Hewwo!!!


What a year 2020 continues to be! Most of us have pretty much lived this year cooped up indoors; while feeling grateful for the gifts of technology and social media that have helped us stay connected with loved ones.

My role as a virtual aunt continues, as I watch and interact with my niece and nephew through video calls.

I was on a video call with my sister last night when my niece, who had gone downstairs with her dad, got back home after getting some fresh air.

My niece, who is 22 months old, recognized me and came over to talk to me, her Pemma (mom’s older sister).

And she gave me the brightest smile ever, and said, “Hewwo Pemma, Hewwo.”

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I blew kisses. And suddenly the screen turned black. After a few seconds, my niece appeared again, and I said, “Hewwo sweetie” …and the screen went black again.

I called out to my sister, and asked her to help my niece hold the phone properly. My sister told me that my niece knew perfectly well how to hold the phone, but the reason the screen was turning black was because each time I said hello or blew kisses at her, she was hugging me by giving the phone a hug.

Awwwwww….. “Bless you my little one.” Even virtual hugs can melt one’s heart.

Virtual sands of time


It is the twilight hour. I stand on the balcony and observe the world outside. The world is slowly being enveloped in the dark purple of night. I turn around and look indoors. Warm yellow light fills our living room. My husband is on a work-related call, my son is finishing up his homework and my daughter is attending classes in her room.

The dining table is set for dinner. I wait patiently for all of them to log off from their virtual lives and log in to family time.

With all family members at home all the time, there is a false feeling that we are spending a lot of time with each other. In fact, we walk around the house leading our own lives, not engaging in quality family time.

I think back to the family holidays we took before the pandemic. Whenever we went to a beach, we would all imprint our footprints on partially wet sand, along with the date. A simple, cute memory of lovely times spent with family. There are many such pictures of our footprints on the sands of time. And just after we took those pictures, the waves would come and wash them away, and we would run back laughing.

How things have changed!

I head back in. All of us are done for the day. We head to the dining table to eat.

And just after dinner, and before everyone slinks away, I order a family hug. My teens react with incredulous looks and awkward smiles. They ask if a hug is really required. I insist. And the four of us gather around for a family hug. We fall into a beautiful silence. That hug, just 10 seconds long, rejuvenates all of us, though the kids will never admit it.

No footprints on the sands for now, but the hug will do quite nicely till then.

My aunt and the knitting needles


For most of us who grew up in the eighties, the days in a year were of two types. School days and holidays. We had a long summer break, and a shorter winter break. School days were packed with classes, homework, and studying for tests and exams. Holidays, however, were blissful, long days; days that stretched this way and that to accommodate our lassitude, days that watched us indulgently as we discovered new books, authors, games, and movies; days that saw us squabbling with our siblings or go out exploring with friends looking for beetles, bugs and magic.

While our holidays were packed with fun activities, there were times when we would suddenly run out of things to do or books to read, or would want to completely avoid our siblings due to an ongoing cold war.

And at such times, I would always seek out my dear aunt, who was a pro at knitting, and who took in orders to hand-knit the most beautiful sweaters, baby mittens, mufflers, scarves, ponchos, shawls and caps. She had a beautiful knitting pattern book that she would pore over every afternoon.

So, at times when there seemed to be nothing to do, I would tell my aunt that I wanted to learn knitting. And with a patience that I can never ever have, she would teach me to tie the wool to the needle, and would slowly explain how to create a knit and a purl. And each time I dropped a stitch, she would patiently undo it and give it back to me.

Many glorious afternoons were spent like this. However, the moment a friend called out to me or if the cold war with my siblings had ended, I would sweetly tell my aunt that I would come back and knit later.

She would smile, and put away my needles and ask me to go out and play. And all through my childhood, I could take up knitting at will, without any pressure to knit anything useful. I made long pieces of knits and purls, that were abandoned till the next time I sought out my aunt again.

