Serial Bus

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Stuff of Memories: Parents’ Trip to the US

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My parents went back to India last month after a two and a half month stay with us in the US. This was their first visit to the West and I am sure that there must have been several big-ticket highlights for them. But for me, the small little things that they did or experienced stand out. I am listing a randomly recalled 11 occasions that have all the potential of being the stuff of memories.

1. Kumaoni Lunch: We thought of the best possible way of introducing my parents to our friends in CT and RI – a traditional Kumaoni lunch to be hosted at our place. Once the date was fixed, we worked together to create a menu. From that point, parents took over. We had about 7-8 items decided. For about 4 days leading to the lunch, papa and mummy were busy cooking. Several items were cooked in advance and some the evening before. From the mint drinks to the desserts, it was the Kumaoni flavor all the way. Friends loved the food and parents got to interact with them closely. It was a great afternoon.

2. Summer Fun at Mohegan Sun: At a trip to the Hamonahasset Beach, papa noticed about 6 small airplanes high up in the sky flying in a formation and releasing condensed gas in a pattern to create huge letters against the blue sky. We began to read every letter as it was being formed – eventually, it said, ‘Hot Summer Fun At Mohegan Sun’. Towards the end of their stay, we actually ended up going to Mohegan Sun for a day trip. Mom stayed back but packed dinner for us. It was a ‘Wild Wednesday’ so we got there on time to check out a farmer’s market, a vintage auto show, a cook-off, a tour of the huge casino, the hotel and finally, topped it off with some extravagant fireworks. The trip was an unexpected hit with papa, who on the way back, declared it to be ‘the best trip’ of his stay.

3. Lyman Orchards and Bathua: No other place that we visited enthralled my parents as much as the Lyman orchards in Middlefield, less than 15 minutes from our home.  The first time they saw rows and rows of strawberry and raspberry shrubs, they were just happy to finally see some form of  agriculture (ok, horticulture!). Until then, they had seen inter-states and towns and forests and lakes but never saw a farm. They loved the orchards full of trees laden with ripe peaches and then on the other side of the road, trees stooping with apples about to turn red. During the pick-your-own-fruit sessions we had at the orchards, my mom’s keen eyes discovered bathua, the wild grass used as a leafy vegetable in India for meals. She plucked nearly equal quantities of strawberries and bathua – for the next few days, we were eating bathua paranthas and drinking strawberry shakes.

4. Discovery of Tulsi: As the above example proves, my mom has an eye for trees and plants. From their evening walks, they would bring home some wild berries growing on roadside trees. When we alerted them that this may freak out the tree-huggers around, they brought home apples they found fallen on the ground near the Wesleyan tracks. When I took them on a tour of the university and reached Nidhi’s lab, my father praised the buildings and the facilities. When asked what impressed her, my mom very coyly just mentioned – ‘flowers’ – of all colors across the campus. On a tour of Stop & Shop, as we loaded our cart with the usual produce, mom’s eyes zeroed in on a rack that had some small plants in pots. She had been talking about tulsi (basil) for some time and there she had spotted the basil plant in a pot. Of course, it was not the holy basil variety that is so venerated in India but tulsi nevertheless! We brought it home and my parents had transplanted and created 4 new pots of tulsi in no time. All these pots were gifted to friends we visited, save the original which still sits on our window sill.

5. Nine Types of Pulses: Visiting the Hindu temples in the US was a unique experience for my parents. They were impressed by the mere existence of elaborate temples in the US – full with priests, rituals and regalia. Though we visited 4 temples (Shree Temple in Ashland MA, Balaji Temple in Bridgewater NJ, Shree Satyanarayan Temple in Middletown CT and the ISKCON temple in East Hartford CT), they visited the Middletown temple most often, given the proximity. Knowing that the temple had a pedestal with nine black statues of Navgraha (Nine Planets as per Hindu mythology), my mom remembered to fill small plastic pouches with different types of pulses and offered each one of the gods a pulse each (not randomly; each god was offered a certain pulse). When I pointed out that there were only 8 pulse pouches and that Ketu had not been offered anything, she asked me to offer some coins. But, I kept joking with her about how Ketu will be upset for being treated unfairly – surely enough, on the next visit to the temple, a pulse pouch was duly offered, only to Ketu this time.

6. The Lord’s Midnight Appearance: Talking of temples and festivals, the night of 13th August was the famous festival of Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, one of the most popular Hindu deities. All 4 of us visited the Middletown temple in the evening and watched the Lord’s statue being bathed in gallons of milk and then adorned and embellished for puja and ceremonies. This was followed by bhajans sung by volunteers from the crowd – including my mom who sang 3 bhajans on a microphone for the first time in such a gathering. It was about 10pm and though it had been a good experience, I felt that the ISKCON celebrations in northern CT would be even grander. The venue was about half an hour away and after much cajoling, parents agreed to go. Nidhi went home and the 3 of us drove off to the ISKCON venue. It was thronging with people and as midnight came closer, the bhajan singers became more and more delirious – ‘Please clap! The Lord is going to appear in another 10 minutes!!’ The crowd chanted ‘Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna’, some devotees began to dance in a trance and suddenly, behold – they removed the curtains and exquisitely decorated tiny statues of Krishna and Radha appeared. We ate some midnight feast, mom broke her fast, came home and crashed.

