Memories in a chocolate box

Memories in a chocolate box

It’s Saturday morning and we’ve all woken up uncharacteristically early.

It’s all SR’s fault. He has woken up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and wants the entire household to follow suit. He takes first S and then B for a walk. He gives them their breakfast and gets them settled down. Then he finishes some stuff for work. And then starts sorting out a drawer full of old bills.

All before I’ve even finished my morning coffee.

I want to feel useful myself. So I look around for something easy to do. Clean the fans? But we have no step ladder. Laundry? Already done. Take the clothes for ironing? It’s too hot to get out – I can do that in the evening. Prep for lunch? I don’t even have an excuse for this one.

So I drift into the bedroom and pull open my accessories drawer. I’ve been meaning to sort things out here for ages. Now is as good a time as any.

One of my prized possessions is my earring box. It’s an old plastic Ferrero Rocher tray that I have repurposed to keep my earrings sorted into pairs. But over time, they’ve gotten all mixed up. I empty everything out on the bed and start sifting through. B jumps up at once–he loves everything shiny–and S follows suit. I tell B sternly not to put anything in his mouth and then cave and give him an old cloth purse to chew on. S, the angel child he is, needs no such sop. He watches with interest for a couple of minutes, then lies down on his side and drifts off happily. No doubt dreaming of chicken legs.

I set the earrings out in pairs and and all of a sudden, it’s like sifting through a box of old memories.

There are the long, glassy green drops with gold accents that ammai bought for me from someone at the bank. Turquoise blue raindrop-loops a friend got me from Amsterdam. A pair of flat, jimikki-shaped earrings with white stones–the first of many pairs that amma has gifted me over the years. Violet twine hoops that I bought from Brigade Road to replace a similar pair I’d lost on a flight back from Singapore. Every piece seems to trigger a memory, a reminder of happy times.

There are even four mismatched presses that hold the earrings in place. I keep them aside as backups, in case I lose the originals.

I’m nearly done putting everything in place, when I come across them. A pair of pink and silver studs that I have worn perhaps thrice in my life. It’s the very first present SR bought for me, over 9 years ago. It’s not the prettiest of earrings and I remember him telling me he’d bought them from a Coimbatore street-side vendor for thirty rupees when he went to write the CAT exam. They’ve been with me all these years, but I’ve seldom worn them because I have prettier, bigger, longer pink earrings. Multiple pairs, in fact.

They’re slightly dusty and I wipe them with a soft cloth. As I hold them in my palm, I realize they look just as good as new. The stones haven’t fallen off. The silver hasn’t blackened. I’m suddenly reminded of all the good memories from our years together. The houses we’ve moved. The journeys we’ve taken. The food we’ve shared.

Like every other couple, we too have our share of ups and downs, disagreements and frustrations. But somehow, in the face of this little token from a long time ago, those seem small and unimportant.

I put them on, wondering if SR would notice or remember. I know it’s highly unlikely that he would–but I’ll still wear them through the day. As a reminder to be grateful for what we have, something precious not in value, but for what it stands for.

 

 

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Where angels fear to tread…

Where angels fear to tread…

“Look at this lunch box!” SR exclaims.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, pointedly ignoring the smudges of Vim around its edges.

“This is intolerable. You have to tell Vasantha to wash the dishes properly,” he complains.

I agree meekly, the very thought making my stomach churn. I have tried giving her constructive feedback only once before. It did not go well.

“Vasantha,” I had said naively, “You haven’t cleaned the bedroom properly – just look at the quantity of dust under the cot!”

Her eyes widened. Without a word, she turned around, got the mop and duster and barged into the bedroom. (SR, who was changing, yelped and rushed for cover.) She lifted the mattress and tried moving the cot onto its side single-handedly.

“What are you doing? Let me help…” I tried to intervene.

“Vendamma, venda… naane panren…” she wouldn’t let me.

In the next one hour, she tipped most of our furniture onto its side, raised a perfect hell storm of dust, emptied buckets and buckets of water onto the bathroom floor, and scrubbed all the kitchen utensils we had, including three sets of unpacked dinnerware we had got as a wedding gift. She spurned every offer of help.

All the while, she muttered steadily under her breath. Every now and then, we would hear snatches of how it wouldn’t matter even if she worked herself to death, because no one – not even the man she had been looking after for thirty years – would care, and how she would probably collapse on her way down to the car porch. SR and I sat mortified in the living room.

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I was young then, foolish.

All night, I lie awake, trying to frame diplomatic ways of presenting the matter. The following morning, as we are having coffee, I mutter nervously under my breath,

“Vasantha, this here lunch box, you see… perhaps you could oblige me by looking at it? If you don’t mind, could you please consider…”

The doorbell rings. I quail in my seat. SR looks exasperated.

