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Feliks Krupa: The Heart and Soul of Patwin

November 2018

A life in purple, and service

“Feliks is the heart and soul of Patwin. A most remarkable man with a remarkable history, he will be missed by many and loved by all.”  ~~Kate Bowen, former Patwin teacher.

We met him on a hot August morning in 1999. My son, then a seven-year-old, and I were on an informal tour of Patwin Elementary School in west Davis. We had just moved to Davis and my son was intimidated by the size of his new school. We stood near the lunch tables, looking a little lost. Just then we heard a heavily accented voice singing, “Happy Friday to you! Happy Friday to you!”

My son looked up at me, “Doesn’t he know it’s Thursday?”

I shrugged and turned around and there he was, a neatly dressed man wearing a white hat.  He noticed us right away and came over. He held out a large meaty hand to my son, “Hello, my brother.”

He then turned to me, “Hello, my princess. You are new to Patwin?”

I nodded and said we were looking for the library. (The most important building in my mind).

“Let me show you. I’m Feliks. Come brother.”

And just like that I saw the tension go out of my son’s body. He stood up a little taller and with a bright look in his brown eyes, he followed Feliks down the steps to the library (which was the most beautiful welcoming room I had ever seen).

“Is he the principal?” my son asked me.

It was only much later I learned Feliks Krupa was the custodian at our school. This may have been his official job title but his unofficial one should have been “master of all.” He took care of everyone and everything. Need the MPR for sixth-grade Grad night? Talk to Feliks. Need help with moving a desk? Need a cleanup in a classroom? Call Feliks!

Former principal Mike Parker put it best, “Fortunately when I became principal of Patwin I was experienced enough to know who really runs the school… the secretaries and the custodian. It didn’t take me long to realize the school had a custodian extraordinaire!  Felix’s “ hello my darlings” amazing whistled, morning greetings and ability to make all kids feel special and noticed helped me start each day with a smile knowing we were in good hands. Thanks Feliks- you will always be my favorite custodian.”

Over the next few years I watched Feliks interact with staff and students and he was a one-man welcome party. Scared little boys and girls shook off their parents’ hands and ran to greet Feliks, forgetting to be nervous. He brought his unique brand of humor to every situation.

Perhaps it was his upbringing in Poland or the fact he spent time in a prison for his support of the Solidarity labor unions along with the charismatic Polish activist Lech Walesa that was partly responsible for making Feliks so perfect for his job at Patwin.

Current Patwin principal, Gay Bourguignon added, “Feliks has always been more than a custodian. He had made students and families feel welcome at Patwin. He has brightened all our days with his cheerful greetings and caring ways. Feliks is our eyes and ears keeping our campus safe. He knows when a student or staff member is struggling and gives them a little extra TLC. By my count, he has touched the lives of over 10,000 students during his tenure at Patwin. He has trained at least seven principals! I have so appreciated all he has done to help me and take care of our school community.”

Keeping Patwinners safe was his primary objective. With that in mind, Feliks was responsible for setting up the “peanut-free” table at lunch and I have no doubt this was one of the reasons my son never had an allergic reaction while attending Patwin.

There are probably 10,000 stories about Feliks floating around the Patwin community. Here’s one from teacher Sarbjit Nahal, “Our Thursday morning coffee dates discussing politics, telling jokes and teaching Feliks about filtering what he says are priceless moments I will always cherish in my life. If I was ever late for our Thursday morning coffee date, Feliks would send out an APB! I mean literally, I would get a phone call or text from my colleagues Tyshawn or Linda wondering where I was.”

Just as he has celebrated or commiserated with many of the staff and students, Patwin community has shared many celebrations with Feliks. There was his yearly birthday celebration in November where staff members (Kate Bowen and Suzanne Fortin Morgan) outdid themselves each year decorating the staff room in unique and colorful ways. We all waved the American flag when Feliks became a US citizen in 2000 and we were all worried when he was ill.

Feliks and I shared a love of good food. He always requested samosas for his birthdays. So teacher Sarbjit Nahal and I took turns bringing in the spicy Indian snack. Two years ago I made some Pierogis for his birthday. “They are just like what my mother used to make,” he told me, a kind and wonderful compliment. He was always giving me large jars of his favorite sauerkraut and so when I made a batch of the fermented cabbage dish, I of course had to share some with him.

