On Turning Thirty

When I was ten, I couldn’t wait to be in high school. I wouldn’t have to wear pinafores. I could wear a skirt. I would be a teen. Older, independent.

When I was in fifteen and in high school, I couldn’t wait to leave. I wanted to grow my nails and paint them. I wanted to dress up, wear colourful outfits, carry stylish handbags and walk to college. I wanted to be older, independent.

When I was in pre-university, I couldn’t wait to be done.

Two years of hard work, get a good rank, get into a good college and you are set for life.

So they said. I couldn’t wait for the struggle to be over. Board exams and multiple choice questions. A huge milestone. Engineering vs Medicine. Am I in the right coaching centre? I wanted to reclaim my summer vacations. I was almost eighteen. I couldn’t wait to be in college. I wanted to be twenty-one. Older, independent.

When I was in college, I couldn’t wait till I had a job. Money, independence. I didn’t want to sit through the lectures. Scoring marks that didn’t make a difference. I wanted to find a job. I would be an adult. I couldn’t wait to be twenty-five. Older, independent.

Once I had a job, I couldn’t wait till I had a place of my own. I didn’t want to deal with roommates and shared apartments. I wanted to have the entire apartment to myself, cook my own food, do my own groceries, pick my furniture. I just wanted to be independent. I wanted to be twenty-eight.

At each stage in my life, I couldn’t wait to move to the next stage.

In a month, I turn thirty.

But this time, I want to wait.

Long Distance with Amma (Mom)

I wish I could call my mom at 11 AM her time. I can picture her sitting on the couch, reading the newspaper, or maybe a magazine. Or maybe checking Whatsapp or Facebook on her phone. But I know that by 11 AM she would have completed most of her household chores. As long as she didn’t get delayed by a phone call. Or because it was time to wash the bedsheets and the curtains. On most days, by 11 AM, my mom will be free. And I would love to call her then.

I wish I could call my mom at 2 pm my time. Once lunch has settled in and I am beginning to get drowsy, I would love to pick the phone and call my mom. Ask her what she ate for lunch and tell her what I ate. And discuss other trivial things. Such as who said what and why. Or ask her why my tendle talasana does not taste as good as hers.

But now I have to call her during these fixed intervals when time there overlaps time here and we are all awake at the same time. It is always someone’s bedtime. Or someone’s breakfast time. You have to squeeze in information in that slot. Try and remember what they missed since the last call. But I never do. I never try. I say nothing. There is no news here, I say. Each time. Because I like conversations that flow naturally. Like the kind I could have had at 2 pm my time. Or 11 AM her time. Or like when I pick up the phone and call because I have something to say. Whenever I want. Without waiting for a decent hour on both sides.

Later, during the day I remember something. I could have told her about this book I am reading. Or this new friend I made. Or the movie I watched. I wish then that I could pick up the phone and tell her all that I had to say. Without waiting for the next call. And then having to remember all that I wanted to say. Something I randomly remembered while doing the dishes. Or when I listened to a song.

I wish there wasn’t this distance between us. If there had to be, I wish it was shorter. I wish I could decide to fly there on a whim. Not worrying about ticket prices and customs and immigration. I wish I could go there on a Saturday afternoon just to enjoy a cup of coffee with her. And maybe some snacks. I would stay for dinner too if I didn’t live so far away from it all.

I wish I could call her now and share this article with her. I know she will tear up. Just like I did, writing this. But I can’t share it with her now. Because she is asleep. And I don’t want her to read this first thing in the morning. I don’t want her to begin her day in tears. I have to decide when the right time to share this article is. Or if I should share it at all.

Instagram

My speaker plays a song
From the ‘Heart in the Rainbow’ playlist
Silver Lining slowly permeates
Through the silence surrounding me.

I stare out the window
Evaluating all my bad choices
The sun glaring down at me
The trees shaking their head, disappointed.

There is a quick fix
To take my mind off this
All I need to do is press
That colourful, square icon on my phone.

I open the app with all the pictures
Of beautifully captured moments and
Carefully curated snapshots
Of our otherwise imperfect lives.

An endless collection of eye candy
The scrolling never stops
When I have exhausted all that is in my feed
I can click Explore.

I pause, looking away
Staring out the window again
The sun is still out, the trees are swaying about
I try to remember what it was I was thinking before.

I can’t remember
But there remains a dull ache
A slight sadness
In the back of my head as I go back to my phone.

Comfort Food

Is it taste that’s important each time we savor our favorite dishes? What do we look for in every bite? Is it the right concoction of spices and meat or vegetables? Should it be cooked and served in traditional vessels? Is it the texture and the color? Or is there something more?

