Sunday, November 25, 2012

Architecture Legos

We love architecture Legos! Yeshee enjoys building the structures and I like them because I feel working on these puzzles helps him improve his fine motor skills and teaches him how to follow a set of instructions in order to make something. We have also learned a thing or two about famous architectural landmarks - historical as well as modern - all over the world,  just by doing these puzzles. The very first one we did was - a building very close to home and a puzzle that was very simple to do:

Empire State Building

A popular tourist attraction in New York City, The Empire State Building is a 102 - story skyscraper, located in midtown Manhattan. It stands a total of 1,454 ft high. Its name is derived fron the nickname for New York, The Empire State. It stood as the world's tallest building for 40 years, from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Centre's North Tower was completed in 1972. The Empire State Building is thought of as American cultural icon. It is designed in the distinctive Art Deco style.

Seattle Space Needle 

The Seattle Space Needle was first built as a centerpiece for the 1962 world fair. The needle was designed to embrace the "Race into Space" now commonly referred to as the "Space Age"(hence the flying saucer like appearance at the top). The Needle is 518 feet tall, about 60 stories and can withstand  wind gusts of upto 200 miles per hour. The restaraunt "Skycity" is at the top (500 feet tall) of the Needle.

Guggenheim Museum

Another famous landmark very close to home, the Guggenheim (द गुगनहाईम), as it is commonly called, is a well- known art museum located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Designed by the reknowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the cylindrical museum building, wider at the top than at the bottom, was conceived (according to Wikipedia) as a "temple of the spirit" and is one of the 20th century's most important architectural landmarks.


When hurricane Irene hit NewYork City in August, 2011, we were lucky we had this puzzle to do while waiting for the hurricane to pass. It is the most complex Lego that we have done so far. Involves a lot of pieces and a complicated set of instructions. Nonetheless, looks very beautiful when done. We had to do this one together. Unlike the other puzzles, he couldn't do it by himself.

Designed by the same architect who designed the Guggenheim - Frank Lloyd Wright - Fallingwater is a private residence built as a vacation home for the Kaufmann family in 1935.  Located in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, the home is partly built over a waterfall. Check out the online pictures and videos - it looks really beautiful! Who wouldn't like to live in a home like that!

In 1963, Edgar Kauffman Jr. gave Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to open it to the public for tours and viewing.

Brandenburg Gate

A friend of Yeshee's, who is half German, gave him The Brandenburg Gate last year for his birthday. It is one of Berlin's most important monuments- an architectural landmark and a historical symbol all in one. It has been at the heart of German and European history for more than 200 years. Commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia as a sign of peace, it was built as the grandest of a series of 18 city gates through which Berlin was once entered.  

Big Ben

Another friend - this time a girl - gave Big Ben for his birthday that just passed. I was hoping it would keep him busy over the five- day- long Thanksgiving weekend that was coming up within days after the birthday. But, I should be so lucky! He finished it in a couple of evenings after coming home from school- before the break even started. Giving himself plenty of free time to watch TV and play with the Wii during the break.

Big Ben is the unofficial name for the Great Bell of the clock at the north-eastern corner of the Palace of Westminster in London and the name is often extended to refer to the clock and the Clock Tower. It was the largest Bell in Britain at the time and is named after either Sir Benjamin Hall, the first Works Commissioner, or Ben Caunt, a champion heavyweight boxer.

When the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire on the 16th of October 1834, a new palace was designed by the English architect Charles Barry. The new Parliament was built in the Neo - Gothic style. Although Barry was the chief architect of the Palace - as his own style was more classical than Gothic - he asked for assistance from one of the leading lights of the Neo - Gothic movement, Augustus Pugin. It is commonly believed that while Barry designed the Palace of Westminster, the Clock Tower  was designed by Pugin.

The tower was completed in 1858 and has become one of the most prominent symbols of London and England.

Next, we are working on the Sydney Opera House and Burj Khalifa.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Conversation with Hurricane Sandy

As a homework assignment Yeshee wrote the following conversation with Hurricane Sandy;

If Hurricane Sandy could talk and take away my power this is what I would do:

Yesh: Hello Sandy.
HS: Hi Yesh.
Yesh: So tell me why you are attacking the north-east?
HS: I think people need to know what nature can do. Everybody takes it for granted that we have water and electricity...
Yesh: And?
HS: I like doing it!
Yesh: But why do you do it to the Caribbean?
HS: Because that's where I am born.
Yesh: And power?
HS: Well people take power for granted too!
Yesh: Yes, but people below 40th street lost power....
HS: Well, next year the hurricane will get worse!
Yesh: So?
HS: So, above 40th street will lose power!
Yesh: UH-OH!
HS: Anyways, got ot go to Toronto!
Yesh: Bye.
HS: Bye.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Non-NRI Madhuri

