A Prophecy & A Bowl of Butternut Soup

“When you say something or sing something enough times, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s almost as casting spells. I don’t mean in the necessarily flighty, ‘I’m going to buy a cloak with a hood now, way.'” –Feist

I don‚Äôt shush predictions and ‚Äėprophecies‚Äô if they‚Äôre made sincerely and by a person whom I trust not to be dramatic or religiously overenthusiastic! My mother-in-law was such a person who wouldn‚Äôt make much of hocus-pocus prophecies. But here‚Äôs one prophecy that gave me many thoughtful, doubtful moments before I found what to believe.

Once more, I dig up a story from my journal. Meet Roseline Thomas, my MIL.

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The Prophecy

I discovered two things in the past few days: First, the truth of a prophecy, that’s such a biblical word, but then, I guess it fits in this case and the second, the deliciousness of a butternut squash soup.

To my mind, butternut squash is a variety of ‘kadu’ aka a pumpkin in India. I like kadu as a vegetable, cooked Indian style. I also like the kadu halwa (a dessert) my mother used to make. A laborious task which she’d undertake after I’d begged her almost on my knees! So, when my daughter-in-law said she would make a butternut squash soup for dinner, I balked.

I could imagine a kadu mashed up in a soup, what I just couldn’t imagine was me drinking it. She reassured me it was yummmm… yes, she stretched the yumminess. I thought it was simply to psych me into drooling. Only the night would tell.

But I’ve meandered. To come back to the prophecy.

Once upon a time, as stories began when I was a kid, my mother-in-law, who I shall refer to as Ma Rose going forward, told me about a lady who would visit the family home in Barmer; very often out of the blue.

She was a very religious woman; old but healthy and mobile and with the gift to predict things. These things she predicted were referred to as prophecies because she was anchored in the faith. On one such unexpected visit, she told Ma Rose that she would die when one member of Ma’s family would go into the Lord’s service. She made this prophecy some years before I heard it from Ma.

Both Ma and I contemplated the meaning of this. Not because it was hard to understand the prophecy, but because we couldn’t find more than one promising candidate who qualified as a servant for the Lord’s work in the future.

This person, one of her grandsons, was a teenager then. He was quite keen on listening to Ma Rose’s religious talks and was a regular churchgoer. In short, totally religious unlike all the other youngsters his age. But as time went by, our hope in him diminished. I told Ma Rose that the old lady must have been a bit off the mark this time. She refused to accept that. I shut up. Just my mouth, not my thoughts!¬†

Then came the day when one of the granddaughters, her daughter’s child, decided to marry a boy who was all set to become a priest. Ah! The prophetic words resurfaced in our conversations with renewed strength. Ma told me, rather triumphantly, that the old girl was not off the mark. We were off the mark! We hadn’t thought of the girls.

Now, one was going into the Lord’s service and the time for the prophecy to come true was drawing near. It made me uncomfortable to discuss Ma’s demise, in the near future with her (she tended to make it nearer than it was) in such an objective manner. So I tried to drill holes in her theory. For quite obvious reasons, it was clear her enthusiasm to prove the old lady right had blinded her to the fact that her grandchild was not going into the Lord’s service. She was only going to marry someone who was going to serve in the church.

But Queen Victoria, as I and my hubby would refer to her in private, could not be influenced or side-tracked so easily.

“It’s the same thing,” she said with regal finality that discouraged all arguments. Again I zipped my lip and only my lip!

Ma Rose passed away a few years later. Her said grandchild’s husband changed direction. The priest moved out of pastoring a flock and became the head of a Bible College instead while she continued her teaching job. Ma Rose had gone, but the prophecy and its veracity remained a point of thought. It didn’t fit in, not to my mind at least. The pieces didn’t fall into place so the picture wasn’t complete. At least not in the way she had thought it was.

Many years later, I learned that the only other granddaughter, her son’s child, had become a pastor! The pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I will have to take the story further to complete the picture.

This grandchild, who I’ll refer to as ‘R’, was a simple girl with no college education. She was brought up, mainly, in a small town. She stayed at home and did the domestic chores. Later, she did a beautician’s course and worked in a cosmopolitan city. But that career was short-lived. She returned to her small town home and domesticity. I remembered ‘R’ as a lively, witty girl but not inclined¬†to intellectual pursuits. So hearing she was heading a church in a big city, came as a huge surprise.

Anyway, this news soon got buried with so many other things piling up, it no longer held my attention. But not for long. For some unknown reason, my thoughts back-tracked to the prophecy again; to Ma Rose and to the many conversations we’d had over the years. And I had a eureka moment! Stay with me a wee bit longer, as even now, I have to catch my breath by the revelation.

On the last night, before she died, Ma Rose was talking to ‘R’. It was getting late, past midnight, so ‘R’ told her to rest and try to sleep. Ma agreed and asked her to put her hand in hers. She held ‘R’s hand and closed her eyes. After some time, ‘R’ went off to sleep with her hand in her grandmother’s hand.

