Being married to my mother

GUEST POST:

BY ZARA CHOWDHARY

My son’s parents ended their marriage two years ago.

One day his father was there, the next he’d moved out. And suddenly, the scared little child had a cat too depressed to get out from under his bed, and a mother too broken to get off the couch. The boy ached for company, for things to just go back to ‘normal’ as his four year-old memory last remembered it.

And then one day, his grandmother arrived at their door – with a fresh haircut, a spring in her step and a super-sized grin that’s hard to miss. She was everything his slowly crumbling household needed. She spoke in absurd languages that made us laugh even when no one felt like it, she cleaned out the unattended organisms from the fridge, replaced all three forgotten multigrain bread loaves with three kinds of seasonal fruit, threw out the wrinkled packs of frozen fries and packed in fresh meats in separate bags, she put bleach in his uniforms, oil in my scalp, and threatened us if we forgot to turn on the lights around maghrib (our evening prayer time) saying ‘The angels won’t come in’!

Slowly and simply, the smells, the sounds, the sights of one person we’d been used to for five years, were replaced by the noise, the madness, the super-loud, body-jiggling laughter of this other person whom we’d otherwise only seen during the holidays.

And that’s the thing about people when they become habits. It’s important when replacing alcohol or cigarettes (or any other analogy that works for you), to choose a healthier option in its place. Our oats-loving, Abba-singing, paintbrush-wielding Nanoo was better for our well-being than any new pets, friendly neighbours or (God-forbid!) rebound boyfriends could have been!

I’d seen my mother do this so many times in her life: walk into an empty house, set up the kitchen, whip up a meal, fashion sofas out of metal trunks, fill the balconies (and bathrooms!) with plants and make it a home —  all in a matter of hours. I watched her as a 29-year old with the same awe I had at ten, efficiently piecing my life together and putting it safely back in my hands for me.

People in my ever-shrinking social circle kept pointing out, how lucky I was to have my mum around to ‘support’ me. But I don’t think it hit me until I finally got off that couch (thanks to her threatening to throw away or burn my pajamas), found a new job and came back home from my first full day at work.

I opened the door and stepped in at six in the evening, the house was all lit up like we’d become used to by now. The scared four year old now a more confident and chirpy five year old came hurtling out of the room and torpedoed into my navel, the cat lay belly-up and smiling at the fan, and there mum sat at the dining table, art material piled up in a heap, my spare room officially converted to her studio, a new business plan swirling in her head — and I knew. This was mum telling me in not so many words: ‘I’m not here to just support you. You can never crash on me like that again. Looks like you’re doing better now. So I’m going to do what I need to do to keep that spring in my step. And we’ll both be doing the supporting from here on.’ I paused for one second wondering if I should say something about the paint likely to stain my chair covers. But instead I scooped my son up, plonked on the sofa, and started to tell them the story of my first day back in the world. Cheesy as it sounds, it did feel like the angels had finally come home and brought with them a partner for me, someone I’d never thought I’d be living with as I turned 30.

My son now has two parents living with him again, there are two individuals playing tag between what they want for themselves and what they know their family deserves. If you ever heard us squabbling over closet space and what to watch on Netflix, you’d think there was a couple living together here. And some days how we both wish we could have it any other way but this interdependence. Yet it’s been nothing short of amazing being married to my mother this way for the last two and a half years. It has taught me what marriage is supposed to look like. There are the occasional expectations that go unmet and some sulking happens with both parties. There are days when nobody wants to have to care about what’s for dinner. There are days of feeling frustrated and taken for granted, but usually some ice-cream or a drive to town or a movie date when the child visits his dad can sort those out. We take turns playing good cop-bad cop because no one parent should ever have to be just the one. We try to never sleep over a fight. Hugs and cuddles are a daily prescription, though the cat son usually claws his way out of those.

It’s a household that depends on honesty more than anything else — it requires being harsh enough to tell each other when we’ve lain long enough on that couch and need to get off our asses or be nagged to death. It’s a house that acknowledges the two little boys and the two grown women in it, and that no job is too big or too small or too ‘girly’. It’s a home where you will always find food, laughter and lessons in how to give before taking. And it’s a place that will, hopefully, always remind my son of what family is supposed to look like, no matter what marriage it is built on.

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Of conversation starters, biggerators and learning the art of fearlessness from a child

GUEST POST BY APARNA JAIN

The other day my 7yo niece Arianna, pulled out a box from her room, came and sat next to me and said, “Let’s play this game Bua.”  She held out a recycled leather tissue box cover that had been converted into what was now the “Sood Family Conversation Box.” 

Conversation starters

While privy to all the board games in their room, I had never seen this, and was particularly intrigued because it seemed home-made. I asked her what it was. She said she didn’t really know but asked me to play with her.

We opened the box to find 60 assorted “conversation starters” in the box. In the form of little folded pieces of paper with questions on them.

all you need is words

She picked one, unfolded it and read out slowly and tentatively, “Would you rather dive from a high cliff into the ocean or give a book presentation in front of 500 people?”

She looked up and said, “That’s easy. I would rather jump into the ocean.”

I paused, wondering if she was just saying the first thing she retained or she actually thought about the choices.  I explained a book presentation to her. I used a show and tell analogy and explained “in front of your whole school, all the children, all ages in the audience.” I then explained the height of a cliff to her using our house stacked up more than 20 times on top of each other. Like “scary high.”  Unblinkingly she said, ‘Yeah, the cliff, Bua.”

I asked her why. Her answer:

“I like to take risks.”

Matter of fact.

Wow, I thought to myself. She is running towards the scary stuff. If I had this conversation with an adult, most would run away from the scary shit and in their case, it would likely be public speaking. Geez – the pressure, the embarrassment, the public judgement.

Arianna however, thought it was a cinch.

I wish I had the fearlessness of a 7yo.

We moved on to the next question:

“If you had to teach a class for a day, what subject would you choose?”

“Science” she answered in a jiffy.

“Why?” I pushed.

“Bua, because I love science. Remember I told you, when I grow up I want to invent a Cleanarator? It will clean all the air and take the pollution out. And it will be good for your asthma. And then I want to invent a Biggerator and  a Smallerator.”

Between reminiscing about Professor KeenBeam and Professor Calculus and wanting to give her a tight hug, I managed to keep a straight face. I had heard about the Cleanarator, so asked her what her Biggerator would do.

“You know when we really like something, like some tee-shirt or something and then we become bigger and grow out of them? Well the Biggerator will make these clothes also become bigger with us.”

“Interesting,” I added, “and think of all the people who cant afford to buy new shoes or clothes for their kids who grow so fast, it will be perfect for them too.”

She nodded happily with the quiet confidence of someone who had already cracked the formula.

My American aunt, who has spent the past 30 years as an elementary school teacher and administrator, was sitting there.Four years ago, she had made this box to transpose this idea from classroom to home. And it had been sitting in the recesses of Arianna’s room until now. She smiled at her granddaughter’s imagination and watched us as we continued to pick slips of paper and talk. 

We spoke for 15 minutes, but I managed to get an insight into Arianna’s mind like I never had earlier. What a great 15 minutes that was for me! It made me admire facets of her that do not come forth on a regular basis. Ideas that she nurses, ideals that she has. Yes, Arianna is voluble, but I can only imagine what a conversation box would do for parents with quieter kids. Or families who spend limited time with their kids – most of which is study or homework-related.

I have a feeling if I jig this slightly it would serve as a great icebreaker tool, to get to know colleagues at the workplace too. Or even acquaintances. (They may not be as honest or forthcoming, but it’s worth a try)

Some of the other questions in the conversation box, so that you get an idea:

If you could choose a nickname for yourself, what would it be?

If you could paint all the rooms in your house a different colour, what colour would you paint each room?

What superpower would you like to have?

Follow these up with ‘Whys’ and “Hows’ and get deeper into your child’s mind.

There is gold in there.

Pure Gold.

About the author:

Aparna Jain is an Integral Master Coach and the author of The Sood Family Cookbook and Own It- Leadership Lessons from Women Who Did (November 2015, HarperCollins). She is committed to making women take charge of making the workplace equitable. She has over 20 assorted nieces and nephews and lives with two nieces and one nephew.

(If you wish to write a guest post, mail me on mommygolightly@gmail.com)

What I miss about making vadaams and other community food projects

I always know that all is well in my household whenever vadaams (various forms of rice, wheat, sago and potato crispies, to be fried and eaten) are being made in the summer. For a long time, due to her fragile health and multiple open heart surgeries, my mother had lost her mojo (and so had the entire family as a chain reaction) and we relied on store-bought things, whether it was tomato ketchup, mango jam, idli batter, various preserves and chutneys and podis (the dry chutneys). Technically, I knew how to make them, but it was always a community activity and it wouldn’t have been fun without my mother involved. So I didn’t. But every time we were at a lunch or dinner and hot crisp vadaams would be brought out as accompaniments, I thought wistfully about our vadaam days. I also noticed that we had grown apart slightly as a family when we stopped doing these things together.

This summer is different though. I now live close to my mother, and out of the blue, asked her one day, “Amma, why don’t we make vadaams anymore?” Her eyes lit up. “You want to?”, she asked. I said yes, and then we were at it almost at once, planning and getting things ready. The house seemed happier already with our little summer project.

Since there was no muscle power available (some of the vadaam variants involve stirring together kilos of batter, slow cooking them on fire and neither Amma nor I had the strength for it), we chose an elegant, yet easy option: The elaivadaam.

These are rice crispies, made by soaking and grinding rice to a fine paste, adding water to a dosa consistency. This is then delicately flavored with salt, heeng, black sesame seeds and a green chilli concentrate (made by grinding green chillies and straining the juice). The vadaams are then doled out like mini dosas on vadaam plates which are stacked up on a vadaam tray and steamed for 5-7 minutes.

A trip to childhood: making vadaams

A trip to childhood: making vadaams


Peeling and air drying the steamed vadaams is the next step. When we were kids, this was usually assigned to me (and still is) as I was the only one who could be trusted with these half-cooked beauties (they are delicious). Also, I was neat and organised and patient (things I am not much of now). My brother was usually the chief crow watcher, as the vadaams were then dried on our terrace and crows would make off with them in minutes. Till my mother realised that he was the biggest crow, and was happily trading them for marbles with his friends. She then adopted the tried and tested way to ward off the crows: tying a black cloth to a mast, creating a scarecrow of sorts.

As I peeled the vadaams and dried them in rows on a sheet, Amma kept steaming newer ones and handing them over to me, as if in assembly line. We chatted, got nostalgic, shared vadaam stories and before we knew it, the batter was over. The clock had moved four hours. And my mother and I had bonded like the old times. I suddenly felt cocooned in her warmth and confident in the knowledge that she would always have my back. The energy was infectious and Re wanted a task too, and he was appointed chief counter and duly noticed that one vadaam had gone missing (eaten by yours truly)

In a few hours of air-drying, the elaivadaams curl upwards, almost threatening to levitate. It reminded me of when babies start walking and then you have to watch their moves, for they are ready to wander off.

The dried vadaams have a mind of their own

The dried vadaams have a mind of their own

But there are still miles to go before you sleep. The next day, the vadaams have to prepare for a tougher journey, go out into the outside world, face the harshness of the sun, and become tough and firm, ready to face the world. It reminded me of what school is to children.

