mom of all trades

mom of all trades

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A whiff of petrichor

There is something so incredibly heady and refreshing about the scent of freshly harvested mint, that makes you want to close your eyes and let it permeate your senses. It lingers long afterwards, clinging to the tip of your fingers and wafting past your nose like a sliver of nostalgia. It comes to me one evening as I was harvesting my crop of mint, that I was actually seeing instead merely looking. I was beginning to paying attention to the things around me and the way my senses responded to it.
My terrace garden
 Gardening demands your attention, not little-distracted pieces of it, but being fully present both in body and spirit. It nudges you to enjoy the process, without the assurance of a happy future. Not all the saplings we plant or the seeds we sow grow into healthy plants. Gardening comes with its own set of failures .So then, we must nurture our happiness by enjoying the process and sprucing it up with healthy doses of hope and dreams, as it is with life.
 Gardening opens up a whole new world of wonder, which I had been hitherto blind to. The  way the texture of the  leaves of each plant, differs from the other, almost as if it  were its fingerprints, the bittersweet petrichor that emanates, as the first drops of water touch the soil, parched from the scorching summer sun, the taste of the freshly harvested  produce; crisp and delicious  with undertones of  distilled sunshine. If purity had a taste, it would be this.
Bounty from my terrace garden
Gardening I soon discover, persuades you albeit in a kindly way, to accept the fact that you have to let go of things you have been clinging on to. A batch of crop that you nurtured as saplings, protected from pests and weeds have to be discarded once their yield span is finished, the soil is turned and new seeds are sown. Letting go of things, whether it is a bad relationship, memories or simply a bad habit can be excruciatingly painful and difficult. When you are told to let go and move on, it is akin to being spoken to in a foreign tongue. Nothing makes sense. It makes you nervous and uncomfortable, the thought of that alien place, where you no longer will be able to hide in the haze of your sad memories. So you cling on to the known enemy, wary of the unknown friend. Perhaps then, letting go is the belief that your life can be turned around, just like the soil, ready to sow fresh seeds of hopes, dreams and relationships.

“Only this actual moment is life” - Thich Nhat Hanh

Gardening makes me realize this every single day. It is  like a whiff of petrichor for my parched soul.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Becoming Real

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” 
 Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit is a book, I read as a child and re-read with my son, as an adult. It is one of those books in which you stumble upon new nuances, when you read it at different stages of your life. When you are younger, you tend to put yourself in the shoes of the velveteen rabbit; wanting ‘It’ to happen to you, albeit rather slowly but surely.   You crave to be understood, even if you are inclined to break easily or have rather sharp edges. You want to be loved, for the person that you truly are; with all your scars and stories.

December 2011: It is early evening. I have been sitting in the same position for the last half hour, trying to get my six year old son to study for a spelling test. Nachikaet, who is a free spirited soul (which is a sugar coated way of saying, that he cannot stay put for more than a minute) is in his elements; producing written work which look like hieroglyphics, erasing the above mentioned hieroglyphics with such fury, that the terrified eraser has no option but to fly out of his hands and hit me squarely in the eye. Something snaps within me and the next in ten minutes involves   smacks and comparisons with ’smarter’ class mates. He doesn’t refute any of my accusations, he looks into my eyes, tears streaming down his pencil-lead stained face and whispers quietly “I still love you, amma"

Strangely, it is the Velveteen rabbit that I think of at that moment.
 Here I am, hurting him physically, wounding his dignity and labeling him, just because he couldn't memorize a few spellings and my little boy assures me that he loves me and accepts me with all my quirks, unconditionally. At that moment, I feel deeply ashamed of myself. I realize that I need to accept his weaknesses with the same attitude that I accept his strengths. I need to lace my fingers with his, rather than point it at him. From this safe position, we can deal with correcting mistakes, together.

When I read the story again with my son, I imagine the story from the perspective of the little boy, who loves the rabbit unconditionally, despite his shabby appearance and fallen whiskers. To love your loved ones so fully, embracing their imperfections and being thankful for their presence in your life, seems to me the best way to make them real. In the process, as the Skin horse says, though not all at once, maybe you become real too.

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