Holding a tumbler of filter coffee in one hand and a plate of banana chips in the other, Kamakshi mami ambled to the living room where Neelakanthan mama was, as usual, lost between the pages of The Hindu. Mami kept the plate with a thud on the centre table and thrust the tumbler into mama’s hands. Instantly, mama discarded the foreign policies of Suhasini Haider, and braced himself to focus on internal affairs, as was evident from mami’s frown.
“What happened, Kamakshi?”
Mami sat down next to him. “I am fed up here. Who asked you to say yes, old man? Did you consult me?”
“Why? Are you not happy here?”
Mami glared at him. “It’s like a jail in here. The neighbours are forever busy. Yesterday I waved at a woman. She smiled as if her lips were aching from the effort.”
“Kamakshi. This is a high-rise apartment. You can’t compare this with our house.”
“That’s exactly my problem. This is too posh for me. I am but a simple woman. You know, the old lady on the 2nd floor wears jeans.” Mami’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“You also wear it then. Who’s stopping you?”
“At this age? I can’t even walk properly.”
“What? Given a race, you would beat PT Usha.”
“Aiyyo, old man. I am talking about this place.” With that, mami pointed her index finger at the floor.
“Now what happened to the floor?”
“It’s too slippery. I almost fell thrice. It’s a miracle that I haven’t broken my bones till now.”
Mama smiled, “It’s made of marble. Just be careful. You’ll be alright.”
With that, he finally took a sip of the coffee. He turned to mami. “Ah! Now I realise why you are walking like a juggler.”
“What to do? Otherwise, if a drop of coffee falls on the floor, you will do a tandavam.”
Having made her point clear, mami got up and strode towards the kitchen with utmost caution, as though eggshells were strewn across, and she had been instructed not to crack them.
It so happened that the only daughter of the Neelakanthans, Anusha had purchased a flat not far away from their old house. Since she and her husband had to go onsite regularly, she had requested her parents to come and stay with them. Mami had straightway put her foot down. No way was she going to leave her house. Ultimately she had given in. Anusha had to promise mami that she would get the bedroom which had a view of Kapaaleeshwar temple’s gopuram.
If the ornate dining table could speak, it could have registered its protest at the ignominy thrust on it. Alas! Being an inanimate object, it remained a mute spectator as mami placed a stainless steel idli holder, and a bowl containing piping hot drumstick sambhar. A minute later, she returned with coconut chutney. Anusha pitched in with a casserole filled with six aloo parathas. Muthuraman, her husband, added to the count by placing a plate with four slices of toasted bread, over which Amul butter had been spread generously.
Breakfast was a quite affair. Almost.
“What’s wrong with our idlis, may I know?” Kamakshi mami deemed it fit to break the silence by asking this seemingly innocuous question.
Vaidurya, the daughter of the Muthuramans, grimaced and let out a ‘yuck’.
Anusha looked at her husband. He pretended to be deaf. She looked at her daughter.
“Amma. What are you whispering? Say it loudly no.”
Anusha coughed and dipped her aloo paratha into a heap of mango pickle.
Kamakshi mami extended her right hand towards Vaidurya. “Just take a bite. You will like it.”
Vaidurya shook her head vehemently. “It’s bland. Why can’t I have tasty sandwiches?”
Mami frowned at her granddaughter. “You know, idli is very good for health. Why, even UNESCO has declared it as the best breakfast in the world.”
Vaidurya giggled. “Aiyyo. That’s fake news.”
“Don’t you teach me anything, ok? When I was your age, I was cooking a full five-course meal. Got it?”
Anusha cleared her throat. “Vaidu. Don’t argue with elders. Now, eat your bread.”
“Amma. Why can’t you make that tasty Spanish omelette?”
Anusha chocked on her mango pickle. Muthuraman hurriedly reached out to the jug and poured water into her empty glass. She drank it slowly, her eyes on the ground. He picked up his phone. “Sorry. I forgot to call my boss.”
Oblivious to the Pandora’s box she had opened, Vaidurya continued in the same vein, “Amma. Make it tomorrow, ok?”
Kamakshi mami sat there like a rock. Mama continued to dunk his idli in sambhar and chew on it slowly.
“Eggs? You mean to say you cook eggs? Shiva! Why didn’t you tell me before? Tell me, Anusha. Do you cook the omelette on the same tava I prepare dosa in?”
“No way, amma. I have a separate one. I have hidden it inside the cupboard.”
Mami heaved a sigh of relief. “Do you also eat eggs?”
Anusha nodded and glanced in her father’s direction. Mama patted mami’s shoulder. “It’s ok, Kamakshi. They are young. Why should they latch onto strict habits?”
Mami’s frown disappeared. “Ok. As you say. But….. no eggs as long as I am here. Got it?”
The treaty was duly signed by all the parties, except Vaidurya, since she was a minor, and truce was declared.
The friendly looking doctor checked Vaidurya’s pulse. He gave the thermometer a rigorous shake and rubbed the tip with a roll of cotton. He then took out his notepad.
“Viral fever. Nothing to worry. I won’t give strong antibiotics. Just a mild medicine. No chocolates. No ice creams. No cold drinks. No pizzas. Only homemade food. Give her idli. It’s the best.”
Mami flashed an I-told-you-so look at Anusha.
The doctor continued, “Also, she needs strength. Why don’t you give her boiled eggs?”
Anusha nodded feebly at the doctor.
“I will prepare pepper rasam for her. Is it allowed?” pitched in mami.
“Of course. It helps in soothing the sore threat”, agreed the doctor. Mami went out of the room.
Mami lit the lamp and brought her hands together in obeisance to the God. She then took out a couple of incense sticks, lit them, and after performing a mini ritual in front of the framed Gods and Goddesses, and inserted them into a holder. Chanting a few shlokas, she got up, and walked to her bedroom. Opening the window, she stood facing the gopuram of the most famous landmark in Mylapore.
“Kamakshi. Vaidurya will start going from school tomorrow.”
Mami turned to face mama. “She has just recovered. Can’t she take a couple of days more of leave?”
Mama shrugged his shoulders. “Exams.”
Mami sat on the bed. “Too much pressure. And poor Vaidurya. She is still weak. Yesterday she ate four idlis without complaining.” Mami paused, as her voice choked with unshed tears.
Mama sat down beside her. “Don’t worry, Kamakshi. She will get back to normal in no time. And she will ask you to prepare omelette.”
A faint trace of smile formed over mami’s lips. “That’s going a bit too far.”
“I am back, patti”, squealed Vaidurya.
“Finally! Go to your room and wash your face. Don’t forget to put the school uniform in the washing machine”, beamed mami.
“Why are you smiling like this?” asked mama, with a hint of concern in his voice.
“Last week Vaidurya had introduced me to her friend as ‘her granny’. I didn’t keep mum. I corrected her then and there itself. Told the kids that I am Vaidurya’s patti, and not granny.”
“Granny and patti are the same.”
“I also know English, old man. It’s just that she shouldn’t forget thamizh.”
Mama was about to take his seat on the sofa when mami let out an aiyyo. “I totally forgot it. I need a packet of mustard seeds and a two coconuts. Please go and buy them. Now. I mean it.” She then pushed mama towards the door, thrusting the wallet into his hands.
“Ok, Ok. I am leaving.” With that, mama put on his slippers and went out.
Mami closed the door. She went to her bedroom. The rays of the setting sun fell on the gopuram. Mami bowed her head before it. “I am sorry, Shiva. I know I am breaking my vows. I hope you forgive me for this sacrilege.”
Muttering a silent prayer, mami dawdled towards the dining room, and opened the refrigerator. She took out two eggs and closed the door.
In the kitchen, she switched on the exhaust fan. She cut a big onion and three green chillies into thin slices. She then took a deep breath. She took the piece of paper which had been placed above the water can. Her eyes scanned the contents.
She then took out one egg and struck it gently with a knife. A small crack appeared on its shell. Using her fingers, she pressed it. Giving in to the pressure, the contents of the egg flowed down into the bowl. Bile rose up in mami’s throat, but she bit her lips. She then repeated the same process with the second egg. Tossing the shells into the dustbin, she proceeded to stir the contents. The slimy texture of the concoction made her squeamish, but she looked the other ways and whipped up a batter.
Finally the moment had arrived.
She heated the griddle and spread a teaspoon of butter over it. As it sizzled, mami took out a ladle and poured the beaten eggs. As they sizzled, mami snatched the pallu of her saree and covered her nose. The stench was getting unbearable.
“Patti. Are you making omelette? The aroma is reaching my room”, shrieked Vaidurya.
“Don’t come to the kitchen. I will come to the dining table.”
Vaidurya let out a ‘yay’. Mami flipped the omelette.
“Is this why you asked me to go to the grocery stores?” questioned mama. No sooner had he stepped inside the house than Vaidurya had broadcast the news of patti preparing a tasty omelette.
Mami waved her hand. “Poor child. Going to school and all. I decided to cook for her. Even the doctor said that it’s good for her health.”
“What happened to your traditions and all?” winked mama at her.
“I am not eating it. I just prepared it. I didn’t commit any sin”, countered mami.
Mama grinned. “You can eat it too, if you want to.”
“Aiyyo. Leave it. Oh. I have to prepare upma now. Unless you want something else. Tell me beforehand, ok?”
“I am fine with anything you make.”
As night swooped down upon the city of Chennai, mami lay down on the bed. “Are you sleeping?” she whispered to mama.
“No, tell me, Kamakshi.”
“Today Anusha gave me a tight hug. Called me the best mother in the world. All because I touched an egg.”
“No, my dear. It’s because you showed that you deeply care for your family. So much so that you were able to bear the smell of eggs.”
“Don’t ask me. I felt like vomiting. But I controlled myself.”
Mama patted her hand. “You are indeed the best.”
Mami smiled. She turned to face mama. “But I extracted a promise from Vaidurya. That she will eat idlis from now onwards. She agreed.”
“Good. Happy ending then.”
Mami said nothing but turned over. The window was open. A gentle breeze blew up the curtain slightly, revealing the gopuram in its celestial resplendence. Mami closed her eyes in reverence to the resident deity, got up and pulled up the bedsheet over her to her waist. The gentle snores of mama filled the room. Mami brought her palm to her nostrils and sniffed it. She had rigorously washed it with Dettol soap five times.
Is it still smelly?
No, it must be my imagination.
On an impulse, she took the mobile from the bedside table. She went to Google and typed slowly – ‘How to prepare poached eggs’.
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