Balancing themselves on the ridge through the green carpet of the paddy fields, are two Red Riding Hoods, heading excitedly to their grandmother who lives in the little cottage completely cut off from the busy world. ‘Amminna’ is waiting to open to the little girls, the door of affection, freedom and exploration.
They would be there on a week’s parole to celebrate the most cheerful days of the year. That was some twenty five years ago! The youngest one – ten or eleven years old at that time – was me.
Amminnadukkal (amminna’s house) was a fairy land, a resort, a museum set amidst an orchard for us to marvel. A great mango tree (Why great? Wait!), two chaampa trees as the sentries, jackfruit tree, kadaplavu, irumpapuli tree, guava, mulberry, papaya, puli, ampazham, not to mention the other galore of trees like the cotton, clove, cinnamon, jaathi, and the coconut trees strewn all over – that was the plot. Beneath each tree I used to linger a long time feeling its pulse and studying how it changed after my last visit.
Many of the trees are still ‘green’ in my memory.
My youngest uncle told me once that the mulberry bush was the rendezvous of my mother and her friends – gossiping, safely away from the evesdropping brothers.
The ampazham near the cow shed bore green olive-like sour fruits – the harvest was always bountiful, more than enough to fill the brine jars of Amminna.
During Onam the swing was made on the mango tree but once on the irumpapuli tree whose trunk was cloaked by the succulent, glassy green fruits. Those fruits were dried and pickled (I believe so).
Then the kadaplavu – the breadfruit tree – was the source of the special boiled dish with grated coconut. The most savoury papayas in the world, I would proudly say, were the ones which grew on my grandmother’s papaya tree. The jack fruit was preserved. I could still call to mind the colour and smell of the sweet, sticky delicacy with a dash of sugar over it.
It was our turn to sample the preserves, one by one.
The mango tree – really a ‘grandmother’ tree – was to the house, what a banyan tree is to a traditional Kerala temple. Even as children we could touch its low branches. The majestic tree bent lower when it abounded with the biggest and the sweetest mangoes I have ever laid my eyes on! Amminna used to support them with great love, the same way in which she tended to her calf-bearing cow. The axe laid on its trunk a few days after her death, ruthlessly cut off all the remaining tenderness associated with her. I couldn’t bear the sight of its stump! They could have spared just that one! Tears rolled down for the relishing treats it provided me once. The already dejected house now looked like a behaired Rapunzel.
Another scenic speciality – the only one intact even today – was the brook behind the house. It looked like a forest stream all overgrown with climbers and bushes. Had I been Tarzan I would have crossed the brook on those strong climbers. During the summers the brook almost dried up – the boys in the neighbourhood dug holes in the sand to eke out some water. But during the rains when the brook would be in its full swing, its rage did frighten me. We used to go and watch the boys catch fish at the check dam using traps and also the men collect the drifting trees uprooted from the highlands in the heavy downpour.
The narrow canal from the brook brought water in to the grove only when the brook was brimming. And when the grove was flooded, little fish swam everywhere in the shallow water over the grass. The house, still untouched by the waters was like Noah’s ark awaiting the waters to lash against it, any moment.
Today I jibe at my girl saying that while her grandparents’ house opens into the busy traffic of screeching vehicles, mine opened into the pristine world of Nature where we could breathe in the purest oxygen!
The nostalgic ONV song reverberates – ‘I long to be there once again….’