Letters to my Berry#17

IMG_9213Warning: This is going to be a very disjoint letter with a random collection of thoughts coming together in a random order as we have all had a very tiring day trekking King Henry’s mound in Richmond Park. So, please bear with the incoeherence.

You’ve turned 17 months and are running 1.5 years now. It’s crazy how quickly time has flown. You are the oldest in your play group at the nursery and you’ll soon move out to the next level in a month or two. You can eat on your own with forks, spoon and chopsticks. You can take off your jacket all by yourself. You are pretty self sufficient in most of your day-to-day things, which is very impressive especially because your appa and I have had such an insignificant part to play in it. All thanks to your nursery and your carers.

This month I realised that you have some strange fascination for veils, blankets, throws and other flows things. Every morning, when I am making the bed, you come running to go under the blanket as I sway it in the air. I realised this comes from the veils used by your music and movements teacher in the nursery, whose class you enjoy so much. So the other day, you found this stole of mine and kept playing with it. I decided to wind it up around you like a sari and you seemed to fascinated to have a tail like pally hanging behind you. This is probably one of those rare moments when you’ve let me put a clip on your hair and take a photo, else you usually pull off hair clips the moment I put them on. Anyway, you got so mad when I took the veil off after this picture.

You are a bit short-tempered, you express displeasure pretty quickly, although it is very rare. Couple of weekends ago, we took you to the park and let you play there for about an hour after we which we tried to put you in your stroller, and you got so angry. You clearly seemed very pissed, and we could tell by your face. Of course you got over it pretty quickly as we wheeled you by the duck pond and you’d forgotten all about the swing and the slide by then. It’s funny how these things come to us so young.

Talking about things that we are pretty good at early on in life, is pattern recognition. We were in the tube one morning on the way to work (and nursery), and you suddenly screamed “Cece” (Cece is a girl in your nursery, who has some Vietnamese heritage). I looked around to see who you saw and it was a woman, who looked East Asian. When I was young, I thought all men with Mongoloid features were called Danny, thanks to Danny Denzongpa.

Although it gets misconstrued as cultural insensitivity as we grow up, I would say it’s some fantastic pattern recognition. Think about google photos, it uses the same concept to classify photos. Just like how with more data, google learns better about differentiating between baby photos of you and your cousin as being different individuals, we learn better with more exposure.

For a brief period this month, we had moved the sofa close to the book shelf, so you learnt to climb up to help yourself to some krishnamurthies (jumping jacks). You pulled apart all of them and even tried to eat some of them. You found a few pens and books, so you happily scribbled away to glory. You also learnt that you can jump from the arm of the sofa onto the sofa and so you kept saying “deddy deddy wow” (ready steady go) and jumping till we decided to save ourselves some anxiety of you rolling over and moved the sofa away from the book shelf.

You are also now beginning to watch our lip movements very closely so you can imitate some of the words and sounds we teach you. The number of animal sounds you can make is growing in scope. You haven’t gone beyond 10 in numbers, you say ABCD until around P, but just start clapping immediately after. I’ve mentioned several times before that you have some strong connection with music, so it’s not surprising that you can sing sa ri ga ma with such great melody. It would be great if you want to learn more and pursue music more professionally at some point (ok, I am acting like a tiger mother now).

Not only sounds, you even imitate actions. When I do yoga sometimes, you come lie next to me and try to imitate my moves, and pretty well that too. You want to do everything we do. If we are on our computers, you want to be on it too. If we are putting stuff into the dishwasher, you want to play a part too. If we are hanging clothes, you are daddy’s little helper and so on. I am so going to miss all this as you grow up because the older we grow the less like our parents we want to act. No?

When you woke up this morning, you were hungry and asked for milk. I passed the bottle that was next to me, but the milk was cold. You wanted it warmed up, so you said “bisi” (which means hot in kannada) and I said “drink it as it is if you want or leave”, because I was still sleepy and was in no mood to get off the bed to warm up your milk. And to that you said “No! No! No! and murmured something babbles that sounded like get your ass of the bed and go heat my milk” and so, I did. You are fairly manipulative you know? I think kids are designed that way, and hence, we return the favour when you grow up. Haha.

