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UNHEARD MELODIES: CHAPTER TWO
Chandra periamma(aunt) had opened the door. She was wearing her ridiculous checked apron that made her feel like a three-hatted Michelin chef despite being a disaster at cooking.
“I am making ice-cream for us all” she announced happily as she opened the door, letting them in. She gave them two pecks each on either cheek.
“But I thought you don’t have an ice-cream machine” Bharathy began to say when Sindhu interrupted her, “Don’t even start”.
“Yay, ma! Ice-cream” she said simply, hugging her mother.
ChandraKala or Chandra periamma as Bharathy called her was a comical-looking, plump, fair little woman. Whenever she saw her, she was reminded of the rhyme they had learnt as children, “I am a little teapot, short and stout. This is my handle and this is my spout”. That was how she called her behind her back to Sindhu. “Little Teapot”. But she loved her aunt. She had a very affectionate nature and was always glad to see Bharathy. She went to great lengths to make her feel at home and was constantly afraid she might feel homesick so she tried to be her honorary mother by smothering her just like she smothered Sindhu with over solicitousness and attention. She was terrible at cooking but that didn’t stop her from making burnt gingerbread houses, runny custard, stony, crusty Chocolate cakes that cracked the instant you put it into your mouth and cheesecake every Christmas. The cheesecake was always bearable. It came straight out of a packet.
Her cooking skills were a dire contrast to Bharathy’s own mother, Prabha who was a really good cook. At home, she’d be making traditional Indian snacks for Christmas and delicacies particularly typical of their family. She’d make stew, Mutton puffs, Coconut puffs, Mysore Pak, Murukkus that had generous amounts of Coconut milk in them and Gulab Jamun. Sindhu loved her mother for her cooking skills. She never could understand how Bharathy could give all that up for her own mother’s deluded efforts at cooking.
“I’ve really got to make her stop watching Masterchef” she muttered under her breath.
Her aunt bustled around blissfully unaware of what the world thought of her culinary contrivances.
It already felt like Christmas. Her uncle was on the phone but he gave her a cursory nod and a warm smile and went on talking. The old board saying Merry Christmas was back in place and there were shreds of tinsel foil lying on the floor. All of Chandra periamma’s efforts were half-hearted. She had just started to examine the attic and take down Christmas decorations but she had left them lying about on the floor, suddenly remembering that the cake was still in the oven. Sindhu sighed.
“I told you we should have gone to your house. We could have had mutton puffs by now”.
“I’ll make some for you” Bharathy said and Sindhu clapped her hands in glee.
Her mother’s mutton-puffs were very famous and it was the one item that she could make just as well. The prospect of digging into those juicy, savoury puffs swimming in gravy was really too good to pass up. But she was not home. If she wanted them, she had to make them herself. She did miss home. She missed her mother, especially. But as if by magic, she’d been drawn back here and she didn’t even know why.
They started to clumsily unpack their clothes and shoved them into the shelves. They changed into their loose, comfortable, flapping nighties and threw themselves into bed.
“Ah! It really feels great to be home. No more college, teachers and assignments”.
“You know. It all feels like a fairytale. Christmas, I mean. It feels so surreal every time. We have been released from the cares of this world. We are free to do whatever we want”.
“Are you even listening to me? Give me that phone right now” she said and grabbed for it.
“Hey. Cool down, Bharathy. Alright, I’ve put it down, okay? Go on. Rant. It’s all you ever do”.
“Oh, shut up”.
They gazed at the ceiling for a while, lost in silence, in the comfortable familiarity of each other’s company.
“I don’t know. I don’t know why I come here every December. I mean, we weren’t even that close as kids”.
“That’s true. I hated you as a kid”.
“Why on earth?”
“I just felt a bit jealous of you. It’s your parents. They really love you. I still remember that kid in that frilly pink frock who got chosen to be the flower-girl at every wedding”.
“Hey! That’s because I am from Madurai. They chose me because all our relatives are in Madurai and they know me”.
“I don’t know Bharathy. You’ve always been a pretty happy child and now you are the most happy person I know”.
“What makes you say that?”
“You’ve got such beautiful relationships. Your mother is a darling creature. She loves you so much but she doesn’t try to smother you with love like mine does. I am sure she doesn’t open the door every night to make sure that you are not up to stuff on your mobile. She just… lets you do whatever you want and she doesn’t love you any less. She respects your privacy. She gives you a free hand when it comes to your love-life, if you should have any. She is just perfect in my opinion”.
“You know what they say. The grass is always greener on the other side. You know what? I sometimes wish my mother was more like yours sometimes. I wish she’d tell me what and what not to do. I wish she was a bit obsessed about me like yours is. My amma is a very practical, hard-headed, shrewd old person. She’s a good parent but I don’t quite know if she’s a good mother. No mother should be that distant. I don’t quite like all the space she gives me sometimes. And by the way, I am not as happy as I let on. I have a hundred and odd grievances that I keep to myself. It’s like Dr. House says, “Every parent damages their child just a little bit””. “You know what I say?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps we should swap mothers”.
“Perhaps. But perhaps it is all for the best. It is because we find so many imperfections in our parents and love them in spite of it that we are able to see the world as it is, in all its imperfections. If we had found perfection in them, then, we would probably start to expect perfection in everything else”.
“Boring” Sindhu cried and turned the other way.
“I don’t know why you are so closed up, Sindhu. There is so much in you that I don’t even understand. You are just like amma(mother). I have always felt as if I have been looking for a lost cause to save all my life. I long desperately for something. For perfection. I am sure everyone does. But you, how could you not care?”
“You said you’d make me mutton puffs” she replied and Bharathy gave up the conversation. Did everyone else feel so? Did everyone else long for the unattainable in their life? It was a question for the ages but Sindhu was right. Mutton puffs. Nothing to beat them.
Around 4 that evening, she started cooking. Some Onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric powder, garam masala, tomatoes, chilli powder and some flour later, they had it at last. They were a hit and everyone gorged happily on them. It had been a rather eventful day.
There was fun, there was laughter but in spite of it all, she was conscious of a rather subtle heart-ache that she did not quite know how to medicate. She’d been carrying it almost all her life. She wondered if it would ever go away.