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.

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!

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.

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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!

Memories

I’ve always liked art but am not a connoisseur or someone who can talk about the depth in a painting, the feeling or half the things those cravat-wearing types do, standing around in an art gallery.

I just know if something appeals to it. Sometimes it does piecemeal, and other times holistically but I know that I really like art and can spend hours and days in a museum or a gallery just exploring.

Last year I was in Madrid and came across a small gallery nestled between a bunch of eateries and souvenir shops. I was on my way to Mercado San Miguel and quite looking forward to finally exploring the city after the Big Incident.

The gallery was empty or so I thought but it had such vibrant, vivid paintings all around it that I had to take a look and stay to see if anyone was there to tell me more.

Sadly, I lost the business card of the gallery owner- a Swedish lady who relocated to Madrid after meeting and falling in love with her Spanish husband, the original painter and founder of the gallery.

He had since passed on and the lady and her daughter, also an artist, ran the gallery and had exhibitions of their painting from time to time.

The place was charming and full of memories. Like the last palette of color the gentleman had taken out to work with before he passed. The colors were stiff and dry but were given a prominent place in the gallery where its importance would be felt by everyone who entered.

I didn’t have enough money to buy one of those paintings and have it shipped back to India but the story stayed with me. Art, even the ones which seem weird and outlandish to us, captures moments in time, feelings, expression and freezes them like a photograph.

I would love to go back there, grab a bag of churro and just take it all in. A new memory at a time.

The Ice Lolly Post


Many, many years ago two girls were running late for a class with a rather strict teacher. The saving grace was that this teacher was a very good one so her snark and barbs didn’t always wound. But she valued punctuality and that’s one thing college students are notorious good at being bad in.

It was nigh on summer and these girls were hot and bothered and desperately in need of ice cream or something of its ilk. What was available was ice lollies. Disgustingly full of sugar and made from God-only-know-what kind of fake flavors and what kind of sewage water but damn! they tasted GOOD! And it didn’t hurt that they were uber pocket-friendly.

This strict teacher had a pet peeve about her students coming into the class with orange and purple colors smeared around their mouths, on their hands and then putting sticky fingers on the top of the desks and everywhere else. Just to make sure that the girls would tow the line, she’d outright banned the treat from her class.

Wouldn’t you know it? These two girls happened to throw caution to the winds because they thought they’d have enough time to finish the lollies, wash their hands and make it back in time to the class to capture the vantage seating areas.

This teacher had quite a few super powers; one of them being her ability to sniff out when a student was deliberately distancing herself from the lecturer because a) the homework wasn’t done b) she was unprepared for the class or c) because she was daydreaming about catching up with her bf as soon as the class got over d) all of the above. In which case the student in question would be e) SCREWED.

Whatever be the case, she would zero in on that one (or as many there were because she was just that good!) hapless student and make her answer or face the Eye Of Shame for being unprepared.

As luck would have it, these two girls were about to have a rather crappy time in the class because luck did to them what pigeons often do to statues-poop all over them!

Not only did these two girls get a brain freeze from trying to down the lollies at an express speed, the teacher decided to come to class earlier than usual because she had somewhere to go immediately after class ended. And so the follies began.

The girls, who had footlong ice lollies which were only a quarter of the way done, rushed into class and sat all the way at the back to hide their flushed faces and sticky hands. They propped the lollies up behind their backs and really put on their game faces as they tackled some intense metaphysical poetry.

They also had to appear attentive, ‘in-the-moment’ and proactively answer questions to look like this was just another day and that John Donne’s metaphors weren’t at all confusing and slightly reeking of desperation from a guy looking to get laid!

And what happened to the lollies might one ask? Well, had these girls been smart, they’d have thrown the lollies away before entering the class however, absence makes the heart grow fonder for all manner of junk and the lollies decided to change the way the game was being played.

They started to get softer. The condensation rolled forward and as the ice inside melted, the formerly vertical lollies decided to lay down and take it easy for a bit.

And out rolled purple and orange sugary syrup that had nowhere else to go except towards two denim-covered posteriors that would do an excellent job in soaking up liquid.

Did I mention one of the victims was in light blue color denim on which orange wasn’t the best shade to stain?

It is rather hard and extremely uncomfortable waiting for a teacher to leave post haste while a liquid of indeterminate origin stains your clothes and wets your inners. It’s even more difficult to get up and admit that you were an ass for not listening to the teacher and an even bigger ass for just sitting there and wearing melted ice as a part of your attire.

But kids will be kids and they (im)patiently waited till the class got over and ran out before anyone else barring their extremely-supportive best friends got to know of the emergency in their pants.

This was the saga of the Ice Lolly. Never was it indulged in again. Except in solitude and without anyone to see what a sticky (literally) end it could come to.

Finis!

The Nostalgic Post

I wrote about being nostalgic in this morning’s post and this is the follow-on one.

It doesn’t take a Freud to know that ever since my movement have become restricted to all things essentials, I’ve been dreaming (day and night-kinds) about open roads, travelling…the whole shebang. We had to cancel our annual summer break road trip and that bites too because it’s a beautiful bonding experience for the whole family even if Red acts like we’re going to end up in a fiery ball on the highway because of my driving!

A few days ago I dreamt of the lovely mosaic tiles of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club that I was fortunate enough to go and stay in. The room I was in had a high ceiling, loads of ventilation and so much light! It was a delight! I could see the Gateway of India from my window and the iconic Taj hotel was literally just around the corner. I was with good friends and it was perfect!

Since everything’s been on a nostalgia-overdrive, even songs have been evoking a lot of memories from before. This song (couldn’t find just the audio in a free form) in particular opened floodgates of visual memories from a trip to Chandigarh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh when TO was a much smaller tot.