Ever since we came back from India, I always worried that you’d be very sad to not have too many people around you, but you make up for it by being quite friendly with random strangers here. You also absolutely love speaking to people back home on FaceTime, and so you keep wanting me to call your ajji thatha Barbie and avva. When I don’t do that often enough, you pick your toy phone and make pretend conversation with them anyway. It makes me wonder if you are too Indian to live here in the UK. It makes me miss home. So, guess what, we’ll be going there soon, so you can meet everyone again. Whee!



Watching love as it ages


IMG_7207A school friend and I were discussing about the point (rather pointlessness) of life and we concluded that it is gene propagation; food and sex are just means to it. Sex is very primal and over the years, we as a society have started making random associations with it such as love, etc. So, love is a man-made concept and like all man-made concepts, it’s quite subjective, fluid and hard to define. Thanks to literature, and now media, we have a nice little template to go with.

If you are 16 (or probably younger today), love is that feeling which gives you the tingle, makes your groin ache and what not. If you are in your 30s, love is that feeling when your husband surprises you with roses even on your 10th anniversary, and you can put that on Instagram. When you are in your 50s, love is that hypothetical feeling when your husband praises your culinary skills in front of your family and friends. Given that the husband would never do such things, your love probably died the day you had kids. When you are in your 70s or 80, it is love when your husband holds your hand while crossing the road. But then you think he is trying to act like he is 16, because love is only for youngsters no?

I’d like to argue that love can be so much more, but we are limiting its potential by trying to confine ourselves to the template thrown at us by a large data set of movies with stereotypical plots of love and it’s implications on our lives. Ask anyone who has lived a long life (I mean like over 40-50 years) with a companion and all they have left of this person is memories, they will tell you what love felt like for them. If we all left love to take over our lives and let it do it’s magic without trying to control it every minute, I am sure we will have so many more stories about love to tell our next generation. Okay, I haven’t asked anyone about love when they are old and withering, and it’s hard to guess either because social conditioning makes us feel like its wrong to feel romantic love as we grow old.

We like to think of love as a short-lived fleeting feeling one only feels once or twice at the most in their entire lives. That’s because we still think of love as being that pain in the groin, and the thing that you feel down there in your 70s is just herpes. But what if love is not just about someone whispering sweet nothings in your ear or running their fingers down your neck. What if love were to walk into your life in a disguise, would you ever know? The problem is we don’t recognise the face of love as it ages, it only feels familiar in retrospect. The same love that you feel for someone when you are 16, grows into a different person as you grow older. This 3rd person called love in your life evolves with you.

What if I told you love is that feeling of exhaustion (or relief) when you walk into a house that looks like a disaster, but your partner has managed to put your toddler to bed by the time you got back home from a tiring day at work. If you are 50, love is that feeling of frustration you feel when your husband won’t let you sleep in late even on a Sunday because he can’t start the day without your home cooked breakfast. If you are 70 or 80, love is that feeling of helplessness you feel when your wife won’t give up on trying to change you even after 40-50 years of marriage.

Most of us have probably been in love once or twice, but watching love as it ages is a whole new experience all together, I think.

Hebbar kitchen mahime


Home-made Banana bread (Recipe – Courtesy Hebbar Kitchen)

When I got married to Karthik 7 years ago, I didn’t know how to cook proper meals. Of course I knew how to make coffee, maggi or rice but little else and given that Karthik didn’t eat maggi, I had little to impress him with. So in the first few years of marriage, most of my conversations with amma were spent in learning basic recipes of saaru, huLi, chutney, etc. I didn’t do a great job of learning because I remember making coloured cucumber sambar one night, which was utterly disgusting but back in the day, Karthik was still a kind man, so he didn’t bother telling me what he really thought of the huLi. In any case, to save our marriage, we decided to get a cook (who btw was great!!) and every time we moved homes, we kept getting a new cook.

