Of love Notes, samosas and jalebis

It’s a sudden realization. For the last three weeks, I have been only talking or listening about money. I am also reading quite a lot about money.

I am tired. Don’t get me wrong. I love money. For all the temporary possibilities money offers.

Late last night, I listened to Ravish Kumar’s wonderful talk titled ‘Love in the time of Note Bandi’ in Timeslitfest, New Delhi. The house was deep in slumber. I was the only one sitting in front of a flickering laptop, enjoying the words of Ravish Kumar.

Delhi suddenly felt near, intimate. Geography seemed irrelevant. Airports felt meaningless. Memory and desire felt warm in the heart and veins too. So also the huge, dark gulab jamuns of Aggarwal Sweets in Munrika. The piping hot jalebis of Moonlight. The jalebis felt complete with samosas, they made a happy couple with their sweet-salty combination. Life’s XL pleasures. Managed with little money.

Why do I still remember the taste of those jalebis, gulab jamuns and samosas? Why is it so difficult to let go of young, delicious memories?

jalebi             samosa.jpg

I am thinking of love. Young love. Adult love. Aching love, smiling love, happy love, teary love.

Some loves are so intense and organic that they actually don’t need much money to survive, to flourish. These love stories are wrapped in richness. They don’t need pumping of money to look or feel rich.

These love stories don’t need diamonds, birthday celebrations in swanky five star hotels, Louis Phillipe shirts or LV handbags. They are just rich by their very nature.

On November 9, 2016 morning, some love felt like Rs 100.  And some felt like Rs 1000.

Who knows what lies ahead?

Bur I feel like sitting down one Sunday and counting the chillar (coins) in my little piggy bank. I have a feeling we can still buy a nice meal for both of us with that money.

Let them talk about cashless India, debit cards, credit cards, netbanking, paytm, this and that.

My India is still safe in my little piggy bank.

I want my fingers to be messy with the syrup of jalebis. I love my fingers, I love his fingers. I love it more when our fingers are intertwined. There’s certain mellowness about lovers and their fingers.

I want to run my fingers through his hair. Like I used to do when I was 22.

Neither of us need to be rich to do that.

It is complimentary

There were 11 of us on a trip to Udaipur, the beautiful city of lakes. We were staying in the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) hotel. In the morning, me and my friend went to the cafeteria for a cup of tea. As we were waiting for our tea to arrive on the table, the restaurant manager told us, “You are staying here, na. The breakfast is complementary.”

I immediately called up one of my fellow travellers on his mobile phone to share this good news. The ‘hangover man’ sleepily answered his mobile phone. “Breakfast… no. I want to sleep till late. I just don’t feel hungry.”  I told him, “The breakfast is complimentary.” With that magical sentence, everything changed.

In less then 10 minutes, the ‘hangover man’ along with many ‘birds of same feather’ arrived in the restaurant with a big grin on the face. Ready to savor the complimentary breakfast. Did anybody utter the word, ‘Sleep-deprived?’ Or ‘just not hungry.’

Well, the story did not end there. The breakfast buffet had an array of parathas, upma, poha and bataka vada. They filled up the plates with generous helpings. And suddenly one of them discovered that ‘The omelettes were also complimentary.” In no minutes, they were all queuing  for  omelettes. The parathas, upmas, pohas were abandoned in no time.

P S : Some days ago, I had gone to a restaurant. The chicken sizzler came with a cola pitcher. I told the waiter, “I don’t drink colas.” He gave me one of those looks and said, “It’s complimentary.” I told, ‘Well, I don’t drink colas.” He again told, “It’s complimentary.” I let the cola to grow hot till he realized the seriousness of my refusal.

I wish the sizzler was complimentary.

 

 

Almost home

(When your parents are there (and if you share a happy relationship with them), you talk to them, write long letters in your curved hand-writing. You call them may be six times in a day and then laugh telling, “Just because I am calling you again doesn’t mean I am not busy’. In between phone calls, both of you recognize love. But it’s not all sugar syrup too. You get angry with them, shut doors, throw tantrums, use your secret weapon of refusing to eat. But the dust always settles in the end. And when you miss them so much that you can’t wait and you book a train or flight ticket to arrive home. To collapse in happiness. To recharge yourself. To fill your senses and soul with lip-smacking home cooked food.

What do you do when they are gone? If you can weave memories into words, you write. Writing is sacred. Like the way your parents love you or you love your parents)

It’s exactly two years since my mother left us on October 18, 2013. Today, I sit in front of my sleek beautiful black qwerty keyboard and let it all flow. The sound of the keyboard feels like music to me. )

I remember coming back to work in less than two weeks after I lost my mother. I walked into my office and they all huddled around me. Somebody told me with all sincerity, “It was good that she passed away (My mother fought a bitter battle against cancer).” The timing of that sentence was wrong. I wanted to cry. I love my work. I love my office. This vibrant work space in the dusty city of Ahmedabad has given me four really close friends and a soccer-loving, guitar playing cool Godson. But that day, I felt like a stranger in my familiar world.

Somebody asked me to check a page, we needed a better headline (my junior colleagues now call me as ‘headline queen’), I was so hurt. How could I check a page and give a peppy headline when all that I wanted to do was cry? I thought of the memory of cutting a delicious kiwi cake in my office to celebrate my mother’s birthday just three months back. I had asked the baker to carve ‘The cub wishes her Tiger Mom’ on the cake and everybody had a good laugh as I cut the cake. I was a happy cub then. The space is the same. My desk looks the same. But I was feeling so wounded remembering that cake cutting act.
Half way through the painful day, I made a call to my mother-in-law to tell her that I was feeling very tired and I wanted to sleep. I wanted to be with her in her bedroom. I was wanting to be with people who are far more older to me. That gave me a sense of comfort. Strangely it still does.

The world of strict deadlines doesn’t allow to you to grieve generously. Speed matters in my work world. We are all always in a hurry. But I wanted to linger, to go slow. I wanted to linger, pause and look back at the memories I weaved with my mother. I did not want to move then because moving meant leaving Ma behind. I didn’t want to leave her. I wanted her to be with me. The world around me was impatient. ‘Move on’ was the silent command from the world around me.

Looking back, I think 2014 was the darkest year of my life. Even though I bought a house for myself (Banks should call it House loans not Home loans, you don’t buy a home (Home is not a commodity), I had lost all sense of my own self and home. I had no sense of home.

We are living in aggressive times. We all want to give it back, hit back, score a point. Always in a rush to surge ahead.  At the same time, when loss hits us hard, all we need is tenderness. There are very few who will allow you to grieve, to let you be in that ‘still’ mode of grieving.

After my mom’s death, I lost something which was sacred within me. I was desperate, I was not kind to myself. I became the person I have always hated.  I had hit the rock bottom. I had moved away from being a generous person. I neglected my home, both real and virtual (this blog is my virtual home which lets me to express myself. I love being here.) I had stacks of books on my table yet I managed to read only Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend for most part of 2014. I was reduced to pulp. I was just fleeting in and out. Aimlessly. Too desperate, too eager, too mediocre to fit in everywhere and anywhere. Just opposite of what I am.

I have learnt my lessons. Loss/ Grief/pain is like a dish cooked over slow fire throughout the night. Grief is not a two minute instant noodle. Grief is not even your so called gourmet dish ‘Pasta in pesto sauce.’ Grief takes its time. Let grief sit on the fire, don’t be in a hurry. What it will offer you in the end will simple purify you and your soul.  After days of intense darkness, you will arrive at light. May be you will be all alone to revel in the joy of light, but it will be soul-elevating.

