mom of all trades

mom of all trades

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 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

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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.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

This time,there

mom's lovely garden
25/04/15; 8:00 am: My sister and I sit in the little patio in my mother’s house, which looks out to the garden, with its emerald green grass dappled with buttery golden morning sunlight, sipping tea and chatting. Ammumma my grandmother, reads us little snippets of news from the Malayalam paper, which catches her fancy. Amma pops in to ask if she should start making dosas, and it seems to me at that moment that “God is in His heaven All’s right with the world” (Pippa’s song by Robert Browing)

02/05/2015; 11:30 am: I am seated on the wide kitchen counter biting into the sweet yet slightly tart baby mangoes, which my aunt brings for us every summer, from her garden. Our cook, who has been with us for over 30 years, is peeling the mangoes to make a ‘mambazha pulissery’* while chatting with me.He stews the peeled mangoes whole, along with a couple of slit green chillies, a pinch of turmeric which clings to his skin like gold dust and some salt. He then adds a silky paste of freshly grated coconut and some earthy cumin seeds, brings it to a boil and takes it off the heat. Then comes a splash of some whipped homemade yogurt.
 He deftly heats   up some coconut oil and splutters mustard seeds some dried red chillies and fresh curry leaves from the garden which he pours on top of the curry. I close my eyes and inhale the fragrance which permeates the kitchen as the spice infused oil hits the tangy sweet sauce and completely agree with Harriet Van Horne who said "Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all."    

15/0515; 5:00 pm: My son and nephew are engrossed in a game of cricket with their grandparents. You can hear their excited shouts all the way down the street. Someone hits a ‘sixer’ and the ball is tossed out of the compound onto the main street. A lady on the street, whose head the ball missed by a few inches, politely asks my dad if he should really be playing cricket at his age. Amma meanwhile is busy pretending to field, while trying to photograph the boys, who seem to defy gravity, as well as their their mothers'. 

Ammumma is trying to coax the tulsi plant not to wither away with water and words in equal measure. I stand apart, etching this scene into my memory, forcing my brain to take in every detail, the neon green cricket ball, the tinkle of ammuma’s bangles as she waters her plants, the look of love glazed with a tinge of pride in achan’s  eyes, when one of the boys bowls well, and I want this evening never to end.

20/052015; 9:30 pm: We are all in the bedroom, our little sanctuary from the unrelenting summer heat. The room is cool with a bed big enough for 5 people to lie down quite comfortably. My sister and I are getting our daily soap fix with big bowls of amma’s tender coconut pudding. Ammumma is on one corner of the bed, her fingers busy combing out my sisters hair. The boys are huddled together in another corner of the bed with my father enthralling them with one of his hugely popular stories and amma is blissfully asleep, curled up like a kitten. I look around the room and realize  that this is one of those rare moments where I am, exactly where I want to be.

“What would we have been doing there, at this time amma?” asks my son tears threatening to well up in his eyes, barely a day after we have returned from my mother’s place. I hold him close and whisper “we would have been creating memories, one second at a time.”  

*mambazha pulissery: