Monday Motivation

Summer is almost gone and here in NJ, one can sense that Fall is not that far away. The brilliant blue sky and a cooler air greets you when you step outside while indoors late evenings and early mornings may want you to reach out for a light blanket and feel a little more cozy. Schools will be starting next week and while none of what is happening makes sense, I am hoping that brings back some sort of normalcy in the lives of the little ones.

The other day, I was talking to my son about the possibility of visiting family and may be spending a day or two with them, who have been indoors except for when venturing out for groceries, occasionally. He loves visiting them and hence obviously has been over the moon making plans, while also trying to not get excited in case we are unable to go as that has happened in the past. A couple of days ago while he was busy deciding what toys he should pack, he asked me if he could touch things in their house and more importantly, if he could hug them. I asked why such a question. He said he wanted to make sure if it was safe since the ‘bad germs’ were still there and he did not want anyone to fall sick. If hugging would make them sick then that would make him very sad and he would rather not hug at all. Kids, often wiser and kinder and more thoughtful that they are given credit for.

In our often trying-to-make-through-the-day-somehow life where the crazy and crazier compete with each other, continuing to be kind is probably something, that shines through. And if we think about it, being kind is not hard. It should come to us naturally…shouldn’t it? And yet, harsh words, it seems, are always looming around in the corner, ready to jump in at the slightest opportunity. Passing by a stranger who is struggling to pick up mail that has slipped and fallen on the road, shoveling the snow off my car while choosing to ignore the elderly person struggling with his, waiting on a chance to criticize someone and laugh at them because of the way they look- the list can go on-is downright unkind and shameful. What happened to kindness and empathy? How are these basic human characteristics eluding us? In a world that needs kind and understanding people more than ever before maybe, to make fun of or throw hurtful words at someone because they don’t ‘fit in’ cannot be a thing that gets normalized.

We are better than that. Our kids are better than that. Should we not rise above pettiness and strive towards what is right? We all have our own battles that we are fighting or have fought and to undermine someone else’s struggles, by our actions or words, because it looks different is simply wrong. We struggle with issues that vary by degree and in nature but because yours looks different from mine, does not make it alright on my part to belittle it.

As we keep traveling through the light and dark, let’s help out a fellow traveler who may be going through a rough patch. If you know someone, reach out. It is helpful in more ways than we often realize. A simple ‘ I am here’ can make a huge difference in someone’s life who feels lost. I have, I admit, in the past, held back from reaching out sometimes since I thought it was not my place to do so or what if the other person felt like I was patronizing them? And I could not have been more wrong. Reaching out can only make someone feel good. Life will never be perfect and that’s probably alright. But that should not give us an excuse to be unkind to others and even to our own selves. I hope we all look out for each another, speak up for each other and just be there for each other. Our kids are watching.

Thank you for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

Friendly Friday: Markets

Bazaar, a term that is being used more frequently in the western world, is of Persian origin. You knew that. And while the original term has been in use since forever in its place of origin and neighboring countries, the term has also meandered its way through the mountains and rivers and made itself at home in my home country of India. Since forever. In the eastern part of the country, in West Bengal, it is called ‘baajar‘ (where the almost refined sound of the z has been replaced with a more rugged j, in its attempt to put a Bengali stamp on it). Market is its counterpart.

For Bengalis, baajar is a crucial part of their existence. Let me put it this way- going to the market is what starts their day. At least it used to be so till online grocery shopping started catching up to meet the demands of the ever busy millennial. The older generation continues to keep the tradition alive even today on days their health and the weather permits.

