mom of all trades

mom of all trades

Friday, April 17, 2015

Twinned for life

I don’t have the faintest recollection of ‘meeting’ the twins; just like I don’t remember ‘meeting’ my sister or cousins. They were always there, an integral part of my growing up years.

They were my first friends, I suspect my sister’s too.  We lived in two separate countries, in a time, where video calling and whatsapp might pass off as a science fiction movie. They came each year, when the fat bellied dark monsoon clouds gathered in the skies and the land was covered in a lush shade of green that is at once startling and calming, a shade of green that is unique to Kerala.

The twins and us
We have spent countless happy hours talking, playing or watching movies together. My favorite game was the one we played with their amazing collection of dolls. I always chose Jane, who in my eyes was the most beautiful doll, ever made. Her long silky ebony black hair combined with her emerald green eyes gave her a mysterious, exotic beauty that left me mesmerized. The dolls came with a wardrobe collection, which looked straight out of a high end Parisian boutique.
 Then came the miniature furniture; the little kitchenette, with its brightly colored cooking range, crockery unit with an inbuilt plate rack with tiny yellow plates, the color of egg yolks. I loved setting the table which was shaped like four pizza wedges, which could be put together to form a circle with inbuilt grooves for plates and cutlery.

In my mind the twins have always been a singular entity, like a coin with two sides. It was always, “Let’s go to Susan-Sandra’s house” or “Did Susan-Sandra call? It was in conceivable to think of one without the other. Their beautiful family was generous to a fault, letting us into their lives so that we felt like one of the family. We loved the sleep over sessions, where we would stay up late into the night, snug under a warm comforter gossiping and giggling. Then there would be make over sessions, where we would smuggle cosmetics from their sisters' room (they have two beautiful sisters, who we were in awe of) and preen at ourselves in the mirror, our faces slathered generously with all available items of makeup.

We would then sleep late into the day and tumble out into the kitchen, where the twins would make us breakfast. My sister and I watched in wonder, as they deftly cracked up eggs and mixed it with milk and sugar and dipped thick slices of bread into this mixture, which looked like liquid sunshine.

 I can still picture Susan by the stove, flipping over the French toast sizzling in a glob of butter, filling the kitchen with its mouth watering aroma and Sandra laughing at something we said, pouring out chilled orange juice into tall glasses.

Now although we are scattered all over the globe, the memory of those  beautiful monsoon days filled with laughter and the innocence of youth, scented with fragrance of friendship, binds us together.
We are twinned* for life.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Where are you, Shyamala amma?

I haven’t seen her in quite a while; my mother. My sister and I call her Shyamala amma; calling her plain amma did not seem to do her justice. You cannot miss my Shyamala amma in a crowd; she is strikingly beautiful with her long ebony black hair which she always wears in a thick plait, creamy porcelain like cheeks, which feels like butter when I press my cheek to hers, a single solitaire diamond nose stud, glinting in the sun.

She bakes the most delicious cakes, soft and ‘melt in your mouth’, even when there is no occasion to celebrate. She loves to doll us up in pretty clothes and surround us with books and stories, so that it becomes a vital part of our daily lives. She laughs a lot, my Shyamala amma, a delicate tinkling laughter that reaches all the way to her eyes and assures us that all is well in our little world.

The lady in my family home is her, my logic assures me. But Shyamala amma would never sit still for a minute, and she would never have greys in her hair, argues my heart. I love this lady fiercely, but I’m always searching for traces of my Shyamala amma in her. I expect her to bake for me and am puzzled when she says she is tired. I want her to call me every day and ask me if I have had breakfast. I don’t want her beauty to be veiled, like a mirror foggy with steam.

I love this lady in a whole different way; I understand her ways, and her emotions better now. I know she doesn’t skip a step and dash upstairs, but stops at the landing to catch her breath. I notice how things seem to slip from her memory and her laughter is punctuated with deep lines on her face.

 I imagine her at my age; her dreams and her fears.  I look into the mirror and see my Shyamala amma smiling back at me, a single diamond solitaire glinting in the sun. 

I know then, that I had been looking for her  in all the wrong places. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy birthday(s) to you!

Growing up, I always assumed that everyone had two birthdays; a legitimate date of birth (cake cutting) birthday and a nakshatram* (payasam drinking) birthday, with questionable levels of legitimacy. In my part of the world, stars are a force to reckon with. They make their glittering presence felt in almost everything; from choosing your ideal life partner to deciding the date of your ‘other birthday’.
You could walk into my home on my ‘nakshatram’ birthday and you would see amma, my mother, waking me up, holding a gilded framed photo of a cherubic infant Lord Krishna, blissfully gobbling up, butter from a pot, for me to look at, as soon as I open my eyes. I loved circling my arms around amma’s slender waist as she towel dried my hair. She always rubbed in a pinch of the woody cinnamon colored ‘rasnadi choornam’*, on my scalp, with a whiff of the warm nutty fragrance to be inhaled in, for good measure.
Ammumma serving the birthday boy.

You would see the whole house hold buzzing with activity by noon, for the all important birthday sadya or lunch.

You would see ammumma,my maternal grandmother in the puja room, lighting a tiny silver lamp filled with ghee,  laying out a small banana leaf, the colour of a parrot’s breast with a small serving each of all the dishes prepared; an offering to the gods.

The birthday sadhya
 The 'sadhya'(feast) itself would be customized to include my favorite dishes. There would be rice of course, steaming hot with just the right amount of bite, which amma would douse with warmed up ghee. Sambar, the omnipresent lentil and vegetable stew, avial, a medley of crisp vegetables in a tangy coconut based gravy, redolent of coconut oil.
 Dessert would always be my favorite, semiya payasam or kheer, which consisted of vermicelli boiled in cardamom flavored milk, till it swells up soaking in all the milky goodness, sweetened to perfection and adorned with plump golden raisins and cashew nuts fried in ghee.

You would see no decorations or a profusion of gifts no return gifts or fancy catered food, on this “other birthday”; but it made me feel loved and cherished, a feeling of comforting familiarity much like slipping into your worn out pyjamas after taking out your fancy party clothes. It gave me a sense of contentment, which the original legitimate birthday, with its party and gifts, failed to evoke.

May be it’s the virtue in our stars.

*Rasnadi choornam:

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