Woody Allen, ‘Fell-apples’, Borscht and Lurve!

My husband usually jokes about how though I’m not Jewish, you’ll understand me better if you were!! I grew up in a very culturally emaciated household-my parents were born into a culture that they didn’t particularly hold dear or even identify with and so they role-played; needless to say the self-consciousness rubbed off on us as well! As a Jewish saying goes- ” A Jew is his most Jewish self in the face of a Gentile”; that was largely true of us too – we were our tradition-fluid best in the face of any tradition-richness that befell us!

Woody Allen, Annie Hall, Diane Keaton, iconic film,
Diane Keaton and Woody Allen – Annie Hall

With Woody Allen’s winning the Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe being all-pervasive news, and it being accepted by none other than his Annie Hall collaborator, Diane Keaton, catapulted me back to a very significant time period in my childhood in which both had a part to play! (Watching Diane Keaton deliver her acceptance speech also cleared up the ‘Did Ralph Lauren make Annie Hall or the converse, controversy’.  I’ve come across that sartorial debacle often enough since the film entered my subconscious about whether Ruth Morley, who officially designed Annie Hall, or Lauren, the all-American, preppy designer (who walked away with the accolades), was responsible for the signature androgynous look the film toted!  Glad Keaton cleared up all that murkiness by  choosing a made-to-fit Ralph Lauren pantsuit for the ceremony! I did miss her pastel polos and boat shoes, though! My greater takeaway from the speech was a song I can teach my children and rest in the knowledge that the best of celebrities still live with bad looking nails! )

Israeli Falafels!

My earliest association with folklore were those of my father’s persuasion! He was a war fiction enthusiast, studied history of the two World Wars and read a whole lot about Jewish culture and religion! He was hardly what I’d call a sociable man!  I grew up hearing stories about Mottel the tailor, Tevye the Milkman and The Fiddler on the Roof. I didn’t know about the movie till decades later as for the longest time I believed that Sholom Aleichem (on whose works The Fiddler on the Roof is based), was my father’s creative construct…really, who goes through life with that name?! We had Jewish family friends, Dan and Iris- Hasidic Jews on the fringes of Hasidim who were liberal enough to befriend traditionally-fluid Indians! My entire memory of them can be crystallised in the one evening we spent at their house celebrating Rosh Hashannah… the Jewish New Year! There was such a lead up in my own little world where I scampered around telling everyone that I was going to be spending a whole evening, a whole evening with my parents’ foreign friends, and that they were making foreign food for us! My mother had told me in the typically fantasmagorical, story-telling way that parents have when they talk to their young about an impending adventure – about having Challah which was the soft-test bread in the whole world, and borscht- the pink-kest soup in the whole world, and there would be fell-apples, that mummy was learning to make fell-apples as well, so it was all going to be a whole day of being immersed in another world! It was all very Lewis Carroll, and I couldn’t wait to go down the rabbit hole!

It seems awkward now that that was really the meeting of two polarities – one family running away from tradition, the other thirsting for every last drop! In all honesty, Indians and the American Jews have enough of a cultural similarity to get along jauntily! Let me iterate that with a American Jewish joke :

It’s time for summer holidays on the East Coast of the USA, and a plane full of New York jews is heading south to Miami. After a while, a woman stands up at the front of the plane and shouts, “A doctor, I need a doctor! Is there a doctor on the plane?” There is a pause, some discussion among passengers, then a young man stands up and replies, “Excuse me madam, but I’m a doctor.””Good!” says the woman, “Come here and meet my daughter, what a nice wife she would make!”

WATCH: ->”Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as A Fiddler on the Roof!!”

Ritual Jewish Bread Challah
The Jewish Ritual Plaited Bread – Challah

 Well, the day came and I was carried throught it on the merit of sheer childish exuberance, and as the night carried on , I realised to my dismay that the metaphorical clock had struck! My late ’80’s polyester frock had gone from being my dizzy-with-delight party gown to something scratchy and non-sleepingworthy, my carriage went back to being a pumpkin, and my horses – mice!! The borscht wasn’t something I could have more than a few spoonfuls of, the smoked and brined lox (smoked salmon) and cream cheese, again- lost on my palate! The falafels, made from the best of Knorr, was a vegetarian bajji! The challah I schlepped around, slathered with butter and chewed on it’s crunchy crust as the families settled in to watch Annie Hall, which would go on to become one of my parents’ favourite films! Ethic food and children? I’d wait till they realised that the world was a large, indomitable place, not necessarily one that revolved around them! ! So I sat there, clutching my bread and winding the end of my mother’s handloom saree, still fresh with the smell of handprintable dye, around my finger, watching an absurd film where the talking never stopped.

