Friday, February 3, 2017

The lost art of handwriting

It's hard not to notice how slowly we have transformed from writing using pen to typing using our keyboards and touchscreens. More and more texts are electronically typed. Rarely do we leave handwritten notes. The other day when i was jotting down quickly on a sticky note did i notice my handwriting in a long time. As a child, having a neat cursive handwriting used to be a norm. We tried hard and took days to perfect cursive writing. I remember when my grandmother used to take out old letters written to her by my grandfather in perfect cursive writing. The writing which i must say, perfectly legible handwriting, which i don't know if the millennials could ever write it. It looked like an art in itself. I was awed. I never mastered cursive writing, but i did write in a clean legible way.
On my last trip to India, I found a Cursive writing practice book for kids. I was at once taken back to my memories of tying to learn it and thought it will be wonderful for my child to get an idea that a thing like cursive writing did exist. I am not sure if schools in India still insist children to master cursive writing but i am pretty sure its virtually non-existent in the present day schools of United States. I have seen some of the worst handwriting's over the years. Doctors have been notorious of having completely illegible handwriting's. Those prescriptions scribbled by my family physician could only be decoded by my pharmacist. At times it was so worst that i had mark some hints to follow the dosage instructions. I remember a preschool teacher having a really difficult handwriting to understand. Once when visiting the bank, the teller's way of holding the pencil was weirdly different, but not uncommon, i have seen more and more people it hold it that way. I thought for a minute about all my preschool teachers, my parents, who have guided me countless times to hold the pencil in a proper manner. Also very common those days in India, was to purposefully trying to make a left-handed person write using the right hand, saying being left-handed will cause problems and inconvenience throughout your life. I myself used to write left handed only to be frowned upon and made to write in right hand. I don't know if i was a leftie, but being rightie was the best thing to do.
Unlike me, my daughter had a prominent hand very early on, she was rightie and there was no doubt. Her handwriting legible from the early years on. But wait will she ever get  a chance to learn the art of handwriting? Will she ever learn to write cursive? Its difficult to say, but nevertheless as a mother i must try. Now i cannot expect cursive handwriting classes at the corner of every street like in India, but i thought to give a try using that practice book that i brought.
Children give you the most honest opinions ever. Their thinking unpolluted and straight on point rather amuses me. She was surprised, that English alphabets she has learned till now looked so different in cursive writing, at times she needed me to tell her which alphabet it was. Soon she was interested in practice it, because she felt it was more like drawing than writing. I doubt if her teacher can decode if she ever wrote cursive. It may have no academic importance, but cursive was a way of life then. A time when handwritten notes and letters meant so much personal connection, than the countless texts, facebook and whatsapp messages we get these days. We are slowly forgetting an art taken over by an unavoidable interference of technology. Handwriting meant individuality, no one other than you can have the same type of handwriting. Though writing will stick around for the years to come but in limited amounts. Cursive writing is almost extinct, other than the memories of people who belonged to a different generation....Am i sounding too old here??

The Unwelcome Guest

Indian's take pride in serving their guests. "Athiti devo bhva" meaning guest's are equivalent to god , signifying utmost respect and care for the guests who are at your doorstep. The word "Athiti" itself meaning a guest or a person who has come as a surprise or someone visiting you without prior intimation. But hey! think again, i think these kinds of "Athiti" who show up at your doorstep without prior intimation or invitation are almost extinct. I personally don't like to barge into someone's home without them least expecting me. With cellphones around, at least a call or text prior the visit is the norm.
But things was different when i was growing up in Chennai. When guests were guests and didn't have make appointments to come see you. A time when there was less judging and more loving. We had friend's or family visiting us and depending on the time of the day, my mother or grandmother usually quickly patch something up for them to eat. They were welcomed and rarely they left without having tea or having lunch or dinner. I particularly remember my grandma cooking up hot pakoras and the orange colored Rava Kesari or Sooji Halwa, a sweet delicacy which she would make with such ease as with any other sweets and snacks she used to make. All served with piping hot tea. I was glad that we have guests so i get a chance to gobble this up. But its only now i realize those were memories in the making, the ones that would last a lifetime. It was not just about food, but the usually unexpected guests also brought with them some news as to why they suddenly happened to be at our place. The common ones being  they visiting some place nearby and happened to drop by. Sometimes some of the more close ones need some help or would be in some kind of distress. The grownups often had their talks while i was usually busy playing away. And then the guests came with invites. Yes before the era of evites, invitations usually were given by meeting in person. A good news to share "my son is getting married" or "a christening of our new born child" or even a housewarming. Happiness has a strange quality of doubling when its shared. We used to feel happy and brighten our days hearing something good from the guests.
My grandma always made something fresh even for the late afternoon visitors. The ease with which she would make and serve these and her tireless spirit still lives in my mind. It was a whole different time where there was so much joy in giving, Somehow i feel though we are so connected to the far off friends and family, this generation lacks the personal touch and warmth we shared with people. The differences  were lesser and human interactions and communications were better. Now with the modern lifestyle people look at guests with more of a discomfort to a rather leisurely Sunday evening which can whiled off watching TV or looking at the walls of the countless Facebook friends. Offering a cup of tea is more of chore than enjoying the pleasure of an actual conversation. We are absorbed in formalities that we forget the joys of simple living.
Ofcourse the ever busy lives of ours are partially to blame, but is life all about ourselves? The human connections are on the decline, having guests over is a liability to fulfill, a social norm. Though we are welcomed, the whole hearted simple loving welcome's are lost somewhere...

Image Source: Internet

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Parenting Experts

I always wonder what’s with a pregnant woman or a mother with a new born baby makes an expert out of people. Suddenly all these people even strangers at times; become your professional doctor and give you advice on parenting and motherhood. Free advice although widely available it becomes more common especially if you are pregnant or having a small baby. Becoming a mother no doubt was one the most joyous and overwhelming moment in my life. Suddenly you have this young tiny little being who so helpless who relies on you for survival.  Add to that the endless diapers changes, feeding, rocking, crying all this on a rapidly changing post-pregnancy hormone levels and very little sleep. As such adjusting to the new baby is difficult do we receive the free advice, which most of the times is of little help. I wonder instead of free advice people could give a free meal which could have helped more. But yes over these years I have heard all kinds of bizarre to some useful advices. I thought I should write this blog and dedicate it to all first time mommies who might just get overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
Hypothesis 1 - Eating chocolates, drinking coffee even taking folic acid supplements is going to make your baby dark.
Almost all Indian mothers want their baby to be fair nothing wrong in that. But we must also think child’s looks are mostly inherited from their parents, grandparents, siblings. Though eating too much sweets and caffeine is not advice during pregnancy moderate levels are acceptable. And for god’s sake maintaining good levels of iron is essential for a healthy pregnancy.
Hypothesis 2 – Crying baby is always a hungry baby
This by far is the most common conclusion. A baby can cry for several reasons, but it does not mean we run to feed them at each whine. No wonder this generation is struggling with overweight and obese children. A baby can cry for a change, overly tired or sleepy,
Hypothesis 3 –A crying baby is not normal
This was one of the most upsetting conclusions I got from some the people whom I am close with. The initial months of colic and bouts of crying. I had people ask me if she is normal.  Well I do appreciate their diagnostic skills to be far advanced to see such a thing when the pediatrician found everything was perfect.
Hypothesis 4 – Starting solids will stop crying
Triggered from the belief that all the crying is only for hunger, people especially I feel in India start solids even for month old babies. Which only drowns their appetite for the precious mother’s milk.     
Hypothesis 5- Wearing diapers for babies means moms are lazy
This gothic era belief is utter non sense. And this can be told to save some money by not having to buy diapers instead of giving any comfort to the child or mother. Everyone knows how well a baby can sleep through the night with diapers. And while travelling it is bliss with diapers. I just wonder how they did it without them.
Hypothesis 6 – Bottle feeding means moms have less breastmilk
Deciding whether to feed bottle or breastmilk is every mother’s personal choice. I do believe no one has a right to comment on it. People turn to each for several reasons. And no one is wrong. We just have to do what is right for mom and baby. I think both will do far better when they are happy with their choices.
Hypothesis 7 – Using pacifiers is a bad parenting choice.
Some children do not like the pacifier they know to self soothe with their own thumbs, while that is acceptable what is wrong with this. Some children are by nature less troublesome and easy to soothe. By personal experience it was a boon in those early days. I could get some sanity and luckily I didn’t have any trouble weaning her off when she reached the toddler years
Hypothesis 8 – Shampooing baby hair reduces brain power
One of the most hilarious of all advice. Still brings a smile but yes I did hear that you must not use shampoo as it causes to reduce memory or whatever. No I am sure if this is true by now everyone will be out of their mind!!
Hypothesis 9 – Force feeding is the only way to get picky eaters eat  
I wish I could do that with my overly picky eater. But it comes as no surprise to me as I used to be a terrific picky eater myself during my younger years and extremely lean. Proof is my old photos. Now things have taken a turn to other side and I have to diet to lose some pounds. I never remember my mother beat me force food to me. I turned out just as fine. I am sure it’s going to be the case with my little one too.
Hypothesis 10 – Co-sleeping will make the kids clingy and never become independent
Co-sleeping is a part of Indian culture, most families do by default. Though there is nothing wrong in putting kids to sleep in a separate room. I wonder what this has to do with independence. Eventually kids grow and leave the protection of mother’s care. So what’s wrong if we shed a little extra care when young. I do not believe it will harm them in the long run.

