Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Soul Repair

In the summer of 1985, my father had to take an unexpected journey; one that only he could take, despite it being a very difficult one. He packed a few of his things and left, hiding his grief behind a pair of dark glasses. He barely looked back at us, as he drove away. There was no promise of calls or letters. The family merely prayed that he would accomplish what he had set out to do.

The journey had been a painful one, though not a lonely one. Far away from family, he forged relationships with others who shared his grief. They set out together, sharing stories,praying and hoping, that they would find survivors. In his private moments, my father reminisced about his beloved sister, who had been on that flight with her family. The quintessential drama queen, she'd written home in true filmi style, saying she wanted to see her entire family at the airport, when she landed. With much of the family already in Kerala, we had traveled from Assam. We got there days before her arrival, to a household bubbling with excitement. My grandmother was packing to return with her daughter, and she was promising us all gifts. Meanwhile, my other aunts were in the kitchen, churning out all of my aunt's favorites. Amidst the cutting and chopping, they spoke fondly about my aunt. The light banter continued, while my grandmother joined in, to check on the laddoos and acchapams. She then settled the bills with all the vendors, reminding them that she needed the best produce when her daughter arrived.

One morning, all this excitement came crashing down.The radio had been turned on, and we heard references to the “Kanishka” crash. It brought about loud gasps followed by loud heartwrenching sobs. The mood of celebration was taken over by one of intense sorrow. My grandmother took to her bed weeping, while the men watched the news, looking for any information about survivors. Finally, my father took on the task of getting answers.

Despite all the journeys he'd previously undertaken, this was the most difficult one yet. Wearing a brave face, he set out with the hope that perhaps his sister and family had survived the crash. On reaching London, he met other people, who were just as hopeful. Prayers were being quietly muttered, as they waited for information. They were first led to a room, where they were shown pictures of the bodies that were found. With a lump in his heart, my father moved from picture to picture. With every fearful step that he took, he prayed. He barely heard the loud sobs from someone who'd just discovered a loved one. There was one man who'd discovered his wife's hand because of the ring she'd been wearing. Another man who'd seen off his wife and kids, was now looking at the stuffed teddy his daughter had been carrying. Blocking out these tragic scenes, my father inched forward slowly. The journey to this country had been a long tedious one, but this walk across the room filled with pictures felt much worse. This walk ended with him discovering only his brother-in-law. What followed was a blur. He was shown into a room, where he had to identify the body that seemed intact and lifelike. On enquiring about the rest of the family, he was told that if they hadnt yet been found, there was little hope. He listened, his face barely betraying his grief he felt.
The formalities were completed, and days later, my father returned. The funeral was chaotic, with the press crowding in for pictures and reactions. My grandmother spent much of that time in bed, never finding closure till the time of her own death.

For the rest of us, life continued. Noone mentioned the Kanishka crash anymore, even though my aunt and her family were sorely missed. Then two decades later, my father undertook another trip to London. This time though, he arrived to the news of my pregnancy. Seeing him thrilled, I then realized that only this announcement, would erase all memory of that painful walk across a room of mangled bodies.   

Sunday, 1 November 2015

God's Own Country

Yesterday I dreamt about Kerala; possibly because we are traveling to Cochin next week. I dreamt about the family, the aromas, the loud, happy conversations and the food. As a child though, I always looked upon our yearly holidays to Kerala with trepedition. We were always welcomed by a sea of happy faces. They laughed, spoke loudly, kissed, pinched my cheeks, forced food onto our plates, and enquired if I knew who they were. Over time I began to dread this question of whether I knew who they were. While I had the answers, I dreaded the sudden quiet that filled the room, while they waited for my response. “Yes”, I would mutter shyly and rattle out all their names in quick succession. They would all then smile and go about their chatter. Shy and inhibited, I would then retreat back into my shell.

Decades later, I'm nostalgic, as I remember those holidays with a sort of yearning. I think about my Dad and his brothers, who sat around my grandmother, sipping cups of black coffee and talking. While we kids were always engaged in some game or the other, we looked forward to the promise of hearing my grandmother's stories. And when she was free, she obliged. Looking happily at the big group of grandchildren huddled around her, as she would then narrate tales we'd heard several times earlier. As kids we would play, fight, buy little treats from a neighboring store, and listen in on all the conversations that the elders engaged in. I didn't always understand the jokes in malayalam, but I enjoyed the loud, uninhibited laughter that followed.