Lox and Cream Cheese!
Lox and Cream Cheese!

Family for me has always had multifaceted meanings- some of them not entirely comforting! I’ve often noticed that when one grows up with a particular disability; physical or emotional, one seems to have a heightened sensibility of things that touch or resonate against that shifted core. By that stretch, a blind child grows with a keener sense of touch and hearing, as does a deaf one-with keener sight and smell perhaps. I for one, seem to have grown with a heightened perception of family ties. Bonds of touch, love and belonging. Those that  go deeper than blood. And of small, everyday things that change and alter those very bonds as they continue to grow together; in love or apart.

Allen’s neuroticism pierced through me in patches that night; when Annie asks him if he loves her, he says love is really too weak a word, he actually lurved her, you know,  loaved her, luffed her, two F’s!!! I learned that night that you need to love with more than just love! I also learned the way another culture saw the power of my life – Iris, the Jewish woman with a wig, who knew to read life’s signs said to me that I was born under the strength of an air sign! Air moves over the earth and the water, it controls both whilst being controlled by none. I could make any path I chose to if I used all my strength to make it! That would be my biggest argument for thinking outside the box and the need to interact with a cultural ethos different to your own. Those words changed my inner landscape! I was viewed as an entitled, hyper-irritable annoyance in my own world!  And then the talk of Dan quoting Allen’s recently said” Eighty percent of success is showing up!” A dictum that holds me well, even on mornings when I cannot wait for the peace of post-schoolruns or feel like the vilest of parents! I showed up, and in doing so, there was success!!   I heard those lines often! My parents almost always concurred on Allen, if not much else!

On a regular basis, as an Asian living in England or even just plainly as an Asian, I revisit Annie Hall and especially revel in the Easter scene -the clash of the relatively calm socio-cultural niceties of Upper East Side Manhattan and the often chaotic, rapidly-fluctuating emotional personality of Brooklyn! The similarities are glaring – clearly, we aren’t all in this together! 🙂 In a family, a lot is unspoken, a lot is said in the high-pitched tones of conviviality …or the silence! I learned to understand a philosophy through it’s jokes!


Keaton aptly said whilst accepting the award on behalf of Allen, that women love to star in his films because “Woody’s women can’t be compartmentalised. “…I mean, they struggle, they love, they fall apart, they dominate, they’re funny, they’re flawed. They are, in fact, the hallmark of Woody’s work. But what’s even more remarkable is that absolutely nothing links these unforgettable characters from the fact that they came from the mind of Woody Allen. And there you have it.”
Probably the reason I love his work so much… and because “Woody’s films have been changing the way we think about life, love and the pursuit of neuroses forever”!

Leaving you with scenes from one that’s seminally touched mine…X


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I was recently at John Lewis, a British home & family store, when a chat with a young girl there got me thinking! She was sorting out insoles to cushion my daughter’s high instep when Frank Sinatra began singing “Hello Dolly”!  It’s a song I remember well enough from my first winter here in the UK many moons ago! It followed me everywhere. Armstrong’s voice then, with it’s rich, gravelly texture had made me want to dance – shoulder rolling, sideways shuffling and all that Jazz! The lovely girl, about 19, said she loved that song too, Michael Bublé was it?!  She loved him! He was her Christmas/Winter voice! Though she’d only recently heard it, she felt she knew it all her life. I smiled and acknowledged it with a ”Yes, Michael Bublé has a lovely voice, if a completely vile temper! 🙂 ” I left, inwardly thinking that she probably heard it first as a child, and made very happy memories to it! So did Bublé, presumably!

We’ve all probably stopped short when we’ve heard a particular artist/song play at a restaurant, doing the dishes with the radio on, whilst driving – and gone back to a particular time in our lives. Perhaps to a perfect boy you met when you were 15 and found true love –  the sort that doesn’t even re-al-ly exist, but you had managed to find it! He had the right eyes, the perfect hobbies. He played the guitar, listened to Pink Floyd; knew all the songs on Side B of The Dark Side of the Moon! You both had bemoaned the breakup of Wham!  Ah, the beauty of youth – financial disaster meant nothing more than your dad’s accountant and a bad hairday. Well, if you haven’t felt the power of musical nostalgia in one or it’s many avatars, I think I might’ve actually found Kara !

Abba disco ball bauble
By Kanchan Char

Researchers say that music has an enduring effect on us and that it is in fact potent enough to even restore brain function, improve immunity and considerably reduce stress. And that you can still sing even if you can’t talk again! Simply put, language functions are located in the left brain, but music appreciation is processed in the right. So, when one suffers damage to the left brain, your can be rewire your brain to move those functions to the other side by associating music with language.  Since all our long-term memory is stored in the right brain, this is the precise reason we associate so much of our emotional landscape with music. We’ve transcribed our memories in Quavers, Crotchets and Breves! 

Here’s what gets me – while it’s expected that we’re moved by music that saw us come of age, musical nostalgia seems to transcend that narrow period of susceptibility into a multigenerational phenomena. Not only do we react and respond to music that’s celebrated important periods in our own lives, but seemingly,  also that which lined the lives of our parents. (Of course, this adds an layer of intrigue to those who grew up in bilingual homes and where the musical apple, so to speak, fell rather far from the tree!) It stands clarified in my own life, why I  Alto to every song that Soprano’ed and the converse! I was only answering the call of Simon & Garfunkel from my subconscious! And believe you me, I did that for years!! The sins of our parents…

Apparently, we gravitate to musical genres from the Dopamine Effect, the chemical reactions we have in our brain when we feel calm, happy and soothed. The feel good neurotransmitter! It’s why we still, for most part continue to turn to music. Apart from the odd time one has to socially suffer Brahms’ Fifth Symphony at a friend’s uber-posh family dinner. Classical music is all well and good, but it does nothing other than remind me of how utterly satisfied I am with the crumbs that fell onto my own educational platter! We’ve all still remained friends, fortunately 😛 !

Some of our earliest childhood memories were probably made to music that our parents enjoyed, a lasting impression and the direction your own music choices would take, (and lest we forget, here is also a remnant of their biases and where our musical hair-raising moments have their roots!)! My generation, the late 1970’s born (the last of the ones born-free, might I add) – enjoyed the benefits of when parents didn’t think twice about introducing children to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Elvis singing about Jailhouse experiences! We didn’t focus half as much as we should have on the psychology of Freud or Piaget and Erikson has ostensibly remained just a memory of bad mobile handsets! Then again, I was partly raised in Socialist India! ‘Nuf said! (Shudders at the thought of countless Russian magazine subscriptions!)

antique classical musical notes My children’s first tryst with rythm was colic-preventing Navajo music ! Falcons and flutes and eagle-bone whistles. I didn’t stop to investigate if there were any more reliable rappers on the baby scene since Jordy! I often think of the absurdity of flipping that image and seeing the Navajo calm their teething brood to the sounds of N’Sync or 98 Degrees! Ostracism from the tribe at best, I suppose! After all, there is a fine line that separates music from mere noise, and the one to make that call is the culture that’s listening to it.

The desires, despairs and triumphs of any generation are represented in the music it created. Therefore, it occasionally leaves me feeling grim that the music we seem to be leaving our grandchildren finds itself in the myopic territory of making sure every man has a ‘Beauty and a Beat! I really do try to like Justin Bieber! J

So whether you are the “Birkenstock-wearing, celebrating the birth of Granola and Indie/Folk” type of  person or a “Can’t do without a power-ballad” one- you’ve been subtly influenced by the sounds you first heard and associated well-being with ! Finally, you now have someone to concretely blame for getting it all so horribly wrong! 😀

I’m still wading through my turbid unconscious to find what made me fall in love with Matia Bazar, an Italian experimental pop group that made it big in the late ‘70’s! Or why I feel an unsurmountable urge to face my suck-it-up-and-get-on-with-it moments with Abba’s Lay all your love on me!


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stained glass childhood painting kite comic

I’m hardly ever taken in by, or even mildly impressed with people who wish they were children again- kicking in the dirt, running through fields! Certainly, they must come face to face with modern childrearing once a year, and view it as a perma-beaming, icecream-eating , Mary Poppins’ish stroll through existence!

 Kanchan Char eating apples
By Daniel Simm

For us, the “you’re-in-it-for-the-next-20-years” parents, the reality of growing children up is something else! Playdates and school projects, swimming lessons and dance performances! Baby Yoga and carve-your-own Babybels!

Sigh! Wipes Brow. Drinks Tea! If you’ve made it unscathed past your own ickle-years, that’s where you should stay. Period! I’m not saying that I totally  buy into the clichéd viral posts that go around social networking, harking back to the past, polishing the halos of those who grew up with no Health & Safety and no constant surveillance by any Big Brother. High on glucose, watching Tele simply for the sheer joy of entertainment! But – thinking back, those were days we weren’t meant to learn a thing from TV, apart from how to get away from a determined cat, who failed for most part, but whose strength lay in his sheer grit! TED tells me that that is the true recipe for success! Grit – the strength to persevere, something our time-poor, technologically savvy children are in desperate want of!

Ours were truly perilous times, I’m told!! I’m often reminded of L.P Hartley and his ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ from the book The Go-Between! Worth mentioning here are the nondescript pervs who hung around school gates unmonitored, and ornate Victorian Gothic fencing around grassy schoolyards that ripped up a chubby arm sooner than one could say Jack Robinson! Whatever your stance, whether you be one of the oldies-were-goldies brigade or one who delights over the proficiency their toddler displays operating their newest Nintendo; you’d have to agree that childhood is a changing social phenomenon, and one of equally repeated enchantment and alarm!

I recently got into a conversation with my neighbour, newly moved in from the US and very homesick for Ziplock bags, Twinkies, family-sized refrigerators and PBS; who said that she felt obliged, in the spirit of good parenting (the type that settles for vegetable stamps over plastic, made-from-scratch over shop-bought) to watch Boomerang , one of our imported, prime-time children’s channels, in a bid to pre-empt the evils of advertising.

I’m probably a bit of a softie here, having worked in advertising myself, I’m just that little bit impervious to it’s insidiousness!  Of course I know that the power of marketing means that purchasing behavior moves from the realms of choice into coercion! Pfft, I know that, but however else would I know how to differentiate between toys that are worth the next spend and those that are truly naff?!

Speedily, I thought that I must —  if only for the true and just sake of keeping up with the Joneses, watch Boomerang with my own children! Wasn’t all a waste, almost every advert was about loans, insurance or finance. My children now know the jingles to Debtbusters Loans, Ocean Finance and Sheila’s Wheels, (hitting the spot with pretty ladies in pink, who also have the good sense of insuring their cars. A life lesson there!!) Ultimately, the worst being the AXA-Sunlife over 50’s plan (that’s a life insurance company, for those of you who’re spared British Television!!) So, there!

doll-5623_1920 Our parents- my parents, had it different, their goalposts were different, so were their victories! Their foibles, no less upsetting than ours! Studies show that the term “ experience teaches us” also means that our neural pathways repeatedly choose the choices we made that gave us our raisins, Penguin bars  or whatever else we deemed rewards. And that 30% of it has become instinctual, not always the most reiable, if you ask me :P.  Given a choice, we would look back to what we knew, had and enjoyed.  It is the only tangibility we truly know! Would I want to go back to it and watch two sets of cartoons twice a week? Probably not.  Do I remember it as a pretty, if palavering picture, drenched in honey – well, I’d have to if I was a normative, well adjusted adult!!

The children we now raise are probably the most victimized by our constant comparing and assessing. We must choose for them in accordance with their framework, and know that we run the risk – as did our parents before us, to go that little bit too far! I know I would’ve crossed that line when I add Oboe lessons to our growing pile!!! 😀 For now, I shall load up our car with Ballet shoes and Tap shoes, Orange juice –with the goodness of pips, all to the sound of Edith Piaf singing in rising crescendo about having no regrets!

We survived our childhood, I’ll let them survive theirs, bruised knees and scratched tablets! Given one possible intervention- I’d probably choose reinstating Pluto!!

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