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"To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect." - Oscar Wilde

Monday, 24 June 2019

Just an evening walk

It is past mid-June and monsoon still hasn't hit Mumbai in earnest, I ponder as I watch the overcast skies and laboriously stroll on my usual walking track. It's a 2.5 km circular paved walkway surrounding a water body. One that has currently almost dried up in parts and left a choking stench. The stench motivates even the laziest walkers to turn into eager runners in an attempt to get past the overwhelming nasal assault in a hurry.
Ugh, I wince as the enthusiastic jogger passes by me, dripping sweat all over. Everyday I am awed by his perseverance at giving strenuous exercise a shot in such unbearable weather. 
Discussing the idiosyncrasies of the weather all the time, we Mumbai folks are rather going the British way, I say. While fair-weather folks write happy poems on nature, lesser mortals are left thrashing one another on social media, or like me transform to Dame Crib-A-Lot.
I smile at the young couple (overweight of course), enthusiastically pushing the stroller, their sweet baby asleep now. It is a lifestyle challenge to not put on weight with the abundantly available junk food, comfortable, effort-free living and screen addiction. It's a wonder a couple this young even has a baby, what with fertility issues being a common feature nowadays. 
Today out of the blue, my son decided to do something inexplicable. He asked to join me on my evening walk! What made him want to do this...when he could be at the mall chilling out with his friends or playing games on his tablet? I have no clue! Right now, my pride and joy know no bounds as I see him parking his cycle to join me.
I've decided to show off the merits of my beautiful walking track, the glorious sunset views, and if his attention still persists, discuss my observations of the people I see everyday on the track. It's a Sherlock thingy you see - the new one in the series 'Elementary' that my family is currently hooked to.
We pass this heavy-set young person (boy-going by his close-cropped hair, girl-going by the chest straining tee-shirt) walking briskly as he/she huffs by. A lady in dainty pink track-wear and a glossy, high ponytail jogs past. My son remarks that people who are really keen and serious about exercise always have a frowny or sour face while they are at it. Hmm, that is quite true, I muse. Maybe it is the strain of the focus or the harsh weather or maybe it's just what I've suspected all along - exercise is no fun!
My son reminds me of how we all loved walking on our holidays abroad. Oh, yes I remember how enviously I used to watch the locals who exercised so enthusiastically. Especially the office-goers who changed into sweats, jogged a cool 7-8 km, showered, grabbed a quick lunch and went back to work, all rejuvenated. Sure, you can think and do all that when the weather outside isn't like this!! 👇😠😰😓 Out here, a stunt like that would be suicidal! 
The group of three middle-aged women (err, like me? No, older!) is approaching. Always dressed to the nines in the best branded jogging suits, shoes, armed with fitness trackers and head phones, they are all also heavily made up! God knows how they miss seeing each other or themselves in the mirrors post the workout - with smudgy kohl-eyes and washed out patchy foundation, scary!
Further along the path, we see the bench with the old couples, neatly dressed, sitting on "their bench" enjoying the mild breeze. The men are inevitably discussing politics and the women as usual, speaking in hushed whispers. They must be exchanging notes about their husbands, daughter-in-laws or maids, I am about to tell my son. Tut, tut, I reprimand myself and tell him instead, "They are probably discussing a new recipe."
Several lovey-dovey couples pass by, new ones every day. What is common however is, the look of total absorption on their faces when they are talking to each other and their utter determination to snag the perfect selfie. To be young and in love! Examining it further, I think love was simpler in times of landline phones, no internet, letters and photo albums!
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/fotoblend-87167/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=4233677">Willfried Wende</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=4233677">Pixabay</a>
We are heading towards a spot on my walking track that will bring us to a bench which is always occupied by the same man, irrespective of the time of the day. I am eager to hear what my son has to say about this strange character - the man on the bench.

