Dining alone


You see them in coffee shops and restaurants…hunched over their plates not making eye contact as if the generic white plate has totally enchanted them.  They could be reading a book or busy scribbling in a journal or texting/ talking on the cell phone.

One is a lonely number and I am fascinated by solitary diners.  Really.  I make up stories about them in my head and one time,  just to experience this solitary situation, I ate lunch at Pine Street Cafe in my local Nordstrom and at the same time observed my fellow diners.

“Only one today?” asked the hostess sweetly.  “Yes” I replied and felt like a few heads turned in my direction.  Of course I made up stories in my head about them thinking thoughts like “Poor thing she is lonely”.  But that was just me.  I’m sure that to them I might have been a shopper who decided to take a load off and grab lunch, and just as quickly they went right back to their lunch and conversation.

I came prepared with a lined, yellow pad and pencil and already knew what I was going to order, being familiar with the menu.  I set the scene…bag next to me on the seat, cell phone and yellow pad on the table.  Once I had ordered I started writing on the pad beginning with “Today I am dining alone at a cafe…”.  My writing was flowing and within a matter of minutes I was very comfortable.  There were no stares coming my way and I rather grooved into this experience instead of feeling awkward.

Odd snippets of conversation drifted my way like how a maid of honor was humiliated by a Bridezilla friend to a young mother raving about her “gifted” child.  The thing is when you are dining solitary you are free to soak in other conversations having no one to talk to and observe humanity. I love people-watching.  It was a pleasant experience and I struck off one more item from my list of things to do alone.

But that was lunch.  Dinner?  Not that brave!









Ruminate – on life and why we are here


Ruminate…to think deeply about something.  Also, Chew on something…same meaning, except that I just learned that the English word derives from the Latin ruminari, which in turn derives from “rumen,” the Latin name for the first stomach compartment of ruminant animals (that is, creatures like cows that chew their cud).   Interesting!

I ruminate on my life and why am I here?   Why the particular parents I had?  Why was it meaningful that they met (fate?) and had me as their child?  Why in that family, why in that country? Why do I engage with certain people right away?  What is my purpose in this life?  Do we really need to have a purpose?  We can spend hours and hours in our lifetimes spinning theories about our purpose.  I once asked a radio psychic, very respected person from England, what my purpose was in this lifetime.  After hearing him tell other listeners about altruistic purposes for their being in this world, I waited for 20 minutes on the line to hear him say something really mind blowing to me.   My hands were clammy on the telephone receiver when he said “Hello”.

“Your purpose in this lifetime is to be Mother…not only to your own family but to many others who will need you in this role.”  “Oh” I said, “Is that all?” and hung up.  No famous future for me I thought at that time and went about my business, disappointed.

Fast forward several years and I still ruminate about that short conversation with the psychic.  He was right.  I did play that role for others besides my immediate family and in those moments I did give the psychic his due.  Ruminate – on life and why we are here





Buzz! Buzz!  Of course I immediately thought of bees and locusts swarming.  But one could be in a swarming sea of humans.  Like the one time on one of my trips to Mumbai I tried to mistakenly rely on past laurels…the art of boarding a train effortlessly.  I thought I would give my two sons, 4 and 5 years old, the thrilling experience of travelling by train.

As the crowds swelled in anticipation of the train’s arrival, there was a corresponding growing fear in my stomach.  This is not how it used to be when I went to college on a train.  Here, everyone looked like a pro and I the “Phoreign returned” Indian was already sorry that I thought of this foolish idea as the swell of people already pushing and pressing against the three of us was scary.  What was I thinking?  My fear was now for my sons and also myself as a woman.

There was a further jostling, pressing and pushing forward to the edge of the platform at which time we had no more control of where we stood or how we would board the train.  I heard the train arriving and saw it as it  crawled, slowing down for a halt with a grinding of the wheels.  I grabbed their hands tightly and we were literally like a wave of humanity, swarming onto the train with no effort of our own but were just lifted and transported onto the train by being pushed.





Daily Post: Absolute Beauty… re-blogged.



I had blogged this before, totally relying on my memory of this photograph…but now having found it, I wish to share it with my readers.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” … I agree.  I knew a well-known photographer, Tara Colburn,  who found beauty in the images of poor Indian women in the villages of Bihar.  What would have appeared to other eyes as poverty and the mundane was captured, through a special magic of her individual perspective, as beauty and soulful by her camera.  She has since passed on but I have the honor of possessing three cards that she had gifted me.

My favorite is the one of an older woman, her body brown, lean and taut.  She is sitting on the floor of her hut, grinding spices on a stone. Her back is straight as an arrow, her haunches perfectly folded and her feet squared on the ground.  Her wrinkled face is happy and focused on the grinding stone and the perfect grinding of the spices for the food she must now prepare for her family.  Nothing else matters … the spare surroundings, the lack of furnishings …  just this beautiful woman, her grinding stone and her spices.  With a limited color palette of orange, burnt sienna, white and black, the interior of the hut provides a complementary background to the brown body of the woman.

While some might see only the material poverty in this photograph, I only see beauty.

My maid Kondi



Moving effortlessly on her haunches she would sweep the floor with a jharoo, a broom made of long-stemmed grass loosely gathered together and bound at the bottom where it would be grasped. Keeping a sharp eye out for the dust she was corralling, she would wait until it was just the two of us in the bedroom, out of sight and earshot of the others, as I rushed to dress and head to work.

“I saw you again in my dreams last night” she would always begin and I would unfailingly respond, “How much do you want today?”! By now that certain smile would start playing around her mouth. “Well, I want to take my daughter to see this new movie. You know, Lata rarely gets to do things like other girls her age. I cannot ask my brother for these luxuries as he has done a lot already by sheltering me and my daughter since my husband left. I cannot ask for more than that.”
Most of the time it was I who initiated the weekly slipping of money to her, keeping in mind how much cash I needed myself until the next payday. However, when Kondi needed the extra cash for a special purpose it was she who roped me, a willing participant, into a little game she played.

“How much do you need?” I ask again and then decide to hand her twenty- rupee bill for two movie tickets and some change left over. She takes the money, promptly rolls the note and gets ready to tuck it into the cleavage of her sari choli but looks at me hesitatingly before she completes the action. “Only twenty?!” Lata has to have popcorn and a Coke during the intermission like all the others children!” I put out another ten rupees. By now I don’t want to let Lata feel left out! I might as well make the movie experience complete for her. “God will grant you many blessings” she murmurs taking the extra money. Sometimes it was for other things that she needed the money and both my anger and guilt for being part of a society that did not pay her fairly, made me a soft-target for her pleas.

Kondi was slender, of medium height, dark complexioned with intense black eyes set above hollow cheekbones, and her oiled, black hair was combed back and wound into a bun at the nape of her neck. There was no vermillion dot or tilak in the center of her broad forehead. The most popular tilaks are the smaller, red dot (teeka) and the sindoora, red powder smeared along the parting of the hair on the head of a married, Hindu woman thus making a continuous red line from the forehead going back. Kondi’s husband was absent in her life since she had been pregnant with Lata and so her status was not considered worthy of the red teeka.

On most mornings, she arrived at our Mumbai flat at 7 am to begin the day’s work. If she was even fifteen minutes late, my mother would launch into a predictable monologue of how we could not rely on help these days, and how ungrateful they were, etc. etc. She also had a theory that if you needed Kondi to come early on a special day, like a birthday or New Year it was best not to alert her as this would definitely ensure either her late arrival or total absence, thus throwing a wrench into our daily lives.

On regular days, Kondi, like most of the daily maids, swept and mopped the tiled floors, cleaned the bathroom, washed our clothes, ground spices for our meals and washed dishes every day for years. Greasy dishes were first cleaned with sawdust which soaked up the grease. This was followed by a good scrubbing with ashes and rinsed. No washing machines for her…clothes were washed in buckets with soap and then rinsed and hung on clotheslines. She was paid “a fair sum of money”, or so they said, for all this drudgery. It was seventeen rupees per month to be exact. I found this extremely unfair, despite all and sundry justifying it as being the norm. I would vow that when I earned my first pay I would make it up to her. So I did. I would slip her an extra few rupees every week when I started working.
Unlike the other maids we had in the past, she never wore a single piece of jewelry. The absence of it always made me wonder. Even the poorest of the poor among her class wore a silver anklet, armlet or an earring, jewelry given to them by their parents as part of their marriage dowry but she wore nothing. Once she asked me for a large sum of money – seven hundred rupees. It was a large sum, considering that I was only earning five hundred rupees as my starting, monthly salary. I could not even imagine how I would produce this kind of money for her except that I was expecting my yearly bonus. She revealed that she had pawned her wedding jewelry and now wanted to claim it back.
Later, seven hundred rupees richer, courtesy my first bonus salary, she appeared the following day for work, bedecked like a young, happy bride replete with ornaments at her neck, wrists and ankles. While sweeping the bedroom, minutes later, she rose up with a jangle of silver bracelets and then touched my feet with gratitude.
I avoided looking at my mother’s puzzled face. “Why do you think she came all decked out today? How could she have afforded to pay the pawnbroker?” For the next two days Kondi flaunted her stuff and then just as quickly, she was bare again. All of it gone. Not even one piece adorned her. “I had to put it all away” she said. “It is dangerous to wear jewelry these days because one never knows if someone will rip it off of you.” I try hard not to believe my father who says he has seen her betting money, lately, at the local center for matka, the poor man’s lottery and thought of all the twenty rupee bills I had slipped her. His theory was that if she did not show up for work for a few days because of a fever, that she really had “ matka fever” and had made a little money at the lottery.

