They Will Be Okay

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It is raining, a miserable grey day punctuated with bouts of soggy wet rain, the kind that does not let up and instead drips all day filling the air with the indescribable smell of things disintegrating and returning to its elemental forms.

The alarm goes off and I hit the pause button on the episodes of Grey’s Anatomy I am binge watching on the tiny screen of my phone. Laddu stirs beside me. I haul her downstairs and make myself a hot cup of coffee. Laddu is on the high chair, her milk and cookie in front of her. The front window blinds are up and I watch the school bus go past our home. I open the garage and warm up glasses of milk for the wet kids who will troop in a little past four.

I leave my empty coffee cup in the sink and fill it with water. I saunter over to the window and peer out. The roads are empty. Not a child is in sight. I press my nose against the window and see fluorescent blue and pink jackets in the distance. The amble along, stopping at mailboxes, inspecting wayside trees, bending to watch worms inch their way along the pavement. They speak in a tongue I can’t understand, bound by ties that started in the womb. I watch as they take their time making their way home. Instead of lingering like I always do, I walk back to the kitchen and busy myself with setting out snacks.

Over the past two years, I have watched this ritual with interest, frustration and occasional anger. I have asked Saathi over dinner if he understood why they did not run home like the other kids do. Each day I stand near the window watching them catching the wind in their umbrellas, dragging jackets on the sidewalk, squatting to catch dandelion wisps. Each day I stand willing them to make it home faster so they can get to their snack faster, get started on homework faster, have a shower quicker and go to bed sooner.

Somedays like today it hits me that they are doing the very same things I exhort myself to do. They stand and stare. They understand the magic of watching worms, of picking dry leaves and bird feathers from the grass. They still are connected to the magic that is earth and life and all the things I take for granted. Even when it is grey and foggy and miserable, they find things to buoy them up. The laugh and play and get muddy.

It hits me that they will be OK. They may not run home as soon as they get off the bus. They may not be doing multiplication with the rest of their class. They may not be quite what their peers are. They may not get all the jokes that their friends make. They may not understand nuance or sarcasm. They may not learn to mask their emotions. They may not be popular or have a following. But they will be okay.

They will be okay because they are at home wherever they are.

Ten Years Of Grief

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I pause at the doorway, my eyes lingering on the monthly planner. The kids have been crossing out days religiously since the beginning of the month to Thanksgiving. My eyes however, have been on a different date. The funk has been closing in on me like an ominous bubble. Sometimes they are visceral, sometimes they are elusive like a whiff of something familiar. The images are unrelenting when they start.

The cold metal of the hospital bed. The strident sound of monitors flatlining. The impersonal cold of a body from which life has ebbed out leaving nothing but matter. The adrenaline rush from not knowing how to handle grief. The focus on the practical. The obituary. The calls to family. The hunt for pictures to accompany the death announcement. The bills. The priest. The rituals. The glass cage in the center of the room. The relentless demand of coffee. The smell of death. The vacuum that the sight of the van carrying his body created. The soul sucking emptiness that followed. The tears, hot and plenty slowing to nothingness.

The years that followed have been tainted. Tainted with the knowledge that it could have been so much different. Watching my mother navigate widowhood, watching my children grow up not knowing my dad, watching responsibility settle gently, lightly into the pores of daily living, saturating it with a heaviness that is undefinable.

If the world around has moved on, Appa stays the same. As still as his picture in my curio cabinet. His blue tee shirt the same, his smile frozen forever. I pass him a million times each day rarely pausing to touch or linger. He comes up in conversation every once in a while, an afterthought, a part of the frame of reference, invisible, integral.

I browse through pictures on the eve of his anniversary, squinting, trying hard to recall exact moments, trying to remember inflections in tone, trying to summon phrases, words and voices. Some come fairly easily. Some are hard. The grief builds up in stages, layering on each other, until it is thick, muffled and leaks into my eyes and drains my smile.

I wonder if I should start a new tradition for grieving, create a ritual that will ease the sorrow and give me something physical to hang on to. Like the Christmas tree or the stockings that hang from my mantel. Should it take the form of a temple visit or a culinary excursion I wonder. Then I realize, I already have a ritual in place. Year after year, I follow the same trajectory. I take time to experience my sorrow. I remember the man that was my Appa. I take time to recall images, remember smells. I write them down so I will have them for when my memory fades. This is my pilgrimage, my journey to healing.

