Friday, December 31, 2010

Learning Plateaus

4 years ago, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do some serious navel-gazing. I went through several assessments, by myself and by those around me. There were personality tests, leadership assessments, skill analyses- the lot. The outcome of all that was what my mother had been saying for two decades-but never mind that. With the help of my coach, I drafted a Development Plan. At the end of 2010, I am still working on it. I still catch myself getting into trouble for doing things I know I should not be doing.

I tried and tried to make bread, concentrating on just two recipes (rustic bread and cinnamon-raisin-oatmeal bread), with variable results every time. This weekend, I will buy some more yeast and add a third one- roasted potato bread. (All by Jeffrey Hamelman, recipes in his book or online at The Fresh Loaf). I expect more unpredictability there.

I am still trying to learn enough English to teach it to a six-year old. We started tenses yesterday, and I realized that I only remember six of the twelve (or is it 9? or 15?).

I intuitively understand the concept of resilience, but cannot define it- and I certainly cannot sound erudite while talking about it. I see vulnerability, but find it tough to assess it without including disclaimers with every phrase.

For the first time in my life, I feel my father's absence. I now see that I have no idea how to do this husband-wife thing. My observations of married people are either dowry reports in the newspaper or the 'how to iron Father's shirts' chapters in my 19th century housekeeping manuals- which makes me as stable as Himalayan geology. Working on it, but I don't think I'll be asking Mian for a stakeholder assessment anytime soon.

My basil died in October due to the cold, my earthworms in November. The mint and garlic are alive. I don’t know how to garden below 15 degrees Celsius. Still feeling my way around northern gardening calendars.

I spoke of two challenges facing me last year. The work challenge I have bowed down in defeat to, the personal challenge is a continuing one.

Cakes, yes. Pies, no. Ensuring equitability, sort of. Basic conversation, no. Thinking before I speak, sometimes. Thinking before I snap, no. Got my work cut out for me.

This has definitely been a Year of Learning. Where learning is a verb, of course. Still working on all that, and thoroughly enjoying the process.

Happy new year.

The photo? my big adventure of the year. Our wedding day dinner..

Thursday, December 30, 2010

street food

In an earlier post I had dismissed all dehraduni street food as leaving a lot to be desired.  Because here one does not get what people south of the Vindhyas call 'chaat'. The light-as-air pani puri and the jewel-bright bhelpuri are reduced to sad shades of their real selves when they come here. Things like the wonderfully bilingual SPDP (sev dahi potato puri) and the dabeli are conspicous by their absence. But I was being a pompous ass with my Pune hangup.
You do get tasty, tangy, more-ish street foods in Dehradun. They just tend to be of the stick-to-the-ribs branch of the Chaat family. Street corners are packed in winter with sellers of ground nuts. In the evenings, the heap of roasted groundnuts is topped with a little pot filled with burning coal, the glowing embers serving to warm the groundnuts and the seller while enticing the customer. There's also aloo tikki, this being something I have very rarely. The oil has been re-used umpteen times which is a deterrent. And secondly, the fluorescent nature of the chutneys displayed in the stalls makes me ask for one 'plain' sans everything, which is missing the point of a tikki. So, no.

But then there are the roots. Kachalu (a giant colocasia tuber, or arbi on steroids) and sweet potatoes which have been either boiled or roasted, then chopped up and tossed with seasoning.
That's what the nice Chachaji is making for me in the photo and very tasty it was too..tangy, spicy, sweet-all that chaat is required to be. The 20 Rs. pricetag has frugal me thinking 'I can buy a  kilo of sweet potatoes with that cash!' but you know what? I doubt I'll be able to get that very same taste, and the pleasure of receiving a leaf-full of mouthwatering goodness is well worth the 20. Can you take mum there? why not? I do tend to steer clear of the chaat street near the clock tower- the proximity to an open drain rattles me and will rattle your mum too; a nice clean tree-shaded chowk will be just fine

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I, Grouch

It is 2 am, and I am lying in my berth on the train. The train is supposed to reach Dun at 8am, but generally gets there at 0830. This means that I only have one hour to get home, breakfast, bathe, and cook lunch before getting into the office. I know I need to sleep, but am unable to do so because a group of young men are partying in the berths below me. I am generally quiet despite the calls for rum, the frequent use of naughty words in a desperate attempt to sound cool, the loud and inane conversation. I try and think back to my college days when something like an overnight train trip with friends was An Adventure or at the least, a Bonding Opportunity. But I seriously wonder if we were ever as oblivious to the needs of others around us. Or am I only wise in hindsight?

