On Cutting Onions

Kumar and the boys are usually the vegetable cutters in the family.
They help chop. I help cook.

I rushed home after picking up boys and gave some snacks to fend of their hunger.

Since my vegetable cutter was delayed at work, I started madly chopping the onions in a rush to get dinner started.

I hate chopping onions.
I was cursing the onions as the tears started pouring down my eyes.

The boys glanced at each other and shook their head.

I did my death stare and quipped – “Quit staring at me. Can y’all focus and study?

They both quietly walked to where my sun glasses were.
They brought it to me, placed it on my face and said – “Hope this prevents those tears.
Then, they walked away quietly after clicking a picture as I continued to madly chop the freakin’ onions.

When the boys were young, I often sang one of my favorite Bharathiyar’s song to them.
un kannil neer vazhindhaal, en nenjil udhiram kottudhadi
(Meaning: When I see tears trickling down your eyes, blood pours out of my heart)

Later in the evening, the boys joked about their own version of the song:
un kannil neer vazhindhaal, naan cooling glass koddupen
(Meaning: When I see tears trickling down your eyes, I will bring sun glasses to you)

I love how the boys are always looking out for me. What more does a gal need?

On the Spice of Life – The Story of Paruppu Podi Present

{Paruppu podi, paruppu means dhal and podi means powder in Tamil. It is also called Spiced Dhal Powder.}

I would drive home from work after a long day and start cooking. Since I didn’t want the boys to feel the void, I would go the extra mile. I would lay out an elaborate spread on the dining table.

They would show up at the table day after day and asked one question – “Where is the paruppu podi?

I seethed inside….but, would just smile, walk over to the pantry and bring out the paruppu podi box.

How could I blame the boys for looking past my elaborate spread?

They had grown up with both sets of grandparents pampering them in every away possible… including food.Before the grandparents returned to India after their frequent trips to the US, they would have made tons of paruppu podi and store them in the pantry. It was what you call “risk management” or “contingency plan” or “Plan B”. You get that, right? To save the boys from my “cooking” and ensure they are fed well….at least with paruppu podi.

So, that is what happened for over a decade.
Grandparents arrive.
Grandparents pamper.
Grandparents feed.
Grandparents make tons of paruppu podi and store them in the pantry.
Grandparents return.

I go to work.
Come back.
And the boys didn’t give a rat’s a** about my serving.
They wanted the freakin’ paruppu podi that their grandparents had made.

I was narrating this story to my neighbor Gita.

Guess what happened a week later?

When Gita’s mom came to visit Austin, she brought over a box of yummy paruppu podi for the boys.

I am so thankful for the bonds that bind us together…..because, such is the spice of life.

On the Spice of Life – The Story of Paruppu Podi Past

{Paruppu podi, paruppu means dhal and podi means powder in Tamil. It is also called Spiced Dhal Powder.}

Amma grew up near border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. So, she spoke both Tamil and Telugu fluently. We celebrated festivals of both states. Her cooking also had influences of both states. I grow up hearing about gongura pacchadi and pulusu that Amma had grown up with.

From my childhood, I ate paruppu podi. Thatha, Appa and Amma would make it together. It used to be Appa’s job to buy the different ingredients (red chilli, black pepper, different types of lentils etc) . Thatha cleaned and sun dried the ingredients. Amma fried the ingredients to perfection. Appa helped Amma run each of the ingredients through the dry mixer/grinder. He would keep asking “Pothumadi?” (Which literally meant “Is this enough?”) Amma would inspect inside the dry mixer/grinder and based on how coarse or fine that mixture had been ground too…. she would ask Appa to either continue or stop.

When I was very young, it was Thatha’s duty to run the powder through the sieve and place the sieved paruppu podi in a dry container.

As years passed, and I grew up, I noticed that Amma would sneer at Thatha for sneezing when he did the sieving. Appa wouldn’t sneer at Thatha…but his body language told me that he didn’t approve of Thatha’s spilling even a bit of the precious paruppu podi when the transfer happened to the dry container.

