Finding home in Fremont

I’ve got one foot in Fremont and the other firmly planted in Bengaluru. I’m making masale dose for our friends tonight. I’m prepping kempu (red) chutney and coconut chutney and in Preethi mixie with convertible to American plug. Alugadde palya done and batter is set. The kitchen looks presentable, filter coffee is brewing in Preethi coffee maker. I’m taking a break while sitting on couch and eating jackfruit chips from Bharat Bazaar. Kesar kulfi and mango rasmalai is being served for dessert.  Depending on mood and time, I may make uddin vade! This is in our home in Fremont, USA.

I miss SRK textiles for their cotton fabrics, Icy Nicey for their swirley cone ice cream, I want to walk Jayanagar fourth block to see the pink blossoms every spring, I want to ride my Kinetic Honda past ninth block to pick up maligai saaman from Ahmad Bazaar. Ooof, That whole circuit from J.P.Nagar to Jayanagar on two wheeler is etched in my DNA. I’m getting goosebumps just mentally riding that route while writing this! The sights, sounds and smells of the various vehicles doing their dance on the streets is so clear. If I close my eyes right now, I’ll probably hear them and see them vividly! Thankfully I do not need Google StreetView, VR or any other technology to remind me!

I grew up in a 1200sft single family home in South Bangalore. It was a pink colored home with red oxide flooring. Like most of our neighbors in our side of the street, we all had a tiny strip of setback on the sides of the house itself that we would use for parking two wheelers, develop planter strip and try to make the most of being in a friendly neighborhood. It was a bloody blast growing up there. Summers were filled with innovative game creations, endless hours of badminton, cricket, lagori and hide and seek games. My school was so walkable that I came home everyday for hot lunch prepared by amma. If that is not luxuriously spoilt, I don’t know what else is!

Our current apartment is a 1100sft, 3 bedroom, bright and airy loft like space in Fremont, with views of lawns on one side and parking structure on the other. We know all the neighbors in our block in addition to the rows opposite and across the dining window. We greet them when we pass by, they stop and chit chat with my naughty toddler while catching up on their day. It seems like the best bet for home right now in the Bay Area, owing to the reasonably prices rents and proximity to the wonderful and uprising Downtown Area. HP and I were joking that it might be the future Jayanagar, sans the pink blossoms, but with a whole variety of options from healthcare, restaurants, shopping, entertainment, swimming classes, Tamil classes (yes, you read it right,) jobs and a whole lot more.

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It is for real that Fremont maybe a blackhole, you get sucked into this abyss, and there is no looking back. I’m vying for this city, with its grand plans to move out of the suburban environment to building a much denser urban fabric, one that is vibrant and connected, yet connecting to the rest of the region. Culturally, it is a good place for the immigrant community, with many people from Bengaluru residing in this area for a long time. The proximity to ‘life things’ such as banking, auditors, restaurants, groceries, dry cleaners, stores, pharmacies, doctors, kids activities (including a nearby farm) makes life here packed with things only about half hour away from home, perfect for parents like us, who need to follow strict toddler schedules for meals, nap-time etc.

It seems like I’ve found my sweet spot in the Bay Area, after having explored many other regions for work-life, we like it here, we like that it promises an urban setting, much like Bengaluru, and I love the potential here for our future too. This is a happy hopeful post! 🙂

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Keep calm and exit the ‘burbs!

If homes need to create communities, it needs to have a connection to the outside world. Such connections can happen through various architectural elements to give birth to what urban America knows as “eyes on the street.”

When I say ‘connection,’ I specifically mean a space for human interaction; between neighbors, community members, with nature, with children and other people. It needs to be part of some activity, like greeting your neighbor as he walks his dog, watching your child play while you water the plants, sitting and reading a book, lounging with a newspaper over morning coffee/tea, catching up with friends, drying papadams, etc. The activity is intrinsic to the culture, the people and the place. That’s when a connection is made and a community is born.

Agreed that it is hard to create such spaces in colder countries. Seasonal changes don’t allow for annual use of such spaces. I’m told not to complain, given the good nature of California weather when compared to other parts of this big continent. But I still think these indoor-outdoor spaces are vital, and it is exists in anyplace where humans need interaction.

