Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S - Secret

Image courtesy: Google


It is the falling snow outside that I see through the window that reminds me of her that morning as I wake up. There is a nip in the air, my fingers are cold despite the blanket covering me. Knowing that I would have to get up and start my day soon, I linger back lazily in the warmth of my bed. Closing my eyes, I allow the memories to wash over me. 

It was exactly a year back that the call came saying that Ammachi passed away. I knew she would have hated the sterile surroundings in which she had to bid adieu to her world. She would have wanted to be at home rather than the hospital that was filled with the smell of disinfectants and sickness all around. 

Of course, these were just how I assumed it would have been. The last time I saw her was on my way to the airport on my way here, to a foreign country as a new bride. I was nervous and excited all the same time. Little did I know then that it would be the last time I saw her. 

Such worrisome thoughts were far from my mind as she held me close and kissed my forehead that day. There was the fragrance of sandalwood around her, always. That is the smell that I associated with home; with her. And just before waving me goodbye and wiping away the tears that had formed involuntarily at the corner of her eyes (Ammachi hated crying), she gave me a package that was carefully wrapped in brown paper. 

"Open it when you miss me. This is the only gift that I have to give you right now. Guard it with all your heart, when all else fails, it shall come to your rescue. And remember, I'm always with you," with that she held me one last time and smiled. And that is the image that I have of her with me, even now. 

It was only when I reached here and after beginning my life as a wife did I think about the package. I was too caught up in the excitement that this new country had to offer. Everything was all sparkly and shiny, like a Christmas bauble. It was only after a couple of months did I really start to get homesick. I started craving for home cooked food, delectable cuisines that seemed to be whipped up easily in a matter of few minutes by Ammachi

That was when I remembered the package that I had left in my suitcase. Opening the wrapping, I felt my eyes sting with the memories that came flooding in. In there were hundreds of hand written recipes, each one marked and with little additions of notes as the years progressed. My grandmother's recipe book. The book still held a whiff of sandalwood fragrance as I turned the tattered pages. 

For vacations many years back, I used to pester her till she made me paal payasam almost everyday. That was a dish that I could never tire of. That afternoon, however, I tried making it for the first time. All by myself. No small feat, considering the fact that I had absolutely little or no experience in the kitchen. 

Needless to say, it was a disaster. On the verge of tears, I called her up that night and told her of the pathetic milky mess that was adamantly stuck to the bottom of my pan. 

"Oh, Ammu! Stop crying, you silly girl! Paal payasam requires the right consistency of milk and sugar. No one gets it right the first time," her words, however, offered me little solace to my wounded ego. Yes, I felt like a failure when things didn't turn out the way I envisaged.

"Remember, the secret ingredient to all the dishes that you savored as a child was love!" I could hear the twinkle in her laugh despite being so many miles away from me. Her happiness was infectious and soon I found a small giggle breaking the frown on my face. 

I open my eyes and wipe away my wet cheeks. Thinking of her always has this effect on me. I force myself to get her recipe book and try out the paal payasam once again. I had not attempted to make it again after that last time. As Ammachi left from our lives, so did all my cravings for her food. 

Today, however, is different. I feel an energy in my life that had been missing for so long. As I gather the ingredients for the paal payasam, I'm filled with a sense of purpose, a determination to master the art of making the king of payasams

I measure the exact amounts as she had written down many years back. I stir the milk till it's the right consistency and starts to change color. I crush the cardamom just before stirring it into the mixture, to pack the flavor, as she had written. I even measure the ghee for frying the cashew nuts and raisins in, exactly according to her instructions. 

With a satisfied sigh, I get a whiff of the payasam that has now started bubbling merrily on my stove. Switching off the stove with a happy smile, I pour the boiling hot payasam into a glass and blow on it lightly before bringing it to my lips. I close my eyes and savor the taste. It tastes like one I had never before. Or maybe, it is a taste that lay forgotten in the nooks of my mind till now, wrapped up in layers of nostalgia. I drink a whole glass of it and help myself to a second serving, scalding my tongue in greediness. 

"Ammu, you impatient girl! How many times do I have to tell you to let the payasam cool before helping yourself?" Ammachi's voice had a hint of a secret smile, one that I could still see if I closed my eyes and concentrated enough. I finally got what she had told me all those years back. There was no secret. No secret ingredient that she had kept hidden from me. It was love. It always was.  

The cold outside, all of a sudden, seems bearable right now. Wrapping my fingers around the hot glass, I feel the warmth spread all over, right down to my toes; along with the fragrance of sandalwood that seems to embrace the air all around me. 

*Ammachi - Grandmother
** Paayasam - A sweet dish made usually with milk and sugar that is mostly served as dessert. 


Image Source



Linking this post to the A to Z Challenge

P.S. Though this story is mostly fiction, it has a lot of me and my Ammachi in it. Ammu is my pet name :)
P.P.S. I didn't find any picture online that did the paal payasam actual justice. I have provided the picture that I liked the most amongst it. 



29 comments:

  1. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww :)

    Maybe part fiction, but the heart is at the right place! Hugs! <3

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  2. Beautiful! Loved reading your little story Aathira! Keep up the great work :D
    My A-Z posts: http://sundarivenkatraman.blogspot.in

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  3. Very emotional and touching! Very well written.

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  4. So nostalgic Aathira! My eyes got fixed to the word paal payasam! I love it. Could relate well to this post and my name is Ammu too :D Loved the descriptive narration :)

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    1. Your name is Ammu too? Didn't know that :) And thanks a lot! I take it you are a huge fan of paal payasam too!

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  5. didnt look like fiction at all!! I was lost in the words that you wove...and thoughts of my own grandma flooding my mind!

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    1. Thanks so much, Love :) You have made my day! Though it started out as fiction, this was how it ended up. So glad it brought back memories of your grandma!

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  6. Made me reminisce about my grandma's maanga thokku (mango pickle). I still believe she has some special effect in her hands that make them so tasty.

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    1. Grandmas have a way of making things that we love, right? There was this mango curry that my grandma used to make. Thinking about it makes me drool!

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  7. Sweet and tender: this story is so touching and endearing! I love the secret ingredient: I think Ammachi was spot on! ;) <3

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    1. Thanks a ton, Elly! :) Ammachi was indeed spot on!

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  8. You've got a new follower here *ME ME*!! :D
    Loved the secret ingredient ~love<3 !! ,and this was a genial narration :) :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Anakha! Welcome to my blog :)

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  9. Oh this is just so beautiful! Loved the story!!!!

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    1. Thanks so much :) Glad you enjoyed it!

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  10. This took me back to my Ammachi days. How she loved to pamper us when we visited her. We are lucky to have such beautiful souls in our lives. :)

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    1. We are indeed blessed :) Thanks so much, Sheethal! I'm glad that my story could bring you memories of your own Ammachi :)

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  11. Beautifully written! I can almost smell the payasam :)

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    1. Thank you :) You should try the paayasam!

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  12. Beautifully written! I can almost smell the payasam :)

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  13. ohh your writing tugs at heart. Absolutely beautiful :)

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Raj :)

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  14. I don't know how I missed this. Loved this to bits. Reminded me of my sweet Ammamma. My granny too was an expert cook but she never shared her recipes. She used to say it is nothing extraordinary and would recite the recipe in a breath. Lucky if we caught it.:D

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    1. Thanks so so much, Preethi :) This is one of the posts that I'm glad I wrote for the challenge. So many are reminded of their own grandmothers in some way or the other after reading this. That makes me a happy and content granddaughter and writer!

      We don't have a chance when we try to replicate their cooking, right?!

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  15. So much love here and true love is the secret ingredient.:)

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