Sunday 30 April 2017

Z is for Zagreb and Zindagi #atozchallenge

When, on the 6th of April 2017, I took this photo, I was sure my Z for this challenge was sorted. Not one, but two Zs were asking to be explored and exposed. Lucky me.

My blogging to do list when I woke up today (the last day of A to Z) looked like this:

1) write replies to all the comments on my Y post 
2) quickly work through all the pictures I'd clicked in Zagreb (in the few hours we'd spent there)
3) write Z for Zagreb.
4) publish and share
5) And finally, visit as many participating bloggers as possible.


But this is not how my morning is unfolding. Zindagi (Urdu word for life) is interfering with my blogging plans.

A whatsap message has appeared on my phone screen while I'm waiting for the water to come to a boil in the pan on the hob. 

"Let's meet for coffee." my friend types. She wants to talk one on one. 

I am tempted to decline and arrange for a day in May, like everything else I've been putting off this month: threading eyebrows, picking that blouse from the tailor which was supposed to be ready by the 4th of April, yoga, walk in the park, coloring my roots, etc. etc.

I know I won't have the time to go through and edit lots of pictures, like I'd planned to. Dazzle them with your brilliance Arti, my ego keeps whispering sweet nothings such as these to boost me to pay attention to him. Finish with a flourish, Arti. Get all those photos out. Friends can wait. What's the big deal? May begins tomorrow. Have your coffee then. 

Ego is  quite persistent.

I add grated ginger to the boiling water, wait a bit, then add the tea leaves and let it all brew under the lid. 

"If I see her at 11, I'll be back by lunch. I can post then." I'm trying to convince myself while I tidy up, make the beds and put the laundry out to dry, all in a haze of should I/shouldn't I?

"Just need a friend who'll listen to me today." another text and I'm decided.

I'm off, will finish the post when I get back and post it.
A long chat, a few hugs, a double macchiato and a delicious croissant later, I'm back. 

It was a day to listen. Not a day to write. I had plans, but zindagi had a few, too:) In a way, I'm glad Z turned out the way it did. 

It made me look up and take notice of a few realities. Blogging is great, but life happens outside the laptop screen. 

What was your last day of A to Z challenge like? Are you looking forward to it all coming to an end or will you miss it?
Streets of Zagreb may appear next year, 
if I'm here:)

for being part of this:)
Happy Zindagi to all. 

Saturday 29 April 2017

Y is for Yellow #atozchallenge

The penultimate post of this challenge wants to be presented in a simple, straightforward way. No hunts for the elusive Y word have been carried out and no digging in closets of memories has taken place today.

It's a post awash with my favourite colour, Yellow.

A favour is all I ask of you my dear readers, please don't tell Turquoise about this post. He's my 'other' love. I tend to wear him more, too. So he may get the wrong idea, you see. Yellow, on the other hand, makes me do things I'd never do for T. Like, go up to complete strangers and ask them if I can click their picture. Or lie flat on my back to take a photo of a tiny desert plant that grows here in Qatar. Or wait for the sunset to capture Y's last radiant streaks. Or set the alarm for 4 in the morning to ensure I catch Y when he's being born.

Yellow, I can't resist. And Turquoise I can't live without.

