Two years already, since she moved on . I’ve been old enough for long enough to know you’re never too old to want your mother when you don’t feel good. But in these two years of not being able to pick up the phone and call her, demanding the recipe for Witches’ Brew, aka milagu kozhambu, I’ve learnt I’m never going to be too old to want my mother when I’m feeling good.
But she has taught me well. In the beginning they were 14, Seven brothers and seven sisters. Mother was the ninth child. And she always said 9 was her lucky number. She was born on a 9th. Exactly how this number worked for her is a mystery to all of us, but mostly it was enough that she thought so, and it was cited at all momentous occasions and one birthday, it did save the Big Brother from mother’s wrath for forgetting to send her a card .When he remembered, it was too late to go out and buy one, so he fashioned a greeting card out of KG cardboard (Why is it called KG cardboard?) yellow, drew a little cuboid and a big cuboid, and a sun , and called his work of art “Mother and Child In Sunshine, and inside wrote out this little mathematical formula- 1-9-1979
Therefore, it’s a lucky year (QED)
Mother walked on air for several days, and showed it everyone, and blamed the delay in its arrival on the Postal Department.
I digress. Mother told me stories about her 13 siblings , their spouses and the grandparents, and her cousins., of whom there were, well, dozens. Growing up in Nellore, in the big house, under the gimlet eye of the grandfather, who wasn’t really as fearsome as he looked. It must have been magical and wondrous, like Mayabazar, with Grandmother , the queen of the kitchen, where all the pots and pans were king-size, and the coffee-filter made of brass looked like it had been made for the Kaurava household! Grandfather’s clients and friends were brought home for lunch without notice, but Grandmother could never be caught off-guard. She always came through, and Mother and her sisters served the guests sumptuous meals and super coffee.
The grandparents were both devout. In the large puja room dominated by the ornate mandasanam (which now resides in A-5,) and the 24′ high idol of Hanuman standing with folded hands, I’m quite certain Rama came down in person to receive the puja and naivedhyam..Grandfather , who radiated awesome authority with his great height and commanding presence, could send his dozen offspring scurrying across the expanse of the hall and the inner courtyard by merely walking in through the front door. He was addicted to the Ramayana, giving lectures about it and explaining its wonders to friends and colleagues at the club where he played bridge, and every year the Ramanavami was celebrated grandly, over ten days. His daily pujas were no less elaborate. His addiction , ultimately led him to write the story down, in Telugu, and thanks to the book, I now have his wise counsel and humorous observations about the epic, and about life, in general, and I have a sense of what kind of man he had been.
Grandmother’s domain was the Thulasi kotai, which too was extra large size. Though I barely remember Grandfather, I have memories of Grandmother’s daily routine of readying the puja room for him, and then going into the backyard with her little brass basket , to pick flowers and wash the Thulasi (which happens to be my mother’s name) mukham – which too now resides in A-5, sprinkle water around the kotai, draw kolams, rub turmeric and kumkum along the corners, and do the puja , reciting various shlokas. I remember begging to be allowed to handle the basket, and pick flowers and be Grandmother’s little helper.
While I made my own memories. Mother added to the repertoire with many anecdotes, and titbits about life with 13 siblings, and the consequence was that by the time i was ten, I felt I knew all of them very well, though it wasn’t often that I met them.
I had this thing about not finding mother at home when I came from school. I always checked for her slippes, and if they were missing, I was quite put out. Of course, there were days when events at schools warranted the hope that they would not be there, but that’s beside the point.
Somedays, I would find a strange pair of shoes or more . That meant visitors. An uncle come from Madras on work . And once I knew who it was. I could guess what we were having for dinner. Kandipappu chintapandu pachadi , if it was AVN Chittappa. ( the husband of Rohini, my mom’s youngest sister) He’s a lawyer, and in the 70s used to take a great many cases in Bangalore, which meant he came down often. The aroma of minimula pachadi meant Bheemu Chittappa ( my aunt Janaki’s huband) had arrived/was coming over. When Kittu (her immediate elder brother) mixed hot rice, oil and avakkai, you wanted to grab the plate and wolf down the whole thing yourself! – something i have witnessed for myself.
Dasharathram Mama, (her second older brother, right after Thambi Mama) loved the masala dosa that Mother made, and never tired of telling everyone that he discovered bisi bele baath thanks to her. Lakshmi Periamma’s name was given to a koottu that she had learnt to make from her elder sister.
Not being a great fan of sweets, I mean, I can honestly say I never get a craving for sweets, although I relish a gulab jamun , and the occasional paal payasam provided it’s made by my mother– doesn’t mean that I don’t miss the divine kozhakattais (kharam and sweet) that she used to make.
I’ve been thinking lately about this I-want-my-mother thing. Now, what did she do when she had that moment? And how many of them were caused by me? I cringe with guilt about the time a few years ago, when I rejected the gulab jamuns she made for my birthday . I mean, who’d ever think Mother’s GJs could be anything but divine? Can an MS concert be a complete washout?
I told her exactly what i’d thought of the GJs, which didn’t smell quite right, and the sugar had not really reached the centre of the golden-brown orb of delight. they weren’t even golden brown orbs of delight. Thye were crumbly, misshapen. They were like I’d made them.
She took it quite lightly, I think. I made up for it later, by getting her a bottle of eau de cologne, something that she always loved to have around her, not that she ever used it.
Last year, I made kozhakattai for Ganesha Chaturthi. They came out perfectly, and I believe it was really her hand that did it. And when I make akki rotti, or adai, I make five little holes, one in the middle, and 4 around it, just like I remember her doing it. On the 9th, I made cluster beans pindimiryam, it smelled like Amma’s.
Oh! I finally made gulab jamuns. They were awesome. They were like Mother’s. Golden brown orbs of delight, sloshing about in the sugar syrup, smelling of rose essence and cardomom. Not crumbly or doughy. Of course, Mother was there. She’s always there, even when I’m feeling good. Next time I find those green brinjals at the Korean store, I’m getting abunch of them to make sambhar. Whenever she returned from a trip to Nellore, or Madras, she liked arrive home to a lunch of brinjal sambhar and rice. She’ll love that. She always did. And she never complained about it’s taste, or color, or consistency.