Ammumma's cooking skills are like they joke 'world-famous'across Amma's native place in Thrissur..:) She could turn anything into tasting divine and did it without much fuss. Cooking was a practical chore, just as mathematics was essential to ensure everyone in their large household got an equal share of the food cooked. Ammumma's mom had eleven children and she was the oldest. So with all the children and adults in the house to feed, cooking must have been a massive juggle. She had to take on the role of the housekeeper early in life and did it with such precision that all her younger siblings still reminsce about her remarkable housekeeping and cooking. In fact, while Amma and her sisters are amazing cooks, they humbly acknowledge that they aren't half as precise or disciplined as their mother was.
With Dad working abroad most of my life and Amma employed at a bank, we were brought up to a large extent by my grandparents. They loved living with us, I guess because Amma ensured they had the run of the house. Dad was a good son-in-law, happy and courteous to them because like he told me once, they were there to take care of his wife and kids when he needed them. About my grandfather and life around him, that has to be another post. This one is dedicated to Ammumma ( by the way, that's the Malayali term for mother's mother!)
Grandparents are often portrayed as indulgent old gentle people who always have a smile and a sweet to spoil the grandchildren. Well, Ammumma was in a separate class while these lessons were being taught. In hindsight, I guess it had to do with being one of the pillars of a large family. It couldn't have been easy doing all that she did for the family, there were few luxuries but she was no cribber. I remember Amma saying that as children they were never beaten for misdeeds at home, then again, like she adds, they rarely got into mischief. But Ammumma had a really fiery temper and a sharp tongue to match. Having to keep a temperamental little imp like me couldn't have been easy.
Imagine poor Amma's plight - getting home after a long day at work and the first thing she sees is her mother on the war path - and that too against a seven-year old pug like me. Now were I more docile or if she were less insistent on discipline, Amma would have been able to work out a peace formula. Unfortunately, we had different ideas and an irresolute stand - much like the India government and the Kashmir separatists. Amma chose diplomacy and learnt the art of subtle ignore.
I have pretty thick, poker straight black hair and Ammumma was very fond of girls growing it long. Now I had other ideas. Everytime I'd moot cutting my hair short, Ammumma's voice would ring loud and clear in protest. Amma couldn't be bothered taking sides and so she let things be. But one evening, when she returned from work, she was met by her mother, in a mood to do a Thandav and sublimate her daughter ( I mean Amma's daughter!) And guess why? I had returned from college with a super short hair cut. It was not just that I'd gone and chopped off the hair, I'd got the lady at the parlour to snip if off and tie a rubber-band around it and came home brandishing it in one hand! Amma, I think didn't know whether to laugh or cry at this war of stubborn wills...
Its been over eleven years since Ammumma passed away...I can't tell you how much we miss having her around. If I could get back my childhood, I'd have definitely tried to be a more obedient grandchild. Today I realise all that she had struggled to instill in my sister and I. As a child, I thought she was too exacting, I wanted her to be like the grandmother in advertisements. She had strict standards and did not bend it for any. But thanks to those standards, my Amma and her sisters turned out into fabulous women and my sister and I literally learnt the importance of hard work and clean living - as they say what is learnt in the cradle lasts till the tomb.
Her love was not the kind that was spoken and demonstrated through indulgence. Hers was the pragmatic sorts, the kind of giving of oneself without expecting little back. I want to be like a grandmother like her someday - having a role in shaping my grandchildren's life, not just being a pleasant extra who spoke all the right dialogues that the grandchildren want to hear to gain brownie points.