It’s been three years since we travelled to meet our family. Three years where family emotions and bonds ran on the fuel of video calls and texts, spilling laughter and many tears along the way.
We are finally here, at home, reunited with parents and siblings, nieces and nephews.
We visit all the rooms in our home, reacquainting ourselves with the simple yet delightful pleasures of the smells, the shapes and the textures of its various nooks and corners.
There is a big void in my father-in-law’s room. It feels strange that he is no longer a part of our lives, regaling his grandchildren with humourous anecdotes and keeping them entertained with many stories. A small smile plays on his lips as he observes us now from the confines of a photo frame.
The aroma of shallot sambhar flirts with our nostrils, as super soft idlis get steamed in the kitchen. My husband steps out of the house and comes back in a few minutes with piping hot, golden and crisp medu vadas that have been fried to perfection. The vadas rest on a square piece of banana leaf and are accompanied by a generous helping of coconut chutney.
These vadas have been an integral part of our breakfast ritual over the years on all our trips back home, lovingly carried out by my father-in-law. As we tuck-in, we feel his presence and hear his voice asking us to eat more.
So much has changed over the last three years, yet some things don’t seem to have changed – giving us hope for the future while still connecting us to the wonderful memories of the past.
I open the beautiful gift box, not knowing what to expect. My eyes light up in sheer delight and my face breaks into a big smile.
Inside the gift box are two smaller, rectangular boxes. One box is filled to the brim with a South Indian savoury called ‘mixture’ and the second box is filled with perfectly golden yellow boondiladdus, a sweet delicacy.
The gift is from the mother of one of my dear friends. My friend’s mom has made them for me. I feel so happy and touched to have received such a special gift. I thank my friend’s mom, and carefully store the boxes in the kitchen cupboard.
Boondiladdus were an integral part of my growing up years. My mom would always prepare this sweet during Deepavali, or to mark the various milestones in our lives. Memories of perfectly fried golden boondis come rushing into my mind now and make me nostalgic.
Later in the day, when I head to the kitchen to have my afternoon cup of coffee, I find my husband pottering around the kitchen. He grins and asks me where I have put away the ‘mixture’ and the boondiladdus.
I show him where they are. Soon, we tuck into yummy spoonfuls of crunchy ‘mixture’ with our coffee.
My husband then opens the laddu box. He asks me, “Do you want one?” I ask him if he would share a laddu with me? He agrees, albeit reluctantly, as he wants to eat one whole laddu all by himself. He takes one out and breaks it into two.
He asks me which piece I want. I say, “The bigger half.” He says, “How can there be a bigger half? You mean the bigger piece, don’t you?”
I have no time to answer, as I have already popped the laddu into my mouth, and relish the feeling of the crumbling boondi, the raisins and the cashewnuts. My husband’s expression mirrors mine. The laddus are simply delicious!
We look at each other and smile. “Another one?” we say in unison. We look like guilty children as we pop another one into our mouths!!
My son comes into the kitchen with his usual refrain, “Is there anything interesting to eat?” I point at the fruit basket, the biscuit tin and at some jars with Indian savouries. “So boring”, he says.
And like a predator he walks around the kitchen, scouring every cupboard and the refrigerator for ‘interesting food’.
His eyes fall on some packets of instant soup. His eyes light-up and he asks “Could I have some soup?”
I am busy preparing lunch and ask him to be patient. But he nags me. I give in when he says he will make the soup himself; his first attempt at cooking anything in the kitchen. I have no problem with that.
He stands next to me and reads the instructions multiple times. He hires me to be his assistant and asks me for measuring cups and ladles. I sigh and agree, albeit reluctantly.
With his phone next to him, he stirs the soup as if it were a magic potion while following instructions perfectly. “Continue stirring till the soup comes to a boil and then keep on simmer for 2 minutes”, he reads out aloud.
