Normalcy or normality is anything but that. It is truly something that I most strongly enjoy, crave for and pray for. Perfectly normal, routine days made of exceptionally special mundane acts. It is what I miss most when something abrupt strikes. It is what I am most nostalgic about. Sure, that thrilling day trip on that vacation 4 years ago is a grand memory to revisit and maybe even long for once in a while. But most often what my heart truly wants is all those everyday acts I do and did, that I no longer can. In these moments, I have found my way of making life feel grand. It is a tricky circle of realization – being or the fear of being deprived of something or someone tells you exactly what you love most. And a seemingly ordinary today is the grand memory trip of a further tomorrow.
A couple more close ups from last week because I finally wore this Lakshmi Kemp set from @aarvee.chennai that I bought three years ago. I have missed so many weddings, family events and just being with loved ones and the bustle of dressing up for an event, helping my ma and chitthis and perimas with their saree pleats, changing the accessories half a dozen times, kindly rejecting a suggestion, carefully drinking a hot coffee, sitting down with care for breakfast so the sarees pleats don’t get creased even before the event and photos, opening up the bindi store, convincing someone they look really good in something new, getting heady amidst half a dozen perfumes that circulate in the room amidst the flowers, waiting for everyone to be done/others waiting for you to be done and the million dollar feeling of walking into the venue and endless chatter. I miss all these little moments so much. Somedays I cannot wait to reach a stage when I can take a flight and go do all this and come back.
Hope is the hat rack I hang my dreams upon, indeed.
Somewhere this weekend, I spent some time in this saree that I want write about here (I have to give full credit to K’s endurance and creativity in capturing some really lovely moments).
You see, it was the first saree that ma and I purchased for me. Up until then, I was always whisking ma’s sarees for weddings, college events, everything. I used to stitch a blouse for myself because the kinds I would wear were never ma’s style but the sarees were all hers. When one of my favourite cousin’s wedding was fixed, I decided to buy a saree for the muhurtam and ma and I found this in the first shop we went to. I got an extremely elaborate blouse stictched for this with beads and ties and everything and I may have been as excited as the bride herself for this wedding day. I have a thing for white and cream sarees that have silver and gold in them. They are so regal and I love how they look on everyone I have seen them on. I have such grand memories of the few of us singing “Sita kalyanam” and “Malai maathinal” and “Unjal aaDinaal” in all our jasmine, gold and saree clad glory amidst that sound that new sarees make if you listen. I remember so many moments from that wedding in such vividity and the saree is always such a big part of it. I even wore this as part of one of the smaller events in my wedding. I know not much about weaves and the saree continues to be a small part of my life even if it means just wearing it for myself on a random day for a few hours. It is perhaps the way it makes me feel, or takes me back or maybe just part of who I am. It is not one to dissect for today but I love this love and someday maybe I will have a slightly more academic interest in it or maybe not. But I know that when I drape a saree and sip a coffee, I will be comforted in a strange way that only makes sense to me.
As if there are not enough reminders of how long it has been since my last meal in Mysore home, ma’s puLiyogre gojju/puLikaachal is now teetering between dangerously low and tearful levels. I am very good at making things last until my next trip back home usually but who am I kidding? The pandemic has thrown any semblance of such pride in the air. And am not over reacting. I can learn to make this myself and try to recreate ma’s presence like I do with a lot of my cooking but I refuse to. Not this time. Those dabbas of poDi and uppinkai and thokku and gojjus that I carry from home after my father carefully double and triple packs them and meticulously weighs them so I never have to suffer at the airport are my way of having ma in the kitchen, in those jars with their lids tightly shut only to be embraced every now and then, preciously, deliberately and very very conscientiously. There is a lot of love that goes into them, there is a lot of excitement in making them and a lot of satisfaction in them being being used to make a meal. Objectively speaking, making a great gojju or pickle is not something only mothers can do and yet to me, they are unparalleled. Colour me sentimental and overcome by an extreme longing for home, but what is my food without it?
I truly miss those days when I would look forward to coming back from a trip or excitedly go through an experience all the while rejoicing in the fact that I can write about it, reflect on it and read what another reader may have to say. Somewhere along the line, PhD happened and there was a lot of writing, reflections and critiques happening in the academic world, I met new people, learnt new stuff about the world and myself, travelled way more than I imagined and loved every single bit of it and my previous blog that I was decently consistent with, became forgotten. I always sought that enticing pocket of time where I could sit down and write to my heart’s content and express myself in the best way possible through words. That, my friends, clearly did not work. The thing is – I just had to do it without thinking too much into making it the best. Somewhere along, the boundaries between writing to express for myself and writing to express to the world became blurred and it is an everyday act of unlearning for. I often struggled struggle to find a balance between making a perfect start and just starting. It baffles me because I can be so impulsive at times and yet there are instances when this spontaneity alludes me and when a false sense of seeking perfection engulfs me. If anything, living through this pandemic, as privileged as it may be, has taught me to “just do it”. The start needs to be made.
Somewhere along, Instagram came along offering the chance to share bite sized reflections and some sneak peaks to moments. They may not capture the entire picture (ha!) but still, it felt good to immediately jot down my thoughts as and when I desired and share a moment as and when I wanted and of what I chose to. But my utter disregard for this space causes a niggling feeling every time I think of it. It isn’t that I have not much to say. Au contraire I have lots to say but I am also aware that writing down sometimes means teasing this jumble of thoughts and lending clarity to them, an act that requires patience and also time. In a way, this sort of commitment has kept me off too, I feel. It takes some dedication to listen to your thoughts, separate them, organise them and lend words to them. The more I think of this, the more I feel this is a basic act of survival and to me, happiness as well. And so it is, that I make another start with renewed vigour.
With this space, I wanted to document thoughts, travels and tit-bits as I manoeuvred through life. I hope to do that more in the days to come. All those travels are not going to write themselves, will they?
Instead of making sweet pongal for Sankranthi today, I decided to make Ragi huri hittu unDe/ pori maav unDe or ragi laddoo though we never really called them laddoos growing up. Also, I have a bit of a mental block against laddoos. Making them, I mean. I am more than comfortable with eating one or half a dozen. Therefore, very conveniently I decided to make my entry into the world of laddoo (that I have come to realise is endless) – making with ragi huri hittu/pori maav unDe with a fair bit of confidence but also a bit of nervousness because am still learning to not see every attempt as an achievement because I tend to do that a lot.
Anyway back to these unDes. It was one of my favourite evening snacks and ma would roast ragi and get it ground at the local mill (Gosh, those were the days). The roasting was key – it imparted a beautiful smell and also made it easy for digestion. She’d roast the ground flour again, carefully but generously adding ghee, shaving a ball of jaggery with a knife right over the pan as some powdered bits and little pieces fell into that aromatic bliss while my brother and I waited rather impatiently with a hope that we’d get a bulk of those jaggery pieces to bite into. She’d wrap this all up by adding some warm milk, quickly rolling them within her palm alternating between the ghee in the little cup and the ragi mixture. She’s make them a really good size and yet we wanted more. Always. I never liked the nosy nuts in them much so sometimes she’d roast and grind some nuts into this mixture as well.
Today I did all of what she does with the ragi huri hiTTu I got from home. I also went a bit wild and added some slivered almonds tossed in with the huri hittu when toasting it. It felt wonderful making this but it also made me really emotional to know I’d be eating them without my brother. I’ll get all the jaggery pieces for myself and that is no fun at all. Ah, I guess I’ll send a picture to him and make him jealous. Sisters will be sisters
Last week I signed up for a “closed terrarium” making workshop as part of mental health awareness week because I needed to create something badly. I have been reading and doing so much brain work the last month that I needed to make something with my hands. That experience was cathartic and it made all the sense that it was chosen as an activity for mental awareness week. And in several ways it was what I needed – the joy of making and most importantly a reminder of that.
It was probably what a lot of them needed because despite this “strictly 10 participants only” being fully booked, there were a few more hoping for a no-show so they could join in. I definitely would have done the same if I had not secured a spot. Making a closed terranium – how exciting! I have long admired them on window sills in little cafes and at homes with absolutely no inkling of how to make them or sustain them. A tiny life inside a container is fascinating as it is and then I learnt about how these moisture loving plants like Fittonias actually sustain themselves and you hardly have to do much except for opening it once in a month just to let the air out and water them a bit.
I admit, I gave out a pretty loud squeal of delight when I saw the set-up only to be met by nods that understood my point. Here we were, a grand total of ten enthu-cutlets, taking an hour off work, marking our calendars busy, to make something and meet someone perhaps. There was soil, charcoal, beautiful little pebbles, a pot of charming fittonia for each of us, some moss, a couple more plants and a nice jar to house your little creation in. Walking to this set-up amidst work was just so uplifting, `
I have sometimes wondered why we have activities for creating awareness around something – is it because it encourages people to become aware of the existence of something and ask/talk about it, sometimes raising funds for the cause or is it because the activity by nature of itself encourages a sense of awareness around a topic. It was a bit of both that day. As we filled our jar with soil and nudged it ever so gently, we marvelled at how lovely it felt to be touching something and making something.
