Of Upma, Nostalgia and a Couple in Love

She was the new girl in class. New to the city, she lived with her grandparents. Super snooty was my first impression of her. 5’10” , nerdy looks and hair that had a mind of its own. She was rather quiet and from what I learnt later – she thought I was very snooty too. A chance conversation during our lunch break then led to more conversations, shared lunches , pajama parties, sleep overs,  secrets and a friendship that has lasted the last 25 years. Best friends since then, we’ve seen each other through the intense and the mundane, love and heartbreak, holidays and crazy moments and this friendship has spanned various cities and now continents. Looking back ,I marvel at how in our 25 years of being friends, we’ve been in the same city only for three years.

But this post is not about her. It is about the couple she lived with- her grandparents- whom we called Andappa and Andamma. Over the years, I’d pretty much adopted my friend’s grandparents as my third set of grandparents and they were an awesome couple and complete opposites.  Andamma was bossy, gregarious,loud,  full of life , temperamental and open and friendly when she wanted to be. Otherwise she had a glare perfected for people she didn’t like. Andappa was a soft-spoken man, stable, steady solid and very intelligent. Andappa’s was a quiet sense of humor, Andamma on the other hand could take sarcastic humor to a whole new level.

Andamma had a congenital problem with her heart and had days when she was unwell. Not that it ever stopped her from doing what she wanted to. She had immense will power and unflagging support from Andappa. Andappa was also the second person of his generation I’d met who defied all  gender stereotyped responsibilities. I think Andappa was the first feminist of his generation that I knew.  I watched him share responsibilities with Andamma, handle household chores and from the stories I’d heard – they’d shared everything-I watched him make sure she was comfortable, that she had everything she needed, and would make her coffee and this was not even a day when she was unwell. This was normal in this household. What always struck me was whenever I would visit- Andamma would want to know all my news- what I was doing, whether I liked my job, if I had heard from her granddaughter( didn’t matter that the said granddaughter would have called her that morning- the best friend always knew something more). Andappa had only one question for me- he’d ask me if I was happy. I don’t know why he asked that. He just always did. Andamma once told me that it was one thing that mattered to him. That his grand kids were happy. I was so touched.

That’s them, with my best friend. img-20161021-wa0016

My friend had moved to the US for higher studies and then continued to work there and I would drop in to meet Andamma and Andappa from time to time. It was one of those crazy hectic days and I was having a bad day. I was also going through a rather emotional phase. When a client call took me to their side of town, I dropped by to meet them. Andamma was having a nap and Andappa was recovering from a fever himself. But he welcomed me in. And took one look at my face and asked me if everything was alright.Apparently, a poker face is not something in my repertoire. I told him I was having a tough day, that was all. And he said “No, I meant – are you happy?”  I was very close to tears and told him I was just going through a tough phase. He waited a minute. I wasn’t talking. So he said he was going to make me some coffee since that would help and of course something to eat since I hadn’t had lunch. I followed him to the kitchen and told him I would make something . He refused and so I just sat on the counter watching him. He took some left over vegetables from the fridge, and proceeded to make upma (a semolina savory) for me. I didn’t like upma but I didn’t have the heart to tell Andappa anything. The way upma was prepared at home was completely different. I didn’t particularly care for the mallu version. Andappa’s measurements were completely different and he then served me some piping hot upma and coffee and sat with me while I ate what I consider the best upma I have ever had – to date.I used to hate upma before, but Andappa’s upma changed all that. And then he said   ” I don’t know what is troubling you. But I will pray for your happiness. Always. ” I would have started bawling there except that would have upset Andappa further. So I pulled myself together and told him I was really lucky to have him in my life. By then, Andamma had woken up and we then proceeded to talk about work and other things.

Andappa passed on a couple of years later and Andamma asked me to participate in certain rituals during his last rites since “I was the grand daughter”  who was there at the time. And I did. Shortly after, Andamma moved out of town since she couldn’t stay alone.

