Murg Musallam

I remember the fiery smell of garlic and chillies wafting through house that day. I remember the checkered blue apron she wore. A new beginning for both of us. Far away from home, my mum and I were in a new house. Just her and I, with nothing left to say. The living room was filled with brown boxes, Labelled and packed tight, all our memories bundled together with brown tape. Amongst the brown, that day, we found our old pressure cooker. This ‘cooker’ had seen as many days as me, perhaps even more, and on it that day, we discovered a recipe book. Flipping through its yellowed pages, we found ‘Murg Musallam’. I cannot remember why we decided to give it a try. Perhaps it was fate or perhaps it was the enticing statement which proclaimed ‘Pressure Cooking time – 5 mins’. She gathered all the ingredients, removed her gold bangles, and tied her hair up into a bun and then, we began.

I peeled the garlic cloves slowly while she chopped up the onions with vigour. The chicken was bathed in the marinade of curd and loads of chilli. And then we had to wait. So, we took glasses of orange juice, sat on the dining table and did something which felt so foreign to us. We talked. We talked about how the chicken would turn out, we talked about what we would eat it with and we talked all the way back into the kitchen. The entire meal took four hours of labour and gave back four hours of laughter.  When the whistle of the cooker finally went off, we plopped on the sofa and gave a sigh of relief. I am sure we smelled like Murgh Musallam too. But when it was time and we broke a piece of the crispy roti, dipped it in the piping hot masala and took a bite, we knew that it was worth it all. It was like a piece of heaven. As I sit down now and think of that day, I realise that Murg Musallam was more than just a meal. It was a connection.  I had known my mum for years before, but it was that day that I found her.

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BHUTAN IS HERE

The trees, tall and mighty are saying hello and the yellow flowers which shone so brightly in the morning, are now vanishing at dusk. Everything is alive and moving. But, how do you keep up with things which are constantly changing? I have come to a place which is so different, so new. I find myself looking up and  taking in deep breaths, reminding myself that I have arrived. I am in Bhutan.

Yesterday, we went by the brook nearby and I watched my parents turn into kids again. Our chappals were left by the bank, while we skipped and dipped in the clear water, leaving our worries far behind. I’d like to think they stayed back with the chappals.  My Mum and Dad gleefully collected pebbles along the brook – flat and round, big and small, shiny and dull, a bit of its journey preserved in every layer. With every pebble picked up, I could see heavier bags and lighter smiles. At home, my Dad proudly smiled at his pebble collection. It has been so long since I saw him this happy.

My mom has raised a kitchen garden right in front of our house. She grows everything from potatoes to pumpkins. Everyday, I see her lovingly tending to each plant. She squats by the garden, pulling out weeds, removing stones, or just gathering the earth around for some support. I think we were raised pretty much the same way.

As, I sit here on my front porch, the sun has set, leaving the sky a dull grey. The breeze is fierce, waking everything from the winter slumber. Far away, I can see mountains standing like guardians, looking after the valley. Their blue pines are interuppted by clusters of white prayer flags, mounted on wooden poles. The Bhutanese believe that the winds will carry the prayers, along with them to heaven.

I have just arrived here, and it will take some time to call this home, but when I see my Mum and Dad smile, I know that Bhutan is creeping into our lives, slowing and steadily, but surely….

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PAPA’S PRAYERS

The magnificent bronze bell hangs high. The night has fallen and the light of a hundreds of diyas is shimmering on it. The aarti starts. The temple echoes with the sound of a thousand prayers. The bells are resonating. They create a medley of tones, some high and some feeble. The whiff of burning ghee is filling the air. It is enveloping me all around. Soon, my mind wanders to another place, one I hadn’t visited in a long time.

Its 1999, and the sun is pouring in through the windows, turning the room a shade of yellow. The fan is ferociously running at full speed, fighting against the summer air. I am lying on my bed, awake but in no hurry to get up. Now, the fan is slowing down. Like every other day, my Mamma has switched it off in a last attempt to wake me up on a Monday morning. “It’s time!” she screams from the kitchen. I force myself to sleep again, trying to ignore the heat which the sun is forcing in, but all my attempts fail. It is a hot Monday morning with no fan, and that means that I have to get up.

