Little Women (Continued)

1. So she comes, eyes red with grief, nose puffed up, hands a tight fist. ” What happened?” I ask, perturbed. I know the answer even before she speaks.

” My team did not win!”

Another tear trickles down the pretty face.

Ouch!

” You know, ma, I was the only one answering! None of the team members were participating.”

“Like the Big Bang Theory? Sheldon did not allow the Russian scientist to answer the Physics case, did he?’ I joke, rather weakly.

She rubs her nose.

” Did you pick your team?”

” No.”

” Did the winners select themselves into one team?”

” No! Of course not.”

” If you were a part of the winning team, what would you have  done differently?”

” Would have carried that gold medal home today, ma,” she says crisply.

” Done differently?”

” Mommmmmmm!”

A small grin appears, albeit resisted a lot by the competitive spirit inside her.

” Done differently?”

I am like the stuck music disc.

” Oh, well. Nothing different. I would have still done my best.”

” Which you did even now?”

” I guess so..”

A poignant pause.

” Does anything else matter? That is the only thing under your control”.

” There is that other competition tomorrow…”

A smile flickers sunshine onto her face.

” What’s for dinner?”

***************

” We did it! Yayyyy!!”

She is ecstatic.

” It was wonderful!”

This time, I think of the dead young cricketer, the two young men in a coma after driving competitions, and a host of others who play with life and death- like competitions every day.

” Good. Victory is wonderful. But sometimes , I wonder…,” I mutter to myself.

**********************

Writing Boards Sweet As Honey

Great writing fills me with awe, and a sense of reverence. It can be in any language, any length, any genre- the only litmus test is that something deep within changes colours, to shine a bit more brightly.

As usual, the train chugged its way to the Northern plains, near the bounteous Ganges, from a land surrounded by ocean and sea waters. The language with which I was brought up, Malayalam- as sweet as sugar cane and honey to my starving senses, came to redeem me again; through a fabulous collection of  vernacular writers speaking on their writing destinies.

M.T.Vasudevan Nair speaks about a forgotten poem – “Toys”, which was about a father detecting a child’s toys, after he goes to bed sobbing due to a scolding.

A piece of horseshoe, a broken bangle piece, a segment of a chain,one nail..The father realises, that to the young child, all these held value, which he himself could not see. Similarly,  as an adult , whatever he considered right and wrong, the young child child could not see.

In the same way, we gather much in the life’s journey. We keep it aside. Later, when we retrieve it, it has a curiosity value. There is the smell of life in it, there is a hidden question. It is when one feels like that, that one creates a story, poem or words out of it.”

Sara Joseph speaks about her radiant mother, who was her first story teller..

I was watching how her  movement’s boundaries were getting limited with age. First, she would wait for me by the road side, then, behind the gate, then it became the verandah, then behind the front door, then within the small square of her room, then on a cot, so small in width…

Subhash Chandran draws a parallel  between mothers and writing boards.

Every writer is following his mother. The relationship need not always be cordial.There are those raging within. Yet their language and the structure of their words, follow a pattern- of their own mothers.What about a writer born to a dumb mother? He will start writing about the unheard conversations he had with his mother…

Little children cannot understand the complications of our rented lives in this earth.In many houses, in many times, using writing boards as varied as a grinding stone to one’s own mother, we try to capture those onto paper sheets, in vain. I remember the unknown writer who said that man is the only animal who dies before he reaches his full growth…”

As I stop translating, my eyes fall on two lines from another article.

The great blue sky, the only house in this world

Universal love, the eternal light within.”

In that world, language is not relevant. The language of human imagination and heart- only these matter.

*****

Revelations

Picture 145

1. Fever

She turns

Feverish,

Mother, it is so cold.

I feel numb too,

Hugging her,

Try to warm her

With my own self.

Later, fever down

She smiles

Mother, it is hot,

Can you move away

A bit?

I am happy

To be told to move

Away,

For the first time

In my life.

