Thoughts of Train

Only the first time on an airplane is a flight of fancy. The monotony and ennui of  long  up-in-the-air  journeys watching the clouds  at the end of which you discover  neither God,  Amma or M S Subbulakshmi is going to  perch on the  wing outside your window and  treat you to an epiphany  is all it takes to  turn a plane journey into a chore that needs getting done as quickly as possible.

A train journey, however, has been around for two hundred years, but its thrill quotient has endured  with such vigor that I am convinced the frisson of excitement that I remember from  those  half-a-day journey to Madras on the Brindavan Express  is the same that coursed down Appa’s  nine-year-old spine   eighty years ago,  when the family travelled often and long, passing  charming little stations and watching  little India display its quirks and colours, the  fields and villages that whizzed past between stations.

S remembers  vividly  the  large presence of trains  in every day Belgaum life,. They watched the train winding its way steamily down the countryside,  while playing in the fields near the Fort, and they often heard the  siren wailing  balefully , announcing an arrival or departure.  Railway stations were easily accessible then and they often went to watch the exciting goings-on at the locomotive shed – engine shunting- there was a turntable for the engines, and it was manually operated. Of course in the eyes of S and friends,  this was the most exciting job in the world.  They played at  shunting, pushing  at the engine and pretending they moved it.

They often made short trips on the passenger trains to Dharwad or Hubli,  and S and Pandu . Once an old man toting his toddler grandson on his shoulders loped up to their window asking “Does this train go to Haveri?”  S and Pandu,  being in a cheeky mood as little boys often are,  informed him helpful, ” oh the next coach goes” , and  had a good laugh. But S felt a twinge of remorse a few moments later when he saw the old man struggling to hop on as the train had  begun to move, and the platform form was left behind, and he just about made it.

The trains of those days, with steam engines and coaches that looked like they were taking Cinderella to the ball,  were 30-seaters . Sometimes they were 8-seaters, used by attendants of  British officers travelling on duty, or  the servants of  the rich Indians who would be travelling royally in First Class.  Occasionally even royalty travelled in these trains, and the Mysore Maharaja’s guards resplendent in their gear added  intrigue and fascination to  the journey.  The Tungabhadra flowed merrily as the train wound its way in the June-July summer.

S remembers the “best idli and dosa ” that could be had at Harihar station,  a stall run by  a  man from Kerala. Since  the local people could never tel the difference between his Malayalam and Tamil, they  enjoyed his  offerings  in what they  assumed was Tamil. S and Pandu and his friends, of course knew their Tamil,  and their idlis.
Most  summer holidays they made the long journey to Bangalore, but  they often went to  Bombay and Poona or Kolhapur- . Bombay meant staying in the house of Bombay Ramaswamy, known to the family , whose bungalow off B P Wadia Road was a well-known landmark and is now a block of apartments still named Bombay House, It overlooks theDewan  Madhava Rao Circle, and remains as picturesque as the whole of Bangalore used to be ion the 60s and 70s.

S had  a wish  in those days.  They often clambered up a high mound on the field near the Fort, and watched the trains go by. His wish was to be on this high perch and look down on the train, and watch himself  travelling grandly in the train as it wound its way towards  Poona . Now is that possible?   About as possible as  the epiphany of    God, Amma or M S Subbulakshmi waving us on our way from Cloud Nine.

A  fine train of thought indeed.   Or  a flight of fnacy?

Aunt ‘s Jaunts

It was Varalakshmi Puja last week.  Memories of Manjula decorating the mantapam -covering the banana stems with samanthis= yellow and majenta chrysanthemums, making colorful kolam,  Amma getting the kalasham and the silver mukham of Lakshmi- with its own little ruby studs and nose ring, and a long hook which would go into the silver chombu, and all the stuff that goes intothe kalasham,

Being too little to be useful to Manjula or Amma, all I did was wander about the house,  from kitchen to the room where the puja was arranged,  eyeing the coconut-jaggery poornam that would go into the sweet kozhakattai, and my favorite, the kharam kozhakattai, the   daals for aamavadai ready to be ground. The kitchen smelled of  cardamom, nutmeg,  and chillies and hing.  From the  puja room (makeshift, to accommodate all the ladies who would come the next evening for manjai-kumkum.) wafted  the scents of camphor, ,  agarbathi, jasmine .