After all that work, and two days gone, the yield was a hundred vadaams. It might make one wonder, “Was it worth it for all the effort? Can you not just buy it off the shelf?” Perhaps you can. But for me, it was two days of intense conversation, laughs and giggles with my mother and my child. And that, as MasterCard would say, is ‘priceless’.

Two days' work: a hundred vadaams

Two days’ work: a hundred vadaams

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 4th May, 2015)

Home is where the colors are

All it takes is shiny happy things

By the age of 18, I had lived in eight different homes. In the years that followed, there were three more with my parents, two hostels for working women (in which I had to change my room every year, making it six more homes; for me, every new room was a new home), three more as a free-spirited singleton who had moved up in the rent market and who wanted a posh Bandra pin code all to herself, and four more post marriage. And I’m not done yet.

I wasn’t born into real estate. I didn’t marry into it. It’s not that my father was in the services, or had one of those posh government or bank jobs where they transferred you every two years. My parents just never cracked real estate, so we never really owned anything (oh yes, my father did jointly own a home with his brothers when I was four, which they sold for a princely sum of Rs.36000 or some ridiculous amount for their sister’s marriage).

My mother, in an attempt to maintain her work-life balance and provide adequate care for the three of us, moved closer to her place of work every few years and my father followed. While the rest of my family moved up in the real estate ladder, filled their walls with white goods, my father gave us real adventures.

I always dreamed of a place where all our stuff could be found, where we had a room to ourselves. I often pretended to my friends that I did, and that my cats slept in a bunk bed and we wore night suits and that my mother baked scones and gingerbread (she baked other things, but Enid Blyton made scones so exotic!). But I never invited them home, for then my bubble would be busted.

Our real estate was memories.

I remember the home in which my father taught me the famous Jim Reeves song, “But you love me daddy”. My father is not a singer; my mother is a trained one. But the songs I remember from my childhood were mostly sung by my father (my mother was busy just staying afloat with three kids, hard times, the tyranny of her mother-in-law and other travails of the time).

I remember the home where I broke my nose, got my first stitches, the home in which I got hit by a swing while my babysitters (the neighbor’s children) were busy chatting. I remember the home in which my father made pav bhaji for the first time, the home where my mother made coconut cookies with cherry toppings (the cherries had to be cut into neat, square bits and we got to eat the leftover cherry bits that didn’t make the cut).

I remember the home where we walked half a kilometre to the nearest home that owned a television, to watch the Sunday movie. One day, they told us we would have to pay 50 paise for it. I remember then, we found another home, which was further away, where we wouldn’t have to pay, as our friend lived next door to it. I remember someone filched my brand new rainy sandals in that home and I walked home barefoot.

I remember the home in which my brother swallowed a nail, in which my sister fell from a slide and hurt her head, in which the nanny escaped by jumping off the balcony as she couldn’t bear my grandmother’s constant jibes.

I also remember our homes by the cats and other animals who adopted us. So there was one home of Kimi and Kallu and Pushpi, their proud mother, who gave birth to them on my ankles, there was another home where Tipu Sultan (my most handsome cat of all) died in battle and his mother Chinki was bitten by a snake. And where Millie rolled herself in rangoli on Diwali day and came to us, all multi-colored and we had a harrowing time washing her to get the color off.

My father eventually cracked real estate when I was 18 and we had a house with a garden, mango and guava trees, front and back entrances and all of that. But it wasn’t meant to be. That home resulted in a legal battle that took the rest of my father’s youth. That home also broke us as a family.

Meanwhile, I watched friends dating preapproved men on the EMI market, marrying into real estate, divorcing with real estate. I saw them upgrading to house number two just before they had a baby. To house no. 3 before they planned the second one. I saw their homes, immaculate and perfect, their walls adorned with art that never reflected who they were.

