Also you can read the 'Voicing Silence' series of blog posts here.
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Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Also you can read the 'Voicing Silence' series of blog posts here.
Monday, August 13, 2018
|With the owner and the co-worker who helped|
make salads and taught me the most
A few months earlier, I had walked into the small, vegetarian cafe and got myself a job cooking Indian food once-a-week. Tired of being at home alone all day and being unable to go much further in my limited German I had yearned for some work, any work. And this was the one that was available to me. The pay was low but the experience would make me rich, so I signed up. Some people who came to know of my decision were surprised by it. They could not understand why I would do something low-paid like cooking when I could spend my time gallery-hopping or at the spa or going skiing during the week. Why would I put myself through such rigorous work for such little returns? I couldn't come up with a convincing enough answer, so I stopped trying to convey to them how it was so much more than what I was making (peanuts, since you wonder) and how much I was growing personally when faced with challenges of the sort I had never encountered up until then.
You see, cooks at our cafe did not just cook. We served, cleaned and manned the till as well. So every week I cooked a soup and a main course for forty customers till noon and spent the afternoon serving them. It was physically demanding work and I would return home barely able to muster enough energy to string two words together. But it gave me an opportunity to try something I had not done before - cook for a paying crowd that would often be merciless in its criticism. So I stuck with it. Here are some things I learnt along the way:
- I realised that how you feel on the day somehow feeds into the food. If I was nervous about getting the recipe right, it would reflect seamlessly on the plates. If I was particularly relaxed on the day, I would see the customers smiling, chatting and complimenting me on the food. I taught myself to relax (I would sing along to whatever was playing and that would have an instant effect) and to enjoy and savour the experience. As the months went on, I grew a steady clientele who would turn up Friday lunch time for their curry fix.
- It is important to experiment but more crucial to deliver. The small cafe had a regular clientele who came there for good, honest homespun food. They did not expect Michelin star, instagram-styled food. They did not care for the little drizzles or the fancy decorations on the plate. So long as it tasted delicious and looked half-decent, the cook could take her fancy garnishing elsewhere. The crowd came to be fed so they can then return to work, they did not give two hoots for swirls of this or droplets of that.
- Plan ahead but also be flexible enough to throw it out of the window. The cafe was mainly there to use up the veg that the owner could not sell in her organic veg shop because they were mangled and a bit sorry-looking. With that in mind, any recipe should be adaptable enough to accommodate whatever veg was there, lying unsold. Some weeks I have been met with a glut of pumpkins past their prime, waiting to be used up for me. I had to be inventive and quick to come up with a recipe. To my credit I don't think any German cafe has ever served Erissery before.
- Don't take it personally. This was a hard one for me to accept and one that I have to constantly remind myself of. When an old German lady tells you that yes, she is there to pay, but no, she will not hand over the money to you, don't take it personally. When a very pregnant customer shouts at you for not feeding her quickly or feeding her enough for the money that she is paying, don't take it personally. When in your eagerness to get it right precisely, you've let things burn and now it is beyond redemption and there are eight orders pending and the owner is apoplectic, do apologise profusely but don't take it personally.
- Savour the experience. To be given a chance to feed people and watch them tuck into something that you have worked to create and have them thank you for their lunch, what a priceless honour it is! It is tempting to reduce value of everything to monetary returns and to wonder if all the effort was worth the few paltry quid at the end of the day. But I find it vital to recall that it is a privilege accorded to few and one worth cherishing.
If I were to plot my personal growth on a chart over the past two years, it would show a vertiginous incline. What I have learnt about myself and what I am capable of is not something I could have imagined just two years ago. And to be accorded the opportunity to learn as an adult is a precious thing and I am enormously grateful for it.
In a few short weeks my family and I return to our old life and last week was my last working day at the cafe. A few customers shook my hand, took photos with me, handed me handwritten good luck cards and hoped that I would return one day to the cafe to cook for them. Now, I don't know about you but this is not something I can ever put a price on and charge at the till.
Serving Erissery To Germans - part 1 here
Thursday, July 26, 2018
They proofed it, laid it out and with a few suggestions from me, designed a cover and published it. And so here it is, my first ever printed book (a fraud, a charlatan, a fake, I hear the voice in my head say and it rings louder with each passing second). But here it is, irrevocable as the day.
