Circle of friendship


When we first go to school, we are reluctant to let go of our parents’ hands. We stare at this new world that is inhabited by other kids, from the security of our mom’s lap or dad’s shoulders. The world outside is scary, so strange, a little exciting..and many other things.

Three or four days into school, we take tentative steps towards friendship, with that girl in the cute pink frock or the boy with the dinosaur shaped lunch box!

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Soon our evenings are spent with friends, playing tag, playing with toys or learning to ride a bicycle together.

We plow through primary school and birthday parties with friends, sharing innocent secrets and giggles. We then move to the teen years, where friends become life, and family fades into the background. A time when we learn so many things, a time when we experiment with identity, looks, cliques; a time when we try to be noticed or not noticed at all. A time of tumultuous friendships sometimes, and great moments sometimes too! By this time some friends have been there with us forever, some have vanished!

Then on to university, where more friends get added, many new shared experiences happen; more serious talk happens – about life, career prospects, marriage…!

Then out in the world to earn a living – new dynamics, new friendships, a taste of independence, hosting parties, more relaxed in friendship, more comfortable in one’s skin.

And then marriage, befriending other young couples, visiting each others’ homes, going on trips with them.

Then, when kids arrive, friends become other parents – comparing notes on food and child-related topics, all the time. When friendships only revolve around kids.

As the kids enter their teens and become independent, there’s more time for and with friends. By this time, we are settled in our friendships and views. We have a close-knit group of friends, whom we meet regularly. Friends who have our backs; where there is absolute comfort, where there is no worry about being judged, or about food or cooking.

A kind of friendship where one can just be – talkative or silent, eat in or take out, laugh with or cry with…so many, many beautiful things – when one feels complete in a warm circle of friendship!

It takes time and effort to get there, but when you do get there and find that circle, life is perfect!

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Night time prowl…


I wind up all my chores, and by 11 p.m., I am ready to call it a day. I brush my teeth and wash. Time to stretch and relax.

The aircon starts its humming. I think about the day, say my prayers…and by now, should have fallen asleep.

But no, for some strange reason, sleep eludes me. I stare at the ceiling. I count. I name animals, flowers, birds and colours from A to Z. I am wide-eyed…!

I turn on the reading lamp to read. My husband clicks in irritation, as the light bothers him. I turn it off and decide to go to the living room.

I start strolling around the house. Our home looks different. It has a different persona at night. A thin, beautiful, golden slab of light shines from the gap at the bottom of the main door.

The cuckoo clock is ticking away. The sofas seem to be resting. I walk out to the balcony. All is quiet, just the occasional light from a neighbour’s home. Down below, traffic has petered out. A few cars glide quietly through the night.

The trees are silent, their leaves sway gently and reflect the lights from the street lamps.

I come back indoors, and walk to the kitchen. The refrigerator is humming. Everything is quiet and peaceful after the long day.

I walk up and down. I switch on the TV; it is still day in other parts of the world – news is unfolding, the weather is changing, clouds are moving, people are talking, stock markets are trading, companies are advertising, people are entertaining….!

I channel surf, but it’s all too much to process at this late hour! I switch off the television.

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I prowl like a cat in my own home, I pick up books and towels – even in the dark – and put them away. OCD at night! I giggle at what my family would think if they saw me cleaning now!

I let out a big yawn. I am relieved. Maybe I will sleep now…..but wake up with Panda eyes tomorrow! Sigh….!

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Life’s little breaks


I have been staring at my computer screen for the last two hours. I need a break; I stretch my arms and lean back on my swivel chair, which extends with me to accommodate the stretch. Wow…that really feels good. Ten seconds was all it took, a stretch, a break…and back to work again.

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An intense cardio workout, and you finally get a water break, heart pounding, sweat pouring…no water tasted this sweet, ever!

You are busy cooking for guests, and when all the dishes are simmering, you go out on the balcony and take in a few deep breaths!

When you know you have worked-out hard during the week, and Sunday is your cheat day, and when you know you don’t have to count the steps or the calories…!

And just last night, we were at a friend’s place for dinner, and the conversation meandered to our childhood, and exams, and how after 2 to 3 hours of intensive study, we would treat ourselves to a few chapters of a new book that we were reading then!

Coming home after a holiday, and stretching out in the comfort of one’s own home -a known and loving space – and catching some shut eye!

While there are the big holidays and travelling, and long vacation breaks….it is these small, everyday breaks that keep us enthused, keep us going.

These breaks are the punctuation marks in our lives, where we pause, but briefly, and then get going again.

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Kattu Saada Koodai (Packed Rice Basket)


Today, I want to eat a South Indian wedding meal. The craving was triggered by a lovely aroma that wafted from my neighbour’s home earlier today.

Many types of dishes are served in a typical South Indian wedding. The wedding festivities are spread over 2 to 3 days, and each meal offers something special. The most important meal is the one that is served immediately after the wedding. This is the grandest meal of them all.

However, I want to eat the meal that is served on the third day, when people are preparing to go home after the wedding.

Many, many decades ago, when there was no motorized transport available, guests and family members had to walk many kilometers (sometimes even for a few days) to attend weddings. Sometimes they arrived in bullock carts!

So, on the day after the wedding, when these people had to go back home, the bride’s family usually packed baskets filled with food packets; food that would ‘keep’ till they reached home. This food was also light on the stomach, to neutralize the effect of all the rich wedding food that people had consumed!

Each group of people who left after the wedding carried this basket with them. It was called the ‘kattu saada koodai‘, which translates to basket with food packets!

Though people do not have to travel for many days or walk to get home after weddings these days, the kattu saada koodai is still in vogue, but has taken on a new avatar.

Rather than packing the food in baskets, all items that were traditionally packed in a kattu saada koodai are now served as a meal on the day people are going back home.

These meals are my favourite. Served on fresh banana leaves, the kattu saada koodai menu has rice mixed in a special, spicy gravy with a tamarind base containing many small berries, which are known for their digestive properties. Papadams are included. There is curd rice with a small serving of pickle too!

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A simple meal, light on the stomach, but totally yummy!

There’s no wedding in the family anytime soon, so maybe I should just prepare the meal myself. Hmmmm!

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Connecting the dots


In many South Indian homes, the day begins when the lady of the house goes to her courtyard or front porch, washes it with water, and draws a kolam, which is artwork that usually uses dots. These dots are connected together, in many ways, to create visual treats.

Kolams are usually drawn free hand, with rice flour. The rice flour is gripped between the thumb and the pointer finger. As the hand makes the required movement, the rice flour is dropped at an even pace! And lo! In less than three minutes a beautiful kolam is ready.

When we were children, we took turns to draw the kolam every morning. As the first rays of the sun fell on our little town, one of us would take a pail of water, and wash the area around the threshold of the house. With a broom made of sticks, we would sweep the yard and remove all excess water. Then, we would get the bowl with the rice flour and start drawing the kolam.

We were usually taught these basic designs by our grandmoms or aunts or moms. As with any new art form, the kolams we created were distended and uneven, with fat lines. With practice, we got better.

We were given free rein to draw any kolam we wanted.

Starting off with 2 x 2 dot matrices, we moved on to 3 x 3, 4 x 4….and then 10 x 10, and to other shapes like triangles and circles!

Some of the designs are so intricate that they require a lot of concentration- one wrong move, and the whole kolam needed to be reworked!

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The satisfaction from learning and completing a kolam was immense.

The kolam is usually drawn as a sign of welcome to visitors, and also to bring prosperity to the home.

Kolams are also believed to have provided food to little birds and ants, so that they did not have to go too far away in search of food.

There are special kolam designs for festivals that we celebrate. These kolams are usually made with liquid rice flour. I put special kolams at home for every festival!

In the city of Chennai in India, there is a kolam competition every year, in the month of marghazhi in the Tamil calendar, which falls between 15 Dec and 15 January. People participate enthusiastically; and the whole street reverberates with creativity and excitement!

Sharing two pictures of this year’s competition that were shared by my cousin and my friend.

Wedding Kolams are elaborate, and usually every home has an aunt or grandma, who excels at wedding kolams. Such kolams can be nearly 3 feet in diametre. It is back breaking work for the woman who usually draws the kolam.

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When my mind wanders far away, and my hands start doodling, it is mostly kolam patterns that I end up drawing. Last night, I did precisely that!

My kolam doodles from last night…the inspiration for this post!

Kolams are much like our lives. There are dots and lines. Dots are like the important milestones or stages in our lives. The lines represent our journey. Sometimes life is smooth, sometimes life gets knotted and complicated, sometimes all the dots connect beautifully, and then life is perfect!

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The Cooking Cycle


We South Indians use a lot of curry leaves and coriander leaves in our cooking. Usually, when we run out of veggies, we describe the emptiness of the refrigerator thus, “There are no vegetables at home, not even a sprig of coriander!”

This happens once in about 10-12 days, when I have used up ‘all the veggies and all my creativity’ to make interesting dishes out of boring vegetables.

And this is the trough of the sinusoidal cooking wave in the cooking cycle.

When we hit a trough, it is reflected in the faces of my husband and kids; they realize that it’s the ‘boring cooking phase’, when mom is lackadaisical, and the food looks uninteresting.

And then, the cooking wave slowly moves upward. This happens when I go shopping for veggies and grocery.

I come back and stock my refrigerator to its brim. The fresh smell of mint, coriander and ginger is in the air! My fridge looks colourful with orange carrots and pink radishes, green chillies and yellow bell peppers vying for space in the cold confines of the fridge’s crisper.

Red apples, shining grapes, serious-looking papayas and cheerful oranges settle down on the fruit rack.

With my cupboards and fridge overflowing, my cooking cycle hits a peak. I am inspired! I am charged! I scour my recipe books, draw inspiration from recipes on social media and try out new dishes that I have tasted at friends’ homes.

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My family knows this phase, and they sniff in appreciation, as interesting aromas waft around the house. The dining table looks colourful and vibrant. We are spoilt for choice.

This cycle keeps repeating, like most other things in life…..!

Today is a Sunday, and I have hit a peak on the cooking wave.

We are going to tuck-in to a yummy meal. See you all soon!

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Mom’s Magic Masala Powders


Indian cooking is both an art and a science. It is as much about mixing and experimenting with different flavours, as it is about precise quantities and ingredients-in-recipes that cannot be altered.

Indian cooking is about flavour, culture, local produce and the local weather. It is also about blending, grinding and pounding techniques that are used to extract ‘that’ perfect flavour!

But more than anything else, Indian cooking is about the hundreds of masalas and spices that are added to make each dish unique.

A lot of cooking happens in Indian homes. This whole cooking phenomenon in Indian homes rests on a very strong base.

What is this base, you may ask? It is what I choose to call “Moms’ Masala Network”.

If you visited my home and raved about my spicy potato curry or my onion sambar, I would probably tell you that both the sambar powder and the spicy powder mix I used for the potatoes, were home made; made by my mother.

Go to any Indian home, ask the lady of the house, and her best dishes will be those ones, where her mom or grandmom have made the masala powders at home; if not made by them, the recipes that she uses would be theirs, for sure!

My refrigerator has at least ten types of these masala powders.

However, of these, three masala powders are most precious, as my mom makes them at home and gives them to me.

Every summer, when the Indian sun is roasting everything in sight, my mom shops for the ingredients for sambar powder, rasam powder and chutney powder.

She reserves a day to do the shopping. She sun-dries the ingredients, roasts them and then gives them to a small mill in the neighbourhood, where the ingredients are ground to fine powder.

My mom sends huge steel containers to the mill. Once the powders make it home, she carefully packs them in huge zip-loc bags for her three daughters.

On each package is a small sticker label, which gives details about the type of powder and the date on which it was made.

I treasure these masala powders, because my kitchen runs on their strength and their flavour.

A yummy South Indian breakfast of idli or dosa is incomplete without my mom’s chutney powder. On a typical Sunday afternoon, the kitchen is filled with the aroma of onion sambar, thanks to my mom.

These products are available in the market, but the taste of mom’s masala powders cannot ever be matched.

Thank you, Amma.

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The afternoon mystery parcel…


My day is usually crazy till around two in the afternoon. By then, my batteries need recharging.

By 2 pm, my mind slowly starts switching off, and my eyes start crossing, as words on my computer start blurring. That is when I head to take a power nap.

My power nap usually does not last more than thirty minutes, but if I do not get my quota for the day, meet me at your own risk.

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Immediately after my power nap, I have a nice strong cup of filter coffee; and I am then ready to take on the rest of the day, the children’s arrival from school, cooking, writing, household chores and the hundred other things that one needs to do!

However, in the last month, the schedule for my afternoon power naps has gone awry. The reason for it is quite simple.

Between 2 and 3 pm every afternoon, the door bell rings, and a mystery parcel arrives by courier. I sign and take the package, keep it on the side table, and try to go back to ‘power nap mode’.

But, if there are any afternoon-nappers around, you would all agree with me that if a power nap is interrupted, one can never go back to that zone again!

These mystery parcels are the result of my husband’s sudden interest in and realization of the ease and convenience of online shopping.

Sometimes, the mystery parcel is as small as a match box, sometimes it is big and fluffy. Being rudely awakened by the door bell on most afternoons as I am, I don’t even bother opening the packages. I leave them for when my husband gets back.

Yesterday afternoon, three different packages arrived. When my husband got back, I pointed them out to him and sighed, saying that it was a nuisance to receive so many packages.

He took two of the three parcels and asked me to open them. One was a connector cable for my laptop that I had said I needed, as the old one was not working properly.

The other package turned out to be a zoom lens of the clip-on variety for my smartphone to help me pursue my passion in flower photography! This second one was a surprise gift for me.

I think I may just have to train myself to push my power nap to later in the afternoon, when the gentle rustling of leaves, and the rhythmic call of the cuckoo bird will lull me to sleep; where I will dream of parcels that may hold more surprise gifts for me!!!

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The traffic in our lives…


I am standing on the 14th floor in my friend’s apartment. I look out of the window. I can see the highway below, where cars and trucks are whizzing past, taking people and goods to various destinations.

Just behind the highway is a cycling track that is surrounded by lush greenery. People on the cycling track are enjoying the morning, the fresh air, and the feeling of goodness from all that exercise.

Beyond the cycling track is the ocean, where waves are beating against the shoreline. Boats and ships can be seen as mere specks from where I stand, bobbing gently on the water’s surface.

When I slide open the window a little, the sound of traffic is quite loud. Along with this noise, there comes a cool breeze that gently whips the hair around my face – so refreshing.

This is so much like our lives, where there is heavy traffic in our minds about chores, assignments and deadlines.

During some parts of the day we feel choked by the traffic; then again, when we are not so busy our life slows down a few notches, and we are on the cycling track, where we stop to enjoy life, where we focus on our goals and feel positive.

Then again, when the day winds down, we are at peace; we are in that in-between zone, where the day’s worries have gone, and tomorrow’s checklists haven’t invaded! A time when we are on the beach, enjoying the gentle breeze, rejuvenating ourselves and bonding with family!

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Mom and son….a special bond


Every Sunday, at around eleven a.m., my husband calls his parents to talk to them. I am sure, back home, my parents-in-law are eagerly awaiting this weekly call. My father-in-law usually picks up the phone. My husband and his Dad chat for three to four minutes, and then he passes the phone to my mother-in-law.

Courtest – Pinart

This call goes on for a while. My husband talks about his week, she talks about hers. He laughs merrily at the things she says. They have minor differences of opinion about a few things, and argue good naturedly. She asks after his health, and asks him to take good care of himself.

Sometimes they talk about old neighbours who have passed on, or their children or grandchildren, who have graduated or gotten married or had babies. These are their shared memories, of my husband’s growing up years and the stories of people who shared their lives ‘then’ – family, neighbours and friends.

The conversation then moves to our children and me, and my husband talks about our week, and what’s been happening in our lives.

As I go around the house completing my chores, I watch my husband’s complete absorption. Though he usually doesn’t talk much, this is one person with whom he talks for long periods. The conversation meanders through various topics, about TV shows, about health and food.

My mom-in-law’s love manifests in many ways when we meet. She best expresses her love for all of us through her cooking. Each time we visit, we come back loaded with home made jackfruit jam for my husband and gooseberry pickle for me, along with many other things for each of her grandchildren.

However, since we live far away and visit them only twice a year, these weekly phone calls with her son keep this special bond alive, till our next visit.

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