mom of all trades

mom of all trades

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A letter to my childhood home

It must be blistering hot right now, the unforgiving heat beating down and coating the skin like melted jaggery. The frangipani flowers in the front garden, scenting the air with their heady fragrance. Do you remember how we used to swing on the creaky iron gates, my sister and I; faster and faster, till we were dizzy with joy? How we used to chat with our best friends, the adorable twins, who were miraculously the same age as me, leaning over your walls, lined with soft moss?

Swinging on the gates.
 You were interesting, with cozy nooks and corners in unexpected places, where I have spent many happy hours, lost in the world of books. I would love to sit once more, at the long rose wood table and scoop up tangy steaming hot sambar (a lentil and vegetable stew) with crisp pieces of ghee dosas or watch my grandmother light the puja lamp at dusk, its soft glow giving her face an ethereal radiance.

Did you know that each of us in the family had a favorite spot to call our own? I had more than one. The spring chair which creaked a little, with soft pillowy cushions which seemed to gather me in its gentle embrace, placed near the window, in the upstairs study. I loved sitting by that window and being a silent witness to the goings on in the opposite house. The three little dachshund dogs being taken out on their daily walks around the colony; valliamma (we called aunty, valliamma) sitting in her beautiful garden and chanting her prayers; in a crisp starched mundu veshti*, a perfect circle of sindoor the color of hibiscus, dotting her forehead.

 The mango tree in the back yard, with its trunk curved like a gleaming mahogany planter’s arm chair; which gave me hope that the ‘faraway tree’* may exist after all. The oddly shaped bedroom, which was bursting at the seams with cupboards, suitcases and all sorts of odds and ends; so that the bed looked like an afterthought. It would seem that each of us had left a bit of ourselves there.

My sister and I, with the house in the back ground
 Your walls have soaked up my laughter and tears, my dreams and fears; the very essence of my childhood. When we bid you good bye and moved to a new place, my sister cried for days afterwards. You are special to us, as within your four walls we will always be children. You will never know us as adults. For you, we will always be the pigtailed little girls, swinging on the gates without a care in the world.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Not daddy’s girls

Achan with his best friends!!
My sister and I were never ‘daddy’s little girls', in the strict sense of the word. We were never overtly pampered nor was bratty behavior encouraged.

He was not one of those dads who would swoop us off our feet and whirl us around, so that the world around us seems cocooned in a happy blur nor was he given to display of emotions. But he was also the kind of dad, who never missed a PTA at school or would clap the hardest, even if we were the insignificant little bushes in the school play.

 My sister and I have found him by our side, whenever we needed him and even
when we did not. He drove us around everywhere; to extra classes and blood tests or to the same boutique for the third time in a single day.  He made us feel that we are special enough for him, to put his life on hold for us.

Now my sister and I are lucky to see our children share a bond with him, which is even more special than what we had. He is their friend, playmate, Santa Claus and guardian angel all rolled into one. The three of them have a formed a circle of love and camaraderie so strong, that even we, as their mothers, find ourselves on its periphery.

I sometimes think of him welcoming me into this world, on his birthday. Would he have felt deliriously happy and excited, to share his birthday with his first born or would he have taken me in his arms, as if it were the most normal thing in the world? I like to believe, that the answer lies in the name that he chose for me.

Anupama- beyond comparison with something else.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Kindred spirits

I recently came across 'my stash ' of “Anne of Green gables” series by L.M. Montgomery. I was introduced to it in class 7. The story is set in Prince Edward Island in Canada and tells the story of an orphan girl Anne. Fiery and independent, the red headed Anne is an eternal optimist; seeing beauty everywhere and in everybody around her...well at least, most of the time.

She breaks into sudden “spells of insanity” completely lost in “the land of dreams” where “the land is tender with golden green baby leaves; where there is an emerald mist on the woods and where the valleys are full of fairy lights at dawn”. I understand her completely, for I have these “sudden spells” too; only I didn’t know I was a “kindred spirit” till I read the book.

 When ever I feel like the world around me is losing its charm and I am bogged down by “mundane activities” I return to its pages and rediscover the joy of enjoying simple pleasures

  • enjoying  a cup of hot' masala chai' while devouring decor magazines and glossy  cook books.
  • browsing to my heart’s content, in a book store
  • a cheery bunch of flowers on my desk (yes, I buy myself  flowers)
  •  crisp, freshly laundered and ironed, lavender scented sheets to snuggle into, after        a warm  bath
         (Of course, I should not have anything to do with the laundering and ironing part) 

  • Spending an afternoon doing absolutely nothing (‘ dolce far niente’ literally, sweet   doing nothing. See, there is even a term for it) 


  • a gossip session with  cousins/friends in the middle of  the day (Hail whatsapp !)                    
  • a big bowl of ice cream all to myself (Baskin Robbins ‘after eight’ chocolate and mint flavour to be exact)
“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” –Robert Brault

So make some time every day, for life’s simple pleasures.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A wedding story

Weddings are important because they celebrate life and possibilities- Anne Hathaway

Last week our family came together, to celebrate the wedding of the youngest cousin of our generation.

