Of hairdryers, gifts from kids and unflappable mothers!

The year is 1969 and I was about five or six years old. My dad, who had been away in France for a couple of years was coming back and so there was much excitement at home. In the midst of my secret worry about would he remember Telugu (and if not, how on earth was I supposed to talk to him??!), there was also the excitement about what would he bring back for us as gifts!

Dad came back with some gifts for all of us and something very exciting for my mom – something whose existence we were completely unaware of till then – a large salon hair dryer! Like most women back then, my mom had long hair which she wore in a bun tied over a round ring which we called a vada (are the Nemali genes and vadas never be to be separated??! – sigh… )

Being a busy doc and a mother of three small children, Dad thought that it would be a useful gift – to dry her hair before she did it up and left for work at seven in the morning every day! This contraption consisting of a large upturned plastic ‘boiler’ kind of thing which fit over the head and then a long plastic tube leading into the boiler. The other end had something which produced hot air and well, basically it was a very complicated arrangement which involved at least two adult pairs of hands and several unwanted, un-needed but willingly proffered small hands to get it on and get it going! Mom must have used it a couple of times!

Around this time, on a parallel track, I was learning to put in my first stitches – large, straggly ones of which I was inordinately proud -under the expert guidance of “aunty” from downstairs.

Parallel tracks happen for a reason!

Wanting to make a ‘gift’ for my mother with my new-found skill, I decided to make a purse for her. Looked around for something to make it with – even a sow’s ear for a silk purse would have done! Sadly, neither sow’s ears nor any kind of material was available. But i am not my mother’s daughter for nothing – to give up any idea so easily would have brought shame on the family escutcheon! ¬†And so, purely in the interest of making the family proud and making a gift for my mom, I proceeded to blithely cut up the plastic head thingummy of the hairdryer into two large semicircles, which I then joined together with four large, very large stitches and presented to my mom with a flourish when she came home in the evening from work!

What do you think happened? Something that only one in a million mothers would have done. Remember those were days when possessions were very few and consequently, very treasured. Instead of giving me a whack and lecturing me on taking other people’s things without permission, my mother accepted the gift gracefully and thanked me gravely.

I went away very pleased with myself and convinced that my mom loved the gift I’d made for her! Like I said, she is one in a million!

Takes me back to childhood memories of food – one of our favourites then and still is today – is my mom’s fruit salad – the best in the world… slathered over with thick, gooey custard and a lemon-y undertang which killed you with deliciousness!

I remember when I was in my teens and had a couple of kid cousins staying with, I made a proper English trifle for them as a treat – fruit, custard, jelly, cake and cream – all carefully layered. They watched the whole thing with great interest and helped with the assembling but when I served it out to them, wouldn’t eat it. Very puzzled, I asked their mom, my aunt, when she came to pick them up, whether they were too shy to eat it. She laughed and told me that while they loved, cake and jelly, custard, cream and everything else individually, they hated the whole thing together and were too polite to tell me so!! Chandri and Kartik, remember??


  • Fruit – apples, grapes, bananas, mangoes, de-seeded orange segments, sapota, pineapple, strawberry halves – all cut into small 1/2 cm chunks 4-5 cups
  • Sugar – 3-4 tbsp
  • Water – 2 tbsp
  • Cloves – 2
  • Lemon juice – freshly squeezed – 3 tbsp
  • Thick, very thick but not setting quality – it should be very gluggy – vanilla custard (yes, i make mine from custard powder and NOT from scratch!) – 1/2 litre -whisk till cool after you’ve cooked it. If you leave it un-whisked, it forms a yucky skin on top.
  • Jelly – optional – 2 cups – preferably strawberry or orange. Refrigerate till set.

Heat the water with cloves and sugar till the sugar is dissolved. Let it rest and cool completely.

Discard the cloves. Mix in the lemon juice. Pour this over the fruit and mix well.

Pour the custard over the fruit.

Refrigerate for at least two hours. Serve with chopped up jelly on top, if using.

And serve it to your kids as a treat for making you something – even if they’ve destroyed your most prized possession!