Saturday, May 26, 2007

The magic spice that works wonders!!!

He was feeling terribly lonely and upset, for this was the first time he was in his house without his wife. This was no more a home to him, without her around. For the first time he realized, how much he had got used to her. She had managed their lives with such skill, that life just flowed so smoothly for him. He was always welcomed home with the appetizing aromas from their kitchen, where she used to cook wonders! He was always eager and proud to invite friends and guests home for lunch and dinners, for he was sure she would present on their table her magical recipes, rich in color and quality!!!

The thought of her food made him feel hungry as usual. He involuntarily opened the kitchen cupboard where she used to store her goodies, home baked muffins and loafs. As he took his first bite he was transported into a different world,"yes, this is the taste of heaven!", he thought. Now he will have to spend two more days without her in this house. She was hospitalized for a minor eye operation. He was grateful to her for having prepared and stocked upon his favorite frozen meals and mouth watering raisin breads.

He recalled the day when he first set foot in their new home. The day was well etched in his memory. His mind had captured it like a black and white photograph. How could he forget their day of wedding!The day when this wonderful women stepped into his life, and became his life itself. Those were nostalgic moments......laughter and music of bygone days still echoed in his ears.

He took a second bite of the coffee muffin......every thing his wife prepared was always special. He was not her only silent admirer. He had heard numerous praises for her culinary magical skills. He had worn each of her praises like a feather in his cap. As he took his third bite, his memory flashed back to a few years when he was helping her out in their kitchen. He remembered how adamant she was, giving him strict orders not to touch her spice box, which was a wedding gift from her mother. Even after all these years she still preserved it like a treasure. He had spied her dutifully opening it whenever she was cooking, and wondered what magical spice it was ...... it needed no refilling , and still served to be a major ingredient of all her recipes. By the time he was finished with the last bit of the finger licking muffin, he was filled with an intense urge to open the spice box and find out what contents it held."She was not going to find out any way..." he assured his guilty self.

He slowly opened the spice box, doubly careful, not disturbing any of the magical contents...He saw something he least expected. He was awe-struck.....He saw in it a white note which was at the verge of wear and tear. Was his wife hiding anything from him? His heart missed a beat...How he had dotted on her and loved her!!!He felt an ache in his throat.... what would he find when he opened this treasure of hers?... what was the secret that she withheld from him for the past 25 years...?He was totally blank as he opened the note.....He could well recognize his mother- in- law`s bold hand writing... it read"what ever you cook my dear, do not forget to add in this magic spice, YOUR LOVE..."

Now he understood exactly, how and why her food turned out to be so special.....

What does this story have to do with my travels, my impressions? I`ll tell is this magical spice which came in handy for me, when I was a novice in the wonderful world of spices and flavors.

We were alloted a three bedroom apartment in Japan, which we had to share with two other team mates. Our team also occupied yet another apartment in the same building. So there were seven of us who made a real good team.....majority of us were vegetarians....and I could see that our team members were living on fruits and chocolates. My conscience pricked when I had to cook just for the two of us. I offered to cook for the whole team and I relished the look on their satiated faces.....They turned out to be my guinea pigs ,who readily obliged to every experiment that eventually was tested on their palates.

One evening I planned to make semia vegetable upma. Semia is a vermicelli or wheat noodles which I carried along with me from India. I cut all the vegetables, all set to cook : poured boiled water on my semia....I just needed to strain it , so that they don't stick to each other; and then season it with mustard seeds, jeera (cumin seeds), turmeric powder, green chillies and curry leaves, and blend it with the stir fried vegetables."Trrrng....Trnnnnn.g......rang the telephone...............................................................

......................after the long chat over the phone I completely forgot about the soaked vermicelli, which had now turned into a paste. Now what will I cook for dinner? I need to satisfy seven tummies..I could not afford to throw this over cooked vermicelli .... but feeding them this gruel would be definitely cruel and sacrilegious on my part. We could hardly get any Indian stuff in the remote country side we stayed...and each and every bit of groceries we carried along with us was of utmost value. “Annam Parabrahmasvaroopam”, goes a saying in Sanskrit, meaning food is God .I had been a fussy eater as a child giving infinite tensions to my mother....But here, in a land far away from home I realized the divinity in food.

So what do I do with the over soaked paste......Eureka!!!!!!A bulb sparked somewhere in my cerebellum and off I went surfing my cupboards for stocked up flours.....There was the wheat flour, semolina, all purpose flour and the rice flour.....I blended all these in equal proportions adding the overcooked semia and water to make a batter. I now opened by spice box(my mother gifted me !!!), adding a dash of pepper, turmeric,coriander powder and yes.. also an extra dash of that magical spice , love .....I stir fried the vegetables and seasoned it and added this to my batter making it look more appealing and colorful.

That night we had a sumptuous dinner, with vegetable vermicelli dosas and hot and spicy sambar. I was overjoyed to find that my friends shared an increased appetite that day. I experienced the joy of serving , the joy of giving......

When I met our team in Japan they were mere strangers to me..... but in no time we were sharing a roof and our food ... and here away from home I still had a family... I felt great. Yes ....magic spice works wonders!!!........

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My first job in Japan!!!

As I was reclining on my rocking chair today, just trying to relax ,my thoughts flashed back to seven years , and I could definitely feel my lips twitch into a wide smile !!!.Just recollecting those memories made me feel like grabbing those precious moments, those moments,I surely don`t want to let go.Then why not let those experiences live again,why not unlock them and put them down here.

I have been fortunate to visit and stay in various countries, where I could get a first hand knowledge of the various cultures, traditions,customs and different people.I traveled to the land of the rising sun,Japan, along with my husband and stayed there for an year.Then after a short stay in India, I could stay in Taiwan for yet another year.My next stop was at South Africa,where I again spent a couple of months.Back in India,I planned to settle down with my family.But as always, man proposes and God disposes.Providence had it that I again pack my bags (which were now exceeding limits as we were not two anymore, we were four!!!).We flew to Detroit, and we are here now ,I know not for how long.The most important lesson these travels have taught me is to live the moment.I have also realized that it is best to travel light.Light , not only in terms of bags and baggage... but also in terms of your very own self.In our journey of life , the lesser the baggage of troubles , grievances and past unhappy episodes we carry, the more comfortable and enjoyable the journey becomes!!!

When we first boarded the plane for Japan,I was filled with all excitement and thrill, not only regarding visiting a new country but also about flying for the very first time.To crown it all ,this was also a honeymoon trip for me as we were newly weds, slowly getting to know each other (this is a rare privilege only arranged marriages can offer). I received Japan with all the wonder and awe of an infant.... for the people and the language they spoke, was very new to me.All of them looked so similar,so brisk ,so formal....I wondered if I could ever get to know them. After my first few days in Japan, my fascination and enthusiasm slowly started to drain....the dark clouds of loneliness and homesickness had dawned on me.I felt stuck , unable to decide what to do next.....My husband was loving and caring ; but I knew for sure that I needed to explore....But where do I start....I was in an unknown place, surrounded by unknown people... i found it impossible even to get a glance from any of them.How will I survive !!! But yes..... I could hear it very clearly ringing in my my state of utter helplessness, I heard my inner voice speak to me .Something was awaiting me....

That very day I went out of our apartment and headed towards a library which was situated in an adjacent building.I found that it was mainly having Japanese books , though a section was dedicated to English, which had very few books to match my taste.On the notice board I spotted an advertisement......"If you are interested to talk to Japanese women in English, please contact, Tomito San."I jotted down the number and as soon as I got home I spoke over the phone to Mr. Tomito.He was speaking to me in broken English, but seemed to be very amiable.He asked me whether I was interested in teaching English.I told that I was interested , but I didnt follow Japanese.He assured me that my prospective students could follow English and that wouldn`t be a hurdle.I was ready to give it a try.Tomito San(San was used instead of Mr. and while addressing kids one was supposed to use chan.), agreed to pick me up at my apartment at five in the evening.Though I put up a brave face,I did feel the butterflies in my stomach....I was going to an unknown place with a total stranger.Tomito San came at the said time and took me to his home where his wife was waiting for us. Slowly I started feeling better.They lead me to their language school which was attached to their house...there I found a few doll like faces about ten years of age, seated with their parents.There was a black board and a huge world map, with special markers around India, and around Kerala, where I hail from. Tomito San had already done a research about India and started delivering his well prepared speech. I was seated like a guest of honour. In my stomach it was no more butterflies but fire..... What was I supposed to do? I was totally unprepared...... was I supposed to deliver a speech?

Tomito San wound up his speech and looked in my direction .....what did this mean?... I had not heard a word of what he said...moreover it was all in Japanese...

Now it was my turn to speak.... All the faces were intendly staring at me.....I needed to speak very slowly gathering my thoughts clearly and carefully.I was supposed to start my class right away ,and the parents will assess my caliber as a teacher.This was much more difficult than appearing for my post graduate viva.

I introduced myself and then went on to ask the names of my new students.I posed a question at them.,

"What is your name?"They seemed blank.

I spoke now with more affirmation and also started using my hands and facial expressions.I repeated my name and once again asked their names... No answer still...
Was I FAILING?....What to do next?

......Suddenly I remembered a rhyme I used to sing in my kindergarten...

"If you`re happy and you know it clap your hands..."
I might have looked like a fool singing and clapping my hands all of a sudden... but it clicked. All of them started clapping hands and I could see the parents bowing their heads every now and then. Whom should I thank now ....may be my kindergarten teacher who taught me this rhyme!!!
After the singing and clapping all of them got up and like the dolls who start talking with the turn of a key, I could hear them say " Arigatogosaimata!!!"(thank you) with a long bow. I too bowed down though I was unsure of the degree of curvature, meant for a Sensei(meaning teacher). As we were about to leave I was handed an envelope, which I again received with yet another bow. I was eager to know what lay inside ... I hurried home and found 2000 yen , Yes I was appointed teacher to an English language school..... and that was my first salary in Japan.