Without further yakking, let's go and follow that Yellow...
Draped in Kutchch
Resplendent in Qatar--found this beauty on our way to Purple Island
Carpeting Nottingham, U.K.
Hanging in Amman, Jordan
and holding a Green Party, Amman again.
 Keeping Buddha company in Koh Samui
On display in Tbilisi, Georgia
Ready to take off in Washington D.C.
Streaming through curtains
and waiting to be harvested in Rajasthan.
Hanging outside to dry in Ahmedabad
Crossing the road in Split, Croatia
Do you know the name Split comes from a yellow flower that grows in abundance on the hills surrounding Split.
When the Greeks first settled here, they found the hills covered with Aspalatos (the yellow flower),
thus, giving Split its name.
Split is the place where Aspalatos grows.
A very kind lady at a shop I got some lavender from in Split told me this. 
She was such a treasure trove of information. 
I asked her if she knew why Split was called Split.
Croatians call this flower Brnistra. I didn't take any pictures of it, so I'm using this google image:
Van Gogh loved yellow, too.
Here's a letter I wrote to him about...ya right.. Yellow
That was in 2015. 
More recently, I met Surabhi, an artist who loves yellow as much as I do. 
Thank you all for keeping me company.
It's been an amazing journey.
One last letter to go.
Waiting for Zee.
Last year's last was Zekreet
What will this year's be?
Do you have a favourite colour?
What might that/those be?
Do share:)

Friday 28 April 2017

X is for X shaped stitches on a Xmas stocking #atozchallenge

The months of May and June are the hottest in the northern parts of India. Even though Dehradun sits snuggled in the centre of Doon Valley, nestled in the lap of the Himalayas in the north and the Shivalik range in the south, summers get hot.

Back in the days of my childhood, in the late seventies/early eighties, there were no air-conditioners in any homes in Doon. No one seemed to need them, unlike today. We spent the hottest part of the day indoors (forced to take naps by my mother) sprawled on beds under whirring ceiling fans and the cooler evenings outside, playing with friends or just hanging at the local mandir (temple) or gurudwara. As a five/six year old, the charm of the mandir/gurudwara was the prasad (very, very tasty food blessed by the gods and given out to worshipers after the prayers etc. are over).

As we grew older, a chance to spot the cute boy from the other day became the reason to pay our daily visit to the temple near my parents' house. Washed and sprinkled with Johnson's baby powder, a bunch of us would gather and head out to the temple in the hours that fall between preparing chappatis for dinner and sitting down to eat dinner.

We often got told off by old grannies who'd come to the temple for the serious business of securing a place in God's good books while we stood in our group, giggling and teasing:
He's looking. No, he's not. He flunked his class. NO! Grades were important to us even when we were teenagers indulging in puppy love. You say stereotype, I say reality--at least mine, when I was growing up.

Apart from the grades, my mother was of the opinion that we (my sister and I ) should know how to cook, sew, embroider, fix a button etc.etc. She made us who we are--independent and fond of creating things.

Cross stitch was the second stitch she taught us. The first was running stitch. 

One summer, Mummy brought out her sewing kit and a pale yellow fabric which had tiny holes in it. Along with it came a rainbow of anchor threads. She showed us how to take the strands out of the twisted bun, cut the right length (don't be greedy to cut too long a length, or you'll get knots), twist one end to make a knot and then another to make sure, lick the other end with your tongue to make it easier for the thread to go through the eye of the needle. And then we got started.

We started off with cross stitching in straight lines. After a line was done, we'd go to her to show her our work. She was a perfectionist and she expected no less from us. 

After a few weeks of practice, I managed to cross stitch a motif (can't remember if it was a rose or a heart). I was very proud. 

Mummy looked pleased, too. Then she said, "turn it over."


"I want to see the other side. It's not just the pattern that should look good, a good embroider leaves the wrong side as tidy as the right. There should be no loose knots or lazy jumps of thread or dangling yarn."

I hated her guts then. She made us undo stitches and redo them till we got them right. I often wondered if I was adopted.

She's no more. My mother died when I was nineteen.

As I type out this post, I can almost feel her smiling from somewhere near me:
"siddha, puttha dono vadiya hone chai de ne" both sides of the embroidery should look good.  Her words ring out clearly--pieces of memories embed in us and become a part of our fabric.

Her work reflected her Meraki: from her cooking to her house-keeping and even her embroidery.

I have two pieces of her embroidery with me. Why only two? Here's the story, if you have time.