I suspect Amma and Varalakshmi had a conspiracy going. How else does one explain  the fact that the kozhakattais were perfect, the aamavadais crisp and golden on the outside and soft inside, and were all ready for naivedhyam in the morning, the puja done and all ladies in the house, Amma, Manjula, Dr Athey sporting the yellow thread with a samanthi flower (like a Rakhi, I think) on the right wrist to signify participation in the puja, and  have the most sumptuous spread read for the family.

I think one of the highlights of the day for her, was the arrival of Vimala Athey.  Appa’s younger sister, gentle,  niece-loving Vimala Athey whose  unexpected visits home ( she was a government school teacher, and  frequently her arrival at unusual hours when teachers and students ought to be at school-  heralded “good news” for  kids – someone died warranting the declaration of a holiday to mourn the loss to the nation, or at least to the State of  Karnataka. ) I  was an Athey-loving niece as well,  although a very quiet one, listening to Amma and Athey exchange news and gossip,  wondering when Athey’s vanity bag would open, and  treats like a  polly mango sliced into  finger-sized pieces with chilli powder and salt rubbed into them , which she had started to eat , or a packet of  glucose biscuits, or at lease a pair of Parry’s  toffee, would  tumble out .

On Varalakshmi day,  it was ordained , Vimala Athey of the divine voice  would sing  Sri Varalakshmi Namasthubhyam. Here is  MS Maami also of the divine voice, rendering  the song. (I wish I could google up Vimala Athey just as easily on youtube, but may be my cousin Anu (Vimala Athey’s daughter could help with that?)  For the nonce, let MS=Vimala Athey.

Since I have had  a nasty attack of nostalgia, and have successfully  passed on the  bug to Appa,  he let me in on his childhood days , growing up with Vimala Athey, his little sister.  Don’t get me wrong, but little girls are the best thing that ever happened to families,  I know, having been one myself, and being told by Amma how much she had wanted to have me long before I had been thought of.  So it was with Vimala Athey. and the Sardar High School  Headmaster’s household was hugely enriched and entertained by  little Vimala and her ceaseless chatter and endearing  attempts to be grown-up.

Her friends comprised an army of  kids from the servants quarters, all about her own age,  which she maintained with endless supply of
“putani”, from the kitchen, and occasionally  pieces of jaggery. They were all her yes-men  who could disappear like gnomes when they felt the coming of a   “grown-up” attack,  which usually manifested itself in the form of  her mother (my grandmother, Venkamma)  mildly asking, “what happened to all the putani?”

Cornered, the p-o-w,  deployed the ultimate weapon in a child’s armory-   a long wail  intended as a signal to any of the older siblings to rush to her defense,  and a loud lament “Ellam en thalai melai!”  — yeah, heap the blame on my head.. matching words with  action by tapping herself on the head- a tad too hard, as it happened,  and crying louder for the self-inflicted pain.

An amused mother,  brothers laughing till they got stitches in their sides,  didn’t help at all, and  calm prevailed for a short spell,  and the gnomes trickled back in one by one, and  a new  round of putani-chomping began.

The Old Days of Belgaum

One  summer day in the early 1930s,  a game of hide ‘n seek  began to be played on the  silent, abandoned-for the-holidays campus of Sardar  High School in Belgaum, and a boy names Sheshagiri  (S, from now on)  got himself a  really secret place to hide, and waited to be found.

The hostel was vacant, and the Head Master M.Ramabrahma’s  brood ( S, and siblings) had the run of the grounds.  The Joshi, Datar and Kittur boys came over most afternoons . A bunch of boys, grounds and garden, and nooks and crannies behind buildings– all the ingredients for an excellent game of hide ‘n seek. S  lurked in his hideout, and listened to big brother Pandurang be “it” and find the others. He wondered how long he ought to give Pandu before turning himself in.

Lost in these thoughts, it was a while before S  realised that  no one seemed to be about. There were no calls for him to come out, nor did  he hear footsteps advancing stealthily and getting louder as  the predator approached. He  stuck his neck out  round the corner and found he was quite alone. The game had moved, or  it was up !!

He ambled homewards to find Pandu and the others  loping about on the verandah,  and completely unsurprised to  see him. “Hey why didn’t you come looking for me?” S asked.

“Oh, we  looked everywhere, and when there was no sign of you, we decided you must’ve come home for a drink of water, and forgot to come back into the game..” Pandu said with a big brother’s  insouciance, and S  decided the next time he needed a hiding place, he’d head home!

Down Appa’s Memory Lane

March 12, 2012

Appa turned 89 today . When I woke up , around 5.30 am,  I could hear him pottering about, and went to be the first to wish him Happy Birthday. “The first birthday without Amma,” he  noted, and both of us paused to let the poignant moment pass.  I wondered what it must feel  like to spend 56 birthdays (and 56 wedding anniversaries) with someone, and  wake up one day to find there will never be a 57th  of the same kind.

Amma died on January 24,  two weeks after she marked her 75th birthday. She had become quite forgetful, and barely remembered what presents she had received on her birthday. A pair of bangles ,  some money… having your valaikaappu at this age? I  asked, over the phone from faraway America,  and elicited a chuckle that proved to be the last.  A few days later I was on the plane to Bangalore.

In the weeks that followed,  we  often went into rewind mode.  Sometimes in our conversations, Amma was just away on a  long visit to Nellore.  Or in Amma Heaven, calling Ganesha Store  with her endless wish list of groceries so she could make everyone’s favorite dishes.  Her absence had become a Great Presence as the family grieved,  remembered and  then celebrated her.

I thought longingly of the divine chapatis that only Amma could make,  and Subri said now even a burned chapati made by her would be divine.   When an aval upma proved to be a disaster( because I didn’t let it soak long enough), Appa must have thought just as longingly of the ‘soft ”  aval upma that Amma always made, which translated, to me as “soggy”. Just now , what wouldn’t I do for a  helping of that soggy /soft “owl” upma, rustled up by Amma!

With mixed feelings we thumbed through the wedding album of “Mr and Mrs ’55”   and we were struck by how beautiful a bride Amma made, sans make-up , but  glamorous enough to give Nargis a complex. Appa, the same age as Dev Anand , incidentally, cut a dashing figure in the suit, in the picture (black  & white) taken by G.G.Welling.

“Tatha, when was the first time you met Pati?” Harini asked, and I  realised that the person who had answers to these questions, who always made  the ordinary stories    about all the uncles, aunts, cousins, once, twice-removed,  and totally removed courtesy-relations included  most fascinating,  and taught me to love them by knowing one little thing about each Chittappa, Mama, or  Tatha and Paati, had gone without answering that one!!

And we all looked at Tatha,  now the solitary source of  stories that ought to begin at  “Once Upon a Time”…………. and  go on “Happily Everafter!”

Appa at age 21, went to  Madras for the wedding of Cousin(s) Radha and Sitaram, and  there he first spotted his future wife, Thulasi, all of seven,  doing well, what seven-year-olds normally do at weddings.   Eleven years later, when Thulasi was 18, it was arranged that she should wed Sheshagiri . He went up to Nellore to “see” her,  accompanied by his cousin Baba,  and on his return,  his father ( Our Ramabrahma Tatha) pronounced, “you’ve got the best one of the seven sisters.”

I spent four months with Appa, and Bunty and we talked of many things, watch endless reruns of Ramayan, Shri Krishna and every mythological show that we could catch.  Appa is  89 years rich in history. of our family, of  our times.

He was 12 when Swami & Friends  was published, in 1935, and Malgudi arrived in our collective psyche.  Now  he is in his “anecdotage’. And we are hungry for stories of  his own Malgudi days.  Which makes for serendipity ( a word Appa loves to  insert into the conversation as often as he can, which is why the word is here)

He will be on rewind mode, to the times when there was neither TV nor remote, and pastimes were indulged in at a more leisurely pace, and kids could gaze upon camels and wonder at their purpose in nature’s scheme of things,  shout cheeky comments at departing British contingents, and live to tell the tale……witness the transition from petromax-lit  evenings to  electric nights…….

