Monday, August 31, 2015

A food tale to remember!

So my family is as vegetarian as it gets.

We are so vegetarian that we don’t sit on tables that have had non vegetarian diners before.

We are so vegetarian that we switch channels if the cooking show suddenly starts teaching you how to slice a duck.

We are so vegetarian that we ask the waiter if the same vessels are used to cook meat and vegetables, and then willingly believe when he says no.

On top of being vegetarian, my family is also blessed with sharp expectations out of each of its children. So you cannot be anything less than an engineer, an electronics one at that or anything less than a doctor, a cardiologist at that. 

Imagine me, a non-engineer, a non-doctor, a non-so-high-credential girl who loves to read, write and prance around --- in such a family. And now add the fact that I eat meat.

Well, you can safely assume that my life is a closely guarded secret from the rest of my family. For them, living far away in a different city, in a different part of the country, I am somebody fancy working somewhere fancy and doing something fancy. I can just pray that they never pay me a visit at my house that resembles more a war-town border town, than a well-inhabited and well-maintained home-sweet-home. And one fine day my extended family call me with much enthusiasm.

Them: Heyyyyyyyyy!!! Guess what!!!!

 Me: Heyyyy! Can’t guess!

Them: Hahaha! You, funny you!

Me: Haha! Well, me, funny me!

Them: LOL!

Me: What are you going to do?

Them: LOLOL!

Me: (pause) So, what is the surprise?

Them: Oh, right!

Me: Well?

Them: We are coming to visit you!!!!!

Me: (long pause) You are…

Them: …coming to visit you!

Me: Hey! (pause) that’s (pause) great!

Them: Isn’t it?

Me: Totally!

Them: See you in three days then!


Three days later, they are all there. Lock, stock and barrel. Bag, baggage and expectation. I spend each moment, expecting the worst. And I guess, just because of that, it does not go as bad. When I expect that they will point out my sofa is too small, they notice the little dancing doll from Cambodia. When I expect them to say my tea is too strong, they observe how I only use organic brown sugar. When I wait for them to point out that it’s strange I haven’t bought a car after so many years of working, I manage to surprise them with my chocolate brownies with roasted almonds and caramel sauce. 

On the last day of their trip, I decided to order a sumptuous meal from my favorite restaurant for all of them. Continental, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Japanese, nothing less than a feast worthy of queens and kings. Well, they are my guests, they cannot expect anything less than that. I expected it to look something like this:

I call up the restaurant and place a huge order with an array of items, some that I have never tasted before but come with high recommendations from the manager taking my order. Now, let me show you scene by scene how the next couple of hours unfolded.


Scene 1

(in the living room, all members of family)

Uncle: don’t you think it has been really long since the food was ordered?

Me: (knowing fully well that he is right because forty-five minutes have passed, but then it is a Saturday night and they restaurant is obviously busy) No, uncle I don’t think so…

Cousin: It has been quite while…

Me: (wanting to smack her) Only fifteen minutes.

My mom-dad: (together) That’s all?

Me: (feigning irritation) Of course!

Scene 2

(in the balcony, all members of family, anxious and hungry)

Uncle: This time it has surely been a long time.

Me: Uh, only thirty minutes.

Mom: But you said fifteen minutes, around thirty minutes ago.

Me: (can’t even smack my own mom) Not really.

Dad: Do you want to check with them?

Aunty: You should call them.

Cousin: You want to use my mobile phone?

Me: I have my own mobile phone!

Scene 3

(on the door, the delivery boy and me)

He seems to realize he is late and hence is avoiding my gaze. The tension is the living room is at a peak and I cannot afford to waste time shouting at him, though I would love to, with all my heart. So I snatch the order, make the payment and bolt towards the living room. Just then something catches my fancy.

There is something off with the food. It does not smell like how it is supposed to. rather than a herb / plant like aroma, it has a skin like aroma. I instantly know what’s wrong.

I run to the door and thankfully the delivery boy is just about to hop onto his scooter. I literally scream. The delivery boy has a puzzled look on his face.

“Are you sure this is vegetarian?”

“Um, hum, er, yes madam.”

“This has a meaty look and smell.”

“Um, well, hmm, this is…. Lebanese, madam.”

“Does it have a name?”

“Um, I seem to have forgotten madam.”

