One of our neighbors and I were chatting early on Halloween morning when she let slip that Halloween is her favorite holiday.
“Oh you’ll see!” she said. “Parents dress up, kids dress up, everyone comes out and walks around and it’s the best night here all year.”
She was right. I love Halloween. It’s my little sister’s birthday and we used to always celebrate with lots of decorations and intricate cakes and cookies and costumes and a big Halloween party. Luckily Delhi seems to like Halloween almost as much as we do. About 70 kids in costumes ran, skipped and practically flew around the compound on a sugar high while designated candy givers sat out in front of nearly every house giving out candy and quizzing all of the bumble bees, princesses and tigers passing by. Friends stopped to chat, parents shamelessly (and admirably) repositioned toddler hands to grab the Crunch bars instead of the Gobstoppers in the candy bowl, and my sister-in-law, who teaches at the school across the street, made each kid promise to share their candy with their teacher in the morning. I think they would have minded more if they weren’t so wowed by her auto-rickshaw costume and the highly-coveted boxes of “Nerds” in our candy stash.
The zeal with which some houses went all out on the Halloween decorations completely blew me away and I’m already brainstorming what we can possibly do next year to get in the game. There were gorgeous luminaries, giant blow-up lawn decorations, lights, pumpkins and even zombie brains over at Tuk y Tam’s house (by far one of the best decorated of the night):
Will was a little apprehensive about the whole Halloween exercise. We first tried on his Halloween costume a few weeks ago (on loan from our friends at Tuk y Tam) and while Will loved our “awww!” reactions, he did not love actually wearing the outfit. For weeks he carried it around the house over his shoulder, smiling adorably up at us to try and elicit the same enthusiastic reactions without actually having to put the costume on.
But what kind of parents would we be if we didn’t half-traumatize our son by sticking him in a costume and taking photos? To wit: Will is not technically smiling in these pictures, he’s more on the verge of hysterically crying:
Luckily, once we got outside and Will saw all of the other babies/toddlers also being forced to wear a variety of fleece animal get-ups against their will, he got more into the spirit of things. While he wasn’t quite up for trick-or-treating at anyone else’s house, he had a fine time digging through our bowl of candy until he came up with two boxes of Nerds to shake and clap and throw on the ground. Who knew those Nerds would be so popular?
After all of the anime characters and witches and yodas had made their rounds, we headed inside to
pour over our loot have dinner.
On Tuesday afternoon I had spontaneously decided that I wanted to make lasagna for Halloween and that I wanted to invite all of our friends over for dinner. That meant buying tomatoes, making two batches of sauce, croutons for a salad, making two batches of homemade ricotta (easy, cheaper than store-bought and delicious) and then making homemade noodles because well, they just taste better. I stopped short of making the mozzarella but I might try next time–shredding Indian cheese cannot be that much easier than making it myself. For a brief, insane moment I worried about what to make for dessert before remembering that it was Halloween and therefore the one night of the year when I can legitimately serve Kit-kats and crunch bars in lieu of cake.
All was going well until: a) I realized that none of our friends could come over for dinner because we were all handing out candy and, by the time trick-or-treating was over, it was bedtime for all of our very little kids; and b) Our hand-crank pasta rolling device spontaneously disassembled all over my foot and broke my toe. Whatever. The lasagna was delicious and now we’ve got an entire second batch assembled in the freezer and ready to bake for our rain-date lasagna party.
Time to go chase Will around the room, but before I sign off, a photo from Halloween last year:
And now this year:
What a difference a year makes!
How was your Halloween? Did you dress up? Decorate? Steal candy from your kids’ buckets after they went to sleep?
I hate being sick, which is why I opt not to be. Ever. Especially not on the weekend. Not when I could be taking my 15 month old through a terrifyingly dark and under-inflated bouncy castle with 3 dozen kids all high on too many brownies. Not when I could be up at the crack of dawn decorating cookies before going to shoot a morning market, changing out of my chicken-feather covered clothes and then heading to a baby Halloween party. Not when we could be exploring new parts of town, going to a mela, going out to dinner and hanging out in the backyard.
