Muthi

May 29, 2020

Nov 2019

My darling grandma, “Muthi” as we lovingly call her. The sight of her lying all curled up in fetal position in the corner of her little cot. How things took a turn overnight.

Strange how somethings look as if completely untouched over decades and decades of passing time. The three lined basmam on her forehead. Her every day ritual after her prayers. She used to draw her fingers across. Her nose ring studded with stones that accentuated her beauty.

I force my eyes to scan around her tiny room as if trying to piece together the tapestry of my childhood. The familiar whirring sound of the old blue electric fan placed on the old, small wooden stool. But she preferred the good old veshari – the handmade bamboo fan, that sat neatly tucked in the rails of the wooden ceiling above her bed. Glancing at it, I was taken back to those days when she would constantly fan herself in the sweltering Kerala summer heat. The gentle, cool breeze would blow past me as I sat close to her, patting her round, soft, belly. Now, I sit quietly beside her, clutching her frail hands, patting her wrinkled hands to sleep. The hands that carried generations of babies, the hand that cooked many a warm meal, the hand that shared many a meal to many a person, the hand that visibly showed years of living, now all weary and wrinkled.

She spoke no word, had no slightest idea who I was. The brain stroke that plucked her memory. Memories of an entire lifetime. The same cot I used to spend many a childhood summer, she lies there battling life and death every single second.

Sleeping beside my Muthi was almost like my birthright amongst all the grandchildren. It was as if I was the chosen one. Muthi’s pet, yes. A little country blue shelf above her little bed, a bed that could barely accomodate two sleepers. The built in shelf that had neatly stacked bottles of her ayurvedic medicines, a small Vicks Vapor rub bottle. I remember before bed, she would religiously rub Vicks all over her like oil. It was almost a placebo effect for her. All aches and pains had one solution – Vicks vapor rub. I can still feel the smell and taste of Dashmularishta – the ayurvedic tonic that was supposed to take away all the pains. The dark brown liquid that tasted slightly bitter. A small plastic measuring beaker beside the bottle. I sometimes used to sneak and drink that too. It was a pain reliever after all, as told by my wise old Muthi.

My childhood summer was all about my Muthi and spending the entire 2 months at her house in Ottapalam, Kerala. It was like my childhood playhouse. The stuff that fairy tale books are made of. My home away from home. Surrounded by coconut trees, palm trees, the bharathpuzha river, the evening stories on the thinna(porch) facing the akkara hills and the river. Grandma’s house faces the train tracks and the river. Quite the sight. What more can a kid ask for? Waving to people traveling in the train was our favorite time pass.

There was never a dearth of food in my Muthi’s kitchen. She would start her day early in the morning. Never complained about her work. Before noon, her kitchen counter would be lined up with Mankalam(earthen clay pots) all filled to the brim with her tastiest mathi(sardines) curry, fish fry, kaya and pyr(banana and beans) upperi(dry roast), vellirika(cucumber) moru(yogurt) curry, chakka kuru kootan(jackfruit seed curry), my favorite dishes. She never once stopped me from constantly tasting the dishes each time I passed through the kitchen.

Villagers all around her flocked always to meet her, share their stories, their life problems. She listened to them like they were one of hers, she helped them like they were one of hers. Muthi always had a way with them, consoling them, always served them tea, food and some money. She never left them empty handed. The generous big heart that she had, she was always sharing whatever she had.

As a child, I used to love playing around the Kenareh(water well). Peeking into the well filled with fresh rain water. I would gently lower the steel bucket tied to the thick rope and pulley and gleefully lift the full bucket. The village ladies always came and filled buckets of water as Muthi’s well was always filled and she would allow the rest of the villagers to take it too. Generosity, yeah, she was so full of it.

Being the youngest and the naughtiest, I was almost always upto some mischief. Grandpa(Muthachan) was stern and he preferred the quiet kids over the active ones. When Muthachan napped, that was the time I felt released out of my leash. A curious child that I was, I was fascinated by the mud pots in Kerala. I would pretend carrying well water in those pots and would pretend to walk around like the village belles. I remember one of those afternoons, in the process, I broke the fragile mud pot as it slipped out of my arms. I remember feeling very nervous as it coincided with grandpa waking up after his nap only to see the mud pieces all over the yard. Now who better to come to my rescue? I hid behind the pallu(saree’s end) of my Muthi’s mundu(the white Kerala saree) as she came up with excuses without ever mentioning my name. My grandpa walked away grunting a little. And I remember feeling a heavy sense of relief. That was my Muthi, always covering up for me and my mischief. Years later, when my second daughter was born and I took her for a visit to India when she was about a year old, grandma looked at her running around and said Ninde athe kurumbu(She shares your same nature – mischief).

After a long day of playing around in the hot sun, Muthi would always feed us handmade evening snacks, never the store bought ones. She being the most active woman, insisted she did everything from scratch, used to pluck fresh cashew nuts from her backyard tree. Fry them on a deep wok right then and there in the backyard. The aroma was enough to awaken anybody’s senses. If not cashews, there were delicious mangoes or jackfruits all from her backyard.

A fearless woman that she was, no snake or stray dog would frighten her. Every evening we would walk with her through the fields in the village. A walking stick in hand, she would shoo away the stray dogs and even talk to the snakes. I regarded her as the Queen of the Jungle. Around her I felt no animals would dare to attack, I felt calm and brave.

She would take us to the river everyday for an evening bath. Armed with the Ayurvedic Chandrika soap, thorthumundu(cotton towels) and fresh evening clothes in hand, Muthi would guide us down the rocks and slippery slopes into the Bharathapuzha(river). She would blissfully mingle with the rest of the village ladies and children while we used to walk across the river feeling the ripples, the round pebbles and the wet sand slipping from under us. Something I looked forward to every summer evening.

And as the sun bid its goodbye every day, and the village began to become pitch dark, Muthi would sit on the front thinna(porch) and fill us with stories. Stories of villagers, stories of her life, stories of aunts, uncles and many generations. Fireflies illuminating the dark around us, crickets chirping, frogs crocking in the background, we sat there quiet, snuggled up to her and listened carefully with attentive ears.

As night fell upon us, I sleepily lay beside her in her bed cozily tucked away as another pleasant summer day passed on with her filling us with yet another cherished memory.

I stare back at my frail Muthi curled up in the tiny cot as all these memories flash by as if it was just yesterday. Our 100 year old mighty oak tree. My inspiration, my rock, my strength to face adversities with calm. Her fighting spirit within her thats pulling her beyond her years.

I dont like to end this note. As I feel she lives on forever.

Dec 29th 2019

In the wee hours of a cold December morning, the phone rings. I scramble out of bed asking my husband to quickly pick it up, telling it must be about grandma. Those odd hours always meant bad news. My fears were right. My sister called me crying aloud telling our darling Muthi was gone. I told her to please stay on the phone as I felt my body shaking and could mouth no further words. I spent the rest of the day pacing around, crying, reminiscing, crying.

I can feel her touch, her smell, her coziness, her comfort, her hugs, her smile, her question she always used to ask in the end of summer vacations as she sat on the backyard porch – “Inne yeppazha kaanah”(When will I see you again?). Now I ask that same question- Muthi when will I ever see you again?

My summers will never be the same. My Muthi’s house, my childhood playhouse will never be the same. My Muthi’s village will never be the same. But now, she is within me, deep inside. My every move, my every thought process will involve her, her voice guiding me, pushing me. My mighty force, my dear Muthi. She lives on forever within me now. Sleep in peace, Muthi.

 

Shattered – by sneha(9 years old)

May 29, 2020

My sister was born the day my mother died. The day we were left by our father. The day we were left to uncover secrets beneath the darkness. I was fifteen. My name is jessica jones.

Fast-forward five years. After living in a shelter for orphans, and taking care of my baby sister, I decided to get myself a job to get money for ourselves, as our father wanted me to do. My sister, judy, asked me a number of times where she was and whether her parents were going to come and get her. I could only answer “they are going on a business trip, and they will come back soon,”. Still, I was worried that she could be told the truth from other children, as they had experienced this too. I kept her away from other kids, as i thought she was too young to know.

Fast-forward another five years. I’m married and i have a decent house, and a good job as an engineer. One fine day in summer, my sister ran up to me, crying after a bad day in school. Apparently, a girl she was friend’s with had asked her why she had never seen her parent’s in school programs. Judy happily said that they were gone for a business trip. Her friend laughed and said that your parents are not considerate to think about you when they do this. Judy was deeply hurt. I kneeled down to her, and told her the truth of her childhood. She was shocked, and tears fell from our cheeks in rivers.

That was the hardest thing I’d ever done. breaking my sister’s heart, after she believed a protective lie, was not fun, believe me. it seemed that she would never get over the whole thing. soon she grew up, and now I had my kids to take care of too. we had raised enough money for Judy to go to college, and she thrived there. she was very bright, as we had realized. yet I was always afraid whether the pressure of her studies, and the news of her parents’ would upset her.  I decided to make calls to her every day, and she soon became better.

she had just graduated, when one of my kids, and my husband died, after both being diagnosed with cancer. the grief took me away to a world of pain, guilt, and regret. yet as small as she was, my sister was always there to comfort me when I would cry in the agony of reality. soon, I was better so we went on vacation. we went to Germany. this was where we were born. it was very emotional for me, seeing the orphanages, where we had been to. we traveled to a rural area full of arms and laughter. this was truly what in needed; happiness. we never did find why our father left us, and we figured that her must be long gone now, but I now realize, that my sister, bless her, has brought me to see the light of the day.

 

Shweta Arun Poems

May 4, 2020

Purple hand-print on a white wall
With a Mona Lisa smile on her face,
The scrawny teenage girl
With scraggly carrot hair
dipped her hand
into a bucket of purple paint
And, quite dramatically,
Slammed her hand
onto a freshly painted, white wall
It hurt a little,
But it was worth it.
She watched it drip for a while,
Then ran off
To conquer new lands.
———————————/—//——————

The young man with a pink shirt,
Face obscured by shadows,
Felt the cold creeping down his neck
As he leaned against the steely gray wall
With faded graffiti scrawled across.
His blue hair fell into his eyes,
As he watched the children play in the park
And the adults,
Dressed in 100 shades of black and white,
Heels clicking on the stony pavement.

———————————/-/-

Shweta Arun Poems

May 4, 2020

Rainfall and nightfall
By Shweta Arun

Gold and silver
Mixing, melding, mingling
The glowing gold of steady lights peering through darkness
The shimmering silver of wet bullets cascading through cold air

And me.

Standing in midst of it all
Watching the universe unfurl from under a synthetic shelter
Man’s mountains scraping the sky
Nature’s tears pooling on cement

The roar of the pour
Harmonizing with the the roar of engines and rubber on wet ground
But they are distant
And I am here, watching, listening.

Cold water kissing the cold pavement
Drop by drop, square by square
The world plummets around me like a waterfall
Colors are melting, blurring, dripping, like wet paint

And all I see is gold and silver
Mixing, melding, mingling

Free

November 12, 2019

Pray free me from these confining shackles
Shackles that bind me to you, my love.
I cherish you, but bind me not so tight

Untie those tight knots
Breathe I would, a little easier
See I would, what the world has in store.

Unveil the world that is beyond the blue horizon
Demystify the world that’s all obscure and darkened now
Arouse to experience the resplendent life across.

Pray free me so I can wander off
Carelessly like a paper boat propelling
Along the gentle ripples of the stream.

No direction, no destination, no rules
Unchained, blissful,
Not a care in the world.

Braving the storm, the cold, the heat, the dust.
The boundless days, boundless nights.
Each day unfolding a new venture.

A day the cold winds might quiver my lips,
A day the mighty wind might blow my tresses all over my eager face.
A day the blazing sun might radiate its forceful rays on my tender cheeks,
A day the torrential rain might gleefully beat down on me.

Through it all,
I can hear me squealing with childlike delight
I can see my feet dancing incessantly
I can feel my body swaying in unison
I tightly clasp to my bosom what freedom has to offer.
The sense of liberation, oh so gratifying
Not a care in the world.

All along, I gently whisper to the wind,
Make no stop, make no turns,
Keep carrying me wherever you so desire to lead me.
For in you I trust the path,
I trust the journey.

So my love, Pray don’t douse my fervid desire.
To be one with the wind,
Aimlessly floating alongside.

Today, I implore you,
I squall as I try to wriggle out of these tight shackles.
I vehemently protest.
Pray open your shut eyes, your closed heart, your rigid mind
Pray just free me.

In return, today, I give you my truest word.
I will be back.
I will be back, my love.

A new me.
Enriched, enlightened, alive
Start afresh shall we?
A new tone, a new touch, a new phase
Bind me not so tight my love.

-By Shanthi Arun.

 

Deepavali memories

October 18, 2017

Deepavali memoriesA misty, moisty morning here. Memories galore retracing me to my roots, my home. Missing my home sweet home in Coimbatore, missing my Deepavali. Thoughts flood from my cherished childhood, way past but never forgotten.

Indian October, November the months that bring the whiff of cool air and dense fog, a sought after relief after the scorching summer months. As a kid, arranging the villakus(lamps) prudently along the exterior walls of the house, the slanting rooftops, checking on it a gazillion times to make sure it shines through brightly, lest the darkness not take over.
Dreams halted mid way, excitedly waking up early to the sound of crackers bursting through the dawn. The aroma of sweets and savories filling the house. Growing up in Tamil Nadu, Deepavali(as it was called in the South) was indeed a grand celebration. Through the cloudy air and smell of burst crackers we greet neighbors who after their special Deepavali oil baths seemed to shine a little extra, all for the day. Happy Deepavali we shout from across, our voices burying amidst the pandemonium of all those crackers. Neighbors knock on doors and we exchange sweets. All decked in their fine pattu pavadas, gold jewels and veshtis. Dried fruits and nuts were a yearly once, fine package that we kids awaited with pleasure. Not to mention the bright, varicolored sweets neatly tucked in colorful little boxes. Mum’s coconut barfis were the ones i was really drawn to. The coconut and the Mallu in me. The way she used to diligently and patiently pack the murrukus and sweets in round, steel dabbas to distribute it to the neighbors. The constant reminder to bring back the dabba to fill for the next neighbor and the next and the next. I used to dutifully wait till the neighbor Aunties used to empty the dabbas and fill it with a sweet or two again. This walking back and forth went on the whole day all the while carefully avoiding to step on some half burst cracker that could burst anytime. I remember my sister was a hard to find creature during this day. I always used to end up catching her in some dark corner munching on the gulab jamuns. She just couldn’t resist those perfect round, deep fried, golden balls of deliciousness. That once a year binge party that she entitled herself to.
Night falls but the skies were kept illuminated with more crackers. The ones that i most remember were the flower pot crackers, snake crackers that spew out this dark, black ash shaped like a snake hissing out of its pit, chakra crackers, and the petite red, round ones you would incessantly hit with a stone. Ah the feeling when you finally see the spark, hear the sound and manage to save your finger. A long day with a myriad of memories stacking up and lights filling up our homes and hearts.
Who knew one day far across i would recall these fondly to my kids. And as i recall, i realize more and more that Deepavali meant much more than just a yearly festivity, it was a celebration of gatherings, of joy, of laughter, it had that strong essence of togetherness.
Now before i get all misty eyed, i am going to take this misty, moisty morning as a symbol of burst crackers in the early morning air, a way to trace back home. One small way to keep the spirit of my Deepavali memories alive perhaps?

 

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December 4, 2006

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