Monday, April 14, 2014

Celebrating Tamil Puthandu

Today is Tamil Puthandu - which is Tamil New Year's Day. Over the weekend we were invited to celebrate it at a friend's house and we had such a nice time!

This was my first time celebrating Tamil Puthandu so it was extra special. In we walked to the party, and the whole crowd was Tamilians and there were several Tamilians there from Hyderabad. After nearly 6 years of living in Vancouver (which is 99.9% Sikh Punjabi), I felt like, "Aha! We've finally found our Tamilians!" It was so great for husband-ji, and I - hearing him speaking his native tongue with fellow Hyderabadi's. Finally....after six years here....we have found our Tamil community! It was a really nice feeling.

We got all dressed up in our outfits that husband-ji had recently brought from India. The dress code said it was informal, so I wore one of my fancy Salwar Kameez in a bright orange color - a celebratory color to welcome in the New Year. We arrived at the party, and of course I was underdressed. All the ladies (in traditional South Indian wifey style) were wearing gorgeous, elaborate silk sarees and huge chunks of gold and diamond nose rings. How typical! So next time....I need to remember....that "informal" means a six yard silk saree.....and "formal" means a nine yard silk saree! (LOL!)

The party started with everyone seated, as the Vishnu Sahasranaman was performed. First, everyone chanted "Ommmmm", and then they took out their booklets with the Vishnu chants. I think it was at least 20+ pages! The best part of it was watching my daughter see the pooja. When everyone started with the "Om", Maya went totally silent (yay!) It was quite beautiful, really....the way everyone chanted together. It was a lovely spiritual experience and it really made me think of the year before us. It made me feel hopeful for this year, and it made me feel thankful that my dad is healing. Hearing the Sahasranaman was like a breath of fresh air - the sense of calm that I felt was wonderful.

(Vishnu Sahasranaman by M.S. Subbulakshmi)

Of course, I remember the Vishnu Sahasranaman from my inlaws house in Hyderabad, where my MIL used to play it every day at sunrise and sunset. This is to wake the God up (at sunrise) and put him to rest (at sunset). You honour him by performing the Sahasranaman so that he blesses you, and so that he is with you.

What is Vishnu Sahasranaman? Vishnu Sahasranaman literally means "the thousand names of Vishnu" and it is said to be one of the most sacred chants. In Hinduism, we believe in reincarnation - therefore every God has many different forms, or "avatars". The thousand names of Vishnu are all of his reincarnations - husband-ji's name, Madhava, is also one of them.

(Vishnu - img via)

Since we are Iyengars (Vishnu worshippers) this is our most commonly used prayer. We chant to Vishnu to call on him, to be blessed by him, to reach a level of peace and prosperity. For Iyengars, Vishnu is the supreme being. 

After the Sahasranaman was over, we ate a big meal of Tamarind rice, Vada, Aloo capsicum, Green beans and coconut curry, Kootu, Sambhar and Rasam. For dessert there were delicious ladoo's. 

While we were celebrating Tamil Puthandu with the thirty Tamilians in Vancouver....across town, Vaisakhi was being celebrated with 100,000+ Punjabi's!

Happy Tamil Puthandu , Happy Vaisakhi & belated Happy Ugadi, dear readers!


Did you guys celebrate this past weekend? Did you witness any festivities?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Recipe: Easy Mixed Vegetable Pulao

One of my favorite weekday rice dishes is mixed vegetable pulao. It goes with any curries and it is the easiest dish to make. You just throw it all in the rice cooker and it practically cooks itself! Sometimes I just eat it by itself with raita, if I'm really in a rush...

Madh Mama's Easy Mixed Vegetable Pulao
Serves 4 people (and a baby!)

- 2 medium/large potatoes
- 1 cup of frozen peas and carrots
- 1 cup of frozen beans
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp Pulao masala (can be purchased from the Indian store in the spice section)
- 1 tbsp ginger/garlic paste (can be purchased at Indian grocer in the refrigerator section)
- 2 tbsp oil (either vegetable, sunflower or peanut oil works well)
- 2 cups uncooked rice

- medium saute pan
-potato peeler
- rice cooker


Measure out the veggies and put aside.

Chop onion and keep aside.

Chop potato in large 1-2 inch chunks.

Heat the oil up in a pan and sautee the onions with the ginger/garlic paste for 2 minutes. 

Add the potatoes, toss, and sautee for 2 minutes.

Add the other vegetables, toss, and sautee for 2 minutes.

Add 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp of pulao masala (depending on how fragrant you want the rice) and toss.

Set rice aside and wash.

Pour in the 2 cups of washed rice and toss.

Pour everything from the pan into the rice cooker.

Add 3.5 cups of water to the rice cooker.

Turn the rice cooker on.

When the rice cooker goes off, it should look like this (above). The veggies will float to the top while cooking.

Before serving, toss it so the veggies are mixed in with the rice evenly.


(Note: You can also add cauliflower in this dish)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ancestral Photo frame - DIY

One of my favorite things in our home is this photo frame of our family. I love have pictures of our ancestors in our home, and I wanted to find a way how to combine some of them in one frame.

I got this done after we got married to celebrate our love and the marriage of our families. This photo frame is a celebration of love, culture, and 3 generations of marriage. 

On top, is a picture of my paternal grandparents, Lewis & Josephine. To the left, is a picture of my parents, David & Zonda. To the right, is a picture of husband-ji's parents, Sridhar and Sandhya. Below, is a picture of husband-ji's paternal grandparents, Krishnamachary and Shambagavala. And in the center - is us!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Foreign Daughter-in-law DECODED: fears of having an Indian Mother-in-law

A few months ago, I wrote about the typical fears that an Indian MIL has about welcoming a foreign DIL into her family. On the flip side - just as an Indian MIL has her fears, so does a foreign DIL...

Anybody who has any Indian friends or any connection to Indian culture will know that the Indian MIL is the most feared character in the household. Oftentimes, if you tell people you have an Indian partner, one of the first questions will be "How's his mother?" The horror stories of the Indian MIL are far reaching - even reaching to the West. Everybody knows somebody who has an absolute nightmare of an Indian MIL. Forget the foreign aspect of it - even Indian girls are scared of having an Indian MIL!

So, for many foreign girls, the anticipation of having an Indian MIL and trying to build a relationship with her is daunting...

What are the fears that foreign DIL's have about having an Indian MIL?
For this post I consulted my other Firangi Bahu's...

1) We want her to genuinely LIKE us

Of all of the DIL's I talked to - ALL of them said they just wanted to "be liked" by their MILs. What does "being liked" mean? It means that you have developed a friendship and that your MIL genuinely likes you, like a friend. 

In Western families, girlfriends are invited for dinner, major holidays, and encouraged to develop a friendship with their future MIL's before marriage. Girlfriends are always treated as future spouses by the family and are not kept secret. In Indian families (especially conservative ones) it is the opposite - you can only develop a relationship with your MIL after marriage. Not to mention, 99% of the time, the Indian MIL will initially say "no" to having a foreign DIL when your spouse tells her about you. This initial "no" can build resentment in the foreign DIL and it can strain the relationship before it has even started. The foreign DIL will be thinking, "What does she mean by 'no'?!?! She doesn't even know me yet!" Building a relationship with an Indian MIL takes TIME. It takes years, and it is often awkward at first - as both the DIL and the MIL work out their cultural differences. (Note: the major cultural differences are the concepts of formality, respect, and rudeness)

2) Language 

Many of the Firangi Bahu's have Indian MILs who either do not speak English or have very limited English. This can be a very unfortunate setback to the MIL-DIL bond. If you don't speak the same language as your MIL, chances are you will have more miscommunications. The only way you can get around this is if you learn how to speak your MIL's language, or get somebody to accurately translate for you. (Note: as you get older, it becomes harder for someone to learn a language - which is why I recommend that the DIL should learn the new language)

My own MIL speaks English well, however she had an insecurity about her English, despite being "convent educated" (Catholic school educated). At first, she did not feel comfortable speaking English to me because she was scared to make a grammatical mistake or something. Similarly, a lot of the aunties in the family refused to speak to me because they were insecure about their English skills. At the time, I felt they were being rude to me, but in reality, they were just insecure about their language skills (which I could not care less about!) In the years of building a relationship with my MIL, she has loosened up a lot and now only speaks English to me. I feel as though her English has really improved because that is how we converse all the time. She has also picked up on many of my colloquial (generational) English phrases, like "it sucks", "ohmygod" and "what the hell"!

Another thing that was a problem was my English accent. Indian elders who do speak English are taught old-school British English, so my Canadian accent was practically like a foreign language. I also slur my words and do not have good diction. I think this added to my MIL's initial insecurity about her English. Not to mention, Indians have different terminology - "good name" (given name); "curd" (yogurt); "rucksack" (purse); "hotel" (restaurant); etc.

3) Respecting our personal freedom

A Western woman is typically raised with a lot of independence and personal freedom - oftentimes moving out of their natal home by their 20s (at the latest!), traveling, the freedom of education and having whatever jobs they want. There is little input from parents regarding our life choices - and if they don't approve...well, we don't live under their roof anymore! For a Westerner, independence means not having to ask anyone's permission to do anything. And not caring to even ask - that is true personal freedom.

