Some people, very few in fact have an actual glimpse of things ‘past’. The others just get to look at aging ancestors, old photographs on Facebook or Geni, or maybe read about it. Recently a young and small reader of our reading group was introduced to RK Narayan. And a few minutes later, he wanted to know what a piece of time would look like — ‘a timepiece was on Rajam’s desk’ the book told him. The group then began discussing about things old and maybe ancient.
The timepiece or clock as we know it, an isthri karan (iron-man Literally) with his huge push cart and red-hot coals, some times his reserve of coals would be like a treasure ( the coals would be used to decorate anything from walls to animals) and many other things,
If you are mallu who visited mother land when young, you would have had your share of cuticura and coconut oil smelling memories of relatives and just the oil smelling mouth-watering edibles out of their kitchens. My experiences with the way of life my ancestors has were half and half —memorable and torturous. Climbing trees, rolling in the mud, giving the dogs an oil bath, watching the women folk buy fish and clean them and then play with the cats that came to feast on the remains, mango search-rescue and hog operations, jackfruit fiascos, and towards the evening when you were famished there would snack time and then a flower picking sessions for the deities in the house and all the cuticura and coconut oil loving I got are so memorable to this day. Sometimes you just aren’t supposed to be doing any of this, like climbing trees of rolling in the mud or playing with strays, not if you are a girl and especially more if you are the lone grandchild for a good period of time.
Visiting an extremely religious, communist, socialist and severely conservative family community was so confusing that even today I’d rather not be in a room filled with relatives – the war of the words on would break out any moment. There in the corner of the room I would sit, tired from lunch, unable to move with the huge meal in my belly. Lunch would mostly be fish curry, fish fry and the big grained rice, and summer specials – mampazhapulliseri, or chakkakuru varutadu basically something with mango or jackfruit and I’d be happy All the women would make sure they have a chance to serve you. And there were a minimum of 7 of them to my recollection. Ever wondered why motherland is called god’s own country, it’s mostly because people are lazy, or maybe people of my large family are and I wouldn’t blame them after all the food and the oil baths. After lunch it would be time for the men to take the noon nap and the women to take on the gossip and I would just lay there like a piece of furniture unable to move.
After nap time it would be war-time. When the war breaks out, some of the women would be busy in the kitchen to bring out the tea and the snacks. The heavy smell of coconut oil would overload my senses. Wishing the elders would keep it down I would wait to know what it was that was cooking. With my stomach just about to burst from lunch even at 4 in the evening, a big tight hug from my grand-aunt would be enough to create room in the tummy for whatever it was that was being made in the kitchen. And the wait… was it jackfruit or banana being fried, or maybe it was something else; such tortuous ordeals daily were too much for a child.
And staying out of trouble wasn’t too much trouble. As long you had your hair long (till your shoulders was good) and visited temples often during your stay and stayed away from everything not of equal social/religious standing was good enough to get you your daily dose of the loving from the classic cuticura beauties and their lip smacking preparations.
I wonder what it would be for my youngest cousin when he grows up – will he ever have any anecdotes from his trips to mallu-land or will his vacation packages every year keep him happy while we older cousins have a total recall gig? Maybe we will just gift him some cuticura and prepare some banana chips once a while for him to sense motherland.