She was magic

I’ve always loved listening to stories. Stories of witches and wizards, ghosts that haunt people’s lives, killers with no mercy, the lands of the mystical, and the land of the unknown. What I always find myself fascinated with was, however, the women living in swaps making concoctions that saved lives, shamans, witches that helped instead of destroying, and spirits of the past that help from a better now.

My little obsession led me to make mystical concoctions out the leaves, flowers, and twigs that I would on my aunt’s estate.  My purple portion would cure stomach aches, made from leaves and flowers, and just a pinch of sand. The green portion would make you taller. It required basil flowers, guava leaves and the skin of a jackfruit, ground with a stone from the river, in a coconut shell.  The yellow one came from coconut flesh, ripe guavas, unripe guavas, and little yellow flowers that aimed to be sunflowers but could do so. It could make you strong and brave. The red one came from the near blooming roses, little buds that wanted to see the light of day, but never quite got around to it. It also contained little bits of red guavas and the flesh of the much recommended Aloe Vera. It made all your fears go away. It could cure PTSD.

I’d mix anything I could find, and walk around curing and helping things that needed my services. I would make little potions that could make them grow, big and strong. Potions that made their roots go deep into the ground, finding water in springs we didn’t know existed. I would swing like Tarzan from tree to tree, in the little jungle that grew near our home, searching for the rarer herbs and spices that I would need. This jungle was said to be home to the dangerous Moova- a snake who would haunt your dreams if he was ever disturbed. I used the yellow portion when I when I went in there. I never met him though. If I did, I’d like to think we’d be friends. I would do the same if I was in his place After all, who likes being woken from a nap?

When I saw two animals who wouldn’t get along, I would give them my pink potion. Made from purple and yellow chrysanthemums, white lotuses and red lilies, my potion would make then fall in love almost instantly. I once used them when two of our cats didn’t get along. We had kitten three months later.

I could make a bird with broken wings fly again. I would use wet mud, the feather of a well-chased chicken, and the flower of a banana plant to make a paste which I would then put on the little birdie, and bind with the leaf of a papaya tree. The little birdie would fly soon enough, because one day, they would just disappear.

My Potions helped, cured and improved. You see, they were magic.

Advertisements

All that glitters isn’t gold

An obsession is an idea or feeling that completely occupies the mind.

Although a dog person, and canine in most of my ways, I have always had a rather feline disposition towards shiny or sparkly objects. They could be chains, earrings, mirrors, firecrackers or the more obscure- golden or silver curtains, objects reflecting light, plates, glasses, and cutlery or my childhood obsession, dad’s glasses of whiskey.

Children usually find themselves attracted to objects because they’re pretty or make funny noises. I don’t really know what actually got me running behind those glasses. I do suppose, however, that it was the color of the golden liquid, rich in its smell and taste, with oil-like swirls swimming at the top, sometimes with little ice-cubes bobbing up and down in them. How many children can one find, that actually like the bitter liquid? How many children. Like the burning sensation, it brings to their throats? We were often told to stay away from alcohol. Because it was “medicine”, and because it tasted bad.  Did I really drink some of it?
Did I really drink some of it?

My mother suspects, that I set on my path of becoming an “alcoholic” at the tender age of two.  I was first told about my queer taste when I was going through an old album contacting pictures from my childhood. One particular picture, taken at our old, rented house in Austin-town, showed my father sitting on the floor, next to the washing machine, a tool box behind him and nuts, bolts, and spanners strewed all around, with a glass of whiskey in hand, with a rather stern expression on his face, waving a finger at me. I was about a foot away from him, bawling my eyes out. I found it rather curious, that my family chose to take a picture of me getting yelled at and weeping, over comforting me.

