A Sunday afternoon, there is nothing to do. No calls, no guests, just the two of us. And on this blank-calendar day, we decide to make some lip-smacking lasagna.
Angus and Julia Stone plays on the speaker. Soft sunlight filters in through slats of windows on to the carpet.
Lasagna sheets are placed neatly on the pan. On top of it, like a ream of papers in a government office, are several more colorful layers — of cheese, creamed spinach, leftover potato curry, the sun-dried tomato paste, lasagna sheets, and some more cheese.
The tray is sealed and placed in the oven. All that is to be done now is to wait. 30 minutes later, the smell of tomato and garlic fills the room. We squat in front of the oven, face to face with the seething dish. Excitement and anticipation rise within. Just like the billowing cheese. We take it out; a cheesy red perfection.
With forks and knives, we devour our home-made little pan of lasagna, which, more than its taste, would forever remain a reminder of our carefree Sundays in the summer of ’19.
P.s. Remembering late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, whose birth anniversary it was yesterday. It was he who said: ‘Context and memory play a powerful role in all the truly great meals in one’s life’. Our lasagna, was one such.
Mornings meant seeing dad do yoga in the living room. Breathing exercises followed stretching. Then, he stood upside down on his head, sometimes cracking his eyes open to see my sister and I fight over a pencil. His face red, a few veins still popping out on his forehead, he joined my sister, mom and I for breakfast. He did try to make us practice the routine ourselves, but we had our excuses.
Fast forward to now, when both his daughters are married, and one has a three-year-old kid. Old ways still thrive. He still does Yoga, the same 30-minute sequence. But nowadays with his granddaughter hovering around him like a bee. He still comes to the breakfast table with his face the color of beet. He did try to make us practice the routine ourselves, and thank god for that.
It took three decades, but finally, my mornings also mean a yoga session in the living room today.
At White Clay Creek State Park, we walked in a single file for five miles. Shrubs rose on either side of the slim trail, some reaching our height, some towering over us. Daisies, shamrocks, and anonymous wildflowers popped their heads out from between the curtain of greenery. We slowed down, paused to see butterflies land softly on the petals. When they took flight, we fastened our steps. Our muddy trail was punctuated with puddles of water and fallen logs. We walked over small bridges, with thin creeks running jauntily below them; stopped to pick up a hawk’s lone feather from the ground; and sat on giant trunks to sip water. Around us the air smelled of wet soil, and somewhere far, the sound of stream synced with the call of birds.
I. Go to Big Bowl Noodle House, and order a plate of curry fried rice with fried tofu. Chew on the crunchy tofu pieces, and say a quick thanks to all the soy beans in the world.
II.Once your tummy is full, it’s time to sit in a darker room and reflect on life. Head to Chronic Town, order an Adios Hookah, and pair it with a cup of Garuda—vanilla, honey tea.
III. Now, if you plan to stay back, then get a good night’s sleep at The Atherton Hotel, and wake up early to stand in the already snaking queue outside The Waffle Shop. Don’t fret, or get vexed, know it in your heart that it will be worth the wait.
A second road trip to Ohio in less than a week. This time, we started just when the sun came up. Trees turned from blue to green, and houses from grey to brown. We drove, a light brown bag of sandwiches and Terra chips next to our feet. Every once in two hours, we stopped at a gas station, sometimes to feed our car, sometimes to simply buy a Hubba Bubba. For the rest of the journey we blew big bubbles and saw the world turn pink from inside it. We took turns to be at the wheel. While one steered, the other reclined the passenger seat all the way back, and watched the world pass by at 80 miles per hour. Trees, poles, bridges and birds moved at dizzying speeds. Above them, like a dream, floated soft fluffy clouds. If you looked hard, you saw faces in it. A kid, a monster, a man swimming, a woman sitting. All evasive, quick to hide. And just like a dream, they passed. What remained is the clear blue sky. Our only constant as we drove along an ever-changing landscape.
We had had the company of a family of ‘mourning’ doves (they are called so because of their call that sounds like a lament) for a few weeks. Until we didn’t.
Not sure when they decided to vacate. Maybe they heard us complain about how nasty they had made our patio, even as they sat solemnly on soft cushioned chairs. Or maybe they didn’t like being stared at, photographed. Once or twice, we expressed our annoyance at seeing three birds perched on ledges, railings, chairs and the center table. We tried to shoo them away, gently. But they played dead. Since we didn’t have a place to sit, with creases of irritation on our faces, we went downstairs to the parking lot to get some fresh air. Maybe they saw that. Not sure when they decided to vacate. But our ‘mourning doves’ have flown away. What remains is an empty nest, and some stray straws on the floor. While we can still hear their faint calls from far away, can they see us mourn?
