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Being a daughter-in-law of Kerala

Happy Onam to all the wonderful people of Kerala. This post is kind of a personal love note to Kerala. I am writing this just out of sheer pleasure and love. 

It’s wonderful to be a daughter-in-law of Kerala. In my mother-in-law’s house, I am not expected to do any household work. Whenever I visit my mom-in-law, I get to eat delicious food without cooking.

My mom-in-law is the best thing about my marriage. We share a very loving and open relationship. We occasionally argue and bang phones too. But you see, everything is fair in love and fights. I shall now refer her as Senior Mrs Menon (SMM)

With every passing day. my love for Kerala food goes deeper and deeper. Now, my smartphone has my MIL’s recipes of Erissery, Thoran, Inji Puli, Kadala curry and the like neatly typed on the ‘Note’ app.

One of the reasons behind me agreeing to marry my husband is his surname. I have always loved the surname ‘Menon’. My twitter handle is @menondeepika though for all official purpose, I have retained my maiden name. But I love the sound of Deepika Menon.

When I first visited Kerala as a brand-new bride, my husband’s aunt asked me, “Deepika, chor indaka?” And I got damn excited thinking that how exciting to have a Chor/Thief (in Hindi chor means thief) in the house in broad day light. Well, even as I was imagining to put up a brave fight against the visiting thief, I found out that chor in Malayalam means rice. And my aunt-in-law was just checking whether I will have rice or not.

My soul sister is also a Menon woman and she lives in Dubai. Last year, both of us along with my soul-brother went to Kerala on a holiday. I was in tears when I boarded the flight to return to Ahmedabad (where I live and work). That trip to God’s Own Country felt magical. I really miss those moments.

I feel my father instantly agreed to my marriage plans because he thought Malayalis are very intelligent people. (Husband will be happy to read this)

On a good day, I can finish off 10 parippu vadas at one go (Kerala’s famous snack).  They are absolutely my favourites, I talked about parippu vadas so lovingly that Hussain (the man who was our navigator during our Kerala visit) offered to buy them for me.

I am a great sucker for Mallu sense of humour. During my first visit to Kerala, one of those cool aunts (with not so butter-tongue) told my husband that she’s very relieved to know that he doesn’t have a brother-in-law. She thought a wife’s brother generally has lots of nuisance value and little else to offer.

As a journalist, it feels great to be in Kerala because you see lots of people reading newspapers sitting in their verandah, garden or at roadside tea stalls.

My mom-in-law aka senior Mrs Menon during her growing up years in Kerala had a pet dog whose name was ‘Chundaran’ (such a lovely name to have). I asked mummy  about Chundaran’s diet and was in shock when I came to know that he ate idli-chutney, upma and the like. He lived long and led a very happy life. My mom-in-law still gets teary eyed talking about her favourite Chundaran.

All through my years in Delhi, thanks to my curly hair, people thought I was from Kerala (stereotypes at its best). Well, destiny took all those questions seriously and made me a daughter-in-law of Kerala.

When we were living in Bengaluru, one day I ran down the stairs thinking that my husband was having a fight with the Malayali broker as I overheard them talking in Malayalam. Well, they were at their cordial best and having quite a polite conversation.

After listening to them, I stopped any effort to speak Malayalam. But, hey you can’t bitch about me in Malayalam in front of me. I understand the language well. But, now I seriously want to speak the language fluently.  I hope to do it in this life —- My bucket list.

I now wear Kalumuthi’s  (my husband’s grandmother) necklace. I feel privileged to carry  a slice of history and family heritage with me though I never got the chance to meet her. I keep hearing stories about her life,  her wonderful skills in whipping up delicious dishes and her pearls of wisdom.

My new love in life is karimeen fry. Aah, Kerala take me back to your embrace soon. I want my karimeen.

KERALA

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Still there’s something new

“हज़ार बार ज़माना इधर से गुज़रा है, नई नई सी है कुछ तेरी रहगुज़र फिर भी”
Thousands of times the world has passed here, there is something new, but still there is something new.

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Faith

“I wish I had Hamid’s faith,” I texted to my friend after watching the film titled Hamid on Netflix few days ago.

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Image credit: Yoodlee films

Hamid got this year’s National Award for the Best Urdu Film and  Talha Arshad Reshi (who acted as Hamid in the film) got the National Award for the  Best Child Actor (He shared it with two other child actors). After getting the award, the director rued the fact that due to the current situation in Kashmir, he had not been able to share this news with young Talha. I hope, Hamid akka Talha now has now received this happy news of him getting the best child actor award.

I am not a qualified film critic so I will not get into that territory of dissecting Hamid through the lens of cinematic language, vocabulary and expression. My canvas here is different.

