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. 

The Photograph

IMG_20170710_204931508The joy in my heart is as visible as the leap in my steps and the smile on my face. This, was one of the days of my first steps. I’m in a set of woollen pyjamas. Dressed in red, yellow and orange, I could pass for the setting sun. Except. Except for the large duck on my chest, stitched on the sweater like top, sitting on it as gracefully as was the rest of the rest of my outfit. My cheeks as chubby and as rosy as they could be, my hair like Aladdin’s and eyes twinkling like those of a cat who found something shiny. I’m walking towards some unknown end, with my tiny unsteady feet, striving and struggling to keep me up.

My Mamma, doesn’t remember what I was up to. She isn’t even sure of who took the picture. It could have been my father, brother or any one of my numerous cousins. She now looks fondly at the picture, her eyes sparking, smiling and as loving as the day this picture was taken. She now looks at me, and smiles. My mother is no longer as young as she was. Her black, silky smooth hair is one of the only constants that has been present through the years. She is now a lot heavier, and her skin marks her age.  She now looks at me, as she did in the picture, her eyes full of love. The picture was taken at the old, rented house that we used to live in. I’m outside out house, and my mother is watching me, her head sticking out from the door and a wide smile strapped onto her face.

In those sadder times, when water was a rare commodity and we ended up having the guy at the medical store called me the “pamper baby”, where we could hear the events occurring our neighbour’s houses as clearly as the television at home, where my brother’s antics brought home lectures and scolding, my mother had found a pause in time. A brief moment when her worries and pain faded away and like the setting sun, and I radiated peace.

This, was one the days of my first steps.

Sight in the dark

She woke one day, on a gloomy, cloudy afternoon.

The birds didn’t chirp, the clouds didn’t clear away, the vehicles didn’t stop giving out their daily deposit of smoke.
But she smiled. For at last, she could see.

Blossoming songs

I walked around a bookstore humming what came to my mind. 

“What is the tune called?” He asked. 

I told him,  that I didn’t know. It just came to me. 

“Are you a musician?” He asked, the gentleness in his voice pouring into my heart. 

“I don’t know. It’s nothing.”  

He walked away. If only he knew, the song came from a voice that was asked for her tormented silence to be renewed. 

Whipping horses and Ooty

My childhood memories go back to when I was 3, where I remember going to my brother’s boarding school in Ooty. I was small and slightly round, wrapped in layers of clothing to protect me from the cold weather. I wore my orange and red sweater that looked a bit like a setting sun. It had a duck stitched on it, which made it all the more special to me. I like ducks. Mostly because they taste nice.  My mother, father and I went to the school and met the then principal, whom daddy knew quite well. We spoke to the warden and took my brother away for a few days.

When I think of Ooty, my nose sniffs around for the smell of sausages and chicken barbecuing over a large grill on a cold night. I think of tall, luscious, green trees growing all around me, swaying gently in the breeze at night. I think of a warm fire, chocolates, an emerald green shawl, and a maroon and cream colored one.

My family went horseback riding on the hills one day. My brother was on one horse, tall and strong, my mother on a smaller, a little weaker one, and my father and I, on a horse similar to that of my brother’s. My brother’s horse was black in color, with a white patch on his chest, my father and I had a brown one, with a dark brown mane. My mother, had a horse who was brown too, but had patched of white all over his body. I remember touching my horse’s mane, which I found to be a lot rougher that I imagined it to be. This certainly wasn’t a cousin of Black Beauty.  We went up the hill, with a man on a horse guiding us. I don’t remember him very well. He looked a little bit like everyone who would live in a cold place, covered in layers of sweaters, wearing a cap to protect the hair he had.  I don’t remember his horse.

As we went up the hill, my brother got awfully restless with our pace, which mostly hinged on how slow my mother’s horse was. He believed, that she simply didn’t know how to make him go faster, and in the need to help, whipped the horse. The horse was both shocked and surprised and immediately began running. My mother, unable to balance on him, fell off and went rolling towards the side of the hill. She rolled and rolled and rolled, and would have fallen off the edge, if it weren’t for a few shrubs that grew on the end that scratched her skin, but kept her alive. Beyond the shrubs, and next to the hill, was a lake whose exact depth I don’t remember. If she had fallen in, however, she wouldn’t have to tell the tale.

I don’t know if my brother got yelled at. I’m pretty sure he did, but maybe after I had fallen asleep.

My mother doesn’t have any scars from this fall.