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.

Kutchh Kutchh Hota Hai…

The mystique of the seemingly unending white Rann of Kutchh; its solitude and the feeling of being a very tiny speck in the whole universe was just a few of the feelings experienced during this trip…needless to say it’s definitely one for the books!

TBT Bloglet

What a lovely view this was…
Colva BeacH BUMS…

Lost In Translation…Yet Again

At a pre-Diwali party held recently, we had mirth upto our eyeballs and then some. And while it does no good to harp on the difficult year everyone’s been through; the enjoyment for me is enhanced because everyone I see on a daily basis is healthy and largely happy.

A bunch of us started playing a silly but fun game from our childhood and it let to crazy hilarity! In a nutshell, you play Simon Says but whoever gets it wrong, gets whacked by the person next to them.

In one case the person about to do the whacking was a very well-accessorized lady with rather large fingernails and elaborate rings. Seeing that the rings could end up hurting someone, a non-native Hindi speaker spoke up about taking off the rings before delivering the whack. But languages are funny things… if you get a vowel wrong in one place, the entire meaning changes and you can end up someone completely different from where you intended to go!

The lost in translation bit was: “Take off your thumbs before you hit her!!” And there were prettily dressed up women in their ethnic finery, rolling on the floor laughing. Total paisa vasool (aka ROI) on party entertainment courtesy an unintended slip of tongue!

World Tourism Day

Before The World Flipped Upside Down

3 friends went on a quick trip. It was an extended-weekend kind of a trip. The respective husbands were either lackadaisical of their choice of destination or pooh-poohed it outright but these three were firm on a place and there they went!

The families were semi-cautious about them traveling at a time when Covid was gradually becoming a buzzword but no one knew then what we know now how things would become. Back then it was meant to be a quick but not hurried trip, with like-minded people, to a place which has something for everyone and it was also meant to give ourselves a break from our families and day-to-day and give them a break from us in the bargain.

In a nutshell? We had a GREAT time! We walked, talked, ate well, drank in sights, admired architecture, caught up with old pals, slept in beds without any smaller bodies smooshing in with us or stealing the sheets in the middle of the night. We walked back to our accommodation after midnight; a bit wary but knowing that this is the city that never sleeps. We danced, we club-hopped. We looked for paan with a vigor bordering on the obsessive and (re)discovered a city that everyone seems to know a lot about but doesn’t always know well.

And because it was a trip where not a whole lot of expectations were pinned on, we had a better time than we expected. It was perfect in its own way. And it helped in weathering the lockdown that followed almost immediately after our return.

What’s the moral of the story? NEVER underestimate a mother’s wish to put some distance between herself and her kid(s). Albeit lovingly.

A Look At The Way Things Could’ve Been

We are a one-child family. I come from a single-child family while Red has a sibling. My dad has numerous siblings and my mom has two. I’ve gotten pitying looks on and off while I was growing up, about being a “single, only, lonely” child. And I’ve smiled to myself because that’s not all that being an only child’s cracked up to be.

It mainly bites being an only child when you’re in trouble and you can’t get away with blaming it on your dolls. I tried that when I was chubby and cute and got way for with it only because I was chubby, cute and a toddler.

Those things land you in the shrink’s office when it’s done at an age when the whole world, including you, knows that dolls can’t talk back, move or mess with your parents’ record player set. The Annabelles and Chuckys of the world are no help when it comes to convincing parents.

Fast-forward to the decade we’re in now and I’ve been told SO MANY TIMES that I ought to have a second child else my single, only child won’t grow up properly. Or that TO will need someone as a playmate and again the litany of “an only child, is a lonely child” yada yada yada. But over the last few days I got to live out the scenarios of having 2 children and it was illuminating.

For the most part TO is happy to have younger kids, especially girls, over at our place. They’re cute, they follow him around, call him an “older brother” and usually do what he says. They won’t mess with his dinos, aren’t too interested in his books and for the most part, aren’t competition. Till now.

