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My ‘Nurturing Mother’

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It was called the gallery class, seats arranged like that in a theatre, one level above the other. The desk by the window was the most sought after. At the same height as the window sill, the seats offered an unparalleled view of the visitors to the college office. Not that we were expecting any exciting ones. Except during admission time, the only members of the male species that we were used to were the muscle man Joy chettan in Physics lab and the scrawny and  Kunjumon chettan, in the school bus. Even during admissions, it was the father figures, not even one good looking brother came our way.

The class was almost over, we were restless. And then, miracle of miracles, a young man walks down the stairs. Quite a handsome guy, at that. The buzz in the class was palpable. Who could that be? As he walked into the guest room down the corridor, we just couldn’t sit any longer. “Miss, can we go to the  library?” asked Asha and I together. Miss Agnes had a knowing smile on her face as she let us go. As we passed the guest room, both of us took a dive under the half door to catch another glimpse at the good looking chap. And we raised ourselves up right on to the laughing face of Sr.Margaret. “Taking a guess at who that is? He’s Sheena’s brother.” Even before we could erase our embarrassed smiles, the bell rang and out came Miss Agnes. “You should have asked me, that’s Sheena’s brother,” she said, followed by that hearty laughter of hers.

That was the spirit in which they raised us. What kind of nuns and teachers did you have, friends whom I made later in life used to ask. That too, in a long forgotten place like Alappuzha? Catholic nuns who laugh unabashedly and teachers who joke with you? “Not just that, they dance, they sing, they even stage plays as nursery kids for us,” I told them. They were no ordinary ones, those nuns and teachers of St. Joseph’s Girls School and Women’s College. Followers of St.Magadalene of Canossa, from Italy.

By the time we were in school and later college, the nuns from Europe were either in the cemetery of the Latin Church nearby or had gone back home. But stories, we had in plenty. Starting from my grandmother who used to ridicule our English, “learn from me, I was taught by the Europeans.” And my mother who used to tell us about the cherubic ‘Mother Unneesho’  and the sprightly Mother Josephine.

They were no ordinary nuns. The lamp of happiness was passed on from the Italian sisters to their Indian counterparts, the teachers, many of whom were students there earlier. If you asked me to describe them in a word, it would be ‘joy,’ undoubtedly. For us, college was fun. They knew just not us, but our whole family and its history too. That never deterred them from being the friends they were and still are. We could tell them just about anything. And vice versa.

The lovely Mrs. Valsa Mammen would hide her face in a mocking manner each time we met, “move away, you make me feel old.” “Her mother was my student,” she would tell the perplexed onlookers. The waif like Miss Ramani, who made Rima , the heroine of Green Mansions an immortal romantic icon for us, Miss Jacintha, our favourite Physics teacher who would scatter the six of us to six different seats and then laugh with us when she saw us all back together in the very next class, Miss Elizabeth in Chemistry who told me off at the end of a ‘very busy’ union year, ” koche, come to my class at least once a month, lest I forget your face,” the frail Miss Chandrika, our department head, the nightingale of our college, Miss Chitra, who was more like an elder sister, the millions of sine thetas and cos thetas from Miss Rita, the hearty laughter of Mrs. Andrews, the ever effervescent Mrs. Rosamma, Mrs. Mathews who was family, Miss Maniamma and a her long and luscious hair, the lovely Miss Saraswathy with her beautiful husky voice,  the painful memories of Miss Usha, Miss Leela who turned to be an aunt-in-law, the beautiful and vivacious young Miss Latha, the cherubic Miss Sandhya who fought the system and won what was her due, the elegant Miss Ragini who ‘blessed’ us, “may you have kids just like you,” the list never ends. I have long forgotten the Physics, Chemistry and Maths that Imlearned there, the profession that I got into had nothing to do with what I studied there.

