Thursday, April 28, 2016

Life Lessons from the learned…

     There's this comfort cocoon , a shell that all of us (or lets just say me) love going back to, to feel good about ourselves, our achievements and our contribution to society. This greatness is measured on our own scale and parameters that are a result of our experiences, perceptions and transactions in this world . Needless to say its hence coloured with our world view . And then (for all of us without doubt ) there are these eureka moments , these wake up calls that drag us out of this comfort zone with a feeling that there is a way of seeing life and achievements beyond how we see them.
I believe these eureka moments don’t show up to prove us wrong, there can be no wrong way of looking at life ,can it ?  they show up to create a moment for us, the moment of realization.

A question that I come across often (& often i am the one posing that question to myself ) is about finding happiness. Am sure that's a common dialogue between us and the voice in our heads. finding happiness can be quite a task, keeping it once found, well that’s another story.

        There have been two moments in my recent past when both me and the voice in my head have agreed to just be quiet and let the moment of realisation seep in , both these have been interactions with children , children whose parents earn (or used to earn when they were alive) way below the national average income .
MOMENT 1 : Every Diwali there's an influx of children who come with their  families selling flowers and diyas .Their presence was unnoticed by me till three years ago when a dear friend, Ruchi Srivastava took the initiative of distributing food boxes to these kids who live on the sidewalk for the duration of this festive migration and help their parents earn. 

Last Diwali I went out distributing these food boxes with hotel management students and saw the two powers at work, the power of giving and the power of children.  Like I had gone in the first year ,the students also went with an expectation of seeing scarcity and hunger , instead we saw happiness and gratitude. The only imperfection was in the way we were looking at them; for them, life was perfect. They were busy with life, studying or taking care of younger kin or tying together garlands for sale. 
There was not one child who did not thank us for the food or who wasn’t curious why we were doing this. 
We in fact were doing this for ourselves and that what all the students eventually realised, while we started out to fill in for a need on the streets we eventually filled up our souls with gratitude; the happiness that the students got was really moving. 
My eureka moment that made me realise that our need to give is born out of our need to get(actually borrow, a little bit of happiness from these children )

MOMENT 2 : I was at another friend, Rushina's cook Studio with young children from teach for India Foundation. It was supposed to be a quick visit to taste some egg dishes that they had made and it ended up being the most memorable 2 hours that will stay with me for this lifetime. these children (who were from extremely economically challenged families ) in Addition to happiness also showed another virtue , responsibility. Every dish tasted divine and the first guess for anybody would have been that these were seasoned hands at work. In a way they were because they were cooking ever since they were six or so due to challenging situations back home . This happy shock wasn’t enough to make my day , the best was yet to come.

There was apparently a test with 12 questions to check on how they had fared in their food classes, which various chefs had taken n the last 8 weeks . To me the questions seemed largely unfair to be asked to a bunch of 10-12 year olds and the silence that ensued post question paper distribution confirmed it for me , i stayed back just out of curiosity with no expectations. To make it easier on the kids i didn’t check the papers and started a discussion hoping to make them feel better for not knowing . what happened next moved me to tears ,suddenly everyone was excited to answer and everyone had the right answers . the reason for silence that i mistook for not knowing was for responsibly relaying what they had learnt and the quiet focus was on winning this challenge that had been posed . I had never heard a better explanation of how chocolate was made that i heard from a 9 year olds mouth . the process of fermentation was explained to me in a way that i had no more to ask . then i saw all answer sheets they had all questions answered in all papers . here i was trying to make them feel comfortable for not knowing where the only person to not know was me myself. lesson learnt - knowledge is not a function of resources available , its a function of commitment to learning which occurs in the human mind , the space where theres no rich or poor - only purity , love and happiness .

Life is about learning from the learned and i feel both silly and wiser now having learnt from more learned children around me (All thanks to people who take a stand for me and to Ruchi and Rushina who catalysed this learning for me)


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The 'King' is back

              Spring time is the time of festivities and the start of the harvest. To a farmer it signifies abundance and food for the next year, hope and belief - in Mother earth and in the merit of hard work. To any Indian it signifies the arrival of the king – Alfonso. The mango that the world waits for.
              The Portuguese, ever since they landed in Calicut have given us many things and got back many things in return starting late 1400s, whether it's the art of plantation or the science of Nautical Navigation, there's a lot that we have got; but the most significant gift has been the grafting of many a Brazilian Mango strains with ours (In fact the first people to use the word "manga" were the Portuguese). 
              Any Keralite would swear by the Mulgoba and any Indian will have Haapus or Alphonso sunk deep in their mango memories. The most common story is that It is named after Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese administrator of Goa and Malabar, and Admiral. In one of the famous journeys undertaken, the Brazilian graft found its way during Afonso de Albuquerque's voyage when he brought his famous namesake fruit to India. So, the Alphonso mango found home along the verdant shores of the Konkan in Maharashtra India. The locals took to calling it Aphoos in Konkani and in Maharashtra the pronunciation got further transformed to Hapoos. This variety was then taken to the Konkan region of Maharashtra and other parts of India. 
              Another folklore credits a Spanish Monk St. Alphonso Rodriguez. Since most varieties were named after grafters, the two things that are true are, one that it's a grafted variety and two that it's named after a Mr Alphonso - the person we thank every time there's spring and the smell of Haapus comes to live in our kitchens.
Mango Flavored Brown Rice Phirni
1/2 cup soaked brown rice
4 cups milk
1/2 cup cream
6 tbsps sugar
1/2 cup alfonso mango puree
2 tbsps almond, peeled and sliced
Few strands of saffron
5 to six dry cranberries
Mint leaves for garnish
Method :
1. Soak the rice in water for an hour. Drain, wash and drain again. Pat dry on an absorbent kitchen towel and blend in a mixer. 

2. Add ½ cup of cold milk and mix well to make a paste. Keep aside. Boil the rest of the milk and gently stir in the rice paste. Cook for about 15 minutes on a slow flame, while stirring continuously.
3. Add the sugar and simmer for a few minutes. Now add the mango puree and stir well.
4. Pour into serving containers and keep aside to cool. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Serve chilled garnished with almonds, saffron strands, mint leaves and dry cranberries.