169, Chandra Nagar.
We reached our periappa’s place in the evening after a 7 hour non-stop drive. I opened the wide black gates to let our car in. The place was exactly as I last saw it 2 years ago. Savi was already at the grill door welcoming us with a big smile. Periamma walked up to the front door slowly, waiting to see us all, as we parked our car near the mango tree in the front yard. My eyes went in search of the small lily pond to the right. It was right there, fresh as ever, with a beautiful bud ready for tomorrow. The orchid on the mango tree has grown a few leafs in the past year, it looks like.
‘Please come’ came a feeble voice from Periappa who was sitting in the hall. We grabbed our bags and walked in while the kids ran in to meet their cousin. Periamma slowly walked to her chair in the hall, and seated herself next to Periappa. ‘How was the journey ? My god this summer is so Hot. No rains. Did it rain there yet’ asked Periamma as she adjusted her hearing aid. Periappa slowly moved his legs closer and using the tripod walking stick stood up to give us a hug. Parkinson’s had really taken a toll on him in the past years. His voice was barely audible. He stretched himself to stand up all straight. He refused to accept our supporting hand as he tried to sit back in the chair, saying he was quite capable of doing it himself albeit a little slow. A retired warrant officer from the Indian Air Force, an engineer at heart, and the most disciplined person I had seen – that’s my Periappa. Among the many things I admired about him was his love for Periamma. It was too obvious for any one to miss, in any case.
I quickly freshened up and sat on the red oxide floor close to Periamma and Periappa. The warmth and affection of everyone in that family is something to be experienced and cherished. Chitchats, updates, weather, children and events of the past year was exchanged between both families. Periappa was talking in slow but a continuous voice to his beloved nephew. Savi made dinner and we all assembled at the table. She assisted Periamma and Periappa in mixing the food in their plates as we all sat to eat. The most awaited dish for my was the fresh cut mangoes from their tree which I shamelessly emptied onto my plate. Savi knows me well to ignore my greed.
The wind was cooler than usual. We could hear the rustling of the leaves of the mango tree, and a small thunder in the background. My husband pulled up two chairs to the Verandah, and insisted that Periamma and Periappa sit outside for some time with us. Though difficult they managed to climb down two steps to the front yard to sit with us. ‘We have two big jackfruits cut and kept ready fro you, it is just ripe and ready’ said Periappa. He spoke of the low yield in the Mangoes this year, unlike his initial years of living in the house. The jackfruit tree here is more that 50 years old he added, but the laborious work of harvesting and distributing to everyone is beyond me, he said.
‘I know that story Periappa, and you know the story I really want to know. You have postponed telling me your story for so many years. But this time, I am here to do nothing but to hear it from you’ I said like a very determined screenwriter who wanted to copyright their story and make a blockbuster movie out of it. ‘Please Periappa, lets start with where you met Periamma for the very first time’, I pleaded. Periamma smiled and looked at Periappa wondering what he was going to say. Periappa adjusted his decibels, his eyes sparked as he turned towards Periamma and smiled.
‘Have you heard of Ooragam ?’ – he asked. ‘Oragathu Amman temple’ I said spontaneously. ‘Yes! That is where I met your Periamma, while I was sitting on a Parapet wall near the temple. She was walking with her two sisters. She was 17 years old and I was 18. She had moved next door to my family and our parents were family friends. Your periamma used to come to my house many times, and my mom loved her’ Periappa said looking at Periamma with love in his eyes, which she very gracefully accepted and smiled back. ‘She can’t hear anything I say now, because her audible frequency is lower than the highest decibel I generally speak in. But today thanks to you all, I really want to speak, and have so much energy. ‘ he added with a wicked sense of humour.
Periappa closed his eyes as described his life’s best moments of meeting Periamma with great affection and joy reliving the life he lived with her. The story I heard from him today I believe is a special privilege I got from Periappa for sharing it with me. I might disappoint you all a bit by not giving away the minute details of his precious life, but what I can share are the last few lines he said while concluding for the day.
His golden words were – ” She believed me, She waited for seven years for me, when there was no means of communication and I had left town to get a job. She trusted her life with me. How can I not love her. Loving her all my life was effortless for me. The day she came with me I promised my self what the great poet Bharathiyar once said.
“When I see tears trickling down your eyes, blood pours out of my heart, you are the apple of my eyes, Oh Kannamma! isn’t my soul (life) yours! “
un kaNNil neer vazhindhaal en nenjil udhiram kottudhadi! en kaNNin paavaiyandRoa? kaNNammaa! ennuyir ninnadhandRoa!
