Friday, June 29, 2007

Tea Ceremony!

When ever I hear the word "tea" , there is an incident that comes flashing to my mind, and the thought of it makes me smile. Let me narrate it to you.

It was a very busy day. My father was ironing my costumes for the day, my mother hurrying over the eleventh hour preparation of the lec-dem she was about to deliver, and I was busy in front of the mirror , dressing up for the dance performance. My brother had to shoulder the responsibility of tidying up and give an appealing touch to our front room , for we were expecting a guest. He would be here any moment. He r he would have secretly appreciated the tea making abilities of his school going son.

Meanwhile Amma was ready and rushed to the kitchen to get a sip of the remaining hot tea, for she was having sore throat. I could see her gargling intermittently in the morning with hot salt water. She had to give a long lecture in front of a crowd ,
and she always relied on home remedies.As soon as I saw her taking her sip of the tea, she involuntarily spat it into the kitchen sink, her face filled with a strange expression, something nearing the "bheebhalsa rasa" ! I ran to her, worried
witnessing her strange behavior.
Amma was shouting at my brother, "Did you serve this tea to our guest ?". My brother nodded a yes .
"You made tea with the water I had heated up for gargling! It was loaded with salt , Oh! my GOD! how could we serve it to our guest? " she gasped.
His asking for water and his strange inquiries regarding tea drinking in our community did have a meaning! He had courteously finished his salt ginger tea , suppressing his natural facial expressions.
When my mother explained to him what had happened and mumbled her apologies he just replied, " I'll never forget this meeting!"

This was an incident which took place nearly 15 years ago. But how could one forget such an incident.
I wondered what tea I would be served,as I was on my way to Kajiyoshi San's house. I was invited by this gentleman,whom I greatly admired, to his house for a tea ceremony.Tea ceremony was an entirely new experience for me.

Kajiyoshi San and his wife Sadami San , welcomed me to their house , which reflected their aesthetic sense and love for Nature. As soon as I entered their house Sadami San directed me to a small water fountain they had fixed at their entrance where I was asked to wash my hands and face with a bamboo laddle.The cool flowing water was energizing and revitalizing. I was directed to a room which was sparsely furnished , but had something in it to elevate one's spirits.The room was a tatami room, the floor spread with reed mats.

There was antique pottery and unique calligraphy,and a humbleness and simplicity about the whole ambiance.

The tea ceremony first began in Buddhist monasteries and was known for its medicinal values.The monks had the tea made of bitter powdered tea leaves to keep themselves awake during meditation.The coming of Zen Buddhism , made it more popular. It was called " Chado or Sado".This tea ceremony lasted for 4 hours.The host would go through the detailed preparation of tea , giving emphasis to each an every movement. There was a perfect unison of the body , mind and spirit during this ceremony.It reflected Japanese spiritual tradition and culture.The guests will be first served a sweet, which should be eaten sitting in "vajrasana" on the tatami mat.Then the guest will be served the first serving of thick brewed tea.There are rules to be followed here too. The guest lifts up the fine work of pottery which holds the tea ,asking permission from the person seated at his left , whether he can have it.Carefully turning the front of the bowl , to face him he can sip the tea.He should now wipe the place where he had sipped with the small finger of his right hand. Then placing the bowl in front , now the bowl facing away from him, with his elbows on the knees one should appreciate the art work on the pottery.The bowl now is passed to the person sitting on the left.The second serving is a dilute version of the tea.The whole process is like a meditation which flows in a very soothing and slow motion.It is practiced as an entertainment for spiritual upliftment.It is a process where you are taught to think of others first.I went through this whole process , thoroughly enjoying every moment.At the end of four hours I was feeling lighter and purged.
I am grateful to Kajiyoshi San and his wife Sadami San for giving this taste of Japanese culture .
I too mumbled the words with a bow as I said oyasu minasai (good night) to my friends," I'll never forget this meeting!"......

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dear Sinnah , with Love !

Dearest Sinnah ,
" hoe hangeth methyo ?" I know what would be your answer ," hoot danky! , my sweetie!"

This is a letter that I always wanted to write to you , but never could.I was so much entangled in the ocean of life that I hardly found time to switch off my mind and relax . But better late than never . Though I know that you will never be able to read this letter , I'm sure that you will definitely get my message .
I remember my first day in South Africa , the day we first met .That first day our conversations just began and ended with a mere hello . My first assessment of you was that you were an unapproachable , distant , sober kind of a person . But appearances are deceptive .You turned out to be rather the opposite .We became fast friends , got along with each other . You never knew to smile but only laugh out loud. You always marked your presence .

