Thirty years of Nutella Lovin’

Before

After

I was a Nutella fan long before people were talking about being Nutella fans. Long before World Nutella Day or online fan sites for Nutella or even, really, the internet as we know it today existed. (That’s right, I’m ooold.)

Growing up in the Middle East in the 80s, I lived in an apartment building with a supermarket on the ground floor. My parents, who were perennially on some diet or the other, gave me money to buy myself small treats from the store, and the only rule was that I not bring any home (so as to not tempt them, see?).

One of my favourite treats, naturally, was Nutella. It came in these tiny trays, with a spoon/spreader attached. I still remember the joy of peeling open the little tray carefully — the crinkly sound the cover made, the way the chocolate looked oh-so-smooth and perfect underneath — and the joy of dipping the tiny, white, plastic spoon inside and scooping out the first delightful bit. It would be done in a few mouthfuls, and then all that remained was the pleasure of licking every single bit of the tray, the spoon and the inner portion of the cover clean. Sigh. It was never enough, the amount in those trays. I’d always be left longing for more, but I could only buy one at a time. And, in some ways, I think that added to the thrill of it all. Like a true addict, I’d be left longing for my next hit…

Since we never, ever bought jars of Nutella for the house in those days (see: parental diets), I didn’t even knew until I was older that it was supposed to be spread on bread or toast or whatever. To me, Nutella was a liquid, molten chocolate treat to be licked up in bliss rather than chewed or crunched on like other candies. The idea of actually spreading it on something seemed alien to me. Wrong, somehow. That feeling persists to this day. For me, putting Nutella on something else dilutes the sensory thrill of feeling its smooth, chocolatey, hazelnut-y goodness on your tongue.  There are often jars of Nutella in my house (I’m not even remotely as controlled as my parents were) but it’s never, ever spread on anything. It’s just eaten straight from the jar, spoonful after sinful spoonful. Mmmmmm.

About a decade or so ago, on a flight from India to London (I was on my way to the U.S. where I was studying at that time), I met a delightful old Italian gentleman. He was small, white-haired, cultured and so very sweet-natured. I took to him immediately and we swapped life stories. It turned out that he worked for Ferrero, the Italian chocolate giant that makes Nutella. He’d been with the company from when he was a boy of 17 or 18, he told me, and had worked his way up. Now, he was helping the company transition into the Indian market. The problem they needed to sort out was how to package their famous Ferrero Rocher chocolates, he said, in such a way that they stay fresh and don’t melt in Indian conditions. He told me about the acres and acres of hazelnut fields the company owns… it was fascinating. When I told him about my love for Nutella, he immediately called the stewardess over and told her she must bring me some for my toast (we were being served breakfast then, I think)! It was the cutest thing. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was feeling rather sick (after the oily Asian veg meal I’d consumed at some random hour of the night), and dutifully took it. One doesn’t turn down Nutella, after all. Of course, I didn’t actually spread it on the toast… I remember asking him when Nutella would enter the Indian market and he said, at that time, that he wasn’t sure. They were still testing the waters.

Well, it’s here now, and in a big way. TV ads, the works. Even our neighbourhood potti kadai in Chennai, Kumaran Stores, has it — large jar, medium jar, small jar, and of course, those tiny trays I remember so well from childhood. I buy it from him more often than I should, eating my way through big, medium or small jar depending on the size of the craving or mood swing. As always, I enter a blissed-out state when there’s Nutella in my hands. I close my eyes and become one with the jar. I always try and make sure I’m alone so I can truly enjoy the moment. Then pull off that gold-foil covering, revel in the sight of all that gorgeous, smooth chocolate waiting to be eaten, and then dip the spoon in for that first mouthful. The pleasure is still the same as it was nearly 30 years ago. Molten perfection. Mmmmm.

It’s that texture — never grainy or rough–, that delicate hazelnut flavour, that just-right sweetness, the just-right meltiness… the combination of all that makes eating Nutella a chocolate lover’s idea of Nirvana. Recently I introduced my toddler to Nutella… not on bread or anything, of course, but straight out of the tiny tray. She loved it, and licked it up to the last, tiny bit. Life had come a full circle. Nutella-loving, obviously, is passed on from mother to daughter :)

Happy World Nutella Day!

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Toddler Talk: Those three little words

When your toddler first says she loves you…

Warning: Today’s column is going to get seriously mushy. I mean it. If that’s not your cup of tea, turn and run, run fast!