He constantly asks me to check the soup’s consistency. When I pronounce that it looks ready to be served, he looks at the instructions and realizes he has 30 seconds left. He continues stirring with his eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
Finally, he switches off the gas and transfers the soup into three soup bowls. My husband and I have the first spoonfuls.
And before we can say anything, our son announces, “It’s perfect”, with his eyes closed and his head turned upward, as if he had made the soup from scratch. His smile of satisfaction is priceless. “I am happy”, he announces.
My husband and I nod in agreement. More than the taste of the soup, we enjoyed watching our son go through the process, and his apparent delight. He has now taken on the role of ‘instant soup maker’ at home!!
My husband and I are seated in a restaurant. As we await our food, my husband reads the news while I attempt to complete a game of Kakuro that I had begun earlier. My stomach growls in hunger, as my mind feebly attempts to fill-in the various numbers in the fast blurring grid.
Suddenly a sweet and shrill voice sings, “Scissor, paper, stone”. I look up and see a little girl of about seven, who is seated across the aisle with her family. Her voice is so musical and brings a smile to every face. But the girl is oblivious to all the attention. She is engrossed in playing the game with her little brother. The siblings play with one hand and keep score with the other hand. The game progresses at a rapid pace – amicably at times and with some typical squabbling at other times.
Soon, the kids stop playing and start eating. They ask their parents for chocolate milkshake! I notice that they have been told to share a glass of milkshake. Each sibling has been given a straw.
I am curious now. If my kids had been in a similar situation they would have argued about how they would split the milkshake.
The sister, who is the older of the siblings, seems to be in command. She measures with her finger, and makes a few lines on the outside of the glass where water drops have condensed. Then she tells her brother to drink the milkshake. When the level reaches the first line, she asks him to stop. It is her turn now. They take turns to drink, as the sister carefully monitors the situation.
I am in awe of her ingenuity and at how efficiently she seems to have managed the process of sharing! The kids go back to playing their game and I go back to grappling with those elusive numbers.
I suddenly yearn for those times with my children when they were younger; when they would play such games and kick each other under the table at restaurants, or laugh at the silliest of jokes and make weird faces at each other. The years seem to have flown past. But for a short while there, we had an opportunity to relive the past.
And as our food finally arrives, the siblings and their parents leave the restaurant. I laugh when I see that their tiny fingers are still keeping the scores for their Scissor, paper, stone game.
The golden rays of the sun stream into the house on this cold, winter morning. She goes around the house with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. She checks all the rooms and ensures that the fresh linen sheets are tucked-in perfectly. She pauses in front of her daughter’s room. Her eyes mist over.
Had two years really flown by?
But she quickly snaps out of her reverie, and walks to the dining table. She checks all the dishes and smiles when see sees the extra place setting. She hugs herself in excitement.
In just a few minutes, her husband calls to tell her that they would reach in a few minutes. She opens the main door and waits. Soon, there is a flurry of movement and the loud babble of excited voices all around.
Her eyes search and stop, not on her daughter’s face, but on the little baby she holds in her arms. Her heart melts as she sees her grandson for the first time.
She is overcome by emotion, as she carries her grandson and immerses her face in his soft and cuddly baby skin. What a long wait it had been! The pandemic had made all of them miss out on so much. But the important thing was that they were here now. She would make the most of it.
After a grand family lunch and lots of laughter and a few tears, her daughter and son-in-law head to their bedroom to catch a few winks. She spends the afternoon playing with her adorable grandson.
And she suddenly remembers. She opens the bedroom cupboard to take out an old stuffed Teddy bear that had belonged to her daughter. She also pulls out a knitted sweater that her daughter had worn as a baby. She had washed and kept them ready a few days ago.
She gently eases the sweater over her grandson’s head. He looks at her with his big eyes, and time stops for a moment, for he looks exactly like her daughter had done at that age.
He picks up the Teddy bear and holds an animated conversation with it. The Teddy bear seems to have lost an eye, but listens to the babbling of her grandson in rapt attention. The wise old bear seems to understand every word!
She draws both her grandson and the Teddy bear into a big embrace. She is content today, as the memories of the past meld seamlessly with the present – when time seems to have both stopped and moved on at the same time.
My daughter lives in a different time zone these days. What this means is that – as a mom – I have a new item added to my things to do list! If I told you what the task is, you would laugh and say, “But that’s so easy.”
I agree. The task is that I have to wake my daughter up on the days she tells me to. Simple right? Just before she sleeps she drops a message on our family group, asking us to give her a wake up call.
So, as a good mom, I set an alarm on my phone with reminders to back it up. At the appointed hour, and when my alarm goes off, I promptly call my daughter.
The phone rings for a while and then I hear my daughter’s voice from the deep recesses of her blanket. “Hi, mom”, she says.
And then there is silence. The video of my daughter’s phone faces the ceiling and I talk to the ceiling. “Are you awake?” There’s a small grunt (or did I just imagine that!)
I keep talking and virtually prod her to wake up. After a while, I give up and hang up in irritation. And the same pattern repeats a few times each week.
The next time my daughter calls me, I express my frustration at talking to her ceiling. I also ask her what the point is of trying to wake her up in this fashion. I ask her why she can’t set her own alarm and wake up to it?
Pat comes the reply, “But mom, when you call me you are an interactive alarm. You talk and prod me awake, but my phone alarm can easily be dismissed and doesn’t nag me. Please mom…”
My little niece is two and half years old and is at that sweet stage where she talks non-stop, is curious about everything and is eager to talk on the phone. She only knows me, her aunt, virtually. But thanks to technology I am happy to watch her grow and enjoy spending time with her, albeit virtually.
I was on a video call with my sister yesterday, when my darling niece announced that she wanted to talk to me. We spoke for a bit and played some games where she asked me to mimic various animal sounds. We howled and barked, meowed and chirped, quacked and laughed our way through a long list of animals.
Finally, when my niece tired of the game, I asked her where her brother was. She told me that he was in school. I then asked her where her Dad was?
Pat came the reply, “Dad has gone out and is now inside Mom’s phone.”
My sister had just been talking to her husband before our video call and my niece had observed her father on the phone!
Perfect answer!! My sister and I shared a good laugh. My niece giggled too!
It is midnight. There’s a light drizzle. I shut the balcony door and head indoors, checking all the doors, lights and fans on my way to the bedroom.
I pick up my phone to set the alarm. My screen lights up at that precise moment. I am delighted to see my daughter’s name flashing on the screen.
I pick up and we start talking. As we talk, she says that she is famished and wants to eat. Immediately on mom-mode, I chide her to eat wholesome meals at regular intervals. She nods. A practiced nod from years of hearing the same thing from her mom all the time.
I think back to the time when my daughter was with us at home. She would wake up in the morning and greet me with a hug. She would then squeeze herself on to the kitchen counter and watch me as I cooked. She would demand coffee, and as she enjoyed it, we would chatter about this and that!
Now, on my phone screen, I watch as she heads to the kitchen, thousands of miles away. She places her phone on the kitchen counter, as she mulls over what to cook. I can see the world outside my daughter’s window on her screen. It is grey and cloudy. I look outside my window – it is dark and cloudy.
Her voice suddenly announces, “I am going to make bread pizza! I feel like eating cheese!”
She potters around her kitchen. I can only hear the knife on the chopping board, and the clanging of pans. Suddenly, a sauce bottle comes into view on my phone’s screen. It looks cozy and warm, and contrasts beautifully with the grey, cold weather outside. The sauce bottle and I keep each other company.
My daughter suddenly pops into view and tastes the sauce. “Yumm”, she says. Again, the sauce bottle and I look at each other, accompanied by the sounds in the background, as my daughter disappears from view.
My daughter is finally done, and has popped her bread pizzas into the oven. She sits down and we talk – about this and that – sometimes staring into space, lost in our own thoughts.
