Rewind. Pause. Play

“Let’s see if you can imitate well.” His eyes would twinkle as he’d challenge me to a game he liked to play with me.

“Yesss, let's!” I loved to play with thatha.

He would then hum or whistle a series of complex notes and urge me to reproduce it. He’d listen to me, as I sang with near precision, with pride-filled eyes. As a child, I always refused a direct request to sing for an audience, even if it was family. This was his way of making a diffident young kid break out of her shell and find wings.

Ironically, I won my first ever award at a music competition the year he passed away. The void he created can never be filled but thatha’s presence lingers. Each time Amma makes Jeera rasam, I'm reminded of his musical parody about this comfort food and my face breaks into a smile. Every time I sing or listen to “Jagat Janani”, the kriti in his voice plays in my head; I’m aware it’s the only recorded song, a precious souvenir we have, in his melodious voice.

But, the years have piled on heavily and created a foggy path between me and memories of thatha. It’s as though a videotape of yesteryears has grained out except for bits of clear scenes: His serene face during the daily and elaborate morning poojai; his slender frame supported taut against the wall as he rested his almost bald head on the soft mattress, his supple body belying his age; his easy laugh revealing the slightly crooked line of teeth as he’d narrate funny stories or played silly games with me as I sat on his lap. I’d count his worry lines as they stacked up tall when he raised his eyebrows. I’d look on with a silly grin as he stuck his tongue out blowing air and making it vibrate. He could bend his palm easily enough for the fingers to touch the back of the hand. And, this would fascinate me to no end. He never denied a “once more” request to the inane games I loved and which, I now realize, can exasperate an adult.

When he left without a warning, I felt cheated, robbed of a doting grandparent who could’ve easily lived for many more years. That night of intense grief and unending tears is etched forever. I had slept from the sheer exhaustion of unrestrained sobbing and the shock of seeing the lifeless body of a person I so dearly loved. In my semi-wakeful state, I dreamt that he was still alive and the whole thing was a mistake. It was a dream that recurred in the many months to follow.

Years later, my mother confessed to experiencing a similar dream as mine. Many a time, I’d catch Amma’s eyes go all misty when an old photograph, a song or a recipe scraped at the scab of a wound that never healed completely.  She had lost a parent and her pain was deeper. Her stories of him shine a light on the person who quietly did his duty never expecting anything in return. I can completely imagine him being that person. When extended family and friends speak of thatha, it is easy to believe that he had touched them all, in many ways, by his genuine goodness. I’m bitter about not having an exclusive story to tell.

The pain has been numbed with passing years. But, the fragmented memories spring upon me when I least expect, bringing on a dull ache. I imagine how it would have been to watch my son play in his arms as I once did, to trust his sapience during my troubled adult phases in life, have him cheer me on, or watch his face erupt in joy at my small achievements.

I cup the sepia-tinted impressions together, worried they might crumble to powder. I’m desperate to piece them all together for eternity.

Choosing perfect pots and pans

To some, moving houses come as naturally as shedding skin to snakes. I admire the former's ability to wrap themselves with the new and blend into established territories like they have always belonged. I think of myself as someone who craves for newness but equally loath to part with the familiarity. The uncertainty of the foreign fills me with apprehension as well as anticipation. Fitting in has never been my favourite activity and I wonder if disparate elements can be fused together to create an agreeable flavour.

As I prepare myself to detach myself from the veneer of my home, I spend my time mentally stripping it of the memories it holds. I gather my belongings, the collectibles, the memorabilia that speak of the many travels, a shared life with my family, and a keen love for all things colourful and antique. In my head, I imagine various empty houses, not mine, where they will be placed to recreate an environment I call home.

I care less for the polished white interiors that gleam of a perfection I’m afraid to touch. I crave for warm hues to intertwine their fingers with the cracks in the wall winning me over with their conspiratorial smile. For, they are witness to our secrets, our laughter, our worries, and our decisions. I like to meander in long corridors, tracing out the dust collected on the frames of our candid photographs hung in random order. I allow the vacant spaces to be filled before they are infused with the aroma of love, laughter, coffee, and marinated with a mixture of friends-new and old, of mindless banter and serious debates.

Sometimes you have to give up the labour of love because it’s time for new birth pains. And yet, at other times, the creations do not turn out as intended; much like my trysts with cooking in the initial years of my wedded life. Armed with all the right ingredients, I’d try to add the flavours one by one as I remembered my mother doing it for years. Yet, the result would be vastly off. I had once lamented to her about how my cooking does not taste like hers although I use her spices and follow her recipes. She smiled, her eyes twinkling with a secret she was about to reveal. “Sometimes, the pans and pots are not right!” I looked on incredulously. “Yes,” She continued in a tone that meant she wasn’t joking. “It takes some experience to know that a shallow pan is usually the culprit behind curry mishaps and that a pot of sterner mettle is the best accomplice to dish out that perfect biryani. Sometimes, our love and energy need to find the right home to create the ambience we are seeking.”

As my thoughts meander, my mother’s words seem to ring with newfound meaning. I’m fuelled by a new surge of enthusiasm as I look forward to making newer connections and friendships. I’ve been wary of the latter as I find myself cocooning into a space that very few people are able to enter. I make acquaintances but I’m careful in choosing my friends. Growing up, I'd always worried about the kind of impressions I made on people. I hesitated before asking for help for I worried about imposing myself. Social gatherings had me looking on from the fringes, waiting for a smile, a nod or acknowledgment before I extended my own hand. Not surprisingly, I was never a part of any cliques.

I later went on to experiment with my true nature and feelings many a time until they found a solid home in the hearts of a handful of friends that are almost my shadow now. They have my back as I have theirs at all times, good and bad. Yet, setting aside these, I’ve failed to recreate the delicacy of friendship. I have fewer friends today than in my younger years and cliques are as elusive as ever. Despite my best intentions, I’ve ended up burning my fingers or licking the vestiges of friendships gone sour and bitter. However, today, I’m content with knowing that my methods weren’t incorrect.

It’s all about choosing the perfect pots and pans.