Saturday, September 21, 2013

Recipe: Pudina Rice (Mint rice)

One of my absolute favorite dishes is Pudina rice - and it is also one of Maya's favorites! It is very easy, quick and flavorful - perfect for a busy family! It is a very refreshing dish, and we ate it all Summer.

Madh Mama's Pudina Rice

Serves 4 people

Ingredients:
- 2 large potatoes
- 1 sprig of mint
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 jalapeno / chilli
- 1 tbsp jeera (cumin)
- 2 cups of cooked rice *cook ahead of time and keep aside*

Tools:
- large pot for boiling potatoes
- medium saute pan
-potato peeler
- small blender/food processor


(Ingredients)

(Wash the mint springs first and shake them a bit)

(Chop the onion in long pieces)

(Chop jalapeno & put it in the food blender)

(Pick off the mint leaves)

(Put the mint leaves in the blender)

(Keep aside a few mint leaves and a small handful of chopped onions)

(Peel the 2 potatoes)

(Chop potatoes into medium squares)

(Boil the potatoes)

(Load a few onions in the blender)

(Blend)

(Make sure to blend it to this consistency)

(Turn up pan to medium heat, put some oil, and saute the jeera for 20 seconds)

(Throw the onions into the saute pan)

(You can saute the onions at the same time the potatoes are boiling)

(When the potatoes are done boiling, drain it, throw the water out, heat oil and put back in the pan)

(Onions done)

(Let the cooked potatoes brown a bit and pour salt)

(Pour the onions into the potatoes' pan)

(Stir)

(Rip up the rest of the mint pieces and put it in the pan)

(Stir)

(Pour in the blended mint)

(Stir)

(Put two cups of cooked rice in the pan and stir)

(All done!)


Dee-lish! One of my absolute faves! Great for potlucks, and leftovers too.


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Monday, September 16, 2013

First Indian-American Miss America!

(Watching Miss America with Maya, Sunday evening)

Yes, confession time...my guilty pleasure is watching the Miss America pageant (OMG...I know, I know) Yes, I'm a feminist who watches Miss America pageants...lol!!! I usually watch it and think blehhhhh....look at all those blonde girls with orange tanned skin and fake boobs...they all look the same! This year I watched it reluctantly (because I'm addicted, I cannot NOT watch it!) and was pleasantly surprised that there were so many interesting, relatable contestants this year. There was more diversity, more intelligence, and more sassy strong women (that's what I like to see!) Within the top 5 were three Asian Americans, and the runner-up was also Asian-American, Crystal Lee.


Miss America winner did a killer Bollywood fusion dance

My favorite contestant, Miss New York, Nina Davuluri - ended up winning the competition and is the first Indian-American to win Miss America! I was so proud. She was my favorite because she did a kick-ass Indian fusion dance routine which combined many different styles of Indian classical dance. I had never seen anything like it on a Miss America competition and everyone in the audience was blown away. I would guess that a lot of middle-America folks watch this pageant, and it was great to see Nina represent her Indian heritage with that dance - I'm sure many had not seen before. So, in a sense, it was like a cultural education for a lot of people who may not know anything about India / Indian culture. It was freakin' fabulous! Another thing I liked about her was her question & answer - she said the idea of "the girl next door is evolving as the diversity of America evolves" which I thought was a really important message. I don't know yet what parts of India her parents came from, but it said online she did some classical Indian dance training in Vijayawada, which is right near my MIL's city of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh.


Crowning Miss America

Another contestant I liked was Miss Kansas - who is a tattooed army sergeant. How badass is that? She also made the decision to not cover up her tattoos (tattoos in the pageant are a taboo) and flaunted them with pride. Just knowing that she's an army sergeant - a leader - who can also put on a ball gown and be feminine - was inspiring and breaking stereotypes on both ends.

I also really liked the runner-up Miss California, Crystal Lee who answered a tough question about Syria, and was very articulate and intelligent. She could have actually won based on her answer.


Question / Answer - Top 5 contestants

When I told husband-ji that an Indian-American girl had won, he was proud and hopeful. He said, then maybe Maya will win Miss Canada one day...and she can do a Bharat natyam dance to win it...

It's definitely possible! What an inspiration...

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What do you think, dear readers? Who was your favorite contestant? Are you glad that Nina won?


