Friday, June 23, 2006


It's my 53rd -- the same number as my birth year. Weird, isn't it? I never thought I'd make it to 40 never mind beyond fifty! Amazing.

Well, the main event of the day was taking my Mum to the hospital to get her stitches removed. The hero of the day (and of the surgery) was my cousin Khi, who made the appointment, arrived at our house with her driver and her Hyundai at 1.30 to collect Mum, Mum's day-girl attendant and moi. Apollo Hospital is an extraordinary place, a cross between a railway station, a 3-star hotel and an asylum -- there are crowds of crazed people milling about and noise but ... the floors are clean and the place functions, despite all. We had only a ten minute wait, and then another ten minutes before Mum was out again.

She wore a sari for the appointment, the first time in two months and looked fresh in her crisp cotton burnt-orange ensemble. She was tense all the way, until we had arrived and she saw that there were wheelchairs right at the entrance to the hospital, with young attendants always on the hop to transport new arrivals away. She had no fear of the procedure, having had enough surgeries to know that this is the least of the problems. When she was done, the young doctor attending to her told us that the wound had healed well -- it was a small incision, a key-hole -- and that she needn't return for a month. So we went home feeling a great sense of accomplishment. She wanted only to lie down, and of course all movement is slow and painful but ... it's not the pain that wracked her for two months before the surgery, so she's very grateful.

And moi? Well, for some years now, I've been following an idea that no-one else is interested in, of not taking birdies very seriously. I mean, sure: I'm thrilled to acknowledge another anniversary of my existence! But I don't mind or care very much if no-one else is, or if it's forgotten. I'm glad for what there is in the way of good wishes and gifties -- I got a great one, this time in spite of my efforts to fend it off when it was suggested to me earlier: a new cellphone which all but brushes my teeth for me! I tried to resist it, saying I had JUST bought a new phone, like three months ago, the day of my departure to the US (because my previous instrument was a terminal case and it is precisely while arriving/departing on journeys that one wants one's instruments of communication to wurk!) and though it was the India's Best model -- i.e., super cheap -- it worked very well and -- and --

What can I say? It's VERY NICE to have a cutting edge model -- oh, of course NOT the fanciest, most expensivest one! -- which is yet within the range of mere mortals, with a wee camera and a radio and COLOUR ...

So yes, there was that, and there was much cake too -- one baked by my sister G, who alas was not in Madras for the birdy, but left for Bombay early in the morning and another sent by M, a lusciously chocolatey one, fresh from the Chola Sheraton! And flowers from my sister S, all the way from the US (of course the flowers themselves are local) -- pink roses and cream-white orchids -- and good wishes from various friendly corners of my world, including, most thrillingly, from VERONA in Italy! Where an intrepid friend/nephew Sumant is currently enjoying the staging of Midsummer Night's Dream for which he created a fabulous set.

At night Mum, my brother-in-law GCD and my niece M and I had a pleasant dinner downstairs, of aloo-ka-paratha and cake and red wine (a very smooth and likeable Merlot). MaiTai, my little niece-let was buzzing about industriously, and Mum's night-nurse, her cook and the upstairs cook were all having a small get-together of their own, watching the downstairs TV and eating their cake.

It was good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Elsewhere once more

It's been awhile ...

And I'm no longer in the same sector of the galaxy as the dandelion featured in the picture. I got back to Delhi earlier than planned and am currently in Madras, having flown in on Sunday the 18th. My mother had surgery to fix the terrible back-pain she's had for the past couple of months and though I'm no Florence Nightingale, there was a general feeling that it would be good if I could be here while she's recovering. So here I am. And she is recovering. Every time there's a medical episode in the family, we're all reminded of the fragility of our lives and the complex web of chance that dictates so many of the most crucial decisions we take.

In this case, for instance, my mother would probably not have had the surgery if my cousin Khi hadn't visited her just as a young doctor was leaving the house, having paid a visit which was part-professional, part-friendly. He was upset enough from seeing Mum in pain that he talked to Khi, a complete stranger, about getting a second opinion from her orthopedic surgeon. My cousin had been trying to suggest this course of action for some time, but the conversation with the doctor at the gate gave her the confidence to go ahead and call her surgeon -- who just happened to be in the neighbourhood and thus in a position to stop by for an impromptu house-call. It all just fell into place -- and a week later Mum had her surgery. She's 87 and so of course the recovery is going to take a while but: the wound has healed well and though she says there's still a lot of pain whenever she gets up from a reclining position or stands on her feet, the fact is, she can now walk using her walker and before she could not.

My main contribution here is to be encouraging and companionable. She has two young women who take care of her physical needs, one for the day and one for the night, and also a live-in cook. My sister G and her family live upstairs and are always available for help and company too. But there's no real limit to how many people can be on hand to cheer her along, or to eat her meals with her so ... well ... here I am. Doing that.

I expect to be back in Delhirium on the 28th.

Meanwhile, I've been reading at a furious pace -- on the aircraft I had a volume of McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of ASTONISHING STORIES edited by Michael Chabon to keep me entertained and the moment I landed (or thereabouts) I plunged straight into both volumes of Ruth Reichl's highly entertaining food-centric memoirs, TENDER AT THE BONE and COMFORT ME WITH APPLES. She writes such extraordinarily vivid descriptions of flavours and textures that I have been putting on weight just reading about all the food she's eaten in the course of her highly active, productive and well-nourished life. I am told there's a third volume but I'll probably need to go out for a quick jog before I start on that one! I wish I could understand how food writers and professional cooks avoid looking like blimps but I suppose they burn off their calories with the sheer intensity of their devotion to food.

