Hezbollah, the Cumin-timer, and the Box

At the Singapore airport last Sunday. We had South-Indian food for lunch, and North-Indian for dinner. I also got four Rasgulla, a Bengali paneer (home-made cottage cheese) based dessert.

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Me: Do you want to try this Leila? It’s called Rasgulla. I used to eat a lot of this when I was little. Really yummy.

Leila: Did you made the Hezbollah by yourself when you was little?

Me: WHAT? No Nani (grandma) used to make it for us a lot. Here, you want to try the rasgulla?

Leila: Yes, I want one Hezbollah.

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Me: Leila is the humidifier on? Can you check please.
Leila: Yes mum, the cumin-timer is on.
Me: It’s a hu-mi-di-fi-er.
Leila: Difier.

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Maher: Vous voulez aller a Starbuck avec moi, les gars? Comme ca on laisse maman faire son “practice”?

Leila: Starbox. C’est un “box” papa.

Me: Come on guys, it’s Starbucks.

Leila looking at me from the corner of her eyes: Ok papa, let’s go to Star BOX.

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How to Make Rasgulla: Indian Dessert Recipe

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Like a Coconut Tree

The phone rings in the morning. My brothers and I wake up. It rings again. The person on the other end won’t give up. I rush into my parents bedroom to double check. Their unmade bed is empty. It’s no dream.

Mum and dad woke up their doctor friend in the middle of the night. They met at the local university teaching hospital UTH. He gave them a stash of morphine. They sped on the unlit, but familiar roads from Lusaka to Livingstone. My dads record time is 3 hours to do the 500km.

That was the first of my grandfather’s heart attacks. Let’s just say there were a few of those sudden trips – between the two grandfathers and grandmother living in the little tourist town bordering Zimbabwe.

By mid-morning my brothers and I are stuffed into a car, packed with snacks, clothes for the parents as well as for us, and we are on our way to Livingstone.

Every single time I have seen my grandfather after that, and I tell you he has had many fantastic days and many issues since -ranging from more heart attacks, to epilepsy, and to cancer, I thought it would be the last time.

Maher jokes that my grandfather has been dying for 25 years but is going to outlive everyone – his first wife died suddenly, after insisting that her daughters return to Tanzania regardless of school terms in India to see her, my other two more “healthy” paternal grandparents left before as well, and his second wife, who happened to be my dads oldest sister, died to cancer.

He moved back to India when my aunt (his wife) was diagnosed with an advanced stage of colon cancer. By being in India they could have affordable medical as well as domestic help. He left India on a boat leaving his family in Bombay as a 25-year-old with a wife and baby girl, only to return 50 years later as an outsider living in a strict Jain community in a dry state. Gandhi’s Gujarat of no alcohol.

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Foreigners, people with a non-Indian passport can take alcohol into Gujarat. Of course it is the state where the most alcohol is consumed.

Maher is not a whiskey drinker like the generation of our parents and grandparents, but the only person he never says no to is my 88-year-old grandfather.

25560729-135558.jpg Nanaji, as we call him, hands Maher the key to his securely locked cupboard. He pours out tots of whiskey, holding the bottle close to the floor. None of the nosy neighbors or people in the street have caught him out yet.

We saw him last in December 2012. The four of us, my parents, one of my brothers and his fiance, were all there. When Maher, the kids and I left for Koh Samui on my birthday, I had the same thought I always have.

I didn’t even know he had the cancer until that last trip. He’s had it for 10 years already.

My mum has been in India for the last 4 months with him as it spreads. My dad has missed his wife, he is off this week to reunite with her, and to say goodbye to one of his best, most trusted friends, the man who taught him good whisky, who introduced him to my mum and who also married his closest sibling.

Now, I realise that my grandfather surrendered to the process a long time ago. He has always been gracious. He loved to take photos, listen to classical Indian music, eat good food, entertain friends, and drink only the best whisky. Anyone who has spoken to him has heard his humble, “Please correct me if I am wrong,” line qualifying every statement he makes. He listens, and gives space to people without imposing.

He is strong and tall, but flexible like the coconut trees I see around me, moving with the wind.

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Ustad Bismillah Khan

The Monkey Song

The Monkey Song from the Jungle Book is one of our favorites. The music is catchy, the dancing good fun, and the animation colourful.

R pretends to play the trumpet like the monkeys.

L watches intently, and loves the other two main songs as well, the Elephant march with Colonel Hathi, and “The Bare Necessities”, with Baloo the bear. Whenever Mowgli appears she calls him, “Leila.”

The first time I watched the Jungle Book, I was around 8 years old. It was in my aunt and uncle’s living room in Bombay. I had traveled on my own to spend a month with them. They often put the video on for me. I loved it. I didn’t see it again until a year ago.

Maher wonders if there was a subliminal relationship between his childhood infatuation with the big-eyed Indian girl at the end of movie, and him marrying me.

Through the monkey song, we discovered Louis Prima – a performer with a lot of character! If you have the chance, take a look at some of his other videos on YouTube.

Anyone know any stories about him?

Yoga House Ahmedabad

Dec 2010, Ahmedabad

In July 2009 I was put on bed rest due to complications in my pregnancy. I have taught one class since. It was in my grandfather’s house in India. My habit of teaching in living rooms continues. Maher, my two brothers, two cousins, and an uncle took the “Intro to Ashtanga” class that morning.

With 16 of us under one roof, it was no easy task to organise anything. Thanks to Maher and Nanu for making the class happen, Saloni for the lovely photos, and the willing students for trying it out.