Minus the bit of feeling like hell and Will still refusing to sleep through the night (I think we might have to cry it out after Chris’ dad leaves town) it was a good weekend.
Friday night was an Embassy-wide BBQ. Things I would like to do again: hang out with our neighbors on the big green lawn. Things I probably won’t do again: eat a “pulled chicken” sandwich or take my toddler through a blood-streaked bouncy castle. It was so hard to stay on my feet in there with Will in my arms! That I let Will convince me to take him through the maze of screaming and careening kids not once but twice is probably testament to either how much I love him or how out-of-my-mind tired I was.
The next morning I squeezed in some cookie-decorating and then headed to INA market in the early morning:
Halloween cookies for our baby group Halloween party (where Will accidentally pulled a ceramic pumpkin off a coffee table and we had to watch it shatter into a million tiny pieces all over the play mat):
I realized too late that I didn’t have any Halloween cookie cutters or any meringue powder and so improvised with creepy looking gingerbread men shapes and neon green milk/powdered sugar icing. I used my mom’s recipe (slightly salty cookies with a hit of nutmeg and slightly too sweet frosting with a hit of almond) but have yet to figure out how to decorate my cookies as beautifully and perfectly as she does hers).
Saturday afternoon we found a turkish cafe at Mehar Chand, an upscale but still local-ish market over by Lodhi Gardens. The backlava was fantastic. Next time we’re hoping Will will let us sit down long enough to order some Turkish coffee.
At the AWA mela on Sunday, we stopped by an artist’s booth and found this pair of peacocks painted on some old Jaipur property bills from 1942. There’s a big trend now it seems to buy up old and antique legal papers here in India and cover them in artwork. The artist we bought this piece from said he paid 1 lakh for a box full of hundreds and hundreds of sheets of old documents and papers. This piece was one of the best we saw at the mela. We loved the different textures and the bright blue stamps, the spidery old script and the way the chemicals in the paint and the paper reacted in interesting ways along the birds’ necks. The price was right so we, somewhat unexpectedly, took it home.
After the mela on Sunday we took it mostly easy while Will played outside pretending to water the flowers and pick the basil for us and then stripped down to splash around with his water table. Later in the afternoon, he took a nap while his dad and I enjoyed a stay-at-home date over a 2pm batch of blueberry buttermilk pancakes (1 cup milk + 3 T lemon juice = buttermilk). I think it had been over a year since we’d made real, American-style pancakes at home, but it certainly won’t be a year before we make them again.
How was your weekend? What did you get up to?
I started a long post for you on the day you turned 14 months old but by the time I actually sat down to finish it, you were nearly 15 months old already. How did that happen?
It seems unbelievable to think that it’s been an entire 3 months since we celebrated your first birthday in DC. You are a 15-month-old now, a stubborn, giggly, cuddly and amazing bundle of curiosity with an outsized interest in all things water, wheels and animal.
You live for the hose in the backyard, the playground, big trucks and the sprinkler on the ball field. I live for our early morning snuggles, the way you grab my hand now when we go out walking and your habit of plopping down into my lap with a book for me to read. Oh and those kisses you give me by kissing your own palm and then running over to press your little hand to my mouth. What I would give to bottle those up and keep them forever.
We spend nearly every waking minute outdoors now and I’m constantly coating you in bug spray and fighting to keep dirt and pigeon poop out of your mouth. You like to run after crows and stray cats and you’ll throw a fit if we go into a store instead of staring at the stray dogs sleeping just outside the door.
The only place I can keep you indoors for more than a few minutes at a time is our kitchen. While I cook and bake you like to stir your own imaginary concoctions on the floor or twist the caps on and off the empty peanut butter jars I give you to
keep you busy play with.
You’ve adopted the “big kids” on the compound as your tribe and nothing fascinates you more it seems than to get to follow them around on the playground or run after them across the big green lawns. I love watching you break into a wide smile when your favorite elementary school girls come bounding up to give you kisses and play peekaboo. You’ve also started playing simple games with the little ones your age–bouncing up and down on a drain cover together or wildly shaking your heads from side to side before erupting into hysterical giggles. At home with your dad and I, you’ve recently discovered how much fun it is to spin around in circles until you fall over and it makes us laugh every time.
