The Original Blueprint – Part 11

My younger son and his wife were working, from India, for a company in Canada when they got to know the company was hiring more people for vacancies in Canada. So two others, who were also working with them from India, decided to apply for these posts. The company agreed to give them the jobs and that’s how the first step was laid. I was glad for them but still, at the time, I had no inclination to travel here. Not even for a holiday! Life carried on for me the way it was and I was settled in sailing on even keel. I never expected things were going to be stirred up, disturbing the calm. A big, unpleasant surprise was coming up.

My elder son came to me one day, excited. “I’ve been transferred to the Chile office,” he said.

“Wow,” I responded equally excited. Then my brow furrowed in ignorance and the worry that comes with it for a mother. He had pronounced the name the right way, Cheelay, and I hadn’t heard of this country.

“Where’s Cheelay?” I enunciated laying emphasis on each syllable.

“In South America.”

“Oh! That’s not quite like North America, right?”

“No. It’s more Latino. The language is Spanish. It’s a small country. And even smaller if you compare it with ours!”

“How are you going to manage with Spanish?”

We only knew a few words one picked up from songs and movies… words like – gracias, adios, amigo, hasta mañana, muchacho, hacienda, vaya con dios… and such. Now, I wasn’t too thrilled with the foreign posting.

“I don’t have to bother about it at the workplace ma. It’s English at work. And I’ll learn the local language.”

I nodded in agreement. It was similar to a posting anywhere inside India, apart from the spoken language at home (for us it was English) one had to learn a smattering of the local lingo to carry on with daily life. I recalled how we, as kids, living in Cochin (now known as Kochi) knew a bit of Malayalam. My mother knew Malayalam and Tamil because she was born and brought up in the south, in a city called Madras (now known as Chennai) and she had studied in a boarding school in Bangalore (now known as Bengaluru). She picked up some Marathi and “Bombaiya” Hindi when we were in Bombay (Mumbai) and Punjabi and Hindi when we moved North. I learned Hindi and Punjabi in Delhi and Punjab. And later, in Rajasthan, I picked up a bit of Marwari to get along with the maids and vegetable shopping. So this wouldn’t be any different apart from the vast distance.

I had no intention or desire to go to Chile either. Apart from the vast distance one had to travel… hours and hours in the plane and hours at airports on stopovers, if one took a cheaper option that took you on a circuitous route… I was in no mood to learn another language to get by.

But the original blueprint of my life was already set into motion. In fact, now when I look back, I see how the events in my life were taking me according to the plan.

My elder son was engaged at the time of this transfer and we preponed the wedding date as he wouldn’t be able to get back so soon for the wedding which was scheduled four months later. His fiancée worked in the same company as him. He left in August 2009 after they got married. Now both my sons had left. However, this time I had my daughter-in-law staying with me.

If I thought my son would come back in a year’s time because his wife was here, once again, I was reminded that life doesn’t always go even keel, for long, it has more twists and turns and adventure. Within months of his working there a vacancy for a job, ideally suited to his wife’s work profile, came up at Chile. She applied, online interviews were conducted. She bagged the post.

She left to join her husband and her new job in Chile.

My son was worried about me living alone. Apart from the security concerns, he was also worried about my physical limitations due to osteoarthritis and some troublesome discs that restricted movements and could also lay me down, bedridden.

About six months later, I was in Chile too! A place I knew vaguely existed at the back of my mind. A country about which I had zero curiosity and didn’t Google to learn more about it.

The company booked my ticket too, so I could join my family in Vina. The route was a circuitous one – Delhi-Mumbai-Johannesburg SA – Sao Paulo Brazil – Santiago, Chile – a longer route because it was cheaper! I bore my aching back, lumber disc and cervical disc acting up, and my knees hurting so much, whenever I had to walk, as in through the security check or down the aisle to my seat, or to use the facilities. I was in pain and on wobbly legs. But thankfully, I had wheelchair assistance and didn’t have to walk through those huge airports; five in all. That doesn’t mean I had no problems. The biggest one was when I had to visit the washroom. I would be stuck in my wheelchair without an assistant. The assistant would park me in the waiting area, put my bags near the wheelchair and disappear. There was no way I could walk to the facilities. which were no where near the waiting area. And even if it were near, I couldn’t leave my bags unattended. Dragging my luggage along would have created a medical emergency. It was torturous mentally and physically. Mentally, because I was so worried there would be an incident. Thankfully, that didn’t happen but there were close calls… I would get saved by a couple of minutes!

The layovers, in chronological order – at Mumbai [about 3 hrs. layover]. At Johannesburg [about 4 1/2 -5 hrs. layover]. At Sao Paulo, Brazil [between 2-3 hrs. I think]. Now came the last flight – Sao Paulo to Santiago! It was just the last flight not the last leg of my journey.

From Santiago would begin a road trip to Vina Del Mar. If there was no heavy traffic, we’d be lucky and reach Vina in 1 1/2 hrs. But thoughtfully, my son had booked rooms at a hotel so I could rest. The last segment of my journey would be completed the next day.

After he and his wife had settled me into my room, my son sat me down in the armchair and said that he had to tell me something. When people do this I get the jitters. “Now what?” my mind screamed.

“Ma, we have a lot of quakes and tremors here. So, if you feel your bed rocking don’t panic.”

“Don’t panic! Tremors and quakes are normal everyday routine here! An earthquake happens and I don’t panic? I’m not that brave! I’ve experienced a few in India. And they are scary” I said already feeling quite scared and unsafe.

“Well yes, earthquakes happen in India off and on, not often and not all are very strong. What you might have experienced were like 3.somsthing or 4.something…” I interrupted, “And all were scary as hell! The whole building felt it would collapse.”

“That’s India ma,” he said patiently. “Here the buildings are built to withstand stronger quakes. Even 9.7!”

“How strong are we talking about,” I said with a sense of foreboding.

“Well, over here, a temblor, which is a tremor, would be something that’s less than 5.something. Anything above would be a terremoto, which is an earthquake.”

“You mean, what I experienced in India and almost died of fear were just tremors?! Things they aren’t scared of here? They have quakes that go beyond 7 on the Richter scale? And all of this is an often recurring nightmare and I’m not allowed to panic?”

“Yes.”

“So what exactly are you telling me when you say I shouldn’t panic?”

“I mean don’t run out of your room. Stay here. I’ll come to you if any such thing happens. You might feel slight tremors more than once or twice. No one bothers about these.”

“O Lord! What have I got into? Where have I come?”

“I can understand your anxiety and fear but Ma, honestly, don’t be scared. It is unsettling for someone who isn’t used to it but given some time you will get accustomed to it. The buildings won’t collapse they way they do in India. These can withstand strong quakes.”

Now that I was in the middle of a soup, there was nothing I could do but put on a brave front, while my heart palpitated, my mind conjured up images of fallen buildings and me under a rubble. So I assured him that I would not get out of the room and run down the corridors screaming. But I wasn’t sure if I would keep my word.

Sure enough, the tremors came rolling in. My bed was rattled more than twice. Twice I jumped out of bed. Twice I ran to the door and held it half open. And the third time, I ran down the corridor to their room and knocked on the door. They were sound asleep and didn’t hear the frantic knocks nor feel the building shaking or trembling. Thankfully, I had remembered to take the key card of my room with me. I crept back to my room shaken and scared to death. I didn’t come here to die, I thought miserably. If I don’t die in a building collapse, I’ll die of fright!

Thank god for tiredness. I fell asleep against my will and woke up to the kids knocking on my door. It was time to go down for breakfast.

I had survived the night, the temblors, and I was feeling very hungry. I would tell them about how I disregarded their advice and how I ran down the corridor and knocked on their door real loud, later on. When they’d eaten and would be in a better frame of mind with a great brekkie tucked in, I’d be safe from some admonishing and reminding that I could injure myself too just by running helter-skelter.

We had till noon to check out so they took me out for some retail therapy. That always works. I forgot the tremors until one came up while we were in the mall. Being in a huge building that’s shaking and seeing the escalator sway, even though not too much, triggered the fear again. And trust me, it’s hard to control the panic and keep oneself standing quietly and wait for the tremor to subside. I watched people go about their business calmly. I wondered if I’d ever be able to build that sort of insouciance towards tremors.

