While I was growing up, one of my favourite TV shows was ‘The Wonder Years’. The series was based on a wonderful thought that has stayed with me ever since I came across it. ‘Memory is a way of holding on to things you love, the things you are, and the things that you never want to lose’
‘Ammumma’, (my maternal grandmother) was an integral part of my growing up years, and continues to be so to this day. We speak almost every day. Whenever I think of her, the first images that come to my mind, are the balmy Kerala nights, when we used to lie down side by side for our nightly ritual of storytelling, sprinkled with impromptu cuddling. It would be the same story every night; but the sound of her voice, the comforting and familiar fragrance of her after bath sandalwood talcum powder, along with the comfortable warmth seeping in from my toes, tucked safely in the soft folds of her sari, lulled me to sleep. Some nights, after the story, she sang lullabies ; songs that she had grown up with, songs scented with fragrant sandalwood sachets of memories.
The soothing sound of’ ammumma’ singing in her slightly out of tune voice, is one of my most cherished childhood memories. My favourite lullaby was **“omana thingal kidavo..” Some nights, when I put my son to bed, singing that ever green lullaby, I close my eyes and can almost feel ammumma’s plump slightly calloused fingers, softly stroking my hair.
‘Ammumma’ was a wonderful cook and my sister and I often awoke to paper thin dosas, sizzling on the griddle, oozing with ghee. We often lost count of the number of dosas we devoured, and they disappeared quickly, along with melt in your mouth, freshly ground coconut chutney; ‘Ammumma’ did not know any fancy cooking techniques. All the ingredients she used were simple, earthy ones, often made in her own kitchen from scratch. Freshly churned homemade butter, melting on steaming hot mounds of rice, delicately flavoured fish curry, tart, with just the right amount of heat, butter milk spiked with ginger and cumin. Relatives often asked her, how all her dishes turned out so well and she would simply smile and attribute her culinary success to a secret ingredient, passed on to her by her mother.
Some days before I was to be married, ‘ammumma’ was combing out my hair when she casually remarked “Always remember, even if you are serving a cup of tea, do it with love. You must have the desire to see the people who are eating your food, satiated and content. Good food is one of the very few things in life, that have the power to genuinely satisfy a person. That is the secret ingredient that makes the simplest of dishes ,seem like a gourmet meal”
Thank you ammumma, for flavoring my life with the sweetness of your love.
*Omanathinkal Kidavo (Malayalam: ഓമന തിങ്കള് കിടാവോ ) is a lullaby in Malayalam that was composed by Irayimman Thampi on the birth of Maharajah Swathi Thirunal of Travancore. To date, it remains one of the most popular lullabies in the Malayalam language.
The lullaby was composed by Thampi at the request of the then ruler of Travancore, Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi, to put the baby King Swathi Thirunal to sleep. His birth was a long awaited event for the royal family since it faced the threat of being annexed into British India under the Doctrine of Lapse for the want of a male heir. The lyrics of the poem reflect this sense of relief when it refers to the baby as a 'treasure from God' and 'the fruit of the tree of fortune'.
You can listen to the lullaby here: