Reminiscing Amaachi's Christmas

Our Christmas vacation during  school days was by default at Bangalore always. The very thought of the long journey from Madikeri to Bangalore by the ‘red’ bus then was nauseating. After throwing up once or twice, we would settle down waiting to reach Lingarajapuram, where my grandmother, Amaachi, as we called her, lived with my grand uncle.

Cawing crows in the front yard heralded your coming, she would say on seeing us. Taking a bath was the scariest part in the poorly-lit bathroom where brown lizards camouflaged so well that we wouldn’t realise their presence there unless they moved. As soon as screams were heard, Amaachi would walk in with a broom to shoo them away.

Amaachi’s secret preparations for the festival would unfold one by one. A well-fed turkey or a couple of ducks in the coop would be picked out to be on the platter for Christmas. A trunk and a huge wooden box in the kitchen stored the crisp murukku, diamond cuts, rose cookies and adhirasams that she would have painstakingly prepared for us.

The potli (purse) on her waist held the keys to these boxes. Once opened, we would gorge on the savouries like gluttons. On Christmas day, Amaachi, in her new silk sari, shiny white-stoned ear studs and a nose stud, would be the cynosure of all eyes at home.

An hour later, the kitchen would become a hub of activity – the rumble of the grinding stone would be predominantly heard over the scraping of coconuts while the chopping of onions accompanied the spices being fried in sizzling hot oil. The kerosene-wick stoves would burn incessantly till the feast was cooked. Relatives would pour in to extend wishes. After a thanksgiving prayer in Tamil, which we hardly understood then, lunch was served.

Amaachi would secretly gulp down one or two pegs of wine quoting health reasons. Her daughters would giggle as she hid the glass of wine in her saree pallu. Post lunch, we would sit around Amaachi for the paan treat. From her potli, would come out packets of sweet betelnut, which she would wrap in tender betel leaves for us. Oh! How we enjoyed that.

I remember how my little twin brothers would sweet-talk her into sharing a second quota of the paan. She would warn us of the speech problems one could develop by eating too much paan and my brothers would quip: “But your speech is fine Amaachi.” So, the second quota was guaranteed if dad wasn’t around. After a week of feasting, fun and little fits of anger, we would pack our bags. Tears would roll down her cheeks every time she bid goodbye to us.

Since her death, I have not seen planned feasts and get-togethers. I miss the fun, laughter and togetherness. You suggest a get-together like that and relatives turn formal, demand privacy or say their children are not for it. Everybody is busy or pretends to be so. Amaachi never taught us to be like that. She cemented the bonds with love and emphasised the importance of celebrating a festival together. She valued people, not what they owned. Can her days ever come back? Only time can tell.

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