Of childhood and birthday cakes….

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Today I picked up some Indian style pastries: a black forest cake, a pineapple cake and a butterscotch cake from a small Indian snack shop on my way home. You have to be an Indian to understand the lure of these cake flavours. Black Forest cake is a layered chocolate sponge cake, with vanilla butter cream frosting in between and on top, decorated with chocolate shavings and a sugared cherry; pineapple cake is a layered vanilla cake with pineapple flavored frosting in between and on the top layer and topped off with a sugared cherry; butter scotch cake is also a layered vanilla sponge cake with vanilla and butterscotch flavored frosting and topped with some hard butter scotch pieces and a sugared cherry. Notice, how all the cakes are topped with cherries…I don’t know why but all the Indian style pastries always have a cherry on the top!

When I started sharing these cakes with my friends, I realized that they were not particularly tasty nor were they true to their names in terms of flavors. They all just tasted like sponge cakes with some kind of butter cream frosting. We had a bag of potato chips and we ended up eating a completely unhealthy snack of pastries and potato chips. That’s when a friend remarked, “Isn’t this what we ate at birthday parties growing up?” Our childhood birthday parties consisted of going to a friend’s place, whose house was decorated with balloons and confetti, where after the birthday cake cutting ceremony, your friend’s mother served you a piece of cake, some chips and maybe a samosa on a disposable paper plate. All this was eaten up quickly and then you were served an orange drink called Rasna in disposable cups.

Growing up we had only one cake shop in our town, and probably only that one brand of pastries existed throughout India at that time. It was called Monginis, and having a pastry there was considered a treat which was reserved only for special occasions. So of course all the birthday cakes growing up were from Monginis. I remember it would be such a treat to select your birthday cake a week before your birthday, looking through the pages of their ‘made to order birthday cakes’ book, so you could select exactly the one you wanted for yourself and your friends. I remember Monginis being the only cake shop around until much later when I was in my 20s that couple of local brands sprung up in some corners of the town.

I know the pastries that I bought here in Boston don’t taste anything like what they used to be in India; but they tasted like childhood memories, of the days when lives were simpler and birthday parties were joyous occasions intended only for gorging on Monginis cakes and rasna!

Strangers once again

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It is funny how sometimes you meet strangers and can just connect with them. And then sometimes the opposite also happens, the strangers who had become friends go back to being unknown strangers again. I have had experience with the latter when a best friend became a stranger and a ‘he who shall not be named!’
But life is strange and time is weird, it heals you even though you don’t want to be healed, and finally there comes a time when memories don’t hurt as much and you can smile and let the stranger go…

Getting Hitched Attempts!

Since past 5 years or so my parents have been trying to arrange my marriage. By Indian standards, 5 years ago, I was at the “right marriageable age”, and today by those same standards, I am already old! The way the arranged marriage system works, is your parents give you details of some random stranger and ask you to talk to that guy, and then depending on the quality of those first initial conversations, things either move forward or come to a halt. After so many years of doing this, I have realized these guys can be divided into several categories: some love to talk and talk and talk without taking things in any direction, some who are in a serious hurry to get married and talk about kids in the first conversation, and some who talk to you because their parents are pushing them to talk. Sometimes I am myself in the last category, when I know I don’t want to talk to a person, but it is difficult to explain it to your parents why you don’t think this guy is worth your time!

But sometimes the guys seem decent on the paper and I do end up talking to them willingly, only to realize that they are usually talking to number of girls at one time and will suddenly disappear because they have hooked up with one of the several other girls they were talking to! Sometimes by some accidents of fate, I end up meeting these eligible bachelors. Lately my “dates” with these random strangers have gone from bad to worse and my life has become one hilarious event after another. I have decided to laugh to entertain everyone with this post because if you cannot laugh at yourself then life becomes overwhelming and difficult.

My latest attempt at meeting someone topped all my disastrous dates so far, in that I went to NYC to meet this person and he almost stood me up by coming in 2 hours late! The guy seemed good in the initial conversations so I decided to go and meet in person. But apparently he didn’t think I was important enough to warrant coming on time. Even after coming late, he kept on checking his cell phone and texting. The best part of this whole ordeal was the beautiful day I spent in NYC walking around Central Park, enjoying my company while I waited for the moron to make an appearance. So all in all it was a great day spent almost entirely by myself; with 9 hours of bus ride to meet someone for 2 hours!