Finally, when I had just passed out of high school and had a longer break than usual, I bravely embarked on a knitting project – to knit a sweater for myself – I chose a pale peach colour and discussed a simple 5 knit 5 purl pattern of squares with my aunt.

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And I spent hours knitting; and when I reached the right length, I handed the piece over to my aunt, who then brought the front of the sweater to its right shape. Then I worked on the back of the sweater, and knitted another long piece, and again handed it over to her for completion.

And finally, my aunt got the sweater ready! I had just knitted long pieces, but my aunt told everybody proudly that her niece had knitted the whole sweater.

When I think back now, I realize how rejuvenating those times with my aunt were. She never forced me to learn knitting or master it, she never said anything when I wanted to leave halfway to play or to read. She was simply there for me, allowing me to just be.

And, even today, when I see wool or knitted wear, I feel happy; for it brings back memories of peace, love and contentment and those truly precious moments with my dearest aunt.

Twilight


It is twilight. I stand on my balcony, observing the sky. The cool evening breeze kisses the plants, and they respond by swaying gently.

The sky’s beauty defies description, as it lets go of day and welcomes night. Another day has gone by; lost in the  folds of time, like a million others before it.

Photo by Andreas Fickl from Pexels

It is a time of quiet, a time to reflect upon the day and soak in the beauty of nature. As I watch the sky growing dark, my mom calls me. She shares the sad news that her aunt, my grand aunt, is no more.

She shares beautiful anecdotes of the wonderful times spent with her aunt. And then she sighs deeply and says, “With the passing of this aunt, my parents’ generation is no more. She was the last family member of that generation.”

I can understand how my mom feels. A sudden emptiness, no elder aunt or uncle to talk to or take advice from. That thread that connected my mom to her childhood, her parents and her family history is no longer there. Now, my mom’s generation has become the oldest in our family.

I hang up after talking to my mom for a few more minutes. Night will soon be here, and will again be replaced by day. And the cycle of life will continue, where people will come and go, and where days will arrive and vanish.

But then, there are times like this twilight hour – that straddle both day and night – where time seems to stand still for a bit; where one can feel the timelessness of creation against whose backdrop this cycle of life constantly unfolds. And just how the twilight hour passes the baton from day to night, so also, the baton has now been passed to my mom’s generation.

Indulged


Life and its many moments keep unfolding each day. Most times, we are caught up in our routines and chores, not thinking about or dwelling upon what we do on a daily basis.

But yesterday was different. It rained non-stop, and the world outside was grey and wet. After a sumptuous weekend lunch, I retired to catch some shut eye. My power naps usually last exactly twenty minutes, not a minute more. That is my cue to get up and start the second half of my day, during which I also head to the kitchen to make our afternoon coffee!

But for some strange reason, I slept way beyond my twenty minute quota, and felt a deep laziness pervading my every pore. But the family coffee clock doesn’t stop, does it?

Soon, my husband made an appearance. He saw me napping, and left quietly. Then my daughter showed up in a bit and left too! I could sense them but was too lazy to open my eyes.

After a few minutes, when I was fully awake, I called my husband and said, “Can someone make coffee today?”

He said, “Of course, I can try…but it won’t taste anything like yours. Are you ok with that?”

Hmmm…the coffee taste is what it’s all about. I asked my daughter. She loves coffee too, and she has learnt from me…so there was still some hope!

She agreed enthusiastically. I watched the dull grey world outside, and mindlessly traced water drops with my eye, as they ran down our window. I waited in eager anticipation.

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I mentally imagined my daughter heating the milk, and adding the decoction and just the right amount of sugar. There was a lot of noise from the kitchen. I could hear the clanging of steel. I wondered if they were making coffee or cooking a meal.

I hollered, “Are you guys done?” From their muffled replies I understood that they had spilt something!!! But I held my ground, and suppressed my curiosity to go and interfere. I sat up and smiled lazily….!