We have, as a part of our extended family, a chubby little bossy pants. She’s utterly cuddlable, is very clear about what she wants and is very expressive. She also bodyslams herself onto prone bodies and not being a lightweight, it can be a startling experience when a little butterball just jumps on you with a move worthy of Wrestlemania. She’s also curious, very talkative and consents to sitting still while you do her hair, sing, play and do slightly more sedentary things. Sitting still with TO wasn’t something I remember doing much once he mastered standing up.

So Saturday night I have two kids who are vying for viewing rights on the telly. One wants a space cartoon and another wants a British piggy and her family. Both are communicating LOUDLY, SIMULTANEOUSLY and at ME. Both want to be heard and catered to. Immediately! Red is NOWHERE in the picture, having locked himself into the only other room that has a t.v. Each one is making frown faces and doesn’t want to compromise. Miss Bossypants comes upto me and gets in my face and says she wants Peppa Pig! Emphatically!

Pre-teen brat sits on the couch and complains that Bossypants always gets what she wants because she’s younger. And BAM! a vision of what my life could’ve been played out in front of my eyes. And while it isn’t unpleasant I don’t like being stared down by a cute albeit grumpy face that promises retribution for not being allowed to watch a goody two-shoes animated pig.

One kid who leaves extinct reptiles all over and who is responsible for sofa cleaners fishing out a series of shark miniatures from under the cushions is enough excitement for me any day! Any and all kids who want to come into mi casa, will be strictly on a timeshare basis!

Chronicles Of A Mom In A Car#1

Mothers spend a lot of time waiting for their children. Starting with the actual birth itself, then the latching on, followed by the weaning off, the all-important toilet training, eating solids, walking, talking, running and then the slow and inevitable process of growing up. And lest I forget…the UBER-important…the falling asleep.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time waiting for TO to wind up with classes/sessions of something or the other and then we head home. I don’t always have the comfort or inclination of a nice waiting area each time around so my default waiting room becomes the car. And for a short round woman, a car can be a very comfortable place to be in.

Incline the chair a bit, take a sip of your carry-along espresso, smoothie, soft drink (cough cough- we’re supposed to be eating healthy) and you have your own little queendom where blissful silence reigns and so does the ability to do whatever you feel like- for those 45 minutes to an hour.

I’ve read books in utter silence, I’ve headbanged to songs, I’ve had marathon calls with friends and family, caught up with old friends, churned out blog posts, binged-watched my favourite serials and most importantly- had time to think.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think a lot. A LOT. But at home when there are things happening around you all the time, the thinking becomes very guided. Transactional even. In the cocoon of your car, the thinking just brims over and flows rampant and a lot of decisions get taken then- right from the dinner menu to taking a stance about issues in life. And those are some solid decisions that get taken.

Yesterday while I was waiting for the fresh and blood to decompress from his day-long online classes and wield his cricket bat like the stylish cricketer he thinks he is; I was on a trip down Retro Lane. Retro Lane is chockfull of Retro Music- rock, R&B, ballads, pop and what have you. And this song came up-

A lot of time has been spent sighing, pining, staring into space and smiling over this song…it’s been an anthem of sorts from the college days when crushes had more of a scope to flourish and when “heartbreak” was equally rampant amongst the newly minted young adults. It’s too bad Cutting Crew never got around to anything else that became as lasting as this song but it’ll do for me and my ilk. We have memories galore associated with it and that’s a good thing to look back at sitting in my 40s…

So crank up the volume and explore your own Retro Lane! Who knows what forgotten treasures will come up!

Wacky Wednesday throwback

I was taking a look at some videos I’d downloaded on the laptop and found this gem…it’s not to be missed. And it’s a perfect example of what kids are all about…

Always Choose An Experience…

For everything else there *is* Mastercard. Or Visa as the case may be.

Let’s start with a bit of a context for this statement to make sense to those it hasn’t. My father’s a career banker. He has hopped all over the country before retirement and taken us with him. And while many don’t like the gypsy life, if you’re born into it; you don’t know any different.