We are the lucky to have had Feliks in our lives and I’m sorry generations of new Patwinners will never get to know him.

As former Patwin principal Michelle Flowers puts it, “Feliks was my protector. I knew he always had my back and that he deeply cared for ALL kids. He has a big voice and even bigger heart. Feliks is part of the heart of Patwin and while he will be deeply missed, I bet there will be lot of Feliks sightings. Love you Feliks!”

When I told my now-grown son that Feliks was retiring, he said, “Oh, that’s too bad. Patwin will never be the same.”

Perhaps.

But I like to think years from now, a little boy or girl will sit on Feliks’ commemorative bench and run their fingers over his name and for a moment they will hear “hey brother or hi princess” in the soft breeze and feel an invisible hug from Feliks. The boy or girl will feel welcome and safe on that special black bench. Because after all you really can’t take Feliks out of Patwin, his booming voice and kindness are entrenched in those pale pastel walls.

Happy Retirement Brother Feliks!

 

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Filed under Careers, Celebrations, Davis Schools, DJUSD, Patwin Elementary School, Patwin Hawks, Patwin Purple, Uncategorized

Cooking with an open mind

 

October 2018

“You know, cooks should have open minds. Otherwise how can they learn new things?” ~Tarika K.

My niece is so smart! And she’s right too. A good cook is willing to experiment and learn. The reward of an open mind (and kitchen) is a delicious and wonderful meal or dish.

Cooking is also an opportunity to slow down and be mindful. Chatting while chopping can lead to bleeding, so be one-pointed. Give your undivided attention to the meal preparation and you will be rewarded with a tasty dish as well as a calmer mind.

I love mixing and matching cuisines and my cooking is heavily influenced by California fresh produce and my south Indian upbringing. At a recent meal I set out to impress out-of-country guests with an array of dishes that showcases produce from our Farmers Market as well as my cooking skills.

Here is one recipe that wowed the crowd and was as tasty as it was pretty.

Samosa Bites.

These Samosa Bites are a flavor explosion in your mouth. There is the buttery, flaky filo crust, the savory potato/pea filling and the two or three toppings that add that a certain type of  deliciousness. First there was a tangy sauce from Kerala called inchipully which features bits of fresh ginger in a sweet and sour tamarind sauce. Then a small drop of super spicy fresh-tasting coriander gave a hot bite to the dish. Finally the dish was finished off with some Greek yogurt, flecked with fresh mint, dill and parsley. One bite, so many sensations!

Recipe:

1 package mini Fillo pastry shells, thawed. (You can easily make these with sheets of Phyllo dough but I opted for the easier pre-made version for this recipe)

Potato filling

1 large potato, cooked, peeled and mashed lightly

½ cup frozen or fresh peas

1 small onion

¼ cup chopped red, yellow or green pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp. turmeric

A few fresh curry leaves (optional)

Salt and fresh pepper

Heat oil in a small saucepan, add mustard seeds and cover with lid. When the seeds have popped, add onions, pepper and curry leaves, if using. Sauté until vegetables are tender, about five minutes. Add cumin seeds, turmeric and stir and then add peas. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes and then add mashed potato and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Coriander Chutney

1 large bunch coriander leaves. You can use stems. Wash thoroughly

½ cup raw walnuts

½ cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut

4-5 jalapeno peppers

1 small shallot or onion, peeled and cut into quarters

½ cup or more hot water to blend

2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

Curry leaves

Use a blender or food processor and process or blend all ingredients except oil, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Heat oil in a sauce pan, add oil and mustard seeds and wait for the seeds to pop and turn grey. Add curry leaves and prepared chutney. Turn off heat and stir thoroughly. Taste for salt. It will be spicy but will mellow out when refrigerated for a couple of hours. This chutney can be made a day in advance.

Inchipully

There are many versions of this exceptional sauce. This is the simplest (and tastiest, in my opinion) version.

1 generous knob, size of large lemon, tamarind from a block of tamarind (see note)

2 cups hot water. Plus extra ½ cup

½ cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine

1 green chili

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tsp. mustard seeds

1 sprig curry leaves

1 tsp. fenugreek seeds

½ tsp turmeric powder

2-6 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tsp. salt or to taste

Soak the tamarind in hot water for 15 minutes. Using your fingers crush the tamarind and extract as much pulp and juice.  Use a sieve to separate out the pulp from seeds and fiber. Use an additional half cup of water to extract as much pulp from the tamarind paste. Set aside.

Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and cover with a lid. Once the seeds have popped and turn grey, add fenugreek seeds, chopped ginger and curry leaves. Let it toast for a minute. Don’t let the seeds burn! Add tamarind water, turmeric powder, salt, 2 tablespoons sugar and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. The sauce should be fairly thick. It will thicken more after it cools. Taste for salt and sugar and add more if needed. The sauce should be sour and sweet with a bite of fresh ginger.

Yogurt Topping

1 cup Greek Full-fat yogurt

½ tsp. salt

½ cup fresh parsley and/or mint, finely chopped. Dill can also be added

½ cup finely chopped fresh cucumber

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about a teaspoon

Stir all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Putting It All Together!

Bake Filo pastry cups according to direction. Cool. Add a generous spoonful of potato filling to the pastry cup. Now add a drop of Inchipully or Coriander Chutney or a dab of both. Finish off with a spoonful of yogurt topping. For best flavor sensation, pop the entire thing into your mouth at once. Close your eyes and savor!

 

NOTE: For best results use tamarind that comes in a block and that has no sugar or salt added. Indian and Middle Eastern stores carry this item. Of course there is always Amazon too.

 

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Filed under California cuisine, cooking, Davis Farmers Market, family, Fillo pastry cups, Fresh produce, harmony, Indian food, meatless, Mindful cooking, mother's kitchen, my mother's kitche, new traditions, Personal experience, recipes, Samosa, South India, Uncategorized

Duke taught me a thing or two (or ten)!

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My life is better because Duke was part of it.

Ten things Duke taught me:

10. Live in the moment. Seize each day and live well. Duke was the master of living in the moment. He was very mindful of everything and everyone around him

9. Napping is important. Duke loved his naps. He took short naps and then a long nap to recover from the short ones. He knew a short snooze in the middle of the day was just the thing to keep you going.

8. Routines are essential. Healthy habits are good for you and the environment. Duke loved the excitement of going out but he really was a creature of habit. He loved his bed, his backyard and his stuffed toys. He was always glad to be home.

7. Be excited about the little things in life! Duke knew how to greet the unexpected visitor (think UPS man or raccoon) as well as a loved one.

6. Be patient. Duke knew the value of patience and the patient dog always got that last crumb!

5. Exercise every day. Walk everywhere! Even when he was hurting, Duke was always ready for a walk, albeit a short one. Miss those walks so much!

4. Go outside and enjoy the fresh air. Even during the summer heat, Duke loved being outside and the best part was coming inside to cool off on the tile floor. Ah, the small things

3. Sun bathe daily, in moderation, of course! A perfect spring day or a sunny fall morning was Duke’s favorite times to be outside. Like Goldilocks he didn’t like it too warm or too cold.

2. Be one-pointed. Give your one-pointed attention to every task, whether cooking, cleaning or looking at your Facebook page! Duke gave his full attention to whatever he was doing whether sniffing a blade of grass or eating his Parmesan-laced dog food.

1. Death is part of life. This was the most important lesson Duke taught me through his own personal example. Even when he suspected the end was near, he had only affection and trust for all of us. We were his family and he was happy to be in our company. His death has left me heart-broken but I admired the way he approached the end of his life with such dignity and grace. He lived his life with honor and died with canine elegance and poise.

 

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Filed under Death, Death of a pet, dog's life, dogs and pups, Dogs are family, final journey, harmony, losing a pet, Personal experience, pet therapy, Uncategorized

Duke 2009-2018

 

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March 2018

He was not a perfect dog, by any means, but he was the ideal pet for our family. He came to us as a 5-pound roly-poly puppy and clawed his way into our hearts and home. His recent death has left a gaping 88-pound hole in our collective hearts.

We knew his failings and came to love them. His quirks were many: his love of freshly grated Parmesan, his ongoing feud with the two fat raccoons who lived in the storm drain near our house, his insistence of sniffing each blade of grass for long minutes before raising his leg, his wariness of silly sounds like the crunch of a twig underfoot and his unrelenting begging for that last piece of cookie. He had habits we found endearing too. His love of wrapped presents, trips to Putah Creek, the joy of endless sunbathing in our backyard and his devotion to his many stuffed animals.