I think what I remember most from the trip was Red’s wide-eyed experience of hardcore North Indian landscapes, people, food and the overall lifestyle. He absolutely loved Pubjab! The open roads, blue skies, massive fields of wheat and corn. We drove through towns and villages which were so clean and everything seemed so big and verdant!

TO of course had his own adventures which I’ll never live down and are actually funny anecdotes to relate now, but back then getting laughed at by strangers on the Mall Road in Shimla while climbing up with a dino attached to my back or getting scolded by an Akali sadhu (holy man) a.k.a Pirate Tata (Telugu word for grandfather) at the Golden Temple weren’t the highlights of my day.

But those were days when good and lasting memories were made. And the Galactic Ameba willing, we’ll make new ones again, soon.

Salut!

1998

5 girls met. Talked. Slowly at first and then incessantly. They sat in the last benches of most of their classes. Had some adventures. Loads of giggles, some fights. Went through a bunch of guys. Made other gal pals and 20 years later are still around in a pretty good capacity given that work, home, spouses, kids and pets do make their presence felt quite a bit on a daily basis.

College was such a melting pot. You had all the directions of the country converge along with linguistic and religious backgrounds and still found that you fit somewhere; with someone. And you wore each other like gloves and the fit just got better with time with a few mends here and there.

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There were classes where you each were at sea, and then those where you still had the chance to sail through. There were gaffes, bloopers, red-letter days and some days you’d rather really just never remember again. There were fests and fiestas where you met the next few months’ rides in the form of people (ahem..guys) from other colleges and also did a quick dipstick to see if you were on the right end of the social spectrum when compared to the rest of the lot out there. Fashion played a big role. Some were gawked at, some gaped at and some just grimaced at as a bad idea never to be repeated with oneself.

You had days when the homework hadn’t been done and the entire class (barring the usual goody two-shoes suspects) was asked to leave by the lecturer with clenched teeth and furrowed brows. There were classes which were bunked at the proverbial last minute to go watch a newbie director’s movie premiere with no money left for snacks ergo home made lunches came to the rescue…however lame the situation seemed.

These 5 girls had their own idiosyncrasies; they still do but they had FUN! They didn’t have stars in their eyes but didn’t really know what the world had in store for them either. They sat and laughed at the teachers’ often utterly ludicrous utterances and marveled at the sophistication and expanse of knowledge the others possessed. They wrote their hearts out, thought about new things; had their horizons and visions broadened by good books recommended by even better teachers and still managed to sleep through at least half of their graduation.

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Endless sandwiches were eaten along with innumerable cups of tepid coffee which kept the noggin running, however sporadically. They bitched, they gossiped, they cried, they guffawed with laughter and they made memories. In time they shared these memories with their significant others and introduced their friends to the new people they’d share their lives with thereon.

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Twenty years on, on the right side of the dreaded (?) 40s, it’s nice to look back and know there was a time and a place and people who made you carefree, kept you young, foolish (in the best way possible) and buoyant.

Here’s to you ladies…you know who you are.

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Salut!

Gummy Flashback

8 years ago, someone stepped on the stage for the 1st time. They wore a gummy bear costume for the 1st time too, along with shoes that had laces….something that sadly hasn’t been mastered till date. They had whiskers painted on their tiny, chubby, kissable face and didn’t complain a bit for the long wait before everyone was seated and they got to do their thaang for the parents present in the auditorium.
This gummy bear has come a long way now. No longer chubby, but still cute (when he sleeps though), saying extremely interesting things and mangling up song lyrics with hilarious results.
The home is a louder, funner and definitely more laughter-filled place because someone learnt to shake their booty 6 years ago. Here’s a look through my trip down memory lane…
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Moving On…

I’ve lived in quite a few places. Changed houses, states, countries and a continent in the process.

But the longest I’d lived anywhere till date was the first place Red and I bought after we got married. It wasn’t that much of a well-thought out decision. We didn’t factor in any green space close by, or schools.

The place was BIG, we had the room that we needed for our books, clothes and kitchen stuff. When the parents came to visit, they each had their own rooms with attached loos and the view from the balcony, while not spectacular, was cozy and I had flowering plants on the parapet for the almost the entire duration we lived there.

We planned a family in the apartment, had a kid who learnt to walk there. We had our fights, plans for the future, packed for trips and ultimately made it a home. And now, 4 years later, it’s gone back to being an apartment again.

We had tenants living there till recently and when they moved out I realized that I’d cut my ties with the place well and truly. Earlier, I used to be able to see glimpses of my kid toddling about the house along with other memories of us going about our lives; without getting hauled in for hallucinating.

But this time around I felt like it was someone else’s space that I was visiting. I still knew where the light switches were (Red doesn’t remember them for the place we live in even now) but there was not tugs felt once I switched off the lights and locked the door on the home we’d lived in for 6 years.

People move on. Sometimes it’s a such a smooth process that you wake up one day and realize that you no longer possess a particular frame of mind. And there are other times when you literally browbeat yourself into moving forward.

The people we couldn’t do without once- we can now go without talking to them for days on end and things still seem alright. The lifestyle we held to be an absolute truth gets swapped for another one and we ease into it so seamlessly it’s almost as if nothing else ever existed.

It’s a heady and yet a very reassuring thought…I for one am relieved.

Have a good weekend people.

 

Reflections On Ambient Sounds

One lingering memory of Durga pujas at Barasat are the acoustic version of retro Hindi songs of Salil Choudhury playing in the neighborhood somewhere. Right from Yeh Kya Hua to O Sajna, Barkha Bahaar Aayi…they play them all.

And it sounds just wonderful. Seeped in whispers of the years that’ve passed while trying to make it to Calcutta to attend the puja from whichever part of the country we might have been in…..

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