I am arriving there. I am almost home. I have started falling in love with my home once again. I look forward to being at home in the evening. I am not waiting for somebody to rescue me and hand me over a slice of fleeting happiness that has all the potential to destroy my soul, my essence. I am just happy being home. Home doesn’t eat me up as it used to. Home loves me now. I love my home. I look at my home with tenderness now. I read, I write, I look for light and shadow inside my home, outside my home to capture it in my camera. I write innumerable notes on my laptop, on my phone. On India, identity, Hindus, Muslims, Gandhi, loneliness, isolation, dissent, love, longing. I write, I just write. I have found the words. The words have found me. We are happy to be together.

Just few days back , I opened my eyes to beautiful sun rays streaming through my curtains.  I put on my music, made a cup of Earl Grey tea and then got into the act of cleaning my kitchen pantry. It almost felt like prayer. My mother was the queen of her kitchen. She loved that space. Being in the kitchen now brings her closer to me. I cook the food she once cooked for me. On many occasions, I used to call her up to check the recipe while cooking. It’s a luxury, I miss now terribly. But sometimes when I finish the dish, I just look at it and say to myself, “It exactly looks like Ma’s dish.” I put emphasis on the word ‘exactly’. I know it from the color, from the smell. From the texture. There comes a time in life when you don’t look forward to travel far. You just want to sit in the comforts of your home. You feel content. Everything you have loved/love is all within you. The world calls it memory.

All you who are grieving for someone you have loved intensely and lost (a parent, child, lover, companion, sibling, friend, pet), just hold on. Don’t be in a rush.  There’s no end to grief, there’s no end to love. A day will come when your love will be merged with grief. And the other way too. And you will be home then. You will love more, better. This love will make you feel beautiful from within.
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Today I am at work. I’ m wearing my mother’s beautiful black and white ikkat sari. This sari was bought by my father some 40 years ago. In this sari, both my parents’ lives are intertwined. I wrap myself in their journey of togetherness. The sari is actually three of us. I eat the same food which my mother cooked for me, I am essentially the same story teller they had encouraged me to be. My food comes from the way they brought me up with their values, the education they gave me and their willingness and kindness to let me fly.

I am almost home. I am a better lover now. I can be strong and fragile too. Without worrying much about whether I am fitting into the image the world has created for me. “I am my mother’s daughter”, I told my colleague with a hint of pride when she complimented me for looking so elegant in a sari.

Yes, I’ m my mother’s daughter. I AM. Almost home.

Mummy is getting old

Mummy (my mother-in-law) is getting old. My heart is not ready to accept it. After my mother lost her battle to cancer, I sat down quietly in Ma’s bedroom and prayed, “Now I have lost Ma. But God, please let mummy live a healthy and active life for minimum 20 years.” I am wonderfully lucky to receive love from both Ma and Mummy.

Mummy, the happy-go-lucky rock star of mine, is getting old. I have saved her number now as ‘Mummy Missed call.’ She says as she’s now a senior citizen, she’s entitled to ‘free calls’. As the government is not making any concession about free outgoing calls facility for senior citizens, her daughter-in-law must do this. So, all that she can do is to give me a missed call and I have to drop everything that moment and call her back. My colleagues laugh when they see this name flashing on my mobile screen.

Now, my morning ritual is about making a phone call to her. And I give her a call once I reach home in the evening. I called her today morning to tell “I will see you in the evening.” I ask her, “What do you want?” She tells, “Tea cakes.” And then she adds in the same breath, “I read in the newspaper that when people get old, they develop a sweet tooth.” I tease her, “Mummy, didn’t you always have a sweet tooth? I have seen you eating ice-cream, ladoo and what not at one go.” She dismisses me, “No, no. Nothing like that. I am getting old.”

I say, “But I don’t want you to get old.” She says philosophically, “Beta, I am getting old.”

