Sunday, December 26, 2010

For Tvisha - Age 12, 1978

Dear Tvisha,

1978 was yet another year with a couple of major events, one of them good and the other one not good.

Responsibilities at school were increasing, as schoolwork got tougher. I now had become at best an average student in class. This never bothered me much though. My aim now was to do the best I can, and it was ok if I didn’t make the top of the class. I was still doing very well in a few of the subjects such as Mathematics.

I had made many friends by now. After my mother, there was no one really to monitor how long we stayed out of the apartment after coming back home from school. I used to hang out with my friends until late, or would come home, have dinner and then go back out again. Not great for a 12 year old, by the way.

Thaatha got busier at work. He got a big promotion at the bank. They made him responsible for the state of Maharashtra and Goa. He had to travel several times a month to cover all the cities that fell within his area of management in order to monitor performance. As you can expect, he was also coming back home a little later than usual, and brought a lot of work home that he would work on after dinner for a long time. So he wasn’t able to spend as much time with Krish and I as he would have liked.

The bank also provided thaatha with a new car and a chauffer to go along with it. So our lifestyle changed a bit due to this as we could travel now by car to any place we wanted to, when we chose to. We really liked this convenience, which was something new for us. The person who used to drive thaatha to and back from work was a man named Ghosalkar. Over the years he became very close to us. You may remember him from your visits to India when I always meet him. I consider Ghosalkar to be one of our family, he is that close to us.

I may not have mentioned this to you, but after my mother passed away, thaatha’s brother who got married moved back to live with us along with his wife, and of course my grandmother (mammai) who took the place of my mother in raising us.

There was something going on, with my father and his brother taking mammai to the doctor often. I could sense that not everything was right. When I would ask they would just say everything was fine. I was in the midst of my final exams at this point and was in full preparations for the same. That was the reason why they wouldn’t tell me what was going on with her. I was really close to my grandma, hence.

So on the day my exams got over, my uncle (thaatha’s brother) looked very relieved and informed me that grandma’s surgery went well. I was very surprised that they didn’t even tell me about her surgery. Then I went and visited her at the hospital every day while she was recovering. She was there for quite a long time. I didn’t like that hospital (not that anyone is supposed to like a hospital in the first place unless you work there, I think).

One day after school, I came back home as usual. My uncle’s wife opened the door to let me in. I walked into the room and placed my bag in the corner of the room as I always do, when I heard someone making a clapping noise. I turned around and saw my dear grandma sitting on the bed and beckoning me. I was so happy and thrilled to see her, I jumped on the bed and hugged her so tight and didn’t want to let go. Then I saw as to why she couldn’t call out to me when I came in. There was a hole in her throat through which they had conducted the surgery and it hadn’t healed yet. So she couldn’t speak for the time being.

Later on, I learnt that grandma had ulcerative colitis for a long time that eventually turned into colon cancer, for which they had operated her. The prognosis wasn’t too good, something I would learn only after a few years.

- Appa

Thursday, December 9, 2010

For Tvisha – Age 11, 1977

Dear Tvisha,

1977 was a very uneventful year for me and the family. We were all still recovering from my mother’s passing away in 1976. Thaatha buried himself in his work. Although he used to give us anything we wanted, he wasn’t that communicative as he was dealing with his own grief. For me and Krish it felt like a big vacuum not having our mother around anymore, but in my grandma (cuttle appa’s wife) we found the person who took on the role of our mother in the best possible way she could. I just adored my grandma, a lovely lady with a never ending flow of affection and care for us.

One thing I didn’t mention to you about the previous year was that just before paati passed away, they had found a bride for my father’s younger brother (my uncle) and his wedding date was in early June. And then paati passed away in May. By rituals we used to follow, we usually don’t celebrate anything for one year from when a family member passes away. Which meant that my uncle’s wedding would have to be postponed by a year. But thaatha would have none of that. He, as you know, was a very practical person. He made the decision, against most of our relatives and friends’ opinions, of not changing the wedding date. So my uncle did get married just barely a few weeks after my mother’s passing away. It was a very brave move by thaatha who felt there was no point in delaying something as important as a wedding, preparations for which had taken a lot of effort and time.

My mother was my backbone as regards to my schooling with her tutoring, her constant reminders and expectations to focus on our studies, coming back home in time, etc. Things now took a different turn. As I was searching for answers mentally, I found that I had to take on the major responsibility of managing my studies on my own, given the situation. Thaatha was there to help us in any way needed with our studies, but he too was busy with his work and could not be around all the time to help manage our school work. My performance at school suffered as I started taking things less seriously. I even had a teacher comment about my dropping performance in class which I didn’t like. It got to a point where I didn’t care what my teacher thought. My performance in my eyes wasn’t as bad as my teachers thought.

I was now in Standard VI, which was secondary school in India. So I was one of the bigger boys now :-). I played a lot of games in school during lunch break and before school started – cricket, square ball which similar to dodge ball, hockey, basketball and soccer. I tried my hand at everything. For the first time in my life, I started eating street food outside school each day. Now that is something no one should ever miss. There is something about street food that you can’t match anywhere else.

