Surprisingly, the thought for this post came up when I was in the kitchen this afternoon. I was chopping three different kinds of vegetables for a dry curry I was preparing. Well, I grew up learning to cut vegetables from Appa who cut them every morning. Since we used every vegetable available in the market, I learned to cut all of them, small little pieces for the thorans (dry vegetable curries), into juliennes for the aviyal, bite-sized pieces for the koottus (so that they are not mashed when boiled) and I was exhorted to podi-podiya narakku (cut into very small pieces) for the maanga kari (mango pickle) and the keerai mologootal (spinach preparation with lentils.) Often, I had to cut them up again if Appa deemed they were too big or not cut in the right sizes. This painstaking effort made every dish look good and taste consistent… something no amount of Master Chef classes will teach you. The end result? I pride myself on being an efficient, creative and meticulous ‘vegetable chopper’.

There’s something about going through an entire process, step by step without skipping any. Whether it’s squeezing coconut milk with a freshly washed thundu (towel) for the payasam naivedyam (offering to God), using the sandalwood stone for fresh sandalwood paste or using the wooden contraption for churning butter from fresh buttermilk. The long version of doing things perhaps kept us busy, occupied and far away from the ‘I’m always bored’ feeling. With television that began transmission only at 6pm, no Internet or video games, we were content with playing different levels on the walls or trees close by. Failure meant falling down and bruises we showed off. And on rainy days, there was Pictionary, Monopoly and Scrabble to pass time. Often we would be called to pluck/sort out flowers or light lamps at the nearby temple. Some old neighbor would request a visit to the bank or pay the electricity bill and we always complied.

Recently, I met two of my cousins who since childhood are well-known for their intricate drawing of kolams (rangolis). In a matter of an hour, they could easily draw their way through large spaces. Imaginative and creative, most often, the designs were created on the spot without having to resort to design books or practice. After they moved to Bombay, they would often rue the small places available to them outside their apartments. Now, the two of them have taken their passion to a new level. They are most sought-after to draw kolams at weddings and other functions in Mumbai. Way to go, sisters!

On our recent vacation, Amrit enjoyed drawing water from the huge well at home and his excitement and enthusiasm was seen to be believed. When he was small, he would often visit the neighbour’s field to jump on the paddy that was left to dry. And the first time he climbed a wall, he gave me a high-five. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, that most of my childhood was spent sitting on the wall with my friend, chatting into the late hours of the evening.

Old habits certainly die hard. When I go for an interview, even though the Dictaphone is recording the conversation, I do take notes. This was evident when I looked at a photograph of a recent interview. There was me, Resul Pookutty, my iPad, Galaxy Note and my prized possession, a diary to note things. I also keep a Gratitude Diary to note down things which make me cheerful and happy. And when I feel low, I go through the entries – it’s an instant pick-me-up!

While I am not deriding technology and the pace at which we and our children are living life, some things I believe, are learnt the hard way. While I was tempted to put all the vegetables into the chopper, I stopped myself. I had the time so I enjoyed cutting them into perfect little shapes, singing songs from my childhood, never mind if they were off-key to the rest of the world.

Some pleasures in life come from doing the most simple of things. The long way may not always be hard… they can be immensely enjoyable too! Try it!

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14 thoughts on “The long and short of it

  1. Superbly written Rekhs!!! So true… The joys of laboriously doing some thing no longer exists… Even greeting cards have become instant with e-cards, and kids no longer inspired to create them…

  2. Over the years, I realised how much these lessons from elders(read parents, grandparents) have helped me, especially at work. And i want to thank all of them. Thanks Rekha for reminding how grateful we should be to our elders for what we are now…

  3. From Suzy, my friend who sent me a mail because she couldn’t comment here:
    You took me back to my childhood rekha. there is a kind of warmth in your style that infuses the reader. Keep it up!

  4. Nice – with my parents around, I too remember the vegetable cutting days. The wife gets paranoid if the kid climbs a wall – i used to jump off the parapet from the first floor playing “chor police”. I too felt the same when I wrote a letter of appreciation yesterday at the Kempinski hotel in Amman for a young lad who extended a smiling service at the breakfast cafe. Found out how difficult it was for me to read what I had written myself!! Guess told the manager please ask your hotel pharmacist to read it out 🙂

  5. we learn precious things from our elders, including our parents. however, some of the present day parents (including myself) do not bother to teach their children what they have learnt from their parents. I realized my mistakes, may be two to three ago and started to teach so many good things to my children. Rekha, you deserve appreciation bringing out such a matter in the blog.

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