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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Queen Mary 2 in Muscat on a brilliant January morning

These days, I look for moments in time and usually find some good ones. Its not really difficult, it can be something really small or sometimes big. 

But these are the moments that really do make my day. Such as what I saw at the Muscat Port this morning. One of the world's largest cruise liners, Queen Mary 2 is currently docked at Muscat's Sultan Qaboos Port. She arrived early this morning and is scheduled to leave in the evening.

Queen Mary 2
 'Magnificent' would be an understatement. She was simply awe inspiring and like me, everyone else there thought so too.
Matrah Corniche
 It was a brilliant January morning and the scene looked like this..
So I decided to take a quick walk and loved it


The view from the other side

Peek A Boo

Looking at them looking - Feeling good
As I started by saying..

This particular moment in time, really did make my day!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Parenting in today's high tech world- A real life incident


( Image- Courtesy the Internet)

I've thought about this very often, and much more so when my daughter was growing up. Working in a full-time job in Advertising which left me mentally and physically tired at the end of the day, I tried my best to spend 'quality' time with her, particularly our evenings in the 'Jhoola (swing) park'. But I must confess that my attention wandered and many a time work called, intruding on my personal time and space. She must have been lonely, but my daughter never really complained, at least not openly. Hats off to her and her patience!


But life has a strange way of coming up with reminders and that can happen in the most unexpected ways. Just the other day, we were sitting in a little restaurant that we frequent on the weekends and I saw a father and his two young daughters come in.

They settled down comfortably in a quiet corner and placed their orders. Some conversation was exchanged between the father and his daughters at that stage, but that was really it, for during the entire duration of that lunch all that the father did was focus on his phone-Whether he was receiving or making calls, or simply looking at photographs or playing games, it was very clear that this father paid far more attention to his phone than he did to his daughters.

As for the two little girls, they remained quite busy and happy - first taking out their little bottle of hand sanitiser to clean their hands before starting their meal, then enjoying their chicken and French fries.

All the while, they chattered with each other almost incessantly in a way that made me realize that this behaviour of their father's was probably quite routine and that they had learnt to deal with it.

But I don't know why I felt sad.

Was it a reminder of my own behaviour of a few years ago? Or was it the realization that today's children have learnt to deal with so much more than the previous generations?

Or was it quite simply the fact that the lure of this ever developing technology is making us into far more casual parents than our own? Finally of course, each person has a choice, which they alone choose to exercise, but this episode was something that I just had to write about.



(NB- This post was originally written for My Take- my column in Muscat Daily)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

'Shahi Tukra' - A Short Story by me

Raveena sat at her favourite seat by the window and watched the birds at play. She felt happy as she watched them  in the little bird house she had set up outside her first floor window. Sure, it had been an effort, going to the market to look for that particular type of wood, calling the carpenter to come and do it up just the way she had wanted. In fact, it had taken her many weeks of research before she had been able to zero in.The birdhouse had to look just right-bright, lively and inviting so that the birds would come and now the birdseed and water she put into it ad become the highlight of her day.

Raveena was lonely. In fact, if she was to be brutally honest with herself, she was extremely lonely. While on the subject, she may as well concede that she could blame no one but herself for this situation. Pride was a terrible thing and it was only because of her pride that she found herself alone at this window, looking out desperately in the hope that  the little birds would stop by at her little birdhouse for some birdseed or water. In fact on a lucky day,  a couple of them might have a little bath and she could watch them some more

Watching the birds at play
(Pic from the net) 
Raveena was fifty five and well aware that the best years of her life had been left behind. On the rare occasions when she allowed herself to look closely in the mirror, she knew that she looked far older. The lines around her eyes were deepening by the day and her lips  getting thinner by the month. Yes, she tried to colour her hair every now and then, but invariably, the roots  showed  before she could make the effort to go through the motions of colouring her hair again. Many a time she wondered   why on earth should she continue to do that ? Honestly, who was ever going to look at her again? By the word ‘look’ , what she meant was who would ever sit down with her, hold her hand and tell her that he loved her, the way Rishabh had done?


