It’s early 2016 and last year was particularly dismal for my writing! Much of it had to do with the fact that 2015 felt no different to 2014, which felt no different to the year before. The past two and a half years have sort of blended into one big mass of time. Bringing confusion, uncertainty and really not much clarity at all. Last January I rued the fact that it didn’t feel like a ‘new year’. The old baggage remained and got heavier.

I’m glad to say that some of that has changed! Last year brought with it a new job, a driver’s licence and some freedom and clarity. It also helps that certain family members too have new found stability in their lives and overall 2016 looks like the sun is peeking, gingerly, from behind the clouds. Not literally yet. If New Zealand is where the sun rises first, Dornbirn in winter certainly seems like it’s been waiting for the sun’s rays forever!

One of the pleasant surprises in the second half of 2015 and in the new year so far, has been the fact that nothing turned out as bad as expected (note how I still cannot say ‘better than expected’, that would be too risky!). The first break was filled with food, laughs and travel. The winter wasn’t as severe as the year before and the second break brought amazing weather, food and unanticipated relaxation  (with business class tickets to boot!).

Things that I want seem within reach. Although they still need me to wake up, get up and go get ’em.

 

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Moving to a new country isnt everything its made out to be. Its something else. First off lets call a spade a spade, it takes a certain amount of insanity to give up, voluntarily mind you, everything thats familiar and comfortable. It also takes a certain amount of disregard for one’s sanity.

Moving away isnt about adventure or new horizons. The world has pretty much worked itself into a template and unless you move to the Amazonian jungle youre unlikely to find a place devoid of noodles, pizza and an Indian store. The communication issue is another myth. You can always get by with hand gestures and a strong will. The world is shrinking. 

While it is easy to glorify this life on facebook, living away, to me, hasnt taught me ‘about other cultures, people and their food’. What it has taught me is things about myself that i never knew. It has taught me how to travel…. light and without anxiety. It has taught me to sleep on flights and do the time difference math quickly and also think about the weather. It has taught me not to get attached to all my material belongings because not everything makes it across 3 countries in the back of a moving truck in one piece. It has taught me not to fuss. It has taught me about loneliness in a way that nothing else has. It has also taught me to be comfortable being in my own head. It has taught me patience and resilience. It has taught me to manage my money.

But most of all it has taught me to hold on to the right things and let go of the rest. So I no longer bemoan the lack of ‘interesting experiences’ or ‘adventure’. Im learning slowly but surely that knowing that I will be fine anywhere, anyway, anyhow.

Taking stock

I’ve decided to brave it and take stock of the year that went by. 2014 was another year of upheaval. It will forever be remembered as the year I left my comfort zone (which was fast becoming an ostrich type head in the sand situation) and followed to husband to a town which is ‘not Vienna’ in Austria. Apparently Vienna is the only place in Austria worth mentioning, either you are there or you are not. I moved to Dornbirn and for the first time in my life I signed a working contract which had working hours. If you’ve spent as much time at university as I have, you will understand that ‘working hours’ are an alien concept. So I left behind the comforts of a ‘start when you will’ job and deluded myself that an 8.30 am start is not a big issue. After all, said ‘office’ was just a hop and skip away. Turns out hopping and skipping at 8 am is for kangaroos.
When I moved to Belgium I had to relearn a lot of ‘life skills’. Starting with the language (knowing when you laugh is not enough!), public transport, ‘communes’ and so forth. The move to Dornbirn was, unfortunately, more inconvenient. Set in the foothills of the Alps makes this a great holiday destination but a rather stressful living environment. From now knowing how to negotiate the ‘town’, pay bills or even withdraw money, having no access to transport was like having my wings cut off (one’s that I had spent years growing!).
I am impatient by nature and unrelentingly hard on myself. I never realised what it means to rub shoulders with giants, have an advanced degree, move around the world at whim or always have home to go back to – these I considered commonplace and not a privilege – until now.
If nothing else (and really not much else) 2014 had given me perspective on myself in a good way. I am learning to, very grudgingly, admit that I haven’t wasted 30 years of my life and that I am in fact (a little) better (off) than a lot of others. My hope for 2015 is to carry this belief through and reach a place where I can use everything that I’ve learned (and relearned, and re re learned!).

