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 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.

A pair of black pumps


I am peering at my laptop screen, my eyebrows furrowed in concentration, trying to comprehend what I am reading.

My phone is on silent mode, but from the corner of my eye I can see the screen lighting up – it’s a call from my daughter.

She is out shopping with my niece for a formal event at school.

I pick up the call. She says, “Amma, I’ve sent you some pictures of formal footwear. I have marked the ones I really like, I am unable to make up my mind. Please see if they are ok.”

I quickly open my messages to check. The black pumps that my daughter seems to like look elegant, but I am worried about the height of the heel.

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

My daughter has never worn heels before. I call her and ask her if she’d tried them on and if they were comfortable. She replies in the affirmative and says, “I have to get used to them, Amma.”

Motherly love and practical concerns about posture and back pain run through my head, but I realize that I have to let go.

In a few hours, she comes home, bubbly from all that shopping. She puts on her pumps and walks up and down the living room.

She suddenly looks so tall. She walks – awkwardly at first, and then finds her rhythm. There is the odd, shaky step where she fumbles for balance, but she manages. Up and down she goes, getting more confident with each step.

As I watch her, I walk down memory lane to the time when she was a baby. I was at work one afternoon, when my father-in-law called to tell me that my daughter had taken her first steps, his voice suffused with excitement.

I remember rushing back home from work that evening, eager to see this little miracle for myself. But, it was another two days before my daughter attempted to walk again.

And then, over the next few days, she would constantly attempt to get from one place to another – wobbling and stumbling frequently. I stood and watched, clapping and encouraging her each time she made it from one sofa to another, or from the living room to the study.

I come back to the present. Nothing seems to have changed. Time seems to stand still. And just as I did then, I let go now, so that my daughter can walk into the world confidently.

A whiff of nostalgia


My daughter and I are out shopping. The mall is crowded with shoppers, all of them on a mission.

My daughter’s list is both simple and complicated. Simple because her colour choices are limited to only black or blue. Complicated because we are scouring every shop looking for that particular top or dress that matches the image she has in her mind. Our time is limited, so we are walking down each aisle, our eyes piercingly intent on the task at hand.

After what seems like ages, my daughter pronounces herself satisfied; mainly because of the addition of a black hoodie to her collection.

On the way out of the mall, I quickly rush to pick up a lip liner and a compact from my favourite brand. And, as I wait in line to pay, my eyes are drawn to a red box that looks familiar. I go over to see it up close.

I was right! This was the first perfume that I had bought with my own money, nearly two decades ago. I had saved up to buy three things – this perfume, a camera and a hair dryer, all of which weresome of my treasured possessions then.

I pick up the tester bottle, and gently spray the perfume on my wrist. I inhale…just a whiff…and I am transported.

Courtesy – http://www.istockphotos.com

Transported to another time in my life, where there was no husband and kids, where life revolved around my career, parents and siblings.

A life that was filled with so many possibilities and fun. It was time spent with friends, and shopping. It was time spent wondering about the future. It was time spent on my red bike that took me everywhere. It was also a time of loss, when my grandmom died, and a time of joyous celebration when my niece was born the next year.

It was the threshold time before both marriage and motherhood; a time that was my own.

I smile and share some of these memories with my daughter. “When did I stop using this perfume”, I ask myself.

But that’s life for you – as it takes you on new journeys, other fragrances and experiences enrich you, making you forget the old and the sweet.

But, all it took was a whiff ….to bring it all back. My daughter sniffs appreciatively and asks if she can use it. I say yes.

And very soon, she will also embark on new journeys and create her own memories, which I hope are as fragrant as this perfume that’s wafting in the air.

Street play at sundown


High up in the sky, the moon is a sliver of silver on a late evening sky that is still blue. The moon seems to be gliding peacefully far above, totally oblivious to the goings-on below.

Down here, there is a sense of desperation, as people try to make the most of the last few hours of the weekend before the work week starts.

The market street looks chaotic. People, street hawkers and vehicles jostle for space, as they strive to reach their goals for the week.

Splashes of colour in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, sarees on display and vibrant colour baskets dot the crowded street.

Everybody seems to be in a hurry, there is a sense of urgency to people’s actions, to the last calls of the street hawkers attempting to close sales for the week. Then again, there are those who stop at local street food stalls to partake of chaats, pizza and other Indian snacks.

There is a sensory overload – a blurring motion picture of rainbow colours, the loud hum of human chatter, the aroma of street food, the weaving and the jostling…..!

Amidst all this chaos are the balloon sellers, who walk up and down the street carrying ballons, toy ferris wheels that spin merrily in the evening breeze and other toys that entice children, whose eyes trail the balloons even as their bodies have gone on ahead with their parents, who hold them in vice-like grips, lest they get lost in the teeming crowd!

We have to pause frequently as we walk down, simply because there is no way to move.

That’s when we stop to enjoy this evening street play!

Walking down market street for Pongal


It’s been raining non-stop for the last week. The streets are wet, and water puddles gently splash around people’s footwear.

My friend and I are walking down market street to shop for our harvest festival, Pongal, which will be celebrated on Sunday.

All shops on the street have makeshift stalls outside the main shop to cater to the many hundreds of people who will shop for this festival.

Tender plants of ginger and turmeric are neatly stacked in bunches of bright green, the yellow turmeric roots contrasting beautifully with the green of the leaves.

Fresh and green mango leaves are on sale. Beautiful sugarcane plants are stacked along the walls of most shops.

Most shops also sell pieces of sugarcane for those who want less.

The street is teeming with people, all looking for the perfect mud-pot or stainless steel pot to cook pongal in, on the day of the festival.

Bright colours everywhere – red apples and pomegranates, yellow bananas, golden mangoes.

The flower stalls are doing brisk business, and the heavenly smell of jasmine is in the air. Beautifully threaded garlands hang neatly in every stall. Full coconuts and banana leaves await new customers.

The excitement is palpable. My friend and I get caught up too, as we soak in the spirit of this beautiful festival of harvest.

We offer a quick ‘thank you’ to all the farmers, who toil so hard to bring food to our homes.

Happy Pongal everyone!

Shopping, paranthas & peace


My sister and I are out shopping. There is no specific shopping list; we are willing to buy anything that grabs our attention. Read – ‘as many shops as we can visit in one afternoon’.

Our children are with their grandmom, and we don’t feel any guilt. We wave cheery byes to our children, who are oblivious to our departure. They are enjoying junk food, and reveling in the joy of being totally spoiled by their grandmom.

We drive down to one of our favourite malls. We drive each other nuts by trying on hundreds of clothes, doing catwalks for each other; all the while catching up on family gossip, children, motherhood and other silly things that sisters talk about.

We reach a point where our arms hurt from all that exertion. We buy 2% of what we tried, but the satisfaction is enormous.

We need coffee. We need something to eat. And then, we find this small restaurant that has a skylight, and has huge stone slabs and steps that serve as tables and chairs. Multi-coloured cushions languish on various stones. Trees give us company. We order hot aloo paranthas and coffee. As we wait for the food, we soak in this place, this slice of heaven. Where, unbeknowst to ourselves, we’ve stopped talking.

We are immersed in our own thoughts. Life seems so simple and so uncomplicated in this quadrangle. A lazy bird chirps above us. Ants are busily climbing the walls.

Our food arrives. We relish it in silence. We are loathe to leave this peace, but real life beckons. We step out into the world, where people are rushing, vehicles are moving – nobody stops or pauses even for a second.

Vibrant traditions


My husband and I are walking down a crowded street in Bengaluru, India. It is late in the afternoon, and the sun’s rays form net-like patterns on the pavement and the road.

Hundreds of small shops line both sides of the street. The shopkeepers and street hawkers are doing brisk business.

We need to stock up on cotton wicks (for our lamps), incense sticks, and a few other items. There are four shops that cater to our needs. They are all adjacent to each other, for they know that if we do not get what we want from the first shop, we will head to the next.

All four shopkeepers nod, and welcome us enthusiastically. We stop at the first shop. As I place my order, I am transfixed by the display of turmeric powder and kumkum (the red powder used for the Bindis that Indian women wear on their foreheads).

Art and Science are both at work here. The shopkeeper has painstakingly created mounds of these powders, by compacting them. They look so vibrant and colourful. The shopkeeper has planned this with precision. Just the right amount of powder to maintain the balance and prevent it from collapsing all around.

I ask him if I can take pictures. He obliges. I ask him, how he manages to take out powder from these mounds, if a customer wants to buy some!

He shows me how; I watch with bated breath. He does it with the ease of a seasoned professional. This is his turf and he smiles at my surprised look.

He packs our wicks and incense sticks. Deep from the recesses of his shop, a little boy comes running out. Presumably his son.

Family businesses that have been around for generations, carrying on the traditions of their forefathers. Selling simple, everyday things with so much creativity and beauty.

Shopping Basket Philosophy


I am standing in line at the billing counter in the supermarket. I have left my phone behind at home, and feel that I am missing an integral part of myself.

With nothing to swipe or refresh or read, I look around; my eyes taking in the bright displays, and the stacks of biscuits and chocolates and bottled water and potato wafers and moisturizers and tissues and cream bottles.

My eyes take in the contents of the shopping basket of the person standing in line before me – it has canned drinks, potato wafers and a loaf of bread. My brain immediately arrives at the conclusion that this person is young, maybe a student, looking forward to an evening filled with some school work, fun, watching TV or going out with friends. I am envious!

My eyes travel across the aisle to the adjacent billing counter. I see the contents of another shopping bag. Baby food, a good dose of veggies, eggs, bread and milk.

Young mother!

Then I look at my own shopping bag. Vegetables and more vegetables, band-aid, bread, tissues, milk, biscuits, snacks, cleaning supplies, pasta, wraps…! Hmmm, a mother stocking up and trying to avoid another trip to the super market soon!

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When I was a kid, the only equation that I had with the shopping baskets my parents carried was to keep track of the little paper bag of candies or chocolates, which my parents bought for us every week. Everything else in the bag was irrelevant.

I see it now with my kids. They keep a hawk-like watch on what they have bought, sometimes totally oblivious to everything else.

The contents of our shopping basket reflect the stage of life we are in. Each shopping basket has a story to tell!

For example, why has the lady behind me loaded three baskets with fruit? I start speculating – is she going to make jam or fruit preserve or juice? Has she bought them to gift someone or is it for a celebration of some sort!!!

I look at her, she smiles and nods.

I move up the line. Very soon, I checkout, pick up my bags and head homeward – back to my children, and the realities of school assignments and deadlines, cleaning and planning.

My shopping basket theory takes a back seat, as I empty my bags, and grapple with everyday issues of putting away the shopping, and planning what to cook tomorrow!

Bliss in a butter dosa!


The mid morning heat envelopes us.  My husband and I are in the city of Bengaluru, making our way through winding streets and small alleys that are crammed with shops that sell every thing that one could ever want.

The sound of blaring horns and moving vehicles is punctuated by street hawkers selling their wares – clamouring for attention. People are moving, elbows jostling, from shop to shop or hawker to hawker, inspecting clothes or kitchen utensils or fruit or flowers, bargaining, closing deals. Some people are oblivious to the cacophony as they plod on, expertly weaving their way through the wave of humanity.

My husband and I are working our way down the ‘all-important’ shopping list. After weaving through the labyrinth, we are finally done and feel a sense of accomplishment.

My husband suggests that we go to a small eatery called CTR (short for Central Tiffin Room), a small restaurant that has been around for decades. My husband raves about their speciality – benne dosa (meaning butter dosa). The dosa is a South Indian delicacy, which looks like a pancake. The dosa is salty and not sweet. It usually has a potato stuffing, and is eaten with various chutneys and sambar. 

I am easily persuaded. We walk down to CTR. We are given a table on the first floor.

We order the benne dosa and await its arrival. When the golden dosa arrives, I am in bliss. Golden crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, with potata masala stuffed inside. The chutneys and sambar are perfect.

The butter-soaked dosa is superlative. It melts in the mouth. Truly delicious!

Like true South Indians we finish with a cup of strong filter coffee served in cute stainless steel tumblers.

                   Bliss is in a benne dosa and filter coffee!