You can read more about all the interesting and funny things that happened, in detail, here: Chile Diary – 1

If you haven’t read Part -1 here’s the link: The Original Blueprint – Part -1 – It’s In The Tale (wordpress.com)

The third and final part of The Original Blueprint will follow soon.

The Original Blueprint – Part -1

Canada had never been on my list-of-places-to-visit! Though, I did advice a lot of youngsters, including my son, to move to Canada. But I never ever felt inclined to visit here, and living here was not even a possible thought.

Yet, here I am!

Destiny? God’s plan for my life? I guess it’s both. It’s the result of the original blueprint for my life. One that I altered in some places, and the others altered without my consent at some juncture.

I often wonder about my sojourns to two countries that never figured in my travel-hungry dreams and desires. Surprisingly, apart from Canada, USA also didn’t make it to my list! While my friends in college went on about the States I dreamed about countries in Europe. I didn’t realize my Europe dream and, of course, never went to the States. But I came close to it when I ‘lived’ in Chile! A place that wasn’t even on the periphery of my travel thoughts. Though, I must add here, I loved it. The city I lived in and the memories of my stay there are embedded in my heart.

But as I’ve learned, God’s plan for my life will go according to plan despite the detours I make from the path. I will, eventually, do, go, function according to the original plan – sooner or later.

Take my journey at this point in life – I’m in Canada! If I had not rejected an offer to travel to Ireland when I was nine years old; if my mother had not put her foot down (which encouraged me) on the offer of two wonderful Irish missionaries to adopt me, I would have been here decades ago!

The story that convinces me that it is God’s original plan starts in the latter half of the year 1963, in New Delhi.

My parents were members of an evangelical church. The congregation called themselves the ‘Brethren’. The church was in Connaught Place and was called Gospel Hall. It wasn’t a conventional church building. It was in a commercial area and was one of the shops/offices that had been rented for worship.

In those days, Christian missionaries abounded all over India, and we had a fair share of them in Delhi, and in our Gospel Hall as well. Among the ones at Gospel Hall was an Irish couple – John and Lily Walker. They had two sons, Johnston and Earnest.

My parents and the Walkers took to each other and they became friendly outside the fellowship-worshippers church circle. We’d have them over for lunch sometimes and they’d invite us over for a meal sometimes. I enjoyed the company of this missionary family, which I confess was not normal because, even at that young age, I didn’t care much for the many others whom my father had befriended when we were posted in Kerala, South India. They’d come over often and have lunch and tea with us. I recall a picnic or two. One at a beach and one on a house boat! I was younger then but I had a mind of my own. I liked and disliked my parents’ company according to my own judgments for what they were worth!

There were the Phoenixes, the Bones, the Taylors, the McGregors, to name a few.

But the Walkers were different. I played with their younger son, Earnest, who was a year and half older than me, I think. Johnston, the elder one was nice too. He would talk to me and joined his brother and I briefly sometimes.

Lily and John were jovial and easy-going and not the typical uptight Christian missionaries who judged everything we said or did and found it inappropriate according to their thinking. I usually made myself scarce when any of those kinds visited us. They didn’t understand our sense of humor, our cultural dos and don’ts, and they thought they had the God-given right to admonish me!

Well, I was the youngest kid in the family then, a bit spoiled by Daddy, and I couldn’t take that. So rather than ‘talk back’ I avoided them.

Anyway, to come back to the main part of the story. Lily and John had taken to me too. We, of course, were unaware of the extent to which they had fallen in love with me. They had already decided (before even consulting with my parents) that they wanted to adopt me! That was the reason why they began to spend more time with us. Even at Sunday School or at church, Lily would talk to me, sometimes sit beside me at church, and generally, give me a lot of attention. I loved it because it was free of judgement, criticism, and full of love, caring, and acceptance of my little personality as it was.

None of them, including the boys, ever tried to change or mold my natural self to suit them. I was accepted as I was. I was loved as I was.

We were brought up in an Indo-western environment with the western more pronounced than the Indian. Our etiquette, behavior, and environment at home was more western. So there wasn’t much that was different for me in their home, and I guess they didn’t find much to change in my behavior.

Well, finally their term in India was drawing to its end and they had to make their intention known to my parents. And they did. I was totally in the dark about how my fate was being decided between them.

While all this was going on, a severe case of jaundice laid me down. It was pretty bad because my parents hadn’t realized that it was more than an “ache in the side of my tummy” as I continued playing with the pain. No one noticed that the whites of my eyes had turned yellow until one day, Mummy did. The doctor was worried and hoped that it wasn’t worse than what he had diagnosed.

The result was that the Walkers postponed their return and extended their stay by three months. It took over two months for me to get better, but I was very weak and I had to be under medical supervision for a month more.

My father had put in his papers for an early retirement and wanted to go back to his hometown and get started on building our house. But as I couldn’t travel then, he asked for an extension on our accommodation for another month. So we were in Delhi while he went on ahead to get work started on the house.

Now, the Walkers who were apprised of the developments on our side, came home before Daddy left. As I lay in bed, I could hear them talk, but not clearly enough to get the whole conversation. I gathered bits and pieces and knew that it was something about me. I heard my name mentioned a lot. I heard the word travel. I heard the words “extend our stay.” I tried to put two and two together but couldn’t understand what was the big deal if I couldn’t travel. I presumed they were going to leave me back here with the Walkers and my mother and brother would go with my father to Punjab. I would be staying with these people and join them later when I could travel.

However, I soon learned who was planning to ‘extend’ their stay and why. It all came down to one person’s decision – Mine!

I heard footsteps coming towards my room and I perked up a bit. John and Lily came in and Lily sat on the bed and held my hand. They asked how I was and made some small conversation. Then they asked me if I liked their sons. Did I like their home and was I comfortable whenever I spent the day there. My answer was a big YES and a broad smile to all of these questions. Then came the last one.

“Would you like to come live with us?”

“Okay,” I quipped happily thinking I was right about what I had picked up from their conversation earlier. Then I added, “How long will I stay? The doctor said it could be longer than a month before I can travel.”

They realized I was not on the same page as them. And that my parents hadn’t broached the subject with me.

Gently, both of them told me how much they loved me and how Lily had fallen in love with me from the first day she saw me. How she wanted a daughter and she saw that daughter in me. How her sons also accepted me as a sister if I agreed to be a part of their family.

It was a bomb exploding in my head. I was just a little nine year old going on ten, by then! This was in the beginning of 1965. And I wasn’t strong enough mentally and physically and emotionally to deal with such a big question about the future of my life.

They realized it immediately after they had said what they had to say. To their credit, they very softly and lovingly told me I didn’t have to make my decision immediately. They could wait. But if I could give them some hope, even a 50-50 one about their chances of becoming my foster parents, they could extend their stay by even six months, if need be.

I loved my family. I couldn’t imagine loving someone else as my parents no matter how nice they were or how much I loved them too. No one could replace my Mummy and Daddy! Not even the very nice and loving Lily and John Walker.

“Will you take me with you to Ireland?”

‘Of course. You’ll be my daughter. Wouldn’t you like that?”

“Yes. But when will I see my parents?”

“You can write to them, talk to them over the phone. And you can come back to see them whenever you want. And they can come to see you too. We won’t keep you away from your family in India.”

“Have you spoken to my mummy and daddy? What did they say? Did my Daddy say yes? Did my Mummy say yes?”

The questions came pouring out. I still remember the dread I felt and the slight tremor of excitement at what this meant for me. I was scared to leave all that was familiar and that I loved behind and go with people I barely knew beyond a social relationship. Nevertheless, there was a bit of adventure and excitement at the thought of going on a long journey to another country and living a new life. One I could only imagine from movies and stories I had heard.

The thought that was troubling me was that if both of my parents had agreed to this, I would have to go. I thought I’d have no right to refuse if my parents had agreed. I wouldn’t see them for years maybe and neither my sisters and brother. It made my heart sink. And I was scared too. So far away from my parents whom I trusted and relied on. I had no notion of how I’d be able to bear that. Somewhere, was a flicker of hope that one of them had refused. Somewhere at the back of my mind, subconsciously, I was keeping that as my escape hatch.

I was waiting for their answer. My heart was pounding.

Lily looked at John.