My life is another matter altogether. What I learned there, in school and college, is the kindly light that leads me on even now. When I think of my alma mater, how can I forget my school teachers. Marie miss and then Zelma miss. When people listen to my almost non Mallu accented English (preening a little, bear with me;) ) and they wonder how, when I tell them I’d never been out of that little town until after my graduation, I have only two people to thank – my father who led me to the small library in the town and Zelma miss. When the new Mother Superior came to school and they were looking for someone who could give a welcome speech, she selected me. And I was awestruck. Me, who hadn’t got on to any stage till then? The confidence that she gave more than thirty years ago still holds me in good stead. Miss, I can never thank you enough.

There was nothing we couldn’t ask them, that they wouldn’t do for us. The love they had for us was unconditional and absolute. I can never forget an incident in my final year. Sr. Annette called me one evening, “koche, there I saw one boy who wants to meet you. I’ve told him to wait on the parlour.” I was dumbstruck, “sister, you?” With her quintessential mischievous smile, she said,”enthekilum paranju vittekku, paavam payyanaa.” The poor chap had no idea how I was laughing inside.

St.Joseph’s taught us never to take life too seriously, that there are plenty of fishes in the sea, that questions are meant to be asked whether we got an answer or not, that standing up for what is right is always right, that if nuns could dance, so could we, that we could always go back there and we would be welcomed back as only mothers could and that love was all that mattered, at the end of it all.

A thank you would be a mere cliche. But wanted to let you know, my deaest teachers, that you all are rembered, much fondly and with great love.

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*nurturing mother – alma mater

p.s. wonder where Miss Sheena’s brother is 😉

update – apparently he was so scarred that he decided to be a life long bachelor 

p.p.s a confession to Miss Elizabeth and Miss Elamma – Chemistry always was and still is a nightmare 😛

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unmyth

Unmyth
———–

Anointed, adjudged
From the time thoughts were born
Determined, Invincible
Protector, Nurturer
Strong

And so we did
Showed a face
With no tears
Nor a grimace
Pained?
Oh, but we’re used to it
Betrayed?
But that’s life
Tired?
There’s so much more to do
Attacked?
Ssshhh…lest more followed
Defeated?
Not us, never.

And we marched on
Screaming silently
Crying without tears
Holding everything in
Smiling in a straight line
Hearts wrenching inside
For we are the strong ones
The indomitables

Eyes moulded into steel
Souls into iron
Calluses fed our hands
Lead seeped into our feet
Before we knew
It was all a myth
Wrought to keep us chained
The strong woman
Who takes in all
Without even a whimper

But you know what?
Wars are not for us,
We don’t want to win
We just need to breathe
Unanoint, let us be
Real, Unmyth.

The Last Letter

Our family was never ‘photographic.’ Search high and low, far and wide, it is next to impossible to find pictures of us from childhood. Now that I think about it, we have seen more pictures of our mother as a kid than  those of the five of us put together. Did my parents have an aversion to studios, I wonder. Or maybe they just didn’t have the time, in between bringing up the brood.

There were letters galore, though. Staying in the small town of Alleppey, a grandmother in the nearby village of Kavalam and a set of grandparents in neighbouring village of Pulincunnu, the letters were mostly triangular. I do remember my father’s strong, slanted handwriting, those were official writings in blue black Chelpark ink, though. The blue inland letters were always feminine. The neat and tidy, tiny words from Kavalam and the large, rounded words, as perfect as her fluffy palappams, from Pulincunnu. Telephones were rare and letters were the only form of communication, unless someone visited. Yes, I was reared in pre historic times 🙂

We were forced into this habit as we grew up. As the eldest in both sides of the family, the onus of keeping this tripartite communication alive slowly fell on me. And it would be a lie if I told you I didn’t enjoy it. We were masters of space management, the two grandmothers and me. We would first take up all the space in the three ‘pages’ of the inland, then write on the margins , sometimes even in the space provided for the return address. Born story tellers, we were. My paternal grandmother would even add some sentences in English and would remind us from time to time with a twinkle in her eyes, “I was taught by European nuns, unlike the less fortunate you.”

