45

N turned 45 today (happy birthday, baby!).

I remember going to N’s 20th birthday party. And eating mixture, murukkus, and mysore pak (after all, the Grand Sweets HQ was only a stone’s throw from his place). I remember having to leave the party early, and him coming to drop me off at the bus stop. I was so pleasantly surprised that he would choose to walk with me to my bus rather than continue to play host to the others that stayed late.  Hmmm… did he already have ideas back then? 😉

10 years back, for N’s 35th birthday, five year old little N and two year old little A (awww, my teeny tiny babies!!) did handprints on a plate at our local pottery place.  Inspiration struck last month when the chickis were idling away during spring break, and we went for an encore session at the same pottery place.

Will 25 year old little N and 22 year old little A come back together to do this yet again in 2028? Well. Time will tell. I will be v. disturbed, though, if their hands are much bigger than they are now. 😉

My MIL has always been one of the first to call to wish us for special occasions. With the time difference between India and NJ, I could almost picture her in the late afternoon (there) waiting impatiently by the phone for it to turn a decent hour here. And deciding by 6:30 am that enough was enough, people should be up by that late hour and then promptly calling us. As N and I were having our coffee this morning, I almost said, “why don’t you call mom first today before she calls?”. And then bit my lip. N told me later that he kept half-expecting mom’s call this morning too. I feel so sad for him. I know that even more than the initial crushing grief, it is in the small day to day moments and on special occasions that the intensity of loss really hits home hard.

N and I canceled our separate work lunch meetings, and stole an hour in the middle of the day to go get lunch together. Mithaas did not disappoint. Even though we are not in a celebrating mood right now, I am glad that we made the time to do a little special something to mark N’s birthday. But the evening is still young. I think I am going to churn out a semiya payasam to surprise N when he gets back from work, and eke out the birthday celebrations a little bit more. 🙂

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My MIL

Ivar pola yaar endru oor solla vendum…

My MIL passed away most unexpectedly last Sunday. We heard afterwards that it was a massive cardiac arrest. And that it took less than a half hour from arriving at the hospital to the time of death. When N’s cousin called with the news, it was a horrible punch in the gut. N left for India right away, and he will be there for the next two weeks, grieving with his sister and the extended family, and performing religious rites.

I wish I could have gone along to support him during this very difficult time. I wish I could have gone for myself, to say goodbye to someone who was much more than a MIL to me. But here we are, the kids and myself, since school is in progress full swing. My mind is a few thousand miles away. And counting the days till N’s return. I wish N’s cousin had called to say that my MIL had suddenly taken ill and we needed to come there immediately. I wish N had the chance to see her one last time. Man, sometimes, life is just relentless with what it throws one’s way.

My MIL was very active in a spiritual and service organization for more than 30 years. I am hearing that hundreds of people from the organization came to the funeral to pay their respects to her. We knew of her deep involvement with the organization, but it is truly mind-blowing to realize how numerous were the lives she touched. On par with – and perhaps on some level more so – than her immediate family, her community was the center of her existence. It is comforting and overwhelming to see that she meant so much to so many as well.

My first encounter with my MIL was over 25 years ago (no, N and I were not dating yet). I remember landing at N’s place with a few friends to persuade him to join us at the beach (while also calling my parents from their phone to ask for permission to go to the beach in the first place). I remember that my MIL was not impressed – “why is this girl not listening to her parents when they are asking her to go back home instead of to the beach?”, she asked N (I learned later). I am happy to report that, with the passage of time, my MIL came to realize that I was a far cry from the wild party animal that she first thought I was. During the early days of our marriage, she used to amuse herself by asking if N and I had gone singing and dancing around trees like the heroes and heroines in the old Indian movies.

N and I celebrated 20 years of marriage this month. In all these years, I have never once heard a harsh word directed at me (or indeed at anyone else) by my MIL. She was truly a gentle soul, and one who constantly kept herself super active. Whenever we went back home on a visit, it would amaze N and myself that we could wake up at 5 am all jet-lagged, and find that my MIL had already cooked a full Indian breakfast for us, and was half-way through making lunch as well.