When I was pregnant with Re, I wistfully thought of myself as an ill prepared parent. We didn’t have a house, I couldn’t visualize a permanent address; I wondered what kind of security could I possibly offer him. It’s been five going on six years, and things haven’t been bad. Re has moved homes thrice already. He is magically Zen about it. Between home two and three, there was some turmoil, but then help came in the form of a kitten we rescued on the road and our transition got diffused in kitten care and all was well. Home three to four was smoother than I ever thought. It helped that it was on a hill.

But I never flinch whenever there is a “permanent address’ column in any form that I have to fill (and I still end up filling a few of them). I just smile and write my mother’s address. It’s a place I still go to when I feel impermanent.

And it no longer bothers me when I have to move. I just gather my best art, curtains, a few cushions and Re’s castle. I put them up. And it becomes home, so effortlessly.

 

(The above post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 16th March 2015)

365 days of being raised by my child

365 days is a long time when you are a parent. It’s a long time anyway, but hell, when you are a parent, you can’t have much unaccounted-for time, like time when you pass out in the delirium of youth, time when you sleep through the alarm, or the child’s nocturnal pee break or hear him grinding his teeth, or moaning in the middle of sleep due to a bad dream or sometimes, even hear him talk or laugh and decode what he is saying.

They told me one year is all the sleep I would lose when I became a mother. It is now five going on six, and I haven’t slept straight eight hours on any given night. Except the few nights that I have been away and I am grateful for those. I have now come to accept that parenting is a journey that is as long as you want to be. I also know I have signed an open-ended contract, so I have no use-before date.

This year, I have, for the most part, been practically a single parent, as I decided to move to teach in a school and live on campus with Re. I realised if I didn’t do it, I would always wonder what stopped me and I didn’t want to be in that place. And it is not necessarily this stint that has taught me a few things, but here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Having children does not necessarily make you understand them better. Some really apathetic people have kids and it doesn’t seem to change anything.
  2. Not having children does not necessarily make you less aware of them. Most of the people I would implicitly trust Re with do not have kids.
  3. People are always happier when children fit in, when they “love” going to school or to activity class or playgroup. It just means less work for the parent.
  4. Parents have really short term memory when it comes to children – why they cry, how often they whine, why they have separation anxiety, and so on.
  5. It is always easy to over simplify another’s child. But there always seem to be layers of explanation for the simplest things when it comes to your own.
  6. Everything seems easier when you can speak about it in the past tense.
  7. It is rare for children to only be seen and not heard, unless you are really intimidating or there is something really wrong with what you are doing.
  8. We are all secretly gratified when our children take after us, even if it is something about us that we are trying really hard to fix.
  9. Whenever we see a really happy child, we get more deeply connected to our own void and realise it is our own doing.
  10. If each one of us was more in touch with the child within us, we would probably be happier adults.
  11. We often underestimate tears and overestimate bravery. Not crying is not being brave. If more adults could cry in the free spirit of children, we would be able to untie the knots within, perhaps be a little more happy or a little less bitter.
  12. In our over-emphasis of children saying and doing the right thing, displaying overt signs of politeness that often doesn’t have its roots anywhere, what we are actually doing is rendering our children into clones of ourselves.
  13. We often choose the wrong means to get our children to do the right thing.
  14. Sometimes all you need to do for a child is just be there.
  15. We all need to learn how to truly lose ourselves from children.
  16. Sometimes, it is important to break the rules to just know how meaningless it was to blindly follow them without questioning.
  17. It is important for a child to celebrate every scar, every wound. Every scar is a story, an accomplishment. What growing up does to us is make us hide our wounds and scars, pretend to be brave when we are not.
  18. Every day is a new world. You don’t need to wait for 31st December to bring in newness. The year is filled with pockets of newness every single day.
  19. It’s never too late to start over. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something different today. Or tomorrow. Or the day after.
  20. It is important to scream. And shout. And let it all out.