This is one of them: flowers and a bird on pale grey sateen pillow case. A few years ago, I put in in a frame and hung it. I didn't realise that the afternoon sun hit the wall I'd hung the frame on. So, the fabric faded a bit. I keep the pillow case wrapped up in tissue these days. I took it out today to take these photos.
 sidhha paasa. The right side
puttha paasa. The wrong side.
Christmas 2013, my darling friend Danielle gave me a Xmas stocking she'd made herself. I can never put in words what Danielle's gesture means to me.
Every time I put this stocking up, all the cross stitches I made to please my mother (when she was alive) and the ones I made in her memory, come alive with the joy of a life lived with all its ups and downs.
Thank you Danielle. 

You know you're blessed when you have friends like these.

Do you have a piece of cloth or embroidery that pulls at your heart strings?

Thursday 27 April 2017

W is for Warp and Weft #atozchallenge

What are you weaving on your loom today?
How tense are the threads you hold?

Are you alone?
Or with company?

The cloth you weave is of your choosing.
So choose 

Patience is key.

Love will guide you to the pattern of your heart.

Fear will plant doubts. 
The shuttle will lose its path.

or with your beloved
weave a peaceful harmony
of breath, body and soul.

The loom knows its rhythm:

Threads know their purpose.
They wear their hearts on their sleeves
nothing to hide or be ashamed of
ready to dye
in all colours of life
whatever they may be.

Open and empty
waits the space
(where the cloth will be)
to be filled
with life's surprises
happy and not so happy.

You are the weaver of your destiny.
What are you waiting for?
The words above are by no means a lesson or a lecture or gyan (wise words). They came to the page willingly after I'd spent a good half an hour staring at the blank screen.

I kept hitting a wall today when I first sat down to write this post--no seriously, I'm not just saying it because wall begins with a W. Trust me. 

So, I decided to go through a few pictures of my recent travels to help me unclog the writing. Weavers of Kutchch helped. I started editing a few photos to post under W and before you know it, the post patterned up.

We visited Dharam Patola Art in February this year.
These photos were clicked in their home, where the lady of the house and her husband weave side by side, 
a stole each.

What I didn't do today,
is what I usually do most mornings
when I sit with my cup of tea at my kitchen table--
  I open Rumi.

After I'd typed all this, I did do what I usually do every morning--
Opened up to Rumi.
And guess what he said?
Image result for rumis quotes about weaving

What do you do when creative juices seize to flow?

Wednesday 26 April 2017

V is for Ventriloquist #atozchallenge

"Ventriloquist is someone who...." 

A muffled thud made me stop and look up. I was reading a story in Red class, year 1, at 3 in the afternoon. The bell to go home would ring in less than ten minutes. This was our daily routine--story time to end the day. It was also my favourite time. There is a kind of magic that happens when you read to a group of children. 

Muffled clattering followed the muffled thud.

I got up from the chair I was sitting in, designed for six year old children, and stood up to peer across the room.

"Mrs G?" I called out to our class room assistant.

She was sitting behind the table that marked the end of our carpet area (which is where all the children were gathered for story time) on a short chair, similar to mine, when I started reading the story.

So I pitched my question in that direction.

A hand shot up from behind the table. It belonged to Mrs. G.

"Mrs G...what happened? Are you okay?"

All the little heads that were facing me now turned to face the direction my question was aimed at.

A few muffled noises which sounded like sobs to me came from behind the table. 

"Ellie, can you and Ryan read the Hungry Caterpillar for us please?"

Conor had swung into action before me. He was spread on top of the table, ninja style, to find out where Mrs G was.

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar, mean, right?"

Ellie was the best reader in class and also the most pedantic.

I nodded and sprang across the carpet area, scooped Conor off the table and tapped on Mrs G's shoulder who was lying in a sort of child pose on the floor. Her shoulders were heaving.

For the uninitiated among you, i.e. those who haven't experienced being responsible for under ten year olds in a classroom situation, let me tell you that all of the above happened in less that 2 minutes. Speed and agility are of utmost importance when it comes to keeping order. Trust me.