It started here, on this blog and look where it has lead to. If you are reading this post, know for sure that you had a role to play in it. Thank you!
Wednesday, July 04, 2018
The conversation came back to mind a few days ago when a friend shared an article with me in which an Indian man talks about what it was like growing up with a sports-obsessed mother. Clearly, the man thought that it was an anomaly for a woman of a certain age to have anything other a passing interest in sports. He, like most others, had reduced most women to being overtly obsessed with food and children and once the children had consumed the aforementioned food and flown the nest, then religion. Evidently, he thought his mother who followed cricket and football and taught herself the complicated scoring pattern of tennis by religiously following Wimbledon, was somewhat of an (affectionate) aberration and therefore, merited a mention. He clearly had not looked around.
A few days ago, on our weekly conversation, my mother-in-law commiserated us on Germany's loss in Russia a few days earlier. She lamented how a country that gave the world the likes of Beckenbauer had fallen to such dismal standards. Germany to not get past the group stage at the World Cup! Unheard of! She reckoned that the gecko that had been predicting a victory for an Asian country may be right after all. South Korea had been playing rather well and (at the time of speaking) Japan had thrown a couple of surprises.
|From a F1 race we saw recently. One of the few sports my |
sports-loving mother-in-law cannot understand.
It annoys me no end when Indian women in their sixties and beyond are routinely reduced to a limited palette of characters - hard-working, selfless, god-fearing, kind and sweet. In other words, dull and harmless. As if all the vibrancy of their youth would give way to a plain, bland version once they cross a certain age.
The next round of World Cup football matches are scheduled for this weekend I have yet to ask my mother-in-law for her predictions. I am certain she has already studied the fixtures and has picked her favourites.
Saturday, June 09, 2018
In my anxiety to do well in the exam, I had lost all the excitement around learning the language. I had become so entangled in the myriad grammatical traps that German so eagerly flings at you, that I had failed to recognise the joy that accompanies communicating - even if it is only haltingly - in the language. Instead, I had become so focussed on passing the exam as if it were a box to be ticked and not a tool to be learnt, practised and eventually, gradually and sometimes even painstakingly mastered. I had become blind to the singular sense of victory that follows comprehending a complicated article in a German magazine. I had bought into the whole myth of passing "with flying colours" (a most beloved expression used specifically in the context of passing an exam. I have never known anyone to pass an exam well, or pass it reasonably. It was only every with flying colours as if they were some aircraft that plumed colourful smoke out of its back to mark a very special event).
Years ago, when I was studying French, I would be asked repeatedly why I was learning the language. Was it because I wanted to study in France? Would it help my job prospects? Did I want to become a translator? Endless questions wondering about the reasons behind my pursuit. Sometimes it would be that, sometimes it would be this. I would tailor my answer to suit what I thought the questioner wanted to hear. But even back then, I knew with a gnawing feeling that none of this was accurate. Because I had no particular reason why I was learning French other than the fact that it felt good to learn something new.
Not long ago, when a close family member was writing her tenth standard board exams, I watched agonisingly from the wings and winced at how little the schools and their primary preoccupation with getting the children to pass exams had changed since my time. I cited the very wonderful Ken Robinson and talked about how we are killing everything that was wonderful and joyous and creative about our children by subjecting them to this egregious practice called examinations.
In my mind I saw children children lining up on a carousel, all tightly packed with invisible rollers carrying them inevitably towards a levelling machine that would at first, chop the tops off and trims the sides so they looked more like a stack of pencils than a gorgeously disparate gathering of young people. Then the carousel would taken them to a feeding machine with a huge, gaping hole for a mouth and into this, the children would tumble one by one. They would roll and twist around in the machine like they would if there were clothes in a front loading washing machine before finally being ejected out of the other end, into one massive pile. Each child, indistinguishable from the other, their eccentricities and vagaries wiped out to form a uniformly bland creation that slotted straight into a shelf somewhere.
When I shared my nightmare with a friend who had just surrendered her two daughters to this very system and who had both just endured tenth and twelfth standard exams, she rolled her eyes and said that of course, I would say that. After all, I had the luxury of keeping my children away from this system. Not every one had an ivory tower from which to talk from, she remarked.
How had I forgotten so readily the very lessons I preached so passionately to others? How had I let myself believe that somehow passing the exam and securing high marks was more important that learning a skill? And how dare I accuse others of succumbing to the antiquated exam-driven learning system and suggest to them that they seek alternatives for their children, when I had thrown that option right out of the window to seek a certificate in an exam that had no consequence? In an exam whose outcome had little bearing on my life or its course and whose only purpose was for me to then sign up for the next level?
Monday, June 04, 2018
|Venus and Amor|
by Reinhold Begas
Before you wag your finger at me and tell me that I should try harder or put in more effort before I dismiss a language that after all, millions speak and is the national language in all of three countries, let me tell you this. I have passed my B1 in the language with rather high scores and this putting-my-hands-up-in-abject-surrender has been arrived at after multiple and persistent attempts at deciphering the logic behind its grammar and trying to decode a pattern in its rules. But it has eluded me, time and again and therefore with the glee of someone who has managed to free themselves of a yoke around their neck, I hereby announce that I am renouncing all further attempts at understanding and learning German language. I am going to seek solace in Google translate and resort to semaphore wherever necessary.
Auf wiedersehen, Deutsch! Ich werde dich nie vermissen.
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
What he however did, was replace his gambling addiction with an altogether more socially acceptable obsession. Religion. In particular, he became a staunch supporter of the Kanchi Madam. He would follow the chief pontiff of the monastery around the country. On various occasions, his daughters and their offsprings would join him on the journey across the country and I've heard how he has been as far north as Rishikesh as part of the entourage.
|Appa with Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal at home, |
sometime in the mid-80s
And in my growing up years, even though my grandfather had passed away, the rest of his multitudinous family continue to worship the Kanchi Madam although I could never decide where I stood about revering human beings. On one occasion, I asked someone what the seer had done to deserve being prostrated before. And my impertinence was swiftly curtailed with some vague response about divinity and meditation. My ambivalence has never really gone away.
Such was the influence of this particular monastery and its pontiffs on our family that once when I was about eight or nine, some well meaning uncle suggested that I spend my summer holidays helping out at the Madam. Doing light chores that included reading out from the number of letters that came to the pontiffs as they liked children to read them out aloud to them. Innocent enough, but with the benefit of hindsight, I shudder to think what other chores I may have been asked to do. Luckily, I was never sent away and I never got to find out (the blasphemy of such a thought!).
It might be sacrilegious to even think that but my disquiet with such institutions returned when some fifteen or so years ago, criminal charges were filed against it and the chief pontiff was taken into custody. There was much uproar at such an eminent person being treated like a common criminal. While I initially bristled at the images of someone whose photos hung all over the walls of the house where I grew up, being handcuffed, I found myself shrugging my shoulders and moving on. These were not the gods I was worshipping and I no longer held them in the same level of esteem as I had when I was a child.
Then news arrived this morning that the presiding pontiff Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal had passed away. My old ambivalence returns. There's a mild sadness that the man who was venerated as god incarnate in my family circles is no more. The pontiff had, in his time as head, made significant departure from the establishment and moved the Madam in a direction that incorporated social good into the religious practices. He had recognised that as a religious unit they needed to go beyond simply preaching and had to have a greater common purpose for the people. In that respect, he had also invited criticism but had stuck to his principles.
Despite these significant ventures, I am less than convinced about what made this order of monks special (I confess, I do not know enough about their teachings or more about the social causes they supported). They are good, kind, decent, generous people but I doubt they have superior powers (there! I've said it!) to the rest of us. My own uncertainty lives alongside the strong conditioning of my childhood years. And I'm fine with that.
Addendum: When I called my father to commiserate on the passing away of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, he spent more time talking about another godman (a well known con) that he is currently representing that the other more respected recently-deceased sage. We all move on, I guess.
Monday, February 26, 2018
exit. None of the ickiness of old age and impaired living but a swift, decisive end. Almost like the plot lines in the movies she played where all loose ends were neatly tied up and everyone exited the screen as the credits rolled. Only this is desperately sad and all too real.
Today I watch some of the old songs from her movies and I realise that the question from all those years ago, really should have been this - Sridevi and Rajini or Sridevi and Kamal? For this woman was a given. Her presence on screen is so strong, such a constant that she needs few embellishments to prop her up. She was one of the few women who could well and truly hold her own.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Have you ever tried skiing?, asked a woman at the school where my children had just moved to from England. She was dark-skinned, seemed to be in her sixties and had a huge, friendly smile on her face. We had just moved to a part of Germany that sat right at the bottom of beautiful mountains. And where there are mountains, there is usually snow and where there is snow, there are crazy people throwing themselves off the hilltops. I wanted to quickly erase all memories of skiing but my husband intervened quickly and answered that yes, we had indeed gone skiing the previous year and why was she asking us about skiing, he wondered.
The reason was because Srilankan-born Shireen and her British husband Dan ran Ski Saturdays every year for the families at the school. And if we signed up to their programme, they would arrange for us to go to different resorts in the area for seven Saturdays between January and March. Before I knew what was happening, we were signing on the dotted line, buying ski gear (and spending a fortune!) and setting the alarm for a ghastly 5.30 on a Saturday morning to go skiing.
It was just as terrifying as I remember but the genial group atmosphere, friendly coaches and long indulgent lunches made it much less daunting. By the time the seven Saturdays were over, I could fling myself off the side of a mountain (no logic to this sport, I tell you) and remain standing when I reached the bottom.
We signed up again this year but this time, I'd injured myself in the foot and was advised to stay away from sport. In the intervening period, my fears had returned and after excusing myself the first week citing injury, I didn't want to go on the second week. But my husband wouldn't listen and insisted that I lace up. I resisted but as ever, he held sway and I found myself skiing downhill. It all came back to me and dare I say it, I even enjoyed submitting to gravity this time.
Last week, we went on a short ski break and for the first time, I ended up on a red run (they are coded in order of ease - blue, red and black) inadvertently. Despite being terrified and being completely alone, I managed to negotiate the course while still on two feet (you have the option to slide down on your bum - I passed on that one). Over the next couple of days, I would go back on red runs, but this time by choice. And each time, my fears eased a little and my confidence grew a bit.
There's still three more Ski Saturdays to go before we hang up our boots for the season. Skiing has taught me that I am capable of way more than I think I can. That once you are on a course of action, you just have to get through with it, there's no point looking back when you need to have your sights ahead. That no matter how skilled you might be, the mountain will always win. The only thing you can do is to surrender. To yield gracefully.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
By the time I had got on to one with my husband by my side, I was a weeping wreck. After my first tumble on the slope, I had lost all sense of shame and now, all I really cared about was survival. What others thought about me was a thing of the past. And all through my howls, my husband sat resolutely still, not giving into my pleas (what was I pleading for? It was too late anyway).
Chair lifts slow down as they approach a landing and you need to lean forward, push yourself off the moving chair and be away skiing. As we slowed down, I would panic and instinctively lean backwards, the skis would run ahead of me and I would land on my back with a smack. This happened again and again - panic, slip, bang. It's a miracle that I didn't injure myself seriously as I seem to have been hell bent on it.
As I slipped off my ski boots that afternoon, I swore that I had seen the last of skiing. Little did I know that just eight months later, I would be signing up for it again.
Monday, February 19, 2018
I spent three to four hours just trying to get across a few feet uphill. It didn't help that the rest of the group was negotiating this tricky manoeuvre with grace and ease while I looked like a stranded mammal trying desperately to get out of water. Gasping, spluttering and failing miserably. I'd take one foot ahead and slide back three and I would start again. Then there was this utter humiliation of falling. I kept falling, over and over again and needed assistance to stand up. And all the time, toddlers were racing past me with pity-filled eyes.
|But look at me now!|
The wretched discs go round and round and as soon as one has left, you should get into position so you can grab the next one and be dragged up. I had issues with timing and would always be too late to catch them. And even when I did, my skis would not be parallel and within seconds my legs would be tangled and I would fall into a twisted heap. I would be led to the back of the queue and the ordeal would begin again. The next time I would get into position and ensure that my skis are parallel, only to have the discs knock me on the back of my head and make me lose control. Once when I had got myself into position, someone at the back of the queue had had enough and jumped ahead and unable to stand on a slope, I slid backward, fell down, watched the skies and wondered why I was putting myself through this.
By the third day, my legs were bruised badly and I didn't want to do it anymore. It didn't help that my instructor (memorably called Vlad. Everything was downhill from there) had yelled at me for not following his instructions. As an otherwise capable adult, I could not comprehend my abject inability to come to grips with this new skill.
I sat in the cafe, drank hot chocolate, marvelled at the French Alps and felt utterly miserable. The next day I had an hour's private lesson with a kinder and altogether more easy going French woman and it was marginally better. That Saturday before we were due to leave, my husband insisted that I go with him and he took me on my first ever ski chair lift ride. What followed next is not something I would forget easily.
Joke courtesy: Firstborn
Thursday, February 08, 2018
At the cafe and elsewhere, I spoke as often as I could to others in German and most were polite enough to humour me. I booked myself in for a training course and spent a Friday evening learning tips on how to pass the exam - mind you, this came after I'd spent eight hours earlier in the day cooking at the cafe. A colleague from the cafe spent an afternoon speaking to me in German ahead of the oral exams and I cooked for her as a thank you.
|"Wir werden an den Stränden kämpfen, |
wir werden auf dem Landeplatz kämpfen"
The results were to be called out by a woman from the Goethe Institute who would then hand out the certificates. I was really not certain about the outcome and chose to remain in the corridor while my son sat on the sofa in the waiting room where the results would be announced. The woman walked in. My son beckoned me inside. I shook my head. Come in, he mouthed. No, I said. You will have passed, he assured me. Don't think so, I mimed. You are so good, Amma, he said. I'm rubbish, I pleaded. The woman started calling out names alphabetically. Mine wasn't the first one like it usually is (initials AA). I was about to leave. Mine wasn't the second name either. I was on my way out. A pause. Then I thought I heard my name. That's my mum, said my son clapping for me. The woman said something about my marks which didn't register.
I came out into the corridor clutching my certificate. I had passed. 83% in reading, 80% in listening, 77% in writing and 90% in speaking.
That's when I realised how seamlessly our roles had reversed. My son was the reassuring parent and me the child riddled with self-doubt. He was cool and certain about my abilities while I was a wreck. That evening I knew what I was most proud about. The tall, ridiculously handsome and utterly charming son who became the parent when I needed one? Or the language skills? That's easy. German's a doddle.
Wednesday, February 07, 2018
So the kind woman drove me home and I gave her the keys to let herself in while I remained in her car. I called out directions to her as to where to find my mobile - luckily, I remembered where I'd left it and she didn't have root around for it. She helped me get off the car, brought me a wheelchair and waited for a while with me at the hospital. The X-rays revealed nothing at first glance but a doctor called two days later and informed me that I'd chipped bone and that my foot had to be in a brace for six weeks. We'd booked to ski for seven Saturdays from mid-January but he strongly advised me against doing any sport (an advice I paid heed to selectively) as it could hinder the healing process.
On Christmas morning, I'd complained to a friend about how I was still struggling to get used to the German brusqueness citing a recent incident when a rank strangers asked me if I really didn't speak much German or if I was just "being lazy". It rankled me a lot as I'd put in a lot of effort into tackling their bewildering maze of language. Why are they being so rude?, I'd bemoaned to my friend over the weekly catch up, why can't they be civil to foreigners?
And yet, barely a couple of hours later, there I was being accosted home and taken to hospital by someone whose name I forgot to ask and whose whereabouts I was in too much pain to find out. Came out of nowhere and offered to help a foreigner in need. Bloody Germans!
Sunday, December 24, 2017
You're supposed to burn the candles one per week leading up to Christmas, pointed out a German woman who'd come home last week. I had had no clue that there was a candle lighting tradition and had simply picked up four candles on a bed of foliage as it looked pretty and having lit one, it seemed a shame not to light the others.
We have no Christmas tradition and make up our own stuff. Neither me nor my husband grew up celebrating the festival and so have nothing to recreate from our childhood or pass on to our kids. Our Christmas tree is a stand for all things special - from drawings to medals to flags and our Christmas lunch is usually something I've cobbled together on the day. Yes, there is gifts for the children but it's not very different to other holidays - for me at least.
On Christmas day we might go for a walk or watch some TV. This year, perhaps some skiing, if the slopes are open for business. But barring that we are newcomers to this festival, which of course has little religious connotation and instead is almost entirely about buying. And to that effect, we have bought into it but, as for the rest, it's all a bit rough and ready.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
|Here's a view from my kitchen.|
I admit, it's very pretty here but if I had to
pick between great views and polite people, I'd
much rather the latter.
Germany's stocks are trading at a low at the moment. It would need an impossible act of kindness to look up from here.
Monday, November 20, 2017
Year ago, when I was working in a very cool Music Television station in Mumbai, my boss urged me to include references to bindhi and mehndi in the links that I used to write for the VJs to read from the teleprompter before they cut to a song. "They are all the rage", said my boss. I was baffled and couldn't comprehend how something that we had always done in India had suddenly become all the rage. And how my seriously Indo-phobic boss (and colleagues) was suddenly so smitten by these very Indian symbols. Then it dawned on me.
Madonna had just released Frozen music video in which she can be seen wearing a pottu on her forehead and henna on her hands. The rage that my boss was referring to was in America where I was told everyone was now copying the Indians. And therefore, what we had always done had suddenly gained legitimacy and validity and copyability. So, for anything to be worth emulating, it had to be sanctioned first by America and then we could all follow.
I was reminded of the aforementioned incident after I read about a young Indian actress who, following after the Harvey Weinstein allegations, had now come forward with accusations of sex assault by a Hindi film director. Even the headlines referred to the American movie producer as if it was a precedent he had set for us all to now follow. What would have been dismissed as regular 'casting couch' in the past, has now gained some legitimacy because someone in America has blown a whistle.
Surely this actress can not be the only one to have been assaulted. In an industry that venerates its men and denigrates its women almost as a rule, such occurence must be common place. But let's say more women come forward with their allegations - ignoring for a moment the very real possibility that if they did come forward, they risk serious threats to their lives from the star's fans - what would we as fans do?
What if we find out that our most favourite star was also a sex pest? Would we still love and adore his movies? Would we be shocked and vow never to watch any of his movies ever again? Or would we be able to separate the man from his movies?
If you are reading, lurking, then now would be good time to comment and share your thoughts. Thank you!
Tuesday, November 07, 2017
What there was, was enormous sadness. Despite her best efforts a rogue tear escaped and trickled down her cheek. I sensed a resounding bulk of grief that seemed to choke at the throat and in its rawness, must have chafed at skin and worn her limbs down. Yet there was an unquestioning acceptance of the card that she had been dealt with and perhaps it was this acceptance that had helped her keep a lightness of touch. And absolute grace. As I reacquainted myself with my old friend, I learnt that her personal devastation had, rather remarkably led to something else. Something that has her radiating in happiness these days.
I cannot say I knew my friend that well when we were young. But I am awestruck by the person she has evolved into. And in the short hours of her stay here, she managed to leave the gold dust of her presence here. Something for me to savour in the days to come.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
|Erissery on the menu board|
After a few weeks of experimenting, I think I've hit the jackpot with roti. The first week I made it, the owner wrote it down as handmade bread on the board. But last week she asked me if the bread I was planning to make was actually chapathi and I told her yes it was. And her eyes lit up and she asked me to spell it out for her. In true South Indian tradition, I added a 'h' to the spelling and that afternoons, the customers asked for 'chapathi'.
Every day, the veggies that are not fit to be sold in the cafe shop, end up being cooked and the menu has to be clever and adaptable enough to accommodate these unsuspecting ingredients. Yesterday, it was the turn of some kind of kale. I had planned to serve dal, chapathi and some curry but what would I do with large ferns of kale? I turned to the lady who usually makes fresh green smoothies to be sold in bottles at the counter and asked her if she could blitz the kale for me. I then asked her to pour the juice into the bowl of waiting atta. I started binding the dough as she poured it gradually and rather bemusedly. The dough's bright green was a sight to behold and proved quite popular with the customers, many of whom complimented me on it.
This is perhaps the most unconventional work I have ever done and each Friday, I am stricken with angst and I wonder why I'm doing this rather than stay at home and watch Netflix instead. I don't really know why I put myself through this experience that leaves me shaking and scared and excited and thrilled, all in the space of seven hours. May be that's why. May be doing something while being shit scared is a good thing. That and the fact that all the kale is good for digestion.
All I could think about how painful the whole exercise was and how little I was enjoying it and could I please hurry up and finish the whole thing quickly so I can go home to the pulav and paneer curry that I had made that morning before I set off? Instead, my pace slowed right down and I became the rock on either side of whom runners streamed. And then I did the one thing I never thought I would do - walk. I dragged my uncooperative limbs across one agonising kilometre after the next.
And to make my matters worse, with less than a kilometre to go, my husband called wondering why I wasn't yet in the stadium at the finish time I had expected. I just wanted the whole business done with so I never have to lace up and run a city race ever again. The runners do a lap around the Olympia stadium before the finishing line and I felt none of the famed rush that is supposed to hit the runners once they cross the line. Just blessed relief that I didn't have to run any more.