I always secretly admired your insatiable energy ... you never stopped unless your job was done . Whenever I enter my kitchen , I think of you , dear . You were the best teacher ever !Though you had not seen University gates or ever dreamed of a bachelor's degree in education , I understood that it was the passion that mattered . You don't need the certificates for approving your merit . Yes , you taught me to bake ! You taught me to equally celebrate the successes and disasters .

Whenever my cakes insisted on keeping their rough hard demeanor, resisting to accept their natural fluffiness , you were smart enough to transform them into yummy desserts !Your fingers played the gimmicks of a magician ultimately tickling our taste buds !

I will never forget the day when you saved me showcasing once again your skills . One evening I got a phone call from PP declaring that there would be 8 people for dinner . How will I satisfy my guests at such a short notice? I panicked ! Then you took over . I saw you transform into a creative artiste with the power of an entrepreneur . I followed your instructions and with in minutes a big vegetable casserole was ready . You quietly withdrew from the scene leaving the whole credits to me . I felt like a puppet , but was relieved that you held the strings !

My baby was growing , and exploring the wide world around him , he was accepting every challenge of his new found mobility .The bungalow where we stayed provided an apt arena for his experiments and discoveries .I used to spend most of my time running behind him . I couldn't find him one day in his usual favorite spots , and was suddenly alarmed by a zooming siren .Then I spotted him pressing a red button which was a security alarm . I remembered what PP said , " All houses in South Africa had alarm systems as it was a highly crime prone area ."!

Our residence was surrounded by armed guards with fierce sturdy profiles .They had their rifles , all set for an attack behind the closed remote operated gates !
You were the one Sinnah , who came to my rescue when I hesitated to step out of the house , fearing a rapid fire .I peeped out of the window and saw you boldly explain to them the situation created by my young one , in Africans !

Your face trying to hold back tears is etched in my memory , dear Sinnah . When we shifted to a different apartment ,you never stayed back to say good bye . But I know why !I have known the child in you , avoiding bitter scenes . Then I also cannot forget the ever glowing face of yours when you payed surprise visits to me with a bunch of wild flowers . How you waited on my kitchen table asking for more "achar"( my mother -in-laws home made pickles), to smear on the bread instead of butter .

When it was finally time for me to leave South Africa ,you were thoughtful enough to tuck in a soiled paper into my hands with your phone number scribbled on it . My most valued gift which I carried along with me was the baby pumpkin from your kitchen garden !I'm sorry to tell you Sinnah , by the time I reached India , your phone number was incomplete . The paper had torn and I was unable to decipher the rest that remained .

But Sinnah , let me tell you something ! I believe there is a store house above us , like a satellite , its the thought sphere ! Both of us can tune to the same channel !And enjoy the broadcast in our thoughts !My antenna is well tuned to the wonderful moments we had together ! So I am not missing you Sinnah !I wish you all good things in life.May wonderful thoughts hover around you , dear..tune to them and enjoy life !


My this post is a letter to my helping maid in South Africa . She started work every day at sharp six in the morning .She was an embodiment of energy and reflected through her simple deeds undeterred passion for life.We rarely come across such people in our life , who are content with their roles ;and accept life as both sides of the coin .

Friday, June 15, 2007

At the beauty parlour!

Dawn embraced daylight , Sun's mighty radiance gave way to twilight , tapestry of evening sky paced slowly into dark night's deafening silence . Days passed into weeks , weeks into months and months into years.... I bid adieu to my carefree years , and plunged into an entirely rewarding and responsible phase of my life , motherhood . As I cradled my new born , just feeling his soft tender body , just staring at his innocent little face , nothing around me seemed real except that single moment !

As I was moving ahead in this life's voyage , it was time for me to pack my bags for my next nomadic exploration . We flew to Taiwan , an island off the coast of China , with our 2 month old baby . This was not just a journey to a new culture and diverse surroundings : it was more of a journey within . It can be called a spiritual retreat . I was shedding my self centered thoughts which were now dominated by my new born baby . It was a time when my priorities unknowingly changed . I was never tired of the busy days and sleepless nights....My batteries never failed.....I was continuously charged by the unconditional love of my baby .

I loved our routine evening walks , when the tiny eyes brimmed with joy and curiosity , refusing to blink and appeared like cameras without shutters! I enjoyed trying to decipher the pictorial calligraphy on the roads , and was amused by the Chinese script . One of PP”s colleague was a victim of a very embarrassing situation once . He had once been to Taipei and was on his way back to his apartment . He was careful enough to have a slip of paper with the place he wanted to go , written in Chinese . In the bus stop , he stood with this slip of paper above his head like a placard , and his face brightened up with a smile . All passers by just stared at him as if they were watching an insane drama . He waved the large slip of paper to all the bus drivers , but in vain . When he could no longer stand the sarcastic stares , he ventured to try his hand at gesturing.... with expressive facial expressions and hand gestures he blabbered to a lady in the bus stop about his destination . She burst out into laughter at the mimicry , for she could follow English . She also pointed out that all the while he was holding his thoughtful placard upside down . How was he to know ? He made it a point to mark the top and bottom of his future placards .

Such situations can always be treasured for future entertainment .After our three months stay in Taiwan , we befriended a newly married Indian couple . We started spending our afternoon's together , our gossips filled with nostalgic memories , recipes and all girl's talk . She was a very beauty conscious person and came up with an idea of visiting the beauty saloon . Though I hesitated in the beginning , I was bribed by the luxurious thoughts of a relaxing facial .

I hung my baby on his sling and one afternoon the two of us marched towards the nearest beauty saloon . As soon as we reached there , we were pounced upon by two ladies like vultures on their well awaited prey . My friend wanted to shape her eye brows ! And she began exploring her communication skills...after a good fifteen minutes monologue she seemed successful in letting her audience grasp her thoughts ! She beamed with success as she reclined on the ornamented chair . One lady swabbed my friends face clean while the other went to collect her tools for shaping the eye brows . She returned with a new razor .....and started shaving her precious signs of beauty ! My friend was unable to move for she was soothed by a razor and my appeals seemed to vaporise in the air .Should I explain more on her looks and expression when she beheld her own reflection!

Now it was my turn...I needed a way out of this dilemma ....My only Saviour was my son who was fast asleep clinging to me ....I slided my hands on his thighs and pinched him....he burst out into loud sobs !I had succeeded ! Trying to cajole my baby I rushed out of the parlor....Shortly my friend joined me after having payed for her makeover ! She spend hours before the mirror with a black eyebrow pencil trying to make variations of curves.....and shut herself in her apartment for weeks till she thought herself presentable .

I thanked my darling with hugs and kisses , and couldn't stop my giggles at the aftereffects of handicapped communication!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Taste of Japan !

The alarm went off and his hands involuntarily reached out in the direction of the shrill piercing beeps! These were not enough to motivate him out of bed , for he was weary after the load of work he had to tackle in his new work environment. He had recently come to Hiroshima , and hoped to bring his wife along in a month's time. Again the alarm dutifully beeped . It wasn't going to let him sleep. He finally dragged himself out of bed and suddenly realized that he had no time to waste. After getting himself ready he halted near his fruit basket for collecting his lunch . He always had a soft corner for the fresh and juicy fruits , and he was glad that he had an ample supply , here in Japan . Suddenly , he remembered that today he was invited for lunch into a sushi -ya . He wondered what that meant , but didn't want to offend or hurt the feelings of his Japanese colleagues .

He was always fascinated and intrigued by the traditions Japanese upheld . He was experiencing it even in his working environment . They always took a very long time in decision making , but once the decision was taken they always stuck to it. But today he was also going to taste Japanese food . He secretly longed for the ethnic Indian cuisine , roasted crisp dosas , idlis and the aroma of freshly prepared sambar haunted him . He always enjoyed reading his newspaper with the strong filter coffee accompanied by the subtle aromas from kitchen . He could easily make out the breakfast menu , just by taking a few deep breaths...It would be the right time to do pranayama! .

Now he was freaking out on fruits . But today being a Japanese treat he waved sayonara to his all time saviors and hurried to his office . At lunch time their team gathered in a sushi ya or a restaurant where especially sushi is served . Sushi is a traditional Japanese delicacy . Once you had agreed to participate and taste the Japanese food there was no going back .... The sushi they would be serving him today would be made out of raw fish, sea weed and rice. He had tasted Kerala fish curry once, when he visited his friends place , as he belonged to a family of vegetarians . Eating raw fish would be adventurous . He was not sure whether he was ready to take up the challenge but he was hooked .

He saw the strange appetizers being served on a conveyor belt . He politely took the Sushi which was meant for him . He was also served the "wasabe" sauce. He was told to dip the sushi in the sauce and eat it at a stretch ! He just did as he was told and saw the eager faces staring at him curiously . He put the whole piece in his mouth and found that the sauce was the most pungent thing he had ever tasted in his life . It was so strong that he could feel the pungent vapors spreading all over him. How was he supposed to eat it now . He had to keep a brave face and whatever was in his mouth should find a medium to pass through his gut ! His eyes caught a tap that was serving sake(rice wine )...With the Japanese delicacy still in his mouth he poured the sake into his glass and flushed it into his mouth....He was relieved , for he had managed the situation !

He saw his colleagues and saw their triumphant faces beaming with joy for having served him the best food ever . They were eager to serve him more , and just before they were about to help him with his second serving he grabbed a plate from the conveyor belt which was now displaying desserts!

This was how my dear husband PP , experienced the first taste of Japan.

I would like to share with you a humorous video which will give you a clearer idea on Japanese food etiquettes and traditions! Enjoy watching!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

My travels, my impressions

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Those thirty seconds of my life!

The early hours of dawn...when everything around you is still so fresh and new...when nature welcomes you with its warm embrace and early melodies....when the world outside you have not yet usurped your thoughts....when you feel totally secure after the everlasting balm of nature , sleep......yes, this is the time of the day I love most....and I was already up from bed as usual. But wasn't there something unusual in the air ?...For the past one week it was not the chirping birds ,those tiny little ones who always reminded me of the Japanese shop attendants ,( tirelessly bowing down to each customer and endlessly singing thank yous and good byes) ,who woke me up;I would suddenly jerk out of my bed , holding on to the side stand for support , so that I don't fall. Once I even woke up and found myself on the ground....and experienced life on the floor!

Today was nothing new!But it would be all over in a few seconds...I could still feel the dawn and still bathe in its warmth. But today , I was sure to drag this topic into our daily gossips and discussions ,over a cup of coffee. It was Sunday and unlike all the working days ,the whole day was relaxed. It was a day when we skipped our breakfast and preferred to take brunch instead.....

After our brunch , I immediately put forth my experiences of the past week....and was disheartened to find no serious concern on any of them....They all seemed to have taken it for granted.....none seemed distracted ! Good... all of them seemed to be evolved now . I was sure all of them had experienced those same tremors , shaking the whole of Higashi Hiroshima ....but now it had become a daily affair...could you ever imagine an Earth quake taken so lightly!The past whole week we were experiencing tremors and still , those were no more hindrances to our sleep ?

The word earth quake takes me back to my school days .I still clearly remember Mr. Babu Vargheese, our geography teacher, walk into our class without even a piece of paper. He never failed to locate students who tried to shy away from his questions which were darted like infinite arrows... We had a chapter called Earth quakes and Volcanoes , and I still remember memorizing Japan as the world's most earth quake prone areas. Who would ever imagine living in that far off island after a decade and more and above all getting to know the real taste of earth quake !!! All the natural disasters seem not for us , until you have a first hand experience of it!

Today, it was one week since we experienced the real earth quake.It was a fine Saturday afternoon, and we had Tomito san and his wife for dinner.I was all set for dinner with the typical Kerala cuisine, Idiyappam and stew! I also prepared black channa curry (kadala curry), which is my husband PP's all time favorite!There was still plenty of time for our guests to arrive and we decided to take a stroll and visit our near by shoji market to stock some juice.I loved shopping here as , by now I had gained enough expertise in calculating which item was thrown up for sale on which day of the week.As we were admiring the freshly arrived vegetables we were awestruck to see all the vegetables and fruits fall from the racks....when we looked up we saw the ceiling fans shaking vigorously....yes I was also shaking!I saw many terror stricken faces running for life....they didn't know where they were running to but were still running. Some tried to hide under the shaking tables !I could see PP's eyes stuck out and mouth open!And what was I doing by the way? I was involuntarily chanting hymns but quite loudly (it must have been an attempt at warding off all evil ;a tradition that my brain could still replay in times of need ,that had seeped into me from my childhood family prayers around a lighted lamp). This phenomena lasted for 30 seconds which seemed to be endless....

[Watch the earthquake on You Tube - Ignore the music by the way !!]

This earth quake was rated 6.4 with an epicentre at Kure an adjacent prefecture.Window panes flew, roads cracked,few buildings collapsed robbing two lives.Japanese cities were earth quake proof and build to satisfy the outcomes of these unforeseen disasters....After those 30 seconds I was surprised to see life flow back to its normal routine... With in hours roads were re tarred, houses were kept moving on and people got back to their tasks.We reached back home and had dinner with our invited guests! The after effects of these earth quakes kept repeating in the everyday tremors....which lasted a few seconds....

This earth quake did open my views about the value of time...which waits for no man....each second is important, precious! Do not let it pass... live the moment!!!