"Mrs G, what happened? Are you okay?"

The face Mrs G raised to me from her position on the floor was red and streaked with tears.

"Where does it hurt...should I send for the nurse?"

Mrs G held out her hand (her sobs had morphed into intermittent hiccups by now) to be helped up on her feet.

"Mrs G is on the floor." announced Conor with glee.

The entire class bolted to the table. Mayhem.

There's nothing like noisy children to reboot a teacher/teaching assistant's batteries into action. When you've taught children this young, you know how quickly they pick on your energies. 

Stoic and calm, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened a couple of minutes ago, Mrs. G rose to her role, calling out children by their names and instructing them to pick up the drying dragons they'd painted earlier, from the table she'd been sitting at and tumbled off from while checking their reading records.

The bell rang. The children left. We were alone in the room: Mrs. G and I.

"Are you okay? What happened?"

"Say that again..." again the same sobs, no wait... that's soft chuckling...not sobs.

I was lost and confused.

"What did I say?"

Mrs G walked across the carpet area and picked the book I was about to read to the children, came back to where I was standing, opened to a page and pointed to, "ventriloquist."

"Ventriloquist?" I asked.

And there she was again, chuckling her soft chuckles, her shoulders heaving. Blobs of red were creeping back on her neck and cheeks.

The penny dropped. 

"How do you say it?" I asked.

In between her heaves, she held my hand to assure me she didn't mean to be rude and said, 

I spent the rest of that afternoon saying [ven-tril-uh-kwist] aloud  to myself. 

Even today, when I come across it, I do a quick rehearsal in my head before I utter this word.

When I'd  said ventriloquist that day, this is what Mrs. G had heard, wen-tri-lo-quist. I had stressed each syllable (Indian style) and picked LO instead of tri as my stress syllable. Try it once, I can assure you it doesn't sound like any ventriloquist you know. We'll cover the v/w confusion in a bit.

I learnt English as a second language. All my spoken English came from school and from reading books. I have always loved words and I never hesitate to use new ones. When using a dictionary, I wasn't shown how to read the pronunciation of the words, so I only gleaned the meaning and usage and kept adding new words to my vocabulary.

All was well till I ended up teaching in a primary school in London. 

I came across West London English and my students met English's Indian cousin.

The great thing about children is that they are honest and forgiving. My students would correct me and with their help I learnt how to modulate my speech to not sound 'funny' when I didn't want to sound funny.  

But, it wasn't till my own two children started correcting my V or lack of it, that I became aware of the fact that despite Hindi alphabet's ability to have a letter for almost all 44 phonemes, my V sounded like W to others (not to me). Even today, scenes like this happen at home.

"Have you packed your vests?"

"Yes, mom...wests and souths and a few norths, too."

A CELTA trainer in Doha told me, "Never be ashamed of how you speak. Find out the standard pronunciation of a word, if you're not sure. And tell your students both the versions--standard and colloquial."

"I'm a Geordie." she said and smiled. " If I talk to you the way I speak at home, you'll be lost."

I ended up teaching English to adults in Doha. 

V is to Hindi speakers what P is to speakers of Arabic. There is no P sound in Arabic, so B is used instead.

"PAPA  John's Pizza." I stress the P with a piece of paper placed a few centimeters away from my mouth. "See, how the paper moves when I say P, now say B--it doesn't move."

"Let's try again Abdullah...P...P, expel that air through your lips."

"Wery well teacher." mimics Abdullah and I have no choice but to laugh out loud and remind myself to bite my lower lip slightly with my teeth next time I want to sound out the very troublesome V.
I love the English language. It's let me live so many lives over these years: from Famous Five to Winnie the Pooh and then a bit of Mowgli, too. I better stop or we'll be here for a very long time.

I love the different accents even more. The richness these bring to a language so widely spoken should not be contained in the clipped sound of received pronunciation.

