Chicago Blues

This blog is an online repertoire of my columns that run in the Indian Express, North American edition. Here I rave and rant about life, mostly as seen from the large vistas of my little world.

Location: Chicago, United States

Friday, June 08, 2007

The "Patel’s" Fixation

From the moment our odyssey to the US of A begins, we desis are forewarned about carrying home made goodies, including pickles, papads, halwas, mithais, masalas, chutneys, and other condiments, for which we are singled out almost like magnets and cross questioned about the smelly packs. The big American fast food experience that’s complete only with the use of forks and knives soon becomes a saving grace; and of course, the fast paced life in general takes its toll on us.

While most of us steel ourselves and take to the new changes after the initial hiccups, we do still miss the sights and sounds and smells of India. For instance, when we look at dozen-odd brands of cereal on the shelves at a supermarket, some of us think back to the good old “ragi porridge.” And when we talk “idlis,” with our children gazing in wonderment, suggesting the name “rice cakes” instead, we gladly incorporate it into our evolving lexicons.

The choices here seem more difficult, as there are many. Further, with no small market places like in India, where there are easy options, familiar faces, and where one can bargain and buy seasonal fruits and vegetables right off newspaper-lined wicker baskets in the fresh produce markets, as opposed to glossy, waxy produce that adorn these local supermarket shelves for days, things seem a little more tough.

Even as more and more of us try to find a life away from home in this land of opportunities, there are few who strive toward making it possible for us, like the Patels, Anna Daatas, and others. With their stores, which are more like little passages to India that stock everything an Indian kitchen would need to subsist, they even serve us during late night emergencies, at times. Like midnight cravings of “rosogullas” or “bhel puris” that have been known to knock many a would-be father off his snoring slumber and out the door.

And it’s not just the fresh spices, flours, grains, dry fruits, sweets, and savories that I’m referring to in particular. These stores have become the serve-all, cure-all stock for us desis. Of course, there are “Mother’s Recipe” pickles for spicing up that bland dal-chaawal, “Lijjat Papads” for adding a crunch to a soppy meal, “Monaco Jeera” to go with that evening cup of “masala chai,” “Maggi Noodles” for that 2-minute breakfast on a lazy weekend, and hordes of MTR, Swad and Gits frozen ready-to-eats for busy week nights, including “Mixed Vegetable Upma,” “Masala Dosa,” and “Rajma Chawal.” Also, there is the odd pack of parathas or ghee-smeared rotis that people make do with at times too. And for those that miss the rare vegetables, there are frozen “drumsticks,” “parwal,” “tindora,” and the likes; while canned coconut milk, sliced jackfruit, mango pulp, tamarind paste, ghongura chutney, are just some of the other rare offerings in stock. Not to mention the “Parachute,” or “Dabur Amla” hair oils for the hair care fanatics, “Margo,” and “Pears,” soaps for the desi-formula skin care enthusiasts, “Multani” face packs and “Ayur” herbal products for the natural products aficionados.

When I saw that my local desi grocer was selling ziplocked packs of dosa and idli batter, it seemed, at the outset, an outstandingly brilliant concept to serve some urgent needs. Word got around, and before we knew it, these little packs brought the authenticity of the good old Rajalakshmi Wet Grinders to every other desi home, and sold off like hot cakes. And slowly, the excitement began to recede; and my grocer was thinking of new plans to beckon his customers back with. And then came the festive offerings: packs of region-specific sweets, like sesame barfis, puffed rice laddus, and even sugar-coated plantain crisps for Onam, or the yearly blend of dried nuts with coconut flakes for Sankranthi. And so on and so forth, he continues to surprise and lure us with his novel ideas. His latest is by far the most utilitarian, best-selling of all --- pre-washed, pre-cut okras, beans, and all the other vegetables that are known to take the most time-consuming and painstaking efforts to dice up. Of course, they come at a price, but that seldom comes in the way of the convenience of being able to experience what only the good old maids in India could provide us with --- pain-free and stress-free home keeping, and quality time for ourselves, which, hopefully, we will put to good and constructive use, if we already aren’t.

With all these amenities, and with the Patel’s store on Devon stepping up with its demo area and pickle bar, one wonders, what’s next? A microwave at the checkout corner where one can warm one’s frozen food pack, and take out piping hot to gobble down on the way home? Perhaps it’s time for the India Gardens and Hyderabadi Houses to wake up and smell the "Chole Bhature."

