clean as a whistle corn on the cob

I know summer’s right around the corner because I purchased my first ears of corn from the grocery this week, and know that in a couple more months it’ll be available at the farm markets. My favorite way to eat corn is to cream it the way generations of women in my family did it, and still do as far as I know, but Hubby and the rest of our little family here in Utah prefer it on the cob, cooked on the grill or steamed. [Incidentally, my son-in-law who grew up in Germany is appalled that anyone in his right mind would eat it at all (!) because Europeans all know that corn is pig food. To that I say oink, oink, oink. Simply leaves more for me!]

With near perfect timing, a friend recently sent us a link to a video demonstrating a way to prepare it without having the brush the silks out. It combines taking the shuck off and cooking in a couple of easy steps, so naturally Hubby and I could hardly to wait try it ourselves. I’m here to affirm it works beautifully! Comes out clean as a whistle with nary a pesky silk hanging on! All you need to do for perfection is to slather it with a little butter.

Now this may be all old news for you, but if so I won’t apologize. If you knew already, then why didn’t you tell me!?

Credits: video via YouTube, photo of butter/sugar corn licensed under creative commons (catchesthelight/flickr).

short-term memory serves well . . . in some cases

A few weeks ago as I was reading what I thought to be a new book I’d picked up at the library, I kept thinking Wait a minute! I’ve read this book already. But it was so funny, I just kept on reading. When I finally closed the book the last time, after nearly 600 pages, I still wasn’t sure that I hadn’t already read it, but that hadn’t kept me from enjoying it, perhaps just as much or more than I had before–IF there was a before. So I decided since I’m unable to garner the time to write the post I had in mind for tomorrow, I’d re-run one that I first published here November 9 of 2009. I shared it at a meeting today with a new writing group I’ve joined as a sample of the kind of things I like to write and it got some laughs, and reminded me how good it feels to laugh out loud sometimes. I think we could all agree that too many things are going on in the U.S. and worldwide that make it difficult to find the funny side of life, even in the interest of keeping your sanity. I leave it to better bloggers than I to write about those serious things. I’m always on a quest for the funny side of life I feel is almost as important. This is a true story. I prefer to present it as a story written in second person because the people you’ll read about here couldn’t possibly be anybody I know! And if I’m lucky, like me, maybe you’ll be old enough not to remember half of what you may have read here in 2009.

* * * * * * * *

For weeks she’d wanted to see the new Michael Moore movie, CAPITALISM. So that morning over breakfast, when she saw the calendar presented nothing more pressing or interesting to do, she suggested that maybe today would be a good day to go to a matinee and see it at last.

But when they arrived at the movie complex–chosen because it had stadium seating–the ticket seller said it was sold out. She glanced at the next showing, and sure enough that show was sold out too. So were the next two. It was barely past noon and no one else was in sight; they’d driven a full half hour to get here–they were several minutes early. Surely that could simply not be right! Were they even showing the movie there? Or was it a ploy to lure people in order sell tickets to one of the other movies?

It made her so angry she said no to her husband’s suggestion to see one of the other 20 or so movies on the schedule. Could they still make it to the one other theater in town where the movie was scheduled to start in half an hour? He said, sure they could make it. The first 10 or 15 minutes after showtime were always used for previews anyhow. Piece of cake. They’d just jump in the car in drive downtown and see it there.

So they did. The problem was, they were so far on the side of town they weren’t familiar with, and they weren’t sure of the theater’s address. While there was no question they could find the it, it might take time and they needed to find it FAST. It would be best to know exactly what street it was on. So she went to work fiddling with the GPS built into the car’s dashboard. The nice voice would tell them exactly where to turn and when. First she laboriously typed in the crossroads where they thought the theater was located. No luck. So then she tried typing in the name of the theater. Still no luck. She scowled every time her husband suggested she try some different. He always thought she was inept at figuring out electronic things. Grrrrrrrrrr!

No the problem lay in the system…at some point in the menu it would shift to another window and a quick decision had to be made about which option to press next and it kept leading her to dead ends anyway. So she tried again. And again. And again.

All the time she struggled, he keeps driving and his foot is pressing the pedal a little harder and he doesn’t even realize it. He’s getting frustrated because she’s beginning to cuss a little. Okay, a lot, calling the instrument panel a…well, just imagine you know, ’cause you surely do if you have a little imagination. He keeps telling her to watch her language, there’s no call for that, and suggesting things she’s tried already over and over again.

All that time she’s getting madder and madder because she knows the problem is not her, the problem is the GPS that won’t let her enter what she needs to enter, dumb machine. This thing is absolutely useless, she cries out in annoyance, at just about the same time she sees him glance in the rear view mirror and hears him say “Uh Oh!” Then she hears the siren and feels the car pulling over to the road’s right, hears a frantic motorcycle cop shout, over there, I’m right in the lane of traffic here! a sitting duck to get hit!” And he was, as they were on an Interstate highway with about five lanes of traffic and cars were whizzing by. Who could possibly know where they were supposed to pull over on an interstate highway when they’d never been pulled over on a multi-laned highway before?!

When they were all finally properly positioned, over to the left of the fassssssssst lanes that were separated from the traffic going the other way by the railings, the young cop–just doing his duty–leaned in and said I pulled you over because you were going 65 mph in a 50 mph zone. At least he didn’t holler as us, she thought.

She began to see dollar signs with wings on them flying out the car window while the two men talked. Her hubby didn’t bother arguing because he knew he was as guilty as they come. He had been driving way too fast all the while he was trying to tell his wife how to program the GPS on the dash, so neither of them noticed the speed change, and how could he help it if his foot kept getting heavier and heavier? After all was said and done the nice young cop only charged them with going five miles over the limit, which was only $105! It could have been much worse.

Now this was a couple who’ve been known to drive miles out of the way just to get something they need for a couple dollars less. They were so careful with their expenses and prided themselves on how inexpensively they’ve managed to live from month to month since their retirement. They even managed to afford some nice travel and new shoes now and then, and they’d never had to go without a meal because they were so frugal. Damned movie anyhow. Because of Michael Moore they were going to have to fork over $105 just like that.

Afterward, they swallowed hard and fought their way back into traffic from the fast lane side and when they got through bickering and trying to fix the blame and she said that he had no one but himself to blame because he was driving and that meant he was the one that had to pay attention to the road signs. She was tired being blamed for everything, so there. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. After a little more back and forth insulting, they finally cooled down a little, decided to laugh about it, it was only money after all, nobody had been hurt. So there they sat, mostly in silence, while they tried to decide what to do next. Maybe they should just go back home and watch television. That would be such a letdown, though, wouldn’t it?

No! she said emphatically. We can’t go home without doing something to distract us and take the bad taste out of our mouths. In he end, they looked at the clock and decided to go on and see the movie just like they’d planned, only downtown at the other theater. It was a cinch, he said, because the movies wasted so much time on previews anyhow so it wouldn’t matter if they were late. And after that she remembered the Yellow Pages under her seat where she could quickly look up the address in the black pages, so it was decided. Who needed electronic gadgets when they had a printed book of addresses under the seat?

They parked in the garage and rushed to the theater all out of breath. He plunked the plastic down and announced two for Capitalism please. The clerk swiped the card and handed him the receipt to sign. He was scribbling fast when she–just in case–thought it a good idea to ask has the movie started yet?

The clerk checked the schedule and looked at her watch and said Yes, it’s seven minutes in.

 Into the movie? she said.
 
 You mean into the previews, right? he said.
 
 No, the movie, the clerk repeated.
 
Seven minutes! More like eight now, she thought. “I don’t want to miss the first seven minutes,” she said. Sometimes the opening minutes are crucial to the whole film. So the clerk refunded their money, and the two of them walked dejectedly back to the car. At least they were able to get the parking ticket validated, they reasoned, so they wouldn’t have to pay for parking.
 
 Back in the car, the question arose for the second or third time that day, what to do now? Go home? It still seemed like a defeat go home, especially now that they felt insult had been added to injury. Give up, admit defeat–that they weren’t meant because of who knew what conspiracy by that first theater–to see a much anticipated movie on this day? There had to be something they could do to make them feel better–get control of their lives again.
Just as they were nearing the shopping strip where the Indian store was, she suggested they stop off to see if they could find some pre-made bhatura bread and frozen unsweetened coconut so they could go home and throw themselves into making a good Indian meal. Maybe some choli with the bhatura bread and some delicious coconut chutney. That would make both of them feel better.
 
