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I’m Losing My Mangos.

Microwave Mango Chutney: There are a few recipes out there that qualify as miracles, and this must be near the top of the list. If you can find your mangos, you can microwave the best mango chutney you’ll ever experience in less than 10 minutes. It will change you forever. Promise. (I use this recipe from Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook, ©1989 Julee Rosso, Sheila Lukins, and available here. [Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay] 

I’m not sure how other writers are doing, but I expected to be churning out (obviously brilliant) new prose by the novel-full as we shelter from the pandemic. Somehow that’s not what’s happening, for a variety of reasons.

  • First, I have to admit I’m losing my marbles, or at least my mangos. No seriously. I purchased fresh mangos at budget-busting sums, but when I went to use them, they had disappeared. I looked everywhere, and accused my roommates (Hub and canine) of mango-nabbing. Two days later, the Hub found them in the cleaning cabinet under the laundry room sink. Since there is absolutely zero chance that either of my roomies left them there—one is thumb-deprived and one is mystified by my incessant cleaning of things like the toilet which will only need to be cleaned again—I can only conclude I’m the culprit.
  • Pandemic Chic–some of the gorgeous handmade facemasks made by Isle of Arran volunteers.

    Second, I made a face mask. Then I made more of them for my family. Then I started making them for friends and neighbors. Now I’m part of a group making them for anyone on our little island who might need or want them. We’ve made hundreds so far. My dining room—while a 100% mango-free zone—is buried under piles of donated fabric, sacks of mask-making kits, and stacks of finished masks.

  • Third, and most of all…well… I just don’t feel like writing. None of my very needy works in progress seem to want to move forward. In fact, I started an entirely new one and now that’s stalled too. Instead, I now spend my days putting facemasks in bags, ZOOM chatting with friends and family, and looking for my mangos.

So while I wait to get my mojo—or at least my mangos—back, the next few posts will contain snippets from our (hopefully soon finished) Please Don’t Ask for Extra Glass—a humorous account of our return trip to India.


Travels With Jaya

The best thing about international travel with my friend Jaya is she’s a planner. She’s a scientist with a fancy PhD and a long career as a top executive, so it’s only natural that every detail of our second India trip was researched, reviewed, and carefully scheduled.

Occasionally, that’s also the worst thing about traveling with Jaya. Her logical brain sees absolutely no reason to squander productive travel hours on sleep when you could be rising WELL before the butt-crack intergluteal cleft of dawn to get an early start. She decided the best way to approach our drive to Rajasthan from her home in Gujarat was to do it all in one agonizing horrible endless day, and then work our way back in stages.

With Janine coming from the States and me from Scotland, the only possible good thing about combining our jetlag with Jaya’s ruthless scheduling was our bodies had no idea 4:30AM wasn’t the middle of the day. We staggered downstairs, where Jaya’s family had a little snack waiting for us. [Translation: in an Indian family home, there is no such thing. We sat down to dal, chapatis, several sides, and life-restoring coffee.]

[Unless otherwise indicated, all images in this post are ©Janine Smith and Jayalakshmi Ayyer. All rights reserved.]

By the time we realized it was not quite 5:30AM, our driver Dashrath had our suitcases in the car and was pointing us into traffic as only India does it—cows, carts, auto-rickshaws, trucks, scooters, and more. All but the cows were honking nonstop, of course, in India’s version of road-sonar.

I do not think that word means what you think it means…

A few hours later, it was time for our actual breakfast—and a language lesson. Although all three of us fondly believed we were speaking English, we were clearly using different dictionaries.

For Jaya, breakfast meant the accurately-named HONEST For Delicious Food roadside restaurant. Like most similar restaurants that don’t cater to foreign tourists, we entered through the open front and stepped into a long room full of tables and the scent of freshly fried food. The incredible smells pulled us to the rear, where signs indicated meals were “self service” and instructed diners, “Please don’t ask for extra glasses.” In a bright open kitchen, we watched our order being prepared by cooks working at top speed to turn out mountains of methi gotas—small fried balls called bhajiya, filled with fenugreek leaves, cilantro, and spices. They came with an assortment of chutneys, plus melt-in-your-mouth dosa pancakes the length of your arm, and chai tea.

In Janine’s American lexicon, going out for breakfast means pancakes or waffles, perhaps french toast. Both Janine and Jaya were incredulous when I explained that back home in the UK, breakfast involved baked beans, stewed tomatoes, and MUCH pig (sausage, bacon, ham, and other more scary incarnations). When I got to the haggis and blood pudding, Jaya put a sympathetic arm around me while Janine handed over the last bhajiya as we headed back to the car. “You need this more than me.”

We’d been making good time, even with another food stop (Punjabi lunch at Why Wait Restaurant—the naan breads were the stuff of dreams!) and an impromptu stop for Jaya to show us the drumsticks. An experienced driver, Dashrut didn’t even hesitate when Jaya demanded a stop in the middle of the freeway so deliver our next language lesson.

Ignoring vehicles zooming past, not to mention our terror-induced threats of the imminent reappearance of both breakfast and lunch, Jaya bundled us to the side of the freeway and pointed to the long thin pods hanging from the trees. “Drumsticks!”

“For… Indian drumming?” Janine and I couldn’t see anything that looked remotely like it could be used for percussion, let alone Kentucky-Fried with the Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices. We explained that in our world, drumsticks as a food item meant chicken legs.

Jaya looked surprised. “Oh, you mean lollipops.”

Janine was horrified. “Lollipops are round and sweet and you get them when you get a shot. Nobody wants a chicken leg when they get a shot.”

“Or…” I added in the interest of complete disclosure. “Lollipops are what the Lollipop Ladies hold up when kids are crossing the street.”

Now they both stared at me, while Dashrath looked politely forward and pretended he didn’t understand English.

“Lollipop Ladies?”

“Don’t knock Lollipop Ladies until you’ve tried to stop traffic in the middle of the school run. Lollipop Ladies must have iron knickers.”

Jaya just shook her head and pointed us back to the car.

[Next post? We’re cursed by a ghost town.]

If you missed our first India travel/humor memoir, please see: