Category: Lucknow

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Last November I went home on a short trip for my college reunion. It was the first time I was there without the children and it felt strange, too quiet. One morning I took my cup of tea to the swing on our terrace.

It was a cool morning and the sun felt good on my face. The tea was hot, with a hint of ginger, a little sweeter than necessary, just the way I liked it. Multihued bougainvillea bloomed cheerily in large planters at the far end of the terrace. The freshly watered plants gave off a delicious petrichor.

This wasn’t the house I grew up in. My parents shifted from our University home to this, their own bungalow, about a decade ago, when they both retired. And yet how easily I called it home. The children of course had known no other. This was their nani’s house. Each summer when we went to visit, they marked the room on the terrace  as their territory, forbidding anyone to go there in their absence. Such was the sense of belonging. But me? I moved out long ago. I don’t have many memories in this house, there’s no history.

How has this house, where I spend just a few days each year, come to mean ‘home’?

Perhaps it is because of the sounds of the city that seep in uninvited – the North Indian lilt in the call of the vegetable vendor on the road outside or the maids exchanging gossip and greetings in a familiar language before they rushed off to their chores.

Perhaps it is the flowers that bloom in profusion no matter where my parents live. From our first home in the old city where together they sifted mud and gravel, adding just the right amount of sand to coax out the largest roses, to the carpet grass in our second home that they lovingly tended spending long hours with gardeners discussing which seasonals should go where, to these gorgeous Bougainvillea here on the terrace, we’ve always had flowers.

Perhaps it is the odd pieces of furniture that have survived the moves, like this swing that I sit on, each creak familiar, each squeak telling a story, every languid move bringing with it a memory of long hours lounging on it mugging up for a Geology exam or solving Math equations.

Or perhaps it is simply the sense of space that ‘home’ has always had, the sense that I can never quite get in my flat, no matter how large it is. I go around opening doors and windows somedays when I get claustrophobic, in the vain attempt to make it feel larger. I get nowhere, perhaps because the feeling is only in my head.

Or perhaps it is the comforting presence of my parents as they sit talking, bickering vigorously about everything from why he shouldn’t travel so much to why she shouldn’t stay so long on Facebook.

Perhaps it is all of that.

Perhaps home is not a physical place after all but a feeling, a feeling that I belong.

 

The warmth of fat old quilts

The warmth of fat old quilts


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This winter we decided to change our quilts.

It was like the passing of an era.

For years we’d used the ones I’d carried from home when I moved to Delhi for my first job, decades ago. These wren’t the light fluffy ethnic creations one finds these days. Nor were they anything like modern comforters.

These were big fat heavy cotton quilts encased in old-fashioned paisley patterned cotton cloth.

Up in the North seasons are well defined – winter is winter and summer is summer and the twain barely meet. Sometime after October when the days began to get shorter and the nights slightly cool, it would be time to pull out the quilts. Quite a ritual, that was! We waited for the massive storage boxes to be opened and the quilts taken out, officially heralding the arrival of winter.

They’d be laid in the sun for a day to rid them of the smell of naphthalene balls. Then encased in crisply ironed white cotton covers they were ready to be snuggled into. When you pulled one on, not the slightest whiff of a draft dared enter. They were the best partners to have on long winter nights when your teeth chattered and your feet refused to warm up.

If the rain gods decided to visit, the quilts would be out all day. We’d sit long hours wrapped in them, despite the heater burning bright. We’d munch peanuts with coriander garlic chutney and tell endless stories. And when it was time for bed we’d shake them off to rid them of peanut husk and cuddle down for the night. The faint smell of naphthalene balls mingled with that of peanuts and mum’s Lakme moisturiser and lull us into the best sleep ever.

