The yearly pickle ritual


It is 11 am in the morning; and as I type away on my keyboard, one corner of my eye is watching my phone for a call that I have been expecting from a friend.

This is not a regular ‘catch-up’ call. This call signifies a yearly ritual, when one my dearest friends buys special raw mangoes, makes the yummiest mango pickle, bottles it and then gifts it to all her dear friends.

So, today is that day..and just the thought of the pickle makes me salivate.

Soon, my screen lights up and I hop down joyfully to our lobby, where my friend passes the bag, waves a cheery goodbye, and drives away in a rush.

I hug the bag and walk home. Before I put the bottle into the refrigerator, I open the lid and inhale the aroma. Pure bliss!!

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I look at the clock, an hour and a half to go for lunch. I get back to work. But like a child who has been given a gift or who has a happy secret, I keep smiling in anticipation.

As I try to focus on my work, my Dad visits my thoughts. Back in my childhood, whenever my Dad sat down to eat, and when the first hot serving of rice was on his plate, the first thing he would do was to add a little bit of ghee, and then add mango pickle or lime pickle to his rice and eat that as his first course. And if we were around, he would give us spoonfuls of hot pickle rice, and we would devour them with relish.

It is finally lunch time. As all of us sit down at the table, I heap hot, fluffy rice on my plate, add a little ghee, and add my friend’s mango pickle. I mix it, and take the first mouthful. Divine!!!

And for a minute there, I go back to my childhood kitchen, and feel my Dad’s presence. The years have flown by, but time seems to have gone back to the past for a brief sojourn.

I ask my kids if they want to taste the pickle rice. And they taste it and love it! No surprise there at all!!

I smile. The bigger things in life may keep changing, but there are some simple moments in life that are sheer magic, and that don’t change.

I bless and thank my friend for all her efforts and love each year.

The Pink Princess Gown


Many many years ago, when I was in primary school – in grade four – I was selected to play the role of the princess in the play, ‘The Frog Prince’, for our school Annual Day.

Rehearsals were on in full swing, as I memorized my lines and performed multiple times before the mirror, before my grandma and aunt, and in the kitchen, as my mom heard me and corrected my intonation and expressions, while still busy cooking with her back turned to me.

I had to carry a small golden ball for the play, the ball that would fall into the well. My dearest Uncle, my dad’s brother gave me one of his orange table tennis balls, which I then wrapped in gold craft paper.

There was only one item left, and that was my costume. I needed to wear a princess gown, with multiple layers of frills. Even before I got the costume, I imagined myself in it. But then, we ran into a problem. The rental shop did not have one that fit my size, none of the clothes’ shops in town had a suitable gown.

When my mom came from the market after doing the rounds of various shops and told me that she could not find one, I was upset and wondered what would happen.

But my mom, with a twinkle in her eye said, “I have bought the material and I will stitch you a gown for your play.”

At the time, I was happy and went back to my world, content that the gown was sorted. After all her daily chores, my mom took my measurements and proceeded to start cutting and sewing.

I remember clearly that it was late at night when she started. However, because of the heavy monsoon rain and winds, there was a power cut. I remember that my Dad lit a huge candle and sat with my mom, as I dozed off to dreamland.

The next morning, when I jumped out of bed and ran to the room with the sewing machine, the room was littered with bits of cut cloth and thread and lace. But on the handle of the cupboard, on a hanger, was the most beautiful pink princess gown ever. My mother made me try it on and made a few adjustments. I had to take it to school that day for a costume rehearsal.

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The rehearsal and the final Annual Day play went off very well. I wore that gown on and off when the desire to become a princess overtook me, which was quite often. And as with everything else, the gown slowly faded away into oblivion.

Today, when I think back to that night, I can imagine how much effort my mother would have put in, sewing without power and just by candlelight. I am sure she sewed into the wee hours of the morning. And what to say about my Dad, who was with my Mom supporting her through the night!

My Mom probably does not even remember this, but I still do. At that time, I was just thrilled that I had got the costume, but now I can only see my mother’s deep and selfless love for her child. Love you Amma and Dad. Thank you for that night and for the many millions of things you have done for me.

When the wind carries a tune…..


It is late in the afternoon, and I type away furiously on my keyboard, my eyebrows furrowed in concentration. After a few minutes, I stretch my neck and back. My eyes fall on a musical windmill that we have in our living room. For the first few weeks after buying it, we would often wind it and enjoy its music, but now it just sits snugly, a mute spectator to our lives.

