Three long years


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.

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.

The bigger half


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 boondi laddus, 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.

Boondi laddus 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 boondi laddus.

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!!

The long wait


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.

Wearing her daughter’s sweater!

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!

The wise old Teddy bear!

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.

Timeless joy


I am quite sleepy, and decide to call it a night. I set the alarm on my phone for six thirty in the morning. Ah! the absolute joy of sleep – after what’s been a really long day! The cool sheets are soothing, and the soft hum of the aircon lulls me to sleep.

I am far away in a land unknown; a land that is inhabited by people that I don’t recognize. And as I am fully engaged in my dreams, my phone trills loudly. The trilling cuts like a saw through the soft layers of my sleep. I groan in irritation, is it morning already!!! “Not fair”, I mumble. It feels like I just went to sleep. I stretch out my hand to switch off the annoying alarm.

I open my eyes into thin slits to press ‘snooze’, but it’s only then that I realize that it is my daughter who is calling from a different time zone. My irritation vanishes; I am alert and fully awake now, and I pick up her call with a huge smile on my face.

She sounds so excited when she greets me! We exchange sweet pleasantries! And then she says, “Amma, I am in a quaint bookshop and I just found a collection of poems for you.”

She knows my love for books and poetry! I am very excited. She adds, “Guess what? This book was published in 1929. Can you believe that? 1929; it’s ninety-two years old!”

She quickly turns her phone’s camera towards the book. The book has a faded blue cover. Its pages are yellowed with age. My daughter points out to the first page. It has the name of the owner and the name of a college. Inside the book, at many places, one can see pencil annotations.

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I sigh in pleasure. My daughter reads out the names of the poems that are featured in the book. I recognize some of them.

I wonder how many people have read this book over these ninety-two years. The contents of the book have not changed, but the poets who wrote those poems are no longer here. The world has also gone through so many changes!

My daughter says that she has to go now. As I hang up, a sense of timelessness pervades me. Most things around us keep changing, but good books and poetry remain for all time, lighting up our lives with their beauty and profundity.

I go back to sleep with a sigh of pure contentment!

On a walk with Dad


One of my most enduring memories of my childhood is going on walks with my Dad – sometimes to the milk booth to pick up packets of milk, or to take the bus into town or to go to the post office or the temple.

My sister and I would each hold one of his hands; and we would then set off. Just as the road from our home sloped upwards, sweet little singing birds would call out merrily from the electric lines or from the bushes and trees.

My Dad would mimic the birds’ songs and the birds would call back again, and my Dad would respond. My sister and I would also try to mimic the sounds.

And as we walked under a perfectly blue sky, with cotton puff clouds floating about lazily, we would badger our Dad with all kinds of questions; questions that he always answered patiently.

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We would laugh, talk, skip and come back home – rejuvenated by yet another beautiful and memorable walk with Dad.

As we grew older, the walks stopped – we were busy being teenagers; but the conversations with Dad continued at the dinner table, long after dinner.

Conversations that were interspersed with good natured teasing, sibling fights and of course lots of music. We would all often break into song, and my Dad would start drumming the beat on the dining table.

Long, beautiful evenings they were – times when we could discuss anything with our Dad, and be assured that he would always hear us out.

Later, when we moved away to our college dorms, he would write to each of us every week, giving us simple and beautiful updates of home. We would write back promptly, keeping him updated about our lives.

When we would go home for the holidays, he would be waiting for us at the bus station, hugging us and welcoming us back home – where mom would be waiting with a yummy home-cooked meal of sambhar rice, roasted potato curry and hot cups of filter coffee!

And as we started working and moved away to different cities, the letters continued, which were then gradually replaced by emails and text messages.

After marriage, my Dad had specific days and time slots to call each of us. Mine was on Friday mornings at 9 a.m. Lovely catch-up conversations; conversations that now included my husband and children. But I would call him whenever I felt like, to catch up or to ask him something.

After my Dad passed away, for many many months after, I would remember the 9 a.m. calls on Friday and yearn to hear his voice greeting me.

From simple walks to long talks, I remember and treasure all those precious moments with my Dad. Holding his hand and drawing comfort from his letters and calls. Knowing that he was always there for us – his little girls. Love you Dad!

Tinkling bells


I stand on the balcony with my morning cup of coffee – strong, South Indian filter coffee brewed to perfection. What better way to begin the day!

It’s the weekend, and the world outside is slowly waking up. The usual morning rush of traffic is missing; just a few early morning joggers – moving neon spots on grey pavements.

I sip my coffee and sigh in contentment. It is then that I hear them – gentle tinkling bells. Maybe the neighbour’s chimes?

Where I grew up, cows and horses were common visitors to our neighbourhood, as there were lots of green meadows around the area where we lived.

While the horses were wild, the cows usually belonged to local shepherds. Most of these cows had bells tied around their necks. Beautiful little bells that tinkled when the cows grazed and mooed to each other.

The cows could be seen on and off on the hillside all through the day, as we went about our daily lives. And when the sun would finally head west, the shepherd would appear out of nowhere and drive the cows home.

In those days, there was a lady who came to our home each day to help my mom with household chores. She would arrive by eleven a.m. and leave late in the afternoon.

This lady’s husband owned a few cows, and on some afternoons, when the lady was in the backyard, her cows would pass by our home.

One of the cows – whom the lady lovingly called Lakshmi – would always come close to the fence as if to talk to her. The lady would talk in ‘cow-language’, love dripping in her every sentence. Lakshmi, the cow, would stand and listen, hanging on to her every word.

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It was such a special bond, a pure outpouring of love. And as Lakshmi walked away, the bell around her neck would tinkle. The lady would then settle down to her post lunch betelnut ritual, her eyes following Lakshmi with love, till the sounds of the bell would finally merge with the breeze.

I come back to the present. These bells that I hear now are reminiscent of those perfect, lovely afternoons and the bonds of a very special love!

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.