Going back to the 1990s and early 2000s, the man of the house and in some cases the woman, would take a couple of ‘tholis’ ( rectangular shaped bag made of cloth or jute – for vegetables and fruits and a couple of nylon- for fish and meat) and make their way to the local baajar to get the daily supplies of fresh friuts and vegetables but most importantly of fish, the most important component of a Bengali’s daily diet. Meat also found a place, typically on Sundays. There is an enthusiasm and excitement that is quite something, specially if you consider that going to the baajar is a daily affair. And it especially centers around the fish! Refrigeration can meddle with the freshness and sweetness of the fish and hence most Bengalis go to the baajar every day or every other day. On Sundays the fish that is bought tends to be special as is the way it is cooked since fish is more than just food for the stomach, it is food for the Bengali soul too. And the baajar is a wonderful place to witness interactions that can rarely be matched elsewhere. The gleaming face at being able to get the exact fish the heart was hoping is a reflection of pure joy. Neighbors catch up with each other as their fish gets cleaned and cut and packed. Stray cats can be seen making rounds of the stalls in hopes of getting the fat and fins that are discarded. A fish market or macher baajar needs its own post and a whole set of pictures to help you understand the passion and frenzy and love that make it a venerated place for a Bengali. People are also seen flocking to the sections where fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers are sold but the frenzy is missing and that makes it less exciting!

This week’s Friendly Friday invites us to share pictures of markets and while I do not have any pictures of the market or baajar I grew up with, somewhere my father went every day till before the world and its workings got disrupted, I have some from our local grocery store that I had randomly taken last year I think. Like many other prompts, this week’s prompt also serves as an inspiration to take pictures of markets. Thanks Sandy!

Away from the madness of a Bengali baajar, here in my adopted country, the scene at our grocery store is different, to say the least (the concept of baajar back home is more like that of a farmers market here). While the big chain grocery stores have slowly started infiltrating the Indian market now, bajaars still remain vivacious and the seat of many a passionate conversation and hearty laughs. And it’s not just the fresh market that has so much life in it, you can visit any market in India (and trust me there are many to be found in every city that you may visit) which add to the charm and beauty of that place, that embrace the local culture and is sure to be a feast for your eyes (check this link) as well.

For this post, here are some photos from a trip to Florida where we had stopped at a local fruit store and some from our grocery store that has wonderful seasonal display of flowers which brighten up the otherwise plain looking building. It is somewhere I never fail to make a stop before entering the store and hover around for a wee bit time. A far cry from the sights and sounds of an Indian baajar, our store sees a riot of colorful flowers in summer and come Fall there will be pumpkins of various shapes and sizes and then Christmas will see its trees and related decor.

Sunflowers at a local fruit store in Florida

That same store in Florida, that served/serves some delicious juice/smoothie from locally harvested produce

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.

Monday Motivation

It has been a while since I have done Monday Motivation…somewhat ironical if you think about it! The earlier format for this was I would post a picture that I would take for this post ( a sort of motivation to keep taking pictures) and share a quote that I would have recently read/come across. Then somewhere somehow, taking pictures for this post started feeling like a chore and I let it slide.

But here I am again. The hope is to share not a picture that I took for this post. Nor to share just a quote but a few related thoughts that cross my mind, and in the process hope to reach out to at least someone who may find comfort in this, who may want to share a word or two of their own, who may want to reach out to someone else they know. Lofty thoughts, you may argue and I will not disagree. But while on one hand, we are apparently living in a world where we are closer to each other more than ever before, we are also becoming isolated from our thoughts and feelings, often not acknowledging many in the first place and at times unsure of making it heard. Such are the demands of the time, probably. We hear each other and yet many a times, at the slightest chance, jump in with our wise words (read judgmental). We also sometimes hesitate to show our appreciation for someone who is deserving and also downright refuse to listen to at others. The list can be, tragically, unending.

tinybudhdhaofficial.com

How many times have you heard ‘Love is all you need’? I have heard it more than I am willing to admit. But what does it actually mean? What does love encompass? What does it mean to you and what does it mean to me? This above quote, that I came across on Instagram a few days ago from here, throws some more light on it. Love, when it embraces respect, support, trust, validation of feelings (whatever they maybe), acceptance, acknowledgment, space and boundaries, willingness to be present , can be wholesome and can be the one that lets us be. Love needs to understand, it needs to encourage, it needs to know to take a step back and just listen, it also needs to know to push when needed. Love needs to be all this and more. ‘I Love You‘ sounds hollow when our actions go the other way.