I walk into the small living room, where the bright red radio sits proudly on the arm rest of my Papa’s favorite sofa. It is turned on at full volume. A loud bhajan is streaming from its small speakers, the one they play every morning. I do not like it. Why does he have to play it early in the morning?! Its already so hard getting up. I find him in the kitchen, where a small cabinet has been converted into a mandir for him. He is in his blue towel and is chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. There are fresh bananas kept at Ganesha’s feet and an agarbatti is glowing fiery red at a corner. The kitchen is smoky with the sweet fragrance of jasmine, which the exhaust fan is trying to throw out. Papa turns and he has a solemn look on his face. Without a word, he hands me a piece of the banana. The banana smells of the agarbatti too. I eat it greedily nevertheless. I wonder why he is so silent when he prays. There are no words, no expression, just a blank look. He doesn’t tell me why. I think I will never understand.

After my bath, I see him on his favorite sofa, humming along to the radio bhajans. He is skimming through the newspaper and sipping chai. He looks happy. “Come, have breakfast!” he says.

The pandits of the temple are marching round the temple. They each hold a bronze platter with a big diya on it. Round and round they go. At the end of the aarti, we are all handed the Prasad. With my hands full of sliced sweet bananas, I look up and see the starry night. And a smile spreads across my face. Life is good, I think to myself. I thank Papa. He knew that someday, I would understand it all.

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Friend or Foe?

The two term prime minister of Britain, Benjamin Disraeli once said “Fear makes us feel our humanity “.  When I stumbled upon his quote in my prime, I hardly believed I understood what he had to convey. As children, we are always fun loving, care free and our parents bear the brunt of our tantrums. They pep our spirits up and save our day most of the time.

It’s when you slowly start growing older that your fears transcend from simple concepts like the dark/ class teacher/ principal to life/family/friends/opportunities/love. My life so far had several twists and turns, it has always been sinusoidal- ups and downs. I am known to be a person of determination but I know that I lack consistency a bit. I cannot say the credit belongs to me. I was not a solitary soldier, I had multiple divine interventions.

Face your fear!

As a tot of 2nd grade, I feared my swimming classes the most. I couldn’t float my thin body and I succumbed to absconding my turn to jump and swim across the pool during classes. I would cunningly manage to send every friend of mine forward in queue and waste the entire time and walk out happy. Eventually this didn’t work at all. I gradually realised one thing. I was not afraid to swim!  I was afraid of drowning. ! There is a huge difference.  It took me a lot of time to pamper my heart and make my muscles work constructively to float me. I became the master of swimming, I conquered my fear.

People who are average performers in class will be very light minded and easy going attitude. They do not face a lot pressure of competition. They know the trick to be calm and cool and yet be happy with what they receive. Sometimes, I envy them. My fear of exam and fear of losing my image amongst people has been one of the major impetuses to do well in my examinations always. But I realise this ain’t true spirits. I still suffer from this fear of a proper future without good exam performance. I fear acceptance in the world and I know I must give up on it and learn the cool attitude and yet be responsible.

Fear is an inevitable part of human being. Fear of fire has made us invent extinguishers, fear of meat has given us agricultural inclination, fear of flowing rivers has given us bridges; fear is an integral part of life that makes us better individuals marching towards progress. Fear has to be faced. We have to work on it. Fixing a fear can make changes to your monotonous life. Change can be really enriching and enlightening. I am today the best swimmer of my class capable of underwater swimming along the pool length, a person working on the fear he captivates for the people he loves and an individual motivated to improve himself and stand out, not on the basis of fear of rejection from the world, but an optimism that will make me unique. Remember guys, “To fix it, Risk it! “. !

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Know thy Neighbour

Of late, I see so many people struggling to volunteer information about their neighbours. Information about people they have lived in close proximity with for several months, or even years. Where is the world heading to? Where have we gone wrong in the past couple of years? Let’s compare and contrast.  A decade ago, we would have considered our neighbours to be our second family. They were people you would readily seek help from during times of need.  People who took part in the family joys and sorrows. Not as an observer, but as one among the family. In short, they were there for you, through and through.

 And now? Now I see people who don’t even stop for a cursory hello. People who SEEM to derive a quiet pleasure when the lift doors close just as you are about to enter in. People who are prompt when it comes to complaining about your dog. When you feel happy that your neighbour’s out of town, surely there must be something wrong? It doesn’t even seem right to say “Where did the good old days go?” Because we chased those days away.  One at a time. And it seems highly unlikely that those days would ever come back. We have become too wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t have any time to spare for the neighbour. The concept of the community has been lost and along with it, we have forgotten how to share, respect and be respected.  It’s high time we retrospect on this and take tiny little steps towards learning to care for our neighbour. Because trust me, I have a feeling we are missing out on a lot.

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