Count of coconuts, accounts of activities in the yard, the state of mangoes that year, the feasts in the church, maids come and gone, family news of old retainers, births, weddings and deaths, visits from relatives – letters from the paternal side was more in the nature of a statement of account – what came in and what went out. The maternal ones were, well, more maternal in nature. Rounds of how each member of the family was faring, each of us kids asked for by name, news of cows giving birth along the women in the family who followed suit, chickens and ducklings hatched and snatched by eagles and crows, the letters were more about what grew and did not. As holidays neared, we would wait eagerly to know who would be coming when to take us home. For, home was never the house we stayed in ten months round the year. Home was always where the heart was – split between two villages.

When did we as siblings start writing to each other? The first ones would definitely have been from me, the first one to leave the pack to far away Ernakulam. Who did what in the hostel, which audit I was on, which clients provided the best food for free, there was nothing that the family did not know of. And in return, I continued to get news of what was happening back in the two villages, the parents had shifted back to Kavalam by then. The triangle turned into a square as another corner was added. One of the sisters got married off to the till then uncharetered territory of northern Kerala.

It was three years after her marriage that we lost one of us. There were hardly any pictures to remember her by, not that any of us needed it. Bonds of heart are far stronger than the most beautiful of pictures, we have realised since then, as we lost our mother a few years later. There are moments though, when we long for a touch, a word or two in their voices, something, anything, that was tangible. Not to remember them,   just to feel their presence, even if it was for a few ephemeral moments.

There are some books that are my favourites. They have a strange habit of disappearing at frequent and infrequent intervals. And they reappear months , sometimes years later, right in time when I need them. Only when I need them. It was a prayer book this time, an unusual one. The one that was my solace in my years of questioning God, those years of searching for the meaning of everything. Had it gone missing, or was it that I’d forgotten about it? I don’t remember. But it was definitely one of those days, when the yearning was too strong, the longing too difficult to get over, that it resurfaced. Surprising me. With a letter, the last one she’d written to me. Maybe the last one she’d written to anyone.

It’s 21 years today, since the then 21 year old wrote it.

What would we remember each other by, I wonder. Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, long forgotten Tweets? And I shudder.

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Stay blessed, dude!

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5.30 PM. The bell rings and the daughter rushes in like a strong gust of wind. “Where’s chettan?” I ask. “He’s coming. I’m going down to play,” the bag is thrown on one side, the uniform on the other, getting into another pair hastily, she’s gone before I could even say hello. A few moments pass, I can hear a pair of stealthy footsteps. Instead of straight to his room as usual, the steps go towards the book shelf in the living room. He tries to be as silent as he can,but a small clink of metal gives him away. “What’s it, Georgie?” I ask. “Nothing, amma ,” he says. But his eyes give him away, totally. I go inspecting and find a new one. “Why can’t you tell us, you idiot?” “What?” he asks, with that made up innocence in his eyes, again.

When did he turn so humble, I wonder. It’s as though he is hiding something. Finding crumpled certificates and long forgotten medals in his school bag is passé now. The best , or would I say, the worst was going for his PTI and realising that he was the captain of the sub junior school team. The boy never thought it worth even a mention.

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Everything in life is relative. Time, especially so. An early Monday morning, 3.30 to be precise, the boy came out screaming, three weeks earlier than he was supposed to be. Always in a hurry, he had been creating a ruckus inside as well. The first movement was a kick on his father’s back. “Why did you poke me?” the husband asked one night. “Get used to it, that’s your genes,” I replied. Oh, the kind of shapes my tummy turned into. We would spend hours watching him wriggling inside. One part of the tummy would be stretched to such an extent that we could count the toes on his feet. One moment he would stretch long, turning his residence to resemble a baseball. Next moment, it would turn back into a perfect ball, with one point looking as though a long rod  was sticking out. And so it would go, on and on. To say that the boy was impatient would be an understatement.