Earlier, I'd thought it to be a mere coincidence that this man chose to be on the same bench every evening. When I changed my walking time to mornings, he was still there, at the same spot! The stranger thing was, he was always writing something into his notebook and never looked up. Maybe he was working on something complex like accounting/book-keeping and he was tallying end of the day records? I started observing him more keenly. A diminutive, nondescript personality probably in his late thirties, he was always dressed in a modest white shirt and grey pants. The bench he sat on had old newspapers spread across. There was small bag beside him with more books, a lunch-box and a water bottle. One day I even managed to have a closer peek into his notebook that he was so intently writing into. He was making intricate squiggles and doodles, scores and scores of them! 
Weird! Maybe he is a homeless, harmless, quirky guy who is trying to create a Guinness record on crazy scribbling, living on a park bench. What will he do when the rains come? I wonder. Without fail, I see him on his spot, at his book, every single day that I walk. 
We are approaching the bench...but what is this I see? Arghh! The man on the bench is missing, absconding from his fixed address - bench next to light pillar no 56 is empty! 
The son looks at me expectantly. But what can I say? The man has disappeared! I check to see if I am at the right spot. I am. Theories on the missing person race past my head, while my son calmly pats my shoulder and says, "You know ma, you could just have been imagining this? You have been watching quite a bit of Sherlock." 
Humph, just my luck! I recollect (possibly a past-life regression) a chapter from math on probability. "What is the probability of an event that has been consistently taking place  for the last six months not happening when you really want it to?"
Feeling deflated and embarrassed, I move ahead, casting furtive backward glances to check if the blasted man is back on his seat. 
We are almost at the end of the track and I am still unable to come to terms with the guy's disappearance. I momentarily freeze on my tracks as I see him approaching. It takes me a bit to realize it's him for I've never seen him upright, or walking or doing anything besides poring over his notebook. Hallelujah! I excitedly nudge the offspring and whisper, "It's him, this is him!"
He does look pretty normal, doing something equally normal...walking alongside a woman, talking in muted tones. I pretend to take a break to tie my laces. Oh, so the man decides to walk and talk. The couple passes us by and I turn to look back. He has his arm around her shoulder. Nice. Normal. Pah! 
"Come on ma, it's too hot, I can't take it anymore!"wails the son. I agree, I can't take this let-down anymore! We head back home. 
There is loud crash of thunder and it starts drizzling. Tomorrow, I am definitely going for my evening walk, come rain or shine. Will he be back on his bench doing his routine doodling or will he be gallivanting around like today evening...I wonder.
And you never know, if the rain really sets in and the sweat on my back actually dries up, I might dole out happier musings!


Copyright © 2019 KALA RAVI

Tuesday, 18 June 2019


Mamis of yore specialized in culinary ventures and were reknown for their samarthiyam1 in everything under home-management. Be it, cooking, cleaning, accounting, home-remedies, health-care, child-rearing etc. they were the ultimate masters of the game. 
With the passing ages, gen-next mamis have notched up the game. 
Sungudi cottons have given way to linens, thirukurral classes have taken on the online mantle, lunch virundhu2 has morphed to sumptuous brunch, kashayam has transfigured to herbal tea, vambu3 sessions have shifted venue to online video-chats, ekadashi vratham has morphed to detox plan....and so on.
Armed with the cultural background and a strong foundation of values handed down through generations of venerated senior mamis, these new generation ladies are in addition, professionally qualified, tech-savvy, street smart and globally well-informed! They are, mind it, even more evolved forces than their older avatars. 
I refer to a generation born between 1960-1980 and I guess I am going to be rather infamous for even referring to this elite force as "mamis" despite the prefix of gen-next! So how about a "Yo-mami"?
While older mamis relied on age-old, tried and tested formulas and solutions from their ammas4 and paatis5 for all their domestic, health and other queries, mamis of today have the power of Google! With Whatsapp forwards and Facebook pages doing the rounds, containing everything from tips to strengthen the knee, gut, liver, pancreas, to relationship management, to parenting, to coping with old age, to staying positive, to leading a happy life on Mars, yo-mamis are a terribly knowledge-enabled lot!
It is a Sunday morning and not a very uncommon sight to observe our yo-mami, slipping on her transition bifocals first thing as she wakes up. She takes stock of the previous night's and early morning forwards (owing to time differences) from her multiple family and friend groups spread across the globe. Her trained eye misses nothing, dismissing old forwards, she scouts for new, fresh ones to forward that will surely elicit thumbs-ups and smileys. Of course, she also monitors her forwarding exercise, not too many, keeping  a strict tab on repeat forwards, that is a serious faux-pas of newbies! The daily panchangam app keeps her abreast of any forthcoming pandigais6pirandanaals7 and what nots.
Phew, a major chore done, she heads to the kitchen, sighing approvingly at the waft of her favorite lemongrass green tea that she has trained her husband - mama to brew. 

A word here on mamas. They are a species that...how do I put it...haven't really evolved, hardly changed from their older versions. Hence, they do not get upgraded to Yo-mama status. The clothing sense may have changed a tad, they are also tech-savvy but reluctantly so. At heart, lies the quintessential overgrown mamma's boy who loves his non-happening weekends devoted to leisurely loo-time, endless news reading and watching, lots of thumb twiddling, a traditional heavy lunch followed by a good siesta and of course, the company of limitless tumblers of hot kaapi all through.

