Recipe for Mango Pulisherry:
Peel two ripe mangoes (pick the really sweet varieties for best results). Chop them into chunks one inch or bigger. Place the chunks in a saucepan. Add two teaspoons chilli powder (more, if you really like the heat to pop); two teaspoons of salt, and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Pour enough water to cover the pieces and bring to a boil (Did I mention turn on the gas?). Simmer till most of the water has evaporated.
Grind half of a big-sized coconut and two teaspoons of cumin seeds into a smooth paste. Add to the cooked mangoes, stir; add a quarter cup of thick curd (Did I mention, stir again, folding inwards till everything is nicely mixed?). Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally, (carefully, you don’t want to break up the mango pieces into unrecognizable pulp) till the sauce thickens.
Heat two spoons of coconut oil, toss in a spoonful of mustard and when it pops, add half a teaspoon of fenugreek, three/four dried red chillies and 8-10 curry leaves. Pour the tadka over the mangoes, stir, serve hot with either rice or chappatis/porottas. Enjoy the whole sweet-sour-hot thing the dish has going on.
I made this dish for myself this weekend.
It tasted weird, somehow. An odd taste I couldn’t quite identify.
I ENTERED this home — Meledath House, it is called — as a newborn. This is where I grew up under the aegis of my grandparents; this is where I learnt to walk and to talk and to play; where I first heard stories from the epics and the puranas.
This is where I learnt to tell my own stories. This is where I learnt to dream.
I wrote a bit, once, about the only real “home” I have ever known. A shell, I called it then.
Looks are deceptive; the home that means the world to me is a ruin waiting to happen, its foundations eaten away by familial squabbling and consequent neglect.
That was five years ago. The sight of this “ruin waiting to happen” had saddened me then. In course of a week-long trip, I spent hours sitting on the porch of that home, remembering.
Back when I was a boy, there was just this house set in the middle of a vast tract of land. There was a mango tree — one of a couple of dozen in the compound — at almost exactly where I was standing when I took this picture. (An uncle has built his home there now; it is where I stay when I visit Calicut.)
Summers were ripe with mangoes (and jackfruit, and cashew, and prickly pineapple shrubs bristling along the hedges. And if you haven’t toasted cashew and jackfruit seeds over a coal fire and eaten them hot enough to burn your tongue, you haven’t lived).
We ate the mangoes raw, spiced with chilli powder and salt. We ate them ripe — some, the firm-fleshed varieties, cut into cubes and piled high on plates; others eaten as is, teeth sinking into the rich sweet flesh, the juice dribbling down your fingers and along your arm. We piled them into huge urulis and boiled them down to their essence over wood fires, then stored them in big bharanis for the off season. We used them in fish curry; we made pulisherry…
And that is why it tasted weird, last weekend, when I made mango pulisherry after a long while. What I tasted was nostalgia – a bittersweet flavor seasoned with memories of, and yearning for, a lost childhood and a vanished way of life.
IT WAS a big home, always filled with people. This photograph was taken when my father’s youngest brother got married (back then, the camera was a cumbersome thing with a bellows-like front; the photographer slipped under a sheet of black cloth and from in there, told us kids to keep our eyes fixed on the narrow opening because “you will see a parrot there”). It only shows one branch of the family that used to live there then. There are five adults, and three children, missing from this picture — eight people who lived with us under that roof, one big, chaotic, mostly happy family.
Each one of the adults in this photograph (and those absent) contributed to my growth in one way or other — some told me stories; others bought me books and encouraged me to read and to dream; still others shielded me from the consequences of my serial mischiefs…
Each of them is a part of me and, in a very visceral way, what I am is an amalgam of these people — their ideals, their values, their sensibilities, their collective wisdom.
Six of the twelve adults in this picture are now no more. Two of those not in the picture are also gone.
LAST week, I went down to Calicut for the rites and observances connected to the first anniversary of my mom’s passing.
And I stood in the exact same spot as before and took this picture — of the gaping void that once was my home.
Back when I was a boy it was a home, magnificent in its isolation, nestled in its green, verdant space. Back then, I’d clamber up into the branches of the mango tree that stood here, in this same spot, and read through the day.
Today, there are 11 homes where those trees once stood. Homes of uncles and aunts and cousins; even the homes of a couple of strangers who bought some of our land and built there.
And today, there is a hurt-shaped void where my home once stood. An emptiness. An ache that defies description.
Its massive doors are likely in an antique shop someplace, as are whatever else the contractor could salvage of the thick teak beams, the ornately carved windows, the furniture that survived the ravages of time, the giant urulis and bharanis and such.
The big, porous stones that formed its walls have been crushed to powder, and carted away to some landfill someplace. Each of those stones had stories to tell. It is all dust now.
When taking this picture, last week, I couldn’t focus properly for tears. Some of that dust must have gotten into my eyes.
They all go away — people, places, everything. An uncle once removed passed on three weeks ago — among many other things, I remember him for keeping my stock of PG Wodehouse novels constantly replenished.
Memories remain — remembered joys; hurts that refuse to heal. When I can, I write them down, for with each passing day I fear the time will come when those memories will vanish, too, and my mind will blank out.
PS: By some quirk, the WordPress editors stumbled on my post from last year on my mom’s passing — and decided to showcase it on Freshly Pressed.
The following days — while I was in Calicut for the first anniversary — so many of you filled the comments section with your wishes, your own stories and experiences, with the occasional tear shed for a lady you never knew, for a pain I hope you never know.
Thank you. All of you. Very much.