Rishabh, her husband of twenty years who had died  so suddenly. Rishabh had been the light of her life and who she had loved with for almost five years before she had finally agreed to marry him. It wasn’t that he hadn’t asked, it was simply because she had responsibilities, a younger brother who had to complete his education and  get a job before she could  think of getting married. And so she had continued to work at her reasonably paid job as a telephone operator at a well known company where the job security was good, as was the fact that housing was part of her package. It was a modest two bedroom bungalow within the company’s housing complex and her younger brother, Anish who had been then studying for his graduate degree, lived there  with her. It had been a stroke of real luck when their  ‘Maasi’( mother’s younger sister) had decided to legally adopt Reshma, their youngest sister who had been  only three when they had arrived in  Delhi after facing  the horrors of Partition in 1947.


As for her own future, the reality that stared her in the face everyday was that the birds and sometimes the squirrels which came up the window sill were destined to be her day to day companions. But was that really all that her life was meant  to be? After all,  she had her daughter Devika-Devika who had been instrumental in bringing her to this point- one where she waited for the phone to ring, day after day and sometimes even week after week. OK so it did ring once in a while- it might be Mrs. Kapoor calling  to enquire if she could bring her some groceries since she was going for her weekly shopping, or it might even be Devika who had now moved to Singapore with her husband Naveen, a Marketing Consultant  working in a large Indian conglomerate overseas. For sometime, Raveena had thought that this was truly a match made in heaven. Naveen came from a good family. His father was a retired Army General and they lived in a nice home in Chandigarh. With only one sister who worked in the Indian Administrative Service and was currently posted in Delhi, it had all seemed so right.


Until the day that Devika had said terrible things to her ‘Mamaji’, Raveena’s own brother, Anish. And that was a subject that Raveena refused to let herself dwell upon. That was over for good. She had sided with Devika, and refused to listen to Anish’s point of view when he had called to tell her about Devika’s misbehavior and that was the end.

A complete break from Anish who had repeatedly asked her to introspect, see what the reality was and then take a judgement call. Yes, he acknowledged that Devika was her only child and as such Raveena ought to think about her first, but had urged her to advise Devika that she was making a huge mistake. Also that he had always had the  best intentions as far as both of them  were concerned and  would continue to do so. “It was all upto her,” his words still rang in her ears,  but God alone knew what had possessed her that day. She could only see red as far as Anish was concerned and all she could think was that she must side with  Devika- Rishabh’s and her child, and one towards whom she had a moral duty under any circumstances. What she had completely forgotten in those horrible moments when she had said terrible tings to Anish was that only he had stood by her side when Rishabh had died suddenly and his family had vowed to have nothing to do with her or  Devika ever again.


The simple fact was that Rishabh had gone against his entire family, in particular, his father Diwan Harmandar Rai  who had wanted his only son and heir to marry a girl of their choice- someone who would stay with them in their palatial home in Bhopal and live the life that all the women in their family had lived since time immemorial. To be fair, Raveena acknowledged that way of life wasn’t all bad, in fact to most other women it would have been synonymous with ‘having arrived’  in life. With a battalion of servants at their beck and call, diamonds, and all the best possible clothes and material goods that could be ordered from anywhere in the world, being Rishabh’s wife and living with his parents would have been the ideal solution for Raveena at that point in her life. But she had stood resolute and when she had told Rishabh that she would like to continue with her job  in order to ensure that Anish completed his education and sat for the Civil Services exam, Rishabh had understood and agreed. As if waiting five years for her to accept his proposal wasn't enough, he had even agreed to living at her place after marriage as well.


And it was this decision that had cost Rishabh his relationship with his parents. There had been a terrible scene at their family home in Bhopal where Raveena had accompanied him to meet his parents in the vain hope that they might actually be able to work out something with his family. But Diwan Harmandar Rai  had absolutely refused,  and with a few measured and curt words, had asked his son to make a choice. Yes, if he must, he could marry Raveena but she would have to live with them and blend in with their way of life and living. There was no other option and when Rishabh tried to make him see his point of view, he came up against a brick wall, one that was unyielding and absolutely refused to give way. For some odd reason, Raveena couldn’t really recall much of what happened at the house after that. Her next clear memory was one of sitting in a train compartment facing a white lipped, determined Rishabh who  held her hand and reassuringly squeezed it every now and then, while she desperately tried to think things through.


