Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

Tag: memories

Of Tamarind, Mangoes and Bananas

I read this beautiful piece by Nupur Roopa all along with a flood in my mouth and my heart longing for that jar of tamarind that Ammamma, my grandmother, used to hide inside the kalavara (the storeroom). For now I satisfied my craving by indulging in a sinful spoon of puli-inji, a ginger pickle made with fresh ginger, jaggery and chillies. It is one of the many dishes prepared for Onam.

How My Love Affair with Khatti-Meethi Tamarind Continues…

The kalavara was one of the places at my granny’s home from where most of my adventures began. For some reason all the switchboards at my granny’s place were located above six feet from ground and hence even though there used to be a bulb inside the kalavara, I could never manage to switch it on before sneaking in. Nevertheless, it also helped me a lot since no one ever got to know that I was inside. 

It used to be a dark, cluttered and haunted place with gunny sacks full of naalikeram/thenga (coconuts), fresh ones and dried ones, huge vessels that were only used when we had a sadya (feast) at home. Plus huge ‘urulis‘, the big traditional vessels, used to partially boil the rice with husk to make it parboiled rice. And then the farming tools. Large containers of rice grain. Pots filled with polished rice, parboiled rice and other varieties. Some pots were for manjal (dried turmeric), arecanuts, red chillies, coffee beans and chukku (dried ginger). And then there were sacks full of mangoes of different varieties that were saved for pickles, chutneys, squashes and other stuff. Then there were those large bunches of bananas that used to be hung from the ceiling.

Apart from all of these, there were geckos, spiders of all colours, sizes and shapes, including the deadly tarantulas. Ants. Black ones. Red ones. Small ones. Big ones. And the many varieties from the insect world that I never saw outside of that house. I should have actually taken up entomology. I could have excelled. And sometimes there were also snakes including cobras that used to sneak in from the paambu kaavu (snake shrine) and enter the room through the partially open window. With all of these inside, I still dared to enter this room not just once, but many many times. One day, our household help entered the kalavara and got the shock of her life as I jumped out of nowhere. She almost fainted and I remember begging her to not tell anyone of this secret hiding place of mine. Komalam chechi was so sweet that she agreed with a smile. 

I used to sneak into this space all alone till the little sister started joining me on my adventure trips. Every time she was about to scream out of fear or pain from an insect bite, I had to cover her mouth to avoid disasters or bribe her with a mango or a ball of tamarind that I took out from one of the many bharanis (ceramic jars).

We used to have this huge pulimaram (tamarind tree) close to our main gate. The house was at least 50 feet away from the main gate. The roots of the pulimaram used to be spread across a large area and at some parts of the front yard, the roots were outside of the soil. I used to sit on these for hours daydreaming, drawing or talking to the stars, Achan (Dad) or myself.

Since we used to frequent Ammamma‘s house only during our summer vacations, the only time I have seen this tree full of fruits is during one October when we were there to meet an ailing Muthachan (grandfather), who passed away without even talking to me one last time. I had just turned twelve and losing him on a Diwali day was another big blow to my young mind. And that’s when I started sitting under the Tamarind tree for hours talking to him, writing my journal entries and tending to the seven Ashoka trees that we both had planted together near the compound wall of the house. Muthachan had told me these were pendulum trees. And I had assumed that they will tell us the time in future.

It was during one of the vacations that I had a clash with Amma and was so upset that I got into the kalavara and hid myself. Muthchan was not home and hence Amma and everyone else realized my absence only when lunch was being served. I could hear the commotion outside but my anger kept me from coming out. The moment the kalavara bulb was lit, I got inside one of the empty gunny sacks. I came out only about an hour later when my entire body was swollen because of ants and other insect bites. I am sure I don’t have to describe the amount of beating I received from Amma that day for scaring everyone.

Another episode was during my maternal uncle’s wedding. There were three bunches of banana that were hung inside one of the rooms. They were supposed to be used during the many feasts that were part of the wedding. My people got a shock when they realized on the eleventh hour that there were only one banana left on each of the bunches. The culprits were the only two granddaughters available in the house. Thanks to Acha, we escaped unhurt.

Once I had requested  Ammamma for one more mango after having almost five or six mangoes. That year the mango produce was less and she had hidden some for us. She refused me saying I was overeating and that she would give me more the very next day. ‘No’ was something that triggered the little monster inside me. I knew she had hidden them somewhere inside the kalavara. I sneaked in to get a few mangoes. But it seems Ammamma  was cleverer than me. She had hid the mangoes in a polythene and kept them inside the rice container. I tried everywhere except inside those containers. That was the day that I happened to encounter a cobra that was getting in through the window. As it hissed, I felt a chill run down my spine and my pyjamas getting wet. After a few nanoseconds of eye-to-eye glares, I rushed out. I think that was the last time I got into the kalavara on my own.  Ammamma gave me three mangoes instead of one to make me feel better. And I still remember that I just kept them aside and went on shivering for a while.

