How wonderful it is that as some things change, others remain the same. This sunrise, golden through the heads of swaying coconut palms, is as picturesque as I remember it to be. The sky, blue like my daughter’s eyes, has but a few splashes of white. But I can see change on the horizon. That’s something that always stays the same, the unpredictable yet predictable weather. I imagine the clouds would stroll in soon, white at first and then turning dark. Then the showers will start, short spells of soothing summer rains.
I remember going for long walks with mom and dad in the rain. I used to run ahead suddenly, out of the cover of the umbrella either they held above me, or leaving them to catch the umbrella I let go off. I used to cop hell for that later, but it was worth it. I imagine Vidya would love doing that as well.
But Narayanan, our housekeeper, says otherwise. He says the rain won’t let up, there’s a storm coming. It might rain all day, for a couple of days at most. It puts a dampener on the vacation plans, and see it on my wife’s face too. The walk through memories may have to wait.
It’s Vidya who sees the bright side of things, as usual.
She has seen our old board behind the showcase in the living room, and is curious to know how to play it.
“Daddy, come on.Teach me Carrom,” she says, the eagerness showing in her voice. She pulls at my hand, and points to the carpet on the floor.
Soon, the three of us are playing enthusiastically. The rain has slowly increased in its force, but it’s still not heavy. After five years in Manchester, this seems but a drizzle in comparison.
The aroma of Narayanan’s wife’s cooking breaks our interest in the game. Between Aarthi and me, we start guessing what’s on the menu.
“Smells like there is hot tomato and pepper rasam,” she says, sniffing the air and closing her eyes as she enjoys the fragrance.
I agree with her. The aroma is divine, almost tempting me to get up and go into the kitchen to have a taste. But Sharada chechy has already barred us from the vicinity of her culinary castle, threatening us with stale dosas for lunch if we were to cross the border!
“Yes. I think there’ll be avial and some kootu curry too I bet,” I chipped in, mimicking her expression.
“And pappads. I can hear them being fried,” Vidya put her voice to our guessing game as well. We laughed. It was the only Indian thing she really craved. She could eat a dozen pappads if we let her to.
If these childhood favorite dishes were the ones we enjoyed the most, they were what Sharada chechy enjoyed making the most. And our return after so long, she said, had called for a celebration. So we were barred from cooking, and she had taken charge of the kitchen, humming an old Malayalam song to herself as she worked.
Soon, we heard the chimes of steel plates, and we got up to help her set the table. But she had already done it. It was like a Sadya on Vishu, the Kerala New Year. There was steaming rice, hot rasam, avial, a erisheri of beans and pumpkin, channa dal fried in coconut oil with finely diced coconuts and ginger, beans thoran, a coconut milk stew, homemade mango pickle and inji-puli, and Vidya’s favorite pappads. The only difference was the steel plates instead of the banana leaves.
On a rainy, somewhat cold afternoon, there was nothing as warm as eating rice and rasam. Every other dish was absolutely delicious, but all we wanted was that combination. After the burgers, sandwiches and pizzas of Manchester, this was heavenly. Even Vidya, who usually fussed about eating too much, was asking for a second helping of rice.
As we sat on the front steps after lunch, Chechy bought us her special parippu payasam in steel bowls. The rain didn’t feel sad anymore. And the walk through memories happened again. It brought memories of New Year feasts and Onam feasts that our childhood was filled with. It brought memories of family reunions that happened on these days mostly. It brought memories of home… this home which I proudly called my own.
I went up the staircase and to the old rooms that were bolted shut since years. Narayanan was trying to dust the cobwebs off, and looked at me sheepishly when I came up the stairs, as if to say, “My bad. I should have kept it clean over the years.”
I smiled and went toward a door he had yet to reach. I opened it and stepped inside, only to start sneezing.
(09 Dec, 2013)