To those of you still reading, this one is all about feeling the toddler love. Yes, toddlers are a handful – they can be exhausting, infuriating, and naughty as heck. But they have a way of making it all worthwhile. A sticky kiss on the cheek from your little one can make the rainiest day feel all sunshine-y. And a heartfelt toddler-huggie (as opposed to the “okay, let’s get this over with” perfunctory lean-in version) is the world’s number one stress-buster. It may last for all of 0.25 seconds (before the kid squirms out of your grasp and runs off), but it’s the warmest, most wonderful 0.25 seconds ever.

But nothing makes the parental heart melt quite like the first time your toddler says those three little words to you – “I love you”. Sure, it was super special when your high school crush or your significant other said it; your heart beat faster, violins played in the background and Cupids frolicked overhead. But for sheer tear-inducing, heart-breaking sweetness, nothing beats a toddler proclamation of love.

The thing is, you’ve been in love with this little person right from the start. As every mom knows, there’s that one moment when you fall intensely, irrevocably in love with your newborn, that moment which makes you go, “Oh, that’s what they were talking about!” about all the things you’ve ever heard of a mother’s unconditional love. It might happen the moment you first set eyes on your baby at the hospital, or as in my case, a couple of weeks later, at 3 a.m., when I just sitting on the couch, holding her in my arms. I remember looking into her eyes and feeling overwhelmed by the emotion, and, in my sleep-deprived, incoherent state, struggling to express it while crying the whole time. Not my finest moment of communication, but there it is.

Over the next few months, you say it again and again – “love you, baby!” – and all you get in response is a “babababa” or a coo, or if you’re really lucky, a grimace that might be a smile (or more likely, gas). Then, one day, you say it, and you get a proper response. My daughter was around one then, and she said something that sounded like, “Happy amma!” I didn’t even realise that she was trying to say “I love you, amma” until it happened a few more times. And then I just turned into a teary-eyed mess, a big puddle of goo, because, gosh, I really was the happiest amma in the whole world. (To put this in context, she’d only started saying, ‘amma’ a few weeks before. I was last on the list; she’d learnt to even say ‘paati’ and ‘thatha’ before she deigned to say ‘amma’).

When she was one-and-a-half, I had another heart-melting moment when she started saying “Lubee amma!” I missed “happy amma” a bit, but I’d take “lubee” any day. In fact, everyone in the family dispensed with ‘love you’ and went around saying ‘lubee!’ to one another. By the time she was two, she was able to say “love you” (naturally, I turned to goo. Again). In this phase, she’d just say, “love you too, amma” (whether or not I’d said “love you” first) because, obviously, the fact that I loved her was a given (duh).

Fast-forward a year, and the novelty had mostly worn off. I mean, I still felt wonderful every time she said it, but I no longer turned into a weepy puddle of happiness. Then recently one morning, we were playing together, and she stopped, looked up at me, and said solemnly, “I love you, amma.” Just like that. My heart swelled till it felt like it would burst, and I was all choked up as I said to her, “I love you too, baby.” I was no longer the sleep-deprived new mom I’d been that night at 3 a.m., but the intensity of emotion was still the same. Those three little words pack quite a punch.

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column that appears in The Hindu MetroPlus.

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Fun toddler activities for rainy holiday afternoons

 

* Hide under the quilt and actually fool daddy for a minute into thinking you’re missing, make him panic, and then giggle: “I did a good job hiding, daddy!”

* Take the dish washing sponge from the sink and plonk it into the milk pan (which is, naturally, full of milk). Then do a victory lap around the house.

* Take apart a blob of green Play Doh and scatter it like confetti throughout the house, particularly in various empty vessels in the kitchen.

* Drop daddy’s golf ball inside the (thankfully) empty Bisleri can, so that it goes round and round inside but refuses to come out. Cue victory lap.

* Throw around cotton balls and call it a snowball fight (since it did not, after all, snow in Chennai for Christmas). Also, ride the little Christmas tree we bought like a horse and yell, ‘Giddyup!”

* Conduct scientific experiments on the toaster — how far do you need to stuff a piece of uncooked pasta into its side before the lever stops going up and down? (Answer: not very far).

 

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Toddler Talk: Mess Management, Toddler-Style

Messy, that’s me

How having a toddler around has actually made me less messy

I have an admission to make – I’m a messy, messy person. When I’ve gotten ready to go out for the evening, all available surfaces in my room are covered in clothes and make-up, and wardrobe doors hang wide open. My living room looks like a hurricane hit it, and my dining table is used more as a storage unit than as a place for a sit down meal. Don’t get me wrong; I do keep things hygienic, but I’ve always lived a deeply cluttered existence.