Love has various connotations and we all seek love in our own way, in people we build our lives with and around. Parents, siblings, partners, in-laws, children, friends, family, acquaintances all have our love, as we have theirs, but no two types of love are the same…don’t you think? Some have that absolute love and some are so lacking in the basics that it can’t really be called love. They are more like ‘Eh..you are here’!

Love seeks recognition and to have the power to speak the truth, it aspires to have the courage to be independent and to recognize the worth of self and it needs to be able to stand up to disrespect. While I am a firm believer in the power of being kind, I have come to learn that it can be construed as being meek and of not knowing to stand up to a wrongdoing. For me, the change came a bit late. But I sure will try as hard as possible to help my kids learn better sooner. To be kind should not be confused with being submissive.

Relationships of any type cannot survive without love , the one that is not an empty word, but one that shows the person that they are of value. And that can happen when we are willing to identify who we truly are and how we truly treat the people who walk with us. There are always ways to be better and when we seek to work on that, the world may start seeing less shallow people, less of trying to impress with gifts and more of speaking a word or two of appreciation.

Now, I am not an expert of any kind let me make that very clear! And so I cannot offer any concrete advice nor do I ever attempt to do so. I call it ‘approaching 40 syndrome’ or ‘the ramblings of an over thinking mind’! Whatever label it may have, these are not unique to anyone specific. These are universal things that we all are aware of , all have experienced in degrees less or more and things we all have our take on.

Bottom line is, love is not enough when it has none of the components that make it worth treasuring. We often have people who we cannot cut off completely for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. So we carry on. But we need to adapt to such relationships where our peace of mind is no longer for them to juggle around with. We should no longer give them permission to be offensive and get away with. We set our boundaries and we proceed from there. I have done so, I will admit. I have cut off people this way from my life, as in I have made myself distant. They no longer have as much of my time, my energy and my happiness to mess around with. While I continue to maintain a cordial relationship with them, over the years I have seen of how little value I actually have had in their lives and I finally decided it was enough. Was the decision easy? Not at all. But it was the right one. I still have feelings of guilt that surface occasionally- I guess the upbringing that ‘no -matter- what -you -shall- persevere’ may have a part to play- but changes needed to be made to keep up with the times.

We can all be a bit kinder, a bit more careful and truthful in how we manage our relationships- in not only how we carry ourselves in the lives of those who have made us a part of theirs but also how we let those we have let in, treat us. The choice is ours. At times, we need to figure out a way to exercise that.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.

A Tale of A Table

‘Har ghar kuch kehta hai’ (loosely translated ‘Every home has a story to tell’) was the tag line of an ad of “Asian Paints”, a very popular paint company in India. It was one of those ads, growing up, that I liked as something about this line resonated with me even at that young age (talk about a good ad!).

And yes, every home does have its own story to tell. It’s the seat of love, hardship and patience; of surprises that take our breath away and of moments that stop time; of failure and success; of burnt toasts and scribbled walls; of broken pasts and healed presents. When we share our home with friends and family, when we laugh out loud and share meals it adds warmth.

Recently we put our twelve year old dining table away, as we had made a new purchase, and when we sat down to have our dinner for one last time at the old table, there was a strange sadness. I never knew that I could feel that way about a table. I also did not expect my five year old to get emotional and share his own favorite stories about that table.

I have been since thinking about all the moments that the table has been a part of. It is the table I had my first meal at in this country more than a decade back. It is the table my husband and I wrote our dissertations on as grad students. It is the table my best friend, who I have known since elementary school, and I shared a lovely home cooked meal when she came to Minneapolis all the way from Florida. The table has been the seat of many stimulating conversations among friends and has proudly showed off wine stains and coffee marks from moments that stretched from dusk till dawn. Here in New Jersey, it has shared with us the most important moments of our lives till now and we never realized how the table had secured a place in our hearts in an almost unassuming way.