Probably the biggest cultural and generational difference between a Indian MIL-Foreign DIL is this concept of a woman's personal freedom. It is a patriarchal mindset that the women must look after the kids, that the man must earn the most money, or that the woman must prioritize her family and her home, above all else. Nowadays in India, there are more working mothers than ever and motherhood is being redefined by our generation - you can be a mother, and family-oriented woman, who has a career of her own. However, men raised by these patriarchal norms are slow to change. There is still an absence of Indian stay-at-home dads, and a recent survey showed that Indian men are some of the worst in helping out around the house (Although I'm sure this will be very different with our children's generation) (Note: Many Indian men who step outside the box - by marrying a foreigner - are typically more modern in other ways, like helping out with housework, etc)

Each woman has a different concept of what personal freedom means to her. For some, it is having the ability to pursue a career after having children. For others, it is going out to do something (meet friends, beauty parlor, bookstore, going for a walk, etc.) without having to ask permission. And for others, it is conversing with a member of the opposite sex without getting frowned upon.

4) Being overprotective of their child

Indian mothers are fiercely protective of their children, and quite often overprotective. They believe they know best - all the time - even better than their children. That means that they will certainly feel like they know better than "the new addition" (their child's spouse). 

It is common for the Indian MIL to baby their children - for life. This can be quite off-putting to witness, for a foreigner who has been treated as an independent adult since childhood.

A common problem in the MIL-DIL relationship is having feelings of competition - for attention, for time, and for whose advice the spouse will follow. If there is no Indian father-in-law figure, sometimes the MIL will develop a more co-dependent relationship with her son. And as we all know, in Indian society, the son is like a God and treated like a "golden ticket" for life.

Your Indian MIL might constantly side with your spouse, or even interfere often, and in the worst cases - intentional marital sabotage. A way to get around this is that both spouses need to set boundaries with the MIL - don't create a place where she can interfere. Do not discuss marital problems frequently.

In many Indian families, being overprotective of your children is a way of expressing deep love. So if you have the chance to develop a close relationship with your MIL, she may become overprotective of you as well!

5) Criticism

One of the main problems that firangi bahu's run into with their MIL's is the seemingly constant criticism. However, in the elder's defense - complaining is really an Indian elder national sport and should not be taken personally.

In Western families, people tend to criticize when they see something wrong and they want you to change it. In Indian families, people criticize as a way of having a discussion - as a way of commenting. So, for a Westerner, it sometimes feels like we just "can't do anything right" or "can't live up to their impossible standards".

Indian MIL's are masters of their own household, and tend to be quite stubborn. They have a particular way of doing things - whether it is cooking, or dressing, showing affection to husband, or taking care of kids. As a DIL, if you do anything different than the way they do it - you may be criticized (unintentionally).

Both my inlaws are masters of criticism but I have wisely learned from husband-ji - "in one ear, out the other"! I don't take it personally anymore. But in the beginning of my relationship with my inlaws, I did take it personally - mainly because I just didn't know them well enough. With Indian elders, you have to recognize that the criticism comes from a place from love - although it can feel controlling or mean-spirited.

6) Will she get to know our culture too?

Familiarizing yourself with Indian culture can be an intense process - it is just such a different way of life - eating, family relationships, expressing affection, not to mention can be all-consuming. Many firangi bahu's struggle with trying to find a happy medium between both cultures - or "How Indian do we become?" We want to learn about their culture because we want to learn about them and where they come from. (Although husband-ji is more Westernized, he is still 100% Indian at heart) Not to mention, Indians are quite set in their ways (especially regarding food). No matter what cuisine we eat, husband-ji needs to eat at least 2 cups of  rice before going to bed! So it is usually the foreigners who have to "adjust" more. Even though we live abroad, I still consider our home to be "an Indian home" due to our lifestyle.

Finding that happy medium between both cultures is a lifelong practice. Sometimes resentment can build if your Indian MIL refuses to learn your culture too - it might be waaaay out of her comfort zone to go to an English movie, attend a yoga class, or even eat a non-Indian cuisine, for example. It can create a barrier - or it can feel like we are always doing everything the Indian way. It takes time, and a lot of encouragement. Also, elders are typically more stubborn.


Having an Indian MIL is uncharted territory for both the MIL and DIL, as well as the Indian spouse, and for both respective families. You will face both generational and cultural differences, but the bond you can develop will last a lifetime. 

Have patience, enter the relationship with no expectations, and understand that it will take time to get to know her.


What do you think, dear readers? What were your initial fears about having an Indian mother-in-law? How have you worked through them?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The actress comes for Sunday dinner

(Sunday family dinner - tablecloth from India)

This past Sunday, we had our first dinner party since my dad fell sick, and is now on the road to recovery. We invited over one of his close friends who helped him while he was sick by giving him so much support and encouragement - and she just happens to be an Academy award winning actress. She was filming in our city this week so my dad wanted to invite her over as a way of saying thanks for her support to him.

I never got a chance to meet her before, but everyone else had. I really didn't know what to expect, as I was welcoming her into my childhood home, the house I grew up in - somebody who I had watched in movies since I was little. It was a surreal experience to say the least!

That being said, she is not the first celebrity that I have ever met. Sometimes celebrities are strange creatures and sometimes they are totally normal people. So I wasn't sure who was coming over for dinner...

In through the door she walked - or glided, shall we say - and she looked just as she did on screen, only prettier. I was taken aback by her beauty. Her beauty was nontraditional, but charismatic. She just had an air about her that was magnificent. She was definitely an actress!

(I looked like crap in baggy sweatpants, having just come back from my daily 1 hour work-out walk with baby in the stroller!)

Husband-ji cooked an Indian feast like a professional chef - he made fresh mango lassi's with mint sprigs, mixed vegetable pakora, his famous vegetable biriyani, chana masala, and a shredded carrot salad (Kosambari). She was really impressed by his cooking and drank two mango lassi's even before dinner.

She also brought her little dog who got along great with Ziggy. They were fighting over their little dog cookies.

She spoke to husband-ji about religion and spirituality, and about India. When you were talking to her you could tell she was one of those quietly intelligent people. You could tell she had many interests and wanted to learn and absorb her surroundings. I found her to be a very inspiring person. During dinner she said that she was so happy to be having a nice home-cooked meal because she was eating bad take-out food alone all week. It made me really happy and proud to welcome her into our home as a part of our family. She's a part of the family now!

I was really surprised at how down-to-Earth she was. She wanted to help in the kitchen, but we said no (of course - atithi devo bhava!) but then she came into the kitchen and wanted to arrange the flowers she bought for us. And there she Academy Award winning actress arranging flowers on our kitchen counter! She arranged them so well, I would have thought her to be a florist.

(Flowers she arranged)

She played with my daughter, and she said she had a picture of Maya on her fridge at home - a picture card my dad had sent was definitely a surreal experience, to say the least!

(Picture of Maya in Venice she has on her fridge)

I didn't want to tell her how much I loved her movies, or how stunning she was, or ask her too many questions. I had so many questions for her, like "Is Hollywood really sexist?", "What's your favorite part of being an actress?", "Do people recognize you in strange places?", "Who's the best and worst person you've ever worked with?", "What's your favorite film you've made?" many curiosities, but I just couldn't find the courage to ask her.

And I'm glad I didn't... Because then, I just enjoyed her company...

But I do wish I would've told her my favorite movie of hers was "How To Make an American Quilt"...

(Flowers she put near our entryway)


What about you, dear readers? Have you ever met any celebrities in person and were surprised by their personalities?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Indian aunty detective

Last week, I went to go pick up take-out dinner at a restaurant that I go to sometimes. There is an Indian aunty cashier who always says my daughter is so cute. So, when I went in, she decided to strike up a conversation with me (...or an interrogation?)

Here are the questions that she asked me (within a 2 minute time frame):

- What is your daughters name?
- Where is your husband?
- Where is he from?
- Where is he working?
- What position is he working?
- Do you live near here?
- Have you been to India?
- How many times?
- Do you like India?
- Do you like Indian food?
- Have you taken your daughter to India?
- Is your husband a Hindu?
- What is his name?
- What caste is he?

And then....she passes me my food and says...."Okay, have a good night!"

By the end of the whole conversation interrogation, I was practically stuttering! I wonder...WHY did this Indian aunty need to know all these details about me? For example, why would she want to know the caste of my husband (whom she has never met)? Was it just curiosity...? Was she just bored? Was that her way of just trying to get to know me? Or did she just want to gossip to her friends?

I am currently reading the book Vish Puri: The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, by Tarquin Hall - in which the character of "mummy-ji" does detective work. I started to wonder, is this lady really working here or is she a detective working undercover for CBI?

Next time I go to that place, I will surely go with husband-ji so he can handle the aunty's interrogation, while I act like a "demure" wifey....(HAHAHA!)


What about you, dear readers? Care to share some nosy Indian aunty stories?

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