It’s all in the crunch

celery Oma, my mom, watched me chop celery.

“So nice,’ she sighed.

“What is?” I asked.

“The celery,” she said, “ makes a nice koch-koch noise when you cut it. So fresh.”

I shrugged. “It’s just celery.”

“You should see the celery we get in India,”  Oma said,  “thin and stringy, like lizard tails. Everything is so healthy in America. The people with big, white teeth saying “have a nice day.” Even the garbage man who drives the truck with the crab claw to lift your bin, smiles and waves. And do you know what that carpet cleaner man said to me yesterday?”

“No, what?”

“He said ‘take care’. Take care.”

I looked at her, puzzled. “He finished his work and he was leaving. So?”

Oma shook her head. “You are not understanding me. He did not say bye-bye. He did not say ta-ta. He said take care. Now isn’t that nice?”

I snorted. “That doesn’t mean a thing, Oma. It’s like saying bye-bye or ta-ta. That’s just how they speak here.”

“Not at all,” Oma retorted. “Take care is what you’d say to your old auntie or grandmother. It shows love and concern for an elderly person. I thought it was very nice of him to say “take care,” but then the poor fellow was in such a hurry, he forgot to drink his tea.”

“That’s the other thing I want to tell you,” I said, “don’t go serving tea and Marie biscuits to workers. They don’t have time to drink tea and chat about their family. Also I overheard you ask him all kinds of personal questions. You don’t ask “are you married?”, “how many children do you have” etc. He must have thought you were being terribly nosy.”

“What’s so wrong? In India, the garbage man, the driver, the newspaper man– whoever comes to my house are given tea. I know all about their families and everything. The driver’s mother-in-law has a goiter on her neck–-”

“People don’t talk about their mother-in-law’s goiter in America. Everybody’ s in a big hurry. Time is money.”

Oma threw up her hands. “Too much hurry, hurry here. You have everything. Big house. Machine for this, machine for that. Small, small gadgets that go peep-peep, ting-ting. You have blacktooth and blueberry, i-ping and you-pong, but what’s the use? Nobody has any time! Why? You don’t even have to get out of your car to open your garage door. If Rekha, my maid saw that garage door open by itself, she would think it was a ghost and run screaming for her life.”

I laughed. It was true. Automatic garage doors are still uncommon in India.

“The other day, your dear husband forgot where he parked his car in the mall,” continued Oma. ” Now, what will you do, I asked.  Don’t worry, Oma, he said, I will call the car and it will answer me. “Hey car?”, he called, just like that, and the car honked back and even winked its lights. Imagine a car answering a human? In India even humans don’t answer humans. Too much noise.”

“He’s pulling your leg, Oma. He must have pressed the car key in his pocket.”

Too pretty to eat
Too pretty to eat

Oma ignored me and waved at the fruit bowl sitting on the countertop. “Look at all this nice fruit and nobody to eat it. No time, No time. Hurry, hurry, hurry.”

“Why don’t you eat some?”

“How much can I eat by myself? Too many different things to eat in this house, I get confused. I sit down to cut an apple and you say eat the grapes. Then your husband says, eat the melon, eat this, eat that. Before you know it everything gets moldy and you have to throw it all away. Then back we go again to Costco and load up another shopping cart the size of a rickshaw with more fruit.”

“That reminds me there are strawberries in the fridge. Don’t forget to eat those.”

“I know. I took them out of the box and looked at them.”

“What? Have they spoiled already?”

“No, no, the opposite. They are too beautiful to eat just now. I just like to look at them. I will eat them when they get a little soft.”

“What is the point in getting you fresh strawberries, then?

Oma admiring her rose garden.  This photo was taken when she was much younger.
Oma admiring her flowers. This photo was taken when she was much younger.

“Feasting is for the eyes as well as the stomach. I have never seen such big, perfect strawberries in my life. I just want to admire them for a while. They are God’s miracle.”

Man’s miracle is more like it. I hate to disillusion you but those strawberries must be full of the steroids, hormones or whatever junk they put in them.”

“What is steroids?”

“Something that makes you look healthy when you are not.”

“How can you look healthy if you are not healthy? Sickly people you can always tell. They are thin and malnourished. They have no energy. They look like the lizard-tail celery.”

“Here the sick people look like the strawberries, the healthy ones are thin and stringy like your lizard-tail celery.”

“That makes no sense,” Oma frowned. “I hate to say this, but America has made you into a very cranky person. All the time, this is not right, that is not good, grumble, grumble, never happy with anything. You should hear yourself sometime. Crease marks are appearing on your forehead. It is not very becoming.”

“I am just telling you the facts,” I said, glancing at the clock. I pulled off my apron and grabbed the car keys. “I must run to the post office. I’ll be back. Why don’t you eat some strawberries?”

“Alright”

“And ….” I turned and waved, “take care!”

NOTE (updated 19th June, 2013) Sadly, the following year, Oma departed for her orchard in the sky. These are my fond recollections from her last visit to the US and our lively conversations in my kitchen. Oma was eighty when she died. 

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Shona Patel’s debut novel “Teatime for the Firefly” (Harlequin/Mira) slated for release  October 1, 2013 is currently available on pre-order (with guaranteed delivery by 24th September) from major retailers in several countries. You can read the Synopsis and First Chapter here.

Tea and chats with writers at Carriage Manor

Teatime with writers at the Carriage Manor Writers group.
Tea and chats with the writers group at Carriage Manor.
Peggy Hassinger, my dear friend who has shared with me many journeys.
Peggy Hassinger, my tea-drinking buddy  from many, many teatimes ago.

On March 22nd, I was invited by Peg Hassinger, a dear friend, to speak at the Carriage Manor Writers Group in Mesa, Arizona. The group pitched in with a surprise tea party to honor my visit and a surprise indeed it was! I was deeply touched (I cry easily these days if you must know!) with all the thought and planning that had gone into creating such a delightful event. There’s more about that in Marlys Jensens’s writeup below.

The Carriage Manor Writers Group meets every Friday. Many members are snowbirds so the group is more active in the cooler months. Members pick a special topic to write about every week and on the day of my visit the topic was (you guessed it) TEA of course! I was fascinated by the variety of genres and different viewpoints shared on the same subject. The format is open so we had a nice smattering of short stories, essays and poems and some very educative, funny and soul-stirring writing. When it came to my turn, I shared about my writing journey and Assam Tea. Here is  lovely recap of the event by Marlys Jenson, one of the writers in the  group. I am reprinting it with her permission. Thanks Marlys!

A SPECIAL MEETING

By Marlys Jensen – March 28, 2013

There are always surprises as we travel along life’s pathway, some more pleasant than others.  One such pleasing experience happened last Friday at the Writers Class.   Coming to class, all members were looking forward to the usual good time sharing their personally penned stories about “Tea”.  Also, the anticipation of being in the company of a soon to be published author was high on our bucket list.

At 10:00 a.m. class would be in session. When walking through the door the atmosphere was intoxicating. Looking around the room was like being in another time and place.  The tables were decorated eloquently.   Flowers and a silver tea service flanked the head table.  At each place, a setting ready for a party.   On a doily, a fine bone china plate, saucer, and tea-cup were placed ever so perfectly. Antique cloth napkins added a nice touch. The side tables displaying colorful tea pots looked beautiful.  Writer’s member and party giver, Gretchen, and party lover, Lucy, were responsible for the festive decorations.

Gretchen was in charge of the tea.   We got to choose a tea flavor and hot water was added to our cups, thus the brewing began. A wonderful aroma filled the air. Dainty treats were provided by our leader and tea lover, Peg. It was joyful time, with another one of our leaders, Mary Lynn, recovering from a broken pelvis, joining the group.