And in just a few minutes, my daughter walked in with a frothing cup of filter coffee. I took the first sip. Bliss and perfection. “You have nailed it!!” I said. My daughter smiled.

A rainy day, an afternoon nap, followed by a perfect cup of coffee not made by me! I felt indulged.

Mama Oriole


There once lived a beautiful bird couple Mrs & Mr. Golden Oriole. They had met, fallen in love and made their home in a rich tropical jungle that was lush with fruits and vegetation, where the sun played hide and seek with the fronds, where colourful butterflies chased each other all day, and where the beautiful sounds of heavy rainfall were often heard.

After the monsoon season, Mrs. Oriole had three beautiful eggs in her nest, and patiently cared for them and kept them warm. Mr.Oriole was puffed up with pride as a soon-to-be-dad, taking care of the missus and keeping her happy. Mrs.Oriole had many dreams for her three children. She had to be brought out of her reverie quite often!

And soon, there was chirping to be heard from their nest. Mrs.Oriole had now become Mama Oriole, as she would now be known, her own identity subsumed into her role as a mother. From dawn to dusk, the Orioles were busy nurturing and caring for their hatchlings, whom they named Orin, Orion and Oreo.

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In a few days, as the chicks opened their eyes and got to know their parents and the world, Mama Oriole seemed rather anxious. She did not know if she was imagining it, but could sense that her little Oreo was different from her other two kids. She did not know how, but she knew. She kept a careful watch, her anxiety increasing as the days flew by. Soon, it was time to teach her babies to fly. And that is when she found that her Oreo had a problem with one of his wings, and could not use it as well as his other one.

In just a few days, Orin and Orion were able to fly and behaved just like other siblings, squabbling and fighting and teasing each other. Mama Oriole watched Oreo, who smiled but could not comprehend or interact with his siblings. He could fly, but only short distances. Her heart filled with pain. From then on, her life transformed. She dedicated herself to encouraging and motivating Oreo all she could. She spent extra time teaching him, coaching him and loving him. Her life, as she knew it had changed, as she put her needs, her friends and her social life on the backburner; for she had to raise her Oreo into a confident young bird, who could take on the world despite all his limitations.

On some afternoons, when she needed some time to think, and when Papa Oriole took over, she flew to the mountains, craving some peace and time to dwell on life and all its machinations.

She came back from such sojourns with renewed vigour, determined to do whatever it took to give Oreo a good chance at life. She identified that Oreo could whistle beautiful tunes. She encouraged him to practice, she constantly clapped and cheered and built Oreo’s confidence. She roped in Orin and Oreon to encourage their sibling, and to take him out and have fun with him.

Her day began and ended with Oreo. At night, when the crickets set up their chorus and the predators were on the prowl, and when her Oreo cuddled up to her, Mama Oriole experienced a love like no other. A mom’s love.

She was his mother, and he was her world, and she believed in him and loved him. She would always be there for him, no matter what.

A sweet sojourn


It is a hot Saturday afternoon, as my husband and I head to the vegetable and provisions market to stock up for the week. While there is definite fun to be had in shopping for clothes and accessories, I say there is deep contentment to be had in shopping for vegetables, fruits, grocery and everyday necessities.

We walk to our usual vegetable vendor, who greets us like we are his long-lost friends. The fresh and vibrant coloured vegetables look enticing. As I look at each vegetable, I imagine the dishes that I can rustle up with each of them. I stock up on fresh gooseberries – their light green colour and round shape making them look like transparent marbles. I sniff appreciatively, as the lady next to me picks up coriander and mint. While I am in-charge of the ‘healthy’ shopping, my husband is busy stocking up on many packets of wafers, chips, boondi, bhujia and other savouries.

Once we check out, my husband says, “Let’s go and buy some traditional Indian sweets.” My husband has a sweet tooth, and is already walking towards the sweet shop, before I can say anything.

During our childhood, most sweets that we ate were Indian ones, and all of them were prepared at home by our moms. When we arrive at the shop, absolutely honey-sweet memories come rushing in. The smell of ghee and sugar, the sugar crusting on a badushah, my mom’s hands patiently making yummy boondi laddos, the dripping of the batter through the small colander spoon to make the boondi, the trays into which the 1234 cake mix or badam cake mix was poured to be cut into perfect rectangles.

But above all, it was the joy that pervaded our home when these sweets and savouries were being made. We were like birds waiting to peck at the sweets or take tiny bites of the dough. We hopped about in and around the kitchen, just waiting for our mom to call us to come and try the sweets. We charged into the kitchen, where we had our first bite of a mouth watering mysorepak or a melt-in-your-mouth coconut barfi.

And now, after ages, I am actually standing inside an Indian sweet shop to buy sweets. My eyes are like saucers as I look at the variety. There are laddoos, jangris, paal kova, halwa, badam cake, cashew cake, paneer jamun….and so many many more.

The assistant is very helpful, and asks us if we want to try samples. We nod eagerly. We taste them, concurring and disagreeing on which ones we like and which ones we want to buy.

I look at the fluffy pink coconut burfi. And as I bite into the sample, I take a small sojourn into the alleys of my childhood. A feeling of absolute delight engulfs me, as it perfectly captures the excitement of memories past, of innocent times and simple joys, where my aunt grated the coconut and my mom stirred the mixture of sugar and coconut to the perfect consistency, adding a drop of pink colour that completely elevated the look of the barfi. I catch my husband’s eye and see the same joy reflected there.

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The assistant asks us which ones we need. We choose some bright orange jangris, golden laddoos, some badushas, some mysorepaks and barfis.

I ask my husband if we really need so many. He says, “Yes, we do.” And that’s that! I agree. Once in a way, yes, we do.

Fragrant connections


One of my dear friends has invited me over to to her house to celebrate Sankranti, the Indian harvest festival. As part of the rituals, my friend dabs a little perfume on the back of my palms. The perfume is of the champak flower. I inhale deeply, the perfume is fresh and fragrant.

The fragrance transports me to my husband’s childhood home, where his parents had planted two champak trees, when they started construction of their home after marriage. The trees are more than fifty years old now, and form a fragrant archway at the entrance to our home. Both trees are still flowering.

When he was still with us, it was my dad-in-law’s job to collect the champak flowers from both trees. Since the trees straddle three floors, one has to go up to the terrace on the third floor to pick the flowers. A specially designed long stick, with a small hook at one end, was the tool of choice to gently nudge the fragrant flowers from their branches. The flowers were collected in an orange bag (a wire bag made at home by my husband’s mom). The beautiful creamy yellow of the champak flowers beautifully contrasted with the orange of the bag. Once he was done, my dad-in-law would leave it in the living room. My mom-in-law would retain a few flowers for herself, to offer at the altar during prayers. The rest were for neighbours, who would drop-in at various times to take the champak flowers. Some would call from the gate, and my mom-in-law would pass it to them after a quick chit chat. Some neighbours would come home and stay for a cup of coffee and exchange local news.

By noon, the orange bag would be empty and go back to its rack in the store room, till the next time. In the evenings, when the sun would go down in the sky, and a gentle, cool breeze would blow, the delightful and invigorating fragrance of the champak flowers would waft in the air. We would usually stand at the entrance and close our eyes in bliss.

All the nostalgic memories come back to me now, as I bid bye to my friend and thank her for her hospitality. Beautiful champak flowers, fragrant memories and deep friendships. I sigh in pure contentment.

Sisters


It is noon, and I am in a cab. My destination is twenty minutes away, and the first thing I do is pick up my phone and call one of my sisters. Her line is busy, and I call the other sister. She picks up my call, and we start chatting.

We exchange family stories, talk about her children, my children, work, life goals, health goals, wardrobes, new products, photos that we sent to each other, accessories, and then get back to more family trivia.

