All for the want of…

All of last week, I was thinking I haven’t been this happy for a while. Though I am very much aware that there isn’t one without the other and happiness and sadness are like the two sides of the coin, I was still happy. The days are getting longer, it stopped raining, my garden is looking beautiful, kids are happy doing whatever that makes them happy and I was doing what I do well..seizing each day.

Last Friday my youngest said “mom, you haven’t made mutton curry in a while”

I don’t know the difference between lamb/goat/mutton etc. All I know is one of it stinks when you cook and being a vegetarian, I find it very hard to cook it. But my youngest is very fond of mutton curry. So I bought lamb, keeping my fingers crossed that it isn’t the stinking kind.

Usually, I cook it in Kolhapuri sauce to mask the smell and my child asked if I could cook it some other way as she is tired of eating the same curry.
Hos hard can it be to find another recipe?
I have been collecting recipe clippings since I was 14. So I thought I might as well go through my collection of recipes.
I went through the recipe clippings from Vanitha, manorama etc first.  I turned each of them to read the half story of something or other. Then I went through my collection of recipes from Femina and women’s era magazines. There is even a collection of recipes using custard powder.
My mom taught me to make ice cream with custard powder when I was 12. I had to boil the milk in an aluminium pot. The pot probably was as old as me and had a tiny hole at the bottom. You could hear the milk hissing when it reached the  flame every now and then. I even tried to time it to see if there was a particular frequency..
I was warned in advance to watch and stir the milk often so that it won’t boil over. It was such a huge undertaking and I felt so grown up ! Then once the milk was boiling, I had to reduce the heat, dissolve the custard powder in water and strain it in to the hot milk. This straining part was very important as there were tiny worms in the custard powder !
Amma used to buy the custard powder from the cooperative shop in Kottayam and sometimes, they sold pink custard powder. And I used to wait for Amma to make pink ice cream.

I couldn’t find any decent recipes for mutton curry, so I started going through the handwritten ones. These were the recipes that I collected from my friends and family and even strangers. The first one was Jameela’s chicken curry. I was travelling through Kerala with my sister and her Scandinavian husband. The hungrier he is, the quieter he gets and he resembles a puffer fish, all puffed up..He was already fully inflated by the time we found a place to eat in Cochin..It was near the Bolgatti palace and my sister told the waiter to bring any food that is ready right now and then we will order the rest. He brought the spicy chicken fry, the shop speciality ! I have never seen someone who can change from a crabby annoying self to a kind and gentle giant in an instant. But it happened. My brother in law was so happy, he asked for another serve and another and another..
I had to get the recipe. jameela was the cook and she gave me the recipe.
And as I went through the rest of the recipes, I found a mutton curry recipe.
It was from a restaurant in Hyderabad.
Beautiful eyes and I were in Hyderabad looking for Raymond’s tomb. It was the first time we travelled such a long distance and I was worried of getting caught. Ideally if a girl and boy decided to travel together and visit places, it shouldn’t be a crime. But in India it was.( probably still is) And eventually my stress level was too high that we ended up fighting. I am not sure why we fought. But we did and we weren’t talking. And for lunch he stopped at some restaurant. He ordered food without asking me what I wanted to eat because we were still not talking. I don’t remember what I ate. But I know what he ate. He had mutton curry with naan. He practically licked the plate clean.  When the waiter came with the bill, he told the waiter, that was the best mutton curry he ever ate and I asked the waiter if I could get the recipe. I am not sure who was more shocked.. the waiter or he. But it was a moment we both knew how much we loved each other.
How much I was loved..
How much I miss him.

Oh, the things he does !

I have friends over for coffee and cake on every Thursday ( the only evening I don’t have to take kids for basketball). One of my friend has a child in the same school and grade as my son. And the topic of “junk art”, a project all grade 7 are supposed to do this term came up. My friend’s child did mention about making a subway outlet with junk items found in the house  and that she made it during the 2 weeks winter break few weeks ago.
2 years ago Yaya did the same project. She spend 5 weeks making “red carpet”. Actors and actresses walking on the red carpet for the Oscar.

