A Blue Watch and Penne Arrabiata…

My daughter has a blue, digital watch. She received the watch as a gift from her grandparents, when she was nine years old. My daughter fell in love with the watch the moment she set eyes on it, and wears it to this day!

The blue watch has been her constant companion all these years, and would probably qualify as a best-friend-of-sorts.

The colour has faded, the strap is worn in places, the glass has scratches, but my daughter will not hear of retiring this watch.

She is at an age when clothes and accessories are very much in her radar, but this watch, whose colour does not match any of her clothes (read – clothes which are in various shades of black or grey or silver), is on her wrist always.

Yesterday, my daughter suddenly announced that she would prepare dinner for all of us – Penne Arrabiata. This was her first attempt at cooking. She listed the ingredients, went to the supermarket, asked me for measuring cups and spoons, and was soon busy chopping tomatoes, crushing garlic, rolling basil leaves and chopping them artistically.

Courtesy – shutterstock

Olive oil was warmed in the wok, and soon the heavenly smell of ‘garlic frying’ was in the air. All of us waited patiently, as the aroma wafted and made our tongues water in anticipation.

Soon, she announced that dinner was ready. We rushed to the table. The pasta was served beautifully; with cheese drizzled on top. Fresh basil leaves completed the presentation, and we were ready to tuck-in.

Delicious. Yummy!!! We were in bliss, and heaped compliments on her. Her eyes twinkled in joy, and she acknowledged our praise.

Later, I watched her clearing up the kitchen, her blue watch still on her wrist, a permanent fixture!

And it hit me then! On one hand my daughter did not want to let go of her watch; a watch she’s had for so many years; on the other hand, she would soon be on her own, cooking her own meals and taking her own decisions.

As her mother, both these thoughts played in my head. Much as I wanted her to replace the old watch, a part of me wanted her to keep it, so that it could give her comfort and keep her childhood memories alive, when she leaves home to pursue her own dreams.


Biscuits from my childhood

Biscuits were an integral part of my childhood. My mom usually carried a biscuit packet in her handbag, to keep her three girls from going cranky with hunger.

Courtesy – 123rf.com

There were such wonderful biscuits. From simple glucose biscuits to marie biscuits and hundreds of other yummy items in between, we have had some great biscuit memories.

One of the best variety of biscuits was the cream biscuit – a layer of yummy cream sandwiched between two round biscuits. What divine flavours the cream had – orange, pineapple, vanilla, chocolate! 

The fun part was when we would separate the two sides of the cream biscuits and scrape the cream off with our tiny teeth.

Then again, there were biscuits called the dot biscuits; each biscuit not bigger than a dollar coin, perfect rounds. I remember that this biscuit was a favourite in my cousin’s place. The biscuits used to sit in a round, glass jar, atop a shelf. And we were allowed to eat it during tea time (read milk time for us kids).

There was a rectangular biscuit, which had sugar crystals embedded on its surface. There was a square shaped biscuit that was both salty and sweet, all at once. It had 9 small holes in 3 rows.  My sisters and I used to nibble this biscuit around the edges.

Then again, fun arrived in the form of animal biscuits. We used these animals to create shadow puppets that finally got swallowed by little girl monsters.

‘Biscuit carved art’ was a fun game, where we would carefully sculpt shapes out of the biscuits with our teeth, and then compare our works of art.

Biscuits were also ‘shared love’ with our grandma, who dipped her biscuits in tea in the evenings and popped yummy, soaked biscuits into our mouths with lots of love. Biscuits were also crunched up crumbs brought for me from school by my elder sister. Biscuits were also buttery and round, and came freshly baked with a heavenly smell from the local baker!

The best of all for me were the jim-jams. Truly a slice of heaven. We lost our charm for biscuits in high school, but the craving hit us again, when we were away at college in hostel ;  the best way to beat the hunger pangs that came when we studied late into the night.

As I write this, I am sinking my teeth into a perfectly rectangular piece of lemon puff biscuit.  Delicious.

Mom’s cooking

Indian cooking is elaborate. Every dish requires time to perfect. Most dishes involve multiple processes such as wet grinding, pounding, roasting, seasoning etc.

We Indians celebrate many, many festivals each year, and the high point of these celebrations is the food. Every festival has specific dishes to celebrate it.

Most Indian women, atleast the one’s from my mom’s generation, are walking recipe books.


       Courtesy – http://www.wikihow.com

My cooking skills took shape only after marriage, and rather than consult any recipe book, I would just pick up the phone to call my mom.  Our conversations went something like this.

Me: Hi Amma

Mom: Hi…How are you?