नॉन-एनआरआय माधुरी 

माधुरी मुंबईला परत गेली. दहा कि पंधरा वर्ष डेनव्हर, कोलोराडो मध्ये राहून आता परत....वापस भारतात. मिडीयाला सांगितलं कि मुलांवर आपले भारतीय संस्कार व्हावेत म्हणून आम्ही परत आलो. ते ठीक आहे...मिडीयाला कशाला खरं कारण सांगायला पाहिजे...कि डेनव्हर मध्ये मी जाम बोअर झाले होते. अगदी वेड लागायची पाळी आली होती. तिकडे कोणी माझ्याकडे ढुंकूनही बघत नव्हतं. शॉपिंग मॉल मध्ये जा नाहीतर मुलांना शाळेत सोडायला जा लोक असे बघायचे कि जणू काही हजारो देशी प्रोग्रामर्सच्या बायका अमेरिकेच्या गावा-गावातून विखुरल्यात त्यातलीच मी एक. मी केवढी मोठ्ठी चित्रतारका आहे...लाख्खो-कोट्टयांनी लोकांच्या हृदयावर मी राज्य केलय, अजूनही करतेय हे तिकडे कोणाच्या गावीही नव्हतं...त्याउलट मुंबईत मात्र अजूनही लोक मला विसरलेले नाहीत. कधीही जा पहिल्यासारखच पूढे पूढे करतात.. म्हणून परत आले... अर्थातच हे सगळ मिडीयाला सांगत बसायची काहीच जरुरी नाही. 

मध्यमवर्गीय महाराष्ट्रीयन मुली माधुरीला आपली रोल मॉडेल मानतात कि नाही कुणास ठाऊक पण जाणून-बुजून असो किंवा नसो, स्वेच्छेनं असो किंवा नसो ती त्याचं प्रतिनिधित्व नक्कीच करते. ८०-९०च्या दशकात वयात आलेल्या, शहरात राहणाऱ्या, उच्चशिक्षित महाराष्ट्रीयन मुलींचं एकच स्वप्न असायचं - लग्न करून अमेरिकेला जायचं. अर्थात हे स्वप्न त्यांच्या आई-वडिलांच्या पूर्ण संमतीनच बघीतेलेल असायचं... जो देश आपण स्वतः कधी पाहिला नाही, ज्या देशात आपल्या बाप-जाद्यानी कधी पाऊल ठेवलं नाही, त्या देशात आपल्या मुलांनी जाऊन कायमच स्थायिक व्हावं असं स्वप्न त्या मुला-मुलींचे आई-वडीलही भारतात बसून बघायचे. आश्चर्य म्हणजे माधुरी सारख्या अमाप पैसा आणि कीर्ती मिळवलेल्या, आपलं सगळं करिअर मुंबईत असलेल्या, करीअरीस्ट मुलीनही एका सर्वसामान्य मुली सारखं परदेशात जाऊन स्थायिक व्हायचं स्वप्न बघितलं. 

माधुरीची भावंडं म्हणे अमेरिकेत रहातात. लग्नाआधी सुट्टीत ती नेहमी त्यांच्याकडे जायची. म्हणजे अमेरिका काही तिला नवीन/अनोळखी नव्हती. ह्या देशात तिच्या करिअरला काही वाव नाही ह्याची तिला पूर्ण कल्पना असणार. तरीही तिनं इथे येऊन राहायचा निर्णय घेतला. कदाचित भारतात तिला मनासारखा नवरा मिळाला नसेल. किंवा इतकी वर्ष सिनेमात काम केल्यावर, फिल्म इंडस्ट्रीच्या झगमगाटाचा, चाहत्यांच्या ससेमीऱ्याचा कंटाळा आल असेल. त्यापासून काही वर्ष ब्रेक घ्यावा- लांब कुठेतरी जाऊन राहावं, जिथे आपल्यला कोणी ओळखणार नाही, आपण एक निनावी, अनोनिमस गृहिणी, आई म्हणून जगू शकू- असहि कदाचित तिला वाटलं असेल...

