mom of all trades

mom of all trades

Friday, January 22, 2016

Like a mother

One of the things I enjoy most during trips to my parents' house, is the opportunity to ask exciting questions like “What are we having for breakfast today?” “Is that masala being prepared for tonight’s chicken curry?” or answer contentedly, “Yes, pooris will do very well for dinner” “No, I can’t have another helping; that was one of the best biriyanis I have had in a long time”
   After weeks of menu planning, lunch boxes and weekend specials, the idea of being blissfully ignorant about meal menus, seems strangely liberating.

Watching my mother cook food, gives me as much pleasure as eating what she has made. The way her hands move fluidly, spreading the dosa batter in concentric circles, the way she drizzles ghee around the edges; not like a cook but like a mother.
The way she deftly flips the crisp, paper thin dosas with edges like gold filigree on to my plate, fills me with a childlike glee.

Most times, on the second not later than the third day of my visit, my mother makes ‘moussaka’, that quintessentially Greek dish, with layers of fried potatoes, aubergines and delicately spiced succulent minced meat, doused in a creamy b├ęchamel sauce and topped with cheese. She bakes it till it forms a golden brown crust and the whole kitchen gets filled with aromas, that makes you want to bottle it up and save it. After that, she scoops out a large portion of the dish onto my plate, not waiting for it to cool down as is traditionally done; exactly like a mother.  

It’s the early hours of morning; my eyes are heavy with sleep and my heart is heavy with a deep sorrow, which comes from having to leave earlier than planned and knowing that it would be months again, before I come back to my parent’s home. I sit at the kitchen table, with my fingers wrapped around a steaming mug of tea and watch my sister wrap a loaf of banana bread that she baked at dawn, for her nephew.  Her fingers move delicately, peeling off the parchment in one deft stroke. She wraps it up neatly, making sure there is enough for him to carry to school too; not like an aunt, but like a mother.
I wish at that moment, she could see herself through my eyes.
How lovely it would be, if we could see ourselves once in a while, not like an unrelenting critic, but like a mother.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Softly falls the shiuli flowers

It was a warm sunny day when I first arrived there; my aunt’s house, which would be my home for the next 10 months, while I completed a course and contemplated on my academic future. I remember that the clouds were scattered like white cotton candy over an azure blue sky and the shiuli* flowers were strewn on the pebble laid garden path, their coral stalks startling against the pristine white petals. Looking back, it was  one of the best things that could have happened to me at that point in my life  My aunt, uncle and cousin took me into their fold in such a seamless, organic manner, that after a while I began to feel that I have always been part of the family.

  My aunt took me under her wing, reprimanding me like a mother, giggling with me like a friend, pampering me like an aunt and forging a bond that would bind us forever, impregnable against the onslaught of time and distance. Eleven in the morning, soon became the best part of my day. The neighbour aunty would drop in and this would be our cue to gather in the living room. My aunt would come in with big mugs of steaming ginger tea; mine  would always be in the ceramic beige mug with little blue flowers, the color of sapphire, printed all over it; that she had specially bought for me.  I loved wrapping my fingers around its smooth surface, letting the soothing aroma of the ginger spiked tea lull me into a sense of wellness, as I listened to the lively conversation. Those 11 AM conversations helped me realize the insignificance of my ‘problems’. It helped me steady my confused thoughts. This ritual of devoting a small part of the day to enjoying a cup of tea with loved ones, seemed to me a spring cleaning for the soul.
Uncle was never too busy or tired after long day at work to plan fun trips and dinner at lovely restaurants. He insisted that I get my driver’s licence, personally enrolling me in a driving school. Together they slipped into the role of my parents and opened their home and hearts, giving me readily and lovingly, the gift of their time.
Ten months flew by, peppered with countless lovely meals, long conversations, trips with the family, impromptu shopping sprees and memories to last a life time.

In my mind those wonderful ten months are akin to the exotic shiuli flowers that lies strewn on my aunt’s pebbled garden. The exquisite and delicate shiuli, which blooms at night and drop off from the tree to the ground, as the first rays of dawn touch its petals. The fragrant shiuli, that enjoys the privilege of being offered to the gods, even when they lie on the ground. What a short but glorious life.
*Shiuli is the Bengali name for the Night flowering jasmine, also known more commonly as the Parijat flowers in Hindi and Pavizhamalli in Malayalam.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Children Of a lesser god?

