Monday, December 28

A Rule, a Rigmarole and a Heartbeat 

I have never been one for following a preset schtick or schedule, although my little girl has taught me the art of trying to dabble in it so as to simplify life. But like I said somewhere, I have spent about half my life trying to tone with convention and the other half defying it and at this point in my life, I go back and forth between the two. And in keeping with that, I have decided to put down a list of resolutions for the New Year. Nothing big, really, and if one is not careful, it could end up as yet another piece of post-it on the refrigerator, blinking brightly at one at the outset and losing its glow with the passage of time.

One of the things on this *list* is to slacken up a bit and not let the little things work the heat on the nerves. Especially the little things about the little one. So, a new vista opens to motherhood and I'm all set to fall right in and maybe even do a tap dance.

While we're on the topic of slackening up, we did the unthinkable yesterday. We went to the movies to watch the 3 Idiots in action, with the little one in tow. I put all my apprehensions to rest about that one, and it worked, like magic. Although it wasn't easy to explain to her why some forbidden words were being used by grown-ups, but we're getting there. So, after five years of non-movie-goer status, the hubby and I went for it, and he has even suggested we do it again. As one grows older, with life slipping away like sand through the fingers, one realizes that one has built walls and turned rock-like. The little pleasures of life come to mean little and one is always looking for the bigger picture, which, sadly, is often blurry and elusive. So one goes after it with increasing degrees of passion to only end up getting more frustrated. The slackening up mantra is critical for anyone, according to moi, who is going after the mirage of the big picture and losing focus on the little things. And something as silly and trivial as turning the guilt faucet off and letting the little thrills of enjoying a movie on the big screen as a parent spill over instead, can work wonders for the confused mind.

Even with cotton plugs in her ears and being blindfolded intermittently, my little one was patient and tantrum-free through the entire 2+ hour span, and my heart swells in pride over that. It's a little thing, perhaps insignificant in the pool of things that matter, but it still keeps the pool swirling and that makes mommy and daddy happier.

And as often happens with such things, the mind harks back to the days when my parents took us to the movies, and bought us the salted peanuts in paper cones to nibble on, before popcorn became the popular choice for movie-time snacking. Of course when the movies were for adults-only, I would be baby-sat by sis and bro, but those instances are few and far between in the memory. I think of all the things my mom gave up because of me, and how it never occurred to me as unrealistic then. How inconsiderate I often was about those things and how much I am able to fathom now, although to little avail. All just mottled time sheets in my mother's life as a homemaker, to which she has little access herself, thanks to the receding memory power. And putting thoughts down for now is only a way for me to be able to relive them later on, when the little bird has grown wings and taken flight to another nest, to live another life. It's in the knowledge of that truth - that my life and my thoughts will only be as significant to her as my mother's were to me - that the spasms of motherhood tick and beat. And yet those too will remain crucial in my own mind, my own memory, and learning to let go will be a lesson learnt only in the long run.

So, another day rolls and before the year closes in, the everyday song has to be sung and the little pieces put together in the hope that the puzzle will be solved a little more before inching towards that big thing called success.

And so..for he's a jolly good fellow and she, a jolly good lass..

Wednesday, December 23

Letter from the Down Under 

When we set out on our sojourn to the Southern hemisphere last month, a blend of emotions was stirring inside of me. I was apprehensive about the littlest of things, like moms traveling alone with toddlers are wont to be. The 13-hour stretch of our flight to Auckland from Los Angeles, to begin with, was the toughest to tackle. I was well equipped with in-flight entertainment activities, that wasn’t my point of concern as much as was the possible onset of ear ache in my little one, and the repercussions of her being held in a sedentary state for that long. Although she is a seasoned traveler by now - she has been accruing frequent flyer miles since she was a seven-month old baby, every consecutive year leading up to her present frightful-fours stage - one never knows what to expect from a four-year-old on a long journey. And it’s not easy on the mom either, being suspended in thin air - atleast until the point that one reaches Maori land anyway, where, should one take a peek out the window, the wholesomeness of the tufts of white fluff will blow one’s mind. And yet, the restive mind refuses to acknowledge and take in the splendor of the scene, merely waiting, with twitchy feet, for a glimpse of the land below.

It’s amazing what revisiting a place can do to one’s mind. The place, it would seem, has grown with one, having taken on new forms and dimensions. The mind tenderly absorbs this newness and as new wisdom spills over, new memories scaffold themselves onto the old ones, making the growing up seem uncomplicated, although if one closely read into the embossing, it would occur to one what a simple thing such as the sight of a big cloud could come to mean to one over the years. This time around, I had grown enough to come to appreciate the elegance of the “Ao”, in the land of the long white cloud, the big “Aoteorea.”

The Maoris have many other fascinating stories associated with their wonderful land, which in itself embodies the true spirit of anything that is isolated - the “motu,” green in all its glory, and ringed in by an infinite bubble of turquoise. Although our first stop was the heart of Auckland city, which is as vibrant and vivacious as New York or Chicago during the holidays, minus the slick and slur of snowfall and frigid tempertatures, needless to say. The bubble of turquoise heaves and folds at the harbor on one side, and quaint little street side shops entice visitors with their wares, of light-glazed Paua shells, jades in Koru motifs, symbolizing new beginnings akin to an unfurled silver fern leaflet in the Spring, and bones in Hei Tiki carvings, for fertility, loyalty and good luck. The Sky Tower holding out to the long white clouds above in the middle of the bustle of Queen Street beckons from a distance. Mrs. Higgins Bakery, considered the makers of Kiwi land’s best cookies, Giapo, the gelato people..all going about their business briskly and efficiently as ever, like magnets, hemming passersby in, who with their flared nostrils take in the essence of cinnamon and fruit. And if you’re a big girl, in tow with a little girl, you can’t escape the lure of the Plain Jane boutiques like Shanton’s, or Valley Girl. My little, of course, wanted to try on a random hat and a beanie and sunglasses and color-splashed scarves for her beach time - merrily oblivious to the fact that “beach time” is rather elusive where she lives, and even if it does come, it will take several months of waiting in the hopeless, wretched cold. And there’s hardly an eyelid that doesn’t bat at the sight of the jolly ol’ fat man sporting his classic white-fuzz, standing tall and “humungous,” to steal from my chirpy little tracker, bang in the middle of the city, atop Whitcoull’s. We stood in awe of his brand new avatar, elbowing our way through the hordes of modish city workers, clicking away from various angles and distances, trying to capture an entire sensation in a few frames to bring home for daddy. Her smiles had reached her eyes at this point, and I stood there wondering if every expression of uninhibited emotion from a little heart could be trapped in a frozen moment as opposed to a digital contraption, so it could be thawed and experienced wholly, like fingers flicking through cinders of warmth from wood burning bitter-blue in a fireplace on a later, chilly day. Just then, her chatter about writing Santa a letter and sticking it in the folds of his concrete attire shook me up straight. We spent the rest of our city time ogling at wayside eateries with their summer awnings fluttering in the drifting Westerly, trendy art galleries and their window displays, smiling warily at city slickers who in turn were staring at the silly mommy-child duo posing for pictures at every nook and corner, visiting the penguins at Kelly Tarlton’s, and shopping till we dropped.

Riding back home on the 258, the succulent aftertaste of kiwi-chocolate gelato driving me insane, I was keyed up about a different kind of frenzy that was to unfold - my baby niece’s big fat cross-cultural wedding. The revelry and merry making lingered on for days, from lassis to cocktails, and payasams to kheers. We sported some coy smiles as we put our best Bhangra foot forward dressed in our six-yarded Kanjeevaram gloss, and admired the flushed, burnt-adobe edge that the snaking, coiling mehndi designs lent to our hands for days after. And once the exhilaration of all this had wafted past, we were ready to hit the beaches and roll in the meadows, quite literally.

We went to the famous Honey Center on Highway One, where the curious little cracker learned how to tell the Queen Bee from her drones, and where we sampled some delicious fruit-honey preserves.

At Wenderholm Park, we lazed around in the pohutukawa glade picnic area, walked along the beach, admired the Couldrey House and its lush gardens, and stole some picturesque frames from the Whangaparaoa Peninsula lookout on the drive back into the city, but not before stopping at Red Beach for some sun and sand, and dining at Arun’s with our Kiwi hosts who had smoke coming out of their ears as they relished every bite of Tandoori fare. And of course we pulled over when a lush green meadow rolled, and animatedly clicked away as the world famous New Zealand sheep foraged about languidly.

In the days to come, we discovered the multicolored, motley butterfly families at Butterfly Creek, fed milk in bottles to baby lambs on buttermilk farm, flinched as we came up close with alligators, rode on the Red Admiral Express, observed Alpacas and miniature Welsh ponies in action, and jumped with our hair up in the air on Curly’s trampoline..all while dabbing on dots of SPF 50+ and smoothing it on our faces, hands and legs, as the dazzling Southern Sun warmed our shoulders.

We also discovered the magic of Hot Water Beach in scenic, pristine Coromandel, filled our crocs with shells from the shore, sampled authentic Feijoa & ginger liqueur, pigged on spinach-corn-feta quiches, and took in the classic countryside scenery with the notable traveler’s passion of a lifetime to come.

We drove around the city several times after, around Mission Bay and its marvelous bungalows overlooking the sea, across Harbour Bridge to the North Shore, to charming ‘burbs like Lynfield and TeAtatu, and shopped at our favorite malls that had taken on new annexes and stores over the years, on Thursday evenings. We dug our teeth into luscious golden Kiwi fruits by the dozens, the velveteen floss of Movenpick by the buckets, gave in to the temptation of fudgy-wudgies many times over, and of course, as no tourist experience is replete without it, were suitable hungry for the large fries at Mc D’s every now and then, in typical Yankee style. And now we are back to the blizzards of the mighty Midwest, but Sheryl Crow’s soak up the sun number still pulsates mellifluously ‘neath our taut, tanned skin..