Somedays, I go for solitary morning walks wrapped in my shawl.
The winter garden is faded with fog
and the wind among the branches
of the wayside trees is solemn and still.
I slip out of my kolhapuris
and walk barefoot on the dew-bathed grass.
Cold slowly starts to seep into me,
making me one with the wintry earth.
High on the trees, some birds begin to sing.
I take a deep breath and exhale,
the evidence of being alive comes out of my mouth
as a visual breath, like a cloud.
[Photo credit - Nirmala Patil]
Once again, it is that time of the year… for genda (marigold) torans to brightly gleam on doorways, kitchens to puff up with the scent of homemade mithai (sweets) and namkeen (savouries), for the sweet chaos of shopping new clothes and gifts, for thousands of earthen diyas (lamps) to light up these last autumnal nights, and to make merry with family and friends. But it is also that time of the year where age-old traditions get seamlessly inherited by young ones, and old memories merge into new.
All the Diwalis of my childhood come huddled to meet the Diwalis I now celebrate with my own child. The old images I have in my mind of my father dressed in his white kurta pyjama stirring milk to make kheer in a large brass utensil on our Diwali mornings slowly renews into a newer image in my daughter’s mind as she sits on the kitchen counter watching me stir the cardamom-scented milk. The soft weight of gendas as I held their garlands in my little arms while my father hung them over our shop shutter is now transferred into my daughter’s five-year-old palms as she picks them up one by one from the basket and offers them to me to string into a garland.
Each year, as I watch more and more of my Diwali memories reshaping to become my daughter’s, I’m made acutely aware of the change in the landscapes of both our childhoods. Where during my times, wearing new clothes and receiving gifts on Diwali were truly special as they were decidedly annual affairs, perhaps besides birthdays. Today, neither wearing new clothes nor receiving gifts are exclusive to Diwali, thus, diluting their specialness. Then there’s the tradition of homemade festive snacks that are mostly, for convenience’s sake, replaced by store-bought treats, thus, making the festivities less intimate. The simplicity and richness of my old Diwali seems to be updated by the glamorous and expensiveness Diwali of today. And this withering of what was once both gratifying and deeply meaningful into something one-dimensional and overstimulating, bothers me and urges me to reconsider how we’d like to celebrate Diwali with our daughter this year and for years to come.
To begin with, maybe being a bit mindful of ‘what’ we’d like to fill-up our children’s festive memories with, can be a good gift to give them this Diwali. Choosing a signature family tradition like - partaking in the ritual of abhyanga snana first thing on festival mornings, or sitting with children stringing gendas to make garlands for doorways, or indulging their playful assistance in home-making simple festive snacks, or taking time to hand-roll cotton wicks to light earthen oil lamps; all of them can bring us together as family and stamp strong visual motifs in our little ones’ hearts. Instead of flooding them with excessive gifts, it maybe a valuable alternative to offer experiences through trips to natural environments, museums, libraries, national parks or ancient monuments. And in lieu of an evening spent bursting crackers, it maybe a more eco and friendly thought to invite our house-help and her children for an evening feast; not to teach our children how to treat her kindly but to show them how to treat her equally.
Maybe with these small, mindful ways we can choose joy over glamour this Diwali and help shape our children’s festive memories into a sweet thing of meaning and beauty.
[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.