I have come to realize over the last few years that there is something more than just taste. We crave the strong wave of nostalgia that brushes our mind, body, and soul like the evening breeze. If made right, that first bite brings back fondest memories of the dish. And these memories, they come with such force. Hitting you gently at first, then rushing through you, making you feel warm all over. You close your eyes and begin to travel back to that time. Disconnected from reality, you float away into your past. You chew carefully so that all senses and taste buds in your mouth are awake and active. You savor every flavor, every element in that bite as you relive a distinct memory. You take slow deep breaths while you let the taste linger in your mouth. Your eyes still closed, you spend a few seconds meditating on the taste in your mouth before you take the next bite.

Taste is not what makes it perfect. You remember a certain smell, a certain color, a certain ingredient. There is also the location, the people and the setting you ate it in. Like the red-orange of Panna Upkari made in an earthen pot. The smell of Sukkal Sungat  (dried prawns) wafting through the house. The hing (asafoetida) in the Dalitoy. Kori Rotti eaten on those white Corelle plates. Most of the dishes I prefer to make it my mom’s way but there are exceptions. Again, it is not their recipe that makes it perfect. It is the people themselves and the memories that I want to relive. Like Mamama’s (maternal grandma) Vison (seer fish) fry, my aunt’s prawns hing curry with white rice, Amma’s prawn pulao, buns from Mohini Vilas, Devastana (temple) Saaru, etc. There is a picture connected with each meal in my brain. A vivid image of the scene in which I enjoyed the meal. The round steel plate, the afternoon sunlight, the wooden dining table. There are a few traditions associated with others. Like the morning after an overnight bus journey from Bangalore, breakfast always meant food from Mohini Vilas. Idli/Dosa and buns all wrapped in banana leaves and newspapers, and then tied with a string.

One can recreate every item from Thera Jevan (Annual Car Festival celebrated in Mangalore), use the same recipe even but it won’t taste the same. Because it is not just the taste that makes it right. It is the atmosphere, the mahol (ambiance in Hindi). Women in saris and jewelry, the conversations, the sticky floors, sitting cross-legged, volunteers running around with hot, heavy vessels, screaming/asking to make way.

When I was younger, I wondered why older people always reminisced about the past. “Oh, the fun we had in our days. Things have changed. Those were the good old days”, they would say. I never understood it then. I decided that these people are just stuck in the past and don’t want to accept change. Because the new days, the present seemed fun to me. I was younger, naive. Now here I am, cooking my favorite dishes just so I can taste the 90s again. Simpler times, when electronic gadgets had not yet taken over our lives and time. When I try to recreate these dishes in my little kitchen, I try to add the right spices and ingredients. I look through recipe books, ask my mom for tips. I taste test as I cook. I try to make it just right, just the way I remember it. Even after all that if I feel it is lacking a little something, I add a sprinkling of fond memories.

And that seems to make all the difference.

On Pragati – My favorite online magazine

Sunday evening here corresponds to Monday morning in India. Every Sunday evening, in spite of the Monday blues kicking in, I get a little excited. This is because Pragati (which is currently my favorite online magazine) publishes a slew of articles every Monday. And so, on Sunday I begin to look forward to reading these new articles during the week. Since The Return of Pragati, I have voraciously consumed everything they have published. The editor of Pragati,

The editor of Pragati, Amit Varma, also hosts a podcast called The Seen and The Unseen. This is an excellent podcast and I have listened to all the episodes so far. What I like about both the magazine and the podcast is that they are simple and minimal in design. Your reading or listening experience is not crowded by unnecessary noise. Noise such as clutter and pop-ups in the case of the website, terrible recordings in the case of audio.

In every episode of the podcast, the host talks to a guest about a certain topic. Most of the topics are about policy changes and reforms in India. The duration of the podcast is short, about 30 minutes or so. The discussion itself is civil and well-defined. They don’t stray away from the topic and the entire conversation is easy on your ears. Compare this with another podcast I listen to, Cyrus Says. Cyrus Says is entertaining and humorous. But the host interrupts the guests several times during the conversation. It gets frustrating especially when the guest is in the middle of narrating an interesting anecdote. The interruption causes them to derail to a different topic and the anecdote is forgotten. I am left wondering about what happens in the end and usually just make up a conclusion.  This repeats during the entire episode. I learn the first half of a lot of stories and the mysterious second halves are forgotten and never brought up again. On multiple occasions, I could not bear listening to the entire episode because the conversation feels like a bumpy ride in peak hour traffic. You think it’s going great, you pick up speed and then you get stuck at a light and nothing moves for five minutes.