“Your father said he had no objections if we let you keep in touch and allowed you to visit. But he said it all depended on your answer and not his. We could adopt you only if you agreed.” My heart leapt with joy. Daddy had given me the final decision. I wasn’t so scared now.

“And what did Mummy say?”

“She doesn’t want you to come with us. She flatly refused to let us adopt you.”

This made it easier for me to make my decision. Her flat refusal took the burden off me. Deciding to take such a big step, one that I couldn’t fully comprehend. To me it was just like an adventure. Like the ones I’d imagine and dream to come true. This gave me the escape route I was looking for and I made up my mind.

“No. I can’t go with you forever. I can come for a holiday but I want my Mummy and Daddy. My sisters and brother.”

“But your parents will still be your parents. Your sisters and brother will still be your siblings. Think about it. You’ll have bigger opportunities if you come with us. take your time to decide. Though not too long. We cannot extend our stay only to find you won’t be coming back with us. We have to get your travel arrangements done too.”

“Ok. Then please don’t extend your stay. I don’t think I can stay away from my family like this.”

They looked so sad. I felt bad and wondered if I should say yes. My mind was for it. But my heart wasn’t in it at all.

“I’m sure.” I said. “I can’t leave my family.”

Long story short. The Walkers left. Mummy and Lily kept in touch for two or three years via snail mail. We learned that they had migrated to Canada a year or so after they returned to Ireland. And that’s where the Canada connection comes in, in this story. If I had agreed to make them my foster parents, I would have been in Canada decades ago!

So, in the original blueprint, I was destined to come here. I never thought about it. I never hoped for it. It wasn’t an inviting place to even include in my dream list of holidays. But that was then.

This is a beautiful country. And one worth visiting and settling in, if that’s what you want.

But…

I had to go on a circuitous route, before I finally came here. I’ve lost so much in the detours I’ve made. Apart from the material things, I lost peace of mind, a sense of belonging, the company of age-old friends. It isn’t easy to adjust to new environs when you’re older. It isn’t easy to make new friends. It isn’t easy to leave the familiarity of social, cultural, and traditional aspects of one’s life. That being said… This senior isn’t doing too bad all things considered. Not quite there, yet, but getting there!

So how did Canada, the eventual destination, come about?

More about that in the next part.

To Be Continued….

Chile Diary – 15

Wooden sculpture in the lobby of Delicias Del Mar

The beautiful array of wooden sculptures in the lobby of Delicias Del Mar

Easter Week and Farewell Parties

6th April, Tuesday 2010

It’s been a while since I wrote anything… anything at all.

Almost the entire Easter week went away in suspense. I was to leave Chile on the 3rd, then the 9th as I mentioned in one of my previous posts. Till Thursday evening, we were hoping though still not sure about my ticket. Then, they told us it couldn’t happen. Now, I’m looking at this weekend, probably, Saturday as my day of departure. So I wasn’t in the mood to recount much.

On Wednesday Manu and I did some shopping. Nothing much because I could hardly walk or stand. It wasn’t a pleasant spree for me and I love shopping! So you can imagine how I felt. We visited just one shop and that speaks for itself. I just couldn’t carry my weight, literally.

Thursday, Ranjit had an off day, half of which he spent seeing to some of his pending work. In the afternoon, we went to Lider to buy some things like essence and peppers that I wanted to take back with me.

From here, we went to the mall across the street. It’s called Marina Arauco. I checked out a few things I liked and noted that down. Then we went to Ruby Tuesday for lunch.  Fortunately, they have wi-fi so I could check my mail also.

I had a sumptuous meal starting with Thai Phoon Camarones (breaded shrimps, Thai style) followed by Loaded Potato and a Fresh Salad. I washed this down with a fresh Strawberry Lemonade.

While we were here, there was a tremor (5+), but I didn’t feel a thing. I was blissfully oblivious to everything except the laptop and my blog and writing. Actually, I was feeling quite happy and calm, so I suppose it numbed my senses!

From here, we retraced our way back to where I had found a couple of things I wanted to buy; picked them up and returned home. I had enjoyed this day thoroughly.

Ranjit and Manu had planned a farewell dinner and they had invited Roxanna and her family too. I rested at the guesthouse to be better inclined, physically and mentally, to handle the evening.

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The lovely restaurant and delicious food we enjoyed at Oda Pacifico. And more than that the company of good friends.

Ranjit had left the choice of the restaurant to Roxanna. She led us to Valparaiso. A few yards from Pablo Neruda’s house stands a sea-food restaurant called Oda Pacifico. This was our destination.

I have to admit, I was disappointed by what I saw. and so were Manu and Ranjit. It was a nondescript building, poor facade, and resembled one of the humble dwellings around it.

“Yeh toh dhaba hai,” I whispered to Manu.

“I know,” she whispered back.

We would call it a dhaba in India. A dhaba is a wayside eating place. It’s simple and very basic. Usually, these places are set up along highways and are frequented by travelers and truck drivers.

But, I hasten to add, many dhabas have earned a name and permanent customers because of their excellent food. We ourselves would make a stop at one such place on the highway when we traveled from Delhi to Chandigarh. However, knowing Roxanna, I couldn’t bring myself to accept that this was her best but gave her the benefit by telling myself that the food was probably out-of-the-world kind.

The manager welcomed us and led us through the pub at the front, past the kitchen and pantry, and what we found at the end of this tour took our breath away. There before us spread out in all its splendor was a restaurant with a splendid view of the city and the Port below. Awesome! 

Everything then on was fabulous. We thanked my friend Roxanna profusely for her excellent choice. The food by Chilean standards was indeed great. But the dessert outdid every ‘dulce’ experience we’d had till then. It was 1.00 a.m by the time we got home. Thursday was a resounding success and one of the rare days I have enjoyed so much in Viña del Mar.

I had invited Rekha and her family for lunch. Rekha and her husband were visiting their son who is the big boss in the company Ranjit works for. Since both Ranjit and Manu declined my offer of help, in any form, I was left to my own devices, which weren’t many. But being me and finding an ample number of bananas, enough sugar, and vanilla at my disposal in the 3 Poniente guesthouse, I got cracking.

My earlier plan was to make Caramel-Bananas and serve it with scoops of vanilla ice cream. But Ranjit rejected it because vanilla ice cream, he said, wasn’t available here.

I didn’t believe him. Vanilla beans are cultivated in Central America and South America so how could Chile not have an ice cream of the same flavor! Well, perhaps truth turns out stranger at times, I thought. Nevertheless, I made the dessert at the guesthouse despite Ranjit’s admonishings… long story short, he bought the vanilla ice cream!

Once I was on the roll with what makes me happiest; cooking and feeding, there was no stopping me. I bamboozled my way between the two cooks (Manu & Ranjit) and made sour-sweet green chili relish (khatti-meethi hari mirch) as a side to compliment the delicious main dishes these two were conjuring up. This relish is made with the big, fat green chili and not with the small ones.

Lunch was finger-licking delicious. The superb butter chicken Ranjit made was the star dish. Their other offerings were: mixed vegetable, dal fry, pudina chutney, raita. There were chapatis, zeera rice, and not to forget the khatti-meethi mirch. The dessert wrapped it up with a flourish.

Everyone’s palates were titillated enough by the delicious aromas and this worked up ravenous appetites. We had great conversations too along with our meal. Another very pleasant day went by. Saturday was an easy day. We ate Friday’s dinner for lunch and still had a lot left over.

But Lady Luck was on our side. At the Food Court, later in the evening, we found a willing party for Friday’s left-overs: A few Indian youngsters who work at the same place as Ranjit. Boy! Were we relieved!

Easter morning. I was up early, fresh and keen to go out in the day, perhaps to visit one of the churches and say a prayer. It didn’t happen. We stayed in and I nibbled on some marzipans, jujubes, and Easter Eggs made of chocolate… dark and white.

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My first walk on the beach that lay five minutes away from the guesthouse.

In the evening, I pestered Ranjit to take me to the beach so I could, at least, say I’d been on the beach. Can you beat it; the beach has been lying there, five minutes from my door since the day I came to the guesthouse on 3 Poniente y 10 Norte, and I hadn’t been there to even gaze at it!

