The Emperor Penguin


My son loves animals, and he devours books and TV shows about animals all the time. He derives special joy from remembering facts, statistics and loads of interesting information about animals, and constantly shares them with all of us.

So, for his Father’s Day gift, he has drawn from his knowledge about animals, and has decided to sketch an Emperor Penguin. Male Emperor Penguins incubate the egg for a good two months, with patience and love.

My son sees these qualities mirrored in his Dad and has sketched his Emperor Penguin Dad on a beautiful white cloth tote.

Needless to say, his Dad is touched and thrilled. They exchange high-fives and hugs.

I ask my son who the penguin at the back is. He replies that it is his sister.

“Where am I?” I ask, a little miffed at being left out of this family portrait.

“Oh, mom, female Emperor Penguins go fishing in the ocean. That’s why you are not here”, he says.

Letting go in bits and pieces…


The excitement at home is palpable. My son is scurrying about, double-checking, triple-checking and quadruple-checking with me; ensuring that all the items on the checklist given by his school have been packed.

He is going away on a three-day school trip, the longest he has been away from home and from all of us.

We have to drop him early tomorrow, so we try to get him to sleep early. He checks his big backpack, and a smaller backpack, one last time, before he hits the bed.

His excitement is contagious; we are also caught up in it all.

As his mom, I hope he will be fine, and able to manage on his own. Above everything, I want him to have fun.

His elder sister, who has been on many such trips, gives him a few tips. He is after all the youngest, and it is time to let him go!

The next morning flies by in a flurry of last minute checking, and driving to school. Many children and parents are already there. In what seems like a jiffy, the children board the coaches, and with a few waves and yells, they are off.

Picture courtesy – wikiclipart

I head back home. It is like any other school day, when the kids are not around, but the house seems a tad emptier. I go around the house picking up stuff. On my son’s table are some eraser shavings, a half-done sketch of an animal, and a pencil. Suddenly, it hits me that a bundle of energy will not rush into the house at 4 pm, for the next two days. There will be no non-stop chatter about the school day or animals, or the cats in the neighbourhood.

Soon, when I check my phone, I realize there are some photo updates from school. Lovely photos of the kids and their activities; what fun experiences they seem to be having.

I zoom in, and eagerly scan the innocent faces for my son. There he is, smiling, with his friends, looking happy and cheerful.

Soon, the day’s chores catch up with me, and my daughter and I also take some time out together, catching up on some mom-daughter time.

The three days fly away, and my son is back home, enriched by his experiences, and bubbling with stories about the trip.

As I hug my little one, I realize that he has taken an important first step in his life. The first of many such experiences and challenges he will face in this journey called life.

As his parents, my husband and I hope we have equipped him to do just that!

Realization – A short story


It was raining outside, but the sounds in Jaya’s head drowned out everything else, to the point that she was barely aware of her surroundings. Her fingers absent mindedly plucked at the frayed embroidery on the table cloth.

There was a dull ache in her heart as she replayed her son’s words on the phone.

“Mom, we can’t have you stay with us…you know we are struggling to make ends meet”, he’d said.

The words had stung, and how. She had always believed that their simple but happy family life would last forever, but her husband’s death had kind of pulled the carpet from under her feet. She had come to realize that their finances were in very bad shape and that there was very little left as savings. There was the monthly pension, of course!

The hopes she had pinned on her only son came to naught. Now, she planned to sell all the furniture and electrical appliances, and move to a home for Senior Citizens.

She sighed as she moved around the house reviewing what could be sold. The next two weeks flew by…all the furniture and appliances were sold.

Her son came to help her move into the Home. There was a wall between the mother and son, love frozen into a sudden strangeness and unfamiliarity.

Jaya soon aettled down in the Home. She passed her time reading, doing her shopping and doing yoga.

One afternoon, just after lunch, she got a call on her mobile.

“Hello. Is this Ms.Jaya Kumar?” asked a voice.

“Yes, this is she. Who’s calling?” asked Jaya.

