What I come back home ‘to’ and ‘for’… clicked on Diwali when they were in a real funny mood…more clicks later!
Amma + Amma = Amamma
It’s a month today since her passing. I know she’s gone, but I still haven’t fully registered her absence. It struck me this past weekend, as mum and me sorted out her sarees, and her scent wafted around the room, that it isn’t possible to really comprehend the death of a loved one. We try, we pretend to be all pragmatic and grown up about it. We talk, we share memories, we laugh. And then, one day, in an unexpected moment, we find our cheeks wet and our hearts heavy. We find we cannot breathe very well for a few moments. Then things appear in focus again. And life goes on.
At least that’s how it has been with me this past month. The thing is, Amamma and me have always been very close. She was a second mother to me through my early childhood when I spent two years with my grandparents in Delhi while my parents were abroad. I followed her around like a puppy dog in my growing years when they lived in Bangalore, loving the scents and flavours of her divine cooking, inhaling the aromas of freshly ground coffee and the freshly picked jasmines from her garden. She had a beautiful voice and my best memories are of Amamma singing her morning prayers even as she went about doing her chores. A busybee if there was one! She taught me how to do a mean kollam and everyday of the summer vacations that I spent with them, she encouraged me and guided me in making better designs.
She was the one who pampered me during my 10th and 12th grade Board Exams, rustling of my favourite eats and handing me coffee in a flask before turning in at night, knowing I could be up studying. Even in college, when she lived alone in Chennai, I remember visiting her from college in Delhi to spend time with her. She was a good sport, accompanying me to Kancheepuram to study traditional homes for my B.Arch dissertation way back in ’98. In recent years, she has been in Gurgaon living in the adjacent building with my mum. Though the roles were reversed and it was me checking in on her every now and then, we shared an easy bond with much laughing and cuddling involved.
My relationship with Amamma was different in a very marked way from nearly all other relationships in my life. We never shared an intellectual relationship, even in part. Instead, our bond had a deep aesthetic and emotional foundation. I have known for a long time, and this has only been reinforced by the sort of memories that have surfaced recently, that I derived my love for the beautiful things in life largely from her. She shaped my aesthetic tastes in a very profound manner. In my deep comfort with music, in my enjoyment of religious rituals despite my agnostic position on religious belief, and most markedly in how I choose to dress. Her grace and beauty, inside and out, left an impression on me right from my early years. My love for dressing up, for beautiful clothes and traditional jewellery is entirely a result of her grooming and her generosity.
I see now how I’ve styled myself after her time and again, and this was brought home to me during the #100sareepact I was part of in 2015. Being the only grandchild with so much access to her, I’ve benefited from numerous handouts from her cupboard through my life-bits and pieces of jewellery, scarves, perfumes, and of course, sarees…..Each piece came with a story, a nugget of wisdom, a bit of gossip from her past. Through the years, I have constructed a veritable tapestry of her life experiences, from her childhood to her life as a wife and mother. Even those stories, unraveling from her sarees and jewelry, have been an invaluable education.
When I woke up this morning, I wanted to make today special. I wanted to clear the haze of grief and celebrate the zest and spirit that she had always had for life. I wore her saree, one of those many that have made the journey from her cupboard to mine over the years. I felt her warmth, I smiled her smile, I felt beautiful.
After a crazy dash to the Delhi airport thanks to a truck turned turtle on NH8. Nupur and me took the flight to Mumbai with a distinct feeling that adventure was waiting for us with a vengeance!
Friday afternoon in Mumbai was dedicated to winding up Rachna’s house. After all, the trigger for the road trip was her big move back to Gurgaon. The three of us reached Juhi’s place one by one, after completing the errands that had fallen in our kitty. Juhidi as well call her is Nupur’s cousin, but also our buddy from the good old school days in Lucknow. Loads of nostalgia to fall back on, but also a genuine bonding. From sharing life experiences to politics and finally, just plain old giggle-fest, the stopover at Juhi’s was a perfect launch pad for the Girly Road Trip.
I ushered in 2014 with a warm fuzzy feeling of being surrounded by love and laughter. From the party last night with all our closest family and friends (and many not in town who we missed hugely) to the picnic at Lodi Gardens today with college friends, I kept thinking about how my sense of well being is hugely impacted by the kind of relationships I have with the people around me.
Who we hang out with says a lot about us? What are the values that bind us? That’s the question on which hinge most of the relationships in my life that I have chosen to nurture. And because I am driven by people and relationships (including the one with myself), I find it important to introspect on these lines on the first day of the New Year.
Respect, honesty, loyalty, empathy and integrity. These are the five values that I feel most aptly describe what I have in common with my dear ones. I value the friend who can say the most unsavory truth to me, the one who can accept my silliness without judgement, the one who stands by me in my hour of need but also the one who seeks me out when she is in trouble.
A big thank you to everyone who has, in the past year, held me together when I fell apart, shared in my happy moments, been sensitive to my feelings and needs. To those who let me be, to those who held my hand, to those who pulled me into their lives. To those who cemented bonds that long stood strong, to those that forged delightful new ones, to those who dipped their feet into the pool of friendship.
I feel upbeat about 2014. I have never felt so sure about myself before (must be something about getting closer to the big Four ‘O’)! Looking forward to more work, more fun, more writing, more travel, more introspection, more outreach, more joy in the small things of life, more big decisions……
What I come back home ‘to’ and ‘for’… clicked on Diwali when they were in a real funny mood…more clicks later!
There is nothing more than an early morning creative outburst. To create this surprise for Rahul papa, behind his back while he was at the gym, we slit apart old used A4 size envelopes, glued them together to create this long strip and then the kids just unleashed their creative juices on them. Dadi (their grandmum) offered them discarded kajal (kohl sticks), lipsticks etc and we used acrylic paints, crayons, toothbrushes, etc.
Aadyaa chose to recreate the mountains we recently holidayed in, while Udai drew a fleet of spacecrafts! Mummy and mausi chipped in here and there. We cut out the words from old discarded brochures. The entire process took us a couple of hours.
When Rahul walked in sometime later, the kids were shouting out ‘Happy Fathers Day’ atop their voices. The house rang with yells and laughter, smiles aplenty and lots of cheer. We breakfasted on a dish of yesterday’s chapati reinvented with garlic, onion and tomato seasoning and another experimental smoothie made with curd, milk, watermelon, beet root, red bell pepper,carrot, apricot and cucumber. A morning of creative reuse and family fun, with good old Furby joining in! Feeling really satisfied!
I could post a zillion pics of my kids for this week’s Word A Week Photo Challenge on the A Word in your Ear blog, seeing as the world this week is Smile. But I refrain from being the over zealous mom. I cannot but extend the word Smile into the word People. It is certainly the warmth of the people in our lives that makes us go on, day after day, despite hard times. And what best way to take strength and inspiration from them than to pay tribute to their smiles, that most precious gift that can instantly chase away gloom and lighten the heart, quicken the step and bring us back on track, when we fear we will lose our way.
Sherry Turkle has been thinking about the social and psychological impacts of the Internet and that makes this session super exciting. Technology is having a deep impact on us, changing who we think and even who we are. Is it taking us to places we don’t want to go? What are the ethics of advancement? Questions we ask all the time. Are we humanizing tech while we dehumanize ourselves? Robots become men, men become machines. This is her life’s work. Eager to hear what she has to say!
Hackers gave her a clue that humans now see their minds as a computer. Change in the way we evolve. Changing our identity. Initially celebratory about these changes, Sherry is now not so optimistic. As a psychologist, she thought it fascinating that people could experience playing with identity and learn from their online lives to live better real lives. The situation has turned darker now. She saw in the ‘90s that mobility changes. Transitions between computer identities and real connections become faster. We were never completely present to our reality. Another phenomenon was sociable robots. A new kind that doesn’t try to be smart, but tries to make you think it loves you. By using the right gestures, this robot pushes your Darwinian buttons to make you feel someone is home. Fascinating! We nurture it, we love it. She began to study these bots used in Japan for eldercare and to be nannies. Strong attachments to computers that do not deserve our love and that we never leave ourselves alone at all are disturbing trends we need to be aware of.
Why would we rather text than talk? Because it gives a larger sense of control, which is seductive. We can hide real feelings. Tech allows us to have the illusion of companionship without the demands and intimacy.
So does tech make us lonelier? All those of us addicted to technology, are we actually keeping the real people out? The real relationships away? I wrote about this recently. One of the wonderful things about being here at the Thinkest is to hear experts and researchers take forward my tentative musings about how we live life. That’s why so many of us are back to this fest.
People text at funerals, mothers in the park are texting…Are we losing the sense of human attachment? I find that scary, concerning. Why do we want to be elsewhere when we are somewhere? Why do we go there at all? I don’t want to be this sort of person, who forgets the difference between conversation and mere connection. The person who forget nuance. But yet I love what technology makes possible as well. When we have sessions at Shikshantar where my kids go to school, we often are told about how texting during dinner is not a great thing to do. We roll our eyes, hate the lecture! Well, Sherry used the exact same example today. Children deserve to grow up feeling they are important enough for us to set aside even something as important as technology. And I agree.
We need to set rules for ourselves that will help us achieve some sort of balance. We need to make a better attempt to really connect, with ourselves and then with people around us, then also with issues and events. Many levels of connection make life exciting.
What is reassuring is that Shirley thinks the younger generation is more likely to be able to build a tech Sabbath, build in breaks from technology. We, who came to it later, appear to be completely smitten! Kids might stand a better chance to achieve the balance. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that when children are little, say pre-teens and teens, we adults who ‘parent’ them (I say that in a larger sense) have the opportunity to give them a real sense of how important human contact is. We can love them with all we have got, reach out to them, involve them. Give them a legacy of humanity so that they can use technology to their advantage without being emotionally consumed by it.
I woke up Udai with ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya!’ this morning. And the first thing he said is “Why didn’t you take us to Goa this year for Ganesh Chaturthi?”. That stumped me and pleased me and brought the tears to my eyes all at the same time.
When I was a kid, I remember making the trip to Goa for Chavath only once. In my mind, it is a blur of song and dance, firecrackers and new clothes, glowing excited faces and noise. I don’t think I ever asked my parents why we didn’t go more often. I was very much embedded in my role as the cousin-who-lives-far-away, an outsider of sorts, a tourist in the family. I knew we did not have the means to travel every year and that it entailed my parent’s taking leave as they did not have vacations at this time of the year. Logistics ruled our lives and that was that.
This is a different generation; many would say more technologically oriented, with an ability to take rapid changes in their stride. A privileged generation, secure and able to make demands without compunction. But that’s not what made me feel all warm and glowing inside. I was amazed and gratified because Udai’s reaction exhibited his recognition of the family bond, enjoyment of rituals and festivities and the security that comes with the unconditional love and affection my kids have got from all our relatives in Goa.
And in the end, isn’t that what festivals are all about. The symbolism and even the details of how we celebrate may change from Christmas to Diwali, from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah to the Chinese New Year, but festivals remain a means we employ to reinforce age-old systems, institutions and values like family, tradition, respect, love, faith, joy, etc. Myriad forms of expression, through art and craft, through elaborate culinary preparations often specific to the festival itself, make the occasion an opportunity to savor new experiences.
Last year, in Goa for Chavath, we got together to make a rangoli (pity, I don’t seem to have a picture of it), learning new techniques from older aunts, singing old songs together, laughing insanely at comic impersonations of characters from old Hindi films or family legends. What a good time, we had. Ganpati Bappa sat there presiding over all this frolic, a broad smile adoring his face. Now this is what I’m here for, we heard him mumble!
Here are a few pics from last year’s Chavathi celebration in St Cruz, Goa. Missing all of you cousins and kakas and kakis and above all, Ajjee, a lot today 🙂
When the dates for my mother’s trek to Kailash Mansarover came in, her biggest concern was how her mother would be looked after when she is away. Amamma spends the summer months in Gurgaon and lives the rest of the year in Chennai. Over the past few years, as she approached her mid 80s, age gas begun to tell. And her sprightly outgoing personality has given way to someone who is content to get tasty meals on time! She tires easily and her strength has ebbed, but she still retains her sense of humour and a sharp eye for what is happening around her!
For example, the maid overcooked the pumpkin today and she asked her who she thought didn’t have teeth in the house! It was a joke on herself in the light of the dental treatment she is undergoing at present! Hilarious indeed.
Anyway, as you can see, the problem of taking care of her in mum’s absence was resolved by moving her to my home. I spent two years living with her and my granddad when I was very young (between ages 2 and 4) when my parents were away on fellowships abroad. I convinced her to stay with me claiming that I can look after her for one month if she could put up with me for two years back then! That tickled her immensely and lightened her up about the unexpected new situation.
Looking after her has not been too difficult, but there are days when I find my patience wearing thin. Like a child, she has questions about the weirdest things. She cannot hear too well so it is a challenge getting through at times. I’m having to work on my Tamil. Much of her vocabulary in Hindi and English has been lost with age and disuse, having lived in Chennai for many years. And yet, I feel so grateful for this opportunity to spend time with her. I feel the emotional bonds renew. I see how the presence of a great grandparent affects my children, sensitising them to the facts of ageing, developing patience in them and all of us. It’s much like looking after another child, but one who you owe a lot to.
In the beginning, it was about getting through the month. But slowly I found myself growing into the role of caretaker. When her teeth demanded attention, I found myself proactively taking on the responsibility of taking her for the required treatment. After all, how can we repay the debts of unconditional love, unlimited care and countless blessings?
Last night, the celebrations continued back in Goa even as I settled back into the office-school routine with the kids in Gurgaon. There was a big party in honor of Ramukaka, who turns 75 next month. He shares a birthday with my dad, August 31st, and that makes him more special than he already is! The party was held a month in advance thanks to all the VIPs from all over the worlds being in town for Arnav’s big day.
Anyway, a few weeks before leaving for Goa, I was racking my brains for a gift idea. What could I possibly give someone who had no great fascination for things material and who pretty much has what he really needs and uses? I decided I would do something with an emotional twist. A gift of love, playing on nostalgia is what would be suitable, I thought.
This is what I came up with.
1- I found an old box that once held Makaibari green tea
2- I painted it in bright acrylic colors and here, Udai was my willing assistant
3- I culled through photo albums for pics that would bring a smile, a tear…tug at the heart
4- I enhanced these and got them printed
5- Then I created, using waste material from old wedding cards, square coaster-style cardboard squares, using the pictures and also painting on messages, phrases…strung together in a sort of poetic style
It read something like this:
You have given us so much
happy times together
strength in times of need
a home in your heart
you are wonderful
we are blessed
6- I got the squares laminated
7- With a needle and nylon thread, I stitched them all together and used a beautiful string of pearls from someone’s super fancy wedding invite to tie it in together, as a finishing touch!
Here’s what it looks like. Needless to say, Ramukaka loved it. It now sits on his computer table. I hope they look at it again and again and are reminded of our love and respect.