Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Diwali to Remember-2

We last had a child at home on Diwali in 2006, when the youngest son came home from boarding school for a few days. That Diwali was memorable for our stupidity- he came home with his return train ticket, which he promptly handed to me for safe-keeping. We both looked at it, and forgot about it. On the Sunday afternoon he was to leave, we reach the station around three in the afternoon, well in time for the four something Rajdhani, only to discover that on Sunday it has a different route and leaves at one in the afternoon. We recovered whatever cash we could, and then headed straight for the airport. The ticket was booked on the SRE's phone (no, he didn't get mad at us- he's very sweet when you're already dying of guilt and feeling like a complete moron, and not making any excuses whatsoever. Yes, with him you can plead guilty and get off free!) and a photo was required, which I happened to have in my purse. Luckily the son had his school ID card with him. We had to find a place to photocopy the SRE's credit card. The eldest daughter was phoned, and asked to receive him earlier than expected. And no, I did not tell my parents when we finally got home- I would never have heard the last of it if I had!
Before that, we had been in Gummidipoondi, with no kids able to visit us in 2004 and 2005. This year the youngest kid is resident in Kolkata, and so we all felt festive. We put flowers and alpanas (water colours, not our traditional geru and khadiya) in various places. These are largely things that I grew up doing, and have become part of Diwali in our house. The son would like to continue with them in his own adulthood (I do hope his wife likes the idea - she may have more interesting traditions of her own.)
Our son had invited a number of his hostel friends over for Diwali dinner. The only problem was that we didn't know how many were actually turning up- the possible range was from four to fourteen! I decided to make lots of rajmah- the excess freezes and keeps well. The maid made a lot of parathis, which aren't bad even if they aren't piping hot. I decided to make the rice and raita once the kids were actually here. We did our puja, an important part of which is the SRE's annual review. The kids tease him about this unmercifully, but miss it all the same, and have even insisted on the annual review over the phone.
A couple of little kids from the building wandered in and charmed us totally. A hitherto unknown neighbour came following his daughter, and we felt very festive. Our son was trying to direct his friends to our place- I finally took over the phone, instructed the cabbie, and got them on track. They'd been taken for a ride, alright, but one that was not too long.
The final headcount was seven youngsters, the SRE and I.
Chatting, eating, card games. Lots of noise, arguments, discussions of rules. Dinner is assembled and finally served. Two youngsters want to get back to the hostel, as they have the first period next morning. We drive down to the corner, but no cab is vacant. We come home and put down the spare mattresses so that everyone has a bed to sleep on.
The SRE had insisted on buying some crackers, though the son is no longer keen on them, especially noisy ones, as he sees how much dogs suffer because of the noise. All the budding lawyers were very conscious of the environment and there was so much noise and smoke all around that we didn't even light a ritual sparkler.
The kids carry on and we sleep. I wake up the ones who have to go to college, while the rest are still fast asleep. They wake up around lunchtime, have brunch, and are out for a movie. Two more join them for the movie, one goes home, and we are seven for dinner. We think about going out for a meal, but the kids are all so busy playing cards again, that we decide to have daal-chaawal and salad, everyone's comfort food. (The SRE does not approve of arhar/tur daal. I make alu matar for him, which no one else finds particularly interesting). After two meals with rajmah, daal chaawal is most satisfying. The kitchen is cleared, and the kids invite us to play with them, but it's been a long long day......
We go to sleep, and wake up to find that the kids have pulled an all-nighter, with strange pizza-like concoctions (with bread) being made in the middle of the night. Two decide to leave bright and early, and get some work done. Three sleep in.
It's been great. Like old times, with the older kids. The youngest one is enjoying his 'official' adulthood. They'd gone to see 'Fashion', which is an adult movie. He was asked to show proof of age, and proudly pulled out his driver's licence. The guy says, 'Your age is not mentioned here.'
The son says, 'You can only get a driver's licence if you are eighteen.'

My dear youngest child, may your brand new adulthood bring you the very best of Life. May all your Diwalis be happy. You made this one very special for us. Thank you.