There was no bhatura to be had. Maybe next week. Ugh! How many things can go wrong in one day!  Then she saw the fresh okra in the box on the table that held new shipments. It had been pretty much impossible to find fresh okra the whole summer. Not only did they have fresh okra there, it was fairly good okra–the tips still crisp, and the pods mostly small and tender. Fried okra always made her feel good. So she bought a whole lot of it along with the coconut they wanted.
They drove home and she cooked okra for dinner while he went online and paid the department of transportation $105 so he could get it out of his mind once and for all. Afterward, they agreed never to speak of it again. First one, and then the other, would begin to giggle like children who get caught licking the spoon in the candy pot when Mama’s not looking.
 
To this day they still haven’t seen the movie. Now they figure when they do see it, and they still hope to, they will always also associate it with a $105 speeding fine attached to it, thus it will always have the distinction of being the most expensive movie they’ve ever seen. And therein lies the dig. They figure if they wait long enough it’ll come out on DVD and be available at the RedBox rental kiosk where they can pick it up for overnight for just $1, then it’ll only have cost them $106.

all in the family

Some of you asked about the family project that was driving me to distraction in November and  December, and I kind of dropped the ball in responding. I’m now ready to reveal this unwieldy project for whatever it’s worth. It’s a four-generation “tree” of family members of the Indian side of our family. Beginning in the middle, there’s Hubby’s father and mother (with a larger photo just above), then fanning out on both sides with each of his siblings, and their children and grandchildren, all surrounded by candid photographs from each family. Thumb sized pictures are also shown in each box, along with the birth-marriage-death dates, so that future generations can easily pair the person with the name. My daughters have commented on how many facial characteristics–head shape, lips, etc.,  they share with some of their aunts, uncles and cousins in India. It was done using Microsoft Word 2010 in a word document with all the complications encountered in producing a poster sized document on a much-smaller scaled computer monitor, drawing the text boxes within text boxes with Word’s “paint” program in the manner of “eyeballing to make everything fit. Miraculously, everything did!

Some of you may remember our planned 2010 Indian family reunion in Goa where we planned a weekend to reacquaint our daughters and their families with Hubby’s side of the family. Unfortunately, my health concerns precluded my participation, but we urged the family to proceed without us. Our daughters, not having been to India in about 25 years, asked their father for a crash course of sorts–who was married to whom, who were their children, their father or mother and so on. That may have been when the initial seed was sown to develop a patriarchal family tree for everyone’s benefit. This idea was further reinforced when we had most of Hubby’s relatives  based in the US visit us during the summer. Family genealogies were typically passed along orally, or hand-written by elders to be passed down, so somebody knew some family specifics, but despite the effort so much family history seems to get lost. I, for one, am a strong believer is preserving and strengthening family links. So for my own sake and that of our small family, I decided to undertake the task of setting down–as officially as possible within my own limitations–a family register for the current four generations, to coexist with that of my own family origins. With the current trend of geologically scattering of families, for ours it would be a beginning family connection all-around.

This undertaking was by no means a simple task. As in the case of hubby’s family in South India, complications such as there being no family surname such as Smiths or Browns as we have in the West. Instead, a child with a given name such as Fred will often be identified as Fred, son of so and so. In addition, the families often use  “clan” names which may indicate the ancestral village of their origin and the sub caste the family belongs to, although not routinely used as an official or daily use name. To complicate the matter further, the child “naming” ceremony occurs about 10 days after the birth of the child and so the hospital birth records do not identify the child with any name except as son or daughter of the father so and so. Thus, use of birth records to construct a family tree is out of the question.   The way the children in the Tamil Brahmin families are named also adds another layer of confusion. Depending on the sex of the child the given name  may be a god’s name, or a deceased grandfather or grandmother’s name.  Very often the grandparents and other close relatives weigh in on the names and the parents try to accommodate everyone’s wishes.  So, the children end up with official name (for school records) and several other names given by the relatives.  Most of the time, as in this country, the long names are shortened with nicknames for daily use.  That explains why so many of Hubby’s family are known by different names within the family. I think you can see how, for anyone born in the West, it makes for much confusion about who’s who in the family. The project was duly completed and mailed to each family a week or more before Christmas.