Fingering with Food Etiquette

When was the last time you ate a simple home-cooked meal with your hands, relishing every bite, smacking your fingertips, and felt curiously satiated? The great Indian spoon-and-fork seems to have lost its utilitarian value, thanks to the eternal quest of what can only be called, a “different” lifestyle. Most of us drop aspects of our culture when we set foot in another continent, and take to, what we believe is, the more sophisticated “other” living. And be it something as trivial as food habits, for instance -- we seem to feel humiliated when seen eating with our hands. Of course, there isn’t essentially any section of our society that could be excluded from this doing. A globetrotting desi sitting pretty in his exquisite business class suite could well be as uncomfortable as someone in the economy class, in his painstaking efforts at slicing up his “masala dosa” with the dulled edges of a disposable knife, and savoring it.

Of course, there are exceptions, and we can’t even claim rights to their origin. Finger foods have come to belong to a category of exotic fare that is meant to sound elegant, and classy. And the only time we’d consider indulging in them is when the situation doesn’t have anything to do with us. The Deep Southern cuisine, for example, is considered “special,” and necessitates the use of hands in a “different” way, one that we deem stylish. And sometimes, eating appetizers right out of your hands at cocktail doodads is considered a pardonable sin. But at desi parties, one might yet see people cutting up their samosas with “plastic” silverware, and wonder how much of the samosa actually reaches their mouths. These forks and knives also dig into rotis with such exertion that it takes all the pleasure out of relishing rotis in the first place.

Winters, as I’ve known them, are perfect for family dinners and snack times, with everyone huddled around a cozy fire, and enjoying finger-licking platters of hot, spicy food. Of course, when the term ‘family’ ceases to include a bunch of nears and dears, and all one can possibly do is eat at quaint little chaat shops, the offerings there are far from being homely. When I see these eateries serving appetizing “pani puris” and “sev puris” on sleek little disposable plates, complete with dainty forks and knives, I’m instantly taken back to the roadside joints back at home, where “churmuris” and “mango bhels” were served in newspaper cones that served as perfectly functional containers, and were most delectable when eaten with one’s hands. I might add here that it is virtually impossible to eat “pani puris” out of hollow plastic spoons, although, if one did try, one might end up treating one’s shirt to a lot of the “pani” and one’s chin to some of the “puri.”

Isn’t it rather curious how we bend and twist and even unlearn things just to be able to fit ourselves into the mold of the acceptable “other” living? We relinquish life’s simple pleasures for a dream we seem to be chasing, which may not even get any more real than surreal for some of us. At times, we even choose to starve in order to appear comely. We do anything in our mortal power to avoid being screened out like magnets. Some of us take to eating the things we were never taught to, or perhaps never meant to, if one looks at it that way, just to belong. And some of us may have even been humiliated by the occasional sudden release of garlicky odors from our lunch boxes at work; or the piquancy of our spices and seasonings that cling to our walls, when visitors come by.

And then there’s the quintessential Indian finger food - “rajma-chawal,” or to a section of us from the South, “thair-saadam,” or yoghurt-rice, which has to be taken with pickle on the side, and smacked and savored to the last morsel. It is rather impossible, and I speak for many from the tribe, hopefully, to relish these foods fully with the aid of spoons and forks. That’s not to say belching, or slurping crudely should be forgiven. In fact, aside from the crackling sound of the papad, the only other sound that can be tolerated at our tables must surely be that of our hearts going “Hmmmmm.”

Colors of a Lost Tradition

It is not often that one can tell the front porch of an NRI household from that of others. Especially not in the winter, when everything around is bleak and bare, sparing the holiday lights that dot and adorn a few. So when I went to visit a friend who has just given birth to adorable twin girls, I was rather flummoxed --- a fine pattern of dove-white “rangoli,” outline, filled with dazzling Holi-like colors that had stood the test of Chicago’s brutal winds, welcomed me. And even as I was reveling in it, I saw were blobs of turmeric and vermillion here and there, and a wind chime of Ganeshas in different postures was swaying gently, as if to say amen and complement the other endearing displays.

Now, knowing my friend, she barely has the time to water her tulips in the summer. And I’m sure she wouldn’t be able to draw a straight line with the silken “rangoli” powder even with the aid of a scale. And now, with the double dolls in tow, it would hardly be expected of her to keep awake for guests. And so at once I knew that it must be the handiwork of her mother, or mother-in-law, depending, obviously, on who got their visa cleared first.