Yet another pleasant surprise was the entrance of a beautiful Indian Lady, who now resides in Arizona.  Peg introduced her as Shona Patel, a dear friend of hers.  They have enjoyed many tea parties together during their friendship. We were all captivated to hear the story of her life.  She had grown up on a Tea plantation in India.  Her father was appointed the first Indian manager of a tea farm, a fortunate event for the family.   She had a good life and learned much about the harvesting and processing of tea during her growing up years.

She loved writing and eventually was able to enroll in a writer’s class by a coveted professor at Scottsdale Community College. She learned much in his class about getting a manuscript ready for publishing.  She started the process. She hired an agent and was fortunate to be accepted by a publishing company.  Her book “Teatime for the Firefly” will be out in October, 2013.  It is a novel in which she was able to weave into the story many facts about tea and the plantations where it was processed. We are anticipating the book’s sale.

Shona is a lovely young lady, with many talents, and an outgoing personality.  It was a fantastic class.   I am sure all of the Writers feel the same as I….. A BIG thank-you is due to all who had a part in this most delightful time.    It exceeded all expectations!  Thanks again.

More about Marlys Jenson and the Carriage Manor Writers Group: My husband and I are retired and spend our winters in Carriage Manor Resort in Mesa, Arizona. It was there I was encouraged to join the Writers’ Group. I nervously started attending four years ago. The class has challenging topics and activities. It brought me to another level in writing. We have outstanding leaders. Here we learn to express ourselves through writing, reading, sharing, etc. When reading our stories during class time, we laugh and cry together; by this interaction we develop true friendships. I am looking forward to reading Shona Patel’s Book Tea Time for the Firefly”. Her excellent writing ability and vibrant personality will be reflected in the book, I am sure.

 

Ghosts of the East and West

Namdang Factory Bungalow: courtesy Larry Brown. Larry says, “I lived here for a number of years and it had a resident ghost. I thought that I had exorcised him but he came back to annoy others. The ghost was that of a 23 year old who worked on the outgarden of Namtok in the early 1900’s He contracted Blackwater Fever and died in the factory bungalow.

Tea garden bungalows come equipped with a retinue of servants and often a resident spook (no extra charge!). Invariably the spook is a boga-sahib (white master): an old British tea planter who died on the job and who is buried somewhere in the tea garden. The bungalows themselves are creepy: drafty with echoing rooms, weak-wattage bulbs, creaky wooden floors and rattling rafters. Many are located within deep forests and surrounded by bamboobaris (FYI the spooks love bamboo as much as pandas!).  Add to that the blackest, deepest nights of Assam, lots of melancholy rain and vapors steaming off the jungle floor and voila! you have a phantom’s paradise.

John E. Bartlett, a pioneer tea planter arrived in Assam on December 30, 1866. He fell from the river steamer at Dhunseri Mookh on October 2, 1885 and drowned. His body was recovered on October 5 and buried at Numalighur on October 7, 1885. (Courtesy KOIHAI.COM)

Folks died easily back in the old days of tea. Tea gardens were far-flung and remote, the roads bad, communication poor and medical help often too little, too late. Malaria, black water fever, typhoid, tetanus, wild animals, accidental drowning, gunshot wounds…all claimed planters lives.  As a child I believed the dead turned into backward-footed entities that prowled the bamboobari shrieking their heads off. I always made it a point to check out people’s feet, just in case.

Many young Europeans fell victim to accident and disease, never to see the shores of their homeland again. Some took their own lives in desperation. There are hundreds of moss-covered graves scattered across tea plantations in Assam, mostly in wooded areas, tangled in vegetation and overrun by creepers. Many are unmarked but some have carved inscriptions that speak of the short, precarious lives of these young men in Assam.

Assam (which grows the finest tea – click the red link if you want to learn more about Assam Tea) is riddled with ghosts. Over 60 different ghosts and evil spirits have been identified in the state of Assam – that’s enough to fill a whole bus (imagine what a jolly ride that would be!) Assamese spooks have their own personality and agenda. Check out some of these  heavy-hitters:

Bura Dangoria (the old one) A good spirit dressed in white clothes and a white turban, often seen on a white horse who guards Namghars, the community places of worship where the sacred Bhagavad Gita is kept.
 
