Friday, February 26, 2010


I love to wear white- there is a placidness to the color, there is a certain sense of purity in it. I love black too- like white, it bears a certain respect and dignity, it speaks for itself, it’s bold and powerful. But would paintings be fun, if we had only these two colors to express ourselves; Would Holi still have it’s individuality and significance, if there were no colors except black and white; Will nature still be so beautiful with everything painted in black or white ?
The answer for most of us perhaps will be the same. Today, just 3 days away from Holi ( 1st March ) and 2 days from Doljatra ( 28th Feb ) - I started pondering about the meaning and relation which colors have for us, in our day to day life.Colors not only are an important ingredient to the sensation of sight, but they render us memories pertaining to various aspects and phases of our life. It is indispensable for stimulating our different senses and hence making our life constantly full of diversity, as well as festal from time to time…..

Today being in a “ Holi “ state of mind , a myriad collection of colors are afloat in my mind's eyes…Spring is almost here and those Palash (Dhak) trees along the winding village roads must be abloom ..and if I had been there, I would have asked baba to stop the car, and like always, would have gotten off to gather as many Palash as I could, strewn along those roadsides……..

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To the market .............

Let’s go to the farmer’s market this weekend….Ohh !! How I light up at this suggestion and not solely because of my absolute love for shopping, be it for dresses, accessories or groceries..The mere sight of fresh vegetables and spices make me happy, maybe because I love to cook and eat.. But why is it, that farmer’s market has a special appeal for me, and maybe to many of us Indians , who are live outside of India..Is it more related to the certain idea of refinement and sophistication, which is so bound to the whole notion of farmer’s market- given that the products are definitely priced higher than any supermarket price and everything is home-grown, organic and largely fresh !!

In most of the big cities , you would find those people flocking to the afternoon or weekend outdoor market, who can afford, who have a sense of refinement- wanting to make a pot of luscious soup with the freshest fennel, and who all are clingy to the idea of going organic and going green at every possible way ( which I clearly don’t have a problem with as long as we save the earth and don’t just talk about it )...
So, what is it ? Is it only a desire to be different or does it move your senses with something other than that ? For me, it’s a concoction of both and all of them..

When I first became acquainted with the idea of such outdoor market, it was an altogether different adventure to me- suddenly you have something else to do on the weekends other than partying, it’s outdoors, it’s fresh & clean, it’s different in so many ways than your average grocery store trips and then it might remind in some subtle ways of those “ haat “ or “ bajar “ from your hometown.Yes, it was all that !!

Firstly, when I talk of the “ haat “ from any town of India- produces, fish and everything else is actually cheaper than the average daily market price…The commodities are fresh off the fields, they still have the dirt clinging to them, and then there is a whole different visual shock- rotting produces lying here and there, cows and goats munching on them to their heart’s desire and then the unavoidable stink. The sellers calling out the prices at the top of their lungs – trying to prove who’s is the best and the cheapest, the buyers all excited and sweaty , trying to locate their favorite seller, whom they trust for taking home the best products and boasting off their grocery shopping skills.

Although not very often, but I can remember of a few occasions , where I might have accompanied baba to his market trips, mostly when we were kids . Then, as we grew older, several restrictions came into effect, some self-induced to avoid the sweat, the crowd, the filth ..and some put into action by our parents due to increasing burden of homework or more so because the markets were the hotspots for local ruffians and I being a blossoming teenager and such !! And the excursions became lesser to none after some time.
But all those occasions when I did go to the market, certain smell, sound, calls defining the survival of the fittest (as in who sells the most and makes the most profit), certain sights did leave behind some haunting , lingering memories, indelible marks …And all those memories work in sync for me, whenever I hear the sound “ farmer’s market “ .