After years of use, the cotton would gather together in bunches becoming a thick, tough, heavy mass. Then it was time to look out for the rui dhunane wale who roamed the streets calling out ‘rui dhunwa lo’ accompanied with the twang of their instrument. They’d get out the cotton and bit by bit transform it back into soft and fluffy balls to be refilled into the case. Freshly filled it would be carried up to the terrace or laid out in the courtyard. Then, our grand moms would sit for hours in the afternoon sun, their daily chores done, gossiping about friends and family as they threaded the quilt. Once done it was ready to use, good as new.

Those weren’t just quilts, they were a bit of my childhood, perhaps that’s why I clung onto them for so long. But then, old has to yield place to new, and so we finally gave them away. As we turned in for the night in our brand new comforters the Husband said, so very rightly, ‘Woh baat hai nahin in me. They’re just not solid enough!’

For more winter nostlagia do drop by my older post here.

Life’s better with friends #GratitudeCircle

Life’s better with friends #GratitudeCircle

The irony of life is that each time one makes a rule to handle it, it goes and does something (quite on purpose, I’m certain) to make that rule completely absolutely redundant. That’s its way of keeping us on our toes. A not very nice thing to do, but that’s how life is.

If you’re one of the few sweet wonderful people who have been dropping by my blog despite the minimal activity here, you will remember I mentioned that for some time I had been feeling friendless and lonely. Anyhow, so then I went ahead and decided I’d try to make my own happiness. And I did. I took myself to lunch, went for solitary walks, crafted a little bit, did some neat bit of colouring, read, had mini binges on Netflix (Gilmore Girls which, by the way, is a fabulous series) and I was quite happy.

The kids got this beautiful colouring book as a gift. They could not truly appreciate it since it had quotes from Alice in Wonderland which they haven’t read. So I appropriated it right away and have been having fun with it.

Just when I thought I was in a good space by myself, all manner of friends, delightful ones at that, began to show up in places I’d never imagined, as if to convince me that life really was better with friends.

As I was ending my walk one morning a couple in our complex carried me off for another round. I’d known them for a while but never really interacted much with them. I have no clue what made them overrule all my ‘nos’ and drag me along.

With them I discovered this huge tract of land, barely a five-minute drive away, and had the most delightful walk. I have to admit I enjoyed their company almost as much, maybe more. Only rarely do you meet a couple so positive, so happy, so mutually appreciative of each other. I felt blessed to have been included in their little circle with a standing invitation to join them any/every morning.

Then, I bumped into another acquaintance/friend and we got talking. As we ranted about life, specifically the kids and the education system, it turned out her daughter was facing the very same issues as mine. There really is nothing more comforting than meeting someone with the same stresses as yours and trying to figure your way out together. And so we fixed a coffee date which I’m looking forward to.

Oh and the biggest biggie of all – I went to my college reunion. That should ideally have been a whole post in itself but the writing slump I’ve been in, took that away from me. When first I heard of the meet I was quite certain I wouldn’t go. And then my sister who always begins with ‘Don’t go if you don’t want to but think about it’ and then proceeds to work on me in insidious ways, did just that. Before I knew it I found myself booked to my hometown. As usual my sister-in-law stepped in to take the children for four whole days. I maintain I struck gold when I married the Husband as much for him as for his family, maybe a tad more for his family considering he’s not around too often these days and his sister is there. Always. So there I was in Lucknow revisiting the campus, interacting with teachers but most of all spending time with old friends.

Time had chipped away at the cliques of our youth, mellowing differences, easing friendships, letting us laugh at shared memories. All in all I totally root for reunions.

I know this is turning out to be one long rambling post but I have to mention this last incident. Early last month my site was hacked. In complete panic I reached out to my service provider and to their credit they sorted me out in a jiffy but at a bit of a cost. Later I found out a lot of other bloggers had faced the same issue and unlike me they reached out to other blogger friends for help and managed it with much little stress and at a lower cost too.

Sigh!

It didn’t even occur to me to ask for help. I wonder why, in times of crisis, I only tend to draw up on all of my own reserves and can think of no one at all. That’s something I need to remember. In the words of JK Rowling:

Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.