Anyway, we went. We clicked some pics. Peeked into the feria stalls. Bought these giant rolls of cotton candy most of which I got on my face, hair, and clothes than in my mouth. I needed water to wash that sticky mess off but found none. I washed it off with soda! Yes, ‘agua con gas’ as plain water ‘agua sin gas’ isn’t available on the beach. It was a funny experience for me and I laughed instead of getting irritated or frustrated.

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This was before we ate cotton candy!

We even bought ‘palmyras,’ a ‘mathi’ like thing which even tasted like a sweet mathi. Palmyras are made of refined flour. They’re rolled out into seven-inch roundels and fried. Then they are sweetened with palm syrup.

By now, it was time for dinner and we drove around looking for parking space near the restaurant we wanted to go to. Finally, we found a spot and it just happened to be in front of a showroom that was still open for business. Shopping is therapeutic and can always lift one’s spirit… provided the shopping’s done for you! And so it was.

The showroom was selling Patagonia Argentina Woollens. Talk about a good day… this was it. I’m sure I was tired when I walked in but quite the uplifted one when I walked out.

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Our dinner at Delicias Del Mar added the cherry. We were absolutely ready for home as Monday loomed large after a long weekend.

 

Glossary: 

Dulce………………………………………….sweet/dessert

Dal……………..Lentil made with spices and a typical seasoning.

Khatti-meethi……………………………sour-sweet

Hari mirch………………………………..green chili

Raita………………………………………….whipped yogurt mixed with anything one chooses to add. Could be cucumber, boiled potatoes or just onions and tomatoes, even fruit. With a sprinkle of salt and some Indian seasoning.

Mathi………………………………………..a crisp fried savory made of white flour. Sweet ones are made on particular festivals  

Chapati…………………………………….tortilla kind of Indian flatbread made of whole wheat flour.   

Pudina chutney………………………Fresh mint ground into a chutney along with onions, ginger, garlic, green chili, tomatoes or lemon juice or aamchoor (dry mango powder) for a mild tanginess, and salt.

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Chile Diary- 10

As I read this entry, I realize how awful it was for me; hampered by not only my physical problems but also with my own feelings of not wanting to be a burden on anyone and dependent too, for each little thing.
 

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The beautiful streets of Viña del Mar

The everyday activities we take for granted were either very difficult and painful for me to accomplish or then impossible and not advisable that I even try to do so. I learned this the hard and excruciatingly painful way when I ruptured a disc or developed tears in them.

I would get irritated and often angry with myself. My inability to perform the simple, normal day-to-day things or even walk at a normal pace and for a good distance frustrated me.

My fastest pace was ‘tortoise’ and I had to stop after every 10-15 steps to catch my breath and get relief from the pain. Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis aren’t great companions. I am so grateful and thankful that I am so much better now.

By the grace of God, I found an orthopedic surgeon in 2007 who helped me get back to a normal life. It took a long time, 8 years, for the quality of my life to improve, but it did. And then a doctor of alternative medicine in Chile,  one who prescribed diets and herbal medicines, took it further and all I can say is, “Thank you, Lord, for leading me to them.”

I also understand how difficult it must have been for my son and DIL. I needed assistance in everything and in the kind of situation we were in at this time, it could be trying; very trying.

March 20th, 2010

The Fishbone In The Throat

Yesterday marked one month of my stay to the day. I landed in Santiago on a Friday, the 19th of February. Yesterday was also a Friday. The bonus was… Ranjit had taken leave and we had lunch at SixBar, a restaurant specializing in Peruvian and Japanese cuisine. It’s close-by so we walked down.

It took longer than it should have but I needed to exercise my legs; my body, even if it was a tortoise walk! And I must have looked like one with this rather big lumbar support belt. It has three rods in it and wrapped around my lower back and waist it looked like protective armor!

It was a celebration of sorts. We munched on starters; roasted crunchy maize and salmon tempura as we waited for the camarone (shrimp) tempura to arrive. Delicious! We walloped it down and waited patiently for the main course of roast pork accompanied by ‘terrine papa y chutney de mango’. I enjoyed it with two glasses of fresh ‘pina’ juice.

Terrine papa is a dish made with slices of potato (papa) wrapped in bacon rashers and baked. This is eaten with a mango chutney. Now it was time for dessert.

Ranjit chose one that translated to ‘Volcano of Chocolate’ but changed the order when they informed him that it would take fifteen minutes and opted for the trilogy of chocolate. What no one told him was that this would take twenty minutes!! I asked for a plate of fresh fruits. Boy! That was a meal!

The cab had arrived and was waiting. We drove to Lider, a huge market which would be called a mall in India. It’s a lot like Spencer’s in Gurgaon, only three times the size. The only reason we made the trip was to get my track pants altered and that got done quick enough. We had nothing else to do but window shopping which I couldn’t do much of as my back and legs didn’t hold up and I needed to sit. There was nowhere I could sit so I leaned against a pillar and waited for Ranjit to finish his window shopping. Then it was back to the guesthouse.

I was tired and lay down. Ranjit, promptly went off to sleep. The rest of the evening went off dozing and waking till I got quite fed-up with staring at the ceiling and walls.

It was 10.30 pm when Manu walked in with the dinner she had prepared at the apartment. We ate. We talked a bit. At about midnight, she felt like eating ice cream. Since it meant a long walk, for me, to 5 Norte, I was obviously not included in the midnight jaunt. But I was too nervous to be left alone at the guesthouse for two reasons; first, I wasn’t sleepy and with no TV or internet, I had nothing to take my mind off tremors and quakes. The second, the other mom ( Mauricio’s) wasn’t in and I didn’t want to be alone.

This didn’t please one, evidently, so I suggested they drop me at Manchester where I could drink some coffee, plug-in the laptop and check my mail and chat with some friends. This didn’t please the other!

Anyway, with no alternative being decided on, I was hovering in the living room wondering how I was going to deal with the situation when both of them herded me out of the house. I tagged along.

To cut a long story short, I couldn’t walk the distance. Manu was upset, and I can understand that. She walked yards ahead in a silent protest. Ranjit had to bear the brunt indirectly while I felt as unwanted as a fishbone in the throat. I don’t blame either for feeling the way they felt about me at that moment.

The day ended on a sour note and it doesn’t make me happy because I know it was I and not my son who was the irritant.

 

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Chile Diary – 7

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The vineyard

I’ve given a fair picture of the guesthouse earlier, so I’ll write a bit about the room and the bathroom I use. The room is small with a heavy, single bed on one side against the left wall. A foot and a half across from that is a big, heavy wood bunk-bed against the right wall. Between the beds is a small bedside table. The bunk beds are directly in front of the door which leaves little space at the entrance. So, if it’s dark and you hurry in, you’re sure to bang your head or break your nose against it! I did contemplate putting up a warning sign that read: ‘Peligro A 1 ft’ then dropped the idea. 

There’s a wardrobe on the south wall and a big window makes up the north end. It offers no view except for a peek into other apartments if their curtains are drawn apart.

The second bathroom, which I use, is at one end of the tiny corridor into which both bedrooms open. It is small. The shower cubicle is a two and a half foot by three-foot rectangle with a shower curtain to lend it some dignity! I’ve yet to shower here. In fact, after I left the hotel I haven’t showered nor washed my hair! My greatest fear is being caught off-guard by an earthquake while I’m in the shower. Yes, not only do you think I’m yucky; I’m feeling that way too. But hey, I do have a wash! Why am I telling you this? I’m trying to show you how fear generated by the big quake made everyday activities so difficult for me.

Having said all that, I want to hastily add that this place may not be one I’d choose to live in, but it has provided me with shelter when I needed it. I am grateful I wasn’t alone in the apartment on the sixth level when the tremors and the tsunami alert happened. It was easier for me to run out here. I have only three flights of twenty-three steps to climb down. 

Oh, by the way, the other bedroom and bathroom are many degrees better than the ones I’m using. All isn’t crowded and cramped in the guesthouse! Still, I’m glad I have the room I’m in. Surprised? Well, it’s because of the bunk-bed. Yes, the “peligro” one. Ranjit and Manu come down from the apartment to stay the night, and that’s so comforting.

This brings me to the Segura’s home in Miraflores. How I went there and why I went there has already been spoken about. But this is one place I cannot speak about as only a house; it is a home.

The Segura Home

This is a beautiful family comprising the mom, two sons, a daughter along with two dogs and a cat. Last but not the least is the nana or maid as we would say in India.

Roxanna, the mother is truly beautiful. By this I mean, she is attractive and also has a very large and warm heart. A quality she has imparted to the home and the children. She works as a manager with Avon and is very successful at her job.

Gabriel is the elder son and works with Ranjit and Manu at the Chile office. Although I haven’t interacted with him a lot due to his work schedules, he comes through as large-hearted, thoughtful and hospitable as his mother is. Javier, the younger son is doing his engineering in metallurgy. Since his college classes haven’t started yet, he’s usually at home and he knows a bit of English so we talk a lot. He’s friendly, caring and warm like the others. I like him.

Constanza is the youngest. She’s in school. I’ve only met her twice and then too for a few minutes. She’s as pretty as her mother. Daniella, Javier’s girlfriend, and I have spent an afternoon together. She’s a lovely girl; bright, lively, and pleasant. She’s studying to be a lawyer. The children here are brought up to be respectful of elders, a lot like it is in India.

This brings us to Mika, the bulldog. She’s one and a half years old, very cute in a bull-dog way and resembles a stuffed bolster. She loves to be petted and is jealous and demanding of attention.

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Martina enjoys a quiet time as the boys battle it out on the table.

The other dog is Benjamin (pro: Benkhameen), a six-and-a-half-year-old toy poodle. Very cute and exactly as his name suggests, like a toy.

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Mika and Benjamin wish to share space with Martina who is not comfortable with any intrusions into her peaceful moment…

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The canines gang up on her… Two battles (albeit friendly) carry on… Table Tennis and Cat & dogs 🙂

Both the canines are friendly and I enjoy them. Martina, the cat, walks in and out at will. I was surprised by her friendly gestures. She gave me a good look before she approached my chair. Then she rubbed herself against my leg, hoisted herself on her hind legs while resting her forelegs on my thigh, she indicated she wanted me to pet her. I did, and she left satisfied a few seconds later purring softly.

Since I’m not particularly fond of cats, I figured she must have found some feline characteristic in me. Not very complimentary if I express it another way!!

The ‘help’ I’m told has been a part of the household for about twenty odd years. I can’t communicate with her very well, but she takes care of me when I’m alone in the house. A pleasant lady who reminds me of Lolita, my maid in India, and the way she used to look after me. 

The house is big and spread out with a spacious living room done up modestly and tastefully. There is a formal dining area which isn’t used by the family daily. There are three bedrooms on the ground floor and one on the first level; all done up well and comfortable.

The kitchen is big and also has the dining table at which the family eats every day. There’s a patio or covered verandah behind the house. The living room opens on to it. This area is a very nice place to sit; either on the garden ‘jhoola’ seat or one of the chairs around yet another dining table!

The garden and lawn cover the rest of the land behind the house. It could be a house in Gurgaon or any other city in India except that it’s built with wood. Reminds me of the houses in hill stations like Shimla, Nainital; especially those colonial ones where the British lived.

This home has given me so much peace and tranquillity at this time when my nerves are so jangled. I am so privileged to have met these people. Thus I see daily the way God has opened doors for me and has literally carried me when I was faint.

I almost forgot to mention the blackout on Sunday.

We witnessed another very unusual thing in the night while we were having dinner; a power cut! There was a power cut that blacked out almost 90% of Chile. Power cuts per se are unheard of in Viña and this was unimaginable. Initially, we were worried that it had something to do with a quake in another region but immediately realized that if there had been an earthquake, we would have certainly felt it.

Later, we learned that there was some problem with the third grid, obviously a major problem. Given our experience in India, we were expecting to be without electricity for a day at least. We were proved wrong as power was restored in two hours!

I was glad the power cut coincided with our dinner time or else we could have been caught in the elevator as we left the apartment to go to the guesthouse. Now, that would have been frightening. We had returned to the apartment for a few hours and decided to have dinner in the comfort and familiarity of our home and that saved us. 

If I had voiced this, Ranjit and Manu would have listened with half a ear taking it to be the wild imaginings of a terrified mind. But as it turned out, someone we knew did get stuck in an elevator and had a horrifying twenty minutes!

Mauricio and his mom (who stayed a while at the guesthouse) were in an elevator coming down from the sixteenth floor when the power shut down. They had no idea whatsoever what had happened. The first thought that came to mind was there had been an earthquake. I can imagine what a scary situation it must have been in that dark enclosure, suspended at that height.

They began to pound on the door. Somebody finally heard the racket and they were rescued after twenty minutes. When the elevator door was pried open, they found themselves suspended between two floors! Getting out was an ordeal, but they were happy to be able to get out.

P.S: I did start having showers in that small shower cubicle a few days later and enjoyed it. LOL!

Glossary: 

Peligro A 1 ft………… Danger at 1ft.

Jhoola seat…………… A garden swing-seat made of wrought iron.

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Chile Diary – 5

Continuing with my Chile Diary, here’s the account of the big one that brought so many experiences into my life. I learned a lot about myself as I was learning about the Chileans and their resilience; the way they take things in their stride… and get on with life.

Monday, 15th March 2010

I didn’t get to write over the weekend. My back and knees weren’t doing so well, so I was not up to it. On Saturday, we went out for lunch at the food court in Marina Arauca. After sampling a few Chilean preparations, I decided I’d had enough. The roast pork was fine, teamed with the browned onions. Nothing else was so amazing as to get a mention; average, fair, and that goes for the desserts too.

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Valpo street in Vina

I’ve been rambling on or meandering I should say. I still have to tell you about the big earthquake and the different places I’ve stayed at till now. Well, this isn’t an official record so I’ll proceed according to the thoughts and fancy that capture me. Let’s start with the abodes that have provided me shelter till date. But to get the importance of the roles these places have played, I will have to recount the big #terremoto.

The Big One In Feb.

It was a Friday, and a week since I had arrived in Chile. Ranjit and Manu had dinner with me and left for a party at their friend’s place. I was uneasy and couldn’t sleep, so I sat like a zombie in front of the TV, staring at the screen but registering nothing!

One thought kept running through my head – what if there is an earthquake?

Whenever there is something I’m nervous about or can’t handle, I “cast my cares” on the Lord. I told him I was scared to be alone during an earthquake and if one should happen then the kids should be back.

At 3.00 a.m, both returned. At about 3.34 a.m, the big #quake rumbled in rattling the house like a giant shaking a matchbox. We had only made it out of our beds and to the front door by then.

Ranjit opened the door and held on to the doorknob with his right hand so we wouldn’t be locked in should the door get stuck while he steadied himself under a beam in the doorway leading to the living cum dining room.

I held on to him and the wall, and Manu clung onto both of us. The quake increased in intensity, and I looked around terrified at the way the walls and the floor were jumping and shaking like a person in an epileptic fit. It went on for 90 seconds; a short period in terms of measurable time but for me, it seemed to go on interminably.

As soon as we felt a slack, Manu and I ran for our passports while Tintin continued to hold the door open. It was a wise thing to do as many doors got jammed and the residents were locked-in as the tremors picked up and continued coming in at intervals of 1-2 minutes. These unfortunate ones walked out only when the concierge and his help broke open the locks. I believe one resident suffered a mild heart attack because of the scary locked-in situation.

I say we were frightened and, certainly, we were, but I speak for myself when I say that on #hindsight, I cannot say that the predominant feeling was one of fear. I was so focused on reaching God with my plea for help, I was not consciously afraid. I also recall praising God when I heard Ranjit calling out to Him by name; he doesn’t acknowledge Him openly.

I also know I was quite in my senses because I made a note about where I had kept my passport when I rearranged my closet the day before. This made it easy for me to grab it from where I had hidden it, wasting no time, the moment the quake calmed down for a couple of minutes. Usually, when I keep something in a safe place, it’s so “safe,” I forget where it is! So I realized, though I was terrified, my mind was calm and clear.

Before the next tremor rolled in, we made a dash down the staircase. That’s when I felt the fear. My osteoarthritic knees were trembling. But fear acted like adrenaline and lent wings to my feet. My back and my knees held up.

Although Manu and I were not properly clad for the cold outside, we were better off than Ranjit who hadn’t even put on his slippers; he was barefoot, and he was in his boxers and a T-shirt. It was dark outside, and people were running helter-skelter. Ranjit shepherded us to Manchester, a pub, close to our place.

