I am sorry I forgot to fix your record player

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You liked listening to him sing, didn’t you? I try imagining his strong bass voice, a younger charm in his grey eyes. I think I see why you loved him so. I see you sitting by his side, an old record playing in some corner of the room. He put some ice in his scotch, you smiled and rest your head on the leather-backed chair. Everything smells like a brown memory from an album I saw as a young child, I do not remember much of it, the spaces I miss, I fill with my own imaginations. This is only part-reality.

Yet I see it all confounded in your soft glance as you look at me and smile. I see this history, a life you have lived and I can only dream piece by piece, slipping across your smooth olive skin, unwrinkled, warm. I have come home after ages it seems, although it has only been a few months. You embrace me so completely I do not feel your weight against mine. You gently caress my hair, notice how it has grown long, tie it for me neatly, smile so brightly that only then I realise what being home, safe and loved, feels like. Lying by your side later that evening, I look around the room as you sleep. So very little and so much is here, photographs of all your grandchildren. Dried leaves and flowers pasted inside a photo-frame. A rosary and a pair of woollen socks. I look then at a lighter patch, a dust-rimmed square where something had long sat. The emptiness on the mahogany desk, suddenly reminded me of your broken record player.

Some weeks before I left, I took your charming possession from you, promising to get it repaired. You did not ask me about it when I returned the next week and the one after that, telling me only, repeatedly, to take good care of myself when I am so far away, to eat well, and stay covered in the cold. My thoughts rush back to where I left it last, perhaps it rusts somewhere in my room, in the dark, forgotten and lost. Perhaps it is still singing the last song you played on it, like an echo from a voice you had loved and lived by. I didn’t say anything when you woke up, and spent the night talking to you deeply. Forgive me now, for all the evenings I stole your music from you, and with it, the keepsake of your years. The music you missed would have missed you too, it would have filled the quiet with something whole and familiar. Perhaps, you would have hummed when Kishore sang along an accordion. Perhaps their words would have fallen like snowy kisses on your pillow, songs could have woven together the memories and silvering leaves you have stored on your desk. Can I promise again to return your music to you? Perhaps you could play your favourite records for me once more before I have to leave, and I will carry their songs brownly in my heart as I grow old.

A Baked Epistolary

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Dear Granny

When the Putlizer Publishers asked me to write a preface for my new cooking book, they asked me to entail my ‘cooking philosophy’ for my readers. When I told the board, in the most obvious and casual manner possible, that I didn’t have one, they raised a brow – a look that was both pathetic and astounded, like I were an outlandish animal – as if it was a sin to not have a cooking philosophy, like cooking philosophies are the most common possessions in the world, like a soul or a pencil – everyone has one.

It took me a long, excruciatingly tiring conversation with Jenny, my editor, to convince her that I wanted my preface to be a letter to my grandmother. So while I hope that you do not regret Jenny’s decision, let me tell my readers a little about Granny.

My grandmother lived in (obviously) the most grandmotherly warm cottage on a snow-capped, treeless hill in Norway. One summer on our way to her house, my parents died in a fatal accident. By default, I was restored to her home, and forced to live there ever-since I was three.

I was a grumpy kid to parent; I hated my life, I hated Norway, and everything about it. I hated how it snowed so much, and rained so little, and how everything about it assertively said ‘White Christmas’. My life was the ultimate dream for many, nevertheless, I detested it with all my heart. Only until, of course, Granny magically sprinkled my life with (the most scrumptious) sugar dust. Literally.

I categorically remember that afternoon, if the foggy post-noon daylight of Norway may be called an afternoon, when I came back from school, having miserably failed in a class test, hating my life a little more than the day before. I grouchily sat down on the breakfast table and pulled myself a glass of water. I snapped at Granny’s simple question “How would you like some food?” My irritation was bluntly obvious. Nonetheless, Granny, wrapped in wool and tight cooking gowns, pushed a warm baking tray filled with pink macaroons towards me.

Till this day, I cannot define bliss better and more munificently.

Discovering that my grandmother was the best cook in the entire world, and easily the entire universe, was my cue to start loving my life as it was. I would spend hours in the kitchen watching her knead dough, beat eggs, cook cream, roast beef and grate cheese, and I was most certainly duly entertained.

