He

His arms carried me as a baby

His arms bore the weight of my education

His heart celebrated my every success

His heart cried at my loss

His legs walked for miles for me to stand straight

His legs stopped for me to catch up

His eyes saw the now and fretted tomorrow

His eyes dreamt of my tomorrow

His words cautioned me of the world

His words strung a thousand stories for me

He is

My hero.

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Under the giant tree

I’ve spent many a days

Under the giant tree

Far away from here

In my grandmother’s house

That tree holds my childhood

And memories treasured

The games we played

As innocent nine year olds

It’s branches have rings

From the rope of our swings

It’s shade will tell you stories

About the cool evenings we lay there

Under that tree, in those swings

I see my mother smiling at me

She is holding my brother close

Swaying in the wind, happily

Going higher each time

I am scared they’d get hurt

But she has spent many a days

Under the giant tree many years ago

As a nine year old

In my grandmother’s house.

Day 5 : Life lessons – God provides

Like the past few weeks, today evening again I got an invite from a good friend of mine to attend bible study at her house. She was kind enough to call me again today, in spite of the fact that I declined a few of her earlier invitations, because I had something else to do. This was the first time I was attending bible study and I asked my kids just before heading out of the door, if we needed to carry the Bible. My younger one promptly said, “Amma, God provides!” As I thought about what he had said, I realized that his timely statement had such greater and deeper meaning. God was going to show it to me in more ways than one later during the day.

At the bible study I met a couple of other families. Honestly, it felt so good interacting with people who were not from my company or from my state or from my country. The four families gathered in that house, or whom God brought together were from four different countries. It was amazing to see how people could gather from different spectrums, different lives to talk about God. It was a group of people who genuinely wanted to be nice to each other. Only if this message could be passed to the whole world.

Anyways, so I met a young woman, single, mother of four children, who had recently relocated to Bentonville. She was working towards establishing her own housekeeping services company by starting out small and was in need of more clients. I told her about the Nextdoor app, which was new to her and how it could help her. I got her visiting card and put out recommendations in Nextdoor and the Indian community on FB. I don’t know if this will help her or not, but it was a channel that God provided to her to help her. And as I thought back to what my son has said before we left home, “God provides”, I realized how soon He teaches us.

As we progressed through the Bible study which was about quick listening, slow anger, doing (James Chapter 1:19-27) I was thinking about how God has provided for me. As I grew up, my parents lived from paycheck to debt to paycheck to debt. Most of my school and engineering fees was loans given by kind-hearted people. God didn’t provide us with a spacious house, a car, bank balance, jewelry, fine clothes, and all the materialistic things that money could buy, but He provided my parents with ideas to keep the money flowing just enough to educate their children. God provided my brother and I with enough intelligence to do well at studies. He provided my brother and I the wisdom to understand the meagerness of resources and use it well. He provided my brother and I the will to overcome, to study, to get further in life, to provide for our parents in their old age. All gifts don’t come wrapped in packages. The most valuable ones come as blessings, when God provides!

Truly, truly blessed!

My first and forever love..

My childhood resonates with him. If I sit down to reminisce about childhood, most memories are about him. As I pick them up one by one, I realize that he is the one person I observed almost all the time. Every movement of his is a distinct memory. Maybe because I am a daughter, that I took my mother for granted and hero-worshipped him. My father.

When I was very young, my aunt’s family and we were close knit. My cousins called my father, uncle, mother, ma, their mom, mummy, their dad, daddy. Although its an embarrassing confession to make, I called my father ‘unkel’ for many many years. I did not mean ‘uncle’ in its literal meaning, but that is how I addressed him. I’m sure I was corrected, but I stuck to ‘unkel’ for a long time. As strange as it sounds to me now, the word echoed every sentiment I had for him. For some time now, he is ‘Appa’.

I distinctly remember his routine during my school years. He woke up around the time my brother and I did, ironed our uniform, tied our shoes and pretty much did anything that was required to get us ready and out of the door when the autorickshaw guy aka ‘automan’ was at the gate. While my mother handled the breakfast, hair he went through anything that would propel the purpose of every school day morning, getting my brother and me to school. After that he carried water in plastic pots from the ground floor tap to the second floor where we lived. All the water we needed for the day. For many years, since we did not have water supply at the second floor, this was the only way. At 9.45 am sharp, he left home for office. He walked the two kilometer stretch from home to Visveswaraya Museum on Kasthurba Rd to be able to sign in at 10am.

Promptly at around 5.45pm he walked back and got home. There were days when he was late, when he had to get something done. If it was raining, he walked in soaking wet. He is more of a walking and bus kind of person, owing to his allergy to petrol and our means. If he had some work at Majestic, he would occasionally bring three masala dosas parcel from Kamath. If he went to Commercial Street, it was four samosas from Bhagathram’s. If it was a birthday – two times a year precisely, it was a cake from Nilgiris. In those parcels that came in plain plastic covers, were some of the most delicious food I have eaten (apart from my mother’s meals).

On Sundays he did his share by doing the laundry. My mother and I helped (as I got older) but it was his chore. My most favourite memory of childhood and my father is when KSEB (Electricity board) decided to cut the supply to our neighbourhood. We put out folding metal chairs, bright blue in colour, in the verandah (aka patio) and talked or played games. Most often the game was names of places. I’d say the name of a place, my brother then had to say a name of a place with the last letter of my place and so on. My father came up with names outside our geography text book and we would end up finding his place on the atlas when the electricity supply resumed. If it was not a game, it was some childhood story of his. I could write a whole book of the stories he has told me and continues to tell me today.

My father was born a Shastri or to the brahmin class of people who perform rituals at the temple. His eldest brother was given an acre or so of land by the king surrounding the Shiva Temple at Shivapuram, a town near Mattanur in Kannur. His family of six brothers and one sister moved from Puthur, Mangalore to Shivapuram and have lived there ever since. At school he wrote novels, worked on the school magazine and leaned towards the creative side. After losing out on academical brain pounding, he left to join his brother who wrote sign boards in Mangalore and subsequently Bangalore. A few years and he landed a job at Visweswaraya Museum. It is here that his tryst with the camera began which went on to become his ultimate passion.

As a child, I saw how screen printing was done. He did it at home. I helped lay out visiting cards, letter head sheets for drying, carefully so that the wet ink wouldn’t smudge. Every card and paper costed money. Wastage had to be negligible. We were probable Six Sixma compliant :). Once in a while he allowed me to lower the screen and run the rubber edged piece of wood along the screen. The excitement of achievement at printing a visiting card or a letter head. I saw him build the screens. Hammer the edges of the board, cover them with screen, nail them in tightly, mount them on the table with metal clamps, mix the ink, align the card or paper to precision. The fun part was gathering up the cards after they had dried, count them and stack them up in those light green plastic boxes. When the orders were high, we put them out to dry all around the house and we tip toed till they dried up.

In my sixth grade we bought the first computer. The CPU was about three foot high and three foot wide. I do not remember the specification but it was exciting. That is when my parents established ‘Typograph’ a desktop publishing company with my father, mother, and me as employees :). When we had to type a lot, we employed a typist for a short term. Unfortunately that company did not grow leaps and bounds, but it helped me through engineering college. I went with my parents to get orders, typed, learnt Coreldraw to draw the chemical compositions of Methane and what not. I never new what those C, H, O meant at that time. My father got softwares from friends, Pagemaker, Ventura, Coreldraw, got a book and asked me to learn and teach him. Wow! those sessions were hilarious.

Almost all my school projects of posters were done with his help. He taught me how to use the compass, set square, draw, layout text, cut pictures appropriately, what glue to use when, in those projects, much before engineering drawing. He always helped me, I do not remember a single time he made an excuse when I needed him.

He knew the concepts of chemistry, physics biology, maths, but did not have the academic know how to help me at school work. A long look at the report card and he would always ask about the marks I lost. If I got 98 on 100, he would ask what happened to the two marks. If I got 85, he would ask why I did not get hundred. At that time I was definitely irritated as to why he couldn’t appreciate what I had got, but now when I do the same to my son, I know, he was just pushing me further.

All this may sound like close to perfection. But that is not true. He had his lows. But through all of those he was honest with us. He told us how things were, he made a deal with me that I would pay for my brother’s education once I got a job, because he had drained out his resources on me. He taught me the value of money and why it was valued. When times were bad, he along with my mother taught me how to survive, that truly made me believe that there is a road at the end of the tunnel.

All his acquaintances tell me about how he is as a person, some are good, some are not so good. I understand that that is their version of him. My version of him, what he is to me, is my personal experience which nobody else can understand or feel. I saw him at his lowest when he battled cancer a few years ago. It was a nightmare. He lost his weight, his zest to live, his humor. Five years down, he lives with the devil, but beat it, to get back to what he was before he was struck by it. I got back his humor, his stories and love.

At 71, he has his pangs of i-am-at-the-end symptoms but nevertheless most days its current affairs, old stories, laughter and love. A few hours after Father’s day this year, he is setting off to the trip of his dreams, to the Himalayas. He always said, he would get away from everything and go to the Himalayas. I have never once discussed or even mentioned Father’s day to him. I did today, and he asked me, so what are you giving me for Father’s day. I said ‘your Himalaya trip’! Being able to provide him with most of what he needs is my biggest happiness for the last so many years. More than the materials, its the call from me at the end of the day that we both treasure the most. And almost everyday he tells me a story either from his childhood or mine.

Happy Father’s Day! to my first love and forever hero, my appa!

Appa

The year gone by…

New year is always an opportunity to reflect on the year gone by and renew the hope within you to possibilities and achieve something new. Technically January 1st is just another day, when you reset the calendar. But over the years this day has filled the human with what a system reboot does to the computer. You wash out the junk and temp files, and make the system ready for new transactions.

As I look at the year gone by, it was an eventful year. So many high points, and low ones too, and definitely some valuable lessons, retaught in life’s mysterious ways.

I ticked off a few items from my things-to-do-before-I-die bucket list, and some were direct blessings from above delivered to me through people I love.

All through my childhood years, my parents never owned a car. The lack of it didn’t have any impact on the quality of our life either. We walked, took an auto, rode the bus. The memories created during those walks, holding my parents hands, the endless chattering during those 2km walks from school or my father’s office were filled with stories from my father’s childhood or general knowledge about the world. I am so glad there were no mobile phones then, to intrude into our privacy. The paradox of today’s life is that we drive to the gym to walk!

So it was not until I got married that I owned a car. All credit goes to my husband for pushing me to learn driving. He virtually gave me a pair of wings. Fourteen years hence, we walked into the BMW showroom and bought our first BMW, a black sedan. Honestly, buying a car or even a BMW is no big deal in the US. You get auto loans at good rates, you can own any car you want. What makes it a blessing is knowing from where you came and where life has taken you. Counting your blessing and the luxuries that God has blessed you with. The icing of all of these blessings, was driving my father in the BMW, which was his first ride in a BMW! Truly blessed!

So, you have read blogs about my childhood years, the house I grew up in. My mother always complained that she never owned a house, until her final years when my brother and I together with our parents built a house in Wayanad. After listening to years and years of her grumbling for her own house, she looked so calm and at peace sitting in the front yard of the finished house. She looked like finally she was home. The memory fresh in my mind. Maybe I got this from her, but I always wanted to my own house and didn’t want to have it towards the tad end of my life. I wanted it during a time when I was healthy enough to maintain it. So thanks to my husband again, he bought us our first home. This house is many times the size of the house I grew up in. Again, what makes it special is knowing from where I came and where life has brought me. I now strive to create half as many good memories for my children in this large expanse of space, as my parents created for my brother and I. Again, blessed!

She is the first lady in my husband’s family I met. She welcomed me into the family with the warmest hug and a heart full of love. In all the fourteen years I have known her, she has only given love. Such selfless love, I have only read in books. She battled the worst illness during her final years and even in those times, she spread the warmth she had been blessed with. It was only befitting that she named our eldest son, Nitin. The nicest soul life introduced me to along the way, moved on to find her place in heaven. In that leaving, she redeemed me and blessed me for the years when she wouldn’t be around. Blessed to have been part of her loved ones!

Then my appa! The seventy year old, handsome fella who applies hair dye so carefully and wans to look young as he gets older. His bald head being the only obstacle. After years of nagging, he finally boarded the big bird and crossed the seas to come see America! He saw less of America, and just more and more of Walmart in Bentonville and rain and snow in Seattle. The six months he spent with my brother and I comes to an end this week. Yet having him with either of us is so much of a relief than when he is alone in Bangalore, where I call him everyday just to make sure he is okay. As he has got older he has developed some irritating habits like all old people do (which even I will, I am sure) but what he has done for me over all these years, is our personal story and is so important in shaping the person that I am today. So blessed to be born to him!

I always love spending time with my parents and sibling. We relive our childhood years, like everyone else. This maybe more important and dear for daughters who even partially adopt a different family strain through marriage. Being yourself with no strings attached is so endearing and happens only with your own parents and siblings. I got a week of this bliss when I went to Seattle to spend time with my brother and father. As I left Seattle there were underlying fears that I kept hitting down like whac-a-mole arcade game, yet the happiness of that one week is a treasure. Blessed to get that one week of me!

When you stay in a different country and miss your best friends often, getting even a 24 hour time period with them is a treat! 90% of the time is filled mostly with nonsense chatter, laughs, laughs and more laughs. At the end of the day the memory of that time brings a smile to your face. When life doesn’t offer you the best, this is where you huddle into, your punching bag, with no promises and explicit professing of the depth of the relationship. Its the knowing that they are which makes all the difference. The two nonsense-chatter people in my life have stayed on for sixteen years straight now. I can’t imagine my life without these two. Blessings!

Grandparents are a treasure. My children were blessed with another set of grandparents and their unlimited love throughout last year. My children are a bit more affectionate, softer, respectful because of the affection they were showered with by these grandparents. I am ever so grateful, that my children got this opportunity at love during these years of their life which will definitely play its part in the people they will become. Blessed again!

