Off the shore 25
Life ordinarily stitches
Little helps much needed
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
~ ~ ~
Some years back one of her colleagues offered them if anyone was interested in taking the US made Sears Kenmore sewing machine (automatic 1980 - a central needle, low bar) for free as she was going for a latest model that offer facility of using chips for computer added designs. Rachna saw no harm trying it as she was well aware of the functioning of sewing machine back home a 1975 make Usha Streamlined model that I had purchased as a first gift to her mother Ranjana soon after our wedding from the amount of the salary received in arrears. Those days as a young civil servant our salary used to be in three digits and the amount slightly more could well be invested proposition for the new bride who knew the art and craft of sewing quite well. Brought home the machine failed to work properly after some initial success with its use in altering her dresses, Rachna was thinking of donating it to someone interested rather than leaving it unused. When we were told of the machine, without wasting any time we took out the machine thinking why not give a try as minor mechanical problems could often be solved with the experience Ranjana had. Moreover, we too had acquired a latest Usha light-weight model Dream Stitch with six built-in stitches, seven applications and pattern selection mode last year only to know functioning of such an automatic sewing machine. It was, therefore, easy to start working on it after some trial runs as the machine was kept safe inside the original manufacturer’s carton well packed with Owner’s Manual and Instruction leaflet to refer for whatever minor hitches we had. Rest of the work was done in a jiffy with her experience much to our glee and pleasure to share with Vimal later!
Rachna shared her experience getting her dresses altered here was a difficult task even if there was someone to do the job it would be expensive, around $ 20/- only for altering the length of jeans and $30/- for the dress. During our previous sojourn we had brought a Singer automatic sewing machine to get some of the immediate minor works done but as it was not worthwhile taking it all the way to India, we thought it best to return it to the place wherefrom we had purchase few months back. It is possible to return the good if not satisfied or not found that useful any longer without even a question asked to get back the amount in full without any deduction or hitch and no obligation whatsoever. Back home in Gangtok, if you to return they just not only refuse to refund but even deny any exchange whatsoever for some of the articles. Even if they agree there is not much choice to select from in replacement of that returned. The market is, as such, the one that cannot be termed as customer friendly. I once heard of the anecdote someone shared that a certain official had accompanied the guests from Raj Bhavan to some shops in the Mahatma Gandhi Marg here and one of them asked if she could have a look into that stuff in the shelve in front. The shopkeeper was just not polite but improper in his behavior simply telling back why not see it there itself and saved himself of the trouble taking out and display the garment whereas elsewhere in most of other cities, the shopkeeper takes out not the one but many others also to please his customer and sell off his ware.
Before settling down in Pennsylvania Rachna had seen life in the northerly Indianapolis and later New Jersey to work in the UN commuting by train daily. Life here is to enjoy the weekend and more when it is longer with a Monday suffixed or Friday prefixed to go holidaying often with friends like we did last time when here to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard or Finger Lakes and to far-flung New York to see the Halloween season during Dashain before Tihar for Mha Puja and Kija Puja at New Jersey. We had travelled all the way to Maryland to be with our relatives too for these festivities the same evening that made our stay not only pleasant but also memorable thanks to Vimal for taking such long driving in/to his stride. This time around, we do not know if we could make it the same way since time has changed a lot and five years means a lot to take on our health and spirit. Our family set up has somewhat changed with elderly people moving back to while some visiting their native places. Future is yet to come and we too see how it comes with us this time around here.