Granny, I clearly remember tasting your red velvet cake for the first time ever. I remember how the cream melted on my mouth, and how the zest of the tangy cheese you had used had twitterpated my taste buds. I remember the perfect roundness of the cake, and the uniqueness of the powdered batter. If flamboyant obsession and starry ardour may be called love, then yes, in a pool of love had I dived, and it tasted and felt delicious, if deliciousness can be called a feeling at all.

So as I scrunch on the leftovers of my red velvet today, which, in fact, the guests called a ‘Near Perfect’, and type this floating preface, I am reminded of everything you ever taught me. I remember how you never revealed to me the recipe for any of your dishes, or never answered how to achieve the perfect thickness in the mango smoothie or the flawlessness of the blueberry soufflé, yet one event stands most distinct amongst all. I remember how I had, almost furtively, cut a tiny slice of your pastry and stored it in my pencil box. When you asked why, I had innocently answered that I wanted to preserve your recipe forever. Ha! How you had laughed!

You smiled, and kissed me on my forehead.

“You must make your own recipes.” You said, and spent the rest of the day cleaning the mess I had created trying to imitate the pastry souvenir.

Granny, if thank you were a big enough word, I’d say it. So wherever you are, I hope you read this book, and you read this sad little, poorly phrased Writer’s Note, and that you flip through the recipes of this book – not like you need them, but because I direly want you to see the strong inspiration they draw from you. Everything I have ever cooked in my entire life has been an effort to create a version of your cooking, and it was perhaps in my efforts to achieve a close clone of your recipes that I found many of my own. Recipes which people around the world have grown to love, adore and eat.

It is only today that I know, that even if I were to copy your recipes by proportion, I would never achieve the perfectness that you did, because your secret ingredient was always your love and flare for food; it is as if your very fingers added taste to your dishes.

Granny, thank you for giving me my delightful childhood. I hope I have succeeded in giving a little life to our large shared world of baking and cooking. I hope that when you see the tiny speck of a success in me, you see a reflection of your wonderful parenting, and in my humble recipes, a flicker of your own craft.

Hope the stars shine brightly in Norway.

Your Loving Granddaughter

Margatha Spiegelson

Hair Oil and Other Bonds

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Tales have elucidated the divine, inseparable bond between the grandmother and her granddaughter since time immemorial. Everything from Red Riding Hood, the young girl in a red cape who had gone to give her grandmother some cheese, pie and honey when she was ill, to poetry talks about the strong love and affection which a grandmother has for her granddaughter, and the other way.

In the process, a few things have remained. The utopic Grandmother is the best person to oil her granddaughter’s hair. She takes all the time in the world to caress her granddaughter’s locks, untangling them with utter care and precision, and delicately combing through them. She uses her special secret perfect oil recipe on her young grandchild’s hair, whether it be coconut or almond, brushing and parting all along. Teaching her about being a lady all the while.

In all of this, this hair oil and this periodic ritual of getting one’s hair combed from granny, has strengthened other bonds.

I once read a poem by Grace Nicholls, titled Granny, Granny, Please Comb My Hair, wherein the poet says

“Granny, Granny

Please comb my hair

You always take your time

You always take such care.

You put me to sit on a cushion

Between your knees

You rub a little coconut oil

Parting gentle as a breeze.”

She goes on to say that her Granny is so much better than her mother, who is always in a rush, and often tugs her hair!  The idea has been adopted in modern day novels as well, like the famous chick flick series by Meg Cabot, called Princess Dairies, which trails a young girl’s journey to become a princess, guided by, of course, her royal paternal grandmother.

For all of us, the conformist position between granny’s knees has remained the ticket to listen to the tales of her young love with grandpa, the ever-fascinating tale of the axiom fox and the queens of Neverland, learning to play cards, eating her triangular pancakes, and sleeping in her lap. The cushion between her knees, has been the wormhole to all the world’s pamper and mollycoddle that a young granddaughter needs.

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It is this unflinching care that a grandmother has for her granddaughter and unending affection that she has for her granny which inspires so much literature, and has such precedence in our lives.

Why does a grandmother love her granddaughter’s hair so much? Does her locks remind her of the young girl she was? Is it her rookie to get her tireless grandchild to sleep? Or is it just to buy more time for her moral lessons?

I know not why, but I know that the young girl her grandchild grows to become is all because of this hair oiling ritual, and the many other bonds that this greases. The hair oiling, which buys the grandmother her time to talk of the old days, her time to shape the mind of her young grandchild, enough time to teach her about life, about its mannerisms, and just about enough time to bond well the beautiful lady with strong long locks which she grows into. It’s really, all just hair oil.

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