By now the people in the room are collectively emanating hungry sounds louder than the sirens of a textile factory. Since I took so long in ordering a so called exotic meal for them, since this is their first visit to my house, since they already think I’m slightly useless, I have to do something. NOW.

So I accept the order.

Scene 4

(in the living room, all members of family)

There is an eerie silence in the room. The wrappers were torn off the food, the packets were passed around like gold, people didn’t even wait for cutlery as they began gobbling up the contents. And then the reality had hit them. I had expected the food to look something like this:

But it looked something like this:

Cousin: (after a really really really long pause) This does not seem like vegetarian.

Me: (Now I will surely smack her when her everyone is asleep) Of course it does.

Mom: (elbowing me) Are you are?

Me: Sigh.

I call the restaurant people. And the drama starts again....

“Are you sure this is vegetarian?

“Of course, madam.”


This instance is certainly my worst food fix story. The collective hunger of my extended family sat on me heavy as I wanted to kill myself and bury my body under the living room sofa. It could be many things. Either the heavy Saturday crowd that made them mix up the order. Or my anxiety at wanting to please the family that made me order some random stuff. Either the excitement in trying new things. Or a general concoction of bad luck who knows.

To summarize what happened next: well, the same cousin who loved playing the devil's advocate, turned out to be my savior. She suggested something called the Tiny Owl app, as everyone sat around morose and hungry. 

Thankfully I had the choice of selecting a restaurant that delivered in the time I wanted, because the app told me exactly how long I would have to wait.

On top of that, I could filter on exactly what I wanted and make it an exotic order if I wanted (again)...

There was no way in hell I was taking a chance (or could afford to take a chance) with what I was ordering so I loved the fact that I could read descriptions of what I was ordering much before! 

The food was delivered according to the descriptions and the delivery times promised. Of course I was (again) the butt of jokes in the family, but I really was not complaining. After ordering a disaster the first time, and making everyone wait for soooo long, this is the most courteous thing they could do to me! Since I was already very jittery from my previous order, I kept bugging the helpline, and found the Tiny Owl customer team to be very friendly and helpful. It is really quite a helpful resource for food lovers. You can download it here for Android or here for Apple

And guess what, if you invite your friends to the app you get free meals!

(Thanks Indiblogger for introducing me to Tiny Owl! Pictures courtesy: Pixabay)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Creating and sharing moments of joy with your children...

Have you met Ashok uncle? The same one with a bushy mustache and round belly? The one with an upturned coconut of a head and an ever self-important look on his face? 


Okay, let me introduce you to him. So Ashok uncle is my father’s cousin brother. While we were growing up, he lived across the street with his so-called perfect family, holding his perfect job, in his perfect house and living his perfect life. He had views and opinions on everything. He knew which political party to vote for and advised everyone on it whether they cared to listen or not. He knew which foods to eat, which destinations to visit, which vastu-compliant angle to construct your kitchen in, which relatives to maintain relationships with and which hobbies to pursue.

Ashok uncle loved to come to our house every Sunday. There were many reasons for that. Firstly, my mother was and still is an excellent cook. In fact more than being an excellent cook, she is an above excellent hostess. If you visit her home, you are ensured of the best food, relaxation, respect and overall treatment. Ashok uncle obviously wanted to exploit this to the maximum. So he came home every Sunday to piping hot delicious stuffed parathas or paneer-capsicum gravy with home-made naans or rick badam halwa with ginger tea.

The second reason was that my father respected him immensely. Being a simple gullible man, my father always deferred to his advice. Ashok uncle loved these positions of influence and authority. So he would come home and subject my father to endless hours of lecture on how to conduct his work and his life. We were obviously too young to understand the dynamic that was taking place there. So we heard uncle tell our father on how he should be strict with us because what children are parents now friends. He would tell him that children flourish under discipline, that what they want from parents is safety not fun, that a parent’s job was to ‘teach’ the child on what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Sometimes my father nodded, at other times, he just glazed over (thankfully). I remember one such Sunday.

