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Everyone loves stories. Everyone has a story to tell.

Month

December 2014

Christmas Tales


Winters for me is only about celebrations; quality time with family and friends, birthdays (most of my dear ones are born of December), of gastronomic delights with “sinful” desserts, Christmas tree with stars, bells and umpteen sparkling decorations, Santa Clause, outdoor picnics, a visit to the zoo (a must in my childhood days), of unadulterated fun, of love and friendship, sharing and giving.

Being a trivia lover, I prefer to garner moments from everyday life so that I can cherish them for a lifetime and the month of December is one such time which brings back a lot of memories. Childhood days for us (me and my older brother) just like most around were fun filled, nonchalant, and of unprecedented love, caring and warmth. Back then, winters meant a month-long holiday at school and traveling. My childhood days were spent in a small steel city in Jharkhand(India) where winter was usually chilly and enjoyable. The outdoor picnics with family, friends, uncles and aunts were always a treat. On Christmas Eve, my mother would bake a cake and delicacies (her own recipe) while the family gathered around thankful to have one another by their side. 

The best winter however was the one in which I felt the snowflakes on my cheeks for the first time, white as a swan and pristine as a baby’s giggle. It was my first year in the US and everything was new and somewhat overwhelming for me. I still remember the evening when I was walking back from my laboratory, so ready to call it a day, when suddenly, cotton white flakes started floating all around. I was mesmerized at first; although I had watched uncountable Hollywood movies before where I had seen the rich and the famous gaze at and walk in the snowfall. I was caught off guard at this magic of Mother Nature. It was as if all the tiredness from my system was being replaced by a feeling of happiness and awe! How I had wished my family to be around me to experience that too. It was three days before Christmas Eve and I suddenly realized that there was so much to be done. The spirit of festival was still alive in me, only I was to celebrate it with a new group of people; my new friends who soon became my extended family.  

Our lab had to be decorated, Christmas socks to be hung with tiny name tags on each one of them, cakes and cookies to be baked and so many similar chores. Our research facility was probably the one with the highest number of international students. This cross continental group shared their traditions, food, beliefs, and attire; making it one of the most culturally enriched work stations on campus. That winter we celebrated Christmas exchanging presents with each other, sharing our stories of festivals from home, singing Christmas carols and hymns (our research advisor had printed handouts for each of us) and finally a grand dinner at the end; as it has rightly been said that no celebration is complete without a plate full of delicious food! After dinner, yet again, Santa gave us a visit that night bringing in small boxes of surprise for his eagerly awaiting group of students. I was reminded of the jingle being sung to me back home in my childhood days, “Christmas comes but once a year and when it comes it brings good cheer, it brings us pudding, it brings us pies, it brings us everything’s’ that’s nice!” —my feelings of the day put down aptly.

Today I am back in the city of joy and yet again it’s the most awaited month of December. My daughter while picking up knick knacks for her Christmas tree asks me if she could hang a few of her favorite beaded accessories on the tree, “and those would be for Father Christmas himself, after all he is going to bring me my favorite pink bicycle this year.” A broad contented smile is all I have for her as I realize how different the month of December had been then and how it is today and yet I end up finding a strange familiarity in now and then!

Story and Picture Credit : Anindita Sengupta 
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Secret Santa And The Presents

This story is based on a real life experience shared with the chatoveracuppa team. Meera is a fictional name for the character in the story and the real identity of the story teller is being kept anonymous. After all, it is about a Secret Santa. 