To prevent Thatha from sneezing and getting sneered at, I volunteered to do the sieving and storing job. This wasn’t an easy job. As I sieved the powder, I would feel the urge to sneeze. But, Thatha (when Amma’s back was behind him), would shake his head vigorously. All that vigorous head shake meant was “Don’t sneeze. You are going to get in trouble with her.” I mastered the skill, over the years, to hold the sieve further away from my body (and nose) and complete the sieving without a single sneeze. When I was nearly done sieving without a single sneeze, Thatha would look at me very approvingly and give me a thumbs up.

Then, I had to carefully, transfer the paruppu podi to a dry container without dropping even a bit. I realised very early on that this was an impossible task. So, I decided to learn from the best. I followed Appa’s example. I first did the sieveing and ensured that the sieved powder feel on a large sheet of paper. Then, after the sieving was done, I held up the paper and dropped the paruppu podi carefully into a dry container as Appa looked on approvingly.

I grew up during rather simple times. Nobody praised me openly. Nobody said “Great job!”

Appa and Thatha’s approving looks and thumbs up was all I got. Well, that, and lack of Amma’s sneers. That was a high enough bar to live up to.

For many months the family would enjoy the paruppu podi mixed with hot rice and ghee (clarified butter) or sesame oil.

On Bringing All of Yourself

Do you have a friend that you can be truly yourself with?
Do you have at least one of those friends?

Don’t be in a hurry to respond.

Don’t kid yourself or me by saying you bring your whole self to every person you meet.
That ain’t true.

Take your time.
Think about it.

Your true self.
Your whole self.
In all your true beauty and all your goriness.
Can you bring that self to this friend?

Who is that friend?
You don’t have to tell me.
But, I sure hope you do have at least one of those friends!

I have one of those.
I’ll tell you this much.

It is truly liberating to be with a friend where your can bring yourself.
To bring your true self.
To bring your whole self.
In all your true beauty and all your goriness.

No hiding.
No shields.
No masks.

Just yourself.
Only yourself
And, all of yourself.

On Looking for and Finding Warmth

Today, when I saw Rainbow find a warm sunlit spot, I was reminded of her.

Many years ago, I went to a week long meditation camp during Fall. We had to do many exercises and discussions as part of the camp. Some of those exercises and discussions were done in groups and some were done in pairs.

One of my discussion partners had just gone through a divorce and was going through a very rough time. Since the meditation room was cold, she had a shawl on her at all times during the camp. I had my socks and coat on.

During one of our paired up discussions, she and I found each other and sat down on the floor facing each other. We held hands…as we were directed to by the coach.

We were asked to discuss what we were grateful for. As usual, I rattled on about the zillion things I was thankful for…..mostly the big things in life. When it was her turn, she said something like this – “Ambal, notice how you and I found this warm spot in the room to sit down and face each other. Notice how the sun is streaming through the window and hitting us as this spot and warming us. I am grateful for that warmth.” My heart melted as she said that. I didn’t nudge her, as I normally would have done, to continue on and talk to me about other things she was grateful for. I just sat there looking at her eyes. She looked into mine. As the moments passed, I could see and feel all her pain through her eyes. She probably understood that I empathized without knowing anything at all about her life or the painful divorce. Tears started rolling down her eyes. I acknowledged her tears with my own. She truly enjoyed and was grateful for that sunlit warmth (and the warmth that my heart exuded towards her) in that cold room that each of us had found ourselves in. We each had arrived there to learn techniques to cope with our life.

Since I had told the meditation group about my love for books, reading, my constant quest and unquenchable thirst for learning what doesn’t met the eye, the next day, she brought me Hermann Karl Hesse’s Siddhartha and urged me to read it.

I don’t know where she is now or what she is doing. I sure hope she went past that rough phase successfully and is happy.

Every time I see somebody find a warm spot in a room, I think of her and send her all my love. I hope she has continued to received that virtual love in the last 2 decades.