When she awoke, her hand was still in Ma’s hand only Ma’s hand was cold. Very cold. Ma had passed away peacefully in her sleep, and in passing on had also passed on the prophecy to the most unlikely person in her family!

I had been off the mark; disinclined to believe without the shadow of doubt. She had believed implicitly. Five months after Ma Rose died, ‘R’ was married to a widower with two sons. This was the first step towards the fulfillment of the prophecy and building a new relationship with Jesus.

The marriage, from what I heard, became a bit rocky. Whatever happened, it made ‘R’ turn to the church and God in a way she had never dwelt on the Word before. The thing is that the most unlikely person was chosen to do God’s work. She became a pastor.

Now I understand. It was a prophecy… it holds its aura… it holds that strength and firmness… it holds that belief!

Phew! Talk about soup for the soul!

The Butternut Squash Soup

And here comes the butternut squash soup. I peeked into the pan as M, my daughter-in-law, stirred the creamy, lovely, sunshine yellow broth around. I have to admit, it was inviting. Not a reaction I had expected. Soon, I was impatient to taste it.

She took her time cooking it just right, pouring it into the cups, dropping in the croutons… and I took the first spoonful. Yummmmmm…….I went… Had I been psyched?!!

Here’s the picture of the first cup of ‘kadu’ soup that made me a die-hard fan and advocate of its goodness. I am a new butternut squash soup nut! For my Indian friends; it’s just another kind of ‘kadu’ in a soup made with an Indian touch. ūüôā

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Dashing Through The Snow

“As I took my children sledding this morning, I watched them fly down the hill Рaiming for the jump and flying in the air. Getting the wind knocked out of them as they landed hard then climbing up to do it again Рrelentless and brave. 
I took a moment to be happy they are young and innocent and appreciate the simple thrill of going fast down a hill. I pushed my own nervous inclination aside and instead of saying “Be careful!” I said “Aim Straight!” Then I let them go down the jump again and again because in this world, we need to be relentless and brave and I need to be sure they don’t unlearn it.‚Ä̬†
‚Äē¬†Elizabeth Tambascio

I can’t upload videos here so I’m uploading the pics.¬†

Getting the younger two ready for their first sledding experience. M aged 4 and Z aged 2+
I worried that Z would be scared… I needn’t have. She was excited and not a bit scared. Neither was M!

Back in my home country, my first experience of snow came when we moved from our country home in Punjab to the capital of Punjab & Haryana: Chandigarh. A small city then, in 1971. A brief about Chandigarh:

(It was one of the early planned cities in post-independent India and is internationally known for its architecture and urban design. The master plan of the city was prepared by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, which transformed from earlier plans created by the Polish architect Maciej Nowicki and the American planner Albert Mayer. Most of the government buildings and housing in the city were designed by the Chandigarh Capital Project Team headed by Le Corbusier, Jane Drew, and Maxwell Fry.  

Shimla was the temporary capital of East Punjab until Chandigarh was completed in 1960.) (source Wikipedia)

Chandigarh wasn’t very far from Shimla, a hill station and the capital of Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayan foothills, which sees heavy snowfall. The roads were fairly good, even back then, and every year, we’d keep an eye for the news of the first snowfall. Daddy would call the driver, Jaspal Singh, and we’d leave home very early. It would be only for the day. We returned in the evening! All we did was play in the snow. And, of course, we loved the drive. I was a teenager then. All snow-related experiences ended in my early twenties.

I moved away to a desert area and I got to know sand dunes and arid zones.

Decades later, I worked in a residential school (aka boarding school) in another hill station that experienced heavy snowfalls, but I never got to live the winters there. Residential schools closed for about three months in winter. By the time we returned, the snow had vanished even though the winter lingered!

Z gets in front and M climbs on behind. I thought it was a crazy idea… one of the kids would tumble off and get hurt! (age gap/generation gap…LOL)
As¬†I¬†watched,¬†I¬†couldn’t¬†help¬†feeling¬†quite¬†proud¬†of¬†this¬†little one as¬†she¬†settled¬†herself. She made herself comfy and secure. It was her 1st ride!!.
 Aly sat and watched them, patiently waiting her turn on the higher and steeper slopes on the other side.
¬†They¬†weren’t¬†done.¬†Kept¬†trudging¬†back¬†and¬†sliding¬†down¬†again¬†and¬†again.

Fast forward to the present; I have snow all around me for months and I am not as keen about the snow as I used to be. It stays too long here and I can’t afford to ignore the consequences of walking out alone. What used to be a comedy when we fell, rolled or tumbled down a snowy bank or slipped on ice, will be a tragedy now ūüėÄ #idontlikelongsnowywinters

But I do enjoy getting out to watch the kids when they go sledding. As long as I have an arm to steady me, I’ll walk on snow and dare the hidden ice beneath!

