Reminiscing an older time – the Extended Family Meal

The family meal, occasioned by get-togethers to celebrate the many birthdays, anniversaries and what-have-yous of an extended family, was a huge ritual by itself in our house.  By extended family I mean my maternal side of the family with three uncles and three aunts, their spouses and the dozen children between them. For some reason that I could not explain in my childhood, the paternal side of the family rarely visited us and even when they did visit they stayed a few hours and they never visited en-masse.


My mother was the oldest daughter and the second child among seven children, probably it is because of this that more often than not it was our house that was the venue of the family get-together. A number of my aunts had also spent some brief couple of years of their pre-married life at our house, my maternal grandfather had died early  so it was natural for them to want to come back to our house whenever they wanted to meet their side of the family.


Invariably such get-togethers would be on a Sunday or a general holiday, most of the adult members working on other days of the week. All of my aunts are teachers, and homemakers, holding double jobs so to speak. Why on the only holiday they had they would choose to spend slaving away at the kitchen was beyond me, but this they did with wholehearted dedication. The meal was the highlight of the get-together and neither expense or labour was to be spared in the preparation of this meal.


Ours was a typical Assamese family of those times with gender boundaries well drawn. The men would buy the groceries and that sort of heavy lifting while the women would cook.


On the morning of the meal my mother’s two sisters would show up at around 9:30 or 10, ready and eager to follow the instructions of my mother, the head Chef. By then the maid who would have arrived at around seven in the morning would have finished cleaning and gutting the fish cutting it into neat slices. The kadai with mustard oil would splutter with the fat and water from the frying fish, my aunts expertly scooping the pieces out of the oil when they were just done. The small fish had also been gutted and cleaned, but those would be fried just before the eating to give the crunch. Meanwhile one of the aunts would start frying the slices of onions that had been neatly cut by the maid and start putting masalas in it for the Masor Jhol, while on another side the Masor tenga would be made, sometimes with boiled potato pieces and tomatoes in it. Pas phoran  jar would be close at hand for the tadka. The putting together of the dish would always be done by my mother, the right amount of masalas salt etc. etc. and she would be the one directing the entire operation.


In an hour or two, around noon my Uncles and their wives would arrive holding large casseroles. One would hold chicken, another prawns, and maybe a dish of matar paneer. Paneer was a relatively new entry into our household, but once it came it stayed and gained a very prominent place in our food necessitated by me and my brother having turned devout vegetarians.


While all this was going on me and my cousins would be given tasks like cutting up the salad, or the nembu tenga (lemon) and green chillies and decorating them on a salad dish.


At around 1 pm the largest cooker we possessed would go onto the stove with rice, and very soon the meal would be ready. My uncles and my father would eat first, with the women serving the food. Paneer/ fish fry/ masala fish/ sour fish curry/ chicken curry/ pulav/ prawns/ paneer/ and maybe a few slices of fried brinjal and Potol.


How could such tiny men (my uncles were all 5’7” or less) eat so much, or for that matter, how could the rest of us eat so much I wonder now. Today when I am cooking if I manage to cook more than a couple of dishes for a meal I consider that a feast.


Next came the turn of the youngsters, and then finally the women ate, leisurely and enjoying each other’s company and gossip while the men had already eaten their Tamul-paan and had found various beds and divans to lie down and digest the huge meal they had just eaten.


I hardly remember any of the women sleeping though, they had much to catch up on. And anyway by the time they had eaten, cleaned the kitchen and seen to the dishes it was time for the afternoon tea. Most of the men had woken up and ready at 4:30-5 for afternoon tea and the delicious rasmalai that someone would have brought over.


A few rounds of tea and slowly one by one my family would leave, to regroup again in the future at yet another occasion to cook and to eat. That is all we knew to do, and that is what we did again and again. Maybe that is what being a family meant to us, maybe that was our way of expressing the love that none of us had the gift of language to express.


