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.

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So long my friend

So long my friend

Until we meet again

In another time

In another world

Let me retune my frequencies

To the shutting off

And switching on

Of man made metal

To the sways of the wind

To the wind chime

My loyal one

To the creeks of the doors

To that single drop of water

To my silences

To emptiness.

So long my friend

Until we meet again

To the rhapsody of words

To the orchestra of sharing

To the drumbeat of laughter

And

To the symphony of togetherness

So long my friend

Until we meet again.

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!

Old friends and good times

Ever yearned to take that trip with your good old friends, a time to break out from the norm? A time where you can revel on gossip, fun and laughter, accompanied by good food on unknown terrains. A journey into friendship, a journey into the known with people you have known for as long as you can remember. This post is for my buddies – Ren and Resh and this is.. our trip.

āyubūvan!

The planning for the trip started over a cup of coffee on any normal day, and that the trip turned out to be extraordinary. There was no disagreement about the fact that all of us wanted to breakfree from the mundane and just be us. So we started with Goa which Ren thought was boring and common. Then we moved to Kolkota, but Resh’s uncle lived there. Next was Mumbai, a place that Resh and I had never been to, but again Ren had family there and we could not visit either of these places without paying a customary visit to family. So I rejected both the options. We then moved to Hyderabad, a neutral choice, but what would we do there. That is when we went international. Why India? Why not out of India? So what were out options, let’s see – Andaman – too expensive, Laskwahdeep – not exciting, Thailand – Urggh, Sri Lanka – YESSS!!

So the decision was made – we were going on a trip to Sri Lanka in February sans family – the best part 🙂

I booked the tickets the next day, lest they change their minds. Ren was a little surprised – so we are really going – is what she said. I took charge of the visas, delegated the where to stay to Resh and what to do to Ren. Resh and I knew that Ren wouldn’t start looking for what to do until we boarded the flight. Now this was the topic of conversation at every lunch and evening tea – what we would take, what we would wear, how many pairs of shoes, the list was endless. Resh the manager sent out calendar invites and set meeting times to discuss our upcoming trip and these meetings were serious.

So finally the day came – Feb 22 when our spouses dropped us off at Trivandrum International Airport, with the biggest smiles on their faces happy to be free for a couple of days. If it was evening, they would have celebrated the happiness with clinking glasses. We tagged along with our luggage which was quite a lot for 3 days and 4 nights. As we waiting to board, Resh got into a conference call to keep the lights on and Ren was seen leaning against a pillar kuchikooing with Subz – she did this so many times during the trip (aaah!)..

Finally we hopped on Sri Lankan Airlines and sat next to each other with a gleam in our eyes and smiles stretched from east to west – We were actually on a flight to Sri Lanka and just us! We observed everything and passed comments on everything. The air hostesses were kind of plump and dressed in Sri Lankan attire – seeing that Ren wanted to dress up in their costume and take a picture. We thought they showed off too much skin 😉 The men on the flight looked a bit scary to us, but probably they were scared as surely we must have appeared as aliens. After an hour of flying, during which Ren claims she saw the tip of the Sri Lanka, we landed at Bhandaranayake International Airport, Colombo.

The hotel we finalized was Galle Face which is a 4 star luxury hotel founded in 1864. We got our on arrival visas stamped and went on to convert some Euros (courtesy frequent flyer Jayan) to Sri Lankan Rupees. We also bought a calling card to inform our families that it was sad but true, that we had arrived safely. While Resh and I were doing this, Ren hooked up with a travel agent who gave her his number and promised to call to book a day’s trip to Kandy (more about this later). By the way, Ren did finally find some places for us to visit and also conjured up some Sinhalese words, which she alone knew.

As I was the hotel in charge I called them to find out about the Airport pick-up they had promised on arrival. After walking up and down the terminal, a 6 foot dark guy walked up to me and said – Galle Face Airport pick-up. We hopped onto his dirty, stinky, dusty car which had no A/C praying that he was genuine and would take us to the correct place. After an hour long drive, which seemed like forever, we reached Galle Face Hotel. On the way, we felt we had been transported back to Kerala. There were road-side shops, traffic with no idea on who went where, honking and people jaywalking.

We checked in and and went to meet the person at the travel desk to arrange a tour of the city. He arranged a chauffeur driven Merc to drive us around the city. We went to check out the room, and boy it was HUGE!! With colonial chairs, a huuuge bed and wooden floors, it was just perfect.

We changed to dress #1 and went down to have lunch. It wasn’t lunch, it was a feast!! One of the best buffets we had eaten. The restaurant was sea facing with the Sri Lankan flag hoisted on the beach. A lighthouse, the sea, the flag, benches on the porch and the endless ocean filled the view. Bliss!

After lunch the travel desk informed us that our car was ready, and we hopped onto the Merc, and the driver – old chap, showed us around. He spoke pretty good English and this was a blessing. He drove around the World Trade Center, Independence Memorial Hall, Bank of Sri Lanka, Indian Bank, the President’s house – with the army guarding his residence, on the streets where cricketers lived, war memorial and to Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple. We got our first jolt here. This place was on Ren’s list of must see places, and as we entered there was an old guy who demanded that we leave our footwear with his agent who charged an exorbitant price to take care of them. Our instincts got the better of us, and we decided to leave the premises. We stood outside and watched the other entrants into the temple, and they kept their footwear in a separate place where they didn’t have to pay money. That is when we realized that we were FOREIGNERS and we could not go by local rates.

On our way the driver told us that we should probably have dinner at one of the restaurants at the Dutch Hospital Complex. This was an open quadrangle with various restaurants offering a bistro style dining. The entrance smelled of cigarettes and liquor. We paused to think if we should enter, and we even walked up to an army guy and asked him – is it safe for three girls to go in here? He laughed and said, yes. We walked in an OH MY GOD – this was going to be one of the best dinners of our life. It was not only the food, but the ambiance was just so good. We sat on one of the cement benches in the open air quadrangle, ordered food from one of the restaurants and felt the cool wind in our hair. The world trade center rising up to the sky right behind, lit up brightening up the dark sky. It was noisy yet peaceful. We were in a place many miles away from home, in the company of each other, just having a good time. The icing was pending. We walked back to the hotel, on the walkway alongside the beach, late in the night, the mellowed sound of the waves, stars shining above us and world to ourselves. We yapped, we laughed, we sat in silence on one of the benches looking out at the sea. One of my fond memories from the trip.

Day 2

This was a day of adventure, not so much for the places we visited but for the mode of transport to Kandy. Remember the guy from the Airport who told Ren he would call. Ren set up a cab with him to take us to Kandy. So after breakfast this guy calls Ren and says that he driver was waiting outside the hotel. We gave him a few instructions and to each one he replied with the word OK. We three were off to an unknown place with a stranger in an unknown country. Some courage we have! Just to feel safe, like in the movies, I told Resh, ‘hey my uncle is on duty at the military post today, but said that we can call him if there is a need’.. For people who have watched Kilukkam would recollect Revathi telling Mohanlal that “Uganda-de pradhana manthri ente ammavan aanennu”.. After all this bantering we understood that the driver apparently spoke no English – except for the word OK! Ren called the travel agent and gave him instructions, which was translated to the driver in Sinhalese.

Our first stop was the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala. It was overpriced, but we were phirangi and had to pay a heavy price to see the orphanage. The skeleton of the elephant was a sight. Apart from some real phirangi’s we were the only visitors there. And like the original phirangees we too rode an elephant. Ren and me on one, Resh by herself. This thing is really huge, how does it carry its weight.. ? After sweating it out in the hot sun, we called the Sinhalese driver and hopped on his cab and continued our sight seeing trip. Next stop was Royal Botanical Garden which turned out to be acres of green carpet. Pine trees towering into the sky, orchid garden, a huge park with kids running around like the bogies of a train, couples romancing in hide-away corners – it was all there. We had lunch at a restaurant inside the garden overlooking the pine trees.

