film. 

The story of Joan is that she is a French soldier's wife who waits for her husband to return as the Second World War goes on. As she waits, she makes a most delicious cake, borne out of her love and longing. It has layers of deliciously fresh strawberries, pistachios and orange - all are carefully placed one on top of the other. Finally,  it is smeared with sinfully glorious chocolate sauce. On that day, in their own homes, Kalidasan and Maya bake their own versions of the said cake and they each taste their love and longing for each other by eating this cake.  that moment is captured beautifully in this film.
 
Thus, they begin to like each other and decide to meet. Their complex about their age, appearance and so on makes them both hesitant to meet - "What if she doesn't like the way I look?" - that kind of complex sets in. That's when the movie's other characters start rolling into the picture.

ROMANCE DOESN'T HAVE TO BE FOR & BY THE YOUNG

 
Kalidasan's nephew is Manu, a role that's played effortlessly by Asif Ali and the role of Meenakshi who is Maya's roommate is played by Mythili. I am not sure whether there was 'chemistry' between these two young actors. While I liked Asif Ali's performance, I was disappointed by Mythili, who seemed to be 'acting' and not really convincing in anyway. Also, the song they did together didn't seem natural. It looked as though they were uncomfortable with each other.

The role of Kalidasan's brilliant chef is played by Baburaj whose performance is fantastic. He blends in humor, reality and seriousness almost effortlessly even as he goes on to impress us with his culinary skills. Balakrishnan (starring Vijayaraghavan) is Kalidasan's friend and a senior office who, one day, explains that nothing in life is as important as valuing and being with the one you love. 

The film, SaltNPepper ends with the Avial band's totally peppy music number. Director Aashiq Abu has raised great expectations with this film. It's food theme and romance rock! It's a must-watch.

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