Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Diwali eve

Even though Diwali is a big festival, most schools and workplaces in southern India are closed only for 2 days. Therefore, the morning before Diwali is when the rest of the family come in, which was the case this time around too.

My aunt and uncle were arriving from Coimbatore by train and my dad was to go and pick them up from the station at 6 am in the morning. And I went along too! I haven’t seen big crowds in the States except during Christmas in Manhattan. To take in the sight of people of all ages and from different parts of the country either coming in or leaving the city, presumably many of them with the purpose of visiting their families for the festival, was something I was really looking forward to. Also there’s just something inherently nice about receiving your family members and being received by family members when you come in from a different place, no matter how close or far away they are coming from. In all the years I’ve spent in Chennai, we’ve usually gone to the station with the purpose of either boarding a train or deboarding from it or in rare cases, accompanying my parents when picking up or dropping off family members. But this was the first time, I went also as a visitor to the station, and what I saw and felt there will hopefully be the subject of a blog in the future. I don’t want to get sidetracked too much here.

By mid afternoon, the rest of our family began to trickle in and by 4 pm, everybody was at home, chatting and making general inquiries about each others’ lives. And then, it was time for snacks and filter coffffeeeee!! Traditionally, a number of fried snacks such as vada, bajjis are made on the morning of Diwali. However, many years ago, our family decided that there were too many varieties of snacks being consumed on the morning of Diwali and thus it became difficult to savor and enjoy them all at the same time. And so, bajji (all different kinds, potato, onion, raw banana), which is a family favorite was given the Diwali-Eve slot. This continued for many years until this year while fantasizing about Diwali at home, I realized that I didn’t like bajji as much as I did other items like aloo-bonda or sabudana vada. And therefore, I proposed to replace bajji with sabudana vada (savory snack) and nei appam( sweet snack). The proposal was accepted immediately (perks of flying 9000 miles to be home, haha! ).

Once we had all eaten to our heart’s content, we had the entire evening ahead of us to have fun! 10-15 years ago, we’d all get dressed up immediately after snacks and light diyas ( Indian lamps made of clay) and burst fire crackers. But, ever since we became aware of all the excessive pollution due to the firecrackers, we’ve stopped bursting them for the last 8-10 years. As a family we’ve often ended up just passing time by chatting or watching TV and more recently engrossed in our mobile phones. But this time around, I decided to take home a board game, ‘Sequence’ from the States (although I am told this is available in India too). After coming to Chicago, I was introduced to quite a number of board games, some tend to be very intense and long games and some are casual, quick ones that are fit for a family gathering and Sequence is definitely one such casual game.

After a brief explanation of the game, everyone agreed to try it out and soon enough, 9 of us were playing the game and my family absolutely loved it. There was a lot of banter, humor and pulling of legs that went on during the game which made it all the more enjoyable. After a couple of games of sequence, we also played the family favorite card game, ‘Ass’. Ass is a card game with simple rules and yet, involves quite a bit of memory and strategy and a combination of these can nullify the initial luck factor involved when dealing the cards. And the game is a lot of fun when played in groups of 8-10 people with just one deck of cards.

Around 5:15 pm, patti started to get a little fidgety because it is expected that by 6 pm, everyone in the house, is dressed and a small prayer is made to God and diyas are lit inside and outside the house. And here we were still playing and having fun. After about 15 mins of persistent efforts from her side, one by one everyone got up and proceeded to dress up in Indian ethnic wear. Finally after a good amount of hustle, everyone assembled in the living room for the mandatory photograph session and diya lighting around the home. Amma asked me to wear a saree and in the short span of 15-20 mins, I fumbled with the help of amma and my aunts to get it on and the end result was a very poorly draped saree. Oh no!!! I have since resolved to make sure I practice the art of draping a saree! Hopefully, the next time is going to be better, sigh! After the photo session was over, I quickly got rid of my saree and changed to another set of new clothes that my cousin and I had shopped for together the previous morning! I loved it when we were both dressed in a matching set of tops and jeans!

And finally, it was dinner time. Yet again, traditions continue to dictate some of the items on the menu. In our family, potato curry and onion-sambhar have always been made for dinner on Diwali-eve and this year was no exception. Food has always been one of the most important aspects of Indian festivals. Every festival has its own delicacies (both sweet and savory) associated with it and over time convenience has led to some modifications and changes but by and large a good percentage of these practices have continued to be preserved in the family and I’m grateful for that. Many of these are also simply dictated by what we want to eat. For instance, Diwali generally coincides with the new moon (amavasya), and for reasons that I will avoid getting into, most of older people in our community do not eat onions on a new moon day. But, someone in the family decided that they must absolutely and at any cost eat onion-sambhar and onion bajji during Diwali and thus began the tradition of eating them on Diwali-eve so that it didn’t clash with the new moon and everyone was appeased! Ideas such as not eating onions on certain days of the month are dwindling and have no relevance today for me and most people of my generation, yet the idea of staggering all the delicacies over the two-three days of any festival is definitely sensible so that we don’t have to stuff ourselves with everything on the same day. Makes it all the more exciting and enjoyable!

After dinner, there’s usually one last thing remaining to be done before retiring to bed. All of us have to bring out our new clothes for Diwali and place it in a designated spot. My patti will then stack them all up in the correct order starting from the oldest person’s at the bottom to the youngest one’s at the top in the prayer room and it will be handed out to us on the morning of Diwali after a small poojai (prayer). But more on that later. It’s bed time but we all decided to play one more round of games and finally around 11 pm, patti and appa (both of them being the epitome of discipline!! ) , came in and ordered us all to bed immediately. Everyone obliged knowing very well that we would be woken up at 4 am in the morning! Sounds crazy right? 4 am? That’s our family, and all about that and more in the next episode!

To be continued…..

Overview and Diwali preparations

I’ve heard people often say, “Every day is a festival, every day is a celebration”. While there’s a ring of truth to it and it goes without saying that we must all be happy and thankful for every day of our lives, the reality is a teeny bit different.  Most of us have a routine that we more or less adhere to and commitments in schools and colleges, at home and at workplaces mean that every once in a while we end up disliking the monotony in our lives; and we also don’t get to spend time with our family and friends as much as we might like to. And thus, festivals are those special days every year when there’s an opportunity to cook, eat, play, sleep and pray together with our family.

As a kid, I grew up for the most part in Chennai and Vadodara and lived with my mother (henceforth referred to as amma) and my paternal grandmother (paati) whereas my dad (appa) worked in power projects and construction projects across India and was constantly shifting base. Come what may, appa always made it a point to be home with us for Diwali. And therefore, in my mind and perhaps many other Indians, Diwali has been the “biggest” festival in a calendar year.

When I moved out of Chennai for undergraduate studies, I made it a point in my first 3 years to come home for a few days even while being in the midst of the semester so that I could spend Diwali with my family. But in the next two years of undergrad and since moving to Chicago in 2017, I had not been with my parents for Diwali. 2019 would have been the 5th Diwali away from home and as soon as that thought struck me, I decided to fly home from the States to Chennai in the middle of the term, albeit just for 1 week so I could be at home. All I intend for this blog post to be is to summarize those 2 days of Diwali at home and how it was the perfect Diwali I could have asked for! So much for the introduction!

The feeling of “ghar-waali Diwali” (roughly translated as a homely Diwali) has resonated with so many Indians. This small segment of an ad by Maruti Suzuki that came out a few years ago remains one of my favorite Diwali ads.

The week preceding Diwali

It was not just exciting for me but also for my parents, grandmother, and uncles and aunts too, that I was coming home for Diwali. My parents were prompt to invite a whole bunch of people including uncles, aunts, and cousins to our home to spend the Diwali together and being the amazing hosts that they always are, made elaborate plans for sweets, snacks, and meals, all prepared at home, for the 2 days. All other family members were also going to bring in sweets and snacks to share with everyone. Bakshanams (traditional south Indian snacks) like kai murukku, thenkuzhal, mixture, sweets like ukkarai (a sweet made only once a year during Diwali) and godumai halwa (wheat halwa) were made in huge quantities.

The other most exciting aspect of the preceding week is shopping for new clothes! All this while, my parents have bought me new clothes on several occasions but shopping for Diwali is the most fun among them all! And this time around too, we went shopping the day I landed in Chennai, haha! But more importantly and with a hint of bragging here, since I am now earning a salary as a PhD student, I wanted to get amma and appa new clothes for this year’s festival and so, a new saree for amma and a new kurta set for appa was also added to the shopping list!

To be continued…..

Musings in a new city

Posted: September 7, 2017 in India, Travel, USA

It’s just been a month since I arrived in the US, Chicago to be more specific. Having lived and studied in different cities in India, I thought that it was going to be fairly easy getting used to a new place, but my experiences in the past one month have made me realise how wrong I was.

Everything is different here, right from shopping for groceries to using the public transport, some easier than it was back in India and some difficult. For instance, grocery shopping here is a big pain, for the simple reason that there are at the very least a dozen choices for a single product, so much so that even deciding on the kind of milk that you want to buy is a challenge! There are at least 5  brands, each with 4 different percentages of fat content and then choosing between organic or regular milk! Phew, that’s a lot to decide upon. And, you cannot buy milk in quantities less than 0.5 gallons (that’s ~ 1.9 litres) :O . Perhaps these choices exist in the Indian market too and I just remained blissfully ignorant!

Despite being confused and surrounded by everything new, I still felt a certain degree of comfort in a new place as a result of having met some wonderful people who made life easier. For instance, I met an elderly couple during an outing organised for international students to the Botanical gardens. They were there as participating guests and volunteers for the same event. They took the effort to strike a conversation with me and I learned that they loved travelling to India! They have already been to India (southern India, in particular) twice and are planning another trip later this year. During the short conversation, I was invited to their house for a High Tea. Subsequently, when I went to their home on a weekend, I found that they remembered that I was a vegetarian and went to the extent of ensuring that all the food that they prepared was vegetarian. Without realising it, I spent 3 hours in their company talking about Indian and US politics, spirituality, British films and theatre, novels and so much more.

During the past month, I also met students from various countries across the world – China, Korea, Indonesia, France, Gambia, our very own Pakistan and Bangladesh and many more. Apart from meeting people from such diverse backgrounds and exchanging cultural ideas, talking to them about some of the daily issues was a much-needed reassurance that many others were facing the same challenges, confusion and the excitement that I was.

I realised that for all the inadequacies that we Indians perceive in our country, it is impossible for us to live in a new country without the thought of India coming up in our heads every now and then. This was evident in the tiny packets of happiness associated with day to day activities such as talking in Hindi to a fellow Indian, going to the Indian grocery shop and buying a jar of Bournvita or even getting together in a small group to cook Indian food and play Antakshari!

One month here, in Chicago, went by quicker than I imagined and all this time, I wasn’t even doing anything closely related to academics! I can only imagine how time is going to fly once classes start and my research gets underway. I hope to keep the blog updated regularly with new experiences, travel diaries and much more.




PS : Yes, the photo of the Chicago river that you see was clicked by me!  😉