I ran to my mother with the picture, curious about what was happening in it. I was used to pictures with dad and his glass of whiskey, and I didn’t really know what he was up to. I suspected that I might have stopped him from fixing the machine, or I might have tried eating a nut or maybe I simply refused to stop pestering him.  I showed my mother the picture, where I sat in a little pink dress bawling my eyes out, and my father, in his lungi and T-shirt, was giving me a good talking-to. One look a the picture, and she burst into laughter. After what seemed to me simply too long a time to laugh at a picture, she told me about my queer little taste.

Evers since I learned to walk and climb efficiently, I’d put my best efforts to get the glasses that my daddy would drink from, often managing to take a sip or two out before I’d get caught. I would climb on to the sofas, or the coffee tables, I’d try to get at the dining table and essentially always find a way to sniff out the glass- no matter where dad hid it. My mother then went on to tell me about this one time my dad had a glass behind his feet and under the sofa. I somehow managed to steal away from my hawk-eyed mother, and crawled under the sofa, slowly getting to the glass with the glorious golden exilir. My family spent about twenty minutes searching for me, finding me under the sofa, with my mouth over the glass, without a trace of guilt in my twinkling, mischievous eyes.

Ever since my mother revealed my shenanigans, the “Liquor thief” story frequents at our family gatherings and dinner with our family friends. It’s the first thing she brings up when I’m offered any, and the last story she will ever forget.

Now, I know why daddy always locks his liquor cabinet, and he’s always so careful with his whiskey. At least I taught him to lock things up and make sure no one gets at them. Right?

 I don’t know how my mother broke this habit, and I don’t even know if she actually tried breaking my habit. I don’t even know if it affects the way I drink now. I’m not really a whiskey person, and I don’t know if this old, broken obsession of mine has something to do with it. And that is the story of the obsession that completely occupied my mind.

Image: Huffington Post

 

Where it begins to feel like home

I understand area a lot better when I walk around in them. Walking is how I understood the grid-like pattern that Koramangala follows, the area that I live in, and the various nooks and crannies in Commercial Street that sell some of the most marvelous things at disturbingly cheap prices. I say disturbing because they showed me how I was being ripped off.  Walking is also my way of remembering.

When I last went to Mangalore, my hometown, to our ancestral home on Bishop Victor Road, this became pleasantly clear to me. Our home is a short walk away from Crave, the one café that sells annoyingly delicious pastries at refreshingly cheap prices- the pastries that I crave for, during each trip to Mangalore. The café that I make a point to visit, every single time. The walk from my home to Crave is about two and a half kilometers. The funny thing about walking in Mangalore is that every place feels far away. The various ups and downs that the terrain provides make walking for such distances seem like a tedious feat, even though the same distance in Bangalore, would be a cinch. It’s a lot like the walk from the front of the Humanities block, where the flat areas provided between the consecutive staircases makes going up to the third floor a tolerable task, whereas taking the staircase at the other end of the building, feels much like climbing a mountain.

My walk begins, with me going out of our quiet little neighborhood and towards the Main Road. The first time I was allowed to walk out by myself, I was fifteen. The first time I was allowed to travel around Mangalore alone. I went out to meet my cousin and was asked to catch an auto as soon as I saw one, and not to walk past the main. If I couldn’t find an auto there, my cousin would have to come and pick me up. In Bangalore, I’m trusted alone. My parents know that as long as I’m comfortable in an area, I’ll be fine. However, our constant use of the car led to a sense of over-protectiveness in Mangalore. Every time I leave home, I think about that first time (it was about time too), when I found my way out and got to see a bit of the little city by myself. Stressed out about finding appropriate jewelry for my cousin’s wedding, and excited about being let out to travel by myself, I made my way out, without anything but a few basic directions given to me.

I walk through the streets that lead me out and make my way to the main road. The streets are filled with some of the most beautiful, ancient, gargantuan mansions I have ever come across, with their chain sometimes broken by equally colossal apartment blocks. The mansions have been lived in for many, many years, but somehow, still look new. Each of these gates bears the sign ‘Beware of Dogs’, beyond which is a vast veranda, outlined by various trees, shrubs and creepers. The houses also alternate between fancy cars, and well, not so fancy ones. So far, I’ve counted ten Mercedes’, five BMWs and three Beatles. I’ve also found Nanos, Maruthis and a few lower end Skoda and Ford models. These streets and homes, hold the secrets of my fear while trying to navigate around the neighborhood. The memories where my ex-boyfriend, or any male friends for that matter, had to drop me off a few houses away, to save me from the prying eyes of my overly conservative family, the way I ran away from an old, unkempt house, for fear the eerie feeling it gave me, or even the time my cousins and I laughed at my aunt, when she closely resembled a ghost as she walked home in the night, hair out open and arms stretched out wide with Mehendi on them. Beyond our little neighborhood, is Vas Lane. It ends with Vas Bakery, an ancient monument whose breads make the mouth water even today, and begins with Balmatta Road. Which leads to Crave. With its swarm of apartments and interlocked tiles for the path, Vas Lane had always fascinated me. I’ve never fully understood why though. It is a modern lane, in a city from a different era, but still manages fit in, like the perfect key to a lock. Through the years, it has given me a sense of comfort, closeness.

Vas Lane is how I find my way home from the Main Road. It’s distinguished pattern, allows me to find it easily, and is a route, that I will always enjoy taking. With its apartments and stray dogs and cats, it feels like a little piece of Bangalore managed to creep into this old, sleepy city. This lane, makes the area feel known, familiar. This is where it begins to feel like home.

The Older House

Some things I can’t forget, like when I first damaged someone’s property. Four of my neighbors cream colored flower pots kept on the compound wall that we shared. She called for my mother and somehow, they ended up becoming best friends. Rani Aunty, my mother’s new best friend introduced me to her daughter Tummi. I can never forget her name, it still makes me giggle like I did the first time I heard it. Tummi was a pretty little girl- with the chocolate brown skin, light brown eyes and thick, jet black hair, tied into two thick plaits. We were both five years old, and despite being different in many ways we jelled well. I liked playing with trains, bows, arrows, and slingshots (like the ones I used to break the flower pots), while she liked dolls and kitchen sets. We did, however, share a strong love for Mickey Mouse and Goofy. I remember sharing my toys with her, I even remember the background stories of few of the toys. There was the naked Barbie, an alien who was the queen of the whole house. She got beheaded and the head used to be kept in the bathroom. That is one the most disturbing background stories I can recall. There was also the Teddy bear doctor, who fixed everyone with a magical wand he stole from an evil witch. He used to be a man, but the witch cursed him. He ran away with her wand but never managed to break the curse. Now all I can remember about Tummi, was how she kept telling me how she loved my room in her Tamil accent.

My room in my old house was a unique place, one that I would often use to escape from the outside world. When I ever-so-slightly twist my wrist, hand clasped around the circular brass door knob that was adjoined to my delicately wood-stained door, I opened a passage to a completely different atmosphere- one that provided a sense of comfort and stability. On the eastern wall of my room, were polaroids from family vacations and trips. And right in front of the eastern wall, was a small couch on which lay my soft toys ones of Mickey Mouse and Goofy seated in pride. To the west was my favorite piece of furniture, my bed. I used to love my bed, with its Mickey Mouse bed spread, and Goofy pillow covers. On the southern side, stood my small wardrobe which had all the dresses I owned when I was small. It also had my other stuffed toys and all my pretty little shoes. I still remember the aroma of my room, vanilla with a hint of coconut.

Sometimes, I’d feel jealous of my brother because he had a bigger room, but then it was fine because mine was a lot prettier than his. I had a small story book shelf in my room, from which my mamma used to pick out a book, every night and read stories out to me.

We lived in a building with a black gate, an apartment of sorts, in Austin-town.  It was rented, and the landlady lived in the house on the top floor. The building had five floors, with two houses on each floor. We had a garden on the terrace, tended to by our landlady.