कारण काही असो आजवरच्या माधुरीच्या सगळ्या निर्णयांकडे पाहताना उठून दिसतात ती तिची महाराष्ट्रीयन मध्यमवर्गीय मूल्य आणि जरूर तिथे कोम्प्रमाईज करायची तयारी. आणि तेच कदाचित तिच्या यशाचं गमक असेल. तिच्या समकालीन काही तारकांप्रमाणे ती कुणा विवाहित पुरुषाच्या प्रेमात पडली नाही किंवा मनासारखा नवरा मिळाला नाही म्हणून अविवाहितहि राहिली नाही. आपल्या व्यवसायाच्या अत्युच्च शिखरावर असताना तिनं एका नवशिक्या डॉक्टर बरोबर लग्न केल, ज्याचा तेंव्हा त्याच्या प्रक्टीसमध्ये जमही बसला नव्हता. पुढली काही वर्ष ती त्याच्या नोकरीच्या गावी त्याच्याबरोबर राहिली. आणि जेंव्हा भारतात नवीन संधी खुणावू लागल्या तेंव्हा त्याला बरोबर घेऊनच परत गेली. तोहि स्वतःची नोकरी -व्यवसाय सोडून गेला हे विशेष. पण त्याला त्याचा इथला कामधंदा सोडून आपल्या बरोबर जायला तयार करण्यातही कदाचित माधुरीचीच चतुराई असेल.

लग्न करून अमेरिकेला येताना तिनं त्यावेळी तिच्या वयाच्या भारतीय मुलींमध्ये प्रचलित असलेला ट्रेंड फॉलो केला  होता. आता भारतात परत जातानाहि ती सध्या एनआरआय मंडळीत चालू असलेला ट्रेंड फोलो करतेय. अलीकडच्या काळात रिव्हर्स ब्रेन ड्रेनवर बरंच काही वाचायला मिळतंय. अमेरिकेत आणि यूरोपात आलेल्या आर्थिक मंदीमुळे दहा- पंधरा वर्षांपूर्वी नोकरी धंद्या निमित्त देश सोडलेले भारतीय आता भारतात उपलब्ध होत असलेल्या संधींचा फायदा घेण्यासाठी आपल्या मातृभूमीकडे परतायत.

पेपरमधल्या बातम्या आणी वेगवेगळ्या कार्यक्रमातले तिचे नटलेले- सजलेले फोटो बघितले कि वाटतं माधुरीला मुंबईत परत जम बसवायला वेळ लागला नाही. जणू काही ती कधी कुठे गेलीच नव्हती अशा तऱ्हेनं फिल्म इंडस्ट्रीतल्या लोकांनी तिला आपलंसं केलं.  त्यातही तिचं कौशल्य दिसून येतं. तीनं आपल्या व्यवसायातले आपले कॉन्टक्टस मधल्या दहा- पंधरा वर्षांच्या काळात लांब राहूनही कायम ठेवले. परतीचि वाट कायम उघडी ठेवली.

स्वतःची चांगली नोकरी सोडून, लग्न करून नावऱ्याच्या मागे परदेशी जाणाऱ्या मुली बहुतेक विसाव्या शतकाबरोबरच संपल्या असाव्यात. आजकाल मुली सहजा-सहजी आपली नोकरी सोडून नवऱ्याच्या नोकरीच्या गावी जाऊन राहत नाहीत असं मी ऐकलय. नवऱ्याला घेऊन मुंबईला जाताना माधुरी एकविसाव्या शतकात सुरु झालेल्या नवीन प्रवाहाच प्रतिनिधित्व करतेय. गेल्या शतकात बहुतेक करून नवऱ्याच करिअर जास्त महत्वाच मानलं जायचं. त्याची नोकरी जिथे असेल तिथे बायको-मुलांना त्याच्याबरोबर जावं लागायचं. आता एकविसाव्या शतकाच्या सुरुवातीला कधी कधी असही बघायला मिळतंय कि जिथे बायकोची नोकरी असेल तिथे नवरा आणि मुलं तिच्या बरोबर जाऊन रहातात. हा कदाचित सर्वस्वी आर्थिक दृष्टीकोनातून घेतलेला निर्णय असेल- ज्याची मिळकत जास्त त्याची नोकरी जास्त महत्वाची. किंवा हा बदल नवऱ्याच्या/ पुरुषांच्या आणि एकंदर समाजाच्या विचारसरणीत घडलेल्या परिवर्तनाच द्योतक असेल.