Oh yes, something else big happened that year. My beloved drink during the short recess, the chilled Coca Cola was gone from India! thanks to the brilliant idea of our then Prime Minister Mr. Morarji Desai and his government who demanded the Coca Cola company to reveal their secret formula so it could be manufactured in India. Yeah right! This was due to some policy that the government had come up with. So Mr. Coke said bye bye India. The next time I got to taste Coke was when I came to the USA to pursue my MBA, after 15 years. I will tell you, it was well worth the wait ;-).

- Appa

Friday, December 3, 2010

For Tvisha – Age 10, 1976

Dear Tvisha,

Although inevitable, the passing away of a human being especially when it happens without warning is something that a kid or even an adult can never be prepared for.

My mother (your paati) passed away on May 17, 1976 at the very young age of 42, when we all least expected it.

Leelavati Sivaramakrishnan (1934 – 1976)

I had mentioned to you in one of my previous posts that your paati suffered from diabetes. She was diagnosed as suffering from diabetes at the age of 35. In order to control the high sugar levels, initially she took oral tablets, and then daily insulin shots. I remember going with her often to the doctor to test her urine for the presence of sugar.

To try and combat this she tried some ill advised methods such as skipping dinner daily. Although she avoided sugar in her coffee, her biggest weakness was her fondness of all kinds of sweet desserts. She used to make a lot of sweets as well, and couldn’t keep good control over her cravings.

Her diabetes got worse with time, and she was also admitted to the hospital when she cut her finger while playing the veena and the cut wouldn’t heal.

I had my summer holidays after the final exams. On May 16, paati wasn’t feeling good at all. It got pretty bad to a point where she was just lying on the bed, sleeping most of the time, not even having enough energy to get up or talk.

Thaatha called the doctor a few times to ask him to come see paati. The doctor underestimated the seriousness of the situation, and at first wouldn’t come immediately since it was a Sunday, his day off. Finally said he would come see her in the evening as he had to go some place.

As the situation got worse, thaatha got hold of another doctor who came home to see paati. He immediately asked thaatha to admit her to the hospital. Paati was admitted to the hospital around 5 pm. She was conscious at that point. They administered insulin but even that wasn’t improving her hyperglycemic status. Krish and I came back home very worried, and me not really understanding what was going on.

According to thaatha, after a couple of hours, my mother regained consciousness for a few minutes, inquired about us, and actually said to him, “take good care of the children in case anything happens to me”. It was as if she knew what was happening to her.

She went into a diabetic coma and passed away just after midnight. My uncles came to the hospital to relieve thaatha so he could come and deliver the news. It was not a pretty sight at home as the news spread late that night and into the early morning. There were a lot of people from the building who came to our apartment (the building was a very close knit building), with everyone crying.

I was scared, and buried my head into my grandma’s lap, and just heard what was going on, not having a clue of how to deal with what had happened, and what it meant.

I think the three of us, thaatha, Krish and I dealt with this devastating loss in our own ways. Thaatha, in his own words, was benumbed and wasn’t too communicative with people around and was involved in his own grief. It was good for all of us that my grandma moved back to live with us, as she was the common thread that held us all together to some kind of normalcy. I was in denial for a while and I could say the same for Krish. But eventually we all had to accept the fact and face it.

My mother’s passions & interests

Paati was a Math graduate and was passionate about Math and about education. She had specific goals for us – study and perform at the top and become a doctor or an engineer, two careers most parents wanted their kids to be in at that time :-).

She used to tutor both Krish and I, and used to get very upset and angry if we didn’t perform to the levels set by her. I have gotten a lot of scolding from her.

She was musically very inclined and talented. She learnt music from cuttle appa, and after his passing away, in later years she engaged a teacher to come home and teach her vocals along with her friends. She used to be very good playing the veena and performed at building functions during the Ganesh festivals.

Cooking was something she was very fond of, and was great at it. She would come up with her own recipes, and also modify recipes from magazines to suit our palette and her cooked food was just fantastic. She used to maintain all her recipes in a diary which I am still trying to locate. We just don’t know where it went. Thank God for Blogger today, or I would have lost all my recipes! :-)

Paati loved to visit new places and hence we would try and go to a new place every year. She was also great at keeping in touch with all her sisters and all her social contacts, and was very popular in our apartment building and the neighboring ones.

Marriage (1956)

My mother’s father was a very prominent and well known citizen of Trichur, a small town in Kerala. My mother had 10 other siblings. Through the common astrologer, cuttle appa got an inquiry about marrying thaatha with paati.

So thaatha’s mother and sister went to Trichur to see your paati. They wrote back from there saying that paati was very pretty and nice, but also was a little plump. Was thaatha ok with that? Thaatha had a nice reply to this – “How does that matter? She can get plump even after marriage!” :-).

Thaatha took 3 weeks off and headed to Trichur to see paati. He saw her, liked her and said yes to marrying her. They both hadn’t even talked to each other but were absolutely fine with what they had seen, and had figured each other out I suppose :-). Since thaatha had only 3 weeks time off, they settled on a date within the next 10 days and they were married off! :-) Cool, isn’t it?

They went to Vaikkom, a neighboring town, for their honeymoon and then came to Bombay to begin their new life together. Krish was born in 1961, followed by yours truly in 1966.

I have tried my best to recollect and write what I could about my mother. I had to take help from thaatha of course. And yes I will be writing more about her in subsequent posts, and as I remember events or situations.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

For Tvisha – Age 9, 1975

Dear Tvisha,

This was one of the best years I had, traveling wise. School was getting tougher every year, with the expectation of performing at the top level in class.

