Growing up, my parents enforced pretty strict bed times. Obviously, my brother and I didn’t adhere to it. My father is in business and followed the entrepreneurial rule book of having no set schedule. Most days he would return home hours after we were asleep. My mother would stay up until the wee hours of the night waiting for my dad. She would entertain herself by watching TV. Those days (the nineties) were the early days of cable in India. Cartoon Network, Star Movies and HBO were considered a luxury, a luxury we begged our parents to install.
The Cartoon Network of yore had amazing content. Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, Swat Cats, my brother and I ingested these cartoons with a fervor. But only until 9 PM. After nine, Cartoon Network became TCM and stayed that way until 6 in the morning.
Every night after turning off the lights and making sure we were asleep, my mother would sneak into the living room like a cat, turn on the TV and watch whatever movie was playing at the time on TCM. Like a switch that went on, I would wake up the minute I heard the TV although the volume was barely audible. I’d quietly sneak outside my bedroom and hide behind the wall of the living room. From that vantage point I watched as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and all these other marvelous stars sashayed their way through movies that were pure magic. Mom was aware of my antics for every now and then she would call out to me asking me to return to my bed. But as the years passed, and as I grew older I earned a place sitting beside her as we watched numerous classic films. Like all good things, the reign of TCM ended and it was Cartoon Network 24/7.
I outgrew cartoons during this period and turned my sights to renting DVDs of old movies. We spent entire summers watching movie after movie gawking at artistic gowns and suave actors. This is why I love classic films. Not just for the interesting story lines, brilliant dialogues and the charming men who fuel my dreams, but for the warmth these memories bring me.
During my time exploring the Bay Area I happened to come across Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto. The theatre consists of just one screen (unheard of these days) and an organist who plays prior to the evening shows. The corridors are adorned with vintage film posters and a large popcorn is only $2.50.
Every year they have an Alfred Hitchcock film festival and this year it’s happening right now. Yesterday, I watched Suspicion for the first time and I am still reeling from Joan Fontaine’s evening coat.
Late last year when I visited Madras I was unable to stuff everything I wanted to in my suitcase. Hello, baggage restrictions, I hate you. Added to this, my tailor stitched my clothes in time so I left with a promise from my mother that she would send the remaining items through courier? Post? I don’t know whats the difference, but through one of them.
A few weeks later she messaged me saying she had sent the package. I was to expect it in three days – Monday, and I was super thrilled. Monday, Tuesday… Thursday and my package still had not arrived. I panicked (of course) and tracked my package online only to see that tracking showed that someone named ‘Fred’ had received and signed for it!
Immediately, my mind (I have an over active imagination) went wild. I had visions of Fred- a thirty something, portly, brown haired American wearing my precious salwars prancing around his home, amused at how “exotic” he looked. I was palpitating while I called customer service. A nice lady calmed me down and helped me through the process, promising me that they would “investigate” and retrieve my package. I just prayed that Fred would return my clothes without any arm pit stains on them.
A week went by and I got a message saying there was an issue with the address but I should expect my package soon. Again, I decided to track it online and saw that ‘Vega’ had received and signed for it! Vega that Russian lady with the bad dye job! She had her scrawny fingers around my clothes. I had to call customer service again and tell them that no, I’m not Vega; no, I don’t know anyone called Vega and yes, I’m sure she isn’t my neighbor. Are you 100% sure? I live in an apartment complex where humans barely acknowledge the presence of each other. I’ve seen my neighbor walk the dog a few times and I still don’t know whether she/he is a man or a woman (the neighbor, not the dog), so yes, I am sure they didn’t take my package.
So, after further “investigation” I got my package, three weeks after it was sent.
No, Fred din’t leave any pit stains. He must have used clinical strength deodorant.
Tamil Nadu has a bustling “snack scene”. While most Tamil households practice the “tiffin” culture, (a small meal between lunch and dinner at around 4 o’clock) that consists of idli, dosa, adai or such, my family partakes in the “evening tea”. And no, we’re not British. I have fond memories of my extend, boisterous family spending our evenings talking about politics, religion and sharing anecdotes (some even for the millionth time) over bottomless cups of tea and golden brown masala/paruppu(dal) vadais.
The combination of tea and vadai was the most popular item in my house. My mother would fry batch over batch of crispy vadais, enough to satisfy the endless stream of guests that waltzed in to my home (many of whom I think came just for the tea).
I remember hovering impatiently over the hot kadai pestering my mother to “make it soon”. ‘Cause Lord knows, I was always hungry. Considering the amount of time I spent talking to my mother in the kitchen, I never actually managed to cook anything. So when it came to the vadai I took care of the consumption while she did the manufacturing.
Cut to last week when I decided to make these vadais because what’s Ramadan without some oily goodness clogging up your blood stream . I scanned the Interwebz high and low for a recipe that fit. Nothing managed to click. Finally I gave up and decided to just wing it. I soaked the dal and chopped the onions, green chillies and ginger. Few hours later I was frying up slightly misshapen, but delicious vadais. Turns out the time I spent in the kitchen was of use. While I didn’t pay attention to what or rather, how my mother made the food, my brain was passively recording everything for future use.
And that, my friends, is why you should never take yourself for granted.
Also, y’all are welcome to my house anytime for tea and vadai.
Every summer holidays my mother would enroll me in some class or the other. So, I have done a little bit of everything – dancing, painting, drawing, playing tennis and swimming. The only activity I did for a longer period of time was swimming. Apart from the holidays I started going even on weekends and I enjoyed it. The lady who taught me swimming was a character. The pool we swam in was indoors and pretty small. There were around fifteen kids, one female coach and one male coach. The female coach, I never saw her in normal clothes but while inside the pool she would wear her thaali, one thick gold chain and three chunky gold bangles on either hand. She would shout at us every chance she got. But somehow I managed to swim quite decently, and by the time I got better it was 10th standard and all extra curricular activities had to stop because I had to concentrate on Board Exams because OH MY GOD the world will end if I don’t get in to a good college.
Now that my Board Exam days are behind me, I decided for the benefit of my overall health, I should get back in to swimming. But I cringed at the thought of wearing a traditional “swimsuit” in public. Yeah, I love my body and all that jazz but I am not going to risk a swimsuit riding up my butt in public. During my trip to Dubai last year I managed to find a “modest” swimsuit that a) did not cost a million dollars and b) did not make me look like a clown. The suit I got was very similar to a wet suit. It ticked all my boxes and I was thrilled.
My University has a huge Olympic sized pool and I’ve been swimming there for the past few weeks and I love it! It took me a while to get used to the water and I still can’t breathe while I swim and I hang out only in the shallow 4 feet end of the pool BUT I feel amazing! My back pain which was one of the main reasons why I wanted to swim hasn’t bothered me as much, I don’t feel like I am lugging around a few extra pounds and I smell like chlorine. The only disadvantage is that since it is an open pool and the sun is crazy harsh in California I have tanned like crazy. I’m not tan like golden brown tan. For some reason I tan in an awful grey color. So unappealing. I tried using sunscreen but it was a fail. My arms are black and my face always looks dirty no matter how much I exfoliate. I could only think of this one relative who used to say, “You shouldn’t play in the sun too much. You will get tan and your “color” will go off. Then who will marry you?”
Lady, I’m multicolor now.
Big houses. Construction. Tiny streets disappear and with that, my childhood. T town, I hope you don’t look hella different the next time I see you.
Last week I took a seventeen hour flight from San Francisco to Dubai and another five hour flight from Dubai to Madras. In the first leg of my journey I sat with two boisterous Afghan women, one whose hair rivalled Cruella De Vil.
The Economy class gives one no option but to befriend your fellow passenger, and considering its seventeen hours you’d almost become BFFs. But isn’t that the most basic of human tendencies? The ability to friend a stranger? Growing up my mother always warned me about strangers. She would drill the Little Red Riding Hood story in to my head and would remind me about the wolf every time I walked alone to my bus stop.
But growing up I’ve realised that not all strangers are bad. In fact the wolves could be people you meet every day.
My theory that urine and phenol is the first smell that hits you when you land in Madras has been verified yet again. Honestly speaking though, I missed the smell of phenol. I always associated it with cleanliness.
Seeing foreign returned Uncles and Aunties at the airport is a nice time pass while waiting in line for immigration. The clothes they come up with are mind boggling. I saw an uncle wearing grey satin pants carrying a leather backpack. Go ahead, imagine.
Aunties wearing silk sarees and sneakers is the norm.
Madras seems a little different, like it’s lost its old world charm. I’ve only been away a year so maybe I’ve lost mine.