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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Samra’s story: When marital abuse did not break her


First published in Express Tribune, Pakistan on June 10, 2013 : http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/17620/samras-story-when-marital-abuse-did-not-break-her/

 

Attending the graduation ceremony of students at the prestigious University of Toronto, my daughter pointed out Samra Zafar, saying

“She topped in Economics and she is a Pakistani!”

Samra was flanked not by parents, but two daughters, aged 12 and seven. I wanted to know more about her, and hence invited her over to our house next evening.

At home, while sipping tea, Samra shared her 14 year journey with me and I was absolutely floored by her story.

In 1999, in Abu Dhabi, Samra was a brilliant 16-years-old student of grade 11, dreaming to go to a foreign university to pursue higher studies. Her only fault was that she was tall and extremely good looking – she was a dream bride. Hence when the proposal from a ‘well settled boy in Canada’ arrived, it was difficult for her working class parents to refuse. Eldest of four daughters, the parents thought this would give her a great opportunity to go aboard and pursue her dream, under the safety of her husband and in-laws.

The in-laws reassured their support too.

However, once married and in Canada, things changed. She was told,

“The atmosphere in high schools is not good, and hence it is better to not be thankless and stay happy at home.”

Samra refused to give up though and completed her high school courses through distance learning.

Despite being a mom at the age of 18, she excelled in her high school exams and got accepted to the University of Toronto. Her husband, however, refused to support her and his good financial status left her ineligible for university loans. She tried to convince her in laws for three years but to no avail.

It was not just her education; she was under strict vigil all the time. She was not allowed to leave the house, had no cell phone and was not allowed to learn how to drive. She never had a penny on herself and was constantly abused and neglected.

Samra had not visited her parents for five years. The first time she went back was when her father sent tickets for Samra and her daughter. When she was leaving, she asked her husband fora meagre $10 so that she could have some coffee and buy some chocolate for her daughter during their transit stop at Heathrow Airport. He just snarled at here and said,

“Ask your father for that too.”

She had left and did not intend to come back, but her husband begged her to return with a promise that he would change and that she will be allowed to study this time; he said that he realized he could not live without her. Reassured, Samra returned, only to know that once she got pregnant the second time, the physical abuse was to became worse.

Samra stated that,

“A bruise on my upper arm was a permanent fixture, as in every bout of anger, he would grab my arm really hard and squeeze. Often he pushed me, pulled my hair and spit in my face, even in front of my daughters.”

Again disheartened, she went back to her father’s home, pregnant with her second daughter. Within a couple of months her father suddenly fell ill and passed away. Samra recalls the day before his death and the advice her father gave her when he said,

“My life is uncertain, I may not live to look after you. You have to be strong and pull yourself out of this. I have always envisioned seeing you at the top of a world ranking University.”

Things had changed. Her mother was alone now and had two other unmarried daughters to support.

Samra, accepting it as fate, returned to her husband. To earn her own money, she began baby sitting in her house. As consolation to continue her work, she would give her husband some pocket money from which he would buy his cigarettes and a share to her mother in law, too, to earn their approval.

In 2008, she applied again and got accepted to the University of Toronto. This time she did not have to look to her husband for financial assistance, as her child care business could enable her to pay her own fees. However, this led to escalation of physical abuse. She was instructed by her husband on a daily basis,

“Don’t talk to your male professors, don’t talk to anyone on campus and don’t go to the library.”

The abuse was so severe, that she had to take a break after the first year. Several times she had suicidal thoughts and her self-confidence had completely shattered. That led her to a meeting with the Psychological Counselor at the university campus. She attended the sessions in secrecy and there she was informed that what she was going through was a typical cycle of domestic abuse. And that it was not her fault, or her destiny to bear it.

She reveals;

“It was my daily routine to beg my husband and ask him, ‘Why do you do this? Why don’t you love me?’”

And all he replied with each time was,

“Because you deserve this.”

The psychological counselling at the university, gave her the strength to get back to university. By the second year, the abuse had become worse but she had been told that she could call 911 if need be.

“I will call the cops, if you hit me again.” She uttered once, while her husband raised his hand. That is what triggered him to say,

“Talaq, talaq, talaq.”

(I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.)

