Of childhood and birthday cakes….


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!


Memories Unlimited

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Always Something There to Remind Me.”

Memories are a weird thing. They come unbidden to you at the most inopportune of the times. Seeing a picture somewhere, watching a movie, some snatches of conversations randomly flying through your mind, any of this could trigger a memory event. And of course, who can deny the link between music and memories. We always identify some specific songs to certain specific events in our lives. Some songs remind me of teenage carefree days, some songs remind me of the days when I felt the world was at my feet, some songs belong to the days when it was difficult just making it out of the bed. These songs relate to the good, the bad and the best days of my life.

But the song which never fails to give me goosebumps is from a hindi movie called “Rang De Bansanti”, which means Color me Red. The song is called “Luka Chuppi”, sung by Lata Mangeshkar and A R Rehman. The song is about a mother missing her son, while he is away as he is in the Indian Air Force. While I love the entire song some of my favorite lines are: “aaja sanj hui mujhe teri fikar dhundla gayi dekh meri nazar, aaja na”- meaning; it is evening now, I am worried about you, and my vision is foggy with tears, please come home now. The other line that I love is when the son sings, “yahan sab kuch hai ma phir bhi lage bin tere mujhko adhura”-means; I have everything here but I feel incomplete without you mother.

When I first came to Boston, from Bombay this song always reminded me of my mother. Today this song still reminds me of my mom waiting for me and then it reminds me of those early naïve days in Boston, almost a decade ago. When I as in India, and if I was late coming home from work, my mother used to wait up for me for dinner, so that she could sit and tell me all about her day and ask me about my work. Today when I come back late from work, I know my mom isn’t with me waiting for me to ask me about my day and that thought breaks my heart a little. But we all have to grow up and fly out of our nests doesn’t matter how painful, but for those painful evenings there is always Skype to call and bug your mom so that she doesn’t realize how much you miss her!

For anyone who wants to listen to the song, here is the youtube link and the entire English translation is in the description portion of the video.

India Series-II Happy memories

I know I mentioned in the previous post that I will avoid maudlin posts, but being assaulted by images and memories is inevitable when one goes home. The memories are bittersweet part of being home, the one place where everyone has seen you at your worst and have more or less accepted you!

Yesterday I travelled back in time while helping my dad with some chores. My dad wanted me to go through my old textbooks and figure out which ones he could give away to the local library. Going through those textbooks on Pharmacology, Anatomy and Physiology, brought back the countless hours spent pouring over those books, those hours which couldn’t go slow enough so that I could cram everything possible in my brain. Seeing my notes in pencil in the textbook margins brought back those days when the only important thing in life was to score good grades and the most important decision was to decide how much time should be spent on a particular study topic.

Then I took a journey into a past much further than my undergrad school days- into the childhood days of my older sisters and those of mine. As my dad and I went on clearing out more cabinets, we came across 2 drawers full of old photo albums. Since digital cameras are still fairly recent, most of our older photographs are on glossy photo papers in jumbo albums. I found albums of old trips taken across India, pictures of my older sisters when they were still babies (almost unrecognizable!), our photos with grandparents.  The hilarious part of those pictures was our get up- the fashion of bygone eras. And then I found my parents’ wedding album….found those pictures with my parents all dressed up and looking so young! As you grow older you tend to forget that your parents were once young and had a life that did not revolve around you…seeing these older pictures reminds you of those times, when you were NOT in the picture! Needless to say I spent a great afternoon looking at those pictures and reminiscing old times with dad.

Now that is the kind of nostalgia I wouldn’t mind getting lost in. Those old, stuck to plastic cover photographs are not just coloured paper, they are memories; unaccountably precious and forever reminding you of the passing of time. Whenever I am bogged down with irritation due to visa issues or difficulty of dealing with parents, I remind myself that I am here to build precious memories. Whether I am spending the afternoon idling with my parents or out sightseeing with them, these are the small moments which make life.