Tag: Lucknow

How do you eat your mangoes?

How do you eat your mangoes?

The other day I was watching my kids eating mangoes. The fruit is peeled, stones discarded, then diced into neat little cubes or slices (if I’m feeling lazy). I then leave it in the refrigerator to cool till we get on with lunch. Later, the kids pick the fruit off the plate with fruit forks or toothpicks.

Mangoes in Lucknow have always been plentiful. I had once stumbled upon this quote by Ghalib, Aam meethe hon aur bahut saare hon.
That’s exactly how they always are here.
During the summer our cousins would come to stay with us. Each afternoon all six of us aged 4 to 10, would sit around a tub of mangoes out in the aangan. The tub would be full of water to keep the mangoes cool. We’d be dressed in the barest minimum – vests and slips – as we fished out the mangoes, oblivious to the heat, and competed at amassing the largest pile of guthlis. We’d peel the fruit tooth and nail, quite literally, and bite right into the pulp, delicious juice dripping from our hands, running down our chins and smearing our faces.
One of our favourites was the Lucknow Safeda. If you know anything about this particular variety you’ll know it isn’t meant to be pealed and cut at all. It is more juice than pulp and has to be sucked on, not eaten.
There’s a whole art to getting through this fruit and I’m not sure I’m equipped to explain. Let it suffice that it has to be handled with all the Lakhnawi nazakat you can muster. No, I’m not being a snob – the nazakat is crucial. The thing is the fruit has an exceptionally fragile skin. A little inelegant impatience and you’ll have the guthli shooting right out from the wrong end (of the fruit, of course) splattering you with juice and pulp.
Each time that would happen the expression on the face of the callous offender would be priceless, giving us hours of laughter. What’s worse, he would get an earful from his/her mum because mango stains are the devil’s own work when it comes to getting them off.
Anyway, once you’ve got down to the guthli without accident you scrape it off with your teeth and discard it. Finally you slurp off the remaining juice.
I am sure we weren’t the most sightly of sights, yet it was the perfect way to form strong bonds of shared memories. Perhaps that’s why even though we don’t meet, sometimes for years together, we can take up from right where we left off, the sweetness never varying quite like that of the dussehris, langadas and safeda.

Aam will always remain a very khaas part of my childhood memories.
If we were having coffee together… 3

If we were having coffee together… 3

If we were having coffee together dear friend, I’d have lots to talk about because my once-in-a-year trip home makes me garrulous. And if you’d raise your eyebrows at the word ‘home’ I’d reiterate that no matter where I go or how many houses I buy or live in, home will always be my hometown. That’s the city I grew up in, the city my parents still live in, the city where I, quite unrealistically,  expect to bump into a familiar face at each turn.


If we were having coffee together….

I’d tell you how I squeak like an over excited child each time I spot a sign of development here. ‘Ah the university got a makeover’, ‘Wow a new flyover’, ‘Ooh an authentic Italian joint, a yoghurt parlour’, ‘My goodness how many coffee shops are there?’
And yet, I’d tell you how I look out for the well-loved and the unchanged bits even more eagerly – the chikan shops, the gorgeous monuments that dot the city that I barely noticed when I lived here, a favourite kadamb tree, the gulmohur lined avenues, the thandai, mithai, chaat and biryani.
Most of all I’d tell you about the people. People, who are bound to me with nothing but simple bonds of love. I’d tell you about the chachaji at the paan shop who continues to give me free meethi saunf just as he used to when I was a toddler, or the thandai wale chacha who refuses to charge us if he spots me. ‘Ghar ki beti hai,’ he says, ‘paise kaise le skate hain hum?’
I’d tell you about the people here, who still exude an old world charm… the time my mother-in-law and I were arguing over who would pay for the vegetables and the vendor calmly took it from my MIL saying, “Betiyan toh mehman hoti hain’. It sounded incongruous – a guest in my own home? How exasperatingly old-fashioned! Yet I could argue no further.
Then there was the time we got stuck at a narrow curve on the road. ‘Peechhe lo’ said the driver of the oncoming car. ‘Lo nahin lijiye hota hai’, admonished my sister as she reversed the car. I cringed waiting for the angry, impatient rebuttal but the driver, a barely literate stranger, gave her a sheepish apologetic smile as he drove away.
If we were having coffee together…. 
I’d tell you how it warms my heart to see these tiny courtesies thriving here, how I cannot but smile when I hear the aap and the ama floating on the breeze, even as ‘dudes’ and the ‘bros’ make space in its vocabulary.
Yeah my city is changing, becoming more like a metro with all modern conveniences even as it loses some of its character. That is bound to happen, and that’s good, that’s progress, I tell myself. And yet when the old-world ways show up unexpectedly, as they are wont to do for they are part of its personality, they are ever more quaint and comforting.

If we were having coffee together….
I’d invite you over to this city known for its relaxed evenings, I’d invite you to come experience a sham-e-awadh.
Enjoying the difference

Enjoying the difference

The other day I had taken the kids to the dentist. As he cleaned N’s teeth tching tching at how she needed to learn to brush better, H noticing his beard and cap, asked in not too quiet a whisper (he is completely incapable of whispering), “Mama is he a Muslim?” I nodded a trifle embarrassed. Undeterred he went on, “Muslims wear caps na ma? That’s how I know. We read about it in class.” “Yes they do”, said I hoping the questioning would end right there.

Even as I struggled with the feeling of embarrassment I wondered why I was feeling so uncomfortable. From H’s point of view it was a perfectly innocent, though a tad personal, query. I asked myself whether I would have been equally embarrassed had he asked, “That aunty is wearing a bindi, does that mean she’s a Hindu?” I still do not know.