Notice that I’m not blaming my toddler. In fact, having an active, inquisitive child around has actually made me better. Yes, you read that right. In the last couple of years, I’ve learnt the hard way that if you leave your stuff lying around, your toddler will take it upon herself to investigate said stuff. And all toddler investigations come with the following disclaimer: “The toddler is not responsible for any damage to your belongings. If you left it within arm’s reach, it’s fair game.”

It took me a while, but I finally figured out that laziness – which is really at the root cause of most messiness – is not an option when there’s a toddler in your life. You know something needs to be put away but you ignore it anyway and go back on Facebook… Well, your toddler is going to make you pay.

-That pretty dress/dupatta that you love? Yes, the one lying on the floor of the bedroom. You’d better pick it up, otherwise it’s going to be painted on, decorated with play-dough, or even pooped on (true story).

– That coffee cup / cereal bowl that you’ve left perched precariously by the sofa? You’d better put in the sink, or it’ll end up on the floor, in smithereens. And the remaining coffee/milk will adorn both your sofa and your toddler.

– That brand new electronic gadget you’ve left lying in the study? Yes, the beautiful Samsung tablet / iPhone / DSLR camera you spent most of the month’s salary on. You really, really should put it away, because it’ll be jab-jab-jabbed, poked and prodded until, according to your toddler, “it’s not working!” anymore.

– That bottle of juice that’s on the dining table, the one that you know you didn’t close the lid of properly? Yes, turn right back, close the lid tight, and put it away. Because you know it’ll be tipped over and you’ll be sloshing about in a river of juice before you know it. And guess who’ll be the first to slip, fall, and sob that her foot’s hurt? That’s right. The toddler who tipped it over in the first place.

– That stack of boxes/files/books in the corner? The one you’ve been planning to put away for a month? Well, put it away already! Because it looks incredibly like a a) castle b) tower c) tree or d) mountain to your toddler, and simply must be climbed. We all know how that’s going to end, don’t we?

-Those small toy parts you see scattered all over the floor? Yes, the ones you’re pretending don’t exist. They’re either going to impale your foot, or end up in your toddler’s mouth, in which case you’ll dash across the room horror to get it out, and impale your foot anyway.

– That box of earrings you left on your dressing table? Next to your expensive new lipstick and bright red nail polish? Yeah. Good luck getting the nail polish off your earrings and the lipstick off your toddler’s face, and all of it off your floor.

After a few such episodes, moms develop a sixth sense. Take it from me and don’t ignore that little voice which says, “Put away the tube of cream!” Your room will be neater for it, and more importantly, you won’t have to spend the evening scrubbing face cream off your kitchen counters …

TIPS:

  1. If it can break, it shouldn’t be anywhere within a toddler’s reach.
  2. If you care about it, keep it off the floor or couch and in the cupboard.
  3. If it can spill, keep a lid on it. If it’s hot, sharp or heavy, keep it way up high.

 

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Toddler Talk: Requiem For a Nap

In memory of nap time, which left my life too soon…

When you have a baby, naps take on a previously unimaginable significance in your life. In your pre-parenting life, naps were a rare Sunday afternoon treat, after a Saturday night spent clubbing or doing a movie marathon or whatever other fun things childless people do on Saturday nights that I no longer remember ever having done. Sure, maybe you gently snored through afternoon lectures in college. Or maybe you did covert power naps behind your computer post-lunch in office. But the nap was never an integral part of your life, the thing you planned your entire day around. The thing you looked forward to from the moment you woke up in the morning.

All that changes the day your newborn comes into your life. When you’re first told that you should “sleep when the baby sleeps”, you baulk at the idea. Nap at 11 o’clock in the morning? It seems so… wrong. But after that second or third sleepless night, you learn your lesson. If you don’t catch some zzz’s when your baby is napping, you’re going to unravel at the seams (well, you’re probably going to unravel anyway, but the occasional nap slows the process slightly).

As baby gets older, nap time settles into a (sort of) pattern. Morning nap and afternoon nap… a blessed hour or hour and a half each of peace and quiet, when you actually get a bit of time to yourself. You can shower uninterrupted. Catch up on waiting chores. Or go on Facebook and watch cat videos (it’s all about priorities). If the night was bad, you might even grab some shut-eye yourself. In other words, naptime is a stay-at-home mom’s idea of happy hour.

