Soul Sisters!

Today is the Birthday of a beloved family member and the one person closest to my heart on the Planet! My Mom’s sister, my aunt and most importantly my soul-sister 🙂 Perhaps it has to do with her being an Aquarian and my moon-sign being Aquarius, so that this special relationship was foretold in the stars 😉 But lets leave the stars out of it for the moment, the cosmic ones I mean! My aunt (I call her ‘Didi’, which means elder sister in Hindi), is unique, a star in her own right 🙂

The operative word in our relationship from as far back as I can remember has always been ‘Fun’!! When we get together or even on the phone, we just can’t seem to stop laughing 😀 to the point where our Hubbies have been known to ask us if we had lost our minds 😛 No fellas! We are ‘like that only’ 😉 She has a loud, hearty, infectious laugh that erupts from her like lava from a volcano (rather like mine :P) and I mean that as the best sort of compliment! You cannot be in the same room and not feel the laughter creeping up on you and sweeping you off your feet with its vigor! She’s funny and witty and can take as good as she gives.

Granny tells me and Didi agrees that she was a ‘first-class brat’, growing up! Especially when contrasted with my Mom who the entire family had christened ‘Ms. Goody Two-Shoes’, coz she NEVER did anything wrong and was consequently rather a pale, colorless character when compared to my boisterous, scallywag aunt!! Didi by her own admission was a ‘handful’ and more, still is 😉 Granny says she used to be very worried about how Didi would turn out, and hoped that she could just get her married safely and pass on the responsibility of her care over to some poor, hapless man 😉 She needn’t have worried. Didi proved quite capable of looking after herself and anyone else she had to! She’s a gutsy woman. Strong, sensitive, opinionated and unafraid.

The ever present ‘twinkle in her eye’, even as a child!

Didi has and continues to be a path-breaker. She had a love marriage, one of, if not the first one in our family, when the very notion was taboo. She was as I have mentioned a tomboy and getting into scrapes was second nature. She quit studying after 10th grade, coz academics was just not her cup of tea!! Bravo Didi!! At her wit’s end, my Granny decided to enroll her into singing classes, coz she had a great singing voice and hoping that would keep her out of trouble. She should have known better 😉 Or at least that’s what my Granny said for a long time after everything that followed! Here’s what I mean. Didi seemed to take to singing class in a way that pleasantly surprised the family and finally brought relief to my poor Granny’s frazzled nerves. (Ding Dong!! Warning bells anyone?!) And although this new-found devotion was partly due to the singing, much of it was due to the fact that she had met my uncle-to-be on the way to and from the class! Showing her smarts even then, Didi confided at first in her Granny, my Gran’s mother-in-law, hoping to enlist her support before facing up to her mother. Decades later, I followed in her footsteps, confiding in my Granny, and seeking her support before facing my Mom, when came the time to tell her about Hubby & I! Although my Granny finds it amusing now after 4 decades of a solid marriage, she wasn’t in the least amused then! She threw a fit when she heard and I won’t be surprised if Didi got a spanking (although I’ve never asked!). My uncle belongs to another community, (thankfully of Brahmins or it would have been disaster), and Granny was in no mood to listen or understand. For all she knew, her daughter was off gallivanting the streets of Bombay, with some loser she’d picked up off the streets!! It was her worst nightmare come true! It was a while before uncles intervened, calm prevailed, and a meeting arranged with the prospective groom and his family. They were married the same year that Mom & Dad were, and while there were misgivings on both sides (due largely to the rather large age-difference between my aunt and uncle in addition to cultural differences between the families), and a long struggle for Didi to be accepted into my uncle’s family, love prevailed! Doesn’t it always 🙂 In a rather sweet exchange, my uncle, who at the time was a chain smoker, agreed to quit smoking if Didi agreed to become vegetarian (his family is vegetarian). I think that particular deal worked out in Didi’s favor…after many years, she got my uncle to taste fish and chicken and her nephews have been converted into hard-core fish-eaters; but he’s never smoked another cigarette ever!