I remember the house having a cream-ish color. We had an old sofa set that was bought when my brother, who is eleven years old, was born. Water was a rare commodity, and my mother would often have to wait by the taps, filling water when it did come. We had a small kitchen that had just enough space for our stove, a few sets of china, the few pots, and pans, and our cutlery. It was a three bedroom house, but just barely. I remember crawling into my mother’s bed when I had nightmares, but don’t know how the room looked. I don’t remember our toilet either.

The rooms, although small, are a storehouse of memories. This is the house where my grandfather passed away. It is the house where I first saw my father cry. It is the house where I first learned to do my chores, the house where I first learned to make toast and scrambled eggs. This is the house that my first pet, a goldfish named Swim lived in. this is also the house where he passed away.

This is our small storehouse of memories.

Dexter the Cocker Spaniel

It is a truth universally known, that Cocker Spaniels are a little slow in their heads. Even though they are said to have “a characteristic expression showing intelligence and alertness”. My dog Dexter is express proof as to why dogs require strict training before being allowed on the field, especially when hunting.

 An English Cocker Spaniel is a breed of gun dog. They are Flushing dogs, often used on birds that run from the hunter. One would think, that this would encourage him to learn to keep his distance, while still doing his duty.

I might be at fault when it came to his training because for the longest of time, he was just too small for me to want to train. A little while later, I realized that he was a year old, and a little too old to try training. To make matters worse. He wasn’t allowed to go out a lot because the dogs near our place are similar to the gang members that feed them: unruly, dangerous and stray. To add to this, the old Pomeranian that out tenants owned got jealous when we first bought him, and nearly took a bite out of him, resulting in a permanent phobia. So, Dexter is essentially a chicken.

This December, we took him to Mangalore. His previous visit last October showed us, that he could learn to be a good watchdog, of he stayed with watchdogs (he learned to scare away strangers). We tied him up next to our uncle’s dogs, who weren’t too happy about the new comer who was getting a littleIMG_20170214_144329_042 too much attention for their liking. Everyone who came home was utterly fascinated with him, asking questions ranging from how and where we got him, to ‘did (we) get his hair done?’

His week in Mangalore helped him get over his phobia of animals in general. That was good. The part where he tried chasing a buffalo, not so much. After having watched the dogs at home bark at the cows, calves, and buffaloes at home on a regular basis, he learned that these were animals that were meant to be chased. Or eaten. He likes beef. I don’t know how rare though.

When we let the cows out in the morning, we take them out one by one. Our man, let loose to perform his morning rites, decided to start small with the calf. He ran, full speed at the poor thing, barked his head off, and set off a flight that took us about twenty minutes to get the calf to calm down. I asked my nephew to tie him up, but he figured that Dexter wouldn’t try this out with a fully grown animal, and just let him out the other gate.  Our man decided to come with a bang, having enjoyed his previous chase and decided that this time, it would be a fully grown buffalo. He ran again, barking his head off, straight into the buffalo, only to realize that his barking lead to the Buffalo turning around with an expression of mere annoyance. He realized his mistake. My mother screamed in fear for his life, and Dexter, realizing how wrong he was, ran. He ran and ran (while the farmhand held the buffalo down), straight into the house and right under the sofa. I don’t think he learned his lesson.IMG_20170214_144329_042

The smells in her home

It was the summer of 2014. The summer I finished my tenth grade and had written my first board examination. My brother was to drive to Coimbatore to attend his best friend’s wedding. Being products of the Indian culture, my parents strongly believed that allowing me to stay in another person’s house is a grave situation- it being highly unsafe for their daughter. So, when I was told that I could go to Coimbatore and spend a few days with my friend at her grandmother’s place, I was ecstatic.

I was dropped off at her gate, at around eleven on a humid summer morning. There were no birds singing, no dogs howling and no cats mewling. It was a somber, old street with beautiful homes, the only noises coming from the occasional vehicle passing by. Almost instantly, I captured by the strong smell of mangoes coming from the tree at the far end. Guarded by the compound wall. The aroma brought out strong pangs of desire, making me crave for them. My friends had to drag me in (courtesy being her favorite whim), making sure that I greeted her grandmother before attacking the tree. Her grandmother is an old lady of around eighty-five. She is small made, with her hair almost white, tied in a bun no larger than a walnut. Having exchanged pleasantries, I walked into her home.