You’ve figured out how crayons and markers work and it’s still mind-blowing to me to watch you pick up a crayon, hold it almost correctly in your right hand (and only your right, funnily enough) and draw scribbles on a piece of paper. Were you not still so intent on eating your crayons, I think we’d be coloring half the day away.
You understand nearly everything we say to you, though we are still waiting to hear your first real words. You have a stubborn streak a mile and a half wide and can’t be made to do anything you do not want to do–whether it’s eating dinner or showing us your namaste bow. We’ve come to realize that you eat more when we aren’t looking and prefer to practice all of your newest moves when no one seems to be paying attention. You are cautious when it comes to some things–and remarkably less so with others. You give us regular heart attacks with your attempts to climb up on everything and fling yourself headfirst off the couch.
You are napping right now and very likely about to wake up so I should end this for now, but I wish there were words enough to tell you how much I love you. How many times a day you make us laugh and make us smile. You are such a wonderful little boy, my little man.
All our love,
The morning light here in Delhi is amazing. After living without the sun for the better part of two years, I just can’t get enough of all that lovely, dusky, golden light that comes at the beginning and the end of the day.
So when a girlfriend of mine here suggested we take the babes with us for an early morning Eid shoot near India Gate, I said “yes, please.”
I don’t know if I would have been baller enough to overcome a 14 hour hellish work day and an unscheduled 1-3am baby playtime session to make it out the door for a Saturday morning photo shoot, but somehow my friend did it. Will didn’t wake up in time to come with us and India Gate did not end up being as interesting as we had hoped, so we headed to INA market instead.
During the day, INA is a pretty crowded busy place and when I’m there I’m usually bogged down with heavy bags and working hard to stay upright in the narrow alleyways while Will lunges for all things shiny. Still, I’d been dreaming of a grocery-list free photography outing to INA since the very first weekend we arrived in Delhi.
We got to the market before it opened and walked around a blind corner to find about 2 dozen men in various states of their morning routine. Some were covered in soap and lather, some were brushing their teeth, and some were already making chai and cutting onions. Luckily, they were kind enough to take our intrusion with a sense of humor as we averted our eyes to the bathers in their underwear and moved along to more fully-dressed territory.
I bought two cups of chai from the guy above. Lord knows nobody else was buying the tall 10 rupee cups he sold me (chai wallas tend to trade in tiny, thimble sized cups for 5 rupees or less) but watching this chai guy happily, theatrically, pour the tea was certainly a lot more fun than arguing over ten rupees.
INA market on Saturday morning was a ton of fun. We wandered from chai wallas to vegetable wallas to restaurant stalls opening for the day. We watched men cutting giant slabs of ice for the fish market and picked our way through at least a 1000 chickens–in cages, pecking at the ground and lying in neat little rows under wafting incense. I watched one man sharpening knives and another pulverizing hundreds of pounds of tomatoes in a specialized sort of food processor. So many interesting things to see everywhere we looked. It’s amazing just how much work goes into keeping such a tiny market up and running and full of food to eat and things to buy.
We didn’t stay long. My friend’s little one was in need of a nap and I was anxious to get home to Will and get the chicken feathers off the bottom of my pants, but this was one of my favorite outings here in Delhi yet.
Yesterday was Dusshera, Dashahara, Dashain (in Nepal) or Vijayadashami here in India and I had very high hopes of making it out to a traditional celebration.
Dusshera is a huge holiday; for some communities it’s a bigger deal than Diwali. People return home to visit family, get haircuts, buy new appliances and, most importantly, they build giant 3-story sculptures out of straw, paper mache and fireworks and then set them ablaze at sunset. It’s an event beloved both by Hindus and anyone in India who enjoys a good bonfire–namely, everyone.
Having never seen a real live effigy burning, I asked everyone from our housekeeper to my favored cellphone top-off vendor what to expect. Huge chaotic crowds, a riot of burning embers, and giant fiery gods and demons falling on top of crowds of celebrating masses, was what they told me. It sounded fantastic. As well as a little bit insane.
