Pothichor

The only early memories I own of pothichor are a misshapen package wrapped in banana leaf and newspaper, that Manichechi brought home when I was younger, with ammumma’s food inside.

Like everything else she cooked, there was as much coconut in the accompanying dishes as there was white rice (read: a LOT). Pink lovelolikka (is that how you spell it) and mango pickle staining a corner of the white rice with a shocking yet warm red. Red chilly chammanthi in very generous amounts. Two different thorans, one always being beetroot, both with lots of grated coconut. A separate tiny banana leaf wrap that you eagerly open to find the insides bathed in fried oil, with pieces of fish fried until crisp and more (well, almost black), yet surprisingly white and soft inside.

Amma talks about choodu pothichor that maaman brought to her medical college hostel from Vakkom early morning before classes, that stayed warm and succulent until afternoon and even up to dinner. She would wait for lunch time quite like Imran Khan did at work for his dabba in The Lunchbox, the anticipation of the banana-leaf parcel tingling her tongue. (And did I tell you she doesn’t care much about food? Oh not yet.)

As I grew older, especially in college, I saw more pothichors brought from home, sometimes for groups of 5 – 10. My own mother never cared about cooking much – eat to live, not the other way around she says. My father, an upholder of the other way around, still holds it to heart and lives a battle.

In circles when people said, “Mother’s food is always best”, I was always the sole one shaking my head. Once a friend said “Come on, you’re just exaggerating, I’m sure your mom cooks well”. The next day, I brought her my mom’s prepared lunch and she didn’t contest me after.

Once while my brother was admitted in the hospital for jaundice, my uncle and I were exiting the ward around 8pm as we saw an aunty eating from her pothichor. My uncle suddenly commented, “Did you see that.”
Assuming he wasn’t referring to the only thing I’d noticed, I cautiously asked, “See what?”

“That woman was eating pothichor.. kothi ayi”, he grins.

“Oh yesssss”



In the past one year there has been this mad rush in social media over the nostalgia and memories associated with pothichor.

So a couple of months ago, when my parents were leaving on a train to Thrissur at 11AM, I suggested to Amma, “Let’s pack pothichor for you guys?” I knew she’d be excited, she hadn’t had one in years. While packing, my father said “It’s been decades since I last packed one.”

We packed 2 separately, it was vegetarian with an omelette for each, and they gobbled it up as soon as they got on the train, amma said.

Last week, my parents and I were travelling to Belgaum. Our train was at 12:50PM, and obviously it was time for another pothichor episode. An elaborate one this time.

Amma first fried large kilimeen (pink perch, from Google) with spices. She separately cooked onions with masala and added tomatoes to it, and finally mixed the fish pieces into it. Chammanthi from roasted coconut. I made a double omelette with lots of shallots (small red onions) and green chillies. There was cucumber thoran with fair quantity of grated coconut (by amma’s standards, not manichechi’s), and another kovakka thoran.

Last time, it was achan who did the packing, but he was busy eating Puttu with the fresh fish masala (LIVE TO EAT manifests in opportune moments such as these).
I was already a tad bit hungry but saved the hunger for my long-awaited pothichor. Amma laid out the leaves and I apportioned.

A piece of fish in each, no pickle for Amma, more for achan, no omelette and more chammanthi for me.
(Yes I agree, pothichor without pickle and chammanthi is just blasphemy).

Spicy onion from the fish stuck to my fingers and I licked them clean – yum. Yet I conquer my urges again, for later.
“Should we add another fish piece?” Amma asks. Of course we should.

I wrap them up, two rubber bands each, neat and nicely shaped.

Needless to say we forget them at home and realize on the train by 1:30PM when we’re hungry and start checking bags. There is no pothichor.
We buy a biryani and a Veg Meal at Kollam railway station. I could only be jealous of my father who’d atleast tasted the fish (so much for conquering urges. Live to Eat, guys).
Two others in our compartment also brought pothichors. One of them had fish masala.

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Loss of Innocence

I wonder if people know the exact moment when they lost their innocence.

Like when they watched porn for the first time (really?).
Or as they succumbed to money that’s bigger than life.
Or in the eerie silence while they buried their boss’ body.

I remember the time when I realized I had ‘grown up’.

So I was waiting one sweltering morning at the bus stop, contemplating ringing up my driver chetan to find if he’d unfaithfully driven off without me. A familiar yellow Loyola school bus halted to wait, grunting.  Soon enough a child, barely 7 or 8, in his white shirt and black trousers and shoes sprinted to the bus in beaming relief. A number of eyes watched him run, some frowning in the heat, some eager and some curious, one smiling.

A month or even a couple of weeks earlier perhaps, I would have seen a bunch of morning office-goers at the bus stop, delighted at this kid catching his school bus. I may even have told myself, Just how beautiful are people, in gleaming at this moment and this kid who belongs to god-knows-who. I would’ve told you how some of them re-lived their own bus-chasing days (I still have mine) when they were younger, their school vehicles and whites and blacks and emblems and morning frenzies.

But I didn’t.

All I saw were a bunch of faces. Some frowning at the kid’s parents perhaps, for getting the child ready late, for making others wait – disapproval at their ways and busy lives. Some unimpressed at the (adjudged) irresponsible boy. I saw some eager to find if he catches the bus and at least some hoping in malice that he misses it. I saw someone else betting on the bus taking off without him. Perhaps the only aunty smiling may reminisce to her days in a pinafore but none else.

Where a month ago I’d have told you they egged him on with their gaze, instead I tell you these tales.

That was when I realized I wasn’t the person I was anymore, I knew I had finally landed on earth like Amma always wanted me to. That this is what they should call Loss of Innocence.

Imagine taking in everything people say with a pinch of salt, of doubting intentions. I do not see halos around people’s heads anymore (probably never should have). Goodness exists if you dig deep enough in everyone and tons of benefit of the doubt, sure. But not pure until proven otherwise as I used to think. I can actually, without prodding more to know why, believe that people will deliberately cause you harm to none of their benefit.

I mean I was always cynical, yet I had hope and faith in people. I loved people. (I still do, many of them).

Once I was over the depressing shock of it, I saw the reality of smirks following uncles/aunties “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Now I see them, more often than not, inquiring not on the kid’s ambitions but on just how audacious they can get, just how innocent ignorant(that’s what they call them) he/she is. A “Wait till you grow up and watch porn and crave money and distrust people” lurking.

So loss of innocence isn’t when you can guess that Hyderabadi biryani flavoured condoms must suck*. It’s when you can imagine people wishing anything but well for a child who is, for all purposes, just a child.

*I never intend puns

Where numbers come from

So one day last year, three of us were discussing about the rise of BJP in India. The conversation mainly revolved around their proliferation despite outright communal agendas and intolerance.

P1 : But I mean, who votes for these bigots? I don’t expect a remotely sensible person would vote them to power.

Me : I can only speak for myself. Now I may bark liberalism in the workplace and about freedom of expression etc among my social circles, yet when I enter the polling booth – sorry but the Hindu in me is aroused and I vote for thaamara (lotus). Not sorry. (*wink* intended)

P2 (pleasantly surprised) : YEA I KNOW RIGHT! SAME HERE! Same happens with me! Wonder why that is…

P1 & Me :

ആാാ!

End to a Beginning, that wasn’t

There are high streetlights visible from the coffee shop where we sit. Such an unlikely place to meet.

I’d always imagined us meeting at a wedding of a mutual acquaintance, in the middle of everyone dancing. It seemed a likely prospect, our world was so small.
Though which South Indian wedding ceremony involves dance, you may ask.

Or in an exotic (enough) setting away from home. Homes.
In a crowded beach with the sun setting behind us, or a random KFC outlet where two disinterested souls spot each other in delight before indulging in incessant chatter.

Or in one of the narrow aisles of our public library, between tall bookshelves that we’re engrossed in decoding.

For a long, long time I turned every lane and entered every wedding almost expectedly. Nothing materialized, until I was exhausted of momentarily getting my hopes high and adjusting my hair in place.

All the while that I was getting dressed today (I may not have much to show for it), I felt old. As difficult as it was, I avoided the thought of how young we had been, Wo jo adhoori si yaad baki hai and Jaise milte nahi kisi dariya ke do kinaare lines continually playing in my head.
But now, godforsaken Naina da kya kasoor won’t stop and I must repress my headbobbing. I don’t feel like the song though.

“I don’t drink or smoke”. I casually mention, unsure why I sound like my recently decommissioned matrimonial profile.

“Oh”

“Neither does he.” Now I know why.
It came out surprisingly easy, and I’m only happy for myself.

“Oh..”
I’m assuming the dots were there, or maybe the melancholy was only in my air.

I see fingers, long, thin and straight unlike my long crooked ones. They appear damp and soft, like they always did in pictures. I imagine a fountain pen in them, almost immediately replaced with a Gel pen by memory.

As we stepped outside and the lights fell on us, for the life of me I couldn’t see the magnificence in his face, hair or arms. And for the life of me, I couldn’t believe myself.

As I leave, all I think of with every step away are the stories that weren’t written about me, the poems I didn’t feature in.

Yet we all choose our stories really, don’t we?

PS : Too many break-up stories, I’ve heard this past year.

Reading, revisiting

I took out ‘reading’ from my list of hobbies a couple of years ago. I remember going to public library to borrow algorithms texts last year. The year before that, I browsed the shelves for books on development studies and sociology. This year, I’ve visited only on behalf of my mother to get her yoga books from the ground floor main section.

It is quite probable that I was never an avid reader. I mostly read what Achu annan suggested/bought me. An omnibus for every birthday when I was young. A lot of Paulo Coelho from our school library. Those standard books almost everyone reads – Kite Runner, To kill a mockingbird, JD Salinger.

He bought me Cat’s Eye in my final year and it was great. For some reason, I really liked reading books written by women. There was this book by a lady – I forget the name but I’m sure I have it written down in one of my diaries – it talked of suitors and hemming lines, dainty glass cups taken out in the afternoons with designs on them, extra linen stored away in cupboards and wardrobes, recipe books with extra scribblings in pencil on margins, and double curtains – not necessarily all plush (mostly not and those being the best kind. Too cosy. Is it too English, early 20th centuryish? There were Indian books among them as well. Unlike Wodehouse with golf and butlers, that was my brother’s thing.

Sapiens is lying around and he has asked me to read it, more than a couple times. I tried and the contents page gave me the idea of a summary of Anthropology texts – evolution. Achu annan still vouches for it, but I’m not sure I’d visit again. I had a similar experience with 100 years of solitude. Made a mental note of returning later to see if maybe I liked it now, but haven’t yet.

So – I started reading again. My reading has, over last 2 years, been reduced to blogs on WordPress (mostly recipes of thoroughly familiar and straightforward stuff like dal – yes it’s a fetish), Medium articles and more stuff off the internet. On Sundays I look for Vasundhara Chauhan’s cookery and recipes or culinary experiences in Hindu – mutton cooked in pressure cookers with meat falling off the bone and tender chicken pieces in stew. All of G. Sampath’s satirical stories, especially the ones where his complainant wife is cooking a curry, and finishes before the raunchy couple he’s watching on tv does.

As always, I digress.

I’m reading Winesburg, Ohio. It’s a small town where everyone knows each other. I picked it from a list of rustic set books. Honestly, I do not stick to settings though, and I picture a prairie-land – yellow meadow of grasses with sun shining over, intermittent cottage houses with ivy walls and narrow roads connecting them. The landscape in “Love comes slowly” precisely describes it. Once in a while Sherlock Holmes visits to solve a case, unimpressed, and the lady from A Sound of Music is running amidst the dry grasses, singing in the evenings in her skirt-gowns. All the women are strong and wear layers of clothing. The men are strong as well, like in those movies set in Ireland and they eat freshly baked bread and chicken pies from firewood ovens with gravy.

There’s a beach adjacent to it, the shore from a story about an old man once written by a friend.  Somehow it fit there right next to the prairie.

The meadow segues into the short grassy ground in front of our engineering college quarters, where boys played in the evenings after school and fresh cow milk was delivered by a woman who lived in the depths of the road that went behind our house, to far away from where the sun shines.

There was a Facebook challenge long back, where you had to pick an image out of 4, and it showed your personality. I know it sounds too simplistic, it was; I remember 3 of the options – the sky, the sea and a meadow.
If you picked the sea it meant you’re outgoing, love hanging out with people etc. I was the meadow (I remember being terrified of the sea picture lol). I can’t remember what the description said but it fit me so maybe it was the cliché loves to curl up in bed and doesn’t like going out as much. I made a mental note to keep revisiting every few years to see if I ever picked the sea.

We were taught “Daffodils” in middle school (I think we all were, irrespective of the schools we went to). I had no idea what a daffodil looked like, the teacher did describe them but our brains have their own way of concocting images, no? I was stuck in a vast daffodil field for a long time. The field over time metamorphosed into the meadow, the prairie and everything else. I googled to find a match to the image in my head, sometimes it occurred in dreams, sometimes in stories and movies, it just wasn’t daffodils anymore. I don’t think it ever was.

I think somewhere in my childhood reading or English poetry classes, I got lost in one of those villages. And I refuse to come out.

Or maybe I just love revisiting.


Do you know what the worst part about writing is? It sometimes takes the magic out of things. I swear.

I remember writing about Indian coffee house once. It took me a long time to feel again what I wrote about after posting it, cos when I returned all I could think of were people’s comments. It’s like exposing a part of you. More importantly, it’s just not in my head anymore, I’ve put it down in words thereby limiting it – defining it. You know?

It’s like some things shouldn’t be put on paper until you’re ready to let go of them.

So Winesburg, Ohio – it’s mostly men’s stories – men from Winesburg, a small village town with vast open fields. There are women obviously else I couldn’t bear it. This author Sherwood Anderson wrote it, there are dainty cups from time to time, soft hands and wistful smiles and a lot of cynicism. But most importantly, there are evenings with the sun shining over the village and its cottages.

I don’t think I do a good job at a charismatic or even an accurate description. But I think I might be writing less and reading more now.

It’s time to get lost again.

Beautiful polish meadow with fence in late spring
I’ll leave you with this image assuming you too like cosy beds

Civilization

“When I have kids, I’m going to raise them in the forest until they’re like 8-9 years old, then introduce them to urban society and ask them to pick between the two the life they’d like to live. I’d give them choice, not the illusion of it.”

“I’m not a fan of civilization myself,” says George.