Replace ‘Hogwarts’ with ‘life’ and I have my November lesson.

I’ll end with a great sense of gratitude for friends and acquaintances this November. Without them it would have been a dull dull month.

PS: Thank you all of you for helping me with N’s pen-paper Vs Tab decision. I’ve decided to stick with pen and paper for now and give her the tab during the holidays when she would probably/hopefully be doing more writing. She’s also writing in her journal so that’s something.

 

Linking up with Vidya’s Gratitude Circle.

A time for family and friends

A time for family and friends

This last month, the month of May, has been filled with so many blessings that I’ve lost count. It is by far my favourite month of the year. It’s the time I am truly home, among extended family and childhood friends. The days are about reunions and getaways, about reinforcing age-old bonds and rediscovering the flavours of childhood, of leafing through photo albums and laughing at our tiny ponytails and large bell-bottoms.

There wasn’t a single morning, afternoon or evening when I didn’t have someone around, when I wasn’t planning a meet up, a movie or a dinner. Many an evening, my plans would dissolve into nothing because someone would drop by with the ease and comfort born of years of familiarity, the kind that needs no phone call, no appointment.

The children oscillated constantly between the various homes. The FIL took upon himself to tutor them in Math during the mornings, a family tradition of sorts. Their older cousins have all had to put up with his tenacious love for teaching Math. Despite plenty of good-natured ribbing and calls of ‘It’s your turn to get caught now’, he persevered and surprisingly enough, the children complied without a murmur. That there was a constant supply of laddoos and pedas might have helped.

The children also developed a severe case of ice-cream insecurity. The moment the tubs showed signs of finishing they’d sound an alert and sure enough, one doting elder or the other would order out another.

One night they were carried off to a wedding by my sister, their first ever. I stayed home enjoying a chat with the in-laws. They came back tired and completely overwhelmed, yet thrilled at the colour and the crowd, the food and the festivities and the excitement of it all. ‘The bride was epic,’ pronounced N. She had never seen such finery except in films. Meanwhile, H said the buffet was the best.

I had set myself some tasks for the month including blogging and figuring out some technical concepts which I normally do not get time for. None of them got done. I have to admit the first few days I was a trifle unnerved with this total lack of order, something I normally strive hard for in my routine. It was strange not to be worrying about the children, their food and their studies, specially after a rather stressful year. Bad habits stick on so hard, isn’t it?

Then somewhere along the way I let go and decided to go with the flow. Then on, I had the best time ever.

Sometimes it's best to go with the flow. Click To Tweet

We went off to spend a weekend at my cousin’s farm and then in the middle of all the craziness, we  managed a two-day trip to Agra. The six-lane Yamuna Expressway meant that we could travel the distance in about four hours. Everyone had cautioned us that it would be too hot, that the children wouldn’t be able to handle it, unused to such high temperatures. We decided to go on anyway and I’m glad we did. We spent the mornings and evenings visiting the absolutely stunning monuments and stuck to our hotel room during the hot afternoons while the children took to the pool. It was as idyllic as it could get.

I often talk about how much I love my hometown but it’s the connections and warmth of relationships that continue to make it special – a place where friends are family and family are friends.

Linking up with Vidya’s Gratitude Circle

Food and fitness in Lucknow

Food and fitness in Lucknow

I’ve been trying rather hard to keep an eye on my weight this year with some decent amount of success. But then the children had exams and they seemed to need help the moment I put on my sneakers for a walk. The stress of it all meant walks and exercise took a backseat.

Moving on – right after the exams came vacations. We travelled to Delhi and then to my hometown and that meant F.O.O.D.

The first morning in Lucknow I woke up to a pile of jalebis and khastas at the breakfast table. I’ll probably need to do a whole post on the Lakhnawi jalebis but for now let me just say that they served to kick off my food fest. It would have been absolute blasphemy, not to say inconceivably rude, to not be ru-ba-ru with my old favourites. If you’ve been with me on Instagram you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. While the children waded through cartons of Amul Icecream, I renewed my friendship with Lakhnawi sweets – malai chamcham, kaju pedas and motichur laddoos. That’s not to say I didn’t sample the ice creams. This season the Caramel  Cookies flavour from Amul absolutely topped my list.

Coming back to Lucknow, the chaat here is something else. The pani puris are perfect. As Goldilocks would say – not to hot not too sweet, they’re just right. And there’s matar – boiled and mashed white peas fried over a low flame in lota-fulls of ghee (The chat wallahs actually keep a lota full of ghee on the edge of their giant tawa). When it’s garnished with crisp crushed papadi, green chutney, fresh coriander and long ginger juliennes, it’s a party in the mouth.

Matar

And just when the party’s getting too hot you take up a pattal of sweet cool kulfi topped by pista flakes and two types of falooda.

Kulfi with two kinds of falooda

Then of course there’s the ma-ke-haath-ka-khana, my favourite – jackfruit fried to a crisp in mustard oil and singhade ka achar (water-chestnut pickle) – I’m not even sure many have heard of those. My mom, the strongest advocator of healthy eating and the loudest YOU-NEED-TO-LOSE-WEIGHT voice was torn between serving up my favourite foods and exhorting me to not binge. That was seriously funny.

Deep fried jackfruit fritters

Oh and this isn’t really a food thing but I have to make a mention. Each year sometime in the month of May is the Bara Mangal – a grand celebration of Lord Hanuman. I’ve written about it here. Numerous pandals serving free food and drink come up overnight, every Tuesday for a month. It might essentially be for the poor but the puri-and aaloo-kaddu ki sabzi one gets at these pandals is absolutely delicious. No matter how hard one tries, it is impossible to replicate at home. A bit like the kada prasad one gets at gurudwaras – it never tastes the same at home. So every Tuesday my lunch (and sometimes evening snack) menu had puri-subzi.

 

Aloo puri, the staple at Bara Mangal

To make matters more complicated, my sleepy hometown is slowly awakening to diverse cuisines – national and international. So we also have to do cafes and coffee shops, sizzlers and mocktails, fine dining and lavish buffets.

Sigh!

Did you see that? This was meant to be a stock-taking post on food and fitness but fitness seems to have taken the far back seat! This, right here, is what my problem is. I need focus, focus, focus!

For the first few days I managed to stick to a morning walk. Since my two homes – the in-laws and the parents are really close by the walk worked well because I’d start off from one place and drop by at the other for my morning cup of tea. But then the charm of lazy morning conversations took over and the plan went bust.

Now I’m back home and just as I was gathering the courage to step onto my brand new weighing machine the maid did the disappearing act (yet again). I’ve been spending my days mopping and dusting, lunging and squatting more than I’d ever done in my one hour a day at the gym. So my fitness routine should soon be on track. It is true, you know, what Coehello or SRK or whoever said – The Universe does look out for you if you want something with full shiddat.

What’s more my evening walks are beginning to make me happy. The nights are turning cool with the monsoon expected any day now. The days when the wind Gods are happy it’s an absolute delight to be out in the open with my iPod. Most importantly I get to switch off for those thirty or forty minutes from the chaos up at home.

While on fitness – I’d love some help on healthy salad recipes. Do leave them in the comments. Any other happy low-fat diet ideas would be great too.

Linking up with Shilpa and Bellybytes for #FlavoursomeTuesday. 

On my other blog: Beat About The Book

Do you care for what people think? #BookBytes – 4

Early this month on Women’s Day I shared a quote from Becoming by Michelle Obama. Here it is. What a fantastic read this book is proving to be, full of immense wisdom yet in no way preachy and so very relatable. Today I share another one from the same book. Take a read. “This may […]