And many more such hypothesis we all must have come across. Many do not realize their assumptions are not helping in any ways. I myself try to advice less to all new mom’s and expecting mom’s unless asked for. These days almost everyone is well read and have a lot of access to materials and information on parenting. Unnecessary advice can only cause anxiety.  Over the years I have learnt something, some of the best advice I have got is from my friend’s having the similar aged kids, and some of their ideas have worked. Whereas the rest of the advice is best ignored. Parenting is in a sense a trial and error. If it works follow it, if it doesn’t try the next idea. But keep trying and eventually you will figure out what is best for you and your child. After all your children is a part of you and believe me no one knows better than mom. 

Snow Struck

 If seeing snow reminded you of the song "Yeh Haseen Wadiya" it wasnt all that pleasant for people in Atlanta who were surprised by a snow storm named leon which brought about 2 - 3 inches of snow. on what started to be a normal cold tuesday morning turned for the worse and changed the roads with serpentine array of cars gridlocked not able to move inches for hours. For some the day the didnt end and the ordeal continued to night and even next day morning. In a place where there is little or no snow for years, snow can crippling for the cars which is the lifeline of commute through the city. With no winter tires and no need of any kind of snow chains cars riding on roads on unexpected snow had caused numerous accident upto 1200 reported.

For the three years i have lived in Atlanta, luckily i have seen snow all three years. But never did i have to commute through the snowy or icy roads unlike this year. As such Atlanta's traffic is known to be bad especially during rush hours. Though there was 100% forcast of snow oast 1pm on 28th January. I assume the authorities had been lapse in making roads ready to prevent icing which is the big problem creating dangerous road conditions. To add to worries all schools, offices were open to business the usual time. And just when it started snowing everyone hit the road at about the same time. Then the gridlock started.  Cars can go less than half of its normal speed in these slippery roads. There numerous accidents emergency vehicles and tow trucks moving away the accident vehicles from the road. Never have i seen utter chaos like this. At times the car didnt move a inch for about half an hour. With nothing but a cell phone to call or browse i waited and waited like the rest to get to my daugter's school and pick her.
I remembered incidents like the rain in Mumbai with all people stuck and unable to make it to their home. When nature decides to strike its only then we realise we were never ready for this. after 4 hours of ordeal to cross just 8 miles i picked my daughter and tried to get home which took another hour. Everyone was tensed in my daughter's school which still had some children and their parents are not able to make it. Amidst the chaos i could see the smile my daughter had when she stepped out in the snow for the first time in her life. She loved it I loved it too. But would have loved it better if i was closer to the safety of home. When i reached home did i get the news one of coworker was still stuck in highway and had decided to abandon the car for the night as it was going no where and car is certainly not the place to spend a night in with below freezing tempretures. She found restaurants shutting down, then she decided to spend the night in between the aisles of grocery store did she found a another coworker who stays a couple of blocks away and decided to stay there till the chaos ended. Number people spend the nights in gas stations, grocery store aisles. Elementary and high schools were froced to have sleepovers because they know their parents cannot make it. Some people walked several miles to reach their destination. Other people helped the ones in need. the emergency personnel seemed to their best in the given circumstances. Finally the Mayor had to take responsibilty for what caused on the snow day in Atlanta.
The next day after snow day, as expected all the soft snow turned into slippery ice and below freezng tempreptures  didnt help to thaw the ice. It took one more day till the ice melted the most of it. By 31st everything was back to normal once again in the city. People in the northern and mid-western states perhaps cannot relate to this story here because they receive several inches of snow on a daily basis. But down south snow is a rare event, But with changing climatic conditions i do not believe snow is such a rarity. Well till the authorities get a grip on how to handle this situations much better, i know what to do when the next snow is forecast for Atlanta Georgia - stay at home.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why we do what we do?

