Letters from Singapore – Part 1

Dear Mother,
Hope this letter finds you in good health and spirit. I duly apologize for not writing to you often enough and promise that I will write to you regularly from henceforth.

I am doing quite well. I like this country and the people. The sights and sounds are wondrous. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that the weather is unpredictable. It is terribly humid one moment and the next moment,it starts raining cats and dogs. And within minutes, its a clear sky again. Everyone here seems to be in a terrible rush to go someplace which makes me wonder where so many people are going on such a small island. The kids are really chubby and naughty but their mothers are quite grumpy, possibly driven up the wall by the kids. As is the case anywhere else,older people are only too eager to talk and the young ones try to look as smug and aloof as possible and often end up looking dazed and lost. I would like to narrate a minor incident here if you will indulge me for a bit. I met an elderly person, a local, on the train the other day who was asking for directions.We started conversing and suddenly he asked if I was married or if I have a girlfriend. He told me about his family and that he has two daughters both of who are in their early 20’s and are married and that he has 2 grand kids(without me asking anything). He went on to advise me to marry a girl from a rich family for obvious reasons, but finally added “Love is love, lah. If you love somebody, marry her no matter who she is”. Now that I have narrated the incident, I get a feeling that it might concern you as to what mischief I am unto. Do not fret, mother. I have no plans of finding a bride in this country.

Moving on, you will be pleased to hear that the kadai(cooking vessel) you gave me is in perfect shape. Your worries about its condition are completely misplaced.  The other day,I overcooked the brinjal a little which resulted in some blackening around the center but it was nothing a diligent washing couldn’t remove. Please do not pester father on this matter. While we are onto cooking, this thing has been bothering me. I have valiantly tried to recreate your “mudde palya”(north karnataka style dal) many a times, but the wretched dish just doesn’t turn out the way you make it. Its like when you make it, all the individual ingredients understand each other and blend perfectly which when boiled together, culminate into an ethereal,rich combination of heavenly taste(combined with ghee, of course) and when I try to do the same, the ingredients don’t get along well, fight with each other and are mixed together forcibly resulting in a bland tasting concoction with a hateful aura. It positively irks me that I not able to get what seems like a simple recipe correct. I request you to include a detailed recipe of the dish in your next letter without omitting even the tiniest of details.

Do you find time to watch you favorite TV shows now? I recall your lamenting that there multiple shows going on at the same time slot and you are having trouble catching up on all the shows. The last time I visited you, I remember watching episodes of a show where the male lead and the female lead started turning towards each other to meet each other’s gaze. What a tense situation that was! They started turning on Monday and by the time I left on Friday, they had successfully pivoted 30 degrees towards each other. Have their eyes met yet? And for how many episodes did they stare into each other’s eyes later? Do let me know. I was very much hooked to all the pivoting and it was unfortunate that I had to leave it midway.

One last thing before I end this letter. Mother, I see that you have recently made your grand entry into the world of social media. I am happy and proud of you. But please be prudent while using Facebook. If you see a page saying if you comment “Om Sai Ram” 108 times,something good will happen to you today, DO NOT believe and start commenting. Also google and Facebook are not same. If you want to search for some word, go to google.com. I realized this after I saw your latest FB status updates – “Mooli paratha recipe” and “tomorrow weather”. I would also appreciate if you don’t reply to each of my status updates with an appropriately timed “Have you had your breakfast/lunch/dinner?” after which none of my friends respond to it. I will give you a phone call and update you about my meals for the day.

That is all from my side. Please take care of your health. I will write to you again shortly. Convey my regards to father.

Yours loving son,

P.S: The chatni pudi(peanut powder) you packed me is finished up already. I think you should pack me 1 kg of it next time.