A Diwali to Remember-1

Diwali is a time of new beginnings, and for me, an excuse to change the colours in my house. So beyond the regular cleaning of desh ki maati, assorted cobwebs and changing some curtains, I indulged in a few decor changes. I actually washed and ironed the cream sofa covers with my own (aching) hands since I was too impatient to wait for the dhobi to do them. And a friend in Bangkok gave me beautiful cushion covers, with my favourite pachyderms on them, so once more we have elephants on my bed. The green rug that was last seen in our bedroom made it to the sitting room, a few accessories were bought, and voila, its a whole new room. (Or so I like to think).
The SRE comes home from work and appreciates the new look. It's a happy Diwali!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Lot of Hot Air-3

I admit I'm dumb- I realise now that Blogger uploads the pictures in the reverse order! We landed near a patch of pretty purple weeds. (See middle picture.) Anyway, once the balloon had landed and I had made my way out of the basket, the canopy had to be flattened and repacked, no small task, given that the balloon is made up of over three hundred and fifty kilograms of material. Well, the air was squeezed out, it was first rolled lengthwise, and then into a large ball which had to be packed into its bag. It was quite a job. Once we had packed up the balloon and helped get the basket back onto its trailer, we bade farewell to the pilot and the van driver, and loaded ourselves into the bus again. We were now headed for a champagne breakfast at a winery! This is part of Australian ballooning tradition!
It was an elegant house with exquisite decor, with fruit, juice, cereal and champagne laid out on the verandah, waiting for us. Eggs and sausages and toast followed. As the sole vegetarian, I was given baked beans, mushrooms and scrambled eggs. I ignored the eggs, which most of the Western world seems to consider vegetarian since they are not meat or fish or fowl. (I admit to double standards here- I used to eat eggs, and do eat cakes even now- a friend of similar habits describes herself as a 'caketarian'.) The SRE doesn't drink now, but a few sips of champagne seemed de rigeur. I had a sip from his glass, and found it, as ever, quite horrible. Though I did enjoy the mystique and celebratory aura surrounding it. We had a quick stroll in the garden, and then, ballooning mission accomplished and replete, slept our way back to the hotel,

A Lot of Hot Air-2

Climbing into the basket was a bit tricky, given my size, and the fact that my wrist had been troublesome and didn't want to bear any weight. I clumsily managed to get in- there are footholds on the sides of the basket. It had five sections- a central one with the gas cylinders and equipment, from where the pilot did his steering, and two divided ones on each side. So three sections bore a couple each, and the fourth a lone Japanese tourist. The flames above your head are a bit disconcerting, at first! And the top of your head feels hot when the pilot turns up the flames. You go up rather rapidly, wondering at the sudden mist when you go through the clouds.
And then the clouds are below you! The tiny creatures in the topmost pictures are kangaroos.
I'm ashamed to admit that I dozed off for a bit, as we'd got up so early. (I can truly claim to have the ability to sleep anywhere, and standing up at that !) The countryside was breathtaking- farms and forests and roads and trees. And clouds below you at times, and a magnificent play of light. Although you have a pilot, the air currents play a great role in your ballooning journey. The pilot and bus driver were in communication, so that we would all 'land' up in the same place! We had started our descent and the tree tops seemed uncomfortably close. Whoosh- more flames, more height, some clever steering and we found a convenient field to land in. What was supposed to be a half-hour joyride had lasted for more than an hour. We bumped onto the selected field, but had to go up a bit again and manually pushed into place by the drivers so that the canopy had enough place to collapse onto.