We loved Duke because he had the knack of making each member of our family feel as if he/she was the center of his universe. He gave us undivided, focused attention. He was the ultimate actor, assuming a different role when he interacted with each of us.

He was my youngest son’s playmate, his best bud and best friend. The Klein family story goes that when the boys and their dad went to pick out a puppy from a litter of Redbone Coonhounds, they all noticed the smallest one, but were leaning toward taking home one of the larger athletic puppies. Until…my son looked down and saw the small puppy sitting on his shoes. Apparently Duke picked us! How lucky we were.

Duke was my oldest son’s faithful companion, the one who took him for his first training sessions. Duke loved my son’s pickup truck almost as much as my son.  It was hard for Duke to watch my son drive off to college but he gave him a warm welcome every time he visited.

Even before we knew my son’s then-girlfriend would become his wife, Duke welcomed her into our family. He recognized goodness and beauty when he saw it. He enjoyed the long petting sessions he had with her. His final petting session with her gave him so much joy.   I’m lucky to have such a compassionate daughter-in-law.

My husband was Duke’s boss, his main man and his true “dad.” They bonded over hours and hours of walking. Every walk, even the one two days before his death, was a joy to Duke. Duke may have missed saying a final good-bye to my husband but that day they spent together was the perfect farewell.

That leaves me as his cook, chauffeur, constant companion, groomer, evening walker and general dogsbody (pun intended). For the past three years we have been together almost 24 hours a day. His wise brown eyes were always following my every move.  He sat at my feet as I wrote each day (or attempted to) and I know he is watching me right now, wondering what was on the computer screen that was making me sob so uncontrollably.

I know Duke depended on me for everything: from opening the door (a hundred times a day), to filling his water dish, to taking care of all his needs and so it made complete sense he would depend on me to make the final decision of his life. It was incredibly hard to do (especially since my husband was away), but I did because I knew Duke would want my help to ease his pain and discomfort. After all, that had been my job for the past nine years and I couldn’t quit now.

Being a word geek I, of course, turned to stories and poems to help deal with his overwhelming loss. I hope you don’t mind if I share them with you.

The first is a story from Hindu mythology about a king and his love for his dog. The other is a poem that dispelled any doubts I had about what I had to do to help him on his final journey.

So honor Duke’s memory and go show some love to your pet, eat a vegetarian (vegan) meal, hug your vet!

The Story of Yudishstra and his dog

According to the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the five Pandava brothers had finished winning back their kingdom and were now on their final journey. Yudishstra, the eldest Pandava, led the way up a mountain, followed by Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva and their common wife Draupadi. A dog also accompanied them.

Along the way, one by one the brothers and Draupadi fall down and die. Finally only Yudishstra and his dog were left and they continued to the top of the mountain where he was greeted by the god Indra. Indra welcomed him to enter his chariot to ascend to heaven. Yudishstra and his dog started to climb into the chariot but Indra stopped them, saying the dog was not welcome. But the king was adamant that the dog accompany him.

“That is impossible,” Indra said. “All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value.”

According to one version of this story, Yudishstra replied, “In that case, I do not want to go to heaven. The dog was my faithful companion on earth and I cannot abandon him now. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven mean nothing in comparison to the grief of losing my beloved companion.”

Even though Indra pleaded with the king, Yudishstra stood firm until the god relented.

 

The Last Battle

 If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can’t be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.

 

We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they’ll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.

 

I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We’ve been so close — we two — these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.

 

— Unknown

 

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Filed under dog's life, dogs and pups, family, final journey, losing a pet, meatless, Personal experience, pet therapy, poetry, UCD Vet Hospital, Uncategorized

Poetry

Dear all,

I’m at that fortunate stage in my life where my college professors are my friends now!  Jonah Raskin was one of the first teachers to encourage me to keep writing. I’m proud to call him friend now (and by his first name!) nearly 30 years after graduating from Sonoma State University.

He’s a talented writer and you can read his work here. Enjoy!

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/poets-corner-a-reviewessay-on-a-world-assembly-of_us_5a5278cce4b0ee59d41c0be5

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Filed under book review, Jonah Raskin, poetry, published, Sonoma State University, South India, Uncategorized, world peace, World Poetry, writing

My Best to you!