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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The mirror

(Having a quiet moment to myself, Ganesh Chaturthi 2013)

Over the past few weeks, I've had a lot of revealing interactions with people who I've known for a long time. I say "revealing" because in my deep conversations with these people, I have learned more about them, and more about myself - at the same time.

It's funny when that happens, isn't it? When you think you know someone, you've got them all figured out...and they say something (or a series' of things) that make you change your mind about them. Suddenly, they become a deeper, more multi-faceted person than you would have ever thought. There's different sides to them, like a prism hanging in a window - sparkling when it catches the sun's rays.

I don't know what it is, but the past while, I've been really listening to the world. I feel like when I am talking to somebody, I feel so in tune with them that I can almost feel their heart beat. At the same time, I feel solid enough within to separate myself from any dramas that are going on around me.

Not only did I learn more about these individuals, but I feel like something has shifted ever so slightly inside me too, and it makes all the difference. I feel like I've revealed to myself - my SELF. Maybe it is the point in time where I'm finally meeting my true self. There is a calmness that I feel. A connectedness. And at the same time, I feel as solid as the eye of a storm. Whatever is going on around me, I feel solid. 

Is this what it feels like? Is this what it feels like...to finally meet oneself? It feels like I've been walking towards a mirror all these years, with my reflection slowly coming into sight...and now I'm standing right in front of myself and the reflection is clear. I'm standing in front of my self and smiling. She's different than I thought she would be, she's better than I thought she would be...

I'm meeting my self...



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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Things to talk about before getting married

(Committed to compromise! Our wedding day, 2011)

My favorite of husband-ji's cousin-sisters is looking for a match to get married this year. It will be the traditional arranged marriage. I'm beyond nervous for her but as a vadina (elder brother's wife in Telugu) I have to be supportive and pray for the absolute best.

With arranged marriages, people usually have their requirements, such as: astrological match, good job, Masters degree, caste, religion, shared interests, etc. but I think there are many more questions that are crucial to find out which can determine compatibility and also the person's character. Some, you may be able to ask openly, and others, you can just observe. But you also have to know the flip side: what are your requirements in a marriage? What are your fundamental beliefs about how you can function as a couple? What are the values based on your character?

Points of discussion

Priorities
Who is the first priority after marriage? Is it the spouse, or the parents, or the (future) children? (Sometimes in certain situations you do have to side with one or the other in family dramas) Also, which family takes priority (only one spouse's parents, or both sets of parents equally?) If you ever have to relocate for work etc, will your spouse join you or live separately? (good indication of where the priority is)

The involvement of inlaws / individual independence
How will your inlaws fit into your daily life? (Will your MIL help with cooking or will she give advice on career?) (Will they visit every day or every month?) (Where will they stay when they get elderly?) A great indication of a person's independence is their decision making skills - who do they consult before making important life decisions - career, kids, finances? How often do they consult people (if at all) and how much does the spouse get influenced (dependent vs independent)?

Expectations / roles after matrimony
What do they picture life after marriage to be like (go with the flow or idealized ideas of man/wife roles)? How much will each spouse help around the house (division of work - cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring for children)? Are there any expectations of the individual "changing" after marriage (eg. career girl to housewife)? Does the spouse have certain ideas about how the other spouse should be spending their free time (judgements/control)?

Adaptability / adjusting to changing priorities
Sometimes you can agree to something (eg. like living in a joint family) and decide later that you're not up for it. How adaptable will your spouse be to your needs? How tolerant will they be to your needs? Will they be able to be open to changing priorities and be sensible about it? This relates back to communication and priorities. Is one particular spouse the only one who has to "adjust"? Are they willing to have a "team mentality"? Are they tolerant for other viewpoints or do they always think they're right?

Love / affection
How is affection expressed (words vs gestures) and is it expressed in front of others (eg. family)? Does one spouse have to do all efforts of affection? How does the spouse show their appreciation for you?

Communication
What is their communication style (talking, listening, writing)? How do they express their needs or do you have to specifically ask? Can you talk openly about uncomfortable/hard topics? How do they argue (do they fight fairly or throw personal attacks? - you can observe this by how they fight with family/friends)

Individual ambitions / passions
Why did they choose their particular career? What attracted them to it? What are they passionate about in life (what is their purpose on Earth)? How supportive is the spouse of your individual passions? Does the spouse respect your passions or are they deemed unimportant/unworthy?

