Thursday, November 27, 2008


Repeatedly. Relentlessly. Ruthlessly.
That's how they work. That's how they attack.
For what?
Money? Power? Revenge? Religion?
No excuse justifies this kind of coldbloodedness.
I feel wrung-out, and I'm only watching it on tv.
What of those right in the middle of this nightmare?
What of their frantic loved ones?
What of those bravehearts risking everything to end this?
Nearly 20 hours now ....... how much longer?
Life will limp back to normalcy.
But how 'normal' will it really be?
We think we live in a free country,
but as long as terror goes unpunished,
we all remain hostages to that bit of fear.
May there be justice at the end of this madness.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Life Aborted

You know how you see / hear / read certain things and they kind of linger in your mind for a while? Give off vibes and feelings that you can't shake off? Sometimes make an impact so deep that you know you'll never forget them?

Fellow blogger My Space's powerfully written, powerfully moving short story is one of those reads giving me a feeling that I haven't been able to shake off, especially since it relates to one of those things that I cannot forget.

I was in the ninth standard, close to 14 years old, when one day the entire batch of us were taken to our school auditorium. It was for yet another "awareness" talk, where a group of doctors and other trained professionals lectured us on menstruation, sex, pregnancy and other issues girls on the verge of womanhood needed to know.

We entered the auditorium and took our seats, chattering away merrily like most young girls. Our headmistress introduced the main speaker of the day, a middle-aged male doctor. All I remember of him today is that he was tall and wore glasses. He said that the session would consist of him giving a talk, us watching a short film, followed by some q & a time and the subject of the day was abortion.

He got started on the talk, and for the most part, we were quiet, although softly whispered conversations and gossip, hushed jokes and giggles, passing of notes and comments continued throughout the audience.

Then he played the film. And we all slowly shut up ...... stunned into silence. A few minutes in and some of the girls closed their eyes or put their heads down, simply unable to take any more. I watched, and kept watching even as tears burned my throat and I felt as if something were shredding my stomach to pieces.

Time has erased many of the details of the film and of the rest of the session, but what imprinted itself in my mind were the images: little bodies that had human form but no features, twitching in agony, and the most horrific of them all ...... the tiny foetus that couldn't have been bigger than my palm, lying bloodied, battered and broken.

I don't write this to gross anyone out; this is what I saw, what has stayed with me ever since and what flashes through my mind every time I see / hear / read the word 'abortion'. For me, those images reduce the whole debate on the subject to just one thing: abortion is murder.

For those who've simply been careless, or for whom a pregnancy at the time is "not convenient", or for whom, as in My Space's story, having a son is most important - you commit the cruelest sort of murder because the life you decide to take is life at its purest, most innocent and most helpless stage.

And yet, the matter isn't black and white when you consider cases where the health of the mother and/or baby is at risk, or in the worst possible scenario - where a rape victim gets pregnant. It is an unimaginably traumatic choice to make, but a choice that nevertheless must be made.

How do you decide what is right in such situations? As strongly as I feel on the subject, I have no answer here.


P.S.: November 2nd is celebrated as All Souls' Day. The Catholic Church observes a special Mass on this day to remember and pray for the souls of all the departed that they might rest in peace. On this All Souls' Day mass, the priest also prayed for the souls of aborted children. It never occurred to me to do so before, but its not something I'll forget now.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Be My Guest!

I have always loved having people around; not strangers or new acquaintances, but familiar, friendly faces. Coming from a big, but far-flung family, some of my happiest memories are of when aunts and uncles would come back home for a visit.

I used to feel immensely thrilled at the prospect of getting together like in old times with everybody under one roof - either at my home or at my grandparents'. It didn't matter that there were more people than there was room - we would all adjust so that everybody could be conveniently accomodated in the limited space.

Then there was one of the best parts: the food!!! We are totally and completely a food-loving family, so over and above the sustenance aspect, food is a vital part of all our lives. My mother being a fantastic cook, great food on the table was a daily occurrence in our house ...... and it only got better when we had guests.

Whether the guests were over just for a meal, or were staying with us for a few days, the "Athithi Devo Bhava" (Sanskrit for "a guest is God") mindset that is the foundation of Indian hospitality, was all-important, with the result that people loved visiting our home, and I loved it even more when they did. The atmosphere would be warm & inviting, the food delicious and plentiful, and my parents - ever the gracious hosts.

Today, I am a homemaker myself. I only felt confident about having guests over 3-4 months into my marriage. Since then, we've had friends and family over for meals quite a few times, though in small groups. We've also had houseguests on three occassions: the first visitors being my mother and my grandmother, followed by my father-in-law and nephew a month later, and finally, my mother-in-law (MIL), who was with us last week.

