Fine cotton gowns – also known as nighties – defined my amma’s presence. Soiled with the coconut oil that would splash as she’d fry the curry leaves which would be sprinkled on the fresh chutney, her gown witnessed her magic…
A short story by Nitika Bajpayee
The smell still reminds me of her every time I witness the crackling of the curry leaves in the pan along with mustard seeds, chana dal and urad dal. The crackling sound is magical, at least, to the ladies of the home. A perfect tadka defines the ‘cooking’ women, just like me. Their urge for perfection, to be able to reach the perfect aroma, the texture that the tadka gives to the curry, seeds and the dal. Her tadka was different – for every dal, for every chutney, for every stir fry – beetroot, carrot, beans, chicken – you name it. The way her masala laden hands worked magic as she prepped to dish out delicacies, her kitchen buzzed with the clattering of utensils and her soulful singing, the best in the world.
Her choice of gowns was very basic – simple cotton ones, she preferred maroons and rust, as according to her, they looked less dirty after a day’s chores. “Dirty?” I asked her once as she was scrubbing the copper utensils and urns. “Yes kanna, look here, I am surrounded by this – tamarind water along with vim bar. The water splashes on me as I rub my way to make these utensils sparkle. How can wear a saree while doing all this?” she said. Before she her second round of shower, she made sure the house looks the best, spic and span.
She would get up at the crack of the dawn, bathe and create magic on the floor. She’s a magician at creating ‘Kolams’. The intense patterns conventionally drawn on the floor using the rice flour, kolams are an art form native to the southern part of India. However, be it Bihar where they are called aipan, or other parts of the country, these patterns find place in every region. But in south India, they are synonymous to every household, wherein the youngest woman in the house inherits secret patterns native to her household from the grandest of moms. My amma inherited the art of making padi kolams from her grandmom. Don’t we have a bond with our grandmoms that is most special and cannot be defined words.
Anyway, so amma would bring out the fresh gown from her steel almirah, a part of her dowry gift from her parents, wear it and venture out in the verandah. The cacophony of birds and fresh dew would welcome her every morning, as sun cracked the dawn and show its gold in our courtyard. Her hands would maneuvour – up and down, diagonal and circles – creating the magic on the freshly washed floor of the courtyard. With sacred chants on her lips, her favourite was Vishnu Sahastranam, she would end making the kolam by saying ‘Govinda Govinda’. After offering water to the sacred ‘tulsi’ she would sashay her way to the cow-shed, cajole our cow named Saraswati, made sure the water and food was ample for it to consume through the day. While coming out of the cow-shed, she would roll up the edges of her gown and pleat her way to her midriff. Gangajal was her favourite potion, and “why not, it is purest, sacred of all the waters available on the planet, given by Mahadev himself,” she would hush me away every time I asked her why she sprinkles Gangajal everywhere.
Her kitchen was famous for her signature delicacies. The aroma still takes me back to our home on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Her boisterous persona was enough to keep the house full of visitors, for she was an amazing host as well as the cook. She was a multi-faceted lady who inspired many, including me, of course. Her zeal could engage anyone into a conversation, and always conjoined the tone of the conversations to the importance of leading a simple life. ‘A simple life’!
It’s been a year that I lost her to lord, yes, she always said I will mingle with the divine in the most comfortable way. As if the universe conspired and she mingled with the divine on the birthday of her favourite deity – Govinda! I was left with many of her beautiful sarees and jewellery. Her kanjeevarams, her madurai cottons, her bright and gaudy silks are just so beautiful, just like her. But as far I can remember, I always have seen her in those gowns. Hence, my prized possession became her numerous, colouful – some faded, some soiled- her gowns. They still smell eternity.
They embrace me when I miss her the most, and that is always! Hence, I decided to collect all her gowns, and give them a shape. I decided to convert these into a keepsake, and not just any keepsake that will be stored in the belly of the trunks. With the help of a lady tailor friend, I got her worn off yet fragrant converted into two ‘quilts’. One for my brother, and one for self. These quilts are absolutely special for us. Now, what do I say in the end, it’s her love that I hug ‘tightly’ every day. Amma, you are with me, forever!
*This is a fictional story, have no resemblance with anyone, but I am sure for every daughter would resonate with this