Brunching with the girls

Our house is right opposite to a much-celebrated breakfast cafe thronged by hip, jean-clad-goggle-wearing spirited youngsters on weekends. Located in a posh neighborhood in the center of the city, it attracts people from the remotest corners. My friends have travelled 20 Kms and gladly stood by the street until the cafe opened- just to bite into the juicy burgers, relish the maple-syrup-dripping-pancakes and drown in the whipped-cream-loaded-waffles.

After a year of peeping through the windows and stealing stealthy glances at fashionable people patiently waiting in the hot sun for a table, we decided to find out what the big deal about this place was.

The smart folks that we were, we cleverly planned of beating the afternoon crowd by going in as early as 8 am. After multiple failed attempts at waking up 3 sleepy/grumpy girls on a Sunday morning, I was hoping to atleast join the afternoon crowd. We finally crossed the street and made it to the coveted place at 1 pm and to our table at 2 pm.

It was a quaint little bungalow with a small garden and colorful pots that had been converted into the present American cafe with an old world charm. The wall was painted bright yellow and adorned with American pop star caricatures, movie posters and cute food phrases in colored chalk.A winding wooden stairway led to the terrace dining area. Our table was near the garden beside an attractive wind chime dancing to the soft tunes of the warm afternoon breeze and glowing in the smooth sunlight streaming in.

After ordering waffles, pancakes and burgers, we settled into our girly gossips of who-is-wearing-what and whose-colleagues-are-nastier.

The waffles arrived and everyone fished out their phones and started clicking away merrily. In the flurry of activity that followed, a water glass toppled over the burger and a maelstrom erupted with 4 pairs of hands frantically grabbing tissues and stopping the water drifting over the table, while the waiter rushed over to help us.

By this time, the entire restaurant was looking in our direction, wondering what the fiasco was. We were red-faced with embarrassment. Then, one of us started laughing at the scene we had just created. Laughter erupted with people recounting accounts of personal embarrassment – from dropping cutlery at a 5-star hotel to wardrobe malfunction during a vacation, each of us had our fair share of embarrassments.

We devoured on gossips and feasted on the food. As I looked around at the girls dropping sauce on their jeans, struggling to handle the knives-forks, stuffing their mouths with food messily, testing maple syrup’s adhesive capabilities and complaining to the waiter about the quantity, I felt oddly at ease. Here was a bunch that didn’t throw airs, act sophisticated but danced in pajamas and face-packs and made sure we had a good time. I walked out, glad that I was part of this happy-silly goofball club.

(P.S. This is the wily(and delicious!) mango-cream waffle that resulted in the toppling of the hapless water glass)


Interesting people

This post is about the interesting life of normal people we come across, glance at and walk past in our everyday life. This post is a reminder for me to pause, breathe and observe the little details in life and be more compassionate towards people.

1. The lorry driver

The other day when I took an Uber to work, I gave directions to the driver and plugged in my earphones as usual. I was surprised when the driver tried to make conversation about the weather. I answered that I can’t speak the local language and re-plugged the earphones. 

The driver asked ,”What language do you know-Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, English, Bengali? I know all of this”. I was intrigued. A little bit of “hmm” and a fair amount of nodding later, I was privy to the last 30 years of his life.

 He used to be a lorry cleaner who then bought a lorry of his own(reminded me of Indian movies: break of song- peniless hero ; end of song – millionaire). His lorry transported jackfruits from Kerala, apples from Kashmir and onions from Karnataka. During long journeys, he placed a brick on the accelerator to ease his foot pain.

His brother-in-law was a Pepsi contractor who bought cartons of the soft drink and sold it to pubs on credit. He had enticed the driver with a business offer and the naive fellow sold his lorry to invest in it.

Only later did he realize that the “business venture” was IPL betting clubs. The brother-in-law lost all the money and they foiled his suicide attempt, post which he’s chilling at his village.The driver bought a car with the left-over money and is running a cab service, with hopes of saving enough to buy a lorry again.

I admired his grit and courage to start over from the bottom again. Needles to say, he got a 5 star rating.

2. The lady selling peanut chikkis

It was a scorching hot afternoon and the signal was long. Just as I was rolling up the windows of the car to switch on the AC, I saw an old lady on the pedestrian walk,huffing and sweating. She carried 2 big jute bags that seemed heavy given her discomfort.

As soon as the vehicles came to a halt, she limped across and displayed packets of peanut chikkis to the passengers. When she reached my car, I bought 2 packets and paid her.

She broke into a heartfelt smile and showed me a picture of a young girl and a marksheet. She told me with pride that her grand-daughter is a topper in her class and she is selling chikkis to fund her education. She blessed me for buying from her.

The signal turned green and I drove away, thinking how progressive and hardworking the woman is. While most educated people prevent their daughters from pursuing a career or masters degree, here she was – doing what she could to help the girl compete her education. More power to people like her!

3. The wife with extravagant tastes

A friendly cab driver was once lamenting about the traffic and the toll it was taking on his health. When I asked him why he would not settle for something less stressful, he started narrating stories about his wife.

She was the kind of person who found happiness in other’s approval (no different from my generation that spends time figuring out ways to get 100 likes on a picture). She forced him to sell his run-down Indica and buy a sedan because it added more weight to her stature. She also made sure it was a fancy color.

Every time she wanted to buy groceries, she went to the neighborhood market in the air conditioned sedan. Every weekend, the car was washed in the street at a time chosen based on when the neighbors were present to watch the event. She wouldn’t let him sell the car and start a small grocery shop.

The poor guy’s entertaining account of his wife amused me. It also made me ponder over the unmerited importance we give to other’s opinions. Well, that topic is for another day, another post.

4. The maid’s granddaughter

We have a maid at our place who washes utensils and cleans the house everyday. She had an alcoholic son who wasted away all the hard-earned money. Her daughter-in-law had been diagnosed with throat cancer a few months back and the family was struggling to make both ends meet.

One day, she brought her 16-year old grand daughter along for work and all of us objected saying she should complete her education and we can’t allow (almost) child labor. She pacified us saying that it was summer vacation, the girl had completed her class 12 board exams and scored 60%. 

I congratulated the girl, to which she replied with a meek “I could have done better, akka”. When I asked her what she wanted to do next, she replied,” I want to become a Telugu teacher. I am from a Telugu medium school and my teacher says I am good at writing essays, akka. I will teach children how to read and write Telugu”.

I was touched at the girl’s simple heart. Not a doctor. Not a software engineer. Not anything fancy. A straight-forward, unpretentious ambition.Telugu teacher. I gave her a  pack of my faviurote cookies and told her to never, ever give up her dreams no matter what. Because that is exactly what is going to define you as a person and shape your life. And it’s very important to have the harness to your life in your hands – something that following your dream will teach you.

Summer holidays

Summer is here. And so are the watermelons, mangoes, ads for prickly heat powders and soft drinks. As I lay in bed reading an e-book on my kindle, the warm afternoon light stroking the edges of my bed and the curtains dancing to the tunes of a high-speed fan, I find myself reminiscing about summers 15 years ago.

Summers meant long holidays. As kids, the day used to start with gathering all our friends in the neighborhood much against the protest of our exasperated mothers warning us against the health hazards of playing in the hot sun. I used to eagerly wait for someone to shout my name from the street so that I could run out in my bright-colored frock and join the fun lineup of our routine games- woodpecker, hide and seek, lock and key,  enactment of husband-wife-children(complete with tiny kitchen vessels and fights about inedible food cooked by the wife with a hungry toddler wailing in the background), etc.

The games were halted when lunch sirens(mothers screaming for their kids) were heard. Panting and sweating, we would drag ourselves home on our exhausted little knees. Short afternoon naps were forced on us. I distinctly remember the quiet afternoons when I would be lying in bed, listening to the rumble of the fan and the melodramatic music from a 90s movie playing on TV, interspersed with the occasional honking of vehicles and crying of babies in the neighborhood – the only worry on my little mind being whether I would wake up in time for our evening games.

The naps were followed by treats of Rasna or chilled lemonade. The ice-cream seller with his yellow cap and goofy jokes was the children’s favorite person . He used to lure children like a pied piper using a ‘ding-ding’ bell on his modified cycle attached with a cooler box.  The tiny tots used to throng him, a dozen hands raised in anticipation of orange sticks and ice cream in plastic balls.

 There used to be jubilation when grandpa walked in lugging a huge watermelon. My excited cousins and I used to sit around him in a circle and wait impatiently to gobble the juicy red pieces with a loud slurp. More often that not, this ended in a squabble attributed to our competition-‘fastest watermelon eater’.

On occasional days when my mother and aunt got bored of relentless gossip sessions, they tried their hands at making homemade kulfis and ice creams. The kids weren’t allowed near the kitchen for the whole day as there was impending danger of the mischievous bunch breaking the essence bottles and toppling over the ice cream powders. At the end of the long day’s wait, we would be served chilled flavored milkshake.

Another favorite pass-time was feeding the goats out on an evening stroll with leaves from the garden plants.  This was followed by a game of cards, carom or a cricket match on TV. The day would end with quiet dinners of piping hot dosas and flame red tomato chutney.

Gone are those days. We spend afternoons hooked to our xboxes and kindles now. The ice cream man is replaced by the fancy dessert Parlour. The lemonades are replaced by soft drinks. The goats are replaced by swarms of vehicles. A wave of nostalgia washed over me as I wrote this with a smile on my face. I miss the innocence and simplicity of those days. I miss summer vacations, the way I know it.

Hide and seek

My typical day starts with his enthusiastic greeting. Every morning, punctual like the clock, he stands outside my house with a big grin, waiting to embrace me in his giant hug. He peeps into my room through the windows, the curtains doing little to stop his eager gaze at my sleepy face. As soon as I draw the curtains, he barges into my room suffusing it with all his youthful exuberance and I grudgingly let him in.

On days when he is dispirited, he hides behind the walls of his blue house, refusing to step out. On other days, he slyly peeps out to check if he’s being missed. I love such days – when there’s a cool breeze with the birds chirping and the butterflies fluttering and his shy demanour filling my heart with warmth. 

We share a love-hate relationship. There have been times when I have run from him. I try to sneak past him whilst he’s looking away, masking my face with scarves and hiding behind umbrellas. He hardly uncovers my coy attempts at deception.

He will be waiting for me tomorrow morning in his bright yellow suit – his sunshine knocking on my door. The Sun will be waiting for me to play another game of hide and seek with him.