mom of all trades

mom of all trades

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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 at her and try to figure out 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 neighborhood.

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 a barrage  of  information about the masseur’s mother in law so much so, 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.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A knotty affair

“Amma, amma, I have to get something for school tomorrow. It is very important”. At that moment, as I put the TV on pause mode, for the fifth time in half an hour, and look at Nigella Lawson frozen in the frame, with the cake batter precariously floating in mid air, I fully understand why some people choose to send their kids to boarding school. I think my son has a great career future, in the world of SEO’s. He displays amazing skill in his choice of words, when he needs to grab my attention. At this point, only the words ‘school’ and’ urgent’ have the power to pull me out my ‘nigelessima’
“I need Scooby strings” he announces. Then, seeing that he was getting nowhere with me, he sighs and proceeds to explain,( in a voice he reserves for toddlers and his ‘slow’ mother) about these supposedly miraculous strings, that  has taken his class by storm .

Before I know it, we are in the small stationery shop, which (like we put it in my mother tongue Malayalam,) stocks everything, except your parents.  I try to tell the bored looking shop keeper, in my severely fractured Tamil, what we are looking for. After a bout each, of explanations and sign languages, the poor man still looks at me, as if I am giving him a lecture in Swahili. On a sudden brain wave, I whip out my phone (they don’t call it smart phone for nothing) and show him the images of what we are looking for.  He looks at it and asks me scornfully “Oh! Scooby strings, aa?” (Oh! did you want Scooby strings?)
He immediately whips out a huge box from a corner of the shop, already bursting at the seams, with precariously balanced boxes of various shapes and sizes. He hands it to my delighted son with a look of empathy on his face, for having to deal with a mother with questionable IQ levels, on a daily basis. I head back home with a very happy boy, armed with Scooby strings in all colours known to human kind.

It turns out that procuring the Scooby strings, was the easier part. Apparently, making various knots out of these strings is no child’s play.  Having a fair idea about his mother ‘knotting’ skills, Nachikaet promptly parks himself in front of the laptop, to watch some YouTube tutorials.    I watch in amazement, as little girls with pigtails and two missing teeth, demonstrate various knots, like experts. I knot, loop and pull till my hands are entangled in a knot so bad, that even Houdini would balk at the idea of opening it.

So things are looking very bleak for Nachikaet, until his dad comes home and there is a twist in this very knotty affair. As with me, Nachikaet knows the right buttons to push, when it comes to his father too. So with a few subtle references to the difficulty levels and how his ‘poor’ mother is still unsuccessful even after repeated attempts, I walk into the room, to find both father and son huddled in front of the laptop, knotting away furiously.

  To say they are hooked, is to put matters rather mildly. They can be heard, holding serious discussions on why butterfly stitch is superior to Chinese staircase or what went wrong in the fourth step of the box knot. I am presented with bracelets in various shades of neon pinks, blues and greens and even emotionally blackmailed into wearing one for a party. Phone calls are left unattended (sorry, my husband is unavailable at the moment. He is, err..’ knotting’!!).The plumber (who comes  to show my husband some samples) is  sent back unceremoniously, and asked to consult me. I mumble something about having to make a phone call, when the plumber asks me sheepishly, whether Saar likes stitching.

 But it is  when my husband refuses to look up from his Scooby strings, even after I inform him, that a rerun of  'Face off’ is  playing on TV, that I know these are  no ordinary strings.  
According to him, they are a great way to boost his creativity and a great stress buster to boot. Last heard, Nachikaet is planning to make me a belt! I have knots in my stomach, just thinking about it.