Majaa Ma …. a love note

Adalaj ni vav

(The beautiful step wells are so very unique to Gujarat. Every visit to Adalaj ni vav leaves me mesmerized)

For most of my adolescence, Gujarat existed only in my school geography books. Even when I shifted to Delhi from Bhubaneswar to pursue my higher studies, Gujarat didn’t really figure in the mini India classroom of JNU. Looking back, I can recollect now that I had a Gujarati classmate. But her identity as an alumni of Stella Maris (Chennai) mattered more to us than her being a Gujarati. Gujarat figured in my life only when I got married to a Gomulu (Mallu born and brought up in Gujarat). Of course, my quest for bread and butter (orange marmalade too) brought me to Ahmedabad. I have been here for many many years now. As Gujarat celebrates its Formation Day on May 1, here’s a love note (need not be all sugary) to this fascinating land.

Sunny side up:  It’s my belief that there’s a Sun and then there’s ‘The Gujarati Sun’. The sun is really over-active in this part of India. And the summer here seems like one never-ending Punjabi wedding or a Bollywood pot-boiler. You don’t have to go out here to get a sun stroke. You can get it sitting in your house (if it’s not air-conditioned). I still can’t understand why there are so many ‘glass’ buildings in Ahmedabad even though you have sizzling sun burning bright for almost eight months in a year. Not that Odisha has Switzerland like weather. But even in the peak of summer, Odisha receives nice, mint-fresh spells of rain and thunderstorms. No such good luck, here.

Food for thought: To celebrate the Gujarat Day, I cooked giloda nu shaak (Coccinia Grandis). My Gomulu hubby loves it having it with Gujarati khatti mithi dal. In my wildest dream, I never thought that one day willingly I would pack this sabzi in my lunch-box. I am not a great lover of Gujarati food. I can only have it once in a while. I am more of a rice, chicken curry, gobi alu or biryani person. But, I am improving every day. At the moment, I can perfectly recognise dhokla, khandvi, khaman even from a distance of 500 metres. But I still can’t bring myself to eat ‘dal dhokli’ or ‘sev tamatar.’ When I see somebody having ‘aam ras’, I gently turn my face away.

And I fail to understand why street food is so expensive here in Ahmedabad. I was born in a ‘poor’ state and I am used to having lipsmacking, absolutely inexpensive street food in Odisha. But then we don’t have Mercs lining up to have dalwada from a street vendor (like it happens in Gujarat). And, being largely a vegetarian state, you can’t buy eggs as easily as you can in the Eastern parts of India. In Odisha, most paan shops also keep a crate of eggs. I miss that luxury here.

Honey, it’s all about money: There’s a saying in Odisha that Lakshmi and Saraswati can’t stay in one home. So, without having much choice, we celebrate Goddess Saraswati in Odisha. For us, Basant Panchami is a big festival. On the other hand, Lakshmi really rules in Gujarat. But I must say, Gujaratis work hard to earn the blessings of the Goddess of Wealth. I remember one particular incident some years back during a visit to Odisha. When I asked a cycle rickshawallah to take me to my aunt’s house, he promptly asked somebody else to do it. Coz he was busy in a game of cards and generally having a good time. Money can wait, pleasure can’t. It’s almost impossible to find a plumber and electrician in Odisha who will give you a wonderful service on time. The standard answer is ‘aasuchchi’ (I am coming). Even God can’t predict his arrival. The service industry really sucks there. I have wonderful experiences here in Gujarat so far as the service sector is concerned.To earn money, you got to respect the labour that goes behind it (to earn it). On this account, Gujarat scores very high. Talk of innovative business ideas, Gujaratis win hands down. Entrepreneurship is in its soil.

Mind your spelling: Move over all those comedy capers on television.The real entertainment industry is the signboards in Gujarat. So, ‘Bangle shop’ becomes ‘Bengal shop.’ ‘Pant’ is ‘Pent’. ‘Chinese food’ becomes ‘Chenese/ Chineez’.  And not to miss ‘Go slow: Accident porn area.’  ‘Paneer capsicum’ in a restaurant menu becomes ‘Paneer Kepsikam’ (it can’t get more innovative). The list is endless. Just keep your eyes open and enjoy the show.

B for Ben/ Bhai :  For the receptionists in my earlier offices, I was Deepika Madam. For friends, outsiders I was plain Deepika. Now, suddenly I became Deepikaben after coming to Ahmedabad which was too hard for me digest. In the initial years, I kept on insisting over the phone that “I am only Deepika…” Interestingly, the other voice always kept on forcefully calling me “Deepikaben”. All letters from local people addressed me as Deepikaben Sahu. And those who knew my husband’s name addressed me as Deepikaben Murlibhai Sahu… (Oh God!) (how I dreaded those letters not for the content but for this never-ending name only). Interestingly, there are some who still ask me  “How’s Mr Sahu?” And when I say “No, he’s Mr Menon”, they find it hard to digest. When I was applying for my passport, I went through hell cause I have still retained my maiden name. To top it all, I get many invitation cards which say “Deepikben Shah.” For almost three years, I got my mobile bills in the name of Deepakbhai Shah (till I threatened them with dire consequences as I couldn’t accept the gender reversal). But, with time, I have learnt to pick up the phone and say “Yes, Deepikaben speaking.”

Falling raindrops and flooded streets:  Rice, fish curry, mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil and pouring rains —  that’s early childhood memories. Sitting for hours near a window and seeing the rains lashing against the lamp post back at home in Odisha always comes naturally to me. Rains bring back smells of wet earth of a land I left years back. They bring back memories which come and kiss on the cheeks but then gently go back again to the never-ending paddy fields of a verdant earth. Rains falling on the roof of my house lulled me into sleep in those carefree days. They were not just falling rain drops they were like God singing lullaby in the middle of an otherwise silent night. Rains bring back images of Ma waiting with a towel as I returned from school all drenched. Rains bring back memories of me and my younger sister dancing away to glory in the garden just as the clouds became darker and darker. I miss that lashing rains in Ahmedabad. Give me wet clothes, umbrellas, soaked walls  but give me Odisha’s almost magical monsoon. And I am longing for that sentence to hear — “There’s a low pressure today.”  Being in Gujarat for more than a decade has killed my tender romantic image of rains. I long for rains in this dry, arid land. Yet, the trauma of wading through flooded streets takes away the sheer joy of soaking in the rains. I wish, someday real ‘development’ will happen. The streets will be as ‘dry’ as the state is on paper. I will enjoy the rains without worrying about ‘how to reach home.’ Mr Modi, I hope you will listen to this ‘Make in India’ request.

PS : I must add in the end that I live in a posh locality in Ahmedabad because I have a Hindu name and surname. So, my birth in a Hindu family has been a privilege. 2002 still brings back memories of deep pain, anguish. It’s also true that Gujarat has given me mobility even in the middle of night (unthinkable in many parts of India). As a working woman, I enjoy being here in Ahmedabad. Roaming around the city at odd hours. Without any fear or pressure. This land has given me much love, warmth, affection, support in critical moments and priceless friendships. Above all, it has given me a home. I will be always grateful to this land. 

Death of a cafe

Cafe samovar

It’s like losing a loved one. It’s like losing a chance to relive a beautiful memory. There will be no once more. No once again too. Reading Mumbai Mirror’s lead story on ‘Cafe Samovar closing down’ filled my heart with a sense of desolation and sadness.

Years ago, when I was planning for a trip to Mumbai, my former boss Ranjona Banerjee wrote on a piece of paper a ‘list of must visits.’ And Cafe Samovar was one of them. It was love first sight. Every time I visited Mumbai, I visited Cafe Samovar. Sometimes when time was a big constraint,  I just had a look at it from a distance. It felt like home. Even on my first visit. It can’t be more endearing than this.

