The red silk skirt


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.

The beautiful silk skirt

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!

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!

My invisible friend


Our neighbourhood is filled with high-rise condominiums, each separated from the other by lush greenery and by the various streets in the area. The only animals and birds we get to see are cute little dogs and cats, an abundance of pigeons, and some mynahs, orioles and parrots!

However, a few weeks ago, when I stood on our balcony sipping my morning cup of coffee, I heard the crowing of a rooster!

I was not sure if I had heard right! I waited, and there it was again. It made me smile. Where was this rooster? Was it a pet or a stray? I strained my neck to see if I could locate it, but there was no sign of the rooster.

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I completely forgot about the rooster after that morning. However, two weeks ago, I heard the rooster crowing again at two thirty one afternoon. I rushed to the balcony.

“Do roosters crow in the afternoon”, I wondered? I began doubting myself; were my ears playing tricks on me? I rushed my son to the balcony to validate my findings. But the rooster never crowed again that day.

This Saturday, I heard the rooster crowing at seven in the morning. I pulled my son to the balcony. We stood there waiting – me, wanting to establish that I was not merely hearing sounds in my head; and my son, looking irritated. After about five minutes, the rooster crowed again. I turned at lightning speed to look at my son.

“Did you hear that?” I asked, bubbling with excitement. With a deadpan expression, my son replied, “Yup, I heard it too,” and he walked indoors. I stretched and strained to see if I could spot the rooster, but he remained elusive.

Over the last three days, the rooster has been crowing more often, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon. Each time I hear the rooster, I smile. I feel good.

Crowing roosters were an integral part of my childhood, and also featured in many storybooks that we read as children. A rooster’s crowing heralded the beginning of a new day, where a golden sun rose on a perfectly blue sky to light up the world. It meant a day filled with hope and promise.

And that is how I feel each time I hear my invisible rooster friend. He makes me nostalgic for those days when life was simple. He also fills me with hope of better days to come.

Three safety-pins


I am cleaning the drawers of my dressing table, a long overdue task. And as I clean, I find my safety-pin box, containing many glittering steel safety- pins in various sizes.

Image courtesy – ClipartKey

Back in my childhood, safety-pins were precious resources that provided quick-fix solutions to many everyday problems – to fix a sudden tear in your clothes or to fix a broken sandal or to fix broken chains or beads. Moms and aunts usually had at least one or two safety-pins on the chains that most of them wore around their necks. All one had to do was ask; and out would come those precious pins that could solve all kinds of problems. But one of the most important uses of safety-pins for Indian women is when we have to wear sarees.

Most of us probably wore our first sarees for our high school graduation ceremonies. There was great joy in choosing the right saree, in getting the perfect blouse stitched and in buying the right accessories to go with it.

And as our moms helped us drape the sarees, we stood with three safety-pins in our palms. We waited to pass them to our moms, as they sat down to perfect each pleat of the saree and to pin them together neatly. The safety-pins were not visible after the saree was draped, but gave us that much needed assurance that we could carry ourselves well!

When we got back from school after the graduation – our hearts filled with precious memories, fun and some tears – our moms waited to receive us, and warned us to carefully remove the safety-pins first and put them away, before we changed back into our home clothes.

And on countless important occasions thereafter – from festivals and family functions to our own engagements and weddings – we draped ourslves in gorgeous sarees, with strings of jasmine in our hair, and huge jhumkas dangling from our ears. The sarees made us feel poised, graceful and elegant – silently supported as they were by three simple, safety pins.

I come back to the here and the now. The safety-pins have been lying in the box for ages. Can’t wait for life to get back to normal. Can’t wait to bring out my sarees and my glittering safety pins!

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!

Little hearts


It is mid-afternoon, and I stand on my balcony looking at the world outside. The leaves on the trees below sway gently with the breeze. The leaves glow on and off as they catch the sun’s rays and throw them back at the world.

The birds are busy. Pigeons are lined up on the ledge of one of the buildings – gossiping; a family of golden orioles flits from one tree to another.

I haven’t stepped out of home in a while, except for the odd runs to the supermarket. I soak-in the quiet.

The spell is broken, when I hear my son asking me for something from my wallet. I reluctantly head back in.

I have shifted to a smaller wallet these days, as I hardly go out. This wallet just holds my cards and a little cash. But what my son wants is from my bigger wallet – a wallet that is a microcosm of a time when I used to go out often – to meet friends, to shop or to eat out with family.

I sigh. I open my wardrobe and pull out the handbag which holds the old wallet. For some strange reason, the wallet’s zip seems to be stuck. I tug it this way and that, wondering what is obstructing its movement.

I am finally able to open the wallet. I smile in a sudden burst of joy. Inside the wallet are two tiny plastic hearts. Memories come rushing in.

It was another hot afternoon, many months ago. My daughter and I were on an afternoon shopping marathon. The same trees glistened and swayed, as we walked from one mall to another, sweating profusely but still filled with a sense of purpose – a purpose driven by the joys of retail therapy. When we had had enough, we sat down in a roadside cafe to have cups of cold coffee.

On the top of each of our cups was this tiny little heart. A little, cute, red dollop of love. To me, those hearts captured perfectly the special love between my daughter and me, and all the fun memories of a wonderful afternoon spent together. I remember taking those heart-toppers and putting them away in my wallet.

And now, as the afternoon sun moves across the sky, I look at the hearts and feel a sudden rush of love.

A box from back home


It’s been almost two years since we’ve met our families back home. With the fantastic blessing that is technology, we have managed to keep-up our spirits through video calls with our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.

This afternoon, as I settled down to catch up on some work, the doorbell chimed. It was a courier delivery. The carton was big and fairly heavy.

I grew excited, because we’ve been eagerly awaiting this courier’s arrival from back home, lovingly despatched by my husband’s brother.

When my husband got home, we cut open the carton and for a moment there, the smell of home and our loved ones wafted through the air. It hit us then; how much we have missed visiting our family, a ritual we follow at least twice a year!

Soon, we delved into the box and took out its contents. In addition to the items we had ordered from back home, there were two gifts for me, a dress from my sister-in-law and a beautiful handwoven multi-purpose basket, made by her mother. I was in bliss.

The surprise letter in the basket

But the highlight was a handwritten letter from my sister-in-law, asking after us and giving us news from back home. I haven’t received a single letter in the last decade, after my Dad passed away. My Dad was an avid letter writer, and I have preserved every single letter that he has ever written to me.

There is something so beautiful about a handwritten letter. No email or phone message can ever make up for a surprise letter from back home. I feel so happy and so touched. I will treasure this letter.

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!!

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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.

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.

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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.