Chris promised to take Will for the night so I could go out to take photos with one of our friends here, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I packed my camera bag even as our friend had to bail and my stomach continued to flip flop from the effects of that bleach-less salad from the other night. And then I felt my poor husband’s forehead. Just a touch under the weather, but enough to make me drop my bags and stay home.
That’s life sometimes. It’s the holiday season here now in Delhi, there will be many more celebrations to witness.
Instead of taking photos of blazing multi-story gods and demons, we wandered over to Khan market yesterday afternoon to check out a few of the effigies before the burning. Though not the most exciting or perhaps truly authentic place to experience the build-up to Dusshera, it was still
terrifying stunning to see exactly how huge even these so-called “touristy” effigies were before being set ablaze.
I checked out a few Indian newspapers this morning because it still boggles my mind that these towers of straw and paper-mache burn so close to so many buildings and people without incident, but no mention of injuries or causalities. Or perhaps its sort of like the 4th of July in the US and it takes a pretty spectacular misfire for anyone to make the national news. In any case, I found a few good photos.
I was not on my photog-ing game yesterday, but if nothing else, hopefully these shots convey just how darn tall these effigies (not even anywhere near the biggest in town!) truly were.
I had a wonderful little, probably rather obnoxious, post planned for you about our dinner the other night. I was going to write: “It’s hard not to feel settled in a place when you can serve a dinner salad grown in one’s very own garden.”
And then that lettuce damn near tried to kill me.
I woke up at midnight two days ago feeling rather the opposite of settled and, by morning, I was a full 5 pounds and 5% of my body weight lighter, barely able to stand, and staring down the barrel of 24 hours of straight toddler tantrums.
I pride myself on a rather stubborn streak of self-reliance but yesterday I just couldn’t hack it. I pushed Will around in his stroller for awhile with my head resting on the stroller handle and my eyes closed. I tried to convince him that it would very fun to just let Mama lay on the couch while he played on the floor. Hysterics, screaming and sobbing ensued–Will’s not mine, though I couldn’t blame him. I would have been tempted to throw a fit too if I had only had the energy.
Our part-time housekeeper arrived at 10am and by 10:10, for the first time ever, I handed Will to her and collapsed into bed for a dead-to-the-world desperately needed nap. It was just barely enough to keep me going until Chris came home early so I could sleep for a few more hours. As per med unit instructions, I’m on a strict diet now of oral rehydration powder and brownies (fine, I’m self-medicating with the brownies).
So it turns out that, even when the lettuce comes from our own garden, we don’t get to skip the proper 30 minute Indian bleach bath.
Also, thank goodness for wonderful housekeepers and wonderful husbands. I don’t know how we would have made it through yesterday otherwise.
Lately I’ve been getting the 2nd baby fever (no, no, definitely not pregnant) but if yesterday convinced me of anything it might be that:
a) I’d really forgotten how absolutely miserable I felt during my first trimester with Will; and
b) we might want to wait on baby #2 until Will is old enough to understand phrases like “please don’t jump up and down on Mama’s tummy right now.” Oy.
I’ll wonk out over on my other site about the origins of Indian street theater and the bottomless depths of Indian culture, but briefly:
Indian theater is a vibrant, ancient cultural tradition, and street theater–dramatic plays performed by barefoot performers with minimal props on the streets of India–dates back to at least the 1960’s when activists happened upon it as a cheap, highly effective edu-tainment strategy to communicate various social justice and public health messages to a mostly illiterate audience.
Many of the social entrepreneurs I used to work with back in my Ashoka days rely, at least in part, on street theater performances to convey messages about everything from family planning to environmental conservation to politics to women’s rights. It’s a homegrown strategy well-suited for India, where many people remain illiterate and everyone appreciates a certain amount of dramatic flair.
What I didn’t realize about street theater, and what I really should have known, is that colleges all over India produce street theater teams. This is the country that has competition for everything from yoga to mud wrestling, so it should also go without saying that there are competitions for street theater as well.
Sunday afternoon, in a quest to get out and do something between nap and dinnertime, my husband suggested we check out Dillihaat, across from INA market.