While we were having fun, the women would be busy chatting and cutting vegetables. The table was always filled with food that the aunts made with precision. The beans and cabbage were perfectly cut, and the curry always had the right amount of spices. My grandmother was a stickler for perfection and her daughters-in-law made sure she never had anything to complain about. So if the main meals were being cooked in the kitchen, trays filled with glasses of coffee and snacks were being passed around. They always thought I was a bit strange though, as I didn't take the jackfruit halwa or the little laddoos made with avalose podi. I prefered to take refuge in the loaves of bread that were bought specially for us. “Why would you eat dried bread, when you could get some halwa”, said an amused aunt. We sadly didn't appreciate any of the food; not even the tapioca with fish curry , the fried beef, and the turmeric infused butter milk poured generously over a heap of boiled red rice. We didn't enjoy the appam with stew or fill up our tummies with bananas either. Incidentally, I developed a taste for all of that (except the halwa that I still cannot stomach) as I grew up. If she'd been alive, my grandmother would have been proud of the appams I churn out in my kitchen today.

I remember Kerala being all about visits. We visited aunts and uncles and their families, before it was time to head back. And of all the homes we visited, the household I remember most is my uncle's. Tucked away in lush, green Alwaye, my uncle and family lived in a modest little home, that exuded the most warmth and joy. We were always greeted to the sound of my excitable cousin who bounced around excitedly, generously giving us all hugs and kisses. I was always shy at the beginning. So I would hide behind my mom, while everyone urged me to come forward. “Let's see how much you've grown”, my aunt would encourage me gently. My other cousin would then attempt to befriend me by making funny faces, while the grownups went in to catch up on all the news. My mom helped my aunt who moved swiftly in her kitchen, churning out some of the biggest spreads. Meanwhile my uncle and Dad would catch up on family news and Kerala politics. My uncle and aunt kept open house, where they welcomed everyone with open arms. The house was always swarming with activity. Relatives poured in from everywhere. While the men talked loudly amidst card games, the women gathered in the kitchen to help and chat. Meanwhile the kids played all kinds of games. There was never a quiet moment, and when it was time to sleep, there was always enough place for everyone, just as there was always enough food for everyone.

My uncle, my dad's oldest brother, was a man of extremes. If he never shied away from expressing his irritation, he also never stopped himself from tearing up every time someone or something moved him. Dressed in resplendent white, with neatly combed hair that was never out of place, he was a picture of dignity. He laughed as easily as he wept, and was forever willing to help. My aunt, his partner of many years, was the kind and gentle presence that completed him. She lived by her deep faith in God, and took care of the family with undying patience and love. As a child though I only remembered seeing her in the kitchen. She cooked and cooked, ensuring the table was never empty. She'd look away at regular intervals to ask us about our lives in Assam, and whether we wanted something to munch on. One of the best hosts I've known, they both lived a way of life that is so impossible in today's hectic world. Warm and welcoming, to them it didn't matter if you weren't immediate family. You could be a distant relative, a friend of the family or a friend of a distant relative, and still be privy to their hospitality.

Last year, we lost them both. My uncle passed away after a brief illness, and my aunt followed quietly, months later. Though I missed my aunt's funeral, I was there for my uncle's, and what a grand funeral it was. We got a glimpse into the man that he was, when we witnessed the outpouring of grief. Friends and family gathered from allover, to say goodbye to the man who had helped so many. I heard tales of his generosity and his big heart, alongside tales of his childlike temper. While people grieved, his widow sat by his body, looking frail and jaundiced. She consoled all those around her, assuring them that he was in a better place. She missed him terribly, but her faith assured her that they would be reunited eventually. Months later, she followed, leaving behind a huge void.

Going back to the house will now feel strange. It is a house that still reverberates with the sound of laughter and relentless chatter. However, it is a house that definitely misses two important figures. Nonetheless, I'm excited about spending time there. The deaths in the last year have only reminded me that life is too short. So while Kerala promises to be hot, humid and hectic, finally relationships matter most!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

All about Bob

Aarit and I just returned from the play area, where he made numerous trips down the slippery slide. At the distance, Adiv was giving animated descriptions of a snake that was seen in the tennis court, to an audience of 5-year-olds. Aarit would have liked to follow them around, but his brother seemed largely oblivious to his 2-year-old brother. Adiv was more interested in either cycling around, or playing cops and robbers.

Not too long ago, around 1.5 years ago, the layout was quite different from what it is now. We were the third family to have moved in, and around us construction was still on. A steady stream of laborers walked in and out every day, and I was sure never to let Adiv wander around on his own.  A very sociable 4-year-old, Adiv found the place boring. He had no friends, and his brother was only 5-months old. There was no play area, and the roads weren't ready either.  There was no sound of the big boys enjoying a game of football, or the little ones cycling around pretending to be policemen. Mothers didn't gather around the play area and discuss events within the layout, and you didn't see old couples walking around enjoying the evening breeze. It was during this time that Adiv made a very special friend; Bob.

Bob arrived each morning with his parents, who were laborers working in a nearby villa. He usually wandered around on his own, or chatted up with the security, but one day, he spotted Adiv playing with his cars. He stood at a distance, flashing Adiv a big smile. Adiv responded with, “Do you want to play?” Bob spoke only Tamil, and Adiv spoke only English. Nonetheless, they communicated, and played the most amazing games. Sometimes they were chefs in a restaurant, cooking seriously with Adiv’s cooking set. At other times, they merely raced Adiv’s cars. They’d take a break inbetween and share sweets, and if I gave them something bigger (like some cookies), Adiv would leave to share them with his family. He’d return immediately and call Adiv authoritatively. “Wa da”, he’d say, and then they’d start their next game.

Bob and Adiv began looking forward to these sessions every day. Each morning (school hadn't begun as yet), Bob would arrive, looking fresh in clean clothes, his wet hair combed neatly. Occasionally he brought some of his toys as well and showed them to Adiv.  We never really knew what his actual name was. We asked him what his name was and he had responded with, “Bob”. So he continued to be Bob, though my maid insisted he was “Babu”! We didn't’ even know how old he was. Though he was much smaller than Adiv, he seemed to be a spunky kid who knew he way around the layout. He jumped over piles of sand, and ran between villas that were in the throes of being constructed.  Unfortunately for Adiv, he wasn't allowed these fun games. So they played their games on our porch.

After a while, when school began, Bob began coming after Adiv returned at 12.30. Adiv was learning many new things, so he’d try and teach Bob with the help of a little slate.  “This is A”, Adiv said loudly and clearly. “Repeat”! Bob would grin and said, “A”, before  drawing little squiggles beside Adiv’s A. He preferred their games. Eventually Adiv would also give in!
Their friendship lasted for as long as Bob’s parents worked in the layout. Then one day, as suddenly as he had appeared, he vanished. Adiv called out for him loudly. “Bob!!!!!!!!! Where are you”?
“They've gone”, said the maid sympathetically.

Anyway, by then families had started moving in. Adiv began making friends with other kids in the layout. Bob was soon forgotten. Nonetheless, we still talk about his from time to time.  I only wish I’d taken pictures of this first friend that Adiv made in our layout.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A Spot of Love

When our house was being built, we didn't foresee losing one of our bedrooms to an excitable, gentle, affectionate being! While I painted images of early morning coffee, and late night beers on the balcony filled with plants, I didn't think I'd instead be faced with pots that have been dug out, or balls of fur, and the gentle, rhythmic thumping of a happy dog's tail. I was sure I didn't want a pet for a while. With Adiv adjusting to a new environment, and Aarit enjoying the taste of used footwear, I didn't think I needed a third child. Nonetheless, life had other plans for us.

A little after we'd  moved in, we found a lean sack of bones, wandering the lanes of our layout. He moved with a cautious limp, and bore signs of extreme starvation. His gentle face was covered with ticks, and he could barely bark. Perhaps out of pity, we began leaving him little bowls of milk and food, that he lapped up greedily. He ate everything we gave him, much unlike the kids. Sometimes we gave him bread, biscuits (that Rohit had begun buying exclusively for our new friend), idlis, and leftover chappatis. After his meal, this tired dalmatian would walk across the street, pee, poop and come back to settle in front our home. This went on for a while. We fed him, and he grew stronger and friendlier. He even took on the role of watch dog; barking at anyone who even dared look at our home. He was gentle with the kids, and happiest around Rohit who would pet him and gave him generous helpings of food. Before long, we discovered that he was no ordinary street dog, as he was responding to commands. He'd sit when told, and he'd even shake a paw. When Rohit opened the door to his car, he'd even climb in and settle down beside him. This only meant that this dog had either been lost or abandoned. However, going by his condition, we gathered he'd been out on the road for a long long time. 

A few days later, Spot was allowed entry into our home. 
Before he came in wearing a brand new collar, Rohit took him to the vet to get him cleaned up and vaccinated. Rohit then took him to the balcony, patted his head, and fed him, thus cementing their relationship. From then on, Rohit had  Spot's unwavering loyalty. While Rohit  had taken him in, we often joked about how Spot had chosen him instead. They took walks together, and Spot wouldn't eat unless Rohit spoke to him and cajoled him into eating. They often stood together in silence; Spot enjoying the proximity to his new owner, and Rohit enjoying his cigarette and a book. Rohit was the strict disciplinarian, who didn't tolerate any mischief. This meant, Spot couldn't steal slices of cake off the table top, or dig his nose into the bin, (or knock down Aarit who was now walking around the house, squealing happily every time he saw Spot). And at night, Spot wouldn't settle down on his cushion, in his bedroom, till Rohit had said good night to him. 

Spot has been with us for over a year now. He doesn't limp anymore, and since he first moved in, he has been neutered, vaccinated, and taken trips to the kennel (something he dislikes) during our holidays. He is bigger and stronger, though he still remains playful and excitable when allowed in. He is as vocal and open about his happiness, as he is about his sorrow. With Rohit away for most of this month, we now have to deal with his whining. Even the food, the walks, and the petting (courtesy: Ammamma) don't seem to help! For one day, he gave up food and water, till Ammamma managed to entice him with a bowl of warm rice cooked with a generous helping of meat.

Spot currently shuttles between his room and the balcony. With the kids, I'm still a little uncomfortable with this giant ball of excitement pounding down the stairs, knocking down things (and Aarit), eating what he shouldn't, and settling down on the bed ( something he doesn't dare do when Rohit is around). While Rohit would ideally like to give him to a home where he'd have lots of space to run around, and lots of hands to pet him, I think Spot is here to stay. And as I said before, he picked Rohit, and I don't think he is going anywhere so soon.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Little Fears

A few days ago, Adiv returned from school looking rather pale and withdrawn. I knew something was wrong, as soon as he stepped off the bus. "Did you get into a fight?" I asked him gently. "No", he growled irritably. "Poopy in school?"  I continued to probe (albeit gently), and he finally told me what was worrying him. On the drive back, he'd seen a group of army guys cross the street. He was worried that the army was gearing up for a war. "Is Pakistan going to attack us now", he asked, looking so worried, I had to hug him. After I explained that no such thing was happening, he seemed relieved. "But what are they doing here", he asked again. "Must be training", I said and he seemed okay with that.

I thought his fears (though unwarranted) were endearing. Nonetheless, I knew his fears were very real to him. So I explained he had nothing to worry, just as I have on several nights checked under beds for monsters, or looked under blankets for dangerous spiders. This is something that comes with the job profile of being a mom. You hunt monsters, drive them away with prayers, and listen patiently to every nightmare (or simply look at his face till he is fast asleep, just because it makes him feel safe). Most importantly, you simply listen to everything your child has to say, just so you hear their fears.

According to Spock, Adiv is at that age when kids have a lot of fears. So if he isn't worrying about the strands of grey (that have begun showing with alarming frequency) on my head, he worries about when I will go to heaven (i'm glad he doesn't think I have a ticket to hell). Like a lot of kids his age, he doesn't completely understand death, but we had to have that talk, when Rohit's dad passed away a few years ago. Adiv was younger then, but since then, he has frequently questioned me about Big Dada. Telling him that he was in heaven, seemed to satisfy him initially. Infact, for the longest time he imagined heaven to be this beautiful place that housed God, Big Dada, and Micheal Jackson. Then came questions about where heaven was, why they didn't have telephones, why we couldn't travel to (and back) heaven for a visit. But now, at 5 (2 months away from turning 6), he understands death to be final, and it frightens him. But then, as an after thought he is glad we're all far far away from turning 100, because that's when he thinks people will die.

This stage is just a phase according to Spock, but I don't know if you ever really stop worrying or fearing the unknown. Only, as a parent, I now fear cycle accidents, falls from the slippery slide, accidents during a game of football, and illnesses. I worry when he is late, or when he is out and it has begun raining. I worry about whether he has enough friends and if he is happy. I worry about whether he will be bullied by the older kids, or beaten even. Then I also worry about whether he is growing up to be a decent human being, who in addition to being funny and entertaining, is also kind and good.

And just as I assure him when he is scared, he assures me of his safety.
"Don't worry, I'm very careful."
"Don't worry, when I see a car zooming by (!!!!!!), I pedal like a super hero and reach a safe zone."
"Don't worry, if anyone is bad to me, I will punch them because I am so strong" (!!!!!)
I bet this is something that no book on parenting talks about!:)

Thursday, 24 October 2013


I was recently asked how I dealt with being mommy to two boys who were completely different from each other. I paused, and responded with the age old cliche, "aren't all kids unique and different?" The answer seemed to satisfy her, but I began to think about whether my kids were really that different.

To the outsider, Adiv has always been the extrovert who befriends different groups of kids, and has long conversations with their mothers. He is loud, emotional, dramatic, and very demonstrative. Meanwhile, Aarit appears shy. After several meetings, he will welcome you with the hint of a smile, and maybe put out his hand (if you are lucky). He is quieter, stingy with his hugs and kisses (I get many, thanks to my mimi status), and maybe not as emotional (it's still too early to tell). When Adiv is home, there is always some drama. You'll hear toys crashing out of his toy cupboard, cars falls down the stairs, or the thumping sound of him dancing on the coffee table (to "lungi dance" or some other latest hit). Aarit however is the reader, who will spend hours pouring over books with animal pictures. Though he enjoys small puzzles, he will throw it all aside for a song (also lungi dance), jump onto the small coffee table and dance. As I write this, he is grooving to "let's party all night", the latest Akshay Kumar song. (yeah, they've both inherited their taste in music from their mother. ) When their song isn't playing, they cycle around the furniture, or bounce balls (the soft ones) off eachother's heads and laugh!

In their quieter moments, Adiv engages in pretend games with his cars, while Aarit settles down to talk to the neighborhood cat. Just as he urges our dog Spot to eat, he urges Tabby (the cat) to drink up. He is clearly the animal lover in the family, unlike Adiv who prefers them in zoos.

Even when it comes to food, they are quite different, despite their shared preference for meat. While Adiv is mostly oblivious to what is on his plate, Aarit enjoys what he eats (though small portions). So when we are in a restaurant, he will sit around and taste new things, while Adiv is wandering around befriending other kids who're just as disinterested in their food. 

Despite all their differences, what they have in common, is their love for eachother. Aarit weeps piteously every morning when Adiv jumps into his school bus, only to wait patiently by the door step for him to return. Adiv is welcomed with hugs and kisses. Like all older brothers, Adiv teases him, also declaring from time to time that we should return Aarit to the hospital. But then, during trips to the Zoo, he also worries about whether the bears and lions will eat up his brother. Thanks to a steady diet of masala hindi flicks, he is always on the look out for gundis (his word for goodas) who might want to kidnap his brother.

Despite all their differences, they work well together. They enjoy running around the dining table, drinking pretend tea, watching Rowdy Rathore over and over again, going for drives, or simply laughing (just because you can!).
 And finally, isn't that all that matters.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Aarit is here!

Aarit finally decided to make his much-awaited debut on the 14th of January. I had my last check up on the 13th, when the doctor suggested we wait a big longer. Tired and exhausted (Adiv said he was getting irritated because the baby was taking this long) I went to bed, only to wake up at 3 in the morning with mild contractions. Despite the repeated nudging, Rohit jumped out of bed only when I announced emphatically that it was time to get to the hospital. We left immediately and hours later, at 7.38, Aarit was here.

Labor was quick and unbelievably painful (despite assurances from everyone that it would be easier this time), but seeing Aarit made it all worth it. He was perfect, healthy, and resembled his excited older brother. I spoke to Adiv soon after Aarit's birth, and he reminded me that the boys team was now stronger. Rohit who'd endured my blood curdling screams for a few hours was ecstatic. He joked about how I'd fractured his arm while I held on to him, before rushing out to call family and sneak into the NICU to see his newborn.

When Adiv finally arrived to see his brother, he was visibly thrilled. We'd wrapped up presents for him (supposedly from the baby), and that won the baby several brownie points. And when we placed the baby on his lap, he gushed about how tiny and beautiful the baby's toes and fingers were.

We've all been busy since then. Adiv is busy with school and friends, and he can't quite understand why his brother sleeps as much. He is waiting for him to grow up, so they can play (he also wants to give him lessons on farting and peeing!!) . I spend as much time as I can with him, doing everything for him, so he doesn't feel left out. Luckily he has friends he meets every day in the evening, and my parents who pamper him with outings and games.

Meanwhile, Aarit is transitioning from a sleepy, milk-drinking, frequently pooping (and peeing) infant, into a responsive, cooing, sleepy, milk-drinking, frequently pooping (and peeing) infant. Adiv and my Mom sing him to sleep with the song that my mom used to sing to us and Adiv (works like magic even now), while Pappa entertains Adiv with games that involve much running, policemen and thieves. While I'm busy making sure Adiv with his boisterous demonstrations doesn't pull out the baby's arm, Rohit is back to being the weekend father and husband, till we get back to Bangalore.
We never been busier and more tired, but we've also never been happier. Though I barely have the time to comb my hair or enjoy a nap, the family feels complete. Now I look forward to more adventures with my boys!