Paati used to teach me daily and help me with my homework. She was very good in Mathematics, and instrumental in me getting top scores in the subject. She was very particular about Krish and I doing really well in class, and made sure that we worked very hard. People from South India, from where we originated were known to be well educated, who worked hard and were loyal to the company they worked at , generally starting and finishing their careers at the same company. So now you know where it all came from :-).

What was becoming a joke in our apartment building and the neighboring building was whether I made the school bus daily in time or not. Some of the neighbors used to come to their balconies to watch this and get entertained. The bus would come exactly at 7.30 am to pick me up. If the bus driver didn’t find me waiting, he would start honking continuously. So while I was getting readied so to speak, someone would stand at our kitchen that faced the street, or run out to tell the driver that I was almost on my way. What was the reason for all this commotion? I just couldn’t wake up soon enough. Almost on a daily basis, I would be running out of my apartment with my school bag hanging from one arm, my shoes and socks on the other and a chapati rolled with butter and jam (my breakfast) jutting out from my mouth. I would somehow make the bus mainly because the driver was so nice. All my friends in the bus would make fun of me, and who can forget the neighbors watching all this and having their entertainment for the day.

The four of us, paati, thaatha, Krish and I traveled a lot this year. We visited several places. I traveled by air for the first time in my life. Our first trip was from Bombay to Goa, by air. Of course Krish and I fought for the window seat, and of course he won!

Apparently for reasons still unknown to me and my family, while sightseeing in Goa, I was upset about something and due to that I wouldn’t walk alongside my family, I was walking on the other side of the street, but I did make sure that I was close enough to them in this new city :-). Not good behavior on my part. We had a great time in Goa, visiting the beautiful beaches the city had to offer and its monuments, churches and temples.

We almost missed our flight from Goa to Trivandrum, capital of Kerala, in South of India. We were sitting at the gate as the flight was delayed, and didn’t realize when everyone had already boarded the flight. Out of the blue, a lady from a foreign land shouted out to us, saying “Hey Trivandrum, Come Along!”. Apparently she was in the same flight from Bombay to Goa and recognized us as we waited for the flight.

Before another fight could start, thaatha had settled matters in an amicable way between Krish and me, saying one of us could have the window seat on take off and the other on landing. Thankfully for us the plane wasn’t full, and both got to enjoy our own window seats.

We visited Kanya Kumari, which is a town at the southernmost tip of South India and went to see Swami Vivekananda’s statue. Swami Vivekananda was a great philosopher in India. In his memory, there is a memorial built on a rock around 200 meters in the ocean. You have to travel there on a boat. We saw the sunset there which was really beautiful.

We headed to Palakkad from there to attend my cousin’s marriage. That was the time when I had started to play cricket a couple of years ago, and we got to play cricket now in the fields as opposed to the concrete streets in Bombay. It was different and fun.

Paati got to see all her relatives and siblings, was very happy and mentioned offhand that who knew, she may never see them again, especially the old folks.

Our next stop was Ernakulum to one of our relatives place. The most exciting thing for me there was the railway tracks that ran just around 40 feet away from our relative’s house. I had so much fun watching the trains go by, especially the Island Express which daily used to speed past the house we were staying at. I don’t remember the colors of the cars, but do remember the steam engine that pulled the cars. It was jet black, with a huge star painted in silver occupying the middle of the face of the engine, with its headlight in the center. It looked really imposing when the Island Express roared past us, with steam puffing ferociously towards the sky. Then there was the Cochin Mail that had a light blue colored diesel engine, whose cars were painted dark blue with light blue stripes running through the middle. A fantastic combination :-). I found that in the South there were more trains with their own distinctive colors and engines. Even though electric engines were available that would have saved money, some of the trains were being pulled by steam engines and diesel engines. Must be about prestige and history.

We visited Chennai after that, to visit paati’s elder sister (my aunt). My aunt had 7 kids, all girls. They lived in a huge house, and the days we stayed there were one of the best times I had. We visited a lot of family from both thaatha and paati’s side in Chennai. We finally made it back to Bombay almost 3-4 weeks after having a fantastic vacation.

Back home, I was finding it difficult to find boys of my age to hang out with and play together. The people my age were girls, and some of them who I was good friends with had left our apartment building to go live some place else. Most of the boys who played were all elder to me in age, and the age gap was a big issue. Being a small kid amongst teenagers, I didn’t get any chance to play cricket with them or even hang out with them. I would be sent home since I was ‘still’ a kid. Finally I made a few friends who were from apartments a block away from where we used to live. After that I had no complaints whatsoever in terms of having enough friends as that group of friends grew to a 20 to 30 strong member group over the next few years.

Also around this time, thaatha and paati were on a mission, looking for a prospective bride for thaatha’s younger brother. This meant a lot of work for them. Arranged marriage was the widely accepted and followed way of getting married in India during that time. But that needed a lot of ground work and research. Once there is mutual interest shown by two families, it starts from meeting the prospective bride’s family, assessing them, and tapping your network of contacts and friends to enquire about the family and the prospective bride. This worked both ways. After making sure that both the groom’s side and the bride’s side weren’t crazy people :-) and their reputations were intact, the parents from both sides would meet and discuss the possibility of marriage and match horoscopes of the groom and bride. If things moved forward, then the girl and boy would meet up briefly, ask each other a few questions if at all, form whatever opinion they can in those 10 minutes or so, and then make the decision whether to get married or not. Scary?? Absolutely. But this system does have its merits and has worked for generations with huge success.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable year; I was doing well at school and enjoying it; I got to make new friends, lots of them, and went on a big vacation with my family; and visited several places in India and met with almost all my relatives. It was fantastic and I have to thank my parents for that.

