A stolen moment….

When the Indian Festival season starts, days and nights blend into each other; into a seamless round of parties, dinners and fun. The vibrant hues of the Indian saree light-up the landscape. There are shimmering sequins, and silk, visits to the nail spa and hair salon; and all this while preparing the hundred odd things that one needs for the festival season.

I am no exception, as I flit in and out of the house, draping sarees for every occasion. There is definitely magic in the air, people are happy and in high spirits. There is hope, there is a promise of another wonderful year ahead.

And in all this wonderful excitement, I have just dropped my son to his class, and head to a mall nearby, to run some errands.

I move with purpose, ticking off each item on my list. Somewhere, on those winding shop alleys, fresh coffee is being brewed. I ignore it and carry on with my work.

On the way back, I simply cannot resist. I do a takeaway and walk out of the mall. The mall is located on the waterfront.

I look at the water. There are many kayaks. Many teams are practicing – counting or chanting rhythmically.

I need this moment to myself, to do nothing, just till I finish my coffee. To absorb this peace of watching without acting, just enjoying my coffee and its aroma.

I settle down on the steps near the waterfront. Two sweet mynas are hopping about near me. They look quizzically at me. They are not daunted by my presence. They allow me to take pictures. After a while, they go into the bushes, and start pecking at the soil with their bright yellow beaks.

A beautiful morning – a bright and sunny day full of promise, clouds floating, kayaks gliding on the water, two smart mynas for company and coffee to top it all off.

This moment was mine..just to be, just to let go and to not think.

Soon, it is time to head back and join the main artery of everyday life; back to celebrating the festival season with friends and family – back to the fun and laughter!

Happy Deepavali to you all!


Tailor made

Earlier today, I chanced upon some black and white photos from my childhood. The pictures made me smile. My sister and I are wearing identical frocks in most of those pictures.

That was how it was back then. We would go to a garment shop, and choose running lengths of fabric. We would head to the tailor shop afterwards, for our measurements to be taken. The tailor would make identical clothes for my siblings and me, only the sizes were different.

The tailor’s shop was located in the crowded market in our town. It was a small shop that had a narrow entrance. The shop had shelves along all its walls, running from the floor to the ceiling. One could barely see the shelves, crammed as they were with customer orders.

I always wondered how the tailor was able to remember, when each order was due. Deep within the recesses of the shop were the sewing machines, all of them busy all the time, with men or women bent intently on a frock or a blouse or a shirt.

The main tailor, usually had a pencil tucked behind his ear, and a measuring tape slung around his neck. He measured, noted, gave instructions to his staff and managed the whole pipeline.

Picture courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

While, during non-festival times, the tailor usually delivered our orders promptly, it was not so during festivals, especially Deepavali.

The fabric buying took place at least a month and a half before Deepavali. We would rush to the tailor to place our orders. And even at that early date, the tailor would lament about the pipeline, and about how difficult it was going to be to deliver our clothes early.

And then the negotiations on the delivery date would commence – between my parents and the tailor. We would come home with a receipt for collection and an acceptable date for pick-up.

Just a fortnight before our due date, whenever we visited the market, we would drop-in at the tailor shop to give him a gentle reminder. There were no mobiles or text messages to do the job. The tailor would nod and wave vigorously each time – to reassure us that he had not forgotten us.

Our dad would usually pick up the tailored clothes on his way back from work. After dinner, we would get a peek at our new clothes. They were packed away and stored carefully till Deepavali.

The years just flew by, and then came the era of off-the shelf clothes, and our visits to the tailor dwindled.

However, after marriage, we Indian woman still go to the tailor to get out saree blouses stitched – ‘tailor made’ exclusively for us!

Love in a jackfruit seed

I love my work table, and the organized clutter on it. It is where I feel at peace, where I write, and where I keep all the documents and to do lists that I am juggling with, at any given moment.

On my table is also a small rectangular tray, in which I store stickers, post-its, drawings and small gifts from my children.

In this box is a jackfruit seed, its coat a little loose now. This jackfruit seed was gifted to me by my daughter, about four years ago. She drew eyes, a nose and a mouth. The eyes were on all sides, so that any side you turned the seed, a pair of eyes stared back at you.

I still remember that afternoon. We had just come back from the supermarket with two boxes of jackfruit.

We usually cut open the fruit, preserve the seeds and add them to a lentil based gravy. The seed becomes tender upon cooking, and adds a nice flavour to the dish.

My daughter took away one of the seeds for the gift she was to make for me.

As she observed the seed, I told her stories from my childhood. We lived in a small town in the hills, and it was quite cold for eight out of twelve months in a year.

We had a small cast iron stove called a kumutti aduppu that looked like this.

Image courtesy – Pinterest

This stove had many uses. My grandma would load it with coal and light it up. One had to keep fanning the coal to keep the fire going.

On rainy days, when clothes (especially baby clothes) needed to dry, a basket was placed over the kumutti’s embers, and small baby frocks and shirts would dry on them.

Small pieces of fragrant resin called benzoin resin, sambrani, were thrown into the coal embers. The resin emitted a lovely fragrance, considered to be therapeutic.

On the weekends, when all of us had our traditional oil baths, the sambrani would be thrown into the kumutti, and a basket placed over it. The fragrant smoke would seep out through the cracks in the basket, and dry our wet hair and infuse it with fragrance.

We would also throw in jackfruit seeds into the kumutti, and allow them to roast. Our grandma would take them out carefully, cool them and give them to us to eat.

Truly beautiful memories.

I come back to the here and now. My daughter walks in and sees the jackfruit seed.

“Mom, can’t believe you still have this.”

I smile.

I have many such gifts from the kids, each with its own allied memories, and lots of love.

When the cuckoo stopped calling!

I wake up for a glass of water at night. My eyes strain to read the clock. After some squinting and straining, I finally know the time – it is 2.00 a.m.

I go back to bed, but sleep eludes me. Until recently, our faithful cuckoo clock called out the hours, throughout the day. One morning, however, one of the heavy pinecone weights came crashing down, and that was that!

The pendulum stopped, the cuckoo stopped. The clock stopped working, and there’s no way now to lie down and know the time.

We bought it on one of our trips to Europe, and we’ve been in love with it ever since – not only for its beauty and elegance, but also for the workmanship, and the genius behind putting something like this together!

All these years, the cuckoo clock has been a source of entertainment to kids, who have visited our home. They stare open-mouthed, as the cuckoo comes out of its little door to announce the hour!

In addition to the cuckoo, there’s a whole lot of activity going on in the clock. A woodcutter chops wood in tandem with the cuckoo. He is one busy man, working right through the day, his concentration absolute and his focus, unwavering. Then again, we have these beautiful couples, who dance right after the cuckoo has announced the time. They dance to merry music.

It is a perfect day in the cuckoo world. People are busy, people are enjoying life and also aware of the passage of time, and the importance of hardwork. The whole cuckoo clock is designed like a beautiful chalet in the mountains. There are tiny windows on the clock, and every time I look at them, I think of all the little folk inside, and what they are doing – allowing my imagination to create my own stories.

The weekend after the cuckoo clock gave up, my husband decided to open it up to see if he could fix it. And we were awestruck! So many tiny little parts, so many gears, so many music boxes…all working seamlessly together.

Our little cuckoo lay there, awaiting instructions. The dancing couples stood frozen. The woodcutter looked frustrated with all the pending work.

And we then saw two small pipes that were attached to two bellows, and realized that those pipes and bellows were what made the ‘cuckoo’ sound! Such tiny parts, such perfection!

My husband tried his best, but the clock did not wake up!

We have to try getting it serviced by a specialist! Maybe it will work, maybe it will not, but for now it is back on our wall, a mute spectator to the goings-on in our home.

As I type this post, I also think about other treasured possessions which we have all had, and then had to give up or lose, or leave behind – toys, bicycles, pens, books, clothes, furniture, kitchen utensils.

These objects weave themselves into our lives unobtrusively. Some have more significance than others, some have fallen prey to our fragile memories and faded into oblivion.

And suddenly, one fine day, we see a photograph or something similar and the memories come rushing back…and for a brief period we are transported and nostalgia takes over.

A string of pearls

It is 3.45 p.m. in the afternoon. The sky is a dull grey. It has been raining incessantly. The clouds have been busy grumbling and rumbling all day.

The rain has trickled down to a drizzle now. So I open all the windows, and let-in the rain-cooled air.

I head to the kitchen to make my afternoon cup of coffee! As the decoction falls into the filter, I start heating the milk. As I wait, my eyes scan my snack cupboard – the glass jars contain various types of savouries, sweets and dry fruits.

I settle for a muthusaram, which translates to ‘a string of pearls’ and a few strands of ribbon pakoda’. The muthusaram is a spiral and looks like a chain with small pearls dotting its surface. The ribbon pakoda simply looks like a ribbon (pictures below).

Images courtesy – indiamart.com

These savouries are made of rice, gram flour, asaefoetida, salt and chilli powder in various proportions to suit the savoury being made.

They are crisp and delicious, and go perfectly well with coffee and tea.

When we were growing up, no snacks were ever bought from shops. Most everything was homemade.

The collective term in Tamil for all these savouries and sweets put together is called bhakshanam.

So, usually in July, when the long Indian festival season starts, many different types of bhakshanams are made to celebrate the occasion.

Coffee/tea time was never complete without these yummy home made snacks.

There are murukkus, thenkuzhals, ribbon pakodas, thattais, cheedais and many more.

The names have always interested me. Thenkuzhal translates to tubes of honey, though there is no honey at all in the savoury. They look like tubes though, maybe the honey part of the name comes from their colour.

Most South Indian homes have this device called a naazhi, which is the secret to most snacks that are from the region.

Every naazhi comes with a set of plates, which have patterns cut into them – stars, thin strips, clovers, small holes and many more.

The naazhi can be of a pressing type or a rotational type. Once the dough is prepared, and the oil is warm enough, the dough is loaded into the naazhi, and one can very easily create tasty ‘strings of pearls or tubes of honey!’

Image courtesy – indiamart.com

Lots of hardwork there!

But totally worth it if you ask me, especially like now, when I am sitting and munching on a ribbon pakoda and sipping hot filter coffee, watching the rain, and having deep thoughts about life, its meaning, and sometimes just staring into space with no thoughts at all!

‘Tis a brother-sister thing!

Today is Raksha Bandhan, a day that celebrates the special and deep bond between brothers and sisters. A day when sisters tie raakhis on their brothers’ wrists. A day when the brother promises to care for and protect his sister; and also gives her a gift.

A truly beautiful celebration indeed!

In our home, we celebrate this special bond every year. I have the raakhi and other paraphernalia required, ready for my children.

Image courtesy – Dreamstime.com

They stand in front of each other. My daughter picks up the raakhi and ties it on my son’s wrist. They don’t say much. They just high five each other, exchange a quick hug, and go their separate ways.

There is no talk about a gift.

It is business as usual, they are each back in their own world, where the other does not exist. When they do acknowledge each other, they tease each other ruthlessly, argue constantly or ignore each other.

I observe this.

The day has flown past, the sun has already set. My kids are talking animatedly. Very soon, my son comes to me and tells me that he is taking his sister to the mall nearby for a treat, and to buy her a gift.

And before I nod, the two of them are already at the door, arguing about something inconsequential, as all siblings do.

I smile. I walk back in.

Many years from now, when my kids move out of home and make their own lives, these bonds will deepen further.

But this bond, this love – will always be expressed this playfully, through silly arguments, high fives and awkward hugs!

‘Tis a brother sister thing, after all.

The Lily Pond

Most fairytales that have frogs or other water creatures in them always have lily pads, where the characters plot the next moves, sing songs to each other, or watch the first drops of rain fall and roll around the pad!

As the hot, Saturday sun moves purposefully across the sky, I am sitting on a park bench. Stretching ahead of me is a huge lily pond, filled with lily pads and flowers.

At first glance, the water’s surface seems to be calm. On closer observation, I realize that the pond is teeming with action.

Cute little otters are popping in and out. Tiny turtles are swimming about, lazily, coming to the water’s edge now and then.

Water insects are busy amongst the reeds, and colourful butterflies flit about. It’s the weekend after all.

All around me, ‘water-colour artists’ are seated, capturing a slice of nature on a piece of paper. What each artist sees is different. As I walk around, each paper narrates a different story, coloured only by the artist’s imagination.

The big boughs of trees touch the water’s surface, engaged in a good gossip with the water plants. What are they talking about, I wonder! Cute pigeons join the conversation, bringing stories of far away places that their flights of fancy have taken them on!

The constant hum of traffic somehow fades away, as the lily pond works its magic on me. Buildings surround the pond – adding to, rather than detracting from the beauty.

A small slice of peace on a day that will soon get chaotic.