The sweet little girl…


It is evening. I am waiting for a friend by the poolside. A little girl of about four walks by. She looks at me, and I wave. She smiles and waves back.

After a few minutes, she comes over and shows me her hands. She is wearing four colourful bangles on each wrist. She gently jiggles her arms and tells me, “My grandma bought these for me.”

I tell her that the bangles are lovely.

She talks about a few other things that her grandma has bought for her.

Then, I ask her, “Do you have brothers or sisters?”

She suddenly looks confused. She furrows her eyebrows, and tries mouthing the answer.

She starts replying and stops. She still hasn’t quite figured out what she wants to say.

After a few minutes she announces confidently, “I am the sister.”

I nod.

She continues, “…… because I have a baby brother, I am the sister, and my baby brother is small and I love him.”

Image courtesy – clipartXtras

I smile at her innocence and love. She was trying to tell me that she had no sisters, but was a sister herself!

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My Grandma’s friend


When I was growing up, we lived in a big joint family with my grandma, aunt and uncle. Life was always exciting; the house was always filled with people visiting. The kitchen was a bee-hive of activity. From 6 am to around 2 pm, and then again from around 4 pm to late at night.

Picture courtesy – 123RF.com

My grandma, mom and aunt were permanently busy, and we tried to keep out of their way. Life was simple and fun.

My grandma’s house was the third house in a long line of houses; neighbours we knew from birth. In the third house from ours, on the right, which was the sixth house in the row, lived one of my grandma’s dearest friends.

My grandma’s friend was referred to as ‘the aunt who lives in the third house from ours’ (loosely translated from our language).

So, when there was a festival, we became errand girls, as we ran to distribute sweets to our neighbours. We frequently visited “the aunt who lived in the third house from ours”, as, being dear friends, my gran and she exchanged a lot of things – sweets, vegetables, sometimes change for currency, sometimes grocery….

Also, nearly twice or thrice a week, “the aunt who lived in the third house from ours” called on my gran during the 2 pm to 4 pm lull time.

She wore lovely vibrant sarees, and a big pink Bindi on her forehead. She usually carried a bunch of keys, that had a long metallic keychain. This used to fascinate me. She had a distinct cough, and she coughed on and off. We were not allowed into the living room, so we peeked from the window sometimes.

They caught up on their everyday lives. At 4 pm, after her friend left, my grandma and mom would head into the kitchen to start preparations for dinner. All meals were prepared at home, and there was no concept of eating out.

My grandma and the “aunt who lived in the third house from ours” went back to their chores, totally rejuvenated after their afternoon chit-chat.

But it wasn’t until much later, when I had started working, that I heard about the passing away of my grandma’s friend. It was then that it hit me; that I did not know her name!

But, she continues to live on in our memories as the “aunt who lived in the third house from ours”; and evokes many lovely moments from my childhood.

Seeds and Shells


Tamarind is an integral part of South Indian cooking. Tamarind extract forms the base for many yummy dishes like sambar, rasam & tamarind rice.

However, this post has very little to do with tamarind and cooking. As kids, tamarind seeds formed an integral part of the games we played indoors.

My mom and aunt would clean the tamarind pulp and give us the seeds. The seeds were of a dark brown colour!

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

We had a box filled with these tamarind seeds. When the monsoon winds blew the trees down, or when it was too hot to play outside, all the neighbourhood kids gathered at home to play games with these seeds.

We would pile all the seeds on the floor, in the middle of a circle that we sat around. The first person would blow the seeds. Being lightweight, the seeds would scatter. The objective was to pick up the seeds without shaking any other. If any other seed shook, the next person got a chance. The winner was the one with the biggest hoard!

As the player concentrated, we would try to think up spells to distract him or her. Those games were so much fun. There was a lot of squabbling, as we decided if a particular seed had shaken or not.

Another game was called 5 stones, which we played with small rounded pebbles. It called for skill, concentration, and lots of practice. We would oil our stones and protect them.

Then again, we played with cowrie shells – a very simple game of both luck and skill, just four cowries, but hours of fun and boisterous shouting!

These holidays, when my mom visited, she introduced my children to some of these games. It was heartening to see the enthusiasm with which they played. They fought over silly, shaking cowrie seeds, and whether someone had rigged the game of cowrie shells by not throwing the cowries but placing them in a pre-arranged pattern.

I watched, totally amused. Simple games with everyday objects that call for dexterity, spirit and patience.

I was happy to see that my kids were not staring at a device, or playing a game with virtual characters. Here, everything was real.

Now, my kids play these games when they are at a loose end! I sincerely hope that these traditional games, which every culture has, do not fade away!

Grandma’s Chess Game


It is late in the afternoon. The curtains are billowing in the breeze. My mom winds up her chores and settles down on the couch with her afternoon mug of coffee.

She smiles in anticipation, as she awaits the arrival of her youngest grandson, my nephew.

Soon, the door bell rings. My five year old nephew walks in, hugs me and then runs to hug his grandma.

The aroma of love wafts around the house.

My nephew has brought a plastic bag. He pulls out a box from within, and then informs my mom,

“Grandma, today we are going to play chess. I have brought my chess board.”

My mom: Sure, sweetie.

Image courtesy – Canstock Photo.com

They clear the coffee table, and sit down on either side. My nephew arranges all the pieces carefully. As he arranges them, he quizzes his opponent to see if she can identify the various pieces, and identify which way they can move.

My mom passes the test.

My nephew: Grandma, I will take the white pieces and will start first.

Grandma: Sure.

The game progressss, my mom taking her time, my nephew, impatient. He knocks off a few pieces from the board and whoops in joy.

And then his queen is at the wrong place at the wrong time. My mom grabs the opportunity and knocks down his queen.

And then the rules of the game change, and how! My nephew cannot accept that his queen is not around.

He looks at his Grandma and says sweetly, “Let us go back a few moves ok? Let’s bring my queen back.”

My mom says, “No, that’s not fair.”

Nephew: No Grandma, it’s okay.

And this is how the game progresses. My shoulders shake in mirth. My mom’s pieces are watching the game from outside the board, while my nephew keeps bringing back his queen and his rooks, and other pieces. My mom indulges him.

The game finally comes to an end with a loud checkmate. My nephew announces grandly, “Grandma, I won.”

He then walks over to her and sits on her lap, reveling in all the love and the cuddly hugs. She asks him if he wants cookies.

And as my mom heads to the kitchen, my nephew carefully packs his chess pieces and puts them back into the bag!

I watch this truly special bond between grandma and grandson.

A love that lurks in black knights, pawns and rooks, who gave up their cause for the love of a grandma for her grandson.

The Indian Crow


The sun is not visible today, but it’s heat can still be felt. I stand on my balcony, looking at the traffic at the junction.

My attention is diverted by a streak of bright yellow that is flitting between the branches of a tree. I realize that it is a beautiful oriole, busily going about his day. I keep watching the oriole for a while. My attention is then drawn to the pigeons – sitting on ledges, swooping down, taking a breather. There are so many of them.

Then I begin to wonder. There is not a crow in sight. In fact, I haven’t seen one in the neighbourhood in a long, long time.

I keep seeing mynas, sparrows, parrots and hornbills, but never a crow.

And suddenly I feel nostalgic. Nostalgic for my childhood, where the crow formed an integral part of our lives.

Image courtesy – Wikipedia

Where the crow featured as the hero in many of the stories told to us by our grandmom and aunts – intelligent in some stories, foolish in some stories, thirsty and intelligent in some others. But the crow’s presence in our lives could never be ignored.

Babies were fooled into swallowing uninterestimg vegetables and yummy rasam rice, when a crow swooped into their yards. Babies were mesmerised by this bird, whose caws in the gentle afternoon breeze sounded like lullabies.

When we were growing up, most Indian women would put out some cooked rice for the crows, on their window ledges or terraces, before serving food to the family.