I didn’t quite realize the value of learning how to make traditional indian breakfast until we moved to London last year. The idea of making dosa batter was daunting, so we trekked all the way to East Ham to find ready made batter. This was until I found Hebbar Kitchen (thanks to my mum’s incessant sharing of their videos on Facebook) and discovered the recipe to Instant Dose with left over rice. In less than 5 min, I could whip up delicious doses and I couldn’t be more excited. But this wasn’t enough for the husband, obviously, because it didn’t quite taste like real dose with urad dal and all.

I hear Karthik’s mum was a wonder woman in the kitchen who made stuff like Jilebi, ladoo and all at home. Sometimes when we visit Karthik’s relatives, they still drool with fond memories of his mum’s bisi belebath which is a testament to her cooking skills. Given that the bar was quite high and I am a lazy person, I didn’t bother trying. Instead I invested more time and effort in finding a good cook (I interviewed 47 people before I finally picked my last cook in Bangalore, who continues to work with our family back home!).

Given that I have no such luxury here in London, I decided to man up to make dose batter from first principles and there was Hebbar kitchen to the rescue. Of course, like any NRI, I had to get creative to ferment the batter once made (kept it by the room heater overnight) and guess what, the mysore masala dose turned out to be absolutely perfect. I couldn’t believe that I had managed to whip up my own dose batter, and so I kept making it day in and day out (Lol!). Now, I don’t think twice before making something from scratch because I know I can count on Hebbar kitchen to give me a super easy recipe for something that tastes great.

What I love about Hebbar kitchen is the no nonsense quick videos of just the recipe, which is all you need in the kitchen when you are standing by the counter trying to make something quickly. You don’t have to see the cook’s face (or her atte’s), or know what her hobbies are, or which serials she watches or what her husband does. This has revolutionalized two industries – food blogs which are super verbose and the other, cookery shows which have a very strange template that makes you feel like you need  to be a housewife to be able to cook and actually impress your husband like this one.

The generation that wants it all!


Today, the thirty somethings in India are really struggling to find life partners like never before. When I say like never before, I mean these are people you would have expected to be already married by now, but not anymore. Some 8-9 years ago, on Varamahalakshmi festival, our family priest, who also doubles up as a matchmaker, had come home to perform the ritual. He mentioned that one of my dad’s younger colleagues had approached him for matchmaking help. When my dad asked the priest about this colleague’s prospects of finding a bride, this is what the priest said – “This chap is a 30 year old muduka (roughly translates to grandpa), that too with just an engineering degree  (no masters) working in some private company, not even Infosys or TCS. Even software fellows are struggling to find women because all brides want to go onsite nowadays, so this guy doesn’t have a chance!” Of course it sounded a lot more amusing in Kannada with alliterations and all that, but the point being I am not talking about such men or women here. I am talking about people our society would generally consider very successful, if not too successful. So, why then, are these successful people struggling to find partners?

What is different about this generation is that we are full of high achievers, we thrive on a sense of achievement and we don’t settle for anything less than a sense of achievement from whatever we do. Simply said, we are at far higher levels of the Maslov’s hierarchy today than any other generation in the past. Until we have checked that self-esteem box in our professional lives (which is roughly measured in terms of founding one’s own company and making millions of an IPO/ sell-out), we want to push the decision of getting married and hence, the average age of people looking to get married is far higher today. So what does this mean in terms of finding a partner?

Men no longer just want a wife who can look gorgeous, cook, clean and bear their offspring, and women no longer want men who can just be the breadwinner for the family or be the macho protector like the Shah Rukhs and Hritiks of the world. We want partners we are proud of, we want partners who make us feel like we have achieved great heights in our choice of partners, and in turn our personal lives. And, it’s okay. Well, to be fair, our grandparents or parents were also fairly ambitious and you might think this is the problem of every generation with respect to the previous, but what is different about this generation is that we are looking for trophy partners in India vs trophy son-in-laws or daughter-in-laws or a general addition to our existing esteemed families unlike in the last few hundred years.

In the past, when parents/ aunts/ uncles found a potential daughter-in-law/ son-in-law, they optimised for values that matter when you recruit a new family member – cultural upbringing, physical genes, compatibility with a large extended family, workload reduction for existing family members, protection of family wealth and so on. The bride who finally got recruited would have cleared the bar on all counts, and the groom has nothing left to do in terms of getting social approval since his family would have taken care of that bit during recruitment. At the most, the girl would have to check off the “oh how did this dude land such a cute chick” test amongst the groom’s gang of single male friends.

Most of us have been in and out of several relationships before we have resorted to the arranged marriage route, and we have pretty solid ideas on what kind of a partner suits us. Parents have no clue about what we learn from our past relationships and hence, there is a lack of interference in filters between parents and us. So parents actively encourage their kids to find their own partners, in numbers larger than ever before, despite having a pretty static view on what is a good son-in-law or a daughter-in-law.

This puts undue pressure on the ward to not only seek validation from the family, but also their ever expanding social circle thanks to the internet. So what do you then optimise for? Everything. And this in turn, makes it harder to find a partner because let’s be honest, you simply cannot optimise for everything. So, we start with trying to match ourselves in terms of professional success because by 30, our professions are a large part of our identities. Anyone who is as successful as us, is probably just as proud of where they have gotten in their lives, so if you are hoping to force-fit them into your families who is hoping to find you a “smart, modern, liberal thinking, yet homely” person, don’t you think you are going to find them to be “rigid”, “too feminist” or “not making an effort to get along with your family”?

Whether you like it or not, life is about trade-offs and we’ve all got to make them at some point. Being with someone who gives you a sense of achievement also means you both have very strong personalities and you are bound to run into disagreements, more likely on a daily basis but guess what? Making that work, embracing the challenge of convincing someone to see life your way, and agreeing to disagree is what will continue to give you a sense of achievement. Imagine if you were married to someone you never disagreed with, someone who would just listen to everything you said, and life was just too easy, would you enjoy that? Probably not.

You are in a market, this is an auction, and you only get something precious if you are willing to pay the price for it. Each of us has to figure out the price we are willing to pay and that’s what we are going to get. The big difference between a regular auction and a marriage is, you make a downpayment and have a recurring price to pay everyday of your marriage unlike in an auction. Sounds tough? Sorry boss, such are life. So, happy spouse-hunting and enjoy making your marriages work!

Temple Go-ers


After having lived in West London for nearly a year, we decided to go see South hall to belt some Punjabi food. As soon as we got out of the South hall railway station, we were surrounded by the whiff of mind-blowing food from the neighbouring Gurudhwara. We were no tempted to go inside and check if there’s food for non-Sikh people. We chickened out and made our way to this highly rated restaurant in the area which turned out to have the shittiest service I’ve seen anywhere till date.

Later I learnt that we could have very well gone to the Gurudhwara as there was free lunch being served to everyone. I also learnt about other temples and churches that dole out delicious free food to everyone. I learnt that there is a temple very close to where I live that serves delicious dinner as prasadam on Friday evenings and so we promptly headed there Friday evening. This temple is called Kanaga Turkai Amman kovil, and based on the misplaced ka and ga, I am guessing it’s of tamil origin. Everyone was dressing in very traditional Indian clothes, clad in jewellery, etc. I have never dressed up to go to a temple, so I felt a bit out of place here. I was constantly worried about getting caught. Caught for what, I am not sure.

People started reciting some shloka type thing from laminated sheets with English and tamil writing, that was being passed around to everyone. Sitting amidst all the unfamiliar chanting, I couldn’t help but think of what Yuval Noah Harari had to say about religion and how it is yet another imagined order. The way I’ve understood God, is that he/ she always existed, before all humans and before all animals. And most well respected temples back home are old very old temples that have existed from before our grandparents. Also, most of the time, there is a story like Old Rama stopped here on his way to Lanka, or Ravan dropped this Linga on his way from Kasi and so on, which makes the idol holier than a piece of stone some humans erected. The older the story, the more authentic the temple seems since more generations can vouch for its “powers”.

