Mango and Elderberry

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Lemonade or limbu-pani was the staple drink when we wanted something fresh and refreshing on warm afternoons, or when we returned home from the heat outside. The plethora of drinks and fruit juices you find in the supermarkets these days, were missing when I was a child.

Come summer, there were the seasonal delights like mango juice and grape juice. For that extra thirst there was always lemonade the year round.

Raw mango juice or Aam Panna was among the more unusual summer drink that we had; it is as refreshing and light as lemonade. It is mainly water with the cooked pulp of raw mango and sugar added to taste. There is a short window of time when you can get this greenish drink.

In Germany, drinks made with the elderberry cordial would be the equivalent of cool raw mango juice.

Fragrant tiny white flowers that appear around the end of May are used to make elderberry cordial. Elderberry flower juice is called holundeer bluten saft in German. The juice is a concentrate that you dilute with water to make a delicious drink. Or you can add it to alcoholic drinks like sekt, the local German variety of champagne.

Elderberry is a weedy climber that grows as part of hedges or in forest openings. I head to woods or its edges to collect these flowers. A few walks in the woods are set aside every year for this task.

This year, I spent a lovely Sunday morning collecting them again. It was a sunny day, and there were elderberries everywhere in bloom, and you could smell them in the air.

The elderberry flowers are soaked overnight in water, and they lose their pollen and fragrance to the water. Sugar and lemon juice are the other ingredients. Now I have a supply of summer fragrance bottled up, that I can use through the next months.

This is the main difference between elderberry cordial and Aam Panna, which we never stored, but drank immediately. Not that there was any problem finishing it.

I have never seen elderberry cordial sold in supermarkets, just as you won’t find Aam Panna sold in supermarkets or restaurants, and yet they are readily welcomed by family and friends.

Every place has its special little treats, and I am delighted that I can enjoy both these drinks.

There Is No Getting Away From Mothers

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Image credits: Pixabay

Indians are prone to hero worshipping. This is most apparent in the cult following that film stars inspire. Though politicians are usually regarded with disfavor, a few do have faithful followers.

In a land that revers goddesses, it is perhaps not surprising that many women have managed to occupy top political positions. India has seen many women Chief Ministers. Indira Gandhi was the second woman worldwide, who was voted as head of a nation. (After Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who was the world’s first woman Prime Minister).

Looking back, I see that ‘Mothers’ in public spheres entered my life and have held sway since I moved away from home to study and work.

The first was ‘The Mother’, Mirra Alfassa of Auroville and the Aurobindo Ashram. Nobody who has lived or visited Pondicherry can miss her influence on life and culture in this erstwhile French colony. She was recognized as ‘Supreme Mother’ by none less than her spiritual mentor Sri Aurobindo.

Looking for work, I landed in neighbouring Tamil Nadu (TN).  Just a couple of years after my move, Jayalalitha, a popular film actress became the Chief Minister of TN for the first time.

Since then she was in and out of power. Incumbency is a major factor; and the political parties get voted to power on an alternate basis. Neither Jayalalitha, nor her management of the state was free of controversy. There have been many charges of corruption against her.

However, there is no doubting her popularity among the people, especially women. She targeted women, with election promises from gas stoves, pressure cookers to colour television sets. It was no wonder that she soon began to be called ‘Amma’ or mother by her followers. ‘Amma’ remained popular till the very end. Her sudden death in 2016, plunged Tamil Nadu politics into chaos that it still has to recover from.

Germany, I considered was going to be free of this kind of hero-worship. Partly because westerners visiting India like to mock this as an Indian idiosyncrasy.

People though are not so different wherever they may live. So imagine my surprise, when I found that Angela Merkel, a repeat Chancellor, was called ‘Mutti’ or mother. She seems to have earned herself this title due to her party’s efforts to sell her as a ‘trustable pair of hands’, a simple but solid personality.

Merkel’s ‘Mutti-hood’ was strengthened when she opened the doors to refugees in 2015.

In the latest election, nobody in her party or in the opposition considered anybody else as a chancellor candidate. Opposition from other parties has been compared to adolescents sulking at a mother!

It was that this point that I began to notice that ‘Mothers’  or women in the public sphere had become a prevalent feature in my life.

It is not every woman politician who can claim this title or nickname. There is no doubt that Merkel has been a competent and a strong ruler. So contrast her ‘Mutti-hood’ with that of other strong stateswoman.  Indira Gandhi was the ‘Iron Lady of India’, and Margert Thatcher ‘The Iron Lady of UK’.

Similarly, consider Mamta Banjerjee another popular Indian Chief Minister and a politician reportedly with the greatest mass appeal at present in Bengal. She is neither ‘Ma’ (mother in Bengali) nor Iron Lady. She is the Didi (elder sister) ready to take on Delhi and lead the country. Maybe once that happens she will become Ma of India. Jayalalitha in contrast became Amma early in her career.

Curiously enough both Jayalalitha and Merkel have no children of their own. Even though the land both the women governed have prospered under them, there is not much in common in style or substance with these ‘Mothers’.

Jayalalitha was dodged by charges of corruption and led a lavish lifestyle, while Merkel is well-known for her simple apartment and love for her weekend cottage garden. So what makes one stateswoman, ‘Mother’ and not another? I do not know and it is beside the point.

The point is wherever I decide to live, there is apparently going to be a ‘Mother’ at the helm of affairs.