2. Cards of Life

Mother,

My team is not that good,

And I wish

I could change,

Winning will be tough

This way.

I grin to myself and think

Of the cards life gives us

To play with.

I clear my throat and say,

What matters is

How well you played with

What you were given,

Gifts, talents, teams.

She ponders, smiles

And then shrugs,

A teenage-

Whatever.

Little Women

Picture 208

“So,” I ask, with a typical amma tone, preponderant pepper mixed with affectionate salt, “what do you want for your birthday?”

My little girl, wiser than her years, looks up seriously at me. That look is so knowing that  I get that odd feeling yet again-that a very dominating great grandmother from my maternal clan has reincarnated right into my home.

“Chocolates?” I ask nervously.

“That is usual,” she responds. Then she flicks an imaginary bit of dust from her dress.

This one ruled for eighty years, I surmise, narrowing my eyes.

“Barbie?” I try again, feeling as if Mable teacher was sitting on the cot. Only difference being that Mable teacher sat on a chair behind a very heavy table, and I had been six at that time.

My seven  year old sips her milk.

“I have many of those,” she is perfect in her coolness.

I break into a sweat. No one does that to me, no one, never- except this little soul- perfect in her making.

I reflect on all life lessons learnt-

What did the sacred books say?

That Children choose their parents.They are part of God’s design to teach you what you still have to learn.

I look at my wise little teacher with respectful eyes .

She takes pity on her mother.

“Amma, you give me a bath today, ok?”

I am stunned, tears sting behind my eyelids.

As I hug her, I whisper, “Has it been such a long time?”

Of course, later, we also shop for chocolates, Barbies and a tent made of pink plastic.

*********

“I hit it against the coat hanger,” she says.

Amma looks askance at the angry red bruise on her arms.

“Walked into it with eyes closed, I presume?”

My Dr.Livingston looks at me with great patience.

“I wear spects, ma,” she condescends with all her teenage authority.

By the time my brain crows, sarcasm, sarcasm, she disappears behind a book.

“What do you want to say?” I try my amma skills.

She pretends not to hear.

“What are you trying-not to say?” I try my Scorpio sense.

She answers.

“That I hate it when you take me for a kid,” a murmur arises from within the pages.

I grin happily. I have much, much experience of that particular salvo.

I  had trained with my mother for this boxing experience. Man, was she a tough teacher!

I go silent. It is a very tough thing for me actually.

“Mom, you are plotting something,” she answers, quick on her uptake.She is my mother’s granddaughter, after all.

I laugh. She laughs.

After five minutes, we agree that she gets to attend the inter-school camp. Provided that my young adult promised not lose her spects and  not to walk into coat hangers there.

“That is truly the best birthday gift,” she says, smiling. “That you trust me enough to let me go.”

What did the sacred books say?

That children….

Are We There Yet?

Picture 126

“Are we there yet?” My Six Year Old asks for the I -don’t-know-how-many-eth time.

I seriously consider designing a frequency counter for checking the regularity of this singular occurance.

” No, we are not there yet,” I say, with absolute composure.

The poor old man in the third seat pulls the muffler down his ears, tighter.

We have five more hours to the destination.

Sigh.

” Would you like this sweet?Grandma made it specially for you,” I coax.

My  little girl sniffs as haughtily as if she were Angela Merkel, who was being asked about the potential of the Greek economy.

” Biscuits?Strawberry flavour?”

I trained in the Amma’s-school-of handling-rebuttals-refusals and pukes. It should be made mandatory for every politician of this country.

” No”.

She is certainly a  good candidate for the post of spokesperson- of the US Gun control lobby.

” Ok, let us play a game. For every question you answer, I lose and so you get to eat a biscuit “, I negotiate.

It settles things comfortably.

Her brain analyses the complicated situation thus:

Amma asks questions-ok

I answer questions-great

Amma loses-excellent

I eat a biscuit-fair enough ( I was hungry anyway and this way my little pride is saved)

Question1: How many step sisters did Snow White have?

Answer: None

(Amma nonplussed for a moment. What the hell- this  wonderful answer took the cake!)

One biscuit goes into the pretty mouth.

Amma is rebuked for asking stupid questions.

Amma accepts that she has made a mistake. It should have been Cinderella and yes, baby knows the answer. Could she consider popping in another biscuit?Nah? Ok, fair enuff.

” Are we there yet?”

(Groannnnnn! I dare not look at the third passenger.)

Question 2: Which bird took Thumbelina away to the Prince?

Answer: I will not eat another biscuit.

Huh! Which bird, sweetie pie? Play a fair game.

Answer: Swallow and I am not going to swallow that strawberry biscuit. It tastes yuk. I also wish to puke. I always puke, do I not?

Amma prays to all the Goddesses that she knows; for patience.

” Are we there yet?”

To cut a very long story short, we were not there yet.

She plays games that people play, Eric Berne Style.

She makes the frequency counter conk off.

Amma contemplates jumping out of the plane for a moment. Then better sense prevails.

” Have you heard of name, place, animal, thing?”

” No.”

” Ok, this is the new rule. Think of an animal whose name begins with the alphabet ” I ” and do not disturb me with ANY question, until you get an answer.”

That gives me time to bring the frequency counter back to life. The third passenger recovers from his  induced coma. I recover my lost balance.

After five minutes of precious silence that make me realise the value of every wonderful , peaceful second, she asks…

” Are we there yet?”

” There is another game-it is called hot, hot, cold, cold. You have started to read..now find out  the word Baggage in this page. When your finger is close, I shall say Hot.If it is not, I shall say Cold.”

It takes care of some ten minutes.

Then she plays both hot and cold at the same time.

” What is the difference between baggage and luggage? Are we there yet?”

I do not know either of the answers. This time round, I pop in a biscuit and close my eyes.

The third passenger changes his seat.

My daughter tells me that she wanted to puke.

Was I ready yet?

*****

Bringing Up Myself and Other Tales

Picture 110

1. Bringing up myself

On the occasion when I stamped my feet, and insisted that I was NOT, NOT, NOT, NOT going to wear the pretty skirt and blouse that amma had painstakingly stitched  for me,  my amma  turned Durvasav.

Durvasav incidentally was the hot tempered Sage in mythology, who was given to making life uncomfortable for others, by predicting their futures.

” I am declaring to all the Universe ,” ( My, my, she still can be so melodramatic if she wants!) she said, ” that one day, you will have a daughter, and that you will understand my pain at this moment.”

I remember sniggering , not so very gracefully. I was fourteen.

I did not believe in prophecies coming true. Besides, who wanted to  have kids?Yuck!

Today I stand, another raging Durvasav, as my daughter tosses all the lovely blues and pinks to the side  and insists on Black.

” But you look so lovely, so graceful in blue,” I plead.

Better to try theory Y of that  BSchool learnings, before giving vent to a virulent theory X that I have stashed away beneath. Barely under control, simmering away like dosa on a heated vessel…hisssssssss…herssssssssss!

My daughter rolls her beautiful eyes ( why can’t she wear a little kajal for Chrissake?), and says, “Mommmmmmm”in that Western-serial way, that has me jumping on my toes.

” Amma”, I insist “Amma.”

” Amma, I hate pinks and blues.”

Good- time for trying out that lesson on negotiation they taught me at the Academy- I was supposed to get any rabblerouser change tracks with that strategy!

” Check out this purple one-the tag line is cool too..Princess Attitude”..I try simpering now.

The eyes roll in the opposite direction.

” Mommm..sorry, amma, I DETEST purple.”

So much for buying her Enid Blyton from age three. I am to blame for my fate. All her vocabulary!

” So what do you want?” I bleat like Baa, Baa, Black sheep.