As a child, I only saw the fun part of having guests, but the older I grew, the more I began to realise how much careful thought and planning went into ensuring that fun. However its only now, having actually been a hostess, that I can truly appreciate just how hard my parents worked to provide that unfailing hospitality time and again.

There were always hands to help: we had maids to handle the cleaning up, we kids would do whatever we were told, and Dad would be right beside Mom, slogging it out to get the food ready.

Dad was and is her right hand, but it was Mom who really was the brains of the whole show. Even in our daily life, it was her foresight and strategies that had our home running smoothly. Earlier, I wrote about our daily food as though it were matter of fact that it would be great. But what I didn't note was the great pains that Mom took to bring out that food, day in and day out, taking into account everyone's tastes and preferences.

And now when I try to do the same for hubby & me & our guests, I am repeatedly amazed by her love for us, her selflessness and her unswerving commitment to her family.

Mom always believed that you could handle anything if you kept things organized and planned things in advance, and it is only now that I really understand the importance of this. Because you may have help, like I did last week with sis-in-law and her sis also coming over to spend time with our MIL, but ultimately its my kitchen, my space, my setup. I need to be the master planner, I need to know what has to be done when and I need to do it all while making everyone feel comfortable and welcome, not only because that's how I was raised, but also because that's how I was received in their homes.

Honestly, I was anxious about how MIL's visit would go, but more than the anxiety was the desire to make her stay as enjoyable as possible, because despite the added work, I do love having people around.

And that I think is the necessary factor underlying great hospitality: the love for hosting guests, along with a spirit of service and the invaluable, combined effort of all the family. Its what creates that almost-tangible sense of warmth and welcome, what makes the difference between homes that you visit because you want to, and those you visit because you have to.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Making and Breaking of Besan Ka Laddoo

After my last post, some of you had asked about the besan ka laddoo. Well, I gave it a shot last week, feeling very festive with the twinkling lights and sparkling fireworks outside the window. I was quite confident, as the recipe seemed to be very simple: the one I was following said to take 4 cups besan to 1 cup each of ghee and powdered sugar; roast the besan in the ghee till it gives off an aroma, take it off the heat, cool & then mix in the sugar and some powdered cardamom (sliced almonds too if you want them), shape them into balls and voila! Besan laddoos are ready to serve.

It seems as if it should've been a piece of cake, but compared to what happened, cakes are much, much easier! If I were to describe step-by-stupid-step what I did and why I did it, this would be a reaallllly long post. So here's the concise version of the idiot's guide to besan ka laddoo.

It begins with my shock as what seemed to be a lil amount of ghee in the measuring cup suddenly looked like a mini-lake in the pan. I took out a couple of teaspoonfuls, considering we'd already had a lot of rich sweets earlier that week. Needless to say, the mix turned out to be too dry to shape into balls. I wanted to kick myself for that sudden attack of health-consciousitis. (Note to self: if you really want to eat "healthy", don't bother making sweets!)

Anyway, I thought I could still salvage it, something a quick call to mom confirmed - all I had to do was add more ghee. Now you would think since I had taken out only two teaspoonfuls, I would've replaced just that amount. But no, this is the idiot's guide, remember? I picked up the ghee bottle, yeah the whole bottle, and happily went glop, glop, glop ...... and some more glop, glop, glop all over the pan!

So now ....... yeah, you guessed it, the mixture was too wet!!! Usually quite a few types of dough tend to harden as they cool and I fervently hoped that this would too. So as it cooled, I tried forming a ball ....... it didn't exactly stay in a perfect round, but to my relief, at least it didn't break apart like in the first time.

Feeling better, I dropped the misshapen laddoo onto a waiting thali and started work on the next one ....... after which I stopped. This is why:

I had succeeded in making besan ka blobs!!! I stared in sheer disbelief for a few seconds, before my sense of humour caught up with me. I called out to hubby, who came inquiring if the laddoos were ready ...... and burst out laughing when he saw the plate!!!

Well, ultimately I just spread the whole mix onto the thali and even scored criss-cross lines over it, in a final hope that just maybe we could at least have besan burfi. But no, the moment I tried to lift a piece out, it would break apart! The end result was that we had to eat the umm, laddoos / burfi / powder with a spoon! But hey, it tasted exactly right, exactly like its supposed to. Hopefully, next time I'll get the look right too!!! :)

If you're planning to try this out, don't be put off by my experience, because in hindsight, its really not so bad. Just remember to get your measurements right; I don't think the ratios I used were correct, so if you'd like, check out this recipe here (I made pedas using their recipe and that turned out superb!) Also, roast the besan on very low heat (it must cook, but not brown) and oh yes, make sure your sugar is powdered really fine - did I forget to mention the intact sugar crystals in my mixture???

And a last all-important piece of advice: before attempting this recipe, talk it over with someone who's actually made besan ka laddoo - successfully!!!