Soon, my cab reaches the destination, and I bid a cheery bye to my sister and get back to my own world; with a broad smile on my face and a spring in my step – for that’s what sisters do to you.

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You can laugh with them, cry with them, be annoyed with them or argue with them, for they will not judge you for any of it.

Last month, when we were out for dinner with my sister’s family, I eyed the beautiful handbag she was carrying and raved about it. “You can have it”, she said. And with no guilt whatsoever, I took the bag, gave back its contents in a small plastic bag, and became the proud owner of my sister’s handbag.

And that’s just one of the million reasons why sisters are special. You can call them at midnight to discuss even simple absurdities, and they will think nothing of it.

In our home, I have one wardrobe, and two extended wardrobes that belong to my sisters, and which I have unlimited access to. And they have the same access to mine.

A sister has shared all the silliness and giggly moments in your childhood with you. One of the fondest memories I have is of how my sister would come back from kindergarten (I had not yet started school then), and would always remember to bring a butter biscuit back for me, an extra biscuit that she had received for answering questions correctly in class.

A sister may squabble and annoy and drive you crazy within the four walls of your home, but to anyone who troubles you outside home, she is a force to be reckoned with.

A sister will tell you things about yourself that you may not like to hear; but then she will be the one you turn to when you have even the smallest problem, or when you just want to rant.

Sisters fill your life with sunshine, and are a 24 x 7 support hotline. They enrich your life, and make you laugh, make you cry, and argue with you.

But whenever I have a free moment, my first choice will always be to pick up the phone to call my sisters.

A sister reminisces…


It is late in the afternoon, and my mom and I are stretched out on the couch in our living room. My mother is visiting, and we use this time to catch up, sharing things that we miss out on, when we talk on the phone.

Our conversation meanders through the lanes and bylanes of our lives, and we find ourselves reminiscing about the past.

My mom walks further down memory lane, and smiles wistfully, as she fondly remembers her childhood, especially her three brothers, two older and one younger.

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She shares pages from that time in her life, when she was a young girl with long braids and colourful ribbons.

Her older brothers would come home from college or work, and call out to my mom to help park their bicycles inside the compound. This was one of the highlights of her day. From her height, the cycles appeared enormous, and she would step on one pedal and push the bicycles inside.

My mom recalls how she was tasked with the job of picking up a Tamil weekly magazine from the small shop at the end of their street. This magazine was eagerly awaited every week, and all the siblings devoured it with fervour. My mom knew that once the magazine went to her brothers, she would not get to read it for a couple of days at least. So, right after she picked up the magazine, she would sit in the verandah of her neighbour’s home, and quickly read her favourite sections, which included jokes and a short story series. And only then would she pass on the magazine to her brothers!

Later, when she joined the National Cadet Corps, and had to leave for training early every morning, the eldest of her brothers would buy a take away masala dosa for her to eat after training, just so that his sister would not be burdened with the task of carrying a lunch box. The masala dosa was usually packed in a banana leaf, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, which she could easily throw away.

My mom’s eyes mist over as she recalls this – a simple gesture from her brother to make his sister’s life easy.

The other brother, my mom recalls, would give her a crisp ten rupee note every morning, when she left for college. Come rain or shine, the money would always be there on his table, even if her brother was not in town.

When my maternal grandmother was pushing my mom to get married early, as was the norm in those days, my mom was strongly supported by her brothers in her desire to pursue her education in university.

As for the younger brother, who was much younger to my mom, he was her pet, and she fondly recalls how she carried him with her wherever she went, when he was a baby!

Both her older brothers are no more, and she closes her eyes, recalling their love and unconditional support.

For just a few moments there, my mom became a little girl in pigtails again, feeling secure, indulged and loved by this special love that brothers and sisters share.

We Indians celebrate this deep and special bond today, where the sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, and he in turn promises to love and protect her.