Category Archives: Family

Caesars.

I urge any of you reading this who love me even a little bit: Get me a puppy(I am looking at you, H)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved dogs. I’ve basked in borrowed pride when I was told the stories of my father caring for both a cat and a dog decades earlier. Growing up, I’ve wanted to bring home every puppy I saw on the streets. That this never happened, not once, didn’t deter me one bit. I still look at every pup I see, homeless or not, with a slight wistfulness and wish that I could take it home.

The first dog about whom I heard a bunch of stories was of course, Caesar the first. This was the stray that dad picked up somewhere. Caesar would apparently eat curd rice (he’s definitely not the first Indian dog to do so). He would leave our home when he pleased to loiter about and return when he was hungry. He would run behind my dad every time dad left. He slept in dad’s bed. Hearing many stories about this dog fondly recollected, made a big impression on me. We had a bunch of dogs after that. As a child, I remember Lassie, who gave us five puppies (two were given to the postman and two for us. My brother (I think?) named them Caesar (the second) and Brutus.) The fifth pup I really wanted to keep also, but here my parents drew the line. I had even named him “Roger”, in my optimism that having him named would mean I get to keep him. The gardener took Roger home. Later, we had Caesar the third. I really wanted to name this one “Alex” or “Max”. I remember a pure white puppy with no tail, Simba, that was with us for a very short while. My insistence on these Western names came from my then-preoccupation with Enid Blyton novels (where a Roger always showed up, seems like). I suspect Alex/Max were inspired by some books as well but I do not remember which. Either ways, our gardener (and grandfather-figure to me that I’ve written about previously), Perumal thatha, couldn’t say “Alex” OR “Max” at all. I tried to to teach him these names, but “Alec” and “Mac” were the most he could pronounce in this strange new language. It must have been no small torture to him, having a bossy little girl asking him to repeat “Alex” over and over again. He humored me for a while, but in the end I gave up in the end and we named this puppy Caesar as well. This was also when I realised that every dog we have from now on would be named Caesar.

Cheechu

This Caesar was a little dynamo. He was a scrawny little thing but had a massive amount of energy. His favorite activity involved running circles around me, on our patio, at great speed until I couldn’t follow him with my eyes any more. The little idiot would run and run until he collapsed, exhausted and jubilant, at my feet, waiting to be congratulated. You couldn’t help but be totally conquered by this mad abandon. This absolute and complete surrender. I loved him to bits, and have never experienced such a display of exuberance before or after. When you have a dog, even returning home from the store becomes a matter of great celebration. You are welcomed with such joy, homecomings are never the same after that. He loved grapes, and I would sneak out routinely, feeding him sweet, cold grapes.

My grandmother was scared of dogs. But that changed one night, during Diwali. He was terrified that night, with all the fireworks and noise and smoke around him. He crept underneath chairs and would lie there, trembling, not eating, not moving. None of us knew what to do, and really, there isn’t any way you can muffle the noise that happens during the week of Diwali. Suddenly, he shot up and ran to where my grandmom was seated, and hid under her chair. She was mostly blind by this time, but could tell that there was a scared dog at her feet. She bent down and reached out to him and patted his head. I will confess that though he had never hurt any of us, I was afraid for her that moment. I didn’t know how he might react to her, shaken as he was. But he let her pat him awkwardly for a few moments and she relaxed around him. Perhaps he relaxed too. From that day on, she lost her fear of dogs and would pet him happily every now and then, calling his name again and again. Somehow, he had managed to win over someone with decades of fear for dogs.

It’s more than a decade since this memory. And now we have yet another Caesar. Cheechu. This one was brought home one day by my cousin, a tiny little fawn colored pariah dog that has won my mother’s heart the same way his predecessor won her mother’s heart. He’s five years old now, a strapping dog that hates being left alone, that bristles at the mere sight of someone outside our gates, that goes mad with joy when he sees us all. He’s a beauty.

 

Cheechu
Posing

Sitting here in my apartment in the US, I wish for a dog sometimes. If I do get one, I know that it will be a much different experience from the many dogs I have known back home in India. I don’t know the first thing about caring for one, here, alone. Especially without Perumal thatha who could only say Caesar. But dogs once loved leave a very strong imprint behind. Perhaps the H, who has never had a dog (nor wants one, in honesty) and I will get to share this experience in our future someday.

Friends

I’ve never found it easy to make friends. Almost every kid who grew up watching the show Friends has longed for ones like that, as have I. Since my wedding consisted of a small and intimate gathering of people, I had to pick specifically whom to invite, saving the bigger list for the reception party. This was not at all a tough choice to make, as I realized there were but a handful of people I needed there at that ceremony. Perhaps by the time people hit their latter twenties, this is a common enough event. The number of friends steadily dwindles down and you’re left with a handful that will remain yours for a lifetime. And most of these people, I’ve known for a long time. New friends are fewer and getting fewer still, it seems.

I’ve lived in three cities for a significant time period each and I have dear friends from each. This latest phase, this post-wedding life, will be a year old very soon (How did that happen!) and I am only just beginning to find people here that could become important to me. You know how it is. How you meet some people at a party or dinner, and you begin talking and discover many shared interests. Which then serve up so many avenues for future conversations. Then they’re added to your Facebook, the obligatory mutual liking of pictures, posts and updates follow, then perhaps texting. There’s a pattern that is obeyed almost always, this steady progression of events. Then, usually, a big nothing.

Almost all of us have grown up having a rather large bunch of friends, of which there are definitely some whom your parents (or an older brother, perhaps?) disapprove of. I sure have! It’s mildly funny now to recall some conversations that have come up due to this. But the number of people I talk to and share with on a regular basis has been steadily decreasing for a while now, and I can see this happens to almost everyone. For some of us, our bonds with family become stronger as we grow older.