While finding directions to the temple, I read a review on google that said this temple is great because a lot of senior devotees come here. Now, this Ganesha in Ealing, did he come from India? How did he get past immigration? What visa is he on? How long has he been here? What are his powers? or do people just come here to feel a sense of community? I had so many questions, and I think I would have been more at ease if I knew the back story of this temple. Although, I was floored by these people who had left their lands (myself included), but brought their collective imaginations along.

All of us had our own reasons to be there, some to flaunt their jewellery, some to ask for happiness, some for the food, some out of practice, some to celebrate our collective imagination and some to just scream and run around like Berry. Ok, Berry wasn’t screaming but was surely running around some boy who was screaming and running to get her attention. These kids were truly having a good time, because how often do you scream and run around people who look familiar (people wearing saris and panches), without your parents constantly dragging you to behave in this country where manners matter more than feelings?

But as all good things have to come to an end, one elderly lady kept coming to us and asking us to control this boy who was screaming and running around. One, we didn’t know who this boy was, because his parents were no where in the scene and two, Berry didn’t quite fit the typical temple go-er profile, as it’s people like this lady (senior devotees who celebrate our imagined orders) who drive better google reviews for the temple, we decided to leave. No doubt, Berry screamed being tucked into the shackles of her carrier but stepping out made me break free from the shackles of a collective imagined order I no longer believe in.

P.S – I am not an atheist. I am not a non-believer of idol worship. I am just a sucker for stories. Thank you, Yuval Noah Harari for opening my mind, for allowing me to see the universe from a perspective I hadn’t known for over a third of my life.

Letters to my Berry#16


IMG_9191I remember vehemently arguing with Ajji that I would never fall in love with you like she did with Barbie or me, but with time I keep proving myself wrong. At 16 months, may be I like a little more than I’d like to confess? The thing about love is, you sign up to get hurt in return for love. That’s the problem I have with love. Does that make sense? Ok, I hope you read this at a point in life when this actually might make sense.

Your love for me at this point seems so unconditional (well, may be babies are designed this way so they are taken care of?), because every time you do something naughty and I say “No”, you get upset and cry, but the next second you want to come hug and cuddle. Now who wouldn’t melt to such things?! However, this month has been interesting because you save me the trouble of saying “No” by saying it yourself and also giving yourself a mini lecture in babbles when you realize you have done something naughty. So, I guess this means you have not only learnt to mimic my reactions but you can also anticipate them. I guess this is how you innovate in terms of melting people’s hearts.

You can says a few more things – “Barbie” with the r silent, which has obviously left your chikki super excited. You can also say what sounds like ABCD up till P after which you start clapping. You can also hum the Peppa Pig title song, because we make you watch it pretty often (unfortunately we have no creative ways to keep you engaged). The cutest thing has to be your ability to read books now – you mimic storytelling in babbles with a rhythm which is so incredibly cute. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to capture that on video yet.  You also keep saying “Daddy” despite appa and my best efforts to make you call him appa. Oh well, we don’t mind what you call us as long as you call us!

You make animal noises very cutely – cat, dog, sheep, tiger and frog. You can also how how babies cry and laugh (with actions). Now, it’s a tad bit weird when you keep making these noises on the tube, so I have found a new way to keep you busy on the tube – I have started teaching you body parts. So you can show your nose, eye (and say eye as well!), cheeks, chin, head and hand. You are still struggling  to show your mouth, but you’ll get there soon, don’t worry. I realize, you are able to learn pretty quickly in the last couple of weeks, so I know appa and I should be spending more time teaching you things when you are in the mood to learn of course. You can say some words that we teach you, and so the next step might be learning the ability to make associations about when to use them. Oh you already know how to use “so cute” very well because you compliment us whenever we put something on our head because in the past we have said so cute when we put a clip on your head.