It’s just not the freshness and refinement that pulls me, although this clean, outdoor market , which has a wide heterogeneity (just like our hometown markets ) - fruits,vegetables, jams, ready-to-eat food, home-made dry pastas, shittake powder ….. is a world separated from our quaint “ haat “ in so many ways ..there’s absolutely no filth, no pungent smell of rotting vegetables or fish market, no hustle-bustle, no sights of members from the bovine family- yet I absolutely have to link it to our “ Tuesday haat “ or “ robibar r bajar ( sunday market) “ , everytime I visit one.
The only valid reason I could come up with is this – Perhaps, I miss the alfresco " haat ", sweaty marketing trips, although I almost disliked it . Perhaps, it is connected to my heart so intricately, that everytime I go to visit my parents, I try to make it to those smell, sound and sight – just to refresh my memories once more….

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Fall

The Fall …the first thing which comes to your mind is typically of the season “ Autumn “, without any sort of disambiguation ..But does your mind travel like mine, when you hear the word “ Fall “ ? Last night, I pondered at length, overcome by sleeplessness and let my mind be a vagabond…

The fall of man as in the story of Adam and Eve…The gradual “ falling “ into you, since the time I first met you ..She’s going back to school this fall …as in the school semester ..

Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall …a waterfall …the fall of physics which pertains to free fall of gravity

So many ways to fall and the fear of falling, of losing something, losing your position, your treasures-material and emotional …falling of a kingdom, of a nation , of a government, fear of falling out over something with someone…..Or on a happier note, the leaves falling in autumn – “ The Fall “ – the majestic beauty of the deciduous trees, turning vibrant red,orange,yellow …and then shedding ..People traveling for miles, to get a glimpse of the autumn foliage colors during that time, from places where nature is missing such whimsical paintings by God.

On our visit to Colorado, a couple of years back, we didn’t actually get to see the fall colors, because we went during the wrong time of the year, but I got myself something, which is quite a treasure- early fall leaves of Aspen trees-framed and preserved in wax..The sheer thought of such beauty, gives me such a thrill…almost as if, I can see rows of Aspen trees in their full glory, during the fall season , with sun hitting them at the right angles, making them ever so beautiful to look at..No wonder John Denver fell in love with Aspen...We have always lived in such parts of the states where the fall season rarely visits and hence there’s no distinct color, although while we were in Texas, we came across some oaks which changed into red during that time of the year …

The thoughts of camping in a state park , during Fall …or gathering fall leaves and putting them in my scrapbook, which I did, with whatever meager supply I could gather in poorly fall of Texas …

And so on and so forth, with my mind adrift ….until I finally caught some Z’s…….

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Saffron - What a spice art thou ?

Today, I imagined myself in the valleys of Kashmir, surrounded by rows of croci- specifically Saffron crocus...what a grandeur sight it was. The weather was nippy, and I watched in awe and intent how the beautiful women in bright dresses collected saffron. A spice with fragrance – an apt topic for my writing …..It has a lot of essence to it , beautiful to look at , frail orange-red threads, so exotic to touch and smell and a little goes a long way-almost like love. ..The name “ saffron “ itself sounds so out of the world-taken from the arabic word zafaran which means ‘yellow’. It is rated by flavor intensity and depth of color.

It is the most expensive spice in the world …The main reason being that it takes about 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand-picked dried stigmas of the saffron crocus ( flowers in Fall, member of the Iris family ), to make a single pound i.e. 454 gms ( There are only 3 stigmas, referred to as saffron threads per flower ).This is the equivalent of a football field's area of cultivation (110,000-170,000 flowers ). Some forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Whew !! Do I ever think of that when I open that petite box holding this golden spice, ever ?

Human cultivation and use dates back to more than 3500 years now.It is used in a lot of Asian ( Persian, Arabian, Turkish, Indian ) and Mediterranean cuisines ( Spain, Italy, Greece, France and other parts of Europe ). It is also used in perfumery and in dyeing. Medicinally, saffron has a long history as part of traditional healing; modern medicine has also discovered saffron as having anti carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic, immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties. Most saffron is grown in a belt of land ranging from the Mediterranean in the west to KashmirIran, Spain, India, Greece, Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Italy, in decreasing order of production, are the major producers of saffron. Iran with its cultivation of different varieties, is the largest producer of saffron with 93.7% of the world's total production, although previously around 70% of the world’s saffron used to come from Spain, in particular the high plateau between Madrid and Andalucia known as La Mancha. in the east. Annually, around 300 tonnes of saffron are produced worldwide-

There are three basic types of saffron , two of which being the top-grade ones :-

Kashmir “ Mogra Cream “ which is the world’s finest and difficult to obtain .

Spanish “ Coupe “ which is also top threads with 100% pure red saffron threads like the above variety.

Spanish “ Superior “ which is widely available and has 90% red and 10% yellow threads .

Apart from these, each cultivating region has it’s own several varieties…like Iran , which has a number of varieties depending on the shape like Negin Sargol, Pushal Negin, Daste, Sargol, Style .

So, is Saffron my favorite spice ? It might be, given that I love everything exotic and classy – and saffron has been the spice of the kings and nawabs, even used as an aphrodisiac by the Pharaohs. Although that doesn’t mean I try to use it in every possible dish or that I keep on eternally searching for dishes that has saffron in it . But I do use it once in a while, in mughlai dishes and desserts – one of the frequent ones being “ shrikhand “ - although I don’t know if you can technically call it dessert or “ something to end the meal with “ sort of dish.

So, this research of mine online led me to a lot of invaluable information and a very crucial conclusion- Just thinking of the back-breaking labor and sweat that went into cultivating and harvesting this exquisite spice, we could just pause for a moment, to thank while we take a whiff of this elegant spice, everytime we feel like impressing a guest with some lavish dish.

Note- The picture in this post is of Women in a Saffron field in Kashmir. Is there anything more beautiful than the mere sight of this ?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Starting on a lighter note, apart from being eye-pleasing and soothing to the ear, it’s one of the biggest misery-savers for lazy people like us who doesn’t want to make the trip to the carwash or for people who normally hit the shower once in a while. So,rain cleanses everything- It cleanses the atmosphere,the trees,the birds and the beasts, the cars and humans alike.Well, rain is so very indulging and has an appeal to all ages,alike. Although it is not at all welcome when you are in a hurry to go out, or you just finished painting your house or the fence , or like in India- you just made a fresh batch of pickle or “ bori “ all ready to go out for sunbathing or the “ lep, toshok aar daami sarees “ have just been put out after having stayed untouched by the sun for a long time.

When you’re a child, the only thing you wanted was to jump in the muddy puddles after a rain , on your way home from school. And if it rained torrentially, it meant it’s RAINY DAY at school and we prayed for some miracle so that it continues like that for another week at the least but only during the morning hours, so that you can go out to play during the afternoon .

And then as one grew older, the same rain , brought out a different person in us. It was the same old rain but with a different appeal, and so enchanting, that you always hoped you were not alone but with someone at this very moment , who would see this sight as you see it and feel it the same way as you do. It was funny how the songs and poems started to come naturally to your mind as soon as the sky turned gray.

Those memories of “ Kaalboisakhi “ – the afternoon thunderstorms during summer, so common in West Bengal , still haunts me.It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced one..Perhaps, I fell in love with the rain because of the awe that “ Kaalboisakhi “ created in my mind . Suddenly the sky would start turning to slate and then to black, the clouds would start rolling and rumbling, and then there will be wind...sweeping everything away, followed by rain, in abundance. As long as the wind was bearable and the rain didn’t soak me, I used to sit out in the balcony and watch the whole course of action unfold itself gradually…Sometimes, my brother and I would run around in the gusty wind, collecting unripe baby mangoes that have fallen from our tree .. After the rain , the sky would be glowing with happiness, the clouds all effulgent and beaming , as if God was smiling and sometimes there will be an entrancing rainbow , which thrilled us to the cores and we used to count the number of bands of the VIBGYOR that’s visible and who can see which color first .

