Cooking up a storm

Nonika Singh

Ever since the two tied the knot, the paparazzi, both in India and abroad, has been in an overdrive mode, busy speculating how long Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas marriage will survive. Given the age difference between the two otherwise seemingly ‘very much in love’ couple, somehow the tribe of sceptics doesn’t give them more than two years. One nosey and nasty tabloid has already called out quits on their behalf.

Prophecy, however, is not my wont. Rather I am more taken in by what the gorgeous actress herself had to say in an interview. In one of her all-too-frequent appearances on television, on ABC’s chat show, The View, Priyanka confessed how she is a terrible wife, for she can’t cook.

Ah, the inability to cook…. her observation takes me down memory lane, to my courtship period. When I confessed a similar inadequacy to my would-be husband, his answer was so unlike the supportive Nick Jonas. Sure like Priyanka and Nick, back in time, he too couldn’t cook to save his life. But what he told me was no lovey-dovey placatory repartee — ‘it is perfectly all right dear’ — instead, he sulked, ‘Please don’t say that. In my life I have a mom who can’t cook, now to have a wife who can’t as well…!’ What was left unsaid was I must equip myself for the khaana khazana.

While I can’t say how he would fare in today’s world where everything is seen through the prism of gender equality, he certainly got full marks on honesty. Over the years, I daresay my culinary skills have only moved from zilch to average. But to my husband’s credit and my delight, while cooks as fulltime help have come and gone in our household, I remain on the top of his ‘favourite cook’ list. Reasons could vary. After all, who can dare offend a wife whose menu is likely to read ‘eat or starve’. The more plausible answer to his indulgence in me perhaps lies in — wasn’t I cooking strictly in deference to his taste-buds.

Clearly, whoever coined the adage the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach knew what he was talking about. Indeed, in 2019 cooking is no longer a womanly affair. Thanks to innumerable cooking channels, he too has learnt to rustle up a few dishes.

Today as I look around, I see both men and women cook. Not just to please their spouses, but friends, parents, guests and some exceptionally egalitarian ones even roll out chapattis for their help. Hasn’t Sikhism taught us that to feed others is the ultimate seva? Besides, cooking is not just another spousal duty, rather as Hedda Sterne says ‘it is an extension of love’.

So, dear Priyanka, no harm in lighting up the fire in the kitchen… who knows it might make those who believe there is no smoke without fire, see some light!

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My prayer at 83

Shriniwas Joshi

I am 83 today and I feel ancient enough when I am introduced to the youth of Himachal as a person who had seen Mahatma Gandhi. I have two children and both are settled in places of their vocation and we, my wife and I, now very senior citizens as per the income tax rules, live twosome to be the caretaker of the house that we had built when we were earning. My prayer on this day when I am stepping into the 84th year of my life is:

“Oh God! I am grateful to my body that aches and to the body of my wife which suffers from osteoarthritis and various other diseases and I carry these two, still breathing, bodies to the hospital very often, which shows that I am not unemployed and I have a work in hand;

“Oh God! I am thankful to my children living abroad and in metropolitan towns in India who on our birthdays send messages like ‘happy birthday, you twinkly, wrinkly’ or ‘despite your ripe old age, you are like spring chicken; happy birthday’.

“Oh God! I am thankful to my teeth because these come out at night and remind me of the poetic starry nights, which also come out in dark;

“Oh God! I am grateful to the monkey on the street who forces me to keep myself off his route which shows that I still can see objects, of course, through the glasses;

“Oh God! I am grateful to the truck driver who comes from behind at a breakneck speed and I jump to the nearest drain to save my life which shows that I can attend to the rumble of a running truck and am not hard of hearing;

“Oh God! I am grateful to my shadow in my balcony which shows that I have open space in my house where the sun shines;

“Oh God! I am thankful to you that I have more rooms than one in the house because often I go to the next room to get something and do not remember what I came for;

“Oh God! I am thankful that, so far, even in the present set-up, I grumble and continue finding faults with the government and share those with others which shows that I live in a democracy where there is liberty of thought, expression and speech;

“Oh God! I am thankful to the government that it pays me pension for the service that I had rendered to it when I was young and from the amount so received I spend more than Rs 47 a day which the Rangarajan Committee considers enough to keep the wolf away from the doorstep;

“Oh God! I am grateful to my neighbours who sometimes invite ‘Uncleji and Auntiji’ for dinner or tea which shows that there are still people who want to break our loneliness;

“Oh God! I am thankful to my brother who brings a cake on my birthday and says that the candles depicting your age are costly, so light a diyaa and say tamaso maa jyotirgamaya — move from darkness to light;

“Oh God! I am thankful to the newspaper-man who gives two newspapers to me daily, despite rain and snow, which shows that I still keep myself abreast with the happenings elsewhere and I do not figure in the obituaries, showing that my flame is still burning.”


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Burgundy bellbottoms & a grateful heart

Kamaljit Singh Banwait

However tough times get, parents never let the wishes of their children die. I fondly remember the Terylene shirt I got in class IX for scoring the highest in English. I have never been embarrassed to talk about my childhood days spent in poverty. My uniform was a khaki shirt, trousers and a pink patka. I used to wear the same clothes that I got stitched for the wedding of my cousins to go out. Since the wedding was on the same day, it saved me from repeating the outfit. Back then, wearing different outfits for different occasions wasn’t a trend either.

Due to my mother’s illness, I took charge of kitchen and cattle at an early age. I borrowed money to pay my college fee. Till class XII, I wore altered clothes of my elder brother. This makes me recall the memory of my Stretchlon trousers. I passed out from Sikh National College, Banga, and a year later, I was chosen as the editor of the Punjabi section of the college magazine, Charan Kamal. Subsequently, I became the president of the association of young writers and speakers of the college. I was told to organise a poem recitation competition and since I spoke well, I could host it too!

Till then, I used to wear white pyjamas or my elder brother’s altered trousers. I had to join the chief guest on the dais. I nervously shared my shame of not having trousers for the event with my mother. She went straight to the storeroom and took out a piece of burgundy Stretchlon cloth from the chest. The almond-coloured shirt that I used to wear in class IX grabbed my attention. The event was due in three weeks, which gave the tailor time to sew the trousers. The cloth was bought by my elder brother who was home on vacation from Nagaland where he was posted. My mother saved it, so he could wear it on our eldest brother’s wedding. Maybe that’s why I just got a shirt to wear for the wedding. Regardless, the cloth wasn’t used by either of us.

I finally figured my outfit for the event, but learnt about my father’s rice-thrashing day. This abrupt change in schedule, a day before the event, got me worried as rice-thrashing always left me with a troubled throat and tired arms. After working till noon, I reasoned with my father how the sore throat would affect my speech.

My mother overheard the conversation, and while binding the straw, gave me a remedy that involved keeping cilantro seeds in my mouth. I hosted the event well. Her remedy had worked wonders.

Now, weeks before my daughter’s inter-university debate competition, we ended up using the same remedy to give her voice a good texture.

When my wife got silk trousers and turquoise jacket stitched for our son’s first birthday, and while growing up the luxury of having branded clothes and even a fresh suit for his college party didn’t intrigue him, the reminiscences of my past had me relive the moment when I was grateful for having Stretchlon burgundy bellbottoms and a Terylene shirt.

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Childhood, lost and found

Rajan Kapoor

My childhood was offline. But my daughter’s childhood is online, dominated and driven by gadgets. Smartphone is her toy library. She browses, downloads and plays games on it, just by tapping her little fingers and peering on its monitor. The outdoor games that I used to play as a child seem to have been consumed by the Internet. Making paper boats in rain, flying kites from dawn to dusk and playing antakshri with friends were a few things that kept us engaged. Rain was then awaited and welcomed. Splashing rainwater on friends, jumping on puddles accumulated on roads gave pleasure which no treasure of earth could offer.

But these days, rain lashes on the monitor of a computer! And if it rains outside the screen, weak immunity pulls her back from taking a plunge into celebrations orchestrated by Mother Nature. Traditional games like stapu, pithu garam, chor-sipahi and a host of other fun-filled games have been lost in the sound and fury of Digital India and are no longer on the play menu of children, let alone be a part of their mental landscape.