Singapore and Malaysia family winter travel

This trip certainly felt very different from our earlier ones, Noyonika is now 12 and a half and has started seeing and appreciating the world in different ways. We had gone to London last year with her, but that trip was all about her being pampered by her Aunt. This time she was travelling with her parents, exposed to all possible hazards such as walking for 7-8 hrs a day to see and do stuff/ eating whatever local food was available and staying in little airbnb rooms where having a bath meant washing your body parts one after the other the bathroom being so tiny you couldn’t possible get the whole of you in at one go.

Sometimes I feel sorry for her, but only sometimes. Other times I feel happy she is really getting to be a traveller, knowing and understanding other parts of the world and really and actually seeing how people live. Staying in fancy resorts does not achieve that! The one luxury we did have was mostly travelling by Grab taxi, since the Singapore MRT and public transport cost for 3 was about the same as getting a grab (sort of, ballpark). But when going from one city to another it was mostly intercity buses (nothing fancy, and mostly taken by locals). We also did a short ferry ride to get to Georgetown from this bus terminal called Butterworth, for the heck of it, and that was an experience too for Nika.

The food certainly was an experience for all of us. Poor Arun could not handle the intense fishy smell of most food in the hawker markets (not for the faint hearted), so he went for the desserts with a vengeance. The desserts are puzzling. Shaved ice with coconut milk, electric green noodles that looked like worms, cubes of gelatinous black stuff, gula melaka (palm sugar syrup), topped off with a durian paste – the local Cendol! Much loved by the locals and used to cool down the palate while gulping down some very yummy Laksa with myriad seafood floating in a large bowl. I do notice that milk and yogurt is not very common here, at least from what we could see. My favorite drink was bubble tea – matcha flavor!

I also understood why durian fruit is not allowed into hotels – that one bite gave us durian burps for the rest of the day.

Okay so eating was not the only activity we did during our trip. We did Singapore like folks on a mission – Universal (lucky to be there on Christmas day, with the fireworks and all), SEA world, Zoo, River and Night safaris, Jurong Bird Park, Botanical gardens, Garden by the Bay, Marina Bay sands, hawker markets, small local temples, brand gawking at Eon mall  – in fact we checked out the futuristic Jewel mall even after we checked into our return flight. Surprised ourselves with our energy.

Melaka City and Georgetown were interesting colonial towns with mix of Malay/Chinese heritage. Cool heritage buildings/ some very fantastic murals/ hip shops/ seaside feel/ and lots of walking. The hike up Penang hill was one of the highlights. Rest stops along the way filled with locals playing cards/ working out/ enjoying a cup of tea.

Langkawi felt more Thai than Malay – even the food felt different, though I cannot pin point how exactly. We stayed at a simply beach-side cottage, just an hour away by boat from the nearest island in Thailand. Arun loved the relaxing time at the beach after all the hectic walking and sightseeing we did the entire week.

Places in SE asia sometimes look and feel like Assam and NE India, and when i mention this Arun and Nika both get mad at me, but its true. There are a lot of familiar things, and its not just the flora and fauna. Its nice to see that its similar, yet different.

True this trip, like all trips I do, just leave me longing for more. There is still Borneo (Kota Kinabalu region, Sarawak archipelago), and the whole wildlife thing going on there that I just have to go to one day. Until then, Salamat Tinggal!







Managing your vital energy

One of the mistakes we do when we don’t understand the web and flow of energy within our bodies is to make the assumption that our bodies and minds should support us with 100% energy levels all the time and in all our activities. We forget that the vital energy we possess may sometimes web and flow and therefore we don’t remember to manage this vital energy in a way that it supports us in what we want to do.

Some of us do this in a non-intentional way, i.e. we are doing it but we don’t realise that we are doing it.

There are many ways to tap into vital energy reserves when it seems to be ebbing and you need it.

Have you noticed that when you are in a meeting and your energy is flagging it helps if you get up and walk about? That’s physical energy helping in reviving the vital.

When you just do not have the will to go for that workout but you do it because you can brag to your workout buddies?

