Thursday, April 30, 2020

Z is for Zarrā Zarrā #AtoZChallenge

An Urdu phrase today:  Zarrā Zarrā [Devnagari: ज़र्रा, Urdu: ذرّہ, pronunciation: Zarrā

I hope this last post of the challenge will make the meaning of this phrase clear to you.
Papadash and Artemis are back today. They'll help you get there:)
Marigold Yellow and Dahlia Maroon were opening their buds when Artemis heard Mother tell Father that Papadash had sent word with Breeze of Gentle.

"The Wizard thinks she's ready to go back to the Great Garden." Mother's words sounded as sweet as the song Koel sang in Tree of Jamun.

"Hmm." agreed Father.

When Artemis reached the Big Metal Gate, Papadash, the Perect was waiting. His eyes twinkled in the morning sun. 

Artemis ran straight into his open arms and immediately felt at home.

"You've grown my child." Papadash kissed the top of her head. 

There were many more Twigs in her wild hair today. They had all begged her to take them along as she'd run past first the Grove of Mango and then the Grove of Litchi. They cracked and creaked till Artemis agreed.

"I missed you so much Papadash." Artemis felt a tickle in her throat. So, she cleared her words out.

"Why?" 

Artemis looked up surprised. Her eyes were filling up with Drops of Dew. Did you not miss me then? She thought but didn't say anything.

"But child, how am I to miss you if you never left me?" Papadash asked as they sat under Tree of Mulberry.

"I don't understand." confessed Artemis.

"You must be hungry." the wise Wizard said and pulled out an Orange Orange from deep inside his pockets and started peeling it.

Artemis was too happy to be back to let anything bother her. Leaves of Mulberry danced to the tune of Bulbul  while Perfume of Rose skipped around them. Even the Bags of Cloth who never looked happy for they often complained about Sour Grapes seemed to have mellowed with age. 

Papadash peeled the skin of Orange carefully. He split it into two halves and gave one half to Artemis.

She popped a segment into her mouth as soon as she got it. The juice was sweet and cool. She rocketed the pip out. Sunflower Bright moved his head to see how far the pip would fall.  

"How was it?" 

Artemis turned to see that Papadash hadn't touched his share of Orange yet. She felt a little embarrassed about finishing her half so quickly.

"Look." he said and peeled the web of veins that held the segments of Orange in place and showed it to her. 

Artemis watched spellbound as Papadash picked out a segment, slowly and carefully: just like Mother picks baby brother out of his cot. He asked Artemis to notice the veins, the transparent skin and pay attention to the promise of juice that lay within. He spilt it open. The strands full of juice opened up like a fan. Hidden inside the orange strands, lay a pip. 

"What do you see?" asked Papadash holding the pip between his thumb and finger.

"A pip."

"Child, look closely and you will see you, the world and me." 

For it is common knowledge that all of  Earth's Trees live inside Seeds -- from Orange Sweet to Mighty Oaks and even the Mulberry and that has always been the way of All you See.

"But Papadash I can not see you or me or the world! I only see a pip very small." protested Artemis.

"Give it time and look deeply--not to see that which it is but to see that which it can be."

Artemis nodded her head. Some things were starting to make sense.

Papadash offered her the juicy segment fan to eat.

"But, I've eaten mine already."

"Did you really eat it child? Or did you gobble it up? Did you pay attention to the millions of molecules and aeons of atoms that visited your tongue so you could taste Orange of Orange?"

"Does taste have colour too?" wondered Artemis.

Papadash smiled.

"Every thing, every little thing--Mountains High, Streams Shallow, Rose Pink, Pip Bitter, Particle of Flavour, Drop of Ocean, Wisp of Cloud, Breath of Baby, Dark of Womb--every Sigh, every Cry, every Heart, every Touch, every Bite, every Smell, every Tweet of Mynah bird--every little Zarrā inside every atom of every molecule of every Galaxy of every Cosmos has its own Colour."

"Really?" Artemis' saucer eyes widened and she shook her head to see if all the information Papadash was giving her was fitting in or not.

"Heads can see that which is. Only Hearts can see that which can be. When you said you missed me and I asked you why--this dear Artemis is my reply to those Drops of Dew that filled you eyes."