Letting go is difficult. Dipping myself in that cold water early in the morning, following the steps the priest dictated, putting rice and reciting those mantras supposedly frees my mother. It is not sadness or tears that I felt, its a frozen state accentuated by the dip. With my father beside me, its like she tied the bond a bee wit tighter. It was a low time, no doubt. But in the knowing that I was born to a fighter with a never-say-die attitude is the biggest blessing I have received. Her attitude to move on in spite of all obstacles is what she passed on to me. Blessed!

There were low times, but at the end of the day who wants to remember them. They are best let go. People whom I misjudged, people who helped you sail through during tough times, everything a blessing, a learning. There were days when there is no light at the end of the tunnel, just then the ray of hope shines in the form of a person or the inner strength or the force that helps go on. Through it all, God has been the invisible strength either directly or through people whom he placed in my life.

Yes, new year is a Ctrl+Alt+Del system reboot. Bring on the new challenges and blessings!

May 2017 be filled with blessings, again!

The light of candles

My earliest memory of a birthday goes back to maybe age 10, I am not quite sure. Even today I am as excited as I was as a kid. I honestly don’t know why. 

The “traditions” we followed, too heavy a word, I know, started few weeks before “the” day. My parents took my brother and I to Chellaram’s to buy a birthday dress. Chellaram’s was okay. It was the same kind of frocks, not a glamorous place. Nevertheless, the new dress was excitement enough. 

Then magic happened. 

I distinctly remember the opening of KidsKemp. When we passed by KidsKemp, there was always a Santa with white beard and red attire waving at the passersby. It was so colorful. For one of my birthdays, after much pestering (my poor parents), took us to KidsKemp. It was like the mall of today. Beautiful frocks. My jaws dropped at the sight of the colors or let’s call it glamour and glitter of the place. It is my most luxurious shopping experience memory from childhood. 

KidsKemp was a one time affair. The prices were so inflated that we had to go back to Chellaram’s the following year. 

I still manage to get or save a new dress for my birthday, every year 😊.

Each year on Jan 1st I would circle the date on the Deccan Herald and/or Malayala Manorama and/or Prajavani calendar. Big red mark, so that nobody forgot, just in case. Well, I don’t mark any calendars today, Google does that. But I kind of start reminding my family to remember to wish me. I told you at the beginning, that I was kind of.. well.. obsessed. 

Then we bought chocolates the day before to distribute at school. Oh what a privilege that was. The first period, class teacher walks in, spots you in a pretty dress, not the bottle green uniform, tells the class, “so, we have a birthday girl today.. come on class, let’s all sing for her.” As a child that was an i-am-on-top-of-the-world moment.

That morning, my mother woke me up with a very happy smile on her face saying “happy birthday Indu”.. those words echo in my mind. She did this consistently for every year I was with her on October 1st. The smile, the affection, or the love, never faded once. I long for that love today. 

Then came evening. My neighbor’s kids and us bought some crepe paper and balloons, decorated the living room and waited for my father to come. He brought the cake and candles, every year. The number of candles matched my age. The light of those candles reflected the brightness on my face or maybe it was the other way around, I don’t know. I see the same brightness in my son’s face when the candles are lit and I love seeing that delight on his face. 

I get them even now, a cake, candles and the light of the candles.

I don’t get a wish from my mother. The first ten minutes after I wake up are empty and quiet. But in some form I get her blessing and wish. I may be construing this completely in my mind, but the coincidences are too much to ignore. So I did receive special blessings today. 

As I went to college, the family traditions of cake, decorations faded. It was a treat for friends at Nilgiris Bakery, Basavanagudi for starters, ending up with MotiMahal at Mangalore during engineering days. At work too, it was a treat for friends, I still got a new dress and cake. Gifts for birthday were never a major thing. Sometimes I got, sometimes I didn’t. What I valued were the people I got to celebrate my birthday with. All of them special people, very dear to the heart.

After marriage, my husband pampered me with gifts. May not be every year, but the year’s he buys me something, they are out of this world. The best, always. These are gifts I never imagined I would get in my lifetime. 

Today was special. Friends spent an entire day preparing for the evening party. It was a double celebration, my son and I got a “happy birthday mommy and me” cake 😊.. pampered again with gifts, happiness and laughter. 

The best part was the cards my kids gave me, thanking me for the wonderful mother I am and wishing me happiness with other personal notes. The thoughts that were put in those cards, made my many many everydays’ perfect. My older one just wrote on an index card while my younger one picked out a pink flowers card, with lot of mushy words.

Grateful! This is the only feeling at the end of the day.. for family.. for friends.. for all the love.. affection.. care.. it’s a lot to be blessed with. From the childhood days of buying clothes at Chellaram’s to the extreme luxury of driving a BMW at Bentonville, life has changed seasons many times; one thing that remains unchanged are the loving people I am surrounded by year after year.. truly blessed !!