As we gently separated the roots and shared our different shades of fittonia, we forgot to hurry our way through things and very gently, very silently got blissfuly busy but never forgetting to stop for a bit and admire another’s creation.
It taught me a lot that day, making these terrariums. Inspite of being aware of how much I missed creating, it made me realise how little I knew of what I was missing out on and how much that meant to me. It is easy to be caught in the labyrinth of activities that one has to do and tasks one must endure, but nothing and absolutely nothing can or should come in the way of creating a little of something every now and then. Only if your heart wants to. And to find out if that is indeed the case, you need to immerse yourself in the very act.
Today, as I walked out of the Waterloo Station, I saw a slightly elderly man sitting at the intersection of the several crossings (that I cannot wrap my head around) when you exit the station. It was drizzling and he sat by the sidewalk with an umbrella and a small red blanket. The blanket covered him and as I walked closer, I saw a beautiful tricolour (black, white and tan) dog resting his/her head against his chest with a vacant stare. It broke my heart into a million pieces and I felt sick in my gut. I walked past hurriedly because I need to tear myself away in such circumstances. It is so hard for me to talk about such things that typing them here is the closest I can come to baring how deeply I get affected by certain moments and sights. But as I crossed the street, I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back and see the dog. It reminded me a lot of how Mili rests on us when she is being cuddled or when she is sleeping. She loves contact and somehow I keep thinking it was Mili there on him.
So I walked back.
I always like to help in anyway I can. It makes me a little less guilty and in my own selfish way, I feel a bit better though certain times, it takes me a few days to tuck it away in a corner of my mind.
I carry the whole world in my backpack, so I stopped under the roof near the station and took out a 5 pound bill. I did not know what else I could do. I walked upto him and handed it and told him to take care, very quickly trying to catch a glimpse of the dog but failing. I was too overcome to say more. I wanted to ask him to please buy a little something for the dog. But I could not bring myself to say it. Why would I want to say that? Here was a person who was holding an umbrella and covered the dog with his blanket. They had each other and kept each other warm this cold morning as everyone hurried with their tall and grande lattes and with their own challenges and tasks to conquer. He and his dog were a team. Who was I to tell him to care for his partner? He smiled with a clear, “God bless you and love you.” I remember nodding with a very tight lipped smile and walking away. I do not remember what he looked like when he said it, I do not recollect what I was looking at either. All I remember is I had crossed all the traffic lights and walked across the bridge before I even realised it.
I made a dash with hesitation (do you know what am referring to? Like, when you run but also your legs give way and your heart wants you to try a bit more?). As I hurriedly bought my ticket, I saw the train doors closing along the platform that was about 20 steps of a run, maybe less. The guard at the barricade told me I can probably make it to the train and as I punched out, I saw the train guard standing out, keeping a door open and urging me to hop into that cabin. I foolishly tried getting into another wondering why the door did not budge open. He patiently called out, “Madam, this one! This one, I have it open.” That’s when I realised I had to get into that compartment and I gave him the most grateful sheepish look I could. The next train was a longer route and 20 minutes away and meant missing my first meeting with a senior at work (who probably would have kindly understood my predicament but that would have made me really guilty throughout our meeting). Anyway, I hopped in, he gave me a small smile as if this was nothing.
As I got off at Waterloo, I walked up to him. He probably thought I was lost and meant to ask for directions. And when I told him, it was beautiful what he did and am so thankful, he gave me the most beautiful smile and shrugged with a, “Ah no problem. Don’t worry about it.”
Almost always when I walk away from such people, the world around me stops. I have tears from God-knows-where spring into my eyes. I tell myself repeatedly, how beautiful people are. It makes me so emotional that I spend the next hour or two smiling at everyone and creeping them out. K has seen me do this multiple times. But really, it made my morning. I have lost count of how many times I have said this, but the people in train stations and the staff who work for the London Underground and South Western Railways are absolutely fabulous and everyday heroes. I mean every one of them. They have let me in when my app conked off, sometimes walked me to the correct exit, drawn a virtual route on their palm to show me the way, redirected me to better and shorter routes and just been absolutely wonderful with other fellow travellers every time I have passed by.
I thought long and hard about how I must title this happy event of mine that happened this morning. I quite honestly could not think of any way to do it. It really is as simple as that and yet so profound.