Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Jetlag was thankfully absent and after a good night’s sleep I woke up to a new day in a new place in a new country in a new continent. Whoa! The palatial bed with an unbelievably soft and springy mattress had certainly been soporific. The kitchen was where all the action was and I went down to find Babandidi all set to take us out to the supermarket. Jethu and Jamma had gone out to work as usual and after breakfast we decided to hit the gym. It was after all the 17th of May, and the Champions’ League final was due between Arsenal and Barcelona, and a die-hard Gunner myself, I was praying for a victory that would not only be the only silverware for the season but would probably persuade the talismanic Thierry Henry to stay on.
Jamma had in fact taken a half day and we went out and picked her up from 70, Hilltop which was her office and drove down to the immense Paramus Park mall. The health conscious Babandidi of course made herself a sandwich at home with her favourite baby spinach, ham and Munster cheese with some Hellmann’s Lite Mayo slathered on.
Paramus Park is a monster of a mall very close to Ramsey and the first thing that strikes an Indian is the sheer vastness of the parking lot. Brand names, salons, customized t-shirts everything is available for a price. The food court was what captured my imagination with almost every kind of cuisine available. We stuck to Chinese but not before we had almost had our fill of the tasters being given out to passers-by on tooth-picks by buxom belles.
Next stop was Bally’s Total Fitness, where Babandidi worked out and was a fair drive away from Paramus Park. Another enormous hulk of a place, where lay treadmills side by side as far as the eye could see, where people of varying girths sweated out. The weight’s section was almost a dungeon where some of the biggest men squeezed out reps. There too, was quite a smattering of nationalities and I had a good workout with a Pole and a Korean. Babandidi, as usual, had miles to run before she rested and went about her business on the treadmill but intermittently came to check on me, her little brother. In the meantime, Arsenal had taken the lead over Barcelona inspite of having been reduced to ten men. People exercised, eyes glued to one of the several overhanging televisions as the match slipped into the second half. The supermarket was where we headed next to pick up supplies that I needed to make dinner. Ugly tomatoes, brobdingnagian Vidalia onions, chic chicories and tons of fruits and vegetables lay along with all sorts of meat and fish products, a well stocked cheese and dairy section and much more.
“This is Dave’s favourite”, Babandidi said to me pointing to a yellow bar of chocolate that read “Butterfingers”. Peanut butter was as ubiquitous in America as ghee is in India. Somehow, the crunchy peanut butter, chocolate and caramel combination had me hooked!
Armed with all of the stuff we headed back to Paramus Park to pick up Mamma and Jamma who did a bit of window shopping in the meantime. It took us a while to get back and no sooner did we come back than I got busy in the kitchen for I was making dinner that evening.
“Good to see you here, Riju!” Miguel bear hugged me and sat down with a Corona and tucked into some tortilla and salsa. Shintadidi too was astonished to see just how much I had changed in 6 years. With a playful tug at my ponytail, we hugged, only then it being apparent that her bump was in fact growing with a little Granda inside.
This was the first time that I was meeting my Chhotojamaibabu for I had missed the Kolkata reception in the winter of ’04 due to college commitments. Miguel was a charmer. Warm, exuberant and effusive, he was a show stealer and a crowd-puller. As fanatical about football as he is about baseball, he eats. Sleeps and drinks Yankees and the Ecuador national team. Shintadidi was pretty much the same only that her hair had thinned out but looked pretty as usual.
I had elaborate plans for the evening, starting with Tom Kha Kai; there was some Lasagna on the menu and finally finishing off with a quick Chocolate Mousse.
The onions sizzled as I sweated them in fat while the chicken hissed away in the giant pressure cooker. Jamma’s exquisite set of Oneida knives was wonderful to work with making short work of tall orders.
“Did you see the match today Miguel?” I inquired as he let out another cry of anguish as the Yankees made a hash of an easy run.
“Oh yes, Barcelona won 2-1.” I was crestfallen and sad for Arsenal lost having taken the lead and virtually ten minutes had cost them the trophy as Barcelona scored in the dying moments of the game to claim their second European Champions’ Cup. I sensed tears welling up in my eyes but that was probably due to the onions I was chopping.
The meat ragu was bubbling contentedly as Jethu arrived from work looking prim in his golf cap. He poured me some Cognac which was rather strong as he caught up with everyone else. Miguel and Shintadidi had had their ultrasound a few days back and had just received the tape and were visibly ecstatic. Jethu too, was ebullient, for he was just a few months away from becoming a grandfather. I popped the lasagna into the oven just as everyone was getting hungry. The soup was simmering and presently Dave arrived rather early by his own standards of office hours at Samsung.
Finally dinner was ready and it was time to eat. It was my special dinner and we uncorked a full-bodied and unctuous Rioja that went beautifully with the meaty and cheesy lasagna.
“Ummm….this is so good Riju! So you didn’t use Ricotta cheese and eggs?” Babandidi asked.
“No, I prepared a Béchamel sauce which is pretty much like a white sauce and alternately layered the meat sauce and the Béchamel sauce over the sheets of lasagna and topped with shredded mozzarella.” I explained between mouthfuls of gooey lasagna and sips of the Rioja.
Everyone loved the food and I was only too happy to have been given the opportunity to cook for the family. Miguel was disappointed and surprised out of his skin that I hadn’t seen the X-Men movies, not to mention LOTR and the Matrix trilogy.
“Riju! How can you not see these great movies? We will watch them here at home and we will go out and see X-Men 3 after that” he declared.
It was pretty late by then but we all got a glimpse of the baby from the ultrasound tapes. It looked like a little squirming mass in the grayish haze. Miguel and Shintadidi drove back to the Bronx while we started packing for our flight to Los Angeles was the next day that too at 0530 hrs. Another crazy day in the pipeline for we would have to change planes at Atlanta. The tickets sure are cheap but hell you just pay with your sleep!
We were going away for a week and were about to embark on a whirlwind tour of California on a shoestring. It sure was going tobe fun albeit a bit hectic and tiring, the prefect antidote for some Mumbai monotony.


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