After my friends left, I was busy making dinner and noticed my son standing near the kitchen and making ‘something”.
“what are you doing?” I asked
“Oh, Making a crossbow” He replied
And I should have known to have at least asked, “why are you making a crossbow? or what are you planning to make for the junk art?”
The thing is, I didn’t ask Yaya what she was making for her project. It was her assignment and she did it all by herself. My logic is simple, their project, they do it.

While we were eating our dinner, my son tells Yaya, “Hey Yaya, guess what I made for Junk art?” Victoriously he brings out the crossbow.
I think, Yaya’s eyes almost fell out of the socket !
“You made a cross bow as a junk art?”

Let me explain something. Most kids ( rather all the kids except my son) make elaborate art works like robots, cold rock ice cream parlour, subway etc and my son is taking a crossbow !
“When is the project due?” I asked
“I think it is tomorrow” he replied
“What do you mean, you think?” I asked
“I don’t know mom, I forgot to check when the project is due”
“where is the task sheet?” I asked
“I left it at school” he replied.
I was so angry with him and told him off for being irresponsible.
He ate dinner and went to the garage.
“What are you doing now?” I asked
“Making a rocket” He replied
“Why?” I asked
“don’t know” He replied.

I was still very angry with him. So I did the dishes and went back to my room.
He had enough time to this project including two weeks of winter break . His sister is very talented when it came to arts and he could have asked her to help him. He left it to the last minute and he can suffer for all I care, so I thought.

But then again, I am his mother and the guilty feelings started to prick my conscience.. I know my son can’t handle music and arts. I also leave everything to the very last minute. Apple can’t have fallen too far from the tree!
So I went back and helped him, warning him that I will never help him again if he left anything to the last minute. He nodded his head agreeing and promised not to leave anything to the last minute. ( this will repeat many times in the next decade, I am sure)
This is what we came up with.
I got him to put sand and water in a container, submerged houses and cars from his toys collection to create the Brisbane flood. He kept the cross bow on one side and the rocket on the other side and wrote, from crossbow to rocket and nature still stumps us.

Meeting Ms. Daisy..

All my friends know that I have the absolute ability to kill any plant by mere association. But that doesn’t stop them from helping me in my quest to have a garden.
It all started with me telling a friend in Canada that I was working in my garden and had to run inside to get my phone and that was the reason I was panting like a rabid dog and nothing else!
“Garden?” She asked with all the subtlety one can muster before asking a murderer such a trivial question.
“Yes, garden, with real plants and real flowers” I replied.
“Oh my !” She replied.
“have you talked to a landscape artist?” She asked
I have heard of many kinds of artist, but landscape artist was not in that list
“What do the landscape artist do?” I asked
“Oh my” she said
I thought I would tell her to shut up if she said one more “oh my”
 Now, my friend is a well known Interior designer.. ( she designed/decorated or whatever you call the job she does  houses for Malaysian elites) So I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by telling her to shut up when she really is trying to help me.

Few weeks ago, she called me to tell me that she managed to get an appointment with Ms. Daisy ( not her real name) a landscape artist in Brisbane, who is usually very busy and will not see every Tom, Jane and June! In other words, I was warned that it was a privilege to meet Ms,Daisy and not screw it up.

So I went to see Ms. Daisy.
The first question Ms. Daisy asked
“What kind of garden  do you want?”
Hells Bells ! How do I know that?
You should have seen the myriads of disgust/disbelief expressions on Ms. Daisy’s face when I told her the simple truth..” I have no idea, what kind of garden I want”
Things went rapidly downhill and eventually Ms. Daisy suggested, I look online, find the garden I want and then make another appointment !

And on the drive back home, I thought what kind of garden I want?
Ideally, I would have loved something like Claude Monet garden in Giverny or the Buchart garden in Victoria..But whenever I buy a pot of plant, I take such good care that I forget to water it. In the event I remember to water it, I do such a terrific job to drown the poor plant. ( How was I to know that you don’t water succulents twice a day?) and in the event the plant survived the initial neglect/ over enthusiasm and actually grew an inch, then I get all excited and try to propagate it by either cutting it in half or splitting it in the middle. Not many survive this part,. and if it did, then I do the one thing that absolutely guarantee a sudden demise. I apply fertilizer !!

