The Cup of Coffee

I never tasted coffee till I stepped into my first job. Well, I grew up in the land of tea, Assam. But thanks to television and Hollywood movies, I knew what coffee was and somehow had this notion that coffee is classy and tea is not (don’t ask me where I got that from 😂). Anyways, my first workplace in Delhi had coffee everywhere. Even the tea breaks were called coffee breaks! That was new to me but I was absolutely longing for it.

It was my first day at work and someone from the team stood up and asked “anybody for coffee?” I was dying to say yes, but was unsure. Is she offering to buy everyone a cup of coffee or is she asking for a company to go to the coffee shop? Am I allowed to step out with her in the middle of work? By the time I could figure out, she quickly counted the raised hands and walked away. Right, I was too shy to even ask. In less than 15 minutes, she returned with an amazing aroma that I fell in love with instantly. It was a tray full of coffee mugs and everyone who raised their hands walked up to her, picked up a mug and got back to work. Simple! But I still had no idea where that coffee came from and how could I get one. So that night I drafted a plan and rehearsed it in my head over and over again. Day2 had to be my coffee day, come what may!

So the next day, just as I thought, she stood up around the same time again and asked the same question, “anybody for coffee?” And just as I rehearsed, I asked “Can I come with you to get it?” (Yes I know, it was that simple a plan, but remember I was new and nervous 🙄) And she said something like, “Sure, come along.” I was super excited that my plan worked and I will finally be able to see, feel and taste coffee! I must have asked her quite a few questions on the way, which I don’t remember anymore. But what I do remember is the new term she introduced to me – ‘coffee-corner’. There and then she gave me a crash course on how to make a rich creamy cup of beaten coffee and I loved it. This fascinating corner was just a few meters away from our workstations. It had microwaves and coffee filters, mugs and spoons, sugar and milk, coffee powder and coffee beans, and with that sensational aroma, I am sure I had a moment where I thought to myself, “I can finally smell Hollywood!”

I had so much coffee since then, in so many different styles and flavors, and today I enjoy it black and strong, no sugar, no milk. But the memories of those rich creamy cups of beaten coffee in that office coffee corner is still so fresh in my mind that it melts my heart every time I think of it. Even though it is as simple as a cup of coffee, it was a dream come true for a naïve small town girl. I guess some feelings are so strong that they do last for really long after all; and I call them the building blocks of my life! ❤ 

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The Goodbye

My little sister is barely 3 years my junior, but I would become her protective caretaker every time we stepped out of home for school. She was a quite kid but like many siblings, we can tell stories over stories about our sisterhood and our growing-up days. Then came the time to get into college and I had to move to another city, a bigger (and so-called better) city.

Three of us – myself, my dear mom and my sister – took a two and a half hour long flight to the new city, far away from home. The journey was quite exciting because we were together and the next 10 days was going to be fun! Indeed, the city was overwhelming, but thankfully mom had visited the place for work earlier and some of her colleagues lived there. So we were not completely lost. She even planned some fun activities and sightseeing for us, including a day at the largest amusement park we ever visited (we love you so much Ma ❤). It was such a treat!

I was having so much fun that I forgot I wasn’t going back home with my mom and my sister. The realization struck me only on the last day when we shifted my bags from the guesthouse to my college hostel that morning. All three of us were quite and all I wanted was to go back home with them. The lady showed us my room upstairs, well furnished with a big bed, cupboards and a study table. It was all good, but was it really? My heart was sinking as the time to say goodbye was getting closer. Finally, they got into the car while I stood outside the hostel gate. I saw tears streaming down my mom’s face while she was trying her best to stay strong for me. But when the car started to move, I saw my little sister burst out crying and that broke my heart completely. It is all so fresh in my memory that I can still feel the pain right now while I write. I ran up to my new room (which I could never call home) and kept crying bitterly for hours. For the first time ever, I felt so lost and lonely, and it was by far the worst day of my life. That goodbye was meant to be just for 4 years, but I am still away.

When I think of it now, I wish I never had to leave home and my two precious girls – my sister and my mom. But of course, after I left the nest I found the love of my life, made new friends and gathered so many experiences that I can share with others now. So, no regrets really. And, both my precious girls are also my dear friends now 😍. Maybe (just maybe), that goodbye and the independent years thereafter made me grow-up and become who I am today. After all, life must go on.

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True, cooking must be an art!

New Delhi is some 1,929 kilometers away from Guwahati (the city I grew up in), and the two cities are light years apart in culture and food habits. When I moved to Delhi after my graduation, of course I experienced huge culture shock, about which I will write in another blog someday. But the good thing was that I got introduced to a plethora of mouthwatering North Indian delicacies! They know the art of blending spices in such a way that even an absolute bland vegetable turns into a delicious sabji. It felt like every family I visited had a master chef inside and it was such an experience for my taste buds! 

One of such exquisite delicacies is rajma chawal (kidney bean curry with rice). It is by far the favorite dish of almost all delhiites I know. So when I got married to the love of my life in Delhi, I wanted to learn how to make dilli-style rajma because an elderly wise friend whispered into my ears on the day of my wedding, “Remember, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s an old saying but absolutely true!” Thankfully I found other ways to reach his heart, because my culinary skills almost doomed me. Over the years, I took tips from the many super chefs I came across in Delhi. More often than not, it would annoy me when someone would say, “Oh, cooking rajma is just so easy.” Really?! A dish which demands kidney beans boiled to perfection (neither al dente nor mushy) and requires the perfect blend of some 11 spices, how can someone call it easy, especially for someone who is so new to the art of cooking? Anyways, after experiencing failure for 20 times or more, even the bravest heart will get discouraged. So was I. I gave up and decided never to waste my time and energy on trying to cook rajma again. After we left Delhi for good, what we missed most was the food. Oh how I wish I could learn to cook at least one North India delicacy to perfection. Alas! 

When the COVID-19 pandemic started and we all got locked down in our houses working from home, I decided to follow one of the lockdown trends – learn new recipes (thanks to the excellent YouTubers). From a variety of cakes and breads to Thai curries and idli sambar, I was slowly getting the taste of success and I was enjoying it very much! Now, the craving for rajma chawal crawled back in and I decided to give it one (just one) more try in life. By now I learned quite a few tips and tricks of blending different spices and was a bit more confident in the kitchen. So with prayers and dedication, I looked for a good recipe online, added some expert tips from an aunt in Delhi, and voila! Encouraged by the success, I repeated it 4 times during this lockdown and my dear husband said, “this reminds me of the best rajma chawal I used to have in Lajpat Nagar (a commercial neighborhood in Delhi).” Do I need any more praises or what?! 

Perhaps the recipe was still the same, but what really changed was my interest in the art of cooking. Blame it on the hectic lifestyle we had in Delhi, maybe I was left with very little or no energy or motivation to learn the art. I surely had the desire but maybe I wasn’t yet in love with the idea of cooking after all. 

Definitely, this lockdown has been an eye-opener in so many ways. One of the things I realized is that I cannot succeed in anything unless I put my heart and soul into it, unless I really enjoy it, unless I am in love with it!

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Language of Heart!

If you read my previous blog titled ‘A Solo Trip’, you will know that I reached my hotel in Geneva with a bleeding nose but a heart full of excitement! Like many would do, when I check in to a hotel, especially when I am alone, the first thing I look for is the wifi connection. I did just so. While I walked through the neatly carpeted corridor of the hotel, I realized I was finally all by myself. The corridor was so silent, with strong aroma of coffee and bread, clearly reminding me that I was now in Europe. While looking for my room, I took a picture of my hand holding the key and a city guide pamphlet I picked up from the hotel reception. Even though I am not really that much of an Instagram person, on this occasion I posted the picture immediately with the hashtags #day1 #swissdiary #didntgetlost #workstartstomorrow. I guess it was my dire need to connect with friends and familiar names in the unknown city, far away from home. With that strong feeling building up in my heart, it is obvious that I called my dear husband and friend as soon as I got into the room. Thank goodness! He was right there waiting for my call. I could show him the room around and the view outside the window, and could let him know how much I missed him. I definitely felt better! I have no idea how our generations survived without mobile phones and internet once upon a time.

While I was still looking around the room and figuring out what is where, the phone rang. It was from the reception. A voice with broken English informed that there was someone waiting for me at the reception. I had rush of thoughts in my head while gathering my scarf, phone and key. “Who could be waiting for me in this place? I know nobody here.” I couldn’t think of anyone at that moment but quickly locked my room and headed for the lift. My room was on the 4th floor. When I reached the ground floor and the lift opened, ah what a sight it was! Someone I met just once in Delhi (she was visiting Delhi and stayed with a common friend), was right there waiting for me with a box of Swiss chocolates. I knew she was French and maybe I gathered that she had some kind of Swiss connection, but certainly did not know that she lived in Geneva when I must have casually mentioned about my forthcoming trip to her. Well, blame it on the Tower of Babel, I don’t understand French and she doesn’t speak English. I rushed out of the lift to give her a tight hug and she said something sweet in French which sounded like she was so happy to see me! I hope she too could feel how excited, surprised and thankful I was to see her there.  We went up to my room and thanks to google translator, I figured out that she went to the airport to receive me (she just knew the date, no flight details), waited there for more than two hours, then looked for her notes to see if she might have jotted down the name of my hotel somewhere (which she did!) and decided to reach the hotel with a hope to find me somehow. She was 65 when I met her some time ago in Delhi and I had no idea she took notes when I mentioned to her about my trip. I surely had tears in my eyes and that was the beginning of our friendship. Some 2 years has passed since then and we have been in touch all throughout. I still use google translator to write to her and she replies back in French, which dear google translates back to me.  It was a beautiful beginning of my solo trip!

That night in my prayer I told my Heavenly Father, “no matter wherever I am in this world, in good times or not-so-good times, whether I have plenty or nothing, in days of smiles or days of tears, love is all I need.”

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A Solo Trip

Two years ago, my work took me to Geneva, Switzerland. Sounds like a dream come true, isn’t it? My dear husband and I lived in New Delhi back then. He and his childhood buddy dropped me off at the airport for a late night flight and went straight to the streets of Nizamuddin for midnight kababs and biryani! Seems my dear husband was too sad to see me off and only hot kababs could have eased his pain :). What can I say? Boys will be boys after all. But I was quite relieved to know that his childhood buddy will give him company while I am away. So that bit was sorted. As for me, this was one of my very few solo trips. I was definitely excited about Switzerland. Who won’t be?!

I love airports. Well yes, that’s a weird statement. But that’s how it is. My excitement about a trip starts right from the airport. And Delhi International Airport is an absolute delight, if you are anything like me. After the initial drill of getting my boarding pass, going through security checks and immigration, I entered the zone of duty-free shops with the most tantalizing fragrance. What is this amazing fragrance that lingers around these shops by the way? Is it some kind of perfume they let out through the air-conditioning systems (is that even possible)? I have no idea, but I simply love walking past these shops, enjoying the display and aroma, and yet with the clarity of mind that I am not buying anything because the prices are simply so high. It’s a strange sense of freedom somehow. And there is McDonald, coffee, couch, my reading material and I love watching people. So you see, I can never get bored at the airport while waiting for a flight really!

After some 13-14 hours, I reached Geneva.  As soon as I stepped out of the airport, it felt like I was wearing an oxygen mask and suddenly my nose started to bleed. Maybe I wasn’t used to such clean air (this was when the air pollution in Delhi was the hot topic in all news channels). I was so excited and nervous about the journey thereafter, that I wasn’t even concerned about the bleeding nose. I had the hotel address and the friendly people around helped me to find the bus stand near the airport. With bits and pieces of French (which I learnt just to find my way out in Brussels and Geneva by the way), I reached my hotel. I remember thinking to myself, “everything is so beautiful and the journey has just begun.” I started to feel like a character from a solo traveler blog post. The week spent in Geneva from then on was spectacular; not just because it was ‘Switzerland’, but because it gave me a chance to think about some little things in life and value what I had. I am thankful for this trip as it was an eye-opener in more ways than one. Some of those I hope to share in my next posts.

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My Neighbors!

Ok so, we have neighbors towards the south and west sides of the house (let’s say the direction towards which our heads point when we are sleeping, that’s north. This is my perfect sense of direction). The south-side neighbors don’t talk much, or at least we don’t hear them as much as we hear our north-side neighbors. Our two balconies are on the south, which is very close to the terrace of the neighbors. And since they are mostly on the terrace during the evenings (the only times we’d like to sit on our balcony and sip our tea), our chances are dim. So we just keep the doors to the balcony open and let the breeze flow in. I like to watch the curtains dance (we have beautiful net and voile curtains from Delhi by the way!). Now, let me tell you about our west-side neighbors. We’ve named them Mamta and Narendra (and their son we’ve named Arvind). A smart and decent family! But right now, while I’m in our bedroom and writing this, I can hear Mamta and Narendra both yelling at each other, crying and fighting. And they are saying so many things right now, out of which the most prominent ones are Mamta’s words saying, “it’s very easy to leave me right? it’s very easy to blame me right? who am i? after everything I have done… “. I am kind of feeling very sad listening to their fights today. I pray they can calm down soon. Mamtha mildly said, while still crying, “stop it Rohan please, don’t create more problems for me”. I think Arvind’s real name is Rohan. Poor child. So Mamtha and Narendra usually speak in Kannada and Tamil, but switches to English whenever they fight. Their kitchen window is so close to our bedroom window that Mamta kills us with the delightful aroma of food that she cooks every morning, afternoon and evening! She has no idea that she makes my husband drool with the aroma and therefore makes me compete with her eveyday (well yes, I’m married to a man with taste buds of a 5-year old kid). I can hear Mamtha sobbing in the kitchen right now, while Narendra is yelling at her from somewhere far, maybe from a room towards their west. With sobs and occasionally sending across a loud reply to Narendra, Mamtha is continuing with her cooking though. After all, the show must go on!

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