It was a roomy, cozy home that her grandmother lived in. The living room was heavily scented with incense and the smell of old. Yellowing paper. There were gigantic book cases on either side of the television- nearly touching the ceiling! There was a simple, bare coffee table that rather oddly against the vintage sofa set, and a sixty-inch flat-screen TV.

I was then taken into my friend’s room, where I had a quick shower and was shown the rest of the house. I was taken to the dining room, where I was fed till I declared I would soon burst. The kitchen, adjacent to the dining room, gave out the frantic, pungent aroma of fried chilies- a core ingredient in most Indian dishes. After Amachi (it’s the Malayalam word for ‘granny’) was convinced of my being fed enough, we were let off to our own devices.  My friend and I went to her room, which surprisingly smelled like her room in Bangalore. This, I found to be something new- something oddly curious. I quickly unpacked and then, we went to the terrace. the mats had already been laid out. It was here that I was told stories of the neighbors and neighborhood, following stories of the holidays she had spent there.

As night drew closer, the air got colder, less humid. We were called down for dinner, where I was treated to a Malayalee favorite- apam and stew.  After dinner, she and I went to her room, while Amachi watched the news. I had a quick shower, and we read from her treasure chest full of Archie and Tinkle comics, made numerous prank calls, played Subway Surfer till our fingers were numb and talked till our bodies gave in, to a deep slumber. The bathroom smelled like my lavender-scented body wash that night.

I woke up the next morning, with my pillow smelling of shampoo, to my tummy rumbling and my nose telling me of an all-time favorite-PANCAKES!!! I dashed out of bed and rushed to perform my morning duties. No sooner was I done, then my dear darling friend was up demanding her turn. We charged to the table and stuffed ourselves with what I considered to be a wholesome feast- crepes, maple syrup, fresh honey, chocolate sauce, freshly cut, juicy yellow mangoes and yes, pancakes.

That day and the day after followed almost the same routine, with a few variants. We watched a dog show, and I got to climb the mango tree!

Two days later, my trip ended. It was only a little while later when we were half-way to Bangalore that I realized- her room wouldn’t smell of my deodorant, the pillow cover wouldn’t smell like my shampoo and the bathroom would lose the smell of my lavender scented body wash.

 

Sheets

A typical middle-class family often shows a certain distinction between the bed sheets at home. The ‘good’ or rather, ‘newer’ ones are kept aside for our esteemed guests, and the ‘not so good’ or ‘older’ ones, for the family.  If this rule isn’t adhered to by the father and children, the wrath of the mother is unleashed, who as the ruler of her little kingdom, can do pretty much anything she wants to, to punish you.

Now, this rule doesn’t apply only to the bed sheets. It could be China from the parents’ wedding, brand new pillows, mugs and even the special ‘holiday’ bars of soap- small bars, that wouldn’t last for more than four days. To me, these bars have always been a measure of one’s stay. Stay for a short span of time, and you have a bar that has been barely used. Stay for too long, you might just run out of soap.  What happens when they run out? Do we slyly replace it as in a hotel? Or do we wait for a request?

One of the things that had left me flabbergasted is my mother’s tyrannical iron hand that rules over the allocation of bed sheets.  Whenever Amazon or Flipkart have a sale, I am forced to go through the details of every item in the bed sheet line. I search for Bombay Dyeing bed sheets- double bed sheets, 90 x 80 inches, made of 100% cotton. If a store was having a sale, I would know where my next Sunday would go.

Somehow, no matter how many sets (a bed sheet and two pillowcases) we picked up, we never seemed to have enough.

“What will we use when our guests come?” She would say. She made it seem like we slept on rags.

