At the coffeehouse…

“You really don’t share anything with me, do you?”, I asked.

After many years Akash and I went the coffeehouse we frequented before we got married. The cashier chuckled and winked as we walked hand in hand, eons ago. The place had changed significantly and so had the people…

Akash put down the cup on the table and stretched back in his chair. He folded his hands behind his head and looked out through the window. I sat looking at his face and thinking, this is the man I chose to marry twenty years ago. He looks the same, then what changed between us?

He leaned forward and took my hands in his. He fiddled with my bangles for a bit and looked into my eyes.

“Nandu, I am moving out. There is someone else…”, I sat in silence, my eyes were welling up, why do they do that? Why can’t they wait for the right moment, maybe when I am alone? I looked up, in an attempt to send the tears back to where they came from.

I withdrew my hand. Gathered my purse from the table, my phone and the keys. Why don’t I put everything in a bag instead of carrying fragments, why ain’t I whole? My sunglasses, where were they? Oh they were on my head, holding my hair in place. As I stood up, my saree got stuck under the chair. I chose to wear a saree he got me for my birthday, a beautiful pastel green and now it was stuck. Can I make a clean exit?

I finally walked out… of the coffeehouse…

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Is that what it is?

As a mother me like many of my friends are in a constant battle in our mind about what is right for our children. Sometimes spouses help make a decision and sometimes leave it to us to decide. It’s the leaving to us to decide that scares me.

The logic is simple.. “will I be blamed for this later?”, by anyone, is the question we are finding an answer for, day in and day out. It could be the child who says, you did it this way or you didn’t do it this way. It could be the spouse or it could be a friend or family member. We gnaw on our brains constantly to find the right balance, right answer, right thing to do without being blamed.

So that is what it is? Finding the path of no blame? I know my mom went through this when she was struggling to get an admission for my brother at Bishop Cottons. She said she didn’t want him to blame her later on that she sent me to Bishop Cottons and him to a lesser standard school. So she did go through this phase.

Maybe these thoughts led to my character, Shalini in my second book. She is a mother of four who constantly tries to avoid being blamed by everyone. Mother instincts I guess.

I always believe identifying the problem is half the job done. I guess it’s time to adopt Nike’s caption.. Just do it! Or maybe not.. what if……..?

Buddies

This is one of my favourite stories. I was standing at the intersection of Gandhari Amman Kovil Rd and MG Road in Trivandrum. A tall girl stood there with her father. We had just attended a training class together. She wore a brown striped salwar, handbag on her shoulder and books in her hand. Her grizzly hair was tied back and she looked at me with suspicion. Her father asked me if I was looking for a roommate. I said yes. He suggested we look for a place to stay, together. I looked at her and thought, why not? I had no idea who this girl was.

Either the same day or the next, another girl from the training class asked us, if she could join us. She was a short, round faced girl. She wore a salwar with a dupatta neatly folded on one shoulder. She wore glasses and pretty much looked like a mirror image of me. She had the widest smile on her face and spoke faster than either of us.

We said yes. Again, we didn’t know her, except her name.

We found an agent, a short, stout guy who rode a TVS moped of the early 2000. I don’t remember how we found him. He wore a hat, probably to hide his baldness and glasses which he kept pushing up on his nose. He spoke like he was going to take us to the moon. We tagged along with him to find accomodation in the then unknown city of Trivandrum. The tall girl I met had an Ericsson mobile that looked like a modern day big remote. This mobile was to become our communication channel with our parents in the near future, for which she even charged us a fee. So coming back to the stout man with the hat, we set up appointments with him after the training session for the day, and hopped into an autorickshaw to see the place he had found for us. The short girl knew the in and out of Trivandrum, so it was relatively easier than I thought.

During these trips, we learnt a little more about each other. The tall girl had graduated from MES College Kuttipuram and the short one from Jain Engineering College in Chennai. We made many trips with the stout guy with the hat, to various nooks and corners of Trivandrum until one day, he took us to Pattoor. This was the first floor of a beautiful house which the owner was willing to rent. A one bedroom accomodation with a kitchen and bath. It was a luxurious setting. There was a PCO booth nearby to make STD (Standard Trunk Dialling, in case you thought something else) calls. The landlady was nice and liked us instantly. We paid the stout guy with the hat his commission and sent him away. The next day we moved our belongings to the Pattoor house and embarked on a beautiful journey of friendship, laughter and a million memories.

