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!!

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

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 bench of friendship


The sky is in that in-between colour, where the last rays of the sun are disappearing down the horizon, and twilight is slowly taking over. The day’s heat has spent itself, replaced by a gentle, cool breeze.

I walk down to the park below, prepping myself for the long walk ahead. I warm up and stretch, and start off at a brisk pace. I have to complete ten laps in my walking circuit. Many kids are playing and shouting and giggling, with a joy that’s the exclusive preserve of childhood.

As I complete my first lap, I see a stone bench in the park, which sits between two apartment blocks in our condo. The bench gives me pause.

Courtesy – http://www.123RF.com

Many, many years ago, on almost every weekday, my friend, who used to live in the adjacent block, and I, would go down at precisely 12 noon. Our kids would arrive from kindergarten at 12.20 p.m.

And for those blissful twenty minutes, we would sit on the stone bench, catching up on mundanities, laughing about the silliest of things, sharing bits of ourselves, our problems, our joys and all that good friends share. On many of these bench meetings, we always told each other that when our kids went to full time school, we would go out and shop and scour the city for new places to eat and for new cuisines to try.

Soon, the bus would arrive and our little kids would jump off their buses with cheery greetings. For the next few minutes, as we wound down our conversation, our three-year olds would catch up with each other or chase each other in the park.We would then say bye and head home.

My friend and I could see each other’s homes from certain places in our own homes. Both of us are foodies, and each time any of us cooked something new, we would drop off a sample to the other’s home. Many a time, we wondered about having a small cable that would connect our homes, where we could send food in a small basket, whenever we liked.

Time flew, as only it knows how to, and before my friend and I could go out shopping as planned, she had moved to another country for a few years. Our chats and messages continued, albeit on the phone.

She came back just a few years ago, but lives in another part of town. Now, we go out for lunches, we go out shopping, we talk, we catch up, we laugh, we share. We talk about our grown-up children and about how we should travel together after retirement and explore new places and new cuisines.

I have finished two laps, and come back to the here and the now. There are two women sitting on the stone bench, enjoying a nice chat.

I realize that while this physical bench of friendship kindles such precious memories that warm the heart, the bench of friendship has today taken on different avatars. It can morph into restaurant chairs, into tall stools in coffee shops, into lush green grass on a walking trail, or into the seats of a cab – the bench of friendship is a living pulsating bond, a very special bond that women share, a bond that brightens up each day.

The silly moments in our lives


When I switched on the television earlier this week, a song from an old Indian movie was playing. I smiled. The movie had a scene, where one of the main characters challenges some of other characters to touch their elbows with their noses.

I remember how all of us at home transformed into contortionists, and spent some time trying this out. We looked really silly, and had a hearty laugh afterwards.

Our lives abound with such moments.

My son specializes in creating huge soap bubbles with the palms of his hands. He works hard at this skill, and it gives him a lot of joy each time he creates a bigger bubble.

Both my husband and I have the ability to raise our eyebrows in quick succession. Our kids have not inherited this ability. So, on those rare lazy Sunday afternoons, when we spend time doing nothing as a family, we show off these skills.

Sometimes, when we all happen to be near the mirror at the same time, we make faces at the mirror! A family of silly faces.

Courtesy – shutterstock.com

Even as kids we did many silly things. I remember how, after petty squabbles with our friends, the word in our language to announce to them that you were no longer friends was kai, which translates to vegetable.

To become friends again, all we had to do was to show a thumbs-up sign and say pazham, which means fruit.

So, great friendships were broken and sealed merely by saying the words vegetable and fruit.

Life was that simple.

During our childhood, our Dad made rhythmic beat sounds with his mouth, when we sang songs. Only when my kids entered their teens did I realize that what my Dad did was called Beat Boxing. But at that time, it was merely some silly fun we shared as a family.

Even today, when we take selfies, we all make silly faces at the camera, capturing those beautiful memories digitally.

Every family has its own version of silly. Silly times are fun for the whole family – to showcase skills that would never be used in the ‘serious’ parts of our lives.

And that’s why these silly moments are important. Because we can let our guard down, act silly, and take ourselves less seriously for those few moments!

Circle of friendship


When we first go to school, we are reluctant to let go of our parents’ hands. We stare at this new world that is inhabited by other kids, from the security of our mom’s lap or dad’s shoulders. The world outside is scary, so strange, a little exciting..and many other things.

Three or four days into school, we take tentative steps towards friendship, with that girl in the cute pink frock or the boy with the dinosaur shaped lunch box!

Courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

Soon our evenings are spent with friends, playing tag, playing with toys or learning to ride a bicycle together.

We plow through primary school and birthday parties with friends, sharing innocent secrets and giggles. We then move to the teen years, where friends become life, and family fades into the background. A time when we learn so many things, a time when we experiment with identity, looks, cliques; a time when we try to be noticed or not noticed at all. A time of tumultuous friendships sometimes, and great moments sometimes too! By this time some friends have been there with us forever, some have vanished!

Then on to university, where more friends get added, many new shared experiences happen; more serious talk happens – about life, career prospects, marriage…!