In April, 2012, I was in Mumbai to spend some time with my close friends who were visiting India from Melbourne.  Apart from our love, affection for each other, nothing worked well in this trip. Mumbai painfully hot, sweaty. People on the streets sapped me of my energy. As if this was not enough, I had some horrible experiences with a person I thought I was close to. We were desperate to get out of Mumbai after two listless days. It was a trip I would like to erase from my memory.

But something saved me. Haruki Murakami and a mug of beer at Samovar soothed my soul on that cruel April day. As I soaked in my solitude on that hot, sweaty afternoon in India’s dream-chasers’ city, I drew a sense of peace and tranquility from Cafe Samovar.

Even as this beautiful Cafe Samovar gets ready to say goodbye this March to its lovers, friends, well-wishers and admirers after being with them for 50 years, I can see the ugly, brutal face of modernization all around us. And it’s going to erase everything tender, beautiful, elegant and minimalist from our landscape. What are we becoming as a city, people and nation? Will there be only masculine brutality all around us?

p.s:  Even in the midst of loss, I feel happy today for two reasons: I managed to click these pictures of Cafe Samovar  that afternoon. And I bought a beautiful coffee-table book on Cafe Samovar. A friend of mine thought I was crazy to waste my money by buying this book on a ‘cafe.’ But to understand love, you need to have it in you to love. Without calculations.

samovar2

Of Prince and blueberry muffins

I call him Prince because he lives life like that way. You will never know whether he has money or not in his wallet. He breezes through life like a ballet dancer. We have been friends for quite some years. Love for food is something we share. I love cooking for him because it’s such a pleasure to see him relishing the food. There’s a purity to that emotion.

He was in Delhi recently and he called me to ask what do I want from Delhi. In the midst of deadlines glaring at my face, I scratched my head and then said, “May be muffins or cakes from Baker’s street counter in the airport.” He asked me, “Do you like blueberries?” I told him, “Yes, yes..I love them.” Suddenly work deadlines felt like desserts.

blueberry1

On his way home from the airport, he stopped at my place to give me the muffins. The blueberry muffins looked lip-smacking even inside the packet. It was a quiet morning today at home. Sitting in the living room, I could feel the slightly cool spring breeze on my face. The day was yet to unfold. The madness of another tough work day was yet to  day to my office desk. There was only a kind of beautiful stillness and a blueberry muffin on my plate. I savored it slowly and soaked in the happiness that only a muffin can give you in a beautiful February morning.

muffin

You don’t have to be a millionaire to feel happy. Or do you? I know one thing, for sure. You need friends who make you feel like a millionaire and think of you even when they are travelling and take the effort to bring you something you love. These are the moments when I can feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude in my heart.

A muffin moment of truth: I grew up in coastal Orissa without ever biting into a blueberry. How much my plate has changed over the years? But right now, it’s the lingering taste of the muffin that counts.

Pickling or the Art of Fingering

Suddenly I am praying for the Sun to burn bright for at least two more days. Romanticism of rain can take a backseat. I don’t want falling raindrops. There’s a selfish reason behind it. Because I want to sun dry my mango pickle. In between work, attending a marriage, dealing with soaring mercury and most importantly recovering from an intoxicating holiday hangover, I decided to make mango pickle (of course with help from Taraben, my cook).
My friend who dreams of becoming a ‘spice queen’ fuelled my desire to make pickle. I bought a packet of pickle masala and raw mangoes from her as I thought it’s better to buy it from her than from the market. I believe in encouraging budding women entrepreneurs. On my way home, I enthusiastically stopped at a crockery shop and carefully chosen a glass bottle to  store pickle.
And when my mom called up in the evening, I had to give her this ‘breaking news.’ I secretly wanted to score a point over my (academician) elder sister who doesn’t even make a cup of tea at home forget about making pickle. So, this was my humble attempt to put myself on a higher pedestal and score some brownie points. There was no doubt that mummy darling was happy with her daughter’s ‘attempt’ to make pickle. As expected, my mom told me to get her a small bottle of pickle when I visit her next. I told her, “Of course, all these years you have done  so much, now it’s time for you to have a taste of our cooking and pickling skills.” (A clear attempt to score over Didi and to touch that emotional chord).
And in my family, news travel fast. Much faster than the 24X7 news channels. So, the next call came from my younger sister in Atlanta asking me how my pickle-making session is going on. True to the DNA, she also asked me to give her a bottle of pickle when she visits India in 2013. Never knew, my pickles would be so much in demand (for whatever reason it could be). Being a journo, I don’t take anything on face value.

