Adorable Ammamma and Her love for Cow Milk

“Don’t you wish you could take a single childhood memory and blow it up into a bubble and live inside it forever?” 
― Sarah Addison Allen, Lost Lake

How I wish!

Some of my best memories are from my childhood. Of the annual summer vacations that I got to spend with my grandparents at our tharavadu (ancestral home) in Ottapalam, Kerala.

I used to address my maternal grandfather as Muthachan and my maternal grandmother as Ammamma. Achan, my father, was working in the middle-east since I was five. Hence I was more attached to Muthachan who helped fill the void to a certain extent. He would hang around with me, tell me stories, take me out for a walk through the lush green farmlands or take me to his tharavadu in Kunissery, Palakkad…in short, he was my best buddy.

I wasn’t very close with Ammamma or Kunjhukutty (as Muthachan addressed her). I only remember her as a severely hunch-backed old woman. Mostly bed-ridden and confined to the walls of the tharavadu. When she was not lying on the bed, you could find her sitting on the dining table reading Bhagavatham, Ramayanam or Narayaneeyam. Her elder brother would tease her saying God will punish her because she was reading all of it without understanding a single word. The Sanskrit scholar found joy in ridiculing her.

When I began my writing journey back in 2012, I had shared numerous anecdotes on my relationship with Muthachan. I rarely wrote anything about Ammamma.

Ammamma breathed her last on a Vishu night in 2000 after a terrible few months. Amma was with her during her last days and I used to call up multiple times a day to check about her condition. There was a point when Amma told me, “Please pray to Almighty that she is relieved of all her pains soon.” I hated Amma for saying that. I was not witnessing what Amma did. I am glad that I didn’t see Ammamma in those last days and I still hold her in memory as someone who remembered me, someone who adored me, someone who loved me no matter what. She hardly recognized people during her last days.

This post is a short tribute to this simple old woman whose inner strength is something I would love to inherit.

Ammamma and I didn’t get along well during the initial days. I was scared of bed-ridden people for reasons still unknown to me. If I saw you upright, you had more chances of being my friend. If I saw you in the horizontal position most of the time, chances are that you wouldn’t find me around much. Wait, wait! I remember now. One of Amma’s cousin brothers had met with an accident and broke his leg. He was on bed for a long time during one of my vacations. His beard grew longer and the room he lay in was in a deep dark corner of the tharavadu. I was mighty scared of him. To add to it, he was always in a rough mood and kept screaming at everyone. Thus I started fearing people who had restricted movement or stayed in dark rooms.

Another reason for not getting along well with her was that Ammamma had severe arthritis and couldn’t handle cold weather. Even in the month of May-June you would see her tucked in a blanket without a fan. By the way, during my childhood our ancestral village didn’t have electricity. Ammamma would invite me to sleep next to her and I would run away. Brat, I was!

Adorable Ammamma and Her love for Cow Milk

Ammamma lived in the Stone Age Era when milk, especially cow milk, was considered Amrutham (immortal nectar). She was crazy about drinking milk twice a day. She would force me too. I disliked milk from the very beginning resulting in many a glasses down the drain. I used to tease her that out of the entire two nazhi of cow milk that we ordered, she was the one who drank up almost one and a half nazhi. Nazhi is a measurement followed in Kerala.

As I grew older I disliked Ammamma for the fact that Amma used to be completely at her service for the two months of summer vacations and I felt abandoned. I remember having told her once that she looked beautiful when she was fast asleep because she didn’t keep calling my mother all the time. I regretted it so much when she fell ill a few days later and was unconscious for two whole days. I almost choked on my guilt.

It was only after Muthachan’s demise that I became closer to Ammamma. I was thirteen then. I had actually adopted her as my wife. I was quick to realize how lonely she had become. I would tease her and play silly pranks on her the way Muthachan did. I started taking her around the courtyard forcefully when I realized that she had remained confined to the four walls of the house because of her hunchback. She felt embarrassed to face people. I kept telling her how beautiful she looked and that’s why she was Muthachan’s  Kumjhukutty. She would smile and blush. I loved watching her cheeks turn red and her wrinkled face light up with joy.

Once we were back in Delhi, I kept writing letters to her every week. Beyond a point, you have to help old people survive without feeling unloved and uncared for. And children somehow have that in them to understand their pain better.

Once Amma and Sachumama (my maternal uncle) had gone with Girija mema (my maternal aunt) to her in-laws in Angamaly. They had left early in the morning and were supposed to return late at night. Towards afternoon, Ammamma complained of indigestion. I helped her to the washroom multiple times. After a few times, she looked pale and was unable to walk at all. I lovingly made her a glass full of milk mixed with two big scoops of Horlicks. Just when I was about to take it to her my love for her overcame my senses and I added another scoop full of Horlicks so that she regains energy.

Lactose intolerance was unheard of back then. Poor Ammamma too drank the entire milk because she also was taught that two glasses of milk a day was supposed to keep Lord Yama away. She complained of stomach ache as soon as she finished the milk. With great difficulty I dragged her to the washroom and back a few more times before she fell unconscious. Amma and others had still not reached. There was no phone connection too. I was mighty scared and wondered if Ammamma had died.

It took her four days in the hospital to recover. That probably was the end of my belief in milk and its therapeutic properties. I curse myself even today for having offered her that glass of Horlicks milk. Had something happened to her on that day or around then, I am sure I would have never forgiven myself.

Thankfully, Ammamma lived enough to see me graduate and get a job. I was lucky enough to send her a small token of love every month from my salary. For all the twenty-five rupees she borrowed from me to buy milk and for all the repetitive reminders I sent her way to get my hard earned money (earned during Vishu) back. Never did I imagine that one day she will leave all that borrowed money and our letters underneath her pillow and that too on a Vishu day. Vishu has never been the same after her.

Ammamma was always in awe of me. She was the only person who thought that I was tall, slim and beautiful. I still remember her look when I would wear a saree just to visit Guruvayur temple. She would sit up and say, “ente kuttikku nalla sundaran payyanne thane kittannam” (my child must get a handsome young man). I wish she lived up to meet the sundaran payyan. Sigh!

The Paradox of Choice

Is it always better to have more Choices?

Choices. Choices matter. They do. Don’t they? And the number of choices matters too.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it also appears to encourage consumers to make reasonable—rather than indulgent—choices.

~  University of Pennsylvania

I choose to disagree with this statement.

I would rather agree with Jonah Berger’s concept, the Paradox of Choice.

…as the size of an assortment grows, consumers can become overwhelmed and often choose not to choose.

There was a time in life when we had limited choices and yet we were happy. We had all the time in the world to enjoy because making the choice didn’t take much time.

A 5-year-old me had just a Turbo cycle and a Boeing 747 jet plane to choose between. The Turbo cycle was bought by Amma and Acha for me, their aadhyathe kanmani – their firstborn. This one was later handed down four more children from our family, including the little sister. The Boeing 747 was a gift from Acha’s boss who mistook me for a boy because Acha used to dress me in tees and trousers only. I was born in an era when a son was considered the pride of the family. This plane was always a showpiece. Never to be touched because it was an ‘expensive gift’.

We never saw anything beyond the 6 or 12 shade set of sketch pens or poster colours. I wonder if there was a bigger edition available in the market at that time. I received my 12 shade poster colour set when I was in class 9th. That too was not supposed to be used without permission. Creativity ki toh baat hi na karo…huh!

A little later the choice was between Nataraj or Apsara or Camlin Flora pencil. We hardly ever thought of the quality of lead or wood that the pencil was made of unlike today’s generation and their helicopter parents, that is us. As soon as we stepped into the middle wing, the choice was between Camlin or Chelpark Ink.

The Paradox of Choice Banner

Then there was the board exam preparation which started almost as soon as we turned 11 years of age. Teachers advised us to write with ball pens to avoid the ink from spreading and washing out in case of any accident. I was very fond of Reynold’s those days. If you ask me I still haven’t found a better replacement to those pens. Most of my journals of those days were written with either a green or black Reynold’s Blossoms pens. 3 rupees. I still remember SS Store from where I would pick my lot of three pens with the tenner I borrowed from Amma. And would be happy to have that 1 rupee coin back with which we bought Chatmola or Fatafat that we shared. Nobody made us repeat the golden words like ‘Sorry’, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ or phrases or moral lessons like ‘Sharing is Caring’. It was instilled in us through daily life and behaviour of our elders.

On television we hardly had anything other than the DD National or DD Metro channels. The Thursday Regional movie and Sunday blockbuster movies in the evening were when families got together with their chai pakoras. Most houses had black and white television sets and the brand was based on what suited the budget at that point in time. We hardly thought of the screen configuration and other stuff. I guess even Acha wouldn’t have heard of all this when he bought our Weston Black and White television set whose screen was broken by yours truly soon as it was brought home. I was hardly three and I appreciate Acha for not punishing me or shouting at me like Amma did.

I learnt most of my lessons because Acha didn’t punish me. He preferred to let me think and ponder over my mistake all by myself. While Amma loved me immensely, she was also the one who punished me severely. When she yelled at me, I would shiver with fear. My mind used to go blank. I could no longer hear what she was saying.  And guess what? I did the same mistake with my firstborn for a good few years of her childhood. I stopped it when she told me that she is scared of me when I yell. Took me a lot of time but I finally don’t yell at them.

Back to choices….

These days when you walk into an electronics store to buy an idiot box the choices there leave you totally confused. To add to the confusion the salesman gives you so much explanation – an overdose of relevant and irrelevant information. Though the poor guy is only doing his job, I find it very annoying when someone answers before being asked to. Give me a break, man!

Clothes. I came from a decent economic background…double income family you know! And then the phoren waale Papa factor. Errr….phoren mein rehne waale Papa. But thankfully, our parents were so engrossed in helping their respective extended families that they chose to bring us up with the bare minimum required. I hardly had any choice in clothes. Few frocks, two skirts and two shirts are all that constituted my wardrobe. In fact, a small picnic basket was our wardrobe. Mine and my little sister’s. No complaints. Because Acha has had a tough childhood and so he and Amma have tried to provide us with all that was enough for us. Not all that we ever wanted.

We had the option of playing indoor games like Ghar Ghar, Teacher-Student or Doctor-Patient or go out and play with the other children from the colony. If we got bored, we would either pick up a pen or pencil and jot down our thoughts in a notebook or journal, or else pick up a book and travel into the story. Life was way simpler and satisfying.

Fast forward to today…my girls have an entire wardrobe to themselves. And they find it difficult to manage within it. They find it difficult to find a matching pair of dress from the mess that is in there. I used to do the decluttering regularly till about two years ago. I have finally given up. It just doesn’t seem to be a productive task to me. I have left it entirely on them to clean up and mess up. Poor things try their best yet fail. All this when we hardly buy them any dresses. Their grandparents, maasis, buas and chachus get them so much that we don’t add to their confusion. Instead we invest in books and colours for them.

The point I am trying to make is that we ourselves have complicated our lives with more than what we can consume. Be it stationery items that they receive as return gifts or the small decorative pieces that I am so fond of. We just manage to hoard everything and then find it difficult to choose from and manage.

The number of choices we have these days, be it television channels, variety of gadgets, apps, dresses, games or anything else, is annoyingly crazy. It’s all so overwhelming that at times it gets to me in a horrifying manner. We need to learn to prioritize and pick our choices fast. Rather than spending an entire life in just trying to make the right choices.

Choosing from larger number of choices tends to increase choice difficulty. From jeans to life partners and TV channels to schools, we think the more choices we have the better. But too many options create anxiety and leave us less satisfied. I am an old school girl. I prefer lesser choices to pick from. I like to keep it simple and sweet.

Do you feel the same? Or do you enjoy the more the number of choices you get to choose from? Would love to hear your version.

Wordless Wednesday 6 – Women Power

Delhi Municipal Corporation employees sitting on the road in the winter sun knitting sweaters, shelling peas and gossiping. They come to work around 7 a.m. and clean the roads. They’re free by about 9 a.m. Afterwards they just spread the mat on the road and spend sometime together till 12 p.m. which happens to be their relieving time. I appreciate their multitasking capabilities and the fact that they’re working non-stop.

Wordless Wednesday 5 – Locked Lips

Wordless Wednesdays are my humble attempt at showcasing some of my favourite clicks. These rose-ringed parakeets with locked lips were clicked at Qutub Minar, New Delhi with #NikonP900.

Parrots Kissing Passionately
Locked Lips

Click the Photo Gallery to view more such pictures.

Wordless Wednesday Badge
Wordless Wednesday Badge

Wordless Wednesday 4 – Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, I wish 2019 proves to be a wonderful year with joyful surprises and new fruitful avenues for each one of you. Happy New Year! Stay blessed.

Monkey and baby with back towards us
Looking Ahead

Picture clicked at Sariska Tiger Reserve in 2016 using #NikonP900.

Checkout my Photo Gallery for more such clicks.

Wordless Wednesday 2 – The Parking Attendant

The Parking Attendant outside the Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur.

Wordless Wednesday, my humble attempt at showcasing some of my best clicks. If you enjoy my work, like and share.

Decorate Camel in a Parking Lot
The Parking Attendant

This decorated camel was clicked somewhere near Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India in December 2017.

Wordless Wednesday 1 – Common Myna

Wordless Wednesday would be my humble attempt at showcasing some of the best clicks from this amateur photographer. If you enjoy my work, like and share.

Common Myna feeding on leftover food at the backyard of a guest house. Picture clicked in Almora, Uttarakhand in June 2017.

How Your To-Do List Can Make You a Happier Person

Procrastination. One of my biggest weaknesses. Not because I am lazy…which I definitely am. It is because I don’t manage my time productively. In an attempt to do everything, I end up finishing almost nothing. In short, I didn’t go by any To-Do List.

For the last few years, I have been juggling with motherhood, homemaking, studying, taking care of my ailing parents and juggling with random assignments to earn my pocket money. Well most of us do. I have been struggling with multitasking and yet I am unable to finish many of the important chores. My writing took a back seat. Writing has been one big healing process for me since ages. Imagine the amount of damage it would have done to my otherwise chirpy self. Annoying and highly frustrating!

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The Myth of Perfection

“Perfect!”

“You’re the Best!”

“A-Class!”

As a child I always longed to make my parents proud. I wanted to be their best daughter. The perfect one. The pride in their eyes, the joy of their smiling faces, meant the world to that toddler in me whose world was just parents, family and a few friends. As I grew up I struggled hard to maintain the ‘best’ tag. I tried my best to be the best daughter, the best sister, the best student, the best friend, the best employee, the best wife, the best daughter-in-law, the best aunt and so on. But the fact is that I failed miserably. I failed in keeping the tag intact. I failed in earning the ‘perfect one’ badge.

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