Back in Chennai, India, we had money plants in 30 different jars, bottles, vases and pots. Some were let to climb all along the window grills, while some were trimmed to a few inches. My mom would pinch a small leaf and stem from the neighbor’s and say that the plant grows especially well when it’s stolen. Not right, not fair, amma, I would reply. But the next day, I would hear her talking to the neighbor about her little deed, and the neighbor enthusiastically agreeing with her. Yes, yes, that is true, she would say. The arrangement seemed to work well for the both. Here, in the States, I know no neighbors. So I brought back (with permission) three stems of fresh green money plant stems from my sister’s home which is a six-hour drive from where I live. She seems to be continuing the tradition. There is a money plant starring at you from every wall. I set up my first money plant vase in an empty bottle of Trader Ming’s General Tsao Stir Fry Sauce (always, always, reuse and recycle). I glued in some black sequins in the shape of a little heart. It made for a sweet home for the plant, which now rests on my study table.
A mourning dove. Her presence is now a habit. We would open our patio door, to soak in some sun, and sip some coffee, and there she would be, as still as a wax model. We saw her first, when she perched on the railing holding a thin twig in her mouth. Soon, the diligent one built a soft brown nest for herself on the ledge. Whenever we wanted fresh air, we turned the door handle slowly, cautiously, without the slightest squeak, like robbers. Once outside, we whispered, about her, about other things. She eavesdropped openly. It took us a while to realize she had laid eggs, and was now incubating them. One night, it rained non-stop. Thunderstorms. Heavy wind. Would she be alright? We wondered, plastering our faces on to the bedroom window which faced the patio, and her nest. Next morning, we stepped out, on the wet wooden floor, to see a litter of egg shells. Oh the horror. We imagined the worst. But it was the opposite. The family had grown. There was more than one bobbing head. Our little dove was now a mother, feeding her two chicks. It’s been close to a month, and now, walking around dried drops of bird shit in the morning, is the new normal. We don’t whisper, we don’t sneak out. With hot mugs of coffee in hand, we rock in our patio chairs, talking, laughing, while she and her mate sunbathe sitting on the center table. Fearless, secure and in harmony.
To me, Ohio is about watching Steve and Maggie on Youtube; walking amid half empty bottles of milk, an assortment of toys and stray crayons; eating Kirkland’s ice cream bars and madeleines; and getting kissed and hugged by the three-year-old niece.
N and I drove to Stow, Ohio, on Saturday morning. We started around 5 am, when the moon, big and bright, still dominated the blue sky. It followed us, as we began a journey of 430 miles, passing three States. In Ohio, we remained within the comfort of home, even as winds picked up speed, and swayed the trees outside. Indian home food, Malayalam movies, and lots of catch and throw. In the night, once my niece was asleep, we watched the final episode of Game of Thrones, and went to bed, a little disappointed. But the morning brought the sound of happy laughter and excited squeaks from the little one.
We painted, stuck stickers, and watched a new series, Barbie’s Life in the Dreamhouse, on Netflix. We took a little walk outside, but the wind swept her red cap away. So we walked back home.
After a heavy lunch, it was time to leave. We packed our bags, and started our drive back home. This time, there was no moon following us. Even the sun left us midway. In the darkness, guided by street lights, we crossed the 430 miles, and got back to our warm, cozy bed. Waves of silence slowly rocked us to sleep. Only to take us back to the effortless laughter of the three-year-old niece in Ohio.
As far as board game nights go, the other day was no different. In the evening, we met up at a friend’s place. Over bowls of crispy snacks, we played a round of Exploding Kittens. Dinner was ordered on Uber Eats. Indian food. Vegetable Biryani, Gobi Manchurian (crispy fried cauliflower), and baby corn fry. An hour’s wait, it showed. Meanwhile, the table was set for Pandemic. There were six of us. We formed three teams, two in each. And while the world on our board was losing to epidemics, we paused to get plates full of food, while also switching on an episode of Street Food on Netflix. It was the one focused on South Korea. Nobody watched it though. The conversations rolled from real estate prices in Mumbai to Kareem’s, the popular street food place in New Delhi. Once dinner was done, chocolate cookies were brought out, and again, the focus was pulled back to the board game. Moves were planned. Plots were designed. But still we, the whole group, lost against the game. Niceties done, good nights said, we drove back home. As far as board game nights go, the other day was no different.
Six Flags (Great Adventure) was more than about rides. It was about this red bottle which never ran out of soda. It was about the overly juicy, pesto-dripping bread that we had for lunch. Of course it was about Nitro, Batman and Bizarro, but it was also about the really funny photo captured of us shouting our lungs out. It was about waiting in line for an hour for the first row in El Toro, and of cheering for the little kid who was too scared before the ride, but too happy after. It was about getting drenched to the bones in Log Flume, and shooting with an unforeseen rage at all the 4d creatures, in Justice League. But most importantly, it was about feeling like a superhuman for one day. Floating in the sky, riding along with the wind…and getting a little closer to the bright yellow Sun.