” Finally you asked me that. Mommmaaaamma..Black.Black is cool. Black top, black tights, black boots.”

And she is supposed to be fourteen and into colours!

” Black on festivities? Girl, you can wear all the black when you reach University..your don gowns..even those are golden and yellow..Dear, come to your senses.”

She turns temporarily deaf.

(My mother laughs from her home. She is laughing really, really, hard.)

What the heck!

” Ok, for this one time..because my feet hurt and I cannot see another pile of tossed up colours..pick one.”

She picks up XL size- four  teens of her size, would fit into that one.

” Are you mad?” I almost yell. Theory X has come out spurting like over cooked idli and spluttering sambhar.

My kid grins at me symapthetically, as if I am a puppy that has gone slightly wobbly on the head.

” Relax mom..you see, I have to go out and exercise , nah? So loose fitting is better.”

” Even two of me will fit into this one, girl!”

I am almost reduced to tears now.She has managed to do the impossible. Usually I cry after extreme stress, that too in private. Boo hoo!

Fifteen minutes later, my teenager walks out of the mall, whistling . She has bought four dresses-all in XL size, all in pitch black.

I look like Sylvia Plath with her head popped inside the oven.

As I sit down to drink a  hot cappuchino (she insisted on a cool drink in that cold!) , my little six year old asks me gently:

” Amma, when I am her age, will you get me pinks? Pink, pink, pink dresses like Barbie.”

I break down and cry, hugging her.

My mother in Kerala cries along with me.

All is well. There is hope at the end of the blackest dress.

*********

 2. Nailing It Black, Without White

My teenager bares her claws- her finger nails are perfectly manicured, sharp and pale.

” I want to paint these black,” she says cautiously.

” Er, consider red,” I suggest politely.

An old memory, of a cinema in which the heroine asked the hero (who was a kitchen hand in the first half) to fetch her ” Quetex- red, apple red”, reverberates in colourful resplendence in my mind.

“Amma, red is sooooo boring!”

” Any colour but black on your nails? Purple, pink, silver..”, I canoodle in vain.

” I love black. Goth is the style,” she says.

” Vulgarity and Classy- they have a narrow line in between. A very, very, delicate line. So watch your black,” I murmur, and withdraw into my own world.

Black triggers a gun shot full of smoky memories.

The ashes after burning dry leaves and rice husks in the old brick choolah.

The kitten with one green eye and one pitch black eye, which would nestle amidst the warm ashes.

The soot on the clay vessel in which fish would be cooked at noon.

The colour of kohl, as castor seeds mixed with lemon and ghee.

The robe of Dracula in the children’s magazine. The colour of his flaring eyebrows.

The raven turn of wings drawn on a beautiful actress’s eyes- making them appear angelic and devilish at the same time.

The smudge of slate pencil on a black slate.

The spilt ink of Indian Black. A nib pen lying besides a black ink pot.

The dot on a baby’s cheek, to keep evil at bay.

The black bindi on a clear forehead, marking a sacred spot of energy, a rebellious show of power.

The black pearls in a traditional wedding chain, interspersed with gold.

The monsoon clouds, angry and wild, darkening, blackening before the burst of showers.

The black splashed brush keeling on the white canvas, tinting, unraveling mysteries at the same time.

The black tresses, gleaming with oil scented with camphor and basil

The black, smooth stone that touches the maiden’s cheeks, as she picks up one by the side of the rivulet

Black, as the speckles on a witch’s cauldron- especially after boiling a concoction of  hawthorne buds and belladonna leaves.

“Go ahead, wear black,” I say, emerging from rumination’s black cave.

” Actually, I was contemplating dotting it with white glitter,” she grins at me.

I shudder not too delicately.

” Don’t spoil my black,” I say pleadingly.

” Since when have you become a fan of black?” she asks, astounded.

” Ever since I really looked at it,” I reply with a smile. ” Besides, you have beautiful, black eyes. Go ahead.”

She paints her nails black.

********