Wednesday, August 29, 2007

For a son about to start school

Next week this time, it will be chaos around the house. Your dad and I will be running helter-skelter trying to get you ready in time for your first day at school. Like parents around the country, Appa and I will be making sure that your uniform are ironed, your lunch box packed, your shoes polished, your hair combed, your teeth head swirls even as I think of all the chores to be done. And there are all the instructions we need to give you. Raise your hand when you need to use the toilet. Finish all your lunch. Don't play rough in the playground. Listen to what your teacher says. Don't talk during class...but despite all my worries, I'm excited for you. I don't see it as the end of a carefree chapter as much as the beginning of a significant period of your life.

Soon your days will be dictated by the school calendar. And you will settle into a comfortable routine of school days and weekends. Your vocabulary will swell and you will make new friends. You will learn to read and to write. You will be embarrassed of me and Appa and banish us from talking to your friends. For our part, we will dread going to the PTA meetings and we will pray that your teacher will have nothing to complain about your behaviour. There will be PE injuries and head lice to contend with. Lunch menus to think of. Summer uniforms to sort out. Holiday camps to enrol to...

But somewhere amidst the chaos of such tumultous change, I will miss our time together. All these years when I didn't have to share your days with the school. When I could let you stay awake and watch TV and not worry that you will wake up late for school the next morning. When we could go on a holiday in May because we felt like it. Or ride the local train on a Tuesday morning on a whim. I will miss you, kutty-ma.

And it's not going to be easy for us watching you go through the school gate for the first time. But we will walk away knowing that our little one is in safe hands. And will be running home to us in just over six hours' time.

Monday, August 27, 2007


This morning I was wondering what it is about the idli that I dislike it so much. Is it the endless rounds of preparation? Soaking, grinding, fermenting and THEN cooking? Or is it the idli's inherent frailty as a dish to stand on its own? Its constant dependency on something more pungent to support it? Or is it the idli's inoffensive, non-threatening, bland nature that it's suitable only for those under 2 or anyone recovering from a particularly unpleasant illness? I don't know. All I know is that I have never taken a liking to the steamed rice cake - the English description doesn't quite fit, does it? A bit like Pattu mami in pant-shirt, not right at all!

And there's more. Idlis are fussy old things. No ordinary pans would do. It'd have to be a special perforated idli plate. And it has to be cooked only for so long. Any more or any less and it's a toss up between rock and raw batter for breakfast. Idlis remind me of that ugly cousin who insisted that the girl he marry meet a 101 conditions. You just want to ask him to shove it and get on with it!

And it doesn't stop there. There's this whole side-business of chutnies and sambar to accompany the idli. After all, you can't serve the idli on its own!

Yet, there I was on the first morning of a bank holiday weekend, soaking three portions of idli rice to one of whole ulutham paruppu. Adding a teaspoon of vendayam. Returning in the evening to grind them to a smooth, lump-free batter. Seasoning with salt and tucking the half-full pot into a corner in the boiler room. Waking up in the middle of the night to see if there was enough room in the pot for the batter when it doubles in volume. And wondering, not for the first time, why I even got started.

I'll spare you the rest of the agonising steps in this recipe. The end result was less than fluffy and would rate about 6 on a Saravana Bhavan idli scale. Still, when we stuffed our faces with idlis and molagapodi and washed it down with a glass of buttermilk, I sensed smug satisfaction spread all over my being. For a brief while, I felt like an ideal wife. One who feeds her family idli for breakfast, not dried cereal or worse, bread! I felt one with all my sisters back in India and elsewhere who follow the idli ritual every week. It was an inexplicably deep connection. I even resolved to ask my idli-making friends for tips on how to better the batter.

I would be lying if I said that I dislike the idli less now. My distaste for it remains just as strong. But an idli every six months or so shouldn't hurt. Unless I dropped it accidentally on my foot and broke it - the foot, not the idli.

cross posted at chaipani

Friday, August 24, 2007

A quick tale 197

Libra 23 Sept-23 Oct

Since you no longer tell me about it. I have started reading your daily horoscope to find out how your day was.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A quick tale 196

An empty shell

Her aunt Rukmini had been specially summoned for the occasion. She has an auspicious touch, grandmother had insisted. Everything she's involved in, ends well. Gomathy herself had woken up early that morning. Earlier than usual, having been unable to sleep much of the previous night. Which is why, she would remark many years later pointing the photo to her grand daughter, I have those dark circles under my eyes. She couldn't tell her grand child about how Rukmini athai had smeared a good half-a-tub of kohl under her eyes in the name of warding off evil. And how she had run quietly to the bathroom to wipe it away. And how, because there was so much of it, she didn't manage to take it all off. Her grandchildren grew up in a world vastly different from her own and they would laugh at her old stories.

Gomathy had chosen her mother's deep blue silk saree and a matching blouse to go with it for the day. But someone had suggested that it would make her appear dark in the photograph. And everyone knew that nobody wanted a dark bride. So a pale orange chiffon saree that belonged to a neighbour had been picked instead. Gomathy's mother oiled and plaited her long hair, smoothing its wavy curls as she ran the comb down its length. She then tied a yellow ribbon at the end. Gomathy winced as her mother tugged out a few strands from the back of her head to hook a long string of jasmine flowers. Finally, her mother had taken her aside and dabbed a generous portion of Cuticura talcum powder on her face. Gomathy could still recall the sticky sweet smell of talcum powder as it mingled with the sweat from her mother's arm as she lifted it to use to the powder puff. A big round pottu, like a fullstop smack in the middle of her forehead, completed her make-up.

They had paraded, all four of them (three was an inauspicious number) - her parents, aunt and herself - to the most prominent studio in town. She was made to stand against the backdrop of a cloth curtain which had the image of a lush waterfall painted on it. The photographer had propped a papier-mache pillar which came up to her waist, for her to lean against. She rested her arm on it as if it were a short friend. The photographer then adjusted the lights in his studio this way and that way and she struggled to keep her eyes open as bright light beamed straight at her. Twice she batted her eyes just as the camera clicked and the photographer chided her for doing so. The third time her eyes leapt open, more in anxiety than anything else. It made her look surprised as if she had not been expecting to be photographed in that studio.

In the following months, the photo would be circulated among families with eligible young men. It would catch the eye of 24-year old government employee Jagannathan who thought Gomathy resembled a frightened doe. They would be marrried five months after the photo was taken. And it would recede to the far corners of Gomathy's trunk where it would lie undisturbed for several years.

This afternoon, Gomathy's 11-year old grand-daughter Lavanya was visiting her and she had wanted some old family photos for a school summer project. As Gomathy picked up the photo, she noticed how it had lost a lot of its detail, much like her memory. The waterfall in the background was barely distinct and the pillar by her side looked faintly ridiculous. Almost all the people associated with the photo were now dead and gone. Her time would come soon. And when she left, she would take with her the last remaining memories attached to the photo. Leaving behind the empty shell of an image. Here, said Gomathy handing the crispy thin photo to her grandchild, you can have this one. It's just an old photo of mine.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Be a soldier

I don't know what purpose war serves. I certainly don't know what the outcome of Kargil war was. But this post by Blogeswari who happened to be in Ladakh at the time of the war is a moving read. Even if the video is somewhat gushingly sentimental.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A quick tale 195

Coffee Malli

"Just one muzham, amma. You will be my first boni this morning, amma. "

"Such nice mallis! How much is one muzham?...That's too much! I don't know how people can afford flowers at such such rates! It's not as if people have jasmine growing in their gardens. Coming to think of it, who lives in a house with a garden these days? Not like in my time in Madurai, where we used to have seven beautiful malli creepers in our garden. Appa would make me and my sister water them every evening. I remember Amma used to deposit coffee powder from the previous day's filter at its roots. And Akka used to call it coffee malli. Not jaadi malli.

You know, our mallis were the most fragrant in our neighbourhood. Pankajam maami from two doors down the road would send her grand daughter on Thursdays with a small bowl to pick up the flowers. Amma would be furious. Tell your grandmother that there are mallis in the flower market as well, she would tell the little girl, before plucking out a few bruised ones from the creeper. And in summer! Aha! The creepers would be bent double under the weight of its flowers. Like a woman pregnant with twins at the end of her term! You should never count the buds, Amma used to say. They can hear you and they wither out. Every evening, she would pluck them and tie them into a dense garland using vaazhai naar. She would cut them into two equal halfs for akka and me to wear on our hair. We always fought over who had the longer share of the malli garland. Appa didn't like us wearing it long so that it fell in the front of our face. Like cheap filmstars, he would say. So we would wear it across the back of our head, pinned on either side. What? I told you...Five rupees for a muzham is too much...I can only pay you three. No? Four rupees fifty paisa is still too much. Three rupees or nothing. No, not even four rupees. Okay, okay. Fine then. Find somebody else. "

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I'm bored

Cannot remember the last time I read something on a blog that had me all abuzz. May be I'm not looking in the right places. All the blog aggregators (is that the right word?) seem to favour the tired old familiar few. So I'm turning to you. Please post link to a post which inspired you. Or atleast made you pause before you resumed sipping your coffee. It can be from any blog. Yours. Your best friend's. The dog's. Just drop the link in the comment box. And while you're at it, include while you love it. Thank you.