A Cake For Those Humdrum Days



A long while back, I tried my hand at noting down recipes on a different blog. I did it sporadically and eventually gave up. Now that I stay home and cook many meals a week, a lot of my life revolves around food and the making of it. Instead of compartmentalizing parts of my life I have decided to keep it all under one roof. What that means is that in addition to hashing my life here, I will also post recipes and write book reviews when the mood strikes.

This morning having gotten up earlier than is my norm, I decided to bake a cake. Only trouble was that my staple the banana nut cake needed more bananas than I had on hand. I pulled open the pantry door and took inventory. A bag of dates, whole milk, cinnamon powder, shelled walnuts, all purpose flour, almond flour, baking soda and butter sat on my kitchen island a few minutes later.

Preheating the oven to 350 degrees F, I started prepping. A cup of milk went into the microwave to be warmed. About 20-25 dates sat in my mixie. I measured out 1 cup of all purpose flour, added half cup of almond flour, tsp of cinnamon powder and a tsp of baking soda and mixed them well. Once the milk was warm, I melted a stick of butter and set it aside.

Then I made a paste of dates, milk and butter. To the dry ingredients, I added the wet, folded in chopped walnuts and realized the batter was too thick. So, I added a little water to thin it out and then poured the batter into a greased bundt pan. While the kids licked the batter clean from the mixing bowl, I shoved the pan into the oven and set the timer for 35 minutes.

The cake tastes great warm or cool. Keps for as long as it lasts (not more than a day in my home).

PS: Nope. I did not miss the sugar. This recipe has no added sugar. The dates provide the necessary sweetness and it tastes more like bread than cake.

Gratitude List

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I woke up this morning feeling incredibly rested. The clock showed 5:00 AM, far too early to be up on a holiday. I lay in bed, eyes closed but awake trying to put in words the things I am grateful for today. Instead of words, I got a series of visuals akin to watching a movie on fast forward. Clouds zipping through a sky that goes from extreme grey to pools of blue. The trees in my yard growing, leaves falling, barren stick figures stretching to the sky, the new buds showing, full trees bowing under the weight of apples. My driveway bare, chalk marks showing childish scrawls, pink trikes and bikes, shoes, boots and finally a clean garage.

It was as if my life was playing out in front of me, making me watch my children growing and moving away. Strangely, there was no sadness, just peaceful acceptance of what is. I realize that I am probably done living more than half my time on this earth. With that comes the wisdom that allows me to see each day in micro detail, allowing me to bask in its richness and attempt to bottle some of its best parts. It also brings with it knowledge that none of this will matter in the scale of years. These are mere blips on the road to nothingness.

So, on a day that celebrates giving thanks, this is what I am thankful for:

For family that loves me unconditionally.

For friends who keep me grounded.

For food, shelter and clothing that I take for granted.

For wisdom that comes from knowing happiness has nothing to do with what I want and everything to do with what I have.

For that place in life where contentment has settled like a second skin on me.
For perspective that allows me to soak in each moment of the day knowing that these are blips in the panorama that is my life.

PS: As mother of children who boast Native American heritage, here is a link to what the original Thanksgiving looked like and why it has nothing to do with what we celebrate today. Another resource that shows us Native American perspectives on Thanksgiving.

Book Review: With Malice By Eileen Cook

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At the beginning of the year I told myself I would try and read at least two books a month and signed up for the Goodreads Book Challenge for 25 books. I am currently close to 80 books and we have a month left in the year. The other thing I told myself was that I would try and expand on the genres I read. I tried science fiction dystopia (Station Eleven), fantasy (The Kingkiller Chronicles), YA (too many to count) and Historical (The Nightingale, Gentleman in Moscow). The more I read, I realize part of honing the craft of writing is to understand how it is done. One way to do it would be to read books on the craft (On Writing by Stephen King) or actually read books and strip them to their bones.

Study each book you read to figure out the POV, the plot devices, the tropes, the background info, the introduction of characters. Most books I enjoyed had some things in common, a good story, fast paced narration and strong protagonists. The very same books also struggled with POV, with heavy info dumps and at times meandering tangents that did little to the story.

So, when I picked up Eileen Cook’s With Malice, I expected a fast paced read that I would probably enjoy and move on. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed deconstructing her book.

The story is well told, the narration gripping, the pace fast and the plot taut. The book has everything going for it as a YA thriller. The things I enjoyed most about it was the way the characters were introduced. You hear the story being told from the protagonist’s POV. The rest of the characters are emails exchanged, police reports, text messages, Facebook updates. Cook has her finger on the pulse of today’s tech savvy generation. The research is meticulous, the characters well etched and story definitely well told. One of the finer points of the book is that there is no background info dump. Everything that the reader needs to know about the characters, the location, the setting comes up organically. It is so seamless that I did not notice how cleverly it was done until I went back and read a few initial pages.