My daughter’s best (worst) friend is YouTube. I had no such friends. I used to love and tease my friends. I would communicate and compliment them. But YouTube operates with a click. No emotional bond binds my daughter with her ‘best’ friend. I would, however, be emotionally attached to my friends, and still am in touch with them.

Unlike YouTube, we operate with a friendly touch. We still recognise the beat of one another’s heart; still make efforts to understand feelings and work with zeal to further cement our ties. Even today, we do not flinch from extending a helping hand to one another. The seeds of this unbreakable bond were sown in childhood days. But my daughter travels in the desert of friendship. Who will offer her drops of water of love and strength when she needs them the most? Online and YouTube friends certainly won’t.

My childhood friends are so powerful that they can still pull me out of the quagmire of depression if I ever slip into it. But she is unfortunate. Her e-friends PUBG, Pokemon, ABC jumpers et al. have already pushed many into the jaws of death and destruction. With friends turning foes, I have time-travelled her to my childhood days. Now, I play Ludo with her; her fingers flick the striker to send the red queen into the four corner pockets of the carrom board; and old comic books too have found a place in the shelf of the study to make Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu her best friends. I have hidden her smart gadgets. With the gadgets out of her sight, her lost childhood can be found.

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All have it in them to be a Picasso

Rashmi Kalia

Before children talk, they sing. Before they write, they draw. As soon as they stand, they dance.’ We are all quick to profess that we can’t even draw a stick figure, but forget that we were all born with vivid imagination swarming with endless possibilities of a Lego tub.

Art continues to serve mankind as a form of communication, allowing artists to tell stories and spark revolutions through words, canvas, and sometimes, even with a blank space. But what is it that makes art a manifestation of the innermost emotions? What makes humans express themselves through dance, music or paintings as a form of unspoken communication, even before they learn to communicate, that lets many see them for who they really are? And why is it that most of us lose the artist in us as we grow up?

To understand this, we need to first dispel the notion that art concerns itself only with the deepest and loftiest of human realities. There is a place in art for the full range, and the most trivial of emotions; be it the playful, the witty, the fun-filled and even the lighthearted. Art is of and about man and is bound to what man wants, fears, loves, dreams, idealises, and worships.

What needs to be understood is that the human spirit that lies at the heart of all art does not always come in equal-size packages. ‘All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up,’ observed Picasso. Some art is just simply truer, finer, bigger, or greater than others; just the way humans are. We come in all sizes and so does art. And that is what defines one artist from the other. Some are born with a bigger share of knowledge of our emotions than others. Some are more in touch with their feelings. And that is precisely what distinguishes an artist from the one born with art as a form of his intrinsic nature from the one who retains a touch with emotions as he grows up.

The popular conception of creative people is that they were born that way, with creative gifts. They are the ones who grow up to be the Da Vincis, Giottos, romantics, novelists, and inventors of their age. The mystification around creative people perpetuates the misconception that only the ‘chosen’ ones are blessed with any creative or artistic ability. But the fact is that we all begin life as imaginative beings, but we forsake our creativity as we grow up. Creativity is ‘educated’ out of our system by the ideological barriers of school and society.

To date, art remains a clouded subject. How it develops in each one of us is subject to our individual experiences, upbringing, openness to new ideas, and how we connect the dots in our individual experiences.

So, can creativity be taught or is it an inherited trait? Perhaps, the notion of creativity needs to evolve with the times we live in. It can no longer be restricted to the artistic constraints of writing or painting or dancing. The way we talk, our mannerisms, our jokes; or something as mundane as making a cup of tea is a creative response.

We are all artists, and the critics cannot detect the difference.

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The drivers of change

Simran Sidhu

How long does it take to learn to drive a car? A few days, a few weeks or maybe a few months? Sometimes, the answer is years, 15 long ones.

My mother has been trying to learn driving ever since I can remember. The day we bought our first car in 2004, she joined a driving school. Even after she had completed her training in the instructor’s car, she wasn’t allowed to touch our new car, because dad thought she would make the car ‘rickety’ with her novice driving.

