Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Kind Turn

My elder one came home almost everyday with a bird dropping its blessing on her person - her clothes, her hand, her head! Naturally frustrated but philosophical by nature, she asked me in an amused and frustrated tone, "Why is it happening to me, ma?"

"Because you care so much for the birds - you are after me to give them food and you are so sensitive to their plight... It is their way of saying a thanks. They don't have anything else to give, so they drop their blessings on you," I teased her.

A few days later, when riding the scooter with her behind me, I told her, "You know, everyday a loose gravel or sand hits me on my face."

Pat came the reply, "It is the road's way of thanking you for using the scooter instead of the car and causing it less pain."

Quick learner...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Forgotten Skill

I walked into my friend's house as usual on a Thursday evening to take class. I was stunned to see her mother-in-law surrounded by leaves from the coconut tree. Though I guessed the purpose, I couldn't help asking, "What is this for?" "For making a broom," she replied without any self-consciousness. I was overawed. A skill that most household had back then - of use and reuse. I wondered why we lost that along the way. The evening light falling on her at an angle reminded me of my own grandmother's house and my visits there when we would roll out papads after the morning chores were over.

Friday, March 28, 2014

When I Say No...

She came to the balcony and noticed the new boy who had moved into the neighbouring house standing in his balcony, facing hers. She pulled up the wicker chair and leaned back, her books in hand. She tried to focus on her studies, but was also aware of him. She pretended though to be completely engrossed in problem she was trying to solve, and soon, it did draw her in. When she looked up after half an hour, the boy was not there. She smiled to herself - he must have got bored staring at her bent head. Then it turned to a giggle - how foolish of her to flatter herself! As if he couldn't have been standing in the balcony just to enjoy the view!

But a few days later, she couldn't ignore the coincidence. He was definitely there in the mornings and evenings whenever she went to study. She enjoyed the cool breeze, which was the main reason for her being there. His presence also brought a thrill, but with time, it discomfited her. She changed her timings - going 15 minutes earlier in the mornings and 15 minutes later in the evenings.

Were his timings also changing? When she mentioned it to her friends, they laughed and teased her. It was flattering. But she had ambitions, and being hooked up to a boy who did nothing other than stand and stare - a great poet's urging us to do just that didn't seem aimed at this purpose - was not part of it. Hold on, she told herself. You are jumping the gun. He is just passing time idly... She forced herself not to cringe and hide.

When the blank call came on her landline, she intuited that it was him. It made her nervous. The next stage was when he managed to get her mobile number and started messaging her. She oscillated between replying asking him not to contact her and not responding at all. Neither seemed to work. His messages ranged in intensity - from a simple hello to professions of love.

Ignoring was the only choice and she stuck to that. Her friends teasing her was not amusing anymore, and she became withdrawn because she saw him almost every day. Not in the balcony, at least, not like before. For she had stopped stepping out. Now she studied in her room. But balcony was part of her house and she needed to go there to dry clothes, to pick up the dried clothes, to water the two saplings she had planted, on a thousand mundane chores.

So yes, she saw him still but that was rarer - as there was no set timing. But she had to go to school, to tuition classes, she had to return. And at all those specific times, he would be there, in his balcony or somewhere near the entrance to his block, or at the very gate of her complex.

Then he started following her - not obviously, of course. But she found him outside her school once, buying something from the hawker. Seeing her, he offered the toffee but she refused and doubled her pace, tears welling up. She was scared to tell her family or friends, and scared to walk around alone.

On such days, he would message variations of the same message: "Why do you ignore me? I know you are pretending, that you are thinking of me... I know your no means yes, so why are you teasing me? I can wait forever... but make it quick. :)"

Sometimes she would want to scream at him, and instead she would reply: "My no means no... Stop hassling me."

"See, you reply to my message. You are interested."

You are damned if you do it; you are damned if you don't!

She felt guilty. Was she somehow encouraging him when she looked at him involuntarily? She always looked to see if he was in his balcony. Did he think it was because she sought him?

She avoided trips to the balcony - for that's what it had become, a journey to be planned.

And then she got a letter from him. He thrust it on her and she was too startled to reject it outright. She read it in the secrecy of her room and started shivering. A suicide threat if she refused to accept his love.

That night, she cut her vein, unable to take the responsibility for the life and love of another individual so prematurely.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I was crazy about babies when I was growing up. Wherever there was a baby, you would find me there - cuddling them, petting them, even distracting them if they cried.

I had no doubts about becoming a mother. I gave up my job to be ready for her and the fact that work from home worked out for me is only incidental. Despite some doubts, we had the second one too.

For a few years after that, I could not go near other babies. Not because mine were possessive, but I was 'scarred'. The responsibilities, I thought, weighed me down. I thought it was all the bottom wiping and the constant checking that had tired me out.

But as I read 'My Sister's Keeper' by Jodi Picoult, I understand this change a bit better. No, mercifully, I do not have to live through the nightmare the parents in the book live through. But I can see what makes parenting of multiple children difficult - the arguments, debates, back-answer... all those are incidental. What is more difficult is to make choices.

If both children have a different demand, which one do you give in to? If both need attention and care, how do you make sure each gets their due? Worse, if one is unwell and the other is well, can the latter be expected to understand any neglect by parents? How do you balance their needs in times of crisis?

I remember an incident that came to light soon after tsunami hit the coasts of Tamil Nadu. A western mother found herself in the sea with two young children. She could save only one. She had to let go of the other. A celebrity Indian author and mother of six wrote scathingly about the mother for having made a choice; she felt the mother should have tried to save both.

Which mother wouldn't? But isn't that what makes motherhood the greatest challenge? Many things are expected of you, and yet you are as limited as the next human being. Deification does nothing to minimise the frustration of not living up to those ideals. Even simple things like nourishment can weigh heavily on her mind.

No one prepares you for this, no one wants to scare you, maybe. And yes, rewards far outweigh the troubles. But like in everything, the road to that success is filled with challenges that you traverse alone, or, if you are lucky like me, with a husband who shoulders your responsibilities.

For the Fitzgerald family in the book, the choice is that much more difficult. One daughter has leukemia and they have a third child just so she can be a donor for her sister. The eldest son turns destructive because of neglect. The youngest child sues her parents for rights to her body when she is just 13.

Picoult excels in bringing out how each one reacts to the situation. It is difficult to pin point and say who is right and who is wrong. You want them all to come out winners. In a well-knit family, maybe that is possible. Waiting to complete the novel.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Bothersome Ingredient

Well, my mind-block to cooking is known among my friends and family. I cook so that my family does not go hungry, and gets the required nutrition. But the moment there is a need for delicacies to be prepared in authentic way, I get jittery, need time to prepare myself mentally like before every interview call I take and sometimes I just drop out.

Corn in white sauce is one simple dish that I have made, not mastered, but my children get excited on seeing it. Lumpy or not, they happily lump it on the occasions I have made it so far. And yet, that maida component has bothered me for long. It is like a niggling problem that needs a solution.

So this week, when I decided to make it on a weekday - in itself an adventure for me - I decided to add some roasted and powdered almonds just to enhance the healthiness factor of the dish. And then I said, why not chickpea powder? So a handful of chickpeas went into the wok. I ground the two to powder and noticed that it was sufficient to make the sauce, and added just a teaspoon of maida - more out of fear than anything else.

It wasn't white sauce, it was yellow. But with salt, pepper and mixed herb powder for flavour, it was a healthier option that I didn't mind giving again during teatime as a snack.

Now, I will agonise less about making this sauce in this new format in the future.
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