For 20 rupees you can enter this government textile-industry-sponsored simulation of a old-fashioned bazaar to barter over touristy and/or cheap scarves, bed covers, blankets and clothes in styles and fabrics representing nearly every province of India. It’s a bit gimmicky but it remains a popular destination for both tourists and middle-class Indians alike. Plus, the food court is not half bad.
The open public space in front of Dillihaat hosts a bunch of cultural performances through out the year which was where we, luckily enough, stumbled into the audience of an extraordinary competition for university street theater teams–25 of them from all around Delhi.
We walked into a crowd standing in a circle around a group of young people shouting and screaming and chanting, wearing theatrically exaggerated expressions of anger and fear as they danced and moved around the circle to the beat of a loud drum. Each team wore nearly identical khadi-style cotton kurtas and coordinating stoles, over their jeans or leggings–one color for each team. They all took turns huddling just outside the performance areas in front of the judges’ tables, talking strategy and running through their routines. Then, one by one, they slipped off their shoes, took their places in the circle and transformed from normal Indian teenagers into fiery, shocking and intense performers.
I ran around on tip-toe trying to see over shoulders and asked a few of the bystanders and performers what was going on. As far as I could find out, each group performed a sort of morality play of their own. At the end of the night, the winners would be announced and the top four teams would move on to an India-wide competition in Mumbai.
It was fantastic. The energy, the expressions. I love this about India–there is no end here the expressions of culture. Some people might do yoga or insane acrobatic maneuvers on top of giant skinny poles, while others theatrically leap and cower and chant their way across hard stone pavers to tell a story.
I didn’t manage to get the best sample of the plays, but here is a small video taste from a down-tempo moment in a performance by a women’s college from around Delhi.
A note on the photos: this was a new challenge for me trying to shoot from a distance over the crowd without knowing exactly what was going to happen next at any time. One of those days where I really felt the limits of my ISO again as I jacked up both the shutter speed and the focal distance in order to capture the action as clearly as I go. Next time I think I’ll open up the aperture more and just hope for the best, though I am glad-in this case-to have been able to capture so many expressions from the crowds in the background!
This weekend we…
visited an “Old Fort” with some dad friends and fellow babies…
and saw our first cricket match in the parking lot…
We attended a birthday party that included approximately 100 people, a magic show, a bouncy castle, a face-painter, the best cornbread I’ve ever eaten and an elephant giving rides to party-goers up and down the street (you know, your average birthday party)…
We colored with Ahyee…
and made dried cherry and almond biscotti as well as a fanstastic new pumpkin soup recipe.
We celebrated the arrival of Halloween candy…
and Will enjoyed his dosa at Dillihaat so much that he cried when we accidentally took it away.
We also hung out with friends, took many, many long walks, welcomed Chris’ dad to stay at Chez Dumm for the next two weeks and, last but not least,
watched a fascinating street theater competition at Dillihaat. Way too many photos from the competition coming soon…
INA market is one of those ramshackle little markets filled with stalls that sell everything from saris to “Saudi Arabia uniforms,” sparkly headbands to spices, as well as live chickens and fish of questionable freshness. Basically if you can make it in India or if you can possibly import it into India-legally or illegally–you can find it at INA. I’ve purchased everything from local toilet cleaner to plug adaptors to Korean kochi jiang, to our favorite brand of french jam from tiny shops along INA’s damp, winding alleyways.
It’s a bit tricky sometimes navigating the tight spaces between shops with I have Will in his Ergo and my bags laden down with, among other things, a 2 week supply of jam, but I love visiting to this market nonetheless. I can’t decide what’s more alluring: the atmosphere or the fact that I can usually find every single thing on my shopping list in one place. For those of you living overseas and used to visiting 5 different stores to pick up 15 things, you can see the appeal can’t you?
I went for a quick trip a couple of days ago to pick up some spices for our housekeeper. Across from my preferred nuts & spices dealer, there is a sweets counter. The line is always long and there are always people walking away with bowls of this or bags of that. I circled the market three times before the line was short enough for me to get up to the counter before Will got restless. I was curious. When it comes to interesting-looking sweets, apparently I can’t help myself. (Baumkuchen? Green Tea Sponge Cake? Glutinous Rice Balls anyone?