In every place we lived in, local sightseeing spots, some out of the way spots- nothing was left to be explored. And during holidays, we explored places which were doable (7-8 hours in usually a white Ambassador without AC) and that was not only an eminently acceptable way of spending time as a family- it was the norm. No place was left out- religious ones, historical ones, architecturally renowned ones…nothing. As a result, traveling was understood as what “one did” because something was out there and it was meant to be seen.

Haldighaati

After the initial bouts of motion sickness passed, we would sleep turn by turn. My mother would always be very strict about nodding off while sitting next to a driver, those being the days before airbags and seatbelt’s in India, and anyhow who needed to snooze would need to head to the backseat and another person would replace them up front.

If the terrain was unendingly dull and unchanging, I would be asked to play word games or just conk off till we reached the next rest stop. Stocking up on a list of junk food curated by the child was an unheard concept till our generation became parents and the kids became the ones who dictated how the holidays would be spent.

And while having money was an enabler then, is one now and will always continue to be one, the focus wasn’t ever on going to “good places”, staying in a posh hotel or having a pool to jump into at the end of the journey. It was all about the parents opening the eyes of their child to everything they could about the country they lived in because the knowledge could help them in a future geography test. Kidding…

Chhota Imambara, Lucknow

I remember very little about Lucknow- I think I saw it as a toddler. I have vague recollections of seeing goldfish somewhere and my mother said it was in the Chhota Imambara.

When we moved to Delhi, Appu Ghar was a favourite that I got to indulge in infrequently. But we went to Surajkund quite a few times and it was fun for a preschooler!

Surajkund, Faridabad

I remember skipping and jumping on the steps and being told to be careful and not fall into the dirty, stagnant water-yes..that was my mother’s worry. I don’t think she’d have minded a dunking in free-flowing water much.

Trek to the now-visible Shiva temple in Koliyak Beach, Bhavnagar

I have lovely memories of Koliyak in Bhavnagar as an 8 year old and even better ones as a 20 year old on a return trip to the place.

The Queens Botanical Gardens, the Orchid shows, the trips to The World Trade Center, Bronx Aquarium and of course Coney Island were par for course since those are outright sight seeing spots but those have been the kind we visited the least.

We would still hop in the car and take off for whichever river, dam, temple, palace was worth seeing-never mind how far. The further it was just meant the earlier you got out of bed to start off. And over the years indelible memories have been formed at Menal during the monsoons and at Bundi which we just swung by since it was “close by”.

Of course the memories of eating pipping hot mirchi bhajjiyas in the pouring rain, on the side of the road also stands out vividly. Our driver, Chhattarsingh ji used to drive a tank in the army before he retired and joined the bank and the car used to be a toy in his hands. He loved to take us around the different tourists spots and would never say no to a hot cuppa!

Palitana Temple

We’ve done pav-bhaaji picnics sitting near the Mahi River, eaten deliciously unique cold curd set in stone plates after climbing up 7000 steps to the Palitana temple. I’ve travelled through pouring rains on a Kinetic that clearly was more than up to the task to see the Champaner fort and then semi-trekked up to the extremely crowded Pavagadh hills. And it’s all been terribly interesting to say the least!

The ruins of the Narasimha Swamy temple, Hampi

The ruins of Dholavira, the terracotta temples in Bishnupur, the Gol Gumbaz up close, wandering around lazily in Bidar fort, crossing over on the ferry in Hampi and coming face to face with him- cannot be replaced!

Gol Gumbaz, Karnataka

In this year and in the months to come, any sort of travel may seem like an indulgence because of the risks associated with it and yet people will and are stepping out.

They are opting for road trips, choosing their next travel experience with more diligence and curiosity than ever before because traveling was never something that anyone was told they couldn’t do. Staying at home under duress was never a condition we had to wrap our heads around.

So when given the option to indulge- materialistically, gastronomically or whichever -ally it may be…try and choose an experience related to travel. It’ll stay with you always and you’ll be replaying bits and pieces of it in your head over the years to come.

Cannot put a price on that!