Mama glugs his  second cup of strong filter kaapi while reading the e-news on his new I-Pad that the son has got him on his last visit. Mama misses leafing through the good ol' newspapers during his "morning ritual". But of course, yo-mami is right, no point in sacrificing trees to get your bowels moving.
Soaking green grams to sprout for tomorrow's lunch, yo-mami whisks a smoothie of spinach, beetroot and almond milk with a tiny scoop of brown sugar for her breakfast. Mama of course gets the same sans the sugar, to account for his bulging midriff. 
Stoically he gulps the concoction while hoping this health-spree passes away just as quickly as it did in their past 'post-US trip' phase.
Yo-mami in the meanwhile browses through her favorites menus on youtube, to decide what to make for lunch today. While she has fresh quinoa in stock, she knows mama is craving for something spicy. Ah, burrito it would be today! Of course a no-onion-garlic version for the m-i-l.
Mama let's out a loud belch as he sets down his smoothie glass which sets yo-mami off to google...home remedies for flatulence and bloating.
Enter, mami senior, mama's mom. "Yennacchu pa? Yeyppa chattam naalu veedu talli kekaradu!" (What happened son? Burping noise can be heard four houses afar!)
"So disgusting no amma? I am just googling a remedy for that." 
While mama looks on in panic, yo-mami hands him a glass,"Here drink this apple cider vinegar with water, you should be okay in no time."
Yo-mami's face is scrunched over her phone as she browses light-on-the-stomach recipes for lunch.
Mami Sr drones,"Ido parupesama innikku chuda, chuda zeera rasam pannu. Adu kudda perungayum potta mor sadam, ellam seria poyidum." (Look here, today simply make piping hot cumin rasam with asaefoetida doused buttermilk and rice, everything will be alright) 
Mama's face lights up and yo-mami concedes, "Seri8 amma, that is a good idea. But first, he needs to get off the sofa and start moving around, half the gas problem is because of his sedentary lifestyle," she declares quoting one of the helpful forwards she read just today morning.
"Okay ma...I'll go to the xerox shop with the pen drive to take printouts of the ticket bookings of our upcoming Ladakh trip," says mama as he reluctantly vacates the couch.
"Aiyyo! Who takes printouts? Just save them as pdf's on your phone."
"But now come here first, amma you too...I am video-calling our little one."
The chat begins with the customary enquiries about the time difference, temperature and lamenting how underfed their darling looks. The two women, alternately offer advice and tips to the novice daughter studying overseas (obvi east coast US!). She receives tips on OPOS cooking from amma, taking oil bath twice a week from paati and checking bank balance regularly from appa.
Yo-mami ends the chat, looks at the time, quickly calculates the time difference and starts off on the next chat to the son working in the west coast (you know where) while making lunch. She makes subtle enquiries to inveigle any nuggets of information on his future plans viz. wedding plans, that yield nothing better than, “Amma for the nth time, there is no news! Now stop bothering me and tell me how to make vatta-koyumbu from this Grand Sweets mix you sent.”
Next on her agenda is a weekend Madhubani workshop. Draped in her raw silk saree with ikkat blouse, large bindi, chunky jewelry, glares on the head and a branded tote on her arm, she drives to her class, ensuring the bluetooth-feature is enabled for hands-free calls.
Yo-mami's back home in time for lunch. Post lunch it is time to order groceries, gifts and what-nots online. Also it's the time to catch up on all the scores of messages on FB and Whatsaapp. Twitter is her new frontier and Instagram her bestie. Snapchat is something looming on the horizon that she hasn’t made up her mind about, besides her 64 GB phone data space is running a little tight. 
A ping from the food delivery app informs her of a one-day-only pizza BOGO offer. Great! So that sorts out her dinner and next day’s lunch while mama could have some light soup tonight. On the other hand, it nullifies her mindful-eating regimen, hmm, she must remember to mindfully savor each bite of the pizza.
It’s evening. Yo-mami dons her tasteful pastel pallazo-kurta, ready to attend the screening of Hamlet at the theater. Mama is dragged out as well, with offers of unmissable cold-coffee and multigrain cucumber and cheese sandwiches at the theater, which he despises. Oh well, at least it would be dark and the A.C would be pleasant, mama concedes.
They are back home and mami sr is setting up the table with the pizza box and a large casserole of creamy thayir sadam9  tempered with mustard seeds, finely chopped green chillies, ginger, curry leaves and garnished with pomegranate - something which even yo-mami cannot resist. Especially along with her special olive oil aavakaya pickle! 
The sandwiches at the theatre are sitting heavily in yo-mami’s tummy. Just a scoopful, she promises herself after her third scoop, relegating the pizza to the refrigerator.
Ahh, nothing like thayir sadam, is there?
Maybe, all this is like old wine....ahem...arishtham in a new bottle!


Glossary of Tamil words used:

mami: a respectful address used for any Tamilian lady (typically TamBrahm) acquaintance, something like the ubiquitous Auntyji though it literally translates to mother's bro's (mama's) wife, mami.

1 samarthiyam – capability, efficiency
2 virundhu - feast
3 vambu - gossip
4 amma - mother
5 paati - grandmother
6 pandigai - festival
7 pirandanal - star (nakshatram) birthday
seri - alright, okay
9 thayir sadam - curd rice
arishtam - Ayurvedic health tonic (may or may not contain alcohol) Fermentation of herbs in order to release active ingredients, generates alcohol in these preparations.

Read more from,

 The Mami Saga:

1) Common-place Curd Rice

2) Kaapi-ready

3) Of Dangling Drumsticks, Wily Vadus and more

4) Idli Seria Vanduda?

5) Mamievolution

6) Buzz Fuss

Copyright © 2019 KALA RAVI