My mother’s trips to the store often burned holes in my father’s wallet and were an odd victory that she devoured. Between the quarreling that takes place, about the prices of the sheets, the looks of them, and their very need- where we are at war, my mother somehow manages to bring the family together. We are forced to go, look at everything the store has to offer from that one brand that mother will never stray from. My brother and I watch her as she goes through the various patterns, materials, and colors that the eager salespersons show us. She has a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, joy in her steps, and the sun in her smile when she finally finds a piece that she likes.

These trips, often lasting for two to three hours, usually end with each and every one of us being terribly exhausted. It’s never only the bed sheets that we pickup- its pillows, towels, and groceries for the coming week. It’s on these days, that we make my father buy us dinner, contributing to the size of the hole in his wallet. It’s these days, that brings about a different joy in mother- where she goes about planning when she can use these sheets next, decides which room they’d look best in and what blankets would match the sheets she’d use. It is on these days, that she is the absolute monarch of her home, returning victorious with glorious spoils, or rather treasure, of war.

Here, the Ox doesn’t go “moooo”

IMG_20170708_202750149When I think of trying something new, I think of my mother. It was her brilliant culinary skills that got me to trying veal, squid and even camel, her determination that got me drinking bitter  Kashaya (the juice of various medicinal herbs and spices) when I fell ill, and her sly methods (to my horrific discovery) that got me eating rabbit, emu, and prawns (she told me it was chicken) too!

Somehow, every time I’ve tried a new meat, y mother has been around. Be it frog, shark or octopus in Goa, or even monkey in Assam, my mother has always been nearby, if not at the very same table. When I think of food, I think of my mother. She was never used to eating and cooking these “exotic” meats, but when she married into a family where everyone ate anything that could be cooked, she had to learn. So naturally, when I was born, I was brought into a world where animals were food, as long as they could be cooked efficiently.

My first encounter with Ox tail was when the mother of an Anglo-Indian friend spoke about it. She made it seem so new, so different, something I had to try. “I make a delicious tail curry. You have to come home and try it” she said. I was fascinated. Having watched Masterchef, I knew all about the “funny” parts of animals that were used in “elite” culinary settings, from  kangaroo meat, sea lettuce, wattle seeds and quandongs in Masterchef Australia, to cow cheek, pig tripe, pig tail, chicken feet  and even bull testicles on Masterchef USA, I thought I’d seen it all. I’d always known that Anglos cooked differently, it was only how differently, and that was the question.

When I finally got around to asking my parents about the cooling of ox tail, I discovered that you could make soup out of it too.

My first bite into the slightly meaty, bony piece showed me exactly why a whip from an ox’s tails hurts so much. My tiny fingers pried apart the momo-looking covering that feels a lot like buffalo skin, and I slowly began nibbling on the scraps of meat I could find. The meat in it doesn’t feel like Grill House’s famed steak, but rather like something I would expect from one of the people Gordon Ramsay insults on Masterchef USA. The black of the pepper, the green of the mint leaves, the brown of the cloves and cinnamon made it the perfect concoction to the soup I regularly recommend to people with a cold.

I quickly drink my mother’s newest culinary achievement, and even with the stream rushing down my throat with everything else in the soup, I revel in the flavor it provides.

The smell of you

Sometimes, I can smell you in the wind. 

That drawing, tempting scent of you. 

I sniff around like a dog hunting for it’s favourite bone, 

Only to realize, that you’re gone. 

Funny food

You are rose apples at the first bite,

Pulling in tang, sweetness, and the favour of the convent behind my home. 

You are coconuts at the second bite,

Crunchy, juicy, too much yet too little you chew, you’re the favour of my Mnagalorean roots. 

You are pineapples the third bite, 

Sweet, citric, tongue numbing, making me feel like the flesh in my cheeks is disappearing; you are the home of my cousin in Karbala

And at the fourth bite, you’re gone. 

Seven months of hunting. That’s what it takes to find you again. 

You, are funny food temptation.