A reader remembers her mother in law’s joie de vivre on her first death anniversary during lockdown
Aren't you coming to watch TV, asked the husband at 10 am, this Tuesday. I have more important things to focus on, I said, struggling to get the jaggery consistency right, for the payasam.
We are celebrating festivals after a year. But it's tough, and I am not talking about lack of provisions or such simple things as fresh neem flowers from a neighbourhood tree that house maids used to routinely drop off.
After 21 days of being a creator of everything, from clean towels to clean rooms to cooking fresh food daily, thanks to the lockdown, making payasam should a breeze. Only, it wasn't.
The mother in law had passed on a year ago, on the day of Ugadi, traditionally a non-Tamil festival. But being a bambaram as we called her, spinning on her toes everyday to do everything, never mind that her nest had been empty for years, she would celebrate every festival.
Come Easter, she would dish up an eggless cake in the pressure cooker and ask us to take it across to the Samuels. And Sheila Samuel was a fab cake baker. The batter simply rose, walked, danced as per Sheila's wish. It didn't matter to the mother in law, she was never shy, no way.
Two Ugadis ago, she called to say she had made pooran poli a la Udupi style and wanted me to send it my Bengaluru born and raised daughter in law, who had migrated to the west two years ago.
In her own way, she was a go-getter. If we told the mother in law she cannot do something, rest assured she will promptly attempt it, disaster or no.
The one thing she would have looked forward to, even from heaven, was her first srardham, (anniversary of her death), and that's what we could not give her. Gathering of the entire family.
Around 50 guests would have satisfied her somewhat. A 100 would have brought on a smile for sure. Then the logistics of the day. Hiring a cook to deliver everything from morning filter coffee to evening pala aharam (tiffin).
Having priests chant so loudly that people on the next street should hear and make the connection of what the day meant. Having her music students sing all that she had taught them.
However, all we could do on her first memorial day was via remote. We couldn't even go to the temple, a mandatory ritual, because of the prevailing situation. We donated to religious places, and to charities. Still, something was lacking, we felt, like a poorly salted sambar.
Then today, April 14, 2020, just when I had finished making the payasam and falafel (minus onion and garlic since she never touched those items), the gate rattled.
A gypsy wanting old food (pazhaya soru) in the time of Corona.
And I smiled.
That's so very my mother in law, you know. Feeding a street citizen was so very her. And the resumption of festival celebrations in this manner would have pleased her no end.
A gypsy, rather than a well-versed purohit. She always sought the outstanding in small things.
Even during difficult times.
(The author is a Chennai-based journalist. All opinions are the author's alone and not necessarily that of The Lede's.)