Scan_20171221December 2017

The past year was filled with many joyous moments! My son’s wedding in July was definitely a high point. It was wonderful to welcome his smart and beautiful wife into our family. The wedding was also a chance to renew our friendship with our relatives and make some new friends too. I also had a brief but affectionate visit with my sister. This summer I felt honored to be part of my favorite aunt’s 96th birthday celebration. Every time I see her I marvel at her grace, wisdom and amazing capacity to love. There were a few rejection letters to temper all my joy.  But there were some acceptances too. I had a short story published in an online magazine, and had several poems accepted into two different anthologies. I was also invited to become a book reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. So all in all it was a great year!

My holiday gift to you is a short story published several years ago in an anthology titled The Dog with An Old Soul. The story features my mom and her dog, two of my favorite subjects.

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Bark

Meera Klein

The black-and-white photo was old and yellowing, but I could clearly make out the proud stance of the dog and his mistress. I could barely make out the words penciled on the back of the fading photograph:  “Leela and Chuppa, 1951.” My mother and her beloved dog.

The cool mist swirled around Leela and smothered her in its wet embrace. She shivered and wrapped the woolen shawl more tightly around her slender body. The late November days in Kotagiri were chilly and dismal, nothing like the warm tropical nights she was used to. Leela’s sigh sounded loud in the gray silence as she paused to take a deep whiff of the fading jasmine blooms on the vine by the front gate. It was then she heard the sound, the tiniest whimper, which she would have missed if the world hadn’t been so silent. She reached up and unlatched the metal gate and stepped onto the patch of grass. In the dim twilight she could make out a small bundle lying on the wilted jacaranda blooms. When she looked closely, she saw it was a tiny shivering puppy. She couldn’t bear to leave it there on the side of the road. She relatched the gate and walked into the kitchen using the side entrance.

The kitchen was warm and cozy. Her mother, Ammalu, was seated on a small wooden stool in front of the hearth, stirring a pot of lentil stew. The sharp scent of cumin mingled with the wet puppy smell. Ammalu wrinkled her nose.

“What do you have there?” she asked, getting up to take a closer look at the black-and-tan bundle in Leela’s arms.

“Oh, Amma,” Leela wailed. “Look what someone dropped off at our front gate.”

The puppy seemed to know it as being inspected and opened its tiny jaws and yawned, stretching out a minuscule pink tongue.

“Not everyone has your kind heart, my daughter,” Ammalu sighed. “Remember what our neighbor Sister Mary told us?”

Leela nodded and held the puppy closer to her chest. Their nearest neighbor, an Anglo-Indian everyone called Sister Mary, lived a few miles down the road and was a feisty animal lover.

“Be warned. Villagers get rid of their unwanted pets by dropping them off at the bungalows in the middle of the night. Most of us are only too happy to take in these dogs and cats. It’s a shame, though, because not everyone wants a stray and that is the end of the poor animal,” she lamented.

This will not happen to this little one, Leela silently vowed. Mother and daughter dried the puppy and fed the hungry creature some rice gruel. Soon the little dog was curled up on a pile of rags in front of a warm hearth.

The next morning Ammalu mixed a little rice and vegetable broth in a beautiful ceramic pan decorated with deep purple flowers and urged the little puppy to eat out of the fancy bowl.

“Amma, why are you using such a nice dish for the dog?” Leela protested.

“Leela, you know I don’t like to use these tainted containers.”

The tainted containers Ammalu was referring to were part of a collection of dinnerware left behind by the previous owner. After the declaration of independence in 1947, many British decided to leave India rather than live in a country no longer ruled by Great Britain. Rather than pack up an entire household, some of them left many things behind. One such Englishman was the owner of the charming bungalow that was now Leela’s home on the outskirts of the remote hill station town of Kotagiri nestled among the famous Blue Mountains or Nilgiris.

When they moved into the charming red-tiled house in late 1948, they found the musty rooms filled with large pieces of wooden furniture. The cabinet doors were inlaid with ceramic tile in beautiful geometric patterns. An intricate carved folding screen in one of the three bedrooms provided privacy and beauty. The dining room boasted a large china buffet, complete with silver soup tureens, round and oval serving platers, big serving bowls and a tea set. The delicate moss-green tea set, made of the finest bone china, would never be used, though. Like most upper-caste Indians, Ammalu’s family was vegetarian. They had no intention of eating and drinking from vessels used by strangers and non-vegetarians.  At the first opportunity Ammalu invited friends, neighbors and acquaintances from surrounding areas to come chose from the lovely Spode plates and Wedgwood dinnerware. So the puppy happily ate off the Spode chinaware and drank from his Wedgwood saucer.

