Very, Berry Good

I am doing my weekly vegetable shopping; my eyes fall on lovely, green gooseberries.

We Indians pickle gooseberries, grind them into chutneys or eat them raw, with a little salt.

My mouth waters when I see these beautiful berries. I quickly unroll a plastic bag from the dispenser and fill it with gooseberries.

As I stand in the checkout line, I smile as I remember how we loved these small berries as children.

Just outside our school, was a street hawker, who sold all kinds of berries. She was usually seated on a stool in front of a small table, where beautiful triangular mounds of berries called out to young children.


              The Indian Jujube
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The measuring of these berries was done using small metal containers called ‘padis’ – a measuring system that goes back hundreds of years, and which was still prevalent when I was growing up. There were measuring containers of different sizes, each priced accordingly.


     The padis used for measurement
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The lady usually had an assortment of berries, all in vibrant colours – Naga Pazham (Jamun), Vicki Pazham (a local wild berry), Elantha Pazham (Indian Jujube) and Gooseberries.

We usually bought an assortment for 25p. With our school bags slung on our back, we would receive the berries in our palms, and bite into them lazily, as we took the bus home.

The Naga Pazham usually coated our tongues purple, and we would sometimes pretend that we had worn lipstick, by applying the juice on our lips.


                  The Naga Pazham
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The wizened, old lady who sold these berries, was there as long as I can remember. She must have sold thousands of berries to school children over the years.

She did not speak much, but just cackled out the price, when asked. She had a jute bag, under which our coins would disappear. During winter she wore a scarf and a shawl, but she was always there, come rain or shine.

I come back to the present and feel a tingle of anticipation when I think about eating the gooseberries I have bought.

Moonlight dinner

When we were growing up, most homes had backyards. Most of these yards had at least a few trees like the coconut tree, mango tree and neem tree.  They also had other plants like hibiscus, jasmine etc. Another standard fixture in these yards was that most of them had wells with pulleys, for drawing water for household chores.

The area around the well was usually cemented, creating a lovely space in the backyard to play, work and have fun.

During our summer holidays, all of us, cousins, gathered in our grandparents’ home; blissful days where we played the same games over and over again. The adults were happy to catch up and go out shopping. Nobody bothered us, as long as we showed up at meal times.

Dinners then were absolute fun, the reason being that we ate in the backyard, sitting under the silvery glow of the moon, as the gentle breeze from the Bay of Bengal whispered through the coconut trees.

Under millions of twinkling stars and a creamy moon, all of us usually sat in a semi-circle. Each of us was given a small piece of banana leaf. On this leaf, we were each served one papad (poppadum), a big portion of vegetable and a little mango pickle (all home-made).


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One of the aunts  mixed rice and a lentil-gravy, called sambar, in a really huge vessel and sat in the middle of the semi-circle.

We would cup our right palms and put out our hands for the rice. The aunt would serve each of us in turn. We  would each add some vegetable, have a quick bite of our papad and eat it with the rice.  After completing the full semi circle, the cycle would start again.

We got to hear stories if we were lucky, else we chit-chatted amongst ourselves. The other adults sat leaning against the walls of the well, catching up on family gossip.

After the sambar rice, we were served curd rice. The huge quantities were polished off in no time. With full stomachs, we played some more games in the backyard.

By 9.00 p.m., the household would start winding down. Those were the days without air conditioners, so on most days we slept on the huge terrace, under the stars – one huge row of cousins and another row of adults. Singing and laughing, till the whispering wind kissed our eyelids closed.

The Viewing Point

When I was about seven, our home was on the top of a hill, part of a long row of houses.

About 150 metres from our house was a green slope, that had a vantage view of our little town. During our school summer holidays, we often went to this place, and sat down to take in the view of the town. All the buildings looked like matchboxes, and the people like scurrying ants.  The sky was a lovely blue with cotton puff clouds floating lazily. Sweet little birds flew across the sky, going about their busy day.

We usually carried a small bag with pear, peaches and potato wafers.  We spent many hours letting imagination take over, playing games, discussing so many, many things.

Our viewing point gave us two special treats – one was a clear, uninterrupted view of the local Race Course; the other was a view of the huge circus tent that was usually put up in summer in one of the local grounds.


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We watched horses being walked by their trainers, we watched them streak past in races, small black and brown streaks from where we watched, white jockeys on their backs. The wind sometimes carried the voices of the commentators to us; sounds that came to us in waves and bursts.

We predicted wins from afar as we munched into golden peaches.

The circus tent was open at the top to allow space for the trapeze artists to swing from end to end. From where we sat, we could see their heads coming up for a fleeting second, as they reached the top and then went down again to amaze the audience below.

Before we went to the circus, we speculated excitedly about the lions, elephants and clowns that we would see, as we crunched into salted wafers!

After watching the circus, we dissected the whole show, minute by minute.The glitter inside the circus tent, was so exciting.

Our days under the sun from our viewing point, were even better. Lazy summer holidays, lying under the sun, coming home rosy cheeked.

Inside the house, it was always cool; and we splashed our faces with cold water. 

Days of pure bliss!

Bookworm silence….

Last night, both my children were reading, and when I asked them to go to bed, they pleaded repeatedly to be allowed more time to finish their books.

Being a bookworm myself, I could not deny them that pleasure, so motherhood took a backseat, and the book lover in me enjoyed their happiness at this unexpected treat.

When I was growing up, we lived in a modest house, in a joint family. At night, my sisters, grandma, aunt and I shared one room.

It was a cozy room, filled with comfy quilts, soft mattresses, my aunt’s knitting paraphernalia, my grandma’s prayer books and our entire collection of books. 


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Our Dad was very particular that the lights had to be switched off by 10.30 pm, unless we had exams (this, when we were older).  As any bookworm would agree, the joys of reading late into the night, without interruption, are indescribable.

Our grandma was usually asked to ensure that we followed the rules. But once my Dad went into his room, my sister and I would stuff pillows below the door, so that light wouldn’t escape from under. We would then read our books till late into the night, especially during our summer vacation. Our grandma’s pleas usually fell on deaf ears and we bribed her with lots of hugs, kisses and granddaughterly love; and it worked everytime.

She probably realized the joys of reading too, and wanted us to enjoy it. And right through the year, when the bright moon shone through the windows, or monsoon winds howled past,  or soft frost fell all around the countryside, we read on, falling in love with so many, many books.

I come back to the now. I pull out the book I’m currently reading, and savour this pleasurable bookworm silence.

‘Petti kadai’ – the corner shop

Across Indian cities, towns, and villages, there are small shops called ‘petti-kadais’ known by the local language equivalent in each region.  The name loosely translates to the ‘box shop’, not because they sell boxes, but because they are shaped like boxes. Small, compact shops on every street.

The wonderful thing about these shops (thousands of which exist to this very day) is that they can cater to 99% of your daily shopping and convenience requirements.


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From neatly stacked glass jars stocking all kinds of delicious candies and savouries, to veggies and fruit, to basic kitchen provisions, to stationery to shampoo satchets to washing soap to newpapers and magazines, these ‘petti kadais’ have it all.

When we were kids, most of our school assignments were incomplete without a visit to the neighbourhood ‘petti kadai’.

These shops were usually manned by a single person, who  could work magic, and produce any thing one required, from its recesses.

We often ran to the ‘petti kadais’ with our weekly pocket money, to buy poppins, cumin seed candy, lollipops and many other yummy treats.

These days the ‘petti kadais’ sell top-up for phone calling cards, offer door delivery services, and a wider-range of products.

Their ruthless and efficient use of space has to be seen to be believed!

A metal trunk and a table cloth

After my siblings and I left home to pursue our dreams, my mom put away the things that each of us treasured, in three huge metal trunks, one for each of us.

