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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Newcomer develops a taste for lemons

A new year. New beginnings. As each new year begins, my mind turns to the many new beginnings my family has made in new cities, in new countries. 

My parents were both born and raised in Chennai, but moved to Mumbai when I was a little boy. 

That was a new beginning – learning Marathi at school, growing up in a city where people actually spoke like they showed in Bollywood movies.

After finishing my grade 12 equivalent, I joined an engineering college in Rajasthan and that was another new beginning. 
Making new friends, immersing myself in a whole new culture, learning to enjoy new cuisine and getting used to the dry, unrelenting desert heat after the humidity of Mumbai. 

While working in Kolkata, I met my wife and we began our family in the City of Joy.

Soon, opportunity beckoned and we moved with our two daughters to Bahrain. 

Cosmopolitan as it is, Bahrain gave us a chance to learn and appreciate Arab culture and cuisine – and save much of our tax-free income!

Our last, most recent move, was to Canada. 

We first opted for Vancouver, because we have friends there. 

But a job opening in Toronto saw us packing our bags and moving yet again.

After we settled into our rental apartment, my wife Shantha, while opening the many cartons filled with our personal belongings, said, “Okay, I really hope this is it! I am not going anywhere, not for a long while!”

And happy in my job, with the kids settling into their new school, we decided this, indeed, was where we wanted to stay.

Mobility was next on the agenda. 

We searched the web for an affordable used car. 

Derek, a colleague, took me to various used car showrooms and one day, I drove a red Honda Civic home with pride. 

I knew my wife would have preferred a more sober colour, but it was in good shape, came with not too many kilometers and most importantly, was well within our budget.

I called ahead to tell her we were on our way home. 

“We need to stop at a grocery to pick up lemons,” I said, as the call ended.

“Lemons? Why?” asked Derek.

“We do a little puja – a prayer – for new vehicles,” I explained. 

“This beauty is not really new,” he chuckled. 

“But I see what you mean, it’s new for you guys. But still, why lemons?”

“You’ll see,” I said, concentrating on familiarizing myself with the new car, or our new old car.

“Very interesting,” remarked Derek, thoughtfully. “Lemons for a lemon!”

I was about to ask what he meant by that, but we were home.

As we entered the parking space in our apartment building, Shantha was waiting for us, with a wide smile. 

She was holding a puja thali. 

“What’s Shantha doing?” asked Derek, as my wife began circling the car, putting sandalwood paste tikas (marks) on the car.

Then Shantha took the bag of lemons from me and placed one under each wheel.

“Now drive over them,” she instructed. 

“What’s that for?” Derek wanted to know.

“That’s part of the prayer, sort of like a blessing,” I said. 

To be honest, I myself am not sure of the origins of this custom, but having seen our parents do it, it was just something we followed.

I was just making a mental note to look it up or ask my mother why we did this, when Derek burst out laughing.

“And to think we call an old car a lemon!”

                                                                                                                           –  Ram Sridharan  

Posted: Jan 2, 2014

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