So, naturally when my friend Indira (equally mad like yours truly) came on G chat and said
Nunni Chunni (she calls me by the name ‘Nunni Chunni’ which I simply love it), I had to flash the breaking news. So, here goes the flow of conversation between the two ‘MAD’ friends

Indira: nunni chunni
9:31 AM me: Hiii
9:32 AM me: Indira I made mitha aam ka achar today. u have to taste it
 indira: Parcel it
 me: Teri nunni multi-talented hai
9:33 AM indira: since when you have become an aunty making achar and all? is it a very “attempting achhar”? my neighbour once told me indira maine aaj bahut attempting (tempting she meant) achar banayi hain
9:34 AM me: Ha ha haaaaaa I m rolling in laughter
  I m the pickle queen
9:35 AM indira: now u can bring out a pickle book
  title: Attempting pickles by mrs menon
9:36 AM me: Nunni achar
9:37 AM indira: nunni ki ungli ka kamal
9:38 AM me: Yesss the art of fingering
 indira: You can also have other descriptives on your label: seekhiye ungli kaha kaha pahanch sakti hain
 OR ungli ki doosri istamal hahahahahah
 me: U bitch
9:39 AM indira: chuslo nunni ki achar
me: Nunni ki achar tere liye nehin……

Then our conversation veered towards an ex-colleague who thinks that he’s God’s greatest gift to woman kind and of course he’s India’s answer to Orhan Pamuk (he thinks so, we don’t)

I hope, the shameless blazing Ahmedabad Sun will not do a 360 degree turn. And my mom and my younger sister will look at me with renewed respect. All for a bottle of pickle.

3 MOMS AND A LOVE-STORY

Today is Mother’s Day—– here’s a toast to the 3 Moms in my life. Before anybody questions this noble statement from me, let me gently introduce them— Mrs Ashalata Sahu (my mom), Mrs Soubhagyabati Menon (my mom-in-law) and Mrs Aruna Shah (my foster mom). These three feisty women are in the sixth decade of their lives. They are happy without an iphone, a Laptop and regular visits to multiplexes and shopping malls. They just don’t understand the ‘use and throw’ funda of 21st century. And most importantly, they are never bored in life unlike many women of my generation. Here’s a toast to them —- with a dash of humor from the woman whom they all have pampered on innumerable occasions.

MRS ASHALATA SAHU:

My mother thinks all her daughters are more beautiful than the late Maharani Gayatri Devi. And the buck does not stop there. Even power-performers like Oprah Winfrey, Indra Nooyi will pale in front of her daughters. And to top it all, she feels her sons-in-law are lucky to have her daughters as their life partners. So they better be grateful and gracious for all this.

She is a lioness when it comes to protecting her cubs. Try telling her one word against me, there are chances that you will be ended up as mince-meat on the plate. She might scold us left-right but will not tolerate anything negative about her daughters from outsiders.

She is more punctual than the clock itself. She is extraordinarily disciplined and even now sticks to her routine of getting up early in the morning (which is mid-night for me) and doing her yoga.

She’s always well-dressed. She has an amazing collection of saris—both cotton and silk. Even though my elder sister now wears them often to the university, I hope I would inherit some of them in future.

A real tough cookie, you can’t bully her. She’s a perfectionist and we often tease her that’s why God chose not to give her a son. Probably that would have ended in a divorce for the sunny boy.