At first glance, it seems that I have a right to complain. A train carriage is a public space after all, and everyone expects lights out after 11 or so. Twice, when they start playing dance music, I ask them to lower the volume. They are nice boys, they respond immediately, and I thank them.

I only voice my objections twice; but for the major part of the night- from 11 pm to 4am, I think purely evil thoughts about them. Once, I drift off to sleep but wake up whimpering from a nightmare. Its all because of the partying, I think. I am feeling angry and vulnerable. But then it strikes me that I am the only one who has a problem with the noise. No one else complains. There is an old lady -they call her aunty- who needs to get off the train in the wee hours. Instead of sleeping, she has decided to join them and is roguishly pulling their collective leg. Was I being a grouch?

And today at the office. I was speaking to a colleague, P, about our ill friend's health..
C (to P): Vis still feeling dizzy? how is his bloo..
(Third person, He, stands between C and P)
He (interjecting) : namaste
C (to He) : ah! namaste
C (turning to P) : V's blood..
He: how are you?
C (to P..errr..He): press..I am fine! how are you? just  a minute..
C (to P): pressure?
P (replies with details)
C (turning to He): Sorry, we were talking about his health
He: (walks away pissed off)
C: hey, wait! I was in the middle of a sentence..we were worried about his health..why are you angry?
He: It's ok..apparently I am not important enough.

Was I a grouch?  Am I one?

I can't do this interacting with humans thing. I need a farm with a couple of dogs and lots of plants. grrrrrrrr..

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It wasn't all toil and trouble..

For starts, I stayed here.
That's the valley of the Kosi river (not the flood prone one, that's in Bihar. This one is in Ukd and just learning its flood capabilities). The little patch of sand in the centre of the snap is the river bed.
I visited houses that had been built by people with poetry in their souls. Accessibility be damned, most houses were built for the view. Essentials are a stone courtyard with plenty of sun where the entire family lives all day
in the winter.
And a little backyard which both gets the sun AND is close to the warm kitchen.

This house defines warmth and cosiness..the stone, the little babies, the smoke curling out, the pumpkins soaking up the sun..
What is not visible in these pictures is an aspect of the traditional houses that I love. In stark contrast to urban houses which are built to deter other creatures from entering, these are built to welcome them in. There are little triangular niches under the eaves to welcome nesting birds, some of the older houses have a beehive in the wall adjoining the kitchen..It makes economic sense of course, to have honey and pest-eaters close to you. But it also illustrates an awareness that humans are but a part of a larger ecosystem.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Toil and trouble..

Am back a sadder woman. The last week's travel was a little harrowing for me.

Yes, the scenery was great and while walking in the mountains of Nainital, I could feel the approbration of the 10-year old chicu who had a crush on Corbett. At one point, we reached the top of a mountain-where I would stay for the next two days- late at night. I stood in the courtyard at midnight and was surrounded by sparkles- both above and below me. The sky was clear, moonless and  liberally sprinkled with stars. Below me spread a valley with a hundred little villages, each house a tiny and intense point of light. Only the band of darkness where the high Himalaya were, enabled me to distinguish between earth and sky. Despite the cold, I stood there for a long, long time.

In the midst of all that beauty was great injustice. The family I stayed with had three young children, all girls. They were intelligent, beautiful and hungry for love. For the crime of having given birth to them, their mother was continually berated. Within half an hour of my arrival, the matriarch of the family began complaining- in front of her grand daughters- how expensive it was to feed them. The mother was anaemic, and malnourished with shoulders like a coat hanger. Despite this, she will be forced to go on giving birth to children till she finally produces a boy, who will be spoilt far more than is good for any human and who because of his upbringing will carry on the misogyny.

My colleague refused to drink water at any of the houses that belonged to scheduled caste villagers. These families did not offer water to me either- they had probably learnt the hard way that it is a crime to offer their 'tainted' water to visitors. I made it a point to ask for and drink water at each such house and was rewarded first with astonishment and then a smile of welcome. But of course, this only serves to make me feel good and will have no impact on their lives whatsoever.

On my way back, I exploded at my good and patient Mian leaving him sad and bewildered. I travelled back wishing my life came with an undo button. When  I got here, I learnt that a colleague is seriously ill.

Plan for the next week? get bucket of sand, bury head

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In hot water

That, quite literally, is where I will be over the next week.
I am working on a livelihoods project and the chap on the phone has asked me to meet him 'at rabu-da's shop at garampani on monday'. And now you have all the information I do, with the exception of one precious phone number..I set off tonight expecting adventure.

I will be travelling in the hills for the next week and a half or two. See you when I get back.

Mata Hari might have had a point.

A few years ago I listened aghast as a friend confessed to me that he had spent the last few weeks sleeping on a mat and a cardboard sheet. Why? Because he did not know where to buy a mattress from in Pune.

'Why didn't you ask me?'
'I wanted to see if I could manage on my own resources' he sheepishly confessed
'I am one of your resources!' I snapped.

It was entertaining to watch his face as the validity of what I had said dawned upon him. But I too am guilty of that. My wanting to do things 'by myself' often results in my not making full use of the tools at my command. Especially when those involve makeup..

Living mostly alone means that I am fairly adept in doing basic odd jobs around the house. I don’t need to call in A Man to change a lightbulb for me; unblocking a drain is child's play. Driving nails into a concrete wall is entirely another matter however. I do need to buy me a electric drill sometime soon (preferably pink, why not?), but in the meantime I do the best I can with a hammer.

The best is not always too satisfactory.

Which is why I needed to pull out the heavy artillery- super lengthening mascara to the rescue! Some flourishes of the wand, followed by one slow bat of the eyelashes and I now have this.

Just using all the tools at my disposal.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sunshine and cookies

When you next visit Rajpur, toil up the steep path past Lhasa and keep on doing it. The exertion does not matter- you are earning your dessert.

Because near the middle of the slope, on your right is Chhaya. This is a café perched on the lip of the Rispana valley. The place makes the most of its view and is designed like a sunroom with huge windows and cane furniture. They sell pastries, cookies, coffee and a decent assortment of lunch items. Their chicken potpie is highly recommended; my usual fix is a coffee and cake. This makes an eminently satisfactory meal- especially for around Rs 50 after a morning walking around in the hills. My only quarrel with them is over their fondness for lemon essence. I am speculating here, but it seems that at one point Santa gave them a giant barrel of the flavouring, and they now feel compelled to use it everywhere. Yellow cake, zucchini bread, nimbu soda- it does not matter. Artificial lemon has an overwhelming role to play-which is sad considering the easy availability of fresh, fragrant lemons. On Friday nights, they fire up a brick oven and make pizza, which is rather good and entirely free of lemon essence, or so I've heard. Despite the essence-in-a-bottle, the cafe is a pleasant place to sit for a while.

Chhaya also has a little shop alongside where they sell hand-made quilts and clothing. The things are rather good- take a look around.

Mum'll love the place, but accessibility is a problem. Public transport vehicles stop at the base of the hill and autos dislike the climb. Talk one into taking you up. As long as you don’t let her know what the auto-wallah charged, things will be ok. And remember they stay closed on Sunday.

Incidentally, if you walk further up the slope to the very top, you come across a lovely old house with wooden blinds. This is Studio Alaya- Mecca of the sustainability aware, socially responsible, aesthetically picky treasure hunter and home of the most adorable rocking horse I've ever seen.