Finances
How is the money spent (materialistic items or long-lasting investments)? How much freedom do you have with your own personal finances? What say do you have in the couple's joint finances (equal say or somebody is managing the money)? Will you keep separate or joint accounts? Does it bother the spouse if the other spouse is earning more (competition)?

Deal-breakers
What will you absolutely NOT tolerate in a marriage (disrespect, shouting, physical violence, lack of communication, different religious beliefs)? This helps with compromise if you know exactly what the other person will NOT tolerate.

Social life / Work-Life balance
Do they prefer to spend time with friends one-on-one, in groups; or do they prefer to only spend time with family? How often do they socialize? Is the spouse included in the social life or do they keep them separate? Are friends more important than family? What kind of work/life balance do they function best in? Do they enjoy having a social life outside of work, or do they just keep to themselves?


DO NOT PICK A SPOUSE SOLELY BASED ON THE FOLLOWING CRITERIA:
- family reputation (not exactly a reflection of the individual - I was born into my family by chance, I didn't pick them)
- good looks (Looks can fade; good looks don't cover an ugly heart)
- vegetarian vs non-vegetarian (we function just fine, if not better than average)
- job (what if they get fired??? Or get health problems and they can't work?)
- academic standing (not a reflection of intelligence about life or ability to be a good spouse)
- your interests don't ALL have to match (a few is good, but many interests are an individual thing)

***Just because somebody is a good-looking rich intelligent person does not mean that they are going to be a kind and respectful life partner ***


Regardless, getting married (arranged or love marriage) is a leap of faith...you don't know what will happen. You just have to jump in with ALL your soul, be able to compromise, make efforts & hope for the best!

Click HERE to read my best marriage advice.

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What do you think, dear readers? What should you find out to determine a life partner's compatibility before you tie the knot?

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Discovering a collective Indian identity

(Sunset over Munnar, 2006)

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be Indian, and the collective Indian identity. 

I think this is because of two reasons. The first, is that I'm waiting for my PIO to arrive and wondering about how I will feel when I see my picture on a legal document that says "Person of Indian Origin". The second, is that through my blog, I've interacted with so many other Whindian couples / other Indians, who have so much in common with many of the topics that I write about.

Who would have thought? When I started talking about THE family, and THE culture, I always tried to make sure to point out that certain customs are distinctly South Indian, or Tamil / Telugu, or Iyengar Brahmin, or specific to our family, etc. I even have the header on my blog (to the right) that says Tamil Iyengar so that everybody knows. 

In Vancouver, we've often felt left out of everything over the years, as many of the Indian community is Sikh and keeps to themselves, and the South Indians are few and far between. If there are any South Indians here, they usually are the cookie-cutter software engineers / IT professionals, and in turn judge us for being different - my husband for dressing different, for working in fashion and not being the "good Brahmin boy: doctor or engineer" (as if those are the only career options); or us being an intercultural couple (as if that makes him less of an Indian).

I assumed that when I started writing about OUR culture, that the only people who would be able to relate to it would be other South Indians.

Lo and behold...I've had so many interactions with other Indians / other Whindian couples who are not even from the same region or religion, who can deeply relate to many of the Indian customs that I talk about. In fact, I have so many Punjabi Sikh readers - who would have thought? The northernmost point of India, people with a completely different religion, who I used to think were the polar opposite of South Indians in so many ways...these folks can relate to me? They can relate??? I was shocked, but at the same time I felt happy. I felt the connection to them too, for the very first time. I thought...we are not so different, after all...We all drink the same chai from Munnar, after all...!

India is an incredibly divided country. Sometimes I wonder how it can survive as a nation with SO much diversity. Not just between regions and languages, but also because of the differences between modern urban India vs rural traditional India; not to mention the endless inequalities. At times, it seems that the nation is so disconnected from each other. Hindi is the national language, but many Tamilians refuse to speak it or learn it. Not just differences within the regions, but also in the rampant inequalities in the social system....if you go to one house from another it sometimes feels as though you're shifting planets. A lot of foreigners don't realize how diverse it is until they travel throughout it. It would literally be the equivalent of if Europe was one country - with all the different languages and regions.