Here we met Reggie and his pals who made us as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances. The pub was in shambles, but they could give us water to drink and even a cup of tea for me. We huddled in chairs in the garden. They kept reassuring us that the worst was over even as the ground beneath our feet heaved in sort of rolling waves that made me feel dizzy.

I was shivering with the cold and fear and smiled wanly without a mite of conviction. But, I was doubly grateful for a relatively clean bathroom though; I had to be careful walking over the shattered glass to get in.

Realizing we needed a few essentials as well as clothes, to protect us against the cold, Ranjit braved it up to the apartment. He got dressed in warm clothes and also brought a few essentials like his laptop, money, wallet, my handbag, and some pillows and jackets, shawls for us. He also drove the car down and parked it outside the pub. We moved into the relatively warmer car. That’s when the pillows came in handy!

I lay down on the back seat. The pillows; under my head and behind my back, provided comfort and helped ease the pain. I said a prayer of gratitude.

The next thing on our minds was our families. With no phone connection or means to contact them and let them know we’re safe, they’d panic as soon as they heard the news. And panicked they were! Anyway, we managed to inform them a little later.

Reggie left to see to his parents and a few of his pals kept vigil while he was away. One of them came to the car and assured us of protection and that we should not be worried or scared about that. That’s when I got to know about the dark side of the situation. Vandalism and looting were real threats. I was relieved to be under their wing until daybreak. It was very kind and thoughtful of them. So we spent the rest of the night in the car parked at the entrance to the pub while the men kept watch.

The morning found us searching for something to eat. No place was open except a small bakery nearby. However, by the time we reached there, there wasn’t much to buy. The next challenge was getting drinking water. The only kind available was ‘agua con gas’ (water with soda), and we were looking for ‘agua sin gas’ (water without soda). Finally, we found a place that had a few bottles of plain drinking water.

Late in the afternoon, when hunger pangs hit, we bought empanadas from Mama Rosa’s Takeaway. She had opened shop and was doing brisk business doling out fresh empanadas; wrapped in newspaper and piping hot straight out of the frying pan. 

All this while we were ‘living’ in the car. 

By evening, I had to go to the bathroom. The pub was closed and I was loath to climb up and down six flights of stairs to go to the bathroom in our apartment. Besides, the doorway leading into my bedroom was damaged and slanted at one end. If the door had been shut, it would have jammed.

Fortunately, neither was I in the room nor was the door closed when it happened. But, I wasn’t inclined to get in there. That’s when Ranjit rang up an Indian colleague, and we found our way to Sumeet’s house.

This was a small one-bedroom apartment, but it was in a stronger building. While all construction in Chile has to comply with quake-resistant building rules, some buildings are perceived as stronger and better than others. For me, however, it was good as the apartment was on the second level and I wouldn’t have many flights of stairs to run down if another quake hit us.

It was already packed with other Indian employees. This was another lesson in #gratefulness. The crowd and the non-functioning WC was no longer a put off for me. I was grateful for the bathroom, running water in the taps and a bed to rest my aching back. We spent the night there and left Sunday morning.

We returned to our building, but I didn’t go up to the apartment. I knew I couldn’t climb up the stairs to the 6th level and down again whenever the tremors rolled in. So, I commandeered one of the sofas in the lounge and lay down. To be honest, I shocked myself. I would never do such a thing in a public place of my own free will! But I was beyond such things as decorum and etiquette. No one objected, and the concierge even supported my action. In times like these, people understand and are compassionate. 

Lounging on a sofa was okay. The problem was that I wasn’t prepared to go up to the apartment at all. While I could sleep on the couch, I needed to bathe and change my clothes and do all the routine stuff which I couldn’t do ‘living’ on a couch in the lounge!

Ranjit couldn’t convince me because the tremors kept rattling us at short intervals, and not such small ones either. They were in the range of 5+ and 6+ and quite intense. This became a dilemma for me and for my son. Both of us were tired, exasperated and frustrated.

“Why can’t we get a house on the ground floor?” I lay on the couch praying fervently!

At the back of my mind was the story my mother had told me of how her father, a medical doctor, had died in an earthquake in Quetta. It was a long time ago but she had said that he had fallen into a crack as the earth opened up beneath his feet. There was so much going on in my mind and too much for me to deal with physically and emotionally.

Later, when things had settled, I walked out to get some fresh air. I saw cracks in some sidewalks. And some were pushed to form little mounds… uneven sidewalks. A few roads had shallow cracks running across. A few highrise buildings were damaged severely but not so bad as to cause the loss of life. I saw some old casas which fared worse. But, in Viña there was no loss of life. 

 

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Chile Diary – 2

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” –Mark Twain

Continuing from where I left off. More from my old journal.

Santiago to Viña del Mar

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful; this country is scenic. We started out for Viña del Mar on an extremely enjoyable drive. Good roads, winding through the foothills of the Andes. We passed through wine country stopping for a break at one of the vineyards called House of Morande, in Casablanca.

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An update on the name of this vineyard… It goes as ‘HOUSE’ now.

It had a restaurant and facilities and one could buy wine too; Restaurante Y Tienda. There were columns of white rose bushes growing between the rows of grapevines. It looked beautiful as the roses were in full bloom. We had a light meal comprising appetizers; tostadas with exotic toppings of salmon, palta (avocado) and something else… followed by crabmeat empanadas and beef steak which we washed down with a Late Harvest wine.

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As we hit Viña del Mar, the wide blue expanse of the Pacific which opened before my eyes as we entered Viña was awesome. As we drove to our ‘depto’ (apartment), I took in the sights along with the distinct smell of the sea carried by an almost constant, cool sea breeze. The apartment is lovely too. It’s supposed to be big by Chilean standards, but I tend to compare and contrast with my Indian yardstick. So, it falls short when stacked up against our apartment in India.

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The sight that greeted me as we approached Viña del Mar 

However, though not very big, it is very comfortable. Has matching furnishings in all the rooms, no over-stuffed or bulky beds and sofas. Great kitchen with all the equipment and gadgets one would need. There are big windows in both bedrooms, living-room, and the kitchen that provide a good view. En-suite bathrooms just make it splendid. The bathtub is a bit tricky for me, with my physical limitations, so a shower is a carefully executed task.

The living room opens out onto a balcony. This is my favorite spot in the mornings. I carry my cup of tea with me and gaze at the sea, listen to the gulls as they swoop around the rooftops alighting on some for a while before they make a screechy take-off again.

The view from this end of the balcony

The view from this end of the balcony

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The other end that gives me a glimpse of the sea through a gap in the buildings. It isn’t as far as it appears in the pic!

The breeze has a nip in it that early and is invigorating. The streets below are empty. People here don’t go for early morning walks as they do in India. Life stirs a bit later. On weekdays, one can see people scurrying off to work after 6.30 a.m, but the walkers, joggers, and cyclists come out after 10.00 a.m. I was amazed to see so many of them even at 11.00 a.m when the sun was a bit hot for me too! I had heard these people love the sun but ‘to see is to believe’!

I’ve been here for nineteen days but I haven’t done much of the touristy things like walking around the city, buying local stuff or going for a ride around town in a horse carriage. I haven’t even visited the beach and checked out handicrafts at the ferias (fairs).

Food: Farmer’s Markets, Restaurants

But I have eaten at a few restaurants even tried something I didn’t want to eat in India; sushi and gyoza; both of which are delicious. The gyozas reminded me of fried momos but they were served differently. I also ate a slice of the locally made pizza called Conquistador… well, it did conquer me… yummy!

My gormandizing experience at a Tex-Mex restaurant was fabulous. I don’t remember the name of the place but the shrimp with piña and leche de coco was awesome. The grilled fish, of the day, was to die for, and the pollo (chicken) with tortillas was mouthwatering too.

I was amused at a pub that boasted of chicken curry and rice as a specialty of the UK! The fare wasn’t bad but certainly not a curry as we know it. So their claim for their particular preparation was justified! 🙂

I was tickled to find samosas are not only available in the markets here but are also sold by the same name. I even ate some at Manchester, the pub with the English version of chicken curry. It was a veggie samosa stuffed with the usual potato filling. But it was served with a sour-sweet mango dip that was a sedate cousin of the Indian sweet mango chutney, and that’s not the dip that is used with samosas! They tasted good but were too oily to the touch as well as on the palate. They were frozen ones fried and served as required, unlike the original Indian ones that are made fresh.