It was only the beginning of December, but there was an array of neatly wrapped gifts spread on the bed. They were being put into parcels/boxes to be delivered by mail. Not a single gift amidst that was meant to be gifted in person. Each parcel had the same store bought card in it, in which the note said, “Wishing you all the happiness for the New Year.”  No handwritten text within the card other than that. By late in the afternoon, when it was all packed up in the boxes, a trip was made to the post office to ship them off. Shipping 15-20 boxes took most of the afternoon. 
On the way back home, a smile erupted on Meera’s face and her heart seemed several pounds lighter. She had not felt so good in many months. It had been a particularly tough year for her, at work, with her health and in relationships. She had almost died and then recovered. Friends had turned into foes, people had disappeared from her life, loved ones had departed and her years of work had come to an abrupt end, albeit a misunderstanding. Everything that had left her was still attached by a thin string of memories and emotions. As the year progressed, the hurt became too much to bear. And that is when a few weeks before the holidays, Meera made an unusual decision. 
The decision to send gifts, goodies, greetings and well wishes to everyone that had not wished her well that year. Shower everyone with love. This she figured would give her more happiness than the void and the anger she had been nurturing. This would not mend any of the relationships. That she knew well. But she wanted to do it nevertheless. So she bought Christmas ornaments, photo frames, gingerbread cookies, fruit cakes, mugs for hot chocolates, scarves, and stoles, and many more things, wrapped, packed and shipped them off. All sent anonymously, sent from a distant post office that no one would recognize, sent without a handwritten note or a signature or a return address. 
She had only heard of the Secret Santa before. This year she had become one.

Epilogue: In the New Year’s, Meera accidentally bumped into a friend of hers at a social event. They exchanged awkward glances and said goodbye even before saying Hello. From her corner of the room, Meera saw that her friend wore a pretty turquoise scarf, over her black silk dress. Meera smiled because she knew the scarf well. She had picked it very lovingly knowing well that turquoise was her friend’s favorite color.

Authored By: Piya Mukherjee, based on a narration. Hope this story inspires you to be a secret santa this holiday season, shower love to people selflessly. 

Surviving The Big Bad World



As I woke up this morning, I checked my smartphone for the News, as I do every morning. “More than 100 children killed in an attack in a school.” I could not read beyond the first few sentences. It did not matter who did it, why they did it and what anyone had to say about it. It is barbaric to storm into a school and take the lives of innocent children.

Schools that were once considered a safe haven have now become a prime target of criminal attacks. Lockdowns and mock drills are as if part of the curriculum. It does not matter where you are on the map, Sandy Hook or Peshawar or even my neighborhood high school, it happens at all the places. The motives may be different, but the trauma is not. Security in schools may be heightened, but there is always a way to go past them.
Let’s accept it, our children today are more vulnerable and unsafe than we would want them to be. It is sad but it is true. We will also have to accept that we will not be able to protect them at all times. There will be situations beyond our control. So the question is how do we prepare them for it or should we not? Would it be too much for them to comprehend?  Would it interfere with their innocence?
I have until very recently struggled with how much and what to tell my school going daughter, only a first grader.  I have come to terms that it is a big bad world and a bit of self-awareness is needed. It is needed for her to deal with the situation if it were to ever arise. The school is doing its bit. My leaving her unprepared was doing no good to her.
It is very similar to how I had talked to her on what needs to be done if a stranger tries to take her away in a mall or a park or grocery store. A simple measure – She is supposed to scream her lungs out. I had shown her a video from a similar incident in one of the stores, where a stranger was trying his best to whisk away a very young girl and the girl screamed for help, thus attracting attention and saving a mishap. Ever since, if I am not in sight even for a split second in public, I hear in very loud decibels “Mom, Where are you?” I will admit, it is a whole lot assuring that way.
So this morning at the breakfast table over a bowl of oatmeal, I mentioned to her discreetly, without giving away all the horrific details, about what happened in that school in Peshawar. Some bad guys had come into the school and harmed little children, children of her age and perhaps even younger.
“I know what we need to do if that happens. Sit under our table and be quiet. Do what the teacher asks us to. The teacher would lock the door and shut the lights.”
As I mentioned earlier, the school has done its bit. It was my turn now.
“Right. That is what you need to do. You have to stay very strong. You may feel scared, very scared.  But be brave. And then someone will come to help you and your friends very quickly.”
“But Mom, it CANNOT happen at my school ever. Right?” 
The question came and hit me as a bullet. It was a tough question that needed an honest answer.  “It can happen in any school though we wish it did not. Just like I taught you what to do if you ever get lost or hurt by a stranger in a mall or a store, the teacher and I are telling you what to do if something wrong happens in school. ”
The idea was not to set paranoia but to keep her informed. For if and when she faces it, she will remember this conversation and I hope she will stay strong and safe. I can only hope.
In my opinion, it’s time we as parents spoke to our children about what is there out in the world for them, make them a bit prepared. It is better we do so than the kids “Googling” for information out of curiosity or being completely clueless about things. Bullying is on the rise and we are talking to our kids at home, aren’t we? Crime is on the rise as well and it is time we coached our kids about that too.

Later in the morning, as I dropped my daughter off at the school curbside, I watched her skip and run to her classroom. There was a strange silent heartache within me.   “Stay safe,” I said under my breath as I drove away.

Authored By : Piya Mukherjee, written a few hours after the terror attack and unfortunate killing of school children in a school at Peshawar. 

Far away on the road and hanging by a song…

Finally! Granby- the west entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The 6 and 2 year old passengers had held up well through the winding and steep roads leading from the plains of central Colorado up to the west park entrance near Grand Lake at over 8000 ft. The splendid Colorado Rockies loomed closer. Majestic jagged peaks tipped with snow; an awe-inspiring relic of the slow up-heave that wrinkled the earth’s crust 600 miles from where the pacific oceanic plates slowly nudged themselves under the North American plate. 


I punctuated the journey with attempts to point out the geological events that had created such a beauty,  the liberal measure of passage of time and its effects on what we were now witnessing, the tremendous forces that had molded the earth, trying to convey, and maybe ignite a sense of wonder at the nature in play. The response had been far from the “wow!” and “how? “I was trying to get out of, at least one of them. The responses had varied between”.. Look a birdie!” from the 2 year old to “…when are we getting there…” from the 6 year old and quiet dozes from both.

Along the Trail Ridge road that winds between the two park entrances to a peak altitude of over 12000 feet, we stopped at a nature trail to stretch our collective legs and get out of the steel-and-glass traveling box. I walked ahead to take in the magnificent panorama of the snowcapped mountains and the headwater of a stream that eventually fed into the mighty Colorado river. 



Then I turn. I see two kids following the trail – one in an orange jacket, the other in blue, facing the mountains with the gurgling stream flowing next to them. The two were dancing in some fusion of chicken dance and swing, to a music I could not hear. The mirth and joy flowing from them lighted up the ancient mountains framed by a brilliant blue sky. Several still moments later a thought entered, ”…where the heck is my camera?”

This travelogue presented by Devraj Banerjee, a full time father, physician by profession and described by his childhood friends as a born healer.

Walking through the valley of the shadows

Five hours of “Are we there yet? “, “How long?”, “I am hungry!”, through the Mohave desert brought us to Death Valley National Park. One look at the sand dunes and all the tiredness and cramped limbs were forgotten.
Three generations walk across the sands of time
King of the sand mountain
A new day begins with a fresh cuppa
At 282ft below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. A concept a little difficult to grasp for the kids. “How can the sea level be so high on the mountain?” “How do they measure it?” “Will my friends think it is snow and not salt when they see my pictures?”
Is that snow, mom? No, its SALT! 

Badwater basin – the lowest place in this part of the world

Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest places on earth. Best time to visit – winter of course!

Picture and Story Credit : Soumi Haldar. 

The Magic Of Winter

Winter – The barren look of the trees, the rare sunshine and the still remaining
colors of fall. 

This morning while driving to school, my daughter said “Look mumma, no pumpkin in the pumpkin patch.” I told her its time for Christmas trees now. That and the weather outside reminded me that winter is slowly setting in. It is getting colder. The rare warmth of the sun on the back is such a treat especially because here winter is rainy. Some fall colors are still there, though the leaves have started shedding. And yes, the pumpkin patches have been emptied and are getting ready for the Christmas trees. 
Winter always reminds me of my childhood, don’t know why. The earliest memory is of my kindergarten days when my childhood friend and I would spend the entire afternoons on the narrow stair case between our homes eating fresh tomatoes and oranges and soaking a lot of sun and oh course giggling(we can never have enough of that). Not sure though if she remembers any of that. 
Growing up we lived in very remote places in India. My Dad’s work demanded that. Life was very different (or simpler) from how it may have been in a city or how it is now.Now winter means Pashminas, Cashmeres, Winter Boots& Coats, cups of hot latte and the sinful holiday desserts. Back then none of this existed for us. 
One such place was Kahalgaon (Bihar) with extremely chilly winters and the best winter produce that I can remember till date. There was no concept of cold storages, tinned and canned food in those days. Produce was seasonal. And winter meant an abundance of carrots, parsnips, green peas, cabbage, tomatoes, and oranges. I could just go on and on. Ma(My mother) spent much of her time cooking and preserving. I remember the bottles of home made pickled veggies and ketchup (yes not kidding). The only time of the year ma made soups or gajar ka halwa (carrot dessert). And If Dida (grandmother) came over she made the most amazing korai shutir kochuri (pea’s kachori) and aloo-kopir singada (samosa with potato and cauliflower filling).
I used to dread the early morning walks to the school with every bone in the body shivering. Thankfully they closed the schools for a week or two. Winter vacations, delectable food, hand knit woolens and the warmth of the Ma’s shawls (I still steal some from her every year) is what I remember most of those winters. Much of the holiday homework would be done in the bed tucked in the rajai (duvet). Give this, I remain amazed at how my dad would remain undeterred by the weather and ride in an open jeep to the power plant and spent most part of his day there. 

My friend and her brother are a big part this memory and so is KakimaKakima (if you have not guessed is my friend’s mother) was Ma’s companion in all the pickling, preserving and bottling. In the afternoon’s they would sit in the sun knitting the woolens and sipping tea. Somehow of all the wonderful things Kakima used to and still cooks, I strangely remember her bandhakopir torkari(a dish made of cabbage) the most. Even now when I cook cabbage, I wonder what she added to it. Potatoes and Cabbage cooked together, very lightly spiced and a bit of sweetness to it. I never quite get the same taste. 
A few years later, winter was in a cold desert town called Pilani. The walks from the hostel dorm to the bathroom during those cold nights made us even contemplate on something simple as nature’s call. Every morning at the crack of dawn, a big metal container (the one like you see at construction sites) would be put on a brick oven to heat bath water for the girls. We queued up freezing in our pyjamas with buckets in hand to get that half bucket of hot bath water every morning. (I can so much picture it still. Wish there was iPhone then!). It was during those years, one winter we the marching band girls walked on Rajpath for the republic day parade and if not anyone else we did ourselves proud. Not many pictures of that too.
If I go any further it will get past my childhood.But if you were part of these memories I am sure I helped you re-live some of those. And if you were not, I am sure you have your own memories that you are thinking of right now. 

As for me, I have decided to make myself a cup of hot adrak chai(Ginger Tea).And while I do so, I see my two young children, decked in hand knit woolens, standing with their nose pressed to the glass patio door and pretending to touch the rain drops that hang on to the other side of the door. Rain will be an integral part of their winter memories. 


Story and Picture Credit : Piya Mukherjee. One of her favorite winter posts from her personal blog that she wrote up until a few years back. 

A Cuppa from the "City Of Joy" – Kolkata

A cuppa from Kolkata shared by our newest storyteller. This is Anindita Sengupta’s first time on our blog. She loves to write, is observant of little things in life and loves her cuppa. Today she shares with us her love for the cuppa and the connection between Kolkata and the cuppa. #chatoveracuppa

The best stories are those that tell the story of “you”. For the last couple of weeks, I have been closely following the reads of chatoveracuppa and can’t help but admire the experiences of life shared by many and the blissful connection they have with a cuppa! As rightly said, “a lot can happen over a cuppa”.
Tea and I go a long way back. Late night studies and steaming hot masala tea made especially by my mother for me; one sip and a pause and the tedious equations of organic chemistry and Newton’s laws of motion would make so much more sense, such were its effects. As I grew older, I started trying flavors of Makaibari and Assam tea, parallel to a few of those nameless, brand less (though not tasteless ) flavors, sold mostly at the road-side shacks. Talking of these tea stalls brings back memories of my college days where project proposals, a kulhad of garam chai and intermittent bantering were a must. My cuppa tea was always a witness to the good days and not so good ones. Even during my stay abroad, tea was always a pal, a tell-tale of my initial struggle to the time I knew I was home away from home.
In continuation to my retrospection, let me share a small romantic episode with of course “our” cuppa and “us”. If you have ever been to Kolkata, you would know that the city’s culture is intertwined with tea and coffee. You need tea for almost everything starting from being creative, to being productive at work, in leisure hours or as a stress reliever.

The city is sprawled with teahouses and cafes where crowds move in and out, a cuppa tea being their object of connection. It was one of those late winter evenings when my husband and I were on our way back home from work. The murky air hanging around, the stray dogs curling up in dust, gradually shutters of the roadside shops being drawn to a close; all we needed was a hot cup of tea. Home was far and our wait impatient, we decided to stop at one of the roadside tea stalls. A plate of spicy pakodas and a kulhad of steaming hot tea, the best we had ever had – just what we needed to unwind after a long crazy day!
Life, I feel is too short to procrastinate for tomorrow and too long to hold on to grudges. So let’s say goodbye to our regrets and cheers to the beautiful life with our cuppas.

Coffee Served Neat!

Move over Cappuccino, Frappuccino, Mochaccino et vous tous. It’s time for the real, unadulterated coffee, The Filter Coffee! Tada!!!

Photo credit: Ausmita Kaviraj
By the way, I have always wondered as to why Mochaccino is called Mochaccino anyways. Maybe because it’s a mock-up of a coffee. It sure has more chocolate than coffee in it! I have always suspected it to be a hot chocolate trying hard to pass off as a coffee. Nevertheless, moving on to the real coffee on hand. The Filter Coffee is a popular variant of coffee brewed and consumed primarily by the people in the southern part of India. As my friend from southern India inform me, to most of them, Filter Coffee is the third most important thing for sustenance after oxygen and curd rice. And sometimes even more important than curd-rice!

Conspicuous by its strong aroma, the Filter Coffee gets its name from the filter, the two piece metal vessel that it is brewed in. The top half is a cylindrical container with tiny holes at the bottom that act as the filter while the bottom half is a regular cylindrical container that catches the filtrate aka the coffee decoction. 
To prepare the coffee decoction, all you have to do is put some filter coffee powder, which is basically ground roasted beans, in the top container. Then pour some boiling water over it, press it down, close the lid and place it on top of the second container. Now patiently wait for the decoction to filter down to the bottom container. About fifteen to twenty minutes later you should have collected enough decoction in the bottom container to make your coffee. Filter coffee is traditionally served in small stainless steel glasses. Put some sugar in the glass, fill one-fourth or more of the glass with the decoction depending on how strong you like your coffee and finally pour hot milk into it. None of those flimsy plastic stirrer to dissolve the sugar; instead the glass is placed inside an empty bowl and served. Before you drink the steaming coffee, pour it to and from the glass and the bowl a few times. Viola! Your sugar dissolves and the coffee cools down enough to not scald your tongue as well. One sip from the glass and all your lethargy goes scampering away as this ain’t no fancy pansy “not-so-sure-if-I-am-coffee” coffee. It’s coffee served neat,and it gets to work from the word go. 

Sounds easy enough to prepare right? Wrong! Now I ain’t no Masterchef or anything that remotely resembles a chef but I did fancy making a cup of filter coffee all by myself. As fate would have it, after several botched up efforts, I gave up. I suspect it’s because I lack the secret ingredient to prepare good filter coffee: the genes of the people from southern India. They undoubtedly are the Masterchefs of their cuppas ! Fortunately for me, I live in Chennai, the mecca of filter coffee. So, as I walk to the nearest source of filter coffee, I silently pray to God to give me some of those desired genes in the next birth and I shall have my nirvana. Amen!

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