Friendly Friday: Morning Rituals

Sandy invites us to yet another fun challenge this week and I so agree with her on the world being divided into two types of people- the ones who wake up and go and the ones who go there eventually. I am with Sandy in the latter category. Ironically however, my job had always required to wake up really early- back in India I used to teach at an undergraduate college and classes started at 6.45 am and a 30 min car ride to did not make it any easier. And then when I went to Japan to teach, I had to take the 7 am train to reach my school. Not a whole lot of fun for a person like me!! But the faces of the kids made it all worth the effort it took on my part to get ready in the morning.

This morning, from our balcony.

While reading Sandy’s post, I was thinking how our morning rituals perhaps keep evolving as we move through life. In Japan, it always involved grabbing a coffee from one of the vending machines and an o-nigiri (Japanese rice balls) or the extra delicious Cream Pan (Custard Cream filled buns), depending on my mood. And there was this bakery right where I came out of the station and that was always bustling with busy morning commuters because all of their bakery items were just perfect!! Or maybe I am partial because of my BIG sweet tooth 😉 Some weekends, me and my friends would also walk over to a nearby McDonald’s and get their breakfast and Sandy’s photo of that meal, brought back many a happy memories…thank you Sandy!

When I started life here, most of my classes at grad school were in the morning too and in case you didn’t know Minnesota winters are not very ideal for morning classes! Bundled up with steaming hot tumblers of tea or coffee in their hands, students and professors would be rushing to get into the buildings. My morning ritual mostly involved trying not to slip on the icy roads while running to get the bus!

Here in New Jersey, a decade later and no longer working at the moment, my mornings look a lot different. They usually involve cuddling with my kids before the day begins and then going about the chores of everyday life. I am a tea person (for my morning beverage) and a right cup sets the mood for the day. Now that school is virtual, my mornings are spent helping out my son as needed while he has fun figuring out the tools.

Over the years, however, I have sort of ‘formed’ a ritual that I try to follow from time to time in the mornings and that gives me some much needed ‘me time’ which clears my head and helps me relax. I quietly slip out of the house, while my kids and husband are sleeping,with the camera in hand with the aim of taking photos. It is mostly around the neighborhood and typically in spring and fall. That time of the day helps explore better without too many people around and I must say, I have loved doing this for some years now. Even when on vacation, I make it a point to get up early, if not to catch the sun rise (which also I try never to miss) but to just find out a bit more about the surroundings. I think I may have gotten this habit from my father who would always get up very early, while on vacations, and explore the area around our place of stay and before setting out for ‘sight seeing’ he would always take us out to to experience the local flavor, some ‘hidden gems’ as he would call them. When I look back, I find that many of those made for more memorable moments than the bigger tours.

Here are some photos that are the result of that ‘morning ritual’ I have made for myself.

Sunrise, Maryland

For some of us, these rituals keep changing, evolving as I mentioned earlier. But then there are so many of us for whom these are more like a routine. My father and many like him of his age back in Kolkata had a set routine for the mornings. Get up, have tea while reading the newspaper and then go out to the bajaar (the market) for daily supply of fresh fish and vegetables. Once back home, it would involve getting ready for work and leaving home, in case of my father, as the clock struck 8.45am. Across oceans, decades later as I pour my morning tea, I often wonder if my father misses his morning ritual now that he has retired from work . And I can’t help but think how has the pandemic affected millions of people all over the world as they adjust to different morning routines, carving out new rituals while letting go of older ones. It may be relaxing for some, while for some it may be making more sacrifices and working harder than before.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

A Photo A Week Challenge: Vacation Memories

Nancy invites us to take a trip down memory lane and visit a place to two from our vacations past. This year has been challenging, to say the least, and people are hurting not only from the devastating effects of the pandemic but from inequality and hatred that is unfathomable. But the work to make our society just, more compassionate and safe continues and there is hope in that. It is inspiring and powerful. It also makes us reinforce our belief that the sun may set but it also does rise after a dark night. Till then, the fight for equality and justice must go on.

Amidst all that is full of despair and darkness, we have moments from our pocketbook of memories that bring us slices of happiness and peace. This photo is one such slice, from a vacation back in 2013- a sunset in the Everglades.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Be 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.

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.