There’s a Chilean equivalent of the samosa or gujiya; it’s called empanada. This is an authentic Chilean dish and not a take-off from the samosa. It comes in different shapes and sizes and queso (cheese) is always in it no matter what the stuffing is. 

The vegetarian one, I saw Manu eat, had cheese and mushrooms. The non-vegetarian ones have anything from seafood to red meats and white meat. They are more akin to the keema (ground meat) gujiyas I make at Christmas only bigger.

Like samosas or gujiyas (which have a sweet stuffing with dry fruits etc), empanadas are also made by rolling out Maida (all purpose flour) dough into thin roundels. These are stuffed with anything you like. Then the edge is sealed, and they bake or deep-fry the empanadas. Chileans love their empanadas as much as we do our samosas! They even have restaurants devoted to empanadas!

In seafood, I like fish, shrimp, prawns, and crab; all of which we get in India, but my one lament had, very often, been that they weren’t as fresh as I’d like them to be. I’ve only had such fresh seafood at home when the boys went fishing or when, in Cochin (Kochi), fisherwomen carried the catch of the day to our doorstep, early in the morning.  Often times, the fish in the basket would still be alive. However, here, I once again enjoyed that same freshness of the catch of the day!

The fruit is good; fresh and organic if you buy it from the farmer’s market. They have some of the best wines too. However, not being a connoisseur of wines, I take the word of others for it. This I can say, though, I liked the few I tasted and settled for an occasional glass of Late Harvest at a special lunch or dinner. 

I’ve found a couple of bakeries that are great. Their cakes, pastries etc., are very palatable. The rest are too heavy on the butter/ cream frosting, sugar and leave you feeling sick. Their variety of bread is amazing. These people love bread! My favorite, in all this sea of choice, is the humble marraqueta!

We buy the vegetables we are familiar with and some with which we aren’t. I have ventured to buy a packet of some sort of beans that looked interesting and different from any I’ve eaten; a nice shade of green, bigger than any beans I’ve ever seen. They weren’t sold in their pods but shelled. As I write, they’re still safe in the packet they came in. 🙂 I’ll record the feedback once I get them into a pan, over the fire, and down my gullet.

While I must not have done anything a regular tourist does, I have moved around quite a bit; living out of a suitcase and polythene packets. 

I’ve shifted to four different dwellings in nineteen days! I experienced living in a casa, an independent house in a posh area, stayed for half a day and a night in a 1-star hotel room with a 3-star tariff, a night in a tiny apartment with nine other people; six of whom I didn’t know! The fourth place is where I am sitting and writing at present.

Company Guesthouse

It’s an apartment, but unlike our apartment block, it isn’t in a high-rise building. It has just four levels and I’m on the second level. Level over here is what we call floors in India.

It’s an old building with old fixtures and facilities. It has no view as the windows open out to high-rise buildings that surround it. So there’s sunlight only in the master bedroom, and that too from 7.00 p.m onwards. But I don’t occupy that lovely room so for me, the sun shines nowhere.

The gas stove is old but a lot like the ones we still have in India, only here it isn’t a self-igniting one and there is no gas lighter. We have to use matches to ignite it. It’s been ages since I used a matchstick to light anything. So it was fun and funny at the same time! But nothing as odd (and scary) as the water heater.

Scary Geyser

There’s an old geyser on the wall in the kitchen which has to be lighted, manually, to supply hot running water. Why scary? Here’s why I am terrified I’ll blow myself and the building to kingdom come! It has a switch which has to be turned on. This opens the flow of gas and a lighted matchstick is then thrust into an opening at the bottom of this geyser and Voila, a blue flame erupts. That’s if you’re quick enough to put the lighted match in at the right time. I worry about not being quick enough and the gas will seep out, setting the place aflame. This heats the water for the taps in the kitchen and the bathrooms.

I am still wary of this foreign gadget and don’t have the nerve to tackle it. Thankfully, the “nana” (domestic help) came in yesterday and lit it. Now it burns like the Olympic flame or the Amar Jyoti till someone turns it off.

Before you get all the wrong impressions about my gypsy status, let me mention a massive earthquake measuring 8.8 at the epicenter in Concepcion. This shook us up. We’re fortunate to be sheltered and safe. But I will elaborate on that tomorrow.

  

Glossary

Amar Jyoti………the flame that burns constantly.

Chile Diary – 1

There’s something about Viña del Mar! She gets to you so bad; you can’t forget her even when you leave her, perhaps never to return again. And it’s been over a year since I left but not a day goes by when I don’t think about my life in Viña and miss it so much. Viña was warm and welcoming and embraced you regardless of your ethnicity; color, creed or customs. So, I went back to another blog I had started years back because I had written a bit about this new country I was in and my life in this lovely seaside city called Viña del Mar!

This is the first of a few more chapters. I had thought of chronicling my experiences here to include in family coffee table books with photos which is my dream project. But, unfortunately, life gets in the way… or rather I get in my way and that dream is still in its nascent stage. I’ve gathered material, written a lot, I just need to get the chapters in order. That’s what I’m trying to do here on this blog. Get things together in one place; in one tale.

Here’s the 1st chapter. I arrived in Chile in February 2010, but I started writing about my Chile Diaries on the 13th of April. So the entry has two dates!

13th April, 2010

19th February, Friday 2010 onwards…… 

I heaved a sigh of relief as the announcement on the PA system confirmed the end of a long journey. The LAN Airlines plane was going to land at A Merino Benitez Terminal Intl. I was in Santiago, Chile. I looked out the window at the sparkling lights; it was better than a naulakha haar; it was a whole naulakha saree. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and ‘click’, the image was captured in my mind forever. And yes the relief too! But relief isn’t a long-term friend here in Chile. It prefers to hop in and hop out. My first encounter with it was waiting to happen.

As I switched on my cell phone and selected my service provider, I was greeted with a definite message that I wasn’t registered with the only one name that popped up on my screen. I swore, oh yes I did, at Airtel India as ardently as I had blessed them till Sao Paulo, Brazil. I couldn’t communicate with Tintin and Manu, and the rest of India. “Okay, don’t panic,” I whispered to myself. Get through the formalities and then start the dumb-charades.

I was registered for wheel-chair assistance, thank god for that, so I was usually the last person in and the last person out. This was a small price to pay considering the great deal of help all that assistance was. Not too late I was in the chair and being wheeled through immigration. It was as quickly seen to as it had been with all formalities at all the airports, from IGI Delhi to Chatrapati Shivaji Mumbai, and O.R. Tambo Intl Johannesburg to Guarulhos Intl Sao Paulo. 

At Santiago, there’d be a small delay as my declaration of carrying ‘condimentos’ required a quick look at the relatively small packet of masalas I had packed. I say small because, given our Indian penchant for carrying our food and spices wherever we go, it’s needless to elaborate on the shapes, sizes and contents of a Desi’s spice-bags. So the surprised look on the face of the man inspecting the goods was justified. I thought he was a bit suspicious as he looked at me with a crooked smile. Just when I thought he was unnecessarily going to waste time opening up the other bag too, he decided that I was too pathetic a sight and waved me along.

I must have been a very sad sight to behold in all that beauty; especially considering I put on a hang-dog expression and sank into the wheel-chair, to beg sympathy if not empathy from the hardest of hearts. Don’t get me wrong, the chair was necessary…the expression wasn’t.

So here I was, cleared by immigration and ready to be picked up. I was wondering whether it was time to start waving my hands and contorting my face and concocting a language very much like English except for the vowel ‘o’ appended to each word. I decided to put off the act for a while and check if familiar faces were at the door. To pump up the positive energy I even conjured up images of two happy Indians smiling broadly and rushing to me with their arms spread wide to embrace me. 

“Senorita”… 

“No… No,” I reiterated, “it’s mama in Spanish too!” I was speaking aloud to my conjured figures!

“No Espanol?” an unfamiliar voice fell on my ears and very non-Indian face materialized before my eyes. It was the attendant and we had been in front of the exit door for a couple of minutes I think. 

“No Espanol, only English,” 

“Ahh,” he stretches the word dramatically. 

“No Eenglich, only Espanol,” he smiled pointing to himself. 

So how do you know how to use “only?” I didn’t enunciate that but conveyed it through my vacant stare. 

He rattled off something, punctuated with looks at the door. I understood that he wanted to know if any of the name cards that were being waved in front of me by travel agents, had my name on it. The agents themselves were keen to know that. God knows how exasperating it must be for them too.

I glanced at the names, none resembled mine so I craned my neck to look around the bearers of the placards and behind them, but no familiar face came into the periphery of my view. I shook my head and launched into my game of dumb-charades. It wasn’t so difficult to convey I needed to phone. He grabbed the chair and rolled me down to the public phone. He stretched out his hand for the coins. I nodded my head, took out a few dollars and showed him I needed to get change. He understood the situation quickly and was getting bugged. But I was his charge and he couldn’t abandon me.

So he rolled me back to where we had entered the exit lounge. There was a small counter selling knick-knacks. Things travelers would need. He explained to the sales-girl that we needed the small change in pesos to make a phone call. She told him that I’d have to buy something first. I went for water, as I realized I was thirsty. We got the change and whizzed back to the phone booth. I had become quite a familiar figure in the lounge already. Two tries and he got the number. The kids were just entering the airport. They had driven down from Vina del Mar, after work. They told me to park myself outside the exit door.

A bit of sign language and the attendant got it. He seemed relieved. I hated to tell him his duty wasn’t over yet. So I let him take all the extra change that was left from the phone money. As he pocketed it quickly, I noticed the change of expression on his face. He didn’t think I was such a big nuisance after all. But relief is nobody’s bosom pal. And he was without it in seconds.

While we waited, his body spoke. Body language is wonderful, it tells you what the person won’t. His body language conveyed that he was quite fed-up of me. He didn’t have anything against me, but why out of all the attendants did he have to get stuck with me? And how come no one was there to take the invalid off his hands? Why should I come to Chile if I needed a wheel-chair and that too with no knowledge of Spanish? Yes, his body was doing a lot of talking. It kept me amused. 

“¿Cuánto tiempo más” he finally spoke directly to me.

I didn’t understand the words but made a guess it had to be about time. I lifted my right hand and showed him my five spayed fingers and said “minutes,” hoping his knowledge of English had one more word along with ‘only.’ He shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips. The body had taken over. This was better. I imitated him ditto, in an effort to show him that I understood how he felt.

Then a voice, familiar voice, called out “mama” and Manu came running with a broad smile and hugged me. The vision was half true…there was only one Indian! My attendant beamed, I felt sorry for him again. He didn’t know how the appearance of one Indian was going to bomb his happiness. His relief died a premature death. See I told you it isn’t a long-term friend in Chile.

Manu asked him to stay till Tintin brought the car to the entrance and I could get up from the chair and into the car. He looked so miserable, I took out a dollar and quietly slipped it into his hand. It worked like a temporary pain-killer.

Some minutes later a car drew up and Tintin’s big frame alighted. The happiness was almost communal in its proportions. Attendant happy, wheel-chair occupant happy, daughter-in-law happy, son happy and standing a couple of yards away two policemen were also happy; temporarily as it turned out, by God’s grace. But more on that later.

I couldn’t walk straight as my back hurt and my knees weren’t doing too well either. Finally, I was settled in the front seat, the attendant had a decent tip in pesos added to final relief, and we were set to start. The two happy cops waved us down. 

“S***,” exclaims my son. “Challan katenge!”

“Kyun, galat park kiya kya?” I ask.

“Nahin, bas waise hi.”

“They’re the same here too?!” I exclaim.

By then the burly one was at the door. He began speaking in Spanish. Tintin answered in Spanish. Then the cop took off in Spanish at a speed that could be challaned. Tintin didn’t get it at all. He asked the man if he spoke English. “No,” came the quick retort. So using whatever little he knew of the local lingo, Tintin explained that he worked here. They asked him for identification and license, which he provided.

The burly cop took it to the not-so-burly cop and he checked it out pronto. “Clear” was the report. The collective sigh of relief was audible. Later, I learned that the cops here were incorruptible, not what one can say about our force back home. The truth was not only bitter but sad too. 

Now we were on our way to our hotel, Holiday Inn Express.

My theory about relief was gaining confirmation quite fast. We took a few wrong turns too many. If it hadn’t been so late in the night I could have counted it as a sight-seeing tour. But it wasn’t that bad. I was happy to be off the plane and with people I knew and better still who understood my tongue. Finally, we reached our destination! The room was very comfortable; big and with all the amenities in place and functioning. I was so glad to be able to stretch out on a bed. We would be here till Sunday afternoon so I could rest a bit and then move on to Viña del Mar.

 

Glossary

Naulakha haar……………a necklace sparkling with diamonds

Naulakha saree………….a diamond-studded saree (Indian dress)

Challan………………………..traffic ticket/fine

Challan katenge………….They’ll slap a fine

Kyun, galat park kiya kya?”……………Why, did you park in the wrong place?

Nahin, bas waise hi“…………………No, just like that ( for no apparent reason)

…………………………………………………………………….

A Winter Wonderland -Picture Speak

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”- Lewis Carroll

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Nainital, in Uttarakhand, India. I’ve lived and worked here and have lovely memories of this hill town.

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A visit To A Home On A Parcela

 

A ‘parcela’ means a large plot of land in the suburbs or outskirts of a city. They’re usually very big plots….going into acres of land. Back home, they’re called ‘farm houses’ even though there’s no real farm or farming happening on the land.

This was the first time I was visiting one which was private; the family lives there. Many such places are either rented out during vacations to tourists or then they’ve been commercialized as party venues with a crew of party planners who do everything for you. So, this was a first for me and I loved the place that was nestled in the lap of nature, so to say, and our hosts were gracious people.

Here are a few pictures that’ll take you on a tour around the house; no inside pics…it is a private residence! Even so, I’d like to add, the interiors were done up beautifully and tastefully.

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We drive up to the house (parking)

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Our hostess walks us along the driveway to the entrance….but we stop on the way to pluck a type of maracuja off the tree, and proceed to taste the fruit before we go ahead…no fruit gets fresher than this – fresh, off the tree, and sun-ripened fruit!

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One of the dogs accompanies us to the door.

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The part of the casa that opens out onto spreading green foliage – garden, tall trees…awesome place!

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Looking out at the far boundaries of the property, from the terrace.

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View on the left…

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Terrace sit-out…loved it!

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The outdoor barbecue area with picnic table and benches.

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The pool was so inviting!

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We come down to walk around and feel the beauty of nature envelope us.

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The patio…

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Patio…

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This little one was the cutest of the three dogs and was aware of it!

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Rows of fabulous white roses.

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I couldn’t help clicking this!

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The Maracuja tree that stopped us in our tracks and got us eating the (unforbidden) fruit! That yellow submarine shaped thing hanging behind the flowers is a kind of maracuja.

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That’s what we were munching on…bright, orangey flesh, full of little seeds!

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Walking down a path lined with white rose bushes to see the vegetable patch and nursery.

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A closer look at the lovely barbecue area…

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I had a moment of fright and panic on the patio where I was relaxing with my legs stretched out…you don’t see it? A lizard! And I’m terrified of these creepy crawlies… :O

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But my attraction to natural beauty got the better of me…I picked up courage and myself…crept fairly close and clicked a pic of this gorgeously coloured creature….(but I still remain terrified of lizards!)

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The three musketeers…one, the German Shepherd, doesn’t belong to the family, but you’d never know! He spends his entire day here and retires to his own home and family at night!

In retrospect, though I love the countryside (I’ve lived in one such place, back home) and at the time, as I was soaking in nature’s delightful ambiance; the peace and quiet…was so inviting and encompassing that I wanted to stay there forever, I know I can’t do that. I love the countryside, the wide open spaces, the tranquility – but I’m a city girl at heart. No, I don’t have a hectic social life and a nightlife on the town is non-existent. But I do prefer to live in a city and take frequent trips to relax in the quieter areas of the place…a get-away place! I’d feel pretty isolated if I were to live forever in a house on a parcela, however beautiful, attractive, and comfortable it was.

 

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