Posted on April 7, 2013
The term “Indian English” is a real one. It refers to the adaption of English by Indians but I should have named this post “Karan’s English” because not only does Karan speak Indian English but he has adapted his own version of that. This makes for a comical conversation at times to say the least.
I look at a different pages that listed Indian English terms and selected the ones I hear Karan use. Here they are with their American equivalents:
Because Karan is still learning English overall, he uses the words from Indian English that he is familiar with and simplifies everything else. Plus, he doesn’t talk much anyway. Most verbs he uses are in the “ing” form and he eliminates plural form. Here are some examples of things is known to say:
- When the kids are misbehaving: Coming blood. or Broke the head. = punishment (of course Karan does not do either of these things literally)
- Wash the hand = wash your hands or put the glass = put on your glasses
- I appreciate you = thank you or that was thoughtful
- how to eating = the correct way to eat something
- go to place = put something back in its place
- nothing talking = do not say anything
There are so many more but it is hard for me to remember them all. Then Karan has is own phrases that he called “opposite talking”. He uses this with the kids to play with them. If you ask for a big piece of chicken he gives you the smallest one and says “big meaning small, small meaning big”. This becomes hilarious because the kids don’t know what to say.
Another one is “chocolate” which Karan says “do you want some chocolate?” but it means punishment if they are being naughty. As I said, he never actually does what he says but the kids pay attention and it is quite amusing to see them try to figure out if Karan is really offering chocolate or if they are in trouble.
It’s hard to share in a post how amusing and interesting it can be communicating with Karan but I have tried to share a little.
Of note: Karan will probably object to my choice of photo as it appears that he is drinking beer. It is cider actually and he barely even drank any. Karan is a a body builder and therefore a purist when it comes to what he eats or drinks but I chose the photo because it shows the fun-loving side of Karan that comes out when he talks (a rare occasion).
Posted on March 23, 2013
There was this television show in the 1970s called “To Tell the Truth”. I remember watching it as a kid. In the show, there were three people all claiming to be a certain person. One of them was the person who they said they were and the other two were impostors. A panel of celebrity guests asked the contestants a series of questions and had to determine who was telling the truth, who was the “real” so and so, by their answers.
I thought of this show recently in a situation that arose in our family. If you have followed this blog then you already know that my husband Karan is not the biological father of Elsa and Marcos. The biological father, Valerio, is Dominican and although he has expressed his love for the kids from afar, has done little for them from the time they were born. Karan, on the other hand, is an active, dedicated father who both disciplines the kids and plays with them. As far as they (and the rest of the family) is concerned, Karan is their real father.
I respect the role, albeit brief, or should I say contribution, that their biological father played in my children’s’ lives. I do not talk badly of him; i honor their Dominican heritage. They even share his last name. But when we lived in the Dominican Republic, Valerio was not there for them in any way. He would visit every couple of months and take the kids out for ice-cream or a movie. The kids would come home on a high and then he would leave. Marcos would immediately become rebellious and aggressive towards Elsa, ignoring anything I said. Elsa would be mopey. Finally after struggling with the both of them for a couple of hours, their emotions would crash and Marcos, who is older and therefore more affected. would burst out sobbing. Marcos remembered when Valerio had lived with us so he felt the loss all that much more, although even then Valerio was hardly there. It broke my heart.
Every visit was the same — never enough to give them what they needed, just a glimmer of what they didn’t have. The sobs would always follow. It got to the point that I was conflicted about whether to let Valerio visit. On the one hand I felt it was his right and I did want the kids to know him, but on the other hand it seemed like unnecessary torture. Then Karan came into our lives.
Karan’s presence, the love that he poured into those children, was so healing. He gave them attention, he played with them, he made them feel worthy to be alive. Before Karan there was a part in those kids that was broken, deeply hurt. It is still there but heals more each day. The proof was that after Karan came into the family, the sobbing stopped. The kids would visit with Valerio and when the visit was over they were fine. No more rebellion; no more tears.
Still, despite everything, the decision to leave the Dominican Republic and bring the children to the United States was not an easy one. I knew I was not just separating them from their biological father but also from their culture and native language. I thought about it carefully but one of the biggest factors which influenced my decision was that Valerio was not involved in their lives, despite numerous opportunities to do so, and this lack of involvement was present even when we were together. The chance that this would change, that the occasional visits would suddenly turn into active participation in their upbringing was very slim.