It would also turn out to be the last vacation I went on with paati.

- Appa

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For Tvisha – Age 8, Grade 3 (1974)

Dear Tvisha,

There were a lot of happy moments during this year and one that was worrisome, outside of life in school.

I will get to the worrisome one first. I am not very clear as to when they diagnosed the diabetes my mother (your paati) had. One day while playing the Veena she cut her right index finger pretty badly while striking one of the strings.

She went to our family doctor and got it bandaged and continued to do so for several days, but to no avail. The finger was only getting worse, with no signs of healing.

My father (your thaatha) finally took her to the local private hospital. It was pretty serious and they had to slice off a tiny part of her finger, as it was badly infected. The doctor said that if there was any more delay they would have had to cut her finger off. She had to watch her sugar levels very closely going forward, and manage her diabetes the best she could.

Paati stayed at the hospital for over a week or so. Thinking back, I am sure that the thoughts going through her mind at that time were not pretty. She expressed the desire to go visit all of her relatives in India. She belonged to a large group of siblings who were scattered around India. She got her desire fulfilled. We had a fantastic time vacationing :-).

There were several other events that happened this year. Krish had his thread ceremony (that symbolizes coming of age). He was 13 years old. Thaatha had invited many people for this event. Such are occasions where most if not all of the family attends, and is a part of the celebrations.

We went to the south of India to attend my cousin sister’s wedding. There were so many people there. Since my mom’s family was huge, there were many cousins of ours who were present at the wedding, and mischievous things were happening that drove the adults crazy.

There was a funny incident that I want to tell you about. There was a cute old lady, called kutti ammai, translated literally as ‘small mother’, because she was quite tiny. She gifted Krish Rs.50 (a big amount those days) for his thread ceremony. She couldn’t attend the event. Now I didn’t know the reason why she gave him the money though. From where I stood in the hallway, I just saw him go down flat on the floor and touch her feet and seek her blessings. I thought to myself, hey that was easy!. So I did the same thing as Krish, and lo and behold, I was given Rs.50 as well. I was so thrilled by this; I wanted to share what happened with my other cousins. So I went running around telling my cousins about the miracle that had just happened – go seek kutti ammai’s blessings and you will be rewarded with a lot of money!. Soon there was a long line of kids waiting to seek her blessings. As they fell flat on the floor to touch her feet, kutti ammai, being the grand lady she was, did not flinch a bit and handed the kids money from her purse that after some time was devoid of financial resources. Finally, given the sheer number of kids who went to see her, I am not sure how many of my cousins actually ended up getting money, haha.

Paati started to learn to sing as well. She hired a teacher, a very kind lady who used to come over to our apartment with a harmonium and teach her music every day. Paati also got her friends from the building to join. So music was back in our apartment and it was so nice to hear the women singing on a daily basis.

Movies in India are a big craze. You can easily see that, given the way appa watches most Hindi movies that release, and the good English ones too. I know you love movies as well. Since we didn’t have a television in our apartment then, Krish and I used to go watch a lot of movies in the theater.

We did get a new phone before most people around us, and that made paati very proud :-). It was really tough to get a phone connection in India back in those days, and after filling an application for a phone people had to wait for months before they could get a line at their home, such was the demand for phones. I still remember our first phone number, which was 482627.

What I remember particularly about some of the Thursdays (my day off from school) that year was the visits my mother and I used to make to her sisters' places during the day, when the mighty West Indies team had come to play a series of cricket games versus the Indian cricket team. These kind of series last a few months, and hence there were a number of occasions when we did this. Krish used to join us most of the times.

Why do I remember this so vividly? Well, the West Indian team was so good and so flamboyant in displaying their cricketing talent that even women in India started following the game of cricket. Further when my mother and her sisters met, it was a treat for me, a mini feast, with all kinds of food experimentation taking place. Sandwiches were made with different varieties of chutneys each time, some with mango, some with ginger and caramelized onions, all packed in different twists and turns in between two unassuming slices of white bread. That was also the first time paati let me eat eggs. Remember, we were strict vegetarians. My aunt prepared a hardboiled egg, which was delivered to me steaming hot, sliced into 4 long pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper. Yum!

Finally that year we made a trip to Poona. Paati had never been to Poona and she really wanted to go there. Thaatha was invited by his friends Joshi, Thite and Mulay from the bank to visit them in Poona, and they had also arranged a guest house for us to stay at.

We were in Poona for 3 weeks. The trip started off with a big disappointment for Krish and me, since we were so looking forward to going to Poona from Bombay on the Deccan Queen. Alas, there was a railway strike, and we ended up hiring a private cab. When we reached the guest house around afternoon, when Krish and I were in a rush to see who could hit the toilet first, a couple of my fingers got caught between the door and the hinges when he shut the door in a hurry, and my finger nails were crushed. That apart, Poona was awesome. We went sightseeing all day and just ate to our heart’s content.