Baak A malevolent ugly creature that sometimes kills a person and takes on the corpse’s appearance. Often seen hanging around isolated ponds and lakes.
 
Ghoda Paak Has the hooves of a horse, but is otherwise human looking. Some stories show it as helpful, while others call it so deadly that you can die if it looks at you.
 
Bira (Poltergeist) Like all poltergeist of the world, usually believed to be unleashed on a family by an enemy to eliminate and torture them.
 
Bamboo Ghost This one lurks in the bamboo grove and bends down a bamboo on your path. If you try to step over it, it’ll snap back the bamboo and kill you.
 
Jokhini A female demon like creature that often tries to lure males and kill them.
 
 Bordoisila (the storm goddess) She’s the storm in April who throws a tantrum because she has to return to her husband’s house after visiting her mother for the Assamese new year which is around that time.
 
Puwali Bhoot (tiny ghosts) These are mischievous ghosts the size of small children who steal rice and sweets from the kitchen
 
Khoba-khubi  A pair of evil spirits who haunt a newly wedded couples and can be scared away by reading the hara-gauri (Shiva-Parvati) mantra on the third day of marriage
 
Khetar A local evil spirit that is said to harm little children
 
Churini Bira A female evil spirit that steals items from the house and kitchen
 
FYI this is a ghostly sampling of just one tiny state in India. India has 28 states so if you do the maths you will realize, we far outweigh the western world in both spirits and spirituality. The western world sure pales (pun intended) in comparison, besides Indian ghosts are more rowdy and fun.
 
Brown Lady of Raynham Hall ghost photograph, Captain Hubert C. Provand. First published in Country Life Magazine,  Dec 1936 issue.
Western ghosts are tame and well-behaved compared to the Indian hoolie-ghoolies. They are polite lurkers and don’t like to create a ruckus. Here are some ghostly facts courtesy of Midlands Ghost Hunters, Britain’s leading spook experts: (comments in red are mine: no disrespect intended)
 
  • Ghosts want to be noticed
  • Ghosts have no sense of passing time
  • Often, they do not know that they are dead
  • Ghosts can smell things and love the smell of lemons (ha ha! It’s the opposite in India people actually string up lemons–limes actually–to ward off evil spirits. Go figure!)
  • Ghosts have a sense of humor and love to hear humans laugh (maybe I should stop laughing so much –  oh hell!)
  • Sometimes ghosts get bored with their surroundings (that’s why they come snooping around)
  • Most ghosts are happy, but some still cling to an emotional pain
  • They can appear to the living in dreams
  • They can leave behind certain scents, such as perfume (or apple pie *)
  • They can make sounds that are audible
  • They use their energies and ours to move things
  • They are pranksters
  • They usually appear as intense balls of light called orbs
  • Ghosts favor night due to the decrease in daytime energy use
  • Ghosts may appear as mists or vapors
  • Ghosts can read your thoughts
  • Ghosts retain all the memories and emotions of their lives
  • Sometimes ghosts are trapped and need to be released
  • Noisy, troublesome ghosts are known as poltergeist
  • Ghosts tend to be very temperamental
  • Ghosts hang out in cliques with other ghosts
  • Ghosts make friends with other ghosts from different eras
  • Ghosts do not sleep
  • Ghosts like to climb up and down stairs at night (especially creaky ones)
  • Most ghosts can’t or won’t hurt you
  • When a ghost enters a room, the room usually gets cold
  • Animal ghosts exist and have been sighted
  • Ghosts who lived hundreds of years ago keep up with the trends (not clear about this one – like fashion? That does not sound right. Imagine a castle ghost in a tank top and Jimmy Choos!)
  • Children perceive ghosts as imaginary friends (that I know for fact)

Read my mom’s famous *APPLE PIE GHOST STORY HERE!!