Appa is now the narrator and I, the scribe…………Heard that one before?

Bunty

It takes two brothers to keep the bear from getting to the little sister, you said. But sometimes I was the baloney between the two slices of bread. Like when I screamed my head off ,  saying “Pedal Pannu!!”  as  you cycled down Seventh Cross, and I thought I’d fall off the cross-bar if  you didn’t pedal. You must’ve pretend-pedalled, to humor me, and prayed. Now I wonder why you let your baby sister tag along on these little excursions to Dr. Athey’s house.  To humor Amma?

I hated your (and Subri’s) short-cuts through Mohammadan Block, II Block and Rani Sarala Devi, and you walked the long round via South Circle , Kuchalamba and down , down, down the seemingly interminable Seventh Cross, protecting me from the bears, with Subri on the other side.

You told me I came out of  a Horlicks bottle, and I long wondered what use you could have for me,  a quiet little mouse way away from your universe of cricket, movies and outings to MG Road .. and cousins and friends and summer holidays under the blazing Nellore sun. I remember annoying you (and Subri)  when I insisted on buying  Amar Chitra Kathas in Kannada……. I wonder what you made of my solitary afternoons at Dr. Athey’s across the road,  curled up beside a pile of Sudha reading Ramu-Shyamu, Majanu.and Phantom……yes. in Kannada.

I confess there were times I thought I had two big brothers too many. But it worked out perfect, didn’t it?  All the bears that I was kept safe from. I think you were mostly proud of your little sis, and knew you were very special to her, indeed.  Though Iwonder if  I had become a bear to you lately,  I  like to think Idid take care of a few bears for you.

I shall watch “Yeh jawani.yeh diwani..” and remember Lalbagh as it once was .  The way you probably remember it as you take your place in the sepia-tinted memories of  your only little sister. When I bite into a khara bun, or hear the crunch of a Japanese cake ,  “vettu” a  potato fry, and rustle up a vengaya sambhar for a Sunday meal, I shall wait for  you to knock on the door and say…….”Ha! Did you think I wouldn’t come?”

And we’d talk about Sweetkharacoffee– You’d say “I have read your blog literature and admire your ability to write so well and so much . Amma yendare aeno thondare was a spoof by the famous Subri-Bunty team in the tradition of other music directors working in pairs. You may recall that Sweet,Kara and Coffee are banned items in our diet. However we will gorge on your blog for a regular supply of Virginia Pak,dose and cawfee!

Goodnight, Bunty.

Kalyanam In Baltimore

Karthik and Samantha’s wedding in Baltimore , on September 15, 2011 made me realise how much one takes  weddings for granted, back home in Bangalore.  We pretend to be reluctant guests, and arrive with faces that make no effort to hide the fact that we are only there because we couldn’t find a valid excuse to skip it altogether.

Unless, of course, its’  a wedding in the family. Which means catching up with  cousins from across the globe, country, and city, packing  twenty years’ worth of nostalgia into the time between the muhurtham and the saapad. And letting it spill over into the afternoon, reminiscing and clearing space in the attic of memories for  the anecdotage that’s to come.

When Cousin Balu and his wife Janaki’s invitation to their son Karthik’s wedding  was received, I’d been here in Herndon Virginia two years,  and the last wedding I’d been to was a year ago in Bangalore –  and the yearning to sink my teeth into a spicy masala vadai,  and feasting my eyes on a banana leaf with all the “items” in their place- payasam, paruppu, avial, the kosambaries (two), curries, the thick sambhar and the aromatic rasam, and the sweets- a laddu and invariably , poli or chiroti…………… had me itching to take the next plane out of Dulles back to Bangalore and become a wedding crasher.

Of course, there was no banana leaf  at Karthik & Samantha’s wedding , though most of the “items”  that go on a banana leaf were served making it the most sumptuous meal.  But there were reunions!  And meeting a whole new generation of nieces and nephews with amazing talent and their joie de vivre which was quite infectious. I met Karthik’ sister Aparna for the first time. And since I’d met Karthik only a couple of times, and he didn’t remember, it was quite like the first time.

Meenakshi, Manju and Bhimu Chittappa came down from Minneapolis, Popy and Bernard drove down from Ottawa, and  Kumar put in an appearance too. Meenakshi drove us to Baltimore the previous evening and we stayed at the hotel which Balu had organised for everyone, since the wedding was to start rather early.

The aura of  a lovely Madras wedding had already taken over the Greater Baltimore Temple , where the arrival of the bride and groom was awaited. The oonjal, and the mandapam decked out in floral festoons, there were kolams and vilakkus. And looking glorious in Kanjeevaram and diamonds glittering on her  ears, rather MS-usque was Jana’s mother. Mami, whom I had last met when I was in college or school, at one of the weddings- her other daughter Meena is married to Kumar, Balu’s brother…….. put me to shame with how sharp her memory was-  how’s your mother doing after her surgery, how is Bunty, and where is your husband, why isn’t he here. Are you liking it in America?

Soon all her children and grandchildren began trickling in,  appropriately dressed in finest Kanjeevarams,  and there was so much beauty, joy and laughter . When the bride arrived, and it was time for Kashi Yatra and oonjal,  the young nieces and nephews began singing the beautiful marriage songs ……..maalai maatrinal, sita kalyana vaiboghame…….and all the songs that make one tearful and choked at weddings, especially when one never had this kind of wedding.  Jana’s sister Vidya’s son Anirudh enthralled with his fine rendering of “Enna thavam seithanai…….” and many more throughout the entire ceremony.

It was just as touching to see Samantha’s parents submit to all the rituals while they obviously had no clue what it all meant,  Samantha’s father told us later that he had enjoyed doing it all the same. Samantha herself looked  very comfortable in the madisaar,  and beautiful, enjoying the ceremony.
Meenakshi and I  noted that everyone looked tearful when the thaali was tied, and everyone stole a few moments to compose themselves and pretend that they never cried at weddings.

It was great to meet all the lovely sisters and brothers of Jana. Lakshmi, who had once come to Bangalore with friends, and I had been their “guide” in  Jayanagar 4th block,  I have to bashfully admit, I couldn’t recognise, but when I knew her she had curly hair!  She was the wedding planner, I learnt, and its thanks to her, my  urge to hop into a plane bound for Bangalore and turn wedding-crasher could be put on hold!

This post is long overdue. And  with this, my parting promise to Jana has been redeemed, I hope!

IBS over Delhi Belly?

There is something about Delhi Belly that says it should really be called IBS.  Facebook is awash with friends who have become irritable after watching it, and when they call it a crappy movie, they are being literal– the crap IS in-your-face. The real hero seems to the ceramic bus,  turning up like Superman  whenever the guy with the loosies needs to be near one.  A profusion of flatulence,  noises related to being afflicted with the Delhi Belly, and  a cameo appearance by the offending crap does  drain one of  all tolerance.  And one has no stomach left to appreciate  the  good parts of what I first thought was a Curate’s Egg of a movie.

“It is crass,  crude, coarse , ” my friend Chetan Krishnaswamy cavilled, rather alliteratively,  adding that if new age cinema was all about the perversions of Delhi Belly, it was sad.  And he forbore from clarifying on what he would wish upon anyone comparing this “offal” to that old classic, Jaane Bhi do Yaaron.

Another friend Brijesh Kalappa,  declared,  Delhi Belly- Ouch!! Painfully silly!

Thinking about a couple of  scenes in the movie that had been truly funny, I  ventured, rather gingerly, a ” may be its silly but it is not gross,”  and regretted it immediately.  Since watching the movie, I can’t  deny the thought of a  mensinkai bajji     tossing on a bed of chopped onions on a newspaper, which has a review of this movie printed on it, leaves me queasy.

I am now obsessed with the growing list of things about Delhi Belly that gross me out.

On top , of course is the fact that Aamir Kahn seemed to have grossed his investment in the first week.

It grosses me out that anyone can go laughing all the way to the bank  , by banking on crap and toots.

It grosses me out that once the  real crap has been cleaned up ( hasn’t anyone heard of  what happens in diapers ought to stay in diapers?),  Delhi Belly is just an avial of genuine ROFL scenes from rom-coms and don-coms of Hollywood. The toilet scenes came from Along came Polly,  Tashi’s parents are the Fockers , and  the dog that humps Arup is Moses, also of the Fockers fame.  The domineering girlfriend looks suspiciously like the girl in Transformers 3, but since both movies are running, it must be my IBS acting up.

Bollywood is not just a copy-cat. With Delhi Belly, it has become crappy-cat.  Hollywood had to send us Analyze This so we could morph our own gangster into the bumbling, insecure, therapy-needing   Paul Vitti, Godfather, whose day-job is  being a comedian.  I can’t think of any  Bollywood gangster movie  in which  the godfather  isn’t required to provide the laughs as well.  Not that I’ve seen most of them.  But everyone knows that you can get into the story of a Bollywood movie at any point, and still never miss, nay, escape  the plot.

And that’s another reason why Delhi Belly grosses me out-  we got it when the Russian doll ended up at doctor’s laboratory. We got it too, when the  crap landed on  Somayajulu’s table, and would have laughed louder and longer if  the cannister wasn’t opened.  I was a bit surprised that the cliche of the loquacious Madrasi was missing. And I don’t think  the young fellas who cuss and swear through their first job/relationship like being busted in this manner.

Jeez,  hope  there isn’t going to be a sequel.  IBS can be aggravating, I think.  And if that’s the title,  I’m suing.

This is for Chetan and Brijesh.

Ode to Upma

Ode to Upma

The Upma is a wondrous thing, it is verily without a simile

In Kalidasa’s verse, Upma is the simile, to us it is family

God, who couldn’t be everywhere, sent to us our Ma

And Ma , in her necessity, invented the Upma.

 

 

Most days, the common Upma , an object of frequent scorn

Can hold out against the idli, and come into its own

Idli, like Pa, goes from steamy to soft as a flower,

The Upma, on the contrary, is magic made of salt and flour.

 

 

In recent days Upma has mushroomed in the Big Apple,

With Yoga, Ayurveda and Nirvana, the Upma is the new Indian staple

Mundane to exotic be it Upma, Uppindi or Uppittu

Will McUpma one day be dished up at a drive-through?

 

Will there be a temple to Upma Maheshwari

And has Upma already made it to the Oxford English Dictionary?

And a battle royal over who, Meenakshi Ammal

Makes a better Upma, or Tarla Dalal?

 

Now I write in nostalgia, home may be where the heart is

But, is Upma, like ignorance, truly bliss?

All I know is the true worth of the Upma

Strikes home only when you become the Ma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roads Scholar Runs Again!

Road Runner has run out of her teens!  She’s got wheels!  She’s got a passport that she already used the way its meant to be used.

Is it just a year since she was 19,  and we all thought she was using her brains in a way that Mom and I wanted to call her Parsi-mani?

The gal’s 20 today, and we are stunned to see that her idea of saving her brains for a brainy day is actually a stroke of genius!

She twists her Mom round her little finger, drives her nuts, apart from driving her around -to malls mostly and I love the  jewelled bookmark she brought me from Romania  in the year she went from 19 to twenty.

This is also a good time to let her know she has the gift of gift-giving. After all, I am twice-gifted by her- the woollen gloves that her mom tucked into my hands as I was leaving for America have kept me warm for the second snowy winter in America and are still good for a couple of winters more.I always said everyone isn’t gifted enough in the matter of choosing presents for the dear ones, and for the no-so-dear ones who need to be gifted once a year. Even the cake that she gives Mom , every year for her 32nd birthday, with the latest one cruelly screaming “Happy Birthday Fatso!”

Proof,  that between Roads Scholar-I and this here sequel,  she has been obliging enough to giver her brain a thorough airing,–Mom’s happy she’s no airhead, thankfully, though it means she can longer fool Road Runner that her mom is only 32, every birthday.  Mom has hair-raising moments in raising her only heir-ess- she demands her mom gives oil and tender-loving care to her tresses, and calls it bonding.  Coyote Mom has chucked the fork and plate out the window,  and  Ma and Moll at the Mall is the way to go……

Mom and Dad are disqualified from Facebook. Lol, she said when I asked her why not. And don’t push your luck, be glad that Aunty is  FB friend, who’s not been dissed out.