Outside the garden we bought 3 identical bracelets as a keepsake from the trip. Our next stop – Buddha’s relic temple – Kandy.

A huge temple, four time bigger than the Padmanabha Swamy temple in Trivandrum. After climbing some steps, and passing by a narrow alley we reached our destination. The place where Buddha’s tooth is stored. The architecture and surrounding was no different than a temple in Tamil Nadu. Most of the people there were praying, and we were looking around. We sat on the steps of the temple and took in the peace and tranquility of the place. Around the temple, some steps led to another hall. The opposite side had a door to exit this hall. We entered the hall and looked left to find a HUGE statue of Buddha in white. Standing there looking at the statue of Buddha descended us into a state of peace and calmness. Just looking at the image, we felt the strain of the day, stress of our life drifting away. Another fond memory from the trip.

There was a cultural show in an adjacent auditorium, comprising the dances of Sri Lanka. We jumped in there and more than the dance what we liked was that we found a place to rest our bottoms :). After the hour long show we left Kandy for an adventurous ride back to Colombo. It was dark, and although we were with this driver since morning, not one instance in the entire day led us to trust him. His driving had turned rash, and we took turns in taking a nap. We were scared – shit scared, but on a brave front and sat firm. At 9.30pm we reached the hotel and thanked God that we reached back safely. After dinner we went to see a stage show opposite the hotel. There was this girl dressed in a red flashy dress singing songs in Sinhalese.. made no sense to us but still we stayed on and listened.

Dubai

A ten day vacation was all that i needed after the tumultuous weeks i had at work, these past few weeks. I didn’t have the faintest idea that this vacation that i had planned months ago would actually happen at the most opportune moment. I have had day long layovers at the Dubai airport en route to the US, but this is my first taste of the city. As we stepped out of the airport and took a taxi to the hotel the sprawling freeways reminded me of US. The wide six lane roads and disciplined lane traffic are a welcome break from the traffic and get-my-car-through road rage of India. First pit stop was the monorail and palm jumeirah, the blue of the sea as blue as the sky. The Dubai skyline is a vision. The Burj Khalifa stands tall proud of the phenomenal infrastructure growth that the country has witnessed over the past decade. It is no doubt an architectural marvel. Life here speaks volumes of the millions of dollars that has flown through the city and contributes to the magnificent skyline. It also talks about the thousands of labourers who have toiled in the blazing sun and built this city brick by brick. Thankfully our vacation was timed at the best time possible with regards to the weather. Cool days and cold nights didn’t really give us the feel of a desert except the sand spread across acres, till your sight could travel. The desert safari was a memorable experience. Our friends had told us not to miss it and that was so true. The sand is the finest and felt so pure. The lower temperatures had cooled the sand and your feet felt cold with the sand beneath them. I wish i could have walked on sand for some more time. The beaches we have been to are no comparison to the feel of desert sand. The buffet dinner on traditional low height tables, seated on cushions, with belly dancers to entertain you is an experience in itself. This was the first time i entered a mosque. After adorning the abhaya, the traditional black attire that Muslim women wear, i entered the huge sheikh zayed mosque. It was a vision in white marble. As i tread into the mosque the cold marble kisses your feet and sends a wave of divinity to your mind. Asia’s largest carpet lays there at sheikh zayeds final testing place, the pioneer of uae. The chandeliers fill up the ceiling and add granduer to the mausoleum. it was a great photo opportunity as the sun set behind the mosque adding to the feeling of divine intervention. At certain temples and churches i have this strange feeling of being blessed and this mosque was one of those places. This is my fifth day at Dubai and this has been a relaxing vacation. would i return? May be yes, may be not. I would love to come back to sheikh zayed mosque one day. But living in this city.. i may just pass that, despite the luxury and comfort this place oozes money everywhere, in contrast to Trivandrum, my most favourite place. Trivandrum has never failed to embrace me with warmth, right from the first time i walked in and each time i return to the city.