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.
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?