I have so many more stories of my MIL. Perhaps I will share them with you at another time. It is surreal that she’s not with us anymore. So suddenly gone at the ripe old age of 68. For someone who gave so much to everyone around her so generously, I wish her life had been easier. Wish. It’s a fine thing, isn’t it?

I went to work today and found a little potted plant with bright little green leaves sitting on my window sill. I had not told anyone in my office about my loss. I mean, what can anyone possibly say to make anything easier? I don’t know who put the plant there and why. But it made me happy to see it. I felt like it was a life-affirming sign from my MIL.

I have thought so much about my MIL these past four days. I realize, on some level, that she will always be with us. In the goodness of N’s heart. In the intelligence of my children. In my regret for closer interactions that could have been and are now gone forever.

Touche 5

By now, it is well known that little A says or does something that results in a “Touche” post every few months or so. Why am I so surprised then, each time it happens?

So. I have this quote on our little blackboard this week.

IMG_3637

Little A walks past the board early this morning, and says, “Ok Mommy, what word would that be?”

I was stumped. It was before my first cup of tea, so I wasn’t particularly alert yet. But don’t think caffeine would have helped much with my situation anyway. So, did the only thing that I could come up with. Hemmed and hawed and ended up with a kissy sound.

Little A was v. unimpressed. “That’s not a word, Mommy. And one word won’t do anything. You need at least a whole kind sentence, ok?” insisted my stickler.

Well. If you put it like that. 🙂

Photographic Memory

Surely v. strange when you see a photo of Piazza San Marco on a travel magazine cover and your thoughts are nothing like:

  • Wow, what an awesome photo, we’ve been here
  • Oh, how breathtaking were the views from the top of that Campanile
  • how 8-year old little A, all flushed and happy, chased after the hundreds of pigeons in that square
  • how absolutely glorious and perfect that summer afternoon was
  • how the pistachio and chocolate gelatos melted in our mouths

None. of. that.

Instead, the first (and only) thought that popped into my head was:

Ha! I know EXACTLY where the toilets are. To the right, just out of range of the photo. And grrr…. how super expensive to use they were!

Che, really gotta start embracing the larger life here, I say! 😉

Six Word Spins

Wow.  I haven’t done six word spins in a long time. Like in over a couple of years, methinks. SO fun to forget about these for a while, and then suddenly remember. You know what I mean.

So, here they are – most recent happenings in my corner:

  • Kala channa for dinner, super yum!
  • Instant pot fills me with joy
  • And warm, delicious food as well
  • Fast food genocide – mind-blowing read
  • Grocery store aisles filled with crap
  • Processed junk everywhere – God help us!!
  • Wish Whole Foods wasn’t so pricey
  • Or I wasn’t so super thrifty 😉
  • Qarib qarib single – really cute flick
  • Check it out, you’ll like it
  • Two super busy bees here today
  • Is March the month of homework?
  • Snow days – school closed, everyone home
  • Cat-like idle, and cozy too
  • Please, can we have couple more? 🙂

Landing

Little A and I walked upstairs last night for her bedtime routine.  As I reached the stairway landing, I saw little N standing on the top step ready to come down.  I paused at the landing so she could go first.  Little N saw me standing there and said, “should I jump down to you, Mommy?”

It took me a minute to realize what she was referring to.  When little N and little A were (really) little, they would stand at the top of the stairs, and I would stand on that landing (four steps below).  The girls would leap from the top step into my waiting arms (oh, what a giant leap it seemed back then!), squeal with delight, and clamber back up the stairs to repeat (and repeat again).  Such a little activity (and ahem, not particularly safe), but I recall that we enjoyed it so much back then. We would sometimes finish up with me carrying both munchkins downstairs, one on each arm.

Were the girls ever that little?

Felt so happy yesterday to suddenly remember those fun little moments from our past.

Felt happier that little N remembered them first.

The Beginning of the End

Kannil vazhigindra kanneer kaadhal solgindradhu…

I have told you before that I started writing this blog in January 2012 to get out of the fog that I was in after Appa’s passing. I actually started writing a few months before that. I poured my heart out in an essay “The Beginning of the End” and sent it to my friend L to read. Perhaps N and Amma also read it at that time, but I don’t remember that I shared it with any others. I remember that L only responded with “hugs” but that was enough.  More than enough. To dissect all the raw feelings that I had poured out there was impossible.