We were invited for a few dinners. There, instead of our staple diet of rice, we were served pooris (fried whole wheat dough shaped flat like mini tortillas) accompanied by curries and vegetables. Krish and I got hooked to pooris.

The best thing is that the restaurants we went to back then in 1974 in Poona, still exist, I think. They are Café Mona, Café Delite, Roopali and Vaishali. Café Mona had a glass walled kitchen so people could see the cooks preparing the food. The cooks used to throw huge flat poori dough high up in the air as a show, before they were deep fried. Thaatha still laughs when he remembers our standard phrase wherever we used to go to eat food in Poona – ‘chawal ke badley mein poori dena’!, translated as ‘serve pooris instead of rice, please!’

When we visit India next year, I am definitely going to take you to Café Mona to eat those delicious super size pooris.

- Appa

Thursday, November 4, 2010

For Tvisha – Age 7 (1973)

(Here is my mom in the center, and a few other ladies from our apartment building singing during the Ganpati festival celebrations)

Dear Tvisha,

There are several events during this year that are coming to mind very clearly.

School was full of fun with lots of friends, homework and exams. I was doing well too, and was in the class top 10. I will give all credit to my mother for that.

During our daily short recess in school that lasted only 5 minutes from 11.25 am to 11.30 am, the school arranged for those who paid for it, a refreshment that was usually a 12oz bottle of chilled Coca Cola. If Coke weren’t available then there was Energee, a flavored milk drink.

As soon as the bell rang announcing the recess, the kids would run as fast as they could to the long hallway outside the classroom where the refreshments were kept, pick one up and drink. We had a friendly bet to see who finished his Coke first (bottoms up if they could!). I used to finish first most of the times. Yes! :-)

Father Oscar succeeded Father Gaiety. Now that I think about it, Father Oscar had a brilliant idea by which he tried to pique the interest of the kids into the hobby of collecting stamps. During the long recess at 1 pm, once a week, he stood at the balcony on the 2nd floor outside his office and throw hundreds of stamps into the air to the kids below, and the kids did their best to catch and accumulate as many stamps as they could. For some years I had picked up this hobby of collecting stamps. I had several hundreds of stamps that I gave to another kid when I grew up.

At the home front, this was the first time that Krish, paati, your thaatha and I began living alone in the apartment that was full of people living as a joint family. Thaatha’s two sisters had been married off and they went to their husbands’ homes, and cuttle appa as you know passed away when I was 3+. Thaatha’s younger brother Ramudu found a job at the same bank as thaatha. Since his office was far away from where we lived, he decided to rent a small apartment near his workplace and moved there with his mother, who was my grandmother.

To be honest, it felt really sad to be without all these people who lived with us, and with whom we had such a great time. But then that is life - keeps moving, keeps changing.

The four of us countered this loneliness at times by doing more and more things together like watching movies, visiting Ramudu at his new place, visiting my relatives, taking more vacation trips, going to the park daily, going to music shows, etc., which was great fun too.

The best times during the year were the Ganpati festival and the Diwali festival. The Ganpati festival is celebrated all across Bombay to bring in the birthday of Lord Ganesha, and also to bring all kinds of people together to get a great sense of community.

We celebrated this festival in the building in a spectacular fashion for 7 days, bringing a 3 foot idol of Ganesha and offering the Lord daily poojas, and lots of food and sweets distributed to whoever came for blessings. There would be music playing on the loudspeakers all through the evening. The whole of Bombay had and still has a festive atmosphere during these 10 days.

We had daily shows that included Veena recitals by the some of the ladies in the building, magic shows, fancy dress shows, singing, etc. Everyone participated.

It was absolute fun. The final day, when the idol was immersed into the sea, was a sad day since everything would come to a standstill, and people would get back to their routine daily life from the next day onwards.

Another occasion during which the whole building came alive was during Diwali (festival of lights, to celebrate the triumph of good over evil). On this day we would wake up very early around 4 am, bathe, and offer prayers to God. We would then wear brand new clothes, and burst lots of firecrackers in our building compound.

My mother, who was a great cook, prepared so many different sweet and savory snacks. Imagine this: early morning at 5 am all the kids from the building, and even some of the adults were down bursting firecrackers, and wishing everyone Happy Diwali in their brand new clothes. After the crackers were done, we would then head to our each of our friends home and wish their family Happy Diwali, and devour any sweets coming our way.

There was exchange of sweets and savory items amongst the women in the building, including exchange of cooking tips, critical judgment of the dishes prepared and exchange of in demand recipes :-). I used to lend a keen ear to all of this.

To top it all off, there was a feast at home usually consisting of onion sambar, roasted spicy potatoes, rice, rasam, papadam, and rice payasam.

A tradition we always maintained on this day was to go see the latest movie in the theater. To this day, there are lot of prominent movie releases around Diwali, a sure fire way to earn revenues for the filmmakers.

Here in the US, mommy and daddy have made it a point to celebrate the above 2 festivals in a grand manner, so you can not only get a good understanding of our culture and our festivals, but also we can all have a great time with all your friends and their families on these occasions.

- Appa

Thursday, October 28, 2010

For Tvisha - 2nd Grade, Age 6 (1972)

Dear Tvisha,

My first Television experience

This was the year the black and white television was introduced for the first time in India. All the programs were broadcast by a broadcasting station called Doordarshan, which was owned by the government. There were no cable companies.