My love for story-telling, music and cooking  comes from her. If you have not tasted her mutton curry, fish head cooked with vegetables (checheanda) and aloo bhaja then you have missed something in life.

She gave a dressing down to a middle-man (actually a senior academician and friend of my dad) who was trying to fix up a marriage proposal for me. She dismissed him by telling that her daughter was the Harvard/Stanford/Cambridge type (even though daughter dear never set her foot in any Ivy-league university). So, what’s this post-graduate boy (read average) from a university in Orissa aspiring for? Only my mom can do it.

KODAK MOMENT: Once I had picked up two sets of rangala-ranglee (wooden colorful) puppets from Ahmedabad (one for myself and one for my mom). She looked at her Rangla (the male puppet) and told me, “Why have you picked up a smiling one for yourself and an angry, devil-looking bearded one for me? This man is not for me.”

MRS SOUBHAGYABATI MENON

I will give you a Bravery Award if you can find a tea-spoon in her kitchen within fifteen minutes. Amazing food comes from her superbly disorganized kitchen. She just pooh-pahs me when I comment about her 24X7 earthquake ravaged kitchen. I have decided now onwards, I will be on ‘silent’ mode on this particular subject.

She’s the person with whom I enjoy a mug of beer and a glass of whisky (guys chill, this is much before Vicky Donor hit the screens)

Her general knowledge can put many journos to shame. Ask her about Obama, Brad Pitt and Shane Warne, she will give you all the dope.

She is the one who can talk for 20 minutes on a wrong number. I almost fell off my chair when she told me  “Oh, it was a wrong number connection but I found out that he’s from the same village (Tatamangalm in Kerala) from where I did my primary schooling. So, I thought let me find out about what all has changed since then.”

She looked after me like a child for days when I was at my lowest after my father’s death. I will be forever grateful to her for that act of love and care.

God added extra doses of laughter in her DNA when he created her.

KODAK MOMENT:  It’s difficult to choose one moment from her extra-ordinary reserve. But here’s one humble sample: Couple of years back, my husband (her loving son) had gone to Nepal in the thick of Maoist uprising. There were lots of violence and kidnapping of tourists happening then. I expressed my fear to my mom-in-law. She said, “Why are you so worried? Even if the Maoist kidnap him, they will give him back to us in less than 24 hours. And they will reward us for managing this unique specimen for so many years. That will be a lottery which will change our lives forever. Just chill.”

MRS ARUNA SHAH:

Melted butter —- that’s how I would describe her. She can cry at the drop of a hat. But don’t get me wrong, she has sailed through tough times with elegance.

She’s a great cook and always eager to learn something more. She uses her microwave in a much more productive way than Ms Deepika.

Her kitchen is sparklingly clean like that of my mom’s kitchen. A tad different from my mom-in-law’s kitchen. Each to her own.

She’s a real romantic at heart and she also sings very well. Every time I feel low, she tells me “Zindagi hai, bahne do.” She’s my sutradhar to God. Whenever I feel there’s a crisis looming over me, I make an SOS call to her and say, “Start praying for me.

She’s a very well-dressed person. It’s always a pleasure to buy a sari for her because I can just visualize how beautiful she would look in that sari.

She just doesn’t know the word laziness unlike her daughter (my soul-sister Prerna) and foster daughter (that’s me).

KODAK MOMENT: She makes the world’s best fajito (a mango-based Gujarati recipe). Once at her home, when I was raving about her fajito, her husband (who also had a great sense of humor) told, “My bhabhi (his elder brother’s wife) makes lip-smacking fajito.” Immediately Aruna aunty told with a straight face, “Yes, I have also heard about it. But I have never tasted it.” With that AK-47 shot from her, there was pin-drop silence for three minutes at the dining table. And, that’s why I love her.

(Now, please don’t ask me who’s the best cook among these three important women. The answer will go with me to my grave.)