The¬†Britt’s¬†Pub¬†&¬†Eatery¬†beckoned¬†as¬†I¬†tried¬†to¬†keep¬†warm and¬†not¬†
fall as I 
clicked pictures of the surroundings.

Though I was tempted, I thought better of getting into Britt’s. I wanted to sit with the kids and hear their experiences and share their joy over some hot chocolate and tea later at Tims’s, closer to home!

Back¬†at¬†Tim’s,¬†I¬†listened to¬†their¬†endless¬†chatter¬†and¬†basked in¬†the¬†glow¬†of¬†their¬†joy.

A tired but happy bunch.

                                                 Thank you for visiting my blog!

 

 

Superstitions, Myths, Black Magic

“…I have learned not to think little of anyone’s beliefs, no matter how strange it may be. I’ve tried to keep an open mind…”-Bram Stoker 

India is a land of many superstitions. Today, we do not hear much about them, as education and science have played their part in a large way. Having said that, I must mention that all don‚Äôt come under this education of the mind. India lives in the villages and in these villages superstitions thrive. 

Grandma was a storehouse of strange stories, superstitions, and myths. She was a strange mixture of cynicism and credulity. She was a firm believer in God, yet, she had a few beliefs that had nothing to do with Him.

At times, I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to believe her or not. However, what I saw convinced me she was right about developing strong conviction, but not about the superstitions per se. What I saw was not superstition…it was extreme calm in the face of danger.

This courage was born of unshakable faith. When one has implicit belief in anything, it transfers immense strength to the inner self. This is what I saw and learned. But her stories and actions based on her belief in certain superstitions were, indeed, very interesting; and for that moment, I allowed myself to go with it. It gave me the thrill that scary movies give… goosebumps and white-in-the-face breath-stopping moments!

One of her firmest beliefs was that a snake got hypnotized or, as she put it, got “blinded” if the firstborn child of a family stood in front of it. Since she was the firstborn child in her family, she believed that snakes couldn’t move if they encountered her.

We lived in the country and had a big fruit garden and a vegetable garden so our home was host to many snakes; permanent residents as well as visitors. Many of these unfortunate ones met their end at her hand.

Now, killing a snake isn’t such a great feat as killing a snake that stayed rooted to the spot while she picked a lathi or stood quietly watching the snake while a stick was brought to her! Now that’s something I have never seen or heard of before.

The snakes were quick and agile when any other member of the family tried to nail them. Quite often, they’d make their escape. To explain it further, I’ll recount an incident that left me flummoxed.

Grandma retained the rural identity of her kitchen to the core. It was spacious with an inbuilt Chula occupying the right corner in the north. A chimney over the Chula released the fumes and smoke of this typical earthen cooking place. They used coal and wood to light it.

This corner Chula stayed burning or smoldering throughout the day and half the night. There would always be a kettle of tea on the embers. This was also a constant feeder for their hookah fire.

The Chula was on ground level, so cooking was done seated on pidhis. These are very low stools made of wood with woven jute ropes forming the seat. There were four or five of these around the place. In the left corner, there was a table and a comfortable armchair. The other two corners in the south were occupied by a big grain bin and a hand pump. Grandma would sit between the Chula and the table, with a kerosene stove or an angithi, whichever suited her, on the floor. Her choice depended on what she was cooking. All the meals would be cooked this way. 

One day, I was sitting in the armchair and happily chatting while I ate a hot, crisp cheeni paratha straight off the tava. Suddenly, Grandma put her finger to her lips; signaling for me to keep quiet. I looked at her quizzically but refrained from any verbal query.

She stretched out her arm and got hold of the iron phukni which was lying near the Chula. Then she gestured that I should lift my feet off the ground. By now, I knew it had something to do with a snake, but where was the creepy crawly?

She got up, phukni in hand, and bending down lifted her pidhi and kept it to one side. There coiled up and petrified lay a cobra. I gaped and the next second I felt a scream coming up. Thankfully, it got frozen into silence. Grandma lifted the iron phukni and smashed it down on the snake. She hit it some more to make sure it was dead then called Grandpa to take it out and burn it. Burn it? Why? I wondered. There is another myth attached to that!

I asked her how she knew the snake was there and when had it slipped in. She admitted that she did not know when it had come in but had sensed that there was one under her! She felt sorry that she had to kill a cobra. She had another belief connected to that!

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When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible, for that mind, in its maturity to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I can do it myself.”-Mark Twain

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She repeated her firstborn theory again and frankly, I couldn’t but believe her then. But till date, I often wonder at the power of conviction for that is what it was all about, it had nothing to do with her being a firstborn.

There were many similar instances when we saw her take her time dealing with snakes (poisonous ones too!) that lay quietly like lambs for the slaughter. However, none of these were burned.

There was another weird belief in the villages that cobras carried a picture of their slayer in their eyes; like a negative and not like a positive print. So, if it wasn’t burned, its mate would see the image and then seek revenge on the killer. In the bargain, it would attack many humans till it found the actual murderer!

This was why any cobra that was killed had to be burned! Even as a child, I found this a pretty far-fetched belief or notion. I wonder how people could so whole-heartedly digest this absurd story. We even had quite a few Bollywood movies, in those days, propagating this myth.

Grandma also believed that people used black magic to get even with their enemies or to get something they wanted real bad. I loved to hear her stories. They were spooky and gave me chills down my spine. However, what actually spooked me was an incident that convinced me that people did resort to some practices that could only be termed as ‘Black Magic’ because they had evil intent. Whether these practices had the desired result is anyone’s guess.

We had a teacher living down the road. She had married rather late in life and desperately wanted to have a baby. I am talking about the year 1965. India was a young nation then, and very under-developed. We had no advanced medical facilities and rural women who wanted to have babies and could not conceive visited sadhus and medicine men who would perform rituals to help them while others went to tantriks; the people who perform black magic.

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You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion… Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly.”-Aldous Huxley

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One evening, Grandma told us kids and my mother not to allow the teacher to carry my baby brother the next day. We found this odd as the teacher showed no interest in my brother. She was only on ‘hello’, ‘hi’ terms with us. Besides, Grandma was cautioning us about the next day! This was even more unusual.

I asked her what made her expect the teacher and why we shouldn’t allow her to carry my brother. She told me that sometimes it was best not to ask too many questions.

Early, the next morning, I was with my baby brother in Grandma’s garden when the teacher leaned over the low boundary wall of Grandma’s house. The alarm bells went off in my head! She asked me to bring my brother to her.

The sight of her put me on guard. This was bizarre!

Grandma was right, as usual, she did appear and she did show an interest in the baby. I refused to give her my baby brother. Then she asked me to bring him closer so she could play with him. I saw no harm in that, as she wasn‚Äôt going to carry him. I was just ten years old then and quite na√Įve! Not like the ten-year-olds of today.

No sooner had I reached the wall than she leaned over and grabbed him from my arms. I yelled at her and called out to Grandma. She came running and took in the scene at a glance. She snatched my brother from the teacher and for the first time, I heard her talk to someone in such a harsh manner!

The teacher almost ran back the way she had come. My grandparent‚Äôs vehemence terrified her. And truth be told, right then, I was terrified of her too! She looked awesome; like an avenging angel…eyes blazing and wrathful face wreathed by her crown of snow-white hair.    

I was next in the line of fire. I explained that I had not let the teacher carry the baby; she snatched him from my arms. This was when she sat me down and told me that the day was particularly auspicious and used for magical rites. I don’t recall what day it was. She explained that the teacher had displayed all the signs of black magic rituals. It had something to do with her freshly washed hair; wet, left open and uncombed. There were a few other things she mentioned, but I can’t remember what they were.

Anyway, she called my mother and told her to keep a check on the little fellow; to monitor any change in him. By then we were all highly perturbed and worried. We did not believe in these things but Grandma was so serious about it and that affected us.

Within the hour, my brother developed a high fever. He was taken to the doctor but I don’t think that was of any help because the fever wouldn’t subside. Soon he was throwing up. Grandma came up with all her home remedies and prayers. She prayed and prayed.

Finally, the fever broke; it began to lower and he got well. I can recall, without exaggeration, that my plump little brother became a twig in those four days.

Coincidence? Black magic? I still don‚Äôt know what it was. But Grandma had predicted that the teacher would come and had warned us about it. My hale and hearty brother developed a strange fever suddenly, after being carried by the woman… again something Grandma had feared would happen.

No, I don’t know what to make of it even after so many years. You can draw whatever conclusion you want.

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What we don’t understand, we can make mean anything.”-Chuck Palahniuk

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Glossary
Chula…..it means oven. Coal and wood are used to light it. It is made of clay (soil)
Phukni…. a bamboo or metal blowing-tube (for a fire). 
Cheeni Paratha…..cheeni  means sugar and parathas an unleavened Indian flat-bread. It is made of layered whole wheat (atta) dough. And fried on a tava (griddle) There are many kinds of parathas. Cheeni paratha means sugar stuffed in the paratha.

A Better Morning. A Proverb. And A Mare’s Snort!

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A street in Vi√Īa.

It’s a cold day… it snowed in the night and was snowing when I awoke. But now it’s stopped and I’m feeling the cold. My thoughts, as they tend to, travel back and forth to better memories of places or incidents; times that could take my mind off the cold by warming my heart. So, I read through my journal.

This entry brought a smile as it ended. I do recall that day.

 

A Better Morning

Well, it’s usually a good morning every day for me. So, I thought I should qualify that by a degree and add “Better” instead to the morning. Chilean mornings are different. The house is quiet, in fact, the whole world around our block and a couple of blocks away too are blissfully silent. Not even a squawk from the gulls. Probably, there are no gulls anyway.

