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.

Making peace

I lost an uncle this week. One passed away last month. Both these uncles were huge parts of my childhood. I wasn’t as close as an adult for whatever reason. The last two days I’ve just been thinking … People change.Relationships, friendships, acquaintances – all change. It’s the only constant. Not one that I like, understand or want to accept. But they do. And not all evolutions or change seem to be for the better. Some leave you awestruck while others confuse you. Some hurt. Some make you just mad as hell… But acceptance is always hard to come by. Self or otherwise.  And life brings you to the point where you just let go and make peace. This was something I wrote sometime back about letting go and when I was having a hard time with it.

Of all the things in my life

that I’d thought I would let go of,

You never figured on the list.

You never made the cut

I didn’t think I would ever

or that I could even.

But today I am

letting go of my idea of you,

And accepting the reality of you.

Letting go of my idea of the ideal

and accepting that the friendship is buried under too much baggage.

Letting go of the my idea of the way I should love you

and begin to love you the only way I can.

Letting go of the bitterness

and accepting that despite everything we were still laughing together.

Letting go of the hurt

and accepting all that happened and the choice was mine to forgive- myself and you.

And I choose that.

To forgive myself. To make peace with myself.

To let go of you.

And accept me.

For myself.

and Us- the way we are now.

Of a Hero

His mother once told me that he was stubborn (still is!)

That he got that from her.

When he was born, the oldest of 8,

His mother decided that education would be his ticket out of their difficult circumstances.

So his parents educated him. Went hungry sometimes but made sure he ate, his fees were paid and that his education never suffered.

He paid them back by making sure they never went hungry again. He went on to become the most educated person in his family. Moved out of Kerala. Took care of every one of his seven siblings and made sure that each was well settled.Made sure his parents were taken care of. Every wish his parents had, he made sure he fulfilled. Unconditionally and without expecting anything ever in return. Despite all the difficulties he’s had to face.

When it came to me, he played different roles in my life.. at different ages.

He was my elephant between the ages of 0-4

He was the master storyteller of ONE story.-of the hen who made payasam. One that he still insists on telling. It was the most important story ever since it meant I wouldn’t sleep until I’d heard it.

He was the experiment who sat patiently while I applied several coats of powder on his face, put 7-8 ponytails in his hair and three bindis on his forehead.

He was the man on my who believed that I am destined for greatness but I am also too lazy for my own good.

He was the confused relation during my angst ridden teenage years. Because he didn’t get the rebel without a cause concept, and I expected unconditional acceptance. He was the angry man and the opposition in our legendary blow-ups since we never seemed to see eye to eye on anything during this period.

I don’t know when he made the transition from angry confused relation whom I didn’t relate to, to a friend.

He was the person I talked to when I first thought I was in love.

He was the friend who made me a cup of coffee when I was hungover the first time.

He was the friend who held me while I bawled when my heart got all broken.

He once told me that I was raised to think for myself so I should use my god given brains to take decisions. To own my life and my responsibilities. If my decisions screwed me over, at least I’d know they were mine.

He’s always had my back.

Even when he didn’t understand.

Even when he was hurt and I’d hurt him bad.

Even now.

I don’t always understand him. We still argue. Fight.

But it is because of him that I am who I am. He filled the house with books when he didn’t even have a reading habit. He gave me the best education. Exposed me to things that a girl from a super conservative society in Kerala wouldn’t normally be exposed to. Told me that my grey matter and thoughts mattered and that anyone who thought otherwise shouldn’t be given any space in my life. Of course promptly regretted it when all i did was butt heads with him and his thought processes and question every damn thing. I’ve been told he was rather proud of me though thoroughly annoyed by it.

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He’s been there. Always. Counselor. Friend. Man with high standards.

He’s been there. Taking care of everything and everybody. He still does. He never gives up.

I’ve inherited quite a bit from him- my love for cooking, for good food,  and according to my mother- every single annoying habit he has.

He’s been through a lot. Hard times. Happy times. Been betrayed by people he thought were friends. Not been given his due. But through it all- his faith in people never seemed to take a beating. His love never changed.  He doesn’t hold a grudge and tends to forgive pretty damn quick. It’s taken me ( I can hold a grudge and I take a terribly long time to forgive) a long time to realize how special that quality is. That, that kind of love was a strength and not a weakness. And that forgiving meant those people never really occupied mind space. That you could continue to see the nice side to people love them for that. He was nobody’s fool, but he chose to do things he thought was right. Always. His standards were high and he upheld that- irrespective of the behavior of others. Even people who may have disliked or disagreed with him, always respected him. His work defined quality-personal or professional.

He is a person who makes the ordinary- extraordinary- just by doing it so well.

He talks to my kids everyday. They tell him stories and stuff going on with them because he lets them know that every thought they have is important to him.

He is a Hero. One that most of the world won’t meet, see or hear of.  He’s touched the life of so many people just by being the wonderful person he is.

Today he lost his brother in law. So it’s been a rough day. In the midst of death, grief and chaos-He turned 70 today. I thought it was important to celebrate life. One that has been lived beautifully so far.  Happy birthday to the first man who held my heart. My dad. I am incredibly proud to be your daughter. Whenever I meet others and see how differently and awesomely I’ve been raised- I realize I have you and Amma to be so thankful to and for. And I am. Grateful Everyday.

Happy birthday, Achan!

 

 

 

 

Awesome day? Yup!

so I’ve had a lousy week and an absolutely horrid three days.. So what was awesome about today?

The man’ll be home in an hour.. so yaaay!

After my three horrid days of kids being ill ,a total 3.5 hours of sleep in three days, and a barely holding it together  when I saw rashes on my lil boy and my daughter’s fever hit 104.8, the doctor confirmed that it wasn’t dengue but just a viral infection…

Yeah, that’s got to be the most awesome news I’ve heard today…

and I’m ready to take on the world again!