Friendly Friday Challenge: Close Examination

I am yet to take photos in the macro mode but I absolutely love seeing such images… the details are simply gorgeous. Last week Amanda invited us to examine our photos a bit closely and I found these from my archive, some more recent than the others!

I loved the grains on these

Ice covers frozen yogurt as the lid was closed improperly

Tiny droplets after the rain

Bubbles in a champagne flute

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.

Friendly Friday: Essential Tools and Tips

What a fun post from Sandy for the Friday photo challenge! I am always on the lookout for suggestions on anything and everything…what an amazing opportunity it provides to learn from one another on things that range from everyday cooking to traveling somewhere far. And there is often a better or easier or more efficient way of doing things that we stumble upon through such exchanges:)

Storing Fresh Coriander!

Just last week or one before that, a fellow blogger and I exchanged a few lines on the dilemma of storing fresh coriander. My husband and I love this incredible herb and it is a must buy on our now bi weekly grocery trips. But how to store it in a manner that will keep the leaves as fresh as possible for as long as possible has always been a bit of a challenge. We have tried putting the stems in water, keeping them covered with a plastic bag (like Ziploc), wrapping them gently in paper towel. Three to four days is the max that they have retained their freshness. It always made me a little mad that this should not be that difficult a task. Ultimately, we started making a paste or ‘chutney‘ of the leaves (after keeping aside some fresh ones)…that way they wouldn’t go to waste and while we could not use fresh coriander, we could always have the next best thing in the recipes that called for this herb. However…!!!!!! We stumbled upon this way of storing them (and most of you, if not all, probably already know this and are laughing at my naivete now!) After untying the bunch, we lay out the leaves for a bit to let the water dry out and then separated them in two equal portions- one portion had leaves/stems which looked less fresh while the other bunch had the freshest ones. In a plastic box, we put a small piece of paper towel at the bottom and then arranged one portion as loosely as possible (as opposed to a clump) and covered that with another small piece of paper towel. Closed the lid and did the same with the other portion. Marked the boxes 1 &2! It has been a week and our first bunch, with the less fresh leaves, looks like we got them yesterday!

Mayonnaise is Good!

A chicken ‘baking- changing’ tip came from a friend many years ago and I have, since then, never baked chicken without adding that ingredient …mayonnaise! Did you know that a little bit of mayonnaise when marinating the chicken makes them super moist and soft? It does not interfere with the other flavors that you may intend for your chicken. If you have not tried it, I suggest you do!

A pinch of black salt!

Who loves watermelon juice? I do, I do and I do!! The men in my house…not so much. The good man does not mind a watermelon margarita and the little boy prefers staying away from the fruit and the simple juice. Most of us add a dash of lime or lemon to the juice and sweeten it with some sugar is needed but have you ever tried adding a pinch of black salt? Don’t be repulsed by its almost pungent smell. A pinch of it does wonders to drinks like watermelon juice and sometimes even a simple lemonade…but just a pinch. You may have to throw out a couple of glasses of juice to figure out your preferred ‘pinch’ but once you figure that out, you might just be surprised!

A little list!

The last tip, again most of you already probably do this, that comes in very handy when traveling involves the suitcase and its contents. Before I proceed, I should say that I am a very ‘make -a-list-for -everything-that-you-do’ kind of a person and a lot of people find that odd and funny (though I am not sure why this would evoke either of these reactions!). Anyways, so I always have a list for everything. And when I pack suitcases, I always write down the things, in a piece of paper, that are going on inside of each and keep it in the outer pocket of the particular suitcases. This is extremely handy when we travel to India as there are usually 4-6 suitcases and carry-on luggage involved and after having traveled for a close to 20 hours, memory tends to skip important things ! And even when you know which suitcases you need to open first to take out what, trust me this little piece of paper can give your mind that much needed rest.

While trying to take a picture of a suitcase, I casually put my hand in the front pocket to see if I could find the piece of paper that might have traveled with us on our last trip to India…and see what I found!

Thanks for stopping by! Be safe.

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge: Nostalgia

The Nostalgia that I write about , that I study, that I feel, is the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection”. (Michel Chabon, The New Yorker)

One of the reasons I started this blog was to seek a way to reflect on the past, to be able to connect to it and channel that in the present. If you have followed even some of my posts, you must have noticed that most of what I try to write, including A thousand memories come rushing by, my very first post, has nostalgia tugging at the heartstrings. Nostalgia is a good thing, they say and I believe. Many still look at this amazingly powerful yet subtle emotion as a hindrance since it apparently prohibits one from moving ahead by dwelling on the past, but I vehemently disagree. Thankfully there is research to back me up!

The other day, I was talking to my good man about The Friendly Friday Photo Challenge and how I was looking forward to participating in it. Upon finding out the theme, he said “Are you sure you will not go overboard?” You see, Nostalgia is my thing and I am almost proud of it.

My parents and a one year old me. This is a photograph that reminds me of a time that I ‘visually’ remember very little of, but somehow know a lot about from all the stories I have heard. So, while my memory is unable to recollect images from this period in my life, it can narrate stories to my children from when I was a baby. And I am always reminded of the fact that irrespective of time and place, children continue to be delighted by similar things.

I keep reflecting on the past. Not to pine over what is not there but to draw from memories that remind me of my roots and also of the treasures that I have, unknowingly gathered, growing up. While a tingling of sadness is undoubtedly associated with nostalgia, it also refreshes our memories about the times spent with dear friends, or that one special trip, or some favorite food, songs that we danced to or could not stop humming, family vacations, childhood home, summers spent with cousins under the shade of the big mango tree, or that ‘tube well’ that fascinated the neighborhood kids.

This is a photograph taken back in 1987. My cousins (on my mother’s side) and I are sitting on the steps of a small room on the roof of my grandfather’s home. This is surprisingly the only photograph that we have till date of all the 9 of us together. Many photos have been taken since but for some reason or the other, one or two of us have always been missing. This was also my grandmother’s favorite photograph and she never failed to mention that we were her navratn (an allusion to Mughal Emperor Akbar’s nine extra ordinary talented group of people in his court)

Nostalgia teaches us to be to be kind and brave, no matter what. And it grounds us in humility and puts the faith back when hope seems to be drifting away in this crazy life. For people who have chosen to live in places far far away from where they grew up and where the way of life has little resemblance to the one left behind decades ago, nostalgia is almost a resource to help power through. Don’t you think?

These are paper clippings that my parents have ‘framed’! Back in 2006 I was honored to be part of the group of 23 teachers who were selected to be in the Japan Exchange Teaching Program (JET) and apart from being an incredible opportunity, little did I know that it was going to change the course of my life! I had an amazing best two years in Japan, fell in love with the place, the food and made some friends for life. My husband and I reconnected in Japan and here I am, raising two kids with him. This photograph, (which embarrasses me a lot!!) reminds me of a turning point in my adult life and an incredibly important one at that:)
This is our alma mater, a place we embraced with our hearts and minds, made friends who are like family and went through some very tough times that forged a stronger bond. The time spent in this city, that recently witnessed a horrific incident and eventually set in motion movements across continents, gave us moments that we will never cease learning from.

As we keep on adding to our pocketbook of memories where the past and the present keep merging, today’s photographs and road trips, family movie nights and celebrations, books read and meals cooked will all be there for us to look back on in the days ahead. And this topsy turvy world, that the indomitable spirit of powerful souls refuses to give up on, will heal one day and we will all look back on the role we played in healing this…let’s make sure that our future generations have something to look back on, where they know that we were not just silent observers.

One fine winter morning, we found ourselves waiting in a hospital, filling out paperwork and getting ready to be parents for the first time. Little did we know what the next 16 hours would bring that would ultimately lead to an emergency C section and end with a crying baby boy in my arms. I had realized when I was pregnant, like all moms do, that it was possible to fall in love with someone I had not even met. And when I did meet that person, I felt for the first time what it was to love someone more than anything or anybody in the whole wide world, a love that cannot be put into words, a love that transcends all other types. And a few years later, I had that feeling again when a little baby girl joined the family.

Life keeps giving us moments that turn into memories. Scattered across the memory are these vignettes and we treasure them, some knowingly and many unknowingly. Nostalgia lets us revisit these when we want to and at times, even creeps up on its own and leads us to them. Whichever way it happens, I hope, we keep cherishing the moments of past and present.

Thanks for stopping by. Be safe.