Saturday, June 02, 2007

Aromas of 18, Gandhi Road

This morning, I was talking to my brother on the phone. We were talking about mangoes, and that lead to talking about my grandparents' house in Salem, where I spent many a summer vacation.
Even though he was much younger, I was old enough and had spent enough time in that house to vividly remember everything about that house including the smells associated with some of those rooms.
The house was 18, Gandhi Road. A house whose architect was my grandma. A functional house - but a very comfortable one which was loved for reasons other than its architectural excellence. My grandfather was a lawyer, he had his office room where he saw his clients. There was a big table, a bench for clients to wait on, shelf after shelf of big fat law books and tons and tons of paperwork. That paperwork referred to as "Case kattu" for some reason, were folded vertically and tied together with strings. The room distinctly smelt of that paper.
The living room was an airy well-lit room. My grandmother had a very functional sofa-set. The cushion covers were hand-made. She had a bead curtain that separated the drawing room from the dining room and i distinctly remember enjoying walking through them.. pulling them along as if they were my veil. I used to get it from my grandmother for that. Also remember staring into the showcase at all my mother's medals and cups - prizes she had won in school and college and wondering if I would ever be such a good student.
The front room or the tv room - had an old dyanora tv. Salem was far behind places like chennai those days and the only programming on tv was doordarshan from delhi. So only hindi programming which I never understood those days. The room also had a dresser. I distinctly remember the coconut oil that used to be kept in an alumnium container (i think) and the smell of emami talcum powder which my grandma used. There used to be a window by the corner of that room which faced the old car garage some distance away and the mango tree nearby. Early in the morning, I could hear the sounds of birds twittering and I would look out of that window to try and spot them. Right outside that room on the wall of the living room was a picture of my parents taken when they were newly married. My parents looked great in that black and white picture. I used to look at it when I missed my father during the holidays.
The master bedroom which I think we used to occupy during the holidays. That was the room, in which I remember seeing my brother as a baby. Always smelt of Johnson's baby powder those days or "Sambrani" which was used to dry his hair. I used to enjoy playing with the full-size mirror in that room. Also used to love to stare at the pictures of my mom on the walls. Somehow I used to think, I resembled her in those pictures.
The kitchen hmmmm.. I loved my grandmother's rasam. Somehow nobody including her is able to reproduce that same aroma or taste these days. She used to make kai-murukkus sometimes. They would start from powdering the rice in the traditional way with the help of Viswanathan - the man servant and his wife Lakshmi. Hmm.. I remember the smell of that cupboard in which she used to keep all the bakshanams. It was a mixed smell of all kinds of stuff. That smell has been alive in my memory for years.
The pooja/store room attached to the kitchen - tripled for a mango ripening room during summer. It was a really dark room, where my thatha did his morning pooja. Always smelt of that really good agarbathi which I remember to this day. When there were mangoes in there, wow.. you can imagine how good that room would have smelt.
Then there was the dark, not-so-interesting guest room. I think my grandpa ended up there when we were around. The attached bathroom which was used only for bathing. The service area which could be reached down the stairs at the end of the house. I think there were 4 or 5 steps, cement ones. We have eaten tons of mangoes sitting there. I remember my hair being combed while I sat on those stairs. I remember listening to neighbourhood gossip sitting on those steps. Right outside there were a couple of cement tanks used to store water. I used to love playing in that water.
Beyond that was the garden with a guava tree, jasmine plants, cocunut trees.. a well that as far as I remember was always dry.
Above all, I remember waiting for my grandfather doing his morning pooja, getting ready for court, leaving for court in his white shirt and pant and black coat. I remember waiting to see his double colored Herald car coming back from court. I remember the Masala vadai he used to bring back sometimes from the court canteen. I remember sitting at his feet while he drank his evening coffee. I remember the times he spent listening to my karnatic music, and his appreciation in the form of a kiss on my forehead. I remember the efficiency with which my grandmother ran that house. The love with which she celebrated our birthdays at Salem. I remember the daily mango feasts, the home-made kai-murukkus she made while we were there. I remember how my mom would weep when we boarded kovai express back to chennai.
Those were lovely times spent in Salem during the summer holidays. I sure am lucky I had a place to go to, a place like Salem, a home like my grandparents', year after year every summer. I sure am lucky that I have such lovely memories. I sure am lucky I had such wonderful grandparents to pamper me as a kid. I wonder if my daughter will have as much fun. She will probably spend her summer holidays at day care, attending summer courses, waiting for weekends so she can be with us - atleast as long as we are in this country.