Mama loves Nandinibabsmamba; sister loves connection

IF I QUOTED relevant song lyrics in this column, I'd be a hack, and you'd judge my musical taste and find it wanting. Also, various royalty seekers would want to charge this newspaper more than I get paid in a year. So just imagine the 14-year-old "River of Dreams" Billy Joel album playing inside the dented blue-green 9-year-old Toyota Corolla, on its way to the Washington, D.C., bus station.

I visited my sister the weekend of her graduations. She got two master's degrees in addition to her two bachelor's degrees. Now she's not just Nandini, but Nandini, B.A., B.S., M.A., M.B.A.

Nandinibabsmamba. It's fun to say. I visited again a week later, and Nandinibabsmamba had the old Billy Joel tape playing in her car as she drove me downtown.

Rain spattered the windows as we passed buildings grand and standard. We chatted and laughed and marveled that somehow we hadn't been bickering at all recently.

We used to get into stupid arguments regularly, but somehow we've matured and stopped pressing each other's buttons, or something. Do all sisters go through this metamorphosis? Did the crucible of adolescence turn our sisterhood into an authentic adult friendship? Or did we have to go our separate ways, grow up apart and then meet again as fully formed people who could start again on our own terms? I'm superstitious and don't want to talk too much about this miracle, lest it disappear.

Mom also had been impressed that Nandini and I were getting along so well. Her visit to the States was the main reason I was visiting my sister twice in a month.

Do all mothers love watching figure skating? Do all of them bemoan how little the women wear? I couldn't find any ice skating programs on TV, so I showed her some figure skating videos off YouTube. We did have to skip the first search result, a montage of skaters falling down.

I made the connection: If she liked watching ice dancing, and old musicals from Bollywood and Hollywood, then she would love some Fred Astaire tap-dancing movies from the 1940s and 1930s.

She did, except she called him "Fred Ashtray" or "Fred Rogers" (Fred Astaire + Ginger Rogers). Can you imagine Mr. Rogers tap-dancing? Anyway, thank you, Turner Classic Movies and well-stocked black-and-white sections at video stores. No profanity or nudity, great visuals and classy banter. Some of them aren't even horribly sexist.

Just before my sister drove me off, we watched a 1950 Judy Garland/Gene Kelly musical called "Summer Stock." You know those old movies where the kids realize they could clean up the old barn and put on a show? This is that movie. You might also know this as the film where Judy Garland wears a fedora, tuxedo jacket and nylons for her "Get Happy" number. I've never seen men look as good in men's clothes as women can.

Mom made Indian-style popcorn for movie munching. My mom tells a story about young

Sumana, left alone with about five servings

of Indian-style popcorn and eating all of it. Now my husband can make Indian-style popcorn so well that my mom thinks it's as good as hers. I'm in trouble.

"Indian-style" is a weird adjective. India has 14 languages, several religions, hundreds of subcastes and at least that many "styles." Still, my gut tells me there is a distinct Indian style, something with hospitality, baroque decoration and blotchy cultural integration with everything it touches. And by "hospitality" I mean "my mother thinks I don't eat at all, ever."

We have Indian-style popcorn (recipe below) and Indian-style toast, which I now realize is

Harihareswara-style toast. We made it every Saturday morning when I was a kid, and I was so terribly proud when I was allowed to butter the store-bought white bread slices, lay and turn them on the griddle and serve them to my family with spicy lime pickle. Oh, my arteries. Right now a nutritionist is screaming (but not as loud as ASCAP would — remember those missing Billy Joel lyrics?).

But I made it anyway. As did Nandinibabsmamba. Congratulations, sister! And mom, for never minding that we played "River of Dreams" over and over again in 1993, and for raising us right.

I do eat, just so you know.

Aren't you glad you get a recipe instead of a mock-meaningful song lyrics excerpt?

Indian-style popcorn

Pop half a cup of popcorn kernels. In several tablespoons of oil, heat a teaspoon of cumin seeds, a heaping teaspoon of curry powder and a quarter-teaspoon of turmeric until you can smell them. Mix the popcorn with the heated, spicy oil. Add a not-quite-heaping teaspoon of sugar and salt to taste.

Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at