She was a wonderful person and I loved her. My world would be different without her in it. Not that i visited her often. Of late, me being away from kochin, and then my illness had prevented me from what i loved doing – looking up my aunts and uncles.
I regret it now. Intensely. Whenever we get a chance, we must visit them. Having not enough time should not be an excuse. For we’ll have all the time in the world for regrets when death , like a thief, snatches them away, without prior notice.
As it happened in the case of my ammai. To think that she’s no longer there when i feel like seeing her or talking to her – it’s painful. The knowledge that she has left my world for good – it’s difficult to digest.
She was my mother’s brother’s wife who inhabited my earliest memories very prominently. She was fun, great fun. Come vacation and she’d come home and take me to her home where i had female cousins around my age with whom i could have girlie talks and games. (i grew up among six boys. My sister, was already across the seven seas by the time i was six).
She used to spend lots of time with us, the small girl’s gang and make us laugh, and laugh at all our stupid stories and the silly things we said and did.
And she was a GREAT cook. The greatest I’ve met, I’d say. She’d announce the special dish she was planning to make and get us all highly excited.
“Today, we’ll make Kashmiri Biriyani”, she announced once.
I was excited. My mother made excellent Kerala biriyanis, and i didn’t know then (I was in high school), biriyani came in other forms too. I hung around her while she made it, and she explained to me at each stage – not the way the divas of the cookery shows do. She did it with so much earnestness and love, in a language that a teenager would understand - a sincere and earnest effort at grooming her niece.
How much garlic do you need, ammai? I’d ask.
The size of a lemon when ground.Ginger too, that much.
And the final product was simply awesome, the taste, the visual appeal and all. I am not exaggerating when i say I’ve never, ever tasted a better biriyani than the one Alekutty ammai made that day.
It’s going to be cashew sweets today, she announced another day.
After she cooked crushed cashew nuts in milk and sugar, she brought it to a consistency where it could be made into small balls, and then threw them into a tray in which she had mixed sugar and mild rose milk colour. My cousins and i sat across her and rolled them in the mixture so they’d come with a beautiful pink coating, and then pop them into our mouths.
Memories. Of the lovely days i spent in ammai’s house. Am getting overwhelmed by them. She was so full of love. So full of fun. So full of laughter.
And her narrative skills were simply incredible. She’d have us all agog with suspense one moment, then have us dissolve in uncontrollable laughter.
She was a unique person and i loved her.
My fondest memories go back to the days i went to boarding school in Pondicherry. She’d come home with a huge tuck box, full of my favourite snacks. Then she’d come into my room to see if she can help with packing. She’d give me bits and pieces of advice – things a growing adoloscent should know, in a light hearted way which’d make me smile but not miss the message.
And when i got married, she asked for the privilege of buying my wedding saree. I still treasure that beautiful piece in golden brocade.
I was her niece, but i have always felt that she loved me like her own daughter.
And it breaks my heart hat I’m so far away that I can’t be there to bid her the final good bye.
Mebbe it’s better that way. I’d rather remember her as my vivacious aunt with a heart full of fun and love, with that irresistible twinkle in her eye!