Originally I thought that once Karan got his visa, we would regularly travel as a family to the Dominican Republic and that would give the kids a chance to know their culture, their native language and also for Valerio to be able to visit once in a while. But Dominican immigration law is very strict when it comes to children and divorce/custody agreements are not honored. In my case, when I divorced Valerio, I had him sign a legal agreement granting me full custody including the right to travel out of the country with the children. The United States recognizes this legal agreement as binding which is how I was able to get passports for the children without Valerio present. But Dominican immigration does not recognize an agreement that is part of a divorce. Instead, each time I travel to the Dominican Republic and wish to return to the U.S. with the kids, I need special travel documents to be permitted to pass through Dominican immigration. These documents must be drawn up by a lawyer, signed by Valerio, stamped and sealed in all sorts of places, and sent to various agencies. As part of the process, a Dominican immigration officer calls Valerio to verify by phone that the agreement was entered into willingly and then, and only then, can I go to the Dominican immigration office, with current photos of the children to be stamped and stapled to the travel permission documents which they finally release. The whole process takes two to four weeks and costs over $150.
Each time I wanted to visit the Dominican Republic with the kids I would have to do this. The travel documents are for a specific trip with specific dates so there is no way to have documents for a period of time. Not only is the process cumbersome and expensive, it is also risky. If Valerio refuses to sign the travel documents, I would be unable to leave the country, stuck in the Dominican Republic with the kids. I couldn’t risk that, especially considering that being American, I could also be extorted for money in exchange for signing the documents. Valerio’s current ‘wife’ hates me so it is not outside of possibility. No, no, no. Traveling to the Dominican Republic with the kids is out for now.
The kids have been in the United States now for nearly three years and they are flourishing. They have lost some of their Spanish but I try to keep their Domincan culture relevant for them. Valerio calls every couple of months and asks how they are doing. I tell them they’re doing well and growing bigger. I say how I hope to bring them to visit one day (not really) and Valerio, who is now on Facebook, sees pictures of the kids. We talk for about 5 minutes. That has how it has been for the last three years.
The whole concept of Valerio being in my life at all, past or present, is a sore spot for Karan. In Karan’s culture, a man does not marry into a family with children by another man. But Karan loves us so he resolves the conflict with his culture by considering my children, his. It is a wonderful solution for all of us but it is a challenge when the reality of this “other” father comes up. We have struggled with what to have the kids call Valerio. Marcos remembers him but really has no interest. Elsa is interested but has no memory of him. Finally after trying different ways of saying it like “birth father” or “first father” we just call him Valerio.
All of this came up rather recently when I got a message on Facebook from Valerio saying he was in NYC and wanted to see the kids. I was so surprised. When we were married I got him a travel visa to the United States but honestly I never expected him to use it as he could barely make it cross town to see the kids. Knowing that a trip to the Dominican Republic to visit was out of the question, I felt a strong pull to see if I could go to NY with the kids and give him a chance to see them.
The visit was to be during Spring Break from school and visiting with Valerio was only the secondary reason to go, the first being to see my brother and some business I need to take care of. Karan didn’t stand in my way of going but the whole situation was a bit awkward, culminating with a comment by Marcos that he was going to see his “real father”. Marcos didn’t mean how it came out, we were still trying to figure out what to call Valerio at that point, but it stung Karan just the same.
As it turns out, after planning and preparing for the trip, we ended up having to cancel for reasons unrelated to Valerio. I have mixed feelings about it. I am curious how Elsa and Marcos will react to Valerio after all these years but I also know the time will come, the right time. In the meanwhile, they have Karan, their real father in so many ways, that they get to spend every day with.
Posted on January 27, 2013
Above: “Hood Angel”, Photo @ Eliza Alys Young
- a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep
- the sleeping state in which this occurs
- an involuntary vision occurring to a person when awake
- an object seen in a dream
- a vision voluntarily indulged in while awake; daydream; reverie
- to have a dream
- to indulge in daydreams or reveries
- to think or conceive of something in a very remote way
- to see or imagine in sleep or in a vision
- to imagine as if in a dream; fancy; suppose
- to pass or spend (time) in dreaming
- most desirable; ideal
The word “dream” can mean many things, can be active or passive, an object, action or description. Yet, no matter the meaning, in our lives today, especially in the Western, industrialized world, it seems that there is no room for dreams anymore. No one has time with our busy schedules full of multitasking. What’s more, few really see the value of dreams, many accounting them to a waste of time or laziness. I, however, know firsthand where dreams come from and how important it is to listen to them.