माधुरीच्या करीअरची दुसरी इनिंग आता सुरु झालीय. ते हि सगळ्यांना जमतं असं नाही - पहिल्या करिअर मघ्ये भरपूर यश संपादन करायचं...मघ्ये थोडा ब्रेक घ्यायचा आणि पुन्हा बदलेल्या परिस्थितीशी मिळतं जुळतं घेऊन नवीन दुसऱ्या करिअरला सुरुवात करायची. हि दुसरी इनिंग तिला कुठे घेऊन जाईल ते आपल्याला बघायला मिळेलच. परदेश सोडून भारतात परतलेले काही लोकं, जिथे होतो तेच बरं होतं म्हणत परदेशात परत जातात तशी तीहि काही वर्षांनी अमेरिकेला परत जाईल (ती शक्यता मला फार कमी वाटतेय), कि आणखी दहा-पंधरा वर्षांनी मागे वळून पहाताना म्हणेल - भारतात परत यायचा निर्णय हा माझ्या आयुष्यातला सर्वोत्तम निर्णय होता.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sukka Bajaar or Dried Fish

A couple of years ago, as I was emptying my fridge in preparation for closing the Mumbai apartment before returning to New York, I found some fresh radish in the vegetable drawer. I had already given away most of the left-overs to my cleaning lady but the radish looked so fresh and beautiful that I couldn't part with it. Indian radish has big green leaves and small white root compared to the radish that you get in New York, where the leaves are practically non-existent and the white part dominates. Sauted in oil with some garlic, green chillies and onion, Indian radish makes an excellent vegetable dish. I was dreaming of making it in New York as I surreptitiously packed the left over radish in my suitcase. I had always brought back food from India with me on previous visits - homemade flours and masalas made by my mother or aunts, dried fish, dried stuffed chillie peppers, sweet and savory snacks such as laddu and chivda... So bringing back a bunch of radish did not seem like a big deal to me.

Well, to cut a long story short, the US customs officers at the Newark airport did not agree with me. They threw the radish in the garbage bin right before my eyes (after the fifteen hour long flight, it was looking like a shadow of its former self anyway) and plus charged me a hefty fine.
Since then I am very careful and make sure that not a crumb of food gets into my luggage when returning from India. I have learnt to manage with what I feel are adequate substiutes that I get from the Indian super markets here.

But it's hard!!! Not being able to bring certain foods from back home, makes churning out meal after interesting meal a bit difficult. For example, I am running out of my stock of dried bombay duck and I am not sure how to replenish it. I have seen dried shrimp (and some other fish that remain nameless to me) in stores in Chinatown, but never have I seen dried bombay duck or anything similar looking in any store in New York.

Silvery-white in color, about six inches long and a couple of inches wide, the bombay duck (it's a fish not duck) is slippery soft to touch. The flesh of fresh bombay duck is translucent and resembles coconut-cream in look and texture when cooked. When dried, bombil (sukka bombil as it is called) turns almost khaki in color and shrivells down to half an inch in width, but for some reason does not seem to shorten much in length. It is one of the most popular fish eaten- fresh or dried- in the region surrounding Mumbai (used to be called Bombay). Other popular dried fish sold in the local fish markets are - shrimp- classified according to the size into three different categories- the tiniest called jawala, slightly larger called sukkat and medium sized dried shrimp called sodey; surmai - king fish; and bangda - which falls somewhere between sardines and mackerel.

Dried fish can be easily stored outside of the refrigerator over a period of time and is also easy to cook. As the taste and flavor of the fish intesifies when it dries, all you need is a couple of strong ingredients like some sauted garlic and onion to balance the intensity of it's flavor. Of course no Indian dish is complete without some form of chillies thrown in. Growing up, my mother would resort to sukka bombil or sukkat to add quick pizazz to a dinner that was at the risk of becoming boring for the lack of an elaborate preparation of fresh fish or vegetable.

During our school vacations in my grandma's home in Warle- a small village located a couple of hours outside of Mumbai- one of the regular breakfast meals would be sukkat curry with- hot off the griddle jowar or rice bhakari. No fancy preparation of curry mind you. Just a couple of cloves of garlic fried in a little bit of oil, add some water, red chillie powder and salt, a handful of sukkat and a small piece of kokum or tamarind to give it a little sour touch (Indians never cook fish without adding some souring agent) and voilla a quick and easy concoction to dip the hot bhakaris in would be ready in minutes to feed a bunch of hungry grandchildren when eggs from grandma's chicken coop were in short supply.

In her memoir, my aunt Suman has beautifully described her childhood days in Warle. Besides buying the salt water (sea) fish like bombil and sukkat from the market, village households would catch and dry their own sweet water fish, caught in the streams during the heavy monsoon season. The fresh catch would be brought home, cleaned and spread on the wooden rafts hanging over the wood- burning earthen stoves to dry for a couple of days. While the women supervised the drying fish at home, kids would spend their mornings on the makeshift wooden structure called kiw, erected in the field to block and catch fish. Aatya describes monsoon rains so heavy that not only the fields but the roads would get flooded as well. Schools would be closed. It would rain continuosly for days together- sometimes the whole week- with no sun showing up for days. It would be a happy time for the kids as they could spend their mornings off from school catching fish and roasting it on the camp-fire while warming themselves inside a thatched hut in the field and popping the roasted fish straight into their mouth.

Mumbai is a coastal town nestled in the lap of the Arabian sea. Originally inhabited by the fishermen community called kolis, it's current face is that of India's financial centre- a modern city. The kolis have managed to preserve their koliwadas still- in the midst of the ever- rising skyscrapers- where they continue to live in hut like dwellings, practising their age old profession as well as the new ones of a major metropolis.

As you drive through the northern outskirts of Mumbai you will see fish drying on lines like clothes or spread out on fishnets hanging on the sea shore to dry in the scorching sun - its whiff reaching your nostrils way before you actually pass by a koliwada.

Here is a story that shows the importance of dried fish in my family- Years ago when my father returned from his first business trip to France I was very excited to know all the details. He came home late in the night after I had gone to bed but I caught up with him in the morning when he was having breakfast, ready to leave for work. "How was Paris daddy, how was the French food?" I asked. He seemed to pause for a moment not knowing what to say. Then dipping a piece of bhakari into his steaming hot sukkat curry and putting it in his mouth he said, "forget that French food. Nothing can compare to this."

At the time I thought my father was too much of a country bumpkin to appreciate the finer cuisins of the world... Until recently, when I read a quote from Marcus Samuellson in The New York Times. "...other ethnic foods, especially Asian have as much integrity and power as any French food I'd ever eaten," says the famous chef in his book.

I guess my father knew something I did not!

Caveat: Dried fish is not for everybody. It's an acquired taste- acquired over the years. You must know how to cook it and how to eat it before attempting to do it at home. Especially if you keep the windows closed due to a/c - be careful! The smell will linger for days afterward.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Identity and Home

Are "Identity " and "Home" two totally different things or are they two sides of the same coin.

I recently watched a short film called Third Culture Kid Identity, posted by a friend on Facebook. Made by a college student as part of her school project, it contains interviews with several kids raised in multiple countries by parents who themselves come from different cultural/ national backgrounds and the dillemma thses kids face regarding their "home" - for example a daughter of Korean mother and American father raised in Hongkong talks about not being able to call any one of these countries as her home.

A few years ago a film like this would have greatly disturbed me. Inspite of having had a more or less comfortable home and life here in the US for nearly two decades, I still struggle to come to terms with (or accept) the issues and questions that arise out of migration to a foreign land- especially how it will affect the future generation.

In my early years here, I used to read a lot about children of Indian parents, raised in America, ending up growing conflicted about their identity - unsure whether they are Indian or American- the two cultures being as diametrically opposite as the countries are geographically apart. Like my son, these are , for the most part, Second Culture Kids not Third Culture- both their parents came here from India and the children were raised in the US. ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) was the acronym used by the Indian-American media to describe such kids (desi being a generic Hindi term used to refer to Indians).

Desperate and determined to save my son from the fate of becoming an ABCD, I started taking him on regular visits to India, from the time he was very small.

As anyone who has raised children must have experienced this - a seed that you sow in the mind of a small child, hoping it will survive and stay with him as he grows older, sometimes to your utter surprise and astonishment, takes root and a life of its own so fast that you are left feeling something close to careful what you wish for!

A simple act of taking my son back home on frequent visits, has resulted in him developing such a strong Indian identity, that now I am the one who has to sometimes remind him to acknowledge his American side- and not forget the fact that he is born in New York and is growing up here. I must say his school, which nurtures national/cultural diversity of its students, has also helped him nurture his Indianness. He roots for Indian cricket team with more gusto than I do and gets very excited when Indian tennis players move to the next round in any minor/major tournment.

However, I now realize that "identity" and "home" are two different things. As much as my son is sure that he is Indian, I am not sure he is ready to call India "home"...yet. Or if he ever will be able to call India home, if he ends up living most of his life outside that country. I had a conversation with him the other day, after I watched the film. I said to him, "Tell me, if you go to college... in another town and people ask you, where you are from, what would your answer be." He didn't seem to have any doubt when he said," Of course I will say, I am from NewYork." Then I said, "What if I move back to India, once you are off to college. Would you still consider New York your home?" "Well", he said, "in that case, I will have to say that I was born in New York, but..."

So there you go...So much for my effort to save him from any "confusion".

Friday, March 2, 2012

House Hunters International

The Jersey Shore, Kardashians, Housewives of different cities are, I am sure all very good reality shows. But this is about as much reality TV as I can take.