In My Hands Today…

When I Was Puerto Rican – Esmeralda Santiago

Esmeralda Santiago’s story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty.

Growing up, she learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs in the mango groves at night, the taste of the delectable sausage called morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead baby’s soul to heaven.

As she enters school we see the clash, both hilarious and fierce, of Puerto Rican and Yankee culture. When her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity.

In this first volume of her much-praised, bestselling trilogy, Santiago brilliantly recreates the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years and her tremendous journey from the barrio to Brooklyn, from translating for her mother at the welfare office to high honors at Harvard.

The Art of Pickling: Growing Up with Indian Pickles

Pickles are an important part of any Indian meal. Known as achar in Hindi and oorgai in Tamil, most Indian households will have at least one kind of pickle in their fridge or larder. Part of the Indian culture and history for more than 4,000 years, it could be argued that the technique of pickling originated in India when people first started salting and curing food in brines to preserve it for long journeys.

Achar, a loanword of Persian origin, entered popular use as the Hindustani term for pickles under the Mughal Empire. In Persian, the word achar is defined as “powdered or salted meats, pickles, or fruits, preserved in salt, vinegar, honey, or syrup.” Early pickle recipes in Ayurvedic and Sangam period texts mention several varieties of pickles, including the earliest known mention of mango pickles. Nalachampu, a Sanskrit epic written by Trivikrama Bhatta in 915, describes pickles made from green mango, green peppercorns, long pepper, raw cardamom, lemon, lime, myrobalan, hog plum, stone apple, and fragrant manjack. Early medieval cookbooks published between 1025 and 1549 AD mention pickle recipes that use green mango, green peppercorns, long pepper, lemons and limes, turmeric root, mango-ginger root, ginger, radish, bitter gourd, cucumber, lotus root, and bamboo shoots. The religious text Lingapurana by Gurulinga Desika, published in 1594 mentions more than fifty kinds of pickles. Unique pickles made from edible flowers are also mentioned in the Ni’matnama cookbook published in 1500.

Chilli peppers were introduced to South Asia by Portuguese traders in ports controlled by the Mughal Empire on the western coast of Gujarat. It is unclear when red chilli peppers came to be used in pickles as they are today since medieval texts do not mention their use in pickles. Before the introduction of chilli peppers by the Portuguese, black pepper, long pepper, and Piper Chaba, in both fresh and dried forms, were the main source of heat in ancient and medieval pickles.

In India, there are two main types of pickles: pickles made with sesame or mustard oil, and pickles made without oil. Pickles without oil use salt to draw out the moisture from green mangoes or lemons to create a brine. A mixture of lemon or lime juice with salt or traditional sugarcane vinegar may also be used as brine. In some pickles from Gujarat and Rajasthan, jaggery is used as the main preserve. Homemade pickles are prepared in the summer. They are matured through exposure to sunlight for up to two weeks with the pickle traditionally covered with muslin while it is maturing.

Despite using the same main ingredients, differences in preparation techniques and spices have led to wide variation in Indian pickles. A mango pickle from South India tastes very different from one made in North India, as the southern states prefer sesame oil and tend to produce spicier pickles, while the northern states prefer mustard oil. In South India, most vegetables are sun-dried with spices, taking advantage of the immensely hot and sunny climate in the region. The sun-drying process naturally preserves the vegetables, along with spices and to speed up the process, vegetables may be cooked before drying.

While I like a good lemon or mixed vegetable pickle, my absolute favourite has to be mango pickles. I loved the different styles of mango pickles from all over the country, including avakkai and thokku from Tamil Nadu, Chunda from Gujarat and Punjabi-style mango pickles. I also love a good instant mango pickle that can be made in less than 15 minutes when one is in the mood for something spicy, but does not have the time to make pickles in the traditional way.

My mother’s signature pickle used to be the vadu mangai. Vadu Mangai or Mavadu is a pickle made from tiny tender baby mangoes and is a Tamil Nadu delicacy. The baby mangoes are pickled in a brine made from salt, red chilli powder and other spices and left in the hot summer sun for a few weeks until the mangoes shrivel up and absorb all the goodness of the brine. When ready, the tender mangoes are salty, spicy and oh-so-delicious and so good on a hot day with some rice and yoghurt. My mother was so famous in our family for this pickle that she used to make a few kgs of the pickle as soon as the baby mangoes come into the market. After making the pickle in large ceramic jars called pickle barnis, she would put aside some for my grandparents on both sides and pass it to them when we went to their homes. Over the years, as people moved away, my mother slowly started reducing the amount of pickle made and stopped making it a few years back. I miss my mother’s pickles but hope to learn how to make them so I can keep the tradition ongoing.

Over the past few years, I have learnt to make a few pickles and these now form a staple in my home. Earlier in the post, I have linked a few of the pickles I have made, so go ahead and check them out to make some quick pickles to spice up your meal.

In My Hands Today…

In Freedom’s Shade – Anis Kidwai, translated by Ayesha Kidwai

Appearing for the first time in English translation, In Freedom’s Shade is Anis Kidwai’s moving personal memoir of the first two years of nascent India. It is an activist’s record that reveals both the architecture of the violence during Partition as well as the efforts of ordinary citizens to bring the cycle of reprisal and retribution to a close.

Beginning from the murder of her husband in October 1947, with a rare frankness, sympathy and depth of insight, Anis Kidwai tells the stories of the thousands who were driven away from their homelands in Delhi and its neighbouring areas by eviction or abduction or the threat of forced religious conversion. Of historical importance for its account of the activities of the Shanti Dal, the recovery of abducted women and the history of Delhi, In Freedom’s Shade also has an equal contemporary relevance.

In part a delineation of the roots of the afflictions that beset Indian society and in part prophetic about the plagues that were to come, Anis Kidwai’s testament is an enduring reminder that memory without truth is futile; only when it serves the objective of reconciliation, does it achieve meaning and significance.

World Down Syndrome Day       

Last week, on 21 March, the world celebrated World Down Syndrome Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about Down syndrome and promoting the rights and well-being of individuals with Down syndrome. First celebrated in 2006, 21 March was selected as it was the 21st day of the third month of the year which signifies the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that occurs when an individual has an extra copy of the 21st chromosome, resulting in intellectual and developmental challenges. Down syndrome affects people of all ages, races, and ethnicities, and it is estimated that over 250 million people are living with this condition worldwide. Chromosomes are “packages” of genes in the body. They determine how a baby’s body forms and functions as it grows. Around 1 in every 800 babies will be born with Down syndrome which occurs naturally as there is no known cause. Down syndrome usually causes varying degrees of intellectual and physical disability and associated medical issues. Despite this, many people are still misinformed about Down syndrome and individuals with the syndrome often face discrimination and stigma. World Down Syndrome Day provides an opportunity to educate the public and promote a better understanding of Down syndrome, and celebrate the unique contributions and achievements of individuals with Down syndrome.

One of the main goals of World Down Syndrome Day is to raise awareness about the rights and needs of individuals with Down syndrome. This includes ensuring that individuals with Down syndrome have access to the same opportunities and services as their peers, including education, employment, healthcare, and independent living. It is important to recognise that individuals with Down syndrome have the same aspirations and dreams as everyone else, and it is our responsibility as a society to provide them with the support and resources they need to achieve their full potential. This day also celebrates the accomplishments and achievements of individuals with Down syndrome. The day showcases the talents and abilities of individuals with Down syndrome and highlights the contributions they make to their communities.

The theme for the 2023 edition of World Down Syndrome Day is “With Us Not For Us”. The message of With Us Not For Us is key to a human rights-based approach to disability. It is based on moving away from the outdated charity model of disability, where people with disability were treated as objects of charity, deserving of pity and relying on others for support to a human rights-based approach that views people with disabilities as having the right to be treated fairly and having the same opportunities as everyone else, working With others to improve their lives.

World Down Syndrome Day is a day to celebrate the diversity of individuals with Down syndrome and to remind us all that we are all more alike than we are different. In addition to raising awareness and celebrating the accomplishments of individuals with Down syndrome, World Down Syndrome Day is also an opportunity to advocate for change. This includes advocating for policies and practices that support the rights and needs of individuals with Down syndrome, as well as working to remove barriers and promote inclusion in all areas of life. A common activity on this day is to wear colourful or mismatched socks, to show support for people with Down syndrome because socks are shaped somewhat like chromosomes. An animated short, Freebird, was created to recognize World Down Syndrome Day in 2021. The film, set to a song, Freedom by Jordan Hart, won the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival the same year.

World Down Syndrome Day is a day to raise awareness, celebrate the accomplishments of individuals with Down syndrome, and advocate for change. It is a day to recognise the unique contributions and strengths of individuals with Down syndrome and to remind us all that with the right support and opportunities, anything is possible. On this day, let us all come together to celebrate the diversity of individuals with Down syndrome and to work towards a world that is more inclusive, supportive, and empowering for everyone.

2023 Week 12 Update

Today’s quote is from the American talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, who tells us that we get in life what we dare to ask for. What this means is that if we don’t ask, we don’t get what we want, need and deserve. And so we need to ask to receive and what’s the worst that could happen, they say no. Plucking up the courage to ask for what you need and want will pay off hugely.

GG had two admission interviews this week, but there is still no news from her first-choice university. I’m praying hard that she gets a callback from them soon. BB is still waiting for his enlistment letter after which we will know when he will start his national service.

My parents have more or less settled down in Singapore and are adjusting to life here. After arriving in Singapore, they were given a one-month visa, so we need to renew the visa so that they can stay here for the scheduled two months. We are planning to take them to some of the new places they have not yet seen, but that is for another day.

That’s all for today, stay safe people and have a wonderful week!