Lately, with having so many open interactions with other Indians / Whindians (who may feel more comfortable revealing things to me through the anonymity of the internet), I'm starting to realize that there IS a distinct Indian identity. An identity that wraps up the entire nation and all of it's children, and embraces it with it's warmth. The true mother...that is Mother India. 

What's starting to emerge for me is a collective Indian identity that is as diverse as it is similar. There are so many Indian mannerisms that are distinctly an Indian mentality. There are so many ways of thinking that are distinctly an Indian psychology. And me, having traveled so much all over the world from birth, having so many friends from different cultures - I do notice how deeply the culture runs. Culture trumps religion, language, and region all the time. That is why many Indian families would be more comfortable with an Indian DIL than a non-Indian. That is why so many Indians are more comfortable making other desi friends; or going for Indian food (whether it is Tandoori or Dosa) nearly every time they want to go out to eat. If Indians didn't have such a distinct culture, then we would not be one of the rarest mixes within our Intercultural-couples community. That is why I have so many readers of my blog who are not even South Indian, but can relate to the stories I tell about MY experiences within the Indian culture. As for me, I like to know the cultural mannerisms not only out of curiosity, but it explains so much about the way husband-ji acts in certain situations. Why he has road rage (have you seen Indian streets? No patience!). Why he has a difficult time saying sorry ("No need of saying sorry to close family members" = too formal). Why he is so ambivalent about things (What to do, da?) Why his masculinity is directly connected to having a job and being "the provider" (as many men are in a patriarchal society). Why he won't ever raise his voice to my parents even when he's angry (respect to elders).

If you get to know the Indian culture, on a deeper level, you will notice many patterns and parallels even within India's different regions. "Atithi Devo Bhava" for example, is practiced all the way from Punjab to Kanyakumari. Indian food and mealtime is a HUGE centralized/integral part of Indian culture, more so I find than any other culture (even much stronger even than other Asian cultures). The presence of religion & superstition is also a big part of daily lives (even if you are an atheist, there is not even an atheist box to check on many government forms). There is a social hierarchy in terms of age (respect to elders), caste, community, gender, financial standing. The family as a whole is valued above the individual, and don't even get my started on the family dynamics - they are soooo complicated. Marriage, Birth and Death are huge parts of life, with rituals and traditions marking the passage to each phase...there are even rituals when you're going out the door for work!  Festivals (no matter the religion) are a huge part of life within Mother India. The process of naming a child is a very important ritual. Performing arts, such as music (from Bollywood pop to Carnatic classical music), dance (Banghra to Bharat Natyam), films (Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood) is a very beloved celebratory part of Indian culture (much more than the West). The dreaded Indian MIL is notorious - for a reason! And don't get me started on that freakin' head wobble (my beloved head wobble which I've happily adopted as my sporadic daily dance move!)

If you would have said anything about India's identity to me a few years ago, I would have said, "Oh don't be ridiculous...the North is completely different than the South, and so on" (and sometimes I'm still guilty of saying that). But now, I'm beginning the process of linking all the parallels. I guess you could call it my journey to understand India - discovering my second homeland, my Indian family and people, a part of my husband, and half of my daughter. Not just South India, but ALL of India. And the more I talk to other blended families like us, the more I realize how similar we all are. There is this collective Indian identity that is emerging for me - no matter the region, no matter the religion. I'm understanding what it is to "be Indian", not just what it is to be South Indian, or be the "wife of an Indian". What is it to just "be"...

Maybe this is the final evolution in the typical "foreigner" digestion of India - as Sharell says, the cycle goes: honeymoon, frustration, acceptance. Even though I may always be seen as a "lifetime foreigner", I will always have that puzzle piece in my multi-layered heart that is the of a soul of an Indian (past life, maybe?) Although it seems to outsiders that I try so hard to understand the culture, there are a lot of things about it that come naturally to me. From the outside it may look like I'm out of place, but deep inside there is the calmness that I have found my place. And although I'm drawn to India, Indians are also drawn to me...my first Indian friend was a girl in my school who wanted to be friends with me because I had a Ganesh lunchbox filled with samosas. She said it was a sign that we were meant to be friends. There is something familiar about me to Indians; and there is something familiar to Indians about me. 

In my thirst for knowledge for my second homeland, I think I have finally realized that despite my dichotomous relationship with India - to just "be". To just embrace my Mother India as she has embraced me. The answer has been inside me all along, no need of so many books or questions - or even to try to comprehend. To just "be"...