Reading books like this reminds me of an odd truth about myself: though I do sincerely enjoy eating, I'm not in any real sense, a connoisseur (-euse?). The reason is simple: my taste-buds are not capable of making fine distinctions, no doubt because I have a meagre sense of smell. I cannot, for instance, make out the difference between types of meat -- not unless it's really extreme, say ham versus beef steak or chicken and shrimp. But I don't notice the difference between mutton and beef (for instance) and it always amazes me when people know at once when they're eating one or the other. I used to think people who could take one mouthful of curry and say: "not enough ginger!" in the same way that I might say "not enough salt!" -- were just play-acting. All I can manage is the knowledge that something is curiously pallid or else that it's alive with flavour, without ever being able to identify what's missing or over-used.

I've improved slightly over the years; it's got something to do with recognizing that cooking is like painting, but with a palette of tastes and aromas, rather than colours. I realize that good cooks REALLY CAN tell when there's a pinch of rosemary missing from a stew and I can, just at the outer periphery of sensation, understand what it adds in the way of dimension to a dish. But when I read a book like this, written by someone who lives in a world dominated by virtual Himalayas of taste, flavour, texture and fragrance I can only stand back and applaud. And drool a little.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Weather Update

This cartoon was drawn about three weeks ago -- and at that time, temperatures were lurking in the lower brrrrrrs -- but believe, even now, for some of us tropical flowers it's not exactly summer. I don't know about Suki, but I am wearing, at this moment, aside from underwear: a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved tee, a camisole under the tee, tights and -- as a surprise, because I dressed in a hurry and didn't pay close attention to what I was doing -- a pair of cotton pajamas between the tights and the jeans!! You can see that the weather has had an effect on my attention centres. So -- THREE layers of legwear and TWO layers of upperwear -- and IT'S SUMMER!!!! Oh -- and socks with closed, water-proof shoes with warm lining.

Needless to say, everyone else in VT is wearing one layer or less (those who are wearing less are generally children. Or else very short adults). Sz routinely wears no shoes -- but she does that in all weather conditions so I have told myself that she has superior circulation and her feet apparently don't NEED the same kind of temperature control that mine do. Sometimes my feet get so cold I begin to understand what it must be like to be a reptile -- i.e., a creature that actually CANNOT heat itself up without external aids. Maybe I am partially cold-blooded? Sort of like a mermaid, but a land-model only, and with no scales?

Well. Anyway. It's all due to end. Tomorrow ... I leave for warmer climes, i.e., sunny BOSTON. And then Pennsylvania. *sigh* I'll be able to sing mournful songs about missing the green, green (c)hills of VT!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Eau de Joy

That title is NOT about a variety of perfume. It is supposed to be pronounced OH THE JOY and is a reference so obscure that I can't bring myself to mention it (except in brackets. Here it is: Many eons ago, when my niece M was a young thing of 17 and had recently returned from Australia, she had with her a cassette filled with cheery Aussie songs. On some occasion, when she, I and my sister G were all stuck in a car, in Madras's Pondy Bazaar, and M was in a towering bad mood, the three of us were all made to suffer a continuous loop of Aussie songs, in the sweltering heat -- and the one we all remember from that time was some ghastly thing with the refrain "Oh the Joy ..." in a powerful kangaroo accent)(so -- got it? OH THE JOY refers to something BEASTLY UNPLEASANT which is also idiotically funny).

Anyway, so here's the thing: I took a written test to get a Learner's Licence to drive -- and FLUNKED. Aarggh. Aargh. Guh-fooey. YUCK. And so on. This is NOT the Driver's Licence Test which most people fail at least once -- this is just the every-dumb-twit-can-do-it test for merely getting a LEARNER's PERMIT and I was assured that it was so simple, I could do it with my eyes closed. Well ... I couldn't. It is especially annoyingirritating because poor Sz (this is to distinguish her from St, my co-host in Vermont) had to detour from her son's piano lesson to get me to the location of the DMV (Dept of Motor Vehicles -- and I probably don't need to add that it is HALF AN HOUR away, in the direction of the piano lesson, but still NOT actually next door to it) where I could take the test and wait while I flubbed out. It is somehow immeasurably worse to tank at something if it means that another person is going to have drive me out to that location YET AGAIN next week. And she was supremely kind and unbothered by it! There ARE saints amongst us.

I have kicked myself so thoroughly, I am feeling a-glow with masochism.

And because I am helplessly inclined to look for reasons-to-be-grateful (I'm convinced it's got something to do with neuro-chemicals. I believe I have a chemical mix in my brain that ensures a sunny disposition REGARDLESS of my actual circumstances. This is not really a good thing, though it sounds like it might be. It means that even in the ultimate hell of the Inferno, I would be saying something like: well, it could be worse -- I could be in a better place but living in terror of being HERE!) I've decided that it's really for the best coz ... ummm ... most things come so easily to me that I don't value them. In this case, for instance, I glanced at the questions and thought, Ooo! I can DO this! Whereas now, on account of this ignominiosity the next time around I'm going to be crazy with anxiety!!

Right. And now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to that nice warm whip ...