Eyes filled with tears I held Periappa’s hands as he wiped his cheeks filled with tears of emotion, and Periamma watched in silence admiring her love of her life express his unconditional love for her all over again. You don’t need a hearing aid to hear the depth of his love for her. There was silence in the room, a long one but a worthy one to assimilate the story into our hearts. ‘Lets all get to bed its past 12 in the night’, said periamma. We headed to the bedroom smiling as if we had just walked out a heartfelt romantic movie.
Here is a link to the full song and its translation
The next day morning we all got up and came down to Periappa/Periamma’s room as we grabbed our morning coffee from Savi. As we entered the room, the strong over ripe smell of Jackfruit filled our nostrils. ” The Jackfruits seemed to have ripened too much, Not sure you will be able to take it home Hema, I just don’t have the heart to throw them so kept them in the room to save it if possible, let me see if there is anything in the tree” he said. He stood up and walked to the backyard to see the tree from the door. “Did you know this Jackfruit tree standing so majestically in my backyard grew from a small seed my son had spit when he was just 5 years old. Aah! I see one big Jackfruit left, will call the gardener and see if I can get it plucked for you” he said.
I had planned some visits for the day all over town and did not have time to see the ripened Jackfruit until we returned in the evening. As we entered periappa’s bedroom the ripe smell of the fruit was numbing our senses. I had to act immediately. I asked Savi akka to help me peel the fruit. Me and Savi akka picked up the two over ripe fruits to the backyard late into the evening and started to cut and process it one section at a time. Kids were happy playing by the well and looking at a real pulley system while we peeled the fruit and separating it from its rags. The next stage was to separate the avrils from the seed. This tedious job needed another pair of helping hands, and was done in an hour. By then we had sourced some good jaggery from a near by shop. My family was more than willing to break the jaggery down to small pieces while I cooked the fruit pods in a pressure cooker.
The test of a good chef is consistency in cooking every time you make a dish. That comes with experience and not just by reading recipes. I have made thousands of bottles of jackfruit jam for seven long years now with accurate measurements, a thermometer and a measuring scale to avoid all possibilities of error and to get the same delicious product every single time. Here I am in an unfamiliar kitchen, a delicious jackfruit and no thermometer nor a scale to weigh. I called my Mother-in-law, my real Guru who taught me the recipe in her empirical method. “Boil the jaggery to a little before ball consistency, hit it on to a plate and listen to the sound. That cling is what you need to watch out for”, she said. Me and Savi transferred the pulp of the jackfruit into a vessel and filled another similar vessel with jaggery. I asked her to place each vessel on each of my palm to approximate the weight. I needed 3/4 th measure of jaggery for one measure of Jackfruit pulp. I added another hand full of jaggery to it and hoping for the best, set out to make the jam.
Savi pulled out her old bronze urali from a deep shelf and cleaned it for me. I started with the jaggery, melted it to a before ball consistency. The jaggery was dripped into cold water, rolled a a sticky ball, and thrown on a plate eagerly waiting for the sound. Soft ball. Yes, the time was right for the pulp to go in to the melted jaggery. The moisture in the jack pulp when it mixes with the solidifying jaggery creates huge air bubble pockets right at the top, which bursts spilling the contents to a good distance. Now the only way to avoid a big bubble was to stir the jam continuously not allowing any bubble to form at the bottom, and decreasing the captivated air to the smallest extent possible. In other words – stir continuously till the moisture in the jam evaporates, and the jaggery can hold the jack together and you build your triceps and biceps simultaneously. An hour of continuous stirring the jaggery till it gels with the Jack is all it takes to make a Jackfruit jam. As the Jam was almost ready to be done, Savi added a spoon of elachi powder and a few spoons of clarified butter. The Aroma of fresh jackfruit jam filled the house. As I came out of the kitchen exhausted after stirring in the heated kitchen, Periappa called me from his room. “Get me a spoon of your Jam, I cant wait to taste it” he said. Overjoyed I ran back to him with a hot spoon of the jam and another for periamma. He relished it bit by bit, and complimented me for making a perfect Jackfruit Jam the way he used to make it in his youth. That was my Masterchef apron. My most satisfying experience of cooking a dish for someone whom I admired.
Jackfruit Jam recipe in detail in my next post.