“My name is Kevin Williams. I need to meet you regarding a very important matter concerning the furniture you just sold to ‘Woods n Carves’. I work there and need to talk to you”, the voice said.

Her curiosity piqued, she agreed to meet him at a local coffee shop later in the day.

As she sat at the cafe, she saw a short man, with a paunch, walking in. He looked around and walked to her table.

“Mrs.Kumar?” he asked.

She nodded and smiled.

They placed their order and she looked at him enquiringly.

“Mrs.Kumar, this is a very delicate matter and I hope you will keep it confidential”, he started.

She nodded.

“Hmmmm, you know the small dining table set you sold to us? I am incharge of the Repurposing Department, and all items that the shop buys comes under my purview. Before joining this organization, I was an antiques dealer. The table you sold is a very special piece, that can be traced back to the Mysore Royal Family. It is worth a few hundred thousand dollars at least.”

Jaya’s eyes nearly popped out. This seemed too good to be true.

The man continued, “I have thought of a way to help you. If you can buy back the furniture from us, I can help you find a good buyer for the antique piece and you should get a good price for it.”

Jaya pondered. Could she trust this man? Who was he anyway? Was he a fraud? Was he trying to make quick money, by getting her to buy back the furniture with a fake story?

Kevin watched the play of emotions on her face.

He said, “I know how this may appear to you, but believe me, you are sitting on a golden egg here and it is only fair that you reap the benefits. As for me, here’s my card, you can run a check on me.”

She flushed as she realized that he knew what she was thinking.

“Why don’t I talk to my son and call you in a few days?” she said.

That evening she called her son and told him about what had happened. His voice sounded animated and as he spoke, he ran a quick search on Google for Kevin Williams. His credentials were impeccable. There were many white papers on antique furniture to his credit.

“Mom, fix up a meeting with Kevin for this weekend. I will meet him with you”, said her son.

On Saturday, they met at the same coffee shop.

“I am glad you have considered my suggestion, so what I will do is tell my management that the owner wants to buy it back, shouldn’t be too much of a problem. They may ask for a 5% increase in the buyback price”, Kevin said.

Jaya and her son quickly conferred and agreed.

Jaya said, “Mr.Williams, you have been very kind, we would like to repay your kindness.”

Kevin said, “Ah..that, I will come to that in a minute. Now that you have agreed, I want to tell you that there are two potential buyers and the price range is between 800,000 to 1,000,000.”

Jaya and her son let out loud gasps.

Kevin continued, “As for me, I would like 40% of the total.”

Jaya and her son took some time to talk through this. They rationalized that 60% itself was great as opposed to nothing.

They agreed.

Very soon the agreement was signed. Her son put up the money to buyback the piece and the antique was sold.

Jaya’s bank account was swollen with money. She walked with more confidence, and a small smile on her face.

Life was more pleasurable now that she had this nest egg. She decided to continue staying at the Home.

A few days later her son and daughter-in-law called on her at the Home. They brought lots of snacks and gifts for her.

Her son said, “Mom, why don’t you move in with us? Things are looking better for us, so we would be thrilled to have you back with us.”

Jaya said, “You are my son and I can read you like a book; that money will come to you only after my death, and I plan to travel to a few places that I have dreamt about. I woke up to reality the day I moved here.”

Reverse Spooked


My son has just come back from school. He looks a little off-colour. He has his snack and runs down to play with his friends.

When he gets home, he still looks a little worried. I sit him down for a mom-son talk.

“Is everything ok?” I ask.

“I am scared”, he replies.

“Scared of what?” I ask.

“Today, in school, all the boys talked about an evil ghost called ‘Bloody Mary’. They have warned me that if I visit the bathroom after dark and look into the mirror, I will see her face and her scratch marks. Can I stay with you? I am terrified”, he replies.

I guffaw loudly and rubbish him saying, “Your friends are trying to fool you because this is April. ‘Bloody Mary’ is actually a cocktail, containing vodka and tomato juice. Don’t believe all these stories.”

I continue to smile as I remember such stories that went around when we were kids, but my son still looks  worried and afraid.

I try to calm him down and bring the iPad to show him what a Bloody Mary looks like.

So I sit next to him and type Bloody Mary on Google images.

I do a double take as I see horrible looking pictures of a ghost, blood dripping, hollow eyes…there are only a few pictures of the cocktail.

My son screams in fear, “See, I told you.”

I quickly close Google. I am working on damage control now. Sigh!

Oops…too many seeds


We had guests for dinner over the weekend. My carefully planned menu turned out rather well.

There was one rice dish, which had a number of seeds – mustard, cumin, cardamom, peppercorn and star anise, in addition to various vegetables.

There were enough leftovers to last us till lunch the next day.

After eating the leftovers the next day, my son asked me why I hadn’t cooked anything new. I promised him that I would cook something that he liked for dinner, as I did not want to waste food.

He readily agreed and ran away to play. When he came home he sniffed the air appreciatively, and asked me what was for dinner.

When I told him, he let out a whoop of joy, and then said, “I was so scared that I would have to eat that ‘seedy’ rice again!!!

I laughed and told him the meaning of ‘seedy’!

When the Tiger Mom Froze


Truth be told, there is a Tiger Mom lurking inside me, that manifests now and then, when my children have school deadlines or competitions.

A couple of years ago, my son made it to the finals of a quiz contest.  The Tiger Mom in me surfaced as I helped my son prepare. We had lists and sub-lists. During this time, we traveled the world looking at pictures of monuments, memorized dates, learnt about animal record-holders from the biggest eyeball, to the longest tongue to the shortest lifespan.

We developed techniques to remember country flags, and famous personalities. We learnt nursery rhymes and studied picture clues.  And finally, finally, I felt my little cub was ready for the contest.  Phew!

A couple of days before the contest, when he came back from school, I pestered him with questions about quiz-preparations they had done at school that day.

He briefed me on the topics his team had revised and then asked me, “Do you know what IAS stands for?”

I froze.  

We had not prepared for three letter acronyms.  Was this a new topic? My brain was in a whirl, as I wondered what acronyms I could teach him in two days?  UN, WHO, UNICEF, IAS (Indian Administrative Service), what else ?

I said to myself, “List time.”

When I looked at my son, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry mom, I know what IAS stands for, it stands for I Am Starving – IAS.”

I laughed at the joke, but more from sheer relief!

Handing down love


My son turned 13 today and in keeping with our family tradition, I asked him to meet me in my room after dinner.

Curiosity was evident in his eyes,  but he merely nodded. My wife and I had gifted him a course in kayaking. There was also a glint of excitement in his eyes, as he probably expected another surprise birthday present.

He walked into my room, with me,  after dinner. With great ceremony, I opened the drawer on my table. I took out a small gift wrapped package and gave it to him.

He opened it with a lot of excitement. I could see his face falling, when he saw that it was an old, battered geometry box. There was a letter taped to the bottom of the box.

He looked at me, quite puzzled, waiting for an explanation.

I told him, “Open the letter.”

The letter ran into many pages. I told him to start reading from the last letter, dated 24th August, 1919, written by my great great grandfather to his son, on his thirteenth birthday.

My son quietly read all the letters, letters written by many fathers to many sons, to their sons. Nearly a century of family love there. Some letters were humourous, some were filled with love, some with dos and don’ts.  But a great archive of our family’s history, its shared love, and a wonderful tradition. He finally came to my letter and read it.

He looked up, and asked, “But why the geometry box?”

“Oh, the geometry box was probably handy, when my great great grandpa wanted to get this going,  what he also did was inscribe his name at the bottom of the box, with the date”, I said.

My son flipped the box and saw the metal engravings of his ancestors and laughed when he saw my name.

I also added, “The instruments in the set can be used even now. They are of excellent quality. After you are done with it, inscribe your name and pass it on to your son.”

He took his gift and walked out of the room. I know for a fact that 25 years from now, his throat will catch the way mine is now, when he writes a letter to his son, and wishes him well.