Bubbles of joy


We are heading over to a friend’s home for dinner. My friend is moving out to another part of town, and this is an impromptu plan just before they leave.

Dinner happens around packed cartons and pizza boxes. Laughter flows and echoes off empty walls, as we reminisce about the passage of time and about all the wonderful memories we’ve shared.

Soon it’s time to say bye. Just as we are about to leave, my daughter spots a roll of bubble wrap! And she glides towards it as if in a trance, and starts popping the bubbles. My friend laughs and asks her if she wants a small piece to take away. My daughter nods vigorously. My friend bends down and cuts out a small piece of bubble wrap. When she hands it over to my daughter and lifts her head, she finds that I have joined the queue for a bubble wrap takeaway too!

Image courtesy – http://www.dreamstime.com

My daughter and I grin at each other, as we say our byes and get into the lift. We start popping the bubbles, completely absorbed in this most satisfying of all tasks. We get back home. My son, who had stayed back at home, gets excited when he sees the bubble wrap, and begs for a chance to pop them.

But no, we are selfish girls when it comes to bubble wrap. We don’t want to share something so precious.

We settle down and pop, sometimes row by row, sometimes random patterns. We sigh in contentment. There is something so therapeutic about this. Soon, our bubble wraps look exhausted! We then move on to other things, completely rejuvenated.

Late in the night, when I go around checking the doors and turning off the lights, I see the two pieces of bubble wrap on the sofa. There is a small frisson of hope as I run my hands over them.

Aha, I find an unpopped one. Pop!!! The day finishes on a high note.

Lessons in parenting


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.

Photo by Adriaan Greyling from Pexels

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.

Lesson learnt after many years!!!

The Blind Date – a short story


Mili was seething. Her friends had been setting her up on blind dates on and off. All of them were happily settled – or so they thought! They wanted Mili to settle down. And being a perfectionist, with a clear list of likes and dislikes, none of the men she met passed muster.

“Thanks, but no thanks!” she thought.

The reason for her anger was that her friend, Naomi, had asked her to dinner, as her husband’s (Naomi’s) business partner and friend, Vihaan, was visiting.

But at the last minute Naomi and her husband had asked her to meet Vihaan alone, as their son had to be rushed to hospital due to a severe wheezing condition. They told her that they had tried to reach Vihaan, but that his phone was unreachable.

She understood the situation, but was still mad. She would have preferred to stay back at home to catch up on some work or just watch some TV. Now this!

So, at 7.30 p.m. sharp, she was at the restaurant and was surprised to see that Vihaan was already seated at the table.

They introduced themselves and she passed on the message from Naomi. He looked slightly put off.

They ordered starters and something to drink. They discussed the weather, the latest movies, and their tastes in music. Soon, they discovered that they hailed from the same town and had studied in the same primary school.

They warmed to each other because of this shared history. They laughed more easily now. They even teased each other a little bit.

He loved the way she articulated her thoughts, with a wry sense of humour. She loved the fact that he was well-read and widely travelled.

After dinner, when they started dessert Vihaan stepped out for a call. And when he came back and hitched up his trousers to sit down, she saw that his socks were mismatched. There was a dark brown and a black.

All the positive vibes flew away. This was in her DISLIKES list…men who couldn’t take the time to pay attention to detail. She was ready to leave. It irritated her too much.

He had seen the shocked look on her face as he had sat down. When she looked away, he looked down at his socks.

“Damn that power cut”, he thought. It had happened just when he was leaving the hotel, and he had hoped that he had the right pair. Obviously not. He could sense her coolness.

“One of those obsessive types”, he thought.

They ate their dessert, in silence. He then asked for the cheque.

She said, “I would also like to share the bill. I insist.”

He tried to talk her out of it, but she seemed to be one of those stubborn types.

He paid the bill with his credit card and showed it to Mili.

She looked at it and said, “Just a minute.”

She took her handbag, which was hanging on the back of her chair. She opened it and furrowed her brows. She clucked in exasperation as she realized that her wallet was not in her bag. She had changed bags that evening, to complement her outfit.

She blushed a beetroot red as she told him that she could not find her wallet. It was mortifying.

She told him that she would transfer the cash to him. He told her that it was his treat to her.

As he walked her to her car, he said, “Next time you can treat me, and I will wear matching socks and hope that there’s no power cut.”

The shocked look on her face was priceless. He grinned and walked away into the night.

A Nearly Power-less Dinner!


My grandma was on overdrive.  She had invited her first grandson and his wife, newlyweds, to her home for dinner.  The preparations had started nearly ten days ago, attention being given to every single detail.

Preferences of the new bride were carefully considered, various menu options were listed out and rejected, and finally clarity emerged from total chaos.  My grandmother had spared no effort to ensure that the new bride  would feel welcome, and part of our family.  It was her favourite grandson too!

We, her other grandchildren, were also caught-up in this excitement !  Running errands and eyeing the dishes, which were strictly not to be touched, or licked on the sly.  The whole house was squeaky clean. It was a small independent house, of modest means, with a lovely backyard that had coconut trees, neem trees, and a well for water.  My grandmother had outdone herself.

The day finally arrived, and by 6 p.m. the table was set.  My grandmother’s best crockery was on display, the cutlery shone, and there was the aroma of love and many well-cooked dishes, wafting in the air.

The newlyweds were due to arrive at 7.30 p.m.  At 6.00 p.m. all of us proceeded to get ready and look our best.  My grandmother came out radiant in a beautiful silk saree, elegant as always.  Our parents hovered around chit-chatting, while we played a game of Monopoly.

My grandma went around the house one last time, flicking away imaginary dust and straightening a couple of photo frames.

The clock showed 6.50 p.m. and then, without any notice, there was a power cut, just like that! Those were the days when frequent load shedding happened during the summer months. There was no generator to take over.

We panicked, as the adults scurried about lighting candles, hoping that our thinking faculties would be energized by the candle-light.

Suddenly, my grandma whooped, and said, “I have a brilliant idea. Let’s host this dinner in the back yard, by the well, a candle light dinner, under the moon and the stars.”

Now that we had a sense of direction and purpose, we kicked into action.

Back & forth; carrying, transferring, carefully balancing, till the open-air table was set. The cutlery sparkled even more under the moonlight.

Grandma lit candles all around the wall of the well, and the whole back yard looked transformed, infused as it was with a warm glow.

Just when we pronounced ourselves ready, the newlyweds walked in. They were taken to the yard, with much fanfare and giggling. The new bride seemed like a lot of fun.

Dinner was a fun affair, as family jokes were repeated, stories shared, and we tucked into one of the best dinners ever.

I caught my gran’s eyes as I went to refill my plate.

“We pulled it off, eh?”she chuckled.

A Night on the ‘Mottai Maadi’ (Terrace)


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Recently, I visited the city of Chennai (formerly Madras), after nearly a decade. This city holds very fond memories for me and as the cab drove into the city from the airport I was amazed at how the city had changed and grown.

It was late in the evening when we drove towards the suburbs and here again, I was surprised to see that there were very few independent houses left, most of the landscape consisted only of apartment blocks.

Chennai houses are famous for their terraces or ‘mottai maadis‘ , which are used for drying vegetables for pickling, for sun-drying ‘vadams‘ (cousins of pappadums), for airing mattresses, for family gatherings during functions, and many more things.

But, for me,  the most pleasurable memory of these terraces  was when the entire family would go up to the terrace for nights-out under the stars.  Summers in the city were stifling, and temperatures could soar to above 40 degrees celsius.  Those were the days when we could not afford air-conditioners.

Preparations for such night-outs started just after sundown. A couple of us would go up to the terrace with a broom,  buckets & plastic mugs. We would first sweep the terrace & clear all the dry leaves that had fallen in. Most terraces had a tap connected to the overhead water tank. From this tap we would fill our buckets, and then with the mugs,  splash water all over the terrace. When the first mugs of water fell on the terrace, that distinct and aromatic smell of ‘parched-earth- guzzling-water’, would float our way. A few sniffs, and we would splash a few more rounds of water on the terrace. In about 30 minutes the terrace was dry and cool, the water having carried away the day’s heat.

After a relaxed dinner, the family would make its way up with straw mats, pillows and bed sheets. With a lot of giggling and fun,  the mats were rolled and beds readied. Stainless steel jugs of water and tumblers were kept in a corner.

The family would lie down and feel the gentle evening breeze from the Bay of Bengal whispering through each terrace, through the coconut trees & the neem trees that most houses had. The sounds of the city at night reached our ears – the distant sound of the electric train, the dull roar of traffic on the highway, music blaring from some temple in the neighbourhood, a crow that cawed when it was disturbed in its slumber….

And as the stars twinkled away, my Dad would sing his favourite sixties songs from old Bollywood movies, and we would all join him, our voices echoing through the night.

With the stars as night lamps and the cool lullaby of the breeze, one by one we would all drop off …..   the sounds of the city gently fading away.