Now, in a different part of the world and at much grown-up stage of my life, it has the same appeal as it always had– As I sit on my sofa with a cup of tea in one hand and the latest novel of Nicholas Sparks in another, I become aware of the imminent rain..The sky is the same slaty gray, and the trees seemed greener because of this beautiful color contrast . The greenish black water of the lake, the Mallards playing around, the sudden rustling and the shaking of the leaves of the palm tree, their shadows and the silence of the world around, earnestly awaiting the rain, play an orchestrated tune in my mind. And they all were satisfied, and so was I …the trees were polished green, the lakes filled up to the brim of overflowing, the Mallards all bathed and shiny, and I, like all the other times , was full of unspoken admiration for Rabindranath Tagore, because he could capture the beauty of this, like no one ever did.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Blue is beautiful but how long will it survive ?

Yes, everyone out there guessed right- I’m talking about the oceans ..and none other than the Atlantic..Being so very near to the ocean, for quite some years now, my husband and I, consider ourselves sort of self-proclaimed experts and take pride in describing and differentiating between the different blues of different oceans …for instance , the gulf of Mexico is a different shade of blue, the ocean in Miami beach is sea green …but we were just blown out of our minds when we saw the ocean in Bahamas – color of turquoise or rather copper sulphate blue..There are no words to describe the sheer beauty and serenity of such blue color and we haven’t seen anything like that ever before.. The color was just so raw and so unpolluted , that at one time I felt I could color my white dress just by dipping in it.

We kept staring for hours to take in as much as we can and even then it didn’t seem enough.The weather was gorgeous, the day was sunny , which accentuated the color even more …All the fellow passengers were equally mesmerized , I’m sure of that.

So, after a while I really started brooding on the problems of ocean pollution – all the dumping , spills, toxic wastes that are finding their way straight to the beautiful oceans and causing havoc to marine lives and in turn to us …So, is it that this very very blue signifies that The Bahamas have remained literally untouched or is it just deceptive with something going on inconspicuously ?! I would really love to find out ..

With this intention I researched online and found out some dreadful things , some of which just refreshed whatever I already knew from my ecology courses and online studies ..Quoting specifically from a website “The cruise line industry relies on pristine oceans, beautiful coral reefs and marine life to draw millions of travelers on cruise vacations each year. But the same ships that advertise excursions to untouched ocean scenery are threatening these very same natural resources with their standard practice of flushing harmful toxins, mostly as sewage and food waste, into the ocean.

So, what do we do ? So , here I am, in a big fix – Being all awe-struck with the blueness of the pristine ocean, I forgot that I myself is one of the culprits for polluting the ocean, such that our future generation might not find it so blue…So, isn’t it necessary to devise a solution so that man and nature can almost co-exist successfully side by side. ? I say

co-exist, because there will always be some collateral damage.

So, obviously the ocean in Bahamas is highly polluted..which anyone can guess just by looking at the sheer size of the tourism industry –which incidentally serves as the sole source of income for the islanders and the thousands of cruiseliners anchoring all the year round at Nassau and other islands. The saddest part is, apart from the huge amount of wastes we, the tourists create …all the food that we don’t eat and throw away, are also part of the garbage that finds it’s way to the ocean.
Just one line- all possible kinds of waste generated by these cruiseliners, the bigger it is ,the more the quantity of garbage- finds their way straight to the ocean. Well this not only “ doesnot “ feed the fishes, but rather creates acidic atmosphere and harms the reefs. Oftentimes it happens that snorkeling trips have to canceled, because some cruiseliner had has dumped oil right around the reefs.

Wow, what a justice …This is what is called to “ punch a hole right in the plate in which you eat “ . The reason for this negligience is not that the industry lacks technology . They are reluctant to spend the money required,although they earn a huge sum without having to pay any taxes in the US, as most of them are flagged in foreign countries and hire very poorly trained staffs as environmental officers. Many of the well-known cruising companies have upgraded their sewage disposal system but the results are not as fast as they should be, keeping in mind that these cruiseliners promise the tourists the view of “ a pristine scenery “ although to do that they are bruising them by polluting the environment. And then there is politics involved in everything.

So , do we stop going on cruises in our effort to stop pollution or do we join our hands in doing something , in our own small ways to enjoy cruising without bruising ?

The First Steps - The sound, the sight, the smell and the thoughts......

The first steps to any ascent is full of falters, excitement, careful calculations and doubts…questions about whether the direction is right, whether it’s the right thing to do and sorts keep popping up in one’s mind. Well, the point is – that is what is going on in my mind right now..I’m excited and I want to do this right, to write something, anything ….keeping with the compliment that many have given me that I have a good hand at writing- Naah, I believe them not, never did. Nonetheless, I find myself at this crossroad- to write or not to write and “ what to write ? “ Because there’s always this lingering fear that someone else ( and I do hope sincerely that there will be lot of someone elses ) is going to read the blog.

After careful thinking for days together, I figured out it would be best to write about something which has real meaning to and connection with my soul, my whole being…I have been trying to be a jack of all trades and failed horribly to become the master of any …I love to cook, I read a lot, I listen to music and sing, I tried my hands at some crochet, Well…I keep doing a lot of things from time to time with a few passions remaining constant..And this I do because for me that’s the SPICE of life …
And I decided to name my writing space “ E-sense ( A sense of as well as Essence of ) SPICE n FRAGRANCE “ – where there is spice , there’s bound to be fragrance and then fragrance is connected to so many things- beauty, sweetness, memories etc etc.

Anybody who comes across this blog, will find it too feminine and I don’t think that is a problem- the last thing I would want to do is try to sound masculine and land up with something which has no real meaning to myself…
Living in a foreign land, far away from my country, my parents seems I’ve left behind a lot of things- a lot of memories, my childhood, many of my dreams , desires.. Yes, many of you might think- here she goes ,blah blah blah…What I’m trying to do is make it easier for others to relate to fragrance and spices..When all you have left is the memories and a few festivals, potlucks , grocery stores to connect to your homeland – you have to hold on tightly to your other senses …The sense of smell,sight,sound which all connects to your mind …

The SOUND- of falling rain , of water dripping down the leaves and creating ripples in the pond, of someone talking in a way which sounds familiar to you, a long-lost song, the swishing of the trees – you hear this and in an instant you are transported back , to times long gone, to memories you hold dearly, to someone whom you haven’t met in a while …Listen to those sounds and close your eyes …

The SIGHT- of imminent fruiting of the palm tree just outside your balcony , of “ kaash fuul and cottony clouds “ , of the yellow butterfly which you were so fond of chasing as a kid, of a familiar flower or a tree , of tree-lined bungalows which so resembles your neighbourhood where you grew up, of Royal Poinciana trees which reminds you of the road you took everyday to catch the school bus…Ohh ….so many memories keep flooding back to you that you get overwhelmed !!

The SMELL- of an incense burning, on your visit to the nearby Hindu temple which reminds you so much of the incense used at home or at your grandma's place, of a face cream which reminds you so much of mom or grandmom, of wet grass and soil after rain- reminding you of so many days when you used to watch and romanticize the rain in your young mind, of freshly cut Christmas trees lined up for sale outside the departmental stores which might remind you of oranges and holidays- the afternoons of all those winter vacations, spent eating oranges in the sun with a little black salt ( using the peels as a bowl ).

The THOUGHTS- And so the thoughts of the vagabond mind lingers on, shuffling back and forth between the past and the present, the pleasant memories and the harshnesses of real life one assimilates the spices and fragrances of one's life.