I would have been a child of less than 10 years of age, vacationing the summer away at my grandmother’s home.
Lunch was always a prior 2 p.m. ritual. I didn’t help cook the meals because although chopping vegetables and watching chickens get beheaded was sort of interesting, standing my ground in ammachi’s kitchen entailed lots of chit-chat that my lack of Malayalam communication skills was afraid to even try.
When the meal was ready, the women would call out to the rest of us and I would demurely tag my two cousin brothers into the kitchen to carry the food out to the dinning hall. Brown rice, an odd curry I would only ever eat at ammachi’s, the staple fried beef that only a Malayalee could ever perfect and of course, pappadums. Keep the pappadums coming. Wash it all down with a gallon of water that ammachi insisted we drink during the meal. Not the best way to eat, but it helped me digest the food that I had to enjoy but absolutely did not. So I didn’t complain.
My mother never understood how the potatoes in a curry I abhor 10 months a year were suddenly the most succulent thing in the world. Well mom, I had to pretend to like SOMETHING.
After a good 45 minutes spent in an effort to keep my feet of the tiled ground that I could never get used to (I was always a carpet person) and nervously glancing at the wall opposite the table which was the 2 p.m. lizard’s favourite spot, the ordeal was done.
The table was cleared (which I actually helped out with so that my parents wouldn’t be deemed the worst parents in the history of India who didn’t teach their daughter to help set and clear tables). My elder sister and older cousin brother would almost immediately dart into the store-room to hunt for the badminton gear from summers past and I’d wonder how I could make use of my time in a semi-productive way that I could maybe, just maybe, enjoy.
This was the hard part because pair being the younger one who doesn’t have much of a say in group activities with totally not being inclined towards anything sports and you were left with a lost kid wandering the lonely alleys of her mind questioning the point of this painful recurring phenomena called Summers At Grandmother’s.
But then you find a way, because what other option was there? The ways varied from collecting well rounded stones from the front lawn, washing them in the garage and showering them over random objects, to plastering my face with wet powder and jumping like a lunatic from the balcony trying to scare the lanky men with meagre-supply stores opposite our house, to standing on the wall separating our house from our neighbours and forming a silent friendship with the kids next door, to creating and living in make believe worlds on the terrace.
But everyone needs someone to feed incoherence to, even those of us stuck in the younger sibling lack of choice rut. There was always someone younger to train in the art of nonsense. Let me just write a quick introduction to my younger cousin brother, my friend and partner in not-so-much-crime-as-idiocy.
It would be untruthful to say that he admired me because he did not. But since he wasn’t invited to the heated older sibling badminton showdown and I am born a good seventeen months before him, he had little choice but to follow my lead.
So I taught him the right way to yell scary nothings from the balcony. I showed him the kind of stones that were perfect to first wash and then throw around. Don’t look at the dogs, I’m afraid of those things. I asked him for name suggestions to call our next door neighbours, and lent my listening ear to his two second pause before I suggested Somemoney and Thresakutta as befitting titles. And I invited him into my make believe world, with stories of century old farmers and plantations that were there before our house laid its foundation.
He would, without exception, ask me every afternoon if we could go and join the badminton game, and I’d always have to come up with new reasons as to why we were actually better off not doing so. The tiresome child!
Soon arrived 6 p.m., the hour of hours. All four of us were rounded together from our various miscellaneous activities and sent off for baths. The baths had to be quick so we could beat the 7 p.m. power cuts. It beat us though, almost every single time.
As the baths came to an end, we climbed into our PJs, hair still damp and whatnot, and made our way to the sitting area in the hall lit with candles and torches. Dinner preparations were still underway, the chickens were probably faster on their feet at night. The four of us would quietly gather on the large rug at the centre of the room with only one agenda in our minds, old photo albums.
We liked seeing what each of us looked like ten years ago, but the primary goal was to discover what our folks were like before we ever met them. They were all sepia coloured of course, bellbottoms, thick beards, even thicker spectacles. The women had their saris neatly tied at the waist and a very strange look on their faces that we couldn’t recognize in our mothers. Shyness? Awkwardness? Submissiveness? What was that?
We laughed at how ridiculous they all looked, never thinking but once how our floral shorts and Paul Mccartney circa Beatles hairdos would probably elicit the same reaction fifteen years down the lane. We each had a favorite album that we would always make an excuse to pull out, mostly the one we knew we made our first entrance in. Mine was my father’s younger brother’s wedding. I was a year old and heart wrenchingly cute. It was a coloured album.
Soon the chicken was cooked with all the required potatoes (lots of extra potatoes since I loved them oh so much), and we were called to help lay the mats.
Summers weren’t always the most relaxing, and yet every other year hopping on that airplane to the motherland came with such anticipation, I wonder why.
Last night a 24-year-old me sat in a candle lit room with my friend loudly expressing our exasperation as to when the electricity would choose to return. She told me she always loved power-cuts as a child, I said that growing up in the Middle East, it wasn’t a huge part of my life.
But then, I guess it was.