Samra says,

“I was shattered, and I did not know what to do next. If I left the house, I would not have childcare income. How would I continue to study? I had two young girls to support.”

Samra’s husband and in-laws ran from pillar to post to get Fatwas to invalidate the divorce. Samra laughs,

“Once my mother-in-law even brought a person for the necessary Halala to rectify the Talaq.”

However, by now Samra had, despite many weak moments, gathered enough strength to move out of this cyclical abuse and face what came her way.

She shifted to a residence at the university campus. Her husband and in-laws then tried threatening her; they said either return or they would malign her in the local Pakistani community of her ‘living’ with men at the university. Her husband often told their daughter,

Do you think your mother goes to university to study only?”

Samra revealed that,

“After a decade of physical, financial, psychological and emotional, abuse it was only in the summer of 2011, that I finally had the courage to go to the cops and give a detailed, date by date account of the abuse I faced, along with the evidence.”

As a result, her husband was arrested on four counts of assault. Despite two court cases, three jobs and two children, she continued to excel in her studies and became head teaching assistant.

Today, Monday June 10, 2013, at the official convocation of the prestigious University of Toronto, Samra will not only be awarded a Bachelors degree in Economics, but she will also be awarded the prestigious Top Student Award in Economics. She also has to her credit a dozen more awards given to her for her academic excellence in the past four years, including the prestigious John H Moss Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a single student in the entire university (all three campuses). She has also been admitted to the PhD program in Economics at the University of Toronto, with a full scholarship.

When not studying or working, Samra loves cooking for her girls and gives them all the free time she gets.

“We are now the happiest we have ever been.”

I asked her how she would advise other girls who are trapped in the same scenario and to that she said,

“Do not let anyone disrespect you. Believe in yourself. You are the only one who can change your situation. It is not easy, but it isn’t impossible either. I had all the disadvantages any girl could have.”

She refers to the myth of needing a man as a support,

I have no father, brother, son, or husband to support me. But I have done it, all by myself. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Read more by Ilmana here or follow her on Twitter @Zeemana

The King of Kebabs- Behari Kebabs


Behari Kababs !

Which meat loving South Asian  doesn’t relish them ? In fact, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad has called them, the ‘finest’ kebabs in his food memoirs.

I grew up watching on very special occasions, my mother prepare and barbeque these Kebabs very diligently on and with much effort, on a charcoal grill. All I remember was that it was a great hard work. And hence, for many, Behari Kebabs is a delicacy to be eaten in restaurants, as cooking them at home is very cumbersome.

I too believed so, till once, I thought of experimenting them in the convenience of my kitchen, in the electric oven. I made them with wooden skewers, and the first attempt wasn’t bad at all. Second time, it was for a dinner party, and the guests could not believe they were homemade, till my husband showed them the oven, tray and the wooden skewers on which they were made.

I moved on, more confident. Got  custom made, iron skewers that fit my tray size in the oven. As I have moved cities, these iron skewers have obediently moved with me too.

Warning: Instead of red meat, I make them here with white meat, and instead of a charcoal grill, I grill them in an oven. Nevertheless, can assure you, they are a different delicacy in their own right.

Ingredients:
Chicken breasts 1 kg
( each sliced into 4 thin fillet)
Onions: 4 medium sized
Ginger : 100gms
Garlic: One whole,
(peeled into cloves)
Green Papaya: 100gms.
Spices: Cumin, coriander, and red chilli powders, and salt to taste.
Mustard Oil- 1 Cup
Fried Browned onions: 2tbsp
(P.S. Some add yogurt, but I don’t.)

Method: 
All the ingredients except the chicken breasts are made into a paste in the grinder. Pour the paste into a wide bowl, and mix in Mustard oil.

Add the chicken fillet in the paste and marinate them for preferably overnight to 24 hours.
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As they are ready to be cooked, spread out each marinated fillet inside a plastic bag, one by one.
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Once arranged 4-5 fillets, fold to close the open end of the plastic bag, And pound them with a wooden pound to make them softer, and such that the spice paste seeps into the fillet..

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Take them out of the plastic bag, one by one, to mount on the iron skewers. My skewers seen here are about a feet long, specially made to fit my baking tray.