How different from the mornings I experienced in a bustling city in India! The world there woke up before daybreak! At least the moms or women did, I presume, as I didn’t see many men hitting the kitchen to rustle up breakfast for the school-going kids or themselves at that hour.

I mean no offense nor a barb intended for the husbands. It’s just how it usually is in India. And with the waking would come the sound of a grand welcome ushering in a new day; the kitchen band struck discordant notes: clangs, bangs, whirs of a mixie and whistles of a pressure cooker.

What a contrast!

Here, in my room where I’m all by myself, it is certainly a quiet morning. I’m as quiet as a mouse. The only sound that you can hear is me shuffling about, the wooden floor squeaks under my weight (which is great!), and there’s the click of the bathroom door shutting; running water and the occasional thud/clang of me or a pan falling! Otherwise, as I said, I’m as quiet as a mouse. Is my tongue in my cheek?

In truth, I haven’t fallen down and I hope I’m not speaking too soon. But in my haste to get my hot cup of ginger tea… well, accidents do happen! You can’t hold me for that, can you? I don’t expect an answer. It’s plain rhetoric.

A Proverb

At my Prayer Breakfast, I got a verse from Proverbs for meditation. I was listening to the lesson: A Teachable Spirit. The verse says:¬†“Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool.”~Proverbs 17:10 (NKJV)

Think about it. I had a lot on my plate as I mulled over the verse and attempted to plumb the depths of its meaning and the application in life.

Do I have a teachable spirit?

Do I walk in humility?

In all honesty, I’m not there yet, but I’m on the way. This tells me I’m not a lost cause. For today, that gives me hope and as I said, it’s a better morning… however, my tea got cold!

A Mare’s Snort!

I went to buy some vegetables yesterday. I walked down to the store not far from our place. I was halfway there when I saw a group of young women coming my way. One, in particular, caught my attention as she stared at me and tried to hide a snicker. I’m not very observant but since I was getting a snicker, I gave her a look-over too and passed by.

Nothing about her drew any thought; good or bad, funny or ugly in my mind. As we passed each other, I heard a loud snort of laughter… the kind that goes haw-haw-snort, haw-haw-snort! It reminded me of a horse… or a mare in this case… of Sandra Bullock in one of her movies where she plays this character who snorted when she was actually laughing!

I smiled and that led to silent tummy-shaking laughter. I’m glad she gave me a funny moment rather than a nasty one.

I knew what she was laughing at. First, I had on very loose trousers and a very loose sweater! And I walked awkwardly. Loose clothes so I could accommodate double layers to keep me warm. Also, so I could conceal the bulky waist support with rods in it and the knee support around my right knee. Add to that the collar I had for my neck. I am obese and I walk awkwardly with pain.

Although not justified, I can understand how some young people are insensitive to alien sights. And I must have qualified as one; a foreign face, ill-fitting clothes, and an awkward gait. But, a spoonful of humor helps the untasteful go down, if I may misquote a line from Julie Andrews song in The Sound Of Music.

Since I started writing, the weather has changed. The sun has put his hat on, hip-hip-hip-hooray! The sun has put his hat on and is coming out today. On that kiddish note, I sign out. It’s a Better Morning already!

Five years later, as I read this account on a cold day, my spirits are uplifted. I recall how it was for me then. Today, I’m not obese. I don’t have to wear my waist support with its rods, or my knee support and the collar daily. I’m not in constant pain. And though I know I’ll never be free of osteoarthritis; it’ll worsen with age, I’m filled with gratitude, praise, and worship for my present state of good health and mobility.

The sun hasn’t “put his hat on” and it’s still cold… but it is already a Better Morning!

“Every time you find humor in a difficult situation, you WIN!”

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My Sister Makes A Wish!

“If you are a dreamer come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A hoper, a pray-er, a magic-bean-buyer,

If you’re a pretender come sit by my fire

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin,

Come in!

Come in!”

Shel Silverstein

 

They say, ‘if wishes were horses beggars would ride.’ Not always, I say. Getting a wish sometimes isn’t quite the “beggar’s horse ride.”

My sister made a wish… and she got it! It all started as a game and became a terrifying reality. But I must start at the beginning.

Daddy had decided to put in his papers and take an early, premature retirement. Premature it was; he was only forty-five and had a long way to go. But his heart was set on dedicating his time totally to evangelism.

So in 1965, he left the service and we moved to his hometown in Punjab. He was going home; we were going to Never Land! Of course, the descriptions differed in each of our minds. I am not sure what Never Land signified for my siblings, for me, it was rich in every way: experiences, adventure, fantasy, challenges, and fun.

My eldest sister didn’t fancy it much I guess because as soon as she completed her Senior Cambridge, she came to the “village” from the boarding school in the hills, and dashed off to Delhi to train as a nurse. Daddy wanted her to join the college in Ludhiana and get her Bachelor’s degree. She didn’t want to stay in Punjab. She had mummy’s support and she joined her nurse’s training course in a hospital in the capital city.

This left four of us kids (my younger brother had arrived by then) with Grandpa, Grandma, Mummy, Daddy, the cattle; cow and buffalo, chickens, rabbits and a dog named Tommy; fruit trees, open spaces, and rolling fields around us.

It was a marvelous new life for my elder brother and me because we had no school to attend (the new session and admissions would start in two months), and we spent the whole day exploring the surroundings. Shooting at pigeons and whatever flew or ran or crawled with our catapults!

I don’t remember how my elder sister spent most of her time, but there were rare occasions when she would join us to spend the afternoons in our treetop getaway. We would carry up some books, a few munchies with lemonade, and while away the lazy afternoons swaying gently in our hammocks that were way up the tree! We had to climb up a ladder placed against the trunk of the Tali tree to get to the hammocks.

Looking back, I admit, it was dicey! Climbing from the ladder into a swaying hammock more than eight feet from the ground wasn’t safe. I was barely ten years old then. Anyway, life was different then. Kids played and survived many outdoor games and activities; things parents wouldn’t allow their kids to do now.

To get back to the story, on one such rare day, the three of us were sitting around in the vegetable garden behind our house and sharing our wildest dreams, wishes, and fantasies. As we tried to outdo ourselves in our imaginings; she blurted out that she would love to see two planes right above us in active combat. My brother and I guffawed. We knew she was right off her track because she wasn’t into these sorts of imaginings. She was very ‘girlie-girlie’ and didn’t dream of such stuff. Besides, we were not at war with anyone. However, we agreed that she had indeed outdone us in ‘bizarre’.

Not much later, we heard the roar of planes and looked up. It wasn’t unusual to see these fighter planes in practice sorties, as the Air Force base wasn’t far in airspace terms. There were two Gnats chasing a plane we couldn’t identify. It was bigger than the Gnats. My brother and I were intrigued. By then, they were almost over us and he yelled.

“It’s an attack! Run! That’s a Pakistani plane. Look at the insignia.”

It happened in the twinkling of an eye. Before we could even digest what he was saying. The air was rent with staccato gunshots. I ran and hid behind a Jasmine bush nearby and watched. The other two stood transfixed and watched. There was a dogfight raging in the sky above us.

I can recall the feeling even today. It was all in the extreme… the fear, the excitement, and the amazement. Then, in front of our eyes, the Pakistani plane took a fatal shot and burst into flames. It careened wildly and began a wobbly descent, thankfully, away from ‘our’ airspace and crashed in a field close to where we were.

Our yelling had brought out my uncle who was on one of his breaks between joining ship again. He wouldn’t believe us because by then the plane had gone down, but the trail of black smoke convinced him. He ran out with the others who appeared from nowhere in an instant. We followed; my brother and I.

I was slower and lagged behind. My uncle who was way ahead, saw me coming and stopped me at a distance. All I saw was the plane burning with huge, angry flames, and a mob shouting and yelling curses and abuses at the dead pilot. It was a terrible sight. But not as terrible as what was to follow. We were at war with Pakistan.

I peered at my sister, later that night, when we were huddled in the trench and our town lay trembling as some flak from attacks on the Air Force base and the G.T highway strayed and fell around us. She smiled wanly. I knew she was thinking what I was thinking but I had to say it.

“Couldn’t you wish for something better,” I shouted to be heard through the cotton plugs in her ears.

She wouldn’t reply. Her teeth were clenched on the handkerchief in her mouth. I stuffed mine back into my mouth as Daddy yelled a warning. A bomb exploded two-hundred and fifty meters away.

This was just the beginning…¬†

 

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Stolen Verses

I’ve taken the liberty to write about my parents; some of the stories they told us. I remember them because I love a good story and if it’s about someone I know… I seldom forget them. This one was retold many a time by my mother, in bits and pieces, because I’d ask many questions and she’d give me answers that made the story clearer to my young mind.

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Mummy at eighteen, a stenographer in the Navy, in Bombay (now known as Mumbai)

 

My parents were poles apart and had different ways of remembering their courtship. It brings the much-quoted line: ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus’ into sharp focus.

Daddy’s way was to tease; humorous, sweet and loving. Mummy’s retelling would be a sharp contrast.

She would recall all the old squabbles, grouses, and peeves, and then she would pout. I imagine the same way she must have done a long time back! One of her major discontents emerged from an incident involving her book of poems.

According to both of them, he got a lot of chocolates (which he liked so much) in his desk drawer from some girls working under him. It was more to placate him I guess; he was a stickler for perfection and discipline than any sort of romantic overture. However, as I told you, she thought otherwise! It did his ego good so he let it pass.

The only one who didn’t bribe him with chocolates or any kind of attention was Peggy D’sylva. But one day she “lent” him her book of poems. She loved to write poetry. That was the only thing she slipped into his draw because he’d “asked to read” it. This was her account. Daddy said he did no such thing! I’ll digress here to give you some background to the story and how they were together in an office.

