“I wish I had another pair of hands”, mamma says as she stirs her coffee mug with one hand, and irons her uniform with the other. She has always been a multi-tasker, reading while cooking, writing while watching a movie, doing laundry, while speaking on the phone, the list is endless- like goddess Durga, a fierce protector-provider,mother. She likes it that ways, While she’s in the middle of something, she might kick your bum if you walk in whining, “Mamma…”
“shh, I’m working. Go”
But like Achilles had a heel, mamma too had her weakness. The only time she felt helpless was when her back itched. She’d stretch, and bend, and flex her back muscles like a gymnast and sometimes even twirl like a ballerina. But finally she’d call me saying “Angu vaa , please ente poram manthi tha” (Angu come, please scratch my back for me.) This was one of those times, she acknowledged my presence and I’d feel like it was my moment in the sun, my purpose in life.
However, mamma being the genius she is, one day, came home beaming like she does, when she finds the perfect cutlery or dining set. “Look what I found”, she said and handed me a funny long stick with finger-like projections curled inward at the end. “A BACK SCRATCHER.” There, she defeated my purpose, now I had to look for another one!
Then one day our fridge cried like it was being stabbed in the heart and decided to die. “I can buy a new fridge with the money they ask for repairing it”, mamma said, and that is exactly what she did. But the best part about converting the fridge was the disappointment on the faces of little children who ran to the fridge and opened it only to find shoes, old clothes and boxes of itsy bitsy things. “WOW CHECHI, 2 FRIDGE!”, They’d exclaim while running to what they believed were chocolate factories. After opening the first they’d go “aaah, ooo, haaaai” and then they’d open the second and look at me with a face that looks like they sat on cacti, pained. I have nearly choked to death, with laughter stuck in my throat, blocking my airway.
At my ancestral house in Kerala, on a very sunny day, with not the slightest of winds, our wind chimes go ting-a- ling,-a-ning. “It’s the family of Hoopie probably having a party mole,” Gram’ma says. She has always believed in co-existence, so when the hoopies decided to build a nest on our wind chimes, she extended a helping hand, bringing twigs and dry grass for them. The only times I’ve seen her ideals flicker is when the chimes go ting a ling on a warm afternoon, while she’s having a cozy nap. My aunt on the other hand is a no- nonsense person. She loses it when the hoopies fly in for breeding. “Those things won’t let me near the ironing table koche. They peck my head.” An otherwise peaceful, mother in law – daughter in law relationship suddenly takes bizarre turns like those in the much famed Malayalam serials. It’s strange how inspite of this, summer after summer, the hoopies still continue to come and gram’ma continues to get them dry grass and twigs.
G auntie, Papa’s cousin’s relative spent her childhood days in a place called Kuttambuzha in Kerala. Since their house was near a forest, stray animals like elephants, monkeys and boars would drop in once in a while to say hi. On one such day, when she was home alone, a lone elephant brought down half their roof, G ran to where her parents kept an iron trunk. The elephant rampaged through their courtyard, upturned plantain trees and ate whatever food was lying around. G meanwhile, clung onto her dear life in that iron trunk. The elephant eventually left and the trunk came to be known as ‘aanapetty’ (Elephant trunk).One summer vacation, she took us on a parade of her house and I didn’t have to look in the direction that her finger pointed to know what she was going to show us.
Calling people ‘sathanam’, which literally translates to ‘thing’, is commonplace in my household. “Eee sathanathinekond njan thottu”(I’m tired of this thing) is a symphony that reverberates within our walls.So if strangeness can be attributed to people-things, then I have only ‘strange things’ at home. All amiable and safe to interact with, but strange. Amma and appan who fights with each other over nutmegs and bonds over jack fruit, cousins who are little monkeys trapped in bodies of human children, aunts who serve omelettes when uncles drink , all in a house with doors that creak to show utter disappointment to a not so normal ménage.