Pick this book if you are in the mood for a thriller with an unreliable narrator like The Girl on the Train. Pick it up if you are a writer and want an example of a well written book. Pick it up if you are looking for a quick read that is contemporary.

Pick it up!

Love In The In-Between Spaces

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I sat across my friend at the local Indian restaurant. Our plates full and the tables too close together. I tried hard to not notice our neighbor giving us a little too much attention. We sat, her and I, talking about our daughters and exchanging notes on the local elementary school. This lunch would have been unremarkable if not for the fact that it was our first lunch date and she is white and I am brown.

“How did you meet your husband?” I asked as I dunked my vadai in sambhar and popped it into my mouth. She finished chewing and took a moment to respond. “The usual way, you know, my BFF and his BFF were friends from childhood…”

Problem was I did not know. It was not the norm for me. The conversation went on to relive much of her courtship and all of mine. We talked about my arranged marriage and ended the afternoon with a hearty laugh over how I should write a book about it. I nodded sagely and got into my car feeling pleasantly sated, both from the meal and the company.

Earlier this morning, I stood fuming at the stove, scorching the broccoli as I tried to understand why I was feeling defensive. It had been a normal morning, the school day morning rush, the kids in varying stages of undress with five minutes left for them to be out the door. His comment had flown under the radar, almost.

“You haven’t been to the gym in a week.”

It was a statement, not a question. I let it sit, playing with answers in my head until I burst. I fumed over the stove while he went upstairs. My thoughts were bulleted in my head. I knew exactly what I was going to say and the tone in which I was going to deliver my message. I heard him coming and steeled my face in anticipation.

He had a shy smile on his face, his arms were outstretched and he pre-empted conversation with a hug and “I am sorry!”

Our marriage of fifteen years has mostly been about the “sorrys” than the “i-love-yous”. We met one Sunday in February 2001. He was on a three week vacation from the US to be part of his cousin’s wedding. I was working in Bangalore, living the single life with abandon. We met under watchful eyes at the home where I was a paying guest. I wore a saree, a deep purple silk that undulated and fell with my contours. My hair was pinned back and a string of jasmine infused my hair and the atmosphere with its heady scent.

We sat across on my bed. I, perched at one end and he the other. That it was awkward is an understatement. When the silence turned oppressive, I launched into a tirade of sorts. One brought on by five years of relentless rejection by potential suitors and one painful broken engagement.

“I am not sure what you want from your life partner…” I began. “I have definite ideas. I will not be a door mat. I have an identity, one I will fight to defend all my life. I imagine marriage as a partnership, one in which we walk hand in hand as friends. You will not lead and I will not follow…”

It took me over forty-five minutes to expound on my ideas of marriage, partnership and love to a complete stranger. Ideas that had been cobbled together from watching my parents, my extended family and society. When I stopped, spent from painting a picture with words of the ideal life partner I wanted, all I could hear at the back of my mind was Savage Garden

“I knew I loved you before I met you

I think I dreamed you into life

I knew I loved you before I met you

I have been waiting all my life”

A week later, when my to-be husband and I met under less formal circumstances, he explained to me what it had looked like from his end. “I came to meet you with every intention of refusing you. Prior to meeting you, I had no idea of what I wanted out of marriage. All I knew was that I wanted the girl to look nice, be athletic and take pride in grooming herself. Now, I am not sure…”

I had been a pudgy girl all through my tweens. In my early twenties, each rejection from a potential suitor made a dent on my cylindrical frame. I dieted, worked out and reached an approximation of a womanly figure. At my best, I was still overweight. My body image took a beating it would take over fifteen years to reverse.

Our wedding was held that June in Madras, three months from when we first met. We had over a thousand people attend, mostly people I did not know. We stood at the reception dais, shaking hands and tirelessly putting colorful wrapped gifts away. His on one pile and mine on the other. My makeup was garish and my cheeks hurt from holding a smile in face. My feet were killing me. Our first night was mostly passing out from exhaustion. Our honeymoon an exercise in me educating my husband on menstrual woes. We walked, holding hands, talking about our past. We stood on fog filled bridges, staring into each others eyes, believing that someday there would be sparks and lightning.

Our first year together was marked by searching for similarities, for things that we both had a common interest in. The search was long and fruitless. He was chalk and I was cheese. I loved pop music and read voraciously. He loved to play outside and worked on Math problems for fun. His was an engineer at heart and I an artist. I pretended to be interested in the pigeon hole principle on our walks around our apartment complex while I talked to him about my favorite classics.