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Mount the fillets on the skewers, piercing the iron rod, through the flesh of the fillets at 2-3 inches apart, then gathering them closer.

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Arrange the skewers on the baking tray adjacent to each other.

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When completed, place them in a preheated oven, at 225 degrees C for 30 minutes.
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Once ready, place a burning coal on the side of the tray, and douse it with oil to bellow smoke. Cover the tray, and close the oven, immediately, for the smoky aroma to be absorbed in the Kebabs.
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When ready, serve them hot, with pickled onions, yogurt sauce and chutneys. Naans and parathas go equally well with these Kebabs.

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The children are fond of taking the left overs to school, rolled in a naan as Kebab rolls.

P.S. The blog has been diligently made for a Kebab loving and Kebab cooking fellow Delhiite Parshu Narayanan. 🙂

Hear the snowflakes speak…


Snow storm

Next time,
you are stranded in your car,
in a snow storm,
snail pacing thro the traffic,
Turn on a soft music and,
watch each snowflake closely,
so beautifully crafted,
yet none two identical,
in shape, size or character,
sailing down, leisurely,
in a silent chaos,
trying to speak to you.
And hitting the windscreen,
trying to reach you,
To whisper to you,
“How pure, soft, different are we.
But so short lived as individuals,
While so lasting when together.”

snowflakes2

A Forbidden Dream?


This is a story from my life and dreams,  in three short episodes.

Episode ONE: 

Location: Amritsar

Time: 8AM on a lazy Sunday.

Suddenly my husband declares, “I won’t eat boiled egg today for breakfast. Enough of calorie count.”

 “I can’t make Nihari in a few minutes. You should have told me yesterday, you want to eat something else.”


“Idea, lets go to Lahore for a Paaye-Nihari naashta at Gawaal Mandi. It’ll take us less than an hour by  car. Keep my passport also in your purse.”

Within 10 minutes we were on the PEACE ROAD  to Lahore, and just an hour later sitting in Gawal Mandi under the open skies in a mild cold breeze, as my husband was ordering two plates of Paaye Naan with doodh-patti chai.


gawal mandi

Episode TWO:

Location : Karachi
Time: 1:00 PM Lunch time in the office with friends.

“What are you wearing on the Annual Celebration for our Office.”

“Oh, I don’t have any decent dress to wear, I wish I could wear an Indian saree for a change.” (Yes every woman, almost never has a decent dress to wear.)

“Heyy, you know I saw on TV there is a bumper sale in Rana Sarees in Jodhpur, on bandhnis, leheriyas etc. Even I want to buy one.”

“Idea! Why don’t we plan, take train on Friday,  to Jodhpur and come back on Sunday.”

“Yes, brilliant idea. Rana Sarees is closed on Mondays only.”

Thursday evening, we pack our small trolley bags, and off we are, on Friday morning in the PEACE TRAIN from Karachi to Jodhpur on Khokrapaar-Munabao Railway track.

As the train winds through the golden sands of Thar Desert, we see Thari men and women in their colorful clothes busy with their daily work.  A group of women stop by, turn at us and wave back at our train.

I  look at the woman in a white and red saree,  and scream excitedly, “I will buy a saree of this design.”

In 5 hours we are in Jodhpur. With a shopping spree all Saturday, on Sunday morning, we set off with loaded bags, on the train back home.

Thar women

Episode THREE:

Location: Mississauga, ON , Canada.
Time: Early morning on a cold Saturday on a long weekend.


“Winters are depressing, Are we going to spend all three days sitting in the home in front of a fire place?”, my husband.

“No, we can go to America, to have an ice cream in -20 degrees C.”  I remark sarcastically.

“Hey, why ice cream, lets go to Buffalo,  for cheese cake?”

The idea hits home.  And in 5 minutes, we were on QEW Highway heading down South and East to Buffalo. In an hour we were at the border, and 8 minutes later, which included clearance from the US Homeland Security of our Pakistani Passports, we were on the PEACE BRIDGE, built over Niagara River, between Fort Erie ( Canada) and Buffalo ( USA).

In two hours after a lunch and an order of cheese cake, we ere driving back home to Canada.

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Do the stories sound wierd?

