A daughter’s memory of her father’s slow-cooked kheer

A daughter’s memory of her father’s slow-cooked kheer

Rain clouds have emptied themselves, returning the sky to a washed, bright blue hue. Dragonflies fill the air and the unmissable saffron of genda (marigold) flowers sitting in wicker baskets on roadside stalls beckon the most-awaited festival of autumn - Diwali. 

As the moon wanes into amavasya in the night sky preparing for the luminous festival, the memory of my childhood Diwalis come to mind. As a little girl, after I’d bathed and dressed for the festivity, the first scene in the morning that welcomed me every year when I entered the kitchen was my father in his crisp, white kurta pyjama squatting in front of an old kerosene stove. 

Summer, a one word poetry

Summer, a one word poetry

Summer, a one word poetry
[Photo - Nirmala Patil]
Summer, like one word poetry, stirs so much in the heart. It comes, making its intense presence felt in its very coming. Nothing about this season spells subtlety. Mornings feel like the kindling of a fire, noons are fierce and parching, even the evenings and nights are unruly, furling earth’s dust in their wake. But they’re kinder than the day. And fleur-scented. I love summer’s abundance of flowers and the peals of laughter that fill the air as little children frolic outside all day and late into the night. It always brings back my own childhood summers. Of long school holidays spent wandering with friends and playing in aangans (tree-lined courtyards), hot afternoons relishing melons and mangoes, freshly plucked guavas and berries, and painting our tongues and fingertips purple with wild jamuns. Of going to summer fairs, visiting the zoo and having picnics in the park. Of eating ice creams and sweet dripping popsicles wearing summer flowers in our hair, taking up small jobs of making paper envelopes from used book pages for local shopkeepers to earn a little and save for the coming school year, and every night dining under starlit skies and ending our days with songs and stories.
I wish such summers for my daughter too; wild, carefree, brimming with friends and amidst the heart of nature. Nevertheless, I’m aware of its rarity in today’s world. Although children still flock outside more this time of the year, playing extensively and making the most of their end-of-the-school-year holidays, summer feels a little bland without its many-hued indulgence. Instead of whiling away most of their precious, untethered summer hours in front of the screen or wandering aisles in city malls playing electronic games and eating fast-foods in over-crowded food courts, I wish we could see more of our children playing hopscotch by the wayside or sitting under the shade of a tree making a sticky mess from a ripe mango. I wish we could reintroduce our young ones to traditional homemade refreshments, fragrant of summertime, like nimbu pani (Indian lemonade), chaas (spiced buttermilk), lassi (sweetened yogurt drink), shrikhand (strained yogurt desert), aam panna (raw mango sherbet), kulfi (frozen dairy desert) and falooda (sweet basil seeds and rose syrup drink); letting them help us cut fruits and stir as we make, in lieu of store bought aerated drinks and processed treats. And instead of frequenting cafes and restaurants, I wish we could gift our children habitual visits to the parks and gardens, have afternoon picnics on the grass and alfresco dinners under the canopy of stars. 
Summer… the season of blossoming branches, bees and butterflies, of flower-carpeted grounds, of long light-filled days to make merry with family and friends, of sweet-nectar fruits, of waking up to the song of the morning birds, and sometimes, if the sky’s in the mood, of summer storms anointed with rainbows to look forward to. Isn’t it a glorious picture to behold? A perfect antidote to the season’s unforgiving heat. The very thought of it comes to echo in me the notes of a koel (Indian cuckoo) singing from the deep shade of a neem tree and leaves me yearning to initiate my four-year old into the art of making summer memories. So this year and in the summers to come, there will be an abundance of seasonal fruits to stain her hands and heart, summers flowers to perfume her tresses, picnics with friends and dinners in the balcony drinking in the far-scented evening breeze. We will be splashing in the pool, gathering fallen flowers from bejeweled trees, going on evening rides to watch summer sunsets and savoring unthinkable amounts of nariyal pani (tender coconut water), and when night falls, we’ll garnish our brimming day with a sweet dose of storytelling.
What memories do summer awaken in you? And how do you hope to guide your children to live and celebrate its poetry to the fullest?
[Nirmala Patil]
New born mango leaves and You

New born mango leaves and You

[Photo - Nirmala Patil]

It’s the first day of phalguna, the last month in the Hindu lunar calendar. she comes running to me in the kitchen and taking me by my hand, she ushers me to the balcony and exclaims excitedly pointing her finger towards a lone mango tree faraway on the hill, ‘ma look, there are new leaves being born on that mango tree! It means it’s soon going to be spring, isn’t it?’ Such a small observation, but when my little girl of four makes it, I’m filled with joy and sweet pride. Because this is the kind of relationship with nature I’ve always hoped to cultivate in my daughter. The kind where she can learn to understand it’s language and realise that life is most beautiful when lived embracing nature. Especially in our present world that desperately needs us to care and retrace our unmindful ways.

And as we attempt to mend our damaging habits with simple sustainable practices, it is deeply essential that we raise our children with the same thoughtful awareness. And this, I believe, is only possible by encouraging and nurturing a genuine love for nature in the heart of our little ones. As an urban family living in the thick of high rises (as I think would be the case of many families dwelling in cities), bringing in nature inside our home and lifestyle has been the most organic way of sowing that seed of love into the core of my daughter’s being. 
Even if only limited to visiting a society garden, or simply wandering the tree-lined streets in the locality, here are a few gentle rituals we’ve included in our everyday that helps engage our little girl with nature. 