The next few years focused on the differences and long stretches of silence. We abstained from words when we felt hurt. I wrote long rambling letters using a pen and paper and left them for him to find. We would make up and it would happen again, a month later. If I believed in expressing myself ceaselessly, he believed in keeping it all in. The one thing we agreed on was to not carry our differences to bed.

“Agree to Disagree” became our mantra, our clarion call, the phrase that saved our marriage. When we finally settled into an uneasy coupledom, mostly described as sitting on the couch, him watching TV and me browsing the internet, the biological clock started ticking louder. I heeded the clock and wanted to start a family, he couldn’t care either way. Our battles with infertility lasted a good many years. Just when I despaired I was in it alone for the long haul, kids arrived by adoption, all of ten months old in the space of a week and he embraced fatherhood in a way that put me to shame.

I think I fell in love with him then. Ten years post marriage, the sparks flew and all I could see was the beauty beneath the sharp edges. As he embraced parenthood, I embraced him warts and all. If I respected him before for speaking his mind, I now felt the concern behind the words. If I noticed his smile before, I noticed how beautiful it was now. If I resisted his obsession with sports then, I gifted him tennis rackets now. If I appreciated his help with chores before, I now saw it as partnership. As we grew into our marriage, I finally saw him for who he was, not for what I wanted him to be.

We don’t discuss books or Math anymore. He plays tennis and I spend my time writing and reading. We have settled into a common taste in music. We cook together, he cuts and cleans and I make the food. He makes the money and I manage it. He engages with the children intellectually and physically while I nurture them.

“Life is beautiful” we often remark together, our eyes looking together in the same direction. We appreciate what we have, live in the moment and recognize the work it takes to keep this marriage working. The differences have not vanished, they have become grooves that mark how our relationship has grown.

The love we share now is of the in-between kind. It exists, in the crossed out items on the to-do list as he walks the aisles of the grocery store. It exists, in the tub of sorbet that arrives unannounced at the end of the week. It exists, in the cramped sleeping form of his as one child sleeps on his lap and the other on his shoulder. It exists, in the spaces between us, the pockets that need no language, in the hum of the air before speech, in the understanding that transcends words.

Some days, when I am mellow, I dream of the future, just the two of us on a bench in our backyard, listening to birdsong and watching the sun go down.

PS: Trying my hand at essay writing. Comments appreciated on what works and what does not.

3 Quote Challenge: 2

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The first time I heard this quote in the movie, it stuck with me. Pithy, profound and applicable to almost everything in my life, I have quoted it to myself more often than I can count.

On the first day home with Ammu and Pattu, I lay on the carpet, the twins crawling around me. It was mid-morning and the sun streamed in through the open windows. As dust mites danced their way down, I wept openly. I wept for all that I had gone through. I wept in exhaustion having been up most of the night with two crying scared babies. It was the moment the impact of what we had done dawned on me. In less than a month we had gone from being a couple to parents of toddlers.

The crushing weight of responsibility made itself felt and the quote appeared vision like in front of my eyes. I have used it as a crutch, reminding myself of the power I wield. It has made me slow down, appreciate the wonder that is parenting.

I often find myself quoting it to my children in the hope that they will aspire to power and use it judiciously.

I tag Shanaya Tales, Suchitra and Rekha this time.

Of Struggling With Labels

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“I don’t like my fake name” muttered Ammu, my first daughter.

I was bent over the stove tossing rice noodles in a base of lemon and sesame oil. The heady aroma of tempered mustard and curry leaves almost made me miss the statement. A part of me always attuned to disturbances in the air peaked and I half turned, paying attention to what was being said. I half expected them to be talking of their dolls or the pseudonyms they give themselves when they play with each other.

“Don’t say that!” admonished Pattu, Ammu’s twin.

“I don’t like my fake name” repeated Ammu stressing each word, pausing for effect and then bending over her milk and taking a sip.

“Ammu, what is a fake name?” I asked and waited while she stared into her milk refusing to meet my eyes. Lifting her chin up, I stared into the warm brown eyes that were starting to mist.

“I want my real name back” she said and tried to look down.

“Do you not like your first name? I can call you by your middle name if that is what you want Ammu but I want you to tell me why you feel your name is fake?”

“I want my real name back” she repeated. I hugged her an extra minute and was about to walk back to packing lunches when Pattu chimed in.

“I always tell new people I meet my middle name. You know, so they won’t be unhappy.”

I stopped in my tracks knowing I had to sit down with them.

“Why kannamma? Why does making them happy mean so much to you? Are you unhappy with your name too?”