Me: All good. Can you tell me the recipe for this sweet dish (some name)?

Mom: Sure…it’s very simple. It is 1:1:2.

Me: Wait..what’s 1:1:2

Mom: It’s the ratio of the ingredients.

Me: Mom, can we start with the ingredients?

Mom: Aha…of course…

And she gave me the recipe, baby step by baby step.

Over the years, I have become quite an accomplished cook, and know all my ratios.

But I am still trying to achieve that finesse in my dishes, which my mom seemed to achieve with ease; and that perfect aroma when all the ingredients have blended just right. 

Even yesterday, I called my mom to ask for her Vegetable Biriyani recipe. Just listening to the recipe brought back memories of cousins and happy Sundays, uncles and aunts and afternoons of play.

I could remember the smell of my mom’s Biriyani wafting through the house – chillies and ginger and mint and garlic and coriander and onions….and cloves and cinnamon and bay leaves…and many more lovely ingredients.

Mom’s cooking…always the best!

Candy fight

Last weekend, my husband and I had gone out to lunch at an Indian restaurant in our neighbourhood. In most Indian restaurants, sugar-coated fennel seeds, cumin seeds and sugar candy are usually served after lunch, as mouth fresheners.  As I chewed on the cumin seeds, my thoughts flew back to my childhood.

While we were growing up, there were some yummy candies and sweets, which we usually bought on the weekend.

There was Egg Candy, named so because it looked like an egg. The candy was so big that once you popped one into your mouth, you couldn’t talk for a while. The other was what we called ‘Kamarkat’, made of jaggery and peanuts.

However, one of the more popular ones was the ‘Jeeraga Mittai’ or Cumin Candy, which was cumin seeds individually dipped in coloured sugar, to make millions of colourful, tasty beads.


        Courtesy – http://www.thehindu.com

These candies were usually sold in packets of 100 gms or 50 gms.

When I was in class 2, one evening, as my sister and I walked home from school, my sister showed me a gift given to her by her teacher for having aced her spelling test.  The gift was a colourful fish-shaped box that was packed to the brim with colourful bits of Cumin Candy.

My eyes grew big as I saw the fish box. It was made of coloured plastic that looked like stained glass. It was so beautiful!

I asked my sister if she would share it with me. But she quickly tucked it away. I tried my best to get it from her. We ‘struggled’ our way back home; my sister defending her treasure, and I, focussed on snatching it away.

She was taller than I, and kept waving it out of reach. Finally, when I could take it no more, I struck her hard. She complained to my parents, and I was ticked off.

My heart pined, not for the candy but for the box. I wished fervently that my teacher would give out such gifts. The candy box consumed my thoughts that whole week. Later, my sister relented and gave me some candy, but I wanted only the box.

After about a week, when my Dad came back from his Sunday vegetable shopping, he called out to me.  He had bought a candy box for me. It was the most beautiful butterfly ever.

I treasured it for a long time.

Butter biscuits

This afternoon, I was out to do my grocery shopping, when my eyes fell on a box of butter biscuits, neatly packaged and branded.

While I mulled over whether the kids would enjoy the biscuits, my mind raced back to my Grandma’s home.

Back then, we lived in a joint family. Most savouries and Indian sweets were made at home by my Grandma, my mom and my aunt.

However, we did not have an oven at my Grandma’s.   We were nine people at home, and most items were cooked or prepared in large quantities. 

Once every two months, my Grandma would walk down to a small bakery that was located close to the local race course.  She would buy baking flour, sugar, butter and other ingredients, and take it to the baker’s.  She would place  an order for a large quantity of butter biscuits.


   Courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

In addition to the ingredients, she would also pass on a steel container that had a lid and a handle, which we called ‘steel thooku’, which means steel carrier. The order was usually ready the next day.


Courtesy – http://www.trade.indiamart.com

On their way back from work, my dad or uncle would pick up the steel thooku filled with butter biscuits.

The moment the ‘thooku’ reached home, the children were called. The steel carrier was opened with fanfare. Perfectly formed golden, cream butter biscuits, nestled snugly between layers of butter-paper. The aroma that wafted out made our mouths water.

Each golden treat was a slice of bliss.The biscuits usually lasted only a week or slightly more. But while they lasted, we enjoyed every crumb and waited for the next lot!!

Recycled wisdom

When I was growing up, every Sunday, at 8.30 a.m., either my elder sister or I had to accompany our Dad to the vegetable market.

We usually took turns. The trips to the market had a fixed beat. We would set out with two big wire bags. These bags, one a bottle green, and the other a navy blue with pink, were so big that one could fit the entire market in them.


        Courtesy – http://www.flickriver.com

First, we went to the coconut seller, then to the lemon shop, and then to the bakery, then to the English vegetable market and then to the local vegetable market.

These same bags were used to carry our school books from the bookshop at the beginning of every academic year.

In addition to these two behemoths, we had two smaller ones, one red and white, and the other white and red. These two served as our school lunch bags.  My sister and I carried our steel lunch carriers and water bottles, and a fruit, in these bags.


          Courtesy – http://www.flickr.com

These bags were designed for rough use, and for wear and tear.  They lasted  from Grade 5 through high school.

The speciality of these wire bags was that all of them were hand-made by our mom. My mom bought plastic-wire bundles of different colours. After finishing her numerous chores, she would sit down in the afternoon, to weave these beautiful wire bags. When any of these bags had to be replaced, she would start working on a new one.


             Courtesy – http://www.ebay.com

There were other smaller ones – one for the milkman, and one that my grandma used to carry to the temple everyday. 

These bags made trips to the hospital when my aunt gave birth, witnessed our family picnics, brought back crisp, ironed clothes from the laundry and carried lots of things over many, many years. They witnessed our growing up years, mute spectators to blossoming friendships, school graduation, sibling quarrels and lots more.

I remember how we eagerly waited for a new bag to take shape. At some point, all of us learnt how to create those rows of flowers using wire.

There were no plastic covers or bags then. So, these bags went with us everywhere. Little did we realize that we were reusing and doing our bit for the environment.

When I see the number of plastic bags we use these days, I realize the value of what we had. Maybe I should get my mother to teach me how to make one.

Actually,  when I look at them now, they look quite cool and trendy!

The Tar Baby and A Big Sister

Many, many years ago, when I was in high school, my little sister was in primary school.

Those days, we lived in an apartment block that had a coating of tar on the roof.  That year, all the apartments were given a coat of paint, and the roofs, a makeover.

When the workmen left, some tar was left on the ledge above our porch.  The ledge had a drain pipe to drain rain water. It was a particularly hot summer that year, and the leftover tar melted and dripped out through the drainpipe.

Unfortunately for my little sister, she ran out just when a particularly long thread of melted tar was coming out; and it fell plop, right on the middle of her head.

The poor thing was horrified, and came rushing into the house, crying.

My parents were out, and I, the big sister, was in charge. After giving her some candy, I took matters into my own hands. I sat her down on a chair, wrapped a towel around her shoulders, kept some newspaper on the ground, and with a pair of scissors, I snipped away. First, I chopped off the huge blob of ‘tar stuck’ hair. Then all around the area, wherever I could see even a small bit of tar.


      Image courtesy – http://www.123rf.com

While the tar was completely removed, what was left of my sister’s hair looked horrible. There was long hair in places and then clumps of short hair, where I had worked my magic.

The poor thing was hysteric when she saw herself in the mirror. I dreaded my mom’s arrival.

My mom was mad at me, needless to say, though she was happy that I had managed to get the tar out.

Then, it was a trip to the hairdressers. I went along, if only to assuage my guilt. The hairdresser said that she had to cut my sister’s hair to the height of the little clumps that I had carved on her head. So, my sister’s hair was almost razed to the scalp; and she went around looking like a coconut for a few days.

It was a sensitive topic at home for a while. Now, we laugh about it when we look back!

Zing-Things and Big Fun

Last night, my son was busy playing a game on the iPad. After the game, he came up to me and said, “I need to earn 400 points to buy a few things for my pet.  I wish I could get it right now, but (sighing loudly) I have to wait another 24 hours at least.”

I chuckled, and that irritated him.

“Why are you smiling, mom? Do you know how difficult it is to wait 24 hours for something?” he asked.

I then recounted to him, a memory from my childhood.

It was in the eighties that television came to many households in India. Most of our homes had black and white TVs back then.  With increasing viewership, advertisers came up with wonderful commercials to push their brands to a new audience, that was just waiting to lap it all up.

Two very popular brands from that time,  advertised on TV and then followed it up with contests for children on the ground.

The first was a tie-up between Disney’s Jungle Book and a fizzy drink called Gold Spot (the commercial went something like this…’Gold Spot The Zing Thing’).  Gold Spot was sold in glass bottles with metal crown caps. When the Jungle Book promotion was on, inside each crown cap was a small, round card with any one of the Jungle Book Characters. We could collect the contest card from prescribed shops, and then collect the character cards, and paste them on the main card.

We were on a mission. Each time we went out, the whole family had to drink only Gold Spot. Immediately afterwards, the crown caps were opened up and the characters taken out.


            Courtesy – http://www.flickr.com

This exercise taught us ‘patience’, and how! We usually got the same characters multiple times. So we had to trade with our friends. Many fun hours were spent, as each of us took our character cards to exchange or discuss with our friends. We had a deal with a small store in town, where we usually bought provisions, to put away the crown caps for us.

It took us more than 2 months to fill up the competition card, but the joy that came with it was priceless.


           Courtesy – http://www.flickr.com

The second big excitement was when one of the most popular bubble gum brands was launched. It was called Big Fun and was very tasty. We spent hours chewing and blowing bubbles with the gum.

As part of the Cricket World Cup, the brand announced a contest for children, where each child had to collect information sheets about famous cricketers. These sheets were inside the bubble gum wrapper. We had to collect around 40 such sheets, and then send it to the Big Fun Company. The first 500 entries would receive gift hampers.

My sisters and I were on a mission. We managed to collect all of them, and sent it by post.

The wait was agonizing. One fine day, we received a letter that said that we had won a gift hamper. We went mad with excitement. And then the long wait began.

After about a month, we got a big cover on which was a Big Fun logo. We cut it open. By then, our entire group of friends knew and all of them joined us in opening the hamper.

It had a huge sheet filled with board games, one whole packet of Big Fun, some labels, timetables and some stationery.

Our eyes shone with so much joy. We could not stop talking about it for ages. The long wait paid off.

My son heard me out and said, “That’s an awfully long wait, mom. I am glad mine will be over tomorrow.”

I smile. There was so much joy in the collecting and waiting. Not sure if this generation of kids has that kind of patience.

When I entered the kids’ room….

Monday morning, and I stand in the children’s room with a dazed look.

Two phenomena seem to have hit the room – a Science project, and a long weekend. Phew!

I survey the C.H.A.O.S. Where do I begin? This is going to take a while. My mind tempts me to run away. Maybe a cup of strong coffee later, this mess may actually not look as bad as it seems?

Maybe NOTHING. I start plodding through the remnants of scientific genius, discarded ideas, shreds of paper in every conceivable colour, blobs of glue that have bound many of these shreds together, twine, miles of twine, that have snaked their way under the study table and swivel chairs. I take a break.

I move to another part of the room.

“Ouch!” A small, colourful board pin has entered my heel. I gingerly remove it. More paper, and many dinosaur toys, all entangled in twine, velcro pieces now, stuck to felt paper, which is in turn stuck to Blu-tac.  There is a shower of pencil shavings as I move a few notebooks, treasures that have been waiting to greet me!

Under the dump that’s the bed, I find 3 pairs of scissors! The icing on the cake is a small bottle of black paint that has not been closed. Now I look part-leopard, part mom.

Some semblance of normalcy is returning to the room, but my BP is shooting up. As my hands sift through the mess, my mind conjures up dire punishments and threats.

The bedsheet seems to have been pulled away from the cot. I tug at it, and look under. There, I find something that makes me laugh out loud.

My son has made a make-shift hospital for one of his Ben10 toys there. The toy has a broken knee. He seems to have fixed it with Blu-tac, and an ice-cream stick for support, giving his toy a cool, dark place in which to recuperate.

This, I am loath to disturb.

A Scar-ry Dream

I have a small scar on my forehead, almost hidden by my hair.  My daughter, noticed it one day and asked me if it was a birthmark?

I told her that it was a scar from chilhood and proceeded to tell her the story behind the scar.

When I was in Grade 2, I was cast in the role of a princess in our annual school concert. The princess had to wear a red silk gown with sequins, shimmering and glittering.

My eyes grew as big as saucers when I saw the dress, and I imagined myself, on stage, in that dress.

The concert went off well, but I refused to take off the dress till the weekend was over. And every day after that, when I came back from school, I would wear the same dress, much to the initial amusement of my folks and then to the growing irritation and exasperation!

Our home had a wooden staircase, which led to a bedroom on the first floor. The staircase had a wooden carved railing. When I stood  near the highest step, my eyes were level with the ceiling light in the room below. I always stood and admired this.

During one of the red princess outfit days, I had a dream that I was flying through the stair railings and around the light in the room below. It was so realistic that I believed I could do it for real.

The very next morning I stood on the stairs and launched myself, trying to get through the railings. I tripped and rolled with heavy bumps and thuds on the wooden stairs straight into a small brass decorative lamp, on whose sharp edge I hit my head. It was quite painful and I was given 4 stitches on the head.

A truly ‘Scar-ry Dream’ it was!