Every now and then, I come across a piece that makes me pause. It is even less likely to come across a piece that is a pause in itself. Anoushka’s writing takes you away from your world and puts you into hers. She does this with care for her own memory, her Papamma, and her reader (when she has the time for it). Reading one woman write about another is delightful as it is, but Anoushka brings to us the story of a curious woman and the loveliest object she owned — her mirror. Her writing is a late Sunday evening — a moment in which you think, you reflect, and feel a little bit drowsy. After reading and re-reading this piece, I feel less apologetic now, as I look forward to reading more students write about their women.
– Prof Drishti
Papamma was a lady of very few words. She passed away in an accident when I was in 3rd grade. I remember travelling in the train to Calicut with my anxious mother to visit her when she was still in the hospital. But unfortunately, we didn’t make it on time.
The last memory I have of her was from when I stayed at my grandparents’ house for the summer holidays the year before. She was unlike anyone from my family – it was as though she lived in a world of her own and refused to let anyone into that world. As a kid, I just thought she didn’t like to play games. I know she admired my sister and I because whenever we visited them, she prepared a table full of delicacies — pazhamporis, ari-undas, elanji and ari-kadakas, and didn’t let us leave the table till we had a bit of everything. Even though I don’t remember much about her, the taste of her hot, crispy deep-fried pazhamporis, (which have burnt my tongue many a times) still lingers in my mouth. Amma makes these with her recipe, but it just doesn’t taste the same. Even after Papamma had fallen sick and had forgotten how to make her specialities, she still tried. That was the only way she showcased her affection — through food.
When she was not in the kitchen, she spent most of her time on her own. Papamma barely spoke to anyone, not even to Papa. She had a dusty wooden table mirror in the corner of her small terracotta tiled bedroom. It was about 2 feet tall, arched, and the mirror could be adjusted as per your height and comfort.
I used to sit on the sofa in the living room and play with my kitchen set. From where I sat, I could see the mirror in her room. I have this vivid memory of her always being in front of that mirror. From when she showered and put talcum all over herself — most of which landed on her cotton saree or on the floor — to sitting on the wooden chair across the mirror with her nose hidden in the Bhagavad Gita. The mirror saw more of her than her own family did.
Last night, when I asked Papa what sort of a person Papamma was to him, he smiled and said that she had always been very reserved. She never scolded him, nor did she ever play with him. But she always walked him to school, and waited for him outside the gate after school. The walks were silent, neither of the two spoke, but they always stopped at a bakery and she secretly bought him a candy or a snack. Their relationship was not build on conversations, but on small moments like that.
Shortly after Papamma’s demise, Achacha moved to Chennai, with us. He occasionally went to stay at my aunt’s house in Vadakara. He had a love-hate relationship with Chennai. He hated the climate and complained every summer about how the weather is way better back at home. But at the same time, he got along with the people here better. Tamilians are very respectful and kind even though they seem rough and tough. If a 60-year-old man sees an 80-year-old man, he will still bow down to touch the feet. Back at home, the only time someone touches an elder’s feet is on the day they get married.
Achacha made few friends here. I always accompanied him on walks to the nearby park where he met them. On our little walks, he held my hand tight and spoke about his glorious days as a scientist in the army. He was born in pre-independent India. He had met Gandhi when he was small, he always wore white from head to toe, and designed the tanks that went for the wars. His stories fascinated me, it felt like we were from two different planets.
On some days, he spoke about Papamma, who he loved dearly but had failed to show his true feelings for. His voice broke when he spoke of the times he refused to let her visit us when she was sick, or when he didn’t buy her gifts after a few years of their marriage. His voice always had a tone of guilt when he spoke of her. I patted his hands, held it tight and listened to him quietly as we walked on the footpath. Achacha liked Chennai, but he still had the desire to go back home and spend his last years there. Calicut was his real home, the place where he had met Papamma and got married. He always spoke so greatly of the place and described it to us, as though we had never been there.
That’s when my dad decided to start renovating the Calicut house, so that we could move-in in a year. Papamma’s mirror was one of the many things that were planned on being discarded. It was old, dusty and the wood had cracks and splits. It also didn’t fit in with the contemporary theme of the house. But this mirror was the only object I could associate with Papamma. Discarding it would have been like discarding a big chunk of memory I have of her. So we kept it.
When we were getting it varnished, the carpenter noticed that the mirror was actually polished stone. None of the mirrors we see in the stores today are made of stone. It has me wondering if it was passed on to Papamma from her parents.
The polished antique beauty now sits on a wooden stool in the corner of the staircase landing of the house. It has little engraving of flowers on the frame that you can’t really see unless you look closely. Every time I climb up the stairs, I see my reflection on her mirror and it takes me back to the time when the 8-year-old me looked up at her smiling face as she brought hot pazhamporis to the table. It reminds me of the grandmother I knew very little about.