Last month was yet another funny attempt at meeting a random someone. In a couple of chats, the guy seemed very immature and annoying. This guy-a complete random stranger-would argue with me over chats when I didn’t wish him good night and good morning. Since he was in Boston though, I couldn’t get out of meeting him and we agreed to have dinner at an Indian restaurant. Then when I met him, he spent the whole evening giving me creepy stares and telling me to honest with him. During the course of that disastrous dinner, he also informed about me looking skinnier in my pictures than I did in real life. Yet another Prince Charming….Yes, my life is full of them!

There was one guy who was actually quite interesting and who chatted with me on phone for couple of months and then hedged around when I asked about meeting up and ultimately told me he had found someone else.

There was one guy, who was some long lost relative of a family friend and was in Boston, so obviously I had to take time out and meet him otherwise I was going to disappoint everyone from here to Mumbai. Turns out, this guy didn’t like talking, every time I would talk his response would be a one liner and then “and what about you?” Yup, he was a talkative one!

There was another guy I talked with last year, who was very interesting and I had a very good time chatting with him, but he refused to talk on phone. I was so interested in him that I let that nonsense go on for quite a while, almost affecting my mental health in the process. Thankfully a close friend forced me to put an end to it.

One blog post and couple of paragraphs don’t do justice to my stories. But it suffices to say, this is a long drawn and difficult process for those who don’t conform to the societal rules. I have been told that I should not to seem too independent or too talkative; to not tell any guy that I drink, lest he think I am too fast; to not tell anyone that I work in cancer research field or someone might think I can’t have babies. The implication being that the only way anyone would like me is if I not reveal my personality at all.  The good part through this experience is that my parents have never forced me to compromise on issues important to me. Living within the Indian society while not conforming to its rules has been an ordeal I had never imagined myself having facing while growing up.

Hi Past, I am Present

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Good Tidings.”

Meeting a 10 year old me- there is so much I could tell myself if only I had an opportunity to back in time. Firstly I would compliment her on excellent choice of beverage: Coffee! And then proceed to advise her, which she would probably listen to while rolling her eyes like any respectable 10-year old!

Here’s what I would tell her, “First of all kid, you will have to stop being defensive and learn to trust others, because once you can trust others, you will trust yourself and will learn to let go. Second most important thing is to learn to take risks. Kid, you don’t want to grow up like me afraid to take risks; once you learn to let go, you will start taking risks!

The most rewarding thing you will have is your family and the amazing friends you will pick up on the way. Even with your distrustful nature there will be those special few who will sneak by your defenses and before you know they will be a part of you, keep them very close and love them. Kid, you are going to grow up to be very complicated. You will love solitariness, but will still crave company of people, you will not trust others much but will be very talkative so you will need people to talk to, you will love to talk but will want to spend most of your time reading books, cooking and being by yourself! So you are going to have a lot of fun just being your unpredictable self. I can’t tell you everything, you will have to figure out your own joys, sorrows and heartbreaks. But I promise you, your life is going to get very interesting as you grow older, just remember to enjoy it!”

And I know in spite of giving all this advice to my younger self, she would grow up to be exactly like I did, because of course I am nothing if not contrary!

Conversational Gambit!

The Daily Post

For someone as talkative as me, talking for only four minutes is a little difficult. Could a room full of strangers be interested in knowing about a confused Indian expat? I would say definitely yes, would I be interested in disclosing myself to a bunch of strangers, not really, as some things are better left unsaid. But if my years of working have taught me anything it is the art of small talk. Small talks – they are a great conversational tool; whether you are trying to prevent awkward glances in the elevator, when you are sitting with your boss at the company meetings, or when you are having a dinner alone by yourself sitting at a bar, or trying to mingle with a room full of strangers! I enjoy small talks with strangers, if listened carefully they tell you a lot about a person.

This is what I would do when if I were to enter a room of strangers; grab something to drink or eat and then scope around the place, looking for friendly faces to join in. On finding a good group, I would try and listen to the conversation for a bit. Then give my input to the topic and when I have their attention, introduce myself with my complicated Indian name. There would definitely be more than couple of “Excuse mes!” on hearing my name, with most people asking me to spell it or slowly pronounce it. Since it’s an exotic name there will be few requests for the meaning, and then some background information will follow. This will easily take up 2-3 minutes, which is usually enough to break ice.

These four minutes are good enough for superficial introductions. Any more information than this will not happen until it is a more personal introduction. After all a mere four minute personal conversation is better than 4 hours of online chatter that everyone indulges into these days.

Smart Write!