In India, the way you speak English is often used as a measure of your intelligence. I know. Sad and shocking. 

Have you ever faced a miscommunication or misinterpretation because of your accent or pronunciation?

A 2 minute video to wind up the post today.
Wishing you all a wonderful day:)
Will see you tomorrow.

Disclaimer: The classroom shenanigans are a mixture of many memories. All names have been changed. The bit about Mrs. G falling off her chair because she put her head back a bit too much to laugh out and hence tipped the balance of the tiny chair is totally true.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

U is for Uttarakhand #atozchallenge

I was born in Dehradun which used to be part of a huge state in India called Uttar Pradesh (UP for short) (Uttar means North and Pradesh means State).

Then in the year 2000, Uttarakhand (UK for short) (Uttara mearns Northern and Khand means Land) was carved out of UP and Dehradun, the land of my birth and childhood memories, became its capital.

The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is also called Devbhoomi (Land of the Gods). Funny how Gods always pick the best places to live (whether they come from Greek or Indian mythology)

I guess Gods know a good deal when they see one. Uttarakhand has it all -- in abundance: snow capped mountains, unending meadows, forests of oak, juniper, sal and sheesham, guava and mango trees to climb, valleys bursting with flowers, Ganga, Yamuna and even a tiny bit of the mythical Saraswati flow here.

This is the land where blue poppies bloom.

"Soil ours, water ours, ours are these forests.
Our forefathers raised them, it's we who must protect them."

(A snippet of a song I found while googling, it's claimed to be a translation of a Garhwali chipko song.)

The song says it all.

Women from this region hugged trees to save them from being cut down. Chipko means a hug or an embrace or clinging in Hindi.

A land such as this,
where women clung to trees
to save them--
that's where I was born. 

It's called the chipko movement: This extract from women in world history gives you a glimpse of what trees and protecting them means to the people of this region:

"In one the contractor says:
“You foolish village women, do you know what these forest bear?
Resin, timber, and therefore foreign exchange!”
The women answer:
“Yes, we know. What do the forests bear?
Soil, water, and pure air,
Soil, water, and pure air.”
One post is not enough. And I have a tendency to sound like a lovesick teenager when I start talking about Uttarakhand, so I'll stop and just share a few pictures instead.

There are links to some older posts of places I've visited. If you have the time, check them out. I promise--you'll be happy you did:)
The Saraswati flows and rocks copy Klimt's kiss
Locals pick moss that grows on oaks and use it to make dye and medicines.
Fog fills the skies and Ganesh gets a ride
Did we make it? 
We climb and live to tell the tale at Roopkund
Flowers so fragrant, they're called dhoop or incense and used in Budhhist temples.
Bhugyals or meadows that go on and on
Tea on the boil at 14000 ft.
 Laundry never felt this good about being left high and dry
Temple bells
Gurudwaras and holy lakes. 
Dipping  in these glacial waters will make you go brrrrr at first.
But when you come out, you'll feel new.
Where the sun rises gently,
and sets with aplomb.
What's your favourite thing about your hometown or the place you call home?

V is coming, right before W...
I'll be here, how about you?

Monday 24 April 2017

T is for Toast, Tavaa Toast #atozchallenge

Yes, the title of today's post is inspired by Bond, James Bond. If he's a man's man, then tavaa toast is a toast's toast, at least according to my taste buds.

Now that I've impressed you with all the tiresome Ts I've managed to thrust in the sentence above, let's move on.

To find out about tavaa toast, you'll have to travel back in time with me to the mid-1970s (when I was between 3 and 10) to Beji's (my grandmother) kitchen in Dehradun.

Double roti is how I was first introduced to sliced white bread that came wrapped in a clear plastic bag of shame.