They may have passed on, but they left a lasting impression on me. There were things from random conversations that stuck in my head. Andappa telling me that marks and grades were important but not as important as doing what you needed to do in life. It was just a tool to get you going on the path you wanted to. Or Andamma telling me stories of her sisters or her looking at some over the top actor on TV and moaning the fact that he wasn’t wearing any make up (sarcastic) and promptly following it up with ” Not that it would help.” I don’t think I have ever heard anyone else use the term ” patti pudichavan” other than Andamma. Her penchant for making pickles and kondattam. There was always some vegetable soaked in curd and drying in the sun in the balcony.The week before diwali, Andamma’s house would smell of muruku , cheedai,  mixture and mysore pak. Andamma’s odd combination of her zest for life with a certain crabbiness that was all her. There was a lot of love and immense amount of patience (Andappa’s forte), lot of laughter despite tough times.

A couple of years down the line, on a completely crappy day in another city, I tried to replicate Andappa’s upma from memory . I was close. But it wasn’t perfect. But the husband loved it. That’s my version of Andappa’s upma.

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It is the week before Diwali. My house smells nothing like Andamma’s. But I am making upma for breakfast tomorrow. I still make it, the way he did that day- with vegetables  and I use ghee as he had recommended.  And every time I do, I think very fondly of an old man who always was rooting for my happiness.

Promises

I remember how my heart burst when I saw you for the first time

How overwhelmed I felt when I held you for the first time

How I made so many promises looking at your innocent face

How I promised to be this supremely cool parent.

How I promised to love you unconditionally.

How I pictured all the fun things we would do together.

How i wouldn’t be one of those crazy worriers.

How I would be this ocean of patience,

How I would never yell

These were a few. There were a million more.

I think I’ve broken all except one.

Parenting has taught me one  HUGE thing:

That raising another human being doesn’t follow any pre-written rule-

And if you think it does, you’re in for a big shock.

My thoughts on parenting before kids and the reality are so different.

There will be so many people doling out advice. Most well meaning. But you need to do what you need to do.

You know what’s best for your child. Else you will figure it out. Your own way and sometimes the hard way.

It’s been almost 9 years since the mom version of me was born

Since then,

I’ve eaten my words,

I’m not the “Cool” mom. I’M the mean one.

The rule breaker me created and enforced rules.

I found my inner disciplinarian.

I embraced my inner chef- the one who made jam sandwiches when sleep deprived.

I realised that love and patience were related but not by much.

I’ve yelled more than I care for. My love and my temper had nothing to do with each other.

I had to go back to the drawing board to raise my daughter because my kids were so different.

and I found myself changing so much.

But there’s just one promise holds good from both those days- the first time I held my babies .

The promise of unconditional love.

And that will always be.

The rest, let’s just play it by the ear.

babies

 

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Writing as a part of Team Blue Lagoon on the prompt- Promises.

 

 

 

Of wishful thinking

My head feels heavy

But I pep talk myself out of bed.

It’s only the first day.

It’s only for a month, I tell myself.

I can live without you.

But the just the thought of it

makes me want to curl up under the quilt

and not face the day without you.

I think of you and how you make me feel.

How you being here fills my days with possibilities.

Your warmth

Your strength

heck, even your bitterness.

They say you are bad news. Not good for me.

I sit here, my head filled with with thoughts of you

Your essence,

and I wonder how I will face the day without you.

And I find my will power waning.

Screw it! I don’t want to go a month without you.

the very fact that I thought I could was just wishful thinking on my part.

I slowly get out of bed and head to the kitchen

and make myself a cup of my felix felicis.

 A cup of what I consider black gold.

my hug in a mug

And as I sip my cup of coffee

I let go all those stupid ideas of doing a cleanse.

Not giving up coffee for anything.

Thank you very much!

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Writing as a part of team Blue Lagoon on the prompt ” Wishful Thinking.”

 

 

 

Of shoe addicts

She walked into the big bright store,

All wide eyed and all of four.

She looked around and then

dragged me

to the brightest section she could see.

An array of colors,

And silver and gold

Shiny and strappy

heels and flats.

” I want”  she said to the salesman

Who grinned at me and then told her

“You have baby feet. You need tiny shoes”

She looked at her feet and then picked out one blingy pair of heels.

“I want”, she said. Looking at me with big eyes.

And then she turned to the shoes

and said- “I want them all. So pleetty!”

Kids section first floor , ma’am.

The salesman said.

I took her there and she asked

” Can I have them all?”

And picked out a blingy pair of shoes, a size too big

“I want shoes, mamma. I don’t want the doll.”

They didn’t have it in her size. We bought in any way.

I couldn’t believe she changed her mind

and wanted shoes as a gift for her birthday

She wore a year later

when she turned five.

It finally fit.  Those golden blingy shoes.

tiny shoes

For every occasion since, we’ve bought the shoes first and then a dress to go with that. As we walked out of the store that day, she grinned at me – “I cant wait to glow (grow) big and wear all those shoes. ” Well, that’s been added to the every growing list of growing up goals- become a story teller, wear lots of shoes,  buy a Harley at 18 go to Disneyland, and go  “under the sea” to see Australia’s great barrier reef… etc.

My little girl has her priorities right.

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Writing as a part of team Blue Lagoon on the prompt  Tiny Shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

in flagarante delicto

My relationship with my mom alternated between friendship and her being my mom.  I was extremely independent, had a mind of my own and could be rather mouthy. My mom was incredibly understanding- my best friend and my greatest enemy all rolled into one. She was a friend but didn’t delude herself that it was her only role. She was my mom first and had no issues calling me out on any bullshit . She also didn’t particularly care to explain herself to her kids. “Because I said so”  “I’m your mom and that’s good enough”  ” That’s just too bad. ” “Life is so unfair.” So in all those huge altercations with Amma, I would swear  ” I’m never going to be like you”. “You’re so uncool. ”  I had this huge list of parenting things that I would never do.  Looking back , I was a walking, talking, rebellious , pain in the ass.

One of the things that annoyed Amma big time was my brother and I fighting over chocolates. She considered it fighting over food and it was something that always got her goat. She didn’t understand why we couldn’t just share. While we didn’t seem to have any problems sharing other things , chocolates were a huge no no. We would argue and fight over who got the bigger piece. ” Aren’t you both ashamed to fight over food?” she’d go in Malayalam- between her tone and the Malayalam language the disgust over us fighting over chocolates was conveyed loud and clear. One time she got so mad, she took the whole bag of chocolates and gave it to the maid for her kids. And given that those were chocolates an aunt had brought from abroad, I was so mad!! She did hit upon a solution. One person broke the chocolate and the other person got to choose first. So we were careful to break it equally. Looking back, I don’t understand why she just didn’t get us individual chocolates. She always got us one and said, “Share. ”

Cut to 2014.  In my home, we speak mostly English. While the kids understand hindi and malayalam, they both speak in English.  Mom was visiting and we went to meet my aunt. My aunt gives my kids this big bar of chocolate and they decide to have it at once. Of course, in two minutes, the fighting began. I was quiet for the first five minutes. Figured they could sort it out between them. But hey, do they stop? No. it’s getting very intense. And in someone else’s house. I lost it. I rounded on them : ” Stop fighting right now!” And then I just continued…” Aren’t you ashamed to fight over food? Give that to me. Here, D .. you break and S gets to choose. And if I hear you fighting again, I’m giving that chocolate to jaya didi for her kids. ”  There !!  That should sort it. My kids are looking at me wide eyed. My aunt and my mom seem to have identical grins on their faces.

And that’s when I realised what I said. And I said it in Malayalam. In the same tone. The one I HATED growing up.

And here I was. Caught red handed. In Flagarante Delicto. In front of the two women who were very explicitly told that I would be nothing like them. All strict and not understanding and railing away at my kids. I had done just that. heck, I’d even used the exact words and tone!

Well played Karma . Well played.

It’s a different thing that, today, I feel that if I could be half the parent she is, then my kids will be fine.

But really, Karma, did you have to make me eat my words IN FRONT OF THEM?!!

Image source:

sometimes

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Writing as a part of team Blue Lagoon.

Of a life well lived

She went away one morning

to a place we couldn’t reach

Leaving each of us to grapple

with indescribable grief

We never realized the depth of love

and the effect one person could have

how much we took for granted

our history

our ties

and the people in our lives

the way she brought us all together

the strength of those relationships

bound by love

fragmented because of a lack of trust

Her going made us realize

how fragile our lives are

without the ones we cherish.

that strength and fragility of relationships

were two sides of a coin called love

In death, she bound us stronger

a shared love that brought us closer,

one that made us call and talk to each other more

one that still saw us sharing memories two years since

one that made our circle a little stronger

even though we were so different,

even though we were more prone to disagree than agree on anything.

even though we had hurt each other in the past.

