The day was tedious but productive. Susegad is the best way to describe how work happens in Goa. I’ve been coming to this place for nearly 25 years and while much has changed, a lot still remains the same. Siesta time is still sacrosanct. Maman had a good day today and there were moments of comic relief thanks to Chitti but that is more like a set of stories, web series style.
The highlight was a quick sunset dip in the sea with the firstborn for company. The ocean is mesmerizing in all its shades. The road beckons again and tomorrow night I’ll sleep in another city.
Over the last few months, the food on my plate has slowly gone back to the food I ate as a child, thanks to the mater. She loves to cook and feed people and prepares meals that hark back to when she was a younger woman feeding three growing children and a house that was always open. We often had long term visitors as well as people dropping in for a cup of chai. Meals were prepared in large quantities to account for the inevitable visitor or two. It was probably a carryover tradition from the ancestral homes with large families.
Those kitchens were marked into clearly defined areas for cooking, storing and prepping. In my grandmother’s kitchen, she cooked with firewood and the area always smelled comforting. It must not have been very comfortable for those doing the cooking thought as it wasn’t very well ventilated. Pieces of meat and fish would hang over the pots as they slowly dried to be used during the wet months. As city kids who came from homes with compact kitchens, it was exciting to watch the sparks fly as the fire would be stoked. It’s still mesmerizing to see the dance of fire.
Circa 2020, my mother feeds me and mine with foods that used to be childhood favourites like puttu and pazham, kappa puzhungi (steamed tapioca) with chamandi (chutney), ethakka appam (plantain fritters), idiyappam (string hoppers), chakka kuru manga (a curry with jackfruit seeds and mangoes), moru kachiyathu (cooked buttermilk) etc. I barely made them before she came to live with me, the tastes of the youngling are more urban and generic. She didn’t care for the unique texture or food combinations and I couldn’t be bothered to make two different kinds of meals.
The kid hasn’t really warmed to those old foods but I’ve rediscovered those tastes and textures. It also reminds me of my father. Puttu and pazham were a favourite breakfast item but as a child, I couldn’t get around to mashing the banana into the puttu. Dad would do it for me and when it was a nice sticky mass, I’d dig in happily. As even smaller kids, we would have hot rice, ghee and salt mixed and made into small balls to pick and eat. It’s yummy even for adults.
Food has been revered and there exists a rich tradition in their preparation, presentation, consumption etc. but we’ve lost much of those practices to convenience. Elders are needed to continue traditions that are worth saving but it’s tougher now with nuclear families. Perhaps, the loss began with the breaking up of joint families. These days even the nuclear families have fragmented into single person units or fractured families as members live across different cities or countries due to work or study.
The act of cooking together and eating together also faded as appliances reduced the need for increased time in the kitchen. Plus, ‘healthy eating’ was simpler, it didn’t call for elaborate or time consuming prepping. I’m a reluctant cook, a basic one at that and can subsist on simple fare. But, it’s always nice to taste all those old foods once again and have my fill of them too. Maybe, get mother to write down those recipes for me. Maybe someday, I may want to experiment with old food.
Leaving with a quote from one of my favourite Upanishads,
From food all beings are born, having been born, they grow by (consuming) food. Food is that which is eaten by the beings and also that which in the end eats them; therefore, food is called annam.
As a little girl, I would be mesmerized watching my mother getting ready for work or church. She would take her time choosing a saree and the right string of pearls to go with it. She would easily tame the six yards into tidy pleats and pin them up where they would rest obediently until it was time to come undone. Then would come the light dusting of compact powder and a change of jewelry if she felt like it. Last was always perfume. I’d watch her transform into this glamorous woman and gawk artlessly.
Later, when she was away, I’d rummage through the linen bag and wind her saree around myself trying to find her elegance. It never came. I grew into a lanky teenager, all long limbs and gauche, always falling short of the ideal of feminine elegance which remained her image. The first saree I ever wore was a deep purple silk for a school farewell and I remember being extremely self-conscious. One of the tallest in the grade, I stood a head above my classmates and on the fringes. It was both heady and excruciatingly painful grappling with the insecurities of that age.
A few years later, the saree became part of my everyday as a young mother. It was a handy garb especially when feeding a hungry baby, providing enough cover and doubling up as towel and sheet. I wore cottons and that preference has remained a constant. Clean, cool cottons. But once in a while, there is a breaking away to enter the flirtiness of chiffons or whimsy of lace or then the stateliness of silks. But that’s rare. Today is one such day with a lacy number that belonged to my mother. I loved this one over its pale pink twin, never quite imagining that I would one day be wrapped as effortlessly in its fluidity.
My mother turns a year older today and she has been excited about it like a little girl. She was quite harried as a working mother of three and back then it would be hard to see her let her hair down. It’s nice to see her liveliness now. Age and decay catch up and I remain keenly aware of the frailty of human minds and lives. Here today, gone tomorrow. A pandemic, old age and a decline in health are more than enough reasons to wonder if there will be a birthday next year. For now, she feels loved and special with all the wishes from family and friends and I am grateful that she is happy.
Early this morning, she got a little teary eyed when I wished her and I realized that the mother had now become the child. All I could do was to gather her unto myself.
We’ve crossed the halfway mark of the lockdown. It seems an uncertain world that we will emerge into whenever this forced isolation is over. What is certain though is that art created in these times, splashing a canvas with fears and desires across all kinds of media, will remain. Decades from now, a future generation will read about these times like we do about the ages gone by of older wars and plagues.
These days hand written letters have morphed into images sent electronically
A couple of nights ago, I had fallen off to sleep and then gotten up with a start. So, I thought I’d work on some writing when your sister came by. She craves company and says that she is like a bug to my light. It’s a cute analogy. For me though, at writing times, I want silence and complete isolation. I don’t like having anyone nearby. Long story short, I didn’t end up writing but indulged her drawing whims.
We spoke for a long while and she sketched me, I really like the picture. Sending it to you so you can see what I mean. She is gifted and doesn’t quite know it. That’s probably the best place to be as an artist. Perhaps someday, I might ask her to make illustrations for books I will write. Through my writing, I have started to discover myself and explore beyond the edges of what I thought I knew. It’s been exhilarating, this deluge of discovery. But that’s for another day when I get to see you in person, my love.
It’s late and I’m tired. My mind’s ranged universes today and I have no wise words or thoughts for us to ponder, just this little slice of my today. And a very big I love you.
How many word universes does the mind inhabit in one rotation of the planet?
It was an interesting sort of journey through words beginning with a long reading of The Divine Song early in the morning, some poetry bordering on erotica, a comic book on menstruation, an account of a modern woman’s search to unpack traditional wisdom with regards to women’s health and a dipping into an anthology of women’s writing as well as a translation of a hindi novel.
Most of it was reading and a small portion was writing. There was also a long phone call with my soulmate and in our conversations, we discovered that we laughed so hard to avoid looking at the fading mind of a mother we never knew. They say there’s a tumour that is benignly placed and comfortably on its way to senility. Alongside, a brain shrinks into singsong inappropriateness and manic energy. Now that’s a book that will remain unwritten and unread.