Well, for me gardening is  not just about killing plants, it is all about supporting a huge industry.
Let me explain
Each time I buy a plant and then kill it, I support the guy/gal who planted the seed, watered, etc, the guy/gal who works at the nursery, even the guy at the recycling factory where the pot ends up. If I don’t keep buying the plants, how will all these people live?
See the burden on my shoulder?

So the kind of garden I want? Simple..anything that can last  a month under my love and care…beyond that, the industry will suffer and I can’t do that, Can I?

What I really want !

Totally vain post. Read at your own peril..

I go through this right after winter solstice every year.. as the days get longer, I start to panic..

Soon, it will be summer and I will be spending a lot of time at the beach..and all I want is “washboard abs”

Ideally, I should say, I am proud of my body. Three kids later, I still weigh the same as I was when I was in my 20’s. I should also say my flabby belly is part of my motherhood experience.
I could..but then I see other moms with flat abs !!
So what is my excuse?

Let us start with Gym. My sisters probably have life membership at the gym. They are systematic and dedicated. One sister even runs full marathons. Me on the other hand dreams of running, and when I think I should go for a run, I take a book and lay down in my hammock with a glass of wine..for there is still  tomorrow!!!
I am not going to spend money for a gym membership because more than anyone, I know myself. and my level of motivation ! I think the money wasted for the gym membership could buy few bottles of red..economically speaking, wine brings much more happiness!
I thought of buying a treadmill..but then again, I already own two sets of towel racks and don’t need a 900$ worth towel rack.
The last time, when I cribbed so much about my flabby abs, my sister got her trainer to plan a ‘simple’ set of exercise for me to do at home..It involved, huge gym balls, dumbbells, some elastic ( not sure what it is) ! Needless to say it was a wasted effort ! ( not on my part, because neither my sister nor the trainer understood the key word “simple”)

So here I am, few weeks away from hot summer days..swimming, surfing..
This is my plan
I am going to do 100 squats..( not one shot la..I do 10 squats x 10 times), knowing very well that squats won’t give me washboard abs..but it is the only exercise where I don’t need any equipment, don’t have to lay down  and is easy to do..So at least I can console myself that I tried..( even if I am targeting the wrong set of muscles..I should still get brownie points for trying, No?)

field mouse

There are few things I dread absolutely. Parallel parking is one ( yesterday, my car was a meter away from the curb ! ) and visitors is the other one.
I don’t have any problems with my friends coming over. It is the bandhu/bandham ( related by blood/marriage) visitors that terrify me the most. I don’t talk to/send mail/or have any sort of communications with any of my relatives. Ideally that should be construed as my total lack of interest in having visitors over and my need for privacy. But most Malayalees are pretty immune to the need of privacy ! Curiosity is their middle name.

And then it starts.

1. The house is pretty small eh? They say to no one in particular.
2. Only two bathrooms?
3. You don’t have foxtel? ( satelite TV).

The above three are the main factors that are used to judge “how well you live” according to Mallu living well guide!
I failed miserably in all three, which somehow make my visitors extremely happy !
And I thought I would be spared any further comparisons. Normally, the moment the visitors feel that they have a bigger house and more number of bathrooms than you, they kind of leave you alone.
But not this time
Unfortunately, this time when they were home, Yaya asked “Mom can we go to Byron bay?”
“What do you do in Byron bay?” They asked Yaya.
“nothing” Yaya replied.
You know that feeling of impending doom..I knew where this was leading.
“Then why do you want to go?” they asked
“Oh, mom usually drive to Byron bay, we eat fish and chips there” my child spoke nonchalantly.
“You go all the way to Byron bay to eat fish and chips?”
“Yes” all three kids nodded their heads happily.
“That is crazy”
and the idiot worked out, travel distance, petrol costs etc to show my kids how preposterous it is to drive from Brisbane to Byron bay to eat fish and chips. He made my children feel tremendously guilty about something they absolutely enjoy.

After they left, I told my children why I take them to Byron bay every time I get a chance. It is because, I want them to be “greedy” enjoy the life they have now, not keep something for the tomorrows that may or may not come. It is our today’s that is the moments..If you can’t live your today’s without counting every dime, then what makes you think you can live your tomorrows free of fear of the unknown?
For me, driving to Byron bay with my children is an experience worth much more than what I spend on fuel. The drive itself is absolutely beautiful. My children take turns to play their music list. I find it amusing to see the changes in their music preferences. Few years ago, Yaya used to roll her eyes whenever I played my music list.. and now she listens to Bob Marley !!