Dreams are messages from the subconscious, our intuitive nature. When we create art, write poetry or invent, we tap into the same nature. Any poet knows, for example, that one cannot write a poem while doing something else. It is not something you can multitask. The words, the images, the metaphors simply won’t come. Instead one has to disconnect a bit from our pressing reality of tasks, to do lists, schedules and responsibilities. One goes to a place in between our daily world and sleeping, a place of inspiration.
But our culture doesn’t allow us many opportunities to disconnect. Now more than ever we are connected, literally, plugged into technology, where we can be called, texted or emailed at any moment. That allows us no time for inspiration to surprise us.
Of course we must disconnect sometime so we do it through artificial means like alcohol. It is no accident that so many “inspired” people have addiction issues — drugs and alcohol are a highway to that subconscious world, a fast track way to disconnect. But although one reaches that intuitive state, the means dull the senses, deaden and garble the inspiration so only the truly brilliant can make sense of it. It is no substitute for dreaming.
As a child I had plenty of time to dream, far too much time actually, and dreams became a welcome pastime, a means to supersede my daily reality to something greater, to a place of happiness. I was a solitary child for two reasons: 1) a physical handicap kept me out of school often and made me visibly different to my peers; 2) I was a bright, eager student which brought much envy from my classmates.
Back then, healthcare was handled differently. Instead of the outpatient, rush out the door treatment that is used today, if you had surgery, you always stayed in the hospital for a while. In my case, it was a long while — several months each time. Between the age of 3 months to 18 years I had over 18 operations (medical records got lost so we don’t know exactly how many) so that was a lot of time in the hospital. Meanwhile my parents had divorced and were fighting which meant that they often weren’t able to visit me, especially when I was in the hospital so long — that gave me plenty of time with my own thoughts and…dreams.
Dreams come in many forms but they are all connected. The first dreams we become aware of are the surface or ego dreams. These are dreams of things we want which will feed our ego: new things, money, fame and success. These dreams serve a purpose in that they may motivate us to work harder, study more, and improve our self. But without deeper dreams, these surface dreams will never satisfy us. The deeper dreams are what I call soul dreams. These dreams are our deepest desire, what connects us to others, what we long for on our most fundamental level. For nearly all of us, our core soul dream is to be loved.
I had two profound dreams as a child; 1) to live in another country; 2) to find true, unconditional love. I don’t know why I had the first dream about living in another country but I had it just the same. I can’t remember when I didn’t have this dream. The second dream is a universal one but few dare to believe it, never mind dream it. For me, as a girl growing up with a handicap, teased and bullied by my peers, dreaming of true love took more than belief, it took courage.
For that is the power of dreams: the courage to try, to go beyond what we are comfortable with: to reach our desires. Without dreams we meander through life with good or bad luck, hoping to make good choices, fearful of the bad. We surrender without even trying; we give up all of our power. In order to dream you must believe in yourself, you must listen to your intuitive subconscious.
When we listen to our dreams, we are naturally guided towards the fulfillment of our dreams. I don’t mean this in an esoteric way like the Law of Attraction as was popularized by the book The Secret, but in a simply way that when we focus on something, we pay attention to it and that leads us to connections and opportunities. For example, if we dream of being a singer, then we learn everything we can about singing which makes us a better singer, thereby bringing us closer to our dream. We also talk to people about our dream and thereby connect with others which have similar dreams and/or who can help us reach our dreams. All of this comes about because we actively listen to, and believe in our dreams. It is not a passive process at all.
In my instance, I pursued both dreams throughout my life. My first dream of living in another country brought me unusual travel opportunities and many multicultural connections. One of these connections led me to actively fulfill my dream by moving to the Dominican Republic. I didn’t hesitate when the opportunity presented itself for me to realize my dream — one needs to be ready and willing to act and sacrifice for one’s dream.
On the one hand, it was a crazy, reckless thing to move to the Dominican Republic. I did not know Spanish, had meager work opportunity and few friends. But on the other hand, I could not ignore the opportunity because it so clearly fulfilled my dream. I acted upon it and now I am fluent in Spanish and have a rich cultural experience that will be a part of me forever.
Dreams and dreaming have been significant in all my life and I attribute this to the fact that I invested so much time to dreams in my youth. I have had many lucid dreams — dreams in which I am aware I am dreaming and can even steer the outcome. I have had prophetic dreams, often which repeat over and over until the event happens in real life. These prophetic dreams are not about dramatic world events but personal events in my life. One time I was in a relationship and I kept dreaming over and over that my boyfriend abruptly left me for another woman. I experienced deep sadness over and over in my dreams, only to find relief when I awoke, until one day when he did the exact same thing in waking life.
When it came to my second soul dream, that of finding true love, the specifics of that love, the feeling of that love, was shown to me many times through out my life in dreams. It was clearly a devoted love, a love that “picked me up off my feet”, where there was no drama, no doubt. It was an ambitious dream, a rare type of love, one which few dare to dream of, and in order to dream it, one had to believe one deserved it. When I would doubt my dream, I would settle into a relationship that was not fulfilling, which would cause the dreams to subside for a while. Then I would start to realize I had lost my way and I would move on. When I finally met Karan there was an immediate spark of attraction and even recognition, but it took more than a year before any action was taken. When it did, my mind said the relationship made no sense but my heart remained open, still listening to my dream, my hope of finding the kind of love I longed for. If I hadn’t kept my dream alive I would have never given Karan a chance, never known that he was the one I had been waiting for all these years.
Dreams are not whimsy or a waste of time. They are an important connection to our deep self. By dreaming we grow, we learn, we achieve. If we pass our days glued to our smartphones, burdened by our workload, worried about our future, we will never move past it. We will never have the opportunity to connect with who we can be or what our life could become.
Posted on January 9, 2013
From the beginning of our relationship, whenever I asked Karan what he wanted to eat, he would invariably say “biryani.” It was a joke, of course, because he knew I was unfamiliar with this dish even though I was fairly familiar with Indian food. So this was a common exchanged between us where I would ask him what he wanted, he would say “biryani” and I would laugh and realize I was not going to get a straight answer.
When Karan described the dish, he always referenced his sister who he said was an even better cook than his mother. He would talk with excitement, his face lighting up as he shared what was so special to him from home. It has been my goal to one day attempt this dish, which has many variations and levels of complexity, but always rice, vegetables and spices cooked together. It is a dish similar to paella from Spain, locrio from the Dominican Republic and risotto from Italy but with its own unique qualities.
Biryani, biriani, buriyani, beryani or beriani is a set of rice-based foods made with spices, rice (usually basmati) and Chicken, mutton, fish, eggs or vegetables. The name is derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان) which means “fried” or “roasted”. In countries of the Indian sub-continent, the recipe of biryani has evolved to its current form but the origin of biryani was in the kitchen of Mughal Emperors. [Source: Wikipedia]
It figures that Karan’s favorite dish derives from one served to Emperors…
So on this New Year’s Day 2013, our first New Year together in the United States, I decide I would make an Indian meal to welcome Karan to his new home. So the menu was to be Mutton (lamb) Biryani, Fried Okra, Cucumber Raita and Gulab Jamon, an Indian sweet.
I did some research on biryani to pick the right recipe. Biryani is served all over India but also in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and more. I had a recipe for a Pakistani biryani from one of my cooking magazines but I decided last minute not to use it. It called for 1 1/2 cups of oil, no way. So I searched for South Indian biryani and found this recipe. The recipe uses a pressure cooker which I have and that makes the process much simpler.
The first step was to cube the lamb, removing any large chunks of fat but still leaving some fat and the bones for flavor.
Then I prepped the spices for the marinade. As usual I alter the recipe slightly. From left to right: 1/4 cup plain yogurt, peeled ginger root, peeled turmeric root, garlic cloves, hot chili powder, salt, coriander powder.
Mash the garlic, grate the ginger and turmeric, mix together with spices and yogurt. Cover and marinate the meat for a couple of hours.
While the meat marinated, I got started on the okra. See the full recipe here. First you slice the okra into thin rounds.
Meanwhile my little ‘helper’ help herself to the okra tops which are sticky…
Then I was ready to bring the dish together. I always prep ahead so left to right: basmati rice that has been washed and soaked, chopped mint and cilantro, chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, minced ginger, fresh green chilis, seeds removed, meat marinated.
First the onions are sauteed and cooked down.
I start cooking the onions for the okra at the same time.
Then I added the meat to the biryani onions and the okra to the other onions.
While those two dishes were cooking I started on the dessert while my son chopped the cucumber for the raita.
I don’t usually use a mix for anything Karan picked it up at the Indian market. I mixed it together and made little balls that are then fried.
Then the biryani was done. All the flavors and spices mixed together.
This is the final meal: Lamb Biryani, Fried Okra, Cucumber Raita.
And the dessert, topped with chopped pistachios and drenched in simple syrup.
It was a day of cooking but the meal was a success. Everyone loved it and Karan felt a little bit like he was back home. I know it wasn’t the same as his sister’s biryani but it still tasted very good and both meals were made with plenty of love. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the new year!
What’s funny is that since I started this post (all my posts take several days to complete because I have to squeeze it in between so many other things), I was contacted on Facebook by an Indian man who has become my online friend as a result of this blog. He knew that I had planned to make biryani and asked me how it went. I told him it went well and he said “Do you know where biryani came from?” and I answered that I had read it came from the Persians. He said flat out that was not true and that biryani came from Spain as paella. I was intrigued because I could not find a single reference to connect the two dishes historically even though they clearly are similar. We went back and forth where I questioned where he came to that conclusion, finding source after source which referenced Persia, Turkey or even an ancient Tamil dish but never Spain. Who knows what really happened but when you study the dishes of different cultures you see so many similarities such as the tortilla in Mexico is basically the same as the chapati in India and the cultures never introduced one to the other. But I realized that for my friend, his adamant assertion that biryani, a much loved dish in India, did not come from the Mugals, was more one of pride that such a dish could not have originated in the Muslim culture. He may be right after all but either way, it is an interesting debate.
Posted on December 30, 2012
In many ways you could say that when Karan came to the United States he hit the ground running. We arrived on a Friday evening. Monday morning we applied for his Social Security card and Tuesday morning he got a full time job. Now that is an accomplishment for anyone new to an area, especially given our current economy, but for a recent immigrant who did not yet have a green card, Social Security number, or driver’s license and who’s verbal English is so so but his written English at kindergarten level, getting a job the second business day after arrival was a near miracle. It is a starter job, just above minimum wage doing maintenance at our local gym, but it is a job which gives him a way to earn money while he’s building his skills for a career.
Karan’s an ambitious guy, he likes to work and wants to make lots of money, but in America, he has one major hurdle: he needs to improve his English. He can speak English pretty well, although his pronunciation can be quite funny, but when it comes to reading and writing English, he is just a beginner. To get a better job he first needs a driver’s license. He can drive fine but there is the written test…
So Karan needs to learn to read and as my daughter Elsa, who is six, is learning as well, she decide to teach him. She started with the book “Bears on Wheels” and the book begins “One bear. One wheel.” Karan and Elsa read the whole book together and for several days Karan would randomly say “One bear. One wheel. Three bears. One wheel.” It became our own inside joke and the beginning of many reading lessons that the whole family participated in.
A while ago my mom bought this book called “The Eclectic Reader” which is a book from a series that were widely used as textbooks in American schools from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. I decided this would be a good book for Karan to begin with. For anyone whom English is not their first language, they will relate to Karan’s struggle. As the graphic below illustrates, English is one of the hardest languages to learn because of all the varied spellings and exceptions to rules.
Marcos, not to be outdone, has also decided to contribute to Karan’s lessons.
Karan is making progress but his pronunciations can be can be hilarious and sometimes completely impossible to understand. The other day he asked me if Marcos was going to “scowps” and after thinking about it a bit I realized he was saying “scouts”. He has particular trouble with “th” and the short “i” sound so for “birthday” it sounds like “burdtday”.
We try to practice his English a few times a week but the best practice would be if he was more conversant instead of the strong silent type. He’ll get the hang of it though; he is a determined guy. But in the meantime, I’m sure that learning English feels like this page from his first book: