In Memorium: Kulsum Aapa

My aunt died recently. She was actually my husband’s aunt but the distinction wasn’t ever really a thing. In Urdu, Aapa means elder sister and that’s how I heard her referred to by many of people around her. My husband’s family speaks Telugu and typically she would have been referred to as Peddamma (elder mother/aunt) but somehow my husband, his sister and their cousins always referred to her as ‘Aunty’. Being a new bride in a family culturally different from mine, I was trying hard to fit in and strike a balance and the right notes with the in-laws especially and tried out a few names for her but somehow Aapa seemed to suit her best. And as she forthrightly told me soon after I got married, “Call me what you want, my name isn’t going to change is it? You should call me what you feel like.” And so Aapa stuck.

She was from a family that was quite different from mine, my parents’ as well as my in-laws’,but she never highlighted the differences and seemed to always take things in her stride. She once told me, quite cheekily, how she and my uncle eloped and seemed to be happily reliving those days and told me how we had done things more conservatively and not been as daring as them!

When a person passes there’s usually a burst of emotions which include regret for not having spent enough time with them or feeling their loss but I think what I realise I miss most is the opportunity to have learnt more from her. Apart from being a teacher and being quite qualified (she had a Ph.D), she had a vast repertoire of life experiences that she used to share but she was always very mindful of what she said and if the person on the receiving end was receptive or not. A lot of people think age gives them more latitude to speak freely, especially to those younger than them but Aapa was not such a person. While she was forthright she was very aware of peoples’ sense of privacy, their personal space and respected both in a culture where elders are deferred to in many or most things.

She and I were the two daughters-in-law of the family, my mother-in-law having passed long ago, and she would occasionally smile impishly at me and gesture at our husbands and say,” See what we put up with!” She kept an immaculate home, was the consummate hostess and was infinitely warm and welcoming. I cannot recall a time I have gone there and not had even the simplest of home food urged upon me with warmth and affection. She was gregarious but not flamboyant, she was articulate and not verbose and most importantly she was a very genuine person who was very affectionate.

My husband’s anecdotes about her are a mix of amusing and endearing ones because coming from a small town that he does, Aapa was the most exotic person he had ever encountered and seeing her as a small boy imprinted various memories of her in his mind which have stuck to this day. He was in awe of her and in time realised that she held him with quite a bit of affection as well. She had an old rather dinged up platter that she would use to make “double ka meetha” at home. I have never seen her make it in anything else. Even if she was invited to dinner at someone’s place and she showed up with dessert, that less than stylish platter made its appearance although its contents were always impeccable! The double ka meetha was always in appearance during a dinner at my home or whenever we had dinner at theirs. She once told me in her Hyderabadi dialect, “Tumharey miyaan ko yeh pasand isiliye main banati” (your husband is very fond of this that’s why I make it).

Aapa was quite a taskmaster and was very clear about what she considered as “proper”. I recall her running the rather large house with household help who were trained to do things right and do them well. When as she grew older, she never seemed to cut corners about how a house was to be run; especially hers. There was a method to the way we were served, we ate and it was never slapdash or too casual. All meals were at the dinning table, there was good conversation and there was always a sweet, usually home cooked, to round off the food.

I honestly don’t know as much as I ought to about her accomplishments but she was definitely the shining star our family. She took care of my grandmother-in-law for years, kept up on her reading, was extremely socially and politically conscious and hosted salons where she and my Uncle discussed and took forward steps that benefitted the city we live in and the people. Where many people get on a pulpit or rant, Aapa would actually show up and get things done and in the process she drew around herself a group of like-minded people who inspired her and were in turn, inspired by her.

She was a good grandmother to my son as well. She encouraged all his little scribbles, pretended to get scared by his dragon during his How To Train Your Dragon phase and kept encouraging him towards more creative pursuits. Unlike many of The Bengali side of my son’s relatives, she never asked about his academics, his performance but often asked what made him happy. It’s a perspective I’m yet to learn to embrace entirely if I’m honest.

Dhoop Chhaun, the home which was in her family for ages, has been the hub of our meetings and where my family congregates. While our grandmother was alive there was a steady stream of people who would come in and pay their respects but even after her demise, the house has always been synonymous with Aapa and her presence. Even as a much younger child my son had labeled it ‘Dadi’s house’ so evident was it for everyone.

I think I’ll always remember her as pottering around the house in one of her numerous kaftans, calling out instructions in the kitchen and switching between her clipped English diction with the family or guests to the traditional Hyderabadi she used with the staff. She always had a compliment for us, a huge smile and was effortlessly elegant. And she will be missed, terribly.

The Side Window

For those who are fans of the Hitchcockian thriller, this isn’t an attempt to ride on the coattails of it. But I was hard-pressed for creativity and my brain doesn’t function well without caffeine so an “inspiration” is what I’m working with since there are some similarities between me in my current predicament and Jimmy Stewart’s character from the movie.

I’m in a room from where I’m not in a position to exit too quickly. I’m Covid+ and have a less than desirable viral load. Red and TO are down as well but thankfully theirs seems to be a bit less worrisome. Kids are actually quite a bit like balloons. They feel down in the dumps and they deflate and the moment something perks them up, they’re inflated and soaring in the skies. Which describes my kid down to a T right now. He’s all flushed and cute looking from the fever but is uncomfortable enough to admit it and is lying down of his own free will. The moment the medicine kicks in, he’ll be whooping and hollering like he always is.

This room is the sunniest one of the house and I soak it up everyday for a few hours because on top of all the meds I’m putting in me, it’ll really push me over the edge to have to eat a vitamin D tab as well! Anyhoo, there’s a big clearing outside the window and I’m entertained by seeing big groups of people play cricket, kick around a soccer ball and also see the cranes move in the distance. I have access to the telly…but this is live!

In my daily life, I can be a bit of a lump. Give me a good book and I’ll be practically inert, moving only to flick the screen or turn the page. Since my Covid brain is extremely scattered right now, it seemed right to put this in here.. Spoiler alert- rock song!

Back to the narrative: I’m indoors. In a room. Am allowed to peek out while double-masked and remind my kid to not be a butthead and do his chores to help out his father who’s being a rockstar and a bit of a bossy pants. I think every husband might derive some sense of a pleasure in shutting the door on his wife’s face (all in the name of good health of course) and tell her to stay in and not come out!

I had a bit of anxiety yesterday (which I was unaware was anxiety) and needed to go for a scan to see if my lungs were impacted as well. The doctor pronounced my lungs “flawless” [sic] and gave me a prescription for the anxiety- “Don’t be anxious.”. Hmm..I wonder which strength that tablet’s available in. I did take advantage of the utterance to tell Red that something in me was flawless. All I can say is that when a person is stoic with their expressions, their eyes often pick up the slack. And how!

Stay safe everyone. Hoping the family sails through this bit of stickiness without too many bumps in the road. And I’m definitely hitting the road after this. I’ll be upto my eyeballs in antibodies and would be a fool to not take advantage of it.

Over and out from me and my flawless lungs!

Kiss Your Right Bicep!

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Red is a very good teacher. Primarily because he wants the person he’s teaching anything to, to genuinely learn and enjoy themselves in the process even if it’s something that they didn’t seek out on their own. The prime example of that is the time spent with TO and getting his concepts clear in math. Red will research long and hard and find the best resources which simplify things in such a manner that it doesn’t seem difficult at all for the person trying to learn.

Red is also a very good teacher when it comes to sports. He’s good in tennis and pretty decent in cricket and has spent countless hours tossing the ball back and forth with TO over the years. Thankfully TO hasn’t inherited my spastic movements in any form of athletics; he’s a decent bowler as well and like all young boys, frequently dreams of hitting a BIG one over the boundary and taking his team towards victory in a major tournament!

For our first anniversary, Red and I were vacationing in a lovely waterfront resort which had a pool table. Being slightly clueless even then about the talents of his new wife; Red wanted to play pool and very enthusiastically I might add. After the first few balls left the table, one being airborne enough to nearly give him a lobotomy, he quietly and decisively gave me a book, led me to a pool side lounge chair and left me there to do what I do best- not be athletic in any form.

Photo by Josephine Gasser on Unsplash

This morning, possibly feeling enthused about having started off the year on a good note, Red tried to introduce me to tennis; again. He brought TO along as back-up for when I inevitably failed miserably but still persisted in teaching me the basics which kind of went like this: ” Try to find the sweet spot when hitting“, “wherever your racquet faces, that’s where the ball will go”, “don’t just hit the ball, brush it so it spins and moves better”.

In time his inputs became a bit crisper and to the tune of, “You’re using a racquet, it’s not a dosa pan!” And after a few times of my hitting the ball too high, too far away and once entirely outside the building fence, he told me to “kiss my right bicep“.

I thought that was too meta but I stopped and kissed my right bicep and got an utterly bemused look from him because he had meant that while moving the racquet I should move my right hand so far along that it would align with my face and close enough for me to “kiss my right bicep“. Ohhhhh…the a-ha moment had come in quite a bit late in the game. He did not, at all, intend for me to come to a standstill, turn and kiss my right bicep and ask, “Ok, now what?”

Photo by CARL HUNLEY JR on Unsplash

But you have to give the man props for his optimism. To try and nudge a myopic wife who’d rather be stuck in books all day long, to come and run all over a tennis court so she could develop a bond with the game after 17 years of knowing how bad her hand-eye co-ordination is truly the heights of optimism.

He also had to deal with my, “Oops, I did it again” look every time the ball left the confines of the court and went somewhere unreachable. Of course each time I did hit the ball with a wild swing he still ducked, because while he is optimistic, he certainly is not dumb!

2020…what’s next?

The easiest answer would be 2021…DUH! But it’s become way more than that. The last time there was a brouhaha over a year or its ending was Y2K but that turned out to be a damp squib in comparison. Heads up! This is an image-heavy post…

While 2019 ended on an interesting note- first international trip with the bestie, getting mugged, realisations about life, yada yada…I also spent time with people I love and look forward to seeing at the end of every year, saw G dance his butt off on stage, spent quality time with my folks (always a highlight in my book); the year ended on a goodish note overall. Which is basically all you can hope for, especially when you have zero clue what lies ahead.

When Bollywood music takes over!

2020 has been the year of the pandemic for sure but it’s also been a year of reaching out to each other for support. It’s been the year of coming closer, hugs and kisses, playing dress up with chubby toddlers, celebrating things on a smaller scale but with more happiness. It’s been a year of dealing with Covid- inside the home and within extended family. It’s been about heading out for open spaces at the first opportunity because one didn’t know when the next opportunity would present itself. It’s also been one about realising how much of an impact we have on our immediate environment because once the cars stopped going out on the roads, the skies became clearer, bluer and wildlife became bolder and more abundant.

Where TO is concerned, it’s become the year when digital media and screen time became a double-edged sword. Homework and projects became buzzwords as did meeting links, breakout rooms and assessments. Red and I had to familiarise ourselves with the intricacies of the IB model and we still have ready reckoners saved here and there to help us understand some concepts which aren’t clear yet.

2020 in a nutshell for me has been the year of becoming more resilient and taking responsibility- for yourself and to some extent, the others who do depend on you for support and succorance. And while it ended up with more dependence on masks, gloves and keeping an eye out for the optimum amount of alcohol in our sanitisers; it’s been a year of massive learning on pretty much all fronts.

Most of us have learnt what and who we can do without. And what we truly hold dear. Milestones and non-milestone birthdays have been celebrated with gusto. And we’ve all hung on with our sanity intact-for the most part.

And while I don’t really like to tempt fate much- became am iffy on karma- I like to think that 2021 can be rocky, tempestuous even but we’ll get by and still find stuff to smile about. I can totally hang my hat on that, any day.

L’chaim!

When Negative Is The New Positive

I think it suffices to say that it has been a wonky year. For me I would push it back a bit more to the trip to Spain which had an unfortunate moment (read about it here) followed by other learnings+incidents that have led up to me sitting on the couch before the alarm goes off, early on a Friday morning. Only a hermit entirely cut off from the world around them will know that things are less than ideal.

Since mid-March our experiences have been like nothing else we’ve ever gone through till now. A mask and gloves are as essential as clothes. Washing hands has been elevated to a THING with everyone from celebs to cartoon characters demonstrating the optimum time and best way to do it. My friend’s chubby-cheeked 2 year old learnt to wash her hands with an efficiency that surpassed that of people 10xs her age and we dealt with the dreaded C-word in our own home before long.

And I would like to say that “it has passed” but it hasn’t. The positive sign has been flipped to negative and people in isolation are out and about with hugs and kisses being given freely again. But the unknowns about this disease being what it is, one doesn’t entirely feel safe.

Either paranoia rules or people get into the mode of what Trump has shined a major spotlight on- “it is what it is

I usually get through my tough times by making jokes, talking or writing about them (read it here). Helps to purge the system in a way but over the past few days it was as if my hands and brain decided they were at war. If one was active, the other decided to be entirely inert and passive.

The hands were itching to write but the mind refused to give up its thoughts. When the mind bubbled over, the hands seemed to be heavily weighed down and didn’t want to type out the words.

And yet we got through because of family, friends and most importantly; a wonderful support system that I saw spring up since the start of the first Covid cases in my community.

People called, sent food, sent good wishes, prayed over us, went above and beyond to look out for us and ultimately kept us going.

We in turn looked at lightening the load a bit by listening to music, eating healthy, watching stand up comedy and talking things out with people we love.

There were daily Nerf wars at home which is the only time I have been happy and comfortable with the idea of shootouts.

So while it can seem very confusing, frustrating and even depressing to not know when things will “get back to normal”, what has become evident is we cannot go back to where we were; we can only go forward. Have a plan in place for what to do if the worst case scenario comes to be, call on the Galactic Ameba about it never happening and if the universe still decides not to play ball- just ride it out the best you can. It get easier as the days go by.

We’ve had online classes, meetings, birthdays, fitness classes, doctors’ consultations and begun to view sanitisers as an extension of our own limbs.

We have learnt to bump elbows to say hello and our knuckles haven’t been used to this extent since before Man learnt to stand up straight and walk.

We have learnt to prioritise to a large extent about what is important and what we can let go of. What will necessitate stepping out the house Vs what is an indulgence that will require another 10-15 of sanitising 10 different surfaces before any kind of enjoyment can be derived out of it.

We’ve learnt that while indulgence is satisfying, it can come with a price at the end of the day. We’ve learnt to care more about the place we live in since we are responsible for the upkeep of it in a way we weren’t earlier and we have learnt to count out blessings. Anew.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not turning into a 24/7 chipper person. I still feel like getting into a Three Stooges-mode and throwing a pie in the face of a-constantly happy and positive person.

I still don’t like those forwards about happiness, maxims and goody-goody platitudes on social media every time I blink but I am genuinely grateful for that Positive that turned into a Negative and have realised that in a world that seems upside down; you can still be standing right side up.

P.S: I haven’t suddenly turned into a cat lady. But cat and especially kitten videos have really been cheering me up. Curative- mind and body both…whoda thunk!

Salut!

Cabin Fever Blog#1

So tedium is finally settling in. A lack of a sense of urgency is hard to fight against consistently. Whether it’s shoving TO into his school bus or waving Red off at the door, there’s a sense of things being time bound. And now, there isn’t. For a lot of things

I think the part that of life that people genuinely have trouble processing is ‘what next‘. When you don’t have a clear cut path ahead but still have options, the process of what-nexting becomes a bit easier. When you have the mundane facing off with the exciting, it helps to sort through things and decide what can be done and when.

When it’s all mundane, all essential and the tenor of your day isn’t punctuated by much except occasional blips of emotion etc, things just seem to stretch out longer and longer and it’s a bit disconcerting to be honest.

This soup bowl has been in my family as long as I can remember. I think my mother bought it sometime in 1990. Went through the flu, chicken pox and a few other sick days and many non-sick days cradling it in my hands while I blew on hot soup to get me through something. Not always a tough time…just something. Today it’s a sign of familiarity, my folks and overall family. It’s not sensible to be attached to objects and especially those which can get chipped or cracked very easily but when something has survived international and domestic house changes across the decades, it feels pretty damn sure that it’s here for the long haul. And that’s terribly reassuring at times like these.

Rainy Day Bloglet

Landed in the motherland. Greeted by warm, wet air instead of the arid breezes of the homeland.

Before long a storm arose, the lights went out and 3 slightly giddy women of differing ages danced in the rain with lightning crashing almost overhead. Very primal.

Drying off by the candlelight where giant shadows danced on the wall; trying to make sure the clothes aren’t inside out or front to back is the challenge.

But the wind is sharp and cool and the rain water cold and shiver-inducing. New memories are being made here tonight in a place not usually so evocative or filled with mirth and belonging…

New Year Rung In!

I woke up today in soft flannel pjs and alone in my bed. And it was bliss!!

Red and MLM had crashed in another room because they weren’t feeling the fun flowing out of the eardrum-bursting music and seizure-inducing lights from the party in our community. I however have lower standards and wanted to experience just some no-brainer fun with friends…

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I made the seizure-inducing comment to a friend on the phone, a few minutes back, he asked me if anyone did have any seizures and I told him that there were quite a few twitchy people there; it may well have been a new dance move but I couldn’t tell for sure.

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Wisecracks aside…2017 was a thought-provoking year. Things happened, realizations had to be taken on the chin and decisions had to be made. We hit 10 years as a married couple, 8 years as parents and way too many years as “responsible” adults to admit to on a public platform.

This year has us being a tad more centered, pacing ourselves a bit more and as always…looking for getaways and planning more fun as a family.

Here to a rewarding, peaceful and mirthful 2018 from me and mine…Cheers!

Happy Hour Drinking GIF

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P.S: I have made a resolution to use more gifs this year.

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Ode To My Oddballs

My family is a bit kooky. And in that we’re perfectly normal I suppose. Since I don’t have a “fly-on-the-wall” access to my friends and neighbors’ homes, am assuming that their kookiness can rival and often outdo mine. Those who are painfully normal, I don’t know what to say…you are clearly the minority amongst us. I don’t know many of you so that clues you into what kind of people I belong with.

Take for example things I say to my kid quite often which others may jiggle their eyebrows at. A statement like, “Put on your pajamas and move your snake off the floor” is very probable and in fact was uttered while I was booting up the laptop.

My 8-year old coming to me and spouting the details of the Serval for durations which seem like eons to me also occur quite frequently. And suddenly phrases like “one’s life flashing before their eyes” don’t seem like such a phrase anymore…you can literally feel your hair and nails growing while the offspring drones on and on about small-big cats and suddenly segues into the Eyelash Viper ;yet another creature you had the pleasure of not knowing anything about till your flesh and blood decided you were pathetically uninformed about the creepy crawly and decided to make things right.