Childhood memories are treasures that I value much more than everything else that I have gained in my life. My inter-regional marriage and the subsequent distancing from the family ended my affair with the kalavara, pulimaram and mangoes from our orchards. During partition, the house that Muthachan used to say was mine went to my maternal uncle and family. The last time I went to this place was in November 2013 and I saw the kalavara had made space for a lavish bathroom, and the pulimaram was nowhere to be seen. Three of the pendulum trees remain as a sign of the good times I had spent in that house and of people I loved. No more reason to go there. I am glad that no partition can ever take away the beautiful memories that my heart and mind holds of a place I lovingly called home.

What’s you best memory from your childhood vacations at your grandparents?

Recommended Reading:

Withered Dreams Revisited | Dew Drops

Miss you Muthacha… | Dew Drops

Pathayapura – The Granary | Dew Drops

Myths and Beliefs: Inherited | Dew Drops

Banished for Menstruating – #PeriodPride | Dew Drops

 

Nest – A Place You Call Home

Do deewane shahar mein
Do deewane shahar mein
Raat mein ya dopahar mein
Aab-o-daana-dhoondhte hain
Ek aashiyana dhoondhte hain
Do deewane…

As Bhupinder and Runa Laila sang this song on the radio for the nth time this morning my heartbeats multiplied to the tune of n. It’s been playing in my heart and mind ever since I was a child and witnessed my parents hunting for the many houses that we called home for the little time we stayed in them. The lyrics paint that picture perfect house in my mind.

On our way to the school every morning and back in the evening, our school bus had to cross river Yamuna. She used to be a different person in those days. She was full of energy and brimming with water. The water with black silt underneath used to flow along graciously like Rapunzel’s long locks.

Death is inevitable and my young mind knew it very well. Funeral pyres that littered the banks of Yamuna, the twin sister of Yama (the Lord of Death), and the acrid curls of smoke that rose from melting flesh and charring bones was a regular sight. Another sight was that of people who would throng the place to throw the ashes back into the water. The half burnt corpses lay on the banks and sometimes floated on the river. A feast for crows and the then abundant species of vultures that inhabited the banks. So much for a favourable rebirth.

I do remember the army of worshippers that stood up to their waist in the river on chilly winter mornings, chanting their sacred verses and then immersing themselves in the holy yet utterly filthy water. It used to be crowded during the Shiv Kanvarias season and Chhat Puja. Women in bright coloured sarees with even brighter coloured sindoor. It ranged from maroon, red, orange and even fluorescent green. I guess these bright colours were not just worn to celebrate the festival but to hide the dull, sleepy and hungry faces. All of them with the cane baskets full of fruits and other goodies. I would have loved to see their counter parts joining them and standing hand in hand, making this the most beautiful depiction of love, care and equality.

It was also the dwelling of elephant mahouts whose elephants were hired for the annual festival at the Uttara Guruvayoorappan Temple. The barely dressed children from the JJ Basti, the cluster of slum dwellers, would jump into the water as we cheered for them from the moving bus. A reciprocal waving of hands and a few words that never reached us were enough to keep us motivated to cheer more.

This was the story around one bank of the river.

My story, the one I kept painting and improving in my mind, was more about the other bank.

Acres of lush green farms on the government land on the river bed with a few thatched roof huts and some mango and banyan trees. This was a feast for my hungry eyes. There was this one hut closer to the river. It had a huge mango tree outside. There was a swing hung on it. A tyre swing on which kids could be seen swinging. One or two cows, a few goats and a brood of hens. A little away was this lady. The mother of the house. Sometimes she could be seen making ‘uplas’ or dung cakes. At other times she could be seen spreading the washed laundry. Some other times she would be making chappatis on her ‘chulha’, the traditional mud stove. Her man could be seen toiling in their nearby land.

To me, they were a perfect family. And that leaking hut was a perfect home. Imperfectly perfect! I wasn’t bothered about the security issues or the minimal space or the restricted living. The man. He made that picture complete. He was easily approachable. At times he could be seen running after the kids with a stick in his hand. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that he was there. Right there. He completed the picture. The missing link in my own family picture. And at that time I used to imagine all those letters from Riyadh being thrown high up into the sky. As they fell back slowly on to the ground they transformed into a figure. That missing figure. The one that would complete my family portrait. My Dad.

I had imagined all of us running hand in hand around the hut singing this beautiful melody from one of my most favourite movies, Saath Saath.

Ye Tera Ghar Ye Mera Ghar
Kisi Ko Dekhna Ho Gar
To Pehle Aake Maang Le
Meri Nazar Teri Nazar
Ye Tera Ghar Ye Mera Ghar
Ye Ghar Bahut Haseen Hai …

Home. Nest. Veedu. Ghar. Aashiyaana. Aabodaana. Ghonsla. Abode.

Words that I love. Words that I live by. Words that make me feel alive. Words that rejuvenate me. Words that resonate within me. Home is where the heart is. Home is the people in it. Home is the memories it creates. Home is nostalgia. Home is the pictures that one’s mind captures with bare eyes.  Home is the bonding that it represents. Home is the stories are written together. Home is where you are yourself. No boundaries. No restrictions. No inhibitions. We may grow in age, we may move places and we may forget about it totally. But deep inside, the memories, those pictures are deeply engraved within each of us. The ones of the picture perfect home that you long for even after ages.

What are your fondest memories of the place you still call ‘home’?

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