When I was born, she had been married for just under a year and lived in the port town of Kandla in Gujarat, where my uncle worked in the Indian Customs. I love the story she tells about our first meeting…a cousin and I were born two months apart and, as babies looked quite similar (as babies often do), except that my cousin was and still is much fairer than I am! She hadn’t seen either of us, and when she arrived all eager to meet her darling niece, they brought my cousin, all bundled up to her instead, and said it was me. We were both chubby babies, but Didi claims she knew instantly there was something up and that she was being had! She held my cousin but wasn’t quite convinced and her uncertainty must have shown on her face, coz when I was finally brought out…we took to each other like ducks to water 🙂 So you see, she recognized me right away for who I was and knew me instinctively. And over the years nothing’s changed 🙂

My earliest memories of her, are of her singing songs to me…songs she invented stringing together all kinds of endearments she’d invented for me! She still sings them to me today over the phone and I am unashamed to admit I adore them 🙂 She adores children and doesn’t have her own and that could have embittered her, led to depression and darkness. Instead, she loved me and my brother and her two nephews as her own and I mean ‘as’ and not ‘like’. There’s a difference you know. She filled our worlds with joy and jokes and laughter and song and when we were older she became our first best friend. She remains that 🙂 I can talk to her about anything and everything and although we do not always agree, I can always count on her for a fair hearing and good solid advice. She is never judgmental and often puts things in perspective, especially with my Mom, about whom she is fiercely protective! When my Dad and Mom were going through a rough patch after my brother’s Duchene diagnosis, I wrote her a letter. I was terrified that they were going to split up, and I said as much in the letter. I don’t know what I was thinking or what I expected when I wrote that letter, but I remember feeling that it was the right thing to do. And it was! A few days later, much to my joy and surprise, I received not a reply but Didi herself on our doorstep! On receiving the letter, in true Didi fashion, she had convinced my Uncle to drive down from Bombay to understand the situation and set things right. My parents, completely unaware of the letter, were shocked to say the least! I think her arrival made them realize the effect their constant bickering and arguing was having on us kids, like nothing else would have. Just one of the countless examples in which Didi has touched my life and made it better. Always made it better 🙂

She is my idea of an emancipated woman and here is why. For as long as I have known her, she has truly followed her heart and preserved her individuality. It hasn’t been easy (it rarely is), but, and I know she agrees, it’s been worth the effort and the pain. When she turned fifty, she began to write poetry. She writes in Marathi and has the wonderful knack of combing simplicity of verse with profoundness of thought. I like to think, her journey into the world of verse, led to a kind of renaissance in her life. She has often confided in me that writing keeps her going when things get tough. Over the years, things have been tough…sometimes financially, sometimes health-wise, but each crisis has been handled with dignity, humor and quiet resolve. For all her strength she is never far from tears both of joy and pain! I remember her crying for joy when she first met Ishaan and holding me tight and crying with me when my brother passed away. I remember her tears of joy, when I surprised her on her 60th Birthday, flying down from Singapore and appearing on her doorstep in the middle of the celebrations! I had worked hard to convince her that I couldn’t make it although she insisted later that she couldn’t quite believe it! As if I would missed a milestone like that!

It is difficult to put into words all that she means to me, certainly a single post will serve to do nothing more than scratch the surface. She taught me the art of picking out the perfect sari. She has an eye for the unusual & is unafraid of going for bold & brilliant colors 🙂 We had a ball shopping for my trousseau! She also has a knack for finding treasures on a budget. She’s a great one for budgets, Didi is! It’s a standing joke between the two of us of how she would gift me either tops of a ‘salwar kameez’ without their bottoms & vice versa, in an attempt to save on tailoring charges, expecting me to have something in my wardrobe that would fit the bill 😛 Still does! She’s always well turned out and has her own unique sense of style. She loves lipstick…deep red preferably and wouldn’t be caught dead without her lips painted and her cheeks rouged with the same shade! It’s been like that ever since I can remember. She has a wicked memory and her story-telling skills are legendary! She always remembers the stuff everyone would rather forget and is never afraid to share it, especially if she put a funny spin on it! She loves fiercely, is a loyal friend, a devoted wife, and is one of the most generous people I know.

This then is the woman, I honor today, on her Birthday! Over the years she’s seen me through every milestone, good and bad. Her spirit is my guide and mentor and her presence in my Life – vital and uplifting. We are very similar the two of us…we both take life more seriously than we let on, we laugh our guts out every chance we get, we live to write and we love our families with crazy abandon. We’re both a bit nuts and loving it! I like to think we share a motto too…Live & Let Live! I’ve already had a long conversation with her this morning and will probably have another before the day is done! My only regret is that we don’t meet as often as we like but perhaps therein lies the secret to our harmony? I don’t know, and I don’t particularly want to analyze either. It works, is all that matters. And so here’s to Didi, an aunt, a kindred spirit and a soul-sister!!

Like two peas in a pod!

“May your light shine ever so brightly, May the colors never fade,

May the spirit stay forever sprightly, And may it never rain on your parade!”

Happy Birthday Didi! Love You Hamesha 🙂

Happy Birthday Daddy!

Once upon a time, there lived a boy. He lived in a large house, in a tiny village, in the small state of Goa, a Portuguese territory in India. He had 3 older sisters and an older brother, but over the years, his family got bigger as 6 younger siblings were born.

An interesting story surrounds the circumstances of how the boy got his name (shared by an older sister). The family had just lost their oldest son (just before the boy was born), possibly to typhoid, at the tender age of 16. He was the boy’s stepbrother and much-loved by all. When the day of the boy’s naming ceremony dawned, he wouldn’t stop crying. All day the house resonated with his continuous crying, until his worried parents consulted the village priest in desperation (that’s what they did in 1938 in obscure Goan villages when children had problems). The priest had a solution (Don’t they always?). He told them the crying was probably because the boy’s brother’s soul was lost and unhappy (Surprise, surprise! I thought the soul was free from all desire? Never mind, what do I know!), on account of him having died young with lots of unrequited desires, and that he was making clear his displeasure over the new arrival because he thought it would mean his own departure was forgotten, diminished somehow. Don’t shoot me, it’s what the priest said!

The solution he suggested was what we here in Goa call taking a ‘Prasad’, not to be confused with the ‘Prasad’ that is an offering to the Gods. This ‘Prasad’ is akin to seeking God’s blessings or permission to pursue a chosen path, a second opinion of sorts, from the expert! It’s an ancient, fascinating local custom, of divine communication! Bits of a leaf from a particular tree (usually the ‘Bael’ (Aegle marmelos) tree, a favorite of Lord Shiva), are applied to different parts of the Idol in the temple with water, while family elders (mostly men) sit around the Deity, and the priest, either poses the problem that has been troubling them or asks for blessings before a major decision is made (buying a house, a car, before a marriage, changing a job, travelling abroad and a million other things!). It really is quite fascinating. The priest frames the question, so that Yes or No is the only answer possible. Then in a clarion voice, he demands that God should make a leaf from the left side of the Idol fall, for a Yes, the right side for a No or vice versa. The questioning goes on as every one sits rapt and praying until a desired answer is obtained 😉 This is serious business and if a Yes is not obtained it could lead to weddings being called off, business ventures abandoned, houses left unsold…you get the picture.

Taking ‘Prasad’ is very much a cornerstone of Goan society, even today, certainly in the GSB community (a class of fish-eating Brahmins and traditionally considered the highest caste in Hindu society in Goa), that we belong to. It was taken after hubby and I decided to get hitched…you know just in case we were displeasing the Cosmos and in danger of bringing innumerable sorrows upon our families (like that would have stopped us ;-)).

So, back to the story then. On the priest’s suggestion, a ‘Prasad’ was taken, after which it became crystal clear that the dearly departed soul of the older brother was indeed forlorn and devastated by what it perceived as a happy ‘moving on’, by the bereaved family. The family was instructed to name the crying boy after this much-adored sibling and to honor annually, a young boy, who hadn’t had his ‘Thread Ceremony’ (a coming of age ritual among Brahmins), as a mark of respect to their departed son, in the hopes that this would allow him to ‘Rest in Peace’. The boy had to be someone who hadn’t been through the ritual Thread Ceremony, because the boy had died before his. And so, Dad is named Ramchandra (Lord Rama’s name), after an older brother he never knew, but apparently resembles! But such are the complexities of Hindu society, that though you may name your children after family members that have passed on to show respect, you may not then call them by that name, for fear of offending them!! (I know! Go figure!) So, there’s another name that becomes for all purposes except legal, the real name! And so, my Dad’s given name is ‘Vasant’, it’s what everyone, who’s allowed to use it, calls him! It’s what my Mom called him, when they married and lived first in Bombay and then in Japan, until she stopped when they moved back to ultra-conservative Goa, where it’s Ok to just holler ‘Aye’ or some such to get your husband’s attention but sacrilege to use his given name (it was in her generation). It’s what his friends (the few he has) still call him 🙂 and it’s what I wish for him on his Birthday – coz ‘Vasant’ means ‘Spring’ and that’s what I want for him as he turns 72…a Second Spring!

Can’t think of one person who deserves it more 🙂

Dad...Then & Now 🙂


Happy Birthday Daddy!