I was reminded of a similar incident while on a recent holiday at Lucknow. At a curio shop outside the Bara Imambara I found myself standing next to two burqua clad women. One of them picked up a small box and asked the vendor, ‘What is this?” and he replied off-handedly, “It’s of no use to you, it’s a sindoor-box’ (vermilion powder used by married Hindu women). The ladies smiled and put it back. I noticed the easy exchange wondering at how simply the religious difference had been mentioned, accepted and dismissed.

Perhaps that’s something special to Lucknow – that acceptance of the difference without attaching any judgement to it, where being a Hindu or a Muslim is just a way of life, where one can point out the difference without fear of being misunderstood.

While the uneducated/politically motivated lot insists on the ‘I/We are the best’ philosophy, the apparently educated/balanced lot go with the ‘We are equal/same’ philosophy.

Girls and boys are the same, all religions are the same, people from all regions are the same. That is so very confusing for a child. The thing is — they obviously are not. They are very different. It is the difference that gives them their identity – why take it away from them? Our lives would be richer and perhaps easier too if we accepted and enjoyed our differences.

Next time, I hope I won’t be thrown off balance when the kids put up a question like that. I hope I can allow them to question, understand and accept them with the ease and innocence that only children can.

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On a vaguely related note here’s a conversation we had yesterday morning during the school-time chaos:

H: Mama may I be a Muslim?
Me: You may be whatever you want but why do you want to be one?
H: They have so much fun. They get to go to the fair at the Idgah and get all kinds of goodies to eat and they even get Eedi.

They’ve recently read Premchand’s Idgah at school. I presume that’s what brought it on coupled with the fact that today is Eid and the excitement of his Muslim friends is very infectious.

I wish I had the time and the patience to explain that religion was much more than a few sweets and some pocket money. Unfortunately we were running late (as usual) and I had to let it go. Another time, another chat, perhaps.

Missing my hometown sorely today, I thought I’d cook up some sewain in honour of Eid. Mercifully a friend dropped by with a huge bowl of Sheer Khurma and saved the kids from at least one of my cooking misadventures. It turned out to be absolutely delicious.

Eid Mubarak everyone!

Doesn’t it look wonderful?
At the Residency – a bit of history for kids

At the Residency – a bit of history for kids

It’s been over two decades since I moved out of my hometown, Lucknow. Each summer I come back here with the kids to renew my bonds with the city. I am extremely proud of its rich culture and history, the language of its people, their subtle sense of humour and of course its culinary treats. That’s not to say I haven’t bonded with all the cities I’ve lived in but nothing really does compare with home.

To the kids, it often doesn’t quite compare with the city of their birth, being smaller and more laid-back. For this one month I try to show them my city through my eyes, to share with them what I find special about it. 
This week we decided on a historical tryst with the Residency. It dates back to the time of British rule in India and was witness to the first war of Indian Independence way back in 1857. This is where some British families were held under siege while the Indian rebels waged war against them. It’s a majestic building, even in its ruins and has stood steadfast for over 200 years.
H and N wanted to know why we played cricket with the ‘British’ despite having been at war with them. They asked whether there were women and children in the British homes who were hurt in the fight. It was a great time to reinforce how History evolves and how things change over time, how we forget enmity and learn to live in peace. As also the sad effects of war – how innocents are always hurt no matter who is in the right.
Once there, they were too excited running around in the ruins with their cousins to really worry about the history. Sharing some pictures here.

The ruins stand amidst lots of greenery
Signs of the struggle – musket and cannon marks
That, in the backdrop, is a British banquet hall – we had a great time imagining what it would have been like before the place was destroyed.

Doors within doors – amazing symmetry

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Linking to ABC Wednesday for the letter R with thanks to Mrs Nesbitt for coming up with this wonderful concept. 

Pondering the predictability of life

Pondering the predictability of life

That’s something I rarely do. Really, who has the time for introspection amidst the daily chaos? Along came an earthquake and shook me up not just physically, which it most certainly did, but also mentally. All I could think of was ushering everyone out as the kids babbled excitedly – marvelling at the swaying ceiling fan and shuddering knick knacks. 
It wasn’t strong enough to really scare me, specially since we were on the ground floor and the children were with me. It did, however, put things in perspective.
A while back I’d stumbled on a site called theburninghouse.com where people answer the question ‘If your house were burning what would you take with you’. It’s a thought-provoking question and has some interesting answers as people try to balance the ‘practical with the sentimental’. Some said they’d pick a much-loved teddy, a beautiful piece of jewellery, a bunch of family photographs, a cherished book of recipes. The practical ones picked wallets, house keys, car keys and passports. Others said they’d take along cameras and sunglasses. One of them even said he’d take along his ukulele.

Well, to each his own.
However, I do maintain that what you actually would pick up in a crisis situation might be very different from this carefully thought out list. The thing is, we never really know our reactions to unusual situations till we are actually there. If you’ve ever seen someone not being able to answer basic questions on quiz shows or making blunders in examinations or forgetting simple dance steps on the stage and have labelled them incredibly stupid, perhaps it’s time for a rethink. 
It’s been a few days now. I’ve been looking at the horrifying pictures of Nepal, where the epicentre was located, and can only be grateful for being safe. One takeaway from this whole thing has been the reinforcement of the idea to not ‘Postpone Joy’, to make the most of the present.
Have you ever thought about it? What would you take along if an earthquake hit? 

Linking to ABC Wednesday for the letter P.