Beji was the queen of her kitchen and my grandfather's heart. Her words were law and no one questioned her rules. She was petite and soft and never raised her voice, ever. I don't recall a single harsh word uttered by her. Yes, yes, I loved her, so I must be biased. But she ruled without force. Her way in the kitchen was the only way. No one complained. She was an amazing cook who was completely dedicated to feeding her family.

The firangi (foreign) double roti aka sliced, white bread had no place in her Punjabi kitchen.

"Shame on you for buying bread from a shop. Shame on you for buying any food that comes wrapped up in a plastic bag. How difficult is it to knead some flour, roll out a roti and raise it into a hot balloon on the tavaa? Huh? Why did God give us hands? " No, she never uttered those words. She just relayed the sentiments to us by her actions.

"Aye koi khaand dee cheez hai? Mareezan di roti?" (She had proclaimed sliced, white bread to be fit for consumption only by the sick or if your family had abandoned you and you were left without a kitchen--how else could one justify a food so lacking in taste and nutrients?)

Double Roti was contraband.

Time changed all that. Beji became older and weaker. Her son's wives gained more and more access to her  kitchen. Modern life with its modern rhythm introduced faster flavours and easier to prepare meals into our lives.

Then one day, my mother served us toast for breakfast, instead of paraanthas.

We didn't have a toaster then.

This is where the tavaa (flat pan on which we make rotis/chappatis) comes in.

Put the tavaa on a medium flame. Let it get hot enough for the thin slab of butter you're about to tip into it to melt. Then place your slice of bread on it. Scrape a few thickish shavings off the block of (Amul or home-made white) butter and spread them evenly on the side of  bread facing you. Make sure the edges get enough, too. When the air around you starts to fill up with buttery toast aroma, turn the side. If, like me, you like the edges kararaa (brown and well done) then wait a bit. You can always add a bit more butter by sliding it through the edges while the white slice is browning into a toast. Now slide the James Bond of all toasts onto your plate and enjoy. But,before you do, make sure that the bread is cooked.

Because, all through my childhood I was told that the white slices of bread that were sold at the bakers were kachaa (raw/uncooked/in need of proper cooking--Indian style).

"Aye haye kachee bread khaa littee...aye le...ajwaain khaa...sabar nahin bilkul ve ajkal de bachayaan noo."

If you were spotted eating white bread straight from the packet, chances are your mum or granny would take you to the doctors for you had just consumed raw, uncooked bread.

Don't ask me! I was a kid back then. How was I to know that the baker had baked the bread before wrapping it in a plastic bag? Baking wasn't done in my Beji's kitchen.  The oven, I knew and loved, was outside, in the veranda. It was called tandoor. 

I digress. Sorry.

My mouth is watering just typing the way my mom used to make tava toast for us. She would use ghee or Amul butter or home-made white butter, depending upon what was available or what one felt like having that day.

They are all superb. Yummy. And they all taste different. The ghee ones are kurkure (crumbly like pastry), the Amul ones are salty and the ones made with white butter are soft in the middle. You can crush some black pepper on top, or chilly flakes if you like, and Bob's your uncle.

When toasters came into our lives, we started toasting our kachaa slices of bread---white in the 90s, followed by brown and multi grain and then the gluten free kind.

Our trusted Tefal toaster sits like a king on our kitchen counter top. His courtiers stand in attention right next to him--bottled up and straight--honey, marmite, peanut butter and marmalade.

I use my toaster to toast pitta, naan, bread and bagels. And they all come wrapped up in plastic bags. Beji must be tut-tutting from somewhere up there in ether.
How do you like your toast? Do tell:)

I have to thank Barbara whose post about skillets drew my attention to the tavaa on my hob.

I feel I need to add a picture of the other 'T' I was toying with before I read Barbara's post. 
It's tota -- parrot in Hindi.(the t is soft--falls between t and th)

Tota (this sounds like it reads) is also a modern Punjabi slang for hot stuff--
of the female kind, not bread.

Ahmedabadi Tota:)

 U and I will meet again:)