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What I Am Up To These Days

The thing I really like these days is FM radio I listen to when I drive around. They play such good songs. And new songs always keep coming. I really need them because the driving around can be a lot. Whoa!, you might say. From fear of driving to driving around a lot? I am carried away because of the newfound freedom (which means ability to drive + ownership of a credit card + new friends). I have literally been painting the town red driving here-n-there to shop, window shop, meet friends, pick up medicines or even visit the doctor. It’s an opportunity to dress up, go out, meet people, talk to someone and explore new roads. I am no longer afraid of new freeways, one-way roads or long distances. I tune the radio to a good, latest song and drive on. 15 miles or 25, they turn out to be fun. There are days when I drive as much as 60 miles a day.

Time is flying. It’s been 2 months since my semester at college ended. Where did these 2 months go? Most probably on the road and in stores! After my obsession with home decoration slowed down, the kick of meeting and making new friends seeped in. I started meeting classmates, fellow bloggers and realized I was still social. Why, I thought so many months of solitude and self-centeredness would have made me a complete recluse. But no, I found myself getting along well with several and we met more than once. Because of them, I saw new places, came to know of new stores and restaurants and soon, I start telling At about new stores I discovered and bring good deals home.

Life seems more and more complete and busy each day. Such that I die for some breathing time. Such that I put my hands up one day, flustered, and tell At to just take the car away so that I do not go out at least on one day of the week.

When I am not loitering around, I cook, clean the house, organize stuff, search Pinterest for home decor ideas, laze around, admire my little balcony garden and listen to music. Basically, am turning into a complete homemaker which is bothering At a lot. So you did nothing again today. I haven’t seen you touch your books since your college has ended. Why are you wasting your time and talent like this?

He is right. The shine of shopping on my own (even if it’s plain grocery shopping), meeting new people and looking at a clean, organized house is growing fainter each day. Every day, after the little routine of making breakfast, cleaning up and admiring the balcony garden is done, I feel aimless. I have nothing to do!

In the evenings, after At is back, we take a long walk around the golf course in our neighbourhood, watch Law & Order: Criminal Intent or some hindi movie and have a gala meal (cooked by me of course!).

Weekends are always busy. Eating out, major shopping, social visits and some more shopping.

Today, we have had a great breakfast of Egg Fry & Chicken-Cheese-Spinach sausage, followed by a visit to the flea market that had great music and food and finally, hot simple lunch at home while watching Law & Order.

I wish life was always so easy.

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Me, The Kitchen Queen

I am accustomed to the various sounds and smells of kitchen without cooking anything ever. The sound of popping mustard seeds. The eye-watering tempering smoke. The hissing sound of onion slices thrown into a hot oil pan. The forever stuffed refrigerator vegetable tray. The colourful masala box. The fledgling smell of freshly steamed rice. The scary whizz of the blender. And now that am actually cooking, I derive pleasure / joy from these familiar sounds and smells that originated from my mother’s kitchen.

I started cooking to fulfil a need and not because I was enthusiastic to try it out. Yes, I have been visualizing myself as a great cook since college days but after few attempts at complex cooking, I could never go beyond hot chocolate and microwave poached eggs. I was convinced that cooking is tedious and complicated. Its an art that I can never learn.

But then, some day I thought I could never drive, that I could never get a job, that I could never photograph well. And so on.

You usually can do more than you think you can.

So I plunged. I picked up a pan and knife and started off. The first recipe I picked up looked so simple and yet it turned out to be so mediocre. In fact, my first few attempts were disasters and I ended up going from bad to worse.

Luckily, I did not stop there. I couldn’t afford to, really.

My sweet husband kept me going. He very bravely asked me to cook complex dishes like Chole and Biryani when I couldn’t make a basic Aloo-bhindi sabzi decently.

So I kept going. I run the blender for the first time in my life with great caution. (I have always been scared of blenders because i think they can disintegrate while they are running and the blades would fly off). I used the pressure cooker for the first time (hoping it doesn’t blast). I would peer into the pan curiously wondering what the vegetables were up to. I would think a great deal before putting in half a teaspoon of a masala. I took help from friends, elders, cousins, even co-customers at Indian stores. I remember the time I went to get Split Urad Dal and Sooji. There’s were some 5 varieties of each and I was heartbroken. I just did not understand which one to pick up. I asked a Punjabi lady, who had also come to shop, if I had picked to the right Urad Dal and Sooji for Upma. I have also eaten my Chicago cousin’s brain over the difference between green Chana, Kala Chana, Kabuli China and Chole.

Today, I totally enjoy cooking. I keep smelling the food at different stages to search for familiarity. Maybe I enjoy cooking because I am so fond of eating. Maybe I enjoy it because I cook only my favorite dishes. Maybe I enjoy it because At devours everything I make.

On my free days, I cook from morning till evening. I spend all my free time bookmarking recipes. It’s like cooking has replaced my love for travel and eating out. I cook to the extent of ignoring everything else. Ya! It’s turned into an obsession!

I’m sure my mother spends tears of joy when she listens to me brag about my kitchen successes. According to Mom, the success of my marriage depends on my ability to make ghar ka khana. For years, she has tried dragging me into kitchen in vain. I could only use the microwave to make coffee, eggs, ready mix pasta and noodles. And here I am, using pots and pans like they’ve been my toys! I enjoy shopping for pans as much as I enjoy shopping for shoes!

Some day, I am going to cook for my family and friends to let them enjoy this totally unbelievable sight.

Some of my food (and photography) experiments…

collage

* * * *

Coming Out Of Shell

It gets very lonely here sometimes – a cousin in another city of US told me once. Hang on to whatever friends you have or can get.

US is another world. In order to be happy here, I need to unlearn what I knew and was in my past life and pick up things here. That’s the only way one can enjoy this life. So if I go to a New Year party and don’t drink or dance, I will be labelled mad (this actually happened with me). I need to sit with a drink in hand at gatherings. I need to shop and eat out keeping in mind deals and discounts. I need to be more social, open and extrovert; being the introvert that I am will not help.

The initial few days were very difficult here for an extreme independent, self centred person like me. Of course, girls would want to have a husband who does most work, takes big-small decisions and drives her around for shopping but that didn’t make me happy. It was difficult for me to be a prolonged guest. It pricked to be sitting around doing nothing – in someone else’s house – while he did everything. I kept questioning myself – What is your contribution? What is your worth?

While elders advised me to ‘build my own home’ and focus on new relationship, transform from Me to Us, I am struggling to make my identity in this new country full of strangers. Who am I here now? An insignificant nothing? How can Us be complete if one I is incomplete? And I will feel complete when I feel well achieved. When I feel something.

In the last few days, I experimented with cooking. No world cuisines or delicacies. Simple ghar ka khana. Some were ok, some were inadequate. But I felt happy for achieving something. I gave myself a challenge and fulfilled it. The next target is to be better at it. This new challenge has been driving my days. Every day I look forward to cooking a new sabzi.

The other day, I ventured out into the neighbourhood on my own. That was a big step. I don’t know what was stopping me from walking out and getting lost? Isn’t that the only way of discovering?

Of course, there is the marriage. With a person who is on a totally different plane than me. That does take away half of my energy. Still, to feel content, I try to make the most of my me-time. I talk to old friends, try connecting with new friends, try cooking, read and write.

Between all the keeping-busy, there are moments of nothingness. That’s when I realize life is lonely. When I am wide awake during the day, every one else in India is fast asleep. I have been used to having people around me all the time – colleagues, neighbours, friends, family. Suddenly, there is no one.

It does get lonely here.

Sometimes I wonder if I should even think of my past life. Yeah, I have begun to call it past life. There is no point mixing it up with new life. The two can’t merge. The components of my past life need not find their way in here. This world is different from the other. And to be happy here, I need to forget the other one.

* * * *

New Chapter Begins

I woke up the first morning in this new country and realized I did not have my usual microwave utensils – the ones that were my lifeline, actually. The ones I used the most in the kitchen. The ones I used to begin my day. And I panicked. Kitchen is an area I am usually clueless about. Unless it is the microwave and my favourite microwave equipment.

So here it was. My first moment of panic. The first time I felt lost in a new country, a new house. The first time I wanted to be back in my shabby rented Baroda house.

It’s been around 2 days in U S of A – my new base and though it felt like an illusion for some time, the cloud seems to be clearing now. While on the surface, I liked the new surroundings, the new way of living, a tiny voice prompted me from somewhere at different points of time, reminding me that everything is new. Different. Something I am not used to. Something not my own.

The first weekend here has been spent in getting up late, sleeping with no time in mind, eating with no time in mind and basically lazing around. The cold weather helps the cause. Though I would want to be on my feet all the time, working hard and keeping myself busy, I can’t help but go with the flow. Maybe I should just enjoy the ‘doing nothing’ part for some time (especially when At has liberally offered to treat me like a guest for a week). Is this what is called wedded bliss?

Wedded bliss began immediately after marriage. All I did was be a guest in different houses, get pampered, have money spent on and eat. A LOT. Women I know said I should enjoy this phase as it would never come back. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I just felt burdened.

There is anyway nothing much I can do right now, except tagging along and silently watching. With no phone of my own, no car, no familiarity with the house and city, no routine of my own, I feel handicapped. And helpless. Being dependant…. pricks. Although At is quite caring and understanding, I do not like this me.

At this point of time, I feel clueless – about what I am and what I will be. How things will move. If I could transform from a fierce, independent, fearless woman to a docile, submissive, confused one, I really don’t know what to expect from future.

So. What next?

I find blank pages magnetic. When I look at blank paper, either lying carelessly or stacked beautifully, I get a feeling they ar waiting to be written upon. Waiting to hear new stories, deepest thoughts and hidden fears. Waiting to provide solace or solutions.

In the chaos of last 10 days, a blank half torn notepad called me on. I have been tagging along with my in-laws (testing my patience and maturity) and that one look at the notepad let free a flow of clogged thoughts. When there is so much happening with you, you don’t know from where to begin because everything seems significant.

After crying from rooftops that I am not happy about the Big Change, I’d be a hypocrite to say that marriage isn’t that bad (so far, atleast) for many reasons. A great new family. A down to earth, understanding husband. Lot of pampering.

Since the wedding, I have only been driven around from restaurants to malls to clubs. I get to eat what I want. I get to decide where to go. Of course there are lots of inner battles to fight. But overall, a girl would give anything to be in my place today. In which house are you showered with sudden gifts every other day? In which house does one get to stay like a real guest – wake up late and eat an already made huge breakfast spread? Which MIL makes it clear to her sons that things will happen as per the new entrant as it is ‘her time’? Which man does all he can to keep his new wife out of all chaos and drama? Though the road seems to be a bit bumpy right now, I can see wide smooth road ahead. The journey is likely to be good.

The dread that I was harbouring before wedding dissolved quickly – even before the wedding day. And I started enjoying the wedding prep. The bride-to-be is enjoys the wedding preparations in a different way. She gets too much attention, pampering and is expected to do nothing but rest for the big day. So, that’s exactly what I did. I sat back, watched everyone working, having fun, chatting and meeting up with friends and relatives.

Getting emotional was not the solution at this stage. There were too many emotions – mine and others’ – to handle. Dealing with my own emotions isn’t difficult; its others’ that I can’t handle. Because I was too helpless here. I just decided to take care of my own and let others handle theirs.

When the moment finally came, when I had to go away, I was surprisingly cool. Cool to the extent of being emotionless. I dealt with the rituals, however ridiculous I found them to be, with discipline and seriousness. They had to be done. Part of the big game. The big story.

I had conditioned myself too much. I did not let homesickness come in. I didn’t notice my family wasn’t around me. I didn’t realize how much stress I was going through by patiently dealing with a new home full of strangers. Did I cry? Did I feel sad? No. How could I? There is so much to cope up with. There was no time for anything else.

I am stuck between 2 worlds. 2 lives. 2 chapters. I belonged to one but am expected to suddenly adopt the other – which I am diligently, speedily trying to do. I am dedicating myself too much to it, not thinking of anything else. But in the process, I belong to neither world.

Every day holds new discoveries – of the family’s dynamics. Of your own hidden fears and strengths. Of changes and realizations. Of the new family’s secrets, weaknesses and issues.

Looks like, for a long long time, I will be going on an unplanned adventure trip.

And, time’s up

Every morning I wake up and see my mother towering over my bed throwing questions – Have you selected the songs for Sangeet? Have you booked the parlour? Have you compiled the bangles? What about the song that you are going to sing? My father follows – You haven’t packed cards for your friends yet. You haven’t given me their travel schedule. And have you spoken to the event management guys?

I try to shake away the feeling of dread along with the duvet and spring up, ready for day’s action.

Whoever said the bride-to-be is pampered and expected to rest like a queen has been misleading unsuspecting girls to believing that their wedding is going to be a glamorous sort of an event. Because it is actually far from it.

Wedding preparations involve running from pillar to post getting dresses made, finalizing events, co-ordinating guests’ visits, distributing cards, fighting over little things and basically going crazy.