Self- Identity

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All the changes that I experienced in Germany were not external. Some uncomfortable and surprising changes occurred in me. One of them was a change in my self-identity.

Living in India, I had considered myself a world citizen. An Indian among Indians, I  was one with the community. It was my belief, that the world was shrinking into a global village with the spread of the internet. I considered it a welcome change. It was, after all, the only way forward for humanity.

My move to Germany, I believed, would make my global outlook stronger. However, in a foreign state, I was constantly confronted with my Indian roots.

Every time I met a stranger, people wanted to know where I came from. It was a perfectly innocent and simple question.

Each time I replied with, “I am an Indian.”

Repeat something enough number of times, and you start to internalize the message. And you can no longer ignore it. Not that I didn’t know I am an Indian. But it had never been an important part of my identity. It was not necessary until now. I never was, nor am I an anti-national, but I was never a nationalist.

Our roots remain important, however far or, however long we stay away from our country.

I am not the first to experience this heightened sense of identity with my country of origin. My husband once commented that it was almost impossible for him to forget that he was a foreigner in India.

This self-identity can be a hindrance.  However much you may want, it is not possible to blend into the new community.

One can aim to integrate, but it also has its consequences. There are many second-generation Turks in German. They were born and brought up in Germany and hold German citizenship. They complain that in Germany they are still seen as Turks. In Turkey, people consider them Germans.

Similarly, even if I take up German citizenship, I would still be a Indian-German.  Second and third generation  citizens are also stuck with this labelling.

Many Indians this year are also reflecting on their place in the country. And how they identify with their country, even if they have not left its shores. There has been a rise in fascism;  and there has been a surge in anti-social activities by the Hindu right-wing party and its sibling organisations.

This Republic day was not one that Indians could ignore as usual.

Indians usually see The Republic Day and Independence Day as occasions to relax. There isn’t even the burden of celebrating any religious festival. This time, however, many are realising that the country they grew up in has changed. It has suddenly taken a turn they could not have thought possible. The whole country is polarised in a way that I have never seen before. Not just along religious lines, but also ideology among Hindus.

On a lighter note, back here in Germany, I am confronted with other things that are quintessentially Indian.

When I tell perfect strangers about my origin, some women seem pleased. They start gushing praises for the Bollywood movies with its romantic heroes. It is with difficulty that I manage not to roll my eyes in these situations. The women are, after all, trying to be nice and friendly. I have never associated myself with the craziness of Bollywood, even though have grown up on a diet of Hindi movies,

Nor was I prepared to encounter Bollywood movies here. Bollywood movies have quite a following here. They are screened occasionally on popular television channels, after being dubbed in German.

Wherever I may be, it seems there is no getting away from the good, bad, and the ugly of India.































Tomorrow Morning

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‘Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.’ Mark Twain

One of the biggest challenges in moving to Germany was learning the language. As a language German is renowned for its not-so-subtle difference in sentence construction and use of verbs.

Germans take pride in the precision of their language, as in all other things they do.  I was told there is a specify word for everything. This is especially true for technical objects and process. So as a consequence, Germans tag words together to provide a complete description, where the rest of the world makes do with phrases.

This tendency is omniscient, and has gifted the world with vocabulary like ‘Schadenfreude’, which translates to ‘enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others’ according to Merrriam webster. You get it by combining two German wordsSchaden’ which means harm and ‘freude’, which means joy.

However, for all their love of precision, Germans do have some words that have a double meaning.

None is as inconvenient as their use of ‘Morgen’. ‘Morgenmeans both tomorrow and morning. Many other German words have a double meaning.  Consider ‘kater’, which means  male cat and a hangover, but these are used in different circumstances. So if your friend tells you they have a ‘kater’ after a party, you know they are referring to a hangover and not a cat.

Sometimes though it is not easy to comprehend which ‘Morgen’ is being discussed. In all fairness German is not the only language that struggles with the concept of time.

Hindi has a similar problem. ‘Kal’ means both yesterday and tomorrow. Here the tense of the verb comes to one’s rescue. In German, with tomorrow and many mornings lying in the future there is no help.

How does one say tomorrow morning I mused? Not ‘Morgen Morgen’, which is actually a greeting used in place of the formal ‘Guten Morgen’. Anybody greeting with a brief ‘Morgen’ is usually suspected of being in a bad mood.

When I confronted some Germans with the problem of trying to say tomorrow morning they were momentarily stumped. They quickly explained that they get away by sayingMorgen früh’ or ‘Morgen Vormittags’. ‘Morgen früh’ translates to early morning (‘früh’ means early), and ‘Morgen Vormittags’ as tomorrow before noon. These are not good enough I pointed out. As both these phrases are not really the same as saying tomorrow morning. The Germans understand what is being referred to I was told.

It is though just one more of the mysteries of this language that an expat has to deal with.

There is also no getting away from the fact that for all their love for precision, Germans have no exact translation for tomorrow morning.



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There are few countries more different than Germany and India. Though I had visited Germany a couple of times, the culture shock I experienced moving to Germany after living for decades in India, was not little.

Visiting is an experience distinct from living in a new country, and provides an entirely different perspective. Since I had visited Germany a few times, I thought I knew what was in store for me.

However, there were many surprises, and living here, comparisons of my life in India and Germany were inevitable.