Sigh.  Pinky is the Brain now.  Time to be the couch potato and watch Road Runner, well,  run. Or may be tread the mill, in case she flings the Fatso cake my way.  I know what to say then……..You got brains, duh!  And what I see is just the interest on the principal.

Happy Birthday once again Jenu.

Khara bun in Bush Country

Went to Dallas for a nostalgic week with Venky, Priya, Sanju and Rajeev. It was my maiden solo flight in the US, from Dulles Airport to Dallas Fort Worth . My alarm at being swallowed into the gargantuan oesophagus of the departure terminal at Dulles (Dullus, is how you say it, not Dulls I learnt) as P left me to my fate , was inversely proportional to the relief that washed over me on  sighting Venky in DALLus  (not Dullaas).

Because, at Dulles, I went down a deep escalator that looked long enough to connect  Mt.Everest with its base, walked through winding passages, went up a couple or three escalators, and took a little train ,  went down the escalator and finally reached the RIGHT Gate. No fear of getting on the wrong plane and going off  to Brisbane this time.

No such confounding exit awaited me at DFW.  I was out  in under 10 minutes, and was found by Venky and we got home to Plano in about 40 minutes.

Priya had a lunch that was redolent of Madras waiting,  which was eaten over IPL   followed by a bit of Sun TV. With Rohini’s famous cross-stitch of the bald eagle swooping magnificently across a backdrop of purple mountains and a couple of her other masterpieces hanging on the living room walls,  it felt more like Madras than Dallas.

The heavy Sunday lunch called for an afternoon spent lying prone like a python that had wolfed down an elephant ( haha– that’s the wildlife taken care of) which all of  us  proceeded to do, snuggling  with fleece blankets on the sofas (Venky and Priya) and on the lounger (me). Sanju and Rajeev disappeared into their own lairs.

In the evening we went to the mall.

AND I DISCOVERED THAT BACK IN 2000, GEORGE W BUSH HAD ACTUALLY CHOKED ON THE KHARA BUN FROM HASSAN IYENGAR BAKERY!!

ALMOST.

Venky was being the indulgent Big Brother, asking me what I wanted, and telling Priya to get me this , that and the other, as we strolled through the mall,  looking for things to buy and then waiting for the feeling to go away, thus saving ourselves a lot of money.

We just looked in windows, and I tried to stare unobtrusively at guy who had gelled up his hair in punky pikes, remembering not to  say anything in any of the languages we knew, because in Texas, apart from Bush, you never know who speaks the same ones. And the consequences of such indiscretions cannot really be contemplated.

When we came to the pretzel shop, Venky asked if I’d like one. I knew of the pretzel, and the legend of George Bush choking on one, and the zillion jokes that grew around it, but  what with one thing and another, never really googled that one.

I was coming face to face with the presidential offender at last. Venky insisted I should try the jalopeno  pretzel. Of course, this wasn’t the one that  launched a zillion punchlines, but I prefer the pungent to the sweet, and soon I was salivating over a loop of what looked like ………

nothing I had seen before. I popped a bit in my mouth, and then my eyes popped out in surprise. Venky had become quite still, and was staring unblinkly at me……

“Hey……….this is like the khara bun– Hassan Bakery style!!”

Venky’s delighted crack of laughter said it all!  How many khara buns with bits of chillies, onion and coriander had we bitten into through countless summer holidays, and later when Venky stopped by on his way home to Madras from Hassan, where he was studying engineering!

Rainy afternoon with Enid Blytons (me , not Venky, who wasn’t the bookish sort in those days, though he has turned into one now, thanks to his job that takes him Up In the Air,  like George Clooney. I can see him looking at this menacingly!) and khara buns to munch on– it was bliss.

That March Sunday evening, it was uncanny… Venky and I  munching on khara bun in Bush country!! Who’d ever have thought it possible? !!

Pretzel BTW  is a type of European-descended baked goody made from dough in soft and hard varieties and savory or sweet flavors often in a unique knot-like shape. The archetypal pretzel shape is a distinctive symmetrical looped form, whereby the ends of a long strip of dough are intertwined, says Wikipedia.

Here’s the pic of a pretzel– not the jalopeno. Probably the kind that Bush choked on.