Outdoor play
Making regular trips to the playground and letting her play and frolic among the green and growing things is an intrinsic part of a her small world. The wind in her hair, the grass under her feet and mud between her fingernails are not only health boosting and a fun way of introducing good bacteria into my child’s system, but is also the most organic way of nurturing a growing friendship between her and the natural world. 

Seasonal walks
Going on slow seasonal walks is both educating and therapeutic to a child’s mind. We go in search of frogs and moss in the rains, and look for pale new shoots sprouting through the earth during springtime. As my little girl observes and takes note of all the changing details, her inherent curiosity is beautifully exercised too. Carrying a basket or a cloth bag on our walks to gather and bring home an abundance of nature treasure is always an additional delight. Older children can also be encouraged to bring along a camera or book to document/journal findings. 

Nature corner
Creating a small dedicated place either by a corner, windowsill or a table space can be a lovely way of letting our children display their gathered nature treasures and engage in creativity. An assortment of pebbles, seed pods, feathers and fallen leaves arranged by little hands makes for a happy, colourful art on our nature window. And it inspires hours of imaginative play indoors.

Tiny garden
For our little ones, having a tiny garden of their own to tend to is something quite special. Be it a small patch on the balcony, a dedicated container/tray growing a few easy to tend plants, or only a single pot, it a most intimate and tender way of teaching them to care. We recently gifted our daughter a succulent. And every time watching her excitedly watering and holding conversations with it, is a thing of joy. 

Nature gifts
Learning to create with natural things and giving it as gifts to others will perhaps be the fundamental of all the environmental friendly things our children will grow up to do all throughout their lives. Leaf and rock painting, weaving floral garlands and wreaths, making pressed flower cards for friends and family, however imperfect are all small acts of thoughtful creating and giving. Encouraging this, gives them the right roots early on.

Outside on the hill, as those new born leaves herald spring and a sweet anticipation for the coming mango season, inside our home, and I hope in every home, our little ones are  blossoming into nature lovers and learning to live an echo-rich life.

[Nirmala Patil]
A mother cuddling her baby

Here's a small wish for you....

A mother cuddling her baby

As bed time nears we have a negotiation ritual each day.

‘Mama can we please have one story today?'

And as I am a little strict about A sticking to her bed time each night, some days I have to decline. She is getting better at her negotiation skills though. Last night she said, “You know, right? I will not always ask you to read me a story and I will not always need a torch light, I will grow up some day”


With THAT dialogue and some drama not only did she manage one, but two stories from me!  

When I look back now, I realise I have actually learnt a lot from her in the last five years. Today being Children’s day, it just seems like the perfect opportunity to thank her for this gift of motherhood and a lot more. 

So here's a letter to you dearest A,

Thank you for all the little things you have made me relearn over the last few years! 

  • To wake up with a smile- Right from the way you wake up each morning with a big smile on your face and so much cheer, and no agenda really:), makes me realise we must slow down and enjoy each day as it comes. Smile and spread the cheer. Each day is a new day and we need to start afresh without carrying any baggage from the day that went by! 
  • To value the small things in life - The way you tell me your endless tales each night right before sleeping - makes me realise the little little things that are so important for you. You make me want to pay attention to all the small things and the little conversations I have around me. 
  • A lot of patience, A LOT! - Well, your endless conversations that happen at your sweet (read: very slow) pace have made me very patient too! 
  • The ability to laugh unfettered - Laughing at the silliest of things and being unfettered and not just be able to do this after downing 3 glasses of wine! :P. Laugh as though no one's watching you :) 
  • Being kind - The other day when I came back home, this little one left a note on the fridge for her nanny saying that she missed her and was glad she is back from her leave. She also said I love you didi. Made me realise how important it was to express how you feel towards other people. We rarely get the time to tell others how we feel these days! Leave aside just expressing how much you love them. I hope you never stop saying goodbye to me each morning with a small kiss and that sweet I love you mama! That truly makes my day.
  • To be happy, joyful and excited about every thing you do. Even a mundane task like cleaning up or laying the table is done with much enthusiasm. You make me see the joy in doing the most mundane tasks. 
  • Learning to express my feelings. How you feel about things around you, about things you felt bad, about things you enjoyed each day. About the laughter you shared with your friends or the joy you had in playing a prank! Being able to express what you are feeling and voice it out is something I have learnt from you!
  • To be inquisitive. The whys can be annoying at times, am sure all moms will agree. But it’s amazing how you will always ask me things you don’t know and not be ashamed of how silly the question might be! 
  • To go that extra mile for my friends. Childhood and friendships are precious. I think as we grow we become these humans who are so absorbed in their life between work, home and kid. Thanks to you, I would have reconnected with a couple of my older friends and may be made that effort to pick up the phone and make that pending conversation.
  • Letting go! This one I still need to master :). I think with the ease I ask you to let go of that Elsa doll at the toy shop or the little pony, I too should train my self to let go that one dress I really want :D

Well, the list will go on! But here’s a small wish for you on this special day, I hope your life turns out to be such, that each day you get to do something that makes your heart sing!