Moonlight dinner


When we were growing up, most homes had backyards. Most of these yards had at least a few trees like the coconut tree, mango tree and neem tree.  They also had other plants like hibiscus, jasmine etc. Another standard fixture in these yards was that most of them had wells with pulleys, for drawing water for household chores.

The area around the well was usually cemented, creating a lovely space in the backyard to play, work and have fun.

During our summer holidays, all of us, cousins, gathered in our grandparents’ home; blissful days where we played the same games over and over again. The adults were happy to catch up and go out shopping. Nobody bothered us, as long as we showed up at meal times.

Dinners then were absolute fun, the reason being that we ate in the backyard, sitting under the silvery glow of the moon, as the gentle breeze from the Bay of Bengal whispered through the coconut trees.

Under millions of twinkling stars and a creamy moon, all of us usually sat in a semi-circle. Each of us was given a small piece of banana leaf. On this leaf, we were each served one papad (poppadum), a big portion of vegetable and a little mango pickle (all home-made).

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One of the aunts  mixed rice and a lentil-gravy, called sambar, in a really huge vessel and sat in the middle of the semi-circle.

We would cup our right palms and put out our hands for the rice. The aunt would serve each of us in turn. We  would each add some vegetable, have a quick bite of our papad and eat it with the rice.  After completing the full semi circle, the cycle would start again.

We got to hear stories if we were lucky, else we chit-chatted amongst ourselves. The other adults sat leaning against the walls of the well, catching up on family gossip.

After the sambar rice, we were served curd rice. The huge quantities were polished off in no time. With full stomachs, we played some more games in the backyard.

By 9.00 p.m., the household would start winding down. Those were the days without air conditioners, so on most days we slept on the huge terrace, under the stars – one huge row of cousins and another row of adults. Singing and laughing, till the whispering wind kissed our eyelids closed.

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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!

So many stories in a cup of tea!


Tea stalls in India are ubiquitous. You will find them on busy roads, sometimes more than one on a road; outside theatres, outside office complexes, near the vegetable market, everywhere.

Most of them serve coffee, tea, hot milk and a limited menu of yummy snacks that vary depending on the time of day.

The beverages are served in small cups made of thick glass. I am yet to see a tea stall that is not doing brisk business throughout the day.

Some of them play the latest Bollywood hit numbers. The owners of all these tea stalls know their regular customers and their unique preferences – less sugar, black coffee etc.

They laugh and joke, their hands boiling, sieving and serving, without missing a beat. Nerve centres in people’s days, where they come to recharge or unwind.

I remember one such tea stall near my parents’ home. Every evening, my Dad and I would stop by to have a cup of tea, laced with fresh ginger and cardamom, when my kids and I stayed with them during the holidays.

And when we sipped our teas and chit-chatted, many regulars would also be there. A man, whose wife was in hospital, who would come there, with a thermos to buy coffee to take with him to the hospital, after work. There was a group of sales executives, with their ties loosened, discussing their sales calls over a cuppa. They joked with the tea stall owner and went on their way. There were two nurses who stopped by to buy snacks for their children on their way home.

There was an old woman, who would also visit the tea stall at the same time. Her wizened face bore the grooves of many wrinkles, wrinkles that had witnessed her hard life. She did odd jobs in the area and from what we knew, she lived alone. Making ends meet would have been a challenge. But, every evening, she would come to the stall, neatly dressed, with a string of jasmine adorning her loosely tied chignon, and a big red bindi on her forehead. She had bright eyes and a mouth that looked like it had smiled a lot despite the difficult journey.

On one such day, as we sipped our tea, the old woman walked to the stall and placed her coins on the counter, asking for her usual tea and bajji. She proceeded to enjoy this with relish, slurping the tea in an almost musical way. She would nibble into the bajji and then sip. We watched her, enthralled. This was probably an important part of her day. Her eyes stared into the distance, as we wondered what thoughts visited her mind.

And after she finished her tea, the stall owner called out to her, “Amma (Mom), do you want another cup?”

She replied, “Don’t have change.”

The owner said, “There’s an offer today, buy one get one free.”

Her eyes appreciated his generosity and kindness, but her shoulders stiffened proudly, as she smiled and walked away, nodding her head to say no.

The tea stall was a world unto itself. People dropping in to unwind, stopping to catch up with friends, sometimes relaxed, sometimes in a hurry to get to their next appointment, sometimes happy, sometimes sad.

So many stories in a cup of tea!