That’s how I am now – hyper, crazy, confused and lost.

Despite the wedding jitters and the whole walking into unknown thing, I mechanically throw myself into preparations. The past 10 days have been super-busy. I cleared my study table, set my laptop and phone on it and have been diligently working from 10 to 5. I have not had time to eat and chat with friends. Visiting saloons for beautification is out of question. (Now I know why brides manage to look beautiful. It’s just modern make-up deceiving eyes). I’d rather settle with a book and a blanket.

And there are those moments when there is no work to occupy my mind. That’s when uneasiness makes its smug entrance and decides to create some chaos. Since the last couple of days, I have barely been eating. 4 days, I counted, left for the wedding functions to begin. Of course, I try and put up the best show I can. After all, I am the bride-to-be. And a wedding is all about show.

When I was younger, I used to be in awe of brides and bride-to-be’s. I thought they were made of another material altogether. They always looked beautiful to me. And happy. And grown up and serene. I don’t feel any of it. I don’t even feel like a bride-to-be. I’d rather be an ordinary company employee that I used to be.

Tired of thinking and over-thinking, I just wait for nightfall so that I can go off to sleep and not think for a while. Little do I realize that as nights pass, days fly too.

Indian Wedding Paradox

Elders in India feel most content when they see children around them getting married. Even if they aren’t their own. Everyone, from landlord to driver to relatives to neighbours to distant colleagues, is happy to know that I am getting married. The maid always gives me long, hopeful looks and waits for me to look at her and smile. I have become a kind of a specimen. Of course, they feel not too happy about me marrying so late but nevertheless. One more girl is ‘settling down’, domesticating; not ‘loitering around aimlessly’ but has found ‘direction in life’.

Every time someone congratulates me and tells me I am doing a good thing, I want to ask them – Well, you are married. You yourself should know how good it is.

Universally, or perhaps more so in India, marriage is undoubtedly a happy thing. By default. You can’t be unhappy by deciding to marry. And arranged is better. If a person goes in for an arranged married, they are ‘seedha’.

Marriage of their children is the ultimate feeling of satisfaction for parents. Most open-minded, modern families forget their modernism when it comes to marriage. The girl/boy has to be of their community. There must be no compromise in lain-dain. Oldest of customs and strangest of rituals have to be followed, come what may, even if they make no sense today and no one knows why they are being followed.

However talented and independent the girl is, her parents will be the first to compromise and bend. It’s their role, they believe. Who has bestowed them with this role? Somewhere someone in ancestral chain. Or some more customs, I suppose. Further, forgetting all talks of woman empowerment, feminism and modern society, they will teach their girl also to bend and compromise. It’s you who will have to keep quiet. It’s you who has to be patient. You have to cook; forget your travelling, friends and all. That era is over.

Many girls today go out of home for higher studies and then work. They live no differently than a male – they travel extensively, they handle responsibilities – their own and family’s, they multi-task and definitely do not need any male to help them. We can say that the line between males and females is disappearing in terms of strength, capabilities, approach and beliefs. Open-minded parents even support their girls and give them freedom / environment to become totally independent and self-sufficient. And yet when she is about to marry, they expect her to be docile, undemanding and compromising.

Indian weddings are more of show than reality. The dresses are according to what people would like to see. The decor is to impress guests. The gold is to be showed off. The gifts are to please the other side.

Contrary to what is shown in movies, where ladies peacefully play dhol, kids run around happily, the bride-to-be giggles endlessly and the house is adorned with flowers, this ‘shaadi ka ghar’ is full of stress and panic. Wedding cards are strewn all over the house. We keep packing them at regular intervals of the day and run around disbursing them. All my stuff that I brought along with me has taken over the whole first floor. It is difficult to walk in my room without treading over packages and boxes. We are constantly making lists, forever disappointed at lists not getting complete and perennially tired.

Everyone is just waiting for this to be done with.

And me?

Remember your first Board exams? How people grilled into you how critical Board is and what calamity would occur if you perform badly? Didn’t you want to puke or just dissolve in air?

Though I see faint light at the end of the dark, dark tunnel, the thought of wedding rituals and the whole rigmarole of guests, formalities and long days make my stomach churn with uneasiness. This is something I am not used to. Nor did I ever realize before that this grind would be so difficult to adapt.

I just wish Indian wedding procedures were simpler and less superficial.