I ordered a few pieces of pistachio and coconut flavored milk fudge, otherwise known in Hindi as “barfi” (an unfortunately un-English friendly name for a food if there ever was one) and one piece of day-glow orange jalebi–a circle of deep-fried flour dipped in sugar syrup.
Indian sweets are a bit of an acquired taste. Unless you are buying incredibly high-quality sweets–and even then–many of them combine milk, creme and sugar together in quantities that make Americans’ teeth ache and their bellies churn from all of the milk fat.
I enjoy a good fresh batch of gulab jamun–fried milk ball soaked in a rose water sugar syrup–and I like coconut kulfi. The bright orange jalebi, on the other hand, are difficult for me to get behind.
I took a curiosity-sating few bites out of the sweets and put the untouched ones back in the box to give to our housekeeper, K.
The next day I showed the box to K. all prepared to offer them to her and her family as a “Happy Friday!” surprise when I noticed her nose wrinkling up into a face of alarm. (side note: no one India does a convincing poker face–at least not compared to in China).
“You bought these at INA?” she asked.
Yes, I told her. I told her about the long line and the high turnover, but all the while her face just looked a little bit more horrified.
“These aren’t very good, are they?” I asked, feeling a little put out.
She laughed. No, she said, they are not very good at all. “You shouldn’t buy those,” she said and then told me a few stores that would be better.
Which is why there is still a box of sweets on our counter. Apparently to be eaten by nobody. Leave it to me to pick the best-looking worst store in the market.
That’s India for me though. Just when I think I’m getting my bearings, I realize again how truly clueless I am.
For a stock broker in a conservative, small Mid-western town, My father is a very New Age-y person. He’s been doing yoga since before it was cool. He meditates twice a day. He’ll tell you about his guru in Hawaii and the amazing patchouli oil soap that he found on a mountain on Maui that, to his amazement, he can now find at Whole Foods. As he well knows, it gets to be a little much for me sometimes. As a teenager I rebelled by refusing to try yoga and talking a lot about the standards for scientific inquiry instead.
Still, having grown up in a house where Dad made us visualize my PR cross-country race, “practice our hahaha’s” and repeatedly, aggravatingly, asked “where are you?” (Correct answer: “here”) and “what time is it?” (Correct answer: “now”) every single time we ever tried to complain about anything, it’s hard to not internalize at least a little bit of that “be the change…” kind of attitude.
I love my Dad and this has all been a long way to go for what I’m about to write, but ever since I wrote that woeful post about finding my tribe here in Delhi, we’ve been meeting all sorts of wonderful people on the playground, organizing play dates and outings, planning a baby group, a Halloween party and more. It’s a little too soon to say that we’ve found our tribe here, but things are coming together now. It seems sometimes boldness really is genius and that when it rains it really does pour–although, in this case, only metaphorically as we haven’t seen a cloud here since the monsoon season ended a month ago. Anyways, I’m giddily friend-crushing on a girl who I met at the pool with her 3 year old (I totally waited 3 days before texting her for a play-date) and I’m oh-so-eagerly looking forward to this lovely lady’s return to Post.
We did brunch last weekend which was fun and cozy and, true to form, I forgot to take a single picture. Thank goodness for our menu board in the kitchen. Half of the meal from the Smitten Kitchen website and the other half I made up as I went along. What would I do without Deb Perelman? I’ve had her cookbook on pre-order since August. Most of the time I google recipes online if I use them at all–which makes my purchase of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook a pretty weighty endorsement if you ask me.
We’ve had a few low-key days around here lately. Will’s been getting new teeth and getting repeatedly shot up by nurses determined to keep his love for stray dogs from giving him rabies, japanese encephalitis and the chicken pox–or something like that. Which is all to say that he’s not been feeling (or sleeping!!!!!) so well and we’ve been sticking close to home the last few days to do important things like play with the garden hose, chase every man, woman, and child on a bicycle, and hang out with the neighborhood kids who like to help me “weed” our garden after school.
How was your weekend? What exciting things have you been up to?Older Posts >>>