Vasantha enters. She is a small, dark woman with the long, mournful face of a Basset hound.  A couple of months ago, while we were taking a long break, I told her she needn’t come to work for two weeks; essentially, paid leave. She looked as though I had given her a very poor quote for both her kidneys.

Today, she handed me a packet of sweets and said sorrowfully, “En payyanukku kalyanam fix aaydchu!” My son’s wedding has been fixed.

“Oh… er, very nice.” I say. She smiles sadly and disappears into the kitchen.

SR hisses, “That’s no excuse! She has been doing a half-baked job for months now! You tell her to do her work properly – show her who’s boss!”

“Okay!”

I settle into the living room couch, pretending to look busy while glancing surreptitiously at her every few minutes. I am waiting for an opportune moment. She swishes the dust from one corner of the room to the other. Half of it rises and settles back down. She ignores it – along with the cobwebs dangling just before her eyes. I debate whether I should draw her attention to it; then decide against it. Focus, I tell myself firmly. Focus on one thing.

A few minutes later, I hear the clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen. I summon up courage, walk up to her holding out the offending lunch box, clear my throat and begin,

“Vasantha… this… this lunch box…  if you look at its rim, you can see…”

She turns around then, wringing her hands and nearly weeping, a picture of abject misery.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, distracted.

She looks as though she can hardly speak. Her lips tremble.

I imagine a death in the family. Cancer. Bankruptcy.

“Tell me, whatever it is!” I urge her.

She gathers courage and says, “Vim kaaliyayduthumma…”

We are out of Vim.

I say desperately, “No, no… I have an extra bar!”

I search for it frantically. As each second passes, Vasantha seems to shrink. I finally find it and thrust it into her hand in relief. “Please don’t cry!” I nearly add.

She smiles weakly and gets back to work.

I am shaken, reminded once again of the Bedroom Dusting Fiasco of 2011.

I return to the living room.

“Did you tell her?” SR asks suspiciously.

“Yes, the problem will be solved.” I say with dignity.

I plan to wash it myself, later.

If this ain’t love, baby…

“How do you know it’s love?”

This is a question I’d been pondering over since I was fifteen – how do I recognize the Real Thing when it happens?

I had a simple test. Anytime I liked someone, and I wasn’t sure where it was heading, I would close my eyes and imagine seeing him every day, day and night, for the rest of my life. Wake up next to him, have breakfast together, see him again at night, sleep with him, wake up again next to him, and so on and on for sixty years. That was usually enough to turn me off big time.

Until I met SR. For the first time in life, I felt it wouldn’t be so bad seeing this guy for the rest of my life. I even felt it might be fun. And boy, has it been fun!

This post is dedicated to you, SR. For being my sunshine. The anchor of my sanity. The very air I breathe.

10 things that tell me I am loved.

  1. The way I magically wake up in my bed every morning tucked under my comforter, no matter where I fall asleep the night before – on the couch, the armchair or the floor. I still don’t know when or how you manage to move 65 kilos of solid flesh across two rooms without the said body even stirring.
  2. The way you take the long way home just so that I can finish listening to a favorite song that’s playing on the car radio without it shutting off midway. And the way you listen to my vociferous, ungrateful rants about wasting petrol.
  3. The way you keep re-filling my hot water bottle and making me comfort food at all times of the day and night when I am sick, without ever registering protest through word, deed or expression.
  4. The way you quietly do all the little chores I hate without me having to ask – filling up the water purifier and stocking bottles and containers with provisions top the list. And yet, if I actually ask you to do a chore, the way you put it off as long as you possibly can…
  5. The way you never ever say no to anything I want – whether it was going all the way back to the Big Bazaar just to get me the top I liked but regretted not buying; or making the Archies store owner reopen his shutters at 10 in the night to get me the smiley doll. And letting me name him (the doll) Appy Hippie. Mallu fans of Boban & Molly comics would know this character quite well.
  6. The way you told me, “I can’t let you watch it alone if it’s the first time you’re watching it” and watched Valentine’s Day with me on Friday night. And hating it every minute. But not fiddling with your mobile even once.
  7. The way you listen to me repeat every anecdote from Agatha Christie’s autobiography without interrupting, even though you’ve heard it all a million times already. And how you buy me every book about Christie that anyone ever wrote.
  8. The way you always make me a “kutti dosai”; And a smiley face with ketchup and cheese spread on my omelet plate. And the way you bring it to me, eyes shining with pleasure.
  9. The way you set up elaborate Treasure Hunts and riddle games and send me chasing all around the building in search of clues. You can give Raj Koothrapalli a run for his money any day.
  10. The way you swear I am the most beautiful woman in the world, even when I know I look like something the cat dragged in. What points you lose for honesty you gain for loyalty.