Sometimes Facebook can make it seem like you’re the only person who doesn’t make friends effortlessly wherever you go, but FB is the lens through which people wish others saw them. Spend too much time on FB and no matter who you are and what your life may be like, you end up with a vague dissatisfaction that is born from too much social networking. Sometimes I don’t know why I am still on that site, as it has nothing to do with any of the enduring friendships I enjoy. For every friend I have, we’ve bonded over a single conversation that goes beyond a simple discussion of likes or opinions or things like that. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact nature of this, but there has been one exchange that has turned an acquaintance into something more. It’s when they, or I, have shared something that just unlocks a friendship for us. Perhaps it is this way for everybody, I am not sure. But for me, it can be no other way.

This post came about from a conversation I had with the H this week about how our parents would’ve been when they were 30 and 28, our ages. For one, they were already parents by this time. And we couldn’t imagine them at that age or now, spending too much time thinking about social relationships the way that me or my contemporaries do. They have deep bonds with their friends as well, but with a lot less talking, meeting, and planning than our current relationships entail. It’s another one of those things that has changed irreversibly between their generation and mine.

Women and Traditions; Happy.

It’s not even 5 pm yet and the sun will set soon. The days are shorter, colder, whiter (yes!) and beautiful. Every evening the H stomps his way home, all tall and cold and trailing snow on the carpet. And it doesn’t seem to matter because it’s snow. Christmas is nearing and this time of year reminds me of Eliyamma aunty. Every year, for as long as I can remember, we’ve feasted on her plum cakes. This is a tradition beloved in Kerala, the Christmas plum cake. Rich and crumbly crust, baked a beautiful brown, studded with raisins and nuts and candied peel, these cakes do not contain plum at all but are known by no other name. We’d wait, all of us, for aunty to finish her marathon baking sessions for a taste of the best homemade cake I’ve had.

Last year, she passed her recipe to me when I asked. Mom woke me up so early that morning, and I went groggy, book in hand, to a warm house bustling with activity. There it was in the centre, a big urli, Sanu anna was stirring it gently, mixing the flour. Aunty was calling out instruction after instruction, Pappa walking back and forth, checking, correcting. Julia, Joanna watching TV, as yet unaware of the lovely tradition they were passively witness to, Sibi aunty smiling indulgently at Sanu, making jokes. I sat there for around two hours, watching the lovely alchemy of flour and egg and sugar turning into fragrant cake. The recipe I wrote down then is my most scratched, corrected one. Everyone offered me suggestions and corrections and tips to bake it the ‘perfect’ way. They shared generously, happily.

This is a generosity all women I know share.  Sharing this wisdom earned over years of experience, their own and others’. They pass it on, and I am lucky to know many women who have. My mother taught me everything I know about caring, be it for a person or a home or myself. My aunt taught me what the ‘unconditional’ in unconditional love means. Another aunt taught me by example just how undefeated it is possible to be. Raman aunty taught me music and so much more.

I don’t know if it’s because I am newly married and away from home, but their lessons trigger memories quite often. There are very few days, if at all, where I am not reminded of something my mother says or does, which in turn likely was something her mother used to say. A particular turn of phrase, even a turn of wrist while flipping a dosa in the kitchen. It might be as simple as me being homesick at certain times, but I am sure it is more than that. Every woman is shaped most by the older women in her life. They leave bits and pieces of themselves in her. She collects and stores these carefully, watching them grow and age with her. Their legacy never really goes away, even if it’s source might be forgotten eventually.

Next week, I will begin my own annual tradition at home and use the recipe Eliyamma aunty shared with me.

Of dads and grace

Last week, the H and I were both miserable with runny noses and itchy throats and all the ickiness that comes with a cold. I felt like a half-drowned kitten for the most part, and he wasn’t much better. Though the memory of a body without pains and aches seemed far far away at the time, as all colds go, so did this one. A morning finally came when we woke up as ourselves. I tend to go overboard in my complaints when I fall sick, which I do rarely (the falling sick part. Obviously).

Later that day, I got to thinking about my dad. My dad has had diabetes for decades now. In fact, he’s had it for all my life. So I grew up watching him not partake of the desserts that lined our tables on special occasions. I also watched him take small portions sometimes. I grew up watching my mum use the smallest amount of oil possible while cooking, watched her make a sugar-less version of everything that was possible to tweak in this manner for him and make full, rich versions for the rest of us, and I grew up eating salads and greens much, much more than the average kid.

All this has helped me enormously with my own food choices and with what the H and I put on our plates every day in our home. What I do not know if I have also imbibed with these habits, is my father’s stoicism. I grew up a happy kid, aware of his diabetes but never knowing or seeing the fear it generates even today amongst others. He didn’t let it adversely affect life more than it had to, and totally shielded us from it. This is a common thread that runs through most of them from his generation, their quiet strength. I have seen it mirrored in the attitudes of beloved aunts and uncles who share this with him too.

I have heard many times, and seen some times, that when you are beset by something unfortunate, whether or not it is of your own doing, most of the time, you will gain a grace that previously you did not possess. I have also seen people crash spectacularly when things didn’t go too well for them. But mostly what I have seen is grace. It is a quiet grace, upon which the weight of weighty matters seems to rest easily.

I read a magazine snippet this morning that left me shaken. The recently elected President Mugabe of Zimbabwe is alleged to have remarked that people who cannot stomach his win, supporters of his opponent, “can commit suicide”. This is a man who will rule over the entire nation, and not simply the people who voted for him. This is a head of a state. Political ideology has become a deeply personal issue. Everything is taken as an offence, an insult, an affront. Everything is personal.

Almost everywhere I look, I hardly see traces of it. Where is grace?