Author: Tulika

Growing up together

Growing up together

A gentle breeze ruffles my hair as I sit on a small cement platform in the grounds of my apartment complex. I watch N jogging, headphones in place her ponytail swinging from side to side.

It’s 10pm and we’re the only two people around. It’s quiet, apart from a few sounds that drift down from the flats above and the rhythmic tap tap tap of N’s feet.

I glance at her as she goes up and down the short track and I’m conscious of a feeling of impatience. I want her to finish her jog and go back, back to her books.

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Neighbours

Neighbours

A blue polka dotted balloon drifts down into the balcony as the kids and I sit navigating our way through the digestive system. Class tests are on and the three of us seem like we’re enclosed in a cocoon, shielded off from the outside world, lost in the universe of books and notes and unyielding timetables.

That balloon is our connect with the world, proof that there exist other realities than the ones between the pages of text books. Later in the evening we hear a cheery ‘Happy birthday to you’ sung out loud. I imagine a bunch of pintsizes gathered around a table with a large birthday cake and I can’t help but smile.

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Thursday mornings

Thursday mornings

It’s after 10 pm. The children have finally settled down in their rooms wrapping up their studies, their TV time and their million arguments.

I open my book for few minutes of reading before I turn in for the day.

The phone pings. I glance at it and find a message from my sister-in-law, S. I know what it says and am already smiling as I open it. ‘Come over tomorrow’, says the message. ‘Sure’ I write back. And that’s that.

Next morning I make my way to her house a few kms away. She’s back from yoga, and has tea bubbling on the stove. The BIL, a runner, is back too and is wrapping up his running routine with (sometimes seriously weird) stretching exercises.

I hover in the kitchen, almost as familiar as my own, pouring myself a glass of water, setting out the tray and cups or sometimes, just chatting. We carry the tea to the living room and soon we’re settled on the large teal sofa, curled up with mugs in hand.

Somedays we walk down to a roadside eatery for a breakfast of poha and misal, somedays we order in while other days we settle for eggs and bread.

And we talk. Of the world, of China, of India and of Kashmir, of work and its challenges, of running a home with the husband away, and of children, of course children — my nascent teens her almost adult one.

We laugh together. A lot. About random things. His obsession with running, her annoyance of it; his love for drug-cartel movies, her disinterest in all things television; his crazy relatives, her equally mad ones. All our collective craziness, our eccentricities and our quirks are brought out, examined and laughed at.

That was our morning schedule every Thursday. I don’t quite remember when we set it up but no matter how busy we were, how packed a day we had ahead, those mornings were sacrosanct; reserved for our breakfast meets.

Thursday mornings became our routine escape from routine. They were my lifeline through some of the most trying times.

We resumed them, rather reluctantly, over the last week or so. Now, however, as both of them ride the Covid wave, quarantined at home, Thursday isn’t the same.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Traditions

Traditions

I don’t want to wear formals, announces H.

That’s how most of our festive days begin. We have this tussle each year, at every festival. I’ve been giving in to him slowly but surely, bending to his will, letting him have his way. We moved from Kurta pajamas, to short kurtas and trousers and then to a shirt with an Indian jacket and jeans. This year I don’t even have the mind-space to push for that.

I don’t regret it. Not much, at least. I know he’s getting older; he’s a teen and I’ve learnt to choose my battles.

‘Alright’, I tell him, ‘but change out of your shorts and vest’. Crumpled tees and shorts have been his uniform these past few Covid months. I haven’t much bothered. This was but a small trade-off for quiet mornings.

But he isn’t done. ‘Why must I change? ‘What’s wrong with these clothes? They’re clean and that’s what should matter,’ he challenges. He loves a good argument, this son of mine and I indulge him most often, but not today. The cook is on leave and a pile of chores beckon me from the kitchen.

‘This is why I hate festivals,’ he continues.

That gets my attention and stops me on the verge of my don’t-argue-just-go-and-change outburst.

It’s an almost compulsive thing with me, this need to make festivals happy and stress free. Paradoxically, the stress of being stress-free stresses me out.

That is one reason I’ve let go of many traditions. And that’s why H’s remark hits home.

I pull my gaze away from the kitchen, realise I’m frowning and straighten the frown. I will myself to relax as I prepare to gently wade into this sea of arguments.

N walks in holding up a bright orange tee shirt for H. ‘Remember, I gifted you this one? It’s perfect for today. Please please wear it.’

I sigh in relief and quickly push home. ‘Come on H’, I tell him. He gives a huge fake sigh but I know he’s coming around.

As I busy myself with the cooking, I hear them argue.

‘I won’t wear trousers.’
‘But you can’t wear these shorts.’
‘Okay, then I’ll wear my Eminem Tee shirt.’
‘Noooo!! Not on Rakshabandhan. Have you even heard his lyrics? He uses such bad words in his songs.
‘At least he has a message to convey. He’s not just mooning around like your One Direction.’
‘I don’t care. You’re not wearing that ugly black tee. Mamaaaa tell him, pleeease,’ N calls out to me.

I don’t respond. I don’t need to. As I stir the kheer on the stove and get out the dough for the puris, I know already that H will wear what she wants him to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have his bit of fun. Just as I know N doesn’t really expect me to intervene when she  calls out to me.

When I glance into their room I find them giggling together, playing tug-of-war with the unfortunate Eminem teeshirt.

Finally, they’re ready. Much fuss is made out of tying the rakhis. As per their own weird tradition H smears N’s forehead with the kumkum instead of making a neat little teeka. She’s used to it and stands still while I wipe it off and make a small round one instead. ‘I’ll take revenge,’, she says when it’s her turn. That freaks him out a bit. He takes eons to fix the clasp of her rakhi and ends with pushing an entire kaju roll into her mouth. She does the same and we’re done.

As I put away the puja plate I realise I forgot to ask them to cover their heads, as per tradition. I realise I miss doing things the traditional way. I miss the colourful kurta-pajamas, the chaniya cholis, the laddoos, the elaborately decorated puja thali and the sitting down cross-legged on the ground with a handkerchief on the head. I miss it all. I was wrong when I said I didn’t regret letting go of traditions. I do, at least some part of me does.

I want to tell the children: this is your culture, your heritage, your link to the past. Don’t let it go.

I hear them laughing and arguing and I hold back.

Instead, I tell myself, this is change, embrace it.

Image by minxutopia from Pixabay

On my other blog: Beat About The Book

Unfinished #BookReview

Unfinished #BookReview

Priyanka, with her grit and her determination, as also her ability to stand up to all kinds of trolling and bullying, has always been inspirational. Everything about her seems to spell, ‘Say what you will, I’ll do my own thing’. To me, that’s the greatest kind of freedom anyone can ever aspire for. And that’s what prompted me to pick up her biography.