For people who know the significance and splendor of “rangoli,” the sight I witnessed would surely have brought the ultimate joy. Growing up as a little girl in Southern India, I would often witness my mother’s nifty hands create magic with the powder. It was a daily ritual --- the front porch would be cleansed with water, and once the water had run off, the pattern would take form, curve by glorious curve, line by shipshape line. My mother has never been fond of rules with respect to anything, and certainly not in this regard. No clean slated dots and connecting-the-dots designs for her; she believes in letting her passion and creativity rule. Well, more than that, actually, given her Godliness and devotional spirit.

The “rangoli” sessions didn’t stop there. There was a theme set for every occasion. Sugarcane sticks and leafy designs during Sankranthi, lotuses and miniature Ganeshas during the Ganesh Chathurthi celebrations, diyas and glowing, colored flames at Diwali, and so on. There would be an unstated contest for the house with the best-adorned front porch, in the neighborhood. And despite some bright, impressive flowery creations during Onam by some others, my mother’s “rangoli” pattern always stood out, like a lone shining star in a galaxy of dim spots.

And today, it nearly has been reduced to a has-been art form, given the mass production of sticker rangolis. One can see these brick-red strips with painted motifs that glue onto any surface, and even though they stand out on white marbles and wooden planks that sit pretty on carpeted floors, they’re not even close to the real thing. They’re even sold off the shelves in Indian stores, alongside “aarti thaalis,” and assorted “puja items,” including but not limited to artificial, turmeric-lined coconuts stuck to small white silver ewers, plastic rows of mango leaves, and other oddments.

While some of these modern day simulations of traditionalism have caught up even in India, there are still pockets of authenticity that yearn to be noticed, and they’re rather mind boggling if you ask me. And out here, the pleasure of witnessing them are a rarity, and limited only to the time of year when the mothers and mothers-in-law visit. Be it summer, spring or winter, they take the time to transform desi houses into homes, even if it means creating an array of colorful designs that gets trampled on by sloppy visitors. Of course, some of them prefer to use the good old chalk in the Fall, lest the winds that tweak the leaves off trees muss their labor of love up.

And when I returned home that evening, I saw what a contrast the bareness of my front door was, despite its fancy holiday wreath. But there seems to be hope, because the local Hindu temple has scheduled a “rangoli” competition, later this month. Even though I may not exactly partake in it, I’d really like to see if the children’s creations of those time-honored, symmetric patterns can match up to their other works that often adorn refrigerator doors.

Remniscences of a Desi Stuffaholic

A visit to the local children’s museum was enough to get me nostalgic for the umpteenth time this year. The sights of gigantic balloons that fill up by a lever-driven, pedaling or pumping action, mazes of different kinds, windmill replicas --- they all brought back memories of a childhood that didn’t need museums or fancy green islands to explore and learn about the world around. I mean, our own backyards or front yards served as learning stations, back at home.

I remember walking down to the windmill to get fresh “atta” ground, hand in hand with the other kids in the neighborhood, led by my maid. I also remember, as a little girl, of about seven, or eight, my intense love and fancy for stuff - which made me a stuffaholic - stuff like stamps, coins, pressed flowers, leaves, cashews (tucked securely in their shells), and a few other things I cannot seem to summon up at this moment. A stark contrast, I might add, to the manner in which our little American-born ones are saving their “favorites” in computer bytes, and gluing things that they might consider reminiscing later, onto pages of custom-designed scrapbooks, sometimes even e-books. Even their memories are a bargain --- which makes me wonder if they’ll ever be able to enjoy the little things in life like we did. Little things like picking fresh flowers, and leaves, and pressing them between dog-eared pages of books handed down from generations. Gathering bird feathers under banyan trees, eating fresh guavas picked from neighbors’ gardens, slurping on homemade tamarind lollipops, among other things.

When I was a little girl, the most exciting summer activity of all, was an unstated competition for collection of cashews. There were about six cashew trees in my neighborhood, and the biggest of them all stood in my neighbor’s garden. A strapping, grumpy woman, she was known to be rather hostile to children (and adults too, in general), and the right time to sneak in would be the afternoon, when she’d take her post-lunch siesta. I remember sneaking in there with my little plastic bag, clambering up the tree in a trice (I knew all its branches, nodes and safety handles closely), and counting how many were within reach. I would then end up biting into one or more irresistibly juicy cashew apples, and meanwhile, my friends, who were apparently shrewder, would have picked a dozen more cashews. The norm was to hurl the cashew apples away after the cashews had been pinched off. These cashews were then stowed away in tin boxes in our respective kitchen attics, and on one chosen day, they would all be counted, and the shells roasted, in a small garden fire, under the supervision of an adult who was considered wacky and wild enough to be a part of the squad. The winner would get a fruit picked fresh from the garden, or, on occasion, a pencil or a sharpener.

Sure, my little one gets to go apple picking, enjoy corn-on-cobs, relish cotton candies, and even popsicles. But there is a huge difference - her access to these things is limited, and not so much natural as it is fabricated. I wouldn’t dare let her pinch a couple of fruits off the neighbor’s garden, and the Scrapbook Groupies sell far more attractive pressed flowers than she’d end up getting if she took a shot at it on her own. She wouldn’t know the greatness of tiny, shiny marbles (as collected and deposited in little tin boxes, in my days). She wouldn’t know the value of stamps (as begged and beseeched from “foreign-returned” relatives) given the scarcity of snail mails. She wouldn’t know the thrill of counting coins (as segregated and stacked based on their geographical origin, in China silk pouches) given the swiping, sweeping abundance of Visa and Master cards around.

Even though my own stints with collecting stuff never lasted long, there was always something new to enthuse my little mind, during the good old growing up years. I seldom stuck to any one thing, and relentlessly kept at acquiring several fractionary collections, through the years. But rather surprisingly, I find today that it’s impossible to lay my hands on a single stamp or quarter or dime even if I rummaged the entire house, and my flowers and cashews are exclusively store bought. And being the modern, more reformed stuffaholic these days, the least I can ensure is to save my little girl’s visits to parks and museums on sleek little disks for her future viewing pleasure. But for now, I must get her to nibble on sugarcane sticks with rows of brand new teeth, this Pongal.

When the Saree Meets the Sarong

One doesn’t have to catch up with the latest Bollywood movies anymore to get a glimpse into current desi fads and trends. Although, if one did, chances are one might see very little in terms of attire. It is not au courant anymore for desi women to dress in bikinis, or the men folk to walk around in embroidered shirts, and equally ornamental trousers. The rage these days, as the local grapevine has it, is for the women to be dressed in the traditional Indian saree, which, as opposed to making them look like divine divas, makes them look like bare-all babes; and for the men to be seen in front-open “kurtis” and ragged-jagged-edged denims.

I believe that the main problem with some desis living in America is their inability to hold their own - be it culture, appearance, food habits, or even fine arts, like music and dance. Fusion is their newest fashion, or so it seems. One visit to a desi party, and you’ll know what I mean. I personally end up being the odd one out, many a time. I have an almost freakish tendency to misunderstand the significance of such gatherings. For instance, there was this time when I went to a desi teen’s graduation party (although why I was asked to is yet an unanswered question) dressed in a pair of jeans and a semi-formal shirt, to find all eyes fixed on me from the moment I set foot in there. All the desi women there were clad in glitzy ghagharas with the tops held precariously in place by a flimsy pair of cords, or sheeny, translucent sarees with little to no sign of a blouse to go with. They seemed to make up for the lack of clothing with heavy accessories though. The poor teenager, in whose honor the party was being held, was slouching away in a corner, his face buried under a book. There were beers and cheers all around, and that only seemed to add to his misery. How did all that razzmatazz matter to a young, intelligent boy who had just finished school, and was looking forward to a scholarly stint in college?

And then there are the Pujo celebrations, where showing off jewelry and sporting the fanciest silk sarees, paired, more often than not, with strappy, lacy, knit tops from Macy’s that pass off as blouses, is a religiously followed routine, for some of the womenfolk. The men, of course are burdened with the task of taking pictures of the damsels, and can be seen more actively perfecting angles and flash screens, than partaking in the festivities. How does, one wonders, all this lavishness contribute to the devotion and spiritual essence of the festival?

I took my little one to an early kids-all Christmas party last evening. Even though the crowd was fairly cosmopolitan, the majority were Indians. While I went casually dressed, I was rather baffled to witness hordes of desi moms show up in formal party wear - which is a relative term, actually. Most of them were dressed in sparkly lehengas topped with sheeny, second-skin-like blouses, which they paraded off as “formal Indian skirts-and-tops.” Did Santa even notice their glimmer and shimmer, or was he more interested in handing out gifts to eager little toddlers who had braved the chill just for that?

It may also be noted that these are the same women who go to the temple clad in leather jackets, skinny pants and tall boots. Of course, that may not be permissible anymore, what with the new bulletin up at the temple these days, requesting devotees to be appropriately attired for their visit to the sacred shrine.

I wonder if they’d dress similarly when at home in India. Fashion seems to have taken a new connotation - and amidst all the hoopla, even the identities seem to have gotten contorted, just like the typical Bollywood actress who changes clothes and roles with each new release. For instance, when Preity Zinta sports long, mirrored, appliquéd, embroidered skirts with jazzy tops, the lehenga becomes the most sought-after dress. But when she dumps that look for a more glamorous one, with a halter neck, micro-mini, silk dress in a bigger box-office hit, the lehenga gets frowned upon.

With the New Year around the corner, I can only imagine how the desi fashion scene could be exploding with new styles. Dupattas coiled around slender, bare necks that seem ready to choke as the New Year is ushered in, or worse, a saree wrapped tautly around the waist to make up for the absence of a band to hold a teensy, delicate sarong, or nonesuch. As for me, I guess I’ll slip into my most comfortable pair of PJs. But I wouldn’t be too surprised if I trigger off a hot new rage with them in the coming year. After all, they’re snug, soft, and they’ve had their share of Bollywood limelight, thanks to Rani Mukherjee, or someone equally famous.

Bustles of a Budget Mom

Frugality, I’ve learned, isn’t just one among the many whacky thing associated with us desis. Being cheap, as it were, is universal, and what’s more, it’s the in thing these days. Well, when you’re an overly distraught, and completely overwhelmed mommy of a diaper-wearing toddler like myself, you do tend to get cheap. You may even, if you’re as tech-lame as I am, acquire some knowledge on the dos and don’ts of online shopping. With all those deals and coupons and weekend-only sales on tiny products that otherwise cost a fortune, why not? Of course, there is a thin line between trying to be cheap and actually being cheap. Let me explain.

My entertainment and sleep-deprived eyes are constantly on the look out for the words “save,” and “sale,” especially when they pertain to a baby product. My Sunday mornings are spent enthusiastically, cutting coupons out from newspaper supplements. These coupons, as fate would have it, are then stacked away in a “safe” place - a place so safe and secretive that it simply evades my already-fading memory. So it is only when the diaper pail runs out of refills and the odor of dirty diapers permeates the house that I suddenly and breathlessly recollect a coupon for “buy one, get one free,” refill packs that I’d cut out. And of course, I never find it; or if and when I do, it’ll have expired. So I end up spending twice as much, and so on and on it goes.

Thus, when the printed versions failed me consistently, I turned to the internet for help. I signed up for as many baby-related web sites as I could. The coupons and deals flooded my inbox, but so did the junk mails. And unlike days of yore, when junk mails were sent in bulk, to a zillion ids at the same time without a whim or care, these days, junk mailers seem to know the race, color, ethnicity and nationality of their receivers rather well, despite the hard to crack, bizarre ids some of us possess. For instance, I get mails from various Nevers and Naysayers asking me if I need help with parenting, by offering me the services of certain Indian babysitters with equally shady names. So amidst all this junk, the Pampers and Gerber coupons get little notice and ultimately hit the trash. And of course, it results in a rushed me standing in line to pay off a hefty bill for a range of over-priced baby stuff in a wobbly shopping cart, to witness a perfectly au fait American mommy in front of me, drawing strips of coupons out from her bag like she were a magician.

I don’t ever remember seeking and cutting coupons out for petty bargains whilst in India. Our self-made discount conduits, as it were, used to be our own tongues out there. Just last year, I managed to get a pack of “imported” diapers at a considerably lesser price than advertised by merely haggling with the vendor. And haggling is an art that can’t be mastered by everyone - sometimes it is also something that is inherent, or genetic. I think I acquired mine from my sister, who has this amazing ability to make vendors feel sorry for not selling things to her at the price she deems fit, right at the outset. And I have been known, on an occasion or two, to get a pair of what-have-yous at the price quoted for one. Well, it’s no rocket science really, but it takes practice. And I cannot even begin to imagine what would happen to the holiday shopping sprees out here if haggling were permissible, in the place of coupons. A bunch of us desi moms could sweep stuff off of store shelves on Black Friday faster and easier than the night owls and early birds, with their pocketfuls of coupons and codes.

But alas, alack, that’s not the case, and we must move on in our quest for cheaper deals and bargains. Well, these paltry negotiations may not be on everyone’s agenda, but if you’re a desi mom who knows how much diapers and wipes and pail refills and teensy clothes and shoes and the like cost here as opposed to India (which you may have experienced on a recent or erstwhile visit), you’d better look them up. But if motherhood has blessed you with a failing memory like mine, and you’re not Stephanie Nelson, you can at least make a start somewhere. I hear they’re selling cutout, printed, and collated coupons in little booklets, just for people like us. So going cheap is not only fashionable, it’s easy too. And if there’s a deal on that booklet, count me in.

A Khichdi of Traveling Nuisances

With the new guidelines for check-in and carry-on baggage for air travel, and the new list of restricted items on board airplanes, going on a vacation doesn’t really seem like a happy thing anymore. And of course, if you’re a harried desi mom in these shores, like me, you’re done for. So if you’re looking to feed your baby healthy, ghee-laced, homemade food on a local flight, like say, “khichdi,” forget all about it. Even a sipper filled with the purest of ‘baby water’ is not allowed; well, not until you’ve reached your gate, at least. Based on these and other equally niggling regulations, the bliss that earlier used to stem from just the thought of an annual vacation, which we just wrapped up, was conspicuously absent during the travel and airport transits.

Not more than a year ago, I remember traveling alone across continents with my little baby, then all of six months, all snuggled up in a cozy Kangaroo pouch. There was no count to the number of times I had to un-strap the pouch, and get ‘checked,’ even as I tried to lug my cabin carry-all, balance a diaper tote that was ten times heavier than the baby on my frail left shoulder, a laptop on my right, and all with the baby precariously dangling on my disappearing waist.

Of course, if you’re on an Air India flight, chances are you’ll get help from old, affectionate parents of other desis, who are, possibly, leaving their own grand children behind, to return to their homeland. Or perhaps, you may even get lucky with a fellow desi mom or dad, a bachelor or bachelorette, as long as they understand your predicament and your need to take a deep breath, or sometimes, even relieve yourself, while the baby is watched over. Of course, you might be wondering about the big old “Lakshman Rekha,” or the one thing that all desi parents forewarn their children about when they travel, “Do not talk to strangers. Do not trust strangers.” But when it comes to our own, we seem to take things for granted. And in my case, there was this cloying single desi girl who was going home on vacation, and she gladly agreed to handle my wailing, whimpering little one as I excused myself to the restroom. My opened up bags and belongings were resting at her feet, and somehow, it never once occurred to me to think back to the “Lakshman Rekha.”

But this time, we were traveling locally. And the fact that my husband took care of our little one didn’t seem to suffice to ease my nerves. My bags were ripped open, sippers full of fresh, homemade fruit juices were discarded, the baby’s sunscreen was screened (it was more than the allowed limit of 3 oz., yes, it was 4 oz.), and even though I didn’t care much about it then, I am now glad I didn’t carry the baby’s nasal drops, general medicines, Pediasure, and a few other things in my diaper tote that would have had to hit the dump. And the screening machine seldom fails to single out handbags of poor, frenzied moms like me. So amidst all the checking, and detecting, I was busy explaining to the lady in the uniform that I had genuinely forgotten that I had placed a Gerber food bottle in my handbag. I even told her that I was willing to pass it by if she so deemed fit. But all she wanted me to do was stand back, and watch, without touching, as she explored and rummaged my debilitating handbag and its various nooks and hidden corners, as if it had something as harmful as the pack of Gerber “mashed sweet potatoes.”

Anyhow, once the ordeal was over and done with, the next daunting task was to put on my shoes and jacket, dress the baby back up in all those layers, and teensy little walkers, strap her back in her stroller seat, hand her over to the husband, and handle a couple of elephantine bags, after their contents had been put back in order, lest they fail to zip up - and all this, to be on the airplane in time.

After we had reached our destination, however, it was all forgotten, albeit momentarily, as there were the scrutinizing gates and guards in all the places of interest on our agenda. But my daughter was happy to see Mickey and his kin, and she picked out her first tiny seashells, as she enjoyed her first visit to a beach, playing “Jump Up High” with the seagulls and learning a thing or two about the hazards of getting sand in her mouth. I have even taught her to say “bonda” and “bhaja” to refer to the fried American delicacies she feasted on, on the beachside, when she speaks with her grandparents. All’s well that ends well, as they say, and I’m especially glad that her sunscreen had already been used to beat the Windy City heat this past summer. Well, at least so that it made the tube feel lighter than 4 oz., to be able to make it through, albeit locked in a special plastic seal.