There was a neighbor of ours, Capt. Mani. He was the first one in our apartment building to own a TV back then. He and his family were kind enough to let a lot of the kids in the building to come to their apartment daily in the evenings to watch the shows on the television. As you can understand television was like a magic box for us, something we had never experienced in our lives.

The shows we used to watch regularly would be a 30 minute program that showed Indian movie songs. Every Sunday evening we would get to watch an Indian movie. And twice a week they would show the Flintstones, a show I used to love.

Shopping and Chocolates

My mother (your paati) used to take me shopping to the local mom and pop stores around our neighborhood to buy regular non perishable groceries, coffee, etc. Like most kids I used to love chocolate candies with my favorite being Cadbury’s. There would be a fight with my mom every time we used to go to the shops, where I would want chocolate candy and she would vehemently deny me the same. But the shopkeepers, especially the shop from where we used to buy freshly ground coffee, would give me a free chocolate, usually Cadbury’s Eclairs if I listened to my mom and behaved well. That was funny.

So you see daddy loved and still loves chocolates just like you do. The chocolate candies I use to like and eat the most then used to be the Cadbury’s milk chocolate bars and Cadbury’s Plus bar, a chocolate bar filled with semi hard raspberry Jell-O inside. I am sure you would have loved that particular kind :-).

Broken Bones

This was the only time I have broken any bones in my body, and hopefully will be the last time. I got my right hand fractured. My brother Krish and his friends were playing a version of tag it in our friend’s apartment, running around at a good speed in the very small apartment.

I, who was very small in size compared to the others wanted to participate as well. I slipped while running and fell. At the same time one of the guys stepped over my right wrist and broke my wrist.

I didn’t cry by the way, but was in extreme pain. We went to the doctor and got my hand in a cast right away. What was worse than the pain due to the broken wrist was the itching sensation on my hand inside the cast, and I couldn’t do anything about it but bear it. Grrrrr!!

All Aboarrrrd

The trains that ran back and forth all over Bombay and from Bombay to other cities in India used to pass by very near our apartment building. As a kid I used to love the sound of the trains passing by at a high speed with their horns blaring. We had to resort to real trains since we didn’t have Thomas train amongst us in India during that time :-).

The railway tracks were pretty close to our building, a couple of blocks away on the other side of a park. We used to go to the park to play, and sit and watch the trains go by.

There was one particular train that I was very fond of, called the Deccan Queen. Unlike the other trains, this train had special colors (beige top and navy blue in the bottom) and was the pride of the railways. It used to run between Bombay and Poona, and covered the distance in less than 3 hours. There were only a couple of stops between the two cities.

One could get all kinds of delicacies in the train to eat which you couldn’t in rest of the trains. There was a kitchen in the train and orders for food would be taken before the train left the city and would be delivered hot and fresh shortly. The train used to pass by exactly at 5.25 pm every evening. It still does :-).

If you remember when you were just around 16 months old on your first trip to Bombay back in 2007, I took you to the over bridge from where we saw the Deccan Queen go by, although not at a very fast speed that day. I know you love trains, and I was so excited by the fact that I could let you also experience a part of my past. Between now and then, the only difference is that now the colors of the cars are red, white and grey.

We also used to make a lot of trips to South India. My mother liked to visit the temples and her relatives, and every summer vacation the whole family would go on such trips. Krish and I used to fight for the window seat in the train.

Apart from the train ride the biggest thrill for us used to be watching the engine pulling the train cars from our seat windows when the train took a turn. And the engines were so grand looking, either electric engines, engines powered by diesel, and steam engines. Nowadays when we travel all we see are electric engines, and the days of the steam engines are long gone by and the diesel engines are almost extinct. Oh Tvisha, I miss those days!

- Appa

Thursday, October 21, 2010

For Tvisha – 1st Grade, Age 5

(Appa, and his good friend from that time, Mala)

Dear Tvisha,

The year when I was in 1st grade was a very eventful year. There were quite a number of changes that I had to go through in school.

I had to wake up really early since the school bus that usually came in around 9 am for kindergarten, came in around 7.30 am for first grade. Getting me ready daily to make it to the waiting school bus was a ritual in itself, with the neighbors from the nearby buildings looking forward to it. I had to be up for this challenge since I now was in the big league, I mean, first grade :-).

It was a time of great adjustment with longer school hours which wasn’t that much fun to begin with; there were new uniforms that I loved – white half sleeve shirts, navy blue short trousers, and pure white canvas shoes and socks; then there were the new teachers, more classes, lots of daily homework, and exams too.

One thing I will tell you about schools in India is that they are really competitive and crammed with schoolwork right from the beginning. It must have only gotten worse now.

The school timings were from 9.30 am till 4 pm, with a 5 minute break at 11.25 am and lunch break from 1 pm to 1.45 pm. School ended at 4 pm and the school bus would drop me off by 4.30 pm at home.

Most of the time, I would come home to the aroma of hot dosas (Indian crepes) being prepared by my mom. I used to eat the dosas with sugar and butter, or with coconut chutney. I loved dosas. In South Indian families dosa is a staple item to prepare during snack time, just as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be.

Then it was time to go out and play with the few friends that I had at that time, mainly with a girl named Mala who I was fond of. She used to live in the same apartment building as we did, a level above us.

There were a lot of children in our apartment building, which was great, but most of them were elder to me. There were others of similar age but their parents wouldn’t allow them to go out and play much, instead making them focus on their studies I suppose?

