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


Anonymous said...

your memories are amazing and so detailed. It is great that you are writing them all down

Susan McCurdy said...

You traveled so much in your own country. The details about all the different food is interesting. I know Tvisha must be looking forward to your trip!

tacy said...

enjoyed reading this! what a gift for your daughter.

Janna said...

Wow! I can't believe you had to wait for months to get your phone.

I'm glad your mother got better and was able to visit her family.

My Aunt Mona lived in India for about 2 years. I'll have to tell her there's a cafe with her name:) I'm so excited for your daughter to experience India!

How interesting to hear of your first taste of egg too.

Jessica said...

That was an exciting read all the way though. Good food and time with family really is the peak of happiness.