An Octogenarian and a quinquagenarian me (oh, that’s the grand label my chronological age carries)- in the same house, locked in by the evil virus, gave rise to some hilarious moments. Hilarious and riotous in retrospect. At that time, though, I was a little child again, trying hard not to bawl as my mother relished her role in reprimanding me for my lapses.
Sumu, Summmu, Summmmuuuuu.
The stretch of the U got longer and louder as I ran down from my room on the mezzanine floor, two steps at a time. The meniscus tear in my left knee must have held itself tight and supported my endeavor, for she did not flinch. Mind racing- who is the emergency doctor, where are her pills, where is her friend’s number? Whom am I supposed to call for the car? Oh, shucks, I should learn CPR—and many other things in that short second.
In moments of crisis, the logical mind sits comfortably as a rush of adrenalin jumps into fight mode. If the rational, logical mind, Manni, as I call her, had been like my meniscus and had come to my rescue, she would have reminded me that this was not the voice of a medical emergency.
My mother-she has many voices, each with its own set of different notes, like the notes of the bansuri that I dream of learning. A hoarse voice that we siblings all dread arises from the deep throat. The raspy and rough tone rising from that line between the throat and chest fights its way through the larynx; this voice conveys an old pain. No, she conveys the feeling of the old feel of the old pain which she holds onto. For the pain itself has lost its colour. A sharp note, high pitched from the upper throat, like a needle that has lost its way through a garment and found its way into your skin. The deep prick that hits your eardrums means she is ready to roll on the next house help that comes her way. We stay away.
No, this was none of those.
This was coming from the upper palette of her mouth- rolling off as a thick skin of an orange, charged heavily with emotion and sorrow that comes from one’s work gone wrong. But not quite accepting it, trying to place that on someone else. For who doesn’t want a good night’s sleep? And finding the culprit for wrongdoing was the key.
“How did this bowl of pickle get this water”? she rasps, her arms holding on tightly to the dining chair. She is staring at the mango pickle kept on the table.
I remember the year’s mango season yielded 700 mangoes from our garden. It was special. My father had planted the sapling; the tree produced four mangoes in the first year. Two were eaten away by the squirrel; one refused to give up the identity of its attacker, and the fourth, a sweet one, handed in a gift to my mother. My father never got to taste it. Father, watching from above, would be proud of the mango count and the mango politics that go with it when it is distributed in the community around us. “Don’t give the neighbour juicy mangoes- give her the smaller ones, for she had rebuked your father once.”
“Did you not cover it before putting it in the sun”? I shake out of my soft reverie about father.
“ Of course I did,” – I lied. I could not tell her I had procrastinated about putting on the bowl lid. The sun god shone in all its might; that day was a blistering forty degrees heat. How did I know he would lose out to the dark, ominous clouds? It was the last thought as I turned the page of the book I was reading in my cozy air-conditioned room, sitting under the flower-printed dohar (a thin Indian duvet). I lied. Oops. Did I? Now there was no turning back. “Then where did it go?” “Oh, the cat must have knocked it off.” She rolls her eye – she is my mother, after all.
A click of her tongue as she tries to remove the water and stop the pickling effort from going to waste. A murmur. “What, Ma?” A whisper and curse under her breath. I catch the words, “These pieces are oddly cut and non-uniform.” If you thought that was her coping mechanism from the watery world- you haven’t seen a woman’s pickle spoilt. In her soft tirade of an undertone, she was referring to the saga of the sizes of the pieces. Now that could be another story.
I argued with her when she said that a unique tool resembled the cross between the modern knife and the old “sit-on the wooden footrest and cut on the arched blade jutting from it,” variously called Panikhi(in Odisha) or Boti (in West Bengal). I had rejected the idea, siding with our gardener, who said his cleaver knife would do the trick even better. What had then returned was a sorry mess of tattered, torn, shredded mango pieces very different from the royal uniform mangoes I had expected to show off to Ma. I had quivered then of the eye roll as much as I did this time at the watery mess.
My inner voice knocked, “Say sorry, Soma…Summuuu. Say sorry, and it will be all right”. However, I was caught up in the story. What would be my next sentence? My Mind was racing.
“Oh, mom, you are a genius; I am sure you can recover this.” I stare listlessly at the old porcelain holding the pickle. An oddly shaped grand dame of sixty years, she has seen the summers of multiple cities in India. She has developed little brown cracks but still holds herself up with pride, her golden edges and little English flowers decorating her bosom. She was brought from England on the ship when my dad returned from his studies. I plead with the grand dame to magically bleed out the water or make it disappear. As old as mother, she decides to hold up nothing but the truth.
I lift it and carry it to the kitchen….for the pickle has now to go over the fire and save it from the gnawing mouth of the dustbin, for here was something fresh and tasty for it to gobble up. It had been tiring of the spoiled food thrown out from the refrigerator. Alas, that was not to be.
“Sorry!” Huh- I look around. Where did that come from? Oh, this was a soft voice from the tip of my tongue. The sound of the water trying hard to get out of a dry tap is dripping, not yet a gush. I am proud of that sorry and mentally pat it for supporting me. Ma, startled, looks at me, about to say something, but returns to pickle on a sizzle.
Taking this opportunity, I slink away. A sweat breaks out on my forehead. Reminds of my 14-year-old naughty self, subjected to summmmuuuuu multiple times.
Photo by Harshad Khandare on Unsplash