After playing for a couple of hours, it was time to come back home at my mom’s beckoning for a shower and homework, dinner and then off to sleep. I would get quite an earful from my mom if I didn’t come back home in time.

The one thing that was different with Don Bosco High School compared to other schools was that we used to get Thursdays off. The other catholic schools would have Saturdays off and the rest with no such weekly days off except Sundays. Due to this, it wasn’t much fun since I had no one to play with and as the years went by the homework would increase since we had a break mid-week.

The biggest event during the year that I can’t ever forget was the war between India and Pakistan. Since I only had few lucid recollections of the same, I asked your uncle Krish to reminisce about it. He wrote this:

December 1971: War breaks out between India and Pakistan

Government imposes black-outs in the evening

Following the rules, we glued black paper on the windows, did not put on lights even late in the evening and through the night. Dinners used to be candle-lit, and at around 7pm.

Appa used to come home pretty early. Once he was home, he would follow radio news intently and update all of us, and our neighbors, who somehow preferred to hang around in the building compound. Many would stand by our verandah and discuss the latest situation; we were in the ground floor, remember?

Thankfully the war soon got over – it lasted around three weeks, if I remember correctly.

Appa and amma were at their protective best, giving us courage and confidence that everything would be okay soon. We somehow needed that.

You were very curious about what could go wrong, puzzled by the darkness all around, about the candle light. Appa and amma used to field your questions without scaring or worrying you.

When the sirens blared…

Families would step out on to the building compound, to escape easily in case an air raid caused a bomb to explode near the building and damage the building.

We could see the bullets fired from Indian ack-ack guns (anti aircraft guns) to discourage Pakistan’s airplanes from coming near the city - the tracer bullets, a moving stream of red dotted lines against the dark night sky.

Our hearts thumped – we used to stay indoors though; Appa still thought that safer, given that we were quite small and could get lost due the commotion outside.

This was a scary time indeed for all of us.

- Appa

Thursday, October 14, 2010

For Tvisha – My Pre K to Kindergarten Years

(Appa, when he was just over a year old, with his mommy (your paati))

Hi Tvisha,

This week I would like to tell you about my growing up years until the time I went to Pre K and Kindergarten school.

I am not able to recollect most of that time, but do distinctly remember a few things that I want to share with you.

I was considered to be very cute by my family members (like every child is :-)) and was everyone’s darling. For my Pre K, I was sent to Guru Nanak School that included all grades, right from Pre K to the 12th grade. Most schools in Bombay ran that format during the time. The only positive thing about this school was its proximity to the apartment building where we lived.

I did not personally like this school very much, including some of the teachers. Now what I am going to tell you, I would strongly encourage that you never attempt to do if you are in a similar situation at any given time or place :-).

It was and is a common practice in most schools in India where if a kid doesn’t listen to the teacher or doesn’t do his/her homework, or does something in class that isn’t considered desirable by the teacher, then he or she would get a nice caning from the teacher, or be asked to stand outside the class for the whole period, or even stand up on the bench during class, ha ha!

There was this one teacher at Guru Nanak School who believed that, if the kids did not comply with her instructions, it was ok to reprimand them with a one-foot wooden measuring scale that she used to walk around in class with. She would ask the kid to stretch out his or her hand, and snap! came down the scale. It would be a stinging pain.

I was once the recipient of this. I don’t know what happened to me that day, but after getting hit by her on my hands, I somehow managed to pull the scale from her and hit her back on her hands!

Now that was a big no no, and caused a big uproar. My poor father was summoned to the principal’s office to hear the teacher’s complaint about this. Go figure, the teacher complaining about this after what she did to the kids?? :-)

Anyway, by that time, my brother Krish whom you call Kitth had got admissions at the Don Bosco High School and it was decided that I follow suit, away from Guru Nanak School. I joined there for my Kindergarten.

Don Bosco was a real nice school at that time, highly reputed. It was a private school, run by an Italian organization. The principal during that time was a fine Italian gentleman, Father Gaiety.

What I still can’t forget about Father Gaiety was his tall and rotund structure in his white priest robe, with a silver and white receding hairline, and with his face, cheeks and nose so red, which is something that even Rudolf the reindeer would envy.

Father Gaiety would walk around before school started daily welcoming the children to school, and would always surprise the kids with candy that would suddenly appear from his robe pocket. He always used to be Santa when our school celebrated Christmas, dressed up in a red suit with false beard and would hand out goodies to us. I loved Don Bosco High School.

And then after school coming back home to a big joint family sharing a 360 square feet area was even more fun, given the number of people living together. The highlight of that time was my father (thaatha)’s own daddy, your great grandfather.

Your great grandfather’s name was Krishna Iyer, but he used to be referred by one and all as Vaikkom Krishna Iyer. He was from Vaikkom, a small town in the southern part of India, in Kerala and a renowned and very highly regarded mridangam player of his time.

After his prime, he joined my father in Bombay with his wife, my adorable grandmother, and was living with us even before I was born. Due to some problems with his knees, he couldn’t walk at all and was restricted to sitting/sleeping all day in a cot (pronounced/sounds like cuttle in our mother tongue, Tamil). To make matters convenient I think all family members and the other folks in our apartment building called him cuttle appa.