I am so lucky; I am going to be part of a wonderful family. How do I know this, you ask? After all I’m just the size of a peapod, with only a tiny fingerprint to claim as my own; a three month old foetus nestled safely in the cosy confines of my mamma’s womb. I know they are wonderful people, my mamma and daddy. Oh, how lovely those words sound .They shower my brother with love and refer to him as their blessing. I can’t wait to be their blessing too, to nestle in the crook of my daddy’s arm and fall asleep to my mamma’s soothing lullabies.
 I am going to be photographed, my parents can’t wait to see me. My little heart swells with pride, I am a baby girl. I wait for them to marvel at my tiny toes and my wee little hands. 
They don’t notice my facial features slowly taking shape, nor my tiny limbs kick out. They don’t see my minute fists open and close, nor my little toes curl. All they see is that I am a girl.
Nothing makes sense anymore. Why are they saying that I am a curse and will be a burden to them? Why do they not want me to be part of their lives, a much as I want to be part of theirs?
 Why do they think baby girls are lesser beings than boys?  Are we not their flesh and blood too? Are we children of a lesser god?
In this day and age when women are doing everything from ruling countries, travelling to space, heading corporate empires to being sole providers for their aged parents or little children, this prejudice against female babies is a shocking but true reality in our country.
  We can do our bit by getting involved with local organisations which support this cause and by   ensuring that the community we live in is aware about the seriousness of this issue.

Population First, is an NGO working on population and health issues within the framework of women's rights and social development
Laadli – A girl child campaign is Population First's campaign against sex selection and falling sex ratio.
You can pledge your support for the cause here

Image source:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The space between my thoughts

They blur the difference between friends and family, understanding me in a way only friends can and being a part of my life as only family will. They give me each day, a part of their lives that they can never take back, bits of themselves. They are the ones who will pick me up when I falter and fall, after they are done laughing. Some days they are the voice in my head that whispers out my worst fears, loud enough for me to hear it, and confront it. Other days they are bubbly cheerleaders, who make me fall in love with myself. They form a little haven into which I can escape for brief spells of rejuvenation, when the world around me, overwhelms me with its demands.

They give me the freedom to speak without thinking, and they help me place those pieces of thoughts into the right grooves, like a complicated jigsaw puzzle, which makes complete sense when you look at the completed picture.

They don’t hesitate for a minute, to point out my flaws as well as celebrate my success .They are the ones I will not hesitate to call at 3 am(their time) if I needed a good rant; for I am confident that after screaming at me first, they will come up with the perfect solution; even at 3 am.

They are more important to me, than any word I can use to describe them. They are the space between my thoughts, that little space in which all the magic lies.
As a meditation teacher rightly said" All the wisdom in the world is located in the gaps between breaths, in the space between thoughts”*

Friday, September 11, 2015

The memory keepers

"Has my aunt come?” she enquires. I notice a rare glint of excitement in her eyes. Trying not to show the rising panic in me, I reply in an almost bored voice, as if she has asked me what the time is. “Ammumma*, we are in Chennai, at my house, remember?

“Of course, don’t I know it” she snorts. I’m grateful for the snort, for the semblance of normalcy it helps create. She and I sit in silence, afraid to speak about that which is so apparent, that which no amount of snorts can erase.

“It’s slowly leaving me, like most of my loved ones” she says, more to herself than me. I hug her, letting her sandal infused scent permeate my senses and diffuse my despair.

Ammumma and I
I take out some photo albums from my childhood. She figures in most of them. She fingers each photo, running her fingers lovingly on the sepia toned sheets. These albums are her babies. She has painstakingly filed each and every stage of our growing up years; a true custodian of memories.

She tells me, how I used to cling to her as a little child. I tell her, I wish I still could.
I tell her, how much I loved the lovely dishes she used to cook. She tells me, she wishes she still could.

I take her hand in mine and tell her that my sister and I, are her memory keepers. We will fill in the gaps and put names to blurry faces. We will help her relive her moments of joy and grief, as long as we can. She tells me with misty eyes, that she wants to remember this moment forever.

I want to thank her, for all the lovely memories she has given my sister and me; for loving and cherishing us, as only a grandmother can. What better way to do it than by carrying on her legacy; creating and preserving memories, to last a life time. In the sieve of life, memories are all that remains in the end; the rest gets sifted out slowly, but surely.

