Saturday, March 28, 2020

My own, my precious!

“That is some truly superior sambar and aloo curry Amma” my daughter managed to say in the middle of frantically licking her spoon clean like she may run out of taste buds any minute now.  “You don’t know how much I have missed your food.  You deserve a culinary award Amma” chimed in her sister on her way to the kitchen for second helpings.  Remarks like these typically put a strut in my gait and a smile on my face but not today. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I recognize that it is not every day that children are happy to be locked down under the same roof, as parents.  When they greeted me with a smile this morning and started doing chores around the house with no threat or coercion, I wanted to pinch my husband’s arm to see if I was dreaming. (Why pinch my husband’s arm? Because therein lies the beauty of marriage.  When life presents tough challenges, you get to lean on or pinch your spouse’s arm to figure things out.)  So together we puzzled over the question ‘Why aren’t these kids screaming and scratching at the walls, cursing at the coronavirus for this indefinite lockdown?’ The obvious answer was college food.  One semester away at college enjoying its assorted offering of spice-less food and my kids have returned home as warriors brave enough to face a quarantine at home. 

Getting back to the sound of my flatware being licked clean at each meal, I’ll admit that I am worried and I’ll tell you why.  As the symphony of spoons scraping against bowls and plates continue with each passing day, I often find myself slipping quietly to do the only thing I could.  Throw open the doors of the kitchen pantry and gaze worriedly at the stockpile of provisions; one item in particular.

I want it known that I am not unprepared for this pandemic.  The day ‘social-distancing’ became the national word and lockdown became the local mantra, I marched to the Indian grocery store armed with a dozen extra-large cotton bags determined to stock up but apparently so did the entire desi population.  When you are trying to beat 20 people to get to the last packet of turmeric powder in the store, social distancing is not an option.  And yes, I do need the turmeric powder.  You don’t seriously expect me to serve black sambar and rasam to my family, do you?  That’s gross.

Believe it or not, I was agile and spry zigging and zagging through the store loading up my cart. I owe it to corona(virus) for showing me that even I could put a spring in my step.  Anyway, there I was, weaving in and out of the crowd, proudly joining my fellow humans in picking that store clean.  After ensuring that there was nothing edible left in an aisle, we kept moving on to the next.  It was eerily similar to the scene in a movie I had watched, where aliens would destroy earth settlements systematically, one town at a time.

I am grateful for whoever designed grocery store carts and put 4 wheels on them for balance.  Imagine if they had only 2 wheels like a bicycle!  What would happen to people like me with zero upper body strength?  How would we push a cart that is filled up in preparation of Armageddon? I guess it is true that God never gives more than what we can handle. 

After doing a quick check of the cart inventory (mustard seeds, check – have enough to season an ocean of coconut chutney, tamarind, check – have enough to serve puliyodharai prasadam at the local temple for the next 5 years and, most importantly, asafoetida, check – have enough LG bottles to undertake the Ambani family’s next wedding order of rasam), I finally turned in to the last aisle all set to load up my favorite 20 pound rice bags.  Wait a second.  What happened here?  Who took all the rice bags?  Oh, the horror!  At that moment, I knew exactly how Gollum felt when Sauron’s ring slipped out of his hand.  Oh, where art thou, my precious? 

I would have gladly traded my wedding jewelry for the 4 bags of rice in the cart ahead of me at the counter, but I couldn’t really fall at her feet and beg there, could I?  With social distancing and all, it wouldn’t be the responsible thing to do. 

So finally, with a heavy heart, not to mention, a heavy cart loaded with only 3 miniature 10 pound bags of rice, I walked back to my car praying that my family will somehow find the courage the face the day we run out of rice.  May we survive that nightmare and live to tell the tale another day.

Hang in there, folks!  This too, shall pass. 😊

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Navarathri Diary 2018

We are halfway through yet another vibrant Navarathri season in our town. Armed with spreadsheets that catalogue our golu invites, which is further cross-referenced by whatsapp and text reminders, we Desi women have been marching out early each day this past week with a single-minded determination to conquer the invitation list at least this year.  Everyone knows that it is a losing game because 18 golu visits a day is just outside of insane city, but we do have fun trying. 

Amidst the many joys of the season, one ailment continues to plague the golu-hoppers of our town this year too – severe gas trouble. Obviously, our intestines are not meant to process peanut, garbanzo, vatana, moong and green pea lentils, all in the same evening but when offered with so much love at each golu, what can one do except eat and burp?  Sometimes you just have to take one for a friend.

It is not a big problem for me though. Just to avoid this kind of rude shock to my system, I try to stay bloated through the entire year but for the general population who are on a strict ‘air and water only’ diet, suddenly turning into a birthday balloon must be very scary.  Well, here is how I handled it recently. After the 4th plate of sundal one evening early this week, I found myself at a risk of exploding.  Hyperventilation induced by the stress of an impending wardrobe malfunction actually saved the day.  Who knew that taking shallow breaths would help to keep your blouse from popping its buttons!  
Thanks to my recent India trip, I am going around town this Navarathri season in bright-colored sarees and completely mismatched blouses. Apparently, contrast is all the rage these days. This new fashion is a god-send because none of the matching blouses fit me anymore.

Trying to go with the latest fashion hurt me in the accessories department though.  Heeding to the advice of many well-meaning friends, I took a beautiful, embroidered bag with me on the golu rounds 2 days ago instead of my regular plain black handbag. It looked great. Everyone said so but big mistake! That miniscule, cute bag could fit only 3 almonds, half of a phone and 1 clementine. Where am I supposed to keep my key bunch, sunglasses, wallet, tissues, emergency biscuit packet, trail mix snack packet, water bottle and travel size advil?  My black handbag might not be great to look at, I admit, but it can house the entire universe, if necessary.  Fashion, my foot!

I saw planning at its best when I saw a friend bringing 2 big sack-like cloth bags with her to cart back all the tambulam bags of the evening. Wow! If she ever wanted to rob the US Treasury of all its gold, these 2 bags should do the trick. Very smart indeed. Inspired by her, I put a couple of cardboard boxes in my van to hoard my collections. A bit unsophisticated yes but it served its purpose.

One thing that was new this season was that golu hostesses decided to liven up their golus  by offering interesting quizzes to the visitors.What is the new doll in our golu this year?Can you tell what this sweet is made of?As someone with a very diminished sense of smell and a non-existent memory, I am set up for failure in these kinds of exams.Only a few threatened to hold back their sundal for not giving correct answers.Most of the hostesses were kind enough to give me my consolation goody bag just for participation.

This Navarathri season has seen some of the most imaginative carpool arrangements ever arranged by anyone. 2 days ago, I overheard a conversation while waiting for my cup of payasam at a golu.Anu and Geetha were planning to pick up Latha, hit Kamala’s golu, then go pick up Sudha.Then all were to go hit 5 houses together after which Geetha had plans to swap to another van to continue her round of golus with another set of friends and then wanted Anu to pick her up at Bhavani’s house to go to the next 7 houses on their common list.NASA should take pointers from this group for the next space mission. Brilliant minds such as these are being overlooked everyday.

How is your Navarathri going so far? 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mystery of the misplaced calcium!

‘Meena, don’t do anything rash today. I hope you remember that it is January now.’ That was my husband on his way out to work a couple of weeks ago.  He might have looked down his nose sternly at me delivering that warning, but I don’t doubt for a minute that he meant well.  The same message was subsequently repeated to me by my children at regular intervals.

Their warning is not without merit, I must admit.  January has proved to be a colorful month for me in recent years.  It is when I usually trip over non-existent hurdles, slip on perfectly dry land and walk into very wide, visible walls.  I may have become used to the January routine by now, but it seems like my family has not  I don’t mind the resulting broken bones or torn ligaments as much as I mind the disbelief and skepticism that I invariably face while trying to explain my incidents to others.

I still remember the conversation I had with the front desk person last January at an after-hours medical facility.

Lady at desk – For insurance purposes, could you tell me about how you injured your left leg today?

Self – Oh sure.  You see, my dogs were in the backyard fighting over a toy this evening.  Do you have children or dogs? Then, I bet you know how hard it is to get them to share anything. Short of reading them moral stories from the Indian folklore, I have tried my best to imbibe the virtue of sharing in my dogs but, as you can obviously see here, I have totally failed. 

Lady at desk – No, I don’t see at all.  What happened to your leg?