Happy new year all! It has been so lovely connecting with so many lovely people all over the world and I have learnt so much from you and your children.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 29th December, 2014)

 

Family and other anomalies

photo(3)

This year has been a year of repairing estrangements for me. In the course of this, Re met an uncle and an aunt, two of his second cousins in New York (they had him at Elsa and Anna), and two long-lost (and I don’t even know why they were lost) second cousins in Bangalore. They bonded instantly and Re was teaching Alvi (the one nearer his age) his ballroom moves while we adults chomped on Tex-Mex and found that we were related in more convoluted ways than we thought. “It’s blood,” said the just-found cousin-by- marriage, looking fondly at the kids bonding. But I feel blood as a currency is overrated. It was definitely more than that.

He also met his chittapata (grand uncle, my father’s younger brother). When he was confused what it meant, I told him it was a junior taatha (Tamil for grandpa). Oh, he said. That’s why his voice is like taatha!

I was visiting my uncle after nine years in his retirement home in Coimbatore. I had, in the meanwhile, grown a husband, a child, two cats, a paunch, greyed all over and switched multiple careers. But my uncle and aunt were arguing about dates and family trees just like they always did and it was as though time had stood still. My welcome meal was chittappa’s famous chinna vengayam (baby onion) sambar and potato podimaas (mashed potato curry). That seemed unaltered in its aroma and taste and something told me all will always be well with this family. Chittappa had Re at his favourite semiya payasam, which he had multiple bowls of and declared his stomach was singing a song. Re had him at you-look-like-that-man-who-comes-in-that-ad (read Amitabh Bachchan)

The baby onion sambar assumes a different varietal with every member of our clan. While chittappa allows the baby onions to flirt freely with capsicum and bhindi, my mother would never allow it. She would of course chop the larger ones to equalize them with the smaller ones. She always has an economic agenda which often camouflages as aesthetic. My father would be more flamboyant about his preparation, given everything else he does. He would sautee the baby onions separately in ghee before releasing them into the ocean of sambar. I do my own thing of adding a chopped spring onion garnish to it, which my father finds interesting, although I always thought he would frown at the lesser onion polluting the higher onion.

Family is people who meet you even when it’s not convenient. They show up, even if you don’t like them very much. They never miss a wedding or a funeral. We all have our own take on things, as long as we are allowed to express them. But we have to meet enough to be able to do that. When I was little, there were always weddings, thread ceremonies, house-warmings and whatnots. There don’t seem to be enough of those now, and we have to manufacture reasons to meet family. But sometimes, desire is enough too. I have 15 first cousins. Re has four. He hasn’t even met two of them. I need to manufacture a lot of family for him.

With friends, it’s different. We meet our friends in airbrushed, manicured, orchestrated settings, the stomach is tucked in, the hair is in place, the food is molecular, the lighting is just perfect for ‘likable’ photos.

With family, we are our jagged, bad-haired, out-of-bed selves

I recently messaged a friend who I had been planning to meet when I was in Bombay. She wrote back saying her parents and sister were over, so could we meet another time? I just felt I was not family enough.

Part of the reason I moved out of the city was that I could never count on friends to be family for Re. They always had something more important to do, like family or activity classes or birthday parties, and I was tired of explaining to Re why he wasn’t priority. Since I moved out of the city, I use every opportunity I have in Bombay to reconnect with old friends. Food always catalyses such  reunions and the higher the possibility of it being involved, the greater the chances of my meeting them. Friends or families that don’t do food enough usually fade off my radar.

My friends know that I always show up. So asking me a lame question like “when do I see you?” is not a good idea, because I always come up with a plan and mean to execute it. I make friends so that I can take them home. I make friends so I can find more people I can be myself with. I make friends so they can feel like family.

I was recently at Delhi, spending a few days with Usha Aunty and Vijay uncle. I do this whenever I get a chance. They are not family. They are my dear friend Reshu’s in-laws. I meet them more than I meet Reshu, since she lives in Dubai. We go back as long as her marriage, which I think is 20 years. We discuss recipes of lauki with kalonji, stuffed baby karelas, apricot and tomato chutney. We recently found connections in our families, and realized what a small world it was.

