“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Satchel page. When one becomes mentally strong one neither does need the support of anybody nor the luxury of relationships. Love becomes unconditional with no expectations, no demands, no frustration. A state of detachment.
We children fondly called her PEMA (the other mother), who made delicious appam( rice cake). I have never tasted such a flavourful, soft, and delicious white appam made with fermented rice flour in my whole life. Even today I have tried to make appams, but couldn’t get Pema’s appams softness and texture.
Pema’s thatched house was near our school. The atmosphere itself had the fragrance of the palatable appam, which overtook the smell of the Cutticura talcum powder we used. She always sat on the floor paved with cow dung in front of the fireplace. I was often afraid of what will happen if a fire broke out on the sliding veranda where the small kitchen was placed.
The old woman was always sweating before the fireplace. She made appam simultaneously with two iron pots. The hot appam is placed either in the ‘vatta leaf’ or pieces of plantain leaf, go along with dry coconut chutney seasoned with plenty of roasted onion mustard seed and curry leaves.
The only luxury in her house was a bench placed on the front porch. Those who were lucky had gotten a seat and eat the yummy dish, others would stand here and there, in the neat courtyard, and relish the appam. A large vessel and an earthen pot filled with water were kept nearby. There was a glass tumbler also.
After finishing our meal we drink water from the earthen pot and washed our hands from the water kept in the vessel. We had always noticed her in the same attire, a lungie, blouse, and a small towel placed on her shoulder. Very rarely did Amma give me money, so I regulated my visit to her, I was also tired of stealing anna(currency unit formerly used in British India) from my mom’s betel box.
Once I asked Pema, “why are you in the same dress?” She laughed showing the gum. I discovered that she had no teeth on her upper jaw.
“Don’t make her laugh, my friend warned me, I saw droplets of saliva fall upon your hand.” But I admired her toothless laughing. I often complained mom of not making that spongy appam in our house. She tried hard but in the end, the product lacked the original texture and smell. Mom told me” That was due to her silap(gifted hands). She put her heart and soul into her cuisine to attract customers because it is her lively hood.” I don’t know whether that answer satisfied me or not.
It was drill period, we were allowed to play outside. One of my friends called me “come there is something very special to see. I accompanied her to Pema’s house. She was standing in her courtyard holding a basket. She whistled in a particular manner with her lips and tongue. All of a sudden a group of dogs, cats, and a flock of birds like a parrot, mynah, crow, etc appeared. The atmosphere was filled with the chirping of birds and musings of dogs and cats. She gave out the appam in plantain leaves. Without any hurry, they ate silently. In between, she uttered to them in her dialect. She offered them water in a large vessel. After the sumptuous meal one by one they disappeared. Like a well-directed animation movie, I saw the whole episode with incredible excitement. Oh! What a sight!!!
On my birthday my mom usually made steamed “Ela ada”. Rice flour mixed with water and ghee, spread in plantain leaf, with fillings made with coconut, jaggery, and a pinch of cardamom powder, my all-time favourite dish. I shared one of them with Pema. That was such a wonderful moment, she laughed like crying and kissed my sandal pasted forehead.
“Your birthday falls on which day,” I asked.
She said, “people like us don’t have a birthday. We don’t know when we were born. We were in a continuous race to live a life.”
Slowly despair began to overtake the bright face of her. Within no time she recouped her happy-go-lucky nature.
“You have no relatives or spouse? What is your real name?” I was curious. She took my hand and given a warm kiss.
“You kids are all I have,” she said.
“Did you go to the temple and pray?” She looked at me unbelievably with bare eyes.
“Temple. !! I don’t have time, I have so many works to do ”
“Like?” I asked.
“Collecting firewoods, making dough for the next day, cleaning the house, courtyard, utensils, fetching water from the far-away community well, door delivering the excess appam, and so on.” she said.
After a while thoughtfully she asked herself ” What would I ask for God?”
I became dumbfounded, her question wavered into my mind. As a child even I had so many perks in my kitty to ask from God. I narrated our entire conversation to my mother. In my voice she saw anxiety, and she consoled me “there are so many people in this world like Pema. Sometimes they hardly know even their name. You are too small to understand those things. Let them live the way they have been living, at their own pace”.
Usually, people of her age are resting or under the care of children or spouses. She was not there to complain even before the Almighty. All I saw in Pema was a dignified woman in empowerment, and independence. Unheard of during those days, in those generation, or half a century ago. The heat and summer didn’t touch her, who bears eternal winter.
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3 thoughts on “PEMA”
Beautifully written, I see it frame by frame