[Photo credit - Nirmala Patil]
This year, on autumn’s first full moon, we’ll celebrate our daughter’s fifth birthday. Five years. How does one measure five years - of a child’s growing poetry, of a woman’s emotional motherhood, and their immeasurable days together? Outside as daylight silently fades leaving a darkening sky to wait for its moon, I hold my love up like a lantern and rummage through the drawers of my heart to gather five years worth of memories. Some of them are already yellowing at the edges, some other are loosing their colours; making the recollection of these fading memories somewhat bittersweet.
First, there’s a recent one. Of the whole of last summer capsuled in a single memory of one watermelon seed stuck on her bare stomach with juice - a black mole beside her laughing belly button.
Then there’s a memory deeply etched from her first year - of her soft sleeping form, with fingers curled, lips just barely parted, cheeks spilling over and sweat glistening on her forehead like morning dew on a carpet of grass.
In the garden, I am sitting on a bench under a tree shade with my camera resting by my side and a book in my lap that I keep opening and closing; to glimpse at her from time to time. As I read, the shadow of the mid-morning light dancing between the leaves above faintly tattoo my open page. Then I look up, and find her squatting over the stone-cobbled garden path, a found-chalk in hand busily drawing. I remember instantly picking up my camera and capturing the scene. The resultant pictures are still somewhere inside a folder on the computer, but the finer and fading details of that morning remain inside me.
It was a few mornings after my father passed away, I have a memory of the brightly mild December sun painted on her face as she played on our bed beside the eastward window. As if the colour of those mornings that came right after he left were gold, and the memory of her face - a golden reminder of those December mornings.
The fading scar on her left chest, from falling over my sewing machine when she had just begun walking.
There are also memories that are like glass bangles bundled in a paper. All of them of the same colour but glinting a little differently as they catch light at slightly different angles. Memories of all the mornings we spent in the balcony of our present home during our first year here are like those glass bangles, only glinting differently in different seasons; during the first warm months - sitting on our chatai reading books, gazing at clouds passing overhead, or watching the hills-cape with happy greedy hearts; during our first monsoon here - with wonderful thunderstorms and a game of spotting waterfalls coming down the hill; during all those autumn mornings, where the only thing she seemed to live for was to soak up the autumn sun as much as she could, lying on the floor and squinting into the blue-gold sky. As I revisit these memories, I’m thankful for the seasons - bookmarks helping me find so many cherished moments.
A mother’s hands have memories of their own. Mine carry in them memories of her growing weight. There’s one of her going up and down the slide in the garden. I do not remember what she was wearing, but I remember her sweat-kissed forehead as she came to sit by my side by the sandpit. I remember my hands instinctively wiping the sweat off her skin and my fingers combing through her damp hair inviting air between her wet strands. That memory of her moist long hair between my fingers still lingers there.
As more memories come to meet me in my heart, I begin to wonder what my daughter’s memories may be made of? What she’ll remember from these five years with me? Will she remember how I used kisses in lieu of bandages. Will she remember all the times I stopped to stare at the moss with her or gather flowers and seeds by the wayside forgetting minutes and people pass by? Will she remember how I was never part of the jolly group of mothers who often stood by the society corners easily chatting and laughing away? Will she remember my unideal and many-hued love - sometimes lush green, almost to the point of happy tears; other times an absent-minded mauve, as if lost in another world and loving from afar; and some other times stark, tender and all-forgiving as midnight?
Will she remember… or perhaps as she grows and blossoms, year after year, all her memories of these five years will grow faint and fade away, making way for new palettes? I sit thinking of this for a few more minutes. It will be a loss, not knowing her memories, but strangely it doesn’t feel like a loss. Slowly I return myself back to my own yellowing memories and hold them a little more closer. Against the blankness of hers, my fading memories in all their mortal loveliness feel like such special gifts. Sometimes what we cannot know can be a beautiful measure for all things immeasurable.
[Photo - Nirmala Patil]
He was coming home for the first time, to meet my parents. It was a windy June morning and I remember being drawn to the play of wind between the curtains, as I sat waiting for him in our small living room. And the very first thing I noticed when he arrived was how he’d made no effort to dress up or present himself to impress, just as he’d done when we first met each other. A little more piece of my heart was conquered by his continued honesty; for who he truly, plainly was. Minutes turned into hours as introductions were made, conversations flowed; like rain stream down a hill, and an unannounced relationship started sprouting between my parents and him.
Then we had lunch, which I’d specially prepared earlier that morning. But what we ate for lunch and every other detail about the day have come to be a blur in my mind, except for what unfolded right after lunch. And it makes me wonder if this is so because we tend to guard and devote our inner space, unbeknownst to ourselves, to only those thoughts and memories that are more precious, letting the rest fade away.
So what lingers inside me starkly from that afternoon are moments after lunch, when we sat down by ourselves, talking and touching each other with our thoughts, and he quietly brought out a package from his bag and offered it to me. A gift. Wrapped in khaki paper and secured with cotton string. Simple and unpretentious, like an echo of his own personality. A little more piece of my heart was conquered. And as I unwrapped the package, what lay inside waiting to become mine was something I’d never received from anyone else. A white Khadi sari speckled with gray leaf motifs. Soft to the touch and beautiful in its weave. Making its giver a special first in my life, not because it was unthinkably expensive or rare, but because among all the loving things I was gifted over the years by my family and friends, I’d never received a cotton (the only fabric I ever wear) sari in a colour I loved most before. This little act of knowing, so beautifully unsaid and un-underlined, seemed to have silently sealed us into a union that day.
And ever since, this tangible piece of clothing has carried in its folds such precious intangible memories. That a mere touch, wafts me away into that windy, balmy June afternoon a decade ago.
Now ten years later, well-worn and fraying around the edges, I still continue to cherish this gift like a treasure, drape it around me like our old song of growing love, and offer its memory here, as a souvenir to the warm-hearted campaign #storiesoflove* by Love the World Today.
*A thoughtful initiative against fast fashion and a sweet reminder to buy less and care more; thereby prolonging the value of all-things-we-own whether bought, gifted or inherited.
[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?