It has been eighteen years since we moved in together – three girls who didn’t even know the other existed till then, one from Bangalore, one from Kozhikode and one from Chennai. I cannot help but think, that this is destiny. Our paths were meant to cross and our lives meant to mingle with each other. We grew from naive (this is the short girl’s favourite word) twenty two year old young girls’ to mothers of children ranging from five to fourteen. It feels like a lifetime, and yet like yesterday when we were huddled in the autorickshaw following the stout guy with the hat, on his TVS, to the nooks and corners of Trivandrum.

May our conversations never be silent!! Love you girls, always and forever!!

xoxoxo

 

Day 3 : Life lessons – People in our lives

This is a quote by Mother Teresa and I totally believe it. There is a rhyme and reason for every person in your life. Even the sales guy who drops in once in a while selling things in their goody bag. Recently, when I was in a mental turmoil about my job, my friend, my family, my father, one late evening there was a knock on my door. When I peeped through the glass window, I saw a young lady standing there smiling with a stack of books in a hand. I opened the door and left the door half closed, half open because I didn’t know who this person was and it was pretty late. She told me, she was studying and selling books to help fund her education. Because it was a woman and because she mentioned education I decided to buy a book from her. I paid the money, got the book and out of nowhere she asked me, “is it okay with you if we pray together?” I was caught by surprise. Nobody has come to my door with this request. I said okay. She stood there outside my door on a dark night and prayed for me, my children, for my happiness. It could be a sales gimmick, that’s what you would think when you think from your head. But I tend to think from my heart in such situations and felt a strange calm after she left. I did not get the answers to my issues in life immediately but I got the assurance the God is seeing everything, He is watching over me and He will show me the way just before the turn.

She came to me with a purpose. She was a blessing.

I have been blessed many times over with the presence of women who have taught me “what not to be”. A certain member of my extended family thought it was her primary responsibility to domesticate me. I was Katherine the shrew she had to tame. At that time I was naive and took a big hit on my self confidence, self respect. But in a few years, He jumped in, held my hand and walked me away. Through the whole ordeal I learnt more about myself. The levels to which I could be downgraded, how I would fight such situations and come out a more confidant, self respecting woman. There were other women who through experiences taught me very well, to the comma and to the dot, what not to be. Those were exemplary life lessons.

Life teaches you everyday the purpose of each person and whether they are a blessing or lessons. God tactically places them in your life so that you can evolve into the person you truly are!

Blessed!

Parenting?

I have been lazy lately, to write. Some days there are thoughts that I want to note down and some days my mind draws a blank. When I really have to write it down, I put in Facebook and its done. I know that’s not a good thing. I need to write to get better at it. So let me collect some thoughts here everyday (I hope). My friends keep telling me to write, they go to the point of nagging me, which is a good thing. I while away scrolling through the colorful notes and pictures on Facebook and Instagram. Well that’s me. Have you faced situations where in your mind you want to change, but you just don’t do it. You are conscious of the fact that you are not making the change, and yet you don’t make the change.

I have been going through some parenting challenges lately. Parenting is the most difficult mental task one can undertake. You never know if you are right or wrong until many years later. My generation of parents I believe, is so hooked on doing it right and dreading the results that we miss this moment. We are constantly hounded by ‘what-ifs’. What if my child does this, or that, or turns out like this or like that. We don’t have enough faith in ourselves or in our judgement because we fret about the end result – when our children are like 20+ and need to walk on their own. The absolute moment when you leave your child’s hand and he/she walks out alone.

I always think, how did my parents do it? Anyways, with the recent challenges I learnt two things –

1. One baby step at a time – yes ‘baby’ step at a time. The key is breaking it down and taking one baby step at a time. The best analogy I have is the 5K training I attended. I got up from my couch and signed up for a 5K training. The training span was about 2 months. The task on day 1 was to run for a minute and walk for 19 minutes. Just one minute. As long as you stick to the plan, you will achieve the goal of running a 5K. Children are smart and can do many things at a time, but a behavior change has to be made one step at a time.