Or perhaps for some, “So what’s there to blog about them? Isn’t that normal. ”

Indeed, for many across the world, such adventures are normal. They travel cross countries   which even speak different languages( as in Europe), without much fuss,  just for a cup of coffee or even go to work across border.

As you may have guessed, only Episode THREE was a real one, while the Episodes ONE & TWO are  still   far fetched dreams.

The fact that Peace Bridge is a reality, it hurts even more to know that Peace Road or Peace Train have to still remain a dream, a far fetched one.

They do occasionally become  a reality, but  for the VVIPs  (only).  For instance, when  one fine weekend the Head of the State on one side  decides to go to the other side for a visit to a shrine, or for a cricket match. But it still remains a dream, and a forbidden one,  for the ordinary.

Even when the ordinary have relations, loved ones or friends on the other side,  all they are entitled to is to dream like the way I dreamt in episodes ONE and TWO.

I know of a true story of a friend, who planned a year in advance to be with her parents, on their Golden Jubilee Wedding Anniversary.  But the visa did not arrive on time.  And when it did arrive, 15 months later, her father was in the hospital, struggling for life.  She fortunately made it,  to see him, and then he passed away two days later in her arms. She felt fortunate to have met her father, and held him in his last minutes of his life.

This wasn’t  her dream, but a true story.

I cant even call myself that lucky. I reached two days after my father was buried. Now I dread for my ageing mother. May she live long, and every time I part with her, I wonder in what circumstances would the next meet be.  Would it be possible at all or not?

With months of excitement about the much publicized NEW VISA REGIME, I had anxiously awaited ( and tweeted) for the arrival  May 25, 2012,  when the document was expected to be signed.  But it was postponed  in the last minute, by a Minister from Pakistan for ‘some’ reason  I didn’t care to explore. For me it was a delay in realization of part of my dreams, for whatever reason-valid or lame.

{However, the divided families did not have much to rejoice from the new agreement, but I still thought this a great step in the right direction.}

Finally in December, when the Ministers met in New Delhi,  the agreement was sealed and signed.
Alas, with  no jinx, we apprehensively took a sigh of relief.

But then, as feared, the tensions at LOC and the beheading incident put the implementation on hold. Again, the ‘not so big’ dream which had come so close to realization had again receded afar.

The dream to cross the Indo Pak Border  is not for Nihari or for  a Saree.  We can get it on the  same side of the border too. They are simply the symbolic magnets of common love and heritage, that the ordinary people on both sides have not been able to ignore, despite years of deliberately created rifts and barriers between them.

Some have outrightly called my Nihari-Saree dream as cynical one, but when few millions ordinary citizens between the US-Canada or within the EU can see this as a reality, why cant the 1.4 billion( a seventh of humanity) across India and Pakistan?

When 3 wars, and countless hostilities have not resolved the differences  why can’t peace and  cooperation be given a real chance?

Like every sovereign nation, India and Pakistan too have the right to ensure, that no miscreants are let to cross the border, but why should the whole population of wellmeaning people be held hostage to the whims and fancies of  few vested interests?

Let the people  interact through easy Visa for the ordinary.  

Let prejudices whither and sanity & reasoning  prevail.

Please, let the people meet.

Please #MilneDo

Whatever IS will be WAS.


The above heading is a Buddhist saying by Monk Ñanamoli. The  in depth meaning of its essence could not be more powerfully conveyed than by an ancient  Buddhist ritual called dul-tson-kyil-khor ( Mandala of colored powders).

Sometime ago in search for an idea for silk painting I accidentally bumped into a beautiful  handmade creation, which in first hand looked like an intricate colorful geometrical design, called Sand Mandala.

As the name implies, it is a creation made from colored sand. Mandala means a palace. There is much more to it than the eyes can see.

From the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this is not just a creation of a beautiful sand castle, but a spiritual journey, for which requires a great practice and meditation before embarking on it. Even during the creation , which usually requires 4 monks (bhikkus) who keep chanting hymns and focus all their minds and actions into its creation.

The sand mandala for them is a three dimensional Palace of Imagination in which they enter, and each dot, line, shape and color that they create in it stands for a specific aspect of Buddhist Philosophy. There are many types of Mandalas, and each stand for a unique symbol.