Overload Alert

There is so much information available today. Every device you open, every person you talk to provides you with a continuous information overload, from people’s private lives on display on Facebook to the world and celebrity affairs on Twitter, to continuous news monitoring on the e-newspapers. Everywhere you are bombarded by information! Ages ago in the world of only print newspapers, you wouldn’t hear of the news until the next day courtesy of all the reporters scrambling to finish their reports for the early morning edition. Today the news online get updated with breaking news all the time, there is no chance you will miss anything important!

Does all this information make you dumber? I believe information is knowledge, always usable. Whether it is the knowledge about latest celebrity troubles or world troubles, it can be used for conversation. Depending on the crowd you are conversing with, you could switch your topics around. Does so much information desensitize you? That is a resounding yes! The continuous inflow of violence, deaths and revolutions around the world are definitely killing the emotions. There is so much of this stuff happening around, nobody is shocked anymore. Instead the attitude now is that we talk about the events for about five minutes before moving on with our own lives and troubles. Something like this, “Oh one more killing! One more bombing! Damn shame. All right who is up for drinks tonight to celebrate my promotion?”

The information is so easily and so readily available, no one values it anymore. The biggest example is the use of the word “Google” as a verb instead of the noun that it is. Instead of saying, “I am going to search using Google,” Everyone says, “I am going to google it!” The current generation doesn’t even know that the information has always been available on their finger tips, just in books and not on their smart devices. I don’t think the information is making people lose their common sense, I think it is the fact that, it is so readily available that is making people dumb, because they have never had to look for it.

The information boom is a blessing and a curse, depending on the way one looks at it. Use it the right way and it is a tool, but if you don’t know how to use or what to do with the information you have, then no amount of it is of any use to you. The devices are getting smarter; from smart phones, smart TV’s to smart watches, and the people using them are getting dumber!

Uncertain times

Perhaps this is too depressing a post for a warm summer Saturday morning, but it has always been my opinion that our very privileges should makes us empathic to those who aren’t living as freely and beautifully as we do. We live in uncertain times and nowhere are we safe from man-made weapons of destruction. We are not safe 40,000 feet up in the air and definitely not safe walking in the school hallways. School, which was once a haven for every kid-that time of the day when you are with your friends and away from home-is now a place for other gun toting kids. While flying in a big airplane is never risk-free at least you didn’t have to worry about someone standing 40,000 feet below you gunning you down.

Our lives have never been as uncertain as they are today. We rely on the humanity of strangers in every walk of life. We rely on doctors/nurses to care for us when we are sick, rely on drug companies to not kill us with their drugs, rely on the drivers of bus/train to safely take us to our destinations, on pilots to fly us safely over to our destinations, rely on restaurants to not poison us with the food. When you think of all this, the very fabric of human life is so fragile and heavily dependent on everyone doing the right thing. That being said, this is what makes up the human society, and this is what makes us human. But maybe we are slowly losing our veneer of civilization and humanness. Our humanity is a cloak we wear and it doesn’t take much to lose the cloak and show our true sides. It seems as if everyone is out to get everyone else. The feeling of goodwill on helping someone in need is fast disappearing into the feeling of power when you destroy someone/something.

There is a promotional advertisement against communal violence. The video begins with two friends who belong to different religions joking around and enquiring about each other’s family. They suddenly see a guy being beaten up and killed by bunch of hooligans because he belongs to a separate religion. On seeing that, the barber loses control and without thought he cuts the throat of his ‘friend’ who actually belonged to the sect of hooligans. What he doesn’t realize is that it was a film being shot and not a real-life scene. By the time he realizes it, obviously it’s too late. Though the video is bit of an exaggeration, it shows that our skin of humanity is so thin; it can be ripped off at the slightest provocation.

One can argue that the human society has always been violent. The violence is nothing new, cities and civilizations have been destroyed over a piece of land, a wrong word and a woman’s virtue. Read Iliad or Mahabharata- both set in B.C period- and you realize that the Trojan War was fought literally because of Helen and Kurukshetra was fought because of land and to avenge Draupadi’s virtue. Based on what you read, thousands were killed in these wars, cities were plundered and lives were destroyed. Violence in the human society is nothing new, but every century feels that this is the worst in history. And doesn’t matter if violence isn’t new, it doesn’t make it right.

Living in these uncertain times is scary. It does sometimes feel hopeless. But all we can do is live our lives and be thankful for it, keeping in mind there are many people in the world who don’t get the pleasure. Pleasure of running free, of eating good food and most importantly the freedom of following any/all/if any religion you want to. I am sometimes the most complaining person of all, but even I know, being alive, well and complaining is better than the alternative.