 It was wonderful to see the entire family put their individual lives in ‘pause mode’ and pitch in to ensure that it becomes a truly memorable event.

Life for our family, revolved around the wedding and its related activities. Responsibilities were outlined and delegated with such military precision, that even my driver had his version plan of ‘B’ in case something went wrong. The sister in charge of logistics could rattle off various permutations and combinations of the time, date and place of arrival of various relatives and the person assigned to pick them up, in her sleep.
 The sister and niece (whose dance moves, can give bollywood heroines sleepless nights) choreographed an entire sequence of dance series including almost the entire family. Brothers in law travelled half way across the city, to spend their precious weekends in dance rehearsals. Out of town relatives, practiced their moves under the tutelage of whatsapp videos. Little nephews and nieces practiced their dance steps with a diligence, that made their mothers wonder if they had been doped.

The chat groups buzzed with discussions and it seemed for a while, that the time zones ranging from Melbourne, Atlanta to the Middle East were seamlessly integrated into one single time zone, where all of us had the time to connect with each other.

The wedding itself was a surreal, near perfect event, where people genuinely seemed to relax and enjoy each other’s company; where laughter  and good food flowed in abundance, where the bride found herself cocooned in a circle of affection  and warmth, that made her feel secure within  its confines. What a lovely way to step into a new phase of life.

I guess that is what being a family means-

 We may not have it altogether, but together we have it all (author unknown)

Image courtesy: Dr. J. Jagdish

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Of love and lullabies

While I was growing up, one of my favourite TV shows was ‘The Wonder Years’. The series was based on a wonderful thought that has stayed with me ever since I came across it. ‘Memory is a way of holding on to things you love, the things you are, and the things that you never want to lose’

‘Ammumma’, (my maternal grandmother) was an integral part of my growing up years, and continues to be so to this day. We speak almost every day.  Whenever I think of her, the first images  that come to my mind, are the balmy Kerala nights, when we used to lie down side by side for our nightly ritual of storytelling, sprinkled with impromptu cuddling.  It would be the same story every night; but the sound of her voice, the comforting and familiar fragrance of her after bath sandalwood talcum powder, along with the comfortable warmth seeping in from my toes, tucked safely in the soft folds of her sari, lulled me to sleep. Some nights, after the story, she sang lullabies ; songs that she had grown up with, songs scented with fragrant sandalwood sachets of memories.

The soothing sound of’ ammumma’ singing in her slightly out of tune voice, is one of my most cherished childhood memories. My favourite lullaby was **“omana thingal kidavo..”  Some nights, when I put my son to bed, singing that ever green lullaby, I close my eyes and can almost feel ammumma’s plump slightly calloused fingers, softly stroking my hair.

‘Ammumma’ was a wonderful cook and my sister and I often awoke to paper thin dosas, sizzling on the griddle, oozing with ghee. We often lost count of the number of dosas we devoured, and they disappeared quickly, along with melt in your mouth, freshly ground coconut chutney; ‘Ammumma’ did not know any fancy cooking techniques. All the ingredients she used were simple, earthy ones, often made in her own kitchen from scratch. Freshly churned homemade butter, melting on steaming hot mounds of rice, delicately flavoured fish curry, tart, with just the right amount of heat, butter milk spiked with ginger and cumin. Relatives often asked her, how all her dishes turned out so well and she would simply smile and attribute her culinary success to a secret ingredient, passed on to her by her mother.

Some days before I was to be married, ‘ammumma’ was combing out my hair when she casually remarked “Always remember, even if you are serving a cup of tea, do it with love. You must have the desire to see the people who are eating your food, satiated and content. Good food is one of the very few things in life, that have the power to genuinely satisfy a person. That is the secret ingredient that makes the simplest of dishes ,seem like a gourmet meal”

Thank you ammumma, for flavoring my life with the sweetness of your love.

*Omanathinkal Kidavo (Malayalam: ഓമന തിങ്കള്‍ കിടാവോ ) is a lullaby in Malayalam that was composed by Irayimman Thampi on the birth of Maharajah Swathi Thirunal of Travancore. To date, it remains one of the most popular lullabies in the Malayalam language.[1]
The lullaby was composed by Thampi at the request of the then ruler of Travancore, Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi, to put the baby King Swathi Thirunal to sleep. His birth was a long awaited event for the royal family since it faced the threat of being annexed into British India under the Doctrine of Lapse for the want of a male heir. The lyrics of the poem reflect this sense of relief when it refers to the baby as a 'treasure from God' and 'the fruit of the tree of fortune'.[2][3]


You can listen to the lullaby here:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Diary of a beautification survivor

“There is no flesh to massage, ma” drones the lady who towers above me like a WWF wrestler, in response to my muffled yelps. I look and her and wonder for the thirtieth time, about why I had let the pretty lady with the ‘too- long- to be- true’ eyelashes, sweet talk me into accepting the ‘too- good- to be- true’ combo offer, at a branded salon, that has recently opened in my neighbourhood.

