mom of all trades

mom of all trades

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

A bit of summer, pickled and preserved

“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”
― L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl

I am standing in the vast courtyard lined with sun warmed brick tiles, the warmth seeping into my bare feet. It is late evening and a gentle breeze tugs at my skirt, bringing with it, the unmistakable scent of mango blossoms. I am flanked on all sides, by my cousins and we are engrossed in an exciting game of ‘L O N D O N’ London. My aunt, sitting on the wide granite steps leading to the courtyard, calls out asking us to come in for our bath as dusk slowly pulls its dark, velvety cap over the twilight sky. Her hands are busy stringing tiny fragrant jasmine buds, freshly plucked from the thick jasmine bower, into pretty garlands. Later she will weave small lengths of these into our plaits so that by bed time, our hair smells of jasmine and mellow sunshine.

Kunjimalu, who seems to us as ancient as the house itself, glides across the courtyard, holding   a tiny brass lamp in her gnarled fingers, to be placed in the tiny triangular groove on the ‘tulasithara’*; a dainty ritual of officially acknowledging the twilight hour. She stops next to us, smiling her toothless smile holding aloft the lit lamp, a signal for us to freeze midway though whatever we are doing and rattle off a few lines of prayer.

We rush off for our bath. Warm water in huge brass urns and crisp, sundried, ironed clothes are kept ready for each of us. We never bother to find out how these things magically appear at the appointed hour, we have better, more important things to do.

It is now when I look at it though the eyes of an adult, that I often wonder at these ‘little’ things. Sumptuous meals punctuated with an incessant supply of snacks, which seemed to appear like clockwork depending on the time of the day, request for ‘special’ dishes, which was always accommodated on the menu. Little treats for kids, like chilled sweet lemonade or thick slices of tart raw mango, smothered with a mixture of fiery red chilli powder salt and a dash of oil, available at a moment’s notice.

Summer fun with the cousins!!
After bath, valliamma (our grandmother) summons us for prayers and a ‘warding off the evil eye’ session. This session is presided over by ‘patti amma’, an in house soothsayer if you will. She brings out a fistful of the ash grey ‘bhasmam’* and circles it over my head and the length of my body, all the while chanting some strange incantations and blowing the ash with a dramatic ‘psh-phooo’ on my face, leaving me coughing and spluttering and pronounces me satisfactorily free of evil eye.

After dinner we file into the bedroom, which is ironically called the 'poomukam’ (drawing room) . The mattresses are already  lined across the length and breadth of the room . We slowly drift off to sleep amidst giggles, whispers and snatches of horror stories.

Tomorrow looks promising, with a swim session in the emerald green water of the kulam*, arrival of more cousins, lovely poozhan a local river fish, spicy, crisp and fried to perfection for lunch, as promised by the cook, and many more happy memories to create.

I remember it quite often, the days I have spent in my father’s ancestral home. The memories come to me without any provocation or reason; like it were a live thing, with a mind of its own. It is a kaleidoscope of colors, scents, textures and faces rather than events. 
It is a bit of the golden summer days of my child hood; pickled and preserved, to be savoured when the world looks bleak and dark.

* Thulasithara:

* Kulam: