RSS

Tag Archives: my dad is awesome

The Mystical Relation of Hair & Ice Cream

Why should hair be so inextricably tied to my emotions, I don’t know – but it is a fact that a good haircut can uplift me for a week, while a terrible one has left me in tears more than once.

And the reaction is instant. Serve me a bad meal and I can somehow suffer through it, making appreciative noises as I go. Take me out on the mother of all disaster dates and I will still thank you for a lovely evening and promise to keep in touch. I am the master of the easy let-down. But cut my hair (hell, just style it) in a way I don’t approve, and my reaction to it is completely physical. My face gets red, my throat chokes up, tears flood my eyes, I start breathing heavily – all symptoms, in fact, of my primitive rage. It’s always been this way, too.

When I was seven, for instance, my mother persuaded me to get a “smart crop”. Unfortunately, this turned out to be code for what you might recognize today as the Stereotypical Lesbian Crop. Imagine a really butch woman without access to a talented hairstylist. Back when I was a kid, it was the basic Modern Indian Working Woman Haircut. Short and extremely unfussy, you could probably come out looking freshly barbered on the other side of a tornado. The only people who ever complimented me on the results of that disastrous trip to the salon were my mother, the nice Chinese lady who’d followed my mother’s instructions against her better judgment, and a teacher of mine who sported that exact same boxy cut. Call me a diva but I did not appreciate looking like a middle aged schoolteacher whilst still in the second grade. I ended up throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the salon, whereupon my mother promptly ordered an emergency pedicure for herself and banished me to the reception area where I spent the next fortyfive minutes cooling my heels, seething in fury, and frightening the rest of the clientele with my panting rage while tugging fiercely at my hair in an effort to make it come out of my head a little faster.

Before you think I was some kind of special needs child – the alarmed receptionist definitely thought so – I should say that I already knew that particular effort wasn’t going to work. It was just another example of my once-ungovernable temper driving me to do things that were the outside of stupid.

But the roots of my hair-related rage go back a long way. It all started, I suppose, when my grandfather decided the time had come to get the baby fluff shaved off my head. I rewarded him by screaming like a banshee – pressing every nerve ending you possibly could in a manic depressive, I imagine. I was brought back home posthaste, victoriously bearing a full head of hair. It grew and grew, curling into loose ringlets that charmed my mother so much, she forgot I was a baby and not her doll. I was, therefore, within sight of knocking on three before she decided to get my hair cut.

I don’t know why she stuck my dad with the job though. Maybe she felt it would be a waste of money to take me with her to the ladies salon where they had things like proper lighting? Or she saw what I’d done to her poor father and just didn’t want to deal with the hassle? Maybe my dad offered like the responsible parent he is? Who knows! But I ended up accompanying my dad to the barbershop he frequented. My first memory of getting a haircut is of a smiling man with a neat beard and Daddy sitting next to me, telling me Not. To. Move. An. Inch. To this day, I can’t relax and get all chatty with a hairstylist because my entire brain is hardwired with my father’s voice telling me Not. To. Move. An. Inch. And so I won’t by God!

At the end of this tense period, where I would sit scarcely daring to breathe while Daddy sat next to me and ostensibly studied me carefully to make sure I was Not Moving An Inch (I couldn’t really tell because I couldn’t see with all the hair in my face), we’d go for a treat.

Our routine was always the same. First came the haircut. Next came the ice cream. In my memory, the barbershop is a sort of antiseptic pale green-blue; the color of a government office. The ice cream shop, on the other hand, resembles an Old West Saloon, complete with wood paneling and rustic furniture as well as a noisy air conditioner. This can’t possibly be true since nobody else remembers my description of it and I think it highly unlikely that someone would go to the trouble of building a secret Old West Saloon for Ice Cream in deepest, southiest South India for my benefit alone. The reasonable explanation is that it somehow got jumbled up with a scene from one of those Westerns my brother was addicted to, but reasonability’s a party pooper so who cares what it has to say?

As I was saying… my father used to take me to an ice cream parlor that resembled an Old West Saloon. And for some reason this was behind the main taxi stand. Because that is a perfectly logical place to build an eatery. Vanilla with carbon monoxide topping. Mmm-mm-mmmmmm!