I could go on and on, and never stop. That’s why I titled this list before I even started. Let me close by borrowing from the Bard of Avon.

Of all my loves this is the first and last
That in the autumn of my years has grown,
A secret fern, a violet in the grass,
A final leaf where all the rest are gone.

You are my sun and stars, my night, my day,
My autumn song, the altar at which I pray.
My seasons, summer, winter, my sweet spring, 

My land and ocean, and all that the earth can bring.

Would that I could give all and more, my life,
My love – eternal, endless and true…
Of glory and of sustenance, all that is divine,
My world and my thoughts, and all that was ever mine.

That’s enough mush for a Saturday afternoon. 🙂

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In sickness and in health(?)

It was the day of our wedding and SR had just tied the thaali around my neck. We gazed at each other – me adoringly, he bleary-eyed and sweaty. The first thing he said was,

“Can you ask Amma to get me some Crocin? I have a terrible headache.”

Yes, I love you too.

For the next 15 minutes, while he was repeating mantras with the vadhyar, I desperately tried to catch the eye of one of our many aunts or cousins, even while getting up and prostrating myself on the ground (in a nine-yard saree to boot!) for what seemed like a hundred times. Someone finally got him the pills and water and he managed to make it through the rest of the ceremony, by which time my neck was aching under the weight of all the garlands.

During the family get-together in the evening, while our relatives sang and danced and tried to make fun of us, we sat exhausted and brain-dead, joining in more out of politeness than anything else. To commemorate the occasion, SR’s sister and cousins decorated our bedroom. On the dresser, they left two sets of presents – a box of perfumes, and a box of medicines – along with a note:

“Perfumes or medicines? Make your choice! :)”

Needless to say, we picked the medicines and fell asleep at once. So much for the hype about “first nights” – to this day, when we watch a movie scene involving a first night, we look at each other and snort derisively.

The next morning, SR woke up with a raging fever and spots all over his body. That’s right – chicken pox.

We were both quarantined (in case I was also infected) for three weeks. Confined to a single room and bland food without salt and spices, scratching ourselves with neem leaves and alternating between sniping at each other and apologizing tearfully.

Two weeks later, when SR had recovered, I came down with it, and spent another two weeks in quarantine. SR escaped the second quarantine because his chances of getting it again were slim. And of course, there was no honeymoon.

That set the tone of our marriage. Headaches, backaches, flu, sinusitis, tummy upset, asthma… you name it, we’ve had it!

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I was at a medical store the other day,

“1 strip Pudin Hara. 15 regular Crocin. 15 Crocin Pain. 1 Volini cream. 1 Volini spray big. Vicks ke goli and 1 Dragon roll-on.”

When he gave me a “So much, madam?” look, I tried to save face,

“We are athletes – we just ran a marathon. That’s why.”

He looked doubtfully at our rotund figures, but refrained from commenting.

The biggest challenge we face is that each of us deals differently with sickness. SR likes to be coddled and made a fuss of if he is feeling down. But I like to be left alone to curl up and die. We used to drive each other crazy in the beginning.

When I try to sleep quietly in the dark, his worried face would appear at the door,

“Do you want anything?”

“No.”

“A hot water bottle? Green tea?”

“No, no.”

“How about some medicine? Will sitting up help?”

“No, just leave me alone!”

He would go away in a huff.

The opposite would happen when he fell sick. He would lie groaning in the hall, making outlandish requests every few minutes.

“Can you bring me some water? Yes, I know I said I didn’t want any, but now I do… if you must make such a fuss, don’t bother.. I don’t want anything now… alright then, give me the water…”

“Can you put some Volini on my back? Not there, a little to the right.. a tad bit to the left… Yes, yes, you got it… no, go up, yes, up… now a little down towards the spine… where the hell are you rubbing? That’s not the spot at all!”

“Turn off the light and put on the music… oh, anything you like.. no, no, not that… not that one either, can’t you put on something soothing and quiet? No, meditation music is not soothing or quiet.”

And so on and so forth.

Over the years, we’ve learned to manage this better. It is based on the principle that a sick person cannot be a ministering angel and offer sympathy. So we fall sick one at a time.

“I feel sniffly – I think I will come down with a cold today” SR would warn me as soon as he woke up.

“I ate from a shifty-looking place near the bus stand. So I may have indigestion later.” I would call from the office to give him a heads-up.

This way, we set clear expectations and give each other ample time to plan ahead. So, if SR sounds the warning, I try to keep the rest of the day free to look after him. And if I sound the warning, he makes plans to stay far away. So far, this has worked pretty well.

Thus, we continue to have and to hold each other – for better or worse, in sickness and in health(?)