Right now it is the end of the work day for me. I am tired and my contact lenses are troubling me no end. Rather than force myself to read that tough technical document, I am just skimming the news. And listening to some relaxation music on youtube. Rather than beat myself up over being productive the whole time at work, I do stuff that is “frivolous” .. just so that I feel relaxed and when I read the technical document later in the evening my mind is not tired.

At the end of the day (literally) it’s all about managing your mind and energy!!



Thoughts on a random workday – the importance of knowing what to do when bored

“Your relationship with work has always been turbulent” was my husband’s observation a few days back, and that is absolutely true. I have had a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship when it comes to work, and I figured now is as good a time as any to think back on why.

The crux of it would be lack of patience – with people/ processes/ products situations. I wanted things to happen today/ no now. Including my promotions – they had to happen at the pace of the best performer in office while I would be actually performing at half that person’s. The real problem now that I think about it is – I wanted something to be happenning around me (or to me) all the time. Which is why I changed 4 jobs in the last ten years I guess.

The problem with this attitude is that things don’t happen around you all the time. At work, as at life in general, there will be happenning times and there will be dreadfully boring times.

How to keep yourself occupied during those awfully boring times is actually what will determine your mental health (and those of your loved ones!).

Keeping yourself mentally challenged/ occupied/ engaged when there are no external stimuli (some bit of creativity needed here) is a very very important life skill. If someone does not have the natural inclination for that he or she needs to be taught how to. If you, like me, were trained for the first 20 years of your life to do what you were told, you would be in an awful lot of trouble later on in life when there would not be anybody telling you what to do.

So start practicing being with yourself more and being satisfied with that!

Physical Literacy among children

Reading a paper(government circular rather) by the AP government to promote physical literacy among children.

Key thought: Physical literacy is not an extra-curricular activity, it should be part of the curriculum.

Goals: To make Physical Literacy an integral part of the Curriculum at School
level for multi-faceted development of all the children.
2. To provide opportunities to school children to experience physical activity
in a positive and supportive environment so as to promote lifelong
engagement in physical activity.
3. To create an inclusive environment in schools for promoting balanced
lifestyle, exercise, sleep and nutrition among all teachers and students.
4. To make aware and motivate the Head Masters, Teachers and other
stakeholders in the School eco-system to appreciate and implement
Physical Literacy programs in schools.
5. To collaborate with experts in the field, other Government Departments
in achieving the Physical Literacy goals and objectives.

Impressed by Naidu and his government!

GPS Sheikpet School visit – some observations

I went to meet the Headmaster of the Sheikpet GPS today – one of the 25 schools in the Sheikpet Mandal. We are planning to support the school through the Kriti Educational Program – the immediate need is of four teachers who can communicate in English.

Some interesting things we learnt/heard/discussed:

There are 350 schools in the Sheikpet Mandal, of which 25 are government schools. Look at the need and look at how much the government is meeting the need currently!

Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program has reached out to this school. Our Sports Program teachers are selecting kids for the trials this weekend.

Anganwadi/ pre-schooling is much needed to a) reduce the burden on the Class 1 teachers b) start early motor skills for the children c) provide some temporary day care for working parents.

Peak District – a ramble in the English countryside photo story

Chatsworth House – the Duke of Devonshires country house   

The well maintained gardens of the house.

The imposing grandeur  

A play at the village of Eyam, the villagers enacting the story of the bubonic plague in the village.

Churches around the countryside have cemeteries within their boundaries. Local residents final resting place.


Pretty house front at a village in Peak District.

Village pubs with locals and tourists dining side by side.  

Crossing a stream during a hike near the farmhouse where we stayed.

Yes the wildflowers are pretty as can be.


Stone walls separating sheep farms with stinging nettles growing by the side.

A view of the rolling hills and typical gray skies.


A long hike to the hill top.

Sheep grazing in the meadows.  


A lonely path by a ruined Norman castle.

A just reward at the end of a day’s hike. 


