It’s already mid-October, and the days seem to be outdoing each other, as they run a mad race towards the end of the year.
With every room at home occupied by family members, who are engaged in the virtual world, I find it a challenge to eke out time for a cosy, long chat with my sisters.
I had a sudden free hour this weekend, and decided to video call my sister. Needless to say, it was a rejuvenating call! Midway through the call, my sister turned her phone camera towards my niece, who was sitting on the balcony floor and babbling away, as she played with cloth pegs and a clothes hanger.
As we continued our chat, my sister exclaimed sharply! The skies had suddenly opened up, and it had started raining. My sister asked my niece to come indoors. But the little lady would have none of it. She continued sitting there, her head turned skyward, as she revelled in the feel of raindrops on her face.
My sister tried to lift her physically, but that brought on a loud bawl. As my sister and I laughed, and wondered how we would get her indoors, my nephew happened to pass by.
And, when he realized that his little sister was sitting in the rain and getting wet, he did a very smart thing. He ran to get an umbrella and sat down, holding it over both their heads.
My heart just melted as I watched this simple act of love. And as I hung up, the big brother continued to talk to his little sister about the rain, and she babbled away in response.
For most of us who grew up in the eighties, the days in a year were of two types. School days and holidays. We had a long summer break, and a shorter winter break. School days were packed with classes, homework, and studying for tests and exams. Holidays, however, were blissful, long days; days that stretched this way and that to accommodate our lassitude, days that watched us indulgently as we discovered new books, authors, games, and movies; days that saw us squabbling with our siblings or go out exploring with friends looking for beetles, bugs and magic.
While our holidays were packed with fun activities, there were times when we would suddenly run out of things to do or books to read, or would want to completely avoid our siblings due to an ongoing cold war.
And at such times, I would always seek out my dear aunt, who was a pro at knitting, and who took in orders to hand-knit the most beautiful sweaters, baby mittens, mufflers, scarves, ponchos, shawls and caps. She had a beautiful knitting pattern book that she would pore over every afternoon.
So, at times when there seemed to be nothing to do, I would tell my aunt that I wanted to learn knitting. And with a patience that I can never ever have, she would teach me to tie the wool to the needle, and would slowly explain how to create a knit and a purl. And each time I dropped a stitch, she would patiently undo it and give it back to me.
Many glorious afternoons were spent like this. However, the moment a friend called out to me or if the cold war with my siblings had ended, I would sweetly tell my aunt that I would come back and knit later.
She would smile, and put away my needles and ask me to go out and play. And all through my childhood, I could take up knitting at will, without any pressure to knit anything useful. I made long pieces of knits and purls, that were abandoned till the next time I sought out my aunt again.
Finally, when I had just passed out of high school and had a longer break than usual, I bravely embarked on a knitting project – to knit a sweater for myself – I chose a pale peach colour and discussed a simple 5 knit 5 purl pattern of squares with my aunt.
And I spent hours knitting; and when I reached the right length, I handed the piece over to my aunt, who then brought the front of the sweater to its right shape. Then I worked on the back of the sweater, and knitted another long piece, and again handed it over to her for completion.
And finally, my aunt got the sweater ready! I had just knitted long pieces, but my aunt told everybody proudly that her niece had knitted the whole sweater.
When I think back now, I realize how rejuvenating those times with my aunt were. She never forced me to learn knitting or master it, she never said anything when I wanted to leave halfway to play or to read. She was simply there for me, allowing me to just be.
And, even today, when I see wool or knitted wear, I feel happy; for it brings back memories of peace, love and contentment and those truly precious moments with my dearest aunt.
It is twilight. I stand on my balcony, observing the sky. The cool evening breeze kisses the plants, and they respond by swaying gently.
The sky’s beauty defies description, as it lets go of day and welcomes night. Another day has gone by; lost in the folds of time, like a million others before it.
It is a time of quiet, a time to reflect upon the day and soak in the beauty of nature. As I watch the sky growing dark, my mom calls me. She shares the sad news that her aunt, my grand aunt, is no more.
She shares beautiful anecdotes of the wonderful times spent with her aunt. And then she sighs deeply and says, “With the passing of this aunt, my parents’ generation is no more. She was the last family member of that generation.”
I can understand how my mom feels. A sudden emptiness, no elder aunt or uncle to talk to or take advice from. That thread that connected my mom to her childhood, her parents and her family history is no longer there. Now, my mom’s generation has become the oldest in our family.
I hang up after talking to my mom for a few more minutes. Night will soon be here, and will again be replaced by day. And the cycle of life will continue, where people will come and go, and where days will arrive and vanish.
But then, there are times like this twilight hour – that straddle both day and night – where time seems to stand still for a bit; where one can feel the timelessness of creation against whose backdrop this cycle of life constantly unfolds. And just how the twilight hour passes the baton from day to night, so also, the baton has now been passed to my mom’s generation.
It is yet another humid afternoon in the tropics. My phone buzzes, and I pick it up excitedly. It’s my sister. Soon we are both in that land that sisters inhabit, where conversations can morph from being serious to being silly in a mere second; where we can break into song or seamlessly glide into an argument with each other!!!
Soon, my little niece walks in and seats herself on my sister’s lap. She has just woken up from her mid-morning nap, and looks refreshed and cheerful.
She is wearing a white frock, on which are embroidered various colourful fruits. When I ask her about them, she pretends to pluck at them and feeds me fruit and says cutely, “Pemma, eat.”
I make chomping noises, and she giggles. And this game goes on for sometime. My niece soon gets distracted by a dog, and goes away to watch it from the balcony.
My sister then shares a funny incident that happened earlier this week.
With everyone working from home, my sister had given my niece a box of dates, and had asked her to transfer the dates from that box into another one. After a while, my sister was completely caught up in her work, and quite forgot about both the dates and the boxes.
Later in the evening, when she took out a load of washed laundry from the washing machine, she found specks of brown on most of the clothes. She tried to figure out what the brown flakes were, but could not.
A couple of days later, when she wanted some dates and looked for the box, she found that it was empty. She called my niece, and asked her where she had put the dates.
My niece walked to the washing machine, and said, “Me put here.”
My sister burst out laughing! The healthy clothes had to be washed again. Sigh!
Earlier today, I chanced upon a physical photograph from our children’s childhood archives. My husband and I have been meaning to digitize all these pics some day, but that day is yet to arrive.
The photo brought a smile to my face, as it was a top angle picture of my daughter gurgling inside her cloth hammock cradle, taken when she was a chubby six month old baby.
The cloth hammock was baby- pink in colour and made of netted cloth. It was attached to a spring, and suspended from a strong hook on the ceiling in my daughter’s room.
My daughter was a light sleeper, and would wake up at the slightest sound. My husband and I were permanently sleep deprived, and took turns to carry the baby, sing to her or rock her in the hammock.
I had a few lullabies that I had in stock as I rocked the cradle. And, when I felt that my daughter had gone to sleep, I would try to slowly walk away, but I don’t remember ever reaching the door without her gurgling and announcing that she was still wide awake.
Then my husband would give it a shot, and on it went. But on many such nights, when both of us were weary from a long day, and had to leave for work early the next morning, my dear father in law would tell us, “Why don’t you both catch a few winks, I will rock the hammock.”
And even before he completed his sentence, my husband and I would slink away, our hearts filled with gratitude for his help and love.
While for us, the parents, it was one of our duties in child rearing, for my father in law it was a pleasurable activity, as he woud talk or sing to his granddaughter with absolute joy.
The first deep bonds of love between granddad and granddaughter were sown then, as they had late night chats and gurgled to each other. And whenever my father in law paused his singing or talking, my daughter would say “hmmmmm” loudly, as if asking why he had stopped talking to her. And with delighted laughter, my father in law would resume the conversation again.
A few months ago, when life was normal and busy, and when weekends meant dinner with friends or extended family, we had friends over for dinner one evening.
After a sumptuous dinner, we settled down in the living room, some of us stretched out on the couch, some of us on the floor – totally comfortable in the company of friends we had known for a long time.
Our conversation meandered down the alleys of the past, and into the unknown alleys of the future. At one point, the discussion turned to past holidays and vacations, and as we dug into our desserts, we laughed and enjoyed the various anecdotes from past holidays.
And then, suddenly, my daughter chipped in. She narrated an incident that happened when she was about 8 years old, when we had gone on a short cruise.
In one of the places where the ship docked, we were taken on a sightseeing tour in the afternoon. One of the attractions was an elephant show. All of us were totally engrossed in the show, and admired the elephants and their grace.
One of the items on the show was a ‘baby elephant massage’. The organizers asked for kids who wanted to volunteer.
My daughter hesitated, but I was so excited that I raised her hand. The trainer picked my daughter to be the privileged one to receive a massage from the baby elephant.
Things moved very quickly after that, and before we knew it, our little daughter was lying on a mat, and the baby elephant was brought in.
Everyone clapped and cheered, and we did too. We took pictures and cheered our daughter.
Cut to our dinner…. I watched my daughter narrate the incident, and she said, “Can you believe it? Mom volunteered my hand, and before I knew it I was watching a baby elephant towering over me, and I closed my eyes in sheer nervousness. But it worked out ok in the end.”
All of us had a good laugh. But, only now, after nearly a decade, it hits me that I was so excited that I had pushed my daughter to do something that I thought was fun, and that may have been scary or uninteresting to her.
And when I think about it, I realize that sometimes, as parents, we consciously or unconsciously push our kids to do things which we would have liked to do or which we had dreamt about as kids.
While we do have to push our kids at times for the right things, sometimes it is nice to stop and think before volunteering a nervous eight year old for a baby elephant massage.
On a humid evening in February last year, I was in a long, snaking queue of passengers waiting to board a flight.
My evening was magically transformed, when I received a call that my sister had just delivered a baby girl. And from then on, till I boarded the flight, it was just excited texting and calling on our various family and extended family groups.
When I landed at my destination, and switched on my phone, I was greeted by the cutest picture of my tiny niece, her eyes tightly shut, tiny fingers curled around a cosy blanket. And my heart filled with love and tenderness!!!
In mid-June last year, I had the opportunity to visit my sister and of course my darling niece, who was by then gurgling, making eye-contact and dishing out sweet toothless smiles of recognition. She was like a tiny doll, and I carried her with me wherever I went.
Soon it was time to head back home, to catch another flight – back to a world inhabited by teens, a world far removed from gurgles and toothless grins.
And the year flew by on wings, and I watched my niece virtually, on video calls each week – watched her crawl, sit up, have solids, recognize colours; watched her hair grow out into beautiful curly ringlets, watched her smiling with her first cute milk tooth.
And thus 2019 disappeared to inhabit the pages of history. When we rang in the New Year, little did I know that I would not be able to travel at all this year – that I would miss my niece’s first birthday party.
A few months ago, on a call with my sister, I watched my niece taking her first tentative steps.
I am now a fully qualified Virtual Aunt, who engages her niece on video calls. Now, when I call my sister, my niece ambles over to grin and babble with her Virtual Aunt, whom she now recognizes very well.
The best gift was last week, when she walked over and said, “Hi Pamma”….( a baby version of Periamma, or mom’s elder sister). My heart just melted.
I thank technology for making such beautiful moments possible during these difficult times.
Life and its many moments keep unfolding each day. Most times, we are caught up in our routines and chores, not thinking about or dwelling upon what we do on a daily basis.
But yesterday was different. It rained non-stop, and the world outside was grey and wet. After a sumptuous weekend lunch, I retired to catch some shut eye. My power naps usually last exactly twenty minutes, not a minute more. That is my cue to get up and start the second half of my day, during which I also head to the kitchen to make our afternoon coffee!
But for some strange reason, I slept way beyond my twenty minute quota, and felt a deep laziness pervading my every pore. But the family coffee clock doesn’t stop, does it?
Soon, my husband made an appearance. He saw me napping, and left quietly. Then my daughter showed up in a bit and left too! I could sense them but was too lazy to open my eyes.
After a few minutes, when I was fully awake, I called my husband and said, “Can someone make coffee today?”
He said, “Of course, I can try…but it won’t taste anything like yours. Are you ok with that?”
Hmmm…the coffee taste is what it’s all about. I asked my daughter. She loves coffee too, and she has learnt from me…so there was still some hope!
She agreed enthusiastically. I watched the dull grey world outside, and mindlessly traced water drops with my eye, as they ran down our window. I waited in eager anticipation.
I mentally imagined my daughter heating the milk, and adding the decoction and just the right amount of sugar. There was a lot of noise from the kitchen. I could hear the clanging of steel. I wondered if they were making coffee or cooking a meal.
I hollered, “Are you guys done?” From their muffled replies I understood that they had spilt something!!! But I held my ground, and suppressed my curiosity to go and interfere. I sat up and smiled lazily….!
And in just a few minutes, my daughter walked in with a frothing cup of filter coffee. I took the first sip. Bliss and perfection. “You have nailed it!!” I said. My daughter smiled.
A rainy day, an afternoon nap, followed by a perfect cup of coffee not made by me! I felt indulged.
Heavy rain is imminent. Dark, grey clouds are hanging heavy and low in the sky. The gentle breeze ‘that was’ is now gathering momentum, and the leaves are rustling and giggling in anticipation.
I am on my walk, my mind filled with a hundred thoughts, as restless as the leaves. The usual calm that prevails on my walk is missing today. I just accept it and plod on, allowing my thoughts free rein and watching their play.
As I begin my ascent on one of the roads, a flash of red on the pavement catches my eye. From where I am, it looks like a bright red stone or a shiny bit of paper.
When I get closer to this shiny object, I stop in wonder! It is a beautiful petal, reddish-orange in colour, fallen on the grey pavement. Beautiful water droplets adorn this petal, reflecting its vibrant colours even more, and sparkling in the dull evening light.
I am fascinated. The petal lies there, its days over, but still seeking to give joy, still seeking to bring a moment of softness and gentleness to this hard road called life.
I quickly whisk out my phone and capture a picture. The skies open up, and I dash for cover.
I stand under the sheltered walkway, watching the dancing raindrops, the pitter-patter of the rain on the glass ceiling, the swaying plants, the rivulets of water….such beauty.
I think back to my beautiful petal. The rain would have carried away the petal, a drop of bright red floating away in a stream of joy, to places unknown.
The rain peters out. I sigh. I wait awhile. And slowly, the crickets start tuning their instruments for their nightly chorus. Huge silver water drops fall with big plops from the trees. The sky is clear. My mind is bereft of any thought. I walk back home.
I have cooked Venn Pongal for breakfast this morning; a staple South Indian breakfast item made out of cooked rice and split moong dal. My husband expresses his appreciation for the Pongal and settles down on the sofa with his frothing cup of filter coffee!
There is a lovely story behind how I learnt to make tasty Venn Pongal. Let me take you back to the halcyon days of my childhood…..
The Tamil month of Marghazi usually fallsbetween mid-December to mid-January each year, and during this month special prayers are offered in most South Indian temples.
In our small and beautiful hometown, this month was a super-special month to look forward to, as we had our school winter break, and also our daily morning sojourns to the temple.
With a white layer of frost blanketing the countryside for company, my friends and I would rush out at 6.30 a.m. each morning to visit the temple.
The highlight was the yummiest VennPongal that was served to all those who were present. The pongal was served on pieces of banana leaf. My friends and I would relish each mouthful, closing our eyes in bliss. Divine!
Many years later, when I started cooking and tried to make pongal, I realized that mine was missing something. It did not taste half as good as the temple pongal. I asked family members for tips, but somehow my pongal always seemed to fall short.
A few years went by this way. Then, one fine afternoon, when my husband and I were out shopping, we bumped into the person who used to make the temple pongal. We were so happy and excited to meet each other after more than two decades. After we had caught up with family stories and had exchanged news about common friends, I blurted out, “How was your pongal so yummy?”
He smiled, and said, “It is very simple, just add hot milk to it. That is all.” I thanked him profusely, as we each went our separate ways.
Now, as I settle down for breakfast and eat the first spoonful, I can feel the cold winter breeze of our little town, the company of my dearest childhood friends and the hot piping delicious pongal, all of which added to the magic of those wonderful days.