Our closest friends have shared meals with us on this and so has our family. Our son was, for some reason, given his first bath in his baby tub, on this table surrounded by doting grandparents and a very nervous first time mom. My husband was having his breakfast at this table, wearing a cobalt blue shirt and black trousers, ready to leave for work, when I told him we were going to be parents for the first time. Bengali’s have something called the ‘Shaad’ (more here), their equivalence of a baby shower that consists of cooking for the mom-to-be all the food that her heart desires (shaad in Bengali means wish/desire) and I have had that twice, surrounded by family and friends as I devoured on the most delicious food cooked by my mother. This was the table. From a couple to a family of three and then four, this table has been part of our celebrations- birthdays, anniversaries, Durga Pujo, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas- this has been the center. Our son is starting kindergarten in a couple of weeks and his journey from barely legible letters to short sentences today also started at this table. I had never given any thought to the part this table has played in our the little big things of our lives till before the day we took it apart and stored it away. Much like when a house turns into a home, maybe some pieces of furniture, otherwise mundane and taken for granted, also become a part of who we become as we grow older. Don’t you think?

Someone was leaving town and giving away this table for free. My husband and his roommate had picked it up. And while initially we had not meant to keep it for this long, after a while the thought of getting a new one never crossed our mind. Till recently. The needs of the family have grown as have the kids and their crazy ideas that the old, somewhat now wobbly table may not be able to sustain. And so, while we are enjoying our new table a lot, the old table is missed . My son’s favorite story about the table is how his grandparents used to sit with us here and have their meals and how we all played board games and alphabet games. He also mentioned how he loved our homemade cakes and pizzas, stuff for which we would pour and mix and pat on the table before putting in the oven.

As the kitchen has come to become the heart of every home where friends and family huddle together and share a laugh or two, our dining table was the center of activities that we all happily participated in. It has been the center of arts and crafts, cookies and cakes, mojitos and margaritas, hellos and goodbyes- a humble table, that I never thought could make me so emotional.

We all have things that make our home a home, from a piece of furniture to keepsakes to greeting cards, that are a tad bit special because of the stories that we weave around them and with them. Our dear old table is a crucial component of our stories. What are some of yours?

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.

‘Tom’ Fish or Some Other Fish..Who Knows!

I am a Bengali, genetically engineered to like fish. Many of you may not know this but fish is not merely another food item in a Bengali household…it is symbolic of the Bengali culture, an almost compelling, if somewhat misleading, part of their identity. It is an intrinsic part of our festivals and celebrations and a traditional Bengali Hindu wedding is incomplete without a plump and decorated fish, that typically signifies prosperity and good luck (more on this can be found here).

I digress.

As I was saying…I love to eat fish. Most Bengalis that I have met till now, and trust me that is a big number, love fish while outliers are also to be found (I have some in my family). Growing up fish was an everyday food item and while the Rui/Katla (belonging to the Carp family) were/are the most common for daily consumption, the variety that a good Bengali fish market offers is impressive, to say the least. And those also find their way into a Bengali household easily. The younger generation today has a tricky relationship with fish, I am beginning to think. While they love to eat it, they have neither the time to go to the fish market to buy fresh fish nor the time to cook. The necessary skill is also lacking. The passionate love affair is probably losing a bit of the steam.

In this land far away from the fresh Rui, Koi, Topshey, Pabda (the list can go on), we have to settle for the frozen few that make the trip to this other side of the world. So we alter our taste buds and develop a liking for the salmons, cods and tilapias (that is so different from its namesake found in India). And we also apply our recipes that involve mustard and chili paste, cumin and turmeric, ginger and tomato to these and try to get a taste of home. It’s a ‘far fetched’ taste. So we mostly stick to the grilled and baked versions. But we are often tempted to take out our mothers’ recipe note copy to find a recipe that could be altered to fit the fish in the freezer or try to make a recipe from memory, those that have stayed with us even after a good ten- fifteen years.

One such recipe is what I wanted to share with you today. I somehow remember many tiny details about the day I first had this, which was a good nineteen years ago, at my aunt’s place on the occasion of Bhaiphonta (a Bengali festival that celebrates the bond and love between brothers and sisters). I was twenty years old at that time and was just discovering my love for the saree. It was a special day, a day that we always celebrated with cousins and aunts on my Ma’s side and that day too, many moons ago we spent the day exactly like that, eating and being silly and making memories. Someone had gifted me a beautiful sea green saree that was hand painted and had Jamini Roy ( a celebrated Indian painter) prints all over. Of course I was wearing that.

My Ma’s elder sister had made something she called ‘Tom Fish” (a short for Tomato Fish which probably meant fish in tomato gravy). It was simple and yet so delicious that I still fondly remember it and cook it from time to time. Her sister-in-law had shared the recipe with her, having learnt it from a neighbor. And I share that with you today. Isn’t it somewhat fascinating how food from around the world, even the ones that are cooked by our mothers and aunts and grandmothers, that do not find place in the recipe books and websites, find a way to reach our kitchens…we have to be willing to look.

‘Tom Fish’ (As my aunt calls it. I wonder what other names this simple recipe may have garnered for itself !)

I usually use tilapia fillets for this…any white fish pieces would do probably.

I cut the fillets (about 4 in total) in about 2-3 inches (you can make cubes or rectangular pieces…doesn’t really matter). Pat them with some salt and turmeric and a gentle drizzle of mustard oil (or vegetable oil) and let rest for about 10-15 mins. Back home, most recipes call for the fish pieces to be sort of deep fried in oil and I do so here as well when in the mood. But I also shallow fry them and have even put them in the oven for baking while I have gotten started with the gravy. The latter also saves the apartment from smelling of fish…a big thing to think about when you are renting!

Heat a wok or a pan with a round-ish bottom and pour in about a teaspoon of mustard oil or vegetable oil. Once heated, temper the oil with some black mustard seeds (quarter teaspoon), one dried red chili and give it a quick stir. Add a handful of curry leaves… I am a huge fan of these and I always add about 8-10 at least. You can always take them out before serving…these are not eaten usually. Add some grated or very finely chopped ginger and once the kitchen is filled with the aroma of the curry leaves and that ginger, add about 2 tablespoons of crushed tomatoes (from the jar or use fresh ones, whichever you have handy!) Give the whole thing a good but gentle stir and once the tomato is cooked, add turmeric, salt and a bit of sugar. Cook for a few more minutes, adding little water to prevent the gravy from becoming too thick. Once the desired consistency is achieved, which should be neither too runny nor too thick, I add the baked /fried fish pieces to that and let it simmer for a couple of more minutes till the gravy seeps into the fish. If you want some more heat, slice a couple of green chilies (I do this) and add to the gravy, when it is simmering, towards the end. Steaming hot rice is what we gobble this up with.

That red color comes from the tomato, and hence the name!

An amazing tool that helps us reconnect with our roots, with forgotten tales, with people who have gradually disappeared from our focus, food is powerful as is our association with it. Culture speaks through food. It evokes memories and transports us in time while helping us bring a sliver of that culture to our future generation.

We cook food from around the world in our home and we also keep rediscovering food from our childhood. Through that my husband and I occasionally stumble upon anecdotes that revive our memories from growing up in India and it is leaves us with a bittersweet taste. Sometimes it also happens that we cannot put those memories into words, but we know that there is a ‘something’ that connects the dots. We visit places in our minds that we have not been in a while now and rediscover moments that have shaped not only us but the city that we still fondly love, from its iconic buildings to the narrow alleys, each with its own story to share and hear.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.

Friendly Friday: Friendship

Sandy helps us revisit one of the most fundamental and pivotal relationships in our lives- the one that influences our childhood to a great extent and the one that continues to shape our growing up beyond and perhaps, always. Friendship provides refuge and a place to refuel. It is marked by everything from silly laughs and pinky promises to stimulating conversations and a trust deep enough to know that you are in a safe place. The unstoppable passage of time often meddles with regular meet ups and living in different corners of the world makes it harder. But friends find a way to be there- always have, always will. Don’t you agree?

I remember when we were in school, many of us did not have telephones in our homes and so summer vacations were always a bummer! A few of us wrote letters to each other and as I have written before, I still have letters that were written in the 90s by friends who are still just that precious and just that much thoughtful. We just don’t have as many pictures though! The memories are good enough.

This is a picture of me (right corner) and my three best friends taken on the last day of our high school. We were allowed to dress in traditional attire and that day was meant for fun and festivities, and lots of hugs and tears too. We have seen each other through times that have been anything but smooth and we have held each other and cried with each other and rolled on the floor laughing about the silliest of matters. Steeped in the affairs of our own little families and separated by oceans, today we hardly get the time for a daily catch up. Text messages and Google Hangout lets us share our current stories and take pointers on the kids that we are trying to raise. It makes me happy to think that for some of us our friendship began when we were as old as our little ones are now.

Friendship looks different today with social media playing such a huge part. Still, the basics of this relationship look the same and have the same beginning. My son often has his video calls with his friends where they play and share stories and read to each other, make puzzles and form their bonds, just in a different way more so now because of the current circumstances. But the seeds are being sown hopefully that will last for a long time.

Times sure are different and friends wear masks and stay apart but it’s still so much better to be with one:)

And then we have our toys and the ‘stuffy family’ and of course, as cliched as it may sound, books and music to keep us company and be our friends. Change of time hopefully will never mar this .

Andy sure had his own set of extra special friends:)

These friends stand guard

Night or day, light or dark, these truly never abandon us

For now, they seem to be each others best friends and while neither has any idea of what that means, they sure have their own little world- one that they are learning to share and get into mischief in! The brother understands what the little sister wants when she says things that I too am unable to comprehend. Their own little world has just started taking shape and I can’t wait to see what that evolves into!

Like the rain that smells just as good as it feels after the stifling heat, like the taste that our favorite dessert leaves us with in our hearts and like the groove that our favorite song unknowingly puts us into, friendship influences our essence. It does not require anything external to stay put. Thanks Sandy, this brought back so many memories:)

Thank you for stopping by. Stay safe.

Red

Growing up my favorite color used to be nothing. I always got very confused when friends asked about it as I actually liked all the colors with the exception of brown. And the fact that I did not have a favorite color was confusing for my friends in turn! I figured that I needed to choose a color and stick with that to lessen the eyebrow raising ‘what do you mean you don’t have a favorite color’…I chose black. What was yours?

Red came in much later. Rather, it found me recently and I can tell that it is here to stay. I was reading about this enigmatic color that symbolizes romance and passion while also being symbolic of rage and malice and it made for some interesting read for sure. I feel I am slowly falling in love with this color. I have been looking around for red things to photograph and while I do not have the perfect red photos yet, I have some that are helping me see the beauty and power of the color.

Side of a similar building as the previous one
Cherry Blossom- Some work was done in Lightroom

Cherries

I don’t know which red I like more, the one of cherries or that of the strawberries

Or that of the tomato

The quintessential red lipstick

Summer is here

Around the neighborhood

At the local store

Fake Flowers

The Red Car

Afternoon delight

Peek A Boo

Sets the mood for holidays for sure

Street Corner

A red leaf

A couple of summers ago

The flaming red

The Little Red Barn

A little boy

Somehow, these fell perfectly on the snow

A strange year

Fiery or sublime, red is beautiful. But it is so when it invokes power and passion; it is vicious when it is painted with anger and hatred. Let’s choose the red wisely.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.