Papdash pulled her closer to him and started untangling her wild hair, one strand at a time.

"You see, dear child, we are all Children of the same Light. Pip Brown and Artemis Curious come from the same place. Every atom and every molecule holds the Light of Eternity as its Guide. So, when I want to talk to you, I think of you and see your light --from here." Papadash put his hand of many wrinkles on his heart and patted it.

"Next time you eat a piece of Orange or watch the Cloud roar, pay attention to that which can be -- for one day, you may be the drop that floats in Sky and who knows I may become a newborn's cry!"

Sky of Doon, the Valley of Green, was getting ready for the Night. His Star children had started coming out one by one. Koel and Bulbul were singing their last evening songs when Papadash looked at Artemis and said, "That's enough for your first day back. Now go home and tell Mother you were late for I told you another. Go and let April sleep in this Soil of Blog Deep; for tomorrow it will be May and all will wake up to a brand New Day. Go my dear child but remember this: His Light is all we need to see for it lights up every Zarrā  in every stone, every leaf, and every single bumblebee."
Dear Precious Readers,

Thank you for being my companions during this month of unusual April. I'll miss the daily posts and your visits but as Papadash would say--All I have to do is look with my heart and I will see all of you in your Galaxies.
I bid you adieu for now.
May will be here tomorrow. I've asked her to show me the light just like April did so that even if this is my last post of A to Zee, our paths may cross, more often than intermittently.
What do you think Zarrā Zarrā means? 
Do tell me what you think of this tiny little Zee which reminds me of Rumi:
"You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop."
Thank you.

Yours truly and always gratefully,

Arti

For those of you who understand Hindi, here's a short recital of beautiful poetry: Enjoy.
Punjabis have trouble saying crisp goodbyes. They linger on at doorsteps and garden gates for ages.
And as I am of Punjabi stock, I feel like saying more--yes, greedily so!
 Hence, sharing a poem I wrote a while back, in case you have time to read. 
And if you'd like to visit this sacred grove I talk about, just click on : Of Sacred Groves

But before you enter the sacred grove,
Take off the cloak, the mask, the camouflage.
Bring in the real you--
bare and brilliant
single and sufficient
older than time
younger than the last breath
timeless
formless
no body
no mind
no iffs
no buts
no good
no bad
no likes
no dislikes
no memories
no plans
no past
no future
no family
no friends
no ties
no loose ends
no laughter
no sadness
no highs
no lows
still
calm
eternal

a drop in the ocean
an ocean within a drop

Like a ripple seeking its shore

Come ...

meet your shore

He's been waiting for you all his life too.
**********
Stay safe and healthy.
I'll see you on Reflection Day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Y is for Yours Truly #AtoZChallenge

We met this adorable one in Maunda, Uttarakhand in May 2019 when we spent a couple of hours at the local school exploring colours, creativity and crayons.


"What are you doing Arti?" Anu asked.

"Writing a letter."


"To whom?"

"To my baby brother. It's Rakhi." I reminded Anu.

"But, Aunty will be coming home today with your brother. Why do you need to write a letter?" Anu, my dear friend from across the street, was older than me and certainly wiser.

"But, Mummy always writes a letter to Mamaji for Rakhi. I have to write. Can you help me find all the other things I need to put in this lifaafa (envelope)?"

I was five years old when my brother Neeraj was born. 

Friends and neighbours who came home to give badhai (congratulate) said how lucky Seema and I were that our brother arrived just in time for Raksha Bandhan.

Mummy was in the hospital with the baby. We hadn't named him yet. That will happen a few days later at the temple. But, I will call him Monie when I will see him for the first time. Monie will stick as my name for him.

Anu helped me find a few grains of rice, some mishri (sugar crystals), a couple of almonds and a few strands of kesar (saffron) to put inside the envelope along with my letter. Someone had bought rakhis already. So I had that sorted.

Mummy used to write letters often: at least once a month if not more. She would get so excited about her rakhi/Tikka letters that I would be pulled into the excitement too. I'd watch her gather the rakhi/tikka samagri (paraphernalia) and lovingly enclose it all in an envelope addressed to her brother who lived in Vikasnagar.

