The Swing


The sun scorches and causes rivulets of sweat to cascade down my back. I pray for a cooling breeze to relieve the thick humidity that weaves its way all around me.

I am a lone, brave warrior on this interminable walk, constantly tapping my Fitbit to see the number of steps. As is always the case, progress is inversely proportional to the number of times I tap my watch! “Why can’t fitness ever be easy?” I mutter to myself, vowing to only check the watch after I reach the top of the small hillock that lies-in-wait just ahead.

I start the climb, a usually gentle slope, but one which appears to be Mt.Everest today because of the heat (and I laugh at the irony of using heat and Mt. Everest in the same sentence).

But I manage to huff and puff and conquer the hillock. The going gets easier after that. There are many trees and some much-needed respite from the sun’s rays, which seem like never-ending tentacles that chase me.

I finally reach my first pit stop, a place on the walking trail, where a beautiful meadow beckons, verdant and glowing in the late afternoon sun. There are many big bungalows tucked into the meadow, surrounded by trees and bushes. One can only see a bit of white wall amongst the trees, or hear a distant bark or the laughter of kids playing.

I inhale huge gulps of air and watch the meadow. The only sounds today are from the constant chirping of birds. As my eyes take it all in, I smile in delight when I find that a lovely little swing has been affixed to one of the trees near the meadow.

A simple wooden plank with strong ropes on either side, tied securely to a thick branch.

The swing makes me smile. It brings back memories of similar swings from my childhood, especially the one that my friends and I had fixed on a neighbour’s peach tree. We would spend hours taking turns to swing, without a care in the world.

We were an impatient brood and could barely wait for the peaches to ripen. We would pluck them when they were still raw, feeling the fuzzy peach skin and enjoying its unripened flavours only because of the company of friends. Everything was an adventure.

The swing was where we gathered during summer holidays, spending time doing nothing, just as holidays were meant to be enjoyed. No summer classes or homework. Just pure unadulterated fun.

The swing perfectly captured our free and happy childhood, flying high into the air, placing your trust on loyal friends who sent you skyward with that perfect momentum, spending just a few seconds suspended under a cornflower blue sky, free as birds that roam the skies and coming back down to collapse into a bundle of exhilarated giggles. Truly precious times indeed!

I come back to the present and look at the swing. I imagine kids spending lazy hours on this swing, dreaming, flying and chattering away.

Memories that will come back to them when they are older – of halcyon afternoons spent on a wooden swing under a blue sky, of innocent friendships and silly secrets. Memories that will make them smile. Just as I am now.

Dawn and Dusk


In these Covid times, the words dawn and dusk seem to have taken on a new meaning. Where before they were beautiful words to be found in poems and books, these days they have merely become mechanical cues to pinpoint the transition between days; days that seem to merge into each other.

However, even in these difficult times life does manage to bring some magic into our lives. Enter Dawn and Dusk!!

Dawn and Dusk are two little mynahs that have been visiting one of our dear friend’s home for the last eighteen months.

What began as a tentative entry into the kitchen from the window ledge has now grown into a deep friendship. Initially my friend would leave small pieces of fruit on the kitchen ledge. As they grew comfortable with my friend and his family, the mynahs would walk into the kitchen or living room, following them and awaiting their fruit treats.

Even to this day they visit twice, once at dawn and then again at dusk – to claim their grapes, bananas, dates, apples and cashewnuts. And that’s how they got their names.

My friends tell me that Dawn and Dusk usually come in and remind them if they find that their treats have not been refilled. At such times they wait patiently, without making any noise, seeming to completely understand if my friends are attending phone calls.

Somedays they bring a couple of friends with them, confident that their friends will also be treated with love and care!

What a beautiful friendship indeed! While all of us may not be stepping outdoors as often as we used to, Mother Nature has her own way of keeping us connected with her.

Friendship


It is late in the afternoon, and as I type away on my laptop, a gentle breeze causes my day curtains to billow.

From where I am seated, and through the open balcony doors, I see two mynahs seated on the ledge of the building next to ours.

Initially they are seated on opposite ends of the ledge, their faces turned away from each other. Have they just had a squabble?

Then, after a few minutes, one of them moves closer as if trying to talk to the other mynah. But, no, the second mynah will not have it. She turns away and starts walking away from her friend!  The friend moves closer, and the second mynah walks further away.

I so wish I could hear what they are saying. The first one is definitely trying to reason, but the second mynah is having none of it. She turns her beak up in the air and keeps taking small steps away from her pal.

But the first mynah is one persuasive bird. She does not give up, she keeps talking. Is she apologizing, is she explaining her point of view, is she telling the other mynah that she cares for her and that she will always be her friend despite their silly squabbles?

I sigh and wish that the other mynah would just say something. After a few minutes, the second mynah finally turns around. Yay!

They talk, and seem to sort out their differences. They fly away soon, their petty disagreement totally forgotten and forgiven.

I smile. I am happy. Sometimes all it takes is to put one’s pride aside and talk to the other person to make things right! After all, true friendship is precious and totally worth all this effort.

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.