Couple of days ago when i read through the status of some of my friends in Facebook, i came to know a fellow college mate had committed suicide. I was shocked and at the same time pondering what could have led him take such a decision. After all he was a young man with his whole life ahead. What makes people do things that aren't right. Or was it right for them? Were all their paths doomed and they were in a deadlock suffocating and deciding to end the pain. Do we have the right to end our lives? Are we winning over our problems by ending ourselves so that we have to suffer no more? I was thinking why do some people decide to take others life? Haven't we all read news of a people committing murder on their own loved ones. what happens to these people? They sure were normal individuals had normal lives. Then is it the hardships or some problems they encountered changed them and their response to it? Do all the people who commit suicide are in some form of depression? Why is it that some people inspite of worst sufferings in their life come out of it and make a way out and live life and even be successful. Are these people destined or do they make their destinies? What is the truth of this existence that we all have to come face to face and become victorious.
I have seen people (fighting cancer)  who will be having just few days left in their lives but still with all their pain and sedation with drugs still gleams hope that one day everything is going to be fine. Why didn't they decide to end it? There are people maimed after an accident, probably going to need support for the rest of their lives why didn't they decide to give up? why is it that some come out of bleak situations and turn their life around. Are they just lucky? Or do they have special blessings from god to change their life around. I feel myself as too insignificant to answer questions of this magnitude. These very questions that change meaning of life.
But i do believe "Mind" is the most powerful instrument in the hands of man. It neither is the brain nor is the heart. The soul, the conscious whatever term we give it. The Sanskrit verse goes"Ya dhrishti sa shrishti"  meaning what we visualize in our minds that is what we create. There cannot be anything more powerful in a human being than the power of minds. Bhagvad Gita states that controlling the free mind and bringing it to believe in God is the only way to free ourselves from this drudgery of never ending cycle of birth and death. That's the reason we often hear words and saying think positive. These aren't mere statements of motivation, subconsciously we do become what we think we are. Why is that some people respond to stress in a more positive manner where as some are just bogged down? It is the mind that changes the way we respond. Controlling the mind is the only way we control our lives. Which is easier said than done. But religion, philosophy and a good family support and friends makes most of us come out of the wretched time and live life in much more peaceful and positive manner. Hardwork, honesty helps us stay positive and in turn give positive vibes to our mind. As we are in a generation where Facebook friends outnumber the real friends. It is time we educate this generation the value of good relationships. Sometimes after a hard day all we need is a good hug or shoulder to cry on. When we let out pain we find purpose even in the bleakest moment of our lives. Confiding into someone whom we trust sure may not solve the problem but it can let go the burden of holding on to it and make us work towards a rational solution.
This life is a gift for us from god. We didn't ask for it and hence i do believe we never possess the right to end it. Getting impulsive and taking a wrong decision gives us no second chances.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Its that time of the year again when orange pumpkins light up the evening hours. Where everything in the nature bears a orange-ish  golden hue. Its that time of the year when nights get longer and weather gets cooler. There is a kind of aura that surrounds the entire surroundings that makes this holiday a real special one. Though offices and schools work normally unlike a other holiday’s, this festival has its own kind of special charm, but much less is known or discussed on the historical significance of this day. Atleast for someone not born and raised in this country, all I knew was this day the evil spirits come down to earth and people dress and decorate themselves and their homes to appease the dead souls. Part of which is correct. But as I delve deeper into the subject, I get to learn more about what Halloween actually is and why its celebrated and how it came to the United States and alas what we get to see now the modern, televised retail hyped version of the festival.
Halloween also known as "All Hallow's Eve" is the beginning Hallow-mas, a three day western christian celebration which consists of "All Hallow's Eve", "All Saints Day" and "All Soul's Day".
Hallowmas was a time to remember the dead, the saints and all christian faithful departed souls. Some what similar to our Keralite hindu custom to remember the dead ancestors and offer pitru darpanam on specific day's like the Karikida vavu. This is a western and kind of christian version of remembering the dead. Originally a celtic and Gaelic tradition of "Samhain" the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter or the darker days more christianised  as the celtics converted to christianity. It is beleived that it is the time of the year when the bridge between the dead and living thins and when the departed souls descend down to the earth.
In the Unites States originally brought by the scottish and irish immigrants Halloween is now officially the third holiday where consumer spending is high. 
People and kids dress themselves in a variety of costumes usually
scary and it is believed that if you dress this way the dead souls will not be able to recognize you. Home and shopping centers change the decor to match the season with carved pumpkins, fall leaf colored decorations. Legend has it that the Jack 'o' Latern which is the carved pumpkin with a light inside is the soul of Jack who was a stingy farmer who once tricked a devil upto a tree and placed a cross in the bark of the tree so that the devil could not climb down and he freed the devil on a condition that the devil will not claim his soul. God did not let his soul to heaven so it is believed that Jack has been roaming around in the earth with a lamp inside to guide his way.
Trick or Treating is another popular activity practiced by kids who go from home to home in their halloween costumes asking for treats and if the owner of the house denies him the treat, he warns to trick or do some mischief
on the owner or his property.Children love the Halloween season and plan in advance the kind of costume they will wear this year and for the trick or treat where their baskets are filled with colourful and sweet treats. There are also innumerable costume parties organised and haunted trips to spooky places planned on this day.
Over the recent years the American version of Halloween has gained so much popularity that even countries that traditionally did not celebrate Halloween are taking keen interest. It is almost mandatory for me to get my daughter a costume as all her friends at preschool were getting ready for a costume parade. Though the costume can be worn only once, it is a big excitement for litlle ones trying out new outfits and be the character they love. Apart from the scary witch,skeleton and other ghastly figures, girls are also dressed as their favorite fairy tale characters and boys with their favorite action heroes. There is something mystical about fear of the unknown that makes Halloween special. Not sure if the spirits are going to descend down, but i along with my daughter and her friends are sure going to go around Trick or treating. Happy Halloween.........booooooooo

Historical Information Credits - Wikipedia

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hyderabadi Haleem

I didn't know if i missed Hyderabad after staying there for a couple of years or rather i was wondering what was i missing the most in Hyderabad. But recently when i saw my online friends sending out Ramadan greetings to fellow brethren did i remember my days when i lived in Hyderabad. Ramadan/Ramazan was a month which fellow hyderabadi's not only spent in fasting and prayers, but also it was a food lovers paradise for feasting.

When we take the name of Hyderabad to anyone in India, immediately Hyderabadi Biryani comes to their mind. Hyderabadi Biryani is a popular delicacy throughout the world now. But personally i wouldnt say its my favorite Hyderabadi dish. Being an ardent Biryani lover, i know my tastes buds too well when it comes to my favorite food. But i rate this rare Hyderabadi delicacy even higher than the Biryani and its none other than the Hyderabadi Haleem. I state it rare as its  largely found during the holy month of Ramadan. Although some eateries claim to be providing Haleem all round the year, the charm of this delicacy is in that it is available only for a few days a year.

Haleem originally an Arabic dish brought to our country by the Nizam's has evolved over the years and now Hyderabadi Haleem is indigenous and one of a kind dish. I have heard that the Arab version of the haleem is sweet and it is still consumed by the arab diaspora in Hyderabad. But this delicacy is no where near sweet, it is savory, spiced and highly flavorful. Haleem is like a porridge made with goat meat, broken wheat, pulses, spices, mint, ghee (calorified butter) cooked over low flame for over 12 hours. The meat pulses and wheat is totally mashed and all you get to taste is the flavour of spices and ghee. Garnished with fried onions, cashews, mint and coriander leaves and with a dash of lemon juice sprinkled on top and having it takes you right to heaven. Its such a exotic food rich in taste and in calories as well. It is mainly to be consumed at the time of breaking the day long fast so as to give the body the deserving rise in energy.

In the first year of my stay in Hyderabad, my husband a die hard meat lover was the first to introduce me to this dish. I was first reluctant to taste this delicacy as personally i dislike mutton and the gooey texture and dull color didn't quite appeal to my senses. But anyhow i thought i will take a try after all people are standing in long serpentine ques to get this small bowl of mashed meat. And only after i ate the first morsel did i realize that appearances can be deceptive, this thing is nothing like it seems. After the second and third mouthful i was hooked to it. But i never could finish one small bowl full as its too heavy on the tummy, but very satiating. Its a one of a kind of the ultimate comfort food, just like i would say Mac and cheese for the Americans. You never realize it actually melted through your mouth to your stomach. After that most friday's during the Ramadan month we used to make it a ritual to eat haleem. There are several eateries claiming to provide the best haleem and every year there are competition as to which eatery takes the top spot in the haleem contest.  I have had opportunity to taste from some of these top eateries such as Shah ghouse, Pista house, Paradise and i used to be in a position to almost judge whose haleem tastes best. The last day of Ramadan is when the mad haleem rush takes place. People do anything to get that one bowl of haleem,becuase they know that tommorow is Eid and they have to bid adieu for another year. There is traffic congestion nearby these eateries and few people act as server's and get these haleem to our car without us actually have to face the line and buy one. This year i am missing all that mad haleem rush. And maybe after all i am missing all the good times that i have had in Hyderabad.