I believe it quite appropriate to end this posting with the same quote by Rabindranath Tagore printed on the poster itself (just above the bottom picture border). “The tapestry of life’s story is woven with the threads of life’s ties, ever joining and breaking.” Ever joining indeed! As with these kinds of charts, ours has already become obsolete, but in a good way. One of Hubby’s nephew’s wife in India just gave birth to their second daughter few days ago. As per the custom, we are waiting to learn her name.

meandering along a country lane in Nashik

Remember that old saying You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl! As far as I’m concerned, it’s one-hundred-percent true. Ever since I began this series on India 2011, I’ve been looking forward to posting these views of a very different kind of India than the one I’ve shown you so far. It’s great to take your pilgrimages to religious temples and historic monuments, but for a very long time I wondered–where do Indians go to just get away from the proverbial rat race? Well, now I know, so I refuse to apologize for featuring these lovely village and country scenes before even telling you about the vineyard that brought us here in the first place. For now I’ll put the cart in front of the horse and save the talk about wines and all that and instead talk about the perfect getaway from crowds and traffic in Bombay.

Though we only have two days left before we leave Bombay for New York, Raghu planned a wonderful excursion that took us to Nashik, in Maharashtra State (incidentally, Bombay’s the capitol city). It’s about 180 kms away (or about 112 miles). Due to the roads and the heavy traffic getting out of Bombay, that isn’t exactly a day trip; it takes about six hours by automobile, so we’d be staying overnight. Nashik is considered India’s greenbelt and top producer of grapes (wine country), onions and tomatoes, and varieties of fruits and vegetables. It’s also where the nation’s currency and stamps printer, the Security Printing Press, is located. Incidentally, Hubby’s father was the Director of the Stamps Press in Nashik during the last three years of his career. One other tidbit you may enjoy: According to the Ramayana Hindu epic, it was Nashik’s forests where Lord Rama hid out during his 14 years of exile after killing the demon king–the one that stole Sita, I presume.  Even though it’s one of the fastest growing cities in India, there’s still room here to breathe.

And talk about breathing room! We arrived at the Sula Winery mid-afternoon. After checking into our rooms, and sharing a tray of cheese and crackers washed down with glasses of wine on the dining room veranda, it seemed the perfect time take a late afternoon, leg-stretching, walk to explore. Tomorrow we’d tour the winery and sample the wines.

Right away we come upon a cow. I wasn’t afraid as we approached, but kept a respectful distance all the same. The cow and I “eyeball” each other as we pass. I’m not sure who was more nervous, me or the cow. At least I wasn’t thinking about cobras at this point. Raghu shared with me that he thinks that cows are awesome creatures and there is nothing more peaceful than seeing a cow resting under tree looking very contented. As a country girl who practically grew up with cows, I had to agree. Both of us, dedicated amateur photographers that we are, snapped away with our cameras, I with my point and shoot canon, he with his much more sophisticated, albeit heavier, single lens reflex digital.

What could be more appealing or more restful than lakes and mountains in near perfect weather conditions . . . and could that be a bird swooping down on that tree limb? I was so busy looking at the cow I didn’t notice.

Add to that puzzle another bit of mystery–how did this USA 385 Speed Bot come to rest in this pasture in India? There has to be a story there, don’t you think?

Ditto for this little objet d´art.  It’s deceptively large in the picture. Actually it was quite small, probably about three inches long, and stitched from a gray-colored heavy canvas fabric with painted features and filled with some sort stuffing. It’s an interesting little relic and could be anything. A religious symbol of some sort? Voodoo doll? A pagan or religious amulet? Fetish doll? Most probably it’s a homemade doll some poor village child lost. Looks can be deceiving though. It’s either very frightened or very mean. Look at that mouth! I left it where it was for the next tourist to ponder.

With these kinds of vibes in the air, I must confess I wasn’t exactly unmindful of the fact that there might be cobras lurking about. I had read in the local paper from the hotel that cobras are quite common in the area. There was even a story about a resident living on the road we were on during the drive had reported one in his yard just the day before. And the sun was beginning to sink below the hills.

And then we were approaching this interesting looking structure I’d had my eye on for awhile during the walk. I asked Raghu if he knew what it was used for. Indeed he did. It’s an open-air funeral pyre Hindus use for cremating their dead. Traditionally located near a body of water (there’s just a glimpse on the right just below the tree branches), a pyre is prepared with piles of wood stacked on the concrete stage you see here.

 The body, laid out on a stretcher, is then placed on top, feet facing south (so that it can walk in the direction of the dead). The chief mourner–usually the eldest son–facing south, walks around the pyre three times, sprinkling water and ghee. He then lights the pyre with a flaming torch. After the fire consumes the body, which usually takes several hours, the mourners return home, and the entire family must then have a bath, and begin a period of mourning lasting 12 days during which the family is subject to many rules and rituals. One or two days after the funeral, the chief mourner returns to the cremation ground to collect the remains in an urn to be immersed in a river. I tried to imagine what it would be like to attend a cremation ritual as a member of the family. I was mightily relieved when Raghu informed me that only men attend the actual pyre–women and children remain at home.

You may be thinking how barbaric. However, Christian burial–when it comes right down to it–is no less barbaric. Growing up in the southern U.S., where children usually attended funerals at an early age (at least in my community), I always worried as a child What if Aunt Harriet really wasn’t dead, just in a deep sleep or in coma? How horrendous if they woke up later and found themselves in a box in a pitch black grave. I think I’d just as soon be torched as be buried in the ground.
And here’s the edge of nearby lake just to the right of the funeral pyre.

And as dusk approaches, more cows standing nearby in that peaceable kingdom may have all the answers to all the deep complexities of life and death. But they’re not saying anything. 

Well, we haven’t seen any cobras yet, and here’s a paved road home, or at least back to our rooms at the Sula BEYOND, so we elect to head back that way instead of crossing the fields in darkness.

On the way, we pass this pretty girl from a nearby farm, a perfect Kodak moment if I ever saw one.  I ask and get permission to take a photograph–and get at least two shots in as quickly as possible. (Okay, I admit that I had to do a little adjustments with the light setting because it was nearly dark by the time I took these pictures. I think they turned out well in spite of myself.)

Just today I was reading the new PEOPLE magazine, in which the “fairy-tale” wedding pictures of celebrity-for-no-reason Kim Kardashian were featured. The bride was perfectly made up with diamonds worth millions of dollars from head to toe. She was lovely of course. But may I say, no matter how much money she makes just for being the daughter of a famous dead fashion designer, she (Kim Kardashian) can’t hold a candle to the natural beauty of this simple village girl.

Finally, nearly everyday here along the Wasatch front in Utah, U.S.A., we’re treated to a wonderful sunset. Here’s what that same old sun does on the other side of the world. It’s my National Geographic moment. And look! More cows!


(Next time we’ll take a look at the winery and learn a little about the wines themselves.)

Postscript:  Daughter, S-I-L, Hubby and I enjoyed another Margarita evening on Thursday of this week. One year after the completion of my chemo- and radiation-treatments at Huntsman Cancer Institute, my scans are still clean. Happy to report we’re still living happily with NED.



organized tour ends in trivandrum with a very nice surprise

Originally I planned to squeeze our one night sojourn to Thirvananthapuram, (which is the capital city of Kerala) into a general synopsis of the last couple days of our India tour. As I actually sat down to go over my notes and photographs, I changed my mind. When I first saw Thirvananthapuram on our itinerary, I had assumed–because it’s such an old city–that it might be something like Calcutta or Madras, crowded and/or hot and dirty (in my eyes at least). I’ve since learned, in fact, that Mahatma Gandhi referred to it as the evergreen city of India because of its rolling coastal terrain. I quite agree. It turned out to be one of the most impressive cities I’ve visited in India, and is a major academic hub. (I’ve always favored university towns!) I was very pleasantly surprised, to say the least. It definitely deserves a post of its own.

First, a note on the name. I wonder if others, like me, feel your eyes skim over every time you come across a word with 17 letters like T-h-i-r-u-v-a-n-a-n-t-h-a-p-u-r-a-m (which is a Malayalam word that means “abode of Lord Ananta). I’ve decided that Indian tongues are, by design, far more flexible than mine!  To me it’s easily a seven-syllable word, and takes me at least 10 seconds to pronounce. When I write it, I have to go back at least three times to see if I’ve put in enough “a’s”. On the contrary, most Indians can say it in four syllables or less and quite fast at that. I gather that when the British were there, they had similar problems with all those vowels, so seeing as how they were in charge of such things for awhile, they anglicized many of those names. Thus Thirvananthapuram became the three syllable word, Trivandrum, which I find not only easier to pronounce, but easier to spell as well. Officially, it’s now back to the old spelling, but I did notice most of the locals still use Trivandrum as I do.

This is the administrative building of the University of Kerala located on Mahatma Gandhi Road across from our hotel.

Here are a couple of typical streets in Trivandrum, the top one looking similar to the area where our hotel was located. I’m not sure of the street name here, but our hotel was on the Mahatma Gandhi Road, a major north-south road running through University of Kerala area, on which several colonial period mansions stand. The next street is more typical of the commercial district.

Here’s a public library:

Beautiful colonial buildings, don’t you agree?

Of course there was a Hindu temple on our agenda and auto rickshaws are a cheap way to get about the city. According to protocol they should cost only 10/15Rs per kilometer. Hubby’s brother cautioned us to insist on using the meter, but indicated he thought the rickshaw drivers in Trivandrum were among the most honest in all of India, but we shouldn’t pay more than 20Rs. We found a driver in front of the hotel, and he delivered us to the temple, then demanded 30Rs. The meter had shown 10Rs all the way. Naturally Hubby protested, the driver insisted the meter was broken, and Hubby handed over the money anyway. (I suspect meters are always broken for tourists.)

This is the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Before arriving, I knew only that it was very old and as such was an outstanding example of ancient south Indian architecture. It had the usual crowds of Hindus making pilgrimages to this famous temple dedicated to Hindu Lord Vishnu. Authorities were very strict there, however. Only Hindus are allowed inside and must follow stringent rules of dress. Men have to take off their shirts and wear only dhotis (see photograph), and women cannot enter in salwar kameez or pants–only saris. Also, we were told that hubby and I will have to go as a couple.  It was a moot point as  “Only Hindus” left ML and me out. I only remember being refused entry to a place one other time–that time an Indian restaurant in Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s, that time because I had on slacks. It made me feel awful as I was still fresh from the south. It hit me then how black Americans must have felt not being allowed to use restaurants or other facilities when I was growing up. Which made me feel even worse. Hubby, bless his heart, elected to stay with us and protect us from vendors and curious devotees. So we stayed outside and went as close as we could to take photos, then did what women do to feel better, we went window shopping along the entry. I understand that the inside of the temple is quite beautiful with scenes from Ramayana as well as eye catching sculptures and musical pillars, but only Hindus will ever know for sure.

To get back to the hotel, we went in search of an honest auto rickshaw driver. When learning our destination, which was probably less than a mile away by this time, the drivers all quoted the same rate of 30Rs as we’d paid on the trip in. I can’t remember how many inquiries we made before Hubby, determined to find that legendary “honest” auto rickshaw driver in Trivandrum. The difference in 20Rs and 30Rs is–in U.S. dollars– is around 25¢ US, nothing that would break the bank, but for Hubby it was not the money, it was the principle! Finally we found one! One young man, barely out of his teens, offered to take us for 20Rs! At my first opportunity, while the driver was looking for a new rickshaw (stay tuned and you’ll understand) I took this picture of his rickshaw cab. I don’t know what I expected the cab of an honest driver to look like. As a Christian myself, perhaps a plastic Jesus or Mary? Reconsidering the issue now, I think only a sweet and honest young man would even think of displaying flowers, albeit silk ones. I was very touched.

The traffic was very busy that time of evening. We got about half-way back to the hotel when the rickshaw stalled in the middle of a busy intersection. Try as he might, this poor young guy couldn’t get it to start again. Out of gas! Somehow he managed to get it over to the side of the road, where he would help us find another driver to take us the rest of the way. I was feeling so sorry for the young driver, who refused to take any payment. I leaned over to Hubby and suggested we give him at least part of the fare, which he did since he’d had the same thought himself. Still the young man refused to accept payment. We changed cabs, and just as we pulled out again–with a new driver–Hubby asked the fare for the short ride and was told 30Rs, which of course he refused and we pulled over and got out of the vehicle. Long story short, we accepted an offer from still another driver of 20Rs to take us the rest of the way. It was only about a half mile or less, but my leg was aching so we accepted it. I still worry about that thin, hard-working young man I now consider perhaps the most honest auto rickshaw driver in Trivandrum.