* Ammumma: Grandmother, in my mother tongue, malayalam

Friday, July 17, 2015

To see in colour again

We meet almost every afternoon, when the unforgiving heat shrouds us like a thick blanket. He arrives before me, most of the time and would already be seated in the colorful plastic chairs lined in the school’s waiting area. Every day as soon as he sees me approaching, he gets up and offers me his chair and every day I smile at him and politely decline his offer.

We stay that way, in a state of suspended animation; two strangers with nothing in common expect the fact that we are there, to collect our respective wards, him his grandson and me, my son.
We attempt to make small talk, conscious of the silence that lies heavy between us; relieved when other parents start to file in. He is always immaculately dressed as if he has just stepped out of a corporate office, slightly stooped, a newspaper in hand and a little red phone which he looks at from time to time, fishing it out of his breast pocket in one deft movement.

 Ironically it is the insignificance of the phone, a tiny, shiny red Nokia 3330, that catches the fancy of his ‘grandparents group’. The grandparents’ group is a force to reckon with, tech savvy and boisterous. They tease him for carrying an ‘antique piece’. He tells them that it was gifted to him by his son at a time, when owning one of these was considered an extravagance, a luxury by many. But then he concedes, his son has always pampered him, smothering him with gifts and love in equal measure.

“He talks to me about things, my little one; when I tuck him into bed at night” he tells me one afternoon. Slightly amused by my expression, he explains “ever since my son, his father, passed away 5 years ago, he has been in a very delicate emotional state”.” “His mother works in a different state and visits us for festivals.”
“My little one was telling me the other day about you. The way you smiled when you spotted your son among the crowd of little boys, the way you wiped a bit of pencil lead off his face, the way you held his hand while he chattered to you about something in school.” 
"It was then I fully realized” he continues “My wife and I can only be ‘sister to the real thing’. Life is like a game of snake and ladders. I’ve slipped down to the bottom and starting over again. I have to be strict like a father, even though I’m aching to pamper him like a grandfather”
I nod, no longer bothered about the tears welling up in my eyes. “You know my son, was a doctor. He collapsed while examining patients, a massive cardiac arrest. He was all of 39. This little phone he gifted me, makes me feel connected to him”

“When he was a child” he continues, lightly touching his knee, to indicate that the child only came up to his knees; as if by telling it out loud, the child would magically appear before us. “He would always pester me to complete his work, an unfinished coloring or the last problem in the home work series. My reward would be a big kiss with a “I love you appa”.
“I tell my wife, during our moments of inconsolable grief, that he has left us his unfinished work, and as I put my grandchild to bed at the end of another long day filled with struggles, I can almost hear my son whisper ‘I love you appa”.

We sit once more side by side in a state of suspended animation, but the silence between us no longer feels heavy and I decide to do what Angela miller has so beautifully put into words.

My child died
I don’t need advice
All I need is for you to
Gently close your mouth,
Open wide your heart and
Walk with me until
I can see in color again.
                              Angela Miller (

ps: A big thanks to  uncle for letting me tell his story and being kind enough to pose for a photograph.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Double digits

I remember, that I forgot to ask the kindly doctor who helped bring you safely into this world, whether you were a boy or a girl. What I did remember to do through the thick haze of pain and drowsiness, was to count your toes and fingers; brushing my finger on your unbelievably delicate skin, which looked like gossamer silk. I remember being astounded that you were so perfect, like a work of miniature art.

I remember during open day in your kindergarten, as your class mates were collecting certificates for perfectly colored pictures and handwriting,you clutched my fingers tight, mortified that you had somehow let me down and whispered, “Are you sad amma?”

I remember that I forgot the twinge of disappointment I had felt a moment ago and whispered back, “I’m proud of you. You have started to enjoy school. The handwriting and coloring can wait” .What I will never forget, is the look of sheer joy on your face as you smiled back shyly at me.

You are now entering into the ‘double digit’ age, and soon you will be leaving your child hood behind, in a series of pictures, keepsakes and beautiful memories. With each passing year, your world will expand and I must let you fight your own battles and slip away into the side lines. Like Kahlil Gibran said, I must give you all my love, but not my thoughts, for you have your own thoughts.

Like every other mother, I think about you when you are not around. I wonder what you are doing, I worry if you are safe, I hope that you are happy..every single day. My challenge is to ensure that my affection for you acts like a catalyst for your growth ,rather than curb it.

Happy tenth birthday Kanna. Welcome to the world of double digits.