Fireworks

I’ll rise early and happy tomorrow and have a nice long shower. I’ll wash my blue-blue hair and pick my bright-bright clothes. Then I’ll sit down to eat, and finish around 12 hours later. It’s Diwali tomorrow!

For those of you who don’t know what Diwali is, it’s the gift giving and feasting of Christmas + the togetherness and feasting of Eid + the noise and feasting of a very large-scale New Year/birthday/anniversary/wedding party.

In school essays, we wrote that it is the day we celebrate the victory of good over evil, of light over dark. But mostly, feasting.

But this isn’t a food post – at least that’s my intention so far.

But the food, man.

Samosa and dhokla and pakoda. Puri and pulav and chaat. Lassi and daroo and daroo. Green chutney sandwiches and chole batura and paneer tikka.

Kaju katli, motichur ki ladoo, rasgulla, gulab jamun, jeelebi, rasmalai, I’m dying.

And fire crackers! Before the implications of bursting crackers were known – child labour, air & noise pollution and animal-safety – every child and adult was outside their home holding a sparkler, watching the sky light up with rockets, jumping around the swirling chakras and exploding flower pots. When poisonous fumes and deafening fireworks didn’t bother anyone, conscience never stood a chance. (It’s getting better, but I’m not getting into that just now!)

Photo Credit: The man, M

Photo Credit: The man, M

Oh Diwali, Diwali, Diwali; there’s just something about this time of the year that just doesn’t do it for me.

Yep. I’ve started writing a post about a festival I’m not even crazy about. Diwali and I have had an unspoken standoff that’s lasted a few years now. I am hoping it goes away soon, because year after year I stand in the sidelines admiring it from a distance and hoping it’ll let me in with all the other happy cool kids.

I’m not sure if I miss the way it used to be before a few untimely deaths in the family shook us all up and turned every family celebration into a massive if-only fest. Or if I subconsciously connected a lot of personal trials to that time of the year. Or if taking fire crackers out of the equation was like taking chocolate out of Easter? I don’t know why, but it bugs me and needs to go.

So this year, I’m making a Diwali resolution. Out with the dark, in with the light. Tomorrow, I’m going to pick positive over negative. I’m going to laugh and sing and dress up. I’ll make it so Diwali will beg to be my friend! Aha! Who’s the boss now?

And if I can do it tomorrow, I can do it again day after. And the day after that and the one after that. Maybe I’ll take a dark day off every now and then, but I’ll find my way up again.

After all, this Diwali isn’t just about the food. I’m with family again and I love my family (near and far, in-laws and in-loves) with Godfather-esque loyalty and passion. We laugh and we cry, we love and we fight, we push and we pull. And we do it all together at the same time.

They’re all the fireworks I need in my life.

Here’s wishing that all of you rise happy today, and find your true love and light!

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Walk the walk

I can’t call myself a traveller just yet, but I have moved around enough to pretend I’m one. Truth be told, I have wished I was travelling instead of moving at more than one instance. When I was struggling to bridge the cultural gap or make up for it, when my previously successful sense of humour fell flat in a different time and different language. My confidence wavered, speech stuttered and personality went through absurd changes. I always came back to who I was when I found my people, but I was most at peace with myself when I was out there by myself, exploring this new place and falling in love with it.

Sticks and stones

Walking through a well-manicured park in Melbourne, I see a stick between the blades of grass. It’s a long-enough, thick-enough, less-than-a-branch, more-than-a-twig stick. The kind that stands up, crosses its arms and dares me to pick it up.

The 8-year-old Indian schoolgirl in my head wants to pick it up. She wants to drag it along the sand, all the way from here until the end of the song on her lips.

That’s another thing I miss about India. Random lines dragged along the path from nowhere to somewhere. Marking our thoughts as we walked back home from school.

Or stones. You’d always find stones gathered outside homes. Stones from 2 blocks down. From where that day’s dream began. We would kick it as we walked home. As we imagined, dreamed, sang.

It’s always the simplest things that stay with you, and it could not get simpler than this. Just a stick and a stone, mapping the short walk from the bus stop to my doorstep.

Not that we needed a distraction, because there was never a dull moment in India. Not even when everyone, including the birds and stray dogs, were having their afternoon siesta. We did it as a dance to accompany our wild fantasies. We did it to make the walk home shorter. Or longer. We did it because there was a stick, a stone and an open path.

Get lost

It must’ve been a day like the one I was having when Lawrence Durrell wrote in Justine: In the midst of winter you can feel the invention of spring.

I was still new to Melbourne and on my way to a job interview. The tinniest hint of pollen in the air had given me the confidence to venture out on my own. Naturally, I took the right tram going in the wrong direction. So lost was I in the winter-spring-ness, that I didn’t realise my mistake until I was at the opposite end from where I needed to be. So I wound up enjoying the ride twice, as I took the tram back to my destination.

After my interview, I jumped on the same tram for the third time that day. I stepped off at a random stop and got lost. Lost within the laneways, brick walls, café-behind-a-café, shop-within-a-shop.

One too many left turns later, I turned right and stumbled into the smallest op-shop (thrift store). The smell of dust and crumbling paper and fading clothes and fresh memories made it feel anything but small. The surge of happiness I felt made me laugh; I had just found a piece of my soul I didn’t know was missing. I was afraid the spring in my step might push me over the stack of mismatched cups and saucers.

With a bagful of treasures in one arm and a vintage milk crate under the other, I found myself drawn towards the aroma of freshly toasted bread wafting out of a narrow slit in the wall. Behind the slit was the beginning of my breakfast obsession; a quaint little café that completed my perfect warm winter day with a breakfast stack of a heavenly poached egg sprinkled with dukkah perched on a bed of wilted spinach and garlic mushrooms carefully balanced over a crispy golden hash brown laid out over a spread of avocado and feta on a slice of impeccably toasted sourdough. I know, the adjectives are practically drooling out of my mouth.

I found out a lot about myself when I got lost. I found out that I like old books with notes scribbled in them and curios that don’t fit into any style bracket. I like talking to strangers. I was still petrified at the thought of talking to strangers. I like eating alone by the window. I was bad at catching trams, and it was one of my best qualities. I found out that I was falling in love with Melbourne, one wrong turn at a time.

I didn’t get the job that day, but I got Melbourne.

Goosey Goosey Wander

Writing this post has opened the floodgates, and memories are gushing right in. The short walk from school to home in Kuwait, with the allure of home pulling me forward while the endless conversations slowed down my every step. Hot sand under my feet and hot gossip on my mind. Or early morning temple visits with my mum in India; the lane leading to the temple would be saturated with smells of breakfast being laid out and incense sticks and freshly scrubbed school kids.

Sigh. There’s so much more living to do.

Gotta get me some gym

drumbells

Two ice cream sandwiches, one banana ice cream bar (lovingly and locally called Banana Lolly) and a slice of super-indulgent double chocolate praline cake. Make that two slices.

It’s 3.20pm in the afternoon and that’s my dessert count so far. It may just be 38-degrees outside, but under the 20-degree air-conditioner chill, even my excuses seem to have their mouths frozen shut.

I feel the need…the need for high intensity cardio and weight training.

The funny (pathetic, if you want to be specific) part is that I’m not even a dessert person. I’m a memory eater. I eat because it reminds me of a time, a place or a person. And being back home with my family has brought back a lot of memories. Very, very tasty memories.

Sandwich ice cream from the ice cream cart outside school for a few coins. 2 soft chocolate biscuits tenderly holding together a cake of creamy vanilla ice cream. It would crumble and drip down my fingers and uniform before I got home, doing just what it was meant to do.

Banana ice cream on weekends after a big lunch. Mum, Dad, sister and me, huddled close together on the couch in front of the TV, slurping on the magical taste of togetherness.

(I have no personal bond with the cake I destroyed other than a carnal need to consume that rich, gooey chocolate. So I’m getting another slice. Don’t even.)

Then there’s mum’s dals, chicken curries, creamy chicken pies, pizzas, Kheema (mince meat curry) and many other dishes intrinsically linked to my happiness. Food that mama and I ate together after I got back from school while I filled her up on all the news, snacks that I scoffed down before rushing out the door in the evenings or weekend staples that always tasted the same and never disappointed.

Like mama’s grilled chicken. Every Friday morning (Weekends in the Mideast are on Friday/ Saturday), we had to clean our room plus an additional chore. Then we were free to go out and play. Growing up in an apartment meant no backyards or corner parks. There were buildings all around us with scorching hot concrete under our feet and blazing hot sun above our heads. Glorious. We played ball, we played house, we pretended to be detectives and thieves. We sweated and laughed and cried.

When I’d run past kitchen windows, my senses would be cushioned with the plethora of scents from different homes. Indian, Asian, Arabic, Continental. Love, affection, happiness and care.

It was time to surrender to the fragrance that was taking over our home.

That’s the thing about food. I savour that memory for time spent with my parents, cousins and friends, but I know that it was Mama’s Friday grilled chicken that holds it all together in my heart.

This was originally meant to be a post about hitting the gym. I think it’s pretty clear how well I’m doing with that.

Big name for a not-so-little girl: Figs – Part II

I confess, Figs got in there because it rhymes with the other two, but it doesn’t make the story any less personal. This third of my blog name is to profess my love for food.

Everyone is a foodie these days or a connoisseur or a food snob. I’ve called myself one or all of them at different times. After you live in Melbourne, the food capital of Australia, you begin to believe it. I’ve stumbled into many a quaint café and restaurant in the most intriguing laneways and had some of the best dishes in my life. There are some places you can’t stumble into, like MoVida. Oh my God, MoVida. After a 2-week advance booking, we got there 30 minutes early, as if we were there for an interview. If it were an interview, I would not have got the job because the only words that came out of my mouth were: Ohs, Mmms and Oh-My-Good-kind-and-ridiculous-Gods. But the dish that moved me to tears was the dessert.

Fig leaf ice cream served with fresh figs and broken grains and chocolate and all that is good in this world. That changed everything for me. That changed me. It was exciting like meeting someone new and reassuring like meeting an old friend. It was all work and all play. It was Ariel and Ursula, Fraulein Maria and the Von Trapp children, Ross and Rachel. It is said that the fig tree featured heavily in the Garden of Eden; that afternoon, the fig tree featured heavily at the beginning of my food journey.

From there on out, there was tuna tartare with crushed mint & peas and creamy goats cheese, grilled Saganaki with honey walnut dressing, fried chicken with a chilli mayo foam, hand-rolled gnocchi in a creamy pumpkin & parmesan sauce, all those secret-sauce gourmet burgers…you get where I’m going with this.

I was part of a very active food club, my husband and I dined out every chance we got and I pigged out with friends a lot, but some of my most experimental dining was by myself. Back in Melbourne, I used to catch a tram into the city or out of it, and get lost. I’d stumble upon a magical food heaven, grab a seat in the middle of the crowd, pull out my book or notebook and order whatever caught my fancy. By the end of the meal, I’d be far too high to ever remember how I got there. Then there were times I was so disappointed that I’d sulk and Google the best dessert places around me to go restore my faith in good food. I’m dedicated, if nothing else.

Wherever my new journey takes me, I know it’ll be a path laden with scrumptious dishes and dreams of my next meal. All thanks to the fig leaf ice cream with fresh figs and broken grains and chocolate and all that is good in this world.

Movida