Of Haircuts,Discounts and Coconuts

This is how the going has been for me in Singapore. I should have posted this long back, but better late than never.
Curly troubles : I visited the hair saloon recently. “Ooo cully hai'(hair) aar? Very deefficul tu com’ lah (Though my hair is definitely not curly, its shamefully dull when compared to the straight, shiny hair of  the people here. I told the guy to cut it “medium” and not to make it too short. One thing I would like to mention here that I totally love haircuts. The lazy atmosphere in the saloon, the rhythmic sound of scissors and the slightly ticklish feel when they touch my hair transports me into a trance-like state where I drift away seamlessly between multiple worlds, with no boundaries between them. Or maybe I just get drowsy. Either way, like it has happened a lot many times, by the time he was finished, I observed with a shock that my crop is as short as freshly cut paddy! He happily told me, “See, looking neat ooreaddy(already). Very easy to com’ now laaaah”. What he actually meant was that he has saved the comb from the dastardly responsibility of working on my hair for a few days!   I expressed him my heartfelt gratitude, paid him “ten dollaa” and left muttering to myself. Seriously though,his position is understandable. They just have no clue how to go ahead when presented with the classic Indian hair, so one can”t really blame him. This is not the last time this happened. And this is the least of the problems I face here.
Thrifty wars: It sometimes gets on to my nerves how lot of conversations revolve around costs and expenses of something-something especially when Indians get together. Wherever you see a bunch of us hanging out, the most prominent topic of discussion would be who has got the said item(a tour package,an electronic gadget,onions – just about anything) the cheapest. Imagine an office scenario. This is how a sample conversation goes :
Person 1: Hey yesterday I bought a mixee.
Person 2 (automatically) : Kitte mein liya?
P1 (totally aware now that this is not going to end well for him) : $48
P2 (with a triumphant look) : I got it for $43. You should have gone to so-and-so place and bought it.
P1(to himself): OK fine. Thanks for the now utterly useless info. I’ll use it to bug somebody else.
Person 3 : (Let me introduce this person. No I cant, since I hadnt ever seen him or spoken to him until that moment when he suddenly popped up from the other cubicle looking as if he has waited for this moment all his life and this is the precise moment which will define his existence on the earth and render meaning to it. So he seizes the opportunity with both hands and jumps into the conversation): Did you say $43? What man? That’s too expensive. U just have to change two train lines, 3 buses and lo you are this so-and-so place where you have to bargain a little and you’ll get it for $37. If you had asked me before, I would’ve told you. Next time don’t do this mistake. Enquire with me first” Now that he is done talking, he looks around in slow motion, silently daring anyone to challenge his price. No one does. There is pindrop silence all around. P1 and P2 portray a variety of emotions simultaneously – awe, despair, disgust, anger and resignation to name a few.They take a silent vow to have their revenge on P3, when he buys something next. The battle is lost, but the war has just began. P3 grins and sits down , with a sense of joy and fulfillment gradually filling his heart. This will make a heartwarming dinner story for his wife,he reflects.
The coconut dilemma : Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined I will be facing problems of such gargantuan proportions in my tryst with the world outside India. I am a big fan of fresh coconut chutney and almost cant do without dosa and chutney once in a few days. And I do not like the packaged grated coocnut they sell in stores. Such blasphemy! It is like choosing …hmmm…a Mithunda movie over an Aamir Khan movie. Or for the international audience, choosing a Twilight movie over a Harry Potter Album. Anyway, one fine day, I got a coconut home. Then it occurred to me. Where to break the coconut? The question popped out from my head and lingered on, just hovering in the air, taunting me. This was not going to be an easy choice. I called my roommate to conference. He said no question of experimentation in the house for risk of breaking the tiles or the kitchen stand. I wondered why I never cared about the tiles back in India. And we could not find a stone to break it on too. When I sufficiently pestered my roommate, he calmly pointed me his head ala Lord Vamana Murthi to Bali Chakravarti and indicating that that I can break it on his head. I dropped the thought after pondering over it for a moment. As I was devising and destroying scheme upon scheme in my mind, I looked in our balcony. Voila! There was a small drainage opening right in front of the door. I was reminded of a quote from the Alchemist – when u want something really bad, all the universe conspires to help you achieve. As the sun set over the horizon and darkness shrouded this half of the earth, I opened the door, looked around for any signs of humans around and approached the hole ever so stealthily. I hit the coconut to the ground with all my might combined with a mental victory roar and quickly ran back into the house after collecting all the pieces. And thus fresh coconut chutney was made available for everyone since then.
The la-la effect: Well this is an attribute typical of Singapore. “lah” in Singapore is totally like “da” in Bangalore and “ra” in Hyderabad. Only difference is the Indian versions sound masculine like they are supposed to, and the Singapore one sounds,well,gay (because of the la-la-la sound, I guess) . What gets me slightly irked is the fact that Indians who have been living here since a long time catch the local English. Try this:
Me: Shall we go for lunch now?
Long time NRI: Can,can.
Me: Does this restaurant have vegetarian food?
Long time NRI: Have,have.
I think its just a part of natural evolution. Anyway, if you want to listen to some hilarious Singlish (Singapore English), check this out: Singlish chat on phone
More Singapore stories coming up!