Tea Eggs

Beautiful tea eggs: Courtesy  The Steamy Kitchen
Beautiful tea eggs: Courtesy The Steamy Kitchen

Sometimes I have to do different things to loosen my mind when I’m stuck with my writing. Cooking helps, twanging the guitar too (I’m a hopeless guitarist BTW) or  experimenting with something curious and fun.

Boiling the egg with a tea bag and garam masala!
Boiling the egg with a tea bag and garam masala!

Today I am making a tea egg. I first heard about this Chinese  snack from my niece, who is a doctor: and no, she’s not Chinese. So I boil an egg with a tea bag, crack it lightly all around with a wooden spoon and boil it some more, then let it steep for a bit. They recommend keeping the egg in the tea juices overnight but I was too impatient and peeled it while it was still hot. Here is what I got. Not as pretty as the ones above but that’s what happens when you rush a tea boiled egg, right?

The shelled egg (I peeled it too soon)
The shelled egg (I peeled it too soon). The crack marks are very faint.

Then to add to the silliness I threw in some garam masala (instead of the Chinese 5 Spice) and it was an odd tasting egg indeed. So the garam masala tea egg together with a slice of toast and tea was my little breakfast this morning. Ho!

Some people may not know this but I used to be an Egg Artist once. So the tea and egg experiment is right up my alley. Below are some samples of the egg art I used to dabble in. They were exhibited in galleries and museums and I even got a bunch of awards for them. The eggs are porcelain shells (extreeeemly delicate) made from molds of real eggs. My art guru and mentor Anitra Watley Allen taught me to make egg molds out of plaster. I even made a  humongous Godzilla egg mold which was so big and unwieldy, my engineering hubby had to fashion a winch to tip it over to drain out the liquid clay. Sadly I can’t find the photos of the Godzilla egg mold – this was back in the late 90’s.

Sgraffito egg art.JPG
My porcelain egg art with sgraffito etched decorations
More porcelain egg art from my award-winning Coral Collection
More porcelain egg art from my award-winning Coral Collection

There is a funny story I must share. The Godzilla egg mold was made out of a man made clay prototype (about 3.5 ft tall) fashioned by a potter on a wheel. Using this prototype, I built a giant plaster mold which was used to make multiple Godzilla eggs. The day I went to pick it up the giant clay egg from the potter’s studio (he was not  home at the time and had left the back door unlocked for me) I realized I had not bought a box to bring the egg home in. Since I could not have it rolling around in the trunk, I decided to strap it down to the passenger seat with the seat belt. Rather ingenious I thought, little realizing I looked like a wacko driving down the freeway with Humpty Dumpty strapped beside me. And guess what – an eighteen wheeler  pulled up alongside and the driver glanced down and he must have got the shock of his life because swerved off his lane and got tooted at by a bunch of angry drivers! Bwahahah! Anyway I made it  home with the Godzilla egg in one piece. The next day I called up the Kohler Company (the same guys who make sinks and toilets – very art-friendly people BTW, check out their terrific Kohler Art Program) and got the lab guy to walk me through making a giant plaster mold for the Godzilla egg. My Godzilla Art Eggs won me the Best of Show at the AZ Clay Ceramics show. So it all ended well.

Have an egggggcellent day dear friends. Stay curious, have fun. Cheers!


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
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!
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!

People-pleasing: where do you draw the line?

If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Henry Thoreau

My parents in their mid 30’s

My mom (Oma) was a natural beauty. Scrubbed face, no makeup – not even lipstick. All she wore were a few dabs of sandalwood lotion on her skin. Once her English friend presented her a with a lipstick and begged her to wear it to the cocktail party they were going to that evening. Oma reluctantly put it on only to please her friend. According to my dad (he had a wicked sense of humor!) Oma had her mouth pursed like a goldfish that whole evening. She was too uncomfortable to talk, smile, eat or drink. Finally, half way through the party, she had had enough and the lipstick came right off.

“You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.” 

Ricky Nelson

Oma in her 50’s

As she was getting older, Oma’s hair started turning grey. One day sis and I decide to spiff her up. We took her to the beauty parlor and got her hair colored. Oma dropped fifteen years, right then and there. Even she was surprised. Then she glanced at the bill she let out a loud wail. “Eeeesh! How much? 450 rupees! Daylight robbery!”. (450 rupees if you must know, is the equivalent of 10 bucks. It was more back in the 80’s– maybe 25.)

Several weeks later the hair color started to fade but Oma was too cheap to spend that kind of money again. Not that she could not afford it.  It just irked her to pay someone to put dabs of paint on her head.

“What’s there to it?” she said. “Why can’t I do it myself? I will buy the hair dye from New Market and paint my own head.”  (FYI  back in the 80’s there were no imported color rinses available in India: hair coloring was a tedious and messy job that wrecked your bathroom.)

“Please Oma, “ we begged. “Just get it done professionally. We’ll pay for it.”

Oma glared at us. “No need to show off your money,” she said tartly. “It’s is not about your money or my money. This is daylight robbery. I can buy 4 kilo mangoes with 450 rupees!”

There was no arguing with her, so Oma went and bought the hair dye from New Market and spent a half a morning in the bathroom coloring her hair. She was very pleased with the results.

“How do I look?” she said, “ Quite professional, no? Just like the beauty parlor.”

We were surprised. It actually did look pretty good. Then she turned around …

“OMA!” we shrieked, “You did not do the back! It’s still completely grey!”

“Where?” said Oma twisting around to look at the mirror. “Where? Where? I can’t see it.”

“But we can can see –other people can see it. Oh Oma, It looks completely crazy!”

“Well, then it’s your problem and other people’s problem,” said Oma. “As long as I don’t see it, I’m fine. That’s all I care.”

And that ended the argument.


If Oma was alive she’s kill me for sharing this. There is a lot I learned from her. Oma was fiercely individualistic and a feminist well ahead of her time. She was also adventurous, inventive and a barrel of laughs. Funny stories about her abound in the family. Here another post about Oma from my KARMA CHEF cooking blog.

Please share your thoughts: How much do you compromise to please others? Who are your role models? What made you who you are? Cheers!


Layla, the protagonist in my debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a fictional character but embodies many traits of my mother, Oma. You can read the synopsis and first chapter HERE. Teatime for the Fireflywill be published by MIRA BOOKS. Release date will be announced soon!