ETWA|Ch20a: Courage As Habit

Photo by Mohd Aram on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

The house on the hill was a temple of routine marked by meals. Breakfast was a hurried affair at 8 am everyday including Sundays. It was not mandatory that this meal be eaten together. The meal would be laid out on the table and everyone helped themselves to it.

By contrast, lunch was a more laid back event that stretched for a couple of hours starting at noon. Achams ate at 1 pm and I ate with her. Janu ate with us on most days. Dinner was the longest meal with conversation and fruit for dessert. While I was with them, Janu and Achams spent a lot of their time planning, sourcing, prepping and making my favourite dishes at all these meals.

Tea, though not considered a meal, was still an event. Tea would never be served without a snack in Achams’ house. It could be something simple like flattened rice mixed with coconut and jaggery to a deep-fried multi-process production like sukhiyan—steamed lentils sweetened with jaggery and batter fried. And come rain or shine, tea would always be had on the north-facing veranda of the house. It overlooked a well and beyond that an orchard of fruit trees. A light breeze blew in for tea time having quickly dipped its feet in the well that never ran dry. It brought with it birdsong and the sweet smell of ripening fruit. When Echumu was alive, tea time was chatty and boisterous, with her holding fort with the workers they employed. 

Tea, though not considered a meal, was still an event. Tea would never be served without a snack in Achams’ house.

But now it was just Achams, Janu and I on the veranda. I used the comfort of this routine as a crutch to rebuild my courage to live again. I suspect Achams did the same. Maybe these stories she told to fill the silences that filled this house, were to help her cope with the loss of Echumu. Because the Achams I knew was not a teller of stories. She was a reluctant speaker. Maybe she missed Echumu too much. Eitherway, in the days leading up to my recovery, she told me the greatest stories. 

Today’s snack was pappada vada. They had been preparing for this mini event since yesterday. Achams had called up the neighbourhood grocery store for some papadams and black sesame seeds to be sent over whenever they found time. On her way back from the rice mill, Janu stopped by to collect the supplies. Achams and Janu picked out a large heavy bottomed wok and cleaned it out. They debated about whether or not to use store-bought coconut oil and finally settled on it for lack of time. Post lunch siesta was wrapped up early today and soon the house bloomed with the inimitable scent of batter-dipped papadoms swimming in hot coconut oil.      

As I sat on the threshold eating my strongly spiced maroon-coloured munchie, occasionally sipping on my sweet milk tea, Achams began.

“I learned to make these from Echu. She learned it from her youngest uncle, Krishnamman. He used to run a tea shop for a while where the canal turns left. When your father was little, Echumu and sometimes Achachan would bring these for him. He used to love it so much. That’s how I learned how to make them.”

“I love it too.” I say in between loud, crunchy bites.

“Your Papa used to be like this too. He could eat these everyday. Remember?” said Achams, turning in her chair to gesture at Janu who was seated on the half wall of the veranda. Janu nods, blowing on her glass of tea to cool it down.

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Next Chapter| Ch20b: Courage As Habit

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