I love sitting down on the rocks and watch the surf break..My children used to run and chase each other last year. Now, they sit with me on the rocks while listening to one of the hippies/back packers singing or playing the banjo. They eat fish and chips while chasing the gulls away and when ‘they think’ I am not looking, they sneak in few chips for the gulls.I love to see them sharing their meal with each other without fighting. Baby shares her share of the prawn cutlets with her brother and he gives her his share of the sea scallops. They both give yaya their share of potato scallops because Yaya hates sea scallops and prawns.
So, yes, it is a total waste of money to drive all the way to Byron bay to eat fish and chips.. and we will do it at least once a month. Because we intend to shake the grass before life slips away like  field mouse!

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Ezra Pound


Kambi Thapal

This post will make no sense to most..nevertheless I am still hopeful that someone would get it !.

I am not sure what is the actual English translation of kambi thapal. In the beginning, there was anjal post, where the runner carried letters/messages from one place to other. My grandmother used to sing the song anjal thapal karan ( runner) used to sing. I can’t remember it. Then the system improved and letters were send by carriages ( pigeons, bullock carts, horse drawn etc I guess) Then eventually, telegrams could be send from one place to other and kambi thapal office ( kambi = metal cable and thapal = post) came in to effect.

When I was about three, my father read a kambi thapal story for me that appeared in the Balarama children’s magazine. This story and the other one pashantey dooshi ( story about missing needle in the clock) are the two stories I remember clearly from my toddler days.

The story goes like this. This old man had only one daughter. When she got married, she moved to the next village which was two days of walk away, One day, the old lady made pal payasam ( milk dessert)  and both the husband and wife remembered that their only daughter loved payasam  very much. How to send some to her they wondered? They were both too old and they couldn’t walk that far. Then they remembered the kambi thapal. office So they packed the pal payasam in an earthen jar and took it to the post office.

The post man was a young guy. The smell of the pal payasam  was too tempting and he opened the jar to just take a small bite lead to another, soon there was none left.

Months later, the daughter came to visit the parents and the parents asked her how was the pal payasam?  which got the reply, ” what payasam?”
The old man was very angry and he marched to the post office. He asked the post man what happened to the payasam  he send to his daughter.
The post man replied ” Aiyyoo sarey,  I send the paysam pot on the kambi thapal,  but someone else send a  ulakka ( metal pole used to pound grains) and kaboom they both crashed..

I used to imagine the payasam pot and the ulakka travelling on opposite directions over a metal cable and crashing in to each other..

And why did I write this post?
Yesterday I was working on the retaining wall and was using the metal tamping rode. My neighbours ( the tradies) were very amused that I, an Indian female of “questionable” strength knew how to use a tamping rode.
There was no point in telling them that I used to help my mother grinding grains with the ulakka. I remembered the story my father read for me and tried telling it to my kids. They didn’t understand. So here it is.


Long pending

This is a long pending post..
I have been wanting to write this post for over a year and each time I tried to blog I felt I would tarnish the memories if I didn’t do a good job of writing it.
So to do justice..this will be a long and winding post.

There are a lot of Malayalee families in Malaysia. Most started of with men leaving Kerala to work in Singapore in the early 40’s, often in the estates, engineering and medical services. Then there were teachers who were employed by the British to work in schools in remote areas. These men went back to Kerala to get married and settled down in Singapore/Malaya with their newly arrived wives.

And almost all the imported wives had very similar traits.
They were forever in competition with the others.
So if their husband bought a new car, they then will start on an epic journey of visiting the rest of the malayalee families.
If they bought a new TV, then there will be new set of dinner invitations send to all and sundry.

If their son or daughter learned the first step of Bharatha Natyam dance, then they will fight for their child to be given the lead role in the latest skit at the sunday school annual party on the basis of their child being the most culturally appropriate candidate for the role !

I dreaded the dinner invitations most.
First of all, I get to starve because serving a lot of vegetarian dishes meant the host was stingy !
Then there were the interrogations. Your whole life story will  be dug out in a matter of few seconds and all the pieces will be examined closely for any anomaly.
Then you have to endure the impromptu singing by the kids of the host !
All I wanted in those times were a few shots of vodka and if those women knew I drink, I would have been history. So I couldn’t even ask for a drink.

Then there was she !

The first time I was invited to her home for dinner, I was tempted to weasel out. But I was close to her nephews.
So I went,
Her house was simple, spacious and tidy.
We talked..but she didn’t ask me anything about my family or my life history. We were talking about art and famous Indian painters !
She served rice, moru and payaru for dinner. ( She knew I was a vegetarian)And for meat lovers there was fish fry.
 (Digressing a bit, Her payaru thoran had shredded cabbage in it and when I came home, I asked my mother if she knew that we could add cabbage to payar thoran. Amma’s reply was classic. “She added cabbage because she was too stingy to use coconut !!”)

If I could use a single word to describe her, it would be “dignified”
It was very rare to meet a person like her.
She stood out in her simple cotton sarees among the silk saree wearing, gold decked women, She  was happy to be who she was and didn’t need the latest the TV or car to be happy.
Every time I met her, there was a sense of peace i could find in her. You never had to pretend to be anyone in her presence. She liked you for who you are.
She was also Yaya’s godmother.
When I left Malaysia, I didn’t say good bye to anyone. I hate goodbyes. I also hate to keep in touch.
I was told that she passed away few years ago. 
I don’t live a life of regrets. But I find it harder to have some sort of closure knowing that I never kept in touch.
So this is my peace offering.
You were loved very much.
miss you.

Ah !

This morning, Yaya wore lip stick to school.

When she was in grade 7, friends of hers started wearing make up, Yaya commented that wearing make up to school is so overrated! and that she has better things to do !
I didn’t say anything then because I had been a teenager once,

I think the best part of being a mother is to watch your baby girl blossom in to a beautiful young woman.

My job was to hold her hand and guide her, watch over her and be there for her.

When she came to the kitchen to ask me “how do I look?”
I noticed the lip stick first.
“lipstick eh?” I asked.
“Yup” She said while grinning.
I also noticed that she didn’t apply the lip stick properly. I was tempted to fix it. Then I thought, it is her first attempt. She will learn to do it eventually.

Today I celebrate the arrival of a confident, beautiful young daughter!

We all fall down !!!

My maternal grandfather was a man of few words. He died two days before I was born, but the stories he used to tell were carried on by my grandmother.

Like me, my grandfather was also fond of going for walks at odd hours and one such morning as he was coming back home after the walk, it was almost day break and in the far distance he could see a huge commotion on the bridge. This is during the war period and my grandfather was a bit weary. There is no other way to go back home, but to use the bridge. My grandfather noticed that more and more people were going to the bridge and curiosity got better of him and he too joined the crowd.
As he approached the bridge, he saw that a young man was standing atop and is threatening to jump off the bridge.
One half of the crowd pleaded with him and told him “please don’t jump, you are young, whatever it is that causing you the heartache will surely get  better as time goes and one day you will find happiness”
The other half told him” come on, jump. get it over with. you are nothing but a loser and this world isn’t meant for losers.”
My grandfather was a man of few words. So he stood there, not knowing what to do.
“I will jump now” every few minutes the young man threatened and the crowd reached forward and the man threatened to jump if anyone came anymore closer to him.

Eventually some in the crowd got tired and they left. But still a part of the crowd continued to plead with him not to jump, they arranged for someone to go and find his parents,the police etc. The other half still went on asking him to jump.

Eventually..the young man looked at all the people.. He smiled and told them
“April fool”
It was indeed April 1st.
And the young man had to run to save his life !

My grandparents were very close to each other. They were like water and oil, but that didn’t stop them from loving each other. At home, my grandmother is pacing up and down,worrying what happened to her husband. He should have come home long time ago. She was going to wait another 10 minutes and if there was no sign of her husband, she was going to wake up her oldest son and ask him to go and see what happened.
Then she saw him opening the gate. He was chuckling,
This is the man who didn’t smile on his wedding day or any other day.

My grandmother thought her husband had gone stark raving mad!

He walks in, still chuckling and it took a while for him to tell the story.

It wasn’t so much the April fool part that made a huge impact on me.
It was the people on the bridge..the two halves of people..
Which half are you?