She looked at me, eyes direct and voice clear. “No Amma, I like my name but I think it is easier for others if I told them my middle name.”

We stood in the middle of the kitchen, my arms around both of them. I felt out of depth, unsure of what to say. Lifting each child in turn, I held her close to me as I repeated as much for them as for me.

“There is nothing fake about our names or lives kutty. You may not like your name and that is OK. If you ask me to call you by your middle names, I happily will. If you want to go by your middle names at school, that is OK as well. What I want you to know is that life is not fair. Not everybody has to deal with things like two names and two moms and two dads. Why don’t we look at the bright side and think about how you have two real names, two real moms who love you to pieces and two families that love you to the moon and back?”

I will never know if the two of them got the essence of what I was trying to tell. I let each child go, ruffling their hair, drawing them for another hug and cuddle and kissing them on their cheeks. They ran off already talking about Captain Underpants and Super Diaper Babies.

I stood my back to the rest of the world, my eyes clouding over, hurting for them, hurting for us. Laddu strained in her high chair screaming to get down. I finished packing lunches, scooped her up and it hit me. There is no undoing what has happened. Ammu and Pattu will never have the uncomplicated life that Laddu has. The confidence and peace that comes from knowing that she belongs wholly and completely to us. They will move through life struggling to reconcile their identities and families. Even in the best of circumstances when both families love them with every ounce of our beings, they will feel torn, they will feel compelled to explain their existence.

Real, Fake, First, Original, Birth, Natural. The labels are multitudinous. None of them can capture what they are to us, what we are to them. The only labels worth applying are mom and dad. Simply mom when talking about me and their mother. Simply dad when talking of their father and their dad. Just family whether the ones they are being raised in or were born into.

The days are long and the years are short. I hope by the time they are adults and into their world building their own families they understand that sometimes love does conquer all.

3 Quote Challenge: 1

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LG of Gobblefunk Words tagged me on this 3 Quote Challenge where you share a quote that resonates with you for three days and tag other bloggers who would like to participate. So, here goes my all time favorite quote.

This quote came to me at a time when my self esteem was at its all time low. I was 24 years old and a battle weary prospective bride. I had been burned by relationships that I had invested in. I had been engaged to marry only to find out that the family I was marrying into were still stuck in the feudal ages. I had broken it off only to find I had also let my family down in ways I could never fathom. I felt weighed by parental expectations.

People I thought I could count on could not understand where I came from and why I was feeling upset over something that clearly had been a good decision. I felt lost and lonely.

Then along came a friendship that was delightful. Not too close to burn, yet close enough to feel safe. One with acerbic wit and enough humor to make light of any situation. I felt happy. I felt chosen. I felt tamed.

I tag Danielle Dayney, Mixed Bag and Shailaja.

Echo Chambers

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It’s been a week since the US Elections. I have run the gamut of emotions and settled on a combination of resigned and accepted. I still haunt the groups I was part of, I follow twitter handles that resonate with me politically. Most mornings I consume news that rises up from the swamp that is main stream media and trickles into my echo chambers. I gasp in horror at the new transition team, I feel suspended in disbelief like they say how dystopia works.

“How can the others not see this?” I wonder. I share opinion pieces, videos and articles that I think should be amplified. Out of curiosity, I look back at the pieces I have shared and see the same people reacting and engaging with the content.

I scroll through my friends list and wonder how many have unfriended, muted or unfollowed me. It dawns on me that most people do not care. They will not care unless they are impacted directly by what is happening. It has been true world over from time immemorial. Unless it is them that is screamed at on a regular morning commute, unless it is their place of worship that is vandalized, unless it is their children who are targeted, people simply are apathetic. I wonder if this is what being part of a minority feels like, then I remember Sandy Hook and the ensuing reactions and the fact that nothing changed.

All that noise and activism did nothing to change gun laws. All it did was to make sure my children knew what to do in the event their school was targeted by a shooter. I walked in to the restroom one morning to see my daughter perched on the toilet.

“What are you doing?” I ask and she says, “Practicing for when there is a shooter.”

The sense of hopelessness I feel is pervasive. At a baby shower over the weekend with folks like me, I hear and feel a sense of resignation and curiously optimism that things may still turn out to be OK. That despite all the hateful things that have been said, all the extreme right views that are now being represented at the highest levels of government, that things will be OK. That it may impact others but *I* will be OK.

In a moment of despondency I reach out to my spouse and he responds with “What can we do?” implying there is nothing to be done. What indeed can we do other than prepare for eventualities?

I turn back to the place where I feel heard. I close myself in my echo chambers and hunker down for the long haul.