Wednesday, August 30, 2006


The faint hint of winter; dew on the leaves and grass and the smell of Pujas in the air. Tis the season...for me anyway! For the most part it is dry and hot but the mornings and evenings remind you that winter is not far from this "Sharad" month. The air is crisp at times and heavy other times; the smells are very haunting and addictive with the mild fragrance of "shiuli" flowers thriving during the season. Also ring in the ears are the rhythms of the drums or "dhaak" that announce the arrival of Durga Pujas or the worshipping of Goddess Durga.

As I know it Goddess Durga arrives on earth - her natal home and we who belong here rejoice to have a married daughter who represents power, goodness, and slayer of evil and harmonious conjugality! Married to Shiva and blessed by the trinity of Hindu mythology – Bramha the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. With her infinite power that finds manifestation in her ten hands, a third eye and lion as her consort, she is quite the presence that human kind bows down to. She wields energy or Shakti that is par none. She also represents the divine Mother or "Ma Durga" and brings with her children - Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth, Saraswati, the Goddess of learning, and her sons Ganesh the God of Success and Kartik the god of beauty.
Offerings of flowers, sweets, chantings of "mantras" and food are made. Five days of sheer excitement, celebration and worship in the communities bring together people from all walks of life culminating in Vijaya Dashami or the day of victory of the good over evil. Subsequently "Ma Durga" is sent back to her abode and symbolically idols are immersed in the rivers and waterways that flow and safely take her back to Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas where she resides with her husband.
So many times myths, religion and real life merge into one another. In our homes vistors as they leave are told "Dugga, Dugga" in colloquial terms to mean "may Goddess Durga see you through a safe journey back!" She never really leaves and is ever present in some capacity in each one of us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tri-color calling.....

The gates of the Rastrapati Bhavan, New Delhi

With August 15 approaching, many a thought comes to the mind as one remembers India gaining independence so many decades ago. Unity in Diversity as a paradigm is taught and expressed many times over in the Indian Constitution as well as in most patriotic narratives and discourse. That there are diverse groups of people is a given in the Indian scenario. Often, looks, clothes, religious, regional and linguistic affiliations, caste and gender play a deciding role in asserting one's identity.

In the 'melting pot' that is the U.S., often these distinct identities and sometimes the not so disparate aspects of identity seem to be relegated to the back seat. Recognized as a general category of "Indians," many of those who belong in there find themselves re-evolving themselves and seeking new avatars. Sometimes lumped together with other Asians or South Asians and we scratch our heads when asked to enumerate the race. Not African American or Black, not Caucasian, not Hispanic, not Asian, not Native American-our choices are limited. How about proto-Australoid?!

The approach to living in America is to conform to a different lifestyle and different categorization. Assimilation is the buzzword whereby every concerned individual follows a uniform lifestyle that the culture imposes on people. Its all about homogeneity.
And this lifestyle manifests its trust and faith wily nily in affirmative acts where:

  • Everyone deserves the opportunity to participate fully within the economic communities.
  • Workplaces are enriched by the diversity of their workforces.
  • People are valued for their differences - not in spite of them.
The legal instruments that have axiomatic implications are:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Diversity changes its flavor here. It is an umbrella that shelters people from wrongfully being treated because of their race, gender, war veterans, disabled and the elderly. For instance, Chapter 151B of the General Laws of Massachusetts speaks of unlawful discrimination against race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry or sex. Many a time job postings will have a small byline saying EEO or equal employment opportunity.

It all seems to be oriented to securing a peaceful, harmonious work place peace that contributes to the production of goods and knowledge that make up this super consumer and profit making economy. Somehow the diverse elements of individual affiliations are superseded by the overriding concern of the general good. It undermines the wealth of knowledge that exists in each diverse trait. Discourses on diversity are relegated to workplaces where prejudices, biases and "isms' such as racism, ageism, lookism or what have you are tackled by the strong word of law.

Most Indians deal with changed business strategies and work ethic. And battle with their identities as Sikhs explaining why they wear turbans; as Hindus explaining why their women wear a dot on their forehead; why Muslims will fast during Ramzan; why Christians also wear sarees and so on. And why Indians don't celebrate Thanksgiving! Many Indian festivals happen when the sun and the moon show the time and the moment and never can really predict the date when one wants to take the day off to celebrate.

That is what living amidst a fruitful diversity of cultures is all about. It is unpredictable, varied and certain not homogeneous in form or content. Fifty nine years of independence and a civilization that is a several thousands of years old has much to offer. That Indians excel at what they do, is no cause for surprise and is certainly not a surpise to me!

Also published on Lokvani at

Monday, March 13, 2006


Or mangoes! The word rekindles feelings of sweetness, aroma, summer in India and the longingness of being with people who are close. As children we would wait for one of the first green, raw mango to arrive at home. As my father would present the green jewel to the family, his infectious enthusiasm would catch on to the rest of us.

I like the shape too. It closely resembles the paisley and is often called “kolkla” or “keri buti”– something I want when I buy prints or clothes and even jewellery. It’s a very artistic shape and I think the paisley sought inspiration from mangoes for all I care!

One mango could transport us to so many places in our minds – that there was more to come, that summer was at the door, that a couple of weeks and we would have summer vacations and then - ripe mangoes!

As soon as the green mango was brought in, we would be served “tauker dal”, a savory sour lentil preparation or just “aamer tauk,” a sweet and sour dish that looked a beautiful opaque yellow liquid with pieces of mangoes that melted once they hit our tongues. As more raw mangoes were brought in, the best things made that I happened to like is often called “panna” in some parts of India. Basically the mango is roasted with its skin on and later peeled away and discarded along with the pit. The pulp is used to make a sweet, spicy drinks that would start dancing on the palette and taste like heaven on a warm summer afternoon. It has that nuttiness of burnt natural sugars of the fruit and the silky pulp of the raw mango along with roasted cumin and red chilies, sugar and salt.
There are households I am aware of, that would buy by the cartons and have the raw mangoes pickled in the hot summer sun and would be made in bulk for the entire lineage and even clan to share for the rest of the year.

The ripe mangoes were never very obviously ripe but sealed inside the the green outer cover is sweetness delight! The “langra” and “dusseheri” varieties arrive and no sooner had we glanced at them, they would be either wrapped in yesterday’s newspapers and kept in a dark store room or simply tucked away into rice canisters to ripen. When exactly they would come out of those hidden away places was not our calling. But when they did, they would be cut into three pieces length-wise. The yellowish-orange insides would peek through as the juices run down the knife and onto the plate. There were two “sides” and the pit and nothing was wasted. My parents would sink their teeth into the fruit like there was no tomorrow and polish all each side like they were empty bowls! I however used a spoon to make little scoops and eat it. I would keep scraping till I hit the peel and could find no more of the fruit. There was some tiff over who would eat the pit. Unlike other fruits, the seed of the mango does not come away loose and a lot of the fruit is always attached to the outer skin which could be eaten only by sucking on it. A bit messy but who cares!
There would be the “Alphonsos” coming in from Mumbai and then the “Begmaphalli” and “Chausa” varieties flooding the markets as the mercury levels hit high and high levels. People at every corner under the shade of a tree would be found devouring some variety of mango and relishing every bit of it.
Conversations would begin with, “did you know langra was being sold at twenty rupees a kilo?” Or that “ these days we don’t feel like eating food what with the heat and everything. A couple of mangoes and we are done for the day!.” Then again, “this year the dusseheris have turned out good. The early summer showers did not destroy the mango blossoms!” Strangely enough such interactions would be taking place several thousand kilometers away from where the mango orchards are! It is important to sound knowledgeable about the fruit because there is so little to do in the dry, summer months when everything really wilts including people and it seems that only mangoes see them through such trying times.

I have longed for this regal fruit in the USA and have not even ventured close to the ones available here. Maybe for salsa but that’s about it. I hear that the countries are now trying to make a deal to bring in Indian mangoes into the US. Long ago as children we had listened to my uncle who was a Botany big shot in the Forest Research Institute with wide eyed wonder that Indian mangoes could not be exported and that US would deny entry because the seed contains within it germs that might destroy other crops. I wonder what kind of visa restrictions have been loosened to have them over!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


In the course of the last treinta dias (my Spanish kicking in..oh so suddenly and deliberately!) I have heard of some close human beings passing on. I have experienced the grief of those that were left behind to deal with the loss. I have cried, I have mourned, I have shared my own loss and I have held hands with the bereaved for whatever it is worth. The language of grief is universal and for the most part shared.

An esoteric me would feel that as liminal beings each stage of life is rife with the lurking unreal happenings. Van Gennep’s “Rites of passage” helped me understand life’s transitions.
However, as a human being, going through the motions of life, the sudden and often hostile change that death imposes is very personal and no amount of rituals seem to appear as catharsis. Personal crisis is located in emotionally charged environments and that is what the rituals seem to want to help structure. I feel that they seem to reinforce the prevalent and/or dominant religious values.

But do I need to be a religious person to grieve? In normal circumstances I would keep blind faith in religion at bay. I have no issue with religion and have for the most part respect the power it has over human conscience - sometimes even more than education can ever think of permeating. So even when we are aware that those who have left us are not there anymore physically, we pretend they are still around and that they are unhappy until and unless the post liminal ceremonies are completed that would release them into the final state of being and allow the grieving out of their polluting state of existence into a normal sacred living.
Van Gennep has explained that the monotony and rigor that rituals offer (I often use “ritualistic” to connote monotony!) get people into a state that gradually weans them away from their state of being. In that case factory workers at conveyor belts who we have studied and know of as being the most alienated should be able to come out of that situation soon so as to be able to live better lives. But that does not happen. I guess that’s too simplistic a comparison.

Without saying one way or the other, let me say that grieving with people and feeling heard and understood has a very calming effect. Its a different time and easing into that phase means that a phase is left behind too. I thank those who are able to find in themselves to be there when they are needed the most and help breach the continuity and break it up at the same time. Memories are a big part of us and no routine can change that. And they are the ones I wish to celebrate.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Its Pongal and Makar Sankranti today!

Its Januray 14, 2006. While it is blustery outside here in the US, the festival churns up warm feelings. It marks the harvest festival in Tamil Nadu and ushers in "thai maasam". In Bengal it is the "poush maash."
Festivals such as this though religious and or ritualistic celebrate the sheer harmony of human life cycle with the seasonal changes in nature. They are welcome breaks in the long continnuum of time bridging one state of mind and existence to another.

The rice based preparations crucial for celebrating the festival- "ven pongal" and the "chakkra pongal" comprise ingredients that are freshly harvested during the agricultural season. Similarly in Bengal, "puli peethe" and "patishaapta" use jaggery drawn from dates and not necessarily sugarcane. In the Punjab, Lohri festival is held probably a day ahead of Pongal and also celebrates the winter savouries like sesame seeds, peanuts, sugar and jaggery and ushers in the season for kharif crops that will be harvested a couple of months later and yet again celebrated during Baisakhi.

Some published contributions

Living here....!

Khaali Hai Kya?


Travails of a desi living in videsh

Authentic Bengali Cuisine in Boston

A wintry evening sunset in Sudbury

Friday, January 13, 2006

Presenting our hues and shades