I remember the inside of this fine establishment as a crowded and rather dingy place, which means it must have been tiny indeed given my toddler’s perspective. I’m sad to say it did not survive the years and thus I have no adult contrast to offer. I’m also pretty sure it smelled like milk in there. I’m going to think of that as a positive. Anyway, as soon as we got in the door, Daddy would head straight for the glass counter and ask me for my preference.

I was three; my nose barely reached the part where the metal ended and the glass began. I couldn’t see a thing but I did enjoy breathing on the tiny bit of cool glass that my face could reach, and looking thoughtful. Eventually, I would place my order: strawberry. And Daddy would place his: vanilla. If he was feeling adventurous, he would switch it up to chocolate but I think that only happened once or something.

I don’t even know how we decided I was a strawberry aficionado. For all I know, my dad marched in there and growled, “What do little girls like to eat?” At which point the terrified man behind the counter probably said, “Strawberry!” because it was all pink and girly and he was afraid to say he didn’t know. Voila! I liked strawberry. And since it never occurred to Daddy to pick me up and show me the various options, I didn’t even know there were more than three flavors of ice cream until I was about five, which is when I learned about the glories of the mighty pistachio.

That was the summer my second cousin came back from the United States and opened a fancy parlor that both manufactured and sold ice cream that you could order and consume curbside in the luxury of your very own car! My auntie took me there one night and introduced me to my first falooda. And my life was never the same again.

But that is to fast forward. Back in our Old West Ice Cream Parlor, we were being served ice cream. Not scoops or scones, but slabs of it. There’s a small part of me that still thinks of waffle cones as exotic because my lizard brain thinks ice cream is naturally served as slabs on cheap white porcelain plates. Good times.

We would sit there solemnly consuming our ice cream, until Daddy had scraped his plate clean and I was still sitting there with half of mine on my plate. My mother was bringing me up to share so I always asked him if he’d like some of mine. My father, meanwhile, was bringing me up to not share eatables with him so he always refused. He would then sit in silence, watching me make heroic attempts to finish the entire plate before taking pity on me when I was about three-quarters through and proposing we leave.

It was powerful magic, for an undemonstrative man and his willful daughter. And like all magic, it was contained to that moment in time. For years afterwards, as soon as I graduated to the big girls’ fancy salon, I couldn’t stand the taste of strawberry ice cream. I would go out of my way to avoid it. Every mouthful tasted like melted plastic mixed with sugar and a slightly sour aftertaste that reminded me of spoiled milk. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. I was disgusted by it. Even today, when I’ve made my peace with it, it still wouldn’t crack my top twenty flavors. I’d sooner eat blackcurrant.

These days, I tell my dad he should get a pedicure and take him out for coffee. That is our thing now – I push him to try and move an inch while he lets me order unfamiliar items off the menu. It’s a different kind of magic but one thing remains the same: we have a standing date anytime either one of us cuts our hair.

 
19 Comments

Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Personal

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Pop Went the Popsicle

Pop Went the Popsicle

The thing that shocked me the most about moving to America was when my friends would turn on the kitchen tap, fill a glass, and drink it. Water in our house was directly channeled through a filtration system before it was boiled to kingdom come, cooled, poured into sterilized bottles and stashed in the fridge. A separate batch was poured boiling hot into a thermos flask for my mother who insists on boiling her insides irrespective of the weather.

My greatest rebellion, the way I see it, was when I went to camp and drank my fill from a nearby tap like all the other care for nobodies around me, against the strict instructions of my parents. Of course, the Gods immediately felled sinful me with a mighty bout of flu and I landed in the hospital. But by then camp was over and I had other things to worry about like that perennial gift of camps everywhere: lice.

[Yes, my life is exactly that lame. Sorry.]

My very first memory of hospitals is from when I was barely four – I pigged out on contraband popcorn and my stomach rebelled. The resultant projectile vomiting was unpleasant but what followed was worse. Apparently the only way to treat a four year old with popcorn poisoning in 80s South India is to shove all sorts of tubes down her nose and stick her with IVs. Personally, I think the doctor must have been pissed coz he got dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and was trying to scare my parents into keeping a beadier eye on me.

