I don't know what made me think of her. It is quite possible that it was the sight of the still half-full packet of murukku on the top shelf that triggered the memory. Long before Grand Sweets and Snacks took over the murukkus of the world, there was murukku paati. I don't think she had ever been murukku-young girl or murukku-lady before she became the grandmother who squeezed out the best murukkus out of the mould. She was nobody's grandmother in particular and yet everyone in the neighbourhood called her paati.
Paati was a widow and she wore a widow's garb of pale pink cotton 9-yards saree. Her head was shaved and she wore no blouse. When she sat down, her pendulous breasts would rest on the folds of her stomach like a well-fed cat on his owner's lap on a Saturday afternoon. Snug, settled and unrushed.
I do not remember her face very well. But when I think of her, I can see her holding a large mould filled with murukku dough and squeezing it over a vat of boiling hot oil. She would then sit back and using the long end of an iron ladle move it around so that the murukku rounds didn't stick to each other or to the bottom of the pan as they tended to.
I think Murukku paati lived alone in a small room. I have vague recollections of being sent to fetch her once and I remember finding her hunched over a kerosene stove stirring something. Perhaps she really lived in a bustling joint family where three generations lived under one roof. But some how the image of her lonely self cooking a meal-for-one, seems to stick to my mind.
Paati passed away when I was about 10 or so after a brief battle with breast cancer. Someone said she must have developed cancer from inhaling wood smoke for all those years. We must've clicked our tongues in sympathy when we heard the news. Paavam paati, someone would have remarked, she made such wonderful murukkus. The mention of murukku would have prompted someone else to wonder who would take over from paati. And in all likelihood, conversation would have veered towards the direction of finding a worthy successor to paati.
I look up at the shelf with its murukku packet. I reach for it. It tastes stale. The crispiness has long given way to a soft sponginess which feels alien in a murukku. It eat it anyway. It seems such a shame to let it go waste.
On Elandampazham, Milkmaid, maggi & idli