Saturday, September 26, 2009

I've Got The Blues!!!

For very many reasons, I've got the blues. It's just one of those days when your woes weigh heavily on you, you feel life's unfair, and everything sucks! Know the feeling? Well, I'm in one of those moods right now. I'm wallowing in self-pity and feeling humongously sorry for myself. I know the feeling will pass, as it has often before, but as long as it lasts, it's the pits, for sure. And the rounds of sore throat, cough, nasal congestion and feverish feeling going around the house haven't helped one bit. Throw in fears of the swine flu and having to play nursemaid round the clock!

My Mom always told me to count my blessings, and I do too, except at moments like these. I feel the universe has been grossly unfair to me and that I've had to struggle for anything and everything I've ever wanted. Why is it that some people get everything handed to them on a platter, while the rest of us mere mortals have to struggle for the smallest of things?!? Why is life itself an existential angst for some of us, while for others it's a merry breeze? Why do the universe's miseries have to be heaped only on some of our sordid heads while others just get away with them ? Have I been a bad person who's being chastised for my erring ways or is it my karma returning to bite me on the butt for some misdemeanor in a parallel universe? God knows! All I know is that I've got the blues.

For some strange reason, or maybe not very strange for that matter at all, Keats' famous opening to his
Ode to a Nightingale has been popping into my head, and I've been reciting the lines incessantly since yesterday:
"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: ..."
There you go, that's exactly how I feel now. Maybe there's a better tomorrow around the corner. Let me wait and see!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Deferred Dreams Or Wishful Thinking?

Growing up in a family of book lovers, I used to devour anything and everything that was in print. I had a special fascination for travelogues and would savor every word and pore over every picture and the comment beneath it. In my mind's eye, I would be transported instantly to all the varied countries and continents and would dwell on the idyllic moments of myself indulging in endless hours of sightseeing, soaking up the sun, and general laziness all around. In short, I just wanted to travel around the globe, experience the sights and sounds of different places, and be a citizen of the world. When will this dream of mine become a reality, or will it ever become one, I wonder? I'm still waiting for time to tell me the answer.

Having lived in my hometown for thirty plus years, a sense of panic used to grip me and I would wonder if I'd have to live in the same town till the day I died, without ever having seen the world around me. All that changed after my family and I moved to the United States. Now, traveling is not that big a deal and is entirely possible, but the biggest obstacle to doing so is lack of time. With my husband and I holding full time jobs and having vacations at different times, not forgetting the kid who has school when we have vacation time, travel is still a deferred dream. My son keeps assuring me quite frequently that when he becomes a doctor, he'll send me traveling around the world. Promising though as it sounds, I can't help but think that's almost 12 years away, what with the kid having started Grade 9 just a couple of weeks ago!

So in the meantime, fantasize I must! I dream of an early retirement and see myself living with my husband in a tiny cottage in a scenic locale, with a beautiful garden to boot. I'd love to putter around in the garden, read my favorite authors endlessly, cook gastronomical delights, go for long walks on the hiking trails around my house, all without ever having to think about work, worry about expenses or saving up for the kid's education. I'd love to punctuate that kind of a life with travel to exotic places, like spending a week in the French Riviera or soaking up the sun in Cancun or marveling at the icy vistas of the Antarctic. Relaxing in a villa in the Algarve, reveling in the culture of Paris, gazing at the majesty of the pyramids or lounging on a barge on the Nile, exploring the Amazon, etc., etc., are all part of the deal. Will such a day ever come or is it just wishful thinking? Time must tell.

Another of my deferred dreams is getting back to University for a doctoral program. Unfortunately for me, Vancouver universities do not offer part-time Ph.D. programs, which means the only way to earn that is to give up my job and become a full-time student for the next 5 years. Again, another impossible task because I need to make a living, and besides I need all the money I have and more to put my kid through university, for which he'll be ready in another 4 years. I can't be selfish enough to think of my own academic pursuits at this point of time, can I? I'd love to pursue a program in criminology/psychology/sociology, etc., etc., (because all these subjects fascinate me!) but I just have to defer it for now, I guess.

Deferred dreams...wishful thinking... whatever they might be, life does go on!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

My Summer Staycation!

For the first time in 6 years, ever since I moved from California to Vancouver, I've had a 3-week summer break! Yaaayy!!! All these past summers I was busy teaching full time, so this year's break was a welcome change. Unfortunately for me, the husband was working (as he always does year round!), so it was impossible for us to travel anywhere outside of Vancouver. However, I must admit, the staycation at home, broken by the odd one-day trips to sundry places, was such a wonderful experience and kind of grew upon me!

How on earth could staying at home be enjoyable, one might ask. Well, for starters, I had the luxury of sleeping in every single day. For those of you who wake up to the sound of an alarm in the unearthly hours of the morning (if you could call 5.30 AM that), you will have a perfect understanding of what I mean. Though I usually don't drink coffee on weekdays (because I'm too busy rushing to get ready for work and so don't have the time), during this break I actually savored the coffee my husband made for me every morning. Typically, lazing, lounging, or lolling on the couch became the order of the day! This was my downtime, so there wasn't any particular order to the day...sounds like heaven, doesn't it?!?

Another good thing (or bad thing, according to some!) about my staycation was that I had the time to start this blog, just so I could have a platform for all my random thoughts. I'd always wanted to give vent to those creative urges, but simply hadn't had the time to do so until now. Well, better late than never! What the kid liked about my being home was that I was able to rustle up all this good food after thorough Internet searches, and also, was able to sit with him and watch all his favorite movies and TV shows. However, I must also say he detested my nagging him about getting ready for school: "Dinesh, you haven't touched your saxophone in two months. Take it out of the box and clean it, for heaven's sake!" or "Why is your room such a holy mess? Don't you have to get things organized before school starts?" At times like these, I bet he wished his Mom would just get lost and give him some peace and quiet around the house!

As they say, all good things have to come to an end, and so it is with my staycation. Tomorrow is Labor Day, the last day of my summer break that I oh so thoroughly enjoyed! Come Tuesday, the 8th of September, it's back again to the grind! It's going to take me a couple of days to get back into the groove, but I'll be really happy to see all my students and reconnect with them in class. Secretly though, I'll be looking forward to my Christmas break and all the magic of the season it brings!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Heavenly Bites!

I am a self-proclaimed foodie! I simply love to eat and am absolutely fascinated with the delights of the culinary world. I'm pretty sure I inherited this trait from my Dad who had what they call "the typical Thanjavur Naakku" (the Tanjore tongue!), it being said that those who hailed from Tanjore were food lovers nonpareil! His love for delicious food was legendary, and it was no wonder then that he was a better cook than my Mom. I seem to share my father's passion for food in the sense that though I don't eat much, I'm very particular that every morsel that goes into my mouth be of the finest taste, or else I will never touch it even if it means I have to starve!

I never learned to cook till after I got married. My excuse was that I was too busy studying (yeah, right!!!) and simply refused to enter the kitchen. What an idiot, I'd been! When I was at university, my mother couldn't leave me alone and go out of town simply because I couldn't cook. My eldest brother was married and living in the same town at that time, so I would promptly be packed off to his house whenever my mother had to leave town. My sister-in-law, of course, was a fantastic cook, and incidentally, she had picked up her cooking skills from her own mother.

My husband put up with my half-baked attempts at cooking, and then he hired a full time cook after 3 years of marriage. At that time, I was delirious enough to think that the husband was lavishing me with the luxury of a live-in cook. Little did I know that it was an attempt at escapism, never having to go through the trial of tasting his wife's food! So the story goes that I lived like a queen in India, just rattling off the menu each day to my cook and having a delicious spread at each meal every single day. The luxury lasted 7 years, till there was this radical change in our lives of having to move to the United States. I was petrified because I knew nothing about cooking, not even enough to survive.

My mother-in-law was my saviour...she painstakingly wrote down all the recipes for me in a notebook which became a Bible of sorts to me after I moved to California. I would have the notebook wide open and attempt whatever recipe it was, the guinea pig at that time being my eldest sister who lived a mere 10 minutes away. I slowly became hooked to the art of cooking, and by trial and error, I seemed to have perfected every single dish, so much so that my sister thought I had missed my calling! "You are soooo good, Olivia. Maybe you missed your calling. You should never have become an English teacher.You should have become a chef instead," she would go. I thought she was saying it out of filial piety or sisterly affection or whatever! Then my second brother from England visited me in California, and after one particular meal, just as I was beginning to put the dishes away and clear the table, he poured a little bit of the curry on to his plate and licked it with his fingers. This, from one who's a well-accomplished cook and food lover himself! I knew then that I had really aced the whole cooking thing!

It so happened that a friend of ours who had a grocery store had come to our house for breakfast, tasted my idlis (steamed rice cakes), and asked me if I could supply idlis to his store. I laughed incredulously, but he convinced me to give him just 5 boxes, to see how they moved. Silicon Valley being full of bachelor engineers at the time, the 5 boxes flew from the shelf. I gradually ended up supplying 55 boxes each weekend and made a cool 1400 dollars each month. Not bad for a weekend's work of a few hours, eh? Soon enough other stores began asking me for the idlis and I had to turn them down because I ran a household kitchen, and not a commercial one. Typical Gemini that I am, I did this just for over a year, and soon enough, I began to tire of the whole thing. I needed other diversions and so went to university to earn all my teaching credentials.

Though I teach English full time in Vancouver now, my love for food hasn't abated one bit. I faithfully scour the Internet for recipes and am game enough to try all kinds of cuisine. The husband and the kid compliment my every attempt and I feel gratified that my interest and efforts in the kitchen get appreciated all the time. Today I made a chicken gravy authentic to a particular region of my home state in India, and eaten along with idlis, they were heavenly bites indeed! My husband has already asked me if there are any leftovers, and if so, he wants them with pooris (deep fried mini tortillas) for breakfast tomorrow...all of which has prompted me to write this blog!

Happy eating, my friends! May you be blessed with heavenly bites as well!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Other Eden: Where Imagination Blends With Reality

[Note: This is a piece of descriptive/narrative writing fed purely by my imagination. It is semi-autobiographical and the rest fictitious, the locale and the topography of the land having been changed as per my fancy and convenience. If my description is reminiscent of my favorite writers, it only bolsters the fact of how deeply I have been influenced by them!]

Want a glimpse of my other Eden? Relax now, breathe deeply, loosen your limbs, sit back in your seat and come with me on an interesting journey to a place so rugged, so serene, so pristine, so primordial and elemental in its beauty that I truly believe is the abode of the gods. The flux of life has taken me across the vast expanses of continents, be it for work or pleasure, but my mind is still awash with fresh memories of this other Eden from my childhood and like Wordsworth’s daffodils “ they flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude.”

Not far from my parents’ vacation home was this oasis of beauty, a quiet haven of nature’s bliss to which we retreated time and again. It was a lucid lake that was nestled among the mountains, flashing like an aquamarine jewel in the brilliance of the sun and reflecting the deep blue skies on a warm, clear day. On occasion, when a few clouds drifted lazily past, they reflected on the water and changed its color, from indigo to blue to turquoise, shades of blue and green playing out continuously on the surface. Sun, rain, wind – it looked amazing in all. The lake was fed by tiny pebble-strewn streams and waterfalls that poured off the canyons surrounding it, and had an abundance of fish in it. The mountains foundered in a wreckage of rocks and boulders that stood like a crumbling fort around the lake, with the towering stands of pines and other conifers for sentinels, guarding a heavenly secret suspended in time and space. It was a relatively unspoiled location, literally in the back of nowhere, and only a few of our neighbors who lived far and apart were privy to it. The ambiance was sheer magic, the mood it evoked so divine and ethereal. Child though I was, it felt like paradise on earth to me, inspiring dreams as grand as its lonely, silent, stupendous splendor.

The lake was quite an enchanting walk from home, across a heavily – wooded area of mixed conifers and various other trees that roofed over like a great cathedral, with an impenetrable mass of ferns and bushes growing under them. The mighty canopy of the trees towering above was colossal in proportion and size, evoking an almost religious awe in me. The ground underfoot was like wet sponge as we walked on a mass of sodden leaves. Nurse logs were there aplenty, signaling death, decay, and rebirth. The woods were always loud with birds, a bird watcher’s paradise indeed. As we walked through the woods, my siblings and I would listen to the bird calls, be it the chatter of a thrasher or a thrush, or the ear-piercing calls of others which sounded like a dozen hammers beating on anvils. Buoyed by enthusiasm, we would compete with the sound of the bird song, as we skipped merrily along, dancing to the varied tunes of our winged friends. It was always cool under the trees, the greenness of the foliage adding to that feeling. Late spring and midsummer were my favorites, when the trees were a dark green. It was then that the brilliantly hued flowers in the clearing were a riot of colors, from the muted pinks and whites to the vibrant golds and yellows – a shangri-la of leaf and bloom and bird song.

There were a number of streams that emptied into the lake and as we crossed through the woods, we could hear the gurgle of the water as it flowed atop the pebbles. On a warm, lazy afternoon, my siblings and I would go off the beaten path and gravitate towards the streams. I would watch the boyish antics of my two older brothers as they climbed a tree or two on the way. My sister and I would pick the native berries on the banks of the streams, or collect nicely-rounded pebbles for our brothers to skim along the surface of the water. I remember being fascinated by the sight and sound of the pebbles as they plopped into the water. I would recite Tennyson’s “Song of the Brook” – “I come from haunts of coot and hern / I make a sudden sally/ And sparkle out among the fern/ To bicker down a valley.” My sister, the oldest, would go, “I chatter, chatter, as I flow / To join the brimming river, “and we would all cry in unison , “For men may come and men may go/ But I go on forever.” Oh, for those days of childish delight and pure unadulterated bliss!

Pouring off the shaggy rocks in the area and not easily accessible were a couple of waterfalls. We children were not allowed to go there without our parents, precisely because we had to thrust our way through the trees on a steep rocky canyon where the waterfalls came cascading down in a torrent and eddied into the silver pools below. Our parents were concerned that a misstep might send us hurtling down the jagged walls. The place evoked an awe in me as I sat and gazed at the silvery curtain of the water plunging down below. I would often recite Robert Southeys’ “ The Cataract of Lodore” with its plethora of ‘–ing’ verbs. “How does the water come down at Lodore ? “ the poem would ask, and after an endless list of verbs in the present progressive - “Rising and leaping,/Sinking and creeping,/ Swelling and sweeping, /Showering and springing, / Flying and flinging, / Writhing and ringing, / Eddying and whisking, / Spouting and frisking,/ Turning and twisting around and around,/ With endless rebound,/ Smiting and fighting,/ A sight to delight in,/ Confounding, astounding, / Dizzying and deafening the ear with its sound…,” - it would end, “ And this way the water comes down at Lodore.” Up above, I would watch the birds zooming past in the sky and wonder if they enjoyed the aerial view or took it for granted. In my childish fancy, I would be a bird as well, soaring above the rocks and water. It was a surreal feeling, as if I had transcended the barriers of time and space into another dimension.

As we came down to the lake, it was picture– perfect indeed. There was an other- worldliness to it, as if we had stepped into eternity. It had the typical smell of all water bodies, that of leaf, and mud, and fish, blended together. Under the glassy blue green sheen of its surface, what secrets did it hold, I would wonder. I would imagine an iridescent creature with amber eyes rising sleekly out of the water like Nessie, or I would fantasize about a mermaid with her merman and merchildren living in the depths of the lake. Wasn’t the water in the lake perhaps the very same water that the dinosaurs of yore drank? In retrospect, the lake and its surrounding environment in all their beauty and ruggedness bring about a calming, healing effect on my soul to this day. I feel akin to Thoreau in Walden, one with nature and in tune with the music of the spheres when I think of my other Eden now.

My parents are no longer alive, my siblings and I now live in different parts of the globe, and the vacation home is long gone. My other Eden still exists, in reality as well as in my memory. Will the lake of my childhood memories be there for my son and his children and countless other children to enjoy for posterity? Only time will tell. In the meantime, dear readers, relax, breathe deeply, loosen your limbs, sit back and enjoy whatever it is you are doing, for there is hope yet for our planet and our own personal Edens.