Pyaare Veerji (Dear brother) would be the way she usually started her letters to him and she always used the greeting Jai Shree Krishna to continue.

I can't recall how she ended her letters but when she taught us how to write them, she encouraged us to use adjectives like pyaari (loving/affectionate) in between aapki (your) and (behen/beti) sister/daughter.

Replies from her maika (her family) written in blue inland letters or on creamy yellow postcards delivered by the postman were awaited with so much eagerness by our mother that to a five year old it seemed as if she was waiting for Krishna himself, her beloved God.

Letter writing continued to be the way I communicated with my family when I left home to study at Delhi University.

My much younger cousins who were living with Papaji recall his excitement when the postman tringed-tringed his bicycle bell at the metal gate.

"You know Didi, he'd run across to Sanjay bhaiya's house as soon as he received your letter. He was so fond of listening to them being read aloud in English and he'd ask bhaiya's father to write his reply to you in English, too."

My cousins were too young to be able to help Papaji read or write letters. The rest of the household would've told him to wait. He was never one for putting off anything till later. 

Papaji could read and write in Urdu and Hindi, but not in English. Of course, I had no idea about his trips to our neighbour's house to hassle him with the reading and writing task even in bhuree dopaharee (the hot midday sun) as I wasn't there to witness it. Kirti, my cousin, shared her memory recently and filled me in. 

For as long as I wrote letters to my family, no matter who I was writing to, the second line of the address on the blue inland letter always read: C/O Shri Kahan Chand Ji Kohli (my Papaji).

Raksha Bandhan fell on the 9th of August in the year 1976. It was also the day Mummy was supposed to come home with our new baby brother.

Daddy took me with him to see Mummy at Kalhan Maternity Hospital before she was discharged. He held my right hand in his while I clutched my rakhi letter in my left.

The antiseptic, Dettol smell was so potent that I can still recall it. What I remembered the most, though, were the drips and the glass bottles tied to the drips--the ones with glucose or saline in them--the clear ones.

"Where do babies come from?" I must've asked the question sometime. And the answer had been: "From hospitals."

Those glucose/ saline bottles hanging by the side of Mummy's bed became my storks that day. For a good few years afterwards I imagined little babies sitting snugly inside glass bottles being handed over to mothers when they visited hospitals.  

I gave the envelope to my mother who asked me to hold on to it so that I could tie my first rakhi at home properly: with mithai and flowers.

Tumharee pyaaree behen (your loving sister) was the sentiment I had put safely inside that envelope along with my rakhi, a few grains of sugar and rice and saffron even if I could not write letters or words properly. I miss not being able to use those words any more.

Mummy's guidance, our school lessons and the practice of letter writing  taught us two things: the true meaning of the most important words in human dictionary: sincerely, truly, faithfully, lovingly, and the fact that all these words, when one is writing a letter, always, always connect you(rs) with relationships and friendships.
**********
Do you remember writing letters to your family or friends and posting them?
Or, perhaps you waited eagerly for the postman to tring his bicycle bell?

If you'd like to share any 'where babies come from' stories of your own, I'd love to hear them:)
Thank you for being such wonderful reading companions this month.
Yours truly,
Arti

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

X is for "X my heart and hope to die!" #AtoZChallenge

Sunder Nursery, New Delhi May 2019

[Diary entry on the night before the picnic]

Grade 3. 8 years old. Holy Angels' Convent School. Dehradun. 

Dear Diary,

I'm super excited about tomorrow. I can't sleep. 

I can't believe Sister Lucy gave our class permission to go so far for our picnic. I've never sat in a big bus to go on a school picnic before. Oh! I can't wait for morning to come and Mrs. Malhotra said that the driver will go past our house to pick me up!

Mummy and Daddy and Seema and Neeraj will see me get on the bus. I hope I will get a window seat. 

Good night. 

Even though I won't be able to sleep, I will shut my eyes really tight.

xx

[Diary entry on the night after the picnic]

Grade 3. Still 8 years old but now doubtful about future. Same School. Same City.

Dear Diary,

I'm not sure how long I will live for I have crossed my heart and told a lie.

Sister Thomasina was standing by the slides in Shahanshahi Ashram to make sure we all took turns to come down one at a time.

Sorry, Diary. My handwriting is not so good today because I can only see from one eye. The other one has a big fat bandage on it.

So, there I was--at the top of the slide, waiting for my turn and I think Manjari was behind me or maybe it was Deepali. I don't remember now. But, I know who was in front of me. It was that annoying Vishal--he's always teasing me. And just because he can run faster than me, he got there before I could and then he took his own sweet time to slide down. I knew he was doing the slow slide jaanboojh kar (on purpose) because I saw him stick his feet to the sidebars -- he didn't slide-- he went khissak-khissak-khissak ke (painfully slowly).

But you know what? While I was waiting, I looked around. It is such a beautiful garden--this Shahanshahi Bagh. It's not like Papaji's, though.

Papaji's garden begs you to come in and explore because it is always exploding with so many things that grow everywhere. Shahanshahi Bagh was neat--like Mummy's handwriting. There were so many trees and lots of flowers but they all looked like children in assembly--neatly lined up. While waiting for that silly Vishal to reach the bottom, I spotted an entire garden of roses. It was right behind the swings: not far from the slide.

I knew what I wanted to do once I was done with this stupid sluggish slide.

"Out of bounds children. The rose garden is OUT OF BOUNDS." Sister Thomasina was announcing when I did get down in the end.

Of course, I heard her!

But those roses. Just one touch---a quick sniff. No one will know. No one will notice, I thought. As long as that pesky Vishal doesn't come looking for me!

He didn't. I was alone. Lunch was over. We were all free to do as we pleased before boarding the bus to go back home.

I got my chance.

I ran into the rose bushes. Smelled a few blooms. That roses came in so many colours was a shock to me--a happy, exhilarating shock of new discovery: yellow, orange, crimson, coral, spotted ones with red and pink and white dots and even white! Have you ever seen white roses?

Do you remember when I told you about Alice in Wonderland? I was Alice today. I wish I could bring a few petals to keep inside your pages. But I had no time .

"The bus is here. Line up class 3." Mrs. M's voice reached me.

I panicked. I had to reach the line. You know I am the shortest in class so the line starts with me. I ran. I ran blindly and very, very fast. I didn't want to get caught red handed among the roses. 

I made it just in time. Phew!

"Arti, what's this? You're bleeding child...." Said Mrs M and tilted by head back with her hands.

A wet handkerchief was put on my left eye. I didn't realise what all the fuss was about. I felt a little twinge on my eyelid but nothing else. Mrs. M sat next to me on the bus. I got the window seat.

"What happened Arti? How did you get that cut? I hope it's not too deep." Mrs. M spoke in her soft voice and turned the hanky to check if I had stopped bleeding.

"Vishal pushed me."

"We will look into it tomorrow in class. I will have to inform Sister Lucy. Keep still and don't talk."

Mrs. M got off the bus to fill Mummy in about my accident.

Daddy cleaned up the blood and washed my cut with Dettol. It stung. I didn't cry. I kept quiet. 

"Why/when/where did he push you?" Mummy asked after it was decided that the cut wasn't too deep so I didn't need any stitches.

"Right before we were getting on the bus--he was racing me." I told her.

"Are you telling me the truth? How come you have no scratches on your hands or knees? "

"Cross my heart and hope to die." I looked her in the eyes and lied. My left hand was behind my back:my  fingers were crossed, of course.

I'm not sure I will be alive tomorrow morning dear Diary. If I'm not, at least they will know why I died. I think a thorn must've cut through my eyelid as I was rushing past the rose bushes but I didn't notice anything at the time.

I'm feeling sorry for Vishal. I know he is the naughtiest boy in class but he didn't do anything.

How can I tell them I disobeyed Sister Thomasina? They think I'm the best student in class. I always come first. And Mrs. M made me the class monitor only last week!

Good night Diary.

xx
*********
I lived with my guilt of not coming clean about this lie for a very long time. The next day, Vishal was asked and he shrugged his shoulders to suggest he may have pushed me. He was a very boisterous child in class and often got into trouble. I could never look him in the eye after the school picnic incident. Mercifully, it was our last term at Holy Angels for the school closed down as the owners of the bungalow it was housed in had decided to sell their property.

I transferred to St. Joseph's Academy in grade 4.

I never told Mummy about my lie. I lost touch will almost all of my grade 3 class mates as my new school was far away from where I used to live. 

By the time I gathered the courage to come clean, life's zigzags were challenging enough to manoeuvre through so the opportunity never arose.

Mummy died when I was 19. 

The only person who I've shared this with till now is my husband. 

I wasn't too sure about writing about it today but in doing so I feel I am finally able to apologise to Vishal, where ever he may be today, and say--I'm sorry.

Note: I didn't start writing a diary till much later, but as I hadn't had this conversation with anyone other than myself that night, I thought I'd use a diary entry to bare my heart.
************
Thank you for visiting my blog.
I've really enjoyed the sharing.
If, after reading this post, you are reminded of a lie you told as a child, or a truth you chose not to disclose and you'd like to share the story with me, you know I'd love to hear.

Stay safe and healthy and just in case you are intrigued by the significance of  the saying we used often as children as well as other attributes of the letter X, you can click on this link:

Monday, April 27, 2020

W is for When Papaji Swore #AtoZChallenge


My grandfather's face was a map of many deep wrinkles. Like creases in a piece of cloth, the lines around his eyes would ride up when he smiled or laughed. But, the ones around his lips would gather around his mouth in a thin bundle when he told us off for climbing a tree or for running through his newly planted beds of radishes.

The creases on his forehead never showed when he was in his garden. 

While the rest of the household slept through hot, summer afternoons in Dehradun, Papaji kept himself busy: tending to his trees and leaves and branches and dozens of birds and bees. There was always something to do.

I used to find it difficult to partake in the enforced siesta too. So, I’d try my best to sneak out despite the threat of getting a good beating from my mother if she caught me outside in the heat. She often did. There were enough tell-tales in our house.

One such afternoon, I found my grandfather sitting under the canopy of his grapevine, bent over a piece of cloth, threading a needle.

“What’re you doing Papaji?” I asked.

Sill reya haan." (Stitching) He said without looking up.

His lips and mouth were twisting in sync with his fingers. He’d puncture a hole in the cloth and twist the needle, his lips would twist at the same time. As soon as the needle was through the stitch, his lips and the lines around them would relax. The sewing sequence continued.

He told me he was stitching covers.

“Covers...for what?

“Grapes.”

I thought he was trying to make me laugh with his silly jokes like he did sometimes. I was almost four years old -- old enough to know that grapes don’t wear any clothes.

Papaji had folded an old hessian sack and turned it into a cosy cushion to cover an upside down tin canister. He was sitting on this hand made garden stool; the pleats of his soil stained salwar falling on either side of the canister like big deflated balloons, when he nodded to confirm that he was being serious.

I planted myself on the cool soil next to him; my face turned up towards the lush vines watching the sun dabble with its leaves -- a dapple of bright here, a dash of dark there. 

How long I sat next to Papaji, I don’t know. Time, when you’re in a garden with your grandfather, melts like an ice-cream in the hot sun. It disappears too quickly. One minute you think you’ve got the entire afternoon spread out in front of you and the very next minute, you hear your mother calling you to get back inside to drink your glass of milk which you hate anyway.

“Count how many are ready.” Papaji stuffed a handful of the bags he’d sewn into my lap. I counted and told him.

“Arti….” We both heard my mother’s voice.

“Coming….” I replied but didn’t move.

“Go inside and quickly finish your milk. I’ll wait.”

I dashed in, gulped the vile liquid down and dashed back out in the blink of an eye. 

Papaji was muttering to himself: something about his vine’s poor performance that year.

“Pass me a bag when I ask you.” He instructed and adjusted a sturdy crate to use as a step ladder to reach the first bunch, the one I could barely see because it was the one hanging the highest.

I passed him the bag. He slid the cloth bag onto the bunch like pyjamas and wrapped a piece of twine around the top to keep it secure.

“There…” He exclaimed as he got off the crate. “Maiyavee chidiyaan… The effing birds.”

I didn’t know it then but  Papaji used to use an array of swear words, very often. Only later,  a few years later, when I first made the connection between the words he would use and the words we were never allowed to use, did I realise just how often he used to swear. Very often--almost every other sentence! He was a Punjabi, through and through. 

“Papaji….chapee lo.” The kitchen was issuing orders to him now—to come fetch his tea. 

He liked it sweet and hot and topped with a thick blob of malaai. (clotted cream)

Chal puttar pehle cha pee laan." (Let’s drink tea first) He said and scooped me up in his arms.

Two pink islands of soft, soft cheeks had emerged in his sea of wrinkles as he carried me to the house. He was smiling. His sweaty palms pushed the hair back from my forehead. I rested my head on his shoulder and watched the bags hanging from the vine recede into the cool garden shade. The effing birds had started chirping and twittering the evening in.
***********
A note about Papaji's use of swear words: It's funny how I can't imagine Papaji's speech without all those 'not-to-be-uttered-by-children' words. His speech without those words would not sound like his. Yet, taken out of context, the meaning of those words makes me blush even today!

A note about Covid 19:
A friend shared this short video and as I'm a firm believer of the immense powers of thoughts and positive vibes, I'm sharing it with you.
At times such as these, our collective thoughts of good health, healing and love can make a difference.

If today's post has jogged a memory from your childhood about words your elders used and you'd like to share, then I'd love to hear.
Please stay safe and healthy.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

V is for Vadda Veda #AtoZChallenge

A Punjabi phrase today: Vadda means big and Veda is a verandah

Dear Readers,
Thank you for stopping by and reading my posts this month. 

You are familiar with the veda by now. Going down memory lane, I've realised that many of my childhood memories are rooted in this part of Papaji's house--the stretch we used to call vadda veda. Its expanse of criss-crossed red bricks acted as a broad bridge between the house and the garden. And like all the trees and the garden and Papaji and Beji, the veda, too, is no more. It lives on only in my memories. So, I thought I'd pay the vadda veda a tribute today.

Also, I'm lagging behind with my blog hopping routine. I hope to catch up soon. Sundays are good for that:)
Rose petal jam goes by the name of gulukund in India.  

The rose bushes in Papaji's garden stood as a hedge marking the perimeter of the veda. Their blooms were pink and of the Indian variety. They smelled divine. Although, Papaji's roses were not big, they were guttha (thick with plenty of petals) and his pride and joy. Syrian rose or Damascus rose as it is sometimes called comes close to the variety I'm referring to. I have one growing in a pot in my garden. When I went out earlier today to click a picture, the mature bloom shed its petals as I touched it. 

Papaji would harvest his roses and separate their petals when the blooms were plenty. I have vivid memories of pink rose petals spread out on sheets in our veda, drying in the sun. We were strictly forbidden to go near those resting roses. The petals would be covered with old dupattas to keep them dust free. 

My father recently shared his rose petal jam recipe with me. It sounds simple. He recalls layering the petals after they had been spread out for a couple of hours in the sun, with sugar-- like a layered cake --in a ceramic container (murtabaan). They were then left to ferment till the jam was ready.

This beautifully shot video shows the process using roses that look just like the ones that grew in Papaji's garden: Rose Petal Jam

In India, rose petal jam or gulukund is most commonly used in paan (beetle leaf) preparations. A few drops of rose water added to a sweet dish or just plain water can magically teleport one back to those summers of roses when pink petals rested in pretty poses.

Autumn and winter were all about Papaji's chulha (mud stove) and tasla (iron wok) located at the far end of the veda--at the very end of the property. He'd light a fire under the chulha, gather shakkar kandi (sweet potatoes) and chestnuts and makki (corn kernels). After the fire got going, he'd bury the tubers and the chestnuts in the embers and glowing logs. He would then start turning the sand in the tasla --which sat on top of this stove with a karchee (ladle). Once the sand was hot enough, he'd put corn kernels in, one fistful at a time. As they popped, Papaji took them out and put them on a plate while popping a few into his or our mouths if we happened to be nearby. The tubers took a long time to roast. We'd get to eat them hot and sweet--right there in the veda or he'd bury them along with the chestnuts in his kangadi for later.

He loved popcorn and even the un-popped kernels would end up sitting in his kameez ke boje (shirt pockets). He'd dig those out for us or for himself whenever he fancied. Papaji's pockets were mini sweet shops. He was capable of conjuring up golian (hard boiled candies), gudd (jaggery), mishri ki dullian (sugar crystals), un-popped corn kernels or roasted black chana (chickpeas), neje (pinenuts) and kishmish (raisins) anytime and every time we appeared within his orbit, from the depths of his boje.

Winters also brought the tandoor outside; into the veda. Beji would pat makki or aate ke pede (corn or wheat dough balls) effortlessly and expertly: transferring the steadily growing circle of the roti from one hand to the other. Thup, thup, thup of the dough ball changed to slap, slap, slap of the roti and finally ended with a dhum as Beji, the fearless, extended her hand holding the round, uncooked roti into the mouth of the volcanic tandoor and planted it on its inner fire wall. There was a rhythm to her magic. She did all this with bare, uncovered hands!

Mummy, her novice apprentice, would stand next to her with a thick ponda (kitchen towel) wrapped around her hand, holding a chimta (tongs) to pull out the rotis as they got cooked and put them on the lip of the tandoor to rest and roast a bit more (we were all fond of karaari (crispy) rotis). She'd take a step back and extend her hand far out in front of her despite her armour of ponda and chimta every time she had to do her assigned task.

We would wait for Mummy to serve us those rotis while we sat with Papaji on our munjhi under the Mulberry tree. Sometimes,I could see sparks flying out of the tandoor's mouth. But Beji would crack on with her roti making and baking nonchalantly. 

At the end of all the baking, water would be used to douse the embers. The tandoor would hiss and splutter as we'd get ready to open our mouths to spoons full of yoghurt with khund (raw sugar)--Papaji's standard dessert after lunch.

Summer holidays of running races and  climbing trees; of drawing stapu squares (hopscotch) with chalk pieces and getting our knees scraped while playing lungdi taang (sort of tag--hopping on one leg) and chchuppan-chchuppai (hide and seek) were spent in the bosom of our dear veda.

I wrote about another part of this veda, a grey cement water tank, and a few not so fragrant although funny memories in the A to Z Challenge of 2016. If you'd like to read, here's the link: Yoghurt Bath

Memories are like a ball of twine. The more one unravels, the more seem to unwind. I'm happy that through this telling, happy moments of my past keep lighting up one by one, like fairy lights on a string stretched across a time once lived and loved. Perhaps, these memories will twinkle for the ones I love in the times yet to be lived.
Are there any flower recipes from your childhood?
Did you like jam? Which one was your favourite?
If you'd like to share. I'd love to hear.
Stay safe and healthy and happy.
See you on Monday.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

T is for Telepathy and Toxic Weather #AtoZChallenge

A friend shared this in a WhatsApp group a few weeks ago.

"Maawan diyan aandran" : If literally translated, maawan means mothers and aandran means instinct. But for all those who have felt is and experienced it, the phrase means telepathy.

Seema and I often wondered about Mummy's supernatural powers to catch our lies by just looking at us. But let's rewind back to a time when I didn't have my sister or my brother as accomplices in sharaarten (mischief) and therefore no one to share my wonderment with about this thing that Mummy possessed--this uncanny ability to uncover the truth even though I dug deep, deep holes to bury it and added mounds of mud on top just to make sure it stayed underground--never to be found.

I was four years old. Two houses down the gully, a baby was born. As was the custom of the times, all the neighbours paid the new born's parents a visit with sagan (a gift for the new born--usually money in an envelope or a set of hand knitted cardigan and booties). The visits commenced after a period of forty days (chaliya) of social distancing had been observed by the new mother and her baby. 

Mummy asked me to come along. I was thrilled.

The baby, however, was far from thrilled. He was rather shrilled. He cried and cried and didn't stop so he, or rather the bundle he was swaddled in, was passed from godi to godi (person to person) to the soundtrack of ...olle, olle...na..na...shhhh....na...puttar...olle ...sona baby kaun hai...shhh...followed by the standard lori (lullaby) of the times...lallaa..lallaa..lori..dhoodh ..ki...katori....but the new baby refused to lower his decibels. One of his aunts took pity on the mother and her visitors and took the baby to their verandah for some fresh air.

As was the custom, we were offered tea with namkeen and mithai and fruit. Mummy was a teaholic so I'm sure she must've had a cup. But what I remember is the apple and the orange that were brought on a plate because the most beautiful looking knife I had ever laid my eyes on was lying next to them.

While adults talked, I watched the cutting of the apple with the prettiest looking knife. The only knives I had seen till then were the ones Beji had in her kitchen. They were functional and had never caught my eye. Papaji's pocket knife, however, was dear to us for it gave us the first slices of any fruit our grandfather cut--apples, pears, guavas, mangoes and even the unpopular chakotra (grapefruit). 

One day, when I grow up, I will have a pocket knife just like Papaji's and I will cut the fruit myself. I used to cook up dreams of a sharp future when I was four.

The handle of the knife in our neighbour's drawing room was white. Red and orange were also present on the white. What they were, I couldn't make out as the hand that was holding the knife was working deftly and quickly. Red apple skin was snaking down to the plate in spirals. 

Halved. De-seeded. Quartered. Sliced. Arranged in a semi circle on the plate, the hands offered the apple to me. 

I took a slice and said thank you.

The knife had been left on the table, next to the plate of gulab jamuns. Its blade was as long as its handle and almost as big as my hand.

The hands picked up the pretty knife and magically folded the blade back into the handle--just like Papaji. I could hear my heartbeat getting faster and louder. My future was coming into sharp focus in front of my eyes.

Suddenly, all around me, the adults started moving. The hands had picked up an orange to peel but they put it down in a hurry. The new baby hadn't stopped bawling so it was decided that he must be hungry so his mother who had been talking to Mummy got up to leave the room.

We left too.

I couldn't wait to get back home. The knife felt so mine in my fist. It felt cool and smooth--like a marble. And for the first time I realised that the handle which housed the blade, was curved slightly, like a loosely drawn C. 

I had seen my mother keep an old iron knife under pillows to ward off bad dreams or evil, so I knew where I'd hide my precious when I got home. And I did. 

The rest of the day went by so slowly. Evening wouldn't fall and night took forever to knock on our door. 

After dinner, when I was alone in the room, I took my precious out. The handle was white with little red and orange flowers painted or printed on it. The blade unfurled out of its sheath like a ballerina--effortlessly, gracefully.

"Arti....." Mummy called. 

Blade in handle. Precious under pillow. Head down. Eyes Shut. Sleep--not to be found for a long, long time.

Next day, Mummy asked me, "Where is aunty's knife?" when I got back from school.

I was stunned and very, very disappointed.

I was made to go to the neighbour's house to return the knife and apologise. It was the most humiliating experience of my young life. They were a lovely, warm family and our families continued to be close, but every time I stepped into their drawing room, the episode of my knife infatuation followed by its short stay under my pillow haunted me. 

For a very long time, I didn't see that I had done anything wrong. As far as I was concerned, I had picked up a beautiful thing and taken it home with me--like I did with flowers, twigs and pebbles I found irresistible in Papaji's garden or any other garden.

"But did you ask them if you could take it?" Mummy tried to make the rules of society and morality clear to me.

It took me a few years to figure that out that the difference between theft and taking is the asking of permission. 
*****************
A mother's instinct is a difficult thing to explain. It's easy to experience. And in times of Covid19, when mothers like me, whose children couldn't travel back home from universities etc., worry for their safety, I feel we can send them our best healing, protective armour like energies through mediation and prayers and perhaps telepathy. 

May they be safe and healthy in these testing times.

I'll leave you with this song sung by our daughter, Arshia. She writes, composes and plays her own creations and every now and then, she shares. The more I write about my childhood, the more I miss my children. It's a funny connection of life and nature. 

Hope you enjoy it.

Toxic Weather by Arshia Jain

What are your thoughts about telepathy? Or a mother's instinct? 
Did you ever get tempted to steal/borrow without asking when you were little?
If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear.
Please be safe and stay healthy.