An autobiography of a pressure cooker

The first memory that I have of my life is that something soft lifted and placed me on a shelf. I was soon to know that the ‘soft something’ was a pair of human hands, and that it was my life’s purpose to serve them. I had no idea who I was, until one of my sedate family members told me that I was a pressure cooker. School was tough, and some of the courses, especially ‘How to handle pressure 101’ were gruelling.

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The day finally arrived when I bid adieu to my family and friends. As I travelled down the conveyer belt to be packed, I stole quick glances at myself in the mirrors that lined the belt. I looked dapper, an elegant shade of silver. After that, things are quite blurred in my memory because we travelled for a long period. I knew by now what humans looked like and the sounds they made. I spent two days in a supermarket, before my new family came for me – a slightly older woman who lovingly ran her hands over me, and a younger one (her daughter, as I found out later), who was to be married soon, and to whom I would belong. I felt a small frisson of excitement run through my gasket.
I was packed and taken home, but was kept inside the carton for a few days after the bride went to her new home.

A few days later, light suddenly streamed into the carton, and my owner, Rhea’s hands gently lifted me out. She placed me on the gas burner and filled me with water. I was ready to live my life, to rejoice in the experiences that would come my way. I was both excited and nervous. Soon, I could hear Rhea talking on the phone, “Ma, I miss you so much. I have just taken the cooker out, and I remember the days before the wedding when we went shopping Ma,” and her voice caught. For a brief second, I felt nostalgic for my family too, but I quickly snapped out of my sombre mood.

Two small vessels containing raw rice and dal were placed inside me. My lid was closed, and I heard my handles engage, followed by the gentle thrust of the weight being placed on my head.

I felt my insides getting warm. And slowly, I took the test – I bore the heat and the pressure with dignity, checking if the rice was turning fluffy, and if the dal was of the right consistency. Finally, when I reached my threshold, I nudged the weight on top of my head gently, and let off steam for a few seconds. I put myself through the process over and over again. After the fourth or fifth cycle, the heat was turned off. My insides continued to simmer for a good ten minutes after that. This was my first assignment, and I had held my own; I had neither succumbed to the pressure nor had I blown my top. I had survived.

The first few assignments were difficult – sometimes when chole or rajma were cooked, I withstood pressure for prolonged periods of time, then again, when Rhea’s baby was born, I discovered that I could be caring and sensitive – I patiently cooked carrots and other mashed vegetables with love and tenderness.

The years seem to have flown away. Two more cookers have joined me – one of them is electric and has it really easy; but I am still the one who has pride of place in the household. But I do have some niggling pain in my gasket these days. My reflexes are not what they used to be.

But I have no complaints, life has been good. Rhea’s daughter is now nearly ten, and I have witnessed the ups and downs of human family life – petty arguments between husband and wife, happy moments, sad moments, fun moments, lots of laughter and lots of music.

I find it strange that these humans always talk about stress and pressure in their lives. They obviously have no clue about what real pressure feels like.


Wisps of coffee heaven

When the dawn sky transitions from the deep purple of night to the blue that signifies another new day, I amble in a state of semi-awakedness towards my kitchen. I open the filter coffee maker and add water. I then open my coffee jar, and in that first whiff of invigorating coffee powder, day dawns in my life.

I measure the required scoops into the filter, and switch on the power. The hot water interacts with the coffee, and sends out wisps of coffee heaven.

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I stand there, with an empty mind, just absorbing the aroma of the decoction into my every pore. What a beautiful wait it is. When the filter coffee maker turns off, I start heating milk to that perfect temperature. I pour the hot milk into my stainless steel glass, which has thick, aromatic decoction at its bottom and just the right amount of sugar. I transfer the hot coffee between two glasses to build up froth. The coffee is ready, perfect, frothy and strong. I carry the glass and walk to the sofa.

I sit down and take the first sip, my eyes staring at the walls in my living room. The coffee is perfect, all components blended in total harmony for that exquisite taste. And on this short coffee sojourn, I explore the deeper meaning and purpose of life. I ask questions of myself, I seek answers. I try to make sense of the chaos of everyday life, and the relentless onslaught of time. I think about the past, I envisage the future. I take another sip. I am peaceful and content.

Life is perfect, just the way it is. It may bring challenges, but none so big that my everyday coffee-sojourns cannot resolve. I finish every drop of coffee. And another day officially begins!

A messy chignon

I am watching a YouTube video on how to make a chignon on my hair. My hair has reached a manageable length after nearly a year, following an impulsive haircut decision last year that reduced the length by half. I mimic the steps in the video for that effortless and perfect look. The model’s hair on the video looks shiny, silky and smooth. Mine is rough, frizzy, thick and unmanageable. But I am not going to give up…I cluck and start all over again.

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When I was growing up, there was a whole big routine for hair care. South Indians usually have thick, black hair, and with the grooming and attention that our tresses received as children, we went about our childhood with long braids. Our hair was oiled everyday with warm coconut oil, combed to a shine, parted and braided into two plaits, for school.