Once she had not come to work for about ten days and my mother, concerned that Kondi might be sick, sent me to her home to find out. The chawl where she lived was a collection of old, grey, peeling tenements with little windows displaying brightly colored clothing hung out to dry. Ragged, partly-naked brown children played happily in the squalor. Old people, toothless and contented, sat outside in the sunshine, looking at me with curiousity. “Where does Kondi live?” I ask. “Oh, Kondi, she lives on the third floor.” I start to climb the stairs and find that three little children are tailing me. “We will show you the way” they say happily, welcoming this diversion in their daily lives.

I found her sitting in a hallway, outside her dark, small room. She looked thinner. She has had a high fever and will come to work in a day or two. This was clearly not “matka fever” as my father usually thought.
When I left India, she came to my parents’ house with coconuts, Indian sweets, flower garlands and touched my feet to bless me for my journey to the U.S.A. Embarrassed, because she was my elder, I quickly bent down and raised her up. “Take me with you to America” she would often say to me. “I predict you will have two boys and a girl and I will look after them and do your housework, when you are married.”
I always saw her on the few trips I made back to Mumbai and on one trip, Lata, now thirteen would help with my children, sometimes taking my younger son for a walk in his stroller.
A couple of years later I received a letter from my mother that Lata had died at the age of fifteen from typhoid fever. Kondi had asked if I could please send her a copy of the photograph I had taken of Lata with my baby son? My good intentions of enlarging the photograph and framing it before mailing never got off the ground. I was guilty of “being busy” and every now and then when the photograph would surface in my mind, I would say “Tomorrow, definitely tomorrow.”

Kondi died, shortly thereafter. She never got the photograph and I have never forgiven myself.

Things I have never finished (and those I simply failed to do)


I laughed out loud when I read this blog and I’m sure so did many others. It deserved to be reblogged in the hope that many more will read it and identify.

tryingsohardtobegood's Blog

I confess to being a little in love with Pintrest. However, only a little.

You see, I don’t really need it. My head has always been some kind of scrapbook; a collection of quotes, a montage of things to make-and-do, outfit inspirations, projects to pursue, tips and other things I might try and, somewhere, I’m sure, if you searched hard enough, even the odd recipe or two. Ideas don’t seem to be the issue.

But implementation all too often impedes me. I’m a dreamer not a doer. And, alas, here I am with a thousand or so things unfinished…

A painting of a boy


Have you ever been so head-over
-heels in love that the colours of the world come alive? Of course you have, haven’t we all? Well, I tried to capture them. And his features. Tried and failed of course. A blue canvas boxed away in a room…

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Writing 101: Unlock the Mind


9:13 am.  So I have until 9:29 am.  Anyway, I better begin.  Images of the Van Gogh to Kandisky exhibit at LACMA  are still with me.  Loved the colors and intricate paintings of Kandisky… kind of looking at a “Where’s Wally” picture.  Had to stand back several times to catch the human images embedded in the swirl of colors, criss-crossing lines and geometric images.  I skipped all the “traditional” paintings of pale, insipid landscapes saying to myself “Nope, skip, skip, skip, aaahh!  Looks at the colors!’. Learned enough about Fauvism to figure out that I had unknowingly been using that style in painting my masks.  Wow!  what a discovery … I mean I thought all along that my choice of colors was pretty wild but there was a method to my madness … albeit I did not know it.  I feel like my soul has been fed for a while. Today I feel satisfied that an important part of me was cared for by ME.  I know it will last for a while. Like the movie “The Hundred Foot Journey” which by the way I saw for the 4th time!  Why did I do that?  It fed some part of me … the warm yet feisty family ties, the soul of cooking, the sweet, unintended coming together of Marguerite and Hassan, the blending of two cultures and the seductive scenes of food preparations.  Every one who has seen the movie with me has expressed at the end of it … “I am hungry!”  or “I want to go home and cook with soul”. Okay enough of this as I have to go for my workout and also later to my office. Wish I could do this all day.  Have to seriously protect my time and space.  Trying, trying.  Maybe one of these days.  I have a small canvas. Perhaps this evening I could try an image and go nuts with the colors!.