If he’d been trying to warn me off popcorn, he definitely didn’t succeed. But hoo boy, did he teach my mother about the evils of popcorn. To this day I can barely munch a single kernel in her presence before she starts making noises about how its going to land me in the hospital.

The only good thing that came out of the whole experience is that my dad bribed me into staying still and convinced me that this was a Fun Thing for us to do as a family by buying me bucketloads of popsicles. The kind that come in a plastic tube and are probably filled with ice from the morgue? Or as I like to call it – the best kind. Raspberry and orange were my favorites. Of course, they were also the only flavors he ever bought me (or were available for that matter) but I loved them all the same.

The raspberry was a dark magenta and tasted like cough syrup. I’ve never understood why raspberry is such a hot flavor in India – I don’t think I ever saw it in its natural state until I left the country. Strawberries make so much more sense. But there it is, in everything from ice cream to jello. Is it some kind of colonial hangover?

The orange was a virulent shade of neon and was basically like sucking on a mild, iced lemon. You know how Rasna made the orange taste so much more orange-y than an actual orange could ever be? This made the orange taste less orange-y than the most withered, water-logged orange could ever be. And yet! So delicious!

The secret ingredient was obviously some cancer-causing chemical engineered to turn to children into mindless slaves. Or maybe dead people. Who knows! I can’t find them on the market these days. They’re probably banned.

Which was the bad news my father brought me that day as I lay on my hospital bed, eagerly awaiting the by-now de rigeur bribe of popsicles. Oh, the things those little goodies have convinced me to do – let them stick needles in my arm, tubes down my nose, push me into claustrophobic scanners that resemble coffins… No more.

I looked at the rectangular thing in my hand. “What is this?”

“It’s an ice cream bar,” my father said, refusing to look me in the eye.

I unwrapped it. “It’s an ice lolly.”

Now I’m not philosophically opposed to the idea of a ice on a stick but the whole point of the hospital experience was to suck it out of a plastic tube. Didn’t he know anything?

“Why don’t you eat it?” he asked, already hovering at the door.

“Where is my popsicle?”

“EAT WHATEVER YOU LIKE, YOU STUPID CHILD!” he yelled preemptively and dashed out the door.

I looked at my mother, laughing hysterically on the couch.

“Oh baby,” she said, patting me consolingly. “They don’t sell those anymore. In fact, they tore down that shop from which you father used to buy them. And those are the only things they carry in the supermarket.”

And that is how I found out that my childhood was losted. Isniff.

[pic source]

 
11 Comments

Posted by on April 29, 2010 in Life, Personal

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Savory Breakfast

congee

When you grow up in a home where they serve sambar for breakfast, the idea of a savory start to the morning is something less than the radical idea proposed by the New York Times.

But I can appreciate how liberating it must be for someone like Mark Bittman, especially if he grew up ploughing his way through cream of wheat with a little salt thrown in every morning, to find out that people elsewhere like to begin their days in considerably more flavorful fashion.

In fact, I appreciate it so much, I feel like an ingrate. After all, back when I was growing up, I was offered some excellent early morning fare, full of flavor and nutrition, cooked without any thought as to time or convenience, and I always turned my nose up at it.

You can chalk it up to my being a nightbird if you like, but the reason why breakfast has been a relatively recent addition to my diet is because I had to leave for school at half past seven. It sounds bizarre but you simply can’t force my body to swallow food at that hour of the morning. Around nine o’clock my body is finally awake enough to keep the food down, but anything before that and my stomach stages an instant revolt.

For a while there my mother thought it might have something to do with her idlis and dosas, and so out came the cornflakes and cold milk. No go. So she tried it again with warm milk. I ran for the bathroom and refused to come out unless she removed the revolting mess from the table. On Sunday morning, Daddy sat down to our weekly breakfast of leisure and asked for the despised cornflakes – “Me too,” I piped up. “If you vomit, I won’t take care of you,” my mother threatened. I rolled my eyes at her naivete. It was Sunday, it was nearly ten in the morning, why on earth would I waste my precious day off by barfing up my guts?