Tourism of a different kind in Belfast

Tripadvisor rated the black cab tour as one of the top things to do while in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Rightly so.

To say that we were totally unaware of the strife in Belfast would be incorrect as we had,  like most tourists who are first time visitors to the country, vaguely heard of the IRA and the bombings during the 80s. 

What we did not know until we did the tour was how strong the divide still was between the Catholics, who identified themselves as Irish, and the Protestants who identify themselves as part of Britain. We saw concrete walls metres thick that divide Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods. There were gates  that closed after seven in the evening making it impossible to cross over to the next neighbourhood. There were murals on houses idolising men who have pulled the trigger for one side or the other. 

Here are some images that say more than I can put in words. The first photograph is of a mural celebrating Stevie Top Gun – the poppies around him show the number of people he had killed during his lifetime, starting with his first murder at the age of 17.

The huge bonfire in the next photograph is to celebrate July 12th, the day William the conqueror landed in Ireland. This day is celebrated as orange day by the Protestants.

Below that is a photograph of the peace wall that British soldiers made to prevent violence. Or so they hoped. It lay a permanent mark of division among the communities.

And finally, houses close to the walls fencing their balconies to prevent stones and debris from the other side hitting them. A clear indication of the hatred that still brews.


A week in Paris: Life on Montmartre hill

A block down the Montmartre hill from the cute place in Paris we had booked was a little bakery. Every morning the owner was ready with a delightful assortment of goods. Buttery fluffy croissants, some of them chocolate-filled, quiches with mushroom and cheese and meat, fresh baguettes and lovely fruity tarts called out from the tiny window. This bakery was our first stop as we stepped out of the warmth of the house into the shades cast by the tall houses on either side of the Rue Lepic.

Montmartre hill in Paris was the centre of the artistic scene in the last century with artists and writers living on what was then part village. Right opposite our bed and breakfast was a well preserved wind-mill, now part of a private property. A couple of houses downhill was the house when Van Gogh worked. As we took one of the small cobbled streets during a long morning walk, we passed by posters describing the life of this passionate artist, who was  keen on continuously developing an improving his personal style, and so keen to have experiences that would refine that style. On top of the hill, close to the Sacre Couer, were the gardens dedicated to Renoir (he had lived and painted here). Nearby is the museum de Montmartre, which houses paintings by most of the painters that have lived and worked in the area.

The most famous place in Montmartre is of course at the bottom of the hill, near the Anvers station – The Moulin Rouge, with a red windmill at its entrance. Home of the cabaret and the French Can-Can the Moulin Rouge is the perfect place for an extravagant night out.

In the midst of all this hectic activity though the Hill still manages to have pockets of silence and quiet. Beyond the crowds that gather to watch the sunset from the Sacre Couer, away from the main stations of Anvers, Blanche and Barbes Rochecourt, are the small gardens and bylanes that criss-cross the hill. These tranquil spots are the places where artists, rich with muses from the interesting life around them, sat and painted.

Sit at one of the outdoor cafes in Montmartre, order a coffee and croissant, and watch the Bohemian Parisian life unfold before you.. there is no better place.

Why do I travel

I have asked myself many times,

Why do we travel? Why can we not stay still?

Are our wishes like those of the birds,

Those that travel across wide seas and beyond borders?

Do we  travel with our wishes, beating our wings and flying away in search of something?

The birds are looking for food and shelter.

What do we need?

Are we curious to know.

Do others live like us? Do they eat what we eat?

Do they live and love like we do?

Curious creatures we are, but beyond that too.

We are something more.

Because when we get up in the morning,

Don’t we open the door and look up first,

At the open sky outside?

And fly even if for a flitting second?

Translated from the original Assamese text as published by Shri Dinesh Sarma in his travelogue, The London Eye.

(with changes and thoughts of my own, similar yet different from the original author, my Dad).


The London Eye, travelogue by Dinesh Sarma


Dinesh Sarma and Bily Devi at a museum in London, 2013