Recently, exactly 2 days ago, the Lord and Master (henceforth referred to as L&M) gave me a Fitbit smart watch. Am sure he was influenced by those unending ads on the telly which try to insidiously get inside your head and tell you to buy jewellery for the woman in your life. If not platinum, then diamonds and if nothing else works, go for the gold! Tis the season of bling after all!

So..Le Fitbit Watch-It monitors my heart rate (always galloping), let’s me know the optimum resting phase (so I don’t keep imitating a slug) and generally nudges me off the posterior so I can get moving in ways designed to help me. The ways I move that don’t help me much are my versions of tangos and weird jerky-dancing which I’m prone to break into as if in the throes of a partial seizure. But then again…Bollywood is in my veins and no dance is risqué enough, no dance is too weird and the more spontaneously you indulge in it, the truer you are to your people!

So this watch,which is waterproof, is helping me define new “health goals”. And yes, those would be sarcastic air quotes had I been speaking out loud. I am now suddenly very aware of not taking the stairs enough…the Fitbit reminds me that half a staircase has been climbed. How does one climb half a staircase anyhow?

I’m reminded that I haven’t had the mandatory 3000 mls of water I need to have on a daily basis along with the optimal amount of sleep I should be having. It’s all fine and dandy and maybe in time I’ll even grow into it, but as of 2 in the morning today when I felt a weird lump behind my back, went into the Princess and the Pea mode…I realized that I was sleeping with the watch on (for sleep monitoring purposes only) and the discomfort was making me thrash around, raising the “resting phase heart rate” to near-awake heart rates, steadily heading towards I’m going to be a solid beeyotch in a few hours if i don’t get some sleep” heart rate

And apropos to nothing; while I type this out the offspring is sitting next to me, still in his pajama tops-no bottoms and making hissing noises with the toy (miniature, thank the Heavens!) black cobra while he peers over my shoulders and takes dainty sips of his chocolate milk.

These are the oddities in my life. Thank goodness for that!

Now excuse me while I get my deep breathing done courtesy Fitbit…Breathe in….Breathe out.

OMMMMMMMMMMM

Halves&Wholes

People often introduce their spouses as their better halves. Or bitter depending on what time of the day you run into them or during which pet peeve they seem to be exercising; but the fact of the matter is that you do feel like something’s missing when someone in your family or your everyday existence is away.

During this summer holiday we spent a lot of time away from Red. Three weeks at my mom’s place and another three weeks while he was away on a work trip. And it’s been a long, long summer because of that.

I am the first to crib when he gets home since he works long hours; long undetermined hours truth be told. And my interaction with him is usually about two hours in the morning and hour or so at night when he returns. I crash before he does because the human hurricane zaps my energies by dusk and it’s an utter luxury for me to lie in bed in darkness and just not do anything before I drift off.

And I did all of those things during this summer vacation as well but the biggest change was Red not being there. The occasional IMs, calling him up to tell him about something funny that the offspring did, the on and off whine about coming home early for once etc etc just went POOF!

Instead we would catch up while he brushed in the morning and we ate dinner, while we were waking up here and he was about to head out for dinner there and the distance didn’t feel too much but somehow the time didn’t pass as quickly either.

I guess it’s about getting used to a person being in your life that makes the difference. The daily dance you do right from tugging sheets while sleeping to making space in front of the sink while brushing to waking up to the first hit of the caffeine…it’s a routine and a very good one. You want to be able to see the familiar faces everyday. You want to be able to open the door to the familiar face everyday too.

You don’t want to be limited to Skype to find out how each other’s days went and trips should ideally be taken together or for a short duration where the person’s back before you missed them.

Of course the goodies brought back help. Albeit slightly. What you’d much rather do is remind them to switch off the bathroom light, not leave the wet towel on the bed and come home early for once. It is what gives that stamp of yourness in your life and that’s what it is all about at the end of the day.

And now I will very generously wait till the jet lag leaves him to start up about our very own brand of ourness. Well…I’ll wait till tomorrow at least seeing that the man’s passed out and still in another time zone!