Monday, March 16, 2009


You could set your watch by her. At five to 8 every morning, when we were young, Nagamma Ayah - an illiterate, old woman would turn up at our doorstep to shepherd us to school. “AbhiBhavani…” one of the many children in her herd would call out to us from the entrance. As if we were conjoined twins and not a pair of siblings baying for each other’s blood at that very moment. Ayah would motion for us to hurry up and we would join the motley flock as it made its way to school.

On our walk to school, she would sometimes tell us about her wayward sons, her deceased, alcoholic husband and on other occasions she would chat with other ayahs about her struggling milk business and its defaulting customers. It gave children like me a brief insight into the lives of those who worked for us. Those invisible cogs in the wheel who were only ever noticed in their absence.

She attended my wedding and she also came around to see my child when he was born. She was amused that the girl she had once walked to school was now a mother. I would go visit her in her tiny little house on my trips to Madras. She would still call me ‘our Abhi’. And I’d be touched by her easy assumption of propriety over me.

This morning, Appa told me that Nagmma Ayah (or 'School Ayah' as she was popularly known) had passed away. The last time I saw her, she was still accompanying children on their school run. In another life, one of those children would have been mine. And I too, like my mother and others like her, would have been assured that my son was in capable hands.
Thank you, Ayah. For giving much more than you ever took.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Memories of food - Elandampazham

As a child, we were not allowed to eat elandampazham. Chee, one of the aunts would admonish wheneverI expressed an interest in the forbidden fruit, we do not eat such fruit. It never occured to me ask her why. In much the same way as I never questioned, until much later, other pearls of wisdom handed down to us. I simply accepted it and stayed away from watermelon, sweet potato and elandampazham. All of which, presumably, occupied the lowest rung of edibles. And everyday I was left looking longingly at the wooden cart piled high with elandampazham as it did brisk business outside our school.

For about 10 paise, you would get a paper coneful of sour-sticky, ripe berries sprinkled generously with salt and chilli powder. I never, ever bought a cone but sometimes, on rare occasions, a classmate would offer me a single pazham. I would grab it quickly before she had a chance to change her mind. And once in my hand, I would roll the fruit in my palm, fully aware of the rule I was about to break. What if they found out about it? Would the smells fade by the time I reached home? What if the fruit burst and the juices stained my white shirt? Would I be able to explain it without giving away too much? My mind would be in turmoil. But I would succumb to the temptation and pop the fruit into my mouth. I'd bite into its sumptuous flesh and savour its sharp sourness. In the following years, I have started eating watermelon and I make the most delicious falafels using sweet potatoes. But elendampazham? The aftertaste of guilt that lingered once the berry was gone was not very nice.

On Milkmaid, maggi

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lost in Post

To a little boy

It cannot be easy being you. A follow-up act to your more devilishly charming, flamboyant older brother. Before you were born, I was convinced that no child could ever take the special place your brother had come to occupy in my life. I used to argue with your father you would always be a second-born. A runner-up. A bridesmaid (or a best-man, as you turned out to be). That you could never be the prized, cherished, celebrated apple of my eye that my firstborn child was. But how easily you tore down my flimsy little conviction. The minute I saw you, I knew I was gone. What was worse, I succumbed willingly.

My fears that you would be overshadowed by your brother have proven unfounded. Over the past year, you have come into your own as a person. Your brother demands and challenges our love and attention. You, on the other hand, are much more accepting of our distractions with him. It is almost as if you understand that he is used to being the star of the show for much of his life. That you want to let him have the limelight a little longer. And when you do that, in a clever, subversive way, you become the prized child. I guess that’s how it will always be. I will be torn between the two of you. Unable to decide which of my sons I favour more.

They say the world is made for a family of four – dining tables, cars, parents (one for each child). You were the last piece in our puzzle. Thank you for completing the picture.

Happy first birthday, Tikku!



(l-r) Tikku, Ammani, Jikku

Monday, March 02, 2009

A quick tale 225

Moving story

When did it happen? How did we manage to gather so many things? Look, here's a gift you got me for my last birthday. I've barely opened it. The expiry date is still some months away. Don't throw that away just yet. And here's something else you bought me because it was winter and I'd gone out without a coat. It's okay, you had said, don't worry about the price. I just want you stay warm. The coat has still got the price tag on it. And do you remember who gave us this one? I think we should keep it in her memory. It seemed like such a nice gesture at the time. How come we never used it again? And look where this has been hiding all this while. I had looked all over the house and couldn't find it. In the end, I just ended up buying a new one. Do you think it still works? What about these two? It was your idea. I had protested against buying it. But you were convinced that we needed them at home. I can count the number of times you used it - once. And look at these. This is from ebay. This from a carboot sale. This from a charity shop. This from freecycle. This from godknowswhere. When did it happen? What was I thinking? When did it happen? How did we come to gather so many things? When did we let them own us?