#YesWeCan

Can you tell that I am in a hash tag mood? 😉

Well. I am soooo super thrilled this morning!!

You know that I am a foodie.  However, my love of food only sometimes translates to cooking, especially if it involves cooking well. I don’t have a sweet tooth (and N and little N don’t have a strong preference for sweets either), so I have very little inclination to make sugary stuff (sorry, little A). People are very surprised to hear this (likely because my age is that multiple of 11 between 40 and 50), but I have never ventured into sweet territory beyond making payasam, kheer, or chakkarai pongal. No simple baking even (hmmm… maybe that’s why my munchkins started baking for themselves when they were not quite eight yet).

Still. With Deepavali looming, decided to bite the bullet and make something sweet for the family. Wanted to make something savory too (but that was too much mental overload), so picked up some (Grand Sweets) masala peanuts and kara sev instead (you get everything in desi stores these days, don’t you?).

So. Polled several friends and whatsapp groups that I am on, and finally decided on a kaju katli recipe suggested by my friend P. What really sold me on this recipe? P offering to demonstrate if I had 15 minutes to spare when I visited her house.  That really gave me courage. I mean, sure, I had 15 minutes (and a bucket of kajus and sugar) to spare.

So, first thing this morning (Happy Deepavali, my dears!!), plunged into kaju-land, and emerged a half hour later with this.

kaju-katlis

Just unbelievable, how super duper my kaju katlis look and taste (if I say so myself)! Cannot wait for N and the chickis to return from work and school and try my fabulosities. Cannot stop smiling either!!

So sorry to invoke President Obama in vain, but #YesWeCan, #YesWeDid. 🙂

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#MeToo

By now, you have surely heard about the #MeToo movement. Two days ago, the actress Alyssa Milano used her Twitter account to encourage women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet the words #MeToo.  In just two days, hundreds of thousands of women (and the number is still growing) have taken to social media to share their personal #MeToo story.

When I first saw a #MeToo post from a friend on Facebook, I thought cynically, “yes – you, and everybody else that grew up in India.” There. I said it. Hurts, but it is the truth. Growing up in Madras (now Chennai) and taking public transportation to school was literally setting yourself up for some version of sexual harassment or assault.  My sister, V and I did that for several years during our pre-teen and early teen years. Some days we were lucky and unscathed. On other days, not so much. And our situation was nothing unique. Indeed, it was par for the course on PTC buses. Even middle-aged aunties (ahem, that would be me now) didn’t feel safe. I remember a teacher in my (all girls) school advising us to carry tools from our geometry boxes (remember those?) – a sharp compass or a divider – to use against groping hands on crowded buses.  I remember thinking it was a terrific idea, while at the same time being terrified at the thought of inflicting such hurt, even in self-defense. As we got older and into our mid-teens, V and I started biking to school instead of taking the bus (no prizes for guessing why).

So. There were this bunch of faceless, nameless creeps from my childhood, who took advantage of crowds to indulge their baser instincts. But my #MeToo is reserved for one specific creep. An educator, whose picture still adorns the website of the Department of Chemical Engineering at my alma mater.  Dr. V.  He taught multiple classes and a lab, so we spent a lot of time on his radar the last couple of years of college.  Looking back, I can honestly say that I cannot recall one single time that this professor ever spoke to me looking at my face.  That lecherous ogle and leering half-smile. All the time. His ogling eyes always directed somewhere between my neck and belly button. Man, what a f%*king pervert! I never thought to bring this up at home, or with my friends in college. Half the time I wasn’t even sure of what he was doing (surely, a professor wouldn’t, right?!). But I know that his behavior wasn’t entirely unnoticed by others. A (female) classmate of mine, M, who was quite observant (but barely more articulate than me) suddenly made a random statement while we were sitting around after lunch one day. “Dr. V is a very bad man”, she said. “Why?” someone asked idly, not particularly curious about the answer. “Ask K”, was all M said. I looked up at M, startled, but didn’t respond. The person that asked “why” was no longer listening so the matter dropped. But I was stunned to realize that M had noticed too.  It wasn’t all in my head.

Looking back at this time and recalling Dr. V’s behavior has rankled me numerous times over the years. I remember ranting for hours to N when I saw that Dr. V was promoted to Head of the Department. I wish I could go back (and perhaps I should since his a$$ is still firmly planted in my alma mater), and ask him what the f&^k he thought he was doing, staring at girls young enough to be his daughters, in the role of educator no less – in a country where the hierarchy is supposed to be Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam (Mother, Father, Teacher, God).