Out he came, and off he went to sleep. Every two hours, he would let out a tiny wail.  It’s not for nothing that they say, when the baby is growing inside, you have to say your wish for them aloud. They will listen and obey. The first thing that I said aloud was, “when you are out, if you dare to irritate me with your loud wails, one tight slap I’ll give.” Yes, I am a horrible mother he knew, even before he was born. The poor boy must have been so petrified, he didn’t dare to raise his voice for years. The sister had to come and annoy him out of his peaceful reverie.

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That saying is true, I have to vouch. For reasons different, though. What we love, we wish for our kids as well. I was prepared to go to any length to make him love books. The soon to be father echoed it. And I had time in plenty, those days. The doctor had arrested me to a bed, that too in an upside down position. And with my head down literally, I read out aloud to the impatient guy inside. Whether he quitened then or not, I do not remember. But, from the moment he could stretch out and grab anything with his hands, the little angel devoured books. For the amount of pages he has chewed on and gobbled down, his constitution seems to be quite strong. His first bout of real attempt at reading started with a set of 10 books. Blind reading it was. And repeated, every single morning, line after line. And one morning, miracle of all miracles, he read aloud it his first word. By recognition, not by rote. He was hooked.

Years later, we knew it was all worthwhile. As he went up and down between belief and disbelief, his voice shook and eyes brimmed with tears as he asked, “it won’t be true, right?” Life’slessons were being learned. He had just finished reading Lance Armstrong’s “It’s Not About The Bike: My Journey Back to Life” when the devastating news came out. His first real life lesson. That even Gods could have feet of clay.

 

 

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Meanwhile, he had embarked on another journey. That of his father. A friend of mine had cautioned me not to make a bookworm out of him. We didn’t have to do anything about it, like the best things that happen in life. He selected cricket as his elective sport. Too many cooks made his broth perfect, he was turned down. Football came next. And still continues.

You think he is perfect? So did we, till the terrible tweens descended on us. The angel turned into a monster, almost overnight. As in everything else, it was upside down.  Boys are supposed to rebel against their fathers, or so I thought. Till he floated into his teens. The smooth flow of mother and son relationship transformed itself into rapids, white and black. There were storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes and sometimes all  of it together in a small room in North Bangalore. Where did this monster come from, we wondered. Yes, I had read lots of books and countless number of articles on puberty, adolescence and what not. To no effect, I realize sadly. The Tao had not come into my life, yet. The father mediated, consoled and guided. It took almost two years to come to a middle ground. We still struggle to maintain that equilibrium, as his marks go haywire one term, and back to normal the next.

The realisation that he is a different being, came with a slap. Yes, I am very old fashioned that way, we get very physical at times. As I raised my hands in anger, never did the thought cross my mind that this could possibly be the last time. The boy defended with his arms and mine were almost crushed. And he started laughing as I was almost howling. “Amma, it doesn’t hurt anymore,” he quipped. And I laughed along with him, was there any other choice?

We grow along with him, as parents and as individuals. Moment after moment, year after year. Laughing inside as I scold him for reading hours after his bed time, hiding my Chemistry marks while shouting at him for his, for having no clue about what to do with his life while still searching for the meaning of it all. As we admonish him for lying  about trivial things like buying an extra chocolate, we are forced to question how authentic we ourselves are.

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He fights with his sister, annoys her no end. When it comes to times when she is hurt, he’s the first one to console her though, and make her laugh. We know he’ll be there for her, whenever needed. And she knows it too, as she annoys him back. At times we wonder whether this boy has turned totally inhuman, detached as he behaves. And then he gives us these pleasant shocks.

Fifteen may not be a watershed year to celebrate. But for us, who have been blessed to be reminded time and again that life can change in a second, that people who you thought would be with you till eternity suddenly leave us, there are constant reminders to live by the moment. That life is much more than grades and mundane measures of success.