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Daddy with his elder brother at Chatham

In 1945, Daddy got commissioned and¬†was transferred¬†from HMIS Llanstephen Castle to join Bombay as CCO (Commissioned Communications Officer). They called him Jimmy. This is where he met Peggy, a stenographer in the Navy. Women working in the Navy in those days were called WRINS (Women’s Royal Indian Navy Service).

When all Jimmy’s efforts to break the ice failed, he gave up and left Peggy to her own world which, in the office, was a small New Testament.

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The WRINS. The red arrow marks Mummy

Every minute of spare time would see the little book in her hands. She would devour every line and word. She was on her way to ‚Äúbeing saved‚ÄĚ, as they say. However, Peggy outside the office was another person! Anyway, this quite impressed Jimmy and he noted her ‚Äúgood character‚ÄĚ even though her ‚Äúholy‚ÄĚ act didn‚Äôt appeal to his macho image.

In the meantime, a particular Ms. Cutting made her move and caught Jimmy’s fancy. Although Peggy wouldn’t admit it, Ms. Cutting had ignited a spark of jealousy and Peggy decided to show another side of herself to the boss.

One morning, Jimmy was surprised to find a diary in his desk drawer. It was Peggy’s offering to him. He was taken by surprise and as he read the beautiful verses she had penned, he was impressed.

There was an assortment of poems. Some funny, some serious and deep, many sad or pining and some light, happy ones with tones of romance. Peggy had given her heart and soul in that book of poems. If she thought she had executed a coup, she was mistaken. Ms. Cutting had the boss’ total attention.

Jimmy thanked Peggy for allowing him to read it and returned it to her with a word of praise for her talent.

Peggy was fuming. Country bumpkin, she thought to herself. Then, she decided to put it back on his desk hoping the message would be clearer this time.

The next day, she was in early and the book was lying on his desk instead of in the drawer. She waited impatiently for Jimmy but he didn’t come in. Finally, she couldn’t stand the waiting and got up in a huff, walked across the room intending to take back her precious book. Before she reached the desk, Jimmy and Ms. Cutting walked in.

“Good Morning, Peggy,” said Jimmy and sat at his desk. “Did you want something?”

“Yes, Sir… N…No Sir,” Peggy stuttered. Just as she turned to leave, Ms. Cutting picked up the diary and flipped the pages.

“You write poetry too? How wonderful! I love poetry and I’m sure you’ve written this for me, Jimmy. This is for me, right? This is the surprise you wanted to give me, isn’t it?”

Jimmy looked at Peggy. They stared at each other and the silence was ominous. Ms. Cutting also glared at Peggy.

Then the silence was shattered as Jimmy said, “Yes, of course, this is what I wanted to show you but it’s not…” Jimmy hesitated a moment then added, “it’s not yet typed out. I just wanted you to read it that’s all.”

“It’s beautiful as it is in its original form. Thank you so much for the gift, Jimmy. I’ll treasure it always.” Ms. Cutting took the book with her as she walked out the door. That left Jimmy alone with Peggy, to sort out the mess.

“Look, I didn’t want to give it to her. I brought her here to show her your book. Why did you have to put it on my table, right now? I just wanted her to read your verses. You write so well, Peggy.” He could have been telling it to the walls.

Peggy did not wait to hear the whole explanation. She was already back to work with deaf ears!

The rest, as they say, is history.

Jimmy took it upon himself to make up for his cowardice and “cheapness” in gaining brownie points from stolen verses. He even joined the Christian group Peggy had recently joined. As a result, he even got “saved!”

Before long, Ms. Cutting was out but not forgotten because Peggy was in and she never let Jimmy forget her or the stolen verses!

This incident became a funny story (in a sweet way) for me, but for Mummy, it wasn’t funny. She never accepted Daddy’s explanation for what transpired that day back in 1945-46. Her argument being…

“You didn’t take the book back from her. You were more concerned about how she would feel. Why should I believe you?” she’d pout.

Playing Devil’s advocate I’d side with her telling Daddy that he was mean.

“I’m here so where’s the lie?” he would counter.

I’d nod my head wisely with a smile plastered across my face and ask Mummy what was her problem. She’d pretend to be annoyed but the laughter bubbling inside would break through.

Yes, women are from Venus… they’re love personified with all the add-ons… jealousy, possessiveness, martyrdom, and phenomenal memories included! They never forget and don’t let you forget either.

This excerpt sits well on their story except for the “clumsy, balding fellow” bit!

“I squeezed her hand and said nothing. I knew little about Keats or his poetry, but I thought it possible that in his hopeless situation he would not have wanted to write precisely because he loved her so much. Lately, I’d had the idea that Clarissa’s interest in these hypothetical letters had something to do with our own situation, and with her conviction that love that did not find its expression in a letter was not perfect. In the months after we’d met, and before we’d bought the apartment, she had written me some beauties, passionately abstract in the ways our love was different from and superior to any that had ever existed. Perhaps that’s the essence of a love letter, to celebrate the unique. I had tried to match her, but all that sincerity would permit me were the facts, and they seemed miraculous enough to me: a beautiful woman loved and wanted to be loved by a large, clumsy, balding fellow who could hardly believe his luck.”