The German shepherd turned out to be the most patient of animals. He waited for Leela or Ammalu to get up each morning to let him out. He would wander around the front yard, sniffing at rosebushes and lifting his leg against the spindly poinsettia tree. He would then come back to lie on the kitchen floor, his bright blue eyes following Leela’s every movement.

“He really is the most silent dog,” a friend remarked to Leela. That was when she came up with the perfect name for her new pet, Chuppa, or “the silent one.”

She tried out the new name, calling, “Chuppa!” Immediately the puppy sat up, straight and proud. He cocked his head and looked at Leela as if waiting for a command. From then on Leela spent countless hours with the young dog, teaching him simple commands. Chuppa was an intelligent pup and wanted to please Leela. He became the young girl’s constant companion. He would greet her joyously, albeit silently, every afternoon when she returned from school. He draped his long tan-and-black body across Leela’s doorway. The pair was a common sight as they went on long walks among the tea bushes and apple and pear orchards.

One evening, when Ammalu made a teasing gesture toward Leela, pretending to hit her, Chuppa immediately sat up and stare at Ammalu and emitted a soft warning growl.

“Chuppa thinks I was going to hit you!” Ammalu exclaimed. “What a good dog. Don’t worry, Chuppa, I would never hit my girl.”

Ammalu bent down and petted the agitated pup, who settled down, his head resting on his folded paws, as if he understood Ammalu’s words.

Leela decided to teach the dog commands to make sure he would know when the threat was real and when a family member was just playing. The dog took to the lessons as if he was a sponge soaking up spilled water.

Two years later Chuppa was a full-grown German shepherd with thick black-and-tan fur and bright blue eyes. He was a familiar sight in the little village and allowed young children to pet and fuss over him. But his soft eyes were always on Leela.

A few months later, their postman, the deliverer of news and mail, had some disturbing gossip. “Did you hear about the thefts?” he asked Ammalu and Leela one afternoon. “There has been a rash of thefts in the area and residents area asked to keep their gates locked.”

That following spring Ammalu and Unny, Leela’s older brother, had to make one final trip to their ancestral village to take care of some business, and Ammalu was not happy to leave Leela.

“Don’t worry, Amma. Chuppa will keep me company at night, and during the day Mala and her husband will be here,” Leela assured her mother.

Mala and Lingam were local villagers who came to help Leela’s family with household chores. Ammalu and Unny were expected to be gone for about five days, and after giving Mala and Lingam many instructions about the household and Leela’s personal safety, they finally left.

That evening Leela made sure all the doors were locked before retiring to the living room. A fire in the hearth made the room snug and comfortable. Chuppa settled down in front of the fire and Leela curled up on the sofa with a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

“Why didn’t the dog bark?” she murmured to herself.

Chuppa glanced up with a questioning look in his blue eyes.

“Don’t mind me, Chuppa. I’m just talking about the clue in this story,” she assured her pet, who sighed and went back to staring at the golden flames.

The crackling fire was the only sound in the room and Leela found herself drifting off. Chuppa’s low growl woke her up.

“Shh…Chuppa. It’s just the fire.”

But the dog didn’t settle down; instead he stood up and looked toward the front hallway. The coarse hairs on his neck were standing up and his body was tense and alert. Leela was alarmed at the dog’s stance and got up to stand in the living room doorway. She was as tense as Chuppa and tried to hear what had disturbed the dog.

Then she heard it, the slightest grating of metal as the front gate was opened. Chuppa growled beside her. She put a hand on his head, wondering what to do.

“Is anyone home?” a woman’s voice called out from the front stoop. Leela knew whoever was there had probably seen the warm glow of the light through the living room window, even though the cloth curtains were drawn shut.

Leela took a deep breath and walked into the dark hallway. She turned on the porch light and lifted up the curtain to peer through the front window. She could make out the figure of a woman and a man standing on the porch steps. The woman raised a slim hand and knocked on the wooden door. Leela looked back at Chuppa and gestured for him to stand behind her. The dog obediently went into the hallway, where he was hidden in the shadows behind his mistress.