Self – Wait, I am getting there.  As I was watching through the window, the friendly banter suddenly picked up heat and guess what?  I had never seen such sharp teeth before.  That’s when I decided to step in and play the referee before things got out of hand. That was good timing even if I say so myself.

Lady at desk – Mrs. S, I feel like I should say ‘congratulations’ but WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR LEG?

Self – Well, I ran down the backyard deck stairs to pull my dogs apart. That’s what happened.

Lady at desk – Huh??  Did you hit your leg against something? Did you fall twisting your heel?

Self – Don’t be silly, of course not.  Do I look clumsy?  I just ran 10 steps.

I still remember her dazed look when I was taken in to see the doctor who later pronounced my ligament torn. 

While the MRI showed the soggy state of my ligament, the x-rays spoke of a whole new  story.  Apparently, instead of boosting the strength of my poor bones, all the calcium that I intake end up rushing to my heel forming little bone-like spikes there causing pain while I walk.  So that’s what has been happening to my calcium!

Many days, I had wondered about this so it was a relief to know the truth finally. I like a good puzzle as well as the next person but where is the satisfaction in an unsolved mystery?  I was, therefore, glad to put the mystery of the misplaced calcium to rest.  At least, I know now why my bones threaten to break on me at a moment’s notice.  

The year before last, it was my arm’s turn.  I had shoveled a small, 5 x 5 area of snow off my driveway only to find that I had torn the ligament along the elbow.  Those days, I was still a bit afraid of being stuck in an MRI machine.  I distinctly remember that room being eerie white, the inside of the machine being too small, and me being disproportionately big.  Not an ideal situation really but thanks to the January phenomenon, I have practiced enough to outgrow my distaste and fear of the machine now. 

This year, after catching my family watching my movements worriedly ever since New Year, I decided to be smart and take precautions.  After all, I don’t enjoy the inside of the MRI that much.  When Mr. Jenks called announcing school snow closings, I was already ready.  I had made extensive plans for hibernation based on the weather forecast and had injury-proofed myself.  I had stocked the fridge and the pantry enough to survive a five-year famine and had ensured that I wouldn’t have to step outside once snow started.  When at last, the pitiful 2 inches of snow hit Richmond, I stood by the window watching the world swirl pretty in white.  Every time I opened the fridge and was met with a parade of milk cartons, I patted my own back.  Bring it on, fate! Let’s see how you get me to slip this year. Hah! 

2 inches of snow and our county, naturally, closed schools for 5 days.  I never could get that math to add up but then I have never been much in mathematics.  While the snow turned to ice and the ice refused to melt on the surfaces outside, I sat inside warm and safe in my private haven congratulating myself on at last foiling fate.  

After 6 days of staying indoors, I was starting to turn moldy. I threw open the doors and stepped outside on the 7th day. There was no snow, ice or dampness anywhere in sight.  It was as good a day as any.  Enjoying the warm sun on my face, I walked towards the car with a long list of errands to run.  Next thing I knew, my ankle had twisted from under me and voila, there was that familiar feeling of pain and the even more familiar sight of swelling. 

Was it ego or simple pigheadedness that let me drag my feet for 10 days without seeing a doctor?  I am not sure but I did will it to be a mild sprain.  Yes, there was swelling but I could walk on it so why would I concede victory to fate yet?  When you have plump feet like mine, it is very hard to distinguish general plumpness from injury swelling but at last, even I could clearly see that the swelling was not going down.  With a huge sigh, I finally called my wonderful doctor who promptly ordered x-rays and sent me on my way to the Orthopedic office.  

When I walked in to the room, the doctor said, ‘You look familiar’ and that prompted me to remind him that he had treated me last January too.  He even asked about my dogs.  That was sweet of him, I thought.  He took one look at the fractured bone in the x-rays and said ‘Okay Meena, time to get you in a boot. Let me get someone to bring you a boot.  You must wear it at all times except while going to bed.’  I hesitantly told him that I had the boot from last January but asked him if one could use the left boot for the right foot too.  I was so amazed when he said the boot was universal.  Go figure!  Who would have guessed they made universal boots like universal remotes!

When he next made an attempt to get me a pair of crutches, I shook  my head smiling and said, ‘I have them too doc.’  He was pleased, I could tell.  How many patients come in to see an Orthopedic doctor already owning a universal boot and a pair of crutches?  January is not completely without blessings, I thought as I came home to my wonderful, universal boot.