‚Äē¬†Ian McEwan,¬†Enduring Love

 

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Chile Diary – 16

The Native Returns

Friday, 9th April 2010

It’s a cold, cold day today! For me, it’s winter even though the Chilean calendar says it’s still Autumn. A chill wind started to blow last night and it was mucho frio. I had hoped for a sunny day as I have promised to put mehndi on Gabriela’s hands. The cold has got to my back and one spot, on the right, is acting up. I’m resting it out and hopefully, I’ll be able to keep my side of the promise.

Gabriela is a pretty, young and vivacious waitress at Manchester. She knows a bit of English so we talk whenever she has a moment to spare. Yesterday, she learned that I was from India and got all excited about henna art. Her grandfather is Arabic and he has given her some henna.

I’m not sure about the quality of the henna powder nor do I know how to apply mehndi (henna) with a wooden pen. That’s how the Arabs do it. In India, we use a cone filled with the mehndi paste which makes it easier to make the intricate designs.

Anyway, I’ve asked her to make a paste with the henna using a bit of water, lemon juice, and sugar. We use eucalyptus oil too while applying mehndi. But, Eucalyptus oil or any other essential oil is out of the question for her. In all probability, it won’t be available or then too expensive.

But it all depends on my back.

Last night, Ranjit found a beautiful apartment. It’s on 4 Norte, very central to the shopping areas and the spot where the office cab picks them up. The most important thing is it is on the first level. Second, it is bigger in area than the present one, which is spacious, and it falls cheaper too. Since I won’t be here when they move into the new place, I plan on seeing it before I leave. But one has to fix an appointment with the property dealer first.¬† So now, it rests on the dealer and the landlord.

On another note,¬†on Sunday, we have an invitation from my friend Roxanna. They’re having an ‘asado’ (aka barbecue) at home and we have been invited too. I’m looking forward to that. I’ll tell you about it when we get back.

12th April, Monday, 2010

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Our gracious hostess…

The morning dawned grey and cold but the sun has put his hat on and is out now. Our lunch was fun even though it wasn’t an asado, as planned. I’m sure the joy would have doubled if I knew the language. I could have enjoyed the jokes more. Jokes can be made and understood better if not translated. A lot of the humor is lost in translation.

There were only two people who knew English; Gabriel and Raphael. Later in the evening, Gonzalo joined us. He also knows English. But there wasn’t much conversation because he walloped his food and got into the Table Tennis fray! Still, it was enjoyable. Roxanna is such a warm hostess and there was nothing left wanting in her hospitality.

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And it was a sumptuous meal… finger-licking good!

The food was made by her and the menu was: Mango sour (a pisco drink with mango juice) and freshly baked queso-olive empanadas for starters. The meal consisted: Baked pineapple chicken in a cheesy sauce, Beef pot roast, whole fried potatoes, fresh salad, Chilean pan (bread) washed down with a choice of wines, Sprite or orange juice. Dessert was a choice of three ice creams. This delectable fare was served in the patio which opens onto the lawn. Great ambiance too!

Post lunch, the boys got into table tennis matches as we, the girls, watched and cheered. Roxanna kept up a steady supply of cold drinks and iced water. Our wonderful lunch ended on a high note of joie de vivre on Sunday.

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Prime seats for the TT match…:D

Back at the apartment, the high notes mellowed as Ranjit and Manu got into their usual routine: phone, serials, movies mode which made any kind of conversation unwelcome. So I watched some TV, then occupied myself with turkey (pavo) empanadas.

This entailed cooking the ground turkey which would be the filling in the empanadas. I kneaded and rolled my way through the dough and folded and sealed the filling in the empanadas. Then I wrapped them in cling wrap and stored them in the freezer; When needed, heat some oil and fry.

We were to go back to the GH, but Manu went to bed so I decided to stay the night at the apartment. Good decision; I get the advantage of the net!

Tomorrow morning, I make one last visit to Roxanna’s place. She has, so sweetly, offered to color my hair before I leave. Honestly, no one has ever offered to do it even when I wasn’t able to go to the salon due to my back problems. I feel so nice and blessed with her friendship. That’s it for now.

This brings me to the end of my Chile Diary.

I fly out on the 14th of April. I know I’ll miss this beautiful city. Despite the constant fears of tremors and quakes I experienced, I’ll miss the “como estas?¬† and “Estoy bien!”

 

Glossary: 

Mehndi…….. Henna is called mehndi in India. It is applied in intricate designs on the hands, feet and even as temporary tattoos these days. Applying mehndi is a custom on many festivals and an important tradition of Indian marriages where the bride’s arms, hands, feet, and calves (at times) are covered with finely executed patterns.

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