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.


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.


A- April

A-Z of random thoughts and stories from my life, loves, food , family and books.


She sat in her balcony surrounded by her plants,

listening to the wind chimes, on a cool summer evening.

Tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow, would be a new start.

Tomorrow would be the first of April.

April for her was all about new beginnings. It always was. Right from childhood.

It was the end of the school year and the beginning of a two month holiday.

It was the New year according to the lunar Calendar which was celebrated with gusto in her family.

It was the beginning of summer.

It was when she got her first job.

It was when she met the love of her life.

It was when she got pregnant.

April has always heralded new changes. Tomorrow would be another one.

A decision to take the reins of her life back .

She’d lost herself.. somewhere between work, marriage and motherhood.

to the point that she didn’t recognize the person in the mirror.

To finally accept that despite her fabulous and blessed life

she wasn’t living it fully.

The restlessness had come calling.

And it insisted on being acknowledged.

and she had to pick up those reins.

to create a destiny that demanded to be based on choice.

Not going along with a flow.

And as usual it was in April

that change came calling and she went along.

Difference was.. She took charge.


Image :Source






Oh, the hurt!!

So did you know that the human body has approximately 170 joints? How do you learn about all of them? How do you remember?

Well, you could read a book on orthopedics.

Or you could google it.

Or maybe.. just maybe.. you could go down the path I did- get viral arthritis.

Bone breaking fever. One that takes the joints a few months to recover from.

You’d be aware of every joint that you have… every bone that you have.

You’ll learn which joints you use for what movements…

And how important all those tiny joints in your hands and feet are. (Very)

When you read about it, you get to know that the inflammation is part autoimmune.

So you’ve just got to request the hell out of your immune system to stop attacking you.

The viral infection- the main enemy is gone.

But apparently holding identification up doesn’t help.

The immune system seems to be having a psychotic episode and harming the one thing that it’s supposed to protect- ME!


One option was to subdue the immune system with steroids- which of course came with its own set of side effects.

You try it for a bit.. and the pain.. it goes away. But you don’t feel good putting strong stuff like that in your system

And then I had enough. The only way to combat this was to get seriously fit- eat healthy, eat clean, drink 3L of water a day and get enough sleep.

Seems easy enough. Except that change is hard. Change is tough. Even when you are in pain. Even when you know it’s the best for you.

I preferred reading to sleeping, coffee to water and while I mostly had healthy food, I didn’t want to think twice before I had any junk. I could operate on 2 hours of sleep. I was super mom. While my kids had fixed healthy routines, I was comfortable with crazy routines. I seemed invincible. At least to me and definitely to my kids.

That day, it hit pretty suddenly. It honestly felt like my body had just given up. And I was alone with the kids who were rather freaked out at the suddenness.

I remember a quote from Grey’s anatomy that spoke about trauma.


Being laid up in bed with every damn joint aching like hell and dependent on someone to help you move- it is a pretty convincing catalyst for change. I was lucky. I had support. Loving parents who turned up to help, a husband who really excelled at taking care and putting up with my rather crappy mood (well you’d be .. in that kind of pain) and kids who were on their best behavior, so they didn’t trouble me.

Small changes… big rewards. The joint inflammation would go away .. in a couple of months. But I didn’t want to be in that space again. It’s scary and it was my body giving me the warning of a lifetime.

It started me on my journey. To good health. To being fit for life. To clean eating. To exercising. My immune system seems to be channeling it’s inner Suppandi and is indeed very slow to catch on and it’s still attacking my joints. So exercising would hurt more. So I started with something that was in my hands- Food. After all the journey to being fit is 70% food and 30% exercise. Might as well start tackling the 70%.

They say you do something for 28 days and it becomes a habit. Given that I was dealing with habits that have been around a lot longer than my decision to change- I figured I needed a buffer- I took up a 100 days of clean eating. Starting with one meal in the first month while slowly increasing my consumption of fruits and vegetables and drinking more water. It’s going to be a month tomorrow- Day 30. And it’s been good so far. And it’s been tough.

Change .. maybe for the better…

But it hurts.

And it’s not easy. But then nobody said it would be.

Of thoughts and directions

They flow

Faster than the fingers can keep up…

Constantly pushing boundaries

That one may not want to cross…

Annoyingly direct,

And then vague and ambiguous.

The thoughts that talk about your dreams,

Of things you’ve always wanted to do

The thoughts that are of things just a few miles out of your comfort zone,

The thoughts that question your motives…

The thoughts that are so honest that you just can’t be dishonest in reply…

The thoughts that can be so deliciously ambiguous, that they are actually comforting

There are thoughts that answer every doubt .. or just go ” Meh! You’re smart, you’ll figure it out along the way…”

And the thoughts that are incredibly crystal in clarity, that, you cannot feign ignorance…

Oh, ignoring helps for a while.. then life throws you a curve,

And those thoughts crystallize

In black and white,

No longer just a random energy in your head,

They force you to acknowledge their existence…

They force you to actually do something about it…

Because thoughts on paper become goals

And goals once truly set,

Push you in directions irrespective of whether you are ready.

Forces you to take responsibility,

Because you are never given a wish without the power to make it come true. (Thank you Richard Bach)

It feels like an adventure coming up.

Or maybe a life lesson.

Either way

Am set.

Am ready.

Bring it on!