One last beach on our agenda, this one the Kovalam Beach, has rocky picturesque outcroppings as well as shallow water for swimming. The surrounding hills are lined with palm trees and have lots of shops that we had no time to explore. In fact we spent very little time here. We were glad to have had the opportunity–Raj and Vasanti particularly as they hadn’t been there in 40 years–but by that time my leg injury (in Goa) was really becoming bothersome and I was loath to keep on trying to walk in sinking beach sand. The young men in this picture featuring only one are wearing beach Lungis. Similar to the dhoti most commonly made of thin white cotton, the lungi is made of bright colors or decorated with colorful patterns and worn long or short.

In the southeastern U.S., where I grew up, we like to think of ourselves as among the most hospitable of the country. That was the example I was given as a child, and it was largely correct, except there were unspoken caveats (such as being the right color, the right religion, and various other things). One of the things I love about the Indian culture–and I can only speak to my experience–is that it doesn’t matter who or what you are, if you’re a guest in their country, you will be treated with a generosity of spirit I’ve never seen equaled anywhere. I’m convinced that’s probably the reason they were occupied historically by so many other more aggressive cultures.

A good example: When we knew we would be in Trivandrum, we planned a short visit to meet the parents of one Hubby’s niece’s husband Anand who lives in California. As it turned out, we arrived and checked into our hotel rather late in the day, all of us–particularly me–very tired so we decided to call Anand’s parents with our apologies. It was decided that they would visit us at our hotel instead. Gift giving seems to be customary in India for they showed up bearing gifts, among which were these red bananas (specialty of the area)  and an aromatic flower garland. They were not only very nice, well-traveled people, but very pleasant conversationalists as well. If I’m ever in their lovely city again, I’ll make certain to carve out more time to include a visit to their home.

At the Trivandrum airport the next day we said goodbye to Raj and Vasanti. With our friend ML, who would be leaving India in a couple of days, we took a flight to Bombay where we were collected by Hubby’s nephew, Raghu. After a family dinner it was hasta la vista to ML who was staying the night at a hotel near the airport. We had become so accustomed to her being around, and it had been enjoyable sharing India with an old friend. We missed her. Personally I was looking forward to some “down time” to let my leg injury heal. Although we didn’t know it at the time, that Bombay stay would lead to many more memorable places and things and people. New adventures awaited. Next stop will feature a family visit in Nagpur.

shopping & more eating with the experts in india

It’s our second to last evening in New Delhi. Hubby’s nephew, Babloo (his nickname), an officer in the Indian Air Force, and his wife Anna have invited us to dinner in their living quarters where they live with their two sons. While we chat with the boys and catch up on old times with Babloo’s visiting father, Anna flits effortlessly from living room to kitchen cooking what we in the southern U.S. refer to as a “bodacious” dinner.  I’ve already mentioned how screwed up our meal times have been since we arrived. A “normal” dinnertime in India is usually around 8:30/9:00 in the evening. We’d had lunch late that day while we were touring all those temples and synagogues, and I’d already eaten nearly a whole bowl of Chinese-style shrimp. Still I was very much looking forward to Anna’s dinner as her reputation as a great cook had not been lost on us.

Anna is a Christian from Kerala, and grew up eating meat and fish. Babloo began eating meat after he grew up and joined the Indian Air Force, not sure which came first. On prior India trips, I had avoided eating meat but now I was really looking forward to whatever non-veggie delight Anna planned for our friend ML and me. When Anna called dinner, we saw a dining table laden with food, both vegetarian dishes to please father-in-law and Hubby, and not one–but THREE–lovely non-veggie entrees, beginning with a fillet of fish baked in a creamy sauce followed by a delicious Tandoori chicken and the usually accompanying dishes such as rice and naan and salad and vegetables. Then came the mutton stew! It was all delicious, but after having dipped my hand once too often into the biscuits while drinking tea plus the late lunch of shrimp, I was too stuffed to accept second helpings, much to my chagrin.

We returned to our hotel a little too full of good food for our own good and looking forward to spending our last day in Delhi shopping with Anna and Babloo. Not only had we heard about Anna’s cooking reputation from our daughters’ visit last summer, we’d also heard how cheerful and indefatigable she was at shopping and finding whatever you had in mind to buy. In our case that day, that included stainless steel salt & pepper shakers with holes on the side like the ones we’d seen in a restaurant in Agra, a carved wooden elephant and wooden segmented cobra for our grandson and bangles and ankle bracelets for our granddaughter. We knew our suitcases could hardly accommodate any more than that.

Here’s Anna, Hubby, Babloo, and ML in front of a typical shop in the circle grid of the Connaught Circus, representing the handicrafts of the Government of Orissa State. (I chose the setting for the elephant carvings along the top of the raised platform.) The State Emporia complex features handicrafts from various states and regions in India. To know where to go to find exactly what you’re looking for, you need to know what each state or region is famous for. We were told that bargaining was not permitted in these government sponsored state stores. Anna knows otherwise, at least for some stores. She gets the best prices from the vendors, and . . .

then Babloo steps in to pay, often securing an even better deal before rendering payment. It turns out that Anna and Babloo–working in partnership–are quite the expert shoppers.

Naturally, when a group of you are shopping, after awhile someone needs to use the facilities, and since you’re in no particular hurry you go into a shopping mall food complex to locate one. (Like we do here in the U.S.)  While you’re there, you might as well stop to fortify yourself with an ice cream or cup of coffee–so you won’t feel guilty for using their toilet. This food complex is not quite as big as those in American malls, but they’re far more appealing in their snack offerings if you happen to be a vegetarian. I can’t see a single meat product in these food cases. The floating weiner looking items in the lower right corner are not hot dogs, they’re sweet gulab jamun soaking in sugar syrup, seen more often in small ball shapes.

Outside, we encounter a group of musicians and colorfully garbed dancer. It’s unclear whether it’s to call attention to their state’s store or simply to collect bakshish (tips). Notice the casual dress of the shoppers as they stroll by.

When it was time to look for the bangles, we found a whole row of open-air handicraft shops in a different area not far away, where bargaining is more or less expected. Most of these stalls are devoted to bangles (notice the ones on the left). Glass bangles are especially popular during marriage ceremonies. They’re worn by women of ages and are available in an array of colors and sizes. You can mix and match for various color combinations to match whatever you’re wearing, and some women wear several inches worth on their arms and wrists. If you can’t find the color and decoration that you’re looking for in these stalls, they probably haven’t been made yet.

Apparently Valentine’s day has caught on in India. How would you like having this giant heart of red roses with a mix of what looks like calla lilies? This one is Texas “larger than life” sized.

While these are only a few pictures I’ve chosen to show here, the truth is by this time we’ve done quite a bit of successful shopping. Blessings to Babloo who patiently drove us to different shopping districts all over the city, parking and hanging around to help whenever we needed. When we reach a South Indian restaurant similar to Haldiram’s we’ve already partaken of, we know it’s time to stop for a chai or South Indian coffee and a rest. Of course we didn’t try very hard to resist other small (?) snacks as well.  ML looks a little daunted by the huge butter masala dosai with chutney and dal she ordered. How do you eat this thing?

The other dishes includes Anna’s paper dosai and Hubby’s sambar vadai, plus an uttappam in the foreground. No dinner for me tonight!

South Indian style coffee is served quite hot, almost boiling, in small silver tumblers that are not only too hot to hold in your hand, they could burn your lips as well. I asked Hubby to demonstrate for ML the coffee by the yard cooling method that Indian baristas use, that is, pouring back and forth from cup to bowl–without losing any to your lap–until it’s sufficiently cool to drink. In spite of his lack of practice over the years, he doesn’t spill a drop. On the other hand, I chose not to show a picture of myself trying to do the same. What can I say? I spilled.

Our last shopping stop is in the Khan Market in the part of Delhi we used to walk to often from Hubby’s brother’s home where we often stayed when we were visiting India. It was hard to grasp how large it’s grown over the years. It has apparently become one of the most popular and colorful shopping districts in Delhi as well. I remember when there were very few shops open, and those were most for small appliances, such as blenders not as easily available in India as they are now. Look how much American this store front looks. You could easily persuade me that this photo was taken on a street in Queens if I hadn’t taken it myself.

At the end of the day, we had accomplished most of our shopping agenda. I had my stainless salt & pepper shakers, the elephant, bangles and anklets, as well as several items Anna and Babloo insisted on purchasing themselves and sending to the daughters #1 and 2 and their families–not to mention the beautifully embroidered Pashmina shawls they gifted ML and me. We were also beginning to suspect that we might have to eventually break down and buy another suitcase as well. More on that later. Next post, we’re off to Goa!