Stream of Consciousness

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Normandie Kitchen

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You’ve been stuck in traffic on the 10E. Your delay has been over 15 minutes. You exit on to Normandie Ave and big bold houses keep crossing your window pane. LA has moved past behind you. You reach then at Normandie house and be transported into the other. It is almost as if being thrown into a garden sculpted for your own liking, not zen minimalist at all but strikingly chaotic but oh! that’s the beauty of it. Once you enter, you wade through begonias, snapdragons, and milkweeds sketched by the beautiful champak and the overgrown Brahma Kamalam. Soon you enter the herb garden and smell the wonderful aromas of cilantro and mint. There is a lotus or two peeking out of the small pond by the corner, one could imagine this is Kew garden. There is a round table with fairy lights with a few scattered chairs staring up at the milky way. But the beauty of it all is the kitchen, a quaint old room with a communal table and stove, where many eclectic dishes have been cooked up on a number of occasions. This is Normandie Kitchen.

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At any given weekend, you can find a bunch of non related people gathering around the table, exchanging notes on food, mixing up a drink or two, tasting exotic fruits from the garden such as dragon fruit, and cooking delicious food. If you are in town and just passing by, you are welcome too. Throw in a couple of dogs and a cat and you have utter pandemonium. Yet, there is a rhythm binding together these people, their pets- the sheer love of food and drink. These are food connoisseurs, mixologists, and most of all food lovers. Conversations range from the sex lives of fruit flies to politics, etymology of words to the origin of certain signature dishes. If this all gets a bit much, you can go outside for a smoke and pretend to be oblivious to the cacophony.

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The kitchen is also the ideal place to let go of any food inhibitions and the aromas from the kitchen will make you do so. Here is experimentation at its best and the garden gives effortlessly. The curry leaf tree is of course my favorite and it has been used in many dishes prepared in the kitchen. One can also find mangoes, a variety of peppers, oranges, jackfruit, and even poultry. There are game nights, barbecue nights, or just another night where time stands still. This is more than just a couple of friends hanging out, eating and drinking in the hot summer sun or in the twilight of the rising moon, this is familial and also one of LA’s best kept secrets.

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Happy birthday, Brad! Brad is a resident of Normandie House and runs an exciting blog called Normandie Kitchen, when not dreaming about drosophila melanogaster. 

Mhadeno

My first meeting with Mhadeno Jamio, or Mha/Maha as we lovingly used to call her was in August, 2004. The then beautiful CIEFL campus in Hyderabad was filled with chirpy, young faces eager to begin walking in a new direction, on a path that will lead to accolades, stable and successful careers, and long lasting friendships. We came from different communities, spoke many languages, interacted with each other amicably. Mha was one of the four Naga girls in our batch, my first interaction with the community which proved to be a wonderful and long lasting one. She was the tiniest of them all, yet with a strong soul and a willpower made of iron, derived from a deep sense of conviction and self worthiness. Our academic interests did not overlap much and we didn’t share many classes, except A.V Ashok’s Literary Criticism and Rajeev’s Post Modern Poetry. During our M.A days, Mha would be at the forefront of any issue. She had a strong voice which stood out in the direst of times. Later when most of us wanted to pursue an M.Phil or Ph.D, she joined Google, Hyderabad. Although we lived in the same city, we got entangled in our different quotidian existence. We would meet occasionally at a party or at someone’s birthday bash. After a year, she decided to come back to academia and pursue an M.Phil. Many of our friends had moved on by then, after finishing their studies. CIEFL had become EFLU, the place was not the same. New faces, new buildings, new hopes and aspirations. We felt a bit like outsiders, with a lingering shadow or a smudged footstep, we went on about our life feeling a bit empty. Hostels came up in every corner, trees were getting cut, and the campus became a concrete jungle. This is when Mha and I decided to move out of the hostel and rent a house.

The two bedroom house was located in Taranaka, a ten minute walk to school. We each had a room and a bathroom and shared the common area and kitchen. Mha was the more meticulous one among us. She would cook, clean, and keep the house spot less. We loved hosting dinner parties and went grocery shopping together. There was a renewed vigor in our lives. Moving out of campus was the best decision we made. We created a home, weaved up stories, and conjured up dreams. In summer of ’09, we decided to take a little vacation and go on a trip to Coorg. I had always wanted to travel there and explore Bylakuppe and walk along the banks of Cauvery. We also had to help a friend pack up and relocate from Bangalore. We took the train from Hyderabad-Bangalore and spend the entire day helping our friend pack up his apartment. Our bus to Coorg was overnight, we reached Coorg in the wee hours of the morning and checked in to our first homestay experience. We had booked a cab for our entire trip. The next two days was such filled with new sights, new experiences. It was a rainy, foggy morning when we reached Talacauvery, the origin of the Cauvery river. Thankfully, we had an umbrella (though it wasn’t much of a help).

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Our next stop was the beautiful Abbey falls in Madikeri. The rains had left the falls plentiful water and to hear the gushing roar of the water falling down the rocks is quite rhythmic.

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The highlight of the trip however was river rafting in the Cauvery, something the three of us had never done before. There was a moment when our guide pushed us both into the river, and instead of climbing back up into the boat, we swam away wearing life jackets. I still remember the twinkle in her eye, the one which comes after doing something mischievously naughty. We laughed under the rainy, Madikeri sky that day. Nothing could stop us, not rules, not society or conformity. We lived that moment as if there wouldn’t be another moment like that.

Bylakkuppe was revisiting my love for Buddhism. A couple of years earlier, I had gone on two Buddhist trails- Sanchi Stupa in Sanchi, MP and Sarnath, near Benares. This was different. Bylakkupe is the largest Tibetan settlement in South India. The biggest monastry, the Namdroling monastry, is home to many Tibetan Lamas. The beautiful inside is ornate, covered in Tibetan symbolisms, and has an unseen calmness. This was a very solemn experience, compared to the river rafting one earlier. In here, we knew time was just an illusion, a concept created to anchor your mind in the future. It meant nothing to us. We surpassed the continuity of being mortal, just for a few minutes, before returning to reality.

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Our last stop was Nisargadhama, an island formed by Cauvery.

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We boarded the overnight bus back to Bangalore, spent the day eating lunch at Samarkhand, watched a movie at Forum, and took the night train back to Hyderabad. It was a such a relaxing and enlightening vacation. This was the last time we spent days together, hoarding new experiences. Come 2010, Mha decided to quit her M.Phil and move back closer to home. I decided to move much further away from home and joined the Ph.D program in LA.

I never saw Mha again. We regularly kept in touch the first year she went back home and I moved to the foreign land. Soon after, Mha fell sick. She was diagnosed with Stage 4, colon cancer. Suddenly, every single moment we had ever spent together seemed precious and all those days, cribbing under the strong Hyderabad sun, futile. I miss her presence every single day. She holds a place in my heart, no one can ever fill. Wherever you are, Mha, I hope you are well and happy, and found that peace you were constantly looking for.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
throat.
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.
-Nothing but Death, Pablo Neruda 


Today is Mha’s first death anniversary. This post is an attempt to keep my memories of her alive, through words, through photos. You can read a poem about her here.

the death of a museum

It was a hot summer afternoon when I first lay eyes on it, this life size rhinoceros staring at me. I was a puny little girl, holding on to my father’s sturdy hand on our first visit to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in New Delhi. The memory is a blurred one, maybe because I was only 5 years, yet the picture postcard remains vivid, I had never been anywhere like this before. In front of me where rows of dinosaur fossils, taxidermied animals and birds, and plenty of useful information. It was probably my first encounter with an institution of knowledge, that did not charge a fee to peruse.

I still have a vague memory of my uncle walking us through the different galleries, chattering away about the various exhibits. His excitement made his eyes twinkle, it still does, all these years later. I remember the last visit to the museum. It was again a hot summer afternoon, 25 years later, and I was supposed to meet a dear, old friend at the museum. He had never heard of this place. This time, I was the tour guide.

The Delhi NMNH was only the first of many museums I had the privilege of visiting over the years. My uncle went on to helping set up and revive museums in Bhopal and Mysore. These were all summer destinations, a great amount of time spent wandering these dusty museum galleries. I always wondered where the milieu was, probably eating an ice cream at Connaught place, or feeding giraffes in the Mysore zoo, or shopping in one of the ever crowded markets. Museums, I had begun to fear, were becoming obsolete to the Indian youth.

It was my tryst with destiny that the university where I did my doctoral degree was near the NMNH in Los Angeles, literally across the street. Unlike the Indian museums, there was an entry fee, which was waived for students at the university. Recently, when a cousin sister visited with her 4 year old son, one of the places I encouraged them to visit was the natural history museum. After all, which kid doesn’t love dinosaurs. It was almost like reliving my first childhood memory of a museum, a throwback to all those years.

As researchers, we spend years building up a career, making new discoveries and having eureka moments, sometimes all it takes is a fire to burn it ablaze. In the end, the ashes remain as a testimony of the millions of children who found joy and delight in being taken on an adventure, every week of their early childhood, and to the twinkle in my uncle’s eye, which I hope he is able to retrieve again.


This post is based on this news. My uncle is the director of this museum and the museum to him, a child.

something called love

that day our eyes met-
I was seeking something new
you were just strolling
our gaze sketched the trepidation
of the first two years
courtship, that yearn to be with someone
else other than your own voice in the head
that adrenalin rush
flutters in the heart
dopamine high as the eiffel tower
your imaginary hand locked in mine
a few bouts of laughter
some hiccups
wine drenched breath
your eyes, like Rilke’s panther
behind bars, a thousand
a touch, tracing your contours
my shadow merging with yours
a kiss, a broken verse
sun lit room smelling of fresh earl grey
the aged corks, lying scattered
dopamine low, adrenalin no more
our gaze now sketching
the artifices of our late intimacy.


To listen to a reading of this poem, click here.

 

fifteen years later

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what is it like to be 17 again;

naive, thoughtful, day dreaming
the vintage gramophone playing
melodies sweet and sour
O.V’s Khasak shining bright on the horizon
where the green mangos failed to fall
did not reach the terra firma
hung in the angsty trepidation
of a youthfulness coming into being;

those walks in the march sun
not as brutal as today
where we carved the routes of our intersections
leant us the words we wrote
painted with the anticipation of our epistemic future
looming large at our doorstep on which
we did not knock
sheltered by conventions;

those figures painted by the tainted charcoal
two hands reaching out
pulling the thread binding together
writing our stories in unknown tongues
the masquerade proceeding
in slow moving sambas
where our feet untangled
the voices ringing in our ears;

fifteen years later
what is it like to remember
a parallel world
waiting for a knock
one covered by cobwebs
rustic, ancient, out of fashion
those words bubbling at the bottom
call out your name, fondly.


Only a few people have influenced my early writing, V happens to be one of them. Happy birthday, Vivie!

*ungrammaticality

we were like old bookends
left behind on a shelf full of torn newspapers
written in a language forgotten
to your ears sounds,
ungrammatical.

those judgments were meted and
argued in chaotic stance,
you and I belonged to the same town
yet our voices to your ears sounds,
ungrammatical.

the grammar written
preserved in ancient parchments while
our story dated centuries in time
the ending to your eyes sounds,
ungrammatical.

scrambled footsteps
imprinted in the pavement red
traced the lines of our fate
the pattern to your eyes sounds,
ungrammatical.

ungrammatical
the star ruling our existence
derivations crashing
before being built online

ungrammatical
your palm in mine
our rustic purple dreams
intuitively refusing to be born.

ungrammatical
the language of our lives.

a birthday haiku

those conversations
fleeting like time running by
weigh infinitely precious


Happy birthday, Srinivas. there are days when a lot can be said with little. this is one of them.