I get up and wind the windmill. As the blades of the windmill turn slowly, nice tinkling music plays. I am immediately transported to a cold, windy day in Delft, Netherlands, to a pottery workshop we visited. I still remember how our teeth chattered, and how we huddled with the kids to manage the cold. One little musical windmill was all it took to transport me to that beautiful vacation.

We all have these songs and tunes in our lives that evoke strong memories and deep nostalgia. There are some old songs from the 70s, which bring back my Dad’s voice, and my childhood, with such clarity.

There are songs that my husband and I share, which are truly special to us – for they symbolize some sweet, some poignant and many fun moments in our marriage.

Then again, there are the songs with the kids. Nursery rhymes, lullabies, movie tracks of their favourite animated movies and now their favourite bands and albums, songs which float about in our home, creating impressions and memories in our brains, like old records. These songs with the children are the melodious threads that bind all of us, and that fill our home with love and rhythm.

Then there are the songs with our friends, back when we were in high school and belted out popular numbers of the time. There were only cassette players then, no smartphones or mp3 tracks. We couldn’t share music files, but we sure shared time with friends and sang to our hearts’ content.

There are many more such – kitchen and cooking songs that flow with the chopping and the stirring and the boiling and the frying; workout music and the peppy beats to push myself to walk everyday, and of course, songs in the shower! And now, as I cruise through the forties, meditation music has been added to this collection.

And so, the next time the wind gently blows your way and brings with it some beautiful melody from your past, stop and relive those wonderful memories – for in those musical notes lie the very stories of our lives – of those halcyon days of our youth, of times with our friends, of some moments that transformed us from within; of music that made us new parents, of music that made us parents of teens, and of music that defines who we are!

What’s in a gift?


I am racking my brains trying to come up with a gift for my husband’s birthday. I make a mental list of the various categories – wallets, pens, shirts, belts, shoes, perfumes and watches.

“Ah..that was easy”, I think.

Very early in our marriage, I discovered that my husband is not into surprises at all. He believes that his gifts to me should be chosen only by me..and not by him. And that is how it has been. I have chosen each one of my birthday gifts, and let me tell you, there is a certain joy to be had in choosing one’s own gifts.

So, back to my story. With all the gift-categories in my head, I ask hubby dear to let me know what he wants. I present each category to him.

Shirts?

No. I have way too many.

Shoes?

The ones I have are enough.

Wallets?

The one I have is comfortable.

Belts?

Why would I want another one?

Ties?

Don’t wear even the ones I have.

Pens?

Nope

Watches?

No

And in a mere two minutes, our gift-conversation is over, and I am back to the same confused state as before.

If the roles were reversed, I would have many more categories, and sub-categories, and specific requirements under each of them. I would spend an entire day mulling over my options on what to buy. Half the excitement is in planning, but my dear husband shows no interest at all.

I feel deflated. My kids are creating or buying their own gifts. They do not include me in their plans – and they are planning Dad gifts, not wife gifts. Sigh!

Later that evening, all of us settle down in the living room, busy with our own work and thoughts.

I ask my husband again about the gift. He says the same thing again – that he does not want anything.

A sly thought creeps into my head and slips out of my tongue.

I say, “Maybe I should buy something for myself to celebrate your birthday.”

My kids are horrified by the sudden emergence of this greedy mom!

“Mom, how could you say this?” they ask, still in shock!

My husband says, “Actually that’s a good idea”.

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My son says, “Mom we will get you a gift for your birthday, but you can’t take away Dad’s gift.”

My husband and I catch each other’s eye and laugh.

And then my husband says, “I will tell you what I want – just cook a special family dinner with all my favourite items.”

And that’s exactly how we celebrate – with yummy food, a delicious cake, lots of love and family time.

Family – the best gift ever.

An Ode to my Dad


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This is a picture taken from my Dad’s notebook from 1959, where he meticulously wrote down things and quotations he found interesting.

This is an old post…it is now six years since my Dad passed away.  Felt like re-posting.

It is six years since my Dad passed away. He was there one moment, and gone the next.  Initial shock gave way to denial, and then a gradual acceptance; because this is the only truth, that whatever our journeys are, whatever our desires and goals, we all have to go some day.

Time, as they say, is the best healer.  We learn to move on by getting sucked back into the vortex of our lives.

But memories of my Dad tug at me from time to time. In bits and pieces, as audio files when I hear his voice, sometimes as movies, as I playback some incident from my childhood, sometimes in newspaper articles, sometimes in the words of another writer, I see my Dad.

My Dad, who used to hold my sister’s and my hands in each of his, as he dropped us at the bus stand, whistling to a small colorful bird that use to sit atop the electrical cables across the road.  My Dad would call out, and the bird would answer in return.  This was an important part of our morning routine.

My Dad, who taught us how to file a piece of paper by folding it just right, who insisted that we learn to type at an early age, who sketched my grand mom and aunt, sitting where he was, who meticulously copied quotations that he liked from magazines and newspapers into his spiral-bound notebooks, who took us on long walks and listened to our non-stop chattering patiently.

My Dad, a man of few words, with his fantastic sense of humour and lop-sided smile, a loving son who ensured that his mom’s supply of lozenges was always well-stocked, who spent time with his home-ridden sister to show how much he cared for her, who helped my mom around the house and whose punctuality put clocks to shame!

My Dad, who held a candle near the sewing machine, one whole night, when there was a power cut, as my mother sewed a dress for my school concert, with the monsoon winds howling under the door and rain lashing away at the windows.

My Dad, who taught us to love literature and music, who taught us to articulate ourselves clearly when we spoke or wrote.

My Dad, who taught us by example that it is not from money or material things, but from love and family that happiness is created and sustained.

My Dad, who respected every choice I ever made, and was always there to hug me, when things did not go as planned, who made coffee for me as I studied late into the night.

My Dad in his black blazer, going to work; trying his hand at cooking after retirement, humming under his breath, cleaning ‘this & that’ and chiding us gently, “A place for everything and everything in its place”.

My Dad, who I now see in myself, in my need to write, who I see in my son, as he uses his pencil to sketch, who I see in my sister’s walk and in my mom’s talk, as she has unconsciously picked up some of his mannerisms over the years.

His memories are beautifully woven into the fabric of our lives, forming patterns that connect us to him, in what we do, in how we walk and in how we try to live up to our fullest potential, because that was the only dream he had for each of us.

Love you, Dad.

Deepavali memories


I stand in my kitchen peering into the kadai, adding besan, spoonful by spoonful, into the bubbling sugar syrup that’s right now gurgling out golden ghee…..I leave the gas burner for a minute to get a drink of water & the delicious aroma of ghee, sugar & the first hints of Mysore Pak assault my senses.
My mind jumps back to another time …so long ago, in my hometown, where we would rush home after school to this wonderful smell of sweets being made. The air was festive – my granny would be on her sofa looking content with her family bustling around her. My mom would be filling-up box after box of sweets and savouries to distribute. At around 6 when darkness fell the first Lakshmi Vedi would go off with a loud crack…reverberating through the night. A frisson of excitement would run through the house…Oooooh “Deepavali is here”. We would await our Dad’s arrival from the cracker shop & inspect the goodies & share them.
One year, a coward, ready only to burst sparklers & flower pots, then a few years down, the brave one, setting off the dreaded ‘atom vedi‘, returning to base with a smirk that said it had been so easy. Then keeping our alarms for three thirty a.m. to be the first one in the block to set off the ‘100 wala & oosi pattasu’. Then the early years of college when it was not so cool to get up and be seen as doing all these with Featured imageenthusiasm. Then working life, marriage and kids.
Now, trying to re-create all that magic. Will my children remember the aroma of Mysore Pak wafting through the house? Do they look forward to the traditions we are trying to keep up every year? Yes, I am sure they will…maybe a different version of the same story..but the joy, the bonding & love will definitely continue.
Happy Deepavali to you all.

Childhood Treasures


It is cleaning time at home. Today I attack the children’s room.  There is a box labeled ‘to be sorted later’, which has art and other school projects that the children have worked on, over the years.  The idea is to make a scrapbook (digital or physical) of these ‘great pieces of art’ that have been instrumental in moulding the children’s personalities.  Today, I decide to get started on this task with fervour.  Setting a deadline of three hours, within which to get a broad sorting done, I plunge into the task.
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Soon, I see the first drawing my daughter ever made of a small girl with curly hair.

I see a green parrot with a red beak.

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I see my son playing weather man, when he actually  made a weather report for the week, after studying the topic ‘weather’ at school. He predicted rain on Thursday!!

I see the world through their eyes, Dad & Mom stick figures with red hearts filled with such innocent and pure love.

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I see mom’s day cards with the pure and innocent love that only children can give unselfishly; I have been given a ‘ruby’, which is somehow more precious to my son than a ‘diamond’, as he has made a special mention of this fact.

