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( I ‘ve only just started posting again after a two month long hiatus. The reason… many things, but particularly, the birth of our first grandchild, our granddaughter Saya, in San Francisco. This post is about our emotions on seeing her for the first time).

When we told our friends that we were leaving for San Francisco to see our new granddaughter, they were delighted for us. Those who had grandchildren of their own were particularly effusive. ” We’re so happy for you. That moment when you see her for the first time: cherish it. There is nothing like it'”, said one. ” Sheer magic”, gushed another. With such a build -up, we were eager to see the baby.

We arrived in San Francisco, took a Lyft to our son’s apartment, greeted him and were ushered into the living room where Saya was cradled in her mother’s lap. My first thought upon seeing her was how small and vulnerable she appeared. She  was not yet one month old and I had not dealt with babies that young in a long, long time. I took in her features : the gimlet eyes that seemed to look right through me, the Cupid’s Bow mouth ,the cute little nose, the neatly combed hair – and I began to feel the first stirrings of love, an emotion that grew stronger day by day as this little stranger became a person and stole into my heart.

I remember the exact moment when it happened.

Little babies have it so hard. Thrust suddenly into a world they cannot comprehend, utterly helpless, completely dependent on large strangers for their every need, they can communicate their needs only by crying. Life is an endless cycle of eat, burp, sleep, eliminate and get clean. Even after being burped, Saya would be affected by hiccups. At such times, the only thing that brought her comfort was sitting in her grandma’s lap and being rocked gently until the hiccups subsided. We also discovered that Saya loved to hear the Hindu chant, Soham, sung by a church choir. As soon as we put it on, the crying would stop and , in minutes, she would doze off. I loved to look at Saya as this happened. One day, she was apparently asleep and my wife was thinking of putting her in the crib, when Saya opened one eye and looked at us. The look was so knowing and yet trusting that my wife and I were both charmed. It was magical.

Another such moment happened when she was fast asleep in her crib. As I watched, a beatific smile stole across her face. What could she be thinking of that brought such peace and contentment ? I thought of angels and Heaven and was reminded of the Inner Divinity that resides in all of us. The smile lasted for only a few seconds but , as I wondered if it had really happened, it happened again! O happy day !!

When we came back to New Jersey it was a wrench, parting from Saya. Even now, our thoughts are often with her. After we left, we heard that she was sad for a couple of days. Then, she got her shots and was miserable for a week. Hearing that, we were too. Luckily, her other grandmother is there now to take care of her and to pamper her and Saya is smiling again. We FaceTime with her on Sundays and, while it is no substitute for face- to face interaction, it is the next best thing. We get to see her and how fast she is growing and keep tabs on what is happening with her. We count the days until we can see her again in November.  Will she remember us then? Or will we have to make her acquaintance all over again?

Children and grandchildren both bring us joy but, as a friend once remarked, we are more relaxed with our grandchildren. Having brought up children, we know what to expect and are not as nervous as when we were young parents. At our stage of life, we also have less worries than when we were still making our way in the world.

I often think of how fortunate we are, those of us who have children and, perhaps, grandchildren. We have seen our children grow up, tended them through their mishaps, rejoiced in their achievements and shared in their happiness. Now, through our grandchildren, we get to re-live those golden years once again. Truly, we are blessed.

 

 

I watched the  Wimbledon Mens Singles Final this morning, on ESPN, and it was both a delight and a relief. It was a delight because, as a Federer fan, I’d been waiting for Roger to clinch his 19th Grand Slam ever since the Australian Open in January. It was a relief to a Federer fan who knows all too well that anything can happen in a sport where 35 ( almost 36) years of age means that one is a geriatric.

From a tennis fan’s point of view, the tennis on display this morning was disappointing because the match was so one- sided. Marin Cilic had looked in great form in the earlier rounds including in his four set semifinal win over big serving Sam Querry, and his subpar display this morning was mystifying. Apparently, he suffered an injury to his foot … but when ? The tumble he took early in the match did not appear to be that serious, nor did it seem to result in any lasting injury. I thought I heard one of the McEnroes mention that it had happened in the semifinal but I could be mistaken. More likely, it was nerves that got the better of Cilic, who is a high strung type. In any case, he was outclassed and was never in the match.

Even though the quality of play was not outstanding, there was still a lot to enjoy, as there is in any match in which Federer is involved. First and foremost, there is his style which makes everything look so smooth and effortless. The flowing groundstrokes, the serve effective because of its pinpoint placement rather than sheer pace, the way in which he glides , seemingly unhurried, all over the court and the unparalleled beauty of that one- handed backhand. What I appreciate, too, is his approach to the game, the manner in which he goes for his shots rather than play safe and wait for his opponent to make mistakes. Finally, there is the obvious enjoyment he derives from tennis and his on-court demeanor. He is intense but always in control of his emotions; he is not one to yell, or curse, or abuse his racket. Those are the things that set him apart from everyone else. That is why he is such a fan favorite all over the world and why  the crowd is in his corner even when he is playing the home-town favorite. It was wonderful to see the reaction of the Wimbledon crowd this morning when he won.

With this victory, Roger Federer leaps into second place in the standings behind his arch rival, Rafael Nadal. Even so, even if he wins the U.S Open in September, I doubt that he will be # 1 at year’s end since he plays so few tournaments these days. At this stage of his career, the Number 1 ranking is no big deal. Far more important is to conserve his energy and prolong his career and, hopefully, win another Grand Slam or two and stay ahead of Nadal. With his two Grand Slams this year, Roger has increased his lead over Rafa, from three to four. I think he is safely out of reach but one more GS at Flushing Meadows would put the issue beyond doubt. Go Roger!

P.S There are some armchair ” experts” who will sneer at Roger’s win because he didn’t have to meet and defeat any of the Big Three ( Novak, Andy Murray and Rafa). It is a silly argument because all of them entered in the tournament and their early exits were not any fault of Roger’s.

There are several lists of the dirtiest jobs in America. Some of the jobs on those lists are:

Septic Tank Servicer         Horse Castrator        Sewer Inspector          Pig Slop Processor

Charcoal Maker                 Road kill Cleaner      Termite Controller      Embalmer

Bloodworm Hunter          Animal Vet                Bat Cave Scavenger      Coal Miner

Slaughterhouse Worker

As bad as these jobs are, and they are all really really bad, there is one that is worse than any of them. The crappiest job in America is White House Press Secretary (in the present administration). Consider what poor Sean Spicer has to go through every day. As in many of the jobs listed above, he has to deal with a whole lot of crap. In his role as spokesperson for the executive branch, he has to explain actions and events within the President’s administration to the world. Thus, he has to deal with the White House Press Corps on a daily basis and explain the President’s latest snafus. He has to use his wiles to evade… and deny … and deflect … and obfuscate. In short, everything short of outright lying.  After tying himself up in knots trying to do the impossible, he is regularly undercut by his boss who contradicts what he has just said. How he must dread those early morning Tweetstorms!

As if this is not enough, he is the butt of jokes and is regularly caricatured on Saturday Night Live and by late night show hosts. As someone has said, working in this administration means being perceived either as a fool or as a liar.

When something goes wrong, as it invariably does, it is never his boss’s fault; it’s his. He may be a decent chap but he is mistrusted by everyone, thanks to his job. Nor can there be any satisfaction in the job itself. Every day is worse than the last and, when his head hits the pillow at night, he must have nightmares about what the next day will bring.

Finally, as hard as he works, his job security is nil. There is constant speculation that he is about to be fired and, in the last week, the whispers have been growing louder. If I were a betting man, yesterday I would have been willing to wager that he would not last six months. Today, amidst reports that a Fox News correspondent is being considered for his job, it seems I was too optimistic. He may not last out the month. Yes, this is the crappiest job in America and Sean Spicer will probably heave a sigh of relief he hears the dread words  ” You’re fired!”.

Sitting Up Close

Last evening, we went to the Shankar Mahadevan concert at the Newark Symphony Hall in Newark, NJ. The concert was great ( more about that in another post) but what put it over the top for my wife was that she was able to sit very near the stage and have a close-up view of the singers. It really was fortuitous…

There were twenty of us from our Active Adult development going to the concert and because that was a sizable number, the ticket office upgraded two of the tickets to the VVIP class, seats which normally cost $ 250 apiece. The person who bought the tickets chose my wife for one of the upgraded seats in recognition of her hard work with other programs. Very generous of him and a godsend for my wife. She is herself a keen singer and a big, big Mahadevan fan. From where she sat in the fifth row, center she was able to see every little detail, every facial expression, every nuance of what was happening on stage. it’s true that those who are sitting further back can hear everything that’s going on but when you are sitting up front it’s a completely different experience.

That’s true for all kinds of shows, not just for music. Some years ago, we were at a New Jersey Devils game at the Meadowlands and were lucky to be sitting just four rows back from the ice. Wow! Only then did we fully appreciate what a physical game ice hockey is. When you are sitting further away or see the game on TV, you see the collisions but don’t realize how violent they are. That night, from our choice seats, we got the real picture. Whenever, a player was crushed against the plexiglass barrier by an opposing player,  it shook and shuddered and seemed on the verge of breaking up. We saw the missing teeth as faces were mashed against the glass, sprays of perspiration launched into the air when two players ran into each other. We also saw how rapidly the shift changes occurred with players on the ice for  less than minute at a time. Even when there was no scoring, it was exciting to watch the players crash into each other, hear the clackety clack of sticks as they battled for the puck. That night, I understood why violence sells, why hockey and NFL football are so successful in attracting fans.

There are, however, some close -in seats that are not desirable. Those are the ones next to the oversize speakers at shows that feature high decibel music. Once at the Blue Man show in Las Vegas, we had the misfortune to be sitting close to the speakers and the din was ear shattering. My brother-in-law was actually in pain. Apparently, this is not an uncommon predicament because an usher was on hand to give him earplugs so that he could watch the rest of the program without his ears being assaulted by waves of sound.

In general though, the closer the better. I hope you are able to have the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Too Hot for Me

We used to enjoy the biryanis ( particularly the goat biryani) at the Paradise Pointe Biryani restaurant in Edison, NJ. The meat was tender, the basmati rice tender and fluffy, the meat falling off the bone, the entire dish delicately spiced and not at all hot. The restaurant is part of a chain founded by an ex-pat Indian IT engineer who was homesick for the succulent biryanis he used to enjoy in Hyderabad. There are over 40 such franchise restaurants all over the US. After we moved to Somerset NJ, about 20 miles away from Edison, we started patronizing the Paradise Pointe in North Brunswick, the original where it all started. It was even better than the one in Edison… for a while. Then the management seemed to change, there were some new faces and the food became spicier, much spicier. We switched to ordering the biryani mild, rather than medium, but it was still too hot. Last Saturday, we tried the Paradise Pointe at a different location but there too the food was too spicy.

Why do restaurants make food so spicy-hot? Indian restaurants are among the worst offenders but there are other cuisines who do the same. I remember a Thai restaurant on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village where the owner/ waitperson warned me the food was spicy as he took my order. I’d ordered it medium spicy but when it arrived it was liberally sprinkled with birds-eye chillies and was so hot  that I couldn’t eat after the first mouthful. Needless to say, I never went back there.

Though most Americans prefer non-spicy, if not bland, food there is a growing contingent of chilli pepper  fans for whom eating the hottest foods is a challenge to their machismo. Thus we have a proliferation of chilli pepper eating contests all over the country, but especially in the South and Southwest. On Saint Patrick’s Day, there are jalapeno eating contests in which contestants compete to see who can down the most jalapenos in a certain time, usually 10 minutes. More dangerous are those competitions where people vie to see who can eat the hottest peppers. And, believe me, those peppers can be plenty hot!

According to the Scoville system for measuring hotness, here are the ratings for some of the common peppers:

Banana Pepper, Cubanelle                              100 to 1,000 Scoville units

Jalapeno                                                           3,500 to 10,000   ”

Serrano                                                              10,000- 30,000     ”

Habanero, Scotch Bonnet                          100,000 – 350,000    ”

Komodo Dragon, Ghost Pepper            855,000 – 2,200,000    ”

For me, the jalapeno is hot enough. Even eating a serrano in a dish produces a burning sensation that turns me off. Considering that the upper limit of the range for a serrano is only 30,000 Scoville units , I cannot even imagine trying to eat a Komodo Dragon or a Carolina Reaper. Why would anyone want to if the end result is having a mouth on fire and a burn in your gut that can persist for many hours , if not days? In some cases, it has even resulted in a hurried trip to the hospital. Is it worth it? Not for me.

I asked one backyard gardener why he grows these superhot peppers. He admitted he wouldn’t dream of eating them raw. His wife grinds them to a paste, small quantities of which are used to flavor the dishes she cooks. But couldn’t she get the same effect with larger quantities of jalapenos or serranos. Yes, but…

For me, peppers are a way of enhancing the flavor of a dish. Too much heat can obscure the true taste of the ingredients, just as heavy, spicy gravies will. Also, not all dishes have to be hot. In fact, a mixture of hot and not-so-hot dishes provides variety to the palate in the course of a multicourse meal. For me, hot peppers are fine, but only in moderation and certainly not in every dish.

About twenty five years ago, I started seeing an appetizer called Chicken 65 listed on the menus of Indian restaurants. It consisted of  reddish hued deep fried chicken pieces and it was quite spicy.The name was a mystery and no one seemed to know its origin. There were some fanciful explanations, each more absurd than the last. One held that the dish contained sixty-five spices. This didn’t hold much water because I doubt that the pantry of Indian spices is that extensive. Besides, would restaurants go to the trouble of mixing up so many spices in making a single appetizer? Another theory was that the dish was a favorite of Indian soldiers at the frontlines during the 1965 India- Pakistan war and was named in their honor. This was scarcely more credible. Yet other theory was that 65 chillies were used for every kilogram of chicken. It too was easily debunked because so many chillies would make the dish too hot to eat.

This afternoon I finally happened upon what looks like a plausible explanation.

We were lunching at the Paradise Biryani Pointe in Bridgewater, NJ when I noticed a wooden plaque on the wall. ” The Origin of Chicken 65″, it proclaimed. According to it, the menu at a military canteen in Chennai ( formerly Madras) listed dishes only in Tamil. Many of the jawans ( soldiers) frequenting the canteen were from the northern states and did not know Tamil. They took to ordering dishes from the menu by number and number 65 , a fiery chicken dish, was a big favorite. Thus “Chicken, 65” became a frequent request and eventually became a menu entry. This version makes more sense than everything I’ve heard.

So, now you know.

We humans are intensely interested in what the future holds for us, particularly in how long we will live. Palmists, astrologers and others tout various ways of determining how many years we have ahead of us. Even though there is no scientific basis for such predictions, these forecasters thrive. There is one numerologist/ astrologist whose ubiquitous TV ads  claim that he has” half a million satisfied customers” in the U.S. I suppose that are always those who want to believe, who are desperate enough to think that someone can help them find what the future holds. As P.T. Barnum famously said,  ” There’s a sucker born every minute.”

As for myself, I remember what a friend of mine discovered when  he was working  temporarily as a morgue attendant. He knew a bit about palmistry and he ” read” the palms of several of the corpses, mainly those who had died young, in accidents. Many, many of them he told me had long tenar lines which are supposed to indicate the length of one’s life. And , yet, there they were in the morgue, well ahead of their time.

There is one story about the length of one’s life that I love. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov ( 1698- 1760) taught that each of us is born with a fixed number of words to speak.  This number varies from person to person and, when we have spoken our allotted number of words, we die. The words we speak are up to us, the number is not. The moral of the story is that since we do not know how many words we have left, we should be sparing with them; that, whenever we are about to speak, we should stop and ask ourselves” Are these words worth dying for?”

This is, of course, a teaching story , one intended to make us careful with our words. I wish though that I could tell it to a couple of my long-winded friends and convince them that it was true. Wonder if it would have any effect.

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