Earlier when quite new to this place Rachna had difficulty into getting her clothes altered until she reached and settled down at Exton near Philadelphia to hear of Indira Ben. Indira Ben did fair amount of business not only doing altering clothes and stitching some lady garments like kurta salwar, she also supplied some homemade food to those interested in Indian cuisine. Those days, not much of the Indian stores were here around nor the restaurants to serve Indian meals. Over the years there is tremendous increase in the Desi population here these days and Rachna was telling us that there are altogether six such food joints in the vicinity of the area we now stay. Indira Ben used to take cooking classes for Indian food as well. With husband and wife both working here and not much time left even to cook as the life is so busy meeting the schedules each day. For them cooking was no problem as the help from her was there to come home and cook for you to last for some days together since storage too is no problem as they are by now in the habit of taking frozen food with microwave oven ready to serve them cook/warm the food in jiffy. Only thing was that you have to fetch the help and reach back her home as she does not know and drive a car of herself. Otherwise, driving a car here is a must as the places are located distantly and no taxi or public bus service is available. This makes many learn driving buying a car of his/her own to commute daily to work and back. But here in this case driving a car was not a problem for her at all as with her talent known in the locality or service made available, people who could afford reach all the way go to her, bring home to cook and reach her back to her place. You may be thinking that her family conditions compel her do such a work, but no her daughter and son-in-law both are in medical profession very well off with their monthly income running into millions. She is earning some extra money of her own while coping with the time pursuing the skill she has developed over the years. There are many online sites like Manjula’s Kitchen to learn from for those interested. Classes for yoga and cooking are quite popular here while a sizeable number of people go to gym to keep themselves fit and healthy that the lifestyle of people here take a heavy toll on their body and health. Another interesting anecdote to share here about good works of Indira Ben, recollects Rachna, was that there is a toy very popular here is commonly known as American Doll that costs around $200/- each and even its dress is expensive at around $ 90/-. Indira Ben not only made its dress affordable but also designed on Indian dresses like Kurta-Salwar, Sari that she held an exhibition in the community fair and sold like hot cakes at $ 35/-. Supporting herself promoting as well the culture of the country she belonged popularizing the dress-sense making available on such festive occasions catching the mood right.
Festival knocking at the door and you need to get your house cleaned you have the services readily available at the door at the appointed time. They start with the bathroom and finish it off whistling and talking to each other within an hour or so quickly. Scrub, vacuum the carpet and polish the floor to see the difference that you have been doing all the while. You might be cleaning and keeping your home clean daily but them to compliment you with how bad was the bathroom. At the end while paying them they would offer a deal to get it done regularly every month that we may not need and end up paying little less than what they asked for. Earlier a man had come to clean corners and crevices outside spraying done to free the house of insects including spiders and we need to have another time someone to clean the glass panes in the windows high beyond our reach but again the services are available just a call away but at a price.
Last weekend we were quite reluctant but excited as well to join the birthday party of Prasad-Bindiya’s son Rinay alias Chakloo, yet another get together of friends. Reluctant because it was only the other day we met them visiting us and excited for the Mallu food we were told of being served especially made to order for the first time this occasion. Enjoying home-made food was the excitement of the Mallu, Malayali or Kerala cuisine when the couple with a kid had no time to prepare the goodies themselves but had to celebrate inviting friends and their parents here the best way possible anyhow. They had been enjoying such parties and now their turn to have one. No need to worry about as they had heard of someone in the locality catering to such a need and for them to save the situation. Curiosity too makes things exciting and ours was to find how good the food would be and what variety spread on the table would do justice to what the Mallu cuisine was famous for. We had the taste of authentic Malayali delicacies all the while when in Palakkad with Rachna-Vimal at his parents’ place. We knew the culinary delight having tasted many varieties over the week there and during my month-long stay in the Institute of Management in Government, Thiruvananthapuram way back in 1982 would not all be here but something best for the lunch to meet the taste of all the guests mostly from the region but us. Local crafted seasonal brew Octoberfest was good choice for it is hearty mellow and smooth to savour the flavour to be authentic Marzen recaptures the malty flavor of the 19th century Munich brews – deep amber, rich, smooth and almost creamy, this brew is meant for celebrating with layers of smooth malts and roasty sweetness with hints of caramel and toffee balanced by subtle Bavarian Noble hops said Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream. Vipin’s were veggie, else the lunch was sumptuous and delicious topped with payasum as dessert. $300/- for 20 heads was a deal good with quantity enough compared to the usual stuff from restaurants coming with higher dose of spices to cost our health and higher billing to cut your pockets. This was possible just from a kind housewife only offering home-made food to serve the section of the society who would love to support such efforts and to have such fare more often to make them feel being closer home food-wise especially on joyous occasion like this with friends together in the weekend while for rest of the week they have nothing else in their mind but the work and work to long for another weekend ahead!
This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life while in the US. Some names, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org