She lives on

through stories.

through the values she passed on.

through the memories that pop up on a random day.

And most of all because she lived a life,

one that will be remembered for her grace

her strength.

and a love that has bound four generations

with something a lot more than just shared bloodlines.

 

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Writing as a part of team Blue Lagoon.

What you don’t know

You know how when Sheeba told you about her new job, you felt a little envious?

What you don’t know is that all she wanted was to stay at home with her 3 month old, but  because money is tight she has to work.

You know how you thought some people have all the luck when you saw Prisha- confident, put together, wealthy,  has it all?

What you don’t know is that she deals with crippling anxiety issues.

You know how you looked at Dilip and thought,” How irresponsible can a guy get? ”  because he always went riding every weekend rather than stay home with his family or study.

What you don’t know is that riding was his escape. He just couldn’t take his parents fighting anymore.

You know how you looked at Shanaya and her husband’s holidays pictures and thought,

” Well, it’s so easy to just pack up and take off when you don’t have kids”

What you don’t know if that her husband and she took this holiday after yet another IVF attempt failed.

You know how you looked at Manisha’s smiling pictures on FB and thought her constant cheery face could be a little annoying?

What you don’t know is behind that cheery facade is someone struggling with depression.

You know how you judged  Dimple’s capability as a mom did have it all when she told you about that promotion at work?

What you don’t know is that she’s dealing with an unsupportive husband and handling it all while trying to keep her dreams alive.

You know how you saw Tanay’s Audi and thought,” Well, the man sure does get paid.”?

What you don’t know is how that stressful job has screwed his health over.

You know how you looked at a fellow mom at school and felt thought that she was so strong and confident and popular?

What you don’t know if that she’s struggling with a bad marriage working doubly hard to make sure her child is alright and making sure her unhappiness is not fodder for gossip.

Sometimes, there may not be any back story behind the happiness. They may be supremely confident, it may just be another holiday, they may be in high paying jobs, and some may just have it all.

BUT

You don’t know. And what you don’t know can fill a million pages. Because everyone has their own struggles. Their own version of heaven and hell and just because it all seems together- doesn’t mean it is.

Sure while it’s human to feel a little envy- be kind. Quit the judgments.

And know that your kindness may or may not make a world of difference to the other person.

But I can tell you, it will definitely make a world of difference to your life.

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Writing as a part of team Blue Lagoon.

Stranger than fiction

Vishu is the Malayalee new year  and the first thing you see on this day  are signs of prosperity- food grains, fruits, money, gold, new clothes and of course Lord Krishna.

Here’s a scene from Vishu at home this year.

wp-1470031672589.jpg  My grandmother was full of stories. My cousins and I were the avid audience. Sometimes , I wish I had recorded all those stories. A few years ago, we were  all sitting around post lunch, talking of our plans for Vishu and my cousin said that as long as he didn’t have to see any blue bums on Vishu, he figured it would go well. He was of course talking about a scene from the movie Meesha Madhavan where the villain is pranked by a bunch of guys who paint their bums blue and bend over  so that it is the first sight that he would see on Vishu.  :D

My grandmother laughed  and said that that was nothing new.  She proceeded to tell us about the random crazy pranks that she’d  seen or heard of over the years from her aunts and Achama(my great grandmom and her mom in law). We belong to the malayalee brahmin community and in the olden days  we would offer shelter for the night to other brahmins who were travelling. This was way back in the 1920-30s. Some were distant relatives, some were friends and some were strangers. There was this one guy who was some distant relative of Achama’s and someone whom she considered the visitor from hell. He was constantly on her case, pranking and annoying her and every time she got mad, it would just encourage him to figure something that would annoy her more. The night before Vishu, she prepared the kani ( all these signs of prosperity) . The next morning she was supposed to wake up first, light the lamp and then wake up all the other members of the family.

At this point in the story , my grandmom would double up with laughter while her grinning audience would wait for her to carry on with her telling.

So Achama  woke up the next morning, kept her eyes closed and walked to where the kani was kept. She opened her eyes and instead of seeing all these auspicious signs of prosperity, she saw this idiot relative of hers,  bent over, with a bright red hibiscus flower in his butt hole!!!