The creation has to be accurate, and the work  between the 4 creators, working on each quadrant,  has to be well coordinated.

Billions of grains of colored sand powder are carefully and accurately placed in its specific location, using two copper conical pipes called chapku, which are gently tapped over the other, to release controlled amount of sand.

The colors for the painting are usually made with naturally colored sand, crushed gypsum (white), yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal, and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum (blue). Mixing red and black can make brown, red and white make pink. Other coloring agents include corn meal, flower pollen, or powdered roots and bark. In the ancient times they used colored dust from the lapiz lazulli, emerald, ruby, and corals and other precious stones to get colored dust powder.

It takes from few days to few weeks to create a mandala.

However, the most mind boggling part arrives when the whole intricately built sand mandala is undone ( yes, you read it correct) from outside-in in a rotas wheel movement, never to exist again, by the very monks who created it. This metaphorically implies the impermanence of things.

The dust collected is immersed in a flowing water ( river nearby) symbolizing the transference of the energy of goodwill ( imparted to it during its creation)  and compassion, to the rest of the world. {The whole idea gave me shivers and goose bumps}

Hence, when even  at first look it appears to be an end of a creation, but in the real sense, nothing is ever destroyed forever, just that it is returned to the nature, to rejoin elements.

And this does happen to all animate and inanimate objects on earth, be they complicated  humans,  simple plants, soft clouds or  even lofty mountains.

When Buddha passed away, one of his disciples remarked:

Aniccaa vata sa”nkhaaraa — uppaada vaya dhammino
Uppajjitvaa nirujjhanti — tesa.m vuupasamo sukho.

Impermanent are all component things,
They arise and cease, that is their nature:
They come into being and pass away,
Release from them is bliss supreme.

It compels me to be reminded of Kabir’s doha:

Mati kahe kumar se tu kya rondey mohe,
Ik din aisa ayega main rondoonga tohe.
(The clay says to the Potter: What will you maul me, a day shall come, when I shall maul you).

Or yet in another doha he reminds:

Kaya nahin teri nahin teri,
Mat ker meri meri.
(This existence isn’t yours, don’t call it “It’s mine, it’s mine.”)

And of Bulleh Shah’s kaafi:

Na Kar Bandeya  
Meri Meri
Na Teri Na Meri
Char Dinan Da Mela
Duniya Fair Mitti Di Dheri.
(O people, why  be obsessed with me, mine. Its neither yours nor mine. Its for a while, then we all shall be but a pile of dust).

Indeed, “from dust we were born, and to dust we shall return.”.

Bread pakorey ki kasam



If seeing this ^^^ picture, your eyes twinkled, lips curved into a wide grin, your mouth began to water and it flashed back the awesome memories of your alma mater, please stand up !

And to those who find the above sentence a gross exaggeration, and cynical, I don’t blame you. For you are an alien to this experience.

To the first group, know you are a Delhiite and more specifically went to DU as a student. And you don’t even need to be explained what DU stands for. But for the latter, btw, it stands for Delhi University .

What fish n chips is to London, or hamburger is to Mc Donalds, this luscious snack is to Delhi. This is the  finger food we all relished ( I wonder if they still do) in cramped Delhi University cafetarias, without realising its awesomeness.

Being away from Delhi now for over two decades, the gold test for me to check whoever claims “I am from Delhi.” is the mention of the clue word “Bread Pakora”. If instead of a wide eyed expression screaming ‘wierdo’, the return expression is an instant wholesome grin, you know the claim is authentic. You don’t even need to double check them.

To give you another evidence of my cynical attachment to a bread pakora, it was only for the ‘Bread pakore ki kasam’ tag line, that got me watch, Band Baja Baraat twice.

In the good old simple days of limited pocket money, and even more limited options in the DU cafes, this large sized, yummy snack with a hot cup of chai came in handy and filling in the lunch hour, for an affordable Rs 5/-

Just as in some other part of the world, mustard compliments hotdogs, our austere bread pakora came proudly partnered to even more austere yet yummy Kaddu Ketchup (Pumpkin ketchup).  And the two stayed married to each other, no matter how much the arrogant branded ketchups belittled it , on TV ads of our days:
“Thora ketcup try karo?”
“Ketchup hota kaddoo bhara”
“Is mein kaddoo nahin zara,
Raseele tamataron se tayyar,
Volfarm .”
( If I still remember it correctly) .

Whenever I get into my “Ayy mere pyaare watan, tujh pe dil qurban” mode, all I do is take two slices of bread, spread one with hot chilli sauce, other with green mint coriander chutney, sandwich them with mashed potatoes, or even cottage cheese, cut them in two triangles,  coat each of them in a chick pea batter, and fry them. And with a steaming cup of tea, I transport myself back to the DU student days.

Find it weird? No worries, most of my family too, quietly radiates that subtle expression of Whats so great about bread pakora?”.

But I have learnt to not take notice of them, and not even take any offense.
They  know not what they are missing !

Believe it or not, I find it the awesomest finger food, for it carries with it a flavour of my past memories too.

Bread pakorey ki kasam !

King of fruits~ a twist with the taste !


Hindu Gods claimed it to be the Food of Gods, the emperors and nawabs called it the King of fruits, poets like Ghalib called it pots with honeyed juice , scientist call it Magnifera indica, with all the special names given by special beings.

To the ordinary, however,  it remains a simple ‘Aam’ ( which itself means ‘ordinary’).

What generous qualities is this wonder fruit not bestowed with—soft silky texture, gorgeously golden color, a mesmeric aroma for the olfaction, and a heavenly sweet delight to the taste buds. And not just the quality, in the peak of its season, it comes in abundance, making Aam ( mango), yet another symbol of generosity. And as if these qualities weren’t enough, it comes in hundreds of varieties.

I love the way, when in abundance, mango sells at a reasonable price making it affordable to many if not all the poor.
“Till last week, in Delhi, some variety of mangoes were being sold at as low as Rs 30 per kg,”, tells my Mom. Still in this world of commerce and trade, India though  the greatest producer and remains the largest consumer of mangoes too, with 99% being consumed locally and only 1% is exported.

Thinking of mangoes, mind goes instantly to a few cues—of mango orchards in Rataul,  where one went to eat just mangoes, or of childhood visits to grandparents where buckets of mangoes soaked in cool water waited for our arrival, and of mangoes being brought home by parents in pettis( wooden boxes) and tokras (baskets) not polybags.  Abundance was common to all.

Beyond eating them as it is, mango shake or mango lassi are universal favorites too.

Right from unripe green to a pulpous ripe fruit, mangoes are worthy of being used in a variety of recipes. The strong mango flavour that obstinately stays even after cooking or mixing with other ingredients, makes it stand out and still remain the main ‘hero’ of any recipe.

The itch to break the monotony and use them in different recipes had always been quite intriguing. Having experimented with various recipes, there are some which have hit really well with my folks at home. And now each mango season, their demand is refreshed.

I share here those  household favorites

Aam Panna:  An age-old traditional drink, that elderly claim beats the heat stroke or LOO (in the desi jargon. Made from unripe or semi ripe mangoes, boiled and pulp sieved, which can be used as either sweet (with sugar) or sour ( without sugar). Adding a dash of chunky chaat masala( desi spices), and a twig of mint leaves makes it a great delight. The resultant sweet n sour drink is a great thirst quencher.

Mango-Avocado-Crab Salad: Layered as avocado cubes with crushed garlic at the bottom, mango cubes with ginger juice in the middle, and crab meat sitting on top. The outcome is pretty cool, with much economy of labor and time.

Mango Salsa &  mango chutney with barbecued chicken:
Mango salsa includes tomato and mango cubes, red onion and jalepino pepper with lemon juice and mint or cilantro garnished. The resultant is a colorful, crunchy mix that is hot, sweet and sour.
Mango chutney is made from green mango pulped, and cooked with sugar and achar masala (pickle spices). Vinegar is added as preservative, after it cools.

Mango Crepes &  Waffles: Hot Crepes or waffles with mango cubes and whipped cream or custard.  Kids love it for a weekend breakfast.

Mango Rose: This is almost a decade long favorite dessert  in the house, a must inclusion in the parties arranged in  mango season. The recipe is an in-house creation and hence kept secret :). Got to eat before ask for the recipe.

Happy mango season !