Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Goodbye Amma & Appa!


Dun, dun, dun.... That was the sound of someone banging on the heavy metal gate in the front.  I looked up at the daily calendar and the clock on the wall to confirm that it was Tuesday 8 AM.  I was almost ready to leave for school.  I rushed to the Kitchen calling out "Amma, he is here."  Amma was busy seasoning the sambar on one stove and stir-frying green beans curry on the other.  "It is almost ready.  Ask him to come inside into the shade Meena.  I will be there soon."  

I went outside to greet the old Thatha who was our guest every Tuesday for as long as I could remember and invited him to come and sit.  He hobbled in slowly and lowered himself onto the bench in the shade.  Poverty sat on him like a worn-out comfortable shirt and I remember him always wearing it with a contended smile.  'Tuesday beggar Thatha' as I referred to him, was a steady and comforting part of my childhood.  Thatha always appeared at our door at 8 am sharp every Tuesday and my mom always served him a hearty hot meal on a banana leaf with a big glass of cool buttermilk and a banana on the side.  Governments could fall and rise on a whim but Thatha's Tuesday visit and my mother's hospitality continued for years like clockwork and left a lasting impression on me.

This week, my mother drew her last breath.  I stood by her bed with my sisters, held her hand and bid her goodbye singing her favorite hymns.  As I watched her being carried out of the house for the final rites,  I thought of her kindness towards the Tuesday Thatha and the very many people like him whose lives were made better by her.  

My mother had the unique gift to connect with people around her.  She genuinely cared about everyone's lives and wished them well.  During our many walks to the local temple during my school days, people would stop her often on the street to share their problems and seek her counsel.  They could tell her anything because they knew that she would keep their secrets.  I have always been amazed by her talent at nodding.  Her head never tired of the long hours of bobbing up and down listening to others' woes.  It seemed to bring such comfort to people.

Daughter not getting married?  In-law troubles? Rash in areas that shall not be named?  Asking my mom to pray for them seemed to be the one-stop solution for many folks.  There was an unanimous consensus in the neighborhood that the optimal way to reach God's ears was through my mother's lips.  Folks were ahead of their times as outsourcing was actively practiced by our neighbors long before the word ever got popular.  

No one entered our home and left with an empty stomach.  It was just not done.  On a normal day without visitors, my mother cooked 3 times a day for 10 people.  That was just family, mind you.  We were a bunch of picky eaters and I was the worst of all.  I got hungry really fast and threw the most colorful of all fits if I was not fed right that minute.  I don't know how my mom did not disown me for being such a thoughtless brat.  I would have done it in a heartbeat.  She always had my favorite food hot and ready anytime I came home, be it 5 pm after college or 10 pm after work.  It might be a while before I could swallow tomato rice or vathal kuzhambu sadham without breaking into tears.  

Outside of family, we had a constant stream of visitors at home while growing up.  I remember her finally wrapping up things in the Kitchen around 3 pm one day to go rest before the evening chores started when visitors dropped in unannounced.  Did she sigh and scowl like I probably would have?  No.  She greeted them with a big genuine smile and went back promptly to the Kitchen to whip up the next batch of food to feed them.  Her famed hospitality continued even when she was sick and frail in bed at the end.  When family members dropped in to check on her health, she called us closer with a weak headshake and reminded us to feed them before they left.  

Talking about being in bed, 10 days before her passing, she was on oxygen support and had trouble speaking clearly.  My sisters and I decided to take advantage of having a captive audience and practiced all the songs we were meaning to knowing very well that amma couldn't run away even if she wanted to.  After one such singing session, she slowly opened her eyes and muttered something.  As it was hard to hear her over the oxygen mask, I went closer to her and tried to listen.  Still I couldn't make out what she was saying.  'Amma, what is it?  Do you want us to sing you another song?'  To which, amma slowly enunciated "Meena, put coconut oil on your hair and braid it.  It is not like you have long hair.  Take care to keep what you have."  It took considerable effort for her to say it but that is my mother for you.  Always caring like that. 

Losing Amma 2 months after losing Appa, life feels strangely illogical.  The 2 souls that loved my sisters and I without hesitation or reservation are no more.  Navigating the rest of our journey without their physical presence seems like an impossible task but we have no choice but to try.  We were loved and cherished every moment of our lives and I am so very grateful to both of them. 

Hope you are together again on the other side with the rest of your family having a blast up in the Heavens.  Love you both so much.  We will see you in our dreams. Goodbye Amma and Appa!

Friday, December 31, 2021

Are you ready to unmask?

As we are on the brink of ringing in year 3 of the pandemic, I am proud to say that I am fully vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19.  But on the day of my booster shot last month, I did wake up feeling anxious about getting back to a post-pandemic normal life.  After a few days of pondering over my strange reaction, here are some reasons why I think the idea of unmasking is not making me jump with joy.

  1. First, as a rule of thumb, I don’t jump or twirl.  I literally can’t.  I don’t have the balance for it.  Plus, I am on an injury-free streak this year and have no wish to jeopardize that.
  2. I will have you know that my husband has invested heavily in masks and sacrificed a lot for the safety of our family.  In March 2020, you may remember that all the world went crazy and hoarded up masks.  It was so hard to get our hands on any, but did I lose heart and wring my hands? No sir, not me.  I immediately went online and ordered a shiny, new sewing machine and before it was even delivered, I got ready by cutting my husband’s many excellent cotton dhotis into small pieces. When the sewing machine arrived at our door the next day, it struck me that I had overlooked a small detail.  I didn't know how to sew.  Not a single button worth my spit.  Still, all was not lost.  I stored the machine inside a closet, placed an order for masks with a manufacturer in China for only a small fortune and used up all the cut pieces of dhotis around the house as rag cloths.  I figured the money I saved buying rag clothes would offset the cost of the masks from China.  I love how these things work out in the end.  Anyway, I am fairly positive that my husband has forgiven me for making koththu parotta of his dhotis.  Every time I see the sewing machine in the closet now, I remember his sacrifice and consider wearing a mask a tribute to his generosity.
  3. After many months of meeting friends and family only on Zoom, I don’t know how I feel about seeing everyone back in full human form with bodies, arms and legs instead of just neck and up.  I worry about not recognizing them.  With good reason, I must say.  A lot of my new young students have only seen me on Zoom.  One such little boy knocked on my door with his father a couple of months ago wanting to get my blessings for Vijayadasami.  He looked dazed and disturbed the entire 5 minutes he was here.  He wouldn’t believe that I was the same aunty that he saw each week on Zoom.  I had sprouted legs and all, you see.  I had to finally glare at him with squinted eyes like I would in classes before he would give me a nod of acknowledgement. 
  4. Do you know how much money I have saved from not going to beauty salons these past 2 years?  I can probably invest in a small condo in Alaska in another 6 months if only I keep up with this lifestyle.  Why bother buffing and polishing when no one was going to see me?  Yes, I scare myself a bit at times seeing my own reflection but hey, I throw a towel on the mirror and take care of that problem. 
  5. I am afraid my rusty social skills need super heavy polishing before I can be pronounced fit to enter society again.  In pre-covid era, I have a vague memory of curving my lips upwards while meeting people.  I think it was called smiling.  The only expression that my face can remember to make any more seems to be a scowl.  Know of a place where I can sign up to relearn basic social skills? 

Looks like Covid is here to stay for the foreseeable future and we may have to learn to live with it.  The year ahead may yet be paved with anxiety and uncertainty but today, let’s give thanks to the power above for keeping us safe from Covid these past two years and march ahead together in goodwill looking forward to a better and just world.  May we all come out of this pandemic and live long, happy, and healthy lives.  Happy New Year 2022 everyone.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

My own, my precious!

“That is some truly superior sambar and aloo curry Amma” my daughter managed to say in the middle of frantically licking her spoon clean like she may run out of taste buds any minute now.  “You don’t know how much I have missed your food.  You deserve a culinary award Amma” chimed in her sister on her way to the kitchen for second helpings.  Remarks like these typically put a strut in my gait and a smile on my face but not today. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I recognize that it is not every day that children are happy to be locked down under the same roof, as parents.  When they greeted me with a smile this morning and started doing chores around the house with no threat or coercion, I wanted to pinch my husband’s arm to see if I was dreaming. (Why pinch my husband’s arm? Because therein lies the beauty of marriage.  When life presents tough challenges, you get to lean on or pinch your spouse’s arm to figure things out.)  So together we puzzled over the question ‘Why aren’t these kids screaming and scratching at the walls, cursing at the coronavirus for this indefinite lockdown?’ The obvious answer was college food.  One semester away at college enjoying its assorted offering of spice-less food and my kids have returned home as warriors brave enough to face a quarantine at home. 

Getting back to the sound of my flatware being licked clean at each meal, I’ll admit that I am worried and I’ll tell you why.  As the symphony of spoons scraping against bowls and plates continue with each passing day, I often find myself slipping quietly to do the only thing I could.  Throw open the doors of the kitchen pantry and gaze worriedly at the stockpile of provisions; one item in particular.

I want it known that I am not unprepared for this pandemic.  The day ‘social-distancing’ became the national word and lockdown became the local mantra, I marched to the Indian grocery store armed with a dozen extra-large cotton bags determined to stock up but apparently so did the entire desi population.  When you are trying to beat 20 people to get to the last packet of turmeric powder in the store, social distancing is not an option.  And yes, I do need the turmeric powder.  You don’t seriously expect me to serve black sambar and rasam to my family, do you?  That’s gross.

Believe it or not, I was agile and spry zigging and zagging through the store loading up my cart. I owe it to corona(virus) for showing me that even I could put a spring in my step.  Anyway, there I was, weaving in and out of the crowd, proudly joining my fellow humans in picking that store clean.  After ensuring that there was nothing edible left in an aisle, we kept moving on to the next.  It was eerily similar to the scene in a movie I had watched, where aliens would destroy earth settlements systematically, one town at a time.

I am grateful for whoever designed grocery store carts and put 4 wheels on them for balance.  Imagine if they had only 2 wheels like a bicycle!  What would happen to people like me with zero upper body strength?  How would we push a cart that is filled up in preparation of Armageddon? I guess it is true that God never gives more than what we can handle. 

After doing a quick check of the cart inventory (mustard seeds, check – have enough to season an ocean of coconut chutney, tamarind, check – have enough to serve puliyodharai prasadam at the local temple for the next 5 years and, most importantly, asafoetida, check – have enough LG bottles to undertake the Ambani family’s next wedding order of rasam), I finally turned in to the last aisle all set to load up my favorite 20 pound rice bags.  Wait a second.  What happened here?  Who took all the rice bags?  Oh, the horror!  At that moment, I knew exactly how Gollum felt when Sauron’s ring slipped out of his hand.  Oh, where art thou, my precious? 

I would have gladly traded my wedding jewelry for the 4 bags of rice in the cart ahead of me at the counter, but I couldn’t really fall at her feet and beg there, could I?  With social distancing and all, it wouldn’t be the responsible thing to do. 

So finally, with a heavy heart, not to mention, a heavy cart loaded with only 3 miniature 10 pound bags of rice, I walked back to my car praying that my family will somehow find the courage the face the day we run out of rice.  May we survive that nightmare and live to tell the tale another day.

Hang in there, folks!  This too, shall pass. 😊