So, yes. #MeToo.

To all those creeps in India that perform lecherous acts in crowded buses and cat-call from street corners (or wherever else you perch your sorry behinds these days), to Dr. V in his cushy office (hope you have cleaned up at least a little bit in the 23 years since I graduated), and to every other jerk in every part of the world who doesn’t know what it is to respect women and womanhood, JUST STOP IT.

Enough. Is. Enough.

Today’s Smiles

Things that made me smile today:

  • Picking up little N from school at 5 pm and driving her straight to an activity that will go on for another couple of hours (oh, my hard-working munchkin!), getting there early, and sitting for a few minutes in the car with her catching up while she snacked on pasta and masala chai;
  • Calling to check on little A, who had been left alone at home to continue with her homework, and hearing, “Mommy, don’t worry, the robbers are not here yet”;
  • Making pongal and onion vadais for dinner (looks v. promising!); and
  • Listening to little A belt out K-pop music (“The Wedding Dress”) on the piano with such aplomb as is rarely seen during regular piano practice.

Happy Wednesday! 🙂

Little Women

As far as I can recall, Little Women was my first “big book”. I was in 5th grade, and my sister V had to read Little Women in her “non-detail” class (remember those?). I decided to read along, and was totally mesmerized by the lively lives of the four sisters. I totally identified with Jo (tomboy, voracious reader, writer, didn’t like to dress up, was clumsy – too many similarities with self that I found striking even at that young age). The book that V’s class read was quite abridged, if I recall right. But my interest continued, so shortly thereafter, I hunted for and devoured Good Wives and Jo’s Boys as well.

Big shocker in Good Wives (if you’ve read the book, you know where I am going, don’t you?). Jo refuses the young, handsome, fun, and filthy-rich Laurie, and marries the portly, 39-year old (practically one foot in the grave in those days!) German Professor Bhaer!! Jo and Laurie were such close friends, soul mates even, and seemed just so perfect together. Even worse than Jo and Laurie not getting together, Laurie actually turns around and marries Jo’s younger sister Amy, ugh! I remember that I was totally crushed to read it back in my teens (perhaps because I identified so much with Jo, it all felt so super personal).

Last night, I found an old copy lying around, and eagerly tucked in to re-read some parts of it. And, of course, made a beeline for the chapter titled “Heartache” to see if I understand any better why on earth Jo refused Laurie. Didn’t understand it any better – indeed, the chapter just gave me heartache again (as evidenced by the fact that I am ranting the next day on my blog like this!). Seriously – what twisted, perverse thinking prompted Louisa May Alcott to come up with such horrible mis-pairings?!

The closing of “Heartache” has always haunted me.

“Oh, Jo, can’t you?”

“Teddy, dear, I wish I could!”

That was all, except a little pause. Then Laurie straightened himself up, said, “It’s all right, never mind,” and went away without another word. Ah, but it wasn’t all right, and Jo did mind, for while the curly head lay on her arm a minute after her hard answer, she felt as if she had stabbed her dearest friend, and when he left her without a look behind him, she knew that the boy Laurie never would come again.

Sigh! Jo’s choice – after all these decades since I first read the book (and some 150 years since the book was written) – still drives me crazy and makes me want to shake that girl till she sees sense.

So. If you made it this far (thank you) and know what I am talking about, who gets your vote – Laurie or Bhaer – and why?

Navarathri Golu

The biggest festival that we celebrate in my household, Navarathri Golu, started earlier this week. While on vacation last month, I woke up one morning at 5 am and sat in the balcony of our hotel room enjoying the pre-dawn view. As I waited for the sun (and the rest of my family) to rise, decided to – what else – organize my Navarathri schedule. Feeling fantastically idle, decided that this year, I will invite my friends on at least two days (with a couple of backup days thrown in), and also make one of those days a week day (really do not know how I came up with this!).

That week day that I hosted was yesterday.

While I don’t think I will dare host on a week night again, had a really nice time last night. I had only invited half my usual list (the rest will visit tomorrow), so had a fantastic relaxed time chatting away and connecting with everyone that visited. Woke up this morning after only three and a half hours of sleep (all that adrenaline, whooo!), happy as a lark and actually caught myself singing while making breakfast (and let’s face it, what are the odds of that ever happening?!).