I live in an apartment complex, on the top floor of a two story block of condos, with large windows that bring the eastern and western light into our home. Leading up to my apartment is a straight flight of stairs with fifteen steps and no mid-landing. My son and I count the steps everyday while going up and down, and it’s one our most favorite everyday routines. Besides counting the steps, we both pause either at the top landing or the bottom of the staircase for a bit, when we wait for each other to come join the day. We also pause sometimes just so we can watch the trees, aeroplanes and greet our neighbors (and dogs) passing us. Under this stair lies my son’s tricycle and basketball hoop for play. On occasion, I hose down this space to clear the cobwebs and leaves build up owing to the seasonal change. The roof above covers all steps except the last four, leaving this staircase protected from most rains, winds and direct sunlight. Along one length of this staircase is a double story wall and the other is a simple functional metal railing. About twelve to fifteen feet away from that wall is another long wall, making this space a passage leading to the four doors of four families from all over the world. Now this is one such pause space, a common area where a community can belong.

Now let’s look at the large single family homes in suburban America. Every activity is inward looking confining families indoor for most part of the year, lets say this time it is owing to weather. Street life and human connection is separated by at least a 25 -30 foot frontyard that contributes to nothing for community life. The only connection any human has outside of their home is the straight walk to get to their mailbox or their car and that large swath of a backyard. While it looks all fine and dandy in the talkies, living in them does not seem like fun!
I must bring attention to the bulk of backyards that are part of these homes. I’m repeatedly shocked by the large mass of these spaces, whose primary role is to entertain perhaps two dozen humans at most for a handful times of the year, mostly birthdays and thanksgiving. For such a small role, these large spaces can easily be swapped to any of the rooms indoors or a community space. Perhaps there are a handful of backyards that still are good gardens, where one can produce nice vegetables and fruit for sustainance.
I’ve never seen a garage of family home that was used only as a car parking spot. I’ve noticed (with shock,) how wrongfully it turns from hobby to garbage space, only so that the indoor spaces could remain clutter free.

The single family home is a selfish species, one that neglect community and does not want to belong to any place outside of it’s own large bubble. The condos and apartments are loving members of a community, with empathy, care for the environment, respect for life, access to livelihood and economic centres of creation!

The mega-home, sold to the world like it’s everyone’s dream, one that takes a lifetime to populate and another to maintain, needs to be redefined.

The current movement of built space in cities such as San Jose, Fremont and Milpitas in the Bay Area is tending towards a denser footprint of homes, it has begun to emulate denser urban environments that one can see in major cities such as New York and Sam Francisco. Walkability, transit connections and community life has begun to gain more importance than that of car-ownership and the big fat American suburban dream of two cars, big refrigerators etc. is thankfully dying.

Why the weekday meals?!

I was talking to my neighbor while our kids were playing, and we spoke about our weekday meals. She asked me why it was so very important for me to cook everyday, particularly when I can relax and use takeaway, instant pot, store frozen food etc. and make my life routine simpler.

I pondered a bit about why I’m working myself into a frenzy in the kitchen when I could get away with taking it easy, by planning big batch meals, freezing them and microwaving them for consumption! Why should I cook? What was behind it all?

Well, I grew up in a home where my mom used to make fresh meals three times of the day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. I remember eating hot piping fresh food everyday. Our refrigerator was very small first of all, so there was no place to store anything but the basic supply of perishables. All veggies were off a cart from a street vendor every morning.

Most of Amma’s time was spent in the kitchen. She managed to keep herself occupied and happy by being completely at home, with her sewing classes, chit fund kitties, community service besides caring for our family and additional pets, feeding grooming and keeping us mentally and physically healthy. Same was the case with my maternal grandmother!

Like many Indian households, we had a maid to come clean the home and do the dishes everyday. She was given hot piping South Indian filter coffee with breakfast of the day, a reasonable allowance, occasional bonus money for her family needs, festival bonuses, non-taxed income, unlimited holidays, all our hands me down clothes for her adolescent daughters and leftover food. That was the norm. She would pack away all the food in boxes to take home to edit and fix them, to feed her family of five.

Here in the US, if I made a big batch of anything outside of one meal, it goes into an airtight glass box and slowly makes it way to the back of the refrigerator. It goes into a box first only because I do not have the heart to thrash good food and I don’t have a maid who will eat the leftovers. At the end of the week (or month) it will only be forgotten, not to mention rotten, and cringingly thrashed.

It basically comes down to the fact that I do not eat leftovers, and that’s how I grew up. HP also does not eat leftovers. That’s his preference. According to him, a good chef should learn to make the right amount of one meal, not too much, not too little! Yep! I know! So I’m learning, and getting better. My meal proportions are usually 1.5 for one meal, so I now end up carrying it for my lunch the next day. I can’t spend my energy and money thinking about where to go for lunch and what to eat, so I’m happily eating last night’s dinner for lunch the next day.

If you see the food habits and patterns, it arises early in our childhood. Like most of us have read, everything starts from home. If I did not grow up seeing my mom balance her interests and that of the family, I would not be able to do what I do today.

Both HP and I want to make sure that we inculcate this to our son. We want him to see us cook a meal, feed him, provide for him and put together a contented and happy life.

So no matter how tired I am, I am finding ways to keep myself motivated on weekdays to create and spend quality time by cooking at home, to get my son interested and learn about his food. So this Instagram weekday meals is mostly to keep me going, a way to inspire others in the process and enjoy cooking and create memories!

Carpe Diem my friends!

#HPRMgolu

After prototyping an idea, the next thing you hear in a team is “Great, now lets craft a dozen of them!” and immediately you have an opportunity to build a community of people to come together to make it happen.

I could spend all my creative energy to put a product idea together, prototype and showcase it to a bunch of people in a private curated exhibition such as #HPRMgolu, but that is just my creative outlet.

I like the whole curation effort, I take ultimate liberties with it and always have a blast with it. It’s a ton of work, takes a year of research, finding commission partners, weeks of preparation and a host of other things that lies in the realm of religion and Indian culture.

I always find it very hard to explain this to anyone who is new to Golu. For example, it is called “Kolu,” in Tamil. The easiest way I get around that is to extend an invitation to them to come preview the setup and partake in the delicacies. So this year, I’m hoping to host at a gallery nearby and send out open invites to the community.

#HPRMgolu for 2018 is a “Goddess” based theme. Women-empowerment is a classic theme, but my Golu is paying tribute to women all over the world. To embrace diversity like its never old-fashioned, and to enable new friendships using a contemporary version of Indian Golu as a platform for women and connection.

Washington High School Ceramics feature, Fremont Arts and Wine Festival 2018.

The one beautiful stall I was in awe of from yesterday’s visit was the Washington High school ceramic studio at the Downtown Fremont Wine and Arts Festival. It was a quaint and pretty stall with lots of action and plenty of cute and interesting things. I was drawn to it instantly.

I picked up pair of pretty pink small bowls and printed ceramic coffee mugs for the win. For $10 and $8 each, it was a steal, not to mention a good addition to our home collection.
I read that all sales go to improving the ceramic studio at the high school! Score! The famous pottery teacher and his students were the highlight of the stall, jovial, burned out in the sun, but still working on their ceramics as we shopped, fifth year in a row at the festival.That kind of passion and dedication is inspiring. Such a treasure!

I spoke to Mr.Rodenkirk about my project and he gave me a budget to work with and handed me a card to take the idea forward. The studio is a mile from downtown Fremont and I will be visiting soon and will keep you all posted.

My project.
I wanted to make custom paella dishes for rice and biryani for home. I was told that the budget for that might be around $50-60, depending on the type and complexity of design! I might get a 12″ and an 8″ one.

Want some of these ceramics? The festival is still on today in downtown. Go find them else they are going to be at the Mountain View festival of arts on September 8-9th.

If any of you want any custom ceramics, write to me, I can coordinate the project for you too. And I’ll definitely write about the studio visit here. Am super excited!!
#HPRMH #radindiscity #RMstories #downtownfremont #downtownwineandarts #artsfestival #ceramics #crockery #hprmhome #hprmhomeprojects #downtownarts #fremont #mountainview #bayarea

#TheDozenDozen

I want to share about where this particular hashtag comes into my life and why it resonates with me. I thrive only in a relationship of creation and the freedom that it offers is what resonates with me the most!

I’ve been known in the US friend circle as the DIY’er of  groups, but honestly, its more than just doing-it-yourself!  I’ve embodied this skill by growing up in such an environment in my childhood.

Picture this: Our four seater teak wood dining table was the heart of our home. My dad used to be the only one to use it for eating, my mom would convert it into her seamstress and tailoring table, I would sit and make doodles while picking and separating methi leaves from its tiny twigs. Akka would be doing her painting or laces at the other corner, the radio constantly running and our beloved dog chella making trouble once in a while. Paati would be sitting and drawing her latest kolam in her book and rambling away her shlokams. Tatha would be standing outside at the compound wall smoking his single cigarette for the day before he went off on his walk. So now you know, the energy of projects, relationships and home for me is right there in that scene.

Lets zoom back to now. My skills for sketching, crafting, creating, curating, cooking, making, etc. comes from my home, watching paati, amma and akka and me get all excited about the next project to create and complete. It still is the order of the day between us.

So here I am, sitting in California, in the summer of 2018 making hay while the sun shines. My garden projects are in full effect, my home remodel work is on its way, I’ve taken to the water with ease for the first time.

But I still have to create impact. I still need to find meaning to #TheDozenDozen. An so the journey begins.

The red dot

She bonds with the Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi over the chai table.

Come, lets have an honest conversation about the Lady Gods and all our joys and struggles.

While depicting her red-dot on her forehead to be as alive and vibrant as that red planter, I came to work my way around this installation design to hone my story of being an Indian woman outside my home.

Welcome to my world, lets get a cup of chai before we talk, shall we?

 

Naari
Naari at the chai table

Droid man and Zuck woman

Company towns all over again! It did no good for the employers and factory workers back then and it will do no good to the corporate workers now. We need to remind ourselves that these tech workers are humans, with a family and very much an equal part of society as any other. If the global giants are interested to build towns or improve the current situation, they must try to not own but actively participate in the community outside their campus.

Tech workers are married to their companies, always working, right from the minute they step into the shuttle bus that takes them to their ‘campus’ office, till the end of their working life some decades later. In the meanwhile, their life and family suffers because they just don’t have the bandwidth for anything else besides their job, products or people outside their work.

Perhaps exploring various cuisines and traveling the globe is the only other thing they enjoy besides work, but that too comes as a job perk! Aarghh! I see this depressing phenomenon among close family friends and relatives, there is a slow and steady conversion of those folks into dumb workers of <insert giant company name>, where identity of self in society is almost negligible.

These future company towns, if not opened to community at large, is only going to create urban voids in the suburban life of the workers. It will result in more displacement and urban chaos, it will create Zuck-man and Woman, Droid man and woman!

We must be wary, watch out for the machine that we might morph into, and create the right species if at all we go down that hole!

Dirt

Living in the most expensive(and over-rated) regions like the San Francisco Bay Area region of California only means one thing, competitive urban environments! Every person I know is struggling to balance and shift things around in a way that perhaps helps them commute lesser, save time in order to save money. Or they want to move closer to their child’s daycare, school or to either one of their workplace, to maximize their productive work-life every day.

This commute and the struggle everyday means nothing if one were to be in a flux all the time. I sit in front of this computer this cold and wet morning, seeking an outlet for the urban chaos that we are part of in the Bay Area today.

Since the beginning of this year, each day is plunged with competition in the housing market. Most homes in the Bay Area are dated, they need extensive remodeling, or the costs to obtain and beat the purchasing cash giants to maintain and insure some same process is positively exhausting.

To beat it all, seeking a nice modern home environment seems like a distant dream and unattainable for middle class working couples.

The billions of humans that live on this earth only aspire one thing, dirt. A small portion of dirt, on this finite earth with all its finite resources.

{ My front yard }

I stepped outside wearing a thick silk nine yard saree, braving the cold January morning, to prove that life in California for a South Indian woman could be the same as that she experienced in India. I was determined to draw a kolam on Pongal day in 2013 only because that was one of the few elements I wanted to retain among the many other symbols of our culture. Yes, we are at the point of being able to choose the symbols that represent us…..but I was so wrong then.

I did not draw my kolam in the frontyard as the typical Indian household does, this one was in my patio, surrounded by tall wooden fences that did not invite any neighbor in. I did not draw with kolam powder that is ubiquitous in every household in India, but in chalk.

I have a picture of that day’s kolam, because I wanted to send one to amma, and I remember her telling me to draw a pulli kolam (dot grid kolam.) I look back at that picture and it gives me a sad message. The kolam does not look good at all.

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I have done better, I definitely know better, so here I am, many years later, making dotted kolam drawings of many elements that represent our current times. My kolams are here, in this page. This is my front yard. This space is the one outside my threshold, the place I meet my neighbors and keep in touch with family.

radindiscity

HP: What does ‘radindiscity’ mean?
RM: Rad – That’s me, Indis -All things that represent Indian culture to me and my family, City – design and architecture.
HP: Shouldn’t you put that in different pages in your website instead of a blog?
RM: Yes, I should…(long pause) 😁 let me make time for that (soon)
HP: So this conversation is going on your blog?
RM: (immediately) of course! We are HPRM, that’s even our hashtag!!! I have shown you my Instagram page!
HP: oh okay! Instagram also?
RM: Yes, I’m called @rad_array
HP: Oh! Let me guess, rad-you and array….because Instagram is a grid of things?
RM: Heyyyy! That’s a good interpretation…..Do you want to share my Facebook page and Instagram as a couple?
HP: no thanks, your good at this, you handle it
RM: (Like I do with many other things too) 😉okay!