After some time, she says that the aroma of cheese and bell peppers is wafting all around. When the bread pizza is ready, she brings it over, and we talk as she eats.
She sighs in contentment. I am happy. It is nearly 1.30 am in my part of the world. My eyes are shutting of their own volition. My daughter orders me to sleep. I fall into a blissful sleep, thankful to technology for the joy of such simple moments!
The deep red silk skirt glows in the afternoon sun, as I gently remove it from the white cotton cloth it is wrapped in. I lay it out gently on the easy chair in the living room and move the chair over to the balcony. The silk skirt needs some fresh air and sunlight before it is wrapped-up in the soft white cloth again.
And as I move around the house, bringing out old boxes and cartons from various cupboards in yet another attempt to declutter and reorganize, my mind keeps going back to the beautiful red silk skirt with its beautiful green border.
This skirt is nearly fourteen years old. It was a hot, humid afternoon, when my friends and I went shopping for our daughters for their very first classical dance performance.
The teacher had given us a long list that included the costume, make-up, hair accessories, jewellery and many other items.
All three of us were brimming with excitement, as we walked in and out of many shops – looking for, purchasing and ticking items off the list. It was late in the afternoon when we finally wrapped-up. We quickly decided to grab a cup of coffee before we went home, all the while talking about how we would get the girls ready for their dance programme.
The days soon flew past, and it was time to get our girls ready for their first-ever dance performance. We decided to meet up at one of our homes and get the girls ready together.
We knew the sequence in which the make-up had to be applied, but with no prior experience in classical dance make-up, we applied foundation that was a little patchy, eye make-up that looked thick, and blush that was overpowering.
The hair was yet another challenge! The girls had short hair – and to this we had to attach false hair, braid it and make it stay on their tiny heads. Add to this the confusion of the girls suddenly wanting to move or eat or drink water; and we were reduced to a bunch of anxiously giggling moms, desperate to cover our ineptitude.
The girls were finally ready, and we drove them to the venue. The teacher took the girls aside, and gently corrected their make-up and ensured that everything else was in place.
Out of sheer fear that the false hair we had attached would come crashing down on the stage, we had stuck so many hairpins and u-pins into their hair, while double-protecting the whole arrangement with black thread. Little did we know that our girls were in pain, carrying all those extra “mom-anxiety-reduction” pins.
The girls performed beautifully, and the three of us stood watching them with pride and misty eyes. After the performance, we high-fived each other in sheer relief that nothing had fallen or gone wrong on stage.
The girls came down. Their initial euphoria gave way to tiredness and irritation. They demanded that their make-up and hair be brought back to normal immediately. We went to the green room, and as our daughters winced and made faces we removed the huge army of hairpins we had loaded in their heads for protection.
The make-up came off with coconut oil and cotton. Our girls ran out like butterflies, feeling lighter now, and chased each other down the corridors. We packed up the various bits and pieces, and carefully put them away for the future.
I come back to the now. How can I ever part with this little skirt? It has in its folds the choreographed memories of laughter, friendship, music and dance and precious moments with my little princess and her darling friends!
The energy at home when the kids are around is palpable. And this manifests in many ways that only moms notice. Shoes in the exact angle they were taken off, left by the door. Bags, wallets, keys, and now masks as well! All these are clues to locate the kids when they disappear into their own rooms. And these bits and pieces of their presence breathe life into the walls of our home.
This last week, my son discovered that his sister had gone from one bedroom, which my son uses for his classes, to continue sleeping in another bedroom. Her bed was unmade as she literally sleep-walked to the other bedroom and plopped there!
My son stared at the unmade bed, grabbed my daughter’s quilt, bunched it up and walked purposefully towards the other bedroom.
When I asked him what he was going to do, he said, “I am going to throw this on her.” And I ran behind him trying to stop him from irritating his sister.
And as I entered the room, I saw him gently putting the quilt around his sister and tucking her in.
My throat catches for a moment. I get back to work with a smile.