Sunday, January 15, 2012

Think So?

Freedom- a word we use so often. We talk about it all the time. Being free is what we all wish for one way or another- for it is in our history , in our blood and in our struggle on a daily basis to get hold of the reins of our life: to steer it as we may please.  
In the end, it is safe to presume that we all have our own interpretations of freedom!

What I am concerned about is being free where it matters most- up in my head. Liberty to me is the freedom of my mind and of my thoughts- for they alone define who I am. 
And I am only as exclusive or as commonplace as are my thoughts.  

My beliefs and my biases, my attitude and my attributes, my vanity and my vices and most importantly my dreams and my desires- they are all born out of the way I was taught to think, raised and molded in the years when it mattered the most.

So then, do I think freely? Do any of us? 

I have never been able to understand what makes one’s thoughts truly 'free'- I wonder if that is nothing more than just a myth! Who are those ‘free thinkers’ we hear about so often?  Is it even possible to rid our thoughts of their underlying prepossessed notions?

Or is the act of thinking freely merely being unaffected by 'how' society may perceive us to be and not caring one bit about 'who' we come across as to our fellow beings?  
Is being free the same as being brave then? Or is it that only the brave can be truly free?

That brings me to the question that has been doing the rounds in my head all day long- Am I true to my thoughts or am I an infidel cheating on them with my actions? Am I being truly me and living my best life yet?

Am I truly free? 

I wonder :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fruits of Memory

'Associative memory' is a tricky thing. As I popped in a black seedless grape a few minutes ago, a big chunk of long forgotten memories rushed into my head. Memories that just bore fruit- and how!

As a school kid, lunch time was always fun. We seldom ate our own lunches as we preferred to dig right into our best friend’s ‘Tiffin’. 'She' always got a side of seedless green grapes for lunch- all of which I happily devoured as she lovingly bit into sandwiches, noodles or rice that waited for her inside my yellow lunch box.

Plums, pears and peaches bear testament to the period in time when I was at my athletic best. Years when I’d climb trees and hand-pick the fruits of my choice!

Oranges somehow always remind me of my granny and the winter afternoons in Pedong when she would skin and painstakingly de-seed them before feeding me- the juiciest and tastiest citrus fruit I have ever had. Or at least that is what my brain tells me now.

Still in the lap of the Himalayas, I remember chewing onto diced bits of sugarcane before spitting them out. Strange as it sounds, these sugary slices of goodness always take me to the countryside where I spent a great deal of my childhood years. One would think it should bring to my mind the plains and hot weather, but they certainly do not!

Mangoes, on the other hand, do just that! They bring back memories of Guwahati and the sweltering summer heat. Humid, rainy and hot, the summer months were when I feasted on crates of mangoes, never seeming to get enough of them. It also reminds me of a mango tree I had once planted in Shillong- stunted, pale and one that stopped growing after a few years of its conception.

Short lived but sumptuous, my mind associates Leechies specifically to those years in  my life when Daddy was posted in Tezpur and an uncle of mine worked in Muzzafarpur. Yes, the 'Leechie Capitals' of India and maybe even the world! I remember my days of gluttony (strictly with respect to Leechies) when I consumed them to the point of terrible belly aches!  

Funnily enough, watermelons bring to mind an advertisement for a particular brand of refrigerator. Was it Kelvinator or Godrej? I honestly cannot recollect!

Apples are synonymous with orchards in Shimla and my friend in Delhi who’d bring me a crate full of them every time she went home! That is about it- the journey abruptly comes to an end here.