2. Its give and take – all the way. A parent child relationship can never be all-give or all-take. Never. It has to be give and take. Keeping that balance is the key to healthy parenting. They need to feel like a partner and not order takers. Do this, do that never works. Parents also have to mind their Ps’ and Q’s. In a recent conference call at work, someone reference to the parenting saying ‘Do as I say not as I do’. That never works. Children are naturally wired to ‘Do as I do’ rather than ‘Do as I say’. It is so important to do your part for them to do their part. I strongly believe, that the best environment for nurturing their innocence and help them grow into independent individuals is an environment of love. Where there is love, there is everything else. Love doesn’t mean agreeing with them all the time. Love means being with them, Love means listening to them, Love means taking interest in their everyday life. They go through struggles and challenges everyday. The challenges in an adult’s view are molecular but those are the child’s biggest issues. Obviously they don’t need to worry about a project deliverable or paying the bills. So the boy on the next table not sharing his toy is a big, big problem. I have read somewhere that the best thing you can give your child, is your time. I did not have this awakening as soon as my children were born. It took time.

There are many more essentials of parenting. These are what hit me in the last week. Many people have said this over and over that when babies are born, parents think maybe the next stage will be better. As we progress through the stages we realize the previous one was better. We reach the conclusion that newborn was the best. Change the diaper, feed the baby, swaddle and hold and that’s it. The rest of the issues are what you as a new parent needs to get used to.

From my parents life I know that they can never stop parenting. Even today I call my father and ask for guidance. He is parenting me to parent my children. Of all the roles I have played, the most challenging and the one I love most, is being Mom.

Cooking

Cooking is an art – whoever said this, uttered the truth. When you sketch, you need to feel the paper, use the correct pencil, every stroke makes a difference. When you make jewelry, you need to pick the correct beads, string them in the right sequence to make something beautiful. When you paint, your canvas, paints, brushes, strokes all of them matter. Its the same with cooking. You need the right utensils, spices, oil, vegetables/meat, sequence of events and above all, the P word – Patience.

Like all art forms, cooking needs an enormous amount of patience. If the onion is a tad bit undercooked or overcooked, it makes a difference to the end product taste which is probably another ten steps away. There are people who cook in a hurry and yet get it right most of the time. Yet, the speed is not in the cooking, its the speed in multitasking or tricks to get to the end product sooner.

My oldest memory of cooking goes back to that tiny 100 to 150 sq ft of space lines with built in shelves of cement on the right side, a sink again made of cement on the other, with stands on either side to keep the washed utensils, on the left side. There was a tap that opened into the sink, unfortunately, water never flowed through the tap. There was a plastic basin or bucket on the side, from which we fished out water to wash the utensils. This basin and back up plastic drums was religiously refilled everyday morning by my father who carried the water up two floors before he went to office. The two sides was connected with a wooden plank of about 10 feet by 3 feet on which we kept the stove. This was the third side of the kitchen. Initially this was a single electric coil, till we became modern and got a gas stove that had an automatic lighter. My father uses this stove even today!

The right side of shelves was lined with red circular plastic containers with off-white lids. These were remains of some washing powder we bought in those days. Then there were a couple of huge aluminum canisters to store rice, atta. There was a green basket to store onions and potatoes – this again still lingers on in my father’s kitchen today. There were Red Label Tea plastic bottles to store the smaller volume items like dal etc.

It was sweaty during summer. There was a small window which she opened to let some air inside, but quickly shut off because the gas flames would go any which way. The kitchen was always crowded except for the center area where we sat down to cut the vegetables or knead the flour or roll out the chapathis. There was a waste basket in one corner, which was cleared out everyday at the bell of the worker who cleared out trash from households. As soon as the bell rang, we would carry that bag of trash and run down two floors to hand over the valuables. Later, we got modern and played catch by throwing it from the second floor at the direction of the worker.

My mother cooked here three times a day for us for almost thirty years! I know now, that I would have hated it. I am sure my mother was not a fan of the kitchen she had to succumb to. I wouldn’t have been if I had to cook in there for thirty years. But she made sure there was food on our plates.

It was a very humble dwelling compared to what I cook in today. Yet the lesson I learnt about cooking has not changed. The single most important one being – whatever you cook, you need to cook it with love. You can add the best spices, give it all the time you have, yet when you cook with love, the end product tastes the best. Is it the love for food? No. It is love for the fact that you are going to feed someone. In the Malayalam movie Usthad Hotel, Anjali Menon wrote for Thilakan – when you feed someone you should fill their heart.

Whatever my mother felt in that kitchen one element for sure was love, coz she filled our hearts every time we ate.

Love you Ma!