I came back with sand between my toes from the beaches of New Zealand. 2014 was about taking the bad with the good. Unfortunately, two overriding emotions dictating the year for me were fear and uncertainty. I wanted to write about a lot of things. Some of them didn’t have a place on this blog and stayed in my head. In fact a lot of things stayed in my head. Gradually I went from mulling them over during the day to mulling them over at night. Lack of sleep is a horrible thing and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. It creeps up on you and little do you realise that sleeping is not like eating. You cannot make up for it another day. As I lost sleep about seemingly inconsequential things, the ferretin dipped and I was back to four years ago with added anxiety to boot. ‘What do you have to anxious about’ they said. You have a job, money, so on and so forth – everything that looks good from far but is far from good. Turns out anxiety is an ailment of the over-achieving. A quick visit to the expert and subsequent reading revealed that I was not suffering from a ‘rare incurable disease’ (I’m nothing if not dramatic!) nor was I overreacting as many tended to claim. I was just reacting – tired and iron deprived.

For the second time in my life the new year has not brought with it a sense of rejuvenation but it has brought with it 1100 mg of iron pumped into my system to help it to resume normal functioning. It has brought with it some semblance of reassurance that it should be ok. It has to be okay. So it will be okay.

 

So the 30 day letter challenge seems like a bit of a bust! There are a few people on the list that deserve a post and a post they shall get! Meanwhile, I realise that certain goings on were never documented for posterity!

Two weeks ago,  I ‘rushed’ to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. With excruciating stomach ache. Contrary to my expectations I was promptly seen, admitted, sedated, tested thoroughly, rested and let go. The hitch in otherwise perfect proceedings being that my test results go to my GP who is on holidays till the end of this month, by which time said test results will be obsolete and we will take it from there.

Friends and family were surprised to hear that this was my second ever hospital visit (barring the jaundice when I was 11) and first admission. I guess people are given to impressions and general impression has it that I am rather unwell most of the time. While I accept the annual allergy bout graciously  red nose and all, I refuse to accept the tag of ‘sickly’. Because I have seen sickly people and it is unfortunate and sad.

As it stands the stomach is, lets say, undecided on whether or not it is cured. There are days when it behaves as a stomach should. And other days when it just wants to make its presence known and acts up like a child denied candy. But I have had to deny it candy and other things things that make food worth eating. Fingers crossed that everything is good and dandy and one can resume normal functions!

30 day Letter Challenge – 1

Dear Best Friend,

thank you for being with me through different phases of my life. Since you are no longer here, I feel your absence like a missing limb. You’ve changed faces and forms over the years but you’ve always been a source of laughs and, inadvertently, a source of strength.

We were neighbours playing in our yards, calling out to each other over the common wall and jumping it into each other’s houses. We’ve taken all our grandmothers’ cushions out to the front porch, built a fort and stomped on them. We took the telling off rather well. 

You then became the new girl in class who also lived in my colony. We played cricket and basketball. Shared our lunches on the school steps and also fought at times. We took the same bus to school and back, sat next to each other in class. I didn’t talk to you about books because you didn’t like reading. Or singing or writing. But we talked all the same. About life, first crushes and how I could name your first born child. I moved away and we lost touch. But the memories remain.

You then became two people – so different yet so similar. We grew together, sometimes apart. Oceans came between us as did other people. But somewhere I like to believe that we’re still those three girls sitting in study-hall, talking about movies music and whether or not we should go to Burger King after school. 

I have learned to live without you. Yet, occasionally, when I walk to work in the mornings and pass by friends sitting in a cafe, sharing a laugh over breakfast, I see you – every one of you. And I wish for those times, simpler times, again.

Luv shuv tey chicken biryani

The food of home holds a special place in most hearts. ‘Home cooked’ generally implies made-by-the mother and in my case there are a few things that I crave. Chicken curry, zhunka roti and biryani. With dal. 

And I am very particular about my biryani. The trash that is peddled in the umpteen restaurants is exactly that – trash. Rice with a bunch of spices thrown in does not a biryani make. There are three biryanis that I swear by – mother’s, aunt’s and Shilpa’s. Some might say that I haven’t lived till I’ve tasted it from ‘dilli ki galiyan’ or ‘char minar ki dukaane’. That for another day.

My current European stint in little Austrian villages does not lend itself to biryani eating. So if one doesn’t just want to endure, one needs to roll up the sleeves and get to work. About a month ago I made mom’s biryani. It was good. The mother doesn’t really do the ‘dum’ thing. Instead she chops, peels, sautees and mixes till the spices are fragrent, the masalas glisten in oil and the chicken is browned just so. The mint and coriander blend beautifully with the rice and overall it makes for an extremely satisfying afternoon meal, inevitably leading to a very contented afternoon nap! I’ve always been weary of making it myself because the mother, being the mother, could never give me a recipe for it. I’ve always imagined the dish to be something special, perfected by the saints and handed down, verbally through the generations. Insurmountable. The one time I made it it took me a good 2.5 hours. Time I’d rather spend whining about the cost of a ticket back home and the lack of biryani resources in town. Tasty as it turned out, the task seemed rather Herculean.

Shilpa is from AP. A region known for their nawabs, the minarets, insane chilli eating ability and the inimitable- Hyderabadi biryani. Shilpa’s biryani is hot with flavour packed layers. The perfectly cooked chicken is coated with a delicious spice mix, browned and hidden in the fragrant saffron infused basmati rice with layers of caramelised onions. It is the kind of spicy that needs to be experienced, not just eaten. It is a kind that makes you want to keep eating and not pause 

She’s always serves it with raita and we have been known to sit around a large pot of biryani, in our PJs eating for hours while exchanging life-gossip. 

I always thought that Shilpa’s biryani would be my Everest. She threw in words like marinate, caramelise, half-cook and the dreaded ‘dum‘. Wiki defines this cooking technique as:

Dum means to ‘breathe in’ and pukht to ‘cook’.[1] Dum pukht cooking uses a round, heavy – bottomed pot, a handi, in which food is tightly sealed and cooked over a slow fire. There are two main aspects to this style of cooking; bhunao and dum, or ‘roasting’ and ‘maturing’ of a prepared dish. In this style of cuisine, herbs and spices play an extremely critical role. The process of slow roasting gently persuades each to release maximum flavor. The sealing of the lid of the handi with dough achieves maturing. Cooking slowly in its juices, the food retains all its natural aromas and becomes imbued with the richness of flavors that distinguishes the dish.

I’ve had the recipe for ages. It looked formidable. Last night I decided to give it a go. The first few steps were easy, if I do say so myself. Once the chicken was marinated and the rice half cooked I had to set the whole thing on ‘dum’. A pot was procured, the raw meat layered, followed by the onions and the rice. I sealed it the best I could, turned down the heat and sent a silent prayer up to the biryani Gods. It takes immense trust this. I guess it is a measure of friendship when you (read ‘I’) trust someone enough to stick raw meat and half cooked rice in a sealed dish, with only their recipe to guide you with cooking times.

So 25 minutes of agonising wait ensued, after which the whole thing steamed away for another 10 on high heat. The hardest part, like a cardio workout, was the last 10 mins when I was itching to open it and see if the meat was cooked.

50 minutes later (5 mins for good luck and to feed my paranoia) we were there. The lid was opened and the senses were pervaded with the glorious fragrance of biryani. We had reached the summit.