Hamid touched me for its sheer gentleness, for the poignancy of a story set in Kashmir and the universality of human pain, loss, longing and hope too. Life is a juxtaposition of brutality and tenderness. And that’s why there can be no greater fiction than life itself. But beyond this, as I watched Hamid, I yearned to have faith like little, adorable Hamid had in Allah. His intense love and longing for his father moved me to tears. As Hamid hopes for his father’s return, he seeks the help of Allah through a mobile phone.  And like life, the story unfolds in myriad ways.

Life’s brutal and in course of time, Hamid realises his father would never return. He will never see his father again. But he wants to finish the wooden boat (his father was an artisan and a poet too. Hamid wants to follow his father’s footsteps).

He realises that Allah will not bring back his father. But he moves forward in life and holds on to gentleness in his own sublime ways. In the end, when he receives two metal containers of red paints for his boat by parcel (I will not share the details of how and why here), he says to his mother with a smile, “Allah ne bheja hai “(Allah has sent it).  And then in the end, he takes his  mother on a ride in this beautiful boat painted in deep red. A boat made by his deft yet tender hands. The magic of human hands.

Kashmir with its ethereal physical landscape, bruised emotional landscape has been captured beautifully in Hamid.

As an adult negotiating through life, I often wonder about having a child’s faith and innocence. Hamid took me to that world.

And if there’s one gift I would want from life, I would like to ask for Hamid’s faith.

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The film has a beautiful song titled Hukus Bukus — my favourite Kashmiri folk song.  My Kashmiri friends always talk about this beautiful song with a smile. In happiness and pain, the song gives them a sense of home.

(Below) You can find few lines from the song with a little English translation in the end

“Hukus bukus telli wann che kus
onum batta lodum deag,
shaal kich kich waangano,
Brahmi charas puane chhokum,
Brahmish batanye tekhis tyakha.”

(The Teacher corrects:)

“Itkayne ne Itkayne
Tse Kus Be Kus Teli Wan su Kus
Moh Batuk Logum Deg
Shwas Khich Khich Wang-mayam
Bhruman daras Poyun chokum
Tekis Takya bane Tyuk”
Tse Kus Be Kus Teli Wan su Kus

(Who are you and who am I then tell us who is he the creator that permeates through both you and I)

In the end, THERE IS NO OTHER.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell

Kashmir… I love the sound of it. It’s my elusive lover. Four times, I have come close to Kashmir but I could never meet Kashmir. A land is like a lover, you might be ready for your lover but the lover is not ready to embrace you. There’s nothing you can do about it till it’s the time. I have my own imagination of Kashmir. Before the onset of every autumn (my favourite season), I always travel to Kashmir in my heart. Today, the whole of India is talking about Kashmir and the scrapping of Article 370. Beyond politics, there’s poetry. Agha Shahid Ali is one of my favourite poets and he was from Kashmir. He died at a young age but his poems are his legacy. He is there. Even in his absence. Here’s the poem titled Farewell by Agha Shahid Ali. 

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FAREWELL

At a certain point I lost track of you.
They make a desolation and call it peace.
when you left even the stones were buried:
the defenceless would have no weapons.

When the ibex rubs itself against the rocks,
who collects its fallen fleece from the slopes?
O Weaver whose seams perfectly vanished,
who weighs the hairs on the jeweller’s balance?
They make a desolation and call it peace.
Who is the guardian tonight of the Gates of Paradise?

My memory is again in the way of your history.
Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved- all
winter- its crushed fennel.
We can’t ask them: Are you done with the world?

In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked in each other’s
reflections.

Have you soaked saffron to pour on them when they are found like this
centuries later in this country
I have stitched to your shadow?

In this country we step out with doors in our arms
Children run out with windows in their arms.
You drag it behind you in lit corridors.
if the switch is pulled you will be torn from everything.

At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me.
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can’t forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect Enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory:

I am being rowed through Paradise in a river of Hell:
Exquisite ghost, it is night.

The paddle is a heart; it breaks the porcelain waves.
It is still night. The paddle is a lotus.
I am rowed- as it withers-toward the breeze which is soft as
if it had pity on me.

If only somehow you could have been mine, what wouldn’t
have happened in the world?

I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive.You can’t forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.

There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me.

If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?

Everyday Romance

She: I think, you have forgotten how you used to sleep on my lap for hours. Tum toh so jaate the aur mein deewar dekhti rahti thi ( You used to sleep like a log and I used to stare at the walls)

He: Of course, I remember it very well.

She: Then

He: What then? It’s simple — one will sleep where one belongs to. That’s his/her place. So, I slept in my place.

Home is where the trees are

I am in deep mourning. I am grieving for all the beautiful, strong, not so strong trees we have lost as Cyclone Fani ravaged Odisha few days back.

I have grown up with trees. I have hugged them in moments of happiness. I have leaned against them in times of sadness. Sometimes I have taken their presence for granted. My most beautiful growing up memory is all about waking up in the morning and sitting quietly on the verandah of our then house (I have lived in different parts of Odisha) and just soaking in the ethereal beauty of swaying coconut trees, watching tiny birds jumping from one branch of the mango tree to another.

There are no gentler souls in this world than the trees. They give shelter even to those who come to brutally hack them from the roots.

Even as I grieve deeply, I hope we will soon plant more trees in Odisha and love them more deeply and pray for their longer life.

In their existence lies our future. For trees are life.

(This banyan tree belongs to the soil of Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital. I was mesmerized by its richness of life. Being with this tree felt like being with my ancestors… the sense of its history warmed the cockles of my heart. How can we become this large in our hearts? )   

PHOTOS : YOURS TRULY

 

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One way ticket…

(‘Desh’ (meaning country) is how my mother-in-law refers to Kerala whenever she talks about her years of growing up there. I always tell her, “India is your country. Why are you referring Kerala as your country?” But she refuses to listen to me. She shifted to Gujarat when she got married almost 50 years ago. This piece first appeared in an anthology titled ‘People called Ahmedabad’. I am sharing this here as we celebrate Gujarat Day on May 1. This is about leaving home, finding home and also about love and longing)  

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(The Matriarch… )

More than fifty years ago, Sowbhagyabati Menon arrived in Ahmedabad from a small village in Kerala as a young bride. She started a whole new chapter of her life in this dusty city which is so very different from the lush green village of hers dotted with beautiful houses, swaying coconut trees and paddy fields. Today, she starts her day with a cup of tea and two Gujarati newspapers. And she loves her eclectic mixed neighborhood of Khanpur, in the walled city of Ahmedabad.

She looks back at her Gujarat journey with a sense of nostalgia and fondness. “It was my first train journey and everybody in my family thought that I was really going away too far. We all had heard of Ahmedabad only through news.The first house I stayed in Ahmedabad was on rent. It was a small house but I was surrounded by wonderful neighbors who wholeheartedly welcomed this young Malayali.”

Gujarati language sounded more or less like Greek or Latin to her. But she was hell-bent on learning the language. So, she sought the help of her neighbour’s school-going daughter. With a paper and pen, they moved around in the kitchen to note down the names of vegetables in Gujarati. Later on in the day whenever she found some free time, she diligently practiced on her own, saying it gently and slowly, “bataka (potato), dungri (onions).”

In Kerala, she was used to having boiled rice and in the initial days of her arrival here, she just couldn’t stand the smell of basmati rice in her friends’ houses. In the beginning, she stayed with her Gujarati friend for a couple of days. Her loving hosts were feeling miserable that their guest just refused to touch any of the Guajrati delicacies they offered to her. Then one day, her host friend went to a small south-Indian restaurant to pack a meal of masala dosa, idli, vada for her.Probably that South-Indian platter was more precious to her than any piece of gold jewellery she was wearing.

But she has come a long way since then. Today, she loves her share of thepla, methi gota, sukhdi, khichdi, poori-aam ras and undhiyu. In fact, her children and grand-children now especially ask her to make Gujarati khatti meethi dal and every Uttarayan, she gets up at 3 am in the night to prepare lip-smacking unidhiyu. From her kitchen now comes a regular spread of both Kerala and Gujarati cuisine.  

She loves being in Ahmedabad which has given her a home, friends and beautiful memories to go back to. With a sense of love, she says, “Gujratis are nice,warm people. They are affable and made me feel at home from the beginning.”

So, what has she enjoyed the most about her life in Ahmedabad? She says, “I feel a sense of freedom in Ahmedabad. Here, I move around freely with my friends, have gone for late night movies. There is no restrictions on movement like I had in Kerala and I have enjoyed the freedom to explore life. My neighbours have taught me the art of saving money. They have taught me the art of compounding interest. So, that has definitely made my life better now.”

“I have also enjoyed celebrating festivals like Diwali, Uttarayan, Navratri and Bestu Varash (Gujarati New year).  And yes, I was a true blood Malayali before, having my share of cooking in coconut oil. After more than four decades in Gujarat, I have lost my taste for coconut oil.”

Does she miss Kerala? “Oh, I miss Kerala’s magical monsoon. Even after so many years, Gujarat’s dry, arid long summer feels really tough. In these months, I long for Kerala’s rains. I also miss the fabulous celebrations of Onam in my village. Though I try to cook an elaborate sadhya on Onam but it just doesn’t feel the same.”

But then she trails, “Many of the people with whom I grew up in Kerala are gone now. The ancestral house of mine needs constant attention. Life in Ahmedabad feels much easier now. And did I mention about the uninterrupted power supply in Ahmedabad?”

Well, home is here only.