A Normal Day by Amrita Valan

A normal day in my life since I chose to be a stay-at-home mom to my two boys aged ten and twelve is quite an exhausting one, despite schools remaining closed due to pandemic. I don’t have to wake up at 5 am anymore, to kickstart breakfast and prepare lunch boxes, classes are attended online from the comfort of home, at 9 am. I rise these days around seven in the morning, brush my teeth, do my hair and put the milk to boil for tea or coffee. Mentally conjuring lunch and breakfast menus, I do a swift sweeping of the apartment, and the little veranda outside. I start breakfast, nursing my hot cuppa standing up, simultaneously attacking a sinkful of dishes. Except for the delightful heat and flavour of coffee on my tongue, rising to the challenge of a tasty but nutritious breakfast is rather stressful on a limited budget and in these times, scanty resources. No, we are not rich, and my fridge isn’t stocked with gouda and parmesan and ten different types of breads cheeses, fruits and canned produce. 

Heck, since lockdown, I can’t even afford the Nutella my kids love on bread, or the Hershey chocolate syrup they like their milk with. 

Nowadays like our moms and grannies, I cook from scratch. Kneading dough, boiling and mashing potatoes to make stuffed parathas, and fresh vegetable curries. It is supremely satisfactory when I get it right. It can get really stressful when things don’t pan out the way I planned. Once I burnt the rice a tad, and stubbornly insisted on calling it fried rice, to get a meal over with. 

My family accommodates, and ribs me ever so gently. “Pass another “Papad,” they wisecrack, when my handmade unleavened bread, or chapatis are a trifle crisp. (Papads are crispy thin cornetto like concoctions which you dry roast or deep fry). So, the stress is more self-generated and not induced. Whenever I remember to take a deep breath and laugh at myself the trio of boys and husband, dependant on my cooking, grin back at me. They are my “good fellas”.

The dish washing is pure drudgery, the grungy sink is an evil monster and standing for thirty to forty five minutes to clear the sink of dirty dishes is sheer back breaking monotony.

So, where is the joy in all this, that I promised in the title of the story?

I call it focussing on the quintessence of things, when you let yourself get totally absorbed in the details. When you knead dough lovingly, squeezing it like your lover’s biceps, and feel the softness of powdery flour turn to springy elastic nubile dough, ready to be shaped at the touch of your fingers. You feel potency, like a creator, a tiny pagan goddess of the kitchen.   I find myself humming under my breath and keep aside a roundel for each kid to shape tiny dolls from. Same with chopping vegetables, I allow myself to go into a trance separating delicate florets of broccoli and cauliflower or slicing cabbage and beetroot into wafery hair thin slices. Just to feel perfection, my prowess and command over the knife. We extol mindful eating so why not mindful chores?

After two decades of marriage, on this fine spring afternoon in my kitchen, as I sat with a raw banana stem submerged in a saucepan of water to soften it, I grimly contemplated the work ahead. Of cutting it into thin delicate round slices with one hand while simultaneously twisting off the stringy hairy fibres with the other. I sighed. Then I started, focused to get it right, and slowly my mind went bicameral on me, one part spun incredible fairy tales where I was walking on a field of golden flowers, chasing luminous silken butterflies which led me to a dreamscape where my late mother beckoned, a fairy goddess of the woods. The other half was slicing banana stem on auto pilot, with tendresse and devotion and tears that still don’t make complete sense. I remembered her, and the sadness of losing her, and finding her in my mind was a brilliant explosion of delight and sorrow, for I knew it was only temporary, only in my mind.

But we all live a huge chunk of our lives there, as major part time denizens. The bicameral brain box holds mysteries, alternate realities that heals our three dimensional “real life.”

It could be, ma appeared in the only way she knew how, to console her daughter. 

And I can revisit, when the door between dimensions open again. Or call it my mind bifurcates seamlessly between two worlds. 

Come evening i cannot put it off any longer. Dish washing, according to a social media post I once read, is therapeutic. Huh? Come again, I said in disbelief, but today, as I stood in front of my ever-giving sink, bountiful with dirt and oil-stained dishes, I said to myself, “Time for some therapy.”

So, I dolled up in a cute pink doodled apron, put on some melodious French country songs, (I love the lilt of French words), to set ambience and started caressing the china and cutlery lovingly with scotch brite and Mr. Kleen. I twisted and sashayed on the little kitchen mat as if I were on stage. When I did the heavy duty gridles and pans, I shook and sashayed a wee bit more, scrubbing them harder and harder to the tempo of swifter music, Cotton Eyed Joe, Born in the USA and the like. I was in an orgiastic frenzy of cleanliness, and the vessels never shone brighter. The saucepans sparkled their gratitude at me, the griddle grinned, the ladle laughed. My boys actually came to the kitchen in curiosity. “Why are you laughing mamma?”, I closed my mouth and reopened it cheekily, “it wasn’t me dear, ask the ladle. He was very happy with the wash I gave him.” My twelve-year-old raised an eyebrow in amusement, but my ten-year-old baby chortled. “Mamma. The plates are shining, are they smiling? ‘he giggled.  I bent to kiss and hug him and said, the spoons are tinkling because the forks are tickling them with freshly cleaned tines and the salad bowl is beaming with crystal clear happiness. 

Now my elder one piped up, “Ooh! Look at the glasses so cosily they are standing and applauding you mamma! What a clean caretaker we’ve got, they are saying!” If our laughter rang through the roofs, I am sure our neighbours dismissed it as the goofy Valans who laugh while dusting and mopping, cooking and cleaning. But Memo, their Lhasa apso’s claws distinctly scuttled across the floor, making us feel he was joining in our merriment. 

What an evening that turned into. After dinner we swapped stories, where my sons regaled me with past and now precious school exploits: My twelve-year-old related how a girl had admonished him, “Stop making googly eyes.” The worthy nine-year-old (then), son of a wordsmith had shot back, “Googly eyes and fairy teeth, to crunch and munch and eat your meat.”

We heehawed like donkeys over that one. My younger boy put his palms in mine and asked me for a story and as I narrated it, he started looking sleepier and sleepier. Finally, it was bedtime, and both my sons lay in the dark giggling over mamma talking to her saucepans.

At the threshold of their bedroom, I stopped to smile. 

Tired, exhausted but with a sweet light heart inside, filled with all the joy in this tacky crazy tiresome cute world.

We can use filters of love and laughter to see each day in its funny vein. 

Even the worst of them have one. There’s no such thing really as just a normal day.   

© Amrita Valan 2020

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