So dear dude, as you turn fifteen do not think we are going to let go of our constant reminders and occasional shouting matches to study well, improve your marks and get your life together.

Our real wish for you though is,

May you dream,

May your passionate dreams come true,

May you know content,

May you spread happiness and 

May your happiness be your living!”

Happy Fifteenth, Georgie!

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Random scribbles from a beautiful morning

“Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that’s all! But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes. Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane.”

That was John Larkin, quoted by Alain de Botton in his book, ‘The Art of Travel.’ I had just finished reading it before a solo trip to Himachal two years ago. Sitting beside the stream on the third day of the journey, these words came to mind as I struggled to bring my thoughts together in an attempt to write. The small note book was kept aside somewhere after my return and forgotten under corporate struggles and domestic travails. Until last week, the red cover splattered with doodles stared at me from under a few other dust laden ones and asked, “remember me?” As if it knew the time had come. My scribbles from  one of the seven mornings on an idyllic holiday…

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It is a single note at first. The gentle roar of the river. Separate notes emerge as you listen, slowly. The gentle lap of the small waves against the shore, as if a mother is carefully washing the soft skin of her first born. A stream that slides over a flat rock only to hit itself over another one and jump right back at the first. A playful gurgle, like kids splashing rain water from a puddle with an expert kick of their foot. There is a dip at the bottom of another rock, three streams seem to join as one. The first one comes straight over it, one part of it diverted in between and coming back in a gentle curve into the same meeting point and the third one going around it only to be guided back by another rock one the way. Three notes joined as one, gently flowing down into a small pool, just as a stream of holy water is poured on to the cupped palms of a pilgrim.

Rivers are a lot like us, humans. The first steps are tentative. As the meaningless gurgles turn into chatter, the steps turn sure. Wild laughter, playful banter with the shores, gushing joy, adolescence is pure madness. Youth matures, but the spirit is bright and beautiful. When does the light dim and the steps slow down? As it flows, what is around seem to have more impact than what comes from within. Have you noticed them in cities? The very essence of life seem to have been sucked out. The once vivacious young girl is now expected to take in all the filth and sins of everyone he around her, without as much as a whimper. Just as the tears dry up even as the pain sharpens, the river starts drying up. Until the next rain. As the silt begins to shift, the season ends. And she is thrown back into her emptiness. Again.

Patience has its virtues. I finally catch sight of the owner of the mellifluous voice above my head. A tiny beauty that could fit into my daughter’s palm with enough space left for its parter. Yellow under and green on top, perfectly camouflaged among the green and yellow leaves of the trees around. The trees themselves remind me of Ruskin Bond. Of his island of trees. I give up trying to capture the little one on my camera. Either the camera or my eyes need a fresh pair of lens. ” I am like the elusive words in your mind,” she seemed to say. Some you capture on paper, some just float away.

Butterflies, in abundance. Black with yello dots, brown patches in black, pale yellow, milky white, a group of sky blue ones that looked like someone tore away some clouds and a few pieces of sky came along with that. They looked liked school kids who had bunked classes en masse. I decided to keep the camera away and just sit there, watching their joyous dance. “Why do you not stay still?” I ask. They answer in an instant, “We are like your thoughts, when did they ever stay still?”

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I continue to sit still. A sudden movement across the river catches my eye. There is an odd shape on the embankment. A grey gecko. The feel is ecstatic. A little more than half an hour, and I feel like Princess Jasmine on Aladdin’s magic carpet. A whole new world seem to open itself out for me.

p.s. even after two years, I can remember that day, almost minute by minute. Some days and places are like that, isn’t it? Your special place  to go back to, some days just to have that feeling of content and some other days to run off and hide. 

 

 

Ini Aanandame!

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She sent me a message one morning, “Peramma, please pray. I’m going for an audition.” “Did your parents allow?” was my first question. “Yes, they don’t think I’ll get through,” she laughed. The next action was in reflex, dialing my sister, “Di, you did allow her?” ” She’s always wanted to be in movies, she says. Let’s see. Will decide if she gets through.”

The uncertainty continued till the last round. The debutant director had spoken to the brother in law by then. What turned it around was the other kids and their parents. Educated, from similar families. And what clinched it finally was a name – Vineeth Sreenivasan. He is the brand Tata of Malayalam film industry – trusted, ethical. The sacking of the Chairman and the controversies came later, Vineeth is anyway a brand by himself now – for his groundedness, quality and turning the ones around him into their own brands. If he has put his faith in this new guy, he has to be good, the movie had to be good, was the thought. ” Vineeth alle producer? Onnum kaanaathe cheyyumo? Athum his first venture into production,” was the general concensus.

As the kids got together and the schedule started, it was as if I was seeing a brand new version of my sister and her husband. They are the most down to earth, graceful people you would ever meet. True spiritual beings and I don’t mean it in a religious manner. The spirit of their land has infused into their souls – gentle, true, one with the nature. Their home is a haven for tired souls and bodies. Never would I have imagined they would embrace their daughter’s wild dream so whole heartedly. There were other skeptics in the family, many of them asked ” did they really allow her?” Yes, there were moments of angst, even anger. At the end of it all, they stood by her, trusted her enough to travel alone with the group, visiting her now and then. And to ignore the words of some nay sayers.

The kids came to life for us as the shoot progressed, we met a few of them in Goa. Roshan (Gautam), who has been tirelessly following his dreams, dropping out of engineering and then a course in Physics, if I remember right. He had moved onto Mumbai, on the way to becoming a successful theater artist. Yes, he had acted in two movies by then, I’d watched both and for the life of me couldn’t remember this guy. Soochimon, you will not be forgotten anytime soon, that’s for sure. Visakh (the delightful Kuppi), the one who actually held the movie from beginning to end – a mechanical engineer who had quit his job in Chennai for the movie – was a theater artist as well. Arun (Varun) my favorite, of course after the niece. His sensitive nature reflects in his eyes, so vulnerable and he doesn’t even attempt to hide it. The boy wears his heart on his sleeves. Destiny, it was for him. He was auditioned three times, apparently. Anarkkali (Darshana) the silent beauty in the movie. Her eyes speak thousand words, in poetry. In her second year of graduation, she is very clear about where her future lies. Thomas (Akshath), the quintessential cute boy next door. Innocence coupled with unstoppable energy, again doing his graduation. Siddi (Dia), the live wire in the movie, as in life. And my niece, Annu (Devika aka Tattoo mol). First one in her generation from our side of the family,  naturally our special one. I knew she wanted to be on stage, but that movies was her dream was news to me. And the director, Ganesh. He has been honing this story and script for more than three years! Along with him a slew of other debutants as well, including the musician Sachin Warrier who has added that fresh bout of liveliness and soothing melodies to the movie.

That we would watch the premiere along with her was a given. That’s when the other side , or should I say the real nature of these kids came to light. As with every generation, the elders tend to feel and say, “this generation, they neither love nor respect their elders.” And as with every generation, the kids prove the naysayers wrong. The collective excitement and anxiety was palpable. They had seen the movie, but the audience was limited to them. How would everyone react, especially their parents? Annu was even more tense, how would her amma react to the ‘scenes?’ She refused to sit next to her mother. The mother was very clear, though. “It’s a movie, isn’t it? You were acting, right?” Wise woman, my sister is.

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All of them, without a single exception had decided to watch the first day first show with their parents. Rooting for each other, hooting and howling as each scene unfolded, it was an experience of lifetime for me. The camaraderie was unbelievable. They had become friends and supporters for life. The seeds do not fall far from the tree you realize. As we met parent after parent, it was not very hard to see where the kids had inherited their values and nature from. Hats off to the parents who dared to dream and believe, along with their children. They are as much, if not more a part of this success as their children are.

As the movie came to an end, all the faces wore huge grins of success and relief. They had arrived, as individuals and as a group. ‘Team Aanadam,’ the brand was made. And it is here to stay. Three weeks hence, the movie is a roaring success. And it has just been released in the rest of India and soon to be in other parts of the world as well. As the team continues their journey, inspiring kids in colleges across Kerala, the collective euphoria is palpable. What this team has done is far more than make a movie. They have set fire to the hopes and imaginations of thousands of kids like them. Our nine old daughter said it best, “Now I really know dreams do come true. You just have to believe. Annu chechi’s did.”

We now talk of these kids as part of our family. It is Lal Jose’s words that come to mind while wishing them well. The team was officially introduced during the 100th day celebrations of ‘Jacobinte Swargaraajyam’ The entire group struggled for words, they were greenhorns, literally. And Lal Jose wished them, “may this stage fright never leave you, even as you become established actors and super stars.” That’s what I would wish for them as well.

Success, happiness, more dreams come true! While at that, may you remain grounded, always connected to your family and friends!

p.s. for those of you who ask how the movie was, who watched it? I had eyes only for my niece 🙂

* Ini Aanandame -only happiness, henceforth 

Aromas of Life

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What if we tracked our life through aromas and fragrances? What would the earliest memories be?

Let me go back, years and years ago. A girl in a white petticoat, watching two men building a fence, the same girl in a boat leaning her head out watching the water hyacinths swirl around under the engine, on another day, she squats and digs the damp ground with a stick poking out worms and deftly moves into an empty coconut shell.  Strange that most of my childhood memories are around summer holidays in the village. Very few , almost non existent of the town where I spent the first twenty years. Muse for another post.

What did I inhale those days? Fresh air was taken for granted. Mangoes, oh yes. The exotic varieties that were delicately cut and served in a plate, we never cared for much. It was the ‘chakiri manga’ that fell with every gentle breeze that passed by,  that filled our holidays. The ones with a sharp beak, deep green in colour and the base a pale yellow or a deep pink. Filled with fiber, we nipped the tip of the skin with a deft bite and sucked in the juice. And then chewed out the fiber, skin included. How did it smell, I wonder.

Yes, the smell of mangoes, the dried ones. Juiced and dried out on a mat in the sun. A layer added each day, fattened up over the two months, rolled up and stored away in earthern urns, the huge bharanis. The smell was tangy, of wind and water, of a grandmother’s love. Ah, that reminds me of another fragrance. Of the wizened old woman, it was unique. A strange mixture of her body and spirit, the faint smell of talcum powder in the mornings and the strong ones of kuzhambu by night. Of ginger and turmeric during the day. And the wisdom and naughtiness in her eyes. Yes, I can still get that fragrance, as I close my eyes and inhale. Those days and the memories it brings.

The mud. Fresh and dark, from the depths of the river. The earth after the first rain. Of rot, that gave life to others that came after. The jasmine flowers that poked their head out after the first thundershowers, the faint smell of honey from the chethippoo, of the viscous hibiscus shampoo, the healing fragrance of pani koorkka, the heady fragrance of roses that were tended with life, of bananas raw and ripe, freshly ground coconut oil, the dung in the cow shed, the itchy smell of dried hay, of hens and their poop, of chewed mango leaves, the spicy aroma of cinnamon bark drying in the sun, the sharp one of ground pepper, of mustard dancing in hot oil, of shallots and dry chilies, of curry leaves plucked straight from the plant, I could go on and on.

And the fragrance of my mother. Of Cuticura talcum powder after her evening bath. I would die to get a whiff of that now.

Does the ability to inhale these life giving fragrances disappear as we grow? For, there is nothing much that comes to mind after those days. Other than the dust and fumes. Of deodorants and perfumes. Of aromatic soaps and shampoos.

As I make dish after dish in my kitchen, is it my childhood that I am trying to catch? As I long for mountains and valleys, rivers and springs, mud roads and pines, what memories am I trying to create? Is it life that I am running after? Or the love of it ?