It’s 5:00 am on a Sunday, exactly a SUNDAY, and I’m being woken up from my slumber as she tugs at the sheets cocooning me. She’s peering at me with those eyes that cannot be coercive and a smile that really wants me out of this bed. How do I say no? How do I refuse her and Jesus early in the morning? After sighing and slouching on the pot mid-pee, we all just decide to get this shit show on the road. The scratchy white kurtas are worn, Ma’s almond eyes are rimmed with kajal and the hideous jewellery has been placed on my neck. We can hear Appicha honking all the way from the garage, like a mad New Yorker stuck in traffic, as the birds desperately fly away from the nests in the garden and someone somewhere is now wide awake cursing us under their breath. As we pass the kitchen we get our first hit; the romance of coconut milk, curry leaves and chicken stock. I look at Ammami, I’m practically begging at this point but it’s to no avail, food can wait- Jesus first.
After two hours of listening to Malayalam songs, sermons and fake smiling at the aunties, we slip back into our pj’s to greet the feast laid out on the table. I lock eyes with her as she sits with her robust rusticity while the pieces of chicken play hide and seek with the serving spoon. The creamy surface is decorated with pearls of oil and fat and the soft potatoes are seated comfortably, slumping like old men in a jacuzzi. The flower shaped lacey appams serve their duties well as they soak all this richness in and coddle the little pieces of meat with every bite. No one in the family can replicate this stew and everyone’s efforts have always been in vain. I guess it is a mystery she’s created for herself, maybe a little superpower designed to bring everyone together to laugh about Acha’s latest antics, raise concerns about my bachelor brother and gossip about the neighbours.
The last time I sat with Ammami and inhaled her stew while she eagerly told me about her home remedies for skin whitening and acne, was aeons ago. Several years apart has only left me with an image that’s edited, blurring out the silver strands and bags of exhaustion under her eyes. The FaceTime calls show me the real thing, the smile that lifts her puffy cheeks and eyes almost drooping. I see bits of her in Acha in Bangalore, a few fleeting glimpses in my Delhi Daadi and a little bit in me too. Easter 2020 was supposed to be our reunion; Acha and his siblings, me and her, and that gorgeous chicken stew.