A Lot of Hot Air-1

Blogger hasn't put the pictures in the order I'd entered them, but anyway!
As soon as we reached our hotel at the Gold Coast, which is a couple of hours away from Brisbane, the SRE tried to book a sky-diving session for me, but they were already booked for the days we were there. And so he decided that we could both go up in a hot air balloon instead. You get the best conditions for ballooning early in the morning, and so on the appointed day we were up at three in the morning, and picked up at 4 a.m., in the colourful bus shown above.
We picked up a couple of Japanese tourists from a nearby hotel, and a couple of Aussies at our last halt before the site. After coordinating conditions with the balloon crew, our driver took us to the site where the balloon was unloaded and inflated. It is one of those things that you may have read about or seen on TV a million times, but is absolutely different when you are actually there!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Many Splendoured Vacation-3

On our final day in Melbourne, a friend of the SRE's took us on a wonderful drive to the Dandenong Ranges, about an hour away from Melboune. Mount Dandenong is 633 metres high, and from the top there's a wonderful view of Melbourne and its suburbs. The first and last pictures here are of Puffing Billy, Australia's more than a century old train, which takes a scenic route through alpine forests. The second picture is a view from Mount Dandenong- endless beautiful countryside. The third and fourth pictures were taken in the William Ricketts Sanctuary, which is a moving collection of clay sculptures of Aboriginal figures; the sculptures blend in artistically within the nearby forest. It was a truly awe-inspiring place. The sculptures seemed to be growing out of the trees, and seemed to be part of Nature. Cool and green and mossy, with the original kiln still in place. The late Mr. Ricketts was a remarkable person and artist.
The trees and plants were all lush and green. We drove through roads lined with rhododendrons in full bloom. We had an excellent lunch at a restaurant called Lillypilly, which is the name of a local flower ( Acmena smithii). After more long drives, wonderful music in the car and a visit to our friend's home for tea, he drove us to our next halt in Melbourne, the home of a young cousin of mine. She used to live in Chennai while we were in Gummidipoondi, so we had been in recent contact. Her daughter was born in August, and her parents were with her for the delivery. And so I met my aunt in Melbourne, after nearly twenty-five years of not being able to meet her in India! We had a lovely evening with them, and enjoyed the gurgles and coos of my tiny infant niece.
Next morning we were off to Brisbane.

Puffing Billy, Australia's Favourite Steam Train runs daily (exc

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Many Splendoured Vacation -2

Going to Oz means dealing with their Immigration and Customs, sticky sticklers, to say the least, as Anamika also discovered on a recent visit. Being middle-aged and with strange medical histories, the SRE and I carry a fair quantity of medicines to help us stay healthy. We were advised to carry recent prescriptions for these drugs, so a quick trip to the family physician was made. I had thought of taking some Darjeeling tea as a gift, but realising how antsy they were about foodstuffs, I desisted. But at Melbourne Airport I had to relinquish a beautiful banana fibre and leather handbag, because bananas and their products are not allowed into Oz. Since we were leaving Oz at Sydney, I couldn't take the bag back to India with me. A Fabindia set of soaps was allowed in, after the box of seed pods the soaps were nestled in was confiscated. So a slightly demoralised me followed the SRE into the cold night air where our old friends R and V were waiting for us. R had mailed telling me to declare whatever I was bringing in that was mentioned on the immigration card. Another friend had scared me into actually washing the walking shoes I was carrying, so that I wasn't carrying traces of soil. Ah well, they do have their reasons, which I respect. I just wish it wasn't all so intimidating!
The suburban homes and their layouts in Melbourne seemed very similar to their counterparts in the USA. Our friends' home was over several levels, though, as it was built on a hilly plot. One most curious thing- none of the interior doors had latches, apart from the door of one toilet in the laundry room, put in because V's mother felt uncomfortable with an unlockable toilet door when she was visiting them. Apparently this is common all over Australia. Since our bedroom didn't have an attached bathroom, it was a little disconcerting. We were scolded for our shoddy planning- being with them for just two nights, and not over a weekend either. V has known the SRE since their high school days- almost forty years. They are also the people who introduced us to each other. Scoldings are definitely allowed! Anyway, R took the day off and took us into the city the next morning, by train. We boarded a wonderful Circle Line tram that goes round the city of Melbourne, and is free. We rode around a wonderful city with beautiful old and new buildings. Like complete and utter idiots we forgot to pick up the camera as we were leaving the house. There were wonderful modern sculptures near the docks. Melbourne weather is notorious for its unpredictability, so we were glad of our jackets! The city is on the banks of the Yarra river, and there are lovely restaurants and cafes overlooking the river. We had coffee and chocolate cake at a Greek restaurant, with seagulls and pigeons for company. We also visited the Melbourne casino , which is huge- it seems endless, going on and on. The Crown Entertainment Complex, of which the casino is just one part, had the most amazing fountains we'd ever seen: some had globules of water bouncing in the air. Some had jets of water which would suddenly be cut in half. The edge of the fountain was gently curved, and had water right till the brim- you couldn't tell that it was flowing over unless you touched the curve. That seemed far more fascinating than the gambling tables. We did place small bets on the roulette table- an even easier way of losing money than on the stock market these days. A little bet on the fruit machine got us some money back. It seemed fairly pointless, but the place was full even in the middle of the afternoon. Someone is raking in the money!
The photograph is of our friends' garden- when we finally remembered that we did have a camera. We didn't have enough time for the Great Ocean Road or Philip Island trips. Perhaps next time........

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Light Art!

Photographs from a moving boat! For you, Rohini: for liking the one on the last post!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Many Splendoured Vacation-1

A short trip to a beautiful country seems to serve merely as an appetiser- a small sneak preview.
There's so much to think about, sort out and remember. We wisely broke journey in Bangkok for a couple of days, and did wonderfully touristy things like a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya and a morning visit to the famous floating market, things we had never done when we lived in Thailand in what seems like another lifetime, from 1979 to early 1984. We caught up with an old friend of the SRE, who was kind enough to take us to a dentist as the SRE had broken a filling soon before we were to leave for the airport in Kolkata. What is wonderful about his Class-of-75 is that even if you do not remember/know the guy from your college days, there is still a wonderful bond. Thank you, A and Mrs A for your warmth, kindness and wonderful company. We also met the adorable Moppet and Munch and their parents, and of course Maggie and I felt that we've known each other for years.
(Methinks the SRE is somewhat bemused by these wonderful blog friends of mine!)
Two days in Thailand seemed way too short, but the SRE declared that it was near enough and affordable enough for us to come on our own some time. I may just hold him to this!

The photos:
A view from our dinner cruise!
Spirit house near floating market.
To market, to market.....

Friday, October 3, 2008

A poem from the SRE


Bahut saal pehle,
Hamaarey ghar ke chhote se aangan mein
Ek nanhee si pari rehtee thi.

Dan-danaati, cheh-chahaatee, dhoop bikhertee, hanstee muskuratee
Uskee kilkari se poora ghar mehakta tha.

Ek din dopahar ko doctor aaya,
Shaam ko kuch log usey chaadar main lapete khade they,
Agley roz maine usey khoob dhoondha,
Palang, mez, kursee kay neechey,
Almaaree kay andar, almaaree kay oopar, darwaaze kay peechey.
Kahin nahin milee, kisi ney bataaya bhagwaan kay ghar gayee hai.
Main uske aane ka intezaar karta raha,
Lambe safar ke har morh per mainey raah dekhi.
Koi nahi aaya.

Per ek sawal hai,
Kya yeh sach hai ki
Plnky mujhe dobaara kabhi nahin milee?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Going Down Under!

The SRE works very hard. (I know I work hard as well, but nothing like the amount he does). His company thinks so too, and so we are getting another foreign jaunt in recognition! So this time it's off to Australia. My parents are still in Delhi, so we just pack up and go. The Occasionally Resident on Weekends Son is also going to Delhi/Noida for the Puja vacations at more or less the same time.
So I'm pulling out suitcases and sorting out clothes and buying a few gifts for the family and friends we have in Oz and Bangkok, where we spend two days before the long flight!
Although we're leaving on Saturday, there seems to very little time and lots to do. We will be back on the 19th, God willing. So take care, everyone. Have a great Puja vacation. I am trying hard to be an enthusiastic traveller this time! See you when we're back.