This morning, for some reason, instead of getting on with my work, I looked in my “Sent” emails to see if my essay was still there from when I sent it to L years ago. I have actually searched for this before and have not found it. But today I did.

So, here’s a brief excerpt from that essay, which was so painful but so essential for me to write at that time. I am sharing the most mundane part that I could find from that essay. Because the rest, after all these years, is still too raw, too sacred to share (yes, even with you).

So what makes me share this today, you ask? I don’t know, actually. Maybe it’s because Appa passed away in March seven years ago, and sometimes, it still seems like yesterday. Maybe, after all these years, I still want to tell you the full story at some point.

————–

December 7, 2010. I had gone to the airlines house that afternoon to get some of Appa’s paperwork signed when I got a call from Amma saying that the doctor had authorized Appa’s discharge from the hospital. It wasn’t clear to me that Appa’s breathing had stabilized enough for him to be discharged. So I called the doctor to ask for his opinion. The doctor advised that he would be monitoring Appa frequently and that he “needs to be released into the community” at some point.

Driving back home from the hospital was a nightmare. Pondy Bazaar was unbelievably crowded and with the exhaust fumes from the cars, Appa’s breathing had already turned shallow. It was incredibly painful to watch Appa struggle to breathe. Somehow, we reached home an hour later. N and the kids, D chittappa and B chitti had all come to celebrate Appa’s return from the hospital. It was my doing, of course, optimistically inviting everyone over and assuming that getting out of the hospital was reason enough to celebrate. The food that I had ordered for everyone arrived but neither Appa nor I could eat a bite. I called the doctor to inform him about Appa’s difficulty with breathing and the doctor advised me to bring him right back if I wanted to.

Easy for him to say but it was not my choice at that point. Appa, who was relieved to be back home after a brief but scary stint at the hospital, was not one for going back anytime soon. And Chittappa, who was not aware of how serious Appa’s condition was, and shared Appa’s distaste for doctors, advised him to just chant “Om” and listen to a repetitive chanting of the Dhanvantri (“Doctor God”) shlokam. After pleading with Appa several times that night to return to the hospital and not having the stomach for the Dhanvantri shlokam, I fell into a troubled sleep after midnight.

Amma woke me up around 6 am to tell me that Appa had agreed to go back to the hospital to have his breathing checked again. We ate breakfast – later, when I would have time to think, I would be deeply ashamed that we stopped to eat breakfast instead of rushing Appa to the hospital. But at that point, my brain was numbed by three days of no sleep and an overload of unprocessable information. I did not fully comprehend the urgency of the situation, even after living it for three days.

We reached the hospital and checked Appa into the ER. Amma and I spent the rest of the morning sitting around in the reception area, checking on Appa, crying off and on, and comforting each other in turn. They gave Appa oxygen in the ER but a part of me was terrified that he would be put on a ventilator that day and that would be the end. That didn’t happen though, luckily. Appa was given oxygen for several hours at the end of which he was checked into the hospital for further observation and treatment.

Wandering around Chennai on my own was surreal. I, who had led a very sheltered existence there and therefore reverted back to that existence each time I visited, was suddenly negotiating the system alone. I was humbled by the kindness of strangers. An auto driver, trying to make small talk, asked me if I was a doctor at the hospital. When I indicated that my dad was a patient there, he offered to keep me in his prayers with a simplicity and  genuineness that touched me. When I was at my MIL’s place, a woman called and directly started talking to “Mataji”. Mildly annoyed, I told her that I wasn’t “Mataji”. The woman asked me if I was the daughter in law, and when I said yes, she asked how Appa was doing, and told me that they had been doing group prayers daily for Appa’s recovery. I was dumbstruck.

That visit to India – watching Appa’s health deteriorate, going through difficult times like never before, having to make tough decisions, and experiencing the kindness of total strangers – made me lose a large part of the arrogance that undoubtedly defined me to that point.