If there was ever an uncertain time that the world has faced, it is now. With most people cooped up at home or practicing social distancing, everyday routines have taken on a new meaning and purpose.
Earlier today, I had called my mom for a video chat, to check how she’s coping with the lockdown. We meandered through each other’s day and caught up with family news.
And just before we hung up, my mom said that with the extra time on her hands, she has made two new friends. One of them, she says, her eyes lighting up, is a small baby squirrel that visits her balcony twice a day. She says she talks to the squirrel as it flits about. She then shows her thumb and talks about a really tiny little bird that also seems to frequent her balcony. She marvels at creation. She talks about how magical it is. She waxes eloquent about the golden sun suspended on an early morning sky.
And then she says, “I am sure everything will be ok soon. Let’s pray.” I fully agree. While we cope and pray for those who are suffering, let us be grateful for all the simple, beautiful things that we have been given.
It is a hot Saturday afternoon, as my husband and I head to the vegetable and provisions market to stock up for the week. While there is definite fun to be had in shopping for clothes and accessories, I say there is deep contentment to be had in shopping for vegetables, fruits, grocery and everyday necessities.
We walk to our usual vegetable vendor, who greets us like we are his long-lost friends. The fresh and vibrant coloured vegetables look enticing. As I look at each vegetable, I imagine the dishes that I can rustle up with each of them. I stock up on fresh gooseberries – their light green colour and round shape making them look like transparent marbles. I sniff appreciatively, as the lady next to me picks up coriander and mint. While I am in-charge of the ‘healthy’ shopping, my husband is busy stocking up on many packets of wafers, chips, boondi, bhujia and other savouries.
Once we check out, my husband says, “Let’s go and buy some traditional Indian sweets.” My husband has a sweet tooth, and is already walking towards the sweet shop, before I can say anything.
During our childhood, most sweets that we ate were Indian ones, and all of them were prepared at home by our moms. When we arrive at the shop, absolutely honey-sweet memories come rushing in. The smell of ghee and sugar, the sugar crusting on a badushah, my mom’s hands patiently making yummy boondiladdos, the dripping of the batter through the small colander spoon to make the boondi, the trays into which the 1234 cake mix or badam cake mix was poured to be cut into perfect rectangles.
But above all, it was the joy that pervaded our home when these sweets and savouries were being made. We were like birds waiting to peck at the sweets or take tiny bites of the dough. We hopped about in and around the kitchen, just waiting for our mom to call us to come and try the sweets. We charged into the kitchen, where we had our first bite of a mouth watering mysorepak or a melt-in-your-mouth coconut barfi.
And now, after ages, I am actually standing inside an Indian sweet shop to buy sweets. My eyes are like saucers as I look at the variety. There are laddoos, jangris, paal kova, halwa, badam cake, cashew cake, paneer jamun….andso many many more.
The assistant is very helpful, and asks us if we want to try samples. We nod eagerly. We taste them, concurring and disagreeing on which ones we like and which ones we want to buy.
I look at the fluffy pink coconut burfi. And as I bite into the sample, I take a small sojourn into the alleys of my childhood. A feeling of absolute delight engulfs me, as it perfectly captures the excitement of memories past, of innocent times and simple joys, where my aunt grated the coconut and my mom stirred the mixture of sugar and coconut to the perfect consistency, adding a drop of pink colour that completely elevated the look of the barfi. I catch my husband’s eye and see the same joy reflected there.
The assistant asks us which ones we need. We choose some bright orange jangris, golden laddoos, some badushas, some mysorepaks and barfis.
I ask my husband if we really need so many. He says, “Yes, we do.” And that’s that! I agree. Once in a way, yes, we do.
I am in front of my dresser, critically evaluating my visage and the various lines that have started creasing different parts of my face. I take out a new tube of face cream, a brand that I have used for over two decades now. I squeeze two pumps on to my palm. I suddenly move my eyes from the mirror to my hands. The cream’s consistency doesn’t seem right. It looks like a lotion and not at all like the cream that I have used for so long. I ponder over this sudden change in its texture, but go ahead and apply it all over my face. I then quickly seal it with some powder and a dash of lipstick, and I am good to go.
Later in the day, when I am back home after running some errands, I wash my face. And then it starts, an unbearable burning all over my face. I examine myself in the mirror. My face is swollen near the cheeks, and the skin appears red in a few places. I apply coconut oil, and think about what could have happened.
I immediately remember that my usual cream this morning hadn’t seemed ok. I am angry now, as I immediately think of so many possibilities. I head purposefully to my dresser and pull out the tube. Had the shopkeeper tried to sell me cream that was past its expiry date? I strain my eyes to read the expiry date on the crimp. It says 2022. Ok.
What then? Maybe it is a fake product masquerading as the original. I get worked up. How could this happen? I have used this for so many many years. I feel irritated and suspicious. Almost like a detective, trying to explain what could be wrong.
Then logic prevails for some time. My brains pipes in, “Couldn’t it be something else that caused the burning, not this cream?” “Hmmmm, possible”, I reply. So seeking conclusive evidence, I open the tube again, and squeeze a little cream into my hands, and apply it on one part of my face.
When I am just about to put away the tube into the drawer, I see the word Wash on the tube. What? I flip the tube and read, it says Face Wash. Whaaaaaaatt?????
No wonder my face is on fire. I had spent the whole morning with dried soap on my face. But both tubes look identical. Sigh! I laugh, as I apply some ice to cool my face.
I also think about this. How quick I was to suspect that it was somebody else’s fault. How quickly I had come up with theories to justify my assumptions. And this is what we all do sometimes. We judge before we are equipped with the full facts or before we know for sure. Sometimes, as I just realised, the mistake may be on our side. Truly something to think about eh?
The sky is in that in-between colour, where the last rays of the sun are disappearing down the horizon, and twilight is slowly taking over. The day’s heat has spent itself, replaced by a gentle, cool breeze.
I walk down to the park below, prepping myself for the long walk ahead. I warm up and stretch, and start off at a brisk pace. I have to complete ten laps in my walking circuit. Many kids are playing and shouting and giggling, with a joy that’s the exclusive preserve of childhood.
As I complete my first lap, I see a stone bench in the park, which sits between two apartment blocks in our condo. The bench gives me pause.
Many, many years ago, on almost every weekday, my friend, who used to live in the adjacent block, and I, would go down at precisely 12 noon. Our kids would arrive from kindergarten at 12.20 p.m.
And for those blissful twenty minutes, we would sit on the stone bench, catching up on mundanities, laughing about the silliest of things, sharing bits of ourselves, our problems, our joys and all that good friends share. On many of these bench meetings, we always told each other that when our kids went to full time school, we would go out and shop and scour the city for new places to eat and for new cuisines to try.
Soon, the bus would arrive and our little kids would jump off their buses with cheery greetings. For the next few minutes, as we wound down our conversation, our three-year olds would catch up with each other or chase each other in the park.We would then say bye and head home.
My friend and I could see each other’s homes from certain places in our own homes. Both of us are foodies, and each time any of us cooked something new, we would drop off a sample to the other’s home. Many a time, we wondered about having a small cable that would connect our homes, where we could send food in a small basket, whenever we liked.
Time flew, as only it knows how to, and before my friend and I could go out shopping as planned, she had moved to another country for a few years. Our chats and messages continued, albeit on the phone.
She came back just a few years ago, but lives in another part of town. Now, we go out for lunches, we go out shopping, we talk, we catch up, we laugh, we share. We talk about our grown-up children and about how we should travel together after retirement and explore new places and new cuisines.
I have finished two laps, and come back to the here and the now. There are two women sitting on the stone bench, enjoying a nice chat.
I realize that while this physical bench of friendship kindles such precious memories that warm the heart, the bench of friendship has today taken on different avatars. It can morph into restaurant chairs, into tall stools in coffee shops, into lush green grass on a walking trail, or into the seats of a cab – the bench of friendship is a living pulsating bond, a very special bond that women share, a bond that brightens up each day.