As for the ‘exotic variety’- the earliest memories of which come from weddings and parties hosted by the ‘well to dos’- I simply remember them as  'The Gourmet Fruits': names of which I still do not know.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Food For Thought

The uphill trek to that cart parked atop our lane was a routine activity back in the day. Being the youngest member of the family, I was always put up to the task of bringing home some freshly fried ‘Samosas’ and the trademark ‘Pudina Chutney’ from the ‘Thela-Wala’.
As is the case with most of us, street food and I go back a long way. Nothing can match up to the taste of the deep fried goodies I had access to when the Goddess visited us every year. Straight from the stale oil and right into my belly- Divine! The occasional episode of a troubled tummy was good enough to curb my enthusiasm for only as long as the bug lasted.
Delhi opened my eyes and my belly to a whole different culinary world. I have made many a trips to the famed ‘Paranta Zones’ all around the city-as a student and a corporate woman, both. I should mention these trips heeded to neither time nor season. Does anything come close to the 'Nookad ki chai'? The tea lover, or rather addict that I am, that 'cuppa chai' hasn’t disappointed me thus far.
The ‘Dabelis’ and ‘Wada Paos’ I regularly treated myself to during my time in Pune were some of the best I have ever had. Needless to mention, the ‘Pao Bhaji’ reigned supreme!
And now, in New York, things are pretty much the same. Delicious Gyros, Falafal and Chicken over Rice work wonders on my taste buds every single time I stop at a cart.
Street Food is the Grub I love-by far!
It is quite understandable then, that be it anywhere in the city, I am always at homeJ

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Home Invaders!

The dictionary defines planking as a covering or flooring constructed of planks. This happens to be the structural science behind the old earthquake proof houses that dominated the architectural landscape of Shillong for a long time. A colorful tin roof and a wooden floor more or less sums up the look of it.

Commonly referred to as an ‘Assam Type’ , the house where I grew up was one such piece of construction. The raised platform between the earth and the floor, all thanks to the planking, was therefore a shelter for many a family of mutts during my growing up years. I witnessed generations of stray dogs call it home as it was a safe haven for them to procreate and bring up the future progeny. Safe from harsh natural elements the little pups did well and survived when they ordinarily would not have. Except the occasional ill tempered dogs that my dad and uncle chased away using little rounded pebbles as ammunition, we shared a peaceful coexistence with our neighbors downstairs.

As most of us know, composting is the decomposition of organic waste and a compost pit, locally called a Gadda, was a permanent fixture in all the houses in our locality. The final byproduct, compost, did wonders for our yards and gardens. An efficient and scientific process, it did more than just that. 
Meal time visits from felines and canines who greedily gorged on the leftovers in the pit created a bond between the kids and the daily guests, some of whom (mostly cats), found their way into my cousin’s hearts and finally into our home. Chaos ensued as the food chain effect took over and the dog - eat-  cat - eat - mouse game turned real as we witnessed corpses of the lower animals way more often than we would have liked to. While the dead mice lying around the compound only triggered high pitched shrieks of disgust in us young Roys, the lifeless and mutilated bodies of the ‘pet’ cats triggered tears of sorrow and pain, and the mourning period lasted till the time a new kitty scavenging the pit was brought home. 

An old house with it’s cracks and crevices is a favorite destination for bees to reside in and they hardly waste time building a mighty crib. It is almost always too late by the time it gets noticed. Our house was no exception to this and we had to deal with multiple bee hives which frequently grew to the size of soccer balls. After an intolerable number of attacks, it was time to fight back. Getting rid of these gigantic clumps of beeswax involved intricate planning. Hours of discussions and days of preparation later, the hives would be approached by the elders holding flaming kerosene torches in their well protected hands (read gloves and plastic sheathing), full sleeved shirts (with skivvies underneath) cello taped to where they met the gloves, track pants taped to sports shoes and to top it off, a cricket helmet protecting their ski mask covered faces with sun-shades to complete the look! Not an inch of skin was ever exposed. Surprisingly, the strategy worked and the bees would usually swarm out and the hive would be destroyed. I still like to believe it was the scary attire and not the blazing flame that did the trick.

Be it the skinny brown dog poking his head into the hedge trying to find a way into the garden or the hair less black one running away with one of my white canvas shoe a day before the school drill; the cats which showed us real time what a cat fight really meant or the nasty stinging bees that brought out the brilliant war tactic planners in our elders; I owe all these memories to the old house I grew up in! 

Good, bad and out rightly ugly, some of the most amazing experiences are indeed born out of the most ordinary circumstances.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Toy Story

Much like everyone else, my relationship with toys goes back a long way , right into my formative years as a child. All of us have certain memories wrapped around them spanning over a number of interesting juvenile years of joy.

My earliest memory is that of a huge teddy bear I never named. It was way bigger than I was, black with red limbs. My good friend and neighbor was terrified of him and I never missed an opportunity to scare her away every time I felt like it. We did not stay friends’ very long thanks to the recurrent victimization she time and again endured at the hands (or maybe paws) of yours truly.

A military green colored noisy machine gun lived on me, literally! I always had it slung across my waist using a chord of black wool; ever ready to pull the trigger and buzz the life out of those predatory house lizards. The sight of them running for life, zigzagging all across the wall was my very first taste of sadistic pleasure. The fact that they scare the life out of me now is a different story altogether, the evolution of which I have failed to trace.

There was a phase when I was gaga over rag dolls. Plain white sheets stuffed with cotton, stitched, painted and finally dressed with whatever assortment of multicolored fabric mum had to spare. The final product was of course no competition to the `oh so plastic’ Barbie who turned into my best bud just a couple of years down the line. 
I could never have enough of them be it the ultra modern kitchen and bath, the classy furniture and the gadgets, the beautiful clothes and the grooming products or the many avatars she came in- fashion as I never knew it had found its way into my life. My only regret for a very long time was not being able to bring home a Ken doll. In hindsight, I may have been the only one looking!

Before the Barbie madness descended, the locally manufactured dolls were my prized possessions. From handsome Genie to good looking Julie and Indu, the villain Ranka, the sidekick Kumbi and the vamp Bindu-my cast for the endless doll games was complete. I stitched them the prettiest clothes, jazzed up their saris with lace and glitter and strung together colorful beads thus making them beautiful pieces of jewelry. I had a little tin trunk that held my treasures. I kept it locked and have no honest recollection of when and how I grew over it (Barbie dolls perhaps)
The best part was the annual ritual we girls had- doll weddings- the ceremony was nothing short of a real one and my dad was forced to clear out the garage which doubled up as the wedding hall. It was duly decorated  with colorful streamers on the ceiling and freshly plucked flowers on the walls-the guests trickled in with gifts for the newlyweds. Upon solemnization, it was in order for the invitees to feast on the innumerable items of food laid out on the table. We discussed doll issues and the potential bride and groom for the following season were picked.
I did have a huge collection of cars, trucks, jeeps and other automobiles which came into play  as and when my dolls needed some mode of transportation.  

Miniature versions of kitchenware filled with petals, water, flour, turmeric and yes, mud, kept me occupied for hours as I would entertain `visitors’ and feed them over and over again.Staying indoors was so much fun despite the fact that I loved running around the colony unleashed.
I cherish the imaginary world of wonder I had built for myself as a child.It undoubtedly goes to prove there is so much magic in mere thoughts, the potential to create undying amazement and marvel.

This really is an ode to those long forgotten companions who made those years unforgettable and possibly are the ones who instilled in me my almost insatiable appetite for imagination.

A toast to our toys!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Food For Thought

As the first rays of the rising sun kissed the neighboring mountains, the inhabitants of the valley, would by force of habit, rise and march right into the arms of what seemed like a promising day. 
The village grew abuzz with a plethora of activities. The concoction of sounds ranged from the clanking of tea mugs to the clucking of hens; and this almost always would be around the time I woke up.  

I liked my share of breakfast eggs half boiled and as soon as I was done washing up, I would accompany my granny to the coop and pick up freshly laid eggs, much to the respite of the hen who would finally stop calling out to me (or so I thought she did till I was much older). I clearly remember how beautiful the brown shelled eggs looked sitting in a basket in a corner table in the kitchen.
Minutes later, a huge jug of milk would arrive at our doorstep. My grand uncle had a large number of cows in his shed and my cup of milk would come from any one of them depending on who was milked first in the morning. I religiously fed all the cows a stem of their favorite local fauna everyday as a way of thanking them for their kindness and in the process staring into their big beautiful eyes and also noticing what  big nostrils they had.

I spent my mornings playing with the other children in the crop fields or on the hilltop doing anything at all be it climbing trees, getting into the goat shed, feeding the pigs or simply running around.  
We plucked  whatever fruits we felt like feasting on; guavas, pears and avocados being my favorite. The pear trees were tricky to scale and we kids always turned for help to any one of the many uncles and brothers we had. 
A small scrawny shrub bore the most delectable berries I have ever tasted. Red, small and seeded, I can almost taste them now as I revisit my memories of it.   
Except sugarcane, which I was fed peeled, washed and cubed, pretty much every other fruit available was consumed in its most natural state.

Our farms were abundantly rich and besides paddy, which was the main product, we had huge fields lush with the growth of peas, corns, potatoes and smaller gardens whose soil nourished sweet potatoes, carrots, radish, cabbage, pumpkin and a variety of leafy greens. 

Lunch time was always fun and if not at my granny’s place then it was at at any one of the houses around where my grand aunties lovingly fed me for I was a food lover even at that age. 
The wooden stools I sat on, the earthen stove with logs in them burning bright to keep the fuel going and the heap of ash below kept me engaged and I would often gaze into the fire looking for shapes and figures to feed my imagination as my belly waited for its own.
The nurturing food would often be accompanied by pickles made out of wild fruits , many of which are still my favorite.

I would usually be back home by tea time post which I settled in for the day. Television was a luxury back then and dinner time was seemingly candle lit courtesy the dim lit light bulb no brighter than a flickering candle. A kerosene lamp always came to our rescue; it even had a lever we could use to manage its intensity before finally shutting it down as we called it a day. 

The distant cry of wolves resonated throughout the hills; the denizens deep in slumber a little while after the sun had gone down; until tomorrow, when a new dawn would beckon.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sound Sleeper

Sleep is inescapable and no matter who we are and which part of the world we come from, in a strange way, the somber slumber brings us closer as a kind.
We must admit, a major influence in our sleep pattern is the sound that surrounds us, the noise that reaches us; ranging from a hullabaloo to uninterrupted silence.

As my head hit the pillow last night, this very though came to mind and I made a mental note of sharing my memories with you.

As a kid in Shillong, the nights were tranquil, quiet and peaceful, interrupted only by the footsteps of the neighbor’s spoilt teenage brat, walking down the lane well after 9 P.M.  This most certainly was followed by the reverberation of a severe admonishment coming from the house a few plots away. A welcome break from the monotone of the night’s stillness.
The melodious pitter patter of the rain drops hitting the tinned roof was the reigning champ, unsurpassable in its beautiful resonance.

Pedong was similar to Shillong except that the thunder was louder and the crackling noise when lightning struck would echo back from the open valleys and last longer than usual. 

From the hills of Shillong to the plains of Guwahati; this change introduced a whole new world of night time symphony to me. The rain drops seemed to have lost their tonality and an orchestra of toads played along every time the monsoon visited.  The ducks were not far behind and added on to the cacophony of hectic late night sessions.  
Fortunately, mankind limited itself to drunken revelry.

Delhi was next. My initial few months were devoid of any sleep. Thankfully my body adapted to the constant din around me; I grew immune to the blaring horns, dog fights, cat calls, family fiascoes, door slams and cries of broken hearts and new born babies. Hard to admit but it was difficult for me to feel well rested going to bed without this granddaddy of all lullabies.

Change has struck yet again and I find it hard to sleep uninterrupted by wailing sirens of cop cars, ambulances and more commonly, the fire fighter’s late night drive bys’. 

My tip for a sound sleep? Play around with the sounds that surround!!