We sported some other fancy braids during holidays and festivals, when our braids were embellished with beautiful and fragrant strands of jasmine. Hairwash products were all homemade and herbal; fragrant powders infused with fragrant flowers and herbs, which fostered hair growth and conditioning. Hair cuts meant just a little bit of trimming at the edges, and no reduction in absolute hair length.

When my sisters and I became teenagers, we literally wanted to let our hair down, and begged our mom to allow us to get bangs on our foreheads. My mom frowned. That would reduce our hair volume, she said, which was the main argument for all hair-related requests anyway. Our Dad told mom that the hair would grow back and that we should be allowed to do it. My mom gave in reluctantly, but also us warned us that we had curly hair, and that the bangs would curl after our hair dried. We did not know about hair setting or ironing or hair sprays or anything at the time.

But, we brushed all that aside in the excitement of having been allowed to go to the hair salon. My sister and I grinned excitedly at each other, as the hairdresser went snip, snip, snap. We also exchanged mildly guilty looks, when we saw our long tresses forming patterns on the floor. Our mom saw our looks. She had a smile on her face and said, “It will grow back soon.” We came home with triumphant looks and showed them off to our grandma, aunt and dad.

The biggest challenge was when we had to get ready for school the next morning. Bangs, open hair, unkempt hair etc were simply not allowed in school. Hair had to be braided and all stray hair had to be pinned back.

This was a new, added morning chore. Armed with an army of hairpins, my sister and I proceeded to pin back all the hair, for some semblance of a well-groomed look. And this went on for a while.

Soon, our hair grew back, and had joined the other obediently long tresses on our heads. By that time, we were nose-deep into our college applications, hairstyling forgotten as studies and exams engulfed us.

Over the years, I have experimented with short hair, long hair, layering, colouring, streaking and what not. But my hair was able to withstand all these experiments only because of all that nurturing and oiling during childhood. And this is my constant refrain to my daughter – oil your hair, take care of it.

I come out of my reverie, and to the task of learning how to make a chignon with thick unmanageable hair. I repeat a few times, it is getting better. After some time I get another mirror to study the chignon. There is no finesse, stray hairs are all over. It looks like a nest. Later in the day, I look for more videos, easy videos for chignons, and the title of one of them gives me pause – How to make a messy chignon.

Ahhhh, that was a look, messy chignon. Maybe that’s what I was creating. Hmmm! Even the messy chignon on the video looks much better than my artwork. Sigh!

Where is my memory located?

There was a time, many aeons ago, when lyrics of my favourite songs roamed freely in my memory, ready to flow into song whenever I wanted.  There were ready records of phone numbers of friends and family that I could rattle off at will. Birthdays and anniversaries were etched in my grey matter, giving me the joy of wishing dear ones on their special days.

Cut to now. There is a song that has been eluding me from this morning. It sits at the edge of my memory and teases me. I know that I can pick up my phone and look for it on the internet, but just for once I want to recollect and download it from that once sharp memory. As I walk briskly, I furrow my brows, as if that act will somehow help me remember. I give up after a while.

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Has my memory been transferred to my phone? It is a shocking possibility. My phone holds my calendar, appointments, birthdays and anniversaries lists, mobile numbers, landline numbers, sticky notes, songs, voice recordings, news, weather reports, kids’ schedules, shoppings lists, book lists and many other things. Is there anything that I really need to remember on my own? Will I eventually lose my ability to remember even simple things without my phone? Seems quite plausible.

No wonder people clutch their phones as if their very existence depends on it. Wherever one goes, people are tapping into their alternative phone memories for simple, everyday tasks.

Such problems did not exist a few decades ago – a time when my mom could easily quote recipes and lists, where my dad never forgot where he kept anything, where my gran could recollect and narrate hundreds of stories from Indian mythology to keep us engaged.

Somewhere between then and now, our phones have hijacked our memories. And, sigh! The song is still teasing me from the edges of my memory.

The Mom Blueprint version 2.0

Every mom views herself as that all-important go to person for her children. From the moment she holds a tiny, bawling baby in her hands, every mom is finely attuned to her child’s needs. As her child grows, the mom becomes adept at gauging the child’s moods, its likes and dislikes, and the many hundred things that she instinctively knows about her child. Being a keen observer, every mom pre-empts most problems, and has a range of solutions to help her children. I am no exception to this Mom Blueprint!

After dinner this evening, my son and I were exchanging small talk. He then talked about how he had not completed a few projects and pending tasks, and worried about whether he would finish them on time.

Click! The Mom Blueprint kicked into action. I gave him a few options, I suggested a possible schedule, I also gave him a pep talk about staying focused and that he could do it etc.

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It took me a couple of minutes to realize that my son was staring at me without nodding or agreeing with my inspirational talk and clear-cut solution. I asked him what the matter was? Pat came the reply, “Mom, I didn’t come to you for a solution to my problem. I just wanted to rant. You don’t need to solve all my problems, mom.”

My daughter, who was supposed to be immersed in her work, suddenly joined the conversation and strongly agreed with her brother. “Mom, chill. I am sure he can manage this.”

Hmmm. That was a first. Another milestone reached as a mom; where I have transitioned from an active problem-solver to a passive-observer. I hope I have done my job well, and have taught my kids all the most important lessons, as they go out into the world and face life’s many challenges. I have to apply to Mom Blueprint Version 2.0, and acquire a whole new skillset now.

Hyperlinking memories

My daughter is on a cleaning spree. She declutters, files, staples, sorts, reorganizes and decorates her room. Later, she invites all of us to take a look. We cheer her and tell her that the room is unrecognizable.

My daughter then says, ‘Amma, look at what I found’. It is a small card that my Dad had attached to one of his letters to me, when I was in college. The card was a handwritten one, wishing me luck for my final exams before graduation. I had gifted it to my daughter a few years ago, when she took her board exams for the first time.

We smile when we read the small verse my Dad has composed. One of the lines reads “As you appear for your exams, may your memory remain as fresh as the jasmine flowers that grow in our garden.”

I remember how happy and comforted I felt when I received the card. Seeing my Dad’s writing, and his loving words, had reassured me. As I turn the card to study the small sketch my Dad had included on the card, lots of memories come rushing in.

Memories are everywhere, and they appear the moment you recall even something simple from the past. These will then bring with them other allied memories, which in turn come with their own hyperlinks. And the moment one is in the happy throes of a past memory, all one needs to do is to mentally press the hyperlinks, and then recall the simple times, the silly times, the times with Dad, the fun time with friends, the not so good times and the times that can never come back.

And that is the beauty of a memory. It can sneak-in when you least expect it – lurking in the fragrance of a small flower or in the smile of a complete stranger, entwined in a melody that the wind carries or ensconced in the creamy layers of a yummy cake, woven into the complex patterns of a dress or in the scrawly scratches of a handwritten note.

I close my eyes. I am back in my childhood home. Time stands still in the present, as I walk down the alleys of the past, inhaling deeply the fragrant memories of my childhood.

What we do not see…

My husband and I are in our car, travelling down one of the main streets in the business district. The sun is ruthless in its intensity. The roads seem to be grey metal rivers, shining and shimmering, seeming to have lives of their own. The trees look dehydrated. Birds are nowhere to be seen. There is only the road and all the weary drivers on it, braving the heat.

Murphy’s Law has taken effect; just when we want to escape the confines of the car and the stifling heat, we hit every red signal, and have to stop often. At one such signal, as we wait impatiently, my eyes are drawn to the reflection of a building on another building’s glass facade. I quickly click a picture.

The building that is being reflected is shaking and shimmering on the glass facade. I quickly look at the original building. It is sturdy, has clean lines and rises majestically into the sky. I look at the reflection again – the same solid building now appears squiggly and shaky.

The signal turns green, and we are on our way, thankfully. I ponder over what I have just seen. Many a time we see ourselves mostly as reflections – in how other people view us or think about us. If someone puts us down, we become like the squiggly reflected building, losing faith in our own selves and believing more in how we are reflected in the other person’s mind, rather than what we know to be true about ourselves.

All we have to do is step back and stop looking or worrying about how others perceive us. We should only look at our strengths and positive qualities, and stand tall like the original building.

Fragrant connections

One of my dear friends has invited me over to to her house to celebrate Sankranti, the Indian harvest festival. As part of the rituals, my friend dabs a little perfume on the back of my palms. The perfume is of the champak flower. I inhale deeply, the perfume is fresh and fragrant.

The fragrance transports me to my husband’s childhood home, where his parents had planted two champak trees, when they started construction of their home after marriage. The trees are more than fifty years old now, and form a fragrant archway at the entrance to our home. Both trees are still flowering.

When he was still with us, it was my dad-in-law’s job to collect the champak flowers from both trees. Since the trees straddle three floors, one has to go up to the terrace on the third floor to pick the flowers. A specially designed long stick, with a small hook at one end, was the tool of choice to gently nudge the fragrant flowers from their branches. The flowers were collected in an orange bag (a wire bag made at home by my husband’s mom). The beautiful creamy yellow of the champak flowers beautifully contrasted with the orange of the bag. Once he was done, my dad-in-law would leave it in the living room. My mom-in-law would retain a few flowers for herself, to offer at the altar during prayers. The rest were for neighbours, who would drop-in at various times to take the champak flowers. Some would call from the gate, and my mom-in-law would pass it to them after a quick chit chat. Some neighbours would come home and stay for a cup of coffee and exchange local news.

By noon, the orange bag would be empty and go back to its rack in the store room, till the next time. In the evenings, when the sun would go down in the sky, and a gentle, cool breeze would blow, the delightful and invigorating fragrance of the champak flowers would waft in the air. We would usually stand at the entrance and close our eyes in bliss.

All the nostalgic memories come back to me now, as I bid bye to my friend and thank her for her hospitality. Beautiful champak flowers, fragrant memories and deep friendships. I sigh in pure contentment.