Once you enter the toddler years, things start getting rocky. You’re now deeply attached to the idea of naps, but your toddler has different ideas. The first thing to go is the morning nap (sigh), when your 15 or 16 month old decides she’s done wasting her precious time sleeping pre-noon. You then centre all your hopes on the afternoon nap. When your two year old starts resisting that as well, it means all-out war. You know she needs it. She knows she needs it. But she’s not going to give in without a fight. A daily afternoon battle of wills follows. There are days when you lose (these are not good days). But most of the time she eventually nods off, because she’s exhausted and can’t really cope without the snooze.

The real trouble begins when your toddler begins to out-grow the nap altogether. If you’re lucky, that won’t be until she’s four or older. If you’re not (like me), that happens around the age of three. The signs have been there for the last couple of months, though I’ve tried desperately to ignore them. The naps have been getting shorter and the timings more erratic. The battles have gotten bloodier, and I’ve been staggering away vanquished more often. Well, now it’s official. She no longer needs a nap during the day. She doesn’t sleep, and she’s just fine and dandy. Doesn’t even get cranky later in the evening. It’s done and dusted. Fini. Khatam. No more naps for my toddler.

And so, I write this article in memory of those blissful islands of daytime quietude I’ve enjoyed these past three years. When I actually got to post a blog entry or finish cooking or read list after pointless list on Buzzfeed. Or when I closed the curtains and pulled up the covers and enjoyed a sinfully delicious afternoon nap myself.

Ah, nap time… I will miss you. You were good to me. You swept unexpectedly into my life, and in this short time, you’ve become special to me. Now, all too soon, it is time for you to go. I wish I could hold on, but let go I must.

Farewell to you, my dear.

TIPS:

  1. Hard as it is, allow the progression from two naps to (sigh) no naps to happen naturally.
  2. You know your child best; watch for signs that she’s getting enough sleep.
  3. When it’s time to bid adieu to nap time, let go. Accept that it’s the end of an era

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column that appears in The Hindu Metroplus on Tuesdays.

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To All the Divya Kumars Out There (Part 5): It’s not funny any more…

Ok guys. This is it. It isn’t funny any more. Yes, Divya is a common name. There were three Divyas at my daughter’s birthday party recently. Cue sepia-toned flashback to my own childhood parties. Clearly things haven’t changed in 30 years. Divyas with K initials or surnames beginning with K are also stupendously common. Case in point: that infernal Divya Khosla Kumar who clogs any and all searches of ‘Divya Kumar’ on Google (yes, I’m still at it. Yes, I’m aware it’s sad).

BUT. I think the ridiculous frequency with which these ladies (and yes, the occasional gent) seem to use my email id for various purposes is, well, ridiculous. I went to the bank recently. Money matters are not my strong point. In fact, I suck at managing my finances. I was, as I always am while meeting my ‘relationship manager’ at the bank, nervous, ill-prepared and faintly guilty (about being so irregular and vague about it all). When he asked for the id number on some  investments, I couldn’t find the documents, and in the midst of getting all frazzled, I suddenly remembered an annual report which had been emailed to me from the bank. Tada! I whipped out my new smartphone and feeling ever so, well, smart, pulled up my gmail account and gave him the details. I waited. He made a call. His eyebrows creased. A feeling of foreboding came over me. He looked up at me, confused. “Ma’am, but this is for a Divya Khanna in Delhi.”

I just stared back at him. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I didn’t know whether to feel embarrassed or angry. Or both. It had finally happened. I’d actually been duped by one of these wrong emails.

Why? Why did Divya Khanna think this was her email id? She was so certain of it, she was actually having her mutual fund details sent to it. I mean, was I somehow sharing this email account with 30 others and not realising it? Seriously, this whole thing was taking on a slightly Twilight Zone feel.

It happened again just a day or two ago. I couldn’t remember my Skype password and so clicked on the ‘forgot password?’ link. Skype promptly emailed me, and I was zapped. Because, apparently, there isn’t just my Skype id attached to this email address, there’s three. THREE. All belonging to different Divyas. Again that Twilight Zone feeling. Was it me? Was I creating accounts in my sleep or something? Only pretending to be Divya Damodaran instead of Divya Kumar?

And so, I say, this is it. It is’t funny any more. It’s getting a bit freaky. Does this happen to other Divya Kumars? Is something wrong with my email address? Is something wrong with me?

It’s time to open this out to all you Divyas. We need to talk this out. Discuss the issue in detail. I mean, don’t you guys miss getting your emails? Are you sitting in your homes writing long, rambling blog posts like this about emails that never reach you? Or about how Skype never lets you change your password? We need to talk, ladies.

I have noticed a new trend recently, a sign perhaps that some of the Divyas out there are trying to find ways around this identity swap nonsense. More and more of you seem to be experimenting with funky new spellings. Divia. Diviya. Divaya. I appreciate effort, but just thought I’d let you know that it’s not really working. I’m still getting your emails. Yeah, really.

So, let’s try and sort this out. It’s time to end this, ladies. I spend enough of my life being confuzzled without my email id taking me into Twilight Zone territory over coffee every morning. Post on the blog! Or email me at… scratch that. God knows whom it will reach. Messenger pigeons perhaps?

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Toddler Talk: Tears for Fears

Firecrackers, hair washes, ticking clocks… a whole host of things can trigger toddler fears

Hair dryer? Or hot-air blowing Monster of Doom?

There are few things as tough to handle as a toddler’s fears. Let’s face it, this is a weird world we live in. It isn’t easy to get used to all the strange things – the noises, the sights, the smells – we surround ourselves with. As busy, hassled adults who’re constantly bombarded by sensory input, we hardly notice most of these things anymore, not unless we’re literally assaulted by them (which would explain the nature of our news channels these days. Right, Arnab?).

But to toddlers who’re just getting acquainted with their environment, a lot of things can be upsetting. Sudden, loud noisemakers such as pressure cookers, hair-dryers, and firecrackers are obvious triggers. Through the second year of my daughter’s life, I had to hide in the bathroom or kitchen to use a hair-dryer, because she’d sob as though Godzilla was coming if I turned it on in her vicinity. She was apparently convinced that this growling, hot air-blowing monster was going to eat mommy, and nothing I said or did could change her mind. It didn’t matter that we kept a cooker every day; she still cried for each whistle, each time. And needless to say, our Diwalis haven’t been particularly ‘happy’, since my daughter spends it mostly with her face buried in my lap, trembling at each loud cracker-burst (like ostriches, toddlers are convinced that burying their heads will make scary things go away. Only, instead of sand, they pick various portions of mummy or daddy’s anatomy to dive into, so be prepared for lots of ouch-inducing head-butts).

Not all kids are the same, of course. Some are less highly-strung, others more. And they react to different things. One little boy I know went through a phase when he became acutely sensitive to bad smells. Every morning, just as he left for playschool, the garbage truck would enter his street. Every morning, he would throw up his breakfast. Every morning, without fail.

At least with loud sounds and strong smells, you can try and find ways to protect the child. You can avoid garbage skips like the plague. Risk electrocution by blow-drying your hair in the wet bathroom. Move to Iceland during Diwali. But other fears are tougher simply because they involve tasks that can’t be avoided. Like a fear of head baths. There’re only so many days (weeks?) a toddler can go without washing her hair before she becomes a bit of a stink-hazard herself. My daughter even went through a (thankfully brief) period when she was terrified of having her face washed (yes, bath-time was an absolute delight).

Even tougher, though, are the utterly irrational fears. They’re the hardest to understand, and the hardest to deal with. Like when, one fine day, your toddler decides she’s petrified of an uncle or great-uncle she’s seen hundreds of times before, and refuses to take her face out of your shoulder unless said uncle leaves the room. Or when she decides, for whatever reason, that she’s scared of ticking clocks (my daughter’s latest) or of her own shadow. Try finding a way of avoid those. If it wasn’t for the clock on my phone (thank god for the digital revolution!), I’d completely lose track of time because all wall clocks and alarm clocks in my house are currently in forced hiding.

But really, the most heart-wrenching part is seeing your child gripped by fear. You feel helpless, because nothing you do – no amount of explaining or reassuring – seems to work. It’s frustrating because you want so much to make them feel better, but instead, at the end of a long stretch of holding and comforting, you just left feeling wrung out and exhausted. But the good news is that they do grow out of it. My daughter actually let me use Godzilla, I mean, the hair-dryer on her recently. And I’m sure we’ll have clocks on our walls again. Eventually.

TIPs:

  1. Never ridicule your child’s fears, even if they seem random. It’s very real to them.
  2. Comfort and reassure, and then try to distract.
  3. If it’s something that has to be done, just do it. Faces need to be washed, hair needs to be cut, and that’s that.

‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column that appears in The Hindu MetroPlus.

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