I see their simple sketches of a  girl taking her dog out for a walk on a warm sunny day. I see three chickens hatching from Easter eggs.Slide14Slide2

I see their interpretation of a green meadow, with clumps of grass across the page.  I see rainbow coloured elephants and a happy rabbit bounding in a jungle with beautiful butterflies for company.

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I see a desert scene with camels and the Sphinx, I see walruses with two ‘tusksksk’ (not sure of the spelling here), I see ‘dizines’ of flowers and a ‘rangoli’ crafted out of paper.

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I see the repetition of a ‘mom’ & ‘dad’ pattern.

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I see three simple sketches of a hen, corn and the Sun, with labels.

I also see a multi-coloured rooster with an equally vibrant worm on a farm

rooster& a grass hopper in green grass.

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I see a Happy Diwali card and a perfectly juicy summery water-melon; I see a bird guarding her nest, a half-completed fire-spewing dragon, and simple sketches of lions.

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I try to go back in time to see what those afternoons or evenings were like, when the children expressed their creativity through these drawings.  Some I remember, most I don’t.  Did a story that they hear in school cause them to draw what they did? Where did these vibrant colours come from, where did these concepts come from?

When I show it them now, they laugh and giggle as they see each of their drawings.  My son says, “Did we really do that?  Was that actually my very first drawing?”

My daughter is very happy that I have saved all these.  The Easter Eggs were her pre-nursery project, nearly a decade ago.  How time has flown. I am so glad I saved these drawings, so glad I could share it with the children and show them how unique and creative both of them are, and encourage them to spend more time expressing their creativity.

Now, I am ready to scan these pictures.  As I pick up the drawings and move towards the scanner, a small paper flies out of the pile.  I stop to pick it up and then my eyes mist over.  It is a cut-out of my son’s palm…I presume that the topic assigned was, ‘Write a few things about hands’.

With all his innocence my son has written these three sentences about ‘hands’.

“Just like our fingerprints, we are different too.”

“Lend a helping hand for people who need it.”Presentation2

“Our hands are some of the body parts that help us bond with others.”

Needless to say, my 3 hours stretched to almost the whole afternoon and early evening.  I carry these new treasures to digitize them and relive my children’s childhoods.

                      nimi naren, 29 Jan 2015

The Math of Cricket


There was a hush at the dinner table.  The half-yearly school reports had been brought home for parental review. The two sisters of the three-sibling trio had acquitted themselves rather well in terms of overall performance. The quiet that prevailed at the table was because of Arun, the third sibling, whose teacher had requested that both parents meet with her, at the earliest, to discuss Arun’s abysmal performance in Math.

The silent eruption occurred after dinner. Dad was furious and all he had to say was, “Arun, there is a world beyond cricket and the sooner you realize it, the better. No playing cricket, watching cricket or cricket-talk in this house for a week.”

This was like a death sentence, because Arun lived and breathed cricket.

After all, he lived in cricket-mad India, where cricket is the pulse of a billion people, where cricket-talk is revered, and is considered appropriate for any occasion. How could a young boy escape its magic?

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Arun minus his ‘cricket-aura‘ was a sorry sight and an unbearably grouchy companion. His two sisters gave him sympathetic looks. But Dad was Dad. One did not argue.

The meeting at school did not go well. The teacher’s overall feedback was that Arun was smart, but never focussed in class, never showed any interest and was always rattling away mindless statistics about cricket. She also added that he had not grasped even the basic concepts of averages and means, and mental arithmetic that the class was currently doing.

As with every child who has had bad reports, Arun promised his parents that he would do better.

The saddest week of Arun’s life finally came to an end. His excitement was palpable. He eyed his cricket bat hungrily, and looked forward to an India vs. Sri Lanka match that would be telecast later in the day. Somewhere in his head, there was a vague discomfort about school, but cricket caused them all to fade away.

It was dinner time, and Arun’s Dad decided to make it up to the boy by watching the India vs. Sri Lanka match with him.

And then, before his very eyes, he saw his son transform. As the game unfolded ball by ball, Arun rattled off statistics, computing them on the fly – the required run-rate, batting average, probability theory….! Problems in Math that had seemed out of Arun’s grasp in school, the concepts of averages and mental arithmetic that his teacher had wailed about, were being demonstrated right before his eyes. Hope!

He stood up and gave Arun an impromptu hug, much to the boy’s amazement.

He said, “I am not worried about your Math, I am confident that you will get there. Maybe if you look at every problem that the teacher sets you, as something related to cricket? Maybe that will help.”

“Yes, Dad,” said Arun as he stood up to practice one of his batting strokes.