I nod at the masseur apologetically, vowing to order a double cheese burger for dinner. The lady having given up hope has moved on to my head and is the process of kneading it, with every ounce of energy that she possesses.  I protest feebly, telling her that I am prone to migraine attacks, upon which she claims to have the perfect technique to cure it. Before I can resist, she yanks my head to one side and begins hammering it with her fingers.  I may have discovered some additional stars in the Milky Way, during those five minutes.

Having being pounded into a semi delirious state, I find myself being led to the’ facial area’, where I am assured (by the same pretty lady with ‘too- long- to be- true’ eyelashes) that I will glow like a 100 watts bulb, by the end of the procedure.  I lie down and close my eyes, determined to enjoy at least one procedure of this ‘super value combo offer’.
 To give her due credit, this masseur did have fingers that were magical, and I was drifting into a blissful slumber when suddenly, her colleague drops in. For the rest of the session, I am subjected to so much information about the masseur’s mother in law, that I can qualify to be her official biographer (if her mother in law ever needs one)

I stumble out (hopefully glowing like a 100 watt bulb) for the last service, pedicure. I am asked to relax, as the pedicurist immerses my leg into a basin of scalding water. I yank my legs out and am ready to bring out my choicest profanities, when I am served tea along with a glossy magazine.
 Now, I am a firm believer in “where there is tea, there is hope” saying. Soon, I am swooning over Hrithik Roshan in the magazine and enjoying my spell of sereni’tea’, when the pedicurist proudly shows me my toe nails, painted a vicious  neon red.  I manage to ask for the bill and run out, before I give a whole new meaning to the term, ‘beauty and the beast.’

Image source:


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pyaaz, aloo, bhindi and a super hero!

“There isn’t even an onion in the house” exclaims my husband scornfully. He has decided to grace the kitchen, with one his rare bi-annual visits, and is apparently making himself a (gourmet) omelette.
“Why can’t you stock these things?”  he continues, the scornful tone beginning to show tinges of sarcasm. At this stage, I am beginning  to visualise how this ‘revenge drama ‘will unfold.

Rewind to the day before:  Husband asks wife to prepare prawn curry. Wife prepares prawn curry. Husbands tucks into prawn curry and all is well with the world. Wife (who incidentally has a heart of gold) generously gives away the rest of the prawn curry to the maid. Husband finds out and swears revenge.

So with my housekeeping skills under the scanner, (the best way to get back at me, is to point out flaws in my housekeeping) I decide to knock on my neighbours door, with a steel bowl and beg, borrow or steal some onions.  It turns out that I don’t have to do any of the above mentioned activities, as the neighbour does not have any onions.  Seeing my petrified face, she informs me that the apartment has a lady, who sells vegetables within its premises every evening and the vegetables are organic to boot .She mentions something about a yoga teacher, who can cure anxiety attacks.
My vote of thanks speech almost makes her tear up; apparently she has never seen anyone so grateful for onions before.

I whizz down the stairs and there she is; the goddess of herbs, greens and...Onions!  I notice her smile even before I notice the onions.  It is one of those smiles, that can transform a person’s face completely; like somehow the facial features have rearranged themselves, to create something arresting. She smiles at me with her eyes, the smile punctuated with deep dimples on either cheek.

The vegetable lady and I soon become good friends. She keeps aside her best produce for me and even calls me up to warn me, that the last of the spring onions are being eyed by the bossy Mrs’ so and so’ and that I better hurry up if I want to serve my “mister’ ‘Chinese rice' for dinner or that the ‘palak’ bunch is being carried away by the uncle on the third floor, who never smiles.

Soon, I find out that the vegetable lady is everyone’s friend .With her ready smiles and positive nature, she has a kind word for everyone, enquiring after their kids or their family. Whenever we meet, the first thing she tells me is to smile. I tell her that it is difficult to smile, when you are in the middle of a project with an impossible deadline, a full blown migraine attack, a sick child, or whatever  my ‘excuse- to- not- smile -for –the- day’ is.
 She nods her head, and tells me ,”.. but you have such a beautiful smile. What a waste.”

I sit with her sometimes in the evenings, watching my son play and she tells me little nuggets from her life; how she was widowed at twenty three, how she has singlehandedly brought up her kids, how proud she is, that her youngest is now an engineer. Not once does she sound bitter at the blows life has dealt her with, nor does she pity herself. My admiration for this lady, who seems to have mastered the ‘art of living’ grows day by day.

Then out of the blue, she stops coming, her phone perpetually switched off. After a couple of weeks,she calls me and informs me that she is back. I go down with my basket and I am greeted with smiles and she admonishes me on how much weight I have lost. I tell her about my aches and pains and migraine . Just as I pay her and am about to leave, I casually enquire about her absence. “Oh nothing, ma” she waves me off. “I was at the hospital, taking my course of chemo” “Wwhat?” I manage to sputter out. “Oh! That radiation- vadiation stuff’” she explains.” I am in the advanced stage right, so doctor said we will try this and see”
I stand there, rooted to the spot, with tears streaming down my face as she quietly takes my hand in hers.” We all have to go one day ma, I still have this day, this evening with you”  

We all grow up with stories and movies of super heroes and wanting to be like them. I am honoured to have met mine today.