In the end, we all want friends who feel like family and we want family that we can be friends with. But the key is, you have to show up. Eat a meal. Cook maybe. Talk some. Cry some. And no, clicking ‘like’ on Facebook does not count. So before the year ends, try and locate someone from your family tree or your friendship universe. Go meet them, have a meal with them. Tell me how it felt.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 17th November, 2014) 

Festivals and other reminders of family

photoMy mother is always the first one to wish me on Diwali. My aunt is next. In their innocent questioning — have you taken a bath, have you lit the deeyas, what sweet did you make — lies the reminder of my childhood, how we grew up and what we shared as a family. It was a lot. Somehow I always felt they were subtly reminding me to never forget to be myself, no matter who I married. After all, there are two things that can happen in mixed marriages. Rituals either multiply or cancel out.

I am good with the motions, and I have been going through them diligently, even after leaving my parental home, long before I got married. I have tried to make each festival special, and even invented new ones for Re. But sometimes, motions create fatigue, and when you succumb to that, it’s a slippery slope for our children, because they have nothing to hold on to and it’s a long way clambering back.

Diwalis of our childhood were about being rudely woken up at 4 am, doused in oil, and asked to take a bath with homemade exfoliants. It was usually cold that time of year and the bath hurt and left us even more bleary eyed. Sometimes, cousins were over and they followed the same ritual. Then we were given new clothes (sometimes we had a say in what was bought, but usually they were home-stitched). There are no photos and that’s perhaps that’s why the memories are so vivid.

Each year, the money allotted to firecrackers began to buy us less and less and we often measured the fun we had in minutes. Sometimes we even managed to make them last by taking them apart. I remember my brother and I would spend hours over separating the laal ladis, and lavangis which we would ignite as singles than as a bunch to make it last. It was fun. Soon our cousins picked up and did the same. Even when money could buy us less, we still had more.

When we were growing up, cousins were people you met because of the grandparent connection — you had to share them (the grandparents), whether you liked it or not. Now that the grandparents are no more, the cousins are more or less redundant. They show up randomly on Facebook, want to be added as your ‘relative’, they post comments on your photos, and make fleeting plans to ‘meet up.’

When you have a child, festivals become indicators of a family that was. And cousins’ children become more important than the cousins ever were. You look through their albums, you ask if their children are crawling or teething, you find bits of them in their children — the bond is renewed.

A strange thing happens when the festive season sets in. Families begin to coalesce. They begin to feel grateful that they are still families. Friends begin to remember they can’t take friendship for granted. Couples begin to find joy in their coupleness.

And colleagues, whose kids you yet don’t know the names of, send you a text and put a smile on your face. They say that when you say something positive long and loud and repeated enough, it becomes a truism. May be that’s why even couples in dysfunctional relationships send out messages and cards in the festive season that end with Mr, Mrs and Master/Miss. I get them all the time and they still put a smile on my face.

And it’s addictive. Soon, you begin to Whatsapp or e-card people who you have never thought about in the past year. You text numbers from your phonebook that have been never texted or called before. You even call. You begin to add instead of subtracting.

Festivals remind me that despite all our virtual connectedness and real disconnectedness, we are still not bankrupt as a people. Yes, we do click ‘likes’ on online rangolis and diyas and pretend we’ve made our own. We raise a toast to goodies people have pre-ordered and a small corner of our heads says we should have tried harder.

Family has various meanings, but it’s in festivals that it reveals itself the most. It’s a connectedness that is palpably real, a camaraderie that no selfie can capture, a boisterousness that cannot be contained, a memory that age cannot wipe out.

There was a time we weren’t even aware we were making memories. Now, if we don’t manufacture them, we will have none. Next year, I’m going to wake up Re on Diwali and douse him with oil and exfoliants. He may not like it, but he will have a story to tell.

 

(This piece first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 27th October 2014)