Next came the toast and eggs. I didn’t even get to eat that. (Any of that: she tried them hard boiled, soft boiled, poached, sunny side up and in an omelet. Zip.) The smell alone was enough to make me gag. She simply handed me my pocket money for the day and asked me to make sure I got in a good meal at recess before shooing me out. When I came back home, she asked me what I’d like to eat for lunch – “Toast and eggs, please,” I said. “Sunny side up. I’ve been dreaming of it all day.” She pursed her lips tightly and asked the cook to take care of it.

So then she went Punjabi on me and the parathas she usually made for my lunch made their appearance on the breakfast table as well. But then – problem! She didn’t think it was good for me to eat pickle at seven in the morning and she couldn’t serve it with curd because I wouldn’t touch that stuff at any hour of the day. Harassed, she gave it to me with jam. I surprised both of us by enjoying every bite. And then I came home early from school because I’d thrown up everywhere.

She toyed with the idea of toasted sandwiches long enough to actually buy a toaster. My best friend in school had recently opened my eyes to the fact that tomatoes could actually be very yummy, especially if you mixed them up with a little red onion and cheese before toasting the whole. I excitedly shared my discovery with my mother who carefully restrained herself from tearing me limb from limb and screaming “But I Made You That and You Refused to Eat It, You Evil Devil Child!” Somebody else’s kitchen was obviously the missing spice.

In the end she decided eleven o’clock was early enough for me to eat my first proper meal of the day and stopped trying to feed me before I left for school.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Ma’s example is something of an increasing rarity these days. Not only was she a stay at home mother, she had live in help who could cope with the kitchen while she sat guard outside the bathroom, banging on the door every five minutes to make sure I would be ready on time and on my way to school. She could experiment with recipes by simply telling other people to do this and that. I can’t imagine the average mother today having either the energy or the time, much less the convenience, to come up with an elaborate breakfast on a daily basis.

Or even dads for that matter. Mine was a workaholic who worked almost around the clock and the only reason he stayed home on Sundays was because he could never get anyone else to come in on that day – even with the promise of a free lunch. But he would still find the time to fix me my early morning chocolate milk and pick me up after school so he could eat lunch with me… and the reason he could do all that was because he was considerably older when he had me and was the boss man at work so he could arrange his schedule to suit his parenting needs.

I find it simplistic when people think money equals privilege, when it’s time that is the real privilege, at least as it pertains to raising a family. Money obviously helps, but by itself it’s limited in what it can do for you – it is what it facilitates that really gives it worth. Bittman, for example, is a food writer for the New York Times. In money terms, it’s probably pretty average if not low on the totem pole, especially by Manhattan standards… but it’s a high status job that allows him to change his dietary habits around so he can eat a polenta that took 40 minutes to cook for breakfast. Maybe he made it the night before and heated it up the next morning – but it’s still a lot more work than the usual person would sign up for, isn’t it?

It’s one of the paradoxes of the slow food movement that fascinates me, especially as an Indian who has seen the clock move so radically in her own, relatively short, lifespan:

The items Bittman recommends in his article, be it the congee or the polenta, are food that the people native to the lands that inspired them have consumed for ages. And it’s food that developed organically because it was the most convenient and cheap item available. Congee for instance is a dish from the rice growing parts of Asia, and it basically involves you throwing a little rice in with a lot of water and boiling it to hell and back, adding whatever you want on top to give it flavor, drinking it starchy water and all. You could even eat it plain with nothing but a little salt: it’s the Asian version of cream of wheat.

But such food is becoming increasingly marginalized in the countries of its birth, because it’s too time consuming to allow the people who traditionally ate it to compete satisfactorily with people who usually nuke a bowl of cream of wheat for breakfast. So they buy a box of Kelloggs or Poptarts or what have you because that allows them to run out the door faster in the morning, which in turn allows them to be more competitive.

And when they’re more competitive, it’ll lead to more success, which leads to their achieving a position of privilege… where it becomes once more possible to go back to the things that they discarded to get ahead in the first place.

Everyone’s either giving an excellent imitation of a hamster on a wheel or there’s a deeper philosophical comment to be inferred here.

 
23 Comments

Posted by on February 18, 2009 in Desipundit, Life, Personal

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers