Wednesday, November 13, 2013

At Grandpas


I loved spending time at Grandpas in Rajahmundry an awesome place with so many mangoes and the mighty river Godavari. Every vacation some part of it has to be spent there. This was as ritualistic as it can get, without any deviation, even if we (me & my brother) had a very small holiday period part of it we used to spend there.

It was a lovely place, where everything seemed like seeing through the VINTAGE / RETRO  FILTER of a camera app, everything spoke of age, building, clothes, practices, the firewood furnace for hot water, my favourite place, from which I had to be dragged, the battered wall clock, the ancient mango trees, the old earthenware, and king size beds resplendent with many creaking springs, the roof top with the weathered tiles which look like they were there from a time immemorial.

While everything at Grandpas spoke of age, the old idly lady gave them a stiff competition. She defied the aging, about whom we will talk a little later.

The courtyard filled perpetually with the carpet of yellow leaves, which would reappear the next moment after they were cleaned & disposed, making crisp creaking sound underneath the feet every time someone entered the backyard, making it difficult to sneak into it in the afternoons, when we were ordered to sleep, so that we won't go play in the sun.

It all started with the mornings, when the only need to get up is to have a proper breakfast. It meant no more reluctant waking up, switching rooms so as to stay hidden there by prolonging the sleep time by 5 more minutes.

The morning starts with a strong scent of firewood burning in the mud furnace, to heat the water for bathing. The water heated on the firewood and dry leaves has a different scent, strong & pungent yet sweet.
Fanning the flames in the mud furnace, feeding it with the dried leaves which were swept and made into a heap just beside it, while white smoke enveloped like fog in the winter.

The ever cool Grandpa becoming angry whenever we try to put something else into the fire like plastic or some old papers, while shouting out, "burn the papers and you'll never be good at your studies, Goddess Saraswathi will never forgive that".
Suddenly I declare, "I don't need hot water I'll bathe with water from the well", and the reply comes from grandma immediately, "you'll get cold and go huchi huchi".

The well! There were stories my cousins used to share about it. It has crocodiles in it! There are turtles!! Every night crocodile comes out!!! Being the adventurous child I tried to see if they were true, and I once did see a turtle.

Immediately after bathing we get yummy tiffin made by grandma. Always tiffin (the best part) because of the extra orthodox grandma, nothing from yesterday night, all leftovers, if any, were given to the maid along with the morning breakfast. There wasn't the concept of the refrigerator. Though I missed chilled water the benefits are colossal compared to the petty loss.

If the grandma is late and can't cook for the kids early enough (which happened on a regular basis), we can go out for tiffin, or buy the idlis with awesome chutney from the old lady who sold them daily. Everyone who knew her saw her only after her hair became white, silvery white, which complemented her dirty white sari. She came by in slow and cautious steps, supported by her walking staff, yelling, 'idleelandi idleelu (idlis)'. She always had a sweet and warm smile. Her picture froze in my memory ever since. We talked to her as we do with our kin & kith.

I was too small to admire her then, but in retrospect, she amazed me, working at that age, not depending on anyone, maybe even supporting a grandchild. Although her sari was dirty the idlis were amazing and the chutney. Oh, boy! What a chutney! I and my brother were ardent fans of that chutney. We used to hope grandma would be late again so we can enjoy the idlis, and thankfully she was, many a times.

My grandfather dutifully administering the awesome tasty chyawanprash, after each meal so that we (me & my brother) remain healthy, never allowing more than a spoonful, as improper dose would cause diarrhea & other sickness. Grandparents are a little more cautious about the young ones’ health. Oh, boy! What a taste it had. What he never knew was I used to use a stool & clamber on to it & dig my hand into the chyawanprash bottle & eat it, while they (he & my ever innocent elder brother) lay, snoring into the afternoon air.

Being at Grandpas is as close to as it gets to have an adult-like freedom, and who doesn't love freedom. It meant regular coffees and teas which I was categorically denied at home in favour of Bournvita. It meant watching cartoon network in the morning even without having the teeth brushed, without any trace of fear or guilt. Particularly for someone who grew up in orthodox families with both the parents working mornings were rushed, Grandpas meant heaven, life without any discipline, because getting used to these working schedules, my parents would never allow us even on holidays to lie down in bed till late afternoon or just lazily watch CN without brushing (my mom would kill me if she sees this, so please don't tell her).

And whatever we do, grandma used to fill our pockets periodically with snacks so we can eat while we do whatever we want: fried ground nuts, boiled groundnuts, salted peas, roasted peas, roasted bungalow gram, fried/ roasted cashew.

The air always carried just two moods, the extremes. In the mornings and during occasional siestas it smelled heavily of sleep and of unrestrained energy rest all times. Since there are never any half-hearted moments, no homework, no need to eat that curry you don't like: courtesy extra lenient maternal grandparents, no switching off the TV while you are in a middle of a show with a shout, "Go and complete your homework first.”

 Whatever we wanted to do we can do, it was pure fun, pestering them all day with insane requests, tidbits about embarrassing things our parents did when they were of our age, bed time stories, trying to explain Sci-fi movie story to them, only to realize it's a futile attempt, the tasty prasadam made by a great-grandmother who stayed along with my grandparents.

May be they relived through the curious eyes of little ones, agreeing to all their non-contextual and usually silly demands, and giving in to our requests even before we threw a tantrum, though we sometimes were as irritating as an itch underfoot while wearing a shoe, during a formal meeting.

To this day I remember so vividly the daily outing to the Mango market with my brother riding the pillion of the Luna (Moped) while I was perched in the bend.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Of A South Indian Coffee Lover

   Fondly called 'Filter Kaapi'.

I think, the temptation to do what we are precisely asked not to, is irresistible, around the world, since forever. Just like the way my brother put his leg in a camp fire right after he was precisely told not to. He learnt his lesson; I didn’t get a chance to learn mine. I might have done the same then, maybe if I was not perched on my dad’s shoulders being just a toddler.

Let me start here. Coffee & tea are forbidden to children in many Indian families (health-conscious families).
Once the word ‘forbidden’ pops up, curiosity piques us exactly in that direction.

It starts with a beautiful aroma of morning coffee that adults enjoy, sipping slowly, the white vapours of fuming brown liquid, clicking the tongue in appreciation, with occasional 'Ummm..!’, ‘Waah…!’, whirling the glass quickly one last time before the last sip, following the coffee etiquette; while the kids are given a big mug of the Bournvita/ Horlicks etc.  I'm not saying I don't like it, in fact, I love it, but coffee always had me in awe. The first obvious difference was the rich aroma while the amount of vapors the second. My Bournvita's vapours used to die after a minute or two, unlike the tumbler that my dad was holding, which fumed continuously till almost the end.

Every time I cast a furtive glance towards it, my mom would start on the goodness of milk & evil effects of coffee, of which I've heard all through my childhood. She goes on into the lecturing mode and believe me, you don't want those lectures at home by a high-school-teacher-mom.

There was not much time to pester her in the mornings, but evenings should be good, right? If you think yes, just wait!

My mom had two weapons of diversion.

If friends come home to take me out for the evening sports, there isn't much time for badgering her, I just quickly gulp down the Bournvita given to me, while giving her I’ll-deal-this-matter-presently look & make a move.

Or sometimes if I’m at home, there comes the shrill cry, "Ah Ice cream, cup ice, cone ice, ah mango, draksha (grape), ah milk ice," by the ice cream-wala.  She buys me the ice cream I want & the unspoken contract binds me into not pestering her for the evening. The irrevocable deal is made.
If it's an ice-sproot (Popsicle) children are given a glass that should be kept directly beneath the ice-sproot, while eating it, so that it won't drip on to floors (you don't want to hold a glass? Fine, eat it outdoors). I used to trail behind her with the ice-sproot in my mouth, a glass in a hand, with imploring looks. Sometimes out of sheer frustration gives me a coffee, after a lot of swearing though (totally worth it).

Every time some relatives or friends come home and enjoy the Coffee made by my mother saying, “Jaya, you make really good coffee,” it takes all my strength to keep myself composed and not to give greedy looks towards the cups in their hands.

There was this one time when she was so annoyed & played a prank on me. She announced, "Everyone will get coffee today." I was really happy while my dad & brother were going through the newspaper nonchalantly. She came with a tray with chinaware & gingerly set down the tray of fuming cups. I was engrossed in a write-up from a Sunday magazine that was just won – for there used to be a small scale fight to get hands on the Sunday magazine of Eenaadu, a popular Telugu daily, which included an awesome coloured magazine catering to people of all ages. I didn't spare a look towards the tray, but my hands worked their way & brought a cup to my lips, one gulp and I knew I was tricked.  Everyone was laughing, no, rolling, gloating over their well-planned prank. It was just Bournvita brought in usual coffee cups.

Later, my mother even stopped taking Coffee and Tea herself to inspire me. But, alas! I can’t.

I take it when I don't have anything to do, when I'm in some deep thought, when I want something to be extracted from the attic of my brain, when I'm reading a novel, in the gap between two classes, to celebrate, or when I'm feeling low, when I'm about to start a journey, when I'm on the journey, while watching a movie, to make a decision, when I'm angry, when I want to stay awake before an exam (though that really doesn't seem to work) etc., more like, I do many things while taking a coffee.

A South Indian Filter Coffee, though taken many times a day can never be tagged quotidian, for its a grand ritual of its own, what else can make anyone's mood change from being churlish to smug satisfaction with just one cup.

I outgrew all my childhood fears & inhibitions, but never this coffee thingy. Now I'm far from my parents, yet my mom manages to call me right when I'm just in front of a cup of coffee, I don't know how she does that. I used to fumble at first, but now quite conveniently lie that I'm taking Bournvita, though I suspect she knows the truth,  and that makes me nervous, I just hope I don't fidget that way when I'm on a date, with the special person sitting across the table, with a coffee on it.

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