The crows were so used to this that they would show up at the prescribed window ledge or terrace at the appointed hour. And, if for some reason there was a delay in the arrival of their food, the crows would caw loudly, causing the woman of the house to hurry up!

My aunt had names for the crows that visited her window ledge, and would talk to them everyday, and affectionately chide them if they cawed too loudly.

Such was the role that crows played in our childhood. The crow was truly one of our childhood heroes.

Butter biscuits


This afternoon, I was out to do my grocery shopping, when my eyes fell on a box of butter biscuits, neatly packaged and branded.

While I mulled over whether the kids would enjoy the biscuits, my mind raced back to my Grandma’s home.

Back then, we lived in a joint family. Most savouries and Indian sweets were made at home by my Grandma, my mom and my aunt.

However, we did not have an oven at my Grandma’s.   We were nine people at home, and most items were cooked or prepared in large quantities. 

Once every two months, my Grandma would walk down to a small bakery that was located close to the local race course.  She would buy baking flour, sugar, butter and other ingredients, and take it to the baker’s.  She would place  an order for a large quantity of butter biscuits.

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   Courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

In addition to the ingredients, she would also pass on a steel container that had a lid and a handle, which we called ‘steel thooku’, which means steel carrier. The order was usually ready the next day.

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Courtesy – http://www.trade.indiamart.com

On their way back from work, my dad or uncle would pick up the steel thooku filled with butter biscuits.

The moment the ‘thooku’ reached home, the children were called. The steel carrier was opened with fanfare. Perfectly formed golden, cream butter biscuits, nestled snugly between layers of butter-paper. The aroma that wafted out made our mouths water.

Each golden treat was a slice of bliss.The biscuits usually lasted only a week or slightly more. But while they lasted, we enjoyed every crumb and waited for the next lot!!

Grandma’s home remedy


I am down with a cold, blocked nose, watery eyes and a gnawing headache.  I have to live with this one, I guess, medication or no medication. The power of my sneezes can definitely get some mechanical device going. They are so powerful that they shake me, and the chair I am sitting on.  I make myself some hot ‘rasam‘, an Indian soup that soothes the throat.

As I steam-inhale for the n-th time, my memories rush back to my childhood.  We grew up in a joint family, and when anyone was down with a cold or fever, my Grandma usually had a home remedy handy. The age-old wisdom was that the body had to fight off germs by itself, and you only went to a doctor if you did not recover in a week’s time.

The home remedy for the common cold was a drink called ‘kashaayam‘.  Colds being what they are, leave a family only after doing the rounds of all its members.  So when the season of sneezing and sniffing started in the family, my Grandma would start her preparations for ‘kashaayam‘.

Pepper, sugar candy, honey, ginger, cumin seeds and ‘tulsi’ leaves (holy basil leaves) are ground and boiled in hot water to prepare this decoction.  

The smells that wafted through the house when the ‘kashaayam‘ was being made were tantalizing enough.  But the dulling of the senses during a cold caused that illusion, I guess.

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Courtesy – http://www.anudinam.org

I remember the first time I had this brew.  I was actually looking forward to it as all the adults seemed to drink it, when they had colds.  I was given a small glass of the dark brown liquid and asked to sip it slowly and not to take in more than one sip at a time.

I took my first sip.  The assault on my senses was overpowering, the drink stung my throat and set my eyes, ears, nose and throat on fire.  I sputtered and coughed, but my Grandma insisted that I finish it, promising me all kinds of treats.  I took another tentative sip, this was not so bad as my whole body was, anyway, already on fire.  With watering eyes and stinging throat, I completed the ‘kashaayam‘.

After about an hour or so, I could feel my blocked nose clearing, and throat feeling better.  My Grandma came to inspect.

“You’re looking better”, she said. “Maybe another round of ‘kashaayam‘ should do the trick.  I remember how frantically I looked for places to hide. Anything to avoid that horrible concoction again.

Now however, I would give anything if someone sat me down and pampered me with this dark brew.