(Ahobilam, 2006)


***A special thank you to one of my readers who inspired this***
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Monday, September 9, 2013

Ganesh Chaturthi

~Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha ~

(Ganesh in our home)

My most favorite Hindu God is Ganesh, and today is his birthday!

I don't know why I love Ganesh so much - I was always drawn to him in particular out of all the Hindu deities. In a way, he speaks to me like a kindred spirit. I was actually fascinated by him from when I was a little girl, and then I just happened to marry a Hindu man (coincidence? I think not!) Now, whenever we go back to India, I like to collect idols of him and give them to friends and family, as well as for our house. I'm just waiting for the chance to celebrate this festival in India itself which would be absolutely amazing.

For those of you who don't know, Ganesh is the elephant God who is prayed to for removing obstacles, success, triumphs over adversity, new beginnings, and wisdom. You'll notice that during a religious ceremony, he will usually be prayed to first before starting anything. Even during a Bharat Natyam performance, he is prayed to by honouring him at the beginning of the dance.

The legend of Ganesh is that the goddess Parvati (who is seen as his mother) created him to guard the door and protect her while she took her daily baths. Shiva (Parvati's husband) returned and Ganesh wouldn't let him in. Shiva got mad and called his followers to destroy Ganesh, and one-by-one Ganesh defeated them all. He wanted to protect his mother at all costs. Even Indra (the king of the Gods) tried to defeat him but he didn't stand a chance. Ganesh was too strong. Shiva then cut off his head and Parvati totally flipped out. She vowed to destroy the universe unless Ganesh was brought back to life. The trinity searched the world for a head and came across an elephant - thus, Ganesh became the elephant-headed God.

Ganesh is not just celebrated in Hinduism, as he is also popular in Jainism and Buddhism as well. He is one of the most loved Gods all across India. His iconography is hugely depicted in Indian Art, in both paintings and sculptures. I did a series' of paintings on him 4 years ago and during that process I learned the meaning behind his symbolic iconography.

Ganesh symbolism

- large elephant head: wisdom
- large ears: good listener to his devotees
- elephant trunk: ability to know between good and evil
- one broken tusk: sacrifice of growing wisdom
- snake on shoulder: rising kundalini
- conch shell: call of prayer
- lotus flower: symbol of greater spiritual rebirths
- sweets in hand: sweetness of rewards
- goad: towards enlightenment
- ax/sword: cuts attachment
- trident: the power of love, wisdom and action
- upraised hand: protection and sanctuary for devotees
- large round stomach: universe
- mice at feet: ability of Ganesh to reach everywhere


In our house, we have a Ganesh near the front of our door, and we also have an idol that faces South East towards the rising sun. During our wedding, we also had our Ganesh at the entranceway. When I researched more about him online, I noticed that he is also the patron of writing, which I was so happy to find out about considering I'm so passionate about my writing! In fact, 2 of his idols watch over me from my favorite writing spot!

(Ganesh at our wedding entranceway)

The Ganesh Chaturthi festival is celebrated annually in early Autumn and it lasts for ten days. Idols are usually immersed in water on a specific day (usually an odd-numbered day) depending on the family traditions. There are huge street festivals with giant hand-painted Ganesh idols (by giant, I mean some are as tall as buildings!) It is a very jolly, happy festival, and a lot of people celebrate it out on the streets which gives it "the more the merrier" feel.

Today is a great day to honour Ganesh and say a prayer to him to remove any obstacle that you are facing and for greater wisdom in your life. Say a prayer or chant to his idol and offer him some sweets, fruits or flowers. You can also submerge his idol in water or light a diya (candle or ghee lamp) for him.

~Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha ~

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Readers, are you familiar with Ganesh? How do you celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in your homes?


Wishing all my wonderful readers a Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!!!!!


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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Venice by iPhone

One of my favorite ways to discover a place is to photograph it, and even looking back at the pictures, I always observe / understand more and more of it...

Back in May, we traveled to Venice and I was so overwhelmed with the baby/motherhood that I could only take pictures with my iPhone...and the pictures turned out quite beautifully! Looks like my photography BFA came in really handy after all!

Here is a glimpse of Venice from my iPhone...



















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