You are so loving and it is very evident in your interactions with the friends we’ve had over the last couple of weekends. You are an absolute delight to be around for guests (ok, you are for us also, most of the time!) and that’s why we prefer to meet people at our house. Now, I have to give it to you that you let us have a great new year’s eve because we were asleep most of the time we were at the Khares letting us have fun without the responsibility of saving their house from your damages 🙂 When you woke up, you quietly had dinner, went to everyone who wanted to pick you up and then picked up your jacket and said good night to everyone indicating that it had to be the end of the night for us. Could we have asked for any better?!

In terms of food, you have acquired some new found love for doses, which is what you get for lunch on most days. You happily savour food all by yourself which makes our lives easier (except for us having to clean up the mess after, but trust me, it’s all worth it!) You like drinking water from adult water bottles (haha!). Your appetite has improved, and which also means you don’t go to bed without a good meal. This step changes take a while for us to notice, during which time we end up more sleepless nights because you wake up hungry often. Although we start with putting you in the crib at the beginning of the night, we end up making you sleep between us sometime in the middle of the night when you wake up crying. We are trying to make you be able to sleep better, with little success.

I would love to spend more time with you singing or dancing because I know you love doing both, but the days I spend with you are so busy for me since I need to manage the house, do office work and also keep all my weekend job deadlines. When I relax, I end up watching movies, but I would much rather do fun things with you than make you watch movies with me. I sometimes worry about the content that is going to shape your world view, since I must confess that I watch very weird things sometimes. But you know what, I also hate people who make excuses for not being able to do something that they want to and blaming it on time. So, I am sitting here in a cafe right now trying to finish off my writing work (not just this letter ok!) before I get home to play with you full day!!!

P.S – I forgot to mention that you like to sweep the floor with the broom, all the time and so I think you might have been a cleaner in your previous birth.

“Feeling” homeless

A couple of years ago, I was a resident of Spain (where I didn’t have a home anymore), working in Indonesia (living in an Airbnb) and trying to move to the US for an exchange program (where I was still looking for a house). I was in India for a two week holiday, and technically I should have felt home, on the contrary, I was feeling terribly unsettled for not being able to feel at home anywhere in any of the 4 countries at the intersection of which my life lay.

One of my friends thought it sounded like a first world problem, and may be it was, but a problem it was nevertheless. I was hoping it was a phase, and it would pass. Two years hence, I am once again at the same place. 10 months ago, I moved to London convinced that my real home was always going to be Bangalore despite remembering what my cousin-in-law had once told me about being abroad “As long as you think your home is back in India, you will never make an attempt to make a home outside, grow your social network and so on”. The thing is, for the longest time I believed that I could never live anywhere else but Bangalore, and so despite my best efforts, I can’t feel home anywhere but Bangalore.

I had booked my tickets to Bangalore within a couple of months of moving to London, and so you can imagine, the countdown to this trip felt like forever unlike the actual trip itself which lasted 12 days. I thought I was going to feel at home. I landed in Bangalore, and went straight home, or atleast what used to be home before I moved to London. Although it felt like I’d never left (thanks to my family back home who had helped maintain our house while we were away), I couldn’t feel at home. I thought it was jetlag. I was surrounded by all my close family and friends, shared every meal with someone or the other, yet something was missing.

This has got me questioning on what constitutes a home if not for the people who make up my life? Is it my room? Is it my desk? Is it a definite routine? Or is it just the simple belief that some place (any place really) is actually home? Growing up, every time I felt unsettled and needed a fresh start, I would want to skip school/ college, spend the day re-organizing my room and spending some quality time with myself, penning down my thoughts. I used to feel at home in the confines of my room, rather my solitude. Ever since I’ve been married, and more so since I’ve been a mum, I have traded the option of occasional me-time (in my own room) to being drowned in constant company (read shared bedrooms or study).

Now, while this seems like yet another first world problem, “me time” is super important for all of us, sometimes just to pause, reflect and so on. May be that’s why people have a prayer room instead, because it seems like a legit reason to not be disturbed?