You ready for some philosophical, sleep deprivation induced rambling? Yeah, that’s what I thought. 😉

As we were getting back into routine after vacation, I noticed that I was feeling strangely disoriented and isolated. Working from home is very common at my work. While that is a fabulous arrangement to have (and I wouldn’t trade my couple of days per week at home for anything), it doesn’t really set you up to foster meaningful friendships at work (hard as that is, to begin with). It wasn’t just that, though. Over this past year, I have been feeling increasingly distant from one of my closest friends here. No disagreement or anything at all, just that her social circle is way larger than mine to begin with, and it looks like she has moved on with friends that share common activities and interests that I cannot, for the life of me, pursue (believe me, I have tried). I see the logic in all this. Plus, I am aware that I am not in middle school or high school to get my knickers in a bunch over friendships. Still, the gradual but unmistakable distance from a friend that I thought I was super close to has me feeling quite off balance. “Che, what first world problems are you coming up with”, I chided myself, as I drove to work one day brooding and mildly discontented over my current social situation.

Anyway. After low grade whining to N off and on for a couple of weeks now, surprised to notice self suddenly being super happy and singing while severely sleep deprived. I think of myself as an ambivert (not your wallflower, but not a party animal either) but perhaps it’s time to feed the dormant extrovert in me. And to cherish and enjoy the numerous awesome friendships that are still alive and kicking right in front of me.

How very timely, Golu offers more than enough opportunity to do just that!

Looking forward to a fun week of dressing up, singing, sundal-ling, and gossiping away with friends old and new. Happy Navarathri to you! 🙂

August

(Written on August 30, 2017)

I am writing this while lazing around on the super cozy sofa in the balcony of our room in Nusa Dua, Bali. Lying on my tummy, feet up in the air behind me, taking in the sights, sounds, and distinctively sweet smell of the tropical ocean air.

Pretty close to sheer bliss.

Why only “pretty close”, you ask?

Well. We are almost at the end of a loooong vacation in South East Asia. Our travels took us to Bali, Java, Singapore, and we will catch a bit of Taipei (especially, Din Tai Fung) before we head back to JFK. Suddenly wonder if the “F” in JFK stands for the word that I am now thinking, as I briefly consider all the work that awaits us at the other end of a different ocean.

But first things first. Vacation was absolutely glorious. We did so many different things, some of which were quite a stretch for me.

• Rode electric bikes through the streets and through rice terraces in Ubud
• Made batik art work and silver jewelry (both of which didn’t come easy to me)
• Played with monkeys at the Monkey Forest in Ubud
• Watched four live performances and learnt a ton about the local culture
• Ate insanely delicious food at almost every meal
• Pined and searched for Indian restaurants everywhere (ok, that was just me)
• Visited our friend A and his family in Singapore (thanks to A’s wife N for the yummy thayir saadam that hit the spot!)
• Braved the AWD ride, and intense dust and sulfur smells to visit the awe-inspiring Merapi volcano
• Oohed and aahed at the achievements of Singapore after talking to people there and visiting the National History Museum
• Rode the cable car, the zipline and the Segway at Sentosa (no more Segway for me, my friend, ugh!)
• Bought several over-priced books at the amazing Kinokuniya
• Bargained like a pro at the little markets in Bali (and got majorly tsked-at by two disapproving munchkins)
• Squeezed through the crushing crowds in Little India, Singapore to visit Murugan Idli Kadai (super yum!)
• Visited numerous temples, including the stunning Borobudur and Prambanan temples in Java
• Celebrated two birthdays (little N turned 15 and I turned 29 years older than her)
• Enjoyed lingering over late dinners and animated discussions with the munchkins
• Lounged by the pool soaking in the sun (Vitamin D!) while little A swam (and little N worked in the hotel room – after all, she is a rising high school sophomore, and not an idle snidle like the rest of us)
• Fought and bickered a few times, especially in Singapore (jam-packed days and hot, humid conditions don’t do wonders for your good-humor, I have discovered)
• Cuddled and quickly made up too

I know that I am leaving out many other things. Like I said, it’s been a glorious vacation. Hard to capture everything in words.

We are now spending the (almost) last leg of our trip at a fabulous beach resort. Our days here are lightly packed. Mostly relaxing and taking in the room service and ocean air, yes, but also, unmistakably, getting ready for what’s coming. If August has been awesome, September promises to be super busy. Little N is already revving up, little A starts middle school (serious OMG!), and our busiest (and most fun) festival, Navarathri, falls in September this year.

I feel refreshed and ready to get back to our “real life” after this vacation, which has been one of our longest ever. But am also super thankful for the next few days that will give us that much needed pause between vacation and work, as we prepare to hit the ground running one more time.