The Seen and The Unseen is a meaningful conversation between two individuals. The audio is clear and the information provided is excellent. At the end of the episode, I don’t feel stressed out. I can easily listen to the podcast while commuting. The volume levels are perfect and it almost feels like informative meditation.

The articles on their website also seem to be written in a similar vein. The website design is minimal and easy on the eyes. The articles are simple, informative, well edited, clear and easy to read. I haven’t come across any other website (about India and Indian affairs) that is such a pleasure to read. Please do recommend if you know any.

So, if you haven’t done it already, go subscribe to both the magazine and the podcast. I highly recommend it!

Disconnected – A Poem

Celebrating world poetry day with something I wrote this morning. There was an outage in our neighborhood and as a result, we had no WiFi for 3 entire days. I actually ended up reading a really good book, but life is hard with no Internet. Life is hard…
Anyway, here is the poem.
Unblinking
I stare at my router
Trying to make sense
Of the LEDs
Some flashing, others
Solid on or
off.
The service LED remains off
Indicating it has given up
On getting an IP address
Leaving me disconnected
To the world outside.
IOT devices
At home
Dead without this service
No streaming, no social media
no voice assistant
No life.
I restart
I reset
Even though it makes no difference
“It’s an outage
May take awhile”
– They say
I continue
Staring
Restarting
Resetting.
Disconnected and isolated
I remain unaware
Of all that is happening
And all that is trending
Outside.

Coffee Shops and Creativity

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I would not call myself as either a coffee person or a tea person. I don’t need caffeine to wake me up. Most of the time water and some fresh air does the job. Coffee is an occasional treat that I enjoy a few times every week. But tea I seem to drink quite often. Only because my husband needs his morning cup of masala chai and I like to give him company. We enjoy our morning routine where we sip our teas in contemplative silence. It is actually my favorite part of the day. Five years ago if someone asked me to choose between tea and coffee, I would have picked coffee. No two minds about that. But my tastes have changed since then. I now enjoy both tea and coffee. What beverage I pick depends on my mood at that instant.

In spite of not being too fond of coffee or tea, I am extremely fond of coffee shops. Especially indie, local stores that have a lot of seating space. I don’t care about the coffee itself. It does not matter if the coffee is roasted and ground in front of me, or if it’s an exotic blend. I like to get a cappuccino and mull over life for a few hours at these cafes. I usually take along with me a book to read or a notebook to write on. I also enjoy watching people and unintentionally catching bits of their conversations. I feel coffee shops provide a conducive environment for any kind of creative activity.

But I don’t know what it is about the coffee shops that I love. I know a lot of people enjoy working at a cafe instead of a traditional office. I have been trying to understand why it’s so. If all I am going to do is sit alone and write or read, why can’t I just do it at home? Why do I prefer sitting at a busy cafe?

Maybe it is the smell of coffee. I do love the aroma of a good coffee. Maybe it is the music. Coffee shops tend to play the best music: the kind that is perfect for day dreaming and journal writing.

Maybe it is the monotonous background noise. The hum of the coffee grinder, the clinking of pots, pans, and mugs. Add to that a sprinkling of hushed and animated conversations with the occasional laughter. Noizio even has a track called “Coffee Shop”. It works great for days when you can’t go to a cafe.

I found an NYTimes article on this topic. It is titled “How the hum of a coffee shop can boost creativity“. This is what it says,

In a series of experiments that looked at the effects of noise on creative thinking, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had participants brainstorm ideas for new products while they were exposed to varying levels of background noise. Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels.

A higher level of noise, however, about 85 decibels, roughly the noise level generated by a blender or a garbage disposal, was too distracting, the researchers found.

Well, that makes perfect sense to me, the noise level at a coffee shop is ideal for creative work and this has been scientifically proven. I get a lot of writing done at busy coffee shops. The first draft of this article was written at a coffee shop! Now I have an excuse to spend more time at my favorite coffee shop.

Post 32 – Symphony In The Woods (Poem)

I went to watch a concert in the woods today. The music was lovely  and I had a great time. This is something I wrote during the concert.

Hot summer afternoon
The breeze, soft and scarce
Amidst the trees
On the wet grass
Sunglasses, hot and burning
Like my cheeks
Waiting for the sun to go down
The other side of the trees.

The music falls and rises
With the breeze
The drop of sweat that was trickling
down the forehead
Stops and begins
A slow dance down
The side of my head
As if dancing to the music
Slow here, flat there
And then falling sharply
Like the symphony.