Tag Archives: Family

Cooking Lessons

26 January 2017

Finding good help (or maids) is hard to find. You need to be extremely lucky, they say. But I believe, what is harder is not just finding a maid, but finding someone who is ‘maid’ to be a part of your family too! (Excuse the pun, I couldn’t resist!) I have been having my share of struggles with a new cook in the house. I am not someone who loves to cook; in fact spending too much time in the kitchen is something I am averse to. Thus, after 2 whole years of ‘learning to cook courtesy the Internet’, I gave in to the suggestion of hiring a cook for the three meals in a day.

It is tough, training a third person to develop your taste and presentation of food. It is tough, to teach someone how to please your palate, every day and with every meal. I don’t know how to do it…but I know someone who knew this so well!

It was a text from my mother a few days ago, which brought bad news and ironically also good memories. We had a wonderful cook in the family, ever since I was a baby. A few years ago, she had to quit work because of a severe illness. And a few days ago, she succumbed to it. The day she quit cooking at our house, was the last time I met her. I must have been a school – going child at that time, which seems a long enough time now. And yet, the taste of her food still lingers in my mind…I don’t think I have ever tasted such delicious food, ever again.

She cooked, not just with the ingredients, but with love. She cooked, keeping everyone’s likes in mind but also taught us to respect each other’s differences. She fed us till our stomachs were fit to burst, but she also taught us how to feed ourselves.

She taught me how to roll my first chapati, and then teased me when it puffed up. “Look, the chapati is angry on you! See how she has puffed herself up with anger.” As a child, I used to panic and say Sorry to the chapati, hoping it would forgive me for putting it on the flame. I also believed it used to soften up with my heartfelt apologies and so wasn’t hard to tear up into smaller morsels. I could never roll them round, but she never scolded me. She just taught me Geography, calling those random shapes I rolled as ‘maps’. There is a wall atlas installed in my house, and I think those were the only times I studied it with interest….trying to find where in the world my latest shape fit!

She was someone on whose cooking all of us cousins grew up. She taught us the meaning of family, as we sat together and shared the food. She insisted the entire family ate together often, and she cooked up a storm in the kitchen on those days. Cooking for two people is a task in itself for me, and I wonder how she did it or at least made it seem so easy, even while cooking for almost 13 people, 5 of which were growing – up bodies. We lapped up her food, and we fought over it. We grew up on her food, and we were spoilt rotten for it too.

There are some people you respect in life, and some who you admire. But there are very few people you hold in reverence, and for me, she was the strongest candidate in that list. I don’t have any photographs with her, but I have her memories to keep me going on. She wasn’t related to us, but she never made us feel like strangers. She was, and so we could be.

She will remain, and so will we….bound by the thoughts of her love and the taste of her food.

Rest in peace, Gangubai 🙂

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A ‘grand’ personality…

01 October 2016.

It was a night like no other. Eerie silence pervaded throughout the house. Light sobs broke out occasionally. All the lights in the house were on. Our house was filled with people. Everyone was gathered around, trying to find comfort in each other’s company. It was the first time I had encountered such a situation. And there I was, peeping at it all from the gap between the stairs.

I had been studying for my SSC prelims in my room, when the doorbell suddenly rang. I was startled, and looked up to check the time. It was past 10, on a Sunday night. ‘Why would someone come home right now?’ I couldn’t help but wonder, as I quietly crept downstairs. There was something weird about the whispers that were flitting through the house. The door was ajar, but I couldn’t see anyone around. ‘Where was everyone?’ I shrugged, but thoughts of Geometry occupied my mind and I ran back upstairs. I sat down, got back to struggling with the theorems….tensed about the prelims which were to start in 2 days. Yet again, I heard someone enter the house, the whispers getting louder. I tried to concentrate but curiosity got the better off me. So I was back to creeping downstairs, when suddenly my grandfather’s brother intercepted me. “Shivani…” His voice broke into a sob. A chill ran down my spine as I looked at him with a questioning glance. “Half an hour ago…” He couldn’t go on; instead he just silently lead me down. Into the room where my grandfather had taken residence almost 3 months ago. There he was, sleeping peacefully. Finally at peace. Having left behind all his pains. And us.