With his passion for music still intact he used to hold music classes on a daily basis, teaching his elder son (my uncle) mridangam which is a percussion instrument from the earlier times in India, and his daughters (my aunts) the Veena, a beautiful sounding instrument that looked very similar to the Sitar. If one would think that the Sitar has a treble effect in its sound, I would say that the Veena had a bass effect in its sound. There were a lot of other kids in the building who used to learn Carnatic music (a form of music associated with the southern part of India), and other instruments.

But, if you did not practice hard or concentrate, or have come without any preparations to his class, then hell would fall on you. He would get very angry and scold the students, and also cane them occasionally with a small stick. People used to be terrified of him during those times, as he was a very strict person. But he was a fantastic teacher for sure, going by the talent and skill levels I saw in my older years, in my uncle and my aunts while playing their instruments.

I asked my father recently as to why he didn’t take any lessons from him. Thaatha sheepishly admitted that although he could easily recognize and understand what cuttle appa was teaching to the other students he was afraid of being scolded and hence decided not to learn music from him :-).

But cuttle appa would never ever get angry with yours truly, and whenever I would stand at the end of the cot and ask him for some money to buy biscuits or candy, he would always pull out this huge pouch of his and hand me the money to go buy biscuits.

It is really amazing that I am able to remember all of this about your great grandfather, as I was just over 3 years old when he passed away due to old age. He was in his 80s.

Tvisha, I am glad that I was able to put down all of this while my memory of these events from that time is still fresh. I hope you enjoy reading them as much when you grow up.

- Appa

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For Tvisha - My Life As It Started

Tvisha, we all know that you were born in Manhattan New York, and mommy and appa (daddy) ‘picked you up’ from the ‘hostipal’ :-).

Today appa is going to tell you all I know about how and where I was born, and how my parents arrived at my name.

I was born in the town of Sion in Bombay (now called Mumbai), India on January 13, 1966 sometime early in the morning at the Rohini Merchant Hospital, a small and popular hospital at that time.

The hospital was only a block away from the apartment we lived in. You have stayed at that apartment during your first visit ever to India in 2007 as a one year old baby.

My mother (your paati) was admitted to the hospital the previous night, as instructed by the doctor. The doctor had indicated to my father (Sion Thaatha) that they might need to do a cesarean operation to get me out. So thaatha signed on the consent form and came back home.

During those days, no one, including the daddy was allowed into the delivery room. When thaatha reached the hospital the next morning, the doctor confirmed that they would have to indeed do the cesarean procedure since I was a big baby. Thaatha said all right.

After I was delivered, the doctor informed thaatha that everything went well, I was fine and being taken care of, and that paati was resting but still hadn’t come around. Being a very practical person, thaatha thought he wasn’t adding value being in the hospital, and took off to work!

When he returned in the evening, paati gave him a dress down and fired him left, right and and center! I found this totally hilarious, although I very much realize her reasoning. Thaatha does feel today it was indeed very foolish on his part to have made that decision.

Oh yes, by the way Tvisha, I was a celebrity at the hospital for a few days since I weighed 9.5 lbs, which was an all time record at the hospital at that time. Well, 9.5 lbs may not be all that big, but remember I was being compared to the average Indian baby :-).

By tradition, in our culture back then, the first son takes his grandfather’s name from his daddy’s side, and the second son takes the name of the grandfather from his mommy’s side.

Being that I was the second son, they gave me the name of paati’s father, Rama. My grandfather’s name was T. Rama Iyer.

Paati felt that it would be very insulting to her daddy if she called me out by my name casually in his presence. So I went through a name change and ended up being called Sriram. Not a bad choice for a name, huh? :-)

- Appa

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mommy's Piggy Tales

Hey all,

I am going to be participating in a 13 week session for Janna Antenorcruz who runs the wonderful blog, where I will be writing about thoughts from my past, right from the time I was born until when I was a youth to serve as a memory for my daughter Tvisha.

I think Janna has a very novel idea for her blog. By the way, anyone who wants to write their memories for their kids to read when they grow can join these writing sessions free, and post all these thoughts on their blog with a link to Janna’s site.

See you soon,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ganpati Bappa Moriya! 2010

Wow! It has been over a year since I posted anything on this site. I had stopped contributing since I was finding it tough to think of topics to write about and I had my other food blogs to manage as well.

But I have some commitments I need to meet and this is an apt time for me to bring this blog back to life.

We just celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi at our house for a period of 1 1/2 days. My previous two posts from last year gives details for those who would like to learn more about this wonderful festival.

We has around 40 people in all who joined us in celebrating the birthday of Lord Ganesha. The kids and the adults included had a great time. Pooja was followed by devotional songs sung by a few of our friends. After that we had a sumptuous feast.

We had planned some activities for all the kids to make sure that they got a refresher course of their culture, religion and festivities. On the to do list for them was making Ganpati idols with play doh, coloring a Ganpati image, lots of stories read by the elders to increase awareness about Lord Ganesha, and a fun game where we blindfolded the kids and they had to place a modak made of play doh correctly on the trunk of Lord Ganesha.

The adults got a chance to seek blessings and also hang out and catch up with each other after a while.

This day reminded me a lot of how we used to celebrate this festival years ago in India at home as well as in our apartment complex with our family, and friends with lots of events and activities daily for 10 days.

Well, if not 10 days, we at least were able to celebrate for a day and a half, for which I am very happy. I am sharing some pictures from the event below.