They clanged and made loud noises each time they were opened, allowing us a peek into our past and the things that meant a lot to each of us.

Just before I got married, my mom asked me if I wanted to take the trunk with me. I was attached to the trunk and decided to take it to my new home. I still have it,  a big blue one.

But before my wedding, I cleared the trunk. What fun it was, it had yellowed books by Enid Blyton, a tennis ball that I got free with a chocolate drink, hundreds of stickers, my slam books from high school and university, a book where I copied my favourite quotes, pressed dry flowers from our garden, a few beads and pebbles, and a table cloth from our craft class in school.

We had a compulsory craft class from Grades 6 through 8. Each year, we were expected to complete two projects. We learnt how to make plastic wire bags, a green parrot lampshade, embroidered handkerchiefs, a table cloth and many others.

The tablecloth was white in colour;  we had to draw floral patterns at the four corners and in the middle. Then using all the stitches we had learnt, we had to embroider the cloth.

My mom was very happy with the final product and displayed it proudly at home, for everyone to see.

As with everything else, newer, better things took precedence and the table cloth faded from memory, till it resurfaced when I cleared the trunk. I still have it with me. Here are the pictures.






A tablecloth with memories of our childhood trapped in its stitches, of pretty flowers and picnic baskets, of butterflies on a meadow, of carefree school days gossiping with friends as we sewed on….

A bird that ate too much & a flying car

My five cousins and I, stared at our aunt open mouthed. She was narrating one of our favourite lunchtime stories.

When we realized that she had paused, we automatically chewed what was in our mouths, and ate a few more mouthfuls. Another pause from our aunt meant that it was yucky vegetable time. But, we would have done anything to listen to her stories. She was an amazing storyteller.

One of our favourite stories was about this little sparrow, who had tasted some sweet porridge near a small hut. The sparrow couldn’t forget the taste of the porridge and was determined to have more.  The sparrow walked up bravely to the old granny, who lived in the hut, and asked her if she could make some for her. The granny gave the sparrow a list of things to gather, like rice and sugar and milk and clarified butter, after which she would make the said porridge.

The determined little sparrow, managed to gather all the ingredients, and gave them to the granny.  The granny  prepared the porridge in a big vessel, and kept it outside to cool. The little sparrow could not wait, and managed to gobble up the entire contents of the big vessel, before the granny could give it to her.

As the porridge was very hot, the sparrow scalded her beak and then drank up all the water from the pond nearby. Having eaten too much, the sparrow dragged herself to a barn nearby, and slept in the hay. A cow that happened to eat the hay, caused the sparrow to move, and the entire contents of her stomach came out, flooding the entire village. People and things floated.

The end.

All of us loved this story, and asked for it to be narrated at every meal time. And our dear aunt never disappointed.

When my kids were young, I told them many bedtime stories, this one was one of the first ones I told them. I laughed with them and relived the joys of my childhood.

Just a couple of months ago, my son asked me if I could tell him a bedtime story, though he admitted he was too big for bedtime tales now, but would I still do it?

So there I went, narrating the same story of the bird that over-ate.  My daughter joined in too, and all of us had a good laugh; but this time it was at the story’s absurdity. But we enjoyed it all the same.

Cut to this Sunday. My daughter and son, spent the morning skating. We bumped into one of our good friends there, whose son, aged five, was also skating.

We drove back home together, in our car,  and my daughter spun a story to the little boy, about how our car had a flying button that could make our car fly over a traffic-jam!  The little boy’s eyes opened wide in amazement.

“Can you make the car fly, please, please?” he asked.

“The button works only on weekdays when traffic is heavy”, replied my daughter.

The little boy continued to look amazed and I could see his mind imagining a flying car. He discussed it with his mother.

The wonder in his eyes hit me. The kind of wonder that comes with innocence, when anything can happen and where anything is possible – from flying cars, to sparrows that can cause floods.

I realized how time has flown; my children have crossed that stage of make-believe,  and have now started spinning tales for younger kids, and seem to enjoy their open-eyed wonder.

I smile.

Of pine forests, high jump and dreams

During our recent holiday, when we were outside the local Botanical Gardens, a lady came to us, selling painted pine cones.

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The pine cones triggered a wonderful memory from my childhood.

There was a beautiful pine forest near our little township. We could get there, by walk, in ten minutes.

My friends and I, went there sometimes to collect pine cones and play in the soft, fallen pine needles.

We would also take fresh pine needles off the tree, and braid them, as they were in threes.We have had many hours of fun there.

Then again, in the eighties we watched the Seoul Olympics on television. We watched the track and field events, and discussed them with fervour, with our friends.

Very inspired by the athletes, and sensing potential Olympians in each one of us, we built a high jump pit.

We got two eucalyptus wooden poles that we stood on each side. We hammered nails at various heights, on both poles, and found a thin wooden stick that we used to jump over.

We had lots of fun high-jumping, hearing the applause in our minds.  There was however, one small problem. We had to be careful when we fell on the other side. Though there was grass cover, we still ended up bruising ourselves at times.

The pine forest saved our Olympic dreams. We carried many bags to the forest, and brought back dried pine needles.

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We built our own pad to cushion our falls.

What glorious days those were!

A bathroom singer is born

My son has recently discovered that he has a voice, and that it sounds better when it is echoing off the walls of the bathroom!

So, he goes in for his bath and we get treated to a good ten minutes of non-stop singing.

He starts off with One Direction, then moves to Bollywood.

“Owww!” he yells. Looks like he has stubbed his toe. The ‘Owww’ transforms into a Michael Jackson number. We are all gathered outside listening to him, smiling in enjoyment.

There is a cuckoo that says coo, coo in rhythmic intervals from a tree in the garden. This gives him scope for a new composition of his own.

“Coo, coo, I am singing. Oh Cuckoo ….”, he sings.

Suddenly, he hops genres and is belting out old forgotten nursery rhymes.

We thoroughly enjoy his performance. Suddenly, the shower stops. We hear the latch turning. We flow away like water, to our respective chores.

My son comes out,  humming softly to himself.

The Reunion

The school building had stood there for slightly more than a century. Thousands of children had passed through its portals; to meet life and its various challenges.

The school itself had changed with the times, having been strengthened with new blocks, coats of paint and refurbishment.

The school smiled as it thought of the little children in Grade 1, in their new uniforms, afraid to leave the security of their mothers’ hands. The echoes of small and happy action songs echoing off its walls.

The school sighed at the furrowed brows of the Seniors as they solved difficult papers. The school laughed at the din in the canteen during recess.

The school remembered with fondness the first crushes of teenage, and the tricks children played.

The school heard the thunderous applause and hoarse yelling, when important matches were played.

The school saw young teachers, fresh and bubbly, who had loved the school and grown old with it.

The school remembered the graduating batches as they embarked on a new journey, away from its safe harbour.

Today, the school was awaiting the arrival of its old students, who had graduated 25 years ago.

At 10 am, the school watched them arrive. Little girls in pigtails, now transformed into confident young ladies of poise and grace, mischievous boys now wearing formal blazers, and looking debonair. Children who had grown up together, shared their lunches, giggled and fought with each other… looking at each other with love and joy and reliving the delightful rush of memories.

The school watched as they visited every classroom, remembering and recalling – voices from the past, their successes and failures, the small joys and misunderstandings. Every class brought fresh memories. As they walked down the wooden staircase, they sang their school song with gusto and moist eyes.

They sat in the classroom and caught up with each others’ lives.

They realized that ‘life had happened’ to each one of them, in many different ways. They shared slices of their lives, both good and bad. They saw grey hair, bifocal lenses, and searched for their childhood pals, in each others’ faces. They laughed a lot, with so much abandon.

One day of each of their childhoods, relived again. Pure bliss!

The school welcomed back her children with happiness and enjoyed the day with them, before they went their separate ways.