After seven years, when the car did get somewhat rickety, she joined a driving school again and began to drive our car, till the day she made dad sit beside her to show him how she drove. Watching her driving, he shook his head, and forbade her to drive.

After many years, she joined another driving school. To drive the car, she used the earlier methodology that she had learnt in previous schools, which conflicted with the views of her instructor. She left it and started to train under another instructor. Her driving did not get the approval of even her fourth instructor. She again quit driving.

Everyone thought she had forgotten about it. But sometimes I would find her watching a car-learning video, animatedly shifting gears and her feet working on an imaginary clutch and brake. Moments like these would convey that her dream remained unfulfilled.

Recently, when dad bought a new car, he handed over the keys of the old one to mom, for her to freely learn driving. But along with it, mom had grown old, too. Her dream, however, was young and kicking. So, mom and I headed straight to a driving school. The car instructor was a woman. After she had heard the whole story, she gave the keys and said, ‘Show me how you drive.’

I nervously watched as she put the first gear, and lo and behold, before I knew, she was driving in the third gear. I wondered how this instructor had taught mother driving so soon, when all others had failed over the years. The instructor answered my unasked question, ‘Sometimes, all a woman needs is just another woman’s pat on her back to get going in this man’s world.’ I remembered how all her previous car instructors were men, and how all of them, including my dad, had the notion that women could never be good drivers. But the men forget that if women can drive the world, they can surely drive a car.

Now when I look at mom driving around fearlessly in the fifth gear, I remember the woman instructor’s words: ‘Don’t let the men in your life scare you away from doing anything.’ And I smile. And when mom’s previous car instructors see her driving with panache, they smile too.

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Patiala Zoo as symbol of state apathy

Jagvinder Singh Brar

Patiala Heritage Festival is an annual feature. Unlike my wife and daughter, I could find no reason to visit the festival, given the dismal scenario of the state. But they insisted. ‘How come people with such rich heritage are passing through a difficult phase, symbolising the whole of Punjab and its people!’ I wondered.

I offered to take them to the festival but made it clear that I would not go inside. They reluctantly yielded. I drove them to the festival site. There was a mad rush. Nobody seemed to be bothered about the problems plaguing the state. All were enjoying the moment. Fine! It is the indomitable spirit of the common people of Punjab.

After they alighted, I headed for the nearby Patiala Zoo. The entry ticket to the zoo is Rs 20. Entry to the heritage festival costs Rs 10.

It is a small zoo, popularly known as Deer Park. The first enclosure belongs to the black buck and warned: ‘Don’t feed/tease animals.’ The warning implies much.

The next thatched shed was of the silver pheasant, whose feed was being shared by squirrels. A makeshift hut was for the grey partridge, trying to adjust to the unnatural environment. Parakeets were hanging on to the mesh wire, pecking it with beaks.

The Indian porcupine looked most depressed, lying motionless in the farthest corner of its enclosure. Spotted deer and nil gai were also a pathetic sight. The enclosures were barren; no green shrubs, no bushes around.

In one corner stood an abandoned glass structure that I have been visiting over decades. Its condition is symptomatic of a malady that has become endemic to the state. It is a classic case of waste of precious resources due to apathy. It is the Butterfly Inn, inaugurated by a former Chief Secretary, Punjab, in 1988, under the aegis of the Environment Society, Patiala. Even the zoology department of Punjabi University, with significant research on lepidoptera, has not paid any attention to this facility. The situation has similarities with Punjab.

Two peacocks (national bird) are also encaged along with two peahens. An alligator was lying still on the mound of earth in the middle of a muddy pond. The pea fowl, cockteal, silver dove and budgerigar in their huts seem resigned to their fate. My heart sank to see a lovebird carrying a thin twig in its beak to satisfy its instinct of building a nest, while striking against the mesh wire.

An emu came close. Through the net we had an eye-to-eye contact. Its red eyes were expressive. Soon the other and only companion of the bird came there, too, to feel the interaction between us.

The washroom sink was overflowing, unmindful of water conservation. The wildlife Act, prevention of cruelty Act, conservation regulations and the constitutional provision that enjoins upon every citizen to have compassion have lost their spirit.

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