Half the house was woken up that  Vishu hearing Achama giving this guy hell and it became public knowledge that the gentle brahmin lady had a vocabulary that would put a sailor to shame.

And way before Dilip & Hari Sree Ashokan ruined Jagathy Sreekumar’s Vishu in Meeshan Madhavan in 2002 , sometime in the 1930’s some idiot relative got to hear every bad word my Achama knew . And every Vishu after I see the Kani, I think of my grandmom  and this story and start my year with a big smile. It’s strange how an incident that happened over 80 years ago still brings so much of laughter and has become a part of the family folklore.

True stories from another time are sometimes real hard to believe. And sometimes, stranger than fiction.

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Writing as a part of team Blue Lagoon.

E- Eye of the storm

She stood in the balcony of her 20th floor apartment,
Facing the sea.
Grey skies, strong winds and wild waves.
“A typhoon”, they said.
The eye of the storm was heading toward her city.
What the sea showed on the outside , she felt on the inside.
A sense of restlessness that seemed to grow with every passing second.
A wildness that threatened to disrupt everything.
A feeling that something within her was about to burst.
She didn’t understand why.
She lived a good life.
She had a wonderful job.
She was financially secure.
She was married to a good man whom she loved.
She had friends.

And as she stood there trying to ignore the enormity of what she was feeling , it hit her.

There it was. Her problem. The eye of her storm.
The mind numbing everday-ness of her life.
Was that even a word?
This little feeling of wanting just that little more.
That feeling of having settled for what was comfortable.
Most people did that, didn’t they?

So why did her wonderful life make her want to cry?

Why did everything feel so ordinary?

Why did she feel like she was just about existing?

But it was time to stop the justifications.

Accept what she felt.
Without the guilt preferably.
Walk out of that comfort zone.
Do something.
Anything.
And as she sat in her balcony, the wind in her hair, she realised that the storm was never about things or the people in your life.  It was about you.

The eye of the storm was always about evolving.

D- Darkness & Depression- Reach out

 

 

The news in the last few days has been about the actress Pratyusha Banerjee’s suicide. Last year a 15 year old girl threw herself off the 10th floor of my apartment building because she was reprimanded severely in school. I saw the body and saw the mother breakdown completely. I was so disturbed that I had written about it. The number of suicides are rising. Is it just a growing hopelessness given the apathetic world we are living in or is it a refusal to talk about mental illness and its devastating effects when not treated?

To all those people feeling hopeless

here’s my wish for you

I wish you realise that we all have our light and our darkness and at various points we’ve all been in that place where the darkness overrides the light. So you’re really not alone. REACH OUT.

I wish you realise that problems are temporary and solutions can be found. If it feels too overwhelming. REACH OUT.

I wish you realise that you are special. You may not see it now, but there was, is and will always be something greater in you than your current circumstances. Relationships can break, people & money will come and go, life in general can seem very  hard. But there are people who love you, who’ll do anything to see you smile and be happy. The darkness will obscure this. So when you forget it, REACH OUT. They’ll remind you.

I wish you realise that  it truly is the darkest before dawn. But when the sun comes shining through, things won’t seem that bad anymore. But you don’t need to go through that darkest part alone. REACH OUT.

I wish you realise that there will be days when the shit hits the fan, when everything bad seems to happen together. All you might truly need at that time is a friend to tell you that they are there no matter what. REACH OUT.

I wish you realise that it’s okay to be tired. Okay to want a break from it all. Okay to feel lost and unwanted or taken for granted especially when the darkness is closing in. But the situation is not you. You are more than that.  REACH OUT.

I wish you realise that everything might be going really well and you might still be sad and cut off and not understand why. It’s okay. All you need to do is REACH OUT.

Reach out.

Because life is precious.

Because you are meant to be happy.

Because life is meant to be lived. Fully.

There will be ups and downs. There will be darkness.

BUT THERE IS ALSO LIGHT. So much of it!

REACH OUT !

Ask for help, if required.

Talk.

Bawl.

Yell.

Beat up a pillow.

Break a few plates if you must.

But reach out.

Don’t stay in that dark place.

Don’t let the darkness convince you that hope is lost.

Don’t let the darkness convince you that you don’t matter.

Because you do.

Sometimes more than you realise.

And most times- more than you will ever know.

Reach out. Please.

 

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