If you like tea, ghosts and stories you may like my upcoming novel Teatime for the Firefly soon to be published by Mira Books in October 2013.  Check out the synopsis and first chapter HERE.  

Delightful Indian English

The accent of one’s birth place persists in the mind and heart as much as in speech

La Rochefoucauld  (Maxims 1665)

People say I write just like I talk. Now is that a compliment? I’m not sure. I get teased and imitated all the time. More than my accent, it’s the way I talk–my gestures, expressions etc. The cross-pollination of several cultures, I believe– Indian, British-colonial and American.

We Indians are probably the most imitated people in the world. I don’t find that offensive. I think our funny English endears us. An Indian accent can break up tension, pretty quick. Take a stressful situation, say in a courtroom or workplace. Throw in someone like Appu from The Simpsons (now that’s a gross exaggeration, but you get the idea) and before you know it, smiles will start peeping out of people. This may not work for every situation. Like when your computer is on the blink, the last thing you want to hear on the customer service line is an Indian trying not to sound like one. Speaking of which, who’s seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie? Great movie. Deeply human and touching in parts, I thought.

Indian words have added color and variety to the English language. Most date back to  the colonial days. Especially delightful are the double-barrelled rhyming words that are so essentially Indian such as: hurdy-gurdytip-tophiggledy-piggledyhocus-pocustit-for-tattopsy-turvyharum-scarumroly-poly ,slip-slop…”

A friend of our family’s (a well-known glutton) would over-stuff himself at our dinner table and refuse another helping saying, “Thank you but I am fully fed-up!”

Another time an Indian student explained her absence in my design class saying she had “the loose motions” (A common Indian term for ‘the runs’). “Oh wow,” exclaimed this American girl, looking impressed. Later the American girl told me she thought “loose motion” was some kind of exotic dance. Like “Do the locomotion“.

 

Don’t you just love it!!!

If we Indians mess up English, the Brits mess up our language too. “Theek hai Babu” (“alright clerk” in Hindi) becomes “Ticketyboo” for the English. (Thank you Larry Brown for that little gem!)

Consider these British-Indian words which have become mainstream.

  • A – atoll, avatar
  • B – bandana, bangle, bazaar, Blighty, bungalow
  • C– cashmere, catamaran, char, cheroot, cheetah, chintz, chit, chokey, chutney, cot, cummerbund, curry
  • D – dinghy, doolally, dungarees
  • A modern rubber inflatable dinghy

    Dinghy: a type of small boat, often carried or towed for use as a ship’s boat by a larger vessel. It is a loanword from either Bengali or Urdu.

  • G– guru, gymkhana

    The Jorhat Gymkhana Club in Assam famous for its polo matches and other sporting events.

    Gymkhana: “It is applied to a place of public resort at a station, where the needful facilities for athletics and games of sorts are provided.”

  • H – hullabaloo
  • J – jodhpur, jungle, juggernaut, jute
  • K– khaki, kedgeree
  • L – loot
  • N – nirvana
  • P – pariah, pashmina, polo, pukka, pundit, purdah, pyjamas
  • S – sari, shampoo, shawl, swastika
  • T – teak, thug, toddy, typhoon
  • V – veranda: An open pillared gallery round a house.

    A typical tea garden bungalow with wrap-around verandah
  • Y – yoga
Sources: Hobson-Jobson, Oxford English Dictionary
BBC NEWS MAGAZINE 
 
Click these links for some delightful sampling of Indian English:
PS: If you are a huffy Indian who gets offended by stereotypes please go read some other blog. This is not meant to offend  anyone but to revel in our rich cultural uniqueness. I love being Indian.
 
I love accents – all kinds.  French, Scottish, Cockney and Ghetto. They sure give me the jollies. Do you get a kick out of accents? Do you speak with one? Please share.
Cheers, dear friends!
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My debut novel “Teatime for the Firefly”  (MIRA/HARLEQUIN) is slated for publication in 2013.  You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me your comments. Thank you!