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Jun 17 2013

Summer Breaks at Grandparents’

(Written by Sonal Kulshrestha)

I remember my grandparents’ ‘Haveli’. In the center of the huge house was an open courtyard and all around it were rooms. There was the formal living room (only the formal guests were ushered in there), the study (complete with a huge desk and books- some of them written by my grandfather), kitchen (called the ‘Rasoi Ghar’), a big pantry (called the ‘Bhandar Ghar’), two sets of bathrooms and bedrooms- all around the central courtyard. A covered hallway ran all around, connecting the rooms together. The rooms had high ceilings, external wiring and dim yellow lights. Yes, a true Hindi movie “Haveli”.  This was in Allahabad, U.P. That was my Baba- Dadi’s house- my paternal grandparents. There was a mango orchard along two sides of the house, a beautiful rose garden in the front and some other trees like lime, ‘sitafal’, guava, orange etc on the side. The most beautiful feature of the house was a semi-circular front porch. A wooden circular table and couple of chairs around it were amongst the permanent feature of the house.  We often sat there with our Baba as he read the newspaper in the mornings.  He smoked ‘Hukka’ that we took turns preparing. He loved the guttural sound he made with it.  He wore ‘kharaos’ (flat sandals with a toe-hold) that fascinated us. He had retired as Professor of English and Dean of Allahabad University and was well respected in the town. We visited our grandparents’ house every summer. Along with my grandparents, two of my uncles lived there as well with their families. My dad had a transferrable job in a bank.  So we moved from one big city to another- Bombay, Delhi, Hyderabad, Rajkot and then back to Delhi for good. Every city we went to, we lived in apartments.  It wasn’t until I came to America that I realized that the haveli we spent every summer in was pretty much structured like homes here- formal living, study, front porch with front and backyard.

My maternal grandfather, my nana’s house was another huge house as well- in the holy city of Varanasi, also called Banaras and nick-named Kashi.  Nanaji, as we called him, had acres of Mango orchard- as far as the eye can seen. He had an elementary school built on the property that he had named after my nani, who had passed away when we were very young. Lot of land was leased out to shop owners, whose wives worked in nanaji’s kitchen. Two of my uncles lived there with their families also. We regarded our Nana as more modern. He insisted that his daughters-in-law don’t cover their heads in front of him. He hugged them often and even left sizeable property in their names in his will. He would tell us countless stories on the adventures of Sinbad- lot of it made up, we suspected. We took long walks with him that ended in ‘Jalebis’ and ‘Kachoris’ for breakfast at the corner ‘Halwai’ shop. He had retired as Principal of Queens College in Banaras and was respectfully called ‘Principal Saheb’ by all those we met on way.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of spending leisure days during summer break at my grandparents’ homes with my siblings and cousins. These include climbing up the mango tree with a little knife and ‘kala namak’ (spicy salt) and eating ‘kuccha aam’ (unripe mangoes), watching the milk man ‘milk’ the cow/ buffalo, sleeping on terrace in

‘charpais’ (woven beds) and tea times with the entire extended family. The adults would all retire to their respective rooms for an afternoon nap. That’s when we did “khurafaat” (mischief). Sometimes we would ‘steal’ laddoos from my dadi’s armoire. Of course, to get to that, we had to first get the key from under her pillow while she napped. Tip toeing to her huge room right in the center of the house and getting the key was no easy task. But it certainly was worth the effort. At other times, when we felt more adventurous, we would take a little stove, some pots and stuff and cook ‘halwa’ in my cousin’s room. We were careful in cleaning everything after enjoying our snack/ desert so as to not get in trouble. Poor dadi never came to know that her ghee container was after all contaminated- unbeknownst to her.

Lot of lazy afternoons were spent just playing cards- ‘Rami’, ‘Coat piece’, ‘29’, ‘Gulam Chor’, ‘Black Queen’, etc- both in Allahabad and Banaras. On my mom’s side, her brother and sister played cards with my mom and dad in ladies versus men rounds. We loved watching them play. My mom and her siblings would laugh for hours fighting the opposite team.

Eating elaborate meals with large extended families is another of the much cherished summer time memory. Elaborate meals at my dadi’s house were prepared by the women of the house. My two aunts, mom and dadi would literally sit on the kitchen floor and grind masalas, chop vegetables and cook the meal in large pots placed on low-lying burners. My dadi was very strict when it came to kitchen rules. Women had to be showered before entering the kitchen, they were not to wear any stitched clothing so they would be draped in sari wound all around and nobody could touch the ghee ka dabba (ghee container). Once my sister mistakenly touched it, next day we saw dadi handling a brand new ghee container. She would pour the ghee herself in bowls full of dal from at least 4 feet height. She was herself about 4’6”. Men were not allowed into the kitchen. The men and the kids would get to the kitchen entrance and we would have our lunch ‘thali’, huge bronze plates, slid to us. The plate would typically have 2-3 large bronze bowls full of dal, subzi, yogurt, etc. I, my brother and my sister loved my dadi’s dal. It was the most delicious dal we have ever had. Thick lentil with lot of ghee floating on the top.  My dadi spoke hindi in the local dialect similar to Bhojpuri .  Dad talked to her in that dialect also. Similarly, Banaras had its own version of Hindi.  So we got to hear different dialects of Hindi that we loved to mimic.

Every visit, we visited the Ganga Ghat and cleansed all the sin off of us in Banaras J. We loved visiting, Sarnath, about 10 kilometers from Banaras- the place where Gautama Buddha first taught the ‘Dharma’, and has India’s tallest statue of Lord Buddha that is 80 feet high. In Allahabad, the must-go-every-visit places were the Hanuman temple for Hanuman ‘darshan’ and the Sangam (the place where three rivers- the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati converge) for some more cleansing of sins J.

Returning home after the summer vacations at the grandparents’ was always hard. Missed family there and missed the leisure lazy afternoons. But at least we came back cleansed of all our sin each summer- thanks to the holy cities- Allahabad and Banaras J.


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Feb 9th 2013

Growing Up On Chai......

(Written by Sonal Kulshrestha)

My sister, brother and I grew up on chai. It's said kids mustn't be given chai, that the caffeine in it isn't good for them, that it causes blackening of gums and lips and darkening of teeth. Well, my mom did and I'm grateful to her (and our gums are pink, btw)!

Earliest proper recollection that I have of the early morning hours at our house is when I was in 2nd grade, my sister in 4th and brother in 1st grade. Mom would wake us all up with a cup of chai. We would join our parents in their bedroom, on their bed- sit around and have chai with biscuits (cookie) and bread-namkeen (trail mix?). That is how our mornings always started. There was no chaos, no rush rush, no screaming and yelling! And I said I'm grateful to my mom for hooking us to chai in our early years precisely for that reason. I have beautiful memories of leisure mornings with my family talking, planning, discussing. Dad called it "Pancho-ki-rai" (opinion of the five).

Evenings and weekends were no different- it was family chai time on the bed again!

My father had a transferrable job that essentially required us to move to another city every three years. Hard though it was, it gave us an opportunity to get exposure to various different culture. Varius different culture of chai time, in fact. Because as we moved from one city to another, pretty much the only thing we imbibed was what chai time meant to the locals. For example, from Hyderabad we acquired the taste of the South Indian tea, that we relish even today. We had sweet five little steel cups there, one for each one of us. While Gujarat really enriched our tea time experience! With their hot freshly made 'farsan' to accompany the chai, beautiful memories were made! Still remember the serene saturdays we had in Rajkot. Dad had half days at the bank, so he was home by three. We would then promtly set off to the neighborhood shop where they would be in the middle of frying 'fafras' or 'sev' along with hot green chillies. I can still feel the taste of those hot and fresh accompaniments even today. 'Don't forget to bring the fried chillies', my parents never forgot to remind us :). Another unique thing about having chai in Gujarat, as we soon found out, is that 'No' is not an acceptable answer. 'Aardhi chale' (half will do), would be the standard response. And half had to do!

We finally returned back to Delhi (city of many bank branches) and settled there as dad either got tranferred from one branch to another or he travelled by himslef, allowing us to have our high school education in Delhi. Delhi gave me one of the most cherished chai time memories. College in Delhi was mostly about bunking classes and having morning chai with bun & omellette at the chai shop right outside our college gates and then again bunking classes and having afternoon chai-samosa from the run-down college cafetaria. College was also about bunking classes & hitch-hiking in large groups all the way to Priya to watch Hollywood movies and having chai-samosa. Those were the days of crazy abandonment. And yes, chai was involved!

End of each day, when I returned home from college, my mom and I would have the evening cup of chai together! That is one of my most beautiful memories with my mom. By now, my sister had left for medical school, my brother was out of the house working on getting an engineering degree and dad would generally be back late - thanks to work and Delhi traffic.

So it was mom and I.

We always had that evening cup of chai together.

My mom made the best chai ever.

And I looked forward to it.

Yes, that was our bonding time.

I felt robbed of it if some days mom would have it sooner, before I returned home.

When my friends visited me, mom would always bring her cup of chai and join us in my room. I remember a friend even commenting that I don't mind my mom joining. I remember feeling surprised in my head. Why would I? 


 Photo by Raashi K.


Growing up in India, we can't talk of Chai time and not talk of exam time! Another prized memory of growing up on chai relates to my dad. Throughout the school years and college years, while we studied, dad would be the one to make us a cup of chai during the night. My sister and brother where night people, they got their chai at night to help them keep awake. I was a morning person, I got mine in the morning to help me wake up! That was my dad! Whether it was 1:00 am or 2:00 or 3:00, we got our chai dose during exam times! In fact, I remember there were times, if for some reason my dad was asleep, my brother, who would study until 2:00, would make me chai, wake me up and then go to bed. We were a good bunch of siblings! We weren't the types to hug and shower affections a whole lot, but we looked out for each other.

The memories go on and on, as it does for most of us. Friends dropped by? Chai time it is. Visiting friends? That too is associated with nice chai with their mom-made-matri that I often had at friends' homes. Even today, when my parents and in-laws visit us in America, tea time is almost a ritual! With friends too, dinner outs and parties are never complete without that steaming hot cup.


I grew up seeing my parents share the best quiet and quality time over tea. When I got married, I saw the same thing living with my in-laws for a month, before joining my husband here in America. So imagine my utter disappointment when I came here and my husband tells me, 'I'm more of a coffee person'! My world was shatterred!!!! Okay, I'm exaggerating, but to me, coffee is 'nuclear', while chai is 'joint'.  I told him exactly what I thought about it! That in India, half the bonding between husband and wife occurs over tea! I wasn't okay with losing out on that bonding time. So I did what I had to! I made him a 'chai-person'!!!

Did I say growing up on chai was special? Yes, it helped us weave our most treasured memories and cultivated a culture of share and care!

(This article is written by Sonal Kulshrestha, who lives in Dallas, Texas. Reach her at-


A Letter From A Mother To Her Son On His 16th Birthday!

by Chandana Achtani on Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 3:29pm ·

November 7th 2012

My Dear Ishan,                                                                                                                                                

The thing that astounds me most about you is how quickly you have grown in what feels like a very short time. Today you turn sixteen years old for which I am very happy but also crying at the same time. Very rarely one experiences both the emotions at the same time. I sit here and write this letter with a joyful heart, memories with rushing emotions of your childhood keep flashing in front of my eyes. I realize that very soon you will be entering into the world of “Grown-ups”. I must tell you as a mother that the path is going to be full of challenges but I am very confident that you will always make right decisions and in the end come out as a winner.  But before I start lecturing you more on the philosophy of life (which I do all the time) lets pause for a second , rewind,  as I would like to share my sweet and wonderful journey with you starting from the day when I held you in my arms.

I very vividly remember each and every emotion which I went through when I got to know that I am pregnant with you.  And that night especially when it was pouring cats and dogs outside and you would refuse to come out of my body. Nani was with me all night comforting me and praying for that night to pass peacefully and then came morning and we rushed to the hospital. At the hospital we eagerly awaited your arrival but you as stubborn as you are now would still refuse to let go of me. However, with lot of my hard work, and Dad’s cheering you finally arrived late in the evening on Nov 7th, 1996. The lovely face with black hair on your cherubic long frame of 7lb and 8ozs and your twinkling eyes brought a sense of gratification which vaporized my labour pain in a second.

And I from a daughter and wife became a “MOTHER”. It started a new phase for me.  So let’s by pass all the traumas and tribulations which you made me go through but concentrate on the good and beautiful things to which I got exposure. I saw a child who was full of energy with an unabashed curiosity to know everything. Your questioning mind and analytical inquisition has shown me the beauty in asking questions anew. Sometimes I would get really irritated and would not answer you but your persistence would finally get the right answer out of me. I really hope you maintain this quality for the rest of your life as this will eventually get the right answers in the end. This trademark behavior of yours earned you the nickname of ‘Mr. kyon’.


I sometimes really wonder how I kept going with barely 3-4 hrs sleep in a day. But now I believe it is your energy which gave me strength.  I remember the first bath which I gave you in the kitchen sink.  Your body was drenched with Johnson baby oil. I was so scared that you will slip out of my hand. And then I would drench you with baby powder (Your dad would get mad at me. You know why).Finally you would doze off into the peaceful slumber land which would give me a chance to enjoy a peaceful moment for myself.


My discovery of "Winnie the Pooh",  J.J the jet plane , Big bear blue house  and Barney ( which I found very irritating) through sharing  TV time and bed-time stories with you gave  me the simple pleasures of life. The discovery of poetry by Dr. Suess where we shared many a laughter while deciphering the inner meaning behind those poems.  My finding new and innovative ways of teaching and keeping you busy throughout the day. And the list is endless….


I am sure you do feel many at times that I have not provided you with everything as many other mothers have to their sons. I sincerely hope you will forgive me for my many failings as a mother. You were my first child, and I had to practice on somebody. Sorry about that. I hope you believe me when I tell you that, with God as my witness, I really tried my best. I believe you understand that now—and you’ll understand it better in a few years.

But now at this crucial juncture of your age I only wish and pray that you remember your Mom, Dad and your little brother, Anish. Remember all the fun you had growing up. Remember Nana, Nani and Masi who have loved you unconditionally and the lessons they’ve taught you.

Make a big splash in the world. Fall in love, Explore things, travel around the world and most importantly make friends who will stand by you through thick and thin. You only have one life, so remember and do as much good with your life as you can.

There is so much more that I could write—but I don’t have words. Hope this will suffice. I love you always, and I am always proud of you.

With Prayers and Blessings,


(This article is written by Dr. Chandna Vasandani.

She lives in Southlake, TX with her husband and two Lovely boys. She is fun loving simple person and appreciates beauty in everything and everyone. Her email is

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