I was running to raise funds to replace the asbestos roof at my school in India. If you wish to contribute, you can do so here - https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/abhiarumbakkam
Monday, October 16, 2017
Friday, September 15, 2017
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
She recalls instead in vivid detail her mother, the only daughter of a tahsildar cowering in fear, while her father yelled at her for not seasoning the rasam. My mother remembers all too well her mother's wedding saree, the cherished six yards of silk being ripped to shreds by a madman wielding a pair of shears. She remembers her father's curmudgeonly behaviour which meant that his wife would be sent to a local government hospital to terminate her sixth pregnancy after bearing five children in a decade, rather than be cared for privately. She recalls being told that her mother would not be coming back home as she had contracted lock jaw and had died. Even after seven decades of bereavement, my mother still misses her mother acutely and says that some days she talks to her, asking her how she could leave her children to face the frightening world alone. But no, they would not talk of her. Instead, they talk of his brilliance. The legions of students that recall his command over Shakespeare and Chaucer and his great facility with numbers. A kind father, a genial grandfather, an erudite scholar. Not a wife beater, not that one.
Monday, September 11, 2017
"Chumuti!", she exclaimed, recalling the name her toddler son had given the toy.
"Yes, it does look like I finally found out where Chumuti had been hiding all the years", called out her husband from behind the boxes which they had set out to clear.
"Was it in 92?", she wondered holding her hand out for Chumuti.
"No, this must have even earlier", he replied tossing it to her. "By 92 Sumanth was already six and he had outgrown these toys. Must have been more like 89 or 90 that we bought it for him".
"Yes", she nodded, her mind already half way back to 1990. How Sumanth had wanted the wind up toy and how much her husband would not buy it for him. Too expensive, too fragile, not now, may be later, the reasons had been plenty and each one valid but Sumanth had worn his father down with persistence until he gave up resisting. The toddler had taken the toy to bed with him the night they bought it for him and the night after that and for nearly every night for a whole year until another toy had come along and Chumuti had been forgotten.
She ran her fingers through the grooves of the toy remembering with aching fondness how tiny Sumanth's fingers once were when they held Chumuti. His fingers that were part of a small, perfect muscular body which held a fiercely independent spirit that astonished and frustrated her in equal measure. His stubborn streak that seemed disproportionate in someone so small. A characteristic she recognised as one he had inherited from her but one she would never admit to.
She checked the time and mentally calculated what the time was where Sumanth lived. He must be at work, she figured. Perhaps she'd try his cell number rather than at home. He answered in quiet voice.
"Everything alright, Amma?", he asked. He had started to roll his 'r's recently. Said it made it easier for him to be understood over the phone. She had wanted him to speak normally with her, as she could understand him perfectly without the affectation, but she had not told him so. She did not want to irritate him.
"Appa found Chumuti", she said holding the toy up to the phone absentmindedly, "you remember?"
"Your toy, Chumuti!"
"If it's not too urgent, can I call you back, ma? I am running late for a meeting."
"Don't worry, it's nothing too urgent. What are you eating?"
"Just grabbing some toast. Say hi to Appa. And send me a photo of Chuputi okay?"
"You gave it its name...and it's Chumuti."
"Chumuti, then. Got to go...I'll call you later, okay?"
"Eat something more than just toast, Sumanth"
She held Chumuti a little longer. Elsewhere in the house, she could hear her husband going through the boxes, wading through the paraphernalia of her children, throwing up old toys and outgrown clothes with casual disregard for the heft of the years gone by, for the years when her children were truly hers alone to enjoy and to be exasperated about, for the years when she would sigh deeply at the weight of motherhood but delight secretly in its demands. She could never go back there and it was rather pointless wishing for those years.
"Throw the box away", she called out to her husband. "It's full of useless old junk, just sitting there gathering dust and taking up space."
Her husband looked up surprised. "Are you sure? I thought you might have enjoyed looking through the kids' stuff."
"No, I don't. And if you find something don't bother telling me. I'm going to make myself some coffee, would you like some?", she asked making her way to the kitchen. Her husband's reply was drowned out by the noisy cappuchino machine Sumanth had gifted them on his last trip home.
Thursday, September 07, 2017
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