Ashok uncle: I am telling you, they don’t know anything. They are just children. They need to be taught everything.
Mom: They are smarter than we think they are, bhaya ji.
Dad: I agree.
Ashok uncle: What agree? You henpecked bugger.
Mom: They can know even more than we do. Age has nothing to do with knowledge or smartness.
Dad: Yes, that’s also…
Ashok uncle: But do you want to risk it? I make my children pray for an hour every day, then read our religious books, then they go to school, then they do their homework, then…
Mom: We may not realize but by making them do what we think is ‘right’, we are not letting them discover what is ‘right’ for them…
Dad: And who is to say what we think is ‘right’ is actually so. We are also capable of making mistakes, even if we are parents.
Ashok uncle: So sad to hear you both talking like that. I am elder to you…
Mom: We did not mean to…
Dad: Sorry bhaya…
Ashok uncle: Now listen to me…

I do not think my parents took his parenting advice too seriously, else I seriously would not be where I am now, nor would be my siblings. He was older and they respected him, but somewhere they miraculously seems to know that they would rather be our buddies than our parents. Our buddy parents viewed parenting as interactive and not instructive. Fortunately for us, mom and dad wanted to create bonding moments with their kids that go on to make for a happy and secure childhood. So this was how our typical weekday would be like:

6:00 AM – wake up, get ready and leave for school in around forty-five minutes.
2:30 PM – come back home, have lunch and take an afternoon nap.
4:30 PM – wake up and finish homework, all the while mom around to help or encourage where required.  
6:00 PM – Either play outside or start cooking dinner with mom or play an indoor game or read a book based on what we felt like that day. Sometimes (but not often given we were a regular middle class family) mom would join us in a game and we would order dinner from outside when dad came later.

8:00 PM – dad would return from work, greet us with a big beaming smile and we would have dinner together, sharing stories from the day, having lots of fun, making tonnes of bonding memories.
9:30 PM – we would normally watch an informative program together as a family because as habit we preferred that to movies or TV. On other days, we would do some household work together like cleaning the book cabinet or sorting out letters.
10:30 PM – bed time.

A weekend was not very different though there was a lot more family time, people visiting and chores to be finished, of course all of us doing most of the work together or parts of it allocated to us. If you see carefully, there was absolutely nothing unusual about this childhood. There were no big declarations of love from our side or from our parents. There were surprise gifts or vacations (other than one annual one which my father could afford). There were no chauffeurs, no tiaras, no filmy stuff. But what was there was a simple thread that ran through the entire family. This thread was not made of the hardest metal in the world. This thread was not something that could be described in words. This thread was never spoken about deliberately. But this thread was and is pretty much the only one that held and still holds.

This thread was called love. Or bonding. Or trust. Or respect. You can choose to call it whatever you want.

This thread was responsible for innumerable moments of joy in our household and still is. My parents never really looked at us as children, but they never treated us like adults too. They never used the rod with us, but they never conveyed that we could do anything we want too. Their parenting style was not based on fear or authority, it was based on understanding and a deep wisdom. So while we knew that we could not steal from a shop because it was absolutely unethical to, we also knew that if we are wrongly accused of it, we can stand up for ourselves confidently because our parents would stand up for us too, instead of telling us we should have never visited the store unaccompanied.  We were fearless and confident and still are. We can look up and face anybody who dares to challenge us ;)

I call this philosophy as ‘Khuljaye Bachpan’. ‘Khuljyaye Bachpan’ is about being unfettered and fearless. ‘Khuljaye bachpan’ is about empowerment, not being authoritative and thus letting kids be kids. ‘Khuljaye bachpan’ is symbolic of ‘unlocking’ the way childhood should be. Today, kids know a lot. The best way to bond with kids is to participate and learn about their world and in the process learn new things. By being hung up on the past, parents just close the doors to an exciting new world that only their children can help them step into. By being obstinate and stubborn, be showing that they know-it-all, they are missing out on that vital spark that their children can bring into their lives by being the torchbearers of the next century themselves. Being a parent is as much about learning as it is about teaching. It is about giving your child what he or she truly needs and not what you want to hand-over.

It is about remembering that chronological age is never an index of maturity because sometimes the oldest can be the biggest fools and order wars on other countries and the youngest can stand up to terrorism and become Malala. It is about being humble and accepting to learning from anyone including your children. It is about not coming under pressure that only you can teach them and they cannot teach you anything back in return. It is about recognizing the genius in your child and letting it flower and bloom. It is about not forcing your lifestyle or dreams on them and letting them flower and become the beautiful people that they are totally capable of being.

Looking back now, I wonder about Ashok uncle’s poor children. He has a daughter and a son, and while both seem externally as normal as one could be, there are certain things about them that sadden me. The daughter was married to one of the ‘richest’ and most ‘intelligent’ boy of his age-group. He came out of a big institute, took a job abroad and started a big company. Ashok uncle was so proud of his accomplishments that he made sure he repeated it at least ten times to anybody who cared to listen. Now she spends her time locked in her big castle, taking care of the household and children, with no time for herself or her dreams, following the rules set by the ‘rich’ and ‘strong’ family she has been married into. While initially she looked happily well-fed, now she has begun to show signs of people who are scraping through life like zombies, and worse still, they know it.

His son, obedient and handsome at home, was one of the best known brats in college (unknown to his doting dad of course). Then he flunked in college, was rescued by uncle’s financial might and sent abroad for a face-saving degree. Recently he came back to India, and went into a tiny village to find the most pliant and docile wife to take back with him. Now he seems to have found a job back abroad and never plans to leave that country. He sends some money periodically to his parents as a substitute for his presence and they know that they only way they can keep their position in society is by showing that they love this arrangement. So while there is nobody who actually cares when they are sick and need to be taken to a hospital, they do have money to buy a Prada bag or a Honda Accord which is paraded around in demonstration of their never ending prosperity. While they have nobody who wants to talk to them, or visit them, they do have a 7-figure bank balance that they do not know what to do with – if only they could take print outs of it and distribute to everyone to prove how happy they are.

Recently I was at my parents’ place and surprises of surprise, my dear Ashok uncle came visiting. When we were young, he would just dismiss our presence as these lowly mortals who were far beneath him. He would treat us like lumps who are being grown up for a specific purpose, but now that we are ‘hugely successful’ people in our own right according to him, his demeanor towards us suddenly seems to have changed. We had an interesting exchange:

Ashok uncle: Arey beta, I never thought I will get to run into you!
Canary: I am glad to have met you, uncle.
Ashok uncle: Me too. How is your job? Your mom told me about your promotions. Congrats!
Canary: Thanks uncle.
Ashok uncle: I used to always tell them to encourage you children because you all seemed so smart all the time.
Canary: Really? (with a smile)
Ashok uncle: Of course! I told them that you were smart kids and they should be your friends and not really your parents.
Canary: I see (exchanging a naughty glance with my mom who was also smiling now)
Ashok uncle: Your parents are lucky they get to see you all often. My kids hardly get to visit because they are very busy in their successful jobs, you see,
Canary: I am sure about that uncle. Are they still praying and reading religious books every day, uncle?
Ashok uncle: No, they said they never get the time. I am sure God is in their heart.
Canary: I am sure.

Of course there is no point in saying this now, but I wish instead of spending all his time in preaching to other people, including to his own children, he actually spent some real time with them. He asked his son why he seemed to enjoy photography or his daughter why she was always looking at fabrics or dress designs in magazines. His children may have been able to express their dreams to him, may be even include him, and surely reach their potential following their true passions. They would have taught him now about the gadgets they use and which he struggles with all the time, despite possessing them to show to other people. They could have spent time with him because they felt he was at their wavelength. And most important than anything else, now being parents themselves to children who will shape tomorrow with their thoughts, behaviors and actions, they would have learned the right kind of parenting not from books or others, but at their own homes. Boy, was I lucky with the parents that I got!

My parents were the best,
Not because they gave me endless allowance
Or unbridled pampering,
But because they were my buddies when I needed them most.

Like silent sages, they understood parenting,
And unlocked my childhood to be fearless and joyful,
By sharing so many ‘khushi ke pal’ with me,
They practiced ‘Khuljaye bachpan’ to ‘khuljaye life’.
I am so glad that a great brand like Kellogg’s Chocos helps in creating ‘Khushi Ke Pal’ between parent and child. It is wonderful that most Indian households consume their products at the breakfast table because through their reach into households, they can propagate the message of effective parenting very well! I loved their new TVC illustrating this very sweetly so I am sharing it here:

(p.s. Images used in this post are from pixabay. While Ashok uncle or his family surely does not read my blog, some other people that may know him do, hence I have not used any of his pictures. I have however used his real name because it is so common :D :P ;) )