And then there were none…

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.

Meledath House

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 seasonWe 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.

Meledath Family

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.

Meledath now


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.

Just like what happened with mom.

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.

15 thoughts on “And then there were none…

  1. Pingback: More things in heaven and on earth, Horatio… | Smoke Signals

  2. Meledath was where my father was born in 1905. I remember going there frequently as a small boy with my father. He would remove his chappals and walk straight into the patinhatta (the dark room) and offer prayers in front of the closed doors. I knew much later that there was a kedavilakku (eternal lamp) which was not allowed to be put out.
    I had heard about the demolition of Meledath but did not have the heart to look in that direction, when I spent a fortnight next door in my late brother’s (CKJ) house in April 2014.
    Thanks for the beautiful picture of Meledath – the way it used to be even during my childhood.

  3. lump in throat. 😥 always a sad thing. always. At times like this I often think to myself, may be that is why we are all “here”. Just to experience sheer joy and then to have it all taken away.

  4. Mind bogging. I was born and brought up in the “God’s Own Country”-Kerala in a small village called Thottuva. Our tharavadu was on the banks of river Periyar. Through the river down stream we could reach Kalady0the birth place of Sree. Shankaracharya(Aadi Shankara) in less than 20 minutes. About 10 years ago our tharavadu was dismantled. I feel so sad when ever I remember my chidhood growing up in that sacred house. The compound around the house was about 18 acres. We had thousands of many varieties of trees including, coffee plants, lime trees , pomogranate., coconuts, jack fruit trees, mango trees ,teak wood trees and many other species of trees. We also had a “Sarpakkavu”-temple for the snakes. But regretfully we had to sell off the house and the surrounding land since it was very difficult to get people to work on your land(labourers) and also none of us (4 brothres and a sister was willing ) to stay there and take of it. The cities beconed us and we were lured to leave the simple, humble and hard working people that village. SAD!.
    The article above really touched my heart and I appreciate the beauitiful scenic house and the garden around it.
    Thanks for presenting this write up. I have saved the article with the beautiful photos in my PC.

  5. (Did I mention turn on the gas?)
    In your recipe you didn’t also mention from which tree you should get the ripe mango, and with the disappearance of trees in the neighborhood you get only chemically ripened mangoes grown in unknown places.

    Yes, life is about memories, and memories are about recording and recovery, and if you lose any one of these life becomes miserable, more so if you see this problem in someone else. Hope healing is as fast as you want it.


  6. This was so beautiful! It’s like we venture out from home and then live in the hope that when the whole thing is over, we’ll go back to it. Sadly, the house I grew up in (a colony with a large owner’s house and many tenants’ houses like they used to have before the 90s in Bangalore), with large trees to play cricket under is now a Godown. So many memories!

    (Oh, and have you read Ignatieff’s Scar Tissue? It’s such a good meditation on memory and its loss over age and what that means to a person.)

    • I hope you documented/will document this vignette somewhere. Discovering the hard way how vital it is to do this. And yes, thanks, back when mom first started showing signs of dementia, a well read friend recommended that book. I know why you thought of it in this context.

  7. beautiful, and sad… one can replace Meledath with any tharavadu in Valluvanadu and the joys, sorrows, and fate trapped between the poomukham and the front yard will be almost the same. you can close your eyes and walk into any village and when you open you eyes, you will be in one of MT’s novels. take a look at this picture ( from my own childhood – virtually indistinguishable from the family portrait above….

    • Oof! Thanks for sharing that image — startlingly similar. And totally agree about those memories, and the MT novel comparison — very hard at times when reading say Naalukettu etc to know if you are reading a work of fiction, or reliving your own life on the printed page. Thank you.

  8. I remember looking out the window of my grandfather’s place in Calicut and wondering what was different. It took me a few seconds to notice that Meledath had tumbled down upon itself. Or at least that’s what I had assumed. I see now that it was torn down as per somebody’s plan. And something heavy just settled itself on my chest and refuses to budge.

    Meledath was my great – grandfather’s home. And Rajivelliamma was my dearest friend in Calicut, after my Achachan. Most of my days were spent running around that old place…. Hopping in and out of the lone stream of sunlight in the kitchen, sprinkling rice into the well for the fish, filling the skirt of my petticoat with Manjadikuru. And talking endlessly to Rajivelliamma. I loved everything about that home. Except for the dark storeroom on the way to the kitchen which for some reason i was convinced was haunted. Probably because for an 8 year old, a home as awesome as this one simply Had to have a haunted room.

    Meledath wasn’t my home, and I have never met you. But I share your sorrow.

    • Hello, Sree — unlooked for awesomeness, to hear from someone I don’t know, but who has been in that house, experienced what I have, and share the hurt.

      Rajichechi (also Amminichechi, Gopietten and their parents) are among those missing from that family photo.

      That dark storeroom? That is where my great-grandmother (and her mother, before that) spent their last years, chained to their bed because they were suffering from what we now know as dementia. It is also the room that notionally contains the spirits of all our ancestors — hence the practice of first lighting that kallu-villaku in front of it, before we light the evening lamps. So yeah, maybe in a sense it was “haunted” 🙂

      Be well, stay in touch.

    • PS: Rajichechi was one of those who filled my young life with stories — stories that helped make me who and what I am today.

  9. Sad to read about an ancestral house being brought down. Of the belief that Ancestral homes, lands are for yours to enjoy, nurture and then leave them for the next generation in a better shape then what you found them in, so they can build their memories at the same place.

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