Even though she dreaded opening the door, Leela decided it was better than waiting for the couple to perhaps break the glass and force their way in. She pulled the door open and peered out.

“Who are you, and why are you knocking on my door at this time of the night.”

The woman laughed, a sound that was nervous and at the same time somehow threatening. “Sister, we are just poor pilgrims on our way to the temple on the hill. Can you spare us a hot drink or a few paisas?”

“I’m sorry, but my hearth is out for the night and I have no change. Perhaps you can find hospitality farther down the road.” Leela said.

“Listen here, sister,” the man snarled, pushing the woman aside. “We are not asking for a few paisa like beggars. We are demanding you hand over your necklace, earrings and anything else of value you have in the house. I don’t make idle threats.” As he spoke, he pulled out a knife, the blade glinting in the overhead porch light.

“I don’t like threats. I suggest you leave,” Leela said, trying not to sound as frightened as she felt.

The man answered by pushing the door aside and taking a step to come inside. A deep rumble from the hallway stopped him in mid-stride.

“Chuppa, come here,” Leela called out to her faithful companion, who came to stand beside her. He bared his teeth and gave out a menacing growl. The couple stared at the German shepherd.

“Now, I suggest you leave before my dog gets impatient,” Leela said to the couple.

The man hissed in anger. “A dumb animal isn’t going to stop me,” he said in a low tone as he stepped toward Leela, his knife raised.

“Chuppa, get the knife,” Leela ordered in a firm voice.

Without a moment’s hesitation, the dog leaped and grabbed the man’s hand. The knife clattered to the ground. The man yelped in surprise. Leela quickly kicked the knife out of his reach. The dog let go of the man’s hand waited for his next command.

“Good dog. Now get him,” Leela said.

Again the dog leaped and, using his full weight, brought the man down. Chuppa placed a heavy paw on the man’s chest and bared his teeth. The woman cried out, and dog looked at her with his soft eyes and pulled back his lips to show his sharp white teeth.

“Call off your dog,” the woman cried. “We meant no harm.”

The silence was broken by a murmur of voices.

“Miss Leela, are you all right?” a voice asked from the driveway. It was Lingam. He was carrying a smoky homemade torch in his hand. Behind him were several villagers.

“Lingam! I am so glad to see you,” Leela called and sighed in relief. “Chuppa caught a man who was threatening me.”

Lingam walked up to the porch steps and looked down at the figure on the ground.

“These look like the couple who have been robbing houses,” he announced. “We heard they were out tonight, and came by to check on you.  But it looks like you can take care of yourself.”  His white teeth flashed as he grinned at Leela.

“It was Chuppa who saved the day,” Leela said. “Chuppa let him go.”

The German shepherd looked down at the man and growled again before moving slowly off him. The animal went to stand beside Leela, looking up at her with adoration shining from his bright blue eyes.

Leela bent down and hugged the dog. She buried her face in his doggy fur. “Thank you, Chuppa,” she whispered.

“Woof.” Chuppa’s bark was short and soft. Leela laughed out loud. That was the one and only time Chuppa ever barked.

For years the dog was my mother’s faithful companion in Kotagiri. When he died of old age, my mother was heartbroken. Chuppa was the last pet she ever owned.,

 

 

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Being published never gets old!

Writing is a lonely job. Sometimes it is just you and the computer screen. But once in a while it all works out. Instead of a rejection slip you get an acceptance notice and all those lonely hours seem worth it. Nothing beats that feeling. Nothing!

A short story of mine was born today! You can read it here:

Meera Ekkanath Klein—Fiction

 

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Bittersweet moments

mom pic

Photos of those watching from above. They were all missed!

 

Life moves on

July 2017

Intense joy is often tempered with deep sorrow. The occasion was my son’s wedding. The entire weekend was filled with joy. The radiant bride was more luminous than the bright sunshine and my son was particularly handsome in his casual blue jeans and cowboy boots. Relatives and friends gathered with a common purpose of celebrating their young love. The ceremony was moving with brilliant touches of humor and I wished all my family could have been there with me to share this happy day. Sitting in that hot sun, I took a minute to remember those who were no longer with us.

My mother would have loved the moment when my son draped the traditional gold “thali” chain around his new bride. She may have been a little puzzled by the country music and the delicious tiered wedding cake but she always had an ability to see what was really important. So she would have enjoyed my son’s happy grin and the joyful bride. “They love each other and that is all that matters,” she would have said. I know this because that is what she said to me 31 years ago on my wedding day in the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains.

My father would have taken great pleasure in puffing a cigar with the handsome groomsmen and perhaps sipping an ice cold beer.  The music, the food and the event site would have intrigued him.

My late mother-in-law would have been delighted to see her grandson looking so grown up and serious. She would have loved the bow ties and blue jeans. She would have exclaimed with pleasure over the bride’s gorgeous dress. She would have complimented us  on a job well done and she would have shed a few happy tears along with me.

My uncle loved animals and would have been amused to see the couple’s young puppy walk down the aisle with my younger son. His quiet wisdom, charming manner and self-deprecating humor would have attracted the attention of everyone, young and old. His blessing would have been simple and powerful, “remember men and women are meant to complete each other, not compete with each other.”

A successful marriage is based on trust and love and my uncle said it best in his succinct manner, “Put each other first,” he used to say with a gentle smile.

If my son and daughter-in-law practiced this compelling piece of advice, they will be blessed with a harmonious, loving and lasting marriage.

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Small World, Big Connections

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Happy Vishu!  Dear reader, may the coming year be blessed and prosperous for you and your family.

April 2017

Life in the Blue Mountains, Nilgiris, of South India was much simpler during my childhood. Back then it was a small world where service was close and personal. Our milk was delivered by a young woman named Helen who’s family also grew the most beautiful and fragrant roses. (Years later we bought huge bouquets of the colorful blooms for our wedding).  The baker was a family man who made sure he gave us the freshest coconut buns. Every winter the tangerine man came to our front door with a basket filled with tiny orange fruit, juicy and tart.

Even though our town was a sprawling tourist attraction, it was like living in a small village.  After my father’s death the entire town kept a close eye on my sister and me.  The stationary store owner, Rajan, knew when we had important exams and was ready to sell us the latest in fountain pens. The Alankar Bakery owner gave us an extra cookie or raisin-studded bun and always inquired about my mother and uncle (it didn’t matter to that he had never met my uncle!).

There was an invisible grapevine that was almost as effective as Twitter!   My mother heard all the important news of the day from her bus driver on her way home from work as a school teacher.  So of course she knew right away the one day I had left our school campus during lunch hour to visit the local bazaar. Surprisingly I didn’t get in trouble but it gave me pause because I knew there were a lot of eyes on me.  Small world, big connections!

I missed those personal interactions when I moved to California more than 30 years ago but I found another village in the city of Davis. For the past 19 years I have discovered that this college town has a small-town heart.  Small world, big connections.

Case in point: Recently I participated in a community theater production and was pleasantly surprised to see the cashier from the local supermarket in the audience. After the performance she hugged me and told me she’d see me at the store soon.  Another example of small world, big connections.

Social media can fool us into thinking that we are making personal connections while seated in front of our laptop computer or smart phone, but I have found that nothing beats face-to-face interactions.

So this coming year (April 14th we celebrated Vishu or Kerala New Year) I hope you will find the joy of life in the real world, away from the small screen.

THE END

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Recipe? What recipe?

March 2017

Cups, teaspoons and tablespoons are the bane of my life.   Who needs measurements anyway? As I try to write down exact measurements and directions for my recipes, I find I don’t like it one bit. For this I blame my mother.  Every little cook learns by observing. It seemed to me that my mother would throw random spices in random amounts into a pot to create a tasty dish. Her recipes for family favorites were safely tucked away in her head. Nothing was ever recorded or written down.  Cooking was an art form for my mother but that doesn’t help me now as I try to re-create childhood favorites. I have to rely on my memory and my palate.

So what would have happened if I had insisted that my mother share a recipe? I imagined her poetic and cryptic answer to my question.

What Recipe?

Where is the recipe, I ask my mother

What recipe, she replies?

Just take a small onion

A pinch of hing

A hint of turmeric

A splash of golden ghee

Some diced onion and mustard seeds

A few okra

A couple of tomatoes

A handful of shredded coconut

Just a little coriander powder

A bit of cooked lentils

Two fiery peppers

Salt, pepper and tamarind

Mix, cook, and serve

The tangy smoky sauce perfect with steaming rice

How did she do it?

Give me a recipe, I plead.

What recipe, she asks?

Just add a handful…

You get the idea.

THE END

 

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