In a word Rishabh told her, by making his choice to marry and stay with her, he had been ’disinherited’: And she remembered thinking with something  close  to hysteria, that sort of a situation only arose in movies, but this was real life. … .


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With a start she brought herself back to reality, had the phone rung while she had been lost in her reverie? So far, she had refused all of Devika’s entreaties to get herself a mobile telephone. She hardly ever went out in any case she had  a landline. Moreover, she told herself wryly, who would ever call her? Not after all that had transpired. With the stand that she had taken against her brother she had also succeeded in cutting off her relationships with Reshma and Ronit , Anish’s children and her niece and nephew. As for  her sister in law Reema , there was  never any doubt about whose side she would take. Reema who had done so much and caredfor  her during her two surgeries, more than anyone in the world ever would. In fact, during her hysterectomy when she was unable to afford proper nursing and aftercare support,  it had been Reema who had invited her into their home and made her feel comfortable and welcome  for the next two months. As for her own daughter Devika,  she flew in for three days in the first month and then exactly two days in the next. By then she had joined the Sales department of a reputed hotel in Singapore and was trying her best to climb up the ladder and it from what it looked like, even if the job entailed taking up her nights as well as her days, she seemed willing to do it.

And the only time that Veena had asked her as to why she needed to do work maniacally when her husband was doing so well, she had answered with a cryptic, ‘‘I guess we all have our own compulsions.”


Then almost in a whisper, so softly that Veena had to strain herself to catch the words, she had added, “And some of us have our secrets too.”


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Had it or hadn’t it, had it or hadn’t that phone rung? What if it had been Anish calling and she had missed the call? What if he had called when she had dozed off in her chair watching the squirrels at play yesterday afternoon?


He worked from 10 am to 5 pm and had his lunch break from 1 to 2 pm. During this period he usually stayed  in the office itself and after eating his healthy lunch which Reema sent daily, tried to catch up on a bit of reading or caught up with pending phone calls and miscellaneous other things. How did she know his routine to a T? Well, he was her younger brother after all and someone whose passion, discipline and dedication to his work as well as to his family she had always admired. As she had admired his commitment to helping her during those terrible days after Rishabh had died of a heart attack and Devika had been a very young girl. If it hadn’t been for Anish, Reema and their children Reshma and Ronit who had looked out for them in every possible way, including financial help on many occasions, she would never have been able to put Devika through college, which then enabled her to find her a  job in a prestigious company in New Delhi. Even more, it was the moral, mental and financial support that Anish and his family had extended before, during and after Devika’s marriage that had been the rock she had been able to lean on.


So what had been that awful trigger that had changed things for all of them forever and turned their lives inside out and upside down? Forcing herself to face the ugly truth she admitted that it had been Devika’s husband Naveen’s insistence that they sell off her home to a commercial builder a hefty profit. According to Naveen and  his calculations, they would make a ‘killing’ if they followed his advice. He had it all set up- they would sell her home to a builder who would then knock it down. In return he would give Raveena another apartment as well as one of the five flats that would be made on this very spot. To him it was all so simple, Raveena would be comfortable for life as would Devika and himself.

That was when the first doubt had insidiously made it’s way into Raveena’s head? Could that be the real reason why Naveen had married Devika in the very first place? Because he had already evaluated the potential of this house? But when she had tried to reason with Devika going so far as to tell her  that this place held a very special place in her heart because this was the nest  that she and Rishabh had put in all their savings into It was also the nest that Devika had been lucky enough to come into and be  loved. and nurtured. But it was almost as if she was speaking to a stone because Devika would hear of no other option. All she kept telling her mother was, “But Ma, just think about how comfortably set up for life we will all be. “

And that had been that. Till Anish got to hear about it. He had called Raveena and told her not to rush into taking a decision and  had advised her to rationally think it all through. That was when Devika had decided to take matters in her own hands and have a word with her Mamaji. Or in her own words ’Take the bull by the horns, for who is he to decide for us, any longer?’


Raveena hadn’t quite liked the hard look on her daughter’s face at the time and had tried to stop her. All to no avail and later that evening, it really was too late. Devika had said some terrible things to Anish and it had ended with Anish asking her to leave his home. With that , all the ties of love, warmth and respect that had tied them till that day were cut forever. Devika and Naveen had their way- the house was sold, she herself got a  plush new apartment in its place while Devika and Naveen got one in the old place as well as all the returns of the sale, bar a cheque for Rs 10  lakhs that Naveen had handed over to her with a smug look on his face. “Mummy see how well we have done for ourselves ” was what he had said and at that  moment she suddenly realized what a fool she had been.


But pride, stubborn pride, kept her tied down she just couldn’t pick up the phone to call Anish and say how sorry she was, Even worse, Devika believed she had been right and both of them went back home to Singapore while she stayed on in Delhi with her birds, her squirrels and her intense loneliness.

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Suddenly, Raveena couldn’t bear it any longer. She was just going to have to believe that the phone had rung and that it really had been Anish who had called. And somehow, she had missed that call- So she would call him back. With trembling fingers, she dialed his office number, the same one which she had dialed for many years except  the last three.


His authoritative yet gentle ‘Hello“ brought tears to her eyes. Tears which had been suppressed for so long  overflowed and trickled over and with that she was freed. Freed  from the chains of pride and foolishness that had kept her tied down for so long. But those tears wouldn’t let her speak. Moments passed and then it almost seemed as if Anish was going to hang up. But she couldn’t allow that to happen, not having come this far.


She managed a choked “Hello” and in a flash her Anish asked, “Raveena Didi, is that you? Tell me, it is, isn’t it?”


“Yes Anish it’s me,” she replied and then knew that she wasn’t imagining it, he was indeed happy to hear her. Correction, he sounded delighted to hear her.


“Its been too long” he said and with that it all ceased to matter. All that mattered was that they were back in touch..


“Will you have tea with me after work this evening?” she asked.


“You bet Didi! You couldn’t stop me even if you tried!”

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Looking around her kitchen she could see that there really wasn’t much by way of groceries. She was a frugal  eater and since she was the only one at home, her needs really weren’t too many. So what could she serve with the tea? It would have to be ‘Shahi Tukra’ the dish that she made really well= moreover, Anish had always loved it!, She had bread at home and checking the drawers she saw that most of the other ingredients for this  Indian version of a bread pudding were thankfully available.


She hadn’t made it for quite a while, so she decided to look up the recipe from her  notebook. Opening it, she read..


Ingredients

1 litre milk

4 slices bread, cut into 4.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup ghee
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon saffron
2 pods cardamom
Almonds and pistachios, finely chopped

Method

Make the ‘rabri’ for the dish by boiling the milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan on medium heat. Boil the milk till it is reduced to half  After reduction, add in the sugar and cardamom to the milk and stir well. Turn off the heat and allow the milk to cool.
Boil half cup of sugar in half cup water and add the saffron. Stir till sugar dissolves and the water comes to a boil. Turn  heat to low and simmer the syrup until it reaches a thread consistency. In a medium sized pan, pour ghee and shallow fry the bread pieces till golden brown.
Soak  the fried bread slices in sugar syrup for  half a minute and place them in a serving platter. Pour the ‘rabri over the bread pieces. Garnish with almonds and pistachios. Serve hot or cold.
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Shahi Tukda-(Pic from the net)

She followed the recipe to a T and the dish turned out exactly how she wanted it with a beautiful golden brown colour. A mouth watering aroma wafting through the house made the moment even more poignant. She was going to meet her brother after three long years and she had prepared his favourite delicacy  Getting the water ready for the tea she went to get dressed. Looking back at the table she smiled. It was all just so.

It was while she was doing her hair that it struck her, her first massive and fatal heart attack. But even as the life ebbed out of her body, she smiled. She knew that Anish would come and whenever he did, the ‘Shahi Tukra’ would be lying on  the table.

Waiting just for him…