7. Papa’s Diary: My mother often chides papa for lack of interest in reading or writing. To make up for the lost time, papa finished reading a couple of books while in the US (‘Kumaon Ka Itihas’ and ‘Kasap’) and he wrote prolifically in his diary. He maintained the journal very diligently. We never got around to reading it but I remember that it started with his description of how they got the visitor visas for the US. He later accepted our suggestion of using the notebook to paste various pieces of paper accumulated over the course of the stay – from Liberty Island passes to parking slips to grocery receipts to the entrance pass to my office in Midtown. This journal, which he kept under the mattress allow all the pieces of paper to stick well to the pages, recorded his thoughts and events of almost all days they spent in the US.

8. Mummy’s Harela: One of the things my mom did not forget to bring along to the US was a Hindu calendar for the 2.5 months of their stay. The calendar listed all holy days – festivals, fasts etc. She used it to good effect and we celebrated, amongst others, the Harela festival. This is an important Kumaoni event that is closely tied to the harvesting season. Each family sows seeds of 3-4 different pulses or grains in a pot ahead of this day such that by Harela, the pot is brimming with saplings of different types. Mom was worried that we did not have the right type of grains or seeds to enable the seeds to drop anchor. But, her ever-improvising skills rescued the day – she brought some eclectic pulse grains together, put them into a small pot and drop anchor they did. On the appointed day, she did not forget to ask Nidhi to bring home a printout of Lord Shiva from her computer lab (like several others, including a ‘Hanuman’ to be stuck on the car’s windshield on the day of their departure to the airport). The printout was duly put on the wall in a corner of the kitchen, anointed and worshipped alongside the Harela pot and finally, the Harela leaves were put on our heads by way of a Kumaoni ritual that accompanies a series of blessings (including ‘May you go to defecate with the support of a walking stick’ meaning you live long to be an old dodderer).

9. A Medical Certificate: One of the biggest worries of papa as he entered the US was making sure his government office back in Bhimtal Uttaranchal was fine with his stay in the US. His initial sanctioned leave was for a month. Then, owing to some health issues and our insistence, he wanted to stay longer in the US but that would mean filing a leave application and a medical certificate with his employer. During the course of a couple of tumultuous days, we sent his application by registered USPS post as well as via a fax and email scan to his office at midnight (so that his office colleagues keep the fax machine up and running when it gets transmitted). The fax and the email went out after a lot of trials and errors. Then came the question of a medical certificate. Fortunately, papa was under the care of a doctor of Pakistani origin at a nearby walk-in and the latter agreed to provide a certificate. Though the certificate did not have the usual insignia of validity as per Indian custom (a letterhead, a round seal, a designation stamp) and it had the date written in the American format (month before the day), it was as authentic as an American certificate could get. I believe papa fretted over the look of the certificate up until it was finally accepted by his office upon his return.

10. The Airshow: One of our first outdoor trips was to Rhode Island. We first went to the Quonset Airport in RI where the US Air Force had staged an airshow. It was the first big gathering of people my parents saw in the US – so many white people all at once! The place had the look of a fete with umpteen families frolicking around. The primary attraction were the mighty fighter planes that took to air time and again in formations and performed acrobatics. On the ground though, the air force had also opened up some of the planes with huge hulls for free public tours into them and also inside the cockpit. Nidhi and my father sat on the pilots’ seat and looked triumphant. It was a fun trip for all of us, followed by lunch at the all-American Ruby Tuesday and a visit to the Elms in Newport. On the way back, papa happily filmed long stretches of the highway on video from the back seat, covering all possible angles. Till later, he would consider the wide well-kept roads to be one of the most impressive things about the US.

11. Mahabharata: The legendary mythological TV show from the nineties made a comeback in our home, thanks to the Science Library at Wesleyan University. Nidhi got each of the 16 DVDs issued in sequence. So much engrossed were they in the series, my parents would watch as much as 6 episodes on a single day. They watched all 94 episodes in over a month and repeated some of the story arcs. I got to watch a few episodes as well and enjoyed the nostalgia of the grand show replete with amazingly written shuddh Hindi dialogues but tacky special effects. Once it was finished, my mom rued that the Science library did not stock ‘Ramayana’.

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Written by serialbus

September 28, 2009 at 10:28 pm

4 Responses

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