Then out in the world to earn a living – new dynamics, new friendships, a taste of independence, hosting parties, more relaxed in friendship, more comfortable in one’s skin.

And then marriage, befriending other young couples, visiting each others’ homes, going on trips with them.

Then, when kids arrive, friends become other parents – comparing notes on food and child-related topics, all the time. When friendships only revolve around kids.

As the kids enter their teens and become independent, there’s more time for and with friends. By this time, we are settled in our friendships and views. We have a close-knit group of friends, whom we meet regularly. Friends who have our backs; where there is absolute comfort, where there is no worry about being judged, or about food or cooking.

A kind of friendship where one can just be – talkative or silent, eat in or take out, laugh with or cry with…so many, many beautiful things – when one feels complete in a warm circle of friendship!

It takes time and effort to get there, but when you do get there and find that circle, life is perfect!

Paneer Paranthas & A Decade-long friendship


The sky is fast filling-up with dark rain-bearing clouds. I can hear the koyal’s call as I walk to my friend’s apartment.

It is nearly noon, when I enter her house. Over the next twenty minutes, the ‘gang’ shows up, each of us having rushed through chores and assignments to be here with everyone else.

It is not often that you get to spend quality time with your closest friends; friends you’ve known and grown with for more than a decade.

What’s a meeting of dear friends without yummy food. There’s only one dish on the menu today – paneer paranthas.

The host, who is a cook par excellence, starts rolling and stuffing the first parantha. She tosses it with practiced ease on the tawa, as we watch her in admiration.

Paranthas are to be eaten hot, so we settle down on the kitchen floor for a round of gossip. We take turns to eat. The smell of ghee wafts all around us, as the paranthas are being made. Hot, golden, soft paranthas – perfect in every way. We add pickle and fresh yoghurt to our plates.

We talk about everything and nothing. We laugh at the silliest of jokes and relive old incidents, and talk about cooking fiascos, children-related stories, and of course, our dear husbands.

We realise how time has flown. Nearly a decade has rushed past. Where once we talked about birthday parties and play dates, food and party cakes, now we talk about universities, marriage and retirement. We talk about travel, about meeting up every year.

We realise how blessed we are to have this group of friends to lean on, laugh with and share these yummy paranthas with!

Chance meeting


We are in a cab, making our way across the city of Bengaluru in India.

As a mother, I have reached ‘that’ stage, where I am not given a choice to opt for a window seat in any vehicle. I am sandwiched between my kids. It is a pleasant day, and we have rolled down the windows.My husband sits in the front, lost in thought, and I suspect, also trying to catch a few winks.

There is heavy traffic, and our progress is stilted. The kids play a game of word building.

After a while, the congestion eases, and we start moving.

All of a sudden, an autorickshaw pulls up alongside our cab. The auto driver waves wildly at our cab driver, and shouts out a loud greeting.

Our cab driver is pepped-up now. He recognizes an old friend. And for the next hundred meters, the two vehicles drive in perfect synchronization.

Image courtesy – Clipart Panda

A time during which the two men exchange pleasantries and catch-up on each others’ lives. Their grins are infectious, their excitement palpable.

Our cabbie sits up straighter, and looks recharged.

Soon, the time comes for the two friends to part ways. One takes a left, the other takes a right. They say their goodbyes.

Our journey continues.

This makes me think. We meet many people who travel with us on this journey called life, who share our time, space, emotions and memories.

For reasons unknown, we do not meet most of these people ever again; but sometimes we do bump into someone we know from our past.

Life pauses for a bit for us to rewind and remember, and then moves on, taking us towards new experiences and people.

The confession


Last month, we had to go to a friend’s home for a house warming party.  My son was going down to play with his friends and I told him that he had to be back by 6 pm, so that he would have enough time to wash-up and get ready!  Our conversation went something like this.

Son: So, where are we going?

Me: To Aunt L’s house.  She has moved to a new condo, so she has called us over for dinner.

Son: Oh! Aunt L?  Hmmm…(he seemed to be in deep thought).

Me: What?

Son: I have a confession to make.

Me: Sure, tell me. (….wondering what was coming)

Son: You know that there is a small hillock near Aunt L’s old house?  About four years ago, my friends and I walked up that hillock.

(My friend (the said Aunt L) had already told me that these kids had been going up and down the hillock and had asked them to be careful, as they could get hurt).

Me: Yes, I know. Aunt L has told me.

Son:  But that’s not it. Once, when Aunt L was not there (she is usually watching us), the five of us went up the hillock, and went through a small gap in the fence.  We found ourselves outside the condo.  There was a grassy slope, some trees, and at a distance was the next building.  We high-fived and came back into our condo through the fence.  Are you mad at me?

Me: I am not mad, but it could have been dangerous to go out like you did. You could have got hurt.

Son: Mom, it was a long time ago.  I wouldn’t do that now. OK, bye!

I smiled and imagined the scene. Five little imps, up for an adventure to conquer the hillock, and see the world outside.  I can imagine those giggles, the shared camaraderie, and the imagined ‘big’ conspiracy.  I wonder how much they had planned, and who amongst them took the call to get them all enthused and going.

Image result for children climbing up mountain clipart

Picture courtesy – Can Stock Photo

Five children, 7 to 8 year-olds, best friends,  in their shorts and t-shirts, scrambling up the hillock, quickly sneaking out through the fence, their hearts thudding in excitement at this sudden adventure, reaching the other side, looking at each other, and sharing looks of glee and sudden giggles, and then their thudding hearts reminding them of home, parents and fear, and the scramble back to the other side of the fence, back to safety, to the known and to the comfort of home.

And this is how it will be for our children.  As parents, we will never know some of the adventures that the children will embark on in their future.  They will try to conquer their fears by trying new things, sometimes they will do something because it is cool, sometimes they will do things that will help them reach their highest potential.

 

The Anatomy of a Ladies Trip


We are in Chennai. A bustling metropolis. Four women, who have travelled to this city to attend the dance debut of one of our mutual friends’ daughters.

All of us arrive the night before, from different places. The excitement of meeting like this – without husbands, children, work and everyday mundanities is potent.

We are staying with another dear friend. We wake up lazily, indulge in hot cups of aromatic filter coffee, gossip and sip more coffee. We laze about, finding this strange abundance of time so refreshing; where work, chores and children seem unreal. We catch up and discuss our lives.

When the sun hangs directly above our heads, we decide that we are famished. We are food-sisters, if you could call it that. We love food and enjoy eating out. So, the ubiquitous South Indian Thali gets our vote.

The four of us wait to hail autorickshaws for the short ride. We think we may need two autos to accommodate our frames. All the autos seem to be busy. Finally, one stops for us. The auto-driver bravely agrees to take the four of us. We squeeze in, with one of us spilling onto the side bar. Amidst a lot of giggling, we get dropped off at the restaurant.

The server asks us if we want the ‘limited’ or ‘unlimited’ Thali? The vote is unanimous for the Unlimited Thali, meaning you get more of any item you like.

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The delectable Vegetarian Thali with its tantalizing aroma, and vibrant colours, is placed before each of us. We tuck into the delicious food, mixing the gravies with rice, crushing the papads, tasting the tangy pickle. The eating process is made more enjoyable as we tease each other, and continue to be amazed at our appetites. We finish all the courses and wait for the dessert of hot gulab jamuns with icecream. Pure bliss!

We walk out into the afternoon, content with ourselves, and living in the moment, our busy lives temporarily erased.

We amble back, to burn off some of those calories. We then laze about discussing our wardrobes and what each is going to wear to the dance debut. We catch a few winks.

After another hot cup of coffee to revive  ourselves, we start getting ready. We leave for the function, enjoy it and head back to change into our everyday clothes. Back to airports, train stations and bus stations. Back to the routine.

It is so wonderful to be back home with the children and husband. The trip feels like a dream now.

Coffee Friends


Earlier, I had written a post about Popcorn Friends. There are many different types of moments in life that can be enjoyed with different types of friends.

Today’s post is about Coffee Friends. Simply put, Coffee Friends are those with whom you go out for coffee.

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       Courtesy – http://www.ClipartPals.com

Most Coffee Friends usually have a favourite coffee outlet or cafe for the Coffee Friend meeting.

Where I live, there are many good ones to choose from.

So, last week I had a Coffee Friend afternoon. Thanks to Whatsapp and Smartphones, we could take out an  hour from our crazily busy lives to catch up.

Though we each rushed in at the appointed hour, the next 60 minutes were pure relaxation. With the smell of lattes, mochas and capuccinos wafting all around us, and soothing music playing, we settled down in our comfy seats to another wonderful Coffee Friends meeting.

As we sipped our coffee and snacked a bit, we caught up with each others’ lives – from schedules to work to children to fashion. We squeezed in a lot in those 60 minutes.

We laughed, ragged, discussed some serious stuff, ordered more coffee, discussed life’s philosophy and peeked at our smartphones multiple times to stay in touch with our busy schedules.

60 minutes that were exclusively for us. No topic was too trivial or too heavy for the Coffee Friends.

Before we knew it, we were saying loud byes and exchanging hugs. Each of us headed in a different direction, totally rejuvenated and energized.

We plan to meet soon for another Coffee Friend morning.

So do you have Coffee Friends? Would love to hear about those moments.

Switch on – Switch off


Recently, one of my friends moved to a new apartment. Her apartment was on the fourteenth floor.

Another mutual friend lives about half a kilometer from this friend’s house. Her home is also on the fourteenth floor.

When they each stood in the living room of their respective homes, they could see the other’s apartment complex at a distance.

They were so excited about this, that, one evening, they decided to identify each other’s apartment by playing a game of switching-on and switching-off the living room lights.

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       Courtesy – http://www.en.wikipedia.org

In the maze of lights, it took a while for them to identify each other. But, once they did, they did it with more excitement, and talked on the phone to share their excitement.

One friend’s daughter, walked-in on her mom playing this game.

She said, “Mom, are you actually doing this? I don’t believe this!”

When our group of friends met at a party, we were told this story.

My two friends looked like young girls as they narrated the fun they had. Their eyes sparkled. We had a good laugh!

Once in a way, it is really nice to bring out the kid inside eh?