Akash the brave Bengal Tiger


It’s decluttering time in our home this month, and I shudder at the number of things we have managed to hoard since the last declutter. Each room presents a different challenge. The process can quickly become irritating if one realizes one’s inherent hoarding potential – something I seem to possess in abundance.

Having said that, decluttering is also a journey into the past. Pulling out old clothes, books, stationery, devices, cards and photographs is a pleasurable experience – if and only if one has the time and the inclination to take on this never-ending and challenging task.

But that’s not what this blog is about. During this journey towards a minimalistic life, I chanced upon an old stuffed toy – a beautiful, white Bengal Tiger.

Akash, the white tiger, entered our lives when our daughter turned one. He was her constant companion, resting on her shoulder or peeking from the crook of her arm. He was all important. He heard her secrets, and offered her comfort when she cried or when she hurt herself. He was always next to her pillow, watching over her.

Meet Akash the brave

As my daughter grew older, Akash’s role as protector and counsellor diminished. However, he still occupied pride of place on my daughter’s bookshelf. And he sits there to this day, faded with age and enjoying his retirement.

I pick him up to dust him. And it hits me then – my nest is partially empty. He reminds me of wonderful days spent with my daughter. He reminds me of the swift passage of time.

I hug him! Now, I am the one who seeks comfort from Akash the brave Bengal Tiger. And he plays his role to perfection.

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.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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.

The missing ingredient


I have cooked Venn Pongal for breakfast this morning; a staple South Indian breakfast item made out of cooked rice and split moong dal. My husband expresses his appreciation for the Pongal and settles down on the sofa with his frothing cup of filter coffee!

There is a lovely story behind how I learnt to make tasty Venn Pongal. Let me take you back to the halcyon days of my childhood…..

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

The Tamil month of Marghazi usually falls between mid-December to mid-January each year, and during this month special prayers are offered in most South Indian temples.

In our small and beautiful hometown, this month was a super-special month to look forward to, as we had our school winter break, and also our daily morning sojourns to the temple.

With a white layer of frost blanketing the countryside for company, my friends and I would rush out at 6.30 a.m. each morning to visit the temple.

The highlight was the yummiest Venn Pongal that was served to all those who were present. The pongal was served on pieces of banana leaf. My friends and I would relish each mouthful, closing our eyes in bliss. Divine!

Many years later, when I started cooking and tried to make pongal, I realized that mine was missing something. It did not taste half as good as the temple pongal. I asked family members for tips, but somehow my pongal always seemed to fall short.

A few years went by this way. Then, one fine afternoon, when my husband and I were out shopping, we bumped into the person who used to make the temple pongal. We were so happy and excited to meet each other after more than two decades. After we had caught up with family stories and had exchanged news about common friends, I blurted out, “How was your pongal so yummy?”

He smiled, and said, “It is very simple, just add hot milk to it. That is all.” I thanked him profusely, as we each went our separate ways.

Now, as I settle down for breakfast and eat the first spoonful, I can feel the cold winter breeze of our little town, the company of my dearest childhood friends and the hot piping delicious pongal, all of which added to the magic of those wonderful days.

The Tapioca Moment


In the course of our every day lives, there are some simple, innocuous moments which clearly demarcate two different activities, emotions, or incidents in our days. When I tie up my hair in a firm knot on top of my head there is a demarcation between the lazy me and the lady who is about to go on a cleaning spree. Inhaling the aroma of coffee signals that the night is old, and that another day has begun.

I was thinking about such moments earlier today, when I went back in time to my college days. Our hometown nestled in a cool, green valley in the Nilgiri hills in the Western Ghats of South India. The Nilgiri mountains abound with lush greenery and wildlife. The fresh crisp mountain air and the cold weather are always invigorating.

During my college days, I used to visit home during the holidays. Glorious days of catching up with friends and neighbours, and mom’s yummy food.

The days would fly away in a jiffy, and it was soon time to go back to college and hostel. I would usually take the mid-afternoon bus from our town for a three-hour journey. My Dad would drop me off at the bus terminus. Loaded with snacks and packed food from home, I would bid a cheery bye to my Dad.

The bus had to wind down through the mountains to the plains. And from my window, I would watch the beautiful scenery, the birds, the tiny silver waterfalls, the small brooks that one could sight along the way, the monkeys on the roadside, the blue, blue sky and the valley far below.

There were fourteen hairpin bends that the bus driver had to navigate. Some of these bends would cause our insides to churn. And after the hairpin bends, the bus would almost be three-fourths on its way down from the mountains. And there, in a small village, the bus would stop for ten minutes; for the driver to stretch his legs and for everyone on the bus to have a cup of tea and refresh themselves.

The village was always bustling with activity, with vendors coming to each bus to sell all kinds of chips, wafers, candy, juice and water.

One of the stalls in this village sold the most amazing spicy and crisp tapioca chips ever. The moment the bus stopped, I would leap out and buy two packets. One to be eaten on the bus, and one to be eaten in the hostel at night.

I would get back on the bus and open the packet. The first crunch of tapioca in the mouth …. truly a slice of heaven. Soon the bus would pull out of the parking, and we would start the second phase of our journey.

These Tapioca chips signified a huge transition on each such trip. The cold and fresh mountain air that carried wisps of home, love and fun, was replaced by the air of the plains – humid, warm and bringing with it the chaos and vibrancy of the city.

By the time I had consumed the last chip, the bus was trundling through the flat roads, tall coconut trees swaying merrily in the evening sun on either side. My body language automatically changed from home mode to college mode.

A pair of binoculars


It’s the weekend, and I finally decide to get down to some long overdue decluttering of a few cupboards at home. My strategy for decluttering varies greatly from that of my husband’s.

He offers to help, and I warn him that we have to work as a team. He agrees with a huge grin, for we both know where this is headed. I am an emotional declutterer, meaning I have deep attachments to old CDs, boxes, cables, stationery, clothes etc. My husband is ruthless when it comes to decluttering, and discards things without mercy. And within these two extreme boundaries, we get down to business.

I wallow in nostalgia when I see some old CDs, laptops, games consoles and books. My husband piles them in the donate or recycle pile. We then chance upon a box with old woollens. In this box is a green poncho which is over four decades old, a pair of baby-socks, a small hand knitted sweater, and other scarves and mufflers.

The green poncho, a bottle green one with a big green button, the baby socks and the sweater were all hand-knitted by my aunt, my Dad’s sister. The poncho was knitted for my sister, while the socks and tiny sweaters were gifts to my children from their great aunt.

I cannot bear to part with these treasures, for they have threads from my childhood and other family memories knitted into them. I take the box out, and look at all the items. My throat catches. Just for a bit there, I wish I could go back and watch my aunt poring over her knitting pattern book, or hold my newborn daughter cuddled up in her baby sweater, wearing the cute socks. I smile and sigh, as I clean the box and put back all the contents, and throw in a fragrance pouch!

And then we are back to the job at hand, sorting, piling and discarding. My husband takes out an old pair of binoculars, which his dad had bought for him – from the US – in the early eighties. My husband carefully takes the binoculars out, and as I watch him, he slips away for a few minutes, lost in the alleys of his childhood, remembering his dad and all the many moments with this pair of binoculars.

He wipes the case gently, and puts it back into the cupboard. The rest of the decluttering proceeds uneventfully.

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

Sometimes decluttering is therapeutic, not only in the way it helps reduce the clutter in our lives, but in also reminding us that there are certain objects in our lives that inexorably connect us to our pasts, and remind us of our beginnings, of unconditional love from our elders, and of being cherished and protected. A love that we feel secure in even to this day!

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.

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.

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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.

Hyperlinking memories


My daughter is on a cleaning spree. She declutters, files, staples, sorts, reorganizes and decorates her room. Later, she invites all of us to take a look. We cheer her and tell her that the room is unrecognizable.

My daughter then says, ‘Amma, look at what I found’. It is a small card that my Dad had attached to one of his letters to me, when I was in college. The card was a handwritten one, wishing me luck for my final exams before graduation. I had gifted it to my daughter a few years ago, when she took her board exams for the first time.

We smile when we read the small verse my Dad has composed. One of the lines reads “As you appear for your exams, may your memory remain as fresh as the jasmine flowers that grow in our garden.”

I remember how happy and comforted I felt when I received the card. Seeing my Dad’s writing, and his loving words, had reassured me. As I turn the card to study the small sketch my Dad had included on the card, lots of memories come rushing in.

Memories are everywhere, and they appear the moment you recall even something simple from the past. These will then bring with them other allied memories, which in turn come with their own hyperlinks. And the moment one is in the happy throes of a past memory, all one needs to do is to mentally press the hyperlinks, and then recall the simple times, the silly times, the times with Dad, the fun time with friends, the not so good times and the times that can never come back.

And that is the beauty of a memory. It can sneak-in when you least expect it – lurking in the fragrance of a small flower or in the smile of a complete stranger, entwined in a melody that the wind carries or ensconced in the creamy layers of a yummy cake, woven into the complex patterns of a dress or in the scrawly scratches of a handwritten note.

I close my eyes. I am back in my childhood home. Time stands still in the present, as I walk down the alleys of the past, inhaling deeply the fragrant memories of my childhood.

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.