It was the first time I encountered Death at such close quarters. I gasped and ran from the room. I looked around for my grandmother and there she was….sitting in a corner, lost to the world. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes had a vacant look. My mother was in another corner, just staring at the floor. My father was near the telephone, informing the rest of the family. My aunts were there with their families; my cousins looking at me. People just kept coming into our house, but I had stopped registering their faces. Someone hugged me; someone else patted me on the back. Someone tried to console me by saying ‘Everything will be alright’, but my mind was in utter shock. How could he leave? How could the most stubborn man I’ve ever known, give up his fight so easily? How could the head of the family walk away, without a Goodbye?

wp-1475316714415.jpgHe was overjoyed the day I was born. My uncle tells me how my grandfather couldn’t wait even a second to see the newly born me. And the moment he saw me, he fell in love. He was a strict man, but always lenient with me. He let me sleep in long hours, he let me get away with my mischief around the house. He laughed at my attempts to speak, and he lovingly nurtured my love for reading. Each birthday and achievement earned a book and my language flourished over the years. The first time I actually tried my hand at expressing my thoughts, ironically, was the night he died.

I thought back to all the memories with him, and the words flowed that night. I kept writing at a furious pace, hoping that the void filled itself up. Ten years later, I am still writing at a furious pace, knowing well that the void will always remain so.

A void that I call ‘Nana’. A man who built some famous bridges across the city; and also built relationships who outlived him. I was often asked by complete strangers if I was Narayan kaka’s granddaughter, and my heart always filled with pride as I nodded my head. There was a news article about him a few days after he passed away. I had read it hungrily, and was shocked to realise I knew so little about him. And perhaps, that was his biggest achievement.

That he never flaunted, never bragged. He was a family person, who cared and looked after his loved ones. He helped me with my homework, played cards with me, sat himself in a discreet corner of the audience when I faced the stage for the first time. He was proud, and yet he never let on. He encouraged us to be better, he made sure we never backed down. He was his own man, never dependent on anyone.

So perhaps it was no surprise that when an illness left him bedridden and dependent on others for every little thing, he preferred to die. We saw him sink and heard the doctors tell us ‘It is only a matter of time.

wp-1475316726327.jpgHe used to always sit across me, at the dinner table, looking over at me slowly eat my food. He was always the first to finish, I was always the last. He always asked for my help while changing the bed sheets, and till date I feel him tugging them from the other end. Looking back, I don’t remember ever directly joking around with him. I was in awe of him and even today, I wonder if he approves of my life decisions ever since. He wasn’t there when I passed my SSC and HSC exams; he wasn’t there when I chose English as my major subject for graduation. He wasn’t there when I flew to the UK for my Masters and he was missing from my wedding. So many milestones in these ten years, and each witnessed only by the photograph hanging on the wall. What would he say, had he been there?

I think I know. Because although that night, he physically left us, he still lives on in various ways. My father has his eyes, my cousin has his hair. His grand children have his stubbornness. And the entire family has memories, some exclusive and some shared.

With this ‘grand’ personality who once lived.

My grandfather.

 

Dog-gone Days!

09 February 2016.

Late at night, my phone beeped. Late night messages and late night phone calls; both scare me. As far as I’ve known, neither have ever brought good news. I twisted and turned in my bed, a restless night lying ahead of me. A sudden thump woke me up completely at dawn. Eerie howls echoed through our street. About 8 – 10 dogs were gathered around someone, or something slumped. Fear gripped me. Had there been an accident? Cold air came swooping in as I pushed open the window, pushing sleep completely out of my eyes.

As the sun rose and a beautiful morning greeted me, I saw the slumped something. It was a dog, perhaps the victim of a road kill. The animal lay there, still and cold. Life had ebbed away as a new day began for everyone else…

I have never really been a dog lover. In fact, as a child, I held a fear or perhaps some sort of dread for this species. For years, I screamed, hid behind doors or relatives, and at times possible even ran away at the sight of a dog. But then, people around me started to have dogs as pets. Both my aunts, a best friend…all these families opened their doors and hearts to this creature. I adjusted to the idea of sharing space with dogs, but never really petted them willingly.

Today, as I watched the carcass of this animal, I didn’t realise that another dog, miles away from me, had already lost its life. Absentmindedly, I checked that late night message and I suddenly felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. The message began…’A sad news…’ The rest remains a hazy nightmare.

A fluffly hairball, a crazy grey and white dog came rushing towards me, the first day I stepped in Hagen. It was the summer of 2007 and I was in Germany for a cultural exchange programme. My host family had come to receive me at the airport but the first one to welcome me into the house hadn’t been a person, but this dog. Fenya.

She was a baby, a lovely dog with her whims and fancies. My first instinct had been to back off; a dog leaping on me was one of my nightmares. But this dog did not know how to take No for an answer. She welcomed me not only into her house, but also her life. My 5-weeks long stay in this house would have been incomplete had it not been for dear Fenya.

7 years later, while in the UK for my post-graduation, the proximity to Germany tempted me for a visit. I was back in Hagen, back to the same house, back to my family. And once again, Fenya was running out….her ready wag telling me that I had been missed in this house, by everyone. She still guarded my door, she still caught me by surprise by sleeping on the stairs, she still growled if I crept up for a glass of water in the middle of the night. We went for walks in the lovely woods, we played ball in parks, we even had crazy fits for no reasons whatsoever.

All my life, I have seen a lot of pets. I sat next to few, even allowed them to occasionally sniff me. But Fenya was the first and the only dog I shared house with. She was someone who taught me that dogs are a part of the family too. The first animal to show me unconditional love.

Today as I read the news of her death with a lump in my throat, I realise I can never truly explain what Fenya means to me. I can just know, I can just feel, I can just remember and I will, always miss…

The F word…

14 July 2015.

Today, Facebook is flooded with pictures from yesteryears. Every second update is a flowing tribute. I smile as today, I don’t just scroll through the endless updates but actually stop and read each one. I am amused at how many of my friends come from the same source.

Foliage Outdoors.

Today, as Foliage Outdoors turns 15, every person associated with it till date relives their memories. You can see it in their updates. You can see it through their photos. And as you read, you realise how a single organization has changed the lives of so many different individuals in so many different ways…

If I were asked what Foliage Outdoors actually means to me, I think my immediate response would be a moment of complete silence. Of speechlessness. And in that very silence, my love and gratitude will find voice. I doubt if I could ever find a single all-encompassing word or even a sentence to define my relationship with Foliage.

Family? Friends? Entire families who have become friends? So many friends who became one huge family?

Foliage Outdoors turns 15 today, my age when I first walked in to this office. A smaller office than today’s, slightly cramped and yet always welcoming. Till date, the memories of that cozy office with orange hues warms up my heart. It was where I cycled to, at any and every leisurely hour. It was where I experienced the pampering of older siblings that I had not. It was where I learnt to explore new potentials within me and it was also where my career interests were nurtured.

My first camp as a camper. My one and only. Ranthambhore, the forest that introduced me to wildlife. It taught me how to love it and respect it, to care for it and help conserve it. The rage of eco – tourism caught up with me and I stepped over to join the Eco-centrics. I wasn’t actually born to be wild, and yet these people taught me to live life just so.

To rappel down 20-feet mountain faces or rather just plunge into the chilled waters of the Ganges from a 40-feet tall cliff. I shivered from within and learnt to put on a brave face nevertheless.

To visit the many beautiful and pristine forests of India and see the animals in their natural habitats. The skipped heartbeat while hearing the echoing alarm call just inches away from you or the racing pulse upon seeing the Royal Bengal Tiger walk straight toward you. The joy of seeing a leopard cross your path and knowing that this cat can never bring you bad luck. The realisation that you are falling in love with this life. Hard and fast.

To pack 40 hyper kids in a single bus and take them away from the comfort of their homes. To share this love and addiction of camping. To teach these young souls to become independent little beings. In return, you get treated to slobbery kisses, heartfelt hugs, midnight cuddles and teary goodbyes. You wipe off their vomits, you teach them toilet manners, you reprimand them on their eating etiquettes and you heal each physical and emotional wound there is and can be imagined. For those few hours and days, the families are forgotten and you become their everything. A mother, a father, an elder sister, a best friend. You know in 3 days, you are going to go through this process again. With a new set of hyper kids. And yet, just for that moment, you want to get caught up in that magic. Of trying to cheer up 35 homesick children. Of trying to convey the  impossibility of squeezing in 20 people on to a single bed, to 7-year olds. Of loving these darlings truly and having them love you back. An innocent love, so rare.

Today, the memories flood in by the plenty and I end up staring at the screen with mixed feelings. I am happy, sad, nostalgic, proud and so much more. Foliage Outdoors gave me more than I could have ever asked for. A huge family, an endless stream of friends and new experiences around each bend. They took a shy girl in and believed in her. While once upon a time, I didn’t have anything worthwhile to talk about, today I never run out of topics. I learnt how to recognize birds, plants, butterflies. I learnt how to handle snakes. I learnt how to distinguish between the different calls of animals. I also learnt how to tie different types of knots and how to conduct adventure activities. I learnt to handle a rifle and the intricacies of archery. I learnt how to handle children and how to read the language of their eyes. I learnt how to deal with all sorts of people and even fall in love with one. I learnt how to think of others before self and how to take care of yourself.

In the 8 years that I have been associated with Foliage, I’ve shamelessly grabbed on to each opportunity that came my way. I can only hope that I manage to give something back as well.

Foliage is my kinda F word. Children should learn this one instead 😉

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